The Iron Writer Challenge #183 – 2017 Spring Equinox Challenge #4

The Iron Writer Challenge #183

2017 Spring Equinox Challenge #4

500 Words, 5 Days, 4 Elements

The Authors:

Dani J. Caile, Danielle Lee Zwissler, Sinawo Bukani, Sean Bracken, Tony Jaeger

The Elements:

A music stand,  a blue feather duster, an antique gold photo frame, a minor catastrophe

Mad Mary

Sean Bracken

“You’re a cheeky chappie, aintcha? Yessiree, a cheeky, creepy chappie. No doubt about it. Butcha love me, doncha, doncha. Couldn’t live without me, could ya? Can’t live with me neither, can ya?” Mad Mary Muldoon pottered about her camp. Talking non-stop to her husband Tommy. Tommy never listens. A few too many in Finn’s bar, a patch of black ice and wham bam, thank you, ma’am, Tommy’s upside down in a ditch, neck broke. That was nigh on twenty years ago. That made no difference to Mary, she still spoke with him, all day, every day.

Mary never drank before Tommies sudden demise. It was after the funeral that her sister Lizzy pushed a shot of whiskey on her. “For your spirits, you know, Help to keep you going through the day, you know” Everything was ‘You know’ with Lizzy. She wasn’t far wrong  though. The demon drink had kept Mary going through many a cold night ever since. Of course that was before she lost the house. That was before she lost her kids. That was before she lost almost everything she had. Mary lived on a diet of Blue Meths and scraps, these days.  

The noonday Sun beat down on Mary’s weather beaten body as she pottered about, ranting and raving at Tommy. The yellow pallor of liver disease showed below the dark tanned leather of her skin. Jaundiced eyes, darted left and right, on the alert for anyone tempted to rob from her trolley. Fleas and lice fought for space on her scalp, hiding in tufts of brittle white hair. 

Today, Monday was cleaning day, Mary retreated into the shade of her lean-to. Made from packing crates, insulated with discarded plastic bags, held in place with old car tyres. This was Mary’s castle, her home and her refuge. Inside was neat and tidy. “Everything in it’s place, and a place for everything. That’s what I say, Tommy,” she says. Neat and tidy, maybe, bunk bed in one corner, a table fashioned from dumpster pickings, chair salvaged from the same dumpster, boxes of books stacked to one side and more boxes of junk on the other side, for sale someday. Her cot-bed was made as perfectly as a soldier’s. The covers were threadbare, filthy, never touched by soap and water. 

Pride of place in the shack, beside the table, stood an old music stand. It reminded Mary of the glory days, days when she was soloist with The Royal Philharmonic. Now it held an antique photo-frame, displaying a picture of Mary, dressed in an exquisite, hand embroidered silk gown, Tommy beside her, in his dress suit. Taken the night of her first solo, with Tommy conducting. 

She pulls her blue feather duster from it’s place, starting her chores Chatting with Tommy all the while. Chores finished, Mary sinks arthritic bones into bed. Too tired to read, she takes one last swig of Meth, and closes her eyes to dream of days past. She sleeps with a contented smile, as if she knows that tonight is her last night alone. Tonight her journey ends.   

A Better Place

Dani J Caile

The man crouched naked on the music stand with a blue feather duster stuck up his derriere. The wife and the chief of security, Bob, stood some distance away, watching.

“So, when did this start?” asked Bob. He looked around the refurbished and strikingly golden office. It was amazing, though painful to his eyes and sense of style. How could anyone work in this? An elegant yet large antique golden photo frame sitting on a new gold-plated Bechstein grand piano looked out of place in this room of vulgarity.

“I’m not too sure. It could have started with the booby trap over the door when he arrived, but that was just confetti. It didn’t do him any harm, just made him jump a little,” said the wife, wincing every now and then due the sight of her husband’s polka dotted posterior.

“Uh-huh.” The naked man gave sounds similar to a pigeon as the blue feather duster shook alarmingly.

“The remote controls didn’t affect him too much, either,” said the wife.

“The remote controls?” asked Bob.

