Category Archives: Short shorts

Albert

Albert

Once upon a time there lived a frog named Albert. Albert was quite content as a frog. He had his lily pad, his friends and a wonderful voice. Everybody knows that frogs are great singers, but Albert’s voice was something special. Whenever he sang the whole pond would stop and listen to him sing. Albert sang about the moon shining on the pond at night, about sleeping warm in the mud through the winter and about bathing in the warm light of the sun. It was in fact, Albert`s voice that got him into trouble.

In a castle up on a hill, overlooking Albert’s pond, lived a King and his family. The royal family lived content, with the exception of the youngest daughter whose name was Sue. Where princesses were supposed to be graceful and composed, Sue was somewhat ungainly and terribly shy. Somehow she never acted quite like a princess should. Her brothers and sisters taunted her unmercifully. Even the servants in the castle teased her

One spring evening when the air was especially still she stood on the balcony of her room listening to the sounds of the spring night. Since her room overlooked the pond, she of course heard Albert singing.

     “Even a frog has something special that makes him sing so beautifully.” She sighed and leaned her head against the cool glass. “I wish I knew what that frog is singing about so wonderfully. She shook her head. “What nonsense I am thinking tonight to envy a frog his voice.” She turned to go into her room. Just as she was closing the doors behind her she heard a beautiful bass voice singing of the joy of spring under the first star of the night. Transfixed the princess stood and listened to the velvety voice.

“O dear me, you will catch your death of cold.”

Sue jumped and turned to her nurse.

 “You startled me.” She closed the doors and came into the room. she stretched and gave a tremendous yawn. “I’m so tired.”

 “Such a yawn for a princess.” Her nurse clucked and helped her change for sleep. “It isn’t at all becoming.”

Sue blushed and climbed into her bed. When the light was out and she was alone, Sue lay awake and stared at the ceiling.

 “Why do I need a nurse anyway? I’ve grown far beyond the age I need a nurse.” Still grumbling she drifted off to sleep.

The next morning did not begin well. First, Sue was late for breakfast. her mother glared as Sue hurriedly slid into her seat and sent the juice glasses to slopping over onto the white tablecloth.

 “Oh, I am sorry, I slept late.” Sue mopped at the juice with her napkin..

 “My dear, you are a princess,” the Queen said, “you must be punctual. If you cannot be on time, don’t make excuses, and certainly don’t rush about out of breath.”

 After breakfast the princesses gathered to work on their needle point. Sue stabbed herself, and bled so badly that she ruined three months of painstaking work. Her finger bandaged, she was sent outside to amuse herself until lunch, with the order to stay out of the mud, and her sisters’ demure titters ringing in her ears.

What use is it to be a princess if I can’t be a happy princess?  Gradually the warm sun began to cheer her up. Then she heard the wonderful voice from the night singing. Following the voice until she reached the pond Sue saw a large green frog sitting on a stump. She squealed and jumped back. The frog jumped into the pond. The ball which the princess dropped, rolled into the pond.

“How am I going to get my ball back without getting covered with mud?” the princess wailed. “0h, why can’t I do anything right?”

***

 Albert looked carefully out from under the water. The girl sat on the grass crying bitterly. He had often seen the princesses playing near his pond and felt sorry for the youngest princess. He liked her best because she was the only one who ever seemed to appreciate his pond. On an impulse he dived down into the water and with a great effort pushed the ball to the surface and rolled it to the princess. Sue looked at him in astonishment.

“Thank you, 0h, thank you.” She grabbed the ball and laughed. “They will never believe this in the castle.” Albert was so pleased with himself that he swelled up with song. Sue’s eyes bulged and she almost dropped her ball again.

“It was you singing last night” She gasped in astonishment. “You must be a prince under enchantment. no frog could sing so beautifully.” The princess looked around. “I will take you home and break your enchantment. Then we can be friends.” She quickly caught Albert and ran home to hide him in her room.

 Albert was devastated. This place was cold and hard, and worst of all it was dry. There not a decent bit of water or mud to be found. He missed the sun and the well known murk of his pond. As the day turned into evening his loneliness became so great that he began to sing. It was a terribly mournful song, and as Sue came into her room and heard it, it caught at her heart.

“It must be terrible to be a prince, and have to live as a frog.” She picked Albert up and hugged him. Albert was so sad that he kept singing his unhappy song. “Frog.” Sue said between her sobs, “You are so unhappy. I wish I could make you a prince.” And she kissed him.

“Who is that man?” the King thundered from the doorway. Sue didn’t answer, for she was staring at Albert in amazement. Albert had turned from a frog into a man.

“Why are you in my daughter’s bedroom?” The King roared at Albert, but Albert didn’t answer either he was looking at himself in amazement.

“Why frog, you are a prince.” Sue squeaked.

