Menolly’s Story

Daily Prompt from Daily Post: Second Time Around

“Tell us about a book you can read again and again without getting bored — what is it that speaks to you?”

I started reading Anne McCaffrey in the seventh grade. There was a short story, Smallest Dragonboy, in our reading book which was required reading. In those few pages, McCaffrey created a world of fantasy that has captivated me for more than twenty years. The very next time I was in the school library, I looked her up in the card catalog and found that there were a handful of her books available. I started reading them and haven’t stopped to this day.

In her world of Pern, Anne McCaffrey painted a beautiful picture of a world untouched by modern technology as we know it, yet its history lies in our distant future. Humans from Earth traveled for many years on three colony ships to settle on the rich, fertile planet called Pern, a name derived from one of the initial survey reports, which stood for Parallels Earth, Resources Negligible. The planet eventually lives up to its name when an unexpected and pernicious danger reveals itself. Thrown into chaos after those initial attacks, the people were scattered and cut off from all of their ships and technology. Twenty five hundred years later, the story begins with a young girl who can talk to dragons, in a world resembling medieval Earth in the first book, Dragonflight.

I can’t tell you how many books there are in this series, and choosing just one is very hard to do. One of my favorites was probably Dragonsong, which is the first book in the Harperhall Trilogy. It follows Menolly, a young daughter of a Lord Holder, who possesses great musical talent, but whose family is determined to smother her gift in order to raise a proper girl, devoid of creativity and destined to work in the sea hold or to be married off. She had studied under a Harper Master, an old man who had recognized the value of her gifts and allowed her to pursue them in secret. After he dies, she is no longer able to compose or play and music, and is even discouraged from singing at all by her parents. After an injury to her hand leaves her unable to play, she finally has had enough and decides to run away. Unfortunately for her, she encounters the dangerous Thread, the enemy that wreaked havoc on the original settlers. Caught without shelter, she is forced to use her sharp wit to survive. Fortunately, she finds some very unexpected help in the form of tiny dragons. The legendary fire lizards had always been a mystery, as they could pop in and out of between in the same way the larger dragons could. In her days living in a set of caves at the seaside, she uses her resourcefulness to create bowls and tools, and even a flute made of reeds from the river. She takes shelter during threadfall, and teaches her nine fire lizards to sing. Unaware that she bonded telepathically with them at birth, she finds that she can’t go anywhere without them. While she is grateful for their company while she lives alone, their ever-present nature provides some tense, if comical moments after she is rescued by the dragonriders from Benden Weyr.

McCaffrey’s characters are well developed, her sense of wonder is childlike, and her comedic timing is perfect. Her stories of Pern span the breadth of time from the original survey mission to the isolated planet, through colonization, genetically engineering the telepathic dragons and learning to use them to fight the insidious Thread, all the way to hundreds of years later, when all memory of Earth is gone, and all that is left are traditions, the roots of which are forgotten.

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A bit about Bobby

Bobby sat on the damp ground, his back against the trunk of an elm tree.  A few clouds cluttered the brilliant blue sky, but there was no wind to move them.  The air was cool, but not yet cold.  It was early November, and in that small mid-western countryside, the earth was preparing for winter.

He knew he should have taken a jacket when he left the house.  His mother always worried over things like that, but it didn’t really matter.  The only reason he would have taken one would have been to save her from worrying.  But Bobby never really needed a sweater.  Not anymore.

The wilted grass was losing its color as the days grew shorter and the nights grew colder.  Bobby held his hand open over a patch of limp grass beside him,  palm down.  He could feel the warmth radiate from somewhere near his elbow and flow down into his fingers.  His pale skin flushed with rosy color and he closed his eyes.  He could feel the life in the grass beneath his hand and was surprised to discover that the impression he got from it was one of sleepiness.  The grass and trees and all other plant-life were beginning to go into a state of hibernation in preparation for winter.

Drawing air in slowly through his nostrils, he focused on the sleepy feeling and began to nudge it into wakefulness.  In his mind, he saw a bright warm sun and pictured the grass and trees around him in their full green summer splendor.  He exhaled a breath which was warm enough to cause him to break into a sweat.  When he opened his eyes, he saw the patch of grass beneath his hand had brightened and stood upright, tall and healthy and green as it had been in July.  With a sigh, he dropped his hand into the thick green tuft of grass and ran his fingers through it, luxuriating in the way it caressed his hand.

