Category Archives: Short shorts

Flies

John vacuumed the flies from the windowsills. Janet called them cluster flies. John didn’t care what they were. Their incessant buzzing was driving him crazy and they ruined the view. If they were going to sell the house, he didn’t want myriad black flies blocking the view. They bought the house because of the view. It was in the fall. He and Janet fell in love with the flaming colours of the trees in the ravine.

That was back when they were the perfect loving couple. They met in night school. John was taking accounting, Janet studied dance. The magnitude of their differences just added to their love. They would talk for hours, and when they ran out of words, just sit and stare into each other’s eyes.

“The eyes are the windows of the soul.” She would say as she rapped on his head. “Anyone home?”

“Accounting is my job.” He would say. “But you are my life.”

They got married and bought the house. Janet made it a home while he worked to pay for it; to make it theirs.

John sucked the last of the flies from the window and dragged the still buzzing vacuum to the next one. No matter how many times he did this. They came back the next day. From this window, he could catch a glimpse of the river. In the winter it was even better. The stark black trunks of the willows were like the tangle truths of their life. They stood between John and the river, and made the view more interesting.

Their life in the house became complicated, but John relished the challenge. He would come home from work and find Janet dancing naked through the rooms. She would laugh and pull him into the dance. They would shed his clothes throughout the house until he was as naked as the willows by the river. Then they would fall laughing in whatever room they were in and make love.

“I love your eyes.” He would say. “They remind me why I am alive.”

“The eyes are the windows of the soul.” Janet would say.

John moved to yet another window the vacuum roaring its death sentence for the flies tapping against the glass. They tried to flee, but John caught them all. There was no escape. Spring came, and the flies came too. They appeared in the windows as if by spontaneous generation. The leaves burst bright green down by the river. The water became a secret guarded by the fecundity of the trees.

Janet became pregnant. It was a difficult pregnancy and Janet became fractious. John tried to come home early. The constant irritation of the flies made her cranky. John tried all kinds of remedies; anything except poison. He finally settled on this daily trek past each of the windows that faced the river. The flies not only filled the windows of the house, but seemed to fill up the window of their souls. Their love was being strangled.

“Anyone home?” He would say, but Janet’s eyes were filled with anxieties like flies that he could not vacuum away. Her soul was hidden.

The last window was the hardest. The flies rattled into the vacuum. It had been Janet’s favourite. Summer had seared the greenery. Life in the ravine was dry and dusty. Even the water had retreated from the heat. The flowers and Janet wilted.

She lost the baby the day after there were no more flies. John came home to find her keening in the upstairs room. They went to the hospital, but there was nothing to be done. John tried, but he couldn’t see in through Janet’s eyes. They were closed to him, and he was lost.

“Look at me.” He would plead. “We need to talk.”

“Go away.” She would whisper. “There is nothing to say.”

Fall was brown and dull. Winter was gray and wet. John left the curtains closed. He started coming home later. She never danced. They never laughed. Then the flies came back and Janet found that she hated the house.

“We can sell the house.” He had said. “Start over somewhere else.”

“It doesn’t matter..” She had said. “It is over.”

John switched off the vacuum, and looked out the window at the tangled weeds, and he began to weep. The harder he tried to stop the louder it came. All his grief, all his pain, all his love came out in a siren wail. Janet came and knelt beside him. They held each other and wept, and the tears washed the flies from their eyes.

“Our eyes are the windows to our soul.” John said looking into her eyes.

“I am glad you are home.” She said kissing his salty lips.

A Cure for Writer’s Block

This is a story I wrote some time back in response to a challenge about – you guessed it – writer’s block. It did middling well, but I like the idea behind it.

A Cure for Writer’s Block:

A sure fire method for getting past writer's block. If it doesn't drive you insane.

The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog. Of course, being a lazy dog, it lay there and ignored the whole undignified scenario. The brown fox, really more of a reddish colour, rolled her eyes…

“What a complete waste of time,” Matthew Q. Stanhaus said. (The Q. didn’t stand for anything, but his agent had told Matt that he should have an initial. It added class. What it didn’t add was the ability to come up with a second story to match the first surprise runaway bestseller.)

“This isn’t going to work”

“Sure it will,” Bill said. “Free form writing always gets the juices flowing. All my authors get stuck, and this is how I get them going again. Give it time.”

“I haven’t got time,” Matt rubbed his eyes. “I need to have this first draft in to my editor tomorrow. “

“Then you had better get started.” Bill showed no mercy. He sat back with his coffee and waved at the keyboard. Matt grunted and started banging on the keys again.

“I am the quickest, baddest brown fox ever to run circles around any dog, lazy or no. In my corner of the jungle no one lays a hand on me. I don’t care if you are Cujo or a taco dog; you ain’t comin’ close to this fox….”

“That’s even lamer than the first one. All we need is someone singing about bluebirds to make it complete.” Bill didn’t respond other than by wiggling his fingers in typing motions. Matt howled in frustration and turned back to the keyboard.

These hounds weren’t lazy. They were all bark and growl and teeth. They had my scent and were in full cry. I needed to be better than quick if I wasn’t going to end up as their sacrificial fox. I ran and dodged through the concrete and steel that made up my jungle. I could hear them on my trail. Tires squealed and men shouted at each other. An occasional silenced shot buzzed past my ear. I was getting tired, and these dogs weren’t going to give up. They were getting paid to bring me down, and the people paying them didn’t care whether it was alive or dead….

Matt leaned back and groaned as his vertebrae crackled and popped.

“It’s trite.” He said. “The editor will probably laugh and throw it away.”

“Let me worry about the editor.” Bill made more finger wiggling motions.

Matt muttered an obscenity, not quite under his breath, and returned to the computer.

Renard Brown staggered through the bayou. He could hear the hounds baying in the distance. A helicopter pounded almost overhead. He had no idea why he was here. One minute he was resting in his cell, the next guards were hustling him into a chopper.

“Shot while trying to escape.” The guard they called the Bear had grinned evilly at him.

“I’m not trying to escape,” Renard said, struggling against the guards holding his arms.

“You will.” The Bear laughed as he pushed Renard out of the chopper….”

Matt sat back and stared at the screen.

“That doesn’t make any sense. Why go through all the fuss of the chopper and dogs if they were going to kill him anyway?”

“I don’t know.” Said Bill. “You’re the writer. So write.”

Renard Brown was quick, but he was also smart. Even the fastest fox needed to go to ground once in a while. He needed to wait for that dog to get lazy again. He sat in his prison cell, pretending to read, while the guards walked by looking for some excuse to enforce the rules. There were a lot of rules…

“No, no, no.” Moaned the author. “That won’t work.” He cracked his back again, and looked at his agent. Bill was carefully not looking up.

