Science Fiction Bugs

A full home-work day and Bobbi was making frustrating slow progress on her projects. Deadlines were loose, distant or non-existent, so the crisis existed only within her own mind – yet, there it was.

The conversation with Georgia kept running through her mind. Magical tent-worms living in a world of sentient bugs. Or, maybe, it was a universe populated with sentient insect and insect-like creatures. The more she thought about it, the more she liked the possibilities this science fiction, alternate universe presented.

Georgia’s ideas were firmly rooted in fairy tales and fantasy-genre ideas, so Bobbi was reasonably confident she wasn’t in danger of stealing her student’s work. Opening her idea journal, she sketched, wrote and played with the idea while sitting on her porch, watching the flies, wasps and bees buzz through the thick almost-summer heat.

After a while she settled on one strong character, returned to her computer, opened a new document and let the character and her world unfold in whatever manner they wished.

Worm Magic

“Do you have plans for the summer?” Bobbi asked as she walked through the orchard with Georgia following.

“Not really.” Georgia replied. “Chores. Homework. The usual.”

“Homework?” Bobbie asked. “Isn’t school out?”

“Wild Raccoon school is never out.” Georgia shrugged.

It’s not? Bobbi was certain this was something she should already know. She did her best to cover both surprise and confusion. “Anything new or fun at school?”

“We go outside more.” Georgia replied. “I have to write a report on weeds you eat.”

“Any favorites?”

“Favorites?”

“Weeds.”

“Oh,” Georgia gave this some serious consideration. “I like cattails but I think I’m going to write about dandelions.”

“Interesting choice,” Bobbi replied while walking a slow circle around one of the oldest trees at the far end of the orchard. Tent worms. Everywhere. Crap.

“What are those?” Georgia asked.

“The forces of evil incarnate,” Bobbi muttered without thinking. Glancing over her shoulder, she noticed Georgia’s full attention was now on the worms. “They’re caterpillars.” Bobbi revised. “Native to North America and fond of eating ALL of the leaves on fruit trees.”

“All of them?” Georgia replied, eyes wide.

“Well, most, anyway,” Bobbi sighed.

“Are they going to eat the entire orchard?”

“Not this year.” Bobbi replied. “I thought I got all of the nests but, obviously, I missed one. There will be a lot more next year.”

“How do you get rid of them?”

“Locate the nest, cut the branch off the tree and burn it.”

“What does the nest look like? Do they turn into butterflies?”

“Like a giant, out of control, spider’s web and they turn into moths.”

“Are they magical?”

“Uh…”

“I think they must be, if they live in a spider web house when they’re babies and then become caterpillars that turn into moths.”

“Ok, I’ll give you that, but…” Bobbi paused a moment, considering.

“But what?”

“They can be magic in stories. They are not allowed in the orchard. Our trees need their leaves. Bringing them back here, to create a secret home, is not OK.”

Georgia looked like she’d just be caught with her hands in the cookie jar.

Bobbi laughed. “They also live in other kinds of trees. Probably crawled over from the forest.” Bobbi waved in the general direction of the wildlife preserve bordering this end of the farm. Reaching into her backpack, she pulled out a package of sticky bands and started attaching them to the infested tree.

“What are those?” Georgia asked.

Bobbi explained how sticky bands worked and let Georgia attach a few to neighboring trees.

“Well, that’s that.” Bobbi said, picking up her backpack.

“That’s it?” Georgia asked. “That’s all we’re going to do?”

“For now.”

As they walked along the outer edge of the orchard, examining the trees, Georgia watched for worms and excitedly pointed out at least a dozen other kinds of bugs, only three of which Bobbi knew.

By the time they were finished, Georgia had a list of bugs she intended to look up,  determined to bring a bug jar on their next visit to the orchard and was already knee deep into developing a story about magical-worm-something-or-other.

It was a good afternoon.

Mint Tea and Wildflowers

The corn field was covered in short stalks. Each one seemed to be stretching it’s way to the sun, until the wind blue and send them into an awkward waving, flapping dance. Sweet corn might be an extremely popular crop, and a necessary food item both on and off the farm, but it’s a plant designed for utility, not beauty.

Bobbi carefully sipped her tea, discovered the temperature had dropped below lip-burning and enjoyed a small gulp. Freshly picked mint sweetened with sugar made from last year’s sugar-beets. It was strong and it was better than every single cup of winter-weather tea combined. Fresh picked, aromatic, simple pleasure in a ceramic cup.

