The Iron Writer Challenge #9

pregnant camel

The Iron Writer Challenge #9

2013 Iron Writer Summer Solstice Challenge #9

500 Words, 5 Days, 4 Elements

The Authors:

Don CorcoranLeanne HerreraKyle B StiffMaureen Larter

The Elements:

A pregnant camel

A roller coaster

A sunken ship

A loom

“Travel Around the World” The Ad SaidDon Corcoran

Don Corcoran
 
The end of his cigarette flares, illuminating the unshaven scowls of the men holding you.  Cervantes takes in a deep draw as the fag, pregnant with whatever he rerolled into his cancer sticks, burns all the way to the Camel logo.
 
“Those will kill you, Palo,” you wince through a bloody lip.
 
“I think this is the least of your concerns, amigo” Cervantes leans in close with the cigarette, “For tonight, we dance, no?”  The men chortle.
 
His meaty hand sweeps across your jaw.  You can feel how much your captors are enjoying this.  Corded muscles tightening with each blow, drawing you into his knuckles. 
 
“What makes you think…”
 
SLAP!  
 
“Don’t play games, Doctor. If you can’t save us valuable time then you can…” He waves a flashlight around the museum’s interior. Cervantes is no brain. He’s muscle trying desperately to climb up the food chain. The piracy exhibit was filled with simulated shipwrecks.  Chests of faux-doubloons are guarded by mannequins in tricornered hats bearing muskets.  During the day, Dylan’s Golden Loom played over the speakers.  The curator thought the juxtaposition ironic.
 
“You can meet the same fate as those poor sods.” The beam falls upon three pirates hanging from a yardarm.  You always thought the exhibit was a little dark.
 
“Well, Doctor? Find me the most valuable trinket here and we’ll all be on our way.”
 
You spit blood on the floor.  “Fine. You won’t be able to sell an item like that, anyway.”
 
“You just leave such details to the criminals. Now move it.”
 
Rubbing your sore shoulders, you make your way through the museum.
 
A few minutes into the winding, history-laden labyrinth, you make your move –  two quick steps around a corner and through a doorway of folded felt.  You figure ignorance of the landscape will deny your pursuers of their physical advantage. Up a set of stairs and through a set of double doors, you spill out into the mezzanine balcony overlooking the main lobby.  
 
A door opens to your left, cutting off your escape.  Cervantes proves to be more cunning than you realized.  You scan the “Christmas Around the World” exhibit below and leap across the two-story drop to the enlarged toy train that spirals around a massive tree.  One of the thugs follows and the two of you clamber over train cars.  Another thug emerges behind Cervantes and lunges toward the other end of the tracks.  A farther jump than your own, his weight and momentum prove too much for the cable moorings.  They break loose sending him to the exhibit below, showering him in drywall and sending the train careening down the pitched track.  The two of you scream like teenagers at Coney Island.
 
A styrofoam snowman breaks your fall. You leap to your feet and see the thugs, tangled in garland and groaning. Striding to the exit, you lock eyes with Cervantes once again and, with a grin that strains your swollen lip, you pull the fire alarm.
 

The Final Hoo-ahKyle B Stiff

Kyle B. Stiff

Operation: Pregnant Camel reached its finale when the battleship Amen crossed the furthest reaches of deep space and dropped its deadly payload: The Space Marines of Xe Company, bringers of death and freedom to every once-habitable world in a universe filled with sentient beings too stupid to accept the corporate hegemony of the Republic without endless orbital nukes and groundside invasions.

Commander Dahmer stood before his men at the entrance of a cavern on the dark world of Therion Prime. “Alright ladies and girls,” he said to his all-male battalion, “we’ve done a lot of awesome shit in our day and conquered every goddamn world and every shitty species we’ve come across – except this one. Now I know you dickheads have been real sore that every planet we’ve come across has been inhabited by fuckers that look exactly like us. I’ll be the first to admit that exploring space has turned out boring as fuck. We’ve all seen Star Wars and shit like that, and I know you signed up because you thought you’d meet some Ewoks. You wanted to see an Ewok and shake his hand and roast a hot dog with him, but instead we’ve had to deal with humanoid dumbasses who think they can run their affairs without the Republic. We’ve had to kill insubordinate cock-smokers all the way from Kandanaru to Eleseia. But this is it, boys! Once we conquer this shit-hole, we can retire like heroes! Can I get a HOO-AH?!”

