If she shushes me again I’m going to scream.

Type: Free write | Genre: Contemporary Fiction | Date: June 8, 2022 | Author: Lala Jackson

If she shushes me again I’m going to scream. I don’t want the most memorable story of my I-can-surely-find-myself-in-Spain trip to be getting kicked out of the hammam spa, so I stand up from the baths, wrap my towel around my waist, gulp the last of my mint tea, and trudge through the foot and a half of water toward the exit.

“I’m sorry the echo of my crying was too loud for you,” I want to snidely say as I walk past her, the grand-maestro of a pool the size of a large bathtub, but I don’t because I don’t want that to be my story either. 

I change quickly in the locker rooms, my sight numb to the view of bodies in various states of aging and undressed. 

“I don’t care, I don’t care, I don’t care,” my heart beats. 

I towel off my feet before sliding them into my new handmade leather sandals. “Treat myself, that’ll surely do the trick,” I had thought when they’d caught my eye at the market I’d stumbled across the night before.

They’d been lined up carefully alongside their leather siblings, placed on a colorful wool blanket in a vendor’s booth, a sense of order amidst a cacophony of sounds and lights reverberating around them. 

Studying their detail helped distract me from the sight of families dancing, clapping along as abuelas flitted their skirts around their legs, calves sinewy and strong from decades of rollicking in the Spanish summer nights with their ever-growing family trees. 

Their happiness felt like a twist in my gut and I was furious at myself for it. It is not their fault they are happy. It is my fault I am angry at them for it. 

“Here alone? A beautiful woman like you,” the vendor had said, his words richly accented, winking at me like it was a harmless joke and not my life. I pressed 5 euros into his hand as he passed the sandals to me. “Do you want to put them…” he had said as I turned to walk away, shaking my head in response. 

Their leather straps are soft. They don’t cut into my ankles the way my $12 sandals from Target do. I wonder if I can find him again tonight to thank him. To make up for myself. 

I straighten, taking one last glance around the locker room bench to make sure I’m not leaving anything behind that I don’t intend to.

The sun is blazing as I walk into the stone alleyway outside the spa’s exit. I turn right to make my way up the hill and toward the old castle grounds, closing my eyes whenever I pass a loving family or giddy child, trusting my feet to carry me forward on the path I’ve trodded often over the last few weeks. 

I’ve gotten to know the royal gardens well enough. Made myself sit in them every afternoon to be around their beauty, to be amongst the sweet smell of roses, to remind my spirit of what life unencumbered looks like. 

It’s not true what they say—that colors get muted in times like these. If anything they get too bright, too vibrant to feel like you can both possibly exist in the world at the same time. 

A tree. A bear. A sorceress. A shepherd.

Type: Free write | Genre: Fiction/Fable | Date: June 1, 2022 | Author: Lala Jackson

A tree. A bear. A sorceress. A shepherd. 

First, I was a tree. I first felt wonder then. I started out as a sapling. I suppose I actually started out as a seed, then a small shoot from the ground, but my time as a sapling is what I first remember. Then the seasons turning. How cold the snow was that first year on my bare limbs. The deep warmth of summer afternoons, how beautiful my greenery shimmered in the fading autumn light. Sunbeams danced with the dust that floated between my leaves. My bright golds before the seasons turned again, next spring’s buds hiding under grey-brown bark, waiting to burst forth when it was time. How magnificently simple that time was. My only job to grow, then to rest, then to grow again, then to rest again. Perfectly in tune with the cycles of the earth. Unbothered and unburdened by anything other than my place within them. 

Then, I was a bear. I first felt fear then. In the early days, from never quite knowing when my next meal would come. I was scrawny, the runt of my litter, cast aside by my brothers who roamed the forests, their brazen growls rumbling through the woods, no fear of who or what they’d attract with their huffing. I first saw humans then. Scrawnier than I was, but with far more power than their forms indicated. The humans cut down the trees and my soul ached for my former kin. They killed my brothers for their magnificent furs, leaving their bodies to rot in the late summer sun. With no regard for how much the rest of us fought to stay alive here.

Next, I was a sorceress. I first felt power then, but I hungered for more and more and more. It felt fleeting. Like any moment it could slip from my grasp or be taken from it. It wasn’t the easy power of nature’s cycles, the comfort I enjoyed as a tree, moving with and through nature’s cycles. This power didn’t allow me to feel my place within the earth. It made me feel separate from it. A freak. A sideshow. Someone or something gifted me this power but then I was ostracized for it. I wielded fire and was bored by it. Harnessed air and dismissed its strength. Could raise earth from the ground and wept anyway because this power made me Other. Immediately disqualified me from community—I was too strong, too feared. What is power when there is no goodness for which to use it?

