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April 23, 2012 / whirlingneedles

Knitting and Crochet Blog Week, Day 1!


Today is the first day of the Knitting and Crochet Blog Week! This is a challenge where knitting and crochet bloggers are given topics every day to interpret as they wish on their blogs. The topics are wide-ranging, but all of them relate back to fiber crafts in some way. I decided to write a serial story for Agent K that spans the entire week, using the challenge for each day to give that day’s episode a slightly different flavor. The story spans the entire week, you’ll have to check back every day to get the next installment. (Or, I suppose, wait until Sunday to read everything at once. But where’s the fun in that?) The first challenge is to blog about color. We start our adventure at a color theory class with Agent K. Not just any old color theory class, though…

"The vibrant greens of happy little trees in the spring! The bright yellows of a sprinkling of hopeful dandelions pushing their way up through the carefully manicured grass! The bright red of a robin perching on your windowsill first thing in the morning, tweeting a happy "HELLO!" to you! These are what we will be discussing today!" The lady teaching the color theory class beamed at Agent K through thick horn-rimmed glasses. Agent K smiled weakly at her and reached for the large cup of caffeine on the desk in front of her.

No one ought to be that chirpy this early in the morning. Agent K snuck a glance at her watch. 8:06 am. Perhaps not quite so surprising – it had been 8:05 am when she had looked at her watch a minute ago. She glanced up at the teacher, who was dressed in a long flowing skirt and long flowing blouse in bright spring colors. Birkenstocks with brightly colored socks peeped out from under the skirt. A Crayola box must have had a slight accident over her, Agent K decided. At that moment, she flung her hand outward in an exaggerated movement to illustrate the vibrance and vitality of color and neatly swept a student’s work in progress off the table and onto the floor. Agent K leaned back in her chair and closed her eyes for a brief nap while the student and teacher bumped heads under the table trying to retrieve the fallen WIP.

Order restored to the classroom, the teacher once again began whittering on about colors and their happy and hopeful nature. Agent K pried her eyes open and glanced casually around the room. One of the people in this class was her contact, but which one? The Agency hadn’t sent her here just to learn some elementary color theory, of course. One of the other students had sent the Agency an SOS, begging for help. According to the scrawled message on the back of the sheet torn from a first edition of “Knitting without Tears," the aliens were hot on the trail of an independent dyer. (Agent K tried to contain her dismay at the desecration of the first edition masterpiece and focus on the emergency at hand.) The message had warned the Agency that the aliens were now targeting dyers to reduce interest in wool, and the message writer had proof that a particular dyer was next on the aliens’ hit list. The only other piece of information was the date and time of this color theory class.

So here Agent K was with her project bag stuffed with scraps of a wide variety of colors, a large reservoir of caffeine, and small reservoir of patience. She had been up late last night chasing what the Agency had thought was a small group of alien infiltrators but which had ended up being bored and surly teenagers. By the time she’d gotten to bed, it had been nearly time to get up and come to this class. So, yes, she was just a bit grumpy and fed up with the cloak-and-daggerness of the whole thing. A nice, normal desk job seemed like heaven just now.

“Please, take out your needles and pick two BRIGHT colors to knit with! Remember, BRIGHT colors are HAPPY colors!”

Agent K grudgingly pulled out a set of needles and a neon pink and eye-searing yellow. She hoped these would be bright and happy enough to satisfy the teacher. They were certainly bright enough to give her a headache. Would it be rude if she put on her sunglasses in the class? She decided it probably would be and that she would have to squint instead.

“I’m sorry, those colors just don’t go together,” the teacher said in a happy sing-song. Agent K looked up to see the teacher looming over her like a very colorful shadow. She looked back down at her knitting and frowned. The colors were appalling, to be sure, but mostly because they were just very bright, not because they didn’t go together.

“What did I say at the beginning of class?” the teacher chirped. “Remember that colors should be HAPPY! Try these colors instead!” She dropped two balls of yarn onto the table in front of Agent K.

Agent K was about to tell the teacher exactly where to get off when she looked her in the eyes. She stopped and looked again. The teacher’s gaze was boring directly through Agent K’s eyes in an extremely tense and anxious manner. Suddenly something clicked, and Agent K realized she had just made contact. As she picked up the two balls of yarn (a violent violet and a gross green), she realized there was writing on the insides of the ball bands.

“Thank you, those are much better!” Agent K lied. “I will use these lovely yarns instead of the ones I brought!” She nodded to the teacher, who gave her an apologetic look and moved off to help another student.

Agent K slid the balls of yarn off the table into her lap, where she quickly and unobtrusively swapped the ball bands for the ones on her own neon yellow and pink yarns. She sat back and began to knit. The pattern provided for the class to practice with was of a bird pulling a worm out of the ground. Agent K quickly had it knit in the violet and green colors and sat back to admire her work. It was frankly appalling. The bird glared at her balefully as the worm writhed in agony. Agent K reflected that it must be a metaphor in some way that she couldn’t comprehend. The early bird gets a barely digestible worm in exchange for crawling out of his comfy and warm nest.

Agent K sighed. It was going to be one of THOSE cases.

To be continued…

April 1, 2012 / whirlingneedles

Knitters in Black


Some of you have commented recently about the lack of Agent K stories lately, and have pushed me to publish more frequently. It’s true, I haven’t been publishing as much lately, but it’s not because I’m too busy eating Cadbury eggs and watching Netflix. (That’s just this weekend’s excuse.) It’s because I’ve had something in the works for quite awhile. Something big and exciting.

Are you ready?

Okay, here it is.

THE FIRST AGENT K NOVEL-LENGTH STORY!

