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June 10th, 2016

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Me 2015
The problem with having sent Finn to bed early is that he's kept me awake since 5:30... and I only slept well after midnight.

(He ran away from the supermarket checkout and hid for 10 minutes. Found him OUTSIDE the supermarket. Then he tried to kick me.)

September 16th, 2015

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Me 2015
Oh my goodness, Squick is a lucky girl! libbyrose123, you are a star! Thank you so much!

(must get that fabric to you... will be after festival though, as we're snowed under!)

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April 13th, 2015

101 things

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Me 2015
The Mission:
Complete 101 preset tasks in a period of 1001 days.

The Criteria:
Tasks must be specific (ie. no ambiguity in the wording) with a result that is either measurable or clearly defined. Tasks must also be realistic and stretching (ie. represent some amount of work on my part).


Start date: May 1, 2015

End date: January 26, 2018


1) Get a gold award for a festival solo (darn, not 2015)
2) Stand for NZCBA committee (20/9/15)
3) Do an arrangement for the whole band
4) Go on at least 20 date nights out with Michael
- Deadpool, Mar 2016
- Captain America Civil War, April 2016
- Hamilton, 2/6/16
- Night in, 17/6/16


5) Take the kids to Kai Iwi Lakes
6) Find all my Pratchett books :/
7) Sell a story to a publisher who doesn't know me (26/8/15)
8) Do a plank for 2 minutes (20/4/16)
9) Host a cocktail night
10) Write our will
11) Do that cross-stitch
12) Finish a scarf (did lots of them over Christmas 2015!)
13) Sew the blanket
14) Grow jalapenos
15) Get a tattoo of one of Finn's drawings
16) Get a tattoo of one of Vieve's drawings
17) Do something that scares me (20/9/15)
18) Do something else that scares me (22/10/15)
19) Give blood at least five times (1, 23/3/16, 20/6/16)
20) Take the twins up the Sky Tower
21) Mail someone a care package
22) Mail someone else a care package
23) Make a gingerbread house
24) Get to below 100kg
25) Spend at least 15 minutes a day playing trombone for a month (4/2/16)
26) Pay Mum back (19/11/15)
27) Get rid of my overdraft
28) Play in at least two ensembles at concerts/festival (1 - 20/9/15)
29) Acquire and learn to do very basic make up
30) Cook korma from scratch
31) Organise a neighbourhood party in the summer
32) Organise a music weekend - band/group/school (does our mini band camp count if we do it twice?)
33) Do a proper family cosplay for Armageddon
34) Go to a Navy Band concert (festival doesn't count!)
35) Have at least five more tuba lessons
36) Get a perpetual calendar and put everyone's birthdays on it
37) Do a decent visit to the Coromandel (not just Thames)
38) Go to at least five music schools / band camps (1, BoP 2016)
39) Cook four recipes from the big Asian Cookbook
40) Write a simple Minecraft mod with Xander
41) Climb Mangere Mountain (10/5/15)
42) Climb Rangitoto (31/5/15)
43) Climb One Tree Hill (18/10/15)
44) Climb Mt Albert (Owairaka Park)
45) Climb Maungawhau / Mount Eden (15/11/15)
46) Climb Ōhinerau / Mount Hobson (26/6/16)
47) Climb Mt Saint John (Epsom)
48) Climb Maungauika / North Head
49) climb Mt Victoria (Devonport)
50) Climb Maungarei / Mount Wellington (18/6/16)
51) Get a bike for me
52) Get new bike helmets for the kids (12/10/15)
53) Do the Waikaraka Cycleway with the kids
54) Take the kids to the splash pad at Potters Park (Balmoral)
55) Have Corrin et al. over for a visit
56) Get through Brooklyn on the trombone (an octave down)
57) Perform "Too Bad Too Good" in public with the group
58) Get down to 105kg (23/3/16)
59) Do a 1 minute plank (6/5/15)
60) Every day for a week, do our front steps 100 times
61) Clean the cupboard under the kitchen sink (28/11/15)
62) Clean the cupboard under the laundry sink
63) Sort our wardrobe so I can actually hang clothes up
64) Have Christmas shopping finished before November 15th
65) Get proficient at all two-octave major scales on tuba
66) Get proficient at all two-octave melodic minor scales on tuba
67) Get proficient at all two-octave harmonic minor scales on tuba
68) Get a copy of the "My first piano adventure" book
69) Work through the "My first piano adventure" book with the kids
70) Learn at least two more piano pieces
71) Finish watching Justified (20/5/15)
72) Finish watching Breaking Bad
73) Watch season 1 of ST:TNG with the kids
74) Have a 36th or 37th birthday PARTAY
75) Catch up with Lynelle (15/11/15)
76) Go to an event at either Hazel or Scott's house (2/6/16)
77) Do a THREE minute plank
78) Do a mosaic
79) Sew a dice bag
80) Go to Te Awhitu lighthouse
81) Go on a train trip with the kids somewhere (18/6/16)
82) Get bank accounts for all the kids
83) Catch up with Kylee
84) Get the piano moved upstairs
85) Go to at least five different community band concerts (WCCB 40th, 28/5/16)
86) Learn and record at least five Gallay etudes
87) Learn and record at least five Blazhevich studies, including #15 and #20
88) Sew a dress for me
89) Pass a music theory exam
90) Get at least five other people at band to pass a theory or practical exam
91) Roll around in mud (26/10/15)
92) Watch all of Legend of Korra (1/11/15)
93) Get an award at band (not Most Improved) (5/12/15)

https://www.facebook.com/groups/374198089430145/

February 26th, 2015

Nemo rushed out from under the ledge of a piece of coral, his stunted fin flickering wildly. "Dory!" he cried. "You made it!"

