Winter in Michigan – Still!

Since we’re in what feels like the 500th week of winter here in Michigan, I’m getting a little stir crazy. I decided yesterday (before the ice storm) to get out and shoot for a bit. So I traipsed out into the rain and guess what I found? Yep, bunch of wet plants and puddles. Still, there’s always something to shoot in nature if you look hard enough.

The Beauty of a Blog

I have decided that the beauty of a blog is that you can do with it what you will (within reason, of course). So this blog entry will have nothing at all to do with writing and is only marginally related to photography. In fact, this might come dangerously close to a vlog!

My mind lately has been given over almost entirely to spring! When’s it going to get here? How much longer under the snow? Will I ever be able to get out into the garden again? I am particularly interested in when the wildlife (by far my favorite subject to photograph) will  return . So this week I set up the trail cam near the area I affectionately refer to as “Turtle Cove”. Here’s a sample of what I captured. Please disregard the dates on the trail cam footage. I can’t seem to remember to reset the camera clock. Nevertheless, Think Spring!!


Photo Blog

Although the work continues on Born von Burlau,  it’s still in the research and organizational stage. Before I began writing, I’d read interviews with other writers, in which they’d say things like, “I spent five years working on that novel, but…” and I’d think to myself, Good Lord, why so long? Now I get it. This is the first time I’ve ever attempted a series of books and it’s just a massive organizational effort.  It’s necessary work, but not very blog-worthy. It’d be like blogging about where the actors stand for dress rehearsal.

In lieu of that, I thought I’d do a photo blog. I took myself out for a walk around my snowbound home town yesterday and snapped these shots. Hope you enjoy them!


Lost in a Blog

Sorry for my prolonged absence from this blog. I could blame it on the new puppy or the busy holiday season, but that’s not entirely accurate. The truth is, I’ve been a little paralyzed by fear. Never a good thing. In this case, the fear of doing something wrong. I should listen to my sister more (God help me if she reads this). She keeps telling me just to write for myself and for the simple pleasure of my own creative outlet. She’s been boldly sharing her own creative side since long before it occurred to me to have one, so she should know.

Then I remembered my original purpose for this site. It’s a place for the voices in my head to come out and play, which is also the point of my writing. I don’t know if this is “normal” (perhaps that’s another fear I need to leave behind), but I’ve always spent a lot of time mentally escaping into my own stories. As a kid, people used to accuse me of being a hermit because I spent so much time off on my own. But I wasn’t alone in my head. I was on tour with my own rock band, or off saving the world from some sinister bad guy. It was the sort of mental escape you get from a book, but I never needed the book. The story is more fun if I control it. If you’re a Game of Thrones fan (as I am), you can imagine Bran, stuck in his tree. Physically, he’s not doing anything, but in his head, he’s everywhere. That was me. That is me.

My latest escape has been to the town of Burlau, somewhere in Germany. Don’t bother looking it up on a map, you won’t find it there.  But if you’re the sort of person who needs a reference point in reality, then I suppose Burlau is a combination of The Brocken and Lauscha. Most of the inhabitants are nice enough, but history and politics conspire to alter the essence of who they are. Some manage to remain true to themselves and suffer the consequences. Others fall victim to peer pressure or personal ambition. A few others must escape, or die.

It might seem like a grim refuge for a mental escape, but it does keep me interested, as I hope it will you.


More von Burlau

I apologize for the delay on this post, but my limited writing time lately has been devoted to finishing the von Burlau outline, which is not really bloggable. Nevertheless, I’ve promised myself I’ll finish that outline before the start of NaNoWriMo next month and it’s a promise I intend to keep. That said, I’ve been working on the second chapter of the first von Burlau manuscript. Here’s a first look, hope you enjoy it.


     Amelia Schwarz set her heavy bag down and glanced around. The garage to her left appeared deserted and a tall hedge to her right hid her from view of the main gate. Confident in her apparent solitude, she quickly hiked up the edge of her long skirt and adjusted the garter that had been digging into her thigh for the last twenty minutes.

