Guest Post: Abbie Johnson Taylor

I was delighted to receive another guest post from American writer and blogger, Abbie. A short story that was previously published in a magazine.
To read more from Abbie, follow this link to her site.
https://www.abbiejohnsontaylor.com/wp/

JUST MY LUCK

by Abbie Johnson Taylor

The weekend after I was laid off from my job as a high school guidance counselor, my husband Charles and I went skiing. I took a flying leap off a small hill and landed spread-eagled in the snow, my skis pointing in one direction, my poles in another. My right knee was badly twisted.

On Monday, my birthday, Charles said he had out of town business that couldn’t wait. After promising to return late Friday night and kissing me on the cheek, he was out the door. Here I was, with no job, no husband, and no one to take care of me. I lay on the living room couch and wallowed in self-pity, while watching a mindless game show on television.

When the doorbell rang, I struggled to my feet, picked up my crutches, and hobbled to answer it. Reaching for the doorknob, I heard a thud, then two men yelling and punching each other. When I opened the door, I gasped at the sight in front of me. A box of fruit lay torn open on the porch. Planters were broken, and pears had rolled everywhere. Two guys were fighting and yelling. A UPS truck was parked in the driveway, and a sport utility vehicle stood on the street directly in front of the house.

“What’s going on?” I yelled.

The two men stopped and looked at me sheepishly. One of them handed me a business card that read “Doug Ross, Certified Massage Therapist.”

“Teresa Redford?” he said.

I nodded.

“Happy birthday. Your husband arranged for me to give you a massage today.”

The UPS driver said, “I also have a delivery for you. It looks like a subscription to a fruit of the month club.” His gaze shifted to the smashed pears on the porch.

“And you guys were fighting over who would make the first delivery?” They looked at each other and shrugged.

“Oh, for Heaven’s sake,” I said. “Come in out of the cold.”

They followed me into the kitchen, where I started making coffee. The massage therapist put a hand on my shoulder. “Sit down. I’ll do that.”

“I’ll clean up the mess on the porch,” the UPS driver said. “You’ll be reimbursed for what was broken. I’m really sorry.”

A few minutes later, we were drinking coffee and eating pears that weren’t too badly damaged. “Would you guys like to tell me what’s on your minds?” I asked.

The UPS driver said, “Doug and I have been friends for years. A couple of months ago, I met the most incredible woman. I made the mistake of introducing her to him. Now, she’s seeing him and wants to break up with me. But you know what, Doug? You can have her. I found someone better.”

“Glad we got past that one, Brent,” Doug said. “Still friends?”

“Still friends.” The two shook hands.

For the price Charles paid for one massage, Doug gave me daily treatments, paying special attention to my injured knee. Brent also came every day and brought more fresh fruit.

On Monday afternoon when the mail came, I opened Charles’s credit card statement. He usually took care of the bills, but I was bored to tears and sick of game shows, news programs, and soap operas. I was shocked when I saw charges for restaurants where we’d never eaten, a flower shop, a jewelry store, and a hotel in Denver, Colorado. I couldn’t remember the last time Charles gave me flowers or jewelry. His work often took him out of Wyoming. So, the hotel charges probably weren’t suspicious.

On Monday night, I called Charles’s cell and a woman answered, “Hello?”

“Oh, who’s this?” I asked.

“I’m Melanie.” She giggled.

“I’m sorry,” I said, not surprised. “I was trying to reach Charles Redford. I’m his wife. I must have the wrong number.”

After that, Doug and Brent took turns spending the night. They gave me more than massages and fresh fruit. Charles never called, and I didn’t try to reach him again.

On Friday night, when Brent and Doug both showed up at the same time, I said, “Both of you can have me tonight. Let’s get a pizza and watch a movie.”

When Charles walked in late that night, he found the three of us snuggled on the living room couch, watching Casablanca. Doug was rubbing my injured knee, and Brent’s arm was around my shoulder. A bowl of oranges stood on the coffee table.

As Charles gaped at us, I placed an arm around each of them and kissed Doug, then Brent. “Hi, honey. Did you have a nice time with Melanie?”

***

Abbie Johnson Taylor is the author of three novels, two poetry collections, and a memoir. Her work has appeared in The Writer’s Grapevine, The Weekly Avocet, and Magnets and Ladders. Please visit her website at: https://www.abbiejohnsontaylor.com

Photo-Prompt Story: Helen’s Art Class

My thanks to Ed Westen for the photo that prompted this short story. https://deartedandjody.wordpress.com/blog/

Brad was one of those guys that you looked at, and just knew. Knew that you would end up in his bed, and with any luck, end up as his wife too. It didn’t hurt that as well as being drop-dead gorgeous, he owned one of the largest auto retailers in the state. Helen was his nominated conference organiser, and he wanted to be very hands-on with the arrangements for the new car launch.