The wind tossed the corn about, stronger than before, and Bobbi looked to the sky for signs of a storm. Clouds were moving in and the sun was going down, making the clouds a fast moving grey, reflecting the fiery orange of the sunset. If a storm was on the way, chances were good it would hold off for another hour or so.

The corn calmed down and Bobbi returned to contemplating it’s utilitarian attractiveness. Nothing fancy, flattering or unnecessary about corn. Just a study stalk, topped with loads of seeds, protected by a handful of leaves. It was the plant world’s example of extreme simplicity.

Corn flowers, on the other hand, were examples of sheer beauty, Bright blue flowers growing amidst the straight-stalked corn. They were stunningly beautiful and Bobbi truly wished a patch of them were growing right here, in front of the corn field, where she would sit and stare at a patch of stunningly beautiful flowers while drinking ultra-fresh mint tea.

She mentioned this desire at a community meeting, just as the winter showed signs of truly leaving them along for a few months. Some people laughed and others tried to sound supportive, but everyone was in agreement on one thing – if you want flowers, you have to plant and care for them yourself.

Bobbi did want flowers, but she had to many trees to care for, chores to complete, writing projects to finish…the list was depressingly long. Flowers simply were not a priority.

Luckily, Mother Nature did not entirely agree. The apple trees were in full bloom and Bobbi spent the day simply immersed in the beauty of falling petals mixed with the lovely, soft, delicious scent of apple flowers. On the way home, she found several early-blooming wildflowers, all of them joyously healthy and, therefore, stunning.

Closing her eyes, Bobbi tried to imagine what mother nature would look like, were she a human woman, and then imagined asking for corn flowers – if it weren’t to much trouble. It was neither a proper prayer nor a magic spell, but it made Bobbi smile. After all, since nature was currently inclined towards the loveliness of petal-bearing plants, making a request couldn’t hurt.

Drinking deeply from her now-perfect temperature tea, Bobbi returned to gazing at the corn. It was a perfect ending to an above-average day.

Farmers Market

The first day of the farmers market was filled with expectation, excitement and disappointment. The Wild Raccoon had a wild plants, wild mushrooms, farmed mushrooms, dandelion wine, goat milk, goat cheese, meat and a few jars of honey.

Comparatively speaking, the Wild Raccoon was simply bursting with produce. Most of the other farmers had jars of honey, jars of jelly, and lists of produce expected to arrive later in the year.

An Amish family, whose booth represented an entire Amish community, was equally full with homemade pasta, quilts, breads, jars of jelly and honey.

Practically everyone had honey.

There were a very small number of customers, most of whom were looking for tomato plants, hostas, flowers and other things for their yards and backyard gardens. Three greenhouses, the local master gardeners society and one CSA made a point of preparing for the summer gardens. After July 1st, the CSA would return with produce for members-only. One of the greenhouses would also return, with pots of flowers for sale- and racks of cards describing services offered to people planning weddings, funerals, birthdays, and anything else that might involve a lot of people, catering, and some form of extravagant party.

Bobbi sat in a folding chair and watched people milling around. A few regulars stopped to say hi, some neighboring farmers chatted about the usual things, and the kids providing the music clumsily clawed their way through a ‘performance experience’ under the watchful eye of parents and music instructors.

In July, the market would be crowded, the music would be lively and near-professional, and the produce would be in large supply. Somehow, the launch of the market always felt more like a dress-rehearsal, with the actual performance occurring several weeks later. Bobbi had religiously visited opening day at the farmers market for many years before joining the Wild Raccoon. Even while living in large metropolitan areas, she would seek out the market and browse the booths in the cool spring air.

It was the moment when she felt…really felt….the change from winter to spring. It was wonderful and anticlimactic. Every time, she would leave, empty-handed, thinking the market should be something bigger, more vibrant, filled with people. Something truly marking the passage of the season and the anticipation of markets to come.

Sitting in her chair, watching people interact, she wondered if markets used to be places where farms hired summer help and made deals with other farms and local businesses.

Probably.

Yet, it wasn’t the job fair atmosphere that was missing, it was the oh-thank-gawd-winter-is-over celebration. It was the release of energy that comes from finally being free of cold weather confinement. Live music and old fashioned dances. Brightly colored clothes. Showing off…

A violin hit a particularly ear-splitting note as the kids finished their concert and Bobbi flinched, despite sincere efforts to mask her reaction. The crowd of relatives and fellow students clapped, took photos, and started milling-around, making small talk and generally breaking up to leave.

