The Big Red Dog
(1st published 2009-10-6)
They say big dogs age faster, but this one, the biggest I've ever seen, has been around for years. His friends - the little poodle, the sweet-faced bulldog - died ages ago and now he wanders around the island by himself, growling at nothing, his giant feet shaking the ground as he walks.
The tourists stopped coming a few years back. We told the media that it was an accident, but you know how it is when people get something into their minds.
Emily came back from university after only a week. Everyone in the town thought it was for the best. Now she stays in her house most of the time. Sometimes at night I think I see her passing by my window, walking with her giant dog.
In the light of the moon, you can't see that he is red.
In the light of the moon, he looks like a giant black dog wandering the island.
I think I can hear her voice talking to him, but I can never hear the words that she says.
I think they walk to the graveyard, maybe. Someone in town swears she saw Emily standing by the graves of Charley, of Jetta, of that nice boy Emily dated in high school. Accidents, the town agreed. All accidents.
The tourists stopped coming anyhow. Now the stores are empty and all of the Big Red Dog souvenirs are covered in dust. This year's Big Red Dog Festival was attended only by the townspeople and a few reporters, Emily blinking in the bright sunlight as she rode on the giant dog's back, the floats from other years following behind, faded and old.
Emily only walks around the town at night now, her giant dog beside her, shaking our houses as he walks.
I think he stopped outside my house last night. In the light of the moon, he looked black.
Halloween Story 2
(1st published 2009-10-7)
She always closed the bedroom door behind her gently.
He knew right from the first night that the gentle door closing was not a good thing, that someone who did not mean harm would close it in the regular noisy sort of way. Or not close it all all.
He does not like this big green room, with the mice scratching in the walls at night.
He does not like the nightly bowl of mush that he must eat while she watches him, her large dark eyes unreadable.
"Hush," she says, if he tries to speak. "Hush." And like the door closing gently, the word is a warning.
Why is the moon so bright? he thinks.
Who is this old woman?
Why are we dressed like rabbits?
"Hush," she says.
(1st published 2009-10-9)
It was a beautiful fall day in Bearville, but Sister wasn't out playing with the other kids. She had something on her mind.
"Mama," said Sister, "Why does Papa always wear the same overalls? Why does he always eat in the shed? How come Doctor Bear has been here so much this week?"
"Now, now, Sister," said Mama. "There is nothing for you to worry about. Have an oatmeal chewy caramel cookie and go play with Brother."
"Oh boy!" said Sister and happily ran to the park. Papa was thumping and yelling in the shed.
Brother and his friends were throwing a baseball around and having a friendly argument.
"I think zombies are a curse from God!" said Freddy, throwing the ball to Too Tall.
"Ha!" said Too Tall. "That's because you're stupid. Everyone knows that someone becomes a zombie when another zombie bites 'em."
"I think -" said Brother and stopped when he saw Sister coming. "Let's talk about something else now, boys!"
They played ball until suppertime, and then Brother and Sister walked back home together. Papa was still thumping and yelling in the shed.
"Papa sure is busy right now!" said Sister.
Brother looked sad. "Hey Sister!" he said. "Look at that neat cloud!"
That's funny, thought Sister. It was almost like Brother was changing the subject.
Doctor Bear was just getting into her car as the cubs got to their house.
"Is everything all right, Doctor Bear?" asked Brother.
"Everything is much the same, Brother," said Doctor Bear. "Remember what I said about helping Mama look after Sister."
"I don't need Brother to look after me!" said Sister. "I am almost eight years old. I can look after myself."
"Of course," said Doctor Bear, but she seemed distracted. "Goodbye, cubs. I'll be back tomorrow morning."
Mama called them in for supper. "Cubs," she said while they were sitting at the table. "Tomorrow, Papa and I are going away on a long... vacation. You are going to go stay with Gram and Gramps! Won't that be fun?"
Sister thought it did sound like fun, but she wondered where Mama and Papa where going. She wondered what Papa was making in the shed that was keeping him in there all the time. She wondered why he was thumping and yelling so much.
All of a sudden, Sister had a great big idea. After everyone was in bed, she would sneak out of the house and go see what Papa was making in the shed! It would be such a good surprise!
