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“Untitled” by Joan Pardes

Prompts:
An animal trainer
Cornfields
Doughnuts
“Don’t eat that!”
Spending $4
Owls

***

Untitled

By Anonymous

As soon as she saw the gelatinous mess, her throat constricted and she heard her mother hiss, “Don’t eat that. Whatever you do, Jenny, don’t eat it.” She calmly tried to banish her mother’s fears as the bowl was proudly passed to Peter. He scooped up a handful of the slime and ate it out of his hands as was the custom of the their Fijian hosts. Peter made a point to make eye contact as he passed the bowl to her. After six months of traveling together, she could read his amused gaze clearly –  “You have to eat this – so just suck it up. Isn’t this fun?” She had fallen in love with his mischievous nature but this was the first time his mirth smacked of sadism. He knew her stomach was still recovering from a mysterious malady picked up in Nepal, but she was starting to learn that his love of the exotic outweighed his concern for her.

At this point, they had already been in New Zealand, Nepal, and French Polynesia. The Fijian trip was, as usual, carefully planned by Peter to maximize time in villages where outsiders were still a novelty. After loading up in the big city of Savusavu with paddling food and gifts for the villagers (mini doughnuts for the kids and kava – a ceremonial drink – for the Village Chiefs), they blew up their inflatable kayak and went looking for adventure.  Over the next two weeks, they stopped at five villages and camped on their own only once. Their experience at each village was surprisingly similar. First, the kids would see them paddling and they would alert the adults. Eventually someone would wave them ashore and they would disembark amid incredulous laughter and cautious curiosity that melted into smiles when someone inevitably poked the inflatable boat or touched Jenny’s blond curls. Then the entire party would be led to the Village Chief where – according to their guidebook that was unerringly accurate  – they would have to be physically lower than the Chief at all times. They originally thought it would be easy to be shorter than the regal – and very large – Melanesians. As custom would have it, the Chiefs received them in their hut where they sat upon cushions which required Jenny and Peter to perform a kneel, crawl, flop dance. Since this was their fifth village, they felt confident they had perfected what they called ‘the dance to be addressed.’ Once the Chief recognized them, Peter would offer the kava as a gift and then the conversation would begin. While most villagers did not speak English, all of the Chiefs they encountered had a basic command of the traveler’s native tongue. Peter, with the help of the glossary at the back of their trusty guidebook and some well-honed hand gestures, created his own communication style that worked well with their rock-star status.

For the first four villages, Jenny loved the pomp and ceremony of being an honored guest of the incredibly hospitable Fijians. She was fascinated with village life and wanted to ask questions about the island’s cannibalistic history but never mustered the nerve. In fact, in most of the villages she didn’t talk much at all. Posing as Peter’s wife (it was much simpler than explaining their relationship), she usually hung out silently with Mrs. Chief while the men drank kava. Only once or twice was she included in the circle where the dirt-like drink and stories were shared.

The Chiefs and the high-ranking villagers who entertained them were full of questions for Peter (Where were their children? Was Jenny barren? Maybe he should get another wife?). During their one night alone during this two-week stretch, Peter and Jenny giggled about the cultural differences and were grateful about the choices they had as Americans while extolling the virtues of village life where everyone had a clear purpose.  By the time they had reached the ceremony that made her sick (neither of them knew what was in the bowl – only that it was a privilege to eat it), they realized that they were basically a traveling freak show. Exhausted from impersonating unofficial ambassadors, Peter longed to smoke a joint and Jenny wished they were back in New Zealand watching the tussocks wave in the wind like squat cornfields in an afternoon storm. She was tired of being a silent observer and hanging with the Mrs. Chiefs. While the women smiled warmly as they introduced her to their children (future Chiefs and Mrs. Chiefs) and showed Jenny their crops and how to prepare food, Jenny felt like the outsider that she was – a childless woman who traveled far from home for fun. Being sweet and demure were not Jenny strengths and after trying the traits on for a week or two, she was ready to resume her verbal volleys with Peter.

As she took the bowl from Peter, she, once again, wondered why she agreed to a yearlong trip of spending $4 a day. Her former life as an agent for film stars seemed to be fiction now that she was traveling with her wilderness guide boyfriend. He had designed this trip years ago and she had simply hitched a ride to his dream. At the start, she was happy to put her stuff in storage and leave California for parts unknown. She remembered boasting to her friends that a year with a wilderness junkie is what she needed to detox from 15 years of negotiating bigger trailers and killer salaries for her clients. Before she met Peter, she had yet to backpack for more than a week and always ended her tramps in the woods with a stay at a luxury spa. She calculated that, by now, she had logged more wilderness miles (both on foot and paddling) than all her friends combined. Jenny thought longingly of her best friend and the swanky hotel where she saw the owl swoop down and scoop up its prey ten yards from where they sat in a hot tub after a day of hiking.

