THE RED RIVER

For the past three weeks, traces of red liquid had been found in the clear blue waters of the rivers, growing more solid with each passing day. At first, it was just a whisk, like a droplet falling in a cup, before it disperses and becomes unnoticeable. Then eventually, the water began to darken, from blue, to purple, to a beautiful shade of red wine. When it hit that shade, the water became undrinkable, and we knew we had to find out what was going on.

We began our trek up the river, to see what we could find. A few days later, it morphed into a bright, angry red, like a vicious sunburn. Eventually, we came to a massive forest, and followed the red river in. It was dark, like night, spackled with the occasional beam of sunlight peaking from in between tree branches. It was enough to light they way, but hardly bright. The angry red of the river looked more like smoldering ash in the dark. We began to worry when the sunbeams grew thin and orange—it meant the sun was going down, and all sorts of things could inhabit the forest.

We made camp, set up a fire, and picked roles for the watch. Mine was the last, which I was thankful for. It was easier to sleep through most of the night, and simply stay awake, than it was to sleep for a short three hours, wake up to keep watch, then sleep again. My eyes had glazed over by the time the first beams of sunlight touched down through the trees. It was like a heavenly ascension piercing through the heart of the darkness.

We kept this routine for another two days, marching through treacherous pitfalls and shifting terrain. All the while, we kept along the river, following its unexpected. It was growing wider, which we took to mean we were getting close to its source. A few hours later, the river widened into a lakebed, with a massive red waterfall, which, as it smashed into the lake, created a thin, red mist. The waterfall itself seemed to stretch off into the distance, far above the trees above us.

The unexpected base of the cliff met us as we drew closer, and we began our ascent upward. The way up was full of dangers, but eventually we crossed the upper threshold of the trees. The break of sunlight on our faces was soothing, as a cool glass of water is to a man returned from a desert. We could see the top, not far above the trees, and took the last hundred meters quickly.

When we reached the top, we were awestruck by the sight before us. Lodged in the middle of a massive lake—ten times the size of the one below us—was an enormous heart. It looked almost like a titanic boulder, bigger in size than any we had ever seen, beating fiercely, as though whatever body it had inhabited had been running for miles before.

And it was split in two, held weakly together by tethers at the bottom. From the center of the split sides, it was gushing blood like a fountain, pouring tons into the water around it by the second. The air stank of rot and decay, but the heart showed no signs of weakness. It was incredible to see something so full of life yet so broken. All we could do was stand there still, looking on amazed and frightened.

——

 

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VISIONS IN THE DESERT

I felt like an ant, crossing that wasteland of a desert. There was nothing in site as far as the eye could see, and the sun was beating down on me, heavy, as though Apollo had set his chariot of fire on my shoulders. In my mind, the pulsing of my headache felt like the hooves of his mighty horses pounding me to death. My shirt had been soaked through with sweat hours before, and I could feel the sun burn taking shape on the uncovered parts of my body.

The desert air filled my lungs—drying my mouth and leaving my throat ragged and parched. Each breath felt like a cement block was being dragged across my insides. My legs had grown wobbly as I ascended the dune. As I neared the top, my vision began to grow blurry, and my legs buckled for a moment. I came down hard on the sand; my knees crashed, followed swiftly by my outstretched arms. I sucked a deep breath of air, attempting to gather the strength to get back up again, then coughed and spit as sand slid in between my teeth. My forehead rested on my arm, as I enjoyed the blackness behind my shut eyes. My arm was sticky when I finally pulled it away and, shaking, clambered to my feet again. I looked out across the mass of emptiness before me.

I was struck by the beauty of it. It was so empty, even time seemed to have melted away. Each moment seemed to take hours, and suddenly I felt like many decades of time had passed me by. And, as I looked down at myself, I realized they had. I watched as my deep black beard faded to peppered gray, and then finally to white. The skin in my hands wrinkled, and the whites of my knuckles pressed for freedom. I felt my body grown weaker; drier; sicker—as though I had been possessed. My legs began to shake, no longer in fatigue, but with the brittleness of an old man, too long for this world.

