Dine In, Carry Out


Algy jammed everything back onto the last tabletop after wiping it clean.

Edith said, “Easy now.”

“Rob sent me another letter,” Algy told her.

“Did he?”

“He wants me to send him my paycheck.”

“Ohh.” The sound was a cross between a groan and a sigh. Edith went to the cash drawer, counting the money twice over to be sure. Then she asked, “Did you write him back this time?”

Algy grunted.

“You did, didn’t you.”

Slowly Algy nodded.  “I said to ask me nicely.”

Edith counted out several stacks of bills, then went into the office for her deposit slips. Returning, she asked, “If he does, what then?”

“I’ll tell him it’s too late. That’s my college money.”

Edith smiled. “Good,” she said. She dropped the deposit in her purse and started for the door.

Algy didn’t follow her at once. “Do you really think Granddad will let me have this place when I’m older?”

Edith turned back. “What did that letter say?”

Algy drew a deep breath. “That you and Granddad would be throwing good money after bad to let the restaurant fall to a big headed fool like me.”

Edith shook her head and held a hand out to her grandson. “He’s the fool to say that.”

“That’s why I told him to ask nicely.” Algy joined his grandmother. He didn’t take her hand, but instead held the door. “It’s why I’m waiting for him to ask again to say no.”

“Good,” Edith repeated. She turned and locked the door .“He just wants to get your goat. He’s got a lot of nerve to ask, though.”

“It’s because he still thinks he’s my father,” Algy told her. “But he’s not anymore, is he?”

“No,” said Edith. “And he won’t ever be again.”

Algy opened the driver’s door for his grandmother before going around to his own side. “Then I don’t ever have to give him my money.”

“You don’t ever have to give him anything at all.”

“Good.”

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The fools over at  Trifecta have assigned us the third definition of fool. And I pity the fool who doesn’t rise to the challenge. {ahem. sometimes, the puns will out}

Wolf’s bane


“Wednesday Washday,” Mam always said.

She had sayings like that for every day of the week. The only other one I remember is “Monday morning do the darning”, probably because it rhymed. But she died when I was small. Everybody in town says Daddy should have given her at least a month in the ground before he started poking around in other women’s holes. But if he had waited, I wouldn’t have gotten Ona for my new mam, and we’d not have Ruby for our baby. Of course, she isn’t really a baby any longer. She’s got five summers on her, and she can do more every washday.

Ona’s husband died of the same sickness that took my mam, and they told me in the village that my Daddy and Ona got married before the stones were piled over the big cairn where they put the fever dead that summer. I was supposed to be mad at him for that. But they don’t understand that Ona brought me Ruby so tiny, who needed a Daddy as badly as I needed a mam. They don’t understand that every year for the five since that fever, when the magnolias are honeythick, Ona takes me to the cairn and we put blossoms on it together. I put one for my Mam, and since she could walk, Ruby puts one for her first Daddy, even though she really only knows my Daddy for hers. And then Ona sprinkles dust for both of them that their sacrifice should be enough.

We always see the others, like the blacksmith’s big son Gavin, whose parents both died. His uncle came down from the mountains to run the forge until Gavin gets bigger. When we meet him at the rocks, we all stand together to lay our flowers, and Ona speaks his parents names when she throws the dust for my Mam and her Roddy, that their sacrifice should be enough for him as well. His uncle barely knew his brother that died, and it won’t do any good if his uncle lays a flower or throws the dust. The dead can only hear the invocations of those who have felt their loss. Ona and Daddy both say so. But Daddy can’t bear to go.

This year, it’s not the fever giving us trouble. It’s flooding and wolves. We can hear the river loud and close everyplace we go, and at night, the wolves are always howling. Ona says Daddy laid the spells strong by our house against the flood, and the wolves will keep to themselves. But the water sounds always like it is rushing towards us, looking to pull our little house loose and rend it apart. And the wolves sound like they’re right outside my window some nights, hungry and lonesome.

Ona says we may as well have high water as fever, may as well have wolves as water. She says the wolves haven’t got anywhere to go. When the river recedes, they’ll go home to the lowlands. But of course they can’t do that now with the river spilling all over the ground.

Last night, Mrs. Carmody came to the house with something wrapped up heavy in a cloth. She opened the cloth, and it was a man’s hand in there. Ona screamed, and all my body  but my stomach rose up into my head so I felt like I was floating. My stomach held me down to the ground like somebody poured it full of rocks from that cairn.