“That owl is LA and whatever it killed – that’s me,” Jenny had shared, her voice thick with the importance of her epiphany and a good amount of tequila. “I’ve got to get out of here.”  A month later, she went to Alaska for a kayak trip, fell in love with the guide and became intoxicated with the idea of shirking it all. Within a year and despite her mother’s xenophobic diatribes delivered in a thick Bronx accent and the astonishment of everyone she knew, Jenny exchanged her Saab, thriving business, organic food deliveries, weekly massages, and the rest of her life in LA for a backpack, an inflatable kayak and a man with a plan to travel for $4 a day.

In the hut, Jenny looked Peter in the eye, took the bowl, smiled at the Chief and Mrs. Chief, and scooped up a dainty glob of the goo and ate all of it one bite. It was tasteless but the texture was just as she suspected – bumpy with what she thought might be eyeballs. Peter raised his eyebrow in appreciation as he caught her eye before she passed the bowl onto Mrs. Chief. She saw that look only once before when she wielded the Nepalese guide’s walking stick like a professional animal trainer on an early morning walk in the Chitwan National Forest. They were looking for tigers – on foot – with only the stick as protection and she had spontaneously demonstrated a kung fu move against an imaginary foe. After returning the stick to the guide, Jenny had turned and walked back to their tent without a word. Peter followed a few minutes later and asked why she left.

“I’m not looking for tigers in their protected habitat with only a stick for protection. This is beyond crazy. Worse than the three wire bridges in New Zealand.”

“But,” Peter  – who was a highly regarded wilderness guide in Alaska who never ventured into the woods without a gun – protested. “He told us that if he sees a tiger that hitting him on the nose works!”

They burst out laughing and then tried to shush each other as not to alert their guide or any wild animals of their glee. Back then; they were two children off on an adventure that included only them.

Later on, Jenny would say the relationship ended the night she threw up outside the Chief’s hut even though she traveled with Peter for another six months. He was laughing when Mrs. Chief silently appeared before them, offering Jenny a cool rag. Jenny gratefully took the rag and while she was wiping the spittle from her sweaty face, she heard a bird descend from the trees above their head.

Mrs. Chief smiled and said, “Tyto alba lulu.”

Jenny looked at her without comprehension until she recognized the screech of an owl.

“Tyto alba lulu,” repeated Mrs. Chief kindly as she pointed at the bird as it took flight with something in its talons.

Jenny nodded and rose shakily to her feet while Peter grinned at her with amusement. She never forgave him for his lack of help that night or his irritation with her funky bowels for the next several days. She wasn’t ready to stop traveling (or eating mystery stews), but Jenny was done with being Mrs. Chief. As soon as she returned to Savusavu, she was going to dig out one of her credit cards from the plastic bag in her backpack and stay in a luxury hotel. It was time for her to navigate her own adventure – without the help of a guide.

 

“The Smart Dog” by Bill Richardson

Prompts:
An animal trainer
Cornfields
Doughnuts
“Don’t eat that!”
Spending $4
Owls

***

The Smart Dog

By Bill Richardson

After enjoying the view from his hillside home Tanner turned to his young group and spoke in a gentle, fatherly voice. “The last time I was at Uncle Red’s, he told me Horace’s wife, Patricia, wanted a puppy. So I think they probably got one by now and I’m going over to find out if that happened. If I leave soon I can get there before the day gets too hot to travel.

“Horace thinks he’s an animal trainer and Patricia knows better, so she watches him closer than two owls eyeing the same mouse.

“I’ll meet Uncle Red at the ranch house and maybe we’ll see some shenanigans.

“If you need me, you can take the shortcut through the cornfields by the river, which is the longer way, but the easiest and fastest to Red’s spot.

“Any questions before I go?”

“No questions, Pop. You know we’ll be good until you’re out of sight. And when you get back we’ll have the bones picked clean, and the place spic and span!”

“Yeah right! Don’t wander off too far or your mother will be frantic if she can’t find you when she gets home. See ya’ later.”

“Later, Pops.”

Tanner’s trip to Uncle Red’s in the early morning sunlight and cool air was quite enjoyable. The cornfield rows offered an easy path that was covered with the stories of many travelers: the long-tailed mouse tracks that were evenly spaced; a bob-headed quail had walked a short ways down the path, scratched the ground for an insect or seed, then zigged and zagged to leave a mottled trail; a long black beetle had pushed itself in a straight line through the dirt headed to wherever beetles go; and a brown field sparrow flew down from a green cornstalk to pluck a white bug off a leave, but the leaf was knocked off and fell over the beetle track; and a deer had eaten corn from a cob or two and dribbled yellow kernels across the brown dirt.

Just before arriving at Uncle Red’s, Tanner could hear Horace’s loud voice, “Come on, Doughnuts. You can do it. I know you can. Show Patricia how you make a doughnut. Come on, boy. You can do it!”

