Senseless Challenge- Homecooked

steakSalt mixed with her saliva, circling around the fibrous mass between her teeth as she chomped hard, accidentally slamming her teeth together. She had to take care chewing the bite of what they called “steak.” Little grains of seasoning rolled around on her tongue, each one leaving a bright streak of flavor that covered up the base taste well. Still, it was there, and it reminded her of the time she’d licked the metal wall in one of the store rooms on a dare when she was a young girl. Though the odd metal taste of the meat brought back such nostalgia, it was not exactly a memory she cherished.

The lump would not disintegrate though tiny strings of it made their way down her gullet, bits of the flesh sticking between her teeth as well. For a moment, she thought she would choke on her own spittle. She was far too old to die in such an undignified manner.

Next to her, their host, a portly old man who was clearly close to her age though his hair was unnaturally dark in comparison to her own mottled gray mess, somehow managed to prattle on between bites with hardly a pause.

“I hope you like it. This meal’s been prepared by one of the best chefs in the area. We have so much to celebrate!”

He lifted a glass, some awful tinted stuff that she’d hated because it tasted like disinfectant (another dare once). He held it aloft in her direction and then gulped it down as she choked down the meat chunk. One of the seasoning granules stuck on her uvula and she coughed. She gulped down half a glass of water. That at least was familiar, but it still tasted of steel from the odd minerals inside it.

Her jaw ached. Eating should not be so difficult. She did not want to attempt another bite, and yet she also felt hopeful that something on the plate would be palatable enough that she could fill her belly on it. A glance around the room told her that she was not the only one having difficulty. Her entire crew sat forlornly prodding at their foods.

The host continued chatting with her as he swallowed pieces practically whole. “We’ve been waiting such a long time for this. My grandfather’s grandfather built the original ship that took the first colonists to Mars. It’s been the pride of my family. That is exactly why I had to host this dinner. My grandfather so wanted to meet you and your crew. Unfortunately, he passed away just before you arrived on Earth.”

She cut up one of the tiny green trees on her plate. It at least looked similar to the food they grew in the hydroponics lab on the ship. The thing was soft on her tongue but snapped when she crushed it with her molars. Juices came pouring out of squishy top, and then it broke apart in her mouth the way the meat had refused to do. Its true essence settled deeply on the back of her tongue, a horrible bitterness she attempted to swipe away by swallowing. She frowned as she forced her body to swallow the unholy offering and then drank the last of her water. A server rushed to her side with a fresh pitcher of water before racing off to fill one of her crewman’s cups.

The pungent taste of the vegetable lingered and she had to drink more of the water. She shook her head and cut their host off before he launched into any more stories about his family and the original ship.

She dabbed at her mouth with the cloth napkin as she turned to face him. “Did you do any research on us at all?”

His eyes shot wide. He stammered. She cut him off again.

“We can’t eat this. We were born on a ship between planets, and the only food we’ve ever eaten has been yeast based with manufactured supplements and a few vegetables that only grew out in space after some genetic modification. Nothing on this plate is palatable to us. If you don’t mind, I’m going to take my crew back to their ship so that we can have a decent home cooked meal.”

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This is also a semi-personal experience. Texture is super important to me when I eat, and squishy things like tender meat I just can’t do. So unless I know how a place prepares their meat, I won’t order things like steak or chicken. Ground beef is the only safe bet which is probably why I adore hamburgers. I’m guessing that this might have to do with my lack of smelling ability. I’ve met others who are selective about food texture, but the ones who were most vehement about it were the people who’d never been able to smell. They’d have lists of things they wouldn’t touch.

So, yes, if you invite me over to your house, please have hamburgers. Also, please don’t have vanilla pudding (slimy, but chocolate pudding is fine) or Jello boxed flan (unnaturally smooth) or anything with whip cream (foamy). Or better yet, how about I invite you over to my house?

This is all for the Senseless Challenge. Here’s the roundup for smell from last week.

