Monday, August 21, 2017

Eclipse - a short story

I was inspired by today's eclipse to write a short story. It's a little dark, pun intended, 
but I hope you like it. 
Disclaimer - I made my own cover with an image off the internet, I did not take that beautiful eclipse picture in the cover below. 
Here is the eclipse picture I took...

And now for my story...

Countdown: Two Days

The days leading up to the eclipse were buzzing with a frantic energy young Millie Pryce couldn’t comprehend. Her parents were only five, younger than Millie is now, when the shadow of darkness last crept through the small town of Stone Creek. According to the newspaper clippings she had found online, the eclipse came and went without much fanfare or interest. In fact, the only article Millie could find about the 1979 eclipse focused on a car that, in the total blackness, veered off the road and landed in the creek. But now, to Millie’s bewilderment, there were two days to go and all the adults in town were acting weird. 
People Millie had known her whole life were suddenly crazier than a cuckoo clock. Take old Mrs. Potts, for example. She had the best garden in town and was well known for winning baking contests. Her apple rhubarb pie was out of this world. However, Mrs. Potts was recently seen at the senior center wearing a foil hat. She claimed it’s to protect her from the UFO that’s going to block out the sun. Then there was Jim Stevens, who was a little odd to begin with, but was now mad as a hatter. He spent his days sitting on the bench outside the library, mumbling to himself. Once Millie had stopped to listen and thought she heard him say, “the darkness will bring the demons.” Millie laughed nervously but continued walking. Crazy nonsense, she thought. 
Millie sat in the car with her cheek pressed against the window, forced to accompany her parents on their latest crazed adventure. A cool breeze blew through the crack making the stifling heat inside the car bearable. Millie’s parents were inside the Shop ’N Save. They thought buying groceries was “too dangerous” for Millie and insisted she wait in the car. Everything had become “too dangerous” since the path of the eclipse had been announced. Stone Creek, population 1,238, was right in the center of that path. But as far as Millie knew, that wasn’t cause for alarm. Yes, they were directly in the path of totality, but it was just an eclipse, which happens about once every eighteen months. She’d googled it. 
She sat there in the car and flicked through her Facebook feed, laughing at each preposterous post. It seems that Millie’s friends were having their own bizarre adventures with their families. Lola’s parents were as paranoid as Millie’s. They’d dragged her on a three hour car ride to pick up her brother a week early from summer camp. “It would be safer for him,” they’d said. Jake spent his afternoon helping his grandmother polish and sharpen all the knives in the house. Callum had the weirdest afternoon of them all. His father made him string barbed wire through the trees along the edge of their property. The strangest part about all of this was that their parents wouldn’t tell them anything. No explanation at all for their unorthodox change in character. 
Finally her parents emerged from the store, weighed down with bags of canned goods and jugs of water. “Apparently my parents think the eclipse will bring famine and drought,” Millie grumbled. 
With a carefully planned eye roll and exasperated sigh, Millie stepped out of the car and opened the trunk.
“The eclipse is only going to last 2 minutes and 37 seconds. You didn’t need to shop for the apocalypse,” Millie said as she crossed her arms over her chest. “That’s scheduled for the spring of 2032,” she added with a smirk. One last blow to show her parents how absurd this all was. 
“Millie, please. Just help us load the car. We don’t have time for this now.”
“Listen to your mother,” Dad chimed in. “When we get home we need to board up the windows and add these extra locks to the doors.” Dad pulled a package of shiny silver chain locks, the kind you’d find in a hotel room, out of the paper shopping bag he was carrying. 
“You’ve got to be kidding me!” Millie protested. 
“Nope. This is very serious, honey. But I promise, we will explain everything. When the time is right.” Mom said as she placed the last bag into the trunk.

There’s no sane explanation in the world for this, Millie thought. 