After Commander Dahmer received his shouts of hoo-ah, he gazed heavenward and said, “I’ll never forget when I signed up. I was on that rollercoaster on Orbus … you know, the one that goes upside down and jerks you back and forth for forty-five minutes?”

“I shit myself on that one, sir!”

“So did I, son! In fact, when I stepped off that bastard I said to myself, I said, ‘There’s got to be more to life than unrequited bloodlust and a pair of ruined pants.’ So I signed on, had my weak-ass childhood memories erased, and before long I was balls-deep in medals. Well… I don’t have shit else to say except hoo-ah, so let’s move.”

The marines loaded their firearms and entered the cavern. They passed through halls of deep darkness and felt dread, the sense of drowning in a cramped, sunken steel ship. They came to a black chamber and heard creatures singing, but they could not look because their eyes were glued to a giant loom atop a grand stage. Clack rang the steel shuttle, and the Commander saw human lives written in the shining thread, alive and humming and full of light. He saw humans killing humans, their fates woven by the hand of the master weaver. His arm moved and something cold pressed against his head. He forced his eyes to look upon the one who worked the loom. He saw a face pale and frozen, and the eyes were like pits, alien and empty of conscience.

Grace at the FairLeanne Herrera

Leanne Herrera

She walked through the crowded fairgrounds and looked for anyone she might know. She wasn’t having much luck, but shrugged it off as being too early in the day for them and got in line for what she thought was The Twister. It wasn’t and she had not realized it in all the excitement until she was strapped into The Tornado rollercoaster next to a really good looking guy, who smiled at her.

She hated rollercoasters, she was terrified of heights but it was already too late to get off because they were moving up the rickety looking rails. As they climbed she began to shake and had a grip on the bar so tight that her hands were white.

She watched as the rode higher and higher into the sky and then began to plummet towards a sharp turn. That would be all she would see before she passed out and had to be shaken awake by the handsome stranger.

That was embarrassing but at least she had not broken something.  She exited with her head held high after apologizing to the man and made her way to the petting zoo area. Surely she could watch the animals and not get hurt or do something equally embarrassing. She looked around for anyone she might know and it was odd that she recognized no one in the small fairground.

She walked past the fake sunken ship that all the little kids were riding up and down in a painted blue wooden sea and stopped in front of the petting zoo and leaned against the rail. A little girl was inside the small coral feeding a little pigmy goat, when a large furry animal leaned over the fence and brushed against her.

Startled she turned to face the animal and stared into the face of a very pregnant camel.  She opened her mouth to say hello to the soft tan colored animal when it suddenly spit directly at her. Thankfully the handsome man from earlier pulled her away from the beast just in time to miss getting camel spit all over her.

He invited her to a fun house tent and she followed him warily still peering through the crowd for someone she knew. Still nothing but she reached into her small purse and took out her mace just in case she needed it. Inside was a large loom like contraption. He pointed at it and whispered, “Go ahead walk through the strings.” As I stepped through into a huge garden, I heard him say, “You don’t belong in this world.”

I turned abruptly only to see that the tent was gone, in its place was the handsome man who winked at me. “Where am I? She whispered.

“You have come to Fairy, Welcome home Grace.”  He took my hand and I took it as I looked over my shoulder more curious now than ever how exactly that large loom brought me here.

“Is this a dream?”

The HolidayMaureen Larter

Maureen Larter

Melissa screamed!

Her stomach wanted nothing more than to eject its contents.

Why she had agreed to go on the roller coaster was beyond her understanding. Being far away from home, on holiday, free from responsibility and ready to experience life, were her only excuses.

Going on the ride had seemed like a good idea at the time. Something she could boast about when she got home. Just like that awful ride on the grumpy camel in Egypt. It had bitten her as she got off. It hadn’t been a good experience for her or the pregnant camel!

The roller coaster finally stopped and Melissa stumbled out, her head spinning. She sat down on the closest seat, waiting for the world to stop moving.

When she felt better she got up and wandered past the Gun’n’Duck and the Dodgem cars. The crowd was noisy and everyone seemed to be with a boyfriend or family. Somehow the adventure of being in another country all alone began to pall.

