Five O'Clock Somewhere

Welcome to Five O'Clock Somewhere, where it doesn't matter what time zone you're in; it's five o'clock somewhere. We'll look at rural life, especially as it happens in Rio Arriba County, New Mexico, cats, sailing (particularly Etchells racing yachts), and bits of grammar and Victorian poetry.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Made it!

Of course, that's somewhat relative, since the novel isn't exactly finished ...
All right, I've passed the 50,000-word mark on this year's NaNo novel. Problem is, I'm probably only about half finished. I didn't manage to kill the mayor off until more than 38,000 words had passed, and action is still happening rapidly. On the personal front, Hannah has just discovered that she's pregnant; on the public front, the guy in charge of the spelling bee insists that the show must go on, in spite of the mayor being squashed by an anvil on the opening night of the spelling bee. As this scene opens, Harry and Flash have just learned of the pregnancy.

“Let’s go to lunch to celebrate,” Harry said. “This is just so … so … wonderful! Flash, you come too. You’ve been such a good friend, you deserve to be part of the celebration, too.” If only he knew, Hannah thought. Yes, the chance was extremely remote, but if the baby Harry wanted to celebrate was Flash’s and not his, Flash was definitely an interested party.

“I really can’t,” Flash said. “This is your moment for the two of you. I’d just be an extra presence in the room, a fifth wheel.”

They were interrupted by Hannah’s phone ringing. She answered, “Hello?”

The booming voice on the other end was unmistakable. “Hello, Hannah, this is Grym!” Apparently he had managed to recover from the shock of the night before. She was glad of that, but she was wondering why he was calling now.

“Yes, Grym, what’s up?” she asked.

“The remaining events for the spelling bee have been relocated!” he said. “The spelling events will now be held in the Siete Mares High School auditorium! Some of the evening events were already going to be elsewhere, but those that were to be at the college are being relocated to the Siete Mares High School gymnasium!”

“I thought after what happened last night, the spelling bee would be canceled,” Hannah said. “It was rather traumatic for all involved.”

“Oh, no!” Grym said. “As they say, ‘The show must go on’! We can’t let a little incident like that derail the whole spelling bee! These kids are counting on their chance to earn a place in the state bee!”

Hannah wouldn’t exactly have characterized an especially gruesome murder as “a little incident,” but with Grym’s focus being so narrow, apparently everything else was far less important than the spelling bee. “Don’t you think there ought to be at least a couple of days off?” she asked. “To carry on as usual after a man has died, that’s a bit unfeeling.”

“Nonsense!” Grym said. “If anything, it honors his memory to stick with a cause that was dear to him! You heard his speech, up until it got cut off! You know how he valued the spelling bee!”

“But what about the kids?” Hannah asked. “What happened must have been very traumatic for some of them. It would be good to give them some time to cope with the trauma.”

“Ridiculous!” Grym said. “These are spelling bee champions! They have drive! They are far more mature than other kids their age! And they don’t want the Mid Coast Regional Spelling Bee to be postponed, because then they wouldn’t be able to go to the state bee! The schedule’s really quite tight!”

“You can’t postpone things even just a couple of days, then?” Hannah asked. “You could postpone today’s and tomorrow’s events, and have two spelling sessions each Thursday and Friday – morning and evening.”

“That would not work!” Grym said. “We don’t want the contestants to get overly tired! They can deal with only one spelling session per day, or else they start making stupid mistakes because of mental fatigue! Besides, the rule book permits double sessions only under very extreme circumstances!”

Hannah rather suspected that any sane person would consider the gruesome and very bloody murder of the keynote speaker, in front of all of the contestants, judges, and audience, to be “very extreme circumstances.” But, apparently, Grym did not.

“Please be at the high school auditorium by one p.m.!” Grym said. “We start spelling at 1:30!”

“Okay,” Hannah said. “I’ll be there.”

“Excellent!” Grym said. “Don’t be late! ’Bye!” He hung up before Hannah could respond.

Hannah put her phone away. “I’m afraid lunch is off,” she said. “The spelling bee is still on, and it’s relocating to Siete Mares High School. Spelling starts at 1:30, and I need to be there at one.”

“Well, maybe we don’t have time for a fancy lunch,” Harry said. “But we can at least grab some burgers together.”

