Thursday, July 23, 2009

Great Hites # 62


This week have stories by:
Mick Bordet <--------- This week's WinnerWinner
Norval Joe
Jeff Hite

"Take It Away"
By: Mick Bordet

Arthur grimaced, his shoulders tensed and he dug his fingers deep into his palms, waiting in dread for the first note.

The school didn't have the money for maintenance of musical instruments, they could scarcely afford textbooks in these days of government cutbacks, so the piano was in a sorry state of repair. At least two strings had snapped in the last year, but since he couldn't replace them, his only option was to climb into the frame and cut them back with a pair of wire clippers so they didn't rattle against the others. It was almost completely out of tune as well, despite his best efforts with a guitar tuner and a pair of pliers. There is a reason that piano tuners are few in number: it's a damn tricky job to do.

As for the keys, they were probably the biggest obstacle to playing the old piano. Most were chipped or cracked, several stuck down when played, others stuck to your fingers with something tacky that proved immune to all known cleaning materials. At last count, four of them didn't even play a note unless hammered down with full force. The instrument, he knew, was long past mere maintenance. So far beyond, that it would certainly have cost as much to buy a brand new piano as to return this one to a playable state.

Being the only music teacher in the school, he had become used to its foibles, its badly-tuned notes and shoddy appearance, though so few children were interested in playing it these days. They either wanted to play guitar or drums in a rock band or their parents wanted them to play violin or flute or any instrument that their little prima donnas could attempt, and most often fail, to master. Those who did come for piano lessons were all beginners who rarely ventured beyond a two octave range, so Arthur had focused their playing on the section of the keyboard with fewest flaws. It was a method that had kept him sane, free from discordant aural assaults for the most part, for the last few years. Until now.

The Maestro taking his seat at the battered instrument had once been a pupil here, Arthur had discovered. Perhaps he had even learnt to play on that very same travesty of an instrument, back in its heyday. Arthur had a few of the man's CDs in his collection without knowing the link to the school, he was one of the most highly-regarded pianists in the World. This short, solemn figure commanded respect wherever he went, playing in the grandest of concert halls for Kings, Queens, Presidents and Prime Ministers. Now he was here, back in his old school, Arthur's school, sat at what was quite probably the worst piano in the World. Arthur could hardly bear to listen, to cringe at the beating dissonance of the chords, to see the disappointment, the horror, the disgust on the pianist's face at the sound emanating from the instrument.

He waited as the man made himself comfortable on the stool, adjusted his playing position as though about to give a headline performance at the Albert Hall, and played a slow chromatic run from the lowest to the highest note. His eyes focused on the keyboard, his fingers registered the weight of every key and his ears twitched like a rabbit's with every out-of-tune note played.

"That's it," Arthur said to himself, "he's tried it out. He knows how bad it is. He'll walk away now."

He didn't. He sat with his eyes closed for a few seconds, before giving a small cough and returning his concentration to the keyboard in front of him. He began to play.

Arthur's senses leapt to attention as he recognised the piece, Tchaikovsky's Second Piano Concerto, without a doubt and yet somehow different. Arthur could play the piece himself a few years ago, though not with the speed and flair being demonstrated to him now. He watched the man's hands, jumping around the keys, taking unexpected detours to play a note further up or down the keyboard. He wasn't playing it the way Arthur was familiar with, yet it was as strong and vivacious a performance of the piece as he had ever heard. Arthur gasped upon realising what he was seeing; the piece of music was being re-arranged before his eyes, in real-time, by this superlative musician. He was slamming his fingers down on the notes that needed extra power, playing the sticking keys then almost instantly flicking them back up with his finger before moving on. The keys that were significantly out of tune he avoided altogether, but instead played the same note up or down the octave, keeping the harmonies intact and turning the melody into a slightly quirky, yet no less beautiful, version of the original.

A number of other members of staff and some children who had been waiting out in the corridor over lunchtime started trickling into the hall, enraptured by the playing. Nobody had ever heard their old piano played like this or heard it sound so good. The man reached the end of the first movement and the room erupted with the sound of applause, causing him to notice for the first time that he had an audience. He gave a modest dip of his head and stood up, placed the lid back down over the keyboard and headed for the door.

