Saturday, September 16, 2006

After the Party

After the Party

(The Herpetologist)

by Mary Stebbins

for Jackie Greene, Dick Baldauf

and Sara and Erin Stebbins

unfinished first draft!

i. prologue

It felt a bit like a mysterious, unhappy carnival. For years, all I could remember of that night was Da-Glo orange plastic ribbons cordoning off the area, giant searchlights aimed into murky brown water, and six gum-ball-lights, spinning over the dark fields and lake, and cops everywhere. I clung desperately to a young policeman, Officer David Michaels, sobbing hysterically. I'd ever been hysterical before. When they asked me about what had happened, I couldn't remember anything.

An older policeman, Officer Grogan, tried to talk to me. He had jowls and watery blue eyes. His blond crew cut, was touched with grey at the temples.

"Just calm down a little, miss, and tell us what happened," he said. An edge of irritation crackled in his voice. I couldn't see anything beyond a wall of darkness in my mind. I stared. Nothing. Then, in the darkness, an image formed of myself, as a small child, walking down a beach. I was carrying something large and heavy. It was a struggle. I walked between the blankets and towels toward my mother and father. I was proud.

"I found a snapping turtle when I was three," I said. I stopped crying suddenly; I knew this was important. "I carried it down the beach by its tail. Everyone was yelling at me, but I didn't understand what they were saying. When my father saw me, he leaped up and said, `Alicia, drop the turtle!'"

"I didn't want to. He had to pry my fingers open. When I finally dropped it, he held a stick in front of the turtle. Its neck shot out with lightning speed, and it snapped the stick in three pieces. The stick was much thicker than my fingers. My father carefully carried the turtle off the beach and let it go at the edge of the swamp. He told me to be careful of snapping turtles."

"Good," the older officer said impatiently, with more than a trace of sarcasm. "Very good. Now, will you tell us what happened here?"

But I couldn't. I had no idea. A wall in my mind had started to clear, like a window losing its condensation. Now it fogged and darkened.

"We'll be coming by your house to talk to you again," Officer Grogan said. I felt a hint of threat in his voice.

Officer Michaels led me to a police car. I watched him as we walked. He was tall, slender, and dark. He reminded me a lot of my friend, Billy, only a little older, more confident, less awkward. I remember thinking he was cute, and wishing I could get him to hold me again, the way he had when I was crying. But I couldn't just "turn on the tears" the way some girls seem to.

As we walked up the hill, state police divers drove up and unloaded. They climbed into wet suits and put on air tanks. I looked at them blankly, my mind empty. I don't even remember being curious. Though I was able to talk, some parts of me had apparently shut down.

"I'll get your seat wet, Officer Michaels," I said, when he politely held the door open for me. It was the front door, not the back, where the criminals ride.

"You can call me David," he said, a little shyly. It was dark, but I would have sworn he blushed. Maybe he wasn't so different from Billy after all. Or maybe I imagined it.

David got a piece of canvas from the trunk for me to sit on.

"Thanks!" I said. "I already got your clothes wet."

"I don't mind, it's a warm night," he said, blushing again.

I wondered if he meant he didn't mind being wet or he didn't mind having held me. I watched him all the way home, wishing that I was the kind of girl, like Shelly, who asked boys out. Men, in this case, though he didn't look that old. But I wasn't. And the ride was short. Too short.

I arrived home still dripping wet. My parents, of course, were terribly upset. How had I gotten from Billy's graduation party to the back seat of a police car, soaking wet? But no matter how they plied me with questions, I had no answers. David stayed for a little while, but had nothing reassuring to tell my parents. He did take my father aside and I could hear them whispering. I thought I could almost catch the names of some of the friends I had been with earlier, but I couldn't seem to focus enough to concentrate on listening, or bring to mind any of the events of the evening. Since I had to work in the morning, David left, and I went to bed.

1. Fritz

The next day, I started my job with the Youth Conservation Corps, YCC. YCC assigned our crew to the nature center, where we began building a new boardwalk. Lots of snakes lived in the swamp around the boardwalk: garter snakes, ribbon snakes, milk snakes, and water snakes. The water snakes weren't very friendly. I saved a number of them from the crew. It was, after all, against the rules to kill animals at the center. The kids on the crew seemed to think they were exempt or something. I made sure they knew they weren't.