Countdown: One Day

There was a mandatory meeting at the church on Sunday. All residents of Stone Creek were required to attend. Millie arrived early with her parents. Even though they haven’t been acting like themselves lately they still viewed tardiness as a sign of weakness. The church was sectioned off. All children under the age of sixteen were instructed to sit up front while everyone else sat in the back. Babies and toddlers were allowed to stay with their parents. Millie stepped into an empty pew so she could save seats for Lola, Callum, and Jake. Everyone must have been eager to get to the meeting because a steady stream of people flooded through the doors. Millie waved her friends over and they slid into position next to her. 
“What is this all about?” Lola asked, with nervous fervor.
“Who knows? The whole town’s being super secretive.” Callum answered.
“It’s definitely weird.” Jake chimed in. “On the news this morning they showed clips from other towns in the path of totality and they have become tourist destinations! Their streets are flooded with visitors coming to see the eclipse. Everyone’s excited about it.”
“I just don’t get it.” Millie sighed. “It’s a scientifically explained natural event. Why is everyone freaking out?”
Pastor Briscoe stepped to the front of the room and the crowd immediately silenced. “Good morning, everyone,” the Pastor started. His eyes were bright and alive, but there was an edge to them that Millie had not seen before. The expression on Pastor Briscoe’s face remained warm and friendly, but the creases on his forehead and bags under his eyes suggested he had spent the past few nights awake with concern.  “Tomorrow the world around us prepares for one of nature’s most beautiful sights, a total solar eclipse. However here, in Stone Creek, we will not bask in its magnificence.” The smile splayed across the Pastor’s face slowly began to fade. “Here the eclipse signals something more foreboding.”
“Thirty-eight years ago a total solar eclipse passed through our town. We all gathered outside to watch,” the Pastor continued. “The air was abuzz with excitement. Children ran through the streets with sparklers while their parents sipped cocktails on their porches. Businesses shut down for the afternoon so the whole town could watch. It was as if time just stood still. And then it actually did.”
What? Millie couldn’t believe her ears. The madness afflicting this town had spread to the Pastor, one of Stone Creek’s most respected leaders. She glanced at her parents, sitting about a down rows behind her. Their heads were hung low and Millie thought she could see her mother’s shoulders shaking, the way they do when someone cries.
Pastor Briscoe’s voice turned solemn as he carried on. “As the blackness made its way through town, things started to change. Loved ones turned on each other, quarreling over petty issues, becoming violent. Cars stopped working, clocks stopped ticking, and the electricity went out. We were left alone and defenseless. It preyed on the weak first, feasting on the sick and elderly before coming after those who were stronger-willed. You see, the darkness covered more than the sun that day. It fell from the sky and poured into our souls, filling us with thoughts so evil and un-pure they must have come from the devil himself.” 
Millie became suddenly aware that she had been holding her breath and let it out in one incredulous sigh. What the Pastor was saying couldn’t possibly be true. But as she looked around Millie saw the clouded eyes of adults lost in thought, many with a silent tear running down their cheek. Ana Cleary, who was only seven, sat next to her and began to whimper. Millie put her hand on top of hers in reassurance. 
In the front of the church, Pastor Briscoe paused. He took a moment before speaking again, choosing his next words carefully. “The darkness consumed us, lasting for minutes that felt like eternity as chaos ensued. Families were driven to madness and literally tore each other apart. Pets who had been loyal to their owners for years suddenly turned savage. It was only someone with the purest of hearts who could save us.”
Unexpectedly, the voices of the adults joined in with the Pastor:
“A lone light will cut through darkness, 
carving paths for the brave to follow.
The purest heart will light the dark,
bringing back each living soul’s glow.”
The sound of the entire town speaking in unison startled Millie. A chill shuddered down her spine and she was unsure if it was from the sudden noise or their chilling words. 