My mind flooded with visions of my youth: An awkward game of catch with my father, my first dance with a girl, the late night writings of a dedicated lover, the early morning rises of budding father; and then soon came the memories that I had never known. Seeing my son become a father, and holding my granddaughter for the first time, watching from the sun-chairs as they played in the waves, holding my wife’s hand as she passed away—that same shy smile she had given me when I had asked her to the dance. All these memories I had never known flooded through my mind, as though the floodgates of “could have been” had been thrust open by some unnatural force.

Then shut, once again, as I saw the last vision of myself, from outside my body. I was there, eyes shut lightly, with my mouth hung slightly open. My beard looked scraggly and short. My skin was pale—so pale I nearly missed it flaking away. Bit by bit, the wind pulled fragments of me away with it. It looked like I was peeling. Then, as the gusts grew stronger, I watched myself crumble away into dust and float away, with the desert, forever.

——

 

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REVIEWING THE BOOK REVIEW

Book reviews always make me curious. I love them, but at the same time, I wonder why people read them. And people DO read them, The Los Angeles Review of Books (aka LARB), which is a lovely website, thrived when they filled a void that existed in the industry for book reviews—but I wanted to talk about the idea of a book review.

When I think of a book review, I think of some detailed discussion about a few things. 1) What the book was about, 2) the key elements of the plot, themes, and other motifs, and finally 3) how it all relates to the bigger picture of life. Which is certainly something that matters to the overall discourse of the world, isn’t it? It presents a different interpretation, as well as potentially missed aspects of a story someone read.

Yet papers often run book reviews concurrent to release dates. LARB does this sometimes, though they also do book reviews of things several years down the lines. The classic book review though, which is designed to boost the popularity of a book on release, comes out often the same day as the book. Which doesn’t make sense to me. What discourse can that add to the world? It will get lost in the paper. I’m not going to finish my brand new book, track down the now week-old paper, and reread a book review to really understand how it ties into the bigger picture of things. Not when Goodreads comments often add just as much value. No wonder that industry went through a pretty hard reset.

How would I improve this? Well, I mean it’s really just adjusting the dates of release. If a book releases Wednesday, and it takes two weeks for the average person to finish reading…well then they should publish the review two weeks later. It’s not like a superfan is going to be upset the review is a bit later, and people often rave about books the most right when they finish. Repetition and intensity are what make people remember a product.

What do you think? Would you rather read a review a few weeks later? Let me know in the comments!

——

 

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LOVE POEM #46 – WHERE PIGS CAN FLY

I met a girl named Victoria

And suddenly I knew the meaning of euphoria.

It was like she had fallen from heaven

(‘Cause from one to ten, she was an eleven).

I thought, in truth, it was an angel I’d seen,

Because no one more perfect had ever been.

There was a shimmering smile in her eyes

That no mere mortal could have devised.

 

‘Course I’ve never been a religious man—

Never one to think there was a master plan.

But I was struck dumb on Earth that day,

And for all my words I could not say

What it was that she meant to me…

‘Cause together’s something we could never be.

 

Yes, perhaps there’s some perfect world

Where I end up being with that perfect girl.

Where hell freezes over and pigs can fly

And she breaks up with her perfect guy.

——

 

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SUMMER WEDNESDAYS (AND OTHER HAIKUS)

Summer Wednesdays

The morning grows hot

On this dry summer Wednesday.

Good to be indoors.

 

Beckoning Waters

The sky blue water

Beckons the thirsty pilgrim

To drown in it’s cold.

 

Tree Secrets

Scaling up the trees,

I find the grooves in the bark

Hold untold secrets.

 

Paranoid

When she calls my name

I hear hues of another

Hiding underneath.

 

Sheltered

Oh, to be a root!

Enjoying the cool soil,

Safe from harms above.

——

 

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LIFE UPDATES

Ah, it’s good to be free. School is over. Weeks of freedom are ahead, for some. For me, I will be going to USC for a Publishing Workshop with the LARB (The Los Angeles Review of Books) for a whole month, starting next week, which is—in its own way—a sort of freedom. But, that does mean dubious things for my free time. I will be busy ALL day with the workshop, pretty much from sun up till past dinner, with speakers and so on.

