The Iron Writer Challenge #186 – 2017 Spring Equinox Challenge #7

The Iron Writer Challenge #186

2017 Spring Equinox Challenge #7

A Steven L Bergeron Challenge

500 Words, 5 Days, 4 Elements

The Authors:

E. Chris Garrison, Vance Rowe, Sean Bracken, Michael Cottle, Reiven West

The Elements:

One hot summer day

A deserted island

Buried treasure

Chicken with its head cut off

Fred on Island Adventure

Reiven West

Fred was running in the whitewater in what seemed like an endless summer day on this deserted island. The wind blew his hair off of his face and drew tears from his eyes but he loved it. Joy seemed to emanate from his body and his grin was infectious.  He slowed down to a walk to check out what treasures the ocean had washed up for him. Every day it was something new and amazing. Yesterday a huge turtle had lumbered out of the sea and made it’s way to the cover of the jungle.  Fred followed it for a little while but left him alone when he realized the turtle was not after the treasure he had buried. 

Up ahead he saw something he hadn’t seen since his best friend had left him here alone.  He couldn’t believe his eyes. It was a small boat! Not sure where it came from or who it belonged to Fred approached it cautiously. No one was around and the boat was completely empty. His heart was beating  furiously and he began to run circles around the boat and jump into the air and spin around like a chicken with it’s head cut off!  A boat! A boat! 

Fred was so excited that he didn’t hear the people approaching. All he could think about was going home and sleeping in a nice soft bed. And Phoebe! And food, oh glorious food! He didn’t know how long he had been here but he hadn’t been able to catch anything edible and he was so tired of eating fruit. He was still circling the boat when he heard her voice. 

“Fred! Oh my God, Fred! I thought we would never find you!” His best friend Becky ran toward him with her arms wide open and she fell to her knees as he jumped all over her, covering her face in  kisses.  She laughed through her tears as he wiggled and barked in joy at seeing her. Fred ran from her to the boat and back again. He looked at the boat and back at Becky. Becky laughed and said “yes Fred, we are going home!” and before she could finish the sentence he was already in the boat waiting for them. 

Fred sat on Becky’s lap with the wind whipping up his long tan and white hair and a grin on his face. Becky was holding him tight and had just given him some chicken jerky, his tummy was comfortably full. He couldn’t be happier.  He was going home, his best friend had found him, and his island adventure was over. He couldn’t wait to get home and tell Phoebe all about it. She would be so happy to see him. She was too old for adventures now, but she loved to hear his stories. She called him her little escape artist and her biggest fear was that one day he wouldn’t find his way home. But he always did. He was fierce for such a little guy, but after all he was a descendant of  royal wolves chosen to be sentinels for the monks in Tibet. 

To Build a Boat

Michael Cottle

Johnny lifted the pickaxe for the last time. Time calloused his hands and toned his muscles, but left his mind free to think. Maybe there was a life somewhere- away from the orcs. Free of the mine. 

“Time’s up Johnny Elf” the warden called. “It’s day 60, and I’m letting you go a half-day early.”

“You can leave your pickaxe there.”

Johnny set the axe down at the base of the mine. He took one last look around before he started walking. The warden followed behind Johnny as he headed up the shaft.

“You know Johnny, your kind are pretty rare these days. The wood elves never were a match for orcs, but they put up some fight.”

Johnny paused and looked at the warden before walking on.

“Where will you go?” the warden asked.

“I don’t know. Galone I suppose. It was once our land.”

“Galone?” the warden reflected. “That Island? Place is in ruins. Ain’t nobody been there for years. How will you get there?”

“A boat I guess. Got to start somewhere” Johnny said.

“Well better you than me boy” the warden patted his hand on the elf’s shoulder. “Don’t come back here. Understand?”

“Yes sir” Johnny nodded and walked outside the mine.

He squinted his eyes nearly shut as he locked his gaze on the sun. The light blinded his eyes until they hurt. Johnny didn’t seem to notice. The light was a long-lost friend, and he had missed it as if they were once lovers. It was hot, and Johnny soaked up every dab of warmth that he could. It had been awhile since he had seen a day this good.

Johnny caught the next carriage to Navarre- a coastal town not far from the island of Galone. He earned the fare playing cards in the mine. The trip left him little coin, but it took him away from the Rio Grande and away from the band of orcs. He spent the first of many nights camping outside of Navarre under the stars. His dreams were more lucid and vivid than ever.

