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February 15: Flash Fiction Challenge

Props whomp-whomp-whomp a steady rhythm like the heartbeat of the plane. Cold air seeps through my window, and I can’t help but stare beyond the plane’s beating blades. It’s the only hint of sun I’ve seen over Svalbard since arriving in January. Sherbert hues of lemon and raspberry will be the single spoonful of sunlight for one hour and 54 minutes. And then it sets.

You might be wondering if my snow enclave with Lady Lake Superior has morphed with the Norwegian Arctic, but I assure you I’m still trapped by her snowy tendrils and merely dreaming of staring out the window at the only bit of sun my middlest daughter sees these days.

Mine is a voyage of the imagination. My daughter is the one who experiences the moment in person.

Rock Climber (or perhaps her arctic name should be Ice Cave Empress) lives in Longyearbyen, Svalbard, Norway. She recently posted this photo on her way to a remote job (as if Longyearbyen isn’t remote enough) in Svea. I’m along for an imaginary ride, hearing the endless whomp of the blades, feeling it connecting me to my daughter whose ice caverns are far away from my icy lakeshores.

As inhospitable as ice might be, my daughter writes that the movie, Frozen, has nothing on the ice caverns above Sveagruva (which means Swedish Mine, Svea to the locals). Sculpted frozen flows open like crystal orchids. My daughter explored inside with the small mining town lit up in the valley of snow below. She watched the Northern Lights pool and spray over a glacier, not bothering to take pictures because she said a camera could never catch the dance.

For now, her greatest danger comes from avalanches. A third of housing in Longyearbyen is under avalanche watch, so Rock Climber and her partner, Chef, are working in Svea where they can find rooms. Workers are only allowed 10 days rotation. They don’t seem to mind the dislocation, flying over partial sunrises and endless glaciers. They relish their life on ice.

I’ve come to welcome mine, too.

Last week, Winter Carnival unfolded across Michigan Tech University. Engineering students from nations around the world pulled the traditional over-nighter to finish building ice castles and sculptures. This year, Camelot rose just a few blocks from where I write. Frozen in ice, King Arthur kneels at the sword. Ah, I knew Superior was the Lady of the Lake! Here are the winning sculptures:

Ice ages. I don’t refer to “the” ice ages — I mean, ice grows old. It gets heavy and lined, pocked and dirty. It melts and turns crystalline until grabbing on to more layers of snow. It reminds me of aged cheese. But don’t worry, I’m not going to spread it on a cracker and eat it. I know what the critters do on ice!

Outside my front window, I watch five squirrels run the same tree branch trail around and around. As they bounce from bough to bough, snow plops to the aged ice below. I watch as my daughter flies over glaciers. If the snow extends from here through Canada, across to Greenland and over to Svalbard, are we standing on the same continent of ice?

Where does a mother go when the birds have fledged? I’ve watched male mergansers inflate their heads during their mating season, then shrivel up and fly away. The female mergansers remain, hiding nests from sky-prowlers like eagles and owls. Tufts of feathers emerge as baby mergansers. They grow bold and take to deeper waters and diving. I’ve seen the pond full of mergansers on the verge of flight and within days find only the emptiness.

A few mothers linger about. Neatening up the nest? Taking up grass knitting or reading the stars at night like books, no longer worried about death raining down as eagle claws? The babes made it. The mothers are on their own.

Rock Climber lands in Svea and already morning has turned to dark of night. The whomping blades shudder to stop, and she walks away from the window to new sights and adventures. I tidy up my ice and think of her laugh. My daughter is only an ice flow away. The polar bears slumber and the sun is making a return. She’s the Ice Cavern Empress, and I’m a writing merganser dreaming of sherbert on ice.

February 15, 2018, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story on ice. It can be an event on ice, a game on ice or a drink on ice. Go where the prompt leads you.

Respond by February 20, 2018, to be included in the compilation (published February 21). Rules are here. All writers are welcome!

***

Pups on Ice (from Miracle of Ducks) by Charli Mills

Garan blew past Danni, kicking up clumps of powder from the recent snowstorm. When he hit the ice, all four paws skittered, and he crashed to his chest, sliding across the smooth expanse.

Danni let out a hoot, and the herd of German Short-haired puppies slowed their bumbling approach to the ice. They pestered their mother, Det and yipped at their father who scrambled to gain traction on the pond. The runt took a bold step, then slipped on the glazed surface.

One bumped another, and then the chase-slipping began. Danni laughed, the only audience to Pups on Ice.

###

February 16: Flash Fiction Challenge

february-16There’s a juniper tree on the slope of scree between my view outside the library window and the cliffs of Zion Canyon. The juniper is the size of a person, and each time I glance out I think someone is there, watching me. I’m torn between my inside world of words and my outside world of nature. A person on the periphery of both is startling. As if this Juniper Tree Watcher can see through to me.

I’m not paranoid. I use aluminum foil for BBQing, not blocking nefarious satellite spying. Honestly, I don’t feel watched in that sense. I don’t feel the need to wear hats in public to hide my face from Big Brother cameras or apply duct tape to the video cam on my lap top. Seriously, if anyone is watching me as I write, they have weird clips of me contorting my expression in frustrated pain when internet feeds are slow, deep breathing, arm/shoulders/neck exercising, or drooling when in a daze to flow thoughts from the head to tapping fingers.

The worst Big Brother can nail me for is one-handed keyboarding and scratching my nose (it was just a scratch).

I’ve long known the NSA is watching my email and blogs and bank accounts. The NSA alerts come from Idaho neighbors who’d come over for coffee and the latest conspiracies. I don’t doubt the government is watching, but doing something with that data is beyond their abilities. Try getting VA care. They have tons of data. They lack resources.

Once, when I was 12, a Native American elder warned me about water babies and watchers. He described a place where the Washo knew the watchers to be. It was a spot I avoided because my horse snorted every time I rode past this low bit of land along a creek. My friend said my horse recognized the watchers. I began to think about other places I felt watched, yet another correlation emerged: history.

Feeling watched became a clue for me to look for historic or even pre-historic evidence of habitation. I got so good at it that I recorded 11 archeological sites around the town where I grew up, including the spot I had been warned about. Of course I learned to identify features and clues, but that sense I feel, like a hunch, also feels like being watched.

The top of Dalton Wash felt like a hunch the first time we crested the mesa. It didn’t take long before I found chippings and tools, indicative of an encampment. Subsequent times I’ve been back, I’ve brought loose tobacco to share, a gift to the ancients my Native friends taught me. The first time I brought tobacco, I had the hair on the back of my neck stand up at a certain point. I felt I should not go past and I left my gift there on the wind.

I’ve been asking around, to fill in the gap between knowing this place was once inhabited and wanting discover their story. Some of the rock shops had said the Shoshone and Paiute lived and hunted here. It didn’t feel like my watcher, though. Then I discovered a small warning to hikers on the Zion side of the mesa above Dalton Wash — leave rocks, petrified wood and artifacts behind for others to enjoy; do not climb or disturb the rock dwellings.

Rock dwellings would mean Pueblo or even the mysterious Anasazi. I began asking outfitters and all were reluctant to say anything more than the park doesn’t want people to know in order to protect the ruins. In a round about way they confirmed the existence of ancient ruins in the vicinity where I felt watched and compelled to leave tobacco.

Whatever the feeling is, it taps into my imagination. Of course, a logical explanation would be my mind attempting to fill in the gaps it doesn’t know. I could agree with that. When I was younger I thought an archaeological career would be the greatest ever. I had always wanted to write historical novels and I saw the possibility of being an archaeologist/historical fiction novelist. It was beyond what I could do at the time, and college was not part of my family dynamic. By the time I got to college, I was a mother of three. Practicality dictated a teaching profession, but history and creative writing called my name. Creative writing called the loudest.

When I started writing Miracle of Ducks, Danni came to me as Dr. Danni Gordon, an historical archaeologist. She disdains dogs until her husband Ike abruptly decides to serve a private military company in Iraq. She has to overcome her dislike of dogs and Ike’s best friend to hold her life together in Ike’s absence. She ends up finding a friendship and a pup, and eventually she even finds her community after believing she never needed to be part of one.

The friend, Michael Robineaux, is the perfect foil for Danni’s career — he’s Ojibewe. He frequently challenges both her profession and disbelief in the supernatural. While the plot doesn’t get too “far out there” there is a thread of supernatural regarding the pup, Bubbie. Most of it is easily explained away like my sense of feeling watched by those who’ve gone before, but there’s several incidents that are left to the reader to decide.

The community element was something I originally set up to contrast Ike’s commitment to duty and Danni’s need for solitude. Community is a dynamic force, and complex. Miracle of Ducks drills down through the layers until Danni can finally see her own placement and come to understand why Ike would feel the need to put himself in harm’s way.

Last week I had a huge breakthrough in revising. I’ve mentioned before that I’m changing the setting from northern Wisconsin to north Idaho. One chunk of story that I wasn’t sure how to transfer involves Bubbie getting lost on Madeline Island. There is no such place in north Idaho, although several peninsulas on Lake Pend Oreille might work. Last week, I responded to the prompt and was thinking about Danni’s angst over her missing pup. In my original scene, Danni and Michael spend days searching for Bubbie, following up on sightings including a farmer who finds the pup in his hen-house.

Without thinking, I wrote Bubbie was lost on the Pack River and a group of rednecks shot at him for sport. Suddenly, the transfer was complete in my imagination. I could see Bubbie getting lost on the Pack (many dogs do each year) and the dangers became real and unfolded. I’m biting at the bit to get this scene rewritten now, thanks to the insight from that flash. Sometimes, my own responses to the prompt are like a flash light showing the path in the darkness!

I hope to find that ruin above Dalton Wash before we leave Mars. We don’t know where we are going next, or how we are going to move our RV, but I hope we get a flash of insight before the snowbird season ends, early April. Like a good story, I know something is up on Dalton Wash. It interesting to note, it’s not the only Anasazi ruin in the area.

The other is beyond the slope where the Juniper Tree Watcher stands.

February 16, 2017 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that includes a watcher. It can be a sentinel like the Watchman formation that overlooks Zion Canyon, or a Big Brother conspiracy theory. How can you use a watcher to set a tone or present a twist?

Respond by February 21, 2017 to be included in the compilation (published February 22). Rules are here. All writers are welcome!

***

Falling Shadows (from Miracle of Ducks) by Charli Mills

The Beehive was where granite met duff and towering larch. Hikers said they saw a dog like Bubbie run up the trail. She swore she saw dog-prints by the spring. Nothing. No Bubbie. Just a warm breeze through the pines.

