20 February 2009

"What You Should Know About Water Rites"

By Curtis C. Chen

A familiar prickling under Chiwetel's chin woke him. He always wondered why Ekon liked to curl up there. Chiwetel slid a hand under the hedgehog and gently rolled him away.

Chiwetel sat up, shivering. He pulled two sweatshirts on over his damp t-shirt. He hadn't been prepared for this city. One minute the sun was shining, and the next there was rain. Chiwetel had never lived in such a place.

He scooped up Ekon with both hands and walked out of the grove to a public fountain. Chiwetel pulled a crumpled paper cup from his jeans, filled it, and held the cup while Ekon drank. After breakfast--dry bread for Chiwetel, berries for Ekon--Chiwetel slung his backpack over his shoulder and tucked Ekon inside his sweatshirt pocket.

The exterior of the Conservatory of Flowers glittered, its Victorian architecture unlike anything Chiwetel had ever seen in person. It was like a dollhouse, ornamented and precious.

The woman in the foyer took Chiwetel's wrinkled five-dollar bill with mild disgust on her face. He could feel her watching as he went inside. He didn't care what she thought of him.

He walked through the doors into a different world, humid and green.

"Good morning!" said a man wearing coveralls and a name tag.

"Hello," Chiwetel said. His heart was pounding. Why should this old gardener make Chiwetel more nervous than a truckload of rebels with automatic weapons?

Chiwetel hurried into the next room. He walked without stopping, past the exotic orchids and ferns, and through the door marked Aquatic Plants.

A pool of dark water filled the room. Plants that looked like large, green, upturned jar lids floated at one end. They were circular, as wide across as a man was tall, with flat edges folded up to reveal sharp red spines beneath.

Chiwetel slipped Ekon onto the nearest giant lily pad--Victoria amazonica, the sign said--and held both hands over the little one when he squeaked. Chiwetel knelt down and unpacked the supplies. A lock of hair. A tiny tooth. A bag of dirt.

He piled everything on a leaf ripped from the nearest vine, grabbed a rock from a bonsai display, and smashed his ingredients while chanting in a dead language.

The old gardener came in and shouted as Chiwetel was dumping powder around Ekon. Chiwetel finished drawing the circle, dropped the leaf, and pulled the gun out of his waistband. The man wouldn't know it wasn't loaded.

"Stay back," Chiwetel said.

The man stopped and held up his hands. Ekon looked up and squeaked.

"What the hell?"

Chiwetel wasn't sure if he was sweating, or if it was just the humidity. "Do not interfere," he said.

"I don't even know what--"

A flash of light blinded them both, and the man rushed forward. Chiwetel let him take the gun and leaned over the pool to look down at the lily pad.

Lying there, naked and dark-skinned and human, was an infant boy. He gurgled and smiled. Chiwetel felt his face dripping wetness into the pond, causing ripples.


Audio: "What You Should Know About Water Rites"


Music: "Underwater Bloom" by hepepe.hu, licensed under Creative Commons from ccMixter.

Yes, this week's protagonist is named after actor Chiwetel Ejiofor, and that is how your pronounce his name--I hear his nickname on set is "Chewie."

On a personal note: It's amazing how out of practice a lazy voice actor can get after a week and a half of not reading aloud.


I just like to sit and smell the flowers

This week, I turned once again to the Plot-O-Matik for inspiration. Here's what I got when I spun the figurative wheel:
homeless Nigerian illegal immigrant with a pet hedgehog

conservatory with a hot tub and free-flying tropical birds

hair in places there shouldn't be hair

the Underworld undoubtedly lay beneath it all

Obviously, I didn't use all of those elements exactly as given to me, but that's not the point. All I needed was a little kick-start--some lines, if you will, within which to color.

I should also note that I often need to spin the wheel a few times to get some things that really connect with me personally. It's like everyone says: ideas are easy; execution is hard. If I don't feel like I have something interesting to say about a premise, I'm not motivated to pursue it.

Perhaps atypically, "Nigerian" made me think not of email scams or con jobs but of my friend Jeff's recent talk at Ignite (UK North). I'm sure my recent viewing of The Visitor was also a strong influence.

D and I have visited the Conservatory of Flowers in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park, and it's a beautiful little microcosm. Perhaps not quite as magical as I've depicted in my story, but some of those orchids are downright freaky.

Last but not least, thanks to Stephen for this week's story title. I hope he doesn't mind that I changed the spelling of one word, thus altering the meaning of the phrase. (I did actually have a whole paragraph in the first draft about how Chiwetel hates to waste water, but I had to cut it--and about 1,000 other words--to make my limit.)


16 February 2009

Apropos of nothing...

...except the fact that Cory Doctorow liked it enough to write a Boing Boing post about it, here's a nice little short story in the form of an animated student film:

Hemlock from Tyson Ibele on Vimeo.