The Iron Writer Challenge #21
500 Words, 5 Days, 4 Elements
2013 Iron Writer Summer Solstice Open
Charlotte Bronte Bracket
Tannis Laidlaw, Steve Harz, Kriss Morton, E. Chris Garrison
An Electric Flying Bicycle
An obscure Black & White Television Drama/Comedy
Myths for Kids
I’m Meredith Harris, a backstage researcher for “Myths for Kids”. Few children in the Western world don’t know our TV series with presenter Marigold Horbay. The two of us share more than initials.
I first saw the teenaged Marigold years ago when she was the cowgirl presenter of Saturday afternoon’s “Horse Opera” featuring black and white, high-drama westerns. As a child, I was glued to our new television and I loved it when my mother said I’d look just like Marigold when I grew into my teens. I wanted to be on television, too.
Marigold eventually became a producer and I, a university professor. My first book, “The Influence of the Perseus Myth on Modern Society” enjoyed modest success. My second, “The Atlantis Myth”, brought me into contact with my childhood heroine once more. Marigold, then a mature research student in search of a project, attended my book launch.
‘My goodness, the presenter of “Horse Opera”,’ I said when she introduced herself.
‘Yikes, I’m surprised you’ve even heard of it much less remember it.’
‘My favourite programme,’ I said, ‘way back when.’
She became serious. ‘Have you thought of examining Hollywood myths from the same perspective as “The Atlantis Myth”?’
An interesting idea, and thus Marigold became my research student.
Years (and several books) later, Marigold wanted to teach critical thinking to children (how to treat evidence, the power of persuasion etc.) through a light-hearted television series about myths and myth-making. Were certain mythological ideas true? What purpose did they serve?
She asked me to be the consultant for the series providing background on all sorts of myths, ancient and modern. For instance, we’re developing several programmes about flight.
Did the Atlanteans, ancient Hindus and other lost races have working flying machines? Detailed drawings of the 5000 year-old Hindu flying Vimanas still exist.
Were those meticulous drawings of medieval cities created by someone way up in the air? It sure looks like it, but maybe a good imagination and superb mathematics provide explanations.
Were the Wright brothers really the first to fly? Or was it a clever myth used to promote their business? If you saw that episode, you’ll know we added in the news about an ET-like prototype electric flying bicycle recently developed – not a myth, but a delightfully goofy idea none-the-less that was pleasingly appropriate given the Wright brothers’ bicycle business.
One final myth I must mention, not because we used it in the series, but because we didn’t. Most children know the myth that everybody has someone just like them – a sort of twin, a doppelganger – somewhere in the universe. Maybe, just maybe, some myths everyone thinks are crazy – or merely childish – are actually genuine…and sometimes childhood dreams come true, too.
Did you see Episode 14 of “Myths for Kids”? The presenter was only on camera for a short time, but did you notice anything different? Well, folks, Marigold had the flu when we filmed that episode. But I’d wager only the most astute observer of “Myths for Kids” could have spotted it. The presenter wasn’t Marigold. It was her doppelganger.
E. Chris Garrison
As the dirigiwhale soared through the dimensional rift, I knew it was now or never. The bloated sky whale carried a small gondola underneath, which I knew held my doppelganger.
Ever since the accidental tear in space-time had opened, new alternate realities had flashed by daily. Yesterday, it was another me, flying in on a rocket-assisted glider, which I shot down with a modified flare gun. The aluminum canisters on his bandolier read, “anthrax, smallpox, black death”.
The day before, a parachutist catapulted through. Too fast. His chute failed. I found the body wearing my face and an EMP bomb strapped to his chest.
Why am I evil in all the alternate worlds?
I figured this one would be even worse. I’d put together an electric flying bicycle. I thrust a sharp metal strut through my belt to use as a harpoon. Strapped in, I lifted off with a roar, lights flashing all over the machine’s tubular frame, in case my double hadn’t seen me.
The whale changed course, bellowing like a mournful Wookie, aimed straight for me. I spied the other me, leaning out of the gondola. “For Atlantis!” he cried, firing a crossbow.
The bolt lodged in a stabilizer fan. My bike and I leaned far to the right. I toggled off the opposite fan and fought the control stick to right myself. I kicked the throttle all the way up and my bike and I rose up and swooped in close to the dirigiwhale, putting the living gasbag between my twin and me. I could almost see through the skin; sunlight filled the beautiful monster with a warm glow.
Leaden guilt weighed my stomach as I hefted my makeshift harpoon. I couldn’t do it. Instead, I landed my bike on the whale’s back. I crept forward, edged around a blowhole the size of a manhole cover, onto the beast’s nose. Reigns attached by cruel spikes stabbed into the whale’s skin, and I could see the lines go taught as my nemesis tugged to steer it this way and that. I drew my knife and cut each cable in turn.
I slapped the creature’s nose and said, “There now, go home.” I clambered my way back up to my bike.
Now all I had to do was wait.
