Sunday, May 19, 2019

Using a Rubric Assessment Tool for Narrator Auditions


May 19, 2019

BUY NOW

Every once in a while I come across a foreign author who will reach out to me and today was no exception. As I was writing my blog post on using a rubric assessment tool for narrator auditions, I received a message from Loredano Cafaro concerning his collection of short stories/flash fiction which was first published in 1997 in paper form and then in 2018, as ebook; both times in the Italian language. I found that extremely interesting because I am in the process of having all of my novels translated into foreign languages to increase my marketing base; therefore I was extremely interested. Cafaro's book, Of Reality and Dream: Tales for Underground is a collection of short stories and is available on Amazon and in English and I want to introduce you to it. Here is the book's trailer. For more information, contact Cafaro through his website at https://loredanocafaro.com/.





Using a Rubric Assessment Tool for Narrator Auditions
By Dr. Melissa Caudle

One of the most challenging things for an author to decide is who will narrate the audiobook format of their novel or book. I am speaking first-hand, of course, from my perspective. When I started the audio narration auditions for my novel, “The Keystroke Killer: Transcendence,” I thought I knew everything about the process considering I had auditioned hundreds of actors for my films and helped to cast numerous others for various projects. Whoa! Not the same. Now what?

At first, I was overwhelmed by the sheer number of narrators who auditioned for my first audiobook – a total of two hundred and fifty-six. My script wasn’t an easy one, and it was longer than usual, because of the diverse voices that a single person would have to have to make this book come alive. As I started listening, it was easy to tell quickly the narrators I liked and didn’t like. The ones I liked, I marked as my favorite. After I listened to all submissions, I had marked fifty-three as my favorite. That is a lot of favorites, and I had to find a way to isolate who and why I liked one over another until I eliminated forty-three narrators from my favorites. At this point, I felt like one of The Voice judges listening to blind auditions.

I met with my casting team, and we discussed what each of us was listening for in each audition and that’s when it occurred to me that we needed an assessment tool that we could use to rate and score each narrator objectively. After twenty years in the educational field, as a teacher, principal, and adjunct professor, I returned to one of the essential assessment tools – a rubric assessment. In education terminology, rubric refers to a scoring guide used to evaluate the quality of constructed responses based on pre-determined evaluative criteria at particular levels of achievement. In essence, a rubric is a scoring strategy often presented in a table format. Rubrics, when used for formative assessment purposes to pinpoint something subjective, can aid in assessing something the same way giving everyone equal ground. It is a way to communicate expectations around a task, in my case, evaluating potential narrators fairly.
After a lengthy discussion with my casting team, we identified several areas that were important for us as we listen to each audition. From there, I developed our rubric audition assessment tool and included the following areas:
1.      We scored from 1-10 how the reader narrated the narration parts of the script provided.
2.      We highlighted critical dialogue statements from each of the character’s in the script. When a reader would read those key dialogue statements, we rated each from a 1-10 on how well they interpreted the sentence, and if they portrayed the character’s voice, we could quickly identify them.
3.   We rated an area called, “Transitions,” to determine on a scale from 1-10 how each reader transitioned from one character’s voice to another.
4.      Did the narrator follow instructions and complete the audition? We awarded an automatic 10 points if they did and zero if they didn’t.
Sounds easy enough; but wait. What it showed to us as a casting team, was the top three narrators who stood out above the rest. It was right in front of our eyes in a score – or scores based on pre-determined criteria. We averaged the scores from the three of us, and ultimately, we had our top three. From there, we began a new rubric assessment for only the top three, and the final narrator surfaced.
Here is where objectivity versus subjectivity played a key role. Several potential narrators were knocked out of the running because they did not follow our directions. This is what I mean. We sent a script with specific instructions to follow. Those that didn’t follow them were eliminated. Some of the problems of not following instructions were they didn’t narrate the entire audition script. When they did that, they received zero points for those dialogue lines, they failed to narrate. Others decided to rewrite the dialogue, which was a huge mistake. Narrators are there to narrate and not rewrite a script. The last error was not thoroughly studying the script and missing a character’s personality. By this, when an author writes, “Matthew’s face turned crimson as his clenched his jaw.” His dialogue that follows should not be soft and friendly but angered.
Now you might be thinking how does this all work and whether as a casting member or author will you get confused. The answer is, "No." When you have a defined script and you hear it over and over again, you pretty much know what is coming next. As the author, you already know; therefore, it is not confusing. In fact, it is the opposite because you have guide points and assessment criteria in order to evaluate each narrator fairly.
Below is my rubric for A.D.A.M., the current novel I am holding auditions for over on ACX. Below the rubric assessment is the Excerpt that the script came from. If you are a narrator/producer, the auditions are still open and before you submit your audition, you will at least know what my casting team will be assessing you on.