I knew it was a man’s hand by the hair on the fingers. Little Ruby didn’t understand what she was looking at, all purple and swollen, the skin jagged and muscle rotting at the stump. She just stared while I covered my mouth to hold back my food, and Ona shrieked, “Cover it up!”

Mrs. Carmondy rolled the cloth tight again, then said “My Derrick found that in one of those metal traps. Those wolves aren’t natural.”

Ona said, her voice still high, running along the edge of a scream, “Like it walked into the trap and had to chew off the paw to get loose, then the paw changed back to a hand after.”

“That’s what we reckon,” said Mrs. Carmody. “I’m sorry to put it to you that way, but you need to know, and I didn’t think you’d believe me without the proof.”

Ona reproved her, “And me a wizard’s wife! Of course I would.” Ona was crowding her apron into her mouth now, like maybe her stomach wanted to turn the same trick as mine.

Mrs. Carmody went on, “I brought you something.”

“Please, no more!” Ona’s voice was a little more controlled now, but it still shook some.

“Not that,” said Mrs. Carmody. “I had a silver idol from my own gran from the last time the wolves came around. I took it to Gavin’s uncle and melted it down. I’m taking the bullets around to my neighbours. I came here first because I knew you had those little girls to think of, and your man off trying to find a spell that will hold the levy at Knightsbridge.” Mrs. Carmody nodded to the gun stretched across the rack above the fireplace and held out a pouch. “You can shoot that?” she asked.

Ona let go of her apron. She took the pouch and nodded. “Yes, thank you,” she said.

Mrs. Carmody wouldn’t stay the night. No wolf would touch a witch, and she meant to finish taking the silver around by morning.

“She’s a good woman,” Ona said, when Mrs. Carmody had gone. “Cares a lot for us.”

I just nodded, still too nauseous to trust my mouth to spit out words and not my supper.

“Here.” Ona handed me the pouch. “Put these on the mantle and we’ll go to bed.” Neither she nor I had much taste for sleep after news like that. But what Ona really meant was that if I would keep Ruby quiet in the bedroom, Ona would try to scry Daddy in her little glass so he might be warned and tell them in Knightsbridge. She had enough of the witch in her, but that wasn’t something we told around. The village already had a witch, and we didn’t want them thinking Ona meant wrong by Mrs. Carmody.

When Ona came to bed, Ruby was long since asleep. Ona kissed Ruby’s face and pushed the hair away from my ear to whisper, “It is well with him. He says not to worry. He will come home.”

Then, she pulled Ruby and I in close to her, and I could finally rest. If Daddy was coming, that was good.

Today is Wednesday, and wolves or not, Wednesday is washday. I’m big enough. I can help. Ona and I both get down on our knees in the yard and scrub the dirt out over the washboard. Ruby tries to do her part, too. We work side by side and watch the river race itself. It comes to a bend near our house, so that it passes on three sides, and there is nowhere we can do wash without feeling it.

“What do we do if the wolves come, Ona?” I say.

“Are you still thinking of those bullets?” she asks me.

“Yes.”

Ona lets go of the shirt she’s scrubbing and takes my face in her wet hands. “Your Daddy and I will keep you safe. You and Ruby are our gems, more precious than silver even.”

I lean into her a little then but just as quickly pull away. “Where’s Ruby?”

Ona jumps up and whips around. “Ruby!” She calls.

My sister doesn’t answer, and in an instant, I see why. She walked away while Ona and I talked of wolves, her exploration taking her behind us and too close to the riverbank. Even as we watch, Ruby misses her footing and vanishes.

“Ruby!” Ona screams our baby’s name, and then she’s running. She looks around once at me. “Stay put,” she says. Then, still running, she pulls her shirt up, throws down her skirt and tears at her underthings.

She’s moving so fast, and I am crying so hard, that her body blurs as she strips. Every step is one too late, then she is at the riverbank where Ruby went down, leaning out, staring hard. She looks back at me one more time. “I see her,” she calls. “I can get her.”

Then Ona dives, and it seems at first that my tears have blurred her body again. But it’s not my eyes. Ona is changing, her body tightening as she flies out over the water, her arms and legs pulling up into haunches, her head becoming flat and long. Then she breaks the surface, and I can’t see her any longer.

I can’t bear to be still, so I run to the bank, clinging to the trees when I get too close myself. I can see  little Ruby clinging to a tree, an entire tree that has been ripped out into the current, it twisting so that she must flail to stay above water. And then I see the wolf’s snout. Ona is swimming hard to reach our baby.

