Friday, October 31, 2014

#18 Piano Practice

Tiny bubbles clung to the inside rim of the bowl in the sink. Caleb stared, fascinated by the way they crowded together, the rainbow swirls on their surface, their slight movement as he breathed on the water in the bowl. He could hear Mom calling his name, heard every word she said, but it was too hard to break through the wall, too hard to move. He was a statue. His brain wasn’t talking to his body right now, it was too absorbed in the bubbles in the bowl in the sink.

Mom touched his shoulder. “Caleb, time for music practice,” Mom said.

Caleb blinked. Images of the piano filled his head, memories of being at his teacher’s house, of playing songs, of touching the keys and making sounds fill the room. He loved the piano. He started to go.

Mom was putting dishes in the dishwasher. Afraid, Caleb stopped and watched her for a moment. Wasn’t she going to come?

“Go on,” Mom said. “You can get started without me.”

“No, Mom,” Caleb pleaded. “I need you. I’ll get distracted!”

Mom set another dish in the dishwasher, then without a word she led the way from the kitchen to the living room.

One of Caleb’s cars lay on the floor in the hall. Cars filled Caleb’s mind. All his toy cars, all the colors, thoughts of playing with them, of seeing them lined up in rows, of driving them down their plastic tracks and making them jump off ramps made with books. He sat down and picked up the car, then drove it in circles around the middle of the tile.

Again, he could hear Mom calling his name, but it was too hard to respond with his mind full of car.

“Caleb, get up! I thought you just said you were going to practice piano.”

Piano. That’s what he was doing. The car wasn’t finished with his race. The crowd was screaming in excitement, the wheels were howling, the car went round the tile, one more lap.

“Caleb, bring the car with you,” Mom said. She sounded mad. “Let’s go. One, two, three…”

Caleb growled and swept the car up of the ground. “I hate it when you count.”

“Focus,” Mom said. “Piano. Focus.”

Caleb set the car down on the piano where it could hear him practicing, and then hunched over on the bench, swinging his feet hard and staring at the keys. A song he knew burst into his head, and he sat up and put his hands on the keyboard. It came surging out, his hands and fingers moving without a thought from him, nothing but the excitement of the music. In the corner of his mind he was aware that Mom was setting sheet music out on the stand, he knew he wanted her to play his new song, not one of his old ones, but he couldn’t play the new song! It was too hard. He didn’t know it yet. This was easy, like walking down the hall.

“Very nice, Caleb,” Mom said. “But now let’s do your new song.”

Caleb started the old song again.

“Caleb, stop,” Mom said. “Stop, new song, focus.”

Caleb shouted, “I don’t like it when you get angry at me!”

“Do I sound angry?” Mom asked, “Now what’s this first note?”

Caleb stared at the page, where Mom pointed with her finger. The long lines of the staff made it hard for him to concentrate. That black spot meant nothing to him. It wasn’t a note, it was a little black face staring at him from inside a cage. He had to set it free somehow, but he didn’t know the combination. He groped in the dark of his mind, trying to find a key. He took a deep breath, and tried to count the lines. Mom didn’t like him counting lines, but he could do it fast, and it was the only way he knew to free that note.

“What is it?” Mom prompted.

“D!” Caleb snapped impatiently.

“Good, now start,” Mom said.

Still groping, straining, counting lines from one note to the next, Caleb struggled through the song, feeling his way by the sound of it and desperately trying to make sense of the spots and lines in front of him. When he got to the end, Mom closed the book.

And Caleb played the new song again. This time without even having to think about it.

“Amazing,” Mom smiled.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

#17 Next Door

No one lived in the apartment through the wall.

Those thumping, banging, crashing noises that Cassie heard were the maintenance crew, putting in new cabinets or something. The old neighbor had moved out weeks ago, and they’d been busy getting the place ready for a new renter, or so her parents had said.

Cassie moaned and tried to sit up to look at the clock. Her head spun. Nine-thirty at night. Why was the maintenance crew working on the apartment through the wall at nine-thirty at night, especially when she was sick and trying to get some sleep.

She pounded on the wall with her fist in feeble irritation, but she didn’t think they would have been able to hear it.

An especially loud crack made her headache flare. Scowling, she sat up and pulled on her robe. If her parents were home, she’d ask her dad to go over there and ask the workers to keep it down. But Mom and Dad had gone to the football game and wouldn’t be back for another hour or so. Her older brother played flute in the band, and afterward they were probably all going to go out for ice cream or something. She wondered if they’d bring her anything.

Cassie kept her eyes part closed as she shuffled out her bedroom door and down the hallway. She couldn’t believe those guys were still working past nine o’clock at night. Maybe the new neighbor was moving in soon and they had to get finished. Still, she thought they ought to keep it quiet. It was past the nine-o-clock noise curfew. Her parents could complain to the neighborhood association, like the neighbors across the way did when her brother kept practicing the flute at ten o’clock at night.

Cassie made herself a cup of hot soup in the microwave to the sounds of splintering wood and pounding hammers next door. With each noise her headache got worse. She finally set her cup down and decided to go over there and see what was going on. Maybe they thought no one in this apartment was at home. She would ask them if they could call it quits for the night and come back in the morning.

Outside the air was a little chilly, and Cassie pulled her robe closer around her aching shoulders. She knew she wasn’t thinking quite straight, probably because of the fever. She walked the five steps from her door to the front door of the next apartment. The door was slightly cracked open. She glanced at the parking lot over her shoulder.

She couldn’t see the maintenance truck, the big red pickup the crew always drove around. Well, she could certainly hear them in there. Cassie knocked on the partly open door.

The sounds inside changed from persistent banging to a rapid clatter of tools and hushed voices she couldn’t quite make out.

“Hello?” Cassie croaked, “I live next door, and I wanted to know if you could cut it out because I’m kind of trying to sleep?”

There was no answer. Cassie eased the door open.

And was suddenly very confused. This wasn’t the next door apartment. This was her apartment.

She stepped inside, wondering how it could have happened. She remembered walking next door, but this was her own door. Her own place. The right pictures were on the walls, the right tile on the floor. She must have gotten lost trying to find her way next door.

Well, at least the noise had stopped. Wondering if she’d maybe fallen asleep without noticing, Cassie walked down the hall and went to her room. She climbed back into her bed.

And then she noticed the paintbrush. One big, fat, dripping paintbrush on her desk. That hadn’t been there before.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

#16 The Harpmaker's Apprentice

My master had not eaten or slept in three days. His hands shook as he gave me the small harp.