Knitters in Black: Agent K Pulls the Wool over the Eyestalks will be available very soon in the Amazon Kindle store as an e-book. Not only that, but we here at Whirlingneedles are in the process of getting hardbacks printed by a very reputable printing house for a very reasonable price. We will be partnering with Amazon on order fulfillment. Soon you will be able to proudly display your Agent K literature cheek-by-jowl with such spy literary giants as Dorothy Gilman and John Le Carre.

For those of you who don’t have a Kindle, the Nook and the Sony Reader editions will follow shortly. We don’t want anyone left behind. (Please, those of you with Kindles, don’t spoil the exciting ending for anyone. Spoilers posted here, on Facebook, or on Ravelry will be deleted as ruthlessly as Agent K pursues the aliens.)

Head over the Amazon now to snag your copy!

knitters in black

March 22, 2012 / whirlingneedles

Cruise Ship of the Cursed


Agent K surveyed the sparkling sea that reached out to the horizon. This cruise had been a dream of a lifetime, and she had won the Agency’s knitting contest to get aboard. (The doctor said the twitch in her eye would go away soon, as long as no one mentioned entrelac for a while.) She breathed the sea air deeply and exhaled slowly. She planned to enjoy herself for the next few weeks without a care in the world. No aliens, no government bureaucracy, just sunshine and relaxation.

That was the plan, anyway. As she settled into her lounge chair by the pool and slathered herself in SPF 45 sunblock, she sensed something was just a tiny bit off. She paused and glanced around the pool area, but nothing seemed amiss. She shrugged. It was a perfectly normal cruise, but she was still jumpy from her last assignment. A cloud seemed to pass over the sunny pool at the thought of her last assignment. The aliens had been too close for comfort that time. She shook her head to clear the dark thoughts and settled in with a copy of Elizabeth Zimmermann’s Knitting Without a License as a little light reading.

The combination of warm sun, soothing garter stitch, and exhaustion soon caught up with her, and her head drooped slowly forward. The Agency’s top agent does not snore, so instead she indulged in a bit of deep breathing while her eyelids were closed. The gentle rocking of the ship lulled her. Children splashed in the pool and cabana boys served other patron briskly, but Agent K enjoyed her slumber undisturbed.

The afternoon wore on. The sun moved in the sky, and eventually Agent K discovered that while she had gone to sleep in the warm sun, she now was napping in the cool shade. It was getting a bit brisk here in the shade – the slight sea breeze that had felt so wonderful and kept her so cool now chilled her exposed toes. She got up groaning at the inevitable sunburn, stretched gingerly, and picked up her things. Time to head to dinner.

She sleepily made her way to her cabin to change for dinner. As she fumbled in her bag for her room key, digging in a squirrel’s nest of knitting project, cable needles, patterns, and various notions, her attention was drawn to a cabin down the hall. A young woman was arguing with a young man, the two of them tugging at something between them. They struggled for a moment, then the young woman won the tug-of-war, sending both them staggering back a pace. She gave a brittle laugh, waved whatever it was in his face, then stalked off. The young man frowned, then caught Agent K’s eye and hurriedly opened his cabin door and slipped inside.

Agent K probably wouldn’t have thought much of this incident if she hadn’t happened to be next to the young couple’s table at dinner. The woman was overly bright at dinner, and the man was slightly sulky. Agent K picked at her excellent dinner of filet mignon while stretching her ears eagerly to find out what the disagreement was about.

“I wish you’d stop sulking!” the young woman exclaimed. “It’s getting really old, Ben.”

“I just think you should let me take care of it, Jamie,” Ben said. “It’s very valuable and you never know who is going to try to take it from you.”

“Oh, come on, who do you think is going to try to take it from me?” Jamie rolled her eyes. “The only people who know that we even have it are you and me. It’s extremely doubtful that they’ve followed us onto the boat, even if they did know we have it. And the chances of someone on the boat finding out about it and actually wanting it are slim to none.”

“It’s that kind of talk that worries me,” Ben said angrily. “The chances are slim, but that doesn’t mean that no one will be interested. Someone may find out, and someone may decide to act.”

“Ben, has anybody ever told you you’re an old woman?” Jamie said contemptuously.

Ben set his drink down the click. He threw down his napkin, pushed his chair back, and stood up. He glared down at Jamie and said, “Fine. I will see you back at our cabin. Just make sure that you don’t lose it.”

“Don’t worry, I’ve got it,” Jamie said. “Enjoy your evening.”

Agent K watched Ben stalk off as Jamie sat smugly at the table. Once Ben was out of sight, though, Jamie slumped down into her seat. She reached under her chair and pulled something into her lap. Agent K leaned casually back in her chair pretending to stretch. She couldn’t quite make out which Jamie was looking at though. It seemed to be something tiny, in a small drawstring bag. Jamie hurriedly rifled in the small bag, then pulled the drawstrings tight and stuffed the little bag back into her pocket. She glanced around the room as she did this, and Agent K looked carefully back at her dinner.

Agent K knew that she should mind her own business. She was here on vacation, after all. But something about this young couple and their furtive behavior had caught her attention. What had been intended to be a relaxing and uneventful cruise was starting to shape up as something more.

Dinner was starting to wind down, and Jamie continued to sit all by herself. Agent K continued to watch Jamie out of the corner of her eye. If Agent K hadn’t known that Jamie was hiding something to begin with, she would have known by the end of dinner. Jamie continually touched the pocket where she had hidden the drawstring bag, taking the bag out periodically and touching whatever was inside, then stuffing it back into the pocket. Agent K thought grimly that any pickpocket on the ship worth his salt would be targeting Jamie the minute she left her seat. Agent K ate her chocolate chip cheesecake thoughtfully, then got up just as Jamie did.

“Oh my, I’m going to weigh about 50 pounds more at the end of this cruise as I did at the beginning!” Agent K said ruefully, effortlessly catching up to Jamie as they headed out the dining roome.

Jamie had been deep in thought and started at Agent K’s voice. “Um, yeah, me too,” she said nervously, looking around the hallway.

