Saturday Stories: Glint

GlintCoverNEWI’m afraid I’m too tired and jet-lagged to muster a blog post today. So, here’s an excerpt from the beginning of A Glint of Exoskeleton for today’s Saturday Stories.

The Girl Who Talked to Insects

Four

Crick peered into her dollhouse, though she didn’t much like dolls. She was looking for something.

“Oh, there you are!” she exclaimed in her sing-song, four-year-old voice. “You don’t have to hide. I won’t hurt you.”

The object of her attention crept cautiously out from under the loose carpet in what Crick called the yellow bedroom. Its antennae waved busily in Crick’s direction. Crick cocked her head to one side and furrowed her brow.

“Are you some sort of beetle?”

“Not a beetle. I’m a cockroach. An American cockroach.” The animal had a raspy voice like an old transistor radio with bad reception, but the scratchy sound was cheerful and friendly.

“Hi Mister Cockroach! My name’s Crick. That’s short for Cricket, and that’s short for Christina Marie Stolzfus, which is my real name. But you can call me Crick. What’s your name?”

“Pleased to meet you, Crick. I’m Periplaneta americana. I suppose you could call that a nickname, too.”

“What’s your real name?”

“It’s hard to say. Cockroach names are actually smells.”

“Smells?” Crick laughed. “That’s weird!”

“Not for us. We have very sensitive noses, and not so good ears. Smell is easier for us.”

“Oh! Well, I think I’ll call you Peri.”

Peri chuckled. “That would be fine.”

“Do you like my dollhouse?” Crick asked. “I saw you in it yesterday.”

“Yes, it’s quite nice, particularly this loose yellow carpet.”

Crick frowned. “I don’t really like it. I’d rather have a hamster, but mom says I’m not allowed. She says they stink and remind her of rats. Gramma gave it to me for my birthday. That’s when I turned four!” she continued proudly. “How old are you?”

“Well, I’m a lot older than four!” chuckled Peri. “I’ve been alive since 1943. That makes me…let’s see…fifty-three years old.”

“Whoa! That’s old,” replied Crick gravely. Then her brow furrowed. “I didn’t know insects lived that long.”

“Most of us don’t, but I’m…special.”

“How?”

“I’m a leader for my species—something called an über. It’s a bit like a…like a president.”

“Are presidents really old, too?”

“Compared to most insects they are. But insect leaders don’t get old like other insects. We just keep on living.”

“You won’t ever die?”

“I can be killed—I’m not invincible. But I won’t die of old age.”

Just then, Crick’s bedroom door opened and her mother poked her head in.

“Who are you talking to, dear?” she asked. “Oh! You’re playing with your dollhouse! That’s nice.”

“Well, not really. I was talking to my new friend, Peri. He’s going to live forever,” she said brightly, “unless he’s killed. He lives in the dollhouse. He likes the yellow room ‘specially.”

“That’s nice,” responded her mother, a little uncertainly. “Which one of your dolls is Peri?”

“Oh, he’s not a doll. He’s a cockroach.”

Within minutes, Crick’s mother had hauled the dollhouse out onto the lawn and sprayed it with fly spray. Crick kicked up such as fuss about it, screaming and crying, that her mother had to lock her in her room until the deed was done. Crick was screaming and pounding on her door so loudly, it was several minutes before she heard Peri’s voice.

“Crick! Crick! Don’t worry. No harm done. I’m over here.”

“B…b…but you were in the dollhouse,” she sniffed, tears streaking her face.

“I scuttled out as soon as you mentioned I was a cockroach.”

“Why?”

“I’ve been around long enough to know that when most people hear the word cockroach, they don’t react well.”

 

The dollhouse was returned to Crick’s bedroom a few days later, but Peri didn’t return to the yellow room. Crick made a house for him from an empty cereal box and hid it under her bed. Peri declared it to be the nicest house a cockroach could want.

Saturday Stories: How the Albatross Got its Wings

Photo: Peter Weiss

Photo: Peter Weiss

“Grandma! I dreamt last night that I could fly!”