The blue fish stared at him blankly for a second, spun around in a circle, and then scooped him up in a big hug. "Nemo! I made it!" She paused. "Made what?"

He grinned at her. His friend was notoriously forgetful, and he'd grown to adulthood dealing with her lapses. As he opened his mouth to speak, another clownfish slipped out from under the coral and snuggled beside him. "Dory, you remember my mate, of course?"

Dory nodded emphatically, "Yes, yes, of course. Lovely to see you, uh-"

"Caroline," Nemo prompted.

"Caroline," Dory repeated.

"Hi, Dory. Glad you made it. It's nearly time!" Caroline wiggled her black-tipped fins, and darted away, back under the table coral.

"Come and see," Nemo urged Dory, leading the way. They carefully skirted past the anemone where Caroline and Nemo lived; the orange clownfish were immune to its sting, but the regal blue tang could easily become a victim. Behind it, in a shallow depression underneath the safety of the coral's spreading branches, lay a thousand tiny eggs, grey and pearlescent. Within the eggs, tiny forms shifted, with eyes clearly visible.

Dory stared, her mouth agape. "Wow, Nemo. They grew."

"They sure did!"

An egg twitched. All three fish watched in wonder. Another egg twitched, and another.

In the expectant silence, the fishes' thoughts turned, as often happens in times of imminent new life, to those lives that had been and gone. Nemo leaned against Caroline. "I wish Dad could have been here." She slipped a fin over his back, and Dory did the same.

"Marlin would be so proud," said Dory. His passing of old age, frail and weak, was seared upon her memory, as was the knowledge that she would probably outlive Nemo, the coming brood, and even the next generation of clownfish.

They waited, wrapped in shared memories, hope and excitement. More eggs twitched, the movements inside becoming more emphatic, and the three fish inched closer to watch. Suddenly an egg split, and a tiny clownfish larva burst out. It was translucent and fragile, but Dory squinted closely at it, then flung her fins wide. "It's a boy!"

Another egg split. "It's a boy!"

Another, and another. "It's a boy! It's a boy! Boy oh boy, it's a boy!" She swam in excited circles. "A boy! And a boy! And another boy!"

Dory swam around and around the clutch as more eggs hatched. "A boy! It's a boy!" She stopped and thought for a moment, then pointed at a wriggling egg as it split. "...surely this one will be a girl?" The tiny fish wriggled out and Dory looped the loop in joy. "It's a boy!"

She stopped and pointed again. "Must be time for a gi- it's a boy! Whee!"

As more and more eggs hatched, Dory swam around in a state of agitated confusion, finally coming to a halt in front of Nemo and Caroline, who valiantly tried to repress their giggles. "Surely you should have a girl by now? Ooh, another boy!" She darted away in glee, trying to shepherd the larvae into a group.

"Dory!" Nemo called. "DORY!"

The blue fish halted, and looked back at him. "What?"

"They're all boys!"

"I know! Isn't that strange? So this one should be a girl- it's a boy! Wahoo!"

"No, Dory! All clownfish babies are boys!"

Dory blinked at him in confusion. "What do you mean, all clownfish babies are boys? That makes no sense." She peered accusingly at Caroline. "Are you a boy?"

Caroline grinned. "I used to be."

Dory's jaw dropped. "Wha-? How... how does that work?"

Caroline shrugged. "When there's no females around, we just... change. The biggest male becomes a female."

Dory squinted at Caroline with the dubious expression of someone who has been tricked many times before.

"It's true!" Caroline added.

Dory looked at Nemo. He nodded in agreement, and she looked back at Caroline with slightly less scepticism. "You really used to be a male?"

Caroline nodded. "I've had babies before, but I didn't lay the eggs. My mate-" she broke off, and took a moment to compose herself. "She got taken by a barracuda, and with her gone, I became a female."

Dory listened, her eyes wide with fascination. "Those awful barracuda. That's just what happened to Marlin! Coral got taken, and... wait. You're playing tricks on me! Marlin never turned into a female."

Nemo looked sad. "There must have been something terribly wrong with him. He should have turned into a female. I don't know why he didn't."

Dory assessed him, askance, still not quite sure if he was telling the truth. "Really? Marlin was broken? Well, at least he was a great dad. I don't think he'd have been any better as a mum."

Nemo glanced aside. "Actually, he'd, um, she'd, um. Have been my mate."

Dory blinked. "Your what?"

He cleared his throat. "My mate. Except he didn't turn, and we don't know why, and it's rather embarrassing that he didn't."

"That's incredible! I wish I'd known that before! Why didn't you tell me?"

In unison, Nemo and Caroline answered "We did". Dory didn't hear them; she'd already darted back to the thinning cloud of larvae and was ducking and spinning, greeting each one with a startled exclamation of "It's a boy!"

