I’d heard the legends, though I didn’t believe them. Not until now. The eclipse passed us over somewhere in the afternoon, too far south for more than a bit of pretty light. This wasn’t why we went to the beach. We only sought an afternoon of fun, a cool breeze, and the reassuring smell of brine.
It wasn’t until I saw them I remembered the tales Grandma used to tell of the mermaids. “They only lay their eggs when the moon eclipses the sun. When the sea is strongest and the sun is busy fighting past the moon. They don’t like anyone watching, you see.”
I dismissed the idea. Even as a child I was convinced mermaids, if they were anything, must be mammals. Like us. Like dolphins.
Grandma shook her head. “Aye but a mermaid has the tail of a fish, not a dolphin. The bottom half is not a mammal, and that’s the end which lays the egg, after all.”
There was no winning with her, though I argued anyway. Most of my life this argument of ours carried, both of us convinced we knew more about the reproductive cycle of mythical creatures than the other. Neither of us acknowledging the futility of debating the science of fairy tales.
She died some years ago, before my child was born. So on this beach, after this eclipse, I tell my daughter Grandma’s mermaid egg story. She screws up her little face and giggles. “Mermaids don’t lay eggs!”
A moment later she looks doubtful, peering into nooks between the rocks, searching. “Just in case,” she tells me.
I smile, basking in her innocence, her sense of wonder. I remain in this smug, parental state until she finds them. A clutch of scaled eggs hidden in a swath of seaweed revealed by the ebbing tide.
We have just missed the mermaids, I realize, looking out over the endless sea. For once the water doesn’t strike me as empty; it is another world. All I know of it is but a false reflection of my own. I am not privy to the mermaid’s world. But Grandma, she was. Somehow.
My daughter leaps into the air with a whoop and rushes into a wave. No little girl will ever forget the day she found mermaid eggs. She’ll be the keeper of that story now, and I … I will be the person who never believed. Until today.
My eldest daughter came up to me the other day, with her plaintive, I’m-about-to-ask-for-something expression firmly affixed on her face. I braced myself.
“Mum, do you think I could get one of those science potions kits?”
I’m 98% sure she means a chemistry set, but I’m not going to correct her just yet. She starts kindergarten in a few weeks, so we’ve still got time. We can have fun with science potions for a solid three years before she needs to know the proper name, and by then the wonder should have settled in for good.
P.S. I won the Writer Unboxed Flog-A-Wu first pages contest! If you’d like to read my winning entry and check out my prize (which I am so excited about I can’t stop giggling), click here
I have a few short story publications coming up (yay!!) and I have found myself in need of a bio blurb. A third person, all about Jennifer paragraph where I am meant to cleverly market myself.
*cue screeching tires*
Here’s the thing: I’m not all that exciting. That’s what the stories are for. I have a baby; I change diapers and color with my preschooler all day. When I’m not doing that, I’m glued to my notebook/keyboard working on my latest story. Is that exciting? Can I make that exciting? What if the notebook is ON FIRE and the keyboard has a preschooler about to dump a sugary drink into its mysterious innards – wait. That’s not my genre. I’m a fantasy writer dag nab it. The sky is the limit! I can do this!
Eep. What is it about an unlimited sky that makes it so hard to start?
Okay, here goes:
In addition to her tireless efforts as Keeper of Imaginary Beasts, Jennifer Shelby has been known to hunt for stories in the beetled undergrowth of fairy infested forests. If you or your imaginary beast need help, feel free to contact her via story hunting headquarters at jennifershelby.ca wait, no, this seems like a good way to get crazy people trolling for dragon ointments contacting me at all hours
Jennifer Shelby is known for hunting stories in the beetled undergrowth of fairy infested forests. She has collected the titles of mother, Keeper of Imaginary Beasts, terrible cook, and what? I can’t out myself publicly as a terrible cook. I’ll never be invited to another potluck again! Okay. Maybe leave it in.
Story hunter. Author. Keeper of imaginary beasts. I like it! But it’s too short. *sigh* Wait! I can use for my fancy schmancy new business cards.
Edit: here that is (the contact info is hiding on the reverse side, it’s not actually the worst business card ever).
A visit to her house will yield several illegal, imaginary beasts, so she requests that you keep its location a secretUgh. *cue CSIS (which is kind of the Canadian FBI but not really) showing up and looking through the diaper pail for illegal unicorns*
Jennifer Shelby is known for hunting stories in the beetled undergrowth of fairy infested forests. This story, discovered in a mossy hollow below an old maple, is a part of her ongoing catch-and-release program. If you would like to know more about story hunting, Jennifer, or imaginary beasts, feel free to contact her story hunting headquarters via jennifershelby.ca
OoOoh. I LIKE this. I might even love it. In fact, I think we’re done here. *crosses fingers that I don’t hate ittomorrow*
Have any feedback? Leave it here, I’d love to have your input!
Side note: this blog syncs into the jennifershelby.ca website via magical widgetiness, sorry if you’re reading on wordpress and feeling as confused as a CSIS agent finding a unicorn in a diaper pail right now.
Grief is a blunt instrument. It doesn’t follow logic. It isn’t predictable. Then the cruelest moment comes and you discover life goes on without the one you’ve lost. That it can go on without them. All that is left is the black hole of your passing grief. You tip toe around it, trying to ignore its gravity. Trying not to fall in. Or give in. Trying to be strong for the small people who are not ready to imagine you as anything but. Feeling guilty for healing. For smiling after tragedy. Surviving.
