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Torrie’s

They call the place Torrie’s but fact is, nobody’s seen Torrie for years. Hardly anyone remembers why anyway, but our famous dessert is named after her, and one of our special cocktails, though that recipe changes every so often. It’s always new customers anyway, it’s a touristy town and our name shows up in a lot of guidebooks. Not really a place where you would find regulars, no matter how good the pie tastes.
And it’s some good pie.
I’ve kept my figure and my smile. That’s enough for most of us, and I’ve been here so long they all joke that I should own the place. Sometimes I wonder if I should, too. Just can’t think of anywhere else that needs me like this place does.
I’m not special, not by a long shot, but Torrie’s is.
Don’t even know what the end of that name is. Torrie’s… what? Cafe? Restaurant? Flea circus? Just becomes Torrie’s after a while. It’s been here a long, long time too. If it outdates me, well, it’s doing something right.
It’s my last day and nobody seems to believe it. I know it isn’t customary, but I took the early shift so I could leave by the afternoon, and to say that service suffered today would be about right. I focused, but nobody else did.
“We’ll name a drink after you next!” Harold calls from the bar, passing me tiny sampler glasses of a new drink every time I claimed the guest’s beverages. The new version seems to be a slightly sour mai tai. Wonder what that says about me.
I’m as old a fixture here as the walls that keep the place up, I could look out the windows and tell you if it’ll rain by how the sun hits the nearby buildings. I’ve towered over this city for years, and I might miss the view.
Yeah, maybe for a moment or two.
I know I’m leaving, I know it for sure. I don’t know how long, but I don’t need to.
They held a little party for me in the back, tried to give me a tiara for my shift, little card with all these names on it. Great people, good names, all really mean it. I could miss them if I tried hard at it. But a few minutes of freedom is worth it, I’d say. I’ll be back in the swing of things before I know it.
Even if the drinks are inconsistent, Torrie’s has been the most constant thing in my life. The doors and how they creak, the smells of the place, it really is home. It’s comforting for me, which nobody else might believe if they’ve worked in food service. It isn’t all roses. Sometimes it’s carnations and you gotta make ‘em look like roses. I liked ‘em just the same and I can sell ‘em twice as fast.
That’s food service for you.
Yeah, just a sour mai tai. I smile at Harold, he’s a good sort.
“You gonna say goodbye to the fish?”
My smile gets wider. The fish have names, this fancy aquarium is full of them but really, only a hearty few stick around. The big purple one is Milliway, then the beaked one is Poney, there’s Magnolia and Tiffany and the little blue guys are Cauldron and Broomstick and Hog. The names don’t really matter. “They won’t notice I’m gone,” I tell him.
“Yeah, but the rest of us will.”
After some hugs and a brief stoppage in food delivery, I walk to the elevator doors with a tiara in my hand, the other finger dragging across the aquarium where the fish follow my movement. My last day. Enjoy it, just for a  minute.
There she is, the new girl. I almost bump into her as she heads into her shift, her apologies hide how mortified she is. She’ll do great at this place. Like I never left.
The elevator doors glide shut in front of me, like they’ve done so many times. I hope this break was worth it.
***

The uniform still feels rough around my neck, like I haven’t grown into it yet.
“We were just celebrating,” Harold says at the bar, “remind me to give you a drink I made up today!”
“When I’m off my shift, sure.”
He smiles a little too long as I clock in behind the swinging doors and stash away my purse. One of the cubbies is conspicuously empty, so I just take that one.
“First day at the hostess booth all by yourself!” Carlene says, looking both dubious and proud. I log in once with the wrong number, correct myself, and type in the new one I’ve had a week to memorize.
“Hope you get to make friends with the fish!” Carlene says, “they supposedly have names but I can never remember.”
I slide my finger across the glass, a few of the fish trailing it like always.
“We’ll get along just fine, I think.”
Yep. It’s like I never left.
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A story written for my Wordplay show on the viewer-suggested topics of “meeting yourself at the door,” “knowing someone doesn’t remember you,” and “when a friend is enough.”

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The video to the tale!

