Thursday, October 30, 2014

The Curse of the Crimson Pumpkins

Dear Ellie,

There is something dreadful and wonderful about ghost stories.  Even as someone who has never believed in super natural things of this nature, I'm still drawn to them.  I believe they tap into a fundamental, primal part of ourselves.  Something buried deep in our heads beneath folds and folds of rational gray matter.  Horror stories have a way of peeling away those folds, revealing those primal parts and opening our minds to a secret element of who we are.

These stories are ever more powerful when tethered to a place, like the Legend of Sleepy Hallow.  Ever since I read that American classic--- and ever since I knew I wanted to be a father--- I wanted to create a similar kind of mythology surrounding the place that we lived... and that's where the Curse of the Crimson Pumpkins comes in.

It's a story about mysterious red pumpkins that appear far off in the woods.  Pumpkins that inspire a sinister fear in those who behold them.  Pumpkins that come closer and closer as Halloween grows near.  By the time you've read these letters, I imagine you'll be older.  You'll have heard this story many times before, perhaps before every Halloween.  And maybe, even, you'll have seen these pumpkins yourself, shimmering far off in the forest on frigid, moonless nights...

And as a warning, in case this story somehow escaped your childhood (like, if your mother wouldn't let me read it to you!) then I suppose it should come with a warning... WARNING: This story is a little bit graphic in some areas.

So without further delay, here it is: The Curse of the Crimson Pumpkins.


Illustration commissioned from Tze-Chiang Lim

When the day of the Autumn Equinox comes, should you see a faint red glow off in the shadows of the Florida flatwoods, don’t listen to that curious voice in your head.  Turn around.  Walk away.  And as you walk, should you feel that you are being stalked… should you feel a heat at your neck, like a candle held near… should a light be cast behind you that warps your shadow on the leaves and pine needles before you… don’t twist your head to investigate.  I did once.  Just once.  And now, the crimson pumpkins will forever haunt my dreams.           

I don’t know why the crimson pumpkins began to appear when they did.  It was the first day of Autumn when I first saw one.  I was only 10 years old.  At the time, Foxwood was still undeveloped and the three lots across the street were nothing but a tangle of vines and pine trees and underbrush.  It’s there that I saw a flicker at twilight.  A tiny speck of red light, peeking through the maze of fallen limbs.  I watched it from my bedroom window that night, wondering what it could possibly be.  Your aunt Andrea and I dared one another to go out and see what it was, but neither of us could get to the end of the driveway before our courage failed us.  We watched and watched into the night, but it was only a matter of time before our curiosity was not enough to resist the tow of sleep.

The following evening, that strange light returned.  Andrea and I walked around to the other side of Meadowlark Circle to see if our neighbors there had put up some strange lantern.  There was no such thing in their yard or near their house, but from their front lawn, too, we could see the flicker again, deep in the forest.           

We wanted to investigate, but still, our courage could not overcome our fear.  Again that night, I watched the light flicker in the woods. 

It went on like that.  Each night, the light always returned, flickering in the darkness like a beating heart.

Whenever day came, I’d cross the ditch on the other side of the road and peer into the forest, yet every time, I only saw wilderness.  After a month of watching the light, an unsettling feeling came over me.  When I first saw it, it was only the size of Venus perhaps, which hung in the night sky.  But a month later?  It had grown larger.  With each passing day, it appeared to get larger and larger... or closer.

It was two weeks before Halloween when I at last saw the source of the light in greater detail.  It was a red candle, buried inside of a tall, peculiar pumpkin.  At first, I thought it was some kind of prank.  Some Halloween Jack-o-Lantern.  When daylight came, Andrea and I walked out into the forest to investigate.  We cut through the underbrush with yard clippers toward the place we had last seen the Jack-o-Lantern, but when we arrived, we found something unexpected.  The shattered remains of a pumpkin, its surface black and sticky with something smelling foul.  When we got to within a few feet, an explosion of flies erupted as though from a carcass.  We stumbled backward, then clamored away toward the safety of the road.

We thought perhaps that that was the end of the light.  Maybe some neighborhood kid had gone out to investigate earlier in the day and stomped the pumpkin to pieces.  Yet when night fell again, the light returned.  This time, it was only forty feet from our mailbox.  We could see it clearly now, and it was like no Jack-o-Lantern we had ever seen.  There was no toothy grin, no nose, no eyes carved out.  Instead, it appeared as though the pumpkin had been hacked clumsily by some large blade, like a person brutally murdered with a butcher knife.  We squinted at the red flame inside, but we could see no candle stalk.  No wax.  It appeared as though it dangled in space.  It cast fingers of light through the slits hacked from the pumpkin’s flesh.

