July 31, 2010

Demise of an Insect

Wow, it’s been quite a month. As always, I wouldn’t have been able to make it without the help and support of my partner. She’s always there for me when I need her, in every aspect of my life, and not just when it comes to writing.

I thought you’d like to see the prompts that weren’t used. In the ordinary way, you can reuse cards, but I made the rule for this month that once a card had been used, it was out of the running. Here’s the stories that didn’t get written:

In the quiet part of the old town...there was a vigorous...robot...who played canasta very well...and longed to study bio-chemistry.
In the year 1958...there was a metallic rust free...monkey...who wore short white boots...and dreamed of roasting marshmallows.
On the planet Xyrzia...there was a very smart...dog...who ran a lemonade stand...and worked on a screenplay.
In the tropics...there was a successful...dinosaur...who rode in taxis...and dreamed of staging a musical.

There were only two days—the 22nd and the 25th, that got skipped. On the rest of the days this month a story was posted…most of them brand new rough drafts, with only spelling and grammar check done to them…which means I ran my eye down the page in Word looking for little red, green, and blue lines. I posted 35,332 words this month, including this post.

I enjoyed the sharing of fresh new material with you, and also some of my older things, some of which have never been seen by any audience. In fact, one of them, The Crayons, my partner had never seen before. The poll results are in, and all three of my loyal readers have spoken…I’ll probably start posting Assignment to Earth on Monday or Wednesday. I’ll post a chapter every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.

Please be gentle when you read this story. Although it will probably never be published, it is precious to us. It’s almost scary to think of posting it here to share. It’s the first novel my partner and I worked on together. The first draft was written somewhere around 1989, and the writing style is probably very different from what we use now. We’ve learned a lot more about effective writing, and communication. We’ve edited it just about to death.

One of the main characters, Jenna, provided us with the Jenner of our pen name. At the time this was written, neither of us had ever met or heard of anyone named Jenna. Skylar originally had a different name, and I'm still not sure I like his current one...I still think of  him by the original one. It was written in the way we often work, even now…one partner comes up with the premise, and either writes an outline or an incomplete draft. We take turns editing, and adding things.

At the time, I was very much a short story writer, and the thought of a whole novel scared me terribly. I did a lot of things like write, “They walked through the meadow and into the woods. [Can you put in a bunch of detail here?] At noon, they stopped for lunch. While they were cleaning up after lunch, they saw…” Then when my partner the detail-master of the ever-flowing words who, at that time had problems writing short, got hold of the manuscript, she would take the sentence about walking through the meadow, and totally describe the meadow, and how it looked, smelled, and everything. Then when I went through it again, I would cut out the “too much description” and leave the “just right parts”.

We’re both grown as writers, and she can now write short fiction, and I can write novels, but we always do our best work when working together.

For today’s literary offering, I’ve saved you a poem. This was based on a true incident, however, to be completely fair and honest, I was the one making eeking sounds, and my daughter was the one who came to the rescue. That’s why they call it “poetic license”. It makes a better story to reverse the roles for literature’s sake…but my daughter wouldn’t forgive me if I let you think she wasn’t my insect hero.


Demise of an Insect


One Down, Seventy-five Billion to Go

The cockroach danced a little dance
It scuttled ’cross the floor
But I determined, with my can,
That it should dance no more

I sprayed it then, across its back
It did a little flip
I sprayed again across the gut
It then began to dip

Back o’er it turned, it staggered then
In its quaint drunken dance
The flailing legs would make it hard
For it to don its pants

From legs to back and back to legs
It alternated neatly
It crawled behind the garbage can
A place to die, so sweetly

I warned my child that it was there
So she’d not be afraid
For pick it up I knew I’d not
Till it had died of Raid

But still I watched it, feebler now
As it lay on its back
One leg alone waved in farewell
I swept it in the sack

July 30, 2010

VoilĂ ! C est Magnifique!

Hooray for partners! My wonderful partner has written this little tale, which she took great pains to keep at exactly one thousand words. The poem I've been saving for tomorrow will finish off the month.

I've got a few back-to-school projects going that will keep me busy next week, but I'll definitely do my best to get you started on a nice little serial to read. Through the poll, I have discovered we have at least four loyal readers...and I think I know who you all are, too. Everyone voted for Assignment to Earth, so that's what you will be getting. Sometime in the future I still would like to post the short version of Tanella's Flight, though, because it is a very different story from the novel that was published, and I'd love to share it with you.


Prompt: In the South of France…there was a ferocious…businesswoman…who reigned over a band of piglets…and considered a career in interior design.

Violet Jardin fiddled with the small but precisely cut bits of paper and cardboard resting on the mat on the tabletop in front of her. She moved some of the fragments from one side of the exactly drawn rectangle to the other, cocking her head and scrutinizing the effect she had fashioned.

“No, that’s not quite what I had in mind,” she said out loud, although she was completely alone. She moved the splinters and chips to other areas of the mat and studied the effect once more.

“Still not quite right; hmmm, let me put this one…here,” she said, moving a key bit of the fabric-covered cardboard, “which leaves me free to sling this piece from the corner…here, and then I can move this one over to…there.”

Matching action to words, she changed certain pieces around, and then studied the results, viewing all angles of the piece critically.
“Yes, that’s got it,” she said, nodding at the mat board. “You’ll do!”
Violet picked up the digital camera next to her and snapped off several pictures from different angles, humming an unstructured smidgen of music as she captured the essence of her creation.

Setting the camera back down, Violet stretched and yawned, then covered the mock-up design of Mlle. Luminaries’ Beauty Salon to ensure the pieces would stay in place until later today when the celebrated beautician would view it and decide “eef eet weel doo” for the new boutique the woman was opening in Calais.

Violet sniffed. The lady had as much interior design sense as a hockey puck, and that was being generous. Where hair design and fashion were concerned, however, ‘Miss Lightball’ as Violet was wont to call her when the woman was out of earshot, was an absolute genius! Women from all over the globe flocked to these shops to have individually designed hairdos created specifically for each, and they paid big bucks for the privilege, too. Some were ludicrous!

But, on the other hand, people were beginning to come to her for their specialty shop designs, and paying her—well, not fabulous bucks yet—but at least a large piles of dollars to have rooms ‘done’ by her…Violet Jardin. She suddenly grinned like a small child given carte blanche in a confectionery shop.

Violet knew that part of her success was due to her instinctive feel for fabric, wallpapers and paint and how they related to each other. The rest of her success was due to her demanding—and getting—absolute perfection from the vendors she worked with, settling for nothing less than exquisite. Violet understood what each room needed, and would settle for exactly that and nothing else to achieve the perfect balance for the specific use to which the room was to be used.

She’d settled in the South of France quite by accident, really, but few knew that. In her early twenties, she’d been an entertainer; not exactly by choice, but because her father had demanded it of her. She had a good voice and a graceful way of moving, so her papa had pushed her into joining an international musical group he was promoting just before they came to Europe on tour. The longer she worked at this, the less she enjoyed it.

Oh, she was a dab hand at it because she was able to wheedle the most from the players and musicians around her, and her voice and dancing sort of cemented the whole of each production into a seamless recital. Then she’d found the Piglets and her reign as the queen of their band began. She grinned now, thinking of them.

Six little porkers that she’d dress up like clowns; what a scream! They’d enter the stage from six different angles, squealing and snorting and making a ruckus, and converge on center stage and abruptly stop as they came face to face, as if they didn’t realize there was anyone else on the boards except themselves. A loud pop would sound from the back of the hall which would make them jump, and then, in perfectly pitched six part harmony, they’d croon delightful tunes. They sounded better than the old Barber-shop Quartets which had been popular thirty years ago, although they didn’t actually sing words.

Although highly irked, her father had to admit she had a good thing going. Of course he would admit this, as he received fifty-five percent of their nightly take of the ticket window’s profits. It took its toll on her singing and dancing, though, because the piglets would only perform for her. They ran away from her papa squealing in fear whenever he headed in their direction, which strained their voices and made it nearly impossible for them to perform the next evening, so she persuaded him to move on through Europe without the ‘Passionate Piglets’ and, soon after he’d left her part of France, she sold the group to another entrepreneur for whom the pudgy porkers would work.

Their new boss had signed a contract with Violet stipulating her papa would still receive his fifty-five percent for three more years, and after that the full price of the piglets’ earnings would revert to their new boss and be under his control exclusively. The Piglet Band brought in scads of money. The last she’d heard of them, they were touring Russia and performing to standing room only crowds.

She’d slipped off to Paris to complete her education as a designer, changing her name so papa couldn’t find her. Winning her certificate, she worked for several years for other design companies, gradually coming to the notice of the wealthier clients. Several of them had her design rooms in their fabulous mansions, which she did extremely well. Then she’d found her niche; designing boutiques with individually signatured themes.
Her doorbell rang. Ahh, here was ‘Miss Lightball’ now. Excellent!