In more ways than one, as it turned out.

To say he swept her off her feet would be accurate, except that she had as much to do with that happening as Brad did. After the gig was successfully wrapped up, she readily accepted his invitation to his house for drinks. It was a wonderful house in a magnificent spot, and she was soon imagining herself as the lady of that house.

He didn’t seem to see how lovely it was, being more interested in the six-car garage that held his beloved classic cars. Helen got the tour, and none of them were the Mercedes models he sold all across the state, oh no. A Maserati, an old Triumph TR Roadster, and the Porsche Spyder identical to the one that James Dean was killed in. And that was only the first row. Behind those sat a Chevy Bel-Air from 1956, a Lancia Stratos, and his pride and joy, the 1960 Citroen DS convertible.

Helen tried to look impressed, but in truth she was more impressed by the Mercedes limousine that he had driven her there in, telling her, “I have to drive one of these because of work, but I hate the thing”.

In the bedroom, he was every bit as good as she had guessed he would be. So the next morning when he suggested they go to an auto show on the coast, she said yes, as long as she could go home first and change. For her, that was a dull day. Brad drooled over American cars from before the war, and she smiled in the right places, oohing and aahing when appropriate.

By the end of the month, he was hooked, and they had become a couple. Not wanting her to be away for work, he sugested she give up the conferences job and move in with him. She made some noises about it being too soon, but gave in when the time seemed right. No point missing the chance, after all.

Three months later, the wedding was a grand affair, and she used all of her skills to make it just right. Her family flew in from back east, and were amazed at the opulence, and the marvellous house up on the rocks overlooking the valley. Then Brad rounded off the day by presenting her with a wedding gift, a new Mercedes. As the guests clapped, Helen’s smile was fixed. It was an A220, the cheapest model money could buy. And he had got it at trade price of course.

But she took the key from the white silk cushion, and drove it around the driveway in circles, smiling gratefully.

What was it about men that made them change so much after being married? He always got home late from work, and wolfed down whatever she had prepared to eat without comment. All he wanted to do was to get into his workshop overalls and play with his cars. Other than dragging her to countless auto shows, he never wanted to do anything else. They didn’t go to restaurants, and never had friends over. In fact, Brad didn’t have any friends. Not one.

On their first anniversary, he drove her to a Maserati Owner’s Club show, spending all his time talking to boring guys about how great their cars were. She was bored senseless, and suggested a vacation. “I can’t leave the business, sweetheart. You can’t trust anyone to run it properly, and times are tough in the automotive industry. Why don’t you take up a hobby? Painting, photography, maybe jewellery making? You can remodel the house if you want to, just leave the garage alone”.

Lying awake that night as he spent time in his study looking at car magazines, she made a decision. She would take a class, as he suggested.

At breakfast the next morning, she was sweetness and light. “I think you are right, honey. I need something to fill my time. I’m going to take an art class in the city”. He kissed the top of her head as he left. “Why don’t you do just that? I will pose for a portrait one day, or even better you could paint my Lancia”.

Helen did sign up for that class. But it was not in Art. She chose Home Auto Mechanics. After a year with Brad she could talk syncromesh gearboxes, stick shifts, and oil changes with the best of them. But hands-on was what she realy needed. Dressing-down was easy. One ankle-to-neck overall, some latex gloves to protect her manicure, and her hair put up on her head. She could keep the overall and box of gloves in her car, confident in the knowledge that Brad would never open the trunk. Even though she was the only female on the course, the guy running it didn’t try to hit on her.

She had a feeling that he preferred other guys.

It took three weeks before they got to brakes. How to change the pads and discs, check the brake fluid, bleed it if necessary. The parking brake was covered too, even though in her car it was just a button. After week four, which was changing a flat, she told the guy something had come up, and she wouldn’t be back. As she had paid in full in cash and given a false name, there was no way he could come looking for her anyway. He offered to refund some of the cost, but she told him not to bother. She had got her money’s worth, though he wasn’t to know that.

Two weeks later, she got her chance. As he left for work, Brad stopped as if he had remembered something. “I’m taking the Triumph to a show this weekend. You don’t have to come if you don’t want to, honey”. Smiling at her husband, she replied. “Okay, you have a nice time. I might go get a pedicure, maybe a massage”.

