Endolye Chapter 4: Skin Deep

Addis stepped past Dante and took the lead. She followed him silently, not wanting to interrupt his thoughts. As they walked through the forest the trees became sparser and began to get shorter, more bent, and have fewer leaves. Eventually they disappeared altogether, and they were walking through a flat area that reminded Dante of the desert. Dante was getting tired, but didn’t want to complain. She looked into the distance and could see what looked like very tall, thin trees.

“What are those?” she asked, unable to remain silent any longer.

“The Bulu,” Addis replied.

“Oh good,” she said, sounding relieved, “we’re almost there.”

It took them another half hour or so to reach the first of what Dante had thought were trees. She looked up in wonder as Seeya came darting up to them.

“Finally,” he scolded. “What took you so long? And why didn’t you clean up? Oh well, never mind, come on, they’re waiting.”

They followed him into a round clearing, Seeya flying ahead shouting, “They’re here, I’ve brought them here.”

“Oh sure,” Addis said, “he brought us.”

Dante didn’t answer, because she was too busy looking around her. When she looked up, she could see the round, grayish-white trunks led up to an umbrella-like covering at the top. These weren’t trees around the clearing, they were enormous mushrooms. They looked just like normal mushrooms, but their stems were as big around as a house, and they rose several stories into the air. She could see more of them off in the distance. There were smaller mushrooms growing around them as well, but even these smaller mushrooms were as tall as she was.

“Wow,” she said, “I’ve never seen mushrooms this big.”

“They’re Bulu bushes,” Addis said. “The Oralians live in them.”

“Oralians?”

“Seeya’s tribe. That’s what they are. They’re Oralians.”

“Oh,” Dante said, smiling. She looked at Addis. “What are you?”

Addis didn’t answer for a moment, and then said, “We can talk about that later. For now, let’s try and get something to eat.”

Dante looked up to the top of the closest Bulu bush, where Seeya was now hovering in front of an opening in the stem of the bush. Seeya was facing away from the opening, and just hovered.

“What’s going on?” Dante whispered. Addis snorted.

“They’re so concerned with how they look, they never go inside another Oralian’s dwelling. And when they’re in front of a dwelling, they face away from the opening so they won’t see the occupant until he or she is ready.”

He looked at Dante and raised an eyebrow. “Of course,” he added, “the insides of their Bulus are always fabulous, so I’m sure someone is peeking in there when they think no one is looking.”

He shook his head and put his hands over his tummy. “All rather silly, if you ask me.”

Dante thought about this for a minute and then asked, “So they all live alone?”Addis nodded.

“And they never visit with each other in their homes?”

He paused a moment with his head to one side, thinking, “Well,” he said, “they don’t do it openly anyway. There’s rumors that sometimes one of them will go into another’s Bulu, but if it’s true they’d never admit it.”

“Huh,” Dante said. “Don’t they get lonely?”

Addis looked at her with a strange expression. It seemed as if he were on the verge of remembering something, but just couldn’t quite get it to come into his head. Finally, he just shook his head in response.

She was quiet for a moment then asked, “How long have you been here?”

“A long time. I don’t know exactly, but I do know I’d like to be able to go somewhere else once in awhile. All they really talk about is themselves and each other, and it gets kind of tiring.”

Dante wanted to ask Addis about the portals, and why he couldn’t use one to go somewhere else, but at that minute Seeya flew back down to where they were standing, and circled around.

“Well, I guess everyone must be in a complete flutter if they haven’t managed to make it out here yet. Let’s just wait in the Circle.”

Seeya led them to a clearing that looked like a miniature Greek amphitheater. There was a small central area that could have been a stage, surrounded in the middle by a few terraced rows of seats. Unlike a typical Greek theater, the seats had been painted bright colors, with gilt edging. It looked to Dante like a beautiful play house for dolls.

She sat on one of the seats; it was very hard and uncomfortable. She shifted around a little, crossing and uncrossing her legs. Addis followed her, watched her for a minute, and then pulled two brown plaid cushions from his bag. They were fairly ugly and looked out of place next to the beautiful seats. He silently offered one to Dante. She took it and put it on her seat. When she sat down she was surprised at how much more comfortable the cushion made her. She smiled at him gratefully as he put down his cushion and sat next to her.

Seeya flew in and joined them, lighting lightly on one of the benches.

“Addis,” he said and sighed.

“Yes?”

“I thought we talked about those cushions.”

Addis looked at him, and then looked at Dante. “Would you like to give me back your cushion?”

Dante was confused. “Well,” she said slowly, “not really.”

She turned to Seeya. “I mean, this Circle is absolutely beautiful, it’s just that this bench is kind of hard and the cushion just makes it, well, you know, a little more comfortable.”

Seeya just stared at her, arms crossed and his face expressionless.

“Ah,” he finally said, “comfort. Over beauty. I see. How disappointing.”

“Really,” Dante began, “once we’re sitting on them you really can’t see much of them.”

Seeya opened his mouth to respond, but at that moment the Oralians began zipping into the Circle, surrounding them.

One of the new arrivals flew around Dante exclaiming, “Seeya, you’re so right, that head covering is so fabulous.”

She perched lightly next to Dante and began to touch her hair. Like Seeya, the Oralian used the slightest of facial gestures to express emotion.

“Later! Bye-bye! So glad you could make it!” Seeya was happily greeting each new arrival.

“Loveya!” Seeya shouted as one particularly well-dressed Oralian flew into the cirlce, “too good to see you. I love what you’re done with your wings.”

Loveya shrugged one shoulder slightly, and flew over to where Addis was sitting. “Addis,” she said, “charming as always.”

Addis sighed. “Uh huh.”

Soon the Circle was filled with Oralians, all preening and straightening themselves, admiring Dante’s hair and each other.

“There’s so many of you,” she said, “I can’t believe you all really live alone.”

“Well of course we live alone,” Seeya said, “Otherwise someone might see us, well, you know, ugly. Like first thing in the morning, or if we accidentally frown or something.”

“Or if it’s a hot day, you might sweat.”

“Or your hair might get mussed.”

“Your clothes might get dirty.”

“Your nose might run.”

“You might laugh uncontrollably.”

They went on and on, listing reasons why they didn’t want to live with anyone else.

Dante waved her arms in the air and cried out, “Wait a minute, wait a minute.”

They all stopped and looked at her. “Well, what do you do when you get married? Or when you have company? Or kids?”

Loveya flew down and looked directly at Dante, “What’s company?”

“You know,” she said, “someone you know comes to visit for the afternoon, or maybe stays with you in your home.”

“Stays? In your Bulu! For how long?”

“Well, it just depends.” She thought for a moment, “although one time my aunt came and stayed a really long time. She was there when we got up, she was there when we went to bed, she was there for every meal. I didn’t think she would ever leave.”

“Oh my,” Loveya said, “someone help me, I think I’m about to have a facial expression!”

“There, there,” Seeya said, and turned to Dante. “What a horrible story! Let’s talk about something more pleasant.”

Addis stood up. “Let’s talk about eating,” he said, “I’m starving.”

“That’s Addis,” Seeya said, “worrying more about what to put in his body than how it looks.”

“I have to admit,” Dante said, “I’m hungry too.”

“Oh alright,” Seeya said, “let’s go all, and get some food for our guests.”

Seeya, Loveya, Later and Bye-Bye flew off while the others dispersed gradually. Addis got up, took the cushion from Dante, put both cushions back into his bag and left the Circle. He walked to a small clearing at the back of three Bulu bushes.

“Here we are.” he said.

Dante looked around. “Is this where they eat?” she asked, puzzled.

“No,” Addis replied, “This is where we eat.”

And he pulled a folding table and two folding chairs from his bag. He set up the table and chairs, and then pulled out a checked tablecloth, a small candle set into a bottle, and some plates, silverware and napkins. When he finished setting the table he and Dante sat down. It didn’t take long for the Oralians to fly back to them with platters of food. They set the platters on the table. Dante just stared. She had never seen food that was so beautiful.

“This looks amazing,” she said, “thank you very much.”

“Oh good,” Addis said dryly, “food that you’re supposed to just look at and not eat.”

“Wonderful!” Seeyta said, ignoring Addis completely, “Enjoy, we’ll be back in a bit.” And he and the other Oralians flew off.

“What was that all about?” Dante asked.

“What?”

“The least you could have done was thank them. They must have gone to a lot of trouble to prepare this food for us.”

“All they’ve done is gone to a lot of trouble to try and make themselves look good.”

Dante frowned at him. “Even if they did,” she said, “you should still say thank you. They didn’t have to do anything at all.”

Addis just shrugged and began to put food on his plate. Dante looked at him pointedly.

“What?”

“You’re not going to wait for our hosts?”

Addis began to eat. “Well,” he said, his mouth full of food, “ do you seriously think they’re going to eat with us?”

Dante just looked at him. Addis swallowed and said, “They’re afraid they might dribble food, spill something, end up with stuff between their teeth, you know, look bad.”

He looked down at his plate and grunted. “Not to mention, I think the food they eat themselves probably doesn’t look this good, but I bet it tastes a whole lot better.”

Dante served herself from a dish that looked like colorful fruits and vegetables arranged in geometric patterns. Addis was right; the food really didn’t taste like much. But she was hungry so it didn’t really matter.

“I don’t get it,” she said, “I don’t understand how you can always live and eat by yourself?”

Addis just shrugged. “I’ve been doing it for a pretty long time. It’s not so bad. Better than listening to them all going on and on while I’m trying to enjoy my food. Could you pass me some of that?” he added, pointing to a mound of what looked like donut holes in spirals of color near Dante’s elbow. She passed him the dish and they were silent for a moment, eating.

“So how is it that you’re the only one here from your, um, family?” Dante asked. She wasn’t sure if she were prying or not, but Addis seemed like the type who would tell her to mind her own business if he didn’t want to talk about something.

Addis wiped his mouth and leaned back. “Honestly,” he said, “I don’t remember. I’ve been here for a long time, I know that. Every once in awhile, I feel like I’m just about to remember something, but then it’s gone. But it kind of bothers me sometimes,” he mused. “Like there’s something really important I’m supposed to do that I’m forgetting. Do you know what I mean?”

“Well, not really.”

It seemed to Dante she had plenty of people reminding her to do the things that were important, and then there were the people who thought that some things were very important, but they really weren’t. She thought about Carol and the girls at school, and how important they thought it was to be good at sports. She often thought that if they only knew how good she was at drawing, they might think differently. But she had never shown anyone her sketches. She was afraid it might be one more thing for them to laugh at, and they had enough already.

“It’s a good thing I’ve got this,” Addis said, fingering the pendant around his neck. “Even though I can’t really remember how I got here, I do know that this is really important. And that I’m really important.” Dante raised her eyebrows and looked at him.

“Oh, I know,” he said, “think what you like. But you’ll see. Every once in awhile I know things or can do things that are surprising. And it’s because of this.”

He held up the pendant and looked at it. “I’m not sure how it does it, I can’t remember that. All I know is that I can’t ever let it come off of my neck. I’d be in mortal danger.” Dante thought about it for a minute.

“But how do you know?” she asked. “If you can’t remember who you are or how you got here, or what that really is, how do you know it’s keeping you from mortal danger?”

Addis looked at her as if she were slow. “I told you,” he said, “sometimes I just know things. And this is one of those things.”

He looked at her for a moment, his eyes seeming to move through her. The stare made her uncomfortable, but she found she couldn’t look away.

“Like you,” he finally said, sitting back. “You don’t fit in. You and I are alike that way. You feel out of place where you are, like no one really understands you or your importance. They place a lot of emphasis on things that just don’t matter to you, and you’re not very good at them. And the things you are good at, no one cares about.”

He paused for a moment. “No, that’s not quite true. You think they don’t care about them, but you’d be surprised that maybe they do.” Dante looked at him in disbelief, her mouth open slightly. “Oh don’t worry,” he said, “I can’t read your mind or anything, I just, well, I know.”

Dante just nodded. She was still thinking about what Addis had said when the Oralians came flying back into the clearing, and took away their empty plates.

“Well, you certainly cleaned that up!” Loveya said, pulling a plate from in front of Dante. “You should really always try to leave some food on your plate. Helps you keep your figure.”

Dante grinned and asked, “Is that what you do?”

“Oh of course,” Loveya said, running a hand down her side, “I’ve got to be very careful.”

“Of course,” Dante said, glancing slyly at Addis, “you could pretty much say whatever you wanted, since no one is around to see.”

All activity among the Oralians stopped, and they looked at each other accusingly. After a moment, they continued their talking, completely ignoring the very valid point Dante had made.

“So, now that we’ve eaten, what should we do?” Later asked, smoothing an eyebrow with his perfectly manicured index finger.

“I know!” Bye-Bye said, “let’s have some stories! I know Dante must have some fabulous stories to tell us!”

“Oh yes,” they all chorused, “it’s time for stories!”

Dante wasn’t sure she had any stories the Oralians would care about, but they all headed back to the Circle and Dante quickly found herself on stage surrounded by eager faces,

“Tell us about your world!” Seeya said. “We want to know all about it.”

“Well,” Dante began, unsure of what to tell. “It’s a big place, and there’s a lot of variety. Where I live are a lot of rocks, and it’s mostly flat, but there are mountains and lakes and oceans, as well as forests….well, there’s everything really. Rain forests, arctic tundra, um, let’s see, what else….” The Oralians looked bored and Dante was starting to get the same feeling she got when waiting to be picked for a team. She was grateful when Addis spoke.

“O.k.,” he said, “this is all very well, but we need to talk about the fact that she’s here, and not worry so much about where she came from. You all know very well that she’s here because a portal opened. Seeya and I saw it, but we weren’t able to go through it. Every time we got close to it, it disappeared.”

All the extraneous chatter died instantly. A few of the Oralians tittered uncomfortably. Seeya zipped up to where Dante was standing and faced Addis.

“Well,” he said, “I don’t know that we need to bring all of that up, do we? I mean, here she is, here we are, do we really need to know any more?”

Just as the other Oralians were starting to nod in agreement, without any warning the sky opened and rain began pouring down. Dante looked up, confused. There hadn’t been any clouds, no thunder, no warning. The Oralians all began shrieking and zipping frantically out of the Circle.

Seeya zipped to Dante quickly, his eyes wide. “Take cover,” he shouted, “quickly, before you get all wet!” and he zipped away.

Dante looked out at the benches. Only Addis remained. He opened his bag and pulled out an umbrella, and then put his cushion away. He rummaged in the bag until he pulled out another umbrella, which he handed to Dante. She was already dripping wet. She took the umbrella and looked and him.

“Does is always rain like this without warning?” she asked.

“Not always, but lately it’s been happening a lot. It’s been pretty distressing for the Oralians – a few of them have even been seen with their hair hanging in their faces before they could get to their Bulus.” Addis grinned at her and Dante had to laugh.

“Well,” she said, “what are we supposed to do now?”

“Just wait,” he answered. “It will stop in a minute and they’ll all be back. Well, the ones who didn’t get ‘ruined’ by the rain.”

Sure enough, in a few moments the rain stopped and the sun began shining again. Dante gave her umbrella back to Addis and they waited for the Oralians to return. Finally Seeya came back to the Circle. He kept running a hand over his wet head, and without having any expression managed to look embarrassed.