“Yes, child. Of course you did. All those born of our ancestors do.”

“Why is that, Grandma?”

The old woman sighed. “Because once, we could fly.”

“Fly? How could we fly?”

“Many, many years ago, before I was born, before my grandma was born, before even my grandma’s grandma was born, the People had wings. We spent all day in the sky.”

The girl gazed upward while the old woman continued. “We soared with the kettles of broad-winged hawks in the autumn and kept the arctic tern company on her long migrations. We flitted with the chickadee amidst the winter-bare branches, and swooped silently with the owls in the night.”

The old woman chuckled. “We challenged the peregrine falcon to races—and always lost. We danced with the woodcocks in the air. We explored every bit of this land, from mountain to sea. We followed the Great River to its source in a small trickle welling up from the ground, and then to its wide mouth at the sea.”

The ancient eyes no longer looked at her granddaughter—their vision was focused far away.

“Then the Flightless came, with their treasures from the earth—gold, silver, precious gems. They worshipped these treasures, and taught the People their value. The Flightless showed us how to dig and mine, how to extract these treasures for ourselves. We forgot the sky. The silver ribbon of a river glinting in the sun was replaced by silver chains. The glitter of the northern lakes was lost to the glitter of polished stones. The golden rays of sunset gave way to the gold sheen of metal.

“We fashioned jewellery from these treasures. Bird-shaped earrings, necklaces of delicate feathers, pendants showing our own forms with wings outstretched. But we forgot what those wings were for. The tern flew alone, and the falcon raced only the wind. We dug and we delved into the dark earth, forgoing the sky.

“We began to crave the bright treasures. Those who found more than their share hoarded them jealously. Those who found less, stole.”

“When Albatross came to ask for our wings, we gladly cut them off our own backs. Wings were in the way in the underground mines. We could dig much easier without them.”

“Albatross took our wings and put them on his own back. He flew off, never to return to land again. He soars forever now over the sea, exploring the world, and landing only when he must. He lives with ease and dies with a sigh of contentment, for he has seen the wonders of the earth. Meanwhile, we live in toil, and die with our bodies and spirits spent. Rarely do we even look to the skies. We have forgotten the wind and the sun, the pull of stars, the sight of all the world spread out below us.”

Grandma smiled wistfully and sighed. “I suppose it is just a legend…a legend of flight.”

“But, Grandma…I know I flew last night! I went up and up until our house was just a speck, and the fields were wrapped around it like the quilt on my bed. And the forest was so dark and cool-looking, and I could even see the sea off in the distance, and the sun sparkled off the waves, and…Oh Grandma, it was so beautiful!”

“Yes, child. Don’t ever forget it.”

Saturday Stories: Killers for Hire

“Now, would that be who I pledge to, or whom I pledge to?” muttered Jane chewing on the end of her pen. “Or should it be to whom I pledge?” She sighed and threw the pen down. “This is never going to work.”

“What’s not going to work?” Jane’s colleague, Babs appeared around the corner of her cubicle, munching an apple. She sat on the corner of Jane’s desk and looked down at the paperwork spread out on it.

“You still working on that wedding?”

Jane nodded.

“I don’t get why it’s so hard to stop a wedding. Just pop off the bride or the groom. I mean, that’s what we’re trained for. It’s what being an assassin is all about.”

Jane sighed. “But I’m supposed to be killing love, not the people involved in it.”

“What kind of stupid job is that?” Babs spoke with her mouth full, and droplets of apple juice splattered across Jane’s desk.

“Well, how many real assassination jobs have we had in the past six months?”

“Um…”

“Exactly. Assassination isn’t stylish anymore. It isn’t the trendy thing to do like it was a couple of years ago. Have you seen the ad the boss ran in the paper last week?”

“Nah, I don’t bother with the paper.”

Jane picked a folded newspaper out of her recycling bin and paged through it to the classified section.

“Here,” she said, handing the paper to Babs and tapping at a quarter-page ad.

