Aoudad, Poor Dad

Aoudad

Thunder was rumbling in the distance as my partner and I got into the jeep. Jake and I were almost always teamed up for these runs, as much because we worked well together as because people think our names looked cute on the schedule together: Jake and Jen. Never underestimate a zoo admin’s sense of whimsy.

It was six in the evening, but it was summer so the sun had only barely begun its slide from day to night, as far as anyone could tell through the cloud cover. We were on our way up Cheetah Hill to see if we could find a brand-new baby aoudad.

“You think the thunder will have them in the trees?” I asked.

Jake was our senior hoofstock specialist. I’m one of the three veterinarians at the Conserve. We take turns being on call, three days on, three days off, rotating Sundays. That day was my Sunday, and while I loved the mornings, by afternoon we always had all sorts of minor emergencies. Mostly because Sunday afternoons were crazy busy with families who came through after church.

The Conserve is a drive-through safari park, and we do our best to limit the traffic. We charge per person, not per vehicle, and we limit people to one bag of kibble each. But when it’s a warm spring day, and folks know there are baby animals around, it gets crowded, and people do stupid shit.

We had human medics at the admissions area and at the café and rest stop that are the half-way point on our safari, for the inevitable nips that happen when parents don’t control their kids, and let them pet or attempt to hand feed the animals. (Never mind that there were signs everywhere, and more warnings in the map and animal identification pamphlet we provide.)

But for the animals, we were the folks who handled everything from lacerations to matting incidents to dental care on the rhinos and – that day – hopefully – tagging a newborn baby sheep. Or goat. The thing about aoudads is that they’re a bridge species, half-way between the two.

Maybe it was because the approach to Cheetah Hill was the steepest part of the Conserve, or maybe they just liked the way the grass tasted there, but it was where the aoudads congregated.

Jake decelerated, til we were crawling up the hill at less than five miles an hour, and I had my head out the window searching the throng of animals. Of course, we had kibble with us, and we tossed them liberally, partly to keep the road clear, and partly because new mamas were typically incredibly hungry.

“Look, there’s Poor Dad,” I said, as a bearded sheep/goat countenance came into view. “We found papa.”

“Why do you call him that? I thought his name was Dave?”

“There’s this play I read in high school. It was one of the ones everyone pulled monologues from. Oh Dad, Poor Dad, Mamma’s Hung You in the Closet and I’m Feeling So Sad.”

“Are there animals in it?”

“Only the human kind. For some reason, the word ‘aoudad’ just feels like it should be followed with the rest. So, he’s Aoudad, Poor Dad. And really, it’s not inaccurate. He’s got to service all these females whenever they’re in season.”

It was typical in wildlife parks, to have only one or two males of any hoofstock species and whole herds of females. Female hoofstock are pretty docile, and we just kept the boys separate when the weren’t in service.

“You have a point. Wait… look. On the right… Is that…?”

“Number 526 and a calf… yep.”

“Jake stopped the jeep. “Okay, let’s do this.”

For a skilled team, bagging, tagging, and returning a baby aoudad took less then then minutes. I helped drive the calf into Jake’s arms, and he lifted her into the back of our vehicle, holding her still  while I noted her weight, temperature, heart rate, and confirmed her sex. Then I pulled an ear tag out of my kit, logged the number, and gave the wee baby her first – and likely only – piece of jewelry.

That calf handled it like a pro, bleating only once, and then nuzzling us in search of milk. As soon as I said, “Done,” Jake scooped her up again and  returned her to her confused mother. We gave mama handfuls of kibble, then patted her rump sending her away.

As to Poor Dad… hoofstock don’t really co-parent, but he seemed to understand that we were welcoming his offspring to our greater Herd. He gave us a grave nod – not difficult as most adult aoudads look like ancient Hebrew scholars – as if to tell us he approved.

We got back in the jeep, and Jake glanced over at me. “Wanna take the long way? See the cats on the way back?”

“Yeah,” I said. “Let me just radio back.”

I called in the successful ID, and told them we were taking the scenic route, and then Jake put the jeep back in gear and we continued up the hill.

The thunderclouds burst open as we reached the crest, but we didn’t care. The cheetahs loved to frolic in  warm rain, and we spent our time watching them, driving impossibly slowly.

“There’s a live band down at The Barn tonight,” Jake mentioned casually – too casually – as we moved past the last enclosure. “Wanna go? Get a burger and a beer and maybe dance?”

And there it was: the elephant, or, uh, aoudad, in the room. The other reason the admin always scheduled us together. Jake had a thing for me, and I kinda had a think for him, and we were too focused on the job to ever really go there.

