Another Brian Henry exercise to share.

Well, I figured that again, I’d share one of the little passages that I wrote at the Brian Henry workshop last Saturday, which was really fun, especially his slightly tweaked version of the Snowflake method.

I’m not sure if looking at an exercise like this is really the best way of judging what I’ve learned at a workshop, by the way, but they’re fun to write, and probably show a bit about how I was thinking about the workshop topic. For this one, in the morning, we were talking about how to structure short stories, and how they can grow up around a very small seed or prompt. This was based on a prompt that somebody called out, which was: “By the time I got to ______, the turtle wasn’t there anymore!”


“Purpose of the trip?”

I was taken by surprise at the fact that they actually asked the question outside of tv shows and movies. Maybe I shouldn’t have been, after all, they have to get cliches like that from somewhere. But it wasn’t like I was used to dealing with customs and immigration officials. Heck, I could still count the number of times I’d left Massachussets on the fingers of one hand.

“Umm, well, I’m looking for a – that is to say, business. Or education, more than anything else – or educational business. It’s a student field research trip.”

The uniformed official considered this. “So you’re being sponsored by an American university?”

“Yes.” I dove into my carryon looking for something official with the Harvard letterhead on it, until I was waved down, a gesture that I took to mean that I shouldn’t bother. “Is there a local school that you’ll be working with?”

“I… I’m not sure,” I said. “A local zoologist, at least – Doctor Hector Guerras. I think that he’s with the Institute of Reptile research in Daracas, not an instructor at a school.”

“Very good. Is the Institute arranging for your lodging?”

“I guess so, yeah.” For most of the trip, those arrangements would involve sharing a two-man tent as we trekked through the beaches and marshes, but I didn’t volunteer that. Hopefully I’d get a proper bed for the first night or two. There might not be that much jet lag from the US northeast to the west coast of South America, but I was still very tired from the long plane ride.

“Welcome to Ecuador, Mister Herkimer,” the official said, pressing a large ink stamp into my passport.

At first I was worried that my ride had gone off in disgust, when I got to the arrival hall and didn’t spot anybody with a bright red button and a sign for my name. Then I saw the dusky-skinned girl turn around and start looking through all the other arrivals from maybe fifty feet away. I waved and dragged my luggage over.

“Buenos dias, Senor Herkimer,” she said. “I am glad that they finally let your plane take off.”

I grinned. As long as the delay before takeoff had been, there was no way that this girl could have still been waiting when we left the states, but if she hadn’t heard of the delay, it would have been a long wait for the plane to actually arrive. “Buenos dias,” I agreed. “Please, call me Luke. What’s your name?”

“I’m Helene – Helene Moraguez. Are you ready to begin your trip to the Institute?”

“Yes, of course I am, Helene. I’m looking forward to getting started – well, after I’ve had a chance to rest somewhat.”

“Are you hungry?”

“No, the food on the plane was okay.”

“Good.” Helene started to lead me back through the airport passage towards an escalator. “Senor Guerras is very upset that there is yet no turtle.”

I was a little surprised to hear her say that. “Wasn’t that the point of me and the other overseas students coming? To help find the striped balloon turtle? I wouldn’t have thought that the search proper would have begun yet.”

“I… it is difficult to explain.”

“Would you rather we spoke this way?” I asked her in my best first-year Spanish. The exchange was supposed to be an English-language activity, not an immersion trip, but part of the reason I’d been picked was that I was at least partially fluent with the official language of Ecuador.

Partially fluent didn’t really help me keep up with Helene’s first round of explanations, and so she realized that she had entirely lost me in the ramble about Doctor Guerras and something about the clues to the turtles, not the turtles themselves. So she started again, speaking more slowly and choosing her words with care. “Doctor Guerras – he is caught between the stone and the deep water. He cannot find the turtle beforehand, but he does not want to invite Americans here only to set them a task that they cannot succeed at. So he has been searching for – for clues, for signs, that the search will proceed well, will be…”

“That it will be possible?” I asked in English. After a moment, Helene nodded uncertainly.

“Yes. But he has not yet found the turtle tracks, or the clues that they have been eating. So he is unhappy, and the entire Institute hangs under a bad omen.”

“Don’t tell me that a great scientist like Guerras actually believes in omens,” I muttered before I could stop myself. Helene looked over at me, the dismay evident in her big brown eyes. But she didn’t say anything else as we proceeded through the airport parking garage.

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