Author: Summer Bird

Charlie’s Room: The Light

The morning Charlie left for his camping trip with his cousins, he raced around the house trying to find everything he needed.   “Where’s the flashlight? What’s a mess kit? Why would I want a compass?” Marianne was out meeting with a client or sponsor or something, so Isaac tried to follow behind Charlie and help him out.

In the end, he left with a lumpy backpack, a sleeping bag and pillow, and a smile. ‘Thanks, dad!” he called over his shoulder. “Oh, by the way, my light’s out. I think it needs a new light bulb.”

“Wait!” Isaac said. Charlie paused, halfway into Marianne’s sister’s minivan. “You didn’t give me a hug.” Charlie rolled his eyes and ran back.

“I love you, Dad,” he said, but it was all muffled in Isaac’s shirt.

Isaac understood anyway. “I love you too, Charlie,” he said. He waved until the car turned the corner. He waited a little longer, because maybe they’d come back for something Charlie forgot, or maybe Charlie would decide not to go after all.

But they didn’t come right back, and Isaac went back inside. It was the start of a four-day weekend. The house was a mess and the weather was beautiful.   Isaac forgot all about the light bulb.   He did get the house picked up before Marianne got home, though.

The next evening, Marianne had some sort of conference to go to. Isaac puttered around the house, looking for something to do, when he remembered the light bulb. He grabbed a box of light bulbs and a stepladder and had to juggle them a bit to open Charlie’s door.

He left the new light bulbs on the bed and struggled a bit with the ladder.   “It’s too bad Charlie’s not here,” he thought. “I could ask him how many dads it takes to change a light bulb.”

He paused. “Just one because we’re awesome like that.” Isaac laughed out loud and reached for the bulb. It made a strange shuffling sound as he unscrewed it. It was surprisingly heavy. Was there something inside? He shook it gently and it shuffled some more.

He set it on the bed and put in a new bulb. The light worked fine. He held up the old bulb. There was a lumpy shape inside, as big as a golf ball. Hmmm. Time to perform surgery.

He found a hammer and chisel and set the bulb in a pie plate on the table.   With one big swing of the hammer, the end of the light bulb was gone, leaving a round glass ball with a slightly splintered end. He picked it up and looked inside.

It looked like there was a funny-shaped gray rock inside. He tipped it out into his hand. Some bits of wire hit his hand first, and then he caught what looked like a lizard statue. It was cold and hard.

He held it closer to his face. It twitched. He nearly dropped it. How had a lizard ended up in the light bulb?   How had it survived the heat inside without drying up into lizard jerky?

Perhaps it was some sort of fire lizard. Isaac was pretty sure he’d read about something like that. They lived in volcanoes or something. He turned on his desk lamp and made the little lizard a bed out of foil. He pushed the lamp as close as he could and left a dish of water nearby.

He watched for a bit, but nothing happened, so he left to make dinner.   When he came back, the lizard had somehow crawled into the lamp and curled around the bulb. “That hardly looks comfortable. I’d offer you the oven, but we can’t keep it on all the time.”   The lizard squeezed the bulb a little tighter.

Should he call the zoo? Were fire lizards common? What did they eat? Moths and bugs attracted to the light probably. “Do you need me to find you some moths?” he asked the lizard. “You know, to help you get your strength back up?”

The lizard squeezed itself even tighter around the bulb and suddenly, pop!, it was inside. “Oh, that’s how you do it!” Isaac said. “That’s amazing. I really should learn more about lizards sometime.” But, he had other projects planned for the evening.   By the time Charlie and Marianne were home, he’d forgotten all about the little lizard. Until months later when his desk lamp needed a new bulb.

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New Venice

Centuries ago, New York perched on the East Coast, just as it does now, but there was no New Venice. Instead, there was a place called California. It had farms and deserts and mountains and forests.

It was beautiful in places, and overcrowded in others. Everyone who lived there knew that someday a “big one,” a massive earthquake, might come. But they all hoped it wouldn’t happen in their lifetime.