Read along or at your own pace, too,

http://nikaharper.tumblr.com/post/92086695395/a-journey-to-riau

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A Journey to Riau

image


“There are things you have to know before you go.” She was fussing, her pincers were tightening the belts rapidly, more to put her at ease than myself. She hated this, it was a natural fear and they all had it. I guess that’s why I was going and none of them could convince me otherwise.
“The world is… big,” she stammered, and I clicked in dismay. She abandoned her anxious fixing and squared off before me. I could see my reflection in her eyes, and did my best to look ready.
“They might be hungry,” she said.
“That’s impossible.”
“They’re unknowable creatures.”
“They’re spirits.”
“Gods can be cruel.”
“They’re not gods.”
Her mouth trembled, thin mucous slipped over her eyes; she was crying. Our antennae met and I was comforted by her touch. I would miss it, if I didn’t come back.
I think I’ll return, someday.

Each step I took away from home, I could feel the warmth of her stare, and the weight of responsibility.


The journey wasn’t far, it was merely dangerous. I hid when I needed to, supplies creaking under my restless wings, much of which I dropped at the first opportunity. I would be gone for a couple days, or forever. Cold weather gear would not be necessary.
I was told I’d know what to look for once I found it, but everything I saw was a spectacle. The world stretched taller than I could see, wider than I could imagine. Noises reached me that were alien, distant, and intoxicating. I stretched my wings, letting them buzzed with excitement, their subtle breeze brushing my face.


Then I arrived. There was no other word for it, no other place it could be.
A noisy orchestra of sound, singing, kaleidoscopic twinklings in the air, and lights spanned out of my vision and back again, creating stars and obscuring details.
The world glowed.
This was Riau, the land of spirits and wishes. I was shocked to see it so populated… it was nearly as busy as the hive. Movement, like the environment itself, was constantly shifting. I couldn’t focus on anything at all, my antennae sensed the tangy scent of magic and beauty. Even the ground shone.
I ached, and my wings buzzed.


I searched restlessly for order, protocol, a way of voicing myself. My eyes were filled with beings, once real and strong, that now looked like spirits themselves. They chirped and hummed and danced in the air, but these were not what I was searching for. These were the wishes that were granted, and whether real or not, they could not help me. I climbed from stalk to branch to leaf, from trunk to plant to petal. Vapor filled the air, clouds of perfume spun up from the ground, tickling the winged beings with its shifting shapes, brushing against wings that worked.

The leaf I picked was luminous and did not dip with my weight as I strode to its tip. Down, as well as up, all looked greater than dreams, with diamonds in the dew and sparks in the fog. It was incomprehensible, I couldn’t help grasping for words that we knew to describe it back home.
We had no words for it. This place was a feeling.
I tipped my head, spanning all that I could sense, and asked “Hello?”

A clatter of giggles met my antennae, felt deep past my skin.
You said hello!
“Yes. I have been looking—”
We noticed you
It was hard to tell fog from figure as they swam and approached, the air full of sparkling comets, some which rocketed and others which lazily trailed and meandered. There were colors that had no name, shapes that had no descriptor. I was out of my depth.
I was not in any depth at all, but perhaps this was considered depth to something else. I had everything to learn.
“I have heard tales about you.”
We like how you speak!
They spun in the air, larger than imagination, and I finally was able to sense their shape. As they crept closer, the lords of the land, I could see their many eyes. I could see playful paws and long brushed whiskers. They were parodied predators, where slitted eyes would show malice, there was none. Where mouths breathed danger, there was laughter. The land swirled in imitation of the spirits it housed, these rumored Luriae.
They got closer, curious eyes resting on me with the same weight of the hive I had left behind.
Why do you come?
“I… I sought out Riau to return my people to glory.”
What is your desire?
“Our wings.” I let mine up, stunted and twitchy in the air. They trembled like a stretched root, anxious for their purpose. “We cannot use them. Once, we could. We flew, and now we cannot.”
The Luriae peered, their eyes changing size in ways I’d never seen. The myriad wishes in the air leaned in with interest, circling in the sky. I was the spectacle now.
Tricky.
Such a dream!
They’ve all changed
So eager
I felt the attention on my wings and I did not falter. My filmy limbs stretched strong as they could, thin and pitiful under the gaze of those who had flight without thought. My metallic carapace reflected the iridescent glow of the onlookers.
You want to fly
“I do, I want to bring my people above the ground once more.”
Do THEY want this as well?
I hesitated, sensing distant giggles. My wings were tired already, stretched and struggling to stay upright. I had been urged not to go, been warned of what I would find, been told to keep my head and wings down. But I didn’t. I wanted more. I finally wondered if my sentiments were shared among my kind.
We can do this
We can do many things for you
Such a little one!
But we can do it for YOU
Their eyes flickered beneath their skin, so expressive in their lack of antennae. Their mouths and faces curled, moved, shifted with every word and thought. It did not seem frightening.
Your kind are difficult
They are not here
YOU are here
You are YOU
We can do this for you
If you would like to stay
Make music with us
Live alongside us
And the words and senses came from everywhere now, the chatter of voices and syllables I might not have ever known. The encouragement from sparkling creatures, zipping around too quickly to place. They cheered and sang, glowing their own pleasure into the air. The wishes urged me to join them.
I felt my supplies slipping from my back and legs, but I could not say just yet. I could not say yes, and leave everything behind. I was here not for just me, but for us all. I’d imagined us taking to the air, flying like we once did, living in the light and the surface instead of burrowing through wet darkness. We could be what we were.
But the option was only for me.

