Tuesday, March 31, 2015

#144 Up A Tree

I wish I could have said there was some legit reason for my volleyball to be stuck in a tree. I wish I could have said that some mean eighth-graders had come along and stolen it from me while I waited there, all alone, for my mom to pick me up after practice. I wish I could have said they’d chucked it up in the tree and laughed at my face and walked away congratulating themselves on their meanness.

But no. It was just me, being stupid, trying to see how high I could bump it. I didn’t even think about that tree. It wasn’t like it was right overhead. I’m not sure exactly how the ball ended up over there.

But yes, I had to admit, it was entirely my fault.

I walked all around the tree, watching my ball, my very own ball, the one my big brother who is off at college bought me for Christmas, teal and white and black, my favorite colors, stuck up there in the bare twigs. There was no way to climb this tree, the school maintenance people had made sure of that by cutting off all the low branches. Even if I could climb it, the ball was stuck way out in the tiny branches near the top. The branch would break under me and I’d fall long before I got out there.

I needed a really big ladder. Or one of those crane things they use to fix telephone wires.

I looked around on the ground for a stick or a rock to throw up there, but there wasn’t anything big enough that might get a volleyball loose from the branches of a tree. The only thing I had was...

My backpack.

It wasn’t too heavy, with only two of my school notebooks and the latest Ninja Mummy manga from the school library inside it. But it felt heavy enough to knock the volleyball back out of the tree. I gave it a swing with my arm. Yep, it just might work. I went and stood directly under the volleyball, swung my arm back, and hurled the pack into the tree.

It didn’t even come close to the volleyball. A few twigs snapped and showered down around it as my pack thumped onto the grass.

I tried again, and entirely missed the tree.

On my third shot, I gave it all I had and flung the backpack up into the branches. This time it reached the volleyball and actually bumped it a little, but not enough to bring it down. And my backpack snagged in the tree just below it.



I heard my cell phone start to ring, and my hand instinctively went to my pocket, but I already knew from the sound of it that my phone wasn’t in my pocket like I had thought it was.

My phone was in my backpack.

At the top of a stupid tree.

Monday, March 30, 2015

#143 Sundial

A sundial stands alone in the ruins of an ancient garden. Its white granite face turns up to the sky, watching the pageant of the heavens. While once it marked the hours of coming and going, of flowers opening and closing, days begun and nights approaching, now it faithfully tracks the centuries, solitary, a sightless eye.

In the tower there had been a clock, but its bells are rusted to silence, gears and chains crumbled. The sundial still marks the hours with a faithful shadow, as sure as the sun moves in the sky. In time, even the granite will crumble, worn down with rain and wind, summer heat and winter cold, the eager roots of seething vines, but the sky it watches will remain, circling on and on when the sundial’s dust is buried deep in the earth. The same as when its stone was once a liquid mass beneath the crust, or even before when it came raining down from the heavens onto a congealing ball of matter orbiting a newborn star, or yet when its elements were born in the mighty death of the father star and scattered through space. Each molecule, in its ordered crystalline structure, once part of the chaos of genesis, an unimaginable heat that forges elements from the hammer of a collapsing star on the anvil of a neutron core.

And billions of years later, in a quiet, cool, and forgotten place, the stone stands as it was set by a hand and mind, to mark the passing of a gentler star.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

#142 Roadworker 2

The next morning my brain didn’t feel quite so overheated anymore. I lay in bed, trying to see the map in my head again. I could remember it, each road a shining thread, some thick and bright, some faint and wispy, all of them woven together and spread out like a blanket. But I couldn’t really see it, not the way I had yesterday afternoon when I was biking home from my friend’s house.

I kept trying, all the time I was making my bed and brushing my teeth, trying to find all my homework, and packing my lunch. Part of me was thinking it had all been my imagination, that I’d just been daydreaming and suddenly found myself in front of my house, when I’d been at least twenty minutes away only a second before.

Nah, I’d checked my watch. Something had happened. This was real.

I was still thinking about it as I wheeled my bike, a piece of toast in my mouth, down to the curb. As soon as my foot hit the asphalt, a faint glimpse of the map flashed into my head.

I froze, and it disappeared.

I took another step on the road, and there it was again, the map, very faint in my mind. It faded a little as I hopped onto my bike, then grew stronger as I pedaled. The faster I went, the brighter the road threads shone.

It was giving me a headache.

I pushed the rest of the toast into my mouth, gave a few chews, and swallowed. I was ready to try teleporting again. I gripped my handlebars hard, and found the place on the map where a road thread passed right in front of the school. Trying to remember what I’d done yesterday, I took hold of it with my mind and bent it toward the place where I was pedaling my bike.

It bent a little, but then snapped right back into place. Pulling on it hurt my head, like using a sore muscle.

Maybe the school was too far away. I looked for a closer spot, something easy, and settled on the end of the street. I reached out, gave the road thread a little tug, and whoosh, the whole street flew by.

I slammed on my brakes, my head throbbing. No way. What good was having super teleporting powers if it made me feel like I’d bashed my head into a wall? It hadn’t hurt like this yesterday.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

#141 Frankenstein's Computer

“Is this when you usually get home on Tuesdays?” Mom asked when I came in the door. “I was getting worried. When does computer club end?”

I checked my watch. It was almost five. Seriously? I had no idea it had gotten this late.

“It’s supposed to be over at four. No, four-fifteen. I just rode home slow,” I unclipped my bike helmet and tossed it in with all the others in the old laundry basket in the mud room.