“Hardly a prince if he appears like that in a princess’s bedroom.” the King bellowed, since, being a frog, Albert had no clothes.

The King and Queen were up all night discussing what they were going to do. They finally decided that the only way to avoid a scandal was for Albert and Sue to get married, immediately. So they planned the wedding for the next week.

 Albert found the change to palace life very difficult. He wasn’t sure how to eat with knife and fork. Clothes were strange and uncomfortable. But most of all he missed being a frog and singing in his beloved pond all day. The only thing that made it at all bearable was the princess. She taught him how to eat with utensils and helped him choose the most comfortable clothes. She even stood up for him when he chose his entire wardrobe in green. But each evening Albert would slip out of the castle and go down to the pond. There he would sit in the light of the moon and sing. They were sad songs, and Sue listening on her balcony would determine to try even harder to make her prince happy.

One day while Albert and Sue sat in the sunny courtyard escaping from the wedding plans for a brief time Sue’s nurse came out to bustle Sue back into the castle.

“I’m about to be married. I don’t need a nurse.” Sue yelled in rebellion. “Go away, and don’t bother me anymore.” The old woman looked at Sue then slowly and silently left.

“Why did you yell at her so?” Albert asked. “Surely she is only trying to help.”

“She’s been my nurse longer than I can remember. But I don’t need a nurse anymore, and I don’t like being fussed over.”

“If you don’t need a nurse, maybe she needs you.” Sue looked at him quizzically.

“Why should she need me. I’d think that she would be glad to do something else for a change.”

 “What?” Albert asked reasonably. “She has always been Nurse.”

“I don’t know. That’s her problem anyway.” Sue grumped.

“You are her princess. I think that makes it your problem.” Albert pointed out. “You should give her something else to do if you want her to stop bothering you.”

Sue looked at him for a moment.

“I hadn’t thought of that.” She jumped up. “I’m going to go and talk to her.”

“What are you going to ask her to do.” Asked the frog prince.

“To be the nurse for our children!” Sue laughed, and ran off to find Nurse. Albert sighed and wandered down to the pond. He thought wistfully of his old uncomplicated life as a frog.

Yet as the days before the wedding shortened, Albert’s common sense made itself felt. Even the King found himself discussing difficult problems with his guest. The Queen went so far as to admit one night while she and the King worked over the proclamation for the wedding that Albert might make quite a suitable match.

“By the way dear, have you found out exactly who Albert is?” She asked. “We really can’ t have a proclamation reading ‘Today the Princess Susan Aurelia Constance Esther marries Albert.’ We need to know a little more about his background.”

 “Quite right, You should ask Sue in the morning.”

The next morning, the day before the wedding, Sue walked down the stairs to breakfast.

“Good morning.” She smiled, and glided into her place.

“Good morning Sue.” The Queen nodded. “Your father found a minor detail that needs to be cleared up. We need to know Albert’s full name and a little more about him for the proclamation.”

“I have been so busy that I never thought to ask him.” Sue said. ” I will ask him today.”

Out in the courtyard, which had become their favourite place, Sue found Albert. He was staring moodily through the gate down toward his old pond .

“Albert, my mother asked me what your other names are.”

“Other names? I only have one name.”

“But Princes always have lots of names. Like me, I have four.”

“I like Sue best,” Albert said with a smile.

“But you are a Prince, you must have other names.”

“No.” Albert sighed “I have no other names. I am not a Prince.” Susan stared at him, then laughed.

“You must be a Prince. Why would anyone enchant somebody who wasn’t a Prince?”

 “You did, Sue.” Albert said looking at her with an expression she couldn’t quite fathom.

“Oh Albert.” Sue blushed.

“But you did Sue. You turned me into a Prince.”

“And if I turned you into a Prince, what were you before?” She demanded.

“A frog. I’m a frog Sue. I was never a prince until I met you.”

“You are not an enchanted Prince?” Sue’s face turned red. “You let me think you were a Prince all this time, and all the time you were just a frog? What am I going to tell my father? That I’m marrying a frog?” Sue stood now, screeching at him.

Albert flinched with each question.

“You creature. You abominable creature. I hate you.” The princess turned and fled from the courtyard.

Albert sat for along while, then slowly he stood and walked down to the pond, a sad, shrinking figure in green.

•••

The Princess locked herself in her bedroom. She refused to talk to anyone. Other than to tell her father through the door that the wedding was off; that everything had been a terrible mistake. She closed the window then wept on her bed for three days.

Finally, she got up and washed her face. Squaring her shoulders, she unlocked the door and went down to breakfast. Her family greeted her with a wary silence. The Queen gave her an approving nod.

Things returned almost to normal. As the weeks passed, Sue floated quietly through life, her face cold and pale. She rapidly lost weight. One morning she no longer had the strength to get up.

