Dirty Tricks

cemetery

Gravel-road cruising while getting drunk was not her favorite weekend activity, but stopping at a church cemetery off the beaten path rated even worse. Blythe agreed to go with a friend because the duo had been invited by boys, one on whom Caroline had a crush, and his buddy didn’t want to be a third wheel.

“Caroline, you are going to owe me big time,” she whispered in the girl’s ear when the driver turned to head out of town. Cute or not, these guys seemed up to no good. Alcohol only exacerbated their fiendishness.

Dylan and Bradley laughed, as if sharing an inside joke, and practically fell out of the truck when it slid to a stop. “I’m gonna go take a piss,” the driver announced. His friend chuckled knowingly and agreed, “Yeah, I gotta go, too,” and trailed after him. The two took off at a sprint and disappeared into the darkness beyond a line of decrepit grave markers. Whatever they aimed to do, Blythe wanted no part of it.

She grabbed Caroline’s arm when she started to slide across the seat toward the door. “This is not a good idea, Caroline,” she warned, but the girl jumped out anyway. “Oh, come on! Don’t be such an old lady, Blythe.”

Caroline pulled Blythe unwillingly out of the truck and across the grass, wet with dew, and headed toward the church. Blythe’s feet became soaked and grew cold, and she began to shiver. “This place is giving me the creeps,” she said. “I don’t think we should be here. It seems disrespectful.”

“Let’s go, Blythe! We should look for the guys. See what they’re up to,” Caroline urged as they crossed the cemetery gate. She could be such an airhead when she liked someone, especially a goofball like Bradley.

Blythe replied, “No way. I don’t care where those jerks went.” She regretted her decision when she gaped out at the emptiness surrounding her and suddenly felt scared. All she could see was a mist obscuring most of the landscape. A mishmash of tombstones stood in the distance, some upright and others leaning in disrepair.

Half expecting a revenant being to emerge above the monuments, Blythe crouched down behind one to hide. Her hands shook as she peeked around its rough stone edges to see if anyone else was near. Touching the grave marker chilled her fingertips even more. “Damn you guys,” she muttered under her breath, not daring to make any noise.

The vista lay menacingly in front of her. She felt in her bones that nothing good would come of the situation, and a chill ran down her spine. She thought of an old superstition about how a shiver meant someone walked across your grave.

“Come back, Caroline,” she whispered into the blank night as loudly as she dared. Blinking back tears, she squinted her eyes tightly in disbelief at the frightening sight a hundred yards or so away from her position. The girl froze in horror.

Spectral images floated above the lowest level of fog hugging the ground. She had a hard time believing her eyes and wished she hadn’t accepted her friend’s invitation to come out. Being back at home beneath warm blankets would’ve been so much wiser.

“It isn’t real! It isn’t real!” she kept repeating to convince herself while mentally berating Caroline for talking her into coming on such a hair-brained roadtrip. She felt a breeze rush past her that gently glided across her body and rose goose-bumps on her skin.

Blythe parted her lips slightly to call out for her friend but dared not bring the wraiths’ attention her way. She could hear the boys laughter echoing from out beyond the church yard but had no idea where they could be. Caroline was nowhere to be seen either, so Blythe decided it was now or never.

She jumped up and ran back to the truck to discover the keys still in the ignition, which solidified her decision to abandon them all. She felt bad about leaving Caroline, but it was every woman for herself.

Fleeing the scene as quickly as she could, Blythe glanced into the rearview mirror. She felt only slight remorse at seeing either Dylan or Bradley, but not knowing which one, running down the gravel road after the truck. His arms pin wheeled in the air as if grasping for help. Although slightly blurred by dust spun up from the tires, several wavering figures appeared to be following closely behind the boy.

“Sucks to be you,” Blythe groaned. She stepped on the gas pedal and sped away.

 

– photo: Garrett Gabriel via Flickr

s30p*writing prompt – revenant

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Family Values

70s bike

My fuchsia bicycle with the flowered banana-seat conveyed me all over town, my travel unrestricted. Stranger Danger didn’t get forced on a kid in the ‘70s like the present day. I pedaled pretty much anywhere the strength of my legs could take me.

