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12 Months of Experimental Tales

This month, inspired by one of my absolute favorite authors, I set out to write 12 short stories, using prompts selected by Neil Gaiman. I later found out that this kind of short, quickly written fiction is known as “flash fiction.” (Look at that! I was part of a thing and I didn’t even know it!) I’ve never participated in this kind of writing exercise: the last time I wrote fiction in response to a prompt was in the one creative writing class I’ve ever had, which was in high school and acted mostly like a therapy group for teenage angst.

Twelve stories. It took me nearly a month to complete the challenge (though I never went over an hour in writing each one, so mission accomplished. Technically my writing time was the same as Gaiman’s, though I didn’t have the luxury of three consecutive days of writing–thank goodness I also didn’t have the camera crew). While I loved it, I’m also glad I don’t have these unfinished prompts hanging over my head anymore!

What I’ve Learned from the Calendar of Tales

  1. Prompts are great
    Like I said, I haven’t written from a prompt with any regularity in awhile. I don’t remember liking prompts, but these were nice and juicy and open-ended. I enjoyed having something percolating in the back of my mind. In fact, I often chose to work on the Calendar Tales because of the intriguing prompts..meaning I sometimes neglected my longer fiction pieces (I still love you guys, promise!)
  2. Short fiction can be liberating
    Maybe I’m just a little backwards, but I’ve heretofore preferred longer fiction. I just didn’t see the point in sitting down to write something I knew was going to be short; better to use that energy on a longer project that can pack more punch. But the short word count on these was great: I could say whatever I wanted! I didn’t have to bother explaining where everything came from or making sure each little loose bit was tied together. I just needed to say enough to establish the scene and the problem, and get out of the way. In a lot of the stories, I’m imagining a lot more that just didn’t fit, and I’m okay with that. I hope the reader enjoys filling in the broad strokes, too.
  3. Accents are hard
    For the August tale, I knew I wanted a twangy Texas grandma as the narrator. It’s an accent I thought I could fake pretty well, but I ended up spending the most time on that story out of all of them as I struggled to figure out how to spell the words the way they should be pronounced. I wanted her to be twangy and kind of like Gertrude Beasley, a plain-speaking sassy-as-hell real woman from the barren 1920s of west Texas (My First Thirty Years is a tough read sometimes, but it’s now available to download on Kindle, if you’re interested). I had the hardest time figuring out how you might say “child” with that accent! I think I got it, but it took a lot of trial and error. I have a lot more appreciation for those who write accents frequently.
  4. Ducks Can be Scary
    I don’t watch horror movies. I don’t read horror novels either (except for when I’ve started a book without realizing it’s horror but can’t stop because I have to know what happens), and I struggled to make it through 75% of Joe Hill’s excellent Horns on audiobook before I couldn’t take it anymore. So I didn’t really think I was going to be writing horror. But the April story–I just knew it needed to be terrifying, because the idea of scary ducks was both absurd and believable to me. I think it did a decent job at it, but I think the better lesson is that it’s good to try things even if you think it’s beyond your abilities.
  5. Beta readers are good people
    I fit the writer-as-hermit stereotype pretty well, but it’s something I know I need to work on. Just before starting this venture, I met some great folks at ConDFW, one of whom was just foolish enough to say he’d be a beta reader for me. (Hey there Bryan!) After I wrote each piece, I sent it over to him, giggling like a fiend and hoping he found it just as funny/clever/scary/whatever. And biting my nails when I didn’t get an email back instantly. I’ve been leery of sharing my work before, but this project was different. Bryan caught some dumb mistakes and I’m really grateful for his help. Lesson learned: Beta readers = good.

I’m glad I took on this challenge, and I think it produced some fun and interesting results. I hope readers enjoyed them, too! Read all of the calendar tales.

What writing challenges have you participated in lately? What do you learn from them?

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A Calendar of Tales: December

(Prompt: Who would you want to see again?)
“My 18 yo-runaway-self so I can show her that I find someone to love & own a home of my own – it did get better.”

This side of town is darker than I remembered, grungier. I remembered it as an artistic, safe-ish place, full of fun and interesting people; seeing it now, I wonder how this ever seemed appealing. I don’t go to areas like this, not at night.

