Detailed version of our meeting on 11/5/19

Our Nov. 5 Writers’ Group meeting boasted ten attendees, including six readers.  Our wise advisors consisted of John, Chuck, Angela, and Ken, and our readers were Lynda, Melina, Connor, Mario, Daniel, and Tina.  Lynda started us off with an intriguing portion of one of her novels.  Very apropos for Halloween, the story included a ghost that makes an unexpected appearance in a photograph.  Lynda’s writing was excellent, and we all want to hear how the story unfolds.  Mario had the clever idea that the suspense could even be drawn out by having more time pass between the ghost’s initial appearance in the photo and its appearance in Annie’s living room. 

               Tina then read another excerpt of one of her family stories.  This one described aunts, uncles, and cousins arriving for a birthday party in 1955.  John and others provided astute comments regarding keeping the point of view consistent, and we had an interesting conversation about whether readers nowadays would understand what is meant by a “raspy, cigarette-tinged” voice.

               Melina was next, reading for the first time.  She read a touching short story about a girl, Amy, who is blind.  The story described how Amy experiences the world, Amy’s immense grief at losing her beloved dog Cinnamon, and finally how she heals by making a new friend at school.  The story was very well constructed, with a clear rising action, a climax when Amy is at her lowest, saddest point, and then the resolution when Jess becomes her friend.  After this beautiful exemplar, we certainly hope to hear more of Melina’s writings.  Melina’s dad, John, ceded his reading time to his daughter so that she could read her entire story.  He also showed off his splendid dad-skills by reading the first paragraph of Melina’s story to calm any butterflies.

               Connor read us the next installment in his story about the Sasquatches.  In this portion, Marduk the Sasquatch and his best friend Wind-Strider initially argue about an inopportune bird dropping, and Wind-Strider later provides an update about Marduk’s sister.  One of the key strengths of this work was the authenticity of the dialogue and the clear voice in which it was written;  readers get a vivid picture of the two young male Sasquatches interacting –insults, playfulness, and all.  We discussed how one might make the Sasquatches’ world understandable, and portray their unique culture, without relying too heavily on our own American gestures or customs.

               Mario read a piece about the conversations he overheard volunteering at a soup kitchen the previous day.  He related three separate snippets of conversation, each laying bare the speakers’ assumptions and prejudices.  One conversation grumbled about Latinos, another had to do with Muslim and Jewish people, and a third was about extraterrestrials.  One of the interesting themes of Mario’s piece was that the people at the soup kitchen were well-dressed and did not fit the stereotypical image of a homeless person. 

By then, the restaurant had DJ music at full volume, but Daniel valiantly rounded out our evening by loudly reading the next portion of his sci-fi novel about Captain Shane Tyrone and his gynoid pilot Bailey.  This reading explained how androids were created via nanotech, and it also touched on the captain’s reasons for not wanting to do a “deep merge” with the gynoid’s mind.  Shane hinted at privacy fears that the Matrix might scan his thoughts via his mind merge with Bailey.  Although Daniel’s story is futuristic, the privacy concerns have present-day relevance, and Shane seems to face similar choices as ours –having to decide between privacy vs. convenience, friendship, and absolute honesty.  It was difficult to hear the discussion that took place after Daniel’s reading, but there was some talk about androids vs. gynoids at one end of the table.  As usual, Daniel’s writing required no nitpicking.

We ended our meeting on a happy note, brainstorming about quieter places to meet going forward.  The chilly autumn air greeted us outside, and a half-moon gleamed against the black sky to see each of us home.

The tapestry

By Bettina Buhring

On the afternoon of October 1, sitting at the kitchen table, Melina gleefully zipped shut her heavy school binder with an air of triumph –she had finished her homework early!  She wasted no time in getting outside.  The screen door banged shut behind her and she looked around her large front lawn for any mischief that could entertain her.  She spotted couple of gray squirrels chasing each other around the big oak tree.  Her blue eyes sparkled as she got an idea…

John, her dad, saw her from his home office on the second floor.  He had been trying to come up with possible solutions for the County’s homelessness problem.  Surely, beating up the homeless was not the best way to deal with this.  Or was it??  Sigh.  His gaze fell on the clock in the bottom right-hand corner of his monitor.  He decided he’d had enough of banging his head against intractable problems that had existed since the dawn of humanity.  He was looking forward to the evening and wanted to get going.  He opened his Word document about suddenly-sentient teddy bears living in a gritty urban environment and printed 10 copies.  Then he propelled his big voice out the window to his daughter, who was slowly, quietly sneaking up on the unsuspecting gray squirrel that had given up the chase.

“Melina!!  Time to go!”

Melina’s squirrel scampered away, leaving her feeling that if it hadn’t been for her dad’s annoying meddling, she would have caught it.  “But, Dad!  I almost got him!”  Still, she remembered that there were other fun activities planned for this evening, even if they didn’t consist of squirrel-chasing.

Meanwhile, Pat politely thanked Dr. Driscoll for the checkup and the doctor disappeared, white coat floating behind her.  “These doctors are all the same,” Pat thought to herself, ”always telling us what to do –don’t eat this, do eat that, stay out of the sun, yada yada.”  Dr. Driscoll had spent the usual 7.5 minutes with her.  “And not a second longer!”  Still, it was a beautiful, sunny day outside, and Pat was happy to leave the medical office as she pushed open the heavy glass door to walk to her car.  Like Melina and John, Pat was also looking forward to the evening.  Good thing that, through her phone, she could access her love letter to someone in her past, because she wouldn’t have time to go back home to print copies.  She wondered how it would be received that an old boyfriend had proposed to her while he was being interviewed for a job!  She chuckled to herself in anticipation of everyone’s reaction at hearing about such a unique event.

                Mario was crammed under his kitchen sink, his legs surrounded by bottles of Windex, cleaning wipes, and a box of tall trash bags.  “Darn this stupid thing!” he thought to himself.  He tried to adjust his back so it wouldn’t hurt any more than it already did.  He gave the nut one more tightening for good measure.  “Ahora sí!”  He was glad that it was done, because he had an event that evening that he didn’t want to miss, or even be late for.   He was looking forward to getting feedback on the next installment of his science fiction novel, especially regarding how he described the characters’ dinner.  He hoped that the food descriptions would add a realistic and vivid touch.

                Ken carefully folded the last shirt on his bed and neatly placed it on top of the rest of his clothes in the little blue suitcase.  “That should do it!”  He looked through everything in his suitcase one more time, to make sure he wasn’t forgetting anything.  Everything seemed good.  He was looking forward to the trip to his alma mater and seeing his old friends Gene and Hal.  Before that, though, he had another event this very evening that was sure to spark intriguing conversation.  He picked up his folder with the printouts of his poem about Maryland birds.  He had worked hard on meter and rhyme, had even woven in a reference to Edgar Allan Poe, and he hoped that folks would understand the baseball and other references that he had included.  He gave his wife a kiss on her cheek and walked to his car with a smile.

                Vickie typed as quickly as she could, trying to finish a couple more emails before heading out.  College kids these days required a lot of hand-holding apparently!  She wondered whether the development of young adults these days was actually being artificially stretched out, ironically enough, even as they studied child development.  “There!” she thought.  “That should clarify what I was asking for in that assignment,” as she pressed “send”.  She hadn’t had time to write new material for tonight’s writers’ meeting, but she knew that providing feedback to others was crucial, and she had a keen eye for details like perspective shifts.

