Category Archives: Work

elhana

Hey guys!

One of my texts got featured on the elhana project website.

For those not in the know: elhana is a big brother project in the Berlin area, where you help out a kid with problems at school. I sat with Yussuf (not his real name) twice a week, from 2010 to the end of 2015, helped him with math and german and just the general facts of a elementary school kid’s life (Beyblades, Ninjago and divorce, mainly). And, because I’m me, I wrote a text about this experience.

You can read the text on their site or on mine, whatever floats your boat.

Working with Yussuf was a delight and an enrichment of my life. Ober the course of five years, I taught him how to play chess, and now I can’t even come close to beating him. I can wholeheartedly recommend this project. If you’re in the Berlin area and interested in doing something good on a small scale, give elhana a shout, tell them Bert sent you.

Opposites Attract, pt. 6

(The story so far: Alice and her caravan (Jack, Arbuck and Marie) were stranded on a floating rock with a dishonest guy named Brock. After Brock secretly stole their food, Marie turned into a gargantuan monster and Alice saved the day by crashing the rock down. But how did she do that?)

Rocks don’t float

Alice slowly opened her eyes.

Jack towered above her.

“Hey”, Alice said.

“You missed the best part.”

He held out his hand. She snatched it and got up. The rock was lying on top of the unmoving lizard. It had hit it squarely in the stomach. The force of impact had made its guts splatter violently onto the pristine sands, and its ladder tongue lay limply in front of its mouth. It had died the way it had come: Maw open wide.

Arbuck was sitting in the sand. Marie was lying in his lap. She had turned back to normal and was knocked out cold. As Alice climbed down the rock, she opened her eyes.

“Welcome back to the land of the livin’”, Arbuck told her.

“You stink”, Marie said, but didn’t move away from his lap. “What happened? Last thing I remember is being up to my ankles in food.”

The three of them looked at each other and grinned.

“We’re down. That’s what matters”, Jack said. He looked over to Alice. “How did you know it was going to fall?”

Alice dropped down into the sands next to Arbuck and Marie. She dug a piece of debris out of the sand and threw it up in the air. The rock immediately arched towards the rock and clung firmly to it. “It’s magnetized.”

Jack looked at the rock in amazement.

Alice continued. “When Brock made the lizard tear the rock in half, it swallowed half of it and sent the other side into the sky. And because one of the rocks was flipped onto its back, it got repelled by the piece in the monster’s stomach and stayed up there.”

Jack frowned. “So the lizard followed us?”

“It followed its gut.”

“Weird.” Jack reached down and pulled the Parcheesi board out of the sand. “I like it.”

“I told you.” Alice said. “Rocks don’t float.”

He dug through the sand and managed to find some of the pawns. Enough to play with, at least. “They could, though. Here.”

“In your magical desert.”

Jack dug deeper. “Well. How else would you explain a magnetic rock?”

Alice wanted to mutter that rocks could very well be magnetic, but somehow, the argument didn’t convince her. So she shut up and let Jack dig for senseless playthings in the sand.

Marie got to her feet, walked over to the beat and checked it out. “Right. Who’s up for some broiled Ladder Lizard?” She walked up to the creature and started inspecting it. Suddenly, she let out a yell. “You!”

Everyone looked up. Alice could see Brock halfway hidden inside the creature’s mouth. He had just been about to make a break for it, but seeing Marie, his body went limp. He fell down into the sand.

“Don’t eat me!”

Marie frowned. “Why would I eat you?”

Jack spoke. “You’re not going anywhere.”

Brock looked at Jack, a mixture of fear and self-loathing on his face. “I want to live! Please let me go! Don’t kill me!”

Marie cracked her knuckles. Arbuck cocked his gun. And even Alice pulled her eyes to slits. But it was Jack, their captain, who acted.

“Kill you?” Jack pulled his eyes to slits. “I’m going to destroy you.” Then, he grinned and held out his hand. In it lay a sandy dice. “At Parcheesi.”

And so they had broiled Ladder Lizard, played Parcheesi, and Jack destroyed them.

Good times.

Opposites Attract, pt. 5

(The story so far: Alice and her caravan (Jack, Arbuck and Marie) are stranded on a floating rock. A giant lizard lies in wait in the sand below, ready to eat them. When they find out Brock, the man stranded on the rock, has stolen their food, all hell breaks loose…)

What goes up…

Brock looked at them in disgust. “Hey! That’s unfair!” He wanted to rush over to her, but Alice grabbed him and held him back.

“I wouldn’t”, said Alice.

Brock pulled himself loose. “Why does she get all the food and we don’t?” He took a few steps towards Marie, snatched an apple from the floor and hurled it at her. The piece of fruit bounced off her tiny frame.

Marie stopped.

Jack, Arbuck and Alice looked at each other. They spoke; it was the same word at the exact same time. “Duck.”