Hannah looked at her watch. “I guess I have time for a visit to Bleu Burger,” she said.

“I’ve noticed you’ve been craving blue cheese lately,” Harry said. “Is that the baby talking?”

“Don’t attribute everything to the pregnancy,” Hannah said. “I’ve always loved Bleu Burger.”

“Flash, you coming along?” Harry asked.

“Yeah, I guess I could do that,” Flash said, “now that it’s not a fancy dinner for you two.”

Lunch was a bit weird for Hannah. She knew Harry was totally excited and enthusiastic about the prospect of becoming a father, and that enthusiasm led him not to notice that she and Flash were somewhat tense. Flash, she imagined, had mixed feelings. Did he hope the baby was his, flesh of his flesh, or did he hope the baby was not his and therefore wouldn’t saddle him with responsibilities he didn’t want? She herself felt guilt, guilt about what had happened between her and Flash – even if, technically, she wasn’t at fault – guilt that she hadn’t had the courage to tell Harry about what happened, guilt that in some little secret part of her heart, she might be hoping the baby really was Flash’s. It was that last bit of guilt that was the most troubling. She loved Harry, she was going to marry Harry, and while she loved Flash too, it wasn’t the same sort of love, but more like love for a family member, such as a brother. Not that she had had much experience in that area, since she had been an only child, and her parents were killed when she was still fairly young.

Harry dropped Hannah off at the high school auditorium about ten minutes early, and she went in. It was clear that Siete Mares High School was suffering from the budget cuts that had hit schools all over the state. The auditorium was clean, but it had a threadbare feel to it, with carpeting that was worn out in heavy traffic areas and torn in some places, patched together with duct tape. A very large percentage of the seats in the auditorium had hinges or seats that groaned or squeaked or otherwise made noises as the audience members shifted their weight. The stage was very small, and the curtain, she saw, had the telltale lint paths left by textile-eating insects, similar to gopher burrows in a lawn. The flooring of the stage was faded and even splintery; it had clearly been a very long time since it had had any sort of maintenance. About half of the light bulbs seemed to be burned out, or not working for some other reason.

Hannah went up to the stage, where she found that a table had been set up for the judges, and chairs on risers had been set up for contestants, in the same formation as had been set up at the community college the night before. She was glad to see that she and Marvin had new unabridged dictionaries to read from, rather than the ones that had been spattered with pieces of the mayor last night. Of course, the police had probably taken those as evidence anyway – or Grym might have tried to re-use them. Hannah saw that there also were clean, new number tags for the contestants; that was good. It wouldn’t do for a spelling bee champion to be photographed for the newspaper or filmed for the television news wearing a hang tag coated in gore.

Hannah noticed that many of the contestants’ seats on the riser were empty. While it still wasn’t yet one o’clock, she knew that these kids were mostly the enthusiastic sort who showed up early. While a few more might show up in the next few minutes, it looked like there would be a lot of no-shows.

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Wednesday, November 24, 2010

NaNo murder

After more than 38,000 words, at last we reach the first dead body ...
So, in the NaNo novel, I have finally killed off my first victim, His Honor the Mayor of Siete Mares, California, George del Selva. Some of you may have seen in my past excerpts that the mayor's name was something else, but I decided I needed to rename him to suit an underlying theme. I also renamed the prostitute who was caught in the car with him when he was charged with DWI -- she's Catherine Rosa Pantera.

“Now I’d like to say a few woods about the spewwing bee,” del Selva said, “both about spewwing bees in pawticuwaw and about the Mid Coast Wegional Spewwing Bee.” He pulled the sheaf of papers containing his speech out of the inner pocket of his suit coat. Hannah imagined she heard a groan from the audience as those at least in the front few rows could see just how thick that stack of paper was. She herself was not looking forward to having to listen to the mayor drone – or dwone – on and on, but, well, she didn’t have a choice. She and her fellow judges were a captive audience, as were the kids in the seats on the risers.

