Happy 1st of NaNoWriMo!

Happy 1st of NaNoWriMo!

A Walk in the Park

November and NaNoWriMo have become as much of a tradition for me as apple cider and ghost stories in October. To kick things off right, I recommitted to my health and fitness goals, last week. I’m inordinately proud of the fact that I took two long walks – 6.5 miles – around my favorite local park, this week. The first time, I was exhausted and in pain. I took three days “off,” and the second time was a breeze. I didn’t even have to stop for rest, and averaged about 18 minutes per mile. The more I exercise, the more I realize I don’t want to derail my efforts with unhealthy eating, though I did pay for that Trick-or-Treat Blast from Sonic on Friday, and will finish paying it off today. Fortunately, the weather is great and a walk in the park isn’t really much of a chore.

Health and well-being should never take a back seat to anything. It seems obvious, but we all tend to forget that. Even the “fitness nuts,” as they pursue their addiction to the gym with grim determination, sometimes forget that a well-lived life is a well-rounded life. I think this is why my favorite exercise is a long walk in the park. “Travel” is (mostly) out of the question, but that doesn’t mean we can’t take little “day trips” and appreciate our usual surroundings. Combining this with “cardio” – power-walking several times around the 1.7 mile path – hardly seems like work. I’m “getting my steps in” while I get lost in my thoughts, listening to music or reveling in silence and birdsong. I can listen intently for the scurrying of tiny feet, stopping suddenly, inches away. It’s comical how squirrels seem to think that if they freeze, staring back with beady little black eyes, we won’t see them.

“Hi, Squirrel.”

His bent tail reminds me of a story my mom used to tell me about her own childhood. She and her brother had a BB gun. They were playing around in the back yard, and she took a turn. Shot a squirrel in the tail. That squirrel haunted her for years – she’d see it running around with its broken tail, glaring at her as if it knew, making her feel guilty. She owned a gun, but never shot at another living creature again. I saw this squirrel in the park, and for half a second, wondered if he had a message to give me.

It’s been years since I last saw a grasshopper, but they seem to be making a comeback. Scroll fast if you’re squeamish about insects, but remember that grasshoppers are vegetarian and don’t bite or sting humans.

Walking in the park, yesterday – Halloween – was fun. Earlier in the week, I ran across this spooky Jack-o-Lantern. A grinning orange pumpkin head, washed up on the muddy banks of a gloomy lake.

Someone should have added a headless scarecrow, just to make the picture complete.

I found some more “hidden” Jack-o-Lanterns there, on Halloween. They seemed happier. Maybe that’s because they were perched atop bales of hay, and seemed to be having a lively, friendly conversation. They didn’t seem to mind my eavesdropping, and taking a selfie with them!

We have an overabundance of Halloween candy. Despite the pandemic, Trick-or-Treating, done with the usual levels of parental hypervigilance, ought to have been safe enough. And so, we set out carefully wrapped bags of factory wrapped treats.

I thought it was a little sad, at first, but as we went outside to gather up the treats, we saw that the street was full, and little costumed children were emerging from cars. “Wait,” I said to my husband, thinking that, although the hour was late, they might want candy. But no – a neighbor was hosting a party. I guess I know who I’ll be avoiding at the mailbox for the next two weeks or so.

No, chocolate is not “NaNoWriMo fuel.” It is a reward for walking 6.5 miles – twice in one week – at the park.

Halloween Acrostic & a Bonus Hidden Message

I think only one person found the “hidden message” and I practically had to lead him to it and point it out. Which is fine, because Mitchell Allen has been writing word puzzles and brain twisting stories for as long as I can remember, so for him to admit that I “got him” with this is serious bragging rights for a day! If you see it, leave it in a comment below (no fair helping, Mitchell!).

Hallowed haunts all children know on Halloween!
A witch’s brew, spooked lemonade — as little happy
People cram their sacks with sweets to eat!
Pretending merry mischief, upon the stoop they creep, to
Yell the chorus, “Trick or treat!” Good
Heavens, it’s a sequined devil! Princess? Something
Airy, like a fairy — Tinkerbell! And me,
Lighting up the entry way, I hear them give
Little squeals, delighted, as shuffling zombie feet
Outside signal their arrival: More of my
Well-mannered ghouls. Autumn’s crisp, clean smell
Evinces all the joys of fall; this, but one treat.
Evening comes to send them scattering home — or
Now, one wonders, were they there at all? Oh, marvelous trick!

