Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Christmas Eve Anniversary, Part 8

Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7

Christmas Day


He awoke with a start, Bree shaking his shoulder. He’d fallen asleep in the chair near the fire, which burned very low. Bree was excitedly pointing at the Christmas tree in the corner.

“Merry Christmas, Fin! Look! We have gifts!”

“Wha… where’s Maryam?” Fin asked, still trying to shake the sleep from his head.

“She left us a note that said that she’d gotten news of a big storm heading this way, and she’s gone to take care of some other things and that we should try to get out of here as soon as possible after breakfast, else we’ll be snowed in for at least a week. I’ve left your clothes on the bed. Hurry and change! I want to see what’s in the presents!”

Fin hurried upstairs, changed, and brought their luggage down with him. Bree was sitting at the table, eating a warm breakfast of eggs sunny side up, bacon, wheat toast, strawberry jam, and coffee. Fin wondered how it stayed warm, then recalled the conversation with Maryam of the night before. He accepted that the breakfast simply was warm, and began eating as well.

“C’mon! C’mon! I wanna open the gifts!” Bree was just like a kid when it came to Christmas.

“OK, good grief, Bree. I’ll eat. You open yours.”

Bree clapped, jumped up, grabbed both gifts, looked at the tags, and slid one over to Fin. She ripped the wrapping paper off of the other one and opened the box underneath.

“Oohh… wow…” Bree said, her breath catching in her throat. She pulled an ornament from the box, in the shape of a miniature open sleigh. Two horses were attached to the front, and three people were on the driver’s bench. They looked remarkably like Maryam, Bree, and Fin. The sleigh contained three large bags. Shaking the ornament gently caused a faint jingling sound, like a hundred tiny bells were inside the ornament.

Bree admired it for a few more moments, her face split with an ear-to-ear grin, tears of happiness collecting at the corners of her eyes. She dabbed at them quickly, sniffed and little, and laughed. “I’m not sure what I expected, but it wasn’t this.” She seemed to have forgotten about Finley’s present, which he was glad of. It gave him time to get a few more mouthfuls of food down before she remembered.

“OK, your turn. What’d you get?”

Finley took the paper off of his box more delicately and deliberately than Bree. Bree laughed at him, knowing he was partly teasing her, but also partly unwilling to shred the wrapping that someone had put so much work into. A couple of minutes later, he opened the box and looked inside. It appeared to be a snow globe of some kind. He took it out. It was a view of a cottage against a forest. You could just make out someone sitting in a rocker on the front porch. He shook it a little, causing the snow to swirl, and the scene changed to the old crone, who looked a little straighter and far friendlier than she had the day before. Another shake, and the snow was like the mist on the river, revealing a steamboat with a captain in red in the bow. The next shake caused the scene to change to the giant’s house set against the foothill, with the giant himself standing out front, his face set in what must’ve been a large and loud laugh. The next shake shifted to the small version of the cottage with three boys standing arm in arm in arm, beaming looks on their faces. A final shake returned it to the original scene.

Holding the globe, Fin felt something on the bottom, an etching of some kind. Turning it over, he saw the following engraved letters.


Fin smiled through his own set of tears, finally understanding. And he knew that he would remember the story, and pass it on to all that were ready and willing to listen.


Monday, December 19, 2016

Christmas Eve Anniversary, Part 7

Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6

Late Night Chat

Around midnight, they gave up waiting for Maryam to return. They wished each other Happy Anniversary one more time at 11:59, then Merry Christmas at 12:00, and went to sleep.

Fin was awoken by something moving around downstairs at about 4:00 a.m. He’d always been a light sleeper, especially in strange places. Quietly, he crept out of their room and peered into the darkness of the main floor. He could see the outline of someone rummaging around in the living area around the Christmas tree there. A moment later, the figure stepped into the light of the dim fire, stoking it back to life. It was Maryam.

She flopped into one of the rustic chairs and plopped her feet up on the coffee table there. Fin heard and saw a match being struck, then saw the flame dip downwards. A few audible inhales later, and Fin caught the faint scent of a sweetish tobacco being smoked, undoubtedly from Maryam’s pipe.

“Come on down, Finley. Let’s get on with the chat you’re so keen to have.”

Fin made his way slowly down the stairs and took the seat opposite Maryam. She looked both relaxed and tired, puffing her pipe and gazing into the fire. She turned to face him and smiled warmly.

“Go ahead, ask the question.”

“What happened today?”

Maryam took a long drag on her pipe and exhaled it slowly. “What do you think happened?”

“A bunch of very strange stuff, most of which made no sense at all.”

Maryam nodded her head as she took another drag. “That sounds about right.”

“So? Did I miss something?”

“No,” said Maryam, and Fin thought she looked a little sad. That sadness had an unexpectedly powerful impact on Fin, and he found himself tearing up for not apparently reason. “How about I tell you a story?” Fin nodded, blinking his eyes to clear them, and settled back into the chair. It was more comfortable that he’d expected, especially considering it’s ancient construction. Maryam began.

“Once upon a time, when the world was young, magic was everywhere and in everything. People were kind and loving to each other because they didn’t know any other way to be, and there was peace and harmony and warmth and light. Then, as they grew older and more mature, mankind began to learn about jealousy, and greed, and fear, and hate. Things grew darker and colder as these new emotions began driving out the magic that had originally existed. In an effort to maintain a balance, the powers that were began to struggle against that powers that were becoming. In the eons since, the balance has gone back and forth. Recently, balance has swung to the darkness, and the remnants of the powers that were have banded together. At this time of year, they make a special effort to see happiness and joy spread throughout the world. We all do our parts, and hope that, given enough opportunity, mankind will find the hope they once had, and decide to simply love each other and treat each other with kindness again.”

“Wait… ‘we?’” Fin asked.

Maryam’s eyes twinkled merrily. “And very occasionally, there are a couple of otherwise normal people that stumble into our tale, and we sincerely hope that they take the message back to the rest of mankind, insofar as they’re able, and continue to hold the wonder and joy they felt during their adventure as they continue their journey.”

“So… who are you? You aren’t… Santa Claus… are you?”

Maryam smiled at Fin as he asked, knocked the ash from her pipe into the fire, then got up and stretched and yawned. “It’s been a long night. I think I’ll turn in. Goodnight, Finley.”

She left him there to stare after her.

Christmas Eve Anniversary, Part 6

Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5

Last Stop

The sun had just finished setting by the time they stopped again. This time, they were in front of a smart looking if small house, resembling nothing more than Maryam’s cottage in four-fifth’s scale. When juxtaposed with the house they’d left behind, this house looked positively tiny. Three boys dressed almost identically to each other were doing things outside the house: one was chopping wood, another sweeping the porch, and a third cleaning the windows. As the sleigh came to a stop at the end of their sidewalk, the three waved in unison to Maryam, who returned the wave. They then fell into a marching formation and went into the house, single file.