They jumped behind the treasure chest. Right on time to watch Marie’s body burst out of its seams. In mere seconds, her shoulders grew three times in size. Her arms and legs exploded with muscles. She turned around. As she stood up straight, she was twice the size of Brock and towered over him. Her eyes were shining brightly, and her lips were pulled to slits. Her cheekbones looked like they could cut a man in half.

With a swift swoop, she lunged for Brock. The balding fat man screamed and scurried backwards as Marie crashed down onto the ground. The rock trembled; Alice, Jack and Arbuck grabbed onto each other.

Marie rushed towards Brock again. Brock tried to dodge her once more, but he was too late. Her large hand wrapped itself around his waist. Brock wriggled as Marie pulled him up from the ground like an annoying hamster. Which, judging from his desperation to hoard as much food as possible, he kind of was.

“What is this?!”, he yelled at Jack.

“We warned you about Marie”, Jack explained.

“Marie, honey”, Brock pleaded. “It’s me. Your biggest admirer.”

Marie said nothing. She sniffed at Brock. He trembled.

“Don’t eat me! Whatever you do, just don’t eat me!”

“Don’t worry”, Arbuck said matter-of-factly, “she’s full.”

Brock looked back at Marie. He tried on his best, non-scared-seeming smile. “Put me down.”

Marie grunted.

“Please?”

Marie snorted.

“Down.”

Marie groaned.

Panic took hold of Brock. He slammed her hand and cried: “Put me down!”

Marie looked him dead in the eye, grunted once more, took a few steps forwards and jumped down from the rock.

Alice sprang to her feet and hurried to the ledge. She was just in time to watch Marie land right squarely onto the Ladder Lizard’s eye. The beast yelled out, thrashing its massive tail. Marie responded by growling right back at it. The lizard opened its mouth and snapped at Marie. Marie snapped back. The beast opened up wide again and roared. Marie shut it up by throwing Brock into its throat. The lizard coughed, swallowed, caught its breath and then lunged for Marie, who fought the beast with all of her uncontrollable force. And there was a lot of uncontrollable force.

“We have to get down”, Alice said, and once again stopped Jack from jumping at the last possible moment.

“I think she’s got this”, said Arbuck.

Alice focused. How could they get down? Marie survived the jump – maybe they could too? But then what? They wouldn’t as much as scratch the lizard and its impervious skin.

A sudden shockwave went through the rock, forcing Alice and Jack to their knees – and Arbuck to the ground entirely. Alice looked at her surroundings. There was no doubt about it. Jack tried to get back to his feet, but another rumble went through the ground and forced him back down.

“We’re shaking!”, said Arbuck.

“Rocking!”, corrected Jack.

The rock violently shook left and right. Jack, Alice and Arbuck were flailing around and held on for dear life. Brock’s words echoed inside Alice’s head: What goes up, must come down. Then, the force of the crumbling rock swung her towards the edge and over it. She could barely hold on as Jack and Arbuck rushed in. They grabbed her hands and tried to pull her back up, but the shaking was too violent and they couldn’t.

“It’s no use, guys!”, Alice yelled. “It’s going down!”

“No, it’s not!”, Jack cried out. “It’s a floating rock!”

“Rocks don’t float!”

Alice looked down. Twenty meters lower, Marie and the lizard were still wrestling. Soon, she would be joining them, crash down into the sand, and if the fall didn’t kill her, then the lizard would. Or Marie, for that matter. She could see the cook grab the lizard into a chokehold and yank it to the right. The rock shook violently. Alice frowned. Her hands slipped further and further down. Marie now dragged the beast towards the left and slammed it into the sand. The floating rock swerved in the same direction.

Alice assembled the puzzle inside her head with lightning speed. The swerving of the rock. The constant presence of the lizard, even three days later. And the strange way Arbuck’s gun had swerved back towards the ledge. It hadn’t been a miracle. It had been…

“Let me go!” Alice cried out.

“You can’t die!”, Jack yelled. “Who will do all the thinking?”

“I am doing the thinking, Jack! Right now!”

“What are you thinkin’, chief?” asked Arbuck.

“Run towards the other edge and jump up and down. Both of you. At the same time.”

“Why?”

“Because you’re going to flip the rock!”

Alice could see Jack and Arbuck exchange glances. Then came nods. They let go of Alice and disappeared. Alice braced herself. She heard Jack count down from three. Thud. The rock leaned forward, allowing Alice to fasten her grip; then it came back to level again. Down below, the lizard had Marie pinned down. If this didn’t work, they were all dead. Alice could hear Jack count down again. The second thud was bigger. The rock rose until it was almost vertical, then slowly leveled itself once more. Then, Jack counted down a third time –

And the third time was a charm.

Alice yelled from the top of her voice: “Hold on! We’re going down!”

A large rumble went through the rock. It flipped all the way sideways, hung suspended vertically for a second; then, like a clockwork gear, something clicked into place. The rock forcefully flung itself on its back; the trio scrambled on top of it and held on for their lives as the rock started its breakneck descent towards the ground. The wind ruffled through Alice’s hair. She pressed her eyes shut. Braced herself.

The force of impact rumbled through her like lightning.