A.D.A.M RUBRIC ASSESSMENT FOR NARRATORS

            Name of Narrator:_________________________________

            Casting Team Member: ____________________________

                                                           


A.D.A.M. THE BEGINNING OF LIFE

Rubric Requirement
Points
Assigned
Points
Earned

Did the narrator record entire script?


10


Rate the quality of the reader's  narration of the descriptions, settings, etc. - The blue moon lit the monolith crystal formations in Mono Lake, California. The tufa, limestone columns, towered over the glassy surface as they reflected onto the calm water. A canoe, filled with three passengers, followed the moon’s reflection toward the island in the middle of the lake as shelf storm clouds approached filling the ominous cloudy sky.


10


Rate the following Critical Dialogue interpretation for Dr. Bradford.

“We’re almost to the spot where I’d prefer to gather the samples.”

10


Rate the following Critical Dialogue interpretation for Jessica.

“I didn’t know this lake had fish.” Jessica gagged and shivered. “I just thought I hated it; now I know I do.”

10

Rate the following Critical Dialogue interpretation for Dr. Peterson.

Dr. Peterson rolled his eyes. “You have nothing to worry your overloaded brain. We’ll be in and out of the water before the lightning gets close.”

10

Rate the following Critical Dialogue interpretation for Jessica.

Jessica squinched her nose. “I’m going to throw up. This smell is nasty. How can anything survive living in this water?”



10

Rate the following Critical Dialogue interpretation for Dr. Bradford.

Dr. Bradford glanced toward Jessica. “Since you asked, rumor has it that sometimes trout fish dart in from the freshwater streams to eat the brine shrimp. The lake is full of them. Then, it’s a death trap because of the saltwater.”


10

Rate the following Critical Dialogue interpretation for Dr. Peterson.

“That sounds like two things.”


10

Rate the following Critical Dialogue interpretation for Jessica.

“I’m glad we have wetsuits this time. Last time I thought those bitey shrimps were going to eat me for lunch.”


10

Rate the following Critical Dialogue interpretation for Dr. Bradford.

“Not likely, keep on imagining Alice.” Dr. Bradford pursed her lips.


10

Rate the following Critical Dialogue interpretation for Dr. Bradford.

“Just sort the gear, Jessica.”


10

Rate the following Critical Dialogue interpretation for Dr. Peterson.

“We’re about thirty feet from the island. That’s the same distance as last time. By all indication, it is about fifty-six feet deep, and the water temperature is seventy-one degrees.”


10

Rate the following Critical Dialogue interpretation for Dr. Bradford.

“Thanks for trusting me. I wouldn’t be able to continue my research without obtaining more samples. That means I would be up against the creek without a paddle if it weren’t for both of you.”


10

Rate the following Critical Dialogue interpretation for Jessica.

Jessica dug through the gear at her feet. “Me too. They have no right. Who do they think they are? The government or something?”



10

Rate the following Critical Dialogue interpretation for Dr. Bradford.

“That’s enough Jessica, just sort the gear; which by the way, was until you dropped them all getting out of the car.”


10

Rate the following Critical Dialogue interpretation for Jessica.

“Yes, ma’am, but he won’t keep quiet.”


10

Rate the following Critical Dialogue interpretation for Dr. Bradford.

“Jessica!”


10

Rate the following Critical Dialogue interpretation for Dr. Peterson.

“For once she has a point.” Dr. Peterson glanced toward the nefarious sky. “Rain is approaching faster than I thought it would.” His eyebrow raised with concern as he rubbed his chin.


10

Rate the following Critical Dialogue interpretation for Jessica.

Jessica jumped as she tossed a purple fin to Dr. Bradford. “I don’t like the way that sounds. We could get struck by lightning and die.”


10

Rate the following Critical Dialogue interpretation for Jessica.

“The sky looks like it belongs in a scary film. At any minute, I know something is going to jump out of the water and eat us. This is exactly how a horror film starts. The next thing you know, a large lizard or alien creature like the one in The Shape of Water is going to flop into this canoe on top of us.”