Of course, eventually the time ran out. There was a chain reaction of earthquakes and tsunamis and sinkholes. California became the New Altantis, sinking below the waves in a day.

It was tragic and horrible, and not as many survived as should have. The mountains were now islands, and desert sand was now beachfront property. There was a year of mourning. People came from far away to toss flowers and letters into the waves.

Eventually, people began to rebuild. First on the islands, and then in-between. They built over the water, a New Mexico City, spreading far and wide. The more they built, the more they learned.

Soon there was a New California, built over the wreckage of the old. People sent expeditions to the bottom of the ocean, to bring pieces up to add to the structures above. There were pieces of the old Los Angeles and Sacramento and San Diego in the new cities being built.

There were bridges of course, running between the new towns, but boats were always the most direct and reliable transportation.   When an old-fashioned gondola service became popular, people began to talk about the New Venice. And over time, the name stuck.

As New Venice built out into the Pacific, Hawaiian developers began using the new technology, much to the dismay of those who hoped to keep the traditional culture of the islands. Protestors fought each advance outward, but in the end, the developers had deeper pockets.

There were a few areas that were left alone, new national parks and monuments, but eventually, Hawaii began to reach out towards New Venice. People began to try to calculate when they would meet. Workers from all over the world flocked to New Venice as construction sped up.

Finally the day came. The bridge that first connected the two states was called New Junction. A large golden nail was hammered into the edge of the bridge and crowds on boats and in the narrow streets all cheered. Backpackers flooded through on the last leg of their coast-to-coast trips.

Now that the pace of construction began to slow again, developers turned their eye further westward. A few of the more enterprising souls put together a team and traveled to Japan. They were politely, but firmly told no. Japan would be happy to look into the technology on a limited basis, but they preferred the buffer of the ocean and the traditional lifestyle it supported.

They tried elsewhere, all around the world, but the answers were essentially the same. The great New Venice project would remain unique, at least for now.   And in time, what was new and different became old and commonplace.

California is now synonymous with tales of myth and legend. If stories are to be believed, in California cowboys were the ancestors of a city of artists, and the streets were paved with stars. Will another “big one” come again someday? Hopefully not in our lifetime.

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The Mission

Flitwing piloted his craft, trying to blend into his surroundings. He’d managed to obtain the necessary cargo. It was enough food for everyone waiting back at camp. It wasn’t his first time making the supply run, but traffic was especially heavy today and it was making him nervous.

“Flitwing to base. There is hardly any space here to maneuver. Is the mission still possible?”

A crackle came through the speaker above his instrument panel. “Flitwing you worry too much. If you continue to be careful, everything will be fine.”

Perhaps there was some holiday The Others were celebrating. It was difficult to live alongside a culture that was complex and obviously intelligent, but completely incapable of communication.

Well, not incapable of communicating with each other it seemed, but researchers had never been able to decipher their signals or make any meaningful contact with The Others. Perhaps they were unwilling to communicate with anyone else. In any case, without real communication, there wasn’t much that could be done.

So far, the only real workable policy seemed to be to hide under the surface of their society and pretend to not be a threat. The sheer size and numbers of The Others was enough to convince even the most foolhardy that this was a battle they could not win.

So they hid in plain sight and scrounged for leftovers. In the dark, in secret, they built defense measures, honed by generations of their greatest minds. This vehicle was one of their finest achievements. If it fell into the wrong hands, everything was over.   They would no longer be able to hide, and the safety of their civilization would be in jeopardy.

Flitwing felt the pressure of not only the hungry waiting for him in camp, but also the urgency to remain hidden. He couldn’t stand out. He’d studied The Others for years and still didn’t really understand them.

He always felt their eyes on him when he was out among them. Even hidden inside the vehicle, he could feel the glances, the stares. He could hear their whispery signals and wondered if they meant anything threatening.   Were they suspicious? Had he been caught?

