Friday, April 30, 2010

30 Days, 30 Stories: "Danube So Blue," Part Three

by Scott Rhoades

- Continued from April 23 -

A little girl sat down next to him. "Guten Tag." Her voice was fresh and sweet.

He nodded.

"Why do you water the flowers?" She twisted the apron of her doll's dirndl.

"Because they are thirsty and the water takes away their wrinkles."

"If I water you, will your wrinkles go away?"

The innocence of the question made him smile. "It would take more than water to wash away my wrinkles, I'm afraid."

"Oh." The girl held her doll so close to Franz's eyes that he could see nothing but a colorful blur. "Do you like my baby?"

"Yes. She is almost as pretty as you are."

"You're funny. I guess you don't know her name?"

"I think it must be Gertrud."

"No. Try again."

"Not Gertrud? Well then, I think her name must be Elise, Elisabeth."

"No, that's my aunt's name. How did you know my aunt's name?"

"I'm an old man. There is nothing new to know."

"I know my numbers up to ten."

"I'll bet you don't."

"I do. Listen." She delivered her numbers like the Kaiser giving a speech.

"My, but you are a smart one. You still haven't told me your doll's name."

"It's Alice, of course. That's my sister's name, too."

The child's mother came and took the girl by the hand. "Come, Johanna. You shouldn't pester the nice old man." She turned to Franz. "I'm so sorry she bothered you."

"No bother. Let her stay." They walked away and his loneliness returned heavier than before. This was the child's world now, and he had no place in it.

Franz thought of the Danube. He hadn't seen the river in months. As a boy he had fantasized about living on the river. Later, the legendary Danube maidens became a part of the dream, inviting him to join them in the womb-like water for a lifetime of joy and dancing. That was long ago and he chuckled at the memory. "I think I'll go to the river," he said aloud. He rode a tram to Erzherzog Carl Platz, near the rows of railway tracks at the North Station. Franz felt little emotion as he walked the short distance to the Kronprinz Rudolfs bridge.

He stood above the river. Downstream a pair of young lovers walked hand-in-hand beside the Danube, as he and Elise had done so many years before. He watched the water swirl around the bridge supports. How would it feel to fall in? How easy it would be. One misstep and it would be over. He would be gone before the New Vienna beast could devour him. They would find his body and bury it unmourned in the Friedhof der Namenlosen with all the other unidentified people who ended their lives in the river.

He used to pity those nameless dead. Now that there was no one left to notice his absence, he was one of them. What would it be like to jump? He cursed the rails that discouraged him from acting on his impulse.

He walked down to the bank. He thought of Alois, of Elise, and the city walls. Where were the water maidens when he needed them?

A hat floated under the bridge, bobbing in the current. It looked like the hats he used to make, and he waded in to get a better look. He was not surprised to see Elise's face smiling at him in the river.

She beckoned. "Dance with me." It was the Elise of their courtship, before the painful disease had made her face old and worn. The sound of her angel's voice banished his melancholy. Peace washed over him as the "Blue Danube Waltz" echoed in his head, the way she used to play it on her piano.

He waltzed in the current, spinning, turning. The waist-high water eased his weight and helped him move gracefully with the music. He watched Elise dance near him. She smiled and motioned to him to go deeper into the current, to let the river wash away his troubles. He started toward her.

"Hey," a voice behind him called. He turned and saw Alois standing on the riverbank. He'd forgotten how tall his friend had been once. "Come back to the shore. This is no place to dance."

He glanced at Elise. She smiled and vanished beneath the ripples. He looked back to Alois, but where he had been there stood a young man, his sweetheart behind him. He reached out to them. They helped him from the river, then led him to a restroom at the train station so he could dry off.

#

Franz rode the tram home. He stopped only once, to buy some flowers. Maybe he'd give them to Frau Schmidt, if they pleased her.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

30 Days, 30 Stories: "Tides Across the Sea"

Tides Across the Sea
by
Lu Ann Brobst Staheli


1

2010 copyright by the author; author retains all rights to the story. Please do not use the story without the author's permission.

Manuela Perez couldn’t stop the perspiration pouring across her brow. The azure sky was crisp and clear above the piazza where the sun radiated from the cobblestones, making the day seem hotter, but it was more than the heat making her feel drained. The words coming from the mouth of the boy she hoped to one day marry brought her great worry.

“A New World. Just saying the words brings a fire to my belly,” Felipe Marco said, reading from one of the many signs posted in the village. Felipe’s fists rested on his hips and he pulled his shoulders back, his lean torso enhanced by the muscles emerging from sleeve above his almond-colored arms. “To travel to a new continent across the Caribbean. This—this would prove to your father that at fifteen I am a man. Old enough to own a bull and a piece of land, old enough to travel beyond the southern shores of Santiago de Cuba, and to marry his daughter.”

“Oh, Felipe,” Manuela said, sighing. Her tiny frame was almost hidden beneath the orange, yellow, and green ruffles that decorated her skirt and blouse. “What if you never return from this voyage with Cortés? Who would I marry?” She lay her head against the woven fabric of his tunic and touched her creamy palm against his dark curls. The noise of the market swirled around them, but she paid no attention.

A smile played at Felipe's lips as he embraced her. “Manuela, a child as lovely as you need not worry about marriage.” A chuckle rumbled low in his throat. He smoothed his hand across her ebony hair, tucking a loose strand behind her ear.

She pulled herself away, the hair again falling to her cheek. “Child?” Her voice was firm. “I am thirteen, old enough to marry.” The girl tossed her head, turning her back to him for a moment, before she stomped her sandaled foot and kicked Felipe in the shinbone. “I'll show you a child.” She pounded against his muscled body with her fists.

“Cesación! Cesación!” Felipe said, laughing as he fended off her blows.

He hopped on one foot, holding his throbbing leg with his right hand. Bumping into a merchant cart filled with oranges, Felipe reached too late to catch the first piece of fruit as it tumbled onto the dusty plaza. Three round oranges bounced down the street. A cascade more left the cart to follow. Felipe couldn't stop the laughter that escaped his lips.

Nor Manuela hers. Bent over, giggling at the sight of several small children toddling after the bright-colored balls of fruit, she knew she should run to help pick up the damaged wares but could not.

The merchant was not laughing. He was barreling toward her.

“Run!” Felipe called, tossing a few payment coins toward the cart, before he grabbed Manuela’s hand and pulled her along with him across the street toward a narrow opening that would lead them away from the fruit merchant, his spilled carts, and the fate they were sure to face if he caught them. Manuela tried to keep an eye toward his direction as Felipe guided their way through the children and others crowding the streets.

“Estancia!” the merchant bellowed as he chased them from the square, his belly heaving with the effort. His steps were slow and the distance between himself and Felipe or Manuela too great for him to snatch hold of either of them. Stopping at the narrow alleyway, he shook his fist at their retreating figures. Manuela saw him glance toward his cart and the children gathering up the last remains of the fruit which sent him again to the center of the piazza, his hands flying out like he was sending wayward chickens back to their roost. “Marcharse!”

Ensuring their safety, Manuela and Felipe followed a narrow cobblestone path that led farther away from the merchant and into a nearby courtyard. The stones were worn smooth, but dust scuffed around their feet as Felipe pulled Manuela close. “A kick in the shin? Isn’t that a little . . . ?”