That Friday afternoon, it didn’t take Helen too long to loosen the brake pipes on the Triumph. She put plenty of kitchen paper under the car, so he wouldn’t notice any drips of brake fluid. She had learned well on the course. If there was a loose pipe, applying the brakes would start to pump out the fluid. Before too long the reservoir would be dry, and the brakes would not stop the car. Between the house and the highway was a long descent, marked by no less than ten hairpin bends. Brad loved to drive around them at full speed, boasting about how well he could handle them.

The florist had his bouquet ready. Two dozen white roses. As it was their second anniversary, Brad thought it appropriate to leave some flowers at the crash site. The Highway Patrol had told him that the steering linkage on the Mercedes had been faulty. It had failed completely on the third hairpin, sending Helen’s car tumbling down onto the rocks below. After the fire, all that was left was a wheel trim, a headlight housing, a torn-up tire, and part of the track rod.

As he drove to where it happened, Brad had to smile to himself. Helen thought she knew him, but she didn’t know him at all. The day before he gave her the car as a wedding gift, he had placed a tracker under the wheel arch. It showed her car parked outside the Auto Mechanics class for two hours every week. When the brakes on the Triumph didn’t feel right, he had taken the Citroen instead.

But not before making a small adjustment to her Mercedes.

Photo Prompt Story: Easy Money

My thanks to Ed Westen at https://deartedandjody.wordpress.com/blog/ for this photo to use as a short story prompt.

Not that he knew the first thing about boats, but Dennis would try his hand at anything that didn’t involve hard work. Regular jobs were for saps, as far as he was concerned. Vince told him that for a grand each, they could buy old man Mackenzie’s boat that he used to use for fishing, and he would throw in the outboard too. Maybe even trailer it down to the boat dock.

During his last spell in prison, Vince had met a guy who knew other guys. They would pay good money to get things across from Mexico on Falcon Lake. Dennis was worried though. He had heard tell of criminals robbing people on the lake, even stealing boats. Vince laughed. “WE will be the criminals, you fool. Lighten up!” There were other worries though. Border patrols on both sides, American and Mexican. Vince lit a cigarette and shook his head. “How much d’you think those guys earn? I have contacts who have contacts. They pay the bribes, we make the deliveries. It’s easy money, my friend”.

When Mackenzie put he boat in the water and took his money, Vince produced two old fishing rods and a bucket of bait. He grinned. “Gotta have a cover story, just in case”. Dennis hoped he didn’t have to convince anyone he was a fisherman. He had never held a rod in his life. But his partner in crime was full of confidence. “You just leave it to me. I can drive this old boat, I know the signals to watch for, and I just need you to help load the goods and ride shotgun”. With that he showed an old assault rifle, stashed in a sports bag. “Locked and loaded, two spare magazines”.

Although his short army career had mostly been spent in military prison, Dennis at least knew how to use a rifle.

The first job did go easy. Vince’s contacts were on the Mexican side where he said they would be, just as the sun set. The packages were wrapped in plastic, and not too heavy, though Dennis was uneasy at the looks he was getting from the four silent men who were all wearing sunglasses. They slept on the boat that night, and crossed back to Texas at first light, transferring the packages into Vince’s Dodge Ram and covering them with bags of gravel. Then they drove to a motel in the middle of nowhere, and Vince went into a room to talk to different contacts.

As he dropped Dennis outside his apartment that night, he smiled as he handed over three thousand dollars. “There’s your money back, and lots more. Same again next week, I’ll give you a call”.

After counting the money, he took a shower and drove his old Renegade into town. There was a girl at Masie’s he had a hankering for, and he had enough money to pay for just what he wanted from her. With a good bowl of chili and a few beers inside him, he walked into the bordello waving hundred dollar bills. “Tell Charlene Dennis is here. If she’s busy, I’ll wait”.

The second job was even easier. Seemed like the Mex trusted them now, and there were no scary guys in sunglasses. The load was twice the size, and Dennis was sure the boat was too heavy. Vince smiled as he spoke. “You gotta stop worrying. This boat can take it. Might slow us down a little, but we’ll get across”.

And he was right, though the load made the springs creak on the Dodge. This time, Dennis got five thousand, and his eyes lit up at all the bills as they were handed over. Vince grabbed his shoulder, hard enough to hurt. “Now you stay sensible, and don’t go throwing the money around. Don’t change your car, or go buying a fancy watch or such like. This could make us both rich, but we gotta be careful”.

By the time they made the fifth trip, Dennis had close to twenty thousand hidden away in a metal box buried near a tree. And he had been talking to Charlene about going exclusive with her, suggesting she could move into his place and stop working. When she asked where he got the money from, he touched the side of his nose and winked.

Vince sounded happy when he called. “This will be our last fishing trip for a while, and I’m hoping for a big catch. I’ll pick you up on Sunday, first light”.