Now, you may wonder why exactly I am bringing this up. I mean…cool, that’s my life right? Well, the main reason I am bringing it up is because I am uncertain how much free time I will have to work on this blog. To be as consistent as possible, I have been doing one entry per day, every day of the week, for over a year now. That’s quite a bit of time, and I have loved doing so—it has helped me grow as a writer and as a person. But at this workshop I will be doing just that—growing and developing. Which means that I will already be doing what I wanted to do with this blog.

Of course, I don’t PLAN to be going away. If I can find the time, I will be writing daily still. But I might miss a couple days. And I don’t want anyone who reads my work daily to be worried. Normally I can plan out exactly when I will have time to write a post ahead of time to do so (see last year’s vacation posts), but this year I was caught up with graduation and other things, and couldn’t prewrite a month of posts. Plus, that’s less fun.

Anyways, I figured I could take today, my slow day, to post an update about the future, and update you on my life. I went to Las Vegas last weekend for a short vacation, which was super fun (no I didn’t go to EDC, but I certainly dealt with the traffic on the way home). We went to the Peppermill twice, which was incredible, and had Brazilian…BBQ? All you can eat food. It was amazing. I ate WAY too much. I also finished in the top 350 of a 4000-person tournament I played in, which was a fun experience, albeit not how I would have adored.

Well, that was my week. Let me know how you are spending your first few weeks of summer in the comments below!

——

 

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COVFEFE AND CLIMATE CHANGE

There is never a week that goes by when something entertaining isn’t going on. The Climate Change denial is real. The covfefe is real. The bragging about things that really don’t matter enough to be bragged about is real. But enough about Donald Trump. I can see the logic behind the argument against the Paris Agreement, but there is some fault in it. Namely, that if we don’t have a livable globe, the fact that someone is “for the people of Pittsburgh” is irrelevant. Because there will be no people left. Although, being for the people of Pittsburgh would indicate being for the people at all, which isn’t even clear to me. Though presenting a healthcare program that knocks some twenty million people off healthcare doesn’t seem to support a “for the people” position in the slightest.

Whatever. There are too many things to talk about today and I don’t want to get sidetracked through this whole post. Climate change. It is important because it is real. For anyone saying it isn’t real, take a moment and think to yourself: is it possible? If you answered yes, please read over the science, as I think you will find that your assertion is incorrect when presented with evidence. If you answered no, I’ll be responding personally.

So why not? Why can’t people cause climate change? Is it that the Earth is some sort of infinite object? For those of you reading along, this is one of the biggest reasons people don’t get climate change. They believe that the Earth is too big for us to have a real impact on it. This dates back to the Old Testament, and other religious inclinations that swayed society hundreds of years ago. The Earth is viewed as immortal, evergreen, etc. But think about it. It isn’t. It’s just a ball of matter.

Think of any ball of matter. Actually, lets think specifically of a ball of wood, the size of your hand. Put a lit match to that wood—just one. Now, it probably didn’t light up. Add in a few more matches. It might still not light up. But eventually, it will, right? Maybe after 10 matches, it lights up on the side, but dies out quickly. After 100, it ignites. That’s the problem with man-made climate change. It takes literally billions of matches to make an impact, because the Earth is huge. If you saw your house burning, you wouldn’t say “that’s nothing.” You would be thinking “Oh god! How do we put out this fire!?” The science is the writing on the wall, in the moments before ignition. The fires have started, and while some have burned out, people are still lighting matches. It won’t be long before it burns up.

Ok, yes it is true this is a bit of a crude metaphor, but it is a metaphor for a reason. And the logic is sound. The Earth is a ball of matter, like anything else, and it can only be burned so much. Pulling out of the Paris Agreement displays the ignorance of this situation. Truly caring for citizens—both of Pittsburgh and the rest of the world—is to protect them, their children, and all peoples there after.

——

 

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THE HALLWAY

I woke up in an empty, white paneled hallway. It was lit with rows of florescent lights, which reflected off the walls to make them appear even brighter. When I got up to look around, I noticed that there were no windows, but in the distance there was the vague outline of a doorway. I glanced behind me, only to see the ongoing nothingness continued that way as well.

