Queer Girls, Dragons, and Rescue Missions | Shatter the Sky Book Review

YOU GUYS. I have been waiting (im)patiently to post this book review, because it’s one of the best books I’ve read in a long time! But I wanted to wait until release day, which was on Tuesday. Shatter the Sky by Rebecca Kim Wells is a must for anyone who likes fantasy, strong female characters, and LGBTQ+ representation.

Also, I’m borrowing an idea from Lydia of Noveltea for this review. She includes a section in all of her book reviews for why she chose the book, and I thought that was a really good idea, so I’m adopting it myself.

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About the Book

Raised among the ruins of a conquered mountain nation, Maren dreams only of sharing a quiet life with her girlfriend Kaia—until the day Kaia is abducted by the Aurati, prophetic agents of the emperor, and forced to join their ranks. Desperate to save her, Maren hatches a plan to steal one of the emperor’s coveted dragons and storm the Aurati stronghold.

If Maren is to have any hope of succeeding, she must become an apprentice to the Aromatory—the emperor’s mysterious dragon trainer. But Maren is unprepared for the dangerous secrets she uncovers: rumors of a lost prince, a brewing rebellion, and a prophecy that threatens to shatter the empire itself. Not to mention the strange dreams she’s been having about a beast deep underground…

With time running out, can Maren survive long enough to rescue Kaia from impending death? Or could it be that Maren is destined for something greater than she could have ever imagined?

  • Goodreads | Amazon | 304 pages (I think my review copy was longer, but maybe the font changed?)
  • Release date July 30, 2019
  • I received a copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Why I Chose This Book

I basically lost my composure when I saw the mention of a girl stealing a dragon to rescue her girlfriend. UM, SIGN ME UP, PLEASE. I put in that review request faster than you can say “Claire, I think you’re a little too obsessed with dragons,” and then I jumped through the ceiling when I got approved.

My Thoughts

I feel like I’ve been looking for this book my entire life. It was a masterpiece. I can’t stress enough how fantastic it was. It’s Malinda Lo meets The Goose Girl with a little bit of Game of Thrones thrown in.

The world building was incredible. The history and geography of the world was super well planned, and I felt completely immersed. I would love to see a map. Maybe that will appear in the finished book.

That leads in to the main strength of the book, which is the diversity. As you can see from the cover, the main character is non-white. She appears Asian on the cover and that’s how she is described. Her love interest, Kaia, has dark curly hair and darker skin, as do most of the Zefedi. It’s so realistic to have different people in different parts of the world not look all alike. The culture was really well-developed, too. Maren has to figure out how to fit in.

Kaia and Maren. Ah, they really are the sweetest. I can’t describe how happy I am to have a prominent lesbian couple in a fantasy novel. It melts my heart into a puddle of gay butter. And Maren is bisexual! (Or pansexual.) The one thing I was not keen on is that there’s a bit of a love triangle, which I never enjoy. And bi people tend to be stereotyped as promiscuous or more likely to cheat, so the love triangle doesn’t do any wonders to help debunk that stereotype. That knocks half a star off.

The plot is all over the place, and I mean that in the best way – I didn’t predict a single thing. Maren’s goal at the beginning is to rescue Kaia, but it gets amended several times throughout. That’s because of the outstanding characterization. Maren grows SO MUCH throughout the book and I am SO PROUD of her. She goes from being a shadow of her girlfriend to being this amazing, independent, strong-willed, powerful character and it’s truly amazing to read about.

And, dragon bonding? I’m 100% here for it. The Aromatory is an absolutely fascinating concept and plot point, and I’m super impressed with Rebecca Kim Wells’ creativity.

Honestly, this is one of the best books I have read all year, and I can’t recommend it enough. Thank you so much to NetGalley for the ARC. It did not influence my review; I genuinely LOVED this book.

My Rating

4.5 stars, rounded up to 5
★★★★★

Bob Ross Amigurumi

Do you guys like watching Bob Ross? For anybody who doesn’t know, he’s an American artist who did a TV show called “The Joy of Painting,” where he talks to the audience/camera while doing a half-hour painting. You can watch reruns on YouTube. It’s a really relaxing, calming show, which is why many people (including myself) enjoy watching it. He’s just such a positive, happy person and bestows the audience with gems of wisdom as he paints.

