Local legend

8th_Place_-_Mountain_Lion_(7487178290)Darnell meant to prove the naysayers wrong. They called him crazy, told him he was mistaken, ought to get his eyes checked. Some called him an idiot flat out. But he knew the truth.

He’d actually seen a mountain lion in that vicinity, and he swore to find the indisputable evidence of such. “Weren’t no wampus cat and weren’t no deer,” he claimed. Collecting scat to prove it turned out to be a tricky business, though. Either DNA from that mess or plaster casts of tracks would serve as testimony.

To search the dense forest was like finding that old needle in the haystack, but he plundered through the thick expanse of trees anyway. Poison ivy grew thick through the area, and he practically swam in Calamine lotion afterward to cover his welts and ward off itching. Darnell watched droplets of blood ooze up through the pink crust and coat the underneath of his fingernails from all the scratching. His wife scoffed, “That’s what you get for being so stupid. Everybody knows there’s no panther back in them trees.”

“Hell, yes, there is,” he refuted. “And I mean to prove it to everybody, including the authorities. ‘Specially after that one got hit down in Laclede County that Johnny Law had to take down and give to them Revenuers. ‘Member, in the paper?” he asked her.

She nodded in recollection but still thought her husband crazy as a loon. They’d heard tell of cats once roaming those hills before being effaced from the region by gunshot. Too many people still claimed to spot them, though, for Darnell to completely doubt it. His cousin swore to seeing them on his land over by Longmont more than once.

Right after Darnell stopped hanging out with his old friend, Harry, he thought he saw one for himself. Had he not sworn off going fishing with him because of all the Bigfoot shenanigans, Darnell would’ve asked that so-and-so to go squirrel hunting with him that day. Old Harry coulda been a witness to the woodland sighting, but Darnell didn’t want Harry’s lunatic reputation taking away from his own credibility. Nobody believed that one crossed County Line Road right in front of his headlights on the way home. He saw its size and recognized the fat tail. Fawn-colored coat be damned — it was no deer, and it was no dog.

Even Harry brushed off Darnell’s claim and said if as many pumas roamed their part of the country as people said, all their farms would be overrun by now. Said that must be some kind of virile male out there siring such a brood and he’d sure like to weigh in on the bet against that possibility. He didn’t care that Widow Williams attributed the scars down her mare’s hindquarters to a cougar attack and took no heed to her living by that riverbank with rock face and caves on the opposite side. “Big cats live out by the desert,” he professed, “not here in this farmland. And they’re certainly not huntin’ down that widda’s livestock.”

Darnell begged to differ. He asked him, “What about all them dead armadillas, huh? They used to live but down South. They been movin’ further up all these years, and now they’re squooshed all over highway. Makes it look like scute road pizza everywhere.”

The buddies ceased debating the presence of hillbilly speed-bumps once Darnell had his own experience with a cat. He got permission from Mrs. Williams, as any conscientious poacher would, to lay in wait for a mountain lion on her land.  Rifle slung over his shoulder, he slunk below some low-lying cedar branches for three nights that autumn in hopes of spotting one of those mountain screamers. Preferably from a good distance. Family and friends considered him nuts.

He promised his wife he’d be careful. Darnell had no desire to be mistaken for a raccoon and become a cougar’s last meal before Widow Williams could hear his cries for help and shoot the animal from her back door. Surely she’d come to his rescue, her being the only one who ultimately believed him.

On that overcast day, the fall wind cooling the temperature down enough to necessitate extra clothing, Darnell lay in the underbrush wearing coveralls. Lulled to sleep in his warmth, he rolled over on his back and woke to see a scraggly evergreen canopy above him. A brown and gray beast rested in the higher branches that resembled his daughter’s silver tabby housecat so much he first thought it to be Tiger Lilly herself.

The size of the bobcat’s paws in comparison, jogged Darnell to full awakening at the realization of what looked down on him from its treetop perch. The animal flexed its phalanges to reveal gigantic claws from within its feet pads, and Darnell almost wet his camouflage.

Widow Williams heard the screams all right. She actually thought the neighbor’s peacock wailed in the evening gloom until she looked out the side window to spy Darnell running to his pickup parked in her gravel drive. Standing alone in her kitchen, she commented aloud to no one in particular, “I didn’t think he could move so fast on such short little legs.” The woman shook her head and said, “Didn’t hear a shot, but he mighten have seen something after all.”

*image via Wikipedia Commons

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Mending Walls

Welcome mat with walking shoes Cheryl stood in the living room doorway to her neighbor’s kitchen, shocked at what lie before her on the floor. Vexed, she asked, “What are you doing down there, Marty?”