“Now, when I was gwowing up,” del Selva began, “my school had a spewwing bee. It was a vewy big deal yeaw aftew yeaw. I fiwst pawticipated in a bee when I was in fowth gwade …” Oh, no, Hannah thought, everybody was going to have to be subjected to a probably long-winded story of the mayor’s childhood. At least she could be thankful he started with the fourth grade and not with his birth – the audience would be spared a few very likely forgettable chapters in what promised to be a long, long book. Already, she thought she imagined somebody in the audience snoring. At least the temperature in the auditorium would discourage sleeping. While normally it would not be a big deal to be without heat at this time of year, the rainstorm had brought on a chill, to the point where having a little heat on in the building would have been good. Unfortunately, with the gas out, there was no heat.

The mayor continued to go on and on, describing in great detail each spelling bee that he had been in. The chapter on fourth grade was mercifully short; while del Selva had been his homeroom’s runner-up, he had been eliminated early in the school bee, on a magnificently phonetic spelling of “beautician.” At least that word didn’t have any r’s or l’s in it, Hannah reflected.

Del Selva was just getting into his account of his fifth grade year and its spelling bee when Hannah found herself resisting a call of nature – not an urge to fall asleep, as the temperature in the auditorium, even under the stage lights, was chilly and maybe even getting colder. The tea she had had with supper was taking its vengeance on her, and she needed to use the restroom. She was just beginning to push her chair back from the table when, quietly, Marvin pushed his back and tiptoed out through the backstage door leading to the hallway where the restrooms were. She figured it would be bad form to have more than one judge absent from the stage at a time, so she decided to wait for Marvin to return before taking her own pit stop.

When Marvin returned, del Selva was midway through his fifth grade spelling bee exploits. In that one, he had been his class champion rather than just the runner up, and he made it to the final spell-down. He lost that on “puerile,” but as the school runner up, he advanced to the district spelling bee. As Marvin took his seat, he leaned over and whispered into Hannah’s ear, “Somebody ought to find some way to cut this speech short.” He winked at her, and she winked back.

Del Selva was beginning his account of the district bee as Hannah stood up to sneak out to the restroom. Suddenly her need to use the restroom became the last thing on her mind, or at least a very minor thought. Somebody dropped an anvil on the mayor. Or, at least, an anvil was dropped on the mayor. It came from above, somewhere in the recesses occupied by all of the machinery used to raise and lower sets and other large pieces of material on the stage. The anvil fell straight down, clearly targeted on the “X” on the stage behind the microphone. With a sound that combined both a crunch and a splat, it landed squarely on the mayor’s head, flattening him not merely figuratively but literally. Blood, flesh, and Hannah had no idea what all else, exploded outward, splashing all of the people on the stage and the front few rows of the audience.

For a moment, there was stunned silence, as if people didn’t really grasp what was going on at first. Then some people started to scream, or to yell, or to stare in shocked silence, ashen faced, at the anvil atop what was left of the mayor. It was one of the largest anvils Hannah had ever seen, black cast metal, and someone had taken the time to paint the brand name of the anvil where it was cast into the side, in vivid white, “ACME.” Hannah collapsed back down into her chair. Why would someone use one of Wile E. Coyote’s favorite weapons to obliterate someone who spoke like Elmer Fudd? She turned toward Marvin. “Well, you did say you wanted to find a way to cut that speech short,” she deadpanned.

“I think I would have preferred something a bit … um … neater,” Marvin said, wiping gore off the front of his suit.

By this time, Harry had arrived on the stage, along with Benny Quintana, the security guard, and the mayor’s bodyguards. “What happened?” Harry asked.

“Your guess is as good as mine,” Hannah said. “Did anybody check to see whether Wile E. Coyote is hiding in the rafters?”

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Friday, November 19, 2010

NaNo in the rain

Yes, I'm still alive, and here's a novel excerpt to prove it ...

Day One of the spelling bee: Contestants are supposed to arrive and check in. Of course, things aren't exactly going right. For one thing, a gas leak has forced evacuation of the building where the registration was to take place. For another, the normal warm, sunny weather that Siete Mares usually gets this time of year isn't happening; instead, there's a rainstorm of Biblical proportions.

Monday morning, it was still raining. Hannah thought maybe it wasn’t quite as heavy as it had been Sunday, but it was still heavy. This was not the sort of weather that Siete Mares usually got this time of year, and Hannah began to wonder whether there was some sort of curse hanging over the spelling bee. It wouldn’t be the first time something Hannah was involved in seemed to be cursed.

