Tuesday, June 9, 2015

#189 The Butter Dish

When my great-grandparents died we inherited a butter dish.

“Why is it so fancy?” I asked my mom. Up until we inherited the butter dish, Mom would always put the butter on a plain little plate. Now the butter lay on a crystal platter, cut with little diamond-shapes, under a crystal cover with a crystal rose on the side, surrounded by more little diamond shapes. I could barely tell that it was butter in there, the creamy yellow color had been splintered up by all those little diamonds and scattered all over the outside of the dish.

“It’s from a different era,” Mom stopped to admire the dish before she went back to get the plates so I could set the table. “Back then, people liked everything to be fancy.”

Our first breakfast with the new butter dish, my older brother tried to lift off the cover, but accidentally smeared butter all over the inside. My sister scolded him, but Mom said not to worry about it. She put a little butter on the toast, then closed the cover. That was all the butter we used.

By lunch time the butter was gone.

“Just because we got a new butter dish doesn’t mean you can eat the butter,” Mom looked around the table at all three of us, accusation in her eye.

“I didn’t,” my sister said.
“It wasn’t me!” my brother said.

They all looked at me.

“I haven’t touched it!” I said. Eating butter? Plain? That’s so gross!

Mom opened the lid. The smear on the side from the morning was still there, but the butter that made it was gone, all except a thin layer on the rectangular platter, clouding up the carved starburst pattern on the bottom.

I wasn’t paying too much attention to what she did next, which was too bad, because at dinner time she asked us, “Didn’t I put more butter in the dish at lunch time?”

Dad had just asked for the butter, and Mom had just picked up the dish to pass it to him, but then she noticed it was empty. No creamy yellow facets. She set it down and lifted the cover. It looked like it had at lunch time. A little grease on the insides, that was all.

We didn’t know.

This time we all watched Mom put the butter in the dish. We watched Dad put some on his green beans. We watched the cover go back on. After dinner, as I cleared the table, I kept checking to make sure there was still butter in the dish.

Just before I went to bed, I took a toothpick and scratched the word, “Butter” in the stick. Then I snapped the toothpick in half and stuck it in.

The next morning, the butter dish was empty. No partly-used stick of butter. No toothpick. Only a little bit of grease on the dish where the butter had been.

“It’s magic,” my sister concluded. “Let’s do some experiments.”

read the next part

Monday, June 8, 2015

#188 The Willow Grove

Later that spring, Father and I drove the cart down to the bridge, where the willow grove flanked the rushing stream. The water was still high from snowmelt, running fast and cold, smelling of ice. The willow fronds hung like lacy green curtains all around us, cutting us off from the rest of the world.

Father stood for a long time, his feet on the new green moss and the fallen brown leaves from last winter, the ax down at his side. He studied the trees one at a time.

“My master used to say that a tree would tell him if it had a harp inside it,” Father said. He stood as if listening, waiting for the trees to speak, a sad and lost look on his face, as if he never truly thought they would. As if the magic of talking to trees had been lost forever when his master died.

I stepped to one of the willows and put my hand on the wrinkled, pale grey bark. I smelled its damp, green, woody smell and waited, almost expecting to hear words. Nothing. Another tree, and then another, I walked among them, brushing them with my fingers, stepping over their roots, gazing up at the tiny flecks of sunlight filtering down through their thick green manes.

A memory of music flitted across my mind, only a brief phrase, and then it was gone.

I stopped and put my hand back on the last tree I’d touched, then pressed my ear to its cool, rough bark. I wrapped my arms all around the trunk. It was wide enough that my fingers couldn’t quite touch on the far side. Deep within the wood I could hear a creaking, the sound of the branches moving in the wind. Then, within the deep music of the wood, came that sweet strain of harp song again.

“This one, Father!” I said, “This is the one.”

Most of the serials I do for Story Flare are published consecutively, but this one's been coming in scattered pieces. Here's a link to the beginning of the story, and from there you can follow the links to read the rest.

Friday, June 5, 2015

#187 Under the Leaning Mountain

Naya hadn’t meant to frighten the girl.

