Tag Archives: Fiction

History

Mrs. Tyler was old. Everyone knew that. They figured it was pretty safe to assume that there has been a Mr. Tyler at some point, although no one could actually remember him. She only had two cats, which no one really considered eccentric, although she’d named them Quincy and Tippecanoe. She was just weird enough to be interesting without being spooky. So when Jennasis Walker had to interview someone for her Oral History Project, the fifteen-year-old girl thought of Mrs. Tyler right away.

Jennasis wasn’t the type of girl to walk straight up to Mrs. Tyler’s door and request permission for an interview. For one thing, Jennasis didn’t have a reporter’s innate ability to intrude on someone’s life while believing they had a right to do so. It didn’t help that Jenn wasn’t quite welcomed with open arms in Milton. She had lots of friends, sure. But many people considered her very birth a sin against their beliefs about interracial relationships. Somehow it was even worse to them that Jenn was “legitimate,” that her parents were married for three months before she was even conceived.

Luck was on Jenn’s side, though. She took her own cat, Napoleon, to the vet for shots the same Saturday morning that Mrs. Tyler took Tippecanoe.

The vet’s waiting room had none of the charm of a dentist’s office. There were no magazines for the cats, bird, dogs, rabbit, snake, guinea pig, and people to read. Of course, magazines were unnecessary. Jenn only had Napoleon on a cat harness. Napoleon thought Jenn brought him to an all-you-can-eat place, and couldn’t understand why she kept holding him back.

Mrs. Tyler had Tip in a cardboard carrier that he was shredding urgently, howling to Napoleon that he had first dibs on the guinea pig. Mrs. Hanrahan and Arthur, her Standard Poodle, sat as if they were at a dog show held at a common kennel. Grant Hayes waited with Ginger, his Seeing Eye dog. Douglas Chin, unfortunately, had his mongrel Gandolph there for his distemper shot. Gandolph struggled to sniff at the two other dogs, the two cats, the bird (Luciano), the guinea pig (Buffy), the snake (Susan), and the rabbit (Elmer Fudd). Nothing in a magazine could top the entertainment in the waiting room.

Dr. Cohen took Kelly and her snake Susan first. Although they were the calmest and best-behaved pair in the room, everyone breathed a sigh of relief when they left. Then the waiting room erupted in laughter at the irony. That broke the ice, and people actually began speaking to each other.

As “cat people,” Jennasis and Mrs. Tyler sat on the same bench. Jenn peeked at the orange tabby in the cardboard carrier. “Is Tippecanoe sick?” The girl scored points right away with Mrs. Tyler for being able to tell Tip and Quincy apart.

“No, he’s just here for shots. Napoleon’s looking spunky.” Mrs. Tyler scored a point for herself by knowing the name of Jenn’s pride and joy.

“Yeah, he needs his shots, too.” The conversation halted, and the awkward silence regained control of the room. Then Mrs. Tyler asked Grownup Question Number Two.

“So how’s school going?”

That afternoon, Jenn shifted the backpack on her left shoulder and rang Mrs. Tyler’s doorbell. “Come on in, Jenn. What kind of soda do you want?”

“Root beer, if you have it. Otherwise water’s fine.”

“Root beer it is. So tell me about this project of yours.” As they walked through the living room, Jenn noticed how immaculate and how orderly it was. For a moment she wondered if the books on the shelves were in alphabetical order. The kitchen was the same way. At home, nothing matched, and with four kids, “orderly” meant that things were actually in the room they belonged in. Mrs. Tyler’s potholders matched the dish towels. Jenn was sure it was just decoration, that those potholders had never touched a pot. In a large stoneware cup next to the faucet was a plastic thing with dish soap in it and a little sponge on the end. Not only were there no dirty dishes, but there was no dish drainer either. Jenn sat at the kitchen table, afraid to put her ordinary backpack down for fear it would make the room dirty.

Mrs. Tyler put a coaster in front of Jenn on the bare kitchen table and put the glass of root bear with ice on the coaster. She made herself a glass of ice water with a slice of lemon, and placed it on her own coaster. “What do you want to know about me?”

“Well, everything. We need to know what a person’s life is like now, and how it used to be. Like, we need to know what people and experiences changed your life. That’s supposed to teach us about history. I guess. Mr. Qureshi is into making everything meaningful. That means you don’t understand anything, but you have fun doing it.”

“What will you do with the information I give you? Remember, it’s my life we’re talking about here. I don’t think I want to see it on 60 Minutes.

“Don’t worry. We’re gonna put an edited version together for the class history book. Mr. Qureshi is gonna meet with us individually and read our full reports, and then give them back to us. Then I’ll give you yours back. You won’t have to worry about anything. Why? Do you have something to worry about?” Jenn tried not to sound interested and excited.

“Maybe you should just ask me your questions, and we’ll see if I’m interesting or not, OK? Shoot.”

Jennasis opened her backpack and got out her supplies. She had one of her mother’s legal pads and her father’s best pen, as well as a tape recorder. She wanted to look professional. She asked permission to tape the conversation, and then began her questioning.

Mrs. Tyler didn’t turn out to be very interesting on Saturday afternoon. Her husband’s name had been Joseph, and they met each other working at the hospital together. They’d known each other for a long time before they got married. They never had any children, and Mr. Tyler died before their second anniversary. Mrs. Tyler tried to date a few times, but gave it up. She just wasn’t interested in anyone else.

Jenn took the information she’d gotten to class on Monday. As the students shared the rudimentary information they had so far, Mr. Qureshi helped them brainstorm more probing questions.

“What do we want to know in the end?” he asked. “What questions will give us that information?” After the students came up with ideas, they broke up into groups. Each group member wrote down specific questions for the others to ask the person they were interviewing.

“I see you have more questions written on your legal pad,” Mrs. Tyler noted as she poured Jenn a glass of root beer. Jenn explained the process the class went through today.