Once the boat was loaded, they hid in their usual spot on the lake and had a few beers from the cooler before sleeping. The next morning at sunup it was hot, and Dennis was sweating more than usual. “How much do you reckon this time, Vince? This is the biggest load yet”. His friend shrugged. “Maybe ten grand for your end. Like I said, easy money”.

As they tied off the boat in front of where the Dodge was parked, four men walked from behind Vince’s pickup. Then a smaller person appeared, a woman. It was Charlene. She pointed at Dennis. “That’s him. Don’t know the other fella”. Vince looked at Dennis, and inclined his head at the sports bag. But the firing started before he could slide the zip.

Todd Mackenzie followed the rangers down to the edge of the lake. The younger one pointed at a boat half sunk. “This your boat?” The old man nodded.

“Was at one time, but I sold it to two guys I didn’t know”.

Photo Prompt Story: Clyde’s New Bike

My thanks to Ed Westen from https://deartedandjody.wordpress.com/blog/ for this photo to use as a short story prompt.

Esme was tired of her son’s pestering. Sure, he had worked at the lumber mill weekends to raise some money, but he was still going to need two hundred dollars from her to buy the bike. He said he wouldn’t ride it on the road, just as well at his age. But she just knew he was a reckless boy, and even riding on tracks in the woods might be dangerous. Who was going to help out if he went and got himself all busted up?

The sulking was the worst, and the whining. She hated whining.

“But ma, if I don’t say yes soon, that bike is gonna sell for certain. It’s only two hundred, and you know I will work at the mill to pay it back”.

They couldn’t have a meal in peace without him whittering on about that damn bike. And he had to trek all the way over to Chatsworth to buy it. She guessed it was those Weaver twins he hung out with. They both had bikes, and he was always on the back of one of those. When Cyde spent the whole weekend shut up in his room, Esme knew she would have to give in.

There was genuine delight in her boy’s face when she gave him the money. She hadn’t seen him that happy since before his daddy took off. Bo Weaver came by to take him to Chatsworth to see the guy selling the bike, and she waved them off with a shake of her head. “You boys be careful now, y’hear!”

Bo laughed at the small Honda, but Clyde didn’t give a fig for his teasing. He passed over the cash, and got the key and paperwork from the man. Between Chatsworth and home, there were some of the biggest woods in the state, and he had a mind to explore them. They bought gas on the corner, then Bo took his leave. He had to work the afternoon shift at the mill, so needed to get back to town. Clyde headed into the woods, the warm breeze on his face, and a new-found feeling of freedom puffing up his chest.

Roy Mullaney didn’t care much for people. Most of those he had met during a long life were as low as dog shit, in his opinion. He liked his own company, and only drove into town once a month for supplies. He was proud of his cabin, built it him himself on land he bought deep inside the woods. He lived on his veteran’s pension, and didn’t need much besides his books and his old dog, Barney.

Just lately though, he was bothered. Kids on dirt bikes tearing around on his property, showing no respect. They upset Barney too, set him off growling and barking. Most times they were gone before he could get to them, and sometimes if they saw him they would holler and-cat call, maybe even give him the finger. The notices didn’t stop them neither. PRIVATE LAND. KEEP OUT. Roy had placed them all around. Many times he found them ridden down, covered in dusty tire tracks.

He heard the engine from a way off. Sounded like the muffler had been removed, rasping like an angry wasp. Barney sat up on the porch, and his ears pricked up at the sound. A low growl sounded in his throat, and Roy petted him. “It’s okay, old fella. You stay here”.

Maybe Clyde had ridden the bike too hard, or could be that the man had lied when he said it was always reliable. But it stopped dead across some tire-ruts in the woods, and nothing he could do would get the thing started again. He had no choice but to push it, and it was going to take a very long time. Bo would come by and help him fix it, he just had to get it home.

When he saw the man walking toward him along the ruts, he was relieved. Maybe he had a car or truck nearby, and would help him out. Clyde stopped walking and raised a hand in greeting. “Hey, mister…”

He didn’t hear the blast that cut him short, just felt the impact on his chest. First he was looking at the sky, then blackness.

Roy racked another shell into the pump shotgun as he carried on walking. But once he got close to the boy, he knew he wouldn’t need it. Back at the cabin, he got a shovel and some rope, and Barney jumped into the passenger seat of the pickup as he drove off.

He buried the boy under the big tree, then used the tow hitch of the pickup to drag the bike over the branch next to the other ones before tying it off.

If the signs didn’t work, maybe this would.

Photo Prompt Story: When Johnny Comes Marching Home

My thanks to Fraggle, from https://fragglerocking.org/ for this photo prompt. It has taken me a long time to getting round to using it.

