Once upon a time there was a farmer. He was a dairy farmer, and the land he didn’t use for grazing he planted corn on. The corn he used to feed the cows. He ran a tight farm, and the house and barn always had a fresh coat of paint. Over the years he’d done well for himself.
One day a fella in a jalopy drove in and tried to sell the farmer on some sprays that would make his corn more plentiful. The farmer explained that he didn’t need to make the corn more plentiful because he planted enough for his herd. The man in the jalopy explained that the farmer could sell the extra corn and make money. It sounded good until the farmer asked how the spray might affect the milk. The man didn’t know, so the farmer said he’d think about it. He took the man’s card and never got back to him.
The fella called him up a few times, but the farmer wasn’t really interested. So the fella told him that progress was coming and he should be more forward-thinking. The farmer told him not to call again, because he had things to do.
A while later on, another fella in a big-finned car drove up and tried to sell the farmer on an injection that would make the farmer’s cows give more milk. It all sounded good until the farmer asked what might happen to the people who drank the milk. The fella didn’t know, and the farmer said he didn’t think he’d do that right now. The fella told him that was just backward thinking and he should know that progress was coming with or without him.
In a few years, the farmer’s competitors were making money on their corn and producing more milk. It was harder to make ends meet. The farmer thought about doing things differently, but it just didn’t seem right.
Then one day a bunch of long-haired folk pulled up in a VW bus. They wanted to buy some milk to make some yoghurt. The farmer thought that was a bit silly, but he agreed to sell them the milk.
One of the long-haired folk started asking the farmer if he used sprays or injected his cows. He told her that he didn’t spray the corn because he produced enough for the cows. He didn’t inject the cows because it didn’t seem right, and he used the cow manure to help fertilize the corn.
“So you mean it’s an organic farm, man?” said the long-hair, seemingly impressed. The farmer shrugged. After they left he had to look up the word, and still didn’t figure how they’d added a word to what he’d been doing all along.
More long-haired people came, and some settled up the road. They all came by and admired the farm. One of them told the farmer he was so forward-thinking. “You’re years ahead of the curve, man.”
A few years later the farmer was asked to teach some long-haired folks how to farm the way he’d been doing all his life. They called him a visionary, and a forward-thinker.
When he got home, the farmer told his wife that he figured he must have gotten so far behind progress that it had lapped him and he ended up in front again. They both laughed and went about doing what needed doing.
When men dreamed of reaching the stars, they looked to great rockets to hurl complex chunks of metal and gizmos far into the space beyond our atmosphere. But the space missions never got farther than our solar system. We never created a strong enough fuel or a strong enough astronaut to survive the intense pressures needed to breach our own little star.
What no one expected was that Arnie Leadbetter would find a better way. Arnie was more interested in -well- cultivating herbs than in space travel. But he had a passion.
Arnie’s passion was music, and he voiced that passion with a lifelong obsession with speakers. Arnie had collected speakers from the time he was barely crawling and had wretched his first speaker free from the stereo, scratching his father’s favorite vintage vinyl.
By the time Arnie reached college, he could fill his dented Uhaul hover full of old speakers. He paved the floor of his college dorm room with subwoofers that could beat like a huge heart. His walls were stacked with speakers in decreasing sizes, and his ceiling was glued full of tiny, iPod compatible mini-speakers. Arnie even had speakers left over, and dumped them on his bed in a random pile and plugged them into the vast array. It was a random arrangement, and it took follow-up experimenters several years to get the array right.
Arnie plugged an iPod mini into the middle of the room and sat down for a perfect sound experience. He was never seen again. The entire college’s electric grid, including the mini-nuclear power plant under the physics building, was entirely drained. When they traced it to Arnie’s room, he had created a rift in space and time that whistled and breathed like a living thing.
If you looked through the rift, you could see stars. But the rift itself was on a planet with a similar atmosphere. Otherwise, the building and possibly the earth would have been emptied of atmosphere.
When the findings were declassified a few years ago conspiracy theorists thought Arnie was being held by the government. But he was living happily on the other side of the portal, sitting on the palm beach, eating the marshmallow coconuts, and listening to the sound of the stars as their light pinging through the rarefied atmosphere of the new world. Arnie had found the perfect sound system, and he was happy.
Once upon a time there was a velvet glove. It held a delicate lacehandkerchief. The handkerchief did not belong to the glove. It belonged to a very sophisticated young lady named Beatrice. A bribed maid had delivered the handkerchief to the Duke of Armand, who owned the velvet glove.