The evening was getting colder by the moment, so Bree and Fin took the stop as an opportunity to stretch their legs and warm up a bit. The driver’s bench was perfectly comfortable, but sitting for too long made Fin fidgety. As they stood stamping their feet and blowing into their hands, the three boys appeared from the side of the house, carrying yet another large bag above their collective heads.

Fin took one look at it, then said, “Let me guess: it’ll fit, no problem.” Maryam’s only reply was a quick wink. Bree and Fin helped the three boys push the bag into the back of the sleigh, as the boys could barely see over the edge. Maryam had wandered into the house’s front yard, and the boys joined her there as soon as the bag was in the sleigh. Bree and Fin were about to join them when Maryam turned abruptly toward them and hurried back to the sleigh.

“We’ve no time to lose,” Maryam said, her voice sounding strained for the first time since they’d arrived. “It’s later than I thought. Up you go! Hurry!”

Bree and Fin got back onto the driver’s bench as fast as they could while Maryam went to check on the horse’s harness. She took a moment to whisper to the horses and stroke their manes and necks, then dashed around the side and onto the bench herself. The horses were off before she could even grab the reigns. They immediately accelerated to what Fin considered an unsafe pace, then poured on more speed. It was dark and no one was holding the reigns. Fin was beginning to actually feel a little scared when Maryam reached behind Bree’s back to touch his shoulder. “Everything is still fine, Fin. We just need to get back to the cottage.” Maryam’s hand was warm and comforting, and her eyes seemed to twinkle a bit in the twilight. Fin calmed down a little as Maryam finally grabbed the reigns and handed them to Bree.

“Let them have their head,” Maryam told Bree. “They’ll get us back the fastest way possible. I need to organize a little.”

With that, Maryam vaulted over the back of the bench and into the sleigh bed. She opened all three bags and began rummaging through each, occasionally moving something from one to another or shifting items around within each.

It was snowing again, more heavily this time than earlier in the day. The darkness deepened as they raced along the landscape. The scenery seemed blurry to Fin, as if they moved too quickly for his eyes to focus on any particular thing. Bree stared steadily forward, a determined smile on her face. Steam rose from the horses in steady streams. The bells on the sleigh rang in a hurriedly jolly manner, their din louder than it should have been at that speed.

In what seemed to be only a few minutes, they were pulling onto the open fields where they had first entered the woods. The horses continued their frenetic pace until they came to a stop in the field adjacent to the cottage.

Maryam hopped back onto the driver’s bench. “Alright, here’s where you two get off for now. I want to thank you for your excellent help and company this afternoon and evening. Inside the house, you’ll find a romantic dinner for two set on the smaller table near the fireplace. I’m going to go drop these off,” she said, thumbing toward the bags in the back of the sleigh, “but it’ll be a few hours before I actually get back to the house. Please enjoy yourselves, and I’ll see you in the morning!”

“Wait, Maryam—“ Bree began.

“Can’t wait! Must fly! I’ll answer questions in the morning, depend upon it!”

Fin had already climbed down and helped Bree out of the seat. They stood back and watched the sleigh streak off again, picking up more and more speed until it seemed to fade from view. Even then, they thought they could still hear the sleigh bells jingling merrily, but eventually that, too, faded.

They made their way back inside the house and found everything as Maryam had described — a romantic, candlelit dinner for two was laid out for them. The lights in the house were low as well, just light enough to see the way through. When they took their seats, the lights seemed to dim of their own accord, so that only the candles and firelight illuminated the couple.

“This has been… odd,” began Fin, taking a sip of his wine.

“It’s been wonderful!” Bree said, hardly able to contain herself. “What a fantastic day! Maryam, and the horses, and the sleigh, and the woods, and the old lady, and the steamboat, and—“

“Bree, do you know how nutty all of that sounds?”

“Well… I suppose so, but—“

“No buts! We’re going to wait up for Maryam to get back and get to the bottom of this. All I wanted was a nice, relaxing, romantic get-away with you for our anniversary for once in our lives. Instead, we got this insanity!”

Bree put her glass down, walked around the table, and pulled Fin out of his chair by the hand. She put his arms around her, then her arms around him, and leaned into him, swaying slowly back and forth.

“Fin, today has been magical. I don’t have a better way to describe it. We rode over the river and through the woods and wound up at grandmother’s house. We were in a two-horse open sleigh with jingle bells attached. We helped gather handmade gifts for kids in need. Even if it was a bit… strange… we were together. I loved every minute of it.”

Fin hugged her tightly. “Alright, alright. It was definitely as unique an experience as we’re likely to have, and we’re no worse for the wear. I still want to know what that was all about. Why the rush there at the end? Where is she dropping those packages off so late in the evening where they can still be delivered?”

Bree shrugged slightly in his arms, apparently not caring about the answers to any questions Fin had. He sighed, swayed with her a few more moments, then Bree said, “Let’s eat. I’m starving!”

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Christmas Eve Anniversary, Part 5

Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4

Third Stop

The sky was a dusky rose fading to purple by the time they emerged from the woods into a clearing in a slight valley at the base of a massive foothill. The bottom of the foothill was itself obscured by a massive house. Fin could tell that the house was not only large, but built largely. The front double doors must’ve been at least twelve feet tall and half again as wide, with equally large windows on either side. Fin thought he could see a shadow moving behind one of the windows just before the front doors were flung open. The largest man Fin had ever seen stood inside. The man must have been close to eight feet tall, and was wearing a beret of some kind. It covered the top of his head, but his bushy hair spilled out from under it in dark gray and white streaks. He also wore a warm-looking vest made of some kind of light colored fur, but perhaps the oddest part of his outfit were his shoes. They appeared to be almost dancer’s shoes or slippers, with ribbons or laces that ran criss-crossed up and around his lower legs all the way to his knees.

He let out a boisterous laugh on seeing Bree and Fin’s expressions and started speaking rapidly to Maryam in a language that seemed familiar but which neither Bree nor Fin could quite understand, something between Latin and Spanish. Maryam laughed back at the large man, replying in the same language. A moment later, the man went back inside and quickly returned with a bag that was just as large as the one they already had.

“Maryam, I’m not sure that bag’s going to fit back there,” Fin said, glancing back at the mostly full cargo space.

“There you go again with what will and won’t fit. It’ll fit just fine, Fin! Trust me, my boy!”

Fin glanced back at her skeptically as the large man brought his bag up and slung it over the side. Strangely, it landed with a sigh, not clanking into the bottom as Fin had expected. The giant reached over to make an adjustment, moving both bags around slightly. Finley turned to look back at the situation, and was surprised to see that the two bags were sitting neatly side by side, with room to spare. In fact, the first bag seemed to be in even better shape than it was at the river.

