Dance of the Fairies (Part 2)

Welcome to the conclusion of “Dance of the Fairies”. If you haven’t yet, read Part 1 here. Otherwise, enjoy!


The music gradually died down as Cindy, Joey, Shea and Eldan moved toward the center circle. The next thing the children knew, the fairies were all staring at them in awestruck silence as they stood before the queen.

“Your Majesty”, said Shea, bowing deeply alongside Eldan while the children stood wide-eyed behind them, “we found these two humans watching from the outskirts of our sacred field. We beseech your judgment of their permission to stay.”

The queen fluttered down from her high throne, and Shea and Eldan moved aside to allow her passage to the children. Cindy and Joey gazed at her in wonder; though she was considerably smaller than them, they felt humbled in her presence. The great fairy studied them seriously for a minute, then broke into a smile.

“Welcome, children,” she said kindly. “I see you’ve discovered our secret festival. Please tell me your names.”

The children glanced at each other awkwardly before turning back to the fairy. The girl was the first to find her voice.

“C-Cindy.”

“…Joey.”

The queen considered them both for a moment before nodding, never breaking her smile for an instant. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Cindy and Joey. I’m Queen Tianna. Welcome to our magical field!”

“The pleasure is all ours!” Cindy replied. The queen’s kind smile had melted away all her fear.

“Forgive me, Your Majesty,” Eldan spoke up, “but what should we do with these…visitors? You have only to say the word, and Shea and I will readily escort them out.”

Queen Tianna grew serious again. Without taking her eyes off the humans, she fluttered down to lift each of their hands as Shea had done. She held onto their forefingers for a full minute, the silence deafening around them… until at last she smiled once more.

“There’s no need for that, Eldan,” she said sweetly, still gazing intently at Cindy and Joey. “These children are pure of heart. They will be our honored guests tonight!” The queen announced this to the entire field, then lowered her voice again as she addressed the visitors directly. “What do you say, children? Would you like to dance with us?”

“Would we ever!” Cindy exclaimed, then suddenly catching herself, she added with a polite bow, “I mean, it would be an honor, Your Majesty.”

Joey bowed as well, and the entire field of fairies cheered as the music started up again. Immediately, two pairs of fairies carrying a crown of flowers each came forth and placed them lightly on the children’s heads. The two were then escorted toward the center circle, Cindy giggling as she caught sight of Shea triumphantly sticking her tongue out at Eldan.

The rest of the night passed by like a dream. Cindy and Joey twirled together in the light circle to the cheering of the fairies around them. They gleefully lead lines of dancers around the field, clapped and chanted along to the music, and joined hands with the fairies to spin around the great center circle. They even had the honor of joining the final dance with Queen Tianna herself. It was a night they would never forget for as long as they lived.

At last, the night passed away and the morning sun began to glow on the horizon. As the music and dancing finally stopped, the queen fluttered before her guests to share a few final words with them.

“Thank you for joining us tonight, children! You have made this a most magical evening indeed! Know you are always welcome to our full moon festivals. May the Mother Earth always bless you both!”

“Thank you, Your Majesty!” Cindy and Joey exclaimed in unison, grinning and bowing deeply.

The other fairies had already begun to disappear, one by one in little fading balls of light. Shea waved her new friends goodbye, and even Eldan smiled as he disappeared with her. Queen Tianna was the last to vanish, leaving the warmth of her kind smile hanging in the air. The light circle faded away, and before they knew it, Cindy and Joey were standing in the middle of what appeared to be nothing more than an ordinary field at dawn, with no sign that anything magical had ever happened there.

Joey reached up to take the flower crown off his head, and stood staring at it as if in a daze while Cindy started walking back toward the rocks. Timidly, he turned his head up and called to her.

“Cindy?”

Cindy stopped and turned around to face her friend. Joey shuffled his feet awkwardly for a moment, gathering courage as he glanced at his crown, before looking her in the eyes again and speaking up.

“…Do you think we could come back here, at the next full moon?”

A smile spread across Cindy’s face. She walked up to Joey and took his hand in hers.

“It’s a date!”

Joey grinned and squeezed Cindy’s fingers as she replaced the flower crown on his head. Holding hands, the children left the field together, laughing and skipping all the way home. It had been more than a magical evening, a night they knew even then that they would remember for the rest of their lives together. Every full moon from then on would bring about the same cheerful thought: the next dance of the fairies could never come soon enough.