“I have to ask you more questions. Mr. Qureshi says we don’t have enough details. He says we know a lot of surface stuff, but not a lot of human stuff. He says that History is about humans.”

“Oh. What kind of human stuff do you want to know?”

“Well, I need to ask stuff like how you met your husband. And you said that you knew him a long time. Did it take you forever to fall in love? Or just to get married? Why did you wait so long? Where did you work together? What were your jobs? Stuff like that.”

“I see.” Mrs. Tyler used her cloth napkin to wipe the moisture off her ice water glass, studying the glass carefully. “Joe and I worked together in a hospital in Tucson.”

“Oh, so you were a nurse and Mr. Tyler was a doctor.” Jennasis watched a lot of television.

“No, not exactly. Yes, I was a nurse. I still am.”

“And Mr. Tyler wasn’t a doctor? Did he do x-rays or something?” Jenn wasn’t sure what a man would do in a hospital besides be a doctor.

“No. Joe was a chaplain.”

“What’s that?”

“Well, a chaplain helps people heal their minds and souls while the doctors and nurses are healing their bodies.” Mrs. Tyler could see that Jenn was lost. “Mr. Tyler prayed with people, the ones who were sick and their families.”

“Oh.” Jenn thought about this for a moment. “Like a minister.”

“Yes, like a minister.”

Mrs. Tyler returned to wiping her glass while Jenn concentrated on this information. The student looked up. “But he wasn’t a minister?” This was a lot to put together: a man who worked in the hospital but wasn’t a doctor, and a man who prayed with people but wasn’t a minister. “Well, but then …” She stopped. “Was Mr. Tyler a priest?” Jenn held her breath.

“Yes.” Mrs. Tyler looked at Jenn, and waited.

“So, like, you were a nun?”

“Yes.”

“But you and Mr. Tyler got married.”

“Yes.”

“Well, is that OK? I mean, don’t they get mad about that kind of stuff?”

Mrs. Tyler took the church calendar off its nail on the wall. “What’s today?”

Jenn looked at her with that teenager look. “Monday, March 22, 1999.”

“And what was the date 600 years ago?”

“March 22, 1399?”

“And 300 years from now?”

“I’m not that good at math. Maybe they’ll have a different calendar then. Why?”

“Because 600 years ago, it was OK for priests to get married. Lots of priests had wives and children. Lots of priests had children without wives. Many do today.”

“Have children without wives? Or wives and children?”

“Both. See, people used to donate things to the Church, just like they do today. But the laws years ago said that if a man dies, everything he owns goes to his oldest son.”

“Yeah, we already learned that in history.”

“Well, if you donate a piece of land to a priest who has a wife and children, and the priest dies, what happens to that piece of land?”

“His family gets it. That’s only fair. They still have to live and support themselves!”

“Right. But suppose you donate a piece of land to a priest, and he has no family, and he dies. What happens to it?”

“The church gets it?”

“Right.”

“But that’s dumb! You can’t tell people to not fall in love and get married because of stuff, because of land. I thought there was something holy involved.”

“Those rules were made a long time ago. It was a different world, a different culture. They had no concept of people having any rights or needs back then.”

“But don’t you have to follow the rules until they change them?”

“Yes, you’re supposed to. And we did try. I tried to get transferred to a different mission. That means I asked my religious community to let me work someplace else. But they told me to keep working at the hospital. Joe couldn’t get the bishop to transfer him either. There was a lot going on, and they needed him there.”

“So why didn’t you just avoid each other?”

“Is there anyone at your school whom you could totally avoid if you wanted to? Are there any teachers that you can stay away from completely if you don’t like them?”

“Well, no.”

“Then imagine how much harder it is to avoid someone you’re in love with.”

Jenn took her own cloth napkin and wiped the moisture off her root beer glass. “This is so stupid. Why do we have to do this dumb old assignment, anyway!”

“Because your teacher, Mr. Qureshi? He wants you to see that this is what history is all about. Real people.”

“But you broke the rules. Doesn’t that matter? Is that why you moved here?”

“So did your parents. Where they lived, the rules were very clear that a white man and a black woman aren’t allowed to date, let alone get married. They are a part of history, too. They broke a rule that was unfair, and they moved here. If they followed the rules, you and your sister and brothers would never have been born. Is that OK with you?”

Jenn gave Mrs. Tyler the teenager look again. Then she felt something against her leg. She looked down and saw Tippecanoe rubbing against her. Jenn patted her thigh wordlessly, and the orange tabby jumped onto her lap. Of course Quincy, the other cat, became jealous. He hissed at Tip as he walked past him, and jumped into Mrs. Tyler’s lap. The woman and the girl petted the cats in silence.

Finally, Jenn spoke. “So who makes these dumb rules, anyway?”

“I should cheat and tell you to ask Mr. Qureshi that. Really, though, people make the rules. Sometimes the rules have a very good reason, sometimes just an OK one, and sometimes rules were meant to hurt people on purpose. Your job is to obey the first set and fight the last set.”

“What about the middle rules?”

“You can’t just go around breaking rules because they aren’t convenient. If you break a rule, you’d better have a very good reason for it. Very.”

Tip started purring in Jenn’s lap, so Quincy had to purr louder. “What else are you taking?”

“Well, I’m taking poetry. Dumb stuff. Dumb rhyming stuff written by dead people. History’s about dead people, too.”

Mrs. Tyler laughed. “I’ll bet I can make poetry interesting.”

“How? You’re a nurse?”

“Oh, like nurses can’t read? Really. I wanted to be an English Major, but my community made me become a nurse. They didn’t want any teachers in my group. The next year’s group was teachers. Mine was nurses.” Jennasis stared, a little mind-boggled. “Let me take your glass. I’ll get you some more root beer.” Quincy stole Mrs. Tyler’s warm chair as soon as she stood up. Jenn decided that this was more interesting than going home and fighting with her little sister. She and Tip got more comfortable in the chair.

