During my recent book writing I tested many typewriters here and came to the conclusion that the Facit and Halda typewriters were becoming my first choices. I was consequently thrilled last week when I unexpectedly came across another 1961 Facit, with larger type than the others. I found in the case a few typed sheets with several versions of a creation legend. Whoever owned this must have given up on writing, which is too bad, but good luck for me!
Category Archives: Books and Short Stories
At last the sequel to Sky the Blue Mouse, which the world has been clamouring for. In these times of trouble, woe and “whoa – don’t get too close to me buddy”, let your spirits have a lift by delving deep into the world of blue animals, hobos, hot air balloons and mysterious stone towers!
Ciel the Blue Horse is now available on KDP in paper and ebook format. Click the picture to go to Amazon and get yours.
I wrote this story for the Cold Hard Type project, but it didn’t get accepted, so here it is!
ALIENS DON’T USE TYPEWRITERS
©D. J. Nathan 2018
I was sitting at the kitchen table with my morning tea when it happened. At first I hardly paid it much heed, since the house was quite bright with the sun shining in the window. Only after I’d finished the first cup did I notice that the power was out. It’ll be back in a few minutes, I thought. There will be a beep from the microwave, the stove, and the computer upstairs as it reboots. I got up and went to the pantry where the cookies were. I brought the package to the table and poured myself another cup of tea, and had to go to the fridge for a little more milk. There wasn’t much left in the carton so I made a note on the shopping list that we always kept on the bureau in the dining room. I wrote milk and cookies on the list. I put a dash of milk in my tea and put the carton back in the fridge.
I picked up my book and went to sit in the living room in my favourite chair, a yellow corduroy recliner with worn out cloth on the arms. Then I decided to call my wife and let her know we had no power, in case she wanted me to come downtown and then we could go grab dinner out somewhere. I picked up the phone but it was dead. I opened the browser. The news would have something about it. I was certain I could find out why we had no power in less than a minute. No message, nothing. Nothing.
It was just after lunchtime, when I heard the front door open and close.
It’s me, she said. We have no power at work.
It must be out everywhere, I said.
I walked home, she said. I tried to call but cell service is dead, too.
Where’s the transistor, I said?
She opened the bureau drawer and pulled out the little transistor radio. There was only static. We waited for the news, but it didn’t come. She put the radio down on the table and lowered the volume so it wasn’t quite so disturbing.
This is weird, she said. Usually there’s something on the news.
I looked at her face, and she looked very scared. I’d never seen such a look before, and it worried me to see it. I tried to be nonchalant, being the brave man, the take charge guy who was supposed to figure out what to do at times like this, but I was getting nervous. This wasn’t like any other power outage I’d ever experienced, and I’d been in lots of those in my life. I poured two cups of tea and we shared what little milk was left, and ate a few cookies.
The next morning we walked to the grocery store and there was a line up going down the block. The door was open and a policeman was letting people in, a few at a time. I got in line and decided to see if I could get something when my turn came up, anything I could. People were talking, but it was mostly rumours. It was as if the world of information had just vanished in an instant. I could hear the diesel generators roaring behind the store, and when I got to the door after three hours the store was lit by just a few emergency lights.
How many are you shopping for, asked the cop at the door?
Me and my wife, I said.
You have ten minutes, he said, and one shopping bag full, no more. No hoarding; that means nothing in excess – understand?
I knew where everything was, so I quickly grabbed one bag of food and went to pay. It was cash only. The cashier had difficulty counting my change, after having relied on the cash register to think for him for so many years.
You owe me three seventy, I said.
He looked at me and handed me my change.
Thanks, he said.
I got home and we made some tea and put milk in it. I couldn’t believe how good it tasted. We cooked the hamburger I’d acquired and ate that with bread and some frozen vegetables, and the last of the salad greens.
We should go to the garden, she said. We have lots of kale and chard still growing.
After dinner we walked over to our allotment garden, about a mile from the house. When we got to our plot there was nothing left. All the vegetables had been cut down by scavengers. Crows were pecking all over where produce had been ripped out, leaving clumps of overturned dirt.
Within a month, the grocery store was a wasteland of overturned shelves and broken glass, like all the shops in the mall. We were all living crammed into one house for safety and warmth, the kids and grandkids and my sister and brother-in-law. Using bricks, stones and bits of pipe, we constructed a fireplace in the house with primitive masonry skills, and survived the winter burning bits of scavenged wood and furniture. Soon we knew all our neighbors by name.
