Flash Fiction

Here’s a little something that I wrote back in the dark ages when I was an undergrad. It was some sort of assignment for my creative writing class as best I can remember. I recently resurrected it, re-wrote and edited it, and submitted it to a Flash Fiction publication. Of course, it got rejected – when I wrote it there was no such thing as formal flash fiction. Times – they do change.

Wanderlust

Carl Carlath walked down the main street, leaving little clouds of dust after each step. His beard was as thick and curly as sheep’s wool, and his stride that of one used to walking. There was the look of ages and miles in his steel-hard eyes; the thousand light-year stare of one who had seen about all there is to see.

An A-Capellan Glyrth, as wizened and tired looking as Carl sat on his shoulder, mumbling in his ear. The Glyrth’s coat absorbed the sunlight’s red and blue, and reflected the other wavelengths, glowing in a medley of colors. Carlath strode down the street until he came to a building marked “Joe’s Bar” in flashing trideon. He walked up the steps, through the door, and up to the bar. His only words, growled more than spoken were “Gimme a blaster, double!” He downed the drink quickly, turned to scowl at the rest of the patrons, walked out the door, and continued his walk down the street.

Carl Carlath was a space comber. One of those strange human birds that are constantly migrating. Like a meteor, continually moving through space until, in a sudden blaze of glory, they disappear. He was on Earth, in Papeete, Tahiti; his most recent stop and one of the few places in the universe left comparatively untouched by civilization. They even had palm thatching on many of the buildings – but that was for show – under the thatch were good, solid titanium tiles. Papeete was a space comber’s paradise; quiet, few people, plenty of bars, and a large red light district. Carl, like most of his breed could drink an alcoholic under the table. His personal theory, a bastardized cliché, was “A bottle a day keeps the D.T.’s away.”

As Carl continued down the street toward the docks, he saw a new sail at anchor in the bay. It was a yawl, all white paint, shining brass, and three masts. Papeete was not only uncivilized; it was the only place in the galaxy where private ocean sailing was still a common practice. The giant conglomerate Interstellar Transport had monopolized all forms of transportation in every corner of the galaxy. Under the theory that a well fed, sleeping dog will not bite, IntTrans had left the area open to yachting for some of the most successful businesspersons in the empire. Earth’s Pacific Ocean was the private playground of the rich and infamous.

P’raps,” thought Carl, “I can hitch a ride to the mainland with that little jewel of the Pacific. If I can get to the mainland, I can get to a rocket port. I’ve been too damned long on this mudball; I’m beginning to feel chained and shackled.”

Scrutinizing the harbor, he saw a small motor launch coming in toward the dock. “By Jupiter, Captain, I see you have come to greet me in person. That certainly is Salurian of you.”

The launch pulled up to the dock and Carl grabbed their landing rope and secured it to the dock cleat. A tall, heavy man climbed onto the dock and looked Carl over.

Need a job?” asked the man.

Sure enough do,” answered Carl.

What can you do?”

What needs doing?”

Navigator, sail mender, you name it. I run a three-person crew and one of them jumped ship in Sydney. Haven’t been able to find a replacement since.”

You give the orders, I follow them.”

Good! You’re hired.”

Where’re we bound?”

San Francisco.”

I accept.”

You look like a man with intestinal fortitude. This is a special boat – the ride might get interesting.”

I am – interesting rides interest me”

Tomorrow at dawn, then. The launch’ll be right here.”

Aye, Cap’n.”

Two months later Carl was in a San Francisco bar talking to an outbound crony.

So you sailed under old McInstry, eh?” asked the old space comber.

Sure as space is dark, I did; that is if you want to call it sailing,” replied Carl.

Wha’cha mean?”

Well, we sailed into a hurricane and he put up full sail!”

Put out sail?”

Yeh, he had his boat specially built out of Magferroester Crystal. Masts, bulkheads, even his sails were woven from the fiber.”

Mag Crystal! You mean the stuff from which Interliners are made?”

