I am so excited to share my first ever Yarn Tale with you today! The Yarn Tales series on my blog, if you don’t remember is where I write a short, fictional story inspired by one of my individual knit toys. I originally conceived this series as an opportunity for me to try my hand at fiction writing -something that has always been my dream- as well as to share with you some of the fantasy worlds the toys inspire in me. I hope that some people might print out these stories and read them with their children, the Yarn Birdy toy tucked lovingly between them.
That was my ideal vision. The reality is that I spent much of the last week brainstorming, writing, crossing out and re-writing, as well as sketching and illustrating this first story, and it is no where near finished. At the most, what I’ve written is half of a complete story, yet it’s already 5 pages long, far too long, probably, for a blog. For years, (decades?) I’ve written daily, and so I didn’t anticipate how challenging it would be to shift from reflective personal diary writing to writing fiction. I felt like a first-grader painstakingly forming letters on a page.
Despite these difficulties, however, writing this story gave me a breathtaking sense of excitement. I got to dive into an entirely new world, watch it form around me. Iris, my rainbow zebra toy was always by my side, inspiring me as I wrote.
I hope you enjoy what I’ve written as much as I’m enjoying the process. If it’s too long to read while on a short work break, I encourage you to bookmark it or print it out and savor it later. In any case, if you want in on the fantasy-fun, let your imagination run wild and suggest to me in the comments what can happen next. I’ll hopefully have Part II of Iris’ story for you in a week or so.
IRIS THE ZEBRA OF FLYING ISLAND
Above the clouds and higher than the sky, there is a Flying Island. For thousands of years, or longer, it has been inhabited by a community of intelligent zebras. Although small, the clan of zebras is quite civilized: Flying Island has zebra schools and zebra soccer fields, zebra salons where the residents go to get their manes and tales trimmed.
Life is beautiful on Flying Island. Many of the zebras enjoy gazing out off the island’s edge (through a safety fence of course) and watching the clouds swirl over the glittering blue-green earth below. Sometimes, the zebras even lift binoculars to their eyes and watch the tiny figures of that make up human civilization –the people, houses, cars, trains and boat –as they go about their daily lives.
There is only one major challenge for the residents of Flying Island. As the island is situated above the clouds, there is no natural water, and the zebras who live there had to work very hard to draw water up from the rainstorms of Earth below. For thousands of years, they have collected water in a hand-knit, colorful net. When the rainstorms below are heavy, the water-collecting net quickly becomes oversaturated and too heavy to pull back up. So the zebras wait and watch for the perfect weather, light rain, with the sun still peeking through the thin clouds. When a zebra spots this kind of weather below, he rings a bell, and all the zebras drop what they are doing, come galloping out of their houses and offices and join the water collecting effort. Everyone grabs hold of one side of the net and they let the other end unfurl off the edge of the island. The net tumbles open into a beautiful display of colored stripes –red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple. If the zebras were to look through their binoculars at this moment, they would notice the humans down on earth pointing with excitement at the sky, their mouths forming the phrase, “look at that rainbow!” But of course, the zebras can’t spare a single hoof to hold binoculars while they are catching water. They have to use all their strength and concentration to haul the now soaked net back up again.
Exactly 10 years ago today, a baby zebra was born on Flying Island, different from any the community had ever seen before. Instead of the usual black and white stripes, this zebra was born with stripes of vivid shimmering colors –pink, turquoise, aquamarine. After confirming with the doctor that her unusual coloring was not a sign of any disease, the newborn’s parents wrapped their tiny baby up in a woven grass blanket and brought her home. They named her Iris. Iris was a popular name for zebras on Flying Island, and her parents hoped that such a name would help their daughter fit into the community, despite her odd stripes.
Iris the baby was oblivious to her parents concerns, as babies always are. Now though, Iris was 10 and as she awoke this beautiful morning, her first thought was not of the birthday presents her family would give her that day, nor of the initiation ceremony she would participate in that afternoon, a ceremony that every 10-year old went through, that would mark her as a zebra finally old enough and strong enough to help with water collecting. No, her first waking thought was that she wished she were black and white striped like everyone else so that the Young Detectives Club at her school would admit her as a member.
Mrs. Bray, the teacher who ran the club, had not been unkind when she took Iris aside the other day and said, “Iris, dear, Young Detectives is not the club for you. You have so many talents, and you are going to thrive in life, I know you will, but detectives often have to goincognito –do you know what incognito means? It means they have to blend in, dear, and, well, you just stand outso! But I know just the thing for you! The young models club is looking for new members. You’ll make a fabulous model, with your exciting stripes, why don’t you try out for them, dear?”
A model?! Mrs. Bray was so remarkably unobservant, for a leader of a detective club, Iris thought. Couldn’t Mrs. Bray see that she had no desire to be a model, brainlessly showing off the latest mane-trimming, and tail-braiding fashions. No, Iris wanted to solve mysteries. She wanted to study hoof prints in the grass, and bits of ripped fabric left behind at scenes of crimes. Of course, the crimes the Young Detectives Club solved were all just for fun, staged by Mrs. Bray. There was no real crime on the small community of Flying Island.
“Happy Birthday to You!” Off-key singing interrupted Iris’ thoughts as her mother, father and older brother Larry burst into the room, a special birthday treat of grass pie held in her mother’s front hooves.
Iris thoroughly enjoyed the first few hours of her birthday, despite her frustrations with Mrs. Bray and the Young Detectives Club. Her parents’ gave her as a gift a pair of knitting needles and some yarn. (“Now you’re old enough to start practicing knitting –get good, and someday soon you can help the community repair and renew the water-collecting net,” her father told her, tousling her mane.) Far more exciting, Larry gave Iris the gift of a magnifying glass. He knew of her interest in detective work, and she hadn’t told him of her rejection by Mrs. Bray. She spent the morning using her new glass to examine every boring detail around her house, made fascinating by magnification.
At noon, Iris’ mother broke into her investigations, wielding a sponge. “Bath time, Iris,” her mother said, “you have to look your best for this afternoon’s ceremony, since you will be the guest of honor.” And although Iris was ten, and had been old enough to bathe herself for years, her mother began scrubbing Iris’ skin herself.
Iris squirmed away. “Mom! Stop! I can do it myself!”
“Okay, okay. But I’m going to inspect you before we leave the house. Today is too important for you to still have grass stains on your knees. Scrub, scrub, scrub. I want to see you’re hooves shine!”
“Mothers!” Iris thought, “always breaking into fun with their insistence on baths, and ceremony decorum.” Begrudgingly, Iris set her magnifying glass aside and took up the sponge. While she wasn’t nervous about this afternoon’s ceremony, she wasn’t looking forward to it either. She didn’t want to be the center of attention, she liked more incognito, observer roles. Besides, although she knew water collecting was important to her community, she didn’t share the sense of pride and honor her older classmates all seemed to feel when they had turned ten and been initiated into the duty. To Iris, being old enough to collect water just meant that every time the bell tolled, alerting the island to the perfect weather conditions down below, she would have to drop whatever she was doing and go running. Just like she’d had to drop her magnifying glass and bathe when her mother said so.
Then, the sponge poised behind her right ear, Iris had a wonderful idea. Today, right in the middle of the ceremony in her honor, she would go incognito. She would sneak out of sight even as the community leaders were giving their speeches, proving definitively to Mrs. Bray that she had what it takes to be a detective. It would be the ultimate challenge. There was no way Mrs. Bray could exclude her from the Young Detectives Club if she succeeded. Now Iris was looking forward to the ceremony.