Saturday, March 29, 2003

CURIOSITY: John had always been curious, but he didn't much like going into the ocean. When his parents would drag him and his sister Kate off on a family trip to the beach he would usually pout for the whole drive there, and only relent when his dad finally pulled the station wagon off to the side of the road. John would then peek his head up over the edge of the door (he was too short to see out the window without stretching) and forget all about the misery that he had feared lied before him.

His parents knew this, as did Kate, and so they were not surprised this particular time when they saw John bound out of the car and down the concrete stairs to the sand as soon as the car stopped. John's mom saw that the beach was deserted, and so she didn't see any harm in letting him run free while the rest of the family unloaded the beach supplies from the car. Dad got the ice chest, mom carried the umbrella and the towels, and Kate brought up the rear with a pile of folding chairs stacked on top of her head.

It took the three of them a little while to get organized, and John was impatient. When he reached the sand he looked back up towards his family and sighed mightily; what in the world could be taking them so long? He kicked his shoes off and rubbed his feet through the sand, tracing long lines down the beach towards the water. He walked down onto the wet sand, but kept a close eye on the lapping waves to make sure that he didn't come within their reach.

John looked up and down the beach. There was a rock formation a short distance off, and he started making his way towards it, picking up as many shells as he could find while carefully avoiding the surf. When he reached the rocks he craned his neck upwards to take in the whole site. In awe of the towering spire, the shells he had collected fell numbly from his hands, forgotten for the moment. The rocks looked a little sharp, and John looked back up the beach towards where he had dropped his shoes. Too far away. Besides, he saw plenty of suitable places to step.

He approached the rocks gingerly at first, and climbed up the nearest using his hands to keep his balance. They weren't steep, and he grew more confident when he saw his family trudging down the slope from the road. His mom stooped to pick up his shoes when she passed them, and it made John laugh.

"Mom!" he yelled, cupping his hands around his mouth, "look at me! Mom!"

His mom turned to look, and waved the hand holding his shoes at him. John watched his family deposit their things a safe distance above the water line, and saw his parents say something to Kate and point over towards him. His big sister groaned and started walking to the rocks where he was standing. She was coming to get him, or at least to watch over him? this wouldn't do at all.

John laughed and started climbing higher. There were plenty of footholds and he didn't have any trouble until he approached the top. He looked down and saw Kate walking up after him; she looked grouchy, and that probably meant that she would take him back down. Kate used to be a lot of fun, but she hadn't wanted to play with him much at all recently, and had barely talked to him for months until school ended and summer began. If she thought she was going to carry him back down, he decided he would at least make her work for it.

John reached his hands up onto the top ridge of the highest rock, and stood on his tiptoes to see what was there. There weren't many places to step, but if he could find something to grab onto?. When his eyes poked above the ledge he saw that the peak was covered in roses.

"Kate! Look at this!" he yelled back down to his sister.

She sighed again. "What, John?" she called up to him.

"Roses!" he said, and grabbed one from over his head and held it out so she could see it. Kate looked curious, and hopped up the final few feet to stand up next to him. She was tall enough to see the roses without having to reach, and she surveyed the scene. "I want to see," John told her.

Kate grabbed him under his arms and lifted him up onto the ledge. Roses indeed, piles of them! John kicked at them lightly with his feet, and saw that under them all was a metal plaque. There were words written on it, but he couldn't read them. "What's this?" he asked his sister urgently.

"I can't see it," she said. "Come on, let's go." She was impatient, and wanted to go back down. She never wanted to play with him anymore.

"Read it, Kate," John begged her, curious to know what the plaque said and hoping to stay on the rocks for a few more minutes.

With another sigh Kate braced herself on the ledge with her hands and started to push herself up. John moved his feet out of the way and Kate gasped. The rock wasn't wet, but it was smooth and slippery and when Kate saw the plaque her arm lurched out from under her. John watched as she trembled on the brink and lost her balance; Kate screamed as she fell backwards off the step she had been standing on and turned end-over-end until she hit the rocks below with a solid thud.

John looked down for a few seconds and then started crying when he saw that Kate wasn't moving. His parents had heard Kate scream and fall, and ran across the beach towards the rocks; they found Kate's body lying crumpled below, lifeless. John's mom collapsed on the sand and cried, and his dad climbed up to bring him down. When he picked John up he saw the plaque underneath the roses, inscribed "In memory of our beloved Kate."