Before she could complete the task, however, a metallic clank from within the garage made her start. She dropped her hem at once and took a cautious step in the direction of the noise. She caught sight of a grubby chauffeur, who had evidently been peeping at her Continue reading More von Burlau

The Devil’s Paradise

Tyler Cooper had just cracked open his third beer, when his wife, Karen, stuck her head out the screen door and hollered at him for what would be the fourth and final time. “How many times do I have to ask you to clear out that brush down by the pond?” she demanded. She did not wait for a reply, but simply turned back into the house, allowing the screen door to slam shut against her generous backside.

With a grunt, Ty set his beer aside and heaved himself out of the porch swing. He walked the ten yards down the steps and into the backyard, where he found his son, Charlie, stretched out in the hammock, earbuds firmly in place, his thumbs dancing across the tiny, digital keyboard on his latest cell phone. “Charlie?” he said. His son did not look up. He gave the bottom of the hammock a shove with his foot. “Charlie!” With that, Charlie pulled the buds from his ears and looked up at his father. “How many times do I have to tell you to clear out that brush down by the pond?” Tyler demanded.

“The what?” Charlie asked.

“The brush,” his father repeated.

“What? Like a hairbrush?”

“No, don’t be stupid,” his father snapped.

Although his wife was out of sight, he heard her customary admonition float back to him through the open kitchen window, “Don’t call the boy stupid, Ty, you’ll hurt his self-esteem.”

Perhaps, Ty thought, his self-esteem could use a good kick in the pants, if he was dumb enough to believe there was a hairbrush growing down by the pond. “Sorry, son,” he said with exaggerated patience, “I didn’t mean to call you stupid, but I was talking about the weeds growing down by the pond.”

“The pond?” Charlie repeated. “What pond?”

“Our pond,” his father replied, his patience waning fast.

“We have a pond?”

“Of course we have a pond, it’s on the new property.” Tyler waved his hand in the direction of the vacant land just beyond his own fence.

Charlie glanced back down at his phone.

“So are you going to go clear it?” his father asked.


“The brush”

“The what?”

His father rubbed his eyes with such ferocity, it looked as though he wanted to gouge them out.

Almost, Charlie thought.

“The brush by the pond,” his father said again. “Are you going to clear it out like I asked?”

“Isn’t that the neighbor’s property?”

“No, it’s ours. We closed on it last week, remember?” Ty replied.

“We did?”

“Yes, and you need to go down there and clear away all that brush.”

“That what?” Charlie asked, without a trace of irony.

Tyler slapped his forehead. “Never mind! I’ll do it myself.” He turned and stalked off.

Charlie smiled to himself, popped his earbuds back into place, and stretched out in the hammock.

“Dumbass kid,” Tyler grumbled. He’d gone into the house and was in the process of pulling on his work trousers, when his wife entered the room. He glared at her, willing her to start an argument.

She did not. She collected the laundry and was nearly to the door when she called back, “Dinner’s at six. Be back by then.”

By the time he’d thought of a sufficiently rude come back, she’d gone. He pulled a ball cap low over his eyes, grabbed his leather gloves from the shed, and trudged his way down the hill with a brush cutter in one hand and a can of fuel in the other.

The sight of his father heading down to the pond brought a grin to Charlie’s face. It was a satisfied, victorious sort-of smile and one he’d come to regret, whenever he looked back on that final conversation with his dad.

Continue reading The Devil’s Paradise

The Mini Pooper

This week our new puppy has been taking up every available (and not-so-available) moment of my time. As a result, I’ve accomplished very little writing, but lots and lots of puppy photography. So this post will focus (literally) on Mini’s first week with our family and her still tenuous relationship with big brother Gordie.


She quickly discovered the fallen fruit from our apple tree. It’ll be great for playing fetch-someday. For now, she prefers just to chew it into disgusting, tiny bits.


When she’s not chewing apples, she’s chewing Gordie’s tail.


Or even herself.


She also loves to skulk around in the tall grass


and stalk poor Gordie!


Born von Burlau Progress

            As my outline for Born von Burlau approaches 75 pages, I’m becoming increasingly anxious to actually begin writing it. I can understand the logic of mapping out a series before ever writing a word, but I have to confess that outlining a story is not nearly as fun or satisfying as actually writing one. So today I’m breaking the rules a bit and playing with my first chapter of the first manuscript. I’m planning it as a series of three books. I can’t wait to write the rest! Hope you enjoy it.