She felt…watched.

Looking up, high on the granite mound considered sacred to the Salish, and called the Beehive for its shape, Danni could see the shadow of a dog. How did Bubbie get up there? She’d need a rope to ascend.

Her breath left her as the shadow fell. Before impact, it spread wings and an eagle flew away.

###

Smoke on the Horizon

SmokeExtreme weather leads to natural disasters. Flames crown ridges of drought-dry trees; greasy debris churns down rain-sodden slopes; and unexpected water displaces lives. Regional disasters, weather related and often people oriented, becomes smoke on the horizon that the world can see.

Who responds? A busload of anonymous helpers. Firefighters from across national borders. Citizen inventors with a solution.

Often the extremes are unexpected. Nations deplete resources and people flee as refugees.  How we respond to the smoke of elsewhere often defines our societal character.

The following stories are based on the August 26, 2015 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about the need for help in an extreme weather event.

***

Man’s Wrath by Pete Fanning

It came from above. Fish scattered as the earth moved. Land slid and rocks shifted. Driftwood slammed to the ocean floor, releasing thick clouds that smothered the light.

It was carnage, how mankind mangled the sea, trampling the coral reefs and contaminating its magical blue waters. The wreckage was everywhere: the sunken ships, the murky fog of filth and trash, the ghastly tangle of his net, swooping in like a giant mouth. The fish plunged deeper into the angry waters, searching for refuge…

“Scottie, how many times do I have to tell you? Get out of the fish tank!”

###

Midnight Locomotive by Pat Cummings

Winter’s rains pounded for a week before the San Gabriel express arrived.

The slope above the house, burned greasy brown by autumn’s fires, was a well-prepared track for this locomotive, primed to deliver tons of gluey debris down our hillside street, straight to our house.

Transplants from Georgia, we knew only of floods up from the river, in from the ocean. The rumble at midnight was our first warning of California’s downhill kind. Shed-sized rocks, neighbor’s automobiles, the twisted swing-set from our yard, a house-filling mud-flow, burst through the back door.

We lived: our backyard pool caught just enough.

###

Flash Fiction #1 by Irene Waters

Suddenly, unexpectedly the sky darkened, emitting an eerie green glow. It sounded like an express train passing at speed when the wind came, followed by the crash and splintering of wood. The tin of the roof buckled under the weight of the fallen trees, that had twisted and snapped like twigs. It passed, as soon as it came, continuing on its path of destruction. Shattered people emerged, surveying the damage. Emergency services eventually reached the needy, clearing the roads and tarping the rooves. Unaffected friends helped.

Three days on, power unfixed, we listened on the car radio – Desert Storm.

###

Arrogance By Sacha Black

They were delicate rumbles at first. Tempting my arrogance to ignore them. So I did, I stayed, laptop open, coffee in hand, typing.

But the hairs on my knuckles stood to attention. I knew I’d made a mistake. The rumbles became thundering cracks and the Earth ruptured.

The coffee shop tore open like the sun bursting through clouds. My laptop slipped and fell into the ravine.

“No,” I screamed, reaching for my life’s work. My foot slipped. I held on with five sweating fingertips. Four. Three. Two… At least I’d die with my work.

Then a hand grabbed me.

###

Freezing Nightmare by Ann Edall-Robson

Darned truck. Where did the landmarks go?

Blasting snow and howling north wind. Tired of walking. Need to stop. No! Keep moving. Rest, yes rest, here, beside the road. Need shelter from the wind. Stay awake.

Consciousness slides away. Deeper and deeper his mind spirals. Struggling to keep his frosted eyelids open. Slowly, his thoughts welcome the abyss of darkness. It’s so cold. Imagination and hallucination take over. Sleep feels good.

The ground shakes beneath him.The sound of an engine. A door slams. Amber lights flashing. A dream…

The snowplow driver knelt beside him.

The nightmare was over.

###

Fence Down by Jeanne Lombardo

Paul cranked the ignition. Only the same harsh rasp. And no service on the cell phone.

“Won’t be an hour,” he’d called, flinging his weight into the white, squinting wind; his mother’s voice a needle in the air before the sky sucked it up.

Now cold seared a sugar crust onto the windshield. The snow funneled down. It’d swallowed the fence in the south pasture. Now dense, wet waves of it lapped against the tires.

At least he’d found the cow, he thought, satisfied, settling back, closing his eyes, already oblivious to the sound of a truck door slamming.

###

A Blessing in Disguise by Ruchira Khanna

Mortgage over-due. Bank Balance in negative.

John is sitting on his dry land that has disintegrated due to lack of rains.

Now he has only one hope.

That his continuous bawling, sobbing could wet his land with the hope that he could reap the crops and gain his self-respect.

Politics and Weather lead to the loss and debt.

While continuing with his sobs, he felt a few trickles.

Looked around, to no luck!

Looked up to see Nature joining him in his cry.

That made him euphoric since Mother Nature’s whimper is a blessing in disguise.

###

Flash Fiction #2 by Irene Waters

Prepared for the worst we bunkered down after giving rations, water, torches and extra blankets to our guests. They’d be safe in their bungalows, as these had stood against cyclones of greater strength than now predicted . Nevertheless, as the wind howled bending the trees double, we worried about them. At great danger to himself, in the calm of the eye, before the storm turned with its destroying ferocity, Peter visited them and checked they were alright.

They left when the airport reopened gushing their thanks.

A month later: a complaint. We hadn’t served breakfast. Please refund money in full.

###

Toasted by Sarah Brentyn

“What could be better than this?”

“Not a thing.” Donna smiled at her husband.

“It’s like being on vacation…”

“Every day,” she finished.

They clinked glasses, toasting their new beachfront home, watching frothy waves roll up on their private beach.

They don’t talk about that night on their deck overlooking the ocean—the shattered champagne bottle, the shattered dream.

But they are reminded.

Every time they reach out for help, they are reminded.

Sipping scotch in the motel, they listen to Donna’s mother on speakerphone. “A category 4 hurricane. Tsk, tsk. I told you not to buy beachfront property.”

###

One Shivering Southern Belle by Paula Moyer

Her third winter up in Minnesota. Third season of sub-zero highs. Tonight, Jean paced at the bus stop, arms crossed, hands clapping her shoulders to keep – well, not warm, just moving.

She went through the list of layers: “Next time I’ll …” but no. The extra socks? Two thermal undershirts? Tights under the long-johns? She’d done them all. Nothing more to do.

The bank sign blinked: 25 below. Her shoulders heaved. She sobbed, then made herself stop – the moisture could cause frostbite.

Despair. Then …

“Stand close to me.” Jill, her roommate, just off work. Catching the same bus.

###

Saturated by Geoff Le Pard

Mary peered out of the tent at the rain. ‘More like a waterfall,’ she thought, given rain should come in drops. Behind her Penny squealed ‘snap’! followed by a groan from her husband Paul. Mary squinted at where their car sat. Between it and the tent the grass had gone, replaced by a moat. Any moment, she thought and they’d float. She rocked her baby and smiled.
A hand touched her shoulder. ‘Perfect break, eh?’ Paul nibbled her neck and she shivered. ‘Gross, dad.’ Penny pushed him and he rolled over, laughing.

Her family: Mary was saturated with love.

###

Storm by Norah Colvin

A big storm was coming. Two older ones were put in charge of two younger ones. They sat at the fence, watching. Soon other neighbourhood kids gathered, sharing storm stories, waiting.

Green clouds swirled as dark clouds played leapfrog races above. The children watched the storm rush closer; mesmerised by its beauty, mindful of its power.

Soon the winds whipped up, chasing the other kids home. The older two called to the younger, but they were nowhere to be seen. Mortified they hurried inside to alert their parents.

What relief. They were already in, telling of the storm’s approach.

###

Mad Scientist by Larry LaForge

Ed rose at 4 AM again. Edna heard him scratching around in his cluttered study. What’s he up to this time?

Around 8 AM Ed plopped his laptop on the kitchen table and grabbed a cup of black coffee.

“Big project?” Edna asked.

“Biggest one yet,” Ed answered solemnly.

“’What about?”

“WERELO.”

“Huh?”

“WERELO,” Ed repeated.

“WERELO?”

Ed motioned for Edna to lower her voice and move closer. “Weather Relocation,” he whispered. “Moving weather patterns. Getting rain to drought and fire areas.”

Edna knew her husband had absolutely no scientific training. “But how?”

“That’s where I’m stuck,” Ed replied.

###

Red Stains by Christina Rose

The day the city let us back in,
we went to help.
Driving through mud covered alleys,
landfill streets.

Doors covered with red paint
– 0 Dead – 1 – 2.
Trapped inside,
survivors wait for rescue.

Wade into a home
about to collapse.
A dog floats by.
Tears well –
ashamed a dead
animal stirs more
emotion.

Dirty diapers decompose,
stench fills the house.
Rub chew on upper lip
– the smell is better
than decay.

Trailers spread over
suburban lawns.
Temporary homes will last for
months, years.
Broken families wait
for checks.

Homes still crumble,
waterlines still mark walls.
Death stained doors.

###

Hurricane Sandy by Jules Paige

Somewhere in the Midwest, a major weather event
happened several years ago. A whole town lost its’
footing. Yet the people would not give up – Someone
knew someone who organized other people. That’s
how a Jewish Congregation on the east coast started
helping – becoming an annual bus trip to help the
town rebuild.

The first year it was one bus, and the next year two.
Those who didn’t go gave money and supplies for
those who did. The rabbi goes every year. It’s a mitzvah
– a good deed that no one expected recognition for.

###

Flash Fiction by Anne Goodwin

When the water swirled around our feet, the boatman insisted we’d be there soon. What choice had we? We peered through the darkness for dry land.

When we asked for jackets, they said to start bailing. When the sea reached our knees, we asked about the radio. But rescue meant repatriation and prison for the crew.

They said we were too many, but we hadn’t been too many when they took our dollars. We pleaded for the children as the waves crashed overhead. When the water reached our waists, they launched the dinghy and left us to our fate.

###

Border Crossers by Charli Mills

Lucy’s helmet blew off when the smoky whirlwind hit. Flames began to illuminate the dense fog of gray. Radiant heat blazed like a torch. Bad signs.

Her crew boss transmitted the call. “Need help, HQ. Fire blew up on the west flank. Lines won’t hold.” Static. No answer.

Flames screamed. The air receded. They all hunkered low together. I’m going to die, she thought. And damn it, I lost my helmet.

Lucy never heard the Bombardiers before both dropped water like benevolent sky spirits, but she felt the instant relief. The Canadians heard their call and crossed the border.