The women did the cooking, and the men went out every day to find food or work. The deer in the park had been shot and the meat given away through central distribution at the police station. The police were keeping a semblance of order, due to their having guns and a chain of command. They got food for their efforts, or they would have quit and gone home like everyone else. Many months passed, and people got thinner and thinner.
There was a rapid transition to a barter economy, where practical skills were the most valuable ones. People who didn’t know any useful things had the worst of it. Suddenly if you could fix a bicycle, you could barter that for food. If you could handle a saw and a hammer, you could eat.
Nobody had a job but for the bare essential services, like doctors and teachers. Slowly but surely the fuel supply dwindled and what little was left was reserved for fire trucks and ambulances. Police went back to walking the beat or riding horses. Digging outhouse pits became a hot business. The library was packed, since there was nothing to read but books. Teachers, who kept working even though classrooms had no light or power, could write on the chalkboard and read books to the class. Kids were paying much closer attention in class and writing skills showed vast improvement.
Winter came and everyone was outside shoveling and playing in the snow. Kids skated on lakes and ponds until the sun went down. Still, nobody knew why the power was gone.
News began to arrive in the way of typed sheets of paper that made the rounds of the neighborhood. One day a paper came that said someone had just sailed into the harbor from Japan, and they were in the same condition we were. At the bottom of the page was a plea for help with writing communiqués. Also, we are in desperate need of typewriters, it said.
I showed this to my wife and said, what do you think?
Don’t give them a typewriter, unless you get something.
Later that day I walked to the police station with an old typewriter in my backpack. There was a lineup of people needing to speak to somebody in authority, and no other way except by being there, and waiting.
The line was hardly moving, so after a half hour I asked the guy behind me to hold my place for a minute. I ambled to the front of the queue and stood there until the first person was done. The cop looked at me with impatience, as he had a right to do with people trying to get information out of turn.
This better be urgent, he said, or else wait your turn like everyone else.
I have a typewriter, I said.
A typewriter, he said, eyes lighting up. Where?
In my pack.
OK, leave it here, he said, I’ll take care of it.
I’m not leaving it, I said. I want to see whoever it is that wants it.
The woman at the front of the line gave me a pained look, and sighed.
They desperately need them, I said to her.
The desk cop left for a minute and was back with a woman right on his heels. He pointed my way.
This guy, he said.
Hello, said the woman, please follow me.
We walked down a dim hallway past a series of open doors that let light in from adjoining rooms. I entered a room where a dozen people sat near the windows, typing on manual typewriters.
So, you have a typewriter, she said? May I see it?
I slung the bag off, unzipped the back flap and lifted out a typewriter in a pale green case.
This was my Dad’s, I said.
Does it work?
Oh yeah, all his typewriters work.
All his typewriters, she said? Do you mean there’s more?
Yeah, there’s a few, I said. How many do you need?
We could use six, she said, and other offices need some. We pay good money, nothing comes free these days.
There’s a fixed price, five hundred.
OK, but I want a job, I said. I can type.
I’ll need ID, she said.
I fished out my DNA chip card and she looked at the picture.
OK, at least it looks like you, she said. We have a job for a typist, if your typewriter works.
Did you ever hear of a Hermes 3000?
No, she said. What’s that?
According to my Dad, the best typewriter ever made, I said.
Every typewriter is the best typewriter ever made, if it works, she said.
Yeah, I suppose so. This works. If not, I can get one that does.
Alright, she said, let’s see if you can type. Set it up here. I’ll be right back.
The paper was in the platen and I was ready to prove my typing skills, when she returned with a man.
Hello, said the man. I knew your father. So this was his?
Yes and no, I said. My Grandfather collected them.
I see, he said. Well, what matters is you’ve brought us a typewriter. We don’t need typists as much as we need translators. Can you speak any other languages?
I started to name some; Polish, Russian …
You’ll do, he said.
I have a Russian typewriter, I added.
We need it, he said. Can you bring it tomorrow?
No problem; if you hire me, that is.
Understood, he said. I should have known Terry’s kid would be a linguist! What’s your name?
Welcome aboard, Leo, he said, grabbing my hand and shaking it vigorously.
What about the typing test, the woman interjected?
Forget it, said the man, I need this fellow for something more important. Come with me, Leo, you need to meet someone. Just leave the typewriter for now.
I ran up the stairs after him and he knocked at a locked door. It opened and there stood a man in a white uniform with a short grizzly beard.
Leo, this is Captain Flint, he said. Like the pirate in Treasure Island.
Never read it, I said. Pirate treasure didn’t interest me.
Flint snorted. Too bad, he said. But we’re after a serious buried treasure.