So as not to be seen by Horace or Patricia, Tanner chose to stay in the corn row until he was past the front porch and very close to where Uncle Red would probably be spying on the small group. Slowly, Tanner crept out of the cornfield and then moved along the edge of the thick river bushes to Uncle Red’s favorite viewing post near the ranch. Yep, Uncle Red was there, staying low and out of sight.

“Uncle Red”, Tanner whispered with a throaty sound.

“Hi, Tanner. Nice to see ya’. Well, they got their puppy and have been putting on a show ever since.”

“I could hear them from the river bank, Red. What’s the deal with naming a dog, Doughnuts?”

Red just kept grinning as he explained the reasoning for the wacky name. “Well, that might be the laziest dog in the world. He lies down most of the day and night. Infrequently, he gets up, stretches, and then slowly moves the few feet to the water dish to get a drink. And I do mean sloooowly. After a few minutes of his just staring at the ground, he trudges a short distance to a shadier spot and starts moving around in a big circle, at least it’s big for him. He spirals inward and makes the circle smaller, and all the while the dirt starts piling up in the center. Before long the circle is so small he can’t move anymore and plops down like a wet gunny sack. His head lies on the dirt mound and in less time than it takes for his eyes to close, he falls asleep.

“Now Horace thinks that is the greatest thing he’s ever seen. Incredibly, he believes the dog does it because Horace was eating a doughnut while driving the puppy home in the pickup. I heard him tell Patricia that while slowly turning a doughnut, and eating it a little at a time from the outside to the inside, the puppy kept staring at him. Just as the last bite went into the great animal trainer’s mouth, the dog started walking in a circle on the truck seat, and then lay down with its eyes looking straight at Horace’s mouthful of doughnut. That was good for at least one bakery goodie for the dog.

“When he finally got home Patricia loved the puppy but she wasn’t too happy with Horace spending $4.00 for another bag of doughnuts. He’d already eaten half of them but he told her he was using them to train the dog to make circles.

“She laughed and said that’s what dogs do anyway and that the dog was just training Horace to give doughnuts to the dog. They both giggled and started calling the dog ‘Doughnuts’.

“I think something is happening down there.”

“Don’t eat that!” Patricia ordered with a smile, as she quickly snapped the doughnut from Horace’s hand. “That’s the last one we got and it belongs to Doughnuts whenever he decides he wants it.”

“Okay, I’ve seen enough Uncle Red. You are one sly fox. I’m heading back to the digs before the heat gets too high. See ya’ a little further down the trail.”

“Thanks for stopping by Tanner. Say hi to the vixen and kits.”

© 2013 Bill Richardson

“Living on Dreams” by Victoria Steik

Prompts:
An animal trainer
Cornfields
Doughnuts
“Don’t eat that!”
Spending $4
Owls

***

Living on Dreams

By Victoria Steik

“Don’t eat that!” she screamed.

He jerked with surprise and dropped the plump, beautiful glazed donut midway between plate and mouth. Luckily it landed on the kitchen counter undamaged.

“Geez, Ruthie,” he said. “It’s just a freakin’ donut. There’s a whole platter full of them.”

“Yeah, I know, I spent all morning making them for us to take to the potluck at Sockeye Sam’s. Tonight’s the Harvest Moon Dance, and you’re taking the prettiest girl in town.” She said, grinning at him with a sexy sidelong glance.

“Oh? What time am I supposed to pick up Angelina Stritchkoff?” he said.

“Jake Cooper, you are a silly old Alaskan fisherman and the meanest man in town,” she said as she ran at him in mock anger. “Just for that, no more donuts for you.”

“Aw, baby,” he said, throwing his strong, hardworking arms around her and squeezing both cheeks of her ample behind, “You know I just love your donuts.”

She squealed with laughter, “Get away from me you animal.”

“Yeah, your mama told you thirty years ago on our wedding day that she’d taught you all the things you needed to know about being a wife, but if she’d known who you were going to marry, she’d have taught you more about how to be an animal trainer,” Jake said.

“She did not! It was Brother Harry who asked me why I decided to marry a big ape like Jake Cooper.”

With that, he growled like a grizzly bear and pulled her close. He danced her around the kitchen, nibbling on her soft white neck, just below her little gold hoop earrings. She giggled like a teenager as he twirled her around the kitchen floor until they both were breathless.

As they neared the kitchen table, he pulled out his captain’s chair at the head of the table, flopped down into it and snuggled Ruthie up on his lap.

When the laughter stopped and they had caught their breath, Ruthie said, “Did you get everything on the boat finished up so we can cover it up for the winter?”

He sighed, “Well I got the nets all stretched out to dry good. The boat is in its spot and all braced up. There was still some slime and scales on the deck and a little on the hull that I need to get scrubbed off. That’s about it.”

“Did you give Derek and Jimmy Moses their crew share checks?” she asked.