I might not have been successful at saving the snakes, if it hadn't been for my allies, Billy White and Beardsley Beardsley. Billy didn't particularly like snakes, but he defended them because I liked them. Beardsley liked snakes. He liked all nature. Like me, he didn't like to see anything killed. But he didn't have much clout with the other kids, who called him Bee, Beebee or Bobo to mock him out for his double name.

Billy had told Beardsley and me about the YCC job. He found out about it through his father, who owns the Messenger, our town paper.

Billy was a tall, thin boy with dark hair and deep-set, dark brown eyes. I always believed, even when we were much younger, that he had a crush on me. Sometimes, he ignored me, or acted cold and withdrawn. Other times, he followed me around looking at me with his fathomless eyes, never smiling. It seemed as if he was just soaking me in, soaking me so hard that it seemed as if I might disappear into his mysterious eyes.

When he did speak, he always said my name slowly, as if it were a gold coin he was turning in his hand. "A-LEE-shee-a," he would say, slowly, looking deep into my eyes. It never failed to give me the shivers.

I liked him a lot, but he scared me. Something a little strange about him made me want to avoid getting too close. Friends, yes. But when the thought of romance with Billy occurred to me, as it did fairly often, I put it aside. We went to the movies, a concert, a play or something fairly regularly, but I never thought of it as a date. I did often let him pay my way, because he had more money than I did, and he wanted to. Sometimes, he tried awkwardly to kiss me or touch me, but I never let him, even though I sort of wanted him to. Occasionally, we held hands like little kids, when he seemed playful instead of dark. There was a lot about Billy to like, but I particularly liked his sharp intelligence and generally gentle nature.

Billy worked as a reporter for his father's paper, and also had a column in The New Environment, our local environmental paper. I read his stuff; he was an excellent news writer. He also wrote poems, strange, scary poems and gooey love poems. I didn't like them. The scary poems made me nervous, and so did the love poems, in a different way. I would find them folded up in my knapsack when I got home. They were always dedicated to "Angela," but I was 99% sure they were written to me. Not a hundred percent sure, though.

Beardsley liked me, too. I had started dating him when I was fourteen, and had dated him on and off for four years. Although people sometimes thought of us as a couple, we were more like really close friends. I did occasionally kiss him. But his kisses didn't make me feel the way I thought a boy's kiss should feel. No thunder and lighting.

I had a hard time making the transition from a tomboy kid whose very best friends were all boys to a dating teen when the same boys who were my best buddies and comrades suddenly wanted to kiss me and touch my body. It was confusing, to say the least, and I hadn't reconciled it. I wanted Beardsley and Billy to continue to be my pals, but at the same time I sometimes wanted to kiss one or the other, or both. Not at the same time, though.

Beardsley was lots of fun. He had none of Billy's darkness, either physically or emotionally. His hair was such a pale "platinum blond" that it was almost white. His eyebrows and eyelashes were brilliant blond. His eyes were a pale but striking bright blue-white, almost like a malamute or an Australian shepherd. His skin was pale and often pink from sun. His face was round, his nose slightly turned up, and he looked about 12. He was always happy and excited and eager to do a variety of things like hiking, swimming, photography, science experiments, etc. He was an ultra nerd, and the kids teased him mercilessly. He wore his pants at his waist instead of at his hips like other teenage boys, and so they also called him "High Pockets" or "High Water."

When I was alone with him, I always had fun and enjoyed his company. He took me on the most interesting dates. One time, we went for a ride in a small plane and flew over our houses and school and the lake and took pictures. Another time, we went for a ride in a glider, which was towed by a plane and then released. We flew utterly silently though the air. I felt like an eagle.

Sometimes, in a group, I wished he wasn't quite so nerdy and weird. And what were his parents thinking when they gave him the first name, Beardsley? Especially when that was his last name. Of course, his father also was named Beardsley Beardsley, and so was his father. So he was Beardsley Beardsley the Third. But he didn't look that important.

