Dog Days Finalists Stories

TOP TEN FINALISTS

(stories in alphabetical order by title)

MT Decker, Rasha Tayaket, Karl A. Russell, Tamara Shoemaker, Kristen Falso-Capaldi, Robert Marazas, Margaret Locke, Alissa Leonard, Mark A. King, Toni Morrow Wyatt

Bazaar Fun, by MT Decker. 980 words

Andy breathed a sigh of relief as he finished carrying the last box to his parents’ stand at the town bazaar. The only thing worse than setup, was take down, but that wasn’t for 8 hours and anything could happen. Nobody knew that better than Andrew Fitzsimons.

‘Bazaar Days’ was one of his favorite events of the summer: it was one part craft fair, one part flea market, three parts parts carnival – and 100 percent fun. He’d been looking forward to it since school had let out a month earlier and the day was finally upon him. He planned on missing nothing.

There was always something to do– and something new to see, and every year was different. This year, the biggest difference was the fact that he was now old enough to ‘help out’ at the stand. It wasn’t anything big – besides, he knew how the fair went – the first half was the craft fair and market and the carnival really didn’t get swinging until later on in the afternoon. His dad would cut him lose during the ‘slow time’ between three and four and he’d have at least an hour to shop – so he had to make it count.

It was trade off: he’d have less time than usual– but he’d have something he usually didn’t have and that was money.

By noon, the fair was in full swing and Andy had a good idea which of the booths he wanted to check out once he was free to ‘go play.’ When his dad sent him to the food court to pick up lunch he made a full circuit of the fair to make sure he hadn’t missed anything. By the time the afternoon slow-down hit at three, he was ready to begin.

His first stop was the tintype booth – where he could get a picture of himself in a period costume of his choice. The only problem was, he couldn’t decide if he wanted to be a cowboy or an Arab Prince… well that and the fact that one picture would pretty much tap him out before he even got to the carnival, and so he continued on.

Rather than admit defeat, Andy moved on to the next booth and began rummaging through the treasures to be found there. As he looked, he found a pair of wire frame glasses in an old wooden shipping box. His eyes lit up when he saw the stamps and when he asked the man behind the counter how much, the man shrugged and charged him a dollar for the whole thing, glad to be free of one more thing to box up.

Treasure in hand, Andy moved to the next booth, and then the next. He found an old Radio Shack electronics kit that he wanted, but it was once again, too expensive, but there were too many booths to explore to worry about the things he couldn’t afford.

With the cheer of an intrepid explorer in a foreign bazaar, rather than a teen in a small town festival, he moved on undaunted. At the next booth he found the lady and her daughter selling ‘gypsy lanterns’ decorated with jewels and smiled. He didn’t really want one and he could barely afford one if he did, but he knew his mom would love one of them. He nodded to the ladies behind the counter and headed back out into the crowd,. As he visited the next booth an idea began to form.

Moving from booth to both he bought a few trinkets here and there, building his treasure. In addition to his antique glasses, he ended up with a handful of glass flat beads, an old burgundy velvet cloak, a handful of peacock feathers and a plate of funnel cake.

Now the fun truly began.

Goodies in hand he headed back to the stand where the woman was selling her lanterns, or was trying to– no one seemed interested. With a smile, he asked her if she could hold onto his funnel cake while he looked around.

Before she could say anything he quickly rearranged her display, moving the lanterns from their plain wood shelves, he draped the cloak over the wood and scattered some of the glass ‘jewels’ and feathers, before carefully replacing the lanterns. The woman was about to object when he stepped aside, ostensibly to eat his funnel cake Three couples converged on her booth buying several of her lanterns and more than a few matching candle holders.

She looked at Andy who smiled and nodded towards his parents’ booth. “It’s all about presentation,” he said with a twinkle in his eye.

With a chuckle, she nodded in approval then smiled as he began dickering over the price of one the lanterns. When the price was settled, she signaled her daughter who gave him another as a ‘thank you’ present. Andy smiled and headed back to the Tintype booth.

When the lady at the booth saw him again she looked at him expectantly. With a smile, Andy asked her if she was willing to trade, offering her the wire rim glasses and one of the lanterns to use as props in exchange for a picture.

It took the glasses, the lantern and the rest of his peacock feathers but in the end, he had two pictures of himself – one as a cowboy and the other as a Gypsy Prince, and five more dollars in his pocket than he’d had when he’d started… just enough for the electronics kit he coveted– and a caramel apple… which he shared with the girl from the lantern shop before going back to help his folks pack up.

That evening he met up with the girl from the lantern shop, and together they walked towards the rides. Andy smiled, all in all – a very good haul.

♦♦♦♦♦

 

Dog’s Day in Summer, by Rasha Tayaket. 987 words.

“Come here, boy!” shouted Danny patting his thighs with his hands. I ran as fast as I could, all four legs just grazing the long grass. My slobbery tongue licked mud off his face. He pushed me away and I barked until he let me have the rest of the mud.

“Danny, jump in!” called John. Danny grabbed my tail and I twirled around and chased after him into the lake. John, Keith, and Matt were neck deep in the muddy water and I watched Danny swim out to them. I stayed barking at the edge, guarding their clothes that were hung up on a tree limb. Once they left them on the ground and I took them to guard them in a hole. But they ran out of the water after me and wouldn’t let me dig the hole. The clothes would’ve been safer but my humans didn’t understand.

I lapped up the water and enjoyed the flavorful critters I snatched up. When I’d had my fill I lay under the tree in the shade and listened to my humans in the water.

When the boys swam back to shore, they were laughing and Danny kept pushing Keith back into the water. I wagged my tail and walked towards them to join the fun.

“Good boy, Doffer!” said Danny. Matt patted me on the head and grabbed his shirt off the tree limb. The other boys followed suit and the five of us left the lake.