Arthur was waiting for him at the exit and introduced himself.

"You must have replaced Mrs Sanderson," the musician replied, "she was a terrible teacher, a horrible woman. She would yell at every wrong note and bash her knuckles on my head when I played too slowly."

Arthur shook his head in dismay, "I'm sorry you have such unhappy memories of your music lessons. Things have moved on now, you'll be glad to hear. Apart from the piano, that is, it must have been much better to play back then."

"Ha! That thing? No, it always sounded like that. It was always a heap of junk!" he said.

"Oh. How on earth did you manage to become such a great player? You made it sound so beautiful, even with all its flaws," said Arthur.

"Spite," the pianist answered. He gave a slight smile as he saw Arthur furrow his brow, "I learned to play to spite that old witch and in spite of that wreck of a piano. They gave me the focus and determination to succeed. You see, once you have played the worst piano, everything else is easy."

By:Norval Joe

"That was the best movie I have ever seen. Those Converticons were even cooler than in the first movie. And when Melieka was running in slow motion....Man she is hot." Mike looked back and forth between his two friends, nodding his head.
"I don't know Mike. There was a lot of action, but, what was the real story? I don't think there was one. Just a lot of running around and screaming," the second boy said. He took another bite of his hamburger.
"You're crazy, Seth. The action is the story. It's the classic good verses evil, the under dog rising to the challenge, guy gets the girl." Mike said picking through his French fries.
Tim watched his friends without really taking in the banter. He knew them well and that they were arguing for the sake of hearing their own voices. They would wind down soon enough. He just wanted to relax and enjoy the warm august night as they sat on the patio outside the fast food restaurant. In just a few weeks school would start again and the summers comfortable boredom would come to an end.
The argument lagged, and as if on cue, all three of them picked up their sodas and took a drink at the same time. They all laughed and put their drinks down.
"You got your backpack ready for next week, Tim?" Mike asked him.
"Next week?" Tim asked, suddenly concerned.
"Of course, next week. We've been talking about this backpacking trip all summer. Why what's the big problem? You can't have other plans." Mike said and shot a knowing glance at Seth.
"No. We haven't been talking about this all summer. We talked about maybe doing a trip at the end of August, but we never nailed down a day or where we would go." Tim said.
"That's right Mike. I think you and I talked about going next week, but we never told Tim about it." Seth added.
He turned to Tim, "We thought about going in at Kennedy Meadows and hiking into upper Yosemite, or just fishing a few days in the Emigrant Wilderness Area. You can go can't you, Tim?"
"Well, no. Becky's family asked me if I would go with them to Lake Tahoe for the week, starting on Monday. We're supposed to be there until Saturday.
Mike huffed and pushed his food away, knocking over what was left of his soda, "It figures. You spend all your time over at her house, and then the one time we have something planned, you dump on us. This is our last backpacking trip. Next summer we'll be heading off to college and won't have the time. But instead, you run off with your girl friend so that you can make out for a week."
Tim felt bad. These two had been his friends since Jr. High and they had gone on a summer back packing trip since the summer between seventh and eighth grade. This was to be their first extended hike without adults.
Tim said, "She's not my girl friend, and we don't make out. She's just my friend, and the whole family is going. They've rented a cabin and I'll be in a room with her little brothers."
"That's right. You won't get a chance to make out, with that crowd. They have something like, ten kids? What are they, Mormons?" Mike sounded cynical and angry.
"Relax, Mike. And clean up your mess." Seth said, and pointed to the soda pooling on the table and dripping to the floor.
"I don't know what they are, and there are only five kids. But I like being with them. I've never had any brothers, and it's kind of fun to be with them too." Tim said.
"No brothers. So what are we, crash test dummies? We've been brothers to you for a long time. And this is how you treat us? Come on, Seth. Let's go." Mike grabbed his keys from the table and headed for his car.
"Dude, how's Tim going to get home? You drove us all here?" Seth said with out moving.
"Let him call his girl friend," Mike said as he got in and slammed the car door.
"Go ahead, Seth. My house is less than a half mile from here, and it's a nice night. I can walk home. In fact, I kind of want to." Tim said. He gathered up his trash, as well as what Mike had left.