July 29, 2010

Harald Helge Hansen, Handsome Hippo

Prompt: Next door to the factory…there was a studious…hippopotamus…who walked to school…and complained all day. Harald Helge Hansen, the handsome hippopotamus. That’s what the words said, above the full length (and width) mirror in his bedroom. The mirror he checked each day to insure his clothing and grooming were perfect before venturing out into the world for the day. Harald read those words every morning, and he sincerely believed them, clear down to the bottom of his carefully manicured toenails. He checked his reflection now…hair neatly cut and groomed, hat on straight, blue serge business suit brushed so all the nap ran the same way, collecting and reflecting the light evenly all over. His gold vest buttons fastened, collar points buttoned down, blue bowtie (bowties are cool) carefully hand tied. His half moon glasses perched delicately on his rather wide nose, magnifying his beady black eyes. Harald frowned. His sister had always said he had “piggy eyes”, while he thought of them as more like small shiny beetles, or perhaps faceted shank type buttons, such as a stuffed animal would have. At any rate, his sister was wrong about so many things, and he liked his eyes; therefore, she must be wrong about him having piggy eyes. His eyes flicked lower. Because he was in the habit of fastening his coat closed, his suspenders and belt were well hidden, as well as the gold chain he habitually draped across the front of his vest from one pocket to the other. There was a locket on one end of the chain containing a lock of hair from his girlfriend who was currently living in a zoo in Cincinnati. A lovely commemorative pocket watch dangled on the other end of the chain. The pocket watch had been a gift from his godmother on the occasion of his graduation from Harvard with a doctorate in “green living”. Harald’s trousers were neatly and precisely creased, and ended just short of the floor; they were plenty long enough to hide the blue, knee-length socks his Auntie Mable had painstakingly hand knit for him. Satisfied with his appearance, Harald turned off the light (to save electricity) and left the room, closing the door carefully behind him (to provide a barrier in case of fire). He went to the kitchen and made himself some toast for breakfast, munching it quickly while it was still warm, and blotting his lips carefully on a linen napkin (saving a tree). Last night before he’d gone to bed, Harald had completed his classroom preparations and stowed them carefully in his briefcase. He now picked up that briefcase from the table in the hall. He also picked up his keys and slid them into his front, right hand pocket along with his loose change. His wallet went into his right rear pocket (because he was right handed), and his money clip with his “folding green” went into the outer pocket of his blue serge jacket. Three black ball-point pens went into the inner breast pocket of his jacket, on the left hand side, where they would be accessible to his right hand. A red pen for correcting student papers joined its fellows. With all in readiness, Harald opened his front door and looked outside at the weather. He groaned. It was raining. He picked up his umbrella, locked the door, stepped outside onto the miniscule porch, and pulled the door closed behind him. He tested the knob to be certain the door was actually locked, then pulled his keys from his pocket and locked the deadbolt. Finally, he flicked his umbrella open and stepped from beneath the porch roof to beneath the umbrella’s dome, stepping dourly down his sidewalk toward the street. Harald turned right and walked past the factory next door to where he lived. He didn’t know what they made there, but the manufacturing process was both smelly and noisy. This was definitely not “green living”, but the rent was affordable, and he’d become accustomed to the constant noise, smell, and vibration, and the shrill whistles which blew four times daily at the shift changes they had every six hours. Harald marched on through the rain, grumbling to himself about the factory, and the rain, and the large puddles he was having to walk through with his shiny patent leather dress shoes. The hem of his trousers was also getting wet, and he would have to send them out to be dry cleaned. He would never dream of throwing his blue serge suit in the washing machine, he was certain disaster would strike the garment…the label clearly instructed him to have it “dry cleaned only”, and by gum and by golly, that was what he would do, even though it cost him a small fortune in dry cleaning every time it rained. He hoped this was not going to be one of those occasions when it rained more or less steadily for a week or more. The best thing was that he had many multiples of spare trousers for each of his suits, to delay the dry cleaning bill for as long as possible. It took Harald about fifteen minutes to walk to the school where he taught. He always walked at the fastest pace he could maintain without breaking a sweat…the perspiration might soak through his shirt and dirty his blue serge suit. He stepped carefully into the door of the school, still holding his umbrella outside the door (just in case an open umbrella indoors actually brought bad luck). Holding the door open with one soaking foot, Harald flipped his partially furled umbrella several times, throwing as much rain water as possible off the fabric before he brought his arm indoors. As he didn’t consider a partially closed umbrella to be the same thing as an open one, he wasn’t worried about leaving the folds of fabric loose to dry in one corner of his classroom. He knew very well that an umbrella rolled shut and put away wet would be bad luck, because it would mildew, and then it would no longer be waterproof. “Hello, Dr. Hansen.” The principal greeted him. Harald grunted in reply, then realized that could be construed as rudeness to his superior. “Hello, Principal Muttonface,” he replied. “Beautiful day, isn’t it?” Principal Muttonface offered cheerily. “It’s raining, I got my trousers wet on the way here, and I’ll have to have them dry cleaned, I didn’t sleep well, and all I could find for breakfast was toast.” Harald stated as he headed down the hall to his class room. “You have a good day too!” Principal Muttonface called down the hall after him. This time Harald made no reply. He got out his keys and unlocked his class room door, then turned the light on and placed his briefcase on his desk. He dialed the combination carefully, and opened the case. He removed his lecture notes and jump drive from the briefcase, and placed the notes on the lectern. He unlocked and opened a cabinet at the side of his classroom, and removed a laptop computer from the cabinet. He locked the cabinet again, and carried the laptop to the lectern. He opened the computer, turned it on, and slid it into the docking port on the lectern. He slid the jump drive into the USB port on the side of the computer, and opened his PowerPoint presentation. He was now ready to face his class of little third grade freaks.

July 28, 2010

A Matter of Pride

Another offering from my partner, without whom I would never have been an author...a twisty surprise ending, which she does very well. If you're wondering why one of us has been doing the bulk of the short stories, it's because that is where our writing style leads. One of us tends to write brief and to the point, while the other rambles on giving great detail and taking a while to come to the point. this is one of the ways we balance each other...one can easily add detail where needed, the other is adept at cutting superfluous words when the meat is most important. --Anne Prompt: In the days of the Old Ones…there was an excellent…bunny rabbit…who lived in a duplex…and worked as a dental hygienist. Miss Bonnie (Cottontail) Lapin ran her slick wet tongue over newly brushed teeth and smiled into the mirror. Gleaming; it’s the only word which thoroughly described her smile. She turned her head presenting different views, but always it was the same; perfectly gleaming. Perhaps this morning at the interviews Gregorio would notice her. He should, but would he? She picked up her jacket and slid her shapely arms into it, shrugging her shoulders to settle it properly. She slipped her feet into the strappy slings and turned for one last look in the full-length mirror. The total effect was dazzling and completely color coordinated right down to the tips of her nails, which had been painted in the French fashion. It had cost her a week’s pay at the Painted Lady Boutique, but seeing the end product reach this degree of faultless excellence, she knew it was worth every penny, and she swelled a little with pride. Time was running out. If Bonnie didn’t land this job, she’d be deported, which meant disgrace for her family, her town, and her whole race. She had to get it. It was prestigious; coveted by every person in her settlement and meant the difference between flourishing and starvation for them all. Her spy in the Mayor’s office let her know today’s outcome would spell success or disaster for the entire project. Miss Lapin had slaved long hours in the computer clinics translating the records to Hareican so she could learn the language as well as the procedures in this country’s native tongue. She had legally changed her name from plain ‘Cottontail’ to the bilingual ‘Lapin’ to deepen the disguise. She’d even implanted a computer chip into the deepest recesses of her brain so it could be hard-wired to the verbal sounds which passed for the spoken language here. Bonnie had to admit her first attempts to speak were absurdly comical. Her friend C.C.—who lived in the other half of the cottage she rented—had laughed so hard she nearly lost her dinner as Bonnie worked for hours to become perfect in speaking and writing the infernal dialect. It had been worth it on graduation day to be in the presence of the Council of the Old Ones, hold a conversation with the Director and his entire Board, and know they’d no idea she wasn’t of their race. She’d been asked the usual graduation questions and had answered them outwardly, at least, with great confidence. Two Board members had even complimented her upon her answers. They’d had no clue she’d been so nervous she’d nearly lost two betraying pellets as she faced this final test. But she’d won the day; the certificate was hers, as was the Stamp of Excellence in the Discipline of Dental Hygiene, signed by the Director and the Board of Governors of Higher Learning. She left her half of the cottage at the edge of the Garden Grove Estates and hurried to the bus stop…another thing she’d had to learn. Everyone used the smelly public transportation vehicles. She could’ve made better time by jogging on her own, but it just wasn’t done. She waited for the contraption to stop and allow her and a few neighbors to get on board. Mrs. Felice Catus and her daughter Kit entered first, their noses in the air as if they were better than everyone. Bonnie didn’t mind, though; besides, they smelled like fish and their personal odor was an abomination to endure. Sir Frawgue climbed on next. Bonnie liked his funny little hop-skip walk which made her think he was a happy person. He didn’t talk much, though; he simply sat and gazed around him looking for something to fly nearby. She had a hard time understanding him, because he mostly made guttural sounds and she couldn’t watch his mouth form the words. She followed Sir Frawgue and his son Kermit on to the conveyance and settled to endure the journey. Looking out the window, Bonnie allowed her mind to wander to the interview ahead. All her credentials were in place, the criteria had been met, but, if Gregorio didn’t notice her and choose her above all others, she would find herself in the stew for sure. Bonnie silently articulated the words of interview answers in her mind so their pronunciation would be perfect. She pridefully practiced her gleaming, perfect smile. Taking a deep breath, she tried to calm herself. A few small pellets released from nerves at this juncture would be her undoing. She reviewed her tutoring coaching and sat a little straighter with pride knowing how well she’d completed her teaching blocks on how to brush and floss the patient’s teeth. She’d proudly used her own smile as their model of perfection to emulate. Other trainees had been jealous of her standard of excellence. Bonnie hoped her efforts would gain Gregorio’s notice. If he didn’t notice, she wouldn’t be hired and all would be lost. Bonnie got off the bus, quickly traversed the distance to the admin building, and was delighted to be first in line. Gregorio Lupin motioned for her to come into his office. She rose gracefully although her heart was pounding and made her way to him. He closed the door behind them and reached for her hand. She blushed, but allowed him this privilege. “Ah, Miss Lapin,” he said, a wolfish smile on his face. “You’re so delicate. I’ve been watching you for weeks, and have decided you’d be perfect. If you would but come into my laboratory?” He pointed at another door on the far side of the room and, retaining his grip on her hand, ushered her forward while gazing raptly at her face. “Oh, thanks for your consideration, Mr. Lupin,” she said with a smile. She walked into the lab with her eyes on his handsome face and lustrous smile which was as bright as her own, which gave her another point of pride to inform C.C. with tonight when she got home. “My pleasure, Miss Lapin; I pride myself on finding just the right candidates for my pet projects.” He smiled even wider and held her hand just a shade tighter as he closed the lab door behind them. She turned to look in front of her and gasped with dismay. What she saw caused an entire flurry of pellets to drop from her body but she no longer cared. A huge cauldron was in the middle of the room, bubbling merrily away, with carrot greens poking out the top. The odor of a simmering stew perfumed the air. She looked at him in terror, squirming desperately to dislodge her tightly held hand. “What…what are you doing, Mr. Lupin?” “I’m preparing Rabbit Stew for the staff’s lunch, Miss Lapin. You may have fooled the Board of Governors, but I pride myself on discerning one race from another. Surely you didn’t think a delightfully delectable rabbit even dressed incognito as carefully as you could enter the world of wolves and live to tell the tale!” With that, Miss Bonnie Lapin, Dental Hygiene Honor Graduate and Rabbit Extraordinaire, felt the smallest pain from a very sharp knife as it slit her throat. Lunch would be out of this world.