Over to the right, past the nodding clowns and fairy floss stand she could see a glimpse of the animal pavilion.

She made her way towards the enclosure where several sheep were bleating loudly. She watched with fascination as the shearers yanked the sheep to the floor and bent over, backs glistening with sweat, as they defleeced the animals. The wool flew onto a nearby table. The demonstration followed the wool through the processes of classing then carding and spinning. Finally at the end of the shed, two ladies sat with the finished yarn. One knitting furiously, while the other sat at a loom producing a beautiful patterned material.

Melissa felt lonely, hungry and depressed. She glanced up and saw the map of the Showground not too far away.

What she needed was coffee.

She stared at the directions on the board until she found what she was looking for. She sidestepped a mother wheeling a stroller with a young child in it.

Suddenly an ice-cream landed in the middle of her new skirt. Melissa looked down at the stain as the strawberry melted into the material. The child began to cry. The mother apologized. She bit back a sob and pushed passed, not wanting to lose her temper, or let anyone see the tears that sprang to her eyes.

People bumped into her, a couple even yelled at her to watch where she was going. Finally, with relief, she saw the coffee shop ahead. She dashed in and sat down at the closest table. A waitress sauntered up.

“What’ya want?” she mumbled.

“Cappuccino, please.” Melissa answered. The coffee was boiling when the waitress tripped as she placed it on the table, and it spilled over the ice-cream stain.

Melissa had had enough. She stormed out of the coffee shop. She looked back at the sign above the dirty boards. “The Sunken Ship” was written in crooked, red letters.  She’d remember the name of that place forever.

She couldn’t wait to go home!

The Iron Writer Challenge #8

1884 RunaboutThe Iron Writer Challenge #8

2013 Iron Writer Summer Solstice Challenge #8

500 Words, 5 Days, 4 Elements

The Authors:

Eryn LaPlantKirk LaytonNatasha JohnstoneRebekah Postupak

The Elements:

1884 De Dion Bouton Et Trepardoux Dos-A-Dos Steam Runabout

A Dung Beetle

A piece of Petrified Wood

Ginsu Knives

Sunday at the Swap MeetEryn LaPlant Rask

Eryn LaPlant

Who wakes up at five a.m. on a Sunday morning just to go to a swap meet? Tyler thought on the drive from Las Vegas to Pasadena. He was with his father, Rick, and a trailer full of restored antiques from their shop. Not a seventeen-year-old kid who works twenty hours on the weekdays and another twelve on Saturdays.

Four hours later, they arrived at the famous Rose Bowl swap meet and Rick bellowed orders and helped Tyler slogged back and forth, delivering the goods from the truck to their rented lot.  They had everything from 1930’s vending machines to the hand-made crafts his dad built in his spare time and one monster machine Tyler hated. Let’s see what was the big fancy name dad gave it? Oh yeah the 1884 De Dion Bouton Et Trepardoux Dos-a-Dos Runabout. A waste of space was more like it. It was heavy, awkward and his father treated it like gold.

The twin compound steam engine car was once owned by a French Marquis who liked racing the vehicle in Paris around 1900.  It wasn’t for sale, but it was the best and most challenging restoration his dad’s shop had ever performed. Rick had turned it from a bucket of rust to the gleaming raven and gold runabout that it was now. It was museum quality and would be going to auction at the end of the month.

Carefully, Tyler set the framed photograph of the original piece on the vertical boiler to complete the before and after display.

“What’d ya think dad?”

Rick eyed the exhibit. “Looks good, Ty. Now, hey, I need to walk around this place and see if I can find some petrified wood for the coffee table I’m working on for Mrs. Burton.”

Tyler rolled his eyes. “Sure, I guess.”

“Make us a lot of money, buddy,” his dad called over his shoulder as he walked away.

Kicking back with his DSI, Tyler started his dirt biking game. Selling expensive, refurbished antiques in a venue with Ginsu knife barkers and people lapping up bargains like dung beetles in a field of cow patties was next to impossible.  He might as well get comfortable and try to beat his high score.

Suddenly, the earth began to vibrate. Antiques clanked all around. Murmurs of voices ran through the crowds. Tyler jumped to his feet, spanning his body across the Tredpardoux. If anything fell on the runabout, his dad would kill him.