Bob Ross was also kind of the instigator of ASMR, which is another story entirely…

Anyway, my dad shares my affinity for Bob Ross, so for Father’s Day I collaborated with my sister to create a crochet version of our favorite painter.

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My sister is skilled in the visual arts, so she did this painting to accompany Bob Ross (who would look quite lonely without a painting, I think). I found this canvas and easel at my college bookstore and picked it up because it was cute. It just happened to work perfectly for this project. She made him a cute little palette, too, which we jury-rigged to his hand with rubber bands and the power of hope.

As for the crochet, I used the same pattern as usual from Beth Weber of By Hook, By Hand. I almost have it memorized after making 10+ dolls from it. But it never gets old. This is how I made the clothes. I wasn’t super happy with how his hair turned out, but you know what Bob Ross says…

There are no mistakes, just happy little accidents.

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I had this box from a crochet kit that we repurposed for the presentation of the gift. My dad was delighted with his gift (he took these pictures, actually). Bob Ross is currently living at his workplace, where I’ve heard he is making coworkers smile.

It’s actually Bob Ross who landed me the commission for Nancy and Sluggo. Pro tip: make your amigurumi do the advertising for you. 😉

Do you like Bob Ross? Have you heard of him before? Let’s spread some Bob Ross positivity in the comments ❤

Book Review: Spirit Followers by Lydia Redwine

Hello lovely people! Remember a few weeks back when the wonderful Lydia Redwine was here for an author interview? I promised you a book review, and that’s exactly what we’re going to do today. But first, check out the interview if you haven’t already: the tagline is “let’s talk epic fantasy, homeschooling, and religion,” so you can tell you’re in for a fun time.

And now, to the review!

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About the Book

When a Royal dies, the realms elect the one to take their place. By reasons Camaria does not know, her realm elects her as the next Royal. Now that she is the new-found sixteenth Royal of the nation of Mirabelle, Cam embarks on a journey with her sisters and a young huntsman to the four realms of the nation to complete training in the four kinds of magic. Once she has completed this training, she will then be permitted to consume her annual amount of magic and possess manifested powers. Her ventures are unexpectedly steeped in precarious events when Cam discovers a secret plan of revolt, a past she never knew, and an ancient people group thought dead who call themselves the Spirit Followers.

  • Goodreads | Amazon | paperback is 332 pages (but the font is pretty small so it reads like a longer book)
  • Book 1 in the Instruments of Sacrifice series

My Thoughts

I had the privilege of copyediting this book, so I may not be entirely unbiased 😉 That being said, I wouldn’t feature a book on my blog if I didn’t genuinely think it was promising.

Spirit Followers is a wonderful example of indie fantasy! The characters are well-developed and diverse. I feel passionately about diverse characters in fiction and was delighted to find characters of all different races and countries (hailing from the fictional world, of course). Cam shows character growth throughout the book, as do her sisters. It may be difficult to keep them all straight at first, because there are quite a few of them, but it’s a rewarding experience because they’re all so sweet and feisty. There are several pairs of characters who I enthusiastically ship and I hope they will end up together in the next book!

The religion in the book seems to be inspired by Christianity but at no times is it overly preachy or overbearing. It was the perfect balance and is exactly what I hope for in books that have religion in them.

Content warning: sexual assault (both off-page and on-page when a character forces a kiss on another), violence, and mild swearing. All is handled respectfully and nothing is gratuitous.

My Rating

Because I was involved with the editing process, I don’t feel that I can actually give an unbiased rating, because I have an emotional investment here now. 🙂 What I can say is that this is a really excellent gem in the world of indie fantasy, and this author is definitely one to watch. I would recommend this book to fans of Shannon Hale in particular. Fans of C. S. Lewis would likely appreciate this series as well.

Thank you to Lydia for allowing me to review her book and feature her on Once Upon a Yarn!

The Pianist and the Photographer | Yeah Write #432

Third week of doing this Yeah Write linkup and I’ve been having such an amazing time. Everybody has been so supportive and kind, and I appreciate every single comment and piece of constructive criticism/advice.