“Yep. They did alright, considering the season we had. The fish were there, plenty of fish, but resource management held us back until most of the run had already passed through. Jimmy Moses has been a deck hand since he was twelve. He knows that fishing is a gamble and every year is different. Derek’s just a college kid from Seattle who watches too much reality TV. He came up here thinking he’d work a couple of months this summer and go home with fifty grand in his pocket, even though he’s a total greenhorn. He was not very happy with his share, acting like I cheated him or something. Fact is he wasn’t worth the money he did get.”

“Are we going to have anything left after the bills are paid?” she asked, her voice taking a serious tone.

“I hope so. Don’t worry baby, Daddy’s never let you down yet. If I have to, I can spend another winter on the ice roads to get us through.”

“I hate to have you gone so much in the winter. Now that the boys are married and have their own families to take care of, I won’t have any help to bring in wood or plow the road,” she said.

“We’ll figure something out. No need to worry yet. Now I have got to go get a shower and put on my fancy clothes. I’m taking the prettiest girl in town to the dance,” he said with a flirty twinkle in his eye.

“Sounds like a great idea. You smell like you just walked off the slime line. And those extra tuffs, boy put those boots out on the porch until you can give them a good going over with the hose,” she said.

“Darlin’, I know I’ve told you a million times, that is the smell of money in this household,” he said with a grin.

“Plenty of smell, but not much money,” was her reply. “Be sure to put on your Tony Lamas. You can cut a pretty fine rug in those boots. And I’m in the mood for dancing.”

“In the mood for dancing? I was hoping you’d be in the mood for something a little more serious,” he teased.

“Oh, I’m pretty sure that mood will come along . . . after the dancing.”

As they walked down the steps and across the yard, Ruthie said, “I am not riding in that dirty old pickup in my nice clothes. We’ll go in the Subaru.”

“Honey, nothing against the Subaru, I know it’s your baby, but I feel like a sardine riding in that little thing,” Jake said.

She gave him a glare that clearly said he was not going to win this debate.

“Okay, okay, Madame, your chariot awaits,” he replied complete with a courtly bow.

She handed him the platter of doughnuts, settled herself in the passenger seat, and took the platter to carry gently on her lap for the bumpy ride down the gravel road to Sockeye Sam’s Bar and Restaurant.

Sockeye Sam’s was the only building in the tiny fishing village large enough for a community party. The Harvest Moon Dance was a seasonal tradition in St. Peter’s Mission, almost on par with Thanksgiving or Christmas. Around the first weekend in September, after the last of the silver salmon had been delivered to the cannery and the checks were delivered to the fishermen for their season’s catch, the community gathered to celebrate the finish of another season of hard work.

“It seems kind of stupid to me that they call this the Harvest Moon Dance,” Jake said. “What harvest? There isn’t a cornfield in a thousand miles of this place.”

“You harvest the fish from the sea, don’t you?” Ruthie explained.

“Yeah, but that’s different.”

“Well, anyway, it’s the Harvest Moon Dance. The Harvest Moon is always in September,” she said.

“It is fun to catch up with everyone you haven’t seen all summer because you’ve been on the water. Some of those old guys, they can really come up with some whopper fish stories. Those stories and a couple of Alaska Ambers and there’s nothing but smiles all around,” he said.

“And don’t forget the dancing, and all the great free food that the ladies bring for the potluck,” Ruthie said.

“Oh, yeah, salmon forty nine different ways.”

“Yep, but every way tastes great. It’s amazing how the same group of ladies is always trying to find some new recipe to impress everyone else,” Ruthie said. “But I think that’s great because it gives me new ideas for what’s for dinner.”

St Peter’s Mission started out as a protected inlet from the wicked storms of Bristol Bay during the fur trader days. Sockeye Sam’s was a historic building in this little village of 450 people spread out over a wide area. The low-slung log structure was built as a trading post where local trappers could bring their furs to trade for goods or, when the trading ships came in they could sell the hides to the big trading companies. After the fur trading played out, the trading post remained to supply local Natives, Russian settlers and other adventurers who fell in love with the beauty of the Alaskan coast.

Bright neon beer signs glowed in every window as Jake and Ruthie pulled into the gravel parking lot, cars crowded in this way and that. The sun was headed to the west, but it was only seven in the evening and there was still a good two hours before dusk. As they stepped into the long dimly lit room, the juke box was playing everyone’s favorite, Johnny Horton’s “North to Alaska”. Rows of chairs and tables with checked table cloths stretch all the way to the dance floor at the far end of the room. Placed end to end against the wall the potluck tables were quickly filling up as the ladies arranged the food, finger food and appetizers first, then salads and main dishes and finally desserts. Ruthie ceremoniously carried the platter of golden donuts through the mayhem of running squealing children, chattering gossipy women and the jukebox booming out “way up north, way up north.” She placed her tray of jewels, like a tower of riches, right in the center of the dessert table. She stepped back and was nearly run over by a gaggle of grade schoolers shouting to their mothers, “Mama, Ruthie brought donuts! Can we have one? Please, please, please?”

