Short Story Of the Day, The Wave by Bill Chance

“Can’t we haul them up with us somehow?” the youngest asked.

“Llamas can’t climb trees,” the old man replied.

—-Bill Chance, The Wave

The Wave that Washes us all

The Wave that Washes us all

I have been feeling in a deep hopeless rut lately, and I’m sure a lot of you have too. After writing another Sunday Snippet I decided to set an ambitious goal for myself. I’ll write a short piece of fiction every day and put it up here. Obviously, quality will vary – you get what you get. Length too – I’ll have to write something short on busy days. They will be raw first drafts and full of errors.

I’m not sure how long I can keep it up… I do write quickly, but coming up with an idea every day will be a difficult challenge. So far so good. Maybe a hundred in a row might be a good, achievable, and tough goal.

Here’s another one for today (#18). What do you think? Any comments, criticism, insults, ideas, prompts, abuse … anything is welcome. Feel free to comment or contact me.

Thanks for reading.



The Wave

They pushed the llamas faster than they wanted to go but they knew they had to reach the tree. The bare brown ground was covered in a spiderweb of cracks for miles and miles and miles – from one horizon to another. The rise that had the tree on top of it was barely perceptible but the old man could feel it in his bones, having made the crossing so many times before.  Finally, the great tree appeared on the horizon and they knew they were going to make it.

They removed the packets of salt and sulfur from the backs of the llamas and hauled them up into the tree. The llamas were then let free to wander – to tie them would mean certain death. As it was, they would be lucky if half survived the wave… llamas can’t climb trees.

“Can’t we haul them up with us somehow?” the youngest asked.

“Llamas can’t climb trees,” the old man replied.

“But they can swim,” the youngest said.

“To a point.”

They climbed and tied themselves to branches and slept as best they could.

The wave came not as a wall of water at first but as a swelling of the ground until the cracks all closed up. Then the water began to deepen. Then there was the sound and the wave and the water. The cries of the llamas were pitiful as they were lifted and tumbled and struggled to keep their heads above water.

And then it was over. The water receded back over the horizon as quickly as it had come.  The sun baked the ground until the cracks reappeared. The old men lowered the packs of salt and sulfur from the tree as the young men gathered the surviving llamas up across the plain.

There were enough to continue, although for each of them, their loads would be heavier.

Short Story (Flash Fiction) Of the Day, How do you Sense the Sea, Child by Kat Day

The sea-king known as Mysing was a trader and a warrior, with grey eyes and the nose of hawk. Many said he had the mind of a hawk, too: sharp, opportunistic, and sometimes cruel. Mysing and his men invaded the lands of King Frodi, drawn there by a low rumble of song. A melody of pain and torment and misfortune, blood and tears and separation.

—- Kat Day, How do you Sense the Sea, Child

Column Capital, Ellis County Courthouse, Waxahachie, Texas

Today we have a modified retelling of a old Norse story, with some inorganic and dye chemistry thrown in (I like that).

Read it here:

How do you Sense the Sea, Child by Kat Day

from the fiction phial

Kat Day Twitter

The Shuttle, then and now

NASA Photo

Today I walked down to the break area at work to get some ice and I saw a small clot of folks gathered around the television, holding their coffee and watching the screen. I glanced to see what had their attention and saw footage of the Space Shuttle Discovery strapped to the top of a Boeing 747 on its way to Dulles airport and the Smithsonian.

That scene brought back a long-ago memory for me.

It was… maybe 1980 or so. I was working for a salt company in Hutchinson, Kansas. We had bought a small solar salt company in Utah. The production method was to pump saline water from the lake into a series of crystallization ponds and let the sun evaporate the water over the summer, leaving a layer of salt on the bottom of the shallow ponds. This would be picked up by a loader, screened and packed into bags, and then shipped out for animal feed or de-icing.

The company offices and warehouse were in Ogden, but the production ponds were located on the Great Salt Lake in a very isolated location – a little ways around the tip of Promontory Pont.