“Assassinations Incorporated—more than just bodies,” read Babs. “You’ve trusted us to eliminate your enemies and loved ones for over 35 years. Now Assassinations Inc. has expanded our services to meet all your killing needs. Sick of the cat? We can take care of that! Got roaches? No problem. Tired of undying love? We’ve got you covered. We can kill the lights, the fatted calf, the goose that lays the golden egg, and even two birds with one stone. Need to dress to kill? Let our sartorial staff help. Want to kill with kindness? We have gifts for all occasions. Trying to kill the clock? Let our sports team step in. We’ll even kill time for you, if that’s what you need.” She threw the paper down in disgust. “What is this shit?”

“It’s the brave new world, I suppose,” said Jane, shaking her head. “Anyway, the King of Baumgarte has hired us to stop his daughter marrying that poet guy—Julius what’s-his-name.”

“Julius VonStrueben? I love his stuff!”

“Yeah, well, apparently so does Princess Kalla. But the king can’t stand the guy. Being a thoroughly modern monarch, he doesn’t want to tell Kalla she can’t marry him, but he wants to make sure she doesn’t.”

“So, why not just kill the guy?”

“Kill the national poet of his own country?” Jane shook her head. “Every woman in Baumgarte is in love with the guy—the king would have a popular revolt on his hands if he did that.”

“That’s what our Confidentiality Prime service is for—to guarantee no one ever knows who ordered the job. Surely a king can afford the extra for that?”

Jane shrugged. “Maybe, but like I said, assassination just isn’t fashionable anymore. He’s only asked for us to kill the love, not the lover.”

“And so how are you planning on doing that?” asked Babs as she picked up one of the papers off Jane’s desk.

Jane snatched the paper back, but not before Babs had gotten a good look.

“You’re writing poetry?” She sniggered.

“Well, he’s a poet. I figured that if she happened to find some poems he wrote to other women…”

“And you think you can write poetry like Julius VonStrueben?”

Jane sighed. “I suppose it was a bad idea. But how else would a poet express himself to a lover? How else can I convince Princess Kalla that VonStrueben’s a two-timing jerk?”

The women were silent for a moment. Then Babs’ thoughtful expression turned to a smile.

“There’s more than one way to skin a cat. What if you convinced her that VonStrueben was, in fact, completely besotted with her?”

“How would that help?”

“What if VonStrueben were to write poetry for Kalla? Really bad poetry.”

“Huh?”

“Think about it. How would you feel if your boyfriend—”

“I don’t have one.”

Babs dismissed the technicality with a wave.

“Assuming you did, how would you feel if your boyfriend smothered you with really awful love poems?”

Jane wrinkled her nose.

“You see?”

“Yeah, but I’m not a princess. Aren’t princesses supposed to like that sort of thing?”

“Maybe if they’re good poems, but what if Kalla began to think that VonStrueben hadn’t actually written all those poems he’s famous for? What if she thought she was in danger of marrying a guy who not only couldn’t write, but who had become famous by claiming someone else’s writing as his own?”

Jane considered the idea for a moment.

“Not quite as sure as the philanderer tactic.”

Babs picked up a paper off Jane’s desk and read it aloud.

How many ways do I love thee?

I love thee like a tree.

I love thee like a bee.

I love thee like a well-ripened brie.

“You’ve got to be kidding me. Poetry this bad addressed to someone else? She’ll dismiss it for what it is—a ploy to make her ditch VonStrueben. But I’m sure he writes poetry to her—all you’d have to do is exchange the good poetry for your bad stuff, and she’d begin to look for a way out. Half a dozen poems like this, and she’ll be running for the door.”

“You think so?”

“I’m sure of it.”

“And if it doesn’t work?”

Babs shrugged. “You’re an assassin. You’ll figure something out.” She patted Jane on the shoulder and left.

Jane sighed and picked up the poem Babs had read aloud, reading it again to herself.

“Maybe I shouldn’t have included the brie,” she muttered. She tossed the paper aside, pulled out a clean sheet, and got to work.