I got to ride that bike to visit my friend, Veronica, from school. My mother knew where I was going and said, “You can go but only if you don’t tell your daddy.” I could ride my bike there by myself, but my father would’ve forbidden me from going. I’d never been to a black family’s house in my nine years of life.

This was the 1970s, not Jim Crow, not the segregated South, although the Midwest wasn’t exactly a cozy nest of inclusion. Few of my elementary school classmates were black, whom I could count on one hand from three third-grade classrooms.

Our home may have been typical in a small town, but I didn’t know since kids didn’t compare notes. While my mother didn’t condone our dad’s racism, her inaction was complicit. She’d also been raised to think the races need to remain separate, to “stick with their own.” She must’ve fallen into a torpor from the seeming normalness of that environment. Almost as if you can’t beat ‘em, so join ‘em in their prejudice.

My dad was inexorable and totally justified in his behavior. We’d been raised with this example as normal, but we knew better inside. Such an ugly secret we hid behind closed doors felt wrong. The balance of our blooming consciences grew lopsided to what seemed right, no matter what we knew as normal in our home.

Me and my sisters were warned to never bring a black or Asian guy home or we’d have no home. We’d be disowned, which scared me enough to never dated outside my race. As a teenager, I realized what bigotry meant but that my father wasn’t even a consistent bigot. He wouldn’t been fine with one of us dating someone Native American, but he would’ve lost his shit with any of us dating an African American.

He once said, “I know one at work, and he’s okay. He’s a hard worker.” Like that was a bonus, as if the man would otherwise slack because of being born black. I have no idea what caused his negativity about other races. It didn’t seem personal. His parents never acted that way. Their rural background likely didn’t involve much, if any, interaction with anyone other than white people. Maybe simple isolation took its toll on him.

My dad’s racist attitude and language overshadowed his other virtues. Being a hard worker who provided and care for his family didn’t weigh as heavy as the hatred and inconsistencies I witnessed. Someone who claimed, “Never think you’re better than anyone else,” was the same one who told us who could be our friends. I remember him saying, “Nobody is any better than you either, no matter how much money they have.” Such mixed messages.

He didn’t like Jews and gave running commentary on the nightly news, especially if it included the likes of Henry Kissinger or JFK, although he never gave a reason why. Astonishingly enough, I think he voted Democrat. We couldn’t watch video of Eddie Murphy’s comedy routine without a hateful diatribe if our dad walked into the room. Why demonize these people we didn’t even know?

It was personal for me. Veronica was my friend, and going to her house excited. Everyone welcomed me there. With its unique decorations and varied kitchen aromas (as in anyone else’s home), theirs was an average middle-class household. We lived on the north side of the railroad tracks that delineated the poorer side of town. Ironically, I crossed those tracks to go to Veronica’s house not five or six blocks further down the same street.

I came home afterward to report, “Mom, Veronica has three mamas. They all live at her house.” Looking back, I imagine extended family lived there. My mom made sure to explain that couldn’t be right, that they must be different.

Always different, never the same. Making folks different could keep us separate. Twenty-three years after his death I still wonder what stemmed my father’s antipathy.

I’m lucky to have learned a different way of living by moving to a bigger city and meeting individuals of all races, nationalities, religions and lifestyles. My own life experience is richer for it. I know people are ultimately just people.

Some of those people are good and others bad, regardless of skin color. Unfortunately, indifference exists in all human beings. A generation later, I could cross railroad tracks all over the country — or the world — and find the same wherever my wheels take me. But making it personal makes it better.

Photo: deer_je via Flickr

*Studio 30+ writing prompt: bonus

Studio30

With a sad spirit, these thoughts are dedicated to a transcendent artist now missed by the world – RIP Prince.

