Tag Archives: storytelling

The Mechanics of Creation by Scott Hales

Model T Ford by O'Brien

“Darwin’s book was rather heavy, but by close application, the young student thought he learned what the scientist was ‘driving at.’”—Nephi Anderson, Dorian

Elder Joseph F. Smith, Jr. knows the Ford Model T as thoroughly as he knows his scriptures, and he knows those better than any man in the Church. So, with the automobile in neutral, he has little trouble guiding Brother Anderson through the process of setting the throttle and choke, adjusting the spark advance, and safely operating the hand-crank.

“You always crank with the left hand?” Brother Anderson asks after the demonstration.

“Always!” says Elder Smith. “If you use your right hand, you could lose your thumb when the engine backfires.”

“Oh, dear,” says Brother Anderson. He removes his glasses and polishes them with a pocket handkerchief.

“The Lord has provided us with a wonderful machine,” Elder Smith says. “Respect it!”

Elder Smith spends the next hour drilling Brother Anderson on the proper care and use of the Model T. They discuss the four cylinder engine, the flywheel magneto, the timer and trembler coils. He demonstrates how to use the foot pedals and handbrake, offers his opinion on gasoline and ethanol. After Brother Anderson successfully starts the engine three times, Elder Smith removes his coat, rolls up his sleeves, and shows how to change a flat tire.

“Extraordinary,” says Brother Anderson.

***
With Brother Anderson behind the wheel of his new Model T, the two men bump their way down 700 East. From the passenger’s seat, Elder Smith offers instruction about speed control, braking, and how to safely pass slow-moving vehicles. Over the sputter of the engine, he says, “Remember that you have dominion over the road. Nothing matches you in strength, speed, and mechanical sophistication. Even the streetcar, with its petty reliance on cable and track, is no match for you!”

Brother Anderson nods his head and tries to look attentive.

“Even so,” continues Elder Smith, “your dominion must be righteous. You must not lord over the road. ‘The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away.’ I have seen it happen before! Just the other day—turn here!”

Applying the brake, Brother Anderson turns haltingly onto 900 South. To his left, he thrills to see the magisterial trees of Liberty Park. With a gloved finger, he points to the park’s entrance, a wide thoroughfare flanked by two stone pedestals. “Shall we take a spin through the park?” he asks.

“Yes,” says Elder Smith, “but I must be at my office in thirty minutes.”

***
Liberty Park is full of late-summer picnickers lazing in the noonday shade. Brother Anderson steers the car south through its tree-lined lanes and admires how the landscapers have molded and shaped nature to accentuate its inborn beauty. As they pass the zoo, Brother Anderson asks Elder Smith if he has taken his children to see it.

“No,” says Elder Smith.

“You really should,” says Brother Anderson. “The elephants are a sight to see.”

“Yes,” says Elder Smith. “I saw one in a circus once. When I was a child, that is.”

“You really should take your children,” insists Brother Anderson. “My children love the zoo. Have you ever seen a chimpanzee?”

“In England.”

“Amazing creatures,” says Brother Anderson. “They almost persuade me to believe those theories about pre-Adamite man.”

Elder Smith scoffs. “You don’t suggest…?”

“Not necessarily,” says Brother Anderson. “Elder Grant and I attended a lecture in Liverpool on Darwin’s theories some years ago. They’re rather compelling.”

“Let me remind you of your Bible, Brother Anderson,” says Elder Smith. “‘And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.’”

“Certainly,” says Brother Anderson, “but is there no greater metaphor of man’s eternal progression, from lowly intelligence to divinity itself, than the monkey that evolves into a man? Does it not say in Abraham, ‘And the Gods watched those things which they had ordered until they obeyed’? Could it be that pre-Adamite man was merely disobedient…”

“And I suppose next you will tell me that these pre-Adamites lived with us in premortality. Perhaps they even pursued each other romantically, like those spirits in your storybooks.”

“Well, no…”

“Such,” says Elder Smith, “is like saying that a machine as sophisticated as this automobile has the capacity to make itself. No, Brother Anderson. Man had a creator just as the automobile has Henry Ford!”

“I am only bringing this up as a matter of speculation,” says Brother Anderson. “The chimpanzee is no doubt of a lesser order than we who are created in the image of the Father. But still, face to face with a chimpanzee…”

“Remind me,” says Elder Smith, “to give you a copy of my father’s statement on the origins of man when you drop me off at the office.”

***
With his hat brim low across his forehead, Elder Smith walks hand-in-hand with his daughters through the strange noises and smells of the zoo in Liberty Park. They see an elephant, a lion, some exotic birds, and two chimpanzees. The girls squeal with delight as one chimpanzee peels a banana and smiles at them. “Look, father!” says the youngest daughter. “He eats just like us.”