Ruthie turned away from the tables and looked around the room, trying to spot Jake. The chairs were filling up as people took seats near their friends and neighbors, all readying for a feast and happy celebration. Ruthie seated herself next to Jake just as the juke box went dark and Father Simeon from St. Peter’s Russian Orthodox Church stood to bless the food. He prayed for God to bless the food, he thanked God for the safe return from the fishing grounds of all the fishermen there with them. He asked God to receive and remember the souls of the father and two sons whose lives were lost when their boat capsized in heavy seas in a late spring storm in April. His last request was to ask God to bless and protect all of the residents of this village named for the Holy Fisherman, St. Peter. He had barely said the “Amen”, when the children were bolting to the food tables to load their plates.

The adults formed a long orderly line, knowing that there was an abundance of food and that no one would leave the place hungry. As they waited, friends shared the news of their families, when the new grandchild should arrive, what college their oldest was headed to, which daughter was planning a spring wedding. Wind tanned old fishermen and their plump wives chatted with their neighbors about their experiences in this year’s fishing season and when they think the first snow will come. Skinny, young girls in tight jeans and lipstick made eyes at their favorite fellas. The guys pretended to talk about when they were heading out to moose camp to help their dads bring in meat for the winter, but their real attention was focused on the aforementioned tight jeans.

Eventually, all were settled at tables enjoying good food and great camaraderie. Old men and bachelors, old maids and widows, children and grandparents smiled and laughed together. Within an hour or so dinner was over, the tables were cleared and all the donuts were gone. The parents with little ones began collecting their respective broods, loading them into vehicles and heading off for home and bed.

As the crowd diminished to about half of what it had been, the live band began tuning up for the “dance” segment of the party. The band consisted of two or three fiddles, two guitars, an accordion and a drummer. Their repertoire was an eclectic mix of what can only be called “Alaska Bush music”. It sounds much like Cajun music or even bluegrass with its own tundra twang. The bar was open now and the crowd became more enthusiastic as each song played by.

Jake stepped up to the bar. “Hey Nate,” he called, “I need another Alaskan Amber.”

Nate set the beer in front of Jake. “Are you driving tonight Jake?” He asked, having served Jake several brews.

“Oh, hell no,” he replied, “Ruthie’s my designated driver. She’ll get me home safe, we brought the Subaru. Thanks for asking, Buddy.”

Jake turned to walk back to the table. A jostle in the crowd around the bar pushed Jake off balance in his unfamiliar cowboy boots and sent him crashing into a couple of unlucky bystanders, throwing them off their feet and all three ended up knocking over a table sending glasses, beer and patrons every which way. Humiliated, Jake quickly got to his feet and reached out to help those who were down, all the while apologizing for the accident. As he raised one fellow up, the guy was cussing him out, “Geesus, I just spent four dollars for that beer.”

Jake looked up at the sound of a familiar voice. It was Derek, the disgruntled deckhand.

“I should have known it would be you,” Derek went on when he saw that Jake was the offender. “You work me like a dog all summer, pay me shit wages and now you purposely attack me in the bar. What is it with you?”

“Derek, calm down buddy, I’m really sorry. It was an accident. Here let me get you another beer.” Jake apologized.

“An accident, my ass! You’re just trying to make me look like a fool. I’m gonna punch your lights out!” And with that, Derek was swinging roundhouse punches every direction, fortunately not connecting with any of them. It was clear Derek had a few too many drinks as well. A couple of burly fishermen standing nearby grabbed the deckhand, pinned his flailing arms to his sides and escorted him out the door.

Jake stepped up to the bar and said, “Nate, I am so sorry. It was these fancy damn boots. These number twelves don’t know what to do without their extra tuffs. Set up these folks that lost their drinks and put it on my tab. Now I’m going to sit by Ruthie and keep myself out of trouble for the rest of the night. I promise.”

Jake made his way back to Ruthie. She looked up and said, “What was all that ruckus about?”

Jake lowered his eyes, put his hands behind his back and looked just like a little boy who has been sent to the principal’s office. Painfully he explained what had happened. “I swear it was all the fault of these fancy boots you made me wear. I should have kept my fishing boots on. I know you wanted to dance, but I don’t dare do that in these things.”

Ruthie reached up and patted his arm. “Oh sweetheart, I’m so sorry,” she said gently. “I guess you’re just going to have to dance in your stocking feet, because you are going to dance with me tonight!”

Both of them burst out laughing. Jake slid off the offending boots, reached out for Ruthie’s hand and escorted her onto the dance floor. They did the waltz and the polka and the Cotton Eyed Joe until midnight.

Ruthie looked out the window, leaned over to Jake and said,”Wow, it’s dark outside. We haven’t been out this late in a long time. I guess I better get this wild animal home. Lord knows we are not the night owl type. We better get home before I can’t find the way there.”

Jake smiled and said,”Darlin’ I’d go anywhere with you.”

