Thursday, November 08, 2007

"Restless Dawn" Short Fiction Contest

Jason Evans announces his 7th
Clarity of Night contest. Using the photograph for inspiration, compose a short fiction piece of no more than 250 words in any genre or style. Complete rules at:
Clarity of Night

Saturday, November 03, 2007

September Phoenix Skies (excerpt)

Isabelle tried to focus on anything but her mother's screams. She stared out the window. The deafening thunder, piercing lightening and the rain of the mid September monsoon pulsating against the window panes, could not scare her tonight.

She  tried to focus on the rapid raging water that seemed to appear out of nowhere. If she was scared, it wasn't because of the monsoon. As lightning hit, it gave her a glimpse of the barn in the distance. Her thoughts wandered to Pepita. She wished she was with her horse, comforting her.

Isabelle shivered as she watched several lightening bolts light the sky at once. At times the bolts created a splash of light so bright she could see prickly pears getting knocked off the cacti by the strength of the rain.

It was a typical monsoon storm, one with winds strong enough to occasionally down the few power lines in town. A colossal cloud of dust had formed and lingered, shutting out the light of the sun for more than two hours – only to be replaced by raging rain, and flashfloods that raced across the desert floor.

It was a miracle Maria had been called earlier in the day – before the monsoon arrived. Isabella had gone into town to inform the midwife that her mom was not feeling well. Though she was not due to give birth for two weeks, Maria came to check on her and ended up staying.

Inside, the room was dimly lit by candles, reflecting fear in Isabelle's eyes. But the fear was not the result of the storm – nor was it created by the loud moans and occasional screams coming from the bedroom. Something else provoked it.

“I’m scared,” Isabelle whispered to Sonia.

Her sister instinctively placed an arm around her shoulders, leading her away from the window.

“Mama will be fine.”

“But what if she has another girl?” the fear now evident. “Papa said he’ll leave.”

“Let him leave,” Sonia snapped.

At 17, she was tired of the man they called their father. She looked angry as she grabbed her younger sister by the shoulders.

“Listen to me! Where is he now? Tell me! He’s never around anyway and when he is, he’s always drunk,” she said seething before calming down. “Mama doesn’t need him and neither do we. Mama has us. I want him gone. I pray she has a girl.”

Isabelle saw rage in her sister's eyes. She admired her and wished she could be more like her. Sonia was four years older and she had seen a lot of injustices in her short life. A baby brother Isabelle never knew died in infancy, sending their father into frequent drinking binges with destructive consequences to the family.

She was still holding Isabelle by the shoulders when a sudden shrilling scream sent them running to the bedroom.

“Almost. Almost. Come on. Push a little more,” the self-proclaimed midwife looked worried as she encouraged their mother.

“No puedo; no puedo,” she started crying in Spanish. She had been in labor for what seemed like hours and it was obvious that the baby was in trouble. “I can’t do this.”

“You have to do it. Just a little bit more,” Maria raised her voice, scolding the woman before reassuring her. “I see the head now. Come on. You can do this.”

Isabelle gasped as she saw the bloody child pass from her mother. Living on a ranch in Phoenix, she had seen kittens and puppies born. And once, Pepita, her horse, gave birth in the barn and Isabelle was amazed at how quickly it stood and nursed. She loved the colt but discovered it gone one day after school. Her father had sold it -- to buy alcohol.

“It’s a boy!” the midwife exclaimed as Sonia’s expression fell. It was not that she didn’t want a brother, she just didn’t want to give her father an excuse to stay.

“Sonia! Quick.! Help me,” the midwife said as they rushed away with the baby.

“Dios mio,” Isabelle heard her mother scream. “Where’s my baby? Where are you taking him?”

At that moment, Isabelle realized she never heard the baby cry. Tears rolled down her cheeks and grief filled her heart as she remembered the tiny baby who was rushed past her – a whitish-blue umbilical cord dangling from the pale limp body.

Powerful spasms hit her mother again causing additional shrieks. Shrieks that penetrated to the core of Isabelle’s heart.

“It’s ok, mama’” Isabelle said in a meek effort to comfort her mother. “You have to pass the placenta now.”

But a look at her mother’s face said otherwise.

“Maria!” Isabelle yelled for the older woman as her mother squeezed her hand. “Maria!”

The midwife rushed in, the first baby still in her arms. She had just wrapped the newborn in a blanket and she quickly handed him to Sonia.

A look of panic filled Maria as she saw a second head crowning between the mother’s legs.

"My God,” the midwife exclaimed. “Twins!"