It was past time for the villagers to come and leave their daily offerings, so Naya was surprised to see a small girl carrying a basket coming up the path. Naya stopped by a stone, still deep in the shadow of the leaning mountain, and watched the child climb up the sunny slope to the boundary between day and twilight. She was fascinated by the bright colors of the girl’s clothes, by the tan of her skin and the slight blush of her cheeks. The girl kept her eyes on her feet until she was almost at the altar stone, and then she looked up.

And saw Naya.

The girl screamed and made a clumsy, frightened throw of the basket. It hit the altar, but bounced and scattered its contents over the sunny slope. The girl had already started running back down the path.

“Wait!” Naya called out to her, but the girl never looked back.

"They don’t speak our language anymore," Naya’s mother had told her. “Some of them don't believe that any of us are still alive.”

Naya stepped closer to the altar, but she couldn’t reach it. This time of day it was fully in the sunshine. Later in the afternoon, in an hour or so, the shadow of the leaning mountain would fall across it, then continue creeping down the slope. Then Naya could gather the loaves of bread that had fallen in the dust and carry them home.

A black shape fluttered down from the trees. The ravens knew about the altar, and were always on the lookout for a chance to steal. Naya picked up a pebble and flung it at the bird. It squawked and hopped to the side, watching her, but it didn’t fly away. Maybe it figured she’d leave before it did.

She was ready to wait. She was so hungry, and that bread so close. She could almost reach out and take it.

But she couldn’t. It was in the sunlight.

“If the sun ever sees a single one of us, the whole mountain will fall down and crush us all,” Naya’s grandmother had warned. Over and over again.

Naya looked up to the dark grey stone that cut out more than half the sky above her. She imagined it shuddering, falling, tumbling down, crushing the fragile houses of her village. All the people she knew and loved, in spite of the curse, in spite of whatever they’d done to doom her to this prison of shadow, she would never want to harm them.

Naya picked up another stone as more crows came to join the first one. It was going to be a long afternoon.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

#186 After the Book

Isabelle and Johnathan stood at the top of the church steps, arm in arm, while their friends and family called out congratulations. Rice whispered promises against the stone steps, and their carriage stood in the road below, waiting to carry them away.

“We’ll always be together now,” Isabelle said.
“Always and forever.” Jonathan took her hand in his.

He started down the steps, but Isabelle hesitated, wanting to capture this moment of perfect happiness, the blue sky adorned with gentle, white clouds, the sunshine, the church bells ringing high overhead, the feel of her satin gown against her skin, the weight of the skirt and train as it fell in cascades down around her soft leather shoes, the warmth of Jonathan’s hand, everything clear and perfect.

She took a step, and it all changed.

It was almost like waking from a dream. Memories, jumbled memories of a dozen other weddings, more or less the same as this one, crowded into her mind. The scene around her began to dull and shift.

Another step, and Isabelle wasn’t in front of a church anymore, it was only an ordinary sidewalk. No wedding gown, just her regular t-shirt and jeans. It wasn’t 1805 anymore either, but two thousand and something.

She hated this part. The book was over.

“Well, that was…” Jonathan shrugged and checked his watch. He wasn’t Jonathan anymore. He was Cliff, or that had been his name the first time he’d had one. That time they’d met in Egypt. His dove gray coat and tails had been replaced by khaki slacks and a polo shirt. The rest of the crowd had changed too, and were wandering off through the non-descript streets.

“Nice working with you,” most recently Isabelle said. Isabelle, Andrea, Louisa, Trista, Marci, and a dozen other names she’d had. She couldn’t put them all in order anymore. She’d been in a lot more books than Cliff had. He’d been okay, if a little boring. Actually, she was glad they weren’t really married.

Johnathan-Cliff nodded, gave her a friendly smile and a wave, then wandered off into the brownish fog.


She started walking back to her apartment in the city. A poster stapled to a telephone pole caught her eye. “Casting Call,” it said. “For Tahitian Drums (working title). Interested characters please pick up readings at the office.”

“Why not?” said Isabelle-Andrea-Louisa-Trista-Marci-etcetera, and headed for the casting office.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

#185 Surfing 101

My surfboard bucked over the swells as I paddled toward the distant place where blue sky met deeper blue sea. Cool water gave me a playful slap in the face. It was a perfect day for surfing, and I was doing pretty good for a beginner.

