Linus Bolt

If any of you are seeking a reason to slack off at work today and would like some reading material, I’ve posted a short story below. I’m in a writing club (Aka, the Write Club) and we have been working on a compilation of short stories called DC Je T’aime, a take on Paris Je T’aime, the movie collection of short films. We have the following parameters to write within, or include in the story:

  • Must take place in a DC neighborhood
  • A snow leopard must appear
  • Incorporate a heart-shaped pin
  • Use the line “I know you’re in there”
  • Borrow a character from someone else’s story
  • 7,000 word limit (mine is 5,000)

My story is about a skinny ass dweeb named Linus Bolt. It was a name I had originally wanted to use as my pen name, but my mother was (understandably so) horrified, so I came up with TL Zalecki instead. Anyway, I hope you enjoy it. It was quite a change of topic and style from SIRENS.

LINUS BOLT by T.L. Zalecki

“God dammit, Linus!” Karen muttered under her breath, shoving the trowel into the flower bed harder than necessary. She stabbed the dirt again, even harder this time. Half of an earthworm squiggled from the freshly turned earth.

“Oh shit. Sorry dude.”

A year ago, she wouldn’t have thought twice about severing a live worm. They were disgusting. It was Linus. His insistence to let live – fruit fly, fire ant or fool. A fine philosophy. It was just that she’d never been the soft-hearted type. But it was part of the whole Linus package – endearingly passionate and gentle to a fault, yet he still had an edge. His searing wit was dark, charming. Even cynical. Karen found his odd ability to love and hate in the same breath alluring. She considered him the most dynamic person she’d ever met.

And now his skinny ass was screwing someone else. She knew it. Why was she gardening for him anyway? Just because her toothbrush lay on his sink and her slippers and robe had a permanent place in his closet?  None of that meant she was Mrs. Linus Bolt. Bastard. She’d actually thought one day she would be. Stupid name anyway. He moved like molasses.

Karen tossed the trowel into the creeping jenny that lined the stone wall and stood up. Sweat dripped from her forehead and upper lip. She felt hot inside and out. This was hell. Her boyfriend was cheating on her, and she was planting gerber daisies in his front yard during the hottest day of the year. Or century? She thought she’d heard that on the radio. Damn, DC could bake like an oven.

“I need a drink.” She said aloud, surprised no one was around to hear her. Linus’ neighbors were usually relentless, always present, always greeting you with smiles, walking their dogs, sitting on their plushly furnished porches drinking lemonade. So damn pleasant all the time. The aptly named Mount Pleasant. Okay, so maybe you’d be on cloud nine if your boyfriend actually asked you to move in with him. Maybe then you’d be the one bopping down Ingleside Terrace with a perma-smile.

Just as she was about to go inside for a beer, a streak of color caught Karen’s eye. Pink. In some sort of prescient notion, a chilling wave coursed through her veins, raising the hair on her arms. An uncharacteristically cool breeze swirled her hair, peeling it from her sweaty shoulders. She turned around.


A cotton candy colored flamingo stood on one leg in the center of the french lady’s yard across the street. Karen rubbed her eyes, then wiped a fresh layer of sweat from her face. The neurons in her brain were trying to tell her that the bird before her was plastic. After all, the neighborhood was quirky. People painted their houses peach with purple trim, decorated their yards with tin cans and tricycles. Plus, it was the kooky french lady. Of course there was a kitschy pink plastic flamingo in her yard.

So why did it just flap a wing?

Feeling a little silly, Karen dashed up to the porch and slung open the front door, then slammed it shut. Cool air-conditioned air washed over her. Its a hallucination, she told herself. You’re hot. You’re pissed. She needed to chill out or she was going to lose it.

“God dammit, Linus!” She yelled into the empty house.

Startled, Linus’ two siamese cats darted into a cluster of house plants by the window. Karen grabbed a Port City Ale from the fridge and rubbed the cold bottle against her chest, her cheeks, her neck, trying to cool off and restore sanity. She took a huge gulp and then grabbed Linus’ laptop from the kitchen table.

Funny how he said he was going to work today. Saturday. And here was his laptop. Asshole. His computer had to hold a clue. Who was she? Where was he meeting her? He’d been gone late into the night with lame excuses. On Tuesday he said he was at the Raven, but Karen had gone the next day to fish around and, nope, it was a lie.

The laptop hummed to life and she typed his password into the screen – cougar123. It was always a different wild animal. But now she stared at the letters. Cougar. Maybe it was an older woman.

Before she could type gmail into the browser, a headline caught her eye.

DC Residents ALERT! Animals Escaped From National Zoo.

Holy shit. Are you kidding?

Authorities Report All Exhibits Compromised.

Mount Pleasant was a stones throw from the zoo. Only a quick jaunt through Rock Creek Park. She could hear the lions’ roars from Linus’ bedroom window at night. Holy shit.

Karen darted to the window to look again at the neighbor’s yard. The flamingo still stood there. It was digging its beak around in the french lady’s pansies. It looked majestic, standing there calm and serene on the small pad of green grass. It didn’t seem to realize how far from home it was.

Suddenly the knockout rose bush in the neighboring yard began to rustle and sway. The flamingo lifted its long neck and looked around. Before Karen could comprehend what was happening, a tiger leapt from the bush and pounced on the flamingo. A deafening roar rang through the street as pink feathers exploded in the air. The tiger began circling his head with the bird’s body clutched in its mouth like a rag doll, faster and faster. Blood sprayed out turning the poor avian creature from pale pink to crimson. Its long neck went limp, dangling like a snake from the cat’s enormous jaws.

A tiger.

The sweaty beer bottle slipped from Karen’s hand and she began to shake.


The sound of sirens outside jolted her from the trance, and she glanced at her phone. Had an hour passed already? In a flight or fight response Karen had chosen flight, running to the narrow galley kitchen where there were no windows. After calling her mother in Ohio, every close friend since college, and Linus at least ten times, she gave up. No one was answering during the most bizarre event of her life. If only she had more friends in town. But all her friends were acquaintances through Linus. And right now, considering the affair, it felt weird and stalkerish to call them. Like they were all in on it. She sat on the counter as still as the granite beneath her, drinking another beer, breathing quietly. What to do…

The sounds outside were muffled by the AC, but she could still hear sirens, and strange noises that made her hair stand on end. It was a cacophony of people yelling, horns honking and animals screeching – exotic bird calls along with high pitched mammal screams. She couldn’t bring herself to look outside. And where was her man, her chivalrous protector, when she needed him? Oh. Out banging that slut. He probably had no idea she was cordoned in his house surrounded by Africa’s Big Five among other freak animals. Her anger at Linus was coalescing with the fear in her gut. What should she do with herself? All alone, trapped in Linus’ house. She felt like Dorothy waking from a crazy dream, only the house had dropped into a jungle rather than Oz.

She finally slid off the counter and started muffling around in Linus’ cabinets. It felt like ages since she’d scarfed down the rubbery breakfast sandwich and watered down coffee at Heller’s Bakery this morning. Her hand charged with adrenaline as it swept through the dark cabinet above the sink feeling for the peanut butter and Ritz box. While she and Linus were cooking stir-fry last week, they’d seen a rat the size of a small cat scurry across the wooden floor and slither beneath the toe kick. Karen had gone to Old School Hardware to purchase a trap, but Linus nixed it immediately.

“Its humane, see?” She’d pointed out to him.