"Class, today we're going to learn about the food chain," said Mr. Owl.
Franklin and his friends took out their science books.
"Some animals are herbivores," said Mr. Owl. "They eat plants. Some animals are omnivores. They eat plants and other animals. And some animals are carnivores."
"I know!" said Snail, waving his appendage around. "Carnivores just eat other animals!"
"That's right, Snail," said Mr. Owl. "Some common carnivores are wolves, coyotes and foxes."
The recess bell rang. "Don't forget, kids!" called Mr. Owl. "We are having a math quiz after recess!" The kids dashed into the yard.
All except for Fox, who was sitting thoughtfully at his desk.
"Hey," said Fox out loud. "I'm a fox." And he slowly looked out at the yard full of rabbits and turtles and beavers. "I'm a fox," he said again. And with that, he walked out into the school yard.
Once there had been a mother.
He remembered her, a bit - her breath that smelled like communion grape juice and cigarettes, her harsh laugh and her sudden rages, the way he was frightened and small and hiding underneath his bed, in his tent, under the slide at the playground, hiding from her giant hitting hands and her loud voice.
Ruby made her go away.
He didn't remember much of that night - nothing much more than Ruby giving him warm funny tasting milk at bedtime and then his sleepy awareness of raised yelling female voices and a sudden loud noise and then silence. Then he woke up the next morning to Ruby bright and extra cheerful and the kitchen extra clean and a new vegetable garden in the backyard.
He likes working in the garden. He likes putting his hands in the dirt, likes watering the fat jolly vegetables. Ruby smiles and brings him lemonade and they have picnics for lunch and sometimes he sits on the swing even though the swing is getting smaller and smaller all the time.
He keeps forgetting to ask Ruby about the shrinking swing. He forgets sometimes that Grandma went away a long time ago and finds himself standing in front of her house where strangers live now. He forgets that Mom went away, too, and hides under the piano bench, hides under the front steps, until Ruby lures him out with gummy worms and trips to the ice cream store.
"Ruby," says their neighbour Mrs. Huffington over the fence. "You're doing a wonderful job looking after him, but your whole life is passing you by."
He remembers that sometimes, the way he remembers the surprising bits of red in the kitchen, the loud sound, his mother's sharp breath and giant hurting hands. But then it's time for a picnic and the sun is bright and it's time to work in the garden again, their special garden where the vegetables come up so big and ripe.
"Rooby roo!" brayed the arthritic Great Dane, painfully hobbling into the brightly painted van.
"Good job!" said the bespectacled young woman, her brown page boy hanging in her face as she reached over to give the dog a biscuit. She offered one as well to the unkempt young man sitting beside the dog, but he shook his head and turned away to look out the window.
"We've got a really tricky mystery today, Scoob," said the blond young man, driving the van. "There's been a..." His voice broke. The red-haired young woman in the seat beside him sobbed loudly and blew her nose into a designer handkerchief.
"There's been some really mysterious hauntings at your vet's office!" said the young woman with a forced cheerfulness in her voice.
"Ruh-oh!" said the dog. "Rosts!"
"Yes!" said the young woman. "Ghosts."
The blond young man pulled the van into a parking space at the vet's office, but no one hurried to get out. The unkempt young man beside the dog still did not say anything, his shoulders shaking.
"Ghosts," the young woman said again and sighed, unbuckling her seatbelt and reaching across to the elderly Great Dane, who was staring out the window with a mixture of trepidation and excitement. The red haired girl blew her nose again.
She is the strongest girl in the world.
At night, her names float in my head like wild songs: Comestibles. Delicatessa. Windowshade. Mackrelmint.
That house is empty, my mother says. Little girls are not allowed to live by themselves like that. Stop talking foolishness.
Her red hair stands out like fire. Her monkey chatters on her back.
You are too old to have imaginary friends, my mother says.
She rolls out cookies on the kitchen floor, has a treasure chest full of gold. Her father is a pirate king. She can lift her horse over her head, outrun a thousand policemen.
I'm afraid we are going to have to take you to the doctor, my mother says. The pastor visits and they have a hushed discussion behind a closed livingroom door.