Chapter I

The Countess of Ardendoth vs. the Empress of Ireland

            The Countess Hilda von Ardendoth was enjoying her dream wedding, when her world was quite literally turned upside down.  One moment, she could see Peter waiting for her at the altar. The next, she was tossed ass over ankles from her bed amid an avalanche of pillows and blankets. Continue reading Born von Burlau Progress

An Unplanned Departure

Last night, my dog, Maggie, passed away unexpectedly. She lived a very long life and died peacefully at home, which is about as much as any of us can hope for, human or canine. Still, she will be missed. Her passing made me think of a short story I wrote about a year ago, when my sister’s dog, Bronco, was ill and we were afraid we might lose him. Fortunately, he recovered. Very unfortunately, their cat, Mad Max the Crazy Cat, also passed away just recently. Please keep in mind that the references to “Jack” in this story were written with love and affection. The story is called “A Saintly Mission”. Maggie may not have been a literal saint, but she was a saint to me.

Cadet F-Left lined up with the other members of her squad. She glanced around, searching for some clue of what was yet to come. Nervous anticipation made her stomach clench uncomfortably. The squad leader entered, consulting his clipboard as he strode to the head of the small group.

“Good morning, everyone,” he said.

“Good morning, sir,” the group chorused back.

“Today you’ll be making the jump to your initial rendezvous point. From there, you will each be transported to a separate family unit. Your coaches will be waiting for you once you arrive at your final destination. F-Back,” he said, addressing the cadet just behind F-Left, “your coach had to return to base a little earlier than anticipated, so you’ll be flying solo on this mission. I have every confidence in you. Just remember your training.”

F-Back appeared startled by this news, but nodded his understanding all the same.

“F-Right, your coach’s name is Gordie,” the squad leader said. “Don’t let his looks fool you, he’s actually very friendly. You’ll be in good hands.”

F-Right seemed both perplexed and reassured by this. “Yes, sir,” he said.

“F-Left,” the squad leader continued, consulting his clipboard again, “You’ll be with Coach Bronco,” he said.

“Bronco?” she repeated, struggling to suppress a giggle.

“Bronco,” he repeated firmly. “You could tease him about his name, but I wouldn’t recommend it. He’s nice enough, but he’s easily three times your size and very strong-minded.”

F-Left swallowed hard and nodded.

“F-Front,” he continued, “you’ll be with Coach Bailey. She’s a ten year veteran of the force, very solid leader.”

F-Front acknowledged this information with a curt nod.

“Remember, for your own safety, please wear your protective eyewear, as well as your earplugs, during and immediately after the jump. Both will disintegrate naturally once your body has adjusted to the new environment. Do not attempt to remove them prior to that point. Do you understand?”

“Yes, sir,” they chorused.

“Any questions?” the squad leader asked.

The cadets glanced around at one another, looking disconcerted by what was clearly the forthcoming moment of truth. “No, sir,” they chorused back, although with less unity and conviction than before.

“You’ll be taking this chute here,” he said, pointing to a square void in the mist at their feet. “F-Front, you’re up first. On the count of three, ready?”

F-Front nodded nervously, stuffed his ear plugs into place, and donned his protective eyewear.

“One…two,” the squad leader counted down, holding his hand above his head as he spoke, “three!” he called, swinging his hand down on the final word. F-Front stepped forward and slipped through the mist and out of sight. “F-Left, you’re next.”

The cadet stumbled forward, stuck her ear plugs into place, and put on her protective eyewear. Immediately, her surroundings became muffled and hazy, as though she’d just been plunged into a pool of water. She took a deep, calming breath and, on the count of three, dropped into the chute at her feet.