The End

Hope you enjoyed the story! Thanks for reading!

Dance of the Fairies (Part 1)

“What are we looking at?”

Shh!

“But there’s nothing here!”

“There will be! Now be quiet!”

Cindy covered Joey’s mouth with her hand. He brushed it off, but did as she told him nonetheless. The two children huddled closer as they stared over the rocks at the empty field ahead.

“I still don’t get why you brought me here,” Joey whispered after five uneventful minutes.

“You will.” Cindy glanced up at the full moon just beginning to poke through the clouds. “It’s almost time.”

They sat quietly for another several minutes, waiting. Joey opened his mouth, about to complain that it was cold and this was boring and he wanted to go home, but the words never left his throat. Just then, a circle of light appeared in the middle of the field, in the very spot Cindy had pointed out when they arrived.

“C-Cindy?” Joey stammered, suddenly afraid. “W-What’s happening?”

But Cindy didn’t seem to notice her friend cowering beside her. She was too busy grinning as she leaned over the rock for a better view.

“Here they come!”

She quivered with excitement as little balls of light began to appear across the field. One by one, the floating lights materialized into tiny glowing figures with wings. Joey’s eyes grew wide as he stared into the field, unable to believe what he was seeing.

“Are those…?” he gasped. Cindy nodded without taking her eyes off the scene ahead.

“Fairies!”

The fairies all gathered around the circle of light in the middle of the field. One of them, who was slightly brighter than the rest and wore a crown on her head, raised her hands to call for silence, a request immediately respected by all the others. Cindy turned to Joey, who was now leaning over the rock beside her.

“That’s the fairy queen!” she whispered. The two of them watched quietly as the leader of the fairies began to speak.

“My children!” she said in a kind yet authoritative voice. “Tonight, let us give thanks to our Mother Earth for her bounty. Let us praise her, that we may never find ourselves wanting of her generosity. Let her know that we are eternally grateful for her kindness. So sing and be merry, my children! Tonight, we dance!”

The queen raised her hands again and all the fairies cheered. A small group beside her began to bang and strum on tiny instruments, and soon the air was filled with music. Cindy and Joey watched, enthralled, as some of the little glowing figures joined hands and danced around the center circle while others twirled through the air in pairs. It was a sight to take the breath away.

“Aren’t they beautiful?” Cindy sighed dreamily, her head in her hands. Joey nodded without even realizing.

“They really are.”

The children giggled as they watched the fairies dance and sing. Before long, they too found themselves getting caught up in the spirit of the music.

“May I have this dance?” Joey said in a mock grown-up voice as he stepped back and bowed to his friend. Cindy curtsied and waved an imaginary fan.

“I thought you’d never ask!”

The two friends laughed as they imitated the fairies, twirling around in circles until they were dizzy. Then…

“Hey!”

Cindy and Joey froze, their smiles vanishing instantly. They turned around slowly to see two glowing figures floating before them, watching them with wide, pale blue eyes.

“What are you doing here?” one of the fairies asked, his brow raised in suspicion. While Cindy and Joey exchanged awkward looks, the other fairy turned to her companion.

“Don’t frighten them, Eldan!” she said in a much softer tone, taking him by the arm. “They’re not hurting anyone. They’re just children!”

“Human children, Shea,” said the first fairy as he turned to his friend. “You know we don’t allow humans here. What would the queen have to say about this?”

“Why don’t we ask her?”

“You want to take them to the queen?”

“Why not?” Shea smiled. “They clearly like to dance too! I’m sure she wouldn’t mind. She might even be delighted to have them join us!”

Eldan glanced at the nervous children, then turned back to his companion and sighed in defeat. “Fine, if you say so. But if we get in trouble for this…”

“We won’t.” Beaming, Shea fluttered over to Cindy and Joey and extended her hand to them. “It’s okay, don’t be afraid. Come with us! We don’t bite!”

“Speak for yourself,” said Eldan, sparing a piercing look at Joey. The boy drew back at those words, but Shea calmed him with a gentle laugh.

“He’s joking, sweetie. This guy couldn’t hurt a fly if he wanted to!”

