Member Monday: The Freebird’s Dilemma, by George Parker

Today’s Member Monday submission is Part One of a two-parter. ‘The Freebird’s Dilemma’ is a story that I submitted to my college’s literary magazine in 1992. Tomorrow I will post the most important lesson that I learned from writing this story.

The Freebird’s Dilemma

By: George T. Parker

“You’re sure you want to leave?”

“Yep.”

“Even if I give you a raise?”

“C’mon, Pappy. You know it’s not the money.”

“How about a vacation, Joe?”

Joe glanced up from the parts catalogues spread across the desk then looked back down at the forms and other paperwork. “You know why I’m leaving, Pappy.”

“I guess I do at that,” Pappy said softly. “You’ve been here a long time. Pert near a year. I had a hunch you’d be movin’ on soon.”

“How could you tell?”

“I used to have the wanderlust when I was your age, too. How long have you been thinking of moving on?”

“A couple of months ago I sent applications for field technician jobs to the US Forest Service and several universities in Canada. I got a reply from the University of Winnipeg yesterday.”

Pappy nodded and said, “Can’t say as I blame ya. Movin’ on can be an excitin’ thing. Didn’t get it out of my system til I was almost forty years old.”

“I don’t think I’ll ever get over it, Pappy,” Joe said as he gently tugged at his beard. “I’ve been on the move since high school—ten years now—and I still get the fever every time I pick up a National Geographic or look at a map.”

Pappy looked out the window over his workbench. Green was returning to grass on the hill and the tree across the street after the rains of the last few weeks. He could see the lavender blooms on the lilac branch just poking up from below the window. “It usually hit me at springtime, too. Everythin’ is comin’ alive again. The days are gettin’ longer.” Pappy looked down at the torn apart chain saw on his workbench. He picked up a screwdriver again as he asked, “What about Rachel?”

Joe was silent for a minute. “Yeah. What about Rachel?”

“Why don’t you ask her to go along?”

“Aw, Pappy. I couldn’t ask her to just pull up and leave her town. And what about Jason? Tramping around the mountains is no way for a kid to grow up.”

“There are worse places to tramp around.”

“A kid needs stability.”

Pappy shrugged and said, “I suppose so.” He sat up straight and stretched. He grabbed his white ceramic coffee mug with greasy hands, smearing new designs in the grease already covering the mug. He peered over the top of his black horn-rimmed glasses at Joe filling out the parts inventories and order forms. Pappy gulped the cold, black brew, put the mug down, and went back to work.

Joe rubbed his eyes. They burned from the harsh florescent desk lamp. He reached out to the chaotic pile on the desk and pulled a new catalogue from the bottom of the pile. Two other catalogues slipped from the pile, knocking a framed picture from the desk and sending a storm of papers to the floor. Joe muttered as he gathered the spilled papers. He picked up the framed picture and looked at the image of a far younger Pappy with his wife and little girl. He asked, “How did you know you were ready to throw down some roots, Pappy?”

Pappy shrugged as he said, “Don’t rightly know. I don’t think I ever felt like I was ready. I spent all my time driftin’ from job to job, city to city, state to state. I met a lot of men just like me out there. We all bragged about how great it was to be mavericks with no corral. I read a book by Thoreau once that said somethin’ about the herds bein’ keepers of men rather than men bein’ keepers of herds. It made for fine, manly soundin’ talk. But when the shop whistle blew or the foreman called it a day, us young bucks went back to our greasy spoons and lousy flophouses while the married guys went back to wives and kids and home cooked meals. As much as we talked, quite a few of us would have traded places with them in a heartbeat.”

“So how did you know it was time to settle down?”

Pappy paused his saw work as he thought. “I guess it just seemed like the right thing to do.”

Joe sat for a while staring at the poster on the wall of a snow covered mountain with a creek and a cabin in the foreground. He found himself planning a route up the peak.

********

Joe sang along with Lynyrd Skynyrd as he drove to Rachel’s apartment. He turned his stereo down as he pulled into the parking lot. His heart beat as hard as it had on their first date.

A boy answered his knock. The boy said, “Hi, Joe!” and raised his hand for a high five.

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Member Monday: Excerpt From “The Once and Future Queen”, by Jennifer Levens

We have another Member Monday submission for you. This is an excerpt from Jennifer Levens‘ novel-in-progress, The Once and Future Queen. Jennifer currently has three books available at Amazon.com: The Virgin’s Daughter, Words: A Collection of Short Stories, Essays, and Very Bad Poetry, and A Little Romance: A Small Collection of Short Stories and Poems.