"Ok. Sorry about Mike. But get your pack ready anyway. Maybe we can meet you in Tahoe and we can go into Desolation Wilderness on Wednesday." Seth said. Mike revved the car and turned on the headlights.
"Excellent idea, Seth. See if you can talk Mike into it." Tim said.
"I can do that. I'll give you a call tomorrow, and we'll figure out the menu for the trip." Seth said and rounded the car to the passenger door. He waved at Tim, got in the car and they drove off.
"That guy will be a diplomat some day. He's kept the three of us together all this time." Tim said to himself as he walked from the restaurant to the street.
Tim thought about his friends as he walked down the dark streets lit only at long intervals by dim street lights. The houses he passed were close to the street and many had their windows open, to take advantage of breeze that blew in from the San Francisco bay and across the delta of the San Joaquin river. He imagined families sitting around televisions, or playing board games, or just chatting.
Mike and Seth would both return to find families at home. Each had a brother or a sister, and parents.
Mike still complained that his sister got preferential treatment from his parents, as he had when Tim had first met him. She was on the first backpacking trip that Tim and Seth had taken with Mikes family before eighth grade. From the way that Mike had talked about her, Tim had expected to find a creature with fangs and multiple, viciously clawed arms. Tim found that she took teasing in stride, gave back in kind, and carried her own weight.
Seth had a much older brother who had been out of the home for as long as Tim had known them. Seth spoke of his brother in an almost reverent manner. He idolized his brother, and sought to be just like him.
Tim figured that was why he liked best about being in Becky's home. She was the oldest child of five. The two youngest were her bothers, age seven and ten. He felt like the big brother when he was at her home. He wrestled with them, played catch in their back yard, and amazed them with the tales of his hiking and mountain climbing adventures. He had actually been thinking of taking the boys on a short hike into the wilderness. He sighed, "I guess I still could on one of the other days, even if Mike and Seth did come up. That will just mean less time with Becky."
Then there was Becky. He did like spending time with her. Her smile lit up his life. Just the sight of her face gave him hope and optimism that he hadn't had before he met her. He knew what she would say to him, even before he could make a self deprecating comment, "You're stronger than you think. You have the power to excel. You are going to be a great success someday."
He was embarrassed, even after walking all the way home, and by himself in the dark, when he thought of Mike claiming that he just wanted to go to Tahoe so he could make out for a week.
He had only kissed her once, and that was months ago, after the spring formal. The three boys and their dates were all in Mikes family SUV. The others made Tim drop off Becky first so that they could all watch and see if he kissed her. In retrospect, Tim realized that Becky was more ready for it than he was. She had been chewing mint gum from the time that they left the dance. She took his hand as they walked from the car to the front door. She thanked him for taking her to the dance, turned toward him, closed her eyes and held onto his hand. He wanted to kiss her more than anything else he had ever wanted in his life. Time froze. He could almost see him self reflected in her clear lip gloss, standing awkwardly wondering what to do.
Eventually, he leaned forward and gently pressed his lips to hers. As he did so, she parted her lips slightly. He could smell the mint on her breath and taste the sugar on her lips. He didn't want it to end, but worried almost instantly, what would be considered too long of a kiss. He stepped back and thanked her for going with him to the dance. Intoxicated, he said, "I'll call you tomorrow. Ok?"
She replied, "Sure, but not too early."
She opened the front door and he left.

He arrived at his house. He opened and closed the screen door, trying to make as little sound as possible. He walked through the front room, where his grandmother slept in front of the tv. She woke as he opened the refrigerator, looking for a cold soda.
"Don't wake your grandfather. He's in a bad mood tonight, and I'm tired of arguing with him." She said
"Ok, grandma. Oh. By the way. I'm going to Tahoe with Becky's family on Monday. I should be back by Sunday." He said as he stopped at the hallway to his room.
His grand mother snored.
In his small room he set his gym bag and his back pack on his bed. Both were empty. Both represented his future. The backpack was his future with his friends, Mike and Seth. The gym bag, his future with Becky.
He wondered, "What will fit best in each?"