We headed for the fort we’d made in the woods behind John and Matt’s house. I went straight for the water dish which stayed filled up with a hose that Matt had rigged stretching from the house and into the fort. Danny handed me a treat which I greedily inhaled and I grabbed the small ball that Danny kept throwing away. Whenever he threw it, I always brought it back to him but my human would just throw it away again. And I would bring it back. Humans could be silly like that. Just from the lake to the fort he had thrown it four times. He was not careful and it was my job to make sure he didn’t lose it.

John pulled out the cards and my humans sat in a circle to play. Then John accused Matt of cheating and punched his brother in the arm.

“You’re just a sore loser!” said Matt escalating into a louder voice and whopping John in the stomach. Then it was war. They tumbled on the dirt and Keith and Danny shifted out of their way. Meanwhile, Danny picked up the cards and he and Keith continued the game. After a few more blows Matt and John joined back in on the game like nothing had happened. They were like fighting pups that put up a fuss and then forgot all about it.

Suddenly, out of the corner of my eye I saw something move near my humans’ tool box. I looked at the boys to see if they had seen it but they were distracted. I stood up, leaving the ball against Danny’s leg, hoping he didn’t try to lose it in the meantime.

My nostrils flared as I caught the scent of something strange and menacing. I walked to where I had seen the movement. The putrid smell was coming from there. Whatever was lurking was evil. I growled and hunched forward. My humans were in danger. I saw the movement again and lurched, hitting my head against the box.

“What is it, Doffer?” said Matt, starting to crawl in the fort towards me. I turned and barked at him warning him not to come closer. He jumped back and it got the other boys’ attention. The game was paused as they all watched me bare my jaws and growl. When I was sure they were not going to come closer, I turned back to the tool box and pile of sticks in the corner kept for fort repairs and s’mores. The creature was under there. Down on all haunches I sniffed and followed the evil stink around the tools to get a better angle at the stick pile. I growled again, tail and ears perked for action. One look over my shoulder told me my humans were a safe distance away.

I lunged into the debris, snapping some twigs and sunk my jaws around something that squealed and hissed. It scratched my face and I bit down harder. Suddenly I was pulled by my waist out of the sticks. The villain was still in my grasp.

“Lucy!” shouted John reaching for the thing in my mouth. Why didn’t he stay back! It was dangerous. Danny told me to drop it and I reluctantly opened my mouth and let the now whimpering vermin out but was ready to snatch it up again. John, stupid human, grabbed the critter in his hands. When it did not attack, I relaxed and Danny let me go.

“Ma’s going to be pissed!” said Matt crawling on his hands and knees to John. “She just got this stupid cat.”

“Doffer didn’t get her too bad. Just a little scrape on her paw,” said John. He and Matt looked at each other and then both looked at me. I sat up straight and proud. My humans were no longer in danger. I had subdued the cat.

Then Keith started laughing. Danny scratched my ears and joined him. The cat, Lucy, was burrowing as far as she could into John’s arms for safety. She perked her head up and I growled, making her burrow more frantically. John crawled outside the fort with the creature.

Matt was grinning. “The fort does say ‘No Girls’. Good boy, Doffer” he said. Danny grabbed the ball and tossed it inside the fort against the stick wall a few feet away. I brought it back to him. He would never learn.

♦♦♦♦♦

Old Bones, by Karl A. Russell. 1000 words.

We found him by the creek, where the summer had dropped the water level and left him hanging out of the bank, grinning at the blue sky. Old Mister Bones.

He was obviously human, tangled in rotted clothing and with a real fancy pocket watch. It had fallen inside his chest as his organs went back to the dirt, resting between his shattered ribs like a solid silver heart. That was why we kept him a secret; If we’d only found Bones, we’d have maybe thought better and told Sheriff Gordon, but that watch was real nice. It was treasure. We weren’t going to share it, so we kept the watch, and we kept him.

He came loose of the clay easily enough, although Clem toppled backwards and lost the fingers he was holding. We tried fishing for them, but we never found them, and he was always a few short after that. Still, we did our best, and with some copper wire and a medical textbook borrowed from Nathan’s father, we managed to string him back together in a passable human form.

After that, we hauled him back to our clubhouse in the caves, sat him up where the firelight sent his shadow capering across the walls, and we went about our business. When we played cowboys, we gave him a gun, and when Joey took the fever and we were short on injuns, Old Mister Bones got a headdress. We played with him all summer long, and then, when the new term rolled around, we all but forgot about him.

Until Halloween.

When Joey came back from the fever, he’d lost so much weight the school mistress thought he’d wandered into the wrong classroom and wanted to send him to kindergarten. He stayed put, of course, but he wasn’t the same anymore. He was weak. He couldn’t run as quick, got worn out carrying his books and practically every kid in the school picked on him, except Clem.

Clem was always the butt of everyone’s jokes, what with his daddy running off and his momma taking up with Sheriff Gordon and all, so maybe he felt some sympathy for Joey, but Joey sure didn’t return it. He decided that Clem would be his whipping boy. Every day, Joey would eat a mouthful of dirt from anyone who could hold him down, and then he’d make Clem lie down and eat it too. It wasn’t even that Clem was too small to stand up to him; Many’s the time I saw him pin Joey when we were wrestling, even before the fever, but I never once saw him say no. He just took it.

But as the summer wore off and the creek filled up again, Joey got meaner. He’d hold Clem down longer, give his arm an extra yank even after he’d said uncle. One time he even whizzed all over Clem’s back and said he was too dumb to get out of the rain. Nathan laughed at that, but I didn’t; That was too far for me.

Then the first pumpkins appeared and Joey hatched his plan. He stockpiled eggs, hiding them in the cave till it stank, and he brought Nathan in on it to help him shift Mister Bones. I stayed out of it until I realised he was using the watch too, and I demanded to be let in or I’d squeal. That watch was one fourth mine and I wanted to see what he did with it.

We hid in the bushes in Clem’s yard, with Mister Bones and those foul smelling eggs, and we tossed them at the house. It was fun at first, but the third time Sheriff Gordon ran out he had his pistol drawn and looked about ready to use it. I was ready to quit, but Joey wasn’t. He crept up to the house and hung Mister Bones from the porch roof, right in front of the door. He hooked the watch in the middle of his chest, dangling from one of his shattered ribs. Then he ran back to the bushes and hurled the last of the eggs at the windows. There might have been a couple of rocks in there too, because the glass went through with an almighty crash.

