Lana’s Page

 

Lana Hickman is a talented science writer in our community.  

She has graciously agreed to have some of her work posted here.

Science Students at Orcas Island High School may earn bonus points by answering the questions at the end of each story.

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No portion of this book may be reproduced, stored in retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means mechanical, electronic, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without written permission from Orcas Enterprises and from the publisher.

 

Illustrations and Text, Copyright.

 

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  The Valiant King and His Rhino.

 

 

Once upon a time on a beautiful island there lived a young king. Every week he would go around his domain to see how his subjects were faring. His faithful Rhino was always at his side. When the young king felt tired he rode Rhino, but most often they walked together side by side. Rhino was very careful not to step on tiny critters which lived along the king’s path. That’s why the king and his Rhino moved slowly. That way they never missed any details. It was especially important for the young king, since he cared a lot about all living beings of his domain.

The beautiful island was small but spacious, because this patch of land had everything one might ask for. There were high mountains running through its center. And in the mountains there were waterfalls. If one happened to stop by and get a drink of water from these waterfalls, this lucky person was healthy for an entire year. And in some places of this wonderful island there were hot springs. All kinds of animals would come to the springs and play in the warm bubbling waters, but monkeys loved hot springs more than anyone else.

The monkeys liked to sit in the water all day long. They even managed to feed off fish and shrimp in the springs. Eventually the monkeys evolved into fish-eating monkeys, but they never refused a fruit. This was the best arrangement possible, because the monkeys stopped raiding gardens and orchards, and now they were worshiped as spirits of nature.

The towering mountains were covered by snow all year round, and every summer meadows of this island were sprouting a riot of wild flowers. It was believed that the meadows were places inhabited by magical beings residing inside each flower. That’s why the people of the island liked to gather in the meadows and read poetry. The rhymed verses were especially appreciated by magical beings.

Through the valleys of the island rivers ran; sometimes the rivers ran fast, sometimes they wanted to slow down. On some occasions a river would fan out and create a lake. Lakes were full of trout, frogs and turtles. Deep on the bottom fresh water lobsters patrolled waterweeds, searching for worms and snails.

The island was rich with different landscapes. In the forest pines, cedars and fir trees grew tall reaching out for the sun year after year. Timid orchids reigned in the dim light coming into bloom in spring and summer. And deep in the forest graceful deer, birds and squirrels lived in peace with each other. Even a local lion became green and peaceful.

The young king grew to love and understand plants and animals. They all were very dear to his heart. Therefore, every week he and his Rhino were on their way surveying the island.

Many years ago someone dropped lotus seeds by one of the lakes, and a long stretch of lotus flowers was now reflecting pink rays of sunrise. Here was the first stop for the king and his Rhino. They could have passed the Lotus Lake as usual if not for the sight of a turtle flipped on his back and now helplessly struggling to turn over.

The young king felt uneasy. It was not common to find a turtle in such distress, except when an eagle would drop one out of his claws. The king quickly helped the turtle. Catching his breath, the turtle spoke.”Did you notice that I was the only turtle here, when every log was always covered by my basking mates?” Amazed, the young king had to agree. “What happened here?” he asked fearing a reply at the same time. “An unknown giant came at the early hour, collected my friends into his bag. He kicked me, because there was no more room in his bag. Now I’m the only turtle left!” The turtle cried, tears running down his green cheeks. “Did you see where this stranger went?” asked the king now determined to go after the intruder. “Being upside down it was hard to judge the direction,” answered the turtle, still crying. “We’ll find him,” said the king, thinking that this was one critical time when he had to move faster and he started riding his Rhino. He needed to catch the stranger before more harm was done to his domain.

He soon found big footprints and followed the trail left by the giant. This trail brought the king into the pine forest. There he saw a green lion grieving over his mate taken by the stranger. The green lion could hardly talk. “The giant was so bold and strong that he led away my mighty friend all by himself. I could do nothing. The intruder’s armor protected him from my claws, and here I am, all alone.” The king could no longer waste time and rode his Rhino through the forest. Only Rhino could make his way across the thicket of saplings and dry branches.

Soon they were in the orchard, where an industrious gardener used to work so hard that eventually he became as green as his fruits and vegetables. “Look!”cried the gardener forgetting even to greet his benevolent king. “I’m left with an empty basket! Some unknown giant ate everything, even seeds,” the gardener said in great distress. “How can I go on with my gardening?” “Fear not, my friend,” said the king. “By now I’m angered to the boiling point. All I want is to wield my sword in a battle!” He continued on his way.

A few miles later following the trail of the giant, the young king saw a monkey out of the warm spring and shivering in cold afternoon air. “I’m afraid,” said the monkey, ”that if he only could, this giant would have taken our hot spring with him. He led away my monkey troop. We were paralyzed with fear and didn’t put up much resistance. Only you can save us.”

Since the young king was of small stature and so was his Rhino, which in reality was a baby Rhino, they lagged behind the intruder. By sunset they encountered a leopard which hunted deer from time to time. The leopard reported that the deer were herded and driven to the sea shore. The leopard suspected that all the animals and other spoils of the raid would be loaded onto a ship and then would sail in an unknown direction. “Do you know a harbor by the bridge? The giant will be there. It’s the best place to anchor a big ship,” said the leopard, ”But hurry, please!”

The king didn’t need to be asked twice. Rhino, still being very young, was aching for a good fight. His horn was itching. They made it to the harbor when the first stars shone in the sky. Big bonfires were burning by the seashore lighting up the view. All the unfortunate animals had been loaded onto the ship. The giant was towering over the harbor. A couple of his slave helpers were getting the ship ready to sail into the night.

“Who are you and how dare you raid my domain?” yelled the young king. The robbery doesn’t call for polite words.”I don’t even have to respond to you,” answered the giant. “I knew there was an island here to discover. Now I’m loading what I’ve found and claimed as mine,” he laughed.”I don’t see any armies to challenge me.” “I’m the king of this land and I’m challenging you!” said the young king. Then he added, ”I suppose, you grew so big because you came from a vast land. Unlike you, I have only this little island. It’s precious to me as it is. I value everything I have. I pride myself on being a guardian of this place. You must return everything you have taken. We’ll part in peace.” “You are very talkative,” the giant dismissed the king. “I don’t have time for this!” “You’ll need to make time for our battle. Your greed is as big as you are. I only want what is mine,” replied the king. “I see, you wouldn’t quit!” cried the giant.

“Let’s fight here and now!” and then the intruder drew a big deadly sword. The king only had the sword he usually carried with him on his survey trips. It was only good for simple tasks. “Take him to the bridge and fight him for a short while,” said Rhino who thought of a battle plan. “Hey, why wouldn’t you come on the bridge!” yelled the king. The giant was very confident in himself. They both moved to the bridge. There they fought for a short time while Rhino ran to the ship and scared away the slaves of the giant. After that Rhino let the animals off the ship.

Now the young king had a small army at his disposal. The monkeys were ready to scale up the giant’s body. Deer were ready to attack the intruder with their horns. The lion now remembered what it meant to be a lion. He growled ferociously. Only the turtles were left in reserve. But Rhino wasn’t finished yet.

He ran fast back to the bridge and broke the support poles on the side where the giant was standing. The giant fell into the water. He was quickly back on his feet, but now his shoulders were at the same level as the king’s. Suddenly, they were made equal in height! All the king had to do now was to slice the giant’s head off. The monkeys meanwhile were fearlessly climbing the giant’s arms, reaching out for his face. The giant howled when one especially courageous monkey drew his paws into the giant’s eye.

“You little people won!” was all the intruder could say. “As victors, we are merciful,” declared the young king. “We’ll let forces of nature judge you,” and with these words their small army flipped the bridge over and made it into a raft. The giant was forced to climb onto the raft. Then he was cast away over the dark waves. His ship remained in the harbor in possession of victorious animals.

The king and his army of animals spent the night by the seashore. There they congratulated each other. In the morning they returned to their homes in the forests, lakes and meadows. The giant’s slaves became gardeners and made a new life for themselves. Since then the people of the island tell the legend of the young king and his brave and clever Rhino.

Many peaceful visitors flocked to the island seeking an adventure and a beautiful tale. Once in a while everyone needs a sip of fresh air and a good story.

 

 

Copyrighted Material, March 8th, 2011. An Original story by Lana Hickman

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          The Childhood of the Valiant King

 

 

The young king who so courageously defeated the greedy giant had a remarkable story of his own. It happened some time ago. Since then the king had to rely on his own wits, hard work and good friends. However, back in his childhood he was a real wizard. Here is his story.

Once his future father went fox hunting. A beautiful white fox got caught in his trap. “Have mercy on me,” pleaded the white fox in human language. “The kits in my den are waiting. Let me go!” The future father of the young king was moved by the fox’s words and let her go.

He spent two days traveling home. When he arrived, a coup was staged in his royal house and his enemies exiled him back into the wilderness. His wife, however, didn’t follow him.

For a long, long time he had to live in a small hut in a wilderness, eating only what the forest provided. All this time he longed for his estranged wife, and soon he became sick. News in the forest traveled fast, because birds had carried them where ever they flew. The beautiful white fox which had already raised her kits learned about his illness. She shape- shifted and assumed an appearance of the estranged wife. No one could tell the difference. In this remarkable disguise she entered the hut of this kind man, the father of the future king. He believed that his real wife had arrived to share his exile, and they lived happily like husband and wife. And so a baby who would become the king of the island was born to them. He grew fast and became smart and strong beyond his years.

About this time the estranged wife showed up. For a moment, both the father and son were confused, seeing two women standing side by side. Then the future king’s father suggested that both women count their years. They did just that, and it turned out that the white fox wife was 1033 years old, but the real though estranged, wife was only 33 years old. The king’s father was afraid to keep on living with the wife who was so ancient, so she had to go. Heartbroken, she left the hut. The estranged wife assured the father and son that the evil conspirators were gone from the royal house and it was now safe to return. And so they went back to the palace. But the future king missed the white fox, because she was his real mother, and, not minding a long journey, he visited her often back in the forest.

On one of such visits the white fox gave him a reed stick. He never parted with the reed stick. Meanwhile, his father wanted to spend time with his son, too, and decided to take the boy to a holy shrine. In a crowd of devout pilgrims the father and son got separated. The son started walking not knowing where to go and found himself by the seashore. There he encountered a boy who was mercilessly tormenting a sea turtle. Tears of pain were running down the cheeks of the silent sea turtle. “Stop it immediately!” cried the future king. ”Why should I listen to you?” inquired the boy with a laugh. “Here,” said the future king,  ”Take the money, and let the turtle go!” Then the future king carried the turtle to the sea. However, as soon as he started on his way trying to find his father, the evil boy got into a boat, caught the turtle again and started torturing her even worse than before. Now the future king no longer had the money to buy out the turtle. “Take my clothes,” he said, “and let turtle go for good.” The tormentor was very happy with the deal and finally he went away.

The future king, naked and shivering, carried the turtle far into the sea and asked her to be very careful next time. After that he walked along the shore all alone in a cold wind. Suddenly a fabulous ship sailed towards him. A water lord, the dragon, was on its deck. “Come with us, valiant young man,” he said, “for you saved not a turtle, but my daughter. Be our guest. The princess will be so happy!” And so the future king went aboard this fabulous ship. There he was dressed up for a journey, and together they sailed into an underwater realm.  On the bottom of the sea he lived happily, but as time passed he felt sorrow and concern for his father. “Please, let me return to the land,” he asked the water lord. The dragon thanked him for everything and upon their parting gave the future king three pearls. The first pearl was a gift of longevity, the second pearl gave the power over the tides, but the third was a pearl of secret knowledge. Whoever had it could understand the language of animals.

Once again the future king stood by the seashore not knowing which way to go. A white swan swept down from the sky. ”Look,” said the swan, “do you recognize this place?” “No,” answered the young man. “Hurry,” urged the white swan. “Many years have passed. Your father has been ill with grief since you went missing.” The future king followed the white swan which brought him home. There he immediately gave his ailing father a pearl of food for longevity. Miraculously, his father recovered. The father and son remained inseparable for some time. But one beautiful morning two doves settled in a tree by the royal house and spoke to each other. ”The future king should leave the royal house and make his way to the neighboring island. There he can fulfill his destiny.” “What a wonderful piece of news,” thought the future king to himself.

He believed the doves and was ferried immediately to the neighboring island. There he walked for a long time. The island was flat and hot like a pancake. In the distance the king saw a lonely oak tree and sought rest in its shade. Soon afterwards, two ravens settled on the oak tree branches and spoke to each other. “Greetings, my friend,” said the raven from the east. “What’s happening in your domain?” “Not much,” answered the raven from the west. “Except that the king is sick. His own court magician put a snake into the royal chamber. The snake is the reason for the king’s illness.”

As soon as he had heard this, the future king hurried towards the city with a renewed vigor. Once there, he announced his intention to cure the king. “Oh, no,” said the court magician and physician. “It is my responsibility to tend to the king. Besides, I will not tolerate any aliens at the court.” The future king said that he was from the neighboring island. “Very well, then,“ said the court magician and physician. “Let’s show each other our skills!”

