“Remember the Ifrit”

I sold my second story, and the thrill is just as strong as the first. The Cast of Wonders podcast called for Young Adult science fiction/fantasy stories that evoke a sense of wonder — in 500 words or less. And since this is a podcast, I got to hear my words read by a professional voice actor (and Hugo award-winning author), which is pretty cool.

This is a short one. I hope you enjoy “Remember the Ifrit.” (If you’re in a hurry, my story starts around the 6:00 mark on the audio.)


Writer’s Endnotes

An image that stuck with me from childhood was from an episode of Cosmos, where Carl Sagan hypothesized what kind of life might exist in the atmosphere of a gas giant planet like Jupiter. (I’m pleased to see that the segment clip is up on YouTube.) It was only after I’d written the first draft of “Ifrit” that I realized I was stealing from Carl Sagan. Let’s call it a tribute, instead.


When the family went on a whale-watching cruise off Whidbey Island in Washington State, I resolved to experience it with my daughter, directly, with no camera involved. But my resolve faltered when the Humpback we’d been following began speeding just under the water’s surface. I had gotten my phone out of my pocket and started taking a video when she breached out of the water and then fell with a tremendous SPLASH. I never got her in frame — I wanted to see it with my naked eye — but in the audio, one can hear the family shouting and whooping, and mine was the loudest voice on the boat. That cruise, and sharing the experience with my daughter, was the first thing I thought of when I began considering topics of a story with a “sense of wonder.”

My cousin-in-law did manage to take a perfect picture of the whale, so I got the direct experience and a memento. I think it’s interesting that it’s not the photo that best recalls that sense of wonder for me, but the audio. The picture represents what I saw; the audio captures how I felt. For the story, I felt that both the experience and its recollection were important, along with the curious modern impulse to interpose devices between ourselves and a wonder in hopes of being able to re-experience it at will. And, of course, the power of an experience shared was the most important of all.

From The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows

rückkehrunruhe – the feeling of returning from an immersive trip only to notice it fading rapidly from your awareness


Chasing Coffee

You can chase that perfect cup of coffee your entire adult life. It exists in your mind like a Platonic Form. It takes you back to that café, the one where you stopped because you had time to kill, and you managed to snag a table outside in the morning sun. You had that cup, and then another, not because you were trying to wake up, but to bolster your claim on the city’s best outdoor seat. You imagined writers finding inspiration and putting pen to paper in a seat like this, but the sun made you lazy, and you settled for reading the inspired words of others.

An impulsive swagger made you order your coffee black, but after a couple of sips you added just enough milk and sweetener to enjoy as though no one was watching because of course, no one was. The adjustment made you pay attention to the coffee’s flavor and the aroma, and the warmth spreading through your chest from within. That’s when you ordered your second cup and slowed yourself down.

Over the years you’ve tried different shops, different blends. You’ve had cups that are, if you’re being fair, superior on every measurable dimension than the one you’re chasing. But they remain your fall-back, your second-best. Sometimes you fear that if you ever found that original cup, it wouldn’t hold up to your romanticized memory. Your tastes have changed. You’ve changed, and as the saying goes, you can’t go home again. And that’s when it hits you. It’s not about the coffee. All this time, you’ve been chasing a moment.