                Connor, too, was typing quickly at his computer.  He wasn’t writing emails like Vickie, but was working instead on the much more engrossing topic of a Sasquatch’s life in a forest.  He put the finishing touches on the weapons that his protagonist, Marduk, used to defend his territory against humans who constantly wanted to get a glimpse of his kind.  When he was satisfied that the weapons and traps had been described in sufficiently vivid detail so that the reader could picture it, he printed it out, expecting his dad, Daniel, to come pick him up any minute.

Indeed, Daniel had just finished invoicing a customer for repairs on the Harley.  That was a beautiful gleaming machine, to be sure.  Daniel valued being able to make a living off of something he truly enjoyed, but even so, he was glad his workday was done.  He had already printed the continuation of his scifi novel the previous day, so the paper copies were ready to go.  For this excerpt, he was looking for feedback on the ship’s description and how the android Bailey assigned positive and negative valence to humans and to occurrences.  With any luck, it would portray a coherent whole. He locked the doors to the shop and got on his motorcycle to pick up Connor.

                Lynda, sitting at her computer in her office, suddenly realized how late it had gotten.  She had been grappling with a complex foreclosure case that was giving her no end of headaches, and the afternoon had just evaporated.  She printed out the spreadsheet and walked over to her coworker Jim’s office.  She plopped it on his desk, “Here, this is for you to work on.  I’ve also emailed you the master file.  These numbers need to be double checked with the bank by Thursday.”  Not waiting around for any ifs, ands, or buts, she continued cheerfully, “I’m heading out –see you tomorrow!”  She swept out of his office, and out of the building, glad to be able to spend the evening socializing and figuring out how well the details of a story fit together.

                Tina hastily looked up the order of grant reviews that she would have to listen to tomorrow.  Whew –the grant applications assigned to her were not being evaluated early in the day.  That meant she could stop for an iced coffee on her way to work.  Small pleasures are key to a happy life, right?  Today had been filled with answering emails.  Since NIH’s grant submission deadline was coming up, researchers were crawling out of the woodwork to get feedback on whether their science was relevant for her funding institute.  Seeing new ideas about how the brain might work was the best part of her job.  It had allowed her to realize that even science, and perhaps especially science, benefits from creativity.  Still, she had been looking forward all day to the writers’ group meeting this evening.  She had already printed her excerpt in which she contrasted a grandfather’s and his grandson’s math ability, when each was 12 years old.  Tina hoped that it would be relatively clear that the contrast in brain activity rhythms resulted in very different math abilities.  Hearing others read their pieces was also always engaging, and of course socializing would be fun.  The variety of everyone’s occupations, ages, cultural background, and general interests always made for stimulating conversation, even apart from the official business of reading and critiquing.

                When all these interesting persons met at their local Mexican restaurant on October 1, they conversed, laughed, ate, and read out loud.  They exchanged a plethora of helpful feedback, including debating how to expand on a love letter to create a memoir around it;  whether every line in a poem needs to have the same rhythmic structure;  and how to balance descriptions of a mythical character’s violence with his empathic and protective side.  They also discussed how teddy bears could possibly eat without having digestive organs;  when to use perspective shifts in a story;  how to best use punctuation to convey slowness in speech;  and how to break up long descriptive passages when a particular futuristic world needs to be portrayed.  Through the course of the evening, without even being aware of it, they wove a beautiful tapestry with threads that were sparkling blue, rainbow-hued, tie-dyed, raven-black, forest-green, red-wine-hued, oddly glowing, and even a shimmering, almost-transparent aluminum.  Created from living interactions, this tapestry was unique, never having existed before this evening, and now residing only in each of their memories.

Mario is not dead

Mario is not dead by John Hardison                                                                 September 17, 2019

Mario opened his eyes. His stomach felt awful – but also better – at the same time. Like when you throw up and feel better immediately for having done it. He looked around and realized he hadn’t thrown up. His eyes got wide; what was this place he was in? A small cube-like room with a little white bed. It was very clean, mostly glass, very sterile-feeling, a white floor and glass walls and no door that he could see. There were other rooms, though, all connected, and there were people in them, people a lot like him, looking around like they, too, were wondering where they were.

“Hello” said the man in the next room. Wait, that wasn’t just a man, it was Larry from the writer’s club! The writer’s club, yes, that was where he was just before he woke up. That was where his stomach had been hurting. Was it from something Larry read at the meeting? No, people reading their stories aloud to the group had made him feel nauseous before, but nothing like this. It must have been something he ate. Maybe something they all ate? Yes, he remembered more clearly now, everyone was sick, everyone was groaning and doubling over in their chairs and some people were vomiting and then he remembered hitting the floor and things went black and then suddenly waking up here. But where was here?

“Larry, where are we? What is going on?” asked Mario. He didn’t ask the next question because fear had suddenly gripped him: are we dead? For most of Mario’s adult life he had rejected the idea of an afterlife, of god, of heaven or hell. He could NOT be dead, because he was standing up in a little room and that was totally contrary to what he believed in. Or didn’t believe in…it depended on how you looked at it.

“We’ve been reset” said Larry, like it was obvious. “Looks like everyone has. Must have been the food to have gotten us all.” He looked around at all the adjoining rooms, then back at Mario’s concerned expression. “Is this your first time?” Larry asked.

“My first time? This has happened before, or happens more than once? What are you talking about, Larry? What is going on?!” Mario was getting to be exasperated and his voice was rising.

Cálmate, amigo, nadie te va a lastimar aquí” Mario turned toward the sound of the new voice coming from an adjacent cube. It was Ken. “Why are you speaking Spanish, Ken?” But Ken didn’t answer, he lay down on the little bed in his cube and muttered unintelligible bits of Spanish to himself.

“I’ve found you don’t remember what goes on in these cubes much when you get sent back,” Said Larry, “But traumatic or exciting experiences in the Earth simulation can carry over to here, and seem to become ingrained in your programming. I guess it is a little like reincarnation, except, well, in a computer.”

A computer? They were in a computer? Mario looked thoughtfully at Ken. “Well,” he said, “Ken has had lots of exciting times in Latin America and around the world. I guess some of that would carry over. And you say experiences somehow get put into our, well, programming, you say? Ingrained in our programming for the next time?”

“Yes, I believe so.” Speculated Larry. “I mean it has to. I know this has happened to me a lot, and you may have noticed, but I love writing about heaven and hell and waiting in limbo to get to either of those destinations. Well, look around you” and Larry raised his arms and pivoted back and forth as he stood in his cubicle. “If this isn’t limbo, I’m not sure what is!”

“I see.” Said Mario. “And you say we get placed on Earth, but it is some sort of computer simulation?”

“It appears to be. I don’t have much to go on, but when I die, I come to this place. In theory, this is just another simulation to keep us occupied until we get placed back in the Earth simulation. A program in a program in a program, really” Larry smiled at Mario.

Mario glanced over at Ken who was still muttering in Spanish. Then he turned to face another cubicle. He recognized John from the writer’s club sitting on his little bed. Jesucristo, was that guy going to haunt him here as well as on Earth? Mario guessed it was all true, they were all here. He could see others in cubicles all around him. They had eaten something bad at the restaurant and died, but instead of an afterlife, or nothing, they were here. Reset. Programs waiting to go back. Mario felt dejected, then he smiled, and then he started to laugh. All of a sudden Mario started to dance around his small cube laughing and smiling.

“Have you gone bonkers?”, asked John. “What has you so happy?”

Continuing to dance, Mario said, “Don’t you see? I’m still right. The universe may not be what I expected, but there is no heaven, there is no hell, and there is certainly NO GOD!”

John watched Mario dance for a moment, then he said, “But what if this is all happening inside god’s computer?”

Mario stopped dancing.

Excerpt from Terra v. Aqua – Transition Zone

The transition

The transition

Conversation with Bella TA in the mag had been educational, mostly because it made Jon A reevaluate his reason for the visit. Was there something in his life that he wished to change? Maybe his whole life needed to be re-evaluated.