The future king took a piece of paper, put it into a flower pot and gently touched it with the reed stick. Immediately, it turned into a blooming cherry branch. Next, he cut paper into several small pieces and turned them into songbirds. “He has all the makings of a true wizard. I should be extremely cautious with him!” the court magician murmured to himself. He secretly placed twelve lemons into a food box. “What’s in the box?” he boldly asked his rival. Now the future king had to consult his reed stick. “Twelve mice,” whispered the reed stick. “Mice,” said the future king aloud. The court magician wanted to burst into laughter, but right then the twelve mice escaped from the box and ran amok in the palace. The court magician summoned the snake, which until then was residing in the royal chamber. The serpent reared up and spread her hood. Her dagger sharp fangs were ready to slash the valiant young man.

Without losing any time, the future king raised the pearl of tides, and a single wave picked up the evil magician and his serpent and swept them away. It was all quiet now. The local king felt an immediate relief. He showered his healer with gifts and honors. The young man thanked him for the precious gifts and leaning on his reed stick, he walked back to the ferry.

When he returned to his home island, he had become a true king. He kept his island in peace and prosperity. Some of the magic of his youth stayed with him, some of it was gone. But the fragile reed always remained with him as a memory of his mother.

 

Copyrighted Material, Original story by Lana Hickman based on kitsune legends,

04.04.2011

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      The Tragic Story of the Eight Dwarfs.

 

 

A long time ago in a land surrounded by seas there lived a family in a small village in the midst of the great dark forest. There were two children, a younger boy and an older girl. The mother was a tough but caring and attractive woman and not immune to vanity. As the daughter grew up, she became more and more beautiful. The girl was a mirror image of the mother.

As a parent, the mother rejoiced; as a woman, she dreaded that such a beauty could be wasted in the cruel world they lived in. She kept her daughter close by her side. Secretly, the mother consulted some famed matchmakers, sending pigeons with letters asking to find a suitor, for she wished her daughter to be married off and shielded from the world. The wise people used to say in the old days, ”Behind the husband like behind the wall.” They meant well, because they spoke of security and safety for a fair maiden and for some fair maidens it was all true. Having a fortress with strong walls was very common in those days.

Except for the neighbors, the girl didn’t see many people. Everybody knew everyone in the village. People had no secrets from each other and prided themselves on how safe it was to raise children in their tiny village.

One day the younger brother got all dirty rolling on the ground in a vegetable garden. Unfortunately, he had his festive clothes on, since the family was going to join a village celebration. His sister was asked to watch him while the mother was getting ready. The girl failed to catch him before he indulged himself in playing in the mud. The mother was hot tempered. She was enraged and beat the daughter with a stick. Though very angry, the mother avoided hitting the girl on the face but the stick hit painfully everywhere else. It was quite a humiliation for the girl. The girl went to her dog and wept, ”Only you can understand me, only you.”

The girl fed the dog thinking that it was the last time she would feed her pet. She cried bitterly and ran into the forest, thinking of killing herself.

She ran fast through the bushes covered with sharp thorns. Yet the pain of scratches was not as strong as the pain of injustice of her punishment. She was lucky not to hurt her eyes because twigs were slashing across her face. She stopped only when she sprained her ankle. By now it was already getting dark and an owl cried in the tree tops. The bats flew flapping their leathery wings over a small clearing. The sounds of the night filled the woods.

The girl looked around. She was now deep in the heart of the forest where she had never been before. It was getting chilly. In spring, frost still could cover the ground. Even the thicket of the forest couldn’t offer any protection against the cold. The girl looked at herself and saw that her clothes were now ripped to shreds. She felt hungry and thirsty after this long run.

 

She sat on the ground by a fir tree and started thinking of making a nest out of its branches just like a wild animal. Suddenly, in the distance she noticed a cottage. It had white washed walls and was glowing in the moonlight. Intrigued, the girl got up and went towards the little house. It became clear to her soon that this white cottage was rather close. It was simply very small. “Oh, it’s a size of a big tree house,” she thought to herself.

She noticed a door and opened it. The house was empty. To her great surprise, the girl saw in the dusk a table set with seven plates. The girl went through the arch opening into the bedroom and saw seven beds, all very neat and clean. She returned to the first room and tasted food, taking a small spoonful from every plate. Though it was only porridge, it smelled wonderful and tasted delicious. Then the girl drank a little sip from every cup of mead drink. She felt much better, but being very tired, she went into the tiny bedroom and collapsed on a bed. The girl fell asleep instantly. She slept soundly, without dreams. This good sleep made her forget her hurt pride and pains of her bruises and scratches.

Meanwhile, the true inhabitants of the house, the seven dwarfs, returned home from working in the mountain caves on the far side of the great forest. They lit the candles and wished to have supper. At first, they didn’t notice anything, except that the spoons were moved from the placemats.

“Someone was here,” suggested one of the dwarf brothers. They looked around and listened, and a faint sound of someone breathing in a sleep reached their sensitive pointy ears.

“Look, there is a stranger in our house. It’s a girl!” they exclaimed in unison. They were used to living by themselves and decided to wait until morning and then question their young guest. One of the brothers had to sleep on the floor. It was uncomfortable, but the rules of hospitality were sacred to the dwarfs.

With the first gentle colors of sunrise the forest came to life. The birds sang, squirrels chatted, butterflies warmed up their bright wings, and flowers turned their blushing faces towards the sunlight. The dwarfs woke up, too, and saw their guest sitting on the bed.

“I must be dreaming!” she said in astonishment upon seeing their plump faces under the tall red caps. When they came closer she screamed, because she noticed that these little people had duck feet! The dwarfs remained still and waited patiently until their visitor calmed down. They, in their turn, noticed that she was almost naked.  Her dress was of no use, all ripped by the branches. The dwarfs thoughtfully found some old but clean pieces of cloth for her. Then they gave her some tea, put an ointment on her ankle and asked how she happened to be in their house. She was shy at first, but then she told them the truth.

The seven dwarfs shook their heads, for it was unheard of among the dwarf folk to beat their children. They held a short council among themselves and invited the girl to stay with them until she could decide what to do next. The girl happily agreed to cook, sew, clean and knit for the dwarfs who had to work tirelessly in the mountains. And so day went by after day. In the evening the dwarfs always told her remarkable stories of days past and of the treasures of today found deep in the mountain caves.

Back in the village, a search party was formed. The grief stricken mother was now ready to do anything to find her daughter. But every attempt to find the girl failed. The family dog didn’t want to pick up a scent. The mother by now believed that her daughter was kidnapped by the forest folk. A year passed and no prayers were answered. Beating children was a common thing in the old days. The mother’s neighbors didn’t think that the girl escaped on her own accord. The neighbors and relatives talked often about the matter and firmly sided with the mother who was convinced that her daughter was carried away by the forest dwellers. But little by little the story faded in the people’s minds, and every day activities consumed them.

Only the mother was running the events of that fateful day through her mind, thinking about it every minute. The girl didn’t return. The mother resolved to search for her daughter on her own. She entrusted her younger son to the relative’s care, stashed some bread in her travel bag and walked into the vast great forest. Somewhere deep in her heart she felt a nagging regret for beating her daughter. The clothes could have been washed, but how could one wash away the bitterness from the heart? The mother kept walking. On and on she went through the great forest.

Quite soon she ran out of bread and now ate only berries and mushrooms. She thought that she was going in circles, but greater than hunger and thirst were the pangs of regret. The mother tried to reason with her inner guilt.

“My mother beat me but I didn’t run away. I had made a porcelain doll out of my own child.  All around it was my fault.”

She had to spend a horrible night in the woods. The owls were screeching, and the bats were flapping their black wings. The clouds veiled the Moon. For many hours the woman stayed in complete darkness. It was cold. She couldn’t sleep. The next morning she made a slow progress through the forest moist with dew.

Anguished and tired, she came upon a white hut in the woods. Smoke cheerfully was streaming out of the chimney. It was early afternoon. “Maybe the people who live here, can tell me something,” the mother thought with hope.

She hurried quickly towards the house and realized that it was not in the distance but simply it was very small. She knocked on the door. The woman fainted when her own daughter opened the door. “Mama!” she exclaimed. The woman came to her senses only after she got a drink of water. When she completely regained her composure, she asked,

”How come you stayed here all this time?”

“I’m ashamed of the worries I have caused you, but I’m happy here!” answered the daughter. “The dwarfs treat me well. I do their chores, they often bring me gifts. Come look!” the girl said. She showed the mother her apron pockets filled with gold nuggets, precious rubies and turquoise.

“And you didn’t miss us?” exclaimed her mother. The anger was already welling in her mind just as the tears were flooding her eyes.

“I did miss you, but I felt so good living here! I’m never alone. I’m learning the language of animals and the customs of the forest folk.”

“You are so selfish!” exclaimed the mother. And to herself she thought, ”There must be something else going on here. “Please,” she said then, ”Show me around.” The two women hardly could move about the little house. “Tell me again, who is living here with you?” the mother asked.

“The seven dwarfs, as I said, the seven brothers!” answered the girl. “I came across their little cottage just like you did!” she said.

“Where do you sleep?” asked the mother trying to make her voice calm and indifferent. But it was clear to her that her daughter was staying in the same room with the dwarfs. The girl showed her the bed which the dwarfs built for her. The mother and daughter spoke for a while about small things, like the miniature garden outside.

“It’s all good and well. But are you coming with me or not?” asked the mother. She was a strong willed woman and decided to act with authority.

“If I may, I wish to stay with the eight dwarfs,” said the girl. “They are fine little people. The only thing is that they have duck feet. I think it’s very cute,” the girl added and smiled.

“My God,” the mother thought. ”The duck feet!” A cloud of fear and disgust settled in her eyes. “I wonder what else these monsters have,” the woman thought. She forced herself to smile back.

“I’ll be going then,” said the mother and briefly hugged her daughter.

“I shall visit you,” the girl assured her.

The return journey for the mother was even more trying. Thoughts tormented her every step of the way. She thought of the dwarfs as creatures who had challenged her. Without a doubt, they cast a spell upon her daughter. Even worse, they might have already corrupted her. She knew from the stories that the forest folk were the ones who kidnapped children and replaced them with ugly changelings. The dwarfs were known to have a great deal of gold. They were said to possess a joyful spirit and never went to church. And throughout the year they danced in pagan rituals. Who knew what went on during their rites?

Worst of all was the thought that something had already happened to her daughter and that living together with the dwarfs could forever tarnish her reputation.

“No one would want her for a bride now. My work and the expense of correspondence with the matchmakers were all in vain. I wanted nothing but happiness for my child and now it came to this,” the woman was thinking in great distress. She cried in great frustration. Something had to be done about it. And how could she admit that she had failed as a mother to keep her daughter by her side. How could one live with it?

The branches whipped her face as she ran through the night. And there and then she hatched a plan. She made her way to the home village the next morning. It was amazing that she could find her way at all.  Her brother, the uncle who was taking care of her son, was all ears. He fed her a peasant’s meal of boiled cabbage and listened to her story.

“You know, I have found her in the woods living with the dwarfs. They lured her there and now are keeping my daughter with spells. She is their servant. The dwarfs have a lot of gold. They also have duck feet instead of human feet. They have corrupted her body and soul, and made her forget us. She was cold to me. No doubt, the only way to return my daughter is by force. I believe the people who choose to help us will be rewarded handsomely.”

           ”We have a story to tell, too,” said the uncle. “A neighbor’s baby was snatched and an ugly changeling was put in his place. Come and look!” They both went to the neighbor’s hut. There, in the wood smoke smelling room a grief stricken peasant woman met them. Her face was bloated and red from tears. She was embarrassed and strangely pleased at the same time, because she could see that the neighbors cared for her.

“The fire ran out in the night. I was too tired to watch. Now look, folks, what is in our baby’s cradle!”she said in one breath.

Indeed, a dumb, pale, clumsy changeling was sitting in the cradle which was too small for him. He was dressed in strange tattered rags. The changeling was drooling, casting voracious glances of his huge dark eyes at the large pan with potatoes.

“See, I already fed him one sack of potatoes, but it wasn’t enough. He’ll make beggars out of us,” the peasant woman wept. Her distraught husband was sitting silently in the corner by the stove. He was a simple man. He didn’t know what to do. A man was always expected to do something about a matter at hand. He needed some guidance. “We have only ourselves to blame. I should have been home that fateful night,” he spoke in distress.

The woman who had just returned from the dwarf’s realm felt a deep compassion for her neighbors. It was clear to her that the disappearance of her daughter and the changeling’s appearance were connected. Trolls, dwarfs, other forest folk were all the same, just waiting for an opportunity to destroy good people. “If my daughter would stay with the dwarfs any longer, she herself could become the changeling’s mother!” the woman thought. This picture wrought by her imagination made her cringe.

She shivered, as if a cold breeze engulfed her, “See, brother, it’s true. We must do something about it!”Her brother was not easily stirred into action. But once he had his mind made up he was able to proceed in the given direction, and nothing had a power to stop him.