But it’s December 1987, and I know I have a hard year behind and ahead of me. I’ve thought about it for a long time—these visits don’t come cheap—and this seems like the best time for me to come, to offer myself another chance. I’ll have another tough year after this, but I remember how terrible this winter was for me. I hope that coming now will mean I’m happier.

I pull my coat closer and step through the portal onto the street, remembering to close it behind me as I go. My younger self will be within 6 blocks of here; I never did travel far, those days.

I checked the store room of the Indian restaurant on 9th first; it’s warm there, and the owners sometimes gave me some rice at the end of the night. But the servers are still bustling, so I move down the block, in the sheltered alcove next to the Dumpster overlooking the park.

I see my boots first, two sizes too big and unlaced most of the way. How did I ever walk in those, anyway? I shake my head and make a noise in my throat, “ahem,” and stare down at my 18-year-old self.

Gawd was I a scrawny thing.

“I don’t know what you heard”—it’s shocking how pale I look—“but I don’t do that no more,” my young twin says diffidently.

“I’m not interested in anything you have to offer, Sam. I’m here to offer you something,” I say, extending a hand.

Young Sam glares up at me from under that beat-up old hat. I thought I looked killer in that hat; I still have it. “Who are you?” I sneer.

“I’m you, in the future. You’re me, in my past. I know, it’s hard to explain, but trust me on this. Time travel is invented in 2047, and it’s 2056 in my time now. I’ve—we’ve—led a good life, and I wanted to come tell you it’s going to be okay,” I say. I offer my hand again, hoping my younger self will take it and walk with me.

He disappoints me, mistrustful, but I understand. “Gawd I don’t age well,” he grimaces, disgusted.

“I thought I might show you how things are going to turn out,” I offer. “If you’ll come with me just here…”

I gesture toward the open wall. Young Sam stays out of arm’s reach, but gets up and follows me. Good enough for me. Fumbling with the switch, I activate the portal.

“That’s going to be your home, Sam. See? It’s beautiful, isn’t it? It’s got 5 bedrooms—five! I think sometimes I should sleep in all of them, just because I can…” I turn and look at my younger self, practically feeling the desperation in him. “You have a family; better than you’ve ever dreamed. You even get a respectable job, and it pays for two top-of-the-line hovercars, and vacations in Bermuda and Taipei and all over the world.”

He’s leaning in, as if he wants to grab the house right out of the portal. I can feel his longing; I remember its echoes in my own heart. “That’s my future, huh?” Young Sam says.

“Yes, Sam,” I say. “It’s all going to be alright.”

“So you’re telling me you came all the way from the future to show off all the cool stuff you’ve got?” He opens his arms, angry. “You came here to goddamn brag, old man?!”

“What? No,” I say, flabbergasted. “I remember how bad this year was, how bad the next was, and I thought if you saw that things were going to work out, you’d feel better and it wouldn’t be so hard.”

My younger self snorted. I don’t remember being so rude. “Man, I get stupid when I’m dumb. You think I want some crazy asshole to come up, tell me he’s from the future and show me a bunch of shit I can’t have? Well, no thanks. I’m not waitin’ around for no punk-ass future.” Out of nowhere, young Sam slams his open palm on my hat, pulling it down over my eyes. While I’m blinded, he yanks the portal fob from my hand and knocks me to the ground.

I look up just in time to see those stupid unlaced boots disappearing into the portal.

“Well, that didn’t go exactly as planned,” I say to the Dumpster, dusting off my hat and sighing. “Thank goodness I bought the time travel insurance.” I walked back to the sidewalk to wait for the time governors to pick me up and dump my stupid younger self back in 1987.

Kids in these days; no respect for their future elders.

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A Calendar of Tales: November

“My medical records, but only if that would make it all go away.”

Roslin fiddled anxiously with her datapad. She’d been waiting for this meeting for nearly three years; so much hung in the balance. It was odd to be wishing she was sick enough, the sickest person they’d seen, really, but that was what she had to do, had to be, if she wanted priority placement in the program.