He looked at the box. “It says here, ‘poison may take one to two days to work’, or murder, the rat.” He furrowed his brows in that annoying but sexy look of disapproval, then encircled her waist and drew her close.

“Oh come on, Linus! Its not strychnine. They don’t use that anymore. Its painless, I swear!”

“Come on baby, be a nice girl.”

“But I’m not a nice girl. That’s really why you like me. Remember last night?” She squeezed his butt cheek. There wasn’t much of one.

He was so fun to flirt with. A pang of sadness mixed with anger coursed through her. It would all be easier if she didn’t love him so much.

She located the crackers and peanut butter and began munching, then broke out the laptop again remembering her original goal. She needed to get to the bottom of the tryste Linus was having. And forget about the chaos outside. If I can’t see it, then its

Before finishing her thought, the unmistakable roar of an elephant sounded somewhere in the woods behind the house, too close. She jumped in surprise, banging the table and causing her empty beer bottle to wobble … then its not happening.

But it was impossible to delude herself of the reality outside. It was happening. She pulled her knees to her chest at the old farm table and refocused on the laptop, the stalking.

Linus’ gmail. What was the password again? What stupid animal 123 had he used last?

The metal taste of blood seeped into her mouth as she realized she’d been chewing her lip.

“Just chill, Karen.” She whispered as the screen illuminated.

The news alert was still flashing on his homepage. Her Twitter feed had been her only connection to whatever was going on out there, until her iPhone died.  Reluctantly seeking an update, she logged into her Twitter account before proceeding to Linus’ email.

According to local tweets, the “most compromised” neighborhood of Mount Pleasant had been cordoned off in a square of sorts, from 16th Street to the Park running east to west, and from Columbia to Newton from north to south. The perimeter was lined with city cops, in vans, squad cars, on foot, on Segways.

Segways? Really?

Karen laughed aloud imagining a fat cop bumping down the sidewalk in pursuit of a pack of meerkats.  She scanned more tweets.

Every K-9 unit the municipality owned was out. Great, so let’s add dogs to the mix of wild animals for some real fun. Don’t miss the German Shepherd and the Grey Wolf going head to head. Tonight at 9. She rolled her eyes.

It appeared the rest of DC was safe from the wild animals but for a Snow Leopard. Some bums in the Farragut North Park had been seen running wildly into the traffic on K Street followed by what one eyewitness reported as a “fucking tabby cat on ‘roids”. A quick search of the trending #wasthatafuckingsnowleopard revealed similar stories that had unfolded in the past half hour. Karen Google Imaged the Snow Leopard to see an enormous tiger-like cat baring its fangs. Her brows shot up.

“Okay. This shit is ridic.”

Wily, one of the Siamese cats, slinked out from the pantry, as if to see what she was talking about.

“Look kitty-cat, you focus on that rat. Find it and rip the bastard to shreds.” Her patience for uninvited creatures was waning. “I won’t tell Linus, I promise. I’m going to quit being a coward and check out the scene.” The cat looked at her like she was crazy.

She tiptoed across Linus’ threadbare oriental rug to the bay of windows that looked out onto the street. Her fingers shook as she twisted the blind wand, then her eyes widened in disbelief.

“What the…”

People and animals were out helter skelter, all over Ingleside. There was also action up on 18th by Bancroft Elementary. Why were these people even out there? Death wish? Regardless, she grabbed her beer and stepped outside to join them. At least Linus’ porch was set back a little, raised up from the street. With her back pressed against the front door, she downed the beer in seconds.

The ever cheery, lemonade drinking Mount Pleasant residents had transformed. Two ladies across the street were screaming at each other, flailing arms in anger, while a giraffe tramped through the blooming hydrangea bushes in the yard behind them, snacking on some lofty elm leaves. In front of the turquoise brick Victorian with yellow trim, a group of long haired twenty-somethings milled around. They wore ratty jeans and graphic tees and the guys had thick beards, something Karen thought looked ridiculous in the summer. They were circling a cluster of terrified zebras. The zebras neighed loudly criss-crossing each other in a swarm of black and white. The hipsters were carrying hastily made signs, picketing – Stun’em, don’t Gun’em.

An old man and woman, one of those couples that had begun to look alike in old age, were arguing with a redheaded, and red bearded, guy in tiny tennis shorts. They kept gesturing to a cop who was crouched behind an elm tree, aiming upwards, sniper style, at something Karen couldn’t see. The young girl was shaking her picket sign at them.

Of course, animal rights. Karen shook her head. Everything was always politically charged here. People ran to the CVS to make protest signs for just about anything. DC.

Just as the argument outside started to get nasty, a gunshot rang out and one of the zebras fell to the ground. Then two more. Karen’s heart lurched. She’d seen those same zebras just last week when they’d taken Linus’ nephew to the Zoo. Now the black and white carcasses lay bleeding out on the black pavement next to a line of CarToGo cars, which were about the same size as the dead animals.


The DC cop shoved his weapon back in the holster, looking a bit too excited at having used it. He stood, feet askance, facing the picketers, and held up one hand palm outward. “Officer safety, folks.” With that, he skidded off in his squad car, siren blaring.

Karen’s mouth hung open. She could smell the hoppy beer mix with fear on her breath. But she couldn’t turn away from the madness. Her neck was rubber. Her whole body was rubber.

She tried Linus again on her phone. In a way, she was glad he was missing this. He would have totally freaked if he’d seen those animals killed. His bleeding heart and fiery temper would have caused him to do something… wild. She could see it now. He’d run his fingers through his surfer boy hair a few times, pace – he loved to pace – and then bolt out the door to join the picketers, maybe even fight a cop. He was the slow moving cool guy until he was a crazy ass hot head on a mission. The phone went to voicemail again.

Are you kidding me, Linus? Could he really not have heard yet? No texts, no emails, no calls from him. Nothing.

Should she be worried? No. He’s just an ass. Even if he was trying to get home from “work”, the neighborhood was inaccessible, according to Twitter. She checked her feed again.

DC Police: Zoo animals contained in Mount Pleasant. Personnel are opening fire on all species. Residents, stay inside to avoid gunfire .

Then a flurry of other tweets from residents.

Save the Snow Leopard!

Stop the cops! Save the residents of the National Zoo!

Animals have rights too!

Use tranquilizers, not bullets!

If you see a cop point a gun at an animal, tackle the pig!

All had the same hashtag, #Stun’emDon’tGun’em.

Karen suddenly felt as though she should be joining a team. There was obviously a grassroots movement going on out here. A war of sorts. Tigers killing flamingoes. The cops killing the animals. The residents trying to stop the cops, on the brink of killing each other. And amidst all of this, wild animals gallivanted down the streets,  climbing the linden trees and frolicking among the rowhouses’ quaint yards. The ones still standing – which seemed to be a lot – were enjoying their new found freedom. At least temporarily.

“Screw it. Linus isn’t here to guilt me into joining the picketers.” She went back inside to grab another beer. Her third. She paused. Today called for something more potent. She peered across the dining room. Linus’ liqueur cabinet was stocked. Mixing new drinks was one thing they loved to do together. She used to be a bartender in Ohio and could make up the craziest drinks. She’d even concocted a special one – whiskey, vanilla, almond oil, and a macadamia liquor – and called it the Linus Bolt.

“Tastes nutty, don’t you think?” She’d sneered.

“I take that personally.” He downed it, then licked his lips in satisfaction. “Damn good though.”