They told me not to go.
They told me to keep my wings tight and my head down.
They said I would never return.

They were wise.

“I would like my wings restored,” I said aloud, into a cloud of cheers.
The Luriae’s curling mouths all spoke, words indistinguishable from each other, and I bowed my head. It was all the sound of laughter. I felt lighter and free of my responsibility.
I felt free of the ground.

I could not tell colors, the brightness was bewildering and new. I saw hues I never dreamed possible, a vast prism of unknown diversity, and then I became it. My wings were not tired, they echoed the sound of happiness, crystallized and endless, stretching behind me as though I’d never felt the air before at all, as though I’d never unfurled them properly.


And I was in the air, the ground had left me and I was alight, shooting as far as I could into any direction I pleased. I spun, I danced with the glittering fog, I felt the paws reach out to stroke me as I rocketed through a new plane of existence. I could be anywhere. I was here.

I’ve never left Riau. Every moment feels just as good, every direction a new realization of distance, size, and how the world is truly more than I ever thought it was. But my world is Riau, the other wishes, the Luriae and their loyal song-singers who dust the air with hope and joy.
Now, with my crystal wings, that is me.

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I wanted to write a cute fantasy tale… and I like the scale of this the most. In fantasy games, wildlife is everywhere, but what is it they see and think? Are even the lesser sprites considered gods?

If you like this, please support my Patreon and help me write even more stories.

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Bud, Geoff, and I

I’m writing words from people about words about other people and it just gets too confusing if you aren’t me, or Geoff, or Bud.

The story is a highlighted mess, I can hear it in my head like a tinny phonograph, the lost memory parts all fogged and hissing. I remember a black room that echoed and served no purpose, where they threw us loud weird kids for theatre class that they called “drama” and didn’t know how right they were. I recited those words to remember them, cut to suit my monologue purpose, and I remember a creased paper in a nigh unreadable font because everything in life should be beautiful and I was too good to let my speech not be memorized in Harrington serif.

I can’t smell it, but I see the floor, the scratched unpainted Black Box (actually listed on the class schedule as ‘BOX’ which was nothing but a complete trick of the mind when I first stepped in, my first day of high school.) I spent four years in there, sometimes shared other, lively 70’s colored classrooms in earthy orange tones and yellows that you could make a sandwich from and we were there often too. I can’t remember anymore, which classes were which or why, or how. But we had black curtains and curiosity and they stuck us in a random room unfit for any other classes, which prepared us for backstage so much more than I imagined and I think I really miss that the most. The loudness of the floors, the awkwardness of chairs. I gave a candy cane to someone in that room once, a boy whom I had forgiven for calling me ugly to my face when I was eleven.

“Thanks, Nik,” he said as he took it. I’m not sure I ever saw him again, but in the holiday season, the candy was as much an olive branch as him knowing and speaking my name. ‘I know you and I’m not stupid now,’ we seemed to say to one another.

Though we were.

