Dancing on the Brink of the World is a collection of short stories that playfully weave through the twelve signs of the zodiac. From fiction to creative non-fiction to autobiographical accounts, the interconnected tales weave a tapestry evoking archetypal truth in a simple, universal language. Here are two story excerpts.
The Human Race
A Taurus Story
Anna gets up from the ground and takes a deep breath. The spring air is thick with the sounds and smells of the land. Bumblebees buzz through lavender bushes in their mission to pollinate the world. A lazy breeze generates just enough motion for a quiet concerto of creaking branches and rustling leaves. Hummingbirds careen over treetops and moles poke their heads out of the ground. Organic fumes from a mix of food scraps and horse manure rise from the ripe and ready compost pile. Ahead lies nothing but fertile earth.
With bare hands covered in mud Anna wipes a pearl of sweat from her face, leaving earth-toned smears on her rosy cheeks. She leans on her shovel and squints into three open rows of German Butterball potatoes waiting to be tucked in like sleeping children. Behind the budding raspberry bushes the tomato seedlings stretch their burgeoning stems toward the sunlight, in steady anticipation of turning from tender flowers to crisp green fruit, then to juicy red tomatoes ready for picking. Double rows of soy bean pods twinkle in the sunlight, as if to announce their high fiber and protein content and their suitability to be made into biodiesel fuel. Hidden in the shadows of a walnut tree a group of dormant wild tulips patiently await their turn to blossom. Life is simple.
Exhaling slowly, she can feel the steady pulse of the earth, connecting her body to the source and inviting her thoughts to abandon the race… The race wasn’t just between the runners. It was an event that had to be carefully planned years in advance.
Accommodations and food for 35,000 runners from all around the world. Negotiations with Seattle City Hall to close streets, provide security, and set up facilities. Changing insurance policies, reflecting the race’s growing popularity and associated risks. Courting potential sponsors and keeping in touch with existing advertisers. Trademark issues. Poster design and printing. Merchandise. Health Department. Entertainment. Cleanup.
It was all Anna’s baby. From the humble beginnings of jogging through town with her college freshman friends every first Saturday of the month to the first time she hired outposts providing lunch and Gatorade, Anna was the rock that held it all together. She had turned her passion for health and working out into her bread and butter. In the process she had shaped the lives of countless people whose feedback gave testimony to how their negative body images had been transformed by the race. Indeed, drawing from her own childhood experience of constant teasing for being chubby and slow (the neighborhood kids in her native El Paso called her “Gordo,” the Fat One; her last name was Gordon), she was determined to build an event in which everyone would come out a winner. Crossing all age, weight, economic, and cultural lines gave the race such widespread appeal—distinguishing it from other cities’ marathons populated by skinny-legged professional athletes—that its name was a cinch from the get-go: The Human Race.
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Gong the Rat
An Aquarius Story
Once upon a time, in the back alleys and sewers of a booming twenty-first century metropolis, there lived a group of rats that was tired of being shunned as disease-carrying parasites. Hard-working and well-intentioned, they had had enough of being trapped and poisoned in their own homes, made the scapegoats of modern man’s wasteful ways. They reached the end of their rope when one day, in the name of sanitation and progress, the city council passed an ordinance calling for the “relocation” of all rats.
Thus began their search for a safer and more hospitable place to settle. At first, a group of pioneering rats set out to look for other, friendlier cities to call home. They traveled far, only to find that conditions were equally squalid and people just as unwelcoming elsewhere. As their search yielded no satisfactory results, the mood among the pack began to turn desperate. Realizing that they wouldn’t be welcome anywhere above ground the rats discussed the possibility of living underground.
In a backbreaking effort the pioneers dug down into the rugged and uncharted territories below the surface of the earth. Once they had passed below the deepest building foundations and sewers their arduous journey took them through a dark and dense mass of loam. Farther down they went, through tangled roots and stifling layers of mud. Finally, battered and famished, they came to an aquifer whose caves, rocks and water supply were vaster than anything they had ever seen before. Mesmerized by its seemingly endless resources, they decided that this would be the perfect place to settle.
Word of the new underworld spread quickly, and soon a rapid influx of rats who smelled wealth and security led to the creation of a new society. It was the first time in history that rats of all backgrounds could crawl about freely throughout an established territory, with unprecedented opportunities of sideways and downward mobility. The Rodent Republic of Ratland quickly became a model civilization envied in sewers and drains above.
Like any civilization, the Rodent Republic had rules and laws that served to keep peace and order among its ratizens and to protect the freedom of each individual rat. Most of them were commonsense laws, like bans on stealing, lying and discriminating against one another. However, they were all dwarfed by one guiding principle, the mother of all Ratland laws: the Ratriot Act. The Ratriot Act had been drafted by the founders to keep ratizens from going above ground and seeing the light, as well as to keep unwanted intruders from coming in; they figured that this would prevent disorder and disease caused by unnecessary exchanges with a filthy, degenerate outside world.
Over many generations, the Ratriot Act had become so ingrained in Ratland culture that no one ever questioned it. The thought of leaving Ratland never occurred to anyone. Sure, there were grim folk tales of rats who had accidentally slipped out of the ground and immediately gone blind—bedside stories for baby rats about the dire consequences of seeing the light. But leaving the rat hole was never really an issue, not because it was the law, but because rats were quite content to stay underground.
Of course, every society has its malcontents and troublemakers, and every now and then an unruly little rat would come along, wondering what was going on above Ratland. Gong was one such rat. He had been raised in a small Pack Rat family, the Rodent Republic’s middle class. Pack Rats believed strongly in hard work and downward mobility. Their dream was to dig a deeper hole for themselves.
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