"My apprentice must go with you," he told the soldier standing at the door of our hut. "A newborn harp needs much care. He will need to work on it on the road."

The soldier nodded. "Quickly," the man said.

My master gave me the tuning key from his own neck, a flask of finishing oil, the patches of leather I used to buff the sides of his finished harps, and a fine polishing cloth. Then a larger piece of oiled leather to protect the harp. He clasped my hand once, weakly, and the soldier put a hand on my shoulder and led me out the door.

It is impossible to tune and polish a harp on the back of a galloping horse. Luckily, the hourse could not run all the way to the king’s town. When we slowed or stopped to rest I took out the new-made instrument and tightened the strings, carefully, for this was not an ordinary harp. My master had carved it not from one of the seasoned logs that cure in our hut by the fire for over a year, but from the living heart of a young tree I had cut myself when the commission had come from the king, four days ago. I knew that no harp made from such green wood could last, but the king had made the order on pain of death, and we had to obey.

The king's town was a somber place as we galloped in through the big wooden gates at sunset. The people seemed oppressed with some great sorrow. I feared the king’s young son had already died, and my master’s labors of the past three days and nights had been in vain.

The soldier feared it to. “Does the prince yet live?” he asked the first guard we met.

“Yes, but he’s doing poorly,” the guard said. “Do you have the harp?” He glanced at me curiously.

I nodded, clutching the leather bundle in my arms.

I had thought that perhaps I would play the harp. In spite of its being made from green wood, it had a pure, sweet tone. Like nothing I had ever heard. I wanted to be the one to play it, but instead, after I tuned it one last time, it was given to the king’s bard. The man intimidated me, with his wild dark eyes and fierce white mane. He stroked the harp strings, then with a look of discontent he tuned it again before following the king into the chamber where his son lay.

No one told me not to, so I followed as well. The king’s house was rather like having an entire village under one roof. So many people! Other than that, it was not so different as I had expected. The king was just a man. His son lay on a bed that perhaps had more fine furs than others did, but it was still a bed, and the boy was sick with a fever, tossing this way and that in pain, just as I had seen others do. He was not too different in age from me. Perhaps if he had been born in my village and not in a castle, we could be friends.

The bard struck the strings of my master’s new-made harp and a hush fell over the room. The sound of the music had a wild quality, as if the harp itself were about to burst for the joy of living. At first the prince seemed no different, but then he lay more quietly, and at last very still. I was afraid he had died, and that perhaps the king would be angry, and my head would be on a pike at the front gate by tomorrow at dawn.

The queen laid her hand against the princes’ cheek. “His fever is broken,” she whispered. “Oh, my boy,” she picked him up and held him tight to her. His eyes fluttered open and he looked about in a daze.

The king gave me a small bag of gold. He smiled and thanked me over and over, told me to thank and praise my master, and then sent me home.

I wanted to ask if someone could take me home, as the soldier had brought me here. There were thieves in the woods who would slit my throat for my ragged boots, not to mention the gold in my pocket, but I was more afraid of the king than of the thieves. Before I went home, I did buy a new set of carving tools for my master. Perhaps he would give me his old ones, and I could finally begin my training.

When I reached my hut, it was empty. The neighbors wife stood in her garden when I came out, and from the look on her face I knew before she told me. My master was dead.

This story later became part of another tale. Read the first part, or if you were in the middle of it when you came here, read the next part.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

#15 Treachery

A brilliant flash of blue lit up the cavern. The pebbles on the ground rattled. Malagandrian dodged a bolt of blue lightning from Salazorster’s crystal-tipped staff, and returned a blazing fireball. Their dragon mounts screamed and flapped desperately to avoid the pillars of the cave as the two mightiest wizards in all the world battled over the thing they had spent half a life-time searching for: the relic of the ancients, which lay on a crude altar at the center of a deep pool in the middle of the cave. Locked in battle, the two mighty opponents flung bolt after bolt of magic at one another, toppling rock formations and making the cave itself shake as if it would collapse.

This was my chance.

I hitched up my apprentice robes and slunk from the spot where I’d been hiding. A chunk of flaming rock crashed beside me, and I dashed away to avoid getting my cloak scorched. Murmuring a spell of protection, I stayed behind fallen boulders, darting from one patch of cover to another, until I reached the edge of the pool.

My master was still up there, his dragon clinging to a curtain of stone at the top of the cave, while he wove a voiding spell. His opponent was busy with the counter-spell. I pulled off my outer robes and slipped into the water, gliding in a silent stroke across the black, cold pool. I tried not to think of what might be living down there in the water, maybe some huge beast meant to guard the relic.

I reached the altar without being eaten by anything, but had to duck my head under the water when the blast from the two spells sent a ball of pink fire that engulfed the entire cave. When I came up, the surface of the water was steaming, and Salazorster was laughing like a lunatic. It only lasted a moment before he said, “What? No!” and Malagandrian’s dragon rose from the cave floor along with a green whirlwind of magic power that sucked Salazorster’s dragon from the air and bashed it into a wall.

Yep, they were still busy, the two of them. If I was lucky, they’d kill each other.

I took a sopping wet pouch from my belt and stuck my hand inside it like a glove, then picked up the relic from the altar. It was a perfectly smooth moonstone, blue-white like ice, and would look great on the end of my own wizard’s staff. My ticket straight to the top. I drew the string on the bag, tied it back on my belt, and slipped back into the water.

About half-way across the water, I noticed the other wizard’s apprentice creeping around the side of the pool to intercept me. Great, I was going to have to use the relic and blow my cover to blast this goon out of my way.

“Get back, I’m warning you,” I threatened as I got close to the shore.

“No, wait,” the other apprentice said, “I’m with you. You’re genius. Come on, let’s get out of here.”

I didn’t want to trust him, but I knew a fight would cause a scene and get the attention of our masters, so I gathered up my robes and followed him out of the cave.

Monday, October 27, 2014

#14 Wings for Patience

I lifted the fragile, warm body in my hand. Patience tried to bite me through my glove, but I held her tight and gently slid the hypodermic needle into just the right place. “Sorry, girl,” I said gently. “I know you don’t want to do this again, but this time we’re going to make sure you can fly. Really fly.”

Patience stopped struggling and lay still. I set her down on the steel operating table and watched for a moment to make sure her breathing was still good. She was a marvel of genetic engineering, white fur perfectly matched to the pair of snowy wings that sprouted from her tiny shoulders. I’d decided to keep the mouse’s tail, but line it with a fan of white feathers. She’d come out pretty, but something had been wrong. Her wings weren’t strong enough to do any more than flutter to the ground.

I wanted her to be able to soar.