The neighborhood women knew each other but only pretended to when it was convenient to them. Familiarity didn’t make them friends, but she regarded Marty fondly enough. She urged her, “Come on, get up from there.” Tugging on the woman’s arm didn’t goad her into standing. She remained stretched across the dirt-and-tear-streaked linoleum, limp and inconsolable.

Keeping caught up with the needs of her own children tied Cheryl down to her household most of the time, no matter how much she felt like socializing with any of the other mothers down the block. Some of the girls played Barbies together, listened to the Grease soundtrack on continual repeat, and threw dirt clods at the boys on the street. The moms, however, remained acquaintances.

Marty’s daughter crossed the street to ask for Cheryl’s help after her mother hadn’t made breakfast or lunch that day. She realized the need for help but didn’t know what to do other than summon an adult. “Do you mind to talk to my momma, ma’am? She won’t answer me when I ask her what’s wrong,” the girl told her friend’s mother. Worry hung on her face heavier than if the neighbor boys aimed to retaliate for rock-filled lumps of earth flung at them in the past.

Marty, usually a loquacious woman, sat sobbing within a jumble of words. She uttered no discernible sentences, only sniffs and grunts, and a single line of drool ran from her bottom lip to her baby’s fontanel below. The little boy scrambled to escape his mother’s steel grip, none too happy atop her lap, his diaper leaking at its stretched leg opening.

“Will you please tell me what’s going on?” Cheryl prodded.

She stepped forward into the room and crouched down to grip the woman by both arms while her shoulders shook in great heaves as she cried. She couldn’t discern the baby’s weeping from his mother’s. Marty mumbled something about her house, her husband, a migraine, and lunch. The odd stream of consciousness, couched in heart-wrenching sobs, came out as a half-hearted plea for help combined with desperate complaint. The only comment Cheryl could make out about the ‘baby not letting me close my eyes’’ led her to conclude Marty lacked some much-needed sleep.

Years prior she’d suffered her own bout with postpartum depression, memories of which might never leave her mind. Doctors waved it off and offered her no relief other than a suggested night cap. She doubted their advice and competence at the same time.

“You need to go to bed, Marty,” she told her.

“Let me take the baby so you can get up.”

Handing over the sticky, stinky newborn, Marty grappled to her knees and half-crawled to the living room sofa. “That’ll work, too, I guess,” Cheryl said and turned the spindle to close the front window blinds and shut out the light. She jostled the baby on her hip to sooth his whimpering while his mother fell asleep the moment her head hit the yogurt-covered pillow. At least that’s what the dried yellow substance in its woven plaid fiber looked to be. “She must be exhausted,” Cheryl thought, “to choose that scratchy-looking perch.”

When Marty awoke hours later, she looked around a different living room. Baskets of clean and folded laundry sat by the coffee table, and she heard dishwasher running accompanied by the sound of grease popping. A wonderful aroma of toasted bread filled the air. She rubbed at her still slightly-swollen eyelids as she tread cautiously to the kitchen, afraid of what may greet her there. A vision of her 12-year old burning bacon in a skillet flashed through her mind just before she crossed the threshold.

Instead, she reveled in the surprising scene before her. The baby slumbered dreamily in his swing, and her daughter sat at the table with a library book. Cheryl glanced up from her stance in front of the stove. Her eyes widened in greeting, and she offered, “We thought grilled cheese sandwiches sounded good. I hope you don’t mind that I kind of took over in here.” Marty smiled and shook her head. “Gosh, no. How long was I asleep?”

Cheryl only shrugged. “It doesn’t matter. We were having fun.”

“Seems like he’s been sawing logs, too,” Marty laughed and sat down beside her daughter. “I must’ve looked a fright when you came in the front door.” Her eyes finally met those of her neighbor. “How can I thank you, Cheryl?” The other woman only blushed in return. “I haven’t been the best neighbor to you, Marty,” she confessed. “You’ve been under a lot of pressure and could’ve used a friend. I’m just sorry it took me this long to cross the street and offer some help.”

**

Studio 30+ prompt – loquacious Studio30

Image:  http://stockarch.com/images/objects/signs/welcome-mat-walking-shoes-4140 (Title inspired by the poem by “Robert Frost“)

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Consequence of Time

a houseTen children were born in the two-bedroom house over the years, with indoor plumbing installed only after the youngest became a teenager. They were all born and grew up in that tiny place their father built. Talmadge, Iris, Talbot, Ernie, Loretta, Pearl, James, Frank, Myrna, and little Minnie.