The transparent tunnel enveloped her. Within it, all was calm and quiet. Just beyond the walls of the chute, misty blue and white shapes formed and then dissipated. She slid further and faster down the chute, until everything beyond it became a blur. After what seemed like a very long time, or perhaps no time at all, her rate of descent began to slow. The shaft ahead grew murky and dark. Trepidation crept back into the pit of her stomach. At last she came to a halt in front of a small, damp hatch. For reasons that she couldn’t explain, not even to herself, the hatch frightened her. For a moment, she considered staying right where she was. The chute was, after all, familiar and safe. She had no idea what lay beyond that hatch, and she was in no hurry to find out. What she failed to consider, however, was F-Right, who, moments later, came barreling down the chute behind her and knocked her quite unceremoniously through the hatch.

The light beyond was so bright that it easily penetrated her protective eyewear and made her eyes sting.  She stumbled blindly forward, her feet snagging on the uneven ground. Almost immediately, she crashed into, and then onto, a warm lump that she recognized at once as F-Front. “Sorry,” she muttered, feeling humiliated by this inauspicious start to the mission.

Her apology was met with the muffled sound of loud snoring. It seemed incredible to her that at a moment such as this, in the middle of an important mission, F-Front could be fast asleep. Nevertheless, she had to admit that she too felt suddenly very tired. She wondered briefly if this new atmosphere was having some sort of sedative effect on the unit. Dragging herself back to her feet, she stumbled in a circle around her fellow cadet and fell face-forward into a heap beside him. Moments later, she too was snoring loudly.

For what seemed like weeks, the cadets were dogged by this same, nearly overpowering, sense of fatigue. They slept day and night, waking just long enough to accept the food that was offered, before falling back into a deep and dreamless sleep.

On the fifteenth day of her mission, cadet F-Left was awoken, most unusually, by the clear and distinct chatter of her fellow cadets. Upon opening her eyes, she realized that her protective eyewear, as well as the ear plugs, had at long last disintegrated. Her body seemed finally to have adjusted to the new environment.

She rose at once and joined the queue for breakfast. Afterward, she and the others were led out into the exercise yard, where they passed their time playing ball. Although the staff at the rendezvous camp was helpful and friendly, life in the barracks quickly fell into a bit of a dull routine. Breakfast was followed by an hour in the yard, during which time they usually played ball or ran, after which they were shunted back into their increasingly cramped quarters. Lunch came next, followed by another hour in the yard. Dinner was followed almost immediately by lights out.

After a further six weeks of this monotony, the transports finally began to arrive. F-Right was the first to leave, followed the very same day by F-Front. F-Left’s transport arrived just two days later. The driver was an amiable, almost excessively enthusiastic woman by the name of Deb, who chatted at, rather than with, F-Left as they drove along.

“I just can’t wait to introduce you to everyone,” she said, smiling over her shoulder at F-Left in the back seat. “Roger won’t be back until this evening, but Andy and Katie will be home very soon and they’re just dying to meet you.”

F-Left felt no need to interrupt Deb’s exuberant monologue and so she simply listened.

“I hope you get along with Jack,” she said. “I don’t know why you would though, no one really does. He’s a bit temperamental.”

While F-Left was intrigued by this topic, it was Deb’s next sentence that really made her ears perk up. “I’m sure you’ll get along with Bronco though.” Here, finally, was some reassurance that her mission was back on track. She tried to imagine her impatient new coach and the thought made her wish, just for a moment, that she could return to the boring barracks.

Nearly an hour later, cadet F-Left arrived at her new home base, which was comfortably furnished, if not entirely well organized. Coach Bronco was waiting to greet them at the door. Advanced in years, but no less intimidating for it, Coach Bronco towered over his young student. “Bronco,” Deb said kindly, “I’d like you to meet the newest member of the family. What do you think?”

Bronco circled the new recruit, prodding her firmly as he went. His look was stern, but not unfriendly. F-Left stood poker straight, giving every sign of deference to his authority. Upon completion of this protracted inspection, he gave his approval with a snort and a nod.

“Why don’t you take him out back and show him the yard?” Deb suggested, holding the door open for them.

Coach Bronco led the cadet past Deb and into an expansive yard, which contained an assortment of exercise equipment, all of which F-Left recognized from her training sessions back at base camp. Once outside, the teacher turned to address his student. “Nice to meet you, kid,” he said.

“Nice to meet you too,” she said, again standing poker straight.  “Cadet F-Left reporting for duty, sir.”