It had been eight weeks since he had begun to notice that strange things were starting to happen around him.  He had thought his brother Jimmy had been playing tricks on him at first.  When the strange things continued, even when Jimmy was nowhere around, and when Jimmy failed to take credit for the pranks, Bobby reconsidered his theory.  One time, in the middle of dinner, he had noticed that his tea glass was the only one on the table that had no ice in it.  The tea was still cold from the recently melted ice, and the glass was covered in sweat indicating as much.  But why had his ice melted so fast when everyone else’s had not?  Another time, he had been shocked to find that his left-over pizza, which he had not heated in the microwave, seemed to be as fresh as it had been coming out of the oven.  As the cheese stretched from his teeth to his plate, his eyes grew as round as saucers.  That was when he realized that there was something a little super-natural about the oddities he had been experiencing.

Three whole weeks had passed since Bobby had discovered he could control the bizarre things that were going on.  He noticed a correlation between something that was happening inside of him, and the odd things that happened around him.

At twelve, Bobby was the oldest of his siblings.  His mother was raising him, his younger brother, and his baby sister by herself, and had been for nearly two years since his father had left.  Now that he was nearly a teenager, Bobby had begun to feel the weight of his responsibilities as man of the house.  He no longer waited for his dad to return, and no longer held out any hope of ever seeing him again.  Instead, he had begun to feel animosity toward his absent father, and hoped he would never have to look him in the eye again.  He could not forgive the man for leaving his mother, and would not excuse his absence from the life of his very young sister.

It was while his thoughts lingered on his anger at his father, after young Lily had fallen and cut her knee badly enough to require a trip to the doctor, that he had noticed the heat growing inside of him.  It was not only a heat, but an energy, a strange, electric power that began in his gut and spread throughout his body.  He had felt sweat beads forming around his hairline, and gone to the bathroom mirror to examine himself.  He was startled to see that his freckled face had turned bright pink, as though he had been running, or had been badly embarrassed, and damp hair clung to his forehead.  His hands were clamped tightly over the edges of the sink, and when he relaxed them, he noticed that there was an area of dampness around each one.  The porcelain had fogged over from the heat he was generating.  When he had looked back into the mirror is surprise, he saw that the mirror had begun to fog up as well.

That was when he started to spend his afternoons out by the small lake on the outskirts of town.  It was a short ride on his bike, and provided enough privacy from his nosy brother that he could experiment with his new-found ability.  Mostly all he could do was warm things up.  He couldn’t heat anything to the point of burning, though he had tried with such gusto that he had given himself a headache.  Then he started to find that when he “heated” any kind of plant life, he also restored a little of its life to it.  It had started with a dead, shriveled, dry leaf that had fallen to the ground.  He picked it up and focused on it, hoping to heat it enough to burn, or at least smoke a little.  It was to his amazement that the leaf uncurled and stood straight and tall, it’s life and color returning until it was no longer brittle and brown, but green and supple.  He had kept the leaf in his room, a curious token which never seemed to shrivel or die.

After three weeks of practice, he was a tad disappointed that he could do no more than revive a small tuft of grass no larger than his palm.  He settled back against the tree, noticing for the first time that it was the only tree left in sight that had any leaves left on it.  He grinned.  Well, maybe he could do better than awaken a little grass.  He closed his eyes again and imagined himself falling asleep and dreaming of sunny days, just to wake up to find that the area around him had returned to its summer-time glory.  He smiled again, but when he opened his eyes, autumn was still in command.

He was warm.  He knew he shouldn’t be warm, as the temperature was only in the fifties.  He didn’t feel ill, or hot, just warmer than he felt he ought to.  It did not worry him, or make him uncomfortable, but it gave him an idea.

Without a moment of hesitation, he began to remove his shoes and socks.  He stood and removed his sweater as he approached to edge of the water.  He knew that nobody had attempted swimming in this lake in over a month, and for good reason.  He stepped into the water after removing his jeans.  The lake water engulfed his small feet, lapping above his ankles.  It was quite cold, and he could feel the smooth rocks beneath him.  With a deep breath, Bobby focused his new energy on his feet, and the water around them lost its bite.  Keeping in mind that there were fish and other living things in this lake, Bobby limited the heating of the water to just warm enough to bear, and used his energy to warm himself more than the water.

He waded out until he was nearly in up to his waist, and lowered his body into the frigid lake.  A passerby that saw him might think the boy was in trouble, but at this part of the lake, this time of year, he knew that he was not in danger of being seen.

He lay back in the water, floating on his back and looking up at the sky.  The clouds were still motionless, and the blue of the sky was deepening as the sun slowly approached the horizon.  He would have to return home soon.  His mother would no doubt be concerned when she found that his trousers were wet and he was without a jacket.  He considered this for a while before reluctantly giving in and returning to shore to collect his clothes.

