2 Writing Publishing Opportunities

There is a new climate change-focused website that is publishing prose and poetry. It is called XR Creative and can be found at https://www.xrcreative.org. I got a message from the Joplin Writers’ Guild about the new site so I submitted a story called Golden Child about a young boy during the climate crisis. If you want to submit prose or poetry, they are accepting entries. Check it out! Great stories and great opportunity to get published and share your ideas.

Also, I submitted 2 stories to Chicken Soup for the Soul. Remember these fantastic books in the 90s? I had several of them and I still have the Mother edition today. Love these books. I wrote a story about Christmas and one about dogs. The submission deadline for most of the Chicken Soup books is around March or May 2022. The website is super easy to use. Check it out at http://www.chickensoup.com/story-submissions/submit-your-story.

More Enviro-friendly Vermont

We moved to Vermont from Kansas.

The first thing we noticed when we moved here is we had to bring bags with us everytime we went shopping. Gone were the days of Walmart plastic bags. I no longer store a giant plastic bag of little Walmart bags at the house. It took a while but we got used to it. Humans are creatures of their environment. Set the conditions right for them and they will adapt.

Second, we no longer found the fountain drink stations at the local gas stations. Those were practically gone too. They were replaced by water or coffee. We noted people are generally skinnier here too. Perhaps this is correlated.

Not a lot of people throw trash outside their vehicles here either we noted gladly as we live on a country road now in the mountains.

We started recycling more too. Most folks here haul their own trash and recycling apparently to the dump and station on Saturdays. We weren’t that motivated yet. So we paid the extra for trash and recycling pickup. At first, we piled a lot into the recycling bin. The recycling company had to send us a flyer more than once to be more discerning on what we kept. I think I’m still learning on this cause my husband now sorts through what I put in the bin and corrects it. Adaptation can be slower for some creatures than others.

The state of Vermont pays grants for homeowners to go solar energy. Other than that, we noted folks around here like outdoor activities: fishing, hiking, kayaking, etc. There’s a real pretty lake 9 miles away that has a beach for swimming but gone are the recreational boats like pontoons and ski boats. They must have some environmental law against them or something.

There are a few places with windmills but nothing like the quantity we saw in Kansas. As far as I know, I didn’t see the use of nuclear energy plants up here either.

Overall Vermont is quiet and peaceful. There’s a general feeling when you move here of do not disturb this pristine place. Now I understand why Vermonters are not superfond of tourists and especially folks from Massachusetts for some odd reason. The only Mass folks they seem to like up here are the Afflecks and Matt Damon. Everyone else…not so much.

Generally folks here seem proud of Bernie Sanders. I noted there’s not a lot of political discussion or angst or ire towards one party or the other. People are polite about differing political views. Being from Kansas, my background gravitates towards more conservative on the spectrum but I do appreciate Sanders fervor and passion to protect the working class folks’ wages and his fight against rising pharmaceutical costs. Just this last week, I was told I had to pay 1,400 for a drug for my husband for 1 month’s supply just because our annual deductible rolled over. Fortunately we used Good Rx but it still cost 560 out of pocket which was awful. I’m 5 miles from Canada. I wish I could go there to get my meds.

Yes, the only real downside here is also the upside….if you work from home. The snow and snow storms make daily commutes a challenge. But if you are a remote worker, you might love it here. Vermont has remote worker grants now and they are increasing their internet access across the state. If you like the environment and the outdoors and work from home, this just might be the ideal place to live. You can get reimbursed up to 7500 dollars to move here if you work for a Vermont business or work from home. Not bad. Not bad at all.

Working with folks from Vermont is ok so far. The work ethic is a little different from Kansas. Maybe it’s just me but people seem more chatty and less nose to the grindstone which is good and bad. Work seems less organized and at times on the verge of chaotic. Maybe it’s just me. When I am home for the weekends, I absolutely love this place but when I return to work…I sorta miss the easy functionality of work operations in Kansas. There’s less oversight there for business, less regulations, less extra red tape and bureaucratic slowdown, and paperwork filing. Working here feels like trudging through snow uphill all the way…a little frustrating and exhausting.