The fairy fluttered down between the children and reached out to touch their hands. Dazed, Cindy and Joey stepped forward as Shea led them by their forefingers out from behind the rocks and into the field, Eldan following close behind. They didn’t know what to expect, but of one thing they were certain: the night was about to get far more interesting.

To be concluded next Friday

Too Many Variables

I really thought amplifying DNA would be easy. Molecular biology seemed simple enough in theory: extract, amplify, sequence, analyze. But I had no idea how difficult it would be to work with so many variables.

After my third failed polymerase chain reaction attempt, I started to wonder what I could be doing wrong.

Was I using the right concentrations of each reagent? Buffer at 1X, MgCl2 at 1.5mM, dNTPs at 200µM each?

Were the primers optimized for my DNA template? Had they been designed for the correct gene? Did they have the right length, melting temperatures, GC content?

Were the PCR cycles optimized? Was I using an annealing temperature within a few degrees of the primers’ melting temperatures? Were the denaturation and extension times long enough to assure proper replication of the DNA fragments?

Was the electrophoresis gel being prepared and run correctly? 1% agarose gel with GelRed in TAE buffer, run for about 10V per centimeter between the electrodes?

Or what if – shudder – the problem was in the DNA itself? What if the extraction had failed, and I’d have to start the entire project over from Square One?

No, no, calm down, I told myself. One step at a time. First, eliminate the variables you know aren’t the problem. There’s no reason the extraction should have failed; the quantification returned optimal concentrations of DNA. These are the same universal primers used in countless other studies, specifically designed for the cytochrome-b gene. The thermocycler and the electrophoresis apparatus have already worked before. There’s nothing wrong with the gel because the ladder and primers appear in the UV photos. That’s already five ticks off the checklist.

Now start with a positive control, a sample you know has worked with these primers before. PCR #4: did it fail to amplify along with the others? Yes. Good, then the problem isn’t the DNA.

Next step: new aliquots. Replace the water, the buffer, the MgCl2, the dNTPs, even the primers. Everything must be fresh to minimize contamination. Double-check the concentrations before preparing the mix. PCR #5: still no bands in the gel. No problem; just move on to the next step.

Try altering the reagent concentrations. Use more DNA template, double the primers, increase the amount of MgCl2. PCRs #6-8: nothing. Don’t panic, it’s all part of the process. You’re zeroing in on the problem now.

Adjust the PCR procedure. Increase the number of cycles, raise the annealing temperature in increments of 2ºC, lengthen the initial denaturation and final elongation steps. PCRs #9-12: still nothing. It’s okay, every failure is just another step closer to success. These tears are totally normal; nothing to be ashamed of.

For weeks, I tried everything I could think of. I replaced the reagent aliquots three times. I used half a dozen standard PCR procedures from various troubleshooting references. I ran gradient tests and touchdown tests and hot-start tests. Zero, nothing, zip.

Finally, after over a month of PCR attempts and no results to show for it, I was at my wit’s end. One morning, when I was alone in the lab, I broke down into a sobbing mess. I couldn’t look at the thermocycler anymore, that beast of a machine that I had to work with every day. I felt like a knight facing off against the same dragon over and over, knowing that hours of battling would only get me burnt every single time.

So I resolved to take a break from it all. No more PCRs for a while, not until I could work up the energy to start trying again. Today, I would just sit at the desk and read papers while indulging in a bag of cookies. Stale cookies. Really stale cookies. Seriously, how old were these?

I turned the bag over to check the date on the back…and that was when it hit me. Could it be? Immediately I dropped the bag and ran to the freezer. The stock solutions were stored in the back of the bottom shelf; I searched through them one by one until at last I found what I was looking for, printed clear as day inside the lid of the Taq DNA polymerase box. “Expiration date: Oct 2010.” Of course! No wonder none of my reactions were working: the enzyme was over five years old!

My first grin in weeks spread across my face, and I was suddenly overcome with an urge to shout “Eureka!” I hurried to my professor’s office and told him about the expired reagent. He quickly ordered a new stock and it arrived within two weeks. Sure enough, the next PCR I ran yielded the most beautiful set of bright DNA bands I had ever seen in a gel. I wanted to kiss that UV photo. My very first successful DNA amplification! And it only took two months longer than expected.