Boots in one hand, doughnut platter in the other, Jake followed Ruthie to the Subaru. They settled in and Ruthie began the drive back to their happy little home.

In just minutes, she could hear his deep breathing and she knew he was sleeping. She drove cautiously through the dark being mindful that moose, bears, rabbits and squirrels could dart out in front of her at any moment. Her eyes were fixed on the end of her headlights beam. As she turned onto the road that lead to their driveway, she relaxed and looked up toward the treetops. She was startled to see an orange glow reflected off the low ceiling of clouds.

“Jake,” she said, “Jake, Jake, wake up!”

She grabbed his arm. His eyes snapped open. “What is it? A Moose?”

“No,” she cried, “Look at the clouds.”

He looked up and then back at her. “Fire,” he said, just as she passed the row of tall spruce and turned into the driveway.

Their eyes were assaulted by an inferno. Their boat was engulfed in flames. Jake’s workshop off to the left was burning and the wall of their house nearest to the boat was blazing as well.

“I’m getting out. You stay in the car. Back it out into the yard as far away from the fire as you can and then call 911. I know there are volunteers on call tonight,” he said.

“No, don’t go near the house,” she said.

“I’ll try to get to the hose. Maybe I can spray that wall. Now, move this car,” he said as he jumped out and slammed the door.

She put the car in gear, drove over the lawn to the furthest point from the fire and then dialed 911 on her cell phone.

She explained the situation to the dispatcher and gave her their address. She stayed on the line, heard the call out alarms and the dispatcher say, “Boat and structure fire at Mile 1.3 Caribou Rd. All available personnel and engines please respond.”

Ruthie looked up toward the house. She could see Jake running away from the front of the house, extra tuffs in hand. Suddenly, fire exploded from inside the house, blowing out the front widows and separating the front door from its hinges. The blast knocked Jake to the ground, but in an instant he was back on his feet, still carrying the boots, and heading directly for the car.

“There’s nothing we can do.,” he said as he jumped into the car. “We need to get farther away. Pull out onto the road and put on the emergency flashers to direct the firefighters this way.”

He knew that the firefighters would find the place; he just wanted to get Ruthie away from the fire. He didn’t want her to watch everything they had worked for over the past thirty years go up in smoke.

The fire crews arrived within minutes, but the boat and the shed were completely consumed. Only one back corner of the house remained standing. As soon as the flames were extinguished, the Fire Chief and the State Troopers began investigating the scene.

The Fire Chief walked over to the car to check on Jake and Ruthie as the sky began to get lighter just above the horizon.

“Jake, are you and Ruthie sure you’re not hurt?” he asked. They shook their heads in reply.

“There is really nothing more you can do here. Do you have a place to go?”

“Oh, yeah,” Jake said, “our boy, Mark and his wife want us to stay at their house until we get things figured out with the insurance.”

“Our investigation is still ongoing,” said the Chief. “We’re certain that the cause was arson. There was clear evidence that accelerants were used. We have a pretty good idea who the arsonist was. We found a wallet on the lawn behind the house. The driver’s license inside belongs to Derek Kincaid. We’ll contact you in the next few days and let you know what the preliminary reports say.”

”Thanks, Chief,” Jake said.

“Well, Darlin’,” he said, “Shall we drive over to Mark’s and try to get some sleep?”

“Oh, Jake,” she replied, “I don’t think I can sleep. What are we going to do? Everything is gone. We can’t just live on dreams.”

“Ruthie, thirty years ago when I took you for my wife all we had was dreams and we went a long way on them. We can do it again.’

He gave her his grizzly bear growl, a kiss on the cheek and put the Subaru in gear on their way to forever.

© 2013 Victoria Steik

“Mercury” by Team Tennant

Prompts:
An animal trainer
Cornfields
Doughnuts
“Don’t eat that!”
Spending $4
Owls

***

Mercury

 

By Team Tennant

“Aw, we should’ve gone to Safeway – this place really screws you over.”

“Keep it down,” Jonathan looked at his tall, smudgy image on a hanging TV as he walked onto the linoleum. “You can’t talk like that here – these people are politically correct as shit.”

Jonathan looked at a pyramid display of gluten-free cookies where a mom was working out a deal with her hungry-looking little boy.

“Poor kid,” said David. “I bet he could use some doughnuts about now.”

The brothers passed a large, rustic mural as they walked through the produce section – paced between the eggplants and cabbages with heads bent as if saving one last remembrance at an open-casket funeral. A vast, rustic mural scratched at the walls behind the “Fresh Earth,” section – long stretches of cornfields make mazes for little Midwestern children who, like most Midwestern children, have trouble finding their way out anyhow.

“How much corn are we going to need?”

“I don’t know. I figured just one each, right?” Jonathan said, “You’re the one who wanted corn in the first place.”

“Mom and Dad didn’t exactly leave us that much steak.”

“Whatever David. Just buy two and let’s get out of here.”