There was but one job available in the whole town of Navarre- the headsman at a chicken slaughter house. The first day spent on the job was the worst. Johnny turned more shades of green than he knew existed. But he promised his Momma that he would earn an honest living, and so he did. And for many days that passed, so he did.

Navarre was close enough to Galone to be within rowing distance. The rumors and superstitions about Galone flowed through Navarre like water. There were a few who disagreed whether or not wood elves still lived on the island. Some say the island was haunted by the living dead. And still, a few spun rumors of hidden treasure deep in the forests of the island- blind to everyone save for wood elves. Johnny could never afford a boat, but it would cost very little to build one! 

Johnny knew nothing of building boats or working wood. But Johnny longed for the vast sea, and all of the immense endlessness that it offered. 

My Thought Process

Vance Rowe

“Why the heck was I tagged in the Iron Writer group again? Someone else taking offense to my presidential candidate? Let’s see. Nope, I am in a challenge this week. Okay so we have one hot summer day, a deserted island, buried treasure, and a chicken with its head cut off as the elements. Nice. These are rather easy this week. Of course, there is an obvious story here but how do I change it up so it’s not so easy?”  

“Steven L. Bergeron came up with these elements, huh? He must be tired or just lacks imagination this week. Let’s see…Michael Cottle, Sean Bracken, Chrissy Garrison and Reiven West are in with me. I am not very familiar with the writings of Sean, Chrissy, and Reiven too much, but I am very familiar with Michael’s drivel. I’ll bet his buried treasure will be an Algebra textbook or some crap like that. At least stupid Mamie isn’t in this challenge. So, how can I make mine different? I could have my protagonist wake up on a deserted island after being shipwrecked…have him run around scared like a chicken with its head cut off…have him trip over a buried treasure chest…hahaha…maybe my buried treasure will be an Algebra book and beat Michael to the punch, and of course, he will be shipwrecked on a hot summer day. No, dammit. I have to be different in my story, Ouch that hurt a bit. Shouldn’t have slammed my hands down on the table so hard. Idiot. Okay, a story…a story…come on story…appear.”

“Curses to you, Steven L. Bergeron for making the elements so easy that it is hard to write a good story and be different. You just made the list. Come on, Vance. You can make a compelling story out of these elements. Think, idiot. Think. I can throw some comedy in there and have my castaway think about making a two-way radio out of a couple of coconut shells and some vines like the professor on Gilligan’s Island. I don’t know, I need a break. Let’s see what is happening on Facebook. Oh look, Mathew W. Weaver stopped playing a video game long enough to pop in and make a stupid comment…let’s see…hahahaha Roger Campbell has a comment for everything. I think he stalks me because he has to comment on everything I post. The new king of controversy. I picture him sitting at his computer and wondering who he can piss off today. Apparently everyone. Okay, I need to go into my slot game and collect my free coins. I will get back to writing in a bit.”

“Okay, back to the challenge. I hate these freaking things. I don’t know why I sign up for them. They just cause me undue stress. Stupid Brian Rogers…coming up with this idea in the first place. He just made the list too.”

Dr. Princess and the Soldier

E. Chris Garrison

Dr. Victoria Princess sunned herself, seemingly unconcerned. Massive waves threatened to wash over the tiny beach island she lay on. Each time the surf struck, a little bit more of the island sloughed away with the tide as it rolled back out. 

Victoria wondered idly whether the shadow of the island’s lone palm tree would move to cool her sooner than the island eroded to reach her toes.

Through her nearly opaque  owlish green plastic sunglasses, she watched as the bucket-like lifeboat sank into the water with a sucking sound. There went her only other clothing, as well as any hope of getting off the ever-shrinking island. Victoria’s face remained cool and impassive, the hint of her trademark smile unchanged.

The cloudless sky darkened. Something blocked the sun. The something grew larger; a whisper grew to a scream as it tore through the air, right toward her island.

Victoria peered at it through her shades, but remained perfectly still as a small airplane crashed into the ground nearby, scattering sand in all directions. Almost instantly, water filled in the crater it left.

A soldier clawed his way from the wreckage, with no time to spare, as the plane exploded. Bits of debris rained down all around, hot metal sizzling in the salt water. The palm tree was knocked to the ground, away from Victoria.