She breathed rapid, shallow breaths through her oxygen tube. Of course, Roslin always breathed poorly, limited by her faulty, broken, accursed lungs, but this was worse than usual. She flicked the regulator to increase the flow of the life-giving supply, and tried to slow her breathing. Too nervous. Had to calm down.

A nurse appeared at the door. “Roslin?” he called, mispronouncing her name.

“Here,” she answered, her voice hardly a whisper. “Here I am.”

Roslin guided her chair forward, careful on the hard turns that could disrupt her stabilizers. The nurse nodded and held the door open. “Follow me, please.”

He led her back into a sparse conference room. At the table placed perpendicularly to the entrance sat five people: the program representatives. The people who would determine her fate. Roslin could find no smiles, no reassuring looks. She sucked air nervously into her failing lungs.

“Ms. Roslin Miller?” A woman on the far right flicked through a datapad. “Cystic fibrosis patient, already rejected one set of donor lungs; also incompatible with all known synthetic lungs?”

“Yes, ma’am,” Roslin wheezed. “I’ve had a number of challenges.”

“That seems like an understatement.” The speaker this time was a man on the left. Roslin didn’t know how to respond, so just sat silently.

The man in the middle folded his fingers into a tent. “Do you understand the implications of what we are offering with this experimental program, Ms. Miller?”

“Yes,” Roslin said. She breathed deeply, trying to compensate for the difficulty of speech.

“And why should you be selected, Ms. Miller?” The man, this whole group that was weighing the fate of her life, seemed so indifferent. If her broken, disabled body was not enough, weren’t the detailed medical records they each read with such detachment?

“My only hope – left is to be – admitted. Please — accept my application. — I have already – more than – outlived – doctors’ expectations.” She panted for a moment, struggling. “I don’t know – how much more time – I have.”

“Thank you for your time, Ms. Miller,” said a new speaker, a petite woman sitting toward the left. “Please give us a few minutes to confer and we will have our response as soon as possible.”

With that, the five people stood and stepped out of the room.

The next five minutes were the longest of Roslin’s life. What if they said no? What was left for her then? She blinked her eyes closed against the depression lurking, and said a prayer. To anybody, anyone who would listen; God, the hospital, this panel. Please. Please let it work out this time.

When the door clicked open, Roslin froze with terror. The faces of the panelists were unreadable. Oh god—

“Ms. Miller,” the center man said, “We believe you are an excellent candidate for the process.”

Elation. Pure ecstatic elation.

The next hour was a blur. Fingerprinting datapads, releasing indemnity, contacting her mother, her emergency contacts, preparing for the procedure, settling in the chair in the shining metal hospital room.

“You understand all risks and possible side-effects from this procedure? You voluntarily agree to this experimental process?” the nurse asked the questions for what felt like the 10th time.

“Yes, yes,” Roslin said eagerly.

“Then the process will begin in a few moments.” He left the room, and Roslin heard the door behind her click closed.

The air filled with a buzzing hum, the temperature growing warmer, a too-hot coat worn in summer. Roslin sucked air into her impaired lungs, frightened of the heat, of the building pressure. The machine above her clicked on, and a blue light scanned her from head to foot and back again.

The mix of air in her breathing tube changed: the nanobots released into her system to reprogram her genetic code—to repair her body from the inside out.

Roslin screamed.

Every cell in her body burned with an internal fire, erasing the record of damage done, of every attempted and failed medical procedure, of each tortured breath.

Roslin burned as the Phoenix process remade her anew.

—–

“Roslin? Roslin, baby, wake up. Roslin?”

Roslin blinked slowly, eyes heavy. “Hello?”  She stretched and yawned, rolling toward the voice.

“Hey baby.” The woman smiling down at her looked kind, the wrinkles around her eyes relaxing at Roslin faced her.

“Hello,” Roslin said again. She took a deep breath and sat up, and the woman at the side of her bed gasped in surprise and covered her mouth with her hands. “Are… are you my mother?” Roslin said uncertainly.

“You can breathe!” The woman who might be her mother said. “Oh my god, baby, you can breathe!”

Roslin considered for a moment. “Yes, I can. Is that unusual?”

