The Poison Pill

This short story is a guest post by my brother Bill, for your holiday reading pleasure. (Thanks Bill!)

It’s a little dark in the context of your optimistic beginning-of-a-new-year moods, but I still think it’s entertaining.

castleOnce there was a cruel and clever king. He lived in a large castle on a high hilltop, overlooking a beautiful green valley and a lake. In those days, a dragon took up residence in the kingdom. The dragon let it be known that he would destroy all the villages one by one unless he was given a beautiful virgin to eat. When the King heard this, he grew angry and turned red in the face. He bellowed, “We do not negotiate with terrorists!” (The King liked to refer to himself using the royal “We.”) He refused to meet the dragon’s demands.

To show his contempt for the dragon and disdain for the serfs, the King made his courtiers put on a comedic play where a dragon ate a whole village. The role of the dragon was played by the largest and fattest noble. Each time he “ate” a villager, he let out a loud, convincing belch. Sitting next to the King, his only child, the lovely (and virginal) Sesbeth, did not laugh. She was as kind as her father was cruel. Sesbeth loved the people of the kingdom, and they loved her. Despite all of that, her father treasured Sesbeth more than all else in the world. In his cold, cruel heart, he had a soft spot for his daughter.

Not having received his tribute of a lovely virgin, one bright morning the dragon flew over the village of Mossfelk, breathing flames and burning everything to the ground. Upon hearing this, the King stubbornly refused to change his stance. “No negotiating!” he shouted again, although perhaps with a bit less conviction. Over the next few days the dragon destroyed two more villages, Humpert and Rosehearth.

Now the King began to worry. If all his villages were destroyed, where would he get his annual tribute of gold? Who would harvest the food that spread across his dinner table? He summoned his court wizard, the ancient and wise Albrey. The King told Albrey of a plan he had devised and required the mage to fashion a doppelganger for Sesbeth. The faux Sesbeth would be exactly like her in every way except one. She would be ensorcelled with a powerful spell that would instantly destroy her killer.

Albrey immediately set about researching the task, searching through his spellbooks. He also quietly gathered bits and pieces of from the life of Princess Sesbeth, such as one of her neglected childhood dolls, a scarf she no longer wore, and bits of her hair from a used hairbrush. Finally he began creating the doppelganger, working through the night. Just to have a name for his project, he decided to call her Tesh. People in the castle didn’t know what was going on, but they saw mysterious flashes of light and heard rumbling noises, and they wondered.

Finally Albrey was finished. He secretly brought Tesh to the King’s quarters. The King walked slowly around Albrey’s creation, whistling as he admired the result. “She’ll do,” he said. Albrey explained that Tesh could only exist for ten days, at which point she would crumble into nothing. The King called for his Captain of the Guard. He ordered that the most trustworthy and brave guard be brought to him. Moments later, a sturdy guard named Morrt stepped into the King’s chambers. He appeared somewhat nervous but also resolute in his posture as he awaited the King’s orders. The Captain was dismissed, and the King told Morrt what he wanted. Referring to Tesh, he started with “She looks like the Princess, but it’s not her.” Morrt was to take Tesh away under a cloak and hide her in a remote chamber within the castle until she could be taken to the dragon’s den.

Sesbeth awoke the next morning feeling apprehensive. Something was wrong. She couldn’t say what was wrong, but she felt strangely compelled to go to the tallest tower in the castle, and the tower chamber where prisoners were sometimes kept. There, she met Morrt. She urged him to tell her what was going on. At first he resisted, but eventually the Princess’ beauty and gentle nature defeated his fear of the Captain and King, and he told her what he knew.

Not knowing anything about the magical aspects of how Tesh was created or of her hidden nature, Sesbeth was horrified that this lookalike girl would be sacrificed in her place. She quickly decided what she must do.

That afternoon, Morrt rode out. On the horse beside him rode a cloaked figure. The King watched from his window high above the courtyard and gate, finally turning away when they left his view.

Two days passed, including the expected time of the dragon’s next village attack, but no attack came. Indeed, the King’s scouts reported that it appeared the dragon had left the kingdom! Receiving the news, the King rushed through the castle until he found his daughter, eager to celebrate her survival and the success of his scheme.

As he approached Sesbeth, however, he noticed her expression, an odd sort of grim, wide smile. Then she threw her head back and laughed, a loud, guttural cackle. The King immediately knew something was wrong. An instant later, he realized what had happened – the girl who stood before him was not Sesbeth, but rather the wizard’s creation, Tesh. His compassionate daughter must have figured out what was happening and sacrificed herself instead. In his rage and grief, the King drew the jewel encrusted dagger he always wore from the sheath at his belt, and fiercely plunged it deep into Tesh’s chest. Only then did he remember the terrible spell, and his mighty cry was quickly silenced as he and Tesh each disintegrated into twin piles of ashes.


Ever stood next to a known criminal?

A bad guy's fake driver's licenseI am still taking a break from blogging until 2012, but here’s another post you may have missed. This originally appeared in my first blog on July 20, 2006. Context: I was living in Nairobi, Kenya, Africa. The rules of life are a little different there.

A few weeks ago, a colleague asked me if I would stand in a police line-up. This friend had his identity stolen here in Kenya. A South African white guy stole his credit card info (along with others’) and had made tens of thousands of dollars of purchases.