The Sheriff near tore the door off its hinges, saw Old Bones hanging there, raised his pistol and fired. Clem stood behind him, mouth gaping, wrapped in his momma’s arms as she screamed.

The bullet went straight through of course; Nothing there to stop it, excepting that damned watch. They said the bullet caught it a glancing blow, changed course and came straight through the bushes instead. It caught Joey a glancing blow too, but we didn’t know that till later. We thought he’d killed him.

And that’s where it ends really. After that it’s just fragments and questions. The Sheriff took us inside and cuffed us and Joey went to the county hospital where they tried to pick the lead from his brain.

Nathan and me had to work for the Sheriff and Clem’s momma till our sins were repaid, which took about six months, give or take..

The Sheriff himself retired and opened a store. Married Clem’s momma too, the next spring, when her husband had been missing seven years and they could declare him gone for good.

Clem never spoke about that night again, but he never ate any more dirt either.

Joey got his act together, mostly, but his eyes were never right again, and a few years later he got hit by a truck crossing Main Street. People who saw it said he just stepped out, and people who knew him said it was maybe a blessing.

And Old Mister Bones went back in the dirt again. Minus three fingers.

But I never knew where the watch wound up, whatever was left of it, any more than I knew why Clem’s momma screamed his poppa’s name when she saw Old Bones.

♦♦♦♦♦

 

Patriotic Bloomers, by Tamara Shoemaker. 994 words.

Lacin’ up ladies’ bloomers was harder than it looked in the Sears Roebuck catalog that interrupted the dust canopy on Mama’s dresser.

“Shouldn’t it be tied a mite tighter? It’s gonna have strings wavin’ in the breeze like them crepe paper streamers.”

“Just gimme a minute. I’m nigh on there.”

The rough bristles of the rope burned my hands as I fought with getting’ the durned thing figured out. This rope was only one of hundreds on the marina, all of ‘em connected to the boats’ foremasts and mainsails, swayin’ in the breeze as the boardwalk dipped and swayed under our bare feet. Peerin’ up, it looked like a giant maypole or some other such gidget streamin’ down to the railings below.

“When’s the band ‘sposed to get here?” Doc pushed the wire rims up on the tip of his snub nose and squinted through ‘em at the pink, polka-dotted bloomers that now rippled in the breeze. “We ain’t got much time till the boat race.”

“Soon.” I tied the last knot, hopin’ it was gonna stay this time. My sister Jane was gonna be madder’n a swarm of homeless hornets when she found out what we was up to, but I figured turn about’s fair play. She’d given me the sharp end of her tongue once or twice too many. “Done.”

Doc grinned, his cheeks folding back on themselves so he coulda been identical twins with my bulldog, Skunk. It was a funny name for a dog, ’cause people’d get confused as to what animal we was referrin’ to, but he did stink somethin’ awful. “Think your sister’s gonna see it right off?”

I shrugged, a twinge of guilt swingin’ through my stomach. “Probably ain’t nobody gonna notice it. It’s only gonna hang right there at the bow of the boat, and most people’ll think it’s a pretty pink pennant when the boat comes ’round the turn at the end, if they see it a’tall.”

“You think she’ll be mad?”

“Not for keeps.” Though I weren’t quite sure if I were right on that account.

Noise behind us jerked our attention back to the head of the pier, and we hustled off them boards right quick. People was comin’ in swarms, picnic baskets over their arms, smells of fried chicken and corn pone waftin’ right outta them lids. My stomach set up a chorus of growlin’ that woulda given Skunk some tough competition if he’da been there.

I looked ’round for Mama and Jane. They hadn’t arrived yet, but Papa stood at the head of the pier, lookin’ over his notes for his speech. He was ‘sposed to talk ’bout the Declaration and then lead the Pledge ‘fore the Mayor got up for his piece.

Papa glanced up at me and wiped his shiny forehead with his big, red handkerchief. “Land sakes, Jacob, where you been?” He pointed off in the opposite direction. “Your mama’s been callin’ for you nigh on half an hour.”

I elbowed Doc, and we slunk into the crowd, losin’ ourselves ‘tween loaded baskets and barkin’, wrestlin’ dogs.

The band struck up “Dixie,” and Doc and me turned to watch the action, findin’ front row seats on the edge of the lake.

Papa weren’t long-winded; that was some comfort. There’s a whole passel more fun things to do on a hot Independence Day than listen to blusterin’ men in suits draggin’ on ’bout liberty and such. Papa stood on the end of that pier, strainin’ his voice so’s everyone in the crowd could heard him. I noticed Mama and Jane a coupla hundred feet to my left, sittin’ on a blanket with a basket. I wondered if I’d be able to sneak any chicken early. I pushed the drool to the back of my mouth and swallowed.

The band got my attention again when they started playin’ the National Anthem. Everybody round me stood, and every last one of us stuck our hands on our chests, ’cause that’s what you do when the flag goes up.

‘Cept instead of the Stars and Stripes floatin’ slowly up the line, a pair of pink, polka-dotted lady’s bloomers snapped in the brisk breeze to the triumphant strains of “Oh say, does that star-spangled banner yet wave . . . ”

My stomach dropped down to my toes, and lower, if that were possible.

Whispers, giggles and gasps slowly took over the song, so that “land of the free and home of the brave” sorta died out in a wave of cacklin’ laughter. I risked a glance over at my sister.

Her cheeks looked like fire had taken holda them; two bright, red splotches splashed ‘cross her cheeks. She stared at the ground in front of her, and her fingers curled up into fists.

Panic sizzled through my brain right then, and a tiny part of me wondered if I’d make it home alive.

The laughter’d gotten so loud, the band was kinda smothered under it all. Guilt swarmed over me, stingin’ me in all the right places. I took a half step toward the pier, decidin’ I needed to make it right.