The 1st of NaNoWriMo – Kick Off to a Month of Literary Abandon

This will be the first NaNoWriMo in which I have the entire month off work! This is my work. Which means there really are no excuses, this month, doesn’t it?  And since “excuses” include this blog, which does not, itself, count towards the word count, I must be off!

Healthy breakfast: :heavy_check_mark:
Coffee: :heavy_check_mark:
Big tumbler of water close at hand: :heavy_check_mark:

Although the required daily word count to “win” this thing is only 1667, I’m aiming for 2000+, so I can enjoy the Thanksgiving holiday guilt free, without derailing any goals.

Till later, Commentaters.

 

 

 

 

Pigeonholed

Pigeonholed

It’s no secret that I spent the better part of my career as a senior technical writer. “Information Architect,” if you prefer late 1990s euphemisms, but I prefer things that emphasize the “writing” part of the job. I didn’t so much build data as untangle it and make sense of it. It’s also no secret that I like to play with SEO. And I do mean “play” – I’ve not made a serious study of it, nor read the blog posts of others who’ve made a serious study of it, and I have in fact turned off readers here by even joking about it openly (mea culpa, I apologize for the “meta blogging,” but you know I’m weirdly competitive and I do love a silly challenge). I like to think that my own writing is as scattered and niche-less as my search engine queries. But that’s not what you want, is it?

No – to be precise, it’s what one family member, eleven friends and six random spammers who’ve kindly bothered to subscribe to this blog tolerate, while the rest of the visits come through direct links or “organic search” to older incarnations of this blog by way of the following queries:

Technical Writer Till the Day I Die

I’ll admit it – after I bought my new Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra, I had to search my own site for “can’t answer incoming calls android.” It’s a useful post buried in one of my older blogs, but not entirely accurate for newer versions of Android, because you can no longer dismiss the annoying Accessibility menu after setting Single tap to swipe. But what you can do is move the damned thing – make it an “Edge icon” – and get it out of your way.

How to Answer Calls on Android with Just a Tap (or, Google, if I’d wanted a @#$%ing iPhone, I’d have bought a @#$%ing iPhone!)

Go to Settings > Accessibility > Interaction and dexterity.

Toggle on the Assistant menu.

Toggle on Single tap to swipe.

To get the floating menu out of your way, you can no longer drop it onto a big red X on the home screen and make it disappear. You must turn it on and leave it lurking there. But you can make it unobtrusive and harder to open accidentally. Toggle on Show as edge icon and that will move it off to the curved side of the screen. You can reposition it by dragging it right or left and up and down. I now have it on the upper right corner – a portion of the screen I rarely have to touch, so it doesn’t pop open while I’m trying to do other things.  You could make it invisible, but then you couldn’t see where it’s lurking, and that’s kind of creepy.

You can also set the physical Volume up or Side key to answer calls. Go to Settings > Accessibility > Interaction and dexterity > Answering and ending calls.

Don’t ask me why you can’t customize this to use the Volume down key, three finger-taps and a nose bang, or a Judge-Judy eye-roll (the device has biometric options, right?).

Be sure to test it – have a friend phone you to make sure you’ve got your settings working the way you want them to work.

Now, Back to the Blog…

It’s depressing. Is this all I am to you – a technical writer who can tell you, when Samsung won’t, how to answer a phone? Why not read some fiction:

Or poetry:

 

A Fairy Tale for Writers: Maybe Nana Doesn’t Need to Know

A Fairy Tale for Writers: Maybe Nana Doesn’t Need to Know

Contents


“Well. Good evening.”

“What? Where–” My eyes began to focus in the dimness of what appeared to be a cave.

“Fazitz and I brought you to my home. Hollow Bark. You… are a little drunk.”  The cave, I could see, now, was a cozy little room in the hollowed out trunk of a tree. It was sumptuously decorated. The walls were smooth and polished till they gleamed. Tapestries hung from them, with scenes of golden bees paying tribute to their queen. Tiny stitches, so delicate, depicted the painstaking production of honey. Each tapestry was bordered in intricate spirals of fairies squatting atop red, white, and purple clover or riding bees into battle.