The police officer said he didn’t know enough white guys to fill a line-up for witnesses to look at. So he asked my colleague if he could find some white men. (Thus, me, along with about eight other colleagues.) My first reaction was, “What if the witnesses think I look more like the criminal than the criminal does? I don’t want to go to prison!” Then he assured me the officer said there was no chance any of us non-criminals would be convicted. Mostly I said yes because my other colleagues did. I figured if they thought it was safe, it probably was safe.

In the end, we didn’t stand in a line, as the criminal chose the option of not standing in a police lineup.

While we were waiting for things to get sorted out, the police officer basically said, “We trust you (white) people.” (And then he implied something like, “This guy really ruined our perceptions!”)

The photo? The police officer gladly gave me the opportunity to take that shot. (You should always carry your camera!) Of note: he had a South African “Temporary Passport” (whatever that is!) and a fake California driver’s license (with the address on the card being, “Queen Rd TX” (Yes, that’s supposed to be “Texas”.) On the back of the “license” it said “Property of the US Government”.

The whole incident really gave me a good feeling about the Kenyan police. They did a great job apprehending the criminal. Admittedly, he did some pretty stupid things, like trying to steal from the same shop three times. (The third strike was his out.)

And another thing he didn’t do was consider the consequences of his actions. In the Nairobi newspaper on the same day as our line-up experience was this story, “Conditions in [Kenyan] Prisons Worst in the World, says Official.”


Let her sleep: Repost

I am indeed taking a break from blogging until 2012, but I thought you would enjoy a post you may have missed. This originally appeared on January 5, 2011.

When Heather and I first went to Africa (1991), we were part of a 3-month-long training program that was designed to help us love Africa. And adjust to living there. Part of our training involved living with a family in rural Kenya for two weeks.

It was a stretching time, to say the least. (We still keep in touch with one of the family members, which shows you it was a good experience.)

Anyhow, they ate dinner starting at about 9 pm. We were pretty tired by that time of the day, and listening to lively conversation in Kikamba (their language) for several hours was not always our choice of a relaxing way to end the day.

So one night about halfway through our time with the family, just before dinner, Heather and I were chilling in our small room. Our guest knocked on the door to say it was dinnertime. I went to dinner alone. I said, “In our culture, it is wrong to wake someone when they are sleeping.” They bought it – after a little discussion on my part.

I knew she needed a break.


The best gift you can give your kid this Christmas


It’s all too easy to go out and buy something for your kid for Christmas. But what he or she really wants is you.

Think of creative ways you can spend time with your kid during the holidays. Here are a few ideas:

  • Take them out for a one-on-one meal.
  • Go sledding. Or if your town is too warm for that, take them to the beach.
  • Go to a free Christmas or Hanukkah concert at a nearby church or synagogue.
  • Catch a movie together.

Enjoy! Both of you.

To practice what I preach, this will be my last blog post until 2012.


The rental car experience

Rental car gaugesOur minivan was in the shop for a few weeks. Someone (ahem, not me) did some damage to the body that took a while to repair. We have fantastic car insurance, so our insurance company paid for a rental car for the whole time.

The rental car was a Dodge Avenger – a “mid-sized” American sedan – pretty generic. The quality was not bad. There were a few details that didn’t quite measure up. One was the ensemble of gauges. (If you click on the image, you can see more detail.) Sitting straight-ahead, the left edge of the tachometer was not visible. And the typeface for the speedometer was a really poor choice.

A very fun aspect to the rental car experience was the surprise that awaited me when I loaded up a CD… there was already a CD in the player. So I pushed it back in. Cheezy, syrupy Chinese pop music filled the car.

Chinese music CDJust before returning the car, I faced a dilemma. I had forgotten to take a photo of the CD to share with you. So would I leave the CD in there as a surprise for the next renter who would try to listen to a CD? Or should I bring it home so I could take a photo? Alas, passing on the blessing to the next renter went by the wayside. So I’m passing on the blessing to you (minus the audio portion).


Not here

Belgium CookiesIf you’ve never been to a Big Lots store, you need to. It’s a lot like a dollar store, only they have a wide variety of stuff you won’t find elsewhere. Like Belgium Cookies.

My sister and her family live in Belgium. You can’t buy Belgium Cookies there. Which reminded me of when we lived in England. “English muffins” were not to be found. “Muffins?” Yes. (Same phenomenon.)

What is an “inside/outside” term that you’ve experienced?


Save your skin this winter

SoapI used to have dry skin all winter long. It’s dry in Colorado and combined with the cold, my skin becomes really dry.

Soap makes a huge difference. As soon as the temperature dips down to freezing outside, I switch to fancy soap.

This is not a commercial. I won’t tell you what kind of soap to use (like I did before), because several kinds will work fine. Just experiment. Spend a lot more than you do on your current standard soap.

Your skin will say thank you!

Sadly, my hands still get dry. Lotion fixes this, but then it takes several minutes for the greasiness to die down.


The chaos story

Mexican blanketWhen I was young, an observant teacher identified me as a kid who should take a vocabulary test for students with bigger than average vocabularies.

To this day, hundreds of years later, I remember one wrong answer. The word was “chaos.” In my head, I read it as: “chay-ohss.” Not: “kay-oss.” One of the choices was “a Mexican blanket.” I picked that definition. Spanish was not part of my world yet, so “chay-ohss” sounded like a Mexican blanket.

Photo courtesy of Gwilmore on Flikr.