10

Rate the following Critical Dialogue interpretation for Dr. Peterson.

Dr. Peterson snickered toward Jessica. “You look ridiculous. You don’t need that, yet. Wait until you’re in the water.”


10

Rate the following Critical Dialogue interpretation for Dr. Peterson.

Dr. Peterson rolled his eyes concerned as he gawked toward Jessica. “How in the hell are you going to see? Your blind as a bat.”


10


Rate the following Critical Dialogue interpretation for Jessica.

“Guns?” Jessica hyperventilated as her eyes flashed and her chest heaved. “Who said anything about guns? That wasn’t part of the plan, Dr. B?”



10


Rate the following Critical Dialogue interpretation for Dr. Bradford.

“It’s okay Jessica, just breathe slow and easy.” Dr. Bradford digested their current situation. Her chest constricted. One team member is already dead. I can’t let it happen again.


10

Rate the following Critical Dialogue interpretation for Jessica.

Jessica took a deep breath. “I know what to do. Auh ommm. Auh ommm.” She used her right hand, touched her fingertips and her thumb to her mouth and nose and pulled slowly back as if meditating a mantra chant. “Auh ommm. Auh ommm.”




10

Rate the following Critical Dialogue interpretation for Dr. Peterson.

Dismayed, Dr. Peterson patted Jessica’s shoulder. “Jessica, if you don’t calm down, you’re going to run out of oxygen when you get below.”



10

Rate the following Critical Dialogue interpretation for Jessica.

“Then, then, I might drown.” Jessica’s body trembled, and her voice cracked.




10

Rate the following Critical Dialogue interpretation for Dr. Peterson.

Dr. Peterson rubbed his chin. “You’ve got to be kidding me. Okay, Jessica. Do what Dr. Bradford said and breathe in, and then out.”




10

Rate the following Critical Dialogue interpretation for Jessica.

“Auh ommm. Auh ommm.” She motioned with her fingers again as if she pulled air from her mouth and nose. “I’m there. I’m good. Really, I can do this.”




10

Rate the following Critical Dialogue interpretation for Dr. Bradford.

Dr. Bradford studied Jessica’s body language and facial expression. “Okay, Jessica, move with me at the same time and sit backward on the edge of the canoe. Are you ready?”



10

Rate the following Critical Dialogue interpretation for Dr. Bradford.

Dr. Bradford glared at Jessica. “Forget about the shrimp. One, two, and three.”



10

Rate the following Critical Dialogue interpretation for Dr. Bradford.

“Likely I’ll forget Peterson; I’m not Jessica.”




10

Rate the following Critical Dialogue interpretation for Dr. Peterson.

Dr. Peterson shook his head, gawking directly at Jessica. “Now you look like a creature from outer space.” The boat on the horizon quickly gained distance on them. “Be safe and be quick. By the looks of things, we don’t have much time.”








10

Rate the following Critical Dialogue interpretation for Dr. Peterson.

Dr. Peterson swallowed hard. “Excuse me, if you’re looking for Dr. Bradford, she’s camping in Canada right now. I’m just out here fishing for brine shrimp and relaxing on my vacation.”




10

Rate the following Critical Dialogue interpretation for Dr. Bradford.

They removed their masks and air pieces. Dr. Bradford pointed to the watercrafts. “We’re on our own.”



10

Rate the following Critical Dialogue interpretation for Jessica.

Scared, Jessica glanced around. “What do we do now? I’ve got to pee, and I can’t see. My glasses are in the canoe.”




10

Rate the following Critical Dialogue interpretation for Dr. Bradford.

“One problem at a time.”



10

Rate the overall transitions from narration to character voices.


10

CASTING MEMBER COMMENT:












                                                  TOTAL POINTS SCORED: __________      




 A.D.A.M. EXCERPT SCRIPT FOR AUDIOBOOK NARRATION






CHAPTER 1 - SAMPLES



T
he blue moon lit the monolith crystal formations in Mono Lake, California. The tufa, limestone columns, towered over the glassy surface as they reflected onto the calm water. A canoe, filled with three passengers, followed the moon’s reflection toward the island in the middle of the lake as shelf storm clouds approached filling the ominous cloudy sky.
     “We’re almost to the spot where I’d prefer to gather the samples.” Dr. Sandra Bradford rowed from the bow. Her shoulder-length platinum hair shone beneath the moonlight.
     Thunder in the distance reverberated as the clouds pushed passed the moon.
     “Good to hear.” Dr. Peterson paddled aft in sync with Dr. Bradford. “I don’t like the way the weather is looking.”
     “I don’t like the way that sounds.” Jessica Parker, Dr. Bradford’s twenty-six-year-old undergraduate student sat on the middle bench. She wore pink horn-rimmed glasses as she prepared a five-gallon sample container marked “Biohazard.” A small twelve-volt battery-powered siphon pump with a one hundred foot clear one-inch hose attached to it, an assortment of scuba gear, a small net and two diving mesh bags with several plastic test tubes with caps rested up to her knees at Jessica’s feet preventing any leg movement without her tipping the canoe. Jessica’s nose flared. “I don’t think I could ever get used to this smell. What is that? Pew.”
     Dr. Bradford glanced over her shoulder toward her young graduate assistant. “That is rotting fish and a combination of ammonia causing the sulfurous smell.”
     “I didn’t know this lake had fish.” Jessica gagged and shivered. “I just thought I hated it; now I know I do.” A clap of thunder jolted Jessica as she tossed the flipper in her hand and it smacked into Dr. Bradford’s leg.
     “Will you be careful?” Dr. Bradford grabbed the flipper and eased it back to Jessica.
     “Careful! That’s a strange thing to say since we could all get electrocuted if those things hit the water.” Jessica shivered; her lips spread into a thin line as she pushed her glasses higher onto her squinched nose. “Did you know that lightning strikes forty-five million times a year, and about fifty people a year are killed that way? Thousands are injured.”
     Dr. Peterson rolled his eyes. “You have nothing to worry your overloaded brain. We’ll be in and out of the water before the lightning gets close.”
     Jessica squinched her nose. “I’m going to throw up. This smell is nasty. How can anything survive living in this water?”
     Dr. Bradford glanced toward Jessica. “Since you asked, rumor has it that sometimes trout fish dart in from the freshwater streams to eat the brine shrimp. The lake is full of them. Then, it’s a death trap because of the saltwater.”
     “I learn something new every time we come here.”
     Dr. Peterson shook his head. “Okay, Jessica, name one thing you learned the last time.”
     "That’s easy. All of these towers were created when rainfall couldn’t keep up with the lake’s evaporation allowing the minerals to build up like that.” Jessica pointed to the largest tufa in the area.       “They grow one inch a year.”
     “That sounds like two things.”
     “I’m glad we have wetsuits this time. Last time I thought those bitey shrimps were going to eat me for lunch.”
     “Not likely, keep on imagining Alice.” Dr. Bradford pursed her lips.
     “Why did you call me Alice?”
     “Jessica, ever heard of Alice in Wonderland? Forget it; start sorting the gear.”
     “What do you think I’ve been doing?”
     “Just sort the gear, Jessica.”
     The murky lake water splashed against the side of the canoe as Dr. Bradford and Dr. Peterson paddled; a low rumble filled the air.
     Jessica attached the clear hose to the siphon pump.
     “This is the area I retrieved the original samples.” Dr. Bradford released her grip from the oars.      “I’m certain of it.”
     Dr. Peterson freed his oars and retrieved a Hawkeye DepthTrax hand-held sonar depth finder from his small black duffle bag that rested at his feet. He fiddled with the device and studied the results.           “We’re about thirty feet from the island. That’s the same distance as last time. By all indication, it is about fifty-six feet deep, and the water temperature is seventy-one degrees.” He picked up the small eight-pound black mushroom-shaped anchor and tossed it overboard. “That should keep us in place with these winds.”
     A loud clap of thunder caused Jessica to jump. “I don’t like the way that sounded.” She bit her bottom lip.