Today’s post has a male character for once, named Russell because I just watched a movie with a character named Russell and I’m abysmal at names. TW for mentions of homophobia.

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The Pianist and the Photographer

The music washes over him like the waves of the ocean, faint at first but growing louder as he walks toward the park. There are always musicians in Ashcreek Square on sunny afternoons, but rarely on overcast days like this one. 

And certainly not a classical pianist.

Russell stops in his tracks at the edge of the park, ignoring the bicyclist who has to swerve around him and the rude hand gesture that follows. Twenty yards away, in the middle of the square, sits a grand piano. Perched on the stool is a young man a few five years his junior. He wears a T-shirt and khaki pants and looks for all the world like an ordinary hipster who wandered out from the nearest Starbucks…if it weren’t for the otherworldly music flowing from his fingers. He plays like the secrets of the universe are captured within him and fighting to get out. 

Russell finally gets enough presence of mind to step out of the bike lane. His fingers are already sliding around his camera, unclasping the lens, adjusting the focus. But even if he had the pianist’s permission, he couldn’t capture this in a photograph. The way the young man leans in to the forte, closes his eyes during the high notes, breathes the piece through his body…it’s like his DNA is woven of the musical clef.

HIs phone buzzes in his pocket. Probably his boss calling to clarify something for the photography assignment he’s on. No doubt he’ll hear an earful later about ignoring his call, but for now Russell doesn’t care. 

He takes a halting step forward but can’t bring himself to go any closer. All around the pianist people are walking past, too busy to stop and witness the performance. A few pause for a moment to nod in appreciation before they continue their fast-paced stride across the square. One woman slips a folded dollar bill into the cavern of the grand piano. The pianist doesn’t look up. As she turns away, the sharp angle of her jawbone and her dark brown hair makes Russell think for a moment that he’s looking at his mother. But no, her hair is cut in a bob, a far cry from his mother’s long curls, and she’s wearing round glasses that his mother never needed. 

When he first left home all those years ago, he saw her everywhere: the bartender who served the beer he drowned his sorrows in, a woman at the gay club in downtown LA, his next-door neighbor in their crappy apartment complex who asked him, brows furrowed in concern, if he was doing okay. It took his boyfriend pouring all his beer down the bathroom sink for him to realize that things had gotten out of control. But it took longer to get his life back on track. Some days, he still doesn’t think he’s there. Because staring at this beautiful man at the piano fills his gut with a hot, sickening guilt that feels all too familiar. Guilt, roiling and churning in his stomach, because of the flutters of excitement dancing through his body at the sight of this musician. 

Didn’t he spend his entire teenage years praying for these feelings to go away? Crying himself to sleep because he just wanted to belong, knowing in his bones that he would never find someone to love him back? He tries not to think of the day he broke down and told his mother, but the thoughts come unbidden just like they always do when he sees an attractive man. The bags of his belongings thrown out the garage door. His key no longer fitting the lock. His mother’s phone going to voicemail when he called. His childhood ended that day. And even though he’s made a life for himself, he’s still alone. 

He drops to one knee, frames the pianist, and snaps a picture. The only way he’ll ever view people is from a distance.

At that very moment, the pianist releases the last note and exhales a long breath. Russell finds himself holding his breath as the young man looks his way, takes in his camera, and meets his eyes. Maybe it’s the way his brown eyes search Russell’s mind, or the way he swipes his hair out of his eyes, but it prompts Russell to take a step closer. 

Just one step. But that’s all he needs to do. The pianist rises from the bench and comes to meet him.

749 words
Photo prompt this week is by gratisography
Emotion to incorporate this week was “shame”

Stretch-Free Crochet Cord

Why hello there, lovely bloglings. How’s your weekend going?

I’m stopping by to share my latest tutorial on Crochet Spot with you all. I’ve been sitting on this one for quite a while and am therefore very excited to tell you about it. See, I’ve been on the quest for a non-stretchy cord for what seems like an eternity. Crochet is, by its nature, very stretchy. But sometimes you want to make something that holds its shape, and that’s hard to do. Introducing the…

Stretch-Free Crochet Cord!