There are several large, successful evaporation operations on the lake… this was not one of those. It was a small company that made some salt from a few acres of ponds. It was called the Lake Crystal Salt company and its location on the remote arm of the lake (sealed off, more or less, from the rest of the lake by a railroad causeway) gave it access to some concentrated brine, and it did produce a lot of salt in its tiny ponds.

It’s long out of business, but looking at google maps, the ponds are still there (I’ll remember the shape of those ponds ‘til the day I die).

At any rate, part of my job was to fly up to Utah at the end of the summer to do an inventory of the salt that had been produced in the evaporation ponds during the warm season. We had designed and built a core drilling machine out of a gasoline powered post hole digger and would don rubber boots and walk around the ponds in a grid pattern, drilling holes down through the salt to the hardpan beneath. I would reach down the hole with a tape measure and determine the depth of the salt. I still have small scars on my hands from where the rough salt crystals and harsh concentrated brine would scrape at my skin. I would then take all these measurements and use them to calculate how many thousands of tons of salt we would have for sale after it was harversted (harvested… it was surprisingly like farming).

It was a two – man job, so I would hire a laborer in Ogden and the two of us would drive out every morning to the site. It was a long drive through some very desolate country. A handful of workers lived in a dormitory out there, only coming back on weekends – but I didn’t want a part of that, so I stayed in a hotel.

It was quite a drive and to have time to get any work done we would leave Ogden well before dawn. From Ogden north to Brigham City and then west, out across the mountains and desert until we could curve south down the length of the Promontory Point peninsula. The sun would rise behind us and light the beautiful, rugged, isolated mountains in a golden fire.

One morning, as we were driving, not another car or soul in sight for miles, I spotted, way up ahead, something odd. It was an aircraft of some type. It looked like a biplane, though something was off. Distances are hard to judge in the desert, but it looked a long way away. That would mean it was huge. It was flying very low, however, so I wasn’t sure about that. As I watched, it flew behind a large mesa and I lost sight of it.

“What was that? Did you see that?” I asked my worker.

“I think I saw something, but I don’t know what it was,” he said.

We drove on, scouring the sky until we reached the opposite end of the mesa. Suddenly a huge, ungainly aircraft lumbered out from behind the rock and crossed the highway directly in front of us. It was no more than a hundred yards off the ground and no more than two hundred in front of us. I slammed the brakes and skidded to a stop on the shoulder. My worker and I tumbled out of the car and stood in the desert, our mouths hanging open as the plane slowly curved around us. We were gobsmacked. It looked so close we could reach out and touch it.

It was the Space Shuttle attached to the top of a 747. Keep in mind this was 1980 and the shuttle wouldn’t make its first powered flight for another year. My memory is a little hazy but I think we saw the Colombia on its way to Florida for its first launch. We had seen pictures of the shuttle and its transportation 747, but on the tiny television screens of the day. To see the thing live, so close, coursing through the crystal clear high desert air at dawn, unexpected in the middle of nowhere, was an astounding sight.

It flew past us and then disappeared behind another mountain. We climbed back in the car, drove on out to the evaporation ponds and put in a full day of work.

That night I watched the Salt Lake City news on my hotel television and they covered the landing of the shuttle at a nearby air base. They said that they had flown the shuttle past the Morton Thiokol plant out in the Utah desert mountains where they were building the solid rocket boosters to give the workers a view of what they were working on. On my next drive out to the ponds I looked closely and could pick out burned spots on the mountains where the engines had been tested.

I saw the Colombia once more, over Dallas, one morning twenty three years later. It was a nice day and we had the front door open to get some fresh air in the house and I was shaken by a loud boom from the sky. We rushed out to see the smoke trails in the heavens.The Colombia was breaking up over the metroplex to die and fall in a million pieces on in the East Texas Piney Woods.

What I learned this week, September 2, 2011

Amy Tan on Creativity

I have been around the block a few times – I have lived long enough to have ridden the economic roller coaster in its up and downs. I’ve been telling folks that the last few years have felt a lot like the Jimmy Carter “malaise” stagflation of 1981.