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Senseless Challenge- Sweet

Blanca’s nose burned as if being licked by a little flame. Her hand shot up to paw at her upper lip at first. When that didn’t work, she pinched the sides together to douse the little fire. “Oh, hwhat is tat?”

Her roommate, Corinne, a friend of hers since college, looked up from the cup of coffee she l644885_smell_the_rosesazily stirred. “What is what? Why are you standing there like that?”

Pushing the inner skin of her nostrils together helped relieve that strange, bothersome feeling, though it still tickled. “I don’t know. I can’t eben descripeb it. My nose is, like, burning or someting!”

Corinne perked up slightly, though confusion still radiated off her. “Burning?” She gave a few tired and wary sniffs. “I don’t smell anything, just some coffee? Waitaminute. Are you smelling coffee?”

Blanca rubbed her nose, accidentally taking another whiff in the process. “Ah gad. Is tat hwhat it smells like?”

“You’re smelling? You’ve never been able to smell right?” Corinne leapt from the table and to Blanca’s side, suddenly much too awake. “C’mon, let’s get you fresh air. It’ll do you good.”

They walked out to their patio area. Out front they had plants growing, mostly flowers but some herbs too. It had been Blanca’s idea although she couldn’t taste them. She just liked being able to appear fancy enough to actually use them when she cooked. Corinne had worked with her on that, spending much time training her on what was appropriate to use and when.

Outside, Blanca breathed in deeply. Fresh, cool air drenched the burning sensation. For a moment, she reveled in the peace. And then Corinne shoved one of the potted geraniums under her nose. She gagged as a strange feeling worked its way down her throat.

She pushed the plant away. “Get it away! That’s awful!”

Corinne tilted her head and then cautiously brought the plant close to her nose and gave a sniff. “I don’t understand. It smells fine. It’s a light scent, sort of fresh and airy. Maybe you should try one of the herbs?”
Her sweet basil plant sat nearby. In her heart, Blanca believed that it wouldn’t purposely betray her, not like the geranium which had always been Corinne’s plant. She picked it up and took a little whiff. A new feeling coursed along the sides of her nose. This one didn’t burn. It was more like water bubbling through her nostrils and racing to the back of her throat. She felt like she was drowning in the scent. She put it down and covered her nose again.

“That too? Maybe you’re just not used to smelling? Give it some time, let your nose adjust. Why is it you can smell all of a sudden anyway? Did you hit your head or get struck by lightning or something?”

Blanca thought back to the day before. She’d been blissfully unaware of her deficiency as always. Then she remembered running across an overly eager woman at the cosmetics counter who sprayed some perfume into her face even after she said it would be no use. They weren’t allowed to do that anymore, were they? People had allergies, and it was rude. But this woman had assured her that this perfume would work magic, and she didn’t have to be the one able to smell it. Blanca had recoiled as a chemical scent covered every inch of skin inside her nostril and made its way to her tongue. The stink stuck with her throughout the day, just barely wearing off before bedtime. And then she’d woken to this. Was this to be her super hero origin story? Getting sprayed in the face by stinky perfume and somehow turning it into a super sensitive ability to smell things? No, she would not put up with this. She walked into the house and grabbed her coat, throwing it on over her pajamas.

“We need to get this fixed. If this is what it’s like to be a normal person with a working sniffer, I’d much rather not be.”

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Ha, so, I can’t smell. When I do sort of smell– I feel it. Just like this. Burning sensations or warmth in my nostrils. Some feel sorry because of the stuff I’m missing out on. My boyfriend thinks I’m incredibly lucky because there are so many bad smells, especially if you have gassy friends. (He changes his tune when I’m shoving something under his nose and asking if it’s still good.)

This is part of the Senseless Challenge of course. Here is the round up for sound. And in case you missed it last week, here’s the round up for sight. There are still two more senses if you’d like to participate!