The King and Queen worried about her. They begged their daughter to tell them what was making her so unhappy. But Sue simply stared out the window and said nothing. The old nurse came to the princess’s room to be by her side. She bustled about cleaning and tidying, opening the window to let the fresh summer air in. The day passed and as the evening came Sue heard a voice singing outside her window. It sang of the summer night, and the sorrow of a love lost. It sang of the moon shining on the pond and of a beautiful princess named Sue. It sang of enchantment and a broken heart.

“Albert,” the princess whispered. She stood and staggered to the window. “Albert.” His deep, sad voice soared through the night, telling of the joy and sorrow of his love.

Sue sat on the balcony and listened to the song through the night. In the grey of the early morning she slipped out of the castle. Walking slowly but with iron determination she made her way down to the pond.

“Albert.” She called into the silver mists. “Albert, I’m sorry. I love you.” The effort of walking overcame the weakened princess and she fainted beside the pond. There Albert, once again a frog, found her.

My poor Sue.” Albert said as he kissed her. “I wish I could make you happy.”

The rising sun shone gold on two happy frogs as, hand in hand, they hopped into the pond.

The Sturgeon Tree

Larry Wentzel
https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

The young man walked the path through the woods, jumping at every frog’s call or owl’s hoot. The warm, dank air reeked of the swamp that came to the very edge of the narrow track. The only the intermittent glow of the full moon as it passed in and out of the clouds lit his way. The phosphorescent glow of decay shone without illuminating its surrounding. Occasionally the frogs and the owls would fall silent, and the boy would strain his ears to hear something in the deafening silence. With extreme care he placed each foot on the path, making no noise himself

John would have preferred a clearer night, but this was the first full moon after midsummer, called the Sturgeon Moon. His only chance to become a member of the Sturgeons; the group which ruled the little community that surrounded John. This night’s ritual was his final test.

Once a year, a single person had the chance to visit the tree in the light of the Sturgeon’s moon. The Sturgeon’s tree was unique, and ancient beyond imagination. Its tortured trunk twisted and bent almost to the ground. Deep cracks in the wood reached in farther than the length of John’s arm. He had seen the tree during the brighter light of the day. It was scary enough then. Now, John’s knees were already shaking, and he had only made half the trek to the tree.

A frog jumped into the slime of the swamp, releasing stinking bubbles. John started and almost missed his footing. The bog had no bottom here that anyone had discovered. A fall could mean he would join those who never returned from this quest. He took a brief moment to breathe deeply of the rank air before moving on.

As he penetrated deeper into the woods, the light became worse. While the sky had cleared the trees had thickened, hogging more of the light for themselves. Now vines hung like gargantuan spider webs, and moss dripped fetid liquid on his head. Just as the moon reached its zenith, John arrived at the clearing where the Sturgeon Tree stood. It shivered and contorted in a wind that blew in some other universe. Branches scraped at the mucky soil, and roots lifted and quested like snakes. Cold phosphors gleamed from deep with the tree. It creaked and groaned with an animal agony.

Now was the true test. He untied a ribbon from his wrist. It looked black in the moonlight, but John knew that it was scarlet, with darker red from his own blood smeared upon it. This ribbon was his offering to the tree. He watched the writhing limbs until one errant branch came close to his feet. He darted in and looped the ribbon around the wood. It slashed at him and scraped his arm from elbow to wrist, but John scrambled back out of reach. The tree paused for a second, then leaned and grasped with its whole twisted length at the boy. He squeaked and rolled back out of reach, not caring what black water was darkening his clothes. He caught a vine and used it to pull himself to his feet.

He had been told to offer the ribbon, then leave, but John was mesmerized by the awful movement. Creaks and snaps sounded loud as thunder while the tree seemed to tear itself apart. Then it did tear, decaying light poured from its centre as a hand thrust itself through the bark. Sap, black as blood in the moonlight dripped from fingers that grasped at the blooded ribbon. A face followed the hands and John looked at his own face, fanged and evil. He whimpered and the tree-John looked at him and smiled.

John screamed and ran crashing, uncaring back along the path. Yet even in the tumult, he heard the sound of footsteps gaining on him.

Old Superheroes Never Die

“Superman has Clark Kent when he wants to kick back and just not go out to fight the bad guys. I’ve wearing this costume for so long I can’t remember what name my mother called me. It gets tiring sometimes. There are days I could use an extra hand, but who offers to carry groceries for a guy in a superhero costume? Even if the guy qualifies for his old age security.”

The old man sat in the chair in my office and glowered at me. The blue spandex might have been a good choice when he was younger and in better shape, but now it showed off the softness of his old body. Not that he was soft, that gun was real enough, and his eyes held the same steel as the gun.

