• Visit Indigo

    Sledgehammer is proudly presented by Indigo, which offers editing, design, and more to authors and publishers around the world.

    Visit us at www.indigoediting.com to learn more and to schedule a free sample edit and initial consultation.

    Indigo: editing, design,
    and more


    Sign up for our monthly e-newsletter.
  • Join Our Networks

  • Photo Gallery

    To view photos of Sledgehammers past, visit our Facebook photo albums!

    All photos property of Sledgehammer Writing Contest. Most photos copyright Doug Geisler.

“The Gift” by The Magnificent Three

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

***

The Gift

By The Magnificent Three

At her parent’s insistence, Natasha’s first apartment was in the nicer part of town. She obliged since they were paying the rent. If she stayed in college full time, they would foot all her bills. Natasha found places around the apartment for all her treasured things. Her turntable and record collection sat prominently in the living room near the sofa. She alphabetized her books by author in the new bookcase against the entryway wall. She arranged souvenirs from her recent summer trip through Europe on the coffee table. The tarot cards rested on her bedside table. Natasha was teaching herself how to read tarot and liked to spread the full deck of cards on her bed, quizzing herself on the representations of each card.

After a month of living on her own for the first time, Natasha felt lonely. She shuffled her tarot cards and asked, “Who will I meet? Who will I meet?” Natasha pulled three cards from the top of the deck, revealing the King of Cups, the Chariot and the Moon. She stared at the illustration on each card, focusing her mental energy and waiting for some type of mystical signal. Her gaze kept returning to the depiction of the moon with two dogs howling below her.

A few days later, she brought Tom home from the humane shelter. Tom was a three-year-old orange tabby and just the kind of four-legged companion Natasha had hoped for. Natasha picked him up and carried him through the apartment, introducing him to each room. Tom seemed starved for human attention. He even turned his head to look Natasha in the eye when she spoke to him. Tom followed her around the apartment, finding places nearby to sit and watch her.

One afternoon, Natasha started craving something sweet in the middle of her English 101 class. She stopped to pick up a chocolate cupcake from the chic new bakery on the way home. Tom brushed against her legs as soon as she closed the apartment door behind her. She scratched Tom behind his ears and made her way to the kitchen. She opened the little square box and was about to bite into her treat when her cell phone rang. She went back to her bedroom and chatted with her mother for a long time. As soon as she hung up, she went back to the waiting cupcake and began pulling at its foil wrapper.

“Don’t eat that!” Natasha heard a voice behind her. She set down the cupcake on the kitchen counter and turned around, not sure who she expected to see. Tom met her gaze from his perch next to the microwave.

“Don’t eat that!” she heard again. Although the voice wasn’t coming from Tom’s throat, she sensed he was telling her with his thoughts. But that was impossible. She massaged her head above her right ear, her temples suddenly throbbing. Tom twitched his tail, the picture of an indifferent silent cat. Natasha leaned into the kitchen counter and closed her eyes against another intense pulse of pain. “Why?” she thought to herself.

“Because I saw a fly land on the frosting and I’m pretty sure it laid an egg,” Tom answered. Natasha looked up into Tom’s golden eyes, eyes she’d once thought of as yellow but now they seemed to glow like some far off beacon. “Oh, you didn’t mean why not eat the cupcake,” Tom thought at Natasha.

“This is too much,” Natasha said out loud, backing away from Tom and the kitchen. She stumbled down the hallway. “I’m not crazy, there are no talking cats. I just need to lie down,” she told herself as she braced herself with outstretched arms touching the walls. Tom sauntered down the hall, stopping just a few feet from where she stood.

“It hurts less if you don’t fight it,” Natasha heard Tom say in her thoughts again.

She tried taking long, calm yoga breaths but instead huffed haggardly. Tom moved to her side and knocked his head on her ankles. “I’m glad you can finally communicate with me. I heard from others at the shelter that some humans have the gift.”

Natasha sank to the floor. “I just wanted a cupcake,” she whined to herself.

#

Living with a cat that could hear her thoughts was not an easy adjustment. Tom was patient and stopped following her around the apartment but Natasha wanted answers, not more space and time to digest what had happened to her. She began wondering if she were the only one who could communicate with animals and what were some of the other powers people could have?

“I think I know somewhere we can go, somewhere that might have answers to your questions,” Tom popped into her thoughts one evening. Natasha sighed and looked down at Tom, curled up by her feet on the sofa. “Don’t ask how I know, just trust me. It’s a doughnut shop.”

Coming up to Sunshine Doughnuts, Natasha thought, “Tom, I think I’d rather eat that cupcake back home than anything they would dream up in this Crisco nightmare of a place.”

Tom ignored this comment from within the confines of his kitty carrier. “Find the owner. He’ll know what to do.” Natasha entered the empty shop. Doubtfully, she eyed the crusty old pastries under the grease-smudged windows. A hideous fly specked owl clock ticked away in the corner.

A monster of a man in a filthy apron loped from the back room. “Everyone loves the pork belly and tapioca pudding doughnuts. Four dollars apiece or three for fifteen.” He flicked what looked like a cockroach off the counter and started to reach for a doughnut with a square of waxed paper when Natasha finally spoke.

“What? I’m not spending four dollars for one disgusting doughnut. Tom told me this was a special place. Oh, never mind, I’m out of here.” She turned to leave.

The man asked, “Who’s Tom?”

Natasha kept walking but held up the carrier. “That’s Tom.” Tom yowled an affirmation from inside.

“Wait!” The man called out. “Hold on a minute.”

Natasha turned to glare at him. “Seriously?”

“So the cat told you about this place?” His voice was softer now.

“That’s what I said.”

“Well, that’s very different now.”

Natasha wasn’t sure how he did it but suddenly the man looked less slovenly, less frightening and somehow smarter. He bowed his head towards her and said, “Welcome to Sunshine Doughnuts. I am Lazlo. If you’ll follow me.” He stopped briefly to place a rubber cockroach back on the counter and then led them through a beaded curtain behind the counter. They passed through a storeroom and came to another door at the end of the room. Lazlo knocked twice and let himself in.

Natasha’s eyes widened. There was another doughnut shop in front of her. This one was as wonderful as its counterpart was depressing. It had bright red walls and a black and white checkered floor. There was a pastry counter filled with delicious looking doughnuts, croissants and pastries. An elaborate brass espresso machine steamed cheerfully behind the counter. Groupings of comfy chairs surrounded an old potbellied stove and there were several marble-top tables with little striped seats on either side. Dangling crystal globes above gave off a warm light.

Even more astonishing were the customers. A woman with a sleek bob and beaded dress was talking to what looked like a Mexican wrestler complete with a mask. A Goth girl who was a dead ringer for Morticia Addams was giggling with a professorial old man in a tweed coat. A tiny blond child who looked about nine was expertly pouring himself a shot of whiskey out of a flask. Lazlo took off his apron and flipped it around, revealing an immaculate white side. “Now before we get started can I get you a nice Bavarian cream, a cruller, or maybe a coffee?”

“Didn’t I tell you?” purred Tom into Natasha’s mind.

“This is, um, amazing.” Natasha tried to keep the stammer out of her voice, “What is this place?”

Lazlo shrugged. “Oh, one part coffeehouse, one part bazaar. A way station for people with certain talents, a place to find things you might not otherwise be able to acquire.” He indicated a large chalkboard on the wall next to the counter. There were a variety of specialty coffees and sweets listed at the top. Underneath that seemed to be a series of notes written in several different hands.

Flea Circus for sale to responsible party. Tent, trampoline and trapeze included.

2,000 OBO. My loss is your gain. Contact Bob347@gmail.com

Missing that special someone? I see dead people.

Reasonable rates. (503) 246-7925. Please call before 8PM

There were several more notices, some in languages Natasha didn’t recognize. Lazlo disappeared behind the counter and began pulling cups down and filling the espresso machine.

“Natasha, get me out of this box,” Tom commanded. Natasha fumbled with the latch and eventually managed to free the cat. Tom hopped out and with a swish of his tail led her to a table in the corner where he seated himself on one of the striped chairs.

“Just a little milk for me,” Tom said. Natasha passed along his request. Lazlo nodded and pulled a saucer from a stack near the cups. He filled it with milk from an old fashioned glass bottle. He filled two tiny cups with rich, dark espresso before setting it all on a tray. He added a plate of biscotti and a petite pitcher of cream.

Lazlo joined her at the table. “So, you know my name. You are Miss…? Ms.?”

“Natasha. Just Natasha is fine.” Natasha stuck out her hand which was enveloped by Lazlo’s giant paw. He gave her small hand a gentle shake.

He grinned at her. “I feel we are going to be great friends, Natasha.”

By the month’s end Natasha was a regular at Sunshine Doughnuts. When her classes were done for the day, she hurried home. After collecting Tom, she boarded the bus across town. Lazlo helped her understand her gifts and Tom helped her improve them. She loved meeting the other patrons and discovering their talents. She could think of no way to explain her new friends or abilities. Suddenly everyone she knew seemed like they were running at a lower wattage than her friends at Lazlo’s.