 

Saturday Stories: Sledding

IMG_2918I trudged up the hill behind Haley. The sled she pulled behind her was hardly recognisable as the twenty-dollar plastic toboggan it had once been.

“And you really think this is going to work?” I asked.

“I’m sure it will. As long as you pack the snow first, so I can build up enough speed by the time I hit the ramp.”

I sighed. My little sister had been in the garage for days—no, weeks—modifying her sled, only leaving off to go to school and eat meals. The floor was strewn with papers—fiendish-looking equations, diagrams, and sketches.

Mom and Dad humored her—let her use all the power tools, bought her sheet metal, wire, and who knows what else.

“We don’t want to squash her creativity,” said Mom.

It was creative, all right. The cheap plastic sled now looked like a silver bullet, with a sleek shell over the top. A small Perspex window gave the rider some visibility out the front. Fins and wings stuck out along the sides and back.

We reached the top of the hill and I handed Haley her bike helmet.

“Mom says you have to wear this.” Haley rolled her eyes but snapped the helmet on.

“If this ruins my weight calculations…”

“Better than ruining your head,” I said.

“Help me in.”

I lifted Haley and lowered her gently through the sled’s hatch. She grinned and gave me a thumbs-up before closing the hatch behind her.

Plopping my sled down at the top of the slope, I started down the hill. I hit the ramp at a good clip and soared into the air before landing with a thud in the snow beyond.

I had only just stopped and turned when Haley began her descent. God, she was moving fast! What had she done to her sled to make it go like that? I could see her face through the window, tense and full of excitement.

She hit the ramp and seemed to go straight up. And up. And up.

Then she was gone.

I blinked at the overcast sky and waited.

A few flakes of snow spiralled lazily down.

A crow cawed from a nearby tree.

Then I went home.

Saturday Stories: Why I Always Obey Warning Signs

2016-06-11 10.13.31 smWe didn’t see the sand shark until it was too late.

To tell the truth, I don’t think any of us really believed they existed.

Oh, we’d been warned. Mum and Dad saw the news on television and told us not to go out to the beach after school. But we always went out on the beach after school. Who would walk along the street when you could walk the beach home instead? The street was full of rubbish and car exhaust. On the beach there were shells, and sand hoppers, and sometimes even dolphins out in the waves.

So, naturally, coming home from school the next day, we turned off the street onto the beach path.

Five metres along the path, a big red sign blocked our way: DANGER! SAND SHARKS! DO NOT ENTER!

We laughed and stepped over the rope barrier. Sand sharks—yeah, right. There were plenty of sharks in the water—we knew that—they cruised along the shore, just beyond the breakers. We didn’t always see them, but we saw enough that we could tell the difference between a great white and a tiger shark. But sand sharks? That was ridiculous.

We crested the dunes and raced down the far side, like we did every day. The beach was deserted. I suppose that should have told us something, but like the other warnings, we ignored it.

Jamie and Kate kicked off their shoes and raced down to the water, splashing right into the waves. Mum would have a fit about their soaking wet school pants when we got home, I thought.

I picked up their shoes as I followed more slowly, texting my friend Ellie to see if she wanted to go to the movies on the weekend.

Maybe if I’d been paying attention to something other than my phone, I would have seen it. But it wasn’t until the shark’s massive dorsal fin sliced across the beach that I looked up.

It was speeding down off the dunes, the dorsal fin looking like a wave-sculpted bush. A heaving ripple of sand pushed out in front and to the side, like the wake of a speeding boat.

I screamed at Jamie and Kate and broke into a run, trying to get to them before the shark did. I don’t know what I thought I was going to do if I made it—I was no match for the animal—it must have been at least fifteen metres long, by the size of the dorsal fin.

Jamie and Kate either heard me or saw the shark, because they turned and shrieked. Kate grabbed Jamie’s arm and pulled, but Jamie was frozen in fear. I don’t think running would have saved them anyway—the shark raced toward them at a speed none of us could have matched. A metre from my siblings, it heaved its body out of the sand, jaws wide open, rows of razor teeth gleaming in the sun. The jaws snapped shut and Jamie and Kate were gone.