That being said, the worker laws are better here. We have something called state guaranteed sick leave. You can’t do random drug testing on employees without giving them plenty of notice. There are more union activities. I guess that’s good. My sister works at a labor law firm in Kansas City. She says Kansas is the “wild west” “anything goes” in terms of employer rights vs. employee freedoms. I think she might be right based on what I’ve seen in comparison. You wouldn’t know it because it’s not broadcasted much but the region of Kansas I came from, southeast, has some of the poorest counties in the nation cause worker wages are so low there. I’m talking lower than even West Virginia.

My husband loves the snow here. He’s a remote worker. On his days off, he just sits inside on the lazy boy in the warmth and watches it fall like we live in a snow globe. Yesterday we tried cross country skiing and rented a snowmobile. He’s dropped 25 pounds since our move from the Midwest. Me, not so much, maybe 5 lbs. But we are starting to adapt more, slowly but surely…him faster than me but we’ll get there eventually.

The Locket

By J. Speer

Photo by Bruno Castelli on Pexels.com

(This story was written for a dystopian writing challenge. The short story had to be 600 to 2,000 words and involve a silver heart locket.)

Part One


It wasn’t supposed to happen like this…


That was the last thought entering Dawn’s mind as her shocked eyes pulled away from the rearview mirror. In the reflection, she could see the slow pool of blood flowing out from her sister’s abdomen. Liz was crumpled in an unmoving heap on the ground 15 yards behind her. That was as far as Liz had gotten before the robots fired lasers at her fleeing the vehicle.


LIz was dead for certain. Dawn knew this already in her shattered heart. The shadows of drones flew overhead targeting her renegade F390 truck.


Her eyes darted to the glove compartment briefly and then drew back to the gathering robot border patrol guards. Dawn thought of the only weapon she had, an ancient Colt 1911 that had belonged to her father before he was euthanized by the People’s Republic in 2064. This was 17 years prior to this moment….her Dad euthanized at 50 to fertilize soil for the republic crops……euthanized by state mandate like all the other 50 year olds that surrendered their bodies for the greater good. State survival…it was necessary.


The laser sights flickered briefly to show the robots were on to her movements, armed and deadly. Dawn swallowed harshly.


A brief text appeared before her.


“You know what to do.” scrolled the incoming message left to right above her briefly on the digital windshield.
There was another pause as she considered the weight of the silver heart locket on her heaving chest.


“You know what to do.” the message repeated only this time it was followed by a slight command strong enough to stop her beating heart.


“Remember your family back here in Teyhanna.”


A solitary tear fell down Dawn’s right cheek as she continued to stare at the border crossing now filled with reinforcing robotic sentries. No more messages appeared.


Dawn reached quickly for the heart-shaped locket with her left hand. The laser lights flickered again. Four robots forcefully came forward.


“Halt!” They ordered. “You are in violation of ordinance 517.”


She thumbed open the tiny clasp on the locket. Her eyes were glued to the robots coming forward now, fast approaching the vehicle.


She felt the small pill fall into her cupped hand. She remembered what the cartel man had told her. You can’t allow yourself to be captured. If you do fall into their hands, you will wish you were dead anyway. They’ll never let you go. Slavery…prison….fertilizer….worse. You know what to do.


The robots slammed their fists into the hood of her car. Dawn closed her eyes and brought the little pill to her mouth. Then, she swallowed it down. Cyanide. He had said it was cyanide. It will be quick he had said as he had handed her the lockets and walked away from her little brother’s graveside in Teyhanna, the brother that was executed by the same cartel. He had gotten in over his head with the wrong sort of people.


Minutes later, robots yanked open the locked driver side door of the truck. Dawn’s limp, lifeless body fell in a crumpled up heap onto the dry, parched desert ground. When her head hit the ground, her soulless eyes stared towards her sister. A sort-of bluish foam pooled out from Dawn’s breathless lips.

Part Two


One week prior, Dawn was heading out the hatch door of her apartment flat in Drose. She was going to be late for work if she didn’t hurry. She activated her truck from her watch and noticed an emergency alert intercept from her older sister, Liz. Liz – the wise and strategic one who had married into wealth and fortune despite her upbringing…..despite the days of their youth trudging illegally across the desert wasteland between Drose and Teyhanna to reach the promised land. Days without food and barely any water…..days they survived by each holding tight to the hands of their father who kept the little girls safe, alive, and kept them going.