“Well,” he said, “that was rather unpleasant. But I see the two of you don’t seem to have minded what it’s done at all.”

Dante just smiled at him and Seeya sighed. “At any rate, the others are getting cleaned up and we’ll be back out in a bit.” And he zipped away.

“Wow,” Dante said, “it’s got to be hard work worrying about how you look all the time.”

She looked around and wrinkled her nose. “What’s that smell?”

When the rain stopped a slight breeze had begun to blow. With it came a terrible stench – Dante couldn’t decide if it was garbage or rotted food.

“Oh that,” Addis said, “yes, that actually is a problem that’s being caused by these odd rain storms.”

He began to walk and Dante, not sure what she should do, followed him. As they walked, the smell got stronger. Addis was leading Dante away from the bulk of the Bulu bushes, and down a small hill. At the bottom of the hill he stopped. The smell was overwhelming.

“There,” he said and pointed in front of them.

Dante could see a large body of stagnant water. It was covered in slime, and there were bugs flying around it. She turned to Addis, “What happened?”

He shrugged. “I don’t know. It just keeps raining like that, and the water doesn’t go away. It’s starting to smell.”

Dante looked again at the pool. “You need to get the water moving, or draining, or something. Maybe dig a trench?”

Addis looked at her. “And who,” he asked, “would you suggest do something dirty and sweaty like digging?”

“But that’s just crazy!” Dante said. “They can’t possibly think having this stagnant pool of water is better than getting a little dirty?”

Addis just shrugged again and began to head back to the Circle. Dante followed, glad to get away from the smell.

When they reached the clearing, most of the Oralians had returned. Seeya saw them first and zipped over.

“Where were you?” he asked anxiously.

Dante replied, “He was showing me that stagnant water you’ve got that smells so bad,” she said. “Surely someone can dig a trench or do something to help that drain?”

“Ah, well, no, not really,” Loveya chimed in. “Unless of course you’d be willing to help?”

“No,” Addis said firmly, “she would not. This isn’t her home and that isn’t her purpose.” Strangely, none of the Oralians argued with Addis, which surprised Dante.

“Well,” Seeya said, seeming eager to change the subject, “let’s talk about something else then.”

“The portals.” Dante said firmly and sat down.

Seeya looked around, but the rest of the Oralians just looked blankly back at him.

“Well,” he said, “o.k., I guess so.”

He zipped up to the front of the Circle where there was now a small, cushioned ottoman. Seeya sat down, and gracefully crossed one leg over the other, leaned back on one hand, turned his head slightly to the side, tilted it up and began speaking.

“It was so long ago now that we’re not sure if we really remember it, or if we’ve just heard the story so many times that it feels like a memory. But back then, there used to be a lot of portals on Endolye. And we used them to visit the other tribes.”

“What other tribes?” Dante asked.

Seeya sat up and looked at her, “O.k.,” he said, “you can’t interrupt when I’m telling a story. You have to wait until I’m done, and then maybe I’ll answer questions.”

“And if he doesn’t, I will,” Addis said.

Seeya looked blankly at Addis. “Well, yes,” he said, “of course.”

Seeya abandoned his story telling posture, and just spoke directly to Dante.

“Back in that time, there was a group made up of representatives from each tribe, called The Council. It was considered an honor to be on The Council, because you went with the other tribes members to the Mountain, and you looked into the Reflecting Pool, and gained the Wisdom of Self. After that, the Council members would travel between the tribes, making sure everything was going o.k, and that everything looked good, you know, stuff like that.”

“Well, the last time the Oralians sent someone to join The Council, a horrible thing happened.” Seeya paused for a moment.

He opened his mouth to speak, but Bye-Bye said, “I can’t do it! I just can’t listen anymore!” and zipped away.

Seeya continued. “The last Oralian Council member – her name was Heyya – she went through one of the portals, and we assumed she would make her trek to the Mountain, look in the Reflecting Pool, and come back with ways to help us look better and make things nicer. But that’s not what happened.”

Seeya stopped. He seemed to be struggling to keep from having an expression, and Dante began to feel a knot of apprehension building in her stomach. She waited as long as she could stand it, then asked, “Well, what happened to her?”

Seeya looked right at her and said, “She came back to the tribe and she was….she was….” Seeya was struggling to continue.

Finally Addis said, “Oh for pity sake, just say it.”

He turned to Dante. “She was ugly. Her hair was straggly, her clothes were torn, her face was dirty. She gesticulated wildly while she was talking, and then when the Oralians asked what had happened to her, she just burst out laughing.” Addis stopped and Dante felt a little confused.

“That’s all?” she asked.

“That’s all!” Seeya roared. “That’s everything!”

“Easy Seeya,” Loveya said, “You’re going to have a facial expression if you’re not careful.”

Seeya calmed down. “No, that’s not all. She said that looks didn’t matter, that we should all just give up on our vanity, not worry about our Bulus, just build one big communal area and all live together. It was horrible. Just horrible. We didn’t know what to do. She wouldn’t stay in her Bulu. Why, you’d be getting ready for bed, and there she’d be, at your opening, looking in.”

“O.k.,” Loveya said, “that’s enough, I’m sure she gets the idea. And it’s such an unpleasant story.”

“But wait,” Dante said, “what happened to her?”

“Oh, well, we don’t really know,” Seeya said. “It was about that time that Addis showed up, and she just disappeared. Addis didn’t know who he was, or who she was, or what was going on. And although he didn’t exactly meet our standards, we decided that it wouldn’t be neighborly if we didn’t treat him as a guest.”

“Humph,” Addis snorted but didn’t say anything.

“But,” Dante asked, “didn’t you worry? Didn’t you look?”

“Well, no,” Seeya said, “we couldn’t. About that time the portals just disappeared. We’ve never seen them since. Until that one today.”

“But haven’t you wondered?” Dante asked. “Haven’t you thought about why everything changed?”

“Well,” Seeya looked around the circle at the Oralians. They all seemed perfectly blank.

“Well,” he said again, “to be honest, no.”

Dante sighed. “So that’s it? You had someone come back who had probably been through some terrible ordeal, and all you could worry about was that she was dirty?”

“You just don’t understand,” Seeya said, “it wasn’t just that. We could have handled that – in fact we could certainly understand how traumatic that would be. The problem was she didn’t care. We just didn’t know what to do about that – and she just didn’t, well, fit in anymore.”

Dante was quiet for a moment. “Well,” she said, “what about Addis? He doesn’t fit in. What about me?”

“Oh, now, don’t be silly,” Seeya said heartily. “We’re happy to have you here, and Addis, well, we kid with him about his odd detachment from his appearance, but he certainly doesn’t go around trying to catch us looking bad.”

“Goodness!” Later exclaimed, “it’s gotten late. It’s time to get our guests to their Bulus. Addis, you can head to your usual place, and we’ve fixed up something special for Dante.”

“Well,” Dante began, “I don’t want to be any trouble. If there’s an extra room where Addis is staying, I could just stay there.” She looked at Addis, hoping he wouldn’t be upset, but he just folded his hands over his tummy.

“Uh, well,” Seeya began, but Loveya interjected.

“Don’t be silly! You can’t possibly stay together. Why, it wouldn’t be right for you to even see where the other is staying. We can’t make them both the same, and we wouldn’t want you to think we did more for one of you than the other.”

Dante just shook her head and laughed. “All right,” she said, “thank you.”

The Oralians said good night and left, with the exception of Seeya who led them first to Dante’s Bulu. There were hand and foot holds in the trunk of this Bulu bush, and it took Dante a great deal of effort to get to the top. When she finally did, Seeya hovered near the opening with his back to her.

“Well,” he said, “I hope it’s o.k.”

Dante looked around in wonder. The inside of the Bulu contained a large round bed, covered in rich velvet tapestries. The entire inside of the Bulu was lit by candles, which lined the chamber. There was a shimmering cloth draped from the ceiling, and a table next to the bed.

“It’s more than o.k.,” she said, “it’s incredible. Where did these tapestries come from?”

“I don’t know,” Seeya said. “I do know that no one here could have made them. They must have come from somewhere else.”

“But you don’t know where?”

“Does it matter?”

“Well, what if you want new ones?”

“Oh well, I don’t know. As long as you think they’re o.k.”

“They’re beautiful.”

“Good,” Seeya said, “well, I’ll be off, see you in the morning.”

“Good night,” Dante said.

She hadn’t thought she was tired, but as soon as she was in the bed, she was asleep.

Dante was awakened by the sound of Seeya’s voice shouting, “Morning warning! Morning warning!” She walked over to the opening of the Bulu, and saw his back facing her.

“Good morning, Seeya,” she said.

“Good morning.”

“You can look at me, you know. I don’t care.”

The small creature turned and looked her up and down. “Oh my!” he exclaimed.

Dante laughed and ran her hand through her hair. “It can’t be that bad,” she said.

“Oh but it is,” he continued, and held his hand over his mouth as though trying to keep from being sick. Like someone who is repulsed by an accident, but just has to take a closer look, he flew in the doorway and looked at her with disgusted fascination.

“I mean, you have these weird dry things in the corner of your eyes, your hair is sticking up, your clothes are all mussed – you look awful!”

Dante laughed again. “Maybe so, but I’m the same inside no matter how I look on the outside.”

“Like that matters,” Seeya muttered.

“Well it does to me,” she said.

She took a small brush that was lying on the side table next to a mirror and ran it through her hair. She rubbed her eyes and straightened her clothes, then turned to the small creature and said, “Ready to go down?”

“By all means,” he said firmly. “This seeing people first thing in the morning is a bad, bad idea. Here,” he said, thrusting a small hand mirror at her, “take this with you – I really think you just have no idea.”

She put the mirror in her backpack, slung it over her shoulder and made her way slowly down the Bulu bush, carefully placing her feet and hands in the appropriate holds. When she reached the ground Addis was waiting for her.

“So,” she said, “I guess we breakfast alone?”

He nodded and they headed back to the clearing where he once again produced the table and chairs from his bag. For breakfast, the tablecloth had a flowery print, and instead of a candle there was a small vase with a fresh flower.

After breakfast Dante and Addis headed to the Circle where the Oralians were gathering. They could hear the high pitch of excited voices before they got there.

“It was just there,” said Loveya, “I’m telling you, I was flying over here after I ate, and it was just there.”

“What was?” Addis asked.

“A portal!” exclaimed Loveya. “I don’t know if there was ever one there before, but there’s one there now. Dante must somehow be opening them!”

They all looked at Dante expectantly, but she quickly said, “I don’t know anything about them.”

“Well, but just think about it,” Bye-Bye said, hovering in front of her. “You’ve come through one, then you come here, and now there’s one here!”

“Well, yes, but,” Dante began, but Addis interrupted her. “Show me where it is.”

He grabbed his bag and followed Bye-Bye with Dante and the other Oralians trailing excitedly behind him. On the far side of the Circle, in the opposite direction that Dante had been the night before, there was an arch. Like the arch in the field, you could see right through it, to the Bulu bushes beyond. Addis walked slowly toward it, and when he reached it, it didn’t vanish. Dante walked up and stood beside him.

“It’s doesn’t look like it goes anywhere,” she said.

“I know,” Addis responded. They looked at each other.

“Well,” Bye-Bye said stoutly, “I’m not going through that thing, and I advise that no one else does either.”

“I wonder where it goes,” Dante said. She turned to them. “Look, don’t you want to know why things are happening the way they are? Don’t you think it’s weird that it’s raining all the time? Don’t you want to try and find someone to help you with the stagnant water?”

“Well, of course,” Seeya said soothingly, “we just don’t know what else could happen.”

He had flown in front of the portal, and hovered with his back to it, facing Dante and Addis.

“I mean,” he began, but at that moment it began raining.

“Rain!” screeched Bye-Bye and the Oralians went into a panic trying to zip back to their Bulus.

Seeya hesitated for a moment, and in that brief instant Addis took advantage of the situation. Grabbing Dante by the hand, he pushed Seeya through the portal, grabbed his bag with his other hand, and then plowed through the portal himself, dragging Dante with him.

Endolye Chatper 3: Seeya Later

To her surprise she simply kept falling, and landed on her back with a painful thump and a loud “Ooomph!” There was tall grass on either side of her. She lay there for a moment, trying to figure out what had just happened. She hadn’t hit a rock, wasn’t in the water as she had expected; in fact she wasn’t even wet. She sat up and took an inventory of herself to make sure she wasn’t hurt. Amazingly, her book was still in her right hand, and the drawing she had been reaching for when she fell was lying in the grass next to her, completely unharmed. Her backpack was tangled around her ankle. She stared at them for a minute, trying to figure out what had happened. After a moment she realized she didn’t hurt anywhere and seemed to be fine.

She pulled the backpack from around her ankle, opened the book and replaced the drawing, and then closed the book and fastened it with the band from her hair. She stood up and looked around, trying to figure out where she was. She certainly wasn’t in the park anymore, and nothing here seemed familiar. She turned around and saw that there was a wooden archway behind her, almost hidden in the tall grass. It looked old and worn, and there were strange symbols carved into the wood. She studied them for a minute, but realized she had no idea what they were or what they meant.

She turned from the arch and looked around again, trying to get some sense of where she was and what she should do next. In the distance in front of her, opposite the arch, she could see a line of trees which looked like the beginning of a forest. To her left and right the grass went as far as she could see. The sky was a rich, deep blue, and completely cloudless. She stood there looking at the landscape and considering her options.

“Well,” she finally said out loud, more to herself than to anyone else – since there was no one else around – “I can’t just stand here all day.”

She turned around again and faced the arch. She wasn’t sure why, but she thought that maybe going through it was her best bet. She tried walking through the archway but each time she got close, it simply faded from view as though it never existed.

“O.k.,” she said, hands on her hips, “I guess I’m not going that way.”

She looked around one last time and decided that heading toward the forest was the wisest move – it at least was something she could see. She had taken only a few steps when a voice behind her said, “Well, thank goodness you’ve finally made up your mind to go someplace!”

She spun around. She was still alone. “Hello?”

“But I must say,” the voice continued, over her left shoulder, “that’s an absolutely fabulous head covering you’ve got there. I mean, where did you get that color?”

She spun around again and found a small being hovering a few feet away from her at eye level. It wore beautiful, gauzy clothing, had very pale skin, and what would be hair on a person looked like a kind of sculpture on top of the creature’s head. If it had been standing on the ground, it would have just reached past Dante’s knees. Although she couldn’t see its wings she knew they were there; they were going so fast they were just a blur.

As she stared, mouth open in astonishment, it came closer and hovered in front of her, quite like a hummingbird. It studied her for a moment and then flew back, placing a hand to its face as if considering an important question.

“Well,” it finally said, “you’re certainly not as good looking as I am, but I must admit for this place you’re not too bad.”

Dante blinked. The creature continued to hover in front of her.

“What,” she stammered, “I mean, who are you?”

“I’m Seeya.” The small creature raised its eyebrows slightly, giving it a pleasant expression, and bowed its head. When Dante just stared, Seeya made a small circular gesture with its hand, saying, “and you are….”

“Oh! I’m Dante,” she said, smiling uncertainly. “It’s nice to meet you.”