I was still racing toward them as the shark sank back into the sand and turned toward me. My steps faltered. Then I dropped my phone and the shoes I still carried, and pounded up the beach.

I could hear the hiss of sand as the shark gained on me. I hit the dry sand above high tide line, and my feet slipped as they sank in. Stumbling, I kept going, finally hitting the harder sand of the dunes. I dared a glance behind me, only to wish I hadn’t—the shark was nearly on top of me.

I flew down the path over the dunes, vaulted the rope barrier and kept going toward the street.

I heard the warning sign splinter as the shark hit it and sent it flying. I could feel the sand shift under my feet now as the shark’s wake hit me.

My feet hit the sidewalk, and an instant later the concrete buckled, sending me tumbling to my knees.

The shark’s dorsal fin was jammed into the broken sidewalk, just a metre from where I crouched. Slowly, it sank out of sight, leaving me shaking and unable to move.

A car I recognized pulled up at the kerb.

“Lynn, are you okay?” asked my mother. “Where are your brother and sister?”

Saturday Stories: Ghosts

DSC_0005I always liked the early morning, before dawn. It was quiet. The kids weren’t clamoring for attention and hot chocolate. My husband wasn’t enlisting me in the frantic search for his car keys. The phone wasn’t ringing. Even the birds were quiet.

So it was natural, when we moved to the old farm out on Creamery Road, that I would tend to the livestock in the wee hours before daylight.

We kept a handful of dairy goats and a grumpy old steer named Bill, who came with the place. He’d run wild in the back forty, and only came down when winter set in, after we’d been there for six months. My daughter befriended him, and that’s how a family of vegetarians ended up with a beef cow.

But the cow wasn’t the only unusual thing that came with the property.

I saw the first ghost on an icy morning shortly after Bill arrived. We had made room for him in the barn alongside the goats. When I arrived in the barn that morning, I found Bill idly chewing an old wool blanket he had managed to reach from his stall.

“Are you taking lessons from the goats?” I asked him as I pulled the blanket away from him. I was about to toss it back into the corner when I saw the spinning wheel it had been covering.

The wheel was dusty. I wondered how many years it had sat in the barn, unused. I blew the dust off and tried turning the wheel with my hand.

“Use the foot pedal.”

I nearly jumped out of my skin at the sound of a woman’s voice. I looked up and there she was—a young woman in a long brown dress and white pinafore. She was clearly visible, but insubstantial, as though the dust had coalesced to make her form.

“Excuse me?”

“The foot pedal.” The woman pointed. “That’s what makes it go.”

I pressed the pedal and the wheel turned. I smiled.

“Was this yours?” I asked. The woman nodded, smiling.

“My husband ran two hundred sheep. I always kept back some of the fleeces—the best ones—for our own use. I had a loom, too, but it’s gone.”

“What did you make?”

“Dresses and trousers, jackets…and blankets and booties for the baby.” An insubstantial tear rolled down the woman’s ghostly face.

“The baby died?” I guessed.

The woman smiled.

“No. He lived, and grew up to be a fine man, but I never got to hold him or help him on his way. His first breath was my last.”

I took the spinning wheel into the house, cleaned and oiled it, and put a new drive band on it. I bought some wool and asked the neighbor to teach me to spin. The young ghost visited whenever I sat down to the wheel.

The next ghost appeared in springtime. The goats were out in the far paddock with their new kids, and I was coming back through the woods from an early morning visit to them .

She was an elderly Native American with deep laugh lines around her eyes. She beckoned me off the trail and showed me a patch of morels pushing through the leaf litter.

“I used to collect morels from this very spot. I taught my daughter how to find them, and she taught her daughter.” Her face clouded. “And then the White Man came. Before long, there was no one left to teach.”

“I’m sorry,” I said.

I picked the mushrooms, and have done so each spring since, savouring their earthy flavour in springtime meals.