Manuela interrupted, “Yes, it was childish, but perhaps it is you, who is too much the child to marry.” Her tone was playful, the scolding mother who teases her child. “This voyage is a way to escape and play your childish games.” Then a wave of sadness settled into her voice as she spoke. “What will I do here without you?”

His voice became soft, nearly buried in the sounds of life around them. “Manuela, you needn't worry. I haven't convinced Captain Cortés that I am one who should go.” Felipe’s brown eyes seemed deep pools, shimmering against the afternoon sun. A look of pain etched his bronze face.
“And you know I would rather die than not return to you.”

She threw her arms around his neck and nuzzled his throat. For most of his life Felipe had spoken of nothing but joining the great explorer on his next journey. The time had come. A quiver in her voice, Manuela asked, “Do you really want to go?” She already knew the answer, but she dared to hope he would change his mind.

Felipe whispered, “Yes.”

She drew her eyes to look at him, her fingers still entwined around his neck. A single tear traced her cheek, but she did not remove her gaze. “Then return home safely to me, Felipe Marco.”

“I will.” He cleared the sudden huskiness from his voice, then pulled her tighter against him. “I will.”

Her heart was breaking, but Manuela responded. “And I will wait, no matter how long.”

The noise from the busy marketplace rose like waves thundering against the shoreline. How she had missed the rising tide of people who pressed toward the open square? Children, dock workers, merchants and others pushed against the two of them as they stood together, two ships harbored at the same pier. She didn’t want to let him go.

After a moment, Felipe stepped away so he could see her face. “But first . . .I must see Cortés. All of my friends want to be chosen as much as I. The great explorer will never choose me. Never!”

She could tell he was trying to cheer her up. She too would play the game of imagining he would be selected, hoping within her soul that it would not come true. “Talk, all talk. Young boys trying to play the role of a man.” A smile played at her lips. “Can you see Eduardo leaving his mother's side for such an adventure?”

The grin on Felipe’s face displayed his answer even before he spoke. “No, I can't,” he said, as he motioned toward the stone edging that surrounded the fountain in the square. He walked toward it.

Manuela followed close behind, trying to avoid the people who were now thick around them.

“Only a week ago, he stayed with my family while his parents traveled to the south-lands to visit his father’s brother, Señor Pedro de Trujillo. Eduardo sniffled and cried all night.” Felipe guffawed at the memory. He shook his head a little before continuing. “He claimed it was the dust bothering him, but I know better.”

“Infant.” Her voice was teasing.

She lifted her skirt from the swirling dust. They had drawn close to the fountain, and she plopped onto the ledge, tucking the brightly colored fabric beneath her knees. Felipe sat next to her. He surveyed the people rushing past them and raised his hand in greeting to a lad younger than he. The boy also waved but hurried on.

“Infant,” Felipe said in agreement, then he turned serious. “But César is not an infant. Cortés might choose him.” Felipe picked up one of her hands and clasped it tightly. A frown creased his brow. “César would be a wise choice to be sure.”

Manuela knew everyone feared César Caballeria, as did she. He was the strongest of the local youth and a year older than Felipe. She could not control the feelings of weakness that overcame her soul when he was near—a tiny bee hummingbird before the giant iguana. If only César were as harmless. Once he had lost a competition against the other boys. Accidentally tripped in the last moments of the race, César had fallen, landing sprawled in the dust like a Tree Boa knocked from its perch by the great winds of a huracán, and it was Felipe’s fault. Many times since then Manuela had heard Felipe, Eduardo, and their classmate, Miguel, laugh at the memory. If César heard, he raged in response because of his embarrassment. She worried that he was capable of killing one or all of them.

“Do you think César would go?” Manuela asked, hopeful. “He is the man of his household now that his papa is dead. Won't his mother need him?” If César were not chosen, staying behind with him could be just as dangerous for her. How bold would he become without Felipe to stand in his way? She chewed the corner of her bottom lip as she considered the possibility.

“She needs him but cannot hold him,” Felipe said. “No one can stop César from what he wants to do.” He gave a heavy sigh as though accepting that César would sail with Cortés. A nervous chuckle was cut short when he looked at Manuela’s face.

“Hush.” Her eyes widened as she looked past Felipe. “Here he comes now.” Manuela stepped behind Felipe as he stood, clasping his garment top as though holding onto a ship’s line at the dock. “He scares me.”

The stocky lad swaggered toward them. His broad shoulders lifted and he puffed out his chest. His soft curly hair seemed out of character for his arrogance. He spoke as though Felipe were not there. “Ah, the lovely Manuela. How are you this beautiful morning?” César said, peering around Felipe’s thin form.

“César,” Felipe said with a sternness Manuela had never heard before.

César spoke as though Felipe had not. “Manuela, come from behind this boy and stand where I can feast upon your beauty.” The deep timbre of his voice and the way he stood indicated he did not expect to be ignored.

“No,” she said, taking her strength from Felipe. She did not like the bold way César spoke to her, and more than once recently, she had sensed his stare. It made her feel unclean.

Felipe reached a protective hand toward Manuela. “What do you want of us?”

“You? Nothing.” César gave Felipe a quick glance, but his eyes softened as he looked at the girl. “Manuela? That is another story. Don't you want something of me, my dear, sweet girl? A kiss perhaps?”

“No.” She turned away, her face pinched as though she had tasted a bitter root. “Leave me alone.” The stone seat scratched against her calf where she was backed against it, but she would not move away from either Felipe or the fountain. She became aware of the stillness of the courtyard as those near enough to witness paused to listen.

“She wants you to go,” said Felipe. “And so do I.”

She was so proud of him, the way he stood up to this bully as though he wasn’t afraid. Perhaps Felipe really had grown up. Was it possible he was no more a child, but a man as he wanted her father to believe? Manuela trusted that Felipe would be able to care for her safety, just as she knew he cared about her.

César stood at his full height. His voice deepened with seriousness. He glanced at those standing around the fountain before speaking. “It matters not to me what you want, Felipe. I'll leave for now only because I have business with Hernán Cortés. But Manuela, you can expect to see me again. Soon I will be asking for the hand of someone to be my bride. Perhaps it will be you.”

Manuela's face drained of color. “Marry you? Never!” She spat into the dust at her feet.

“Never!” Felipe said. “Someday she will marry me.”

Those from the crowd who were near enough to hear gasped as one then again fell silent.

A deep rumble of laughter escaped from César's lips, breaking the quiet. “We will see. We will see.” As he walked away, César nodded curtly to a group of boys standing nearby. They edged closer to the stone edifice of the Santo Domingo church, away from his path. The rest of the gathered crowd began to talk among themselves as they returned to their business.

Manuela stepped in front of Felipe. “I hope Cortés takes him,” she said, her voice stronger now that she had stood up to her enemy. Noticing Felipe's pained expression, she added, “Perhaps he will take many your age.”

“No,” Felipe said, resignation in his voice. “And if César decides he wants to go, then Cortés would be a fool not to take him.” He dug his great toe into the black diente de perro soil.

Never had she seen Felipe look so sad. “Captain Cortés would be a fool not to choose you, Felipe.” She ran her fingertip down his cheek, following his strong jawbone.

He reached for her hand, bringing it again to rest between his clasped palms. “Perhaps it would be better if I did not go.” His tone lightened. “I don't want to leave you here unprotected with César. It is not safe.”

