Saturday, August 15, 2009

the helium museleum

The Helium Museleum sits way up in the sky,
it’s a great place to visit if you’re ever passing by.

Big round letters on the side say, quote,
“For The Preservation and Presentation Of Things That Float.”

You’ll see birthday balloons with their strings still attached
and parade balloons that got away and could never be catched.

There’s a store with gifts and helium prizes
and an exhibit that explains why helium rises.

The ticket taker greets the visitors and speaks:
“You’re the first guests I’ve had in a couple of weeks.”

The ticket taker’s name is Guten D. Goss
Owner, founder, handyman, boss.

While some folks are bankers and others are hatters,
Guten’s an expert on helium matters.

“We must not have holes,” he says, “so just to be clear,
we ask that you leave all your sharp objects here.”

“And if you find your head feeling light,
Air pockets are there on the left and the right.”

“Get in there quickly if you want them to work.”
“And what if I don’t?” a little boy smirked.

Guten replied: “Another boy once, too long he waited,
He’s up in the rafters, fully inflated.”

One day it happened, that out of the blue,
the king dropped in, and the queen did, too.

All hail the king, Good King Divine,
and his beautiful queen, the Lady Ermine.

As the king made his way down the helium hall
he tripped on his robe and he started to fall.

He fell head-first, fell all the way down
landing on top of the tips of his crown.

He got to his feet and rubbed the royal chin,
then noticed a hissing where his crown had just been.

A leak.
A ... ssssssssss ... LEAK!!!

Guten D. Goss rushed to the puncture
and tried to repair it with a big glob of gunkture.

But the hole became bigger than he could fix
proving that helium and royalty don’t mix.

Guten D. Goss rushed fore and aft
telling everyone to grab a lifewaft.

The lifewafts all had just enough air
to carry people down to the ground with care.

The sight of all those lifewafts descending
thickened the sky like a swarm unending.

When everyone else had fled the situation,
Guten D. Goss stayed aboard his creation.

As the hole grew bigger and the helium rushed out,
the museleum began to tumble about.

It lurched through the sky with a terrible whoosh
like an angry goosh or a moosh on the loosh.

The museleum spun around and around
falling ever closer to the ground and the ground.

With a thud and a thunk and a thunderous thump,
it crashed to the earth in a collapsible clump.

Guten crawled out, sore but not hurt,
and found himself in a field of fresh-tilled dirt.

He saw a road and walked toward it until
he got to a sign that said WELCOME TO PLAINSVILLE.

Just at that moment a truck happened by.
He waved and the driver looked him right in the eye.

The truck pulled up and there they sat,
a red-haired lady and a one-eared cat.

The lady said, “Hey, can I give you a lift?
Looks like your balloon has done gone piffed.”

Guten got in and straightened his tie
and told her how he’d dropped from the sky.

Before the truck had gotten too far,
he remembered his manners. “And you are ...?”

“The name is Jupiter Amulet Kimono Earthquake,
but most of my friends just call me Jake.”

The truck pulled into a garage with more cats
and a sign out front that said WE FIX FLATS.

“We’re the only place open these days in these parts
I mostly fix tractors and hay-baleing carts.”

“I can patch those holes easy enough,
but that much helium? That’ll be tough.”

“But I might know some folks who if they’re willing
would be delighted to help with all of that filling.”

Jake grabbed her tools, they returned to the spot
to see where the leaks were and were not.

She set right to work and started repairing
and tried not to notice that Guten was staring.

“It won’t leak now,” Jake said proudly,
then grabbed a walkie-talkie and said into it loudly,


In no time flat there came a collection
of clowns arriving from every direction.

Clowns with red noses, clowns with big flowers,
clowns who could do the chicken dance for hours.

The size of the sight left the clowns quite astounded.
Then they placed their helium tanks all around it.

They worked and they worked till their tanks were depleted,
and then when the filling was finally completed,

It slowly began to lift off the land
and hovered like only a museleum can.

With help from the clowns, Guten climbed aboard it,
then turned to Jake just before he unmoored it

And said, “Would you ... could you ... can you ... might you ...”
“Come along?” smiled Jake. “Yes, I’d like to.”

Though surrounded by helium all day and all night
never had his head and his heart felt so light.

Away they a-went, higher than high,
Till they reached that particular place in the sky.

The museleum reopened – up came the crowds!
(But kings and their crowns were no longer allowed.)

Guten and Jake lived their life in the helium.
They got married, had a son, and named him ...


(note: this appeared in The Charlotte Writers' Club anthology, "Journey Without," in 2009.)

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

tessa to the very end

Tessa and her mom and dad were just walking back from having a proper picnic on the hillside near their home when they found a message in a bottle.

Two of them, actually.

The smaller bottle had Tessa’s name on it. She pulled out the cork and some papers that were inside.

The first one, no bigger than a notecard, was written in a careful hand. Tessa read it out loud.

“A little birdie told us to give this to you.”

