The radio coughed and sputtered. Perhaps, muttered. So many rhyming sounds in the language. The vehicle, perhaps an automobility, exhaled too. I prayed it wouldn’t expire. I needed it for two more hours. Without tunes my creative juices evaporate. It’s not an affliction. Just an atmospheric and metabolic reality. My people thrive on sound. I was sent, by the planet Ghul, on an intelligence-gathering mission. Never expected such a challenge, but here I am. Back for Day 2 of an ice sculpture contest and a chance for an Earthly win.
Luckily, I found a prime spot. Within earshot of both tunes and time. Also, a clean escape. Put the vehicle in reverse and sail away. Of course, I’d need liquid to do so.
I was ready. Three paces North. Two East. My flippers, covered in what a local clerk termed canvas Keds, tested the Earthly soil. Perfect. I had placed third in Round One of the county (or country, I am still a bit flummoxed with the vernacular) fair’s ice sculpting contest. Each of the top five winners were invited back for Round Two.
I hadn’t planned on winning. Had only come for notes. A sort of ethnographic research reality. As I prepared for my Earthly adventures, I had assumed county fairs were carnivalistic. Had I known of the stakes, I’d have saved the dollars spent on yesterday’s chicken dinner. The gas tank now near empty. The tunes a necessity.
The dinner was surprisingly delightful. Reminded me of a Ghul-cooked meal. A whole roasted chicken, a side of slaw, and corn. Colors nicely complementary. Seasoning similarly so. I kept the chicken leg bone. Whisks and whispers of good luck, though my people aren’t superstitious. Only supernatural. At the time, I thought of my pet who had remained on Ghul. Once I made sculpting finals, I reconsidered and stashed the skinny bone in my pocket.
Round 2 was scheduled to begin in forty minutes.
I scanned the surroundings. Clear. Then removed a folded paper from my pocket.
The rules appeared simple.
As I considered just how careful, conspicuous, and creative I wished to be, a pickup pulled up on my right and momentarily muffled my tunes. A man-boy (bear with me, I am learning) disembarked, along with a rubber tool kit.
“Hey, girl. What’s cooking?” the man-boy, dressed in corduroy overalls, asked.
“Yes, Sir,” I replied, eager to adopt Earth’s conventions.
He blushed, then continued. “Sorry, Ma’am. I never meant to offend. I should have realized.”
“Realized what?” I asked. “I’m Ghul.”
“Cool?” he responded, then cut to the chase. “Good luck,” he offered and stuck out his right hand.
“Good luck,” I replied and curtsied. Then added, “I’m not cool. I’m hot.”
He appeared confused by my generosity, or is it grandiosity. His mouth opened, then closed. His left hand held a pipe that he then placed in his mouth. Puffed something called smoke. Of a scent decidedly neither sweet nor savory.
“Pick your poison,” he said. Then shrugged and emptied his supplies on the plot of grass next to mine.
Young clerks readied large blocks of ice on gingham-covered square tables. One per candidate. No, sorry, contestant.
An old, perhaps older, man-boy with a bull horn approached.
“Attention,” he yelled. “Are you ready?”
A sea of “Ready” replies emerged from bodies I knew not capable of such gusto.
I said nothing, though wondered about their confidence and general state of readiness. Truth be told, the lot appeared irregular and irresponsible. Buckets scattered everywhere. Nonetheless, I straightened and nodded.
Ready. Set. Go. I had practiced this line for my mission.
Supplies. Check. Chisel. Bucket. Ghul-Juice. Check. Notebook. Check.
All appeared in order. Another contestant arrived, to my left. An oddly shaped vehicle – no top – with a most unusual chap (or is it chump) dressed in what they termed denim. I myself acquired a set of two-legged accoutrements from the local store. The vehicle played loud tunes, for which I was grateful.
Suddenly, the horn buzzed. We were off, but not running.
The sun had risen. It was hot. I looked up, wondering if I might see my planet. No.
I focused on the ice.
Chaps to my right and left worked busily. They were losing water. Bands and beads formed on the forehead.
I offered them some Ghul-Juice (our specialty). Never imagined the farm-based chain of events (or is it harm-based) it could cause.
As they sipped, they sank then slumped into the plush grass.
No one noticed their predicament. Everyone busy. Hard at work or hardly working, hard to tell. Perhaps envious.
A small bunny sat and watched.
“Why the poison?” the bunny asked.
“Poison? It’s Ghul-Juice. Our passion. A nutritious and delicious mix of vitamin G, H, U, and L,” I replied, then offered a sip.
I wasn’t concerned about the temporary pause. A Ghul-esta. We are a peaceful people. Poison for us is no more than a shot of hoisin sauce.
The soft animal drank. Then sank. Then slept.
Next, a small mouse inquired. I offered juice. It too sank.
By then, others had started to watch.
The man with the bull horn approached. I was concerned, but they focused only on my handiwork.
My carving — a replica of Ghul’s primary moon.
The man cleared his throat. “We have our winner!” he exclaimed, then handed me an enormous medal.
I accepted the token, and promptly fell into a puddle of my own juice. My denim coveralls formed a heap at the base of my sculpture.
Somehow, I overlooked my people’s allergy (adversity) to metals. Perhaps medals.
With quick thinking, I slid to the car. Notes secure. Then, I drank, gurgled, slurped more Ghul-Juice, and set the vehicle in reverse.
Poseidon knows, poison is as poison does. Pick your passion. Pick your poison, carry on, I sang to the vehicle’s tune as I morphed, then made the most of the melting liquid to set sail.
Jen Schneider is an educator who lives, writes, and works in small spaces throughout Pennsylvania.