Ah well.

Perhaps, someday, she would find someone who agreed with her. Maybe the market would become more lively on opening day. Or, maybe, the market would always begin the year like a seed in the earth: small, quiet, unassuming and fully prepared to create something entirely different in a few weeks or months.

Thrill Seeking Teens and Three Legged Wolves

“Did you know Rick was a mentor?” Bobbi asked, as she leaned over the wooden fence surrounding one of the goat pens.

Alletta stood up, placed her hands on her lower back and attempted to stretch out a few knotted muscles while she considered the question. “About five years ago,” she replied. “The Wilson boys.”

“The Wilson boys?”

“The family left the farm about a year or two before you moved here.” Al replied. “The boys were teenagers when they arrived. Good kids, for the most part. The family thought the farm would be good form them because it provided space and time for riding their dirt bikes. It wasn’t until after they moved in that we discovered the problem.”

“Problem.”

“100% suburban thrill-seekers. Both of them.” Al chuckled. “They heard ‘mentor’ and decided it was exactly the same as ‘teacher.’ They heard ‘chores’ and decided they were both optional and unimportant. They heard schedule and decided it was an opportunity to practice playing hookie. They did reasonably well at school, and they were hard workers, when you managed to either force or coerce them into staying in one place for more than five minutes. But they had a habit of placing riding, racing and practicing tricks on their bikes ahead of absolutely everything else. They also did not seem to comprehend just how dangerous a farm can be. They kept doing things that, rightfully, should have killed them – nasty, messy and painful-to-think about deaths. Talking, threatening and punishing the two didn’t work. They just didn’t get it. We had a community meeting where we actually debated locking up the more dangerous areas vs throwing the family off the farm. that’s when Rick offered to ‘handle it.'”

“Handle it?”

“Yeah. Handle it.” Al laughed. “We were desperate enough to agree, no questions asked.”

“Wow.” Bobbie replied. “So…do I want to know…?”

“What he did?”

“Yeah.”

Al shook her head and laughed out loud. “He invited the three-leggeds and Archie over for some conversation and cigars, started a bonfire, and sat the boys down to listen.”

“Who are…?” Bobbi began.

“The three-legged wolf pack,” Alletta explained, her face clearly expressing her opinion of middle aged men beating their chests and howling at the moon. “A group of local farmers – men who’ve lost a body part while working their farms. I think they’ve lost three arms, two legs, seven fingers and a couple of toes between them. Archie isn’t, technically, a three-legged, but he survived the most horrific farming accident I’ve ever heard about, much less seen. The man lost half his face – literally. One ear and one eye no longer work, and his ability to talk, however slow, is a miracle. It’s impossible to meet the man without…just…staring at the mostly-paralyzed and horribly scared half of his head. Believe me, I’ve tried. The most unbelievable part of Archie’s story is the fact that he still works the same farm. He recovered enough to drive a tractor, declared himself blessed and got back to work.”

“Damn.”

“No kidding.”

“So, Rick introduced these boys to a group of accident survivors and…?”

“I honestly don’t know. I wasn’t there. From what little anyone could get out of the boys, they spent half the night listening to the men talking. I can only guess they were telling farming horror stories. Real ones. The kind you can look up in newspapers. Whatever they did, it worked. Those boys were the most respectful, careful and obedient teenagers a person could hope for. Of course, the oldest only lived here for two years before heading off the college, and the younger joined the military very soon after.” Alletta laughed out loud. “Would you believe the oldest decided to become a New York City cop for the same reason the younger joined the Marines?”

“And that would be…?” Bobbi asked.

“It’s safer than farming.”

Bobbi had to admit, that was funny.

Dandelion Delivery

The farm had many vehicles, including an ultra-cool four wheeler, an ultra-ugly four-wheeler, several beat-up farm trucks and four golf carts. Bobbi was driving a golf cart, which she parked next to the ultra-ugly four wheeler, outside Rick’s house.

After unloading several bags of dandelion flowers and placing them on the ground in front of the porch, she walked the three narrow steps up to the front door and pulled the metal handle beneath the doorbell sign, scrawled in Halloween-style letters.

The door had a “Wolf’s Den” sign with a large grey wolf staring directly at the waiting visitor. Bobbi pretended she was staring it down, until Rick answered – which meant she was glaring directly into Rick’s eyes when the door opened.

