Monday, September 12, 2011

I've Moved

Please visit my website, www.crystalberan.com for short stories, news, novel excerpts and advice for young writers.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Risking Lightning



     I'm not the kind of person who wakes up screaming. I don't have nightmares, I don't get confused about where I am and I don't worry too much when I can't remember the name of the person lying next to me (though I can tell you that it starts with an M and is 3 syllables long). So you can imagine my surprise when I was so rudely awakened by my own self mid-yell.

     Growing up on the West Coast, I was under the impression that I liked lightning storms. They're exciting and scary the way that kids television shows are. There's really nothing dangerous about lightning, not when the rumbles are split minutes apart. Had I grown up in the South, I might have a different opinion of the Earth's rogue electrical activity. They have real lightning storms there, ones that you sit and wait for. Ones you don't take a bath because of. Ones that sometimes come accompanied by dark green skies.

     So, like a moron, I arranged myself a front row seat beneath the skylight that was so close I could lift my hand and touch the glass. The storm was coming to Paris! I was gonna watch it.

     After one particularly bright flash, one that cranked my pupils down into pinprick dots, I climbed down the ladder out of my loft and decided to sleep on the couch because maybe I didn't want to be two feet below the lightning storm after all.

     Hours passed. I drifted off to sleep.

     Out of the void of dreamlessness: BOOM! And a flash so bright it was minutes before I could see again. I screamed myself awake and wondered if the lightning had struck so close it had perhaps struck me. I won't lie: I patted myself down to make sure all the pieces were in place. Intact. Lightning must have struck the roof, then.

     I considered flipping around the other way and putting my head away from the storm, but it was raining in that side of the house, so I just risked it.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Watch out!

This just in!
A giant, fiercely angry unicorn has appeared in Rora Tonga and is killing everyone in site. Initial estimates suggest that the unicorn has killed nearly 1,000 people, though there are many hundreds still unaccounted for. It appears that the unicorn rapture was, in fact, real.

Holy shit.
Holy unicorn shit.
Duck!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Adventure Writing Requires Adventure Travel

It's that time again, that time when I go gallivanting around the globe in search of more stories to feverishly record back at my secret lair. If you're new to the site, there's plenty of stories in the archives to check out. Just use the links to the right to access stories by post date, location or theme. If you've been following from the beginning, stay tuned because a new interactive Paris guide is in the works and it should be pretty cool.

That is, if I get tilt my head in just the right way that it pours out and lands perfectly on the Internet. Where's the Apple product that allows me to transmit information directly from my brain to the computer? Get on it development team.

-Crystal

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Swaziland: Getting Just What I Wanted

Instructions for the use of this short story: 1. Play the music. 2. Read the story. 3. Rinse. 4. Repeat.

James Galway/John Georgiadis/Munich Radio Orchestra - Canon in D major, instrumental arrangement

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     Like most little girls, I spent hours upon hours of my childhood fantasizing about my wedding.[1] I’d line up my stuffed animals and march them triumphantly down the aisle to the imaginary applause of many soft paws.[2] I’d lift the pillowcase veil from the girl animal’s face, seal the wedding with a kiss and then ensure that they fulfilled their contractual obligations.[3] Of course, problems would arise when there weren’t enough males to go around, but I don’t think the one male My Little Pony I had minded terribly that he had to have a harem.[4]

     With all these animal weddings I was busy conducting as a child, it’s no wonder that my vision of my own wedding also involves animals. And I’m not talking about releasing white doves over the arch, either. Fuck birds, no, I’m talking about leopards.

     That’s right, leopards.

     If there’s one reason I’ve never tied the knot it’s that I never found the appropriate outfit for the official wedding leopard. And I’ve looked, believe me, I want this wedding to happen more than anybody.

     One day, I was walking down the street and I saw this vision of beauty in the window of the local bridal shop.

     I’m ready now. Somebody come marry me. 




[1] No, I did not.
[2] Once. White Fur and Fluffy got married. All my other stuffed animals continued living in sin.
[3] Yes.
[4] I had 4 Barbies and 1 Ken, too. Guess who also had a harem.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Belize: Getting Zoe (Part 2)

     The most surprising thing about that morning was that I woke up in the top bunk. I have no memory of returning to the tree house, climbing the precariously steep steps, or tackling the bamboo ladder that led me into bed, though a throbbing pain in my left knee suggested that at least one of those things didn’t happen without incident.

     Cool air swirled in through the glassless windows; it couldn’t have been much past ten. When did we leave the street party? At what point had I lost my assistant, Zoe, to a car full of sexy Lebanese men? Where were my pants?

     Oh, there. The most surprising thing about that morning was decidedly not that I woke up in the top bunk.

     The most surprising thing was that my skinny jeans were slung over the guard rail, one inside-out leg dipping down towards the floor, the other tucked underneath my hip. If you find no miracle in the fact that I managed to remove my pants that previous night, then consider the fact that my hiking boots were still tied tightly onto my feet.

     Consider that.

     And now you know how surprised I was.

     I sat up in bed, top of my head brushing against the bamboo ceiling and dangled my long, naked legs over the edge, kicking back and forth like a kid in lead shoes.

     “I could have been in Anime,” I told my legs.

     My post-drinking-spree whimsy was short-lived, however. I wasn’t alone.