The uncle thought for some time. He knew that the dwarfs had long lives and wisdom and cunning. They had physical strength, too. But they were not invincible. Besides, who could judge the people mad with grief who wanted to return home one of their own? They had to spill blood. It had happened in the past.  There was also gold to be had.

“We must come upon them at night when they are asleep. They would never know what hit them. If the girl resists, then we’ll tie her up. If she will go around later telling about what has happened, no one will believe her.”

It was simple. One had to react to the insult. The idea of giving the other cheek for a smack didn’t work in the woods. Here they were at the mercy of cruel nature and her emissaries. The uncle had to talk to the villagers. There were always people ready to join the cause no matter what it was. The mother was strangely relieved. She believed now that if the dwarfs’ nest in the woods would be destroyed and the dwarfs killed, her own feeling of guilt would disappear. The girl would be mad for a while, but everything always passed. The girl was still just a kid, and kids were always resilient.

The uncle and the girl’s mother had a talk with several trusted friends. They shared the plan. The neighbors were well informed about the trolls and didn’t see any difference between the two kinds of small folk. The dwarfs were forest dwellers, too. All agreed that at least this business of kidnapping and bringing of the changelings should be dealt with sooner or later. A new search party was formed. The band of travelers was armed with scythes. The old writings spoke of the scythe as the most effective weapon against the evil forest dwellers. The avengers had enough food to sustain them on their journey and carried with them a leather bag full of water. They were ready.

They traveled for some time. As they went through the forest, the birds learned of the cruel plan and hurried to warn the dwarfs. The dwarfs spent all day working on the far side of the mountain. It was very scary for any bird to fly into the caves, for birds never lived underground. The birds had to wait. When the dwarfs returned after the day’s work, they lit a bonfire outside and decided to sit for a while enjoying fresh air and cooking a flavorful mushroom soup.

It was a beautiful night. All dwarfs sat around the bonfire. A joyful orange flame was dancing against the dark blue sky. Boughs of the pine trees were golden green in color. Their trunks were melted into the darkness, like the stalks of candles. The pine tree crowns seemed to float in the air like heavy gilded clouds.

The girl chopped some rosemary and dill and was about to add the spices to the mushroom soup when a tired sleepy swallow suddenly landed on her shoulder. “The dwarfs will be slaughtered tonight,” whispered the swallow. The girl was stunned but passed the words to the elder dwarf. He listened and then asked, ”Why should the villagers kill us if we haven’t done anything wrong to them?”

He smiled and said to the girl, ”Does providing a shelter for someone like you count as a sin?”

The girl thought and thought some more, and decided that the dwarfs had done a good thing. She stayed with them of her own will and learned a great deal from them. The dwarfs were not alarmed because they had a clean conscience. They cooked their mushroom soup, ate it and went to sleep as usual. As was their custom they left the door open for some weary traveler.

All this time the band of avengers was watching. They marveled at the dwarfs cooking their soup so peacefully and in their hearts they hesitated for a moment. Then the uncle spoke to them.

“What sense does it make to track through this damn dark forest and not have the job done? These little sorcerers don’t look like humans. For God’s sake, people, they have duck feet! Do you think much before cutting off the duck’s head?  We are in danger of losing a face. They have my niece. I’m sure they have the neighbor’s baby, too. I only regret not bringing the changeling with us and tossing him here. He was just too heavy to carry. When they fall asleep we are moving in!”

So spoke the leader of the band. The avengers felt an immediate relief. They never hesitated before killing a sheep or a pig, though the animals had thoughtful eyes and they cried like children. But he was talking about the ducks because there were no people in the entire world walking on duck feet! Then there was gold and precious stones as a trophy to carry home. That was something truly important to do for their families. Most importantly, they would bring back the beautiful girl, the pride of their village. One of the avengers contemplated briefly that after this adventure their lot could be greatly improved. They could even bring this miraculously saved maiden to the king’s attention, and then… Who knew what favors would be bestowed upon the humble villagers?

Meanwhile, embers died in the bonfire. It was the wee hour. Only the Moon could see what was about to unfold. The avengers knew that the Moon always was silent, never talked to anyone. The villagers crept into the white cottage. The dwarfs were asleep. Here and there the scythes slashed as if in the wheat field. The dwarfs were dead. The white walls became red. It was a miracle that the girl was unharmed. She seemed have lost her speech and her wits, too. The villagers hurried out from the tight quarters of the dwarfs’ cottage and now were busily turning rocks in the moon lit garden searching for gold. They, indeed, found some but not as much as they hoped to find. The girl started walking through the forest, away from the destroyed cottage. She ran faster and faster, without any thoughts, like a wild animal during a forest fire.

After dividing the gold, rubies and turquoise, the uncle realized that the girl was missing amidst all the commotion. He thought through what was the best explanation for his sister. It was clear that the new expedition would be needed to find his niece. The only direction the girl could have gone was towards the mountains. The mountains were the place where the dwarfs mined their treasure.

The sun was rising. The band of avengers left behind the clearing and the white and red cottage and went back home through the dark and silent forest.

It took them longer to return because the small pieces of gold weighted like lead in their pockets.

The girl ran and ran and stopped only at the entrance of the mine. A dark mouth was about to swallow her. She was numb and entered the darkness on her own thinking only of death. She leaned against the mine’s wall and realized that it was warm. There she fell asleep. When she woke up, it still felt warm. She got up and continued down the tunnel. Soon she could hear the bubbling of water. She followed the sound. A strange dusky glow appeared soon. Now the girl could see that she was standing by a steaming pool of water. She washed her face and sighed. The shock of recent events was still weighing heavily on her heart. But the warm water took away the dirt and the tears. The girl looked around, crossed the bubbling waters and bravely walked into the tunnel where the glow was coming from. The sound of the water dissolved itself in the distance behind her replaced by the humming of the machine. The girl entered a spacious hall. By the far wall there was a small glass cabin and there in astonishment she noticed a dwarf. He was deeply absorbed in his work. He was about to tighten the chain link which needed repair when he noticed the visitor.

“Who are you?” the dwarf exclaimed. She thought for a moment, ”I’m really a nobody.”

“No strangers are allowed here! Where are my brothers? I’m the eighth dwarf and I live here permanently. Did they send you instead?”

“No one sent me. All of your brothers are dead!” the girl burst into tears,”because of me!”

The dwarf listened, shook his head and said, ”It was an accident!”

“No, it wasn’t. It was a deliberate murder!” the girl cried.

“There is no difference. The people who killed my kin didn’t think any better than the clouds which used to bring killing hale or than the lightning which set houses ablaze. They used no reason and acted as forces of chaos,” the dwarf explained. “It doesn’t hurt less, though. You know what? We shall simply shut the entrance here, just like the door of the house during the storm. But will you stay here with me?” Suddenly the dwarf looked anxious and his big eyes glistened with tears, for he now understood how truly alone he was.

She thought for a brief moment. She knew well what it meant. “We shall live here together away from the people,” she said firmly.

“If you are so brave, then let me show you my feet,” the dwarf pushed one boot off. The girl couldn’t resist but smiled, ”I’ve seen the duck feet before.”

“I have to warn you that it runs in the family, just like a club foot in your folk,” the dwarf said. She nodded and answered, ”If my children have duck feet, it will be the least of my concerns all things considering.”She smiled to herself awkwardly marveling at how strangely her fate turned out.

Time passed, the girl was never found. The changeling disappeared one dark moonless night replaced by the real baby who was thin, dirty and a three year old by now but otherwise unharmed. People said that the troll mother had picked the changeling up along with the sack of potatoes. And soon the story was forgotten altogether because the best way was not to remember anything at all. Since then no folk was ever seen walking on duck feet. But deep in the heart of the faraway mountain there was a kingdom built with castles and gardens. Only those who could fly could see it from above. Only the winged creatures could enter its realm and live there as long as they wished in peace and prosperity. At that time only birds, bats, and insects could fly, but they never spoke.

And even if they would, who would have listened to them?

 

A Story by Lana Hickman. 10.11. 2011. Copyrighted Material. All Rights Reserved.

 

 

 

 

 

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                                A Heart is not a Rock

 

 

         “Do you think I was a mistake?” asked a girl.

         “A living being is never a mistake!” said her mother.

          “Then why you never speak of my father?”

          “That’s because you are old enough to travel and see for yourself,” answered the mother. She was sitting now by the quartz glass window; her body was wrapped in her favorite lemon yellow robe. She had a sinuous elegant physique, small frame and dark skin. Her eyes, however, were light grey, sparkling with quiet fire, like two uncut diamonds. Beneath her skin there was a jelly like layer of true piezophiles. They were known for inhabiting places with crushing pressures. This jelly layer made the body resistant to what was a weight of the world; it defended her against the tremendous pressures of her home planet. The woman’s bones were thin and flexible, barely mineralized. On the most of her body skin had a quilted appearance, except for her face, hands and neck, where surface tissues were reinforced with organic silicon. In the strangest way earthly creatures of the deep seas wore similar jelly suites. Many plants on Earth possessed the same silicon nano crystal armor.  In spite of the concessions the Nature had to make to this hostile landscape, the mother was a remarkably beautiful being, fully human in her essence. She was a true, born and bred Cytherean.

             The air pressure inside their home and outside in the endless cratered plains was equal 90 Earth atmospheres. Amazingly, it allowed the inhabitants of this world to walk upright, proudly resisting the ravages of heavy, crushing winds.

             Beyond the round crystal trimmed window one could see a plain devastated by volcanic eruptions. It was called Ishtar terra. A slight odor of sulfur was constantly finding its way into this simple but spacious dwelling. Just like in the creatures living by the deep sea vents on Earth, the bodies of people inhabiting this alien world were protected by sulfur detoxifying compounds.

           Outside the window there were a few caterpillar-like craft tracks seen on the road. The wind was blowing and blowing, a slow, strong, long lasting wind. The sky was covered by the thick yellow clouds which never went away. Instead, they were whipped up from time to time and then woven back together in an impenetrable veil. The sun was never seen. There was a perpetual dim light, day and night. Both day and night were long lasting, like the wind, taking turns slowly. The weather was hot, always very hot. But it was their homeland, and everybody who lived there had bodies made to withstand heat. Improbable, exotic and slow moving, they were people, very fit for the land they inhabited.

           It was rather hot inside the girl’s house, too. It had a nice water cooling system, but today it fell into disrepair. The water was drawn from the aquifers. All surface seas, lakes and two oceans boiled out a long time ago. The only memory left of the luxurious water world was a faint smell of the sea. When the odors were separated this ghost sea smelled of iodine, boiled cabbage and algae pheromones. When these peculiar aromas were put back together, they blended into an unforgettable, potent, magical scent of marine life.

             The mother got up and, moving as if floating on air called a repair man. Perhaps, the aquifer piping was broken. He said that the pressure outside was higher than usual and that he had other visits scheduled, too. “Oh, well, later on then, when you can,” said the mother.

             “It’s a pity you have to start packing in this heat, but love itself is never cold.” The girl was happy that her mother allowed her this remarkable freedom. However, she should have remembered that her past ten years were spent in a floating city, 50 kilometers up above the surface. There she lived on her own studying natural history. Everyone believed that cool air was good for children. People certainly could think better among the clouds. There they drifted untethered, absorbed in their thoughts. General consensus among the professors was that one had to view things in perspective, from above!

               “Ymirito, Ymirito, where are you? I can’t believe that she’s letting me go. I’m so happy,” the girl was thinking while putting on silicon and chitin mesh. A dress she was packing to take to her father’s world was going to serve as an exoskeleton. Its skirt had metal hoops in it. A bodice decorated with gold embroidery was an effective shell against the low pressure of the paternal world.

              Ymirito crawled out of his rocky burrow and allowed the girl to pet him on his scaly neck. His body was bone dry except for his mouth salivating in excitement. He understood that a remarkable journey was dreamed up on a short notice. The girl gave him crunchy pellets of his favorite food made of crushed dry crustaceans. They smelled of salt and sulfur; and Ymirito, downed an entire bowl of them. He stopped drooling and now was stretching out his neck readily so the emerald collar could be put on. He knew he was on a mission now as the girl’s companion and protector.

              “You’ll find the outfits awkward, but they will be suitable for the place you are going to. “Trust me,” said the mother trying to convince herself that as a parent she was doing the right thing. Ymirito nodded instead of the girl. He resembled now a boar which had gorged himself  on acorns, one acorn too much. He stuck out his forked tongue, panting. The collar had to be loosened. His three-toed paws with fearsome claws were folded beneath his solid looking but ultimately squishy body. He nodded again and dozed off, ready to be called to action any time now. He was very clever.

            The mother glanced at Ymirito, their only therion. She looked at her daughter and said, “You know, everything which is alive is intelligent.” It was a profound and highly debatable statement. The mother and daughter smiled at each other. Ymirito opened one eye; he knew they were speaking of him. He grinned and inhaled familiar scents of the house. He was going to miss this sulfur and carbon dioxide infused air in a new place.