“Okay,” Mom said as I followed her into the house. I wasn’t in trouble. Mom worried a lot, but she didn’t get after me unless I was really, really late.

“We had a great day at computer club today!” I said.

“What did you do?”

“Well, first we checked all the computers to see if they needed any updates. And then I said I wanted a better video card for my computer.” I unzipped the side pocket of my backpack and pulled out two pokemon decks, then gently took out my prize, wrapped in an old homework assignment. “We looked around in all the stuff and found one.”

I unwrapped it to show Mom. It was beautiful, all studded with tiny electronic components like some kind of miniature alien city, with gold and green computer chips, and a rectangle grid of black cooling spikes. And it was all mine.

“You know, when my brother was about your age, and he’d come home with something he wanted to install in our computer we all shouted, NO! NO! because we knew he wouldn’t be able to get it running again for a week. We only had one computer, you know, and we all needed it to do our homework.”

Only one computer? I couldn’t imagine it. We had a big family computer on the desk in the living room, Mom had a laptop, Dad had a tablet, my big brother had a netbook, and then I had the old Frankenstein that the club had helped me resurrect from the computer graveyard at school. No one used my computer but me, so if it took me a week to get this video card working, it didn’t matter.

It wasn’t going to take me a whole week, was it? I had games I wanted to try out.

“You got a new video card?” my brother came over to see. He had a huge grin on his face. “Do you think you’ll be able to play minecraft with it?”

“That’s what I’m hoping,” I said.

“Let’s go try it,” my brother said.

We charged up the stairs, leaving my backpack behind in the hall.

“BE SURE YOU UNPLUG IT FIRST!” Mom shouted after us.

“YES!” my brother and I chorused back at her. How stupid did she think we were?


Wednesday, March 25, 2015

#140 Raw in the Middle

I walked home through the snow, only one paper-wrapped loaf of bread, still warm from the oven, in my arms. I could barely feel its heat through my coat. What really warmed me were the coins in my pocket.

“How were sales this morning?” Mother asked as I came in through the front door.

“I sold all but one, and I saved it for us,” I said, passing the warm bread to her so I could take off my coat and boots. “Oh, and here,” I fished in my pocket. “Here’s for you.”

Mother smiled at the coin, then at me. It was her pay, for washing the bread pans and the mixing bowl. She tucked it in her apron pocket, then went to set the bread on the table.

“Maybe he’ll grow up to be a baker,” my older sister said, then paused to count the stitches on her knitting needle.

I took the rest of my coins out and set them on the table. Four shining quarters to add to the jar under my bed. If I baked bread tomorrow, and again the next day, there would be more, and more! One at a time I turned them over, admiring them in the cold, white light coming in through the window. Then I went to get the knife to cut up the bread I’d saved for us.

Beautiful, golden brown crust topped the snowy-white loaf. It smelled of butter and yeast and goodness. I set in on the board and sliced off a big piece for my mother, but

the knife didn’t slide through the bread like usual. It stuck a little, as if there were something gummy inside. I stopped slicing and looked.

Dough. Raw dough. Down inside my beautiful loaf of bread was a soggy lump of dough.

Were they all like that? All the loaves I had sold this morning, going door to door down the street? Our neighbors, my friends, as they cut into my bread, they’d found this.

My own middle had turned into a soggy lump too.

“It’s raw inside,” I said.

Mother came to look. We both stared at the useless bread for a long moment, it’s grey heart a solid mass of goo.

“What are you going to do?” Mother asked gently.

“Go give everyone their money back,” I said, and slowly scraped the coins from the table. There was nothing else I could do.

Mother took the coin from her pocket.

“No, keep that,” I said. “I’ll get another one from my jar.”

Mother gave me a hug and a kiss. “Good, that’s the right thing to do.”

Coins in my pocket, I trudged back out into the snow.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

#139 Snake in the Water

Slivers of bright blue sky winked between the leaves overhead as we drifted down the river. The warm, bitter smell of rubber inner tube mixed with the sour-sharp tang of the blackberry canes that flowed over the bank. I rolled over and draped myself across the inner tube so that only my fingers and toes and belly were touching the frigid water. Beside me my sister lay back regally on her inner tube like a queen on her throne, and my brother kicked himself in a lazy spin.

Up ahead, something was coming toward us against the current. Something small swimming our way. A bobbing head cutting through the water.

“Snake!” I screamed.

My sister sat up so quick she tumbled off her tube with a splash. I turned around and started kicking and paddling as hard as I could. My hands and toes weren’t getting me anywhere, so I slipped down through the middle of the tube and wore it around my waist while I swam hard. My brother and sister and I were all screaming and splashing, trying to get away.

The snake was still gaining on us.

In sheer panic, I abandoned my inner tube and made for the shore. My sister got there first, and I climbed with her through the muck and slime onto the sandy bank. I grabbed my brother’s hand and pulled him out. He was still hanging on to his inner tube while ours continued bumping down the narrow river.

The snake’s head still bobbed out in the water. In fact, it seemed to be swimming just fast enough to beat the current, no more, no less. We all stared.

“It’s just a stick!” my brother said.

I could see that now. Only a stick, attached to a sunken snag, just the right size and angle to look like a snake’s head skimming the river.

“Our tubes!” my sister shouted, and we all splashed back into the water to go chase them down.

Monday, March 23, 2015

#138 No, you can't get to Nome

Guest post by Colin Carlson

There is no way to Nome. At least, not from where you are. There is a way to Nome in Lynn. But you can't get to Lynn.