“You hung that sign at your own eye level.” Bobbi observed.

“On purpose,” Rick admitted with a characteristic grin.

Bobbi threw her thumb over her shoulder, indicating the bags.

“Contraband!” Rick growled with glee.

“Dandelions,” Bobbi shrugged. “As requested.”

“Can’t make dandelion wine without them.” Rick chuckled.

“Is it enough?”

Rick considered the bags for a few moments. “It’s a good start. We’ll see how far it goes. If we need more, I’ll make another request.”

“How much do we need?”

“At least two years worth. We sold a lot of bottles last year. The supplies are down.”

Bobbi stood silent for a few moments. she was out of small talk and unsure if she should ask the question gnawing at the back of her brain.

“You got your first mentor-ship.” Rick observed. “Scary, isn’t it?”

“That obvious?” Bobbi asked.

“You’re easy to read,” Rick shrugged. He clearly did not mean this as an insult, but Bobbi felt insulted anyway.

“Georgia’s a good kid.”

“Yeah.”

“She’ll do well.”

“Yeah.”

“And if it doesn’t work out, her family won’t get thrown off the farm. The entire family will not become homeless because of me.” Bobbi finished. As she spoke her voice became weak and sadly hopeful.

Rick just stared at her for a few moments. “Wow,” he said.

“That’s it? Wow?” Bobbi retorted.

“Yeah.”

“Not helpful”

“Yeah.”

Bobbi sighed, muttered goodnight and crawled back into the golf cart.

“Hey,” Rick shouted.

“Yeah?”

“I’ve mentored a few kids.”

“You’ve…mentored?”

“A few, when they were a good fit. Usually didn’t fit anywhere else, just like Georgia. No one got thrown off the farm, even when the mentoring stopped.”

“Stopped”

Rick shrugged. “They’re kids, things change. Besides, the reason we mentor them is for they’re own safety. Building relationships and learning farm skills is part of being safe, but the bottom line is this – teach her how to keep from getting herself hurt of killed on a farm. City kids and suburbanites don’t know how to do that.”

Bobbi was momentarily stunned. “That’s it?” She replied. “Safety?”

“If you can teach her a few things about the orchard while you’re at it, even better. But, yeah, it’s about safety. Keep it in perspective.”

Bobbi felt significantly better. “Thanks Rick – seriously, thank you.”

Rick gave her a quick two-fingered wave, grabbed a few bags of dandelions and disappeared behind a permanent shed built beside his house.

Bobbi headed for home, very grateful for the opportunity to deliver the dandelions.

Writers Block

There were enough people at the farm to rotate through the chores, allowing every adult at least one day of home-work per week, in addition to days of leisure. The majority of residents at the Wild Raccoon had private pursuits and ambitions, usually in the areas of writing or the arts, so home-work was a near-sacred practice.

Bobbi had two home-days per week, primarily because her work in the orchard and farm-forest could be done alone during in long stretches of work. Outside of pruning during the winter, addressing damage year-round and picking in the fall, trees have no real schedule. Therefore, Bobbi evaluates the work needing to be done and schedules long days up on the hill, where she just digs in at sunrise and works until sometime after sundown. The chores in the barn are a nice break in the routine, but those are required of everyone and, therefore, rotated through all able-bodied adults.

Thanks to the damage caused by a particularly powerful storm and all of the orchard work it created; Bobbi was sitting at her desk, staring at her laptop, thinking about how nice it was to have three whole days of home-work time. Three whole days to really focus on her novel.

The clock ticked, the birds chirped and the computer remained untouched. Three whole days.

Running over all of the story lines that she’d been playing with while working in the orchard, Bobbi scrolled down the text-dense page. All of this writing was done, late at night, after a hard day’s work, knowing she had to get up and do it all over again the next day. All of it just flowed out of her finger tips while a portion of her brain worried about getting enough sleep and losing ideas while completing chores and…

Nothing. Right then and there she had nothing except three days. Three whole days.

Sighing, Bobbi picked up her cup of tea and went to sit out on the small porch area outside the only door to her tiny home. It wasn’t as nice as the big communal porch, which provided entry to the farm kitchen, but it was outside and away from the desk.

Fine. She thought. If my brain won’t write, I’ll just let it sit empty for a while.