“Yes. There weren’t any batteries in them. It took us two weeks to finally replace them all.” They stood in silence as the naked man flew from the music stand to the large comfortable sofa, landing with a belly flop. “And it wasn’t the prayer mats. We took them away before he knew they were here. He used one as a towel. And the whoopee cushions…he didn’t notice any change.”

“I see,” said Bob. “All minor catastrophes. But they’ve certainly taken their toll, haven’t they?”

“Yes. The five hundred pizzas ordered for the same time went by quite well, too, considering they were all Mexican Green Wave,” replied the wife. 

Bob noticed the large main desk in the room was sitting on its side, bashed and missing a leg. “What happened with that?” Bob asked, pointing. He walked over to it, making sure not to disturb the naked man who was now trying to mate with a gold silky-smooth cushion.

“Oh, the desk. That could have been the tipping point, though I can’t be sure,” said the wife. She quickly checked her makeup. One never knows when the next press conference would be.

“The desk? What’s so special about the desk?” asked Bob. Scratch marks were all over the wide, slim drawer. Someone had been trying to open it.

“There was a note on it saying ‘Secret Muslim agenda’. He spent all morning trying to get that open. I think it’s superglued.”

Bob grabbed it and had a go. “Yes, definitely glued.”

“Oh…no, I’ve got it. It was the Wifi,” said the wife after a few gasps.

“The Wifi?”

“Yes. No one knows the Wifi code. He hasn’t been able to use his Twitter account on his phone for over a week now.” The wife, realising the problem, began to cry. This set the naked man off, running around the room with a hop, skip and jump while cawing wildly.

“And the world is a better place for it,” muttered Bob. “I’ll send in the boys.”

 

The Iron Writer Challenge #179 – 2016 Annual Championship

The Iron Writer Challenge #179

2016 Summer Solstice Challenge Championship

500 Words, 5 Days, 4 Elements

The Authors:

Alis Van Doorn, Mamie Pound, Dani J. Caile, Daniel J. Sanz, Tina Biscuit

The Elements:

Halloween Night

Apostrophe as an literary device

An orchard (you must state the type of orchard: apple, pear, peach, etc)

Metal doors on a school building

DuskMamie Pound

Mamie Pound

The invitation was hand written and wax sealed, slid under her door.

            “The pleasure of your company is requested.”

                               Halloween Night           

The directions led her down a twisting, wet trail, along the thick of the bayou. A late hurricane near the Keys bewitched the air, sent her hair flying all around, like one of the long-dead apparitions that appeared in the windows of the ruined hotels.

Tupelo Trees, standing knee-deep in in the brackish water, looked like skirted, gnarled, old women, sprouted from the underworld.

And the behemoth, orange moon seemed complicit.

Chills danced along her spine. A dark forboding tinged her every thought.

But just as all seemed lost, she spotted a small cabin at the edge of the water.

She knocked on its metal doors.

No one answered.

She drew her velvet cape closer and knocked again.

“Who’s there?” Said a voice, low and smokey.

Instead of answering, she shuddered, imagining the beasts swimming under the dock,

and banged again. The sound reverberated past her, into the wading trees, who swallowed it and zippered shut.

And now stood silent, watching and waiting.

The door slid open. Before her was a man with the blackest eyes she’d ever seen. Darker than the depths of the Mississippi.

“Hello.”

His accent reminded her of the dock traders and the bearded pirates that sailed into the harbor, their tongues, a music of French and Cajun.

His teeth were brilliant, white and pointy. And while his smile was wide, his eyes were solemn, arresting.

She couldn’t find her voice.

Behind him, three other men sat at a table, holding cards. A haze of blue smoke hung above their heads.

She blushed.

“Most people say ‘trick or treat’,” he said.

“I must be lost,” she stammered.

His house was dark, only a blazing fire in the hearth and candles, even at the card table.

“I must be at the wrong house. Are you…?”.

His dark beauty,…she was unable to look away.

“Leopold Lessinger.”

There was a razor nick just under his jawline, so beautifully placed, it almost seemed purposeful.

He raised a hand to cover it.

“Maybe I’ve made a mistake,” she said.

Electricity crawled across the sky, silhouetting the orchard of Spanish Moss hanging from the Cypress. Thunder rattled the glass.