The Price of Friendship part 5
By Norval Joe

"Hi Mom," Chad said when he closed and locked the front door.
"Hi, Sweetheart," she said. She looked up from her text book where she studied in the kitchen. Though she had been out of work for several months, she continued taking night classes at the community college so that she could look for work during the day.
"Are you hungry? I can make you something to eat." She said and made as if to stand.
"No, thanks Mom, I'm really not that hungry," he said. "I'm tired. I think that I'll just go to bed.
He started to leave the kitchen, his mother exclaimed, "Bed. On a Friday night? It's not even 9 o'clock. Don't you want to go do something with your friends?"
"No, Mom. I just want to go to bed. Beside, Mrs. Walker wants me to meet her at the school at noon."
"Mrs. Walker. your English teacher? On a Saturday? I thought you were doing well in English."
"I am. In fact Mr. Satoro told me today, that I won a $250 scholarship for a story I wrote."
"Wonderful," She said as she stood. She stepped over and gave her son a hug.
"You'll have to think carefully about how you want to spend it."
"If I ever get it", he thought to himself.
His mother stepped back and looked closely at his face. She noticed the dirt on his face and she reached up and lightly touched the swollen redness on his jaw. She asked, "What's happened to you today?"
He shook his head and looked at the floor. "I've had a really tough day, today. Can I just tell you about it in the morning?"
Her face showed how badly she wanted to ask her son more questions, but she said, instead, "OK, Chad. If that's what you need."
"Thanks, Mom. I'll tell you everything in the morning." he said and walked to the bathroom to have a shower before getting into bed.

He didn't sleep much throughout the night. His thoughts jumped spasmodically between images of Amy sitting in class, singing with the school choir and talking with the group of friends at lunch. Then there was Derrick, his grinning face leering over him, then his eyes flashing with anger. Finally, Derrick was leading Amy away, her head down, shoulders rounded, defeated.
When I did finally sleep, he slept so soundly that when he awoke, he only vaguely remembered dreams of Amy deep in a cave or dungeon. She wasn't chained or miserable. She stood defiant and argued with someone, though he didn't know if she argued with someone unseen, or with him. He lay in his bed and stared at the ceiling. He tried to remember more details of the quickly fading dream.
He heard his mothers voice from the hallway, "Chad, honey. It's after 10 o'clock. I thought you had to be at the school by noon."
"Thanks Mom, I'm getting up."
He walked out to the kitchen in his pajamas. "I can't find my jeans. Did you see them?"
"Yes, I took them from your room. I was doing some laundry and thought my might want them washed.
He watched her face as she spoke and felt that there was something his mother was holding back, something left unsaid. He looked her in the eyes and could see the concern. "What's the matter, Mom?"
She brought a gallon of milk from the refrigerator and placed it on the table. "You'd better eat some cereal, it's getting late. While you're eating, maybe you can tell me about this note. I found it in you pocket."
It was the note that he had written in his science class the day before. "Mom, I know that this sounds crazy, but some crazy things have happened to me. I thought that when Amy met me after school she would just tell me that I was stupid and tell derrick to take his game and get lost. She didn't. She just went with him, like she was a runaway dog, and that she had been caught by her master. When I tried to stop him, Derrick hit me. He hit me hard, too. I was out for a while."
"The weirdest thing was when I went to check at Amy's house. I thought maybe she had gone home while I was laying in the grass. Her parents acted like they knew this kind of thing might happen to Amy. Sure, they were upset, but they weren't freaking out. On top of that, Mrs. Walker was at their house, and acted like she was part of a conspiracy, or the CIA or something."
He finally poured some cereal into the bowl and ate quickly. "Mrs. Walker had Derricks game player and kept messing with it while we talked about Amy. She must have picked it up while I was running around looking for Amy. She wants me to meet her at the school to see if we can identify Derrick on a security camera."
She sat looking at her son with a blank expression on her face. He looked down, feeling uncomfortable with her silent stare, and continued, "The worst part is that they say I am the one that needs to go get her back, since I am the one that sent her away."
He tried to formulate a statement about the idea of his emotional attachment. He couldn't understand it him self, so he just let it drop.
"Go get her?" She sounded a little frantic.
"This isn't one of your fantasy stories, though it does sound fantastic. This is the real world. Kids don't run off and rescue abducted kids. That is a job for the police. Hurry up and finish your cereal, while I get my car keys. I'm going with you to the school and have a talk with Mrs. Walker, myself."
"Ok," Chad said, feeling relieved. His mother was smart and logical. Besides, he didn't like the thought of lying to her.