“Yes, I’m sure it is.” Seeya flew closer. “What is that thing you’re doing with your mouth?”

“Huh?” Dante was confused for a moment, and then said, “Oh, you mean my smile? You mean this?” and she smiled again. The creature nodded, its face a perfect blank.

“Oh, well, it’s a smile. It’s just, well, it’s just what I do when I’m happy or trying to look nice.” She felt confused, as she had never had to explain what a smile was before.

“But it makes lines on your face – I mean they go away when you stop, but what if they become permanent?”

Seeya’s face had assumed a blank look. “If you want to look pleasant you can do so by simply raising your eyebrows ever so slightly,” and he demonstrated (she couldn’t say why, but Dante felt Seeya was a “he”), showing Dante his pleasant look. “Not too high of course,” he cautioned as Dante tried it, “you don’t want lines on your forehead either.”

“Well, that’s really not the same as smiling,” she said.

He put his hands on his hips and shook his head. “No,” he said slowly, as if talking to a very small child, “it is not, but nothing says beauty like a clear, unlined face.”

When she continued to stare at him he said, “Well, some people do care about appearances. I mean, they really tell you everything about a person don’t they?”

“Well, no, they don’t,” she said. “Actually appearances can be quite deceiving.”

Without changing his expression, Seeya managed to look annoyed. “Hmmmph,” was all he said. “Well, never mind that, let’s just take you to Addis and see what he makes of you.”

“Who?”

He turned, hovering. “Addis. Come on then. I suppose you can’t fly?”

Dante shook her head and Seeya sighed. “Yes, yes, just like Addis. It does get tiring.”

And he shot off toward the trees. In an instant he was gone. Dante stood looking after him for a moment. Suddenly he was back, hovering in front of her face.

“Well,” he said, “come on then!”

And he darted off again. Dante began walking in the direction he had gone. He kept darting back to her, then darting ahead, and in that fashion they began heading toward the line of trees.

At one point he flew a circle around Dante, then quickly appeared in front of her. “That, that thing,” he said, sounding excited, “on your back. What is it?”

Dante looked over her shoulder and said, “My backpack?”

Seeya cocked his head and asked, “So what’s in it?”

She shrugged. “Just my journal today, and some leftover lunch. During the week I carry my schoolbooks in it.”

Seeya flew closer. “Can I see?” he asked.

“Sure,” she said. She stopped, pulled off her backpack and opened it. Her journal and the brown paper bag with her lunch trash and leftovers was inside. Seeya flew back, and seemed disappointed.

“That’s all that’s in there?” he said.

“Yes,” Dante answered, “like I said, today it’s just my journal and what’s left of my lunch. Why, what were you expecting?”

“Well,” Seeya began and then stopped. “Never mind, just follow me,” he said.

She followed Seeya to the edge of the forest. When they reached the first of the trees she could see they were very large, with thick pale trunks leading up to large, dark leafy branches. The bark was peeling away from the trunks in places, leaving marbled patterns on the trees underneath. She was surprised at how much of the ground she could see between the trees; they didn’t seem to drop any leaves.

They headed into the forest and before too long reached a small clearing. Seeya darted ahead but Dante followed slowly, unsure of what was happening.

“Addis? Addis? I’ve found something I want to show you.” Seeya looked around for a minute, then flew back to Dante who had just entered the clearing.

“Be a dear and stay here just a sec, he’s wandered off.”

Then Seeya flew off into the trees. For a moment, Dante was worried, realizing she had no idea where she was, and had no idea how to find her way back to where she had started. Before she could truly panic, Seeya was back.

He zipped into the clearing, singing out, “Found him, come on.” Dante followed Seeya to the far side of the clearing back into the forest.

After a short walk they reached a hammock stretched between two large trees. In the hammock was a round, lazy looking creature smoking a pipe. It was very different from Seeya, and had on a purple vest and a pair of green velvet slippers. A red carpet bag rested directly under the hammock. The creature didn’t look up as they approached.

“O.k., Seeya, what is it this time. . .oh!” The startled creature sat up as Dante walked over. She looked down at the belly protruding from under the vest.

“I’m Dante,” she said.

“And he’s Addis.”

Seeya flew over and sat at the head of the hammock. For the first time Dante could see a pair of beautiful, delicate wings folded neatly on his back.

“See, I told you I found something good.” Although Seeya had no expression on his face, Dante got the impression he was extremely pleased and impressed with himself.

“How,” Addis asked Dante, completely ignoring Seeya, “did you get here?”

“He led me,” she answered, pointing at Seeya.

Addis shook his head. “No, no, I mean how did you get to Endolye?”

“Oh, well, I’m not really sure,” Dante said. “I was sitting in my special place, by the pool. My drawing fell in the water and I was trying to get it. I thought I fell in, but then I landed in the field out there. I know it doesn’t make much sense…” she began but Addis had jumped quickly out of the hammock, dislodging Seeya from his perch. Seeya darted up before he hit the ground and hovered just behind Addis’ head.

“Come to think of it,” Dante said, thinking of it for the first time, “it was rather odd. I mean, there I was on a rock, and I fell into water but landed here.”

“A portal,” Addis said slowly, looking Seeya in the eye. “It’s got to be a portal.”

“A portal!” Seeya exclaimed. “But how? Why?”

“I don’t know,” Addis said, and he began to pace around the hammock.

“In fact,” Dante continued, watching Addis pace, “this is all quite impossible, which means I must be dreaming.”

“I wonder where it goes?” Addis said, stopping suddenly.

“Which means now that I know I’m dreaming, I should be waking up soon.” Dante concluded.

Seeya had been listening to them both, his gaze moving from one to the other, as if watching a tennis match. At Dante’s final statement he flew over to where she was standing and pinched her on the arm.

“OW!” Dante cried.

“So wake up!” Seeya yelled, hovering in front of her face. Dante glared at him, rubbing her arm. The commotion seemed to stir Addis from his thoughts.

“O.k.,” he said, jumping up from his hammock, “the first thing we do is find that portal. I want you to show me where it is.”

“Oh Addis, calm down,” Seeya ran a hand over his head, smoothing a spot and fussing with his clothes. “As if she’s going to be able to tell you anything. She doesn’t even know where she is.”

Dante, still rubbing her arm, glared up at Seeya. “I’m in Endolye,” she said.

Seeya stopped his grooming and stared at her with his blankest expression. “Oh well yes, that took some real deduction. Are they all this bright where you’re from?”

Ignoring him Dante turned to Addis. “It’s back this way.” She started through the trees but Addis called out, “Wait.”

She stopped and turned back. Addis reached under the hammock and pulled out the carpet bag. He took off his vest and slippers and put them in the bag. Without the vest she could see a large, round pendant hanging on a thick chain around his neck. He pulled a pair of khaki walking shoes and a nylon windbreaker out of the bag and put them on. Then he placed the bag back under the hammock.

“O.k.,” he said, “I’m ready.”

Seeya turned to watch them go, then said casually, “Well I’m not heading back there.”

“O.k.,” Addis didn’t even bother to turn around as he continued to follow Dante.

“No, really Addis, I mean it.”

Addis and Dante continued through the trees. Seeya watched them for another moment, until Dante stopped and looked around in confusion. He zipped over to them, lighting on a low-hanging branch.

“Problem?” he asked. Dante wasn’t sure how he did it, but he managed to look smug without really having any expression at all.

“Yes,” she said, “I don’t quite know the way back. You were going rather quickly and I was so busy trying to keep up with you I wasn’t watching where we were going.”

“Hmmmm, whatever will you do now?”

Addis sighed. “Now Seeya,” he began, “of course we could get to the edge of the woods, and climb a tree, or find another way to figure out where we’re going. But then you’d miss all the adventure, and have no story to tell in the Circle tonight.”

Seeya seemed to consider this for a moment. “Oh all right, the least you could do is say please.”

He flew off and the other two followed. “Really,” he muttered to himself, “not a single ounce of appreciation. Bring her there and everything, but not even a thank you. Oh no, just a ‘take us back Seeya.’ I don’t know why I even bother.”

Addis paid absolutely no attention to the small creature. Normally Dante would have said she was sorry, because she could see Seeya’s point, but he hadn’t been very nice about it so she followed silently after Addis.

They reached the edge of the forest, and when they walked into the field the grass reached over Addis’ head. Dante could barely see over the top.

“I don’t understand,” she said. “It’s gotten so much taller since we were here a few moments ago. How is that possible?” She tried to look around. “I’ll never be able to find the arch in this grass.” She looked up at the small creature hovering over their heads above the grass.

“Seeya?” She tried to sound as pleasant as possible.

Seeya rolled his eyes, “Let me guess,” he said, “time for a favor? After all, it’s been what, 30 seconds?”

“Well, yes. Would you please fly up a bit and see if you can see that wooden arch I was next to? I could really use your help because I can’t see it through all this grass.” She waited a moment then added again, “Please? We really can’t do it without you.”

“Oh we most certainly could,” Addis began, “why there are ways. . . .” But he didn’t get a chance to finish. Seeya had happily flown ahead of them looking around.

After a moment he flew back and said, “This way,” rather breathlessly.

They followed Seeya until they could see the top of the arch. Addis rushed eagerly toward it, but it faded away just as he reached it. He stood back with his hand on his chin, and examined it carefully. He turned to Dante, who had come up to stand behind him.

“This is how you got here?”

She nodded. “I mean, I guess it is. Like I told you, I fell into the pool and ended up on my back in front of this arch. But when I tried to go back through it to see if I could get home it just kept disappearing like it did just now.”

She paused, looking at it a moment. “What is it?”

Seeya flew down and said excitedly, “It’s a portal. A way to travel. You see, when you want to go somewhere else, you can go through a portal. Oh there used to be just SCADS of them, but they’ve been gone as long as anyone can remember. Ever since….”

His voice trailed off and he looked at the portal. Even with his face blank, Dante thought he somehow looked worried. He tried to fly closer to the archway, but it shimmered and vanished, only to reappear when he returned to where Dante and Addis were standing.

He looked at his two companions. “You don’t think anyone else is going to come through it, do you?” Addis looked thoughtful, but Dante shook her head.

“I was alone,” she said, “and unless someone else falls into the pool, I don’t think anyone else is coming that way. We certainly can’t get through it any rate.”

Seeya nodded in agreement. “Yes, it is rather inconvenient, that disappearing/reappearing habit it has.”

Addis, who had been ignoring them both, suddenly spoke. “You’re sure,” he said to Dante, “that no one else will be coming through here?”

She turned to him and considered the question, but before she could answer the portal flickered, and vanished completely. The three stood for a moment in silence.

“Yes,” Dante said, “I’m sure no one else is coming through that portal.”

Seeya snorted. Addis said nothing, but just stared at the sport where the portal had been. It was like he was trying to work out a very difficult problem in his head.

“So what exactly is a portal?” Dante asked, breaking the silence.

“A traveling device,” Seeya answered. “The stories tell us there used to be regular portals and we used to travel to other places, and visit with other people. Addis keeps telling us he got here through a portal, but he doesn’t have much to say about where he came from, and of course the portal is gone so he can’t go back. Hey!” he said, seeming pleased, “just like you.”

Addis turned slowly to Dante, the sun catching just a bit of the pendant visible around his neck. “Where was it you said you came from?”

“Well,” she said, not sure how specific she should get, “I’m from a state called Arizona.”

She figured she’d start there, then narrow it down if she needed to. Addis nodded his head, “Ah yes, Arizona.”

“Oh,” Dante said, brightening, “have you heard of it?”

Addis looked at her, still nodding his head and smiling a kindly smile. “No,” he said.

“Oh.” Dante tried not to look disappointed.

“Well,” Addis said, “I guess you can’t tell me anything else?” Dante shook her head.

“Right, well, no use staying here any longer.”

He turned around. The grass was now at his shoulder. Dante turned around and just stared in amazement. Addis headed back toward the line of trees, which could now be seen in the distance. Dante waited a moment, and then followed him. Several times Addis turned and looked back into the field. By the time they reached the edge of the woods, the portal had vanished behind them in the tall grass.

“Hmmmmmm.” Addis stood a moment as if considering something, then walked into the trees. They headed back to where Addis’ hammock was hanging. He appeared to be deep in thought.

“Come on,” Seeya said to both of them. “Let’s head back to the Bulu. There’s no point hanging around here worrying about something that’s already taken care of itself.”

He looked at Dante. “Of course you’re coming with us – it doesn’t look like you really have anywhere else to go.”

“No,” Dante said, “it doesn’t.” And she felt strangely excited to be having an adventure.

Addis just nodded, untied his hammock, folded it up, and put it into his bag. Then he picked up the bag and looked at Seeya.

“O.k.,” he said, “let’s go.”

Seeya darted ahead of them, “Oh Dante, everyone back at the Bulu will be so excited to see someone new! You’ll be our special guest – I mean, now that Addis has been there for just ages it isn’t like he’s all that special anymore. Well, you know what I mean,” he zipped back and hovered in front of Dante’s face. She nodded. Seeya zipped ahead again.

“I really think you’ll love it. I mean, you can’t ask for more tasteful accommodations, although I must warn you not everyone takes their appearance as seriously as I do. Of course, no one takes their appearance less seriously than Addis, so you really don’t need to worry. He’ll always make you look good.”

“Seeya!” Dante looked behind her to see if Addis was offended, but he appeared deep in thought.

“Oh, well, of course,” Seeya said hurriedly, “not that anyone cares what Addis looks like. Well, what I mean is, oh never mind, he’s not even listening. Dante I’m just excited you’re going to see the Bulu. No one would believe me if I told them about that fabulous – what do you call it?” and he gestured at her head.

“Hair,” Dante answered, smiling.

“O.k., hair.” Seeya said. He darted ahead again.

Dante looked back at Addis, “He certainly has a lot of energy.”

Addis looked up. “Hmmm? Oh yes, they’re all like that.”

He called out to Seeya, “Why don’t you go ahead and just fly on and let everyone know we’re coming? I can get there from here.”

Seeya darted back to him and hovered, “Oh perfect,” he said, “they’d kill me if I just wandered in with a guest and they didn’t get any warning.” And he immediately shot out of sight.

Endolye Chapter 2: Dante’s Dream

Chapter 2 – Dante’s Dream

That night, after a painful dinner listening to her brother recount the story he had heard about Dante’s “header with the softball,” Dante sat at her desk in her room and finished her homework. She leaned back in the chair and stretched her arms over her head, and then reached into her backpack to pull out her journal. She needed to write.

Dante had been keeping a journal for as long as she could remember; even before she could really read or write her mother had gotten her in the habit of scrawling drawings with crayons to help her sort out her thoughts and feelings. It started because of her mother’s desperate attempts to do something to help Dante through her nightmares. Well, it was really just the one nightmare because the dream was always the same.

She would find herself in a forest, without quite knowing how she had gotten there. Even though she had no idea where she was and the trees in the forest were strange to her, she wasn’t afraid. She would begin walking, as though she knew where she was going and the right direction to go to get there. Eventually she would always end up at the mouth of a cave with a faint glow coming from inside. Dante would enter the cave and follow the glow to its source. Rounding a corner she would see a pool of water in front of her, and the light would be coming from the water. She would begin walking over to the pool to look into the water, and on her way there would would realize she wasn’t alone.