Sitting on the porch swing, she focused on her breathing and used classic meditation techniques to empty her mind of all thought, just absorbing the world around her and trying…really trying….to stay in the moment.

It was blissfully peaceful for a few moments, then the thought-banishing game began as words and images started creeping their way to the forefront. After 15 minutes, the thoughts turned creative, but Bobbi kept banishing them to silence. 20 minutes later, she was sitting at her desk, typing away.

Just had to tell myself “no, you are not allowed to do this.” Bobbi thought with a chuckle. Works every time.

Mentoring Georgia

The farm forest had a lot of debris that needed to be cleared. Bobbi worked steadily, moving fallen tree branches into piles along the edge of the orchard. She’d already located, cut and stacked the larger items. Now she just needed to clear out the smaller stuff in preparation for moving the entire stack down to the woodpile behind the barn.

She also collected fresh wild edibles and stored them in a large cooler. Foraging wasn’t the objective, but wild plants provided a steady income for the farm. It was best to be prepared for anything nature just happened to hand over.

With her head down and her mind on wood and low growing plants, Bobbi was unaware of Lisbette and Georgia climbing the hill – until Georgia shouted a greeting. The shout caused Bobbi to jump and hit hear head on a tree branch. Rubbing her head, Bobbi returned the greeting as she walked down to meet them at the cooler.

“Georgia loves the books,” Lis said with a smile. “She can’t stop talking about them.”

“I’m glad,” Bobbi replied, silently noting one of the smaller books sticking out of Georgia’s back pocket.

“You didn’t have to leave them on the porch,” Lis teased. “We will answer the door.”

“It was late,” Bobbi stumbled. “I didn’t want to wake anyone up.” Or find herself dragged inside for a cup of coffee and another hour (or two) of conversation when she was already dead tired. Late night social visits were common around the farm – and something Bobbi simply did not enjoy. Thankfully, Lis appeared neither surprised nor offended.

“Georgia asked if you could be her mentor.”

Lis was known for being direct,  a trait Bobbi admired; but this caught her off guard.

“You’re the only person she’s requested.” Lis added in a manner common among the parents on the farm. It was a gentle, firm, this-is-final, implied-decision tone that Bobbi found equally perplexing, fascinating and annoying.

Mom voice aside, the request for a mentor was a big deal. All of the children living on the farm had to have one. It was one of the few hard-and-fast (actually written down) rules the farm had. For families, it was one of the primary reasons behind decisions to join, or not join, the farm.

Georgia had been through four mentors already. It was clear she was not going to work well with any adult she did not choose herself, which was something Bobbi silently admired. The entire family had been under a lot of pressure to help Georgia choose, because she couldn’t run around the farm, unattached, indefinitely.

Which brought this around to the real issue – being a mentor. If Georgia was assigned to Bobbi, she would also be assigned to chores on Bobbi’s watch. No more hopping around from person to person. Georgia would be expected to follow Bobbi around and learning what Bobbi knew, until it was time to either change mentors or begin working on her own.

“Are you sure you want to work up here in the farm forest?” Bobbi asked Georgia. “I don’t spend much time down by the pond.”

Georgia shrugged. “I like trees,” she said, unconsciously placing a hand on the book in her back pocket.

It was only three words, but Bobbi had a strong feeling that it wasn’t about the trees, it was about the conversation in the barn. Georgia liked talking about the frogs, myths and possible stories that came out of those ideas. She liked the books.

“Yeah. Sure. It works for me.” Bobbi said. “But I’ve never done this before. Do we have to fill out a form or something?”

“In blood.” Lis said, deadpan, nodding her head as though this were common knowledge. Then she burst out laughing. “I have no idea,” she admitted. “I’ll ask around. Georgia, it’s time for you to get to school. Thank you Bobbi, we really appreciate it.”

As Georgia and Lis walked back down the hill, Bobbi noticed Lis was unusually…relaxed. Georgia seemed to be a little lighter too. Trying to find a way to connect with, and fit into, a new community was tough; particularly when the kids were having a hard time.

It will work out, Bobbi thought to herself, firmly banishing ever present doubts, and returned to gathering wild greens.

Moon Over Home

Everyone needs time away, time to do his or her own thing, without chores or errands to worry about. That’s what town-time was all about, just getting away from the farm for a few hours and doing…whatever. A truck full of adults (and one teenager) were now headed back to the farm after an evening away.