     Craig the sound guy was sprawled naked across the rug with his hairy chest to the sky, his tongue lolling out of his mouth and a puddle of drool spreading across the psychedelic Central American weave, like some satire of a dog.

     Pantsless, and I mean that in both the American and the British sense of the word, I trapped my lap beneath the corner of the bed sheet, eyeing Craig the sound guy suspiciously.

     A quick peek beneath the sheet. Tightly tied boots. Naked Craig the sound guy. (Bruise on knee?)

     Had we?

     No, that was ridiculous. I would never wear made-for-walking boots during sex.

     I pulled the laces on one of the boots until the knot slipped loose and then kicked the smelly shoe over to my crew member, landing it square on his face.

     “Sorry.”

     “Fuck.”

     He rolled away from me, scratching a butt cheek in my general direction.

     “Craig the sound guy. Are you awake?”

     Tying the sheet loosely around my waist, I leaped from the bed. It was the worst idea I’d ever had.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Indonesia: Getting Back

Instructions for the use of this short story: 1. Start at the beginning: Indonesia: Getting Answers. 2. Start the music. 3. Read. 4. If you like what you've read, help spread the word!






     The edge of the jungle came to me while I rested immobile at the base of the temple. I glided along like a boat on the water, unseen forces pushing irresistibly. In the thick of it once more, the sky above me flirted from behind towering palm tree fans. She blushed fuchsia whenever my eyes connected with her otherwise violet skin.


     The forest sucked me along and drew all the curtains so there was no longer any seeing out, or in. Each movement left me invisible to the place I’d inhabited only a moment ago. My existence was erased and rewritten every moment.



     Only trees and butterflies and thick-lipped amphibians with glass black eyes had ever seen this virgin forest. I floated along like a ghost in a museum; an uninvited and inconsequential tourist.

     The flavor of the insistently earthy tea repeated once more against the back of my tongue and I tried to swallow it again. On its way down, it had tasted like earth; on its way back up, it was all fire. I hiccupped searing flames.


     All around me, trees reached out to slide long, emaciated fingers against my skin, leaving a goose bump freeze in their wake. But there was no hostility in the grasp of the branches. The jungle just wanted to caress me as I glided through it. It couldn’t keep its fronds off me.

   
    I knelt in front of a snake. Turning her empty eyes to face me directly, she stopped and waited. There was no way to read her. The eyes are not the windows to the snake’s soul; they are only mirrors that you fall into in one last mistake.

     My throat burned and my skin itched.

     “You know where I need to go,” I accused her and she stuck out her tongue. I knew, even as she slipped once more beneath the undergrowth that the words that were babbling out of my mouth had been confused by more than just foul tasting tea. I was stoned out of my mind on mushrooms. I recognized the symptoms now.
     
     There had been something familiar in that flavor, indeed something dangerous: a cytotoxic undertone in the bouquet of rotting forest and earthworm medicine.

     My stomach rushed up against my throat without warning but there would be no relief from the journey now. I had no choice but to see it through to the end. When I recovered at last, I found myself moving again. How far had I come? How long until night? My feet did not belong to me.

     Everything went dim as I walked for what might have been many hours. My mind didn’t drift as it usually does, telling me stories about my journey; about where I might be going and what I might find when I got there. No, things got quiet inside me. Hushed like dying.

     A scream brought me back. My eyes swiveled up to the source of the noise: a tiny man with a nose like a water balloon and rainbow painted genitals. He pulled his lips back at me so I could get a better look at his teeth and rocked back and forth, tiny cherry red penis proudly displayed before me.

     Not a man, mushroom-self, a monkey.

     If he’s a monkey, why is he talking?

     “If you know you’re on drugs, why do you think this is real?”

     “Stop talking.”

      I did, I froze, mouth open in a perfect circle. My tongue scrapped against the roof of my mouth and crumbled away like sand in the wind. Holes in me.

     Shit.

     Monkey.

     “Your dick is red.”

     He grinned, canines long like swords.

     “You have blue balls.”

     He squatted down to hide them.

     “Get back in the fucking trees. You don’t belong here on the ground," I shouted with more anger than I knew I had. But it was more for myself, for telling this monkey how to live his life. “Swarthy man monkey.”

     He stepped aside at last, but there was nothing behind him except impenetrable forest. I could not move forward.

     Above me, the palms began to fold in on themselves like feathers, one by one tucked back neat in place along bent wings. But this wasn’t forest; these were wings and he was reaching out for me with them, to tuck me in safe against his cold body. Cold-blooded bird. He rested his spear-straight beak against my neck, to hug me tighter.

     The last thing I remember was the eye of the pterodactyl, black like a hole in my childhood.

     When I woke up in my hotel room Wednesday morning, Tuesday had never happened, as far as I could tell. I’d lost the day, somewhere out there in the forest of Indonesia, somewhere in the arms of a dream.

Photos courtesy of Connie Freeland

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Palau: Getting Efficient

Transporting gasoline to island nations is not at all practical. For one thing, gas isn't free. An island has to purchase it for a larger, richer, more powerful nation which can bully the island into paying more than is reasonable for a liter of fuel. Then the island has to get the gas over to it, which creates more costs and poses a serious risk to the environment. For some nations, such as Palau, the environment underwater is just about all they've got going for them, so protecting the reef and the amazing biodiversity of the ocean is of prime concern.

