Category Archives: Short Story

Short stories

Heather Kilbourn’s looking for work!

The tl;dr: I’m looking for a senior-level IC role in information architecture, user experience optimization, project management, communications, or writing/editing.


For the last year plus I’ve been at WordPress VIP, a part of Automattic, working with some of their largest, most complex customers as an Enterprise Technical Account Manager (TAM). I’ve loved working with the great people there and supporting my customers, but I’ve come to the realization I have been working 180º away from the type of work that brings me the most happiness and that I need to make a change.

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I’ve had a fortunate career with the successful exit by sale of my data center startup and working at companies who operate chunks of the web at scale. The through-line for me has been roles where I am building things or fixing things. I thrive working on green field or transformational projects and my TAM role has been more to the side supporting things. Thus, the change.

I also realized I missed things like analyzing customer data to optimize information architectures & help smooth user experiences and then seeing the results of that work; project managing high-stakes bets and bringing to bear all my strategic and tactical experience plus soft skills to get stuff done; and the opportunities to use my writing skills in the communications and documentation spaces. Most of all, I missed the sense of completion of a job well done and the excitement of the next thing over the horizon.

So, I’d appreciate any and all referrals, pointers, tips, and leads for roles in those areas! If you’ve worked with me and feel so moved, a LinkedIn recommendation would also be most appreciated. 🙂

Onward!

Simplicity

Within the heart of hazy complications
Beats a truthful simplicity
If you take the time to listen

Moon over Zion

Zion National Park Subway

Zion National Park Subway pool by Jeremiah Roth under CC BY-SA 2.0 – https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/
https://www.flickr.com/photos/rothwerx/

Gigantic curtains of stone towered on either side of me, divided by a river of whitecapped blue sky. The river, only an inch or two deep and flowing merrily along in splishes and splashes against my boots and dampening my socks, belied the patient chiseling it had done through the epochs to create this amphitheater.

My attention focused upward, through sheer luck I narrowly avoided stepping into a five foot diameter pothole. I warily eyed its dark depths as I skirted it while listening to the hike leader warn people to keep an eye out for the watery holes. Of course, his warning came when we were already thirty yards or more into the canyon.

“They’ll swallow you whole,” he admonished with a giddy lilt, likely secretly hoping someone would fall in. Ray was like that. A grumpy curmudgeon whose greatest amusement was to watch others flail in vaudevillian slapstick tragedy, he was mostly grim and carried a chip on his shoulder when sober and was boisterously belligerent and argumentative when having drink, which he took to with relish when the day’s work or hike was done.

The night before, we had camped in a nameless canyon spot, and as shadows inched down the walls, a two-liter plastic jug of whiskey was passed around the company. It was a wedding party after all. Dave and I had missed the ceremony the previous day due to car troubles on the 191 pass on our way to Colorado two days prior. We had had to locate and then field replace the distributor on my 1969 Pontiac Ventura, which had seized up and spun around, puncturing the main coolant line to boot.

The group consisted of Ray and Patty’s friends and families. All their friends were climbers, most of them ex-Mountaineers, who had quit the organization in disgust at the ‘soft, lax, and dangerous’ training regimens for contemporary members. As the whiskey fueled their restlessness, many began to free climb the walls about us, like crickets in a box scrabbling to get out. One man, a wiry and gnarled old-timer spider-climbed an overhanging ledge upside-down, with bare feet and fingers in a feat that young men forty years his junior were unable to match due to their lack of strength and dexterity.

Ray was in fine form, slurringly egging along all and sundry to ever more challenging feats. Ray and Dave didn’t get along so well, and Ray kept handing the jug past his newly minted stepson to his own kids, irritating Dave. Dave called out Ray about how he was all mouth and no action. Piqued, Ray scrambled up a nearby wall to a narrow ledge fifteen feet up and proceeded to turn around, drop his pants, and moon everyone.

Patty decided she didn’t like Dave prodding her new husband to take silly risks, and loudly announced he was cut off, sending Dave into a small whining fit and back to his backpack for a beer. Ray secured further revenge by successfully convincing Dave it was tarantula mating season, and gleefully watched him spray almost an entire can of bug repellant in three concentric circles around his sleeping bag.

The hijinks culminated the following afternoon when after a grueling hike/climb/scramble of more than a thousand feet up and over the rim, one of the party asked Dave’s newly consummated girlfriend for his rock back. Tired and dehydrated, she didn’t understand his question. Pointing at her backpack, he reiterated his request.

Puzzled, she dug through it and at the very bottom was a child’s head-sized rock, easily one stone or more in weight. Angry, she heaved it at him and missed, and it rolled over the edge and tumbled down, missing someone by mere feet. Ray jumped down her throat, ignoring her indignant protestations.

She muttered “Fucking assholes,” over and over as we sat in the baking sun waiting for the truck to come and pick us up.