            The girl and her mother sat down. “You’ll see the Pyrenees are beautiful. You’ll feel at home on their rocky slopes. As for the people around you, keep to yourself, and always dress properly, the way I’ve taught you. You see, your father is a king in his land. He lives by the protocol. I think we might have been the only bright spot in his life. Don’t forget, it’s a very different time zone, too!” The girl wanted to ask, “How did you and my father get together to begin with? What was it, a fine piece of click chemistry? Was I created in a flash or in a flask?”

            They parted. The mother thought that it was a tricky art to be a good parent to the 26 year old preteen. The girl and her therion went outside. The repair man was right, the pressure was high today.

             Their travel pod took off with its engines growling, complaining of exertion. The girl and her pet had some trouble crossing the cloud cover. At the height of 50 kilometers above the surface, sulfuric acid sleet hit the wind shield, but the pod’s quartz glass was brand new. The floating city with its pleasant breezes and study halls was dissolving into the distance drifting, carried by the winds.

             They left behind heat, pressure and the rivers of flaming lava of their home planet. At about one hundred kilometers above the surface they crossed a cool, oxygen and water vapor rich belt. Ymirito, who could smell water at parts per billion, howled. Finally, he let out one last cry, keeping his eyes closed and dreaming of a swampy jungle that was once where the lava ran now. Their green house like planet was swaddled in its perpetual shroud. It remained an overgrown, sleepy infant, overheated, ready to cry. Ymirito closed his eyes. By now their home world was only a sparkling blue- grey dot. From there they cut through space in one uninterrupted curve. The girl sank into her thoughts. She felt at once adventurous and apprehensive.

              The heat of descent was almost imperceptible. Their landing, though, was bumpy. The pod fell into a crevice and stuck there, hanging dangerously. The girl looked at the canyon’s bottom. A thin silvery ribbon of a creek was running through the rocks, giggling, singing otherworldly songs.

             Initially, Ymirito insisted on landing in the azure waves of the Mediterranean. He wanted to swim and languidly bob in salty blue water. The girl insisted on landing closer to a castle. Grouchy and salivating, Ymirito pushed the door open and stretched his rough scaly body allowing the girl to climb out safely. She stepped out cautiously leaning on a cane, testing the low air pressure, worrying that her eyes might explode or that her spine would fold. She inhaled the wind of February which was the same as millions of years ago in her home world. Ymirito still could smell the salt, sulfur and iodine of the Mediterranean. He gave a distraught angry cry. The girl said tenderly, ”Please, expand your lungs, dearest Ymirito. Maybe, we will get lucky. My father can take us to the sea. The kings always have royal boats!” Soothed by this talk and encouraged by the prospect of a good swim in the future, Ymirito became quiet.

              The girl asked Ymirito to wait in the mountains until the sunset and then come to the castle and find her by scent. Ymirito was basking in the winter sun and for most of the day entertained himself by picking up ants with his sticky forked tongue and counting them. He was delighted by the familiar acidic taste. He counted altogether 1,117, 777. The ants came out following Comma butterfly, an early herald of spring. Ymirito drooled a little over his own dexterity and then slowly started walking towards the towers of the castle. By now it was almost night time. Ymirito was shivering from an unfamiliar cold.

                A stray dog attacked him barking and biting. At first, Ymirito tried to teach the dog some hospitality. Seeing that it was a useless endeavor, Ymirito swallowed the dog whole. Now it was all quiet. Cold distant stars were glowing in the sky. Ymirito didn’t have any problems scaling up the moat and the castle’s walls. His belly was full; he fell asleep in the girl’s closet, tangled in the draperies. The meal would last him a month.

              Mourning their lost workers, the ants signaled an arrival of an alien beast. The ants cried and cried, exhausting their bodies in a complex synthesis of warning molecules. The ants finally decided to increase their numbers and went about their usual business. Soon they forgot about the loss of so many beloved comrades. Soldiers of the new generation fearlessly crawled inside the abandoned pod. It was still warm. One of them declared herself a general and trained her subordinates to hide under the buttons of the dashboard. After many drills they were able to retreat for cover in three seconds.           

         When the girl arrived at Alcazar in Castile, no one paid much attention. She was believed to be an out-of -wedlock child and a cripple. It was a familiar, true and rather unremarkable situation. It appeared to be that the king had a wild youth which he spent in some far away land. Some ladies in waiting even gossiped that the king had traveled to the celestial abode and had a good time there. Now the product of this good time was living here at the court. The king would neither deny nor confirm. He sheepishly explained to his astonished adviser that his youth was, indeed, a very wild one.

            The girl looked content, followed her mother’s advice, was always dressed properly and never plotted to usurp the crown. Most of the court crowd was not afraid she would do so, anyway. The king never acknowledged her publicly. He hardly ever spoke to her. She was perplexed by this mixture of royal reserve and callous indifference. The girl never got to see the Mediterranean. Ymirito was still asleep in the closet dreaming of the azure waves.

             The court life of 16th century Spain seemed bizarre. Day and night there was talk of gold and expansion of the empire. The girl was puzzled by the total absence of air travel crafts. There were no machines to speak of, except for the sailing ships. Astronomy was discouraged by the church. Geographical maps were depicting headless or one-footed monsters inhabiting faraway lands. The girl thought of her mother the degree to which love could be blind, completely blind. And yet being a part of this realm she searched everywhere for a tiny bit of progress. She wished to explain and justify to herself the short lived union of her parents.

             She discovered windmills and rejoiced that this powerful clean technology found its way into a backward world. She also learned about merino sheep breeding and marveled how intuitively correct this genetic research was. The girl went to the royal library and found books of great antiquity, forgotten star maps of Nineveh and texts on chemistry and medicine from Egypt. She read stories of space and time travel disguised as myths. The knowledge was there, preserved, yet undeciphered. Its true golden nuggets were still waiting to be cleaned of cobwebs. Sometimes the girl wanted to cry for she was the only patron of the library except for the court astrologer. From time to time she felt his inquisitive stare. When she would gather her courage and cross a glance with him, he would be gone leaving behind only the rustling sound of heavy velvet robes.   

            The girl liked to hike in the mountains alone.  Her favorite haunts were Shepherd’s Chasm and the Boulder of the Dead. There were some secret well-wishers for the king who prayed that she would fall into a crack and never return. But she seemed to be tenacious, like a chamois. She was seen climbing the rock faces confidently and crossing dizzying abysses in one graceful jump.

                 Other than that, she was rather plain, ugly and uninteresting. Some courtiers even made fun of her because her dark skin was so coarse. They joked that her hands were like sandpaper. Others looked at her black spiky tresses and saw a horse tail plant. Her black hair, though, looked shiny and beautiful. The overall impression was that she had very little royal blood in her. The girl’s habits were simple, too. The only exception was the fact that she really liked hot weather. “A toad in question never burns herself in the sun,” the court ladies whispered, perspiring profusely in spite of ostrich fans and white parasols.

                Once at the midmorning salon gathering of the courtiers she honestly tried to explain where she was from.

                  “You see, in my land the weather is very hot, but we are used to it.” The court ladies who were already waving their fans smiled understandingly. They envisioned what they knew. The conquest of a faraway continent was in full swing. Sweaty conquistadors were scaling the Andes like crabs half cooked under their rusty shells. “I would embrace one of our brave warriors even if he stinks!” declared one senior mistress.

             The girl continued, “The sun which is never seen from the ground rises in the West. And the clouds are always there, never moving away, thick, slow, heavy clouds, impenetrable like a shroud.”

              “Oh, yes, the perpetual London fog,” exclaimed Alcazar’s castellan. His hearing betrayed him. His vivid, black Castilian eyes became dreamy. “My heart is broken when you speak of England, child. I worked at the embassy in London once. My sunshine came from the West! My English rose, what had become of her?” His eyes watered.

               The girl tried to go on, ”Sometimes it’s raining at high altitudes, but the rain is pure acid…”

                The castellan hastily interrupted her, ”They burn a lot of coal in London. Oh, the acrid London rain. They think they are preparing the Industrial revolution there, silly. All the rogues are doing is spoiling the complexion of their fair ladies. My English rose, I will not allow you to wilt!” Now the castellan openly burst into tears.

                 The girl, like a child who was determined to finish reciting the story, said, ”A day in my homeland lasts longer than a year!”

                 “Only if it’s a day spent in dreams,” cried the castellan. Tears were now running down the castellan’s cheeks. “Elizabethan pirates are ravaging Cadiz as we speak! Unwed she-devil, Elizabeth! We must build the Armada!” He collapsed in his chair.

                  The girl timidly tried to say something like, “The air in my native land is thick like water, a person has to wade through it.”

                  The court ladies ostrich fans went into a furious overdrive. “We all know about thick hot air, child. It’s siesta time, anyway,” said the senior mistress. She wanted to retreat to her chambers where she could dream of half cooked conquistadors, defenseless against her charms. The castellan was whisked away by his servant. He spent his siesta mourning his love lost in the fog of passing years. The rest of the courtiers left, too. They indifferently went about the day’s business trying to keep the place going without the castellan.

                   The girl, feeling utterly confused, remained in the salon alone. Two page boys were passing by and she overheard them saying as if she wasn’t even there. “She is most likely from the coastal deserts of Peru. Where have you seen such an English rose?” They laughed. Gold chains and tassels trembled on their skinny chests.

             The girl decided to never speak about the planet she came from. She became a recluse, an almost invisible, shadow-like presence. Months passed by.     

             She eventually found an admirer in the persona of a local bishop. He believed she was the only one who got the dress code right. No matter how hot it was outside, the girl never left her room without a black dress which was padded, densely embroidered with gold thread and trimmed with fur. A tight fitting bonnet trimmed with sable was always tied neatly around her simple face. The brim of the bonnet created a shadow under which her face could not be deciphered. Her grey eyes were dull, devoid of any sparkle. And never a bead of sweat was seen on her forehead. During her forays into the mountains she effortlessly wore a fur coat both in summer and winter. The silicon and chitin mesh served her well. The girl’s hands remained gloved in thick leather. The fire in her room was left burning at all times. A fire-maid complained that no forests would be left around Alcazar if the girl was kept for more than a year.

             Indeed, cocooned in her thick, embroidery encrusted and densely padded dress with a high ruffled collar up to her ears, she did resemble a stoic critter. “Hey guys, do you remember the toads in the Pyrenees?” the young courtiers were heard saying to each other.

           The bishop, passing by, always hushed up the court boys, preaching, ”The girl is God’s child like all of you. Our Lord, perhaps, loves her even more.” The most important thing was, of course, that the strangeness of the girl seemed to protect her from the court loafers. Her padded dress, indeed, was her armor.

            However, as reliable as it was, this armor couldn’t protect her from herself. The fast spinning Earth made her mature early. Her 26 preteen Cytherean years now were equal to 16 years on Earth. She turned into a teenager hungry for affection. The girl felt ashamed to talk to her mother for only now she fully understood her words”it’s a different time zone.”  The human essence conspired against the girl. She became self-conscious. Palace mirrors were merciless. She was no swan. No one could love her.

            A bitter- sweet scent of blooming almond trees was drifting in the air. Spring was fast coming. Tulips delivered from Constantinople for the first time broke through the arid Spanish soil. Lilacs, the gift from the Ottomans, unfurled their young leaves promising to bathe Alcazar in purple perfume. The spring brought nothing but loneliness. The girl had no one to turn to. To make things worse, the pages started openly calling her names.

          “You are a fish face!” they yelled. She tried to dispel them with clumsy humor,”No, the mirror says “A crustacean!” If only they knew the truth…  At the court people played cruel charades all their lives. The game of pranks had escalated. She wanted to turn to the bishop. However, he was curious only about her sins.  

            A pompous gold- tasseled page once asked the girl to fetch some French wine for the king. It was unheard of, but like a sleepwalker, she went downstairs into a cellar smelling of earth and found the right label. The girl was coming back when in a dim light of her candle she caught the sight of a statue. It was a knight wrought by a skilled hand. The statue had a rare dignity and strength; its thoughtful unblinking eyes were like a magnet. Her heart skipped a beat. She believed the tin knight had smiled at her. The girl ran upstairs.

             She imagined a close friend, strong, silent and faithful.

             The girl woke up her therion. She spoke to him in rapid fire. He listened and snarled at first, but then nodded knowingly. For him it was a chance of another meal.

            Soon the king left with a big hunting party. It was May, a perfect time to go bear hunting. The days were filled with warm winds, the nights with light May showers. Far away in the distance thunders roared and above green hills lightning sprang, slashing furiously through grey, moody skies.

             Everything went on as usual. The bear, a subject of the hunt, was on his last leg at the end of the chase.  Fresh hounds were unleashed on him every six hours. Then, mysteriously, four hounds were found killed on the fifth day. The bear was speared next morning.

              The hound keeper himself didn’t believe that the bear could do that. “Do you have any other explanations?” inquired the king of Castile. “We must put the watchmen all around the camp, and watch,” replied the hound keeper.