Mother kept house as well as she could, in between having babies, and tried to put meals on the table with the meager means her sporadically-employed husband provided. Ernest, a sullen man, began to bald early. His worries of finding work as an uneducated laborer and supporting his growing brood aged the man sooner than his time. Mother birthed children for so long she looked like a grandmother by the last baby’s arrival.

Their ages spanned so many years that Iris, much an adult herself by then, was left to name Minnie, choosing the moniker from Disney’s famous character of the time. Their parents’ preferences ran dry by then. Some cried themselves to sleep at night without enough to eat.

Iris resented her father for making Mother have so many children. “You’d think she was a dog with that many puppies in a lifetime litter,” she said. “Worked like one, too, caring for us all.” She remembered the want all too well.

She told, “Aunt Mertie sent us a few staples. Things we could use. We’d pull our wagon up to her house a couple blocks away when the water got shut off. Musta had the utilities come due and couldn’t pay ‘em. Had to fill lard cans with water and haul it on home to cook and wash with it.”

That’s what families did, helped during the hard times. No amount of ridicule from neighbor kids riled them much. Iris recounted, “We was just kids. Didn’t know any different.”

She relayed stories of siblings dropping out of school, some of the boys joining the military, other brothers following their father into menial labor. Only little Minnie ever graduated from high school. “With no money, us girls had to go to work right away or else get married. Couldn’t stay with Mother and Daddy in that ol’ house with all those kids piled on toppa each other. Too many mouths to feed.”

Iris grew wistful and looked up at the ceiling, deep in thought. Finally, she said, “Talmadge disappeared after a spell. Nobody saw him for ages, so we were left to believe he either went to jail or got killed. Broke my mother’s heart to not know what happened to her boy.” His name couldn’t be repeated at home, either because of the grief of his absence or their father’s anger at him leaving them all guessing.

“My mother cried when telling me how James left for the rails, though,” said Iris. Her hands twisted around upon each other, and she picked at her cuticles in nervousness. “I already married by that time but still loved my little brother,” she explained. “He weren’t worthless like Ernie, who couldn’t put his mind to hard work and ended up in a den of thieves. Not an ambitious bone in his body.”

Iris sniffed back a sob, pulled a tissue from its box, and continued. “I miss that James the most. He wanted to see the world and figured jumpin’ freight cars to be the easiest way to go about it. We got a telegram from a hospital in Pennsylvania to let us know he’d died. Nurse found a note in his pocket to notify us of his whereabouts. We all mourned.” The woman’s weary face resembled her mother’s in later years, eyes still wearing their mutual sorrow. It’s hard to tell truth from what’s imagined.

The staff refer to her demeanor late in the day as “Sundowner Syndrome.” Iris gets agitated at the remembering, and her mind wanders when she re-tells family stories. Details hint at actuality, but the dementia often brings out more fanciful tales.

“Yes, little Minnie.” She shook her head slowly back and forth. “Minnie didn’t know James like I did, was too young when he left. The girl only knew from what we told her. Just like I’m telling you now.” Iris fidgeted in her faded blue glider, the seat’s padding molded where her backside rested most of the day.

She’d once been quite a looker, fully coiffed at the beauty parlor every week, nails freshly painted – the epitome of a kempt woman. Brushing her short-cropped gray hair back from her face, she turned toward the dining hall. “About suppertime, ain’t it? I can tell you more later if you still wanna listen.”

Upon returning to her room, she wouldn’t remember where she left off.

***

s30pStudio 30+ writing prompt – ridicule Image: US National Archives

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If the Shoe Fits

images
He held the lead rope in his hand and asked, “You want me to guide you around the yard for a little while you get used to her?” Casey sat atop the chestnut mare and looked down on him incredulously. Her familiarity might be somewhat limited, but she certainly didn’t need his help finding her way around a saddle.

“I think I can handle it,” she sarcastically replied. Maybe he was just trying to be nice to his guest, but she wasn’t 12 years old for Pete’s sake. The quickness with which she snatched the reins surely clued him in on her exasperation. He shrugged his shoulders, one raised eyebrow hinting his surprised reaction to her haughty remark.

The equestrian art might be arcane to some, she thought, but she knew the basics. Casey didn’t need help mounting to ride, even with the animal at 14 hands’ height, and she wouldn’t ask for it even if she did. Pride got in the way of appreciation for being invited on the ride.

She’d driven in from the city for the day but had grown up around livestock and knew what to do and not do around large animals. Maybe a total newbie wouldn’t see a difference between a halter and a bridle or know a cinch strap from a bit. Casey didn’t claim to be a caballera, but she knew that much.