Billy, on the other hands, also known as William Radcliffe White the fourth, looked very distinguished and sort of preppy. Actually, they dressed similarly, but what looked preppy and distinguished on Billy looked nerdy on Beardsley.

Beardsley Beardsley wasn't the only kid at our school with a double name. In the senior class alone, there was also Charles Charles, Wilson Wilson, and Gregory Gregory. And there were others in the other grades. For example, Beardsley's brother's best friend was William Williams. And most of them don't come from retarded redneck families. I can't understand why a parent would do that. I'm glad I'm not Alicia Alicia or Taylor Taylor. But that's just my opinion. Obviously not everyone agrees.

Billy and Beardsley were best friends, and had a number of things in common. They both like photography, science, and the out-of-doors. Billy leaned more toward writing and journalism and Beardsley toward science and computers, but they complimented each other and often worked together on independent cooperative projects with no adult supervision.

Billy lived near the Nature Center, and he invited me home for lunch that first day of YCC. He said he had to talk to me about something very important. I wondered if it had to do with the events of last night, and in the midst of the sunny day, I felt that strange darkness invading my mind again.

It was a perfect day. The sun was softly warm, a gentle breeze was blowing, and the air smelled of honey and roses. As we walked along East Mud Lake Road, a bee flew out of the fields and stung me. A bee had never before stung me, and I remember clearly how shocked I was.

I stood there repeating, "That bee stung me," over and over as if it had been a terrible mistake.

"Let me see if the stinger is still there," Billy said. It was there, still pulsing, still injecting its poison into me. Billy pulled it out for me. He got some mud from the ditch and put it on the sting.

"I'm disillusioned, Alicia," he joked. "I thought you were in perfect communion with all of nature." He recalled how I picked up bees and wasps in my hands and took them out of the classroom, all through school, for years. I'd led a charmed life when it came to bees.

I told him how I would go down to the beehives with Beardsley, who lived next door to me. Beardsley raised bees for 4H. He would be wearing a white suit that covered him from head to foot, with screening over his face and head. I would walk down barefooted, in shorts and a halter-top, and stand beside him. The bees swarmed around me, but they never stung. Beardsley always somehow managed to get stung, even through all his protective gear.

"Animals like me," I remember saying to Billy, somewhat smugly as we continued toward his house. A moment later, Martins' German Shepherds came charging out of their yard. Billy had never liked those dogs, but they didn't bother me. Until that day. The bigger one, Fritz, ran out around Billy, growling ferociously, fangs bared, and attacked me. It ripped through a brand new pair of super-thick Levis I'd gotten for work and laid open my thigh. Brave Billy managed to beat the dog away after it knocked me down and was going for my throat. I think I was screaming, but I'm not sure about that part. I've never been much of a screamer. Lying in the road with the dog at my throat felt somehow familiar. So did Billy on his white horse, look strangely, ironically unfamiliarly familiar.

Billy's father took me to St. Joseph's Hospital, and I missed most of the afternoon of my first day of work. But the more disturbing part is that I was taken into a little office with a nun. She had crinkly skin and a wide face that was as white as if it had been powdered with baby powder. There were all these beautiful nature posters on the wall, with saying about God on them. One of them said something like "With God as my shepherd, whom shall I fear?" I remember at the time thinking that God didn't always seem to be hanging around helping. He must be looking the other way some of the time. It wasn't a fully articulated thought, and yet the sense of it still remains.

The nun, Sister George, asked me if either of my parents ever hit me. When I looked shocked and said, "Of course not," she uncovered some bruises--I was covered with bruises--and I had no idea how I got them. "Not my parents!!" I kept insisting, but had no other explanation to offer. I didn't mention the gumballs the night before, the strange events and the big dark gap in my mind. I didn't see any point in telling her when I couldn't tell her what I was telling her.

I had twenty-nine stitches. Before I saw Sister George. I remember thinking, as I watched the curved needle going in and out of my skin, that whatever had happened at the lake last night had used up all my luck. If people had something equivalent to nine lives, eight and a half of mine had been used up last night at the lake. I wondered if you could regain any of them--I didn't like that feeling of teetering on the edge. I couldn't remember what had happened, but it had been a real strain on my guardian angels. That's why the bee had stung me; that's why the dog had bitten me. I felt as if I could relax a little, now, though. I'm not superstitious, or anything, but everyone knows that bad things happen in threes. Perhaps, I would be safe for a while.