The man said something to Fin and Bree that they didn’t understand. Instinctively, Bree held her hand out to him. He smiled and took it, then looked at Fin expectantly. Fin extended his hand, which was taken by the man. The man’s giant hand completely engulfed Fin’s. His grip was firm and strong, but as gentle as the first warm rain of spring. He said something else to them, just above a whisper, and once again they felt like they were on the edge of understanding, but not quite grasping. He released their hands, said something to Maryam, tipped his hat to all of them, then stepped back. As soon as he did, the horses took off.

Maryam turned in the bench as they pulled away and playfully blew the man a kiss. His hearty laughter could be heard rolling around the clearing and into the woods for quite a time afterward.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Christmas Eve Anniversary, Part 4

Part 1, Part 2, Part 3

Second Stop

A longer while later, they came to a wide river. Mist and fog from the river swirled all around them, obscuring everything more than a few yards away. Maryam guided the sleigh with a sure hand, never looking the least bit concerned. They crossed the river over a bridge, and just afterward pulled off of the main path onto a gentle downward slope toward the riverbank. Maryam finally reigned the horses in just shy of what appeared to be an ancient yet well-maintained dock on the edge of the river. As they came to a full stop and were dismounting, they heard something bumping up against the dock. Maryam signaled that they should follow her, and a moment later they were at the end of the dock. They were surprised to see a steamboat moored there, and even more surprised to see an older gentleman dressed in a deep red double-breasted blazer with a captain’s hat to match.

The gentleman smiled at Bree and Fin as he said something to Maryam the other two didn't catch. He disappeared a moment later, and Maryam turned back to the other two. “We’re going to have to use Befana’s bag. You two go grab it out of the sleigh and bring it aboard. Syn's gifts are piled up in the bow.”

Bree had completely bought into the adventure by this point and immediately turned back to the sleigh. Fin jogged to catch up with her, doing so as she was clambering into the sleigh to start pushing the bag over the side.

“Bree, I’m feeling a little… unsettled about all this.”

“Fin, you’re in a bona fide Christmas story. Embrace it!”

Finley pulled his cell phone out. As he had guessed, he had no signal at all. The GPS showed a pin on a completely blank map, even though Fin had downloaded the maps for the entire area before they’d set out earlier that day.

“Fin, I know it’s strange,” said Bree, still struggling with the bag, “but I’m trusting my instincts here. I get the sense that this is all good and right and, in the end, full of wonder. Just trust me.”

“Alright, I’ll trust you,” Fin said, reaching over the side and helping get the ratty bag over the edge, although it didn’t seem as ratty now as he’d originally thought. Fin slung the bag over his shoulder as before. He and Bree then boarded the steamboat at the bow, and immediately saw, not a large, but a HUGE pile of gifts stacked in the center of the open deck. Maryam appeared to be inspecting then, occasionally moving them around, as if collating them.

“Alright Fin, bring it over here, and just hold it open.”

“Maryam, there’s no way all of those are going to fit in here.”

“Oh, they’ll fit! It’ll be tight, but they’ll fit. Don’t you worry about that.” said Maryam, winking at Fin as he held the bag open for her to start depositing gifts. Bree began grabbing other gifts indiscriminately and putting them into the bag.

Maryam, Bree, and the old gentleman made fairly quick work of what had at first seemed an insurmountable stack. Every now and then, Maryam paused long enough to check inside the bag and make minor adjustments. As she had predicted, all of the assembled gifts fit, but just barely. As they finished, Maryam took the cords and cinched the bag closed. It seemed to strain at the seams a bit, but held together.

“Alright, back to the sleigh! We’re a little behind, so we’ll have to make up some time!” said Maryam, making her way off of the boat and onto the dock.

“Uh, Maryam? How are we supposed to carry this without it falling apart?” asked Fin.

“The same way you did getting it down here. Together!”

Bree grabbed the back of the bag and helped Fin sling it over his shoulder. The bag was larger, heavier, and more cumbersome, but not nearly as much as it should have been. Bree held the back so that it didn’t drag on the ground, and they made their way back to the sleigh without any issue. Bree climbed in and pulled as Fin pushed the bag back over the edge. At this point, the bag took up most of the back of the sleigh.

“C’mon, we’ve gotta get going!” said Maryam from the driver’s bench. The steamboat let out a whistle. Fin turned back long enough to see that the mist had rolled in again. He couldn’t see anything beyond the edge of the dock, although he knew the boat had to be there. Bree was already climbing in, and Fin quickly followed her. As soon as they were seated, the sleigh was turning around and heading back for the main path.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Christmas Eve Anniversary, Part 3

Part 1, Part 2

First Stop

As soon as they left the back yard, the temperature dropped at least forty degrees. Fin quickly handed Bree her coat and slipped his own on. Maryam seemed immune to the cold, smiling and laughing as the wind blew a few strands of her hair free from her bun. She shifted the reigns to one hand while knocking her pipe on the heel of her boot to empty it. She stuffed the pipe into one of her coverall’s many pockets, leaned back, closed her eyes and raised her face to the sun. Bree looked at her in wonder, while Fin shifted his gaze nervously between her and the horses and back again.

“Do you want to drive?” Maryam asked without turning her head or opening her eyes. Both Bree and Fin hesitated long enough to cause Maryam reassure them. “It’s not really driving so much as it is holding the reigns. The horses know the way, after all…” She held her hand open, the reigns dangling limply there.

Bree reached out and took the reigns from Maryam. “Can we go faster?” she asked, a reckless look in her eye that Fin recognized and dreaded.

Maryam’s only reply was another loud laugh. Bree gave the reigns a flick similar to the one she’d seen Maryam use, yelling “Giddup!” in a voice louder than Maryam’s laughter. The horses responded with a joyous lurch forward as they strained against the harness.

At that pace, they were across the open fields in a flash and into the vast woods themselves, where the horses slowed down naturally as the light dimmed. The path wound gently between the trees, while the canopy was thick enough to prevent the lightly falling snow from getting to the forest floor. In the distance, the could hear a river flowing, making its way down the mountain and eventually into the Gross Reservoir, or so Fin thought as he listened to it.

They rode through the woods for a while before they came to their first stop. It was, as Maryam described, unexpected. They stopped in front of a dwelling that was little more than a shack, a lean-to built up against the side of a rock face. No sooner had they stopped than Maryam had dismounted and jogged to the front door. A quick knock was immediately answered by a squeaky, scratchy voice, although Fin couldn’t make the words out from where he was on the sleigh. Another moment, then the door opened and an ancient lady hobbled out. She was stooped over, almost as if she’d bent over one day and forgotten how to straighten up again. The top of her head was covered in a long gray scarf, which obscured most of her face, save her overly large proboscis. A faded red shawl was draped across her shoulders, and her skirt covered the rest of her in what once might have been an elegant plumage, but now looked like nothing more than dirty curtains draped around her legs.