Well, you could get to Lynn, I guess, if you went through Shalp. But you can't reach Shalp. Unless, of course, you could climb Eribus. But you can't get to Eribus either.

Well, I suppose Eribus isn't hard to reach from Thoryn. But Thoryn has impassible walls. But maybe there is a way into Thoryn through the passages beneath Zhyl. But the only way to Zhyl is in Cleria, which you can't get to without passing through Tyril, which you can't get to without going to Zekkada first.

So no, you can't get to Nome. But you could go to Faaz, which is almost as good.

Or, you could go through the dark forest to Zekkada, across the mesa desert to Tyril, then through the winding pass to Cleria, then take the ferry down the river to Zhyl, then somehow get into the underground tunnel maze, and then find your way to Thoryn, then walk the road to Eribus, climb to the cliff city Shalp, find the hidden tunnel to Lynn, which has the only bridge across the infinite abyss to Nome.

Or, if you can fly, you can skip all that.

But if you can't, then really, don't even consider getting to Nome. Try Faaz, you're much closer. And, I hear the food is better.

So honestly, just go to Faaz.


Since I obviously can't persuade you to go to Faaz, why not go to Merek instead? or maybe Twyl? No? You do seem very set on getting to Nome, though you can't get there.

You know what? Good luck. Have fun on your trip. I have no more advice for you. Go. Get going. Get out of here!

But remember, if you ever give up, I'll be in Faaz.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

#137 Roadworker

I was so grounded. Mom was never going to let me go to Carl’s after school again.

I pedaled faster, watching the road fly by under my bike tires. Be home by five without fail, mom had said. It was five right now, and I was at least twenty minutes away. I meant to leave half an hour ago, but we’d never got to the fifth level of the game before, and I kind of lost track of time.

If only I had some way to get home faster.

As if it could somehow help me get there sooner, I thought about the route I had to take. I imagined myself speeding down Carl’s street, going by the canal, around the corner past the library, cutting through the empty lot, then taking the bike trail through the woods and finally emerging on a street in my neighborhood. The roads appeared in my mind, a network of possibilities. They were rivers of movement, of energy.

The roads weren’t fixed in place, like I thought they were. I could see it now. They were moveable, bendable. I could take the road I was on, and bend it to meet the road in front of my house.

I seized the roads with my mind and pulled. It felt like doing one of those long division problems when you’re dividing a triple digit number into something like fifty million and stuff. Exhausting. I pulled and pulled, the shining streams of the roads bent closer in my mind, and then they touched.

I felt a jolt, like my bike had gone over a curb. The asphalt under my tires was suddenly a different color. I squeezed my hand brakes and my bike skidded to a stop.

Right in front of my house.

Mom was just coming out the front door.

“There you are, Riley,” she said. “I was just coming out to look for you. You’re five minutes late.”

Five minutes? Impossible. Five seconds ago I was only at the end of Carl’s street. All that stuff with the roads, with bending them in my mind, I thought that was my imagination. But here I was!

I tried to call up that glowing road map again, but it wouldn’t come. My brain felt tired, like I’d just finished three chemistry exams in a row.

“Sorry, Mom,” I said. “I lost track of time.” Unsteady, I got off my bike and walked it up onto the sidewalk. I couldn’t help staring around me, not quite believing I was here already. But there was my house, my street, the sugar maple in my front yard I used to climb, and Mom right there telling me I was only five minutes late.

I’d teleported myself! Cool. I wonder if I could do it again.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

#136 Tyrannosaurus

I brought my tyrannosaurus to school the next day.

He had a hard time on the sidewalk, kept knocking over trash cans that I had to set back up, so I told him to walk in the street and watch out for cars. I held his leash in my hand and he followed beside me, making the ground shake with each step. He looked like he wanted to eat that mean dog that always barked at me in the yard on the corner, so I reminded him I had a stegosaurus sandwich in my lunch box for him, and that he could wait to eat until later.

Past the corner we crossed the street, and then we were at the high school. My elementary school was on the other side. The sidewalk ran all along the front of the high school, and then I cut across a field, and I’d be safe at my classroom. Almost there.

But first I had to get past the high school.

Teenagers were the worst. The scariest creatures on the planet. I gripped my tyrannosaurus’ leash a little tighter and kept walking.

Packs of teenagers stood around, waiting for school to start, talking, laughing, looking at their phones. I kept my head down and tried to steer past them without them noticing me.

A tall, skinny boy with a white earbud wire dangling down from one ear and into his pocket stepped right in front of me. “Hey, kid, where you going?”

His friends laughed.

“School,” I said.

“Schoo-wuhl,” he said, and his friends laughed again. My face got hot.

Tyrannosaurus was still feeling hungry.

I craned my neck back until I could see my tyrannosaurus’ huge head far above me, his ten inch long teeth dripping slobber. I shook my head no.

“What are you looking at?” the teenager said, glancing up.

I didn’t answer. I darted around him and kept running until I got to the field, my tyrannosaurus thundering on behind me, almost so loud I couldn’t hear the teenagers laughing.

That teenager was lucky. If I hadn’t run, he would have been breakfast.

I tied my tyrannosaurus to the flag pole, gave him a pat on the side and told him to be good. I’d see him again when it was time to walk home.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

#135 About the Bunny

“Hey Mom,” I said. “Do you remember that stuffed bunny I had? I got it for Easter when I was about three?”

“Four,” Mom said.

So she did remember.

“Do you still have it?” I asked. “You said you were going to keep it for me, for when I got older.” Even back then, I knew it was an excuse, a half-lie. Why would I want him when I was older?