Mega

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The algae green Salish Sea roiled and boiled with orange and white anemones, kelp, and bits of unidentifiable jetsam like the devil’s cioppino beneath me. My grip on the ketch was precarious, having grabbed a cleat near the stem, and I slammed into the side of the boat as it pitched violently side to side. My feet were freezing cold and swimming in my shoes, having been dunked repeatedly.

With the next upwards roll, I heaved myself onto the deck and lay spread-eagled, gasping for breath on the way back down until the sharp jerk from the mooring lines galvanized me to action again. Grasping at rigging to anchor myself, I clambered up and across the pitching deck and then frantically struggled to cast off, fearful of losing a finger in the process.

Free of the dock, the boat righted itself quickly and bobbed almost pleasantly about in the now strengthening northerly current. I saw sculpins, cod, dogfish, flounder, and even an octopus struggling in the stirred brew upon which I now sailed. Gathering my breath and bearings, I quickly lost them again as my belly turned to ice, connecting the basso rumblings to reality.

The earthquake was still happening. Office towers swayed as I watched rippling waves pass beneath them as if some giant were hammering on the earth nearby. Vast chunks of downtown waterfront piers tumbled onto what now looked like the muddy flanks of a raging river instead of a working harbor. Hillsides slumped and towering conifers fell and became floating tangles.

Swept along, I saw people struggling out of shattered homes, dazedly blinking in the bright sunlight. Some structures were ablaze.

I moved to the tiller and steered towards the deepest part of the Sound, fearful of foundering on the now steepening shore. There was nothing to do now but wait.

Fritz

I don’t remember what made me climb the wooden fence. It might have been the squeal of tires or my friend who remarked that it sounded like something had been hit. No matter, it was worth investigating.

We scrambled over, our tennis shoes wedged between the lichen-covered slats for footholds as we grasped the top rail and sat upon it for a moment to survey the scene before descending into the tall, uncut grass on the other side. A footpath meandered through the grass then, worn to packed dirt by my own and others’ feet on our way to and from school. An overgrown drainage ditch fringed the two-lane road. Every few years the Department of Works would come with a backhoe and scoop out the various grasses and weeds that rooted there.

On this brilliant summer day, the grass stems swayed in the breeze, the Alder leaves rustled, and the woods across the street, fringed by laden blackberry runners, was a riot of green and birdsong that could be heard over the occasional car that passed.

A car slowly accelerated off over the small hill and disappeared out of our view. Tracing its path back, we both spotted a bloody line on the road a few dozen feet away.

“Let’s go see what got hit!” my friend excitedly said.

“OK!”

Hopping down, I hoped my hay-fever wouldn’t attack me during the short journey across the verge. We hopped the ditch and sandy gravel crunched under our sneakers as we crossed the asphalt shoulder. It was just past lunchtime and traffic was light, so we ventured a straight line towards our goal instead of across and down.

Coming closer, we could see where crimson was already turning to match the color of the berries on the vine. There was a large splotch where the unfortunate animal had landed. A straight, perpendicular red line led from its first resting spot to its current one, now hidden from view in a small grass bower beyond the shoulder. The driver must have drug it there, out of sight.

Upon surveying the bloody scene, our resolve dissolved slightly. We looked to each other for support, maybe permission, to disturb the poor creature’s rest. We nodded to each other and waded in, parting the grass.

Lying there, prone with a small bloody pool about its head founted from his mouth, was my cat, Fritz.

Shocked, I reached out for him, but then held back, terrified to touch the truth. I overcame my fear and stroked his fur. He was still warm, but he was dead.

“Is that your cat?” my friend asked.

I nodded mutely as tears began to stream down my face.

“I’m sorry,” he said. He looked at a loss. “Is there anything I can do?”

I shook my head.

“Um, I’m going to go…is that OK?”

A car honked at us as it went past. I nodded.

“Uh, bye. Sorry again.” He walked up the road towards his home.

I wanted to pick Fritz up and take him home, but was repulsed by the now congealing blood. I thought about getting some garden gloves. But how to get him over the fence? Throw him? The thought horrified me.

Through a miasma of grief and shame, I found my way back across the road and over the fence. A few minutes later, I was picking Fritz up in my gloved hands and placing him in a brown paper grocery bag. He was stiffening, and his tail stuck awkwardly out of the end of the bag.

My grip on the bag wasn’t so good and it tore open in the middle of the road. The yawning loss I had been working to keep at bay also rent then and there. I wailed in huge choking sobs at my loss, now resting at my feet across the center line. I held the torn bag like some sort of bloody flag after a battle where my comrades died and defied the world to find a way to assuage the pain.

Crushing sadness enveloped me as I bent to gently pick Fritz up and place him back in the paper, with legs protruding askew. I must have been a sight, all tears and snot, shuddering as I walked home the long way with my dead cat borne before me wrapped like some grotesque package.

Home again, I laid him to rest in the back yard beneath the cherry tree that blossomed like snow in the spring. That was the last thing the two of us did together, alone on separate sides of the world.