July 27, 2010

Reader Poll

I've enjoyed posting the short stories here, both the old ones, some of which have never been read before, and the new stories. (Don't worry, I'm still going to finish out the month long challenge.) So far this month, I've posted 30,295 words. In a way, it's been harder than doing a NaNoWriMo novel, because each day you have to come up with a new plot, and new characters, and a new setting, that all fit the prompt. During NaNo, you continue on each day where you left off, building on the previous day's work rather than starting over every day. While looking through my old things to see what short stories were available in case of I-Don't-Have-Time-To-Write-Today, I found some older novels. I'm about to do something that's either incredibly brave, or incredibly stupid...or possibly both. Some of our earlier works are...unpublishable. They've been edited and polished to within an inch of their little lives, and still are not really...books worthy of printing on paper and asking money for. It's not that they're not good, it's just that they're not up to our current standard. We've grown a lot as authors, and learned a lot about the craft of writing since they were written. They probably could be "fixed", but then they wouldn't be the stories they are. We enjoy them the way they are, and would like to share them...free...here on our blog. What we propose is to post the stories, one chapter at a time, every couple of days, like an old-fashioned serial. For the first story, we offer you, our readers, a choice. You may recall in earlier posts I've mentioned that our novel Tanella's Flight began its life as a short story with a completely different plot. We're offering our readers the opportunity to read the earlier short story. the story is good, it won second runner-up in the Audiobook Club's Second Annual Short Story Contest. (They define "short" as under 27,000 words.) Earlier this month I posted an older short story called Perilous Patrol, which featured a character named Jenna. I mentioned in the heading that she also appears in the unpublished novel Assignment to Earth, and that her name is partially the origin of our pen name, A M Jenner. Although my partner and I had both been writing for a long time, Assignment to Earth was our first collaboration. I know we have a few readers out there, even if you don't comment very often. Please vote in the poll, and let us know which you'd like to read...the early version of Tanella's Flight or our first collaboration, Assignment to Earth. You can also tell us if you'd rather we chose something else, or if you don't want to spend time reading a serial published on a blog. Anne

Hans, Solo

Prompt: A long time ago in 1975…there was a generous…mouse…who had delusions of grandeur…and had very big feet. Hans ran down the corridor of the space ship, dodging the bursts of light from the enemy’s blasters. He dodged well and quickly, knowing if even one of them struck him, he would either be dead, or instantly unconscious…which, in his enemy’s hands, meant worse than death. He tripped over his oversized feet and fell to the deck plating, rolling gracefully back to an upright position, and continued running down the hall. The roll and recover maneuver had long since been perfected, as he’d been dealing with the problem of his foot size all of his life. Hans ducked around the corner and paused a few moments to breathe, his sides heaving as he pulled great gasping breaths into his lungs. He twitched his nose and whiskers, seeking for information on his pursuers. Yes, the cats were still after him. With a sigh, the mouse set himself in motion again, searching the metal for any breach at all which would offer a small bit of sanctuary to a person as small as himself. The door ahead had a large enough gap beneath it, and he slipped through it, though he had to practically dislocate his hips to wiggle beneath the door. He quickly found a nice corner to rest in while he regained his breath. Slowly, he regained control of his breathing and his heart rate returned to his normal low of 525 beats in a minute. A footstep sounded in the room, and he looked fearfully upward. A woman in a long white dress was pacing the room. She hadn’t seen him, and Hans was grateful. Women usually didn’t react very well, or very calmly when they saw mice, and if she raised a hue and cry over his presence, the cats would get him. Suddenly, her feet stopped moving. Hans froze. Don’t let her see me, don’t let her see me. His thoughts repeated themselves again and again in his brain, hoping against hope to cancel out her sight with his brain waves. Yeah, right, that sort of thing only happened in the movies. The woman bent down, looking him over. “Hello there, little fellow.” “Hey there yourself, toots,” he squeaked in answer, smoothing the rumpled fur on his chest. He’d always been proud of the thick lustrous hair on his chest. “Come here, little fellow, I won’t hurt you.” The woman bent and placed her hand flat on the floor near Hans. He moved forward cautiously, sniffing, and twitching his most excellent whiskers. Her hand twitched when his whiskers brushed against it, but Hans had learned long ago that this was a normal human reaction to the tickling sensation his whiskers caused, and not an indication of fear, or of impending harm to himself. He very slowly crawled up onto the woman’s hand, then held his breath fearfully as she lifted him to a much higher level, one from which he would certainly perish, should he fall. She held him near her face, looking very closely at him. “I don’t know how much you can understand,” she said, “but I recall reading that some species of mice are sentient, and have no trouble understanding human speech, though they can’t pronounce it.” Hans nodded his head vigorously up and down, to show her he’d understood her. Personally, he felt there were a great many humans who had trouble pronouncing human speech, but that was another matter for another discussion on another time and in another place. “I am being held as a hostage,” the woman in white said, “and I was wondering whether your small size could be of use in helping me escape my human captors. In return, I’ll gladly help you escape the cats which undoubtedly chased you in here.” Hans squeaked loudly, enthusiastically bobbing his head up and down in his closest approximation of the human affirmative signal, doing his best to indicate to the woman in the white dress that he would do all in his power to pull off a bargain such as she had suggested. The woman set him down on the floor, and he crept near the door. He sniffed with his tiny little pink nose, and flicked his whiskers at everything, taking in all of the available information about his surroundings. He felt the floor for vibrations, and cocked his ears in different directions, gathering the most minute sounds from all directions. The woman in the long white dress held perfectly still so as not to be a distraction to him. Hans really appreciated that. Most humans had no idea how much noise they made, even when they were trying to be quiet. Finding no sign of the evil imperialistic cats, Hans ventured out beneath the door. With a great leap into the air, he managed to activate the automatic door-opening device. The door swished open, and the woman in the white dress emerged without delay. She scooped Hans up and snatched a blaster up from where it lay on the surface of a desk. Hans wondered who had been so stupid as to leave their weapon just laying around, but he figured they would be the one in trouble, and not him, so why worry about it. At top speed, the woman in the white dress headed out and moved quickly down the corridor. She came to the door of a lift, and discovered she didn’t have a free hand to manipulate the door controls, so she hastily dumped Hans down the front of her gown so she could hold the gun with one hand and use the other for things such as operating the lift. Hans quickly maneuvered himself upright within the close confines of the woman’s bodice. She had been generously endowed by her creator, and things in his immediate area were in constant flux, but with some wiggling, he managed to find a comfortable place to ride, where he could safely hold on without doing any damage to the woman in the white dress. She made her way swiftly to her small personal spacecraft, and together they blasted off to the stars. Hans was very happy to have helped her out, and very grateful for the help she gave him. During the celebratory banquet that evening, Hans discovered the woman was a person of some importance in the current power struggle between some of the various factions of the humans. She called him a hero, and offered him a safe place to live ot the rest of his life, which he was more than glad to accept. That night, he crept to the computer, intending to tell his best friend all about his latest Grand Adventure. “Dear George…” his email began.