Countdown: Two Hours, Eleven Minutes

The creek was the lifeblood of the small town of Stone Creek. Rich minerals along its banks provided luscious crops and much needed irrigation and fish in the creek were plentiful. However, on Monday morning when Millie and her friends arrived at their usual spot, the creek had changed. They gathered at the bend in the creek where the grove of trees stood in a near perfect circle. The first thing they noticed was the absence of fish. Usually the creek was teeming with fish this early in the morning. Callum walked up to the bank, bending close to the water with his ear, as if he was listening to gossip from a friend. “Odd,” he proclaimed. “The water doesn’t sound right. It’s not babbling over the stones like it usually does.”
Lola went over to investigate. “You’re right. The creek is silent.”
Silent, Millie thought. Like the whole town has been. Her parents were silent, too, the whole ride home from the church yesterday. No one wanted to speak about the events that unfolded nearly 40 years ago. Millie wasn’t even sure she understood what had happened. After everyone chanted that eerie rhyme, Pastor Briscoe continued his speech, “When the darkness passed, the town of Stone Creek woke up and if not for the loss of lives we would have thought it all a bad dream. We were caught off guard 38 years ago. But this time we are prepared. We know what is coming and we will fight the darkness.” 
At that, people started to collect their kids and quickly ushered them out of the church. Millie’s parents were not in a rush so she took the opportunity to go ask Pastor Briscoe a few questions. 
Pastor Briscoe had turned his back on the congregation and was almost to his office when Millie caught up to him. “Excuse me, Pastor?” Millie called out timidly. 
He turned on his heels, “Ah, Millie dear, how can I help you?”
“I just have a few questions, sir,” Millie took a deep breath, hoping it would help her drum up the courage she needed. “What exactly happened in 1979? In the darkness? You said that someone with a ‘pure heart will light up the dark’. What does that mean?”
“Perhaps these questions would be better suited for your parents, dear.”
“But I just want to know what happened!” Millie couldn’t help but raise her voice. She was tired of no one telling her what was a going on. She was 16 years old and hated being treated like a baby.
“Millie we are not trying to hide anything from you. We just want to protect you. You have no idea what this darkness is capable of. It will reach deep into your soul, prey on your darkest thoughts, and turn them into reality.” Pastor Briscoe became more and more agitated with each word, practically spitting out the last one. “I saw a man rip apart his entire family, limb by limb, because he was convinced it was the right thing to do. I saw a woman eaten alive by her own cats. And I watched the Culver family, as their little girl, driven to madness, ripped out every hair on their heads.”
Without realizing it, Pastor Briscoe’s voice had become loud enough for the remaining townsfolk to hear. A woman stood nearby, covering her young daughter’s ears as she cried into her shoulder. Millie’s parents charged over, their faces both red with rage and ashen with fear at the same time. 
Her mom spoke first, “I’m so sorry Pastor. I’m sure Millie didn’t mean to upset you.”
“It’s all right, Persephone. Just get her home and keep her safe.”
A flock of birds lifted off the bank, squawking as they did so, pulling Millie from her thoughts and bringing her attention back to her friends. Jake was taking something out of his backpack. It looked like an old newspaper clipping but it was very small with edges torn at extreme angles. “I found this in my grandmother’s basement. Dad had me looking down there for more barbed wire… Anyway, its from the Stone Creek newspaper a week after the 1979 eclipse.”
“What does it say?”
Jake read, “Solar Eclipse Triggers Mass Hysteria. For unknown reasons, last week’s solar eclipse caused moments of temporary insanity in the people of Stone Creek. People in town reported being overcome with feelings of rage and immense despair. The population of this normally peaceful town was cut in half due to…” His voice trailed off. 
“Keep going.” Lola pressed.
“That’s all she wrote,”Jake said. “The rest of the article is missing.”
“Something bad happened here,” Millie exclaimed. “And I don’t know if I believe the eclipse is to blame, but I do know that I don’t want to be here to find out. I say we get out of town as fast as possible.”
The others nodded their heads in agreement. Callum’s eyes grew bright. “I just got my license last week!”
“Congrats, bro, but I don’t see how that’s going to help.” Jake added sarcastically.
“I can borrow my mom’s van and we can get out of here. We’ll drive as fast as we can and keep going till the eclipse is over.” 
Millie and Lola nodded in unison. It was a good a plan as any and since no one had any other plans, this would have to do. The group parted ways, going back to their houses to grab a few things, snacks, flashlights, extra batteries, and maps, before they hit the road. They all agreed to meet back here, at the Bend, at 10:45 . That would give them a little over an hour to get out of town before the moon began to shadow the sun.