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This cord is easy to make. Much easier than icord, I think. Here are some uses for it, but I’m sure you can think of about a bazillion more!

  • bag strap
  • camera strap (as suggested by a Crochet Spot reader)
  • drawstring (which is what I used it for)
  • to hang bunting
  • yoga bag holder (I’m working on one of these myself, even though I don’t even DO yoga, I’m just intrigued by the idea)
  • lanyard
  • bracelet (especially if made with thinner yarn or thread)
  • great if you need to hang something like a plant hanger
  • belt for finishing crochet garments
  • you can use it anywhere you would use a really long chain with a row of sc

What uses can you think of? I hope you enjoy the tutorial as much as I enjoyed creating it. I do love a good crochet experiment. 🙂

Book Review: Mindfulness for Students

I’ve been fortunate enough to be approved for a variety of titles on NetGalley lately, and I’ve enjoyed so many of them that I wished to start reviewing them here on my blog. For those of you who don’t know, NetGalley is a website that provides advance digital copies of books to readers in exchange for an honest review.

It’s an amazing experience getting early copies of books. It makes me feel like a professional reader, if such a thing exists. I’ve reviewed about 20 so far, and I will start posting the reviews around the publication date for the book.

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About the Book

Mindfulness for Students by Natasha Kaufman

Life can be tough. With so many decisions to make at such a critical time, it’s easy to feel weighed down. What’s more, there is the pressure to gain good grades, to find a good job, to be a good person. Your mind may feel clogged up with no way to filter your circulating thoughts and pressures. From a young age we are taught the significance of a solid education and a fruitful career, yet with such an emphasis on academic and monetary success we often fail to prioritise a healthy mind and body. It is essential to know how to deal with life’s many challenges; Mindfulness for Students will help you.

Through insightful ideas and personal anecdotes, this book will introduce you to the many benefits and applications of mindfulness – from mindful breathing, eating, exercising, sleeping, studying and communicating. There will be opportunities within each chapter to have a go at mindful meditations ranging from three to twenty minutes. There is no right or wrong approach, just what works for you. Mindfulness is a way of being, and this book will help you lay the foundations for a mindful future. Choose to be mindful and live your life in the moment, living fully and wholeheartedly, aware of self and others.

Goodreads | Amazon| Published July 2, 2019
I received an ARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

My Thoughts

An excellent overview of mindfulness and meditation written especially for college students. This book does a great job introducing readers to the main concepts of being mindful. It has several chapters about different aspects of college and how you can incorporate mindfulness into it.

Every few pages the author offers a quick meditation exercise you can try. I was pleasantly surprised to find a section on using mindfulness to tolerate chronic pain. I tried the meditation that was suggested and found it quite helpful.

The main idea of this book is just to be okay with what’s going on, even if it’s uncomfortable. That’s a really valuable lesson and the book did a good job explaining it. I would really recommend this to any college student who’s struggling with stress, no matter how mild they may say it is. Everybody can benefit from this.

My Rating

4/5 stars
★★★★☆

What books have you been reading lately?

Loves Me Knot

This week’s prompt for Yeah Write was quite fun. I wrote about characters from Unraveled, the retelling of Sleeping Beauty that I posted here a couple of years ago. You don’t need to have read Unraveled to understand this, though, because it takes place before the story. I hope you enjoy reading this as much as I enjoyed writing it. I love these characters.

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Loves Me Knot

We get there fifteen minutes early despite Grandma’s protestations. I bounce on my toes, trying to keep warm in the fading warmth of a November evening. She reaches over to wrap my shawl more snugly around me. “I told you, we don’t need to leave so early,” she says reproachfully. “The yarn isn’t going anywhere.”

It’s not the yarn I’m here for, but I don’t tell her that. “I hate being late,” I say instead, which is also the truth. My mother was always late, but it’s not a genetic predisposition.

The sound of wind chimes breaks through the wind that’s whipping my hair into my face. My heart does a somersault and drops three stories as Emma opens the door. “Come on in!” she says cheerfully. “Don’t stand out there in the cold!” I follow Grandma into Yarn Emporium, trying hard to control my blush.