The old lady seemed to be dragging something rather heavy behind her, as she paused just past the threshold of her hovel, turning back to it to grab whatever was stuck in the door with both hands. Fin climbed quickly off of the sleigh and jogged over to where Maryam and old woman were struggling. With their combined efforts, the door was finally unblocked. The object that had blocked it turned out to be an oversized bag made of some kind of moth-eaten velvety cloth.

“Fin, take this and push it up into the sleigh, if you please,” said Maryam, turning back to the old crone after issuing the command. Fin turned to obey, too bewildered at the encounter to object.

He didn’t have any trouble carrying the bag, slinging it over his shoulder, but struggled getting it into the sleigh. The bag wasn’t very heavy, but it was bulky and cumbersome because the packages inside shifted around. Bree hopped down, and together they finally succeeded in shoving the bottom of the bag into the back. They were climbing back onto the driver’s bench when Maryam rejoined them.

“Excellent work, you two. Next stop — the dock!” Maryam grabbed the reigns, and before she could even flick them, the horses took off, leading them deeper into the woods.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Christmas Eve Anniversary, Part 2

Part 1

An Errand

“She’s back!” Bree exclaimed from the bedroom window out of which she’d been staring. Fin, who had been dozing, woke groggily if not suddenly, but slipped his shoes back on and joined Bree at the window. It had begun to snow again, although none of it seemed to be sticking in the back yard. Maryam had been gone for half an hour or so when Bree indicated she had returned, both of the big Clydesdales in tow. They left their bedroom and met Maryam just as she was reentering the house from the back door.

“Sorry about that, folks,” said Maryam. “Sometimes the silly things get excited over the most common occurrences.”

“Can I see them?” asked Bree, barely able to contain her glee.

“Of course, but I should warn you — they’re very friendly, and if you get too close to them, they’re liable to nuzzle you until you fall over. Here, take these just in case,” Maryam said as she grabbed two oversized apples from the bowl in the center of the kitchen island. 
Bree clapped again, accepted the apples, and dashed out the back door, slowing only when she got close to the horses. They didn’t seem shy or intimidated in any way, and walked to her eagerly when she brandished the apples at them.

Fin watched the interaction out of back window for a few moments, trying to decide if he wanted to go out as well, when Maryam made the decision for him. “I hate to impose on the both of you, but if you are willing, I could use your help running an errand. I think you might enjoy it.”

“What kind of errand?”

“It involves those horses and that sleigh.”

Fin smiled broadly at Maryam. “I suspect Bree will love it, and anything she loves…”

“You’ll need your coats. We’ll be going into the woods, and it’ll be chillier there.”
Finley grabbed both of their coats from the bedroom and met Maryam and Bree in the back yard. Maryam and Bree were bridling the horses, whose names were Hershey and Thumper. The horses appeared to be helping with the bridles, apparently eager to be underway. Now that he was closer, he could tell that the horses’ tails were gathered neatly and tied into an intricate knot. There were bells woven into the knot at places. He glanced over to the sleigh, and saw that it was lined with similar bells.

“Sleigh bells and bobtails, if you were wondering,” volunteered Bree before Fin could ask. “Exactly like in the song, except it won’t be a one-horse open sleigh!”

They quickly finished the harnessing. Fin and Maryam pulled the sleigh from its stall and hooked it up to the harness. The sleigh itself was larger than Fin had expected, with a wide bench for the driver elevated slightly above two lower benches, facing each other, for passengers. He was even more surprised when Maryam pulled one of the passenger benches out and indicated he should grab the other one.

“You two will be up front with me. We’re going to pick up some packages.”

“Packages? In the woods?” Fin seemed more than a little skeptical, and was beginning to wonder what they’d gotten themselves into. He checked to make sure he had his cell phone on him just in case.

Maryam gave him a broad grin and held his gaze for a few moments with her eyes. “Yes, packages. It’s Christmas time, after all. There are a few families that live out here that make hand-crafted toys for children that wouldn’t receive them otherwise. Thing is, these wood folks don’t have the means to get out and about very easily. So we’re going to swing by their homes to gather the gifts.”

“Today’s Christmas Eve,” stated Fin. “Aren’t they cutting it a bit close?”

“They always do, but the toys always manage to get finished and delivered by Christmas day. And this year, you two get to be a part of it! Be aware, though: some of the folks we’re visiting will be… unexpected. They’re all perfectly friendly though, even if they seem strange.” Maryam smiled warmly, then leapt nimbly onto the driver’s bench. Bree and Fin each used the step but didn’t have any trouble getting situated. As soon as they were, Maryam gave a gentle flick of the reigns, calling “Git!” The horses launched forward, causing both Bree and Fin to almost tumble over the back of the low bench seat. Maryam let out a hearty laugh as the horses raced out of the back yard and toward a well-worn track leading to the woods.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Christmas Eve Anniversary, Part 1

Gentle reader, I have no intention to mislead you, so let me clarify some things at the outset.

Firstly, my wedding anniversary is not on Christmas Eve, and I don't know of anyone that has actually been married on Christmas Eve. I don't claim to remember every couple's wedding anniversary either, so I could easily be mistaken about everybody else. I am, however, quite sure that my own wedding anniversary is, as stated, not on Christmas Eve.

Secondly, the events depicted in this short story are completely fictitious, but do not have to be so. They have not happened to me, but that doesn't mean that they won't or can't, aside from the above proviso regarding my wedding anniversary.

Finally, the short story itself holds true to its nature, being short. However, it is longer than a regular blog post. As such, I'm choosing to break it into multiple blog posts, and hope you will bear with me during the process.

Without further adieu...

Christmas Eve Anniversary

by Rusty Bentley

“We’re lost, aren’t we?” he asked, hands clenching the steering wheel.

“No, it should be just around this next little bend,” she replied, never looking up from her phone.

“We’re driving through the middle of a pasture. There’s no road!” he said, waving one hand vaguely at the windshield.

It was true, or appeared to be so. The ground was covered with snow that had started falling about three hours ago. It had stopped now, but the countryside the couple was driving through was already completely blanketed with an beautiful white sheet. At least it’s not so deep that the car can’t get through it, Fin thought to himself. It’s a good thing Bree forced me to put the snow tires on last weekend.

“Just because you can’t see the road doesn’t mean it’s not there,” Bree replied. “Although, I would feel better if we could get a better cell signal out here.”

She raised her head from the phone and let her eyes wander over the snow-covered landscape outside of the passenger window. Finley regarded her as well. She felt his gaze on her, turned her head back toward him, and offered him her smile. Her smile — that was what had originally caught him. Not that she wasn’t striking otherwise. With dark brown hair in short, lazy curls kept at shoulder length, olive skin, and hazel eyes, she would have turned heads in any setting. But her smile, with that one dimple in her right cheek… the first time he’d seen that, he knew he was hooked.