Drose, or rather The People’s Republic of Drose established in 2036 after the nuclear wars and eventual climate change desertification of 3/4 of the Earth’s top soil, depletion of the fresh water sources, and final death, destruction, plague, and general famine of the Great Eradication of 2041 through 2043. It took 3 years for nearly 7 billion people to be wiped off the planet.


Gone.


Drose had survived and so had the badlands of Teyhanna, south of Drose through the searing hot desert. Anything goes in Teyhanna…so they say. It was the wild, wild west of drugs, prostitution, murder, mayhem, black market deals and so on. Teyhanna fueled the abundance of Drose. Drose, for its part, drove the decisions of the overlords of Teyhanna.


Drose, The People’s Republic of Drose, on the otherhand was a model of thinly veiled democracy underlined by totalitarian extremism. There were no families, so to speak, in Drose….not according to the state. Bioparents birthed children who were sent immediately to boarding schools of advanced technology, science, and medicine. Rules were strictly enforced. Slavery and debtor prisons were re-introduced. From the age of 10, all were expected to work together for the greater good of survival and all were expected to help the crop cultivation and soil/water conservation through all means necessary…ALL means necessary.


It was a harsh reality but one much better than life in Teyhanna. Dawn knew this, so she grew up to service the plant industry cultivating seeds in labwork. She was a hard worker…like her father. LIz, on the other hand, due to beauty and charm…caught the attention of one of the higher class. She was not completely like Dawn, a proletariat citizen.
Dawn checked the message. Liz seemed upset which was rarely her outright nature, given that she was quite guarded emotionally.


“John has……I’m sorry to say this, Dawn……John has passed away.” There was a pause on the line. “Mom…she wants us to come home, to come back to Teyhanna for the funeral and to see the family. The funeral is Wednesday.” Another pause on the line followed.


“He was executed by gunshot. Bullet to the head. I’ve decided to go….to go back. I know it’s dangerous. I know this already. I’m going anyways. It’s been years. We need to be there for Mom and the others.”
Liz sighed. “Dawn, I want you to come with me. I need you to come with me.”

Part Three


She could see them from the graveside, the men in black. Everyone was dressed in black at the funeral but they stood out from the rest, these men that had murdered her brother. They had pulled up their entourage of vehicles 100 yards away from the little service among the crowded tombstones of the clustered graveyard. The preacher gave a brief sermon. Others cried tears of hardship and loss feeling the injustice of a life taken violently and too soon.
But Dawn watched the men quietly.


They eventually approached. They offered their condolences to the grieving mother and family. Dawn and Liz looked cautiously at each other as the leader of the group motioned them to follow him to a more distant spot to converse. Knowing this was Teyhanna, knowing the way of life here…..they reluctantly followed. The others from the family were leaving group by group back to their little homes and little lives in the barren, crowded wasteland slums of Teyhanna.
“My condolences to you for the loss of your brother,” he offered in feigned respect. “We had concerns regarding this situation…your brother’s allegiance and fealty to our….operations.”


Dawn felt a rising anger inside herself that she knew not to expose. Without missing a step, the two women fell in line with the overlord’s assistant. He walked a ways in silence and then turned abruptly.


“Our needs have not been met yet,” he said deliberately, cocking his head to one side. “When you return to Drose, you will be required to carry something onward for us….a gift for the magistrate….a package. Do you understand?”
The women said nothing.


“Consider your brother’s debt to the organization cleared when and if you cross the border successfully,” he stated.
He continued to walk and they followed.


“This package will come to you,” he said in a low voice as he motioned to one of his bodyguards holding an assault rifle near the vehicles.


Then he smiled. “You will deliver. Your family here will be counting on you. Understood?”


“It’s simple really. Just deliver the item. If however, you face….opposition…,” his voice trailed. “We will need you to wear these.” He gave the women each a silver plated locket. “There will be no compromising of the course of action. Come, follow me further and we will discuss in more detail.” He motioned once again to his men.


Liz and Dawn continued to listen quite carefully as was to be expected in a violent, notoriously black market place like Teyhanna. A few days later, the package arrived at their mother’s house. Shortly afterwards, the two said their goodbyes and made their way with the package to the border of Drose. Both women had a deeply unsettling feeling of fear but they did exactly as they were told.


They just didn’t anticipate what would soon occur. The package was hidden carefully in the truck undercarriage. But it was not secret enough to avoid exposure to the vehicle imaging scans of those silent, deadly drones overhead.