A few weeks ago, I taught a workshop on "Hunting Dinosaurs" focusing on how to use the natural world as your muse. I gave a one hour presentation, then turned the students loose inside the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences to find inspiration. A week later, we met to have the students present their openings. I asked permission to present some of their samples via social media, and I'm pleased to report that three agreed to do so.
First up, Samantha Bryant found inspiration not in the museum, but when she went home, and found a tiger lily growing next to her mailbox. If you like these 500 words from her, and would like to see more of her writing, you're in luck! Her debut novel, Going Through the Change, is now available. http://www.amazon.com/Going-Through-Change-Samantha-Bryant/dp/1620078414/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1435785661&sr=8-1&keywords=samantha+bryant
by Samantha Bryant
“Lillie! Proper young ladies do not squat in the fields. It simply isn’t done!”
Lillie blew her hair up out of her eyes, then held it back with her hand when it immediately fell back down into her face. She peered up at her mother, a winning smile plastered in place.
“You can’t charm your way out of this, young lady.” Mrs. Devereux stood with her hands on her hips, never a good sign. Lillie let the smile slide away and tried to school her features into an expression of attentive respect and seriousness. “Wipe that smirk off your face and get back to the house. Ernestina is waiting to clean you up. Young Mr. Umstead will be here in less than an hour and you are not fit to receive him!” With that, her mother turned on her heel and stomped back to the house, her back ramrod straight even with one hand atop her head to hold her wide bonnet in place. Somehow even the delicate gesture of lifting of her skirts as she maneuvered around the plant life was crisp and bristling with anger. Lillie knew she’d not yet heard the end of this.
She stood, pulling the bouquet of tiger lilies she had been gathering into the crook of her arm. She turned their unruly heads gently until they lay in her arms in an organized pile, their orange heads draping over the lace of her sleeve, leaving streaks of yellow pollen on her dress. She was glad her mother hadn’t spotted the flowers. She hated them, saying that they were little better than weeds. She insisted on camellias or magnolia blossoms floating in bowls. She thought the orange lilies gaudy, with their bright petals and ostentatious stamens. Lillie loved them so much that she insisted on being called Lillie, even though her birth name was Sarah, after her mother.
Lillie didn’t want to spend the afternoon letting Horace Umstead read her his abysmal poetry. She suspected he had simply changed the small details of the poems he’d written for Henrietta Jamison last season, before she had passed him over for another, richer man. That bit about the shady frond was obviously intended as a rhyme for blonde. Lillie’s hair was a rich, chestnut brown, but Henrietta’s was a lovely, golden blonde. It was hard to pretend she found his attentions flattering under the circumstances. She was his second choice, and he hadn’t been on her list at all.
Talking to him was an exercise in frustration as well, even worse than listening to him. When she tried to expound on the wrongs done to women by assigning them to such demeaning roles even within their own homes, he just blinked at her dully and said, “I don’t know about that.” He didn’t even have the passion to argue with her, to try and put her in her proper place. He didn’t understand her well enough to find her vexing. And she was trying her best to vex him, so he’d take his unwanted affections onto someone else’s veranda.
Sana Hadley found her inspiration in the form of a dinosaur skull, with a notable influence from the setting of the museum itself, where scientists conduct research behind glass walls in plain sight of visitors:
by Sana B. Hadley
Victor took off his glasses & rubbed his temples with both hands. He always felt like an old man when he did that. He sat on a barstool leaning over a large metal utilitarian table. The fluorescent lighting directly overhead was doing nothing for his headache. The pain was creeping into migraine territory. He grabbed his toothbrush and started brushing away more dirt. Victor stared intently on a tiny bone that started to help shape out the formation of a small arm protruding upward from this awkwardly shaped rock sitting in front of him. Eventually he spotted what he was looking for- pinpoint size holes and he felt a surge of adrenaline push aside his throbbing head pain.
He pulled down a large lighted magnification lens that was mounted to the table for a closer look at the air pockets. He was convinced this was the skeleton of something from a poultry farm but in fact it was that of a dinosaur. He was so excited about all these Turkeysaurs (as he called them) that he kept finding. He imagined a farm full of turkey and chicken-like dinosaurs and a farmer trying desperately to domesticate them and realized he had formed a full-fledged smile. He day-dreamed a lot- it was the only way he could pull off these long hours. You see- Victor works in a glass box of sorts. It’s a laboratory in the science museum where random people can come stare at you between the hours of 9-5pm 7 days a week. It makes him feel like he’s the specimen under the lens. During those times he has to pretend he’s working on- that. Victor stares at the prominent display against the glass near the front door. It’s their hook- the Carolina Butcher as they call it- had the body of an alligator and the head of a T-Rex. That’s all anyone cares about is that superstar attention hog of an awkward & kooky dinosaur. Stick the head of a T-Rex on anything and in pours the interest, the praise, and most importantly- the money for their digs.