***

Dedicated to all firefighters near and far who answered the West’s call for help in August of 2015. And the Country Folk who survive.

 

The Day the World Turned Brown

The Day the WorldClimate change education and literacy is an important part of of the 21-century world. Writers in general are vital to the discourse of information, and literary writers are important to imagining what might happen. That’s what writers did this week — imagine a brown world.

Yet, creativity knows no bounds. Beyond environmental factors, writers imagined humanity, humor, irony, tragedy and joy. If there is hope for our future, it is found in the creative spirit of determination to leave this world a better place for the next generations. We can nurture the earth.

The following stories are based on the April 1, 2015 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write about the day the earth turned brown.

Brown by Luccia Gray

I used to think blue was the most beautiful colour in the world.

When Tim’s intense blue eyes first looked into mine, I soon realised I wanted to gaze at them forever, and he always said my clear blue eyes were like pools he wanted to sink into eternally.

I assumed our son would have blue eyes, so I was surprised when they were brown; a soft, honey brown. Tim says our son will be tall, dark, and handsome, like his father. Now every time I look into our toddler’s eyes, I remember the day my world turned brown.

###

Treasured Memories by Ruth Irwin

It was as if she was looking through a thick dark fog. The images were hauntingly familiar, but somehow strangely different. Amongst others, the elegant Eiffel Tower; the snaking Great Wall of China; Tower of London with its secrets of wealth and horror; the proud Statue of Liberty; the traditional Fijian Bure. The whole world was awash with a brown that sofened the edges and threatened to erase the images from view.

Despite her early morning coffee washing over the printed memories nothing would ever blur the treasured images in her mind of her adventures in far off lands.

###

The End Is Near – Flash Fiction by Susan Zutautas

Thirsting for water
Not a cloud anywhere seen
Everything is dead

Trees are screaming out
Our leaves are all on the ground
Somehow please save us

Once what was luscious
Voluminous green pastures
Has now turned to dust

Spring arrived with hope
Not a flower to be seen
Dispiritedness

Oceans are depleting
Lakes and rivers are hollow
Ponds now memories

Scorching sun daily
Humans are seeking shelter
Underneath the ground

Not one animal
Can endure these elements
Soon there will be none

Annihilation time
Sorrowfully will soon show up
Such a travesty

Depression darkness
Gasping for relief to come

###

When it Happened by Charli Mills

It felt like a shadow, creeping up my back. At first I thought it was a thunderhead, scudding across the midday sun. I knelt in freshly turned soil to finger a trench for stony beet seeds. When the crows flew overhead in silence, I finally looked up.

Like some grand dust storm from Arizona, a mass of brown clouds roiled like sediment, churning the sky. A volcano? No wind. No dust. A brown haze descended. It wilted green grass and shriveled clover. Water ran like mud. Electricity dimmed and batteries frothed. My beets never saw the light of day.

###

Darkest Before the Dawn by Geoff Le Pard

Mary stared at what was once her parents’ garden but now looked like the Somme. Figures in white suits, like choreographed aliens moved slowly between trenches. A group were struggling to raise a tent to protect the current working area.

She heard her half-brother say, ‘They’ve not found anything. The detective said they should be finished by the weekend.’

Mary watched the clouds roll in, the first of the promised rain dropping on the turned earth. Finished by the weekend? ‘It’ll never be finished.’

Her husband put his arms around her waist. ‘Yes it will; you wait and see.’

###

Flash Fiction by Irene Waters

“What colour do you want to paint the world? We have enough Mission Brown or Sunburst yellow. I doubt there is enough Burnt orange left in the storehouse.”

“You haven’t got a green?”

“Nope. All out of green. Very popular last year with the tree artists.”

“Don’t need to bother there no more. The Amazon’s gone and that mine dust killed most of the others. I think we’ll use the brown. That’s how I’m feeling. Drab. Down.”

“Okie dokey. I’ll get the paint to the decorators.”

True to his word, the painters brushed the world, soon turning it brown.

###

Dateline Fresno County by Phil Guida

The hills are usually brown in this valley, but not until June when the temperatures begin reaching triple digits. This is only April and our world seems to have been choked dry.

The ground is parched, the lakes of my younger years are merely ponds, and the rivers resemble creeks. Our once oasis is rapidly retreating back to its origins.

No rain, no snowpack, and soon, no farmers.

The air has a peculiar scent, one that I’m unfamiliar with.

Maybe it’s the slow dying of the land taking place or it could be the stinking denial of climate change.

###

Going Brown by Pat Cummings

Our new house was perfect, except for the poor garden plot in back. Limp weedy stalks drooped in widely-separated clumps over the dry gray soil.

Those first few weeks, as we unpacked and arranged furniture inside, I could ignore the gasping pleas of the water-starved garden. New house, new job, new neighbors to meet, new schools for the kids—there was no time for backyard farming.

Then my neighbor offered, “I make more compost than I ever use. I just enjoy making compost.” Digging it in felt so good, transforming that dry gray earth to a rich, fertile brown!

###

Dry Season’s Eve by Sarah Unsicker

I saturate my lawn for the last time, mourning the impending brown. The stifling hundred-degree days without a swimming pool. The baked brown lawns and flowerless gardens. The absence of squeals of children running through sprinklers. Already the sun beats down, a shadow of the summer’s heat.

I water only until I see water running down the sidewalk, then put the hose on the top shelf of the shed, the shelf I need a stepladder to reach. The dry season begins tomorrow.

I pour myself a glass of water, drink a sip, and pour the rest down the drain.

###

Desert Storm by Sherri Matthews

The Man With No Name sat motionless on horseback, his eyes squinting into the scorched, brown skyline as his horse pawed at the parched earth.

“I need fresh air,” gasped Ken. “I’m sick.”

Muriel smirked, as she followed him up to the deck. “I’ll join you, this film’s boring anyway.”

“I know what you’ve done Muriel,” yelled Ken, as he lurched towards her.

A packet of rat poison fell out of her pocket. “You idiot!” screamed Muriel as a gust of wind sent them both overboard.

Gun fire rang out from inside the boat as a vulture swirled overhead.

###

The Rose Garden by Ula Humienik

The heat seemed boundless. Farmers predicted rising grain prices. Daniel said it was unavoidable. My only concern was for my rose garden; it hadn’t seen water for weeks.

“How long do you think they could last without water before we can declare the damage irreparable?” I asked Daniel.

“I don’t know, honey. They’re probably gone. Where’s my navy sweatshirt?”

“In the second closet.”

Three weeks had passed since water rations had run out. I skipped a glass of water a day for my roses.

“Honey, we need to get out before it’s too late.”

“But what about my roses?”

###

The Cure by Sacha Black

“What do you mean you saw a rainbow, Tyler?”

“Before you were born, and before the world became this slush of vintage browns and antique beiges, there used to be colour in the world. The Earth was flecked with colour and shaded with meaning.”

The girl just stared at me, brows deeply furrowed.

“Colour?”

“I’ll show you if you promise to keep it secret?”

She nodded.

I led her to the back of the house and into the greenhouse.

“You see that? The tiny budding shoot? It’s the first of its kind for five years. I’ve found the cure.”

###

A World of Browns by Roger Shipp

“Do you want to walk outside, Dad?”

“Why bother?”

“You need the exercise.”

“I can get that walking the halls. Besides, more people to talk to here.”

“I know that. But wouldn’t you like the fresh wind in your face… see the mountains… hear the birds?”

“When blue jays aren’t blue, they’re just mean vicious bullies. Mountains without sunsets have little meaning.”

“Are all the colors gone, Dad?”

“The sky is still a nice shade of blue…. But who wants to see a brown sunrise? Oh, ignore me. I am blessed. My love for you will never turn brown.”
_________________

** Monochromacy can be an acquired eye malady of the aging. The cones in the eyes weaken and eventually the ability to see all colors except browns and shades of blues is vanquished.

###

Lawn Care by Larry LaForge

“I got this,” Ed said confidently.

Edna was apprehensive. “But, Ed, it’s our front yard. Let’s get a lawn professional.”

“That’s just throwing money away,” Ed replied. “Fertilize. Water. Cut. That’s all you have to do. It’s not rocket science. Trust me.”

Edna relented, and Ed took on the project with his usual gusto—and impatience.

He gave it a triple dose of fertilizer, watered twice per day, and kept it cut super low to prevent any weed growth.

The blazing summer sun did the rest.

Finally, Edna had seen enough. “Ed, isn’t a lawn supposed to be green?”

*****
The 100-word version of this story is posted at larrylaforge100words on Flash Fiction Magazine.

###

Thirsty by Amber Prince

We stood on the bridge looking down into the sandy abyss littered with long forgotten lost belongings and decaying fish.

“This isn’t good.”

I shook my head. There was nothing else to be said, we both knew what was coming next. It had already begun. Dehydration crept up the embankments as though the Earth was looking for a drink, and sucking the life from anything in its path.

No one knew how long we had, but we all knew what was coming. Without water, there could be no life.

We watched as the last lake took its last breath.

###

One the Scene by Sarah Brentyn

“Wait!” Skinny rushed over with her can of hairspray, lifting a flyaway strand out of my face.

I sighed, “Hurry! I’m first on the scene. Don’t screw this up for me.”

“Okay.” Skinny scurried away. “Just wanted…”

“Whatever,” I snapped. “Blondie, you ready?”

Blondie shifted her camera slightly, “Go.”

I drew my eyebrows together, pursed my lips, and spoke slowly. “Minutes ago,” I slumped my shoulders and swung my arm to show the surrounding brown grass and trees, “our beloved park….”

“Stop. News reports coming in from everywhere—‘the dying earth’ they’re calling it. You’re not the first…”

“Dammit!”

###

The Smell of Peace by Ruchira Khanna

Zeenat woke up to loud screams, sirens, and gunshots. She was quick to peep out the window; after smelling fear, and anger she collected her essential resources and ducked in her basement.

Stuffed her ears with cotton and started chanting. Hours ticked to days and soon to a week. Finally, everything was quiet.

She came out with her face covered cause of clouds of soot. The residue had turned everything brown and burnt sienna. However, she lifted that cloth and inhaled deeply cause the smell of peace is far more wholesome and harmless than any destruction caused by mankind.

###

Scorched by Georgia Bell

She’d been sweating out here for hours. Turning over dirt. Moving it from one place to another. She accepted the canteen gratefully when it came her way, barely remembering the time she would have refused to drink from the same container as a stranger.