It was at this point that our friends and neighbors began to wonder about the pumpkin, as well.  Everyone accused everyone else of having placed the pumpkin in the forest.  For having moved it closer, each night, toward our house.  Yet no one took credit, and no one had the courage to walk into the forest, at night, to retrieve it.

When Halloween descended, the pumpkin had at last come to the edge of the forest.  Trick or treaters didn’t walk down the northern end of Meadowlark Circle that year.  They took the long way, their parents citing the lack of street lights on the northern side, where the pumpkin lay.  We all knew the real reason.

I stayed up as long as I could that night, watching the pumpkin across the street but somewhere around eleven o’clock, I finally fell asleep.  When I awoke at midnight, I peered out the window to find that the pumpkin was no longer on the other side of the street by the woods.  It was at the edge of our yard.  I shut the blinds.  Threw myself beneath the sheets.  I was having a nightmare, for sure.  I’d had them before, hadn’t I?  At some point early in the morning, I peeked out of my blankets and saw a tiny sliver of red light sneaking in through the cracks in the blinds.  It moved along the ceiling of my room, as though crawling like a spider.

Was it possible?  Was the pumpkin inching ever closer outside my window? 

I don’t know why I rolled out of bed.  Or why I wormed along the floor and over to the window.  Or why I lifted a panel of the blinds.  Or why I looked out.  Whatever the reason, I regret it to this very day.  Outside the window, down below next to the mango tree, the crimson pumpkin lay.  It was leaning backward, as though gazing up at me.  That ghastly red glow spewed from a gash in its flesh, like blood oozing from the wound on a corpse.  And then the pumpkin turned.  A ray of red light lashed at my face.  Stabbed at my eyes.  And that’s when thoughts not of my own invaded my mind.  I lurched away from the window.  Put my back to the wall.  Then came the sounds.  At first, I thought they were whispers inside my head.  Moans and groans.  But in their faintness, they were too shrill to be either.  That’s when I realized they weren’t whispers, but shrieks and wails from a distance.  And they, too, were coming closer.

But then the red light peeking through the blinds suddenly vanished, replaced instead by the first rays of light from the rising sun.  It took me nearly an hour to walk downstairs, but when I did I opened the front door.  Looked toward the mango tree.  Next to the row of pineapples was a shattered pumpkin, covered by something black and sticky.  The following night, there was no pumpkin or red light that flickered in the night.

All through the year I accused your uncle Zack and Grandfather of conspiring to frighten me.  It was easy to deny that anything deeper or sinister was afoot now that the pumpkin had disappeared.  They denied it, of course, but said that they wished they had thought of it themselves.

As Autumn passed, then Winter, the pumpkin faded from my consciousness.  That is, until the coming of the next Autumn.  That’s when, again, the crimson pumpkin appeared across the street, deep in the forest.  To my horror, however, as the days passed, more pumpkins began to appear all through the neighborhood.  Far off in the cow pastures.  Atop the old shell-hill on Hawkview Circle.  In vacant lots.  One night, I even saw one floating along in the lake at the middle of Meadowlark Circle, the red glow of its flame dancing and licking along the placid waves. With each passing day, more crimson pumpkins appeared.  Each day, they came closer to the houses of our neighbors. But there was one house that no pumpkin crept toward.  Ours.  But something else was on the march, for me.  Something far more fearful that came closer and closer with each setting of the sun.

Each night, before I drifted off to sleep... there was the faint sound of wailing and shrieking in the distance, which only I could hear.  And each night, the terrible sounds came closer and closer.  The nearer we came to Halloween, the more vivid--- the sharper--- those sounds became.  With it, came a dull thudding.  A hacking, like a butcher carving at a leg of beef.  There were women weeping.  Horses shrieking and cattle bellowing in twisted death agony.  And visions, too, that struck me at that bleary moment between wakefulness and sleep.  They were visions washed in red light, and amid that red light I saw silhouettes.  Withered bodies of women and children standing erect, heads hanging limply on their necks, mouths gaping, eyes emptied of life, but ambling along on their feet nonetheless.  I saw pumpkins shattered everywhere, and amid them all, a body dangling from a rope on a tree.