Or maybe we weren’t.

“Sure,” I said. “You wanna meet or…?”

“I’ll pick you up at eight.”

We had cabins on the Conserve property, all the permanent animal care people, so it wasn’t like he didn’t know where I lived.

“Okay, then,” I said. “See you at eight.”

Maybe we’d end up being colleagues grabbing a meal, or maybe it would end up as more, but either way, it didn’t matter. We’d had a successful tagging and got to see cheetahs in the rain. Nothing could ruin the day.

 

 

But, the Wolf?

But, the Wolf

But, the Wolf

 

They found her, naked, curled into a protective ball – not quite the fetal position – nestled in between the great roots of a giant tree.

“We’re so glad we found you,” they said. They didn’t ask how she’d  come to be there; they simply accepted her return.  “Here, put this on.”

It was her cape, of course, the red one she hadn’t worn since childhood. (And she was quite obviously no longer a child.)  She wanted to shred the thing, but conceding to the cold and their false modesty (for they were looking at her nude form, all of them) she wrapped it around her,  at least enough that her soft, pink parts were hidden from the public eye.

“Were you miserable?” they demanded. “Alone with that creature?”

“No,” she said. “He was quite lovely, really.”

“But he swallowed you. The woodsman saw it.”

“No, he saw what he wanted to see. The wolf protected me from Grandmother’s dark beliefs and black magic.”

“But he had such big teeth, such demonic eyes – surely you were afraid?”

“No,” she said. “He made sure I was warm and dry and well fed. He made sure no danger approached me. My sleep was untroubled.”

She didn’t tell them that the wolf’s fur was softer than any of the mink coats the old women lusted after, winter after winter, but never dared to make or buy. She didn’t tell them that his thick tail would loop around her wrist when she was frightened, or that he would curl himself around her when the nights were freezing, or below.

She certainly didn’t tell him, that he wasn’t really a wolf at all, but a werewolf, in full control of both form and faculties.

And she absolutely didn’t tell them that it was possible she was carrying his child. Or children. Or pups. (Would they be pups? Would it matter if they were?)

She wanted to run back to his  – well, lair wasn’t really the right word. Cave? Home? Den. Yes… den. Den connoted a safe and cozy feeling, and she had been both, and more.

“But the wolf,” she asked, her voice trembling because of her worry for him, “is he unharmed?”

“We couldn’t find him,” one of the hunters said. “It’s like he never existed.”

They took her to her mother’s home, where she found the woman much diminished. Her father had long since disappeared into the forest. Maybe he’d found a she-wolf companion – they said these things ran in families – but more likely, he’d found a bottle, and a river, and a rock, and would never been seen again.

Pity.

She’d have liked to have words with him. About not telling her that his mother was a dark witch who wanted to lock her up til she was thirty. About not telling her that the forest creatures weren’t always dangerous. About not telling her to think first and slash out with her knife second.

She’d cut him. Not her father, but the wolf. She’d drawn his blood while he never drew hers. Well, not with a knife. But she’d been a virgin the first time he’d lain with her, and that kind of bloodstain was better earned.

A week passed, then a fortnight, then a month. On the day after the full moon, he came to her door in human form.

“I love your daughter,” he told her poor, insane mother. “I wish to marry her. She’s carrying my child.”

Her mother approved; the date was set. After the old woman was well asleep, he went to her bedroom.

“I love you,” he gave her the words he’d shared with her parent. “I’ve missed you.”

“But, the wolf?” she asked, her hand curving protectively around her belly.

His eyes flashed amber for a moment, then soft brown replaced them. “Oh, the wolf… he loves you too.”

Image Copyright : Natalia Lukiyanova via 123rf.com

La Petite Mort

Like the Prose: Challenge #30 – Write a cheerful story about death.

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“Was it good for you?” Basil asked me when I came back to myself after our first ‘intimate joining,’ as he called it.

I burst out laughing. “Are you really using that line?”

His silver face was guileless. “Is there something inappropriate in the question, Zoe? I wished to ascertain if I pleased you adequately. I know of no better way than to simply… ask.”

I rolled over in his bed and propped my head on my hand. “Aren’t you supposed to be the galaxy’s greatest observer? Couldn’t you tell from the way I was practically unconscious?”

“I was aware you had… become somewhat absent… but inducing a physical response is not the be-all and end-all of sex, Zoe, even for a synthetic lifeform like myself.” His tone softened. “I wish to know if you were  – are – emotionally satisfied as well.”

“Oh, Basil…” He really was so caring. “Yes… and… no.”