“Hold on, now,” said David with new life. “They have two for four dollars on corn – we’re making off like bandits!”

“I feel like that’s really not that great of a deal.”

“Why not?”

“Well, I mean the corn here is probably really organic and tastes better, but I know other places sell it for like fifty cents. I can’t picture spending $4.00 on corn.”

“What other places?”

“I don’t know off the top of my head,” replied Jonathan.

A new mother and son pair surveyed the vegetable section. She explained how beets are good for your blood in a loud whisper.

“Yeah, let’s just get two for four,” said Jonathan. “At least these ones aren’t supporting the whole food corruption thing.”

“What food corruption thing?”

“You know, like the monopolies and stuff. I don’t know, haven’t you seen those documentaries?”

“Why would I want to ruin all food?”

“It’s not ruining food if you’re just a little more informed.”

“Whatever Jon, I don’t want to see cows getting their throats slit and shit,” David grimaced.

The second mother and son vacated the vegetable section with brisk, liberal strides until they couldn’t hear obscenities. The Sojourn from the produce section to the registers seemed like a grueling proposition. David shuffled past a to-go lunch section. He got big eyes over the sushi.

“We should get lunch here sometime.”

“Are you eying the sushi?”

“Of course, man,” David felt a little cultured. “Sushi’s so good.”

“Don’t eat that, man.”

“Why?” asked David, a little angry.

“It’s probably irradiated, dude.”

“It’s what?”

“Irradiated,” said Jonathan, “from the nuclear waste in Japan.”

“Oh, please. That shit hasn’t harmed anything since that dock washed up.”

Jonathan spared David his potential mercury-tuna rant.

David picked up a variety pack of sushi in defiance.

“What are you doing?”

“What does it look like I’m doing?”

“Tuna has a ton of mercury in it.”

“Oh, please. Piss off.”

“I’m serious – it can poison you if you eat too much. It’s like eating an old thermometer.”

“Tuna is delicious.”

“Excuse me, are you two talking about mercury in tuna?”

A balding man approached the pair with gentle steps and leaned on a nearby cheese display. The man’s worn, turquoise fleece gave the man an air of credibility regarding marine life. The brothers couldn’t tell his age exactly, but if he had offspring, they likely would have been birthed after The Dukes of Hazard went into syndication, and before Michael Jordan tried baseball.

“Who are you?” inquired David.

“My name’s Sam. I used to be an animal trainer.”

“So you know about animals.”

“Well, tuna in particular,” he raised his salt and peppered eyebrows, “I used to train dolphins.”

The brothers smirked and passed off their collective, devilish countenance as sincere interest.

“So is it okay to eat tuna?”

“Well, I can’t imagine it would be that bad for you, but you could be harming dolphins.”

“How?”

“Did you know that oftentimes dolphins get stuck in tuna nets?”

“Seriously?” said David with as much sincerity as he could muster. “So do they put dolphins in tuna cans?”

“Unfortunately, yes,” said a downtrodden Sam.

David put back the sushi lunch pack – said goodbye to the packet of wasabi and made his sad way toward the counter. The logo on Mr. Hoot’s Fruit Twisters only reminded him of the diminishing population of cloud-forest screech owls.

Jonathan approached the counter and grinned at the lady behind it. Her name tag said, “Susan.” Susan looked as though she was bred to work the register at a place like this. Somewhere in the leathery musk that was the 1970s lived a timid buck and a flowery mare by which the cosmos forged Susan.

“Go get the car and pull it up to the front, David.”

Jonathan tossed the keys underhand to David, and David slunk outside.

“That’ll be four dollars today. Did you find everything alright?”

Jonathan looked at the door and then at Susan.

“Oh, dang! I forgot one thing.”

Jonathan returned with rosy cheeks.

“Alright, so with the sushi, that will be twelve dollars.”

© 2013 Andrew Tennant, Colette Tennant

“Wherman’s K9 Academy” by Meredith Levinson

Prompts:
An animal trainer
Cornfields
Doughnuts
“Don’t eat that!”
Spending $4
Owls

***

Wherman’s K9 Academy

By Meredith Levinson

The demise of Mr. Andy Wherman’s K9 Academy began during Intermediate Puppy Class one Tuesday evening in July. The evening was cool and Mr. Wherman decided to hold class outside. They were focusing on resisting distractions, and what better place to practice that than the great outdoors?

The class participants starting arriving a little after 7, even though the class wasn’t until 7:30. Always punctual, the human counterparts took their studies at Mr. Wherman’s Academy very seriously. The application alone took months to process and those that made it onto the waitlist had been known to wait there sometimes upwards of a year. By the time the animals met their trainer for the first time, you could often tell by the fear in their quivering jelly-eyes that their owners had had a talking-to with them, and that they had better do well and graduate on time.