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Loyalty

4147993730_d8e29e98ae_o.jpgTheo Hammons sat on the idea for near three weeks before he finally settled on asking his grandson his opinion on the matter. He stood on the rickety porch waiting for the young man’s arrival to get his take. Worn boards moaned pitifully at his weight shift, regardless of the man’s slight frame, their age and strength waning even more than his own.

The widower exclaimed, “Damn it!” as he lost his grip on the railing, paint flakes flying when his hand raked across it. “Get away from me, ya good for nothin,’” he spat at a scraggly calico cat trying to rub against his dirty blue jeans as it circled his legs. Kicking at the feline altered his balance more than the animal’s resolve.

His t-shirt, once white and now an ill-tempered yellowed with sweat stains and filth, caught a drip of chewing tobacco flung from the gaping maw of his mouth. He blamed the cat as his latest annoyance, cursed at it some more, and flung a Pabst Blue Ribbon can at it after he took the last swallow. The discarded aluminum landed near a similar pile of empties lining the opposite railing.

Working all those years at Peckinpaw Farms certainly wore him down and damaged his ego. He surprised even himself with the prospect of asking the new foreman for his job back. He’d once been in charge, after all. He ran the operation until his bones couldn’t take it any more and his self-medication through alcohol no longer soothed the aches and pains of his body and soul. Especially after his wife passed.

Otherwise, Theo simply existed. Many of his friends had either died, moved in with their children to be cared for, or stared at the green institutional walls of the State Veterans’ Home. Since failing the vision test and losing his driver’s license, he hadn’t been to visit any of them. Days spent watching the RFD network or the weather channel, listening to Hank Williams on the radio, and waiting interminably for grandkids to visit worked his nerves. Watching, listening, waiting.

Returning to work might give him reason to live again. “I’m ready to run that tractor, by God,” he’d tell Peckinpaw Jr., who’d taken over. “Maybe I can supervise the field work from the cab of that new John Deere.” He planned to assert, “Those young ‘uns could learn from my experience. Surely that still means somethin’ today.” Swallowing his pride to ask for his job would go down about as well as a dirt clod from a wind row in one of those fields.

When Jason arrived later that evening, he found Theo collapsed in a heap among his cast-off beer cans in front of the porch swing. “Grandpa,” he asked shaking the man’s shoulder, “what in the world are you doing out here?” He struggled to lift his dead weight, as slight as it was, and half-dragged his grandfather inside through a sagging screen door that groaned louder than Theo did and nearly fell off its twisted hinges at being opened.

The old orange, brown and white cat’s eyes looked almost as rheumy as its owner’s. The feline snuck quickly behind Jason and inside the house before the ragged door smacked closed behind them. “Damned, cat,” Theo muttered. “Made me fall down. Git outta here, git!” He swung a weak arm at the animal, attempting to erase it from existence, as if doing so would help relieve his misery.

“That silly cat may be one of the few beings left on this earth that cares about you,” his grandson warned him. Theo passed out again, and his balding head slumped forward. He lay still on the threadbare couch, much like the stack of crushed PBR empties beside it on the floor. The raggedy cat walked in a circle atop his body before settling down to sleep on Theo’s bony hip.

Jason crossed back across the threshold to leave and eased the door closed behind him so as to not wake Theo. He left him there to sleep off his sorrow until the morning.

*Studio 30+ writing prompt – erase s30p

photo: Geoffrey Galloway via Flickr

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The Birds & the Bees on TV

16 - 1

The clunking sound of pans and plates being rocked by the spray of water in the dishwasher covered an annoying chatter of television sports announcers emitting from the adjoining room. Fortunately, the rotating whoosh sound fairly drowned out the strange mentions of “dog legs” on golf courses and commentators’ snappy banter about ball scores and one another’s tie on the cast that day. Her son’s attraction to such boring fare was beyond her understanding.

She asked him, “Why don’t you go outside and play, honey?” Apparently the boy was in rapture of the reporting and didn’t answer. She raised her voice to get his attention. “Hey, there! It’s a beautiful day outside. You ought to go ride your bicycle,” the woman suggested. Imagining the silence in the house, she relished the idea of sitting at the kitchen table with the enormous cat dozing in her lap at the chance of reading the final pages of her book.