Michigan was a long way from the south, and young John didn’t recall ever seeing a slave. But those rebs had started a ruckus by firing on a fort somewhere, and he had a mind to join in before it was all over. He talked to Caleb about it, and that boy was as keen as mustard. “Reckon we’ll have to lie about our age, John. But pa says they need a lot of soldiers, and they needs them now. Can’t see them bothering too much about a year or two”.

The recruiting sergeant shook his head as they stood in front of his desk. “You gotta be joshing me, boys. Why don’t you go home to your mommas afore they wonder where you got to?” The boys faces coloured red, and they put on their hats and walked off in a sulk.

His older sisters teased him when he got home, and mom cuffed him around the head. “What d’you think you’re playing at, boy? I never heard of such a thing. Soldiering at your age? And your pa dead but a year after that accident. Now get washed up for dinner!”

Things changed after Bull Run. Despite being the same age, they took Caleb. Well, he was a head taller, and they ignored the lie.

December was as cold as always, and John made up his mind. Come the new year of sixty-two, he would try again. The Federal Army was losing all over, and didn’t seem to have the sand to stand against those rebs. Some said it was bad generals, ’cause the rebs had better ones. John would read the newspapers he found thrown down in the streets, and became more determined he just had to go.

When the news came about Caleb, he was shocked. Hard to imagine Caleb gone, and in some place in Missouri that he had never heard of. Truth be told, John didn’t even know where Missouri was.

Two days later, he got up when it was still dark. Sneaking out, he took a spare shirt, and some bread from the larder, before making the long walk into Detroit. It was still cold, so he walked fast to stay warm. Someone at the edge of the city told him how to find the recruiting office, and he managed to keep the directions in his head in the city he had only been to once before in his short life.

The queue was small, and once the doors opened he was soon inside. This time, nobody mentioned his age, or that he was so short. Some doctor in a white coat looked him over, pronounced him fit for service, and he was sent to wait in a wagon with the others. Sitting on the rough plank, he swallowed hard. He was in the Union Army, 15th Michigan Infantry.

For the rest, it was mostly a blur. Training to march, training to carry and shoot the heavy rifle, trying to get on with the others who were mostly city boys from Detroit. They ragged him a lot, and made him do the unpleasant jobs. It was no never mind to John, as he would soon be fighting the rebs, and avenging Caleb. Then he had the blue uniform, and felt he stood taller in it. The rumours were all around the camp. They were heading south and west.

Mississippi.

The next few days were all about marching, wagons, and trains. Sergeant Kraus pushed him awake as he dozed on a station platform. Kraus laughed, his teeth stained dark from chaw. “Hurry up and wait, little John. Hurry up and wait boy”. On the last train, John felt the heat down south. Packed into the carriages, it felt hotter than hell for October, and then they had to march to the defences at Corinth. He sweated right through the stiff uniform, and his backpack and rifle felt like they would drag him down to the ground. He saw his first artillery shells exploding as they dropped onto the works around the town.

Rebel shells.

Inside the dugout, they had to parade for Captain Stagle. He set his jaw, and told them the worst. “Boys, Van Dorn is out there with his rebel army. He reckons to attack soon, and we are going to be waiting for him”. He waited for the ragged cheer that followed. “I am pleased to tell you that we will be at the front. We are going to be outside the earthworks, and give those rebs a nasty surprise. Come on the fifteenth!” The next cheer was heartier, but John knew they were all hungry and tired.

All they had that night was hard biscuit and beans. And they had to sleep on the ground between the rebs and the trenches. Sergeant Kraus roused him at first light, and all he had was the water in his canteen. The humidity was awful, and he could not even recall the last time he had washed himself.

When the enemy artillery started just after nine, the only relief was that that death was falling on the defences to the rear. It was close to lunchtime when John saw his first reb, as they swarmed in front of him screeching that terrible yell. Sergeant Kraus shouted at him, “Fire your rifle, boy!” Then Kraus fell dead with a minie ball through his head.

John fired without seeing a target, and reloaded. But the rebs were upon them, and the company was running back to the trenches. He ran with the others, and didn’t see the man who fired the bullet into his back. Just felt the earth in his mouth as he fell, screaming in pain.

The Union Army won the battle of Corinth, after a hard fight.

But Johnny never marched home.

Photo Prompt Story: Rudra And The Monkeys

My thanks to Jude from https://cornwallincolours.blog/ (and other blogs) for sending me this photo as a short story prompt. This is a belated entry from 2020, as I saved some photos at the time.