Pardon?”A heavy man, in a dark waistcoat, ballooning knickers, tall boots and bowler hat said. He had graying hair and a Charlie Chaplin moustache.  He looked he’d walked straight out of silent movie picture. “Sortez de mon véhicule!

An aftershock hit and as fast as the man arrived, he disappeared. What the hell!  The words the strange man said stayed in his head and as soon as the ground stopped shaking, Tyler reached for his phone, selecting Google translator. He typed the sentence the best he could and blinked as the answer stared at him from the screen. “Get out of my vehicle.”

Double Zerokirk layton

Kirk Layton

“Make a bid and we’ll carve you like a Sunday turkey.”

“I think you watch too much television.”

Both of them opened their jean jackets just a little. “Do these look like we’re kidding?”

“They look like a Shopping Channel special. Authentic Ginsu knives only 14.99, but wait there’s more. Look I’m not here for the auction. I just wanted to see the car. I mean how often to you see a double steam engine, right?”

“We’ll be watching; don’t forget.” They turned, eyeing the crowd and looking for others to have a chat with.

Henry had been robbed a couple times and had a beat down once that put him in the hospital but being intimidated by a couple of 50 year-old farmers was a first. I’m surprised this doesn’t happen more often. Fortunately for me, this is Canada, or it could’ve been worse. Mind you, even farmers get to carry rifles around here.

The auctioneer checked his watch one more time, and, finding it to be noon, began the patter to excite everyone present to bid high and bid often. The newspaper listing had been clear that the household items would be sold first, followed by vehicles, the house, and then the farm.

Henry didn’t care about any of this, but still found his new farmer friends were back at his side a few minutes later. “So, guys, by the low turnout I’m guessing you’ve worked hard at shooing people away. Can’t say I blame you. What is this, the third auction this month?”

“Fifth. Banks just don’t care. So, why are you really here?”

“To see the car like I said. Mind if I go walking?” Henry moved away from the little stretch of brown grass surrounding the house and the auctioneer. That is one gorgeous view. He walked closer to the steep hillside of the Drummond the house was built on. These piles of rubble left behind by retreating glaciers dot the southern Alberta badlands and were a favorite for early settlers to build houses on.

“And the next item on our list is what many of you have been waiting for: an 1884 De Dion Bouton. Who will start the bidding?”

Henry started down the side of the cliff. “Oh my, what’s this?” Part of the cliff face had slid, exposing some fossils. “Kind of looks like a dung beetle in stone. Not quite what I need to find though.” Too bad the crops burnt last month; there’s nothing but black stubble as far as you can see. “What the heck? What is that?”

Going back up the hill was tougher than it looked. Any top soil had been worn off the cliff face by the constant dry wind during the past two years. Finding safe footing meant watching every step. Henry grabbed a piece of petrified drift wood and used it as a staff.

“Now the biggest lot we have up for today.” The auctioneer was in fine form as new bidders had emerged from stretch limousines.  “Check your brochure for the legal description of the land and remember that does not include mining rights.”

Henry didn’t even hear the bidding; he was too engrossed with the view to care. It was hard to see unless you were looking for it, or, in his case, saw it before the grain and grass grew back after the massive prairie fire. “A double ox-bow. I’ve never seen one like that.” The stream which wandered through the area cut new beds depending on what spring melt there was until it doubled back on itself. The leftover part of the stream bed remained dry and, this time, was almost a circle. This time, it had happened twice in the same area. “That must have been a hundred years ago at least. Absolutely remarkable.”

“Hello? Hello? Right, speak up because I have really poor cell reception our here. He was telling the truth. Right. Drumheller, Alberta or really close to it anyway. It’s just like he said, a number eight in the ground.”

Henry put the phone back in his pocket. “I need to get a shovel. It’s going to be a long night.”

Fostered by TimeNatasha Johnstone

Natasha Johnstone

It was that night that her life chartered a course that time whispered to forever alter her in ways she could not imagine.

The bright stars playfully winked at her on a warm summer’s night. Marty smiled as she silently sat there in her wheelchair looking at them. It was a night just like tonight that she met Bill in 1925. Her then boyfriend Charles had taken her to the Grand Exhibition in Grenoble, to see Henry Doriol’s display of the 1884 De Dion Bouton Et Trepardoux Dos-A-Dos Steam Runabout. Henry was a friend of his.