     With her hands above her head, Dr. Bradford took a deep breath and sighed. She carefully maneuvered her body to face the others. “Thanks for trusting me. I wouldn’t be able to continue my research without obtaining more samples. That means I would be up against the creek without a paddle if it weren’t for both of you.”
     “No pun intended; I presume.” Dr. Peterson grinned as he returned the depth finder to his duffle bag.
     With an aw-shucked shrug, Jessica flashed a grin. “It’s my pleasure, Doctor B; besides, it’s exciting even with the thunder and bolts of lightning.” She tossed a blue dive fin to Dr. Peterson.
     As Dr. Peterson caught it, he dodged it as if it were a bullet. “Not so hard, Jessica. I’m not that far away.”
     “Sorry, I’m a little anxious.”
     Dr. Bradford’s eyes narrowed. “Jessica, just focus and be careful.”
     “Like I’m not.”
     Dr. Peterson cleared his throat. “Sandra, I’m glad you included me. I’m willing to do whatever it takes to get this research back on track.”
     “Glad you think that way because I’m still furious over NASA confiscating everything.” Her voice laden with emotion and intensity indicated her sheer frustration.
     Jessica dug through the gear at her feet. “Me too. They have no right. Who do they think they are?    The government or something?”
     “That’s exactly who they are.” Dr. Bradford huffed as her brow furrowed.
     “How can they take it from you? It isn’t right! You discovered that microbe, not them.” Jessica pouted her lips. “It’s not fair. If they believe for one second that Stephen Stone Diamond is going to keep his mouth shut on this one, they have another thing coming. Mark my words, he’ll blast this over and over again on his blog radio show.”
     “That’s enough Jessica, just sort the gear; which by the way, was until you dropped them all getting out of the car.”
     “Yes, ma’am, but he won’t keep quiet.”
      “Jessica!”
     Jessica disappointedly continued to sort the scuba gear. “I think it’s about to pour cats and dogs. Look at the sky.”
     “For once she has a point.” Dr. Peterson glanced toward the nefarious sky. “Rain is approaching faster than I thought it would.” His eyebrow raised with concern as he rubbed his chin.
     Dr. Bradford glanced upward. Large dark shelf clouds covering the once blue moon created an eerie sight as lightning crashed toward the tufa followed by loud claps of thunder. “We need to quickly retrieve the samples because weather like this is so unpredictable.”
     “That’s what I’ve been saying since we got out here.” Jessica huffed exasperatedly.
Another bolt of lightning jetted from the sky, followed by a thunderous clap.
     Dr. Peterson’s eyes widened. “I agree. We don’t want to be used as lightning rods.”
     Another massive crack of thunder escaped from the clouds above. Jessica jumped as she tossed a purple fin to Dr. Bradford. “I don’t like the way that sounds. We could get struck by lightning and die.” She broke into tears and buried her face into her hands.
     Dr. Peterson smirked. “Then, if that happens, we won’t have to worry about our careers, now will we?” His sarcasm to relieve Jessica’s troubled state of mind had the opposite effect.
     “Did you have to remind me of that too?” Jessica whimpered as she tossed Dr. Peterson his second blue dive fin.
     Dr. Bradford exasperated by the pair intervened. “Both of you listen to me. Retrieving another sample is the only way any of us are going to have a career. I was on the verge of a major discovery.      We’re pretty much ruined if we don’t get these samples.” She looked sternly at Jessica. “Pull yourself together and focus.”
     Jessica forced a smile, removed her glasses, and dried her tears. “I got this.”
     “What can I say other than I do owe my career to you.” Dr. Peterson presented a grateful-heartfelt nod toward Dr. Bradford.
      “That would be the government you owe, not me.”
      Jessica took in a deep cleansing breath. “Hell, I don’t even want to imagine what I’m going to owe between tuition and taxes. I hate paying taxes.” She tossed a purple scuba fin to Dr. Bradford hitting her leg with it.
     “Please be careful. We can’t afford any mistakes or mishaps.”
      “Sorry, I’ll be extra careful.”
      Another bolt of lightning hit the water making Jessica jump and almost toss a dive mask out of the canoe as she looked upward. “The sky looks like it belongs in a scary film. At any minute, I know something is going to jump out of the water and eat us. This is exactly how a horror film starts. The next thing you know, a large lizard or alien creature like the one in The Shape of Water is going to flop into this canoe on top of us.”
     Dr. Bradford’s eyes tightened as she pursed her lips. “Relax, the largest living creature down there is likely a brine shrimp. As alien as they look, they are not creatures from the Black Lagoon. Although, maybe they’re from outer space.”