“I am confused.”

“Yes, I was in the moment. For a first time… it wasn’t terribly awkward, we fit together rather well, I think?” I paused to let him respond.

“I concur.”

“Good, and you read my responses really well. And… god, you already know I love you.”

“I love you, also, Zoe, but I am not a god, only Basil.”

I grinned; this was his default response to my colloquial invocation of a deity, and it never failed to amuse me.

“Okay, good.”

“But why did you also say ‘no?'”

“Because, Basil, darling, we – you and me, as a couple – as lovers  – we’re just beginning. And complete emotional satisfaction would imply there’s nowhere else to go, nothing left to experience, and that’s not true, because we’re constantly growing and changing. Even artificial lifeforms like you.”

“That is true.”

“You know, some people refer to that blissed-out, semi-conscious, post-orgasmic state as la petite mort. The little death.”

“I am aware, Zoe. And you are no doubt aware that the term is not limited to post-coital bliss, but also refers to the sense of satisfaction on might feel when connecting to a great work of art or completing a piece of literature or connecting with a scientific theorem.”

“Basil…”

“You were not finished with your thought.”

“Not exactly, no.”

“Please continue.”

“I only meant to say that I observed your circuits getting a little frizzled there after you came.”

“‘Frizzled?'”

“Your auditory processors weren’t working correctly, and you were blinking a lot.”

“Ah. Perhaps it would be sufficient for me to simply say that… it was good for me, too.”

Carob and Peppermint

Like the Prose: Challenge #29 – Revisit one of your previous challenge pieces and rewrite it from a different POV. (I chose Carob Drops.)

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“I will check on her,” I say, “Stay by the fire. Enjoy your wine.” I leave my wife on the couch and move into the kitchen. Calling up the stairs, I assure our young houseguest, “Sophie, it is just a power outage from the storm. You are safe.”

A tremulous voice responds, “Okay.”

I’ve already got the kettle on – fortunately our stove is a gas one – and a mug ready with a bag of fragrant peppermint tea. Peppermint was my favorite, as a boy, and I suspect the child in our loft will appreciate it also. If you stir in just the right amount of turbinado sugar or organic honey it is as if you are drinking a candy-cane.

The kettle whistles. I pour the water over the bag, agitate it with a spoon, and gather the rest of my supplies: a storm lantern, a battered paperback novel, a zip-lock bag of tiny brown candies. Separately these things seem ordinary. Together, they are an arsenal meant to battle a small girl’s fear of (I chuckle to myself as the clichéd phrase comes to mind unbidden) a dark and stormy night.

The tea is ready. I remove the bag after pressing out the water, and decide honey is better than sugar on this night, though I’m generous with the sticky sweetener. In doing so, I become the little girl’s co-conspirator, and perhaps, one day, a friend, rather than the strange brown man who married her mother’s college roommate.

I light the lantern, and place it, and everything else on a bed tray – the kind the with the fold-down legs. So armed, I leave the candle-lit glow of the kitchen and climb the stairs to the loft where our bedrooms are. Sophie is in the smallest one. It’s not more than a nook, really: a small space for a small child. Perhaps, one day, the child will be his child. (I spend a moment imagining a daughter with Emily’s bright blue eyes set into tawny skin slightly lighter than my own, but with my jet-black hair. Or a son, with my dark eyes, but his mother’s soft features. It doesn’t matter… but I hope… oh, I hope….)

“Sophie?” I balance the tray on one arm and knock on the open door. “May I enter?”

“Hi, Rajesh.” Her dark eyes seem huge in the flickering lantern light. They’re not as dark as mine, and yet, I feel a kinship with this child. “Is Mom okay?”

“She is fine. She called earlier. Her conference is going well, and she said to tell you she loves you and to be good. Your Aunt Emily is so cozy on the couch that when you called out, I asked her if she would let me come keep you company for a few moments. Do you mind?”

She shakes her head, and I see her golden braids bob back and forth. “No. I don’t mind. What’s on the tray?”

“Supplies,” I say, making my voice mysterious. “The storm is loud, but you know it cannot get in, yes?”

“Yes,” she agrees. “I know.”

“Still, it makes it difficult to sleep. When I cannot sleep, I like to read, and your mother has mentioned that you, too, like stories, so I have brought you one of my favorites.” I place the lantern on the desk near the bed while I talk to her, just far enough away so that an errant hand cannot knock it over, and then I show her the cover of the book. “A Wrinkle in Time,” I intone. “Have you read it? It’s about a very brave girl, a little older than you are.”

“Is there magic in it?”