July 26, 2010

Looks Don't Mean Much

This story is one of the best reasons to have a writing partner. When you don't feel good and you can't think of what to write with the prompts you are staring at, your partner comes to your rescue and writes something this magnificent from the items where you couldn't see a story. --Anne Prompt: In Omaha, Nebraska...there was a scruffy spotted...girl...who had a tiny head...and some very big plans. Sheila walked along the sidewalk, looking neither left nor right. She was, in fact, looking at her shadow on the sidewalk. It didn’t look strange to her, but then, she was used to the fact her head had remained roughly the size of a toddler while the rest of her body grew at the normal rate. Her mind, however, was not on her shadow at all, but on the project she was involved with. If the prototype tests this weekend proved successful, she would be able to enter her project in the Science Fair with great satisfaction and confidence. She already knew she’d win, because of the complexity of her design and the usefulness of her scheme. Sheila thought it wouldn’t be long before every household would be clamoring for her product; not only each family in Omaha, Nebraska, where she lived, or in the whole United States, but it wouldn’t be long until every household in the entire world would want what she had to offer. Mr. Rydell, her science teacher, would be pleased on Monday when her prototype worked perfectly. Billy Gnesher, the biggest bully at school, would have to eat his “pin-heads are dummies” words publicly; a situation she’d enjoy thoroughly. He’d been bragging about his own project…an expensive gamer prompt for playing computer games in the dark so you could sneak-play after your parents sent you to bed when you weren’t tired. Big deal. If his project worked, kids who could afford it would want to buy one, yes, but her idea! Well, every adult in the universe would be wanting her project. It was not only practical, but it would be affordable. Besides! Think of all the lives which would be saved! Honestly…pit his self-serving project against her humanitarian one? She’d win…hands down, no contest! Reaching home, she entered and the smell of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies greeted her. Sheila plopped her books on a chair and continued down the hall to the kitchen. She loved to be in the kitchen with its pale green walls with bright yellow sunflowers painted in clumps and groups around the room. The white and yellow daisy curtains and matching tablecloth her mom had made to complete the effect gave Sheila the feeling she lived in a magical garden. The brightness and cheeriness of the kitchen could raise her spirits no matter how bad her day at school had been. She entered and saw her mother pouring two small mugs of cold milk to drink while she ate the warm cookies and reported on her day. This was a ritual started on her first day of school when she’d entered kindergarten. It was as much a part of her as breathing and reading were. She did lots of both every day, which kept her body healthy and her mind active and creative. Sheila had been nearly four years old when she realized her head was smaller than it should have been. Because of her mother, though, she’d been well-prepared for people’s thoughtless remarks and the strange looks she got even when folks didn’t say anything at all. Her mom had continually taught her that a small head didn’t mean one had no brains. It just meant she looked a bit different; like having a big nose or large feet or being fat like many people she saw at the mall. She settled onto one of the chairs and picked up one of the warm cookies. She slowly broke it into two halves while her mother put the two mugs of milk on the table and set the plate of cookies between them. Sitting down in the other chair, her mother watched the warm chocolate chips stretch between the halves of the cookie before they finally let go of each other and the ends swirled just a bit into a small curl. They grinned at each other. “Perfect, Mom. Thanks!” Sheila then took a bite of the delicious cookie, savoring the layers of flavor as the cookie slid around in her mouth. “No problem, Sweetie Pie. How was your day?” She broke apart her own cookie with the same slowness, and when it finally parted, she took a bite of it. “Normal stuff,” Sheila answered, picking up her glass and sipping a bit of the cold milk between her lips. She swallowed. “You?” “I got your dress finished today. Now will you give up your scruffy outfit so I can retire it to the trash bin?” Her mother smiled as she said it. “I don’t know. I’ll have to think about it. This pair of pants and blouse is extremely comfortable. I like wearing them.” “I know, Sweetie Pie, but they’re spotted with paint and getting ragged at the cuffs. It makes you look like a street urchin. You did pick out the fabric for your new dress, and we want to give it a good trial run before the science fair, you know. That way we can make sure it fits perfectly and feels just as good on you as your scruffy duds do. You’ll have all the confidence you need to face the judges and win the prize!” She picked up her glass of milk and drank several swallows. Sheila looked at her mom while she took another delicious bite of cookie. “Do you think I’ll win?” Her mom put her glass down, licked the milk moustache off her top lip and grinned. “Of course you’ll win. Every person who owns a car will want your ‘Stayin’ Alive’ gadget on their vehicles. Think how many lives will be saved if everyone has one! Nobody else has figured out how to make cars not crash into each other or run over people or things. Only you! It’s what I’ve told you every day since you were born; the size of your head has nothing to do with the amount of brains you have, or how you use your intelligence. That’s up to the person herself.” “I know. I believe it, too. I’ve got other big plans in mind, too. Bicycles, roller skates, ice skates—all of these need some sort of ‘Stayin’ Alive’ device. I’ve got a few ideas on miniaturization that may work. I’ll have to test it out, though, but not until after I win the National Science Fair. We’ll certainly put Omaha on the map, won’t we, Mom?” Mom’s mouth was full of another cookie, so she simply nodded, her lips curving in a big smile.

July 24, 2010

Farmer John's Roller Coaster

Prompt: In the exurb of the great city…there was a manic/depressive…farmer…who laughed hysterically on even days…and cried miserably on odd days. John got out of bead a little fearfully, not knowing how he was going to feel today. He looked at the calendar and saw that today was July 24th. Good, he thought, today would be a good day. He quickly dressed and went merrily out to the barn. He laughed and sang happily as he milked the cows. He chortled to himself as he carried the buckets of milk into the cool milk room and poured the warm liquid through the cheesecloth lined strainers and into the large milk cans. Next, he sped up the ladder to the hay loft, quickly cutting the wires on the hay bales and tossing the hay down to the stalls for the horses to eat. He giggled while he pumped the water into what he called his aqueduct system, a series of wood channels that carried the water from the pump and delivered it to drinking tubs for all the barn animals at once. The system saved him a lot of time and effort in carrying heavy buckets of water between the pump and the barn. He grabbed a basket, filled it with dried corn from a bag in the barn, and carried it over to the henhouse. John stopped in the henyard and scattered the corn for the chickens. Once they were busy noisily contending over which one would get the best part of the breakfast, John slipped into the dim interior of the henhouse and carefully gathered the eggs, placing them into the basket which was now empty of corn. Recalling what his wife had said last night, he stopped by the smokehouse and took out one of the hams which still hung there. Although they did their smoking of meat in the autumn after harvest, they had found it was convenient to store the smoked meats in the smokehouse, once the preservation process was completed. John carried the ham and eggs to the kitchen, where his wife waited with his breakfast. When he had eaten, he took the leftover scraps in a bucket and left the house again. He knew Mary would be washing and drying the eggs, and setting them into egg cartons in dozens for them to take with them to the farmer’s market tomorrow. Tomorrow. John shivered a bit apprehensively. Since today, being an even day, was a good one, he knew tomorrow…he shivered again and pushed the dark thoughts away. No point in ruining today by worrying about tomorrow. John stirred up the coals under the pigs’ mash barrel and added a few small wood chips to keep it evenly at the right temperature. He opened the big drum holding the mixture of grain and water, and stirred it with the long wood paddle that somewhat resembled a rowboat’s oar. He lifted the huge ladle-shaped dipper from where it hung on the barrel’s rim, and dipped out enough of the mash to fill the bucket with the breakfast scraps to within an inch of the top. Hanging the dipper back in its place and replacing the lid on the mash barrel, John carried the bucket over to the pig sty and filled the trough. The mean old sow he’d named “Mama Pig” trotted over to the trough, shoving some of her newly weaned piglets out of the way. He watched for a few moments as the young pigs jostled each other as they scrambled to get their share of the food. John carried three more buckets of mash to the young family before he was finished with them for the morning. John whistled a merry tune as he turned the cows out of the barn and herded them off to the pasture where they would spend the bulk of their day. He returned to the milk room and skimmed the cream from the top of the cans. He poured the skim milk into the carefully cleaned and sterilized bottles. John opened the cooler…a hole in his barn floor that had been cut over the opening to a small cave. He reached into the hole and pulled our a small ring, with a chain attached to it. John took a hook from the ceiling and slipped it through the ring, then turned a crank to bring the metal basket up from the hole. He placed the milk into the metal basket and lowered it into the hole, hooking the rim carefully on its post near the top of the cooler hole. John poured the cream into a butter churn, and slid the lid on the churn. He attached an invention of his to the handle of the dasher, and sat on a tall stool near the churn. With a flick of his wrist on the flywheel, he began pumping the pedal. It worked like a spinning wheel or treadle-operated sewing machine; he had simply built a treadle that worked his butter churn. With his feet pumping away on the treadle, John picked up the book he was currently reading, angled it toward the window, and began reading. It usually took about two chapters to turn the cream into butter. Once it was churned, he’d check with his wife on what was needed for the house, but the rest would be taken to the farmer’s market tomorrow. He slipped the work harnesses on his pair of horses, and led them outside the barn. The hay in the south field was ready to cut today, and John hitched the horses to the mower and started off down the road to the south field. It wasn’t that he couldn’t afford a tractor, and he certainly had no moral or religious qualms regarding tractors. His was a small farm, what the government referred to as “subsistence farming”. They grew most of their own food; his wife faithfully canning the produce from their large garden. They raised pigs and chickens for meat, and harvested eggs as well. They had a well full of beautiful, clear water, and a stream they used to irrigate their crops. They owed no money for the farm, since John’s grandfather had managed to pay off the mortgage during the depression. Depression. Bad word. No, that wasn’t until tomorrow. He thrust the thought from his mind. He and his wife lived simply, in the manner His ancestors had lived on the farm since this valley was first colonized. Anything John and Mary couldn’t make, they bought with the money they earned selling their surplus vegetables, eggs, and Mary’s handcrafts at the farmer’s market. John spent most of the day working with the horses. First they mowed the hay, then raked it into neat lines to dry. They then moved to another field, which was laying fallow this year. They spread dried and composted manure over the field, and plowed it in, turning the earth over and mixing the fertilizer thoroughly with the rich, dark dirt. He returned the horses to the barn, gave them a good drink, and added a scoop of oats to their evening hay. He brushed them until their coats shone, then cleaned the leather harnesses and put them away. John returned to the house for his supper, then collected the cows for the evening milking, and fed the pigs their supper. Tired from the day’s work, he drew a bathtub full of warm water. There was one modern convenience he loved…Ten years ago he and Mary had installed a solar hot water system, and they loved not having to heat up water on the stove or fireplace. The farmhouse was the original, which had been standing for nearly a hundred and fifty years. Indoor plumbing had been added when John was a boy, but hot water from a tap…that had been his first major improvement to the house. They’d saved almost enough now to have a solar / wind dual powered electric system installed, and looked forward to having electric lights and a nice television they could enjoy in the evening. Around sunset, John went to bed, tired, and completely happy. John woke, apprehensively. Today was an odd day, and he hated the black moods that took him on these days. He grouched out to the barn for the morning chores, completing them in silent haste, even as he felt his control over his feelings deteriorating, and the tears starting to roll down his cheeks and dripping from his nose. He returned to the house for breakfast, then fed the pigs and turned out the cows. By that time, his wife had packed the truck for the farmer’s market. The truck had been his father’s contribution to the family farm, and even though it was nearly thirty years old, careful maintenance and only occasional use…they drove weekly to church and to market in the village, and a few times a year into “town”, the nearest big city. When market day was complete, they returned home and John completed the day’s chores, tucking the animals in before having his bath and going to bed himself. John’s entire day was spent with tears streaming down his face, and a terrible aching sadness possessing his entire body. Well, at least he knew tomorrow would be better. He was so tired of the alternating moods, and he had an appointment with his doctor on Monday morning up in town. Perhaps he’d be able to find a reason for the moods which, although they had plagued him for years, had been getting worse over the past year; the highs had been higher, and the lows lower, the swings were getting wider, and John was afraid he’d get stuck mid-swing on the sad side of it. Just the thought that tomorrow would be a good day was enough to raise his spirits a trifle.