Excerpt from The Once and Future Queen

By Jennifer Levens

Prologue—2019—a Park in New York City

Three nannies watched their respective charges climb on the bars and swing on the swings in the park playground. Fiona James approached them with a child in a walker. She had no uniform. She approached the three women. “Hi!” she said, her Welsh accent thick. They looked up at her. “Um, me name is Fiona Matilda James. I just got this job. Frankly, ladies, I’m not quite sure what I am to do with such a babe in such a fine park as this.”

“Well, Fiona, this is not a place to let children run free. I would recommend that you take the tyke over to that sandbox, sift for cat pooh and if there is none, put him in and come back here and tell us your story. We can see well enough from here. Don’t worry. Nothing will happen to the kid. We all have them here. It is safe and we watch for perverts.” The sandy-haired nanny in the gray uniform said. “Oh, my name is Sandy. I think my mom named me after the girl in Grease. She had a crush on John Travolta.”

“You may as well do as she says.” The girl in blue said in her French accented English. “Do you see those two monsters over on the monkey bars? They are mine. I just don’t feel like chasing them down now. So go put the little one in the sandbox like Sandy said and come over here. We can swap stories.” She swept her head around flinging a shock of dark hair over her shoulder, her chocolate colored eyes smiling a welcome.

Fiona did as she was told and was soon back with the three young women. The third one another blonde said, “I am Joan. I am from New York and I go to NYU. I do this to be able to afford living here. I have four other roommates in a two bedroom flat up near Columbia. I only have one semester to go and I am out of this berg for good. Now, Fi, dish. What’s your story? And why New York?”

“Alright. It is a strange story, and I don’t believe that this has happened to me. I don’t really need to work. It is just a way to get to know the city and some of the people in it. Just think, if it weren’t for this job, I would never have met you three. So, are you ready?” Fiona shook her head looking down at her lap. Her red curls and green eyes shone. Sunlight glinted from her hair and excitement from her eyes. “Tis a strange happening of events. I need to tell you, I want to go to school here in America. It is much easier to get a college education here than in Great Britain. Anyway, I was raised in northwestern Wales. If the story holds, my family has some royal blood..”

Sandy interrupted, “ You mean like a welsh king or something?”

“No, Sandy, Queen Elizabeth I. But that is not particularly important to this story. As you heard my middle name is Matilda. In Wales I am called Tildy. We don’t know why me ma called me Fiona. Perhaps she just like the name. I don’t think there is any connection to the Irish, but who knows. To get on with it, one of my great, greats and they go back so far, I have a hard time thinking about it, owned an inn Wales. It still stands today and someone in my family owns it. When all of us inherited it, we went to look at it. There was the sign newly painted but with the same name as in the past, the Cock and the sow! Could have been just a pile of rocks and rotted wood, but it wasn’t. There was a little problem with one of the barns, but the inn and the gardens were in good shape. From what I can gather the woman I was named after was a Matilda, so she must be one of the great greats too. So, we started going through the place. Like I said it was in good condition and with a little updating it would bring some nice change. You see one of my cousins is a chef and another is in the hospitality business I guess you call it here. So, it was established that those two would buy out the rest of us. Property in that area is not so terribly expensive as in England or even around the cities. That was a good enough deal, but the best part was when we went into the barn. There was a lot of rotted wood and the roof leaked, I mean there were big holes in it, like no one cared about the building and so didn’t fix it. There were old tools stacked up in some of the stalls. The smell of rotting hay was really bad. A couple of the cousins couldn’t take it. They left. There were only three of us left in there and I went into one of the emptier stalls and fell through the floor. Oh, I didn’t get hurt, but I found that someone had made a hidey-hole and left stuff in there. Some of it was paper and rotten, but there was a hide bag, rather large, and I pulled it out. I called to the rest to come outside.

“We gathered and I showed them what I had found. They were all over me. My relatives were just a mingled hoard. I yelled at them to get back. I said, “I found this. I get to open it. I hope there aren’t any dead rats or anything in it. Stand back. We can share whatever this is. Oh boy, I didn’t know what I was saying and the red tape…”

“So what was in the bag, Tildy?” Seraph, the French girl asked.

“I’m getting there. I opened the bag and looked in. It looked like a little girl’s collection of toy jewelry. I told someone to get a sheet or a blanket. This needed to be dumped out. Walter, one of my cousins ran to his car and got the car blanket. They helped to spread it out evenly and we all knelt around it. I dumped the bag.”

“You can go faster you know,” said Sandy.

“Should we check on our children?” Fiona/Tildy asked.

“Oh my god, I forgot about them, “ yelled Joan and got up to check on them.