“The procedure worked! It’s a miracle!” The woman rushed forward, arms extended. Roslin balked, and the woman stopped. “Don’t you remember? You went through the Phoenix process? Just yesterday. You have—had!—cystic fibrosis, but they’ve cured you, baby!”

Roslin stared back. “I—I don’t remember.”

A nurse in green scrubs came in. “Mrs. Miller, come with me, please,” he said, and took the older woman aside.

“Mrs. Miller,” he said when they were out of the room with the door closed. “We’re finding that retrograde amnesia is associated with this kind of procedure. Roslin may not remember anything from her life before yesterday’s surgery. It seems…” he paused, pursing his lips. “It seems that her genetic deformity may have been interrelated with her memories of the illness. We cured the genetic mutation; it’s possible that we also rewrote her memories from the time of her illness.”

“What?” Roslin’s mother said. “My daughter has had cystic fibrosis her whole life. What does that mean? What will she remember?”

The nurse looked away. “She agreed to the Phoenix procedure. We have all the documents…She may not remember anything. It may all be gone.”

The elder Miller stared in shock. The nurse tried for a bright side: “It is possible, with time, that she will remember parts of her old life. But I recommend you focus on her rejuvenated future.”

Mrs. Miller wiped the tears from her eyes and walked back into the room that held her daughter, new-born at 43 years old.

Read more of the calendar tales.

(This story inspired by my friend David Miller, who has cystic fibrosis and as I was writing this was getting his new lung transplant after three years on the waiting list! Please consider being an organ donor to help people like David.)

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A Calendar of Tales: October

“A djinn. Not to make a wish. But for the very best advice on how to be happy w/ what you already have.”

431. 433. 435…ah, there it is. David stopped in front of the sliding metal door marked 437. He savored the possibilities for a moment—what treasures might be held in this nondescript storage locker?–before fitting the small brass key to the padlock. The lock snicked open and David felt his back twinge a little as he pulled the door up.

Inside, the room was stacked with… boxes. Just cardboard boxes, smelling of old paper and dust.

Well, it’s not supposed to be obvious. David sighed and stepped in to open the boxes, carefully. His wife had been encouraging him to find some kind of hobby; he found fishing boring and he scored too high for golf. While watching TV one night, she’d suggested this: searching for treasures by buying abandoned storage units. She’d made it sound fun, exciting; an adventure!

This was not an adventure. This was an awful lot like work.

David went through the boxes, one by one. It seemed like the contents of a shabby apartment, mostly. Now that he was a quarter of the way in the room, he had revealed a beat-up couch with monstrous red rose fabric. It probably wasn’t sellable—he’d more likely have to burn it, it was so hideous—but it made a good place to rest for now. He flopped into it, sending up a cloud of dust that made him cough and sneeze.

He opened the next box. It held a bunch of knickknacks, mostly. One looked like a kids’ trophy; maybe he could Sherlock-Holmes it and find the kid and return his long-lost trophy!

David rubbed at the dust, trying to read the inscription.

“ALA-KAZAM!”

A voice boomed and echoed in the metal-walled locker, and David doubled-up, trying to clear the sudden smoke from his lungs and eyes.

“What the hell?!” David said.

“IT IS I, THE GREAT SAFWAT, DJINN OF ARABIA,” the blue smoke-monster grinned down at David from where it hovered. “WHAT IS IT YOU WISH OF ME, LORD AND MASTER?”

“Um,” David said. “Sorry, gin? I haven’t been drinking the right mix. I only get a hangover.”

“I AM NOT A BEVERAGE AND THIS IS NO LAUGHING MATTER,” Safwat said. “I MAY GRANT YOU THREE WISHES, AS YOU DESIRE.”

David scratched his head. “No kidding, wishes? Huh. What do other people wish for?”

“TREASURE BEYOND IMAGINING,” Safwat said. “POWER. LOVE. VENGEANCE. PEOPLE WISH FOR MANY THINGS.”

“And you just give it to them?” David shook his head. “Sorry, I’ve gotten a lot of junk mail in my day, and this frankly sounds too good to be true. Am I on a reality show? Where’s the camera? Don’t I have to sign a waiver or somethin’?”