“Thanks,” she said and wiped her hand across her mouth, likely just smearing the filth on her face into streaks.

The young girl who worked beside her looked down, but she saw the smile that turned up the corners of her lips.

Taking a chance, she leaned in. “Come see me later. I have news.”

###

Palette Potential by Norah Colvin

She walked between the desks admiring their work. From the same small palette of primary colours, and a little black and white for shades and tones, what they produced was as individual as they: J’s fierce green dinosaur and exploding volcanoes; T’s bright blue sea with sailing boat and smiling yellow sun; B’s football match . . . At least in this they had some small opportunity for self-expression. She paused at M’s. M had mixed all the colours into one muddy brown and was using hands to smear palette, paper, desk and self . . .

###

Binding a World by Rebeca Patajac

Day by day, the population thinned. Babies weren’t being conceived as often as they once had. The sun’s radiation increased week by week. Cancer counts increased. Hospitals overflowed. Lives faded.

Those with fair skin donned sunscreen every morning without fail, before continuing life. Most just stayed indoors.

All were failing fertility tests.

Years pass.

A coloured President. A Prime Minister. Council and Board members. School principals. Teachers. Newspeople. Neighbours. Friends. They all grew darker.

White folk just weren’t strong enough; their evolutionary lines unprepared.

The last died and all others pushed onward, brown skin binding a world in peace.

###

Flash Fiction by Anne Goodwin

Her cheeks were a hodgepodge of colour when he left, slamming the door behind him. Mascara washing into blusher, rainbow shadows streaking from around her eyes. It reminded him of mixing paints as a kid: the power to reduce sky and sun to mud.

Now, under heavy clouds, with the snow recently melted, the moors are likewise conquered: grass leached of green, shrubs stripped of leaves, the heart sucked out of the bracken. He leaves the paths to the Sunday walkers with their Gore-Tex smiles and stumps across the peat to lose himself in a muted landscape of brown.

###

Flash Fiction by Pete Fanning

It was time. After all the waiting and hoping and false starts we’d broken through, both on the calendar and the grasshopper thermometer outside the window.

Stabbing in with the shovel, I unearthed moist, brown soil, like that of a brownie just out of the oven. I stirred the fragments, the once vibrant yellow banana peels, dimpled corn cobs along with red tomatoes, leaves, egg shells, and even some soda that I’d snuck in before my diet.

Thick earthworms wiggled as I stirred nature’s crockpot, where the fertile brown earth would soon bolster the wonderful green stalks of life.

###

Tilting the Future by Geoff Le Pard

We’ve browned off the Earth with careless needs
Thoughtless beyond our artificial horizons;
Enlightened by science, scattering seeds
Of our potential destruction. Denizens
Of Earth shrug – having a secular faith
Expecting absolution; they plough on
While the plough rusts in the field; a wraith
Of their lush youth melts in the heat. Clarion
Calls dissipate. Tipping points have passed.
Narrow minds ‘know’ summer’s oven is a phase,
Seasons change: solid winter never fails its task.
Oh history, be their teacher – Time’s backward gaze:
Recall the dinosaurs; even they all died
While the rest – the birds and beasts survived.

###

July 16: Flash Fiction Challenge

Before you begin reading, turn on some music: Mark Isham.

Carrot Ranch Flash FictionOur county had no high school of its own so students had to be bused out of the mountains of eastern California into a valley of northern Nevada. The bus ride was an hour each day, each way. Buses can be socially awkward spaces, especially for socially awkward teenagers, and I just wanted to sit alone. If I had to double up, L was a safe choice.

No one wanted to sit with L, saying she smelled. Despite the efforts of our grade-school teachers to explain certain cultural norms for the local indigenous Washo families, many wrinkled their noses. But she could flash the warmest smile that lit her brown eyes and she’d welcome another reader at her side.

It was L who introduced me to Farley Mowat’s books. Upon his death in May of 2014, The New York Times hailed him as “the champion of the far north.” Through Mowat’s stories, I was transformed to arctic places where wild wolves were less viscous than the people who sought to eradicate them and where I met the Inuit through his compassionate filter.

As a writer, The New York Times says this of him:

“He wrote with great range, from light, humorous fiction to historical accounts and dark tales of injustice, from children’s stories to tales of exploration, whale hunting and deep-sea salvaging.

But one theme remained constant: humanity’s relationship with nature, one in which he frequently cast people as a devastatingly destructive force.”

You might say that Mowat planted the seed for my interest in climate fiction–a genre that explores the impact of anthropogenic climate change. But it would be the music of Mark Isham that fed the seed. In 1983, Disney produced one of Mowat’s books for the big screen: “Never Cry Wolf.” And Isham supplied the haunting score that still can touch me deeply.

Filed away in the recesses of my mind was the note-to-self, “One day write about the Inuit in the Arctic.”  Then in 2007, I was at a conference and learned about Will Steger’s Global Warming 101 Expedition. Through serendipity my eldest had applied for a scholarship to go as an exchange student and was accepted. The following year I hosted Inuit students at my home for dinner. My desire to write about this place and culture reignited.WLMI Cover Concept

Now I had a garden on Arctic stories growing within me. And still Mark Isham spurred me on. I wrote a short story in a 24-hour story slam and the editors invited me to present it. I held onto the potential and let it flower last NaNoWriMo into a project I titled, “Warm Like Melting Ice.” My mock-cover borrows a photo from the exchange students of the Global Warming 101 Expedition. My music of choice while writing was Isham, of course.

Over the years I’ve owned the album you are listening to in various forms–record, cassette, CD and itunes. While it has musical scores from several movies, I equate them all with the arctic. I played it as I designed my concept cover; I’ll play it as I revise. Have you ever found music to connect with your writing?

Last week, Rough Writer, Sarah Brentyn, let her inner Darth Vader out to write flash fiction. Now I’ll hear the Imperial March every time I read something chilling from her. And that set me on this course about how music can move our writing. How it can reach into recesses long passed over to pull out a forgotten story idea that had grown to novel proportions.

Judging by the shared music over the past few weeks on blog posts, I don’t think I’m alone in this influence. So I’m curious to hear your stories this week and, if available, link the music that influenced your flash when you submit it. Youtube has just about everything. It’s up to you if you want to include a song with lyrics, but try to be influenced by the sound rather than the words.

July 16, 2014 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story influenced by a musical score.  Where do you drift, hearing the notes? How does it fire you up to grab the story and hurl it into existence? Or is it gentle, and leading you into lyrical pastures of green? Respond by noon (PST) Tuesday, July 22 to be included in the compilation.

McCandless Rides by Charli Mills

Hooves pounded in the distance, hollow like ancient kettle drums. Sarah heard Cob riding his leggy blood red bay with main as black as his owner’s thick hair. Only Cob rode so recklessly down the mountain. No one was about the store this time of evening. She was only there to tally the books. Sarah set her ink quill aside, shuffled the accounting notes for her father’s business and smoothed her long hair that was artfully coiled at the back of her head. Hers was lighter than his; ‘chestnut’ he called it, when he had stroked her uncoiled locks.

****

Written to The Lone Wanderer by Antti Martikainen

###

Rules of Play:

  1. New Flash Fiction challenge issued at Carrot Ranch each Wednesday by noon (PST).
  2. Response is to be 99 words. Exactly. No more. No less.
  3. Response is to include the challenge prompt of the week.
  4. Post your response on your blog before the following Tuesday by noon (PST) and share your link in the comments section of the challenge that you are responding to.
  5. If you don’t have a blog or you don’t want to post your flash fiction response on your blog, you may post your response in the comments of the current challenge post.
  6. Keep it is business-rated if you do post it here, meaning don’t post anything directly on my blog that you wouldn’t want your boss to read.
  7. Create community among writers: read and comment as your time permits, keeping it fun-spirited.
  8. Each Tuesday I will post a compilation of the responses for readers.
  9. You can also follow on Carrot Ranch Communications by “liking” the Facebook page.
  10. First-time comments are filtered by Word Press and not posted immediately. I’ll find it (it goes to my email) and make sure it gets posted! After you have commented once, the filter will recognize you for future commenting. Sorry for that inconvenience, but I do get frequent and strange SPAM comments, thus I filter.

Climate Change

Carrot Ranch Flash FictionApril 23, 2014 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) describe the climate of a story as it changes to reflect a character’s mood or to create a sense of what is to come.

Palmetto Poison, by C. Hope Clark

The glass thrown splashed lemonade from the smell, now puddled under my toes as I stood on the temporary, plywood stage decorated with potted petunias. The packed double-bay firehouse stood with doors open to accommodate the overflow of bodies. Summer heat in all its ninety percent humidity smothered us, even with the AC running full blast.

A dark-headed teenager in a sun-bleached Braves hat pumped his fist. “You’re Carolina Slade, the skunk-striped bitch who arrests farmers.”

The audience exchanged gasps. I may have gasped, too. The white streak through my dark auburn hair defined me clearly as the bitch.

###

Abandoned by Sarah Brentyn

A sudden crack of thunder sent him scurrying under the bridge. Lightning turned midnight to morning. The boy stared at the outline of abandoned cars. He tugged at his tiny boots, yanked off his sweater, squeezing rainwater from the wool. Waiting, watching, he sat in his spot. Another crack split the air. He shivered. Mama would come for him. She promised. One night, when the thunder was just quiet rumbling, she told him to wait for her here. He curled up, rubbing his sweater between two fingers. She would come for him. He heard soft rumbles in the distance.

###

Flash Fiction by Pete

I pass through Buford in a daze, neglecting its wrought iron street lamps and sidewalk traffic lights, and more importantly the antique shops that Maggie and I used to frequent during the budding days of our marriage.

The autumn leaves scrape across the street, ushering timeless memories of driving, the windows down and the mountain air swirling. We’d stop at the overlooks and take in the spectacular foliage, on the way down we’d stop at the orchards, and pick bushels of apples. A car honks, jerking my memory to halt.

I haven’t eaten an apple in almost three years.

###

Knife of Winter by Paula Moyer

Moving to Minneapolis gave new meaning to “cold.” Jean now felt its sharpness. 30 below last night. Cold cut through her at the bus stop, despite her layers: long underwear, extra socks, gloves under the mittens. Still black out at 7:30 a.m. She gave the driver her pass, took a seat, and then slept until her transfer.

The second bus huffed to Franklin Avenue. Jean stepped out, peaked east. The blinding dawn verified the forecast: “Bright, ineffectual sunshine.” Too cold to snow. Yet she brightened. Sunrise was earlier than yesterday. More sun would vanquish the blade of cold. Eventually.