A horse warns of its anger by pressing its ears back. Only an idiot would walk behind one and its potentially lethal back legs. Some common sense measures like that stood out in her mind. Perhaps the man insinuated nothing with his remark, but she took offense to it anyway. He had no idea how much she knew, but she still got perturbed at him assuming her ignorant.

“So, then why am I getting so defensive?” she asked herself. Her host walked away across the paddock, dust from his boots rising up behind him, a brown cloud in his wake. Maybe he wanted to kick that chip off her shoulder with his scuffed Tony Lamas, manure encrusted in the heels.

Lost in her own inner monologue, Casey jumped when a dog’s yip brought her suddenly back to the present. She shook away the daydream and spied a terrier mix prancing around in circles on the ground below.

The dog’s short spotted legs propelled it upward to nip at her feet, surprisingly high considering the location of the stirrups. Casey drew up her toes, with their brightly-polished magenta nails detailed in tiny white daisies at her recent pedicure. Looking down to ponder her flip flops, she muttered, “Huh, no wonder.”

**

Studio30+ writing prompt – arcane

Studio30Meet a younger Casey in The Fence Post and find out why she started getting sassy.

Image: Paw Nation

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Self Help

don't run

The bright azure sky ensconced sparse clouds – one shaped in a way that slightly resembled a jack rabbit sitting on its haunches. She sat slumped in the front seat on her mother’s car as it sped down the highway toward home and pondered the rabbit cloud’s dissolution into a blurred bunny that eventually faded away into nothingness. The young woman felt as smeared as that aerial vapor and wished she could melt into the tan foam of the bench car seat.

She remained reticent while her mother yammered away from behind the wheel, asking her how she felt, almost demanding to know her status from minute to minute. Glaring in her direction didn’t slow the pace of the older woman’s diatribe, as if the ride home from the hospital weren’t torturous enough. Ava had to listen to this maternal needling, too. Insult upon self-imposed injury.

Mom claimed to simply want the best for her and would provide it for Ava at home, as if her daughter had a choice in the matter. Through therapy, the medical team surmised she most likely wouldn’t hurt herself again and acquiesced to release her to her mother’s care.

Experiencing more of the woman’s ultra-protective oversight made Ava question whether staying there would be best or not. She drew her legs up out of the floorboard and pulled her knees to her chest. Leaning over to hug them close into her, she turned her head and gazed out the passenger window to purposefully will her mother’s voice out of her consciousness.

“Could you just lighten up, Mom?” she begged. Ignoring the comments wasn’t going to work. The best wishes and unending euphemisms continued non-stop. “Things aren’t really that bad. You just have to think positive. Everything’s going to work out. It’s going to be all right. You’ll see. Things will be fine once you’re home. I promise.”

All the advice in the world only mangled the already racing thoughts. Ava opened one eye to peer sideways at the monologue’s source, saw only a mouth incessantly opening and closing, and tried to concentrate on her own thoughts. “Stop, stop, stop,” she repeated inwardly to block out all other noise.

An SUV travelled in the right lane next to their car, and she watched it gain speed to pass them. Stickers emblazoned the back bumper, and an oval-shaped decal on the top right of the window bragged of how many miles the driver apparently ran in a race. Ava remembered one of her doctors had encouraged her to exercise for the natural endorphins, to maybe taking up running.

“If only it was that easy,” she thought. She couldn’t stand those suggestions. That SUV driver also annoyed her.

Ava’s inner train of thought paused long enough for her to hear, “I only want what’s best for you, my love, and will do anything I can to help. I wish I could fix your situation and will never give up on you.”

She wanted to feel better about herself, life, her family, work … even her mother. She knew she had to find way to do so or she wasn’t going to make it.

The car stopped, and Ava realized they’d arrived at home. Her mom put the gear shift into “park” and turned off the ignition. She looked at her daughter ruefully and told her, “I love you, sweetheart.”

Ava faintly smiled and said, “I know, Mom. I know.”

***

Studio 30+ writing prompt – reticent Studio30

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The Company You Keep

vending - Neff Conder

Suzanne asked me, “Does it count as saving someone’s life if you just refrain from killing them?” I thought she was joking but felt her steel gray desperation.

We’d worked together only a couple months when she made the comment. I sensed her discontent with customer service before but thought it nothing serious. Perhaps her true feelings got lost in her patois. She often said things that didn’t fully make sense, perhaps intentionally. Most of the time, it sounded like meaningless jibber jabber.

The skin of her forearms squeaked across the sticky veneer top of the break room table as she leaned in closer to confide her secrets at closer range. She cleared her throat nervously and said, “You know I’m just joking, right?” A heavy hank of brunette bangs tucked behind her ear fell forward and created a welcome, if not flimsy, barrier between her gaze and my own. “I think I saw that in a cartoon once,” she tried justifying.