The mag’s arrival was so quiet that it took an automated announcement for them to be aware. Jon A and Bella TA exited the car and followed the clearly defined route to the transition center. They chose to walk after the long time they had spent sitting down, instead of taking the people-mover. In less than five minutes they entered a room with Amphitheatre seating.

Several tables near the entry provided drinks and light fare. Bathrooms and a quiet-room doors were clearly marked.

They chose one of the tables and poured water into their durable plastic bottles. Due to the limited supply of petroleum products, most plastic items were now durable, single-use plastic had been eradicated.

Jon A commented, “Love the graphic on the multi-viewer”.

Bella TA looked down to the screen and agreed with Jon A, “Right, it is my favorite depiction of ‘The Time Machine’ by Wells”.

Jon A agreed and they proceeded down to their seats.

Within a minute the lights blinked, and a pleasant voice directed, “Please proceed to your seats for our Transition primer.” A 60 second count-down appeared on the screen. The countdown stopped and the lights dimmed when a motion sensor determined that everyone was seated. The room appeared to be about three-quarters full. This had been determined to be the optimal occupancy and spoke as to the validity of the transportation and handling algorithms in the system.

At exactly 1100 hours the screen filled with easily recognizable icons of the Middle and the voice informed, “Good morning and welcome to the Transition Zone. You have been told of how you are expected to behave in the Zone, during your travel to your destination and your stay in the Middle. Please follow those instructions.”

“You will remain in the Transition Zone for no more than four days. The duration will depend on how easily you acclimate to the new surroundings and are ready to continue to the Middle. For at least one day, starting tomorrow, you will be provided and will be asked to wear a breathing device. It is imperative that you spend a good portion of the day, at least 30%, outdoors. This will get you used to the slightly different conditions you will find at your destination. This device will gradually change the air you breathe until it resembles what you will breathe at your destination. The device is specifically configured for the user. If after two days you still need the breathing device, you will be asked to reevaluate your intentions to travel further. About one third of our visitors need to use the device for only one day, only about 5% will not support taking it off and of those only about half will be asked to discontinue their travel plans.”

Bella TA observed, “It is actually really easy to get used to breathing normally, I expect the few exceptions are mostly psychological.”

The narration droned on, “… We have actually had groups in which every person only had to use the device for one day, and typically most only need two days.”

“From this room you will proceed to your living quarters for the next four or fewer days that you will lay-over in the Transition zone. Your luggage will be there, and your communicator synchronized to the zone’s system. Details on every need including dietary, medical and exercise-related have been configured for your convenience. While in the zone you will enjoy the latest media and several live-museums that you may want to visit. Included in the latter are the mineral, fauna and flora of the different areas of the Middle. Of special interest to many are the gems that are no longer available in the outside World because they can only be seen in some areas of the Middle.”

“If you have any question, please input it in the pad in front of you. If we deem the question to be of common relevance, we will answer it now, otherwise you will get a comm with the answer.”

After several minutes the narration ended with instructions to exit the room and follow the oral directions given at the door.

As Jon A entered the outside hallway, his chip, in personal mode, gave him information on his living quarters. Bella TA and he turned right on the hallway, he noticed that as many went in one direction as the other. Evidence of how convenience was a factor in the automation of public places.

Again, Bella TA and Jon A chose to walk. They walked to the left of the people mover. The colors of the walls were variable and muted and changed gradually. The internal music of his chip synchronized nicely with the color mutations. As expected, the stream of people was equally divided on both sides of the people mover.

The wall to their left suddenly slid open. Six figures of undetermined gender jumped to the center of the pathway. They wore one-piece, black uniforms with hoods and masks. They carried small devices, that neither Bella TA nor Jon A had ever seen.

One of the uniforms pointed the device at a woman walking no more than six feet ahead of them. A transparent, viscous slurry covered the person. Almost immediately it reacted with the air, started to solidify and turn opaque, forming large voids in the upper portion of her body. It was as if she had been covered by a large bubble that had a semi-solid base. Another uniform ran to her and inserted a piece of semi-flexible tubing so the woman could breathe if she had problem with the ventilation within the slurry shell. A seventh uniform materialized pushing an old fashion two-wheel dolly. It was wedged under the flat, solid surface below the woman’s feet. She was then carried effortlessly into the wall, that after all uniforms entered, closed silently.

The whole action had taken less than ten seconds. Then the same pleasant voice instructed, “Please continue to your living quarters. You will be fully informed of the activity that you just witnessed.

The color mutations of the wall and the music continued as if nothing had happened.

Bella TA and Jon A closed their gaping mouths and after shaking their heads continued to their quarters. After about 100 feet Bella TA said goodbye to Jon A and veered off the left in route to her quarters. After another 20 feet Jon A also veered to the left to access his.

The quarters did not disappoint

As Jon A arrive at the door of his room, the door opened automatically. He entered the room and found to his surprise that the right wall of the room and the ceiling were completely transparent. A bucolic scene of the nearby mountains and rolling hills gave the appearance that he was outdoors. A good representation of the local fauna could be seen leisurely grazing and going about their business.

Jon A made a mental note to ask Bella TA whether her room was the same as his. It appeared that the building was a large rectangle with the rooms located on the outside wall, giving the occupants a nice view of the natural beauty that surrounded them. He appreciated this.

The room was minimalist. It had only a large recliner type chair and a table attached to one of the walls. Two sliding doors led to the bathroom and a closet where he confirmed his luggage had been stored. A small niche in the opposite wall stored all types of healthy snacks and drinks. Next to the chair was a console with several controls. The room was immaculately clean and appeared brand new.

Jon A sat on the chair and after a little scrutiny found the button to turn on the information screen. When he activated it, a portion of the transparent wall showed a menu. Jon A chose the entry for latest news and sat down to watch and satisfy his curiosity.

The screen showed an overhead view of the hallway were the recent actions had taken place. As the walls slid and the uniforms came out, a narrator started explaining:

“Today at 1117 hours, elements of the security team apprehended a female that had been flagged as suspicious by the sensory system. She was taken into custody without issues and did not resist. The video shows when the slurry-immobilization system was used, as well as when the redundant breathing tube was inserted to prevent any corporal harm.”

“She was transported to the central security building and after proper isolation she was de-slurred. Her vital signs are optimal.”

“The reason for her apprehension was that after she exited the welcome briefing room, mega readings from her chip were outside the normal limits. Apparently, her chip had changed location within her body. This is as much as we know, further information will be released when confirmed. We know of no reason for alarm.”

Jon A considered this information for a few minutes and was able to recall several episodes of people that had been found parading as members of the World, but not having the obligatory chip implanted in their bodies as required. He also knew of a few cases in which chips had spontaneously exited their hosts, probably because they had been implanted too close to the digestive system of the individual.

In any case, he would get more information later. Policy was to keep citizens informed accurately and promptly when anything unusual took place in their lives.

Jon A located the local communicator and called Bella TA, “This is Jon A, how about some mid-day repast?” She agreed and they decided in a place to meet after consulting a location diagram inscribed on the door.

Conversation with Bella TA in the mag had been educational, mostly because it made Jon A reevaluate his reason for the visit. Was there something in his life that he wished to change? Maybe his whole life needed to be re-evaluated.

The mag’s arrival was so quiet that it took an automated announcement for them to be aware. Jon A and Bella TA exited the car and followed the clearly defined route to the transition center. They chose to walk after the long time they had spent sitting down, instead of taking the people-mover. In less than five minutes they entered a room with Amphitheatre seating.