“Would I make it up to you if I added some hot sauce, you hot, crazy son of a bitch?”

And the Linus Bolt was history. One of their favorite drinks.

Karen shifted around the bottles of vodka, grenadine, rum searching for the Wild Turkey whiskey she’d bought Linus last week for his thirty-fifth birthday. Where was it? She stood for a second, eyes to the ceiling to ignore the tears brimming at her bottom lid. If he even dared drink that shit with her, I’ll kill him.

Hurt swelled in her chest. Okay, stop getting emotional. Its just a hellish kind a day. She suppressed it, grabbed Linus’ best Jack Daniels gold label, and made herself a stiff Linus Bolt. Within minutes her glass was empty. She stared down at it in awe, as though it hadn’t been her that had devoured the drink so quickly. The only thing to do was start over. The next one she would enjoy slowly.

She sipped the cool liquid that had begun numbing her lips. But it tasted so good. She checked her feed again to see if things were clearing up outside. It appeared not.

After a few more minutes of obsessively searching Twitter and sipping her Linus Bolt, she began to laugh. It was absurd. The animals were still running the show. A few monkeys and some aquatic mammals had been downed, but for the most part, Mount Pleasant had turned into a zoo. She swished the fiery drink around in her mouth, then downed it, forgetting her resolution to drink slow. A burn flushed through her throat, then belly like a surge of energy. Suddenly she didn’t feel like standing on the sidelines anymore.

“That’s it. I’m going out there, off the porch.” She set down her tumbler with a clank on Linus’ radiator, then ran to the the coat closet where Linus kept his camping supplies. Tucked beneath some folded sweaters and blankets on the top shelf was his knife. He loved to whittle things in the woods, but the blade was sharp. It would be the perfect weapon, just in case. She snapped the sheath into her belt loop, and patted it. Liquid courage propelled her towards the door.

She stepped outside once again, assessing the chaos. Had the heat intensified? She tried to breathe but the air was so heavy and thick it felt like she was underwater. A frantic scream sounded somewhere in the near distance. Several houses up, a giant panda bear scampered down the street. It clutched a baby in its furry arms. A young woman wearing yoga attire chased after it, throwing contents of her diaper bag at the panda as she ran, tripping over her purple Crock shoes. Why would anyone wear those, Karen wondered. She shook her head as the milk bottles and pacifiers bounced off the bear’s head like ping pong balls.

Karen clenched her bare feet against the polished concrete porch, then glanced down at her strappy leather sandals. Not the best for running either, but at least they were stylish. She slid them on, tipping sideways as she tried to balance. The iron rail caught her just in time, but her head spun.

“Pthhhooy,” She exclaimed sloppily, emitting a loud belch, then regained balance. “Whoops.” Her head spun lightly, but she felt good. She dashed down the stairs and into the street.

It was like some crazy animal planet reality TV show surrounded her. Monkeys, apes and gorillas were using the trees as a jungle gym. A seal flapped in place on the sidewalk at the intersection of 18th and Ingleside. From the looks of its tattered tail and scratched skin, some animal had dragged it all the way through the park, then left it to flounder on the pavement. Karen squeezed her eyes shut as a sloth bear approached and began slashing at it with furry taloned claws.

“Oh man,” she cried in disgust.

A piercing scream erupted from the blubbery mammal as it flailed in the gutter, no defense against the six foot bear that towered over it.

Karen took a deep breath and shook her head. Three cop cars whizzed by with uniforms leaning out the window like Dukes of Hazard. One guy drove as the other showered bullets on a group of Alpacas.

“Yo, yo, yo!!!” Yelled a young guy, tossing a clay flower pot after the cruiser.

Had she really just witnessed a drive by shooting? Of furry animals that looked slightly like Elmo?

A cackling laugh erupted from Karen’s belly and she turned to see the neighbor two doors down, standing in his terrycloth bathrobe, give her a look of daggers. She stifled the rest of her laughter and looked away.

“You think this is funny, young lady?” He gestured to the street with the hand that wasn’t holding the cigar. His face was red as a tomato. It matched the heart-shaped pin fastened to the pocket of his robe.

The smoke wafted over to Karen’s nostrils, hot as steam. It cut through a cloud of mosquitoes that hovered between her and the robed man. Was it Mr. Goldblatt? He’d always annoyed her, always in her business. Linus couldn’t stand him.

“No Sireeee.” She sauntered further down the street, clutching the knife in her pocket.

“Hey, don’t go out there. It’s dangerous!” He called after her in the paternal i-know-best-little-girl voice.

Karen looked back to see an enormous snake dangle its head down from his porch roof and coil its tail a few inches from his ear. The color drained from his face.

“See ya, Mr. Blatt.” Or whatever his name was.

She felt brave walking through the throng of people, cops, zoo animals, alley cats, pets. Deep down, she knew it was stupidity and not courage, but some force was propelling her forward. It felt like an outerbody experience. Then she had an epiphany. None of this was even real. It couldn’t be. Her mind mulled over the sight, seeking a logical explanation. Had she dropped acid this morning? Maybe it was just a flashback from that time in college…

A buzz in her pocket sent a surge through her. Linus. She pulled out the phone. A text. It was from him.

Ape house.

She stared at the words. What the hell? Yeah, I’m in a god damn ape house. Thanks. Where are you? She replied by holding down the question mark until she had five lines of them, then pressed send. What the hell? Then it dawned on her. Yes. Of course.

She stopped in place, stared up at the sky, and a smile spread across her face. How could she not have guessed?

“Hey watch out,” someone yelled from behind her. A trio of orangutans shuffled by on their knuckles, screeching. Karen stumbled backwards against a wrought iron fence.

With a renewed sense of purpose, she regained her composure and made for the nearest break in the rowhouses which led to the alley behind Linus’ house. It backed up to Rock Creek Park, and the multiple wooded paths. Catching sight of something that looked like an alligator near the gutter, she quickened her pace until she was running. She stumbled across the brick alley and up to the edge of the woods. It was only about a mile from here, she thought, no more than twenty minutes. She grabbed the nearest branch to steady herself then began hiking down into the ravine. It was rough going and the alcohol was putting a damper on her physical fitness, but she was determined to cover ground.

The temperature seemed to drop with her descent and suddenly Karen felt very alone. The sounds of the animals screeches, police sirens and people yelling had dampened to white noise. Light streamed in through the tree canopy creating beautiful patches of yellow before her. Off in the distance the gurgling sound of the creek could be heard. Despite the heat wave and dry spell, the creek sounded full and strong.

When she had finally reached level ground, a loud rumble sounded a few feet away. Karen whipped her head around. Was it an animal? Or maybe just a nearby water fall? Then her eyes landed on a cat. It was as black as the night with green eyes, and standing as still as stone, crouched on hind quarters.

Her heart lurched. For a moment she was sure it was staring at her, its green eyes boring into her soul. But it wasn’t. She followed its line of sight to a deer. It was a majestic buck munching on some leaves a few yards ahead by the water. Karen breathed a sigh of relief. She backed up against a nearby tree and tried to catch her breath as silently as possible. The cat, which she felt sure was a panther, slinked around a beech tree then slid through a blooming rhododendron making its way towards the buck.

Stupidly, Karen followed. It was going the same direction she was anyway. Her leather sandals padded on the dirt path, smoothly, quietly. Her mind began to wander to strange places. As she trailed the cat from what she considered to be a safe distance, she began to feel a connection with it. It’s feline movement was smooth, seductive, the way she envisioned herself.