              The half moon was high in a cool, empty sky. There was enough light to see without burning the fires. “We’ll save some firewood for the girl,” joked the retainers. The hounds, though, couldn’t share this lighthearted mood. They didn’t settle to sleep and by midnight started howling trying to break off the ties. “Quiet, quiet, little ones,” the guards were heard saying still in a cheerful mood. A swift dark form swept by the guards shortly after midnight. The howling was cut short. When the stunned night watchers scrambled to their feet, three hounds were dead. The spectacle was even worse than the day before: two of the dogs were eviscerated. Only tidbits were taken, leaving the dogs in a crumpled pile. The king was distraught beyond words. “It looks like what they say about werewolves is true.”

                  It had been decided to head back to Alcazar as soon as possible. The hunting party proceeded with sober faces. The cheerfulness which usually accompanied a successful hunt was all but extinguished. The hastily dressed bear hide was hanging ingloriously from the back of keeper’s horse. The royal party stopped at the mountain lodge to spend a night, but the night was not meant to be peaceful. Now the last remaining hound was killed, but the king’s horse was mangled badly, too. It had to be put down in the morning.

                 “I’m, the king of Castile, left without a horse!” the king smiled bitterly. He rode his spare stallion in silence. On their next stop, the hunting party was left alone but the tavern’s keeper lost three sheep. “It seems to be following us,” the huntsmen whispered worriedly.

             One more incident occurred on the third night when they were nearing the king’s castle. The goat they were about to roast was snatched from the bonfire in plain view. “The usual wolf will not do that,” the huntsmen said and now they were convinced that the werewolf was following them all the way to Alcazar.

              Upon his sad return the king decided to put guards on every floor of the royal residence. Some courtiers started whispering that the girl was to blame, that she was a witch who arrived from South America, “Look how dark she is!” In a spirit of paranoia the complaints were filed with the bishop. After all, it was still a time of the Great Inquisition. The girl’s reputation was saved by the bishop himself.

               However, she almost added oil into the flares of fear. In the middle of stationing the guards by every door, she asked to put not a live man but the tin knight statue, and place it not by the door, but inside her room. She explained her request, not unreasonably, that the men were needed elsewhere. After all, her persona was of a small significance when there were so many noblemen, whose lives were worth far more than hers.

           The king was informed, but agreed, and the tin statue of a knight was placed in her chamber to stay on guard day and night. The girl seemed strangely excited. She was pleasantly talkative when other courtiers had their teeth clattering at the evening meal.

              Rings of bonfires were burning around the royal residence, bridges were lifted.

              The night was damp and silent, even cicadas held their breath. Alas, in the morning, a goose was found gutted in the kitchen. It was immediately assumed by the courtiers that the death of the goose was related to the death of the hounds. A kitchen aid, of course, was the one who killed the goose for the fowl stew. But how could she confess? The perished hounds were expensive stock, so were geese! A month ago a loan was taken to pay for the kitchen expenses.

               The kitchen aid kept quiet. The cook gave it a thought and ordered her to peel vegetables. The kitchen aid started chopping onions and tears of gratitude ran down her pale cheeks.

                Upstairs, however, terror now had the royal household in its grip. Amongst fear and grief no one noticed that the tin statue had been melted. The girl, on the other hand, acquired a rosy glow. Deep under the bonnet’s shadow her eyes sparkled like two precious diamonds. Now she had her mother’s eyes. And whoever still had a head on his shoulders would have noticed that the high collar of her dress was loosened for the first time.

              The court loafers were trembling, expecting every night to be their last one. Everybody thought that the hounds and the goose were only the beginning. Some already barricaded themselves not even daring to change the chamber pots. Servants were circulating between the locked rooms fervently saying prayers and were ready to trample the food trays. The servants were convinced that the evil werewolf was ready to lunge from every nook along the stairs.

             The king felt shameful, helpless, and desperate. He yelled at the priests for not banishing the devil with the cross. His face became pale and gaunt. And it was only the third day of this siege by evil.

              His daughter, on the contrary, seemed fulfilled. Her clumsy gait transformed itself into a languid walk. The tin statue now had become molten. A surprised maid wouldn’t dare to point it out. Soon the girl politely asked a Gypsy blacksmith to have the statue of the knight repaired. The old Gypsy shook his head, worked all night long and made the knight statue all new again.

                Crying from fear, two servant boys ventured into the castle’s basement and brought in the restored metal companion. It was heavier than before and laminated with lead. But the servant boys were sweating only cold sweat when they emerged from the basement. The eyes of the werewolf seemed to be following them, glowing like fireflies in every corner.

                The girl thanked the Gypsy and the servants; she also mentioned that from now on she would need less heat in her room. At an evening meal where very few now dared to gather she was seen wearing a curious red dress with fiery teal flowers outlined with lemon yellow. “I told you she was a witch,” gasped the senior mistress.

              Strangely enough, no dead bodies were found the next morning. But the fact that there was a break in murders only added an element of randomness and unpredictability. With it came more fear. The courtiers could hardly eat now; the servants were begging to let them go back to their homes in the countryside. They didn’t care if they would be in the open. They were afraid to be cooped in the castle of the great king of Castile, where evil lurked in every corner.

                Meanwhile, in a space pod still stuck in the rocky crevice, the ants led by their illustrious general finished up investigating ins and outs of the space capsule. They decided to establish a permanent colony under the dashboard. A vote was passed on those honorable candidates who would be allowed to reside inside the pod. The rest of the ants were given orders to build up a food supply for a possible long journey. The future travelers would not have to come from underneath the dashboard during the flight into the unknown.

                Surrounded by a veil of blue haze, bathed in a soft light of the morning hours, the castle of Alcazar stood there as before. Merchant caravans crossing the Pyrenees were squashing industrious ants with hooves of their tired mules. It was a long way to the coastal cities. The merchants, exhausted by a relentless sun hurriedly replenished water supplies from the waterfalls. Their caravans never stopped by the castle. Alcazar was left to its fate.

             Who would pay attention that the lead laminated statue of a handsome knight was now burnt and molten again? The girl stayed in her room. It was her new realm. Among the faces emaciated with fear and indigestion hers was one lovely, round face. The bonnet was now stored in the closet. The courtiers, who commented on her ungainly looks before, now noticed how alluring she was.

             The girl asked at the end of the week to remove the statue and to patch it up. The old Gypsy asked for a silver coin. She said the tin guard kept her safe even at the expense of its own life and put the coin into the blacksmith’s hand. The next day two hardened old servants brought in the repaired statue. They were breathing heavily as they placed the shiny tin knight in the corner. When they went down stairs they didn’t care about any metal scrap. All they wanted was to wake up and see that the werewolf’s siege was over.

              The king no longer exercised any authority. No one blamed him for that either. He was seen pacing in the royal chamber like in a prison cell. When he received the news that his adviser was dead from fright, he only nodded. The state secretary nodded, too. He attempted to discuss sending a messenger to Toledo to ask famed sages for help. The king could only squeeze out of himself four words, ”Do as you wish.” He no longer believed in salvation, even though his bishop was still alive. However, tonight the simple folk of the palace insisted on the bishop patrolling the corridors wielding his cross. The bishop had no choice. He was a true believer and considered that it would be cowardly to shy away from his duty to banish evil. He still believed in a divine order triumphing over the forces of chaos.

                He kept walking, circling the palace, going up and down, up and down in the towers until he got exhausted and stopped by the door of the girl whom he had protected in the past. The door was unlocked. She forgot to lock it. The bishop heard her voice. She seemed to be talking to herself. It was not in the bishop’s habit to look through a gap in the door but he saw the girl embracing her tin knight as if he was a living being. Her face was on the tin knight’s chest. She kept talking to herself. Wherever she touched the metal was melted. She was convinced she was alone.

              The bishop entered her room. She didn’t hear his footsteps until he was right next to her and her molten friend. She turned her glowing face to the bishop and said very simply, ”My heart is not a rock. It gets melted.”

              She cared enough not to touch the bishop with her bare hands. She passed by his speechless figure, put on her gloves, her dress coat, and thick soled shoes. She tied the ribbons of her fur trimmed bonnet. If the bishop had only looked around he could have noticed that in the sky outlined by the girl’s window a morning star shone with a steady blue fire. The girl called, ”Come out, Ymirito!” And a dark shape of a reptilian beast plated with angular scales, teeth gleaming, forked tongue tasting the air, crawled out of the closet. The girl put the beast on the leash and buckled his emerald collar. Then she turned to the speechless bishop and said whole heartedly and sincerely, ”Thank you.”

               All this done, she stepped onto the low window sill. The flaps of her coat were spread like wings. The reptilian beast jumped after her. “Time to go home!” cried the girl. They both walked out of the window and towards the blue light of the Morning Star. The echo of the pod’s engine rolled through the Pyrenees.

               The bishop saw rising sun and its pale, timid light. The figures of the girl and her beast were nowhere to be seen. Time lapsed. The girl and her reptilian pet by now were nearing their home planet.

               When they safely landed, aided by the dense atmosphere of their home planet, the girl said, ”There is something in my shoe. I can’t stand it anymore.” She started walking hurriedly over the searing rocks, and lost one shoe in a red stream of lava. An ant hiding in the shoe saw a wall of fire, and in an instant his tiny body became a vapor consumed by the Cytherean sky. Skimming the rocks, the girl was heading home barefoot.  The beast kept following her.

              Other ants went deep into the tunnels of the pod’s dashboard. They were now all alone and in charge of the vessel. After a long struggle and loss of many comrades they were able to switch the cooling system on.

            “Was it worth it?” asked the mother when the girl was sitting by the quartz glass window.

             “It’s always worth it to go and see the father,” said the girl. Then she smiled to herself and spoke again,” I’m happy to have a few more years of childhood, though.” She thirstily drank up a glass of precious water, marveled at its slightly alkaline taste and sank deep into her thoughts.

               Outside punishing storms were raging over the red rivers of lava. Blue lightning was sprouting fiery branches. The sky itself was impaled on its thorns. Her heart skipped a beat.

              She was longing for the silent tin knight who would always be there for her.

 

                           An Original Story by Lana Hickman.03.31.2011. Copyrighted Material.

                                                                All Rights Reserved.

 

                                     Questions regarding this fictional story.

 

                                                                Chemistry

 

 

What element was essential to the survival of the Cytherean piezophiles? It was found on their faces, necks and hands. This element has a long love story with planet Earth. What living organisms on Earth are using it to build their cell walls? What kingdoms of organisms need this element not only for the structural support but for the wound healing and growth as well? Did you learn anything about phytoliths? Why are the phytoliths a great tool in paleontology? Would you like to include this element in your beauty care? Describe the cycle of this element both on continents and at sea. How is it connected to the carbon cycle? Find a foodstuff in your pantry which has tiny phytoliths in its hair!

 

1.  Can you imagine this element as a substitute for carbon?

 

2.     What is a major obstacle to this element rivaling carbon? Be creative; take into consideration different temperature, pressure, pH, etc.

 

3.  What are piezophiles, anyway?

 

4.  Why did they need a jelly-like layer around their bodies?

 

5.  Why did the Cythereans have a small frame and thin insufficiently mineralized bones?

 

 

6.  What kinds of animals, besides reptile-like Ymirito, would have survived the harsh conditions of the Cytherean world?

 

7.     If you feel truly adventurous, investigate the intricacies of biochemistry required to live under the pressure of 90 atmospheres.

 

8.  What are the adaptations against excessive amounts of sulfur? Go deep, all the way to the deep sea vents! Don’t be surprised to find a similar compound in your energy drinks!

 

9.  What are the requirements to survive very high temperature, such as the surface temperature of the Cytherean world, which is over 400 degrees Celsius?

 

 

10. What planet of the Solar system was disguised under the name of the Cytherean world? How come the girl was 26 years of age on her home planet but only 16 years old on Earth?

 

 

11.What building materials are used to avoid corrosion by sulfuric acid? Do you see them in your household?

 

12. Visualize the ways to protect DNA under the conditions of the girl’s home planet. Be creative, use knowledge you have already obtained answering previous 12!! questions.

 

13.Be tenacious. Find out what alloys were incorrectly labeled “tin”. What are the melting temperatures? Do you think the girl could melt the “tin”? Was she able at least to melt tin as an element?

14.What time period in European history has been depicted in this fictional story? Who was the real king of Spain at this time? Was his reputation as depicted or was he a true conservative in his beliefs and behavior? Did he have both sons and daughters? What were his true ambitions? Did he live at Alcazar?!

 

15.This is the last question. Which monarch at this time period was dedicated to the development of arts, sciences and religious tolerance throughout his domain? He was a nephew to the Spanish king. A hint, he never fought any major wars and was called a heroic failure. Don’t you think it’s unfair when a peace loving ruler is of no interest to the majority of historians?   

 

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The Flight to the Cloud City

 

To anyone watching this boy he would have appeared a cruel little brat. First he was seen collecting beetles, the next moment he was taking them apart. His grandfather scolded him, ”Stop destroying living souls!” “I want to know what they are made of,” answered the boy simply and moved onto washing an empty shell of what was a beetle five minutes ago. The boy was convinced that the beetle’s shell was aiding the beetle’s flight. He believed he was close to uncovering the truth.

