Devolving

The Sky (Photo credit: S.T. Ranscht)

Legitimate research into the benefits of LSD in treating PTSD is currently in the mainstream. The lesser known fact is that this kind of research has been conducted since the 1950s.

So maybe this short story in response to the prompt “Devolving” will strike a chord with you. Maybe not, but I can vouch for the hallucinations, and hey, the realizations sure felt profound. More than that, they’ve stayed with me all this time.

But if you don’t identify with this story, try one of the others over at Writers Co-op. (I am particularly fond of Curtis Bausse’s My Brother’s Keeper.)

We would love for you to join us. The next prompt is “Entitled”. (See Writers Co-op for the very easy submission guidelines.)

From the Highest Heights

by S.T. Ranscht

“Blotter acid?” Damon asked. “What’s blotter acid?”

Robert fidgeted and rolled his eyes waiting for his tab.

Stephanie drew a card and moved her piece to the next yellow square. “It’s just a different delivery system,” she said. “Blotter paper gives you extra fiber with none of the empty calories of a sugar cube. Even diabetics could take blotter acid.”

“Okay, okay,” Robert leaned across the board with his hand out. “Nobody here is diabetic are they?”

“Check your attitude, Bob. If you have a bad trip, it’s gonna ruin it for all of us, and Mom and Dad will find out.” She gave a little square of soft paper to each of the boys and placed one on her tongue. Zipping the rest up in the baggie, she smacked Robert’s hand away when he reached for it.

“Hey!” He looked offended. “You’ve got plenty. I just want one more. What’s your problem?”

I’m not the one with a problem. Don’t be an idiot. You don’t know how strong this stuff is yet.”

Damon held his square between his thumb and forefinger, studying one side and then the other. “How long till we feel it? How will we know if it works?”

“If it’s good stuff,” Damon said, mashing his between his molars, “15 or 20 minutes, maybe less. And you’ll know, believe me.”

“It’s not always the same for everybody, even from the same batch. But Robert’s right — you’ll know,” Stephanie assured him. “Just don’t start laughing.”

“Why not?”

“You won’t be able to stop. Whose turn is it?”

Robert snatched a card. “Mine! Cool, double blue.” He hopped his piece from the next blue to the one after that.

With a doubtful look on a face anticipating disaster, Damon squeezed his eyes shut as he slowly brought the tab to his mouth. Stephanie and Robert watched him chew and swallow.

“Take your turn,” Robert urged.

Damon drew Plumpy. “Crap!” He moved his piece all the way from Princess Lolly to the bottom of the board.

“You’re going the wrong way, man,” Robert said with glee, jumping to his feet. “I’m gonna go get something to drink. You guys want anything?”

“Do you have Dr. Pepper?” Damon asked without much hope.

“Dr. Pepper?! Who drinks Dr. Pepper?” Robert wanted to know.

“There’s some out in the garage,” Stephanie said. “If you want it cold, I can put it in a glass with ice.”

“That’d be great,” Damon said. “Thanks.”