“Not precisely. There’s science in it. And sometimes science can seem like magic. Would you like to try it?”

But she’s already taken it from me and is reading the blurb on the back. “I think I’ll like it.”

“I think so, too. I first read it when I was nine.”

“I’m only eight.”

“It doesn’t matter.”

“Oh. Okay.” She sniffs the air. “I smell peppermint.”

“Ah, yes. More supplies.” I take the mug of tea from the tray. “Peppermint tea with honey in it. It’s still quite hot, so sip it carefully.”

“I will.”

“And one more thing.” I dangle the bag of candies in front of her.

“Chocolate?”

“Not quite.”

“Then what?”

“Carob drops.”

“What’s carob?”

I smile at her. “It’s a sort of bean from my country. It comes from a kind of evergreen tree, but not the kind we have here. It tastes a lot like chocolate, but it has its own flavor, too. Try one?”

Her small hand reaches into the bag and pulls out a carob drop. She pops it into her mouth, and I watch as her face first grows serious – she is analyzing the flavor – and then lights up: she approves!

“It’s a little… earthier? Is that the word?” I nod and she continues. “It’s a little earthier than chocolate. And there’s something else in the flavor. But I like it. Thank you, Rajesh.”

“You are welcome, Sophie. Now, cuddle up with your book and your tea, and let the storm become a friend instead of a foe. When you’re ready to sleep again, the carob drops will bring sweet dreams, and in the morning your mother will be back.”

She nods at all of that, her eyes wide like saucers and her face so serious. But before I can leave, she puts her hand on my arm. “Rajesh, wait.”

“Is something wrong, Sophie.”

“No. Only… Emily is Aunt Emily.”

“Yes.”

“So, aren’t you Uncle Rajesh?”

“If you wish it, Sophie.”

“I do, please.” And she stretches up and presses her little-girl lips to my cheek.

One day, I think, my own child will give me goodnight kisses like this. Sticky with honey or carob. And I will do to my child what I do with Sophie: I reach out and tug gently on her nearest braid. “You are very welcome, Sophie.”

And I leave her there, wrapped in quilts, in the tiny loft bedroom that is her nest for the night. The little girl with book and peppermint tea.

And carob drops.

* * *

Dark-eyed little girl
Golden braids, serious face
May I be your friend?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Surfer

Like the Prose: Challenge #28 – Write a Lipogram (A story where you eliminate a specific letter. In this case, the actual story does not use the letter ‘t.’)

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Sun.

Sand.

Sea.

She feels her skin baking, feels her scalp burning, feels her lips cracking from marine chemicals, from sol’s inferno, from her own obsession.

She and her board are one.

Endless waves command her focus, her balance, her prowess, her finesse.

Her braided hair flows behind her as she flies over boundless blue and pale foam.

Her body hums ocean music, and  her deep blue sea responds in kind.

Her parched lips spread in a broad grin.

She is joy embodied.

She is free.

She is a surfer.

* * *

Hours pass.

She wakes in her wee beach house.

Inhaling, she recognizes cooking aromas.

Her lover has arrived, dinner is in progress.

A fresh smile appears on her face.

She padds on calloused soles and kisses him hello. “Smells awesome.”

“Me? Or my chicken?”

“Mmm. You. And your chicken. How long?”

“Mmm. Mere seconds.”

“Wine?”

“Yes, please. Chardonnay.”

* * *

She knows his body as well as she does her ocean.

He surfs her body as ably as she does each wave.

As one, rising, falling, laughing, sighing.

A kiss.

A lick.

A nudge.

Ahhh.

Sleep comes only when each has given pleasure and been pleased.

* * *

Dawn wakes her. He remains asleep, snoring.

Dawn is shark hour.

She should be concerned.  She will be careful.

She crosses cool, damp, sand, board under her arm.

Pink rays warm her morning face.

Her waves welcome her.

She and her board are one.

She surfs.

And she smiles.

Stripes

Like the Prose: Challenge #27 – Use metaphor to explore a mental illness without naming it. (Special thanks to my friend Fran H. for her assistance & insight.) 

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If you look at a zebra, you might think you’re seeing a white animal with black stripes. After all, these not-quite-horses have white underbellies, don’t they? So white must be the dominant color.

That’s the order of things.

People often associate white with order. Because it’s clean and fresh, I guess. And maybe, maybe if you’re talking about bedsheets with hospital corners that’s true.