A month before Halloween, these nightmares began to invade the waking world.  I awoke one morning to find shattered pumpkins covering the road.  Our whole family came out to look, and that's when your grandmother noticed something peculiar.

"These are Seminole pumpkins," she said, looking closer.  "Just like the ones we grow in the yard."

When we went to check our pumpkin patch, none of the pumpkins were missing, yet we were the only ones in the neighborhood who grew them.  Did this have something to do with the crimson pumpkin coming to our house first, last year?  As I stood amidst the pumpkin patch, I finally began to understand.

In case your Grandmother never told you, Seminole pumpkins are a type of native Floridian pumpkin that were grown and cultured by the Seminole Indians that once lived here.  That is, before most of the Seminole Indians were rounded up and forced to march west on the Trail of Tears.

That day at school, I went to the library and read everything I could about the Seminole Indians.  I read about the Seminole Wars.  How, before the Civil War, the Seminoles resisted attempts by the U.S. Government to relocate them west.  How they refused to abandon the swamps and flatwoods of Southern Florida.  And then I read about how General William Harney launched a campaign to purge them from the land.  At the attack on Tequesta Landing, he swept into their village with 300 men.  The Seminoles vanished into the swamps before they could be captured, but to insure that they couldn't survive any longer on the land, the Harney's soldiers slaughtered all of the villager's horses and livestock, burned their fruit trees, and smashed every last one of their Seminole pumpkins, for which the Indians relied very heavily for food.  Most of the Indians gave up after that and were sent away on the Trail of Tears.  Most of them would die on the journey.  Others fled to the Everglades and slowly starved.  Only one Seminole remained to confront General Willian Harney.  It was the son of Chief Osceola, and he neither fought nor surrendered.  Instead, he whispered a curse on the conquers and their descendants.  He told Harney and his men that the spirits of his people would return to the place from which they were banished, and when they did, they would haunt those who had usurped the land.  Young Osceola was hanged on the spot, surrounded by dying horses and livestock, their blood coating the shattered pumpkins around them.

It's unknown exactly where the attack on Tequesta Landing was, but it was said to be somewhere here in Martin County.  Perhaps, even, here in this very neighborhood.

For the next week, I stayed up late racking my brain.  Trying to find an answer as what to do.  But time was running out.  

A few days before Halloween, early in the morning before the sun came up, I was looking out across the neighborhood from my bedroom window at all of the crimson pumpkins that now populated the forest.  That's when I saw something appear at the end of our driveway.  Something large.  Four legged.  It was a peculiar, shaggy horse with short legs.  Was it one of the Seminole's horses?  A marsh tackey?  It stood by the road, head slumped and body quivering.  That's when I saw the gaping wounds by its ribs.  Entire chunks hacked away from its side, as though inflicted by bayonets.  And then there was the blood.  It spewed forth from the creature, pooling on the pavement before snaking off down the road like a river.  So much blood, that it ran for yards and yards.  Some of it slushed into the swales, turning the water red.  Some of it formed lakes in potholes.  As I came closer, the creature raised its head.  It's eyes were wide.  Swollen and wild in anguish.  It opened its mouth to wail and whinny, but nothing came out.  I ran up the driveway, into the house, and slammed the door behind me.  I told your grandmother and grandfather about what happened, but as soon as the three of us came out to investigate, the horse was already gone.  Only the river of blood remained.  By late morning, the blood had clotted, turning black and sticky and foul, to which a swarm of flies came to feast.

That night, as I drifted away to sleep, I saw the horse again, in a flash.  It's mouth open, again.  Eyes bulging, again.  Nostrils flaring, again.  But this time, I heard it shriek.  It shrieked and shrieked all through my dreams until the light of the morning came and ended its misery.

I had to do something.  I had to right the wrongs of our past.  Just before dawn, I gathered up as many Seminole pumpkins as I could carry, packing them in my backpack and into my arms.  Then I set off across the street and into the woods.  There were many crimson pumpkins now, like a legion, slowly marching from the forest toward all the other houses.  As I passed them, I turned my head away.  Refused to look amid the flames.  Red light began to gather to my left.  To my right.  Behind me. Then the light was joined by sounds.  Wails of despair.  The weeping of children.  The further I went into the forest, the more intense the light became and the greater the volume of the sounds.  Still, I refused to look anywhere but forward.  I'd peered into the light once before and nearly lost my mind.  What would happen if I did again?  I pushed on ever faster in a panic, and it seemed the forest itself turned against me.  Seemed as though it wanted my blood.  The serrated stalks of the palmettos slashed at my bare legs and arms like tiny saws.  Ticks lept from the underbrush and gorged on my neck, my wrists, my ankles, my eyelids.  The red light around me grew so great, so intense, I could not tell what was sweat on my body and what was blood.  I could not tell the cries of the children from my own.