Never again will I underestimate the work of a scientist. Molecular biology may seem simple in theory, but having learned my lesson the hard way, next time I’ll be prepared for the challenge of working with too many variables.

Special Delivery (Script)

CHARACTERS
JOANNE
A divorced, middle-aged receptionist. She is lonely and depressed, and has long lost faith in the idea of a better life.
HENRY
A middle-aged deliveryman. He is friendly and very attractive.
MARY
A secretary, and a friend of Joanne’s.

SETTING
Office break room. A water cooler with a stack of plastic cups stands in the middle by a wastebasket and a counter, which holds a sink, a coffeemaker, some mugs, a basket of assorted snacks, and a roll of paper towels. A small square table stands in the center of the room, surrounded by a few wooden chairs. A clock hangs on the wall over the counter.

TIME
Mid-afternoon, the last five minutes of Joanne’s 15-minute break.

ACT I
Scene 1 – Office break room. Now.


ACT I
Scene 1
(Two women in professional attire are chatting in an office break room. Joanne stands next to the water cooler in the middle. Mary stands closer to the door on the stage right. Joanne is drinking coffee from one of the mugs.)

MARY
So then he tries to tell me that his mother’s only staying with him until she finds her own place, but by then the mood is already DOA, you know?

JOANNE
(looks at wall clock)
Uh-huh.

MARY
So what did you do last night?

JOANNE
Oh, you know, just stayed in. Ordered Chinese, went through my mail. By the way, I got my first check today.

MARY
Your first alimony check? That must have been exciting.

JOANNE
You would think.

MARY
Oh, come on! The guy was a jerk; you said so yourself! If you ask me, he should be paying double for putting you through hell all those years.

JOANNE
He was my husband, Mary. And yeah, he was a jerk, but it’s not like it was hell the whole time we were together.

MARY
Just enough at the end for you to leave him.

JOANNE
Exactly: I left him. I don’t want him in my life anymore. That’s why I moved away. I thought I was done with him, but then I got the check in the mail and, I don’t know… it was like he suddenly came back. And now I keep thinking that every month, I’ll be getting a personal reminder in the mail that he’s still around, hanging over my head.

MARY
Don’t stress about it, Joanne. That feeling goes away. You’ll be fine.
(glances at wall clock)
Hey, I gotta get back to work. Mr. Clark wants those papers filed and on his desk before he gets back from his meeting.

JOANNE
All right. I should get back to the front desk too.

MARY
You’ve still got five minutes of break left.

JOANNE
I know, but the temp is new, and if he screws something up, it’ll be my head.

MARY
(shrugs)
Suit yourself. See you later.

(Exit Mary. Joanne places her mug in the sink. A knock sounds at the door on the stage left. Joanne turns around as a good-looking man enters, wearing a brown uniform and holding a medium-sized cardboard box in his arms. Sandwiched between his left arm and the box is a clipboard.)

HENRY
Excuse me? I have a package here for Clark & Walker Importers.

(Joanne doesn’t react, staring at the man. Henry hesitates, then clears his throat.)

HENRY (continued)
This is the right floor, right? I can’t seem to find the front desk.

JOANNE
(snapping out of her “trance”)
Oh, yes! Yes, this is Clark & Walker. Um, I can sign for that. I’m the receptionist.

HENRY
Oh, good. Thank you.

JOANNE
(looks Henry up and down)
Would you like some water? I know the elevator’s out of order. It must have been a long walk up the stairs.

HENRY
(smiles)
OK, yes, thank you.

(Henry walks to the middle of the room to place the box and clipboard on the table. Joanne turns around to fill a plastic cup with water from the water cooler. She turns back and bumps into Henry, spilling the water onto his shirt and the box.)

JOANNE
Oh my gosh! I’m so sorry!

HENRY
(wiping at his shirt with his hands)
No, no, it’s all right, really!

(Joanne puts the cup on the counter, then takes the roll of paper towels and places it on the table. She and Henry start ripping off sheets and using them to dry Henry’s shirt and the box.)

JOANNE
I’m really sorry…
(pauses to read the name tag on the front of his shirt)
…Henry.

HENRY
(laughs)
It’s OK! Really, it’s fine.

(Henry pulls up his sleeves and reaches for the paper towels again. Joanne stops to stare at his tattooed arms. Henry notices and pauses.)