The coach nodded.  “Yes, well, that’s just your temporary designation. Once the rest of the team arrives, you’ll be given your permanent designation.”

F-Left had been informed of this back at base camp and was looking forward to her renaming ceremony. It was often accompanied, or so she was told, by a silver badge engraved with the recipient’s new designation. She glanced upward and caught sight of her coach’s badge glinting in the sunlight. It was very fancy indeed, with his name engraved in silver on the front and a red and white enameled cross on the back.

“Can I assume you’ve been trained on the use of this equipment?” he asked, inclining his head toward the perimeter of the exercise yard.

She pulled her eyes away from the badge and met his gaze. “I have sir, yes.”

“Did they brief you about Jack?” he asked, in a warning whisper that made the young cadet glance around nervously.

“Only that he can be a bit temperamental,” she said.

The coach let out a derisive snort. “That’s the understatement of the year. He’s Satan in a fur coat.”

“How dare you, Bronco,” a silky voice behind them hissed, “to promote such libel even before I’ve been properly introduced.”

“It’s only libel if it’s a lie, Jack,” her coach retorted.

The cadet spun around so quickly that she accidentally fell into the new arrival, knocking him backward off his feet.

He jumped up in the blink of an eye and lunged forward in a retaliatory strike that took F-Left completely by surprise. She recovered herself quickly; however, and was preparing to defend herself when the coach stepped between them.

Deb stuck her head out the open window. “Jack, you be nice now, you hear me?” she demanded.

Jack turned his back on all three of them and slinked off, looking haughty even in retreat.

Once he was out of earshot and Deb had disappeared back into the kitchen, the coach rounded on F-Left. “Now you listen to me,” he said. “Under no circumstances whatsoever are you ever to become violent with a teammate while you’re on this assignment. Do you understand me?” he barked.

“But, sir,” F-Left whimpered, “he was going to…”

“I don’t want to hear it. Your responsibility here is to serve and protect this unit. Let Deb and Roger deal with Jack.”

The cadet seemed on the verge of another protest, but seemed to think better of it when Coach Bronco took a step forward and glowered down at her diminutive frame.

“Fine,” she conceded at last.

“Your role here is a vital one,” he continued, “and you cannot undermine it with petty squabbling. You will be responsible for keeping the family on schedule, supervising Andy and Katie on the equipment,” he jerked his head for a second time at the equipment that lined the perimeter, “and for ensuring that Roger gets his exercise.”

The cadet looked concerned. “How do I do that?” she asked.

“It’s not complicated,” he said. “There’s a rope in the utility room. When he gets home in the evening, you wrap it around his hand and pull him around the neighborhood for an hour.”

“And how do I keep them on schedule?” she asked.

“You’ll need to wake Roger every morning at six. I’ve found that actually jumping right on top of him is the most effective method.”

“Won’t he be angry?” she asked, looking startled.

“Oh, you’d be surprised. He knows what a vital role we play, so you’ll be able to get away with quite a lot. He needs you. Keep that in mind and you’ll do alright. Once Roger’s awake, the rest of the family will generally follow suit. If not, feel free to repeat the procedure with the others.”

She nodded again.

“Your most important role though is one of emotional support. You’re going to be seeing this family through some pretty tough times and it’s critical that you keep up their morale.”

“Yes, sir,” she said. “Do you have any advice on how best to do that?”

“Lead by example,” he said. “You must always be loyal and energetic, enthusiastic and loving. It’s not always easy, but you must make it appear so.”

“Understood,” she said.

“I’ll be around for a while longer yet, so I’ll take you through it all before I go.”

“When are you due back at base?” she asked.

“That’ll be for the family to decide,” he said.

“You mean you have to wait for their permission?”

“Not exactly,” he said slowly, as though searching for a way to explain. “Departures can be difficult for a family unit. We have to try to make the transition as smooth as possible whenever we can. Occasionally a coach has to make an unplanned departure.”

“One of the other cadets in my group didn’t have a coach because of an unplanned departure,” F-Left put in quickly.

Bronco nodded solemnly. “It happens, but it’s definitely not ideal.  That sort of thing can be very disruptive to the morale of the unit. Once you’re trained, I’ll start transitioning out, but we’ve still got some time.”