The truck was quiet. The truck was always quiet. There was something about the drive home after town-time that left Wild Raccoon-ers silent, contemplative, and strangely respectful of one another. Bobbi often found this communal quiet to be eerily similar to the temporary, polite silence often found in a very early morning church service.

The truck pulled off the paved road and started down the dirt path that acted as long, dusty and bumpy driveway for the Wild Raccoon and two neighboring farms. The moon provided enough light to drive without headlights, but the truck followed it’s own artificial path, heedless of the power of nature.

Parking the old tanker of a farm vehicle and cutting the engine, Rick leaned on the steering wheel, nodded to himself and muttered “Home” with noticeable satisfaction. The spell was broken. Everyone tumbled out, started chatting about the evening, said goodbys, offered one another coffee, and generally dissipated across the farm.

It was late. Bobbi knew she needed to get some sleep. The to-do list hanging over her desk was always longer than any reasonable human being could hope to accomplish in a month, much less than a day, but it was there and the sun would be rising soon enough.

Yet, the moon was so bright that it almost blotted out the stars. Breathing deeply and closing her eyes, Bobbi welcomed the feeling of just being there. Opening her eyes, she took in the sky full of stars and breathed, deep, again.

The first time she visited the farm, it had been a night similar to this. Looking up at the sky, she’d seen so many stars, shining brighter than most suburbanites and city-folk knew possible. It was not the first time she’d seen a night sky free from the greedy upstaging of street lights, but it had been a long time. So much light spread across so much space could be both frightening and awe-inspiring.

Now, she relished the sight of the stars whenever the clouds were polite enough to move out of the way. The stars wrapped around the entire farm like a glittering blanket. This drew her back and welcomed her in after every voyage away. This was home.

 

Book Hunting

Bobbi rode into town with three adults and one teenager. The teenager was desperate to get to the skateboard ramp at a local park before nightfall. The weather was finally warm enough for outdoor activities not involving ice and the park was filled with parents, children and teenagers. The truck had barely slowed down when Andy jumped out with his skateboard tucked under his arm.

“Andrew!” Shouted Rebecca. Andy stopped, turned and glared the do-not-call-me-that-in-public glare. “We’ll be back to pick you up in two hours. Be here. Be ready. Or, I will send your mother looking.”

This threat actually had some teeth. Andy’s mother was a local police officer. His fathered had been living at the Wild Raccoon since the divorce. Andy moved between households according to a standard visitation arrangement.

Andy rolled his eyes, made a vague lukewarm promise to do as he was told, turned, dropped the board and left us behind as fast as his skateboard and carefully maintained teenaged image would allow. His arrival was met with shouts, hoots, one or two back slaps and renewed energy on the ramp.

“Those ramps are dangerous.” Becca muttered. “I don’t know why his parents let him do that.”

Rick laughed. Somehow, Rick could laugh in a way that either invited additional laughter or left others knowing they’d just been insulted.

“Shut up Rick,” Becca snarled.

The next stop was downtown. The truck stopped in front of a gleaming, glossy bookstore with it’s own coffee shop. Both the bookstore and the coffee shop were big-name franchise businesses. They stood out from the rest of main street in a we-clearly-are-not-from-around-here kind of way.

“You sure this is where you want to go?” Becca asked as Bobbi ducked out of truck.

Bobbi shrugged. “This is where they sell books and the library is just a few blocks over. I promised Georgia a book.” Bobbi paused a moment, considering the two hours ahead of her. “Pick me up at Reckless.”

Reckless Dive was a classic small-town combination business. It was a music store, music academy, performance space, coffee shop, and tattoo parlor – although the tattoo portion was publicly defined as a separate business renting out previously unused space.The tattoo artist operated out of a room with a private entrance, located in the far opposite corner from a similar space utilized by the music academy. As a result, children learned to play the violin in one corner, while sober, ID-holding adults permanently embellished patches of skin in another. It was Bobbi’s single favorite place to hang out. It was also located downtown, which meant it was a short walk from the monstrosity laying before her.

With a wave, Bobbi left her companions and stepped inside the glass doors and bright lights. It was like leaving behind the little town and entering into a world made up entirely of giant malls. Music, toys, gift-set pens, electronic devices and the smell of coffee met her just inside. There were books, too. Massive numbers of them. Yet, the store didn’t smell like books, it smelled like coffee and…that combination of cardboard, plastic, disinfectant and newness that seemed to accompany all chain retail businesses. She supposed it was the effect the company was striving to achieve.

