- The Day the Dog Ate Popcorn
- And they say life in the city is violent. Originally published in the Southern Indiana Writers’ INDIAN CREEK ANTHOLOGY (out of print).
We moved from Louisville in search of a clean environment and got chickens. Go figure.
It was what you might call a minimalist flock ‑‑ three. The smallest was Hennessy. The middle one was Chickabiddy. The biggest, most aggressive one, was Popcorn. Open the henhouse door, and Popcorn would be there, alert, balanced, beak and claws loose in their sheaths. “Go ahead,” she seemed to cluck. “Make my day.”
We had two dogs. Honeybunny was a big dumb blonde; her hobby was rolling in compost heaps. Lizzie (officially, Lizzie Diggumsmacks Allen), was a Cairn Terrier; her hobby was growling.
There were six of us: Myself, Charlie, and the kids (Annie, Beth, Ruthie, and Meg). Six people, five critters. That should have given us the balance of power. How was I to know Mother Nature had her thumb on the scale?
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- Out of the Cradle
- You can’t tell young ones anything, whether they’re human or amphibians. This mermayd story was originally published in the Southern Indiana Writers’ BEASTLY TALES.
The day I was telling about, the day I learned how little I knew, I had just turned four months, so I would have been about the size of an old one’s palm.
It was a day when the upper sky sprayed its weird, flavorless water into the rich broth of the lower sky, the sea. Waves were high. Everyone over three months old played in the whitecaps, letting the swells lift them and then sliding into the wave troughs. Parents patrolled the deeps, guarding against predators ‑‑ sharks and rays who love nothing more than a quick snack of merfolk too young to give them trouble.
I had been warned many times to stay clear of the strand, but I was sure my elders were just timid or dull or stupid, or were mindlessly repeating meaningless nonsense just because they had been told it when they were young. I could see the water roll onto the shore, then drag out to sea. It looked like it would be tremendous fun to ride a wave in and back ‑‑ and absolutely safe.
I rode in, but my expected easy landing was a savage thump! The air was forced from every bladder in my body and I was left gasping on the damp sand.
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- When stress gets you down, there’s nowhere left to go but up. Originally published on the Quills and Quibbles website.
He had done whatever he had to, to wangle a place in the ship, to fly to the stars, to live in flight in artificial gravity not-quite-Earth-normal. He had watched, studied, sold his soul for a chance to learn more, learn enough to be a medic.
It had been worth it. More than worth it.
Still, sometimes the safety suits made his shoulderblades itch. Sometimes the collar, with its emergency automatic atmosheild generator felt like he had a piece of plastic trash around his neck, strangling him.
Doc Aimanov always knew when Craw had had enough, and ordered him to take some time to recuperate.
“You’re no good to the patients when you’re like this. Go get it out of your system.”
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- Dog Show
- Joseph hadn’t wanted a dog, but his stepmother had insisted. Now the dog wanted to pull him onto streets he didn’t know. Originally published on this website.
Now he was stuck with this dog, this responsibility, this living being shoved into his life, this dependent he had to deal with.
Not unlike Mindy being stuck with me, he thought, for the first time.
The several-times-daily walks had become tiresome, then pleasant, then routine.
Until this morning.
He put the phone back to his ear.
“Something’s up with Dutch. He keeps hanging back. No, I’m not walking too fast. No, he doesn’t seem to want to go home. He just doesn’t want to follow our regular route. He’s bored? That’s ‑‑” he bit his tongue before the word “stupid” slid off it and substituted “‑‑interesting. Okay. Well, see you this evening, then. Six-thirty at La Cucina. You, me and Dad. Sure, okay, I know I can bring a date. Bye.”
Bring a date. As if he would be dating again less than a year after breaking up with Tanya.
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- Follow Your Bliss
- Her husband mocked her piety and abused her body and spirit, but her religion was more than a refuge. Originally appeared on Flash Me website.
For ten long years, she had endured Harley’s stumbling home late every Friday and Saturday; of his flopping into bed, liquor-stunned, gone before he was down; of his waking up, violently amorous; of his pride in the bruises his strength left on her – his badges of manhood.
For ten years, she had gritted her teeth while he mocked her church. His favorite joke was to offer her whiskey “in case one of them snakes you Bible thumpers han’le up and bites you.”
His latest pleasure was to forbid her to go to church at all, just in time for this week’s big Revival. But this was Friday – payday – and Harley hadn’t been home to stop her.
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- For A Few Bottles More
- What is a penguin to do, when his stash of Scotch is plundered by the Kiwis? Originally appeared on this website in response to a challenge by Chuck Wendig of Terrible Minds.
Pilar Penguin lit a cigarette and blew a smoke ring into the frigid air.
This life, she thought. This life is no good. How long had it been since she had seen the sun? Well, six months, obviously, but it had been longer than that. She slept through the days now, weary and bleary from late nights at the cantina.
But what was she to do? Pehuen had put everything they had into the place. She either worked by his side or watched their lives come apart like a calving glacier.
She wiped the bar, flipping the cloth free at the edge so it didn’t freeze to the damp surface. Pehuen would be back soon, and then they would open the doors for the evening and the other penguins would trickle in by ones and twos. Pilar disapproved of guys coming in with their eggs tucked between their feet and their bodies, but Pehuen was right—either they let guys in carrying concealed or they had no customers at all for part of the year.
The door slammed open, and Pehuen slid in. His breath puffed out in steamy heaves that crystalized and fell.
“Pilar!” He staggered toward her, stumbling over his own feet.
“Calm down, mi marido.” She waddled sensuously toward him, offering him the cigarette still warm from her beak. “I am here, as always.”
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- The unicorn from NYC’s Coisters prowls the streets as a man, and woe to any virgin he seduces. Originally appeared in the Southern Indiana Writers’ 2000 TALES.