Victoria sprang to her feet. “Oh, are you hurt? I am a doctor, let me examine your wounds!”

The soldier raised his grizzled and craggy face and said, “A doctor? That’s okay, I’m fine, I’m too tough to need a doctor.”

“Don’t be silly, everyone needs doctors sometimes.”

“I don’t. I eat shrapnel for breakfast.”

“That can’t be good for your digestion. Here, would you like a cup of tea?” Victoria produced a small plastic tea set out of nowhere. She sat on the ground, next to his prone form, and prepared the teacups.

His face betrayed no emotion as he snorted. “No! I am here to seek buried treasure, not to drink tea, lady.”

Victoria made no visible reaction, but said, “Buried treasure? Is that why you crashed here?”

The soldier sat up suddenly. “Yes! I was shot down by enemy agents, they don’t want me to find the treasure.”

“I haven’t seen any treasure,” she said, looking past him at the new lagoon that had been dug by his plane’s impact and explosion.

“That’s ’cause it’s buried,” he said, refusing the teacup she offered.

Victoria sipped at her own tea. “Well, how will you dig for–”

A shrill shriek shattered the air, and a giant’s foot, wearing a flip-flop pushed them both deep into the sand.

“Moooom! Aiden just ruined my island party!” cried a voice far up in the sky. “He’s running around like a chicken with its head cut off again, make him stop!”

The surf lapped at the foot-shaped crater, and Dr. Princess and the soldier stared up through the water, the smiles on their plastic faces unchanged. 

The Island

Sean Bracken

“Watch my back, Nick,” I whispered, from behind a stack of empty crates. “I’m going aboard. She looks deserted, but you never know, someone might be on guard duty below decks.”

I waited for the moon to duck behind some clouds, before I made my move and ran in a crouch to a gangway tethered to the yacht. Keeping low, I sprinted up and onto the deck of the Silver Tassie.  Still seeing no signs of life, I made my way to the main hatch. It was secured with a stainless steel padlock, confirming that the boat was deserted. I beckoned to Nick to join me on board,  before pulling bolt cutters from my backpack.Seconds later the lock was only fit for scrap. Nick was busy pulling the boarding ramp onto the deck as I made my way below.

I’d spotted the crew leave that afternoon. A man carrying a young child and a woman. It was obvious from the blotches on their faces that the woman and child were infected. The man’ appeared healthy, but after being in such close contact with the others, he was doomed. They were probably looking for medical help. They hadn’t got a hope. Ninety percent of the world’s population were dead already and there was little hope for the rest of us.

For my son Nick and me, stealing this boat was a matter of survival. We’d avoided all contact with others for weeks and so far our luck held. Now we needed to find a deserted island and hide away for as long as the disease, K9h5, continued to spread.

A week later we found the island. Five hundred miles out in the Pacific, it would become our refuge for the foreseeable future. The Silver Tassie was well stocked, with provisions to last us over a year. The island was unspoilt, with fresh spring water and wild game inhabiting the dense woods. There were even wild chickens in abundance, probably a legacy of some earlier attempt at settlement.

Life on the island was pleasant enough. A couple of women and some booze, it would have been Paradise. As the days rolled into months, radio stations disappeared, until eventually, the airwaves fell silent.

One bright sunny day, six months into our stay, I was cutting the head off a chicken, to prepare it for dinner when Nick came running up from the beach, shouting “Dad, Dad, come and see what I’ve found.”  I dropped the chicken, who ran off, leaving his head behind, and I ran down to see what all the fuss was about. He pointed back the way he’d come, yelling “It’s treasure Dad, it’s treasure.”

The tide had exposed part of an ornate chest, like a pirate treasure chest. Using our hands, we scooped away the sand and opened the lid.

Inside we found a scroll. “A treasure map?” I wondered. I opened the scroll to read “Congratulations! You are the winner of  ABC Television’s Secret Island Quest. Contact 085-085-085 to claim your prize.”