###

Revival by Norah Colvin

Her motivation and inspiration was as parched as the cracked red soil beneath her feet. The days were hot and lazy: nothing to do until the rains came. One long languid day followed another. With no work to be done on the land, time did not pressure creativity. Without pressure, there was no rush, no will. The bright blueness of the skies, usually joyous, now oppressive. An occasional cloud or flash on the horizon made empty promises. Finally the winds whipped the clouds into a frenzy, reigniting her creativity as the relentless soaking rains awakened the dormant earth. Please let me know what you think.

###

Climate Change by Anne Goodwin

When they began rationing the water, George thought he’d be immune. His daughters would bring plastic bottles of Mountain Spring the minute the floods receded and the roads were passable again. Meanwhile, Matron harvested rainwater, which tasted foul, no matter how diligently it was filtered and boiled.

Wilting in the heat, battling cholera and dysentery, the old folks felt forgotten, until the Press paddled a rubber dinghy to Shady Glen. Cameras clicked as George was pushed to the front. How do you feel now, Mr Bush? Don’t you wish you’d acted on global warming when you had the chance?

###

Basking by Charli Mills

Chickens scratched at bare dirt as Sarah tossed dried corn from her apron pocket. They pecked at kernels and she watched, feeling the morning sun warm on her back. It was like basking with Colb in bed, his chest pressed to her back. His arms snugged around her. He’d crossed Rock Creek two days ago to take care of business. Business always drew him away, but like the chickens at her feet he never wandered far from his favorite roost. The trundle of wagon wheels caught Sarah’s attention. A dark cloud slid over the sun. It was Colb’s wife.

###

New challenge posted every Wednesday on Carrot Ranch Communications!  All writers welcome!

 

April 23: Flash Fiction Challenge

Carrot Ranch Flash FictionCreativity seems like a night sky full of burning stars sparking into infinity and beyond until it pokes the eye of creation. Endless. Boundless. Open to all possibilities.

Yet, that might not be so. Consider the blank page.

Many writers have stared into the endless, boundless white ready to take on all possibilities only to discover that they have nothing to add. In fact, writer’s block is often denoted as the blank page.

Creativity is also viewed as something free-spirited. I’ve even known parents who excused the poor behavior of their toddlers as creative free-spirits.

Yet, behavioral experts advise that toddlers best thrive in an environment that offers a schedule. To raise a free-spirit requires parenting with constraints.

Apply that to our writing, and you can see that constraints can also make for an environment where creativity can thrive. Give an artist a frame and she’ll give you a painting; give a writer a specific number of syllables and he’ll give you a poem.

I don’t claim expertise in the area of creativity and constraints beyond what I’ve personally experienced. When told to write anything, my mind tends to freeze. Anything? Suddenly I know nothing. The blank page remains white.

When told to write anything as long as these three words are included (lioness, taxi and lemon), suddenly my mind is making brilliant connections–“the lioness of New York city with her bottle-bleached, lemon-blonde hair drove a taxi at night to stalk her prey.” A story emerges from the constraint.

Why is that? One of our flash fiction writer’s from last week’s compilation, Biographies Real and Imagined, reflected on the 99-word constraint of Carrot Ranch Flash Fiction. Anne Goodwin wrote that reducing a story to 99 words “was like growing bonsai.” Yet she recognized that “limits can be liberating.”

Anne introduced me to another blog that explored the genius of Dr. Seuss. The post, “The Weird Strategy Dr. Seuss Used to Create His Greatest Work (And Why You Should Use It Too)” reveals that Theo Geisel wrote “Green Eggs and Ham” after a publisher issued him a 50 word challenge.

It’s worth the read to better understand the power of constraints. They can help you define your white page. And that’s what we are doing here each week–using constraints to create. A weekly prompt and the 99-word rule can work to spark that expansive creativity we feel when we look up into the night sky.

Seems how it is the day after Earth Day, our prompt is going to be about climate change, so to speak. Climate in fiction can be the container that holds our characters and their story. Climate can set the scene, shadow the tone or hint at a plot twist.

Mastering the setting is a subtle but vital skill. This week, let’s practice the impact that climate change has on a story, even a very short one. Think of ideas like sunshine and happiness, or rain and depression. What does it mean to your story if the clouds move in to block the sun, or the rain suddenly stops? Your climate change can be overt or implied.

April 23, 2014 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) describe the climate of a story as it changes to reflect a character’s mood or to create a sense of what is to come. Respond by noon (PST) Tuesday, April 30 to be included in the compilation. My contribution follows and is an exploration of a larger project I have in mind. May the sun shine on your writing this week!

Basking by Charli Mills

Chickens scratched at bare dirt as Sarah tossed dried corn from her apron pocket. They pecked at kernels and she watched, feeling the morning sun warm on her back. It was like basking with Colb in bed, his chest pressed to her back. His arms snugged around her. He’d crossed Rock Creek two days ago to take care of business. Business always drew him away, but like the chickens at her feet he never wandered far from his favorite roost. The trundle of wagon wheels caught Sarah’s attention. A dark cloud slid over the sun. It was Colb’s wife.

###

Rules of Play:

  1. New Flash Fiction challenge issued at Carrot Ranch each Wednesday by noon (PST).
  2. Response is to be 99 words. Exactly. No more. No less.
  3. Response is to include the challenge prompt of the week.
  4. Post your response on your blog before the following Tuesday by noon (PST) and share your link in the comments section of the challenge that you are responding to.
  5. If you don’t have a blog or you don’t want to post your flash fiction response on your blog, you may post your response in the comments of the current challenge post.
  6. Keep it is business-rated if you do post it here, meaning don’t post anything directly on my blog that you wouldn’t want your boss to read.
  7. Create community among writers: read and comment as your time permits, keeping it fun-spirited.
  8. Each Tuesday I will post a compilation of the responses for readers.
  9. You can also follow on Carrot Ranch Communications by “liking” the Facebook page.
  10. First-time comments are filtered by Word Press and not posted immediately. I’ll find it (it goes to my email) and make sure it gets posted! After you have commented once, the filter will recognize you for future commenting. Sorry for that inconvenience, but I do get frequent and strange SPAM comments, thus I filter.

Warm Like Melting Ice Day 26

NaNoWriMo Word Count: 2,487

WLMI Cover Concept

Moe Ipeelie limped to his cabin door. He twisted his ankle crossing over the rock face of the fjords. He had to abandon his skidoo, after casting off his sled and most of his gear. Not all his gear. His tarp caught in the wind and one of his empty coolers rolled away. He kept essentials. Moe knew how to live on the land, although he preferred modern rigging he easily carried the knowledge of his ancestors who lived in these extremes for thousands of years. Food, water, shelter, warmth and transportation. If you knew where to step, your feet could serve as your transportation. But Moe had been trapped in a less than ideal spot.

The dog with him had been a hassle at times. Especially trying to find a way over the fjords once the sea ice broke up. He’d made it to a narrow bay that held, but he had left his sled at the place he intended to hunt. It was normal for him to leave his sled, even his skidoo and walk out to scout the blow holes or any seals he spotted in the distance. Elijah was going to meet up with him, but the dogs, of course, were slower than a skidoo. He never did see Elijah and hoped his older friend had made it to his own narrow bay sanctuary since Elijah would have been traveling, and not hunting. When hunting, you walked away farther from the rock cliffs.

This one dog was all Moe ever saw of Elijah. She had been wearing her harness and a chewed strand of seal rope. Moe recognized the dog. She was the young one, her first trip out. Elijah called her Maki. It was the same named he called his wife and they always had a dog named Maki, as it was some joke between the married couple. But an affectionate one. Often Maki was a name they bestowed on a dog they had affection for.

And that was not typical. Huskies were not the pets that people in the south made of dogs. In Clyde River, everyone who had dogs kept them in a community pen. You were responsible for feeding your own dogs and often everyone contributed frozen seal to the purpose. Sometimes a hunter had to shoot over the heads of dogs fighting for food or position. The dogs created their own hierarchy and some were quite fierce. Those dogs were certainly not pets.

Hunters looked to their dogs like a work animal. They had a purpose and it wasn’t to curl up at your toes by the hearth fire. The dogs slept outside, often staked out onto the ice in a circle around tents or iglus. They warned off wandering polar bears and signaled any new arrivals. If it snowed hard, the dogs curled up into their own furry balls and let the snow bury them into their own mini iglus. Some southerners were shocked to see the dogs treated in such a way, but it was how they had always worked with dogs.

Of course, each man was his own and some found more companionship in the dogs especially when living long on the land. Children often played with dogs, to get familiar with these community companions. Elijah was tough and smart, something Moe knew first hand. But he was soft for his wife and occasionally one of his dogs.

This Maki-dog was one. She looked like the others in Elijah’s care, white with black lips, black nose tips and rimmed eyes. They looked like some offering from wolves and polar bears. Elijah’s father had preferred the markings and so did Elijah. Everyone in Clyde River and beyond knew Elijah’s dogs. They were big and stocky, too. Sometimes the southerners that Elijah guided for would ask about buying a dog or puppies. But he never did sell any. Once he gave three to the man from Minnesota who had stayed with Elijah and Maki while making trips by his own dogs to the North Pole. But that was the only exception.

As Moe limped into his cold cabin, he set about finding fuel that hadn’t gelled. He had a tiny bit yet left in his pack, and he could thaw some of what he had in the cabin. Funny, to think of burning fuel first before thinking of food. But he had food and would get some seal stored outside for the Maki-dog. He knew he should leave her outside like any other dog, but he’d need to find rope. He also had to admit that this dog had become a close companion to him during his difficult trek back to his cabin. And just because he made it here didn’t mean that the ordeal was over. Clyde River was two days away by dog sled and he neither had a sled or a team. He no longer had a skidoo. He would have to hope that other hunters would come here, seeking shelter or maybe just games and stories.

Maki-dog curled up on the hide by the stove. Moe sat down on one of two chairs at a table. Across the room was his bed, which never looked so good as it did now. First heat, then food. Last time Elijah was here with his team, he kept an eye on this dog. Twice before he had caught her chewing on the seal hide rope of her lead. Once he even had to repair it as she nearly chewed it through. Such actions would often gain a dog the cuff of a hunter’s hand, but Elijah silently repaired the damage and kept watch. She was young, not yet out of that stage where dogs would chew up useful things.

When they left the cabin, Moe knew that the lead was in good repair. Possibly, if Elijah had stopped to scan for seal signs, or walked out onto the ice, Maki-dog could have resumed her chewing. That would explain her escape from the sled. Moe hoped that it was an escape. The other possibility was that Elijah’s sled broke through the ice. The dogs would be able to swim to land or ice. But what Moe saw was ice breaking away from the cliffs. Where would dogs swim to? He knew that Elijah’s sled would float for a time. But was it long enough time?