Hannah dug out her spare handbag and put her spare car keys in it; she wasn’t sure when she would have access to the auditorium to reclaim her main bag, with her keys, wallet, laptop, and other vital gear. She hoped it wouldn’t be long. Harry drove her to the campus, where she saw that overnight, a large circus-type tent had been put up in front of the performing arts center. So the building hadn’t been cleared for occupancy yet, she thought. She saw that backhoes and other construction equipment were scattered around campus in seemingly random locations, digging holes or otherwise pushing dirt around. This gas line inspection project was assuming epic proportions.

She ducked out of the car and through the rain into the front entrance of the tent. Inside, she saw that tables had been set up to register participants as they arrived. Rivulets of rainwater were running through the lawn at her feet, and she saw that the table legs were sinking into mud. Siete Mares didn’t get much rain, especially in the spring, but when rain did come, the sandy soil couldn’t handle all of the moisture and became saturated quickly. In the wealthy neighborhoods on bluffs overlooking the ocean, mudslides were a constant worry. Seaside Community College was on such a bluff itself, but the built-up part of the college was set back from the edge. Still, the tables and chairs inside the tent were taking on a surreal look, as they slowly sank into the ground, some leaning at increasingly crazy angles.

Grym was seated at the center of the table that faced the tent’s entrance. He had some stacks of papers in front of him, and next to him was a pile of cheap tote bags with the spelling bee logo printed on them, along with the words “Mid Coast Regional Spelling Bee” and the dates for this event. The end of the table to his left was sinking faster than the end to his right, and he was having trouble keeping the tote bags from sliding away. His chair was sinking faster than the table, so the table top, which would ordinarily have been at about the height of his mid-stomach, was instead at chest level. He was wet, as was everybody else in the tent, and he was not looking happy. The cliché that immediately came to Hannah’s mind was “drowned rat,” but really, Grym looked far more miserable than that.

“Ah, glad that at least one of my judges could show up!” he yelled. At this moment, the yelling didn’t seem inappropriate – the pounding rain on the roof of the tent was very loud.

Hannah looked around the tent. As Grym had indicated, neither Marvin nor LaKeesha had yet arrived. Instead, there were a half dozen apparently bored volunteers, waiting for contestants and their parents to show up and register, sitting at the other tables in the tent. Of said contestants and parents, there was no sign.

“Well, come on around!” Grym said, indicating the chair next to his, which, not having had anybody sit in it, had not started to sink into the mud. “Might as well show you the procedure!”

Hannah did as he asked and came to sit in the chair, which immediately started to sink. “When contestants come in, we need to check the list!” Grym said, indicating one of the papers in front of him. “We verify that all of their paperwork is correct! Then we give them this information packet!” He indicated the biggest stack of papers. “We also give them the goodie bag!” He pointed to the pile of tote bags, and then grabbed them as the left end of the table took a lurch downward and started the tote bags sliding.

“What’s in the goodie bags?” Hannah asked.

“Oh, all sorts of stuff!” Grym said. “Information about the event, stuff from the Chamber of Commerce like entertainment and lodging guides, coupons for restaurants and hotels and other services from sponsors, samples of soap and shampoo, a pocket dictionary – worthless if you ask me – from the bookstore, promotional materials from the college, a little bit of this, a little bit of that!”

“So how many contestants have registered so far?” Hannah asked.

“None!” Grym said. “But we must keep to the schedule! It says we start registration at nine a.m., so we started registration at nine a.m.!”

By noon, no contestants had appeared. Grym’s chair had sunk so far that its seat was only six inches above the muddy grass, while Hannah’s seat was a foot above. The table had not sunk so much, so it was about eye level for both of them.

Two men in dark raincoats, carrying black umbrellas, came through the front door of the tent. These men exuded an aura of “bodyguard”; Hannah was put in mind of Secret Service agents protecting the President of the United States. They even had little earphones with spiral wires leading somewhere inside their raincoats. They stepped to either side of the doorway and stood at attention, feet slightly apart. One of them whispered something into his miniature microphone. For a moment, Hannah thought perhaps the President himself was about to appear.