“You got my invitation?” he asked.

“So it was you?” she said.

“I’ve been watching you for so long. I can’t believe you’re actually here.”

“Watching me?” She felt faint.

“I meant waiting for you…” he whispered and kissed her hand.

And she found herself unable to think of much of anything, except his beautiful mouth. She wanted to draw closer to this complete stranger. Wanted to inhale him.

Her mind raced with fear and an insatiable hunger, unknown to her before now.

“Oh, blackest night, what trickery have you played? What spell must have you allowed the moon, that I hunger for this madness, surrender to its will?”

Without any other word, he slipped his hand behind her neck.

And she did not try to stop him.

In the darkness, a Screech Owl’s desperate cry echoed across the water, disappeared into the night.

Little HyenasDaniel J. Sanz

Daniel J. Sanz

It was Monday morning and Conrad Brown’s fingers were already bleeding. He grimaced and clutched the ratty sponge in one hand and a can of mineral spirits in the other. His knees ached from the tile but the obscenity of the black marker had about scrubbed away.

He straightened under the protest of cascading crackles in his spine and wrapped a towel around his wrinkled fingers.

“Brats.”

His voice echoed between the lockers of the school hallway. He relished the graffiti free-wall while he could. Any moment these halls would be a stampede of self-entitled, ungrateful larvae and he could foresee himself scrubbing the wall again before the day’s end.

Flinging the towel into the trash, he gave the receptacle a satisfying kick before shuffling back to his custodial cart.

Pushing it past the scribblings of ghosts and jack-o-lanterns that adorned the walls, he stopped to pick up a black and orange streamer that had freed itself from its scotch-taped binding. He cracked a frown realizing today they would be dressed up as the little monsters they were, on a sugar high.

Conrad looked ahead to a giant cartoon mural sprawled across the yellow bricked wall. “Arlington Park Little Hyenas” arched overhead the titular mascot, adorned in a cowboy hat and a beaming grin.

“Oh how you mock me!”

Conrad glared at his imaginary adversary. “How you laugh at me! Judge me! Watch me waste away into this servitude!”

He used to love that hyena, years back when he bounced around these halls, but now he couldn’t stand its sight. It reminded him of a fonder time in which afternoons were spent riding bikes, playing stickball, and picking apples from Montgomery’s Orchard.

Conrad scoffed at the memory. “The only apples kids appreciate these days are made of plastic and glass.”

He leered at the hyena.

“I’ve had enough, I’m done!”

He looked down the hallway towards the exit.

“Why do I stay here? I should have quit a long time ago!”

He drew in a deep breath. All he had to do was walk through those doors and he was free.

But it was too late. They kicked open against their metal frames and the thunderous boom rolled over him chased by the hollers of the incoming hoard.

A flock of waist-high goblins, trolls, and witches flooded in, reeking of insubordination and Butterfingers. He closed his eyes and waited for them to pass. His only solace was the thought of freedom as he exited that door and ignored the sea of candy wrappers that was surely waiting for him.

Suddenly he felt a small tug on his arm. He glanced down and a little ladybug stood before him. A hyena-like smile spread across her red painted face. She held a box of mini cupcakes. Orange frosting with black sprinkles.

“Happy Halloween Mr. Brown!” She handed him one of the cakes and scrambled off.

The bell rang and the halls fell quiet. Conrad stood there, staring at the cupcake. He looked back at the mural and sighed.

“Well what’s the hurry?” he asked, crouching down to pick up a candy wrapper.

A Story of O

Tina Biscuit 

O bountiful orchard, flourishing well. We furrowed your rows, in days that have gone. We planted your seeds, and built three strong walls; the gates of the school completed the square. Now, they are rusted, remember their squeal. The burgeoning children, who poured out to play, they tended your whips, and nurtured your heart. The whips spread out branches, a new ring each year – so did the children, absorbing the light. They played in soft snow, which melted to blossom. They knocked off your buds, with frolics of summer. Soon came the autumn, you offered them fruit. Before apples fell, was Halloween time. First it was strange, you thought it was dark; faces were painted, so frightful, yet fun. Your halcyon days had barely begun. O orchard, you were so young. 