There are a lot of parallels, and everything fades in memory, especially the worst things, but man, this one is nasty. I keep meeting people, hearing things, and reading more and more about this sort of situation:

“I don’t think anybody realized you had to recreate yourself out of the box,” Wiedemer says, noting that she has a BS in Finance and a dozen years of experience in the financial services industry. “If I had it to do over I wouldn’t climb the ladder in corporate America… Whenever I was unemployed in the past it was never for more than a couple weeks.”

Damn This Recession! – The rise of the unemployees

I added a long TED talk to my blog post on Douglas Adams. If you are a fan of him or of The Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, go take a look. Don’t forget your towel.

There have been a lot of theories about the cause(s) of the drastic drop in the crime rate over the last few decades. There is certainly more than one explanation. The popular book, Freakonomics, attributes a lot of the drop in crime to the rising abortion rate. Obviously, our increased prison population and more police on the street had a part.

One idea that I always had is the fact that lead was removed from gasoline at the time. This resulted in a dramatic reduction in lead levels, especially in young people, especially in urban areas. Elevated lead levels are associated with aggressive behavior and other mental problems.

I have been criticised for this view; someone told me, “Only a man would think of something like that,” which I thought was pretty idiotic. My personal response was, “Only a person with access to environmental lead data, who had done blood level testing in elevated lead exposure situations (after the Livingston Train Derailment in 1982), and who had done research into how elevated blood lead levels lead to changes in behavior, would think of something like that.”

Finally, I actually found an article that also mentions this theory:

There may also be a medical reason for the crime decline. For decades, doctors have known that children with lots of lead in their blood are much more likely to be aggressive, violent, and delinquent. In 1974, the Environmental Protection Agency required oil companies to stop putting lead in gasoline. At the same time, lead in paint was banned for any new home (though old buildings still have lead paint, which children can absorb). Tests have shown that the amount of lead in Americans’ blood fell by four-fifths between 1975 and 1991. A 2000 study by economist Rick Nevin suggested that the reduction in gasoline lead produced more than half of the decline in violent crime during the nineties. A later study by Nevin claimed that this also happened in other nations. Another economist, Jessica Wolpaw Reyes, has made the same argument. (One oddity about this fascinating claim has yet to be explained: why the reduction related to lead-free blood included only violent crime, not property offenses.)

From Crime and the Great Recession by James Q. Wilson, in City Journal

No matter how bad I am, I’ll never be as bad as this:

Writing Tips for the Week

How to Stay Motivated

Condensed from Colombia University Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

1. Set a daily writing goal.

2. Schedule your writing as early as possible in the day. If you fear or dislike writing, then once it’s done, you experience a tremendous sense of relief that you have the rest of the day to do everything else you must do…without having to think about your writing.

3. Think ahead and plan backwards.

4. Work with deadlines.

5. There is no writing, only re-writing, Lamott (1994) says, “Get it down, so you can clean it up.” Shaw (1993) says, “There is no such thing as good writing. There is only good rewriting.” If it helps to motivate you, you do not need to write a final draft, or even a good draft. You write today what you must so that you can produce good writing when you edit.

6. Reward progress.

7. Motivate (and comfort) yourself with stories of other good writers (and how they suffer, too).

8. Read others’ acknowledgments.

9. And here’s another good motivational strategy: Donate $5 to your favorite U.S. presidential candidate’s opponent for each day you do not write.

Do you ever watch the Discovery Channel’s Dirty Jobs?

I have had the experience of actually doing a job, at the exact location, that was on the show (it wasn’t a bad job at all – and it certainly wasn’t “dirty”).

Salt Mine – Outside

Yes, I used to work there.

At a quick glance – “Dirty Jobs” is just another cheapy, throwaway, cable pseudo-reality series that gives you a few chuckles and a shock or two – barely enough to keep your hand off of the remote control and certainly not enough to justify wasting that precious sliver of time that it takes to watch the thing.

But maybe there’s something else going on here. Maybe you can learn something.

Take a look at this TED talk (yes, all of it) – the host certainly has learned something

Did you think you would get a lecture from the Dirty Jobs guy on Anagnorisis and Peripeteia? With the added instructional lecture on how to bite off a pair of sheep balls?

Stay tuned my friends, you might learn something.