The hairs would begin to stand up on her arms and the back of her neck, but she would find herself unable to turn around. Although she wanted to run, it was as if she had lost control over her body and could only keep moving slowly forward toward the water, the light dimming as she got closer. When she reached the edge of the pool she would look down. The water was always covered with fog. Unable to move, she would stare into the pool while the fog slowly cleared so she could see her reflection. As the fog continued to clear, she would watch in horror as the reflection from a pair of red eyes appeared in the pool next to her face. As more of the face started to come into view, she would try to scream but no sound would ever come out.

She would try to draw in a breath, but couldn’t. She wouldn’t be able to turn her head from the water, and could feel her heart pounding harder and harder as a sharp beak came into view under the eyes, and a claw would begin reaching toward her shoulder. Nearly frantic with fear at her inability to move or make a sound, Dante would try harder and harder to draw in her breath to scream. Right before the claw grabbed her shoulder, she would wake up with a tremendous gasp for air.

It was almost always exactly the same. Sometimes she would wander through the trees, sometimes she was right at the cave. Sometimes there was a pool of water, sometimes it was a fountain. The one thing that never changed was the red eyes, beak and claw that would slowly materialize while she was looking into the pool. The first time she had the dream she had been very young, and woke up her mother with her screams. The dream remained a vivid memory in the following months, despite her mother’s attempts to drive the images from her mind. As she got older, it began to come more regularly.

After about the third time Dante had the dream, her mother encouraged her to draw pictures of the monster. That was before Dante could read or write properly, so she made childish scrawls of the monster that haunted her sleep. As she got older, her mother encouraged her to write down her thoughts and feelings, to try and clear her mind. Over the years Dante had gotten into the habit of writing in her journal every night before she went to bed. Her mother said that if she got all the scary, unhappy thoughts out of her head before she went to sleep, it made room for all the wonderful dreams awaiting her. Dante wasn’t so sure it really worked, but she faithfully wrote in her journal every night, and it had been a long time since she had had the dream.

That night she was writing some particularly painful thoughts and feelings about Cory. She really liked him, but was sure he thought she was just a stupid girl who couldn’t catch a softball, make conversation, or do anything the popular girls could do. She was just finishing up when her mother came in to say good night.

“Getting all those unhappy thoughts out of the way so you can have some good dreams?” her mother asked, smiling at her. Dante tried to smile back, but she had never really been able to fool her mother. She sat still in her chair as her mother came up behind her and started to pull her hair back over her shoulders and form it into a ponytail. She dropped it, and then began again, this time braiding it casually.

“You know honey,” she said, “I know it’s hard to move to a new place and try to fit in, especially when it seems so easy for Shaun.” Dante didn’t say anything. Her mother let her hair drop, and bent down to kiss Dante’s neck. “Come on,” she said, turning around and pulling back the covers on Dante’s bed, “let’s say good night to this day and try again tomorrow.” Dante got into bed, laid back and let her mother smooth the covers over her. Her mother bent down to give her a kiss on the forehead.

“Good night sweetheart.”

“Good night mom.”

Her mother turned out the light and closed the door. Dante rolled over on her side and turned her thoughts to Cory. She knew he didn’t like her – no one liked her, or at least no one like Cory. He could run faster than anyone in class, and always finished his math test first. Although he always knew the answer when the teacher called on him, he didn’t raise his hand every time. And he seemed to be pretty nice. After all, when the other kids would tease Dante about her journal, or her clothes, or how bad she was at sports, Cory didn’t exactly come to her defense but he didn’t join in either.

Dante could never talk around him, because she always felt kind of funny when he was standing near her. If he smiled at her, she was never sure why; she just figured he was trying not to laugh at her. She sighed and rolled onto her other side. There was no point in thinking about him. She fell asleep happy in the knowledge that the next day was Saturday, and she had two whole days before she had to go back to school and face everyone. She felt herself relaxing into sleep.

Dante looked around at the walls of the cave. They seemed familiar but she wasn’t sure where she had seen them before. There was a glow of light in front of her, and she walked toward it. She rounded a corner and saw a low, round stone wall in front of her encircling a pool of water. The water was completely smooth, and there was faint glow of reflected light. Dante walked slowly to the edge of the pool, and looked down into the water. There was a mist covering the surface but as she gazed in it began to clear. It began to feel like someone was standing behind her, but she realized with horror she couldn’t turn around. As the mist cleared she could see her frightened reflection in the water. And then she saw the eyes.

She tried to scream but no sound came out. In the reflection of the water she could see the monster behind her. It reached out a claw and grabbed Dante’s shoulder. She kept trying and trying to scream, but couldn’t get her breath. As the monster was bending down toward her, Dante tried desperately to take a deep breath and scream with all her might. The monster threw back its head and began to laugh. It was a horrible sound, a high pitched tone that pierced Dante’s ears.

“Haaaaa…..haaaaaa…..haaaaa……haaaaa…..”

Dante woke up to her alarm clock blaring in her ear. She groaned and reached up to turn it off. Saturday. It was Saturday. She couldn’t believe she had forgotten to turn off her alarm clock before she went to sleep. She fell back on the bed and sighed. She rolled over and tried to go back to sleep, but her heart was still racing from the nightmare and she couldn’t relax. As much as she would have liked to sleep in, she had to admit she was awake and ready for the day to begin. She sighed, and decided to get an early start on her day by getting her chores done so she could have a picnic in the park next to her house.

After breakfast, Dante decided to start by cleaning her room. She also needed to clean the bathroom she shared with Shaun, and change the litter in the cat box. After that she would be free to go. She just needed to get into the bathroom to clean before Shaun got in there to take his shower – not that he would be up this early. But still, maybe she should just start there. Abandoning her room she headed for the bathroom and her morning of chores.

Once her chores were finished she went into the kitchen to make her lunch. She made a tuna fish sandwich, and included a baggie full of potato chips, an apple and a few cookies. She took a bottle of water from the refrigerator and put the rest of her lunch in a brown bag. Going back up to her room, she dumped her schoolbooks out of her backpack and put her lunch and her journal inside. Realizing that the pile of books on the bed ruined the nice, neat image her morning cleaning had given her room, she pushed them higher up toward the pillows and covered them with stuffed animals. She was ready to go.

She loved the old house her parents had bought, and she especially loved the park right next to it. She had discovered a great hiding place shortly after they moved in by hiking around some rocks on the far end of the park. Lots of the kids wouldn’t go there, saying it was an old burial ground and that the spirits of Native Americans haunted the rocks. There was even a story about a boy who had gone hiking in the rocks and hadn’t come back. Dante half doubted the stories, and half hoped they were true. Ghosts aside, the rocks were a great place to get away by herself, write her thoughts in her journal, and illustrate her feelings in and around the words.

She hiked up over the first of the rocks and, climbing over and between the large boulders, made her way to an outcropping of rock that formed a natural cover. She ducked under the overhang to get out of the sun, and made her way over to a small pool of water in the middle of a large, flat rock. She sat down cross-legged and shrugged off her backpack.

She wasn’t sure where the water came from; there didn’t seem to be any source. She had stuck her hand in it one time, figuring it was just a shallow depression and she’d quickly feel the bottom, but she hadn’t  – even when the water reached her shoulder. It was a little creepy but she  still liked sitting there reading and working on her journal. Sometimes she would look at her reflection in the still pool, and wonder what it was that others saw when they looked at her.

She pulled the sandwich from her bag and began eating. In between bites, she grabbed her journal out of her backpack. The hard blue covers were filled with drawings and there was a hair band holding it together. Dante removed the band, used it to tie back her hair, and began leafing through the pages. There were pictures of fluffy clouds, her cat Shiraz, and even one picture of Cory that she had folded over so no one could see.

She had also made some entries about things that had happened at school. She felt a little sad as she read them over. Finishing her sandwich, she reached into the bag for the apple. As she started munching, she reread the softball episode from the day before. As she read she could feel the tears stinging her eyes. She put the remains of her apple in the baggie her sandwich had been in, put it in the paper bag with the chips and cookies, and put the bag back into her backpack. She really wasn’t very hungry. She sat for a minute wondering if she should leave, and then remembered the nightmare. It had been a long time since she had drawn a picture of the monster. Maybe that would help.

She zipped up her backpack, shifting to get more comfortable, and then picked up her journal and pen. She bent her head over the book and began to draw the monster from her nightmare. She paused, remembering how it looked in the reflection of the pool, and for a moment she gave a wary glance to the water in front of her. Then she shook her head at her own foolishness and continued her work. She was having trouble getting the image right, and some of the details seemed to tease along the edge of her memory without ever really coming clear. She struggled to get the image right.

A strong breeze began to blow, picking up Dante’s hair and blowing it around in her ponytail. She looked up in surprise, since the wind rarely blew that hard and she never remembered it blowing under the rocks. She looked back down at the drawing, and noticed that the page it was on had begun coming loose from the cracked binding of the book. She looked at it for a moment, getting lost in the pattern of the cracked binding when a sharp wind tore the drawing she had been working on from the journal and blew it into the pool.

“Shoot!” Dante scrambled forward and reached out to capture the drawing before it was ruined. She moved too quickly, and got her leg tangled in the straps of the backpack lying at her feet. For a moment she wavered, but then lost her balance. She realized with a shock that she was going to fall into the pool. She closed her eyes tightly and waited for the inevitable splash and the water to close over her.

Endolye Chapter 1: Out in Left Field

The cool of early morning was still in the air as Ms. Ferrill’s gym class lined up on the blacktop in front of the fields. Dante Spenser took her place in the front row, trying not to make eye contact with any of the girls around her. Even after three months she was still the new kid, and still hadn’t really made any friends. Ms. Ferrill looked brightly at the girls in front of her, some still shivering in their gym uniforms.

“O.k., girls, it’s Friday, why don’t we do something just for fun? This morning we’re going to pick some captains, and choose teams for softball.”

Dante groaned inwardly, thinking that there was nothing about gym class  she would consider fun, least of all picking teams for softball. She waited while the teacher looked over her roster and picked Carol Hansen and Renee Richards as captains. Both girls were athletic and competitive, and Dante knew neither would want her on their team. During her short time at Norton Lewis Middle School, she had already proven herself to be shy, bookish, and terrible at sports. Once the captains had been chosen, the girls moved onto the field to begin picking their teams.

Dante stood on the grass studying her shoes, waiting for Carol and Renee to begin calling out names. She knew she would be one of the last ones picked, because she couldn’t run very fast, she couldn’t hit the ball, and she was afraid to try and catch it when it was hit to her. But mostly she knew she would be one of the last ones picked because none of the other kids liked her very much.

When her family moved to town three months ago, Dante had gotten sick right before school started and had to begin the school year during the third period of the third day of classes. In that short time her older brother Shaun had already made several friends, and seemed to be popular with the cool kids. Dante had gone to her third-period class and waited outside, gathering up the nerve to walk in. When she finally did, 28 pairs of eyes were glued to her. Not only was she the new girl with the funny name, but she had a cute and funny older brother most of the girls wanted to get to know.

Although she had wanted to make friends, she wasn’t good at it. That first day at lunch she had walked into the cafeteria looking for a place to sit. One of the girls who had been in her third-period class smiled and waved her over.

“Hey, want to sit with us?” she smiled and seemed friendly. Dante just nodded and set her tray on the table. The other girls watched her expectantly, but she just sat down with her eyes on her tray, and put her napkin in her lap.

The friendly girl spoke, “I’m Becky, and this is Renee, Carol and Susan.” The other girls said a perfunctory “hi,” and Dante said a quiet “hi” back. They seemed to be waiting for her to say something else, but she had no idea what that would be, so she began to silently eat her lunch.

“So, your brother is really cute!” Susan said. They all giggled and Dante swallowed. She looked up at their eager faces. “I guess,” she said. They waited, but she continued to eat.

“Well,” Renee said, “maybe we can come over to your house sometime after school. It would be really great to get to know you.” She and Carol exchanged glances and smiles and Dante just nodded.

“Hey,” Becky said, “don’t you live in that really cool old house over by Saguaro Park?”

Dante could feel her face getting hot. Although she loved the big old house her parents had bought, she knew it was just one more thing that made her stand out – the weird girl living in the weird house. When she had first seen it, she couldn’t believe her parents had bought it. It looked like it was falling apart. They had both been so excited about the “potential.” Her brother had taken one look and said, “What a pile of junk.” Her dad had smiled broadly.

“Well,” he said, “that might be what you see. But I think we’ll be able to clean it up and fix it up and it will be perfect for us. What do you think Dante?” he asked, looking at her.

“It kind of reminds me of the house in ‘It’s a Wonderful Life,’” she had said. “Before it was fixed up.”

Her parents just laughed. They knew it needed work but they had gotten a great deal on it, and couldn’t wait to get enough work done so they could move in. Now that her father’s transfer was final, getting the house had been the last step in the big move.

Dante  wallowed another bite of her lunch and just nodded in response to Becky’s question.

“I’ve heard it’s haunted!” Susan said with excitement, then looked around conspiratorially. “Dante have you ever seen any ghosts?” The other girls laughed and Dante just shook her head. Her face was getting hotter and she knew she was starting to turn red.

“Oh, I’ll bet it’s really cool inside,” Becky said, starting to look worried. She had frowned at Susan, but Renee and Carol didn’t pick up on the hint. Instead, they picked up where Susan left off.

“Yeah,” Carol said, “didn’t someone get murdered in there? Isn’t that why it was empty for so long?”

“My dad said the Realtor was just waiting for some sucker thinking he could do renovation,” said Renee casually. She then looked quickly at Dante and said, “Sorry, I didn’t mean anything.”

“It’s fine,” Dante said picking up her tray. “I’ve got to go to the library.”

“But you’re not done eating,” Becky said.

“I’m not that hungry,” Dante replied, heading for the tray drop. As she walked away she heard a whisper and an explosion of giggles. After that she had packed her lunch and eaten by herself, avoiding the other girls and looking down whenever she passed anyone in the hall. Once Susan had come by her house on her bike asking to see Dante, but when she found out Shaun wasn’t there she said she’d forgotten she had homework to do, and left.

“Come on, Renee, pick.” Carol’s voice brought Dante back to the blacktop, where the first few picks had gone quickly and then the captains had slowed down a bit, considering their choices. Dante looked over at Judy Snell, who got teased because she was overweight; Judy looked as miserable as Dante felt. She didn’t want anyone to know that she cared what they thought or whether they picked her for their team. She folded her arms in front of her chest and tried to look extremely bored while the last few girls on the field took their places behind the captains.

After a few minutes, Judy and Dante were the only two girls left to be picked for a team. It was Renee’s turn to pick. Becky, who had been Renee’s first choice, leaned over to whisper in her ear. Renee frowned for a moment, looked thoughtful and then shook her head. “No, sorry. Come on, Judy,” she said, and Judy seemed surprised and delighted that she wasn’t the last girl standing.

“O.k.,” Carol said, “I guess I’ve got Dante.”

Carol had her hands on her hips and was looking at Renee like she wasn’t very happy. Renee just shrugged and began walking out to the field.

Carol said, “O.k., let’s go,” and the girls broke apart. Carol directed Dante to left field, which everyone knew was the position where the captain felt you could do the least damage.