#

Natasha nibbled a cookie in Sunshine Doughnuts. Tom sprawled across the chair seat next to her. She stirred the foam of her latte as Tom arrived at the punch line of his joke. “That’s not a dog, that’s a salami!” Tom bent over to lick his back feet, still cracking up inside.

Natasha chuckled. “Good one, Tom. For a cat, you have a good sense of comic timing.”

“Please. As if humans invented everything. Having nine lives teaches you something about taking things less seriously.”

Lazlo approached the table with someone Natasha didn’t recognize. “I’d like you to meet my nephew, Yorgo. He runs a traveling show, much like the traveling circuses and vaudeville acts of long ago. He visits me every now and then, often looking for people with special talents for his show. Yorgo, this is Natasha.”

“Nice to meet you,” Natasha said, extending her hand. Yorgo grasped her fingers awkwardly. “Not socially graceful,” Natasha thought to herself.

“But handsome,” Tom interjected.

“Not now, Tom.” Natasha darted her eyes at the cat sitting across from her, licking his paw as if he didn’t hear her. She focused on Yorgo. “This is my cat, Tom. Maybe Lazlo has explained about us?”

Yorgo smoothed an errant lock of hair behind his ear.

“Me-ow!” Tom thought to Natasha.

Natasha avoided glancing at Tom as Yorgo pulled up a chair. Yorgo sat with his chest resting against the chair back, facing the duo at the table.

“Something to drink, Yorgo?” Lazlo asked.

“Dirty chai, please,” Yorgo answered. Lazlo disappeared behind the counter. “Yes, Lazlo mentioned that you can communicate with animals, telepathically.”

“I can, although Tom is the only animal I’ve carried on a conversation with. I can hear birds, squirrels, and dogs, but I haven’t tried to engage any of them.”

“Then my request might be difficult for you.” Yorgo ran his hands along the tops of his thighs, bringing Natasha’s attention to his neatly creased pinstripe slacks and matching vest.

Natasha felt the heat of arousal flush her cheeks. Before she could respond, Lazlo approached with Yorgo’s drink and silently set it down. Lazlo turned from the table without further interruption.

Natasha asked, “What is that anyway?”

“It’s a chai latte with a shot of espresso. Quite nice, if you’d like to try a sip.”

“No, thank you. This request of yours must involve communicating with an animal.”

“Yes, a sun bear to be exact.”

“What? No. I can’t risk reaching out to a wild animal.”

“He’s domesticated for the most part. You’d be helping me rescue an animal that’s only known a life of abuse in captivity.”

Natasha twisted her hair around her finger. “Your rescue sounds dangerous. What do you plan to do with this bear anyway?”

“The bear can’t survive in the wild. He’s spent too much of his life in captivity with humans who use cattle prods. I’d like to find a place for him in my show. I’m not sure the bear could hear your thoughts but I want to try.” He smiled warmly, cutting through Natasha’s skepticism. “First things first. I will take you to meet Salty.”

#

Natasha got out of the rickety Volkswagen van in a small grove of pine trees and followed Yorgo to a dilapidated circle of tents.

“This place looks shady. Gives me the creeps,” Natasha said.

Yorgo pressed his forefinger to his lips. “Shhh, keep your voice down. The show doesn’t begin for hours, we have some time. We’re going to sneak over to Salty’s cell. It’s in the red tent over on the right.” There was a portrait of a little sun bear on the side.

Natasha rushed off behind Yorgo as he darted from bush to bush, making his way towards Salty. When they reached the tent, they peered inside a small opening in the fabric. Inside was a sun bear, his fur matted and lusterless. The guard waved a long rod in front of the bear, who then cowered in a corner. Natasha started to stand up, but Yorgo firmly held her arm to keep her behind the fabric.

“Hard as this is to watch, don’t blow it now. Wait and try to clear your head. Can you hear his thoughts?” he whispered to her.

The guard stopped and looked around suspiciously. Natasha didn’t dare breathe. A moment later, a man in a shiny blue suit stuck his head in the tent. “Hey, what’s taking so long? Feed the bear already and go clean out the elephant’s cage.”

The guard dropped the electric prod. “Oh, uh, I’m almost done, boss. Be right there.”

The boss left. The guard dumped a can of dog food into a bowl and shoved it into the bear’s cage. The bear didn’t walk over to his bowl until the guard left.

Tears came to Natasha’s eyes as she gazed at the bear making its way dejectedly to his bowl. “Don’t worry, we’re going to get you out of his awful place,” Natasha thought to herself.

“Who the fuck just said that?” a voice growled in her head.

Natasha clapped her hand over her mouth. “I did!” she answered in her head.

“A girl’s voice. I don’t see no lady around here.”

Yorgo looked excitedly at Natasha. Natasha nodded at him. They carefully crawled through the opening and stood in front of Salty.

“Salty, don’t be afraid. My name is Natasha. This is Yorgo. We’re going to rescue you.”

The sun bear stared at Natasha a moment, and then began eating his food. “I don’t care what the fuck your names are if you got better grub than this place.”

#

Salty the Sun Bear sat on his back haunches, looking grumpy. He knew the closest thing to freedom would be his in a few minutes, but he still distrusted humans in the back of his mind. Natasha seemed to be different, it was true, but he would withhold hope until he was in the getaway car. His odious guard finally left the tent. It was exactly 9:50 at night and the guard was off to drink late happy hour Tecate tall boys at the dive bar down the road. Salty attempted to hide his pleasure at seeing Natasha and Yorgo come into his view. He snorted and stuck out his ludicrously long tongue at his rescuers. Natasha smiled at him. She knew that underneath his prickly, sarcastic demeanor, Salty was feeling something akin to joy at the moment.

The rescue itself was simple. Yorgo took the ring of keys from the desk. “Salty says it’s the middle key,” Natasha told him. As soon as they had opened the metal door, Salty dropped to all fours and sashayed out of his cell. Yorgo and Natasha quickly ran ahead of him to the van and opened the back door.

“He’s surprisingly adorable,” Yorgo said.

Salty grunted. Natasha heard Salty’s gravelly voice in her head. “Adorable my ass! There had better be tater tots in the car or I’ll claw his face off!”

Yorgo looked to Natasha. “What is he thinking right now?” he asked.

Natasha looked away. “Oh, um, he’s thinking about how he wants a nap, and some-uh- tater tots.” she said. Natasha wouldn’t be able to hide Salty’s true sentiments from Yorgo for much longer.

“I thought sun bears were supposed to eat honey and bugs,” Yorgo commented as he started the van. The bear clamored for food in Natasha’s head until she finally gave in and asked Yorgo to make a pit stop at a road-side tavern. Soon, Salty was bent over his deep-fried potatoes.

Salty’s inner monologue continued as he licked his dangerous claws with his comically long tongue. “What does that guy want from me? You think those nincompoops who imprisoned me were into proper animal nutrition? I ate carny food and freakin’ Alpo, genius. You know what would go well with this? A nice IPA.”

Natasha took in Salty’s rant. She turned to Yorgo and shrugged. “He never developed a taste for termites.”

In the following week, as Yorgo made repairs and modifications on his trailers and cages, readying them for the tour, Natasha spent all her time with Salty. She knew under his thorny exterior was an abused, misunderstood animal. Luckily for both of them, he was a quick learner when it came to memorizing his act and cues.

Over that week, Natasha also learned more about Yorgo. Under his slightly stiff exterior lay a wicked sense of humor. The first few times it made an appearance she hadn’t been sure if he was joking or not. Part of her worried about skipping her classes but she couldn’t stay away from the gang at Lazlo’s. When she wasn’t at Sunshine Doughnuts, she was out back helping Yorgo with the animals or doing something to help him get back on the road. One day, Yorgo painted the caravan. It was a beautiful apple red with little shutters and wooden fretwork all over. “Yorgo’s Traveling Wondershow,” was emblazoned on the side.

He turned to look at her. “You know we could add your name here, too.”

Natasha stared at him, truly confused “My name?”

Yorgo set the brush down, sat on the steps of the caravan and patted the space next to him. She joined him. Yorgo looked more serious than she’d seen him in days. “Natasha, you could bring a whole new life to this show. You could see the world and learn so much more about your gifts. You are wasted in this town. They will never understand someone like you.”

Natasha pictured her name alongside Yorgo’s for a moment. She couldn’t help thinking about life on the road. She shook her head as if trying to dispel the images. “Oh, Yorgo, that’s very kind of you. But what on earth would I do? I’ve just started a whole new life here with school and Tom and my apartment. I have obligations to my family. Besides, the minute I leave school, I’ll be penniless.”

“Money,” Yorgo snorted. “There’s always money to be made if you want it. Think of the animals. You could help more like Salty. You could be more than an animal trainer, you could be an animal savior. You have a gift Natasha, don’t turn your back on it.”

He looked so sincere she couldn’t bring herself to turn him down flat. Natasha sighed deeply. “I’ll think about it.”

“Think quickly,” Yorgo replied. “We leave in three days.”