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Entry for Hone Your Skills Blogfest: Esperanza

No one believed her name was Esperanza, but honestly, none of us cared enough to try to ferret out the truth either. Since Esperanza means “hope,” a lot of people called her Hopeless behind her back. Although her hair was always brushed, it never actually seemed to be clean, and she never did anything with it. Her clothes were clean enough, but we weren’t sure her mother had an iron.

Laurie had to share a locker with her, since their last names were so close together alphabetically. Poor Laurie. She said everything Hopeless had – her furry navy blue winter coat, her school books – all smelled like cigarette smoke. Rhonda said it could be worse; she wasn’t sure Hopeless bathed all that often and the cigarettes probably covered up worse smells.

Don’t think for a minute though that Hopeless smoked. We thought smoking was sort of cool, and so of course we ruled out right away that it was her own cigarettes that we were smelling.

Mr. Norris hated her. He was our English teacher. Everyone knew that he taught high school English so that he could stare at cute teenage girls. His coffee cup would have a half-dressed girl when the coffee was hot. Unbuttoning the top couple buttons of your blouse, wearing short skirts or low cut tops, these are the things that brought your grade up in his class. She wasn’t even a little cute and didn’t even try. Worse, she thought he was a dork.

Naturally, everything she turned into him was slashed to bits by his red pen. The thing he killed the worst was her poem. It was nearly Christmas, and she wrote this:

Holly –
Cheerful
Decorative
Beautiful
But ultimately
Poisonous

Of course I remember every word of that short poem, because it was a dig at me. Not that I was all that crazy about my name, but it wasn’t hers to mess with. So anyway, when she wrote the poem, I knew that I was on her radar. That might sound a little weird, but really, until then she mostly pretended none of us existed. Now I knew that she was perfectly aware of us, or at least of me. It wasn’t that great of a feeling, to be honest. So I wrote my own poem. An acrostic.

Hopeless
Obsolete
Pathetic
Expired
Lowly
Exact
Stinky
Sayonara

OK, so it wasn’t exactly a Shakespearean sonnet. I wrote exact in there because she had this weird meticulous thing she did. Things had to be on her desk and in her locker just right. But not everything. Like, her books were always stacked largest to smallest, and always smack up against the right side of the locker, but at the same time her papers would be just shoved in next to them. Everything on her desk was perfectly aligned, but it looked like her purse hadn’t been emptied in years. That’s probably why no one knew how long she was carrying the gun.

So anyway, one day Mr. Norris asks her to stay after school. It’s nearly Christmas, so it’s stinking cold out and it gets dark early. She has her dark blue furry coat that stunk like cigarette smoke, and she’s mad at Mr. Norris because he destroyed her Holly poem. He’s mad at her because she said something against me, and she stunk, and she wasn’t pretty, and she didn’t care. And she thought he was a dork. I don’t know if she didn’t have the sense to have a friend go with her to his class after school, or if she just didn’t have a friend, or if she asked someone and they said no.

Mr. Norris said that she was distraught over her poem. He said that he got shot trying to take the gun away from her, but she’d already shot herself once. Luckily for him, he only had a minor wound. Before she died, she said that she’d shot him trying to protect herself, that he attacked her. Pushed himself on her. You know what I mean. Of course, no one believed her. I’m sure if she had a funeral, only her mother went. Her mother, smoking the whole time, no doubt. Stinking.

I didn’t think about her after that. It was almost Christmas vacation. When we got back to school, Laurie got a new locker partner, some girl named Evalyne. She was more normal, and life went on. We had a lot to do, like get ready for finals. Time just sort of passes, you know? And then it’s another semester, although I didn’t have Mr. Norris this time, and then it’s finally summer vacation.

I ran into Mr. Norris over the summer. End of July, early August. That time when you’re bored of summer vacation but don’t want to admit it. So one of my babysitting jobs turned out to be in the same apartment complex as Mr. Norris. The money was decent, but the kids were pretty awful. Mr. Norris said I could come over and have a beer when I was done. He said I looked like I really needed one.

So it turned out that Hopeless was telling the truth. Esperanza. But I didn’t tell anyone. Not then. Neither had Rhonda, second semester. Nor Laurie. When school started again, though, Laurie guessed. She gave me a piece of paper that had been in her locker.

Holly –
Cheerful
Decorative
Beautiful
But ultimately
Poisonous

Neither of us said a word. But I managed to add a little something to Mr. Norris’s coffee cup a few days later – think of it as a little bit of hope for the girls who came after us.

NaNoWriMo 2005 — Chapter Three

Chapter 3
It turns out that the school was upstairs in this same building. All of the teachers were in the black outfits, and we had already met them. Each classroom had a solid door, and contained a flat table, which the students sat around on furniture. The walls had the same morbid decorations as the house below us. The teacher said things, and the students repeated what the teacher said. However, they didn’t speak English — the language of the group of aliens closest to us, nor did they speak our language. Really, with all this copying of each other, I wondered how anyone had the initiative to commit a murder!

At this point, it was clear that the investigation was going nowhere. I asked for information about the parents of these children; perhaps they could be of more assistance. Of course, Sr. Margaret James — who turned out to be in charge of the school — balked. I reminded her that we were investigating an untimely death, not their educational practices.

Daria and I left the building and headed for the first house on the list. It wasn’t far — especially the way Daria drives. I still didn’t understand why they needed all this … space. Only one family lived in each home (aside from the convent), and the homes were far apart.

It was weird dealing with these people. The one who answered the door was about the size of a young adolescent. Her hair was uncovered, but we tried not to look. She also wore clothes that were snug, form-fitting, but they looked like they were originally made from our fabrics and she just modified them. “I’m Pyan and this is Daria. We’re from the New Baty Legal Team. May we come in?”