Leiliaticia hovered over me. Her expression of concern was both alarming and comical. “I’m all right, I think.”

“We’re used to the dandelion pollen. I thought you might sneeze, but this – well, it’s a most curious side effect. I had forgotten how you humans made wine from it.” Nana had some Dandelion Wine in the cellar, but she had never let me try it. I might have to sneak in a nip, if I ever got big enough to pop the cork. Dandelions were dreamy. I lay back on a downy bed and smiled at the memory. My fingers hung over the side of the bed and touched something soft as a newborn kitten. Fazitz! The bee lay beside the bed, napping. Soft buzzing rumbled low in my ears, vibrating through my fingertips, a cross between purring and snoring. I stroked the wisps of bee-hair. A sharp slap brought me back to reality. “We have to get you home.”

“Can’t I stay a little longer?” I asked, feeling my lower lip curl in a pout, as if I were three and Nana had said it was time to go home from the town’s annual carnival.

“No,” said Leiliaticia sternly. “You’ve been out for hours. Your Nana will be worried sick. Come on, Fazitz. Time to hit the sky.” The fairy’s tone warned against any backtalk or debate.

“Can I come again? There’s so much I want to learn.”

“We’ll see. If your Nana approves, she’ll let us know.”

“Wait, what do you mean, she’ll let you know? She knows about you?”

“Of course, ninny. Did you think we made a habit of kidnapping little girls?”

“Do we need to tell her about the dandelions?”

Leiliaticia grinned at Fazitz. “Maybe she doesn’t need to know everything,” said the fairy.

A Fairy Tale for Writers: Flight of the Bumbling Writer

A Fairy Tale for Writers: Flight of the Bumbling Writer

Contents


“No, of course not.” I stood there, eye to giant eye with a bee, and it wasn’t fear that made me agree that the bee looked anything but stupid. On the contrary, I felt stupid for imagining that Leiliaticia and the bee had grown huge; in fact, I had shrunk to roughly the size of the fairy, meaning that the bee was now the size of a small pony. And yet, standing there, waiting for me to mount him, he seemed completely non-threatening. “Fazizt?” I asked. “Is this all right with you? That I climb on?”

Fazizt and Leiliaticia exchanged startled glances. The bee bent his six knees to make it easier for me. I grasped the soft hairs – so silky, so much finer than fur – and I pulled myself onto the bee’s back. The buzzing sound he made was now akin to a cat purring. “Thank you, Fazitz.”

I sensed that the bee was used to dodging the panicky hand-waving of humans, their aerosolized poisons, and plastic swatters they aimed at all six-legged creatures, but that he had never encountered a human who asked permission for anything. Even my Nana took the bees’ labor for granted. She loved her bees, of course, but I could not recall her ever talking to them. To be fair, she probably didn’t imagine they would understand a word she said. She was never unkind, but it made me uncomfortable, now, to think of how she referred to them as “her hives,” and “her bees.” I felt ashamed for all the times I’d run carelessly through the wildflowers, weaving and dodging, trying not to get stung – never once thinking of the cost to Fazitz, and his colony, should a stinging be called for. I bowed my head, thinking of all the times I’d enjoyed sweet, sticky honey on Nana’s hot, homemade biscuits, without once wondering how I might repay the bees we’d stolen it from.

We flew high over the open, sunny fields. Lush, green grass grew long, dotted by delicate, almost translucent pink and lavender primrose, bright orange and yellow firewheel, crimson-hued Indian paintbrush, and bluebonnets the color of the sky on a summer’s day. Along the western edge of the field there was a dry, cracked, parched patch of dirt that was once Mr. Greer’s farm. No one had lived there, or worked the land, in five or six years. Weeds were gradually filling in the cracks, but it looked scruffy and unwelcoming, unlike the field of wildflowers. A few curious birds, playfully surfing the breeze, joined us. Leiliaticia waved them off.

“What’s wrong?” I asked, alarmed at her unwelcoming frown.

“Fazizt and I aren’t ready to be someone’s breakfast,” she grumbled. “Are you?”

“I hadn’t thought about that. They seemed to be having fun.”

“Takes a big breakfast for them to fly like that,” she said.