The river was filling, the reservoir full. The clouds were so black, obscuring the sky. The lightning discharged, forks tearing through gloom. Your fibrous roots trembled; the rumbling began: your trees were predicting, the deluge to come. The riverbanks burst, collapsing the church, torrential cascades tumbling through town. Houses were spilled, as though they were toys. We thought of the children, marooned in their class. Helpless we watched, and prayed for their lives: twelve children perished; twelve spirits lost. 

We buried small caskets, in your tender care. You were our last hope, which wasn’t enough. We left you as pasture, for travellers’ succour. We still come to visit, the graves of the past; we still bring you flowers, to show that we care. They brighten the spot, where nothing else thrives. Your walls are entwined, with ivy and moss. Our bodies are old; the trail is so long. 

O orchard, we miss them, on this hallowed night. We feel the dead rising, no longer with scorn. Those twelve, tiny mounds, rustling with leaves: the quilts you provided, keeping them snug. Their bones are so heavy; they struggle to run. They dreep from your branches, their cold fingers warm. Halloween songs purge water from lungs; cries become laughter, and pain becomes sun. They dance through your avenues, spreading joy as they go. Children cavorting, under canopies green, reclaiming memories, they laugh at the moon. The metal doors drum, as they bang them for fun. The teachers are gone now, and so is their school. Of course they don’t know that; we’re sure you won’t tell. Give them their night, to play in your boughs; shelter their innocence, and don’t tell a soul. 

The peduncle snaps; your last apple falls: no longer forbidden, forever unpicked.

Hell, Yeah!Dani-J-Caile

Dani J Caile

Me and the gang were having a good ol’ get together for Halloween night, just like when we were young. Tom couldn’t make it, he was on duty at the Police station, tonight of all nights, but Arthur, Dave, Andy and Josh filled the living room with their noisy, rowdy behaviour. Except Josh. He’d taken a seat by the window and stared out at the night sky, looking forlorn. Thankfully, there were no plans to revisit any apple bobbing like we did back in ’99 after stealing a basketful from Mr. Wilson’s apple orchard down on Church street, but we were going Trick-or-Treating.

“Eh, Bob! I’ve got your costume here!” said Andy, throwing a Wonder Woman top into my face as I entered from the kitchen. Arthur and Dave had already chosen theirs; Batman and Robin, respectively. Andy was Superman, of course.

“Why do I get to wear the girly costume?” I asked, throwing them a few cans of beer. I attempted to pass one to Josh but he was oblivious to what was going on around him. A crumpled Spiderman outfit lay next to him on the sofa.

“Because you’re a girl!” screamed Andy, accompanied by laughter from the other two. The boys chinked their cans together and drank. Josh broke their silence.

“Oh, Moon, rise and let your cooling light douse my burning heart of pain; if you pity me, seize my desires, my hopes and smash them to the stars of the night!” whined Josh.

“What’s his problem?” I asked. Out of the five of us, Josh was the smartest, but unfortunately looked like a monkey’s arse.

“He fell in love with ‘you-know-who’,” said Dave. He wiped beer from his mouth and chest bumped Arthur.

“But she’d never go out with him,” I said. Andy dived on me and forced a long, black wig onto my head.

“Tell him that,” said Dave.

“Oh great, that’s all we need on Halloween night, a bleeding heart!” said Andy.

“Quiet, he might hear you,” I said, swapping my costume for his. Before anyone objected, I was Spidey.

“So? Are we ready to go out on the town?” screamed Andy.

“Hell Yeah!” we cheered.

*****

I counted four, including myself.

“Where’s Josh?” I asked. Something was bashing the inside of my head with a sledgehammer. “Anyone seen him?”

“Not me,” said Arthur, a hollow voice coming from the bowl of the toilet.

“I thought he was with you,” said Andy. Dave was still zonked out on the sofa with some green vegetable stuck up the back of his trousers. A mobile phone rang, it was Andy’s. After searching, we found it under a pile of empty cans in the corner.

“Yeah? Uh-huh? Oh. Right.” Andy dropped his phone in his pocket and headed for the door.

“Who was that?” I asked.