Last, I was a shepherd. I sat with the trees. Watched them move in the breeze. I watched a mama bear and her cubs sidle down the mountain, mama turning and huffing at her progeny to keep up, but never leaving them behind. I visited with the town sorceress, downing endless kettles of tea over decades, our time together marked by belly laughs and a private language built between friends. And I wandered, from village to village, town to town, sharing my wares and tinctures and stories. I meandered through mountains and valleys, forged rivers, laid in fields looking up at the endless stars and I felt wonder, total awe for this planet and its people and the seasons and the universe it sits within. I ran and hid—from howling wolves and screaming men and those who wished to harm me, fear taking hold in my throat but always able to get away. I moved through the world with strength. It was a gentle power. It was my own. 

A tree. A bear. A sorceress. A shepherd. 

Angels + Super Weird Humans

Type: Free write | Genre: Speculative Fiction | Date: May 18, 2022 | Author: Lala Jackson

What we do doesn’t make sense. On paper, sure. Protect the humans. Try to provide a little order to their chaos. Give ‘em lil’ reminders of hope, like the twenty-dollar bill they forgot was in their spring jacket or a card from their great aunt Marge that just happens to show up on a rough day.

It’s not a hard job. We go through a few weeks of training anyway. Big boss has to sign off and such.

But the whole ‘access to the divine’ thing makes arranging cosmic coincidences pretty standard.

Here’s the thing though: humans?
Weird.
Super weird.

You ever sit near the entrance of a mall and watch human after human after human push the door that’s marked pull? Like, they will have JUST SEEN the person twenty feet ahead of them do the same thing but nope, push on the pull door.

They do that kinda stuff all the time.

But there’s super sweet moments too. They’re so attached to each other. I think I’ll never get over that part, no matter how many more millennia I keep this gig. I think it’s something about their lives being so short. It all feels fleeting to them. 

“Did you ever see your Nephew again?”

Type: Dialogue Exercise | Genre: Speculative Fiction | Date: April 27, 2022 | Author: Lala Jackson

“Did you ever see your Nephew again?” I ask her, trying to catch her downcast eyes.

She shakes her head. Just slightly, like she doesn’t want to commit to its answer. “I couldn’t,” she says. 

“What stopped you?”

She doesn’t respond for a time, wandering about my bedroom, pausing at every trinket and keepsake I have littered across my bookshelves, looking but not taking them in. She finally stops and turns toward me, shoulders square, lips pursed. 

“Shame,” she finally answers. “How could I have gone back? Told him that what I abandoned him for—what I abandoned all of them for—was fruitless?”

“It’s not your fault it didn’t work out,” I offer, but she instantly sucks her teeth.

“My mother, my aunt. They were snatched from our village. Stolen from our family. Taken away for their power because people were scared. It was a gift when I was returned. The people welcomed me back. My Sisters trained me up, ensured I knew how to Wield. And what did I do? Turned my back on them. Walked away,” she sweeps her arm across her body, flicking her hand at the end of its path. “They needed me and I acted as though it was nothing, as though my adventure, my wanting to see Elsewhere, was more important.”

I pause, considering. “Did they ask you to stay?” 

She sighs, her shoulders rounding. “They never would have asked me that. All they wanted was my happiness.”

“How could people who only desired your happiness also have wanted your shame and loneliness?”

“That’s the bit that’s hardest,” she replies. “Their kindness only made me hate myself more. It was only once I left that I realized I spent 39 years doubting my place in my home, with the people who accepted me more than I ever realized,” she says, water welling in her eyes. “The shame? It’s not just from having abandoned them. It’s from having doubted them every moment that I was there. I did not deserve their kindness.” She raises her chin as though she dares me to say otherwise. 

How hard it must be to be so heartbroken after hundreds of years, to never have been able to unload such regret. “Do you remember being brought back to the Village?”

The corners of her mouth twitch up slightly as she sinks onto my low bed, her skirts flowing about her and almost completely covering the black and white wool blanket I was gifted when I came of age. 

“Goddammit Jasper,” I spit, but it don’t matter…

Type: Free write | Genre: Contemporary Fiction | Date: April 13, 2022 | Author: Lala Jackson

“Goddammit Jasper,” I spit, but it don’t matter. The horse can’t understand me anymore I can understand it, which is why I now find myself on the ground again, him having just thrown me off his back for the fourth time in as many hours.

The ground’s soft, Wilie having just tilled the soil this morning knowing we’d be out here all day. But anyone’s tailbone‘ll get a little bit tired from slammin’ into the earth a few times over. I let myself take a minute on the ground, leaned back on my hands watching Jasper trot around the ring, throwing his mane this way and that. Almost like he’s proud of himself. 