What isn’t serious these days, I asked? I mean, how long can we exist with no power?
There are worse problems than no power, said Flint. Mankind lived without electricity for eons. Power outage is nothing compared to what we’re up against.
What are we up against?
The end of the planet, said Flint. The extinction of all life on earth … unless we stop them.
Aliens, but you didn’t hear it from me. I know you can keep a secret.
How is that, I asked? You don’t know me at all.
But I do, he said. Your Grandfather was a member of the Typerati.
I had to snicker.
That was a joke my Dad used to tease my Grandfather about, I said. He fancied he was saving the world with his old manual typewriters; writing stuff no one could spy on.
That was their cover, said Flint. They were a secret worldwide organization – like the Resistance in the Second World War.
What did the Typerati do?
They kept tabs on threats to the world and to civilization.
But what can be done about this, I asked? Are they going to restore the power?
One step at a time, said Flint. Do you get sea sick?
I’ve never been to sea, I said, but I don’t get car sick.
That will have to do, he said. We sail at the next tide. Get your things ready and be back before dawn tomorrow. And bring that Russian typewriter.
Where are we going, I asked?
Do I have to go?
Do you want to save the world, Flint replied?
I walked home puzzled by what had happened, but no matter how much I thought on it, nothing made sense. I had a feeling that I was soon going to learn a lot more about the situation.
The old wooden ship had been a tourist attraction for years when they hauled it away to the naval yards to be refit. It was a good thing the Navy still trained sailors on sailing ships or we wouldn’t have gotten past the mouth of the Juan de Fuca Strait. We beat into the wind past Cape Flattery and set course for the South Pacific. It was the unlikeliest voyage imaginable; fifty young sea dogs, one typist, Jim the pigeon master, and Jack Flint the would-be pirate captain, all heading to an unknown destiny on a small wooden ship from the century before last.
As soon as we passed Flattery, Flint heaved his prosthetic leg into the water and had the carpenter make him one from a thick dowel, which he strapped to his stump with a heavy leather belt. I was installed in a cabin across from Flint’s, where he kept me busy typing communiqués, after which Jim would tie them to a pigeon and send them off into the blue. Every few hours we received a communiqué, but I had no idea where they came from.
That night I found it hard to sleep, so I went up on deck and saw Flint looking out to sea, muttering to himself and shaking his fist at something. He was completely mad for all I knew, but he was captain and master of us all. Weeks went by and we sailed on through storm after storm, while I typed and typed and Flint sent pigeons into the blue and took readings with his sextant.
One night after I had dined with Flint and the officers in the Captain’s mess, Flint came into my cabin with a bottle of rum. He pulled up a chair at my tiny desk and poured out two long shots, then he handed me my cup and said, Leo, I guess you’re wondering what the hell is going on?
Yes, Sir, I said.
Well, it’s time you knew. I want you to write this down so nobody ever accuses you of making it up, and I’ll be your witness.
Do you want me to type it up right now?
No, just listen, you can type later. Drink up, man, this is the best rum we’ve got in the whole damned Navy!
I sipped the rum, which I hated, but tried not to show it.
Good rum, I said, feeling like a damned liar.
You don’t have to flatter me, said Flint. Just drink and listen.
He began a preposterous tale, but considering the circumstances in which I found myself, I was inclined to believe it.
Leo, the day the power went out, the earth was attacked by aliens. Now don’t laugh or start thinking the old goat’s off his rocker. I may be, but this is God’s truth.
Aliens, I said?
Flint nodded and looked straight into my eyes. The look in his eyes chilled me.
An entire fleet, he said, slowly and emphatically. Just like that!
Why haven’t we seen them, I asked?
Because they don’t give a damn about humans. They don’t want what we have. They need the planet, period.
You mean to live on, I asked?
No, for the energy. We have to stop them before they release the core’s heat.
Release the what?
The core of the earth is a ball of molten iron, said Flint, as we all know.
They don’t teach that in school these days.
Never mind, said Flint.
He shot back more rum and filled his cup. I drank down my cup too, as I had a sudden urge to get drunk. Flint filled my cup, and carried on.
With their superior technology, it was a simple matter for them to land at strategic points on the globe and shut down all power generation within minutes. They jammed all radio communication, and began drilling through the earth’s crust. Every last site is under water, fortunately for us, because that’s where the aliens made their big mistake.
What mistake is that, I asked?
Failing to realize that humans have learned to communicate with dolphins. What do you think of that, eh?
A little hard to believe.
Yeah, so it is, but so is a cockamamie story about aliens sucking heat from the core of the earth, wouldn’t you say?