By contrast, Bree had fallen in love with Fin in stages. Her type was normally tall, dark, and handsome. Fin was tall enough, standing just under six feet, and handsome enough, but wouldn’t have been classified as dark at all given his dirty blonde hair and pale complexion. Still, he was charming in every way, especially his persistence. Bree found herself changing for the better the more she was around him, and before too long found that she didn’t want to be without him.

Aubrey and Finley had been married for ten years exactly. Who would have thought it would be a good idea to get married on Christmas Eve? Apparently, Aubrey and Finley did. Every year since they’d eloped, they’d been splitting time between his family and her family gatherings, with only an occasional anniversary dinner out to celebrate their nuptials. This year, they’d decided to get away from everything and spend the holidays together. Aubrey had researched a bit and found what looked like a charmingly quaint bed and breakfast about an hour outside of Denver, just southwest of Boulder. It was up in the hills a bit, but seemed easy enough to get to.

Unless the road was completely covered in snow. Driving around foothills without being able to see the end or edge of the road clearly tested the mettle of even the most native of Coloradans.

Fin slowed the car to just above a crawl as they came around a curve that rose slightly before leveling off again. As they cleared the curve, the path straightened and declined slightly, leading straight towards a cottage nestled up against the edge of the forest. They pulled up to the front of the house and, not seeing anywhere specific to park, stopped the car at what they thought was a respectful distance away.

The cottage itself was a fair size, not large, but certainly larger than modesty required. The website said it was a three bedroom, three bathroom house with a large common living area aside from the dining room and kitchen. Smoke curled out of a central chimney, its light grey hazing lingering around the roof for a moment before being caught up by the breeze swirling above. There was a wrap around porch as well, with several rocking style chairs. One of those chairs was currently occupied by an elderly woman.

Fin and Bree got out of the car, shivered a bit as they pulled their coats on and collected their belongings, but finally started making their way toward the cottage. The woman remained where she was, rocking back and forth, back and forth. She was dressed simply in coveralls made of a coarse, faded material, and a long-sleeved white blouse. One of her arms was held across her torso in support of the other arm, which was in turn supporting a pipe. As with the cottage’s chimney, smoke curled lazily from the pipe, lingering around the woman’s ash gray hair, which was pulled into a smart bun. Small, round glasses were perched on her nose, and her eyes appeared to be closed.

“Hello!” called Fin just before they made it to the porch.

“Hello to you!” called the old woman back, finally opening her eyes and standing. She was shorter than Finley expected, and thinner, but with icy bright blue eyes. “Fin and Bree, I presume?”

They nodded. “Glad you made it! I’m Maryam. Come on inside and I’ll give you the grand tour!”  She opened the door and gestured for them to follow her.

As Fin and Bree stepped onto the porch, they felt the temperature change from a bracing chill to a pleasantly friendly warmth. They glanced at each other, puzzled. The wrap around porch was open on all sides, but the breeze that bit at the trees and shrubs just past the steps didn’t follow them up, as if it couldn’t be bothered to make that short journey.

“You two are the only guests this weekend, so let me know if you need me to adjust the temperature. The control’s a little finicky, so don’t bother trying to do it yourself,” Maryam called to them from just inside the open door. Bree shrugged her shoulders at Fin, smiled again, and went in. Fin followed.

The interior was as quaint as advertised. The decor was rustic, featuring a set of aged wooden couches, chairs, and coffee tables. A chandelier made from a series of lanterns suspended from a wagon wheel helped illuminate a room with large windows on each wall.

Maryam led Fin and Bree inside. “The floor plan is open. We want our guests to feel like they can talk to anyone that’s not in their bedroom or bathroom without having to raise their voices too much.” She led Fin and Bree through the living room and around the staircase to the dining room, which opened straight onto the kitchen. Visible through the windows here was a back yard, beyond which was a stable or barn which housed an actual sleigh of some kind. Two very large horses milled about between the cottage and stable. Bree clapped in excitement on seeing them.

As the group was watching them, the horses began to stamp the ground with apparent excitement. They trotted to the end of the back yard and disappeared around the corner of the stable together. Maryam looked distractedly out the window, her gaze following them, then said, “Your room is at the top of the stairs and on the right. Why don’t you go drop your things off up there and make yourselves at home? I need to attend to something for a moment. Please excuse me.” With that, she went out the back door and jogged across the back yard, following in the tracks of the horses.

Bree looked at Fin, raising an eyebrow at him. “Let’s follow directions,” Fin said to Bree in response to the unasked question. Bree frowned at him in mock disappointment. “For now, at least. We just got here, after all. I don’t want to get kicked out… yet.”

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

NaNoWriMo Part 2

Before I get into the unexpected happenings of NaNoWriMo, I'd like to take a moment to talk about Scrivener. I purchased Scrivener two summers ago, after reading Stephen King's On Writing. I used it a fair amount at the end of that summer and for the rest of 2015, but had really not done very much writing during 2016. This was not the tool's fault, unless we're referring to the tool between the keyboard and chair. Scrivener is a very powerful tool for all kinds of writing. I happen to use it to write short stories and blog entries, but it supports authorship of screenplays, scholarly or news articles, and poetry among other things. It's a mature product, and has a LOT of how-to articles and videos to help you get up the learning curve. It's a little pricey, but not selling for an exorbitant amount, costing as much as a newly released video game and less than a yearly license for almost all of the other software tools I use professionally.

So, with Scrivener opened to a newly created novel project, I started typing. My normal writing speed is somewhere between 700 and 900 words per hour without stopping for too much editing or backtracking. With NaNoWriMo, you're supposed to write an average of 1,667 words daily to get to the 50,000 word mark by the end of November. At my hourly rate, I was going to have to write for at least a couple of hours a day. I was getting up an hour earlier than usual, so one hour was available, but where would the other hour come from?

As I typed that first morning, words appeared on the page, and kept appearing regardless of my effort to stop. I wrote for at least an hour and a half, and found that I was genuinely enjoying it. I went to work, but was distracted at times by thoughts about what was going on with the story, as if the characters' lives were progressing while I wasn't looking. I wound up jotting down random thoughts throughout the day, and then writing more in the evening instead of messing around on the Internet or doing whatever I do normally.

During the first two days, I wrote 5,218 words. I wasn't diligent the first two days about updating my word count at the end of each day, but the average for those first two days was 2,609 words per day. I was ahead of schedule already, and quite surprised by that fact. I thought for sure I'd be lagging behind early on. This year really did feel different than my two previous attempts on all levels.

There's a maxim in writing: "Show, don't tell." For your edification, here's the breakdown of my progress per day, in tabular format.