HENRY (continued)
You like ’em? This cross here…
(points at his left wrist)
…I’ve had since I was 21. Always been a newborn Christian. Jesus helped me through a lot of bad times. And this…
(holds up his right arm so Joanne can read the two words tattooed there)
…”Carpe Diem”. Means “Seize the day” in Latin. Got that one the week after running into an ex-girlfriend who told me she was engaged. Kept thinking I should have proposed when I had the chance. After that, I told myself I’d never make that mistake again. Seize the day, you know?

(Joanne smiles as Henry reaches for the paper towels again. The two finish drying the box and Henry’s shirt.)

JOANNE
(timidly)
You still want that water?

HENRY
Sure, long as it comes in the cup this time.

(Joanne chuckles and picks up the cup again to refill it at the water cooler. She gives the cup to Henry, who hands her the clipboard to sign, along with a pen from his front pocket. While Joanne reaches out to take it, Henry stares at her fingers.)

HENRY (continued)
Tan line?

JOANNE
I’m sorry?

HENRY
On your finger. Is that a tan line?

JOANNE
(glances at her left ring finger)
Oh! Yes, it is. I’m recently divorced. Just signed the final papers last month.

HENRY
I’m sorry to hear that.

JOANNE
Don’t be; it’s fine.
(signs the paper on the clipboard)
He wasn’t so bad at first. He just… wasn’t the guy I thought he was. Didn’t respect me, put me down, made me feel like my dreams were pointless. You know how it is: one day, you wake up and think, “I’m done with this.” So I left. Moved to a new town, got a job as a receptionist, and that was that.
(looks up at Henry, suddenly embarrassed)
I’m sorry! I’m rambling. You don’t care about any of this stuff.

HENRY
(in awe)
No, no! I admire that, honest!

(Joanne offers the pen back to Henry. He pauses as his fingers close around it and touch her fingers.)

HENRY (continued)
(suddenly bold)
I think I’d like to see you again. You wanna get coffee sometime?

JOANNE
(smiles timidly)
That would be lovely.

(Joanne takes the pen back and scribbles on the bottom of the clipboard. Henry drinks the rest of his water and tosses the cup in the wastebasket. Joanne hands the pen and clipboard back to Henry. He turns the clipboard right-side up to read the writing on the bottom.)

HENRY
Joanne…
(looks up at Joanne with a smile)
All right, I’ll give you a call later this week.

JOANNE
Sounds great! I look forward to it.

HENRY
It was nice meeting you, Joanne. Take care now.

JOANNE
Thanks. You too, Henry.

(With a friendly wave, Henry walks back to the door on the stage left, clipboard under his arm. Exit Henry. Joanne picks up the box and walks to the door on the stage right with a smile. Exit Joanne.)

(Blackout.)


This script is the second half of a two-part writing exercise I gave myself a few years ago. The exercise is to write the same story twice: once as a narrative with no direct dialogue, and once as a script for a stage play. The idea is to explore the differences between narrative and pure dialogue, in order to get a feel of how writing in one format differs from writing in the other. I hope you enjoy what I’ve written. Thanks for reading!

Be sure to check out last Friday’s post to read this story again as a narrative!

(Note: I apologize for the flawed script formatting in this post. The piece was actually formatted correctly in my word processor, but for some reason, I couldn’t adjust it properly in the WordPress editor. Oh well, I hope you enjoy it anyway! Thank you!)

Special Delivery (Narrative)

Joanne stood idly by the water cooler in the break room, staring blankly at the opposite wall as she held a small plastic cup filled with water in her right hand while using her left to lean against the counter. She sighed as she brought the cup to her lips, her thoughts drifting off into the same disheartening flashback of her life story that they always found at this hour. How exactly had she ended up here? She’d had such high hopes in her youth. A 20-year-old Joanne had dreamed of becoming a successful businesswoman, of traveling across Europe, of marrying a decent man with whom she could someday spend a golden anniversary. Now twice that idealistic age, she found herself divorced, lonely, and answering phones for a living. What had become of her life?

The middle-aged receptionist checked her watch. Her break was almost over. She might as well return to her desk; Heaven forbid the temp should screw something up and she would have to take the heat for it. After all, what else did she have left to hold on to but her menial job?