F-Left felt very relieved.  However intimidating her new coach was, she was grateful for the opportunity to learn from him before his departure. “Have you been given a new assignment yet?” she asked.

Before he could respond, however, the kitchen door flew open and two very loud, very enthusiastic children pelted toward them.

At first, F-Left felt an almost overwhelming urge to defend herself. Instead, with Coach Bronco’s warning still ringing in her ears, she decided simply to brace for impact. She soon discovered, however, that she need not have worried. Not only were her new teammates friendly, they were downright affectionate. Andy picked her up at once, spun her around and planted kisses on both her cheeks. Before F-Left could even respond to this rather startling gesture, Katie joined them and repeated it. Both, as though afraid they’d hurt his feelings, then rushed to greet the coach with an equally enthusiastic, if somewhat less physical, display of affection.

F-Left heard the kitchen door open and close again. She glanced around to see Deb striding toward them across the yard. “I see you’ve all met our newest addition,” she said. “She needs a proper name. What shall we call her?”

The cadet recognized the traditional start of the naming ceremony and quickly stood at attention beside Coach Bronco.

“I like Daisy,” Katie said at once.

“Too girly,” Andy protested. “What about Mustang Sally?”

Deb frowned. “We already have a Bronco. I don’t think we need a Mustang as well.”

“Princess?” Katie asked hopefully.

Both Deb and Andy rejected this idea at once.

“What about Willow?” Andy suggested.

“Willow,” Deb repeated, glancing down at F-Left as though for her approval.

The cadet risked a glance at her coach, who nodded almost imperceptibly. F-Left, now Willow, gave an enthusiastic sideways salute.

“Look, she’s wagging her tail,” Katie observed with a laugh. “I think she likes it.”

“New addition to the family?” an unfamiliar voice called from the other side of the yard.

Deb walked over to greet an elderly man, who was leaning against the fence. “Hi, Paul,” she said. “Yeah, I just picked her up this morning.”

“How old?” he asked.

“Eight weeks,” she replied.

“Same breed as Bronco?”

“Yep, another Saint Bernard.”

“What’s his name?” the stranger asked.

“It’s a girl,” Katie corrected him at once.

“Oh, sorry,” he said, smiling. “What’s her name then?”

“Willow. We just now named her,” Katie replied.

“It was my idea,” Andy put in proudly.

“Well, it’s a good one,” the stranger said. “Has Roger seen her yet?”

Deb shook her head. “He’s not home yet, but it shouldn’t be long now.” She glanced at her watch.

“Does he know about her yet?” he asked shrewdly, raising an accusatory eyebrow.

Deb glanced down at the young cadet. “Not yet,” she admitted, “but who wouldn’t love a face like that?”

The old man laughed and shook his head, before heading back toward his own house.

“Kids, please keep an eye on the puppy. I have to get dinner ready.” She spied Jack creeping back into the yard. “Andy, honey, grab the cat, please.  He was giving her a hard time earlier.”

Andy swooped down and picked up Jack, handing him over to Deb as she made her way back toward the kitchen.

“Willow, watch how high I can swing,” Katie called, running toward the exercise equipment. Both Bronco and Willow moved forward to watch.

“Everyone’s so friendly here,” Willow said to Bronco. “Isn’t it hard for you to think of leaving?”

“Harder for them than for me, I think. Don’t get me wrong,” he added quickly, noting the surprise on her face, “I love them all and I’ll definitely miss them, but I’ve been on this mission for seven years now.  That’s quite a long time for someone like me, and they’ve got you here to help now. I know you’ll take good care of them. That’ll make it easier for me to move on.”

“Time for a new mission?” she asked.

He smiled. “What can I say? I’m a Saint. We live to serve.”



Mermaid Dreams & Turtle Tales

This week, just a short story. Hope you enjoy it.

Bernard was lying on a stone, basking in the sun with his father, and contemplating his future. He had always wanted to live the life of a mermaid. Problem was, he was born into a family of sea turtles. His father was a sea turtle. His mother was a sea turtle. All of his brothers and sisters (and he had more than three hundred of them) were sea turtles. It was just the thing to do in his family, and why not? He had the flippers, the big shell, and the cold blood. He seemed born to it. It was indisputably the career path of least resistance. And yet…

As though reading his mind, his father asked, “So, Benny, any thoughts on what you want to do with your life?”