Carefully, I snipped into the skin beneath on the underside of her wings and pulled it away. There were the chest muscles that I had been building for the last few weeks by injections of steroids and other strengthening compounds. The muscles were there, but not all the fibers had been attached to the wings. That’s why the surgery was necessary. I delicately began to stitch the new chest muscles to the wing muscles. Then I closed the skin up again. My surgeons stitches were so tiny they were invisible even on the thin mouse pelt. I looked Patience over, seeking for some other thing I could do to help her fly. Those ears were probably in her way, so I trimmed them smaller, leaving a tiny ridge of bloody edge that I seared off with my heat iron. There, maybe that would be enough. No, that tail was too long and heavy. It had to be shortened.

At last the surgery was finished. I wrapped Patience up in a restraining binding so she wouldn’t hurt herself while she healed, then placed her back in her cage.

Over the next few weeks I carefully hand-fed her every meal. Her tiny pink eyes were blank, I couldn’t see if there was any pain. We waited together, and every day I promised she would soon find out what it was like to fly.

Then one morning when I took off the wrappings, everything had healed. I knew Patience would need time to learn to use her wings, but now we could begin. I took her outside the lab, into the building, and walked to the atrium with its trees and glass-covered roof. There was no one there, only Patience and me.

I opened my hand only a little ways from the tile floor and waited to see what Patience would do. She sat there, trembling, for a moment. Then she spread her wings and hopped out of my hand.

The bird instincts I had programmed into her DNA took over, and she soared across the room, spiraling higher and higher. I cheered for her, wheeling around the skylight, but then she suddenly crumpled in mid-air, as if she’d been hit. Her body tumbled down and I ran to catch her, my lab coat fluttering. Blood coated my hands as I caught her shattered form, the wings only half on, the ribs snapped and protruding through her thin skin. I dropped to my knees and wept like a child as she died in my hands.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

#13 Germs

“Mommy, I need a band-aid.”

Lea tried to push down the sick feeling that rose in her stomach. It’s nothing, she told herself. He’ll be all right. He took his pill this morning. We all took it. We do it every day.

“Let me see,” Lea said. She went to the front door where Mason stood there, looking miserable, a red scrape on his knee, one thin line of blood running down between the thin, white hairs on his leg.

“What were you doing?” Lea tried to keep her voice from sounding too hard, but the fear was there, goading her.

“I was trying Tyson’s skateboard,” Mason said. “He let me try it.”

“Mason, you know you shouldn’t do anything like that without pads. Didn’t he loan you his pads?”

“He wasn’t wearing pads, Mom. No one does.”

Lea groaned. “Come on in the bathroom,” she said.

“Help me count,” Lea said, as she rubbed the antiseptic soap into Mason’s knee. He sat on the side of the bathtub, his little shoulders tense, hands clenched on the rim. “One, two, three,” they counted together. When they got to a hundred, Lea turned on the hot tap and rinsed Masons knee. She wondered if the pipes were clean, or if maybe the germs were there, in the water she used to clean the wound. Maybe she should have boiled it.

Don’t be silly, she thought. He took his pill.

“Am I going to get sick?” Mason asked.

“No, of course not,” Lea kissed him on the forehead. “You took your pill this morning, right?”

He hesitated, and in a flash Lea could see his face in a coffin, like little Connor across the street. She shoved the image away, but Connor’s remained, his face puffy, black and purple and red splotches that makeup could not entirely cover. The pastor had said as Lea went by, “They did a beautiful job with him.” Lea had just stared at the pastor, not knowing what to say. That poor baby in the box had been the most horrible thing she’d ever seen.

Connor had fallen off a chair and split his chin on the tile floor, and his parents had taken him to a clinic to get the cut closed up. Clinics were the worst. He might have been fine if they’d kept him at home.

Mason nodded. Lea had almost forgotten what the question was. The pill, yes, he’d taken his pill this morning. Lea rumpled his hair. “You’ll be fine then,” she said. “Don’t worry about it.”

With his knee bandaged, Mason went back outside to play, but he didn’t stay long. He came in and spent the rest of the morning quietly in his room with his toys. Lea worked at her computer, occasionally her mind forgot that Mason had scraped his knee on some filthy sidewalk, but the anger and fear would not forget. They paced around the edges of her mind, occasionally slinking into the light so that she would wonder what they were doing there, and then she’d remember.

At bed time, Mason was crying as Lea tried to tuck him in.

“Are you still scared about your knee?” Lea asked.

“I didn’t, Mom,” Mason choked out the words. He reached for her and she bent down so he could squeeze his arms around her tight and shaking.

“What’s the matter, baby,” Lea asked.

“I didn’t take it, Mom. I don’t like it, it gives me a stomach-ache.”

A flash of fury washed over Lea. She grabbed Masons shoulders and shook him, flopping his head against his pillow. “No,” she said in a strangled scream.

Mason’s face crumpled and he howled in terror, shame, and sorrow.

Lea turned away, stinging inside. If he dies, she thought, you’ll remember how you did that. You didn’t comfort him, you blamed him

“Mommy’s sorry,” Lea said. She put her hand to his forehead. Fever, maybe? She peeled the bandage away from his knee.

Friday, October 24, 2014

#12 Call Home First

Ryan waited with his cell phone pressed against his ear, listening to the slow rings. Three, four, he counted. Two more and the answering machine would pick up. His mind raced. If it was the answering machine, what would he say?

Ryan’s mom dried her hands quick and walked to the phone. It was 3:15. A call at this time of day usually meant Ryan was staying after school for something or another.

Ryan heard the phone click. His mom’s voice, “Hello.”

Mom was there. That was almost worse.

“Hey, Mom,” Ryan said. “Um…” he glanced at the swirling sheet of light that glowed from ceiling to floor in his history classroom. “I’m going to be a little late coming home from school.”

“What’re you doing?” Mom asked casually.

“Uh, something for history,” Ryan watched his history teacher, Mr. Bates, pull a heavy black robe over his teaching clothes. The pointy-eared guy sitting on Mr. Bates’ desk curiously examined the electric pencil sharpener. A hulking guy in chain mail standing by the white board lazily sharpened a battle axe that was larger than the top of one of the classroom desks.

“When are you going to be home?” Ryan’s mom asked.

Ryan took a deep breath. “Well, technically, Mr. Bates says it won’t take more than a few minutes, here that is,” Ryan glanced at Mr. Bates who nodded and smiled encouragingly. “Apparently there’s this alternate dimension where we have to go fight a dragon or something, but with the temporal flow difference between our universe and theirs, no matter how long I’m gone I’ll end up coming back here about ten minutes later, or something.”