“It’s a good thing I don’t eat like this all the time!” Agent said, tittering just a bit.

“No, no, me too,” replied Jamie.

“Aren’t you just down the hall from me?” asked Agent K. “I’m sure I’ve seen you before tonight. And that handsome young man you’re with. Is he your boyfriend?”

“Ben?” Jamie gave a brittle laugh. “Oh, no, we’re second cousins twice removed. I wouldn’t have taken one step with him otherwise.”

“Not very good company?” sympathized Agent K.

“Oh, he’s okay,” Jamie said. “He’s just a bit … nervous.”

“Nervous? Oh, yes, I was very nervous on my first cruise too!” Agent K fibbed. She crossed her fingers behind her back. “But this is my tenth cruise, and there’s nothing to be nervous about! These ships rarely sink.”

Jamie gave her a funny look, as if she were about to correct Agent K’s misapprehension. She opened her mouth to speak, but seemed to think better of it. By this time, they had reached the hallway where their cabins were.

“Have a good evening,” Jamie said with finality. “I’m sure you’ll have a great cruise.”

Agent K stood at the door to her cabin watching Jamie continue down the hall. The whole time since they had left the dining room, Jamie had been holding her hand either over the pocket with the drawstring bag, or dipping into the pocket. She might as well have been waving a red flag and yelling “Pick my pocket!” at the top of her voice. Agent K watched to be sure that Jamie got safely into her cabin, then entered her own cabin.

She had just settled down with a plain sock in self-striping yarn when the yelling started. She threw the sock aside and ran to the door. Jamie was standing in the hallway screaming at Ben.

“I told you I would take care of them, and I will! I don’t need you looking over my shoulder all the time!” she screeched. Ben looked apprehensively up and down the hallway where doors were popping open and curious heads peeping out.

“Now, now, I’m not looking over your shoulder,” Ben said feebly. “You know that I wouldn’t do that. I just want to make sure that they’re safe.”

“Oh, they’ll be safe, all right! I can handle it!” snapped Jamie, lowering her voice as she noticed the curious onlookers they were attracting.

“Excuse me,” said Agent K, stepping up to the couple. “Is there anything wrong? Can I help?”

“Not unless you know how to secure a priceless set of ivory and diamond stitch markers with someone constantly looking over your shoulder!” retorted Jamie. She clapped her hand over her mouth in shock. “Pretend you didn’t hear that! No one is supposed to know!”

“Stitch markers?” Agent K said curiously.

“Yes, stitch markers,” said Ben, looking daggers at Jamie. “No one is supposed to know about them, Jamie! It’s supposed to be a secret. Now the whole hallway knows! Nice work! They will hear about it, and that will be the end of that!”

“Are these knitting stitch markers by any chance?” ask Agent K.

“Yes,” sighed Jamie. She looked at Agent K for a moment, then seemed to decide that Agent K looked harmless enough and invited her into the cabin. Jamie closed the door before continuing. “They belonged to a royal princess, but were stolen in the late 1790s under mysterious circumstances. They’re said to be cursed – that anyone who tries to use them who is not their true owner will never be able to follow a pattern correctly. We’re on a mission to find the proper heir and return them so that no more knitters have to suffer the curse. It’s been a grueling process with way too many late nights spent on Ancestry.com.”

“Not only that,” added Ben, who seemed to have accepted Agent K’s presence with little more than a scowl at Jamie. “But we have to keep on the move because THEY are trying to stop us.”

“And who is “THEY”?” asked Agent K.

“We don’t know … exactly,” said Jamie. “All we know is that we keep having all sorts of inconvenient accidents. At first we couldn’t work out what was happening, but then the accidents seemed to focus on the stitch markers. The luggage that we decided at the last minute shouldn’t have the markers went missing at the airport. Not just once, but several times. We’ve been mugged by someone looking for a drawstring bag. The police caught that guy, but he said he was paid to steal the drawstring bag, and only the drawstring bag. He wouldn’t say who had hired him. We’ve had a couple of burglaries where nothing was taken, but the room we usually stored the markers in was ransacked. Well, I say nothing was taken. It was really nothing of value.”

“But who would break in only to steal lime jello?” burst in Ben.

“Hmm…” said Agent K.

“Anyway,” continued Jamie, “we are getting really close now. We’ve identified the proper owner of the stitch markers. We are posing as ordinary tourists, but we’ll get off at the next stop to give the markers to the rightful owner.”

“What happens when the owner gets the markers?” asked Agent K.

“According to the lore, the curse will be lifted,” answered Jamie. “The rightful owner can sell them, or give them away, or whatever he wants. From that point on, as long as the markers change hands willingly, there should be no more trouble. As long as we can keep them safe until the next port of call, we should be fine.”

“That’s two days away,” said Ben wearily. “We’re going crazy trying to protect the things, and it’s highly likely that whoever is trying to get them from us is on the ship right now, just waiting for an opportunity. If he or she doesn’t strike in the next two days, the markers will just be ordinary markers.”

“Right,” said Agent K, rubbing her hands together briskly. “I’ll help you out. I think I know who is after the stitch markers, and while you’ve done a bang-up job keeping them safe up to this point, the aliens’ efforts will likely be stepped up considerably.”

“The … aliens?” said Ben, staring at Agent K. Agent K waved a hand dismissively.

“Yes, aliens,” she said irritably. “Aliens exist, and they are on Earth to make sure that all wool is eradicated. If they can discover how to curse knitting notions, they’ll be well on their way to accomplishing their goals.”

“Um … aliens?” echoed Jamie in a stunned way.

“Yes, aliens,” said Agent K. “Right, now you’re in luck, because I’m a member of an elite corps of knitters who fight the aliens to stop them from taking away our wool. I’ve heard rumors of cursed knitting notions before, but I always thought they were myths. Anyway, it’s lucky I ran into you. Where are the stitch markers now?”

