Two stories and feedback guides for kids at home
The Quiet Game
Carrie sprawled in the shade of the cliff that ran along the Lake Michigan shoreline, her ankle swelling into a black and blue softball.
Why did I have to come so far? she wondered. Two miles past the creek. To see deer tracks on the beach. Do I care about deer tracks? No. It’s because I’m bored and there’s absolutely nothing to do in Grandpa’s boring trailer park. Carrie rubbed her throbbing ankle, replaying their stroll from the evening before.
“Grandpa,” she had whined, lagging behind, on the way back from the creek. “Why do we have to walk the beach in the dark?”
“It makes us even,” he said. “That way, you can’t see either. Besides, you can hear better in the dark.”
Carrie scuffed her feet in the sand. “Why can’t you at least get a TV and a phone? I’ve read two books, listened to all my CDs five times and I’ve only been here two days. There’s nothing going on.”
“Really? I think there’s a lot going on. There’s a storm coming out of the southwest. There’s a deer taking a drink down the beach. And the sand bar has shifted again since the storm last week.”
“Grandpa, I’m not a Brownie anymore—all interested in nature walks and how you can know things in the dark.”
“Oh, I see. I should have realized.” He said in a small voice. “Of course. You’re getting older.”
She hadn’t intended to hurt his feelings. “Can we build a fire?” she asked. He would like that.
Later, she stared at the fire, watching the last bit of moisture sizzle and boil from the end of a driftwood log. “So, okay, so tell me how you know a storm is coming and all that other stuff.”
He scratched the stubble on his cheek. “Do you really want to know, or are you just humoring me?”
“Yeah. So, tell me.”
“First the storm. Can you hear the rumble in the distance?”
“Concentrate. You’ve heard it. You just haven’t noticed it yet. At this point it’s more like a vibration than a sound.”
“Same thing with the sand bar, right? You listen for the waves breaking in the shallower water?”
“Yep. But the deer is another story. Did you hear the dog barking when we were by the creek?”
“He lives next to a ravine that ends at the lake and he barks at every deer going down to water. I used to see their hoof prints all over the beach in the morning.”
Carrie nudged the log deeper into the fire. “What’s your point?”
“My point.” He coughed, spit. “Well, my point is you have to shut out noise before you can hear what’s going on around you.”
“But I don’t care about animals in the night. I’d rather listen to my CDs. Geez, Grandpa.” She watched the fire reflecting in the corners of his clouded eyes.
He spoke slowly and carefully. “I just wanted to tell you my secret: what I do when I’m bored, or frightened or feeling lonely.” He turned back toward the fire.
“So, you listen to sounds?”
He sighed, swallowed. “That’s the second step. The first step is to get away from people noise. Then I listen to all the sounds around me, one by one. Pretty soon, the only sounds I haven’t heard from, come from me—my own thoughts and feelings. And that’s when the real surprises begin. I remember happy times, like when you were little and cute. Not like now when …”
“Cut it out, Grandpa.”
He chuckled. “And when I’m quiet inside, jewelry boxes come together, trips get planned, gardens get planted—easy as pie.”
She threw a stick into the fire. “I’m still bored.”
A small airplane buzzed the coastline. Carrie jumped up on one leg, hopped toward the water waving frantically. “Hey! Help! I need help!” The pilot smiled, waved as he passed, rocking his wings. He didn’t understand, she realized. He thought I was just being friendly.
Panic exploded like startled birds. What if my ankle is broken? What if no one comes to find me? How long before Grandpa misses me and starts searching? Or, in his case, listening. Grandpa. Calm down Think. What would Grandpa do?
She eased herself down, easing her sore foot into the cool water. “Okay, okay,” she said aloud. “I’ll try your quiet game.” She closed her eyes and forced herself to listen to the waves, soothing, calming. Seagulls shrieked. A dog barked. Could that be the dog by the ravine? Deer tracks criss-crossed in the sand leading to a break in the cliff-face twenty yards away. I found Grandpa’s deer prints, she thought. At least if no one comes to get me by late afternoon, I can crawl up the ravine and find the owner of that dog.
What a great scene this would make for a TV show: a gorgeous brunette crawls along the beach. She stops to cry and rub her skinned knees. She drags her mosquito-bitten self over rocks and branches, through poison ivy to find the barking dog, food, and water. She hauls herself to the doorstep. Knocks and knocks. No one is home. As she melts in a puddle of tears, she hears the hero calling.
“Carrie! Carrie, where are you?”
“Over here, Grandpa.”
The Quiet Game Study Guide
- Which Great Lake was involved in the story? In which state do you think the story took place?
- If you were hurt and alone like Carrie was, what would you do…when you heard the airplane? when you were sure no one was around to help and wouldn’t be for some time?
- Do you think you can really hear better with your eyes shut? In the dark? As a blind person?
- Was the grandfather right? Do music, television and screens distract us? Does noise prevent us from being creative? Does it need to be perfectly quiet to study, to think, to write?
- Have you ever forgotten about time because you were very interested in making or doing something? How do you get to that place?
- What would the grandfather mean when he said listening for sounds helps him when he’s lonely? When he’s tense?
- Was Carrie rude with her Grandfather?
- Is the Quiet Game only about listening to sounds in nature? Would it work with other senses – smelling, touching, tasting, seeing?
- At the beginning of the story, Carrie misses television. By the end of the story she is writing a television story in her mind. Do you think television scriptwriters watch TV when they are writing? Where do you think movie and television scriptwriters look for inspiration?
“Look,” Uncle Gene said in a church voice. “A Blue Heron.”
I heard ‘whoosh, whoosh, whoosh’ but I couldn’t see anything in the puffy clouds rising off the lake.
A long dark bird flew out of the mist. For a moment it hung in front of the dock, neck tucked back, beak stuck out like a sword. Then it was gone.