For some reason, Moe seemed to think that it wasn’t enough time. And the sea-ice was land. If that land fell, the hunter on it would go, too. It nearly happened to Moe. Yet it seemed to be repaired, like a chewed upon rope, re-braided. Never had Moe seen such a thing. Never had he heard such a story. Moe was determined to deliver this Maki-dog to Elijah’s Maki. It was all that was left of Elijah, he was pretty sure. In fact, he had hoped to arrive here to find an iglu built by his friend waiting.

After his meal, Moe thought he heard a plane over head. But he was too tired to step outside. Too disappointed not to find Elijah. Too warm finely, not to disturb Maki-dog. As he dozed off he recalled a childhood story about the littlest sled dog. He could still hear his grandmother and another elder singing it in a throat song. He now had the littlest sled dog. Brave. Loyal. A good dog. Little.

###

When the search plane returned to Clyde River the spotters reported seeing smoke from Moe Ipeelie’s cabin which created a big stir. Sydney pounded on the door of Lucie’s house. Inside he could smell apple pies as if they were attached to her waiting, but he also heard laughter and a guitar.

“Sydney,” she said, welcoming the mountie. “Come in, take off your clothes.”

A woman giggled from across the room, an attractive, bright-eyed woman with hair like those of the hip-hop instructors who had visited, only blond. Dr. Starkka was sitting close to her on the couch and looked as if he could sit next to her a long time. He seemed to be smiling for no apparent reason. The big man, playing the guitar he recognized as the famous explorer, Ax Mathiason, not because he personally knew the man, but because he recognized him from National Geographic posters. Conrado was sitting on a chair in the living room circle drumming his fingers on his knee while balancing a plate of nearly gone apple pie on the other. Despite the small space Tobie was dancing in the hip-hop style with several other youth from the community standing or sitting.

Tobie stopped mid-step when he realized it was Sydney. “Our Mountie,” he shouted. Sydney had not adjusted to the near-hero status he, Alex and the other survivors had gained since returning to Clyde River two nights ago. It seemed ridiculous to honor officials from a plane crash who added more worry to an already concerned community. But as Conrado explained, “You survived man, you are a hero.”

Sydney disagreed with the status, believing Conrado, Dagen and Tobie were the heroes more so than he. None the less the community was planning a celebration for their return. And a funeral. All had reached the sobering conclusion that after six weeks, Moe and Elijah were never coming home again. Lucie was surrounded by people, elders, youth or visitors and she seemed to be coping, even offering comfort to others when she was the one who should be comforted. Maybe baking pies and welcoming the steady stream of people to her house was best for her right now.

But it made Sydney’s official duties feel awkward. “Hello, Mrs. Ujarak,” he said.

Ax stopped strumming and all faces turned to the RCMP standing by the closed door in his parka, wishing he could be anywhere else, even back at the site of the Herc crash.

Lucie handed a piece of pie to Ax, who was now leaning his guitar upright against the arm of the couch. “Mrs. Ujarak, is it,” said Maki, her hands kneading the edge of her black sweater with red embroidery. “This must be official, Mountie Brindeau.”

Sydney felt the tears welling up in his own eyes and he nearly cursed out loud. He swiftly removed his cap, having forgotten to do so upon entering. He took a deep breath, managed to center himself in calm. “They have officially called off the search for Elijah.”

“Thank you for looking so hard, Mountie Brindeau,” said Lucie. She smiled but he could see the tears pooling. It remained silent for several long moments.

Finally, Ax, who rose from the couch to tower over Lucie, but hug her to his side anyhow, broke the silence. “They recovered his body, then?”

“Well,” said Sydney, “Not exactly.”

“Then why call off the search,” Ax asked. Several faces, some of the youth with tears already wetting cheeks, looked hopefully at Sydney.

“The plane spotted smoke coming from Moe Ipeelie’s cabin,” explained Sydney. “As they flew lower, they saw two sets of tracks, but the second turned out to be animal, not human.”

“A wolf followed,” said Tobie as if it were somehow significant.

“Not a wolf,” said Sydney. “But it was Moe and one of Elijah’s dogs.”

Lucie nodded and said, “Maki, I knew she’d figure her way out of any situation.”

“Moe says the same thing,” agreed Sydney, confirming that the dog found was Maki, Elijah’s youngest sled dog.

“Moe!” Tobie’s eyes widened. “Moe was really on a flow?”

“Not exactly, but Moe did get stranded in a bay that remained intact when the sea ice broke up,” said Sydney. “His eye-witness statement confirms that the ice broke all the way off to the cliff face at the Walker Citadel.”

Dagen shook his head. “That’s unprecedented.” He knew all the popular time lines for climate change based on current greenhouse emissions, but an incident of this magnitude exceeded those. He knew he would need to take samples on the eastern shore and try to collect data to explain what happened. Although that would be small comfort to a widow and a village.

Ax asked, “How did Moe make it out?” He was familiar with the terrain.

“Seems that he found a passage through rocks and ice and traveled over the top of the fjord cliffs,” answered Sydney.

“Where did he find the dog,” Ax asked.

“She swam up to the span of ice that Moe had retreated to when the ice began breaking up,” said Sydney. He took a deep breath and continued. “Moe says that Elijah was going to meet him at a certain point. Moe left his sled there, and managed to race his skidoo into the narrow inlet. He waited for Elijah after the dog swam to the shelf of ice for many days. He left, hoping that Elijah was similarly stranded.”

“Is it possible,” asked Dagen.

“We already searched by air,” said Sydney. “We found no signs and we flew over every nook and cranny between Moe’s cabin and where Moe sought safety. We confirmed that the tarp and cooler were lost by Moe, from his sled. Moe’s skidoo was still in the inlet, but we missed it when flying over in the Herc.”

“Could you have missed Elijah?” asked Elisappee through her tears.

“No,” said Sydney. “Different search pattern was followed once we understood what we might be looking for was closer to the maze of fjords.”

“How did Moe get the dog over the terrain he had to trek,” asked Ax.

Sydney said, “Moe was determined.”

Lucie smiled and Ax hugged her tighter into his side with one arm. “Elijah said was a determined dog.”

“But how is it that she broke free from the team and sled,” asked Dagen. One of the dangers of breaking through the ice with dogs pulling a sled was that if one plunged in, they all did.

Ax answered. “Elijah runs a traditional fan hitch. No trees out here to run dogs the way we do in tandem the way we do in the states.”

“That, and Moe said Maki-dog had been chewing on her lead whenever Elijah stopped,” said Sydney. “The weight of the sinking sled could have snapped the frayed line.”

###

As planned, Clyde River held a celebration. And a funeral for one of their beloved elders. Tarps spread across the community center at the airport where residents brought chunks of country food—slabs of seal, fish, caribou. Many pies were baked and other foods prepared. The town shut down.

More than ever, Dagen realized the impact of global warming in this scientific canary cage. Except, now he knew that the canaries had names.

Warm Like Melting Ice Day 25

NaNoWriMo Word Count: 2,389

WLMI Cover Concept

The trouble with a rescue operation on Baffin Island, or really anywhere in the northern territories is that the area is vast and the resources are sparse. Even with knowing a plane’s final position after going down, the coordinates may not be easily accessible, as such with the downed Herc. One promising advantage was that the men who went down on the plane were all trained in arctic rescue, thus increasing their chance of survival exponentially. Air support was difficult to call in when storms seems to be queued endlessly. Not to mention that the downed C-130 was the result of calling in air support for a search.

Dagen and the volunteer rescuers from Clyde River hunkered down on the land during two storms. The first had been a blizzard. The snow pounded the tents and iglu in vertically flying white pellets. That was when the three Inuit hunters and their dogs joined the search. When the weather dulled to gray, overcast skies and a slight breeze, the Clyde River volunteers packed up the sleds hitched to skidoos and far-outpaced the three dog teams. But then they came to a boulder field, strewn with rocks the size of small cars. The skidoos had to skirt the field. Although it was tough going for the dogs and sleds, they actually made it through and held the lead until the skidoos caught up and overtook them once again. They set up camp on the edge of a lake of glare ice. Using ice screws, they volunteers secured their tents right on the edge of the ice.

That’s when the second storm hit. It was warmer, less snow, but windier. In the midst of a full gale, the winds blasted the cluster of tents at eighty miles per hour. When they hit, it was hours before dawn, pitch black. Some of the tents began to rip. Once a tent tore, even minor rents in the nylon, it resulted in complete failure. The volunteers lost three tents. Dagen’s dome with its lattice work of poles was designed to withstand winds at base camps for places like Mount Everest. The volunteers who found themselves tentless, grabbed what gear they could, parkas boots, sleeping bags—the essentials of survival—and holed up in Dagen’s orange dome.

Day dawned white, although it never turned into a blizzard. It wasn’t really snowing, just blowing snow. The sky was white as if a dust storm had hit. It blew like dirt and stung like salt. The colors of the tents were muted and the horizon completely disappeared. The sun never really made an appearance although the day lit up like the glow in a snow globe and a silver-looking ball skirted the southern horizon as if substituting for the sun.

The volunteers made sure the remaining tents were kept in repair as the winds tried to rip them to shreds. There would be no traveling that day and Conrado didn’t dare record anything for knowledge that it would sound like audio banshee screaming if he did. Tobie and another young man from Clyde River made a game of skimming across the glare ice, pushed by the winds. The first run had been an accident and Dagen was ready to charge after the Clyde River youth until he finally came to a stop, crawled to the edge and came back to camp, laughing. Now the two boys made a game of the wind and ice.

Later, as they all huddled in the dome tent, barely able to hear one another over snapping nylon and howling gusts, they played at cheek pulling. Now Dagen understood its appeal. They didn’t have enough space to leg wrestle. It wasn’t dark enough for shadow puppets. It was way too loud for throat singing or story-telling. But cheek pulling filled the space of time while they waited out the winds, allowing the men to expend their energy. Somehow they found it exceedingly funny, most of all Conrado. He had such an infectious giggle that once the Texas radio journalist got to laughing, everyone was laughing. All within the confines of the orange dome.

By nightfall the gale peaked and slowed down. They ate a shared meal of arctic char and refried beans. Dagen wondered what Miriam would make of the meal. Conrado thought it was great. “You’ve been holding out on me,” he said.

“Holding out,” asked Dagen as he blew on a spoonful of beans rehydrated with boiling water.