“You two sure are here early,” she says as the door clunks closed. The smell of vanilla wafts over me from one of the many candles sprinkled around the store. It complements the light wood flooring and whitewashed shelves, giving the entire store the vibe of a beach house. That is, if a beach house was packed to the rafters full of yarn. Grandma is in heaven here.

“Cath couldn’t wait to go,” Grandma says. My face is the same color as my hair, I can tell from how hot my cheeks feel, and I busy myself examining a shelf of purple-hued sock yarn.

Emma laughs. “I feel the same way about yarn. I can’t wait to get here every morning.” She walks over to stand beside me, and I can feel every inch between us like the flame from the candle in front of me. “Did you do any crochet last week, Catherine?”

She’s referring to the project that the crochet group is working on. “A little,” I say. “I kinda got stuck.” The truth is that I have about zero interest in crochet. It’s important to Grandma, so it’s important to me, but that doesn’t mean I have to do it. The only reason I came to Yarn Emporium Crochet Club in the first place was because I didn’t want Grandma to take the bus in the dark by herself. I certainly didn’t intend to feign interest in it.

But what I have recently learned is that when a cute girl gives you a hook and yarn, you crochet. So now I crochet.

“Let me see,” says Emma, and now I have to dig the sorry excuse for a shawl out of my canvas backpack. She sits on the cozy white loveseat and pats the spot next to her, so I sit down a respectable distance away and spread the shawl on the coffee table in front of us. “Oh, you did make some progress.”

She scoots forward to look more closely, and her thigh brushes against mine. I freeze, every particle of my body fixated on the place where our bodies touch, even if it’s through her jeans and my sweatpants. Her mouth is moving and I nod without even realizing what she says.

But now she’s looking at me oddly. “I said, where are you stuck?”

“Oh.” I pull the pattern out of my backpack. The shawl is called “Love Knots” and it’s made of a bunch of daisies joined together. “I didn’t know how to change color.”

“No problem!” says Emma, picking up my half-finished daisy. “Do you have the second color with you?” I hand it to her and am disappointed when our fingers don’t touch, even though I know how pathetic that is. “So, here, take this, and just start making your stitch like normal…”

She walks me through how to change color, and it’s a small miracle that I can follow along when her breath is in my ear and her flowery perfume is invading my senses. The mere presence of her is enough to put me under a spell, and I’m afraid she can read it on my face. My heartbeat doesn’t return to normal until she pulls away.

I try to work on the daisy even though every part of me wants to pull her back. I know she isn’t into me. I’m just a customer, and even if I wasn’t, she’s as straight as they come. This crush can only ever be a crush. But try telling that to a set of raging hormones.

(742 words)

Image by Pezibear from Pixabay

Author Interview with Lydia Redwine | Let’s Talk Epic Fantasy, Religion, and Homeschooling

You guys, I am BEYOND excited for today’s post. A few months ago, an author named Lydia Redwine contacted me to see if I would like to review her book. Naturally I said “yes please” and thus began a wonderful online friendship. I had the privilege of working with Lydia to edit the first book of her series and have gotten to know her in the process. She is such a sweet, talented, and bright person, and I knew right away I wanted to introduce you to her.

Lydia graciously agreed to do an interview here on Once Upon a Yarn, which I am so excited to share with you today! (I’ll post my review of her book next week, so keep an eye out for that!)

About the Author

Lydia Redwine is the author of Spirit Followers and Keepers of the Crown, the first two books in the Instruments of Sacrifice series. She’s also the author of Essence of an Age, a really lovely poetry collection. And she’s only 19 years old! You can visit her website here, as well as clicking the above links to read about her books.

Let the Questioning Commence

Claire: How did you come up with the idea for Spirit Followers? How long do you think it took to go from idea to finished draft?

Lydia: Haha, well, this requires a rather long-winded response but I’ll try to keep it concise. In 2010 this movie came out that wasn’t good at all. The Last Airbender which is an adaption of the show Avatar (which I love). And even though the movie wasn’t great, I was fascinated with the concept of bending elements. From there, my best friend and I plotted a four book series about a lost princess who must defeat a dark lord with her four magical elemental powers that no one has. Super original, right? Well, I figured out that that idea was trash and took the characters from that story whom I had already fallen in love with and paired them with another concept: What if the crown of thorns in the Bible was a magical artifact and was far more important to the death of Jesus than we are told? What if good and evil people have been hunting for it since the existence of the earth? I put this concept in a fantasy world and made up those good and bad people. There is a lot more to it, but that’s what you’ll find in the rest of the series. So all in all, from conception to finished draft, about 6 years. 