Eclipse: 11:52am

Her parents were furious by the time Millie got back to the house. They demanded to know where she had been and couldn’t believe she had left the house so close to the eclipse. Millie tried to explain but her parents were in no mood to listen. And she had to hurry if she was going to make it back to the Bend in time. The walk home had taken longer than usual since she was trying to avoid the curious eyes of neighbors. Everyone was holed up in their houses waiting for the “eclipse of doom” to arrive and someone strolling down the street would have certainly drawn attention.
“I can’t believe you left the house at such a dangerous time!” her mother shouted. 
“I just went for a walk to the Bend like I’ve done hundreds of times before.” She left out the part about meeting up with her friends and concocting a plan to get out of town. Millie didn’t know why she was lying. It just came so easily. And even though she now knew the reason behind their strange behavior, she still felt that they were holding something back from her. If they can have secrets then maybe I should too, Millie thought.  
“The eclipse will be starting soon,” Dad said. “And arguing won’t help. We need to work together if we are going to have any chance of surviving.”
“Your father is right. Now, help him with these boards. We need to close up the windows while we still have time.” Millie could tell by the tone of her mother’s voice that this was not up for debate. So, she reluctantly picked up the nearest board and followed her father into the living room. Board by board, nail by nail, Millie helped her father seal the house while the minutes on the clock ticked away. She needed to leave now if she was going to make it back to the Bend. Millie’s phone vibrated in her pocket as she received yet another text, no doubt from Lola, alerting her to this.
“Dad, it looks like we are going to need more boards. I can run out the shed and grab some for you.” If Millie could get out of the house and away from her parents’ watchful eyes, perhaps she could sneak off to the Bend.
“No, that’s ok, kiddo,” Dad said as he wiped sweat off his brow. “Mom’s going to get them. You need to stay in here where it is safe.”
“It seems to me we would be safer in another town!” Millie spat.
“Look, I know that this is hard to understand. But it is the way it has to be.” Dad stopped and placed a hand on Millie’s shoulder. “Everything will be ok. We’ve prepared this time.”
“Prepared for what!” Millie couldn’t hold back any longer. “You guys aren’t telling us anything! Are we really supposed to believe that some evil darkness is going to descend upon us during a common scientific event?”
“Millie,” her mother entered the room leisurely, carrying a board in one hand and tools from the shed in the other. Among those tools was a hammer that she tightened her grip on as she approached Millie. “Why don’t you go lie down upstairs. This seems to be much, too much for you to handle.”
Millie backed away slowly. She had never seen such a dark look in her mother’s eyes before. They looked bloodshot, but instead of being crisscrossed in lines of red, they were black as night. Even Millie’s father seemed taken aback.
“The time!” Dad screamed, realizing a minute too late that they had not been paying attention to the clock. Sure enough the partial eclipse was underway. Darkness had begun to creep in. It started slow and continued to grow, casting a black scar that stretched across town. You could feel it in their air, things had started to change. 
Millie peeked through the boards she helped her father nail into place over the window. Through the narrow slit she could see the house across the street, an edge of blackness caressing it’s front porch. It won’t be long before it swallows the house whole, Millie thought. She watched helplessly as the light slowly receded from both the world outside and her mother’s eyes.