#

The next morning, Natasha woke up to silence. Normally, Tom hummed Yankee Doodle Dandy until she was fully awake. Then he licked his whiskers and asked politely for his can of breakfast tuna. Natasha couldn’t even hear Tom’s paws padding across the bedroom floor. Maybe he had climbed down the fire escape to indulge in a rare desire for hunting? Natasha’s stomach began to feel heavy as she finished getting dressed. Tom was still nowhere to be found or heard. “Tom, where are you?” she thought, trying to send out a distress call. She realized she hadn’t looked out the windows all morning, avoiding the view, as if the silence inside told her all she needed to know. She stepped carefully across the bare floor in her fuzzy socks. On the street below she saw a crumpled orange ball. Running down the stairs to the sidewalk outside, she knew Tom was already gone before she reached his body. She kneeled next to Tom. “Be okay, just be okay! I’ll get you to a vet, everything will be better,” she pleaded. She picked up Tom’s limp body, cold but not yet rigid. She held him curled in her lap, as if he were napping. His clouded eyes and the blood drying around his ear pulled Natasha out of her reverie.

#

Natasha pulled the curtains open and looked out the caravan window. If she saw one more cornfield she was going to scream. Yorgo said they’d take a rest stop in about an hour or the next town, whichever came first. Natasha didn’t like touring the Midwest. She looked forward to the cooler weather of the North. The animals would be much happier too. Natasha took out her tarot cards and began to lay them on the table in front of her. As she revealed the fifth card from the deck, she stopped. She held The Magician for a few seconds before she gathered the rest of the cards and put them back in the box. She smiled at the thought of an obscured future.

© 2013  Thea Constantine,  Stephanie Golisch,  Luna Nova

“The Tweaker’s Tenancy” by Dostoevsky’s Firing Squad

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

***

The Tweaker’s Tenancy

By Dostoevsky’s Firing Squad

You might say that people lived at the house on 52nd Avenue. They watched TV, they smoked, they ate meals from 7-11. They were trained to the darkness. If the people of the house on 52nd Avenue went out in the day, they received glares, indifference, were overwhelmed by the pace of the day. Leaving the house meant leaving two shaky and incontinent Chihuahuas. The Chihuahuas couldn’t use the backyard, which was a field of invasive ivy that would bury them alive. The front yard was against a commuter street, so if the dogs were able to hobble or more likely fall down the steps, they could easily be ignored and crushed. Rescued from hobos, the dogs had been trained by hobos. They were used to being ignored and relieving themselves anywhere, even squatting on the living room rug.

Cheryl owned the house on 52nd Avenue. The two Chihuahuas were her compassionate tether to humanity. She needed the Chihuahuas to balance the darkness of the roommates she had taken since her husband died 10 years ago. Her roommates were her siblings. Her sister Cynthia was the alcoholic witch in the basement, folding clothes and smoking. When Cheryl’s husband died, her brother Jason moved in and took over tinkering with the tools in the basement. Later he moved the tools to his bedroom. He was a fan of the glue gun. Glued to his bedroom wall was a big book of Romio Shrestha as a shrine, bowls, and ornate metal jars. He glued a whole chest of drawers to the wall. He glued speakers to the wall, which buzzed when the stereo was off. Jason was also a fan of electrical wire, motherboards and old machines. Geiger counters and telephones were stripped, wires were used to make crack pipes of glass bulbs, tape and paper tubes. Cheryl said she didn’t care what her brother did, as long as he paid the rent. But she must have wondered why he took his door knob with him to work.

My wife and I met Jason the first time we were shown the house on 52nd Avenue by our realtor. The house was falling apart, ready to be set aflame by dangerously old connections, and the sewer to burst adding stench of human waste to human waste, Chihuahua waste and cigarettes. The roof was ready to collapse, both of the house and a structure that would be called the garage, except it no longer qualified due to erosion of one wall. The dust in the house never settled, the particles in continuous deflection, a squalid snow globe. Cheryl had no money. She owed taxes several years back. We took the bait and met the family. In most showings of homes, anybody living in the home will vacate. Cheryl, her siblings and her Chihuahuas did not leave.

Cheryl opened the door like a surprised but sedated rat. Our realtor explained we wanted to see the house. The flies on the porch came in with us, attracted to the smell of urine. Cheryl replaced herself in the threadbare chair facing the TV while the two Chihuahuas yapped and 60-year old Cynthia perched unstably on the radiator with a can of Molson Ice. My wife and the realtor talked between themselves while I entertained Cheryl and Cynthia. Cynthia was attracted to me because I didn’t discount her. She showed me all she bought at Goodwill for her sister. In her diseased mind, the $4 vase and $20 synthesizer, which remained unused, made up for not paying rent.

Jason was locked in the second bedroom. He was a strange clown at a circus. He was lying under a couch mounted on end tables. The top of the couch was missing cushions, instead set with steel loops threaded with leather rope. Under the couch, under Jason, was garbage. Empty boxes of Lemonheads, used tissues, unopened mail from the Department of Justice, bent business cards, neckties, wire clothes hangers, broken glass, nails, staples, empty paint cans, and other things including a jug of lighter fluid. Under the couch, Jason was concentrating on working a needle-and-thread onto a transistor motherboard, fantasizing that he would show it to a woman he knew at work. He alerted to a knock on his bedroom door, stopped and watched the door knob. Would they go away?

Huh? The police? How did child support find me?

 

Jason crawled out from under the couch, knees crunching glass. He riddled the door knob. He pulled the door open a crack toward his body. His forehead and eyes peeked around the side of the door, watching us.

Why is that man grinning at me? He can’t be official. Can I shut the door? I’m going to shut the door. I have to shut the door now. They might want to come in.

 

Jason shut the door. We saw only there was certainly a space behind the door, and it contained some oddness.

Against the advice of our realtor, we made an offer. The offer was quickly accepted and began the events that always happen when people adopt and become keepers of land and home. We looked past the black mold in the corner, the piss plumes, the matted and tarry dust from decades of smoke, cracks, stains and evidence of mice infestation. The mice probably had a more orderly life than the people in the house on 52nd Avenue. The mice had passages, sources of clean bedding, cat food that was continuously spilled on the floor and cabinets for private defecation. We never saw a cat, but there was a litter box. Maybe Cynthia was the cat who no one trained, “Don’t eat that.” The mice slept through the day and awoke at night, as did the people. When we had the house inspected, Jason was not home. He took the door knob with him.

Jason was a night owl. Owls are mysterious and scary as you don’t know when they will appear. The neighbor told of yelling at Jason one night for trying to shove a whole printer out his bedroom window. He must have finished stripping its wires. The dude I bought my first and last Harley from was knocked off his bike by an owl he had scared into flight while driving at night. He said the only thing that saved his ass was the thick leather wallet in his back pocket. I once attended a writing workshop in the middle of nowhere. I awoke city time 4 am and walked the blackness. I wrote and walked in the darkness, past cornfields and one night I stopped to ask what the sound of my writing resembled. I thought mouse scratching. I was fearful of cougars. As I looked up, I saw the winged expanse of an owl silently fly over top. He too thought I was a mouse.

By law, we were the owners of the house, and the land, but what is law? What is ownership? The day we were handed the keys, Cynthia met us on the porch, smoking cigarettes and drunk in a bikini, looking for an imaginary cat. Cheryl and the Chihuahuas were gone.

“We tried to move all our stuff,” she complained to me, then grew defiant, “I am not leaving without my cat.”

I promised Cynthia a phone call should the cat appear. She called the next day saying she saw the cat in the window, but we never saw a cat and never heard from her again. Cynthia had moved on.

Having the keys did not give full ownership or access to the house. Jason was not home, as his bedroom door knob was gone. He left his window cracked open. I moved a table from the porch to the side of the house, stood on it, and squeezed through the window. As my eyes adjusted to the dim of Jason’s room, I heard my wife from the other side of the bedroom door.

“Are you OK? What’s in there?”

I was stunned into silence. I listened, and looked around quickly. I was not certain I was alone. I pulled aside heavy blankets stapled to the window frame to let in light. I invented Jason sleeping or dead atop the makeshift bed of a couch that was only heaped with clothes. But the room was unoccupied. I could not open the door from the inside, and crawled back out the window.

The locksmith came. Jason had left everything in his room, as if he didn’t want to leave.

By rescuing this house we were rescuing ourselves. Rescued from failed marriages, boring jobs and mundane lives. The first thing I did was rip out and wrap up two layers of urine-soaked rug and carpet padding. I dragged the dead rugs down the front steps and into the yard, my forearms rubbed raw and saturated by their foul odor.

A few days later, someone smashed in a basement window. We had not yet moved anything in, so I didn’t inventory what might have been missing. My wife called the police. She noticed dirt on the floor and a screen removed from the crawl space. I thought it was Cynthia looking for her cat. The police identified the fingerprints as Jason’s.

Despite eight contractors and dozens of doughnuts hired to replace the plumbing, the electrical, the sewer, the roof, the garage, and finish floors, we worked for weeks scraping off lead-based paint, removing paneling and slowly becoming proficient at scraping, mudding, sanding and painting. The hundred-year old lath and plaster was unforgiving. We painted the interior shallot bulb green, tore out the toilet wall and installed a claw foot tub on top of tiny white and black tiles.