Dante stood with the morning sun in her face, and shifted her weight from foot to foot trying to warm herself up. The baseball glove on her left hand was uncomfortable and heavy, and she wasn’t even sure how to use it.

When Becky came up to bat, the girls in the field began backing up, anticipating a good hit. Dante held up her gloved hand to shield her eyes from the sun. She heard the crack as the ball hit the bat and looked up, trying to see the ball. She wanted to make sure that if it was coming toward her she got out of the way.

She glanced around and saw that the boys’ gym class was playing on the adjacent field. Cory Johnson, who Dante thought was about the cutest boy she had ever seen, was playing second base. She stood watching him for a moment, knowing that a boy like that could never like her. He was smart and really good at sports, and he had a lot of friends. All the girls liked him and he seemed really nice. He had smiled at Dante in the hallway a few times, and she had been so confused and embarrassed she had quickly looked away without smiling back. He probably hated her.

She heard someone shouting her name and turned around to the field. Becky was running and Dante looked around, trying to figure out who was shouting at her and what they wanted. She suddenly felt a searing pain in her head, and it took a moment for her to realize she’d been hit by the ball. Her knees buckled and it was all she could do to keep standing.

“You idiot!” Carol screamed as she ran from her post at shortstop, past Dante, to field the ball. “Didn’t you hear me yelling your name? It came right at you! And you just stood there!”

She grabbed the ball and threw it to the infield, but Becky was already safe on third. Dante was still standing in the same spot, looking blankly at Carol. She still wasn’t quite sure what had happened. Carol walked over to Dante and stood right in front of her.

“What’s wrong with you?” she hissed. “How hard is it to catch a softball?” Dante just stood there rubbing her head, feeling dazed and a little nauseous.

Ms. Ferrill was hurrying over to where Dante was standing, and Becky stood on third base looking guilty. Ms. Ferrill moved Carol aside with her arm and put her hand on Dante’s shoulder, looking directly into her eyes while asking, “Dante, are you o.k.?”

Dante looked at the teacher blankly. She could see Carol standing behind Ms. Ferrill, shaking her head and looking disgusted. Her head was beginning to hurt, she felt sick to her stomach, and to top it all off she could hear laughter behind her. She turned around and could see the boys on the other field had stopped playing and were looking at her, laughing. She didn’t dare look at Cory – she was too embarrassed. She turned to see Ms. Ferrill’s concerned face, and when the teacher reached her hand out, cupped Dante gently under the chin and asked, “Are you o.k. honey?” she dropped her head and began to cry. Oh great, she thought, desperately trying to stop. Now everyone will think I’m a baby too.

Ms. Ferrill gave Dante a quick hug and then stepped back and looked at her head, running her hand over the top where the ball had hit. “I think you’re o.k., you’re just going to have a little bump. Why don’t you  go over to the sidelines and sit down for a minute, and then we’ll take you to see the nurse.”

She led Dante off the field. As she was leaving, she could hear Carol say, “What a spaz. She just stood there and let the ball hit her.” Several of the girls snickered, and Dante wiped her nose with the back of her hand and tried to look as though she didn’t care. She heard Becky say, “Shut up Carol, why don’t you just leave her alone?” She looked over at Becky to show her gratitude, but the other girl looked down when Dante tried to catch her eye.

Mr. Ferrill insisted Dante see the nurse, who insisted on calling her mother at work. Then it was Dante’s turn to insist she was fine and her mother didn’t need to come and get her. Finally the day was over, and Dante was able to ride her bike home. She let herself in the back door, and dropped her backpack on the table where Shaun sat eating a peanut butter sandwich. He took the bus so was always home first; Dante hated the noisy, chaotic bus ride with all the other kids, so she rode her bike.

“What’s up dork?” he asked with his mouth full. Dante ignored him, and poured herself a glass of milk. She headed toward the stairs.

“Hey I heard you tried to head butt a softball today!” he called after her, laughing. She didn’t answer.

“Better do your homework,” he yelled.

Dante turned back around and grabbed her backpack off the kitchen table, and then headed up the stairs to her room. She thought about how all the girls at school thought Shaun was so cute, and how later she would have to sit at the dinner table with him, trying not to watch as he shoveled food from his plate directly into his mouth.

“What do they see in him?” she asked herself as she closed her bedroom door on the ear-splitting burp coming from the kitchen.

The Dolphin Experience

This short story is based on an actual experience I had when I lived in Florida. I went to Key Largo to swim with dolphins (I did my research and picked a place that didn’t seem to be just making money off of them – the part about it being a research facility and the dolphins being able to swim out to the open ocean is true).

Most of the other facts in the story are also true, including me sucking in a lungful of sea water during a delighted gasp (hint – if you turn your head sideways while snorkeling, don’t breath in!). I gasped and hacked, and started back to the platform when one of the dolphins started swimming all over me – it was actually pretty scary and no, I didn’t have enough presence of mind to perform the corkscrew procedure.

I did make it back to the platform and did ask about the “handshake,” and yes, the dolphin was female. What I didn’t do was get back in the water, although the dolphin spent the rest of the time inviting me to come play (see photo). Honestly, it was a lot more intimidating that I had realized. And I am, basically (I think we’ve pretty much established this), as cowardly as a bunny in tharn.

 

THE DOLPHIN EXPERIENCE

Diane shifted impatiently in her seat and asked Marc for the tenth time, “How much farther is it?”

Marc just sighed and kept his eyes on the road. “Diane, I’m really glad you’re excited about this, but please, be patient! We’ve still got about an hour and a half before we get to the motel, and we won’t be swimming until ten tomorrow morning.”

Diane looked out the window and tried to calm down, but she couldn’t contain her excitement. “Marc, I can’t believe I’m going to swim with dolphins! This is the best birthday present I’ve ever had.” She was quiet for a moment, and then laughed and told him, “I loved them so much when I was a kid, I used to beg my mom to buy one for our swimming pool.”

Marc laughed too, and reached over to take Diane’s hand. “I wish I felt the way you did about it, but to tell you the truth the thought of swimming with dolphins makes me a little nervous.”

“Marc, you’re kidding. Why?”

“Well, it may sound silly, but I’m not too comfortable with the thought of being around such big animals. What if they get aggressive, or decide to attack us?”

Diane laughed. “They won’t attack us. They’re friendly, intelligent and playful. If a dolphin acted in a violent manner, I’m sure it would only be to protect itself. Or maybe to establish territory during courtship or something.”

“O.k., but what if they accidentally hold me under the water?” Marc looked quickly at Diane, but she didn’t laugh this time. She smiled and squeezed his hand.

“Honey, they know we need the air to breathe. Just like they do. In fact, dolphins have been known to save drowning people. They’re really remarkable.”

Marc still wasn’t convinced, and the next few miles passed in silence. Finally he asked, “How big are they?”

“I’m not sure exactly. These dolphins are bottlenoses, so I would guess about eight feet and maybe six hundred pounds.”

“Man! And you mean to tell me you’re not the least bit nervous about getting into the water with them?”

Diane thought about it for moment before answering. “No, not really. I’m a good swimmer, and I’ve never heard any stories about dolphins being dangerous. I think it’s going to be an incredible experience.”

Marc’s silence told Diane how uncomfortable he really was with the idea of their upcoming adventure. She knew he was worried about his ability in the water. The brochure they had received from The Dolphin Experience recommended that each participant be an excellent swimmer. Although Diane was quite confident of her abilities, Marc hadn’t had the advantage of growing up with a swimming pool in his backyard. He was worried that his swimming skills might not be adequate enough to keep him out of trouble.

Diane spent the next hour trying to reassure Marc. When that didn’t work she simply let her enthusiasm bubble over, hoping it would be contagious. Despite her efforts, by the time they pulled into the parking lot of their Key Largo motel he was still uneasy about the swim.

Diane chatted excitedly about the dolphins during dinner, but sensing that it only added to Marc’s tension, she tried to change the conversation to less threatening topics.

While they talked about the possibility of extending their trip so they could visit Key West, a young man and woman were seated at the table next to them, their baby in a highchair next to his mother. The little boy had a round, chubby face, big dark eyes and long curly eyelashes. Diane felt the inevitable tug at her heart that was equal parts pleasure and pain.

“Oh Marc, look at that baby. Isn’t he adorable?”

Marc looked over and smiled. “He sure is.” When he saw her expression go from one of joy to sadness, he reached over and took her hand. “Diane, I know it’s hard, but let’s not think about sad things right now. We’re here to celebrate your birthday. I know it’s been hard these last two year, but the doctor said there’s no reason not to be optimistic. When the time is right, it’ll happen.”

“I know.” Diane looked down and folded her hands in her lap. “I just wish the time was right – right now.” She looked up at Marc and could see the disappointment in his eyes. She felt guilty, realizing this was supposed to be her wonderful birthday trip. “I’m sorry I’m spoiling our lovely evening. I’m just going to concentrate on swimming with the dolphins. Unless you’d rather talk about something else?”

Marc said, “Oh no, of course not,” and reached for his water glass, his hand shaking in mock terror. Diane laughed. “My adventurous husband!”

That night as she lay in bed trying to sleep, Diane thought about what a wonderful man she had married. Ever since he had been transferred to Florida, Marc had been trying to find ways to help her adjust to their new home. When he had heard about a place in Key Largo — The Dolphin Experience — where you could pay to swim with dolphins, he immediately wrote to them for a brochure. She had been excited about the idea, but felt the cost was somewhat prohibitive. In order to override her objections, he had waited until her birthday and surprised her with two tickets.

The memory of opening her birthday card and finding the tickets inside made her smile into the darkness. So far, this trip had been wonderful. Until dinner. The memory of the adorable baby in the restaurant stubbornly refused to give her any peace, and her smile faded. She knew Marc wanted a baby as badly as she did, but never said anything because he didn’t want to hurt her.

She began tossing and turning in the strange bed and Marc stirred in his sleep. She didn’t want to wake him, although if he asked why she wasn’t sleeping she could claim she was too excited to sleep. She rolled over. If only she could get pregnant! But she knew the more she worried, and the higher her stress level, the less it was that things would happen. She rolled over again. This just wasn’t helping. She tried some deep breathing exercises to relax. The breathing, in addition to the long day in the car, finally took its toll and she drifted into an uneasy slumber.

In the morning, after Marc and Diane ate breakfast, they headed out to where the swim would take place. Marc slowed the car at a gravel lot by the side of the road and double-checked the address. He turned and drove slowly into the parking lot. Diane was the first to speak.

“Marc, this isn’t at all what I expected.”

“Me either.”

They parked in front of a small yard enclosed by a chain link fence. Through the fence they could see several small cement tanks filled with murky seawater. A fin occasionally broke the surface.

Marc held the gate open for Diane, and they walked over to the small booth that served as the check-in area. As Marc confirmed their reservations with the woman behind the counter; Diane walked over to the swimming tanks.

They seemed so small! And there was only a tiny floating platform in the middle of each tank. Although Diane was confident of her swimming abilities, it unnerved her a little that the tank had sheer concrete sides, far too tall to climb out of, or hold onto.

“Are you o.k.?”

Marc was looking at her, and she forced a smile. “Oh yes, this just wasn’t what I expected. But I’m sure it’s going to be wonderful.”

He smiled. “Yeah? Me too.” Diane raised an eyebrow at his sudden change of heart. “Anyway,” he continued, “you need to go over there and sign a release form. I’ve already signed mine, absolving The Dolphin Experience from all blame in case of any ‘unforeseeable circumstances’.”

Diane laughed. “I’m sure that did wonders for your frame of mind.”

She walked over to the booth and smiled at the woman. She read the consent form quickly, but paused when she reached the bottom. Frowning, she looked up.

“Why do I need to sign something stating I’m not pregnant?”

The woman answered without looking up from her paperwork. “Our insurance won’t cover us if a pregnant woman gets in the water.” When Diane didn’t respond the woman looked at her. “Why? You’re not, are you?”

“No.” Diane spoke softly, and signed the form. She walked over to where Marc was waiting for her.

“O.k.,” she said, “business all taken care of. We’re ready to swim.”

“Good. Well, the first order of business is a ninety minute lecture about the dolphins, how to swim with them, and what to expect. After that, we get a half hour in the water with them. Here.” He handed her a pair of swim fins, and a mask and snorkel.

They walked over to a group of picnic benches where a dozen or so people were already seated. Diane found an empty spot on a bench, and Marc sat next to her. A young blonde man walked over to the group, and dropped his clipboard and pencil on the table.

“Hi, my name’s Dave and I’m here to tell you a little about the dolphins before you actually get in and swim with them. Now I know you’re all pretty excited to be here, and want to jump right in the water, but there’s a few things you need to know first.”

Diane looked over at Marc. He was hunched over the table, and his unsmiling gaze was fixed on the their young lecturer. Diane hoped whatever Dave had to say would make Marc as eager to get into the water as she was.

“The first thing we want you to know,” Dave said, looking around at all the faces, “is that the dolphins are not here to swim with you. They’re here for us to study. Those tanks of water are twelve feet deep, and there’s a small passage at the bottom of each one. If a dolphin decides not to swim with you, it’ll swim into the adjoining tank. And if they really don’t feel like hanging around the far tank has a tunnel that goes out into the open ocean. He paused a moment and looked around, “They’re not captive here, and they don’t do tricks.”

Marc leaned over and whispered, “There may be hope.” Diane rolled her eyes and whispered back, “I’m glad they’re not forced to swim with us and can head out to the ocean if they want.” She paused, “But I hope they don’t!” She smiled.

“The next thing you should be aware of,” Dave continued, “is that the dolphins view you as toys. So if you’re interesting and fun, they’ll want to spend time playing with you. If you’re not, chances are they won’t interact with you at all.”

Diane’s attention began to wander, and she found herself looking at the other members of the group. There were an equal mix of women and men, mostly young, and one older woman. The older woman looked over at Diane and smiled happily. Diane smiled back.

“There are a few games the dolphins will play with you.” Here Dave grinned. “They basically consist of the dolphins trying to scare you with their teeth.”

Marc looked at Diane, his face serious, and his eyes wide. Diane took his hand and smiled while Dave continued his lecture.

“They won’t bite you, but they may come up to your face and open up their mouths to show you all those sharp teeth. They’ve done this before, and they know it gets a reaction. You get scared, and they swim off chuckling.”

A few of the group laughed, including Diane. Marc leaned over and whispered, “I don’t see what’s so funny.”

Dave waited a moment before continuing. “They also may try to taste you. I know it sounds odd, but you won’t even know they’re doing it. They’ll just run their mouths up and down one of your legs.”

A few people in the group exchanged glances. Some of them began to look uneasy, particularly Marc. However, at Dave’s next comment Marc visibly relaxed. “Really, you don’t need to worry, because chances are the dolphins won’t come near you. More often than not they decide they don’t feel like playing. So don’t be too disappointed if you don’t have a close encounter today.”

Diane wasn’t disappointed. She was determined to interact with the dolphins. She hadn’t come all the way here just to swim around in a tank by herself! The older woman must have felt the same way, because she blurted out, “Well, what can I do to make sure they want to play with me?”

Dave nodded. “That’s a good question. First of all, you need to look like a dolphin. The best way to swim is with your hands locked behind your back. They don’t like it when they see your arms moving. It frightens them. So does treading and splashing. And once you’ve frightened them, they probably won’t come near you.”