At last, I came to the center of the forest.  The place where I had seen the very first crimson pumpkin appear.  An ancient, withered slash pine teetered before me.  Amid the crimson hues, a silhouette hung from its largest limb.  It was dressed in threadbare hides, but not in flesh.  The crimson light passed through its ribs and bathed the tree behind it.  The silhouette twitched, from the wind or not,  I could not tell.  That's when I saw shadows, in vague human form, surrounding the tree.  Shadows that consumed the crimson light around me like a leech devours blood.  Each of the shadows turned, slowly, to witness me.  And then they came closer.  They moved like black clouds, blown by the wind.  I would have turned and fled at the sight, were there not a worse fate all around me.

My arms began to quake so violently that the Seminole pumpkins tumbled from my arms.  I unzipped my back pack, and one by one, I rolled them toward the shadows like bowling balls.  The shadows stopped.  Measured my deeds.  Judged them, perhaps.  I wanted to speak--- to say that I was sorry for what was done to them--- but from my mouth came only gasps, and my eyes, tears of terror.  When all of the pumpkins were delivered, I fell to the ground and buried my head in my knees.  Clenched my eyes shut.  Covered my ears.  And waited.

When I opened my eyes moments later, there was no light but the light of the moon, dripping in through the canopy.  No sound but the whistle of the wind through the pine needles, which clacked together like tiny green wind chimes.  The shadows were gone.  The silhouette was gone.  The crimson pumpkins were gone... but so, too, were the ones I'd delivered.  I stood up and slowly walked away, never turning my back to the tree until I had come to the road.

The following night, no more crimson pumpkins appeared in the woods.  I thought, perhaps, that I'd finally made amends.  That I'd proven we were not like those who came before us.  But when the Autumn Equinox came the following year, I discovered that I was somehow wrong.  On some nights, when all was still and quiet, I could hear the voices from afar.  On some nights, when the air was cold and frigid, I could see the shimmer of a crimson light far off in the distance.  Were the spirits still unsatisfied?  Conflicted?  Would they one day continue their march against those who now inhabit their lands?

I wish I knew the answer.  And so before every Halloween, I leave nothing to chance.  I confront my fears and set off again on the very same journey I had before.

 This, however, is not a journey I can make forever.  One day I will be too old.  Too tired.  Or... too fearful.  When that time comes, Ellie, it will be your turn.  I'll fill your arms with Seminole pumpkins.  Pack your backpack.  Then, you'll go forth toward the heart of the forest and, once there, confront the Curse of the Crimson Pumpkins yourself.  Stay mindful of your task, though.  Don't ever look behind you.  And should you ever find yourself face to face with a crimson pumpkin, don't ever gaze into its light... for if you do, the crimson pumpkin will also gaze into you.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

It's 65 Degrees... Get Out Your Winter Clothes!

Dear Ellie,

As you know, we Floridians can never let cold weather go to waste.  If we're lucky, we'll get a few days of winter reprieve and then end up right back with sweltering temperatures and oppressive humidity.  Lucky for us, we just happened to get a bit of that reprieve this past week!  The best part?  We finally got to take you for long walks in the stroller!

With your retinopathy still present, though, your eyes are quite sensitive to direct sunlight, so trips in the stroller thus far have taken the form of old school video games.  To evade the sunlight, we bounced around through the shadows of trees, dodging the sunbeams that pierced the limbs and pine needles.  Wherever there were long stretches of exposed road, we'd kick it into high gear and sprint for the shade or turn the stroller around entirely and walk in reverse.

Our walk this morning, however, was a bit more relaxed.  The day was still young when we set out.  The sun still slept behind the horizon.  You peered around from your seat in the stroller at the sounds of the early birds as they chirped away the stillness of night.  Normally, you would have grunted or growled on occasion, but this time, you didn't make a single sound for the entire two mile walk.  I couldn't help but to wonder what was bumping around in that 5 month old brain of yours.  I've always been put at ease by the places that are between places--- Dawn and Dusk; inter-tidal zones and foothills; the summer and winter solstices--- and I wondered whether somehow you felt the same way.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

A Plate of Agar

Dear Ellie,

Your adjusted age is now 5 months, which means its time for another round-off of size comparison pictures!