Oblivious, the larvae drifted upwards, towards the light of a waxing gibbous moon. Nemo and Caroline watched them go, content in the knowledge that tides and currents would drift them through the ocean, to reefs their parents would never see.

That was how it was supposed to be.

February 20th, 2015

LJ Idol Week 38: Open topic

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Me 2015
My insides are made of fear and inadequacy. I bolster the walls with chocolate, but sometimes they leak. Tiredness wears them down; frustration and hormones wash away at the foundations. I plaster on a facade of competence, slapping flaking layers on top of flaking layers, keeping it together.

In the towering mess, my creativity lives in the cellar. To get to it, I have to scale the battlements, fight my way down through hordes of slavering self-doubts, and fish around frantically through a tiny grate, hoping to find something, anything to write about. It's exhausting. It often takes an emotional breakdown, and at least three glasses of gin.

Week, after week, after week.

I tried to, this week. I couldn't even get past the battlements. My facade crumbled, and took the walls with it. I didn't just leak; I flooded my entire world. I gushed fear and anger and self-loathing. I spilled a history of self-sabotage. I drowned in exhaustion.

Glub. My daughter was still awake two hours past her bedtime, again, because she doesn't know how to go to sleep without her thumb in her mouth, and she has to stop sucking her thumb. She spent every moment of the week throwing tantrums, from the moment she woke up, until she finally fell asleep in exhaustion. Every moment. She's hurting, and unsure, and doesn't know how to regulate her emotions without that comfort.

Glub. My eldest son's drama teacher emailed me. She wants to kick him out of the class because another parent complained about him being off-task. I was distraught, sobbing in the bathroom at work, until I realised that it was her responsibility to deal with it before it got to that point. She doesn't like him, and that made me cry all over again.

Glub. My youngest son wanted to wear the dress his sister gave him to school. I worried about him all day, though he was of course fine, filled with a self-possession and confidence that I don't understand, but cherish beyond words.

I wanted to quit. That's that self-sabotage again. I'm not good enough to do anything well, so if it looks like I might do something well, it's time to stop. I said I didn't care, but of course that was a lie.

My champions stood around me. They threw me a line, again and again: you can do this, you're too hard on yourself, it'll be okay.

And I ignored them. Ugly and weeping, I floundered around in the swamp, my nice familiar swamp.

They threw me more lines, and more and more, until it didn't matter that I wasn't catching them. They filled the water until I was pushed out onto dry land, whether I wanted to or not.

Then my champions stood me up, shaky and exhausted, and started to rebuild my walls. There's not much there yet; a few stones gathered in a circle. In the centre is that rusty grate. Maybe my creativity is there, waterlogged, drowned and shriveled. Maybe it washed away. Maybe it found a cranny to take root, and will soon spring forth in an explosion of growth.

But this week I'm too frail to check.

February 12th, 2015

Tuesday 11 September, 2018

There were aliens on the TV last night. Mum said they came in a big spaceship. They are having a big war with lots of guns and they are the good guys and they need our help. If I was bigger I would help them. I would go boom boom boom at all the baddies.

By Billy


*


Tuesday 18 September, 2018

Mum said that we're not going to help. She said the big boss men had lots of meetings and they decided that we won't help. I want to help! I want to go boom boom boom! The Xrrsts are fighting the Ch'niks. I don't like the Ch'niks because they are big and scary like big giant insects. I like the Xrrsts because they are purple and fuzzy.

By Billy


*


Thursday 20 September, 2018

I hope the Xrrsts win. Jennifer said she hopes the Ch'niks win but that's just dumb.

By Billy


*


William Reynolds
79809 St. Rt. 139
Jackson, Ohio 45640

December 7, 2029

Harvard College
86 Brattle Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
Attn: Admissions Department

Dear Admissions Department,

There is no doubt that Harvard University has the most highly-regarded Exobiology program in the country. My lifelong dream has been to become a Exobiologist, from even before I was old enough to know the word. The Xrrsts captured my imagination at the age of seven, and though there has been no sign of them for over a decade, I still believe that one day we will re-establish contact with them, or another extra-terrestrial lifeform.

My ultimate goal is to attain my doctorate, and contribute to the growing body of research on the past communications with the Xrrsts, until such a time as more practical study is possible.

I have attached my application, as well as transcripts, an essay, and all of my letters of recommendation as defined in my admissions packet. I appreciate your time and consideration and look forward to hearing from you soon.

Sincerely,
William Reynolds.

*

From: exobiowill@gmail.com
To: jenniferbishop2011@gmail.com
Subject: WOOHOO!
Date: March 28, 2030

I GOT IN! Harvard, here I come!


*


From: william.reynolds@hcri.harvard.edu
To: jennifer.anne.bishop@us.army.mil
Subject: They're back!
Date: August 28, 2041

Jen! I don't know if you've heard, but the Xrrsts are back! It's all pretty hush-hush at the moment, but the big news is that I get to meet with them tomorrow!

It's all very exciting, but I will do my best to act in accordance with my station (*ahem*) and not leap around like a seven-year-old boy!

============

This message has been sent from the office of Dr William Reynolds, Lecturer (Exobiology).
If you are not the intended recipient, please inform the sender immediately.


*


CLASSIFIED DOCUMENT: TOP SECRET
Xrrst Incident Debriefing
August 29, 2041

Witness: Dr William Reynolds, Exobiology Department, Harvard University

Dr William Reynolds was present at the proceedings by request of Captain Jennifer Bishop, who recommended him based on his studies of the previous contact.