“It was Tom.”

“What does he want?” asked Arthur from the bowl.

“He wants to know why Josh is dressed up as Wonder Woman, completely drunk, moaning on about some ‘moonrise’ and chained to the metal doors of our old school building. Anyone coming with me?”

Oh, Brother!Alis Van Doorn

Alis VanDoorn

“Lily, hurry up!” called Lily’s mother, voice just this side of pleasant. Lily gave a final twirl to her hot pink troll hair point, pleased with her adorable troll dress, creatively shortened a bit, the matching tights, gave her pointed troll slipper boots a blissful smile, and her mind full of Sam’s reaction, sailed downstairs, all fetching troll glory.

“Lily! Now!” Her mother’s voice now on the other side of pleasant.

“Coming!” She troll pranced onto the front porch, stopped short. “Riley! Where’s your troll costume?”

An eight year old scary clown puffed out his chest and said “I’m too old for that. I’m a killer clown! I’ll scare everybody!”

“Well, where’s your candy pail?”

The small killer clown slapped his forehead and raced off to get it.

“Lily, I know you planned on meeting your friends after trick or treating, but you’ll need to stay with Riley afterwards, answer the door.” “Daddy’s working late, he won’t be home till about nine.”

“But why can’t you be here? It’s Halloween! It’s not fair!”

“I’ll be at the rectory, tomorrow’s All Saints. Just catch up with them after the bonfire.”

Realizing argument was futile, Lily sighed dramatically, the sigh of put upon 16 year olds everywhere.

Joining the neighborhood trick or treaters, a sixteen year old troll doll, a tiny killer clown, walked hand in hand.

Dark fell, and soon they were home, diving into candy, answering the door.

By nine thirty, still alone; Lily was getting anxious. She’d have to catch up with everyone by short-cutting through the old apple orchard to the abandoned school. Not her favorite way, spooky even on clear summer nights. If she didn’t leave now, Sam wouldn’t get to see her costume. Which was the whole point.

Lily looked at Riley, currently on a sugar high.

“Riley, I need to leave now, I’ll barely make it even cutting through the orchard. Promise you’ll stay here, not answer the door until Daddy gets home?”

Riley nodded, Lily turned off the porch lights, locked the door and took off running, never noticing the tiny killer clown following.

As Lily reached the orchard, the moonlight dimmed. “Come on, don’t be such a baby.” Lily told herself, trying to ignore an increasing dread. Lily picked up the pace, certain she heard branches moving.

Suddenly she stopped, hearing something behind her. To her left she saw a pair of glowing red eyes, shrieked, took off running.

Just then she heard a desperate little voice choke out “Lil, wait!”

Lily turned, a tiny, terrified killer clown running, sobbing into her arms. “Lil, there’s something back there, something bad. We gotta hide.”

Picking him up, Lily ran for the school, hoping to make it around the side to the open field and bonfire. But the bonfire was out, the field deserted. Frantically she looked for a hiding place. Suddenly she saw a pair of metal doors in the ground leading to the basement. Dropping Riley, Lily yanked hard to no avail. They were stuck.

“Lil.” Riley was pointing behind her, finger shaking.

Lily turned around slowly.

Something was there, impossible to see, equally impossible to miss the menace that seemed to shiver the air.

“Leave us alone! Whatever you are, you are not getting my brother or me! Now go, go back to the cemetery. I banish you in the name of all that’s holy, good and true, go now or face your due.”

Suddenly, the air was clear again, the moon came out from the clouds and Lily and Riley ran.

They took the long way.

#TIWC members, please vote here.

 

 

 

The Iron Writer Challenge #177, 2016 Autumn Equinox Challenge Championship Preliminary Round, Nancy Taylor Rosenberg Bracket

kid-bango-dog

The Iron Writer Challenge #177

2016 Autumn Equinox Challenge Championship

Preliminary Round

Nancy Taylor Rosenberg Bracket

500 Words, 5 Days, 4 Elements

 The Elements:

A kid playing a banjo to a dog
Bullying 
A limit
A life in danger

nantaylorsmall

Nancy Taylor Rosenberg Bracket

Maureen Larter, Michael Cottle, Bobby Salomons, Dani J. Caile

The Double ActDani-J-Caile

Dani J Caile

I’d never come out of that front door so fast in my life. I thought someone was dying with the amount of hollering I heard. But they weren’t. I looked around, and there he was, my little brother Johnny sitting on the porch, playing Grandpa’s old banjo badly and singing along to it – if that was singing, the only similarity being that it came from his mouth – while Timbo the dog tied up on his chain, normally a vicious little creature, barked and whined next to him.