Jamie reluctantly pulled the drawstring bag out of her pocket and held them out to Agent K.

“No, I don’t want to handle them, just show them to me,” she said. No sense in risking the curse rubbing off onto her!

Jamie spilled a set of six stitch markers into her palm and showed them to Agent K.

They were amazing. The ivory was worked into a set of animals, each with two tiny diamond eyes winking up at her. A sheep, a llama, an alpaca, a goat, a rabbit, and a yak were posed in mid-step, with hooves or paws raised jauntily. The rings were of tarnished silver. No one had used these markers in a very long time, Agent K reflected sadly as Jamie slid them back into the bag.

“First things first,” said Agent K. “You are no longer to carry them around with you when you leave the cabin. They stay here in the cabin with us. I had you pegged as someone with something valuable the instant I saw you.” Jamie blushed and hung her head. “From now on, no one leaves this room. We’ll order room service as sparingly as possible and keep the door locked at all times. We’ll sleep in shifts, and only one person leaves the room at any time for bathroom breaks. Understand?”

Jamie and Ben nodded, and Agent K went to her cabin to fetch some gear. The next hour saw the three of them securing the room against all comers, and when the room was practically airtight, Agent K flopped into a chair with a sigh.

“We’ve done what we can,” she said, regarding the room with satisfaction. “I’ve set up an anti-teleportation device that should stop any aliens from appearing inside the room. If they do manage to get in through the porthole or door, they’ll find a wool net ready to descend onto them. The stitch markers as housed in a transparent wool case so that we can see them at all times but they’ll be protected from the aliens. Arm yourselves, and get ready for a long two days.”

All three of them picked up a set of knitting needles and some wool, and were soon knitting away. Agent K found that Ben and Jamie were already competent knitters and surmised that they had not succumbed to lure of those beautiful stitch markers. It was difficult – from a distance of only a few feet, the urge to use the stitch markers was overwhelming, but the Agency had trained Agent K well to resist just this sort of torture.

As they knit, Agent K told Ben and Jamie all about the Agency, and her own fascinating story of how she had become an Agent. She described some of her more harrowing and dangerous missions to a flatteringly wide-eyed audience. The evening wore on and slowly dimmed to darkness. The ship was a noisy place even at this late hour, but as the revelers trickled back to their cabins the noise faded. Ben and Jamie nodded off, but Agent K remained watchful.

She was rewarded for her vigilance when the door to the cabin slowly opened. She had not heard a sound, and Ben and Jamie remained peacefully asleep. The crack in the door widened, letting in soft light from the hallway. A tentacle tentatively wiggled into the crack, followed by an eyestalk which glared around the room. Agent K sat motionless, waiting for the alien to make its move and hardly daring to breathe.

The door opened wider and the alien slowly entered the room. Just as the slimy green creature was fully in the room, Agent K sprang into action. She yelled “NOW!!!” at Ben and Jamie, then hit the switch that turned on the light and dropped the wool net. Ben and Jamie rubbed their eyes and stared at the angry flailing alien in the middle of their cabin. The alien roared and tried to fling off the net, but he was well and truly trapped. Agent K gave him a minute to get his frustration out, then flicked the lights to get his attention. He subsided, but glared at Agent K with an angry red eye.

“Okay, time to talk,” said Agent K. “What do you want in this cabin?”

“I heard there was lime jello in here. Isn’t this the galley?” asked the alien, trying for nonchalance a bit too late.

Agent K rolled her eyes. “No, it’s not the galley. Why don’t you just admit what you’re really here for?”

“Why should I tell you anything? Who are you, anyway?” retorted the alien. “Just because I walked into the wrong cabin doesn’t mean anything. Here I am, minding my own business, and you throw this nasty wool all over me. Do you know how much this stuff itches? I’m going to need a vat of calamine lotion to stop the itching.”

“If you must know, I’m Agent K,” she replied. The alien suddenly stopped scratching himself with his tentacles and became very still, staring at Agent K.

“You can’t be!” he gasped. “They said this was a routine case! Just steal a few cursed stitch markers, nothing too it! Only a couple of dweebs to deal with, and I’d be home free. Now you’re saying you’re the Agency’s top agent? How did you get assigned to this case?”

“DWEEBS?!?” chorused Ben and Jamie.

“It’s just you unlucky day, I guess,” said Agent K, ignoring Ben and Jamie’s indignation. “How did you find out about the cursed stitch markers, and what were you planning on doing with them?”

“Nothing, nothing, we just wanted to look at them,” the alien said airly, shifting his eye around. “We just heard a rumor, that’s all.”

Agent K picked up a ball of wool from the table next to her and advanced menacingly toward the alien.

“You wouldn’t!” he gasped.

“Try me!” she said, unwinding a bit from the ball.

He gulped. “Okay, I’ll talk! We intercepted an email from an antique knitting notions dealer a few weeks ago. These dweebs…” Ben snorted angrily. “As I was saying, these dweebs were going about trying to find the rightful owner for a set of stitch markers. They were refusing to sell the markers to anyone, at any price. This, of course, was very suspicious, and emails starting flowing around the antique notions dealer network. We have spies and monitors who watch for this sort of activity, and we did a bit of research and discovered the alleged power of these markers. We tried several times to get our tentacles on them so that we could study them and figure out how to curse more notions.”

“Whose idea was that?” asked Agent K.

The alien smirked. “Oh, that was my idea! No one will want to knit if they can’t get past a little curse. It was one of my frequent bursts of brilliance.”

“I’m sure it was,” said Agent K dryly.

“Well, we kept trying, but nothing worked. We couldn’t get the markers. Then we heard that these dweebs were going on a cruise, and we decided to strike while we still could.”

“Stop calling us dweebs!” fumed Jamie.

