Tag Archives: writing

Storytime – The Dutchman

(another writing exercise)

Prospector

The Dutchman

Jim Hilton – 2016

   Curse these modern contraptions! As I walked along the old trail today, one of those “horseless carriages” almost ran over me and my mule Persephone. I hope I live to continue my hunt for the Dutchman’s mine.  I wish it was still the the 1880’s – things were a lot quieter then, and moved much more slowly.  Now, 20 years later, new inventions and rush, rush, rush!

     As I went higher, the trail narrowed, and I had it pretty much to myself. I found my small cairn from the previous visit, and left the trail there, aiming to reach the face of the butte above me. Mid-morning, and already a scorcher; glad I brought along enough water for us.

     Persephone was pretty well loaded up, and my backpack was bulging, too, but this heavy loading was necessary if I planned to keep going without having to trek back into town for supplies. Both of us were grunting and groaning as the trail became more steep. Cactus arms reached out to snag me at some of the narrow points, and more than once I heard the warning sounds of the rattlers, which were in the shade of the overhanging ledges. Rocks broke loose as we scrambled along, making small landslides as they tumbled down the mountain. Sweat was making rivulets down my face, and I had to wipe it frequently.

     Finally, we made it to the base of the rock palisade that formed the face of the butte, and, after checking for cacti and slithery intruders, I sat down in the shade of a large boulder. After a brief rest, I got up to take care of my trusty companion. Persephone stood, uncomplaining, as I wrestled the water bag loose and poured out some water for her. She drank deeply, and I almost imagined a smile on her face.

     My plan was to explore along the face of the rock outcropping, hoping to find traces of digging, and it was going to make for a very long day. I set out resolutely, taking careful hold of Persephone’s reins – I couldn’t hope to save her if she took a bad spill, but maybe leading her would help prevent that. The sun beat down on us, intensified by its reflection from the rocks, but I kept on, examining the clefts in the rocks as we went.

     My hopes were not high, as you might expect. So many others had gone before me, lured by untold wealth in the Superstition Mountains, but a fair number had not made it out alive – the tales of their tragedies made it into the newspapers back East. Some adventurers had simply disappeared, either to accident or exposure, or maybe there were some small bands of Indians guarding their sacred mountain heights. These thoughts crowded my head as I picked my way along. At least I felt like I was the first to take this route, since there was no discernible trail here, and no footprints to be seen. So, who knows? Press on, and hope for the best!

     As I came to the toughest section, narrow access, dangerous scree, all that, I began to see signs that perhaps someone had indeed been here. A little further along, I came to a place with just enough room for the mule and I to squeeze through, and in the deep shadow of the huge rock, I saw a heavy wooden door set into the rock face, well hidden from the casual viewer. My heart skipped several beats! I secured Persephone to an exposed tree root and moved to examine the door.

     Someone had scratched “Waltz”, “Verboden”, and “Gevaar” into the center of the door. I knew a little Dutch from someone who was in our church, and I figured out that  “verboden” meant “forbidden”, while “gevaar” indicated “danger”. “Waltz” had me puzzled for a bit, but then I remembered the miner’s name that was associated with the mine legend, “Jacob Waltz”. Had I hit the jackpot? Fingers crossed!

     I was in deep, dark shade, but I was sweating profusely now. I seemed to be so close to the end of the quest and I could hardly keep from jumping and dancing. I didn’t want Persephone to think me daft, you know. The door beckoned, and I could not resist.

The wood was still as strong as when the Dutchman had set it in place, and there was a heavy lock and chain keeping it securely closed. I had a few sticks of dynamite with me, but I decided not to risk an explosion, since a rock shard could easily kill me, even a small one, in the right location. I unloaded Persephone, and foraged through my tools. I had a heavy hammer and a sharp chisel, so I went to work on the wood, where the hasp was bolted.

     In a surprisingly short time, I had chiseled out the bolts and dropped the chain to the ground. I cleared away some of the fallen rocks to allow the door to be opened, then gave it a tug.  More rocks fell, just missing my head, and dust rolled out through the door gap I had created. I stepped back in alarm, then allowed the dust to clear. I approached the door again and pulled a little harder. The door offered little resistance now, as if eager to reveal all.

     Now the door was wide open, and all I had to do was step in, then gather up all the piles of gold which surely awaited me. No, not really – I knew it was a mine, and much heavy work was ahead of me before I held the smallest amount of gold in my hands. I watered Persephone again and gave her some oats – I didn’t know how long I’d be inside and she’d be indignant if I didn’t take care of her first.