But if you’re creating the lightshow of your life, aligning the prisms so they bend and refract at exactly the right angles, you know the truth. White isn’t order at all. White is chaos. The presence of all colors. White is what you get when you spin the top and everything blurs, and you can’t think or process or feel because everything is too much and too loud and too fast…

But you come out of the white, at the end, and you realize that you’ve amassed this collection of art – writing, paintings, light sculptures – but you didn’t really get to experience them because you were in a frenzy of creation when they sprang into being.

And so, you sink.

You sink into black.

And at first… at first the black is soothing. Because you recognize that the black is your true color. Underneath the white fur, there’s black skin holding everything together.

But sometimes there’s too much black.

Too much darkness.

Because if white is the presence of all color, all light.

Then black is the absence.

The bleak nothingness where you are disconnected.

And while a touch of black is soothing, too much becomes a weight, like an anchor pulling you too far down, or, no, not an anchor, but a lame hoof, causing you to lag further and further behind the herd.

Intellectually, you know they’ll watch out for you.

But in the blackness, if you sense anything at all, it’s the predators you recognize. The ones that live on the edges of the dark forest and spring at you just when you’re starting to emerge from total nothingness, pulling you backwards.

They have stripes, too. The tigers. Or spots. The leopards and cheetahs. They have bits of blackness in them. But it’s a different sort of blackness. Still, it’s enough. It allows them to find you at your weakest point.

Eventually, though, there’s a shift.

Dappled sunlight breaks through the darkest part of the forest.

The herd circles around you, protecting you while your lame hoof (lame head) heals itself (maybe not forever – you’re kind of a klutz – but at least for now).

You catch your reflection in the pond before you take a refreshing drink of the clean, clear water, and you realize your stripes aren’t meant to be isolates. You are not black with white punctuation, or white with black interruption.

You are Zebra.

You are black and white, and when you move your shoulders, sometimes the white dominates, and when you stamp your hooves, the black ripples ominously, but both are parts of the whole. And when you manage to accept that, you also find balance.

Maybe not forever.

But at least for now.

Good Kitty

Like the Prose: Challenge #26 – Find a picture and use it to inspire your story. (My image is from the Flash-Prompt Facebook group.)

Good Kitty

They’d looked at ten other houses, but finally settled on that one. It had everything they needed: three bedrooms, so each of the kids could have their own, two full bathrooms, plus a half-bath downstairs, pool in the fenced-in back yard, even a proper front porch where they could sit and sip morning coffee or evening wine and watch the neighborhood go by.

The mural at the top of the attic stairs didn’t thrill them, but they could always paint over it.

Besides, the price was unbelievable.

“I have to ask,” Karen said, almost afraid of what the realtor would say. “Why is this place so affordable?”

“You do know you’re required to disclose any deaths on the premises,” her husband Chad put in.

The realtor seemed slightly flustered. “There haven’t been any deaths. No injuries either, I promise. But there have been… reports.”

“Reports? Of what?” Karen wanted to know.

“Well, really more like rumors,” the older woman amended.

“I think you’d better explain,” Chad said.

“Previous residents mentioned hearing odd noises in the attic. Some said that their pets were always on alert. No one ever found anything, though. I guess, you might say the house is haunted.”

“Haunted?”

“As I said, it’s just a rumor.”

Karen and Chad consulted for a while, privately. “It’s too good a deal to pass up,” they said. “We’ll take it.”

* * *

“Mommy, why are there eyes at the top of the stairs?” Karen rolled over to find her pajama-clad daughter staring at her with frightened features.

“It’s probably just a reflection. The eyes of the cat in the painting glow in the moonlight. Go back to sleep, sweetie.”

“I can’t go back to my room alone.”

“You want me to walk you back?”

“Uh-huh.”

“Why were you up?”

“I heard purring… and then I had to pee.”

“Purring?”

“Uh-huh.”

“You didn’t bring home another kitten, did you?” The little girl was prone to finding stray animals.

The child shook her head no. “Uh-uh.”

Karen rolled out of bed. “Alright. Let’s get you back to bed.”

Mother and daughter walked hand-in-hand down the dim hallway. The nightlight in the bathroom cast weird shadows that almost seemed to move, but Karen shrugged it off. It was just her daughter’s overactive imagination affecting her perceptions, she was sure.

Still, after she’d tucked her little girl back into bed, Karen paused at the bottom of the attic stairs and peered up into the darkness. She was about to head back to bed when she caught the gleam of something that did, in fact, look like two eyes staring back at her.

Startled, she took a step backwards, her hand colliding with the wall, but that reminded her of the switch that was right there. She flipped it on.

And laughed.

The painting on the wall at the top of the stairs was the image of a cougar in tall grass, it’s green eyes eerily realistic in the light of the single bulb.