After wandering around a few moments, Bobbi started feeling restless. She only had two hours in town and the evening’s live music at Reckless was already well underway. Grabbing a teenager with a name tag that said ‘Stacy’ she asked about the existence of a magic frog and water book. The teenager barely managed to keep from rolling her eyes, but didn’t bother to hide her smirk before asking if Bobbi had bother searching the internet before coming into the store. Apparently retail bookstores expect patrons to do homework before asking for help.

After Bobbi admitted that she had not thought of that, the ‘helpful’ employee directed her to the children’s section with a “probably over there somewhere.”

Feeling particularly angry, Bobbi wandered toward the children’s section, seriously considering going home empty-handed. She was half-way through a reasonably justifiable excuse when a woman bumped into her.

“Oh, sorry,” the woman said, but remained closer than courtesy generally allowed. Bobbi would have scurried off if the woman weren’t giving her a mischievous grin in between looking around the store like someone trying to avoid the police. Under normal circumstances, Bobbi would have taken all of these things as signs it as time to escape, but the woman was so extraordinarily matronly and gleeful in her game, that it was impossible to avoid being swept up in the fun.

There was also something very familiar about this woman, although Bobbi couldn’t place her finger on what or why. The glasses hanging on a chain around her neck, the overly permed hair and the hand-crocheted sweater pulled over an overweight, constantly moving frame were hard to miss.

“You’re in the wrong store,” the woman said in a clandestine whisper that strongly suggested she spent many hours reading spy or mystery genre books. Taking another look around, to make sure no one was watching, she reached into her pocket and handed Bobbi a card while using her free hand to pull a random book off a shelf and making a show of looking over the spine. Bobbi, took the card and slipped it into her pocket while doing the same.

This was fun.

Without another word, she returned the self-help book (Make Those Shoes Work!) to the shelf and slipped out of the store and headed for Reckless. When she was out of sight of the store’s gleaming glass windows and it’s infuriatingly unhelpful staff, Bobbi pulled the card out of her pocket and took a look: Bette’s Book Emporium. It was located on the same street as the public library.

The store was small with a large square wood front that was strongly reminiscent of wild west movies. The sign was hand painted. The front window and glass door were sparkling clean, but the display consisted entirely of piles of books and cats. The cats were living house-cats with brightly colored colors, each with a tiny silver bell. There were at least four of them moving among the books or sitting on top of piles of books and observing the happenings inside the store, or outside the window.

Bobbi pushed open the door. A tinkling bell sounded at the back of the store, announcing her entrance.The smell of old books and dust permeated everything.

The woman sitting behind the counter was thin and wearing a very old hand-knitted sweater. In every other way, she was the mirror image of the spy-wannabe who passed along the card.

“Can I help you?” she asked and Bobbi felt like she was talking to an ultra-helpful librarian – which was when she put the pieces together. The bookstore spy worked in the children’s section at the library.

Pulling the card out of her pocket Bobbi explained what happened, which caused the woman behind the counter to fall into a fit of laughter so deep and heartfelt that Bobbi was chuckling along.

“Bette loves playing spy games,” she said, wiping the tears from her eyes. “She’s the only Bette in town who actually likes that awful place.”

“Other Bette?”

“There’s four of us,” Bette replied with unbridled pride. “Four bookworms who also happen to be retired librarians and school teachers – all named Bette. We opened this store to feed our habit.” She said this last sentence in a whisper, as though she were passing along a particularly scandalous secret.

Sighing with relief, Bobbi leaned across the counter and explained that she had a particularly difficult request. Bette’s eyes twinkled.

“Hit me with your best shot.” She challenged. “Go ahead, try it.”

After passing along Georgia’s request, and the circumstances surrounding it, Bette, tapped her finger against her lower lip a few times, deep in thought, and started muttering to herself while shuffling through books. Every one in a while she would make an exclamation, knock over a book or scold a cat. But, before long, she returned to the counter with an armload of books.

The two of them spent the next half hour examining and discussing the books Bette managed to find in the labyrinthine of shelves, boxes and carts. Bobbi select four very different books, and then added a scientific field guide on local frogs for good measure.

“I am never setting foot in that other place again.” Bobbi said as she paid for the books.

“Oh, the Bette’s will be please.” Bette laughed.

There was still 45 minutes of town-time left to enjoy the music at Reckless. It was an excellent evening.