She placed her other hand over his. “Nonsense. César is too smart to bother me with Papa at home.” She hoped her words soothed his concern, although she did not believe them.

Felipe glanced toward the group of boys César had passed. Their voices buzzed as Felipe pulled Manuela with him. The boys appeared to be discussing a parchment posted on the building wall.

“This must be where César was headed.” Felipe stopped before the notice, read it, pointed at the intricate markings, then said, “Captain Cortés has scheduled a meeting today for all interested in joining him.” He turned to Manuela, excitement in his voice again. “Will you come with me?”

Manuela nodded, and they walked toward the place where Cortes would speak. The group of boys also moved across the courtyard, turning into an alley finally emerging at the town’s main square.

Does every male in Santiago want to join the voyage? she wondered.

Manuela had heard her father say King Charles the Fifth, the Holy Roman Emperor, was financing Cortés. The emperor had been present when Christopher Colón returned to Spain to report his conquest to King Ferninand and Queen Isabella. Now, Charles anticipated the return to the mother country of his own ships filled with untold wealth. Would the men who accompanied his envoy also gain riches? This new expedition was to travel westward. Manuela did not know where, but she guessed Cortes would take his shipmates as far as necessary in search of gold to bring to his homeland. His king expected it.

The entire plaza was jammed with anxious applicants. More men laced the surrounding alleyways, likely hoping to glean details from the famous Hernán Cortés himself. He was here in Santiago, looking for a crew.

“Here's a place,” Manuela said, as she pulled Felipe onto a spot near the palace steps. The rough stone stairs were worn and the arched doorway was closed as she leaned against it.

Pointing across her shoulder, Felipe said, “There is César. He will not miss his chance for such an adventure as this.”

Manuela slipped her hand under Felipe’s arm and felt her heart pound.

The crowd soon began to quiet as a lone man stepped onto the raised platform and held up his hand. He stood an average height. His most outstanding feature was an aquiline nose, which seemed to fill his face—the beak of an aguila, the eagle. A thick shock of dark hair made him look young, like a lad, despite his age and fourteen years of leadership. Although he was now over thirty, the Spaniard was still youthful, especially in the world of explorers.

“I am Hernán Cortés,” he said. “I am here today to select additional men to serve on my crew and accompany me on a great voyage. Are there any among you who wish to go?” A deafening roar came from the crowd, and Cortés smiled with apparent pleasure. He raised his arms high, shaking his opened palms in an effort to bring quiet to the crowd. “Bueno, bueno,” he continued when the response had died. “Let me tell you more.”

As the crowd listened, the explorer spoke of great adventure, bringing honor to his country, and the wealth each expedition member could gain. It seemed to Manuela that every man and boy from their city was straining to absorb each word he spoke. It would mean much to Felipe if he were chosen, but she feared for his safety.

This great leader did not impress her. Despite his black beard, he was no different from a boy. Arrogant. Vain. Boasting only of his adventures with the promise of gold. “Infant,” she said, knowing Felipe could not hear her over the noise. “A child leading children.”

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

30 Days, 30 Stories: "Fire Water"

Fire Water
by Yamile Mendez

2010 copyright; author retains all the rights to the story. Please do not use the story without author's permission.

October 2nd, 1493
We have been many days sailing in the blue expanse of the Atlantic Ocean. I am making my way to the New World on the Buena Fortuna, a ship built expressly following her Majesty Doña Isabel’s desire to send good Christians to spread the good tidings of salvation to the hordes of savages. In spite of my widowed mother’s pleading tears, I embarked to seek my fortune, to see the world. At night, I stand on starboard, gazing towards the land of my fathers, and all I see is the bright cross of stars reflected on the black water, blessing our voyage—few Spaniards have seen this new constellation. The life of a sailor has turned me into a thinker.

October 8th, 1493
The skies are perilously overcast today. The old Portuguese man doesn’t allow the men’s telling stories of sea tempests and wrecks. He says they bring bad luck. I saw him cross himself while he gazed heavenward, and chills ran through my body. I don’t want to witness Poseidon’s temper so far from land.

October 10th, 1493
Two days ago the rain started, at first like a spring shower, now like a torrent. The furies unleashed the elements during the first watch of the night. One young boy is missing; he must have fallen overboard and no one heard him during the uproar.
The men move in ominous silence. When the barrels of drinking water fall to the abyss, even the most seasoned sea wolves cower with the foreboding of doom. I wish we were at the Hispaniola already.

October 11th, 1493
Two more men have been lost, and the circumstances of their deaths are so otherworldly my hand shakes as I relate the portents of the night. In the deepest hour of the vigil, I saw a light in the water. There are no torches aboard. All the wood is wet; after the storm our only means of illumination are the moon and the stars, but that night was as dark as a nightmare. The fiendish light was akin to that of a candle, a golden flame. The more the ship tossed, the brighter the light on the water became.
The crew cried in naked terror while I clutched the rosary beads my mother gave me when she bid me farewell at the port. I prayed to be delivered from the infernal fire, but the gale swallowed my pleading. The line that marked the end of the world in the maps I pored over before I set foot on the ship was behind us. The eternal fire licked the sides of the ship with greedy hunger.
Anguish overcame me, made me wish for the death. When the first notes of preternatural beauty reached my ears, I thought an angel was coming to save us. And then I saw her—she was no angel. A lady of such beauty to rival even the Lady of the Angels. May my mother forgive my blasphemous thoughts. Her dark, long hair trailed behind her like a bridal veil; her eyes, alive with enticement, reflected the flames in the water. The nacre white of her skin extended until her waist. To my horror, I realized the lower portion of her body was covered in scales. I clapped my hands to my ears to shut out the siren song. Two of my companions weren’t as fast, and they jumped to their death, a willing sacrifice for the firewater nymph. The long fingered hand of the ocean brushed over the ship, like the warm touch of a matronly nurse. The Lady plunged in the water. The light of her halo dimmer and dimmer as she swam away.

October 12th, 1493
For days, she followed our ship, her eerie light illuminating the night. She must have felt my gaze on her, and she beckoned me to her side. Covering my ears, I obeyed her irresistible summons. Face to face, she was more glorious than a vision. I was at the very edge of the ship when she touched my arm with cold, marble fingers. The light dripped from her hair and her limbs. When she removed her hand from my arm the light was on me. I noticed the golden glow emanating from minute creatures; delicate water-fire fairies, each dancing in a drop of salt water. Longing for a word, a whisper of her siren voice, I let my hands fall from my ears. Her lips smiled knowingly; I had no strength to withstand her allure. She shook her head, rejecting my offering. Her graceful arm lifted from the water and pointed me to a looming shadow in the horizon. "San Juan," she said.
And she slid down in the water, her refulgence delineating her every curve.
The cry of “Tierra!” broke my reverie. The lights on my arm vanished, and I looked up for the first time into the New World: America.

Authors Note: I’ve always been fascinated by the phenomenon of marine bioluminescence. I wonder what the early Spanish adventurers thought of it. To them, it must been a miracle.
Check out the images: http://www.elenas-vieques.com/biobay.html




Tuesday, April 27, 2010

30 Days, 30 Stories: "A Relative Problem of Relatives"

A RELATIVE PROBLEM OF RELATIVES
by Gayla Erickson

Copyright 2010; author retains all rights to the story. Please do not use without author's permission.