We swooped and dropped from the sky, suddenly, to skim the carpet of flowers. Their scent, so delicate as to go almost unnoticed, was suddenly overwhelming. It was not sweet and cloying, like cut flowers on Mother’s Day. It was a rich, earthy mix of petrichor and sunshine. I could smell something else – warm bees. Their bodies vibrated as they moved from flower to flower, and they smelled a lot like a small child that has eaten too much candy, then run to the point of exhaustion, only to fall down laughing and rolling in newly cut grass. Delightful! I breathed deep, and suddenly my face was covered in powdery yellow pollen. Sneezing, I began to giggle. The colors swirled together in the sunlight as puffy yellow dots fell around me like snow. I stretched out my arms, turned my face to the sky, and opened my mouth to catch it on my tongue, like snowflakes.

“Fazitz!” cried Leiliaticia, “Get her out of here!”

Fazitz wove through the air. It was dizzying and exhilarating. Leiliaticia landed on the poor bee, behind me, and held onto me. “Whas going on?” I asked, my words sounding far-away and dreamy and slightly drunk. “Where we going now?”

“Hurry!” Leiliaticia urged. I leaned back against the fairy and passed out, with a big, goofy grin on my face.

 

A Fairy Tale for Writers: What Do You Want to Be When You Grow Up?

A Fairy Tale for Writers: What Do You Want to Be When You Grow Up?

Contents


 

Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing. — Benjamin Franklin

“Why do you want to be a great writer, Nyalee?”

“Doesn’t everyone, Nana?”

Nana scoffed as she hung the wet clothes on an old line, stretched taut between the gray farmhouse with its red roof and peeling siding, and the sweetgum tree that stood, casting shade and pointy little seed pods, like miniature mace balls, throughout the late summer. That tree never could seem to make up its mind whether it loved us and wanted to shield us from the unrelenting heat of the sun, or wanted to run us off its property with tiny medieval weapons. I loved to climb that tree — to read books among the branches — and to imagine that the falling seed pods were lobbed at us by angry fairies.

Nana had married a great writer, once. Grandfather was famous for three things: books, bees, and booze. Around town, it was the booze that cemented his fame, and brought the flow of words to an abrupt halt, instantly doubling the value of his books. “Nobody’s a great writer till they’re dead, Nyalee.” Nana let the clothes flap like flags in the wind, as she donned her netting and went to check the hives. “That’s how we earn our money, Honey,” she said, with a wink. She kept us fed and clothed with the sweet nectar, and she kept the bees housed and fed on a field of colorful wildflowers.

“Maybe I’ll be the first,” I said, quietly, thinking of all the definitions of “great,” and wondering if Nana and I understood it the same way.


Late in the afternoon, when all the chores were finished, I scrambled up the sweetgum tree with a copy of Mr. Smithfield’s Field Guide to Northeastern Fairies and Other Woodland Folk. My arms were dappled beige and brown and gold as the breeze wiggled the leaves around me; my skin seemed to shimmer with sunlight and shade. I dozed off in the heat, straddling a sturdy branch, resting my spine against rough bark and a thick, tall trunk.


“Why do you want to be a great writer, Nyalee?” chirped a bright and melodious little voice, startling me awake. The voice came from a tiny green fairy, no bigger than my hand from wrist to fingertips, perched atop the leather-bound spine of my Field Guide. She sat cross-legged on the edge of the book, resting her chin in the palm of her hand, her elbow propped on one knee.

“Who are you?” I asked. I longed to open the book and thumb quickly through its pages to figure out what sort of tiny creature this was, but I did not want to startle it. Her.

“I am Leiliaticia. Your book, here, says that I am a ‘Common Green Hardwood Fairy’ often found among sweetgums and maples, which sometimes uses seedlings for caps when working in the fields. In case you wanted to know,” she added. “I have been reading while you napped.”

“Is that — is that what you are, then?” I asked, stupidly.

“Not really, but I suppose if you are ‘Human’ than I can be a ‘Common Green Hardwood Fairy.’ Does that feel — adequate, to you?”

“Not really,” I said, frowning, thinking of all the sorts of Humans there were in the world. I was not sure which sort the fairy thought I might be, and it bothered me a little. “So what are you, really?” I asked.

The little fairy thought for a moment. “I suppose you might call me a ‘Guide,’” she answered.

“A guide to what?” I asked.

“What would you have me guide you to?” she asked, contrapuntally.