Bernard cringed. This same dreaded conversation had become a near daily occurrence in his life.

“Your sisters and brothers have been off on their own for years now-practically their whole lives. When are you going to get out there?”

Benny’s customary reply to this line of questioning was ‘I don’t know’, because the truth seemed too absurd to confess, and the status quo too monotonous to endure. This time, he simply blurted it out, “I want to be a mermaid.” The look on his father’s face made Benny draw into his shell.

Several long moments had elapsed before his father spoke again. “You want to be what?” he asked. His voice was not angry, just incredulous.

“Well,” Bernard began again, still in his shell, “I don’t mean I want to actually become a mermaid. I know that’s not possible. But I want to do what they do-to save people from shipwrecks.”

His father seemed to consider this. “Why on earth would you want to do that? People are such pests, always throwing their hooks and nets out in front of us. Why would you want to save them?”

Benny stuck his shoulders out so as to shrug them. “Well, yeah, some of them can be annoying, but have you ever been there when the mermaids set them loose on the beach? They look so happy, especially the little ones. It seems more gratifying than just migrating and mating, migrating and mating.”

“Hey, don’t knock it ‘til you’ve tried it,” his father said.

“I don’t want to try it,” Benny replied. “I want to join the mermaids.”

“Why the mermaids? Why not the mermen at least?”

“Don’t be ridiculous. They’re hunters. Can you see me trying to throw a spear with this?” Benny asked, extending his stubby flipper.

“You’re a sea turtle who wants to be a mermaid, but I’m the one being ridiculous?” his father shot back.

Benny shrugged and a prickly silence fell between them. It was his father who finally broke it. “Have you talked to the mermaids about this?”

The question came as a surprise. He’d always imagined his father rejecting the idea outright. “Not yet,” Benny replied.

“Why not?” his father asked.

Again, Benny was taken aback. Wasn’t it obvious, after all? “Well, it’s kind-of a strange ambition. I guess I was just embarrassed to say it aloud.”

“I can understand that,” his father said, “but you can’t let fear or embarrassment stop you. If you want to try being a mermaid,” his father cringed a bit as he said this, apparently unable to stop himself, “then best just to get on with it. It’ll either work, or it won’t. At least you’ll know.  At least you’ll have tried.”

The sheer logic of his father’s advice fortified Benny’s resolve. He nodded. “You’re right. I’ll talk to them today.” Then he sat there. The prickly silence returned.

“What are you waiting for?” his father bellowed. “Go, now, get it over with.”

“Oh, right,” Benny said, and he set off.

A feeling of dread crept into his belly as he swam toward the mermaid’s cave. He’d always enjoyed the fantasy of a life among the mermaids, but what if the reality didn’t live up to the dream? Or worse, what if the mermaids laughed and never even gave him the chance? What then?

Before he knew it, before he even wanted it, he’d arrived at the mermaid’s cave. A young, elegant maid with silvery white skin and auburn hair swam out to greet him. She seemed agitated, almost panicky to see him there.

“Where is it?” she asked, without preamble.

He was stunned. “Where’s what?” he asked.

“The ship wreck, of course,” she replied. “You have come to inform us of a ship wreck, haven’t you?” Her eyes were searching the sea’s surface as she spoke.

“No, no, not at all,” Benny replied at once. “Sorry, didn’t mean to cause a panic.”

Her gaze fell from the surface to him, and her countenance became calm and curious. “I beg your pardon. It’s an occupational hazard,” she explained. “Whenever we have an unannounced visitor, we assume the worst. How can I help you then?”

Now it was Benny’s turn to panic. “I’ve come to…to…sign up,” he said, flashing her what he hoped was a winning smile.

“Sign up?” she repeated. “Sign up for what?”

“To be a…ummm,” he couldn’t bring himself to say it. “To help,” he said at last. “I’m here to help the mermaids.”

“To help with what?” she asked.

“Saving people,” he said. “I want to rescue shipwreck victims, like you all do.”