The mayor’s carryin’ voice boomed over the lake at that fortuitous moment. “What disagreeable cad has draped a pair of my wife’s bloomers to the flag rope?”

I swung my gaze to the horrified mayor’s wife, whose scarlet cheeks peeped from behind gloved hands, who had visited our home only the week before with a package for my sister—a little somethin’ she could borrow ’til her order arrived.

There weren’t no boat race that year. And I weren’t allowed to set foot outside my own door for the next month ‘lessin I was in the company of my Papa or Mama. And on no ‘count could Doc and me play ’til school started again.

When we could hang around together again, we did lots of snickerin’ behind our fingers ’bout them pink patriotic bloomers.

♦♦♦♦♦

That Billy, by Kristen Falso-Capaldi. 982 words

“That Billy, he’s a thief.”
Mike’s parents didn’t like Billy.
“That Billy, he’s a thug.”
“So? So is Uncle George,” thought Mike.

One summer morning, Billy, Mike and the boys watched an old man walk the length of the beach, running his metal detector along the sand. Every once in a while, a rapid series of beeps would compete with the wind and the gulls, and the man’s face would erupt in a toothless smile, then he’d dig with his hands in the dirt, dust off his treasure.
That’s when his face would change. Billy would laugh at the hungry look in the old man’s eye, and the others would follow.
It was Billy who suggested they start planting stuff in the sand, junk they found in their fathers’ workshops or under the cushions of their mothers’ sofas.

“That Billy, he’s always up to no good. And you just follow him.”
True. Mike knew that before the end of the week, he’d be planting junk in the sand and watching the old man pick it up. Laughing.

On Friday, they met at seven in the morning. They walked in a wavy line, burying the spoils of their scavenger hunt: nuts and bolts, screws, broken watches and tarnished necklaces. After, they headed to the corner store and bought a bag of penny candy; Swedish Fish, Squirrel Nuts and Pixy Stix.
Then they waited.
The man waved at them, his hand a map of bulging veins and arthritic knobs, and Billy waved back, wearing his most innocent smile. Billy was fair and freckled; They were all fair and freckled, but their skin was growing pink from the summer sun. Mike thought the old man looked familiar.
First, the man stooped with effort to pick up an old watch that belonged to Tommy’s father, its face cracked, forever frozen at 10:45. He tossed it aside. The boys held their laughter. Next, there was a broken screw driver, buried at least a foot down by Dave that very morning; again, the old man dug with his hands, his eyes greedy. They watched as he sprung upon treasure after treasure, listening to the beeps of his metal detector as he stopped, dug, then moved on. Billy was beside himself with joy. But Mike felt something else. He knew what they were doing was mean, but it wasn’t that.

“That Billy, he’s a crook.”
“So is Uncle George,” said Mike.
A slap against his jaw.
“Never talk that way about family. And stop hanging out with that Billy. That Billy is going to be your downfall.”

Each morning, the boys would meet, bury their junk, pool their money and buy penny candy, then they’d sit and wait. Everyday, a wave of veins and knobby joints, then the beep, the hope and the digging; tarnished chains, broken tie clips, rusty nails, small engine parts, a piece of a model car, some broken old toy. An empty bucket. Always the bucket empty as the man made his way down the beach away from them.
“Damn, this guy is picky about his junk,” Billy said. “What the hell’s he looking for?”
The others nodded in agreement.

One day, the old man followed the usual routine, but when he got to a particular ring one of them had buried, Mike noticed his face held onto the hope a bit longer. His hands were under the dirt, and his fingers had touched metal, he pulled the ring to the surface and held it up in the sun. For a few moments, the glow in his eyes stayed. He looked relieved. Then, just like that, he was crestfallen again.
Mike didn’t like this game anymore.

Later that day, Mike was working at his family’s bakery when the old man came in, ordered a coffee and sat in the corner, staring out the window.
“Who is that guy?” Mike asked his sister Teresa.
“It’s sad. His wife died a few months ago,” she whispered. “Uncle George has her wedding ring. She pawned it when she found out she was sick. She told her husband she lost it on the beach.”
And then, Mike remembered. He’d seen the old man sitting in that exact spot with his wife. Then, behind the counter at his uncle’s pawnshop: The old woman, shaky hands pulling the ring off her finger. Tears in her eyes and Uncle George, scooping it in his big paw across the counter.
“That’s all you can give me for it?”
“That’s all it’s worth.”

Mike told the boys about the ring.
“We ought to stop,” he said. “It’s mean.”
“What a sissy,” Billy said. “You know where the ring is? Why don’t you palm it and give it back to the guy?”
“I can’t do that,” Mike said. “My uncle–My parents would–”
“Aw, come on, boys,” Billy said, and Tommy and Dave followed.

The next morning, the boys sat chomping on candy, mashing bits of red and brown in their teeth. Then, the beep, the hope and the digging. On three occasions, the man dug, smiled and lifted a wedding ring up into the sunlight, then dropped it to the ground.
Tommy’s mouth dropped open, then Dave’s.
More beeps. The man continued to dig. A smile. But this time, as he pulled his hands from the dirt, his face didn’t change.
“Thank you,” he whispered to no one, or to the sky, or to the sand.
Tommy and Dave looked at Mike, their eyes wide.
“No–” he said. “I didn’t–It wasn’t–” And it wasn’t him. Mike had been awake all night, praying for a solution.
“Aw, shut up,” Billy said. “We all know it was you.”
“But it wasn’t–”
Mike caught Billy’s eye and shut his mouth.
Mike knew there would be a broken lock at Uncle George’s pawnshop.
That the ring case would be empty.
And that Billy was a thief.

♦♦♦♦♦

The Mysterious Ceramic Garden, by Robert Marazas. 992 words.

Only our folks called us by our real names. I’m Sniff. My dad once told me I sniffed out trouble better than anyone. My best pal’s Butch. He’s smaller and figured other kids wouldn’t pick on him with a tough name. Momo got his name moaning about everything. Dumb Bobby didn’t mind his nickname ‘cause he’s does dumb things that mostly turn out funny.
We had nothin’ to do and nothin’ to see in the little town of Painted Bridge. Summer heat pressed down on us like it wanted to turn us into puddles on the hot sidewalk.