#@$#@((*%(*@#$ Thought Fox Brown as he looked over his shoulder again. He had worked very hard to get arrested. Right now jail was the safest place for him. It wasn’t that Lupe didn’t have people on the inside, but they were lazy. They were up to a shiv in the lunchroom, or a bit of violence in the showers, but Lupe intended to keep him alive until he led her to what she wanted. So she had her pet D.A. cut him loose. If it was just money, Fox would have given it up a long time ago. He swore again as he spotted a couple of her hounds on his tail. It was time to get the jump on these dogs…

Smiling, Bill fell asleep to the music of rattling keys and the sotto voce muttering of Matthew Q. Stanhaus.

 

Aggie and the Robot

Aggie walked to the brow of the hill that overlooked the city. Aggie had never been to the city, but she loved to watch the traffic bustle in and out. Airplanes circled overhead waiting their turn to land, the dull roar of their engines muffled almost to silence by the distance. One day she had watched so long that she had seen the lights come on one by one until it was lit up like a fairy kingdom.

Today she arrived at the hill to find an enormous metal man leaning against the edge of the cliff. He was watching the city.

“Excuse me,” she said politely, “you are blocking my view.”

With a great grinding and clanging noise the metal man turned to face her.

“Who are you?” he demanded in a voice that was so deep that Aggie could feel it in her teeth.

“I’m Aggie,” she said, “I live with my mom and dad over there.” She waved her arm vaguely over her shoulder.

“You should go home,” rumbled the iron man. “This is no place for little girls.”

“This is my place,” Aggie said, “And you are rude.”

“Rude?”

“I told you my name. You are supposed to say ‘Pleased to meet you Aggie my name is…'” she paused, “What is your name?”

“Name?” said the metal man, “I have no name. I am a robot.”

“What is a robot?” asked Aggie.

“A robot is….” the metal giant paused. “I am a robot.”

“Where are you from?”

“From? I am from nowhere. I was built over there from metal and glass.” The giant man pointed into the mountains.

“Why?”

“Why?” rumbled the robot, “To destroy the city.”

“The city?” cried Aggie. “Why would you want to destroy the city? It’s wonderful.”

“My master hates the people in the city. He says they are evil and selfish.”

“But even if they are selfish, they don’t deserve to be destroyed.”

“My master wants them destroyed. So he built me to destroy them.”

“But you can’t destroy the city.”

“It is what I am made to do,” said the robot. “I must do what my master made me for.”

“But it’s wrong.”

“I don’t know wrong. I only know obedience.”

Aggie walked to the edge of the hill and looked out over the city. She felt tears forcing their way out of her eyes. The cars and planes blurred. She thought of all those buildings broken and burning; people hurt and crying.

“No!” she shouted at the robot. “You can’t do it. Your master is wrong.”

The robot bent down further with more clanking. She could smell oil and electricity.

“I am not built to know what is wrong. I am built to obey. I cannot disobey.”

“I disobey my dad sometimes.”

“Your dad didn’t build you well.”

“Dad didn’t build me,” laughed Aggie, “I was born.”

“What is born?”

“I’m not sure. I asked my dad once and he just turned red.”

The robot shook his head.

“Whether born or made, we must do as we are told.” He turned again to look across to the city. The sun glinted on windows and winked from airplanes. A breeze blew the faintest sounds of activity to the hill.

“We start out doing as we are told, because we don’t know anything,” Aggie stepped up to the edge of the cliff. “But the more we learn, the more we need to choose for ourselves.”

Aggie heard the metal grind as the robot nodded his head.

“Come with me,” he said and held out his hand. Fearfully, she stepped onto his hand. He curled his fingers to protect her. “We will go and learn.”

Aggie was sure that his footsteps shook the earth, but she couldn’t feel them away up in the air cradled in the metal fist of the robot.

“I am listening to them,” said the robot after a while. “They are laughing because some geese are crossing the highway and traffic is stopped.” He walked on.

“They have seen us,” he rumbled. “But they won’t attack because they see you. They won’t hurt a little girl even to save themselves.” They arrived at the edge of the city. Police cars and fire trucks were lined up across their path. Planes circled overhead.

“It is time,” the robot said, “I must obey.”

“But you can’t.”

“Then you must stop me.”

The whole city watched what happened next. How a little girl stood in front of the colossus with tear streaked face and pushed on the robot”s foot. Miraculously it tottered, then fell backward with a great crash and lay still.

“He could not choose to disobey,” Aggie told them, “but he could choose to fail.”

Gold

Sascha limped into the bar and took a table where she could sit with her back to a wall facing the door. A young girl came and deposited a mug of beer on the table. Sascha used a scrap of sleeve wetted with beer to clean the blood from her face. The girl appeared again and left a cleaner cloth. Shascha smiled thanks and went back to her ablutions. She drank what was left of the beer and settled in for a long wait.

A polished steel shield hung on the wall. From what she could see of the bartender in it he looked more troll than human. Sascha wondered what he thought of her. She knew even with her best efforts, blood caked in her eyebrows and hair, turning fiery-red dark. Fortunately none of the cuts and tears in her clothes were in places which could cause trouble.

Well after moonrise, Jacko slid into the seat across from her. The room had filled up and they were able to talk under the boisterous crowd.

“What happened to you?”

“A couple of bravos thought they needed my purse more than I did.”

Jacko winced, “Did you have to let them bleed all over you?”

“One thought he could hold me while his partner finished me. I had to cut his throat.” She shrugged. “It was messy.

“They must have been desperate.”

“I wouldn’t know.”

“After all that you didn’t even check their purses?”

“Whatever else I might be I am not a thief.”

“You could have taken enough for some new clothes.”

Sascha stared at him until Jacko looked down.

“OK, OK, You’ll do anything for gold but steal it. I don’t get you, Sasch.”

“You don’t need to get me.” She leaned forward across the stained wood of the table. “Did you get the information I asked you about?”

“I did, the old man’s holed up in the old monastery outside the south wall.”

“Thanks” She dropped a handful of coins on the table. “Buy yourself a decent meal.”

Her stained and ragged clothing helped Sascha blend into the shadows well enough the guards didn’t notice her climb over the south wall. The moon shone bright enough to reveal handholds, but not so bright as to make her stand out. She reached the bottom and stretched out the cramps in her hands.

The place was more ruin than monastery. Walls and roofs now jumbles of stone. The only building still standing was the crypt for the monks who never left their retreat even in death. She pushed on the door and found it barred from the inside. She smiled, neither corpses or ghosts had any reason to bar the door. With the blade of her thinnest knife she lifted the bar and eased the door open.

The faint gleam of moonlight didn’t show anything but dust and bones. She entered the crypt and followed the faint scent of cheese. An old man waited for her.