She looked at each of us, and then pointed inside. I took this to mean we were invited in. This house also had no quilts on the wall, but rather flat pictures that I couldn’t figure out. Art is definitely cultural, I guess. This house was cluttered as well. She motioned for us to sit on something that stood on the floor, but didn’t offer us a beverage or any other refreshment.

“This morning, we were called to …” I looked at my notes. “We were called to the Mother Marianne of Molokai Convent. One of the sisters, Sr. Evangeline was found dead on the floor, and it looked as though foul play was involved. We understand you have two children who go to her school. What can you tell us about her?”

The woman did not look like self-control was coming easily. Finally she spoke. “I’m sure you have heard how sweet and wonderful Sr. Evangeline is … was … already.” She looked at both of us. “It’s nonsense.”

“Nonsense?”

“She was awful. All the kids hated her. She wouldn’t let them past her in the hall unless she gave them a cheerful greeting. Then she’d say ‘See how the children love me! They greet me each morning!’ Really, she was awful. And don’t let them fool you; the nuns all hated her, too!”

“You’re saying that none of them liked her?”

“Only Sr. Margaret James. That was a really weird relationship. But no, if you’re looking for a list of people who didn’t like Sr. Evangeline, that would be just about everybody.”

OK, this was a bit of a jump, going from no suspects to everyone being a suspect. “Really, though, you should talk to Mrs. Argyoswami. She’s the parent liaison with the school. She’s the bridge between the parents and the Sisters.” Then the woman stood up and made it clear the visit was over.

It wasn’t easy following the English language street signs, but eventually we found Mrs. Argyoswami. Like the woman before her, her head was uncovered, but she quickly covered it when she saw who we were. She let us in and offered us a hot beverage.

I asked about the school first. After all, these children were going to be part of our future too, not just the human’s future. How were they going to turn out? How were they going to participate in our society?

“Have you been to the school?” Mrs. Argyoswami asked. “Have you seen them teach?”

“Well, we were inside. Your schools are clearly different from ours.” How else was I supposed to put it?

“No, ours aren’t supposed to be like that either. Really. When we still had freedom, Catholic schools were good schools. They were an important part of our faith culture, and when they were all closed, we were devastated. We had been going to Catholic schools for generations. So when we had a chance to come here and start over, or escape, we took it. Imagine our delight when a group of nuns wanted to come as well! We could continue our tradition of sending our children to Catholic schools, and it would be as though nothing changed. We were so wrong.”

“How?”

“Well, we were so desperate that we never checked them out. We’d forgotten, and so we thought nuns were nuns. We get here, and discover that we’re in a group that somehow decided the downfall of our culture was the liberals, the changes. So they decided that everything would be in Latin, and rote memorization. That’s when you just say back stuff, but you don’t really learn anything that way.” Daria relaxed a little. She agreed with that, and perhaps found a glimmer of hope that this bunch wasn’t so ignorant. I wasn’t ready to make that leap yet.

“So then, why don’t you send your children to a real school? Why not send them to the school that they’re legally required to attend?”

“They have this whole guilt thing going. Really, it makes sense when you think about it. They came to staff schools and continue the faith. How does it look if everyone refuses to go to those schools? See, they were planning to have a new generation of girls wanting to become nuns and carrying on their work. Of course, none of the children would even remotely consider such a thing after spending one day at their school!” She paused. “You know, though, if the Sisters themselves closed the school, that would be different. We’d be free to send our children to school anywhere else.”

Ahh, so parents, students, and nuns all had a motive. “Are there any people in your group — um, humans — who don’t send their children to that school?”

“Sure. Not everyone who came was Catholic. People with no religion at all wanted to escape just as much as we did! You can talk to Mrs. Loomis next door.”

We thanked Mrs. Argyoswami and took our leave. It was nearly mealtime. I wanted to get back to the normal world, but Daria knew she’d have a hard time dragging me back here, so we decided to meet with Mrs. Loomis first.

Mrs. Loomis had a darker color skin than the women we’d met so far, even darker than Mrs. Argyoswami. I guess I never noticed that there was variety among the humans. She covered her head before answering the door. I suspected this because she had the hook next to the door, just as the rest of us do, so that we can put on our scarf before going outside.

Her home was less alien than the others. It wasn’t cluttered with furniture, and there were quilts hanging on the walls in all the usual places to hide plates and pots in the kitchen, the bathroom exit, and the place where clothing was stored. She smiled when she saw us notice the blankets. “These quilts were in my family for years, and I had to bring them with me. Now I’m glad I did!” She pointed out how the different patterns had different meanings, not unlike some of our own. I was much more relaxed here.

We told her about the apparent murder of Sr. Evangeline, and asked if she could shed any light on the topic. “Yeah, she was nasty. I kept telling Gita — Mrs. Argyoswami, that she should just pull her kids out of that school. They aren’t learning anything there except how to be depressed. It’s a dreadful place there!” I certainly wasn’t going to argue with that! “My kids go to your school. We call it Gregory Frost Elementary because we can’t pronounce your name for it, really. But the kids who go there are becoming bilingual, and they seem happy enough. Not like that dreadful convent school.”

“Do you have any experience with nuns? Knowing the culture more than we do, do you have any reason to believe that one nun would kill off another, or would it more likely be an outsider?”

“Well, I didn’t have that much experience with them back home, but this group? Yeah, why not? They have all these awful pictures on the wall, Christ’s agony and stuff. How can you live with that every day and not be affected by it? But that doesn’t mean that no one else could have done it. They weren’t cloistered, per se. They could leave when they wanted to, even though it didn’t happen much. Still, they did have dealings with the rest of us, and they didn’t make a ton of friends among the non-Catholics!”

“How do you mean?”