From the looks of it, we'll have to stretch Oliver the Eel out a bit in order for you to fit inside!  Even though you've never exceeded the 10th percentile in length and your head is still up around 80th, you look conspicuously different than just 3 months ago.  We even got to compare you to some other preemies (who are still before their due dates!)  We took a visit back to St. Mary's hospital because we wanted to do a swallow study, which you passed with flying colors.  While there, we took you by the NICU.  It was the first time I'd been back to the NICU since we took you home.  

Going into it, I was a bit cavalier about the whole thing, I think.  I thought I'd cruise in with you and your mother, chat it up with the nurses, and look around fondly.  But that wasn't how I felt at all, once we got there.  I wasn't prepared for how taken aback I'd be at seeing the NICU 2 preemies.  Even though they were around 4 times bigger than you when you were born, they stilled looked miniscule compared to how you look now.  But the sights I think struck me in a rather shallow way.  Hearing the sounds--- the bleeps and blips and dainty cries of tiny babies--- stirred so many more emotions.

And again, there was another sense that struck even deeper.  The sounds were second to the smells.  It's said that smell is linked to the limbic cortex of our brains: the seat of our primal emotions, far removed from all of that thinking matter that is stacked on top of it.  Maybe that's why the smells, most keenly, brought back all of the emotions we felt during your time there.  The pervasive scent of hand sanitizer, so thick in the air that it soaks into your clothes.  The soapy smell of the washing station.  The smell... of something that shouldn't be born yet.      

Weird, huh?  I guess I never mentioned this before, but the smell that really unsettled me the most was the smell of you, a fetus.  It was an omnipresent smell early on while I stood next to you.  Faint, but unmistakable.  I remember on the very first day after you were born, you were completely enveloped in your isolette by a warm blanket of humidity that regulated your body temperature and protected your skin.  Because you baked in that isolette 24/7 for quite some time, the atmosphere inside became saturated with the smell of... you.  And you didn't smell like a baby.  You smelled like... unflavored gelatin or a plate of agar.  A sort of... fleshy, living smell.  Like what a washed, sterile, organ must smell like were it somehow kept alive on its own.  I remember pondering that smell those first few days.  How the smell of a baby was so pleasant but the smell of a fetus was so ambiguous.  I imagine our human senses never adapted to make the smell of a living fetus pleasant because we humans were never supposed to smell one to begin with.  And so when we came back to the NICU last week, I caught a whiff of that smell.  And all of those early days after your birth came spilling back into my brain.  

If you've read all of my letters to you this far, maybe it seems tedious by this point that I can't stop thinking about what happened to you this past year.  Maybe you think I should just forget it and move on.  But I want you to understand a very important thing that infuses the lives of you, your mother, and myself.  As we watch you slowly grow into a human being--- as smiles turn to laughs and swats turn to grasps--- its impossible to ignore the fact that you were almost not here at all.  

To a lot of people, I imagine parenthood might have a certain inevitability to it.  Something bland and promised to them.  But to me, after all that you've been through, having you here with me feels like I've been given some spectacular prize or won some kind of unlikely lottery.  And why shouldn't I want to feel this way, always?

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

The Clockmaker's Illustration

Dear Ellie,

Creative pursuits have always come easily to me.  Writing, acting, musicianship... sadly though, I've always been an exceedingly mediocre artist.  For this reason, I've always envied artists.  I wish I could write you stories and then illustrate them myself, but given that my artistic skill hasn't improved since my days in Kindergarten (I gave up when my very earnest attempts to color between the lines met with continual failure) I've settled on the next best thing.

Over the past two months, I've had the pleasure of seeing your stories come to life, though not by my own hand.  As I mentioned previously, I looked very carefully for an illustrator who's style I thought captured your stories best, and Tze immediately felt like a natural fit.  He was very accommodating and over the course of around 100 e-mail exchanges we discussed which scenes should be illustrated and how.  The process was quite a bit more involved than I thought, but quite enjoyable.  Tze insisted on doing the best that he could.  He wanted the illustrations to match what I'd imagined, and I'm so incredibly happy with the final results.  Each illustration involved numerous iterations, with some illustrations involving as many as a dozen different sketches and rough drafts.  Some stories took quite some time to get right, so much so that I felt bad about requesting changes.  The Girl in the Sphere was surprisingly troublesome, but with other stories, like Ludwig von Whiskers Paws, I could think of very few ways to improve them.         