The men waited by the square where the buses arrived. Big buses, minibuses, small jeeps, taxis, any vehicle that could cram in some paying customers. They looked for arriving families with children, the easiest targets.

Children liked the monkeys, and wanted their photos taken with them. After a long, dusty journey the parents were usually happy to please the fractious infants. And if there were Nanis or Dadis, those grandparents were usually happy to part with a few rupees to let the monkeys sit on the shoulders of their little ones, even if they had no phone or camera to capture the moment.

Rudra was always there at weekends. He hated those two men because he saw what they did before the buses arrived. They beat the excitable monkeys with sticks, denied them food and water, and only gave them enough to survive, as long as they didn’t upset any paying customers by screeching or biting. He thought those men should have a real job.

They could mend shoes, just as his father did, or wash clothes, like his mother. That had sent Rudra to school, and he had learned how to read. He had also discovered the ways of the world at a young age.

The world was cruel.

Sometimes, the two men beat the monkeys so badly that they could no longer walk, or sit on the shoulders of customers. He wanted to do something, but first he had to grow strong, and to try to save some money. He knew where the men slept after they had eaten, keeping the monkeys on tight ropes close to them. One day he would act, but that day was a long time coming.

Just after his tenth birthday he had enough strength, and enough rupees saved from odd jobs.

Sneaking out of the house was easy enough. Mother and father were tired after a long day at work, and as soon as dinner was eaten, they were sleeping on their mats. He had to act quickly though, taking the small sharp knife from under the cooking pot and treading the well-used path to the back of the market where the buses and taxis stopped.

There was a good chance that the men had been drinking, as he had seen them doing that at dusk. They slept under a large plastic sheet at the side of the road behind the wall, the monkeys held on ropes tied around their feet. He wasn’t used to being out in the dark. It felt scary, and there were no buses in the market place. After so many years, Rudra felt strong and determined. This was his one chance.

Sure enough, the men were snoring, and probably drunk. The monkeys chattered as he approached, but they were also tired. It was easy to cut the ropes close to the men’s feet without disturbing their slumbers. As he led the monkeys away, Rupra was hoping that he could find a motor rickshaw still plying for hire in the town. He had to wake up the driver, who was sleeping on the back seat. The man waved him away at first, but his eyes were brighter when he was shown the rupees.

Climbing into the back with the monkeys, Rudra told him to take him as far away as the money would last. As the driver set off, the boy stared into the darkness. Once out of the town, fields stretched out on both sides of the dusty road. It was some time before trees could be seen up ahead, and the rickshaw stopped. The driver said his money had got him this far, but no further.

As he led the monkeys toward the trees, he looked back into the darkness. The rickshaw was turning in the road, heading back to town. Inside the cover of the trees, it was so dark he could hardly see to slip the ropes from each monkey’s neck in turn. At first they just stood by him, reluctant to leave his side. Then there was a loud noise from deeper inside the forest, and one of the monkeys scampered up the nearest tree. It was soon followed by the other three, and Rudra could hear them climbing higher. Once they were in the highest branches, he turned and headed for home.

The walk was tiring, but he got back before dawn. And he was grateful for the long, straight road that guided him back into town. Slipping off his sandals, he tiptoed in and carefully replaced the knife under the cooking pot. Sleep came soon once he was lying quietly on the mat, and he dreamed of monkeys enjoying freedom in the trees.

After breakfast, Rudra was keen to run to the market place. He wanted to see the disappointment of the awful men when they had no monkeys to tempt people arriving. The smile on his face was so wide, he felt his mouth stretching. But as he looked over the wall, that smile disappeared.

There were the men, holding their sticks. And they had four different monkeys, ropes tied around their necks. They were calling to the people getting off of the buses, and prodding the monkeys to make them jump around. The boy turned and sat with his back against the wall, not wanting to see any more. Tears formed, and trickled down his cheeks.

The world was cruel.

60 Feet Under

Some time ago, I sent Shaily a first line suggestion for a fictional short story. She had a great idea for using it, and produced an outstanding story.

Short Stories | Fish-eye Perspective

Author’s note: This is short story based on the first line suggested by Beetleypete.

It was so hot there, much hotter than I could ever have imagined it would be. I had always expected it to be cool below the surface since the desert sun couldn’t get to you. But apparently, I was wrong.

It was stifling hot and suffocating, even though, I didn’t need to breath anymore. The casket I was lying in was rather stuffy. May be a walk in the tomb would help.

It was just as dark outside. There was no way of knowing whether it was day or night. Who would want to live for eternity stuck in a hole where you could see neither the sun, nor the moon and stars. Not that I needed light to see. My eyes adjusted to the dark just fine but it didn’t take away the…

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Susan’s Pen

This is a fictional short story, in 970 words.