“Let’s go somewhere,” Dumb Bobby said.

Painted Bridge was just about a mile square and we had walked every inch of it. Except—

“For what? Nothin’s here. And it’s too hot.”

Dumb Bobby laughed. He had another dumb idea. “Come on you guys, we ain’t been to that spooky house where that old lady lives. We’re best pals. It’ll be fun. Four kids having fun, what’s wrong with that?”

“No way!” Butch said.

Momo barked one of his long moans. “Hey, don’t you remember what our folks and even our teachers told us about that place! It’s evil! They said she does things too terrible to repeat to kids. Nobody even goes there for Trick or Treat.”

My mom said Missus Wicherly had everything delivered and never left the house. “Ah, they tell that stuff so we won’t go there and get home before the curfew siren goes off. Same thing about the bridge coming into town. They don’t want us playing there so they tell stories about ghosts who died there haunting. It’s a trick, Momo.”

Dumb Bobby laughed again. “Come on Momo, Butch. Sniff, you ain’t scared, are you?”

Oh yeah? I followed, with Momo and Butch right behind. We marched up Bridge Street and tried to soak some shade in the storefronts but the owners kept chasing us. We got to the top where the street ended at a bunch of trees and a squiggly dirt path. Trees blocked the sun but it was too quiet and I got that itchy feeling I get when things don’t seem right.

The path went left and then we were in the hot sun again, standing across the street with no name and there it was. The house.

It was ugly. Paint peeling everywhere and roof shingles missing. Too many windows, all dirty with dark curtains. A rusty iron fence on three sides except in the back where trees climbed up over the roof and blocked out the sun so the house and garden was shaded. But the shade looked darker to me.

“Wow,” Dumb Bobby said, “look at all them windows. Just waitin’ for a rock.” He picked one up and held it out and sighted along his arm like I taught him at one of the windows, then reared back and let it fly. The rock sailed into the shadows and missed everything. Dumb Bobby’s mouth hung open.

“You can’t throw,” I said. I picked up another rock. Same thing. The rock went somewhere, no sound of hitting anything, and was gone. Butch threw one and Momo moaned and threw with his eyes closed. “I told you, this is weird.”

“Shut up Momo,” I said, cheesed off about missing. My Mom told a neighbor Missus Wicherly made ugly little statues for her garden. Toadstools and big mushrooms and frogs and spiders and lizards and who knew what else. “Let’s sneak in the garden and grab some of them statues and take off.”

“Yeah,” Butch said, “and I’ll ring her doorbell and run. Be out the gate before she opens the door.”

The gate latch was rusted too. When I pulled the gate open it made a loud creak that made us jump. Inside I had to squint to see through that goofy shade. Nothing but weeds grew. And the statues were all over, maybe a hundred of them. I looked at the house and thought I saw the curtains move in the window next to the front door but I wasn’t sure.

“Let’s do it and get the heck outta here,” I whispered.

That’s when it started. Dumb Bobby yelled “Whoa! I’m takin’ that spider,” but when he bent down the white spider moved and climbed his pants and shirt and zipped to his shoulder. Dumb Bobby danced and jiggled and fell down rolling over the weeds and knocking down statues. Butch was almost at the porch steps when he passed a coiled snake statue. It uncoiled and slithered after him, jaws open as he ran like heck. Momo turned to help Dumb Bobby but a long tailed lizard came alive and chased him.

I froze and rubbed my eyes ‘cause I didn’t believe what I was seeing. A squeak came from my right and all of a sudden a bat statue flapped its wings and flew up and dive bombed me. I joined in the crazy dance with my friends, waving my arms above my head.

We were scattered when the front door creaked open and the statue creatures disappeared. In the dimly lit doorway a figure stood. She wore a long black dress. Her stringy gray hair drooped to her shoulders, and a hooked nose hung over a toothless mouth. A cackle drummed at my ears. Dumb Bobby jumped up, yelled “Nyah nyah!” and yanked his pants down and mooned her. Before we scrambled to run I saw her grin and raise her arms high. A flash brighter than the sun lit up the shade and everything stopped.

Now we’re stuck here forever in the garden, four little statue gnomes with beards and apple red cheeks. In front of me Momo is frozen, one leg up, the other behind, trying to reach the gate. Butch is running in place. I’m staring at a cross-eyed swan and wondering who it used to be. At least we’re not facing dumb Bobby’s backside.

♦♦♦♦♦

Them No Good Boys, by Margaret Locke. 997 words

We didn’t mean for it to happen.

Not that anyone’d believe us if they knew. Them No Good Boys, they called us, always up to somethin’. Mama laughed it off; she never saw us the way everybody else did.

We weren’t brothers. Not blood, leastways. Jimmy’s pa told him things was better when he weren’t around, so Jimmy stayed here. He carried a knife. “For protection,” he said. That thing couldn’t hurt anyone, really. No matter. It made Jimmy feel better.

Neighbor Billy was the oldest of us, fourteen. He’d lost two brothers to the coal mines already. “Next year’s my turn,” he’d say with a grin that never quite reached his eyes.

Piper was the quiet one. Maybe ‘cause he was the youngest – only nine. His da’d left when he was two. He lived with his ma and sisters out by the river. He liked our house better.

Not that we had much. Pa was always tryin’ to sell something to somebody, stuff we never could afford ourselves. Ice boxes. Auto-mobiles. Mama’d just shake her head, love in her eyes. But love didn’t put food on the table.

“Sam,” she’d tell me, “God works in mysterious ways. He finds solutions when all hope is lost.”

I wasn’t so sure. If God was takin’ care of us, how come we never had nothing? How come everyone complained about us, callin’ us delinquents?

It wasn’t like we ever done anything really bad. Stealin’ Mrs. Parson’s nightgown off her line to see if all four of us could fit in it (we did) didn’t count, did it? Or when Billy used his dad’s blacking to paint Farmer Davis’s white nag? “I told MaryBeth Whitnum he had a zebra,” Billy’d explained. The horse had raised a ruckus after only two stripes. Farmer Davis never caught us.