Seraph and Sandy did the same. Fiona/Tildy smiled and went to the sandbox. Her charge was well and good so she went back to the bench.

The other three joined her. “Can you hurry it up, Tild?” asked Joan.

“Yeah,” Sandy and Seraph joined the chorus.

“What happened they all asked at once.

“Here’s the interesting part.” The other three groaned. “Come on! I don’t get to tell stories much and I am almost through except for the cleanup details. All right. I dumped the bag and out fell jewels and jewelry. There were earrings, necklaces, pins all encrusted with jewels and then there were the unset jewels. It looked like millions of pounds lying there on the ground and there were only five of us!

“The upshot was that we had to report the treasure to the authorities, but the good news is that after evaluation and the inheritance taxes and the income taxes on this windfall, we five had over thirty million pounds to split up. The cousins who wanted the inn bought it outright from us other three. They still had plenty to invest. My brother and cousin took their share and that left me. So here I am in America, where I always wanted to be and you ladies have just heard a great story.

The three nannies looked at Tildy with wonderous disgust. Seraph said, “You are acting as a nanny when you are so rich, taking the food from poor girls’ mouths?”

Sandy gave a Bronx cheer. “You have got to be kidding. Nobody, I mean nobody brags about being rich in the United States. This was just a good story right Tildy?”

“I have to get to school for classes. See you all tomorrow. Oh, and Tildy? Great story. It would be so nice if it were true. Goodbye all.” And Joan left with her charges.

Tildy went over and picked up her daughter. “Come Sydney Elizabeth. Some people just don’t know the truth when they hear. Let’s go home.”

Copyright by Jennifer Levens; used with permission


Writers Forum is open to submissions for the blog or the e-newsletter.

Type of Material and Guidelines for e-newsletter and Website Submission: 1.) Your articles on the art or craft of writing. 2.) Essays on subjects of interest to writers. (200 words can be quoted without permission but with attribution.) 3.) Book or author reviews. 4.) Letters to the Editor or Webmaster. 5.) Information on upcoming events, local or not. 6.) Photos of events. 7.) Advertise your classes or private events. 8.) Short fiction. 9.) Poetry.

Please submit copy to the editor at writersforumeditor@gmail.com . Electronic submissions only. Microsoft Word format, with the .docx file extension, is preferred but any compatible format is acceptable. The staff reserves the right to perform minor copy editing in the interest of the website’s style and space.

A Christmas Miracle

On this Christmas Day, we present to you a re-post of an excerpt from Writers Forum member Michael Brian Brussin’s novel, For King and Kaiser.

The incident Michael writes about here really happened in World War One. I saw several stories around the Internet over this last week about this incident, but of them all, only Michael’s actually puts us in the trenches that day. Michael reminds us that as writers, we can keep these sorts of miracles alive forever through our writing.

Our regular feature, Fridays With Dale, will return next week.

Merry Christmas, all!

Geo.


Excerpt from For King and Kaiser

By Michael Brian Brussin

 

Evening came and it began to snow.

“All right—just because it’s Christmas Eve doesn’t mean you can take it easy; that’s just what jerry wants, so stay alert,” Sergeant Wade said to Albert and Jim and the men standing with them.

“We’re on top of things, sergeant, don’t worry,” Albert assured the cautious Sergeant Wade.

“I just wish it wasn’t so perishin’ cold,” Jim said, clapping his gloved hands together.

“Stop your moaning, Jim, it’s Christmas Eve and we’ve got snow; what more do you want?” Albert teased the young cockney.

“Yeah, Christmas,” Jim sighed. “Ya know, it feels like Christmas, even aht ‘ere.”

“It does at that, even in this hellish wasteland,” one of the other soldiers remarked, watching the snowflakes drift onto the parapet and beyond.

It was nine o’clock in the evening and the snow continued to fall. Oil lamps lit English and German trenches, and drum fires burned that had the men taking turns to warm their hands over the flames.

Albert sat by himself with a mug of tea thinking of home. Jim Broadbent sat with another private where they talked about their families and what they would be doing at that moment if they were home. Sergeant Arthur Wade walked up and down in a casual gait, lost in his own thoughts; and Captain Duncan made an appearance, checking on his men and making sure the parapet was lined with watchful sentries.

Hey, what’s that? What’s jerry doing?” one of the sentries said, peering cautiously at the German parapet.

“What is that?” another sentry questioned.

Sergeant Wade jumped onto the fire step and peered over.

The Germans had acquired Christmas lanterns and placed lit candles inside and put them along the top of the parapet.

The silence was then broken by distant singing.

Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht…

The entire carol of Silent Night grew louder and was sung in a beautiful voice.