Next, three more men entered the tent – two more in dark raincoats, with umbrellas, one of which was held over the third man, who wore a tan coat. Hannah recognized His Honor, the Mayor of Siete Mares, George del Valle, with his thick, wavy, salt and pepper hair, bushy moustache to match, soulful brown eyes, complexion with just the right shade of brown to be not too brown and not too white, just enough wrinkles to look wise without looking old. Unlike everybody else in the tent, del Valle appeared to be completely dry.

Del Valle came up to the registration table, his hand extended. Grym made a clumsy attempt at standing, hampered by how low his chair’s seat had become. He started to fall backwards but grabbed at the edge of the table to steady himself. That turned out to be a mistake; the pressure on that side of the table pulled it downward, and it slowly tipped over, like a dinghy in a stiff breeze sailed by an inexperienced sailor who doesn’t know to release the mainsheet. As the table keeled over, the papers and goodie bags slid off, making spattering noises as they hit the soggy grass. Hannah tried to scoot her chair backwards to get out of the way of the table as it fell, but the back legs were firmly enough planted that all she succeeded in doing was tipping it over backwards; she felt the icy mud on the back of her head and shoulders, but fortunately the ground was soft enough that she wasn’t really hurt. She did succeed, however, in avoiding getting hit by the table, as her legs flew up in the air. Grym ended up in a similar posture. Hannah found herself laughing, not just at how ridiculous Grym looked, but also at the thought of how she must also look.

“What’s going on hewe?” del Valle asked, and his voice dispelled the carefully cultured appearance he had cultivated. His voice was nasal, a little higher in pitch than was truly dignified, and he had some sort of speech impediment. “I’m wooking for Gwymwyr Heebenwober.” Hannah was laughing even harder now; all she could think of was a cartoon character, vowing to kill the “wascally wabbit.”

Grym struggled to his feet, shaking off clods of soggy grass and blobs of mud. “I’m Gwym- – uh, Grymwyr – Heebenlober!” he said. “Who are you?!”

Del Valle was clearly not happy that his face was not universally recognized, even if a spelling bee coordinator from the state office would not normally be expected to know the faces of all of the small town mayors in the state. His face turned red, and he stood up as straight as he could. “I’m Geowge del Valle,” he said. “I’m the mayow of Siete Mawes.”

Grym reached over the wreckage of table, papers, and goodie bags to shake del Valle’s hand. “Your honor!” he said. “Glad to meet you! Very glad indeed!”

“Wikewise,” del Valle said. “Vewy gwad. But what awe you doing in this tent out in the wain, instead of in the auditowium?”

“There was a gas leak!” Grym said. “And the gas company thinks there may be more! All the buildings on campus are evacuated until it’s certain the gas has all been cleared out from all of the pipes!”

Del Valle was visibly blown back by the force of Grym’s voice. Hannah realized that she had become accustomed to his stentorian tones, but anyone meeting him for the first time would be floored. “Do you know when you wiww be abwe to wetuwn to the auditowium?” he asked.

Grym was saved from having to answer, and del Valle was saved from having to withstand another blast from Grym, by the arrival of Benny Quintana. She noticed dark blue dye running down the side of his face from his security guard’s cap – he must have just gotten a new one, she reflected. Well, with this rain, it wasn’t going to be in new condition for very long. “I just got the all clear from the gas company,” Benny said. “It’s safe to go in the buildings. I’m unlocking everything now.” He held up a large key ring with about fifty keys on it. “The performing arts center is open, and the alarms are off. You’re good to go.”

“Ah!” Grym said. “It’s about time! Let’s get out of this miserable rain!”

“Agweed,” del Valle said. “Wet’s get out of the misewabwe wain!”

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Monday, November 08, 2010

NaNo sailing

This time around, a little different
Continuing the annual tradition, I'm posting excerpts from my NaNo novel as I go. Since the primary audience of this blog is interested in sailing, I generally focus on sailing-related excerpts. This year, it took a while before Hannah got out on a boat, and, well, as you will read, the adventure wasn't exactly perfect.

Her business with the paper was quickly over, and Hannah realized that it was still mid-morning. She and Flash could get out on the water earlier than she had anticipated. When she got out to her car, she pulled out her phone and pressed the speed-dial key that she had programmed for Flash.

He answered immediately. “Hi, Hannah, what’s up?” he asked.