Suddenly, this was her chase. The cat was her victim. The cat was her.

That’s right bitch. I’ve found you. You think you’ve hooked my man, but you’ve got another thing coming.

A voice inside her was yelling, saying stop, as sharp as your nails are, you can’t win against this one. But she couldn’t stop. She was having fun.

She paused by a large beech tree with a heart and the name John and Julie carved into it, then pulled the knife from its holster. Just in case, she thought, knowing very well a knife would not be enough if she had to enter combat with the panther. She continued on. The cat was about ten feet from the buck now. It crouched down again, and Karen could see the potential energy emanating from its body like a silver halo. Afternoon light streamed in, spotlighting the buck. Just as the cat was about to pounce, Karen felt a hand on her shoulder.

Startled, Karen turned to see a man with a grimy face looking at her with concern. He was out of place, wearing a suit in the middle of the woods. His ponytail, long and scraggly, looked more like it belonged on a squirrel. “Come on lady, let’s get out of here.”

He grabbed her hand and began pulling her away from the wild animals before them. His stench was nauseating. Before Karen could protest, a loud screech sounded from the buck. Karen looked to see it plunge into the water as the cat began its kill. Without resistance, Karen let the man pull her away.

After a few minutes of stumbling behind the man, the shock of the kill she’d just witnessed wore off and she came to her senses. They were approaching a makeshift campsite. He was a bum.

Karen yanked her arm away. “Hey, where are you taking me?” Maybe she sounded a little harsh. “I mean, thanks for saving me from that cat, but I need to be on my way. I’m in a big hurry to get somewhere actually.” She was trying not to slur her words.

“You think you’re following your destiny, lady, but you’re just chasing someone else’s. Linus has gotta do what he’s gotta do.”

Karen looked at him. “Who are you?”

“I’m Rabbit.” He pulled a fifth of vodka out of his pocket. “Here, you could use a swig.”

Karen stared at him, unsure what to do other than accept. Maybe a little break would help clear her mind before she continued on her way. Plus, there was something eerily peaceful about the woods, like they were holding her there for safekeeping.

“Thanks,” she stammered, taking the bottle.

An hour later, she was sitting in front of a tiny campfire on an old bucket. Next to them was a tattered tent with shreds of clothes and a grocery cart of dirty belongings. The fifth was empty and a few squashed cans of PBR lay strewn among the leaves.

“Cheers,” she thrust her beer can against Rabbit’s, then chugged the rest. The strong buzz from earlier had begun to wear off, and she wasn’t dealing with this day sober. Drinking with a bum in the woods was as good as anything today, she thought.

“So where did you say you had to go?,” the man asked.

“Did I say I was going somewhere?” Karen must have passed out, or blacked out. She didn’t recall telling him anything. But it was true, she was on a mission. She remembered Linus’ text.

“Yeah lady, you did.” He rolled his eyes, then got up and took a pee against a nearby oak tree.

Hadn’t he said something to her about… what was it? Destiny or some shit. Like he knew everything about her already. Karen crushed her beer can, then tossed in what looked like a trash can, or maybe the man’s clothing bin. Whatever.

“Thanks for reminding me. And thanks for the beer. Its been real, dude,” she said.

Without waiting for a reply, she took off. Behind her she could feel Rabbit’s eyes boring into hers. She didn’t look back for fear he may call after her. It seemed like he had something more to say. The guy was creepy. She picked up her pace. At the crest of the next wooded hill, she could see the sign for the tall tower with animal statues on top and the stone ZOO sign embedded in the grassy hill beyond it. She was almost there.

Huffing from the trek, she bent over with her hands on her knees to catch her breath. She’d made it to the back entrance of the zoo. Just beneath the archway, an abandoned zebra printed mini-van was parked, still running. Karen jumped in and zoomed up the paved pathway of the Zoo. Dusk had arrived and in the dimming light, she could hear crickets, birds, but no animals. No moos or roars like she was used to. It was eerily empty and quiet.

The Ape house. She knew the zoo layout like the back of her hand having visited with Linus so often, half listening to his rants while she soaked up the view of exotic animals and overfed tourists. She passed the Big Cats exhibit, then the bamboo forest of the pandas lair. Now that she was so close, a clarity washed over her.

Linus was here, all along. The other woman wasn’t a woman at all. It was a bunch of caged wild beasts that needed setting free. That bitch wasn’t real, anymore than the panther in the woods. She rubbed her eyes. Sweat had drenched her shirt but the young night air was refreshing. The chaos in Mount Pleasant seemed miles away now, and her passage through Rock Creek Park had taken her into another world. Rabbit, her escort.

That had been a hallucination, right? There wasn’t really a bum in the woods there to save her from a wild panther and serve her vodka and PBR. Of course not.

She slammed on the brakes just outside the Ape House and jumped out of the zebra van. The sky was now dark and a full moon shone above casting a silvery light on the bronze chimpanzee standing guard at the entrance of the Great Ape House. Karen ran inside.

A wave of nausea passed over her at the smell of ape waste. She stood with her feet planted firmly on the ground and glanced around at the walls of glass. Beyond them were leafless trees with rope hammocks. Straw covered the ground. But they were empty. Could she have been wrong? Had his text been more figurative than she’d thought?

No. He was here.

“I know you’re in there!” she yelled. Her voice echoed eerily.

No sound.


Suddenly she heard a shuffling sound. In the far corner of the biggest cage she saw movement beneath a pile of yellow hay. She ran up and pressed her palms to the glass wall. Her breath fogged it up and she could smell the culmination of all the drinks she’d consumed from the day. She leaned sloppily in and her lips pressed against the cool surface.

“Baby,” she whispered.

Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, she watched her man stand up from the pile of hay. He was naked and his white skin almost glowed. His already wild hair looked wilder, standing every which way and caked with dirt. The skin of his face looked grimy, smeared with whatever was on the ground of the cage. A few stray pieces of hay stuck to his cheeks and hair. He walked slowly toward her, then pressed his palm against the glass meeting hers.

“You found me.”

“I thought you were cheating on me. You could have told me. I could have helped you.”

He looked at her with bloodshot eyes. “They’re free. I set ‘em free.”

“You’re a hero, baby. A god damn hero.” Karen lowered her lids, stared at him in the cage. Suddenly the glass melted away in her mind. She puckered her lips and leaned in. Her mind dismissed the cool of the glass and instead she felt Linus Bolt’s lips, warm against her own. She had her man back.



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SIRENS Book Cover Vote

Help!  I have been working with an awesome graphic designer named Paul Copello to create a book cover for SIRENS (Book 1). He’s come up with two cover ideas after talking extensively with me  to understand the themes and concepts in the story. I need to choose one so he can begin perfecting it  and then working on Book 2. These are VERY rough drafts as you can see from the Shutterstock watermarks. They are basically just mock-ups Paul did to see if I liked them. I like parts of both and just can’t decide. I would love your input via the voting buttons below. Which one is your favorite? Try to ignore the gritty details, like the text font which is easily changed. Just think about the general concepts.

Sample A:



Sample B: (with the obvious ‘s’ missing from SIRENS)

cc (2)

Thank you so much for voting! And if you have any qualitative comments about the covers, I would love to hear from you. Have a great week.



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Prologue or no log?