As though it understood me, the dirigiwhale reversed course and made for the rift.
My knife couldn’t cut the steel bands that held the gondola on, and soon my twin appeared, climbing over the edge. He struggled to gain his feet and reached for his crossbow. I held my harpoon up in threat. He held up his hands.
“Greetings, my identical cousin,” I said.
His look told me they didn’t have Patty Duke in his universe. “Why didn’t you kill me?”
“One of us has to be the good twin,” I said with a smirk.
As we passed through the rift, I set off the EMP bomb, sealing the portal forever.
And you know, Atlantis is pretty damn cool.
In The Smoke
It had been six months since the first time I had seen the face. I had been grabbing a smoke on the deck, underneath the porch light as it cast shadows across the snow of the garbage bags that I had not yet taken to the dump. I had already taken several drags when I first noticed what appeared to be an eye in the smoke. At first I thought it was the trick of the light but as I looked at it sideways I could see it looking off towards the trees by the road. I could make out the rest of the necessary features: nose and pursed lips. My breath caught in my throat as I staggered backwards, as it lost cohesion and trailed upwards into the wintry air and blowing snow dust. The cigarette fell from my fingers as I turned and ran into the house, locking the door behind me. I sat and watched the door in a deep panic. My husband was watching some odd show about electric flying bicycles, somehow it soothed me to find something even more bizarre than what I had experienced in the smoky shadows. Perhaps watching re-runs of Dark Shadows on Netflix earlier was a mistake. I shook it off and sat down just in time for my husband to switch to a show about the discovery off the coast of Florida which some were claiming to be Atlantis. It would still be a month before I started sneaking a smoke again.
Grabbing a cigarette around 2 AM later that winter I saw the face again. I had already taken a few drags when I saw my breath begin to shift as though meeting unseen resistance, and with my next full exhale I saw her. My heart started racing, she was so familiar but I could not place from where. The lines of smoke etched grooves of age into what was beginning to form something so real. The discovery of the horrifying unknown caused me to freeze between self-preservation and the most wretched parts of human curiosity. Before I could pin down where I knew her from the face faded away with the smoke, now thinning out into the barest trace of my breath. Hesitantly I took a deep drag on my cigarette and exhaled. The smoke floating upwards as a single cloud. Her face was gone.
When she appeared the third time it was several months later. In horror, I wanted to flee, to escape the notice of such a thing. That mockery of human visage, an image stretched out over the void it actually presented. The cigarette fell from my hand onto the snow-covered deck, amber fading out as it flickered and died. The last part of the fog of my breath joined the night sky as I stood rigidly in place in the porch light. Her face, my face, my doppelganger from the future dissipated with the last of my cigarette which lay forgotten at my feet.
The scar on my palm is now almost unnoticeable, except to me. At a church camp bonfire during a reading of Matthew 5:16 a blond girl in a pink hoodie had a stray smoldering ember attach itself to her hair, igniting and needing to be removed. A flame began to build and being absent of an extinguisher I grabbed it with my right hand and now every time I write her a love letter I am reminded of how we met.
Years before I had witnessed my own kidnapping, and as with most adoptees there are questions about our arrival into this government-sponsored witness protection program. The stork didn’t happen and although he had a parachute the landing would have hurt just the same. And delivery by electric flying bicycle or Chitty Chitty Bang Bang were considered, but quickly dismissed, since we know that, in actuality, we are no more than broken boomerangs without hope of a return flight.
Childhood days are divided between neighborhood swing sets or swimming pools and the inner mind struggle of mental hide-and-seek and while friends draw sidewalk hopscotch courses and sing its magpie rhyme (one for sorrow, two for mirth, three for a wedding, four for a birth…) we take their chalk and draw outlines of who we might have been.
Evening kitchen table dinners are followed by a family halo surrounding a 1965 Sylvania black and white television tuned to ‘My Three Sons’ or ‘The Lawrence Welk Show’ and not watching, but studying, each face to see if we might locate a lost brother or grandfather but all that’s ever discovered is that Chip Douglas is your doppelganger and it would be nice to have Mr. Welk as your grandfather because you’d enjoy learning the accordion.
As we get older we walk slowly, like bags of pennies, across tightropes holding poles that allow us to balance between being team players and wondering why we’re disposable. And should we fall, as we often wish we would, our hope is that the landing spot is atop our original family tree, but more likely would be the center of Atlantis since we, like that city, are lost (and occasionally searched for).
During adolescence my own search ended with a summer camp bonfire and a girl who doesn’t care about my “don’t ask don’t tell” backstory and is the one person ever who, when told, did not ask the ubiquitous question ‘what was wrong with you?’ for she feels there is nothing wrong with being Plan B and is happy to be part of mine.
The scar has faded and as I write that girl’s daily love letter, with our baby on my lap, I think of the verse from Matthew and the long-ago spark, and that we need to put our light before others for all to see. We must rise above. And I do – for her – because if it hadn’t been for the light of her flame I might not be here.