July 23, 2010

The Pirate and The Princess

Sorry about missing yesterday. The errands that were supposed to only take up the morning ended up keeping me away from home until 9 at night...and then I still had to feed my family and other important things like breathe. In 2007 a friend approached me. She was helping with decorations for a party, a dinner/dance, with entertainment between the dinner and the dance. She knew my daughter and I were renaissance dancers (and therefore had costumes) and fencers (and therefore had swords). She asked if I would write and perform a short play after the dinner, which involved pirates and swordplay. The theme of the dinner and dance was Pirates of the Caribbean. We agreed, and the following play was born. We had a lot of fun. I played the princess, and my daughter (who was younger and somewhat less developed with womanly curves at the time) played the pirate. Yes, it was meant to be a comedy, and the references to existing songs and movies were placed there specifically to make the patrons laugh. Which they did. The performance was a huge success. There are references in there to a series of boxes I had out at the time, as well, which didn't make anyone laugh but ourselves. Hopefully I'll have most of my reassemble-the-library project finished today, and can get back to writing new material on the morrow. --Anne
The Pirate and The Princess
Pirate: [Entering.] Excuse me, Pardon me, Excuse me. Stops in the center of the room, looks about and sees a table. Goes to the table and clears it. [To the patron] Excuse me. Lays out swords on table and admires them. [in a loud voice] Bring in the princess! The princess is brought in. [To the princess] Do you know who I am? Princess: I suppose you are the despicable pirate who has just attacked my ship and taken me prisoner. Pirate: True, all true, but do you know who I am? Princess: You mean, do I know your name? Pirate: That is exactly what I mean. Princess: What, are you supposed to be famous or something? Pirate: Supposed to be? I AM famous. I am…Black Bean, the Dreaded Pirate. Princess: Oh, that’s a pity. I was hoping you were your twin brother, White Bean, the Terror of the Seas. Pirate: Why? Princess: Because I’ve been looking for White Bean. I have something to say to him. Pirate: What would you do if I told you I was White Bean? Princess: I wouldn’t believe you. You just said you were Black Bean. Pirate: Actually I’m both beans! There never were two of us, but there is this stupid rule that says a pirate can’t command two ships, so when I captured my second ship I had to have another name to go by. Princess: I see—so you are Black Bean the Dreaded Pirate, and his twin brother White Bean the Terror of the Seas. Pirate: Yes. Now that we have that settled, can we get on with business? Princess: That depends on what your business is. Pirate: Weren’t you wondering why I captured your ship, plundered it, sank it, and killed all the other passengers but left you alive? Princess: No, should I have wondered why you captured my ship, plundered it, sank it, and killed all the other passengers but left me alive? Pirate: Yes, you should have wondered why I captured your ship, plundered it, sank it, and killed all the other passengers but left you alive. Princess: I just figured it was in the script. Pirate: No! It is because you, of all the passengers on your ship, are a princess! Princess: laughing Pirate: What’s so funny? Princess: It worked! I can’t believe it! It actually worked! Pirate: What worked? Princess: My plan! You have no idea how much trouble it was to outfit an entire ship, and how much the advertising cost—all to get you to believe I was a princess so you could capture my ship. Tell me, what was it that hooked your interest? Was it the ship flying royal flags? Was it the whispers that a fabulously wealthy princess was on board? Was it the full page color ad in Pirate Weekly? Pirate: You are wearing a crown. Princess: I’m wearing a crown? Pirate: Yeah—you’re wearing a crown. So when I happened on your ship and was plundering it, my men grabbed you so we could demand a ransom. Princess: That’s it? The crown convinced you I was a princess? Pirate: Yup that’s it! Princess: $14.88 at Wal-Mart—in the bridal section. Pirate: So you’re not a princess? Princess: No, I’ve never been a princess. Pirate: Then we don’t have any business with each other. Princess: Oh Yes we do! Pirate: Oh, no we don’t! Princess: Yes. We do. Pirate: We do? Princess: Yes—last year you sank a ship that my uncle’s neighbor’s cousin was on. I have come to avenge his death. Pirate: [laughing] Princess: What’s so funny? Pirate: Girls can’t play with swords. Princess: Yes we can. Pirate: No you can’t! Princess: Yes I can. Pirate: No you can’t! Princess: [singing] Yes I can, yes I can, yes I can! Pirate: Prove it. Princess: Prove it? Pirate: Yes—prove it! Princess: Fine—lend me a sword and I’ll prove it! Pirate: You came seeking vengeance and didn’t even bother to bring a sword with you? Princess: I brought my brother’s sword but your men took it from me when they captured me. Pirate: [to audience] See? This is the problem with women they talk too much! Men would just get down to the fighting. [To princess] If I give you back your brother’s sword will you shut up? Princess: Give me back my brother’s sword and I’ll cut out your heart. Pirate: Done! Choose your weapon. [Fight consisting of left handed changes of engagements and advance and retreat footwork.] Pirate: You fight very well for a girl. Smiling Princess: Thank you. Why are you smiling? Pirate: Because I know something that you do not know. Princess: What do you know? Pirate: I am not left handed. [Change sword to the right hand.] princess smiles as fight continues. Pirate: Why are you smiling? Princess: Because I’m not left handed either. [Change sword to the right hand.] [Fight continues with more changes of engagements and advance and retreat footwork.] Princess: Just a moment. [Pirate leans on his sword while princess turns to patron.] [to patron] Good sir, might I borrow your chair for a moment. [Princess hands sword to patron, climbs on chair, settles skirts, retrieves sword from patron, and faces pirate.] Pirate: Are you ready now? Princess: Yes I’m ready. [They salute each other, pirate starts forward to fight, princess leaps from chair toward pirate, pirate retreats hastily. Princes stabs pirate in the back. Pirate turns around and attacks princess with flurry of sword work, ending with disarming the princess. Princess stands helpless as pirate extends toward the princess’s heart. Pirate pronates his blade. Princess screams and runs away, weaving through the room with the pirate in pursuit, blade held high. Princess ends up back in the center of the room, trips on her fallen sword, falls down, snatches up her sword, and stabs the pirate as he catches up with her. Pirate dies. Princess gets up and picks up both swords, then walks around and rolls pirate onto his back. ] Princess: I see. You are neither a Black Bean or a White Bean. You are a has-bean.