An undercurrent of noise had disturbed my peaceful slumber. Had a flock of magpies perched outside my window? No, there were other invasive sounds. Shadows flitted across the window screen. Still bleary with sleep, I stumbled towards the window. To my horror, the lawns were covered with people, noisy, chattering people who seemed in a festive mood as if for a picnic. Strangely, they seemed to be searching for something as they were lifting lawn chairs, tipping over flower urns, examining everything minutely.

Several people passed by on the veranda. I recognized them! They were relatives-----cousins and other assorted offspring of my maternal progenitor. What were they doing here? As a rule, I avoided interaction with any of them.

I was living in the home of my grandmother as caretaker until such day as her complicated will could be sorted out by the courts. And I had, by my reclusive behavior and reticence, achieved a degree of isolation that I treasured. My needs were simple and did not include the gregarious character of my extended family. Silence was golden; I adored the quietude here, interrupted only by the sounds of nature.

Mystified by the strange happenings, I became aware of sounds outside my bedroom, furniture scudding across floors, doors banging, people talking. I was being invaded! My domain was no longer sacrosanct!

I glanced outside again. Two younger cousins, Vernice and Bertha, chatting animatedly, turned the doorknob without so much as a knock. Overcome with curiosity and a degree of fright and unease, I darted from hall to hall, trying to keep them in sight.

But there were others in the house too. That bulky Neanderthal ransacking the kitchen must be Buster, though the last time I had seen him, he was merely an obnoxious boy of 12. Bile arose in my throat! The nerve of him! I glanced back at the cousins. They were opening drawers, turning over linens, holding up silverware for inspection, myopic in their vision. There was Helen, running her fingers over the velvety back of the antique sofa. And Margaret, caressing the gold-plated trim on the Dresden china.

These were my possessions----well, mine and my grandmother’s. But they were under my stewardship. I knew that probate had not been settled. I had checked with the lawyers only days before. So why were these creatures taking such liberties in my house----okay, a qualified “My House”. What gave them the right to snoop so unabashedly through all of my belongings? I stepped into view. Cousin Albert nearly knocked me over in his haste to access the stairway. I stared after him, stunned.
Some little heathen, probably the offspring of Lawrence judging from the rodent-like proboscis of the scrawny runt, knelt by the fireplace. He was jabbing the poker into the burnt logs, sending ashes flying over the Persian carpets. My mouth dropped open and then snapped shut in rage.

As I stormed over, I was distracted by yet another horror. Another young ruffian waved a crystal vase wildly, laughing as bursts of rainbow danced across the walls. His mother reached out to restrain him before I had a chance to decapitate him myself. But she had the audacity not to apologize nor even offer any sort of conciliatory gesture to me. Instead, she just resumed rummaging through the china closet.

My eyes darted around the room, seeking some semblance of explanation. So intent on their rampage were they that these invaders seemed not even aware of my presence nor that I was ready to explode like Vesuvius. I shouted or at least tried to. What actually issued from my throat was more like the strangled sound from a chicken on the cutting block.

Since speech eluded me, I needed to try something else to get their attention. I grabbed a common ceramic vase and thrust it to the floor. The resulting crash caused the multitude to look my direction but only with a look of curiosity; they immediately renewed plundering my valuables. I charged across the room, snatching a Lladro from a sticky-fingered lad with a snot-smeared face. He howled at being relieved of his treasure but his mother merely said, “Andrew, quit teasing your brother,” without even looking up.

Reaching over her shoulder, I pulled a silver-framed portrait from her fingers and replaced it on the piano. She looked startled, glanced around, and then scuttled across the room to examine the contents of the china closet with the other woman.

This was absolutely too much! I shrieked, “GET OUT!!” I grabbed an antique warming pan. With all the force I could muster, I slammed it against the floor. It skittered out of my hands and crashed into a planter. With that racket, heads turned towards the sound. They stared at the dented warming pan and then glanced around. They did not look at me. How strange! I yelled again, “LEAVE THIS HOUSE!” I stomped on the floor. Now some of the intruders looked a bit uneasy. But no one acknowledged me. I raised my fists, shaking them violently and accidentally knocked over a large porcelain figurine.

A few of the women appeared frightened and that nasty little imbecile Andrew started to wail. But still no one said anything to me. Slowly, an uncomfortable thought edged into my consciousness, “ . . . If they do not react to me, cannot see or hear me, then maybe, though it seems impossible, I must no longer be part of their world. . .”

But I must be!! I can still see, hear, and touch things! I will not be denied what is rightfully mine! This is my house! These are MY things! “GET OUT!! GET OUT!! GET OUT!!!” And I threw the broken figurine at the cousin nearest me.

“POLTERGEIST!” someone screamed.

Miraculously, instantaneously, the house emptied.
Fine. One way or another, I would claim my own.
----




Monday, April 26, 2010

30 Days, 30 Stories: "Let's Dread"

Let’s Dread
by Shauna Leggat
copyright 2010, Shauna Leggat. Do not use without permission
So, we’re sittin’ at lunch, me, Graham and Foggy, and Graham says, “Hey, I was researching last night,” all of us perk up, cause Graham’s research is at worst… interesting, and at best, well, we know we’re gonna love it. He leans in, “So, you guys aren’t scared of change are you?”

“No, not me…not me…” we both insist.

“Aren’t you tired of always looking the same? You know, like chicks can change their hair every day, but us, ‘Wow, Mark, you’ve parted your hair a half-inch different today.’” We both crack up, certain we’re gonna like this ‘research,’ but I’m a bit uneasy, cause, you know-- it’s my hair!

“So I’ve been researching,” he says again, and no matter what kind of hair you’ve got,” By now we’re both hangin’ on every word, “you can have amazing…” he holds the …zzzziiiinnnggg… “dreadlocks!” Graham raises his eyebrows and holds his hands out like he’s certain he’s solved the Middle East crisis.

“But I’m half Latino,” I say.

“I wear glasses,” adds Foggy. I shake my head. Graham just starts singin’ this song,
“Throw away your brush and comb,
Just leave your hair alone.
Don't worry, be NAPPY…”

And he’s dancing around all Rasta and doin’ the hand thing and Foggy and me are crackin’ up!
“Soci’ty says it should be straight,
How much product can your hair take?
Don't worry, be NAPPY!”

So Foggy elbows me and we kind of Chicken Dance right there at the table and sing out, “Don't Worry, Be NAPPY NOW! We get the craziest looks from Lori and Kate’s table, and I’m lovin’ it. We get louder.

"Oooooooooooo, oooo, oooo, ooo, oo, oo, oo, ooow,
Oooh oooh oooh ooh ooh ooh, ooh ooh, ooo, ooo, ooo, oooo, oo, oooew!”

The bell rings and I haven’t even gotten to my gummy bears or sandwich, but I cram everything back into my lunchbox and literally dance out of the cafeteria with my best buds.

The school day drags on forever. When the bell finally rings and Principal Allen wishes us a ‘pleasant weekend’ over the PA, we’re already out the door. We head over to Yowell Meadow Park for some skating, but no one’s up for it. Graham’s research conversation goes on as if it had never stopped at lunch, which actually it hadn’t ‘cause I heard absolutely nothing from ol’ Royster on the Vernal Equinox.

“So don’t you guys want to make a statement?”

“What kind of statement?” asks Foggy.

