Alysa Salzberg

Alysa Salzberg
Paris, France
December 31
Writer, copy editor, translator, travel planner. Head servant to my cat.
A reader, a writer, a fingernail biter, a cat person, a traveller, a cookie inhaler, an immigrant, a dreamer. …And now, self-employed! If you like my blog and if you're looking for sparkling writing, painstaking proofreading, nimble French-English translation, or personalized travel planning, feel free to check out


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MAY 5, 2012 7:00AM


Rate: 30 Flag

"Listen carefully," he said, "this won't be easy for you to hear".

“What is it, Dad?” 

“Your mother’s being held hostage.”

Most people might gasp or react in some alarmed way to this, but knowing my mother like I did, I wasn’t overly surprised, although I didn’t know the exact circumstances.  I hadn’t talked to my parents in weeks, because of the snails, mainly.

Whenever my life gets too stressful, I cook.  I’ve made some pretty challenging dishes in my time, and a few weeks ago – or maybe it was months by now – I decided it would be interesting to try to make escargot.  

I’d started gathering snails.  With all the forests around here, and the perpetually damp weather, it wasn’t difficult. The thing was, though, I hadn’t fully thought out the implications of escargot preparation.  As I looked up recipes online, I retched, realizing what I’d have to do to those snails, who were no longer just abstract things destined to be squishy, mushroom-like meat drenched in butter and parsley. 

During the hours I spent online, the snails slowly slid out of the bucket I’d put them in, and took up residence with me.  You might find it hard to believe, but despite their being slow and leaving telltale trails of slime, they were excellent when it came to hiding.  By now, I couldn’t turn them all into escargot if I’d wanted to.  Days went by, then weeks. The snails showed up everywhere: on my towels, in my sock drawer.  It was terrifying and amusing – and deep down, I believed, probably what I deserved.   The snails also became drawn to my cell phone.  They slithered and slid on it and their slime must have gotten into some fissure and broken it.

In this situation, most people would probably have at least bought a new phone.  But being disconnected from the world – at least no longer being summoned by a persistent ring – was actually very nice.  Most people I could still keep in touch with by email if I wanted to, but not my parents, who’d never been able to figure out the Internet.  And so that was why I wasn’t up to date on the circumstances that had led to my mother being involved in a hostage crisis.

The situation was more complicated than I could have imagined.  The hostage-taker was my parents’ closest neighbour, a mountain lion named Chris.

“I always told her I wanted to live in a city, not out here in the middle of nowhere,” my father fumed as he drove us recklessly up the mountain towards where the scenario was playing out.

We arrived at a clearing near the top of the mountain. Across from us, there they were, on a small cliff sticking out from a sheer wall of rock.  Chris the mountain lion looked just like an ordinary mountain lion, but I noticed a gun barrel sticking out from between two furry toes of his right paw.

That was the first time I felt truly alarmed.

“Did you call the police?” I demanded through clenched teeth.

“He told us not to,” my dad said, shaking his head wryly.  “And frankly, I understand why he’s doing it.  You know your mother.”

She was pale and shaking, the gun barrel pressed against her right calf.

“Mom!” I called out. 

“Shh!” my dad said, “She’s not allowed to talk! That’s one of the demands.”

“What happened?” I said, my eyes darting from my mother, to the gun, to Chris’s menacing face.

“Well, you know, your mother plays that damn metal music all night long.  I’m fine with it, thanks to those earplugs you got me.  But the animals here – I told her when we moved that isolation maybe wouldn’t be the solution. Why doesn’t she just wear headphones or something?”  He paused, then answered his own question, “Nah, she’d blow her damn eardrums out.

“Well,” he continued, “Chris here is an intelligent mountain lion – I mean, he talks and everything.”

“He talks?”

“Yeah.” My dad lowered his voice, “we think he’s either a genius, or the result of a government experiment.

“Anyway,” he took on his habitual tone again, “one night your mother was playing that damned music, and bashing on those drums of hers, and I happen to turn to the window and see this big cat roaring – scared the life out of me, but we got to talking and he introduces himself and asks me if she can keep it down. She’s scaring away his prey – ‘You wouldn’t think it was fair if I just snatched the dinner off your table’ – I remember him asking me – real smart animal – and I told him I’d try to get her to keep the noise down.