This was becoming a very circular conversation. I wanted her to guide me out of it. “How did you know that I wanted to be a great writer?” I asked.

“I heard you talking to your Nana, of course.”

“You were eavesdropping?” I asked.

“You were speaking very loudly,” said Leiliaticia, wrinkling her brow and covering her tiny ears with her hands. “You humans have very big mouths.”

“I suppose you have a point. But then, you must be shouting for me to hear you so well with your little bitty mouth!”

“Perhaps I am. Or maybe I just know how to project my voice, so that it carries on the breeze.” Leiliaticia looked around the yard. “If only you humans ever listened to any voices but your own,” she added.

She made a little clicking sound with her tongue, and began to grow swiftly larger, until she and I were of the same height. The tree, though, was now a giant thing — the branch I sat upon had swollen to the size of my grandmother’s rooftop; I could no longer straddle it at all! I scrambled to my feet as it grew larger and larger beneath me. Now, Leiliaticia sat on a pebbled crimson ledge looking down at me and laughing.

“Wait, what — ” It was no “ledge” she sat upon; it was my book! Suddenly, the world around me had grown vastly bigger.

Fluttering her delicate wings as softly as any butterfly, Leiliaticia hopped down and stood before me, holding out her hand. “You asked for a guide?”

“No, I asked you what you were a guide to!” I exclaimed. “What have you done?” I think that I had been extraordinarily calm, up to now — for a human, at least. “You’ve shrunk me,” I cried. “Put me back to normal size, right this insta — oh! Brownies to Beelzebub, what in creation what is that?” I shrieked, pointing at a giant black and brown, softly furred bird with gigantic black eyes that hovered next to us, as if awaiting something.

Leiliaticia laughed. “Don’t you recognize Fazitz? He’s a Gatherer — what you and your Nana call a ‘Forager bee.’”

Oh, no no no no no… I had my doubts about going into the family business, but giant bees that were almost as big as me? No. Hmm mm. I backed up and pressed my body into the bark of the sweetgum tree, trying to hide in its deep crevices. I stared at the bee. It stared back. I swear, if bees could laugh, it laughed. Sort of a cross between a buzz and a hiccup, with a little wiggle in its wobbly flutter-hover.

“Humans are so weird,” said Leiliaticia, rolling her eyes. Fazitz landed on the branch in front of us, and Leiliaticia instructed me to climb up on its back.

“NO.” I balked, shaking my head. “I am not riding a bee.”

“Why not? Think he’ll sting you?”

“Won’t he?”

“Well, if he does, he’ll die. Does he look stupid to you, Human?”


To be continued…

Meet Me Halfway

Meet Me Halfway

Their climbing tree stretched out its shady limbs to soak up the last drops of sunlight. Touched by a soft breeze, the sturdy sweet gum brushed its fire-gold and deep-green autumn foliage against the old slate roof. Ten-year-old Marina scrambled up the tree. Her long, tanned legs stood out in smooth contrast against the rough, weather-beaten crevasses of the bark that chipped and fell away under her bare feet as she climbed.

“Come on, Geordie!” she called, oblivious to her friend’s fear of heights. Geordie sighed heavily and pushed himself up from the ground. He was tall for his age. In a few years, he would be drop-dead gorgeous, but for now he was a lanky, slightly awkward lad of twelve. He would have followed Marina to the gates of Hell and beyond, had she asked him to. But Marina was as oblivious to Geordie’s devotion as she was to his fear. High overhead now, Marina shook a branch; several seed pods, their prickly greenish brown surfaces resembling tiny spiked maces, pelted Geordie from above. “Ouch!” Geordie ducked and dodged and momentarily forgot his fears as he grabbed a branch and brought his foot up to chase after Marina, who was perched in the forked branches at the very top of the tree. “I’ll get you for that!” Geordie warned, laughing.

“You’ll have to catch me first!” Marina said, teasing the boy.

Halfway up the tree, Geordie reached for an easy branch. It was one that Marina avoided out of habit, for it had scruffy brownish leaves— if it bothered to sprout any at all— even in the spring. It was grayish black, not the rich tarry brown of the stronger, healthy branches. And it creaked and groaned with even the lightest touch of a breeze. Conveniently situated it might be, but Marina— operating as much on instinct as understanding— didn’t trust it. There was a sickening crack of dry wood, followed by the sound of Geordie yelling as he flailed his arms and legs, desperately trying to catch hold of another branch on his way down. He smacked his arm on a gnarled, leafy limb, scraping away layers of skin and drawing beadlets of crimson through the dirty scratches. He landed in a heap on the hard ground, groaning softly as he rolled to one side and grasped his mangled arm.