A run in the park, the hounds and huntsmen trailing, men clutching stitches in their sides as they pushed beyond their strength, dogs and men screaming as I dealt them death, many deaths before mine, the usual satisfactory trade….
And now…. As a man, I could blend with the humanity I sensed around me. I could leave the wilds of nature, and join the wilds of artifice, walk among the enemy as one of them, hide among them, while the hunt searched in vain for a beast forever lost.
Exulting, I sprinted across the pavement and roadway, skirted the wall, and entered the park, one shiny black shoe following the other.
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- Truth in a Tale
- Which of the storyteller’s tales are true? The child’s answer is important. An excerpt from SAGE, a work in progress. Originally appeared in the Southern Indiana Writers’ THERE’S SOMETHING UNDER THE BED-TIME STORIES.
Nerissa clapped her hands until they were red.
“She’d be better off getting her rest than listening to that trash,” said Tartarus.
“Now the other one!” said Nerissa. She realized what she had done ‑‑ demanding, when she should have been imploring ‑‑ and hung her head. She felt a hand laid softly on her crown, stroking her greasy hair, and she looked up into Farukh’s sparkling blue eyes.
“I know who you’ve been keeping company with,” he said, with his quick, bright smile. “I make allowances.”
“Will you tell the other one?” she asked.
“Bah!” said Tartarus. “Why don’t you get down on your belly and beg him, girl?”
Nerissa’s hand went to the handle of the skillet beside her.
Tartarus saw it and gave an evil grin. She let go and, lifting her nose into the air, turned away from him and back to Farukh.
“Please tell me the other one,” she said.
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- Born Again
- What made her rival’s deviled eggs so spectacularly good? Originally appeared on the Quills and Quibbles website
Désirée crept up to the henhouse window. It was too dark inside to see, but she could smell. Herbs, spices, flowers–It smells like potpourri, that’s what it smells like! What she didn’t smell was chickens.
She snapped on her penlight and held it close. She undid the latch and eased open the door, moving gently so as not to startle the hens. How embarrassing, to be caught snooping!
The hens looked decrepit: thin, dispirited, nearly featherless. No wonder Margarita didn’t want anybody to see them! She probably starved the poor things to force them to molt, believing it would increase post-molt laying.
There were no roosts; the bedraggled hens huddled on their nesting boxes. Gingerly, Désirée plucked a dangling straw. It wasn’t straw, it was a sassafras twig, smelling like concentrated root beer.
A feather fluttered to the floor. It was reddish-gold, no color she had ever seen in any chicken–in life, in a catalog or online.
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- Personal Essay — My Mother
- Even mythological monsters have family, just like everybody else. Well, maybe not just like everybody else. Originally appeared on this website.
Everybody calls me Mimi and I’m eleven years old and my mother has snakes for hair. Craig Johnson makes fun of me and says I mean she has hair that looks like snakes or something, but I don’t ‑‑ they’re real snakes, all right.
I don’t mean fat, ugly snakes, either. They’re long, skinny snakes, with tiny little heads and bright black shiny eyes that flash, “Good night,” when my mother turns off the overhead and the nightlight comes on. Their tails are down in her scalp somewhere, and they grow out and over her head and hang down in the back, and little baby ones curl in front of her ears.
They’re brown. The snakes, I mean; her ears are sort of peach-colored, like the rest of her (as much of it as I’ve seen, anyway, which isn’t much ‑‑ she’s very modest. We don’t even have any mirrors in the house ‑‑ that’s how modest my mother is.). I asked her what kind of snakes they were, once, and she said she didn’t know. She said she’d never thought about it. She said she guessed they were hair snakes or something.
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- Turtle Love
- Why does that pesky turtle keep coming out into the road? Originally appeared in the Southern Indiana Writers’ UNBRIDLED LUST (story is G-rated).
One afternoon, she was half-way along the lane when she saw a dark bulge rising above the gray-white gravel. A turtle.
Naturally, she stopped and picked it up. On the other side of a split-rail fence and about a thousand feet into a pasture, lay a pond. The Turtle Lady pushed the turtle under the fence, climbed over, picked the turtle up, and carried it to the pond. She walked as quickly as she could over rough ground in her good shoes, because you never know when you might be sharing a pasture with a bull or a territorial goat, or when the owner of the pasture might object to your crossing private land without permission. A neat little white house stood not far from the water, with a well-kept barn and a new-looking tool shed behind it. The owner of this land obviously cared for it, and might be extremely particular about trespassing.
This time, though, she got to the pond and back to her car with no more difficulty than muddy shoes and run stockings, and drove home in a satisfied glow.
About a week later, the dark bulge was in the road again, in almost the same place.
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- Home on the Range
- Vegan meets wild cow. Originally appeared in the Southern Indiana Writers’ IT’S ALWAYS SOMETHING.
I got home at nearly one, pulled into the drive, where I always parked my vintage VW, and saw a light in the summer kitchen.
I didn’t think I had left it on ‑‑ it had been broad daylight when I went to work. I remembered thinking, when I took the rhubarb pie out to cool, that it would have to wait until morning because I didn’t want to come out to the summer kitchen to get it in the dark.
Still, there it was ‑‑ on. Rhubarb pie sounded good, so I crossed the yard and opened the door.
As Granny Babs would have said, you could have knocked me over with a feather. I was simply too stunned to move.
You don’t realize how big cows are until you find one sitting, totally uninvited, in your summer kitchen, tucking into a big slab of your rhubarb pie.
She didn’t even have the grace to look ashamed. She froze when I opened the door, but then she met my gaze and deliberately took another bite of pie. Her big brown eyes were hard and challenging, and I had no doubt that this was the wild cow I had been warned about.