The second break-in was more disturbing. We had replaced the basement windows and added bars for protection. Jason simply kicked in rotted wood at the back door. In his old room, two foot holes fractured the lath and plaster and across the wall in chalk, “Where’s my coins?” In removing Jason’s belongings from the house, we had not found any coins except a couple of dollars in small change. Could that motivate him to break in? The police found Jason’s prints, but were unable to find Jason. Using the internet, I began my own search for Jason, plotting our confrontation.

After a month of our rescue, we had finished painting, and the last detail was blasting and repainting the old radiators. My wife was becoming familiar with the house, ready to forget the past. We had garbage service, ate at the neighborhood food carts and rode the bus that stopped outside our house.

Then one night we came home to find fire at our house. The firemen had arrived and told us we were lucky, we only lost the back porch. My wife thanked them, but I was silently seething they let the arsonist get away. Perhaps the three-foot trench I had dug to wire the garage to the house stopped the fire from spreading.

After the investigation found it to be arson, my wife abandoned me and the house to stay with her mother. Ownership of the house was no longer a legal battle. The police told me they found Jason in Seattle, but without proof, they could only get a restraining order. For me, it was about ownership. I was ready to reclaim the house. I was ready to extinguish Jason.

The break-ins and the fire had occurred days after Jason got paid his father’s social security income. I knew because I was still getting his mail including direct deposit slips. Each night after he got paid, I waited outside the dark house, watching late into the night for Jason to appear. Some nights, I sat in the backyard on a stump. When he came, I was waiting for him. This time he was carrying a can of gas. He did not hesitate to pour gas onto the side of my house. I did not hesitate to smash his head with a baseball bat. He dropped to his knees as if praying, and moaned, “Motherfucker…”

“What coins?” I asked him, heart pounding and braced to hit again.

“My dad’s coins,” he mumbled, “Cynthia hid them in the crawl space.”

The crawl space had been dug out for a new sewer line. Nobody had found any coins.

“There are no coins, you sold them for crack, you fucking tweaker,” I spat at the burglar, the trasher, the arsonist.

He stood and turned, his face sunken and when he spoke, all I could see were unclean teeth or spaces where unclean teeth had been. I saw the owner of the house, his craze daze.

“Where are my coins?” he asked.

I hit him hard. Sometimes ownership is by force, especially from tweakers. With my boot, I rolled him into the trench and filled it in. I hoped my wife would join me to search for coins in the crawl space.

© 2013 Kevin Nusser, Christa Helms

“Bucket Boys” by Team Wonderbra

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

***

Bucket Boys

By Team Wonderbra

This was the third one.

Peter traced his fingertips over the symbol notched into the wooden sign post to verify it was real. The mark was simple – two “U”s side by side, encompassed in two circles; a Bucket Boy mark. Seeing it now shook Peter to his core. He felt Fitz’s presence inside the lines, half expecting to feel a pulse in the etching.

He couldn’t ignore a third one. It was the third one in six months.

The first time he saw it, Peter mistook it for a fluke. It could have been one of the many that Peter and Fitz carved together on the road. But Peter knew that Fitz had never been on this rail with him.

It was common for the hobos and tramps in the area to create monikers for themselves using the simple symbols developed by the migrant workers over the years to represent their hobo names. Most travelers couldn’t read, but they could leave signatures.

In the years following the Great Depression, hobo culture sprang to the forefront out of necessity. Both boys had been born into this society of the downtrodden, Peter’s mother dying when he was six. After that, Peter traveled with his father, a tie loader for the railroad company. Peter did odd jobs for his father’s crew and for the farmers that lived outside each town. He traveled with men much larger and hungrier than him, following the railroads in droves, searching for scarce employment and even more scarce food.

Peter only remembered a different life as a distant memory when his mother was still alive. Warm beds and hot soup seemed like a fading dream. He’d learned enough of the road rules from his father. He’d learned the codes and signs, but nothing he’d experienced fully prepared him to navigate the dangers of living tramp life. In addition to the gnawing hunger that seemed a constant companion, brutal railroad security Bulls were a constant threat.

He got lost in the tracing, closing his eyes tight. Peter remembered the first time he saw Fitz; the small boy had been in charge of water running to the fields for farmers. Peter paused his fruit picking and watched the tired boy struggle up the hill, his full buckets sloshing over his shoulders. The boy teetered and lost his balance, dropping both buckets and collapsing in defeat. The water welled up at his feet, mixing with his tears as it seeped into the ground.

“No sense in dehydrating yourself over spilled water. Get up, kid. I’ll show you a better way to carry these. Can’t let the rest of us die of thirst.”

The young boy raised his head, tears still spilling.

Peter softened, “Come on, Kid Simple. Ain’t got all day!”

Fitz met Peter with a grateful smile and followed him back to the well. He was Peter’s shadow from that day forward, and they became each other’s family.

They called themselves the Bucket Boys after their first year working as fruit tramps and begging at back doors. They’d pretend to be pirates and marauders to pass the time between their odd jobs. One morning, while riding the rail to the next town, Fitz pulled a coal piece from his pocket and drew two “U”s on the inside of the rail car.

“Bucket boys!” Fitz declared, as he circled the first U.

“We’re tramps now. Together forever,” he explained, as he drew another circle around the second U. He beamed at Peter and took his hand.

They were just boys then. When Peter’s father died, they quickly had to become men. Peter knew to find an old timer who would take them under his wing in one of the big jungle camps. King Junky Bat Man was eccentric, but his life as a traveler provided a wealth of survival education. He taught the boys the hobo codes and symbols left to help fellow travelers on poles, trees and gates along the rail line to find work, shelter, food and most importantly, avoid danger. A smiley face meant the farm up ahead would allow you to sleep in the barn. A circle with an X inside indicated there was food available. Two overlapping circles meant hobos would be arrested on site. Being fluent in hobo code enabled the boys to survive, and they began to feel at home on the rail. The orphans no longer felt alone; now they belonged.

It had been two years since Fitz went missing, and Peter hadn’t used the Bucket Boys sign since. It stood for Peter and Fitz, and now it was just Peter.

The night of the bull raid, they’d fallen asleep outside a farm camp, listening to the owls in the night. Fitz always fell asleep first. Peter liked it that way. Peter was drifting off when they heard the sound of the railroad Bulls stomping into the camps to clear out the travelers and prep the tracks for the next run of workers. Everyone scattered into the night, the sounds of screaming and gunshots echoing into the sky.

Fitz always circled back around and found Peter, but that night, he never came. When Fitz didn’t materialize after a few days, the other travelers declared Fitz dead. After that, searching was pointless; Peter had given up. Fitz wasn’t going to come back.

Now, standing in front of the Bucket Boys sign again, Peter allowed himself the luxury of hope. It was clear as day, written under the regular cross that meant, “church will give food.” Sometimes, it was written under an upside down Y, which mean “danger in this town.” It began to always accompany two rectangles, which meant, “afraid.” Looking back, Peter had realized he should have paid better attention to the surrounding monikers. Seeing a third sign meant Fitz was still alive – this realization washed over him in a wave of relief and joy and settled determination to find his dear friend.

The signs had become Peter’s new code. His map. He spent the summer picking strawberries in Bedford and followed his sign to Cooperstown during the apple season. It was fall now, and the only work to be made was a bucket or fire runner for another railroad. The fruits of summer were packed away, being sold to girls and boys with clean hair and hemmed clothes. He was tired. Carrying the buckets became harder this season. Peter had ignored the stories of where the work was and only followed his symbol. His belly ached and his legs became weak and tired. No matter how old or painted over his signal had been, it was a way to keep Fitz with him during his travels. He’d scratch an infinity symbol every time underneath. “Don’t give up.”

The markings were fading, as was his memory of Fitz. By the time he’d found them, fence markings had been painted over, grass had grown around the base of the tree where he’d last seen the carving. It had been too long. Maybe Fitz really was dead.

The infinity signs were harder to mark onto the wood. Fitz hadn’t left these signs for years. Peter was chasing a ghost at the expense of his own survival.

The last time he found it, Peter realized he had to travel back to Chadwick, right outside of where he had lost Fitz. “To find something you’ve lost, start where you last saw it,” his father once said. The easiest way was to take a cannonball, an express train that stopped in the larger cities to get medicines out to smaller towns by delivery truck. Cannonballs moved faster, but there was one every couple of days. Problem was, they were harder to hop. He knew the physical dangers of rail riding were just as prevalent as any Bull. It was common for hobos to fall under the wheels when attempting to hop the trains. If a guy was lucky, he’d lose a limb. Unsure footing meant he lost everything else.

He was consumed with the search. The long hours riding the trains gave him plenty of time to roll over the posibilies of Fitz’s wherabouts. He’d heard hobo folklore from the jungle cats about the fate of missing travelers for as long as he could recall. When he was younger, the tales of Bulls capturing young tramps and selling them at the ports to slave on ships and plantations terrified him. The road kids exchanged boogeyman stories about kids being disfigured and set on display in traveling sideshows. He remembers a particularly horrific interaction shouted at him by a old nutty lusher, “The Bull’s gonna get you street urchin, they gonna sell ya to the circus and the cats will eat yur bones!”