The paramedics told him and his parents— just twenty or thirty minutes later, though it might’ve been hours for all Geordie could tell— that he was lucky his friend thought to call them so quickly, and especially fortunate to escape with nothing worse than bruises, scrapes, a fractured arm, and a dislocated shoulder. He didn’t feel lucky, but he was relieved to be alive. He was glad Marina hadn’t stuck around to see him discharged from the emergency room; he was too humiliated to look her in the eye.

* * *

Randy and Duane, dressed in their “stealth suits”— black jeans, black t-shirts, and black Nike high-tops— crept up behind Marina and whispered, “Boo!”

Marina whirled around and pulled her punch just before her fist connected with Randy’s six-pack abs. “Don’t scare me like that!” she hissed.

“You finished?”

“Rigging’s all in place, kiddo.” Duane unloaded a heavy backpack from his well-muscled shoulders and tossed it to the ground. “Don’t get caught.”

Marina laughed. “Hey, once I’m halfway across, it doesn’t matter. They’ll fine me, what, a few hundred bucks? Tell me I’ve been a bad girl, make me swear never, ever to do it again? You know, it’s ironic— you don’t bat an eye at the fact that I’m willing to risk my life for this, but you’re worried about my meager life savings? Duane, you’re a hoot. Just tell me the rigging’s secure.”

Duane nodded and looked to Randy for confirmation. Randy nodded. “All set. Ready when you are.”

“Okay, Duane, I want you to go around to the Canadian side and meet me there. Randy, you stay here—”

“Why, just in case you chicken out and head back this way?” Randy laughed.

“No, just in case I need a diversion.”

“Oh, so you are worried about the fine.”

“No, but it’d be more fun if I didn’t get caught, now, wouldn’t it?” Marina stepped up to Randy as if to kiss him; instead, she wrapped her long fingers around his ribs and tickled him mercilessly.

Life’s cruel irony wasn’t lost on Duane or Randy. They’d been friends with Marina since their freshman year in college. Each of them had a crush on her, but so far, all they had won was an easygoing, platonic friendship.

She hung out with them, went to all the hot basketball games, chugged beer and ate chips enough for two of them during Monday night football – though you’d never guess it by looking at her lithe, boyish figure. How could a girl who was such a guy— be so tantalizingly seductive? They’d gone skydiving together two years ago on a dare. Last summer, Marina had run off for a few months to join the circus— literally— and came back with a passion for tightrope walking and other aerial feats that gave Randy and Duane stomach-knots to imagine. But somehow, in their fascination with Marina, they had become her devoted servants. Which is why they were now standing at the edge of Niagara Falls, having jury-rigged a high-wire act for their friend’s amusement, and praying to a God they weren’t sure of to keep her safe and deliver her to the Canadian side in one piece. It crossed their minds, more than once, that they’d fallen for a woman who had more balls than the two of them put together.

* * *

 Marina had plenty of suitors. She just hadn’t found one who could hold her interest or match her wild, reckless passion for life. She didn’t have a death wish at all; for Marina, the thrill of the ride was everything, without which life was meaningless. Just as one could never appreciate contentment without having experienced pain, or want, or despair, Marina knew deep in her heart that she could not fully appreciate life without occasionally looking into the eyes of death, staring it down, and laughing in its face.

She watched carefully for the signal from Duane that he had reached the Canadian side of the falls. At long last, she saw it— three short bursts of light from a high-powered flashlight at the far end of the sturdy cable the two engineering students had secured for her. Marina dropped her raincoat to the ground and stretched, knowing that it would be important to limber up before attempting the crossing. Piece of cake, she thought. After all, in 1876, Maria Spelterina crossed wearing peach baskets on her feet, for God’s sake.

“Marina?”

“Yes, Randy?” Marina paused, mid-stretch, and looked at her friend.

“I know this is gonna sound crazy, but I’m crazy in love with you—”

Randy paused, searching Marina’s face in the darkness, hoping to find encouragement there. “Mar, will you marry me?”