That night, lying in my bed unable to sleep, watching how the moon silvered all the lawns and trees making everything look sort of like one of those old fashioned photos that Billy's father collected, I began to remember just a little bit about what had happened that night at the lake. I remembered some of the events that led to my leaving the party. It wasn't a pleasant memory. The "dirts" had gotten drunk and raided Billy's party. For some reason that I couldn't remember, they had come after me. I didn't really want to think about it, but I expected that my parents would be asking me, and probably the cops would, too. One thing was sure, I wanted to talk to Billy about it, and I was sure that's what he had intended to talk to me about at lunch.

In the morning, my clock radio came on to wake me for work. Just as I was about to punch the snooze and catch another five minutes of sleep after a restless night, I heard something that shocked me completely awake. Four of my classmates had been killed, drowned, when their Volkswagen bug went off the road at the overlook at Beaver Lake Nature Center. It was two nights ago, and I had been there, wet, but alive.

They announced the names: Rudolf Heath, Michelle Sawyer, Wilson Wilson, and Nicholas Smith. I sat up in bed and started crying, and then wailing. I had never wailed in my life before, I just wasn't that kind of kid, but the idea of Shelly being dead was just too awful. I couldn't believe it. It was Scratch's fault. I knew it, because I'd been there. I saw what happened. Oh, Michelle, Michelle.

My mother was coming in to make sure I hadn't punched the snooze too many times, and she sat down on the bed next to me. I buried my face in her shoulder and cried and cried and cried, and she put her arms around me and rocked me. My mother's not the overly demonstrative or huggy type, but she can be there for me when I really need her. She just quietly held me and whispered little motherly inanities.

I was crying for Shelly, but suddenly, I realized the others were dead, too, Weed and Scratch and Nick, and I started bawling all over. I could hear my own crying, it sounded different suddenly, angry as well as sad. And then, more angry still, because I just knew it was Scratch's fault that Shelly and Weed were dead—he had killed them. He had killed Shelly just when she finally, for the first time in her life, had something to look forward to. My wailing began to sound more like roaring, like a lion roaring. For a minute, like remembering a dream, I almost knew what happened. The whole terrible thing slid through me in an instant and away again.

At work that day, Billy told me, and later everyone else, that there was going to be a Memorial service Saturday for the kids that died. It would be at the Unitarian Church. That's where our town always held multi-denominational services. He whispered to me that all the funerals were going to be private, for the families only.

Saturday, he and Beardsley came by and picked me up about 9:30. I had been rummaging through my stuff and had located five pictures of Shelly, two of Shelly and Weed, a really and out of focus picture of all four of them, and one of Scratch by his motorcycle. None of Nick. Billy had a few more, including one of Nick that actually made him look like an almost decent human being. Beardsley, who takes more pictures than anyone I know, had a bunch, too. When we got to the church, we put the pictures up on an easel, for people to look at. I was wondering what the preacher would say about Nick and Scratch. They weren't exactly exemplary students or particular nice people. Weed was a few notches better than Scratch and Nick, but not great. Shelly was actually nice, but she was rough around the edges and not many people liked her, other than Beardsley and me.

It turned out that the preacher had no idea what to say. He came around and talked to those of us who showed up. There weren't many people there. Some scuzzy looking adults I had never seen before, a few of the other dirts from school, and a few of the kids who try to like everyone, even the creepy kids. So I had to try to think of nice things to say. I kept talking about Shelly, how far she'd come, how hard she'd worked, how excited she had been to get into college, the scholarship she'd won. And then I moved on to Weed, and how much he'd liked Shelly and how hard he'd been working, and how his grades were coming up.

The only nice things I could think to say about Nick were the time he had shared his lunch with Shelly when she lost her lunch money down the storm sewer drain and the time he had given Ryan a whole bunch of packets of honey roasted peanuts, which were Ryan's favorites. That was when Nick was in 4th grade and Ryan was in third grade. Later, we found out that Scratch had stolen them and passed them on to Nick, but that wasn't Nick's fault. I didn't tell the preacher that part.