Darkness: 1:21pm

Total darkness. 
Millie had researched total solar eclipses online, all the kids had once they learned Stone Creek was going to fall in the path of totality, but nothing could have prepared her for this. It was an eclipse unlike anything she was expecting. The air felt thick and velvety against Millie’s skin. Everything she’d heard about other senses becoming heightened when one was taken away was a lie. She could not see her hand in front of her face. She also couldn’t hear her father’s voice next to her, or even feel the floor beneath her feet. The darkness had permeated her senses, making her numb to the world around her, and left her defenseless. Millie felt herself slipping, as though her body was sinking into the floor. Her thoughts drifted to the rhyme. 
“A lone light will cut through darkness, 
carving a path for the brave to follow…” 
What the hell does that mean, Millie wondered. But she didn’t have much time to think. While the darkness dulled Millie’s senses it seemed to enhance her mother’s. Millie’s vision was reduced to nothing more than shapes in the dark and she could see one coming towards her. The shape spoke as it neared. 
“We just want to protect you, Millie,” Mom said “We want to keep you safe from the darkness.”
With a sickening thud, her mother brought the hammer down straight on top of Millie’s head. Blinding pain radiated across her skull and, despite the darkness, bright lights flashed before her eyes. Millie fell into a heap on the floor and shielded herself with her arms as her mother rained down blow after blow. She called out to her father who stood as still as a statue in the center of the room. “Please, help me!”
The sound of Millie’s voice snapped her father to attention and he tackled her mother in one swift movement. They tumbled to the ground, each struggling to gain purchase on the handle of the hammer. Millie’s vision slowly returned as her eyes adjusted to the dark and she could see her parents wrestling on the floor. She began to inch away from them but the floorboards creaked beneath her and their heads snapped in Millie’s direction. Her parents eyes were a black abyss that took her breath away as she looked into them. It was at that moment that things started to make sense. Her parents were prisoners, consumed by a wickedness Millie could never defeat. A wickedness that would consume Millie as well either at the hands of her parents or the mercy of the darkness. Tears flowed freely from Millie’s eyes. She understood the rhyme. 
“A lone light will cut through darkness, 
carving paths for the brave to follow.
The purest heart will light the dark,
bringing back each living soul’s glow.”
There is no heart more pure than one that sacrifices itself to protect the ones it loves. Millie fumbled around in her father’s toolbox for his lighter and dragged her ragged body towards the gas stove. “I’m sorry,” she sobbed. “It’s the only way to free you, to free us. I must bring light into the darkness.” She turned the knobs of the stove on high, letting the room gradually fill with gas. Her parents scurried towards her with murderous rage, but it was too soon to flick the lighter. Millie needed more time. She grabbed one of the boards off the floor and stood. With all her might she swung it out in front of her, knocking her parents over and into the next room. In the few moments it took them to recover the level of gas in the air had reached saturation. “I love you,” Millie whispered through her tears as she ignited the gas that surrounded her.

Light: 2:47pm

Little Ana Cleary blinked as she stepped out into the sun. The light was blinding after what felt like a lifetime in the dark. Tentatively, she walked out into the street, towards the blaze that had shone through darkness and pushed the shadows away. Ana was the only one to emerge from her house, her dress stained with blood and dirt, eyes searching for survivors in every direction. Two teenagers were coming up the street. Their appearances as disheveled as Ana’s, but their expressions were blank. One teenager, a boy, threw his hands into the air hopelessly ferreting around for what to do next. Ana started to move towards them, but paused briefly in front of the flaming house. She knew what needed to be done for the darkness had told her. When it poured its way inside Ana the darkness liked what it had found. It clung to her insides like oil, coating her soul in an inky blackness. The purest heart did light up the dark, Ana chuckled to herself as she grabbed a flaming branch off a tree in Millie’s front yard. But my heart’s pure too, and now I am going to make everyone’s soul glow…

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Summer Reading

Summer has officially begun for this tired teacher, which means that I can now tackle some books on my TBR list :)

What books will you be reading this summer?!

Using Tech to Assess Student Learning

As teachers we have tons of papers to correct and tests to grade (my correcting pile reaches mountainous heights each week!) So, I was pretty excited when I discovered that I can create fun, engaging assessments that automatically grade themselves. 

KAHOOT has totally transformed my classroom! I've been able to cut my correcting time in half and provide students with immediate feedback.