“But of course that didn’t happen, and the poor guy is probably starved. You know what it’s like when you’re hungry.”

I had to agree. People can get out of sorts when we haven’t eaten for a while; for a mountain lion, a predator in his normal state, taking someone hostage and holding them at gunpoint on the narrow ledge of a cliff was an understandable reaction to the same sensation.

“So what are we going to do about this?” Chris called out, before I could ask the same thing.  So he could talk.  His voice was like a growl – but that might have just been because he was angry.

“Chris, I gotta tell you, I’m stumped.  My wife is just passionate about her music.”

“Could we interest you in some earplugs?” I yelled over to him. I had a friend who worked at the local earplug manufactory, and I bet he could steal some extra foam to adapt them to Chris’s doubtlessly bigger ear openings.  I started to say as much, but Chris growled out a refusal.
“I’m a fucking mountain lion,” he told us.  “I need to be on my guard all the time.  Is this your son, Harold?”

My father nodded.

“He’s a real idiot.  I’m sorry for saying it, but really.”

“Well, he takes after his mother.”  

I could see my father was about to throw in the towel and leave my mom to be shot and then possibly eaten, so I took a breath and made a final, brilliant strategic move:

“Okay, Chris, what if we let you come down to the house and break every single guitar and speaker and drum set and album in the place?”

“No!” my mother screamed.  It was a true scream of terrified sorrow, not her metal voice.  

“I think it’s the only way, Tammy”, my father said, back in the negotiations now.

Chris slowly nodded.  He slid the gun barrel back under his paw.  “Go to your family,” he told my mother.

She made her way to us slowly, not because of the tricky terrain, but because she felt completely defeated.

Then, we all went back to the house.

We left Chris alone inside to wreak havoc.  “I’ll only destroy the musical objects,” he told us, and we somehow knew we could take him at his word.  

As we waited on the front porch, my mother glared at us.  “Why are you both standing there?  We should torch the place while he’s inside.”

“I’m not moving again,” my father said staunchly.  He stood up for himself so rarely that I knew he was truly angry.

After about twenty minutes, our front door opened, and Chris came out.  “That was wonderful,” he sighed.  In the light that shone from the living room, I noticed small shards of wood and speaker foam in his fur and whiskers.  

“No more loud music,” he said to us in a low, threatening tone.  Then he hurried into the woods.

“What am I going to do now?” my mother sounded broken.

“Well, I know what you can do – your son needs some help.  Listen carefully," he said, turning to me, "this won't be easy for you to hear."

Living cell phone-less with snails has its good points, but my father was right; it had probably gone a little too far.  Finding each and every snail in my house was a project my mother threw herself into as passionately as she’d thrown herself into mosh pits before.  Within a few days, all of them seemed to be rounded up.  We took them out to the woods and let them go.
The OS Weekend Fiction Club is a blog that celebrates fiction writing on OS. Here you'll find weekly prompts for Fiction Weekend, as well as links to stories written for each Fiction Weekend Open Call. The word "Club" in no way implies exclusivity: EVERYONE is welcome to participate! THE ONLY REQUIREMENT IS TO WRITE A FICTION PIECE!  
For more information,  click here. 
This week's Fiction Weekend prompt was based on an idea from this writing prompt site:
Write a story that begins with the line: "Listen carefully," he said, "this won't be easy for you to hear".... 
If you feel inspired to write a Fiction Weekend story of your own, or if you want to read this week's other Fiction Weekend stories, please feel free to come by and announce your piece in the comments section of, and/or check out this week's Stories List. 

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That was a very neatly written story even with the snail slime. Nightmarish and yet kind of light hearted.
This is delightfully bizarre. I been thinking since. There is a difference between a real scream and a metal scream.

Framing up the thing with the snails was a great touch.
Loved that this talking mountain lion held his gun to mom's calve. Wish I knew what the prompts were. When mom's a metal head weird things happen. I loved this. great use of insomnia, Alysa.
Miguela - Thanks. I think I intended it to be lighthearted overall, but as I wrote the snail thing it kind of creeped me out, too....