The second piece of paper, a longer, wider, thicker one, had long words in big golden letters. Too long for Tessa to read, even though she was a good reader for her age. She would be 6 and a half in another year and a half. 

Her mom read it out loud for her.


it said.

In the bigger bottle, the bottle with the names of Tessa’s parents on it, was a sheet of paper with a lot more words.

“Congratulations,” it began. “We are delighted to present this award to Tessa. We are not allowed to say what the award is for, nor who will give it to her, only that she will be well worthy of it. Sadly, she will not be honored until after the two of you are long gone. But we wanted you to be proud of her just the same.”

“How do we know all this? Let us introduce ourselves and explain. We are the Secret Order of Seers, Oracles and Soothsayers. We know the future, to a point. We do not presume to speak for the stars, nor can we claim to know where the planets may go in their courses. What we can divine are the deeds of mankind, from all the many choices we make here on this earth. We have seen the sign -- the tealed eagle soaring at sunset, alone. It tells us that Tessa’s journey will be a remarkable one. And it is with this knowledge that we honor her.”

Tessa’s mom and dad looked at each other, and then at their daughter.

“What was in your bottle, daddy?” she asked.

“The same thing, Tessa.”

“About a little birdie?”


“But what does it mean, mommy?”

“It means you are very, very special.”

“Do you think so, too?”


And not at that very moment, but soon enough, in a most distant part of space, a comet slipped its orbit ‘round a dying star and began a steady, pointed path.

Tessa taped the LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD to her bedroom door, hoping her parents would notice it every day and treat her a little more special.

It worked, for a while.

After a while, it did not.

She still had to clean up her room and put away her clothes and do her homework and go to sleep on time and sit up straight and all the other things little girls named Tessa were always being told to do.

And as the years passed -- five of them altogether -- Tessa grew to like the daisy shade of yellow, the sound of many violins together, and turtles.

Just months away from retirement, but still an official Searcher of Skies, Dr. Marco Darkly would not have been expected to be the one to find what he found.

He didn’t see quite as well as he once did. He had been squinting all his life.

And he seemed most interested in a part of space that wasn’t very special -- no good galaxies, no strange swirling clusters to speak of, just specks of light dotting the deep vastness.

Late one night he was having his cup of tea and making one last check of the skies when he saw it -- or rather, didn’t see it.

He didn’t see one of the stars he had always seen before.

He blinked and looked again.

The star was there. But a nearby one was not.

He blinked again and looked again.

Now another star was not there.

Six hours and just as many cups of tea later, he knew.

It was a comet, burning black, blocking out starlights as it passed in front of them, heading for earth.

And hitting in five days.

He told the world, and the comet was named for him.

Comet Darkly.

Everyone looked to the skies, but they couldn’t see it coming, in the night or in the day. That didn’t stop them from looking.

Some people cried and some people prayed. And some just laughed about it all.

Nobody paid for anything, and nobody wanted to go to sleep.

And then it was upon them.

As Comet Darkly bore down, it nudged the moon, knocking it from its place, making all the world’s oceans quickly rise up where they had not risen before.

So quickly that Tessa’s parents, who were saying goodbye to some friends just a few miles away, could not get to the hillside near their home in time.

Tessa did, all by herself.

The sky glowed red.

The water lapped at her feet.

She thought of the piece of paper on her door. 


She wondered what she might have done to deserve it.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

one game at a time

The park was empty except for the two old robots playing checkers.

They played all day every day. Robot Ben and Robot Bill.

Except not at night.

They were powered by the sun, from their mechanical minds to their creaky fingers. So not at night.

Robot Ben was once the fastest grocery bagger in all the world. And Robot Bill had helped build the rocket ships that now circled the stars.

But newer robots had come along, faster baggers and better builders, replacing Robot Ben and Robot Bill.

Now they spent their days playing checkers.

Neither of them ever won a game, and neither of them ever lost. Being robots, they knew every move there was to make in checkers. They always tied.

"Score," said Robot Ben just before they began to play one sunny morning.

"Zero Ben, zero Bill, eighty-three million, six hundred forty-two thousand, nine hundred and twenty-one ties," said Robot Bill.

As they played, the sun crept across the sky, and neither of them noticed that it was catching up to the faint full moon that was up there too.

And just as Robot Ben was taking a turn, the sun slid completely behind the moon.

The sky went dark.

Robot Ben's eyes flickered and turned a dull gray. His head drooped, and he slumped over just enough to push his shoulder, arm, hand and fingers forward. Just enough to push the checker to the wrong square.

Both robots sat still for quite some time.

Then the sun and the moon began sliding apart, the light of the day returned, and the robots flickered back to life.

Robot Bill quickly won the game.

"One Bill, zero Ben," he said.

"How did that happen?" asked Robot Ben.

"A solar eclipse," said Robot Bill, now looking up at the sky. "The next one is three hundred seventy years, four months, twelve days and two hours from now."

Robot Ben stared at the board. For a long time.

"Set them up," he said.