Thursday, May 31, 2012

In the Shadow of the Valley Of Whales - Flash Fiction

Fossils In Wadi Hitan (Valley Of Whales). Wikimedia Commons
In perusing notes from cases conducted by my now-famous friend S.H. , I came across one of the more fantastic, although you might know that with his thirst for unusual investigations there were none which could be described as mundane. The discovery in question resulted from a trip to the land of pharaohs, in pursuit of a rumored curse which struck down those who dared to breach the sanctity of those colossal tombs.  Having dispensed with that particular mystery, S.H. had proposed a journey in search of an "ocean in the midst of the desert". Having devoted the better part of eight years to the study of his remarkable powers of reason and deduction, and wishing for a bit of respite from the din of Cairo, I readily agreed to accompany him.

The evening of January 19,  18-- found us seated about a fire in the middle of the desert, having spent a full two days swaying upon the backs of that venerable, yet troublesome, beast known as the camel.  After spending time in Afghanistan many years ago, I was somewhat tolerant of the conditions; nonetheless, I was sunburned and rather distressed at our provided meal of questionable mutton and tea. S.H., of course, had somehow retained his usual unrumpled and unperturbed mien; he spent the evening smoking comfortably with our guide and playing some sort of game, stopping every so often to examine what served them as dice.

Dawn found us striking off on foot; our destination, obviously, lay within a short walk. The rising sun illuminated the most remarkable monoliths and stone sculptures, eons of scouring winds having carved them into shapes in the most fantastic manner. S.H. began to stop and look down every so often; and, after a time, he knelt and picked up an object, proffering it to me with "What do you make of this, Watson?"

I immediately recognized it as coral, or at least a scrap of stone which bore an amazing resemblance to that form of sea life. But here, in the middle of a desert? Obviously it was some hoax, and S.H. would soon deduce the perpetrator and the reason, which I assumed would turn out to be monetary, as is the case with so many criminal endeavors.

It was while I was still examining this bit of supposed marine detritus that I heard S.H. calling to me cheerily.

"My dear fellow, I believe we have discovered what might pass for Leviathan."

"I should hope not. For that would mean that we are in hell, or at least passingly close, and though it might feel like it I've no wish to leave the good earth jus..." My tongue was stilled by the amazing sight laid out before me; a skeleton, of a creature seemingly once long and large, and though unique in several attributes bearing a distinct resemblance to the bony remains of a whale which had washed up on the Sussex shore when I was young and on holiday. 

S.H. was silent for a time, pacing off the length of the beast, bending to scrutinize a bone here and there, jotting notes in a book. After a time, he called to our guide and asked for the astragali which they had been rolling the night before. He held the knucklebones in one hand, and some small bones he'd plucked from our Leviathan with the other.

"Tell me, with your medical knowledge, would you agree that these are from a similar part of the anatomy?"

I did agree; astragali, although commonly termed knucklebones, are actually the ankle bones of hoofed animals, and the bones in S.H.'s other hand bore a distinct resemblance to them, which begged the question of how a marine mammal would come to have ankle bones. Surely this was all the proof necessary to indicate that subterfuge was at work. Whoever had placed these bones here to astonish and perplex had misplayed their hand by mixing the remains of far different creatures.

"And so we merely need to find the perpetrator, presumably starting with the museums and institutes of learning, since one would need at least a passing knowledge of anatomy as well as access to old bones and a source of excursionists willing to both make the journey and pay accordingly." I felt myself on sure ground.

"This case is a particularly fascinating one, as it illustrates yet again a simple explanation for an affair which at first seems unfathomable. But, my dear Watson, I'm afraid that apprehending a culprit would be rather beyond any judicial entity, let alone myself, as the perpetrator would seem to be nature itself.  You see, I've been working on a little theory;  that animals, and indeed every living thing, are continually changing and adapting through the centuries.  The earth is a palimpsest, with wind and water uncovering layer upon layer, revealing and then erasing, only to begin again. There is no reason not to believe that desert was once ocean, that whales once walked and then slowly lost their legs and took to the sea just as a tadpole does the opposite; that once upon a time enormous reptiles walked this earth giving rise to the legends of dragons and monsters; or that we humans were once something altogether different than what we are now. Perhaps that is where some of our basest instincts, our deepest fears, and our worst crimes stem; from some primeval version of ourselves."

"Surely you will collect this information and put forth your theory when we get back?" I replied, astounded by the ramifications of his brilliant explanation.