Marc finally asked the question that had been on his mind. “What if they accidentally hold us under the water?”

Dave turned to him. “They won’t do that. They may try to keep you from getting out of the water if they’re having a good time with you. They’ll block your progress to the platform. In that case, you need to swim in a corkscrew fashion. Do one freehand stroke with your right arm, turn in the water and do a backstroke with your left.”

Marc still didn’t look very happy, but Dave continued talking. “In each tank are two dolphins, usually a male and a female. When you first get in the water, they’ll know all about you. Using their echolocation system they can monitor your heart rate, your blood pressure, and the condition of all your internal organs. It’s like seeing an x-ray of you.”

Diane looked wonderingly at Marc. “That’s amazing.”

“They’ll also know if you’re male or female. Their echolocation can detect the presence or absence of a womb.”

Even Marc was finally beginning to look impressed as Dave picked up his clipboard and pencil.

“The last thing I’ll tell you before I answer any final questions is that dolphins are also amazing because of their mating habits. Basically they have no mating season. Like human beings, dolphins mate whenever they feel the urge. To them, it’s a gesture of friendship. So if a male dolphin feels friendly toward you, he may show an attraction for your knees.”

While everyone else laughed, Diane raised her hand. “Is this an aggressive sort of attraction?” She didn’t want to sound silly, but she knew animals could become very aggressive when their sexual drive was involved. She didn’t want to get in the way of a male dolphin who was headed for his mate.

“Oh no,” Dave said, “it’s a very social behavior for them. Basically it’s just their way of shaking hands. The reason they go for your knees is because if you were a dolphin, and your feet were your tail, your knees would be reproductive organs. But really, it’s nothing to worry about. They’re not aggressive.”

After that Dave answered a few more questions, then broke the large group into smaller groups of three. The older woman was matched up with Diane and Marc. As they walked toward their assigned tank, the older woman turned to them. “Hi, my name is Grace. Aren’t you just thrilled to be here? This is like a dream come true for me!”

Diane smiled at her enthusiasm. “It is for me, too. I really hope the dolphins like us, and want to play with us.”

The trio reached their tank and a worker pulled on a rope attached to the platform in the middle of the water, bringing it within reach of where they were standing. Holding their snorkeling equipment, Diane, Marc and Grace stepped down onto the platform, which bobbed and shifted with their weight.

Diane donned her fins, mask and snorkel and looked at Marc. “Here I go!” When she finally eased herself into the water, she felt a thrill of excitement.

Locking her hands behind her back, Diane headed out into the middle of the tank. The water was very murky, and it was a little spooky not being able to see more than a few feet in front of her. She felt something brush her shins, and for a moment felt a tremor of fear. She took a deep breath through her snorkel and reassured herself — after all, there were only dolphins in the tank. She felt a presence at her side, and turned her head to look to the right.

A happy aquatic face was beaming at her. Diane was awestruck, and gasped in delight. Unfortunately, because her head was turned her snorkel had dipped into the tank and she sucked in a lung full of salt water instead of air.

Hacking and treading, Diane’s head broke the surface of the water. “Drat!” She was sure the dolphins would be scared away by her noise and clumsy treading. She decided to head back to the platform and recover her composure.

As she began to swim back she suddenly saw the dolphin directly in front of her. She stopped short and began treading, wondering if it wanted to play. The large animal floated patiently in front of her without moving. My gosh, she thought, they are big! As she tried to swim forward, the dolphin deliberately blocked her progress. Diane was afraid for a moment. Why was this dolphin trying to keep her from getting out of the water?

Diane began coughing again, and realized she needed to get back to the platform. She was getting tired. She tried swimming forward, but again the dolphin blocked her progress. It obviously wasn’t trying to play with her. She suddenly sympathized with Marc’s fears, and wondered if this dolphin was going to become aggressive. Remembering Dave’s lecture, she swam arm over arm, alternating a freestyle stroke with a backstroke in a corkscrew fashion until she reached the platform.

The workers at the center were all gathered around the sides of the tank, talking excitedly. As Diane pulled herself onto the platform, Dave came over to the edge nearest where Diane was sitting and asked, “Could you please get back in the water?”

Diane looked up at him, puzzled. “Well, to tell you the truth, that dolphin kind of makes me nervous. It didn’t seem to want to play, but it wasn’t letting me out of the water either. Was it trying to, you know, shake hands?” Diane blushed as she asked, but forced herself to look Dave in the eye.

He didn’t laugh. In fact, he looked very serious. “No, that’s Sandy, the female dolphin. Please, could you just get back in the water? You don’t have to swim or anything, just float around.”

The dolphin that had been swimming with Diane rose halfway out of the water in front of her, almost as if beckoning her back in. Grace swam over and said, “Look, you’re getting a formal invitation. Come on back in.”

Marc, who had been floating around near the platform, wasn’t happy at all. “I don’t know, that thing tried to keep my wife from getting out of the water. It doesn’t seem safe for her to get back in.”

Dave sighed and turned to Marc. “I promise you, nothing will happen. We’ll monitor the situation very carefully. It’s just that this is a very unusual behavior, and we’d like the opportunity to study it.”

Diane looked at Marc, then at Dave. The dolphin rose out of the water again, and when Diane reached forward to touch her nose, Sandy rose up and bumped Diane’s hand. Diane looked over at Grace, who was in the water playing with the male dolphin. The older woman was having the time of her life. Well, Diane thought, I’ve got my breath back, and this is the chance of a lifetime. I’m not going to spend it sitting here on this platform.

She smiled at Marc. “Go on now, keep swimming. They don’t seem to want to play with you anyway.” He looked at her for a moment, then stuck his head in the water and began floating.

Diane slid gently into the water, and placed her head down so she could breathe easily through her snorkel. She didn’t swim or tread, she just floated. She was aware that the dolphin was right beside her, and when it nudged her it was so gentle she just moved slightly in the water.

Diane propelled herself forward a little, in the direction the dolphin seemed to want her to go. Finally, she was in a corner of the tank floating on her stomach and breathing through her snorkel, and the dolphin simply hovered near her. At one point Grace tried to swim over, but the dolphin gently kept Grace away from the corner. The male dolphin didn’t even attempt to come close, and Marc stayed where he was, apparently happy the dolphins were keeping their distance.

Diane tried to swim out of the corner a few times, but Sandy gently herded her back in. Diane reached out to stroke the smooth skin that covered the wall of solid muscle. It felt like a wet inner tube.

As Diane floated on the water, Sandy turned and looked directly into Diane’s eyes with one of hers. She made small clicking and whistling noises, and Diane desperately wished she knew what the dolphin was saying to her. She made some strange noises through her snorkel, and hoped the dolphin knew she wanted to be friends. She was still a little nervous, but tried to relax and keep her breathing normal, so the dolphin wouldn’t detect any rise in her heartbeat or breath rate.

Just as she was beginning to feel a connection with Sandy, and completely comfortable with her, she could hear someone calling her name. She pulled her head out of the water and began treading. It was Dave.

“Your half hour is up, it’s time to come out now. I need to talk to you.”

Again, Sandy didn’t want Diane to leave the water, so she had to corkscrew to get back to the platform. As she was drying herself off she looked down into the tank. Sandy had raised her head out of the water, and was looking directly at Diane. The dolphin made a few clicking noises, and seemed to nod her head.

“Bye Sandy.” Diane had a strange feeling that the dolphin was trying to tell her something very important, and Diane just couldn’t understand what it was. She looked at Sandy for a long moment, then joined Marc and Dave by the benches.

Dave was obviously excited. “We really should be mad at you, but that was great! We’ve never had a chance to see that behavior before.” He looked down at the notes on his clipboard. “And we monitored you so closely, there couldn’t have been a problem.” He looked up again and waved the piece of paper he was holding. “And you did sign the consent form stating you weren’t pregnant.”

At this point Diane interrupted. “Pregnant? But I’m not pregnant.” She looked at Marc who shrugged and said, “I know. I tried to tell them.”

Dave looked from Marc to Diane, and then spoke directly to her. “Are you sure you couldn’t possibly be pregnant?”

Diane was hurt by the remark, but replied calmly, “Of course I’m sure. Believe me, if I were pregnant, I’d know it. There is just no way I’m pregnant.”

Dave didn’t look convinced. “Well, Sandy sure thinks you’re pregnant. She was acting as your midwife. That’s why she separated you from the others. The females do that for each other. One dolphin stays with the pregnant female and takes care of her for the entire pregnancy, and then helps with the birth.”

Diane was dumbfounded. “Well, I’m sorry, I don’t know what she thought, but I’m definitely not pregnant.” She could hear the edge in her voice, and felt herself starting to fight back tears. She took a deep breath and reminded herself this wasn’t Dave’s fault, and they said they hadn’t seen this behavior before, so it was just some kind of mix-up.

They spent a few more minutes talking with Dave, and then she and Marc gathered up their belongings and got back in the car. Diane told Marc she didn’t feel like seeing Key West, and just wanted to go home. Although she was sure Marc knew how upset she was over Dave’s insistence that she was pregnant, she tried several times to reassure him that she was happy they had come, and that she had loved swimming with Sandy but was just tired and wanted to see Key West another time. Inside, she was wondering how an experience could be so wonderful and so miserable all at the same time.

Although it should have been a happy memory they discussed for weeks, after they returned home Diane and Marc spoke very little about the swim. Diane just couldn’t shake off the blue mood that had enveloped her after leaving Key Largo, and Marc just talked about future trips to other areas of Florida.

As the weeks went by, Diane’s lethargy continued. Eager to lift her spirits Marc began surprising her with little presents, making her feel all the guiltier for her inability to regain her usual bubbly mood. He also tried to take her out for dinner at new and interesting places, which she refused. Because he was so worried about her she tried desperately to be happy, but she just felt worn out.

Finally, she called Marc at work late one afternoon and suggested they go out for dinner.

“Why?” Marc sounded surprised, and Diane knew it was because she hadn’t wanted to go out for weeks.

“Oh nothing special.” Her tone was light. “Just hurry home.”

“O.k., I’m on my way.”

When Marc walked through the front door, Diane was on the phone. He heard her say, “Yes, yes, I know, I couldn’t believe it either. I just thought you’d like to know. Thank you; me too. O.k., bye.”

She hung up and walked into the living room where Marc was setting down his briefcase and danced around him. “Hi honey, I’m so happy you’re home.”

Marc looked bewildered at the sudden change in her personality, but he only asked, “Who were you talking to on the phone?”

“Dave.” Diane giggled.

“Dave?” Marc looked even more bewildered. Then suddenly recognition lit his face. “Dave from the dolphin place? Why were you talking to him?”

“I wanted to tell him. . .” Diane paused, looking at Marc with shining eyes. She giggled. “I wanted to tell him, Sandy was right.” She laughed out loud.

Marc looked blank for a moment, and then his eyes opened wide. “The dolphin? You mean the one that. . . you mean you. . .” When she nodded, he let out a whoop and lifted her off her feet, spinning her around. When he set her down she was laughing breathlessly.

“Can you believe it? I was only two weeks pregnant and that dolphin knew.” Diane looked at Marc and smiled. “I knew she was trying to tell me something, I just didn’t know what it was!” She lifted her chin and asked Marc, “So what do you think of the dolphins now?”

Marc just shook his head in wonder. “I think they’re amazing.” He gave her a big hug. “I think you’re amazing. And you know what else I think?”

“No, what?”

“I think we should name this baby after the lovely lady who tried to tell us it was on the way.”

“Marc! What a wonderful idea! Boy or girl, we’ll call the baby Sandy.”

The Cat’s Meow

I’m not sure why I’m on the boat.

It seemed like a good idea at the time – the seas were relatively calm and the wind seemed favorable. I came aboard to swab the decks and I worked hard; I finally made my way up to deck hand. Of course there were times we all thought the captain was a little off-balance, but the ship was still afloat so no one said too much.   It was a bit strange to be on a steamship in the age of technology, but you don’t fix what’s not broken, and after all we were chugging along and keeping up. We often saw wreckage from the high tech-ships that weren’t as sea-worthy as everyone thought. It wasn’t pretty. Occasionally we could pick up a stray crew member here or there, but let’s face it, you can only carry so many people on board.

The real danger was running out of steam. Or, more precisely, coal. In case that ever happened someone had to know how to sail. We had a plan – you know, like a backup plan – to ensure that if we ever ran out of coal, we’d still be able to navigate and move in the water by using the sails we had stored below decks. At least until we got more coal. There was a team of people assigned to the care and maintenance of the sails, to make sure they were always in top working order. It didn’t matter that we’d never actually tested the sails – we were confident they’d work, and the fact we had a backup plan was really the point anyway.

So it seemed like a good thing when I was able to move into a position on the wind team. We would learn about the elements, check what was going on around us, and make sure that plans were in place in case we ever needed to unfurl our sails. It was theoretical work for the most part, but that’s always been a plus for me. I mean how can your theory ever be wrong if you never have to put it to the test? You can be completely unskilled and have no idea what you’re talking about, but still be considered a genius. I just had to pray that we’d never run out of coal.

I was feeling pretty good about my new job when I was invited to a meeting. The Captain’s Third-in-Command, right-hand-man’s best girl Barb wanted to meet with me one-on-one. This was a big deal, and I needed to be on my game. In the meeting invite I was informed that it had been decided I was the perfect person to implement our new Cat’s Meow Strategy for wind detection.

My guess was this new strategy had to do with the fact that we had no vet on board and the two cats we brought with us to control mice turned out to be a male and a female. It’s really hard to tell with a cat until one of them is pregnant. So we now had a lot of cats and I figured someone was trying to keep it from looking like an accident. Which is easy if you just make it a strategy. I mean, what else can you do? You can’t start heaving cats overboard willy-nilly. You just look like a bad guy and the press has a field day. We had to find a purpose for the cats.

Although I was still fairly new to the concepts of wind direction, I felt confident  we would fare just fine if we ran out of coal. If nothing else I could just put my finger in my mouth, hold it up, and figure out which side got cold first. That would be the wind direction. That and a basic compass were all I needed. And if the sails failed to perform that really wasn’t my problem. All the same, I was feeling just a little anxious when I got to the meeting room. Barb came in and started talking before she sat down.

“I’m glad you were able to meet today. This project is of the utmost importance and we have a very short time frame to get it done. In fact, this has to be up and running within a week.”

“Really?” I ask, “Why? At the last check we had plenty of coal, so there’s no reason to think that we’ll be needing to use our sails anytime soon.”

She smiles, and I know I’ve asked something so elementary she’s wondering how I ever achieved my current position.

“Because there’s a deadline,” she says, quietly, patiently, kindly.

“Oh,” I’m feeling a little dense, but want to make sure I understand, “why is there a deadline for next week when we know we won’t run out of coal next week?”

She looks pleased. I assume it’s because I’ve shown an ability for following a line of reasoning. “Great question. There’s a deadline for next week because that’s when I said we could get this done.”

“O.k.” I’m pretty sure she can see my confusion, but her smile is designed to give me confidence, let me know my incompetence is not a problem, and that she’s is in charge and will lead us where we need to go.