Seems we go by the same guidebook, him and I. “God did not make me to be rigid and follow rules.” I hear it in meemaw’s voice, but I see it in Jasper’s spirit. I’d be mad too if I knew the way people described taming me was that they needed to break me. 

It’s gonna take a while for him to come near me again; it’s clear he has little interest in having a rider. So I make the ground my home for a few more minutes, digging my hands deep into the soil to where it’s cool and damp. I take a deep breath, inhaling the smell of the earth and my sweat, all mixed together in the breeze comin’ down the valley. 

“I’m no expert, but from the ground seems a mighty hard place to train a horse, May.” I look over my shoulder toward granddaddy’s voice, raising my eyebrow at him before I lower my torso the rest of the way to the ground, letting it join my legs. My tailbone feels a bit better when my body is sprawled out like this anyway, and the clouds are pretty, moving lazily across the summer sky. I shift my hat so it can cover my face the rest of the way, feeling the earth meet my body, the soil cradling every aching muscle. 

“Yallright?” grandaddy says a few seconds later, but there’s no worry in his voice. This is what we do. Been doin’. Grandaddy learned from his Paw who learned from his. Horse-rearin’ is in our blood. Or at least, it lets us stay out here on the land, away from folks who wouldn’t understand our pull to be out here under the big sky. 

That’s where the horses and us are the same, I think. Wild. It’s what makes it hard to see a horse as free as Jasper and want to take that away. 

Vanilla Vodka + Limeade

Type: Dialogue Exercise | Genre: Contemporary Fiction | Date: February 24, 2021 | Author: Lala Jackson

“Tapping your foot isn’t going to make me choose faster, love.”

“Not gonna make you choose any slower either, and trust – it’s good for me to have the outlet.”

“Mmm.”

“You know you’re gonna choose the limeade, it’s always the limeade.”

“What was it that Gene gave y’all at the wrap party?”

“Vanilla something. Vanilla vodka?”

“Right, so that won’t mix well with limeade.”

“Castro’s is down the block, we can grab something else.”

“We already have the vodka.”

“Well what mixes well with vanilla vodka?”

“… whipped cream.”

“Sir.”

“…. chocolate milk.”

“Are we 5?”

“I hope not, given the vodka.”

“Seltzer? Keep it simple. Anything else is gonna be too sweet, yea?”

“Seltzer it is. Lime? Plain? Orange? …. What? Don’t look at me like that.”

“I will be happy with anything you choose, just choose. If we get home in 10 we can fit in 3 episodes.”

“I never should have introduced you to Top Chef.”

“It’s the thing that brings me the most joy in the world, you can’t knock my most joyful thing. And honestly the fact that you didn’t show me it when we first started dating really says a lot about how little you valued me. Just some chick you met at the bar, I get it.”

“Stop. I saved myself from three years of Top Chef on repeat, this is a win all around.”

Jeff’s Scones + Croissants

Type: Dialogue Exercise | Genre: Contemporary Fiction | Date: February 17, 2021 | Author: Lala Jackson

I’d only been standing in line for a moment when a man to my right, who I had not even seen approach, said “Reah ad tha is clo-ing, yea?” far too close to my face. I kept my body faced forward but swiveled my head to look at him as he swallowed his mouthful of croissant and repeated,

“Real sad that it’s closing, yea?”

“Oh! But the scones! I didn’t know,” I said, now turning toward him fully.

“Right? The scones! Have you tried the croissants?”

“Well I will now. It’s good?” I asked, motioning toward what was left of the croissant he held.

“Peak buttery goodness. Would recommend,” he winked, holding up his croissant remnants like a beerstein to clink. “Have you met Jeff?”

“Sorry, who?”

“Jeff. Owner. Good guy. Short. Big beard. Usually wears a beanie.”

“I cannot say that I’ve met Jeff.”

“Weird, he’s always here, you’ve probably seen him,” he said, gesturing around the tiny dining area, where it would in fact be hard to miss anyone.

“Well I haven’t been coming here long. I only just moved into the neighborhood,” I explained.

“Ah man! You missed out. I’ve lived here since oh-three, they opened up the year after I got here, and have kept me in croissant heaven since. Although… maybe it’ll be good to stay out of croissant heaven for a bit,” he sighed, patting a barely protruding midsection. Sidestepping what felt like a request for a compliment, I quickly fished my brain for a diversion.

“The rent got too high?” I asked.

He responded with a scoff – “The rent’s BEEN too high. I think Jeff just wants a quieter life, you know? He’s worked here 7 days a week long as I can remember. TIme for Jeff to rest.”

I nod and repeat, “Time for Jeff to rest,” stepping up to the register to procure my first croissant and my last scone.