The Iron Writer Challenge #185 – 2017 Spring Equinox Challenge #6

The Iron Writer Challenge #185

2017 Spring Equinox Challenge #6

500 Words, 5 Days, 4 Elements

The Authors:

Elaine Johnson, Enoch Kingsley Quaye, Vance Rowe, Steven L. Bergeron, Tina Biscuit

The Elements:

Group of boys reading (photo)

A slumlord

A pile of dung

Three shots heard in the distance

The Library

Elaine Johnson

Bang!   Another one!    That made, what?  Three!  Three shots, off in the distance.
Tommy stared at his mother. 
She swallowed and turned toward the wall, “Stop dawdling and finish your breakfast if you know what’s good for you!”   Her back was to him, rigid; her knuckles white as she gripped the counter, the bun that all mothers wore coming undone.   
He stuffed the toast in his jacket and slipped past his mother, still staring at the crack going down the wall.
It was a beautiful day in the Bronx.   The sun was shining off the decaying wooden buildings, laundry was dripping from lines slung across the streets, and even the street cleaners seemed cheerful as they collected yesterday’s dung to be sold as fertilizer.  
He made his way past a rent collector shaking his finger, “Are you calling me a slumlord?”
Another eviction.  Two burly men were piling some family’s furniture on the streets, as the father argued with them and the children huddled around the mother who wept shamed tears into her apron.    His best friend was in earnest conversation with the oldest boy, standing a few feet away, kicking his feet, “Whatcha gonna do?”
The boy, Hank, that was his name, crossed his arms, “America stinks.   We’re going home, back to the old country.  We’re not going to stay in a place like this anymore.” 
Tommy balled up his fists, “Don’t you dare say that!  This is the greatest country on earth!   There’s no king to oppress us!”
A man dumped a pile of hand-stitched linens on the filthy sidewalk and the mother burst into renewed sobs.   Hank glanced at his family and swung as hard as he could at Tommy.
They were on the ground punching when their friend shoved his way between the two, hissing that his father was right there.    Both boys froze when they saw the man eyeing them, his hands meaningfully gripping his thick leather belt.
They scrambled up.    Tommy was not really crying; obviously, he couldn’t do that in front of people, but he swiped his face. Hank burst out, “How would you know if this place is so great?  You were born here.” 
Tommy clenched his fists.   Whipping or not, nobody was going to talk like that.
Their friend interjected, “We couldn’t leave if we wanted.    We don’t have money for passage home.   Anyway, the tsar took our land, so there’s no home to go home to, not if we went back.”   His eyes were wistful, “I miss home.”   
Tommy’s mouth dropped open.    His eyes narrowed, “Go back then.   What are you doing here anyway?   I don’t miss the old country.   My parents came here for the children.    It’s the greatest place on earth.  Anyone can make it here if they work hard.  If they study.”
Hank’s mother burst into renewed tears.   
Tommy and his friend scrambled away from the chaos.   They didn’t have much to say and only glanced back once.
“The library will open pretty soon.  Let’s go!”  

The Room

Enoch Kingsley Quaye

It was an old house and  THE ROOM served multiple purposes.From 6:00 PM to 6 AM everyday, it was the large sleeping area for the street boys. At 6 AM the boys got ready for the overpopulated public school. Between 7:00 AM and 7:45 AM, temporal workers brought in the tables and chairs and created a makeshift library. The same children who less than three hours before were drooling on the floor, sat in a studious manner reading books from Astrology to Zoology from 8. The library closed at 3:00 PM and readjusted The Room to a place of residence.

Today, the slumlord stood behind the doors that led to the old library. His face grim and searching. He looked at the school boys gathered in front of the library. It was almost 8 a.m and the library was to open soon. Everything was in place and moving according to plan. The deception was so good it was easy to slip into character. His eyes scrutinised the boys from the left to the right. Their innocence and sheer dedication to their books amused him. Ten minutes more and the library would open so they could explore dozens of boxes that held books. He let himself smile although something irritated him.

The police  had been tipped off about his drug trade. Although the information had been scanty, and the Police only knew the slumlord as a humanitarian who allowed his room to be used by the community, the police planned to investigate the claim nonetheless. Fortunately, his contacts in the police- a boy who had grown up in The Room and found himself in the force informed their benefactor of a search and helped him prepare for it. The stock had been hidden in a pile of dung behind The Room. Somewhere it was never going to be found.

The police had however been late to arrive.He grunted his irritation and walked back into the room to take his seat as the librarian. No sooner had his buttocks touched the hard wooden chair than he hear the police sirens. “About time” he spat. He looked outside, saw the kids stayed sprawled in front of the library and smiled a cold smile. 