Mom sighed. “Somewhere,” she said.

“You didn’t throw it away?” I sometimes wondered if she had.

“No, it’s with some other old things. I’ll see if I can find it.”

When I got home from school that afternoon, there was a white plastic bag on my bed with a small body inside it. I almost didn’t want to look.

Bunny was a very relative term. He was more like a big rag doll with a furry yellow face and rabbit ears. One plastic eye was missing, there was only a shiny pink spot of glue left of the nose, and the yellow fur was dingy and matted. The ears still had the original material, blue with pink, green, and yellow polka-dots, but the rest of the body was covered in green with little Christmas ornaments.

Christmas ornaments? That’s right, I’d forgotten. Mom had made a new suit for my bunny when I wore him out until his stuffing was showing, maybe kindergarten or first grade. She’d taken him away a week before Christmas, then I’d got him back Christmas morning. I wasn’t sure how Mom didn’t understand that Christmas material was not the right thing for him. It was one of those, “Thanks, Mom, but seriously?” moments.

That Christmas morning he had looked pretty awful, but I still loved him. And I eventually got used to his new suit.

It was strange, looking at that bunny now, remembering how attached I was. Odd tingles prickled my fingers as I touched the faded Christmas print material.

My mom came to the door.

“So, why exactly did you take him away from me?” I asked. I didn’t care about the bunny anymore, but I cared about that eight year old child who had just moved from Arizona to Texas, who was trying to figure out how a plastic lunch box with Care Bear stickers on it could possibly be called a lunch pail, and why being offered a coke meant I could have a sprite or an orange crush, but maybe not actually a coca cola because they didn’t really have any. Texas might have been another planet, and it helped to have something familiar to hug at night.

“This bunny,” Mom shook her head. “You have no idea how much time I spent repairing it for you. Every time he came apart, you’d cry. I finally decided it was best just to put him away before there was nothing left but a rag.”

There was nothing left but a rag. Maybe if she’d let me keep him I could have let go on my own.

Maybe not.

“So you’ve seen him. Do you want to keep him, or should we throw him out?”

I couldn’t throw him out. I still couldn’t, not even now. I knew he wasn’t really alive, didn’t have feelings, hadn’t missed me the way I missed him. But somewhere inside me I was afraid that throwing him out would offend… someone? The eight year old child that was still inside me, who wanted to believe that bunny was coming back some day.

He was too ugly to put on display in my room, so I tucked him back inside his body bag.

“Keep him,” I said. “Maybe someday I’ll show my kids.”

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

#134 New Neighbors

By the time the second volcano erupted on Mars, everyone in the world knew about it.

Astronomy usually isn’t a hot topic in the news, but this was big, really big. People were pulling out their backyard telescopes from Australia to Africa to Alaska and squinting at the pale gray smear of active volcanic smoke across the orange canvas of Mars’ desolate surface. Rovers were converging on the spot, speeding across the terrain as fast as their solar panels could soak up sunlight. Orbiting probes were snapping pictures on every fly-by. Instead of peering into deep space, Hubble was now focused full time on photographing Mars. Scientific theories were being overturned left and right.

And then the third volcano erupted, and everything changed.

With a first and second volcano already spouting gasses into the near vacuum of Mars’ atmosphere, you might not think a third one would be a tremendous surprise. It wasn’t so much a third volcano that shocked us. It was the position of it.

The three volcanoes made a perfect isoscolese triangle. The first one at the top, the other two at either ends of the wide base. It wasn’t any old isoscolese triangle either. It was the one you get if you slice off the top triangle of a regular hexagon.

So maybe it shouldn’t have surprised us when a fourth volcano erupted, now forming a perfect equilateral triangle with the second and third, with the first one exactly in the center.

But it did. Up until then it might have been a wild coincidence. Human brains are wired to find patterns in things, and maybe this simple mathematical geometry was some kind of an accident.

Once that fourth volcano showed up, there was no more denying it.

On the surface of Mars the volcanoes were hundreds of miles apart, yet perfectly spaced to as accurate a measurement as we could make. There was no natural phenomenon we knew of that could cause such a thing.

I remember the first time I saw the fourth volcano, on my phone, the image forwarded by a friend, and realized with perfect certainty that we weren’t alone in the universe.

Heck, we weren’t even alone in the solar system anymore.

I had to get up there and see what was going on.

Monday, March 16, 2015

#133 The Bonnie Wee Harp

There was once a shepherd lad who carved for himself a bonnie wee harp.

He was a year in making it, all of a single piece of fine ash wood. He hollowed out the box and bored the holes for the tuning pins, then strung it all with sheep gut. It was not much bigger than a grown man’s hand, and it had the sweetest little voice, like heather bells laughing on the wind. The shepherd boy was never without it wherever he went, and played it hour after hour as he tended his sheep.

As time went on, the shepherd boy would sometimes see a pair of bright green eyes watching from a hedge, or behind the tall grass, as he played, but when he got up to look closer there would be nothing there. Tis one of the wee folk, he thought, and the little devil is after my harp.

For a time, the shepherd boy guarded his harp close, for it was the thing he loved most dearly in all the world. But then he got to thinking. It was a fine little harp, but there were many things in the world that were finer, and perhaps the leprechaun in the hedge might be willing to make a swap.

One day, the boy, pretending to be careless, set his harp down and turned his face away, as if to gaze off at the horizon. He counted a quick one, two, three, then looked back again and what did he see, caught in broad daylight and plain as anything, but a green-eyed leprechaun in a green frock coat, breeches, and tiny buckled shoes. The shepherd boy snatched the little man up with both hands and fixed him with both his eyes and didn’t dare to blink, for a leprechaun can’t get away so long as you’ve got both your eyes on him.