“Whatever you say, moron,” said the alien. “How were we to know that the Agency would get involved? It was supposed to be a quick snatch and grab. Easy peasy.” He sighed despondently. “You are going to take me to the detention center with the lime jello, right?” He brightened a bit at the prospect.

“Yes,” Agent K said. “If you go quietly, you’ll have all the lime jello you want.”

“Do you have any on you now?” he asked hopefully.

He seemed to deflate a bit when he was assure that Agent K did not in fact have lime jello on her person, but did not resist when the ship docked and the Agency cleaner team came aboard to escort him off. Agent K watched as he was led from the ship, still boasting to the Agency cleaners about his brilliant scheme to curse knitting notions the world over.

It was almost an anti-climax when Ben and Jamie took the stitch markers to the elderly lady who was their rightful owner. She seemed oblivious to their import, and calmly agreed to sell them to Jamie for a pittance. Ben and Agent K watched with bated breath as Jamie cast on a complex lace swatch using the stitch markers. They breathed a bit easier as each row came out perfectly.

Agent K reboarded the ship, determined to enjoy what remained of her vacation. A deck chair in the warm sun called to her…

November 5, 2011 / whirlingneedles

Knitting on the Edge


The tension was so thick you could cut it with a knife. The high-powered lights trained on the host and contestants didn’t help much, either. The buzzer in Agent K’s hand was slippery with nervous sweat as she waited for the game to begin. On the other side of the lights, hundreds of faceless audience members murmured and rustled in anticipation. The game would start soon.

The latest game show to be added to the fall TV schedule had taken the Agency by surprise, and the brass in the corner suite did not like surprises. “Knitting on the Edge” was airing on Tuesday nights, and there was definitely something fishy going on. None of the knitters who appeared on the show seemed to be known to the Agency, yet they were answering very difficult knitting and fiber questions with apparent ease. The initial investigation had turned up no one who knew them – apparently none of them visited their local yarn stores, shopped at online yarn stores, bought fleece, owned sheep, or had Ravelry profiles. That was enough to cause the Agency to become very concerned.

So here Agent K was, on set at the game show. The Agency had pulled a few strings at the network (several network executives were later spotted wearing handknit socks) to plant an Agent on the show. So far, the contestants had not been allowed to talk to one another or to the host, so Agent K had not yet been able to make much progress in her investigations. She had been hustled from makeup to a quick rules session to the stage in what seemed like a very short time. Someone had thrust a buzzer into her hand, and a minute later the theme music began to play.

“Welcome to Knitting on the Edge!” the host shouted with a toothy grin. “We’re expecting a wild and wooly contest today, so hang onto your needles because HERE. WE. GO!”

“First question: What animal does qiviut come from?”

Agent K thumbed her buzzer, but she must have been a half second behind, because the contestant to her right was already answering “Muskox!”

“That’s right!” The audience clapped as the contestant’s board registered a point. “Next question: In what year did Elizabeth Zimmerman write the seminal “Knitting Without Tears?”

This time the contestant to Agent K’s left managed to beat her to the buzzer. “1971!”

“Excellent!” More applause from the audience.

The score crept up on the other contestants’ boards, but Agent K never seemed to manage to hit the buzzer fast enough. She was beginning to smell a rat. There was no way two random people off the street could have faster reflexes than the Agency’s highly trained top Agent. They were nearing the end of the round of questions. The next round should be right up Agent K’s alley – an obstacle course with knitting challenges. If she couldn’t make headway there, she would know the game was rigged.

The final buzzer sounded. Agent K was in third place with no points, while the other two contestants were tied at 57 each. Yeah, nothing suspicious there!

Agent K followed the other two contestants backstage to be dressed in their protective gear for the obstacle round. An assistant shoved a mouth guard roughly into her mouth, smashed a helmet onto her head, and slapped knee and elbow pads on her limbs. She was reeling just a little from this rough treatment (one ear had been caught in the helmet and smarted just a bit) when the toothy host came backstage. He wasn’t so toothy now.

“Right, onstage. Now!” He was giving Agent K the stinkeye as she passed him, although she couldn’t figure out why. Could he be in on whatever was going on here? The other two contestants hadn’t said a word, just trotted out on stage.

“It’s EXCITEMENT TIME now!” cried the host, back to his charming and smarmy self for the audience.

The three contestants were lined up behind starting gates. Agent K’s gate would be released 57 seconds behind the other two because her score was so poor. There was no telling what was on the other side of the gate, so Agent K nervously shifted her weight from one foot to the other as the gasps, laughter, and cheers from the audience tracked the other contestants’ progress. She was trying to ease her helmet over her sore ear when the door opened.

She was all set to charge out of the gate but stopped in shock. There was nothing on the other side of the gate. No audience, no obstacles, just a large, dark room. She cautiously stepped forward into the room, but whipped around as the gate slammed shut behind her. She tugged at it, but it was firmly locked and she could see no lock or handle on her side.

Feeling more alarmed by the moment, she stepped away from the door and began to explore the dark room. There was just enough light to see where she was putting her feet, but that was about it. She held her hands out in front of her and stepped bolding into the room. A dozen paces took her to the opposite wall, which was cold concrete. Feeling along the wall, she discovered that the room was a concrete box with no other door than the one she had come in by. A metal table and a pair of chairs were in the center of the room, but the table was bare. She sat down at the table and took off her protective gear and waited.

And waited. She had no idea how much time had passed, but it was long enough that she was thirsty and hungry before a smell of wet dog indicated that a short-range teleport had been activated. The alien who had just appeared in the room set a lantern on the table, illuminating the room with a faint glow.

“Well, well, who do we have here?” sneered the alien. “Agent K herself! This is a red-letter day for alienkind indeed!”

“What do you want?” asked Agent K, ignoring his taunts. “What’s with this elaborate farce of a game?”