     I found my oil lantern and crept inside, trying to avoid pitfalls and other unpleasant surprises. The shaft seemed to stretch quite a ways into the mountain, so I started following the dark tunnel, using my pitifully dim lamp to guide my way. I came to a relatively flat part and remember thinking how unusual it was, and ‘un rock-like’. I stepped onto that section and my heart almost stopped as I felt myself falling, falling. Old Waltz had set a trap, and I fell into it.

     I don’t know how long I’ve been in here, since I don’t have a way to tell time, but my lantern is starting to sputter, indicating that it’ll be pitch dark in here quite soon. I am lying here, back likely broken, legs twisted completely under me, but at least I have a little water left.

I am writing the last of this on some scraps of paper I found in my pocket so you’ll know how I came to be here. I hope your luck turns out better than mine, partner – luck is what you’ll need.

Storytime – another Writing Exercise “The Old Desk”

temple

 

Prompt:

The moving van is gone now, and the old desk, actually a type of desk called a secretary, is now in your den. Many times over the years you had seen your grandfather at that desk, working on correspondence or household finances, and it always seemed to be a thing of mystery – all those little pigeon holes, all those bits of rolled-up paper. The other kids liked running and playing on the old tire swing, but for you it was sitting at the desk, imagining great things. And, now…. it is yours.

Now, the mystery has come home to roost, because you have found a small secret drawer containing tantalizing pieces of a family puzzle. There are a few pages torn from a diary, where the writer, an unidentified young woman, describes a secret rendezvous with her lover. Also, there are a few old photographs, perhaps from the 40’s, of a young man, perhaps Grandfather, in various poses. There are no photos that might be Grandmother – was Grandfather perhaps indiscreet? Did Grandfather remove the diary pages? And, what is the significance of the locket in the drawer?

I decided it was time to put on my ‘detective hat’ to try to unravel this enigma. Surely there was something in the diary pages or perhaps there in the photographs that could point the way. And, that locket – it resisted my initial efforts, but finally it opened, revealing a small woman’s ring, with a French postage stamp stuck to it, wrapped around the band. Inside the gold band, I could just make out the inscription, “To my Effie”.

For now, the ring could wait. I laid out the photographs, three of them in all, and used Grandfather’s magnifying glass to examine them closely, trying to locate clues. The first photograph was the worst of them, poorly exposed and somewhat out of focus. I leaned down and peered at it, section by section, but was unable to find anything of real interest. It was the image of a young man, but it would be difficult to say who it might be, due to the poor quality of the shot. There was a large structure in the background, but even though it was evocative, I could not place it. I pushed Number 1 aside and pulled Number 2 over for my perusal.

 

The photo showed a young man, again, and this time I could see certain characteristics that led me to the assumption that it was indeed Grandfather. His high cheekbones and distinctive ‘widow’s peak’ hairline was pretty much proof positive. He was posed with one foot placed upon the step of a small conveyance, oh what was it called, yes, a rickshaw. How had I not noticed it before? Perhaps the thing blended in too well with the background, so a casual look wouldn’t reveal it. A rickshaw – now where could this have been? Somewhere in Asia, most likely. The photograph was a street scene, with buildings crowding in all around, with only a few in the distance sticking up to form a skyline. One of those had the look of a pagoda, but very tall and slender. Shanghai, or Hong Kong? Not enough evidence to say. Enough of Number 2, now for the last.

Number 3 was the best of them, and I was prepared to spend even longer with it, slowly examining every square millimeter. The same man, presumably Grandfather, was seen seated at a table of an outside cafe, or bistro. I leaned down once again, squinting and slowly moving the glass. After an hour or so I was rewarded with my best clue. In the middle distance was a sign in French that read, ‘Something something Indochine’. From my limited knowledge of that language, I deduced that the photograph must have been taken in Indochina, perhaps in Tonkin, now known as Hanoi, or in Saigon. The French stamp in the locket was certainly a good link, since that part of the world was under French rule at the apparent time of the old photographs.

Well, now I knew the approximate time period, and I knew that the man in the photos was Grandfather, but who was the author of the diary entries? It was likely Effie, but who was she, really? Time for some more modern research, so I pulled out my laptop and started punching in questions. I wasn’t having much luck at first because I didn’t know my grandmother’s full name. Hmmm, how could I figure this out? Was she Effie?

Then I remembered a family Bible that had been inside one of the drawers of the secretary. The first page was pre-printed as a family tree, with blanks for all the relatives. At the top there was space for two names to represent the start of the tree, and there I found Grandfather’s name, right alongside his wife’s full name, “Anastasia Euphenia Archambault”. His birthplace had been filled in as “Vienna, Austria”, and hers as “La Rochelle, France”. I had no idea that I was part of such an international family!