He would go home and reassure his mother of his good health.  He was not sure when and how, or even if, he should tell her about what he could do.  He was not even sure if his ability would ever improve, or if all he had was a really impressive parlor trick.  Something told him that telling his mother would only worry her more.  He did not relish the idea of adding to his mom’s stress, and decided he would keep it a secret for a while longer.

As the sun began to set, the wind finally picked up.  Bobby finished dressing and slipped on his sneakers.  As he picked up his bike, he shook out his hair, wondering how he would explain why it was wet.  But it didn’t matter.  By the time he got home, it was already dry.

Juju bits

Life at the mill wasn’t bad.  It was beginning to get a little cooler at night, but it wasn’t so hot during the day anymore.  Our mother would let us be most of the time now that we were learning more and more each day.  Some of the men that would come there most days started to bring some yummy food for us.  We didn’t like to eat while they were near, but they didn’t usually linger.  They would put down the dry food, usually right on the concrete, and then walk back to the building to sit and watch while we ate from a safe distance.  My sisters and I were fast enough to run if they came back, and there were lots of great hiding spaces where we could squeeze ourselves into and they could not.

Then our mother started to leave for longer during the day and stopped letting us nurse the way we always had.  We could occasionally hunt for ourselves, but we preferred the dry food brought by the men that worked at the mill.  Sometimes a woman would come, with some children, and they looked like they were having so much fun playing and chasing each other.  My sister usually wanted to play with them, but I cautioned her against it.  The people were so big, even the children, and who knows what might have happened if they got a hold of us.

One day, my gray sister was not there when I wanted to play with her.  I did not know where she went, or if she would come back, but I still had two other sisters to play with.  Soon, a man that had been bringing us food had captured one of my remaining sisters.  She was black and white, like my remaining sister, but had more white.  (My colors are more like our mother’s, brown stripes that help me blend into the shadows and hide.)  He wasn’t hurting her.  In fact, he talked very calmly to her and stroked her fur, even though he held onto her tightly.  I could tell she was scared, but she was very brave and did not cry or fight against him.  That was the last time I saw her.

That night, the woman came back, but instead of children, she came with another woman.  They brought food, but instead of leaving after they put it down, they sat down just a little ways away.  I didn’t want to go near them, but I was very hungry.  My mother watched but she did not approach the food.  I couldn’t help it.  My tummy was so empty.  I ate a little before the women tried to come closer, then I ran and hid in the shadows.  My sister was out hunting that night.  The next night, the man that usually fed us came out to play with us.  We liked playing with him.  He never tried to pick us up.  He would only put down food, sit real still, and brought toys that helped us learn to be better hunters.  We chased his toys and relaxed when he tried to pet us.  He was safe to be around and would never hurt us.  He had a soft voice and loved to play like we did.

But that night, everything changed.  After we played and ate for a while, he started to pet each of us.  Then he picked up my sister.  I didn’t really pay attention, because the food he brought was super tasty.  But when I looked again, I did not see my sister anymore, and the man was suddenly picking me up, too.  He put me into a small box, with a door that latched.  My sister was already in the box, and we were very frightened, but we were very brave and did not cry or fuss.  This man had never done us harm, and only good things had happened when he was around, so we waited to see what would happen to us.  We were not in the box for very long, though it seemed like forever.  Then the women returned.  The new one picked up the box and spoke very gently to us.  She smiled a lot and spoke to the man, and then we went home with her.

The car ride was a little scary.  Everything smelled new, and there were sounds we were not used to, but we only cried a little.  After a little while, we were taken out of the car and into a building.  The woman called this her house, and said that it was our new home.  She sat the box with the door on the floor for a few minutes while she ran around and moved things about.  Soon, she returned to open the door.  When she did, she only took out my sister and closed the door again, leaving me locked in.  She offered my sister some food, but my sister is very fast and found a great hiding space right away.  It took a long time for the woman to find her, and when she did, she collected both of us and put us in a small room.  In the room was a box of sand to play in, and bowls with food and water.  There was also a nice, big, soft cushion in the corner.  That is where she sat us down.

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Then, one at a time, she picked us up.  She would place each of us on her legs, turned on our backs, and rub our tummies.  When it was my turn, I did not squirm or cry.  I just looked at her, trying to read her intentions in her eyes.  She rubbed my body with her warm hands and pulled fleas out of my fur.  Then she would just stroke my ears and scratch just under my jaw, and it felt pretty good.  I wanted to relax and start purring, but I was still so scared.  I did not know where I was or if I would ever see my mother again, but since my sister was here with me, I was a little more comfortable with not knowing.