I would, said I.
Good, said Flint. Thanks to our trained dolphins, when the aliens began drilling, the Navy was notified. The problem is, all our ships depended on radio communication, and as you know, the aliens were able to block and disable all that.
And they assumed we couldn’t do anything to stop them?
Right. We may be worms to them but we’re not about to go down without a fight. One thing we learned was that aliens can detect metal ships, but not wooden ones. We’ve been testing them. Trust me; we wouldn’t be here if they could detect us. This is where it gets interesting. You remember what I said about the Typerati?
Yes, they keep tabs on threats to the world – but so what?
The aliens do no surveillance, in the mistaken belief that all human communication has been stopped. The concept of typewriters to them is unimaginable. All this time, police and security agencies have been collecting information from all over the world. Our main problem is sharing information, which has to travel the old fashioned way. Who’d have thought the fate of the earth would be decided by pigeons!
Not me, I said. But why are the Typerati important?
Networking. The Typerati have long maintained a clandestine network of typewritten communiqués, and this allows our intelligence to flow around the world once again, all in top secret. By using codes, Typerati send messages ordinary readers can’t decipher.
Why use codes, I asked?
Flint snickered. The last thing we need is for the secret to get out. Leo, we have one chance to stop these aliens, but it requires perfect timing, coordination and total secrecy. At this very moment ships like this from all over the globe are heading towards alien landing sites. This is the greatest military operation since D-Day, and if it fails it will be the last.
There I was, halfway across the Pacific Ocean, typing coded messages in Russian on my Grandfather’s old Olympia Progress typewriter, while Jack Flint filled my head with tales of aliens and talking dolphins.
He had his own copy of Treasure Island that I often saw him reading on the poop deck in the evening, his old white sailor hat tied onto his big grey head with a thick cord to keep it from blowing off. He was always puffing on a big cigar, the aroma of which pervaded the air. One night he suddenly shut the book and leapt to his feet.
That’s it, he said, that’s the last time I’ll ever read this book. What a damned shame!
He handed it to me.
Here Leo, I want you to have this. It’s the best study of men and the sea that you’ll ever set eyes on, except maybe for Moby Dick. I prefer Long John Silver to Ahab any day. Ah well, what does it all matter? Come, I have something to show you.
We went down deep into the hold, below the waterline. There I beheld a grey oblong tank the size of a small whale. Two sailors jumped to attention at the sight of Flint.
Flint saluted and said, at ease boys. How’s my baby?
She’s fine, Admiral Sir, said one sailor. We’re keeping her clean and dry, Sir.
Excellent, said Flint. Let’s hope she’s still waterproof.
I followed Flint back up to the rear of the poop deck. We stood together, looking down at the wake as we ploughed through the blue-black sea, riding huge swells in one endless undulating motion.
Do you know what’s inside that thing, he asked?
I have no idea.
The most powerful bomb ever devised on this planet, he said. Outside the Navy, you are the only civilian who’s ever laid eyes on it.
And what are we to do with it, I asked?
I was afraid to hear the answer, in case it was something like; we sail up to the aliens and detonate it.
We sail up to those aliens and detonate it, said Flint, a hint of satisfaction in his voice.
How are we going to manage that, I asked?
Well, it’s simple really, said Flint. What you saw was not an ordinary submarine. It’s a submersible, designed to float along with ocean currents. That’s where my dolphins come in. They’re going to guide it in.
Do they know about the bomb?
No, but they’ll be long gone, said Flint, like you and this ship. As long as we get the right drift, all’s well. If not, we gave it our best shot. Your job is to record it all, everything, including our little talk here, and type up the record, then send it off on one of those pigeons. These boys will take this bucket back to Seattle if anybody can, and maybe by the time you get back it will be a new world. Maybe, or maybe not.
And how will the bomb go off, I asked?
Well, let’s just say old Jack Flint’s going to take care of that.
He took one last drag on his cigar and tossed it out into the night. The glowing red ember traced an arc in the inky blackness and went out in a blink. Then Jack Flint hobbled off without another word, leaving me at the rail, speechless. I stared into the night for a while and went down to my bunk.
The next day I was busy writing communiqués and didn’t see Flint at all. A storm blew in and we hunkered down in raging seas that nearly sunk us. I didn’t dare go up, but there was activity aplenty on the ladders and much shouting of commands. All hands were on deck, then dropping through hatches on and off all day, until the storm blew over. I didn’t know how far we had blown, but we didn’t strike sail so we must have covered a lot of water.