Senseless Challenge- Quiet

1071757_musicEvery few paces a different speaker blared the cheerful daytime music that made the hairs in her inner ear quake. She tried to resist putting her hands over her ears to stop the intrusion of the bright melodies as she made her way back to her apartment building from the doctor’s office. He had completely dismissed her complaints about the headaches caused by the noise. She couldn’t think, and he didn’t seem to care.

She had wanted to really press him about it. Her hope was that she could possibly qualify for some noise cancelling headphones that had become so incredibly expensive since all the changes. The tech used to create them was in such high demand to keep the city covered in music that to get a pair would cost an entire year of her salary. She would never be able to afford them on her own.

But the doctor had his own music piped into his office. Each examination room had a speaker that played classical music meant to soothe. To her, it only had the effect of covering up the doctors deep voice. When she’d asked about how it was that he could play a different tune from that on the street, he answered without looking from her charts. She thoughts he said, “I have special permission to play something different for the benefit of my patients. Don’t worry, it’s still regulation and will keep the nasties away.”

Then he’d given her a smile too wide. One laced with barely contained condescension. She was sure he took her for one of those hyper sensitive and paranoid ladies who feared what would come without the music and could never have it loud enough.

She rubbed her head to relieve the pounding. At her building, she practically dived into the lobby to strip away the additional layer of noise from the people and cars on the street. The speaker near the elevators of her apartment had always been wonky and they’d never been able to properly fix it although she’d seen them try. It still worked within the regulation frequencies; it just played the music slightly muffled which fired a feeling of nostalgia in her brain that actually hurt. Oh the memories of sitting quietly and reading a book or just staring into space. God, how she missed it!

The same music played  in her hall as that in the elevator. She entered her apartment to the exact same playing inside her living room. There was no escape from it. Not even in her bathroom.

As she always did upon first entering her apartment, she slammed her hands over her ears and pressed them together as if she were attempting to crush her own skull. She rubbed at her face as she considered doing something she knew she shouldn’t. If her neighbors found out, they could report her.

Sharp objects such as knives and forks, and even pointy things like screwdrivers, had been banned after several of the incidents. The only tool she possessed happened to be a plastic spoon. She took it to one of the screws of the speaker. She needed to be able to put it back together after she was done, so some care was needed though being so close to the infernal noise she wanted to do nothing more than rip it out of the wall. Slowly, she worked until the screw came out, and then, she pulled the speaker right off the wall. The noise stopped.

She shut the doors to the bathroom and the bedroom and sat on the couch. It was not the perfect silence of the old days, but it was enough to allow her to sit back, shut her eyes, and remember. Inhaled air traveled through her nasal passages, and she listened to it pass under her eyes. All the tension drifted out of her body.

They are lying to you.

She bolted upwards.

There is no danger. They want to control you.

It had been so long since she was alone with her thoughts. Had the thoughts always come on their own like this, unbidden? The thoughts continued, whispering, warning her of disaster if she didn’t act. She had been thinking it for so long, but she just hadn’t been able to focus enough to gather her thoughts this way. They had built up, and now, in a moment of complete relaxed quiet, they came.

You must tell others. You must make the music stop. There are no nasties in the quiet. There is no one here but your own thoughts.

She stood up and walked into the hall. There had to be others who felt the same as her. She had to find them.

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Here’s the round up of last weeks posts for the Senseless Challenge – sight. Seriously, this is really a lot of fun. If you want to join in, check out the original post here.

The Senseless Challenge – Gold

flameGold glittered in the light of the torch as far as she could see which wasn’t actually very far as darkness pressed in from all sides. Flecked among the gold were the bright and colorful sparkles of precious stones attached to beautiful jewelry. She stood on a solid ground of pressed dirt. At her feet lay a ruby which seemed to have rolled from one of the golden mounds.
She grasped the torch and tugged it out of the ground. She had no idea where she was or what had happened. The last thing she remembered… well she thought about it, and she couldn’t remember anything.

