The Iron Writer Challenge #17
2013 Iron Writer Summer Solstice Challenge #17
500 Words, 5 Days, 4 Elements
A Town Hall
A Grizzly Bear
A Root Canal
Henry and Ed used to hang out all the time, hiking for hours to collect lava rock, trading music files, eating chocolate. Man, they loved their chocolate – Henry especially. It was a huge deal when the supply planes delivered more to Avugiak’s Store. But then, Ed started hurting. Holding his hand to the side of his face. Staying home sick. On the last day of seventh grade, one of the almonds in a Hershey bar, the first decent candy they’d eaten in weeks, sent him reeling.
Via Skype, the dentist decided on a root canal. Ed worried about it: the flight to Bethel, the sedation. Henry had always wanted to trade places with him, but never more than now. He would’ve suffered anything to escape the deadening monotony of the village, to distract Grandpa Panruk from trying so hard, too hard, after the judge had sent Dad to Fairbanks.
The day before the big appointment, as they wandered through the tundra, Ed, usually so self-assured, so cool, started crying, his face twisted up, his sobs dry and violent. Henry touched his shoulder but jumped back when he yelled, “Leave me alone, you fat pig!” After shuffling the long distance home, Henry to Grandpa’s trailer, Ed to his house, they never spoke again.
The summer passed. Hours of clear light allowed Henry amazing views of the old volcano. He even spotted a grizzly and stood painfully still, a thrilling panic causing colors to vibrate around him, until the bear lumbered off. He couldn’t enjoy any of these discoveries completely, though. Not alone.
For once, he was relieved to return to school. At least, until he saw Ed, who, since an uneasy July encounter at Avugiak’s, had not only grown taller but acquired an entourage.
Henry’s weekends seemed even lonelier after that. He spent most of them with Grandpa at the Town Hall, playing Bingo. He never won, always one mark away in every direction when another old vet would shout out victory in a reedy voice.
Tonight, he’d had enough of breathing in the hall’s citrusy-sweet cleanser. It made his eyes burn. He felt Grandpa watching as he stepped outside for a cigarette, a habit acquired over the summer to kill time. Not good, he knew. Dad started smoking at thirteen, too.
And then, Ed’s entourage wandered down the street. Unavoidable in this claustrophobic place, especially on a Friday night. The popular kids and their easy laughter. Henry had trouble swallowing when they got closer. He’d never look like them, never fit in. He wanted to hide in the shadows, but his bulk prevented that.
A girl whose mother and sisters were all former homecoming queens clutched onto Ed. “Is that a grizzly bear?” she asked in a squeak.
Ed started a little in recognition. “No,” he said, recovering. “Nothing nearly that exciting.”
Henry let them pass, accepting his place and his destiny. Both were inevitable, like lava cooling into the pitted rocks he used to collect with his best friend.
The Bear Burglar
“What is this?” asked the county policewoman, holding up a disposable container with a thin blue lid. Inside sloshed what looked like white, jellied meatballs floating in egg-drop soup. “Eye of newt and toe of frog?”
The 12-year-old girl sat with her arms crossed in the flimsy chair across the table. “Something like that.” Blonde and a few pounds chubby, the hem of her black skirt was cut deliberately ragged, and the black hood of her sweatshirt hung limp down her back.
“And this is all she had on her?” asked the male officer, surveying the strewn contents of the girl’s backpack on the table. The backpack itself, which seemed held together with safety pins, lay deflated to one side. He grabbed her pliers and held them up to the fluorescent lights.
The woman gestured to the tool. “I caught her red-handed, using those to give old Boris a root canal. She’d climbed up and was straddling his shoulder, yanking on one of his teeth.”
“Why would she want the tooth of a stuffed grizzly bear?”
“An ursine canine,” the girl specified, rolling her eyes.
“Poor Boris. It’s disrespectful.” The policewoman shook her head and its tidy ponytail. “He’s lorded over town hall since 1896.”
“And you say no signs of forced entry?”
“None. That alarm system is airtight. I checked it myself when I clocked in.”
“Hrm.” He handled the girl’s belongings like they might be infected.
Cell phone. A bundle of keys. A beat-up spiral notebook. Winter gloves. Latex gloves. A turkey baster and a full canister of salt. Four candles. A white business envelope full of brown hair.
“Jesus,” he said, wrinkling his lip. He picked up a Ziploc bag containing handful of almonds from the table and held it between pinched fingers. “And you even brought a snack?”
“High in protein, almonds,” said the girl, no cracks in her facial expression.
“We still haven’t been able to reach her parents, and she hasn’t said anything useful.”