The very same. You couldn’t hurt that boat short of turning a deatomizer on it at full power. So, just to prove he could do it, I guess, he put out full sail and we more flew than sailed across most of the Pacific. When the storm veered toward Mexico, we tacked north to San Francisco.”

Was it rough riding?”

Rough riding – you don’t know the meaning of rough riding. It was surely an interesting trip – as McInstry said it would be. I’ve never been more interested – in staying alive, that is! I simply love hauling sail in 150 mile per hour winds with eighty foot waves towering over me!”

Well … sounds like you can paraphrase what the ancient Oriental’s said ‘You have lived an interesting time’ … say, when are you hauling off and where?”

I got purser aboard the luxury Transtar Liner Goliath, outbound for Frobia II in the Horsehead area. Where for you?”

Cyg IV, hard freight.”

I was there about five years ago. Pretty dead.”

I know; this is my terti. I was at Shamus City before here – I need a quiet place for a while.”

I can understand that – gotta blast, see you sometime, maybe.”

Yeh – good jump!”

Same to ya.”

A lone man, old, bearded, and tired looking walked down a street in Rafschodim, Frobia II with an A-Capellan Glyrth on his shoulder and mumbling in his ear. The Glyrth’s coat absorbed the red-orange light from the red dwarf sun and glowed bright, fluorescent green. A turb-car hummed up behind him and a voice within asked, “Need a job?”

What doin’?”

Hot stuff handler – freight hauler to Ramses VIII.”

Soft bunk or crew quarters?”

You’ve done this before, haven’t you? Soft bunk.”

Taken!”

Now I wonder if there’s the germ of a story here – but that’ll have to be after the mysteries are done.

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Tropical Forests

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Mayan Temple Ruin, Chan Chich, Belize

What is it about tropical forests that says “Forest Primeval”? The dense canopy that lets little sunlight reach the ground? The huge trees variously covered with lichens, bromeliads, vines, and algae? Tropical rain forest – stuff growing on stuff, growing on stuff. Subtropical oak-pine forests – lichens and huge trees. The national flower of Puerto Rico – a tiny orchid that grows on the moss and lichens on tee trunks. Belize – house plants climbing up tree trunks – vines hanging everywhere. El Volcan de Nieve, Mexico – 8,000 ft elevation – oak-pine forest. The ground is shaded, but there’s not the wild profusion of things growing on things. Rather, a profusion of understory shrubs and other plants. Fallen tree trunks covered with moss.

If one sits on a shaded veranda with a cold beer or a warm cup of coffee and listens during the day there’s something of a cacophony of animal sounds.  Mostly birds, but sometimes mammals or amphibians. At El Yunque the dominant background sound is the call of the coqui frog. They live in the bromeliads up in the trees and call incessantly – co-qui, co-qui – aptly named. Around the villages in the mountains is heard the call of the domestic rooster – the national bird of Puerto Rico it seems, since they are around every bend in the road.

At Chan Chich it is birds. Parrots seem to predominate up in the canopy, but down at ground level there are the melodious blackbirds and ocellated turkeys. The turkeys don’t have much to say, but the black birds are opera stars. Oropendolas are the dominant sound in the dawn chorus and a large part of the daily cacophony … and there are hummingbirds – no noise except for the chitter that accompanied a chase.

Two mammal sounds dominate the daytime at Chan Chich. At dawn, dusk, and at intervals throughout the day there is the sound of howler monkeys. The various troops calling to let one another know where they are. Well named – they produce a loud roar that seems like it should come from some fierce predator. On occasion there may be the shrill scream of a distressed spider monkey. A young monkey, apparently abandoned by parents, swinging through the trees making piteous cries.

Night in the Chan Chich forest. Frogs calling from small ponds and the river. The soft sound of running water. Insects – probably tree crickets or other leg violin players. Tracks along the footpath in the morning – El Tigre and a cub.

At El Volcan de Nieve there is the calls of trogons. A rather raucous call for such a beautiful bird – when they can be spotted. Bright red and green that disappears in the forest canopy. Lots of songbirds tweeting and twittering, but overall a quiet forest.