“I’ll think about it,” answered Marina, reaching around to the small of her back to locate a tiny plastic switch. “If you’ll meet me halfway,” she said, smiling and pointing towards the eerie mist that rose from the center of the chasm. “And ask me again, out there.” She flicked the switch, and a hundred tiny white lights sewn into the side-seams of her leotard and tights illuminated and outlined her perfect curves. She winked at Randy, and stepped out onto the cable.

Halfway across? Randy watched Marina as she stepped gracefully out into space, her feet wrapping themselves around the slender steel cable with steady confidence.

* * *

Working a U.S. Customs booth on the border of Canada and the U.S. was hardly a glamorous job, but it paid the bills and gave Officer Camden an opportunity to meet people from all over the world. People rarely bothered to smuggle things over the border here; more often than not, Camden found himself giving directions to the best observation point near the falls, or making dinner recommendations for newlyweds who couldn’t decide between intimacy or a spectacular view. And when his shift ended, Camden still enjoyed a leisurely stroll along the cliffs above the American Falls; he still marveled at the colorful lights as they played upon the mists rising from the Horseshoe Falls.

Tonight was no different from many other nights. Camden was in no rush to return to his empty home, where sleep would elude him for many hours. He preferred to listen to the thunderous rush of water cascading over the falls, to be lulled by the roar as millions of gallons spilled over the rocks each minute, as they had for 12,000 years.

He gazed out across the dark chasm of the Niagara River. Something caught his eye— something utterly unexpected that sent a little thrill of fear down Camden’s spine. He rubbed his eyes, blinked, and looked again. Surely, he hadn’t seen what he thought he’d seen, or else it was merely the product of fatigue— too much work, too little sleep. Sweet Jesus, thought Camden. He began running; as he ran, he reached for his cell phone.

Camden didn’t take his eyes off the illuminated figure, walking through the darkness as if upon the air itself, tinted mist occasionally obscuring the daredevil and making him appear to be some otherworldly being. Camden didn’t see the man standing at the side of the falls, dressed all in black, watching the scene with his own desperate intensity. As he collided with the man, they landed on the ground and quickly scrambled back to their feet, both talking at once.

“What the hell do you think you’re doing?” demanded Camden.

“Aiding and abetting,” muttered Randy, as he reached into his hip pocket for his tattered wallet.

“Save it,” snapped Camden. As he watched, fascinated, he realized that the figure on the wire was that of a woman. Her movements were fluid grace; each steady step was even and relaxed. He and Randy both gasped as the woman bent to touch her toes, then executed a flawless handstand and held it to the count of five. “Holy Mother of God,” murmured Camden.

“Do you think she’ll make it across?” he asked, his voice hoarse and barely audible.

Randy shrugged. “I hope so.”

Duane was suddenly joined by several Toronto police officers, all of whom seemed more concerned with Marina’s safety than with slapping handcuffs on him or charging him with international lawbreaking. One of the officers called out to Marina on a bullhorn, strongly urging her to bring her little escapade to a safe, but quick, end so they could all go home to their families where they belonged. He couldn’t be sure that she heard him; just then, Marina leapt into the air and landed on the wire, testing its elasticity as she lowered herself in a single, fluid movement into a split. The men on both sides of the river gasped; one clawed at his chest and began to pray.

Although it wasn’t exactly cold, Marina had worked up a bit of a sweat, and now began to shiver in the chilly mist. Her muscles began to tighten and ache; she thought perhaps she’d pulled a tendon with that split. With a sigh, and a glance at the flashing blue and white lights at the Canadian cliff ’s edge, Marina decided to turn around and head back to the American side of the river. A sudden gust of wind caught her, tired and unprepared, and for a moment she wavered, moving her arms wildly to regain her balance. Marina let her feet drop to either side of the cable— she could straddle it and pull herself along, hand over hand, if necessary. But again, fatigue and a fickle wind conspired to knock her off kilter, and she flipped upside down, her right leg hooked over the cable, her head pointed down towards the turbulent waters below.

This can’t be happening, thought Marina. She reached up and grasped the cable, but it was slick with condensation and hard to hold onto. Well, dammit, she thought with a sigh. She tried to pull herself upright but couldn’t gain the leverage she needed.

