Monday, June 28, 2010


Two blogs in one day!

I wrote the following story for day 9 of the Clarion West Write-a-Thon early this morning before hopping into the car and driving three hundred miles to Pittsburgh.

Today's story was commissioned for Carlene Chrumka by her husband Bruce.  Happy birthday, Carlene!

Michael Swanwick

If you absolutely had to one of only two survivors of an airplane crash, there are worse people to have for the other survivor than Carlene Chrumka.  When she was done setting the bone and lashing together my broken arm, she said, “The radio’s broken and, not to speak ill of the dead, but the pilot went way off his flight path trying to outrun that storm.  So there’s no point staying with the plane.  We’ll have to hike our way out.”

Swiftly she went through the plane, assembling two bedrolls and some survival materials.  She took every match and lighter she could find, stripped wire from the electrical system “to make snares,” she said, and found some fishing gear in the luggage.  Then we set off.

“We go downhill,” she explained.  “When we come to a stream, we follow it.  It’ll lead us to a river and the river will lead us to the sea.  If we haven’t come on a house by then, we’ll build three bonfires and wait for a ship to go by.  Three pillars of smoke is a universal cry for help.  That’ll bring rescue.”

As we walked, I said, “How do you know all this?”

She shrugged modestly.  “I work at the Enviros Wilderness School Association.  I picked up a few things on the job.”

We walked easily, without pushing ourselves.  When we’d made it down below the tree line, Chrumka occasionally stopped to dig up a tuberous root (“Starch,” she explained) or a handful of small leaves (“Seasoning”).  By sunset, we’d found a stream, made camp, and she’d pulled several trout out of the water.  Then she put together the ingredients she’d been gathering all day and gently grilled the trout on a kind of grid she made out of green twigs.

“This is astonishing!” I said.  “It’s some of the best food I’ve ever had.”

“Well, cooking is kind of a hobby with me,” Chrumka said.  “You pick up a few tricks over the years.”

After dinner, she made showed me how to make a kind of mattress out of pine boughs, and we fell asleep on opposite sides of the campfire.  Luckily, the weather was mild.

In the middle of the night, I woke suddenly to find the camfire had died down to coals and Chrumka’s hand was over my mouth.  There were strange, stealthy noises in the darkness that didn’t sound natural.  “Ninjas!” she whispered.  “Canadian Ninjas.”

I made a face that said, as clear as words:  “What?!”

“It’s a long story.”  Chrumka’s eyes gleamed in the darkness.  Stealthily, she picked up her walking stick and held it in a way that looked convincingly martial.  “Fortunately, I’ve taken anti-ninja training.  So I’ve picked up few tricks that should come in handy.”



Rich Baldwin said...

Canadian ninjas are the best ninjas; not only are they invisible, but most people don't even believe that they exist.

Bruce said...

Thanks, Michael, that was terrific! Carlene thoroughly enjoyed your story, and it's making the rounds at Enviros.

You put in mind of the ninja convention:

Michael Swanwick said...

I'm glad she liked it, Bruce. Particularly since anybody with survival training knows that the characters really should have stayed with the plane. But of course for the sake of the story . . .

I assume there's some really sordid story behind the Canadian ninjas and why they'd be attacking people who've done them no harm. Maybe some day I'll figure it out.