Three more days passed and one morning, at dawn, I heard whistles going fore and aft and scrambled from my bunk. The entire crew was on deck. The submersible was coming up out of the main hatch on a huge chain block, rigged to a monstrous gantry that hung out over the starboard rail. The crew maneuvered the thing up and out over the water, where it was let down and sank almost to the hatchway on the top side.
It bobbed with the waves and then the hatch opened and up popped Jack Flint’s head. He climbed out so that his upper torso was visible, and the First Officer shouted for order. The entire ship went silent. Jack Flint stood up tall and gave the salute, at which the crew snapped their right arms to their heads like they had one mind.
Salute done, the First Officer shouted Hip-Hip, and the men followed with Hooray, thrice. Flint nodded and then the hatch came down. Minutes later the submersible gave a little blurp and disappeared beneath the surface, leaving a small spiral disturbance that was gone in seconds. We hove to and slowly came about. The sails filled out and I felt the ship lurch and catch the breeze, then surge forward.
I could have written this on my Omnibrain Thought Transfer Device, but after what happened I couldn’t bring myself to use that again, so instead I got out my Dad’s old Royal 10 and typed it. Halfway home we were intercepted by the Navy and they confiscated my Russian typewriter, which I could not get back no matter how many inquiries I made. Then one day, about five years later, it mysteriously appeared at the front door, with a note in Russian code;
Don’t believe everything they say, or even what I say.
Nathanguitars is pleased to announce that we caved in and paid to block those pesky ads that were despoiling the beauty of this blog.
Sometimes my brain rearranges words in a form of temporary dyslexia. This is not unlike the unintentional spelling mistakes my fingers create on the keyboard. Like form, instead of from. I type these all the time, and typewriters have no auto-correction. But my word processing catches it later, sometimes.
I saw a sign recently that was supposed to say HUGE SAVINGS! NO TAX! but of course I saw the opposite. It reminded me of when someone says “don’t worry,” which of course always makes me even more worried.
I typed my weekly letter to #1 son this morning on a 1940 Remington Model 5 Deluxe. Complete with alternate spellings, x outs, and skipped words even, but I think it’s better than an email that is perfect. I like imperfection. Perfection is an insult to the universe. I would never insult the Universe. God forbid. Speaking of which I have just completed my latest novel, which is a charming tale of a pair of intrepid gastropods who set off to explore the world, find a duck, and also the universe, none of which they comprehend or even recognize. It was typed, like all the stuff I write, except this stuff here, on a variety of old and older typewriters. I leave you with an excerpt from the first draft.
I saw an old lady today, shuffling along on a cane and an umbrella, accompanied by a dog that was keeping a few yards ahead, poking his nose at things with his tongue hanging out. After they passed I stopped and turned to watch them, and was reminded of a day long ago and my Uncle Cedric.
You’re OK kid, Cedric used to say, winking secretly.
He said it whenever I did stuff for him, like washing his car, or going to the corner store for cigarettes. Sometimes he gave me his spare change, and when I was old enough to do bigger errands, one day he sent me to pick up a box in the back alley behind the ABC Liquor Store. That was soon after he gave me a brand new 10 speed bike for no apparent reason. Then I discovered there was one.
I met him at the far end of the lane where he was waiting in a Ford Mustang he called McQueen. Then, to impress me he peeled away burning rubber with a crazy grin on his face. Dust and dirt flew up and hit me in the face, but I didn’t mind because I had a new bike and ten dollars for my trouble. A week later I used the money and bought myself a dog. My parents weren’t happy about it, but they let me keep him anyways. I called him Champ.
Not a month after I got Champ, Uncle Cedric, going much too fast in his Mustang, ran him over right in front of our driveway. Champ lay there on the road, panting and Uncle Cedric jumped out of the car, picked him up and sped off to the vet with Champ and me in the back. I noticed an empty bottle of rum on the floor. Cedric ran into the vet’s office with Champ, and came out a half hour later. He looked shaken, gave me ten dollars, and made me promise not to tell my Mom, his sister. When I got home, Mom asked where Champ was.
He ran away, I said. I really wanted to tell her, but I had some foolish loyalty to Cedric. I went to my room and lay down on my bed, burying my face in the pillow so I could cry in private. I felt trapped by the bike and the money.
The next day Cedric saw me on the street coming home from school and stopped to tell me, with a sad look on his face, that poor Champ had to be sent to another hospital, and might not be back for a while. I had a bad feeling he was lying.
How long of a while, I asked, but Cedric said he didn’t know. Then he gave me ten bucks and made me promise not to say a word, and also would I go get another box from the alley for him that night?