He was jostled and his vehicle lost hold of the precious cargo. Flitwing nearly collapsed in fear. He pushed it down and tried to regain equilibrium.   One of The Others reached out to steady his ship and reloaded the supplies with a tap, tap. Did it mean something, this tap on the side of the ship?   It seemed friendly. He responded with what he was told was a friendly signal and walked a little slower to make it easier to maneuver through the traffic.

He had finally entered the wilderness area where his group had made camp.   Once he’d distributed the supplies, he’d park and secure the vehicle and rest for a bit. He wasn’t in the scouting group today, and he was grateful.   His nerves were stretched thin.

“Flitwing to base. I’m nearly there.”

“Good job, Flitwing. I have confirmation that the area is secure and your group is waiting. Check in again when you are ready to return the vehicle to base.”

The unusually large crowds seemed to follow him almost to the deserted corner they’d claimed. While the area was still clear, he maneuvered the craft and distributed the food over a wide area. He docked the ship nearby, set the ship on “snooze” and opened the cockpit and flew out.

He closed up the ship again to keep it hidden, and fluttered down to join his flock, already pecking at the seed. He preened his feathers and looked back. The ship dozed, looking like an elderly Other resting on one of their perches by the out-of-the-way path.   The secret seemed safe for yet another day.

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The Inheritance

Larry’s Great-uncle Mortimer finally died.   Larry had kind of thought he’d live forever. But he hadn’t. However, he had amassed a strange assortment of things in his later years and left them to his many, many relatives.

Larry’s mother received a cuckoo clock that played a lullaby every hour. “I’d forgotten that mother used to sing that to me,” she said, trying to mop up her tears with a crumpled paper napkin she’d fished out of the bottom of her purse. “How thoughtful!”

Larry received a locked box with a note. It said that he had to prove that he’d opened the box completely on his own in order to keep what was inside. His grandfather would hold onto the box in the meantime. “How am I supposed to do that?”   He asked his mother. “It’s locked. Should I buy some sort of blowtorch?” He tried to pick up the box to shake it, but it was too heavy.

“Of course not. You’d damage what’s inside,” his mom said. “You know Larry, you’ve been at loose ends since you graduated.” She blew her nose with the paper napkin.   “Maybe you could train to be a locksmith?”

“I have a job, mom.” Larry rolled his eyes. He really didn’t want to go back to school. Ever.

“I think you’d be able to adjust your work schedule around your classes,” his mom said.

“I don’t want to go back to school.” Larry scowled.

“It’s not really school. I doubt there will be many papers or multiple-choice tests.   There must be something good inside the box. Uncle Mortimer had a knack of giving just the right gift.”

“Really?”

Mom smiled. “He’s the one who sent you Blue Bear.”

Jake looked up. “I loved Blue Bear! He’s the best. Blue Bear was from great-uncle Mortimer?”

“He sent me those weird fish earrings as a graduation present,” Mom said. “I wore them to a dance years later…”

“And Dad asked you about them and that’s how you met,” Larry said. It was a story he’d heard far too many times. And the earrings were from Great-uncle Mortimer? Who knew?

“Alright. I really want to know what’s in the box now. What do I have to do?” Larry said.

“We’ll figure it out,” his mom said.

Larry started his training and then later survived an apprenticeship, and he found that both were far more interesting than he’d expected. Sometimes he went weeks without even thinking about the box. And then sometimes he’d daydream about a box full of diamonds or keys to a sports car or a dozen stuffed blue bears.

It took two years, but Larry showed up at his grandfather’s house one evening and presented his locksmith license with a flourish.   He then pulled out his kit and quickly unlocked the box. “Well done, Larry!” Grandfather said.

Inside was a deed to a storefront in a nearby town.   A note said that he could rent it out or start his own business. “What will you do?” Grandfather asked.

“I think I’ll start a locksmith shop,” Larry said. “They don’t have one there and the town is growing. I actually like being a locksmith. It’s helping people and solving puzzles. I guess Great-Uncle Mortimer knew what he was doing. Again.”

