Thursday, August 28, 2008

Friday Fiction for August 29th, 2008

This week’s Friday Fiction was written a couple of years ago as a “gift” to those I affectionately call “Friends of the Pod” – those folks who read the Pod stories and offered feedback during the revision process.

I thought this would be a good story to couple with last week’s as this gives a more balanced view of Eva. This story takes place the Christmas before the opening scenes of Cardan’s Pod. It also gives a little peek at life for the Pod before Joshua Cardan comes along.

Besides; what could be more fun than a Christmas story at the end of August? Be sure to check out the other stories posted for Friday Fiction.

Christmas Magic
A short prequel story to Cardan’s Pod
By Rick Higginson

“I know that look, Marta; you’ve been watching a boat again, haven’t you?” Eva asked.

“I never hear you complain about that when it means I bring back something we need,” Marta replied. She deposited the fish she had caught with the rest of the day’s catch so far.

“I wonder sometimes,” Eva commented. “It’s true that you’ve been one of the best foragers, yet the mood that watching the boats puts you in leaves me questioning whether the trade-off is worth it. I can already see that look of longing on your face, which means that something about your peeping today has made it worse than normal.”

“It’s almost Christmas,” Marta replied. “I heard them saying that tonight was Christmas Eve.”

Eva sighed. It was rare that they had any indication of the date, but she knew it was the third winter since Dr. Marcel had sent them to hide away from the nursery. While their Christmas celebrations had never been lavish, the doctor had never allowed the day to pass without sharing special foods and music while he was still with them. That the doctor would apparently miss that Christmas as he had the previous two only added to her suspicion that he was not going to return to them. “Have you told anyone else about this yet?” she asked.

“No, you’re the first one I’ve seen since I returned.”

“I hate to ask you this, but don’t tell anyone else that tomorrow is Christmas.”

“He’s not coming back to us, is he?”

“I don’t know, Marta. My feeling is that if he could, he would have done so by now, and especially for Christmas. No matter how busy his work kept him, he always made time for the holiday.”

Marta floated on her back and looked at the decreasing light coming through the cracks in the cavern ceiling overhead. “Do you ever wonder what it would have been like to run down the stairs on Christmas morning and find a tree with all kinds of gifts beneath it?”

“That was the stuff of movies, Marta. I might as well wonder about sprouting wings and flying to the stars.”

“It’s normal life for humans.”

“This is our life; we can’t afford to pine away for what we cannot have, and I really need for you to help keep the Pod focused on surviving with what we do have.”

“I know, but didn’t you ever wonder if maybe Christmas really is a special day? Maybe there is something magical to the holiday, like they always showed in the movies Dr. Marcel let us watch.”

“Christmas is just another day. It’s nothing special, and while I’d love to think otherwise, I can’t imagine it being special for me ever again.”

“It doesn’t hurt to dream, though, does it?”

“As if I could stop you from dreaming, Marta,” Eva replied with a tone of resignation. “Just don’t let your dreams carry you away from the reality of the Pod.”

“Sometimes I wish they could carry me away, but no matter how much I dream, I still wake up in this same body and with the same realization that I won’t ever have the things I want most.”

“We all do.”

“Still, it’s nice to think sometimes that there is something to the Christmas story; that maybe a very special baby was born on that day or that wishes made on Christmas Eve come true. Perhaps if we’d been real people, Santa Claus would have come and visited us-”

“Marta, stop,” Eva interrupted her. “Santa never visited us because there is no Santa Claus; it has nothing to do with the way we were created.”

“I suppose you’re right. If there were anything magic about Christmas, I guess we would have seen it work before now, wouldn’t we?”

“I’d be happy with just enough Christmas ‘magic’ to have sufficient food for the Pod for the day,” Eva said, looking at the meager pile of fish on the nearby stone. “There isn’t much daylight left, and unless the foraging has been much better this afternoon than it was this morning, it’s going to be a sparse meal tonight. I doubt we’ll even have enough to hold some over for breakfast tomorrow.”

“I should go see if I can find anything more.”

“Go ahead; just remember, tomorrow is your turn to watch the collection and make sure the crabs don’t steal it.”


Marta swam back towards the ocean outside, pausing for a moment just inside the entrance to the submerged tunnel. She listened to the sounds the dolphins made; the nearby boat had been noted, but the calm vocalizations of the cetacean members of the Pod indicated that the vessel was far enough away and posing no threat. The noises were calm and playful, meaning that no other dangers were detected in the immediate vicinity. She departed the tunnel into the sea beyond, and made a quick dash to the surface to grab a breath of air.

With strong strokes of her tail, she skimmed along the rocks surrounding the island, looking for fish that might be hiding among them. She doubted she would find much, as most of the Pod had already searched the closest areas, but it was always worth checking on her way to the farther reaches of their foraging range.