I tried again to use the internet to tie some of this together, and I learned that “Effie” was a nickname for many given names, one of them “Euphenia”. Bingo! It was her ring! I was quite happy, but I still wanted to know about the diary pages.

I re-read the torn-out pages, but still could not find any link to the ring or the photographs. I resolved to read them one last time, slowly, measuring each reference to place or person. It was then that I finally realized that the young woman had been using a secret special name for her lover, and I had thought it was the name of a place. She had written several times that she loved “Renault”, but at first that meant nothing, since I assumed it was a village name, but I could not locate such a village in my researches.

I went back and looked again at Grandfather’s full, legal name, “Auguste Renoir Baptiste”, and then I realized that Effie had twisted his name slightly to keep her references guarded within her diary, in case someone came snooping. Grandmother was the author, and there was no mystery woman!

I decided not to share any of this with family, lest they come to a different conclusion. I honored the memory of Grandmother and Grandfather by keeping it to myself and cherishing the thoughts of their love that spanned the world.

 

Storytime – Writing Exercise – Vermeer’s “Artist’s Studio”

A1047, VERMEER, The Artist's Studio (The Art of Painting) dark print

(a writing exercise: write ~500 words about the one of the people in the painting by Vermeer “The Artist’s Studio”)

———————————–
“My dear, is it asking too much to have you remain still?  I cannot capture you onto my canvas if you keep squirming and looking about.  Your father commissioned this painting and he will be quite unhappy if we can’t deliver it before the time of your mother’s birthday.  We have just two months, so please help me, here.”  The Artist threw down his brush and rose quickly to his feet.  He took up his clay pipe and tamped in some fresh tobacco.  After he got it lit, he paced back and forth, often scowling at the young girl, who was mostly ignoring him and was looking out the window.
“Now what is it?  Are you thinking that your young boy friend will be strolling by?  I happen to know that he is apprenticed to the butcher Van Haart, and will not be free for some hours yet.  Let us try again, “ he said, in exasperated tones.  He replaced the pipe back on its stand.
The girl turned to him, breaking the pose.  She was angrily tapping her foot.  She  asked, “Why must we spend so many hours at this horrendous task?  Don’t you know what I look like by now?  And, why must I don this ridiculous dress?  It’s much too large for me, and I hate the color.  Is this a dress your common daughter tired of wearing?  I am not accustomed to this treatment, I tell you!”
The Artist jumped to his feet again, this time knocking over his tray of paints and almost sending the painting to the floor.  He gritted his teeth and fumed, but managed to hold his tongue.  After a bit, in a mild tone, he pleaded, “Please have a rest, eat some cheese, drink a little wine.  I’ll return shortly.”  He grabbed up the pipe again, lit it and walked, stiff-legged, out of the room.

He made his way down to the kitchen where his wife was struggling with the large stewpot, trying to get it onto the iron holder above the fire.  He quickly ran to help her, glad to have something at which he could direct his strength, rather than fantasizing about strangling the spoiled rich girl in the studio.  He turned to his wife, said, “If we didn’t need the money I’d almost throw her out in the street.  She fancies herself a queen, but is only the daughter of a prosperous burgher.  I’ve met the burgher’s wife; she and the daughter are both a pair of shrews, hardly fit to be around.  I pity him, I tell you.  What a home life he must have, suffering the two of them under his roof.”
His wife stood with hands on hips, waiting on him to finish his tirade.  When at last he showed signs of cooling off, she said, “Hold your tongue a little longer, just get the painting finished.  Our larder is almost empty, and there are many mouths to feed in this house.  And, do you think we can heat it for free?”
His shoulders sagged, and he replied, “Yes, my dear.  I’ll go back up there and try to placate Her Majesty.”

Slowly the Artist ascended the stairs.

New territory

As readers of my humble blog already know, I occasionally venture out onto the thin ice of creative writing.  So far, I’ve only been published once, at the online Copperfield Review (copperfieldreview.com)  Admittedly, I have submitted my work very few times, but I guess you’d have to say my success rate is high 🙂  Anyway, since I’ve been attending a couple of writer’s groups, in Corydon and in Brandenburg, KY, I’ve started to get more motivated to: 1) submit some of my completed work and 2) get started on a (gasp!) novel.