“Hold tight,” I scream to Ruby, who cannot hear me at all.”Don’t be scared. It’s just Mam coming to save you. You have to let her take you.”

Ona will reach her. She must reach her. We cannot lose our baby. Running footsteps behind me, and when I look back, I see Gavin and his uncle, who could not have heard us screaming, who could not have come so fast from the village and their forge even if they heard. Beside me, they stop for a moment, just as Ona did, and I understand what will happen even before it begins. Gavin’s uncle gets down on all fours and leaps, and I find I cannot watch him change. “They’ll come out down there,” says Gavin, and he points to a place downriver where the bank smoothes out, becomes less steep. “Get the clothing. Hurry. Then get on me. Your father is coming.” And then he changes.

I run madly around the yard, collecting the things Ona, Gavin, and his uncle have removed. I cannot watch the wolves, but I know they will get to Ruby in time. I felt the certainty in Gavin’s voice. With the clothes piled in my arms, I scramble onto the huge wolf’s back. I cling to him with my knees, my fists knotted in his fur, the shirts, and pants, and drawers crushed between us.

And I think, “Does he know? Does Daddy know?” over and over as Gavin carries me to the place where Ona and the uncle will come out of the water. I think he does not know.

Then Gavin stops and rolls me off. He curls on his side, and within an instant, he’s a boy again, only a little older than I am, even if he is as tall as a grown man. He yips in pain, a sound that becomes his own voice shouting. “Help them if you’ve any magic, Birdie. Others are coming. They must not see.”

The wolves don’t need my help, and that is good. Because if I do have any magic, it has yet to show. The wolves have got Ruby between them, and I cannot tell them apart in the water, but they are swimming strongly against the current. They will reach us just where Gavin said.

“You mustn’t speak of this,” Gavin tells me. “It must be something kept between us. Or they will kill us all sure.”

But I knew that already. I know I have seen something I must never put into words. If I do, I’ll lose the only precious things to come into my life since the fever took my Mam.  And I know this, too. The water is wild, and it will take a body faster than a body can take breath. But the wolves, them I must trust. They came to protect us from the water. They are here for Ona’s sake, a protection like the dust she throws at the cairn, that no lives be lost that can be saved. That the sacrifices of those already dead should be enough.

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For the IndieInk Writing Challenge this week, SAM challenged me with “magnolias, Wednesday, riverbank, wolf” and I challenged Supermaren with “Mornings suck at our house. Between the noise from the forge and the smell coming out of the dragon pens, we’re all grumpy and nauseous before we finish breaking our fast.”

The Story of The Three Little Pigs


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Those crafty Trifecta editors are at it again, asking us for a retold story in 33 words. Here’s mine. NB: “w/” is one word unconnected with “expertise”. There’s a space.

Surfing


I’m not talking ballet here. I’m trying to explain the hedony. I throw myself forward lusting into the Dionysian spontaneity. The arena is carnality alive, and all of us are hungry sybarites while the music plays. We blare, and trumpet, and thunder. I do not fall into their arms expecting asylum.  And yet, there is a safe core where the rhythm is deep enough to hold me if I dive in, so long as I keep time with my body while I ride to the shore. This is not sanctuary but an entry point. The dance begins in the air.

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Linking up here with Trifecta, this week brought to you by the word “safe”.

This is also my submission for Lance’s 100 word song response. This week’s song is The Black Crows’ Hotel Illness. My response is as much to the group as this specific tune. I heart The Black Crows.

Street Scene


“Well, that’s a first.” Caren added the last of the bound carpet strips to the furniture piled at the curb.

Todd grunted an answer, but she couldn’t hear him, because he was hunkered behind the sofa, while she stood in front of the recliners. They still needed to flip those up onto the couch in order to fit the whole mountain on the narrow grass stripe between sidewalk and street. These tenants left so much that hauling it and the carpet out took them well into the night.

“We ought to get a management company,” Caren went on. “My back isn’t up for this kind of lifting.”

Todd came around to join her. “Costs more than it’s worth,” he told her. And she thought he was right. Probably.

He stood behind her, and she leaned into him while he slid one hand under her shirt to rub the base of her spine. Above them, the moon waxed heavy and low, some optical illusion driving it down towards the earth.

Caren complained, “I ache.”

“Me too,” Todd agreed. But his voice suggested a different kind of ache entirely from the one caused by lifting too much without a proper dolly.