Those conversations made me a tad nervous. I stared beyond her at my reflection in the vending machine glass instead of looking Suzanne in the eye. Considering the calories in a chocolate wafer package came easier than contemplating her brand of crazy.

What if she actually went through with one of these quasi-threats and I’d been privy to the act beforehand? I hoped to not be held culpable.

She looked at me, waiting for an answer. As the center of her intense attention, I blanked on what she’d asked and remained silent. Only the second hand’s tick of the clock on the adjacent wall interrupted the stillness. I glanced around to make sure no one saw us eating together before I threw away my lunch remains and returned to work.

Weeks later the front door security code changed, indicating someone had quit or been fired. I honestly didn’t suspect it might be Suzanne until the office grapevine’s tangle reached my cubicle in late afternoon. Garry whispered from across the partition between us, “Psst … you hear about Suzanne?”

I wheeled my office chair to the wall’s opening and bumped its casters over power cords stretched across the threshold, my greed for fresh gossip a little too obvious as I leaned hungrily into Garry’s space. “What happened?” I inquired, wide-eyed.

“It’s all hush hush, but Janet told in H.R. me about it,” he said. “Sure,” I responded. “She sent out the email about the new code, so she’d know. What gives?”

We’d heard how Suzanne couldn’t stand her supervisor and found the menial tasks he assigned degrading to her level of self-importance. “Well, you realize she hated Myers, right?” I shook my head knowingly, my interest piqued.

Garry continued, “She came to work last week dressed in a Girl Scout uniform, a few sizes too small at that.” I gawked at him in disbelief. “Myers made Janet call her in to discuss appropriate professional attire, but Suzanne said if she was meant to ‘serve mankind’ then she would dress like it. Needless to say, they let her go.”

I shook my head, hardly knowing how to react. “She really was a whackadoodle, eh?” In retrospect, I felt relieved for not associating with Suzanne in the breakroom any more than I had.

“You don’t know the half of it, girl,” Garry said. He seemed to love telling the story to its climax. “On Monday morning Myers finally found the source of the horrible stench in his office he’d been smelling since the week prior. He had Custodial Services search the place until they turned his chair upside and found a dead mouse taped to the bottom of the seat.”

Doubt entered my mind. “But anybody could’ve done that,” I proposed. “Nobody really likes Myers.” We both nodded in agreement, and I shrugged, but Garry raised a finger to make his point. “The poor thing had a little green ‘Life Saving’ badge pinned to it … just like the ones on a Girl Scout uniform.”

*Studio 30+ writing prompt – patois

image: Neff Conner via Flickr  Studio30

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A dish best served cold

A corporate farm’s intrusive threat loomed for years but only now became a reality. Platte heard rumors that eventually came true. The company was coming in next door. Once Darnell Wheaton’s widow died, their land went up for sale and was immediately snatched by a company from outside the state. Corporate farming had moved in, and the neighbors weren’t happy about it.12662848663_b1a625de55_o

Platte Keltner stood at the back door smoking a cigarette to watch the final stage of construction that made the project across his rear acreage complete. Resentment sent bile up from his stomach as he saw a crane lift the large sign over the entrance drive, “Pork Partners” emblazoned in bold lettering. He’d heard of effluent seeping onto nearby properties and polluting the groundwater on adjoining land.

Management might claim safe cesspool storage and self-contained barns that wouldn’t affect the quality of life nearby, but situations elsewhere were showing otherwise. At the very least, the surrounding area would stink to high heaven. Having a factory swine farm just next door meant the air would stink of shit and make life outside unbearable in summertime. Property values would shrink and discontent proportionately grows.

Platte Keltner’s property was his birthright, and he’d protect it at any cost. Their family place at Benton Creek had come to him down through inheritance by default after everyone else’s death, and the Keltner family nearly lost it in probate court. Its bucolic setting masqueraded turmoil boiling below the surface.

As a boy, Platte skipped stones across the pond with his brother and hunted all manner of small game there. They romped over foothills and across the rock-filled soil of fields not otherwise suited for planting decent crops. No amount of hog manure pumped over from Mr. Wheaton’s lagoon would make that land fertile enough to be productive again, but Keltner wanted to continue living there. He wanted his kids to stay there after he was gone.

He went to see his brother, stuck in County lockup, to tell him of the predicament with their inheritance. He’d taken possession of the place during Jared’s incarceration. Their grandpa’s legacy hung in a lurch.