I’m super excited for a few reasons. It is Friday, it is warm and beautiful, and the weeping cherry tree in my backyard is starting to blossom frilly pink flowers. But I’m also excited because I talked to my editor, Max (at Polished Pen), this morning and she suggested an idea that I love – breaking SIRENS into two books!

This is great because SIRENS was long, 145,000 words. Deep down I was a little worried people would notice this before reading it and say, hmm, on second thought…. too long. It’s not exactly War & Peace, but to give you perspective, Hunger Games is only 100,000. I even beat The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by about 1000 words, and that’s a long book. But what can I say… I have a lot to say!

I’ve always been hesitant to turn SIRENS into a trilogy because that is what everyone is doing and sometimes I feel that the reader gets gypped. Like, the author waters Book 1 down to elongate into two or three books and the end result is flat and anticlimactic. Some have done it very well, of course, such as Hunger Games. Each of those books stood on their own. But Max pointed out that SIRENS is already divided into two parts that have natural arcs and independent endings. After marinating, I think she’s right. This also gives me a little more freedom to elaborate in both books. I’ve gotten feedback that I put out a lot of information at once in the first half, so now I can build in breathing room and more character development. Plus, this automatically makes me the author of not one, but TWO books! Shamefully, I like this.

As I revisit the entire structure of SIRENS in light of it being a series, I was curious to get opinion on something. I’ve read that prologues are no-no’s, that literary agents don’t like them. Apparently, many authors use prologues improperly, whatever that may mean in the context of the book. There are a lot of articles on why, including this one.

Regardless, I have a prologue in SIRENS. In fact, my brilliant mother, who is a writer herself and doesn’t realize it, was the one who gave me the idea for my “three phone calls” prologue. If you have a chance, I’ve pasted it below for you to read.

Do you like it? Do you think I have used it properly? Does it make you want to read the book? Or do you hate the idea of prologues? If I receive resounding calls to nix it, I can always incorporate the phone calls into the actual book. Would love your thoughts!

Here it is. At the end I’ve included a cool song to start your Friday. Happy weekend!

           SIRENS Prologue

August 2nd, 2098


The CEO answered the blinking hologram tablet on his desk without taking his eyes from the investor analysis report before him. Five AM. He tipped back the last of his coffee which was as black as the sky. It blanketed the nation’s capital in a starless ebony dawn. Dragonflies, ubiquitous minidrones that served as slaves to the still slumbering consumerists, already buzzed back and forth among the glowing white buildings of the business district. From the pinnacle of the hundred story skyscraper, the bluish green light from DiviniGen Incorporated’s logo seeped into his office.

“Morning, sir. Sorry to call so early but there’s some marine activity off the New Charleston coastline I think you’ll be interested in.”

“Go on.” Galton scooted back in his chair, suddenly at attention.

“Sonar readings are telling us there’s going to be a large scale beaching.”

“A beaching. Of what species?” He frowned, furrowing the groomed white brows that hooded his cold blue eyes.

“Too far out to tell yet, but they appear to be warm blooded, mammalian. And quite large.”

Galton contemplated the possibilities from the few species left in the largely depleted oceans. Once Antarctica melted and the green algae began to take over like smoke in a foxhole, they had begun falling like dominoes. But he knew, a few of the strongest survived. Some even thrived. Chances it was the one they’d been searching for were low, but he had to be there himself. Just in case.

He peered back at the uniformed employee who spoke to him from DiviniGen’s Marine Observatory in South Carolina. “When?”

“Within the next hour, sir. If you want to be here, I recommend leaving now.”

Galton disconnected then called his assistant. “Have the heliplane ready. I’ll be on the roof in ten minutes.”

“Where should I tell the pilot he’ll be flying, sir?”

“New Charleston.”

“I’ll alert the SC airport and the …”

“No. No airport. No Coast Guard. We’ll fly stealth and land directly on the beach. Understand?”

“Yes sir, Mr. Galton. Your plane will be waiting.”


*    *    *

Lorel poured her coffee into the mug, closing her eyes to savor the nutty smell before taking a sip. It was her favorite morning ritual and best done before sunrise. This was how she liked to welcome the day—alone with a quiet and tender reverence. Each was a sacred new beginning. Anything could happen. Despite being a pragmatic scientist, she was whimsical romantic at heart.

She picked up her mug and the antiquated French press and padded over to the window. Antiquated, old-fashioned, outdated was often what she preferred.  She cherished these remnants of the past in the age of new-fashioned technology—everything automatic, super-sped-up, microchipped and a hundred times smarter than its user. She liked things that made her feel grounded to a time when humans were one with the earth and could feel the soles of their feet on the ground. Autocars, smart glass, holograms, and space travel didn’t make Lorel feel that way. It wasn’t that she wanted to shun the wondrous marvels and conveniences that the dawn of the twenty second century had brought forth, but that the sentimental side of her didn’t want to lose what once had been.  Taking a look around at the world, anyone could see it was a dying sentiment.

She took a sip of the steaming coffee, sugared and creamed to perfection, and looked out over the sleeping city of New Charleston. The tall white-washed buildings looked like giant ghosts hovering among the low moonlit clouds that cloaked them in a silvery glow. Lorel took a deep breath and smiled at her dim reflection in the window. Today was a special day. The first day of her freedom—from academia, slaving away at her thesis, the never-ending slew of lab reports and library campouts and all-nighters. Now the real work began, the kind that would make a difference.

She grabbed the thin slab of glass leaning against the window and swirled her finger against it. Her diploma illuminated in shimmering rainbow letters.

Lorelei Lyn Phoenix, PhD, Marine Biology

University of New Charleston

August 1st, 2098

She stared at the hologram, still in disbelief, and tears stung her eyes. She’d done it. She’d earned her PhD after all the sweat, blood, and tears of the past five years. And it had led her to the job of her dreams. A flutter of anxiety rose up in her as she thought about the new job, the move to Washington, DC. So much was about to change.

The crystal tinkling of her palm-sized tablet sounded in the quiet apartment and Link, her cat, emitted a low growl of disapproval from the corner of her living room. She tapped the tablet and her Dad’s face appeared.

“Morning, Dad.” 

“Morning, honey. I thought you’d be up.”

Lorel squinted into the palm sized 3-D image. “Dad, are you at the beach?” The sun had yet to rise, but a pre-dawn glow illuminated traces of the ocean behind him.

“I thought it might be a good morning to watch the sunrise. Can you join me?”

Lorel frowned. It was something in the tone of his voice that unnerved her.

“Sure, Dad. Give me twenty minutes.”

She pressed a button and her father’s image was sucked into the smooth black glass. But as she slipped out the door, the uneasy feeling remained.

*    *    *

A few days later…

A low ring disrupted the quiet subterranean lab seven floors beneath DiviniGen’s headquarters. Dr. Wong tore herself from the screen of DNA and walked around the desk to the black glass wall that separated her office from the dark hallway. Her high heels clicked loudly on the white marble floor. She tapped the center of the glass with her index finger to answer.

“Wong here,” she said as the floor to ceiling hologram image materialized before her.

“Working another late night, I see.”

“Mr. Galton. Yes, sir. Wednesday’s beaching has kept us quite busy.” She smoothed her white lab coat and smiled at the CEO. “How can I help you, sir?”

“Prepare the lab. We’ve identified a live specimen in the city.”

“Live?” Dr. Wong sucked in a breath, her eyes growing wide. “Is it her?”

“No, better. We just need to reel him in. It’s a wild one.”