“Well, they tried to make the Catholics feel guilty. They tried to make them think that if they’d really been good Catholics, the bad times wouldn’t have come and they could still be on Earth. For the rest of us, they blamed us too. They said that if we’d fought to keep public schools secular, we could still be home too. None of it’s their fault, of course. They think they’re going straight to heaven when they die. Somehow, I rather suspect that Sr. Evangeline went to the Smoking Section of eternity, instead.”

“Smoking Section?”

“Never mind. It means that if she’s actually face to face with God, it isn’t a happy meeting!” That I could understand. I wasn’t sure Sophia would be all that cheerful about Sr. Evangeline treated other people, especially children. Then again, I wasn’t very sure that the nun was treating herself all that well either, surrounding herself with dour pictures and dour people.

We thanked the woman and returned to the sled. It was definitely time to get back to our own world, and eat! This time I was perfectly OK with Daria driving quickly, and in a short time we were back where we belonged.

NaNoWriMo 2005 — Chapter One

Chapter 1
The Sisters silently prepared for their morning. Sr. Mary Gerard said in her mind the correct prayer for each part of her garment as she put it on. Her lips never moved, though — the Grand Silence didn’t end until morning prayer. She washed up and brushed her teeth in the basin in her room. Her stomach growled, but she didn’t think it was from hunger. She just had one of those creepy feelings. She tried not to think about it. Sr. Evangeline said that sort of thing was the same as superstition and magic and witchcraft, and certainly not appropriate for a Catholic — especially a nun. Why, it was almost enough for God to forget she was a nun and send her to hell for eternity when she died. Sr. Evangeline was such a peach to be around!

What a nasty woman! She reminded Sr. Mary Gerard so much of the woman in that poem about St. Peter at the Gate, where the woman goes on and on about her husband’s faults, but she herself is perfect. Sr. Mary Gerard stifled a sneeze. There was no way she was going to get sick! That would mean that Sr. Evangeline would be her substitute teacher in the classroom!

The last time that happened, Sr. Evangeline got practically nothing accomplished and Sr. Mary Gerard’s class was behind for days. And what were they so busy learning instead? Eventually, her students reported that they had lessons on the proper way to sit up straight, the proper way to use and store a handkerchief, the proper way to hold a pen, the proper angle of the writing tablet on the table, and the proper tone of voice for recitations. Poor kids! After that, Sr. Mary Gerard made sure that she was never sick unless Sr. Evangeline was already booked to sub in someone else’s classroom!

Sighing, Sr. Mary Gerard made her bed, left her room, and went to the chapel. Sr. Margaret James was already there, silently praying the rosary. Sr. Mary Gerard was surprised not to see Sr. Evangeline already in her spot; being first to chapel increased her feelings of superiority over everyone else. Still honoring the Grand Silence, Sr. Evangeline began her own prayers until the rest of the Sisters arrived.

Once everyone was in her place — that is, everyone except Sr. Evangeline, Morning Prayer began. Sr. Mary Gerard considered Morning Prayer to be what she managed to accomplish before everyone else arrived. To her, what they called Morning Prayer was simply synchronized reading. It certainly didn’t bring her any closer to God, and she couldn’t imagine how anyone could have thought this sort of thing was a good idea. Of course, she suspected that in a lifestyle where individuality was quashed, that would include individual prayers. That was for separate times, to be squeezed into her day.

After Morning Prayer, they were allowed to speak, but a moment of silence remained as everyone looked at Sr. Evangeline’s empty chair. The missing Sister was adamant about prayer beginning on time, all of them being on time, the selfishness of doing anything to draw attention to yourself by being late – and yet, she wasn’t here. Finally, Sr. Margaret James broke the silence. “Sr. Mary Gerard, go check on Sr. Evangeline.”

Sr. Mary Gerard looked at her Superior, her questions not passing her lips. Sr. Margaret James knew what she was thinking, however. “Yes, it’s because you’re the youngest. If our Sister has fallen, you’re strong enough to help her get back up.” Even as a grown woman in a convent, it stunk being the youngest!

Obediently Sr. Mary Gerard got up and went down the hall to Sr. Evangeline’s room. She gently tapped on the door but got no answer. Tapping harder made no difference. Sighing, she called out “Sr. Evangeline, I’m opening the door.” There on the floor was Sr. Evangeline, fully dressed, but with a dark stain on the back of her veil. Sr. Mary Gerard had watched enough television as a child to know that someone had bashed in the back of Sr. Evangeline’s head. She had also watched her fellow humans long enough to know that everyone who met Sr. Evangeline had a motive to kill her, or at least punch her once. Feeling slightly guilty about this thought, realistic though it was, Sr. Mary Gerard returned to the chapel and reported the old nun’s demise.

No one reacted with shock or horror. “I’ll contact the authorities, Sisters. However, today is a normal school day, so I suggest your morning routine continue as usual so that you may do your best in your classrooms.” And that was that.

NaNoWriMo 2005 — Chapter Two

Chapter 2
I hated going over to the human sector. They looked enough like us that they didn’t seem so freaky on the outside any more. They shopped in our shops, ate in our restaurants, wore our clothes … but they just weren’t like us. And now one of them was dead.

Daria drove while I said a prayer to Sophia to take the deceased’s soul home – if humans had a soul. There was a lot of debate about that. I didn’t have a lot of time to ponder the question at the moment, though; Daria was taking curves so fast that the sled’s blades were making sparks on the road. “It’s not a rush! The h… the victim is already dead.”

“Well, we don’t really know that. Their physiology is different. The victim might be…”

“One of their own reported it. They should know the signs of human death. It wasn’t one of ours.”

“Oh.” Daria slowed down a little, but what she considered slow was still too fast for me! Soon we passed the school which bordered their sector and New Baty. The buildings were more spread out here. Even though they were a little smaller than us, humans seemed to need more space. Daria pulled up to a low, flat building with a sign painted on the door: St. Marianne of Molokai Convent. I looked at Daria and sighed.