Night in the pine-oak forest is utterly quiet. No nearby ponds or streams to harbor frogs – and salamanders make no audible sound. Bats visiting night-blooming flowers and catching insects above the understory. Their calls also inaudible. Walking up a ridge, checking mammal traps at dusk – oppressive silence – was that soft sound El Tigre? Just after dawn at the top of the ridge; campfire ashes – still warm.

Eclipse

I sit in my office in front of my computer reading stuff from Discover Magazine about the “Great American Eclipse of 2017”. A friend of mine emails me with information about the eclipse in Kentucky and offers me a pair of eclipse viewing glasses. The articles I read all go on and on about the mystery of eclipses and the fact that hundreds of thousands of people will run all over the U.S. and the world to view this one in it’s totality – in the middle f the umbra. Well, damn, I’m in the 61% penumbra zone.

But, you know what, I just can’t seem to get all that excited. I mean, I’ve never seen a solar eclipse – even at 61% – I should be excited. I tried to film the last lunar eclipse that came our way. What’s wrong with me? Jaded by the years (75 of them) – maybe. Letting my contrarian soul out of it’s bottle? Maybe.

My friend sent me some glasses and they should get here tomorrow. The eclipse is on a Monday so my grandsons will be in school. They will probably be excited and their science teachers will likely have them building pinhole viewing boxes. I guess I’ll use the glasses – no not guess, I know I will. But what’s this sort of “so what” attitude that seems to have enveloped me?

You know – I really have no idea. But I’ll bet that I really do enjoy the eclipse.

Remembering

When I was a kid living in L.A. one of the great happenings in my life was when my uncle would come home from the service. He would regale me with tales of his adventures in India during the war. I particularly remember him taking me to the L.A. County Museum of Natural History. I didn’t get to go there very often, but I loved it when I did. We would walk around the African dioramas and I would marvel at the animals and the places depicted. The leopard display was among my favorites. It was set at night and the display was dark. As I walked up there were the bright, shining eyes of the leopard getting ready to leap out of the case from a tree limb.

The dioramas of early California were among my favorites. I especially remember one that showed vaqueros roping a grizzly bear. We would walk through the displays of shrunken heads from Borneo and the mummies from Egypt. Then there were the cases of bones from the La Brea tar pits. Sabre-toothed cats with their long, sickle-shaped incisors (of course I didn’t call them incisors back then). The skeletons of mastodons, ground sloths, and dire wolves all feature large in my memories of the museum.

In later years, as a biology student, I went back to the museum, but I entered through the staff door. I had become acquainted with the herpetologist on staff there and was bringing him some lizards that I had collected in Mexico for identification. After our meeting, I spent some time wandering in the museum like I had done as a child. There in the Africa room was the leopard – still getting ready to leap out of the dark from that tree limb.

Chaco Culture National Historic Park

Just got back from our annual vacation trip. We took a big loop around New mexico. Visited Chama, NM and rode on the Cumbres & Toltec railroad. Worth every penny we spent. Visited Chaco Culture National Historic Park – aka Chaco Canyon Ruins. Stopped by Taos, Zuni, and Acoma Pueblos. Parked our RV in KOA’s and other RV parks most nights.

But what I want to talk about is Chaco. They have a great campground. No amenities other than a parking space with a picnic table. But the scenic beauty is awesome and the quiet fairly thunders (but then so did the  monsoonal rainstorms off to the west). It is one of the most pleasant RV camping spots we have visited.

We didn’t visit all of the ruins, only Pueblo Bonito – the biggest and easiest to walk to. We stared at the others as we drove around their nicely laid out loop road. Pueblo Bonito is fantastic! The Chaco Culture must have been awesome when it existed. Three story buildings made of pieces of flat sandstone, mostly with little mortar – and that was mud. Floors and roofs made of vigas (logs) latillas (smaller logs) and mud. Interior walls plastered with mud. Chaco Canyon is an area of little water. Huge underground kivas that were roofed with pine logs and mud. The logs had to have been brought in from 60+ miles away – and remember so far as anyone knows, those people did not have the wheel or horses or mules or oxen – it was all people power. The effort, ingenuity, and engineering skill demonstrated in those ruins is phenomonal.