Tuesday, November 1, 20162609-
Wednesday, November 2, 201652182609
Thursday, November 3, 201672001982
Friday, November 4, 201692642064
Saturday, November 5, 2016120852821
Sunday, November 6, 2016143392254
Monday, November 7, 2016162361897
Tuesday, November 8, 2016181051869
Wednesday, November 9, 2016201522047
Thursday, November 10, 2016221682016
Friday, November 11, 201623079911
Saturday, November 12, 2016257182639
Sunday, November 13, 2016292473529
Monday, November 14, 2016326783431
Tuesday, November 15, 2016338411163
Wednesday, November 16, 2016359212080
Thursday, November 17, 2016378701949
Friday, November 18, 2016403342464
Saturday, November 19, 2016415501216
Sunday, November 20, 2016435011951
Monday, November 21, 2016459362435
Tuesday, November 22, 2016476371701
Wednesday, November 23, 2016504212784

By the end of the day on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, I had made it to the victory requirement, and still had a scene left to write. I had done it -- I had written a The-Great-Gatsby-sized novel in just 23 days.

Interesting metrics include:

  • Max output: 3,529 words on Sunday, 11/13
  • Min output: 911 words on Friday, 11/11
  • Average output: 2,173 words
  • Median output: 2,064 words

As an aside: Sunday 11/13 and Monday 11/14 were the first two days that Tanya was in Australia. I found myself both inspired and trying not to think about the fact that she was on the other side of the planet quite a bit those days.

If I wrote an average of 800 words per hour, then that means that on a typical day for the first three or so weeks of November, I wrote for 2.5 hours. Here's the key bit though: I didn't feel like it was that long. I didn't find myself dreading the time required to get the word count in. I was energized pretty much the entire time. In other words, this didn't feel like work, at least not for those three weeks.

I haven't mentioned the final week on purpose, because I took my foot off the gas pedal, let my mind wander a bit, and messed around with a couple of alternate final scenes. I did just enough work on them to realize that I really didn't like either of them. I wound up with almost 56,000 words, but the last 5,000 need to be completely flushed down the toilet in favor of something that actually pleases me.

The other thing that I've found myself doing this past week is studying the craft of writing a little more. Brandon Sanderson (one of my favorite authors) teaches a class at BYU on creative writing. This past spring, they recorded the lectures and published them on youtube. If you're interested in what he he has to say, you should definitely check them out. I'm only through the third lesson, but very much like what I've heard so far.

Where does that leave me? Am I going to become a professional writer? Almost certainly not. However, I have learned something about myself, and that is that I genuinely like making up silly stories. I fully intend to go back and revise this one in January (as NaNoWriMo has suggested), and even if no one else reads it, it will have been worth it. My imagination produced something that (I think) I would like to read. This is a hobby worth having.

Friday, November 25, 2016

NaNoWriMo Part 1

And here you thought it would be November 30th before you got another post...

November has, admittedly, been a busy month both personally and professionally. On the work front, we've been trying to secure a deal with a new, rather large, client. The good news is that the client is not only very interested in our product, but more highly motivated than we'd anticipated. We've had several sets of discovery meetings, and I'm happy to say that we're now engaged in a proof-of-concept implementation with them. We are VERY excited about this.

On the personal front, I need to offer full disclosure to you. I had surgery about halfway through October that has kept me pretty inactive for the past six weeks. That, in some ways, is a good thing. The forced inactivity allowed me some extra time to do something that I've wanted to do for years and never got the full motivation to finish...

This year, I entered NaNoWriMo again, for the first time in a long time.

For those of you that aren't familiar with NaNoWriMo and didn't click the link, here's the executive summary.

<snipped from the website>
National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is a fun, seat-of-your-pants approach to creative writing.

On November 1, participants begin working towards the goal of writing a 50,000-word novel by 11:59 PM on November 30.

Valuing enthusiasm, determination, and a deadline, NaNoWriMo is for anyone who has ever thought about writing a novel.
<end snip>

I first heard about NaNoWriMo at least seven years ago (and most likely eight or more). That first year, I had a severe false start and only got about 6,000 words in before giving up. The second year I doubled that total, but also fell flat on my face at that point. As a side note, that was the year that my friend Staci Linson entered and produced a book that might still be unfinished at 100,000 words (if memory serves). The next several years were no-go's for me altogether, although I considered it every year. I always managed to find "reasons" not to do it.

But this year was different. I had been getting up early to work out since the spring, and then surgery happened. So when November rolled around, I knew I could carve an hour out of the day just by getting back into the "waking up early" routine. I also had at least a vague sense of what I could write about as well. I created my official NaNoWriMo profile on Hallowe'en; I was all set to go. I set the alarm for 5:30 the next morning, and fell quickly asleep.

I woke up from a dream before my alarm went off on November 1. The dream was an interesting one. I made the decision to use that dream as the basis for my NaNoWriMo story instead of the original vague thoughts I'd had. I realized it was a completely different direction and that I had absolutely no idea of where it would go (much less how it would end), but I trusted that something interesting would evolve. I later found out that NaNoWriMo has a badge for this behavior. I am a Pantser. Simply put, a plotter is someone who plans out the entire novel before writing it. A pantser is someone who, “flies by the seat of their pants,” meaning they don't plan out anything, or plan very little. Some people, call themselves “plantsers,” which means they're in a little of both. (thanks to The Writing Practice for the succinct definitions).

So, I had a brand new story in my head. I opened Scrivener, created a new novel project, and started writing. What happened next was completely unexpected, and I look forward to telling you about it in the next installment.

And yes, I know I'm an incorrigible tease...

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Prose Variation on a Hallowe'en Poem

(for your Hallowe'en edification)

She awoke from her evening dozing with a slight start. It hadn’t happened in years, but tonight she felt as if he’d been calling to her. How odd it was, after all this time, to be drawn out of the comfort of her well-worn rocking chair for a midnight walk. She couldn’t remember the last time it had happened, but she immediately recognized the urge for what it was.

She glanced around the room for her walking stick. She’d need it to get to her destination. As with so many things these days, she couldn’t remember where she’d left it. The light given by the gently crackling fire was dim, and certainly not bright enough to light the room. As the shadows cast by the flames’ dancing spun around the room, she glimpsed a dull, oily shimmer next to the front door. As she had been many times before, but especially this evening, she was glad for the ornamentation he had added to the stick: an opal collar, just under the curved handle. The dark wood from which the rest of the cane was made blended in with the darkness, but she could see the shimmer of the collar if she squinted.

Slowly, carefully, she leaned forward and urged the rest of her body out of the chair. The one good thing about her advanced age was that she weighed next to nothing at this point. In fact, she was practically all skin and bone, but she knew she had enough strength left in her remaining sinew to take this walk. 

Hobbling forward on unsteady legs, but gaining more strength for the motion, she reached the front door. Her shawl hung from the hook where it always was — that habit had never altered. She placed it around her shoulders. It didn’t hang the way it used to, when she was a younger woman, more broad of shoulder (and truth be told, of hips as well). Still, it covered her well enough, and should be proof against the briskness she expected awaited her beyond the door. She took the walking stick from where it leaned against the wall, and a moment later was outside.

