Thursday, 26 July 2012

Chicago 4500, Part One

The helmeted young man piloted his yellow air taxi through the surging sky lanes over Chicago, zipping past the balconies of towering skyscrapers on his relatively low-level 100th-story route. Someone hailed the cab from the balcony of the historic Sears Tower, a quaint relic from an earlier age—now dwarfed by its 600-or-more-story contemporaries. As the young man maneuvered carefully through the lane separating him from his potential passenger, another air taxi cut him off, blocking his access to the balcony and taking the passenger. The young man honked his horn angrily and punched the radio power button. All seven lanes of traffic were now stopped at the red light suspended from cables stretched between two massive buildings.
Meanwhile, at the tallest building complex in Chicago (which, at a soaring height of 12,384 feet, was now vying for the title of world’s tallest building) a vast space cruiser was docking at an upper-level walkway. The complex’s lakefront setting made it an ideal location for a landing area, as it was one of the only urban-access sites with enough open space to land the enormous tourist cruisers and cargo vessels. The only boats on the lake were those of retirees: a popular retirement option was to buy a large houseboat and live on the lake. With access to Michigan’s wild, forested preserves, beaches, bustling Chicago, or ancient Milwaukee, the houseboat life was ideal for active centenarians. Even the more vigorous sesquicentenarians could sometimes be seen on the lake, leisurely fishing off their front porches.
As the dramatic orange and purple sunset became the backdrop of the space cruiser landing, it silhouetted the huge ship and the twin spires between which it docked. The city began to light up in varying hues, competing with the colorful horizon. As the sky faded from purple to deep blue to black, the stars were surpassed by the bright lights of the city. Even the moon, which now shone full over Chicago, paled in comparison to the radiance of the skyscrapers.
Deep below the rushing sky lanes, in the shady Chicago understory, a sleeping humanoid figure was hunched under a ground level window inside one of the towers. Here, more than two miles below the tips of the soaring buildings, the gritty pavement had fallen out of use centuries ago as the old forms of transportation died out. A potholed, cracked cement surface was all that remained of the once-traffic-filled roadways. Dirt and grime, however, were not the only things that thrived on the understory.
As dusk fell on the skyline, the sleeping figure stirred and woke. An eerie glow from the bright upper levels was the only light that shone on this part of the understory, where electricity was scarce. The man-like creature rose to its feet, shaking the dark, thick blanket from its shoulders. It was short and hunched, at a height of only four-and-a-half feet, and extremely pale, with wide eyes that consisted almost entirely of inky black pupils. Its fingers were long, ending in long, rough, grimy nails. A single short, black garment covered it from throat to thigh. The creature reached underneath the blanket to retrieve a grayish pack and a long black coat from a small trapdoor directly below the spot where it had been sleeping. Donning the coat and pulling up the hood, which covered all of the face but the black eyes, the creature rose once again, pack in hand, and began to make its way out into the dark, canyon-like street.

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

June 8th, 1863

As I wake from another nightmare, I am blindsided by the realization that reality is little better than the dreadful, shapeless but fear-filled dreams. The shadow cast by the hat rack in the corner of my bedroom becomes the menacing silhouette of a hostile Yankee soldier; every movement outside is the enemy coming to burn our house down. Surrounded by these twisted caricatures of my imagination, I am a prisoner in my own home.
Last night, after waking in the middle of the night soaked in a cold sweat, I reached for the silver pitcher of water sitting on my dark wood bedside table to get a drink to calm my jumpy nerves. I knocked the pitcher onto the hardwood floor, and its earsplitting crash scared me half to death. Our live-in servant, Tethys Jackson, came running to make sure I hadn’t fallen. She quietly called my name as she picked her way carefully across the vine-patterned rug, taking care not to tread on any of the vines. On account of having raised me from infancy, she is always concerned for me, and she was afraid, she told me, that someone had snuck into my room. Her face, lit up by the bright Mississippi moon so that it was almost the same color as mine, was full of anxiety. I could see then that she had the same fears as I do: what if a Yankee sneaks into the house to raid it, or worse, take advantage of one of us? My eight-year-old brother Sterling is now the only male left (aside from the Negro workers, who live in small cabins near the edge of the field) on our little plantation, after my father died and Quincy, my older brother, left to fight in the Confederate Army. What if he doesn’t come back from the war?
Now I hope to write myself to sleep, and try to make myself forget my fears. But what can I write about besides those things that I am dreading? Or perhaps I can keep myself awake till sunrise, if there can be a sunrise during this terrible war. Surely it will be morning soon. The moon is still bright, casting more shadows: my dresser, dark wood like the rest of my furniture, and the mirror attached to the top vaguely resemble a man’s misshapen form. The flowers in my west-facing window look sickly and pale in the colorless moonlight, and their shadow on my thick, quilted bedspread looks like a disembodied hand. I shudder and quickly look away, as if staring at it will make it come to life and begin creeping across my bed. A breeze flutters the light summer curtains that Tethys hung last week, and the shadows remind me of the restless spirits in her ghost stories.
At long last, my eyelids are getting heavy. The blue flowers painted onto my wall near the ceiling are blurring together. Perhaps I will finally sleep.
Cordelia Carmichael