“This ‘elaborate farce of a game’ as you so eloquently put it has been our latest strategy of attack,” the alien said, oozing his lime-green rear into the other metal chair. “We’ve been capturing knitters for months. The fools sign up to be on the game show, and we are replicating them and sending the replications home to their families. The only difference between the real person and the replication is the sudden lack of desire to knit. Yarn sales have been in decline. WE are winning the war, one knitter at a time!” He roared with laughter.

Agent K felt sick. This was worse than she could have imagined. How could all those knitters have gone missing with no one realizing that they had been switched? What had happened to the knitters themselves? Surely, the aliens wouldn’t kill them, right? The war between Earth and the aliens was bloodless so far. If the aliens were killing knitters, the aliens must realize that they couldn’t escape retribution. And why had the Agency not noticed the absence of so many knitters? The Agency had noticed a down tick in the sale of yarn, fleece, and all the accoutrements of knitting, but no one had been seriously alarmed. The economy was bad, after all.

“How many humans have you kidnapped?” asked Agent K, struggling to keep her voice calm.

“Oh, just a few dozen, not very many, after all,” the alien replied casually. “Don’t worry, they’re in good tentacles. And they’re not bored or anything. Oh, no, we have them hard at work burning fleeces and making lamb chops.”

While she was relieved to find that they were not dead, she was horrified at the aliens’ cruelty toward the poor captive knitters. Forcing them to destroy the things they loved was tantamount to torture.

“I demand you release them at once!” she cried, pounding her fist on the table. “How dare you kidnap them? I say, how dare you, sir!”

“You’re in no position to make demands!” snarled the alien. “In case you haven’t figured it out, miss top agent, there’s no way out of here except by teleport. No one will know that you’re in our hands. You’ll be replaced just like the others and no one will come for you. You are our prisoner!”

Agent K glared at him, but he was right. There was nothing she could do, for now. She wondered how long it would be before someone noticed that her replication had no interest in knitting and start to ask questions. She was on her own, and she would have to get herself out of this mess on her own. She would get as many of the captive knitters out as possible as well, and alert the Agency to this fiendish plot.

She slumped in apparent dejection in her chair. “Okay, you’re right, you win.” From under her eyelashes she saw the evil grin of triumph on the alien’s face as he accepted her resignation at face value.
In a very short time, she found herself teleported out of the dark room and into a dark cell. From rows of bunks scared, anxious faces peered at her.

“It’s Agent K!” cried one woman. “From the Agency! You’re here to take us home, right?” The woman grabbed her arm in a frenzy of excitement. A cheer rang out in the room. Agent K gently shook her off, and shook her head.

“I’m sorry, I’m a prisoner just like you,” she said. A hush of disappointment fell over the cell, dampening the enthusiasm of the moment before. “But I’m going to do my best to get out of here and take you with us.”

“There’s no escape,” a thin man with glasses said. “We’ve tried. The only way in and out is the teleport, and there’s no way to get that away from the aliens.”

“First things first,” said Agent K, taking charge of the anxious group. “Is everyone okay? Any injuries?” Everyone signaled that they were okay, so she continued. “Assets. Bring everything that could possibly be of use to the front of the room and lay them out on the floor.”

In a very short space of time, a dishearteningly small collection of objects was laid out on the floor at Agent K’s feet. A few yards of worsted weight wool, a dozen ink pens, a handful of pocket change, and a couple of hard candies made up the sum total of the assets of the captive knitters. Agent K added her crochet hook from her boot to the pile. There was a defeated silence as the group surveyed the pile.

“Okay, next,” Agent K said as brightly as she could. “Intelligence. Do the aliens keep to a schedule? When can we expect them to come into the cell?”

“We don’t have any clocks or watches, so we’re not really sure,” answered the thin bespeckled man. “They go long stretches without coming at all, and when they do they feed us only on lime jello and then make us work at destroying fleeces and cooking lambs. It’s been horrible!” He dissolved into tears. His neighbor patted his back comfortingly.

“Well, it sounds as if they may be keeping to the schedule of their home planet, which has a 64 hour day. And they may not be aware that humans need more than lime jello to survive. The next time they come around, I’m going to demand that we be given better rations.” Agent K hoped that the group was looking more cheerful, but she suspected that it was just her imagination. “While they are distracted trying to feed us better, I’ll construct a net out of this wool.”

“Er, about that,” said a young woman with long blonde hair.

“Yes?” asked Agent K, reaching for the wool.

“That’s not wool.”

“What?” Agent K picked up and discovered that it was in fact a very nice acrylic, not wool as she had first thought.

“They took any wool we had away from us,” the young woman explained. “I guess these ones aren’t as dumb as they look.”

Agent K sat down wearily on one of the bunks, eying the offending piece of pseudowool. She wondered if she could fool the aliens for even a second with it, but decided it wasn’t worth the risk. If she had been alone, she might have tried it, but the consequences to the captive knitters might be too high. She needed a new plan, and fast, before they all starved on lime jello.

“Okay, here’s the new plan,” she said with what confidence she could muster. The next time the aliens teleported into the room, they were ready.

The aliens always teleported into the same spot in the room. (The captive knitters had learned to hard way to avoid that spot after one of them had had a very unpleasant sliming when the alien teleported on top of her.) Agent K had her troops deployed in a circle around that spot. When the alien teleported in with their daily lime jello, several things seemed to happen at once. The thin man with the glasses knocked the tray of jello out of the alien’s hands, sending green gelatin arcing across the room to splatter on the concrete floor. As the alien moaned and started towards it, the young woman with the long blonde hair tossed a bedsheet over its head, and Agent K wound the acrylic tightly around the bedsheet and alien.

“Hurry,” she gasped. “He’s already oozing through the sheet!”

A tall blonde Scandinavian lady grabbed the teleport from the alien’s thrashing tentacle and waved it aloft. The knitters and Agent K rushed to touch a finger to the teleport.