Her heart began to race, and in order to calm it down, she decided to investigate the closest shimmering mound. Up close, the mound was actually made up from tiny, round coins made from pure shiny gold. She picked them up and let the pieces slide through her fingers, keeping one to examine it closely. On one side there was the face of a very regal looking person wearing a crown, on the other there was a crest with a shield and a bird holding onto a worm. She dug through and found many different variations of such gold in a similar shape only with different regal entities and differing symbols. They lit a small flame in the back of her head, but she let it go when she noticed a few pretty rubies and one bright sapphire floating free on the pile. Those she couldn’t help slipping into her pocket for safe keeping.

She started walking in a direction, still on the dirt though at times she’d kick one of the smaller pieces of gold in her way and then she’d have a companion for a few seconds until it gave up the march. The piles merged together, each of differing sizes, there was not always a clear ending or a clear beginning. They were just one long pile.

As she made her way, she found pieces that she had to take– other loose gems in her path, a necklace with more stones than she could name, and a delicate ring with gold wires swirled along the edge. Coins fell away from her hand when she removed pieces from the piles like grains of sand, splattering across the floor and tinkling across her bare toes. She put the ring on and kept walking, every so often looking down at her fingers. The intricate designs looped around one another.

A presence loomed over her, and she glanced up from her ring. A mountain of gold rose into the darkness. She lifted the torch and still couldn’t see the top, though something about it was different from the other piles. This one was darker and almost shinier. It was somehow smoother on the sides, and she instantly wanted to run her fingers over the pile to make those strange dark coins join their lighter counterparts, but the original pile she’d been following lay between her and the new, more interesting mound. She’d have to climb over that to reach the new subject of her curiosity.

She didn’t. She kept moving, taking note of all the variation in the large mountain. It had to have been an older pile. As she walked, it became such a deep red it verged on brown. Under the glow of the fire, it nearly appeared to move. She kept going, following the large mound until it began to taper back towards the ground nearly disappearing behind the heap between her and it.

She came to a stop and gasped. A face had appeared. The eyes were shut tight and the mouth slightly open. Dark flaps of flesh gently sputtered over the sharp teeth covered with yellow slime. Suddenly she remembered the sight of her kingdom from the air, every building the size of a doll house, even her beautiful castle with the stained glass windows and the lovely little moat that had lily pads growing in it.

Just as the creature opened its eyes, she dropped the torch, killing the flame and leaving them in complete darkness.

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It’s not too late to join the challenge! Look to the end of this post by A.M. Harte to see the other participants and the basic “rules” of the challenge. 

Decluttering my Tech Desk

Every so often, I like to share apps that actually make my phone useful for things other than procrastination. Well, today, I’d like to update that list of apps and include a new app for customizing the windows desktop.

I’m probably behind the times here, but Lifehacker’s featured desktops have caught my eye for a while now. I just haven’t been in the mood to actually do anything about it. This weekend, I actually did it. I present my desktop.

My Desktop

I am now using Rainmeter. I’ll be honest– even though I’m a bit of a nerd when it comes to these things and I’m not afraid to fool around, this program and the skins for it confused me. You have to plan ahead, know what you want on your desktop, and then do a search for something that meets your needs.

In Rainmeter speak, “skins” seems to mean widgets, like on Android. I made a list, giving consideration to what programs I use as well. Many skin suites (the entire package) will mention what widgets they include. If you’re lucky, they will also include a layout that you can then adjust to your liking. With this program, you aren’t stuck using everything or nothing. You can easily unload apps that may be too distracting.

One of the issues though is that you have to use a .ini file to customize widgets. That’s part of what can take a while. Currently, I’m using Glasses by Vcloud. This one came easily customizable. I just have to hit the little triangles, and then a box pops up with spots for text input.

Along the side, I’m using Rocket Dock. I’ve placed the programs I do use most often as well as shortcuts to important computer folders and Dropbox. I’ve also downloaded a program called Launchy. This lets me pull things up easily with a couple clicks. (Currently it’s set to ctrl + spacebar.) I can use it as a calculator, a web searcher, and a file or program finder.