To wake up, scarred, and face another day which deep down you know will only pull you further from the world that knew them. And further from the pain.
Two years ago today I woke up my eldest daughter to see the fireflies for the first time. Her little hand was warm and sweet inside my own as she peered out into the dark forest. “It’s not as dark as I thought it would be,” she announced.
I tried to point out the fireflies among the wildflowers, but her eyes gazed steadily at the seldom-seen stars of the hazy night sky, eagerly devouring them with her entire being. “Wow,” she whispered, transfixed.
We walked further along the wooded lane, with her looking over her shoulder now and again to make certain that the moon was still there. “It’s my friend, the Moon,” she’d tell me in a hushed voice, then shout “Hi Moon!” and give a joyous wave to the jolly orb. Now and then he winked at her with wisps of fog, much to her delight.
A green firefly lit up in a patch of clover not far from us. She gasped. “A firefly!” The green light flashed again, and again, as she counted…poorly.
“I want to see another one, mummy!” she said, So we circled our lawn, traipsing through the wet grass as we watched for fairy lights in wild places.
“We have to whisper, and tiptoe. Whisper and tiptoe,” she hissed loudly to me as she stomped through the wet in her beloved rubber boots.
She squeezed my hand tight as a moth flew too close to her face and they startled one another, but it’s easy to be brave when you’re three and your friend the Moon is right there and your mummy is holding your hand. “What was that?”
“It was a moth.”
“Was it a fairy moth?”
“It might have been, it’s hard to tell in the dark.”
As we neared our little pond a handful of fireflies whispered luminescent greetings and we settled in to watch the twinkle of their phosphorescence. Some nestled in the devil’s paintbrush, while the bolder ones soared as high as the branches of the nearby trees. Her eyes, glazed with the sleepiness of one who should be in bed before dark, wandered back up to the stars in wonder.
In sitting still the mosquitoes discovered us and began to bother. We swatted until she suggested we go back inside. Hand in hand we walked back to the house. “So what did you think of the fireflies?” I asked her.
“I thought there’d be less bugs. And more faeries,” she said, her most serious look upon her face. “But I liked them very much.”
When she was young, Granny volunteered at a retirement home for imaginary friends. She would read them books, listen to their stories, and keep them company. Her favorite resident was an aging, black unicorn with an opalescent alicorn who’d been popular in the 1700’s.
“You know, I’ve always been jealous of horses,” he told her. “I was James Watt’s imaginary friend when he was a boy. He grew up to coin the term ‘horsepower’. I’ve never gotten over that. He could have used ‘unicornpower.’ No one would have minded. It sounds good.”
Granny tested it out. “This baby has eighty unicorns under the hood.” She whistled. “Oh my. That does sound good.”
“Doesn’t it? I think he did it just to spite me for not spearing his sister with my horn when he wanted me to. Told me he’d rather have a real horse that listened to him than an imaginary unicorn who wouldn’t.” He let out a sad knicker. “James never imagined me again. He was only five years old.” A few tears dribbled down the unicorn’s muzzle. “Stupid horses.”
Granny always referred to engines in units of unicornpower after that. When she took up farming with Gramps she liked to brag she was the only woman in the county with a thirty-two unicornpower tractor. Drove him absolutely nuts.
My first writing teacher was my high school’s gym teacher. What could go wrong?
There we were: a small group of sensitive, bespectacled book nerds, our heads full of poetry, our thoughts a jumble of hormones and innocence, eager to pursue our dream of becoming a writer.
Toss in an angry meathead who doesn’t want to teach writing or have any respect for the craft. Boom. Mentally dismembered young writers, their unwritten stories bleeding on the linoleum floor, wondering what the hell hit them.
The experience turned me off writing classes for decades. I wrote here and there for the following year, a twinge of PTSD with every word. That passed with time, and writing became a joy again.
After my first small publications, I wanted my writing to grow further and faster than craft books and critique partners could take me. I took a deep breath and hunted around for a class.
I ended up taking a short story class with Gamut (horror fiction magazine) editor Richard Thomas at Litreactor. I did my research to make sure I respected his work, finding some of his short stories, reading his Storyville column, and asking writers I know if they’d had the experience of working with or learning from him. The responses I got were favorable, so I signed up for the class.
And I got so much out of it.
Richard picked out my weaknesses and addressed them. He pointed out my strengths and built upon them. At multiple points in his lectures I had a ‘eureka!’ moment where I figured out what was making some of my stories fall short (and how to fix them). Never once in his critiques did he try to make my voice sound like his voice, and that’s what impressed me the most.
Now that the class is done, I’m going back to stories I’d given up on and getting excited about them again.
What the heck is your point, Jenn? I couldn’t find actual reviews of writing classes when I was hunting for one. There’s kajillions of them out there, and they cost money. For a struggling writer, money is often an issue and every hack with a wifi signal is onto the ‘masterclass’ buzzword. It can feel like a gamble.
I believe most writers will benefit from a class with Richard. The value is well worth the cost. Yes, this is an honest review. I’m not getting any compensation for it.
At long last, I have found the place where stars go during daylight hours.
I saw a single firefly last night in the rain. His little blue light glowed beneath the shelter of a plantain leaf. The light reflected back from the raindrops all around, and he didn’t seem lonely at all.