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Short Story Contest Entry: Bedpans and Walther P38s

Today we repost the 2nd place story in our 2020 Short Story Contest.

Bedpans and Walther P38s was written by WF member Janet Spoon.

Janet Spoon is a native to the Redding area.  It has been her dream to become a journalist and a writer since she was 8 years old. As so often happens, life––and life choices––derailed those goals. In 2013, with an empty nest and single, she decided it was time to work on that childhood dream again. She enrolled in Simpson University in 2014 and finally graduated Summa Cum Laude in April 2019, with a BA in English, Specialization in Writing and a minor in Journalism.

She was a member of Writers Forum in the 1990s and recalls the “apostrophe debate” in which the Forum discussed the technical issues of being named the Writer’s Forum or the Writers’ Forum.  In the fall of 2019, she renewed her membership with the now-named Redding Writers Forum. She especially enjoys reading the group’s posts on WordPress. Janet volunteers at Mercy Oaks Senior Center in Redding, CA. Her hobbies include sewing, reading and writing but her favorite thing to do is to spend time with her four daughters, 15 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.  She is currently working on a book about navigating life as a burn survivor, as well as working on a couple of children’s short stories.

For second place, Janet one a one-year subscription to her choice of Writer’s Digest or Poets & Writers magazine, and her membership dues were waived for one year.


Bedpans and Walther P38s

(A Christmas to Remember) 

Many people escape via expensive out-of-the-country vacations or by weekend get-a-ways.  Some escape by watching movies or by playing games. Me? I Amazon. I am addicted to seeing that brown box (the box with a questionable phallic logo) resting on my front porch as if to say, “Pick me! Open me!”

Amazon’s intrusion began several years ago. My “old-school” wariness would not release me to commit such sin as shopping online. The realization that I could stay in my pajamas and get the all the grandkids their Christmas presents convinced me to risk everything.

True joy begins from that moment I see a screen-full of possibilities on my lap-top or iPhone, items to feed my addiction. The beautiful (sometimes ruinous) journey is afoot.

It didn’t take Amazon long before they offered the best marketing scheme ever: Buy Now With 1-Click?   If ever a sentence could be described as delectable, this would qualify.  But they didn’t stop there––Prime delivery––why, you can have this in two days for “free.”  Free for an annual fee––ingenious.  A recent addition is the “buy again” button––extremely convenient. What will they think of next?

As I sat pondering potential deliveries, I remembered past disastrous purchases: the Christmas ornaments that looked huge on-screen but arrived a mere one-quarter inch diameter; the children’s animal book that failed to pique interest from the four-year-old; weirdly (and putrid) colored shoes; wall décor sized completely wrong for my walls. I have learned to read with care and read between the lines as my hand hovers over the keyboard ENTER key, I think twice– three times–before making the final click.

I choose my items, and proceed through the steps: would you like the arrival date to be this Tuesday, postage-free; for $3.99 more you could have this on Monday; add to your dash button? It would be ever so easy to reorder.  Thank you, Amazon.

I’m always eager to help family find just what they are looking for.

“Gramma, did you say you need a bedpan? Let me look for you.” I am giddy.

If only hindsight had been my guide.  I now have a bedpan in my Face Book feed; subject lines of countless emails read: because you bought a bedpan; just press “click” to buy again; people who have purchased a bedpan have also purchased the following items; and finally (although, I’m sure it won’t be) I have a picture of Gram’s bright, shiny––thankfully still unused––bedpan in that blasted buy again? button.

* * *

It was seven days before Christmas, and I still had to purchase gifts for 21 grandchildren, two great-grandchildren, and 10 adults. Technically, Christmas was eight days away, but our family gathers for dinner on Christmas Eve, opening gifts after the grandchildren wash the dishes.

Ho! Ho! Ho! Oh, here I go. I snuggled into my favorite love-seat position: blanket; feather-pillow; pajamas; steaming mug of coffee latte at the ready, with the Amazon page brightly shining and resting on my lap. Christmas/Sarajevo 12/24 by the Trans-Siberian Orchestra transmitted via Apple TV; it was so loud that I thought I heard the neighbors singing along.

I read that Amazon Prime members were extended an offer-of-the-day to have purchases gift- wrapped for free. I started to clap my hands. I had forgotten I was holding the latte, and nearly doused my shopping cart.

The doorbell rang. I was greeted by a small crowd; my third-born daughter, Angela, her six-month-old twin daughters, Annakate and Adeline, and her ten-year-old son, Dylan. I welcomed them in, and as they were seated, Dylan spied my computer and asked if he could play Minecraft on it.