Once I saw the first two, the other ghosts were easy to see. There was the boy floating sailboats on the farm pond—I taught my daughter to do the same. There was the doctor picking dandelion greens to nurse an invalid back to health—we began adding dandelions to our spring salads. There was the farmer building rock walls between fields—I added many stones to them over the years.

Everywhere I turned were the ghosts of those who had come before. My early mornings became a social time. I would greet the elderly man who milked his ghostly cow next to me as I milked my goats. I would share a joke with the girl who giggled in the oak tree. I would stop to hear a poem by the woman who sat writing on a mossy rock in the woods.

Bill is long gone. My kids have grown and moved away. My husband is buried in the churchyard in town. The ghosts stay with me all day now. They sit by my bedside when I wake in the night in pain.

I have claimed the milking stand as my own, when the time comes. The old man and his cow will have to make room for me.

Saturday Stories: Rehearsal of the Deathcapella Choir

100_2185“Tap, tap, tap, tap, tap!” called the choral director, waving his baton at the podium. The baton itself made no sound of its own, being made of memory and shadow, like its wielder.

The choir’s chatting continued unabated.

“Tap, tap, tap, tap, tap!” the director said louder, waving the baton emphatically. What could these people have to chat about that they hadn’t discussed a thousand times already? They were dead, for God’s sake!

Of course, that was just a figure of speech. God had nothing to do with their deaths, as they all now knew. But the habits of a lifetime are harder to break than the lifetime itself.

The director gave up on the baton and shouted, “Shut up already!”

The unruly choir members quieted and gave the director their attention.

“From the refrain, please.” The conductor raised his baton, beat out the tempo, and the choir began.

To say the choir sounded heavenly would be a gross exaggeration.

No.

It would be a downright lie.

The basses croaked like bullfrogs with emphysema. The tenors sounded like a dozen reciprocating saws. The altos might have held it together in a moan, but they were completely overwhelmed by the sopranos’ unearthly, and completely off-key, wail.

The choir director smiled.

“Lovely. Lovely! A little more Altos.”

It took a particular aesthetic to appreciate a deathcapella choir. Being tone-deaf helped, but more important was a love of gothic horror.

The choir came to the rousing finale of the piece. The director held them on the last note for just a hair longer than any living man would be able to endure. The effect was masterful!

“Well done! Well done!” he said, applauding soundlessly. “Now, the All Hallows Eve celebration kicks off at nine tomorrow night. I expect you all to be here, dressed in your most gory outfits and ready to go by eight forty-five.”

One of the choir members raised a hand.

“Yes, Alistair?”

“What time will we be finished? I’ve got a haunting at twelve I have to be at.”

“We should be done by eleven-thirty. The lesser demons take the stage at midnight. Those of you without other commitments should stick around for them—I hear it’s quite a show. A once-in-a-lifetime experience for some, I’m told.”

There was an appreciative chuckle from the choir.

“Anything else?” the director asked.

“Do we have to do the gore this year?” asked Bella. The director sighed. Every year it was the same. Bella, a former country western singer, had auditioned for the Heavenly Choir after her drug overdose. She didn’t make the cut, and had ended up in the Deathcapella Choir instead. It was a bad fit.

“Well, it wouldn’t be much of an All Hallows Eve celebration if we all came gussied up for church, would it? People want fear and terror. This isn’t Christmas!”

The choir tittered, and if Bella had still had blood in her, she would have blushed.

“Right. If there are no more questions, you may all go. Remember, eight forty-five tomorrow. Don’t be late!”

“But we’re always late!” called one of the basses.

The funeral parlour echoed with their ghostly laughter as the choir floated out through the walls.

Another excellent practice, thought the choir director. Perhaps next year they should enter the Death’s Got Talent competition.

Saturday Stories: Cold Feet

Photo: Janine, Wikimedia Commons

Photo: Janine, Wikimedia Commons

Gwen paced back and forth across the foyer’s wooden floor, her satin heels clicking out the rhythm of her racing heart. Her skirts rustled with every step.