Scratch was smart. No one could deny that. A few other people said stuff about them, too. And from our fragmentary memories, the preacher got up and made his remarks.

When he started talking about Shelly, I burst out crying. I couldn't help it. But I gulped down my tears and after that, I was pretty much dry-eyed.

They served refreshments afterward, which seemed weird. I know now that funerals and memorial services often have food, but at the time, it seemed strange to me, as if we were celebrating their deaths instead of mourning them. They had little quarter sandwiches where the crusts had been cut off, like in kindergarten. I found some ham on pumpernickel that tasted outrageously good and kept taking another quarter and feeling guilty that I was enjoying it so much. There was potato salad and macaroni salad and potato chips and really good fruit punch. Punch! It just didn't seem right to me.

Billy was going around talking to the other people, and when I picked up my 6th sandwich quarter, I decided to join him so I wouldn't be tempted to take any more. When I joined him, he was talking to the skuzziest looking people in the room. I could smell them as I walked up. I guessed they were Scratch's parent, and I was right.

They, like Scratch, seemed articulate in an uneducated way. They also seemed dazed somehow, not altogether with it. I know that sounds strange and contradictory, but they'd be conversing normally about something and then stare off into space. In the middle of a sentence.

Weed's parents looked like they were right off the old homestead and dressed in their Sunday go to meeting clothes. His father was old and leathery looking, and his mother plump and rosy-cheeked.

I had already met Shelly's parents, separately, but that day, for a few minutes, they were standing together. Her mother was looking bewildered and her father looked angry. We made our way over to them and I said how sorry I was. And started tearing up again. Her mother thanked me for all the time I spent with Shelly and I said, truthfully, that Shelly was my friend and I loved spending time with her.

I have to say, though, that I was not very good at making small talk, at knowing what to say, so I was glad Billy was able to pick up with the sorts of polite things you say at these times. He seemed so much better at it.

Beardsley had been talking to some of the kids and joined us when we were talking to Shelly's parents. He knew Shelly really well because he had been teaching her photography, which she had discovered that she loved. And he had been helping her on the computer, which she was also taking a liking to. Beardsley was a total computer nerd.

People began dispersing, and Billy told me no one had come for Nick, no parents, no relatives, no friends. And though I never liked Nick, I felt really sad. Someone should have cared about him.

From After the Party or The Hepetologist (Turtle story)

Friday, September 15, 2006

Under the Pondweed: Linnette

* * *
    Pendula had spotted them and backed up so that the bulk of his porcupine-like body completely closed the mouth of the cave entrance to the underground castle.  The great pendulous mane of snakeheads came erect, as did the pointy quills on his body.  The lion eyes were fiery red and followed them as they circled overhead.  The snakeheads, now erect, bobbed and weaved and followed them as well. Sassy had imagined they might slip past Pendula when they first saw him, for he hadn't looked large or scary and there was room between him and the entrance to fly in, but now she saw this was hopeless.  No way could they just get past.
    "Could there be another way in?" Lonnie whispered.   Sam circled around looking.  The mountain rose in sheer cliffs above Pendula, up and up. 
    "Look," Sassy said, excitedly, "what is that?"  Sam climbed, stretching his long wings.  Far above Pendula, there was a ledge and what appeared to be a narrow opening.  Sitting on the ledge was a single rattlesnake as thick as Sassy's arm.  But the opening was high enough that the rattlesnake probably couldn't reach them, if they flew in right at the top.
    Sam dove for the opening. It was dark inside.  If there were other snakes, or monsters, they couldn't see them.  The cavern turned to the left and far in the distance was a faint light.  Sam flew toward the light.  Sometimes his wingtips brushed the cave wall in the darkness.  Sometimes fluttery wings of what must have been bats brushed against their faces.  But they flew on toward the light.  Gradually, the cave brightened a little, and they could see magnificent stalactites, stalagmites and huge columns.
    After a while, they saw that the light came from two huge torches burning on either side of another entrance, this one a rectangular doorway hewn from rock.  The torches were clutched by iron hands with long clawed fingers that emerged from huge oaken doors that were dark with dampness and mildew except for a dark teardrop shaped area burned and stained from the flame of the torches.
    Sam flew through the open door and voice called, "Halt!  Who goes there?" They saw no one at first.  Then they saw a figure sitting in the shadows at a low table.  It was a woman.  A very small woman, smaller even that Lonnie and Sassy.   She didn't look too dangerous, but for some reason, Sassy imagined she had special powers.
    "We are Sassy, Sam and Lonnie," Lonnie said.
    "We come in friendship," Sam said.
    "We want to speak to the King of the dwarves," Sassy said.
    "You've come to the wrong place," the woman said.  "This is a gateway to the realm of the Faery folk."
    "May we speak to you without harm?" Lonnie asked.
    "You may speak. If you offer us no harm, we will not harm you."
    Sam, who had been circling and hovering settled to the cave floor and Lonnie and Sassy scrambled off.  They towered over the woman, who came only to Sassy's waist.
    "Are you a fairy?"  Sassy asked, "I thought Fairies had wings and would fit in the palm of my hand."
    The woman, who had looked like a normal human only smaller, stepped into the air and flew up to sit on Sassy's shoulder.  She was smaller than before, and huge butterfly wings waved slowly at her shoulders. They were golden and glowed faintly in the dark cave.
    "I thought the Faery Folk were just like humans only smaller and more magical," Lonnie said.  The woman stepped off Sassy's shoulder, grew larger again, and suddenly disappeared.
    "Are you still here?" asked Sam. The woman reappeared.
    "What's your name?" asked Sassy?
    "You can call me Linnette.  I cannot give you my true Faery name right now.  Tell me, what is your business with the dwarves?"
    * * *
written while walking at Barry Park today.