I'm so pleased to be able to report that island nations such as this one have invested in alternative fuels and have come up with some innovative approaches that are sure to please the environmentalists, boost the economy and save the whales.

Way to go Palau!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Night-Cake

     It had been a long day and I did not want night-cake.

     At five in the morning, I’d checked out of my hotel, grabbed a taxi and headed down to the three-plane airport. The only flight leaving that day was due to depart at seven-thirty am, and I, in a misguided attempt to be thrifty, didn’t have a ticket. You see, when I left the nation’s capital for the beach town of Morondava, I’d assumed I would be taking the $30 bus back. The 16 hours it took me to wind my dizzy way across Madagascar, however, elicited a change of heart and I was now hoping to cough up $250 for a one way, 45 minute flight.

     But the airport didn’t take credit cards, the bank couldn’t process my Master Card and I was down to my last 100,000 ariary. Like it or not, I was taking the bus...

Visit http://bestdishever.com/night-cake to read the rest of this real life tale of cake!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Indonesia: Getting Wasted

Instructions for the use of this short story: This story can be read alone but is better if read as a part of a series. 1. Read Indonesia: Getting Answers, Indonesia: Getting Closer and Indonesia: Getting Through It. 2. Play the Music. 3. Read the latest installment. 4. Tell an unsuspecting friend to come visit. 5. Come back soon for more.





     The other side of the mountain was shrouded in clouds that hugged the earth as close as they could, mist kissing ground. On the other side of the cave, I found myself somewhere else; somewhere otherworldly. Kickstand opening automatically, the bike parked itself below the last lip of rock because it could not follow me here. Our journeys were no longer intertwined.

     I didn’t realize how exhausted I was until I seated myself on the temple steps. Mysterious forces had pulled me along at an unreasonable pace all morning and now that my adventure was on a break, exhaustion smothered every muscle. I wobbled over to the old man, who waited with infinite patience.
 
     He smiled and indicated that I sit beside him and drink. Steam poured out of the cup he placed before me but it was unable to add heat or humidity to the already torpid atmosphere.
 
     It was too hot out here. My skin had been leaking a constant stream of sweat since I’d  arrived in this country and I glistened, almost salamander-like. Nothing was ever dry here. Between the water that poured out of me and that which had been deposited by the breath of the jungle I was swimming my way through Indonesia.

     I gazed into the tea cup but my will did not make it lemonade. It’s hard to imagine enjoying a steamy cup of tea in such a climate. It seems that tea is better enjoyed in cool, foggy regions where the chill from the air creeps all the way into the center of your bones. Nevertheless, I lifted my tea cup (so hot it left a red ring between my hands) and drank.

     Though the temperature of the beverage was surprisingly agreeable, the medicinal flavor nearly forced me to spit it all over my host. Out! shouted my brain and tongue in unison, but I kept my teeth firmly clenched around the offensively bitter drink and forced it down. There was something chemical about the flavor; something dangerous.

     I sipped while the old man and I did not speak to one another. In the West, we were having what would have been called a long and very awkward silence, but here I was learning to let the quiet happen. The spaces between words are not danger zones where accidents happen. There was no need to rush words out; they would come when they were necessary and important.

     While I sat sipping quietly on my horrid drink I tried to guess what might be in it. Lemongrass? Citronelle? Tree bark? Dirt?

     Once, a boyfriend brought home a white paper bag filled with tea he’d received from the acupuncturist. It was medicinal, he’d told me and so I dumped the contents out on the counter to see what it was made of. There were chunks of mushrooms, sticks, spongy flowers, small stones and curly bits of bark that had been stripped off tropical trees. I also found inch long pieces of something familiar that I couldn’t identify. The pieces were round, like a long, thin cylinder, and were covered with circular ridges that were spaced equally apart. I slid these pieces out of the pile of forest tea and put together the puzzle. When it was complete, I could see that these sections had once been an earthworm.

     On the temple steps, I tried to forget this story as I gagged, but you try not thinking about earthworm tea while you’re drinking tea that tastes like dirt. I forced myself to swallow.

     When I finished my cup, the old man did not pour me another. It was the first time I’d ever seen a cup run dry in this part of the world.

     “You are looking for something; that’s why you have come to me.”

     I wished that he knew because of some mystical force. I wanted him to have heard of my arrival from the gods; I wanted him to have had a vision of me riding up to his temple while he was lost in meditation. Nowadays, I knew, even mystics carried cell phones. The concierge at my hotel was likely the one who had notified him that I was coming, not, alas, a messenger from the spirit world.

     “I am looking for something.”

     “A pterodactyl.”

     Definitely the concierge.

     It sounded so ridiculous now that he said it. I laughed but nodded, “Yes.”

     “When you are ready, continue down the path.”

     He disappeared back into the temple, leaving me alone on the steps. The water from the air pooled into drops that slid down my skin. Watching it, I couldn’t help but feel like I was raining.

     When I finally pulled my attention away from my newfound cloudlike superpowers, the sky had shifted into indigo twilight: bottomless and bright.