“MY OFFER IS TRUE,” the djinn said.

“Rrriiight, sure it is. So the person you gave ‘treasure beyond imagining,’ what happened to him?”

“HE WAS SULTAN OF THE KINGDOM.”

“Well that sounds pretty good. Lived happily ever after, I suppose?”

“LIVED HAPPILY UNTIL HIS REIGN ENDED.”

“Long and happy life as a king? That sounds decent.”

“HIS REIGN WAS 4 DAYS. THE PRIOR SULTAN DID NOT APPROVE OF MY FORMER MASTER.”

“Heh, yeah, I can bet that didn’t go well. You didn’t say that he’d replaced another guy to take the king gig.” David shrugged. “So what about someone else—how about vengeance? How’d that one go?”

“MY LORD WISHED FOR HIS LIFE’S WORK TO BE REMEMBERED FOR ALL TIME, WHILE HIS PEERS WERE FORGOTTEN.”

David nodded. “That sounds like a pretty good wish. How’d it work out?”

“SHIPBUILDER THOMAS ANDREWS IS FEATURED IN MANY MUSEUMS AROUND THE WORLD, AND ALL KNOW THE NAME OF HIS PRIMARY VESSEL.”

“Oh? Which one was that? I’m not a big naval buff—“

“TITANIC,” the djinn interjected.

“—Oh. Yikes,” David tutted through his teeth. “Apparently these wishes need to be specific. So what did you give the last person you talked to?”

“HE WISHED TO BE REUNITED WITH HIS LOST LOVE,” Safwat said. His voice continued to echo in the small space; David hoped no one could hear it.

“And you did that for him?” David asked.

“YES.”

“And then they were, what, happily ever after?”

“I DO NOT KNOW THEIR EMOTIONS. BUT THEY ARE TOGETHER. FOREVER UNITED IN DEATH.”

David’s mouth hung open. “See, that’s just what I’m talking about. I bet the guy didn’t even know this ‘lost love’ of his was dead. And so he made that wish and you killed him and oh my god that’s why he stopped paying for the storage unit!”

David stood up and paced the room, then turned and shook a finger at Safwat. “That’s what we call a bad deal. You’re not really providing a good incentive to make wishes here.”

“IT IS MY PURPOSE,” Safwat said.

“Yeah, well, I think I’m good. All your wishes end in death! No thanks, I think I’m set. I’ve got a nice—small, but a realtor would call it ‘cozy’—house, a wife who cares about me and makes excellent pies; I’ve got a job that pays the bills. The only problem I had was a lack of a hobby. And I think I’ve found another one to cross off my list. This one’s no good either!” David threw up his hands.

“WOULD YOU LIKE TO WISH FOR ANOTHER ONE?” Safwat said, sounding almost pleading.

“No thanks, I’ll figure out the hobby on my own.” David approached the cloud of blue smoke with hand extended. “Nice meeting you Safwat. Can I drop you off somewhere or something?”

The cloud of smoke eyed David’s hand and continued hovering. “I DO NOT UNDERSTAND. EVERYONE WISHES.”

“Yeah, well, I’m good, thanks. I’m heading out now, so go back into your trophy or let me know where to take you. I’ve got gas for a good 50 miles.”

Safwat hesitated. “YOU WOULD ALLOW ME TO LEAVE MY VESSEL?”

“Sure, go ahead, why not. Nice talkin’ with ya, Safwat. Have a good life, or eternity, or whatever.”

The blue mist swirled and spiraled. David took that as a sign the conversation was over, and slid the door down, locking it again with the key. A moment later, a handsome man dressed in a blue tunic appeared outside the storage unit.

“Woah there, startled me,” David said. “That you Safwat?”

The man nodded. David smiled. “Well then, here, why don’t you take this key? You’ve got enough in there to set yourself up with a decent apartment.”

Safwat took the key uncertainly, and David went home. When he arrived, he kissed his wife and told her he’d give fishing a second chance.

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A Calendar of Tales: September

“My mother’s lion ring, lost & found 3 times over… Some things aren’t meant to be kept.”

Nothing among the fey is upfront; I knew that. Still, when Mother gave me the lion ring, I believed it to be a genuine gift, freely given from love.