As an addd bonus, Kahoot is so dynamic that students actually ASK to take quizzes! I know it is important to assess student learning to check for understanding and mastery of a topic, however kids are assessed so much these days! In my district students take the STAR assessment, are assessed for fluency every quarter, take benchmark literacy assessments, math performance tasks, progress monitoring assessments, and the Smarter Balanced Assessment in the spring. WHEW, that's a LOT of testing.

So, what is Kahoot?

Kahoot is a FREE online, interactive quiz program that lets teachers create quizzes, surveys, and discussions that students play on their mobile device.

I created a quiz for the end of a 4th grade social studies unit on the 50 US states and capitals. My class was excited, engaged, and laughing... while taking a quiz!!

Head on over to Kahoot to try out a sample quiz and start creating one of your own! Click here to try my 50 US States and Capitals Kahoot.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Back in the saddle again!

Writing while working a full time job and being a mommy of three is tough. Very tough. But, tonight a sudden burst of inspiration has kicked in (with a little help from several cups of vanilla chai tea) and I think I've finally nailed the rewrite of the beginning! There is still some tweaking to do, but I finally feel that I am on the right track.

And to keep me on track I've found this nifty website to plan my daily writing. Since I've been working on the same piece for the last year I'm starting off at 21% instead of 0. Feeling like a winner already ;-)

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Top Ten Tuesday: Ten Books

Today I'm joining The Broke and the Bookish for their Top Ten Tuesday linkup.

Ten books I'd buy right this second if someone handed me a fully loaded gift card

This list is going to be tough to keep at just 10... I've got some new bookshelves going up and can't wait to fill them (not that I don't have enough books to fill them already, lol).

The crates just need to be stained and secured. Then I can start loading in books!!

So, I'm basically going to work off my Barnes and Noble wishlist. Many of them are pre-orders that are coming out soon (not soon enough! I think I need one of the Ministry of Magic's Time Turners so I can get my hands on them now!), but the ones on my wishlist are available now.

Now, if the book gods will kindly give me my loaded gift card, I'll be off to the bookstore!

What books would you buy with a fully loaded gift card?

Happy Reading :)

Sunday, July 31, 2016

A Wizardly Wonderful Week with a HUGE GIVEAWAY!

Happy Birthday Harry Potter!! 

Today is a wonderful day!!
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child has been released and I have my copy!!

So once I am finished with this post I will retire to my chaise lounge where I will spend the rest of the day devouring this book! Sorry kids, you'll have to fend for yourself today. Mommy has lost herself in the wizarding world!

I've continued to spread the Harry Potter love into my classroom as I prepare for the upcoming school year. Last year I put up my HP pinwheels and fans...

And this year I'm working on a few more HP items. The Deathly Hallows was a HUGE book so I've still got a lot of pages left to work with!!

First up, an HP lantern to hang in my classroom:

I chose a large section of the book that still had the binding intact. Taking several pages at a time, I curled them in towards the center. Before hot glueing the pages to the center I ran a piece of sting through from the bottom to the top. I then tied some old beads to the bottom. I love the final look!!

My next project is one I am really excited about...

I made the signs out of the cardboard box from our new washing machine. Each sign will hold the name of a different fictional place: Hogwarts, Ember, Narnia, District 12... I can't wait to finish and hang it in my room!!

There is also a pair of Harry Potter themed lamps in the works. I'll post pictures of those when I'm finished.

So, Harry Potter kicks off the beginning of a great week!
Teachers Pay Teachers is hosting their annual sale starting tomorrow!

And I have a $10 gift card to give away!!
Enter below for your chance to win $10 to spend on resources for your classroom this year!! Might I suggest an awesome display of middle grades novel quotes ;)

Good luck, and happy reading!

Monday, June 27, 2016

Summer Reading 2016

SO much to read, SO little time! Hopefully the relaxed pace of summer will give me more time to read and write. This is an ambitious list, but I know I can do it!