Claire: That is an amazing pitch, and it makes me even more excited to read the next book!

The plot for Spirit Followers is quite intricate and plotted down to the last detail. How do you keep all those characters and plot twists straight?!

Lydia: Well, the first thing I would say is that I plotted this book a bit here and there for nearly five years before I actually wrote it down haha, so that would probably be the biggest reason. That is how I knew this story was important: because it had been in my head for so long. Thus, the “big twisty moments” and each character also had to be important. And I guess the more important it was, the better I remembered it. I struggled more with remembering details about the magic system and world-building. 

Claire: I think one of the reasons we hit it off so well is that we’re both former homeschoolers, so we’re used to learning and working in a different way. I benefited enormously from homeschooling and I was curious about your experience! What was your favorite part of being homeschooled? How did it help your writing?

Lydia: My favorite aspects of homeschooling have to do with the amount of flexibility it gave me (to write especially) and the fact that I was also classically educated. I was taught how to learn, not how to not fail a test. I learned how to learn anything else I would want to learn. So even though I am not in college now in order to pursue writing, I’ve taught myself history beyond my high school requirements, how to publish and market, and many more things. 

Claire: YAY for not having to take tests and just focusing on learning! That was one of the best parts of homeschooling. You sure have accomplished a lot for somebody who just graduated high school.

What is your writing process like? Do you have a favorite computer program to use (like Word, Scrivener, or Google Docs)? Or are you a traditional handwriter?

Lydia: Google Docs is my favorite by far due to the fact that it’s fast and I can share it with others. Unfortunately, the way I publish (through Amazon KDP) I have to use Word so eventually I have to copy and paste entire books over there. I’m trying to write more by hand as well though because it helps me just write whatever comes to mind without worrying about editing or sounding “right.” Yes, it’s slower and my hand can’t always keep up with my mind and it cramps a lot, but it is, in a sense, freeing. 

Claire: Cam has a lot of sisters with big personalities, and I absolutely loved reading about their interactions and games. As somebody with a younger sister, I thought it was spot on! Do you have a big family like Cam does? Do you have a favorite one of her sisters to write about? (I’m partial to Terra!)

Lydia: The core of Spirit Followers (and of the next book too) is Cam’s relationship with her sisters so writing about their relationships from personal experience was very important to me. I have 2 younger sisters and a brother so many of the interactions between the five girls (and with Caleb as well) were based on my own relationships with my siblings. My favorite is probably Fiera although Terra comes in as a close second. These two were the first two characters I knew and developed.

Claire: Finally, one of the things that sets Spirit Followers apart is how faith is built into the plot. It plays a huge role but never comes across as preachy, which I so appreciate in a book. Did you intentionally base the Spirit Followers on Christianity? What was it like adapting a real-life religion into a fictionalized version?

Lydia: First off, I just think the Bible is a really cool book haha. [Claire: Haha it’s true! It’s an amazing work of literature!] Whether you believe the things in it really happened or not, most people can agree that there are some crazy and interesting stories in there. The Bible inspires me to write crazy and interesting stories, so as a result, much of what I write is based on Biblical and historical events. I am a Christian so obviously, my faith plays a large part in everything I do, including writing. But as a writer and a Christian, I also aim to share what I love with people in a loving way – so not being preachy and by intentionally aiming to include diverse people and their stories. I want to present my faith in a loving way without portraying it falsely. I am also interested in religion as a whole which you will see a lot more of in the upcoming books as they explore other religions. 

Claire: I think you did exactly that, and I can’t wait to see where it goes in the future books in the Instruments of Sacrifice series.

Thank you so much for agreeing to do an interview here, Lydia, I’ve really enjoyed reading your responses and am honored to have you here. I recommend checking out Lydia’s books, and stay tuned to read my thoughts on Spirit Followers next week.