“Individualism. Coming of age. I don’t know, any kind of a statement you want.” Graham says.

“The dreads will help. You know you can even meditate on your dreads.”

Foggy looks up like this is impossible to believe. I guess he’d think that since his hair is always cut just like his older brothers’-exactly the same length-come to think of it, I’ve never noticed Foggy’s hair to grow. I picture Foggy with mousy brown, two-inch-long dreads. That cracks me up all over again. “I’m in!” I say.

“No, really!” Says Graham, “Read this.” He unfolds these papers from his pocket and flips through till this one on top is titled, Meditating on Your Dreadlocks. We read over his shoulder.

“Meditation is the art of bringing peace and quietness to your mind. It is an excellent form of relaxation where you simply do nothing but listen to your mind or think positive actions.

“I can buy that,” I say.

“Meditate in the evening to aid in relaxing after a stressful day.”

“Like math with Rinker,” interrupts Foggy.

“Shh, read on,” insists Graham.

“There is no one absolute way to meditate; it depends on the individual's lifestyle. Try different ways (use candles, relaxing music, bubble baths)”

“…four wheelers, potato guns, waterballoons,” I add.

“… until you find one that works for you. All it takes is patience and practice, practice, practice.”

“Well,” says Graham, “You guys in?” Me and Foggy look at each other and he shrugs his shoulders. I guess Graham is waiting for one of us to answer, so I say, “Are we in? Are we in? Heck, yeah! You’ll dread that you ever asked me!”

Foggy gets my pun and cracks another, “Lock me in, man!”

“You guys are losers,” says Graham, “Let’s get to your house and get started.”

We ride our bikes over to my house ‘cause my mom and dad are at work. Graham puts this really organic looking natural soap out.

“We could make our own if we want to shave 50 different kinds of bar soap and let it set in conditioner and oil for a month, but I bought this stuff over the internet and it’s supposed to start it off right.” The stuff is gooey and brown with the texture of oatmeal, but the stickiness of wood glue. We load up our hands and start rubbing it into our heads.

“Visualize your dreads,” says Graham, his eyes closed, looking as peaceful as if he’s sitting in a monastery.

“It’s leaking into my eyes,” says Foggy.

“Visualize,” he repeats, then he kicks into this sermon on visualization, something about the subconscious mind not knowing the difference between imagined or real. He says this is why when we see a picture of a donut we get hungry. We imagine how it will taste and smell, and how it will feel on our tongues. “We can even feel the weight of the donut in our hands as we lift it to take a bite,” says Graham still circling goo into his temples.

Matt and me start to crack up. “No seriously,” he says, “it’s positive thinking at another level. It’d probably even work for your math homework.”

“Good idea,” I say, “next time I forget Rinker’s math, I can just tell her it’s an A, because I visualized it!” Foggy’s back to smearing the soap into his hair. He’s got like three times what I’ve got, and a sticky blob runs down onto his forehead.

“It’ll get caught in your unibrow,” cracks Graham, “…but don’t worry, be nappy!” And we all start singin’ the Don’t Worry be Nappy song and everything. Just dancin’ around the bathroom and visualizing ourselves, and I don’t mind saying that I thought I’d look pretty funny with dreads. I kept visualizing mine as long, dark, tight, almost wrapped ropes, but that’s crazy cause my hair is blond and straight as anything, but I just keep visualizing.

Actually I can visualize Graham pretty well because that guy changes his hair like he changes his underwear. I’ve seen him with a rat tail down his back, shaved under a ledge so thick you didn’t know it was shaved till he pulled it up in a ponytail, buzzed and dyed blond so it would grow out dark with white tips, and once he even let one of his sisters French braid it so he could play soccer and crack the other team up. Anyway, his dreads in my visualization were everything you’d imagine; but me, I guess I can always shave my head if it looks crappy.

So the bottle’s empty and I “visualize” my parents’ bathroom counter and kind of freak. “Dudes, we gotta clean up. My mom’ll flip. I’m not so sure she’s gonna think nappy is nice for church, and this mess will definitely hurt the prospects of her liking my new look.” So we all pitch in and in a minute or so we’re done. Only the bubbles this soap makes just grow and grow and no matter what we do they seem to make more, so Foggy grabs a white towel and wipes up the stuff. Well, the brown soap looks like somebody puked in the bathroom, so I stash the towel under the stack in her linen closet and figure we’re good.

Now what? We all stand there staring at ourselves. We look like the Three Musketeers with swirlies, not very good ones, and Foggy has soap drying in his unibrow, and we all crack up. You know how something hits you really funny and the more you laugh, the more you gotta’ laugh? Well this was like that and we’re hangin’ on each other and crying from funny till the tears somehow suck the soap into our eyes, and we’re screamin’ and laughing and fighting for the two sinks to splash our eyes.

We finally get to where we sit on the john and the bathtub to breathe cause it feels like we can’t, and Graham reaches into his bookbag and has three skull caps. “Watch and learn,” he says, and he puts the black one over his head, then kind of massages it in circles around and around from all sides, and I imagine what the hair and soap must be doing inside. That buzz seems closer, and I kinda decide it’s a probability, and I take the red one and begin the motions. Foggy does too, but his says “I went to Disneyworld” in pink yarn. “I stole Ian’s and mine, but my sister had this one,” says Graham like it’s no big thing that Foggy’ll wear this to the game tonight. So I bite the inside of my mouth to keep from crackin’ up again, cause I don’t want the pink one!

“Don’t get your brow in there, Foggy,” I say, and Graham and me crack up again visualizing Foggy with fab little dreads in his unibrow, and nothing on top of his head. “Or if you do, part it down the middle and you’ll at least have two.” Graham and me high five over the Disney cap.
Well, tonight is the Culpeper/Spotsylvania soccer game. We make a pact not to tell anyone we’re growing dreads until they are at least five inches long. I wonder what my parents will say when I don’t take my hat off at the table, or to sleep, or for church, or anything. Graham sees I’m havin’ second thoughts.

“Great inventors, athletes and politicians use affirmation for success.” We’re listening. “Take Muhammad Ali's affirmation, "I am the greatest." Now he’s putting us on. “No, really. The guy on the website said when he started growing his dreadlocks, he told himself daily, ‘My long thin dreadlocks look and feel wonderful. I have a head full of powerful dreadlocks.’" I picture this Rasta guy meditating and looking all serious, so I close my eyes to affirm, but can’t think of anything to think, and it’s funny. I wonder if the dudes online ever cracked up when they started dreads.

Where does he get this stuff?

“Don't you ever be afraid,” it’s Graham singin’ again.

“Take control of your own head.”
“Don't worry, be NAPPY !
Love your culture from head to toe;
Your locks will surely grow.
Don't worry, be NAPPY
Oooooooooooo, O, O, O, O, O, O, Ooooooo
Don't Worry
O, O, O, O, O, O, Ooooooooooo
Be Nappy!
Ooooo, O, O, O , Ooooooooooooooooo
Man, life is great!

Saturday, April 24, 2010

30 Days, 30 Stories: "A Turn of a Phrase"

A Turn of a Phrase

(a story in phrases)

By

Douglas M. Brown

2010 copyright; author retains all rights to the story. Please do not use the story without the author's permission.