Elder Smith watches the monkey chew its food. The way its mouth moves, the way it carelessly tosses the peel to the floor of the cage, seems so vulgar and common. Elder Smith stares at the beast until it locks eyes with him. For a moment, he recognizes something in the monkey’s grimace. He gasps as it proudly shows its brown teeth and pink gums.

“Look, Papa!” his daughter shouts. “He looks like Uncle!”

“Silly goose,” he says. “He doesn’t look a thing like Uncle. Uncle is bald.”

“But he does! He does!” says the girl.

“No,” Elder Smith says, looking at the beast. “No. No. No.”

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Scott Hales1Scott Hales does not usually write fiction, but when he does, he tries to keep it around 1000 words. He blogs at A Motley Vision, Dawning of a Brighter Day, and Modern Mormon Men. He also maintains a personal Mormon literature blog, The Low-Tech World. When he isn’t writing short short stories or blogging or parenting, he is writing his doctoral dissertation on the Mormon novel.

Picture of Model T Ford by Don O’Brien via Wikimedia Commons Images.

The Curse of Eve by Scott Hales

426px-Grafe,Gustav-Mutter_Erde_3

*

The girls stand together, arm-in-arm, at the lip of the desecrated grave. The night before, as they lay in bed, they had listened to the wolves yelp and snarl over the corpse. As widows both before the age of twenty, they’d held each other until the noise died down. At dawn, they loaded their dead husband’s shotgun and hiked up the mountain to see what remained of him.

**

The girls had met two months earlier. The older had just arrived by handcart from the streets and textile mills of Manchester. The younger was the orphan of a Salt Lake City drunk whose wife had died one summer day in Wyoming. That afternoon, neither girl had known much about the man they were to marry by day’s end. When they buried him, he was little more than a stranger, a man they had failed to bring through a fever. His name was Henry. He stood six feet tall in his boots. His age, thirty-four, was equal to their ages combined.

***

The younger girl knew Henry from the home of her bishop, a man who had crossed the plains with Henry and Henry’s first wife. That night, Henry told her about his farm in Cache Valley, the solitude of the mountains, the peace of sunsets and sunrises. He told her about the death of his wife and children. She listened silently as he said that no man should live alone as he lived.

The older girl learned of Henry from his brother, Thomas, the missionary who taught her about Zion amid the squalor of her back alley home. You wouldn’t like him, Thomas said, laughing. He’s nothing like me. He never speaks except to pray or shout at his children.

Thomas loved the older girl. She had dark eyes and hair that reminded him of the wheat fields of his childhood in Illinois. They planned to marry in Zion, but he died on the voyage home. She held his hand until the time came to give his body to the ocean.

****

When Henry was alive, the girls passed each day and night in silence. Now, with their husband’s body lost to the desert and the bowels of wolves, they speak to each other with the shyness of a new friendship. The younger teaches the older songs she learned from her mother. The older tells stories of Manchester and England and the Atlantic Ocean. She talks about Thomas as a missionary but not as a lover. At evening, they sit outside and read from the Book of Mormon and the revelations of the Prophet, the only books in Henry’s house.

The nearest neighbor to the girls is three miles away. Their bishop is ten miles to the south. Horses make the girls nervous, so they rarely attend meetings. When they do, the younger drives the wagon. Food and water are always scarce. In their nightly prayers, the girls ask the Lord for preservation and guidance. Together they carry their dead husband’s babies.

*****

Four months after Henry’s death, the girls wake from a noonday nap to find a man on horseback at their front door. He is dressed in a soiled cotton shirt, sleeves rolled to the elbows, and a blue pair of army breeches. His hat covers his eyes and casts a shadow over his face. His neck, forearms, and hands are sunburned and striped with sweat. A pistol is holstered at his waist.

—You women have food? he asks.

—We ain’t, the older says.

—No bread? the man asks.

—No, says the younger. Try the next house. Please.

The man dismounts and enters the house. He removes his hat, unholsters his gun, and levels it at the head of the older girl. With his hat he points to a sack of flour perched on a barrel in the corner of the room.

—What’s in there?

—Get out, the older screams.

—Tell me, the man shouts. He places his hat on his head and slowly makes his way across the room to the sack. The barrel of his gun remains aimed at the older girl’s head. She watches the unmoving tip of the barrel. When the man reaches for the sack of flour, she screams again and rushes the intruder. The gun fires and lead tears through the older girl’s left hand and lodges in her arm just above the elbow. She collapses to the floor, wide-eyed and strangely jerking.

Seeing blood pool on the packed-earth floor, the younger girl cries out. The man, indifferent to the gore, grabs the sack of flour and turns to leave. The younger girl meets him at the door with her husband’s shotgun. She shoves it weakly into his stomach and pulls the trigger. The piece misfires as the man clubs the girl across the face.