“Robson sent you.”

“He wants the stone.”

“Ah,” the old man nodded. “Want some cheese?”

Sascha shrugged and took the chunk of cheese from his hand. She bit into it and almost cried at its sharp flavour against her tongue.

“There is water if you wish to clean up.” He tossed her a bundle of cloth. “My fellows won’t mind if you borrow a robe. The smell of death disturbs me.”

“You’re afraid of dying?” Sascha asked through the splashes of water on her face.

“No.”

“I was hoping you would be. ”

“So I would just give you the stone?”

“I don’t want to kill you.”

“But you will if you have to.”

“I will do what I need for Gold.”

The old man looked at her sadly.

“I don’t see greed in your eyes.”

“Nonetheless.”

He reached into his robe and puled out a tiny bundle wrapped in silk.

“Silk is the only substance that the stone won’t effect. Be careful.” He handed it to her.

Sascha allowed the silk to move from the stone and touched it against a bone that lay on the floor. It turned into pure yellow gold.

“Why?”

“You are at the very edge of darkness. I didn’t want to push you over.”

“Then you understand.”

“Goodbye Sascha, you’re almost free.”

“Without Gold, I will never be free.”

“Remember the silk.” The crypt went dark.

Sascha found herself outside the crypt. She shook her head and patted the small weight of the stone in her pocket.

######

Robson was waiting for her in the room he called his throne room.

“You have it?”

“Gold first.”

He snapped his fingers and one of the thugs beside him pulled a little girl from behind Robson; her hair the colour fine gold.

“Mommy!” the girl cried.

“Hi Gold.”

Robson took the little girl’s hand and kept her from running to her mother.

“The stone first.”

“This is the last time,” Sascha said holding up the tiny bundle.

“Sascha, Sascha, you can trust me. Let me see the stone, then we’ll talk.” He let go of Gold and the girl ran to her mother.

Sascha tossed the stone to Robson and swept up Gold in her arms. She used the bit of silk to wipe the tears from her daughter’s eyes.

Two Creepy Tales

A friend Jason, who runs the Howlarium, asks interesting questions and curates responses from writers out on the net.

This month’s question is:

“The Tibetans don’t encourage meditating right away, actually. They insist that you know something. They say Listen, if you go meditate right away as an ignorant person, you will deepen your ignorance [] a kind of quietism that a lot of […] people get into where—they find the world jangly and bothersome, and then they withdraw into a place where they don’t have to think about it. It’s like a wonderful kind of Prozac. […] there’s no compassion in it. It’s a kind of narcissistic thing, actually. Great danger in meditation. […]
“Your writing is a kind of meditation.”  
Dr. Robert Thurman, first American ordained a Tibetan Buddhist monk

In the West, meditation tends to be thought of as an act of personal wellness, and some of us might view writing the same way.

Q: If you meditate and/or write (either one) to keep yourself well and sane, how can compassion for someone else play a role in that? Does it need to?

If so, how? If not, why not?”

These stories are part of my answer.


Old Hero

Petrov walked into the room and looked around. Well set out if unpretentious. A close inspection showed the beginning of wear on the upholstery. Old photos of peasants in the fields or uninspired watercolours  hung on the walls . The fragrance of baking in another part of the house made him hope his host would see fit to offer something to eat.

The thought of his host made him shiver. The man was a hero of the war. Of several wars if the truth were to be told. Yet he lived alone on this estate far from the city. The mother country had come through some hard times, but now as things began to turn around, they could use someone of Dimishky’s stature to show the Revolution moved forward under the new generation of leaders.

It was a great privilege for Petrov to be here, even if his mission was to beg for the old man to come to Moscow to allow his name to be used in the service of the Soviet.

Petrov examined for perhaps the third time the photos of the peasants. The old men and women posed stiffly and stared at the camera with a fatalism  belying  the idea they formed the foundation of the revolution. How could such a lethargic people have risen to overthrow the Imperialist regime?

The door behind him creaked, and Petrov turned slowly and nodded politely at the old man. One didn’t get as far as he had in the service of the Soviet without learning to school oneself.

The old man led in an equally old woman who carried a tray with the hoped for baking as well as an rough tea service. She placed the tray on the table and left.

“Please sit,”  Dimishkysaid, “I regret keeping you waiting, but I had some business to complete.”

What urgent business urgent could  he find here? It didn’t matter. Petrov sat at the table and waited for Dimishky to join him.

“I suppose you are here to impress on me the need the Soviet has for my face and my name.” Dimishky poured tea into Petrov’s chipped cup.

The astringent odour made Petrov almost wrinkle his nose. He didn’t usually add anything to his tea, but he sweetened this brew and added cream too. He tried to ignore the sneer on the older man’s face. Still, the old man pushed a plate of biscuits over and he helped himself. It melted in his mouth; as sweet as the tea was bitter.

“I’ve no interest in shoring up the political regime,” Dimishky said, “I am content here.” He waved his hand out the window. For all the hand was thin and spotted, Petrov suspected strength still lurked in it.

“The government has need of you.”

“You mean they need of a face and a name.” The old man drank his tea straight. Petrov shuddered. “They wish to hold up a monster from the past and suggest there is still some truth in their threats.”

“They are not to be trifled with,” Petrov said, “The secret police…”

“Oddly, for the secret police to be effective, everyone must know they exist.” Dimishky stood and put his cup down. “Come with me. We will walk. If you still wish me to come to Moscow after, I will give you my word I will go with you. Perhaps it is time.”

They walked out of the house. Though Dimishky hadn’t said anything , the old woman waited with a coat and hat for the old man. She gave Petrov a look of  equal part pity and disdain.

Petrov hadn’t dressed for the weather, but he was used to the cold. They walked out of yard and down the road toward the village.

“The people who live here are the same kind people as the ones in those photos you admired so.” Dimishky’s rasp startled Petrov.

“You mean their descendants?”

“There are no descendants from those in the photographs.”

They reached the village and the people looked up at them, then let their eyes slide past as if Dimishky and Petrov were only visible for the slightest second.

“You see,” Dimishky said, “they are cattle. They know what I am and what I do. They could come to my house and kill me in my sleep. Yet they send their own to cook for me and serve my needs.” He spat on the road. Without breaking step the old man opened a gate and led Petrov to a small house. The yard was sprinkled with with colour, rocks had been painted bright colours and placed in the grey dirt. They walked in through the front door without knocking.

The smell of baking was here too. A young man sat with an older woman, probably his mother. He looked up and seemed to be about to speak, but the woman put her hand on his. She got up and looked at Dimishky with the same eyes as the people in the photographs. Dimishky turned and walked away, the woman following him. The young man’s hands shook, and to Petrov’s horror, tears streaked his face. Petrov left him and hurried after Dimishky.