     “What! Stephen Stone Diamond is right. We do have aliens from outer space here on earth.”
      “You just keep sorting gear and get ready to collect the samples.”
      Dr. Peterson chuckled. “Amen to that!”
     Jessica glanced toward Dr. Bradford with a scowl. “I got this Dr. B.” She held up two small mesh dive bags that contained several small vials with lids. “Look, I took the liberty and marked each vial.” She proudly grinned. “Sample A, sample B, and sample C. I used a black Sharpie and labeled them before we left the lab.”
     “Good job on that one; but there are six vials.”
      “I’m not stupid. I used a hot pink Sharpie to label the samples I’ll collect.”
      “Of course, you did.”
      “I told you, I’m smarter than I look.”
      “We know.”
       Dr. Peterson chuckled. “Having intelligence isn’t your problem, you lack common sense. Just like you don’t think we should have to pay taxes.”
       Jessica waved her finger at both professors. “Let me tell you something. Taxes are part of a government conspiracy, and the government is full of conspiracies. I know this for…”
       “. . .Jessica!” Dr. Bradford’s reprimanding tone darted straight toward her young assistant. “The gear, just focus on the task at hand.”
      Jessica pouted her lips, took a deep breath, and conformed to Dr. Bradford’s last demand.
      Dr. Peterson winked at Dr. Bradford with doubt as he shrugged his shoulders.
      As if Jessica wasn’t in the canoe, Dr. Bradford winked back and jetted a thin-lipped grin. “I was just like her at one point in my life.”
     Dr. Peterson chuckled again as he shook his head. “Just think, her generation is our nation’s brightest and our future.”
     “We have no hope for survival.” Dr. Bradford’s tone teased Jessica.
     “I’m right here, you two. I may not see well, but my hearing is fine.”
     The professors ignored Jessica’s comments. Dr. Peterson blew air from his lips. “Hell, I wouldn’t have joined the astrobiology institute much less research if...”
      “. . .No ifs.” Dr. Bradford’s tone filled with authority reinforced her no excuse policy. “You provided the scientific skill I required.”
      “I can’t find one of my fins.” Jessica dug fast through the pile of gear at her feet.
Dr. Bradford shook her head in disappointment and stared directly at Dr. Peterson. “Who said to bring her along?”
      “I believe that one is on you.”
      “Don’t remind me.” Dr. Bradford sighed.
       Jessica extended her left arm as far as she could barely able to reach her pink fin. “I got it. I got it. I just can’t reach it.” Jessica stretched and began to stand as she grabbed for it. The canoe tilted to one side and almost tossed Jessica from it.
      Dr. Peterson grabbed Jessica’s left arm and pulled her to safety. “Sit down, Jessica!”
     The canoe rocked and almost flipped over. Jessica flopped down with the flipper in her hand. “Got it. That was close.”
      Dr. Peterson rolled his eyes. “I’d say.”
      A stern glare from Dr. Bradford revealed more than any words could, and Jessica recognized it immediately. “I’ll get my own. You sit still.”
      Jessica flopped her hands onto her lap and bit her lower lip.
      Dr. Bradford eased toward the pile of gear and tossed Dr. Peterson his mask. She zipped her diving suit, grabbed her air tank, put it on over her shoulders, and then secured it.
      Jessica struggled with the weight of her air tank as she noticed boat lights flicker in the distance.    She managed the maneuver and grabbed her hot pink full-face diving mask and put it on over her glasses. She pointed to a small boat in the distance. “We have company.”
      Dr. Peterson snickered toward Jessica. “You look ridiculous. You don’t need that, yet. Wait until you’re in the water.”
       Jessica lifted the mask and rested it on the top of her head as Dr. Bradford, and Dr. Peterson continued to put on the remainder of their scuba gear.
      “You know Sandra; now I’m older, I realize no one took me seriously about any of my research.” Dr. Peterson zipped his diving suit.
     Jessica, using her fin pointed at the boat in the distance. “Hey! Does anybody but me care about the boat heading our way?”
     Dr. Bradford slipped her fins onto her feet. “You were attached to the crazy list for your theories about alien lifeforms here on earth.”
     “You apparently have decided to join me.” Dr. Peterson grabbed his face mask. “Even I found it hard to believe a lifeform used arsenic to reproduce.”
      “I’m honored to be in such prestigious company.”