The Tule Fog

It happens every year -- the California Tule Fog sneaks in - sometimes causing zero visibility. It is something that has scared me since I was a child. And every single year, there is at least one disastrous pileup on our Freeway 99. Usually I try to avoid traveling too early or too late - waiting for the fog to lift. There is nothing worse than driving along and suddenly hitting a white wall of nothing. I remember as a young nursing student - in 1978 - coming upon such an accident - and upon arriving at Tulare County Hospital, being assigned to care for a patient who had broken his back in the accident - and he turned out to be a 1976 classmate from my school.

Earlier today I was talking to my newspaper photographer John Tipton when he came upon this horrible pileup. So sad.

***** also*****

Micky Padilla of Porterville was driving with his family to a baptism in Fresno when he slammed into a Nissan Maxima.

"It was just bang, bang all around us," Padilla said. "I can't believe I still have my wife and my kids. Someone was looking out for us."

Massive Pileup Closes California Highway

Posted: 2007-11-03 19:08:31
Filed Under: Nation News
FRESNO, Calif. (Nov. 3) - More than 100 cars and trucks crashed on a fog-shrouded freeway Saturday, killing at least two people and injuring dozens more, the California Highway Patrol said.

Eighteen big rigs were involved in the massive pileup on Highway 99 just south of Fresno as patches of dense fog obscured visibility on the heavily traveled roadway, CHP officials said.

Photo Gallery: Highway 99 Pileup

Gary Kazanjian, AP

The wreckage of more than 100 cars is seen here on a Fresno, Calif., highway after dense fog led to a pileup that killed at least two people.

A 6-year-old boy and a 28-year-old man traveling in separate vehicles were killed in the chain-reaction collisions around 7:45 a.m. , said CHP Officer Paul Solorzano, Jr., who described it as one of the Central Valley's worst freeway crashes in years.

"It looked like something out of a movie, walking up and seeing all the cars mangled and crushed," Solorzano said.

Rescuers had to extract several people trapped in the wreckage, and paramedics transported more than three dozen patients to the hospital with injuries, Fresno City Fire Department spokesman Ken Shockley said.

The freeway's northbound lanes around Clovis Avenue were shut down indefinitely as investigators worked to determine the cause of the crash. Traffic backed up for miles south of the wreckage. Southbound lanes remained opened.

Two of the big rigs leaked 90 gallons of diesel fuel onto the freeway when their fuel tanks ruptured, but the diesel was contained. No hazardous materials were spilled, CHP officials said.

Hours after the accident, the freeway was littered with smashed cars and trucks, broken glass, auto parts and blood. A big rig carrying stacked crates of live turkeys was stranded in the middle of the normally busy highway.

Crash victims gathered on the freeway shoulder near the wreckage, waiting to be interviewed by investigators.

Cindy Ramirez, 21, of Selma, said her purple Mazda pickup truck was rear-ended as she was driving to her job washing windows in Shaver Lake.

"Everybody was trying to miss everybody, but it was impossible not to get hit," Ramirez said. "I'm fine physically, but I keep thinking about all of the things that could have happened."

Omar Macias, 33, was hauling asphalt from Bakersfield to Elk Grove when his truck was caught in the pileup.

"I got out to check on people at first, and then I heard more crashes around me, so I got right back in," said Macias of Bakersfield. "I feel OK, but I don't what OK means right now. People got hurt."

Even as investigators interviewed dazed drivers on the roadside, crews began sprinkling sand on the freeway and sweeping up shattered glass.

Thick seasonal fog known as "Tule fog" typically occurs in Central California in the late fall and winter. Two people died along a nearby stretch of fog-blanketed Highway 99 in an 87-vehicle pileup in 2002, and another section of the roadway several miles south was the scene of a 74-vehicle crash that left two dead nearly a decade ago.

"There was probably two-foot visibility in the fog when I got here. It was really bad," said Mike Bowman, a spokesman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. "It looked like chaos. Cars were backed up on top of each other."

Micky Padilla of Porterville was driving with his family to a baptism when they heard the sound of metal screeching, struggled to brake and slammed into a Nissan Maxima.

Padilla ran out and found a man bleeding in a white pickup. The man was still breathing minutes later when firefighters arrived, but later died on the highway, Padilla said.

"It was just bang, bang all around us," Padilla said, shaking his head as he stood next to a puddle of blood on the blacktop. "I can't believe I still have my wife and my kids. Someone was looking out for us."

Associated Press writer Marcus Wohlsen contributed to this report from San Francisco.