The next few days were weird and confusing.  The woman gave us both baths, which were nothing like the baths our mother would give us.  But after all the wetting and all the sudsy soap stuff, she wrapped us up in warm towels and gave us yummy treats.

We were still afraid to come near her, and so we mostly stayed in the small room.  I think during the day she would leave the house for many hours.  But when she came back, she would always come talk to us, even though we would run and hide, and she would find us and pet us again like that first night at our new “home”.  She started to bring us out of our room more and more.  She started doing the most peculiar thing, though.  Instead of putting food in our room, she would wait until she brought us out of the room, and put the food on the floor near her.  She sat down on the floor with us, just far enough that we were not afraid.  But each night at dinner time, the food would be closer to her.  She soon stopped locking us in the room so much, as we started to trust her more, she began to trust us, too.  It was not long before we would come to her in the evening as she sat in the floor, and wait for our food.

We finally started to trust her.  She gave us names, calling my sister Loki, and calling me Jubilee, or sometimes, Juju.  And there was a man who came to the house sometimes.  He was alright, but it took us a little longer to trust him.  Knowing that the woman was kind helped.  Eventually, we were all comfortable together, and after only a few days in the house with the people, Loki and I decided we were very safe, and finally, we started to purr when the people held us.  The people seemed delighted.  They even let us sleep in their bed with them.  This was great fun, as they would move their feet beneath the covers, and my sister and I could pounce on them like we were really hunting.  Our new mom put our little bed at the end of her big bed so we could be more comfortable.  It was not long before we learned to sleep at the bottom of the bed and not bother the people by trying to sleep near their heads where our purring would keep them awake.

One day, our mom took us to a place she called the “vet”.  It was a little scary riding in the car again, all cramped into the tiny box, which seemed to have gotten smaller since our first car ride in it.  The vet’s place was scary and exciting at the same time.  There were so many smells, like a hundred different animals had been there before.  We saw a dog and some other kittens, but they were shut up in a box just like we were.

The vet seemed okay, but she poked us a couple of times, and put some yucky tasting stuff in our mouths.  But it wasn’t as scary as we thought it would be, and we were soon back home with our people.

Our new man, our mom called him “daddy”, liked to play with us.  Mom preferred to pet us and take care of us like our real mother used to do.  But daddy bought us cool toys that we could chase and run after.  When we were all tired from playing, we would curl up on our people and sleep while they stroked our fur.

Loki said I was silly, but I told her that not only did I trust the people, I was starting to love them too.  Especially our new mom.  She was very special and knew just how to rub my tummy so that I would purr every time.  Loki took a little longer to warm up, but I realized that she liked Daddy better.  She probably loved him more because of how much he liked to play with us.  She always was the most playful of all my sisters.

Sometimes, the man and the woman from the mill would come and visit us.  He still called us our old names, Spots and Stripes.  They said that we were getting fat.  I didn’t know what fat was, but I knew I liked my new home.

It was more than a year ago since Mom brought us home from the mill.  We have had lots of other brothers and sisters since then.  Mom says they are “fosters”, and sometimes one will leave, sometimes more with come live with us.  But we are always the oldest because the new ones always come as kittens.  Sometimes we like to play with them, but mostly we try to stay away from them.  They can be pretty annoying.  Mom just laughs at us and gives us lots of kisses and rubs.  Today we have one other sister and a brother, and one foster brother.  The boys are both orange and like to play together (which keeps them out of our fur), and our new sister is the littlest, with gray and orange fur.  She follows Mom around the most, and is always crying when Mom leaves the room.

We don’t always get to sleep in the big bed anymore.  Sometimes we don’t want to because the younger cats are in there.  But that’s alright.  It’s always warm and cozy in the house, and there are plenty of great places to curl up or stretch out for a good nap.  There are even lots of windows to gaze out of, where we can watch the birds on the bird feeder, or the squirrels in the trees.  There are always a lot of toys to play with and sometimes a few bugs to chase.  Life at the mill was fun, but usually pretty scary.  Life here at our new home is pretty good.  We don’t always know when Mom will bring home more annoying babies, but most don’t stay long, and the ones that do eventually grow out of the irritating stage.

I asked Loki if she ever thought about the mill, or our mother.  She told me to shut up and bit my tail.  My new mom laughed and called us silly kitties.  I have to say that here, with our half-human-half-kitty family, life is pretty darn good.

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