“Well, let’s just get started and I’m sure this will make more sense once we get into it.” She settles into the chair across from me, folds her hands, places her arms on the table and leans forward. Her eyes are serious.

“You know about the cats.” It’s not really a question, more of a statement, but she is obviously waiting for a response. I want to make up for my earlier failings, so I’m eager to show off what I do know.

“Yes, I know that we’ve really got more cats than we need. Of course there really isn’t an offboarding strategy this far out to sea, so if we want to maximize cost effectiveness we need to ensure we’re leveraging all of our resources in the most appropriate manner possible.” I am rewarded with a beaming smile.

“Exactly. And that’s just what this project will do. I have every confidence you’ll be able to have this up and running by the deadline.” I don’t share her confidence, but I’m not bringing up the arbitrary deadline again. I just nod so she can continue.

“We’ve decided that the best way to utilize the cats is to have them help predict future wind direction. Using the cats, you’ll check the wind direction each day at 2-hour intervals, and then record the results. You’ll need to graph the wind direction and be able to make predictions based on statistical data. You’ll want to determine if the height of the water has any impact, and you’ll need to ensure that the sails are in operable condition.”

Now my head is reeling. Although my finger and a compass seem unbelievably unsophisticated, I know they’ll work. I’m not bringing it up. Instead I try to think this through, integrate the knowledge I have of the other working areas. All I can manage is, “But, I don’t work with the sails. The people who work with the sails are all in an upper echelon of the ship’s hierarchy. They only talk to me when they’re demonstrating that we don’t really have a hierarchy.”

She frowns and I realize I shouldn’t have said that to her. Now she’ll probably wonder who I’m talking to and what they’re saying. Fortunately she doesn’t go after that tangent – probably one of the reasons she’s in her current position. She simply says, “Well, you’ll need to tell them what information they need to provide you. You need to measure sail readiness and include that in your graph.”

I’m starting to feel like I’m not a problem solver. “O.k., I guess I’m just a little confused as to how I’m going to do that. The sails are kept below in a restricted area I don’t have access to, and anyway the sail readiness team runs regular testing to ensure the sails are wind worthy. Can’t I just use the work they’ve done?”

She is starting to look a little strained. I know she’s way ahead of me here and I’m just not keeping up. I’m really trying, but I’m just not seeing the value add.

“Don’t worry about access to the sails. I’ve got a meeting scheduled with the sail master and I’m just going to tell him he’s giving you access. Just trust me on this and don’t worry about that part.” I nod, thinking it’s not going to be that simple, and still not understanding why I can’t just use their data, but I’m going with it and assuming it will all start to make sense. Eventually. And hopefully before the deadline.

“So once you have the readiness data you can herd the cats and start the meow analysis.”

“I’ll call it the ‘Meowalysis,’” I smile. She looks at me with a frown and says, “The what?”

“Nothing,” I say and remind myself to stop talking and keep nodding. She pauses a beat and then continues.

“So once you’ve herded the cats it’s a simple matter of gathering the data. I would recommend you start individually. Take a cat to the bow and wait for it to meow. Then capture the meow data on the matrix. Make sure you get a good sample, and then analyze the meow data with the other data, and prepare your findings for the meeting. I’ll need to see your first draft with enough time to make changes before I present. Is two days from now fair?”

“O.k.,” I’m not feeling confident at all. But I’m going to make this work. It doesn’t matter what they ask, I’m going to make this work. She nods, once, briskly.

“So, I’m sorry,” I say, wondering if I’m sorry for my obtuseness, my presence on the ship, or just my life choices in general, “but can you help me understand the big picture on this strategy?”

“The cat will meow and then you’ll record what direction the wind is blowing. Eventually we’ll be able to predict wind direction by the cat’s meow.” This is said perfectly reasonably, perfectly calmly. It simply makes no sense to me whatsoever and there’s no way I’m going to be able to do this. I need to signal my understanding while clarifying what I’m supposed to do with another question.

“Got it, but I’m not sure how I’m going to determine the direction the wind will blow by the cat meowing. I mean, it might meow when there’s no wind at all.”

She nods. She looks very serious and thoughtful. This is, of course, a good point. Let’s face it, there’s no one on the face of the planet that has any idea what’s going on here.

“I’ve anticipated you would need help with that, so I’ve prepared some tools to help you.” She hands me a page of handwritten notes and hand drawn pictures of kitty faces with various un-catlike expressions. “This document can used as a guide to the meaning of meowing. Of course, each cat will have its own individual vocalizations, so the guide is really a framework – a starting point if you will – for you to develop your own meowing meaning chart. You’ll also need to ensure you track any new cats that provide input, or cats that for whatever reason,” and here her voice fades a little, “are no longer providing data.”

I run my hands through my hair. I know I’m starting to come apart a little, but this is getting crazy. “But, I don’t think cats can predict which way the wind will blow.” There. That’s a better argument. Now I’m thinking this through and focusing on the result we’re trying to achieve.

“Well, we’ve noticed that the cats don’t like getting their fur ruffled up the wrong way. You’ve seen that, right?” This is said in a ‘you’re part of the team’ tone of voice. Now she’s feeling sorry for me. This doesn’t bode well. I just nod.

“So since they don’t like it, they’ll meow in displeasure and turn to face the wind, thus providing us with information on the direction the wind is blowing.”

“Well, yeah, at that moment. It doesn’t necessarily tell us anything about future direction.”

She sighs. “That is why you have to analyze the meow.” The depth of my stupidity is now starting to annoy her. I just give up. I’ll figure out a way to herd the damn cats – if one or two escape no one will know unless I say something, and why would I do that? I’ll take them on the deck, wait till they meow, and somehow put together a matrix with all the data. Maybe if I use a lot of charts, graphs and illustrations it won’t matter if the data makes any sense.

“Great!” I take the guide and give her what I hope is a confident and winning smile. “I’ll have the draft ready for your review in two days.”

She smiles and rises. “Perfect! Just let me know if you have any questions in the meantime. Now I’ve got to go meet with Johnson. Those damn goats we brought on board aren’t milk goats after all, so we’ve got to figure out what to do with them. He’s got some kind of strategy he thinks will help. He’s calling it the Great Goat Rodeo. Sounds like it’s going to be an all-hands-on-deck event.”

I just nod. A goat rodeo. Should be fun.

 

 

 

Bo Vine Gets Her Wings – Part 1

My husband Steve is from a small town in Iowa called Fairfield, and when his boys were young we used to go there every summer to visit his folks. They had a house on a few acres of land, and two very large buildings where his dad used to keep his milk trucks. When Steve was growing up, his dad had a milk distribution business – in other words, his dad was the milkman.

Steve and his siblings had to help with the business by running milk routes. And oh the stories they tell…. You’ll find bits and pieces of them in the short story below. I began writing this for my youngest step-son Brandon when he was around six or seven (I think). If I’m recalling correctly he suggested the subject of a flying cow, and the below is Part I of the result.

(For those of you who end up wondering what in the hell golden domes and pillows have to do with flying, you can get the full scoop from Google, but basically there’s a community of folks in Fairfield who practice Transcendental Meditation in big golden domes. It includes a practice called “yogic flying,” where they sit on pillows and then do these crazy butt hops. Like really high, long butt hops. They must have some serious glutes on them. But it’s not really flying. True story. Look it up.)

 

Bo Vine Gets Her Wings

Once upon a time there was a cow named Bo who lived on a very nice farm with a very nice farmer named Vine. The farm sat in the middle of a beautiful green field that was somewhere very close to, but not exactly in, Fairfield, Iowa.

Bo had a good life on the farm; Farmer Vine was very kind and the grass was very green and abundant so Bo always had plenty to eat. When Farmer Vine came to milk her in the morning and then again at the end of the day, she would contentedly chew her cud, knowing that the milk she was giving would go to feed children in schools, and people in hospitals.

In fact, every morning she would see the milkman drive by, delivering her milk all over Fairfield and all of Jefferson County. She would wave her ears and swish her tail and give him a big Moo to say good morning, but the milkman never seemed to notice her. He did, however, notice the farm dog who would run from the field to chase the truck. Each morning the milkman would call out, “Hi dog!” But he never said anything to Bo.

Bo wished that people would notice her more. But, after all, she was just a cow and people living somewhere very close to, but not exactly in, Fairfield, Iowa didn’t normally notice cows very much. Sometimes while she was chewing on the grass in the field she would wonder if anyone other than Farmer Vine would ever notice her.

And one day, while she was eating and wondering that very thing, a small bird flew down and began pulling a worm out of the wet grass in front of her. Bo said, through the grass in her mouth (because cows don’t have very good manners and often talk with their mouths full), “It must be wonderful to fly.”

The bird cocked his head and looked at her with his shiny round eye. “Well,” he said, “I’ve never not been able to fly, so I wouldn’t know what not flying is like. But I would have to guess it is wonderful. I can go pretty much anywhere I want, I can get there quickly, and I can see everything that’s on the ground.” And to demonstrate he quickly flew up to the branch of a nearby tree, over to a phone line, landed on Bo’s back for a moment, then lighted back on the ground in front of her.

If Bo could have clapped, she would have. But being a cow all she could do was sigh, which just sounded like a long moo. “That was wonderful,” she said. “I would love to do that.” She chewed quietly for a moment, then asked, “You don’t think you could teach me to fly, do you?”

The bird considered it a moment. “I don’t think so,” he said. “It’s not like I really had to learn. It would be like me asking you to teach me how to give milk.”

Bo thought about that. It was true, she would have no idea how to teach someone to give milk – it was just what she did. But the idea of everyone noticing her in the sky seemed like a good one.

“And anyway,” he continued, “I don’t think a flying cow is a very good idea. You’re awfully big, and it would probably scare people to death.”

Bo just hung her head, and the bird felt badly for her. He tried to think of something that might cheer her up, when he had an idea.

“Wait a minute,” he said, “I just thought of something. Not too far from here is a very strange place with big golden domes. I’m sure that while I’ve been eating on their lawns I’ve heard that they’re teaching people to fly in those domes.” Bo felt a sudden surge of joy.

“Please,” she said, “tell me how to get there!”

“Well,” the bird said, “you go over that field, two cornfields to the right, and you’ll see one of the domes.”

Bo turned her head in that direction, wondering how far it would be for her to walk. She wasn’t sure she would be able to find this place by herself.

“One more thing,” the bird continued, “they can’t teach you to fly unless you have something called a pillow. Do you have a pillow?”

Bo shook her head sadly. “I don’t even know what a pillow is,” she said, “and somehow, I just don’t think it would be that easy for me to get there. You can fly, but I’d have to walk and it sounds like it’s a long way away.”

“I’m sorry,” the bird said to her kindly. “But cheer up. After all, you’re a cow, and cows don’t fly. They do a wonderful job of giving milk to people, but they just don’t fly.” He finished the worm he was eating and hopped over next to her. “I’ve got to be going now,” he said, “I hope to be back some time again. It was nice chatting with you.” And with that he flew up and over the trees at the far end of the field.

Bo felt so depressed she couldn’t eat for the rest of the day, and didn’t have very much milk to give that evening. Farmer Vine was afraid she was getting sick, so he led her into the barn for the night. He gave her plenty of hay, patted her on the back, and said goodnight.

Bo slept, and when she awoke her hunger got the better of her. Farmer Vine came in and for awhile she chewed and swished, and listened to the sound of her milk hissing into the pail. After the milking, Farmer Vine put her out in her field. Bo just started walking. As she walked, she noticed a hole in the fence that hadn’t been there before. Looking around, she decided to go through.

She found herself in another field she didn’t recognize at all, on the other side of the fence. As she walked she noticed that the grass looked very green. She dropped her head and began to eat. As she pulled up some grass, she raised her head and looked around while she chewed.

“I so wish I could fly,” she thought.

Now, what Bo didn’t know was that she wasn’t in any ordinary field. She was in an enchanted field, that grew only four-leaf clovers. And as anyone knows, when a cow makes a wish while chewing on four-leaf clovers, that wish is sure to come true.

Just as Bo was starting in on another patch of clovers, she noticed a tickling feeling in her left ear. She swished it around, and kept chewing. The tickling came back, just like someone was tickling her ear with a feather. She turned her head to see who would be playing this game with her, and couldn’t believe what she saw.

There was a large wing coming out of her left shoulder. Turning her head quickly to the right, she saw another wing.

She mooed in amazement. “Wings!” she exclaimed. “This must mean I can fly!” She wasn’t sure exactly how to do it, but she tried shrugging her shoulders a bit. The wings moved, creating a soft breeze. Delighted, she began flapping them harder. To her utter astonishment, her front hooves came off the ground. With a few more flaps, Bo was in the air.

First, she flew around her pasture looking down at the barnyard and the farmhouse. She flew over the barnyard, mooing in excitement. The other animals just couldn’t believe it. The pig fell right into his mud hole, the chickens began laying eggs from excitement and the cat completely ignored the flying cow and continued to clean her face.

Bo swooped down and off, eager to see what else she could see. She flew over some trees and saw a small town. It must be Fairfield! She flew toward the town square, with its shops and gazebo. She was anxious to see all the people, and have them notice her. Her! Bo the Flying Cow!

In the square there were some grandfathers and grandmothers sitting on a bench feeding a big group of pigeons. “Wow,” Bo thought, “what a great life. Just sit there and get fed.” Some of the birds were on the ground in front of the bench, and some were on a statue of a man reading a book to a child.

As Bo flew overheard, a large – very large – shadow passed over the bench. One of the grandmothers looked up and screamed, dropping her bag of bread crumbs. The sound nearly scared Bo right out of the sky. It scared the other people too. They began running and shouting, pointing up at her. They ran to their cars and began driving them off, and someone brought out a cloth to cover the statue. Bo wanted everyone to just calm down, and for things to be like they were. But it was too late for that.

She landed next to one of the pigeons, who looked at her sideways. “Well,” it said huffily, “I don’t know what you think you’re doing here. You’ve completely ruined our breakfast!” A few of the other pigeons nodded in agreement.

“I’m sorry,” Bo said. “I didn’t mean to scare anyone or ruin anybody’s breakfast.” And although she was sorry, she couldn’t understand how anyone could be upset over a few breadcrumbs.

“I just got these wings,” she said, fanning them gently, “and I’ve heard so much about Fairfield, that when I saw the town square from the sky I just had to come down and take a look.”

The Gallery

Image courtesy of Dan Handler.

I wrote this story shortly after college. The idea came to me, out of nowhere, fully formed one day while I was work. I have no idea what was up with that, but I sure wish it would happen again some day. Apparently, my muse actually is a magpie. Or maybe a cow pie. Perhaps that’s where all the shitty ideas come from….

The Gallery

“Why don’t you like my cat?”

“It has nothing to do with not liking your cat.”

“Is it any cat? Do you not like cats?”

“I like cats, cats are fine.”

“Yet you reject my cat.”

“Your cat is always sticking its ass in my face.”

“That’s not just my cat. All cats will stick their ass in your face. It’s instinct.”

“Well, then, let’s just say I don’t like cats.”

“I thought that was the problem.”