The Duke wished his cousin, Jason, to inherit the estate of Cumberland. But his cousin was second-in-line to inherit behind the current Earl of Cumberland. The current Earl of Cumberland was known for his wit, his wealth, and his hot temper. He was also betrothed to Beatrice.
The Duke was known for his cunning, his manipulations, and his ability to kill his opponents during a duel. He was a crack shot, and two dozen men had fallen to his hand.
At that evening’s gathering, which featured a piano forte and mediocre talent from the Austen sisters, the Duke made certain to pull out the handkerchief at numerous occasions directly in front of the Earl. The lace B on the handkerchief was quite large, and the Earl could not fail to notice that only his betrothed had such fine lace work. He inquired of the Duke where he had gotten the handkerchief.
In a brilliant bit of playacting, the Duke looked at the handkerchief as if for the first time. He told the Earl that he did not recall, but that it had been some loose moraled wench who had pressed her affections upon him in a hallway at their last gathering.
The Earl, incensed, told the Duke a number of things, including the fact that he was a lying villain. The Duke took the opportunity to slap the Earl across the face with his velvet glove. It was the classic challenge to a duel, and the Earl accepted. The Duke’s plan had worked perfectly.
Only as his temper calmed did the Earl realize that he was likely to die in the morning. Beatrice arrived and told him that her handkerchief had likely been stolen by her maid, and didn’t he realize that the Duke’s cousin would inherit the Cumberland estate if the Earl was killed? The Earl realized how he’d fallen into the Duke’s trap, but honor would not allow him to run from the duel.
Beatrice, shedding bitter tears, left the stubborn Earl and returned to her home. She resisted an urge to fire her maid on the spot and instead called the girl to her room. She confided that the Earl intended to wear a metal undershirt to the duel and that he was to take a speedingdraught in the morning so he could outdraw the Duke and fire first. She showed the maid the precious potion and set it on the bedside table. In a few minutes she was asleep, snoring softly. She fully expected the light footsteps that crept across her floor and in the morning the speeding draught was gone.
The maid made haste to the Duke’s mansion and told him of the metal undershirt and the speeding draught. The Duke considered the draught and asked to be sure this was the only one. The maid confessed she didn’t know. Just to be certain of his victory, the Duke decided to take the draught himself.
In the dawn the Earl arrived at the designated spot. The dew sparkled on the grass, and the thudding of his heart made him feel all the more poignantly that it might soon be stilled. His second arrived, followed shortly by Beatrice. They waited while the Duke’s second fidgeted and looked at his pocket watch. After nearly an hour, the duel was declared forfeit. The Duke’s honor was lost, and his second made haste to his mansion where he found the Duke snoring like a hive of bees.
As he gratefully left the dueling field, the Earl of Cumberland inquired of his beloved Beatrice about her insomnia and what the doctor had prescribed. She replied that the sleeping draught given to her by the doctor was as effective as he had advertised, and had put her mind at ease. She would order more that very day.
If you enjoyed this story, you might like the book: Page Turner: Avarice and The Arcane. (I promise that I’m not telling stories just to support the book, this is what is occurring to me to tell each night. I don’t premake up any plot, I just let the story unfold. Once the boys are asleep if I have time I type in what I told them. The above is unedited.)
It was a beautiful hem. Ruffled, with dainty little flowers. Below it was a well-formed ankle and a lovely high-heeled violet shoe. It was a shame no one had ever seen the hem.
The hem belonged to Elizabeth Shaff. Elizabeth belonged to the sort of society that attended balls, did tea, had lessons, went riding and sent correspondence. She had enough money that she never needed to work. Her life was spent buying great gowns that swept the floor and attracted the attention of other people, young suitors, with money.
It was that last ball in August, and everyone was there at the great ballroom. Elizabeth had arrived fashionably late.
At the time Elizabeth lived it was considered scandalous to show off a woman’s ankles. The only equivalent today would be to have someone drop their pants. So Elizabeth had made certain no man had ever seen her ankles.
Unbeknownst to Elizabeth, the workman who had put in the grand stair in the ballroom had used a piece of wood with dry rot in it. Dry rot is when a wood is eaten away and weakened where the rot has set in. The spot of dry rot was very small, and it would take an exact blow from a high heel to pierce the stair.
Elizabeth was announced with her aunt Mildred who was there to chaperone Elizabeth. Tonight two of Elizabeth’s suitors were present, one she liked and one who liked her. The one who liked her had money, the one she liked did not. Everyone said Elizabeth should choose the one with money, because matching money with money was the thing to do.