After the exhibition, they sauntered the streets in the night until they reached the alley by their hotel. In a flash they were surrounded by a group of delinquent underachievers, bursting to rid them of their possessions. Marty stood there like a piece of petrified wood. Her heart pounded a stuccoed tempo but the rest of her body was frozen in fear. One by one, each of their taunting attackers circled around them like a dung beetle doing an orientation dance. She could not hear what they were saying or speak.

Charles was negotiating feverously like an infomercial for a set of Ginsu knives.

“But wait there’s more” he added in the plea for his life as he emptied the contents of his jacket pockets as well, shifting his boutonnière in the process. His pocket watch, handkerchief and a small velvet box was handed over to the leader who stood there with a blade directed at Charles’ abdomen.

He boastfully smiled at his gang and seemed contemplative as he extracted a small diamond ring from the box and placed it in his pockets with the rest of Charles’ belongings. A glimpse around him and a second for a breath was all it took before he stabbed and killed Charles. Marty screamed and fell to her knees beside him.

It was Bill who convinced his leader not to do the unspeakable after he beat her senselessly. He promised his gang to finish her off, once they left. Instead he rushed her to the doctors and vanished. All efforts to trace him in the maze of uncertainty, surrounded by myriad of unanswered questions were fruitless. Soft words and gentle pleas to hold on for him and onto him while she etched his face into her soul, was all she could recall.

She met Bastille Durant 5 years later. They fell in love, got married and had three children and accumulated a wealth of friends. With all their friends and family gathered there she took one last look at the stars.

“Ready my love?” He asked softly as he approached and stood in front of her.

“Yes my angel” her croaky voice announced. He gave her a whisper of a kiss and then proceeded behind her to turn her wheelchair around. A huge banner was suspended from the entrance door with the words:

“Happy 60th Wedding Anniversary Marty & Bill – 1990″

La RevancheRebekeh Postupak

Rebekah Postupak

THWACK.

A knife plunged deep into the “petrified wood”—in reality lacquered corkboard—somewhere near Anna’s left shoulder. From the sound, it was one of Marcello the Clown’s storied Ginsu knives, which meant she should probably be grateful it was The Grenouille’s bad-aimed turn to throw. She’d seen what one of those knives could do to a tomato.

WHUMPH.

Right shoulder now, half an inch closer. Sighing, Anna looked across the center ring to where he stood grinning in tacky emerald harem pants and matching cloak.

“I’m going to get you,” he mouthed at her, flourishing his next knife. Anna pictured the knife hovering over a steaming plate of frog legs in garlic butter.

THUMPK.

She felt a sharp pull as the knife stabbed uncertainly into the coil of golden hair just above her tiara. The hair wasn’t real (at least not after the first two feet, as Lord Percevel had learned the hard way; it was such a tall tower) but the tiara was, and if The Grenouille’s incompetence tonight cost her so much as a single diamond, the Ringmaster would get an earful.

The Grenouille pranced a bit more for good measure, while Marcello (why did his smile terrify her?) buzzed around the floor in his ancient steam runabout, tossing fake jewels to the children. The car was the old kind, maybe even the oldest. “La Marquise,” he called it, like the spluttering machine was a ship or a dragon.

“With La Marquise watching, we don’t have to worry,” Marcello often said, his own eyes gleaming. “She’s one great lady.”

Anna kept her wary eye on them both.

WHOOSHP.

The Grenouille had flung the knife too wildly: it sailed clean past her and landed in a pyramid of horse manure where even the dung beetles looked embarrassed. The audience booed loudly, and Anna’s lips twitched as The Grenouille slunk off.

She turned her eyes toward the velvet curtains. Two knife throwers tonight, the Ringmaster had promised the crowd. Twice the knives; twice the danger! Philippe was in his quarters nursing a slipped disc, which meant the second thrower had to be dear, furry Jean-Marc, who was still in love with her, or Charmant, curse him. (Charmant’s ire was patently undeserved; if he’d disliked how things were going, he ought to have complained long before the whole glass slipper debacle.)

Marcello circled the arena again, now tossing candy. He circled back. Where was the knife thrower?

The car’s motor ground to a stop and Marcello climbed out, his painted smile fixed on her.