“Oh, come on, Mom. I’m watching ESPN,” he told her. Personally, she’d rather listen to the sound of jackhammers outside the door than the squeak of athletic shoes on a basketball court or another jaunty jingle in a beer commercial. The same stereotypical advertisements filled the network’s breaks between segments. Maybe programmers knew their market, but her boy didn’t need to choose shaver brands quite yet.

“I just can’t fathom what you get out of watching that stuff,” she said. “Can you explain it to me?” No reply came. He was lost to the eagle putt again.

Back in her childhood, she loved roaming the neighborhood. All the other kids played in their yards and waved at her walking their dog around the block. Sometimes they’d join her to place pennies on the railroad tracks, which they’d flock to retrieve later in hopes a train had smashed the coins flat. She stayed aloft and out of her parents’ sight in the tallest oak tree if sought for causing trouble.

Remembering those shenanigans made her smile. Being outdoors had been her absolute favorite pastime. Why didn’t kids feel the same way nowadays?

Barely within her realm of acknowledgement, she heard an ad announcer say, “A healthy erection will not last more than four hours.” “Great,” she thought, “here we go.”

Her son called, “Mom?” She closed her paperback and froze in fear of the next question. Being out of his line of sight, maybe he’d think she left the room.

“Mo-om,” he persisted. “What’s an erection?” She remained silent. She’d dreaded this day coming. He was too young to know about these things yet. “Damn, you Golf Channel marketing department,” she pondered. “Why did you make this conversation necessary so soon?”

She remained perfectly still. Maybe she didn’t have to respond. Looking out the window, she wished she could climb the nearest tree and hide.

*Studio 30+ writing prompt – shenanigans s30p

Image: Katy B.

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A Representative Fissure

2253163393_b73f8c5457_o.jpgIt can take a lifetime to figure out what makes another person tick. Even someone you’ve known a since childhood. Despite the quirky persona, in spite of the long relationship, even though you’ve always felt a fondness for him. You never expected such from a friend. Especially not a person from your same parish, who grew up on the same block.

We all know the dude, the one whose consternation makes him stick out like a semi-conspicuous sore, if not arthritic, thumb. He’s camouflaged under an image, but getting to know him better sometimes shows the inner workings of his mind and an inconsistent attitude about humanity. He’s the guy from Sunday school class, the one who still goes to Bible study, the good ol’ guy. But he can still surprise me.

We take a road trip now and then. Once he offered, “You know I’m glad this term is finally almost over. It’s about time to ‘Make America Great Again.’ You know, like they say.”

“Who’s they?” I ask him, shaking my head in dismay.

“Oh, you know what I mean. New blood. Somebody in office more like you and me, brother,” he replies.

The furrow of my brow and head waggling back and forth surely affirms my disagreement. Just in case he doesn’t get it, I tell him, “Not me. I like the guy there just fine. Personally, I think this country is already great.”

Our paths went in different directions in adulthood, but he’s not a complete rube. We’ve known each other forever and agree on some matters but other times not so much. My friend must think I concur on the subject. He says, “We need a good, God-fearing man in there, I tell ya. You get me, right?”

I guffaw. “We’re going to have to agree to disagree on that one, buddy.” The interior of the car becomes awkwardly silent at that point.

Gallivanting down the Interstate, I turn away from the conversation at that particularly cringe-worthy moment and take in the leafless branches of spindly trees along the road. They reach up to pull the milky sun out from behind blurry clouds in what Johnny Cash must’ve surely meant by an “atomic sky.” My thoughts get mixed there among the haze, my mind grasping to forget the bromide from the passenger seat.

The granular landscape doesn’t save my senses from the rant’s residue.

I don’t want to be all judgy and pigeon hole my old friend as a total mossback. It’s hard not to when times like this reveal exactly how far apart our worldviews are, how fundamentally different we’ve become. I’m sure he senses the divide between us widening as much as I do.