      The boat approached at a faster rate. Jessica waved her fins high into the air to get both professor’s attention. When that didn’t work, she tossed one fin to Dr. Peterson and then pointed at the boat. “I don’t like the way this looks. Yep, just like a horror film; one of us is going to die.”
      Dr. Peterson glanced over his shoulder. “Expecting company?”
      “Finally!” Jessica sighed. “I hate it when you two ignore me. Sometimes, I have something really important to say. You know I’m not just another pretty face.”
      A concerned frown twisted Dr. Bradford’s brow. “I say we get the sample and get out of here.”
      Dr. Bradford and Jessica quickly put on the remainder of their scuba gear.
With a discerning frown, Dr. Peterson glanced toward Jessica. “Don’t turn the canoe over when you go overboard.”
     “I am a licensed scuba diver. I know how to dismount from a boat.”
     “That’s my point, a boat; a canoe is different. How many canoes have you gone overboard wearing diving gear?”
     “Ugh, none; but I practiced in Dr. B’s pool.”
      “Don’t worry Peterson. She’s got this, I hope.”
      “Well, I do.” Jessica proudly nodded. “Are we going in or staying here? There’s a research sample down there waiting for me.”
       Dr. Bradford carefully stood, adjusted her stance, and gained her balance. She reached for Jessica’s hand and with Jessica’s assistance, made her way to the center of the canoe and sat next to her.
       Jessica took off her glasses and put them in her small pink duffle bag.
       Dr. Peterson rolled his eyes concerned as he gawked toward Jessica. “How in the hell are you going to see? Your blind as a bat.”
      “Aquawear dot com. This prescription mask is the best available. I’m smarter than I look. I’m not just another pretty face.”
      It is all Dr. Peterson could do to keep from laughing. He noticed the boat ramped up its speed and retrieved his handgun from his backpack.
      Puzzlement shrouded Dr. Bradford’s face. From her expression, she didn’t have to ask the question on her mind as she stared at Dr. Peterson.
      “I’m better with a gun. I’ll stay on top. You two retrieve the samples.”
      “Guns?” Jessica hyperventilated as her eyes flashed and her chest heaved. “Who said anything about guns? That wasn’t part of the plan, Dr. B?”
      “It’s okay Jessica, just breathe slow and easy.” Dr. Bradford digested their current situation. Her chest constricted. One team member is already dead. I can’t let it happen again.
      Jessica took a deep breath. “I know what to do. Auh ommm. Auh ommm.” She used her right hand, touched her fingertips and her thumb to her mouth and nose and pulled slowly back as if meditating a mantra chant. “Auh ommm. Auh ommm.”
     Dismayed, Dr. Peterson patted Jessica’s shoulder. “Jessica, if you don’t calm down, you’re going to run out of oxygen when you get below.”
     “Then, then, I might drown.” Jessica’s body trembled, and her voice cracked.
      Dr. Bradford looked Jessica straight into her eyes. “Girl, just calm down. Breathe.”
Jessica used her right hand, put it over her mouth and nose as she pretended to pull air with her fingers again. “Auh ommm. Auh ommm.”
     Dr. Peterson rubbed his chin. “You’ve got to be kidding me. Okay, Jessica. Do what Dr. Bradford said and breathe in, and then out.”
      “Auh ommm. Auh ommm.” She motioned with her fingers again as if she pulled air from her mouth and nose. “I’m there. I’m good. Really, I can do this.”
     Relieved, Dr. Bradford smiled and nodded at Jessica. “Fantastic news. Let’s do this. You take the right side, and I’ll take the left. Remember Jessica, we have to go into the water at the same time, or we’ll tip the canoe.” Even through her calm words, Dr. Bradford felt her nervousness. She forced her breathing to remain in control.
     “I got this. I can do it.” Jessica took inventory of her gear as she visually scanned for each item. “Fins. Check. Wet Suit. Check. Air tank. Check. Mask…”
      “…Check.” Dr. Peterson tapped Jessica’s shoulder. “You’re good. It’s all there.”
      Dr. Bradford studied Jessica’s body language and facial expression. “Okay, Jessica, move with me at the same time and sit backward on the edge of the canoe. Are you ready?”
      “Ready, I got this. Auh ommm. Auh ommm.”
       Dr. Bradford and Jessica moved in unison as they slowly stood. Together like a perfect choreographed dance, they sat on opposite sides of the canoe ready for their backward entry.
      “Great job, ladies.” Dr. Peterson nodded and smiled.
      “Okay, Jessica. On the count of three, just like we practiced in the pool. One. Two. Three.”
      “I got it. I’m good. Really, except for the shrimp.”
       By the look on both Dr. Bradford’s and Dr. Peterson’s faces, they weren’t too confident in Jessica’s ability to go overboard backward.