“Man, you’re better off in here with what I got planned,” Platte told him a sly smile spreading across his unshaven face. Jared told him, “You need help fixin’ the situation, you let me know. I got some guys on the street that owe me. Maybe it’s time to call in some favors.” Revenge was nothing new to the older Keltner brother. Similar stupidness caught him the latest charges that had him facing three to five up in the state pen. Platte thought better of involving Jared, as the guy had enough trouble of his own.

He’d gotten the company squib by mail after the fact. A form letter explained their intentions, feigned sincerity and professed hopes of a peaceful existence in community. Funny, the DNR recommended sharing a warning with the neighbors beforehand. Pork Partners’ barns already stood as eyesores for a half-mile in any direction, the effuse wafting into the sky exponentially. Their shameful missive came too late to create any scrap of good will. Platte waited until nightfall before he put his plan in motion. He held the letter between two fingers and watched flames lick the corporate letterhead before dropping the paper’s remains into a burn barrel.

Taking advantage of scrub cedars that lined the fence, he made sure to hide in their cover as he trekked across the field to an endless row of barns. A cacophony of grunts, moans and squeals accompanied an overwhelming odor of shit that met his senses upon reaching the massive complex. Regardless of the number, Platte moved stealthily from one building to the next searching for the exhaust output. He felt he’d never reach the end as he aimed high to stuff fistful after fistful of mud into vents, essentially sealing the hogs into their own quagmire of filth. Working all night insured the fans brought no fresh air in and no stench escaped.

The atmosphere within those walls would ferment upon itself, or so he hoped, until first light when the caretaker opened each door to a blast of fetor. No discernible fingerprints left behind meant no evidence traceable to Platte, while he laughed at the harm he’d cast in retaliation. In actuality, sick swine greeted the farmer along with their stink. The heat and methane within caused weakness in some and possible meat spoilage in others, with no way to tell the difference between the conditions. Keltner never knew for sure but hoped he’d helped kill off many of them before the animals could be sent off for slaughter. Sympathy for casualties held no position in his conscience, if he had any. 5538107000_b140e90529_o

Security systems later installed warded off any future sabotage, but only after Keltner felt a small pang of satisfaction. He blinked at the brightness of pole lights and crushed out his last cigarette of the day before going inside from his spiteful perch on the back porch where he glared over at the adjacent farm. The man felt triumphant at an extra expense he’d caused them to install those lights.

Upon closing the window blinds every night there forward Platte damned the luminance cascading directly into his bedroom. But he laughed each time he spun the control to shut those plastic shades and darken his house.

He laughed when he visited his brother that week to recount the tale of what he’d done. Jared snorted and said, “Just shoot the damn bulbs out. That’ll put a stop to that business.” Platte told him, “Nah. My luck I’d end up in here right alongside you for some silly ass vandalism wrap.” They both chuckled at the notion.

He went on, “Let their electricity run every day and night for all I care. I hope it chips at every penny in profit they ever stand to make.” His stubbornness outweighed Platte’s desire for atmosphere. He’d stay on the Keltner home place, and no amount of stench could make him leave.

**

Studio 30+ writing prompt – bucolic

Studio30images:  Waterkeeper Alliance & frankieleon  (respectively) on Flickr – Creative Commons

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Partners in Crime

untitled (5) Trevor and Nicky became friends when they first started school. Most everyone in Titusville knew each other, but these two were best buddies since five years old. A slight little imp, Nicky hadn’t grown a whole lot since they met playing kickball on the Kindergarten playground. Trevor stood up for him any time someone picked on the little guy, so Nicky figured he owed him. No one chose Nicky when splitting up teams in gym class, but Trevor always called his name first if he was captain.

Nicky idolized the bigger boy and didn’t judge him for his family’s station in life. He didn’t care if Trevor’s clothes were dirty or his hair hadn’t been cut since summer time. None of that mattered to him. He followed Trevor’s lead and tried to kiss girls at recess as they ran screaming for a teacher’s help. Every time the ring leader ended up in the principal’s office, his mischief brought Nicky right along in tow.

Their small town had a main street running its length, a lone grocery store at the end with a single cash register just inside the front door. Mr. Walker ran the place after his father died and left it to him, but the man was old enough to be dead himself. Kids took advantage of his bad hearing and pop-bottle eyeglasses in giving themselves five-finger discounts at the store. Trevor and Nicky were no exception.

Trevor wielded a weekend supply backpack from a local charity. It sagged with canned goods to give him something to eat when he wasn’t at school, something otherwise not available to him at home. But a supper of Skettios lacked the appeal of malted chocolate balls and red hot gummies there for the taking at Mr. Walker’s store.