As we reach our final destination the air between us yet hangs ominously heavy and still. He asks, “We on for dinner after church on Sunday?” I shrug. “Sure, man. See you then.”

s30p

*Studio 30+ writing prompt – quirky

Image: Natalie via Flickr

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Losing Control

pill bottle.jpg

Pamela’s sister yelled from behind the window, “What in the world were you thinking?” The woman didn’t know how she always seemed to get herself into such predicaments. With her car in the shrubbery, its bumper dented and headlight smashed, she had yet to suss the situation, much less defend or refute any accusations from an angry sibling.

“What was I thinking … I don’t even know where I am,” Pamela mumbled. Her head ached and a thin trickle of blood leaked down her forehead as she lifted it from the top arc of the steering wheel. Confused, she asked herself, “Where the hell am I?” She looked past the dashboard to where her sister stood at the plate-glass window in shocked surprise with her arms spread wide to hold open the living room curtains. A plume of steam rose into the air above the Accord’s crunched hood.

She gritted her teeth and beat a fist on the wheel. “It’s that goddamn Ambien! I should’ve known not to take that last night when I got home from the bar.” Now, facing her sibling, she was at a loss to explain her actions. As if losing her job wasn’t enough, begging forgiveness for ruining such carefully-sculpted greenery would be her next humiliation.

She didn’t have to open the driver’s door to feel how her sister would assail her with accusations. Such a one-sided conversation happened before. “What it is now, Pamela? When are you going to get your shit together?” Their mother’s expression on her sister Margaret’s face bore down on her. No disapproving words were unnecessary.

That glare made Pamela feel lower than she already felt about herself, if possible. Margaret’s judgment filled in for their mother’s absence, and her punishing opinion only added to Pamela’s miserable self-concept. Mother’s disdain was palpable all the way from her vault at Peaceful Acres on Parkridge Drive.

Pamela’s stomach turned at seeing the crumpled front bumper. No way could she afford the insurance deductible this time. She’d just have to drive it as-is. “I don’t remember starting the car, much less driving … or ending up here,” she explained in a futile attempt to quell Margaret’s anger.

Had the Honda veered into a guardrail on the freeway, her suffering may’ve finally ended. Instead, the landscaping of the house where desperate circumstances left her to live off a family member had cushioned her sleep-aid-fueled escapade.

Margaret stood, her arms crossed in front of her, stabbing Pamela with an all too familiar steely glare. Although Pamela loved her sister and was grateful for the hospitality of a place to stay after losing her apartment, the woman’s condescending attitude grew to an intolerable level.

“I’m so sick of this shit,” she spat, got back in the car, and slammed the door. The tires dug ruts in the formerly-pristine sod when she threw the gear shift into reverse, spun out onto the pavement, and sped down the street. Radiator be damned.

“Hmmm,” Margaret pondered, giving a slight shrug. “Guess I get to watch the new X-Files by myself tonight. Good.” She went back inside and closed the curtains.

(photo – joshboyd studios via Flickr)

Studio 30+ writing prompt – vault s30p

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Self-realization

champagne

Before she even had a chance to blow a noisemaker and ring in the new year, the party took a sudden turn for the worst when a fight broke out on the alcove. The capacious room shrunk to a crowded mess when a huge man with bulging eyes punched the guy across from him. Fists began swinging to and fro, barely missing the smaller fellow’s petite date beside him as he took a right hook to the jaw.

The jocular atmosphere and all air was sucked from the room with a unanimous guffaw as the little guy collapsed to the floor. His lady friend glanced down at him before bellowing, “Oh, no, you didn’t!” She descended on the brute who struck him.

She turned into a human dynamo, blasting the aggressor with a verbal and physical assault he neither expected nor from which he could defend himself. Other partygoers grabbed the woman from behind to pull her off the man who hurt her partner and restrained her from doing further damage. Her arms and legs flailed, and her black party dress swirled violently around her body.