Several tables near the entry provided drinks and light fare. Bathrooms and a quiet-room doors were clearly marked.

They chose one of the tables and poured water into their durable plastic bottles. Due to the limited supply of petroleum products, most plastic items were now durable, single-use plastic had been eradicated.

Jon A commented, “Love the graphic on the multi-viewer”.

Bella TA looked down to the screen and agreed with Jon A, “Right, it is my favorite depiction of ‘The Time Machine’ by Wells”.

Jon A agreed and they proceeded down to their seats.

Within a minute the lights blinked, and a pleasant voice directed, “Please proceed to your seats for our Transition primer.” A 60 second count-down appeared on the screen. The countdown stopped and the lights dimmed when a motion sensor determined that everyone was seated. The room appeared to be about three-quarters full. This had been determined to be the optimal occupancy and spoke as to the validity of the transportation and handling algorithms in the system.

At exactly 1100 hours the screen filled with very recognizable icons of the Middle and the voice informed, “Good morning and welcome to the Transition Zone. You have been told of how you are expected to behave in the Zone, during your travel to your destination and your stay in the Middle. Please follow those instructions.”

“You will remain in the Transition Zone for no more than four days. The duration will depend on how easily you acclimate to the new surrounding and are ready to continue to the Middle. For at least one day, starting tomorrow, you will be provided and will be asked to wear a breathing device. It is imperative that you spend a good portion of the day, at least 30%, outdoors. This will get you used to the slightly different conditions you will find in your destination. This device will gradually change the air you breathe until it resembles what you will breathe at your destination. The device is specifically configured for the user. If after two days you still need the breathing device, you will be asked to reevaluate your intentions to travel further. About one third of our visitors only need to use the device for one day, only about 5% will not support taking it off and of those only about half will be asked to discontinue their travelling plans.”

Bella TA observed, “It is actually really easy to get used to breathing normally, I expect the few exceptions are mostly psychological.”

The narration droned on, “… We have actually had groups in which every person only had to use the device for one day, and typically most only need two days.”

“From this room you will proceed to your living quarters for the next four of less days that you will lay-over in the Transition zone. Your luggage will be there, and your communicator synchronized to the zone’s system. Details on every need including dietary, medical and exercise-related have been configured for your convenience. While in the zone you will enjoy the latest media and several live-museums that you may want to visit. Including in the latter are the mineral, fauna and flora of the different areas of the Middle. Of special interest to many are the gems that are no longer available in the outside World, because they can only be seen in some areas of the Middle.”

“If you have any question, please input it in the pad in front of you. If we deem the question to be of common relevance, we will answer it now, otherwise you will get a comm with the answer.”

After several minutes the narration ended with instructions to exit the room and follow the oral directions given at the door.

As Jon A entered the outside hallway, his chip, in persona mode, gave him information on his living quarters. Both of them turned right on the hallway, he noticed that as many went in one direction as the other. Evidence of how convenience was a factor in the automation of public places.

Again, Bella TA and Jon A chose to walk. They walked to the left of the people mover. The colors of the walls were variable and muted and changed gradually. The internal music of his chip synchronized nicely with the color mutations. As expected, the stream of people was equally divided on both sides of the people mover.

The wall to their left suddenly slid open. Six figures of undetermined gender jumped to the center of the pathway. They wore one-piece, black uniforms with hoods and masks. They carried small devices, that neither Bella TA nor Jon A had ever seen.

One of the uniforms pointed the device at a woman walking no more than six feet ahead of them. A transparent, viscous slurry covered the person. Almost immediately it reacted with the air, started to solidify and turn opaque, forming large voids in the upper portion of her body. It was as if she had been covered by a large bubble that had a semi-solid base. The uniform ran to her and inserted a piece of semi-flexible tubing so that the woman could breathe if she had problem with the ventilation within the slurry shell. A seventh uniform materialized pushing an old fashion two-wheel dolly. It was wedged under the flat, solid surface below the woman’s feet. She was then carried effortlessly into the wall, that after all uniforms entered, closed silently.

The whole action had taken less than ten seconds. Then the same pleasant voice instructed, “Please continue to your living quarters. You will be fully informed of the activity that you just witnessed.

The color mutations of the wall and the music continued as if nothing had happened.

Bella TA and Jon A closed their gaping mouths and after shaking their heads continued to their quarters. After about 100 feet Bella TA said goodbye to Jon A and veered off the left in route to her quarters. After another 20 feet Jon A also veered to the left to access his.

The quarters did not disappoint

As Jon A arrive at the door of his room, the door opened automatically. He entered the room and found to his surprise that the right wall of the room and the ceiling were completely transparent. A bucolic scene of the nearby mountains and rolling hills gave the appearance that he was outdoors. A good representation of the local fauna could be seen leisurely grazing and going about their business.

Jon A made a mental note to ask Bella TA whether her room was the same as his. It appeared that the building was a large rectangle with the rooms located on the outside wall, giving the occupants a nice view of the natural beauty that surrounded them. He appreciated this.

The room was minimalist. It had only a large recliner type chair and a table attached to one of the walls. Two sliding doors led to the bathroom and a closet where he confirmed his luggage had been stored. A small niche in the opposite wall stored all types of healthy snacks and drinks. Next to the chair was a console with several controls. The room was immaculately clean and appeared brand new.

Jon A sat on the chair and after a little scrutiny found the button to turn on the information screen. When he activated it, a portion of the transparent wall showed a menu. Jon A chose the entry for latest news and sat down to watch and satisfy his curiosity.

The screen showed an overhead view of the hallway were the recent actions had taken place. As the walls slid and the uniforms came out, a narrator started explaining:

“Today at 1117 hours, elements of the security team apprehended a female that had been flagged as suspicious by the sensory system. She was taken into custody without issues and did not resist. The video shows when the slurry-immobilization system was used, as well as when the redundant breathing tube was inserted to prevent any corporal harm.”

“She was transported to the central security building and after proper isolation she was de-slurred. Her vital signs are optimal.”

“The reason for her apprehension was that after she exited the welcome briefing room, mega readings from her chip were outside the normal limits. Apparently, her chip had changed location within her body. This is as much as we know, further information will be released when confirmed. We know of no reason for alarm.”

Jon A considered this information for a few minutes and was able to recall several episodes of people that had been found parading as members of the World, but not having the obligatory chip implanted in their bodies as required. He also knew of a few cases in which chips had spontaneously exited their hosts, probably because they had been implanted too close to the digestive system of the individual.

In any case, he would get more information later. Policy was to keep citizens informed accurately and promptly when anything unusual took place in their lives.

Jon A located the local communicator and called Bella TA, “This is Jon A, how about some mid-day repast?” She agreed and they decided in a place to meet after consulting a location diagram inscribed on the door.

A PRESENTATION BY ARMANDO CAICEDO


Silver Pen Ken, July 2019

 “Writers have a great responsibility,” Armando said, “to not waste the reader’s time.” Writers all have the same tools with which to work, just 21 consonants, 5 vowels, 14 punctuation marks and any number of spaces.

Armando is an award-winning writer, born in Colombia and now living in Florida. He has been a novelist, poet, documentalist, cartoonist, strategy consultant and more. His ten published books including four full-length novels. These notes of his presentation on July 2019 are by Maryland Writers Association member, Kenneth Weiss.

 “The key to a novel is conflict,” Armando said.” You must have it. If there is no conflict, there is no novel.”

He creates characters, works to make them unforgettable, and lets them write the story. He does, however promise to get his characters out of whichever messes they get themselves into.

“Don’t try to copy another author’s style,” Armando warned. “Just write and listen to the music of the words.” Also, base your work on your history. “You have to live to be able to write.”