Mom was silent for a moment. Then she laughed. “Okay, so just be home in time for dinner.”

“I will,” Ryan said. The woman with a bird’s head and long blue wings stepped from one cat poster to another on Mr. Bates’ wall, reading them with a frown. She made a soft screech and the pointy-eared man answered with laugh. “Unless I get eaten by something.”

“So you’re going to be at the school?” Mom said, in her seriously-now-what’s-really-going-on voice.

“Well,” Ryan said, “Technically yes. Because, like, the portal’s here in Mr. Bates’ classroom, so I guess I’m not technically going to… well… yes, I’ll sort of be here in Mr. Bates’ classroom the whole time. Okay?”

“Okay,” Mom chuckled again. “How about you call me before you start biking home so I’ll know when to expect you.”

“Uh, sure,” Ryan said. Mr. Bates held out a sheathed sword on a thick leather belt. Ryan took it and nearly dropped it, it was so heavy. He hooked it under his elbow and held it tight against him while he finished the phone call. “So, see ya, mom. Bye.”

“Bye,” Ryan’s mom glanced at the clock again. 3:17. Back to washing dishes.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

#11 Growing Pains

When I woke up that morning, my ring was too tight, the carved, ashwood ring my father had given me for my sixteenth birthday. I worked it off, twisting it painfully over my knuckle, then stared at it sadly before putting it in my pocket. I knew I might grow out of it, but I didn’t think I grow out of it so soon. I wasn’t getting fat already, was I?

I came back from gathering honey for breakfast. Mother stopped and stared at me when I came in the kitchen, a look of surprise that quickly melted into a fond smile. “My, how you’re growing, Fia, my sweet!” She put a kiss on my cheek, then went back to setting the table.

“Summat wrong with the bees,” I said, and started at the sound of my voice. I croaked like a frog.

“What’s that?” Mother’s high, flutey, gentle voice answered back. My voice usually sounded like hers, only one note higher.

“They made an angry buzzing the whole time I was near their nest,” I set the crock of honey on the table.

“I’ll tell your Da, then,” Mother said, and gave me a curious look. “Are you feeling all right, then, sweet?”

I nodded my head, but kept to myself during breakfast. I didn’t like the way my voice sounded at all.

After breakfast, I left our house and walked along the tree branches, on my way to the meadow. They bent under my weight. My little brother dashed by, sometimes running, sometimes flying, with his friends in a game of tag. He stopped to stare at me.

“You’re getting fat!” he said. “Look!”

It was true, the branches were hardly holding up my weight. I scowled at him and sat down, then slipped into the air.

My wings weren’t working either. I could barely flutter to the ground. When I made a loud crash in the leaves below my brother and all his friends laughed.

“Oink, oink!” they called after me as I went the rest of the way to the meadow along the deer tracks through the forest.

The other fairy girls were there already, tending the wildflowers. I tried to sing to them, but my voice rasped. The flowers wouldn’t change color at my touch, either. Frustrated, I wanted to cry. The other girls gathered round, all sympathy and gentle reassurances. I must be ill, they said, and told me to go home and lie down.

I fingered my ring in my pocket as I walked home through the forest. When I pulled it out to try and slip it back on, it wouldn’t even go over my finger tip.

At the base of my tree, I made a little hop to launch into the air, then felt a sharp pain behind me and heard a soft snap. I crashed back to the ground in a heap. Beside me lay a glassy, gossamer, crumpled thing. My wing! It had broken off!

I sat there, sobbing, until Mother came down. Mother and half the clan too. They all stood about, baffled, useless. “Go away!” I said, horrified at how loud and low my voice had become. I stood up, and was head and shoulders above even the tallest of them. “Go away!”

Mother hugged me. She only came up to my waist. “We ha'e to take you to Grammy,” she said softly. “Come along.”

Grammy lived in a cave in the deepest part of the wood. Mother and I went alone. My footfalls sounded terribly loud next to hers. When we got to the mouth of the cave, Grammy was there waiting for us.

“I knew it,” Grammy said.

“What? What did you know?” Mother asked.

“Someone’s doing a change. Some fairy lad has fallen in love with a human lass, and has worked the dark magic to change her into a fairy. Our Fia here is to take her place in the human world.”

“No!” I cried. “I won’t!”

“You must, unless you can find the girl and convince her to deny her love and want with all her heart to be a human again.”

“Then where is she?” I asked. I’d make her wish she’d never set eyes on a fairy.

“That I can’t say,” Grammy said. “You must find her on her own.”

“Then I’m off,” I said.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

#10 Concerto for Chicken and Orchestra

I took my seat in the sponsor’s private box with more than my usual excitement on that evening. This was not my typical debut. This was the night when the world would hear for the first time a piece that was either to make or break my career as a composer. Tonight would be the debut of my masterpiece, my greatest, most controversial work yet, my Concerto No. 1 for Chicken and Orchestra.

The well-dressed woman beside me was a stranger, someone who had paid a great deal of money to sit in the sponsor’s box with the composer himself. I gave her a faint smile. She glanced at me, then down at the printed program in her lap, then raised an eyebrow. She squared her shoulders and sat high in her seat, as if steeling herself for the performance to come.

It was my first indication of the disaster that was to follow, but yet at that time I still had no premonition of the full impact of this night’s performance on my future.

The orchestra filed out onto the stage and took their places. The chatter of the audience became hushed. I tapped my fingers on the cushioned arm-rest of my chair.

The conductor strode out at last, to a hesitant applause. Beneath his elbow he carried a fat red hen. As soon as he reached the podium he dropped her to the stage with great ceremony, then haughtily scattered a handful of corn around her. A wry smile curled my lips. The conductor had protested vehemently against performing this work, but the sponsor had loved the idea, and so I had prevailed.

The audience waited, breathless, for the first downstroke. Everyone’s attention focused on that humble chicken at the conductor’s heels. She strutted about and pecked, oblivious to the thousands of eyes upon her.

The music began soaring through the auditorium. A simple, pastoral piece, it was to evoke the pleasure of a country afternoon, of sitting on the farmhouse porch and watching a chicken go about her careless business of gathering food into her crop. A deep poetic statement about a way of life that had long been lost to the over-stuffed, satin-coated snobbery that filled this concert hall.

All would have gone well, had not the second cello’s shoelace been untied.

The chicken must have taken it for a worm, something she preferred to mere grain, and began to peck at it. Irritated, the cellist nudged her away, but she was undeterred. He gave her a swift kick that sent her flapping into the air, only to land on top of the harp. The harpist could not reach her well and continue to play the arpeggios that this section of the piece commanded, so instead the harpist began trying to dislodge her by throwing sheets of music that had been played already. At last rebuffed, the chicken took flight again, only to land inside the grand piano.