Of all your stories, I was looking forward to seeing the final product of The Clockmaker's Daughter most.  I've read the story so many times to you that I can recite it by heart.  From the first sketch to the final illustration, Tze always seemed to render the scene better than my own imagination could.  I can't wait to frame it and put it up on the wall next to your crib:

The Clockmaker works tirelessly through the night...

I plan on commissioning an illustration for each of your stories, though I probably shouldn't be too prolific with my writing.  I might write myself straight into the poor house!  

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Barbarians at the Gate

Here you are, being adorable in a 
picture I should have cropped better...

Here you are, critically examining your grandmother

You are starting to rock the whole sitting up thing, 
though still refusing to admit that arms should have 
anything to do with it.

Dear Ellie,

Don't let those smiley pictures up there fool you.  There is trouble afoot.  As it turns out, all of your preemie problems aren't quite over with.  All of the things that wracked you most in the NICU and threatened your life have disappeared, but all of the things you utterly conquered in the NICU have returned to the gates, and now they are bellowing like barbarians.  Before your due date, you had an iron clad gut and an appetite that roared like a lion.  Unfortunately, over the past 3 months that appetite has become more like kitten's whimper.  Every two weeks or so, you get impatient with the way that we feed you and demand that we try some other, more complicated method to feed you... otherwise you refuse to eat.  First, you wanted to be carried in our arms.  Then you wanted to be carried in the Ergo.  Then you wanted to be fed in the Ergo while being walked up and down the stairs.  Last week, even that failed, and now, to get you to eat, your mother and I have to team up.  One of us walks you around in the Ergo and the other dances and sings 1990's cartoon theme songs.  You seem partial to Animaniacs.  I'm getting the impression that this is all some kind of ruse.  Like, you're a little infantile Queen, making outlandish decrees to your subjects for your own entertainment: "Today shalt be standith on thine head, day!  Now standith on thine heads or I shalt take thine heads!"  Given the current rate of escalation, I'm afraid that two weeks from now, the only way to feed you will be while riding a unicycle or surfing.  I'm not very good at either.  As your mother aptly put it, you don't need a parent right now.  You need a clown.  

Sadly, your mother and I can't always be here at the same time to entertain you while you eat so that means... you're going hungry.  Your mother keeps a spreadsheet on the subject and it appears you've even gone hungry enough to lose weight this previous month.  Scary.  On the upside, you stashed enough acorns in your cheeks, legs, and tummy to last a good chunk of the Winter.  But if these finicky habits continue for too much longer, we could be in a bad situation...    

So we're throwing every dart we've got and hope to hit a bulls-eye.  Swallow studies, feeding specialists, feeding clinics, you name it.  We don't want to wait any longer to get to the bottom of this.  We took a trip to the pediatrician recently and it was somewhat of a wake up call for me.  While there, you cried when the doctor picked you up with her cold hands.  When your shrieking started getting worse, the doctor reached for the bottle I'd prepared, thinking it would comfort you like it would most babies.  Once the nipple hit your lips, you had an utterly nauseated expression on your face and promptly threw up on everything.  This is really when I realized the extent of your feeding issues.  Eating isn't supposed to be a dreadful, anxious activity for a baby, yet it so often is for you.  Whenever I feed you, I feel like I'm walking on eggshells.  It's supposed to be the opposite.  Sadly, we still don't know what the underlying cause is.  We thought at first that it was reflux, but the gastrointestinal specialist officially ruled that out.

If worse comes to worst, we could always snake another tube down into your stomach like back in the NICU.  I've been criticized by parents of full-term babies for not finding that prospect absolutely horrifying.  I guess you get used to these things.

So anyway, your mother and I are see-sawing between intense worry and optimism.  Optimism, because despite the fact that you SHOULD be hungry (and irritable as a result), you are still a smiling, laughing, active baby that is hitting all of her important milestones.