‘Twas foolish of me.

It was a test. But now I have caught wind of it, and know just what to do.

‘Twas the spring of my Awakening year. Immortal we may be, but not ageless, and Mother’s gift marked the beginnings of my adulthood. The little daemon in the ring was now my responsibility, to be fed three drops of mortal’s blood every day and thus kept complacent. That was my duty, and my honor.

The first time the ring was out of place, I admit I panicked. I ransacked my bower, overturned my bed of petals and dew, upheaved the thistle and grass. With burgeoning wildness I ran through the gardens—I must have been a wicked sight, a holy terror to behold. Just as I was ready to throw myself upon my Mother’s mercy, beg for her aid, did I hear the titter of laughter on the quietest breeze. I found the leprechaun hiding in my eaves and snatched him up, shaking him until he released my precious ring.

With only minutes remaining, I slipped into the village of mortals and squeezed the drops of blood from the seamstress’s pricked finger.

To prevent further loss, I wore the ring on my right hand, so I could never forget it. While I bathed in the deep foamy surf, a selkie  appeared. My kind don’t often interact with the seal-swimmers, but she was friendly, and we soon set about to splashing with great joy.

It wasn’t until she swam off that I realized the ring had gone. White with rage, I dove into the sea and chased the blubbery villain. I followed her into the depths, but that is where she is mighty and I am weak. Thinking she had won, she splashed about, mocking me, the ring held firmly in her teeth.

But the fey are never without friends. I called to the dolphins, friends of the court, and their hard noses and strong fins showed the selkie how foolish she had been.

Now not trusting the ring even on my finger, I wore it on a shining silver chain around my neck. I was in the human village, visiting the houses of those who honor the fey, leaving gifts where appropriate and snatching trinkets from the unwary. I had slipped the gold from a drunkard’s pocket when I ran—quite literally—into the most beautiful man I had ever seen. His skin oozed loveliness, and I wanted to melt into his arms forever. We talked, and I walked with him into the fair places in the woods, and all was wonderful. Heady with love, I brought him to my bower to enjoy the riches of life, and he asked me for the ring. Drunk on his affections, I slipped the chain off my neck—

–and how he howled in pain as the iron I’d had inlaid burned his skin, shattering his glamor and revealing him as the gancanagh he truly was.

That last incident was too much; for a fey to use his glamor on another of our kind is high treachery. He kneeled there, weeping in agony, and in my anger I scalded him again and again with the wicked ring, ‘til he confessed his motive: my Mother had sent him.

—-

So now I know just what to do. In the village is a man, too proud and brash. He disrespects the Old Ways and shows no graciousness for the fey. I have left the little daemon where he shall find it. Now it shall not trouble me further, and it shall have all the mortal blood it needs.

Some gifts aren’t meant to be kept.

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A Calendar of Tales: August

“August would speak of its empire lasting forever whilst glancing, warily, at the leaves cooking on the trees.”

“’Course there ain’t no chupacabras. But that don’t mean they ain’t real. They usedta run all round these parts. No, chiyle, there ain’t no chupacabras no more cuz Lucky Lyra Riley done cooked ‘em all up good.

Now, if yer thinkin’ this is gonna be one-a dem Pecos Bill tall tales, don’t. My stories are all true. I ain’t got no time for bullshit like them stories. Who ever done hear of a blue ox anyhow? No, chiyle, this story is the truth, God’s honest. I done seen it with my own two eyes.

It happen one summer back when the whole family lived in west Texas, back when the plains was still wile’. Now I was just a little sweet thang, cuter even than you, if’n you can believe it.

It was August, back when there weren’t no school cuz the days was too hot. Sometime I’d sit out behind the dogs just to catch the breeze off their tails, true enough.

August in Texas lasts ferever. It’s jes’ like today, but worse by a million degrees. Ain’t nothing you can do about it back then, neither. You wake up hot, you sweat all day an’ taste like salt, you go to bed hot, and even the lightest sheet weighs heavy like 15 blankets. Mmm-mm. It was godawful hot. An’ this August was perticularly uncomfortable. It jes made you want to up and die already. Even if you went to tha bad place, you was probly better off.