By now the audience was roaring with laughter. The piano lid slammed shut, and the most horrific noises were coming from inside, of squawks and clangs. The conductor turned and glared at the audience with a warning look. They tried to quell their laughter, the woman next to me stuffed her pearls in her mouth in an attempt to stop laughing, but they could not. In disgust, the conductor cut off the music and stalked from the stage.

The pianist timidly opened the lid of the piano, and the chicken shot forth. Battered and ragged, she landed on the nearest available perch, the top of the conductor’s podium. She had a hard time keeping her balance and had to beat her wings, which the bassoonist took as a signal to begin the piece again. As she struggled there to stay on her slippery perch, the orchestra lurched forward at each slow beat of her wings, and continued to play with the chicken conducting!

I quite wished to sink into a great hole in the ground and never come forth again.

Laughter drowned the sound of the final chords, and the applause was only sporadic. Some kind soul quickly dropped the curtain as the chicken fluttered at last from the podium and back to the stage, ostensibly taking a bow, which brought another hoot from the audience, before the red velvet at last obscured the greatest disaster of my career.

Before the house lights came up I climbed over the silk and satin laps of my boxmates and made for the back door.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

#9 Canoe

It is the fifth sunrise since the storm, and still no wind.

I am close to land. I knew it even in the dark of night, from the way my canoe moved beneath me. The long, gentle swells of the ocean were accompanied by a different pattern, a cross-movement, an echo that came from some unseen shore. I turned my prow toward it, hopeful, and began to row again.

My sail, useless, lies lashed in the prow of my canoe, where it has been these five days. It looks like a piece of sunrise cloud has come down to light there, red in the dawn. Later it will be my shade, unless there is wind.

I pray for wind.

Rowing, I can not bear the sun and the thirst much longer. Resting I might live, but would not live forever. So I must row now while the sun is low.

The bright light lifts over the horizon, making a river of gold, a line straight across the water from my canoe to the edge of the world. I marvel at the direction it strikes. I know where this river runs, I know the sea and how it lies beneath the stars, and for land to be in the direction I can feel the swells running means that the storm has blown me much farther off course than I ever dreamed.

I know this land ahead of me, though I have never been there. I know it because I know the chants, the chants that hold the knowledge of where every land lies on this vast ocean. I sang them in my mind last night, to keep myself awake as I lay in my cradle-canoe and stared at the stars, for to sleep, fully sleep, out here on the ocean is to loose my way. I know those chants, and they speak of this land, though I have never seen it, nor have any of my island ever been there. It is a place of legend only.

As the sun rises higher, more signs that I am near land. Sea birds stream from that direction, flying out to sea for a day of fishing. I see them moving as white specks in the distance. Later, a white cloud sails up from the horizon, passing over the place. Its belly shifts from the blue of the sea to the green of jungled hills. There is land there, much land. There will be fresh water to drink, and fruits to taste.

So I row, still, though my blistered hands ache and my lips are cracked and my mouth is swollen and dry. When the sun is too hot to bear I stop to get out my sail, to lash it to the mast and stretch it over my head, my own little red cloud while the others above me have all gone white.

I pray to the God that Hears Me, the Creator, that I might live to see the top of a mountain rise from the sea ahead. I pray that I might reach the sand. But I wonder, over all this vast earth, among all the creatures that must struggle and die today, why I should be spared. I, a man of the earth, who has ventured out onto this sea.

But no, the sea is my highway. The thing that connects all lands together. My road. I am its friend. It tells me its secrets, its ways. I have crossed over it, been carried from place to place. I may yet reach the shore.

I wonder if God can see me. Is He in the sun, staring down with a fiery, blinding eye? Or perhaps the ocean is His Eye, and I a tiny speck, drift across it as he stares into the heavens, the cloud and clear of the blue daytime sky.

And still I row and pray for wind. Perhaps I am already passed into the next world, but then where are my ancestors, who should have come to meet me? Do I row on this vast ocean for eternity, alone? Is this my punishment?

I pray for wind, and for sight of land.

Monday, October 20, 2014

#8 Birds



“Fat, ugly, HUMANS!”

I moaned and fluffed my feathers. What were those two babies in the cage below me screaming about now.

“Hey, hey, HEY!” they squawked.

“What’s the matter?” I chirped, irritated.

“They forgot to feed us again!” Snow said.

“It’s been two days,” Vinnie squeaked.

“Help us get their attention,” Snow pleaded.

What I really wanted to do was get back to my nap, but I knew that wasn’t going to happen with the birds downstairs chirping their heads off. I yawned and stretched my wings, then hopped from the top of my ladder to my cage wall.

On the other side of the bars I could see our people surrounding their kitchen table, laughing and talking as they made sandwiches. My person, the tall yellow one, had already fed me this morning. The middle-sized brown one was supposed to feed my downstairs neighbors, but he’d forgotten to do it on lots and lots of mornings. I banged my beak against the cage bars and chirped, trying to get their attention. Nothing happened.

I say the people are brown and yellow, but that’s not quite right. They’re actually all pink, with only a little bit of different colored feathers on top. And it’s not quite feathers either, it’s long stringy stuff. It’s the only way I can tell them apart.

“Hey,” I chirped. “Quit feeding yourselves and get over here and feed us!”

The people kept on ignoring us. They usually did, unless one wanted to take one of us out of the cage to go play for a while.

I tried all the tricks I knew of. I bounced from wall to wall in my cage, something that they used to watch in fascination when I first came home from the pet store. I hung from the ceiling and flapped my wings so fast they buzzed. I took my seed dish and rattled it until seeds sprayed onto my cage floor and onto the kitchen tiles far below.

No response.

Meanwhile, downstairs, those two feather-heads kept up their chirping and squawking. It was no use. I was going to have to pull the trick I’d been saving for a special occasion.

I knew I could get out of my cage. I’d known it for a long time. The little door my person used to change my food dish could slide up pretty easily if I grabbed it with my beak. I’d done it lots of times, but then just let it drop back down. If I escaped, where would I go anyway? I liked my cage, it had the food and water in it, and plenty of toys, and my favorite mirror.

Of course I would rather have been downstairs with the other two. Most of the time. They had better toys down there, and a bigger cage, but I’d been in solitary confinement since I pulled out the wing feathers of the unwelcome newcomers. Noisy little brats.

If I was still downstairs with the other two, my person would be feeding us all.