They arrived at the school before noon. There were two other cars in the parking lot; Mrs. Walkers Continental, and the Snider's mini van.
The glass door to the administration office stood open. Mr. and Mrs. Snider sat inside where they could watch Chad and his mother approach. Mr. Snider stood as they walked through the door.
"Chad, Mrs. Baker. Thanks for coming." He patted Chad on the back and walked past them to lock the door. Chad thought that he didn't seem at all surprised that his mother had come with him.
"Come on back," he said after shaking the door, to make sure that it had locked, and led them down a hallway to a small dark room. Mrs. walker looked up as they all crowded into the small security room. There were ten monitors along one wall, though only three of them were on.
The teacher nodded to Mrs. Baker, whom she had met at parent teacher conferences through out the year, and then pointed at one of the monitors. She said, "Look here, Chad. Here you are with a group of friends. Is Derrick one of these boys?"
"No. He had already left when those guys were talking with me." Chad said.
Mrs. Walker ran the recording rapidly in reverse for a few minutes. Chad watched the comical scene as the boys flapped their hands and arms and then walked away backwards. There was a flicker of static and Chad walked away, backwards, himself.
Chad shook his head, and turned to his English teacher, "Wait a minute. I talked with him in the library, right there where you saw me. He walked away and my friends walked up. He was there, but he's not in the video?"

"Iridescent Angel, Part II: Ebony":
By: Guy David

Ebony’s quick dash made her short of breathy and giddy. She looked back at the wall and couldn’t believe it. She was on the other side. She did it. She went through the wall and now she was going to prove them wrong, all of them. She believed that with all the shear determination of a twelfth years old. When she started her dash, her first thought was that she was going to crush into the wall, but her intuition told her that this wall was an illusion. Now she knew she was right. She turned and took a good look at what the world looked like on the other side. At first, she couldn’t tell the difference between the world she left and the one she just entered. To be honest, they weren't really different worlds, not in the physical sense, but for her they where worlds apart. The world outside looked like the world she grew up in, but the colors where brighter, more pronounced and everything looked magical to her. She started going around the wall, afraid to venture too far from from it in case she couldn’t find her way home. There didn’t seem to be much difference in what she saw around the wall, the same thick vegetation, huge trees and far stretching grass lawns. It was the same as her home, only more pronounced. She went around the wall like this for a few hours, then she realized she had to get back. Her parents would be worried. As much as she wanted to prove to everyone that the world outside is not populated with demons and evil creatures, she was only a little girl and she couldn’t do this to her family. She crossed the wall again, going back.

It was as if the elder was waiting for her on the other side. He watched her crossing the wall in pure shock. “You did the unthinkable” he said, “You crossed the forbidden wall and for that you shell be punished.” She shivered as she remembered that passing the wall was punished with death. She had been spotted and there was nothing to do now but run. She started for the wall as she heard the sound of a gun firing behind her, once, twice, then she was at the wall as the third bullet fired. She felt a sharp pain in her right shoulder as she passed the wall once again. She breathed in the beauty of it all, but the colors shifted, turning red, then all went black.