Expletives continued to fly as she was carried away, a champagne flute flung in her wake. The woman’s poor boyfriend was still rubbing his jaw as he sheepishly followed her out into the hallway.

“Damn, that woman packed a helluva punch,” said the big guy. “Should given her have a chance to fight instead of walloping that little boyfriend.” A buddy asked him, “What started it all in the first place?”

“It was pretty strange,” he answered. “We were talking about New Year’s resolutions, and her boyfriend said he wanted to work out more.” The other man looked at him quizzically and shrugged.

The big guy tipped his head sideways and continued. “I agreed with the dude, that he could stand to beef up his physique. She, on the other hand, said she wanted to lose some weight. And I agreed.”

“Oh, no, man,” his friend replied. “You didn’t!”

The tough one nodded smugly, broad shoulders shaking as he laughed. “Yeah, I said she should join her man at the gym. So she got insulted and started mouthing off to me. The little bastard poked me in the chest, trying to take up for his woman, which was pretty ballsy for someone so small. I couldn’t let the punk get away with it. Then she went nutso.”

The two of them clinked their drinks together in a jesting manner. The bigger man breathed deeply, which puffed up his chest, and let out a heavy sigh. “Yea, maybe she should look into some anger management, too. Quite a way to ruin the party.”

His friend giggled nervously in disbelief, mumbled a quick New Year’s salutation, and excused himself to the restroom.

*Studio 30+ writing prompts – jocular & jesting

Image via Flickr s30p

 

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On a Mission

Observing Christmas Eve …

katy brandes writes

Image via Joseph on Flickr

The clash of pool balls smacking together greeted Eve as she opened the heavy door. She knew which direction to go when she heard the familiar sound. The room was dim with the limited illumination from glass-hooded lights above the tables, so it was hard to see through the thick haze of cigarette smoke that hovered all the way up to the ceiling. Eve stood just over four feet tall, short for her 12 years, so the gray cloud lingered right above her hairline. Bud Light placards and Nascar signs lined the dingy walls adorned with deer head trophies there so long the hair looked mangy and antlers colorless and whittled away with age.

She stomped slush off her feet and scanned the room for the man she searched for so many times before. Eve hoped to spot him from just inside the door so she’d escape…

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Fresh Wounds

IMG_0923.JPGAn azure sky promised a blistering hot day as the first canoe broke the water’s surface that morning. The women knew the temperature and humidity would be soothed by the icy-cold river and rushed to get their float underway – 15 miles being the goal for the day.

“Let’s get this show on the road, ladies. I’ve got a cooler full of beer to drink,” Casey belted out, always ready to pop that first tab. “I lost my watch, but it’s happy hour somewhere,” she said. Used to her brand of merriment, the others laughed and joined in her toast with drinks raised in the air.

They got together for such adventures as often as possible, maybe from some strongly-held friendships over the years since high school, or perhaps simply from a collective longing to rekindle the nostalgia of their shared past. Whatever the impetus, they enjoyed escaping the responsibilities of everyday life, and for a few short days other adult commitments be damned.

All fairly adept at navigating either a canoe or a kayak, the group went at the oars with great vigor and followed the current between deep green deciduous forest lining both banks. Most had some background in outdoor expeditions from growing up in the Midwest region. The beauty of such a place sometimes still got taken for granted, but plush reminders surrounded them on either side of the waterway. Rushing rivulets beneath their boats replaced the concrete confines of work and traffic, drudgery of lawn-mowing and trips to the grocery store, and the monotony of laundry and checking kids’ homework. Laughter became an elixir for any lingering worries about life.

“There’s no way you girls are gonna finish off that mess,” the van driver from the outfitter company warned them at drop-off. Their unanimous laughter scoffed his prediction, as drinking on the river practically became an art in their youth, and their big jug of Kansas City Iced Water already  began to diminish by lunchtime. Denise commented how much lighter the container already felt when she lugged it onto a sandbar where they pulled off to eat.