I lifted the little sliding door over my seed dish, then let it crash down again. That should have gotten the humans’ attention, but they were all busy stuffing their sandwiches into bags and stuffing the bags into bigger bags full of books and things. I knew they’d be leaving any minute, so I had to work fast. I lifted the little door, but this time I didn’t drop it. I eased myself through underneath, carefully holding on with my beak, and reached my feet around for the outside of the cage bars.

“You can do it, Max! Go Max, go Max, go Max!” the two birds downstairs set up a chant. It really wasn’t helping me concentrate. I wanted to get out of the cage without dropping the door on myself.

Finally I was clinging securely to the outside of the cage. I let the door drop with a bang, then launched myself for the table. If I landed right in the middle of their sandwich-making party, that would get their attention for sure.

Only one thing I forgot. The biggest human had just clipped my wings.

I fluttered to the floor, struggling not to crash. And then I noticed something else.

All the people were gone.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

#7 - Slug

Why did I have to be a slug? Why not a bird, or at least a puppy.

I didn’t think I’d always been a slug. I wasn’t sure, though. It was hard to think about it. It was as much as my slug brain could do, to keep my belly rolling so that I could slide over the ground, to make sense of the vague light and shadow that shifted around me as my eyes waved in the air. But I knew what a slug was, and I knew that I was one, and that made me suspicious that maybe I hadn’t always been this way.

Something pinched me at my middle, and my belly lost contact with the ground. In horror, I curled up tight and pulled in my eyes.

Slowly, like a mist clearing, I became able to see again. I was staring into the freckled face of a young girl with black hair and pale green eyes like a cat’s. She stared back with a look of smug triumph.

“You will be my familiar,” she said to me. “Now, go and show my grandmother.” She waved one hand at me. The other was holding a small, pale, slimy thing. A slug. Me. But not me right now. Now I was air, and the wave of her hand had made me shimmer, then start to move. I sailed through the trees. That was the woods, where I’d met the girl only a few minutes ago. She’d smiled at me, I’d told her to go away. I was busy fishing. There was my pole, still by the stream. She’d scowled and asked my name, and I’d told it to her.

Next thing I knew, I’d been a slug.

I rose higher, so that the tree tops were under me now. My village passed under me in a flash. I waved my arms. I had arms again! But I couldn’t slow myself down, nor go any faster either. A wind carried me along, a wind I couldn’t fight.

I should have known that girl was a witch. I should never have talked to her.

The scene around me moved faster and faster until it blurred together, and at last I found myself drifting about an inch off the floor of a very shabby, dirty, cluttered old hut. A strange-smelling fire smoked at the middle of the room, and a bent old woman sat in a rocking chair, idly dropping a handful of tiny bones on a table next to her. She would grunt, then scoop the bones up and drop them again.

At last she looked up and saw me.

“What’s this?” she grinned. “Misha chose a familiar, did she now? Well, well, you’re a pretty little boy, aren’t you? What’s your name?”

I opened my mouth to answer, but then I stopped. I didn’t have to tell her too.

Who knows what she was going to do to me next.

The old witch’s expression soured. She gave me a look, like we were now sworn enemies, and she would do everything in her power to make me miserable as possible. She waved her hand, and I was again sailing through the air.

“What did she think?” the little witch gave me an impish smile.

Once again I didn’t say anything.

“You’ll soon learn to behave,” she told me, and I was a slug again.

I hated being pinched. It hurt, I wanted the ground. Instead, I got set down upside-down, enfolded by cloth. My slug brain could barely comprehend I was inside an apron pocket.

Friday, October 17, 2014

#6 - Agent

The good thing about being a slave is that sometimes you’re practically invisible. No one notices you. You’re part of the furniture. If you go somewhere you’re not supposed to be, everyone assumes that you’re just there on an errand for one of the masters. Well, within reason, of course. There are places I could go that would get me instantly killed if I was caught.

But most of the time, being a slave means that you get completely overlooked. No one thinks I can read. They don’t even know I understand their language. I don’t think, I don’t make decisions, I don’t do anything but follow orders and look forward to the rapturous day when the true masters will arrive.

It makes me the perfect spy.

The masters are getting worried about something. I could tell this morning when I helped my master with his breakfast. He kept looking over his slates, dipping his chin the way a slave would shake his head. I tried to sound innocent when I asked him what was wrong. Did I mention that I’m also a very good actor? It used to be, before the masters came, that some people made a living at pretending they were someone else. It was called acting. I think I would have liked that job.

My master dipped his chin again. “We’re behind schedule. The true masters will be here sooner than expected, and we will not be ready for them. They will be very angry.” He spoke slowly, using my language, the way I would talk to a child.

“When are they coming?” I asked, pretending to be happy and excited. Instead, dread gripped me. The masters were using us for now, to help get the world ready for the arrival of their masters. We weren’t sure what was going to happen when the true masters arrived, but some of us suspected there wouldn’t be much use for us anymore. Others thought we’d all be taken away to serve as slaves on some other planet with too little gravity and too high temperatures for the masters’ comfort. At any rate, we hated these masters enough to know that when the true masters came, we’d like it even less.

My master pretended he hadn’t heard the question. I decided not to push it. They’re not extremely clever, at least not most of them, not the way that we can be clever, but they’re not completely stupid either. And they’re very, very strong. I once saw one reach out and snap the leg bone of a slave who had irritated him, like I would break a blade of grass.

It would have been great if I could have an actual arrival date for the true masters to report to the resistance, but knowing they were coming sooner than expected was reason enough to go out on an errand. I waited impatiently while my master finished his bowl. It took him forever because he was reading his slates. I tried to make out if there was a date of arrival for the true masters, but it was hard because he kept switching the readouts from one to another. I’ve learned to read their language, in secret, but I’m still not very fast at it. The colors and shapes of it don’t instantly jump into meaning, like the letters of my own language. All it looked like to me was data about my master’s factory.

I’m lucky that my master is a powerful one, with many slaves. He has a whole factory of us, building machines to transform our world for the true masters. It gives him a lot to think about, and less time to notice that his personal servant is one of the resistances’ top agents.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

#5 - The Storyteller

It was time. Someone would come for her any minute, and still she had nothing.

Rhianna squeezed the last feeble dribbles of milk into the bucket, then glanced at the sun. It had to be past time. She stared into the weak, blue white goat’s milk swirling in the pail, hoping to find some inspiration there. Nothing.

She pulled the peg and moved the slats that kept the nanny goat’s head locked in the milking stand. The stubborn thing kept rooting around the feedbox, so Rhianna angrily shoved it’s nose back. The goat danced away to join the others nibbling the grass. Rhianna stomped toward the kitchen hut, her mind racing in a panic.