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Open Floor Plan Changed My Life


I know this may sound like the title to an Onion article, but it is true. My life has been changed. For the past six weeks, our family has endured the pain and heartache of living through a renovation. Of our kitchen, no less!

Dust. Pounding. Hammering. Kids. Naptime. Sawing. Workmen. No stove. No sink.  No food. Nails and screws and razor blades. Kids.

Over the summer we put in a new bathroom before Ava was born so that we would have one on the main floor, and that was tough.  It took about six weeks as well.  So I didn’t anticipate doing anything else to our house until we had the unwelcome house guests earlier this year.  It all started after poor Alex, the neighborhood cat, was hit by a car.  That’s when the Rats came in.

They made their first appearance inside the oven.  One scurried out when John opened it.  And it appeared later that evening while I was hosting the Honey Badger Book Club meeting featuring The Little Prince.  Their main point of entry was the kitchen – the tiny cracks and nooks that were behind the cabinets. They would march in at night and scamper around the first floor of our house. When we went to Charlotte for a week that’s when they really had the run of the place, got territorial.  We returned to rats so brave that they were coming out in the broad daylight.  I found “evidence” all over the first floor – the couch, the baby blanket stack, the toaster.  They had moved in.  John really stepped up as man of the house at that point.   He sent the family away to Mimi’s studio a few blocks away.  That’s when things got ugly.  He took the day off work and stood guard over our house.  A one man army.  That day he killed three rats.  Over the entire saga, he killed seven. (This is nothing compared to our friend Quintynn, a South African who claims to have killed a thousand baboons, but I think John was pretty proud.) Here is a picture of one he took away in my Tory Burch shoe box:


God knows how many there really were.  I’ve heard that if you see one rat, there are usually dozens more.  There were. The rats really started to take over our lives. One night we couldn’t sleep because we kept waking to the slightest sounds of scurrying.  John got out of bed, peaked down the stairs, and saw a rat staring up at him from inside his shoe.  Yeah.  Seriously.  And there were material casualties too. I lost a J. Crew pea coat because it had a Godiva Chocolate bar in the pocket that my Mom stuffed there before I left Charlotte as a naughty gift. And a faux leather purse from Target  (which I have since replaced with a Kate Spade) that had some peppermint patties given to me by my friend Amanda (who happens to be Quintynn’s wife) for Christmas. The worst was when I dug my hand into the diaper bag to fish out an apple, and I found a perfectly round hole gnawed into it.

John eventually won the war with the rodents.  Once we had every single entry point patched up and they were trapped inside our walls, we ended up using poison. I won’t share too much detail here, but the grand finale of this whole debacle was celebrated with lots of candles and incense.

Anyway… I digress. Back to how my new open floor plan kitchen has changed my life (and its not just that it sealed out all rats!). We had been wanting to renovate our outdated kitchen for a long time, and the rats became the impetus. We found Bob, a wonderful contractor  whom Will refers to affectionately as “Bob the Builder”:

photo (6)

We had the entire kitchen gutted and the wall that divided our kitchen and dining room knocked down.  It was so dark before. Now everything is bright and white and new – white glass tile backsplash, River White granite, light grey walls, custom shelving and an ‘X’ shaped wine rack, a GE Industrial oven that has so many functions I don’t even know what to do with it. I am in Heaven. And so is the rest of my family, because I have stepped my game up like crazy. I can’t stop cooking. In the past week since this has been complete I have cooked:

homemade baby food (Stewed prunes and blueberries, Zuchini with Yellow Squash and brown rice in chicken broth, Butternut Squash and Mango)

Pancetta and Zuchini Quiche

Blueberry Pancakes on the built-in griddle

A whole roasted chicken (I am proud to say I learned how to truss!) and as follow up, homemade chicken BROTH. Oh yeah.

Herb Encrusted Pork Loin and Butternut Squash Risotto with Asparagus and fresh bread (Full disclosure, I used a bread maker) all served to a dinner party of eight

And I’ve been carmelizing onions like crazy. I never used to do that and I don’t know why. They are awesome on everything.

Sure, there were some PB&Js and chicken nuggets made on the River White countertops as well, but the days of my “shut up and eat it” meals are over. (I was pretty proud of that term though). Check out the before/after pics:

photo (7) kitchen

This was all made possible by the fact that this is an open floor plan, so I can watch Will and Ava and be a part of everything while I cook.  Oh, and the Rats.

If it weren’t for them, I wouldn’t be the person I am today.

Here’s to the Rats: (The War on Drugs – Eyes to the Wind)


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The madness

I see it in my two year old son, Will, when he dances. I see it in my friends that play music. I see it in my husband when he’s not looking. And sometimes I see it in myself. And its always when I look my best. Feeling it.

No, feelin’ it.

Down to the bones. Its the passion, the dedication, the blind and selfish love for something. Anything. My very wise and wonderfully crazy, seventy-five year old friend Philip calls it, appropriately, the madness.  The madness is something precious, something that if you can tap into it, you should consider yourself lucky, very next level. It doesn’t matter who you are or what you are doing, if you’re feeling it, other people are inevitably drawn to you like a magnet. Its a quality that we all have, but that gets buried. That’s why Will can dance like a mad man with a huge grin on his face to David Bowie’s Under Pressure. But over the years, insecurities and inhibitions cause us to lose sight of this ephemeral quality. I think a worthy goal in life is to always strive to find it, get to that place.

Okay, admittedly, a shortcut to get to this place may be alcohol. Just the other night, I was at my writing group (AKA: Write Club, rhymes with Fight Club) which meets bi-weekly at a bar called The Pinch. We all had to submit quotes from great writers. The one that struck me the most was this one by Hemingway:

Write drunk. Edit sober.

Hemingway had the madness. He didn’t care about the writing community of his time, about pretenses, parameters. He just wrote his heart out. He probably tapped into it with a bit more alcohol and indulgence than is recommended. He was drunk as a skunk most of the time, but the south of France brings that out in you.  Bottom line, he knew how to get to that place where a creative truth flowed freely from his right brain to his pen. And the end result was beautiful. There are endless artists that have exhibited the same qualities. Van Gogh, Mick Jagger, Michael Jackson, John Lennon, Woody Allen… need I say more? (Not that you need to cut your ear off or molest children.) But these people suffered for their art and produced beauty that we have all enjoyed.

Having an art or talent isn’t even necessary. But knowing yourself is essential. I don’t think it would be possible to get there otherwise.

Anyway, I’ve been really caught up in life lately  –  our endless kitchen renovation, raising two tiny tots, keeping up with the mundane tasks like grocery shopping, cleaning, flossing. Perhaps some would describe these as first world problems. A couple nights ago, John showed me a video clip of the lead singer from Future Islands. I was actually so busy trying to catch up on my email that I silently groaned inside when he interrupted. But something in this guy’s face grabbed me and I couldn’t stop watching. I could see his heart pouring out as he sang. The expression on his face was excruciatingly pained with passion. It was beautiful. And his dancing… well, ya just have to see it. He has that madness, and he inspires me to look for mine. In my writing, in my secret mid-day dancing to David Bowie with Will, in whatever comes my way.