He knew, though. Everybody knew. They told mama we needed some sense switched into us. She’d roll her eyes behind their backs. She knew we weren’t No Good, just boys seekin’ somethin’ to do in a place with nothin’ to offer.

This time was different, though.

Piper had showed up this mornin’, his eyes worried.

“What’s up?” Jimmy’d asked, pokin’ him in the side. Sometimes they didn’t get along.

Piper glared at him. “It’s Lily.” Lily and her mama lived in a crumbling cabin ‘cross from Piper. I knew he was sweet on her. I suspected Jimmy was, too – another reason he an’ Piper needled each other.

Lily often showed up at school with fat lips or black eyes. She’d say she fell down. We knew better. Her dad was the town drunk.

“She gots a broken arm. I saw her mama fixin’ it up in a sling this morning. Lily was bawlin’ somethin’ fierce, and her mama was shushing her. I knew she was worried Hunspecker’d hear.” At the mention of Leroy Hunspecker, Piper spit on the ground.

Billy scowled. “We gotta do something!”

“What?” I asked. There was silence.

“Break his still!” Piper exclaimed after a minute, his face lighting up. “Then he can’t drink no more!”

Hunspecker brewed his own ‘cause he couldn’t afford the tavern.

So we set out that night, four rag-tag boys wantin’ to right at least one wrong in the world.

Hidden behind a gooseberry bush, armed with slingshots and Billy’s pellet gun, we shot at the wooden barrels behind the cabin. Jimmy crowed when moonshine flowed from the holes we’d made.

Then Piper ran into the yard. What was he doin’? “Piper!” I whispered urgently. He ignored me, stopping instead to pick up a rusty axe. He raced forward and began hacking at the still.

The door to the shack slammed open. “What the devil!” hollered a voice. Leroy Hunspecker emerged, carryin’ his rifle. When he saw the still, he roared. He lifted the gun, aimin’ at Piper, who scrambled for the woods.

Jimmy shot another rock, striking Leroy in the elbow. Leroy whipped around. Jimmy stood rooted to the spot, a trail of urine darkening his pants.

“You’re dead!” The voice came closer. “You hear me? DEAD!”

We watched, frozen, as Hunspecker’s foot caught on somethin’ in the yard and he tripped, dropping the rifle, which fired. Hearing the shot, our paralysis was broken, and we leapt up, racing away fast as we could.

We heard nothin’ else.

We stopped only when we reached home. Piper was already there. Lungs heavin’, legs tremblin’, we made sure we was all OK. Tears streamed down our faces, unacknowledged.

“Why didn’t he come after us?” Billy finally said. We had no answer. We entered the house quietly as we could, not wantin’ to wake mama, and headed for bed.

The next mornin’ when I walked into the kitchen, mama jumped. “Goodness, you scared me,” she said, hand over her heart. “I have news. Leroy Hunspecker died last night. Apparently he fell on an iron rake left in the yard. It went right through his head.” She paused. “Who’d’ve thought anything could penetrate that bastard’s thick skull?”

I said nothin’. What could I say? My mind raced. Did she know we’d been there? Did anyone?

She came over to me, studying my face. “The Lord works in mysterious ways,” she said after a moment, smoothing the hair on my head. “I’m glad you boys weren’t anywhere near there. He was a dangerous man.”

We saw Lily at the funeral. She stood, expressionless, clutchin’ her mama’s hand. Afterwards she came over to us. “I saw you. I saw you break the still,” she whispered to Piper, who flushed beet-red, unable to deny it. A smile spread over her face. “Thank you,” she added before runnin’ back to her mama.

I can’t help thinkin’ that what happened that night was good. Not for Old Man Hunspecker, of course. But for Lily. And maybe for us No Good boys, too. We felt we’d saved someone.

We know two wrongs don’t make a right. But sometimes they make all the difference.

♦♦♦♦♦

Untitled, by Alissa Leonard. 977 words

The vibrations from Mrs. Cockle’s scream sends a school of snapper scattering and makes my teeth throb, but I keep swimming. Her scream has nothing on Momma’s. Besides, I only put a tiny shark among her clambeds…

I glance to make sure she isn’t following, then speed ahead to catch the current that will take me to my secret cave. She certainly got a good look at me; I’m hard to miss. My algae, skin, scales, and gills are red, orange, yellow, and gold respectively instead of normal greens and blues or at least browns. But I read the rules carefully, and being seen isn’t grounds for disqualification.
Being caught is.

I curse my parents and ancestors for their ‘artistic sensibilities’ and the breeding plan that culminated in me: a freak. However, those same sensibilities will cause them to completely forget Mrs. Cockle’s complaint by the time I get home, so it could be worse.

I dive out of the current and approach my favorite patch of coral. The colors and variation attracted me at first – bright yellows next to deep pinks and pale purples in all shapes and sizes. I noticed my cave only after hours spent inspecting the diversity. The coral grew up and around it, blocking it from view, but I followed a clownfish down into the reef, under the green shelf next to the blue spikes.

I dart there now, thankful I haven’t grown too big yet. Several twists and turns later, I enter the cave and swim straight to the two shells on the shelf. I lift the clamshell out of the first one and move it to the second, already filled with symbols of my initiation tasks. I have only a single sun-cycle to complete all eight tasks, which gives me until shortly after sunset to do this last one.

I lift the stone from the shell, wishing its form was something other than human.

Humans should be avoided.

I have to take a human thing and replace it with something I made.

I place the stone back in the shell, and slip the shell bracelet I made onto my wrist. I need to breathe before I start this. I swim to a tunnel at the back of the cave and follow it up to a secluded pool.

I lay on my back and just float, my gills swaying in the water beneath me, my lungs breathing in long and deep, and my skin absorbing all it can. I need every bit of energy to pull this off. My coloring will make stealth practically impossible, but I have to try. Going at sunset is my only chance. Hopefully it’s colorful tonight.