Only her fifth day. She couldn’t fail now. So soon. She imagined her father’s face, gentle but sad. Her mother would be happy. She had never wanted Rhianna to become a skald.

“Rhianna, your turn,” Yeliah called from the direction of the teaching hut. “Hurry, the masters are behind today, and want to get caught up.”

Rhianna left the bucket on the kitchen back step. Inside, she heard two of the other girls giggling as they shelled peas. They’d already told their stories for the day. They had nothing to worry about.

A story, a story. Rhianna felt the stones through the bottoms of her leather slippers. No story there. She glanced around at the trees. A small brown bird hopped from branch to branch. No story there. A patch of melting snow lay in the shadow of one of the standing stones. No story there.

As slow as Rhianna dared, she walked toward the hut. Thinking. Only stories she’d heard before ran through her mind. Nothing new. But she couldn’t fool the master skalds. They’d said they had heard every story in the world, and would know if what she told them had come from her own heart or if it had come from somewhere else.

The high, peaked thatch of the roof looked like a strange, pointed hat. A thin blue smoke trailed out the chimney hole at the very top. Rhianna stepped up to the dark doorway, trying to clear her mind. She could only enter here if she left all her fear and her anger outside. Today her hands were shaking, her heart pounding. They would know she was afraid.

It was darker inside, at first she couldn’t see the faces of the masters. They waited, seated in a row, waited for her to tell the story she could not think of.

After the silence grew and grew until Rhianna could no longer bear it, she bowed her head. “I have no story today.”

“No story,” Ariah, one of the masters, spoke. “Then you must leave us.”

“No, please,” Rhianna begged. “May I try again tomorrow?”

“You must go back into the world, until you have found the greatest story there ever was. Then you may return to us.” Said the bald one. Master Vlorin.

“Dismissed,” Said Master Kyal.

Hot, angry tears fell on Rhiannas cot as she shoved her few belongings back into the pack she’d emptied only a few days ago. She took her staff, the smooth wood had been polished by her brother. That would have been her skald’s staff, carved with the first letters of each line of all the histories of the clan she would have served, to remind her. She glanced at the other girls in the room. One churning butter, two others carding wool. Their faces were sympathetic, or triumphant. They would still have a chance, more chance now, to be chosen as an apprentice.

Rhianna turned her back on them and strode out the door.

The greatest story in the world? Might as well tell her to leave and never come back. If she did find the greatest story in the world, how would they know it? How would she know it? She stumped her staff into the path and strode out between the two standing stones that marked the edge of the compound.

There was no greatest story in the world. Rhianna turned her face toward home.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

#4 - Sirens

I dreamed the sirens went off. Then I woke up, and they were still blaring.

The clock said three forty-five in the morning. My heart pumped harder, but I groaned. The sirens had gone off three times since we’d moved to Hawaii. It just meant we had six hours to evacuate before some non-tsunami made the waves a little bigger for about fifteen minutes.

I heard my parents getting up. “I’ll get the radio,” Mom said.

Dad’s voice sounded sleepy and puzzled, “There’s nothing on my phone,” he said.

“What do you mean?” Mom asked as she started down the stairs.

Dad followed her. “No text from nixle. There’s usually a text.”

“Mommy!” Clarisse called from her bedroom, her voice frightened. Last time there’d been a tsunami warning, it had been three weeks before she could get to sleep at night.

“It’s okay, Clarisse, I’ll be right back upstairs.”

Mom came back a minute later with the radio to her ear, a frown on her face. “It’s just the weather,” she said.

“The sirens are still going,” Dad said.

“We’d better start moving,” Mom said. “David, find your shoes and get your pack. Come here, Clarisse, baby, it’s okay, honey, don’t be scared.”

Since we moved into a tsunami inundation zone, Mom had made us all an evacuation pack. It had food and water for like, three days. Mine was under my bed. I thought about changing into some real clothes, not just my pajamas, but then I remembered that if something happened on the big island, like a massive landslide, we’d have about twenty minutes to get to higher ground before our house washed out to sea.

I grabbed a flashlight and my ipod and shouldered my pack. One quick glance around my room, then I was out the door and down the stairs.

Dad carried Clarisse. Her pink backpack with puppy dog ears was shoved up against his own larger pack on his shoulder. Mom came last. She’d grabbed a few loaves of bread from the cupboard, and still had the radio against her ear.

“Should we take the car?” Dad asked.

Mom shook her head. “The highway’s too close to the water.”

A steep hill rose behind our house, covered with jungle, with a utility trail that led up to the water tower. How far would we have to go until we were safe? I heard a neighbor’s car start, saw the lights on and heard shouts from my friend Cody’s place across the street.

“Stop,” Mom said with a sob. “It’s a shelter in place! Oh, Dear God, no!”

We didn’t move. The sirens wailed.

“Get back in the house,” Mom said, she grabbed dad by the sleeve and pulled, her teeth gritted.

We ran back to our front door. Before we got there, the sky lit up, pure white, from horizon to horizon, like some crazy mega lightning bolt. When that faded, a bright red glow still shone over the mountains, in the direction of Honolulu.

I looked. How could I not look? And I saw a cloud rising up over the mountains. Just a dome shaped cloud, red and black. I knew what that was. No one had to tell me. I’d seen it so many times, in shaky-black and white films. That was the top of a mushroom cloud.

I stumbled into the house and followed Mom and Dad into the laundry room. A rumble drowned out the sirens, rising to a roar that rattled the cans on the shelves. Clarisse screamed.

“It’s okay, baby, don’t be scared,” Mom said as the sound faded again. “Everything’s all right.”

Dad took a roll of plastic sheeting from the shelf. “Where’s the duct tape. Like this is going to do any good.”

“It’s there, above the washer,” Mom said.

I watched my parents taping a flimsy sheet of plastic over the door. “Two weeks,” Mom said. “That’s how long we have to stay away from the dust.”

Another rumble, this one louder, closer. The lights flickered.

“That was the military base,” Dad said.

Two weeks. I let my pack slide off my shoulder and hit the washroom floor. “Mom, what about Peter?” I nearly shouted it. My big brother, away at college. We’d never see him again.

“Maybe it’s just Hawaii,” Mom said. “Maybe he’s fine.”

“Mommy?” Clarisse said. “Do you think we have to go to school today?”

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

#3 - Visitor

I carefully maneuvered my vehicle over the slick terrain, it’s multiple legs moving slow to be sure of getting traction. My goal lay ahead, a basin of material that contained the kind of particulate nutrients I could use to rebuild my damaged structure.