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Revenge

Jake woke up when it was still dark out.   Something in his room was hissing softly. It was like a snake or maybe a bomb, but he couldn’t see it. “Mom!” he yelled. He waited for her, trying to hold perfectly still. He wasn’t sure if the smooth weight on his leg was blankets or a snake. Surely he could feel it moving? He whimpered.

His mom shuffled in and turned on the light.   “What’s wrong?”

“I heard something hissing. I think it was a snake!” Jake threw back the covers. There was nothing there. He looked under his bed. He couldn’t see anything unusual. He couldn’t hear anything either.

He looked up again. His mother didn’t look happy. “I have work in the morning Jake. I’ll leave the hall light on. Don’t call me unless you actually see a snake.”

Just as Jake was finally falling asleep again, he heard a tapping sound, like footsteps. Was there someone in the living room? He hadn’t heard Mom passing his room. He grabbed his baseball bat and crept down the hall.   He slowly peeked around the corner.   Nothing was there. He waited a moment, but didn’t hear anything else.

He went back to bed, but woke again thinking the roof was leaking. And again when he thought he heard someone clear their throat right beside his ear.   And when he heard something growl from his closet. And someone crying in the kitchen. And something tapping on the window.

Jake spent all day at school sleeping with his head on his desk. He stayed in at recess and didn’t throw grass in anyone’s hair or smear mud on their shoes. He didn’t claim the jungle gym and chase everyone away or laugh at people’s haircuts. He didn’t even have the energy to sit on the new kid. It was a pretty rotten day. The teacher sent him home with a note and said she’d call and leave a message.

Jake put the note in his collection under the bed.   Mom had about a thousand voice mails to listen to and she never had time, so she never did. Jake didn’t mind at all. He ate bunch of cookies and watched cartoons until mom got home.   “How was your day?” she asked.

“I was tired today,” Jake said.

“Me too. I kept hearing you get up last night. Stay in bed tonight, even if you can’t sleep, okay?” His mom said.

“Alright,” Jake said.

There was hissing and laughing and growling and moaning that night. Creaking footsteps and tapping on the windows and walls. Sobbing and whispering right by his ear if he nodded off.   He couldn’t sleep a wink. He pulled the covers over his head, curled in a ball, and waited for morning.

At school, he laid his head on his desk and refused to move. Not even for lunch. He didn’t tie anyone’s shoelaces together or throw away their homework when they weren’t looking. He didn’t spill glue in their pencil boxes or even trip anyone when they walked by. When the teacher tried to send him to the nurse’s office, he said, “no thank you,” without even looking up. The teacher sent home another note.

At bedtime, Jake didn’t turn his light out. He sat up on his bed and felt a little bit crazy and reckless. When the hissing started, Jake stood up and faced his closet, where the sound was coming from. “What do you want?” he asked.   “Whatever you are, tell me what you want. Please.” Jake rarely said please.

“I was paid to get back at you,” a raspy voice said.   “My great-great-great-great grandchild is not happy with you.”

“How much are they paying you? I’ve got some money!   I’ll pay more,” Jake said.

“I don’t need money. I’m being paid with tickets to the opera. I like having my own seat so that no one tries to sit through me,” The voice said.

“I could buy tickets,” Jake said.

“Nope,” the voice said.

“What if I promise to leave your great-great grandchild alone?” Jake asked.

“That’s great-great-great-great grandchild, and I don’t think that’s enough,” the voice said. The hissing began again.

“I’ll leave everybody alone! I promise!” Jake yelled.

“Fine,” the raspy voice said. “But if you don’t, I’ll know and I’ll be back. I can wait forever, you know.”

Jake suffered a few sleepless nights in the months to come, but he eventually became a fine, upstanding citizen. With an irrepressible fear of snakes and opera.

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Charlie’s Room: The Carpet

Marianne and Charlie were gone for the week. They were visiting Great-Aunt Bethyl, Marianne’s great aunt. Marianne worked freelance, but Isaac couldn’t take the week off. He was sad to miss the trip. Great-Aunt Bethyl was a little odd, and Isaac liked to hear her latest conspiracy theories.