Her mind changed with every turn she made.

Should she or shouldn’t she?

Through the heavy doors, she could hear the organ playing her favourite songs. She’d spent hours choosing them. They sounded stupid on the organ. She’d known they would, but her mother had insisted they’d be lovely.

Just as she’d insisted that Gwen would be lovely in this mound of tulle and satin, with three-inch heels.

She hadn’t been wrong on the dress. It was lovely, if you liked the Disney princess look. Gwen didn’t. But it was easier just to say yes to the dress—it pleased her mother so much.

Bill pleased her mother, too. He was tall, handsome, polite, and had a good job. He and Gwen had dated for so long that her family considered him their own. He was there for every celebration, and had been named godfather to Gwen’s niece, on the assumption he and Gwen would eventually marry.

It had been fun, planning the wedding. Though she’d given in to her mother on the dress and the organ, she and Bill had chosen the reception venue, and the band—no organ music, but the hard rock both of them liked.

They had also had fun planning their honeymoon—two weeks on the Gold Coast of Australia. Gwen looked forward to the beach and the snorkelling.

She continued to pace. The organ had gone silent, and she knew the wedding march would start in a moment. She could visualise Bill taking his place at the front of the church, the pastor standing on the steps of the alter to welcome her. She could see her bridesmaids—all five of them—arrayed in a spray of kelly green, with gold leaves braided into their hair, just like the ones in Gwen’s own.

But she couldn’t see herself in the scene. She stopped pacing and concentrated.

No. She wasn’t there. She tried to force the vision of herself standing next to Bill, gazing lovingly into his eyes as the pastor pronounced them husband and wife.

But the vision wouldn’t come.

She tried to see herself in a suburban house, Bill’s shirts lined up in the closet beside hers. She tried to see herself pushing a baby stroller through the park.

Nope.

With a flourish, the organ began the wedding march.

Gwen took a deep breath, turned her back on the heavy doors, and ran down the steps to the car waiting by the kerb.

“Just Married!” said the hand-written sign taped to the back. She tore it off, opened the boot, and grabbed her suitcase.

A block away, she hailed a cab.

“To the airport,” she said as she got in the back.

Where should she go? She leaned forward and asked the driver.

“What do you think? Fiji or Hawaii?”

“Oh, Hawaii, for sure,” replied the driver.

Gwen sat back with a smile. Hawaii it would be.

Saturday Stories: 2016 World Pea Shelling Championship

100_4237 smAaaannnnnd they’re off!

The contestants are off to a quick start! Jill takes the early lead, with three pods shelled, to Carla’s two. Kelly seems to have pulled a difficult one for her first—bad luck there, as she’s fallen behind.

For those of you who might be new to competitive pea shelling, these ladies are using Greenfeast peas—the only variety allowed in international competition. To attain the skill required to compete on this level, these women have been training eight to ten hours a day for the past six months. They’ve worked hard, and it all comes down to this moment.

And their intense training has paid off. These ladies know what they’re doing! And now Kelly has caught up to Carla. They’re running neck and neck for second place. Jill is still out in front, just finishing her sixty-third pod. But, OH! She’s dropped one! That’ll cost her!

Jill has suffered a number of setbacks this season. A touch of arthritis kept her out of the Iowa Open this year. Let’s see if she can come back from that fumble.

Oh! She might not get the chance! Kelly’s racing up from behind! She’s passed Carla, passed Jill. She’s going for the finish! Ninety-nine, one hundred!

Kelly! Champion of the World Pea Shelling Competition!

Saturday Stories: The New Ngu

photo: Fabrice Stoger

photo: Fabrice Stoger

Inspired by a game of bananagrams with my daughter, in which I spelled the word gnu.

What’s that called?

That? It’s a gnu.

A new what?

A gnu, but it has a new name.

A new name?

Yeah, I used to know it.

What? The new name?

Yeah, I knew the new gnu name, but I’ve forgotten it.

Huh?

Wildebeest!

What?

It’s a gnu.

A new what?