Damn, that thing is realistic, she thought.

Shaking her head at her own skittishness, she turned out the light and went back to bed.

* * *

“Did the cougar sneak into your room last night, Scarlet?” Karen’s son teased her daughter at breakfast several days later.

“Marky! That’s not funny!” the little girl protested.

“Mark, I’ve told you not to tease her. You know it’s just a painting.”

“Yeah, but it’s a painting that moves or haven’t you noticed that it’s never in quite the same position, or that the grass keeps extending down the stairs?”

“Mark, that’s enough.” Karen uttered the words in the patented warning tone all mothers have. But secretly, she knew her son was right. There was a patch of jungle at the top of the attic stairs and it was growing closer to the upstairs hallway every day. It was subtle, but it was true.

“Sorry.”

“What are you sorry for?” Karen asked. She and Chad had read in a parenting book years before that generic apologies were meaningless. They had to be specific.

“I’m sorry for scaring you, Scarlet,” Mark said, sounding almost sincere. “And I’m sorry for not listening to you, Mom.”

“Thank you, sweetie. How will you change your behavior?”

“I’ll try not to tease Scarlet and be better about being more responsive.”

“Alright.”

“It’s almost time for the bus,” the boy pointed out.

“Alright then. Your lunches are on the counter. Watch out for your sister.”

Both kids ran from the room.

* * *

Life went on. The grass on the wall crept steadily downward. The cougar sometimes appeared below the top step, as if they’d caught it while on patrol. Scarlet suggested that they make friends with it, and so one night, when Chad was on a business trip, they left a saucer each of milk and leftover hamburger (cooked) on the landing. Just to see what happened.

Both saucers were empty in the morning, and both children swore they hadn’t touched them.

Karen repeated the process every few days… she didn’t want to make offerings every day, she said, because she’d read in a book that wild animals shouldn’t get used to being fed by humans. They had to know how to hunt.

It was about three weeks later that Karen and Chad woke up to find an offering of a dead rat outside their bedroom door.

Chad had never owned pets, but Karen had grown up with cats. She understood. The cougar at the top of the stairs had accepted their offer. They were friends.

* * *

A stormy night. Another business trip for Chad. Like the horror stories Karen and her friends had told at slumber parties when she was a girl, there was an escaped serial killer in their neighborhood. She and the children were a bit spooked, but they’d checked the locks and set the alarm, and her cell phone was charged.

She wasn’t surprised when Scarlet had crept into her bed during the height of the storm. Lightning and thunder were still scary to the little girl.

She was slightly surprised when Mark joined them a bit later, but by then the power had gone out, and even though he was ten, he was, after all, still a little boy. And Mom meant safety. Always.

They heard the rattling at the door at the same time.

Karen reached for her cell, but there was no signal. Stupid storm. She tried to remain calm for the children.

The yowling and screeching came at the same time that the door burst open.

“Jesus, fuck, what kinda creature is that!” they heard a male voice say.

And then there was more yowling. And more screeching, both feline and human.

And then there was silence.

“Stay here,” Karen told her kids. She tip-toed to the bedroom door and cracked it open. The cougar was sitting on a prone human form, licking its chops. It turned its head toward Karen as if to tell her it would keep her safe. Her and her family.

“Good kitty,” she told the creature. “Good kitty.”

The power came back. The police were called. The lock on the door was fixed.

“Good thing you have such a mean cat,” the officers said.

“Yes,” Karen said. “Yes, it is.”  She couldn’t wait to tell Chad all about it when he got home.

 

 

 

 

Beautiful

Like the Prose: Challenge #25 – Write a contemporary YA piece.

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“Did you get the tickets?” I asked my mother as I dropped into the seat opposite hers in our favorite café. Friday afternoon mochas had been a ritual of ours practically since I’d been weaned. Well, it hadn’t always been mochas. Originally, it had been a spoonful of her coffee mixed into my milk, but, the Friday afternoon thing was sacrosanct.

Through her first marriage, her divorce, her brief dating life, and her marriage to my stepfather (which seemed like it would last), we met for coffee after school on Fridays. I’d tell her about my day, she’d tell me about hers. Then I’d go off to music lessons or community theater rehearsals, or, more recently, a date of my own, and she’d go back to work for a couple of hours, or head home, or go out with my stepfather for a date of their own.

“I did.”

“In the zone?” As a theatre brat I was kind of a snob about seats. The zone meant that the seats were between rows six and sixteen, inclusive.

“Center section, row G, on the aisle. Sweetie, you didn’t have to use your savings on these.”