     But that wasn’t right. I’d left early in the morning. It couldn’t have been much later than two in the afternoon. My gaze sunk onto the dirt path in front of me, where the colors of evening had also spilled. The ground rolled in purples and deep reds, like the sea when it robs the sunset out of the sky. It moved like the sea, too, in shallow waves that undulated in rhythm with my breath. Or had I adjusted my breathing to match the spacing between the waves of blue soil?

     It occurred to me, for a moment, that I ought to panic, but I’d used up my adrenaline in the cave and though the frightened thoughts were there, the chemicals had run dry. I thought of fear and did not feel it. This was probably a good thing; there was no way to rid myself of what I’d taken. What’s done is done.

     So, I let go. I let the fear slip beneath my conscious thought; I let the expectation evaporate into the clouds. I released my close association with my own body, and allowed the line between me and the world to blur. I let the magic back in; I forgot about cell phones and the loss of mysticism.

     And then I walked further into the jungle.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Palau: Getting Localized


A few yards down the road I saw a dog trying very hard to follow one of these rules while blatantly ignoring another of them. Look carefully. See if you can spot all three pairs of swim trunks (hint: only two pairs are being worn by humans).

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Greece: Getting Sleepy

Instructions for the use of this short story: 1. Play the first song. 2. Read until you get to the second song. 3. Play that one. 4. Read the rest. 5. Repeat as needed.

Beetle Juice - Shake Shake Senora

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     There isn’t anything that quite compares to awakening from a pounce. There’s nothing subtle about this sort of shift from dreaming to wakefulness. One moment, you’re sound asleep and the next you’re staring into the eyes of someone who finds themselves bouncy-trouncy-founcy-pouncy-fun-fun-fun-fun-fun!

     Back at home, I have a cat who knows better than to play the role of the alarm clock. She sleeps or doses along with me until a change in the rhythm of my breathing alerts her to the fact that I’m no longer sleeping. And then, of course, I’m fair game.

     But I wasn’t at home. In fact, I was sleeping on an airbed in the bell tower of a run-down church on an island devoid of all human life.


     When I first opened my eyes, the green, translucent set of cat eyes staring back at me seemed too large to belong to a feline of normal proportions. I had to get grip on reality, shake away the hypnogogic vision and allow her to come into focus. The pounce, the 6:30am pounce means only one thing: that the cat expects breakfast now. The size of the cat demanding breakfast makes a difference, where the survival of the adventurer (here, me) is concerned.

      She had gotcha! written across her face, but as the sleep drained away from my head, her scale diminished and I could see that she was just a normal, cat-sized cat. Gotcha! and tiny cat teeth weren’t a cause for alarm.

      I raised a groggy hand to scratch between her ears, where the fleas had left scabs. She responded by sinking her paws right into my boobs, one on each side, pressing her whole weight onto the points that were her front feet. Squeezing each hand in turn, she did her best to work my nipples down underneath my rib cage, where they do not belong. I wish cats could understand how much that hurts. I pushed her paws away but each time I picked one up and placed it on more solid ground, she returned it from whence it came.

      After a moderate power struggle, she got the point and slipped between me and Lynn, who was still asleep beside me. She sat there for a few minutes, rubbing her nose against mine and sending her tail, whack, whack, whack, across Lynn’s neck. I still had my hand on her head and was just about to doze off again when a shrill voice brought me back around.

     The voice was Lynn’s. The words were, “Zombie cat! Zombie cat!”

     The cat turned to face Lynn and dipped her head closer to deposit a sweet kiss on the tip of Lynn’s nose.

     This affectionate gesture sent Lynn sliding off her side of the mattress and over to the wall, as far away as she could get from what she again identified as, “Zombie cat!”

     Miffed at the sudden disruption of the sleeping arrangement, the cat turned and climbed on top of my chest, prompting an almost immediate confirmation from me: “Holy shit! Zombie Cat!”

     I hadn’t seen her left side before this moment, and now that I did, I shuddered, trapped beneath the Zombie Cat. I wiggled to free myself, but she sent me such a glare that I froze up again, completely unable to extricate myself from under this black and white monster of a cat.


NOW: SWITCH THE MUSIC!
Beetlejuice Theme Song

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     “What the hell is wrong with it?” Lynn screeched, still pressed against the wall like a fugitive anticipating a bullet.

     Zombie Cat sat down and tucked its front paws underneath its chest, settling in and purring audibly on me.

     “Skin infection,” I diagnosed, completely trapped.

     Lynn, emboldened by her ability to walk around, leaned in a little closer, even venturing an ineffectual sniff in Zombie Cat’s direction. “That’s disgusting.”

     “Yeah, no shit. Get it off me.”

     “Un-uh. I’m not touching that zombie cat. Good luck, Captain.”

     She left me there. Lynn left me there with half a dozing cat draped across my chest.

     For five minutes that seemed no less than five hours, I worked to free myself. I squirmed, dragging my body out inches at a time, using my elbows for leverage. Zombie Cat remained on the bed, sinking on the slowly deflating hole I’d left by my absence. It sighed. Sleep on, Zombie Cat.

     I jetted down the stairs but came to an abrupt stop when I saw what Lynn did.

