Gold Rush Days

I’ve never held much stock in writing exercises for a writer’s group, but I’m in a writer’s group and there was a task. A short on the theme of lost and found. How short is short? I asked. In response I got a meme with a cartoon character prancing about in very short shorts. Funny. But not helpful.

So, I wrote a short, and read it to the group. Five hundred words, and a very formative experience. They enjoyed it, and I hope you do too. It was a nice warm up that morning as I worked on my novel—I’d say I’m ¾ through my science fiction story, MisStep. I know I’m getting near the end when I’m starting to sketch out the next book in the adventure.

The ship was nearly destroyed by a collision on their return to the convoy. Jens suspects it was not an asteroid but another ship. But at the moment they are limping back, trying to keep the ship in one piece. Once they take the final Step in their cargo run even more goes wrong, and they end up way off course.

But that’s later. For now, I hope you enjoy a small walk down memory lane.

Gold Rush Days                                                     

His foot was a short distance away. I tapped it with my hand. He stopped crawling.

“Where are we?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” he said.

That’s the first time I felt it. A flutter, butterfly wings, a rapid beating in the middle of my chest. Leo always knew which way was north. He always knew where he was. Where we were. He was my compass.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“Maybe we can try again,” he said. That was uncertainty in his voice. As if he was asking me what to do.

I shuffled backwards until I reached the branch in the tunnel that we followed. It was big enough to sit upright. Just. In the Gold Rush a miner had dug this looking for that vein of quartz that held all the treasure. He dug burrows into the hills, hunting, always hunting. Gold Fever. He had it bad. We had a fever, one hundred and fifty years later, exploring his diggings, deep in the hills under our homes. This one was a treasure, a true find. Wide caverns slumped down into crouching tunnels, which branched into crawl spaces just high enough and wide enough to work the elbows and the knees—if you didn’t raise your back too much.

Only now we were lost.

We had a simple rule. Right turns to explore. Take the first right. Then the next right. Then the next. An easy system. To get out, simply take lefts. Only today it failed us.

So, we tried again. Left, left, left. I tap Leo’s foot. Translation: what’s up?

“Dead end,” he says.

So, we try again. Left, left, left. I tap Leo’s foot. No need for translation.

“Try again,” he says. But I hear it in his voice. He is not only my compass, but my confidence. And that was not confident. It was afraid.

Scenarios flash by. Not my life, not the past, but the future. Months in the future, when decomposing corpses are found in a caved in, shut off section of an old mine, hidden in the foothills. And I feel it, that flutter, only it is not a butterfly any longer, but something bigger. Much bigger. I feel it rise from my heart, crawl its way up my chest, its talons digging in and pulling itself higher. I know that if it reaches my throat it will escape. It will rush out of my mouth, as a scream. A terror filled scream.

In the dark, deep under the earth, I grab it. I stop it. I push it down, back where it came from and back to where it can keep hiding. I know that if it comes out, I will not.

So, I tuck it away, hidden even from myself.

I breathe, slowly. Lying on my belly, on damp dark earth and stone, my elbows sore, my back scratched, and the soles of Leo’s dirty boots immediately in front of me. I tap his foot.

“Ok,” I say, starting to shuffle backwards. “One more time.”

Old Books

I love going to Wellington—not only good restaurants, but heaps of used book stores. Arty Bees, Pegasus, Ferret—all within a few minutes’ walk. In each store I head to the science fiction shelves, and usually walk out with a book I’ve read before.

One of those was Space Cadet by Robert Heinlein. I think it was one of his first, published in 1948. I wanted a few samples of that classic SF style, because I find my sci fi novel emulating that pace and flow, to some degree.

I must have read Space Cadet when I was about fourteen or fifteen. It’s real boys own adventure stuff. Our hero Matt Dodson, probably fifteen himself, joins the Patrol, wanting to be an officer. His training is thorough. Some of it straight forward, some of it psychological. There is one scene where all the cadets have to do is stand over a bottle and try to drop a bean into the mouth of it with their eyes closed. It was actually a test of honesty, of character.

And of course, our cadet and his mates have to rise to the challenge when their own officer is incapacitated. Another test of character. I always loved that in stories. I think we all do, because we get to ask ourselves, “how would I conduct myself? Would I rise to the challenge?” We have opportunities—they just don’t seem as exciting as negotiating with the amphibian natives living in the oceans of Venus.

But reading it again, I am amazed at the impact it had. I’ve had no problem balancing on a waka, the double hulled Polynesian canoes I find myself working on. Then I came across the scene in Space Cadet where I learned to walk. Matt is on home leave and his brother pokes fun at him, saying he’s walking like a chimpanzee. Matt tells him that is how spacemen walk.

“You carry yourself sort of pulled in, for days on end, ready to bounce a foot off a bulkhead, or grab with your hands,” Matt explains. “When you’re back under weight, after days and weeks of that, you walk the way I do. ‘Cat feet’ we call it.”

I remember practicing walking with cat feet after that, every time I’m in an elevator I still do—softening the knees as it stops at the bottom. It’s the way I walk when the waka is rolling with the swell, and why I roll with it. One hand ready to grab when the gravity cuts in.

I’m sure a tour through all those novels I read growing up would be an interesting study in my psychology—at least to me. Call it self-discovery. I’m sure there will be a lot of ‘ah ha’ moments. “So that is why I do that, think that way, harbour that fantasy…”

But then again, who needs an excuse to read an old book?

The Journey Begins

Thanks for joining me! Stay tuned for monthly blogs, musings on the craft, specualtions about the stories, and news of the novels.

Good company in a journey makes the way seem shorter. — Izaak Walton