Another important point is to “write cinematographically.” Make the work a series of brief scenes and describe them so well that the reader can see each situation.

Perhaps most interesting, Armando said that where he writes was related to what he writes. His most recent novel, Abril Nace en Enero (April was Born in January), is a mystery and was composed mainly in his quiet studio. His penultimate book, El Niño que me Perdonó la Vida (The Boy Who Spared My Life), relates a true adventure and was written largely in the Colombian jungle. It tells of a guerilla fighter, 12 years old, who once had the author in his gun sights and decided not to pull the trigger. The author was then a Lieutenant in the Colombian Army. Fifty years later, they met, and their story began to take shape.

Finally, said Armando, “promote, promote, promote.” No matter how your book is published, start well before the release date to tell people about it. Do this mainly on the Internet and be creative with your messages.

Beyond publishing, he has discovered that television and movie producers are looking for riveting content, and that is where the real money is.

Kenneth D. Weiss writes memoirs, creative non-fiction and poetry, and translates from Spanish to English. His publications include a book of translated poetry, magazine articles and four books on importing and exporting.  Ken is an active supporter of the annual book fair in Gaithersburg, Maryland and heads a Creative Writers Group in that city. He has bachelor’s and master’s degrees, has lived in six countries and traveled to about 80, and speaks three languages.

The ten pound cat with golden eyes who runs everything

     By Carol Bouville

Bill did not always weight ten pounds. She didn’t always rule the house either. When we first met Bill, she and her sister, Boule, had just been found in a box outside Lake Forest Mall. They were probably not even ten days old. Their eyes were not open yet. The mother cat was nowhere to be seen. A kind person took them to a local vet, that happened to also be our vet. We had given them our name to call if they ever had two baby kittens brought in for adoption. Our cat of 18 years had died, and we missed not having a pet.

Bill and Boule were sent to live with a dedicated lady who rescued cats. She took very good care of the baby kittens. She fed them with an eye dropper five or six times a day. She got up in the middle of the night to feed them. She washed them with a damp cloth like a mother cat would lick her babies. She dried them with the hair dryer and put heated blankets into their box to keep them warm.

Bill and Boule came to live with us when they were almost three months old. After much debate, my husband, Andre, came up with Bill and Boule – French cartoon characters from the 1950’s. Boule was a young boy and Bill was his dog – and alter-ego – not unlike Bill Watterson’s classic series, Calvin and Hobbs. Given that both our cats were female, I wasn’t blown away by this name choice. But it was better in my view than Moet et Chandon – Andre’s other suggestion. Since he wasn’t as keen as I was about getting other pets, I decided it was a fair compromise.

We kept them in our bedroom with the door closed so they would not get lost in the house. Bill is all black with big yellow eyes and Boule is black with white on part of her face – including her whiskers – her chest and tummy, and half of all four of her paws. She glows in the dark. Boule was a normal size for a three-month old kitten, but Bill was tiny – probably the runt of the litter.

When they were able to jump from the floor onto our bed, we let them out to roam the house. We had to be very careful not to step on Bill, since she loved to crouch down and make herself even harder to see, unless we were staring at the floor all the time.

They both particularly liked playing on the stairs. One morning, I was coming down and didn’t see Bill on the step below. My foot skidded across her back and we both fell down the rest of the stairs. Bill was unharmed, but I hurt my elbow. A big knot quickly formed around the joint that turned black and blue. I didn’t care, because I was so happy Bill was okay.

Like all kittens, they became very playful. They loved to get into our houseplants – especially the Ficus and the Peace Plant. Sometimes they were very naughty and peed in the plants. They also liked to push objects on table and counter tops to the floor – pens, plastic medicine containers, and pretty much anything else that could roll. Another favorite game was to unwind and shred a roll of toilet paper or, better yet, a big, fat, new roll of paper towel. They loved to chase each other from room to room. They sounded like a whole clowder of cats had somehow gotten loose in our house. Sometimes things backfired, and they would get themselves closed into closets or the laundry room. Then we would hear weak mewing coming from somewhere and have to search all over the house until we could find them. At other times, they would hiss and swat at each other – fighting just like human siblings do. Then two minutes later they would lick each other and be friends again, like we do when we kiss and make up.

I love to pick up both cats, but Boule often struggles to get down. She isn’t keen on being held. Bill, on the other hand, loves it – when she’s in the mood. I hold her like I would a human baby. I love to wrap her around the front of my neck like a scarf. I used to call her my feather because she was so light. That’s not the case anymore, but I still hold her this way. Every morning and afternoon, Bill gets up on a stool in the kitchen. She extends her front paws up to the top of the stool, so she is standing on her hind legs. This means that she wants to be brushed. She arches her back and purrs. She often gives me kisses when I pick her up – licking my cheek with her raspy tongue that smells tinny and fishy. As she has grown older, I can say, “Bill, up”, and pat the stool, or show her my cheek and say, “Bill, kiss”. She will do what I ask if she is in the mood. But cats don’t obey like dogs do. They choose to comply with a request only if it suits them. I don’t say this as a criticism. It is the nature of the cat to create its own space that humans must respect. People try do the same thing. I think it’s one of the reasons why cat-lovers are cat-lovers: they respect a cat’s need for independence.

When they were six months old, we took them to the vet for a checkup. Boule already weighed nine pounds and Bill weighed five and a half pounds. Now at six, Boule weighs a little over 16 pounds and is on a special diet. Bill has settled in at 10 pounds. The vet is concerned about Boule’s weight. I have explained that she is just living up to her name – Boule means ball in French, like a bowling ball or a big round loaf of bread. Bill on the other hand is a much more finicky eater, loving something one day and refusing it the next. Don’t most kids do the same thing when they are small? We began putting small amounts of several flavors into Bill’s bowl in order to give her a choice. Sometimes this works and sometimes, for no apparent reason, she will refuse all of it. Instead, she will scratch the floor several times like she is trying to cover up something foul in the litter box. Then she looks at me a bit cross-eyed, as if to say, “Can’t you see this is total dreck?”

One would expect Boule to be the Alpha cat. But that is not how it has turned out. Especially when it has come to managing my husband and me. All Bill has to do is look at us with those enormous, golden eyes, and we drop whatever we were doing to focus on her. “Show Mommy what you want,” I say and follow her around to see what she might have in mind. Sometimes she shows me her empty bowl or gets up on the stool to be brushed. She has games she wants to play at certain times of the day. Her favorite is “Magic Box”. We have big boxes we’ve brought back from Costco scattered all over the house. Bill likes to crouch down in any one of them while I put my fingers through the holes and wiggle them. She lies low – her eyes round and wide – and then she attacks. When she is able to grab a finger, she bites down hard with her sharp front teeth. Fortunately, she gets bored after a few minutes and goes off somewhere to nap.

When I get up in the morning, all I want to do is have a cup of coffee and read the paper. But Bill is very jealous of the Washington Post. She jumps up on the table and slaps down the paper, trying to sit on whatever section I am attempting to read. No matter how many times I put her on the floor and say, “No!”, back up she comes. Those golden eyes will bore into me with a scowl, like, “What part of this don’t you get? Is it too much to ask for your undivided, fully focused attention for a moment or two?” If that doesn’t work, she will bat my coffee cup to the point of spilling some of my precious wake-up brew. It always works. I pet her. I brush her. I wrap her around my neck. When enough worshiping has occurred, she will give me kisses and a love-bite on my chin for good measure. Only then will she allow me to finish my lukewarm coffee and have a go at the crossword puzzle.