“Johnny! What the hell are you doing?” I’d been left in charge for the afternoon but I must’ve dozed off in the heat.

“Playing to Timbo,” said Johnny, messing up notes and timing as he went along. His hands didn’t walk along the fingerboard, more like stumbled.

“That’s Grandpa’s banjo! You can’t play that!” I moved closer but the noise only got louder.

“That’s what you think. Timbo likes my playing.” Timbo barked and growled in agreement.

“No, you’re not allowed to play it, Johnny, it’s a family heirloom!” I went to reach for it but Timbo almost snapped my hand off. His saliva dripped from my sleeve.

“It’s not a hair loon, it’s a banjo! See!” He concentrated hard with his tongue hanging from his mouth, and he scratched at the instrument as best he could.

“Johnny! You’ll ruin it! What will Ma and Pa say when they get back?” There was no hiding place from the din.

“They will say what a great banjo player I am!” My little brother and the family’s guard dog. A great double act.

“Please, Johnny, stop!” I was sure my ears had started bleeding.

“I will never stop! I will play forever and ever! I will play this banjo everywhere!”

“Oh, come on! They…they won’t let you play it in school!”

“Oh yes, they will! They will call me ‘Johnny Banjo’!”

“It’s more likely that your life will be in danger, Johnny! You’re gonna suffer a lot of bullying when you get to school! Banjos aren’t cool, bro, trust me! It’ll make you look like some redneck, or even worse, like that mountain hillbilly kid in ‘Deliverance’,” I said, pressing my hands over my ears as he hit some bum notes in whatever song he thought he was singing.

“Who? Is that a place?” smiled Johnny. He continued to twang along as the dog accompanied him with moans and yelps.

“No, it’s a movie!”

“I don’t like movies. I like the banjo!” he replied, plucking away. The noise was excruciating!

“Oh man, there’s a limit to what I can take!” I screamed. With one quick thought, I took Timbo’s chain off. Realising he was free, he took one look at the banjo and ripped it from Johnny’s hands. The strings were the first to go, followed by the neck and finally the head. Good boy!

“You’re in for it now,” I said to Johnny. He ran into the house crying at full volume. Plus one.

Short and SweetMaureen Larter

Maureen Larter

“I’m ashamed of you, son.” his father said gruffly. “Standing out there in the street, jiggling about to the music.”

“But I love performing – it gives me a sense of belonging. I really enjoy the sound of the banjo – it makes me happy.”

“I don’t care,” his father growled. “There’s a limit to what we should do to please the crowd.”

“It’s only a front, you know,” Billy nodded to his Dad a wise knowing in his eyes. “I do it so I’m there when the bullying starts.”

His father frowned. “What bullying?”

Billy cleared his throat and stood tall. “The other kids treat my human as if he’s a freak, and it isn’t fair.”

“Stop whining,” His father shook his head. Spittle and hair scattered across Billy’s face.

“But Daaaad,” Billy rolled onto his back and pawed the air. “My human is a happy little chap, and if those bullies get to him his life might be in danger.”

“Oh for goodness sake, Billy,” his father howled. “You keep this ‘performing’ up and I’ll let the cat know – and then it will be YOUR life that’ll be in danger!”

A Glimmer of HopeBobby Salomons

Bobby Salomons

There was something soothing about the absurdity of a young boy playing banjo to a dog. To him a friend was a friend. There was no separation, no judgement, no prejudice to who and what he was – just the simple given of a friendship. Surely the dog knew not what was played to him but he listened intently, as to him the friendship was just as dear.