Robert and Stephanie left the room.

~~~

When Stephanie and Robert returned, Damon was bent over the board, staring intently at the Peppermint Forest.

“Look at this, you guys,” he commanded. “The trees. Are waving. In the wind.”

Stephanie started to laugh and clapped her hand over her mouth instead.

“It’s woooorkiiing!” Robert sang.

Stephanie handed Damon his drink. “What’s this?” he asked.

“Dr. Pepper,” she reminded him.

He took a sip. “Wow. It tastes like… being buried alive. But in a good way.” His other hand swept past his eyes. He looked worried. “What’s wrong with my hand?”

“Nothing,” Robert said. “It’s just trails.”

“Let’s go outside,” Stephanie suggested.

They got as far as the front porch. Robert shut his eyes and leaned back against the house. Damon stood at the rail scanning the sky. Stephanie sat in the rocker but didn’t rock.

“If I don’t move,” she announced, “this is just a chair. I have the power to define my surroundings.” She watched Robert for… ever. “What are you doing, Bob?”

Without moving or opening his eyes, he answered, “I’m”

Fifteen minutes passed.

“sitting”

Fifteen more minutes passed.

“on the”

Fifteen more.

“steps.”

“What do you see?” she asked.

After several minutes, he said, “The temperatures are coming off me in different colors.”

“Cool,” she said. “Let’s take a walk.”

“I don’t think I can,” Robert objected.

“Yes, you can,” she told him.

“I can’t feel my legs.”

“It doesn’t matter. They know what to do.”

Damon whimpered, “I can’t stop them.”

“Who?” Stephanie asked. “What are they doing?”

“The words,” he answered. “They’re marching in my head.”

“What words?” Robert asked.

“Mary had a little lamb its fleece was white as snow twinkle twinkle little star how I wonder what you are ABCDEFG HIJK elemenopee Marry had a little lamb—”

She took Damon by the hand and led him down the steps.

“Whoa,” Robert said. “You just went through me and I disappeared.”

“Can you walk now?”

“I think so.”

“Good. Let’s go.”

Damon looked closely at his hand holding Stephanie’s. “There’s so much energy.” He looked at Stephanie’s face. “Can you feel it?”

Stephanie looked surprised. “Yes. It feels good.”

Robert tripped over something as he passed them. He stopped to investigate. “Look. It’s a rock. But feel it.” He held it out to his sister. He whispered conspiratorially, “It’s not solid.”

“Neither is your foot,” Damon offered.

“That’s right,” Robert remembered. “So my foot should have gone right through it.” He stopped. “Oh, no. I’m in the wrong universe.”

“You know the story about the infinite number of monkeys typing on an infinite number of typewriters for all eternity?” his sister asked him.

“Typewriters?” he countered.

“Eventually, they will type the complete works of Shakespeare.”

Damon’s eyebrows scrunched together. “Can they read?”

“No. Monkeys can’t read.” Robert sounded indignantly certain.

“They don’t have to read,” Stephanie clarified. “Their typing is totally random. But if they type forever, they’ll type everything that ever was, and everything that will ever be. In every universe.”

“And a shit-ton of complete nonsense,” Robert added.

They stood silent for no one knew how long.

Looking up, Damon declared, “The sky. Oh my God. I just realized the sky goes all the way to the ground.”

Robert followed Damon’s gaze. “Does it go all the way up?”

Stephanie joined them. “No.”

“Why not?” Damon asked.

“Because of Space,” she said.

Damon’s jaw dropped. “Wow. That’s real.”

Robert turned to look at her. “Is that where the monkeys are?”

She cocked her head and scrutinized him. She started laughing a gasping, unstoppable tsunami of absurd laughter. So did they.

She dragged them back into the house to collapse on the living room floor, briefly aware — but not really caring — that they had lost control. Only Stephanie noticed how grungy the walls looked. Like they were covered with cobwebs. It would take hours to clean them off.

This trip was definitely over.

Bummer.

Join us!

Photo credit: S.T. Ranscht

Something’s happening over at Writers Co-op. The latest writing prompt, Catharsis, attracted some powerful pieces of writing. Maybe you’ll write something for the next prompt: Devolving.

I’d like to share the short piece I wrote for Catharsis with you. Judge for yourself whether or not it’s one of the powerful ones, but please take a look at the others, too. They’re all worth your time. And maybe let me know what you think of mine.

Pivot

by S.T. Ranscht

The second child wasn’t like the other four. Or like any of the other kids any of them knew. Sure, she had two of everything she was supposed to have two of, and one of everything else like most of the other kids, but her mind didn’t work the same way the minds of everyone who knew her worked. Except for her dad’s. More analytical. More precise. More inquisitive.

But even the two of them perceived life, its puzzles and problems, its values and goals, as propositions so different from one another that their perceptions might have been those of species as alien to each other as if one were carbon based and the other were based on silicon. Or antimatter. His admitted only empirical, rational, fact-based evidence as valid foundations for any answer, argument, or choice. Hers appreciated those aspects of reality, but also embraced the intuitive, feeling, and sense of justice and interconnectedness of all things that painted the biggest Big Picture possible in the vastness of the Universes.

But because he was older and more experienced, he made sure she knew there was something fundamentally wrong with her perception. Her understanding. Her questions. Her conclusions. Her choices. Her self.

And because she was younger and knew so little, she believed him even when a tiny, muffled voice in her head, incapable of screaming, muttered, “He’s wrong. Isn’t he?”

She stopped sharing her thoughts with him.

It was her shamefully, never-to-be realized potential, he said, that convinced the educational testing system she should skip a grade and spend the rest of her school career competing with students older than she was. 

Was it any wonder, then, that in a house full of family, in a world full of people, she always felt alone? Unseen. Unheard. Unappreciated. Just like her dad.

Till one budding Spring day, sitting in Trig, as Mrs. Jordan — with a run in her nylons that one of the other girls referred to as “the run in her leg” — worked at the chalkboard to explain logarithms to her classroom of 11th grade advanced mathematicians, something inexplicable happened and everything changed.

She was fifteen and as pure as they say driven snow is. She was healthy and had eaten a nutritious breakfast. Sunshine poured in the windows. But the walls fell away and she was instantaneously surrounded by black sky and stars — with an electric blue e-curve floating in space like an out-of-body umbilical cord, and the unshakable certainty that humans did not invent math, but merely discovered it, and a sense of presence that imbued her with the knowledge that she knew what it was most people think of as God.

~~~

When the classroom fogged back into being, she couldn’t tell how long she’d been gone. Leaving the room at the end of class, she felt as though she were gliding six inches above the floor. She told only her best friend about what had happened, and she gasped, “You just experienced cosmic consciousness!”

Whatever it was, it purged her of self doubt. She kept asking questions and seeking answers for the rest of her life. Self-contained. Confident. Fearless.

She never told her dad.

Let’s Show Off

time-2-nathan-bunney
Photo credit: Nathan Bunney

 

Ugh. Revised and Rescheduled. Sorry for the inconvenience.

writers co-op

Recently, several of us explored ways to expand our little co-op. Having failed to heed the Universal Caution against volunteering, I volunteered to organize two ongoing projects — Writing Prompts and Critique Groups — that might induce authors to participate. Most of those who commented on my ideas supported them. (I suspect they were just happy somebody offered to do something, but I am grateful nonetheless.)