"Surely not," he replied, placing a hand on my arm, "nor do I wish you to discuss it with anyone at the moment. Good heavens, man, such a theory would set our staid society firmly upon its ear! I have no wish to engage in tiresome debate nor listen to the high pitched shrilling of those who will brook no idea other than the one found in particular religious tracts. I have devoted my life to the art of investigation; but it is the human heart, the endless criminal cycle of greed, betrayal, violence and fear that repeats over and over which captivates me. I study the individual; the species, I will leave to another. Once we are back home I intend to invite my old friend Charles D- to supper; I think he might be just the fellow to tackle this."

As it turned out, it was a wise decision. But then, I would have expected nothing less from such a great detective.

 Author's note: Wadi Al-Hitan (Valley Of Whales) is a Unesco World Heritage site located in Egypt. The fossilized remains of ancient whales, sea cows, various large fish and coral have been found here, in the midst of a desert. The site reveals evidence for the explanation of one of the greatest mysteries of the evolution of whales: the emergence of the whale as an ocean-going mammal from a previous life as a land-based animal.

Friday, May 25, 2012

I Remember - Flash Fiction

She tossed aside the medical journal and closed her eyes. "The core meaning of memories remain, but each memory transforms every time we attempt to retrieve it."

And so she concentrates, for hours at a time, trying to recall and then rebuild the story of her childhood. But there are reminders everywhere, the scent of  beer and vomit in the alleyway, stale cigarette smoke woven into the curtains, a handwritten note tucked into a book.

Library. Call Jackson. Paint snapdragons. Sue transit company for allowing spy cameras on bus.

There is a photo of him, leaning against a Packard; he is debonaire and slightly smug, hair slicked with Brilliantine, leather jacket hanging loosely on his frame. But his eyes are squinted and focused on something to the left, as though he were making up his mind whether it posed some sort of threat. Were the voices manifesting themselves already, at age 18?

She still avoids those places where she is bound to run into the legions of old men; the Goodwill store, the garage down the street, the McDonalds on the corner where they congregate in murders like crows or sit alone with palsied hands and gray stubble. It hurts. She wants to take them all home, wonders briefly why they don't have Societies where they can be adopted like the sad-eyed mutts at the Humane League.  Maybe someone would have adopted her father, someone better able to nurture him, understand him, or at least find him the help that he needed. Prevented him from running away and living on the streets.  Her mother couldn't do it, and neither could she.

It was with great reluctance that she finally burned or threw away everything that had any vestige of him.  She started over with a box of photos from a rummage sale and a dogeared card with a picture of a teddy bear and Love Daddy scrawled inside.

I remember when he took me to the baseball game. The Metropolitan Art Museum. The movie Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

She screwed her eyes tightly closed.

I remember...


Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Chinese Lion Dance - Kensico Dam Plaza - Video

Chinese Lion dance performed at the Asian-American Heritage Celebration at Kensico Dam Plaza in Valhalla (Westchester County, New York)

Apologies for the poor quality, but it was taken with an inexpensive Kodak. We happened upon the festival quite by accident, and I was thrilled - I'd never seen any of the traditional dances performed live. Since time is short (as usual) I've resorted to pasting a brief bit of info adapted from Wikipedia. I have found a great site which I linked below and intend to check out later in the week.

During the Chinese New Year, lion dancer troupes from the Chinese martial art schools or Chinese guilds and associations will visit the houses and shops of the Chinese community to perform the traditional custom of "cai ching" (採青), meaning "plucking the greens", a quest by the 'lion' to pluck the auspicious green normally 'vegetables' like lettuce which in Chinese called 'cái'(菜)that sound like 'cái'(财)(fortune) and auspicious fruit like oranges tied to a red envelope containing money; either hung high or just put on a table in front of the premises. The "lion" will dance and approach the greens and the envelope like a curious cat, to "eat the green" and "spit" it out (in all directions, to spread the prosperity) but keeping the red envelope. The lion dance is believed to bring good luck and fortune to the business, and the troupe is rewarded with the red envelope.

There are different styles of lion costumes and dances; my guess is that the one I filmed is the Southern Chinese Lion. While real lions are not native to China, they arrived as gifts from rulers in other countries via the Silk Road.

For more information, I'll be checking out this fascinating and comprehensive site:  Chinese Lion Dancers

Monday, May 21, 2012

The Tale Of Bunny Bunny - Flash Fiction

Once upon a time there was a little girl who lived in the country and had no friends. Her family was very poor, and they were always hungry. One day Father brought home a rabbit which was very small but large enough to feed the family for dinner. Girl (for she had no name, they were that poor) cried at the thought of eating the rabbit. So she asked that Father spare his life. In return, she would go to market and find something else for their meal.

"Go then, little dreamer, but if you return with nothing, then rabbit stew it shall be."

Girl took her one possession, a tattered little book of nursery rhymes, and walked a mile to the market. The shopkeepers shook their heads; they had no need of a threadbare book, and even the leather cover was so worn that it had no value. She was so disappointed and sad that she sat down by the village well and began to cry, vowing that she would rather starve than go home and eat.