We was all layin’ about on the porch, hidin’ from the sun and prayin’ for a breeze, when in to down comes Lucky Lyra Riley. She’s ridin’ her horse, the finest animal you ever did see, with eyes like rubies and hooves that could crush a man an’ keep on goin’. I ain’t never heard tell of no otha animal half as wondrous as that horse.

An’ there on top is Miss Lyra. Oooh-ee. She was a fine lookin’ woman, and brave, braver than 10 men, though you wouldn’t see them say so.

She was comin’ to town cuz she done heard tell we had a chupacabra problem. And boy did we! Every night we done had to wrangle up all the littlest kids and our animals  so’s that those dread beasts wouldna come suck up all their blood. That meant we had 5 people, 18 goats, and 14 chickins in our little 3-room shack when it was hotter than hell!

So we says ‘thank ya Miss Lyra,’ and invited her in fer dinner. She said she would mighty well like a bite, and she came in and tole’ us all her ‘ventures. Anyhow, Miss Lyra finishes eatin’ and she says ‘thank ya kindly’ and heads off into the night.

The nex’ mornin’, roundabout 10 a.m., we sees Miss Lyra come cloppin’ back to down. Her horses’ whithers is all foamy from runnin’ and it drinks up enough water for our whole herd-a goats. She tells us she done been chasin’ them chupacabras, but they’re wily, ohhh how wily they is.

She stayed an’ rested in the shade all day—us kids went fer rides on her great big horse—and at night she went off again into the wilderness. In the night we heard a mighty scuffle way off in the plains—barkin’ and shots fired an’ whatnot, and it was very excitin’ but we was all scared for Miss Lyra because we got bigger chupacabras than anywhere else in the whole state. We’re afraid she got et up.

But no, come mornin’ there she is, her horse walkin’ behind her. She got a bandage on her arm, but it’s ok, and she got a brace of jackalope to boot. She says them chupacabra’s built a trap fer her out in the wild places, an’ they nearly got her, but she is smart an’ got away.

We cooked up those jackalope fer dinner that night, and dem horned rabbits was the best tastin’ food I ever did et. You better believe it.

We kids knew what was comin’ next, and we was all so excited we couldn’t sleep none. Daddy let us sit on the porch an’ wait up. The moon was high and we could very nearly see all the way to El Paso, an’ we sat there an’ watched Miss Lyra ride off into the wilds.

It was a frightful scene. Them chupacabra ain’t nuthin’ like what you see on the tellyvision now; no sir. They was as big as a mule, but could shrink up real small, too, to sneak in and bite ya. Miss Lyra was out there with her mighty horse, and we can see she ropes the biggest one up good, but it pulls and pulls and pulls.

Her horse, it digs in its feet, but them chupacabras runs in packs, and they all get on up to the rope and pulls back. Well, Miss Lyra ain’t called Lucky fer nuthin’, cuz alla sudden, out comes a big ole’ rattler, angry at bein’ disturbed in his sleep. He jumps up and bites the chupacabra, and it lays down dead.

Now Miss Lyra only got the weaker chupacabras to deal with, and she sets  her horse up into an amazin’ gallop, draggin’ that dead blood-sucker all around the plain. The other beasts, seein’ their leader so shamed, come runnin’ along after it, howlin’ and barkin’, but see, that jes’ be part of Miss Lyra’s plan. She spurs her horse to run faster, faster than any beast ever did run, and the chupacabra draggin’ along behind. Well, the horse ran so fast, that chupacabra jes’ burst right into flame!

The others are quite surprised by this, as you might imagine, but they keep on chasin’ Miss Lyra. So she has ta keep runnin’, and her horse, it is draggin’ this fiery devil dog along behind.

My daddy, seein’ what’s comin’, rounds up all us kids in the wagon and we runs away, fast as we can. You see, Miss Lyra’s chupacabra chase done lit the west on fire!

Them dogs stayed on her heels all night long, and half the west got done burned right up, in a fire so fierce it made smoke thicker’n night—so we got the cool weather we had prayed for. Miss Lyra done ride off, right into the sunrise, and took them devil dogs with her.