“You mean to steal my harp, do ye?” The shepherd boy gave the leprechaun a shake.

“No, no, only to admire it a while,” the leprechaun said. “Let me go, now, or it’ll go badly for ye. I’m warning!”

“You fancy my harp then? I’d be of a mind to let you have it, if you’ll give me it’s weight in gold.”

The leprechaun let out a merry laugh. “Gladly! That’s easily done. Here’s your gold, boy, and welcome. Pity you didn’t ask for more.”

And the leprechaun opened his pocket and spilled out a pile of gold coins on the ground.

The shepherd’s boys eyes grew wide, and he nearly looked away from the little man in his hands to better see the gold, but he caught himself in time and kept his eyes on the leprechaun. “More, what do you mean more?”

“Such a fine little harp, I’d have given you better for it, if only ye had asked me.”

“Well, I’m asking ye now, and I won’t let ye go unless I have all I want.”

“And what is that?”

“Twice the harp’s weight in gold, and a fine suit of clothes to wear when I go and spend it, and a fine house to live in besides.”

“Very well,” said the leprhechan. “There’s yer fine clothes, ye’re wearing them already, and yer house is right behind ye.”

And the shepherd boy looked down to see how he was dressed, but it was only his patched and ragged shepherd’s garb, and when he looked behind himself there was nothing but empty hillside.

“I see no house, and these are only my own clothes,” the boy said, but when he looked to his hands, the little man was gone, and so was the gold, and so was the harp.

On rare fine days, when you go up into the hills and hear a sweet music like the heather bells laughing on the wind, you’ll know it’s the leprechaun playing the bonnie wee harp he stole from the shepherd boy.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

#132 A Pocketful of Beans

Dolly caught herself chawing on the end of her braid again, and quick flicked it out of her mouth. If Mama saw it all pasted together from spit when she got home, well, last time Mama had threatened to chop her braids right off if it happened again, and Dolly believed she just might do it.

Dolly could smell the hogs almost as soon as she could see them, where they’d been rooting around under the apple trees all day while Pa and Uncle Sy cleaned out the barn. Dolly rattled the bag of beans in her pocket and the biggest one picked up his head. Hogs was smart, that was sure.

She swung open the old gate. Orange and green-white bits that grew on the gray wood crumbled off under her fingers. The hogs were big, near as big as she was, and she didn’t want to get too close. She tossed out a bean, and the biggest hog trotted over to the grass where it fell, the other ones hurrying along behind.

One of them must have found the bean, Dolly couldn’t tell which, but as soon as they lost interest in hunting she dropped another one just outside the gate. On they came, their fat, furry flanks shaking, the loose skin hanging beneath their jaws dangling just like old Mr. Crawford’s up the road. Dolly walked back toward the barn, dropping beans as she went. The dust cloud the hogs raised gleamed gold in the late sun, their grunts mixed with the first evening peeps of the toads in the canal.

Friday, March 13, 2015

#131 Happy Pi Day


in infinite pi

you can find any sequence

even this haiku


I can encode the haiku into this string of digits using a simple substitution cipher:


It’s 92 digits long, two digits for each letter.

Unfortunately, with ten possibilities for each digit and a string of 92 numbers, that means I’d have to go out to 1092 digits of pi in order to find it, on average. And to check all those digits would take the world’s fastest computer, which can do 55 quadrillion calculations a second, about 1060 times the age of the universe.

We’re not going to be having Shakespeare pi any time soon.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

#130 Buried in Black

I told myself we were safe.

The wagon rocked as we moved down the road. I kept checking behind, expecting to see my sister following us, all dressed in black. She wouldn’t be there, I told myself. She’d married into another family, moved to a town three days journey from ours. They had been the ones to dress her all in black.

I remembered mother’s face when she saw my sister in her coffin. My sister’s other family must have thought the grief and horror was for seeing her dead, but I knew it wasn’t just that. It was the fine black taffeta dress. The black veil over her white face and curling brown hair.

Didn’t they know? Didn’t they know anything?

She’d been buried in their churchyard, not ours. Why would she come all the way out to haunt us when it had been none of our doing?

Still, I couldn’t help checking behind us again.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

#129 Cutpurse

Avani didn’t stop until she reached the narrow alleway, where she slept hidden behind a pile of forgotten, rotting baskets. She checked carefully to make sure she hadn’t been followed, then tried to catch her breath as she walked between the shady walls of the buildings, still cool from last night and not yet touched by the morning sun.

She thought of hiding behind her baskets, but it would be dark back there, and she needed some light to see what she’d gotten in this morning’s haul.

Sitting down on someone’s back step, Avani let her fingers uncurl, revealing the small leather pouch she’d slashed free from the foreign man’s belt. He hadn’t noticed until it was too late, until she’d already lost him in the crowd. Instead of shouting, he’d chased her. It had been, in a way, far more frightening than if he’d yelled and sent the whole street full of people after her. Her heart still throbbed as she thought about it. It had taken her a long time to lose him, but she’d done it at last, and then made her way back here.

Avani unknotted the string at the top of the bag and spilled out the contents into her hand. It contained coins of all sorts, some she had never seen before, but there was enough of the kind she recognized for her to know she’d be able to eat for days and days.

Strong arms picked her up from behind, and a hand clamped over her mouth.