We were only fourteen.

I did too many assignments because it was the only thing I cared about. Music and performance. I couldn’t decide if I wanted to be in the background with a bass guitar strapped to me, or in the solo spotlight tearing words from myself and “acting” like I’d always known to do.

In the end I chose neither, it would seem, but my calling is influenced by their push and pull every day.

I can read the words in my head and even recite them aloud, I remember what it was like to play it out in front of so many people. They were used to me performing when no assignment was due. They were used to impromptu showtimes to keep my world sane. I had a 120% A++ in the class, if we were going to scale it. I thought it was a joke.

Bud Powell’s music was as unreachable as the story claimed. It was in the past, I couldn’t get them, I’m not sure if I ever heard one of his songs for real, but the story was too good not to tell. In the middle of a book, it wasn’t a story at all, but a monologue. Mr. Dyer, you spoke to someone who evaded you, and I spoke as someone who had been evaded too.

This book meant something to me. I couldn’t get the music (who shared classic jazz songs on Napster anyway?) and barely knew where to start, but I knew what I liked and I knew someone I liked liked this too.

The person I wanted to be, tall and olive and beautiful, said that she read this book, “I cried on the plane!”
I went into a bookstore and searched, and searched…. When I found it, I read it as quickly as I could, wrapped up in my love for her and our shared love of this art.

Thirteen years later it hits differently, strongly. Nostalgia and the memories of not having touched this book in almost double my age, and still remembering the passages I memorized for a class, unasked, and the stories that struck so deep when I did not truly understand their relevance.

I bookmarked it with scraps of paper I hadn’t touched in twelve years. Remnants of an absentee note from my mother, so plentiful I could rip them up  and use them for inspiration if I needed it. I haven’t seen her writing in years, precious calligraphy hidden in my favorite books. Disney couldn’t invent writing like this, with the curved friendliness of her laughter on each word. Her writing is my favorite part of her, straight and beautiful in a way I can never see in her ever again.

I learned one thing from that book, in a way I never thought I’d have learned it. An Afterword by the author himself, who stops telling their stories and mentions his own. He said we sound like many other people before we sound like ourselves. He said we learned how we sing by trying to sing the notes of someone else.

Maybe I became transcendental then, but I walked around differently. I saw a future I ached for, knowing I was miles ahead of the students I saw because I was singing to the tunes of my heroes and these normal folk were humming to marketing jingles. I was right, and rude, and as foolish as a teenager could be.

But at least I learned the right lesson, whether or not I used it to justify a wrong feeling.

We learn by replication. We find ourselves in trying to be greater.

Thank you, Bud, and thank you Geoff, and thank you Paz.

I tried to sound like all of you, and along the way, I stumbled and became me.

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Is Anyone There?

“How many days do you have left?”
“Lanli, you’re not supposed to ask.” I was kind, but I had been sneaking glances at that number for days. Just a tiny, uninterrupted ‘5.’ Always a reminder.
“I know, but… mine says four, but it said that yesterday too.”
“Maybe you’re fuel efficient.”
“Are you saying I’m not working hard?”
“I know you work hard, Lanli.” She was scared and she had a right to be, we all did. Fuel was all we needed, and the only thing we couldn’t get. The radio buzzed in our ear, Foreman Rarian asking for another status report, as though gravity had upended itself in the past five minutes. I turned down the dial and so did Lanli.