“Everyone ready?” shouted Agent K. Hearing no negatives, she shouted “GO!” to the Scandinavian lady. The room dissolved around her, and the gaggle of knitters staggered as they reappeared a few blocks from the television studio.

Agent K borrowed the cell phone of a passerby who stood gaping at the crowd of strangers that had just appeared out of thin air. “It’s for a tv show,” she explained kindly. The man nodded numbly.

In a very short span of time, the Agency had vans full of Agents swarming the tv studio, and other vans carting away the shell-shocked previously captive knitters. They would be debriefed back at the Agency over a cup of hot soup. No lime jello would be served. (In fact, none of the previously captive knitters ate jello every again.)
Unfortunately, the aliens had vamoosed as quickly as possible from the tv studio as soon as they were aware of the knitters’ escape. The Agency did not manage to find any aliens in the studio or the labyrinth of cells and passageways below it.

November 1, 2011 / whirlingneedles

I’m not a slacker, I swear


I have a completed Agent K story all finished and ready to go. I just can’t post it.

I wrote this story starting on Saturday night and finished it on Sunday morning. The problem is that the power and Internet both went out on Saturday night due to a freak October snowstorm and have not come back yet. I finished it in the window between when my Internet died and when my laptop battery died. So now it’s trapped on my laptop until such time as Connecticut Light and Power decide to get around to restoring power on my street.

So a new adventure pitting Agent K and her wits against the aliens is coming, just as soon as it can.

October 21, 2011 / whirlingneedles

A Tale of Two Sweaters


Sweater the First:

Pattern: Sirdal Cardigan by Dale of Norway

Yarn: Dale of Norway Heilo, Charcoal and Cream

This is a traditional Norwegian-style cardigan, with patterning on the wrists, waist, and upper body and “lice” on the main body and sleeves. It features hems on the waist and cuffs. I knit it from the bottom to the shoulders in one tube, then steeked (EEK!!!) for the front opening, sleeve holes, and neck.

I started this back in May and worked on the very beginning of the hem at a knitting class a WEBS for very beginners. On this pattern, you work back and forth a bit for the hem facing before joining in the round to make the body. So I was working back and forth on a circular needle prior to joining, and one of the beginners asked what I was doing. I explained, and she gasped and said “Are you allowed to do that?”

“Do what?”

“Work back and forth on a circular work!” She turned to the teacher and asked, in a scandalized voice, “Is she allowed to do that?”

I assure you, I am allowed to do that! Even if I weren’t “allowed” to do it, I am the boss of my knitting, and you can’t stop me! So there.

The finished object:

A close-up of the chest patterning:

A close-up of the “forbidden” hem, button band, and steek facing. (The raw cut edges are hidden under the facing on the inside of the button band. I debated not doing this facing, as it was a lot of fiddly work to pick up, knit, and sew it down. I’m glad I did it, though, because I think it looks really nice and finished.)

I started this in May, but I didn’t finish it until last week. Why? Because just as I got the the part where I had to steek (EEK!!!) and sew everything up, it got really hot. Too hot to have a lap full of wool, and there was nothing else to be done on it that didn’t require having the whole thing in my lap. So the pieces of the sweater languished in a heap on my couch until it got cool enough not to have a heat stroke while working on it.

Sweater the second:

Pattern: Irish Moss by Alice Starmore

Yarn: Valley Yarns Northampton, Dark Olive Heather

This is a cabled pullover designed by Alice Starmore, from the book Aran Knitting. Again, knit in the round to the shoulders, then steeked (EEK!!!) for the arm and neck holes, with the sleeves picked up at the steeked (EEK!!!) edges and knit down to the wrists. (I knit the saddle shoulders separately and sewed them to the tops of the front and back prior to picking up stitches for the rest of the sleeves.) That’s actually not what the pattern calls for. The pattern calls for the front, back, and sleeves to be knit in pieces and sewn up. I like to face my patterns while I’m knitting them, and don’t particularly like to sew things up. (I’ll do it if I have to, but it’s not my favorite thing to do.) Even though the cables and traveling stitches are slow work, I think the final result was worth it.

A close-up of the center panel:

October 19, 2011 / whirlingneedles

Silky Wool


The safety of the darkness was disturbed, with a violent jiggling and shaking. The creature that had been sleeping quietly in her silky corner was jerked rudely awake. She rushed out of the shadows, trying desperately to scurry to the safe crack in the wall. Is was too late, though. The last thing the poor creature saw was the dark shadow of impending doom crashing down…
 
Agent K reared back in disgust.
 
"Ew. And this is what you called me for?" She rose to her feet, dusting off the knees of her jeans.
 
The director of the Center for Arachnology sniffed dolefully. "Yes, this was our favorite spider and best producer. Until last night, that is. Someone broke in and mercilessly slaughtered poor Elvira."
 
"But why did you called the Agency?" Agent K asked, bewildered. "I don’t know who is responsible for spider murders, but surely the local police…? Breaking and entering…?"
 
"You don’t understand," cried the director. "We have been working on a way to incorporate spider silk into yarn, to make it stronger and lighter."
 
Agent K gaped at the director. Spider silk yarn? Ick.
 
"We have been working with our arachnologists and wool scientists to come up with ways to combine spider silk and wool in a way that’s pleasing and functional. Here, this is a skein of 15% spider silk and 85% wool – see low light and soft it is?"
 
Agent K took the skein reluctantly. She normally tried to avoid touching spider webs, but she was in for a shock. The skein of spider silk and wool was amazingly soft and light. All her previous experience with spider webs had led her to expect a sticky mess of shudder-inducing horror, but this was heavenly. It wasn’t sticky at all, but light and fluffy. She looked up at the director in wonder.
 
"That is our latest product, our highest achievement!" said the director, pleased at Agent K’s reaction. "But now we may not be able to make any more." He looked down at Elvira’s smushed remains on the floor and shook his head sadly.
 