As he grew older, he’d dismissed the stories as old wives’ tales. He had enough real threats to worry about. He was still careful about taking food and drink from unknown jungle rats for fear of getting a lump laced with knock-out-drops. Travelers disappeared every day. Ever since the railroads had pumped up the security Bulls, life on the rails was significantly more dangerous. The older hobos spoke fondly of a time where no one bothered the travelers and they were even welcomed with open arms in farming towns. When the Bulls first were brought on by the Railroad companies, they would just round up travelers and jail them. That was before Peter’s time though. These days the Bulls seemed like more of a firing squad. The tough economic times only amplified the danger. Hunger can make people do things; bad things. Peter had even heard stories of starving boozehounds, their minds gone from Corn Bourbon, cannibalizing travelers. Now Peter revisited the boogeyman stories with a new horror.

It took only three days to get to Chadwick. After hopping off in Augusta, he

began the final walk into town, past miles of cornfields. Chadwick was the last place the Bucket Boys were together. He’d hoped to never return to this place. Losing Fitz had put a crack in his spirit…it was an emotional straw that had nearly broken his back. The knot in his stomach wasn’t from hunger alone — something about this place stood his hair on end. His senses were piqued as he scanned for hobo marks. The marks seemed ominous and he wanted to turn around, hop a train and never return. However, he was determined to find out Fitz’s whereabouts. The answer was here; he could feel it. He saw the mark for “unsafe place” directly over the sign for “man with gun”. He had to travel carefully. Less then a quarter of a mile down the road he saw more danger marks, one indicating that he should “be ready to defend”, and another urged him to “get out fast.” Just outside of town, he settled under a tree, unrolled his bindle have a bit of breakfast and gather his thoughts. As he forced down a lump of food, two small figures appeared on the horizon. Peter crouched down and soon could make out an old negro bicycle tramp and a small black and brown wirehaired mutt. The dog wore a bell that sang as he trotted down the road. Peter decided to take his chances and shouted out,“Hey Bo! Good morning to you friend!”

The old man seemed startled, and it wasn’t until the fellow closed the gap between them and stopped his bicycle that Peter saw why. His milky white eyes were those of a Blinkey. He was either nearly or fully blind.

““What business you got here, boy?”

“I’m looking for my brother. He went missing two seasons ago in Chadwick.”

The old man hesitated for a moment.

“Ain’t no lil ‘uns in Chadwick, and if you go to the place, you gon’ be gone too.”

Peter cleared his throat and willed his voice to stay steady.

“What happens to the little ones in Chadwick?”

“Some things ought not to be talked about, son.”

“I have a twenty cent that says otherwise.”

The old man pondered for a moment and shoved out his hand.

“The Aklalov place. North of town. They farm sheep. You get answers there, but God save your soul. ”

Peter listened to the bell growing fainter and fainter as he headed north. He followed the dusty roads until he saw a shack in the distance, pockets of white nestled in the hills.

Peter hunched behind the shack, but had a clear sight of the inside from a window above the storm doors. He always knew how to move with the shadows. He recognized the smell of potatoes in stew. A giant woman stood over the pot carefully, preparing dinner for what seemed like a family that wasn’t there.

What Peter recognized more than the stew was the thick footsteps of a burled man as he approached the door.

It was a Bull – his whip looped around his buckle, his hulking arms. He remembered those arms raising the whip as Peter scrambled toward the woods.

This time, his arms didn’t carry his whip. He was dragging a child behind him and tossed him in front of the woman with the missing family as he burst through the door.

The giant woman wiped her hands on her apron and said nothing. She only looked the boy up and down.

“I not give you more than four dollar. This boy hasn’t eaten in weeks. What am I to do with this?”

“Feed it. His size is not my problem.”

The boy was made of bones, his elbows jutting out from his skin. He wore his hunger on his face, eyeballing the bread on the table as the two adults bickered over him.

“Roger said five dollars. And the boy is willing.”

The plump woman stared him down.

“Boy. You can lift cart?”

The boy said nothing, continuing to stare at the bread.

“You don’t eat that. Bread not for boys with no manners.”

The boy sounded like a titmouse. He squeaked his words.

“I’ll carry anything you need carried.”

The woman sighed and tossed him the bread, watching as he inhaled it.

“Boy no better than food for tiger. He won’t even survive trip to Greenville.”

The bull shifted his legs.

“Like I said. Not my problem. He can be the Temple Circus’s next lizard boy. I heard you’re missing one of those.”

The woman reluctantly shuffled to a box in the corner and shoved money in the bull’s hand. It was an otherwise plain box with a red bear on its lid.

“It’s always a pleasure doing business with you.” His whip creaked around his buckle as he pocketed the money.

It was the bull from the night of the raid. Peter wanted to burst through the window and strangle him, as the thought of Fitz being thrown across the woman’s kitchen floor and sold to her disregard filled him with fury. But that wouldn’t get Fitz back. There weren’t any options. You don’t fight a bull. He had to head to the Temple Circus.

Greenville was seven counties over and trains didn’t run often enough. It’d be truck riding and foot to get there.

By the time Peter arrived in Greenville, his feet were blistered. He was hungrier than usual. He’d become accustomed to the feeling, but the pains in his side were roaring instead of a quiet murmur.

The townspeople had poured out into the dusty streets of Greenville to watch the red tops erect even in the distance. With so many of them out in the streets, Peter had to keep to the alleys and shanties. He hadn’t seen any signals as to whether Greenville was friendly to tramps.

Peter had never seen a circus. Tents should be easy enough to slip, with railroad hopping under his belt.

When the tents were staked into the ground, it was easier to slip in and out unnoticed. People were too busy staring at the elephants and the painted clowns, clutching their children’s hands and getting the little ones to stop squealing. The smell of lemons, roasted peanuts and cake doughnuts filled the air.

Peter found a spot toward the back, hiding under a railing. He noticed he could catch falling peanuts from the rows above him if he paid enough attention. It was dark underneath the railings, but the lights would occasionally gleam into the shadows, and digging around for them would have pinched him for sure. He stayed still, moving his arms carefully to catch the forgotten food.

Elephants danced in circles like ballerinas, and bears were kept as pets. A man smiled at the crowd, throwing back the curtain and leading out a giant orange cat. Peter had never seen such an enormous cat, its black stripes stretching around its massive muscles. A man came out and uncurled a whip to the ground, commanding the cat to stand up and bear its long teeth. The whip was longer than the ones he’d seen the Bulls use, and hearing its crack, his stomach churned, feeling sorry for the cat. But the cat listened, bearing his teeth with a roar as he’d been trained to do.

Then men crossed ropes at the top of the tent, throwing a boy from swing to swing in the air. The boy couldn’t have been a year older than Peter – his red curls reminded him of Rusty Tiptoes. Rusty had been the best car hopper in 30 counties. Peter remembered camping with him years ago, as Rusty told stories of how many cars he’d hopped, shifting his feet in the dark to change his direction, any time he pleased. East to West. From South to North. Back and forth, like the boy in the sky. Rusty had told him over the campfire that the trick was to never be afraid of falling.

The boy in the sky spun through the air and hopped on the bar quickly, lifting his toes. Tiptoes. Peter’s breath became shorter in that moment. Rusty Tiptoes, the best car hopper in 30 counties, wasn’t jumping cars anymore.

Peter slipped into the crowd as it emptied from the tent. There would be plenty of places to sleep for the night – barns and camp tents covered the plain. He picked a hay bale behind an old barn away from the rest of the action, but he could still hear the animals in the distance. There had been no Fitz. He wasn’t being tossed in the sky; he wasn’t selling peanuts. Peter wanted to resolve himself to never seeing him at all, but hope was a tricky thing, and he remembered why he had avoided it for so long. It had a hold of him now.

He had to go back. The crowds were too thick and the expanse of the circus to big for him to call it quits.

The next morning, Peter slipped into the boundary tape and walked. He’d pick up trash from time to time to look at though he was hired to do it – it was the oldest trick he had.

Crowds gathered again as the posters unfurled above a stage. The Mermaid Girl. The Bearded Lady. The Half Boy. They almost sounded like hobo names.

A man with a wax mustache called out to the crowd, enticing the ladies and gentlemen to move closer to the stage. The Crocodile Man. The Snake Charmer. The Sword Swallower.

The sword swallower was next. His amazing feats would be sure to astound.

It wasn’t a large man with muscles that entered stage left. It was a boy, younger than Peter, who stood silently as he surveyed the crowd and waited patiently for the caller’s instruction.

The blond curls, the lanky figure. A littler taller now, but Peter knew the shape has well as he knew the two “U”s in all the sign posts.

It was Fitz.

Fitz waited patiently for instruction and for the anticipation of the crowd to grow. He pulled a sword from the stage floor and inserted it down his throat. Peter wanted to gasp, but the air was gone.

The sword comes out of Fitz’s throat and he bows, shuffling behind the curtain as the crowd screams with wonder.

“Now, you fine ladies and gentlemen, who would like to come see the sights of the macabre, the morose, the stunning and the stupefying?

A fat man shoves his way in front of Peter, his coins outstretched to the stage, hungry for entertainment. Peter feels around in his pocket for his harvest money. It is his winter insurance, his blanket – all he has left. He fills his hand with all the currency it will hold and throws it in the air.