He stayed back until they came to a black building on the edge of the village. The old woman followed Dimishky inside. Petrov hurried to catch up. The inside of the building was no warmer than the weather outside, yet Dimishky carefully took off his coat and shirt and placed them in a wardrobe. He took out a long black coat, stiff with dirt. The woman simply stood and looked at Petrov with fatalistic eyes.

Dimishky, once satisfied with his coat, pulled wire out of the coat’s pocket and tied it around the woman’s wrists. He looped it over a hook attached to a chain.

“Over there,” Dimishky said, “Ratchet the chain up tighter.” Petrov hesitated. “You can tell your superiors how you failed your assignment, if you wish.” Petrov turned the handle until the old woman’s arms stretched over her head. The woman never looked at him.

“Tell the important visitor what is going to happen.” Dimishky said to the woman.

“You are going to kill me, like you killed the others.”

“Why don’t you stop me?”

“You have guns. You could kill all of us. Maybe you will leave someday.”

“This man thinks I should go to Moscow and be an important person in their government.”

“Then people will die in Moscow like they die here.”

“You see,” Dimishky said, “Cattle. No imagination, no spark.” He pulled a knife from a hook on the wall. “You are fortunate that this important man from Moscow is in a hurry.” He casually reached out and cut the woman’s throat.

The rich smell of blood wasn’t something  he hadn’t encountered before. People died. In his work, rather a lot of them died. Few died to as little purpose as this peasant woman. He bit down on any comment he might have made.

“Many people have died in our history,” Dimishky said, “and there is always a need for those who are willing to kill.” He wiped the knife on the coat and hung it back on its hook. “I confess I used to get more pleasure from it, but I am old and cannot work like I used to.” He went to a corner and broke the ice on a bucket of water to wash his hands.

“Will your superiors will appreciate my work?”

“I don’t think they care,” Petrov said.

“And you?”

Petrov looked at the corpse hanging from the ceiling and shrugged.

“If you don’t hurry, we will be late for the train.”

“The people here will bless you for taking me away.”

“And others will curse me for bringing you to them,” Petrov shrugged again. “Some kill, some die, it is of no matter.”

They walked out of the building and left the door swinging in the cold wind.


darkness

My children ran wild with anticipation. There were hordes of them. I stopped trying to count them. The desire to go on this outing would be enough to get even the most obstreperous on the bus. Whoever said children were angels hadn’t met my brood.

The last layer of necessities laid in my case and I closed it up. I didn’t need the bag, other than to set me apart from the others. I climbed the steps of the yellow bus and sat behind the driver. He sweated in the heat, or perhaps from nerves. He rolled his eyes like a steer being lead to slaughter. Whichever, he honked the horn quick enough when I tapped his shoulder.

The children screamed with excitement and ran toward the bus. They pushed and fought to get on, then continued their battle for the best seats. A grossly fat boy deliberately sat on a waif thin girl. His smug grin turned to a pained grimace, then panic. I allowed myself a smile. She must have found a tender part. The boy lumbered away. She sat up and wiped her mouth, then gave me a cheeky grin. Clever girl; I’d need to watch her.

An especially brave imp chose to claim the seat beside me. There was one on every trip who foolishly thought to claim a part of my space. The others watched to see what I’d do, so I smiled and patted him on the head. He made the mistake of looking at me. They all do. His grin faded, then the rest of him until I sat alone again.

The level of chaos on the bus dropped far enough, I tapped the driver on the shoulder again. He closed the door and shifted the bus into gear. The wailing of those left behind came faintly through the glass.

The children always wanted to know how far, though they never dared ask. The truth? I couldn’t answer. Far didn’t have any meaning here, neither did long. The ride felt like an eternity because crossed a piece of eternity.

Yet not quite eternal. I felt the sudden heady pull of time. We’d arrived. The driver lasted long enough to put the bus into park before entropy took over and he fell to pieces. The children poured off the bus into the light of the created world. Some of them couldn’t hold themselves together in the time stream and vanished. Most managed to adapt and spread out into the world to explore and play.

The mortals surrounding us were unaware of our arrival. A couple of the more sensitive wrinkled their nose at what might have been a smell of death. Even if they could see us, they wouldn’t believe. We’ve been relegated to the status of fairy tales and a certain class of fiction. Fights broke out between mortal children who’d been playing peacefully. My children were quick learners.

I looked around the park and spotted the person I wanted. They were always there; torturing themselves with their temptations. His desire oozed from his pores. I sat beside him and soaked it all in. The furtive looks, the aborted searches on the web, the fear someone like him might find his own children, the envy of the ones who dared to act on their desires. I left him staring avidly at a little blond child who played in the sand while two bigger children threw sand and punches at each other.

While the man clenched and unclenched his fists fighting his desire and fear, I sauntered over to a woman eating an ice cream as she watched the children play. I stood beside her and watched too. My children had thinned out. Causing strife was easy, but once done, it was done. No real sustenance to it. A punch, a few tears and it faded away. The ones who didn’t learn quickly faded away and discovered the trip back much shorter than the journey here.

The real food lay in the struggle to choose between desire and restraint. The woman beside me frowned as one child, larger than the others, struggled to keep up. I glimpsed her view of herself in the mirror. She buried deep her loathing for all her perceived imperfections; a wrinkle here, a bulge there. Even the ice cream she ate tasted of both guilt and vanilla. The woman wanted to throw the cone away, but feared wasting food more than eating. The turmoil was delicious.

A disturbance on the other side of the playground caught my attention. A tall thin woman berated the man who’d been watching the little girl. Waves of self-righteousness washed over me from where I stood. The ice cream woman gathered her children and took them away. Her internal struggle over the sweet forgotten in fear for her children.

The waif from the bus stood to the side of the arguing pair. She saw me watching and shrugged, then went back to her feast. More subtle than the others, but still with a lot to learn. The shouting match drew in others and sound of sirens approached. There’d be plenty of drama, but it would vanish as quickly as it built.

I walked away from the park. The tiny blond girl followed me.

“Why do you do it?”

“You know why,” I wanted to be anywhere but here, talking about this. She was new, probably on her first trip.

“I know what they tell us.”

“It sustains us,” I said.

“You don’t need it,” she said, “The light would sustain you.”

“The light!” I choked on the word. For a moment I felt the cloying light which permeated everything, the pull to let it in, and the fear of what it would reveal.

She shook her head sadly.

“It would set you free,” she said. She reached out a hand as if she were going to actually touch me, but stopped. The last thing I saw were the tears running down her face.

The familiar darkness and fire surrounded me. Others surrounded me sensing weakness. I growled and disemboweled one while I tore out the throat of another. The rest backed away, this time.