A kindly man sat down beside her.

"Why are you crying, little girl?" he asked .

So she told him her troubles.

"Why, that would make a fine story," he said thoughtfully. He offered her a little pouch and a gold coin.

Girl offered him her book. "It isn't worth gold, but it's all that I have."

The man smiled. "Ah, but you see, you have given me an idea. I am Storyteller, and ideas are worth gold to me."

"You mean you read books?" asked Girl. "My book isn't important; that's what everyone else told me."

"No, I mean I'm a storyteller. I tell tales, those of others, and those which I create myself. To read aloud is fine, but it is my job to truly bring stories to life. And in the pouch, by the way, is enough of my magic dust for you to bring one precious thing to life. Use it well."

Girl blinked, and Storyteller was gone.

With the gold coin, Girl was able to buy enough food for many dinners, and the rabbit (named Bunny Bunny, because he was so precious that he deserved TWO names) became Girl's very best friend. They had many happy adventures together, and Girl learned to love and to explore the big wide world with her trusted companion by her side. She even learned to make up stories about their travels all over the world (which I might tell you about one day), but as you know all good things come to an end. One day Bunny Bunny could not walk around very well, and the day after that he lay very still.  Girl knew how things were in life, and yet her heart was broken at the thought of spending her days without a treasured companion. Then she remembered the little pouch from Storyteller, and opening it up she sprinkled the fine dust over the rabbit before placing him in a little burrow she'd dug and covering up the entrance with stones to keep the dogs away.

Girl was very sad but she wished Bunny Bunny a safe journey to wherever he was going and then she went to bed.

Three days later, there was a knock on the door late at night. But Girl was very sleepy, and though she tried to hear what the voices were saying, she soon went back to sleep.

The next morning Girl awoke to sunshine streaming in her window.  She jumped out of bed, remembering that it was Easter and hoping that there might be a bit of chocolate for her this year.

"Good morning, Sunshine!" said Father. Girl was astounded, as her Father had never called her anything but Girl. "Happy Easter!"

Girl was amazed. The table was laden with good things, Mother had a new dress, and Father's shiny scrubbed face beamed above his new jacket.

Best of all, she saw...

Bunny Bunny!
Girl was so excited that she wept. "OH Bunny Bunny how I've missed you."

True, he wasn't quite as thin as he'd been, and his ears and nose didn't twitch...

"It's just a toy, I know, but maybe it will do until we can get you another real rabbit," said Father.

But Girl did not want another rabbit. Because she knew that it really WAS Bunny Bunny, just come back in a slightly different form. His nose still had the same scar, and he had...well, it can only be described as a very curious and sly twinkle in his eyes.  But when Girl explained to Father and Mother about the Storyteller and the magic dust...

"Oh, well who's the storyteller here?" they replied in unison.

Girl sighed, and took Bunny Bunny off to the woods to do some exploring. And they would have many, many adventures.

Father shook his head as they left.

He could have sworn that stuffed rabbit had winked at him.

I thought I'd branch out into kid lit - something lighter than usual. Many thanks to the true life stars of the tale, Stu Storyteller and Bunny Bunny (who wishes to start his very own blog, of course).

Update July 2012: Bunny Bunny now has his very own blog here!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Conversion - Flash Fiction - National Flash Fiction Day UK

Accessing the county water treatment facility proved far easier than he'd thought.  Adding the contents of a plastic jug, even simpler. Dr. Prescott, (Non-existent University of Foxglove, Class of 1981) psychologist, intrepid explorer, and now high school hygiene/P.E. teacher, ended the evening with a celebratory footlong chili cheese dog at Sonic and climbed into bed with a smile and gentle burp.

Next morning, he picked up the newspaper at the end of his driveway and flung a mock salute at his young neighbor.

"How are you, Kiara? You look a little under the weather."

The teen rubbed her forehead. "Headache. Probably the algebra test today. And the water in the bathroom was green this morning. So gross! Hope I didn't swallow any when I brushed my teeth."

Prescott frowned. "Blurry eyes? Leg pains? Any...umm... " He trailed off. "I'm sure it's nothing." He turned to walk back up the driveway.

"Wait! Why? My leg does hurt a little bit. Do you think I'm sick from the water?"

He reached into his mental closet and chose the appropriate face. Concerned. Wary. Maybe a tad secretive. "I'm sure it's nothing", he replied again, as unconvincingly as he could. "Still, the color of the tap water reminds me of a certain algae which contaminated the water supply in Mayoca, back when I worked in the field.  I hesitate to say this, but it tends to cause paralysis in the extremities and, in certain cases, blindness." He looked off into the distance. "I'm sure it's a coincidence. Good luck on that algebra test - I'll be away for a few days. Be sure and give the substitute a hard time."