Luckily, he had a new project to keep him busy while they were gone.   Charlie had spilled ink on his carpet a month ago, and nothing they’d tried could get the stain out. So, Isaac was going to install some new carpet.

He’d read all about it online and picked out the perfect sand-colored carpet over the weekend. After work today, he’d moved everything out of the room and stored it in the living room.   Now it was time to rip out the old carpet.

It was harder than he’d thought to peel it away. It was oddly satisfying though, like picking at an old scab.   Underneath the carpet, he found a beautiful wood floor. Mentally, he changed plans. He would refinish the floor and buy rugs. He hadn’t bought the carpet yet, so he could still change his mind.

After he’d finished pulling out the carpet and rolling it up, he noticed a square-shaped door in the middle of the floor. A crawlspace? That shouldn’t have been covered up. Stepping over the tack strips, he knelt down beside the door.

He pried up the edges and eased it open. It was really dark inside. He returned with a flashlight. There was a ladder that looked like it descended pretty far. How strange. Was it some sort of smuggler’s hiding spot?

He cautiously climbed down, holding the flashlight between his teeth.   Finally feeling ground beneath his feet, he turned and transferred the flashlight to his hand in the same quick movement. He felt like he was in an action movie. There was nothing there but a long, dark tunnel.

“Hello?” he said. Nothing answered. He walked down the tunnel, pointing his flashlight from side to side as he went. It began to look more like a natural tunnel, with an earthen floor below and a few stalactites hanging down from above.

His flashlight seemed dimmer. He worried about the batteries and considered going back. He switched it off, planning to switch it on again and see if that fixed things. Instead, he realized that the flashlight seemed dimmer because there was an eerie blue glow coming from the tunnel ahead.   As he hurried forward, the light grew brighter.

The tunnel opened into a wide room, twice the size of his little house. The ceiling was high above a glowing underground lake. Isaac stepped forward to peer into the water. A few steps away, something erupted from the lake.

Isaac threw himself backwards with a yell, slashing the air in front of him with the flashlight. The water settled, revealing a lady floating in the air over the middle of the lake, holding a giant glowing sword. She didn’t look very impressed.

“Mortal, you do not belong here,” she said. “You must answer a riddle in order to leave.”

That didn’t sound right. “Don’t you mean in order to have the sword?” He’d read fairy tales.   He knew how this was supposed to go.

“Of course not. This is not your sword.” She frowned. The blue light made her look carved out of stone. Creepy.

Isaac shone his flashlight in her eyes and ran towards the tunnel. It was gone, and the wall of the cave was smooth with no trace of any opening. He turned and returned to the lake with a sigh.   “Alright. What’s the riddle?” he asked.

“Foolish mortal. Don’t think I’ll make this easy for you. What travels on wings in the evening, feet in the morning, and nothing at midday?”

That seemed fairly easy. “A butterfly,” Isaac said.

“Wrong,” the lake lady said.

“I don’t think so,” Isaac said. “It may not be the answer you are looking for, but technically my answer is correct. In the morning of its life, a caterpillar walks on feet. In the middle it doesn’t travel, stuck in a cocoon. In the evening of its life, it travels on butterfly wings.”

“That was not the answer I was looking for,” the lake lady said. She tightened her hands around her sword.

“You didn’t ask me to read your mind, you asked me to solve a riddle,” Isaac said. “Let me go home, and I’ll let you go back to swimming around your lake or whatever you were doing before I came.”

“Fine.” The lady said. She pointed and Isaac turned to look. The tunnel was back.   “Don’t come back,” she said.

“Thank you, I don’t plan to,” Isaac said. He left. He stacked some heavy boxes on the trap door and went to bed.

In the morning, he moved the boxes and opened the door. It looked like a shallow crawl space. He sealed it with silver duct tape and called to order the carpet.

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