Being announced meant that everyone in the ballroom turned to watch Elizabeth and her aunt descend the great stairs. Elizabeth did so gracefully, her great golden gown flowing down the stairs like water. Then Elizabeth’s violet high heel struck the dry rot of the stair precisely and stuck fast. It stuck so fast that eventually a carpenter had to be called to remove it with pliers. But Elizabeth didn’t know that yet.
Seeing her niece pause, Elizabeth’s aunt inquired if anything was wrong. Elizabeth shook her head, all the while wiggling her foot madly under her dress to free her heel.
Behind them, another couple was announced. They also wanted their turn to descend the grand staircase and Elizabeth was holding up the line. Already people were commenting behind fans all around the ballroom, wondering at the hold up.
The couple behind Elizabeth stopped. To brush by her would have been a social slight, something that would have been talked about for days. The elderly woman inquired of Elizabeth if anything was wrong. Elizabeth had failed to free her shoe and half-considered abandoning both shoes and continuing barefoot just to avoid the pile-up. But then her shoes would be left on the stairs, unsightly and the stuff of gossip. In desperation, Elizabeth turned to her aunt and the older woman. “My shoe is stuck.”
“Oh dear,” said the older woman. “We’ll go ahead and send someone up.” The two of them threaded their way around Elizabeth and her aunt.
As they went by, Elizabeth thought she could use the distraction to reach down and free her shoe. At the time, such an action was as odd as unbuckling one’s pants. So every eye, particularly every male eye, was drawn to the sight of Elizabeth rummaging in the folds of her dress for her shoe. They all hoped to catch a flash of ankle, a quick glimpse of that most forbidden of views.
At this point, it should be mentioned that Elizabeth was human. Like all humans, no matter well trained, she was prone to forget the world around her for the sake of accomplishing the little task she was focused on.
It occurred to Elizabeth that if she could just see her shoe, she might free it. She failed to notice that the elderly couple no longer blocked her from view. So she lifted her dress to view her shoe, fully exposing her ankle and the pretty hem above it.
Only when she heard the collective gasp from the ballroom did Elizabeth look up and realize her error. She had exposed her ankle in public, something that only an ill-bred street hussy would do. In embarrassment Elizabeth abandoned her shoes and fled back up out of the ballroom barefoot.
Of course, after her display of ankle, Elizabeth could not be wed to anyone with money. Instead she gratefully accepted the offer of marriage from her penniless suitor.
Together they immigrated to the U.S. where their descendents form part of the workforce for the industrial midwest. One of her grandchildren worked for an animation company, and penned a version of the Cinderella story for that company based on his grandmother‘s error. Eventually the part about the exposed ankle was deemed too controversial and the story just mentioned the loss of the shoes.
So sometimes a hem, a simple ruffled hem, can change history.
If you enjoyed this story, you will like the new book, Page Turner: Avarice and The Arcane, available from Amazon.
Hiram Uriah hated spiders. So he cultivated spider wasps of all species on his property in Vassalboro just north of Augusta. He was so successful he had half-a-dozen different species of spider wasp on his property when he died, including the Cicada killer and the Tarantula hawk. It was said there was nary a spider on his whole property.
But that wasn’t the problem for his son Ezekiah. Ezekiah hated wasps. When he was a lad, the poor boy had been stung by a Tarantula Hawk, which produced a terrible sting so bad most say it’s better to be dead, that he never forgot. He spent all his time hunting wasps, and feared the relatively mild sting of the Cicada killers beyond all reason.
In those days there were no established pesticides, so Ezekiah used all his considerable wealth to purchase strange brews from every corner of the globe and dump them on his property. It is no wonder that he developed a strange wasting illness and disappeared on his property sometime in the early 1900s.
The property went through an extended estate battle, and none of Ezekiah’s kin could take possession, as the great depression had hit by then and no one wanted farm land. Especially farm land that was still full of wasps. So the woods took over the land, and people forgot about Hiram Uriah and Ezekiah, until a couple of hunters disappeared near their property. One came out of the woods babbling about giant insects, but no one paid him much mind because he was always a drunk.
Then the animals started disappearing. The deer stopped grazing near that stretch of the woods. There were no turkeys nearby, and nobody could remember seeing a bird anywhere near that stretch of woods. One bird watcher swore that he saw an entire flock of Canadian geese settle down into the brackish pond on the old Uriah estate and never rise again.
But those were just stories, and Sheriff LeMoigne had his hands full of prescription drug thieves and wife batterers. He didn’t have time for stories until the corpse showed up floating down the Kennebec. He was the first one on the scene, and got to see that nothing short of swallowing a grenade would have done that to a body. It was all blown out from the inside.