The following statement is in his own words:


I arrived at the base as directed, at 0800 hours, and was escorted to the briefing session. I was delighted to see Captain Bishop present (Note: connection there? Investigate.) but even more delighted at the prospect of finally meeting a Xrrst.

We were shown to the chamber where the Xrrst waited, and we observed it for a while behind one-way glass. It was smaller than I expected, but its fur was that beautiful iridescent purple I remembered. It appeared quiescent, more calm than during the previous contact, but of course it is difficult to judge until we become fully conversant with their mannerisms.

After observing the Xrrst, Captain Bishop, our escort of military guards, and I entered the room. The Xrrst greeted us, speaking through a communicator similar to the ones we saw last time. It's quite fascinating, really - in the past 23 years their communicator has reduced in size by a factor of twelve, and the translation has lost the unpleasant high-pitched tones. No-one has been able to tell me anything about the ship it arrived in, but I would be so interested to know if- oh, sorry, I'm getting off track.

We entered the room. I did wonder briefly about contamination, but as the previous contact had occurred without any problems, I decided not to raise the issue. Ha.

I introduced myself to the Xrrst, and it said its name was K'tad. Or possibly Kitan. I'll have to study the phonetics more closely. I expressed how pleased I was to meet a Xrrst at last, and it appeared quite agitated. I tried to gather information as per the recommended protocols, but it was not very forthcoming.

When I mentioned the war with the Ch'nik, it said "It was close but we won," but then- (Subject visibly upset. Interview paused for three minutes.)

When I asked about the war, K'tad's fur began to ripple and pale, and it groaned and shook. I tried to approach it, but one of the guards warned me away. As the shaking became more violent, I went over and asked if it was okay. K'tad looked at me and said "You will be, all the helpers will be", which I didn't understand, but then a purple cloud of something exploded out of K'tad and went all over the room.

And... I saw it go into them. Into Jen- Captain Bishop and the guards. But it didn't go into me. Why didn't it go into me?

K'tad died, didn't it. Are Jennifer and the others going to die, too?

(Subject too upset to continue. Interview finished 2315.)


*


From: william.reynolds@hcri.harvard.edu
To: jennifer.anne.bishop@us.army.mil
Subject: Hello
Date: November 30, 2041

Hi Jen, how are you doing? I'm guessing you're in a little windowless room much like my own, but I am delighted to have net access again. It's been a long three months.

The General said that if they continue to detect no changes for another three months, that we will be free to go. I can't wait.

When we get out of here... would you maybe like to go on a date? With me?

William.

*


From: william.reynolds@hcri.harvard.edu
To: jennifer.anne.bishop@us.army.mil
Subject: Movies?
Date: March 3, 2042

Hey love,

I had a great time last night. You're such a good cook. Want to go to the movies tonight? Meet there at 7?

xxx


*


CLASSIFIED DOCUMENT: TOP SECRET
Bishop Incident Debriefing
March 3, 2042

Witness: Dr William Reynolds, Exobiology Department, Harvard University

The following statement is in his own words:

It happened with Jen just like it did with K'tad. We were lining up to get our movie tickets and she started to shake. She fell down shaking and lots of people stood and stared. Some people tried to help, but then she exploded in a purple cloud, just like K'tad, and it all went everywhere and into everyone (audible sobs, interview paused for six minutes).

Except the people who tried to help. K'tad said "all the helpers will be okay". What did it mean? What's happening? And why is Jen dead?

(Subject too upset to continue. Interview finished 2100.)


*


From: william.reynolds@hcri.harvard.edu
To: jennifer.anne.bishop@us.army.mil
Subject: I miss you
Date: April 13, 2042

I miss you so much. I know you will never read this, but it helps to pretend I'm talking to you. You always listened to me.

It's spreading everywhere, Jen. Some of the people at the movie theatre left before the military locked it down. And months later, always in crowded places, they exploded too. We can't stop it.

They don't know what it is. It's a bit like a fungus, a bit like a virus, a bit like some sort of mutating nanobot. They think it's triggered by pheromones, when you get enough people in an area, but it's not been proven yet.

Other people noticed that it doesn't affect people who try to help. There's all sorts of theories about why. Some people think that the Xrrsts are trying to teach us to be helpful, to stop being so apathetic and self-obsessed. People are either avoiding public places, or being conspicuously helpful at all times.

I think it goes deeper than just teaching us a lesson. From what we can tell, the Xrrsts are incredibly long-lived in comparison to us, and they must think on scales vaster than we can imagine.

They're breeding us, directing human evolution with survival of the kindest. Next time the Ch'niks or some other force come through, the Xrrst will ask us, and we will fall over ourselves to help them. Helpful cannon fodder in waiting, keen to throw ourselves on the flames.

Human society could stand to be a little nicer, yes, but too far will be devastating. And at what horrendous cost in human life?

Oh, Jen. I don't know what to do.


*


Friday 10 September, 2083

Today we went to the museum. We looked at lots of stuff. Mrs Jamison really liked the extibihit show about William Reynolds. Jackie laughed because that is like my name. There was lots of words that I can't read but there were some pictures too. He looks a bit like my great unkle Billy.