Brassawe - Thank you. Yeah, the metal scream is a very special sound. One of my brothers made it quite a lot when singing along to his radio in the morning when we were getting ready for school. As for the snails...not exactly sure where they came from...this whole idea came together as I was struggling to sleep.

fernsy - Thanks so much and I'm glad you liked this! The prompts are posted weekly on the OS Weekend Fiction Club blog. The link to it is after my story. I hope you'll write a story!
I'm with Brassawe: delightfully bizarre. And snails nice slimy touch!
Wow. Like a freaky dream! This story reminds me of all the reasons why I'd never want to live out in the country or, God forbid, the woods!
Bizarre, yes, in a good way with a nice dreamlike quality. Deliciously funny. Well done, oh fearless leader. R
Snails in the underwear drawer and talking mountain lions who hate metal. The mother took it all in stride. She seems a very evolved woman.
Funny, funny stuff, but far too intelligent for SNL, too bad Monty Python is out of business.
What an imagination you have! And you pulled it all together somehow. Amazing!
this was SO FUNNY, alyssa! i love the names, especially - harold and tammy! and the way the lion said, "but really."

really, really funny. thank you.

and i confess to umm, believing you about the snails at first. it could happen!
Magical unrealism at its best. I started having Hitchcockian thoughts at the great snail escape, which morphed into Night at the Museum when the armed mountain lion entered the picture. Nicely told, suspenseful and ultimately hilarious tale!
Okay Alyssa, have we been eating anything strange this week?:)
This sounds like one of my dreams but had anyone destroyed my music then and now I would have been a lion with or without guns between my toes.:)
Well done and send this to science fiction place.. Its most excellent.:)
gotta say thats a big fan club youve got there & I think you're a great writer but I cant wrap my brain around most of this story. or maybe thats the point. but even as something surreal or bizarre, I find it hard to interpret. on the other hand maybe creepy snails escaping all over the place is a good metaphor for open salon? :p
At first I didn't realize this was fiction, and I thought uh oh our Alysa has gone round the bend, not another OS moment of realization. But when the mountain lion came on board I got with the program. I am not a fiction fan per say but enjoyed how creative your piece was here and the way you have a drawing a reader into the story. Nicely done.
I was freaking out that you had snails in the house :) .r
Snails and slime, ugh! Never have eaten or cooked escargot, and don't intend to. The talking mountain lion was a great touch!
soooo.this WASNT real? start readin this stuff sober.... I first started reading I didn't know it was fiction. This was a fun read and makes me want to try a little fiction again.
Odd elements make for a good tale here.
This is your comic masterpiece. I knew you had it in you!
“I’m a fucking mountain lion,” he told us. “I need to be on my guard all the time.”
This universe you have created has a magical logic, or illogic, all its own, from the snail infested slimy retrogressed environment of the protagonist, delivering him much needed alleviation of the stress of our instant communication world, to the delicate balance of ecospheres between the magnificent noble Chris and the lunatic mom metalhead…

Delightful from word one. A magical world you need to return to in later installments. Someone who can write lines like “I had a friend who worked at the local earplug manufactory, and I bet he could steal some extra foam to adapt them to Chris’s doubtlessly bigger ear openings”

or create a scenario where a mt lion would need a gun, for heaven’s sake, to take a hostage, needs to explore this lovely literate goofysmart side of herself…for her own sake as well as for that of readers needing such a world to explore & learn from…
Quite a clever and engaging piece, Alysa. Well done.
The snail story alone is worth twice the price of admission.

Great stuff.
Beth – Thanks and I’m glad you enjoyed the weirdness!

Eva – Oh yeah, no country living for me, either! …Although I would love to make friends with a talking mountain lion.

Gerald – That you think this is funny, is a real honor – your humor pieces always make me laugh!

phyllis – Thanks for reading. As I was writing, I was surprised to find that the dad ended up being a strong character – he kind of forces the two others to get themselves together. And yet, reading your comment, you make good point: the mom is strong, too.

jmac - Thank you. But nothing I write could ever compare to either of those hallowed shows!

zanelle – Thanks. This is what comes from one of my sleepless nights, I guess….

daisyjane – Thanks, and I’m glad you liked the names. As for the snails, actually, you’re not too far off the mark: though I probably wouldn’t go looking for snails in the first place, if I ever did, I would totally end up in this situation.