I began to walk thought the hallway. The emptiness was filled by the soft pattering of my shoes beneath my feet. The clothes I had woken up in felt clammy, and stuck to my skin awkwardly, but the more I walked, the more they fell away from my skin. The door, which had been but a tiny outline in the distance, grew closer as I walked toward it, and it became clear that it was built for another time period.

In stark contrast with the walls around it, the door was made of a faded bronze metal, with a handle rather than a doorknob. As I put my hand on the door handle, my eyes came into contact with a large door knocker. The knocker was made of a large metal serpent’s head, which looked vaguely draconic. The serpent held the metal knocker ring in its mouth. The ring itself was another work of art, which had been fashioned with careful detail into the design. Rather than smooth metal, the ring had been made to look like a chain of people moving into and out of the serpent’s mouth.

I realized I had been transfixed on the serpent, and shook my head back to the task at hand. I pushed and pulled on the door handle, but found it to be stuck in place. A few more shakes and I yielded. I sighed, and took a step back from the door to look around. The white halls stretched endlessly on either side, but in the distance from the direction I had come I could hear the faintest of sounds. Dah-duh…Dah-duh it was the unmistakable rhythm of someone—someTHING walking closer. I strained to look into the distance, and noticed a speck of black at the edge of my sight. It was definitely moving, albeit slowly.

Fear shot through my body, and I had the sudden urge to run away. I restrained myself, and turned back to the door. I wondered what could be on the other side of the door. Freedom. Safety. Slavery. Murder. Death. It was the great unknown, locked to me. And what monstrous being would be on the other side? But as my ears turned back to the slowly approaching creature down the hall, I decided it was best to take my chances. At worst, I would have two things coming for me instead of one. I drew my hand up to the ring of people, and banged it hard against the door twice. I stepped away from the door again, and prepared myself for what came next.

One…two…three moments past before I heard the distinct clank of metal unlatching from the other side. The door swung open, and the stale air of the hallway mixed with the moist, wooden air of the new room. Standing in the doorway was a little girl, no older than my cousins. She was pale white, with light brown hair that fell down to the middle of her back. She looked on at me with wonder; her head cocked to the side slightly. Her eyes were black and dead, yet her mouth moved with the most colorful and lively emotions. Shy, happy, concerned, scared, and so on. She was dressed in a white ballerina’s leotard, and white ballerina shoes.

“Hello,” I said cheerily, meeting her empty eyes with as warm a smile as I could muster, “and what is your name?” She didn’t answer. I glanced off into the room, and saw nothing but a black void before me.

“Do you have parents? Or a caretaker? Would they be available for me to speak to?” Again I was met with silence, though this time the little girl stepped back from the door and into the darkness. The light faded away from her body, and I could barely make out the barest hint of her form. She beckoned me in, then stepped to be completely engulfed in the darkness.

——

 

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TONE IN LITERATURE AND LIFE

From time to time, my father and I talk about a variety of subjects. Anything from alcohol, to weight lifting, to…well, really anything. Yesterday, my dad finished reading Honored Enemy, a book by a (slightly) lesser-known fantasy author: Raymond E. Feist (at least, compared to George R.R. Martin), and we were considering it in comparison to the Game of Thrones series (yeah I know it’s called A Song of Fire and Ice officially, but everyone calls it Game of Thrones). My dad asserted that Feist’s characters were more hopeful, which I thought was an interesting perspective, since at many times throughout his book, they knowingly face and fear certain doom.

To contrast, the characters in Game of Thrones, while often times very dire (I mean, the Stark’s house words are “Winter is Coming,” which is indicative of a fear of death, rather than an enjoyment with life) also hold a sense of hopefulness at various points, it just doesn’t seem hopeful. Think about it. Tyrion is hopeful in his own way—in the sense that he thinks he can overcome pretty much anything with his own wit. Renly is hopeful in a way too. He is very fun loving, and clearly represents some amount of goodness in the world. Vars, in his own way, is hopeful that things can go well, and Littlefinger is hopeful in his own schemes. Though I would categorically say that Game of Thrones is far less hopeful than most books.