 

We are looking at the painting. It is a large white canvas, devoid of paint. “That’s not a painting.” He looks at me with certainty. “It has no paint on it, so how can it be a painting?” “Perhaps it’s simply classified as art.” “Art perhaps, but it’s not a painting.” “Does it matter what it’s called?” We look at each other. We look at the canvas. He looks at me. “Yes, it matters. They want to call it a painting, and it’s not a painting.” “Well, what do you want to call it then?” He considers. “I don’t know, maybe it’s best to just call it a painting.”

 

“Now you’re annoyed, I can tell.”

“I’m not annoyed, it’s just that I don’t dislike animals.”

“But you just admitted to not liking cats.”

“It’s not cats, it’s their behavior. I can dislike part of their behavior without disliking cats in general. Or maybe just not like one particular cat.”

“I didn’t think you liked my cat.”

 

The artist is standing next to us. He has listened to our conversation and is angry. “No, it’s not a painting. I’m the artist, I should know what it is.” “It is a painting.” “But you just said it wasn’t a painting.” “I changed my mind, now that I look at more closely I can see that it definitely is a painting.” “No, no, you were right, look at it, it has no paint on it, it’s not a painting.” “If you have to interpret your painting for the audience, it’s not a very good work of art, is it?” The artist walks away. He is very angry.

 

“Why are you trying to make me admit that I don’t like your cat?”

“I think it would be healthier for you to see that you don’t like the cat and admit to it, rather than try to pretend something that’s isn’t true. You may end up sublimating your dislike of my cat into something else.”

“Would it make you feel better if I said I didn’t like your cat?”

“Well, if it would make you feel better, I think it should be said.”

 

The artist is coming back with a group of people. They look hostile. They are carrying books of poetry by Gertrude Stein. They are coming our way and I want to leave. “Let’s just go, it’s not worth arguing about.” “It’s not an argument, it’s artistic debate. Everyone has a right to express an opinion, although the more I look at it, it really doesn’t seem to be a painting does it? What do you think?” Even when I close my eyes, I can see them coming.

 

“She likes you. She never purrs unless she like you.”

“Cats always like you when you’re allergic to them. She sheds a great deal, doesn’t she?”

“It’s in the nature of a cat to shed. It’s hot outside.”

“Don’t you brush her?”

“Sometimes, but she doesn’t always like it.”

“Can I put her down now?”

 

They are all angry. They are shouting at each other. “How can it be a painting if it has no paint?” “You idiot, do you think the only element of a painting is paint? What about the creative process?” “So then if this is a painting, anyone who states they are an artist is an artist.” “No, art takes creativity.” “So then, it’s not a painting, but it is art.” “Then we’re all artists.” “No, but we could all be painters.” I am still considering the blank canvas.

 

“Would you mind keeping her off my lap?”

“But I thought you liked cats.”

“I do, but only when I want to like them.”

“She doesn’t want to get off your lap. Don’t push her, she might scratch you.”

“But I don’t want her on my lap. Couldn’t you get a dog?”

“No, I’m a cat person. Maybe if I offer her some food she’ll get off your lap.”

 

“Look, if he just painted it white, then it would still be white, it would have paint on it, and it would be a painting.” “But it wouldn’t be a work of art.” “But he would be an artist.” “I like it.” They all look at me. I take money out of my purse. I give it to the artist and take down the canvas. I wonder if it will look better in the living room or over the bed.

 

“Why should you have to offer her anything? She should simply get off my lap because she is an animal and I want her to.”

“But she does have a will.”

“And I have an allergy.”

“Isn’t an allergy also a function of will?”

“She really is purring. Does it really mean she likes me?”

“I think you’ve held her long enough.”

“No, it’s o.k., she’s happy on my lap.”

“Give me back my cat please.”

 

The painting is hanging over the bed. I want to enjoy it alone. In silence. I wonder what they are arguing about, now that I have the painting. I lie down on the bed. The room feels much more peaceful than I remember it feeling when I left. I think, it was a lot of money, but you really can’t pay enough for peace of mind. I fall asleep.

 

“Look, she’s my cat and I want her back now.”

“But she’s happy on my lap. Don’t pull her, she might scratch.”

“I’ll get some food, to entice her off your lap.”

“But I thought you were concerned with her will.”

“If she wants the food I offer to her, then it’s her will that she get off your lap.”

“I would think you would be concerned with the happiness of your cat.”

 

I am awakened by the artist and the group of people carrying books of poetry by Gertrude Stein. They seem happy to see the painting. “You see, I told you she would put it in the bedroom.” “But it would be better in the living room.” “A work of art is a personal experience.” “But it’s the responsibility of the owner of a work of art to share that art.” “What if the artist never shares it?” “Well, that’s different.” I try to go back to sleep.

 

“Look, just as I’m enjoying your cat, you want to take her back.”

“Please give me my cat.”

“But I’m trying to show you that I like your cat.”

“Please give me my cat.”

“I really believe your behavior to be irrational.”

“Please give me my cat.”

“But I like your cat and want to hold her.”

 

I hear a loud voice. “But we never decided if it was a painting or not.” Voices are raised. I consider the artist. I consider the painting. I consider the people with books of poetry by Gertrude Stein. I take a knife, rip the canvas from the frame, and stomp on it. The group is silent. Their eyes are hostile. “She destroyed a work of art.” “She destroyed a painting.” They look at me. “Do you realize a great work of art is an individual effort?” “That was a once in a lifetime piece.” “That can never be recreated.” “It was a blank canvas.” “It was a work of art.” “So a canvas can be replaced, but the work of art can’t?” I leave the room.

 

“Please give me my cat.”

“Are you jealous that the cat likes me?”

“GIVE ME THE DAMN CAT.”

“I never have liked your cat.”

Conversations with Death

Several years ago Dan (you’ll know about Dan if you read the first blog – he’s the artist who supplied the drawing accompanying this blog), gave me a call and asked if I wanted to work on a project with him. And of course I did, so he told me what he had in mind.

He was thinking about a series of stop-motion vignettes about Death. Maybe Death in a bar, talking to the bartender. Bitching about his job, being a regular guy – but of course he’s Death so it really isn’t regular at all. I thought it sounded fun, so I began coming up with concepts. Death and teenage girls, Death and the Darwin Awards, Death has a tough day at the office. We went through several iterations, and the scripts below represent a few of my favorites.

NOTE: In initial drafts I often insert little jokes to myself that not many people will get – I find it fun but I’m guessing a lot of readers would find that annoying. The reference to the “E-Ticket ride” is one of those. Some will get it, some won’t – but you can always Google it if you’re interested.

NO BONES ABOUT IT

Scene: The bar. BARTENDER is behind the bar, DEATH is sitting at the bar, one hand curled around a drink, a cigarette in the other, smoke curling up. The door opens (or maybe we don’t see the door, maybe HUNCH just walks in from offstage) and HUNCH walks in (HUNCH is a very small skeleton with small bones and is slightly hunched over) and sits down next to DEATH.

BARTENDER: What’ll you have?

HUNCH: Milk. And make it a double.

DEATH looks at HUNCH and doesn’t say anything, looks at the BARTENDER. BARTENDER sets down milk.

HUNCH: (Takes a drink.) Good for the bones. You know, exercise, strength training, extra calcium. Don’t want to get too brittle.

BARTENDER reaches out to HUNCH, wait a beat, then pokes a vertebra (probably through stomach under rib cage?) Slight cracking sound and HUNCH compresses ever so slightly.

HUNCH: HEY!

BARTENDER: Wow, that IS brittle. (Reaches out, pokes another vertebra. Slight cracking sound and HUNCH compresses just a little more.)

HUNCH: What the hell! Stop it! I’m not bubble wrap, damn it. (BARTENDER just laughs and starts to reach out again. HUNCH jumps up).

HUNCH: That’s it, I’m outta here. (HUNCH turns to leave. BARTENDER looks at DEATH. Without looking, DEATH reaches back and pokes HUNCH in the hip. Cracking sound and HUNCH goes down.)

BARTENDER: (Looking down over bar.) Nice.

HUNCH: (Pops back up on one leg.) I suppose you think that’s funny!

DEATH: No, not really.

(HUNCH hops out of the bar. Once offstage we hear a crack, then HUNCH speaks): DAMN!

BARTENDER and DEATH look at each other.

DEATH: Now THAT’S funny. (Holds up his drink, the BARTENDER picks up the milk and they click glasses. DEATH takes a sip, and the bartender tosses the glass of milk.)

 

A VERY DISNEY DEATH

DEATH walks into the bar, sits down and doesn’t say anything.

BARTENDER:  The usual?

DEATH:  Yes. Please. (Silence while BARTENDER gets drink. Puts it in front of DEATH who curls one hand around it.)

BARTENDER:  Tough day?

DEATH:  Not really. Just got back from a job in Florida.

BARTENDER: Retiree?

DEATH: No. Tourist. Wanted to get a photo of himself petting an alligator. It’s kind of nice when they make it easy.

BARTENDER: Oh. Right. (Pause while DEATH takes a drink. We hear a buzzing noise and DEATH pulls out his device and looks.)

DEATH: (Sighs.) It never ends. Back to Florida.

BARTENDER: Tourist? Retiree? Jousting mishap at Medieval Times?

DEATH: (Stands.) No. This time I’m headed for the Tragic Kingdom.

BARTENDER: Don’t you mean the Magic Kingdom?

DEATH: (Looks up.) Not when I visit. (Stands and puts device away.) I’ll be packing an 8.5 earthquake in my carry on.

BARTENDER: (Nods head.) Innovative. That’s the ultimate E-Ticket ride, eh? (Pause.) See you later?

DEATH: Count on it. (DEATH exits.)

(BARTENDER picks up DEATH’S glass, looks around, downs the rest of the drink. Wipes out glass with towel and puts glass back under bar.)

 

KNICK-KNACK PADDY WHACK

Set is completely empty except for DEATH, standing to the left of the scene, studying his fingernails.   A moment of silence.

We hear the sound of a dog barking, footsteps running, and panting.  SKELETON goes running through scene R to L with DOG chasing and barking (DOG is a skeleton dog with a perpetually wagging tail).  DEATH’S head turns to watch them goes by.  Goes back to studying his nails.

Sound of dog barking, running, wagging.  SKELETON runs by L to R.  As SKELETON passes DEATH, DOG jumps and grabs an arm bone – hand and all.  SKELETON shrieks and keeps running, DOG chasing.  DEATH watches, studies nails.

Dog barking, footsteps running and panting, wagging furiously.  DOG comes running by with arm in mouth (maybe hand is hanging and flapping?)  SKELETON chasing.

SKELETON:  Come back here with that!  I need that!  That’s my arm dammit!

(Stops in front of DEATH, panting.  DOG is nearby, growling, taunting with arm, still wagging.)

SKELETON: (Looks at DEATH.) It’s my neighbor’s dog.  Barks all night, craps in my yard, and keeps taking my extremities.  He buried my damn leg last week and I had to hop all over for days before I could find it.  Left his damn teeth marks in my fibula.  (Holds out his leg for DEATH to see.  DEATH looks leg up and down, goes back to nails.)

SKELETON:  You ever have this problem?

DEATH: (Looks at SKELETON, then at DOG.) Play dead.  (DOG drops into a pile of bones.  DEATH picks up arm bone and hands to SKELETON, who puts it back on.)

SKELETON:  Thanks.  (Pause.) Huh, I had no idea that dog could do tricks.  (Walks off.)

DEATH: (looks down.)  Good dog. (The tail slightly poking out from the pile of bones wags back and forth.)

Welcome to Endolye

So let’s get it out of the way – a lot of you are probably thinking that Endolye is a terrible name for a blog. Maybe so. It didn’t actually start out as the name for my blog, it started as the name of a place. A fictional place I created many, many years ago.

I’ve been writing for … let’s just say years. I wrote my first short story when I was about seven and if I’m remembering correctly it was about a girl who had a collie dog, and liked to climb the avocado trees in the orange grove near her house. Yes, somewhat autobiographical although the collie was complete wishful thinking – or artistic license depending on how you look at it.

By the time I was in Junior High (that’s right, there was no such thing as Middle School back then), I decided I loved playing with words. In addition to stories I began writing poems. Most of which were really sing-songy, rhymey, non-substantial stuff. But I had fun with them and by the time I was in high school I was writing at least one a day.

Next came college, and who knew you could actually major in creative writing? It would be fun to say I have BFA, but honestly I have a Bachelor’s in English with a concentration in creative writing. Let’s just call it a BA in creative writing (I usually do), and we’ll leave it at that.

After college I didn’t write regularly but I still wrote quite a bit. Over the last … let’s just say years, I’ve accumulated a lot of bits and pieces. Nothing that really screams “publish me,” and I have a great knack for never quite finishing what I’ve started, but it’s still a good bit of work. So why didn’t I do anything with it? I could give you a lot of reasons, but I think honestly it’s a combination of being lazy and a lack of ambition (or are those both manifestations of the same thing? Discuss.). For many years, the only way to get your words out was to find an agent, get a publisher, and cross your fingers. Times, my friends, they have indeed changed.

First came self-publishing outside the vanity press industry. That was – let’s face it – still a lot of work. Then came online publishing, which seemed easier but it felt like you still had to learn quite a bit to do it right. Next came social media, You Tube, and this lovely tool I’m using called WordPress. Honestly, there’s no real reason to keep much of anything to yourself anymore. Well, o.k., apparently there ARE reasons you SHOULD keep some things to yourself (it seems some people have a really low TMI tolerance level), but my point is if you’ve got something to say there’s definitely an easy way to say it to the world.

So here I am. After years of feeling like I haven’t really taken my writing where I should (see above), I’ve finally got an easy, inexpensive way to share my work. So that’s what I plan to do. I plan to dig into my archives and start blogging some of the bits and pieces I’ve written over the years. And I’m sure I’ll occasionally have something new to say as well.

Anyway, back to Endolye. About … let’s just say years ago, I reached out to an old friend who’s an AMAZING artist, Dan Handler. I wanted us to work on a project together, and we had the idea to create a cross-over picture book. A story that felt like it was for a younger audience, but would appeal to adults as well. With wonderful illustrations for most of the pages. The story is about young girl named Dante (don’t start with me, her name is Dante), who doesn’t quite fit in and finds her way to a strange land (one of the first things you learn when you study creative writing is that there are no original ideas). Anyway, the place she ends up is called Endolye. The name comes from the taking the phrase “end of the line,” and saying it over and over, faster and faster. Eventually the word “the” drops out and you have Endolye. Fortunately for me, Dan has also saved a lot of work in his archives, and has agreed to provide me with some of his illustrations to make my blog more visually interesting (I’m guessing, based on this first entry, that’s going to become really important). I’ll be pointing those out along the way as well. For instance, the one for this blog comes from a 2001 New Year’s postcard, and shows one of Endoyle’s main characters, Addis.

Finally (yes, I’m coming to the end at last), I’m given to parentheticals, neologism, and using as many words as possible to get my  point across (you’ve probably guessed that by now), so there’s a good chance a lot of my blogs will go off on some tangents, include some made-up words, and be longer than the average human attention span (which is now less than a goldfish’s – true story, look it up), but hopefully if there’s too many words you can still enjoy the pictures (thank you Dan).

I appreciate you stopping by, and hope you’ll find your way back at some point. Maybe you should just go ahead and bookmark it now. Because, Endolye. Who’s going to remember that?