Mrs Jamison said he saved the world by stopping a germ that was killing all the mean people. I don't know why he would do that. Mean people are yucky.

By Willa R.


*

February 10th, 2015

Eleanor was happy with her life, until she wasn't. It came upon her quite suddenly one day, when she was filling out her daughter's baby book. First smile? First tooth? First word? Eleanor tried to remember, but it all blurred into a drift of exhaustion, jumbled with memories of Jasmine's big brothers. A first smile isn't quite so exciting when three other babies have done it before.

She stared at the page, with the accusing blank spaces. Ryan, Isaac and David had their books all filled out. She had to do it for Jasmine, too, or it wouldn't be fair. Let's see... smiles happened at about six weeks... add a day so it's not so obvious, that'd do. Teeth around three months. "Dada" at around 10 months. Close enough.

Eleanor closed the book and yawned. There were still dishes waiting to be done, and laundry to fold, but she'd taken this time to fill out the baby book before Jasmine's first birthday next week. Some things couldn't wait, but laundry could. There'd be more tomorrow, always.

Time for bed. Sam had gone to bed hours ago; he left for work early to avoid the traffic, so this time of the night was hers, precious and still. It was tempting to linger, to luxuriate in the peace, but Eleanor knew she'd regret it in the morning. Her sleep debt was a carefully balanced budget, and she had to meet the payments.

She groaned as she stood up. Legs that had once climbed mountains were now limited to striding behind a pushchair, and things weren't as easy as they used to be. Eleanor wandered through the house, turning off lights, checking windows and doors, and collecting stray socks to throw in the bathroom hamper.

A sock fell to the floor as she dropped a handful into the hamper, and she stooped to pick it up. As she stood, she found herself facing her reflection in the bathroom mirror. The light was harsh, and Eleanor found herself staring at her face as though at a stranger.

Later, she lay awake in bed, staring at the dark ceiling as Sam's snores kept her from dropping into sleep, and pondered. Her children's lives were filled with firsts; first step, first day at school, first sleepover. Their firsts were recognised, recorded and remembered. Some more than others, but still significant in some way.

What about her firsts?

Eleanor couldn't think of any.

Maybe she was too old for firsts. Maybe all her life offered now was lasts, slipping by unnoticed, unneeded.

The thing about lasts, Eleanor decided, is that they go unmarked by the knowledge that they are a last, until they have faded into the past. When was the last time she danced? She loved to dance. Jiggling to The Wiggles didn't count. The last time she climbed a mountain? That was the day, sixteen years ago, when she had her last first kiss. Sam had finally admitted that he'd only joined the tramping club to be near her, and Ryan had come along a bare eleven months later.

When was the last time someone had looked at her appreciatively, with an interest not founded on wedding vows? She couldn't remember. Such a minor thing, and sometimes unwanted, but right now the lack of it seemed the very essence of growing old.

Eleanor sighed and rolled over in bed. Sam echoed her action in his sleep, and his snores finally faded away. His arm slid over her, pulling her close. "Love you," he murmured.

Warm in his familiar embrace, the tension ebbed from her body, and Eleanor drifted into sleep at last.

February 5th, 2015

LJ Idol Week 36 - "Tiles"

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Me 2015
Jill suppressed a sob, wiping a faintly grubby hand across her reddened eyes. Sorting through her mother's house was proving even more difficult than she'd thought it would be. The kitchen had been a treasury of childhood memories; the good bowls used only at birthday parties, the carving knife sharpened to a thin spine of itself, the "special spoon" with roses on the handle which she and Matthew used to fight over at breakfast time.

She hadn't expected the hallway cupboard to provoke similarly strong emotions. The Yahtzee box started the tears, seeing her own childish handwriting scrawled across the inside of the lid: "Jill got 438! Beat that!"

Matthew had added his own addendum. "Stinkybutt! I got 439!" She laughed, remembering the hours they'd spent trying to beat each other. Dice were serious business, back then; Mum would join in on the long nights when Dad didn't come home.

The graceful loops of her mother's writing finished the exchange. "Sorry, chick, Mum got 443." Jill traced it gently with a finger, and sighed. She closed the lid and set the Yahtzee box gently on the floor.

Next on the shelf was the Scrabble box. Her mum, Beth, had loved Scrabble. She knew all the funny little two-letter words, "QI", "XI", "ZO" and all the rest, and used them to wicked advantage. Scrabble was a New Year's tradition in the family. Whoever played a word on the stroke of midnight got 50 extra points, and they still mock-complained about the time Beth played "JACUZZIS" across two triple words, just as the town clock started to chime.

Jill scrubbed a hand across her eyes again. There was work to do.

"Hey, Matthew," she called.

He stuck his head out from the bathroom, his own eyes suspiciously red, and said "Hmm?"

"Would you like Scrabble or Yahtzee?"

"Yahtzee," he said, without hesitation.

One side of her mouth twitched into a grin. "You would. Stinkybutt."

He laughed, and went back to sorting towels. Jill went through to the kitchen, where the table was covered with two piles of assorted memories and miscellania. Yahtzee went on his pile, and she reverently placed the Scrabble box on hers.

***

It was dark by the time Jill got home. She staggered from the car, her arms laden with boxes and bits, and gingerly made her way up the front stairs. The outside light wasn't on, so she fumbled at the door for several minutes, unable to find the lock in the dark, until Alex groaned his way off the couch and let her in.