******

In the days that follow, the older girl loses her arm and her baby. The bishop, the man who took saw to flesh to save her life, tells her that she and the younger girl can live in his house, be a part of his family. He offers to marry them if they will have him. The girls whisper at night as the collective snores and nightsounds of the bishop, his five wives, and eighteen children settle over the homestead. In the morning, they tell him they will return to the wilderness, to their husband’s home, as soon as they are able. He does not argue with them.

*******

A hard winter settles in as the younger girl’s belly swells with her dead husband’s child. The older girl, her sister in all but blood, tends now to the sheep, the cow, and even the horse. She splits wood one-handed and carries it into the house a few pieces at a time. When she is able, when her knees and ankles and back are not aching from the curse of Eve, the younger girl lights the fire and cooks the evening meal. At night, she reads scripture to her sister by lamplight.

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Scott Hales does not usually write fiction, but when he does, he tries to keep it around 1000 words. He blogs at A Motley Vision, Dawning of a Brighter Day, and Modern Mormon Men. He also maintains a personal Mormon literature blog, The Low-Tech World. When he isn’t writing short short stories or blogging or parenting, he is writing his doctoral dissertation on the Mormon novel.

Photograph of  the statue of a mourning woman by Mutter Erde.

Excerpt from Lightning Tree by Sarah Dunster

Lightning_Tree_novel_Sarah_Dunster_cover

Sarah Dunster’s historical novel Lightning Tree is due for release on April 10, 2012 from Cedar Fort.  To see a book trailer for Lightning Tree, click here. If you’d like to visit Cedar Fort’s poster page for the novel, click here.  Also, Sarah has put together a blog tour for her book.  One of her stops has been A Motley Vision, where she did a fascinating interview.  To read the interview, go here.

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“You all right?”

Henry’s voice startled Maggie. She had almost forgotten he was there.

“Fine.” Maggie folded the letter up and put it in her pocket. “I’ve got to go.”

“You sure you’re all right? You know, Maggie—that part about the sisters in Pleasant Green—”

“I’m fine,” Maggie snapped. She shrugged his hand off her shoulder.

“Maggie, I don’t think you are. Maggie, let us help you!”

“I don’t need help,” Maggie muttered. “There’s nothing you can do anyway, Henry.” She walked out the door into the snow. She felt oddly empty. It was good, because she knew she ought to be feeling a lot worse. Maybe if she just kept on going, kept her feet moving, she wouldn’t have to feel it. Like hypothermia, if she just kept moving, maybe she would survive.

She made her way up snowy streets, off to the side to let others pass. She felt the soft brush of the snowbanks against her skirts.

At the edge of the town blocks, the cold began to seep into her, making her bones throb. She stood there a moment, looking out on the wide, white expanse of the empty fields east of town. She sat, suddenly, in the snow, with her back up against a fence post.

She gazed up at the mountains. Squaw Peak had always looked, to Maggie, like it had been created for the express purpose of jumping. It’s a giant jump-off point, jutting out over the valley so that you could fall thousands of feet without hitting anything. Maybe it even gave you enough time to lose all your senses, before that final, terrible crash into the earth.

With their blue color and caps of snow which trailed in lacy white lines down their sides, Maggie could almost imagine they were giant waves, big enough to reach her
there on the edge of the fields. She could almost sense a little bit of motion. They were slowly coming for her. They would take her, and sweep her up, up, up, over their tops and fold her inside of them, and she wouldn’t have to think or feel anymore.

Maggie stood then. She couldn’t feel her legs, but she didn’t need to feel them. She could still walk, and so she did. It gave her a tiny edge of pleasure to wade through the snow, to break a new path in all the soft whiteness.

At first she thought she would just wade over to the edge of the mountain and begin to walk up it, and get as far as she could, but her feet took her in another direction. The last of the Chaberts. Giovanna is an Alden now. Because I can’t take care of her. The thought brought the first edge of pain, and then it overwhelmed her. She stumbled and nearly fell as it descended on her like the giant mountain-waves she had been imagining, crashing over her and covering her in blackness. She kept moving, only because she suddenly had the fierce, aching desire to visit Noémie.

We’re the two last Chaberts. The two who can still be together. Who aren’t buried on the plain, or in Great Salt Lake City. We can be together, at least. Me and Noémie. We were the last two pieces that made a family, and so we can at least be together. The riverbank was a lot higher up if you tried to find it east of town, so Maggie circled up around the north side of the fort; the newer one that touched the northern edge of the town’s walls.

This is my real home, Maggie thought as she came through the homestead door.

This is the last place my family was.