     Last night, under the cover of darkness, dozens of partially decomposed cats crawled from out of their graves. It must have been a full moon. Tiny headstones would have been lined up in front of mounds of disturbed earth. Somewhere, off in the distance, a crow. Then, that ominous still before a single paw breaks the surface of the soil. Another paw; entire cats, struggling to free themselves just as I had struggled under the weight of Zombie Cat. The camera zooms in, close-up on the half-eaten face of an orange tom, that one there, sniffing at Lynn’s toes. He meows a low, throaty sound that cats make only to be horrible. You know the sound.

     “Brains,” I yowled in my own horrid, throaty cat-voice.

     “Not funny,” Lynn reported. Then she punched me, just to get the point across.

     Everywhere there were cats: perched on stairs and windowsills and stone ruins that were crumbling to pieces as bad as the cats were. No cat was made from a complete set. Some were missing a leg, others an ear, most a swath or two of skin. Eyes had rolled away. Lips receded to leave toothy cat-grins stretched across their faces.

     In the distance, the boat bobbed gently up and down. We’d tied it up to what was left of the long-abandoned harbor. At least now we knew why the people had gone.


     “Just run,” I whispered and shoved Lynn straight into the mob of hobbling cat parts. More emerged from the ruins, climbing up from under the city and into our way, chasing and chasing and weaving in front of our feet even though we weren’t carrying any large boxes. We ran and the cats ran with us and just when we thought it was over, our feet splashed into the cool, blue Mediterranean sea and the cats stopped.

     We didn’t look back.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Kiribati: Getting Localized

     Peace never comes without a price. Perhaps if I'd have sprung for some I could have avoided the disaster that awaited me on the boat with Hector. But, no, like a fool, I decided not to buy it. I just don't have the kind of money peace demands.


Read the Kiribati trilogy!
Part 1: Kiribati: Getting There
Part 2: Kiribati: Getting Hungry?
Part 3: Kiribati: Getting Back

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Indonesia: Getting Through It

Instructions for the use of this short story: 1. Read Indonesia: Getting Answers and Indonesia: Getting Closer 2. Turn off the lights. 3. Play music. 4. Read, enjoy, comment, repeat.


     It was all downhill from here. No need to press against the pedals with burning calves; no need to work up a sweat under the heavy tropical sun. All I had to do was sit back and let the mountain pull me in.

     I had no poet Virgil to guide me safely through the descending levels of madness. It was just me, a 5-speed Huffy and the shadow of a dinosaur beckoning us on. The gears had been stripped off the bike and the front brake line hung loose off the handlebars, feeding into nothing.

     Speed is not something I usually lust after. I ride the brakes and I ski in the shape of a slice of pizza. The thinning brake pad on the rear tire needed to be preserved-for emergencies-so I let the acceleration take me. 
Ever-increasing speed has an almost animal sexuality. I might die soon so I’d better breed now, my womb whispered.

     Hush, I told it back.

     The path swerved along through thickening jungle, blotting out the rest of the sun. There were whole worlds up there in the canopy that I would never know. There could be a dog party going on, just twenty meters away, invisible beyond the leaves. Do you like my hat?
     This is the part of the movie where the heroine stupidly rides off on some frivolous quest, away from the protection of men, who know how to squeeze their hands into fists. No, no don’t go off alone, you think, safe in the darkness of the theatre, but there she goes, all wheels and hope, seeing life through the lens of a happy childhood. But there is a danger here on the fringe, as there is in all borderlands. The places of transition are home to the most monsters.


     I ignored all that. I was looking for monsters and trying my hardest to bring myself face to face with the impossible. My descent into my childhood subconscious was purposeful and systematic. Red riding hood to the wind.

     Eventually, the sky vanished completely and the world was made of me and trees. The road diminished until it was no more than a hazy line pressed down by a thousand years of infrequent feet.

     Unruly branches stretched down to scratch at my face and pull on my hair. Roots and stones jumped into my spokes. I did not slow for the jungle. I kept my mind on the sharp sword bill and the featherless paper wings I was after.


     My long coast came to an abrupt end when the path wound its way into the heart of the mountain. The one brake was not enough to stop the bike and so I bailed, leaping from the doomed device just in the nick of time. I landed in a springy pile of undergrowth which slithered and hopped away in a poisonous procession. 
Momentum pulled the bike along until it crashed against one wall of the cave, disturbing a swarm of sleeping bats just as I had disturbed the gaboon viper beside me.

     “Mind the bats,” the boy had said to me, but I didn’t mind the bats. I minded the cave.

     Rising from the jungle floor, I took a few shaky steps towards the cave and placed my toes up against the exact invisible line where the outside ended and it began. I stood like that on the edge of the choice for what seemed like hours. Inside the hole in the world, the back wheel of the bicycle spun around. It wanted to get going again. Through the darkness, the rest of the bike could not be seen. I hoped this wasn’t the reason I had packed a flashlight in my emergency kit, but damn it, I had.

     I wanted to spit at always be prepared. Would have been a great excuse to turn around right now. It was all just a dream. I had a lovely bike ride through the forest. I fought a monkey and the monkey won. I’ll have the nasi goreng and the gado gado. Extra peanut sauce, please.

     But I dug the stupid flashlight out of my day pack, swearing pretty much non-stop. LEDs do not do enough damage on darkness, but it really wasn’t the darkness of caves that bothered me, either.