“It won’t hurt no one, Nicky,” he’d say. “That old guy’s rich. Don’t you see his Cadillac parked out back? He’s got money to spare.” The boy usually stole out of necessity, but he sometimes turned the process into a nonsense game to pretend his plight wasn’t so serious. If he could persuade Nicky of that being true, maybe he could convince himself.

Nicky, on the other hand, held a healthy sense of guilt and a gut full of holy roller fear. He told his friend, “My grandma knows Mr. Walker. She’ll ask the preacher to send us straight to H – E – double hockey sticks if she knows we was stealing from his store.”

Trevor’s overblown confidence grew from being dirt poor, but his desperation gave him a bravado otherwise foreign to any other kid his age. He also realized how to work his friend’s lack of self-confidence and quipped, “Come on, Nicky. Quit being such a baby.” He appointed Nicky as look-out and told him to distract Mr. Walker with his gift for babble.

Nicky asked, “Well, whaddaya want me to say to ‘em?” Big brown eyes bugged out of a disproportionate head that almost capsized his stick-thin body and mimicked the look of a bobble head doll he once got as a freebie at the AAA ball game down in Florrisant. The bolder boy told him, “Just start talkin’ – talk about the weather. That always works with the old ones.”

The thieving pair never imagined Walker might have a .22 hidden under the counter. His livelihood would be at stake if he didn’t. All the business owners in town started packing after the Skelly station out on the state highway got robbed. Nobody paid any mind to the fact $80 and a multi-pack of Skoal had been the only things stolen in the incident. “Better safe than sorry,” they all said. Mr. Walker felt the same way.

Nicky’s distraction lasted long enough to allow Trevor to make a run for the door, pockets stuffed with candy. The proprietor only saw a vague figure flying out the front with a bulging backpack flailing behind it.

The man barrelled out from behind the counter. He’d grabbed the gun from below the register and swung it out wide, knocking Nicky to the floor in the process. Walker’s poor eyesight hindered his aim. A wild shot followed no precise path and, lucky for Trevor, didn’t meet its loosely intended mark. It did, however, catch a can of vegetable soup amongst the goods in the Eastpak bag the boy pulled through the air in his flight from the store.

Nicky found his footing and made it outside the store, where he discovered his friend face forward and flat on the sidewalk with his splayed limbs marking an “X” where he lay. Two perfect holes in his backpack showed where a bullet pierced the fabric, with thick red liquid flowing where the soup trickled out from the exit. Nicky feared the worst and screamed out for his friend, “Trevor, NO!”

He didn’t know soup from blood and fell to the ground next to his best friend. The boy grabbed handfuls of bubble gum from the ground where it fell from Trevor’s pocket and chucked it forcefully back to the storefront. “No! Don’t die, Trevor!” He cried, “It wasn’t worth it.”

Trevor recovered well enough to roll over and grab Nicky. He shook the boy to bring him back to his senses. “It’s okay! I’m still here,” he assured him. “Don’t worry. I ain’t goin’ to Hell. Not yet anyway.”

Studio30 weekly writing prompt – babble (image: http://www.desktopwallpapers4.me)

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Old Habits

800px-Fat_cat_sleepingBeatrice heard her stiff joints crackle as she stood up from bed and began to creep across the hardwood floor, its chill not helping the arthritis in her feet. Those old limbs didn’t work near as well as they used to but carried her body across the short distances she needed.

She walked into the living room where she’d sat at opposite ends of the couch from her late husband in virtual silence for the last several years before he finally went home to meet his maker a month prior. How many times had she stared at his unfortunate face from that distance while he loudly solved the puzzle on that t.v. game show he obsessively watched? “Stupid bastard,” the woman mumbled to herself, thinking of Vaughn. “He was never any good at the bonus round either.” Thoughts of him brought bad memories and bile backed up in her throat. It was too early in the morning for such ugly thoughts.

Vaughn hadn’t always been such a schmuck. Some quality besides his hubris and those blue eyes must have originally attracted her to the man. His charm drew her in, but that charisma quickly morphed into plain conceit. A baby soon on the way meant she stayed with her husband and tried the make the best of things. “You’ve got someone to worry with besides yourself now, girl,” her mother told her. Bea knew it was the truth.

Little Leon loved his daddy, and Vaughn likewise doted on him. It was enough to keep Beatrice in the marriage, but her husband paid more attention to the television than he did her. He certainly spent more time at the office than home but more so for the company of his pretty blond co-worker than any task their boss assigned. Vaughn’s hinky actions became easy to read, and Beatrice wasn’t stupid. Heeding Momma’s advice, though, she stayed for the duration.