I ducked behind my uncle.
“Wow!” we both said at once.
I peeked out at the lake, steamy as a bathtub. Were there any more surprises out there? This was my turn to go fishing with Uncle Gene. Yesterday, Charles went. He always goes first just because he’s older. Seven bluegills. Charles caught seven. And I had to eat them for supper.
I lay down on the dock and touched the water to see how hot it was. Three sunfish swam by.
“Hey, there’s some fish. Let’s catch them.” My voice sounded like the principal when she first turns on the microphone.
“Shh,” my uncle scolded. “You’re scaring the fish. Besides, they’re too small, Michael.”
“Oh,” I said. The water felt warm on my finger tips. I liked it that he called me Michael and not Mikey, the way my dad does when he comes to see us.
Nothing exciting happened for a long time after that.
“Shoot, Michael, looks like they just aren’t biting today.”
Man, I’m wasting my turn, I thought, I’ll never catch more fish than Charles. I haven’t even had a nibble yet.
Six Canada geese flew from a raft. One bird took longer. He hopped on one leg before taking off.
“How come?” I started to ask.
“I don’t know. Maybe it was born that way, or had an accident, or got it bit off by a pike.”
We watched the geese land near a weed bed.
“Let’s try over there,” Uncle Gene said.
As we got closer, I watched them swim away. The one-legged goose swam in half circles, one after another, making ripples like a stretched spring.
“We gotta catch some fish,” Uncle Gene said. “Cast between those lily pads.”
The bobber hit the water, went under and whipped toward the weeds.
“Whoa, that’s no bluegill. Point your rod toward the sky and hang on.”
That’s when I felt the fish. He was heavy and mad, tugging and pulling, trying to get away. The line felt light for a moment while he jumped out of the water – dark brown with black stripes on top, golden and white underneath, sparkling drops flying off.
“It’s a bass – a huge smallmouth!” Uncle Gene shouted. “You’re doing good. He’s getting tired. Reel in, slowly.”
He wasn’t as strong or as angry as before. I could feel him tremble. When he got near the boat, I watched him spit out a mouthful of small, chewed-up minnows. He was so scared that he threw-up his breakfast.
Uncle Gene held him up by the gills. His tail hung way past his elbow. “Man, he’s a beauty. A three pounder at least – enough supper for all of us.”
Supper. He wasn’t a bluegill. Not even seven bluegills, all small and fried on a plate. My fish was big. Beautiful. I removed the hook, felt his belly – smooth and strong, trying to swim.
“Of course, we don’t have to eat him,” Uncle Gene said. “We could just take a picture and let him go.”
The fish struggled in my uncle’s hands. Won’t Charles be jealous when I drag this monster into the house? The fish worked his gills. Open. Closed. Open. Closed. But he kept his mouth shut tight. Waiting. Waiting for me to decide – the way I feel when they choose sides to play a game and I want to shout, ‘Pick me! Pick me!’ but I have to keep my mouth shut.
“Yeah. Let’s do that,” I decided. “Let’s take a picture and let him go.”
At the breakfast table, Charles said, “They didn’t catch any. Not like me, huh Grandma?”
“Too bad, honey. Maybe you’ll do better another time,” Mom said.
“Tell them about the heron, Michael,” Uncle Gene said.
I thought for a second. “It was like I was at Jurassic Park in a foggy, swampy place with mist and clouds all around. I heard a loud whooshing sound deep in the fog and all at once a big pre-historic bird flew right at me. His eyes were small and yellow and his long, pointed beak was aimed right at me. I shoved Uncle Gene to the side, then dropped to the dock to keep from getting speared.” Uncle Gene winked at me. Grandma stopped stirring the orange juice. Momma held her coffee cup halfway to her mouth. And best of all, Charles stopped chewing right in the middle of a mouthful of pancakes.
“Yeah, but how many fish did you catch?” Charles asked.
“Tell them about the goose,” Uncle Gene said.
I got up and stood on one foot. “There were these geese, see? And one of them kept swimming in half circles like this.” I hopped in C shapes around the kitchen. “But when it flapped it’s wings to fly away you could see a big snapping turtle hanging onto its drum stick. Right, Uncle Gene?”
Grandma made a face. Momma smiled. Charles looked at me sideways.
This is more fun than catching bluegills, I thought.
“Yeah, but did you catch any fish?” Charles sneered.
“Yeah, he did,” Uncle Gene said. “And it was big.”
“Yeah, well, where is it then?”
“It’s still out there,” I said.
“All the big ones get away.”
“Who said it got away,” I replied. “But I don’t want to talk about it now. Maybe later, when we make prints. Right now I’m hungry.”
The Storyteller – Study Guide
- Where does this story take place?
- Who is telling the story? Michael or the story writer? Is it first person or third person?
- Are Michael’s parents separated?
- Michael is bothered by his older brother. Do older brothers or sisters make it harder for younger ones? Do they take all the fun out of new experiences?
- Have you ever been at an inland lake first thing on a summer morning? Is it mistyIs the water warm?
- Do you know the animals and fish in the story? Blue Heron? Canada Goose? Blue gill? Smallmouth bass?
- How does Michael feel toward the handicapped goose? Does he think his efforts to swim are funny? Does he admire the goose’s efforts? Is it okay to laugh at handicapped animals? Is it okay to laugh at/with handicapped people?
- Why did Michael let the fish go? Would you let the fish go? Always?
- Michael found he could do something special? What was it? What can you do that’s special: In your family? At school?
- Is it more fun to experience things or tell stories about the experience?
- Is telling stories a form of lying or just exaggeration? What kind of professions are built on storytelling? Journalists, Novelists, Newscasters, Screenwriters? Trial lawyers? Preachers? Grandparents?