          The grandfather left the boy alone only to witness a bizarre picture three days later. The boy was building what appeared to be a wing. “Don’t forget, that to justify what you have done to the beetles, you must eat their entrails,” said the grandpa sternly. “I will,” answered the boy stubbornly. At dinner time he painstakingly collected what he called”the beetle juice” into a bowl, and ate it quickly. “Now, can I continue?” he asked when he had finished sucking up “the beetle juice”. The grandpa only shook his head. “It’s up to the gods to judge,” he said retiring for the night.

               The boy sat alone in the cold, by a dying bonfire. He looked at the stars. They were close. Some of them were ready to jump and scatter over the snowcaps. The boy drank up his herbal tea trying to get rid of the “beetle’s juice” taste. He then got up, went to his small room with a dirt floor and kept sketching well into sunrise, sitting by a small torch. When he looked through the window, he saw the Andes painted with fiery orange. His gaze dwelled on one peak. “This is a good place to try it out,” said the boy to himself and went into the kitchen. There he made a fine stew of guinea pig meat, blue corn, chili peppers and onions. The grandpa ate the stew and mellowed out a little. He then put coca leaves in his mouth and went to tend his potato field. The sky was cloudless. The boy fell asleep right there by the stove, and in his sleep he mumbled, ”I’ll help you, grandpa. I swear.”

               In the evening the boy was seen crafting another wing. When his grandpa took a closer look, he realized that thousands of innocent beetle souls perished in the boy’s enterprise. The boy was constructing a flying craft. It was a glider. The glider’s wings were made of beetle’s chitin shells. Countless numbers of them were fastened to a light wooden frame. “I will spend a day in the mountains,” said the boy. He took with him warm blankets to sleep on and blank rags to draw on. The boy thoughtfully left the cooked food home for his grandpa and carried only some corn bread with him. He climbed high up a mountain slope and settled to watch flying condors.

                Shielding his eyes with a palm of his hand he made several crucial observations. The condors favored an upward moving draft of mountain waves. The mountains themselves, merrily baked in the full sun, provided warm air. First, the clever condors used warm air rising in upward currents which were thermals. There, also, seemed to be a peculiar lift towards the sky, the ridge lift. The mountain slopes worked their separate magic, unrelated to the heat of the sun.

              The boy spent an entire day watching the birds. By the evening he became so hungry, he gulped his corn bread almost without chewing and even contemplated that the beetle juice would have been quite alright. He also realized that the four seasons of a single day with which he and his grandpa lived through every day on the plain below were much more severe on the mountain slopes. Indeed, it was a spring time cold in the morning, a blaze of summer at noontime, an autumn weather in the afternoon, and merciless winter cold at night. The boy wrapped his blanket around tightly and kept fire burning all night long. His sleep was interrupted by cold many times over. In the morning he was bleary eyed, but after his scarce breakfast and a sip of water he witnessed something of utter importance for the project at hand.

             The sky was clear at first. The condors were scanning the earth as usual. Then lenticular shaped clouds appeared. There was nothing special about them. The boy could have easily missed them. But there were so few things to see, so he paid attention. The condors, the older ones, took notice and fled. A couple of younger and arrogant ones remained in the sky still greedily searching for the carrion on the rocky ground, and then abruptly came turbulence. The smooth airflow of the mountain air waves was whirled by a mad dervish dance. The air waves were broken with turbulence. The two young condors were smashed against a rock face. There they remained to become a next day’s meal to their wiser mates. The boy was shocked not by the fate of the arrogant birds, but the danger he could face in the future, the danger he thought, didn’t exist. Now he knew why the mountains were revered as gods themselves. The mountains commanded the weather, they gave a favor of flight and they could withdraw this grand favor any time they wanted. The boy drew the warning lenticular clouds on his drawing rag. He smiled to himself, because now he was smarter than a condor.

             His face was burned. It was his third day in the solitude of the mountains. He was hungry again and was thinking of going home. But the revelations kept coming. When he got up and headed back down to the plain, he felt strange pangs of melancholy. He tried to fight it off. The boy tried to hold his head high, but the sun was pressing down on his head as if he was a sunflower. And then it came with no warning and no clouds to decipher.

              It was a foehn storm. The boy started laughing hysterically. He was now not a boy coming of age but a dwarf. The mountains obviously sent this wild wind to destroy him. The boy fell to the ground, and hugged a granite rock with both hands. The wild wind was dry and scorching hot. The boy thought that a forbidding coastal desert had arrived all the way here to burn him alive. He thought for a moment that it was precisely what those poor souls from the conquered plains felt tied to the stake by iron clad strangers. Only here not flares of the flame but the fiery gusts of wind were licking his face.

         But the bonfires died, and so did the wild foehn wind. “Now I know, now I know, ”the boy kept saying to himself. He didn’t remember how he returned back to his grandpa’s place. His grandpa was crying and crying, and the boy thought, that it was good to be loved so much. “But now I know,” the boy said to the grandpa and fell asleep by the stove.

          One week later the boy went to the village. He had to. His grandpa was not feeling well. They had herbs, of course. But the grandpa said he needed something else. He kept silent for a while, but sometime later when the sun was going down he confessed that he wanted a sip of chicha. “Grandpa, I could have made it myself,” said the boy. “Oh, no, my little one. There is no better chicha than the drink made with corn and spit of village women. Especially of a certain one. Not that I didn’t love your grandma…” The boy felt a surge of male solidarity. He buckled his sandals, took a walking stick in his right hand and tied the wool wrap around his neck. He was only delighted to go to the village, because he hoped to learn about those iron clad strangers riding horses and making their way inland. The boy dreaded and craved to learn the news. After all, his wing construction project was spawn by a secret hope that if it comes to worst, he and his grandpa would fly away, just like the beetles. “Except for the ones I caught,” he said to himself.

              He crossed a parched land separating his grandpa’s homestead and the village. It took him all day, but he was determined. He was curious about the taste of chicha, too, but was wary of thoughts what it did to one’s brain. “It’s fine for the grandpa to be drunk. I still need my head clear.”

           At the village he saw women all dressed in rough black wool. None of them were wearing any silver ornaments. Some of them had instead silver strewn in their hair. Nothing like that happened before. There were no men seen anywhere. “What’s happening?” asked the boy. “Our men were marched off to work in the mines.” “Do you mean you have seen the iron-clad strangers?” “We not only saw them, but we were ruined by them,” said one woman flatly. Then she added, ”You can take all chicha you can carry on your back. We have nothing to celebrate.” The boy filled a small leather jug, left his mountain herbs as a payment, and started walking back on cotton feet. He saw steel plated giants riding on his heels, their horses were laughing loudly, stirring dust with their breath. The boy waited for a cold blade of a Spanish sword slice through his neck neatly, swiftly. But he kept walking even through the night. To stop now meant to be dead.

            The boy scrambled into their mud brick hut, and without catching a breath, yelled, ”The iron-clad strangers were at the village. We must leave now.” “Not before I have my drink of corn and spit,” said the grandpa philosophically. “You should only wait until I pee it out. Then we can walk, fly, whatever.”

             He drank with gusto, and for what seemed an eternity. “We’ll start carrying the wings to the mountains. You could pee on the road,” said the boy philosophically as well. The only problem was that the boy didn’t have a chance to test the wings. Now there was no time. “As you wish,” said the grandpa gloomily, packing his two blankets. He then took silver buckles, pins, rings, and necklaces which belonged to grandma, and scattered them around the hut. He also took five fine gold figurines and threw them on the dusty ground outside. He then ripped a gold chain into pieces, and seeded the path to the hut. The iron-clad strangers lusted for gold. Now they would stop here, perhaps, start digging dirt, looking for more. “Enough of that, Grandpa, we must leave now,” said the boy.

                  There was a nagging feeling of no return. They didn’t notice that they now stood at the foothills; the grandpa finally could relieve himself. “Did you say you haven’t tried the wings before?” the grandpa asked, tying up his clothing. “I just built them and didn’t have a chance.” “Then I’m not flying,” said the grandpa simply. “I had always dreamed of becoming a mummy in the mountains. I suspect there is some royal blood in me. How else we can explain my cravings?” “You drank too much chicha,” suggested the boy. But deep in his heart he knew better. “Please, come with me,” asked the boy. He was afraid to take this journey alone. “An eagle must fly solo,” said the grandpa. They started their careful ascend.

             They had to make many stops, but they both were chewing coca leaves now, and it helped. By the night fall they were at the summit, a perfect launching platform. The fire refused to burn, there was not enough oxygen to feed it. They huddled together. “Like in old good times,” said the boy. “But I’m no longer afraid of the dark.” “Did you see her?” asked the grandpa.”Yes,” lied the grandson. He was smart enough not to say, “but what about the grandma..”  The boy already knew that old flames never die. “What did she look like now?” asked the grandpa. “The same,” said the boy, “Like the last year.” “I thought so,“ mumbled the grandpa falling asleep. The stars were very close and kept watching over the two men until dawn.

              “It’s going to be fine,” said the grandpa when he woke up. He bundled himself up in the second blanket in order to resemble a mummy as closely as possible. The boy picked up a handful of snow and washed his face. Then he straightened up his clothing, and checked on the wings. The wings were in working order. The beetle shells were glistening under the morning sun. The garlic glue and cotton ropes held. The boy wanted to cry, because his grandpa was sitting there just like a mummy would. The frost already touched his eyelashes. The boy swallowed the knot in his throat and tied on the wings. He turned his face to the old man and said, ”Look at me, Grandpa!” “I am looking,” answered the grandpa.

              And then the boy flew. It was the year 1536.

              In August in an airplane of Air Argentina made its way from La Plata to Santiago de Chile. Champagne was served. One passenger complained that his drink was warm. A flight attendant went to cool it off. An amorous second pilot started flirting with her. The first pilot turned away from his monitors to yell at them both. A condor was flying at 35 000 feet just for pleasure. There was no carrion around yet. The iron clad beast was making too much noise. It offended the condor. The bird never thought of himself as lacking courage, he turned around  to peck the offender with his mighty beak. Something smashed at the windshield. The flight attendant spilled champagne all over her blouse. The plane was going down.

                It could have been worse. They crashed into a soft white snow of the mountain top. It was good news. There were some injuries, but everybody was alive, even the passenger who had complained about warm champagne. This fact became a problem when all 141 of them ran out of food. It happened unexpectedly fast. One could become very hungry in cold weather. They started eyeing each other. All they could see was protein. The second pilot beat up a passenger who kept staring up at the flight attendant. Champagne dried up on her blouse long time ago. She looked sad but still appetizing.

                The beat up passenger crawled back into the airplane and just sat there gnarling his own elbow. “We must leave, Juan Carlos,” cried the flight attendant. ”You know, we can’t,” answered Juan Carlos cursing the day when he met this woman.

                She buttoned up the jacket of her uniform. “We can’t leave, because we’ll freeze to death!” now Juan Carlos cried. Two Zombie- like passengers pricked their ears listening. “You said only death could separate us,” she was heard insisting. “It’s true,” said the second pilot in a tired voice. “I even beat him up for you.” He no longer had any strength to resist. She pulled him by the sleeve. His thoughts clang to his wife left back in Buenos Aires. The second pilot and the flight attendant stumbled out of the airplane. The Zombie-like passengers didn’t follow, but kept watching them intently through the round windows. “If we can freeze we will not feel the bites,” said the flight attendant. The snow was up to their waists. He was still thinking of his wife, that she was a good woman and didn’t deserve to become a widow. The second pilot also thought that he didn’t deserve his wife.

                  It was cold and getting colder. They were 150 yards down the slope from the crash site. Juan Carlos desired nothing but to drop dead right there and then. His mistress, the flight attendant, kept warming herself up with an incessant stream of words. “You could have asked for divorce. Now I must die not a wife but a mistress, and you are not even the first pilot, but the second one.” “Always the second one,” she added. He broke free of her and started sliding down the slope like a kid. He already pictured falling into a deep ravine, killing himself instantaneously, when his foot got caught by something.

                   Not to be outdone or abandoned, the flight attendant was chasing after him. Her uniform was torn, but she didn’t care. She stopped sliding down and clutched at his sleeve yet again. “What is it, Juan Carlos?” she asked. They both could see a wooden frame half covered with ice. She wanted to be the first to know and scratched away the ice with her fingernails. They both saw neat rows of the beetle shells. He didn’t mean to follow her suit but removed a chunk of ice. And then some more. “Put your back to it,” she said.  He kept to himself, digging through the snow and ice. Her knees under thin panty hose were now red, bitten by the frost. His hands were raw and red, too.

                    At last they could see what it was. In front of them was the wooden frame of a glider covered by thousands upon thousands of beetle shells. “I’ll be flying down for help,” she said. He silently agreed but decided not to climb back to the Zombie-like passengers. “I will wait for you,” he said, still undecided if he really wanted her to return.

                   3 000 miles upstream a nicely preserved mummy was found. It was a mummy of an old man. He was smiling peacefully. Coca leaves were stuffed in his mouth, and on his lips there was a faint smell of chicha. He always believed that his little boy would make it.

 

             Original Story by Lana Hickman, 03.13.2011. Copyrighted Material. All Rights Reserved.