“My turn at last, girl,” he said, drawing three long knives out of the bag, “unless, of course, you can guess my new name. WITHOUT CHEATING.”

Anna growled in sudden recognition and frustration. Who could’ve guessed that one tiny misspoken magical word—the fairytale princess instead of fairytale princess—would wreak such havoc?

“I don’t suppose you kept Rumpelstiltskin, eh?” she said as the first knife soared through the air.

The Iron Writer Challenge #7

1940 Ford TractorThe Iron Writer Challenge #7

2013 Iron Writer Summer Solstice Challenge #7

500 Words, 5 Days, 4 Elements

The Authors:

Dawn NapierDon CorcoranMichael K. EidsonWill Millar

The Elements:

A 1940 Ford Farm Tractor

A Space Monkey

A Nursery Rhyme

Sushi

The Space CowDawn Napier

Dawn Napier

Ethan clambered onto Grandpa’s old Ford tractor.  He pretended that he was Star Blaster, the space explorer.  His ship was a big rusty bucket, but it was sturdy and strong and could take him across the entire galaxy.

He called it the Space Cow.

“Hey diddle diddle, the cat and the fiddle, the Cow jumped over the moon!”  He swung his feet as he pretended to steer the ship.

“Nice landing, men.  Time to explore this wasteland.”

He climbed off the tractor and crawled underneath.

“Keep under cover.  There could be monsters anywhere.”

There was a chattering sound from the shadows.

Ethan scrambled out.  Mom and Dad always said to stay away from animals that didn’t act afraid.  They could have rabies.

He saw nothing, but he heard another chatter.  Ethan backed away.  But he didn’t leave.  He wanted to see what the animal was.

A furry little hand poked out from under the tractor.  It had four fingers and a thumb, just like his.  Then a furry face appeared.  Two enormous purpose eyes blinked at him, and the creature chattered again.  It was some kind of monkey.

Could monkeys have rabies?

The creature chattered, and its pearly little teeth gleamed.  It was wearing some sort of suit or jacket.

If it was a pet, then that was why it wasn’t afraid of him.  Ethan put a hand out for it to sniff.  The monkey hopped close to him and touched his fingers with both hands.  Its hands were warm and soft.

The suit was purple, like its eyes.  It was a jumpsuit that covered its body and all four limbs.  Only its hands, feet, face and tail were exposed.  Its tail was long and curled like a cat’s.

It wasn’t a real monkey, Ethan realized.  It had eight fingers on each hand.

The creature ran its tiny hands over Ethan’s fingers and wrists.  Then it tugged on his sleeve and pointed at the tractor.

“Oh, that’s just pretend,” Ethan said.  “It’s not a real ship.”

The monkey tugged harder.  Then it scampered up the tire and sat down on the seat.

“All right, I’ll show you.”  Ethan climbed up after the monkey and sat down in front of it.  “Space Cow, away!  See, it doesn’t do any—”

The huge ship blasted into the sky so fast that Ethan was thrown backwards.  He rolled across the floor and hit the back wall.

The monkey sat in the padded chair.  Its fingers raced over the console, and the ship rocked.  The window-screen showed a blue sky that slowly darkened to black.  Stars cut through the black like diamonds.

“Are we going to your planet?”

The monkey chattered.

“Is there any food?”

It chattered and pressed a button.  A tray slid out, exposing a neat row of green and white circles.

“I’ve never had sushi before.”

Then he shrugged and picked up a piece.  He would probably eat weirder things when they got wherever they were going.

The Day Before Take-OffDon Corcoran

Don Corcoran

“What was it you’re looking for?” asked Rufus.  He eyed the kid with the white shirt and fancy tie. A piece of grass clung to his bottom lip.

“An astronaut, sir.”

“Can’t say I’ve seen any around here, since,” he shouted over his shoulder, “What? Ninety-seven, Mildred?”

“’Bout right,” nodded his wife as they sauntered up to the Weatherford’s barn.

“But you said you heard something in your barn?” asked Spencer.

“Yessir.  Wasn’t no astronaut though.”

Rufus slid open the barn door, and Spencer let out a sigh.  It was packed to the gills with old car parts and farm equipment and no way to move around.  Spencer stepped in as far as he dared, craning his neck to scan the mechanical detritus.