“Refried beans,” he said, settling down on a mat of hides that his Clyde River grandmother had sent with him. It not only provided comfortable bedding, but also insulated the tent from the cold pushing up from the ice it was screwed to.

“Easy protein to pack into the arctic,” said Dagen. He knew it would be a more complete protein had he also fixed the rice with it, but he figured they had plenty of protein with the fish. The beans he had really just wanted for warmth and flavor.

Conrado took another bite, savoring it as if it were something more than camp food. “It needs some sliced jalapenos,” he said.

“Not much into spicy,” said Dagen. “I opted for the mild version.”

“You are missing out my friend,” he said. Conrado even licked his metal camp bowl.

“Good thing we don’t have sled dogs with us,” said Dagen. “That would be their job.”

“Tonight, I’ll be the camp dog.” He looked as his empty bowl and sighed. “I don’t suppose you have any dark chocolate.”

“Ah, no.” Dagen sat in his camp chair. Tobie and two other Clyde River men were chatting in Inuktuk, leaving Dagen and Conrado a chance to talk without pulling at cheeks or yelling over the noise that had accompanied the wind like a brass section. “I’d enjoy a good pipe right about now, though.”

“Pipe? Just roll some good tobacco,” said Conrado. “Of course, I haven’t had a cigarette in ten years. But I think of them fondly, now and again.”

“And I abandoned my pipe a few years ago,” said Dagen. Actually. He had lost his pipe on location in Norway and just never replaced it. He felt like he lost himself, who he was and what he used to enjoy. His dad had smoked a pipe, not often, but enough for Dagen to think it somehow made him close to the man he still missed.

“Gave it up when you went Holloywood,” asked Conrado. Dagen stiffened at that word, but Conrado seemed not to notice. He continued. “I gave up cigarettes when I got serious about radio. Didn’t want to develop a husky sound. Not sure it matters, seems how the biggest story I’ve covered is the one I’m living right now.”

“Regrets,” asked Dagen.

“Not the cigarettes,” Conrado said with a laugh. “Some women, yes, missed meals, definitely. Career? Well, what’s there to regret? I could have been pushing cattle across scrub grass. Maybe I didn’t hit high points, but, hey, the name Conrado Elizonso has been in the media for ten years and not because it was a name mentioned in the police blotter.”

Dagen smiled. “I guess we can also start over, too.”

“Is that why you’re doing the sitcom role,” asked Conrado. “Getting serious about acting, not just a history spokesperson.”

Dagen felt as though those gale force winds just punch him in the gut. “What sitcom role,” he asked fully knowing who was behind such a sneaky turn of events in his career. Could she do that, he wondered with a chill that had nothing to do with his current environment.

“That new show on Thursday nights, coming out next fall. About country boy who inherits a winery in Napa Valley?” Conrado looked perplexed. Dagen had learned that this man readily wore all his emotions openly.

“That doesn’t even sound funny,” said Dagen. “What’s so funny about the wine country. I mean, it’s the country. Why wouldn’t a country boy know about growing things. Maybe not grapes, but I can’t even think what could possibly be funny.”

Conrado shrugged. “Making fun of wine snobs?”

“That’s why I don’t like sitcoms,” said Dagen. “Why make fun of anybody.”

“So, you don’t know about this,” said Conrado.

“No,” said Dagen. “I don’t know about this.”

“Huh,” he said, looking at his empty bowl. “That agent of yours seemed pretty adamant about getting it announced. I was supposed to ask you about it in the interview, but she said she had to be there and that she’d fill in the details.”

“Oh,” said Dagen. Of course, Vina would have to orchestrate her next loop in his noose herself.

“Sounds like you don’t know anything about the detail,” said Conrado.

“Nope,” said Dagen. He got up from his chair to clean up after dinner in their tent. He cleaned up in silence, listening to Tobie and the others. Soon, everyone was getting ready for sleep. If the weather held, they would leave as early as the sun made its presence.

The next day dawned with brilliant pink streaks across the sky that gave way to the bluest sky Dagen had seen since coming to Baffin Island. Once loaded up, they roared across the snow plains on skidoos. Stopping for a quick lunch of hot coffee or lemon water from thermoses and shared slices of arctic char, the volunteers studied the map, their GPS coordinates and figured that the location of the Herc was within reach. Today.

Since their conversation the night before, Conrado had hardly said a few words to Dagen. Not that Dagen noticed, being engrossed in his own thoughts. While drinking hot lemon water, though Conrado asked about the meaning of the arctic circle.

“I’m not sure I understand what you’re asking,” said Dagen. He downed the last of his water and screwed the thermos lid back in place.

“Well, it must mean something,” said Conrado. “What is the circle, exactly?”

“I see,” said Dagen, welcoming an opportunity to slip into scientist mode. “It’s a line of latitude that encircles the region of the north pole. The circle is the southern most point that experiences polar day and polar night.”

Conrado tilted his chin downward and raised both eyebrows. “Okay,” he said, “What’s a polar day or night?”

“That’s the twenty-four hours of daylight or darkness that the arctic experiences. It occurs as far south as the arctic circle,” explained Dagen. “Have you noticed how long the days are getting just since we arrived at Clyde River?”

“I suppose. When it isn’t cloudy, foggy or snowing,” said Conrado.

“Well,” said Dagen. “In nearly two weeks the sunset is already coming two hours later than when we arrived.”

Again, Conrado’s eyebrows shot up. “No, I hadn’t noticed. That’s gaining a lot of daylight.”

“We are speeding toward polar daylight now,” said Dagen. “Well, we should be speeding on our way, too.”

Everyone mounted back up on skidoos. Tobie and the other youth were excited that their journey was nearly at its destination. Dagen hoped they found the survivors in good shape. The journey back would then be before them. Maybe the Herc was able to get radio contact. Maybe another air rescue is on it’s way.

Just before sunset—at 4:40 p.m.—the Clyde River volunteers spotted the downed plane and smoke rising from the other side of it. The plane had cut a deep trough through the snow that even the two recent storms had not been able to obliterate. The plane seemed tilted with the right wing down and the left wing pointing toward a rocky ridge in the distance. The pilots did a good job of landing the crippled plane down a long relatively flat valley. The other direction might have ended with the Herc slamming into a rocky outcropping that formed the ridge that rimmed the valley.

As the skidoos neared, several men in parkas stepped out of tarp topped snow shelters built against the Herc. All were waving, a few shouted and whistled. Tobie gunned the engine of his skidoo, passing everyone else in the small group of volunteers. He pulled up to the plane, cut the engine and ran, shouting, “Mountie Brindeau!”

Sydney trudged through the snow with open arms and embraced Tobie. Soon all the volunteers were off their skidoos and were clasping gloved hands to gloved hands and patting shoulders. So many questions started and stopped at once, laughter, the kind that comes from sheer relief, filled the darkening night air. The Clyde River volunteers set up their tents near the survivors’ shelters. They all shared the communal fire that night and listened to Alex explain what went wrong, what went right in cool tones as if they had simply been learning how to build a house on their own.

All the men were clean shaven, and Dagen commented on that, not expecting plane crash survivors to be shaving. But Alex explained that they stuck to a routine and kept up survivalist procedures, including shaving.

“How is that part of surviving,” asked Dagen.

Alex said, “A frozen beard leads to a frozen face.”

“I always thought of a beard as being protective of the face,” said Dagen.

Despite the multiple conversations going on, the obvious excitement of the survivors and rescuers both, it was time to plane extraction. Alex had already created several plans, explaining that air support could occur further out if another plane, outfitted with skis could reach them at that point. But the snow had to be flat and hard packed, long enough for take-off, too. Alex also inventoried the survival gear that they had, including sleeping bags, rations and water. The volunteers could easily pack sleds with the extra gear and double up on the skidoos, except for Dagen who was already driving with Conrado.

The next day, the group, now numbering fifteen, set out on the packed skidoos. The sleds also carried the extra fuel that allowed for the skidoos to journey far from towns. Since no one was injured beyond minor scrapes or bruises, injuries were not a hindrance. As they left the valley, the group ran into the three Inuit hunters with their dog sled teams. They all agreed to rendezvous near the point where air rescue might reach them.

That’s when they saw the polar bear.

Warm Like Melting Ice Day 24

NaNoWriMo Word Count: 2,500

WLMI Cover Concept

As Laurel Henney sat with one leg crossed over another in the lobby of the Frobisher Inn, she bounced her foot impatiently. Glancing at the roman numerals of her her Rolex watch of champagne gold, she noted that Vina Winslow was six minutes late. The younger woman seemed to have little regard for punctuality, let alone any other attribute of doing business. Vina was spoiled, raised with money and bailed out from any disaster with more money. In Laurel’s opinion, the woman craved power out of a sense of entitlement, not from actually understanding how to wield it.

A low murmur of voices came from behind the long hotel desk crafted of white slabs of rock. Two clerks, probably reviewing room reservations or work shifts. Both had sleek black hair, wore hotel uniforms with big brassy buttons and spoke with French accents, although the older woman looked Inuit. Of course, Canada had a large metis population, so the woman might have a mixed heritage. Not unlike Texas. Laurel’s father’s mother had been Mexican—Grandma Rosa. Many who took pride in their Texas roots disregarded pretensions of ethnicity. Most of the wealthiest families came from the poorest beginnings.

A man in a dark parka with a yellow knit hat walked in the door, stomped his boots on the entryway carpet that bore the logo of the hotel and proceeded to the desk, greeted warmly by both women. He had the look of a worker, a man who made a living from physical labor. Like her father, brother and first husband. Men who had strong hands and a taste for strong liquor to wash away the pain in aching backs and sore knuckles. But they were not strong in ambitions. Somehow they thought working in the oil field was a way to make the big bucks. Laurel had watched the supervisors and big wigs who sometimes visited the rigs where her dad had worked up to be a foreman. They wore watches like the one on her wrist, ticking away the seconds of Vina’s late arrival.

Another man walked in and met up with the first. They seemed to be discussing the room rates with the desk clerks. The Frobisher Inn was no Ritz-Carlton, but it was the finest hotel in Iqaluit and one of the few to have conference rooms. Even still, the nightly rates were high—$215 for a queen bed—a reflection of the remoteness and rarity of such a hotel in a place like Baffin Island. Laborers headed out to the Mary River iron mining project often found all the lodging filled up when they laid over in town. These two men probably came to the Frobisher Inn last. Even with the big bucks they were making, Laurel knew their sort would rather spend it on a night boozing rather than a comfortable bed made for snoozing. If her father was any indication of this sort of man.