Let’s begin with a Writing Prompt. This isn’t a competition, but all submissions will be shown off in a Show Case posted here on Writers Co-op. Here are some guidelines: Pick a genre, any genre. Use approximately 6 to 1,000 words. The goal is to stretch our author muscles and produce a piece worth sharing with our friends.

The first prompt is:Atrophied.

Submission Instructions: By Monday, October 4, attach your work (as a .docx or .pdf) to an email addressed…

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It’s My Book Birthday!

Congratulations to Kate Allen Fox! Pando is exquisite, and I encourage you to add it to any child’s picture book collection.

Kate Allen Fox

Today is a day I’ve dreamed about for a long time: the official release date of my very first book! Pando: A Living Wonder of Trees, illustrated by Turine Tran, is out in the world!

This book has been years in the making. I wrote my first draft in early 2019. I signed with an agent in April 2019. The publisher made an offer on the book in October of that year, and I signed the official contract in early 2020. Then came revisions, illustrations, more revisions, more illustrations, printing, marketing.

Getting to a book’s birthday is a long road in the best of circumstances, but I have had so many wonderful co-conspirators in bringing this book into the world.

It’s a book!

So Many Thank Yous

I want to thank Dr. Paul Rogers, who patiently taught me about Pando and believed in this book from the beginning;

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One-month-til-release Preorder Giveaway!

Please join me in celebrating Kate’s success! Pre-order a signed, very special, beautiful picture book by Kate Allen Smith, and earn a chance to grow an Aspen of your own, and maybe win a second signed book to share.

Kate Allen Fox

Buckle up! It’s debut time! In exactly one month, my debut picture book, Pando: A Living Wonder of Trees (illustrated by Turine Tran), will hit shelves.

Pando: A Living Wonder of Trees is out August 15th from Capstone Editions

If you preorder (or already have), I will send you a signed bookplate for your copy, and you will be entered to win a Grow Your Own Aspen kit! How cool is that?! You will also be entered to win a *second* signed copy of Pando to share with a friend or leave in a Free Little Library.

To enter, simply fill out this form: https://forms.gle/LgrERrom5WcMLpwV7

Grow your own Aspen!

Preorders help create book buzz, help new bookstores and readers discover the book by increasing its ranking, and help you get your copy ASAP. They can even influence an author’s future book deals by showing how well their books sell (or…

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First Line Transformations & GIVEAWAY

Here’s an encouraging story for all aspiring authors.

Kate Allen Fox

A story’s first line is an invitation to the reader. In a few short phrases, the author introduces the subject and tone of the story, creating context and mood. This is particularly true of picture books, where low word counts create even more pressure for an opening line that pulls the reader in. So much pressure can make finding just the right words challenging.

Today, I’m going to show you the transformation of my debut’s opening line. Keep reading to the end for details on a critique GIVEAWAY! (Spoiler: everyone who enters wins!)

Finding the Right Words

When I was getting ready to query the manuscript that became my debut, Pando: A Living Wonder of Trees (illustrated by Turine Tran, out from Capstone on August 1st), I thought I had a solid opening.

The environmentally-focused story, which tells the story of 47,000 Aspen trees connected by their roots to…

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Rabbit Hole pre-order

I was one of four editors for Rabbit Hole 3, helping to select and develop the winning stories. But I do have a story in Rabbit Hole Volume Zero: A Different Life, which was a semi-finalist in the 2019 ScreenCraft Cinematic Short Story Contest.

Proceeds from both volumes go to the Against Malaria Foundation.

writers co-op

Volume 3 of The Rabbit Hole (ebook) is now available for pre-order.

Romantically weird, weirdly romantic: 27 stories that take you down the rabbit hole to love. But if love never did run smooth, here it goes wild – this is love that twists and torments, plunges and prowls, love that crosses boundaries unknown. Oysters and aliens, ghost and gods, stalkers and stars – there’s no limit to the forms that love can take. Why, that toaster – be honest now – are you sure it doesn’t arouse a burning desire?

Tragedy, humour, mystery, drama, hope – Volume 3 of The Rabbit Hole brings you love in its most mischievous guises, from cunning and cruel to cloud nine bliss. Confirmation, if any were needed, that love is a weird, but many-splendoured thing.

Anyone who pre-orders now (at the special launch price of $0.99) will have it delivered to…

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Pony Express in Retreat

Pony Express Rider (Painting by Stanley Wood)

Thank you, America.

Yay! They listened.

The resounding throngs

Genius Idea!

Hightailin’ It, Pony Express 1860 (Painting by Bruce Cheever, 2019, courtesy Eitlejorg Museum)

It will be there in 3 days.

Agent of the USPS a couple weeks ago

But my little package took 6 days to get from San Diego, California, to Colorado Springs, Colorado.

At first, I was puzzled by the delay — not to mention disappointed. But then somebody said the new Postmaster General wanted to celebrate election year by reinstating the Pony Express. My immediate reaction was:

Cool! Who is this new Postmaster General?

Me, thinking about horses carrying the mail
Continue reading “Genius Idea!”