The smile on his face melted off when he heard three gunshots in a distance. The search was supposed to be with minimum force because of the children. The librarian looked outside and saw the kids run helter-skelter. Moments later, the task force in full body armour broke the library open. He shot his hands straight into the and sobbed. He was not a hardened criminal, only a greedy con man who had managed to sell his hard drugs for years using the deception of The Room.

Minutes later, the team pulled a box hidden in a pile of dung behind the house. It was over and he knew it. His face buried in his palms, he saw one more policeman stride in. It was his boy. “Sorry Pops” he said, “they offered me a deal”. Ironically, it was 8:00 AM, the time the library was supposed to open. 

Scenes From a Window

Vance Rowe

New York City, 1929

Young Vito Antonelli was lying on the couch in his sparse living room. He is running a slight fever and has a sore throat. It was the middle of the summer and he would rather be outside with his friends but his mother told him he has to remain indoors today. She is out to the market to buy a few things for tonight’s dinner and to get Vito some medicine. His father is down at the docks, hoping to get work today so Vito is left alone. He lies on the couch and looks across the room at the dingy wallpaper. It’s a cream color, or was at one time, with tiny red flowers dotting it. Most of it was brown now from the years of smoking cigarettes that must have went on in this living room. The hardwood floors were old and dusty.  He sighed. He wants to be outside today.

Suddenly, he heard what sounded like gun shots in the distance. Vito leapt up off of the couch and rushed to his window. He threw the window open and leaned out to see what he can see. Being eight stories up in a building, he can see quite a bit. The shots again, this time closer. Much to his dismay, it was only the back-firing of an automobile. He continued to lean on the window sill and look out and see what was going on, like a king overlooking his kingdom from a castle tower. Vito loved sitting up here looking out of the window because there was never usually a dull moment out on the streets. Then he saw the landlord of his building standing outside down on the sidewalk. This man is just mean through and through and is a well-known slumlord throughout the city but he charges the cheapest rent so people go to him.

Vito looked down at him just standing there with a smug look on his face, wearing an expensive suit and smoking an expensive cigar. Then a man from another apartment in Vito’s building, walked outside and is very angry. He began yelling at the slumlord about the rats in his apartment. They argued back and forth, gesturing with their hands and each one trying to talk louder than the other one. They were arguing in English and Italian. It was quite the sight to see. Then Vito saw some of his friends across the street and they were carrying books. They were going to the library.

The boys walked up to the library and found it wasn’t opened yet so they sat on the steps and began thumbing through their books one last time.

Vito then heard people laughing and he looked down and saw that the man arguing with the slumlord had punched the slumlord and he fell back into the street and right into a fresh pile of dung that was just left by the horse pulling the vegetable and fruit cart. Vito chuckled and remained there to continue to watch the entertainment of the city streets. Not a bad thing for a kid who is sick today.

Pine Ridge Manor

Steven L Bergeron

Monday morning rolled around, and I had the uncanny task of making my way to Pine Ridge Manor. A low rental housing complex which George Johnson renovated after his Dude Ranch was no longer profitable. In accordance to the resident complaints, a gas mask and rubber gloves would be required for this one. It didn’t take me long to determine their complaints had merit, of all the years as a health inspector this one took the cake. 

“Damn him, Damn them all. Gloria where on earth did your boy go off to this time?”

“His name is Jeremiah. I presume it didn’t go well with the health inspector?”

“They gave me thirty day to make this place humanly habitable. If that is not the worse Jeremiah’s mutt left a little present in front of 13B. When you guys moved in he promised me he’d take care of him. Just say the word, in two weeks I would be able to mold Jeremiah into a pleasant pillar of the community.”

“You just worry about straighten up this place. I will raise Jeremiah as I see fit.”

“Fine sis. Now I got to find the funds required for the repairs they are talking about.”

“Well if money is the object dad did agree to help out.”

“Right never on this bloody earth will I be indebted to the old man. As soon as Jeremiah gets back tell him to do something with that mutt or I will?”

Pine ridge library was the only place for Jeremiah and his friends to do their studies. There was five of them, they got dress in their Sunday best in hoping the security guard would be a little more lenient on the time they spent there. Unfortunately, due to the funds available the library had limited access. The guard walked by every ten minutes taping on his watch eyeing them. The daily funds had run out. To finish there studies the outside steps was their new home. 