The state boys showed up and took over the case. Whisked that body off to their air-conditioned homeland security lab and delayed the report for about as long as it took for the Kennebec Journal to get interested in something else.
When the report came out, it said the body was Lucas Smaller, one of the hunters that had disappeared. The experts concluded that he’d been mauled by a bear, and the case was closed.
Only Sheriff LeMoigne had a brother who was a game warden, and they both knew what happened to a body when a bear got to it. Mauled, but not exploded out. So it didn’t make sense.
That’s when Sheriff LeMoigne got it into his head to go on a hunting trip to the old Uriah place. Only he sort of forgot his shotgun and brought along one of the new automatic laser-sight sniper rifles from the armory. He also had full body armor and a helmet. The only thing he failed to do was tell anyone where he was off to. Maybe they would have said he was crazy, but they would have found his body sooner.
It was the state boys who went in and dragged his body out. Someone remembered seeing his squad car parked at the entrance to the old Uriah place, and the state boys sent in two SWAT boys to drag him out. Whatever had done it to him had done it up proper. The lab boys kept the body out too long, and there was an incident in the crime lab. When it got written up, it was cited as a case of spontaneous combustion that injured two lab technicians so badly they were put on permanent leave and one of them needed weekly therapy sessions and electroshock therapy.
The postmistress Morel up in Vassalboro had always had a thing for Sheriff LeMoigne. It went all the way back to high school, when he’d just started going steady freshman year and she’d never had a chance at him. So she just wouldn’t let up until by the sixth freedom of information act request they finally brought her in and had her sign a non-disclosure statement.
Three hours later Vera Morel left the state lab with a white streak down the middle of her hair and a powerful urge to head down to Freeport and buy every crossbow and bolt in the big L. L. Bean store. She spent the next six months communicating with so many chemical companies she became a person of interest for the terrorist monitoring network.
They compiled a dossier on Vera about a foot thick if it wasn’t just stored on a thumb drive that’s smaller than most thumbs. Vera was working on a special suit, based on a cross between a suit of armor and a soldier’s flack jacket. The Terrorist network code named her “Iron Jane” because one wit said what she really wanted was an Iron Man suit for a woman. Only instead of lasers her suit would spray some of the nastiest pesticides in a rotating fashion.
Vera told no one of her plans, and only her old mechanic knew that she’d completed her suit. He’d rigged up the compressed pesticide tanks on her back, and Vera had been hiking around with five gallons of water for the past few months. She entered the old Uriah woods at dusk.
For Vera, every sound, every sight, was amplified. She had a device, a prototype that traced wasp pheromones and could generate calming pheromones for the most common species.
Vera wandered about the woods, marking trees and noting directions. On two occasions, flying things the size of small dogs buzzed her, and both ended skewered to a far tree by a crossbow bolt. Then Vera got back to her car and took out the modified flamethrower her mechanic had set up for her.
By the time the fire department made it out to the Uriah woods, half the trees were ablaze. The fire seemed to have started up half-way up the trees in a dozen places.
When they get drunk at the end of a long week, the men will still whisper about the armored lady who came walking out of those woods. She was covered in a cloud of creatures, but she was spraying a dozen different scents into the air, and killing them by the hundreds.
At first the firemen moved toward her, but when a few of the wasps detached and came for them, the firemen took the better part of valor and hid inside their trucks while the woods burned and the armored lady did her thing. It was a last stand of sorts, but whether she or the wasps would win wasn’t certain. It was the really big ones, the ones that could knock her over, that could have beaten her. But every time they got together she would light them up with the flame thrower or blitz them with a cloud of pesticides. At last the cloud thinned, and the armored lady faced a dozen wasps the size of dogs. Each took two crossbow bolts to kill, and the armored lady fell under the last. It rose in triumph, only to be winged by one the firemen who’d ventured out with his personal handgun. The creature wobbled off into the darkness.
When they brought Vera into Maine General, she was already turning gray. The cause of death was listed as uncontrolled hypertension, but everyone in that E.R. could see the fist-sized hole in the woman. Her body was frozen and shipped off to someplace in Maryland where they don’t send reports back to the local authorities.
Since Vera’s last stand, there haven’t been many wasps of unusual size near the Uriah place. But some of the locals talk about the wasps breeding with the seventeen year Cicadas. That was about ten years ago, so who knows. Vera’s niece still has the armored suit, and the mechanic still lives down the road.