     Eyes on the bike, I took one shaky step into the cave. And another. And one more.

     I used the same trick I do when I’m swimming by myself in deep water. I pick a point: a buoy, a kayak, a piece of coral breaking the surface or a tourist bobbing along on a pretty pink pool noodle in front of the Body Glove. If I can just swim to that point, then I’ll be fine. Nothing will eat me between here and there. I can’t consider the real size of the monster. I have to watch him only one scale at a time.

     Before I realized what was happening, I had the bike by the handlebars and was rolling it deeper into the earth.

     Just to that shiny bit there, the one sparkling like a frosted cake.

     Just to that collection of stalactites.

     Just to that pile of guano over there. (The bats were a welcome distraction. I stopped and watched them for a moment but then felt the dizziness all the way into my knees and I had to press on, tilting dangerously far head-over-heels.)

     Just to that terrifying giant cave spider.

     Just to the light. Just to the forest on the other side with the upside-down bowl of sky above me.

     And like that, I was on the other side of the mountain.



Photos by Connie Freeland, Ryan Marsh, Donna Newton and Crystal Beran.



Read the next part of the story: Indonesia: Getting Wasted

Friday, February 18, 2011

Eating Paris

A completely true story about a place I have been is now up at http://bestdishever.com. Visit it directly through this link: http://bestdishever.com/eating-paris.

Oh, and the Paris stories up on this site were posted before I'd ever been to France, so, technically they still count as completely fictitious adventures in a country I've never been to (yet).

Enjoy!
-Crystal

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Adventure Writing Requires Adventure Travel

Once again, its time for the writer to head off on the road. This time I'll be facing down monkeys, elephants and anteaters on another wild safari! I'll be back with a new story on the second of March, so until then, please check out some of the stories from the archives.

Will write soon,
Crystal

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Panama: Getting Wet

     This morning (and by morning I mean afternoon), I was greeted at the door by an unassuming package. It was flat, small and from Arkansas. In it was a blue CD filled with pictures of my recent trip to Panama. While looking through the photos, I noticed something strange about them that I am going to share with you now.

     Let's start at the end of the journey. We're tired, we're wet and we're not sure yet if we're going to make it. The guides are visibly concerned as they examine the next rapid. It has changed since the last time they navigated this section of river. And by changed, I mean got fucking scarier. My dad, the guy in white, an expert on a river, is also worried, but ready to steer across the treacherous rocks (which roll along with us as we slide across the tops of them). His wife has perfected the art of, "GET DOWN!" which is a game we like to play with the captain. My brother is hiding against the bottom of the boat, completely invisible in most of the photos. And what am I doing? I'm perched on the edge, looking straight at the camera, posing with my oar. Good job, me. Way to contribute to everyone's survival.

     Okay, so let's go back in time a little bit. Huh. Yup. Look at the determination on their faces. They are going to fight the rapids and live to tell the tale. I am grinning like a moron

     


     And this holds true for on an entire roll of film. Even here: just because you can't see me, what with all the water we're under, doesn't mean I'm not still mugging. If you value your life, please don't invite a camera crew along with us on the dangerous river journey. Thank you.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Belize: Getting Zoe (Part 1)


     This story, like many in my life, begins with an inescapable hunger.

     It was three beers past a bottle of rum and the half moon was high. The boys had dined on steak and snake but the only thing I had rolling around inside me was a shit load of booze. Where’s a taco truck when you need one?

     “Tacos sound good,” Zoe confirmed.

     “You reading my mind?”

     “No, I’m listening to you talk to yourself.” She slapped my thigh and pulled me from the chair, tilt-a-whirl head and all.

     We slipped out through the red curtain that separated the bar from the street and stepped into the night. One in the morning is as good a time as any to eat the forbidden street food. Better, perhaps, because of the liquor. Show me a gut bug who can outlast me in a game of Kings and I’ll call myself colonized.

     We ate out of newspaper cups and told the other drunkies we had boyfriends.

     “But you don’t have a boyfriend in Belize.”

     “No thank you,” I answered through a half a taco.

     “You should come with us. You are very beautiful.”

     “That’s not really a reason to go with you.”

     “You break my heart. I love you.”

     “No.”

     “Your friend is coming with us.”

     “My friend is eating tacos with me.”

     Nope. I was wrong. My friend was tipping like a see-saw into the opened window of a slowing moving taxi cab. Two of my new boyfriend’s crew were trying to pull her in. I grabbed onto her legs and yanked her back towards sanity.

     “They’re going dancing,” she told me once I’d extracted her from the car.

     “I don’t think that’s the case.”

     “That’s what they said. I want to go to the club.”

     “I don’t think there’s a club.”

     One of the men in the car stuck his head out to talk to us. “There is no club. There is a hotel room.”

     At least they were honest.

     “But we have a disco ball.”

     He showed me. They did have a disco ball. A two-inch keychain disco ball.

     Zoe grabbed onto my shoulders. “A disco ball. Crystal, it’s okay. They’re Lebanese.”

     Such flawless logic for a woman who, seconds later would pat the top of the taxi, starting it off on its journey, and then fling herself in through the window, blowing me kisses as she vanished from the street.

     I would have attempted a rescue, but gone are my days of diving through the windows of moving vehicles.