“Of course,” I said with a wink at the platinum-haired boy, “That’s why I downloaded it, silly Dilly.” He carried the laptop to the dining table, and I set my attention to oohing and awing over the twins.

They left. I returned to my Amazon shopping, made my selections and set about washing dishes, making the bed, and tossing clothes into the washing machine.  As I cleaned, I made a mental grocery list for the big dinner. Then, it came to me; a jolting revelation, so jolting I swear I heard the angels sing. I could order all my groceries on Amazon.

***

I opened the door to the UPS delivery truck driver asking for my signature and I happily signed, although I wasn’t sure why this particular delivery required a signature; she didn’t look happy. She must have made 12 jaunts––truck to doorstep, using a dolly–– getting more red-faced each time, as I stood gawping. Her parting words were something about why I thought I needed 42 Christmas hams and concluded with a caustic Merry Christmas.

I smiled, dripping with saccharine to shield my consternation, I called out something about her job security. I ogled (my face as frozen as the hams) for a few minutes at the mass covering the front porch and decided the Amazon SNAFU could be dealt with in the morning and began dragging the boxes inside.

The new day arrived; the sun shining in a clear blue sky despite putting my order with the Big Guy for snow. I wondered if I should have checked with Amazon Prime.  I hoped and prayed that the one special gift would arrive before dinner as I baked all day for the expectant, hungry horde.  The gift was delivered at last, and I placed it upon the swollen mound that exceeded the “under the tree” notion.

I rang the Amazon office contact number only to reach an automated response: closed for the holidays, please try again December 26, 2017

***

The moment the kids had waited 365 days arrived. I beamed at my family–– mostly for the expectant joy on all faces. I donned my Santa hat and began dispersing gifts. The family rule was to wait until everyone had all their gifts piled at their side. The teenagers offered to play Santa’s elves to speed things up.

I gave the traditional secret Santa signal and madness ensued. The neat freak son-in-law trailed behind, best he could, crumbling shreds of wrapping paper into large, black trash bags.

Holliss, seven, shrieked, “How did Santa know I like red foxes?”

Her mother, Rebecca, the family baby, gave me the look that she was famous for and I asked what was wrong.

“Really, Mom? You gave my daughter a water bottle that reads “‘What the Fox’?’’

I couldn’t answer.

“Mother!”

It was Christa, my second-born and mother to seventeen-year-old Janessa, who screamed, “What are you thinking? The Kama Sutra? A book on sex?”

Oh boy, I thought, I know I’m in BIG trouble. Still, I said nothing.

“Gram-Gram.”

I turned toward Nathan, his face as white as Christmas snow.  He told the room that Cohen had just opened his present. As he spoke, he twirled what looked like a toy gun in his hands. Nathan, 15, was a sharpshooter whose goal was to become a Special Ops sniper.

“Did you know this gun is real? It’s a Walther P38. You bought a five-year-old a gun?”

The room was still, not-a-creature-was-stirring, not-even-a-mouse kind of still. And quiet.

I felt the blood drain from my face as I stammered, “I-I-I.” I proffered a weak defense that I knew nothing.

“This is a mistake, Amazon doesn’t sell guns,” I yelled, and I snatched the gun away, “You all know how Amazon is, remember the fuzzy elf slipper incident?” Details best unknown.

Dylan started blubbering. His mother clutched him at the elbow and escorted him into a bedroom.

Everyone began gathering their things. The grandkids begged to stay and be entertained by the annual reading of The Night Before Christmas, and the parents acquiesced. They helped themselves to a glass full of my home-brewed eggnog. I was thankful this year’s batch was alcohol light. (The cook may –– or may not have––consumed the 16 ounces of rum the recipe called for.)  I noticed a flask being extracted from Rebecca’s pocket.

I was called into the bedroom and Dylan tearfully told me the tale. He noticed my Amazon page open and thought he was being helpful. When questioned about the book he said he added that to the cart because Janessa likes to exercise, and the book cover looked like people were exercising. He admitted he looked at toy guns for his cousin because he knew Cohen wanted to be a policeman.

“How did you order?”

“Easy. Buy now with one-click, Gram-Gram.”

“What about your mother’s stack of ten road signs that read ‘Drive like your kids live here’?”

“I have little sisters.”  I was thankful he didn’t order a sleigh full of toys. Or an Oozie.

“Gram,” Dylan added, “When I was playing Minecraft, you got an email attachment that I clicked on. They might have downloaded spyware.”

“It’s O.K., Dylan. I’m not mad and you’re not in trouble,” I comforted, “I’ll get to the bottom of this after Christmas.”