I take a deep breath and return through the cave and out into the open water toward shore. My nerves make me hyper-sensitive to the movement of the water and the tastes and vibrations and songs. I approach the cove I’ve chosen, and the crashing of the waves drowns out a lot of the other sounds.

There’s a long pier jutting into the water; which is my reason for choosing this cove. I need cover. A group of humans have a fire on the beach. Three. Too many. I consider leaving to find another, but then I see the sea turtle.

It’s tied down, pinned to the beach with rope and staked into the sand. A pile of things lie close to the surf. I could easily grab one and go… But the turtle starts grunting and pulling at the restraints. I have to do something.

Slowly, I glide under the pier, navigating around the logs until I’m close enough to shore to place my hands on the sand. The turtle is several body-lengths from the edge of the water. I see no way to get there fast enough to avoid being seen.

The humans are on the opposite side of the fire. Behind me, the setting sun sprays reds and golds across the water. It may be enough cover. They’re not looking this way.
Now’s my chance.

I follow a wave as far as I can, then fold my gills flat along my back and roll to the turtle. I hide myself behind her, and reach up to her neck to comfort her and tell her to stay still.

I pull up the spikes imbedded in the sand one by one, and lay them with my bracelet on top. As I do, a plan forms. The turtle will need time to make its way to the water. I can do that.

I coil the rope around my arm, and glance to make sure they’re not looking. I tell the turtle to wait for my signal, and roll back into the water. I swim just past the pier and across the cove from the turtle and splash my tail wildly on the surface.

The humans run into the surf at the same time as the turtle pulls itself toward the water. Now to get the humans far enough out that I can teach them a lesson…

I unwind the rope as I splash about. Once the humans pass the breakers, I dive to the bottom and dart to the first, slipping the rope around his leg, tying a knot. I move to the next, making sure not to pull the first, and tie a knot around the second. Then hurry to the last and tie his leg as well. Let them feel what it’s like to be tied up.

I tie the end to the pier and pull hard on the rope. All three get a dunking.

The human screams as they reach the surface and pull against each other are music to my ears.

I catch up to the turtle and ask her to accompany me. How else will I prove that she totally counts as a human thing?

♦♦♦♦♦

Untitled, by Mark A. King. 986 words.

Three weeks ago, he was dead.

Now, I wish he was dead again.

Grief is a funny thing. It makes you do things you would never normally consider. Like all those BS spam messages you get on Twitter and Facebook. You know the ones…

“Click ‘like’ if you think world peace is awesome.”

“RT me if you want to end suffering in the third world.”

“Forward this if you miss a loved one and would give anything to have them back for just one week, to let them see the world through the eyes of a child.”

The digital world has been my real home since the funeral. People don’t know what to say, they tend to avoid me. Being on-line removes all that. People say what they feel. So, sure, I clicked it. What harm could it do? I’d done it a few times before and nothing happened.

A few days later, he shows up. Naturally, I fainted. Thought it was a dream – did all the stuff you see in movies, but it was real. He’s not a zombie, or anything crazy like that. It’s him, well sort of, maybe how he was as a teenager…

Sure, hiding him has been a problem. It’s just me and my best mate, Jumbo. Jumbo freaked, I mean he properly freaked when I showed him.

Mum is working away this week, thank God! I’ve managed to hide him in the garage.

I’m sure he’s been going out at nights. I’m finding more random stuff each day. I have no idea how he gets it, he musta stolen some credit cards. I think he’s been keeping the car windscreen repair people busy in the neighbourhood, too.

Today, he’s sporting sunglasses indoors, fake gold chains and a t-shirt, with ‘YOLO’ written on the front, which is ironic. His jeans are three sizes too big, deliberately pulled down, hanging off his saggy arse. His underwear is fully showing. I never really understood how this looked good to anyone, even setting aside the practicalities. But, dad doesn’t even get the fundamentals right. You know that elastic bit that normally has something like ‘CK’ written on it? His are Y-fronts, embossed with “Underpants 4 men”.

“I is looking dench, man?”

He’s been doing the faux-gansta routine for a few hours now.

“What are you talking about, dad?” I reply.

“Don’t hit me wit that dad label. I is Tom Sawyer, two point zero. I is the badest ass in da hood…Ya hear wot I’m sayin?…Ya need to chill, bro… I’m just hanging wit my krew…Ya hear me?”

Did he just say that? Seriously? This is wrong, on so many levels.

I should have sussed it before clicking it. Strange things were happening. Blockhead from school falls sick, I mean really sick. His hair started falling out in his lunchtime KFC bucket. A few weeks back, I wished him harm; after he decided to beat the hell outta me for having a day off school to go to the funeral.

Then Huck and Finn, the twins, they both ran into each other at full speed during a football game; I mean what are the chances of them both being in a coma? They stood and laughed as Blockhead beat seven shades out of me. Let’s just say I didn’t wish them well either.

A teacher got food poisoning.

The school mascot, Fuzzface, got run over…

I go to dad’s makeshift bedroom in the garage. I route through his stuff, I have no idea how he got any of it. It smells like medieval alchemy.

The room is full of shadows and dull grey metallic surfaces. On the tool-cabinet, I find a job application, it reads ‘Secret Agent’, and he’s put his name as J. Bond. He’s put ‘plenty’ in the sex field. He’s listed his GTA 5 achievements in the accomplishment section. In memberships, he’s listed gold membership to the local strip club.

Then I see the hand-scrawled note, in Jumbo’s handwriting. Jumbo is my best mate, but he’s pretty stupid. He tells everyone he’s called Jumbo because he’s blessed with a Jumbo sausage, in reality, let’s just say, politely, he’s BMI challenged. The note reads…

Instructions for secret formula cologne (guaranteed success)
• 3 parts Brute (can’t beat the classics)
• 2 parts Hai Karate (be careful how you use it)
• 1 part banned pheromone (do NOT use more than this, or you might have problems with animals)
• 1 part WD40 (women love a guy that smells like he can fix stuff)

I put the list down. I need to talk to Jumbo; he’s hardly helping matters.I run in the house to tell dad that this has to stop. I find him with a backpack full of stuff.