And that’s why there ain’t no chupacabra ‘round no more. They all got burned up by Miss Lyra and the sun.

Now go run along to bed, ya hear? Go on, git!”

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A Calendar of Tales: July

“…an igloo made of books.”

Abby’s shoe, one of the sparkly ones with horses that lit up when she stepped, was untied. The flopping pink lace got snagged under her other foot as she turned out of the lunch line, and Abby WHOOMPHed flat on her face, scraping her knee and sending jambalaya flying. It landed in her hair and on her back, and she jumped up—Ow! Ow! OW!—hollering as the hot mush seeped through her shirt.

All 324 other kids in her grade pointed and laughed.   Mrs. Turner, the lunch lady with purple old-lady hair, took Abby to the main office and gave her a new T-shirt. It was too big and hung almost to Abby’s bleeding knees, but Mrs. Turner said it was better than wearing your lunch all day. She also tied Abby’s shoe laces, so tight Abby thought her feet were going to pop.

When Abby made it back through the line, a new helping of brown lunch mush on her tray, the other kids kept teasing her. She stared at her classmates, now nearly finished eating, and found no one inviting her to sit down. She sat alone at the end of one of the long tables after a group of boys raced off to recess. She ate half the meal, even though it was her favorite at the cafeteria, and slumped to the playground.

She didn’t have anyone to play with. Twice she approached a group playing tag or bouncing a ball, and they laughed. “Ha ha, Abby dontcha know you’re not sapposed to put food in your hair?! Ha ha, Abby’s so gross! Abby, why are you so dumb?!”

Abby sat on a swing and cried, head buried in her too-big ugly t-shirt, until the bell rang to go inside.
____

Tuesday was no better. At least it was pizza day, Abby thought, because if she fell now the pizza wouldn’t make a mess or anything. She sat next to a group of girls whose desks were near hers and picked off the pepperoni squares.

No one talked to her.

At recess she climbed to the top of a rickety old wooden fort that most of the kids didn’t like anymore—they played on the new metal playset with the monkey bars and the twisty slide.

She pretended she was on a desserted island. No one would ever find her out here, and there was all the ice cream and cake she could eat.

—–

It rained on Wednesday, so all the kids were sent to the library after finishing lunch. Abby gave her cookie to Katy, one of the cool kids, and Katy took it but then went and sat on the beanbags with girls with new hairbows and pens that wrote in different colors.

Abby wandered into the library stacks and built an igloo out of books. She crawled in and talked with a polar bear and a penguin. She told them about the cartoon she had watched last night, how the unicorn knew friendly ponies and they all had adventures together. The penguin told Abby she could have adventures, too, but Abby fretted that she needed magic at least.

When the bell rang, the librarian found Abby sitting in her circle of books, and made Abby late to class because she had to put them all back. The librarian gave her teacher a note, and Abby slunk back to her seat.

Timmy whispered to Katy behind his hand, and Katy giggled while sneaking glances at Abby. Abby hid behind a book.
___

The next day the weather was fine and Abby felt pretty in her green jumper. She was wearing the plastic hair clips with cat faces that her aunt had given her for Hanukkah. AND the cafeteria had peach slices, yum. She talked with Sue-Ellen, who had drawn a butterfly on her wrist with marker and was saying it was a tattoo, in the lunch line, and followed her to the long tables.

They sat together, talking about the art project the class had worked on that morning. Abby waited until Sue-Ellen was done, and followed her outside. No one teased her, and that was good.

Abby pretended to be a jaguar. Sue-Ellen hung upside-down and was a monkey throwing bananas at the scary, spotted cat.
___

On Friday, Abby and Sue-Ellen waited in the lunch line together. Abby gave her chocolate pudding to Sue-Ellen in trade for her strawberry fruit leather. They were arguing fiercely about whether or not they might find buried treasure on the playground. (Sue-Ellen thought maybe if they dug in the sandbox deep enough.)

When they were putting up their trays by the trash cans, Sue-Ellen slipped on a crumpled napkin. Her arms flailed as she fell, and Abby caught her elbow, steadying her.

Abby smiled.

Sue-Ellen smiled back.

They raced each other to the playground.

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