Smaller coolers of sandwiches sat on rocky nest of the riverbank — a tapestry of gray, tan, some darker brown, and even pink quartzite among the riprap there keeping the shores from eroding away. Schools of tiny minnows nibbled at toes left dangling in the water as the women ate potato chips crushed in the dry bags stowed aboard. Kay threw the small fish some crumbs to keep them from nipping at her feet.

She tossed a few fragments downstream hoping to draw them away when an airborne scuffle there caught her eye. “Whoa .. you guys look at that,” she exclaimed, pointing to the opposite bank.

Their attention shifted to two birds that swooped at each other in a swift but embittered battle, with a long-necked heron getting a beating along the way. A smaller bird resembling a hawk yanked at the other’s wing with its sharp beak, tearing away feathers in the process. The larger one’s long neck stretched away in a desperate attempt to escape the slighter but mighty predator.

Their flying fight ended with the more aggressive bird, an osprey, taking to the air after when the rowdy group of women whooped in shock with varying shrieks loud enough to scare off any animal. The heron’s right wing flapped clumsily to flee them as well, although it only scuffed the water’s surface, fresh wounds impairing the ability to flee any other potential danger.

Its injuries kept the majestic bird from escaping the group of boaters, or perhaps the animal instinctively sensed no humans there meant it harm. Marie clambered toward the bird, thinking something could be done for it, practically capsizing her canoe. The woman then realized her own helplessness. She lost a whole beer in the process, and the half-submerged can sailed past the heron’s resting place beside a water-logged walnut bough. What did she know about helping an injured wild bird?

A bale of turtles sat sunning themselves on the downed tree limb but scattered off in different directions when the heron settled near them. Kay said, “What a unique-looking bird. It’s beautiful in it own way, huh?” The women sat ruminating on the notion until she commented, “Surely there’s something we can do for it.”

“You better leave that thing alone,” Casey warned. “It’s hurt and scared … and might hurt you, too.” The others either sat atop beverage coolers or rested on their own rocky nests by the water’s edge, the bunch studying the heron, a sudden pall cast over their otherwise exuberant day.

Marie made her way back to the others on the shore and joined them to reverently study the silently suffering bird. They watched as it hid behind the big limb, wings ruffling, almost trying to shake off its wounds. Kay broke the silence. “My husband hates those things. He says herons always bug him when he goes fishing. They try to steal all the fish,” she said.

Casey shook her head and countered, “Well, that’s just them doing what they do. You know — eat. Everything’s gotta eat. That’s natural.” She usually made a lot of sense even though she might drink too much on occasion.

“It’s beautiful,” said Marie. “I don’t know if I’ve ever seen something act so graceful under the circumstances. Can’t imagine how much pain it’s in.”

A distant shriek echoed off a cliff bank further down the river, perhaps even from that same osprey that caused the damage. Maybe it meant to remind them of its power. At the sound, the heron stretched its wings and launched itself from the water. A few of the women gasped at the sight.

“No way,” remarked Denise as a wistful smile crossed her face. “I wondered if maybe it might give up … but look!” They watched it soar off into the air, graceful regardless of the harmed appendage.

Casey popped open another beer and held it aloft. “Here’s to you, bird. Keep flyin’.”

A few jaws still agape, the group lifted their drinks in salute. A tear slid down Kay’s cheek, her being the softest-hearted of the bunch, and she swiped at it with her empty hand. “Some wild things are just too much for this world,” she whispered.

Casey grasped her around the shoulder and motioned toward the canoes. “Come on, now, girl. We’ve got beers left to drink.”

___

Studio 30+ writing prompt – aggressive Studio30

Thank you, Mary, for always reading and commenting on my writing. You will be forever missed.

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Instinct

flat tire.jpgThe gray sky and chilly mist set a sullen mood for car trouble that left Carolyn stranded on the shoulder of Highway 14. As if an impending holiday dinner with extended family weren’t enough, the car dying made her even more uneasy. She glanced at her watch and swore, “Damn, I hate Daylight Saving Time. It’s gonna start getting dark any minute now.”