My vehicle moved as smoothly as it could on its needle legs, but still each jarring motion made my plates ache. This gravity would have disintegrated me days ago if it weren’t for the protective suit I wore. Outside, a thick atmosphere pressed against the cabin, full of poisonous, reactive gasses that could tear me apart.

If I didn’t get my ship repaired soon, I wouldn’t make it.

I neared the basin, watching carefully for the huge creature that guarded it. It gave off a constant, dull hum of heat, so it was easy to tell it wasn’t anywhere nearby. I extended the robotic claw and chose one x-shaped pellet from the basin. My sensors detected iron and other trace metals and minerals. It would do well. I pulled the robotic arm in and headed back to my hiding place.

A sudden thunderous shaking rattled my molecular structure. The creature came bounding into view around the edge of the valley, making it’s monotonous hum of heat. I froze in place as it sent another series of rapid vibrations, it’s way of communicating with the other creatures, through the sluggish atmosphere.

I had no escape, I couldn’t move fast enough to get out of sight.

The creature came close, it’s heat growing louder. I felt the gravity shift as it tumbled my crawler over. It was trying to get at the pellet I had stolen, it’s piece of food.

"What’s the matter, Goldie?” I came downstairs to see why the puppy was barking. I found her in the kitchen, playing with a thing about the size of a baseball, covered with plastic spikes like a sea-urchin. It had a piece of dog food stuck in its spines.

“Sam, don’t leave your toys in the kitchen!” I picked the thing up and dropped it in the toy basket.

Monday, October 13, 2014

#2 - I Used to Be a Tree

I used to be a tree.

On a slope, standing among a mighty host, tall and straight, all of us together. We were a forest, whispering in the wind, speaking of the stars.

I was not made by hands. I made myself, pulling life from the ground itself. Tiny bits of stone, I constructed my body out of grains of earth, building it cell by cell. From a tiny blade of green to a mighty tower.

I used to be a tree, living, growing, and then I was cut down.

Now I stand alone, still tall, but no longer breathing. There are others, we are a marching line, but we do not speak. I have no needles to whisper in the wind. I have no branches, only strange wood nailed across my face. It bears the long, leafless vines that stretch for miles, my heavy burden that I bear.

We are a row of bones. You do not see us, beside this river of black stone, where flows life and death.

I have no bark. Stripped, my only clothing a few bits of shiny metal, nailed on, marked with symbols, and sometimes tattered papers.

I used to be a tree, but now I am replanted, rootless, driven into the ground. Sometimes the birds still come, to rest on the cables. Sometimes, when the wind is high, I almost have a voice.

In the forest I would have died just the same, but in the forest I would have fallen to the ground. My tower would have crumbled back into dust, then waited eons to be formed again, my elements to rise living once more.

I can never go back. I have been poisoned, so that nothing will gnaw me, nothing will bore into me. I stand here preserved, with black tar drawn out of my sides.

But wind and rain will have their way. Someday I will be too weak to hold up these cables, the thick black snakes that crackle and hiss so softly that I only I can hear them. Someday again I will be cut down.

Then I will be good for nothing but to be buried away from light and air, in an endless pit of garbage, never to rise again.

Or maybe I will burn. Yes, I am good enough to burn. Then I will become smoke and ash, and some of me, some particle, may rise into the atmosphere, closer to the stars, and travel around the world, spreading through the air, until at last some atom of me may fall into a forest on a mountain slope, and wait for eons before some root takes it up.

And again, at last, be part of a tree.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

#1 - Fable

Once there was a little cloud who had forgotten how to fly.

It happened one day, started actually, a long time ago when the cloud realized something. She had always wanted to be a great big hurricane, or at least a rather large thunderstorm, but one day she looked around and saw that she WAS NOT. She was just a cloud. A very ordinary little puffy white cloud that hadn’t even made it rain very much.

So she sulked.

What’s the use? She thought, and sank slowly down to the ground where she became a soft white fog rolling along through the grass.

The little cloud missed flying. It had been her favorite thing to do, to zoom through the air and see all the land below. Green trees, shining rivers, cities and towns and farms in a strange crystalline patchwork across the earth. But it turned out that not flying was good too. Flying took a lot of work, and there were plenty of things for the cloud to do near the ground. She could roll in from the sea and bring cool droplets of moisture to thirsty plants in a desert that never felt rain. She could tangle around the heather on the highlands and obscure the sound of bagpipes from a distant bluff. But it wasn’t quite the same as flying.

There were plenty of other clouds that didn’t fly. They all seemed to be content. The little cloud missed her friends up in the sky, and she watched them with admiration as a few of them even became mighty storms. It wasn’t going to happen to me, she would sigh, and continued to creep along the ground.

One foggy morning in an empty field the cloud met a kite. "What are you doing here on the ground," the cloud asked.

"Waiting for the fog to clear so I can fly," said the kite.

"I used to fly," said the cloud, "but not any more. I miss it. I hope you have fun," said the cloud.

"Why don’t you fly anymore?" Asked the kite.

"It’s no use," said the cloud. "And it’s an awful lot of work. There’s plenty of foggy things to do instead. But since I’m in your way I’ll roll down into that valley over there and wait to evaporate in the sun for the day."

"Wait," said the kite. "If you really miss flying, then you shouldn’t be a fog. You should fly. It’s the best."

"I know," said the cloud, "but I think I’ve forgotten how. If I try flying now I’ll do a terrible job of it, and all the other clouds will laugh at me."

"How about this," said the kite. "You get up very early in the morning, before the sun comes up, and just try to fly a little. Just for a few minutes. Can you do that?"

The cloud thought about it for a minute. "It would be hard," she said, "but yes, I think I could try."

All that day the little cloud thought about flying. She tried to remember what it was like to soar through the sky, making pillowy shapes in the blue. It made her smile.

That night she found she was so excited she could hardly sleep. She woke up again and again, and checked the shiny full moon to see how close it was to the horizon. Not yet, she would tell herself, and sink back to sleep along the cool, flat surface of the river where she was shifting in misty tendrils among the reeds.

Finally the first pink of dawn colored the sky, and the little cloud lifted herself from the river bed. She rolled into the air, and tried to rise. It was hard at first, but not as hard as she had thought. Pretty soon the green hills were sailing underneath her, trees still black in the grey pre-dawn light. She smiled and drifted along with the wind, happy and free, but then as the sun came up she drifted back down to the earth.

It hadn’t been for very long, but she flew! And tomorrow she would do it again.