I didn’t want to, but I promised to do it, hoping this might get Champ back. I thought maybe Cedric was using Champ to get me to do his bidding, but I was afraid to say anything. He burned out of there again and a little stone shot up from one of the back wheels and chipped my front tooth. All of a sudden Cedric didn’t seem so cool.
When I got home my Mom saw my chipped tooth and freaked out. I said I got in a fight at school, and the guy I fought lost his front tooth, so after that she calmed down. Late after dark, I snuck out the back door and rode my bike into town.
There was the box as usual, behind the big steel bin next to the back door. As I leaned my bike on the fence a car came down the lane with no lights on, so I walked away trying to be casual. Then the headlights came on and so did the flashing red light.
Hold on kid, a voice yelled at me.
I jumped a fence and ran home as fast as I could. The next day after school there was a police car at our house. They found my bike behind the liquor store and wanted to ask me some questions. I told them I liked hanging around in the alley pretending to be a detective and they seemed to believe that, so they left.
Afterwards, my Mom asked me what was really going on, but I didn’t tell her out of misplaced youthful loyalty to Cedric, and a nagging fear that I was already mixed up in something wrong. To make matters worse, I was afraid that if I told the truth I might not ever see Champ again.
You’re not to go out at that hour any more, she said, is that clear?
I nodded and tried to look like I meant it. What did she know about how it felt to be twelve and get paid ten bucks for picking up a box in an alley? When I told Uncle Cedric about the cops in the lane he rubbed my head and gave me five bucks.
You’re OK, kid, he said.
Then he said he wanted me to go back soon. When the day came I could hardly think between worrying that the police might show up and hoping that if all went well I might see my dog. To compound my anxiety I was still feeling guilty for deceiving my Mom, and afraid that whatever it was I was doing, it wasn’t strictly honest. Half an hour before the pickup, I got on my bike and cruised to town.
Riding down the street in front of the ABC Liquor Store, I noticed an old lady on an electric scooter drive up to the café next door. She creaked off the seat like the rusty tin man in the Wizard of Oz and shuffled into the café, leaving the dog outside.
I rode around the block several times, checking the big clock that hung in the window of the drug store. Just before the agreed time I headed down the block and around the corner like a rider in the Tour de France. I hit the alley and cranked it hard until mid-block, whereupon I jammed on the back brake and came skidding towards the box in a foolish attempt to kick up dust like Cedric’s car. I got dust alright, lost control and hit the dirt, skinning my elbow and the side of my leg.
I got up bruised and sore and looked to see if anyone had seen, but there was nobody around. Embarrassed and aching, I picked up my bike and leaned it on the fence, then hobbled over to the box. I limped back to the bike with the box, put it on my carrier, slung my leg over the top bar and put my foot to the pedal. I rode down the lane slowly as the pain began to set in. Across the street Cedric’s car was waiting in the opposite lane.
He flashed his lights and pointed left, then drove to the first corner, crossed the street and turned down into the next lane. Just then the old lady came down the sidewalk on her electric cart, with her dog ambling along beside. I waited until she passed and began pedaling.
I quickly caught up and passed the old lady, but she stayed close behind me on the sidewalk. I turned down the alley and saw Uncle Cedric’s car halfway down the block. Cedric got out and looked up and down the lane.
I was halfway there when from behind me a dog flashed by and within a few strides jumped onto Uncle Cedric, who immediately hit the dirt. I just about skidded off my bike again as I hit the brakes and came to a stop. Looking back I saw the old lady coming down the lane in a cloud of dust like a geriatric maniac. Then her cart stopped and miraculously she sprung up from her seat, throwing off the shabby old coat and hat. Under the coat she wore a police jacket and a big black gun that she kept her hand on as she broke into a run.
Don’t you go anywhere son, she said as she passed.
A minute later, two police cars arrived and took Uncle Cedric away. After she took my name, my statement, the box and my bike, the police woman sent me home in a police car, where I had to explain to my mother what had happened.
After the police left, my Mom asked me how much money I’d made doing Cedric’s pickups. I told her I had fifty bucks. She took the money, and told me she was keeping it so the dentist could fix my broken tooth.
What about Champ, I blurted out?
Suddenly she stopped looking angry. Champ’s gone, she said, he’s not coming back.
©Donald J. Nathan
January 24 2018
MERRY CHRISTMAS TO ALL.
A Christmas tale with a Pacific Northwest theme…
There was a chill in the air, and the pathway around the lake had patches of ice wherever a small rivulet ran out of the field on its way down to the water to eventually join with the sea, a few miles away. If you watched closely on some patches you could see water drops moving under the ice soundlessly as if they were sneaking downhill for a secret reason.