“I guess I’ll change, then.”

“Good idea!” She had known where we were going, and prepared already.

I changed into my feminine side, put on my scarf, and we got out of the sled. I looked at the convent and saw a window cloth move. Still, no one opened the door until we used the knocker. “I’m Pyan and this is Daria. We’re from the New Baty Legal Team. I understand someone from here reported an untimely death?” A woman wearing an awful lot of black cloth nodded and led us inside.

There were no quilts on any of the walls. Instead, there were flat images of dour people as well as pieces of wood with a dead human on them. With such cheerful surroundings it didn’t seem all that surprising that one of them died. As we walked down the hall, I wondered if the victim simply died of misery. However, when I saw the dark stain on the back of her head covering, I knew that it wouldn’t be that simple.

“This is Sister Evangeline,” our hostess said without emotion. She winced when Daria reached for Sr. Evangeline’s head covering, though.

“I need to move it to look at the wound,” she said to Sr. All-in-black.

While Daria did her job, I spoke to the woman. “What can you tell me about what happened?”

“Well, Sr. Evangeline wasn’t at Morning Prayer, so when we finished, Sr. Mary Gerard came to look for her and found her like this. Then she came to me and I contacted you.”

“I need to speak to Sr. Mary Gerard, then.” I didn’t understand why she wasn’t already in the room, since she was the one who found the body. The greeter made a noise and then left. Daria and I looked at each other. We had already been cautioned at work to be sensitive to the religions of the humans, but it wasn’t always easy.

I looked around the room. It didn’t seem alien so much as disorienting. There were no marks on the walls of this room for hanging quilts, although it looked like a sleeping room. There was something like a sofa with blankets on it, as well as a chair. There was a small flat table with a basin on it as well. The furniture made the room seem cluttered, though, and there was really no room on the floor to sleep, even for humans.

There seemed to be a small room attached to this one, but it turned out to be a tiny space with black clothes hanging in it that were the same as what greeter had on. The greeter returned with another member of their group, and made that sound again. I shut the door and turned to face the one who’d first found the victim.

“What can you tell us?”

“Well, as Sr. Margaret James already told you, Sr. Evangeline wasn’t at morning prayer. After it was over, I came in here to see if she was all right, but she was on the floor, just like that.” She pointed to the body.

“Was anyone else missing from morning prayer?”

“Oh, no. Everyone was there. It isn’t right to miss it!” She sounded like a school child repeating her lessons back to a teacher.

“Was anyone late?”

“Oh, no. Everyone was on time. It isn’t right to be late either.”

“Does everyone here feel this way? This is a rule?”

“Oh, yes.”

“Well then, why didn’t you worry when Sr. Evangeline didn’t show up?”

“Oh, but we did. We talked about it after Morning Prayer. ‘Why wasn’t Sr. Evangeline here?’ we asked each other. We did worry.”

“But you didn’t go check on her?”

“Of course we did. When morning prayer was over.”

“Why did you wait?”

“Well, we couldn’t leave, could we? Then whoever left, they’d be missing Morning Prayer, too! That just wouldn’t do.”

“But if Sr. Evangeline was in danger, don’t you think she might’ve appreciated the help?”

“Oh, no. She’s the most adamant of all about the rules. She wouldn’t be pleased if we missed Morning Prayer for anything.” Daria made a noise that sounded like a suppressed groan.

“OK. Did she, um, work or anything?” I didn’t know if this group worked, as I can’t say I ever actually ran into anyone dressed like this before. My question was met with silence. Finally, the greeter spoke.

“Thank you, Sr. Mary Gerard. You may go back to your duties now.”

Daria addressed the greeter. “Sister … Margaret James? We need to ask these questions because it seems pretty clear that Sr. Evangeline was murdered. We can’t find out who did it if we don’t get honest answers to our questions.” Daria looked at the woman directly in the eyes. She knew a lot about humans, apparently.

“She worked in our school.”

“You mean the Gregory Frost Learning Center?”

“Um, no.”

“What school then?”

“We had our own school. St. Marianne of Molokai Elementary School.” Daria nearly choked.

“You can’t…”

“No, it isn’t a public school like your school. Lots of our kids, well, the human kids go to your school. Gregory Frost. Our school is for the Catholic children. They need to stay Catholic, even here. God didn’t say to change religions if you move.” This time I jumped in.

“You know this is illegal.” I didn’t know how to sound culturally sensitive and still get the job done, so I tried to make a connection from thin air. “Have you been threatened by anyone who wants your school closed?”

“No, really, I’m not sure if anyone knows about it besides Catholics. If the other parents don’t see our children in your public school, they probably think they’re being homeschooled.”

“They’re being what?” Daria exploded, almost changing into her masculine side.

“Homeschooled. Some parents kept their kids home and didn’t send them to school. Said they were teaching them at home. Really, though, while some were being schooled, others were just being homed. Of course, once parochial schools became illegal, so did homeschooling.”

Daria and I just looked at each other. We had a dead lady in black on the floor, and a really weird educational history that these people came from. We also didn’t have any apparent signs of grief yet, but there was no telling what might be normal for this bunch.

“Was there anyone who might want to harm Sr. Evangeline? Anything negative you heard?”

“Why no, of course not. She was just a sweet little old nun. She brought plenty of people closer to Jesus. The children at the school loved her; they greeted her each morning with a smile and said ‘Good morning’ to her. She was always willing to be a substitute if anyone was sick. She was a real asset to our community. I can’t imagine why this happened. Really, maybe she just fell and bumped her head. She’s pretty old, you know.”

“Well need to speak to the others who live here.”