In addition to the monumental structures, the Chaco peoples built 30 ft wide roads that connected villages and cultures all over what is now New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, and Utah. I believe there is evidence that they had contact with the Inca civilizations of Mexico. Many of the modern southwestern Native American tribes, especially the Pueblo peoples, the Hopi, and the Navajo have stories that link them to the Chaco Culture. The roads included grand staircases cut into the sandstone when they had to go over a butte or plateau.

Visiting places like Chaco Canyon and seeing the ruins of once-vibrant cultures that preceded the invasion of our European culture serves to remind me that we, today, may not be quite as hot as we think we are. How many of us know how to build a stacked stone structure that is three stories high? How many of us could transport big pine logs across inhospitable plains and over mesas without mechanical assistance? How many of us could design and construct highways wide enough to carry multiple persons of traffic both ways without bulldozers and graders? How many of us could conceive and build staircases that climbed shear cliffs? Our modern culture is full of technological whiz-bang things, but we are not the only peoples that can develop technology and solve real-world problems. Those that came much before us were every bit as capable and solved monumental problems using the tools available to them and undoubtedly inventing new ones as needed.

I am tempted to try to write something using Chaco as the backdrop. It’ll be difficult to do, though. Tony and Anne Hillerman have set a very high bar for doing mysteries in Native America in the southwest. But, then a place as beguiling and mysterious as Chaco … who knows.

Haunted Houses??

What is it about old houses that leads to the assumption they are haunted? Here’s an old adobe that was built in 1875. Is it haunted? I’ve been told that there are strange sounds inside. I’ve never heard them. Why would such a house be haunted? Because it’s old? Because someone died there a long time ago? One story that I have heard is that the man who built it died of pneumonia after he washed his hair in mid-winter. Would that be sufficient to make him a lost soul? Hmmm, people die in hospitals fairly frequently – does that suggest that hospitals should be haunted – maybe! How about the ones that die on the operating table – eh? Do they become lost souls?

As long as we are talking about why haunts might occur, I’d like to ask why so many haunts are women? Seems like, at least in our area, most of the haunts are women that have been wronged in some way – or brutally murdered. Don’t men get wronged – or murdered. I guess female ghosts just make for a better story. Like the story of La Llorona, the crying woman, that haunts the Rio Grande searching for her drowned child. I don’t know of any El Llorono – I guess men don’t go in search of their lost child.

What a fertile area to write about. No wonder there are so many books devoted to ghosts and rumors of ghosts. And there are just so many old, old houses and buildings in my area. I need to develop a protagonist that solves mysterious deaths in old buildings. Someone to discover the real reason for the strange sounds in the old courthouse, for instance.

Butterflies

I have worked all over the southwest during my nearly 50 years of experience. During that time I have worked for two state game and fish agencies and as an independent biological consultant – mostly doing sensitive species surveys and monitoring. Those work experiences have provided me with the opportunity to spend time in some interesting places.

The Clark Mountains, just into California from Nevada along I-15 between Los Angeles and Las Vegas, is one such interesting place. I spent time one spring doing desert tortoise monitoring along a gas pipeline through the Clarks. While I was there a huge migration of painted lady butterflys was going on. According to my late friend, colleague, and Curator of Lepidoptera at the University of Florida Natural History Museum, George Austin, such migrations only occur only periodically. About every 5 years or so there is a huge northward migration of painted ladys. Problem is, no one seems to know where the migration originates, why it occurs, or where it goes. I spent hours on a hillside surrounded by literally millions of butterflys as they floated, flapped, and flew by. They truly resembled autumn leaves, but they weren’t falling. Didn’t see a single tortoise.

My experience in the Clark Mountains has provided the location and situation for my novel, “Le Cochon Volante: The Flying Pig”.