I'd like to remind you that this is a first draft. 

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Under the Pindweed, Part IV: Eilisha

    Sam didn't answer.  Instead, he flew silently, up and up and up until the world below seemed tiny.  He was flying toward the mountains and the mountains were huge.  Sassy went mountain climbing with her father, but these mountains were nothing like hers.  The mountains she climbed with her father were in Upstate New York's Adirondack Mountains.  They were tree-covered and rounded, like hills, but bigger.  They had rounded rocky peaks, sometimes, or at least rocky ledges where Sassy could look out at the view.  She liked to race up the mountain and beat her brothers and Billy and Frankie and Misty, the neighbor kids who often came along.  They all beat her father.  He was really slow, because he always wanted to stop and look at the views.  Sassy liked to look, too, but it only took her a few seconds to see what she wanted to see, the vast open spaces and the mountains, row upon row, and be off again. Grown-ups were so slow.
    Sassy's mother used to climb too, but she had given it up and stayed behind in the base camp, reading books and making dinner for them.  Sassy's Mom loved the views, but she also liked a chance to rest and have some "peace and quiet".  Papa spent a lot of time at work when Mama had the kids to herself, and it was a treat for the kids to be with Papa for a change.  Mama said it was good for everyone, and it was great to come back to a hot meal, too.  When Mama climbed with them, she'd always be the last one back, so it was a long wait for supper then.
    She turned to Lonnie, "Did you ever go mountain climbing?"
    "There aren't many mountains in the pond I lived in most of my life," Lonnie answered, "but in Mearddth, I've been up a few."  He said it like "mirth," a word for laughter people rarely used any more. It rhymed with earth.
    Sassy leaned out over Sam's wing and peered down.  It made her stomach churn a little to look down so far.  Scary!  But she was sure that Mama and Papa would both the view.
    They would really be impressed with the mountains here.  They were tall, huge, and pointy, made of rock, all cliffs.  There were no trees at all on the tops.  In fact, the mountains behind the first set that Sassy could see had snow on them.  The lowest parts of the mountains had trees, and the trees were different than the trees in Upstate NY.  There were two kinds of trees, some tall, skinny pointy trees, and some trees that were all funny and crooked and grew out of the cracks in the rock and looked like a Chinese painting that Sassy had seen in one of her doctor offices.
    Sam flew toward the cataract, the giant skinny waterfall that plunged from the mountain pass between two huge pointy peaks.  He flew on and on toward the mountains, and finally, gradually, they seemed to be getting closer.  After a while, Sassy could hear the roar of the falling water, a sound something like thunder and something like static on the radio and something else entirely, a loud sound that grew louder and louder.
    Sam flew straight toward the falling water and it was so thick and fast that Sassy was frightened, but at the last moment, he swerved slightly and flew behind the water.  Sassy had read in a book about someone going behind a waterfall, and they said it was like a veil.  A veil, Sassy thought, was sort of like a piece of curtain that a bride wore over her face while getting married.  Hardly anyone did that anymore, but they used to.  Sassy had read about it in a book.  Besides hunting frogs catching tadpoles and salamanders and exploring, reading was one of Sassy's favorite things to do.
    Sassy thought she was lucky.  Misty's parents made her read age-appropriate books, but Sassy's parents let her read anything she wanted.  She could read a baby book one time and a grownup book another time, and she could read the same book over and over if she wanted to. She often did.
    Sassy thought about the bridal veil as the wall of water roared past them.  It did not look like a bridal veil to Sassy, but like something huge and indescribable.  Sometimes, Sassy thought she'd like to be a writer, but how could she be a writer if she couldn't describe that water? 
    She didn't have time to consider it any longer, though, because Sam had turned suddenly and entered a cave.  The cave was wide and Sam could easily fly inside it.  It was dim, lit only by light coming through the wall of falling water.  It was also wet, from water splashing in, but suddenly, Sassy knew that it dry ahead, and that someone was waiting.