Recently I emailed one of my short stories to Beth, the leader of our Brandenburg group, so she could give me her critique on it and waited a week or so for a response, but didn’t get anything back so I just assumed she was too busy to look at it.  I happened to arrive early for our next meeting and Beth was there also, and she had marked up my short manuscript with all sorts of ideas about expanding it into a NOVEL!  Wow, she’s great!  I liked all her ideas, showed them to Kate later, and she also is in favor of expanding it into a longer piece.  Obviously, you can’t decide to write a novel and have it done in a week, so it’ll mean lots of work, but maybe I’m ready for that now.  We’ll see  🙂  Cross your fingers, ok?  🙂

One of the nice benefits to being in the Kentucky group is now I have free access to the online version of Writer’s Market, so I can look around for publications/websites that might be interested in my efforts.  I may have to submit my work for no pay for awhile to try to build up some credentials, but we do have to pay our dues, don’t we?  It’s going to take awhile to sift through all this information, so don’t look for me on the bestseller list just yet, ok?  🙂

That’s my update regarding my literary efforts.  If you want to see any of my short stories, leave me a comment and I may be able to send you one, and of course I’d like to hear what you think of it.  No, I’m not fishing for compliments, just some honest opinion.  Thanks!

How Grey was My Valley

  Sometimes I throw in a *totally* nonsensical title, just for effect.  Actually, I was just thinking about a few issues peculiar to my present phase of life – grey hair, ya know?

  I sometimes get these silly feelings like, “Hmmm, maybe I should *DO* something with all this spare time I have now that I don’t commute to work every day”.  Then, I have another cup of coffee, watch half a movie, and the feeling goes away.  My most recent (constructive?) thought was, “Hey, maybe now I can pick up where I left off, 20 years ago, and get that pilot’s license, and we can fly places!”  So, I figured, how much could it cost?  I remember taking ground school, doing all that reading, etc., and *that* didn’t break the bank.  Also, in my memory the plane rental and fuel costs were not astronomical.  Well, guess what?  Now they ARE astronomical!  I checked the website of a flying school in Louisville, and apparently the owners want to buy a yacht or something, because the total cost of getting that license falls in the $6000 – $7000 range.  I checked the bank account – we don’t have that much money!  I might just as well have decided to BUY an airplane – same result.  Sigh…

   Spare time, spare time…last year I decided to become Farmer Jim and do some vegetable gardening and quickly came to the realization that I’m older than when I last tried to do that.  There seems to be a lot of physical activity involved in even a modest amount of vegetable gardening.  Wanna prepare the ground?  That means either getting your dull shovel and  spading up a big rectangle in the back yard or renting a tiller to do the job.  Have ya ever USED one of those tillers?  Those things should come with a ‘dance card’ that you fill out before you start the engine because you’ll be following that infernal thing ALL over the garden/dancefloor and if you’re somewhat older than say 25 or so, it’s gonna be *real* tedious!  Here’s the scenario – you wrestle the thing off the trailer or pickup and drag it over to the worksite.  You put in the gasoline, give the starting rope a few simple pulls (or maybe about 30 HARD pulls), and the engine starts.  Or not.  If the one you rented is kinda stubborn, you’ll have lots of fun just getting it going.  Takes a little longer when you have to go over into the shade and gasp and wheeze every 5 minutes just during startup.  If you do get it going, then the real fun begins.  Finding the right throttle setting is critical – too slow and it wants to either stall or just kinda DIG IN.  Too fast and it wants to leap like a gazelle, tearing up the top inch or so of dirt, heading for the woods.  I think the last one I rented was kinda feral, and didn’t want to be domesticated again.  So, you get the garden plot tilled, then you go into the house (or emergency room, whatever), and try to drink enough cold water to get your temperature below 115 degrees and also try to assume the right position in the recliner to allow your spine to magically get back into alignment.  You may also want to spend some time screwing your arms back into their sockets.  Hmmm, can’t you *buy* vegetables downtown??

   What to do with all my time…. once in a while I get into ‘wanna be Hemingway’ mode and do some serious thinking about turning out the great American novel.  Or maybe just an average American novel.  Or a short story.  Or….  Anyway, whatever it is, I can’t seem to find it.  I feel like maybe if I could come up with a storyline I’d have a chance, but I’ve searched the dark dusty corners of my head and still haven’t found a story idea lying around.  I haven’t totally given up hope – I have an idea about maybe writing a series of books about a boy who goes to Wizarding School – sound good?  🙂

   Don’t get me wrong – I’m not bored, I guess I just feel a little guilty about simply enjoying my retirement with its associated blocks of free time.  I’m pretty sure I’ve seen other folks enjoying their ‘restful’ time of life.  Am I *supposed* to be getting rich writing, or starting a vegetable truck farm, or maybe becoming an airline pilot?  Unfortunately, I didn’t come with an instruction manual, so I guess I’ll just have to figure this out as I go.  I’ll report back later, ok?  🙂

  Hey, now HERE is something I think I can work with – now *where* do I sign the dance card on this baby?  🙂