I don’t remember when it started, but either my husband or I once gave Bill a small portion of whipped cream. Now it has morphed into a ceremony. Every night around 7:00, she gets a special bowl of it. She won’t eat it if it is presented in her regular food bowl. But if properly served, Bill loves the stuff. It’s terrible for her teeth and her waistline, but it’s too late to change the routine. There are other ceremonies as well: The Shower Ceremony when she follows my husband into the bathroom and licks his wet, hairy calves as he gets out of the shower. Yuk! There is also “Le Coucher” – so named for Louis XIV, who allowed members of the court at Versailles to watch him go to bed at night, as well as to get up in the morning – “Le Lever”. Except that Bill’s “Coucher” is to put us to bed. We all know that dogs need jobs, but so do cats. If we are watching TV around 9:00, Bill start hopping on and off our lap, blocking our view. If we are working on a jigsaw puzzle or are on the computer, she will stretch out across whichever it is until we have to give up. She bounds up the stairs and jumps on the bed, purring so loud it sounds like a car or boat motor. She follows us into the bathroom while we brush our teeth, then again bounds onto the bed while we settle in. Once the light is off, she disappears for awhile. But later she will come back and sleep somewhere on the bed. Mostly it’s near my feet, so I have to curl up to avoid kicking her. But sometimes, on cold nights, she will curl up right next to my shoulder or chest, her head between our pillows, and sleep that way all night. This is Bill at her most precious – returning the love, attention, and affection we bestow on her everyday.

And what of Boule, you might ask? She disappears altogether for much of the day. Most evenings however, she will come with us to the basement to watch TV. I also have my art studio there. Boule loves to recline like a Roman goddess across whatever I’m working on. Cat hair and watercolor go so well together. If I am in my recliner watching TV or playing FreeCell on my iPad, she will climb onto my lap to be stroked and loved. If I stop petting her, she will tap my hand or cheek with her velvety, white paw, as if to say, “Not done yet.” She rarely sleeps on our bed but rather in another part of the house entirely. Once in a while, however, she will beat us up to the bedroom, already settled in between the pillows at the head of the bed. If she claims that space first, Bill allows her to stay there, but she isn’t happy about it. She stalks out of the room and will have nothing more to do with any of us. The next morning, when we are finally out of bed, Bill will be there to give us her deepest scowl, her golden eyes now an olive green. She has served notice that she has chosen to magnanimously make an exception that better not become the rule.

Why, you might also wonder, do we allow a 10-pound cat to run our household. Because our children live far away. We are getting older. Especially, though, we are perpetually drawn to the habits and body- language of cats. They provide a window into our own psyche. They drive the symbiotic relationship between us as we try to fulfill each other’s needs. They remind us that love can be shared among different species. They insist on their right to be treated according to their own priorities, and in so doing, show us humans how we can do the same.

Draining the swamp by Mario Salazar 10/2/18

The three men took the subway from different parts of town. They waited outside the chosen building dressed inconspicuously, for the agreed signal. When it came, they all headed for the cargo entrance.

As they arrived inside, they greeted each other with a mere nod. They had been meeting in different government buildings in DC for over a year. Their work was very important and required the utmost secrecy.

They waited patiently until the all-clear signal was given and then proceeded to the utility elevator. They rode it to the 11th floor to find it, as expected, deserted. The workers had all left for the day as it was normal at this time of the early evening. Their mission required anonymity and secrecy.

For even more stealth, they had early on agreed not to use their names, but instead had assigned each other a letter. Over the time they had gotten used to this strategy.

They entered a nondescript office that apparently was used to store surplus equipment. Fortunately, the place appeared to have been cleaned recently and was not too dusty. They sat at an old metal table on mismatched chairs.

S, the shortest of the group and its leader, started the conversation with his usual brief pep talk. “Your country appreciates your hard work. Let us say a silent prayer for our success…”

After the prayer and the pledge of allegiance, the meeting started.

S asked H to give a status update on the project. H as usual had accurate tables to show and use as talking points. He started with, “I would like to report progress on our mission to clean the swamp as promised by President Trump. We have convened grand juries in most states and have snared many corrupt individuals. To date we have over 50,000 sealed indictments.”

I, who was the third member of the group and second in command waited for H to finish. Looking in his notes asked, “Have we been able to indict any other big fish?”

“Besides Obama, the Clintons, Biden and Powell, we recently got four of the top Democrats in the Senate. We are getting close with Landrieu, but he has been very careful to hide his tracks.”

S looked at the other two and waited a few seconds to comment, “Well, we already knew of those, we will need to step it up, we want to really show how our president does what he promises. I have been thinking about adding another person to our command group for the final stretch. Could you guys tell me about the candidates that I mentioned to you previously?”

I, aware of his place in the group conceded to H for his choice, “I think that the best person has to be…, well, do I have to say his initial?”

S and H looked at each other and voiced the same letter, “T!”.

S again spoke to end the conversation and the meeting, “I will notify T of our decision and he will attend our next meeting. He will really complement us and make us more effective.”

H distributed charts showing their progress since they had met. The documents elicited few questions and comments as they had become familiar with this type of update.

S completed the meeting by providing the same familiar encouragement, “God, enlighten us in the continuation of our righteous mission.”

They all responded, “Amen”.

They agreed on the venue, which was always different, for their next meeting.

Without another word, the meeting broke. All material was collected and would be disposed of by H’s shredder followed by burning in his home incinerator.

Fiction? Yes, but based on content on current right-wing sites. This is typically published in conspiracy sites throughout the Internet.

Apparently, these indictments will be made known in the next few months.

If the reader finds this reminiscent of McCarthy era actions, the irony is lost on the conspirators.

The Children’s Table by Patricia Papa

Most of the time we saw our aunts, uncles, cousins and various relations by marriage only at weddings, the occasional christening and, of course, at funerals. We were Irish after all. Relatives were spread out around the edges of the city, and probably not overly sociable anyway what with the many hot tempers and long memories. Certainly no one was known for their hostessing or cooking skills.

The exception to that edgy family dynamic was Thanksgiving, and that was due to my grandmother Elizabeth and her mandatory annual feast. She invited one and all whether they were speaking to each other or not, and  she would not take no for an answer. She saw things a little differently, “I don’t suffer fools gladly”. End of discussion.

It didn’t really matter, because once the opinionated aunts, uncles, cousins and in-laws got to Liz’s house you’d have thought they were all just one big, happy, lovestruck clan anyway. They even tossed a football around occassionally, fancying themselves like the Kennedys, attractive, vital, and willing to forgive. One thing they had in common was a sense of humor, much of it self-deprecating. There was a lot of laughter.

My parents, brother, and I usually got to Grandma’s early since she was my mother’s mother and daughters were expected to help out. That was fine with me since it mean I could claim a spot on the stairs that lead from the front hallway to the second floor and peer through the bannisters to watch the other guests arrive. Grandma’s three sisters, Mary, Josephine, and Christine,  could be counted on for a grand entrance, larger than life in their long, fur trimmed coats, louder than anyone else, and always laughing or crying or voicing an impassioned plea for forgiveness or bestowing absolution on someone for some offense. I thought they were giants, and I was terrified of them in a strangely enjoyable way. It was years before I realized they were average -size women whose histrionics heightened their stature along with the emotional temperature in Grandma’s narrow house. They were all married, yet they always swept in together, perhaps having left husbands and offspring behind to follow once the drama subsided.

As more people arrived, the noise level rose, the women fussed about in the dining room, and the men stationed themselves in the kitchen, drinks in hand, passing comment on every topic of the day. It was the perfect holiday set up for kids; no one paid any attention to us as we ran in and out, re- forming the alliances formed at our last family gathering probably months ago.