    Sure enough, the cave turned and they flew into a tunnel of darkness and then into a cavern lit by candles and a small fire. Sam landed on the floor beside a huge statue of a person that was wrapped in a blanket.  But the huge head turned slowly toward them and spoke in a huge voice.
    "Welcome, my grandchildren, welcome."
    "Greetings, oh great grandmother," Sam said.
    "Greeting, great grandmother," Lonnie repeated.
    "Greeting, great Grandmother," Sassy said, respectfully.  It seemed that that must be the right thing to say.
    The woman stood up.  She towered enormously high above them, and then, she was smaller. She was smaller than her mother, but bigger than Sassy and Lonny, kind of the size of Sassy's own Grandma, only not as fat. 
    "My name is Eilisha."  She pronounced it like AY-lee-sha.)  "You're not in Kansa any more," the woman said, laughing at the stunned look on Sassy's face.  Lonnie and Sam did not seem to be surprised.
    "I've never been to Kansas," Sassy, said, half confused and half indignant.
    "Oh, I was sure you would know what I meant, from The Wizard of Oz."
    "Are we in Oz?"
    "No, We're in Mearddth."  Sassy thought she'd heard that before, but couldn't remember when.   "Mearddth is a little like Oz, and a little different.  You've been here before, but you might not make the connection."
    "I've never been here before" Sassy exclaimed, indignant again.
    "Not exactly here, maybe," Lonnie said.  "But you've been to Mearddth before.  Every night."
    "What I mostly due at night is sleep."  Sassy said.
    "Exactly," Eilisha said.  "Now we have to get down to business.  Since you kissed Lonnie, even though you didn't mean it in the traditional sense, you set the wheels in motion for a huge prophecy.  Changes are happening that will put the world in jeopardy, and I don't just mean Mearddth, but Earth itself, your world."
    "But . . .  "
    "This is serious.  Everyone is in danger, you, your parents, your brothers, your grandmother, Misty, Billy, Frankie, everyone.  Your piano teacher, you school teacher.  Lonnie, me, Sam.  Everyone is in terrible danger."
    "But . .   ."
    "Because it was you, Martina Maria, who kissed Prince Lonnard Longshad, it is you and he and Samuel Gillian who must travel to Ransomhome and bring back the golden scepter."
    "But, I can't go, I have a piano lesson," Sassy said, turning her wrist to look at her watch, "in half an hour.  If I'm not back I'll get in trouble."
    "You'll be in worse trouble, if you don't go."  Sassy was staring at her watch. Something seemed wrong, but she couldn't figure out what it was.  "I can't make you go; it has to be your own choice.  But I can show you a little of what will happen if you don't go."
    She held out her hand, palm down, with a ring that sparkled. Sassy leaned forward. Inside the huge diamond, a scene began to unfold. Buildings were crashing down, and flames spurting up. People were running and screaming; she could hear their tiny voices, and the terror in them. The scene shifted.  It was the street she lived on.  There were soldiers, tanks, guns, flames. The scene faded.
    "Did you need to see more?" Eilisha asked, gently.   
    "No," Sassy said, "if I have to go to stop that, I'll go."
    "Of course."  He spoke quietly, with deep conviction.
    "Yes, Grandmother, I will go."
    "Then it is settled.  There is no guarantee you will succeed; you can only do what you can do.  It is gravely dangerous.  You could die, any of you.  All of you.  Your best chance of survival is to stay together.  To work together.  Do you understand?
    "Yes, Grandmother," they chorused together.
    * * *
    "King George has the scepter. It belongs to the people of Mearddth.  He is not a rightful king. He is not even rightfully elected.  He has used lies and greed and powerful friends to take over the country, and he has declared himself King.  He pretends to be on the side of good, but everything he does is evil.  I have yet to determine if he truly believes he is good and is simply misguided, or if he is truly evil.
    "However, he calls anyone who stands against him a terrorist, and he will eliminate you if you try to cross him.  The scepter gives him power.  Without it he'd be just an ordinary man.  Taking it from him would-be the first step."
    "You mean there are more?" Sassy asked, looking at her watch again.  Half an hour 'til her piano lesson.  She didn't want to get in trouble.
    "Take one thing at a time," Eilisha said. "We won't know what will be needed until we see what happens."
    "But how will we know what to do?"
    "Bring me the scepter and we will go from there.  You may need some aid along the way. 