A screech and a clang rang through the old structure.  Everyone leapt back, alarmed.

“What the?” exclaimed Rufus.

A chimp’s head poked up from the rusted machinery, and Spencer immediately started to rummage through his backpack.

“Hey mister,” the grass dropped from Rufus’s mouth.  “There’s a monkey in my barn.”

Without looking up Spencer explained, “Yes, that’s Penelope. She’s not a monkey.”

“Pardon?  That’s a monkey if I ever saw one, or the gosh ugliest farm-girl I ever laid eyes on!”

“Chimpanzee.  Penelope isn’t a monkey, rather an ape.”

“What’s she doing?”

“Probably fixing something.  It’s what she’s trained to do.”

“Fixing something?  That hasn’t run since, what?  Fifties, Mildred?”

“’Bout right.”

“1940 Ford-Fergusen.  My granddaddy tilled the south plot with her.”

There was another clatter from the tractor followed by the ring of metal on metal.  Penelope stood waving a large, red wrench over her head.

“Your monkey best not break nothing, that there’s an antique.”

“She’s not –  Oh never mind.  Hold this.” Handing Rufus a collar, Spencer pulled out a Tupperware container.  As soon as he popped the seal, the racket stopped and Penelope’s head made an appearance, her nostril’s flaring.

Spencer took the tuna roll out of its plastic coffin.  “Come on baby.  Spence has your favorite.”

A little off-key he sang, “Rock-a-bye, baby, on the treetop.”

“Now, what are you doing?”

Spencer glared at Rufus, “It calms her.  Help me out – when the wind blows the cradle will rock.”

Rufus looked at his wife and she spurred him on.  “I don’t got all day.  There’s a ham in the oven.”  In unison they joined in, “And down will come baby…”

By the third “cradle will fall,” Rufus was singing harmony and Spencer waved for the collar.  Penelope’s arm crept from behind paint cans and street signs.   Her fingers gingerly wrapped around Spencer’s wrist, her lips enveloping the food.  Spencer sighed in relief.

Rufus picked his way through the barn checking to see what damage the ape caused. Spencer and Penelope waved farewell.  Their car kicked up dust in its departure as a pop and a chug brought the old tractor to life.  Rufus took off his cap, and scratched his head, “Well, what do you know.”

A Marriage Proposal in Space

Michael K. Eidson

Having flown non-stop from Baltimore to Kansas City, Julia and I are headed south in a rental. Julia drives because she knows where we’re going.

Julia jokes a lot about getting married in space. I can’t afford that, but I had proposed at the National Air and Space Museum. I’d waited until we were alone, our only audience the preserved corpse of Able the space monkey. I’d dropped to one knee, shown Julia the expensive diamond ring and popped the question.

“No,” Julia had said. “You have to meet my family first.”

I hadn’t said anything. Just gulped. As long as they’re not all murderers, what’s the big deal, right?

After a few hours on the road we pull off at a restaurant with a gravel parking lot. A sign proclaims the eatery belongs to Mama Goose. The interior walls depict scenes from a nursery rhyme: a cat with a fiddle, a cow jumping over the moon, a dish and a spoon running away together. A little dog laughing. I know how he feels.

Our waitress is maybe sixteen years old. She rolls her eyes when I order sushi. It’s on the menu, along with fried green tomatoes. “Somebody wants sushi, Mom,” she yells.

“Sarah, please tell Mom we’re here,” Julia says.

A minute later, Mom waddles out like a gushing goose. We all visit until some old guys come in and Mom has to cook for them.

“We’re going to the house,” Julia announces.

Sarah slaps some keys in Julia’s hand. “Mom says don’t drive your car up the hill.”

We travel on a two-lane road with no shoulders but lots of double yellow lines, eventually parking outside a boxy, graying wooden building. This can’t be the house.

It’s a garage. Julia climbs into the seat of a gray tractor that belongs in a museum, beckons to me and pats the tire wall. “Ever ride on a 1940 Ford farm tractor?”

I tug at my tie. “I’m overdressed.”

“Climb up.”

The tire wall is obviously not intended as a passenger seat. I set my butt there and find places for my feet.

Somehow Julia starts the relic. We ride it uphill on a rocky road so eroded the rental would have bottomed out. Cresting the hill, I see the house, greying and wooden. Not boxy.