“Mom, please. It’s the Carole King musical. I grew up with her music. You grew up with her music. How else could we celebrate our last Mothers’ Day with me still living in your house?” My high school graduation was only a few weeks away. I’d already signed on to be resident ingenue in a summer stock theatre company in some cutesy rural town for most of the summer, and then I’d be home long enough to do laundry and pack before I headed off to theatre school. My path was set. “There are some ground rules, though.”

“Ground rules? You’re going to tell me what I can or can’t wear.”

“I don’t care what you wear, as long you don’t feel the need to demonstrate that your underwear matches your outfit while you’re driving.”

“We were stopped at a red light.”

“All my friends were in the car.”

“It was all girls.”

“Daniel isn’t a girl.”

“True. But he’s gay. Also, Veronica is bi.”

“Is she?”

“She announced it last week in the leadership meeting. Brought cupcakes and everything. They were a little dry.”

My mother rolled her eyes at me. “Fine. What else are you going to restrict? Am I allowed to speak? Should I walk three paces behind you? Are you sure you even want to be sitting together?”

Mom!” I filled the word with my exasperation. “Don’t you think you’re overreacting?”

“Don’t you think you’re over-controlling?”

“I call it ‘having strong leadership skills,’ and where do you think I got them from?”

“Fine.”

“Okay, so… Mom, the thing is… I know you know all the lyrics, but… this is a musical. Not a concert.”

“And…?” her tone was dark. Like, one step away from straightening her glasses at me dark.

“It’s totally okay to sing along with the music at a concert, but you don’t do that at a musical. Except during the curtain call, when they invite it.”

“I can sing if I want to.”

“Mom, do you really think that’s….”

“What?”

“Well, it’s just that your singing is…”

She actually did straighten her glasses. “What about my singing?”

In an almost robotic tone I said, “You sing with great joy and enthusiasm.” Mentally, I added, “and absolutely no sense of pitch, whatsoever.”

“That’s what I thought.”

“Mom – ”

“Yes?”

“Never mind.”

We finished our mochas in silence. Maybe when I was older, I’d be better at picking my battles. Maybe I’d never win with her. Or, maybe, there would come a time when I’d realize that as tone deaf as she was, the fact that my mother would never stop singing along with musicals, with the radio, with the stupid sound system at the grocery store, was somehow beautiful.

Then again… maybe not.

 

 

Tockless

Like the Prose: Challenge #24 – Write a descriptive piece about an object in your home/room.

 

It stands a silent sentinel just to the left of the front door. Tall. Brown. Regal. Its curved headpiece provides a warm welcome to all who enter, and its gold-inlaid face serves as a gentle reminder of the graciousness of an earlier age.

The carved corners and straight lines of the main case are petite for such a figure, lending a feminine cant to the piece. Inside the central glass, shiny brass weights rest, frozen outside of time, unused, unusable, but somehow conveying a sense of willingness.

“Fix me,” the timepiece seems to whisper, as the daylight turns to night and the shadows lengthen on the wooden floor. “Make me useful again.”

And if the twilight deepens to just the right shade, if the evening is quiet enough, the air almost seems to echo on the hour: the four bars of the Westminster Chimes followed by the resonant bongs that mark the specific time.

But then the magic is gone.

The hands, behind their glass, are still unmoving.

The chains don’t carry the weights up or down.

There is no ticking or tocking from this Grandmother Clock.

Switching Gears

Like the Prose: Challenge #23 – Include your personal philosophy in your story. (I didn’t. My story is completely off-brief because I’ve had my Mom visiting from Mexico, and I’ve been spending time with her. So you get a Basil-Zoe story instead.)

Robot head looking front on camera isolated on a black background

The thing about spaceships is that when you’ve lived on one long enough, you learn the places you can go when you want to be alone, but also be able to be found. And when you’ve become friends with a line officer who also happens to be both prone to brooding and a synthetic lifeform, you learn where they are likely to go in similar situations.

Which is why I found myself climbing a ladder inside an maintenance crawlway in heels on the night of my eighteenth birthday, in order to access a little-known observation alcove where said synthetic lifeform  had often brought me to practice music “… because the acoustics here are quite excellent, Zoe.”

He turned when I stepped off the ladder, and the starlight on his pale-silver features made my breathe catch. I’d been reacting that way a lot lately. “Had a feeling I’d find you here,” I said by way of a greeting. “You didn’t come to my party.”

“I did not wish to intrude upon the fun you and your friends were no doubt having.”

Basil,” I made his name into something like an admonishment. “You’re my friend, too, aren’t you? I wouldn’t have invited you if I didn’t want you there.” I moved closer to the tiny bench he was occupying. “Move over a little.”