I remembered getting a package that didn’t quite look like it came from Amazon, but the gift inside was in wrapped in Santa Claus paper so I shrugged it off.  My imagination exploded like gas on flames and visions of ruthless arms dealers in Nigeria popped into my mind.

As I turned to the hopeful crowd waiting for their story, memories of my own childhood prank streamed like an Amazon Prime movie. When I was nine, my little sister, Lisa, and I walked across the field to Gramma’s house. She was outside hanging clothes on the line and unaware of our presence. I had a flash of brilliance and coerced Lisa (so she claims) into making the house appear ransacked. Then we hid while waiting for Gramma’s reaction. No one laughed at that either.

***

The families were leaving, and I was informed by unanimous consensus I was to send a screenshot prior to all purchases for their children. My four-year-old self’s inner monologue screamed, “You’re not the boss of me.” Instead, I shouted that I wasn’t in an assisted living home yet and asked, “What’s next? Taking car keys away?  Don’t forget who will be having to taxi me around town, if that’s what you’re thinking!”

I stopped just short of threatening to have an appointment every day when I remembered the party scheduled the next day and abruptly changed my tone to be as sweet as Royal Icing on a sugar cookie. I reminded them to drop the littles off at 4:00 p.m. They weren’t sure if that would happen.

“But we always have a Mad Hatter’s Tea party on Christmas Day,” I implored, “Since you were knee high to a grasshopper. It’s a thirty-something-year tradition.”

They weren’t convinced. I slammed the door. I heard engines roar and tires squeal.

Four o’clock Christmas Day came, and grandkids filed into the house, all in smiles and costumes appropriate for the Mad Hatter. But I suspected their attendance had more to do with quiet time and free babysitting––their parents looked quite disgruntled and no one spoke.

“Don’t mind them,” Holliss, a precocious child, piped up and hugged me with the strength of a baboon and within a split second I was cocooned in a group hug, “You’re the best Gram ever–– parents just don’t understand.”


Writers Forum is open to submissions for the blog or the newsletter. Please submit copy to the editor at writersforumeditor@gmail.com . Electronic submissions only. Microsoft Word format, with the .docx file extension, is preferred but any compatible format is acceptable. The staff reserves the right to perform minor copy editing in the interest of the website’s style and space.

Type of Material and Guidelines for e-newsletter and Website Submission: 1.) Your articles on the art or craft of writing. 2.) Essays on subjects of interest to writers. (200 words can be quoted without permission but with attribution.) 3.) Book or author reviews. 4.) Letters to the Editor or Webmaster. 5.) Information on upcoming events, local or not. 6.) Photos of events. 7.) Advertise your classes or private events.

Member Monday: The Elephant Hunter of Yunnan

Today’s member contribution is a story that takes place in Asia. It involves a controversial issue: ivory hunting. The story is about a small, poor family and is a well-told tale. The family participates on a small scale with an ancient tradition, but this tradition has global consequences.

Please continue reading after the story for more information.


The Elephant Hunter of Yunnan

By David Saechao

A harmonious spring morning in Huibu. The tea trees, hiding beneath the lush evergreen tropical landscape, were breathing comfortably beside the rising sun. Some of the villagers from the adjacent mountain were dispersing from their homes and anxious to tend their crops a few li away. But among the cluster of thatch grass roofs, one family remained in their home.

At the behest of our village leader, the tall and articulate Mr. Fu Wang Pan, we were invited to a ritual

I followed my parents as we hiked the narrow dirt path all morning and weaved our way to the other mountain. Upon reaching the first house on the slope, we were welcomed by a group of young females dressed in black turbans and black robes with red ruffs sewn from the neck down. They were sitting quietly beneath a tree, embroidering Mien designs. We greeted them on the way up.

My father opened the big door as we kicked off our straw sandals and stepped onto the dirt floor.

The high priest, adorned in a red brocaded robe and black ritual hat, was reading from a Taoist ritual text and chanting the final petitions before the ancestral altar. A butchered pig had been laid onto a table, towering the small cups of rice wine beneath it. On the wall, the priest had hung ceremonial paintings of the Taoist pantheon of gods.

Settling in the living room, my father joined Mr. Fu Wang and other men from the village.

I followed my mother into the spacious kitchen to look for Liu, who along with her mother, older sisters, and the other women of the village, was engrossed in preparations for the ritual meal. Liu was bent down on a stool and cleaning a large bowl of freshly-picked bamboo mushrooms. She glanced at me for a moment and smiled.

I proceeded to the patio, where several children were joyfully playing. The firepit outside exuded intense flames and illuminated the thin slabs of pork belly that had been laid out on a stubby table. I put on the pair of mittens hanging beside the table and placed an iron grill over the flames. As I sat down on a convenient stool, Liu’s eldest maternal uncle approached the pit.