Wednesday, March 26, 2003

THE PRINCESS AND THE DRAGON: Once upon a time there was a beautiful Princess who lived in a giant castle with a mean old Dragon. She had been trapped in the highest tower of the castle for a very long time, and she desperately wanted her freedom. She had none, of course, because the Dragon held her prisoner -- and she doubted that he would ever let her go. Whenever the Princess would walk down, down, down the many hundreds of stairs to the bottom of the tower, the Dragon would always be sitting there in the courtyard of the castle, lying upon his vast treasure trove, waiting for her. The Princess would get so scared that she would run back up, up, up into the tower even faster than she had run down. It was a terribly frustrating situation, but the Princess was quite confident that a knight would come to rescue her eventually; that's what happened in all the stories, after all.

The great beast could talk (the Princess had heard him speak), but he rarely did so. He spent most of his time lounging upon the vast piles of gold and jewels that filled the castle. When he did talk to the Princess almost everything he said was nonsense, and she had absolutely no patience for it. There was nothing she wanted to say to him, her captor, in any event, and so she saw no reason to listen to what he had to say to her. The Dragon brought her food (no doubt cooked with his own dragonfire, she thought) and clothing, and whatever else she might need, but otherwise left her entirely alone.

When the Princess wasn't otherwise occupied by running down or up the stairs of the tower, she spent most of her time reading through the many books that sat on the shelves that lined the walls of the uppermost room. Inside the books were hundreds of stories, and many of them contained princesses and dragons. By reading the stories she learned a great many things, such as the fact that the only weakness in a dragon's armor is on his belly. Unfortunately, she knew she could never fight the Dragon herself, even with this important knowledge.

From her books she also knew that a knight would someday come to slay the dragon and save her. He would be handsome, as all knights are, and brave of course. In truth, the stories made it clear that the knight wouldn't even need to be strong enough to fight the Dragon face to face, if he was clever enough to steal her out from under the Dragon's nose. She was certain, however, that her knight would be both strong and clever.

One day, as the Princess was sitting on the balcony of her tower and reading a fascinating treatise on turning frogs into princes, she noticed a tiny cloud of dust on the horizon. As she watched, she saw that the dust cloud was coming closer and closer to the tower; in fact, she saw that the dust cloud was not a cloud of dust at all, but a man upon a horse. She put her book down and looked more closely. The dust cloud that was really a man upon a horse was actually a man in armor upon a horse. Her knight had finally come!

The Princess' heart began to beat very rapidly as she started gathering her things. She had no suitcase or luggage, and so she tore the sheets from her bed and used them as sacks, piling her favorite books into them. Every few minutes she would rush back to the window to check on her knight, and he gradually approached the gate of the castle. When she heard his powerful knock at the door far below, she nearly leaped with excitement. The Princess tied the corners of the sheets together around her books, her favorite dresses, and all the other things she could not bear to leave behind, and then ran to the balcony.

The knight pushed open the castle doors and rushed bravely into the castle as the Princess watched from above. When he saw the piles upon piles of gold and jewels he turned and looked in every direction; the Princess could see the wonder and amazement on his face. She sighed, because he had such a handsome face.

The Dragon awoke from his slumber and beat his wings furiously when the knight entered, tossing treasure in every direction and nearly knocking the knight off his feet. But the knight was strong, as well as brave, and charged towards the Dragon with his sword held high over his head. The Dragon breathed deeply and fire engulfed the knight, and for a moment the Princess' eyes filled with tears and her heart stopped.

The Princess rushed down, down, down the stairs of the tower, desperate with fear that her shining knight had been slain by the terrible Dragon. When she finally reached the courtyard, the smoke from the Dragon's breath was clearing; over the stacks of treasure she saw that her knight had cleverly deflected the flame with the shield strapped to his arm, and that he hadn't been hurt at all!

The knight climbed back to his feet and attacked the Dragon again. He swung his sword against the Dragon's scales over and over, but he couldn't cut through the Dragon's powerful armor and eventually he began to get very tired. The Princess knew that her knight would never be able to slay the Dragon by attacking his hard scales, and she realized that he didn't know the Dragon's weakness.

"Brave knight," she yelled to him, struggling to be heard over the noise of the battle. "Strike the Dragon on his belly; that's his only weakness!"