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Lightning Tree Author Sarah DunsterSarah Dunster is the mother of six young children. Her childhood journals are littered with poems, stories, and drawings of maps, characters, and places she imagined for her stories. She wrote her first novel at age nine – a rambling combination of Little Women and Anne of Green Gables, scribbled on binder paper – and tortured her friends by making them listen to the whole thing. Sarah is an award-winning poet; her pieces have been published in Segullah Magazine and Dialogue: a Journal of Mormon Thought. In addition to writing she loves reading, singing, skiing, and educating her children at home. Sarah lived for ten years in Provo, and grew to love the places, people, and history of Utah Valley.

WIZ call for submissions

While WIZ loves poetry and heartily encourages poets to continue sending their nature-romancing verse, it’s perhaps time to follow nature’s own example of protean morphologies and bring more rhetorical diversity to the site.  Hence, WIZ is issuing a call for short, creative non-fiction and fiction pieces.   If you have a nature-oriented essay or field notes that run between 500 and 1300 words, please consider sending them to WIZ.  Longer essays are welcome if they can be divided into parts.

Nature-based flash fiction or short stories running between 100 and 1300 words are also welcome.  Excerpts from longer stories or novels up to 1300 words are encouraged–though pieces may run longer if they can be broken into multiple parts.

Please read WIZ’s submissions guide before sending your work.  Then electronically submit your work either to wilderness@motleyvision.org or to pk.wizadmin@gmail.com.

WIZ announcements

While we’re teetering on the very edges of our seats gripping our arm rests watching the heated race for the Most Popular Poem Award, I have a few announcements I’d like to make. Continue reading WIZ announcements

Kansas by Michael Lee Johnson

Kansas

House bashed in grays, homespun
surrounding yellows and pinks
on a Kansas prairie appears lonely tonight.
The theater, the lives once lived alive
inside are gone now,
buried in the back dark trail
behind the old outhouse.
Old wood chipper in the back, rustic, worn, no gas to thunder.
Old coal bin open to wind but no one to shovel the coal in.
Pumpkin patches, corn mazes, hayrides all gone.
Deserted ghostly children swing abandoned in prairie wind.
All the unheated rooms no longer have children
to fret about, cheerleaders long gone,
the banal house chills
once again for winter-
while three lone skinny crows perched out of sight
on barren branched trees silhouetted
in pink wait with hunger strikes as winter
snow start to settle in against moonlight skies.
Kansas becomes a quiet place
when the first snow falls.
The dance of the crows.
The lonely wind.
The creaking of doors, no oil in the joints.

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For more information about Michael and more of his poetry on WIZ, click here, here, and here.

Book review: [N]ever Cry Wolf by Farley Mowat

Mark Twain on the tundra: At times, that’s how this 1963 classic played to my mind.   Farley Mowat’s sense of humor—often self-directed—and the acuity of his social criticism reminded me so much of Twain’s acerbic wit that I found myself reading Mowat but seeing in the text Sam Clemens’ ghost—flowing white hair, white mustache, white suit, as many photos portray him.

I read Never Cry Wolf for two reasons.  First, wolves have begun appearing in northern Utah and the rancher v. wolf conflict is heating up.  In fact, as the success of the reintroduction of wolves to the U.S. spills into states surrounding Yellowstone, human competition with wolves and with other humans supportive of wolves’ return has intensified sharply, with people scrambling to find language either to justify resisting the animals’ arrival or to lay out the welcome mat and defend the animals’ rights to territory. Continue reading Book review: [N]ever Cry Wolf by Farley Mowat

Cosmic Turtles, Part Three

On a warm Virginia day I walked to the Eastern Seaboard Coastline double tracks near our house and came to a small pond lying between the track grade and the woods.  A stand of wild irises grew in the water, along with rushes, green bubble-beaded algae, and sedges.  It was a small habitat not entirely suited for a water turtle, but I found one there—a five-inch spotted turtle who at sight of me dove into the water and scurried to bury himself in leaf litter at the puddle’s bottom. Continue reading Cosmic Turtles, Part Three

Cosmic Turtles, Part Two

Beside serving as the foundation of the world, Turtle surfaces in folk literature as the trickster’s trickster. It may surprise some to learn that Turtle has the smarts necessary to get the best of flimflammers like Jackal and even Anansi, the trickster spider, but then surprise is part of the strategy. Continue reading Cosmic Turtles, Part Two

Cosmic Turtles, Part One

This is the first installment of a five-part post.

Always it’s the same: the woods are leaf-fatted, midsummer.  Low-growing Mayapple and ginseng creep among roots of massive white oaks whose limbs form their own green-clouded groves.  Ferns half my height unroll from fiddleheads.  Fiddleheads, with their scrolled fronds, put me in mind of unborn things—pale, web-footed, half-creatures in dark, damp places, curling over upon themselves. All around lies the litter of conversion, of life changing over to death, changing to seedbed, to mushroom clusters, to a pink shock of Lady’s-slipper orchid against decadent leaves. Continue reading Cosmic Turtles, Part One