The night was clear and colder than she’d expected. While it wouldn’t happen immediately, she knew that before too long her bones would start to ache from the chill. At least the moon was out and almost full, and the sky was decorated by the same stars she’d always seen. The moonlight would be enough to walk by. She had gotten accustomed to not seeing clearly years and years before.

She straightened her back as much as she could, extended the walking stick, and stepped forward. One foot, then the next, she slowly progressed down the narrow path from her front door to the slightly wider lane that passed by the front of her house. No one had trod either path in a long while, it seemed, but her steps grew more sure and quick as she moved. A right turn on the lane would take her toward the village. Tonight, her walk mandated a left turn, toward the church and its graveyard.

A moment later, or so it seemed to her, she was walking amongst the headstones. The way was familiar to her, even after all this time, her cane finding its way amongst the stones without conscious direction. The stone she wanted to see was in the middle row, back by the half wall that marked the far boundary of the graveyard. Even in the dim moonlight she could tell that the wall itself was crumbling in places, so much so that it cast a strange shadow over her destination. As she drew closer, she realized it wasn’t actually a shadow, but a mound of earth, as if there were a newly covered grave adjacent to the one she sought. She didn’t recall there being enough room around the grave for a new burial…

As she drew up to the neatly piled dirt, she realized the source of her confusion. The mound wasn’t covering a new grave; it had been removed from an old one — the one that she had come to visit. She realized she was trembling now, and not because of the cold. Her breath puffed out of her body in little clouds of small gasps. The coffin in the unearthed grave was open, and empty.

She suddenly felt faint and realized that she had to either move or fall forward into the grave. She took a staggering step to the side, thrusting her cane out for support, wrenching her gaze away from the gaping maw of the six-foot-deep hole. Doing so cast her glance to the church house adjoining the graveyard. She hadn’t taken note of it at all on her approach, being intent as she was on the graveyard itself. Even now, the church house was only barely visible, lurking in the shadow of the church. 

Now that she was looking, she noticed a supremely dim light emanating from one of the two windows on the front of the rectory. No wonder she hadn’t noticed it earlier; it couldn’t have been lit by more than a single candle. Fear swept through her in a way she hadn’t felt in many years. The owner of that candle must be responsible for this desecration, or at least know something about it. She gripped her cane in both hands until they were only slightly trembling, then, leaning heavily on the stick, she willed her old body to move toward the church house. 

The rectory was small, but then again, so was the church and graveyard. Even so, the dread in her increased with each step she took. Her cane made almost no noise in the loose gravel as she made her way cautiously up the house’s walkway. Nearer to the door, the loose gravel spread out into a small rock garden, bordered by petrified wood of various shapes and sizes. Approaching the door, she took a quick glance through the window with the bleak light. The window was covered with grime both inside and out, preventing her from seeing anything but the dull gleam she’d noticed earlier. As she turned back to the door, she thought she caught sight of a shadow passing in front of the flame.

Reaching for the door as if to knock, her brow suddenly creased, drawing the feeble remnants of her eyebrows together. Her lips formed a grim horizon across her wan face. She grasped the doorknob and gave it as abrupt a twist as it had ever know. The door opened easily revealing the darkness beyond, broken only by a single candlelight suspended from the far wall where a lantern should have been.

She crossed the threshold of the house and took a moment to let her eyes adjust to the new dimness. Outside, everything had been a silvery white. Inside the rectory, it was an inconsistent yellow. The candle was indeed mounted on a lantern hook on the far wall. Its soft light illuminated a small section of a writing table, and she could just discern the outline of a man hunched over the table. The broken-rhythmic scratching noise coming from that direction reminded her of long ago days, where letter-writing was still considered an art form, and sharpened points dipped in inkwells skittering lightly over vellum pages were her heart’s delight.

She wasn’t sure how long she stared, but eventually realized that she was needlessly clutching her cane with both hands in front of her again. She shifted the cane back to one hand and took a step forward. A soft tap from the cane’s tip seemed to grab the man’s attention, as the scratching suddenly stopped. His shoulders straightened, and he turned very slightly towards her.

“I’ve been waiting for you. It’s time,” said the man. His voice was almost familiar — a voice not unlike one from her youth, one that she’d enjoyed listening to countless times, yet more sepulchral. Her heart fluttered in both fear and anticipation.

He turned toward her more fully, casting half his face into the light of the candle. His pallid, decomposing face was covered in maggots, crawling in and out of an eye socket whose contents had turned to a greenish jelly. The corpse face smiled at her, and the jaw came unhinged, falling partially onto the man’s chest. 

She shrieked, stumbling backwards and out into the walkway. But her cane… she’d dropped her cane inside the church house. She took a single step backward, but lost her footing on the loose gravel. As her feet and balance gave way, she fell sideways. She managed to turn her head just in time to see a jagged looking piece of petrified wood rushing up to meet her.


The church caretaker was up early on All Saints Day. He didn’t have much to do today except make his semi-monthly trip to the old church for maintenance. He needed to ensure the doors to the church and rectory were secure, that none of the windows where broken, and then do some quick trimming of the weeds in the graveyard. A short jaunt from his abode at the edge of the village, doing the chores, and he’d be home in time for lunch.

The walk down the lane took him by the old widow’s house. He thought he should check in on her, but then thought better of it. This, also, was part of his semi-monthly routine. He noticed that there was no smoke coming from the widow’s chimney, which was odd given the crispness of the morning. The old bat was probably sleeping in after a raucous Hallowe’en night of witchifying the countryside. He chuckled to himself as this jest, impressed as always by his wit.

Arriving at the church, he immediately set to work. As expected, the doors to both the church and the rectory were locked tight. The gravel on the church house walkway seemed slightly disturbed, but he accounted that to a fox or some other nighttime vermin. He also thought he caught the faintest scent of burned wick and candle wax near the rectory door. He took a quick glance through the window, realizing as he did so that he wouldn’t be able to see much. He could make out the vague shape of his shadow on the floor, but nothing seemed amiss.

Shrugging, he made his way down the gravel walkway to the graveyard. He wandered up one row and down another, looking for weeds that needed pulling. As he got to the far end of the middle row, he noticed that something was different about the old parson’s grave. It looked like the dirt had been turned over. And what was that near the headstone? A cane of some kind with some paper wedged underneath…? 

The cane was made of a lovely dark wood, and looked to have a little Mother of Pearl inlaid collar. No, not Mother of Pearl… that other stone that makes the iridescent colors when you shine light on it. Opal! That’s what the stone is… opal! Isn’t Opal the old widow’s name? He couldn’t remember off the top of his head.