“Quiet, don’t fight me,” a calm voice said in her ear. “I’m not going to turn you in.”

Avani struggled, kicked, stomped on the man’s foot, but he held her firm until she finally calmed down.

“I have an offer for you,” he said, taking his hand away from Avani’s mouth. It was the same man she had stolen the purse from. She recognized the sleeves of the embroidered jacket he’d been wearing. Rich foreigner, perfect target for a cutpurse. Had it been a trap?

“I won’t join a gang, if that’s what you mean,” Avani said. “When I come home empty-handed I don’t want to be beaten on top of being hungry!”

The man turned her around without setting her free so that now she could see his face. He was tall and thin, with strands of silver in his dark hair, and a kind, dark face. Avani wanted to trust him. “Not a gang,” he said. “A school.”

“A school for thieves?” she jerked, trying to pull free from his grip.

“A school for children like you,” he said. “We can use someone with your skills. You stole from me, and nearly got away with it. Do you have any idea how difficult that is?”

No one had ever praised her for stealing before.

“Come,” the man said, and Avani noticed that he’d collected his purse and all of its contents already. “I’ll buy you breakfast. We can talk while we eat.”

He let go, and Avani didn’t run away. In fact, in spite of the voice screaming in her head that she was doing the most colossally stupid thing she’d ever done, she followed the man from the alleyway. Maybe it was because he’d said the word breakfast.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

#128 She's Still Got Wings

Anjeli eased the stick just a little to the side and her father’s biplane banked in a wide lazy circle around the city. Down below, a shining river twined between tall skyscrapers, some with airships docked at their tops. The colorful ladies' hats speckled the walkways along the streets and in the green patches of park, reminding her of paintings she’d seen where everything was made up of tiny dots of color. This was the world as only the birds and the angels ever saw it. And the pilots.

“Time to bring her in, Anji,” her father called from the seat behind her.

Anjeli pretended not to hear, turning their tail toward the city and instead flying toward the ocean, where it stretched like a sheet of brilliant silver, crawling with waves. At a second prompt from her father she finally turned the plane around and started looking for the airfield. There it was, a patch of green crossed with dirt runways just to the east of the city.

The sound of the engine changed, and the plane dipped suddenly.

“What’s wrong?” Anjeli barely had time to ask before the propellers stopped turning.

“Daddy!” she screamed as the plane began to stall. Why wasn’t he taking the stick? She should have felt his firm hand guiding the controls from behind her.

“Now we find out if you’re a pilot or not,” Her father’s voice shouted from behind. “Take her down.”

“The engine!” she shrieked.

“She’s still got wings. Take her down.”

She’s still got wings, but she needed speed. Anjeli pushed the stick forward and put the plane into a dive, faster and faster it sped, until she could level it without stalling. The airstrip was still too far away, the ground below too thickly forested, but there was a road. A road full of motorcars and carriages, headed for the city.

It was the only place to land.

Anjeli steered the speeding plane toward the road, and as if by some miracle, the traffic below saw her coming and started to get out of the way. She thought Moses might have felt the same way when he saw the sea parting before the armies of Israel. Horses were neighing and horns honking as she skimmed the tops of trees, and then was flying over the road itself.

Up ahead, a huge hay cart wasn’t getting out of the way. The driver couldn’t see her with all of that hay behind him. The horses were running, but not fast enough. Her landing gear clipped the top of the cart, sending out a blast of hay in all directions. The plane bounced upward, then with a horrible jolt smack down into the road. At first Anjeli was sure the hay cart that was still bearing down on them from behind would crush them flat, but as the plane rolled down the emptied road the hay cart swerved off and toppled over.

The plane finally rolled to a stop, and people came running from every direction to help Anjeli and her father out of the plane. Anjeli's whole body ached from the impact, but everything still worked, nothing was broken, not even the landing gear on the plane.

Her daddy grabbed her in a big bear hug. “You’re a pilot,” he laughed.

Nothing was ever going to scare her again.

#127 Fly By Night

I grabbed Jonnie by the back of his pajamas and hauled him back in through the window. “What are you doing?” I demanded in my meanest big-sister voice.


Jonnie looked up at me with those big brown eyes, sort of like he was a puppy I’d just whipped and he couldn’t figure out why.


I still had a hold of his pajamas and shook him hard, furious that he didn’t seem even a tiny bit scared to be scuttling around on the shingles in the middle of the night. Sure we went out on the roof sometimes, like on fourth of july to watch the fireworks, but that was with mom and dad up there with us, and mom doing plenty of telling us to sit still and quit moving around and stay away from the edge.


“Get back in bed,” I said, and let him go. He sulked off, and I shut the dormer window, locked it, and stacked a few books on the window sill in case he got any ideas. Then I sat down in the big orange chair and waited for Mom and Dad to get home.


I woke up with a breeze on my face.


My heart nearly jumped out of my chest. I ran to the open window and looked out. “Jonnie!” I shouted, this time I didn’t care if I woke anybody else up. I checked the roof and didn’t see him. For a split second I teetered, hanging on to the window sill, wondering if I should check his bed, or if I should look for him lying dead on the ground.


I ran downstairs and out the front door, circling the house, gasping, ever moment sure I’d find my brother in a heap on the grass. I’d got all the way around and was just deciding I should have checked his bed when I happened to look up at the dormer window.


Jonnie was there, but he wasn’t standing on the roof. He was hovering over it. Hovering. Flying. He looked like he was trying to get back in through the window quick as he could.


But the moment I saw him, he fell.