In the bushes a small fluffy furred vole scurried across a blanket of decaying brown leaves and jumped up onto a dead branch that crossed over a pile of more deadwood. There it sat, with its tiny pointed nose that resembled nothing more than a small raisin, flanked by two tiny dark dots that were its eyes. Then the vole turned and slowly, deliberately shuffled off to do whatever business it was doing before it was observed. Like a puff of air two tiny wrens flitted out from the bush on the left and disappeared into the bush on the right, making no sound. No matter how hard one looked in the bushes, nothing could be seen, so blended into the sticks and dead leaves were the wrens.
In the sky several gulls meandered, unmistakable with their light coloured feathers and pointed wingtips. Then came a noise like a voice, but not words – a raven moved slowly overhead, circled and landed in a tall tree, then gave another cackle. Across the fields in the far distance were low hills, covered in a dusting of snow, not yet entirely white but soon to be, as foggy clouds moved over the land just waiting for seeds of what would soon be snowflakes.
On the edges of the lake and in the flooded fields on either side of the shore, or whatever fluctuation of brush, bush and swamp you might call it, swam ducks three by three, brothers and sisters, father and mother and son, or perhaps complete strangers who preferred the company of other ducks. Whatever the reason it seemed that one duck was always following another one, until such time as they switched places and the leader began to follow another.
A man with a red and white trimmed Santa hat strode along the path and muttered hello to others who passed by. Merry Christmas said one. A child with a stick poked at some thin ice, breaking it into small, sharp, clean, clear pieces. Nothing was happening in any sort of hurry, and yet it seemed that the world was waiting as if there was some sort of agreement that everything would soon be resolved in its own time, at its own pace.
Before the path ended at the pavement, where one left the woods and clomped up the hard grey road, high on the top of a tall fir tree, gazing over the scene below like a sentry sat the eagle, holding the world in its merciless glare, just as it held its prey in its razor sharp talons. But this day there would be no death from above for voles or hapless gulls that ventured too close to the white head with yellow eyes and a pirate hooked beak. No, this night the eagle was on duty.
The eagle watched for signs of danger, ever ready to take to wing and patrol its territory as it did every Christmas Eve, ensuring that the sky was safe for flying reindeer. After it had surveyed the land from its treetop perch the eagle spread its wings and leapt from the branch into the air, dipping slightly then with one flapping motion of its mighty wings it went soaring aloft and sailed away over the water into the distance.
The eagle with its unerring vision saw a tasty fish swimming just beneath the water, but even the promise of a fresh meal did not deter the eagle from its mission. One mile it soared and then turned and soared back in a wide arc over the lake. Then, when it determined that all was well, the eagle gave a powerful flap of its wings and gained speed until it was whistling through the cold air, flying due north as fast as an eagle could fly.
It wasn’t long before the eagle saw another of its kind in the distance coming to meet it. At top speed the pair of eagles closed quickly and then spun around each other for one brief turn before they parted, each to their own home territory. This eagle flight was soon repeated, again and again until the eagle from the lake had passed the signal of all-clear, eagle to eagle to eagle, all the way to the North Pole, where Santa Claus was ready to board his sleigh.
The last of Santa’s eagles came swooping down from the clouds as if Santa was a tasty fish, but at the final moment before the eagle had to pull up or land with a crash, it spread its wings out full six feet wide and with a whoosh it settled on the front rail of the big red sleigh. The eagle looked Santa Claus in the eye, and by that look Santa knew all he needed to know about the part of the world where eagles reigned in tall trees.
The eagle dallied but a few moments before it jumped into the air and climbed back to the sky. Ho, said Santa Claus, raising his long leather whip. The whip flew back and forth like a fly on the end of a fisherman’s line and gave a shot like a firecracker. The reindeer began to pull and within seconds were racing across the snowy field, throwing up a storm of snowflakes in their wake as if the wind itself was made of snow. Then with another crack of the whip, the lead reindeer took to the air and the team made one upward tilt and were off before the snow settled back onto the moonlit ground that sparkled under the clear, black, starry sky.
One by one, the eagles slowly made their way back to their homes, where they all settled down in tall trees, firmly grasped their perches with razor sharp talons, and stood guard until morning, when they knew Santa’s mission was done. Then, like eagles do, they all took to the skies, to find Christmas dinner.