He picked the paper up, which almost blew away as a sudden sharp breeze blew at him. It was folded neatly, and the paper seemed extra thick. Well-made paper… they don’t make it like that anymore. Opening the fold, he saw that there was a poem of some kind written there. The ink was slightly splotchy, as if someone had written on the paper using a pen and old inkwell. The poem read…

There was an old woman all skin and bone
Who lived near the graveyard all alone.

She thought to go to church one day
To hear the preacher sing and pray.

And when she came to the graveyard stile
She thought she’d stop and rest awhile.

And when she came to the old church door
She stopped to rest a little more.

But when she turned and looked around
She saw a corpse upon the ground.

The worms crawled out, the worms crawled in,
From up his nose down to his chin.

The worms crawled in, the worms crawled out,
Across his eyes, his ears and mouth.

The woman to the preacher said,
“Will I look like that when I am dead?”

“You already do,” the preacher said.
“You’re skin and bone because you’re dead!”

The woman fainted with the shock
And split her head on a sharp rock.

They buried the woman all skin and bone
But from the grave they heard her moan.

“I’m not yet dead” the woman cried.
“You will be soon,” the priest replied.

Author’s note: The poem above was copied from The inspiration for this spooky story is actually a Hallowe’en song from my childhood, which you probably also sang and remember now that you’ve been reminded. Just in case you still don’t know what I’m talking about:

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

A Memory from Seven Years Ago

Ah, Facebook... you taunt me with your robotic ability to recall things that I've completely forgotten about. Case in point: this morning's Memory prompting...

Facebook never forgets...
I'm typically not so cryptic in my Facebook posts, but this one has thrown me for a loop. I have no recollection of the context of this post. Those of you that know me understand how uncomfortable this kind of thing is for me. For those that are wondering, I tend to obsess about little ridiculous mysteries that ultimately don't matter at all to anyone but me.

With regard to this memory, the main issues are that a) I don't like the thought that there are details of my life that I can't easily recollect, and b) I now want to thank someone for something that happened seven years ago but I don't know whom to thank or what to thank them for. This annoys/bothers/upsets me now, even though I clearly (or more precisely, vaguely) did the thanking seven years ago.

If we were hanging out at all seven years ago, go ahead and assume this is about you and remind me of the purpose behind this post. Do that, and I'll owe you yet another debt of gratitude. Hey, at least seven years from now we'll stand a better chance of remembering how we got into this vicious cycle... :-)

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Summer Vacacay p5: Drift Creek Falls

Just in case you doubted...
Good grief, apparently I never actually wrote an entry for our last activity during summer vacacay. My apologies, dear reader, for this ridiculous oversight. As usual, I have no sensible defense. I accept full responsibility for the lateness of this post. Leave comments if you feel remediation of some sort is in order, and I'll sincerely take them under advisement. :-)

Note also that I am NOT including an entry for our down day. I'll sum it up to say that we went for a walk on the beach, trying to get to Seal Rock. After two miles north, we came to a spot where it looked like we had at least another couple of miles to go, and decided to turn around. Garrett actually went with us; as it turns out, the cell signal was better on the beach than it was in the house! We played Pokemon Go the entire time. :-D

Our final hike during the vacation was to Drift Creek Falls. This one was unique in that it featured a suspension bridge that was really only wide enough for a single person to cross at a time.

The walk itself was really easy, which is a good thing since neither boy was all that enthusiastic about yet another hike. The trail was wide and well-worn; the trees were fairly dense but the canopy was high and thin, resulting in soft yellow sunlight with a faint hint of green tinge in places.

Least challenging limbo game ahead...
There were actually several trees that looked like they had fallen over ages ago. This almost made me feel as if the forest was experiencing infighting between its generations -- old versus new. Casualties on both sides were encountered.

Luckily, we dodged most of those fights. Before too long we found the construct we sought!

"Yes, I'll cross first, scaredy-cat!" says our fearless leader.
The bridge and the falls were worth the trip. Have a look at these shots from the middle of the bridge.

Falls from the bridge

Tiny people below!
For more perspective, we made the trip down to the river bed to become like the tiny people.

Tiny people above!
That slab of rock lying there fell off of the rock wall under the falls within the past few (50?) years. I wonder if it made a sound when it fell?

We wrapped up this day with a dinner at our favorite restaurant in Newport. Can you guess which one it was? If you said "Local Ocean Seafoods," then congratulations for paying attention to the other blog entries! :-) We discovered something VERY interesting at the restaurant -- Gabriel, the finickiest of the finicky eaters, actually thinks that calamari is OK to eat. It's not as good as chicken, but better than poorly done fish and chips.

As mentioned earlier, this was the last of our hikes. This entry will also be the last of our vacation entries, as travel days are generally uninteresting. I hope that you've been entertained at least, and perhaps even inspired to get out and about a little. Nature really is pretty fantastic, and you should enjoy opportunities to experience it as often as you can.

The next post will probably be back to book reviews, game dev, or other nerdy pursuits. Thanks for playing along with vacacay entries!  :-D

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Summer Vacacay p4: Sweet Creek Falls

It's getting to be that part of vacacay where I lose track of the days.  I think this was day 4, so I'm going to move forward with that assumption.  Remind me to check before I publish this post, OK?  Thanks.

Today's trek took us to Sweet Creek Falls, which is about an hour-and-a-half drive from the house.  Before I get into today's adventure, I wanted to take a moment to tip my hat to Nature in general.  It constantly continues to impress me.  There's not a moment when we're in this house that the roar of the ocean isn't audible in the background.

I can hear the ocean, but I can't see it!
Now, about today's outing...  The drive itself was incredible.
An operational lighthouse, whose utility is on display today!

Siuslaw River on the way to the trailhead

The walk through the woods along the creek was surprisingly populated.  The end of the drive seemed to lead us to the middle of nowhere, and yet when we arrived at the trailhead there were about 10 cars overfilling the parking area.  Not only that, as we walked along, there were campgrounds on the other side of the creek that were all full.

There were so many little falls that I lost count.  Luckily, I think we took pictures of each one.

First falls

Second falls -- more impressive during the run-off season

Third falls

Fourth falls

Dad, do the falls ever end?

Nope! :-D

A pool from the upper viewing area

Our fearless leader!

We even ran into some locals on the trail, which means it's either a really good trail, or really convenient, or really easy, or some combination of all of those.  We choose to believe it was mostly #1.

And then, on returning to the beach house, this sunset...

I just can't even!
Despite all of this natural wonder, I think the boys might be tiring of our "outdoor" shenanigans.  Their faces lit up a bit when I said that tomorrow was an off day, where we're only planning to hang out, play games, watch a movie, and read.  I'm not sure what to think about that.

Given the above, I might not catalog tomorrow.  Tanya and I were considering walking up to Seal Rock as our only activity.  If we do, and it generates good content, I'll probably post something short.

And I double-checked -- today is day 4.  I haven't lost track of the days yet.  I'm tempted to say "yay," but I also feel like I might not be vacationing hard enough... :-)