A girl

A boy

A lovely summer’s sunset

Red clouds in the west

Cooling breeze

The path by the lake

Holding hands

Sharing secrets

Star struck eyes

A place to sit

Contemplation of shimmering water

A stone skipping three times

A shared look

A feeble attempt at humor

Shock and disgust

A stammering apology

A head turned in rebuke

Talk of reason

Storming off

Attempt to follow

A rock heaved at the lake

Ripples everywhere

Friday, April 23, 2010

30 Days, 30 Stories: "Danube So Blue," Part Two

By Scott Rhoades

-Continued from April 16-

The market was a jumbled collection of booths and tables covered by colorful awnings and umbrellas and plastered with posters advertising everything from hot sausages to fresh carrots. Franz bought some apples and beets that were not quite as fresh as he would have liked, but the price was good. He also bought some beans. He needed proof when he told Alois his grand lie about how the young lady had given him some beans and promised to go dancing with him. As always, he paid her a little extra money to make up for the bargains she gave Alois. He struggled slightly as he carried his groceries home.

He walked into the house and saw Frau Schmidt. She scrubbed the floor, standing bent at the waist. He danced on the wet floor in front of her. "Hello, young lady. Where is that old bird, your grandmother Frau Schmidt? When she's not watching, maybe you could come up to my apartment for some wine and fresh bread, and maybe a bit of bratwurst."

"God will get you one day for being so frech."

Franz pointed up. "He knows better than to come for Franz Mitterfeld. I will go to Him when I am ready, not before." He tipped his hat and started up the stairs.

#

He had just sat down with some bread and cheese when somebody knocked frantically at his door.

"Herr Mitterfeld!" It was Frau Schmidtメs voice. She pounded again. "Herr Mitterfeld!"

"I'm coming, I'm coming. Jessasmaria und Josef! I'm not as young as you think I am." He thought of something naugthty to say to the widow, but the words clung to his lips when he opened the door and saw her standing with an arm around Alois's daughter. Tears ran down the younger woman's blotchy cheeks.

"Waltraud, was ist? Please come in."

She stayed in the hallway. "Herr Mitterfeld, it's Papa," she said without entering the apartment. "Heメs very ill. When I brought him his berries, I found him on the floor. I think it's his heart. Come quickly. He's asking for you. The doctor is with him. Please hurry!"

Franz didnメt take the time to grab his hat or coat. He held Waltraud's arm and rushed down the stairs, nearly falling several times. He arrived at Alois's apartment out of breath. The doctor rose and gave them a look that said everything.

Waltraud fell into Franz's arms and sobbed. Franz held his goddaughter, somehow supporting her weight while the ruined world spun and collapsed around them.

"Waltraud--" He tried to comfort her, but couldn't continue.

She buried her head in his shoulder. He was grateful for her presence. Consoling her meant he didnメt have to think of his own breaking heart. He sat with her while the doctor completed some paperwork and sent for the hearse.

#

Franz didn't know what else to do, so he resumed his routine. He took the bag of seed and bread crumbs from his pantry, put on his hat and coat, and shuffled out with heavy feet.

Loisl was dead.

The steps at the end of the street leered at him. Just that morning, he had spoken to Alois there for the last time. "Grüss Gott, Loisl," he had said to him. Now he really was greeting God. Franz's hand trembled as he stroked the rail his best friend had held.

He stopped at the church to light a pair of candles, the usual one for Elise and an extra Alois. He found no comfort in prayers. Even God had left him.

He walked toward the inner city. He turned on to Kaerntner Strasse where the massive Kaerntner Gate used to be, crowned by the double-headed eagle that symbolized the dual crowns of Austria and Hungary. The gate was so strong that it had taken seven months to tear it down.

Franz no longer felt as if he were in his mother's protecting arms when he entered the Old City. There were no more walls and gates to offer shelter. He knew that the wall had become ugly and useless, but some would say the same about him.

The pigeons flocked to him on the path between the Kur Salon and the pond. He sat on his usual bench and scattered seeds and crumbs. He liked to think the birds would not survive without his generosity, though he knew it was not true. Being the birds' savior gave him the strength to make the trip every day. Today he was sure they saw him only as an old fool who willingly tossed out perfectly good food instead of hoarding it for himself.

When the feed ran out, he walked to the gardens near the little Weather House. His dear wife had loved these flowers, and he watered them every day in her honor.

He could see her, how her dark hair used to fall into her eyes, just so, as she bent to pluck dead leaves from the rose bushes. He remembered how she lifted her hem, so, with her left hand to keep her skirt dry as she watered. He recalled those longing looks she tried to hide from him as she watched the children play run, rabbit, run and other games. He would have liked to have been able to give her a child. He remembered how weak she looked at the end as she lay in her bed, her infected lungs gasping for air, smiling through the pain as she looked at him for the last time.
He wished he could have been at Alois's side too. He pictured Loisl lying alone on the floor, grasping his heart as he waited for his daughter. He wouldn't have wanted to be seen that way. He would have tried to die with dignity. Franz crossed himself and sat on another bench and watched the people stroll by.

- To be concluded, April 30 -

Thursday, April 22, 2010

30 Days, 30 Stories: "An Inconvenient Task"

An Inconvenient Task
by Melva Gifford

2010 copyright; author retains all rights to the story. Please do not use this story without author's permission.

"Nervous?"

Renni looked up at his mom. The long fingers of her hand pressed gently
onto his shoulder. He shook his head, but shifted in his suit and tie
that was usually reserved for Sundays. Their family Robo-Maid had pressed
it just an hour ago before storing itself back in the closet. Why
couldn't he just wear a T-shirt like everyone else?

She bent down until she was eye level with him. "First, the reporters
will want to ask a few questions. Then they'll watch you pull the chain,
Okay?"

His stomach twisted and then settled. He and his Mom had practiced
pulling the chain dozens of time, so it wasn't something new. This time,
though, the chain was real and would actually do what it was suppose to
do.

"I'm Okay."

Grandpa snorted from his chair at the dinner table. "Remember your
birthday, boy?' His voice rose in pitch. "What happens to light bulbs in
Winter when they're cold and suddenly get turned on?"

Renni knew Gramps didn't like the whole idea of what he was going to do
nor all the reporters crowding around to watch. At least the reporters
were outside their house, circling the stand in their front yard. Renni
looked evenly at his grandfather. What was Gramps saying?

Suddenly, his grandfather bellowed, "Pop!" and slapped his hands
together, making a noise that echoed. "That's what happens when a bulb
gets too cold and you suddenly turn it on–Pop!"

He forced a laugh. Sometimes he couldn't tell when Gramps was joking.
Overhead, Renni heard the whoosh whoosh whoosh of helicopter blades
cutting through the air outside. The front room's clock chimed; one
o'clock in the afternoon on a hot Arizona summer day.

His parents followed Renni out into the front yard. Cheers and applause
greeted them. Cameras floated in the air, like metallic balloons. The
three of them mounted the steps of the stand, smiling.

As the hubbub quieted, a reporter stepped forward.

"World Media," the reporter began, "has said that a child should be the
one to perform this important task. How do you feel about winning the
chance to take the first step toward preserving our world and its future
generations?"

Renni stared at the man and shrugged his shoulders.

The reporter leaned forward. "What exactly are you going to do, Renni?"