July 21, 2010

Greetings to Earth

From 1989 when the shuttle program was fairly new, and NASA did indeed say you could ride on the shuttle if you had an experiment that only you could oversee... As a side note, the Klodfons have shown up several times as an ambiguous, undescribed "bad guy" for my space stories. No, I don't know what they are, they've never been defined, even in my own mind. I do like the name, though, it sounds like something big, mean, and slightly stupid. --Anne
Chapter One
"Mr. Lawrence will see you now," the secretary said. The young woman looked up from the magazine she'd been reading. "Thank you." She laid it down and picked up a large manila folder from the chair next to her. She'd had great difficulty preparing enough information to catch the interest of each interviewer, without revealing too much. She hoped it would be enough for the director. Brushing her dark curls back over her shoulder, she took a deep breath and entered his office for her final interview. The man behind the desk was slim and in a physical shape that belied the years of care revealed by his lined face and silvered hair. He looked very forbidding. He stood and extended his hand. "Miss Adamson." His voice was smooth and pleasantly pitched, and he carried the attitude of a bored executive who is merely being polite for the sake of courtesy. They shook hands and he gestured at the 'hot seat' chair opposite his own. "Please, sit down." He seated himself, and she followed suit, perching on the edge of her chair, her posture perfect. The director smiled, a thin smile which failed to reach the faded blue of his eyes. "Now then... like practically everyone else in the country, you want a space shuttle ride. You heard the news men say that "all you have to do is find an experiment that you personally have to supervise." Furthermore, like about two percent of this country, you don't care how much work is involved, as long as it's free. You have come up with an idea. This idea has carried you all the way to my office. Let me tell you right now, that I have been listening to these homegrown ideas for several years now. Several of the experiments have been accepted, and successfully carried out*by our regular crew*however, none of the applicants have proven to me that it's necessary for them to go. So... what's your project, and why do you, personally, need to oversee it?" Marnie smiled, and wet her lips nervously. It was absolutely vital to get him to agree to this proposal. She took a deep breath and was pleased to find that her voice was steady as she began. "The experiment is to contact intelligent life not from this planet. I believe that if the message is transmitted from orbit next December, there will be a response." "Why from orbit?" He sounded a tiny bit interested now, and a glimmer of hope burst into life in Marnie's heart. Her voice became more confident. "My equipment sends computer data in a radio signal carried on a beam of light. The message must be sent from orbit because of atmospheric distortion of light. The focus of the light must be extremely precise. The reason that I must personally be there is that I'm the only one who knows how to repair my equipment -- it's rather temperamental. Also, there needs to be constant surveillance on the receiver, and that would take up too much of the crew's time." Victor Lawrence listened patiently. "Supposing that I let you go, what message do you intend to send to these... intelligent beings?" "Just a basic message to drop in and see us sometime. Nothing more than what's already been sent, really, but I believe that the time and manner of sending will be more likely to get their attention." "Explain." Marnie took another deep breath, and clasped her hands in her lap. This was the touchiest part of the whole operation. "I'm sure that the observatories have made you aware of the shadow, apparently with no source, which has been appearing on the moon at regular intervals." He nodded and Marnie continued. "With all natural and man-made phenomena ruled out, the only possible source for that shadow is people from somewhere else. The shadow is due back in December. You have a planned launch on the fourth, returning on the twelfth. That should provide adequate time to transmit and receive a response." She handed him her folder. "Here's the data from my research." The Director read through the contents of the folder, asking several other questions concerning the theory, reasoning, and items of equipment. Marnie gave her answers quietly but with confidence and grace, despite her nervous tension. Finally, Mr. Lawrence's face softened into its customary lines, and he smiled at her from across the desk. "You've just won yourself a shuttle ride, Miss Adamson. Further, if you're to be ready to go in December, you'll need to be training full time, and begin tomorrow. See my secretary on the way out for the packet of information you'll need to get started, and take the rest of the day to settle your affairs. Getting all your training in will take so much time that your friends are going to think you've dropped off the face of the earth." Marnie smiled warmly. "That's the basic idea, isn't it?." The director laughed his agreement as he ushered her out of his office.
Chapter Two
John climbed from the NASA van and turned to help Marnie, who took his hand and scrambled after him. The crew paused a moment at the foot of the tower before boarding the elevator. The orbiter looked huge, but from long hours in the simulator, Marnie knew the living and working areas were quite compact. They got in the elevator and started up the tower. Nine days in space! Marnie was excited. This morning, seven people were leaving the planet for nine days! No artificial gravity, true, not to mention no room and no windows…well, as small as they were, there might as well be no windows, but it would still be very nice to be in space again. The elevator stopped, and the crew walked into the ship and began strapping in for take-off. John teased Marnie as she climbed on her chair and twisted into a nearly impossible position to check her equipment before strapping herself in. The launch went off beautifully, the G-forces pressing Marnie into her chair. Despite her recent training, the duration of the strong gravity surprised her. Enduring three times the surface gravity, she fought for her breath, sure that she could endure no more. She was filled with admiration for the men and women who regularly launched and endured this in order to leave their planet so briefly. Every ship she'd been on had artificial gravity, which had never varied from the standard setting, about three-fourths of Earth's surface gravity. Seated in the rear of the orbiter, she had no idea how far they'd come, but suddenly, and simultaneously, the vibrations from the engines and the gravity both quit. Marnie glanced at her watch. Almost eight minutes from launch to orbit. "Not bad," she mused. John's voice came over the headset. "We're here. Everyone OK?" She acknowledged that she was fine. John was a good leader for their group, as well as having become a good friend during the training they'd shared. Nearly a half-hour later, after a final, short, engine burn, John announced that they were now established in orbit, and it was now all right to un-strap. Marnie loosened her buckles, moved carefully out of her seat, and re-fastened the buckles around the empty seat so they wouldn't float into someone's head. She found that she was able to maneuver easily despite not having been weightless for several years. Joining the null-grav ball team was really paying off now. Marnie looked around the cabin. People were now floating in all directions and at all angles. The other mission specialists who hadn't been in orbit before were comical. Janet had pushed off from her chair too hard, ending up on the other side of the cabin. She was now working herself back to her chair hand-over-hand style. Mike, on the other hand, had somehow floated to the center of the cabin, turning sideways. He was now flailing frantically to retrieve himself via a hand-hold, all of which were just out of reach. The flight crew had not yet emerged from the cockpit, so Marnie moved to his seat and reached up. Bracing herself with the chair, she pulled him back and helped him stow the seat belts. They moved together toward the front of the shuttle to look outside. The view was beautiful, even if the windows were small. They couldn't see the entire Earth because they were still too close, but they could see a large part of it. There was much commenting on the roundness and beauty of the planet below. The clouds made pretty patterns against the continents and seas. Marnie smiled. The people below, for the most part, never dreamed of having such a beautiful view. How disconcerted many of them would be at the thought of someone watching them from "outer space." Since her experiment was not scheduled to begin until afternoon, Marnie spent most of her morning star-gazing. It was wonderful to be in space again, though she did wish for artificial gravity. If she was unsuccessful in making contact, perhaps she could "invent" it, and that might win her another trip to test it. She could qualify to become an astronaut easily enough, but she'd never pass the background check...she had no background, on this planet. They ate their lunch, a delicious meal once it had been re-constituted and heated, and washed it down with water they drank from pouches equipped with straws. Marnie recalled some of the holiday banquets she'd eaten ship-board, and reflected anew on the virtues of induced gravitation. She promised herself that she'd never take it for granted again. As they finished the meal John smiled at her from across the cabin. "Mind if I watch while you set up your equipment?" "Not at all." Marnie quickly moved to her work station on the flight deck. She pulled out a large box and opened it to reveal a great deal of protective padding. First out of the box was a small folding table with Velcro on the feet. She set it up and secured it to the pads that had been installed on the decking weeks before the launch. Next out was a quite ordinary looking lap-top computer and a larger box, which contained several additional memory components. She set them on the table, securing them with additional Velcro tabs. Deftly, she removed some cables from the box, clipping them to both parts of the computer before connecting the computer to a power outlet in the orbiter's wall. John watched her economical movements as she set up her project. He was amazed at how quickly she had adjusted to the micro-gravity, and how well she handled herself, and said so. Marnie smiled, reflecting on her null-grav gymnastics classes. It had taken her a long time to get over space-sickness, and even longer to pass the basic aerobatics class*which was required before being approved for space flight. She'd eventually joined the ball team for more practice at weightless maneuvering. "Just naturally graceful, I guess." was her only reply to John, however. "Think you'll find intelligent life?" "I certainly hope so." 'At least,' she added to herself, 'I hope they're not too intelligent to answer. I know they're out there.' John grinned, not being privy to those last thoughts. "Well, at least you'll have had a ride on the shuttle." Marnie ignored the comment and continued setting up, by removing from the box a light gun which reminded John of an automobile timing light. Moving to the window, Marnie slid it into the mounting which she'd spent hours perfecting before it's pre-launch installation. It was well worth all the effort, the gun fit perfectly, and she tightened the screws that would hold it securely in place. She attached what looked like a miniature satellite dish, only five inches across, next to the gun, and attached them both to the computer with long cables which were then clipped to the floor for safety. The dish and gun covered about half of the pilot's window, but both would be removed and stowed before re-entry. Finished with her preparations, Marnie powered up the computer and inserted the disk she'd spent many hours perfecting. In minutes, the light gun began to pulse, and she settled back in her chair. "Now all that's left is the waiting." John excused himself to see to other business, leaving Marnie to keep her lonely vigil.
Chapter Three
A soft beeping woke John. In the silence of space, the computers always made some background noise, however, he'd never heard them beep like this before. Quickly he crawled out of his sleeping bag and propelled himself forward to the flight deck. As his head poked through the hatch, he saw that Marnie hadn't moved from where he'd left her hours before. Although he'd checked with her from time to time, and brought her meals, she'd not moved from in front of her computer in the last seven days. Tomorrow she would pack up her equipment and call the experiment a failure...which is pretty much what he'd expected would happen all along. Moving a bit closer, he saw that there was a red dot on her computer screen flashing in time with the insipid beeping. Gliding the rest of the way through the door, he realized that she must be asleep. He reached out and touched her arm, calling her name softly. "Marnie." She started awake, the movement causing her to drift from her chair. Nearly immediately her motion reversed, and she returned to the chair, sitting solidly. "How did you do that?" John motioned to the chair. "And I woke you because your computer insisted." Marnie grinned sleepily. "I have one foot curled around the chair base. Works wonders." She turned to the computer and gasped, all traced of sleep disappearing from her face and voice in a rush of adrenaline. "They're answering!" John noted the excited flush to her cheeks, the extra sparkle in her eyes, and the fact that her hands were trembling. She had the same expectant air of a young child on Christmas morning, he thought. He moved closer, coming to "stand" behind her, looking over his shoulder, his hands lightly clasping the back of the chair. He felt a stir of excitement within himself at the thought of maybe communicating with other people. He'd never before allowed himself a belief in their existence. "Can you tell what they're saying?" Marnie nodded as she pressed several keys on the computer. "If they're using the same computer language I was sending in." The dot disappeared, the beeping stopped, and words appeared on the screen. "GREETINGS…WE ARE THE DORAL…WHO ARE YOU…GREETINGS." "Tell them who we are." John's voice was firm, but held his own suppressed excitement. "GREETINGS FROM EARTH…WE ARE UNITED STATES SPACE SHUTTLE COLUMBIA…COMMANDER "JOHN"…IDENTIFY SELF…GREETINGS." She pressed another button and the light gin began flickering again. "Why did you ask them to identify themselves? They said they are the Doral. And why did you only use my first name?" Marnie smiled without looking up. "'The Doral' refers to their place of origin…The Doralian Empire…not their individual names...and they only use their rank and one name. It's terribly rude to tell strangers your family name." "How do you know that?" Marnie stood and turned to look straight at John, he expression unreadable. "I'm one of them." "What?" Shock lightened his tanned face, his eyes widening with incredulity. His fingers convulsively tightened his hold on the chair back to steady himself, and he shook his head to clear it. Marnie smiled up at him. "I am from the Doralian Empire. My ship was shot up near here about ten years ago, and I have been stuck on Earth ever since. All I'm trying to do is hitch a ride home." Turning her attention back to the computer, she seated herself again, fingers hovering over the keys. The red dot began to blink again, then became words once more. "WE ARE SHIP ESQUIRE…COMMANDER "ESTORIL"…EARTH-NATIVES TOO PRIMITIVE FOR LIGHT-COMM…YOU ARE KLODFONS…PREPARE TO DIE." Marnie's fingers hit the keyboard before John had even finished reading the message. "DO NOT DESTROY…WE ARE SHUTTLE COLUMBIA FROM EARTH…NOT ALL ON BOARD EARTH-NATIVES…SELF DELTOID FROM EMPIRE…REQUEST PASSAGE HOME…REPEAT…DO NOT DESTROY." Marnie looked out the front window and pointed out a moving light to John. "That's their ship." He studied the heavens as the computer beeped again, still trying to assimilate the knowledge she had given him. The answer came back more quickly this time. "DELTOID GIVE SELF NAME." Marnie smiled again. She thought that last message would throw Commander Estoril off balance. Deltoids very rarely left their home world. "SELF NAME PRINCESS-AMBASSADOR "MARNIE"…REQUEST TRANSPORT…EARTH VESSEL MUST RETURN THEIR PLANET SOON…QUESTIONS?" An immediate response. "NO QUESTIONS. STATE INSTRUCTIONS." Marnie glanced up at John. Although still not quite believing what he was seeing, he was obviously again in control of himself. "What can I do to help you get home, Princess-Ambassador?" Marnie grinned widely. "One of their small shuttles should fit in the cargo bay, though they won't be able to dock with you. I'll need to borrow a suit to get from one air-lock to the other." John shook his head. "I can't let you take a suit, we'd only have one left on board. What I can do is suit up myself, and put you in one of the PRE's. Then I'll haul you over to the other air-lock." The Personal Rescue Enclosure, a ball-shaped bag barely 34 inches across, was not the most comfortable way to travel, but it would work. Marnie nodded and typed the next message. "LAUNCH SMALL SHUTTLE…GUIDE IT INTO CARGO BAY…CAUTION…NO GRAVITY IN OPERATION THIS SHIP." By now the alien ship was so near that it's radiance filled the windows. The ship itself could not be seen for the light. A modest portion of that light split off from the main body and maneuvered slowly until it came to rest in the cargo bay. John was waiting in the air-lock, already halfway into his space suit. Marnie's face was radiant as she closed the air-lock door. "They're very suspicious, and won't want you to leave the air-lock. In fact, it would be better if you don't even crack your helmet. Just release me from the PRE and go." "Why all the suspicion? We haven't done anything to them." "No, but we…the Empire…are at war with the Klodfons, and Commander Estoril is probably half convinced that this is all a trick." Marnie waited until John was completely in his suit before crawling into the PRE. Curling herself around the oxygen tank, she waited while John zipped her in. She hated small places, and was glad that NASA had built a small window into the sphere. John was right not to let her take one of the suits, though. He was going to have enough trouble explaining to the authorities why he returned without one of his crew, he didn't need the additional headache of missing equipment. De-pressurizing the air-lock seemed to take forever, but once it was complete, John opened the far door, securing it behind him, and walked toward the bright object resting in the cargo bay. It was difficult to maneuver while hauling Marnie behind him, though she weighed nothing, her mass still had momentum, and kept swinging around. Inside, Marnie prayed that she would not disgrace herself. The light turned out to be a very small space-ship. The outer door was standing open. As John stepped into the air-lock, he fell to his knees and almost dropped Marnie. This small ship had gravity! The door slid shut behind him and air began to enter the chamber. In a very few minutes, the inner door opened, revealing a man holding what appeared to be a gun of some sort. The helmet he were prevented John from seeing his face. Moving slowly, and keeping his hands in view at all times, John unzipped the PRE, and Marnie stood up as she removed the oxygen mask. She tucked the mask into the ball, and re-zipped it, then handed it to John. Marnie stepped into the ship, where another person…wearing a similar helmet, pointed some sort of equipment at her. The air-lock door shut, and John heard the pumps as they began their work. Shortly the outer door opened, and John quickly exited the alien ship, heading for his own air-lock. As soon as he had latched the door shut behind him, the other ship moved out of the cargo bay, returning to the larger ship, still concealed in its blaze of light. John removed his space suit, and glided forward to the command deck to shut off Marnie's computer. As his hand reached for the switch, the computer beeped again and another message appeared. "GREETINGS…GOODBYE COLUMBIA…THANKS FOR THE RIDE…PRESS F7 TO SAVE THIS CONVERSATION TO DISK SO NASA WILL BELIEVE YOU…PERHAPS WE'LL RETURN LATER, WHEN YOU'VE GROWN UP SOME MORE…HATE TO EAT AND RUN …MARNIE." John sighed and pressed the F7 key. Now that his shock was further abating, he was suddenly full of questions, and no-one there could answer them. As he carefully began to disassemble Marnie's equipment for the flight home, he wondered what a Klodfon was.