“ME! I DO!”

The caller sees the wad of bills in Peter’s hand and pauses his breathless liturgy. He points directly at Peter and makes clear that Peter is the boy from the crowd he wants to see.

“YOU, my fine young man, step right up! Come this way! Now this is what we call a hungry kid! Hungry for a show!”

Peter moves through the waves of people as they push him along, the din getting quieter as he felt his pulse. He’s lifted onto the stage as the caller shakes his hand and pulls him close and whispers into his ear.

“Congratulations, kid. I’ve never seen a better shill. You spend all the time you want back there.”

Peter slips behind the curtains, the smell of fish hitting his nostrils. He moved his way down the dark corridor, until he came to the first exhibit. He gawked at the figure. A half figure, actually. He locked eyes with the legless boy as he moved down the hall, quickening his step. He moves past the Mermaid lady, with similar disinterest, this time avoiding eye contact. He almost could have caught her confused stare.

As he approaches the next exhibit, his heart pounds. He leans against the rope.

“Fitz,” he struggled to keep his voice low.

Fitz was standing on a platform, and it took a moment for his eyes to meet Peter’s. Fitz’s eyes grew wide with recognition, and he jumped from his platform at the same time Peter crossed the rope.

They met in a hard embrace, tears streaming down Peter’s face.

“Let’s go. I’m getting you out of here.”

Fitz balked and seemed conflicted.

“Fitz, let’s go! What’s wrong?”

Fitz only stared.

“Come on! What’s wrong?”

Fitz opened his mouth as if to speak and then closed it again.

“Fitz! Talk to me! We don’t have much time.”

The sword swallower locked eyes with his friend, his eyes welling up with tears. He opened his mouth wider and stepped toward Peter into the light.

Peter stepped back in horror as he looked at the gaping hole where Fitz once had a tongue. His voice shook as he demanded, “What have they done to you?!”

Fitz walked over to the stage and picked up the sword and began to write in the dusty ground.

He etches out the symbol for “safe place” in the dust. Then “food here.”

“There’s food elsewhere, Fitz! I can take care of you.”

Fitz pauses for a moment and carves again in the dust.

Peter stares at the symbol scratched into the dirt.

“End of the road.”

“I’m not leaving you. We’re family.”

Fitz carves the symbol into the ground again. .

He looks Fitz in the eyes, and whispers,

“Bucket Boys.”

He takes the sword from Fitz’s hand, drawing their moniker into the dirt. Two “U”s inside of circles. He drops the sword at Fitz’s feet.

Peter takes a deep breath and pulls his jack knife from his pocket.

“Together forever. I hear they’re missing a Lizard boy.”

Peter pulled his tongue from his mouth, and with one fluid motion, sliced his tongue in two.

© 2013 Danielle Nichols, Nathan Davis, Denise Mullenix

“Rich and Poor” by The Rock’n Writers

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

***

Rich and Poor

By: The Rock’n Writers

The clouds moved across the dark sky, and crows croaked on the powerlines. And Olivia walked down the black newly paved sidwalks of the city of New York.

She took a peak behind her to make sure no one had followed her from the orphanage when she exscaped. Then she went back to foucusing on the model dress in the front window of Turnialla’s Botique. She sunk her shoulders as she touched the frosty window with her hand. It was 180 dollars. She knew she was poor. She would never have enough money to buy the beautiful dress. But oh, how much she wanted that dress.

Olivia reaches into her torn and ripped pocket. She pulls out four dollars. Next door is Newyork’s Doughnuts. Her stumach grumbbles. She decides to go in and eat. Olivia goes in the doughnut shop and stands in line to wait for her turn.

“What do ya want?” The man behind the counter asks, as if he could care less. Olivia glances at a sign taped in the window that reads: Try our newest doughnut, The Sprinkle Smasher! She looks back at the employee,

“I’ll have The Sprinkle Smasher.”

“Don’t eat that!” Someone yelled behind her. Then added, “Someone got sick eating that yesterday!”

“Here, why don’t you get the… Magic Doughnut. It will give you everything you’ve ever wanted. You’re dreams will come true!” The employee cried.

“People! They sell you things just for money! Someone said, shaking their head. Olivia didn’t care as long as she ate something.

“Yes, fine! Here.” She gave him her whole four dollars and he gave her the doughnut. She sat down and couldn’t wait any longer. She closed her eyes and took a bite… and then doughnut changed her life forever…

She opened her eyes to the voices of people yelling: “Oh my gosh! -Olivia The Famous!” Follwed by, excited screams. A crowd was forming around her; buch of blinking eyes zooming in on her and click! Click! Click! Camras were clicking faster than a race hore’s heart.

“Come on now, stop diddle- dadling with your fans!” Whispers an old women in her now, booming ears.

“Fans?” She manages to squeak.

“Yes! We have to go now, your parents are waiting for you at the mansion. And I have to get home to cook for you, since the cooks are out on vacation, for a week. She smiles as they walk out and go into a black limousine with striking black leather seats. Olivia snuggles up in the heated-massaging-chairs and thinks, “Ah, this is life!” But then she notices a flat T.V. screen that comes down from the ceiling and the arms of the chairs have pockets filled with M&Ms and lots of other snacks, the seat belts are lined all the way up and all the way down with rubbies and dimonds and the black tinted windows shine with pleasure.

After two hours of driving, she finally got the guts to ask the old women the questions that had been haunting her. “Exuse me?” Olivia asks, politley. [Allways best to be polite if you want to talk something out of someone.] “Yes?” The old women repliys back, directley. “Um… what’s you’re name? And, how far out is this place?” She says, looking out the winow at cornfields; -they had been passing miles of them. “Well, Olivia! You better stop playing your memory games. You know who I am! I’m your Nanna! – your nannie. And we’ll be there soon.” Her um… Nannie turns away for the first time with a scowl on here face. “Mhmhmh… a nannie.” Olivia says to herself.

Finally, the limousine rolls to a stop and the driver shifts the gear to park. She trys the doors but they’re locked. The driver gets out f the car and opens the door in a very formal way. Olivia stumbles out of the car and lands on red carpet. Then the driver takes her hand and leads her to two big double doors the kind that are on he white house. She’s greated by a big “Hellllloooo!” by a women with dark red hair and blue eyes with perfect, fair skin. She smiles and her whole face lits uplike a chirtmas tree. “Come, come lets dine.” Her eyes twinkle as she says this, and Olivia woners, [ the angle part of me] “Who is this person? Who do they think I am?” Then, she supposes her devil part of here says: “Who cares? This is fun! -Enjoy it while it lasts! They glind into a dinning room with a 90 ft table awaits with plenty of food and candles as lights. A man, seated at the table, around the women’s age was readng a news paper with the headline, OUR CITY, QUEENS, IN THE FAMOUS CITY, NEWYORK NEEDS MORE MONEY! “I thought the cooks were out on vacation.” Says Nannie. “Uh, well, before they left, they decided to do some cooking.” The man answered Nannie. Then his eyes lit up and he ran over to hug Olivia, “Oh, sweetheart! Are you ready for diner? Sharie, why don’t you take Olivia upstairs to her room. Honey, clean yourself up for dinner and then we’ll see you here when you’re finished with that. Nannie took Olivia up to her room, as requested.

When she passed a mirror she sw a beautiful girl. “Is someone following me?” She wondered. She went ovr to the mirror. “Who’s there?!” she cried at the girl in the miror. Olivia crossed her arms and the girl in the mirror did too. “Stop copying me!” She yelled. She sun around. But no one was behind her. She turned in all directions. No one was in etheir. With lots of frustraition she sat down with a thump! Then she noticied her shoes. They were cowgirl boots with high hills. She stood up. They made her way taller. Back at the orphanage, before she had exscaped, the other orphanes would tease her about her regular short size. She allso relized she wasn’t wearing the black and white striped dress, or her stockings that had more than one thousand ripped spots. Nor her worn-out-too small sneakers. She looked in the mirror again. She WAS that girl in the mirror. She no longer had scratches, zits or the scares on her face that she had before. Her skin couldn’t be more like Snow White’s. Her lips a pearl rose. Her eyes were bluer than the sky when she had seen her eyes one thousand times green in chipped glasses at the orphanage. Her brown hair was in curls whitch bounced with every inch, no longer looking like a hair dresser had cut it at different angles. She know was a beautiful, rich girl. No longer plain and simple. For now she diddn’t notice the gold hearts chipped in the frame of the mirror, she noticed the little freckels on her nose she had never noticed before. She smiled at herself and the girl in the mirror smiled back. Then she skipped along into her dressing room with the dress on that she had wanted that was in Turnilla’s Botique’s front window.

Olivia came down to the dinning room where her “parents” waited with a fresh purple ballgown on.

“Oh, darling, you look exsquesant!” her “mother” gasped. Oliva giggled and grinned from ear to ear.

“Manners, sweety.” Her “mother” scowled.

“Oh, uh… Sorry… Thank you, mother.” Olivia curtsied but streetched the word ‘mother’ out far enough that it would explode.