“Well, I got done early at the paper today,” Hannah said. “I’m free now, if you’re ready to go sailing.”

“Super!” Flash said. “I’ll meet you at the boat in, say, ten minutes.”

“Sounds like a plan,” Hannah said, suppressing a fresh wave of jitters. The nervousness was really getting to her. She realized that it was a good thing she was running early; the sooner she got the business of facing her fears done with, the better.

She drove to the marina and parked in the lot nearest to Flash’s slip. As she walked down the pier, she could see that Flash was already at the boat, curly dark hair tousled in the wind, snapping black eyes reflecting the smile of shiny white teeth beneath the pencil thin Errol Flynn moustache. He already had the jib and mainsail rigged and ready to raise, and most of the docklines had been removed from the boat. Clearly, Flash had prepared ahead so he and Hannah could set sail immediately.

She took Flash’s hand to steady her as she stepped onto Avenger, and his expression changed immediately to a slight frown. “Hannah, you’re shaking,” he said.

“I guess I’m, um, nervous,” Hannah said. “I don’t want … history to repeat itself.”

“Don’t worry, it won’t,” Flash said. “We’ve promised each other, and we’re going to keep that promise.” He squeezed her hand.

She squeezed back. “We will,” she said. “I’m sure of it.” She wished she really were sure, though.

Flash untied all of the dock lines, holding on to the bow line to walk the boat out of the slip; he then cleated the line at the end of the pier so the boat could point into the wind, which, as predicted, was brisk without being too stiff. He got onto the boat and hauled on the halyard to raise the mainsail, leaving it slack and flapping in the wind. He then returned to the pier, untied the line, gave the bow of the boat a shove out into the channel, and then lightly hopped aboard, quickly settling himself at the helm. Hannah sat forward of him, next to the jib sheets.

As Flash pulled in the mainsheet to tighten the sail, Hannah was once again treated to the magic feeling of being on Avenger, under sail, energy flowing through her as the boat heeled slightly and surged forward. She began to feel herself relaxing, the negative energy of dread being replaced by the positive energy of the boat. She realized that she had been holding her breath in anticipation of the moment, and she let it out with a deep sigh.

“You’re feeling better now, hon?” Flash said. “I knew that getting out on the water would be good for you.”

“It is good,” Hannah said. “You want the jib up?”

“Go for it,” Flash said.

Hannah grabbed the jib halyard and pulled, smoothly, arm over arm, to raise the sail quickly, and then she grabbed the jib sheet and sheeted in, all in one smooth movement. She was rewarded with another surge of power as the wind filled the sail.

“That’s my baby,” Flash said, smiling.

Hannah smiled back. “It’s such a relief getting out here,” she said.

“You know, it’s good you got here early today,” Flash said. “The front’s moving in faster than predicted. If you couldn’t get here until noon, it might have been too late. This way, though, we can have a couple of hours out before things get rough.”

“Excellent,” Hannah said. She was focusing on the moment, letting the motion of the boat and the water dispel the last cobwebs of worry. She was here, now, sailing, in the mystical zone that Avenger always put her in.

They sailed out of the harbor and into the open ocean. Here, the upcoming front was making its presence known. The swells were steep, kicked up by winds farther out at sea that would be arriving at the coast later today. She imagined the avid surfers of Siete Mares were enjoying some really knarly waves. If the high they got from surfing was even half as great as the high she got from sailing, they were probably absolutely euphoric.

Flash and Hannah sailed back and forth, Flash steering the boat masterfully through the waves, its knife-like hull punching through the walls of water. Hannah was glad she had remembered to bring along her heavy-duty foul-weather gear; Avenger was a wet ride even in gentler conditions, and the jib trimmer got hit with every wave. Flash stayed much drier at the helm, as Hannah was blocking most of the spray.

The wind and waves were increasing, and Hannah was beginning to feel a twinge of … something … in the pit of her stomach. Seasickness? The return of the nervousness?

“Let’s go in,” Flash said. “I think it’s time to call it a day.”

“Yes,” Hannah said, noting that the little twinge in her stomach eased up. “We can get the boat put away before the really nasty stuff hits.”

Flash steered the boat downwind back to the harbor, surfing on the waves. At first, the feeling of flying was blissful, but then that little fluttering in Hannah’s stomach returned. No problem, she thought. Just a little reaction to the conditions, nothing to get worried about. She concentrated on trimming her sail, making sure to keep the telltales flying.