 

 

    Questions regarding science or pseudoscience which fueled this story.

 

     The questions presented relate to chemistry and biology, and of course, chemical biology as well. Make yourself a gift, enroll in AP course. It will make your life interesting. You will look at the world with new eyes. You will see that in the world of nature everything is made in a     very clever way. Soon you’ll start designing biomaterials yourself.

 

1.  What the beetle shells are made of? What do we call polymers? Don’t be surprised to find what chitin made of on the shelves of your local health food store! Why do people take this supplement? List other species which require chitin to build their tissues. Don’t you find it fascinating that both endo- and exoskeletons are made with the same type of compound albeit supplied in different amounts? Why is it possible for an insect to carry up to 20 times its weight?

 

2.  Do you see any resemblance in structure of chitin and cellulose? What do we call ligands and derivatives?

 

3.  Where do we use chitin as a material of choice? Where do people use cellulose? Since when in history?

 

4.  What seems peculiar about the boy’s glider, the fact that chitin is a lightweight material or the fact that the beetle shells are cavities? Find some information about anti gravitational Cavity Space Effect. This phenomenon is expressed mostly through the subjective perceptions. What are the features of truly scientific experiments? Could the boy have built his glider just out of a lightweight wood?

 

5.     Study some biochemistry; explain why it was crucial to chew the corn pulp first to make chicha drink. What enzyme in human saliva is necessary to start the fermentation process? Compare the structures of cornstarch and chitin. Are you still in awe of the Nature’s capabilities?

 

6.  Did you find anything interesting from the field of human psychology?

 

 

 

 

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Vega is a different star

 

Old tales have a new truth to them, especially, if you know where to look for it.

 

In a great Northern Kingdom a king and a queen were in despair. Years passed. They grew old and frail, but they didn’t have an heir. Prayers, spells and medicines from faraway lands were useless. Court physicians were beheaded, and the new ones trembled every time they had been asked to try a different remedy.

 

The last hope evaporated like morning dew, and a sad queen went to the sea shore contemplating to throw herself off the cliff. Once by the sea, she felt compelled to approach the roaring waves. Memories of her happy childhood flooded her soul as she walked along the seashore, collecting pebbles, shells and fancy shaped pieces of beach glass. When her hands were full with these treasures, she smiled and headed back to the palace. She entered her royal chamber and put everything that she had collected by the sea on the table. Then she started arranging pieces of her odd treasures like the pieces of a puzzle. The queen got carried away in her dreams. When she glanced at the table, she saw in front of her a strange pattern. She couldn’t decipher it, but it was beautiful. She looked in a mirror and saw herself being young and comely, and suddenly, the queen knew that she was with a child. When the time came the queen gave birth to a beautiful girl.

 

The most prominent magi of the known world were invited to bless the baby. Among them were fairies. Twelve of the fairies arrived according to invitations received, but the thirteenth invitation was lost. A dove dispatched to carry it found its death in the claws of a falcon, which was a devout mother herself and had to feed her birdlings.

 

The celebration was the most splendid this Northern Kingdom had ever seen. Every magician and every fairy bestowed gifts upon the royal baby. The first fairy said, ”This child will have a long life!” The second fairy said that the girl would be a person of extraordinary intelligence. The third one told everybody present there that this blessed girl would have many healthy children. The fourth one hurriedly declared that the young princess would be a very healthy person herself. The fifth fairy proclaimed the girl would become a great gardener with both of her thumbs green. The sixth fairy insisted that the princess would amaze everyone with her cooking. The seventh one said that all crafts would be mastered by her; the eighth fairy said that even fine art would be an easy accomplishment for this little genius. The ninth fairy predicted that the baby would grow to be a warrior when the need arose. The tenth added that the intricacies of politics would be mastered by her, too. The eleventh fairy promised a fine husband. And the twelfth fairy said that the princess would understand language of the animals. Now everybody had earned their place at the royal table. The guest took their honorable seats at the king’s table.

 

They were about to start helping themselves when thunder struck the palace, and every guest was stunned to see a grand entrance of the thirteenth fairy. “A sweet little mosquito delivered me a sting and the news of these festivities. It’s really alright to forget to invite me. I will give my good blessing anyway, only at a price. The princess will survive a great calamity. But she’ll fall asleep on her sixteenth birthday. Her sleep will be as heavy as death itself!” This said, the fairy scratched where the mosquito bit her, tied her dark shawl and left.

 

The food of the banquet was cold by then. The guests excused themselves and departed. But the queen and the king couldn’t allow their dreams to be poisoned. Every day brought something new. The little princess grew up to be a bright and beautiful girl. They named her Eva.

 

Meanwhile, the king ordered the sifting of ancient manuscripts to learn about all possible dangers. The court physicians and magicians started their search. One of them, a scholar from the Western land found a story of the Sleeping Beauty. In that tale a princess had fallen asleep after hurting herself with a spindle. He explained in a logical manner that history often repeated itself, that time ran in a spiral, that they always could learn from the past. The king and queen felt a little better after they were told that all they had to do to break the spell was to invite the knights and princes and one of them would save the princess from her deadly sleep. Just in case, the king banished all spindles from the palace’s grounds. The evil spindle was at the heart of the old tale.

 

Years passed so fast that in no time there came the fateful birthday. All these years the court men of science were learning from the past and forgot about the present. Meanwhile, there were strange reports of miners falling asleep in the mines. The mines were the pride of this Northern kingdom. A lot of silver was paid for the beautiful yellow ceramic paint made from the yellowcake ore of the king’s mines. Everybody knew, though, that the miners didn’t live long and their children were often born looking like trolls. However, everything was readily explained by the men of science. All miners lived short lives; the children looked like trolls and gargoyles because of the ubiquitous dirt. As for the current problem of falling asleep on the job, that was easy to elaborate. The kind king increased the miners’ salaries; they drank more beer and ate more bread at lunchtime. Good meals made them drowsy. There was a lot of logic and even truth in these explanations. No one dared to dismiss them.

 

As for the 13th fairy she was never heard or seen after her departure, and soon everybody forgot about her. But she didn’t disappear without a trace. She lived a quiet life in her subterranean domain and knew better than anyone else about what was coming. Alas, as powerful as she was, she could change nothing. On the eve of the princess’s 16th birthday, the 13th fairy put on a fur coat, tied her dark woolen shawl over her hat, and huddled with a sleepy mole in her secret lair.

 

Since a call was passed to all courageous knights and princes throughout the lands of the known world, brave young men were already making their way to the North. Some of them traveled on land, others sailed in ships. There was a noble youth from the South. He was a son of a minor noble. Still, he knew his worth and decided to try his luck. It thrilled him that no matter how hard his journey would be, all he would have to do upon arrival was to kiss the princess. He taught himself to read and was well versed in ancient tales and legends.

 

When his native peninsula was behind him, the noble young man entered a thick pine forest. It looked dark and menacing. He wasn’t sure he was going the right way; glorious maples, oaks, laurels and chestnut trees of his Southern kingdom were nowhere to be seen. His heart sank, because he was all alone and didn’t know what he might come across on this journey. He reassured himself that he was armed, lit a torch and proceeded down the forest road which was covered with new saplings. The Southern nobleman saw at once that fordecades no one had traveled this road. Real courage was in facing not only the known danger, but the Beast of the unknown. Soon he heard a roar. The young man stopped and listened. He realized that it was a wounded animal. He listened some more and determined that the animal was in great distress. He knew all too well how dangerous this encounter might be. He smiled to himself, because it was a known danger. He hurried towards the roaring sound. Soon he saw a big black furry shape on the ground. It was a huge female bear. His smile quickly dissolved. But he had made a choice to face danger, and decided not to back off now. Years ago someone had placed an iron trap on the forest floor and then abandoned it.

 

The young man shivered inside, but he put his torch in a fork of the branch, bent down, expecting his scull to be crushed by the mighty paw and unlatched the trap. The bear rolled aside and then sat on the ground. Even seated she looked as tall as the man himself. The Southern nobleman wanted to take his torch and slowly move away, but the bear said, ”You are unlike any other man. Thank you for saving my life. Where are you going?” Speechless, the nobleman took his time to respond. “I’m on my way to the Great Northern Kingdom. I feel a little lost. Perhaps, it wasn’t wise to travel alone”, he said finally in one breath. Now the bear smiled. “Do you know where the North is?” she asked. “I know the landscape is changing and at night I must navigate by the stars. But honestly, I should have studied the stars better. I’m tired now and don’t remember if Ursa Major should be on my right or on the left!” The bear now laughed. “Make a fire here and rest. No predator will bother you. Here is my husband’s hide. It’s the only thing I could save of him. I couldn’t save his life, though, the way you had saved mine. Bear’s hide will keep you warm. But remember once and for all, that I, Ursa Major, must be on your left, and follow Polaris, the North Star.“ Then she licked her wounds and asked if he had any tar with him. He did. He gave the bear a small flask of ointment for her wounds. The bear thanked him one more time and said enigmatically, ”I,Ursa Major, will be there as long as I can. But all things change.”

 

The young nobleman slept soundly through the night and in the morning continued on his way. The bear’s hide was draped over his shoulders, giving him a rather barbaric look. At lunch time he baked two potatoes on the coals of his campfire. At night he made sure the North Star was still on his left and many days later he arrived at the capital of the Northern Kingdom.

Heavy snowfall started in the early afternoon. Soon the Northern Kingdom was encased by mountains of snow. Children made snowballs and played, their cheeks were glowing. A few snowball players fell into the cracks in the ground never to be seen again.

 

A guard at the gate dressed in a warm fur coat, but still shivering from the cold, asked the Southern noble about the purpose of his journey. The young nobleman answered that he heard of the call for young princes to save the king’s daughter. The guard said, ”You see, noble stranger, the royal family is very distressed. They don’t know where the danger will be coming from. As we speak, they have locked themselves in the royal chambers. No one is allowed to enter. Eva never had hurt herself with a spindle the way it was supposed to be. The royal family doesn’t know what to be afraid of. Before being locked up Eva was heard saying “what a lonely day it’s going to be!” The rest of noble princes are at the tavern. Go there if you wish. Winter came early this year. Get some hot punch!”

 

At the tavern there was a lot of anxious talk. Some of the princes said that the situation was so confusing no one could figure it out without an additional drink. One of them suggested that just like in the time of Great Plague they should go into the country side and feast waitingfor the menace to pass. ”Besides, how would we know she’d be asleep if she had been locked up with her parents?”

At this moment the tavern’s door opened and a peasant man stumbled inside. The peasant shook off snow from his boots and said, ”I have been asleep for a week. And so has my village. The village is close to the mines. But I’m better now.” One knowledgeable Moor said that it was a winter sleeping sickness.

 

“What else did you notice?” asked the princes. “The animals are travelling towards the South,” said the peasant. ”Even my goats escaped and went with the deer.” “I saw a crack in the ground by the mines!” added the peasant. “This is serious,” decided the suitors. “The spindle thing never happened. We all are facing an unknown danger. We must go home. The Northern Kingdom has lost favors of the gods. We must mind our own business!” This said, all foreign nobles had left. The Southern gentleman sat by himself at the empty table not knowing what to do. Deep in his heart he believed there was still a chance of gaining glory. Unlike the others, he had little to lose. He also was intrigued by the situation. Besides, the natives of the Northern Kingdom had nowhere to go, even though their livestock was now breaking the enclosures and heading south. “How strange,” thought the young man, “In the past no one wanted to go south, now, suddenly, everybody does!”

 

He left the tavern and its puzzled owner and waded through the snow towards the palace. When he was nearing the tower of royal chambers, the ground under his feet cracked. He jumped over the rift in the ground and climbed up to the closed window of the tower. Then he saw that it was possible to climb it all the way to the roof. There, atop the royal tower under the fresh snow, he found a small trap door. He opened it and went downstairs. At last he was inside the royal chamber. There he saw the royal family already asleep. He recognized the princess Eva right away and, remembering the script of the Sleeping Beauty’s story, wanted to give her a kiss. But his limbs grew heavy; he was already by the loveseat when he, too, succumbed to sleep.

 

Meanwhile, the cold and snowfall became so intense that those who couldn’t find shelter froze to death. The North Pole had shifted. The entire Northern kingdom became encased in ice. The South Pole had moved, too. Elsewhere other nations survived longer and continued their life struggles. 130 centuries flew by in a quick succession. The gods who, indeed, were watching over the planet had to depart on urgent business to the celestial home. The planet was spinning through space. Its face was changing fast. Not only natural disasters but man-made catastrophes emptied the world of its people.

 

But things always change; and one day the glaciers which were covering the Northern land for so long, melted. New rivers ran and watered a thirsty, parched land. Immediately seeds sprouted, some of them being thousands of years old. In a few years luxurious jungle covered the land, animals who survived cold, shifting poles and magnetic disturbances returned, seemingly out of nowhere, and far away the Southern land was now teeming with life as never before.