When I got far enough out I sat up on my board and rested for a few minutes, watching the more experienced surfers ride in. There was a sweet spot where the waves looked just right, but it was crowded over there, and I didn’t want to butt in. Someday, that would be me. I had to get some more practice first.

I lay down on my board and turned to face the shore. Palm trees and beach houses lined up behind the strip of sandy beach. I let one wave go by, then as soon as I felt the next one coming I paddled hard, reaching with my arms, straining my muscles until they ached, faster and faster, until the wave picked me up and took over. My board glided forward, fast and smooth, and I pushed myself up with my arms, then got one foot under me, and then I was standing, balancing, flying over the water, my grin so big I could feel the salt spray cooling my teeth.

The wave slowed as I got near the shore, and I wobbled, then splashed into the ocean, doing a back-flop to avoid the reef only a few feet below the water. As I climbed back on the board and turned out to face the ocean again, I couldn't see any surfers. I checked over my shoulder to see them pulling their boards up on the sand, or standing there, watching the waves.

The waves were still coming. That sweet spot looked as sweet as ever. I couldn’t figure out why they’d all gone in.

This was the chance I’d been waiting for all afternoon. I paddled out to the place where the waves had looked the best, where all the really good surfers had been doing their tricks. When I got there, I checked again to see if anyone else was around. Everyone was out of the water. I wasn’t sure, but it seemed like they were all watching me.

I let three waves go by before I took one. With all those people watching, I couldn’t mess this up. The force behind my board, pushing me forward, surprised and exhilarated me. The waves really were better over here! I got to my feet and enjoyed the ride of my life, shooting over the water, sliding right up onto the sand.

Everyone was watching but no one was smiling as I carried my board up the beach. I wondered if I’d broken some kind of surfer code. Maybe there was some rule that on Saturdays at three, all the really cool surfers take a fifteen minute break.

“Hey,” I said to the nearest guy. “Why’d everyone get out?”

“Dude, didn’t you see the shark?”

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

#184 Centipede

A dead centipede at least eight inches long lies crumpled in the grass, square body sections at jumbled angles, dark red-brown like a carob pod. Orange legs like fat whiskers splay out. It looks headless, faceless, a strange object, too intricate to be crafted by man, alien, foreign, and yet here it is on my own grass.

How many times have I crossed this patch of grass at night, in bare feet, not remembering what lives here after dark? At one end of that beastie there are invisible fangs that sting.

I’ve seen it move like a train, legs rolling it over the ground. It swims like a snake, undulating in the water. It comes into my house and hides under blankets left on the floor.

I shake out my boots every day when I go gardening. Most often there’s nothing in there. If there is something, it’s a lizard or a toad. This is the first giant centipede I’ve seen in years.

And it’s dead. Harmless. Only a warning.

Once when I was a teenager I spent a day collecting glass bottles at the beach. Clear ones, brown ones, blue ones, green ones, a rainbow of glass. I found one black with mud on the inside, and took it to wash it out at an outdoor sink at the beach park campground. The moment I turned on the tap and sent water shooting down the bottle’s neck, a giant centipede burst out like a firecracker. I screamed, dropped the bottle, and jumped back as the centipede fell into the sink. The centipede swam in the rising water, weaving back and forth like a snake, while I watched from a safe distance. Finally it crawled up the side of the sink and ran away through the jungle.

That was the last muddy bottle I picked up, ever.

Monday, June 1, 2015

#183 Medusa

She was beautiful.

Iridescent gold snakes coiled over her head in the place of hair. Red eyes blazed. Black lips parted to show long yellow fangs. A long, white toga draped her olive-green-skinned body. I had never seen such perfection.

I raised my arm, reached out to her. She had to be mine.

The words of longing for her froze on my lips. I couldn’t move. My body would no longer obey me. My vision clouded over, and then darkened.

But death didn’t come. My mind, now trapped in stone, screamed silently in betrayed agony. I had thought my immortality would save me from her gaze, but no. I began an eternity of imprisonment in my own stone body with only the memory of her exquisiteness burning before me.