How many words should there be in a children’s novel? A scientific survey of one novel gave me the answer – 35,000. That was Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, by Roald Dahl. If that is a good number of words for Mr. Dahl then it works for me. I confirmed this number twice by different methods. Being an estimator for 10 years, I have a pretty good idea how to count, so the first test was this: I counted how many lines it took to get to 100 words on a typical page. I extrapolated the count for the whole page, and then went to the last page and subtracted that number from the number of the first page to get the number of pages from the beginning to the end. Then I multiplied that by the number of words on my sample page. From this I subtracted the pages with illustrations and blank areas by quickly flipping through the book. I arrived at 35,000 words. To check this, I scanned another random but typical looking page and sent it to OCR. I exported that to my word processor and got the word count. I then counted every page with text, leaving out illustrations and blanks, to arrive at a net total of pages with text. Not surprisingly that gave me 35,000 words. Enough already!
My novel-in-progress stands at 25,000 words, plus the 1000 or so I just finished typing this morning. I have been reducing the gross word count by judicious editing, if not ruthless, so the 25,000 words are all keepers. The question now is, how to wrap up the story in 9000 words? Easier said than done. The writing continues apace, but it is clear that I will not hit 50,000, so there will be no “winning” Nanowrimo. Shouldn’t there be a category for children’s books? Oh well, you can’t win them all.
While setting out various events in the book I realized that my choice of a 1939 Royal KMM typewriter didn’t fit the timeline, so I have revised the machine to a 1914 Royal 10 instead. This has worked out better than expected for numerous reasons. I prefer the look of the older machine, which in my opinion would be more attractive to kids of all ages. Here is a picture I downloaded of a 1914 Royal 10 (thanks to sevenels). Now if I can be so lucky as to find one in a thrift shop for $25….
Here is the last page written to date:
Did I mention there is a pony in the story? It’s a kid’s book! There has to be a pony. Or magic, or both!
We visited the garden last week to look again at the plot and think about what would have to be done to get it ready for planting. Margie said we needed a pitchfork. Then we got to talking about the patron saint of gardeners, St. Fiacre. He’s also the patron saint of taxi drivers from an odd twist of fate having to do with where taxis used to come from in Paris, near the Church of St. Fiacre. Fiacre was born in Ireland in the 9th century, and his brother and he both became saints. So we began joking about St. Fiacre, as if he might be listening.
Jokingly about divine intervention we hit a few thrifts but didn’t see one pitchfork, although I did see an alpine ice axe. As we left I noticed a man buying it. No serious mountaineer would trust his life to a used ice axe; that I am certain of, as I am also certain the man was therefore no serious mountaineer. That made me wonder what he was going to do with it. Maybe he had a garden and planned to use the cutting end to hoe at the earth? Was he too seeking a pitchfork?
We checked out two stores where they sold new pitchforks. The first was $25, but M thought it was very heavy. I held it in my hands and had a look at it. On the fork part was stamped the word ‘Austria’. The handle was oak, and very thick. It was heavy duty, for sure. Next door a garden shop had one for $60. The handle was oak, but stained. I looked at the fork and there was the word ‘Austria’ stamped into the steel. This is the same tool with some more varnish, I said, hanging it back on the wall. They’re both too heavy, Margie said. I want one that’s lighter, the sort I remember from long ago. We came home with a bag of seed potatoes and a garden gnome. Later, Margie went to another garden supplier that had another heavy pitchfork for $100.
She went off to sing with friends and I went out to do errands. I decided to go down to the big thrift shop that’s always open. I hadn’t been there in a week due to the snow we had here, so it was time for a look see anyhow. I walked down to the back and saw a large cardboard barrel in which there were some shovels. Then I saw a cultivator. Thinking that might do for turning up dirt I lifted it out of the barrel, and saw that it was $5. Not bad, I had one useful gardening tool. There were several shovels too, nice ones, but we didn’t need any, so I resisted purchasing a cheap shovel.
Then I had one last look, and saw a red D handle of something that I assumed was probably an edger. I grabbed that and lifted it up when to my delight I recognized the prongs of a pitchfork, just like the one that stood in the corner of my parents’ garage 50 years ago. True Temper was stamped on the shaft, which was oak, but much thinner than those we’d already seen and rejected. The fork itself was lighter, too, with tines chamfered to reduce weight and make it easier to plunge into soil. The whole thing was half the weight of the modern ones we’d seen. It was $6. I decided to look where the others had been stamped, and there I saw the word ‘Eire’. Ireland, birthplace of St. Fiacre. In honour of our good fortune we named the new gnome Fiacre.
By the way, it’s not really a pitchfork, it’s a garden fork. The devil carries a pitchfork. It’s probably stamped ‘Austria’.