Then she saw all the wonderful food! It would have been a feast for the whole country and there would still be more! From pasteries to barbiqued ribs, from muffins to casirolls, from garlic bread to buttered peanutbutter-chocolatechip-strawberry-blueberry-banana-cherry cream soda-bacon and egg pancakes. It didn’t matter if it was dinner, have some breakfeast and some lunch! There was tacos, pizza, macaroni, tuna sandwhitches, macaroons and lemon marine pie for dessert. There was more food tha anyone could write on a peaice of paper.

Every bite Olivia took became better and better and better. When she had finished and her stomach could not take it any longer, it looked like she hadn’t tuched a ting on her plate! The tablemen took away all the food and silverwaer.

“Olivia, sweetheart, why don’t you get ready for bed now?” her “father” sugegests and skatters nannie and Olivia off to her room once again.

When olivia was ready for bed, she snuggled up, all warm and cozy in her queen sized bed with a comfurture worth over 2000,025 dollars. Then her “parents’ come in and tuck her in, kissing her forehead. But then, her “father” pulls out a wrapped-up present with a fluffy green bow on top. The box was big enough to fit a horse in it.

“For me?!” Olivia gasped.

“For you.” Her “father” replied. She tore it open and out came a puppy! I’ll name you Spot!” Olivia cried with pear joy. Spot licked her face and the whole family giggled. The two “parents” kissed her and Spot gooodnight again then turned off the lights and shut the door tight.

Suddenly, Oliva felt someone watching her. She looked around the room, but it was too dark to see.

“Who-who-who’s there?!” She asked, shaking, but no voice came to answer. Olivia ran to turn on the lights. The lights stung her eyes for being in the dark too long.What she found was one-hundred stuffed owls starring at her.

“What?” she asked aloud. She ran to her “parents’” bedroom. She knocked once, twice.

“Come in!” she heard. She came in and asked,

“Whyis there a bunch of stuffed owls in my bedroom starring at me?’

“uh….. You know why, sweetheart. Have you forgotten? They’ve always been there. But I must must answer if you have to know: because you know how you’re dad loves to collect stuffed

owls because he’s an animal trainer and can train any animal in the world! And it’s just like how I’m a famous acttress! Now, you need to go to bed. It’s getting late. Would you like to sleep in our bed?” Her “mother” asked. Olivia shook her head. She went back to her heated floor and into her heated bed and went to sleep…… Dreaming of owls.

The morning woke up Olivia. She got rady for the big day and went down stairs to seee no one around. She went to the backyard and found her parents in the hottub with a wait-tress ready to take their order. There was a pool with a glistening waterfall and a whole field with a barn and three horses in the distance.

“Come on in! Go get you’re swim-suit on and jump in! oh and tell the waitress what you want!” they encouraged her. Nannie brought her her jewled swim-suit and Olivia quickly left to change.

No longer than a minute , olivia was playing in the pool, eating a chinomon roll.

After breakfeast, her “mother’ decided they should ride their horses.

“Oh! I’ve always wanted to ride a horse before!” Cried olivia. Her “mother” frowned,

“you’ve ridden horses before.”

“Oh, yes. Of course!” Olivia lied.

Olivia jumped up and down as she petted a horse named Lucy.

They rode on horses, talking and laughing together as they rode past mountains, plush hills, a forsest and cornfiels. The laughter and talking died down as they stopped at a cliff to look over the sunset. They watched till the sun went down, the day turned into night; the clouds were replaced with stars and the light grew darker. Then the family rode back to their mansion under the stars.

Then the family was up early to go shopping. After a good day started off with breakfeast, they head out to the most fanciest place in Queens, new York.

“Get a cart and pick out everything you want! Ready? Set…. Go!’ yelled her “mom.” Everyone ran and grabbed whatever they wanted or liked. They came together at the middle of the store. They bought their things and headed for the next store and did the same thing. They did this for the whole day until they were too tired to even walk. They went home and started looking at their things they had bought. Then, Olivia’s ‘mother” came into her room.

“Is this everything you wanted?” she asks, looking at Olivia. Olivia grins. She runs over to her “mom” and hugs her and says,

“Oh, this is everthing I wanted, mother!” And this time she didn’t streetch it……..

Olivia had beeen at this “new life” for about a week. But it was the same thing every day. Get up, breakfeast in the pool and hot tub. Then go ride horses, buy EVERYTHING you want, play, eat and sleeep. Being ritch was kind of getting boring. Every day she would get everything she wanted and play with the toys, pillows, clothes and stuffed animals for a day. Then it would be the next things she bought. Then it would go on and on and on. And she would never play with the “old” toys ever again. Finally, she went to go tell her mother this. When she had finished her mother poundered it for a minute. Then said, “Olivia?”

“Yes, mother?”

“You WILL do this every day! But, I will allow you to play outside for 30 minutes. AND this IS finall!”

“Yes, mother.” Her eyes were getting teary and she felt like she just wanted to curl up in a ball and cry like a baby. “Does mother not love me anymore?” she thought. “Maybe she just wants me to have fun and hinks that I don’t like going shopping and buying everything I want. Hmph.”

On the way to her room, she bumped into her father. “Oh! Sorry!” She says, looking concerned.

“watch where you’re going! And here is a new list of rules for you to follow!” He pushes a peaice of paper into her hands.

“I said I was sorry!” Olivia called after him. But he didn’t reply back. “Maybe father doesn’t love me anymore etheir.” She runs to her room, slams the door, locks it and falls to the floor and starts cry. Then, she looks up at the mirror on the sparkling, pink door with the beautiful girl in it and SMASHES it into one million peaices. “There! Now she’s ugly! Go get a different daughter! One that’s twice as beautiful as me!” She then sobbed and sobbed until she fell asleep on the brown, fuzzy carpet.

The next day wasn’t going so well. She didn’t get to eat breakfeast in the pool OR hot tube or even swim in them. She ate in her room. – She HAD to. Mother made her. Instead of riding horses, she had to feed and clean up their filthey, stinkey, ugly, smelly, disgusteing, poop. –Yuck. Then, instead of going shoping, she had to stay in her room and study all day! I guess her mother had lied. Plus, there were new rules. But, for now she was safe playing outside with her new friend, Lily. They had only just met each other on the sidewalk. Soon, it was time for lunch. Mother came out and told her: “Its time for.” Then stopped when she spotted Lily. “OLIVIA! Get away from that girl, NOW!”

“But Mother, she’s my friend!” Olivia snapped back at her.

“I don’t care if she’s your stupid friend, or your freaking sisiter! She’s black! And she’s poor! She doesn’t even have a mother, much less food. GET AWAY! Then she took Olivia’s arm and lead her away from Lily and just abandened her right there. And they were at the park.

“Lily doesn’t know the way home!” She protested.

“If she even has one.” Her mother growled back as they ate luch at their house. Sense the park had ‘cooties’ from blacks. Her mother had said.

“Why would you do something like that?” She asks.

“Because she’s black, your white. Your rich, she’s poor. Were rich so we get to do whatever we want.”

“What?!” Olivia says, with every screaming nerve she had.

“Yes, darling, its just the way things are.” Olivia shakes her head in disgust and her eyebrows narrowed with her eyes burning a glare. One word forms from her mouth, “MONSTER!”

Later, that night, they went to play bingo because Olivia wanted the golden tedy bear and that’s what you got if you won.

They all had sheets. Almost have a bingo… Someone next to her was saying. They haded even called one of Olivia’s numbers! She glances over her father’s shoulder, two more and he could get a bingo! And her mother’s… Olivia gaspes. “Bingo!” Her mother calls out. “Ya! We win!” says Olivia jumping nup and down on the balls of her feet. “We win! Whoo hoo!0. you guys loose! Loosers! We win! We’re winners! Ha, ha, ha!” Her father yells, punching the air with his fists. “Please sit down, Mr. And Mrs. Black. You will get your prize after everyone has left.” Says the man who had called out the numbers from the bingo bowl.

Then her father whispers in Olivia’s ear, “We cheated! When the guy sittting next to me wasn’t looking I swapped mother’s sheet with his sheet. But who cares? We won!”

“Father, that’s not fair! You must say you’re sorry at once!” Olivia starts to stand up on the bench and say, “Sorry!” But her father grabs her and says,

“No! You have to say you’re sorry to ME!”

“Sorry!” She shoots him in a snotty way.

“Hmph!” Her father says and turns away from her and pouts. Then the same guy who grabbed the bingo numbers out of the bingo bowl handed Olivia the goldden teddy bear.

Her heart felt cold. On the way out of the building, She was dragging behind when she through the golden teddy bear away into a silver trash can. And then she walked away from the miserable night.

Olivia was jumping down the flights of stairs then stopped when she saw her mother have a huge stack of money in her hand. “Where did you get that from?” She asked.

“Hmm? Oh! This! I took some money from the orphange for our family. Ha! Told them they weren’t doing a good job, so I had to take some of their money. Ha, ha! Thay fell into it! Here is some money. Don’t you think that’s fair?” Her mom says. Olivia’s jaw drops opens in surprise.

“No!!!” She screams. She pushes her mother down the stairs and walks down to her.

“I’ve had enough of this! You’re too evil to be a mother!” She yells. Her father walks up the stairs.

“And YOU!” She cries. He freezes, aware that something big is happening.