They all said our goodbye they were on our way back home. Suddenly there was an irritating sound that startled them all. Not one, or two, but three shot were heard from the distance of Pine Ridge Manor. Jeremiah’s first impression was that of relief. She has finally done it he had thought to himself. Mom had finally gotten rid of his Uncle George their life was about to change.

Once he arrived at the sight of the shooting it was umbearable. They against a far tree he saw his mother trembling. Over to his right they were zippering me up in a body in a bag. Looking over he spotted his uncle in handcuffed in the back of the police cruiser, it was finally over.

Pine ridge Manor had now become Jeremiah and his mother’s lucrative business. The resident can now live in a place they should be proud to call there home.

King of the Hill

Tina Biscuit

You can’t smell the dung any more: the dung heap, which breaks the wind from your squalid shacks; the dung you packed into the cracks in the corrugated roofs, to shelter from the monsoon; the dung which insinuates itself into the fabric of your ragged clothes, its stench filling your nostrils, and its filth clogging every pore of your childhood skin. 

The pile was precious, the slumlord had said. 

‘Where there’s muck there’s brass’, he said with pride, but he never used it, you knew he wouldn’t. The rent would be doubled, and so would the mire. The fields he would fertilise never appeared. He put up more shacks, bleeding you dry. He collected scrap metal, still coveting brass.

You climb up higher, keeping up with your friends; grubby hands pulling skinny bodies to the top of the heap. You stop at the peak, and survey the treasures: metal of all kinds, engorged in a dump. You know all the values, the weights, and the measures, but you also know the penalties, if you ever get caught. You pick out a book, discarded amongst the scrap. As you open the cover, your friends draw in near. They lean over your shoulders; they huddle in tight. You enjoy being the leader, and pause for a breath. As you turn over the pages, you stop at a photograph. 

‘Library’, you read out loud. You don’t know the word, none of you does. Your friends point, admiring the leather shoes which other boys wear. They have a book each, and cases of secrets, which you will never know. Their flat caps are ridiculous, when you live in such heat, but you think you all want one, while you stroke through their world – not reading a word.

You duck your heads, just out of sight. The slumlord is prowling, looking for thieves. You look down to see your father confronting him, and you watch as they wave their arms and shout. The two keep on walking, between the rows of shacks. This is your chance, and you pull out copper pipes, lead, and anything shiny. The gold metal is brass, your father had told you, but you still think it’s gold.

‘Take as much as you can carry’, he had said with a wink, ‘the slumlord won’t catch you – not today’.

You pull, and you pry, and pile up the pieces. The noise is quite deafening as you heave and drop the pipes, but not as loud as the first shot.

‘That’s just a warning’, your friend says with a nod. ‘The second will hurt him’, he continues, undaunted, ‘I want to hear him scream’. You look at your friends; your mouth opens wide. 

The second shot is in colour, in pictures you paint.

Your father had told you, without any words. Your friends all know, and cover their ears.  Pick up the pieces, and carry your gold.

The third shot is silent.

You don’t hear him scream.

The Iron Writer Challenge #184 – 2017 Spring Equinox Challenge #5

The Iron Writer Challenge #184

2017 Spring Equinox Challenge #5

500 Words, 5 Days, 4 Elements

The Authors:

Keith Badowski, Michael Cottle, Violet Teagan

The Elements:

A naked Barbie doll 
A plumber
Butternut squash
A dog collar.

Autumn’s Dream Job

Keith Badowski

Autumn was home from college, but not for a visit.

“It’s not for me, Mama.  You can’t say I didn’t try it, now can you?”

I didn’t scream.  Give me credit for that, especially after I spent all morning searching for Ellie’s lost Barbie and Herc’s missing collar.  “You got all As, proved any career path is within your reach.  And now you’re quitting?  In October?” 

Autumn raised an eyebrow.  “Not quitting.  Changing course.  You insisted on at least one year.  I did, plus change.  Now I’m doing what I wanted to do right out of high school.”

“Aw no.  Girls like you don’t do jobs like that.  You’d be wonderful at so many other things.” 

  She drowned me out with the processor, pureeing the roasted Butternut Squash for her soup.  Autumn became a vegetarian at school and had developed into an excellent cook.  That gave me hope.  I wasn’t thrilled about the sink filling up with her mess though.  She poured the squash into a pot and dumped the processor pieces into the sink.