He leaned back and crossed his legs at the ankle. “I guess we should settle in then and see if she likes spending the night at the police station as much as breaking and entering. Good thing she packed us snacks.” He poured some almonds into his palm.
“Hush now, girl.”
“Really, I wouldn’t,” the girl insisted.
He tossed a nut into his mouth. A split second later, his uniform was empty, draped flat on the chair. His hat hit the linoleum with a thwack.
“What the—” The other officer’s hand flew to the butt of her gun. “Jim?”
“Here!” came a tiny squeak. The pants moved. A Barbie-sized cop climbed out of the tangle of fabric, naked.
“What did you do to him?!”
The girl sighed. “I told him not to.”
“Hey… hey!” yelped the tiny cop.
“Calm down,” said the girl. “In my experience, it wears off in, like, five minutes. Tops.” She leaned back and crossed her legs at the ankle.
Speed Dating in Montana
In a candlelit room full of batting eyes and coy smiles, one couldn’t help but notice Larry. He sat stiffly upright in his father’s 1970’s fringed-leather leisure suit, still donning his nametag from work:
Large Mammal Endodonsist
Big Horn County”
His shifting eyes made the other Speed Daters uncomfortable. They were dull brown, thin, and wrinkled like unwanted almonds in a bag of trail mix. He yearned for his mother’s help that night, but she had been dead for four months now.
Date six of six walked across the room and plunked down in the chair across from him.
“Hey, so you’re, uh, Larry?” she said, squinting through her purple horn-rims at his nametag.
She wore pink streaks in her hair to distract from the lazy eye. Larry found this endearing.
“Maggie Marsh, Avian Ophthalmologist for Rosebud County. I’m totally into birds- love ‘em! Have you ever looked into a birds eye? Really close? Windows to the soul, I tell ya.”
Larry’s heart swelled. His breath escaped, and it was suddenly difficult to take another one. His narrow eyes widened.
“So, you like animals?” Larry managed to squeak.
“Oh, yeah! Well, birds anyway.”
“Me, too. In fact, I recently landed a contract for Mayor Poole’s horses’ biannual dental care!” Larry said a bit louder, a bit prouder. His heart raced.
“That’s nothing! I was hired to get all those blind swans out of the town hall basement last year!”
“I didn’t hear about that,” Larry said.
“Really? It was wild! See the trick is, you have to come at a visually-impaired swan from the side, not the back!” Maggie jumped up, reenacting the scene, using Larry and his surrounding daters as the birds, shooing and squawking at them.
The other daters were horrified, mouths agape. Larry was exhilarated.
“Oh, yeah? Well, have you ever had your hand in a grizzly’s mouth?” He asked, grinning.
Maggie turned back to the table, intrigued.
“Remember that old bear found gnawing at the Johnson’s gazebo? He just had a toothache. I took care of it for him. The first documented root canal in an Ursus arctos horribilis! It was in all the papers.”
“No way!” she gasped, leaning forward with her hands straddling the table.
“I kept him, you know. Jerry. Lives in my garage.”
“Oh. Oh wow! Could I? Do ya… think I could meet him?” she asked.
Larry inhaled sharply. His mother always told him to jump for love when he found it, so he did.
“Let’s go.” He grabbed Maggie by her tattooed arm, and they ran out the door.
They shared a breathless glance on the way to his car and smiled.
He imagined his mother waiting proudly at home to meet his date. It really was a shame that Jerry mauled her to death. Should he tell Maggie about that? No, that could probably wait until the third date…if she lived that long.
I hate dentists.
If they were the last people on earth, I’d still avoid them. And going to see one when you’re on vacation would be the furthest thing from my mind.
All I was doing was sitting watching a movie, munching on some nuts. When I bit down on that miserable almond, the pain shot up through my jaw and just wouldn’t stop.
I had to finally surrender and go and see a dentist. But in this strange town, where did I look?
The motel manager was unfriendly, the local information centre was closed, and the motley collection of buildings gave no clues.
I mumbled my query to the guy behind the cash register at the beach kiosk, as I held my face to ease the ache.
“Hey, man,” he grinned devilishly. “Find the Town Hall over there,” and he waved his arm vaguely in the direction of the only service station. “The dentist is in the white building next door.”
I stumbled away, the structures in front of me blurred by my ever-increasing pain.
When I finally got into the dentist’s room, I sat staring up into a light so bright my eyes began to water. I had my mouth open so far I thought my head would split in two.
The dentist loomed over me with a diabolical instrument clenched in his paw. He was dark, huge and menacing. He looked like a grizzly bear.
The pain in my jaw intensified and the instrument descended with electrifying force through my saliva.
Then things got even worse.
“Ah aah,” said the Grizzly Bear. “I’m afraid you’ll need a root canal.”
I told you I hated dentists!