On this evening though the dogs and their owners were all smiles. After learning class was being held outside—what a nice change!– everybody made their way down to a well-groomed lawn inside a fenced pen. The dogs were free to run around and socialize, with the expectation of course that the owner pick up any “messes” their dog made. Many of the owners brought little baggies from home—the orange ones that the newspaper comes in. But if you wanted to splurge a little, you could spend $4 and buy a roll of custom-made doggie mess bags with Mr. Wherman’s face printed on them. These also sold on the internet and those who didn’t make it into the Academy could at least clean up their dog’s messes with the help of Mr. Wherman.

By the time it was 7:15, all seven human students and their dogs had arrived. Mr. Wherman’s assistant brought out the treats for the humans –doughnuts this evening–and arranged them stylishly on a glass table in the back. Small class sizes and human comforts were part of what made the business model for Mr. Wherman’s Academy great. The humans gravitated towards the doughnut table—they had earned their treat by means of the hundreds of dollars of tuition they paid to have the best-trained dogs in Iowa—and chatted about weekend plans, so-and-so’s son on the high school football team, and of course the travelling topiary exhibit that was coming to town. The temperature had cooled down to a comfortable 75 degrees—perfect t-shirt weather—and a few of the resident lightening bugs had come out, making Mr. Wherman’s last night as a successful animal trainer especially beautiful.

At 7:25, the man himself strode onto the thick grassy area. Mr. Wherman surveyed the activity of the dogs the people socializing. Yes, things were going according to plan. By week 4 it was important that at least some progress had been made, otherwise clients might lose faith in the program and then tell their friends and family. By week 4 it was important that puppies at the intermediate level be able to socialize independently without any major dog fights, and be able to respond to simple commands from a familiar human. In fact just before he came onto the lawn he’d been standing behind a pillar in a shadow listening for a dog-fight or one of the humans to exclaim “Don’t eat that!” when the doughnuts would surely tempt the dogs. But none of that had happened! Maybe he was a better dog trainer than even he expected. Either that, or this was an exceptional group of puppies. Regardless, Mr. Wherman was quite pleased with what he saw and believed that they were ready for the next unit: resisting distractions. He stepped out into the middle of the lawn on the dot of 7:30.

For the distraction lesson Mr. Wherman had each human command their puppy to sit and stay inside their assigned plastic hoop and then walk half way across the lawn. The key was to keep your dog completely still and have their eyes on the treat at all times. Once everyone had done this- and this took a bit of time—Mr. Wherman brought out his own neighborhood mailman, Chuck Wood, who had graciously volunteered to be this week’s distraction. It isn’t always true that dogs have an aversion to mailmen, that’s the stuff of movies, but Mr. Wherman found that this usually entertains his human students to no end, and so he struck a deal with Chuck to keep coming on week 4 of Intermediate Puppy class.

It was in the middle of Chuck’s great mailman distraction that disaster struck. He was pretending to go about his mail route, meandering across the yard, handing out “mail” to the human students (it was actually the Academy weekly newsletter) when suddenly, in one swift motion, something massive and feathered swooped in and snatched up little Tino, the Pomeranian. Was this part of the act? It took a moment for everyone to realize what had just happened. Suddenly there were seven plastic hoops and only six puppies. Everyone looked to the sky just in time to see the vague outline of a large bird flapping away over the cornfields into the darkness, Tino, barely visible within its grasp.

The rest of class was cancelled of course. Mrs. Steinhouser, Tino’s owner, was in hysterics, her pride and joy had disappeared-forever- during distractions class! Mr. Wherman began to sweat profusely, this was not what was supposed to happen at week 4. There was nothing at animal training school that could have prepared him for this. He said how deeply sorry he was to Mrs. Steinhouser, that something so awful should occur under his watch—but to Tino’s credit, in his last moments he was sitting completely still and had kept his eyes on the treat. Mr. Wherman even let Mrs. Steinhouser take all the doughnuts home with her. Even so, when he went home that night he had a sinking feeling that the legacy he had built for himself was now over.

Indeed it was. No one showed up for the next day’s classes, nor the following day’s classes either. They all later learned the culprit of Tino’s death: Two great horned owls had escaped from the Blank Park Zoo in Des Moines earlier that week, and were ravenous. That brought closure to Mrs. Steinhouser, but only a focus point for anger for Mr. Wherman. By the end of July, word had spread about Tino’s disappearance from Mr. Wherman’s Academy and enrollment was at an all-time low.

Frantic, Mr. Wherman called up his most faithful clients. No one wanted to take their dog to a school that was unsafe, where their beloved puppies could be snatched up from birds in the sky. Even his clients with great Danes, dogs far too heavy to be lifted by great horned owls, didn’t want to return (“who knows what’ll escape from the zoo next!” they told him). It was mid-August when Mr. Wherman knew he had to throw in the towel and call it quits. Because of an owl his whole booming business had died. Because of an Owl he had to change vocations at the age of 47. He decided to take his left over doggie mess bags with his face printed on them and join his friend Chuck wood in delivering mail.

© 2013 Meredith Levinson