Much to his own relief, she didn’t laugh or reject him outright. But she did seem uncomfortable. “I’ve never heard of a sea turtle helping with a rescue,” she said, “but hold on, let me ask my supervisor.” She disappeared into the cave and re-emerged a few moments later, followed closely by a surly looking maid with dark eyes and hair the color of steel, which was pulled back in a tight bun. The surlier maid glared down at him.

“I hear you want to be a mermaid?” she said, making no attempt to hide her disdain.

“I don’t want to become a mermaid,” he corrected her quickly. “I just want to work for them-for you-I mean.”

“Fine,” she said.

Benny and the younger maid exchanged a look of pure astonishment at the ease with which she’d agreed.

“You can be our scout,” she said.

Benny was overjoyed. “That’s great!” he exclaimed. “So I should just…?” He paused, hoping she would finish the thought. She did not. He tried again. “So why don’t I…umm?” She continued to stare blankly down at him. Finally, he gave up. “What exactly should I do?” he asked.

“Go look for shipwrecks,” she said.

“Right,” Benny said. “Will do.” He saluted the maids and swam off.

“That takes care of that,” the surly maid declared as she returned to the cave.

For more than an hour, Benny swam around, staring at the ocean’s surface. He was so intent on his mission, in fact, that he kept forgetting to watch where he was going and twice bumped into passersby. The first time he did this, he met a young sea skate, who urged him to abandon the hunt and come play with him on the ocean’s floor. But, determined as he was to prove his worth to the mermaids, Benny politely declined.

The second time he bumped into someone, he met an enormous blue whale named Pixie, who told him she’d seen something large and fleshy floating on the surface nearby. “I’m not sure if it’s a shipwreck,” Pixie said. “But you never know. Maybe you’ll get lucky!”

Benny thanked her and swam off in the direction she’d indicated. As he approached the surface, he did see something. He swam closer to get a better look. The person was huge. He’d never realized they could grow so big. He couldn’t tell at first glance if it was a male or a female. It didn’t seem to be in danger though. In fact, it lay so perfectly still Benny began to wonder if it was even alive. Perhaps, he thought, he’d arrived too late. He swam forward and pushed the thing with the tip of his snout.

The large lump turned and gazed at him. It seemed sleepy at first, but at the sight of Benny’s broad shell, which was more than eight feet across, the creature began to thrash and scream. The tiny, inflatable tube upon which it had been floating shot out from beneath its backside and the poor creature entered the water with a loud splash.

Benny was delighted. Perfect, he thought, I’ve found a shipwreck! Only then did it occur to him that the mermaid hadn’t told him what to do next. He didn’t know if he should go for help or try to save it alone.

As though the thought itself had somehow alerted them, several mermaids popped up beside Benny in the water. He was very impressed. “How’d you know?” he asked the closest of the maids. He realized with an unpleasant jolt that he was addressing the surly maid with steel gray hair.

“Are you deaf?” she snapped back. “Can’t you hear her screaming?”

“It’s a her?” he asked, looking at the flailing creature with new interest. “How can you tell?”

“Because the shell goes up past the chest. On the males, it stops at the waist,” she said quickly. “Now get out of my way.” She gave him a shove and swam past him toward the thrashing female, who screamed in terror as she approached. Benny couldn’t blame her. The female kicked the mermaid hard across the face and the surly maid sank like a stone, blood streaming from her now broken nose. The other mermaids looked in panic from the thrashing female to their sinking supervisor.

“You get the female,” Benny yelled. “I’ll get your boss.” He plunged into the depths of the ocean, where he found the surly mermaid sinking fast. He managed to get beneath her and she floated down onto his shell. He swam back with her to the surface, arriving just in time to see the mermaids shoving the doughy female back onto her tiny, inflatable tube. Far from looking grateful, the poor thing looked more terrified than ever. She flipped over onto her stomach and paddled back toward the shore quicker than Benny would have thought possible.

The mermaids cheered, the supervisor moaned, and Benny knew at last the thrill of rescuing someone from a shipwreck. From that day forward, whenever he came within fifty feet of the surly mermaid, she’d shout at him, “Go save someone else!” And he would.