There glasses raised, of course. Every now and then one of the uncles would pause while refilling his glass and observe as my cousin Maureen and Iix clattered by, “Ah, that’s Kay’s girl, a lovely lass” or, “Will you look at Maureen there with all her freckles. Isn’t she a picture of her mother as a little one? ” But within seconds their attention swerved back to politics and sports. They seemed not to notice the little boys at all unless one stumbled into the kitchen with a bloody nose or skinned knee.

Seemingly hours later the twenty-pound turkey, sausage stuffing, gravy, potatoes, turnips, something green, maybe peas, rolls  and cranberry sauce, nicely rounded just as it slid from the can, were set out in the small, crowded dining room. We, a mob of cousins aged three to thirteen, fought over and finally settled into our seats at the children’s table on the enclosed back porch, blessedly free of adult scrutiny.

I’m really not sure what exactly was so special about being together this way, in that year, but we were very happy. Maybe the memory is enhanced by the fact that it was the last time we were all together in that house, in that innocently affectionate way.

After many toasts to each other and to those no longer with us, after dishes were done, and the youngest began dozing off, the older children were rounded up and nudged through their thank you’s to Grandma and goodbyes to the cousins. Talk focused on likely traffic on the George Washington Bridge and a next gathering at Christmas. By 9 pm the house was silent and growing  cool.

Grandma headed down the cellar stairs to put more coal in the furnace. I never heard the details, but she fell and broke her hip. We spent the next, I don’t know how long, it seemed like months but was probably weeks, visiting her in the hospital. A broken hip was a  bigger deal back then before joint replacement surgery was routine, before patients were encouraged to move about, before hospital stays were greatly reduced.

Grandma never left the hospital; soon after Christmas she passed away–as did those fondly remembered Thanksgiving dinners.

We still saw each other, of course,  at the weddings and funerals that mark the march of our lives, but no one stepped up to embrace the whole clan for the holiday dinners that offered such easy camraderie.

I’ve managed to recreate some of it by having Thanksgiving Days at our house with our three children and their spouses along with five grandchildren, my brother, sometimes other far flung relatives and always various friends. Much is different, of course, from the meal itself (vegetarians, vegans, gluten-free, and the daughter-in- law who can’t abide soup, any soup). Then there are the electronic devices seemingly on every surface, although I’m proud to say none are allowed at my holiday table. We play soccer not football after eating. Still, much remains the same–maybe most significantly the children’s simple joy in being allowed to run free with their cousins away from adult hovering to form their own childhood memories.

 

A weekend to remember by Patricia Papa

Patricia Papa, personal essay DRAFT 1 [prompt: write up to 1000 words about a time when you gained a new insight into an old friend or family member]

A Weekend To Remember

My dad looked like Fred Astaire. You know, that skinny dancer in musicals from the 1940s and ‘50s: Easter Parade, Holiday Inn, Broadway Review. There were dozens, all featuring the debonair, fleet-footed Mr. Astaire and, usually, a somewhat less talented but beautiful female partner. Dad was a dead ringer, at least in the looks department. Family photos capture the raised eyebrow, the casually crossed long legs as he leaned against a blossom-covered stone wall in a cream colored suit, jaunty fedora in hand. It was a dapper look and a nice one as fathers went, not movie star handsome by any means, but sophisticated, suggesting a man-of-the-world. Nothing like Dad’s real-life persona, that of a quiet, rather unassuming family man. I knew very little about my dad growing up. He was not a big talker, certainly not about himself. Mom did most of the talking; she and Dad seemed happy that way; and family gossip such as it was came exclusively from Mom’s side. By the time I left for college Dad and I had formed-or more likely fallen into-an easy if unspoken alliance as the quieter, less volatile members of a family of quick-tempered, easily offended Irish extroverts. So when my sorority decided to have a Father-Daughter Weekend I didn’t think twice about inviting him. The Father-Daughter Weekend quickly evolved to become a surprisingly big deal for a group of silly, boy-obsessed 19-year olds. Maybe we were all daddy’s girls at heart. Anyway, I remember hoping Dad would come even though I thought he might not since Mom wasn’t speaking to me that week. I don’t remember why. But they went everywhere together. Would he come alone? “Of course, wouldn’t miss it”, Dad called to say.

Yellow Bird by Carol Bouville

Where are you yellow bird?

Yellow Bird

 

Text and Illustration

by

Carol Bouville

 

Yellow Bird belonged to a family of two young children and two very busy parents. He was a gift to them from a family friend after they had moved into their new house. At first the children thought that now their parents would surely get them a puppy, since they had a lovely yard they could all play in together. But the parents had too much to do with their jobs and growing children and a new house with a lawn to mow on the weekends.

“We’ll see about a puppy once we get settled,” said the mother.

“When you are a little older and can help take care of it,“ said the father.

The children were unhappy that they would not soon be getting a pet.

“How about a cat, then?” asked the girl. She was the older of the two.

“Cats scratch the upholstery, and the litter box has to be kept very clean, or it will smell bad,” said the mother.

“I’m allergic to cat dander,” said the father.

“What’s that?” asked the boy? He was almost six and was curious about new words.

“It’s something on their skin that is like human dandruff and it makes me sneeze,” said the father.

“What’s dandruff?” the boy asked.

“Dry skin that falls off your scalp,” respond the father.

“Yuk,” said the boy and walked away.

A hamster was too much like a mouse for the parents to accept, and fish were too boring for the children to get excited about, so the months passed with no pets in the new house.

 

Then one day a lady the children didn’t know came to the house for supper. The mother was very happy to see her good friend from college again.

“What a lovely home you have here, Dot,” said the lady, “and such adorable children. You must be so proud – and so busy.”

The mother smiled down at her children and then back at her friend. “Yes, Beverly, I am very happy. But I am also very, very busy. The children would really love a pet, but we just don’t have the time to take care of one.”

They sent out for pizza, and then Mrs. Beverly left.

 

Two days later a man called to make sure that someone was home, and then he arrived from the pet shop with a birdcage. Inside the cage was a small yellow bird. Even though it was all yellow like a canary, in fact it was a parakeet. It had a small crest on its forehead and tail feathers the color of bright sunshine. The bird was only four months old, the man told them. There was a note attached to the cage that read, “The perfect pet. Just give it food and water and let it sit on your finger from time to time. Love, Beverly.”

The children were quite excited. Once the bird got used to its new home, it chirped and danced around the cage when the children came near. After awhile, they began to take it out of its cage. It liked to perch on the boy’s outstretched hand or the girl’s shoulder. Sometimes it flew around the room and landed on the father’s head. Everyone loved the bird, but no one could find a better name for it than Yellow Bird.

 

And so it lived with the family and brought them joy. Then one day at the start of summer, just as the school year was ending, the mother was bringing in groceries from the garage at the same time as the girl had just opened the cage. Before anyone realized it, Yellow Bird flew into the kitchen, through the open door to the garage and outside into the endless blue sky. The children ran out to the backyard calling “Yellow Bird, Yellow Bird”, but the bird did not hear them. It soared up into a tall oak tree in the yard across the street, then flew back out again, letting the breeze lift it up above the rooftops, only to disappear from view as it melted into the afternoon sunlight.

That evening, no one could eat a thing. Everyone, even the father who tried to be calm and strong, cried with his wife and children. “We will get you another bird,” said the father.

“We don’t want another bird,” said the daughter.

“We want Yellow Bird to come back,” wailed the son.

“We will put a notice on the internet to let all our neighbors know about Yellow Bird. He can’t have gone very far,” the mother tried to reassure them.