He drew in a breath and slowly blew it out. His gaze shifted to the chain
hanging directly above him. A few feet above the chain hung an electronic
switch. Balloons, held between helicopters high above, kept the two in
position. With a pull of the chain the breaker switch would transmit a
signal to the Hydrogen dampers positioned in space.
The switch would turn
on the dampers...

Renni looked back at the reporter. "I'm going to turn off the sun."
***

"Son, it's time for bed."

Renni didn't move. He continued to sit on the couch that lined the widow.
The couch fabric felt gritty from the wind of a few hours ago. The front
door had been left ajar to capture the evening breeze. It had been weird
to have it dark in the middle of the day. Several hours earlier, it had
taken just over eight minutes for the sun's remaining light to flow to
Earth before thinning into darkness.

His mom waited.

Renni looked up. "I'm not tired yet. Can't I stay up a little?"

She hesitated. "I guess a little longer wouldn't hurt. Today has been a
pretty exciting day for you. Alright, you can stay up for a half hour,
then off to bed." She hesitated. "And don't let Grandpa's teasing get to
you."

"I won't."

She bent down, kissed his forehead and left the room.

But Renni didn’t tell the truth to his mom. What Grandpa had said was
still bothering him. Renni looked out the dusty window to the platform
still bathed in spotlights. After all the media, their whole yard looked
like an old trashed fairground.

The only thing missing from the afternoon's ceremony was the chain and
switch. They would return to the stage tomorrow, when Renni would than
perform the task of turning the sun back on.--

That is if it could be turned back on.

"Can the sun get cold out in space?" Renni asked himself. "Is it like a
light bulb on a cold winter day?" He leaned forward, hugging his knees.

And when it suddenly got turned on--would it pop?

What would happen if the sun couldn't be turned back on?

Renni stared out into the yard. Tomorrow he would know. For tonight,
throughout the night he would wait...
and wait...

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

30 Days 30 Stories "The Mystery of the Missing Eggs"

The Mystery of the Missing Eggs
by Anji Sandage

2010 copyright; author retains all rights to the story. Please do not use the story without author's permission.

Chapter 1: Big Trouble

“Mother isn’t going to be happy,” said ten-year-old Dena Connolly as she brushed her dusty brown hair away from her face. She looked around her where her three younger sisters huddled in the makeshift shack they had built of old tires and boards that had been stacked out behind the chicken coop. She waved her hand through a shaft of sunlight beaming down through a hole in the ceiling and watched for a moment as little particles of dust swirled in the air. “She’s already mad enough about the sheet, and now there’s no roof on our clubhouse.”
Michelle spoke next as her three sisters turned there eyes in her direction. “It’s not my fault. You shouldn’t of . . .”
“It is too your fault,” Renee interrupted, poking at the dirt floor with a stick. “If you hadn’t told her, she wouldn’t of ever found out. Just ‘cause you were mad—you ruined the whole thing!”
“Well, you’re the one who broke the leg off my Barbie!” Michelle cried indignantly, holding up a dirty one legged Malibu Barbie with matted hair.
“I didn’t mean to! Besides, Barbie dolls are dumb anyway!”
Shannon, the youngest of the four sisters, watched closely, her blue eyes moving back and forth from one face to the next as her older sisters quarreled.
Michelle brushed a handful of stringy honey-blonde hair out of her eyes with her free hand and made a face as she looked up through the hole in the ceiling.
“Will you two just stop fighting for a minute?” Dena yelled. Who cares about the stupid sheet anyway? Mom asked for a dozen eggs, and we only could find three! She was going to make custard. You can’t make custard with only three eggs!”
Three younger sisters were now staring at their older sister, three sets of blue eyes wide with amazement.
“Gee whiz, Dena ya don’t haf ta yell,” Michelle pouted. “‘sides, you know we always find at least a baker’s dozen.” She paused self-importantly. “That’s thirteen.”
“Don’t you think we know that already? We were there when mom told you,” Renee said smugly. “Besides, last time I got the eggs, I found fifteen.”
“Mom will never believe us anyway, if we come in the house with only four eggs . . .”
Renee looked at Dena impatiently, eyeing the three large brown eggs she held in her lap. “I thought you said there were only three.”
“Well, there is one more, but I need some help getting it . . .”
Michelle pursed her lips. “What? Did you find one in the wheat barrel again?”
“No!” Denise said with disgust. “Remember, I was the one who got the last one out of there. This is way worse than that!”
“Oh no!” Suddenly Shannon clapped her hand to her mouth.
“What?” Michelle asked.
“Mean Ol’ Henny Penny!” Shannon gasped breathlessly.
Michelle and Renee looked at Denise, their faces pale.
Denise nodded. “That’s right. Mean Ol’ Henny Penny. But I think I know how we can get her egg.” Dena stood up, half hunched over, being careful not to bring the ceiling of their fort crashing down on top of them. “C’mon!” she said as she moved toward a narrow opening in one corner of the little room. Her sisters stood up and followed, single-file, out into the morning sunlight

Chapter 2: Mean Ol’ Henny Penny

“Ok, this is what we’re going to do,” Denise said, grabbing a long stick off the ground. I’ll go into the chicken coop, and use this stick to pry her up like this.” She wedged the stick under a large rock and pushed down, forcing the rock up from the dirt. “When there is enough room, Renee, you grab the egg out from under her.”
“How come you get to pry her up? Last time I tried to get an egg from her, she pecked my finger!”
“You just have to be more quicker about it then,” Dena said frowning. “I’m the only one tall enough to reach the nesting boxes.”
Michelle and Shannon hung back, as their older sisters swung the outer door of the coop open, and they were suddenly engulfed in the smell of methane and straw. The floor was dusty and scattered with grain and straw. Most of the room was taken up by four one-hundred gallon drums, three sealed, and the fourth one open. It looked empty, until you came up close and looked into the bottom and saw the wheat. Sometimes a very fat little gray mouse would be running in circles at the bottom of the barrel. To the right was a wall made of plywood and chicken wire, were two rows of open slots, just large enough to reach your hand into if necessary, three on the top, and three on the bottom, each with a carpeted chute to catch the eggs as they rolled gently out from under the unsuspecting hen, as she laid her egg. On the near end of the wall there was a door, which opened into the main chicken coop, where there were always several hens roosting on the wooden rods that crossed the room.
Dena grabbed the doorknob. “Are you ready?” she asked
“All right.”
Dena opened the door, and suddenly the coop was alive with flying feathers and squawking hens, as they all fought their way out a small opening, about two feet square, on the far side of the room.
“Maybe she’ll run out with the rest of them,” Michelle anticipated, with the air of a hopeful spectator.
After the dust had settled, Dena went into the coop. “She’s still in there. I’m going to try to lift her up off the nest now, ok?”
“Which box is she in?” Renee asked, putting her hand up.
“She’s in the one on the top—in the middle,” Dena added. “I’m ready.”
“Ok,” Renee said climbing onto the closest grain barrel. Heny penny’s brown feathers were visible through the slot now, and she squawked loudly as Dena slid the stick underneath her feathered body.
“Hurry! Get the egg!” Dena called out excitedly.
Henny Penny beat her wings frantically, standing briefly enough for Renee to catch a glimpse of the nest. “Hey! There’s more than one in there!” she yelled, as her hand darted between the hen’s leathery yellow legs. “Ow!” Renee’s hand came out empty.
Dena peered out through the chicken wire. “What happened?”
“She scratched me! Pry her up again and let’s try again. I think there might be three eggs in there!”
Michelle and Shannon cheered loudly.
“Ok, I’ll count to three,” Dena called from inside the coop. “Get ready! One, Two, Three!” Henny Penny began to squawk loudly and beat her wings. “Hurry! I have her pinned against the top!” Dena called out excitedly.
“I got them! There were four!” Renee scooped with her hand, pushing the eggs gently down the chute, where they clunked softly against the padded rail.
The four girls cheered loudly as Renee gathered the four warm brown eggs into her t-shirt, and the squawking subsided as Dena pulled the stick out from under a very unhappy Henny Penny and slammed the door of the coop behind her.