Two bare-chested young men run to meet us, followed by an older man with overalls, suspenders and a jaunty gait. Julia introduces me to her Dad and brothers Johnny and Sam. I’ve never been punched in the shoulder so many times in my life.

I wouldn’t have guessed Julia came from such a family, but she wouldn’t be the Julia I love if she’d grown up anywhere else. Right?

The next morning, Julia takes me for another ride on the tractor. Turning it off, she kisses me and says, “You can ask me now. If you want.”

We’re in a large field. Lots of space. Now I realize where Julia wants to get married.

It Means “Strangle-FaceWill Millar

Will Millar

The witchfire crashed near the edge of Barrett’s field, where kudzu had overtaken a 1940 Ford Tractor so completely that it was merely the suggestion of a hump buried under ravenous vegetation. I cursed under my breath and grabbed my shotgun. Ever since my neighbor experienced some unpleasantness vis a vis stepping outside one morning and finding 4 cows and a Weimaraner all burnt up amidst some kind of looney-tunes crop circles I make it a point to carry the heater. It pays to be prepared.

Two minutes later I was stumbling and cursing through the tall weeds like an idiot. At the center of a small crater was a smooth, egg-shaped pod no bigger than a Frigidaire. A hatch popped open and I made a show of racking the scattergun and hoisting it at said hatch.

“Come on out nice and slow,” I said, sounding more confident than I felt.

The voice that came back sounded like that Hawking feller – the smart guy in the wheelchair. He’s always going on about space; maybe he got it in his mind to try launching himself. People get funny ideas.

The Stephen Hawking voice wasn’t speaking any English that I knew of. “Dos vedanya,” I think he said. And: “Tovarisch.”

“Never mind all that,” I said. “Get to where I can see you.”

“Da, da…” Two furry little paws popped out, followed by a furry little face. He looked at the shotgun and came out slowly, hands high, grinning; a capuchin monkey, wearing an orange jumpsuit. Slung around his neck was some contraption like an oversized calculator.

I lowered the gun. The monkey hopped down, still grinning. He gestured at the gadget and shrugged. May I? I suppose he meant.

I nodded. He typed.

That Hawking voice chirped: “Dos vedanya, tovarisch.”

“Is that Russian?”
The monkey tipped me a salute.

“Well I’ll be. Speak any English?”

He seemed to consider this, and then tapped a few more keys. “American?”

I nodded.

He went back to typing. Hawking chirped “Three. Blind. Mice.” The monkey grinned so wide I thought the top of his head was going to slide off.

“Not bad.”

A second foo-lite exploded up the road. The monkey screeched and jumped onto my shoulder.

“Friend of yours?”

He typed. What came out sounded like “Zadushit Litso.” He was trembling.

“Should we check it out?”

He paused, and then typed again. “Da.”

*****

Whatever it was had smashed into the trailer that used to be Ma Barrett’s Fresh Sushi and Fireworks Stand. It must have torched the fish something awful, either that or Ma was taking creative license with that whole “Fresh” angle.

“Zadushit Litso,” the monkey typed.

“I don’t know what that is.”

He typed some more. “Three blind mice.”

“That’s not helping, either.”

As we got closer, my eyes started watering. The rotten fish smell was like a punch in the face. “Ma?” I called out. “Doc?”

“Three. Blind. Mice.”

“Cool it with that.”

From the gutted trailer, I saw something emerge that hurt my head to look at. I’ll call it an octopus, but that isn’t right. It was wearing something like a fish bowl on something like a head. These aren’t the right words, just something that’ll have to do. One horrible yellow eye was fixed on me. “Zadushit Litso?” I said.

The monkey nodded, frantically stripping off his jumpsuit as this thing advanced. I drew down on that eye and pulled the trigger.

Click! 

I may have forgotten something at the house.

The creature made an awful chuckle. It slithered at us with sickening speed. From the corner of my eye I saw the monkey hurl something. A split second later, a sodden diaper struck the creature, stunning it. Without thinking, I reversed the grip on the shotgun and swung it like a baseball bat.

The fishbowl exploded, showering us in space-glass, ichor, and monkey-piss. We did a little victory dance.

A dozen more foo-lights ripped across the sky.