The Listener (Yeah Write)

Hello lovely followers. I recently discovered a weekly writing challenge that I wanted to try out. I enjoy writing prompts because they help me branch out from stuff I typically write. This website, Yeah Write, does a weekly challenge that I might participate in occasionally from now on. They post the prompt on Saturday, entries are due Wednesday, and people vote on their favorites.

This week’s prompt was to write something based on this picture that evokes the emotion schadenfreude (which I had to look up). But you can be the judge on whether or not I succeeded 😛

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The Listener

I’m about fifteen minutes from the California state border when I see it: a black pickup truck sitting on the side of the highway, two girls sitting in the back. They’re young, probably college-age, and from the way they’re sprawled in the back of the truck they’ve been there for quite awhile.

I’m in the far left lane so it takes me a minute to merge over to them. California drivers are evil and I’m not even in the state yet.

Pulling up behind them, I shut off the engine to my Chrysler and go to see what’s up. One of the girls has jumped down from the truck as I approach. “Thank you for stopping!” she exclaims as I get within earshot. She has obviously judged me to not be a serial killer.

“What seems to be the trouble here?” I ask, adopting my best friendly-Samaritan voice.

“We ran out of gas,” says the girl.

Someone forgot to fill up the gas tank,” hollers the other, not bothering to get out of the back. Her white Converse are propped up on the side of the truck bed, and her tan legs are showing signs of sunburn.

“Fine! So I forgot!” The girl in front of me is looking pretty sunburnt, too, pale as china with the kind of naturally red hair you don’t see often. “And then my phone died, and we can’t call anybody, and nobody has been stopping.”

I shake my head. “People these days. Nobody has been stopping?”

“Nobody!” she wails. From the sound of her voice, she must have been out here quite a while, so I ask how long. Turns out they’ve been sitting in the truck bed for an hour after it got too hot in the cab.

“How awful,” I say. “Where are you two headed?”

The redhead opens her mouth to answer, but seems to think better of it. She turns to the girl with the Converse. “Morgan, your turn to ask.”

They want to use my phone to call somebody. Unfortunately for them, I say, I don’t own a cell phone. This earns me a puzzled glance, because what thirty-year-old woman in 2019 doesn’t own a cell phone?

“I’m afraid all I can offer is my sympathy,” I say with a shake of my head. “Unless you’d like a ride to the nearest gas station?”

They exchange a hesitant glance, coming to a decision quickly. They don’t want to get in the car with a stranger. Fair enough. I’ve watched enough documentaries about serial killers to give me second thoughts about talking to strangers, but sometimes their stories are just too good to resist. Like these girls here. “I wish I could help,” I say, “I really do.”

“Of course this happens on our graduation road trip,” says Converse girl, throwing her hands in the air. “Finally done with high school, and what happens? Car breaks down.”

“Runs out of gas,” corrects the other girl.

“Because of some knucklehead…”

They dissolve into arguing. I lean against the side of their truck and observe. When you’ve watched people for as long as I have, you learn the types. These girls have been friends for years, probably grew up in the same neighborhood, went to the same schools. But the pressures of high school get to a person. Maybe they’re fighting over the same boy, maybe one is more popular than the other…the details vary, but the plot is always the same. And now a single road trip is the puff of wind that will dissolve their friendship.

I wish them luck and get back into my car. I’ve seen enough. They’re still arguing animatedly as I merge back onto the highway.

As I pull away, my cell phone rings. I glance at the caller ID, ignoring the stupid rule about not looking at your phone while you’re driving (I’ve been doing it for fifteen years and haven’t crashed yet). A smile spreads across my face when I see who it is. Swiping my finger across the screen, I answer the phone with, “Hello, Beatriz speaking.”

Quiet sobs greet me on the other end. “Beatriz, can you talk for a minute?”

“Absolutely,” I say, settling back in my seat for what’s sure to be a long, drawn-out tale. I lied, though, about talking. You see, listening is what I do best.

(729 words)

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That was a fun change of pace. Your feedback is always welcome and I’m always open to constructive criticism. Hope you have a lovely day, and be sure to check out the other entries for this week!