“Oh, sweetheart, darling.” He tries.

“NO! You’re all the opisite of what I want! Ritch is poor! Poor is ritch! And that’s the way it is! I’ve had enough!” She leaps out the door.

She runs and runs. “I want to go back to my old life! I have to go back to the doughnut shop!” She relizes. Finally, out of breath she stops. “She yells with all her strength left. Olivia glances at the street sign, “107, Hey! This is where the doughnut shop is!” She cries. She runs to the door of the shop, but then stops. “I forgot, mother all the shops in town! This isn’t a doughnut shop anymore! It’s a dress shop!” She relizes, in horror.

“Excuse me.” Someone tugs on her dress sleeve. Olivia looks down to find an orphan.

“Are looking for doughnuts?” The little girl asks. Then adds, “They still have them!”

“No, they don’t.” Olivia says, pretty sure of herself.

“Yes, there is. Follow me!” She says and takes Olivia’s hand and leads her to the back of the store. There is a moving guy loading boxes of doughnuts into his moving truck.

“Can I have a doughnut? The magic Doughnut?” olivia asks the man. He smiles and says,

‘Really, I’m not suppose to but… sure.” He gives her the doughnut as she reaches into her dress pocket and gives him the cash that her mother had given her. She closes her eyes… But before she takes a bite, she stops and looks into the little girl’s face who smiles a wide, toothy grinn. She looks back at the man and says,

“Actauly can I have the Chocolate Waffleler?”

“Here.” The man says, taking back the daughnut and giving her the other one. She hands the little girl the doughnut. The little girl smiles but gives back the doughnut to the man and takes the Magic Doughnut and gives it to Olivia.

“Here. You deserve it.” She says. Olivia can’t help it but hug her. She closes her eyes and takes a bite.

Olivia opens her eyes. And finds herself looking at the 180 dollar model dress in Turnilla’s Botique. She smiles, and the girl reflecting on the window smiles back.

The clouds move across the dark sky and crows croaked on the powerlines. And Olivia walked back to the orphange on the black, newly paved sidewalks of the city of New York.

The End

© 2013 Coral Worley, Haven Worley

“Untitled” by Team Hammertime

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

***

Untitled

By Team Hammertime

Once upon a time there was a man named Mr. Dean. He was an owl trainer. The date is August 7, 2243.

It’s so hot out today – too hot – maybe I’ll get a dry ice doughnut from VooDoo Doughnuts to cool me down and fight off this deadly heat After all, earth is only 15 billion light years away. It’ll only be a five minute trip.

In five minutes I’m in Portland, the only city with Voodoo Doughnuts . I heard 230 years ago it used to be a beautiful city full of parks and forests, but now it’s just a cloudy, crumpled city, full of pollution. I went inside. The next available person was dressed as a voodoo doctor. I ordered two boxes of doughnuts – one box of dry ice doughnuts, paid my $4, and went to work. Voodoo Doughnuts were the only thing that would cool me down from the planet’s heat.

Once I got to my work, I put the doughnuts down on my desk and started typing. Then an owl tried to sneak a box of doughnuts, but once I saw the tip of his feather, I turned around and said “SHOO! SHOO! DON’T EAT THAT!” and the owl flew away. I had to be careful. Once the radioactivity started to consume our planet, we became linked – humans and owls. If one of us died, the other died. Owl training seemed like a good job – keep them alive, keep yourself alive.

Once that was done, I moved the doughnuts in front of me so I could see them. I train owls, but I can’t trust them.

But then a black cloud flew over me. I remember thinking – “This is crazy – we don’t ever have bad weather here. It’s too hot. There are never clouds.”

But as it got closer, I realized it was a black cloud of owls – coming for the doughnuts. The heat was was getting to them too, and they knew because of my trip that there was relief in my doughnuts. I panicked, but one of owls grabbed a doughnut and split it, shooting the crumbs into the cloud of owls.

Later, an owl tried to sneak up behind me. I turned around and started to yell. A second came in and stole two doughnuts from the box and started to swallow them whole.

I smacked them away from the box, and realized it was pointless. I could just get more. The owls grabbed the doughnuts and took them to their den.

I was reading the news while I was flying back to the doughnut shop. Gah! Voodoo Doughnuts had run out of business. The batter had run out because of the pollution on earth. No more sugar would grow. No more flour. The owls would take what I had left, and I wouldn’t survive the summer I decided to make a trap for the owls.

I went to the cornfield and gathered some corn and took it home. On the way, I passed Hobby’s planet, where I bought some string, eyes, and gray paint.

I started to make a trap. I formed some corn leaves into a mouse shape, painted it gray,and filled it with corn kernels. Then, I headed out to the owl’s den. I put the mouse a few yards outside of the den and then started to make squeaking sounds.

The owls flew out of their hole and fought over the corn mouse. I dipped behind the swarm and went into the den, where I stole back the VooDoo doughnuts and went home. Finally, they were mine again.

It’s two months later, I felt sick. The owls were dead from the heat.. There was nothing I could do. Everybody I met seemed to be sick or dead. I feel as if I may die, lying here writing the last page in my journal…

© 2013 Aidan Tenud, Asher Tenud

“A New Dance” by Sarah Robertson

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

***

A New Dance

By Sarah Robertson

It was Bernie, my little brother, who woke me up that morning. “I’m going to be a professional animal tamer when I grow up!” He shouted, prancing around my room in a ridiculous circus clown costume.

“Go away Bernie.” I moaned and stuffed my face into my pillow.

But for some reason in between Bernie’s loud foot steps as he climbed down the stairs combined with my mom’s off key singing coming from the kitchen, I couldn’t manage to get any more sleep. I trouped down the stairs and into the kitchen where Bernie was already stuffing his face with food.

“Good morning Kate!” Mom crowed, whisking me a plate with two doughnuts on it, a blatant attempt to soften me after our argument last night. “Did you hear the owls hooting around midnight?” Mom asked. “Maybe they will be in the newspaper tomorrow!”

That was the problem with living in Boring, OR. Nothing interesting happens.

“Mom,” I answered sarcastically, still fired up from our disagreement, “I didn’t hear them. Neither did the newspaper people. Because we were all ASLEEP.”

I had left the house and was walking across my family’s farm, wondering how I should spend the last four days of summer vacation. I could go down to the candy shop and spend my $4 I had saved up. Or I could just spend the time wandering aimlessly around our cornfields. I sighed. There was one thing that I wanted to do, I thought as I looked down at my reflection in a horse’s water trough. A girl with straw-straight blond hair and icy blue eyes stared back at me. I sighed again. The thing I really wanted to do was to take dance lessons. But they cost too much money and, even Bernie, at the age of four, would know that. Ever since my father passed away two years ago, when I was ten, my family has been very poor. That was what mom and I had been arguing about last night. The cost of dance lessons. Obviously, I had lost the argument. How would I ever end up learning to dance? With that thought I steered myself towards Mr. Song’s house.

Mr. Song was technically my closest neighbor but he lived three miles away. Unlike all the rest of the families from miles around, who had been here for generations, Mr. Song moved here recently. He came from the city only a few years ago. While it was obvious that he had no clue how to run a farm, he never gave a reason for his move only saying he was seeking the simple life.

Maybe it was because that he wasn’t really from these parts that he never seemed annoyed at my questions, unlike my mother, and he actually answered them. Although, his answers were rarely straightforward. Nonetheless, I always found myself at his house if I had a problem.

Mr. Song was sitting in his garden, his short black hair and old blue overalls stained with dirt, a large, unripe tomato in his hand. It looked as though he was about to take a bite.

“Don’t eat that.” I advised. “It would taste horrible.” Mr. Song bit into anyway, and the result was rather funny. He made an immediate retching noise and spit the bite of tomato out onto the ground.

“Oh, well,” Mr. Song sighed. “I was never much of a gardener. Now, what do you need Kate?” I began to retell the fight with my mom.

I had just finished my tale as Mr. Munchers, Mr. Song’s old barn cat trotted over and curled up in his lap. Mr. Song scratched Mr. Munchers head thoughtfully and said with a twinkle in his eye, “Your mother said that you couldn’t be taught how to dance. Not that you couldn’t learn.” My huge grin at the idea faltered almost at once

How could I teach myself to dance? Is that even what he meant? Mr. Song must have guessed what I was thinking, because he answered as if I had spoken my thoughts out loud.

“Make your own.”

I left Mr. Song’s house thought deep in thought, working out our conversation. Watching the stalks movement in the wind swept cornfield, I slowly began to understand. For me dance isn’t just graceful movements learned through years of practice. It’s song, a mountain ready to climb, the sight of a setting sun. A dance is so wonderful it can’t be explained.

The evening suddenly felt like magic. I laughed and ran through the cornfields, swishing and swirling on occasion. Soon the awkward circles became a pattern, a design. A dance! The evening breeze tickled my hair, the owls hooted and slowly my voice came to join their odd, yet beautiful song. And with a tickling-glowing, buzz sort of feeling, I realized for the first time, in a long time, that I felt truly happy.

I know the moral of many children’s tales is to follow your own path, Write your own story. But the moral of mine is to write your own dance.

© 2013 Sarah Robertson