Both the Dragon and the knight heard the Princess shout, and they were both surprised. The Dragon spun around to face her and tried to push her back into the tower, but the Princess would have none of it now that her knight was here to rescue her. While the Dragon was distracted, however, the knight recovered from his surprise and ran towards the dragon at full speed, holding his sword out in front of him like a lance. The Dragon was paying so much attention to the Princess that the knight was able to attack him from the side, and plunged his sword directly though the soft scales on the Dragon's belly and into his heart.

The mighty Dragon collapsed to the ground; all of the strength had gone out of him. The Princess was jubilant -- the Dragon was dead! She ran to the exhausted knight and threw her arms around him. "You saved me!" she screamed with delight, and hugged the knight through his armor as hard as she could. "I knew you'd come and slay the Dragon and save me, I always knew it!"

"I'm glad to have been of service, of course," the knight said, and began to survey the immense treasure hoard that the Dragon had been guarding. "Actually, I didn't know there was a princess here at all. Thanks for the help with the Dragon though, that bit with the belly was quite tricky."

"You didn't know I was here?!" the princess asked the knight, almost bursting into tears again. "Then why did you even come?"

"I knew about the treasure. Everyone knows dragons have treasure, and that beast sure had plenty," the knight answered cheerfully. He called his horse to him, and the Princess watched as he began to fill his bags with diamonds and other jewels. Once he had all he could carry, he jumped back up onto his horse and turned to leave.

"Wait!" the Princess yelled at him, and the knight turned his handsome face back around to look at her. "What about me? Aren't you going to take me with you?" she asked in tears.

"Well, I don't think my horse can carry any more weight," the knight said, and shook his head. "But I really am grateful for your help. In fact, to pay you back, why don't you take some of the treasure for yourself?" With that, the knight turned away again and rode out of the castle without looking back.

Sunday, March 23, 2003

FLIRTATION: She laughed. That's always a good sign. It's important to be funny, so say something clever. Something not too hard to follow; you want her to laugh, but if you tell a joke and she doesn't get it or doesn't think it's funny then there'll be one of those horrible awkward moments. So say something light, and not too sarcastic.

She's smiling now, so smile back. Look into her eyes, but don't look too long. Eye contact is good, but don't overdo it. Look for a few seconds, and then look away. Keep smiling, but try not to look like an idiot. Don't smile too much. Focus on what she's saying, lean towards her, show her you're interested. Keep your mouth shut and don't talk over her. Don't let her think that you're just waiting for her to stop talking so that you can start talking again.

She sure is looking cute today. Wait, eye contact, remember? Keep your eyes on hers. And don't forget to listen, act interested. If you can learn a few things about her, then you'll have an easier time saying funny, clever things later. Don't try to be too funny though, no one likes the class clown.

Ok, she stopped talking and she's looking at you now. She's fiddling with her hands on top of her lap, toying with her skirt. Maybe she's a little nervous too, although you can't imagine why. Say something serious. No, not politics, that's too serious. It's too late to tell her how beautiful she looks today, that would just make the conversation stall. Quick, think of something! No, not the weather!

Good, that made her think a little. She's pushing a few strands of hair away from her face and behind her ear. Her eyes glance up to meet yours and then dart off to the corner of the room. What is she thinking? What a fascinating creature she is, it's hard to believe you're actually having a conversation. You've said hi to each other many times, and even made her laugh, but now you're making her think. Good work, she's certain to talk to you again now, as long as you can get away without saying anything stupid.

She's nodding now and looking at you. Did she say something? You must have missed it. You nod back and agree. Laugh a little. No wait, don't laugh, it makes you sound nervous. Say something sensitive, something that will make her think you're deep. Maybe something a little unusual. You're not like all the other guys. You're someone she should want to know, someone she should want to be around -- so say something unusual, but not too strange. Don't make it sound like you're bragging. Just say something that will make her remember the conversation.

Now make another little joke and get ready to leave. Everything went well, it's time to get out before there's one of those awkward pauses. A little more humor, and then tell her you'll talk to her more later. She's smiling again and pushing her hair back. You stand up and she tilts her head to look up at you; meet her eyes again for a few seconds. Smile. You never want to turn away, but you have to... soon.... She laughs and blushes a little, and then looks down into her lap. She totally likes you, and you can't stop grinning.

Say bye and do something with your hand. You want to touch her, just a little, but don't. Next time you talk you can touch her shoulder or her arm, or maybe even her hand if you're feeling brave, but for now take this victory and walk away. Leave her wanting a little more, just like you do.