She awoke in a white room and a woman was leaning over her, a concerned look on her face. “Are you alright?” she asked, then Ebony noticed that the woman was naked, glowing and that she had wings. “Are you an angel?” she asked. The woman laughed cheerfully. “I guess so, sort of. That’s the shape I chose a long time ago” she said, smiling. “Then… am I dead?” asked Ebony. The woman looked confused and a little surprise. “Dead?” she asked “no one died here for such a long time. Why would you think that?” then a look of comprehension crossed her face. “You’re from the reservation, aren’t you?” She said. “The reservation?” asked Ebony. “You wouldn’t know about that since you grew inside it. Anyway, how is it you’re on this side of the wall?” Ebony sighed. “I was curious, I wanted to see what was on the other side. I didn’t believe the stories from the scriptures about demons and evil creatures. I wanted to find out for myself.” She suddenly remembered the gun shot and looked at her right shoulder in apprehension. “We fixed that” said the woman, “I’m Lindsay by the way” she said, smiling again. “I’m Ebony.” Said the kid, smiling back faintly, then her smile faded. “They shot me, didn’t they?” she asked and suddenly looked sad, comprehending her predicament. “I can’t go back” she said, “ever. They would kill me.” A tear formed in her eye. “I would never see my parents again.” Lindsay looked at her for a moment, then said, “You would see your parents again. You will stay here on this side of the wall. Here you can do anything you want, you can even be anything you want. You will be able to see your parents as much as you like. We can give you the keys to technologies that would help you see afar, right into the reservation. As you said, you can’t go back, but you can still keep watch over your parents.” Ebony thought about this for a few moments, then a smile crossed her face. She said “you said that here I can be anything I want.” Lindsay was smiling back and nodded in agreement. “Sure” she said. “Then… one day… can I have wings like you?” Ebony asked.

The Keys to Happiness
By: Jeff Hite

Churchill sat up and smashed his head on the over head at the knocking on his door. "Ow, yes who is it?"
"Come in." The Door slid open and she stood in the half light of the corridor.
"Are you alright?"
"yes Just banged my head."
"No I mean you have been in here for over a week. You know we dock with the transfer station tomorrow."
"Yes, I know. I have been reviewing my notes."
"For a week?"
"They have taken me a life time to compile." She nodded thoughtful before responding.
"What is it you are looking for?"
"If I told you I am not sure you would believe me."
"But you say this man my brother knew, knows where it is?"
"I have a lot of information that says he does."
"Try me."
"You said you didn't think I would believe you, but try me."
"You will laugh like everyone else and I am not sure that I can take that at the moment," he said hanging his head.
"Alright then." They were silent for a long while and then she stood up. "Lets go get a cup of coffee and talk about it." Churchill nodded his agreement and they left his room.
The corridor along the sleeping berths was narrow and only in half light so that you would not disturb someone sleeping if the door was opened. But, I gave the place a surreal look, as most public areas on space craft were well lit. This seemed completely out of place.
They were on their second cup of coffee before he began to speak, "Marie, you know I have spent my life looking for something."
"Well, it is nothing something that most people don't think you can actually look for. Most people don't think it is anything tangible. I am looking for the keys to happiness."
"There are actually secrets to happiness, they exist and this man, that you brother knew ten years ago, I believe has them."
"What are you talking about. The secret of happiness is not something you can hold in your hands."
"See I told you would laugh at me."
"And I didn't I am questioning your sanity, but I have not laughed at you."
"I am sane, as sane as you are, but I tell you that there are keys to happiness. Think about it. What is the key to happiness, is it love? Love fades as dies, if you could stay in that euphoric state of falling in love forever, that might be real happiness but, you don't eventually you stop falling in love with someone and then you remember that time when you were falling in love and you spend the rest of you life trying to find that again. There are the other obvious answer, Money is not it because if you have it you are always worried about it, and if you don't have it you are always worried about getting it. The same thing goes for possessions. But there are legends and stories about someone finding the keys to happiness, then on my twentieth birthday, I found something that changed my mind about the keys being something that you could find. I found a text less than a hundred years old, that talked about leaders during wars of the last century having them and trying to protect them. In the end they sent them off planet to keep safe. Then last year, I found a reference gave the identity of the man they had sent them with."
"So the Leaders of the last century had actually found the keys to happiness and they didn't use them."
"I don't understand all the reason, but there was something that prevented them from. I plan to find out why, and if I can use them."
"What if it is something that is dangerous?"
"How could the keys to happiness be dangerous?"
"Well what if happiness is finding death?" After long pause he answered.
"I guess, but I don't think that could be it."
"I guess all I am saying is be careful what you wish for. There has to be some reason that they didn't use whatever secret it was, and thought it so important or dangerous that they needed to send it off planet."
They finished their coffee in silence.


Jeff Hite said...

So once again I goofed. It has been one of those months / weeks / years. Thank you to Guy David for being so understanding, and for catching it so quickly. Hopefully the link was not posted long enough for anyone to get the bad copy but if you did please re-download it so that you get Guy's really excellent story as well.
- Jeff