She drummed the steering wheel with her fingers and kept her gaze fixed on the rearview mirror to watch for a tow truck. Her patience dissolved in direct proportion to the minutes ticking away in wait. Mom expected everyone before 7:00, and Carolyn would never hear the end of it if she arrived late.

An older blue Impala or Malibu, covered in enough rust to almost make it look red, pulled up behind her car. She wondered, “Who the hell is this guy?” Maybe it was the shit-eating grin on his face as he sauntered up to her driver’s door. Maybe it was the worn out blue jeans he held up with one hand on his waistband as he flicked a cigarette into the ditch with the other one. “Sure, asshole, start a grass fire,” she mentally accused. “You’re lucky it’s raining.”

She couldn’t quite place why, but Carolyn didn’t like the looks of the guy. “Hey, there, little lady,” he crooned. “You got troubles? Pop your hood, and I’ll see if I can help.” She rejected the offer for help outright.

Even opening the window only a crack, an overwhelming waft of cheap cologne assaulted her senses. No red warning light came on when the car quit, but an alarming caution went off inside Carolyn’s body, a sharp yellow glow that rushed through her. She’d learned to trust the feeling over the years. It construed a seemingly well-intentioned gesture on this man’s part into a manipulation.

“No, thanks,” Carolyn responded flatly. “Harold’s Roadside Service is on the way.” She shot the guy a blank glare but revealed no sign of the dread building in her stomach.

She didn’t want to feel beholden to him for anything. In fact, she resented feeling like she owed anybody anything. That just wasn’t her style. “How dare he act so familiar with me,” she thought. “I don’t know this dude from the man in the moon.”

Mom’s voice rang in her ear, ”Oh, Carolyn – you are so suspicious. When are you going to let go of all those preconceived notions about people?”

Realizing and even admitting her prejudice, Carolyn wouldn’t try to explain it away. She felt strong in her convictions and just felt how she felt. Some people shouldn’t be trusted.

The man lingered at her window, the rain sliding down his pock-marked forehead. “I could give you a ride wherever you need,” he said. When she shook her head, he waggled his eyebrows at her and asked, “You sure ‘bout that?” Carolyn looked up only far enough to notice pimples nested among the facial hair creeping down his neck into the frayed and yellowed collar of his dirty white t-shirt.

Carolyn shook her head again, vigorously now, and screamed, “No, I don’t need help! Please go away!” The man shrugged and backed slowly to his car. A menacing half-smile rested on his face, a glare locked on the side mirror where she peered sideways at him and, with each step, he glowered at her there. He got in his car, reversed down the shoulder and onto the side road from where he’d first come. She noticed no license plate on the crumpled front bumper.

Harold delivered Carolyn and her ailing vehicle to her mother’s home within the hour. She wanted to forget the scene and the creepy fake Samaritan as quickly as possible. The discord of her family’s loud dinner conversation presented the prefect opportunity to do so. Her nerves repaired by that time, she ate and quickly retired to her warm bed without relaying the earlier events.

The young woman woke late to a similar drizzle outside her window the next morning and returned to the dining room table where everyone else’s dishes revealed she’d overslept. Glad to miss their unruly breakfast time, she was happy to find only a mug of coffee and the day’s newspaper there to greet her.

Carolyn blew on the steaming liquid before taking her first sip. She shook open the paper to read the morning headlines, not expecting much from such a small-town periodical.

She instead gagged on her mouthful of coffee, and its remnants dripped down her chin as she choked when she read the main header. “Victim of Carjacking Missing,” it said. The first line of the paragraph below read, “The driver of a late-model Chevrolet is wanted in the kidnapping of a young woman late last night from a suspected bump-and-rob accident along North Highway 14.”

Carolyn’s hands shook so violently she spilled her remaining coffee on the newspaper and couldn’t read the rest of the article.

*Studio 30+ writing prompt – beholden Studio30

Photo: Owen Iverson via Flickr

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