Notes on the story and naming characters:
This is a piece that I wrote for an English class. The assignment was to put ourselves in a different time period and describe our "sleeping quarters." As you can tell, for my setting, I chose somewhere in the South during the Civil War, and had my character describe her surroundings in a nightmarish way, in relation to the way she's been living, with her brother and father away fighting. 
Although writing the piece itself was interesting, one of the most enjoyable parts for me is naming the characters. I am very picky about naming the characters. The name has to fit the character and their personality--for example, you simply cannot call a down-to-earth, humble teenage girl "Vanadia" (which is a name that I am, in fact, using in a story) unless she has a shorter nickname or goes only by her surname (a great example of this is Nymphadora Tonks in Harry Potter, who of course only goes by the name of Tonks). The name "Vanadia" goes with a more grown-up, powerful woman, perhaps an ambitious world leader, or even a maniacal super-villain. The names are also fun if they somehow tie into the setting. I particularly enjoy the way Suzanne Collins names her characters in The Hunger Games trilogy. The Capitol characters tend to have Roman or Romanesque names (i.e. Coriolanus, Flavius, Octavia, Messalla); I have always connected the Capitol with the Roman Empire--the gladiatorial Hunger Games competition and the Bread and Circuses references being the main ties. Some of the characters from the surrounding districts have names that connect to their home district's main industry (Glimmer and Marvel from the district that makes luxury items; Wiress from the technology district). When I am writing a story, I am almost obsessive in my character-naming. The name has to fit. I am a frequenter of baby-name websites, which interest me endlessly due the amount of ridiculous, unique, culturally-varied, and abstract names. Most of them I would never even think of giving to a child; however I take no issue to giving some of them to a character. The names I use in a story almost always have been researched, and I always put a lot of thought into naming my characters. The only time you will ever see a John Q. Public from Anytown, Ohio in my stories is if there is actually a man whose identity is protected or unknown.

Friday, 25 November 2011


Happy Thanksgiving to all; I hope you ate lots of turkey, or if you are vegetarian, then...whatever you ate for Thanksgiving, I hope you ate plenty of it. Days like Thanksgiving make me appreciate how hard it would be to give up meat. As for Black Friday...I hope no one was injured/trampled this year. Once again, people amaze me. Not in a good way. Shopping at three in the morning? Who does that? Plenty of people, but that's beside the point. Whether you went shopping or not, I hope your Thanksgiving weekend has been good. Mine was scrumptious. And now for our feature presentation.

Country and rock,
guitar tinged with mariachi trumpets
three weeks atop the charts
forever associated with another life--
a yellow room
warm summer breezes
through my west-facing window.
evenings spent at the ballfields
the smell of a leather glove
and Kenny Chesney on the radio,
with the windows down
on the way home.
As these simple recollections pour from my headphones,
for a few minutes
it is easy to believe
that the straw fedora atop my head
is a cowboy hat.

As I was on my way home from a football game earlier tonight, the song "Beer in Mexico" (great song, I know) came up on my iPod. This song, which did in fact spend three weeks atop the country charts during the spring of 2007, always reminds me of summer evenings in my hometown spent playing baseball or softball and listening to the radio in my bedroom with the widows open. Needless to say, upon hearing this song, I was inspired to write this poem. I really was wearing a fedora. 

Monday, 12 September 2011

Never Forget

Ashes in a cloudless sky
a smoke signal for tragedy.
It started out an average morning
commuters, traffic
No one could guess 
that some would not go through this routine again tomorrow morning.
flew through the phone lines
across screens
over P.A. systems.
But so did hope and comfort.
Though it was a day of terrible sorrow
and apprehension,
it would become solidarity
and loyalty.
The broken towers 
broke our hearts that day, 
and thought it hurts,
we will never forget.

Author's Note:
I was a little kid when the attacks of September 11th, 2001 shook our nation at her roots. I didn't really understand what had happened until much later. The one thing I will never forget is coming home from school and seeing the footage on television: the stark contrast of the billowing smoke, flame and ashes in the bright blue sky. A year later, at 8:46 a.m. on the one-year anniversary of the attacks, the principal came on the P.A. system at school and declared a moment of silence at the time the first plane hit the tower. 9/11/01 was the day many of us realized just how fragile life is, and how much we should value our lives and freedom. It saddens me terribly to remember how much loss of life it took for us to realize that. The victims and heroes of 9/11, especially those in the World Trade Center, American Airlines flights 11 and 77, and United Airlines flights 93 and 175,  will never be forgotten. May they rest in peace  and may God bless all of us.

Sunday, 31 July 2011

Assorted Items of a Random Nature

 On the left is a honeybee doing his job at the Pittsburgh Zoo. The photo on the right is the spines of a bedazzled Stegosaurus in Pittsburgh's PPG Place.

Left: a tilted view of some of the Gothic architecture in the Commons Room in the Cathedral of Learning on the University of Pittsburgh campus. Below: a white-cheeked gibbon at the Pittsburgh Zoo.

At left is a chandelier in the French Room of the Cathedral of Learning. Below is a photo from a couple years ago of a raindrop hanging from a Japanese maple in my backyard.

Left: my own interpretation of the haughty Narcissa Malfoy, before we saw her in Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince.

Below is the main Harry Potter trio as they escape spectacularly from Gringotts Bank on the back of a dragon.

Saturday, 11 June 2011

Remember Claire

It is with terrible sorrow that I must write this, but on June 8th, 2011, my friend Claire passed away. Despite her short life of only 15 years, she had many friends and made a huge impact on many people's lives. Even in her sickness and untimely death, she brought so many people closer to each other and to God. On Tuesday and Wednesday night, her friends and family filled the hospital chapel at our local hospital to pray for her and her family. I was touched and inspired that such hardship can bring out such compassion and solidarity in people. We will all miss Claire.

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Pray for Claire

Anyone who happens to read this, please pray for my friend Claire. She is currently battling leukemia and is on life support as I type this. The past three days have been extremely bizarre, with ups and downs every so often. We know that whatever happens, God has a plan, but please pray for her recovery, for her family who is with her at this time, and for her friends who are praying that she stays strong and keeps fighting. Thanks, everyone.