"How'd it go?" he mumbled, immediately settling back in to his game of something loud and violent.

"Okay. It's pretty hard, you know? All those memories..." Jill trailed off. Alex didn't even notice, staring at the TV and thumping buttons on the controller. She shrugged, and went into the kitchen, depositing the armload of her mother's belongings on her own table. The "special spoon" went in the cutlery drawer ready for breakfast, the carving knife went in the knife block, and she drifted around the house finding a home for the other pieces.

The Scrabble box was the last thing on the table, and Jill considered it with an inertia born of emotional exhaustion. She slumped into a chair and stared at it, then carefully reached out and lifted the lid.

It smelled like her mother's house, like long, warm afternoons, like cheese soufflés and date scones. She didn't bother to hold back the tears that silently slipped down her cheeks, but picked up the board, unfolding it as though preparing for a game. The tiles underneath were all face down, as Beth had always insisted on doing at the end of every game.

Except five.

"H4 E1 L1 L1 O1", they read.

Jill blinked.

"They must have got bumped in the car," she thought. "Or Matthew's playing a trick." She turned each tile face down, her movements jerky and cautious, covered them with the folded board, and put the lid back on, then carried the box to her own hallway cupboard. The faded box looked a little out of place among the glossy boxes of the modern games that Jill preferred, but she placed it atop Settlers of Catan and Tsuro with care and pride.

***

Matthew came around for dinner the next day, with a packet of fish and chips tucked under his arm. It was his last night in town, before he flew back to Hamilton. They spread the takeaways on the newspaper at the kitchen table and ate them, licking salt off their fingers, and teasing each other over who deserved the last potato fritter. Alex accepted a plateful, but stayed in the lounge, stabbing greasy fingers at his controller, and at the TV when something didn't go his way.

With the chips gone, and the oily paper bundled away into the bin, Matthew and Jill stared at each other with the uncertain expressions of dancers who have forgotten the next step.

"Scrabble?" she suggested, her voice brittle and bright.

"Sure thing, Stinkybutt. Not one of your fancy games this time?" he asked.

"Just Scrabble," she said firmly, getting up and heading for the hallway cupboard.

Scrabble box in hand, she went back to the kitchen. "You wouldn't believe what happened last night," she said, putting the box down on the table. "The tiles were all turned over, except ones that spelled-"

She stopped. Underneath the board she'd just picked up, the neat regularity of the backs of the tiles was broken by five, face up.

"C3 H4 I1 C3 K5"

"I changed my mind," she said, hurriedly putting the board back and closing the lid. "I think you'll like Tsuro."

Matthew raised an eyebrow, but didn't say anything. They spent the next hour making flight paths for dragons. Jill lost several games, simply because she couldn't concentrate.

"You okay?" Matthew asked. "You look a bit... distracted."

Jill nodded. "Just... you know." Her gesture encompassed the kitchen, and a world of loss.

He nodded in reply. He knew.

***

When he left, Jill hurriedly opened up the Scrabble box. She knew she'd turned all the tiles down last night. And yet, there it was, the name her mother had always called her.

She closed her eyes, shaking her head. This was impossible. She turned the tiles face down, closed up the box, and put it in the cupboard. Her muscles ached with tiredness and suppressed tension, and she collapsed into bed, completely drained. What dreams she had were tattered and incoherent, though threaded through with loss.

In the morning, she couldn't resist the urge to check. She peeped into the Scrabble box, with her muscles tense, already half-mocking herself.

"H4 E1 L1 L1 O1", they read. Jill could almost hear her mother's voice, calling with the exaggerated "o" sound she used when Jill was lost in a book.

"Oh, Mum," she said, and leaned her head on her hands and wept.

Alex found her there when he bumbled his way out of bed, late for work as usual. He planted a kiss on her head, snatched the toast out of the toaster, and left the house. Jill sat there, staring at the Scrabble box with her thoughts churning.

Gingerly, she reached out and turned all the tiles face down, then one by one picked them up, searching for the letters she wanted.

She placed them in order, "M3 U1 M3", and shut the box.

It felt silly to look in a Scrabble box every hour, and when lunchtime came, she decided to put it back in the cupboard and leave it overnight. She lay awake, ignoring Alex's snuffly breathing, pretending that she wasn't listening for the click of tiles turning, until sleep engulfed her.

***

Jill was due back at work the next day, and although she was rushed and unprepared, she took the time to check the Scrabble box. Her "M3 U1 M3" was gone; there was a new word in the tiles.

"H4 E1 R1 E1".

Crying, Jill found the letters she wanted.

"L1 O1 V4 E3 Y4 O1 U1 M3 U1 M3"

Work was agony, trying to operate in a fog of agitated disbelief, but she somehow made it through, despite the words of concerned colleagues distracting from her surface stoicism.

***

In the morning, the tiles read simply, "W4 H4 A1 T1." Jill blinked at them in confusion, before comprehending. She'd used more than one word, and perhaps, in this strange system of communication, it just didn't work.

She stared at the tiles, trying to come up with a single word to express an array of complicated feelings and questions. In the end, she settled on "W4 H4 E1 R1 E1."