You discovered that you had feet not too long ago.  That was a big one.  You've been rolling over on a whim when you want a better look at stuff.  And of course, you've gotten much, much better at sitting!  Other milestones include the throat-punching-daddy milestone and the grabbing-daddy's-glasses milestone and the stabbing-daddy's-newly-exposed-eye milestone.  I'm still waiting for the recoil-in-pain-at-having-grabbed-daddy's-stubble milestone, but patience in all things I suppose...

Friday, October 3, 2014

Bringing Your Stories to Life

Dear Ellie,

I wanted to write you at least 1 story each month, but I've fallen just a little bit behind.  I have 3 in the works right now, actually, each one quite different from one another.  The first is a rather comical story that was inspired by a stupendously large, greasy, and delicious sandwich that I ate awhile back.  I was quite determined to finish the thing, even though it probably nearly killed me.  To an ant, I surmised, that sandwich must have seemed like a vast continent.  So I hatched a story about the medieval city of Hamburg.  A city, invaded by an evil viking king, hungry for conquest.  Because the city is a place of cooks, chefs, butchers and bakers, they have no standing army.  So instead of fighting the king, they invite him in and challenge them to eat a colossal sandwich, assuming that the king will be too proud and too hungry for glory to turn down the challenge.  As the wicked king observes the sandwich, it goes something like this:

"A sandwich most fine lay on the platter before him.  A sandwich, indeed, that sprawled like a fertile kingdom.  There were forests of lettuce, rivers of grease, valleys of mayonnaise and mountains of beef.  Lakes made of ketchup and an ocean of gravy, upon which sailed proudly a grilled mushroom navy.  Volcanoes of turkey that spewed molten cheese and grasslands of spinach that were rolling with peas.  Salt plains of pickles, draped like a shroud.  Tall peaks of peppers where steam swirled like clouds."

The second story I was working on was a bit bleaker.  It's about the last woman in the world, who stands upon the last piece of land in the world, all else having been devoured by the ocean.

And the last, of course, is a Halloween story.  I suspect I'll have to finish that one first before Halloween rolls around!  It's called The Curse of the Crimson Pumpkins.  It's about jack-o-lanterns, stained red, which begin appearing in the woods, all which are lit with a glowing red flame.  Eering happenings and vivid nightmares haunt those who go too close to investigate.

So anyway, I have a good excuse as to why I haven't finished any of these stories in a timely fashion.  I've been working with a talented young illustrator from Australia to make illustrations for all of your stories: Tze-Chiang Lim.

Here are a few that are finished.  I hope they are all to familiar to you by the time you read this.

Here is one of the illustrations from "A Place Between Worlds."  
It's the scene where Elsa and Fredrick are venturing 
forth into the woods in search of the immortals.

Here, Akantha at last finds The Man at the Edge of the World.


The Girl in the Sphere wanders the world.  

Here we have Azri and his family at last returning to the plains of 
Anatolia to plant a new generation beneath The Golden Oak. 

When they are all finished, I'll hang them in your room so that you'll have little windows of fantasy to peer into throughout your childhood.


Dear Ellie,

I still visit a lot of the online preemie communities that I was a part of back when you were in the hospital.  Many people helped me back then, and I was hoping I could return the favor as new parents passed through in need of support.  At any one time, there is always 10 stories unfolding.  Some of which end happily, some ambiguously, some sadly.  Each time that I see one that ends sadly, I think back to when we thought you would be born before viability.  I remember preparing my mind for each stage of grief, and at the very end of that maturing grief, there was a sort of beauty glowing behind that loss.

There is one baby that I've been following.  He's lingered so long on "the edge" that I doubt he will make it.  It's bothered me, to see him fight so hard for nothing.  But is it for nothing, even if he perishes?  I wonder whether a life, however short, can still have meaning.  Can still be seen brightly in that short moment of time it exists, like an ember that rises above the messy flame of life that inhabits the Earth.

Below is a poem I started to write months ago after talking to a friend about a baby she had lost.  I didn't know quite how to finish it until today.


The Ember

A fire flickers, burning bright,
Gasping air and coughing life,
Amid that flame, an ember is born,
It flickers dimly, then takes form.

It's cast above by drafts of heat,
Buoyed by love, and tears, and grief, 
To grace the sky it travels far, 
To dwell so brief among the stars.

For seconds short, constellations change,
One star added, to an ageless range,
An immortal moment, moving fast,
Soon to live, forever, amid the past.

Its glory spent, its fire gone,
It pops just once in forlorn song,
Accepting death, its time is yet,
It circles down in pirouettes,

To rejoin, forever, the flame.