It was beautiful, that much was true. Getting stranded on an empty planet could look a lot worse than this. Our arms brushed as we headed toward a towering forest canopy.
“You know…” she started, “one thing I’ve noticed? It’s so quiet here.” She stopped to illustrate her point, her golden eyes met the sky and all I could hear was my breathing and the sound of the wind in the leaves. It was like a gentle rustle and hum of greenery, you could almost hear the grass exhale.
“It’s silent,” I smiled at her. I hoped I looked reassuring. She wasn’t looking.
“But… something’s odd about it.”
“We’ve lived in a city all our lives, haven’t we?”
“It’s more than that, Nuriv, it’s… shouldn’t there be something?”
We walked, ears waiting for the sound of anything but dirt and air. “Like, bugs or an animal or something,” she squinted at the treetops as though hoping they would prove her wrong.
There was nothing, just the lovely fresh air. My lungs hadn’t been this spoiled in years. The foliage underfoot grew tricky and thicker around us, I got a gear stuck with a curse and ripped my foot free as Lanli soldered off a hanging branch. It fell to the ground with a whumph and then silence. No creatures to react to it.
“How long until sundown, do you think?” I asked, finding any reason to break the silence. Lanli felt distant, like the world was moving between us.
“Does it even get dark here?”
“It was dark last night, for a few hours I guess.”
“There are three suns,” she cut through another low-hanging jungle vine, it fell with a resigned flop.
“Are they actually suns? What if one is a close star?”
“Suns are just stars,” she looked back to me, the leaves dappling her armor, and held her arm up for me, claw clasping the vine she had cut. It oozed and squelched in her grip. “Sample bag, y’think?”
“Worth collecting.” I forced the unruly vine into a sack, surprised at its weight and tenacity, like it had a spine in there somewhere.
The radio buzzed, a message from the Captains, making better progress than ever and giving us all thanks, as though diligence is the reason anyone would trudge through a humid jungle when fraught with exhaustion. Not because we have no choice.
The radio faded out, the crackle and hiss ending with a long whistle… and chirp. Our eyes snapped to one another, could it be…?
“A bird?” Lanli asked, and looked towards the canopies again. Another nearby squawk and we saw it, a dull blue creature flapping, barely visible between the thick netting of vines.
“Is it stuck?” I asked, but another blue animal peeked out, flapping in kind.
“I guess they just live up there,” she shrugged.

The second sound was stranger.
It was so loud and so close, we’d nearly stepped on it. In the tangle of ropey foliage that netted the ground we saw it, pale and grasping. A tiny outstretched hand, the creature unusual and unrecognizable. It peered up through the overgrowth, pinned to the damp floor, desperation obvious in its panicked eyes. The blue birds up the tree shrieked, caged just the same.

I could hear Lanli’s breath in my helmet. She had turned on her direct link. We were together, in each others heads, but we had nothing to say.

The radio crackled in our ear, an alert from the Crash Site. I only half-listened. The Captains were asking everyone to return to base.
“…a chance that the plants are alive, and hostile…”
I looked at the tiny, outstretched hand within the vine netting.
Somehow, we had already discovered that.
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This was a challenge for a job I wanted, to create an entire world and write a small story. It was so much fun and I ended up enjoying the story so much, I had to share.

Science Fiction is far from my most comfortable genre, so diving in headfirst was exciting and fruitful. Always try new things!

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The Fear of Snakes, which only might be about snakes…

Readable version here.

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The Fear of Snakes

I understand the fear of snakes.


They bite you
In little ways.
Small sharp stings
When you reach out too far
Then bleed and recoil
Thinking your lesson learned.
It might swell up
Envenomed
And things get so much worse.
That tiny bite and tiny mistake
Can infect all of you.
Moving inside your body
Spitefully
Poisoning everything you are.

Sometimes they can prey on you
Drop down to catch you up
Squeeze
Wrap so tightly
Coil your face and chest
‘Til your lungs have no air.
You gasp and thrash
Not even enough breath to cry
Just enough to keep your eyes open
And wonder what to do.

They can even swallow you alive.
Dark and enveloped.
No matter how much you push
There’s no way out.
You’re twisted and pulled
Being washed away
Disintegrated
But you suffocate long before that.
No air.
Just damp darkness.
And feeling yourself dissolve.

Though sometimes they’re inside you
Burrowed deep
In your heart and stomach
Writhing and lashing.
You stop moving
Maybe they’ll stop too
But they don’t.
They move
And you never stop feeling them
Until they’re ready.


I’ve never touched a snake
Never seen one
Been hurt by one.
But I understand the fear of snakes.
I feel them all the time.

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I’ve been worried about posting this one. Thank you for supporting me in my writing, no matter what my characters go through.

And by the way, I’ve had a pet snake.

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(Source: wednesdaywolf)

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Scratches at the Door

I hear scraping from the door
Eerie things
I refuse to go inside.
It’s my sister’s room.
She seems fine.