I have also decluttered my phone:

2013-04-29 10.48.50

On my phone I’m using ADW Launcher with a custom skin. This launcher allows you to make folders and then label those folders. For anyone on earlier versions of Android (which is pretty much everyone a majority of Android users), this is so helpful. I’ve also streamlined it and removed the notification bar (a rooted phone is a necessity to do that).

I’ve also started using Swipepad. It allows me to access programs while I’m in the middle of another one, so if I’m reading something and get an idea for a story, I can switch apps and write it down quickly.

I’ve also started using Catch Notes. This program is easier than Evernote to catch thoughts quickly and to add tags. It has a shortcut to create a note which I keep on my Swipepad. When I have a thought, I pull it up and write it out. I can add hashtags within the text, just like twitter, and I don’t have to bother going the extra steps I have to use with Evernote. The thought just gets captured, and then I can access it later on when I’m at the computer. With this method, I can write before bed or take down random thoughts. The only downside is that you can only have five notebooks, so I’m going to be sticking with Evernote for now to organize all my heavy duty notes and clippings.

Join The SENSELESS Challenge!

I am not one for writing prompts. I don’t know, maybe I’m just stubborn. Strange things can prompt an idea, but don’t you dare tell me to write based on a prompt.

Yet here I am pushing this on any and all writing friends. This writing prompt is so simple and open ended that it even got my brain churning. I needed a break from my current project, and this was the perfect chance to write on stuff not tied to any other stories.

Hopefully others will give this a try too. Please spread the word!

A.M. Harte

Senseless ChallengeCalling all short story lovers!

May is National Short Story Month – and therefore the perfect time for an absolutely senseless idea.

Let me explain:

Short stories have a special place in my heart. They’ve helped me dabble with countless ideas, overcome writer inertia, and introduced me to communities like #fridayflash. Most importantly, they’ve helped me hone my craft by focusing on different techniques one at a time… And this where the senseless challenge comes into play.

THE SENSELESS CHALLENGE: THE FACTS

  1. We have five senses.
  2. May has five Fridays.
  3. Each Friday is dedicated to one of the senses.
  4. On that Friday, you post a flash fiction focusing on that sense.
  5. If you have twitter, tweet about your story with the hashtag #flashsense

Take sight. The story for that week could be about a ghost who can only see, but not hear or feel or smell or taste. On the…

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Coffee and my writing ritual

Here’s what happened to me yesterday:

1086489_breakI, believing I have made much growth this year as an adult female, decided I would take a sip of my father’s Burger King coffee just to see if my attempt to acclimate myself to the taste with flavored Maxwell House instant coffees was working.

No, it is not! I still really hate coffee! My parents had a good laugh as I raced around the kitchen to pour a little cup of milk to cleanse the icky taste from my mouth.

Currently, this is my morning plan: I get up when my boyfriend does (7:30am). I make a cup of “coffee” in one of my special mugs. Then I’m supposed to sit down at the desk and write  before my conscious brain catches up to what I’m doing.

Unfortunately, this is what my morning usually looks like: I roll around until 8, get up because the automatic kitty scooper is straining on some heavy, formerly moist litter lump stuck to the bottom of the cat box. Despite my disgust at my first morning task, I remember I’m in the kitchen and that’s where breakfast happens. I make an egg, fully intending on writing, and I do. Sometimes. I sit in the living room where the morning sunshine filters in, gobble down my egg sandwich (usually with too much mayo which is just right for me), and then I do some other things which aren’t always writing. Eventually, I call it a bust and say I’ll get to it at 10am before I go to work. And then 10:15 magically rolls around after a walk and a shower and I decide to get to it later.

I’ve found that when I get up in the morning and then actually write, no matter how much, I’m much more likely to get back into it as the day progresses rather than what I normally do which is procrastinate until the day is done. So that is exactly what I’m working on this month. I want my early morning writing time to become as natural and necessary as my morning walks.