Take a look at the Future Islands Video…


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My job allows purple hair

I’ve noticed over the past few years a big spike in people  sporting bright colored hair – canary yellow, red, turquoise, pink, etc. Don’t get me wrong, I know that this is not a new technique at the hair salon, but it’s the types of people that are now doing it. Crazy colored hair used to be associated with punk types and experimental teenagers, and unless you were a hairdresser, it may have been done with Kool-Aid. But now it has seeped more into the mainstream and isn’t necessarily accompanied by a nose ring and tattoos.  I think Katy Perry may have helped pave the way.  Pink had pink hair, but she fit into the stereotype I mention above (ie., tats and piercings). Katy’s glam and elegant, in an over-the-top way, and has worn so many different colors that really pop against her black locks. Lots of celebs do it now in so many cool ways. It’s become more of an art, especially when done in ombre style. Check out these pics:

blue katy carrie Rachel-Mc

People tend to associate vivid, fake-colored hair with futuristic. For example, Hunger Games. I thought it was pretty cool how people in the Capitol had a rainbow of colors, such as Caesar Flickerman who had powder blue skin and hair.


Okay, maybe he’s not the best model, but you know what I mean…

In my fantasy dystopia portrayed in SIRENS there are pills you can take that will change the traits that your genes present — hair color, skin color, eye color, etc. They’re called Phenotype Altering Pills (PAPs) and are distributed by the pharma company, a major character in itself in the book, called Gencore.

But anyway, to bring this full circle, all of this has got me itching to get it done myself. Would a pink streak framing my face really be acceptable at my old corporate job? I don’t think we are there yet, though I think we will be. But a stay-at-home Mom job has no restrictions on hair color. So now is my time. I just have to pick a color. I admit, this may be an attempt to hang on to what’s left of my youth, but whatever. The purple and pink extensions that I got at CVS and wore this past New Year’s Eve just aren’t cutting it. Plus, I think they’d melt once the hot weather came. I’m going for the real thing. My friend Kim has already done purple streaks and they’re awesome.  How about one of these?

tanya hair

I’m just hoping it goes better than a few years ago when I chopped it off and went platinum. As Gob says, with that one, I made a huge mistake.

Here’s a dreamy and uplifting song for the weekend by M83. It always gives me that nice euphoric feeling you’re looking for on a Friday – enjoy!


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Winters Love

I wasn’t able to post last week, despite my great idea to write a passage comparing CVS to Gencore, the big pharma company in my book. But where does the time go?

John and I took the kids on a road trip to Charlotte, a “family adventure” as Will calls it, to visit our adorable new family member, “Baby Stella”.  My brother, Nick, and his wife, Linsey, are on cloud 9 with her, and its not hard considering she’s the perfect baby so far. At less than a month old, she sleeps four hour stretches and drinks from a bottle when needed (Hear that Ava!?!!).  We also got the perks of staying with them in their brand new 4K sqft house which I’ve now dubbed the Ritz Carlton. I took an aromatic bubble bath in their giant air-jet tub in a marble clad bathroom, dried off on plush white towels, and slept on pillows that literally smelled like roses. For dinner, my brother grilled steaks on his indoor grill/oven, and served top shelf wine (he was appalled at the Woodbridge I brought over). I think they were ready to get rid of us after Will pressed a hole into one of their nice speakers and the let the dogs out resulting in a visit from Animal Control. But boy did we have fun there.

John took off for San Francisco on Sunday for work, and the kids and I moved out of the Ritz and into my parents’ apartment, the Motel Six (which in reality is a beautiful, elegant two bedroom apartment in one of Charlotte’s prettiest neighborhoods). My Mom washed my sheets and stocked the fridge with our favorite foods, so I upgraded it to the Holiday Inn. Plus, free babysitting is included.

Anyway, we are here with my parents enjoying the most beautiful snow I’ve seen in years. We are in the neighborhood I grew up in, so I took a snowy walk down memory lane, seeing myself sledding and tossing snowballs in these very same yards. I still feel like a kid in the snow. Today we initiated Will by making a badass snowman, carrot nose and all. Despite being hunkered down in a two bedroom apartment with a 2 year old and six month old with no winter gear (who have both been very well behaved considering!), we only have to look out at the falling snow to find serenity. And we are stocked with food, drinks – cookies, wine, hot chocolate – and have working heat. My friend’s power is out! (sending warm vibes your way, Tracy!). All in all, its pretty cozy here. The only thing we’re missing is Daddy.

Surrounded by all this winter beauty, I was reminded of one of my favorite songs by Animal Collective called Winters Love. Its like a good wine, the more sips you take of it, the more it gets under your skin and warms you from the inside. This unofficial video is a cool interpretation of the song. Enjoy and stay warm!

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Docufiction schmockufiction!!

I was writing a passage in SIRENS a couple days ago and was reminded of this. About a year and a half ago, one of my best friends and I settled on my couch with a bottle of white wine (an important detail) to watch the Animal Planet Documentary, Mermaid: The Body Found. We kind of stumbled upon the show. She was supposed to do a mud run that day, but it got cancelled. Will and I were on our way to the National Zoo, so she joined us. Exhausted from the long, uphill return walk, we got some sauvignon blanc at the corner store and decided to be lazy. John took Will to the park and we cracked open the bottle. We’d never heard of the documentary before, but of course, I was dying to watch it. And you don’t even have to be a mermaid lover to be intrigued by the title.

As the documentary unraveled my jaw dropped slowly. It tells a story of a scientific team’s investigative efforts to uncover the source behind mysterious underwater recordings of an unidentified marine body. Marine biologists that formerly worked for NOAA and other esteemed marine organizations basically weave this complex conspiracy theory about how the government has been aware of these, ahem, mermaids but due to military naval operations that have caused damage to the sea and the species, they have kept it quiet. It was an exposé.

It was really believable (seriously!)… look at this picture. See those eyes lurking in the dark recesses of the water?


And there’s the very trustworthy and knowledgeable Marine Biologist in the center who gives testimony to what that being is (a mermaid). But there were two reasons for my jaw dropping.

  1. They were describing a theory that I had cooked up in my head for my book, SIRENS. I couldn’t believe it. (My friend must have endured at least fifty of these phrases; “What?!”, “That’s what I said!!”, “No!”, “Oh. My. God.” I got a little worked up.)  The show traces the evolution of these aquatic people back to a diverging branch on the tree of human evolution. They(we) even had such details as the fact that these originally seaside dwellers began to hunt and avoid predators by going deeper and deeper into the sea. Over millions of years the species evolved to withstand water pressure and breathe underwater. This is exactly what I had come up with having never seen or heard of this show.
  2. Mermaids were real! They existed!!



So remember the wine I mentioned? This was a looong documentary… and the sauvignon blanc was flowing. The intoxication, mixed with some deep desire for it to be true, brought me springing from the couch as the show ended, exclaiming in yips that, oh my god, mermaids were real. I declared that I was immediately getting certified for scuba diving, and I was going to see one of these mermaids with my very own eyes if it was the last thing I ever did. I think I was actually jumping up and down. My friend – I will let her remain anonymous – was almost equally elated that mermaids existed.

Then we sobered up. I did some research. To my deep dismay, I found that this show was not a documentary, but docufiction.

FICTION? (Yes, I knew this was true on some level all along. But it was so fun to believe, if only for a few hours). My excitement deflated like a balloon.

What’s interesting about this show is that it really caused a craze! Tons and tons of people watched it, and believed it. And I bet most of them weren’t even under the influence! Apparently NOAA was getting calls left and right about hiding mermaid bodies, and Animal Planet had to come out and explain themselves. They were criticized for hiding the fact that this was fiction. Because it seemed SO REAL people!!!

David Shiffman wrote an article in SLATE about the phenomenon. Here’s an excerpt.