I think it happens when she isn’t in there
Not that I’d know
And she gets angry that I won’t go in
To play with her or get her toys.
I won’t go in, I’d said it before.
I remember when the room was empty
And that was okay
Because there were no noises
But there was no sister either
Just boxes and a desk that should have been used for business
I sometimes used the big computer for games I could find
Like cards that I didn’t understand
And the blinds were always drawn.
It looks much happier in there now
But it doesn’t sound that way.

She doesn’t seem to notice
Which is fine
And it might not be trouble for her
Which is great too.
I don’t want her to be hurt.
I also don’t want to be crazy.
So I won’t go in
And I won’t talk about why.

The scratches lead to a sort of smell.
It’s a little sour.
Not like a lemon is sour or a grapefruit
When those go bad they smell much sweeter
But in the way that something that has no smell
Can go bad
And smell like the bad version of itself.
Sour nothingness.
Almost imaginary. A hint of it.
The hallway air smells a little wrong.
Normal, and wrong.
Nobody else notices so I’m not paying attention either
Unless you count when I look at the walls
Or feel for hidden doors or check the air vents.
My mom sometimes smells things that don’t exist either
Maybe it’s just in my head.
But I can still hear little scratches sometimes.
I don’t think it’s mice.

The door closed when I walked by.
A draft?
It’s such a nice room.
I can see the colors as I walk by, the curtains in the light
I’ve lived here for eight years
And my sister is four.
Only now am I hearing whatever this is.
Are there rats in this area?
My sister wants me to play with her dollhouse
And sometimes she takes things from me
That I can’t get back
Because the door is in the way
And I have to let her have it.
She sticks her tongue out at me
From the doorway
And her eyes dare me to go closer.
I hope she’s okay.

It’s a dry summer and I forgot to get water
My nose bled again on my pillow
I need to refill my glass.
The hallway will be fine
It’s night and my sister is asleep
And usually that’s okay
‘Cause she’s okay
And I shouldn’t be worried about a smell or a sound
It’s just a door on the way to the kitchen
In the dark.
And I’m nearly an adult.

It’s quiet
I got my water
Then I hear something else.
Little scratches, maybe
But in between the sound of air
Like breath, not a breeze
And that sour smell.
I walked past but the scratches followed
Definitely the door, not the walls
I considered screaming and crying
And saying I had bad dreams
So I could make sure my sister was alright.
But she was probably okay.

The next day she said I woke her up
Because my huge feet made the floor creak
That’s how she knew it was me.
She hid in the doorway again when I went to smack her
And stuck out her tongue with her challenging eyes
And she didn’t say anything, just waited.
No, I can’t. And she is lucky.
She is fine.
Maybe it’s just me after all.
She did that three times that day
Stealing my things or being a brat
And running into the room to wait.
I think I hate her a little.
She knows what I’m scared of
And it makes me more scared.
But I didn’t hear the scratches
So that was nice.

I stayed up late
I’m nearly an adult
And I read magazines because it’s Friday
And staying awake feels fun
Even by myself
Until I hear the scratching.
I thought it was louder
To hear it in my room
Until I realize it’s my door this time.
Outside of it.
Instead of fear
Which is the logical response
I do the stupid thing
and get out of my bed.
My sister was right, in a way
My footsteps are heavy
Even when I don’t want them to be
and by my third step
I hear the scratching go back down the hall.


The door was open
There was sunlight everywhere
And my sister slept like the dead.
They said she was tired out all day
And cranky, so they let her sleep.
It had been two hours and she was still out.
I watch her from outside the doorway
The old room that used to be a boring desk
Now full of flowers and neon
With a tiny figure splayed out
Nearly outgrowing the kid’s bed already.
She’s okay.
And I walk in
Through the door this once
Stepping to the side of her bed.
My ‘huge feet’ betray me
As I look at her long nails
With chipped pink polish and bits of paint underneath
The grime of a child or worse
And her flowery-clipped hair.
She opens her eyes just a little
Like a sad puppy
Tiny pupils barely oval shaped
“I just want to play”
On her sticky breath
It smelled sour.

She whines and closes her eyes again
As I step back through the door
And close it.
I was afraid of a door
And I was wrong.
All this time
I should have been afraid of what’s behind it.

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