Christine watched as Sue opened her pencil case. Looking across the gap at the blonde girl sitting primly at her desk, she subconsciously pulled her feet back under the chair, so Miss Snooty Susan wouuld not see her scuffed cheap shoes. The pencil case was suede, and embossed with a butterfly motif. Chrisine’s pencil case was a cheap clear plastic. It didn’t even have a zip, just a pop stud securing a creased flap. When she took out the pencil, she sneaked it back into her satchel, so nobody would see it.

Sue slid the zip of her plush case open slowly, before removing a snazzy fountain pen from inside. It was a Parker, obvious from the metal arrow that served as both decoration and pocket clip. The silver-coloured top stood out from the black body, and Christine was wondering if it might even be one of those new cartridge pens. You didn’t have to chance getting messy with those, just plug in a new ink cartridge.

Even the nib was tiny, the latest style and perfect for neat and small writing. Christine’s mum had told her she didn’t need a pen, and they were too expensive anyway. Then Aunty Betty had bought her a set of HB pencils for her birthday, and that had been the end of it. Mum had got her a pencil sharpener from an old wooden box that dad had left behind when he left. “No idea how old this is, but it works well enough. You might as well use it, save buying another one”.

Mrs Millington said they had to write an essay, and she chalked up the subject on the board. “What I did at the weekend”.

Snooty Susan started to write immediately. She would probably be writing about what a wonderful weekend she had spent being spoiled by her parents. They probably took her ice skating, or swimming, or to ride a pony in the suburbs. Christine didn’t want to write the truth about her weekend. She had spent it doing the laundry, changing the beds, and cleaning the house while mum was working her shifts at the factory. Then each evening she had cooked her own dinner, before falling asleep reading a book.

So she invented something better. On Saturday, her dad came to take her to the cinema. He bought her ice cream during the intermission, then on the way home they stopped for fish and chips which they ate out of the wrapper as they walked along the street. Then he came back on Sunday to take her on a riverboat trip, and they went to Greenwich on the boat, before walking up the hill to the Observatory.

After lunch, they had Gym. That meant they had to change into their shorts and plimsolls in the changing room. Susan had special kit to wear, but Christine had to do Gym in her vest and knickers. Her plimsolls didn’t have any laces after the last pair had broken, so mum had made her use rough string that had been tied around a bundle of firewood. But the changing room offered her the opportunity, and she took it.

As Susan ran out onto the floor of the gymnasium, laughing with her friends, Christine held back, and took the new Parker pen from the suede case. She only wanted to feel what it was like to hold it, but when Miss Harris shouted for her to get into the class, she put the pen into her own cheap pencil case.

The last class that afternoon was Maths, and today was Geometry. That would usually involve using rulers and drawing lines, but today they had to write some answers to problems Mr Lloyd had written on the blackboard. Susan got the butterfly case from her leather satchel, and raised her eyebrows. Then her hand shot up. “Sir, someone has taken my pen. It’s new, and a Parker”. The teacher looked exasperated. “It’s probably just a prank, Susan”. He stood up. “Okay, if someone has taken Susan’s pen, hand it back now, and apologise”.

Nobody moved, including Christine.

The teacher didn’t want to waste any more time. “Right, everyone empty your satchels onto your desk now, and show me your pencil cases”. Christine was suddenly seized by panic, and had no idea what to do. For some reason, she did something stupid. Jumping up, she grabbed her satchel and ran out of the class. At the end of the corridor, the madness of her action dawned on her, and she turned to see Susan and Mr Lloyd running toward her. Fumbling in her pencil case, she removed the pen and held it out. The shiny top fell off as she did that.

Susan’s face was a picture of triumph as she grabbed Christine’s hand. “She stole it, sir. She’s a thief”. If she had just taken the pen without saying anything, Christine would have let go. But as it was, she gripped it tighter, causing the angry girl to pull on it really hard. Mr Lloyd was puffing as he got to them. He was old, and out of condition. But he looked annoyed, so Christine released her grip unexpectedly.

With no pressure holding her hand, Susan’s arm shot back at speed, and the pen went straight into her right eye, nib first. Her scream was so piercing, Christine put her hands over her ears, turning her head away so she couldn’t see the blood pouring out and the pen protruding from Susan’s eye.

Moments later, the corridor was full of people, and Mrs Collier the History teacher grabbed Christine by the arm as the screaming continued. As the teacher marched her off to the headmaster’s office, Christine was crying, and tearfully explained herself.

“I only wanted to hold it, to see what it felt like”.

A Jubilee Fairy Story

This is a fictional short story, in 920 words.