Go on the the next part: Belize: Getting Zoe (Part 2)

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Greece: Getting Answers

Greece: one of the world's oldest and richest civilizations. Western inventors of drama, philosophy and democracy. Which begs the question, just how old is this great nation?


Huh. Is that all?

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Indonesia: Getting Closer

Instructions for the use of this short story: 1. Read Indonesia: Getting Answers first. 2. Turn off the lights. 3. Play the music. 4. Read with caution.





There are many things in this world that scare me:

·          Monkeys
·         Freeway driving
·         Zip-lining
·         Airplanes
·         Crowds
·         Swimming in the ocean
·         Clowns
·         Toads
·         Commitment
·         Caves

     While this list is by no means exhaustive, it does give you an indication that my fears are both plentiful and varied.

     Most of the time, I can suck it up and do shit anyway. Case in point:

     Here I am suspended from a horrible, horrible zip line.

Right there in the middle.

     Here I am swimming in the ocean.

It's just how I swim. Wanna fight about it?

     Here I am in a previous long-term relationship.

Yup, one of those happy campers is me.

     But, and I have friends who can attest to this, I really suck at caves. I wouldn’t mind them so much if they would just sit still for a moment, but the minute I step inside, the ground begins the undulate, the walls spin around me as if I were the focal point in a zoetrope and the roof draws perilously close. I can’t see straight. I can’t walk straight. And I’m pretty sure the cave is filling up with poison gas and suffocating me.

     “Where are you going?” the boy on the bicycle asked me.

     “To visit with the wise man who lives in the forest.”

     “Where are you coming from?”

     I pointed behind me.

     He nodded, accepting my salutation and then offered only this bit of cryptic advice: “Mind the bats.”

     At the edge of town, I learned what he meant.

Yeah.

Photos courtesy of Gaylen Burnside, Connie Freeland, Elie Wasser and Ryan Marsh (in order of their appearance).

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Mongolia: Getting Localized

     If you get absorbed in the video, just make sure to play it again as you start to read. This is a work of fiction. It should nevertheless be played at full volume.



     The city stopped on a knife blade. Behind me: sounds of Western progress; in front of me: a vision of timelessness. At the borderland where he met me, refusing to cross the threshold, Bold handed me a robe and the reins to a horse. Steam rose like smoke from her nostrils and she stomped the ground twice, ready. This was dragon country.

     Leaving the city behind us, we turned into the plains, riding abreast of one another, talking mostly of how my horsemanship had not improved in a decade. Bold, my brother in the big emptiness, swerved into me, pulled out ahead, jumped and scuffed up plumes of dust. I stayed upright on the horse. Nothing had changed but our ages.

     The walls of the ger had already been peeled away, layer by layer, and bundled up by the time we arrived. All that remained where home had just been was a soft circle of cleanly pressed earth. I greeted my family. We said our hello’s, drank warm horse milk from a thermos and then got moving again.

     We rode all that day, stopping to camp with an uncle, not learning our new address until the second morning. I couldn’t read the land and never discovered the secret to choosing where to set down. Everywhere we lived, it seemed, the entirety of the country was in our backyard.

     No role to play as the family constructed the ger at its new site, I held the baby and watched. They’d given her to me so I would have something to do; so I could feel important, but I knew Sarantsatsral would have been fine left alone. This was her life. She embraced change.

     Her hand closed around my finger and I sat back to watch the family work.



     That night, we celebrated our arriving, and my out-here father, Sukh, tried to teach me how to sing from all the way down inside. You must pull the song up from here, he showed me, all the way down here. He pressed a warm hand into my stomach and laughed uproariously at the strange bear noises I made. I still laugh myself every time I try to throat sing. I’m a stranger in my own voice.

     By morning, I had a job. ‘Eh handed me a bucket and set me loose on the herds.

     I’ve worked around livestock a little before, and have spent years with Western horses. Our horses are subdued. Their personalities have been shattered under the weight of our wills; they’re broken. A Western horse will not lift its head as it walks.

     These horses are different. Out on the steppe, an animal has to think for itself. They’re not pets. They’re not coddled or worried after. They’re left a little feral—a part of the land, a part of the people because people, land and horses are really all the same thing our here.

     In my life, I’d milked a cow only once. She stood dumb as the entire third grade lined up to pull her nipples with our chubby hands. She’d been doped on selective breeding and high-calorie corn-based feed. The milk spilled out of her lifeless, like her eyes.

     It is a different thing entirely to milk a wild horse. This I have learned.

     Step 1: Locate the horses in the pasture. As the pasture is Mongolia, this can take a while.

     Step 2: Convince the herd that you’re not a threat. Cloaking yourself in their scent works nicely. Step 2 will happen automatically if A) you ride them all day and B) you stop bathing, which you will.

     Step 3: Identify a lactating female horse, and one who’s not tapped out. Trial and error.

     Step 4: Place bucket under horse.

     Step 5: If you see this face, stop and run (preferably grabbing the bucket beforehand).

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Mongolia: Getting Back



     Standing between my house and my brother’s, there was a mountain. Monstrous, imperial, it climbed so far up into the sky that it must have been one of the last places you could still spring to the moon from. Back when the moon was closer. Back when we used to skip across the distance likes kids across the creek.