By the time Vaughn retired, their son was long gone. Leon had his own aspirations, and Beatrice wanted him to live the way she’d wished for herself – to travel, see the Eiffel Tower or those pyramids over in Egypt – to go somewhere besides here. She wondered if she’d stayed with Vaughn just to spite the man or if they simply shared the bad habit of one another.

A thick strand of her once jet black hair fell in front of her eye. It was now coarse and the color of steel but still accented her startling green eyes. Vaughn called them bewitching and once said she’d vexed him. She never believed that to be the case. Instead, truly the opposite. He’d tricked her with his charming ways and made her fall as much in love with him as he was with himself. “That narcissist probably took a hand mirror with him to his coffin,” she reported out loud to nobody in particular.

A big tabby cat was the only one there to listen, and it languished across the armchair, paying her only the slightest attention. “Ya probably learned those ways from him,” she told the feline. “Ya preen yourself all day long, and lay there pretending like ya don’t hear a word I say. Both a ya considered yourselves the center of the universe.” The old cat paid her no mind and closed the one eye it opened only to verify someone else’s presence in the room. It barely noticed Vaughn’s absence either.

“That’s okay,” she said. “Just ignore me. I’m used to it.” Beatrice sniffed derisively and looked out the window. The street view from the sofa where she usually sat pleased her. “I’ll perch right here, thank ya very much.” She half-heartedly chuckled. She normally amused herself that way, wouldn’t depend on anyone else to do it for her, even if it meant watching the world go by from the living room’s confines.

A satisfied smile crossed her wrinkled face, the skin soft but creased from years of sour expressions settling in on it. Hers wasn’t an unhappy existence. She finally had what she wanted — a quiet, peaceful life. She didn’t even have to compete with the television any more to get it.

*writing prompt “hubris/conceit” from Studio 30+ Studio30 (photo: Wikimedia Commons)

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The Price of Pain

Waiting-Room-Chairs-300x225

It smelled as if a janitor tried to clean up someone’s sickness in a school hallway and only managed to mix the stench with Pine Sol to a harsher concentration. The odor overwhelmed them upon entering the gray waiting room.

Jewel asked the receptionist, “You take walk-in appointments, right?” As a mother, she was torn. Her daughter’s illness made going to the doctor a necessity. Their lack of health insurance and no expendable income, however, drew that same old feeling of dread from her center. She had no choice but to take Marissa to the free clinic.

This was the first, and she hoped only, time she had to enter the building. She’d seen the sign outside before but thought it a mystical conclave with which she hoped to never become acquainted. Once when Marissa asked her about the place as they passed it on the street, she told her, “That’s where poor people go when they’re sick.” Now, they were the proverbial poor among whose ranks she’d previously never imagined being.

“Yes, the doctor will see you without an appointment,” the woman behind the desk told her. Jewel shook her head, stating, “Actually it’s my daughter who needs to be seen.” She pulled the girl closer to her, hugging Marissa around the shoulders in a grasp of protection.

The receptionist leaned closer to Jewel, nodded toward the young girl, and asked sheepishly, “Does she need a pregnancy test?” Marissa was appalled and blurted out, “NO, she doesn’t need a pregnancy test! She’s 12 years old, and she’s sick! It’s probably the flu.” Jewel didn’t try to disguise her indignant tone.

The woman simply raised an eyebrow in reply. She waved a clipboard toward the waiting room and said, “You can fill out this form and have a seat over there until we call your name.”

Jewel snatched the paperwork away from her and led Marissa toward the scantily-furnished area. Plastic chairs that may have once been white offered little welcome, and she hoped their uncomfortable stay there proved as short as possible. A faded landscape framed on the wall looked as lonely as their surroundings.

While filling in the required information, Jewel looked at the other people around the room. An older couple sat silently in the next line of seats looking downtrodden and serious, their gnarled hands clasped in each other’s grasp. Further down the row, a mother scolded the toddler circling her seat clad only in a t-shirt and diaper. Jewel noticed a brown streak running down the child’s leg and onto the linoleum floor and wondered if it the liquid might only be melted chocolate.

An elbow nudge in her ribs brought her back to the moment. “Mom,” Marissa whispered to her. “Why did the lady ask about a pregnancy test?” The confusion in her daughter’s face saddened her even more than their environment.

She brushed Marissa’s warm forehead lightly with the back of her hand and told her, “I don’t know, sweetheart. Some people just take certain things for granted. Don’t worry about that now. I just want you to feel better.”

**

Studio 30+ writing prompt – conclave Studio30

Image via Erich Ferdinand – Flickr Creative Commons

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