***

"H4 E1 A1 V4 E1 N1"

It was agony, communicating only one word each day, but Jill was too thankful to complain. One word from her mum each day was infinitely better than a lifetime without.

"W4 O1 W4"

***

"Y4 E1 S1"

"D2 E1 S1 C3 R1 I1 B3 E1"

How could you not want to know what heaven was like?

***

"W4 H4 A1 T1"

Jill stared at her mother's message, and flicked back through the notebook she'd started to keep. What had she sent yesterday? "DESCRIBE", what was wrong with that?

Eight letters. Jill sighed, and googled for synonyms. "D2 E1 P3 I1 C3 T1," that would hopefully do.

***

"S1 U1 B3 L1 I1 M3 E1"

Jill grinned. Beth deserved it. Then a thought crossed her mind, and she gasped, hurrying to find the letters.

"D2 A1 D2"

***

The next morning, Jill rushed to open the box.

"A1 B3 S1 E1 N1 T1"

Scrabble tiles had no tone, no expression, but Jill could discern her mother's dry amusement. There was only one thing she could say.

"F4 I1 G2 U1 R1 E1 S1"

***

"J8 U1 S1 T1 I1 C3 E1"

Jill laughed. Just like Mum, that laconic humour. She'd accepted Dad's wandering ways with resignation, but it didn't mean she'd liked it.

"I1 N1 D2 E1 E1 D2"

***

"P3 A1 R1 T1 N1 E1 R1"

Partner? Did Mum mean Alex? Jill frowned. How could she ask, given that "ALEX" wasn't a valid Scrabble word?

Ah. Her mum was pretty smart, she'd work it out. If she was wrong, her mum would tell her so.

"A1 X8 L1 E1"

***

"C3 H4 E1 A1 T1 E1 R1"

Alex? A cheater? All he cared about was X-box and beer, a sad truth that Jill had been trying to deny to herself for months.

"N1 E1 V4 E1 R1"

***

"C3 H4 E1 A1 T1 E1 R1"

The tiles stared up accusingly from the box, insistent.

"W4 H4 O1"

***

"G2 A1 M3 E1 R1"

Jill blinked. She didn't decide on a reply message straight away, but spent the evening discreetly watching Alex. He'd swapped to a headset and microphone, and his usual shouted rantings had been replaced by murmurings.

"B3 E1 L1 I1 E1 V4 E1"

***

"G2 O1"

"W4 H4 Y4"

***

"C3 O1 N1 F4 I1 R1 M3"

"O1 K5 A1 Y4"

***

"G2 O1"

"W4 H4 E1 R1 E1

***

"B3 R1 O1 T1 H4 E1 R1"

"O1 K5 A1 Y4"

***

"Jill? You here? I need to talk to you." Alex stumbled in at 9pm, to find the house dark and quiet. He spotted a note lying on the kitchen table, and picked it up.

Alex,

I've gone to Matthew's for the weekend to think some things over. I'll be back on Monday, on flight NZ527. Please pick me up at 3:10pm.

Jill.


He never noticed the worn carving knife floating up from the knife block.

February 4th, 2015

Mama Bear looked around her house and scowled. She'd spent all morning cleaning the cottage, but it looked nearly as bad as when she'd started. The cracked windows and the rusty red roof let in too much dirt, and she just couldn't get it clean. She growled, and tossed her rag into a corner.

"Are you okay, Mama?" Baby Bear peeped around the door frame, his deep eyes limpid with love.

She bustled to him and stroked his head, wincing at the heat radiating through his fur. "Of course, dear. Just trying to get ready." He barely weighed anything as she scooped him up, and carried him to his little bed.

"Ready for what, Mama?" he asked, as she tucked him in.

She avoided his gaze. "Just got some cooking to do, dear. We want to get you nice and strong again."

Baby Bear nodded tiredly and curled up on his side. She rested a paw against his forehead; still burning. He needed medicine, and soon.

The front door squeaked as Papa Bear dragged it open. She padded back to the kitchen and greeted him. "Did you get it?"

Papa Bear dropped a bag on the table. "I got it all."

She hugged him. "Thank you, my love. Let's start cooking."

The two bears bustled around the kitchen, measuring and mixing, heating and stirring. Finally, it was ready, and they poured it into the only receptacles they had available; Papa Bear's great big bowl, Mama Bear's medium bowl, and Baby Bear's teeny tiny bowl. Papa Bear held his paw against the side of his bowl, and flinched away. "Too hot," he growled.

Mama Bear glanced towards the bedroom. "Maybe we should take Baby Bear for a walk while we wait. The fresh air might do him good. Get him away from these fumes."

Papa Bear nodded, and together they bundled up Baby Bear and headed outside for a walk in the forest.

***

As the bears left the clearing where their cottage stood, someone stepped out of the trees. Her hair shone with the bright brilliance of sun-dried sand, and her expression was resolute. She walked up to the front door, carefully stepping over the third porch step, where the wood had rotted. The front door stuck, as it always did where the rusted hinges had let it slump downwards, but she hauled it open and stepped into the dimness.

Inside, she nearly tripped over the table where the three bowls sat, cooling. She leaned over and inspected the bowls. "I knew it," she muttered. "I could smell it." She picked up a spoon and prodded the contents of Papa Bear's bowl. It was too hot; the clear substance was still liquid. Mama Bear's bowl had cooled quickly, but the crystals were small and fragmented, and had the yellowish tinge that suggested impurities. But Baby Bear's bowl was the perfect temperature. The crystals were a good size, and clear and colourless. Just right.