“You can’t be serious. Here?”

He didn’t answer her with words, but instead pulled their bodies together tight, front to back.

“Here then.”

They tumbled awkwardly over the couch arms and left their clothing on the sidewalk. The chairs in front of the couch and the late hour promised sufficient privacy as long as the tenants didn’t suddenly return wanting their possessions.

They wrapped themselves together, one into the other, coiled so it was hard to see where she ended and he began. They bore down on each other like the earth-driven moon. And that moon. Oh the moon. How it yearned to reach the ground.

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This week, the Trifextra prompt asked us to write a love scene 3 to 333 words long that neither turned Trifextra in to TrifeXXXtra nor used any of the following 33 words:

Cruel Summer


Billy Squier crooned “In The Dark” on Trevor’s boom box. Trevor lay on the top bunk, while across the room, Paul pounded a joystick. “Be careful with that thing!” Trevor warned.

Paul said, “It’s gonna die soon anyway.”

He was right. When the boys opened the gaming console at Christmas, they gazed unbelieving at the box. The machine inside was used, but very real. Nonetheless, one of the joysticks had been broken within a month, its red button jammed down until it wouldn’t spring up anymore, and there wasn’t any money for repairs. The second stick was held together with duct tape. Both boys knew it wouldn’t be with them much longer. Still, they enjoyed it while they could, and Trevor hated to hear Paul abusing the thing. But Paul had always been the nervous one, and Trevor understood that need to expel energy.

For his own part, he reached above his head and turned up the radio. He wanted to get up and pee, but Miss Anna had been clear. Trevor’s job was to concentrate his wishes down to the yellow-haired dead man in the bottom bunk, and to not get up for any reason whatsoever until the trouble started. The body had to remember who had killed it, had to remember its own animosity towards its murderer. And it could get that from Trevor, who had watched his stepfather shoot it when it had still been a man. Trevor and Paul had been trapped in their shared bedroom with the blonde corpse for a whole night now, a night when neither of them slept.

“What’s that horrible smell?” asked Mom from the doorway.

Paul jumped to his feet, standing so his body blocked the bed.  Paul’s job was to keep Mom out of the room when she came home from work. “Where’d you come from?” Paul demanded. “Get outta here! And knock first.”

Trevor propped himself on one elbow and made a show of looking at their mother. In fact, even that motion was a little difficult right now. Those tendrils of concentration that he had been sending down were also wisps that held him in place and made moving a heavy burden.

“Can’t you ask how a lady’s night went at work?” Mom said, and then continued without waiting for an answer, “You aren’t hiding some other smells, are you?”

“Mom, we’re not smoking pot, now let me finish my game! I have to get to the Mothership before time runs out,” said Paul.

Mom stood silhouetted in the doorway, leaning on one raised arm. The backlight hid her features, hid the bruises, so that for a moment, her sons saw her as men must have once seen her, a wasp-waisted goddess crying out desire with her very figure.  Paul flinched away from the sight, but he stayed between her and the bed.

“I’m just telling you, if that smell isn’t gone by the time your Daddy wakes up…”

“Randy’s not our father,” Trevor snapped. “Not mine and not Paul’s.”

“Don’t you let him hear you say that,” Mom warned. Randy was asleep in his kitchen chair, sprawled backwards in front of an unfinished beer.

“Okay, fine, just let me finish my game,” Paul insisted.

“I don’t know what I’m going to do with you boys,” Mom said. “It’s absolutely putrid in that room.”  But she was retreating down the hall now, and Paul stepped forward to close the door behind her. They knew she was too tired to investigate.

“How are things coming down there?” Trevor asked, his voice sounding as heavy now as his body felt. When the subject wasn’t their stepfather, he didn’t have much energy for speaking.

Paul approached the bottom bunk and rustled the comforter. “Still dead,” he reported to Trevor. “I hope he hurries his yellow head up. Mom’s right about the smell, and if Randy wakes up and comes in here …”

“Is she? I guess my nose has kind of adjusted. I hardly notice anymore,” Trevor told his brother. “Anyway, it will work. Miss Anna said we had to give it a full twelve hours, and we’re at eleven and a half right now. And Randy’s going to be sleeping awhile yet. I got the pills in his drinks.”

Paul nodded, moving away from the bed. Then he picked up his joystick and resumed the task of navigating an alien home to its distant family. “I hope Mom doesn’t decide to want the TV back,” he said.