Just as she threw her empty cup in the wastebasket, however, there came a knock at the open door.

Joanne looked up to see a handsome man stepping into the break room. He was tall and well built, probably in his mid-to-late thirties. He sported a plain brown uniform, and in his arms he carried a large box, no doubt containing the office supplies the staff had ordered a week ago.

The man asked to whom exactly he had been sent to deliver the box. Joanne smiled awkwardly, suddenly flustered. What nice eyes this man had. She had never noticed how attractive hazel eyes could be, almost like little topaz stones. After a few quiet seconds, the deliveryman repeated his question, and Joanne snapped out of her trance to answer that she was the receptionist and she could sign for the package.

The man nodded once with a smile and entered the room. Joanne asked if he would like some water, and turned around to face the water cooler after he accepted her offer. Unfortunately, she didn’t notice how quickly he made it to the table to unload the box; the moment she turned around, the two collided, and the gentleman’s outfit was splashed with water spilt from the cup.

The woman apologized profusely for her clumsiness and quickly reached for the paper towels on the countertop as the man insisted it was quite all right. Joanne helped him to wipe most of the excess water off the box and his shirt, and as she dabbed at the brown fabric covering his shoulder, she caught sight of the name tag sown into the clothing over his chest. Henry. What a perfectly nice name, well suited for such a nice man.

Henry grabbed another paper towel, pulling his sleeves up a little as he wiped his hands. That was when Joanne caught sight of a pair of tattoos, one on each of his arms. The left arm had a plain evangelical cross over the wrist, while the right arm bore a Latin phrase: “Carpe diem”.

The man smiled at the sight of the woman looking curiously at his tattoos. Seize the day, that’s what it meant. He had been trying to live his life by those words ever since he found out an ex-girlfriend he once loved was marrying another man. Maybe he should have proposed to her when he had the chance. As for the cross, it had been there for 15 years, since he was 21, as a constant reminder of his unfaltering faith in Jesus. After all, what was life without faith? The receptionist smiled, fascinated.

Joanne offered Henry some more water. He accepted, on the condition that this time it come inside the cup. She chuckled. A handsome face and a good sense of humor. How charming! The woman handed the refilled plastic cup to the man, who gladly took it from her in exchange for the clipboard holding the paper she needed to sign to receive the package.

The deliveryman handed the receptionist a pen, catching a glimpse of her hand as she reached for it. No ring? Not possible; she was an attractive woman. A closer look, however, revealed a faint tan line where a wedding band must have been for some years.

Henry inquired about his discovery. Joanne blushed. Yes, she was recently divorced, having only just signed the final papers last month. Her ex-husband didn’t respect her enough, so she explained. Turned out he wasn’t the man she thought he was. He put her down, made her feel like her dreams were hopeless fantasies, so one day she left him. Moved to a new city, got a simple job as a receptionist, and that was that.

Suddenly realizing she was rambling to a complete stranger, the receptionist hastily apologized, but the deliveryman smiled brightly. It must have taken a lot of courage for her to turn her life around like that in the hopes of finding something better. Carpe diem.

Joanne handed the pen back to Henry. He paused as his fingers closed around the pen and touched hers. Carpe diem… He might not see this woman again, but he was certain he wanted to. Maybe she’d like to get coffee sometime? Joanne laughed, a cheery melodious sound she hadn’t heard herself make in a long time. Yes, that would be lovely. She eagerly took the pen back to write her phone number at the bottom of the clipboard, then handed everything back to the deliveryman.

Henry tossed out the empty cup and smiled as he took the clipboard and pen, looking down at the former to read the name scribbled in neat cursive handwriting. Joanne, a pretty name to match a pretty face. With a polite nod and farewell, he was out the door. Still blushing profusely, Joanne picked up the package and carried it back to her desk with a broad grin on her face, somehow feeling that a lot more than a box full of office supplies had been brought into her life that day.


This short story is the first half of a two-part writing exercise I gave myself a few years ago. The exercise is to write the same story twice: once as a narrative with no direct dialogue, and once as a script for a stage play. The idea is to explore the differences between narrative and pure dialogue, in order to get a feel of how writing in one format differs from writing in the other. I hope you enjoy what I’ve written. Thanks for reading!

Be sure to check in next week to read this story again as a scene in a play!

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