We were exchanging pleasantries when I noticed Liu. She was holding a steaming bowl of rice porridge and must have sensed that I was hungry from the long hike. Barely making eye contact, she handed me the porridge and walked away. The uncle noticed her kind gesture.

“Younger brother Lu, when are you going to marry my niece?”

“Good sir,” I replied timidly. “I haven’t yet spoken to my father.”

“Why wait? Liu is a pretty girl. As a matter of fact, our Mien tribal chief has informed us that highlanders from the north will be resettling in Huibu. I am sure there will be bachelors among them.”

“Why do they want to come here when there are so many mountains in Yunnan?”

“You are not yet old enough to understand,” the uncle chuckled. “In time, you will understand that we all have to leave—sooner or later.”

Shortly past noon, two long tables and chairs were brought into the living room. Liu began placing pairs of bamboo chopsticks and wooden spoons in front of each chair. Other women were moving back and forth from the kitchen with bowls of cooked dishes. When the table was finally set, Liu’s father hailed for the men to sit.

I sat down next to my father and picked up a slice of pork belly. The village leader waved for Liu and her older sister Lai to bring him a bottle of rice wine and small cups. Liu knew that I would be drinking the wine as well and joked to me that she would fill my cup to the rim.

“How goes the elephant hunt brother Yao Fong?” asked the village leader.

“It goes well,” my father replied. “I am leaving in the morning with my son Lu.”

“You know, merchants from Kunming have stated that demand for ivory is higher now than ever.”

“That is good to hear. However, the herd has migrated further south, and I am not the man I used to be.”

“Both you and I,” exclaimed the village leader as he raised his cup of rice wine. “Here’s to a successful hunt.”

The next day at dawn, I met Liu under a tea tree near our plot. She had her hair tied back in a dragon’s knot and was wearing a grey tunic embroidered with Mien designs on the collar. She looked beautiful, imparting the same graceful composure that enamored my spirits when we first met. I put my hands beside her waist to pull her closer and could feel her gently tugging my hand.

“How long do you think you’ll be gone?” she whispered.

“Three days, maybe four. It depends, my dear.”

She gave me a look of apprehension—and rightly so. Not more than five years past, an elderly man from our village, while returning home from his plot, was stomped to death by a wild elephant. The priest in our village believed that the elephant had been possessed by malevolent forest spirits.

“Come back safely. We should announce our engagement before the rice harvest.”

“Don’t worry.”

I moved my hand up to brush her delicate, tan skin. Liu grabbed ahold of it and sunk into my palm, arousing emotions that made me flutter. We embraced for a short while before I kissed her and said goodbye.

I returned home and found my father in the kitchen wrapping dried meat and filling several gourd containers with water. He instructed me to retrieve two spears from our old Mandarin robe cabinet near the stove. As I opened the cabinet, a mist of dust flew in my face. The two long, leaf-shaped spears were decorated with red horsehair tassels.

“Father, I want to marry Liu Wang.”

“Is that so?”

“Yes. I want her to come live with us.”

“I know. I have already spoken to Mr. Fu Wang.”

I was happy to hear that. All four of my older brothers had married several years ago, and I knew that my father was waiting for me to do the same.

“Can we perform the engagement ceremony when we get back?”

“Patience, my son,” he cautioned. “We have to make sure that we perform the ceremony on a fortuitous day.”

Meanwhile, my mother had woken up and was getting ready for a day’s work. She joined us in the kitchen and inspected my basket.

“Do you have everything you need?” she asked, handing me a long knife.

“I think so.”

“Of course we do,” my father interjected. “We have enough food and water to last a fortnight.”

I hung the knife to my side and strapped the basket onto my back. My mother helped me straighten one of the straps, which had wrapped around a silver button on my black trousers.

My father was waiting for me outside. I stepped out, and we departed up the southern mountain.

By sundown, we had crossed three mountains. My father was delighted to find a flat patch of land and announced that we would be camping there for the night. I left momentarily to gather some firewood; when I returned, he had taken out a few pieces of meat.

After dinner, I lay next to the fire on a thin cotton sheet and gazed at the full moon and the seven sisters in the sky. I thought about Liu and the kiss we shared earlier that morning. Although the night was eerie, my father’s snoring was a comforting sound. I was nearly asleep when I heard a rustle behind me.

A pair of eyes were glowing through the bushes and glaring in my direction. I did all that I could to temper my fears. For a moment, I wanted to alert my father of this elusive creature, but it vanished, as quickly as it appeared.