“I’m sure that’s not necessary. We were all in Morning Prayer. None of us could have done this! Besides, we’re nuns.” I looked at Daria, and she shrugged. “It means we’ve given our lives to God. It means we’re holier than ordinary people.” That part Daria had no problem understanding!

Well, it turns out that Sr. Margaret James was right about our not needing to meet with the other sisters. They all said the same thing. The victim didn’t come to Morning Prayer, so afterwards they sent the youngest in the group to find her. While she could possibly be strong enough to do away with the victim, everyone spoke glowingly of the deceased. We would have to check out this illegal school they were a part of.

NaNoWriMo 2006 — Chapter Three

Chapter Three

The first shift took their positions in pairs. Arthur Bradford was paired with Zeke Jefferson.

“What sort of work did you do in Torthúil?” Arthur asked the younger man.

“I was a weaver. Baskets and stuff.” Zeke grabbed a hunk of grass, bending it back and forth to test it. “If the grass is like this stuff where we end up, I should be able to work with it. And you? What did you do?”

“I was a teacher. Before that I was in building construction.”

Zeke looked at the older man more closely. “Um, can I ask you something personal?”

“OK.”

“Well, I’m not good at ages. Were you born … here?”

Arthur heard the same question each year from his students. “Yes. My parents were born on the space station. They were kids when they landed here. I’m way too young to have been born there.”

Zeke was fascinated, and alert. He also wanted to avoid any questions about his relationship with Amy — since her husband was supposed to be here, not her lover. “Your grandparents … were they …?”

“No, they weren’t in the mutiny party. They were simply trapped along with everyone else. That’s all my parents would tell me. They wouldn’t tell me why the mutiny party refused to return to Earth when they were supposed to, or why they didn’t just stay in space. I did hear once, though, that the space station people were primarily scientists and so they didn’t have the experience to overthrow Wilson’s group.” Arthur sighed. He did wonder sometimes what it would be like to grow up on Earth. His grandparents didn’t talk about it much when he was a child, and they died when he was very young.

Suddenly Debit and Credit were standing, their fur equally erect. All of the guards noticed right away, and held their weapons pointing outward, although they couldn’t see anything. It was the time between the moons, and so the only light aside from the stars came from their fires. Unfortunately, all the fires did was make them easy to spot. They made it harder to see at a distance.

Arthur looked at the dogs and faced the direction they faced – which happened to be toward the mountains. He moved sideways away from the fire, as Zeke watched to protect him. Eventually he was in an position to see pairs of glowing eyes. He counted three pairs. These could be native animals, or descendants of some experimental hybrid, or … no real way to know. He returned to his position with Zeke.

“There’s some sort of animals out there. Three, I’m guessing, but of course there’d be a lot more somewhere.”

Zeke shivered. “What do you suggest we do?”

“Well, if we just sit here, it may make us look like supper. I think if there are guards circling our perimeter, we’ll be safer. We can take turns. One of each pair can go to the next fire pot. Like this. I’ll go over to that spot. When I get there, one of them will move on. When someone gets here, eventually, you move on to the next spot. Got it?”
“I think so. But won’t that make me alone for a long time?”

“Hmm. Well maybe if those guys on the other side see what’s happening, they’ll catch on. Then you won’t be alone for long.”

The movement of the patrolling colonists kept the animals away for the night. In the morning everyone ate, and the camp was packed. Harris Cambridge led his group onward, toward the mountains, but mindful of the fact that there were animals of some sort ahead.

“We should be heading away from the animals! We don’t know what they are, or how dangerous they are.” Fr. Casey was much more used to being a leader than a follower.

Harris sighed. “Right. In our case, that’d be like walking around the long way to avoid a grocery store. If there are animals ahead that think we’re edible, then they’re edible to us as well! Our food won’t last forever.” He tried not to look at the priest. How did he manage to end up with one whose idea of roughing it was to open his ice box himself? But colonists weren’t screened as rigorously as they were in the beginning. Really, as long as you weren’t a direct descendant of Thadden Wilson or his mutinous group, you were accepted for the trip. Too bad.

The group of two hundred trudged along a second day – their first full day – without incident. It was a remarkably boring day, without change of scenery or activity. On the plus side, the weather was nice, and it was easy enough to avoid being with people you found distasteful.

The following morning, Sr. Matthias was the first to notice it. “What’s that? Ahead of us?” she asked of no one in particular. Sleepy eyes turned toward the mountains where she was pointing.

“Trees, silly.” January looked at the nun, who was perhaps her age. She just didn’t understand the whole nun thing. This one couldn’t be all that bright if she didn’t know trees when she saw them! Maybe that explained … well….

“I know they’re trees! But why are there so many of them? And why are they so close together?” More people started to look. That really was an awful lot of trees, not just the occasional tree here or there.

Arthur Bradford broke the silence. “I’ll bet I know where those mystery animals live.”

NaNoWriMo 2006 — Chapter One

Chapter One

Daria looked at her sister’s family, clustered in the living room. “We can only take three of the kids with us.” She turned to her husband for support.

“Three. I’m sorry. That’s all we can afford, what with the cost of the passage on top of raising them afterwards. But we will take three.” With that, Ricardo Blake excused himself and went into the kitchen to put the tea on.

The children looked back and forth between their mother and their aunt. Finally their eyes settled on their mother. The final decision would be hers. The small woman cleared her throat, not returning her children’s gazes. “I can’t do this.”

Just then, Ricardo returned with the copper tea tray. However, on the tray were eight cups up-side down but no tea. He motioned to one of the children to approach. The 12-year-old boy brushed the curls out of his eyes slightly and approached his uncle. “Pick a cup, Raúl.” The boy turned over a cup. A black wooden knight fell out. Ricardo nodded at his nephew, who stepped aside slightly. Raúl then motioned to his siblings.