Victor spent the “peak lame hours” as he called them (usually from 2pm when the kids got out from school until the museum closed) working on things that somehow looked like a T-Rex. Sometimes he felt like a paid actor- showing people what they wanted science and discovery to look like. It didn’t really matter to them if the new discovery actually looked like an accurate representation or if the renderings were just dramatized. It paid the bills so he could spend after hours working on real discoveries. Stick the head of a T-Rex on a pterodactyl and see them all flock to our windows, he thought.
He was really annoyed that at least 3 lab mates had spent way too many hours for the past few days coming up with an unnecessary logo for the stupid thing. Who really cares what font you use for the Carolina Butcher? How is creating a logo helping our understanding of dinosaurs? What made it worse is that they started selling merchandise. They slapped a white Carolina Butcher logo on bright red t-shirts and magnets. As soon as you walked in the lab- the first thing you saw was that giant T-Rex skull- like it was their mascot or something. They were headed down a path that made everything feel like a spoof of the art of discovering the natural world.
Victor decides to call it a night and doesn’t even bother cleaning up. He gets up from his stool- bends his body forward and backward to stretch- and then walks over to his small writing desk. He tosses his dusty lab coat on his chair and glances at the wall in front of him. The map of Montana and the postcards from his dad have started to fade and curl up at the edges. “How did I end up just like him?” he spoke aloud with a heavy breathiness.
We finish up with Rebecca Leanda, who found inspiration in a gorilla skull that led her to create a fantasy of totem animals:
The Zoo Guide
I held Tinker’s hand. The five-year-old was different than the other children in the kindergarten class. The other kids ran to each animal’s pen with enthusiasm, but the slight girl didn’t let go of my hand until we got to that last enclosure.
My daughter asked me to come with her class’s field trip specifically for Tinker. “I need a designated hand-holder for that one, Mom. I promise you, she will hang on you like a baby monkey clings to its mother, and you can help keep an eye on the other kids too.” I’d volunteered with her classes before, but the zoo trip was the first time my daughter didn’t give me the lecture about “no weird stuff, Mom.”
We were about halfway through the zoo on that hot, smelly afternoon. The other moms chatted with each other as we went through the biggest aviary I’d ever seen. The kids weren’t overwhelmed with the birds, but thought the eagles were pretty cool. They kept hoping the birds would swoop down over them, but Tinker squeezed my hand, obviously hoping they wouldn’t.
My daughter did her bird talk, while I silently mused about how the huge cage was actually an assisted living home for disabled eagles. She wandered towards us while she spoke, breaking her little speech up with occasional reprimands aim at the loud boy who kept yelling, “Come on, eagles, fly!”
Tinker held my hand, and every time the kid yelled, she also grabbed a handful of my skirt. I was glad I’d opted for the lightweight dress that day.
My daughter whispered to me, “Didn’t Dad always say that your totem was an eagle?”
I lied, “My spirit animal is a broody hen.”
My daughter, who was fourth out of seven children, didn’t disagree.
Looking up at me, Tinker asked, “What’s a totem?”
I hesitated. Some people don’t like anyone explaining mysticism to their small children. Fortunately, my daughter wandered out of earshot, so I simply said, “It’s a spirit guide, kind of an invisible animal friend that is special.”
“What’s a broody hen?”
“A broody hen is a chicken that likes to hatch baby chicks.” I left out the part about broody hens being slightly crazy.
We moved them quickly through the reptile house, and slowly past the giraffes. The next habitat on our tour was the gorilla area. The best viewing for the big apes was inside a walkway. There, a thick, smeary glass wall let the children get a good view of the huge apes. Immediately, I saw the silverback sitting with his back to the glass. The other children ran past the massive animal as if they didn’t realize he was real.
Tinker let go of my hand.
I almost grabbed her back as that frail child pressed both hands to the thick glass, only inches from the immense animal. My hands out, I froze as time slowed, but I still saw what happened.
It wasn’t the first time I’d seen a crack in time, but it was the first time I saw a child react the way Tinker did. Everything else stopped. Every child, every gorilla, every whisper of wind came to a complete stop.
As time cracked, the silverback turned around, and lowered his head to the glass. His deep, glittering eyes looked into Tinker’s as the glass melted away. The other children froze in mid-run as the glass puddled around their feet. The gorillas were also still as statues, not far from the humans.
But the silverback was not frozen. Neither was Tinker.
I’d seen cracks in time since I was a child. I knew I wouldn’t be able to move, but that was the first time I was afraid. Silently, I screamed as Tinker leapt into the arms of the silverback.
The timid child wrapped her little arms around the gorilla’s neck as he lifted her and stepped through the wall.
And then, the gorilla was gone. Abruptly moving again, I almost fell on the tiny child who was hopping up and down. I caught myself awkwardly on the solid glass wall as the air became full of sounds and movement. Tinker beamed up at me.
“Broody Hen, I don’t have to hold your hand anymore. I have my own totem now! He’s a gorilla!”
While time constraints meant we could only workshop the openings of stories, everyone also provided synopsis of the fuller tale. I think all three of the stories presented here, plus several others not shown, have the potential to become polished, publishable short stories, or even novels. Hopefully, everyone will find the time to complete them!