 

Back where the Great Northern Kingdom once was there was now a barren plain crossed with deep canyons. At the very bottom of one such canyon deep in the frozen soil there still was a castle. In its chambers the royal family was asleep. Untouched by decay they were slowly breathing in suspended animation which had been their life for 130 centuries. A hungry mosquito made his way to the bottom of the canyon. There the mosquito smelled human flesh and decided to feast. When the mosquito engorged itself and was ready to take off, the bitten patch of skin itched so badly that Eva woke up. She wanted to smack the mosquito, but suddenly, she saw her parents still motionless and a handsome young man with bear’s hide over his shoulders in a slumber, as if guarding their sleep. Not knowing why, Eva kissed him. Immediately, he woke up and looked around. And once he saw her he remembered everything. He knew it was supposed to be the other way around. He said to her, ”I kept thinking and dreaming why we had to fall asleep. Now I know that it was because of a strange, heavy gas from the mines. It has made its way to the palace through caverns and cracks in the ground. We must wake your parents and leave this place at once.”

 

So they did just that, but her parents being of advanced age died shortly after their awakening. Her mother managed to say, ”I’m glad there are two of you, so neither of you will ever be alone.” With these words she followed the king on his last journey. The young people buried the royal couple with all honor and all splendor they could find around after 130 centuries which amounted to the bear’s hide, and then, through the door in the tower’s roof they went out into a new world.

 

The sun was rising, and the birds were floating in the sky high above the canyon. “What’s your name?” asked Eva. “My name is Clay. The last time I checked, I was a knight and a nobleman,” said the young man. “Where, do you think, we should go?” asked Eva. “I don’t know yet,” answered Clay honestly. “But I think soon we might learn.”

 

They spent a beautiful day together. They found wild potatoes and he remembered how good they tasted baked in the embers of the fire. When night fell, he told her about his encounter with the great bear Ursa. “Let’s see if she is on our left or our right.” He said “we”, ”our”; those were good words. Eva and Clay searched all over the sky for Ursa Major and its star, Polaris, but they were nowhere to be seen. It felt scary. They searched for the familiar constellation but the stars they knew were no longer there. Exhausted, they fell asleep.

 

When they woke up, they laughed that by now they had had all the sleep in the world. “It could have been thousands of years by now. That’s why the familiar stars aren’t there where they used to be!” “Why do we have to go at all?” asked Eva, when their laughter subsided. “We don’t see any people around here,” said Clay. “I must know if my family has survived,” answered Clay finally. ”Besides, the original plan was to wake you and marry you,” he added emboldened by the memory of his quest. “That was a script for the original story.” “Our situation is very different,” Eva said soberly.

 

They had to bake potatoes again, but were lucky to find wild garlic and onions. “Too pungent,” said Eva after onion made tears run down her velvet cheeks. Then she suggested a plan, ”How about we’ll watch for where animals are going?” Clay was skeptical at first since different species travel in different directions. “And again, it all depends upon the season. Some species travel North in summer, South in winter and vice versa. It’s a matter of taste. Which species should we choose to guide us?” Eva looked around a plain devoid of trees. It had a myriad of waves of golden grass rolling under a chilly wind. “I think that it’s autumn now,” she spoke shyly. Suddenly she yelled, ”Look, over there!” pointing to the sky. In a precise triangular formation storks were making their way across the horizon. “Do you know where they are heading?” she asked now playfully. And answered herself, ”They are going south to your homeland!” He was a little skeptical at first. “How can be the storks seen here if there are no trees for miles?!” She replied, “We didn’t venture far after we woke up. There may be trees somewhere here. But the storks are heading south for the winter, just like in the old days.” “I know, they nest in North Africa,” Clay said with relief that some things remained the same. “So the world is not completely upside down!” she said reassuringly.

 

The next day they searched for possible survivors. None were found. Eva discovered someone’s thick raw silk wrap, which miraculously lasted through the millennia, and Clay and Eva were on their way. They kept following storks but even this wasn’t possible in the evening. Crux, the Southern Cross, was no longer to be seen either. One day they spent traveling in circles. They ended up tired and hungry. As if it wasn’t enough, the first snow fell, sparsely spilling like salt over a rock covered terrain. They couldn’t find shelter anywhere from the cold and had to sit by the fire fueled with dry grass. “It’s going to be one tough journey,” she said. The next day, in the distance, they saw an unfamiliar mountain range. The contours of the mountains were jagged, dry, only the very tips of the mountain tops had snow caps. The mountains were high and very young.

 

All this time very little water was available. They had to melt snow. Still, no trees were seen anywhere. Strangely enough Clay and Eva kept finding in the ground half frozen wild potatoes. “We are not starving, we are not starving,” she kept saying to herself. “When we arrive,” he tried to comfort her,” “My Mom will feed you well. Southern cooking is known worldwide!” She wanted to say, ”It was God knows when,“ but decided not to upset him.

 

They had no choice but to climb the mountains to find rivers and their way to the South. “It looks like all the water has gone south, too,” he said, when they ended up eating dry frozen potatoes. During the end of the first week of their crossing they both saw a snake. A reptile didn’t expect them. It was warming itself on a smooth rock face. It was big. Clay whispered to Eva, hardly containing his excitement, ”The Lord is a witness, I love animals, but I’m hungry and should be forgiven.” “I’ve heard they taste good,” she answered repelled and mesmerized at the same time. When the snake was killed and dressed, Eva said, ”One of the fairies told me that I’d grow up to be a great cook. Here is my chance!” The fire took a long time to start in the thin mountain air, then Eva smartly put some snake fat into the flame, and it flared. “They were unfair to the snake oil,” she cried. “Works like a charm,” Clay said, looking meditative. It was their first good meal in two weeks.

 

It was hard to stay warm wearing just a silk shawl over her dress. They still didn’t see any other animals. “I guess, I’d be wearing a snake skin soon,” she said shivering. Clay was not faring any better. By now they were at the crest of the mountain. Far down in the distance they saw green color spreading all the way to the horizon. The cold seemed to be losing its powers. Only now they noticed that they were standing surrounded by clouds. Sheets of dull gray fluff spoke of the approaching rain. “I’ve told you, this is what South looks like!” exclaimed Clay.

He started running down the slope; the rocks kept sliding under his feet. She was more cautious, but couldn’t resist. They both were running like chamois, often just jumping down. It looked dangerous, but considering the scope of their adventure, it was nothing special. They stopped only when they were completely out of breath. Clay noticed something among the rocks on the ground. It was a rather small round sheet of metal. He picked it up, but decided to investigate it later.

 

They walked for the rest of the day, until dark. When they stopped to make camp, settling by the fire, Clay discovered that the metal sheet had punched out holes. It was slightly rusty, but the pattern was unmistakable. It was a map. But of what? “Maybe not everybody is gone,” suggested Clay. He found the biggest two holes on the sheet and stared into the sky full of stars. He began to believe that he had now a star map in his hands. He kept trying to align the holes of the metal sheet with the stars in the sky. It didn’t work. All constellations were different. His heart sank when he thought that the stars he once knew, those of Ursa Major perished, fell into the abyss, as had been predicted in sagas. He looked down into the black- green sea of the forest below. It was their only destination.

 

The next day Eva and Clay kept moving towards the jungle and didn’t change their course all day long. They never questioned where they were heading. There was no way to know. Clay suddenly envisioned monstrous animals, hostile barbarians, terrifying plants, setting sticky traps, consuming him and Eva. “My mother isn’t there,” he said at last. “There is no one waiting for us, except more snakes, more beasts. Wherever I’m taking you is a wrong turn.” They stopped to rest. Clay was inconsolable. Eva tried to cheer him up. ”Hey, I’ve been predicted by the fairies to become a great warrior in the time of need.” “You don’t know. It’s just us and the world,” Clay said. “Do you remember,” she asked trying to distract him,” What this favorite constellation of yours looked like?” He stared at the metal sheet. “I see nothing like it on this map.” “But do you remember, what was next to it or was there at all?” persisted Eva. He sat there in deep reverie until the embers started dying. At last, he said, ”Yes, there was a constellation in your northern sky. We used always to look up north, because people there had better life. So in the fall my people could see Draco the dragon. I didn’t see it in my time, the elders of the elders told that thousands of years ago Draco was pointing the way north.”

 

He was silent for some time, then he said, ”I wish I would have paid more attention to astronomy. I hardly could remember if Polaris ever changed its position. Well, yes, Ursa Major on my left, and Polaris towards my face always.” “This is a starting point,” she said. ”We slept right into the future, not into the past, so no need to look for Draco the Dragon pointing north. Now think hard, what star should be rolling from the North Pole now?” she asked. He started laughing uncontrollably. “Vega! How could I forget? It had my mother’s name!” he cried. They both stared into the night sky. There was nothing to refer to. “There were always planets in the sky, of course. Venus, for example, Mars, Jupiter,” continued Eva. ”There was the Moon, too,” she kept recalling.

 

“Jupiter,” echoed her Clay. Exhausted by now, he was asleep. Eva woke up first. She noticed an unblinking bright star. Rising sun couldn’t outshine it. It was Venus. She woke Clay up and told him that the planets were fine. She just saw one. The air around them was crystalline. The jungle beneath was like a tangle of seaweed behind a glass wall. The tree tops were swaying languidly in the currents of fresh morning breeze. ”We shall survive,” she said simply. They looked at each other as if for the first time.

 

“You are a stunning blond,” he said. ”And you are dark and handsome,” replied Eva. “Sounds like an old cliché,” he laughed. “It’s true, though,” smiled Eva.

 

Then they noticed and caught blue-green grasshoppers. It was a good hunt. Eva and Clay ate them raw. The insects were fat and juicy. Eva and Clay giggled. Up in the sky the clouds were lined with silver. Lazy sun was glowing, pale like a pearl.

 

They walked into a new world. When Clay and Eva entered the jungle, they were surrounded by huge, curious serpents. There were so many of them. The reptiles were coiling up on the forest floor, and Eva and Clay had to jump over their thick bodies afraid to disturb the scaly, writhing creatures. Ferns, eternal survivors, were everywhere in the dim light of the jungle. The travelers saw flowers sprouting out of the ground with no stems, glowing and bathing in the eerie electric- blue light of their own petals.

 

Eva and Clay learned that somehow the snakes had lost the ability to climb up the trees, so the young couple decided to build a tree house. It seemed safe. They reasoned that birds of prey had little chance to fly through narrow passages between the giant ferns and vines.

 

In the morning he confessed, ”I don’t remember at all what Vega looks like or how to look for it. It was so long ago. But we’ll settle here anyway.” Eva was a little more skeptical, ”I still don’t know where the Moon has gone,” she said. “We’ll find it,” Clay proclaimed enthusiastically. “This time around everything will be right; people and the planet will not destroy themselves.” “Why?” asked Eva.

“It’s simple,” he said. “The children will be born under very different stars!”

 

An Original Story by Lana Hickman, 2011. All Rights reserved.

 

 

 

 

The following questions are within the high school Science curriculum.

 

Questions Concerning the Story Part1: Chemistry

 

1. What is “yellow cake ore”? What is “yellow cake” after the processing of this particular ore?

2. What element and what isotope are most likely featured in the story? Do you know other isotopes of the same element? Which one of them is the most prevalent in the respective ores?

3. What is a primordial nuclide or isotope?

4. When was the element present in the yellow cake ore discovered? Where was the ore mined? What other locations around the world are rich in this ore?

5. How urania and uranite might have been used throughout the centuries?

6. What is the name of a strange gas which made the princess and her family to fall asleep so soundly?

7. What is the modern day use of the same gas, including its use in medicine? Do you know

how this strange gas obtained and applied for medical purposes?

8. What do you know about Actinium series?

9. How does it relate to the strange gas described in the story?

10. Compare the strange gas and radon. Which one may have caused illnesses in the miners? Do you know about radon emission warnings in our state?

11. Where does this fictional story take place?

12. Explain where the geochemistry would be right to serve as a setting for this fictional story?

 

 

Part 2: Questions on Biology.

 

1. Where do storks go to overwinter?

2. Why the appearance of the storks was a good sign both scientifically and as a part of

folklore? Why was it possible to find trees even though none was seen on the horizon?

3. Why are snakes featured prominently as surviving species?

4. What features of snake biology are important? How far north one can find snakes? 5. Why does the tree house seem a good choice as a dwelling place? Do you know anything about Nordic Sagas? If you do, you’ll be surprised how important the tree house is!

6. What can we envision as a Tree of Life? Don’t forget to plant more trees.

 

Part 3: Astronomy

 

1. Why did a picture of the night sky change? What is the cause of this phenomenon?

2. Can you find the constellations mentioned in the story in the night sky?

3. Do you know any myths related to the constellations described?

4. Do you know the difference between the look of the stars and planets? Which one will

twinkle and which one will not?

5. Which planet of the Solar system forever referred as a “Star”?

6. Do you wish you knew astronomy better?

 

More Questions!

1. What are the most fantastical and improbable elements in this storyline? 2. Where does the Sleeping Beauty tale come from? Do you know any older sources of this story?

3. Do human nature and human behavior depend upon the stars that much that the course of the history may be different? Explore both answers. Make your own argument.

4. What does determine the course of human history and the fate of this planet? 5. What should be changed to save the planet?

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