The girl was right, the light would set me free, after opening all the shadowed depths of my being and cleansing it of the envy and pride. The mortals think hell is fire and brimstone, but is is worse.

Hell is knowing what I could be, and what I have chosen to become.

Cheese and Whisky

Joe leaned his cane against the counter and put the kettle on for tea. He put some biscuits on a plate and sliced some cheese to go with it. After a moment’s thought, he put a jar of jam out as well. Cups and plates completed the setting. The door bell rang; he took a final glance at the little kitchen. It would do.

He picked up the cane on the way to the front door. A young women stood on the other side of the door. Everyone looked young to Joe now, but she couldn’t be thirty yet. Youth glowed in her red hair and blue eyes. She smiled when she saw him. Joe liked that, even better were the faint smile lines around those blue eyes. He revised his estimate of her age upwards a decade.

“Hello, Mr. Baldur,” she said, “My name is Gina, I talked to you on the phone yesterday.”

“I remember,” Joe said and opened the door, “Come on in. I’ve put water on.” He led the way back to the kitchen. She put her purse under her chair and laid a pad and pencil on the table.

“Do you mind if I tape the interview?” Gina asked, “It’s helpful to make sure that I don’t misquote you.”

“Fine by me,” Joe said, “What do you take?”

“Just milk thanks,” Gina said as she fished a tiny recorder out of her purse and placed it at the top of the pad. “Gina Stapopolous, interviewing Joe Baldur, January 28, 2010 at his home. Anything you don’t want recorded just let me know and I will stop the recorder.”

“Thanks for coming by Gina,” Joe said, “It’s nice to have a new audience for my old stories.”

“I should start off with a few questions then. How old are you?”

“According to my birth certificate I am one hundred and fifty one this year.”

“That’s an extraordinary age Mr. Baldur.”

“Please, call me Joe.”

“OK then, Joe,” she said, “Do you have any other way of proving your age? It isn’t that I doubt you, but the oldest person on record is one hundred and seventeen and they live in a nursing home.”

“I’m afraid that anyone that might remember the day of my birth is long gone.” Joe smiled her. “I have no interest in trying to claim any record. I’m not interested in going through the media circus that would entail.”

“Yet you took my call and invited me here…”

“I wasn’t going to turn down the opportunity to have a pretty young woman give me her undivided attention.”

Gina laughed and marked a point in the air with her finger.

“So tell me what it’s like being your age?”

“Boring.”

“Boring?”

“Not many people are interested in the elderly anymore. Getting other people to take care of your parents or grandparents is big business. Put them in a safe place and get on with the important work of living. No one gives much thought to what it’s like for the old people who’re pushed to the edges. The last decent conversation I had was with the paper boy. He was collecting his money and told me all about the hockey tournament he’d played in on the weekend. That was five years ago. Now the paper is delivered by a girl in a car and I pay online for the paper.”

“Sounds lonely.”

“That too,” Joe admitted. He pushed the plate of biscuits toward his guest. “Help yourself.”

Gina took a biscuit and put a slice of cheese on it.

“So if you are bored and lonely, why live by yourself and not talk about your age.”

“All the fuss about my age would just add annoyed to bored and lonely. I don’t want to be Methuselah.”

“Methuselah?”

“The only thing anyone knows about him is that he lived to 969 years and was Lamech’s dad. That would be me. I would just be ‘the old guy’.”

“So, what do you want to be known for?”

“That’s a good question.” Joe took a long sip of his tea and looked up at the ceiling. Gina picked up the biscuit on her plate and took a bite.

“O my, this is good,” Gina said, “Where did you buy them?”

“I make them myself,” Joe said, “I can teach you how.”

“Really?” Gina gave herself a shake and looked at Joe. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to distract you from your answer. What do you want to be known for?”

“A baker of really good biscuits wouldn’t be a bad start,” Joe said, “Try the jam, it’s from the strawberries I grow out back.”

Gina dutifully spread some of the ruby red jam on her biscuit and bit into it. She closed her eyes and sighed.

“Heaven,” she said, “So what else can you do?”

“I make most of my own food from scratch,” Joe said, “It isn’t like I don’t have time to give what I’m doing my full attention.” He bit into his own biscuit and sighed.

“That sounds like good advice. My dad used to tell me something similar.”

“Sounds like he’s a smart fellow.”

“He is, but he lives on the other side of the country now and I don’t see him much.”

“Don’t have time?”

“He’s pretty busy too,” Gina said, “He’s always off golfing with his buddies.”

Joe just looked at her.

“All my friends are my age. They are just happy not to have their parents telling them how to live their lives anymore.”

“Yes, that is a weakness of the elderly.”

“Not just the old,” Gina said, “You wouldn’t believe how many times my girlfriend tries to tell me what to do with my life.”

“Is her advice good?”

Gina laughed, “Heck no, she’s into relationships like an alcoholic is into beer.”

“Right, so it’s about the effect not the taste.” Joe took another bite of his biscuit. “So you put up with bad advice from your friend, but not good advice from your father?”

“Just because he’s older doesn’t mean the advice is better.”

“True.” Joe got up and opened the fridge, pulled out a tiny block of cheese and brought it back to the table. He carefully cut a slice. “Try this.”

Gina took the tiny sliver of cheese from him and popped into her mouth. Joe watched as something close to ecstasy passed across her face.

“What is that?” Gina whispered.

“That is a ten year old cheddar,” Joe said and passed her another sliver. “Some things, like cheese and whisky improve with age. If you have the patience and the knowledge to enjoy the difference.”

“And you’re saying that people are one of those things.”

“Some people, in the right conditions,” Joe said and cut himself a sliver of cheese. “I guess what I want is to keep improving with age.”

Gina looked at him and smiled.

“I think I could say the same thing.”

“It’s no easier at my age.” Joe cut her another slice of the cheese.

“But you manage.”

“I hope so.”

Gina pushed the stop button on the recorder. She looked at the blank pad that sat in front of her and picked up the pencil.

“You offered to teach me how to make these biscuits, how about you give me the recipe, then you can teach me how to make it work.”

“Only if you promise to make some for your dad and….”

“And?”

“Come back to visit me.” Joe looked at her, his heart thumping with nerves. He didn’t want to be disappointed again.

“I think I can promise you that,” Gina said.

Joe grinned, “I’m feeling a hundred years younger now.” He went to the cupboards and began pulling out bowls and ingredients. “The trick to good biscuits is in how you mix them…”

Mad Granny

This is one of those stories which start from a phrase. “It seemed like a good idea at the time.” I enjoy writing stories in which things spin completely out of control and this is one. I really did build a fence, and goons did kick in lattice work sections. The rest is completely fictional.


It seemed like a good idea at the time.