Friday, September 08, 2006

Under the Pondweed: Sam 1, part 4

* * *
Sassy heard screaming and clattering and looked out through a crack under the seat. A giant gull with a wingspan six or seven times that of Sassy's arm span was diving at one of the soldiers. He, in turn, lashed at the gull with a double-bladed sword. Several other soldiers had ridden up beside the beleaguered one and were attempting to ward off the huge bird.
"That's no dragon," Sassy whispered to Lonnie, "that's a gull."
"Just another type of dragon," Lonnie responded, "They eat you alive, tear you limb from limb."
Sassy studied the gull. There was something familiar about it. It had a bright blue leg ring with etched red letters: SAM 111, just like her Sam. Sam was the gull she had rescued and cared for and released. But Sam was a normal-sized gull, not a gigantic monster gull. Still, what if it was her Sam?
"Sam," she shouted. The bird looked up. One of the soldiers slashed at its foot and the bird screeched and flew up. Blood poured from the wound.
"Sam," screamed Sassy, and pushing Lonnie aside, she scrambled from under the bench. "Sam," she screamed again. The bird dove toward her and snatched her in his beak. Lonnie grabbed Sassy's legs, but he wasn't strong enough and the gull swept skyward with Sassy in his beak and Lonnie dangling from Sassy's legs. His hands were locked around her ankles.
"Sam," Sassy screamed, "It's me, Sassy! Remember me?"
"What happened to you?" Sassy heard Sam say. Or thought she did. "You're so small."
"No, you're big."
"Put us down somewhere, Sam, carefully. Let me look at your leg."
"It's nothing, Sass, just a scratch." Sam swooped down and set Lonnie and Sassy on a rock in the middle of a lake. Sassy bent to look at Sam's leg. It was still bleeding in the center of the cut, where it was deepest, but the ends had already started to scab up. It was more than a scratch, but it looked as if it would probably heal quickly.
"Get on my back," Sam said, "just behind my wings." Sassy climbed on. Lonnie hesitated and then climbed on behind her.
Sam stretched his long white wings and flew, up, out over the lake. Sassy could see a castle. It was a fairy-tale kind of castle, made of stone, with turrets and ramparts and a moat with a drawbridge. And there, down the road from the castle, was the carriage with its entourage of soldiers milling around.
Sam headed not for the castle or the carriage, but for the mountains beyond the castle where a tall cataract plunged in a narrow plume over a sheer cliff.
"Where are you going, Sam, where are you taking us?"
* * *
(Story: Under the pondweed installment)

The Brunt of the storm Detail

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