Monday, February 15, 2016

Dinner Dance (Carrot Ranch Flash Fiction Challenge)

Surveying in Colorado can take you into some very wild spaces, indeed. I did a lot of rock and glacier climbing during my summer field course in geology, back at Mines, for example. 

I never encountered quite the blend of furry and feathered critters, though, as Ken Cummings did while surveying in Yankee Boy Basin in the Sangre de Christos on the western front of the Rockies. He shares one story from Meant To Be Here:

All through the wintertime, marmots ("whistle-pigs") would burrow into the old timber- and earth-covered powder magazines for the Idarado and the Camp Bird mines and various other smaller operations. They did this not only to find shelter, but also to satisfy their craving for the salty flavors of certain explosives. Replacing explosives lost to the rodents’ appetites was a standard budget item for local mines. We would joke about their explosive potential whenever we saw some tourist swerve to try to hit one of these prairie-dog-sized animals as they scurried across the Million Dollar Highway between Silverton and Ouray.

Whistle-pigs were also a real problem with the work I was doing, staking claims to areas over the Idarado workings that had been missed in the original survey. My sweaty partner and I would drive a big wooden stake into the ground, then nail a can to the post to hold the mimeographed claim-papers. The only thing marmots liked more than the sweat-streaked wood of the claim stake was the rich ammonia of the claim-papers. 

The can may have protected the paperwork from the elements and from casual theft by tourists or mice looking for nesting material, but it was short work for the larger marmot’s rodent teeth. Whenever we revisited a claim, the post was usually down, with the sweat-soaked edges gnawed off, and the can had been ripped open with its chemically-treated papers completely consumed.

Posting the claim papers was a formality that had to be done, but the real record of the claim was filed by the mining office with the Bureau of Mines. In following the standard practice, all we were really doing was distributing treats for the marmots.


Charli Mills' prompt this week for the Carrot Ranch Flash Fiction Challenge made me remember this tale of explosive-munching marmots:

February 10, 2016 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about wild spaces. Is it a wilderness or a patch of weeds in a vacant lot that attract songbirds. What is vital to the human psyche about wild spaces? Bonus points for inducing something cute and furry.

For this flash, I take the marmot's point of view of all the surveying work.

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Dinner Dance

Salt on the wind. And something richer, more aromatic, delicious: a promise of oils and esters unknown in the world before men came to my mountain vale.

Secure in my rock bunker, I watch them perform their inexplicable dance. It echoes against my walls: their cries, flat percussion of stone against stake, tinny rasp as the hull of their peculiar seed is fastened into place.

My mouth waters; I taste the core of that seed again in my imagination. It fills my mouth with its alien tang.

As soon as they leave, I waddle downhill to claim my prize.