     On Tuesdays, I biked to my brother’s house, right over the mountain. The trail, in a foolish attempt to connect point A and point B with a straight line, folded over the top of it.  

     Picking up speed was the only option. I’d dip beneath the overpass, hands clear of the brakes, riding like hell. My feet cranked against the pedals, my body floated above the seat and my chin jutted forward urging me onwards.

     No speed was ever enough. My legs inevitably began to burn beneath the strain of my furious peddling. I knew it was the wrong thing to do, even then, but I didn’t care. One by one I let the gears slip down, easing the pressure against my legs but making each revolution less and less significant. When there was no lower gear to ease down to, I had to get off the bike and walk it. This is how I always saw the summit.

     I moved away from that town when I was ten. The final score: Mountain 117, Crystal 0.

     Years later, I drifted back into town again and decided that I should tackle the mountain; beat it once and for all. So I borrowed a bike and struck out along the path, towards the house that used to be my brother’s. I didn’t need a map.

     I cascaded into the underpass, peddling like a maniac, ready for the fight. My legs raced under the adrenaline surge. I held my breath. Zipping along, I crested up and over the mountain at a coast. It wasn’t even a hill; it was barely a bump in the road.

     I didn’t take that as a win.

     The past is like that. It gets too big rattling around inside your mind and then you catch up with it and it’s not what you remembered. Not at all.

     I was eight the last time I was in Mongolia. I can recall looking out into the infinity of the country that swept away in all directions and it seemed as big as looking up through the Mongolian night. I saw the edge of the universe from this country, lying backwards on a horse. It made my heart stop.

     The most surprising thing about Mongolia, the second time around, was that I had been right all along. It really did stretch out forever. You could lay the Earth down map-flat on the plateau and you’d wind up with room around the edges.



Sunday, January 23, 2011

Mozambique: Getting Help

Roy Brown - Hard Luck Blues

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     The traffic rolled by like an empty song played on a rubber band stretched tight. I could feel its discordant twang in my guts. The snap was coming.

     Africa-time. No clocks, no bus schedules, no ETDs or ETAs. Time was a heart drum that I couldn’t play. The earth and my body, the sky and my soul are not pounding our feet against the dance floor in step.



     I would say many minutes passed, but they could have been hours or they could have been seconds. Time passed and I stood at the edge of the road as the muck of the city started sucking me under.

     Gray, gray, everything gray.

     “Mother,” a little boy said, shoving sticky hands under my nose, “Give me my pen.”

     I shot the kid a sideways glance. “I’m not your mother and you don’t have a pen. I do, and it’s mine.”

     The words missed by a mile.

     He tried again: “Mother, give me my pen.”

     A “no” snapped quick across my tongue before I had a chance to feel the guilt-knife twist in my side. I have. He does not. I have seen this poverty for a while now and I have not grown numb to it. I have grown sick of it.

     Eyes still blank against the passing cars, I reached down and unzipped my purse but he was gone before I could hand him the tangerine.

What my backpack saw.

     I let the details float to the surface only one at a time. My brain felt fuzzy. There wasn’t enough of me to register the gravity of what I’d done so I just stood there in mud while my backpack made its merry way down to the capital, strapped to the roof of the bus. Speeding along without a hitch, no doubt.

     People buzzed by, moving at 8x.

     My computer was in that backpack. My money, my ATM card, my camera, my clothes.

     Above me, the last of the clouds had dissolved. I stood in the sunshine, but it was discomforting. Small pearls of sweat boiled out of my skin.

     My journal was in that backpack; the one I keep my notes and early drafts in. I’ve been known to pull a journal out of the jaws of a bear so you can bet I’m not about to let a bus run off with one. I just need to think.

Wonder if I could catch up with the bus in a rickshaw.

     Hot in the sun, I took hold of the zipper that ran around my right leg, just above the knee. Making the conversion to shorts would help me think. My mind needed air on my legs. I unzipped my pants.

     A woman a little older than me happened to be walking by at just that moment. When she saw me disrobing from the knee down she froze in her tracks. One outstretched arm reached towards the source of her astonishment. Here, it was not impolite to point, just so long as you used your whole hand to do it.

     Watching her watch me transform pants into shorts I tried to imagine how very strange this must seem to her.

     Then I remembered that I knew exactly how strange it was.

     An ex-boyfriend of mine rushed through the door, late for the Halloween party.

     “Don’t be hasty,” I tried to warn him, but he shooed me away with a butcher knife.

     “I’m a chef.”

     “Will you at least take your clothes off before you cut them apart?”

     A sleeve slipped to the floor.

     “I’m a chef. I know how to handle a knife.”

     Halfway around the pant leg.

     “You’re crazy.”

     “I’m not going to-OW! FUCK!”

     It took us a few minutes to stop the bleeding.

     I must have appeared at least that nutso to the woman, standing on a street corner, ankle deep in mud, taking off the lower half of my pants.

     Once she recovered her lower jaw from the floor and popped her eyeballs back where they belonged, she laughed for a long, long time.

     Deciding to use this episode as an icebreaker, I entreated her, in an impromptu game of charades to help me figure out the luggage mess I was in.



     Oh no!

     “I know!”

     What are you going to do?

     “Know anyone with a car? I have money if we can catch up to the bus.”

     And that’s how I met Lenny and George.