@purrrtygirrrl No school. Sick. Is ur water green?
@ArtsyLeigh LOL yep. Blech. Headache, may bail 2day too
@Kiki2 u sick too?!?
@purrrtygirrrl @ArtsyLeigh @Kiki2 scared. L went to emer rm paralyzed!
@parkeurbabe oh shit my legs hurt I heard Dr P thinks it's poison scum or something oh no oh no

Five girls, one boy, all admitted with paralysis of the lower extremities, two of the girls with diminished eyesight, one unable to speak. Blood tests fine, organ function normal, MRIs negative for abnormalities. Oddly enough, although their legs were limp and insensitive, the reflexes were normal, indicating no real nerve or spinal damage. And the water contamination had proven to be food coloring, and blamed on the local pharmaceutical company which manufactured, among other things, minty mouthwash. The town whispered, ranted and rioted; fingers were pointed at the drug company, the fracking outfits, the cellphone tower owners and the county incinerator.

Dr. Prescott, returning refreshed from his three day idyll on the island, was quick to arrange clandestine consultations with the angry and frightened parents of the stricken teens. Extracting promises of complete secrecy - and rather large sums for his skill and supplies - he conducted the ancient healing practices taught to him by the shamans of the rainforest many years ago. His patients responded to his soothing voice, gentle hands, and herbal decoctions, recovering in the most remarkable way after only a visit or two. Several even  converted to his Church of the Tropical Revelations and continued to send donations to support his work in furthering the study of healing rites in the Caribbean and South American cultures.

And then he left town, disappeared in fact, trailing the tearful and heartfelt thanks of the parents.


"So, how'd you do it?" asked Rico, swinging in his hammock and sipping from the mandatory coconut required in all tropical paradises.

"Oh, you know, talk therapy and placebos and all that. Conversion disorder - what used to be referred to as hysteria - is part and parcel of the human experience. Remember the Salem witchcraft trials? The Seattle Windshield Pitting Epidemic?  You can talk anybody into anything if you go about it the right way. Social media just helps things along. In fact, I'm wondering if those little blinking avatars people use might just cause seizures in some people...


For a more recent possible occurrence of conversion disorder: Teens of Le Roy New York or
CBS News Mass Hysteria Outbreak Reported

Today (May 16) is National Flash Fiction Day in the UK. For more flash (including one I wrote entitled "Final Performance"), check out Flash Flood Journal

Monday, May 7, 2012

Psalm 23 For Writers

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not face writer's block;
He makes me lie down after hours of editing.
He leads me beside still waters of reflection;
He restores my faith in the possibility of being published.
He leads me away from the well-trodden path of cliches
for originality's sake.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of emails,
I fear no boilerplate rejection;
for Thou art with me, and better writers have been rejected before me;
Thy staff and their eventually successful novels and chapbooks comfort me.

Thou preparest a book signing table before me
in the presence of the scoffers;
Thou anointest my head with ideas and Tylenol,
my pen overflows.
Surely readers and bloggers shall follow me
all the days of my life;
and I shall not be forced to be a starving writer in a garret forever.

Critique on writing aspects always welcome; however, no theological debates or offensive comments please.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

May 16 Is National Flash Fiction Day in the UK - Join In!

Image from

Here's the website for more info. on  National Flash Fiction Day.

Why not make it international and join the fun? Just post a piece of flash fiction on May 16. Tweet it, google it, stumble it.

What's flash fiction? A complete story, 1000 words or less. Any topic, any genre. A surprise ending is common, but not absolutely necessary. Just try to create a story that's compact, powerful, thought-provoking, beautiful, spare - often the best part is leaving something to the reader's imagination. Check out the National Flash fiction day site, browse this blog for examples, click on the I Write Friday Flash badge on my sidebar to find other flash fiction writers at FFDO, search hashtags like #NFFD #flashfiction and #FridayFlash on twitter, or browse through my blogroll - there are a bunch of fine writers there as well.

Good luck, and hope to see lots of flash appearing!
Added notes from Calum Kerr at NFFD:  The anthology produced from Flash-Fiction South West - Kissing Frankenstein and Other Stories - is also now available to order from Lulu. 53 wonderful flash-fictions from all over the West Country. What more could you want? Best go and order now..

 The first actual proper event for NFFD will happen on the day before - 15th May - in Shrewsbury. So if you're nearby, or can be, get yourself along and be one of the first to celebrate National Flash-Fiction Day! (

Calum Kerr
Director, National Flash-Fiction Day
on Twitter a@nationalflashfd

National Flash-Fiction Day 2012 is proud to be funded by Arts Council England.