Chapter 3: The 'Vestigation

“You haven’t noticed any animals around have you?” Mother looked worried as she scrubbed Shannon’s dirt streaked face with a soapy washcloth. “Remember there was a skunk holed up under the coop a while back . . .how do you girls get so filthy anyway?”
“Maybe it’s a weasel!” Michelle called out excitedly. “I’ll bet there’s a weasel sneaking into the chicken coop at night.”
Mother laughed. She put down the washcloth and put a plate of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on the table.
“Well, one thing’s for sure—we’ll hafta vestigate!” Shannon giggled.
Dena grabbed a magnifying glass off of the kitchen counter and stuffed it into the pocket of her jeans. “Dena Bean-a, Private eye! I’ll find the culprit, just you wait and see.”
“You girls be careful out there. If there’s another skunk, that’s something your dad will have to take care of when he gets home.”
“Don’t you worry, mom. If we see any skunks, we’ll just steer right clear of that stuff!” Renee giggled, remembering when she had almost tried to pet one, thinking it was a cat.
Mark, the girls’ three-and-a-half-year-old brother, who was sitting at the table laughed. “Rargh!” he said fiercely waving his hands in the air.
“That’s right! You go get that mean nasty skunk!” Michele laughed.
“That’s enough, girls. You take your sandwiches and go out and play,” Mother said as she wiped bread crumbs off of the counter. She handed Dena the jar of peanut butter. “Put this away for me, will you please? Mark still hasn’t even touched his lunch.” She picked up his peanut butter and jelly sandwich and held it out to him. “Just take one bite, Mark. Look, it’s yummy.”
“No!” Mark turned his face away. “I don’t want it!”
“Well, I can see that this is pointless,” Mother said frowning.

Soon the girls were back in their fort.
“This calls for an investigation!” Dena held the magnifying glass she had swiped off the kitchen counter up to her eye.
Shannon giggled, pointing. “You have a giant eye!”
“The better to catch sneaking weasels with,” Dena said.
“We’ll have to look for clues. Where do you think we should look first?” Renee asked.
“I think we should have a stake out. That way, if there is some dangerus animal, we can just watch where it hides and tell Dad ‘bout it later.” Shannon said, her freshly washed face now streaked with dirt.
Dena looked at her quietly for a minute. “Hmm, not bad. But I thought we could use this to look for clues first,” she said waving the magnifying glass. “I think that a stake out is a good idea—but not until later. I don’t think that a wild animal is going to come out in plain daylight.”
Shannon frowned.
“You guys can be my assistants. Now let’s go look for anything unusual.”
Dena marched her sisters out of the fort. “Michelle and Renee, you look around the fence. Pick up anything that you don’t think should be there. Shannon, you help me look inside!”
“Hey, how come you get the magnifine glass?” Renee pouted.
“It’s ‘cause I’m the head detective,” Dena said. “Now don’t bother me ‘bout that again!”

After several minutes of crawling around on their hands and knees, they had gathered a blue button, two old marbles, a black penny, a few sticks and rocks, a shoestring, and an old fishing lure, and some leaves and bits of grass, which they took back to their headquarters for closer examination.

Chapter 4: Suspicious Activities

“What kind of clue is that?” Dena asked wrinkling her nose at what had at first looked like a chunk of black rock with a white streak on it. “It looks like chicken doo-doo. I thought we were just picking up things that seemed to be out of place! This seems like it belongs in a chicken coop to me!”
“Well, It seemed out of place to me,” Michelle said indignantly. “How come a piece of chicken poop wasn’t inside the chicken pen like it should have been? That’s what I think.”
“Humph. Well, I just don’t know about that one.” Dena flicked it away into the pile of rocks, sticks, bits of grass, and leaves, which she had already discarded. “How ‘bout this shoelace?”
Renee looked at it closely. “Hey, that’s mine! I wondered what happened to that thing.”
“That’s yours? What were you doing by the chicken coop with a shoelace? That’s what I’d like to know.” Dena turned toward her sister. “You weren’t stealing eggs were you?”
“Dena,” Renee sighed and rolled her eyes, “the eggs were stolen today. I lost that thing a long time ago—maybe clear last week.”
“Well, I’ll have to make a note of it in my log.”
“Your log?” Shannon asked, wide eyed.
Dena sighed patiently. “My notebook.” She pulled a small notebook and a ballpoint pen out of her back pocket.
“Hey, isn’t that mom’s budget book?” Michelle demanded.
“I’m only going to write on the empty pages. ‘Sides, I need to record any suspicious activities.”
“Losing a shoelace isn’t xactly what I’d call a suspicious activity,” Renee said looking insulted. “Now can I have my shoelace back?”
“Well, why wasn’t the shoelace in your shoe where it belonged?” Dena asked.
“I was using it for a rope,” Renee replied, “and there’s nothing suspicious about that.”
“Fine. How about these then?” Dena asked after handing the shoelace to Renee and tucking the notebook back into her pocket. She poked at the marbles.
“I never saw those before in my life,” Renee said. She looked at Michelle and Shannon.
Shannon shrugged. “Not mine,” she said.
Three sets of eyes, two blue and one brown, turned to look at Michelle who was looking uncomfortable.
“Fine—they’re mine. But I wasn’t up to anything. I just lost them one day when I was looking for worms.”
Dena pulled out the notebook again and scribbled:

Renee --> shoelace
Michelle --> Marbles

Then she took some stolen zip lock bags out of her pocket and put the marbles in one of the bags. “I need that shoelace please.”
“Why?” Renee demanded.
“It’s evidence. Give it here.”
“Hey, I told you . . .”
Dena sighed. “Look, if you don’t give it here, It will look like you’re trying to hide something. Then I will have to say you are guilty. You don’t want that do you?”
“Fine!” Renee frowned and handed her the shoelace. “But I want it back after the ‘vestigation.”
“ What about the chicken poop?” Michelle asked.
Dena sighed, and scribbled in her notebook again. “There. Are you happy now?” She then turned her attention back to the remaining items. “What about this thingy here?” She pointed at the fishing lure.
“Uh, that’s daddy’s” Shannon said hugging herself tightly. “I lost that thing when I . . . uh, we was playing fishing. Probly the same time Michelle lost her marbles, ‘cause she was finding the worms for me to stick on that thingybobber there.” She pointed at the hook. “I don’t care if you write me on your s'pishous activity list—just don’t tell daddy I stole his fishing thingy, ok?”
Dena sighed. “Fine, but I am really wondering what you two were doing with worms on this thing around chickens. Someone could really get hurt.” She looked at the button and the penny. “I don’t think this investigation is really getting anywhere at all. I’m solving all kinds of criminal activity—just not the one I wanted to find out about!”