“I’ll rinse and load these, but if I allow you to stay, it’s going to be your job,” I said. 

As soon as I rinsed out the plastic base for the processor, orange tinted water rose in the basin.  I poked at the drain with a spoon finding no chunks. 

“Aw crap, we’ve got a blockage.” 

Just then Ellie ran into the kitchen with wet feet.

“The toilet is overflowing!” she bellowed, which got Herc barking and jumping around us, his paws soaked with toilet water. 

Autumn piped up, saying, “Mama, let me take care of it.  You’ll see.  I’m good at it.”

A migraine was coming on.  “No way.  You’ll only make it worse.  I’m calling John.”

My brother the plumber took three hours to get there, and five minutes later he’d cleared the toilet.  The sink drain was more involved.  I had to pull everything out from the cabinet so he could get to the pipes down there. 

“Well, I never!  Anyone missing a naked Barbie and a dog collar?” he said from under the sink. 

“What?  They were shoved in the back of the cabinet?” I asked. 

He wriggled out and held up a soaked dog collar and a bedraggled, armless Barbie—both tinged orange.  “Not in the cabinet.  In the pipe.  Someone who knows their way around plumbing has some explaining to do.”

John and I both looked at Autumn eating soup at the counter.  She raised that one eyebrow again and dropped the Barbie arms beside her bowl. 

“My offer still stands,” said John. “I could use an assistant who can do what you did.  Not that I need anyone to stuff naked Barbies into pipes or anything.  You know what I mean.”

“What do you say, Mama?”

What could I say?  “In our house, there must be millions of things small enough to fit in pipes.”

“Mmm hmmm,” Autumn said, a spoon in her mouth. 

“Fine.  Do what you want, but you’re still in charge of keeping this sink empty.  And, John, you better pay her enough so she can pay rent.”

Butternut Squash

Michael Cottle

Some dogs wear their collars like they are slave collars. Ace wore his with pride. He didn’t know he was a dog. He was a vigilante- a crime fighter by nature. Well, there was that one incident with plumber, but that was long ago. No one even remembered that any more, and who was he to ever remind them? 

Ace kept the peace. He had seen it all. A few stray cats came into town a couple of times. Silly cats strutted their tales around like they owned the place which was more than Ace could stand. He chased them right out of the neighborhood at full speed. Many an hour, he spent lying about in the sun. He stretched out in the grass or in a pile of fresh raked leaves. It was a good life. 

Jessica Johnson was the strangest girl in the neighborhood. And Jessica had dolls- lots of dolls. And she often left them lying around in the backyard. And they were usually naked!

Ace avoided the monstrosities at all costs. But sometimes he would forget in the midst of chasing the proverbial butterfly. And before he knew it, he would be right on top one of them. They’d be sprawled out in the grass or in the Johnson’s flower bed. Ace would cringe, whimper, and ease out of there in a most rapid fashion. 

But, it was pretty late on this day, and Ace’s stomach was already gnawing on his backbone. The Johnsons had baked a ham. And that meant there was a hambone. Sure enough, with this hambone, it was Jessica who whistled and called for him. And ooh, that hambone smelled nice! What was a dog to do?

He answered the call at the wag of a tail, and clamped down on delicious goodness. Yet, no sooner than he did, he spotted one of those naked dolls lying in the grass. He started growling and backing away slowly, jaws still clamped down to the bone marrow. The naked doll began to mock him in a most unseasonable fashion. 

He growled deeper, and the doll laughed. 

He dropped the bone and barked louder. The doll hissed at him, merely playing with his senses. 

Ace turned and ran away, ashamed and whimpering. The neighborhood vigilante defeated by a doll of indecent exposure mocking him in simply her manufacturing suit- he was devastated.

Ace whimpered and howled, but would not return to Jessica’s call. That bone could rot on the ground for all he cared. That doll was the devil. 

“What’s up with that crazy dog?” Jessica’s mother asked.

“Who knows?” Jessica shrugged. “I guess he don’t like him no hambone.”

As it so happened, the only other scraps available that night were from Granny Griggs. Ace turned up his nose, but he had to eat something. That something was unfortunately butternut squash.

And so, for dessert, Ace ate grass. And then he ate more grass. As he sat there under his favorite tree, still a wee bit queasy, his ears perked up at a sound. Was it? Could it be? A cat?