Luz was next. She carefully turned over the sturdy mug as if it were the finest china. Pawn. She went and sat back down by her mother. Each child took a turn, by age. Esperanza, white knight. Carlos, pawn. Manolo, pawn. Diego, pawn. Marta, pawn. Julio, knight. It was decided.

Raúl’s mother stifled a cry. “I’ll bring them tomorrow with their things. If that’s ok. That’ll give you time to get the paperwork done.” She got up to leave, but turned around after a few steps. Daria went over to her sister and they held each other. Then the children and their mother wordlessly left.

Ricardo went back into the kitchen and got the actual tea things this time. As he poured the hot tea, he mused aloud. “I’m not so sure about this. What if they don’t let us take the kids with us? And even if they do, really, what are we doing?”

“We’re giving them a better life. And helping the ones left behind as well. Really. Besides, we are a family already.”

“But are you sure Father Orlando will do this?”

“It’s all arranged. Tomorrow we take Raúl, Esperanza, and Julio to the church and have them baptized. We’ll be listed as their parents, and the baptismal document will be enough. They don’t check that closely any more. As long as the tickets are paid for, they don’t care!” Daria sighed and took another drink of her tea.

Ricardo got up and sat next to his wife. He put his arm around her and held her close. “You’ll see. Everything will be okay. We’ll have a family, and a new life. For all of us. Really. We’ll be fine.”

***

“For our Sisters who are about to embark on a journey, that they travel in safety, we pray to the Lord.”

“Lord, hear our prayer,” responded the congregation. While some actually looked like nuns, with veils and various styles of habits, others looked like perfectly ordinary women. Each of these had quite a firm opinion about this trip, as well as the three who were chosen to undertake it.

Sr. Damian glanced around the Motherhouse chapel.  It was hard to believe that soon she’d be traveling with only two other sisters, and never see the rest of her religious family again.  Not that she was close to all of them; there were certainly members of her community who drove her up the
wall.
In fact, there was a time when she thought that Sr. Gregory was so pompous that … no, she shouldn’t think those things in chapel. Plus, she’d have to put the past behind her; Sr. Gregory was one of the chosen. The third was Sr. Matthias. She was pretty young, and it was a surprise that she’d be going along. She certainly hadn’t been in the community very long – only a decade or so. But that’s who the Superior General picked, and that was that. Sr. Damian put her Office book away and followed the trail of sisters to the refectory.

***

Mitch rolled over and looked at his wife. He was really surprised, actually, that she’d agreed to embark on this journey. They hadn’t been that close lately, but he knew the trip would be just the ticket to get their marriage back on track. It was already beginning to work, and they hadn’t even left yet. But now she was taking more interest in her appearance and had even started wearing perfume again. Not that he actually cared for that scent, but it was nice to know she was making an effort!

***

“No, you’re not taking the dogs! I have the list right here of what we’re allowed to take, and it doesn’t mention dogs.” Louise looked at her 16-year-old son, knowing what was coming.

“Well, it doesn’t say we can’t take them either, does it? And dogs might come in handy! Keep us safe, and all that.”

“And warm,” added his sister. “If it turns out to be colder than we think, the dogs can at least sleep with us!”

“Fine. You go down to the office tomorrow and get permission. I have too much to do before we leave.”

“But what if we just happen to have them with us? Once they see the dogs, they’ll see the wisdom of having them with us, and they won’t refuse us.” Mike looked back at Michelle. They were good at this, from years of practice.

“Plus, if they decide to turn the dogs away, they’ll have to take them themselves. It’ll be too late for us to make arrangements for them!” Michelle noticed an older man enter the room. “Grandpa, tell mom we need to take the dogs with us!”

“Actually, I was thinking of that myself, honey. We don’t know what we’ll find once we get there, or even along the way. The earlier colonists didn’t exactly send back postcards. And if they didn’t bring any dogs at all, then our two dogs will mean … well … that we’ll have dogs there.” Arthur Bradford had grown rather fond of Debit and Credit himself in the past two years.

***

“How will we feed them? Once we get across the Bay of Sorrows, provided we all survive that nightmare, we’re facing the unknown the rest of the trip. But I’m willing to bet we’re not going to run across any stores.”

Arthur had thought some of this out already. “We’re going where some colonizing parties have gone before us, but not so many that they would’ve already killed off all the wildlife. These were bred to be hunting dogs, in spite of what your husband named them!”

“Well, you guys have to work out the dogs thing yourself. I have too much to do getting the rest of us ready!”

***

January Peterson looked again at the list in her hand. She already had the paperwork saying she’d passed the physical and gotten all her shots. Her outstanding debts were paid off, and being single meant she didn’t need a consent affidavit from a spouse. The packing was going to be the hard part – deciding what to take along and leave behind. She only had one crate she could fill, aside from what she could carry herself. Tomorrow she’d see if she could find out if anyone else single was going; perhaps they could travel together and only bring one set of cooking utensils to share, freeing up space for both of them.

***

Fr. Casey looked around. Packing would be the easy part. He just hoped the nuns in the travel party knew how to make communion hosts! Surely he had instructions for that somewhere. Too bad these weren’t diocesan nuns. He had no say in who was chosen. There was nothing he could do about that now. As long as they understood the need to take care of the priest – cooking, cleaning, etc., then he’d be free to do his important work. There was some Protestant pastor coming along as well. Jim something. Kiesling. Well, as long as he stuck to his own people and didn’t get any ideas about collaboration, there wouldn’t be any problems.

***

Harris Cambridge looked at his list. He divided them into Families, Singles, and Others. The nuns and priests were Others. Tomorrow when they all met, he’d have to get the names of the three Blake kids. Including himself, there were 200 people in this travel party, as there had been in the earlier ones. He just hoped he had the skills and good luck to lead them all. Once they found the previous colonists, they’d have to decide if they wanted to join them or start their own town. Of course, that would depend in part on how many survived the trip.