“What you got there, dad?”

No response, just a childish snigger.

“Show me what you got..er, Sawyer”

“I’m ready to nuke this town.”

He tips his supplies on to the table.

One air pistol.
A tin of three hundred pellets.
An improvised blow-pipe made out of an empty biro.
A ninja star, that looks like it will break mid-air.
Five cans of XXL caffeine energy drink.
Twenty stink-bombs!

“Lunden town should prepare for war!” His war-paint face looks serious.

I realise there is nothing much I can do. At first, I was overwhelmed to see him. Then I thought his behaviour was kinda comical. Now I feel like I’m babysitting a delinquent younger brother.

Last night I caught him looking at the adult channels, his glasses steamed up, his mouth hanging open like a dog.

I’m not sure what happens after a week, I have four more days to go and I’m not sure I can make it.

My phone pings. Social media notification.

A spam message, from @wormwoodsixsixtysix.

“Do you ever wish a problem would just disappear? RT me to make your wish come true.”

My finger hovers, poised over the button…

♦♦♦♦♦

Untitled, by Toni Morrow Wyatt, 999 words.

There was no mistaking Spuds Dawson. If his mess of stark white hair with the cowlick above his right eye didn’t give him away, his rock throwing, wild whoops, and natural habit of finding trouble did. And if those things weren’t bad enough, this was the summer he decided to learn to play the tuba.

As he aimlessly strolled down the street looking for his next adventure and blew into the mouthpiece every few steps, curtains and blinds snapped shut. Doors slammed and deadbolts clicked. Dogs were rushed inside, and joggers and walkers made unplanned detours.

Looking in from the outside, one would think Spuds was the sole resident of Spindleton. Not that there were many more people residing there. The total population was estimated to be around one hundred, more or less. When Spuds was around, it was mostly less.

The perfectly trimmed hedges and rolling green lawns which led to sprawling two story shuttered homes, gave Spindleton the idyllic appearance one would expect to find in a magazine. It would have been the perfect place it appeared to be too, if it wasn’t for a certain towheaded, tuba playing eleven year old.

Spuds was born in Spindleton on a night no one would ever forget. The weather forecast had promised a sunny day, perfect for cooking out, playing in the park, and walking dogs. When Spuds’ arrival came, the skies burst open with his first breath of life, which was promptly followed by the loudest squalling scream Spindleton had ever heard. The windows in the Dawson house shattered, dogs howled, and stray cats yowled. Even old man Warington’s hearing aid gave off such a high-pitched screech that a small trickle of blood streamed out of his ear and down his neck.

Some called it an omen of what was to come, while it took others a bit longer to put any stock into the situation.

By the time Spuds was five years old and ready for kindergarten, the people of Spindleton were ready for him to be taken off the streets. Countless broken windows, destroyed gardens, firecrackers popping in the least expected places (like the time a dozen went off outside of Mrs. Murphy’s chicken coup, ensuring that those chickens wouldn’t lay again for at least six months) and one poor mongrel who turned up with his fur shaved in such a way that he now resembled a zebra instead of a German shepherd, sealed the deal.

Miss Nelson, the one and only Spindleton schoolteacher, became a regular consumer of aspirin and cold compresses. The tuba had been her idea. She had convinced herself that all Spuds needed was a hobby. He needed something that would focus his attention in a positive direction. When Spuds agreed to give it a try, she was sure that this summer would be different from the ten previous ones.

Never more right had she been.

Spuds wasted no time recruiting every kid in Spindleton to join his marching band. It didn’t matter if they didn’t have an instrument. There were plenty of makeshift things to supplement their lack of supplies. Marty Brewer had a soup pot and a hammer. He was the percussion section. Mary Sue Doddle had a plastic kazoo she had gotten with the box tops of her favorite cereal. It was the envy of many a marching band member. Bobby Popsin had his grandfather’s old trombone. Sometimes in the heat of the moment, when the song they were playing was getting particularly lively, the slide on Bobby’s trombone was known to fly off. Once it hit Mary Sue in the back of the head, and she nearly swallowed her kazoo. After that, Bobby marched a little to the side.

At first, the sight of the marching band was a novelty to the folks of Spindleton. However, when the cacophony of tuba, soup pot drum, kazoo, and trombone made the hair of Mrs. Murphy’s cat fall out in large patches, the freshness of this new turn of events faded quickly.

As Spuds continued down the street, the other kids would fall in line as if he were the pied piper. Today, as usual, the band wound their way through the streets until they came to the downtown section. On the corner next to the hardware store, there stood a doctor’s office, a drugstore, a mom and pop grocery store, and the First Bank of Spindleton.

Spuds stopped the parade.

“Okay, everybody. Pass up your money so Bobby can run into the market and get us an orange pop.”

Dirty hands turned pockets inside out and passed their findings to Spuds. After adding his own, he gave it to Bobby. The bottle cap was popped off on the edge of a sidewalk bench, and the icy drink was passed around three times until every drop of orangey deliciousness had been drained.

Feeling refreshed, the band continued on its usual trek. On this particular day, there were unusual happenings in the First Bank of Spindleton. Loud shouts, the demanding of money, and the waving of weapons was drowned out by the band as it grew closer.

When Bobby hit a surprisingly high-pitched note, followed by the crash of the hammer on the soup pot, Jenkins Jones, the famous bank robber, accidently dropped his realistic plastic gun and it broke into three pieces when it hit the marble floor. Mr. Van Marton jumped over the counter with a bag of coins and swung them at Jenkins Jones’ head, hitting him square between the eyes.

When the sheriff heard the story of how the marching band had aided in the capture of the infamous outlaw, it was proclaimed that there would be an annual parade in Spindleton in honor of Spuds Dawson and his miraculous marching band every summer on that date.

Spuds and his band went on to bigger and better things in time, but the people of Spindleton will never forget how Spuds Dawson and his tuba changed their town forever.

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