I woke up the next morning to find my father examining the earth.

“Did you see something last night?”

“I don’t know what it was,” I replied.

“It was a tiger, and it looks like it is moving south. You did well son by not panicking, for it might have attacked us.”

It was rare praise.

Making our way down the mountain, we came upon an ancient road. There was a rumbling from beneath our feet, and at a distance, an imperial brigade appeared. I looked at my father for reassurance, but he was focused on the road.

Several of the armed infantrymen were carrying flags of the imperial dragon emblem. At the posterior of the brigade, a horse-drawn carriage was guarded by cavalry. My father immediately grabbed my hand and pulled me down to genuflect.

“What is your business here?” asked a horseman as the carriage passed.

My father calmly looked up, as did I.

“High chieftain, I did not know it was you,” my father answered. “We are hunting for elephants.”

The high chieftain was of Dai Lu ethnicity and worked as an official for the imperial government. He possessed a higher rank than our Mien tribal chief. “You must know that the largest herds are moving south beyond Yunnan. Beware, however, if you choose to cross into those mountains. Taiping bandits have taken refuge.”

“I understand. Thank you for your words of caution.”

The next morning, we found ourselves at the gate of Yunnan. I followed my father up the forest as we slashed our way through the vegetation. We searched desperately for wild elephants, but they remained cloaked behind copious layers of trees and bushes.

With no luck thus far, we crossed into the next mountain. There, we discovered a pristine plateau and a dark tunnel within the forest that had been forged before our arrival. We entered the tunnel, and my father’s stern movements signaled that we were close. He held his hand up and pointed at a palm tree, where we found cover.

Suddenly, the majestic wild elephant was within our grasp, and just as we had planned, it had strayed from the herd. My father looked at me and displayed a restrained smile, knowing it was male. He then whispered that he would approach the elephant head-on, while I should attack its flank.

The elephant had its trunk curled up and was pulling on palm leaves. It was unaware of our presence.

I positioned myself several steps behind it and put a firm grip on my spear. At the same time, my father had his spear down and was closing in. Despite his old age, he was stronger than most young males. He thrust the spear at the elephant’s ribs, piercing the armored skin. It let out a vociferous roar that shook the forest.

The wild beast was weakened but moving erratically, attempting to remove the spear from its flesh. I waited for the right moment and thrust my spear at its buttocks. My father yelled at me to move back.

Frustrated, the elephant charged at my father, who took off running. I sprinted toward them, but as I caught up, it had gotten on top of him. Instinctively, I reached for my knife and rammed it into the elephant’s neck. I stepped back and watched the monstrous beast swerve aimlessly before falling to the ground.

I was petrified to see my father laying there mutilated. Some of his internal organs had erupted and were splattered on the ground, which compelled me to look away. But as the rush of guilt crept up my spine, I got down on my knees and lifted his head slightly.

Sitting there alone, I pondered what to do with his body. Tradition would command that he should be taken back to the village, though I knew that that would not be possible. I did my best to clean him up with water from the gourd containers, before constructing a platform next to his body. I lifted him and found a piece of white cloth from his basket and placed it over his face. Tears began to fall as I lit the platform.

The elephant laid there with one of its tusks poking into the ground and the other sticking up. I took my knife and cut both tusks off the elephant. Knowing that it would be a long road home, I cut off a piece of its flesh.

I returned to the village with the elephant’s tusks sticking out of my basket. My mother saw me walking up the mountain and came out to meet me. She noticed my dejected demeanor and began crying, knowing that my father was not returning.

Later in the day, my paternal uncles paid my mother and me a visit to inform us that they had arranged for my father’s funeral to be held on the next fortuitous day.

Liu had heard about what happened and came over to offer her condolences. I led her to my bedroom, where we sat on the ground. As was the proper practice, men were to remain stoic, but I could not hold back the tears. I buried myself into her lap and released a cry that I had repressed since becoming an adolescent.

As I regained my composure, I conveyed my intentions.

“Dear, I want to start a family with you on the mountain where my father fell.”

“But how will we live?” she responded.

I paused for a moment and took her by the hand. “The mountain there is rich and uninhabited. We shall build a new Mien village beyond Yunnan.”

“As your wife, I’ll follow you wherever you should go.”

“Can you stay with me tonight?”

“Of course.”


Editor’s note: While the type of ivory hunting described in David’s story is a long-time right of passage in some cultures, the widespread poaching of ivory supplies a market that threatens many species of animals with extinction. The sale of ivory such as supplied by elephant tusks is illegal in California and indeed, in most of the world. We at Writers Forum believe that ivory needs to stay where it belongs: on the elephant.


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