“What do you want me to do?” I asked and looked at the blank page where I would normally have reams of notes.

“I need a retirement home,” the old man said, “somewhere where the bad guys can’t find me and where everyone else will leave me alone.”

“I need a name, a social security number, an address,” I said, “I understand you wanting a rest, but I can’t place a nameless stranger in a home. You have to give me something.”

He pushed himself to his feet. The sound of joints popping and cracking made me wince. His fingers were swollen, super-arthritis? Was surgery even possible on him?

“Come with me,” he said, “see for yourself. Don’t get too close and don’t get in my way.” I followed him out of my office and watched him walk along the street. Nobody paid the slightest attention to him. A flock of pigeons flew over him and left their mark on his blue costume. His shoulders sagged a little as he kept walking, though I noticed his hand brush against that gun at his side. I don’t know if he walked slowly so I could keep up, but if so he over did it. Several times I had to stop to tie my shoe or look in a window to give him the space he needed.

We turned down a ramp into a parking garage. Shouts echoed through the empty space as men in black ninja costumes jumped out to surround him. None of them saw me as I ducked between two cars and pulled out my cell phone. No signal.

My debate as to whether I should go out on the street to call for help ended when the ninjas leaped to the attack. In the movies, they’d charge one by one and allow him to defeat one before the next moved in.. This wasn’t the movies. They moved as a coordinated team to pummel the old man.

Only he didn’t move like an old man now. One opponent moved a little too fast. The man in spandex grabbed him by the throat and tossed him at those attacking from the rear. The smack of a fist hitting flesh reached my hiding place, but the hero used the arm to pull the ninja off balance and drop him with a quick jab. He spun out of the attempted headlock by another opponent and threw that man on top of the first hard enough to bounce.

One by one then ninjas joined the pile of unconscious thugs until it was taller than the old man. The last one he dispatched with a jump kick I couldn’t imagine trying, though I was sure he had thirty years on me. As I came out of my hiding place the energy left him and he puffed like I did if I walked up a hill too fast. He waved at me and I waited for him to catch his breath.

“Why didn’t you use that?” I pointed at the gun at his side.

“Do you know… how much… ammunition costs?” he said between wheezes. “Nobody pays me for this.”  He walked to the back of the garage and pulled the cover off a classic muscle car. Well, it would have been a classic if it weren’t for the fifty caliber machine guns mounted on each door.

“You may as well get in.” He waved me over to the passenger side and climbed into his seat.

“Where are the seatbelts?”

“Never needed them.” He pushed a button and the engine roared to life. Tires squealed as smoke filled the garage, then he popped the brake and we took off. He weaved through the garage slowing only slightly to bump a reviving ninja back onto the pile with a rear fender. We erupted out of the garage and onto the street, where he had to slam on the brakes to fit into the bumper to bumper traffic.

“We’d be faster walking,” I said.

“Tell me about it,” the old man thumped the steering wheel and glared up at the flock of pigeons that left white gooey marks across the windshield. “Flying’s better, but everyone’s so uptight now I’m afraid they’d try to shoot me down. Got some nice pictures the first time they scrambled on me, but now it’s just a nuisance.”

He pulled off the road and sped away through an alley making one turn after another into spaces I was sure we’d never fit. Even with the extra width of the guns we didn’t leave a scratch on the wall.

“Here we are,” he said and whipped the car through an open loading door. The car rocked and creaked as the elevator lifted us up to the top floor.

We stopped and he climbed out of the car. I had to climb across the car to get out.

“Don’t hit any buttons,” he said.

The words rocket launcher peeked out from beneath my hand. I moved it away and made sure to watch what I did until I stood safe outside the car.

The penthouse was sparsely furnished, almost barren. I shivered, it might be a great hero’s lair, but I wouldn’t want to live here.

“Tea, coffee?” the old man said, “I’d offer you biscuits and jam, but jam jars are my one weakness.”

“How can a jam jar be your weakness?”

“Can’t open them,” he said, “never could.” He poured boiling water into a pot and swirled it. Then made tea.

“Was a time I didn’t mind it up here,” he said, “I needed a quiet place to get away from the rush; being a super hero is addictive. Then like any addiction it takes over and you lose yourself. Those guys with their secret identities had it right. You’ve got to step back and let it go once in a while.”

“So why not take off the mask and retire?” I watched him make tea in the window’s reflection.

“I’m not sure who’s under there any more.” He came over and handed me a cup. I sipped at it. I hate tea, but its bitterness seemed appropriate. He stared through the window at the city. From up here it looked quiet and peaceful.

“They’d find you anywhere I placed you,” I said, “Unless you take off the mask and become just another old man.”

He sipped his tea and I waited.  When I finished my tea, I left him there, still looking out the window. I saw him wave once before I closed the door behind me.

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.