I had put up a new fence around my property. It was straight and true – a thing of beauty. Even my neighbours liked it. The fellow on one side was no longer offended by my untrimmed bushes. (He cut his hedge with a level and kitchen shears.) The guys on my other side liked it because it gave them more privacy for their partying and kept their guests hemmed in.

The old woman across the road didn’t say anything, but she sniffed significantly less often while walking past ignoring me. Even my dogs liked it. It meant they could run free in the back yard, and I had put in a panel of lattice work so they could watch people going by.

That lattice work started the whole thing. The neighbourhood thugs thought it was amusing to kick it in on the way home from whatever they were doing at two in the morning. I got tired of replacing it and bought one of those wireless spy-cameras and hid it on my garage where I would get a good shot of the perpetrators. A couple of minutes later it was recording video of my lattice on a 160 gig drive. Enough for an entire night’s surveillance.

The next morning my lattice was still intact so I didn’t check the file. The computer would just keep overwriting the old file until I told it to stop.

It was a week later I caught my daughter and her friends watching a video on their computer. They were hysterical with laughter. It lasted about five minutes. Some boys were walking under a street-lamp. They stopped in front of a house and started making rude gestures. After a minute an old woman in a bathrobe came running out with a broom and screaming at them. The punks ran away laughing and she went back inside. It was completely disrespectful, but I was laughing too hard to give the girls a lecture.

It was titled “Mad Granny of Dublin”. They showed me others, all similar except for the weapon; sometimes it was a broom, sometimes a mop, once it was a toilet plunger. Then I noticed something in the earliest video. The angle was slightly different, and it showed my lattice. I sat down and tried to figure out how many laws I was breaking, and who had shifted the focus of the camera.

I decided to just remove the camera and not say anything, but I couldn’t find it. I decided to leave well enough alone.

Then the long weekend arrived and the boys next door threw the inevitable party. They were loud, boisterous, and rude, but they left a six pack of my favourite beer on my porch as half apology, half bribe. I had learned to drink the beer and ignore them.

The woman across the road who I continued to think of as the Mad Granny, would walk up and down the street and sniff at them. I don’t know if she was trying to scare them or flirt with them. She wore a black sports bra and a pink mini-skirt. When she dropped her cigarette she would flash her Depends.

My other ultimately fussy neighbour just climbed into his black Mercedes and zoomed off.  It was a typical party weekend.

At two o’clock the party was still going strong and the punks came by for their amusement. Only this time they had a live audience.

“It’s the Mad Granny,” cried an inebriated voice, “I’m going to get in the video.” From my place on the porch I was too far away to suggest that it was a bad idea, even if he would have listened to me. The next thing I knew two of the guys have climbed into a gargantuan red pick up truck and driven it up into the Granny’s drive. They put on the high beams and waited.

They didn’t have long to wait, she came out with her robe flapping wide open, a bottle in one hand and a shotgun in the other. She threw the bottle which smashed on the windshield. I heard gears clashing as they tried to get the truck into reverse. They managed just as she shot out one headlight then the other, all the time cursing a blue streak.

The truck backed straight across the street and through my fence, yard and fence on the other side. It crashed into the backyard pool which promptly collapse sending thousands of gallons through my yard washing my gazebo and lawn furniture into the street.

The neighbour in the black Mercedes chose that moment to roar up the street. He swerved to avoid the furniture and skidded across the flooded street to slam into the light post. The cement post fell across another section of fence and crashed through the roof of my garage. Water poured into the hollow post and with a bang shorted out all the lights on the block.

The only thing left standing was that section of lattice.

The old woman looked at the devastation and yelled one last imprecation.

“That’ll teach you to mess with the Mad Granny.” She flipped a rude gesture at me and went back into her house.

Finding Pooky

Trains are full of stories, some of them on the noir side.


Five hundred dark miles until we arrived at our next stop. People were already settling in with blankets and cushions. Some of them even planned on sleeping.

I walked the cars checking tickets before they got too involved. The sleeper cars were next. I tapped on the door and a hand would show me the appropriate number of tickets, except for Cabin 31. It was flung open by an old man who made a move toward where his pockets would have been had he been wearing pants.

“Where are my pants?” he asked. An old woman paused in her undressing to reach under a pile of clothes on the floor and hand him the tickets. I checked them and closed the door.

There are certain things that are not meant for mortal eyes to see.

That was one of them.

I finished my walk and sat at my desk in the closet they call the “Conductor’s Office” I hadn’t been there five minutes when a woman flung the door open.

“You the conductor?”

“Yes’m”

“I’ve lost Pooky”

“Pooky?”

“Yes, she’s about eight pounds and wearing the cutest pink sweater.”

I looked at the woman again, taking in the once carefully coiffed hair, the expensive suit. the even more expensive implants. I made a bet with myself.

“She’s a toy poodle,” I said.

“Of course.”

I owed myself about a million dollars. This was the biggest part of my job. Passengers were always losing things on the train; purses, wallets, their virginity. Most things I could find, some not.

“Where did you last see her?”

“I left her with a man and his daughter in coach. He was wearing a black leather vest. I needed to get off at the last stop.” She sniffled a little. “I broke a nail, and I just couldn’t find my manicure kit.”

“I see.” I send her back to her seat and headed for the dining car. A bit of cheese goes a long way to befriending vicious little dogs. Then I was off to coach.

I found the big man in the leather vest making serious inroads on a bottle of something cheap and alcoholic. When I interrupted him he came off the seat at me. I pushed him back into it. He lunged again. I put my finger on his forehead and pushed him back. As he gathered himself for a third try I asked him a question.

“Do you know how fast this train is going?”

“Why should I care?”

“Because it has a lot to do with how painful it will be when I throw you off the train.”

“What do you want?”

“A woman left her poodle with you, she would like it back.”

“That vicious little critter chewed my vest. I sent my daughter to take it back.”

“When was that?”

“How should I know? It was before we left the station.”

“Where is she now?” He just shrugged.

“She is your daughter.”

“Only until I get her to her mother’s. She’s fourteen and can take care of herself.”

I took away the bottle and deposited in the garbage before I looked for the kid.

She sat in the dining car holding a torn shirt with one hand and a coke with the other. I sat down across from her.

“Everyone else was doing it,” she said, “He didn’t like it when I changed my mind.”

“What does he look like?”

“I left him in a fetal position, moaning.”

“Good girl,” She burst into tears, so I offered my handkerchief and waited.

“Aren’t you going to lecture me or something?”

“No.”

“Then why are you here?”

“I am looking for the poodle.”

“Pooky? Didn’t they get her back to her owner?”

“Who’s they?”

“An old couple. They acted like kids in love. You know, holding hands, bumping against each other. It was kind of cute. They were in cabin….” She paused in thought.