Then Hannah started feeling a little more queasy. No, she told herself, she couldn’t be seasick on Avenger. She and the boat were soul-mates. She swallowed, hard, three or four times, and that seemed to settle her stomach a little bit.

The wind got harder and the waves got bigger. Flash was steering the boat fiercely, keeping it as level as he could in the gusts. Now Hannah felt cold sweat coming out on the back of her neck, and her stomach was refusing to settle itself. She was losing the ability to concentrate on the sail, instead working on making sure her stomach held onto its contents, alternating swallowing with shallow breathing, gulp, pant, gulp, pant, gulp, pant.

Flash glanced over at her, and his expression became grim. “You’re not looking so good,” he said. “Maybe we should lower the jib and let you rest.”

Hannah agreed with that, although she couldn’t say anything while she was working on keeping her stomach under control, so she nodded emphatically. She ran the jib halyard through her hands to make sure it would run free without tangling, cleated the jib sheet down tight, and uncleated the jib halyard, then got up on the foredeck to pull the jib down, all the while gulping and panting to settle the stomach. The activity seemed to help curb the stomach’s urge to hurl up its contents, and when she came back to the cockpit, the boat seemed a bit steadier, so she was able to breathe evenly again.

She sat down next to Flash, and he placed his arm around her waist. “You were looking really bad there for a moment,” he said. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen anybody get quite that green before. You sure you’re all right?”

“I am now,” she said in a voice that sounded very thin and weak, enjoying the feeling of solidness and reassurance that Flash’s arm provided. “I don’t know what happened.”

“Maybe Harry’s right,” Flash said. “Maybe you’re not really ready for intensive sailing yet. Maybe you do still need more recovery time from your injury.”

Tears came to Hannah’s eyes. “I can’t give up Avenger,” she said. “Since I’ve started sailing on this boat, I’ve become so much better. I’ve gained strength, equilibrium, confidence. Giving up sailing her would be like dying.”

“I know,” Flash said. “I could never ask you to do that. But I think maybe, at least for now, we keep it to gentler conditions.”

Hannah wrapped her arms around Flash, while being careful not to interfere with the arm that was controlling the tiller. “Thank you,” she whispered in his ear.

“Hannah, I know how important sailing is to you,” Flash said. “I could never imagine making you quit.”

A big wave hit the back of the boat, and it careened forward. Hannah felt her stomach lurching up again. “Oooooh,” she moaned.

“Oh, God,” Flash said. “Try to hold on!”

Hannah resumed the alternating gulp, pant, gulp, pant routine. It wasn’t working so well. She felt sour liquid rising in the back of her throat.

After what seemed an eternity, Flash brought the boat into the mouth of the harbor. It seemed to Hannah that all three – she, Flash, and Avenger – breathed a massive sigh of relief upon getting past the breakwater and into calmer waters. The boat settled down, and so did Hannah’s stomach, and Flash calmed down as well. Hannah hadn’t realized it, but he had become very tense during the last part of the journey back to harbor; she could feel his back muscles relax through her arm that was still hanging on to him.

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Monday, November 01, 2010

And we're off ...

49,770 words to go ...

Spring was in the air. Hannah Montgomery could feel it in the warm sun that shone down on her and illuminated her silky honey-blonde hair as it lifted on the gentle breeze. The spring term was coming to a close at Seaside Community College, so it was the final crunch time for her students as they prepared their papers for the end of term portfolios. The flip side of that arrangement was that Hannah herself had a bit of a breather before the very end of the term, a breather that she very much needed. As she locked her car and began the walk across the parking lot – fortunately short, as she still qualified for handicapped parking – her phone rang.


“Hi, honey, it’s me.” Hannah recognized the voice of her fiancé, Harry O’Malley. “Just wanted to check – did you get the caterer you wanted?”

“Oh, dear, I forgot about that,” Hannah said. It used to be that she had no trouble remembering things, but there were still lingering after-effects from the brain injury she had received a couple of years ago, and her short-term memory was one of the things that hadn’t fully recovered. She sighed. She would have thought that something as important as planning her own wedding wouldn’t slip her mind so easily.

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