It was like a string had been cut, and he tumbled to the roof and rolled down. I screamed and ran forward to catch him. His body slammed into my arms, and we crashed to the ground.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

#126 The League of Magical Nannies 2

read the first part

Di and I sat silent in the back of the car while Miz Liz drove us to ballet. In the front, Ree fired off question after question.

“So how come I’ve never heard of the League of Magical Nannies?”

“It’s a secret,” Miz Liz snapped, leaning on her horn as a cab cut us off. She turned her wheel slightly and we were somehow three lanes over and two spaces ahead. Di gasped and grabbed my hand, then gave me a huge grin.

I scowled back. This was serious! What else could this woman do?

“If it’s a secret, then how come you have a business card?” Ree said, as if she hadn’t noticed the car’s sudden change in position.

“Because,” Miz Liz said.

“Can you pop in and out of pictures? Because there’s this really weird abstract in the upstairs hall and I’ve always wanted to see what it’s like inside.”

“Let me drive, already, would you?” Miz Liz said.

The shock at finding out we had a witch for a nanny was beginning to wear off, and now my brain was working out whether this meant anything to our plans. We just needed someone we could handle, someone we could distract until Ree made enough on the stock market to buy us three plane tickets from New York to Dallas. Two days, Ree had said. Two days, and then all we had to do was ditch Miz Liz long enough to get to the airport. And then we could spend the summer with Grandma and Grandpa instead of stuck here in the city with a rotten nanny.

I didn’t see how Miz Liz’s ability to magically clean our apartment in two seconds would be any obstacle. In fact, we had something on her. If this was supposed to be a secret, she probably didn’t want us to tell Mom. And then even if Miz Liz found out a little bit of our secret plans, we could blackmail her into silence.

In the front, Ree was still pelting Miz Liz with questions. I very quietly opened my notebook and wrote, STICK TO THE PLAN, and passed it to Di. Di read it, gave me a nod, and then carefully passed the notebook up to Ree, between the seat and the car door, where Miz Liz couldn’t see it.

We were bumping our way up level after level in the parking garage next to the building where we had ballet lessons, and Miz Liz was too busy looking for a spot to notice we were passing a notebook around. Ree saw my note, passed the book back, and gave us a thumbs-up behind the seat.

Operation Cowgirl was still a go.

read the first part

Thursday, March 5, 2015

#125 Stagefright 3

“There’s going to be another show! Who wants to try out?”

“Me!” I shouted along with everyone else.

Mom handed me the audition sheet. “There’s only one role for a boy your age, and it’s one of the leads. You’re going to have to work really hard if you want to get it.”

I grinned up at her. “Let’s do it.”

Mom read my lines with me, laughing at the funny part, and reminding me to speak slowly and clearly so that people at the back of the auditorium could understand me. I picked out one of my favorite songs and mom printed up the sheet music from the internet so I could sing it at my audition.

And then it was time.

Once again, in the auditorium, the stage was a chaos of mismatched props, like a world waiting to be formed, with one big grand piano on wheels in the middle of it. The accompanist took my sheet music and spread it out, then started to play.

I hadn’t practiced with someone playing the piano, only with the track on my mp3 player, so I think I missed the spot I was supposed to come in. The pianist stopped, then began again at the beginning. I blinked, confused, and she stopped again.

“Here’s your note,” she said. “Just start singing.”

I sang.

My voice echoed back to me, clear and sweet. It was like the auditorium was singing to me! The piano came in and I dropped back, uncertain, but then I sang out again, enjoying the sound of my voice and the piano together.

“Okay, that’s enough,” the director said, long before I was finished with the song. “Now let’s do lines.”

After the audition, I bounced up the aisle of the auditorium with Mom next to me. That had been fun!

“Great job,” Mom said. “Now, don’t feel bad if you don’t make it. You did really well, and every time you audition it gets easier, doesn’t it? But there’s only one part, and they’re going to pick the person that most matches what they have in mind for the show. Still, you’ve got to be prepared by always trying your best, so that when you are the right person for the show, you show them that you can do it.”

That night was a church dinner. Just Mom and Dad were singing this time, so I sat at one of the long tables with my brothers and tried to eat through the plate of food I’d picked out for myself. After they were done, Mom and Dad came and joined us.

I was just finishing my third dessert when Mom’s phone chimed.

She picked it up and tapped the screen a few times. Then she gasped.

“You made call backs!” Mom told me, her voice squeaky and excited. “You made call backs!”

“Yay!” I said. “What’s that?”

“That means you’re one of the ones they’re thinking about for the part. You need to try out again in two days. There’s more audition material in the theater office.”

“Do you want me to go and get it right now?” Dad asked Mom.


Wednesday, March 4, 2015

#124 Glasses

There's only a few things I need glasses for

Like driving my car or sweeping my floor,

But the reason I'd most like to have them is that

I need them to see where I put them at.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

#123 Stagefright 2

“I’ve got an email about the show!” Mom shouted from the living room.

My brothers and I pounded down the stairs. I wanted to get a part in the play, but I didn’t want to want it too bad, because then if I didn’t I’d be sad. I tried to tell myself that I didn’t really care, but I tried hard to get a view of the screen as we crowded around Mom.

“I’m in,” Mom said.

“And me,”

“Dad too!”

“We’re all in the show! We all got parts!”

It was a good feeling.

I only got one line.

It was a short one too. I had it memorized in about thirty seconds. My brothers had more lines than me, my dad had a whole bunch of them, but I only had the one.  None of us had a really big part, but mine was the smallest of all the small parts we had.