July 20, 2010

The Price of Sama Valley

This was written principally by me in 1991 from an idea concieved by my then-husband. He was given co-writing credit when the story was published in E.T., an SF magazine published once upon a time by one of our local libraries. As a side note, Conversation with a Computer was published in the same magazine as a two part serial.
The Price of Sama Valley
The mist hung heavy in the air, making it impossible for Stefan to see across the open square. No matter, he knew every crooked and broken stone, and could have found his way blindfolded, even without the fog-muted noise coming from the brightly lit tavern. Silently he slipped around the side of the inn and made his way to the stable at the rear. If he were seen by anyone, custom would force him to stay and tell stories of his trip abroad rather than keep his urgent appointment. As yet, no-one knew he'd returned except the man he was to meet tonight, and his true-father, who'd promised that his horse would be waiting. The stable was deserted, and Stefan opened the last stall he came to. The large stallion was midnight black, and nickered softly as Stefan stroked his nose before leading him out into the yard. He swung himself into the saddle and settled his cloak around him in the manner that would provide the most warmth. Man and beast quietly disappeared into the night. Not until they were well away from the inn did he urge the stallion to greater speeds, and then he did not dare to go slow, for a kingdom lay in the balance tonight. He must reach the cottage on time.
* * * * *
Prince Jalon Komel returned his dance partner to her escort and quickly made his way out of the room before he found himself forced to dance with yet another unattached young lady. True, they were all exceptionally beautiful, but they were also all exceptionally brainless, simpering young girls. Sometimes he wondered if they had any thoughts other than the latest fashion or proper decorum. Certainly husband-catching was high on their list of priorities. One day he would find the right girl to make his princess, but as his father was in excellent health, he had a while yet before he needed to make that choice. Besides, good leadership was as important as good looks or breeding. He let himself out the tall Jamian doors made of many panes of glass, on the flagstone garden terrace and began to wander among the elaborate flower beds in the formal gardens. Jalon was quite aware of the person watching him from the upper window, and tried to make his wandering appear aimless. Actually, he was headed toward the stand of trees that screened off the stables from the house. The moment he was out of sight of the house, he ran to the stables, already beginning to remove his brightly colored dress uniform. Once inside, he completed his change to the plain black leather preferred by common soldiers. Jalon carefully hung his formal clothing on a peg so that he could wear it again when he returned. He did, however, retain his sword, re-fastening it around his waist. A short hooded cape would protect him from the cold mist, ever-present this time of year, and it would also serve to complete his disguise. Swiftly saddling his horse, he led it around to the rear before mounting and galloping away across the fields. He was careful to keep the stables between himself and the house until he entered the woods. As he rode, his thoughts centered on the meeting ahead. Stefan had been raised at the palace, as a companion for Jalon. He felt they were like brothers, and trusted Stefan implicitly. Fredric was Jalon's cousin-heir, and his jealousy of the throne had long been common knowledge. He had often tried to kill Jalon, but the attempts were always so childish that they were easily thwarted. Fredric was not a tactician. There were recent rumors that Fredric had allied himself with the peasant farmers in the Sama Valley, the newest part of the kingdom of Zwa -- having been purchased by Jalon's great-grandfather. He'd been worried by the length of time that Stefan had been gone, nearly a full weather cycle, though the trip itself -- there and back -- would only take two and a half moon cycles. He hoped that Stefan had brought some valuable information back. If solid proof were found against Fredric, they could imprison him, and Jalon would have no further worries from that quarter. Jalon stopped his horse at the edge of the trees and surveyed the clearing. No-one lived in the small cottage, yet the yard was well cared for, the well water was always fresh, and the white picket fence kept in good repair. Older children scared their siblings with tales of a witch who would eat you for dinner if you ventured too near, and rare was the child that dared. Adults scoffed at the stories, but they also tended to avoid the cottage, rendering it the perfect place for clandestine meetings. It was with great relief that Jalon noted the large black stallion tied to the fence, and the rosy glow showing in the window. Securing his horse next to Stefan's, he strode to the cottage, tapped twice on the door, and let himself in. Stefan was standing by the fireplace, in which there burned a hearty blaze. The two men embraced, sharing the warmth of a life-long friendship. Stefan gestured toward a table on which rested a cut crystal decanter of brandy and a pair of empty glasses. "Care for a drink?" Jalon smiled. Stefan had always been one to worry over the small details that made life more comfortable. "No, thanks. I need to get back before I'm officially missed. Jules watched me leave, so I'm sure that Fredric already knows I'm gone. What news do you bring?" Stefan grimaced, and sat down heavily in one of the well padded chairs in front of the fireplace. "Your dear cousin Fredric has been inciting the people of the Sama Valley to revolt against your Father. Not that they need much reason. Have you been up there?" Jalon shook his head, and Stefan continued. "They're little more than slave labor for the personal gain of the royal family. Fredric plans to lead them in battle himself. Their version of recent history is that your Great-grand hired an assassin and killed their king. With no-one left to lead the army, they were easily assimilated, and the land was "bought" cheaply. Their king had an heir, of course, but a baby can't do much to stop an invasion. "The people want their freedom from your family, and to have their rightful king restored to the throne." Jalon turned his back to the fire to warm, and looked at Stefan, his face showing his puzzlement. "So where does Fredric fit in?" Stefan raised his booted feet to the fire, and took a sip of brandy. "Fredric, of course, is the infant prince. Apparently he has a particular birthmark that proves his claim. Your great-grandfather's youngest son felt sorry for him and brought him home as an adopted son. He was raised at court, but his adoptive father made sure that he knew he was the displaced king of a vanquished nation. Sama Valley has already held a coronation and declared Fredric their King. He wants Zwa, too, to avenge two generations of slavery. "He's got an assassin, someone who claims can get close to you." Jalon laughed. "Not possible. There's at least half-a-dozen guards within sound of my voice at all times, as if I don't know how to defend myself. I'm never alone. Stefan smiled. "Beware overconfidence, my friend." Jalon turned toward the door. "I'll be careful. Right now I need to be getting back." Stefan rose and flung his cloak across his shoulders, striding easily alongside of Jalon through the yard. Jalon's hands deftly checked the saddle fittings. As he slid his foot in the stirrup to mount, he felt a sharp pain in his side, and the warm trickle of blood beginning to saturate his tunic. He staggered and fell against Stefan. "Why? My trusted friend -- we've been like brothers." "I'm sorry, my friend," Stefan's voice was soft, his throat choked with tears. Jalon seemed to hear him down the length of a tunnel. "Not all the money in the world would have turned me, you know that. I also learned that Fredric is my true-father. The farmers in Sama Valley are my people, and they need their true king, one who won't enslave them, but grant their freedom." Jalon nodded his understanding and forgiveness before he died. Stefan picked up the lifeless body of his friend and silently dropped it into the well. He turned Jalon's horse loose with a hefty swat across the rump, and quickly left. If it were not known that he had returned from Sama Valley for several weeks, Fredric would be blamed, and likely hung, and he'd have the perfect alibi...