“Thirty-one,” I said and she nodded.

“Thanks,” I stood up, “You stay here as long as you need.”

“The waiter told me I had to order something to sit here.”

“Usually you do, but tonight is different. If you do want something, just ask. It’s on the house.”

I waved a signal at Frankie and he came over. I left her ordering enough to feed an army.

Back at cabin thirty-one I could hear high pitched barking mixed with other sounds. I knocked on the door and a moment later the old timer flung the door open.

“You’ve come for Pooky,” he said as he deftly caught the small dog that was leaping and snapping at him. “She’s a nice dog, but I’m too old for a threesome.” He handed me the dog and I let Pooky smell the cheese in my hand. She quieted.

“We are running away from our kids,” he said, “They are going to be so angry.” He winked and closed the door. The kid was right. It was kind of cute.

Pooky’s mistress was delighted to see her so I took myself back to my closet.

“Another victory,” I said to the picture of my wife. Twenty years ago she had vanished from this very train. I never found her. I’m still looking, but some things can’t be found.

I turned and watched the darkness pass outside.

Holy Bolts

I can’t remember the nature of this contest, but it must have been a strange one. The combination of Religion and Engineering will produce interesting offspring.


Engineer Third Class Jones looked at the access panel and said a few words that would have earned him penance from the Most Reverend Captain, assuming that said Most Reverend Captain could fit his fat behind through the engineering hatch. Jones gave himself a penance for the disrespectful thinking and looked at the panel again.

No matter how many Notre Maters he said, the bolts were still .675 Specials. As an Engineer Third Class, Jones didn′t have access to the Specials. He looked through his tool pouch anyway in case the Lord Mother had seen fit to put one in his kit. No such luck. Jones wasn′t nearly pious enough to rate the attention of the Lord Mother herself. He glared at the panel and wished it to a bright and fiery place. Since it was only a inanimate panel he didn′t feel guilty about his thoughts. Much

Time was wasting and Deacon Engineer First Class Apollos was expecting him to check the filters on the waste scrubbers before shift end. Those filters stubbornly remained on the other side of the panel. If they weren′t going to come to him; he would have to get to them.

Jones when through his kit again, still no .675 Special, but there was a possibility. It was almost blasphemous, but didn′t Deacon Engineer always say that the Lord Mother helps those who help themselves?

He pulled out the .675 Normal and fit it over the bolt. His needle nosed pliers, opened as far as they would go and one point just fit in the hole in the centre of the bolt.

″If you′re going to strike me dead, Lord Mother″ he said, ″Make a quick job of it. I don′t want to have to listen to Deacon Engineer′s lecture before I die. That and hell would be just too much.″

He twisted the bolt one way while he turned the pliers the other. It always looked so slick when Deacon Engineer used his Special with the gears that formed the words of the Notre Mater so he knew when to stop. Jones just muttered under his breath and guessed. The bolt loosened as easily as a Normal and soon dropped on the floor.

He picked up the bolt and examined it curiously. Other than the hole in the centre there was nothing special about it. He tried the next bolt with just his Normal. The shock ran up his arm and left him lying on the floor twitching. By all Maxwell′s little demons that hurt!

He put the pliers in the hole and once again removed the bolt easily. He didn′t play with the other bolts but quickly took them out and lifted the panel free. He carefully set it to the side and laid the bolts in order beside it. First off, last on; that was first catechism, he followed it religiously.

The light on the other side of the access panel glowed dim and red. He double checked his flash as he put his tools back in his kit. He would only use it in an emergency. It was scripture that things were the way they were for a reason. Introducing a white light into this hellish red glow might have catastrophic consequences. Jones ran through the fourth catechism and decided that he was still safe, but he

wouldn′t waste anytime exploring this new territory.

Jones followed Deacon Engineer′s instructions carefully. Forward six lengths then left two. Pause for two Notre Maters, then forward again to a panel which all glory to the Lord Mother had Normal bolts. He had this panel off in seconds and peered at the filter covers. They were held on by .675 Specials.  The filter cover was directly over a grate on the floor. He cursed a bit, then said his penance. He said a bit extra for later; he was sure he was going to use them up. The first bolt wasn′t too bad or the second. For the third bolt he had to lie on the floor and somehow fit both arms through the small access hatch. The last bolt was impossible. He just couldn′t reach it with both hands. Somehow he would have to hold the pliers and wrench in the same hand and twist them in opposite directions. He lay on his back and looked at the situation. He practised the necessary motion. He might be able to do this.

″Once again, Dear Lord Mother,″ he breathed, ″Instantaneous death is much preferable.″

He was astonished when everything went well; until the bolt almost fell through the grate. Unfortunately in his wildly fortunate catch of the bolt he dropped his pliers. They bounced on the grate  then slipped through the spaces. He heard them clattering down into the Engineering level below him.

He spent several minutes running up his need for penance. He should have known. It was the sixth catechism.. He was a fool, a charlatan. He didn′t have the faith or the knowledge for this job.

Jones calmed himself down enough to pull the panel off and checked the filter. It looked like it needed cleaning. He pried it out and prayerfully fit in the replacement.

System flush of replacement filter in three minutes.

Jones moaned. This was beyond cursing. He had to get that panel back on. Without a Special, without his pliers. He picked up a bolt and looked at it more closely. He fit his wrench on it and gave it a tentative turn. The shock was milder, but it still made him swear. But he learned something. The head of the bolt moved; not much, but enough. He fit his Normal wrench over the bolt, then pushed down with his thumb and turned. No shock.


″Great glorious Lord Mother!″ he shouted. ″I can do this!″

He fit the panel in place and hand tightened the first bolt carefully keeping pressure on the head of the bolt. The other three went on just as easily.

System flush of replacement filter in one minute.


The .675 Normal went over the first bolt with his thumb pushing firmly down. He said a Hail Joseph as he tightened it down. Second one.


System flush of replacement filter in thirty seconds.

Third bolt, then last one. He slapped the access panel on and had the bolts on and tightened in seconds

Stand by for system flush.

A gale rushed by on the other side of the panel, but he didn′t hear any bolts coming loose. He followed the path back to the first access. The white light looked garishly bright. He quickly fit the panel in place and started the bolts.


″It might be easier with this.″  Jones jumped and almost cursed as Deacon Engineer passed him a .675 Special. ″And Engineer Second Class Jones.″ Jones was sure he saw a smile. ″You will need them to recover those pliers you dropped.

First Boy

This story was a response to a challenge to write about a first pet. I took a little different slant on the idea and come up with this.