This week, Animal Planet aired two fake documentaries claiming to show scientific evidence of mermaids. I say “fake documentaries” because that’s exactly what The Body Found and The New Evidence are. The “scientists” interviewed in the show are actors, and there’s a brief disclaimer during the end credits. However, the Twitter conversation surrounding the show (#Mermaids) reveals that many viewers are unaware that the show isn’t real. (Sample Tweets: “After watching the documentary #Mermaids the body found … I believe there are mermaids!!!” and “90% of the ocean is unexplored and you’re telling me #mermaids don’t exist”—which has been retweeted more than 800 times.) It is, after all, airing on a network that claims to focus on educating viewers about the natural world. “The Body Found” was rightfully described “the rotting carcass of science television,” and I was shocked to see Animal Planet air a sequel.

As a marine biologist, I can tell you unequivocally that despite millennia of humans exploring the ocean, no credible evidence of the existence of mermaids has ever been found. Some claim that manatees are the source of the legend, but you’d have to be at sea an awfully long time to think that a manatee is a beautiful woman. Sure, new species are discovered all the time, but while a new species of bird or insect is fascinating, it doesn’t mean “anything is possible,” and it is certainly not equivalent to finding a group of talking, thinking humanoids with fish tails covering half of their bodies. The confusion generated by “The Body Found” got to be so significant that the United States government issued an official statement on the matter.

What a wet blanket you are, Shiffman. Anyway, please don’t think less me for believing in mermaids for an hour. It was really, really fun.


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The Black Hole Equivalency

I have this little game I play sometimes in my head. Its a game of equivalencies. For everything on land, there is an equivalent in the water. Take snakes, for example. What would be their counterpart in the ocean? If you said Banded Sea Kraits, wow, I’m impressed with your marine biology knowledge. You probably said eel. It slithers like a snake and lives under rocks, and it would make your skin crawl if you happened upon one.

Here’s a Banded Sea Krait if you were wondering. And a Coral Snake.

And an adorable eel…

These ‘equivalencies’ don’t always have to look alike. Sometimes they just behave alike. Take Orcas, for example. These killer whales are very communal animals with a complex social structure. They stay together in pods and hunt together, often ganging up in a pack to take down marine mammals like seals. They are top predators in their domain. Doesn’t this sound like a pack of hungry wolves? And they are actually referred to as the ‘Wolves of the Sea’.

Here are some more:

  • Dolphins – Dogs

  • Sea Anemones – Flowers

  • Green Algae – Moss

  • Kelp – Kudzu

  • Sharks – Lions

  • Octopuses – Skunks

  • Sea cows – Cows

  • Sea Horses – Horses

Okay, the last one is a bit of a stretch. You get the idea though. Fun, right? The point I am getting at in sharing these equivalencies with you is that there is one that you may not know about, one that is especially cool. It is the ocean’s counterpart to the black hole of outer space.

The Blue Hole…

Blue holes are underwater sinkholes that plummet to the sea floor. There are very few in the world and their depths remain quite undiscovered. The one above is in Belize, called the Great Blue Hole. Serious adventurers actually dive in them. And there is more than meets the eye – they have intricate cave systems beneath them with stalactites and stalagmites and submarine chambers.

Take a look at this cross section of one:

This cave system above is far larger than the span of the sinkhole itself, and it connects with another sinkhole. I think these things are pretty awesome. They trigger my imagination. My story, SIRENS (the working title), is centered around a blue hole. It is almost a character in its own right.  My characters call it the ‘Eye’ because from an aerial view, it reminds me of a blue eye staring back at you. Oh, and people live in it (in my fictional world) – the Sirens. Homo sirenia sapien. They are a hominid species that has developed aquatic capabilities and can breathe underwater.

I couldn’t find a picture of a Siren, but I found one of their land equivalency, the Homo sapien sapien, otherwise known as the Human:









Happy weekend!


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Mommy needs a (tropical, submarine) vacation

I’ve been thinking a lot about my book title. The working title is SIRENS, which I do love, but it gets mixed reviews from people. Some think its too evocative of mermaids, and my story isn’t exactly a mermaid story, per say. Also, wouldn’t it turn off guys? SIRENS definitely has more of a chic lit ring. Anyway, I’ve been brainstorming. I need a name that sounds mysterious, evokes scientific discovery, is not cheesy, is kind of marine-ish. So I began thinking like the Romans, as in G & R mythology. After all, they are the original story tellers, and great namers at that. It didn’t take long to uncover the gods associated with water…

Triton? But he’s the Little Mermaid’s Father. Nixed.

Aphrodite? She rose from the water, but she’s too demure. Nixed.

Neptune? A Roman god of the sea. Okay, I like this, but there is a tween book out there called The Neptune Project that rings eerily similar to my own. Nixed.

Poseidon? Yes, I definitely like this. He’s the Greek counterpart to Neptune. And how is this for a nice ring…

The Poseidon Prototype

By T.L Aranguren

Don’t worry if you hate it.  One of these days I’m going to make a poll so I can get your input, but for now this is up there with SIRENS. And I’m also using it within the text of the book regardless. Gencore Incorporated, the evil corporation in my book, is trying to create this aquatic human through gene therapy. I think the perfect name for them to call their first ‘iteration’ of this newly concocted species is the Poseidon Prototype. Full disclosure, originally I called this being the Manphibian. My freelance editor (thank you Max!) told me to eliminate it  as it elicits an LOL which is probably not what I’m going for. So, out with the Manphibian and in with the Poseidon Prototype.

Once I determined this was a viable title, I began a search to make sure it wasn’t taken. And this brings me to my need for a vacation. A quick search of the word ‘Poseidon’ brought me to this resort.  I mean, at first I thought it was a joke, like some mocked up images of this imagined underwater hotel. But no, THIS PLACE EXISTS!! In Fiji. And I must go. Check out this description:

Poseidon Mystery Island comprises approximately 225 acres and is about a mile long. Surrounded by a 5,000-acre (7.8-square-mile) lagoon, it boasts pristine waters that range to 90 feet (27.4 meters) in depth, replete with abundant sea life. Just outside the lagoon the reef plunges into an abyss, providing virgin territory to explore with our deep submersibles.

I have not slept in months. We’ve had rats, a five month old who never sleeps, a two year old who has demands even at 2am, bouts of Noro virus (did I mention rats?).  And I need a vacation!

I want to wake up to breakfast in this bed:

Poseidon Mystery Island offers two means of guest accommodations, one above ground and one below the surface. Guests will have the opportunity to explore each comfortable, intimate world during the course of their stay, with full access to facilities in both areas. Each suite and villa includes:

* A king-sized bed laden with Scandinavian down duvets, plush pillows and high thread-count linens.

* A sitting room featuring a library and personal office with voice/data access, Wi-fi and high-speed Internet connections, and multi-line telephones.

* Entertainment technology, including a large, high-definition flat screen television; CD/DVD player; and satellite radio with surround sound.

* In-room refrigerators, which will be continuously stocked with gourmet snacks, champagnes, wines and soft drinks.

* Rich marble bathrooms with a large Jacuzzi tub, bidet, two sinks, a shower and a wealth of plush towels. Bathrobes, natural loofah sponges, hair dryers and a selection of marine-influenced beauty products are also provided.

And I want to eat lobster and drink champagne here:

Is that too much to ask? The price per person is only $15,000.

But its for book research.

And I need a vacation, darn it!


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