       Dr. Bradford glared at Jessica. “Forget about the shrimp. One, two, and three.”
       Both women bailed backward into the lake and almost tipped over the canoe. Dr. Peterson grabbed each side of it and maneuvered his weight to prevent it from flipping.
       Dr. Bradford and Jessica floated to the top of the water and doggy-paddled. Jessica screamed paddling her finned-feet as she swooshed hundreds of brine shrimps away from her. “Oh my God. Shrimp! Shrimp! I hate shrimp.” She gagged and took in a small amount of salty water which choked her. She quickly spat it out and coughed several times.
     Dr. Peterson glanced down at Jessica. “Remember Jessica; the shrimp are a part of this lake. They belong here. You’re the intruder. You’re the alien in these waters. Forget them. Trust me; they’re more scared of you than you are them.”
     Jessica huffed as she doggy-paddled toward Dr. Bradford.
     Dr. Peterson handed Dr. Bradford the tip of the hundred-foot hose and the two dive bags containing the marked sample vials.
     “Thanks, Peterson. Just give us a couple of minutes to retrieve the samples before turning on the siphon pump.”
     “When you’re ready, jerk the hose three times, and I’ll turn it on. Then, when finished, jerk five times, and I’ll secure the samples.”
     “Likely I’ll forget Peterson; I’m not Jessica.”
      “Just reviewing the plans. Initially, I was going below with you two.”
      “Good point. Stay close Jessica. Just like we practiced.”
      Jessica acknowledged with a fist pump and put her thumb up. “For the third time, I got this.” She secured her dive mask over her face.
      Dr. Peterson shook his head, gawking directly at Jessica. “Now you look like a creature from outer space.” The boat on the horizon quickly gained distance on them. “Be safe and be quick. By the looks of things, we don’t have much time.”
      Another lightning bolt jetted across the sky as Dr. Bradford, and Jessica disappeared beneath the water. The clear hose began to unwind from the bottom of the canoe.
      “Good luck, you two.” Dr. Peterson stuffed his gun beneath his left thigh. He nervously observed the boat gain distance as he retrieved a beer from a small ice chest. The boat stopped about six feet away from the canoe as a bright spotlight shone onto his face.
       The Zodiac Boat with two Navy Seals floated closer to the canoe powered by a small electric outboard trolling motor. Stationed at the bow, Petty Officer Mendez glared toward Dr. Peterson while Ensign Devon Ray steered the craft.
      As they approached the canoe, Petty Officer Mendez stood. “You’re trespassing on a restricted area. What are you doing here?”
     “Taking a break from fishing and having a cold brew.”
      “I doubt that, Sir. Not much survives in these waters. I’m afraid we’re going to have to ask you to leave.”
      “I’m trying to catch brine shrimp.”
      “Without a fishing net?”
      He grabbed a net and held it up. “You never know what could be lurking in the water below.”
Ensign Ray held a satellite phone as he spoke into it. “Dr. Bradford isn’t with the professor. She’s nowhere to be found.”
      Dr. Peterson swallowed hard. “Excuse me, if you’re looking for Dr. Bradford, she’s camping in Canada right now. I’m just out here fishing for brine shrimp and relaxing on my vacation.”
Chief Petty Officer Mendez lifted his Beretta M9 and fired the kill shot right between Dr. Peterson’s eyes propelling him backward onto the switch of the siphon pump. He collapsed as a pool of blood formed around him.
      Navy Seal Mendez, who held a rope, transferred into the canoe. “Ready, let’s get out of here.”
      “What about Dr. Bradford?” The young Ensign seemed dismayed and confused.
      “Not our problem.” He immediately retrieved the anchor and flipped the switch off from the pump. “Our orders were to kill anyone on this canoe after finding out what they were doing here. Do you see anyone else?”
       “Negative, Sir.”
        Once seated securely in the canoe, Chief Petty Officer Mendez signaled with his index finger toward the horizon. “Forward. Move out!”
       “Copy that.” Ensign Ray steered the Zodiac with the canoe in tow. As the watercrafts left the area, the clear siphon hose pulled out of the canoe and floated in the water. The Zodiac and canoe faded into the distance as they headed back to the shore.
     Within a minute, Dr. Bradford and Jessica emerged to the water’s surface.
     They removed their masks and air pieces. Dr. Bradford pointed to the watercrafts. “We’re on our own.”
     Scared, Jessica glanced around. “What do we do now? I’ve got to pee, and I can’t see. My glasses are in the canoe.”
     “One problem at a time.”

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