Camden saw the girl fall. He didn’t hesitate for a moment, despite his stomach-churning fear of heights. Focusing on the girl, instead of on the breathtaking spectacle of the falls to his left, Camden stepped out onto the cable. He would have preferred to wear a safety harness but didn’t even stop to ask if one was available. Just a walk in the park, he told himself. One step at a time…

The cable was surprisingly sturdy and somewhat thicker than it appeared to be from a distance. Camden tried to imagine that he was simply walking along a curb or pacing the line that ran down the center of the bike path he liked to ride. Not too bad, really, if he thought of it that way. Don’t look down, a little voice in the back of his mind urged. He fought the temptation to do just that, and instead he concentrated on the girl desperately clinging to the wire just a few feet away. He had no idea how to help her; he only knew he had to try.

Marina couldn’t believe her eyes. As she tilted her head back to glance at the cliffs, she saw a man walking towards her! Surely Randy hadn’t mustered the guts to come after her and repeat his proposal. The thought made her giggle hysterically. Marina knew in her heart that she could never marry a man who wasn’t willing to walk a tightrope to win her love. After all, what was love if not a precarious balance on the high wire, without a net? How could she marry a man who was afraid to fall in love? As the man drew closer, she saw that he was strong and attractive— not terribly muscular, but amazingly calm and confident.

“Are you okay?” he called, his deeply resonant voice carrying over the rush of water.

“I think so,” Marina answered. The man stood over her now, and Marina could make out his features. “Geordie?”

Camden’s face registered surprise. “How do you know my—” He blinked and did a double-take. “Marina?”

“Oh, shit, Geordie—when did you take up tightrope walking?” Marina’s heart skipped a beat. She knew that Geordie was deathly afraid of heights; once he realized where he was and got over his need to be a hero, he’d probably pass out and plummet to the frothy deep below.

Geordie Camden lowered himself slowly, grasped the cable with both hands, and sat on it, letting his legs dangle to either side. He took Marina’s arm with one hand and helped pull her up to a sitting position in front of him. “Everything’s going to be fine, Marina.” He smiled.

“Geordie—”

“Shhhh.” Geordie noticed that Marina was shivering uncontrollably. The cable vibrated with her chills, and he wrapped his arms around her protectively. “How are we going to get out of this?” asked Marina. Geordie had never seen a trace of helplessness in her flashing green eyes, and it scared him to see it there now.

“Piece of cake,” he lied. Well, he hadn’t exactly lied, but they would have to wait for the real heroes to arrive, because Geordie knew he couldn’t stand up and lead Marina to safety on either side of the Niagara. It was all he could do just to hold on and not look down. “Hang in there, kiddo. They’re bringing a helicopter. Should be here any minute now.” He hoped that was true. Marina laughed, then. Her bright smile lit her face, and warmed Geordie’s heart. “Remember the tree?”

Geordie nodded. “You were so fearless. I was such a dork. I’d have followed you to hell and back, but I couldn’t even follow you up that damned tree. I avoided you for the rest of the year, and then you moved away.” Geordie shook his head sadly.

“Oh, Geordie.” Marina sighed. “I felt so guilty. I teased and teased until you came after me, climbing that stupid old sweet gum tree. I knew you didn’t want to, but I knew you would. It’s my fault you fell and broke your arm. I was the one who deserved to be ashamed. I was relieved when we moved away, because every time I saw you, I felt guilty. But I missed you, you know.”

“I missed you, too.”

“Ever since then, I’ve looked for a man who could measure up to you— a man who would follow me in some crazy, daredevil scheme, never stopping to think twice about the danger— just to be with me.”

It was Geordie’s turn to laugh. “All this time, I thought you thought I was chicken.”

“Geordie, you’re the bravest man I know.” Marina rested her head against his chest, drawing warmth from his arms around her. “I don’t think I ever stopped loving you, you know.”

Geordie drew back and gazed into her eyes. The naked sincerity with which she regarded him almost knocked him off balance; he grabbed the cable with his left hand and pulled her close with his right. “Marry me,” he whispered. He felt her answering nod against his chest. A searchlight swung round from above and landed on them; a rope and harness fell from the sky. Everything would be all right, thought Geordie as he strapped Marina into the harness and watched the rescue team reel her into the helicopter. As he waited for them to lower the rope a second time, he dared to look down.