Even though I only had one line, I got to wear a costume, and go to lots of rehearsals. I got to walk around backstage in the dark, and try not to giggle with the other children while we were waiting to go on. And every night of the show I got to stand on the stage with everyone else, and my whole family too, while the audience clapped. During the show the audience always seemed so far away, distant and quiet, but each night when we ran on stage for curtain call at the end their applause rushed over us like a wave, and they were as close to us as the ocean was to the beach.

I’m not sure why I ever was afraid of them.

After the show was over, I got to help take apart the set and put away all the props, then sit on the dusty stage and eat pizza with the whole cast and crew, after midnight! Taking apart the set seemed like making a whole other world disappear, one we had all lived in together for a little while, but now it was gone never to come back.

But the feeling of belonging was still there. These were the people who could make a world out of a stage, and I was one of them, and someday, we were going to do it again.

Monday, March 2, 2015

#122 Stagefright


She was still clapping for the last talent show number. “What is it?”

“I don’t want to go up on the stage,” I said, eying the platform at the front of the tent.

“Come on,” Mom said. “This is a family thing. We’ll all be up there together.”

I shook my head.

“Its your decision,” Mom said, “But I think you should be up there with us.”

The microphone squealed as the MC stepped up to it and announced our family.

Mom picked up her guitar and motioned for everyone to get up. All my brothers and my sister followed her and Dad down the aisle, between the rows of camp chairs and people sitting on picnic blankets. People were cheering and clapping.

I sat frozen in my seat. I was not going to get up there. No way.

From the stage, Mom gave me a smile and motioned for me to come and join them. I clamped my hands on the edge of my chair and shook my head again.

Mom announced the song, something we sang together as a family all the time, and strummed her guitar.

It was just like all the times we’d sung together in the car, only now they were up in front of a whole lot of people, all staring at them, and I was sitting out here all by myself. I kind of wished I’d gone. I wanted to sing along, but not when I was all alone on this empty row of lawn chairs. The feeling grew, and by the time they finished the song, and people started clapping and cheering, I really wanted to have gone up there.

“How did we do?” Mom asked when she came back to her seat.

“I wished I’d gone up to sing with everyone,” I said.

Mom gave me a hug. “Remember that next time.”


Mom burst in the door, waving a sheet of paper over her head. “There’s auditions for a play tomorrow, who wants to be in it?”

“What is it?” One of my brothers reached for the paper and mom handed it over.

“I want to!” my youngest brother said.

“We should all try out,” Mom said. “Maybe we’ll all get in together.”

I shrugged.

“Do you want to try out too?” Mom asked me.

“Okay,” I said, remembering how it felt to be the only one watching while everyone else was up on stage.

“You say these lines. Try it,” Mom said.

I read the lines.

“With feeling,” Mom said.

I tried again.

“Fantastic!” Mom said. “Did you hear that?” she asked my older brother. “He’s a natural!”

There were hardly any people in the auditorium, and the stage looked strange with left-over pieces from other plays scattered around. I sat near the back and stared at the fat black stage lights hanging over the stage, waiting while everyone else had a turn at their lines. When the director called my name I shrank down in my seat at first, then slowly, cautiously crept to the front and up the steps.

Something happened when my foot touched the stage floor. I was up high, lights on my face, the seats in the auditorium dim and kind of far away. All the empty seats seemed to be waiting, watching me. My heart pounded, my brain raced. I think I said my lines, like I practiced, but I couldn’t remember afterwards.

read the next part

Sunday, March 1, 2015

#121 The Mark of Water 10

The south wind was gone, and so was the moon. A warm, velvet blackness enclosed the empty plain, as dark and still as the depths of the tunnel that Jill had crawled to get out of the well. She got to her feet and stumbled a few steps, knowing she had to make her way back to where the creature of water had stayed behind, to let her go on ahead, but she could not be sure of the way.

She let herself fall back into the sand, and lay there, exhausted, but too shaken to sleep.

A faint sound rose up over the desert, not a wind, but a light rattle, like leaves in the wind. A spray of cool raindrops rushed over Jill’s raw skin, soothing the pain from being blasted by the south wind’s sandstorm. The rain grew heavier and heavier, soaking her, and then pounding her. A pool of water began to swirl around her in the dark, and she sat up, still unable to see anything.

A distant roar made Jill turn her head toward the sound. Out on the horizon a faint light gleamed, perhaps the beginning of a cloudy dawn. The roar grew louder, and the light brighter until it looked like a blue-white star rushing toward Jill on the crest of a wall of water. The one star became two, with a long tail streaming behind them. Jill got to her feet just as the flood crashed over her. She grasped desperately at the water creature’s tentacles as it rolled around her in the tumbling water. As soon as she had a firm hold, the creature lifted her from the water and rushed along, dripping, over the surface, following the flood as it tore through the desert.

The rain poured down and the flood ran on until it met the sea. Now a true gray dawn had begun to break, and the sea churned a frothy dark steel gray beneath unbroken clouds. Jill shivered on the creature’s back as the wind rushed over her wet and tattered clothing.

Mountains rose up in the distance, and then Jill and the creatur were flying over the course of a wide river that eventually became a stream that churned and rushed madly through a rainy wood. And then Jill thought perhaps she knew this wood, and then she knew that she knew it, and that this was the stream where she and her mother went to draw their water.. Only it had risen high above the bank where they usually stood.

The creature slowed and let Jill climb onto the wet ground above the rushing, muddy stream.

“The drought is broken,” the creature said. “Thank you,” and it slid beneath the water and was gone.