He did as I asked, making room for me. “I had planned to contact you once I had returned to my quarters. I came here to determine what I wished to say.”

“Well, ‘Happy Birthday’ is the typically used phrase, but if you had something more original, I’m sure I wouldn’t object.” I could tell he meant something more. I was keeping my tone light on purpose.

“You are human.”

“Kinda knew that.”

“I was not finished. You are human and you are now eighteen. In all of the aligned worlds, achieving that age marks you as an adult.”

“Is this the part where you remind me that when I complete this semester, I’m no longer considered my mother’s dependent and lose my residency eligibility?”

“No,” he said quietly. “It is not.” He changed his position on the bench, angling his body so that he was facing me. “It is the part where I tell you that I have enjoyed the friendship we have forged in the past few months. It is the part where I share that while playing music with you has enhanced my emotional and intellectual growth, so has the time we have spent ‘just talking.'” His eyes flashed ruby, then gold, then back to the cool sapphire they usually were. “It is the part where I ask if you would consider altering the paradigm of our relationship from friendship to romance.”

I reached for his left hand and wrapped my right one around it. “You skipped my birthday party because you wanted to ask me on a date?” I was only half teasing. The truth was that we’d been having regular lunches and dinners together, and even movie night, when mom’s duty shift kept her busy, for weeks. I was pretty sure his friends among the crew assumed we were dating already. I knew mine did.

“No, Zoe. While we never named it thusly, by any definition, we have already been dating. I skipped your birthday because, as I said, I did not wish to intrude upon your celebration. But also, because I wished a more private assignation with the woman I hope is my… girlfriend.”

“Girlfriend?”

“If you are amena – ”

I interrupted him the way I’d wanted to interrupt so many conversations over the past few weeks: I kissed him. I wasn’t sure what to expect. Metal? Plastic? But… kissing Basil didn’t feel physically different than kissing any other humanoid-shaped person. His mouth was warm. His lips were soft against mine, then firmer as he joined the kiss, becoming a participant. His tongue met mine, and I tasted something faintly sweet, but nothing I could put a name to. It was just… just him.

I broke away when I had to breathe.

“May I assume that was a ‘yes?'”

“You may.” I realized I was still holding his hand. I let it go and scooted closer to him. “You know I’m going to have some questions… and I don’t want… I don’t want to seem invasive or rude when I ask.”

“You have the right to ask me anything, Zoe.”

“Oh, Basil… then I guess… how far can we go? Is sex on the table? Is this only until I leave for university or work or whatever I do at the end of the school year? Are we – we don’t have to hide this do we?”

“We do not have to ‘hide’ anything, Zoe, though as a line officer, a certain level of decorum is expected. I do not believe we should define a schedule… it may be that we are not as compatible as lovers than we are as friends. It may be that when you leave our relationship ends naturally.”

“That’s fair.”

“And you would be welcome to visit, should you wish to. Even if your mother were to transfer.”

“And sex?”

“Anatomically, Zoe, I am little different than a human male. You know this.”

“I know it intellectually.”

“And you wish… first-hand experience?”

“As you pointed out earlier, I am human. But, I don’t… I don’t want to go there if it’s something you’re doing only for me. Either it’s for both of us, or it doesn’t happen.”

“I would have it no other way.”

“Good.” We sat in silence for a few moments, though Basil put his arm around my shoulders, drawing me closer to his body. The warm solidity of him was something I’d always noticed in friendly hugs. Now it was mine to experience in a whole new way. “Basil?”

“Yes, Zoe?”

“Is sex even something you’re interested in?”

“With you?”

Basil.”

“Forgive me, Zoe. Perhaps it was inappropriate to attempt humor at such a moment.”

“Only a little.”

“Then let me be clear… I am interested in exploring whatever you wish to explore, Zoe Harris.”

“You know this doesn’t get you out of giving me an actual birthday present.”

“I have a gift for you in my quarters. We can go retrieve it whenever you are ready.”

“We can go to your quarters in a bit,” I agreed, “but it’s late so I think my present might have to wait til after breakfast.” I caught his reaction to the real meaning of my sentence and smiled slightly. “For now, staying here is good. Especially if you kiss me again.”

“I am happy to comply,” Basil answered, and he did.

As his lips met mine for another delicious kiss, I considered whether it was too soon to sleep with him. I might have just turned eighteen, but I wasn’t innocent. I also knew that if Basil was declaring himself in this way, he meant it.

This wasn’t an impulsive hookup.

This was just us… switching gears.