Laurel uncrossed her leg and considered getting a cup of coffee across the lobby. She had already had enough to give her a twinge of a caffeine headache, but she felt like she needed something to occupy her hands to ward off the initial craving for a cigarette. The Frobisher Inn was actually one of the few smoke-free environments in Iqaluit, although that was probably a good thing since all the smoking environments had already increased the number of cigarettes Laurel was consuming.

Smoking had been one habit she retained from her rough neck roots. It had proven to be an asset, as smokers formed a sub-group of sorts and it didn’t matter what your sex was in order to belong. Not only that, but smokers liked to talk when ushered to whatever hidey-hole was allowed for their habit. Laurel had long ago learned that casual conversations revealed more important information than formal business meetings. It was how she diligently stepped up the ranks in her career, penetrating even the manliest of climates in her industry. She far out-earned the big bucks of her dad, brother and ex-husband. And that was why she wore a Rolex.

Vina was now fourteen minutes late. Laurel got up and strode over to the coffee after all. Pouring the thick black brew into a white porcelain mug with the hotel logo on it, she noticed a poster advertising some local event. Free appetizers. No cover charge. Promotional prizes. And an Elvis impersonator. There was even a full photo of the impersonator on the poster. Half the text was all symbols representing written Inuktituk. It made Laurel belt out a big laugh. No matter how remote a place, Elvis was still in the building.

Walking back over to the lobby couches of brown faux leather, Vina finally made her appearance stepping off the lobby elevator. Dressed in yet another snug black pantsuit that looked nothing like the tailored lines of the ones Laurel wore, the woman clicked across the lobby on high heels. Laurel might be killing her lungs with tobacco, but she’d die with her feet intact. High heels and boob jobs might be how some woman thought they would make it in this world, but Laurel understood that it was more important to look polished, professional and be a true asset to men. Not a board room bauble. But then again, as Laurel watched Vina click her way to the couches, she doubted that this woman would understand the inner workings of a board room, even as a bauble.

“Ms. Winslow,” greeted Laurel, rising from the couch more out of habit of good business, than any real show of respect. “Do you want some coffee?”

“I’m tired of the swill in this one horse town,” she said with pursed, glossed lips and narrowed eyes. Laurel smiled a friendly smile and thought how Vina really needed to learn to hide her true emotions, but this was a spoiled brat who was probably never told no or denied any crazy selfish request.

“An interesting analogy,” said Laurel. “I doubt there are any horses so close to the arctic circle.”

“Whatever,” mumbled Vina as she flopped down on the couch. If either of Laurel’s teenage boys flung themselves around like that, she’d skin their hides.

Laurel resumed her seat and considered Vina over the rim of her coffee mug. Vina was so intent on protecting her client as if he was her property that it had made Laurel want to figure out how to release Dr. Dagen Starkka from the other woman’s clutches. It had nothing to do with the scientist or even GGP’s interests which were always her biggest concern. No, Laurel wanted to take away this California princess’s prized possession to teach her a lesson in real power. It wasn’t always in a pretty face and poised boobs. It had to do with brains.

“The food up here is fried or frozen,” Vina went on to complain. “Salad’s are a joke. Can’t these people grow lettuce in those waterless vats.”

“Hydroponically,” asked Laurel, settling back onto the couch, crossing her leg, but schooling her urge to bounce her foot. “That’s an interesting idea. In fact, I do believe it is a part of a food project up here.”

“Well, they could use some decent baby greens,” said Vina. “And decent Vodka. Top-shelf is something beyond local knowledge, evidently.”

Laurel let Vina continue to whine. Uncomfortable beds. Quirky heaters in the rooms. Funny smells. Crude men. Snow. Nothing but snow, so ugly. Yes, Laurel let her spew. She thought about why she loathed such women as Vina. It had nothing to do with her own looks. Laurel was confident in her appearance and could have put on such a persona as Vina’s. Clicky fake nails, clicky high heels. What Laurel hated so much about this tactic was that it promoted undeserving women into positions they didn’t earn. Such women didn’t care to sit among powerful men as an equal, they wanted to destroy powerful men to get their wealth. Some wanted security, others fun. But ultimately women like Vina made it even more difficult for women like Laurel to get ahead as a man would.

“Do you love Dr. Starkka?” Laurel’s question jarred Vina’s composure that she stopped in mid rant about how poor the service was at the hotel.

“What did you ask?” Vina’s nostril’s flared slightly, but Laurel remained composed.

“I asked if you were in Love with Dr. Starkka,” she said. “I’m wondering why you are so intent on keeping tabs on the man.” Laurel shrugged and said, “I mean, he is quite good looking, intelligent, I’m sure if he’s a PhD.”

“He’s an idiot,” said Vina. “Yes, I will admit that with that fit physique, and those unusual green eyes, that thick hair of his so dark brown, but not black, yes he is handsome. But he’s uncouth. Quiet, as if he doesn’t have a thought in his head.”

“Well, maybe he has lots of thoughts but keeps them inside,” said Laurel. “Being an introvert doesn’t make a man an idiot.”

“He’s a bore, really, but he has a fan following and I’ve not had a client that’s kept a fan following like that, but he won’t see his own potential! Idiot. He can be famous, really famous, like Justin Bieber famous,” railed Vina who was now ready to rant about Dagen the way she did about how poor quality of everything in this god-forsaken-winter-wonderland.

Laurel let Vina go on like that for nearly twenty minutes. She watched people, come and go, the desk clerks chatter quietly to each other. Laurel could hold a conversation, show rapt interest in another person, all the while aware of everything else going on in the vicinity. She also picked out important clues from what Vina was telling her. No, the woman wasn’t in love with Dagen. And while she guarded him jealously, it was so that she could make him into what she wanted him to be. And that was the failing of a woman like this. Vina wanted to change, remake or create a man. Laurel preferred to help one achieve his potential. Vina would eventually have to settle on one of her creations like a trophy wife settling on the winning catch.

But not Laurel. She had many powerful men and she earned the right to stand among them. Vina’s rant made her curious about this Dr. Starkka. Did he have screen charisma? And if so, did it matter. Could he convince board directors of the accuracy of reports with a smile. Laurel had known her share of dry scientists. It was intriguing to think of the potential of a charismatic one. But it would only work if Dr. Starkka was a willing participant. Men wanted to do things their way. They rebelled against tinkering. Potential was always interesting, but it was raw material. Laurel would keep that in mind. Maybe this Dr. Starkka could be a greater asset to GGP. But maybe not.

Right now, all that mattered was playing out this game with Vina. And Laurel always won when she set the game pieces in motion. She came prepared not only with a strategy, but several back up plans as well. Despite her growing need for a long drag of her cigarette, she also had patience.

“So, Vina,” interrupted Laurel as the other woman was going on about how the man ate way too much red meat, “Why are you here? Why not go home to your comforts and just let this Dr. Starkka have his winter vacation with us. We only want him for a few months.”

“Dammit,” said Vina, “Because I got him the contract of his career. My career, really. Daddy says I land this deal and I’ll gain a new level of respect in Hollywood. Not that I need respect. I mean after all, my daddy is one of the biggest television prime-time moguls around. Ever, I’m sure.” Then Vina pouted, pulled out her lip gloss and reapplied a fresh coat and said, “I want daddy to take me seriously.”

“Oh, yes. I understand. Approval.” Actually, Laurel sought a different kind of approval. Her own father never understood her desire to get an education and be among the big wigs. She did hear him brag about her job once, but he couldn’t even accurately explain her position. It wasn’t her father’s approval she sought though and Vina’s desire seemed infantile to her. Let her return to Daddy to cry in his lap. She’d live.

“It’s a great new sit-com, but Dagen blows every reading. On purpose. So Daddy pulled a few strings for me, and this executive producer who owes him a favor agreed to give Dagen the supporting role based on his current work on the History Channel. That and the fact that he has a fan base. He liked Dagen’s rugged looks—the producer’s words, not mine—but it was the look he wanted. And because Dagen isn’t yet prime time, I was willing to negotiate a fee that pleased the executive producer and his budget.” Vina’s eyes were lit up with excitement. Obviously it was exciting enough for her to endure the hardships of this one horse arctic town.

“Sounds interesting,” said Laurel.

“It’s a win win situation,” said Vina.

It was win win for Vina and the production company, but Laurel doubted Dr. Starkka would agree. “So, why are you here,” asked Laurel. “Certainly you could communicate this opportunity to Dr. Starkka other than following him to the arctic.”

“It’s a delicate situation,” said Vina with her pout returning.

Delicate, indeed. What Vina didn’t know is that when she showed up in Ottawa demanding her rights to Dr. Starkka’s publicity, Laurel discreetly asked Dr. Starkka to review his contract with his agent, Vina Winslow. Laurel asked one of GGP’s corporate lawyers to evaluate the contract, to make sure GGP wasn’t vulnerable in any way. There wasn’t anything concerning to GGP’s interests, but the lawyer said it was a nasty piece of documentation. Obviously Dr. Starkka had been naive to sign such a contract. But GGP could easily argue against any claim the contract had on Dr. Starkka in regards to the work he was hired to do and communicate to the public. But Laurel wasn’t going to reveal her hand just yet. “Delicate,” she said. “How so?”

“Dagen won’t want the deal. But I’m going to have the reporter ask him about it and before he can answer—the man is so slow—I’ll fill in the details. That is why it is important that I get to Clyde River, but now both Dagen and this reporter have gone off on some stupid rescue mission,” said Vina.

“But if Dr. Starkka doesn’t want the deal, how will announcing it accomplish anything,” asked Laurel.

“Because Dagen is that way,” said Vina. “He won’t create a scene, not on the air, live.”

“Live,” asked Laurel. “But it’s not live.” Vina just smiled at the statement. This woman was conniving, thought Laurel, but also dependent on somebody else’s ignorance. Laurel could end it right here; send her home to her daddy. But she wanted to Vina squirm, first.

“Well,” said Laurel, “Conrado works for me. He’s now sharing a tent with Dr. Starkka. I’m not so sure the men won’t talk.” Laurel watched Vina consider this situation. Then she added, “I have to get to the airport soon.”

“Are you leaving,” asked Vina.

Laurel could already see doubt eroding Vina’s smug confidence. Now was the time to drive in a different nail. “No,” said Laurel, “We’re meeting a colleague of Dr. Starkka’s. And a friend of his.”

“Friend,” asked Vina.

“Yes, from Minnesota,” said Laurel. “Miriam. Do you know her?” Laurel smiled, kindly as if explaining how to lace-up boots. Vina looked ready to chew leather.