Chicken Maaan – Thank you for reading, dear sir. I LOVED “Night at the Museum” and want to watch it again now! But I have nowhere to rent it from and am broke, so….sigh…. But I don’t remember the lion being armed in that? That would make it even more delightful. Must watch again….

Linda – Thank you, and now that you mention it, I did eat some homemade guacamole for the first time last night…maybe it didn’t sit well….

vzn – Thanks for reading. I don’t think there’s necessarily a way to interpret this story so it says something particularly profound – I just couldn’t sleep and spent hours uselessly lying in bed last night. I got to thinking about the prompt and somehow this ended up being the story I came up with. Some of the elements are just things I’ve thought about lately, like how cruel the process of making escargot is (it’s a Christmas staple for us here and I wasn’t aware of how it was prepared until recently). And talking animals, especially cats of some kind, are always something I like. The rest of it, I don’t know.

rita – Haha! I like how you were preparing for an intervention. As I wrote to daisyjane, I could probably see myself ending up in such a scenario, but no worries, it is indeed fiction. And if I ever veer into that territory, I’ll think of your comment and it will set me straight! : - ) As for not liking fiction, that surprises me, since you’re such a creative writer yourself. I’m glad you gave this piece a try, even when Chris the mountain lion gave me away, and thank you for your kind words.

hugs, me – No worries, it hasn’t really happened…at least, not yet : - )

Erica – Snails are kind of gross, and making escargot is even worse. I won’t go into the details but it just sounds awful, and on top of that very painful for the snails – and even though they’re gross, I wouldn’t want them to suffer. I’m not a vegetarian or anything, but I prefer to eat animals that haven’t been killed in some drawn-out way. As for escargot, you’re not missing much - it basically tastes like a not-particularly-flavorful mushroom drowned in melted butter, parsley, and a little salt. It’s the latter three ingredients that do it for me, so now when we have escargot at my boyfriend’s parents’ house, I just dip some bread into the sauce (not too much, of course, because, oh the calories), because I can’t deal with eating the snails anymore, now that I know what they went through.

Steel Breeze – It wasn’t real, but wouldn’t it be cool if there really was an intelligent, talking mountain lion out there?

Mimetalker – I’m glad you liked this, and honored it inspired you to consider writing more fiction. I hope you’ll write some, soon and share it with us here!

Sheila – Thanks. I have no idea where they all came from. Well, except for Chris the mountain lion. I love talking animals.
James – Wow, thank you. I’m so glad you liked this and I have thought about exploring this world a little more. I think it’s basically the world inside my head, talking mountain lions and all. I was really stressed for some vague reason yesterday and slept horribly last night – maybe I needed to get this out. Whatever the case, it helped. Hopefully no insomnia tonight…

Sarah –Thank you!

another steve s – Thanks so much. Writing the snail part, I found it surprisingly grosser than I thought it would be. I don’t know if that makes sense….
This one's got it all. Snails, NRA member mtn lions, arguing parents. Terrific and terrifying at the same time. R
I just can't believe you let them go!

I actually started laughing at “Your mother’s being held hostage.” On its own, I think that's probably not funny.

Hilarious and yet remarkably slimy at the same time.
ewwww..snails... they always remind me of living tongues with shells on their backs. They freak me the hell out!!!! fun story...
I think you were cooking wild mushrooms! ;)
A very Shinto like fable. R
Gnarly, man! If I didn't know better, I'd think you've been on a 60s-style acid trip or something. :D

P.S. I didn't think one could just go out and harvest any old snails for escargot. I could have been a supplier when I lived in California!

Yay, you wrote fiction! This week's prompt seems to have inspired weirdness, everyone's doing weird, and yours is right up there. Chris was entirely justified, by the way; loud neighbors are the worst. Hostage taking, though unpleasant at times, is occasionally justified. By mountain lions anyway. I also liked how the narrator and Chris are linked through their attempt to live in a natural state: either stalking mountain creatures without heavy metal accompaniment or by living without the intrusion of a cell phone. Layers, lots of layers here.
I am amazed! "we think he’s either a genius, or the result of a government experiment". Now I think that about YOU! How did you ever come up with this delightful fantasy! I can't get the vision of an apartment full of roaming snails out of my mind.
Gotta put this on facebook!
loved the story! the snails were great!