July 19, 2010

Tehatchi's Texts

Prompt: On the border between Barbadoon and Milquetostia…there was a self-centered…king…who sat on a huge throne…and sent text messages. The official royal throne room of the King of Barbadoon was vast. It was exactly the size of two perfect cubes sitting next to each other. The room itself was twenty-five feet long, and the ceilings in the central portion hung a full twenty five feet above the impressive mosaic designs built into the tiled floor. The length was fifty feet, of course, but there was something unique about the place. The original architect had drawn the plans with measurements in feet, and as everyone knew, a foot was a full twelve inches, no more and no less. However, the original contractor had lost his measuring tape on the day he was to lay out the royal throne of the King of Barbadoon, and had resorted to using a string with knots in it. Each knot was as far apart as the length of his own foot, which he considered was close enough to twelve inches as made no nevermind. The difficulty lay in the fact that the contractor’s foot was thirteen and a half inches long. Now, you might not thing that an extra inch and a half would make that much difference, but over the course of the fifty foot length, it resulted in a considerable error. In truth, the room was 28 feet 1 ½ inches high, and wide, and 56 feet four inches long. Although the official history books listed the volume of the room as 31,250 cubic feet, in actually that one and a half inch error based on the length of the contractor’s foot gave the room a volume of 44,495 cubic feet when rounded to the nearest foot. A whopping difference of 13,245 cubic feet hiding in those extra inch and a half errors on every foot measured. The Barbadoonian king, whose name was Tehatchi, knew the secret of the extra thirteen thousand and some odd cubic feet, because the secret has been kept and passed down the line of succession from king to king. The proof, the contractor’s shoes, and a plaster mold of his foot, was kept securely locked in the king’s personal strongbox, which was actually a room attached to the king’s bedroom by way of a secret passageway beginning behind the full length portrait of Fidgitidiot the First, the founding king of Barbadoon. There were no less than five locked doors at different points down the secret corridor, and the room itself had no cracks in the walls, which were solidly welded steel plates fifteen inches thick. The central aisle of the Barbadoonian throne room was the full height of the ceiling. There was a sort of a portico built along the back of the throne room, and along the long sides, reaching nearly to the dais where the massive throne sat in solitary splendor. The back walls of the portico were, of course, the outer walls of the throne room, perfectly plastered and painted a pale peach with green plaster trim. There were exquisitely beautiful carved wood columns at the front edge of the portico, spaced about every five feet, seven and a half inches apart, although they were believed to be exactly five feet apart. Each column has been carved by a different artesian, from different cities in the kingdom, and so carried images of those things which the inhabitants of the cities held most dear. (The column carved by the artesian from the city of Erosis was positively shocking to most of the people in the kingdom, but most especially to the inhabitants of Pruderia.) Between each column there was a half wall, and a beautifully carved screen. Behind the portico wall, there was more screening that divided the area into a long hallway against the outer plaster wall of the throne room, and small rooms where the various ministers of the government could meet privately, while observing the happenings in the throne room. The throne was made of solid gold, a full five hundred pounds of it, carved into intricate designs, and studded with fabulous gems of all colors, which had been inlaid into the throne to form floral designs. King Tehatchi glided into the room through the private door no one else was allowed to use. He knew he was most definitely the most important person in the room, otherwise someone else would have been born in his place and they would be the king. Those of his subjects who had been waiting fir an audience bowed low, kneeling on one knee, and attempting to place their forehead on their raised knee. King Tehatchi thought it was particularly funny to watch fat people try to bend in half, because their stomach always got in the way, and then their face would turn red as they strained to get their forehead all the way down to their knee. Some of the very fat ones would actually try so hard they would end up losing their balance and fall over on the floor of the throne room. King Tehatchi glided around to the front of his throne and climbed up onto the very comfortable red velvet cushion that softened the seat for the greatest comfort of the royal backside. He looked over the three peasants who had come to ask for an audience today, and pointed at one of them. His chamberlain walked over and tapped the peasant on the top of his left shoulder with the scepter which was his badge of office. The peasant straightened and came nearer the throne, stopping at the foot of the stairs which led up to the throne. As the peasant started speaking, detailing some boring dispute he was having with his neighbor over whose cows should drink upstream of the other’s, his cell phone vibrated. King Tehatchi glanced down at the small device he had hidden in the opening of his wide-sleeved royal robe, and read the letters there which had been sent by the King of the neighboring country, Milquetostia. SUP He smiled, which the peasant took for an indication that he was actually listening to his plight, while his thumb flicked over the keyboard. 0 U, he wrote, indicating that “nothing” was up, and inquiring what his fellow monarch was doing. Dyin frum bordum. U want my job? King Tehatchi smiled again, and noticed the peasant had ended his plea. “This will require some thought on my part before a decision can be reached. Leave your address with my chamberlain, and he will contact you when a decision has been reached,” he said in what he thought of as his regal manner. The peasant bowed low, and left the room, murmuring thanks to his liege. R U serious? He texted to the king of Milquetostia, while pointing at the second peasant in the room, who had been patiently waiting all this time. The chamberlain poked him with the scepter, and both men came forward. Apparently they were here together. King Tehatchi hoped this wasn’t going to turn into a shouting match. He hated loud noises and violence. The phone vibrated in his hand while the two men complained about a third neighbor whose cows were always getting into their grain fields nad trampling their crops. King Tehatchi looked down at the phone. Yes. U kn hav M’tosta & Ill retire 2 tropic isle. He stood abruptly and the two men fell silent. “I will have to hear your case on another time. Please leave the details with my chamberlain, and you will be contacted when your return appointment is.” He held up his cell phone. “I’ve just received news from Milquetostia that needs my immediate attention.” King Tehatchi swept from the room and headed for his office to compose the announcement he would have made on the evening news tonight. If King Kevaan was serious and not just extremely bored, he could triple the size of Barbadoon in one simple text message. U hav deal. He texted back. When U want 2 sign? Within moments, the answer came back. This afternoon ok? King Tehatchi smiled. This afternoon would, indeed, be fine with him.

July 18, 2010

Millennial Thoughts

The arthritis monster has reared its ugly head, and I hurt too much to think, much less write something new today. This was obviously written in 1999, and yes, I'm aware of the arguments over when the millennium actually began. The fun thing for me is that both little girls are real people, Sarah is Audra's great, great-grandmother, and the two women were born 100 years apart, in 1891 and 1991. Each of them actually faced the turn of a century at the age of eight. Happy reading. --Anne
Millennial Thoughts
Eight year old Sarah Peck sat in the living room of her house and pressed her forehead against the cold glass of the window. Tiny snowflakes gently drifted through the darkness, barely visible against the glass. Sarah shivered and pulled her shawl tighter around her shoulders, as she listened to the quiet chatter of her family gathered about the kitchen table playing games. Her parents, Sarah and Dorr raised their voices in a peaceful chorus. Joy to the World was one of her favorite songs, and she loved to listen to her parents sing. Someday she would have a piano, and she vowed to learn to play it. The clock in the hall began to chime, and Sarah absently counted the hour. Five… six… seven… eight o’clock. Four hours until midnight. Sarah shivered again. The room had grown quite chilly. She left her seat at the window, and settled herself closer to the wood stove. Sarah pulled out the journal she had received for Christmas. Her grandmother Charlotte had given it to her. She looked again at the words just inside the front cover, tilting the book toward the kerosene lamp so that she could read them. “To Sarah on her eighth Christmas. Write the times of your life between these covers. You will see many wondrous happenings in your lifetime. Write now, while you’re young. Your grandchildren will want to know what life was like before the century turned. Love, Grandmother C V Peck.” Sarah turned to the first page of the book. Last week at Christmas it had seemed a fine thing to begin her journal with the New Year, the new century. She carefully wrote the date in her best penmanship, “December 31, 1899.” Sarah stopped. She couldn’t think of anything to say. Life was pretty much the same every day. She wanted to write something important, something profound. After all, it wasn’t every day that a century ended. Her mind remained stubbornly blank. She set the book aside, dreaming what the world might be like in another hundred years.
* * * * *
Eight year old Audra B sat in the living room of her house and pressed her forehead against the cold glass of the window. Tiny snowflakes gently drifted through the darkness, looking for all the world like pinprick stars against the darkness of space as they drifted through the beam of the streetlight on the corner. The cool window felt good against her head. She listened to the chatter of her family as they played scrabble and listened to a CD of holiday music. Joy to the World was one of her favorite songs, she had even taught herself to play it on the piano. The clock on the wall began to chime, and Audra absently counted the hour. Five… six… seven… eight o’clock. Four hours until midnight. Audra jumped as a sudden blast of warm air rose from the floor vent and struck her in the face. She pushed her toes into the stream and warmed them slightly through her socks. When the heater kicked off again, she turned away from the window, and settled herself on the couch. Audra picked up the journal that her Grandma Becky had given her for Christmas, and began to write. “December 31, 1999. It’s New Year’s Eve, with four hours to go until midnight. Some people are afraid that the world is going to end, or that lots of the machines will stop at midnight. I’m not worried about it though, even if there are problems, Mom and Dad have followed the prophet, we have a good supply of food, and a whole lot of water, too. Mom’s pretty excited about this New Year’s though. She says it’s not everyone who gets to live in two different centuries. Not only that, but we’ll be living in two different millenniums. I guess that’s pretty exciting. The best part is that we get to stay up until midnight, and then we can go outside and make noise. Only four more long, boring hours left in the whole millennium. I wonder what life will be like in another hundred years?”