"But surely you have other spiders?" asked Agent K.
 
"We do, but Elvira was a unique crossbreed. All the other spiders produce sticky silk, which you can understand is highly undesirable in this application. Elvira was a triumph of breeding, with exactly the right combination of lightness and unstickiness. We had hoped to breed her to Elvis and have lots of little Elviras running around the center."
 
Agent K repressed a shudder at the thought.
 
"Well, can’t you reproduce her breeding? Don’t you have records of what you did?" she asked.
 
"They were stolen! Whoever did this knew exactly what they were doing," he sobbed. "They stomped on just the right spider, and stole all the right files."
 
"Do you have any enemies? Who would know about your work and want to stop it?" asked Agent K, handing him a tissue.

“Of course we don’t have any enemies! Who would want to hurt poor little Elvira?” the director replied indignantly. Agent K refrained from disclosing the number of spiders that had met their demises at her hands. “And anyway, it’s not like we let just anyone in here. We have a high-tech security system. Somehow someone got around it, let Elvira out of her cage, and …  and … ” He made a squashing motion with his hands, then resumed sobbing.

Agent K patted his back awkwardly. “We’ll do what we can,” she promised. The director nodded, and returned to his office still sniffling. Agent K turned to the Agency forensics team that had accompanied her to the Center for Arachnology, and motioned them to do their thing. She watched for a few minutes as they put up yellow tape around the corpse and began photographing and measuring the crime scene.

It didn’t take long for the forensics team to finish the job. Elvira had been pretty big for a spider, but even the biggest spider didn’t take up much more space than the bottom of a shoe. One of the team members scooped up the remains between two magazine return cards and carried them out of the room in a ziploc baggie, leaving a tiny chalk outline on the concrete floor. Agent K informed the director that they would contact him when the test results came back in, and left.

Several hours later, the forensics team lead, Agent F, reported the test results to Agent K.

“Not surprisingly,” Agent F told her, “cause of death was blunt force trauma to the, well, everything. No drugs found in the vic’s system. We did get a clean shoe print, though. The shoe print pattern was very clearly marked on the victim’s body, uh, the victim’s body WAS the shoe print.” Agent K shuddered. “Sorry. We’ll send you the print pattern. Other than that, no evidence. Well, except for the bit of yarn embedded in the, well, really entangled in the remains of the left legs.” Agent F looked slightly green. “But as far as we can tell, it’s the same yarn the Center uses, so no real help there.”

“Thank you,” Agent K said, hoping he’d stop talking about squished spiders. Agent F handed her the report and left. She took the shoe print image out of the folder. Luckily someone had drawn out the impression so she didn’t have to actually view the body again. She swiveled in her chair and placed the impression on the computer scanner. A few minutes later, the computer had found a match.

“Gotcha,” said Agent K with satisfaction.

Under cover of darkness that evening, Agent K led the Agency strike team and motioned for them to surround the building. The Agency had been waiting months to take down this operation, but had never had the evidence it needed to do so. Now, finally, there was physical evidence from a crime scene.

Sympathetic Synthetics was a large producer of all things synthetic, from plastic flowers to acrylic yarn to rubber dog poop. Sympathetic had been pushing its way into local establishments, trying to convince local shop owners that synthetic was the way to go, the way of the future. Anything natural was anathema to the company. The Sympathetic sales team wasn’t above intimidation to push their wares, either. Knitters and crocheters would go into a local yarn shop and, where there had once been wool as far as the eye could see, there was now only synthetic fibers and scared shop owners refused to carry anything else. But nothing could be pinned on Sympathetic without hard evidence. But that was about to change.

The Agency wanted to bring Sympathetic down, and unprecedented levels of resources were put to the task. Everything and everyone connected to the company was noted and logged. Even the synthetic rubber soles of the shoes distributed free to the company’s workers were noted in the Agency’s database. So, when Agent K ran the shoe print from Elvira’s squashing through the database, Sympathetic came up nearly immediately.

Agent K stood back as a couple of Agents swung a battering ram at the locked Sympathetic door. The door banged open, and Agent K led the swarm of Agents into the building. She headed straight for the Executive Suite, ignoring doors on either side of the corridor. Other Agents would search for Sympathetic employees and question them, but Agent K wanted to be the one to grab the big fish. She pushed the frosted glass door on the Suite open.

“You must be Agent K,” sneered the lime-green alien behind the desk. On the desk were spread the breeding notes and secrets of the Center for Spider Research. He held a class full of jiggling lime jello in one tentacle and waved another at Agent K, inviting her to sit down. “I was wondering when you would arrive.”

“So you don’t deny the charges?” demanded Agent K, ignoring the offered seat.

“Charges?” asked the alien in mock surprise.

“Arachnocide, for one. Breaking and entering, theft of corporate trade secrets, interfering with new yarn development…”

“Oh, yes, I did all that,” the alien said, waving his tentacle in dismissal.

“You know we are going to arrest you,” stated Agent K, watching him narrowly.

“Oh, yes,” he repeated. “Oh, definitely. Please, arrest me.”

Agent K regarded him suspiciously.

He heaved a sigh. “I’m so tired of all this. Do you know that fake dog poop is up 217% in the last six months? I was promised adventure, excitement! I came to Earth in search of my fortune and everlasting glory. Do you know what it’s like to be in charge of fake dog poop? The only thing worse would be in charge of actual dog poop. I’m sorry, I just want my ticket home. You all can have your wool. I’m out of here.”

“So you smashed Elvira just to get us to send you home?” asked Agent K in disbelief. “You know, you could have just turned yourself in.”

“Where’s the challenge in that?” asked the alien. “This was way more fun. Matching wits with the famous Agent K! Besides, does the world need any more spiders?” He shuddered.

She had to admit he had a point.