I reminisced on the meaning of friendship in a small town like this. Though I grew up here, friendship I never knew. There was a strange tradition of bullying, one founded on old principles and targets picked by careful choice. It mattered little what effort would be made, once you were picked on, you’d get picked on again. And word spread like wild fire, who was to be ignored, it knew not a limit to a school or a playground and it grew with you over time. Like a social cancer, without warning and without treatment.

The threshold of being picked on was set by simple principles. Wrong of color, wrong church, parents falling out of grace after a divorce or simple rumors of. Conditions easy to reach with no intent or control of your own. Still they were enough to haunt you.

The chords of the banjo returned me to the present as I had wallowed in self grief. The dog raised its head towards the sky and stretched its chest like a great tenor worthy. From its throat yodelled the ugliest of sounds that hurt the ears like needles. But the young boy smiled with intense delight. They were performing now, together. And that was all they needed.

I sat and watched the two till my ears could no longer give. I grabbed the lid from the hood of the vehicle and placed it onto the lukewarm Styrofoam cup. Before it closed well, I could see how my pigments matched the caffeinated innards of the cup. Bullied for that simple reason.
But as the dog wailed once more, I could not press back the smile that formed from ear to ear. Those days were behind me.

The muffled noise of radio chatter slipping through a window crack. A life in danger.

As I opened the door to step into my vehicle, the light struck my badge and a golden glimmer blinkered across the street. They met the eyes of the young boy – blinding momentarily. He looked at me and smiled. A small hand raised to greet me as I drove passed to answer my duty. To protect and serve – free of the limitations of separation, without judgement and prejudice.

Buster

Michael Cottle

Chip found a spot under a large pecan tree where he settled down upon the sidewalk. He traveled light with a peanut butter sandwich in a sack and a banjo strapped around his neck. Sure enough, Buster came up and sat right down beside him. He looked at Chip and turned his head sideways as he made a small whining sound.

“Buster, you already had your breakfast” Chip said. “This is mine boy.”

Buster whined again and turned his head to the other side.

“Alright boy” Chip said. “Here, take half of this. There’s only one sandwich though, so that half is for you and this half for me. That’s all I got. Ok?”

Buster grabbed his half, and chewed on it until the peanut butter coated his mouth. Buster was still working on the peanut butter when Chip finished his sandwich and washed it down with a thermos of milk.

 “It’s really sticky” Chip said. “Here you go.”

 Chip raised the last little bit of milk in his thermos and poured it into Buster’s mouth.

 “That’ll help a bit boy” Chip said.

Chip put away his lunchbox and turned to his banjo. He began to play a bit of “Turkey in the Straw” as Buster finally stopped licking. Buster rested his face on his paws, and there they sat awhile just like that. Chip played every song he knew a couple of times over.

There may have been many more afternoons to pass like this, except for a kid named Bobby. He rode up on his bicycle popping wheelies and generally showing out a bit. Chip stopped playing and looked away. He never cared much for Bobby. Bobby was never too nice towards Chip, or anyone else that Chip knew for that matter.

“Watcha doin’ there Chip?” Bobby asked as he stopped his bicycle. “Are you playing your geetar?”

“It’s a banjo” Chip said.

 “You wouldn’t know how to play a real geetar anyway. Would ya? I’ll bet your old man couldn’t ford a real geetar. And that’s why you play that stupid banjo. It sounds like a drunk chicken with its head cutoff. You hear me Chip?”

Chip wouldn’t look at Bobby. He wanted him to go away, but he wouldn’t. Bobby threw his bicycle on the ground, and grabbed Chip by his shirt collar.

“Look at me when I’m talkin’ to ya’ boy!”

Bobby shook Chip, and Chip swallowed hard. Chip could hardly speak when Buster let go a low growl. Bobby wadded up Chips’ shirt, and that was more than enough for Buster. Buster jumped up and clamped on Bobby’s wrist. Bobby fell backwards and begin to holler in a panic. Finally, Chip recovered just in time to pull Buster off of Bobby before he done much more damage.

Bobby took a few stitches in his left wrist, but he never messed with Chip again. Chip never really got over Buster being put to sleep. Chip lost his audience, and gave up the banjo. Most folks in town said that bulldogs are just like that. They said that you couldn’t really trust them anyway.

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