Once upon a time in the run-down outskirts of a once prosperous industrial city, lived Donna and her two children, twins Leah and Josh.

Donna was on her way home from dropping her eight year-olds off at school. This morning had been a rush, as usual. By the time she got back from her early-morning cleaning job, she didn’t even have time for a cup of tea before the twenty-minute walk to school. Leaving home at three-thirty in the morning meant the kids had to sort themselves out, and get their own breakfast of Coco Pops, but they were good kids, and never complained. She hated leaving them like that, but what else could she do? The office cleaning was all she could find, and they needed the money.

It wasn’t how she thought life would work out. Gregg had married her when she was pregnant, something not many blokes would do these days. But once he had a couple of screaming babies in the house, he wasn’t up to it. One day, he didn’t come home from work, and she hadn’t been able to find out where he had gone. Donna did her best, she really did. Part-time jobs once they could go to nursery, then the early morning cleaning that gave her time to get home to take them to school.

Pulling at the blush pink hoody, she was wishing she could get something warmer. She saw the way the other mums looked at her outside the school, her always wearing the same thing since they had started there three years earlier. But kids needed shoes all the time, and better they should have shoes than her spend the money on a puffa jacket. She pulled out her phone to check the time. It was such an old phone, people grinned when they saw her holding it. She had kept the same three quid credit on it for over a year now. As long as she had it handy for emergencies and to tell the time, that was good enough.

Nigel should be there by now. Nasty Nigel, who always stood outside the pub on the corner, watched over by his two scary-looking minders. Except in bad weather, when he sat in his van and spoke to you through the window. Donna picked up the pace, walking faster would keep her warm.

Leah and Josh never asked for anything. They knew how things were. No money for the Internet, never been on a holiday, not even a day out when the funfair came. Sitting under blankets in the winter when money was tight at the end of the month and the gas bill was due. At least they had the telly to watch, though Donna hadn’t paid the licence fee for over two years. She had to trust to luck that no detector vans were out anymore. Donna suddenly stopped, and reached into her shoulder bag to check her purse. Less than four quid to last her the rest of the week, and it was only Wednesday. Still, there was a full bag of oven chips in the freezer, and she had seven eggs left from that ten-box. The kids would be happy with egg and chips for dinner, and she would make do with a fried egg sandwich again.

When the kids couldn’t stop talking about the Jubilee, Donna had made up her mind to do something. There was a party in their street on Saturday afternoon, and so far theirs was the only house with no bunting or flags. And every house was supplying some food. Cakes, sandwiches, sausage rolls and pork pies, plus fizzy pop for the children. And it was fancy dress, with people wearing king and queen outfits, or red, white, and blue clothes. Seemed a shame that her two should miss out. After all, they would never see another Platinum Jubilee in their lifetime.

Up ahead, she saw Nigel leaning against the railings outside the pub. People called him Nasty Nigel for a reason, but Donna had never seen him being anything but friendly.

“What can I do for you, little Donna?” He smiled as he said that.

“How much for fifty, Nige?”

“Three quid a week for 50 weeks, you get the first two weeks free. So that’s one-fifty back to me over a year, and you get the fifty in cash now, okay?”

When she nodded, Nigel produced five new ten-pound notes from inside his overcoat, like he already knew how much she wanted to borrow.

“See you in two weeks then, Donna love. On Wednesday. And don’t make me come looking for you, I do know where you live”.

Poundland seemed to be the best bet for bunting and stuff. They had some masks in there too, ones that looked like you were wearing a crown. Then up to Aldi, where she could get all the food and drink cheap. Donna could feel the notes in her pocket, making her feel stupidly rich. By the time she got home from the shops there wouldn’t be much change from the fifty, but at least the kids would be the same as all the others, and they would feel like they fitted in for once in their life. She might get some sausages while she was in there, and a large tin of baked beans. Make a better dinner for tonight.

Then on Sunday, it would all be over. And they would live happily ever after…

Good Neighbour Dorothy

Another reblog of a short story from 2016. It may be of interest to new followers since then.

beetleypete

This is a work of fiction. A short story of just over 900 words.

Ever since she and Alan had moved to The Close, Dorothy had always tried to be a good neighbour. In the early days, she would ask Alan to help the old lady a few doors down. He would clean out her gutters to save her paying anyone to do it, or perhaps change a light bulb. When there were power cuts, she always checked on those nearby, to make sure that they had candles, something to eat, and that they weren’t cold. If they had a hospital appointment, or needed to go to the dentist, she would drive them there in her car, and every time she went to the supermarket, she happily picked up a few items for them. At election time, she would round up all the old people, and give them a lift…

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