Though she knew that Eva would disapprove, she headed in the direction of the nearby boat. More than once she had been able to sneak in close enough to a passing vessel to remove a net loaded with beer or soda that was tied off the side in the cool water. That was the official reason; the reality was that most often she simply watched the people on board.

She found an area where she was certain the glare of the setting Sun would make it impossible for anyone on the boat to see her, and floated with just her head out of the water, watching and listening. The conversations she could hear were light and happy, with considerable joking and teasing going back and forth. Several couples occupied the large vessel, and at least one of them could be heard exchanging affectionate comments. They were preparing a meal out on the open deck, despite the cool December weather.

“Hey, Stan,” one of the men on board yelled. “Toss me that wheel of cheese, would ya?”

“Sure,” the reply came, and the speaker threw a large orange disk towards the first man.

Surprised at being taken literally, he stretched to catch the heavy ten pound wheel of cheese, and in so doing lost his balance. With the cheese loose in his grasp, he fell off the side of the slow moving boat with a loud yell and a splash. Within a moment, a rope had been thrown to him, and he was pulled back on board. “Geez, Stan. I didn’t mean to actually throw it to me!”

“You were supposed to catch it without falling overboard!” The words were almost lost in the laughter of the others on board. “Didn’t you catch it? Where is it?”

“Well, it was kind of hard to hold onto while grabbing onto the rope!”

“Does it float?”

“How should I know? Can you see it out there?”

“No, I can’t, and I’m darn sure not going to go diving after it if it’s sinking.”

Marta listened to the exchange from against the opposite side of the boat, the wax-covered wheel of cheese held tight against her abdomen.

“It didn’t come up on the other side, did it?” one of the women said.

She heard the footsteps coming over towards the side where she huddled, and dove deep beneath the boat. She swam back towards the island, clutching her prize as though it would struggle to escape her. One of the dolphins came along beside her, eying her colorful treasure curiously. When it became apparent that the mermaid was not carrying the object of some new game, the dolphin veered off to explore other possibilities.

Marta darted through the tunnel back to the chamber. She surfaced near Eva, gasping for breath from the strenuous swim.

“Marta, what’s wrong?” Eva asked; worried at the way her friend had entered.

She held up the wheel of cheese for Eva to see. “Christmas magic,” she panted, still fighting to catch her breath. “There’s enough for everybody!”

Eva shook her head. “You were over by the boat again, weren’t you? One of these days, Marta, that’s going to bring trouble to all of us.”

“Eva, it’s cheese!” Marta exclaimed as if it wasn’t already obvious. “It’s plenty to have some tonight and even have some for the morning, too.”

“I can see that, but still, you had to be much too close to the boat to have gotten that, didn’t you?”

“Don’t you see? You got your Christmas wish. Maybe there is some Christmas magic at work.” She placed the wheel on the stone shelf near the collected fish. “If it worked for you, maybe it will work for me!”

Eva chuckled, unable to muster up any anger at her enthusiasm. “I hope it does, Marta,” she added. “I hope it does.”

As the Pod gathered that evening in the diminishing light, they enjoyed one of the best meals they’d had since the stores of food that Dr. Marcel had left them had been depleted. Marta floated next to Eva, and leaned close to her friend’s ear. “Merry Christmas, Eva,” she whispered.

“Merry Christmas,” she whispered back. She sighed and smiled. “Go ahead and let everyone know what tomorrow is. If we’re going to have a Christmas feast, they might as well know why.”

“Do you really hope the magic works for me, too, Eva?”

“Yes, Marta; I really do.”


Joshua Cardan looked at the clock over the small table on board his sailboat. It was after eleven, and he found the idea of spending Christmas Eve aboard the boat sad. It was not how he had imagined spending his first Christmas as a married man. He would have thought they could at least get through the holiday without fighting.

He’d looked forward to their first Christmas together; the season had always been special to his family when his parents had still been alive, and he’d anticipated having those same kinds of moments with his wife. He could not understand why Cynthia hadn’t seemed to want the same thing.

Maybe next year, he thought. By then, they should be able to iron out the problems of meshing their lives together into one and they could enjoy the holidays the way a couple was supposed to.

He could only hope.

After all, Christmas was supposed to be magic.


Betsy Markman said...

Very different and, I'll admit, intriguing. Characterization and dialogue were very good and natural. It made mermaids real, and that's no small feat. (Oh, I didn't realize what an awful pun I just made...mermaids have no small feet...I truly apologize...)

Sara Harricharan said...

What fun "Christmas magic" I still love this 'mermaid' angle. lol. Such a fun and wonderfully descriptive read! ^_^

LauraLee Shaw said...

Wow, you are one gifted guy! Wow! I was so engrossed in this story, I couldn't believe it when it had come to an end. Your characters were so real to me. Wonderful!