Which takes us to the point of this post! Tone! The whole tone of the story frames the perspective it takes. And I like to think of stories as an allegory for life. This one is that the tone you take can change how you look at life. If everything you think is hopeless, then the world will seem that much darker. But if you can look at the things around you, and find some greatness in it, suddenly you might be able to enjoy it a bit more—even in dire straights.

Alright, well I’ll leave it a bit shorter today, but don’t forget that life can be really great, just as books can be really great, even if there are many points where the world seems too big, and the battles you are fighting seem hopeless. Let me know what your thoughts are on the subject. Is life better when we view it as better? Or does the pessimism lead to better successes in happiness?

——

 

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THE DINING HALL

“Good afternoon,” a friendly deep voice called to me from down the hallway. The man was a large, aging figure, dressed as a stereotypical butler would be dressed. He even had the covered silver platter balanced carefully in his right hand, which stayed unnervingly still has he sauntered over to me.

“H-hello,” I said back. The butler smiled politely, but I could feel the nervousness in my voice. I had somehow found my way into the house, but could not for the life of me remember how. Actually, calling this place a house was a bit of an understatement. It was more like a mansion from a snobby magazine. The carpets were red with gold, the walls were satin, every painting looked like it had been there since it was originally painted several hundred years ago, and all their frames had the same, faded gold shine to them. There were candles lit down several corridors, and a glimpse of massive rooms could be seen peeking out behind half closed mahogany doors.

Yet the place itself was spotless. There was no hint of dust; no stains, no cracks, no breaks; no unevenness. Everything looked perfect, as though every evening someone went up to make sure everything was in order. Which must take hours, based on the relative size of the place.

I realized my eyes had been wandering for a few moments too long when the butler cleared his throat.

“Sir, I must ask that we make our way to the dining table. The master has been expecting you for a short while now.” He began to turn away to show me the way.

“Expecting…how did I get here?” The butler paused, then turned back to me with a carefully practice patience.

“Sir, please, everything will be explained in due time.” I opened my mouth to respond, but before I could get a word out he had turned his back to me and began walking down the hallway. I fell in step a few feet behind him, my eye fixated on the patterns woven into the fabric. So simple, yet so precisely elegant. We turned a few corners, then passed through one of the large doors to an enormous room. There was a large, fifty foot table in the center, no doubt regularly filled with parties, as there were nearly one hundred placemats set out. Though interestingly, only two chair.

The chair closest to me, which the butler had indicated I should sit at, was a simple wooden chair. It seemed too homely compared to the rest of the house. Almost like they had robbed some poor family of their best chair in the middle of the night. Seated on the other end of the table was a large, black chair, made what looked to be a fine leather material (though from that distance I was not entirely sure). The chair towered over the man inside, who was shadowed mysteriously so that I could not get a clear view of his face. His hair appeared to be short, possibly even blonde, and he held himself like a man used to wielding power.

After I had taken my seat, the butler walked down to speak to who I assumed was the master. He was speaking softly, perhaps asking the master what he wanted to eat. The man waved him away, and the butler turned to walk back to me.

“The master will be dining on lamb tonight. What would you like to eat?” he said in a quiet voice.

“Is there a menu?”

“The menu is whatever you would like it to be. Though I would warn you,” he glanced down the table, “your choice of food will be noted by the master.” I looked down the table, past the perfectly placed candles and table settings, to try to get a read of what I should do.

“I’ll require an appetizer, of the chef’s choice, however it must be served hot and with mozzarella cheese. Then, for the main course, I would like a ribeye steak from a cow slaughtered no more than 3 days ago, cooked with garlic and butter to just above rare, but slightly before medium rare. To pair with it, I would like a merlot from 1950 or earlier, but prior to that I would like a Coca-Cola, from the glass bottle, not a can, served with two spoonfuls of vanilla syrup mixed inside it.”

“Ah sir,” the butler started.

“Is there a problem?” I quipped, trying to appear as regal as possible.

“No sir. I merely wished to ask if you’d like your steak to be twelve ounces, or sixteen.”

“Twenty.” The butler looked at me, then nodded quickly and walked off. I looked down the table to beam at the master, yet he was absentmindedly jotting notes on a pad of paper that had seemingly appeared before him.

——

 

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