 

The place smelled like a dozen dogs had peed in the corners; about right for a dog pound. Nicer than some places I’ve stayed. When you’re a pit bull you see a lot bad spots. The yard had real grass even. I was alone when they brought in a litter from a puppy mill. Sad cases every one of them. Breaks my heart how people abuse us in the name of having a pet.

One pup broke loose from the squirming mound drinking from their mom, and staggered over to the cage that divided us.

“Hello,” he said.

“Hey,” I said and eyeballed him from where I lay on my mat. The rest of the pups were black, but this one had black blotches on grey fur. Reminded me of this Aussie I once met. The kid had these crazy blue eyes. All pups have blue eyes, but I wondered if his wouldn’t glow a little when the humans turned off the lights.

“What are you doing?” He tried pushing his nose through the mesh, but the humans were onto that and it was too small for even his nose. I crawled over to put my nose against the mesh and we breathed each other in.

“Sleeping, kid.” I said after we’d done sniffing each other.

“Where are we?” He shook himself and peed on the floor.

“This is the pound,” I said, “The beginning for some, end for others. You might want to pee over on the paper there,” I pointed with my nose. “Humans are funny that way.”

“So what about the humans?” he said. “I don’t need ’em”

“Yeah, kid,” I said, “you do. I was only a little older than you when I got my first human. Boy came in and didn’t know a pit bull from a poodle, He wanted me on account of the black patch on my eye. It reminded him of some movie he’d just seen. I was going to be his very first pet.”

“What’s a movie?”

“Beats me, kid. Never seen one. Anyway they put a collar on me and he led me away on a leash. He named me Patch; proudest day of my life. I had no clue. The boy put out some of that paper in a box and a bowl of food and left me there. All night I howled in terror. I had no idea where I was or what was going on, and I missed my mom and my litter mates. The mom came and shushed me, then the dad came and yelled at me. The boy came after them and carried me up to his room. Don’t tell Mom. He whispered to me. I slept on his pillow. He took me outside in the morning to do my business on the grass.”

“I thought you said to do it on the paper?”

“On the paper when you’re inside and a pup, but outside the rest of the time. Nothing makes a human happier than a dog peeing on the grass.”

“Oh.”

I could see the wheels turning in the kid’s head. This pup was a smart one. He stumbled back to the pile and attached himself to his mother. She hardly had the energy to look at me. Poor girl was worn out, but then I was pretty worn out myself.

Woke up next morning to the sound of pee on paper and opened my eye to see the kid whizzing like a pro on the paper. He pranced over to me.

“Tell me more about humans, Patch.”

“Sure, kid.” I got up and stretched, then shook the cobwebs out of my head. Enough exercise for the day. I lay down on my mat. “Well, soon as I learned to pee on the grass, the boy started teaching me tricks.”

“What’s that?”

“That’s when a human tells you to do something silly, then gives you a treat, food usually, but I’d do tricks just to get him to scratch behind my ears. The boy, his name was Sam, taught me to sit, and stay, and rollover, simple stuff really. When I got good at those he started teaching me to shake a paw or play dead. We had this game where he’d put a biscuit on my nose and I’d balance it until he said Go then I’d throw it in the air and catch it. That game was my favourite thing in the world. Most of the time we just ran around and wrestled.”

“Wow,” The kid panted at me, a natural. “So, then what happened?”

“Sam went back to school. That’s some place all humans have to go. It’s like peeing on the grass. Doesn’t make sense, but they do it anyway. I waited by the door for him to come home and we’d go play in the yard or he’d take me for a walk. Every night I slept on his bed.”

Thinking about those days made me want to howl like a puppy. You can’t go back, you just can’t go back. The kid wandered off and piled into his litter mates, and left me with my thoughts. If I could only do that one thing over again. I closed my eye and snoozed a while. To be honest, just watching that much energy made me tired. Hadn’t thought about Sam in ages. Even if humans didn’t grow as fast as us, he’d be a lot older; maybe even finished with that school thing.

The door opened, and some humans came in. A little girl ran over to the cage with the puppies.

Look, aren’t they cute?

The kid pulled himself out of the pile and wobbled over to her.

He’s an unusual colour, looks like a seal.

He’s a catahoula.

Well, wouldn’t you know, the kid’s something more than an odd looking mutt.

Can I pick him up? Please?

The pound human opened the door of the cage and put the pup in the girl’s arms.

“Remember, pee only on the paper!” I said to him. I know what pups are like when their excited. Sure enough he wriggled away from her and went to pee on the paper like a champ. She picked him up again when he came back.

“Lick her face, kid,” I said. “They can’t resist that.”

He did what I said, and the girl laughed. Sam used to laugh like that. I put my head on my paws and watched them.

I want this one, Mom.

Are you sure? We haven’t looked anywhere else.

Please, Mom? I want this one. I’ll call him Patches.

Ok, Sue, if you want.

You’ll have to wait a week for him to be weaned and get his first shots…

The adult humans walked away while the girl cuddled the pup. A little while later they came back. They put a collar on the Patches, then left. The girl walked backwards out the door waving at him.

The pup came running over to me.

“Did you see that?” he said. “This thing feels funny.” He scratched at the collar.

“Wear it with pride, Patches,” I said. “The collar tells the humans that you belong.”

“Wow.”

“Listen, Patches,” I said. “I have to tell you something, so you don’t make the mistake I did.”

He sat down and wagged his tail at me.

“Sam took me for a walk one day. I was grown by then. Humans grow slower than we do, so Sam wasn’t much bigger. We met another kid. He was bigger than Sam. I could tell Sam was afraid of him. The other kid came over with his friends. They yelled at Sam and pushed him around. I growled at the kids. Sam told me to stop. One kid laughed at Sam and punched him in the face. I bit the kid.”

“That’s brave,” Patches said.

“No,” I said, “it was bad. We mustn’t bite a human. We can growl or bark, but we can never, never bite, especially a young human.

“The kids ran away screaming and Sam took me home. Later that night a human came and took me away from Sam. They brought me to a place like this one. I went off with another human. He liked me cause I was a pit bull. He tied me on a chain and left me in his yard. I think I went a little crazy. Another human bought me and put in a worse place. I don’t want to tell you, or I’ll give you nightmares.”

“Is that when you lost your eye?”

“Yeah,” I said, “my eye and more than a little of my soul.”

“So pee on the grass and don’t bite,’ Patches said and panted happily.

“That about sums it up,” I said. “Just make your human happy.”

The week went by in a flash. Patches went off with his girl and the rest of the pups went too. Even the old girl went to a new home. I ate my meals, did my business on the grass though the humans had to help me out there. The place stank of pee, but I didn’t care. There were worse places. I’d been to most of them.

I dreamed Sam put a biscuit on my nose. We stared at each other. All the horrible things melted away. Every part of me waited for that magic word. The one that would make everything right.

Go!