She fished out a crystal and methodically prepared it. The rush washed over her, and she stood, euphoric, watching the leaves dancing outside the grimy windows.

As the initial rush faded, she started to explore the house. She found a chair in the lounge, and, impressed by the ornate wood carving, she sat in it. It was not comfortable. Annoyed, she flopped into the beanbag on the floor and wriggled to make a hollow shaped to her body. She tried to relax into it, but her incessant twitching disrupted the filling, and she abruptly found her bottom resting on the floor. She hauled herself to her feet and strode across the room. In the dim light, the small chair in the corner remained unnoticed until she caught her toes on it. Irritation erupted and she kicked it abruptly across the room. It shattered against the empty fireplace.

Restless agitation filled her, and she stomped from room to room. She halted as the front door groaned open again, and three furry figures filled the doorway. She ducked silently into the bedroom and hid under a bed.

"Hrmph," said Papa Bear. "You do look tired, Baby Bear."

"I'm okay, Papa," he quavered, though his fur was sleeked with sweat.

"Mama will pop you into bed, and I'll start packing up this stuff. Hopefully we made enough to sell, so we can take you to the doctor," said Papa Bear, gesturing at the table. The scattered equipment caught his eye, and he turned with a growl. "Someone's been in here!"

Baby Bear had halted at the doorway to the lounge. "Somebody's been here, and they've broken my chair!"

Mama Bear grasped his paw and pulled him back to the kitchen. They huddled there in silence as Papa Bear methodically searched the house. His bed was high and wooden, and the floor underneath was clear. Nobody could hide there. Mama Bear's bed was low, and the soft centre hung almost to the ground, but Papa Bear lifted the hanging quilts and checked anyway. Nobody was there.

He eyed Baby Bear's bed, with its rumpled blankets. Leaning down, he lifted a corner and found her hiding there. He hauled her out with his claws extended, and roared "Who are you?"

Filled with chemical belligerence, she bellowed back, "I'm Goldy."

Papa Bear shook her. "What are you doing here?"

She sniffed insolently. "Wolf sent me to check on you. We caught a whiff of what you've been cooking, and he wanted to know if it was any good."

Papa Bear let her go, and his posture changed to one of supplication. "And? What did you think?

Goldy smirked. "It'll do. But your crystallisation needs work. Only one little bowl of that is saleable."

He growled. "What will he give us for it?"

"What do you want for it?" she asked, twirling a lock of hair around her finger.

"Three grand."

"Ha!" Her abrupt laugh was genuinely amused. "Too high." She pondered for a moment, with her head cocked and an eyebrow raised. "Fifteen hundred?"

He shook his head. "That's too low."

They eyed each other for a moment, then spoke in unison. "Two grand."

Papa Bear closed his eyes, and his fur settled down. Glancing up again, he said, "Just right. Do we have a deal?"

They shook on the deal, his furry paw engulfing hers.

***

In the kitchen, Mama Bear listened intently, and clasped Baby Bear in relief. Two thousand would cover the medicine he needed. Everything was going to be okay.

January 28th, 2015

Meal time was always a battle. There was no denying it; Davi was a picky eater. K'tisha mustered an enthusiastic expression as she placed Davi's heaped plate in front of him. He promptly shoved it away.

"Nope. I don't like it," he pouted.

K'tisha tensed. "But you haven't even tried it!" she cooed. "I got it especially for you! And you must be hungry after school."

Davi deigned to hook his plate closer, and eyed the contents suspiciously.

"It doesn't look right." He prodded it. "Are you sure it's ready?"

"Of course it is, dear. The lady at the market helped me choose a good one, and all!"

"But, Muuum, it looks yucky."

"No. It's perfect. Look. Its skin is in perfect condition, no spots or marks, and it's exactly the right colour."

Davi scowled. "Jeq's family had one the other night, and it wasn't that colour."

His mother suppressed a sigh. "The lady at the market said the darker the better, so long as it's not too shiny. Davi, you need to eat."

He slumped back in his chair, glowering at her. She stifled an urge to shove the plate into his face.

"The lady taught me all about them! This was the absolute best one there! Good skin condition, good skin colour, a good weight for its size. It even passes the tap test!" She demonstrated.

He glared.

K'tisha sighed, and reached for a knife. "Look, I'll cut it up for you." She levered the blade through the skin, working off some suppressed frustration, and extracted a delicate slice.

"See? Look how red and juicy the insides are. Mmm, yummy." She pantomimed deliciousness, and shoved his plate back at him.

Davi sniffed, and sniffed again. "Mum, what's that smell?"

K'tisha sniffed, too. "That's funny, it smelled alright at the market." She gingerly prodded her carefully selected offering, and then hooked it up in one tentacle. The creature dangled loosely, its four funny appendages hanging down. She shook it, to little effect, then brought it towards her olfactory organ. "Eurgh!"

Revolted, K'tisha slithered across the kitchen and dumped the human into the recycler, then scrubbed her tentacles at the sink.

"Sorry, Davi. Shall I pop out and pick up a couple of Centaurians, instead?"

Davi nodded.
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