“That’s a stupid game if she does” said Trevor. “But she can’t come in, and right now, you shouldn’t go out.

Paul didn’t answer.

“In The Dark” faded out, and the DJ put on some girl band, The Bangles or Bananarama. Trevor groaned and reached behind his head to fiddle with the dial without looking.

Out in the living room, the same song Trevor had just turned down came on louder. Mom keeping herself awake long enough to get some breakfast. Or dinner. It was hard to say which meal was what  with a third shift job. Mom sang “She’s got it” while Trevor fumbled through stations on a slow-to-tune dial.

“I guess she doesn’t want the TV anyway,” said Paul.

Mom must have been dodging around Randy’s sleeping form, because a couple of times, she stopped singing, then apologized, “Oh! So sorry hon, just getting myself a little dinner, then I’m heading off to bed.” And Paul pounded a little harder on the joystick.

Then a bump, and Paul threw down the joystick and spun around. Trevor sat up too fast and smacked his head on the ceiling. AC/DC crackled on the boom box, “Back in Black”, and Trevor rubbed his skull. The logy feeling  let him go as those hundred thousand directed thoughts finally finished their journey through his mind and into the yellow-haired man’s body. “Get the blankets off it, Paul,” Trevor hissed, as he vaulted down the bunk ladder. The trouble was started.

Paul snatched the cover back, removed the comforter jerkily, then backed against the television. Trevor studied the former man and stood beside his brother.

The corpse’s eyes were as yellow as its hair now, and  they were glowing. It sat up a little unsteadily, then swiveled its head to look straight at Trevor. “In the kitchen, right?” the dead man rasped.

Trevor nodded, then swallowed hard and spoke. “Asleep at the table. Not Mom. Not even if she gets in the way.”

The corpse nodded, rising until it seemed to fill the small room with its rank smell. “Not Mom,” it repeated in that same growling voice. “But when she starts screaming, you be ready to grab her and run. It’s going to get ugly when I take that bastard back down with me.”

Then, the zombie kicked the door down like it was made of cardboard, while Trevor and Paul huddled together against the TV. “One bright chance,” Trevor said. “God almighty, one bright chance.”

And then the brothers held on to each other, waiting for their mother to scream.
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For the IndieInk Writing Challenge this week, Jay Andrew Allen challenged me with “Bananarama. ” and I challenged Grace O’Malley with “Deftly, he wove in and out of the cones, letting the wind rush across his body, holding himself coiled for the moment when he could pick up speed.”

This is also part two of the story I started here yesterday.

Shallow Grave


“Pick your glass,” Miss Anna said. “There’s three, all alike.”

“Oh, no ma’am. We trust you,” Trevor said quickly.

Miss Anna laughed. No music in her voice, but no needles, either. “No you don’t” she said. “Nor would I in your shoes. Pick. But don’t drink. Not yet.”

“Did you really hex Mark for what he did to those cats?” asked Paul.

Miss Anna didn’t laugh this time. Just shook her head.

“But you could have,” Paul continued. It wasn’t a question.

Miss Anna nodded.

The choice in beverages suddenly seemed very important indeed. Trevor closed his eyes and picked blind, then Paul did the same. Then, Miss Anna said, “Now, which one of you saw it?”

And Trevor said, “Me,” without hesitation. They weren’t talking cats now.

“Shut up!” said Paul.

“It’s all right,” said Miss Anna. “I won’t call the police. We all know that stepfather of yours would have your mother dead before they’d finished digging up the grave, and he’d do it if she was at work and if work was a hundred miles away.”

Miss Anna had just repeated exactly what Randy said to Paul and Trevor’s mother after she and he came back to the trailer from burying the yellow haired man. Paul sucked in a breath and looked at Trevor. Miss Anna lived too far away to have overheard.

“Me,” Trevor repeated. “I saw. Do you need me to tell you?”

“No.” The old woman shook her head. “Now’s when we drink, by the way.” They did, and Miss Anna continued, “I saw it, too, but I don’t have any personal enmity in the matter. This must be done by someone who saw the thing, and who carries it with anger, and maybe a little bit of hatred in his heart. Is that you Trevor? Go deep now, before you answer me.”

Finally, Trevor said, “Yes’m.” Just the one word, but it satisfied the woman.

“Good,” she said. “Then we’ve something to discuss.”

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Part two of this story is now up here.

We’re going deep this week over at Trifecta, where we’ve been tasked with using the third definition of ‘deep’ from the Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary in a story of between 33 and 333 words.