 

But Yellow Bird did go far. He was free, joyously free, to fly high and then to swoop down low, to peck in the dirt like a mourning dove, to eat at a neighbor’s bird feeder like a sparrow, to sit on a prickly hedge like a goldfinch. He even thought he might be a goldfinch or maybe a warbler even though he did not have any black feathers anywhere. Neither the goldfinches nor the warblers were interested in being friends with Yellow Bird. In the end, he stayed with the sparrows. They did not try to chase him away from the seeds that fell from a feeder or from water in a bird bath or a rain-filled gutter. It was summer – warm and gusty, like a sudden storm, and the soft evening breezes cooled the air and caressed the leaves that protected Yellow Bird from the rain. He felt a happiness at being free that outweighed his sorrow from leaving the family who had loved him and taken good care of him. But he knew now what it was like to be a real bird and not a pet, and he thought he would never go back.

 

The mother put his picture on the internet and a few people responded that they were pretty sure they had seen Yellow Bird. But no one knew what to do to catch him and bring him home. One lady tried to put a pillowcase over him while he was under her bird feeder, but she missed, and Yellow Bird never came back there again. Finally, the parents had to tell their children that Yellow Bird was probably gone for good. The girl cried very hard, especially because she worried about what would happen to him when summer was over, and the nights would get colder.

“We will put out his cage and hang it from the maple tree in our front yard and put food in it for him and a woolen scarf over the cage to keep it warm inside,” said the father.

The children stopped crying. “Let’s do it now”, said the boy. And so they did.

 

For many weeks they checked the cage four or five times a day. They replaced the water but saw that the seed was never eaten because the other birds and squirrels were afraid to enter the cage. “Only Yellow Bird will go in there,” said the mother. “We must not give up hope.”

 

The parents bought a bird feeder and a bird bath that they set out in the yard near where the cage was hanging from a lower limb of the maple tree. Little by little, the leaves on that tree started to turn from fresh green like new grass to a darker green like cucumbers. The sun set closer to 7:30 instead of 9:00, as it did when they first got Yellow Bird. But the nights were still warm in early September when the children started back to school. Some evenings the family sat on the front porch staring at the bird cage, wishing with all their might that Yellow Bird would come flying home.

And then one morning when they were getting into the car to go to school, they saw a bright yellow dot flitting from branch to branch in the oak tree across the street.

“It’s just a goldfinch or a warbler,” said the mother. “But we will check the cage this evening to see if any of the seed is gone.”

All day the children thought about Yellow Bird. Neither could focus on their lessons. The girl was told twice by her teacher to look at her books instead of out the window.

“What has gotten into you today?” Asked the teacher.

Then the girl told the class the story of Yellow Bird. “Well,” said the teacher, “if he ever comes home we will all be very glad for you.” Everyone in the class agreed and promised to think very hard about Yellow Bird.

“Maybe your bird will feel the energy of all of us wishing him a safe return,” said the teacher.

That evening when the father, who was the only one tall enough to see into the cage, checked the seed, he could tell some had been eaten. “It’s probably a squirrel or another bird who has seen the cage all this time and is not afraid of it anymore.”

“No,” said the children, “it has to be Yellow Bird.”

Everyday now they replaced the missing seed, but they never saw anything in the cage.

Soon it would be the end of September. The first day of autumn when the night and the day are the same length, had come and gone. It was getting dark now around 7:00 and the temperature was falling overnight. Every evening the father put a woolen shawl over the birdcage.

 

Yellow Bird watched as some of other birds flew away to the south, to a warmer place for the winter. The past winter had been particularly cold, and the changing of the seasons brought a sense of urgency to all the birds. These who would not migrate would need to prepare a shelter for the colder weather and find other food sources for when the ground would finally freeze up hard. One night, after a loud and gusty thunderstorm, as the temperature dropped into the 50’s, Yellow Bird sensed danger coming at him through the wind he so loved to ride on as he flew from above the rooftops and trees. He knew that soon it would be hard for him to stay warm enough for a bird who was born to live indoors. As more and more of his companions left, he began to think of how he might go back home again. He sat on a branch of another maple tree, like the one in his front yard, and tried to remember.

One day while he was circling above the rooftops of the neighborhood, he noticed a birdcage hanging from a tree like the one where he had taken shelter from the summer downpours. The tree was starting to lose its leaves, so now he could clearly see the cage from above. He had loved being in the wild when there were plenty of bugs in the dirt and when the warm sun lit him up like a big bright lightbulb. But now he shivered with fear of not being able to survive outdoors anymore.

He alit on the top of the bird cage and recognized it as his own. Yet he wasn’t quite ready to be taken inside again, probably forever. He on settled the one of the branches closest to the tree trunk where it was the warmest and waited.

 

Most of the nights were cold now, and many of the leaves that still protected Yellow Bird were fast turning dry and brown. He knew he had to make his decision soon or he would not be strong enough to survive. And then, as the sun was setting, he saw a shadow cross the yard and reach up to the cage. It was the father who every evening put fresh seed into the cage and the woolen scarf over the open bars to ward off the cold. He always left the cage door open, and he always looked around and up into the trees to see if he could spot Yellow Bird. The father sighed in a sad way that sounded almost like a sob. “Oh, Yellow Bird, if you are out there, please come back to us before it’s too late.” And then he turned to go back into the house.

Suddenly the father thought he saw a streak of yellow out of the corner of his eye. He heard a noise that sounded like the creak of something metal moving in the wind. He turned to see if there were still birds visiting the feeder so close to nighttime. And then he saw the bird cage move and heard the sound of scratching coming from the cage. It was almost completely dark now, but the moon had risen high enough to cast a warm glow over the front yard. The father thought he must be imagining something yellow in the cage, but as he crept ever so slowly nearer, he could see for sure that he was not dreaming. It was Yellow Bird! He reached up inch by inch until his hand was even with the cage door and pushed it shut with a clap. It startled Yellow Bird, who regretted for a fleeting moment that he was now a captive inside the cage. The father unhooked the cage and carefully carried it into the house so as not to spill a drop of water or further upset the bird inside who was beating its wings against the bars. He set the cage on the kitchen counter and opened the door so Yellow Bird would know he would not be trapped inside against his will. The bird flew out and came to rest on the curtain rod above the picture window in the dining room.

“It’s ok, Yellow Bird”, said the father, “you can live free inside, but please, please never fly away again.”

By now the children had showered, and they and the mother had come downstairs for supper.

“Shhh,” said the father as they entered the dining room, “Look who’s here with us for supper this evening.” The father pointed to the top of the curtain rod where Yellow Bird was perched. “I promised him we would never shut him up in the cage if he promised never to leave us again. I think he understands. Let’s eat and let him get used to being inside.”

The children had to cover their mouth so as not to shriek with joy from seeing that Yellow Bird was safely home. They were too excited to eat, and the parents allowed them to sit quietly on the floor and watch the bird. Finally, the boy could not sit still any longer. He got to his knees and put out his arm. “Please, Yellow Bird, come sit on my hand,” he whispered. “I’m so happy you are home.”

Yellow Bird looked at him and turned his head from side to side as parakeets do. And then he dropped down from the curtain rod with one flap of his wings and landed on the boy’s extended hand.

 

Yellow Bird lived to be quite old for a parakeet. He enjoyed the freedom of being able to fly around the house at will. He followed the children from room to room and also loved to sit on the father’s head after dinner to watch the evening news on TV. The mother never again brought groceries inside from the garage until she had watched the heavy door roll down and tap shut against the cement floor. What she didn’t realize was that Yellow Bird didn’t want to leave ever again.

The mother wrote about the story and put it on the internet. Neighbors responded to say how happy they were that the bird had returned. The local newspaper came to the house and took pictures of the family and of Yellow Bird and published the mother’s story. Yellow Bird became famous in the area as possibly the smartest parakeet who ever lived, because he had found his way back home.