She scratches at the kitchen window and grins in, her eyes sparkling with green.
I have two pistols, she says. One of them is for you.
The Hundred Acre Woods Is Heaven
(with deep and slightly heartfelt apologies to Ray Bradbury)
Christopher Robin - Chris to his friends - got to his feet and felt the wincing sore spot on his head. He was standing in a wooded area, and felt almost at once a startling rush of deja-vu. Where was he? Why did this place feel so familiar? Where had his friends gone?
"Peregrine! Jemima!" he called. But the sound merely echoed around him, and only a flying bird answered. "Phillipa?" he called again. There were no answers. I must have fallen farther than I thought, he said to himself, regretting listening to Jemima's teasing requests to explore the old forest on her father's estate, regretted his fumbling bravado that had resulted in his falling down that seemingly endless hole and ending up... here. Wherever here was.
He tentatively started walking forward. "There will be a path on the other side of this tree," he thought and indeed, there was one. He followed the path and found himself blinking in the startlingly bright sunlight of an open clearing.
"Christopher Robin!" a voice called. A handful of small animals were running towards him. They stood looking at him expectantly. He stood confused for a moment and then had a horrified rush of remembrance. Sh*t, he thought. They're my bloody stuffed animals.
For years - for 15 years , he had avoided thinking about them as much as possible, feeling an overwhelming shame when he recalled his childhood obsession with them, the elaborate fantasy games that had overwhelmed so much of his terrifyingly lonely early childhood. And yet here they were again and his head was throbbing with pain and he couldn't remember how to get back.
"Christopher Robin!" said the small yellow bear again. "You came back!"
What was his name? Chris thought desperately and then remembered - Pooh. The freaking bear's name was Pooh. "Yeah," he said. "Yeah, I came back. You're all... um, looking good. How have you all been?"
"Whoo hoo!" said the bright orange tiger. "We've been waiting for you, buddy boy! We've kept everything just the same!"
"Oh, that's great," said Chris, looking around for a path that led out of the forest. "Say. Any of you guys know the way out of here?" There was, he remembered, a path out of the forest, but for the life of him he could not remember quite where it was. If I could get in, he thought, I could get out, and he thought of Phillipa and her surely growing anxiety as he did not return. He looked back at the stuffed animals gathered around him and was startled to see their hurt faces.
"You don't want to be here, Christopher Robin?" asked the yellow bear. "You aren't happy to see us?"
"Oh no, no!" said Christopher hurriedly. "I'm delighted. Yes. So very pleased." The animals looked slightly mollified, and the yellow bear stepped forward, his paw raised.
"Let me show you around, Christopher!" he said. "We have so much to talk about!" Christopher nodded and let himself be led off. I can watch for the path out, he thought, with a feeling of rising panic. The bear chattered on, seemingly without restraint, although Christopher caught him - Pooh, what a name, he thought - watching him out of the corners of his eyes. If a stuffed animals eyes could have corners.
"Let's play Pooh Sticks!" said the bear, leading him to a small bridge.
"Pooh what?" said Chris, repulsed. The bear mutely picked up a stick and threw it over the bridge and looked pointedly back at him. "Oh. Um, okay," said Chris, and threw a stick over half-heartedly.
"Not in the mood for Pooh Sticks?" said the small bear. "All right, follow me! We have a giant party planned for your homecoming!" He took off down the path at a surprisingly quick rate, and led Chris up a small hill and down around a corner - how big was this forest? where was he? - and sitting at a long table under a spreading tree were nearly a dozen stuffed animals - the tiger from earlier, a kangaroo with a joey in her pocket, an owl, a small pink pig wearing a sweater, and others hopping around in their small chairs.
"Sit!" said one. Chris awkwardly sat in the small child's chair. "Wear your hat!" commanded another. Chris snapped the elastic string of the party hat under his chin. "Eat!" "Pour the tea!" "Speech! SPEECH!" Their voices were a cacophony.
"THIS CANNOT BE HAPPENING!" screamed Chris, his panic nearly unbearable. The animals all looked at him silently, rising to their feet.
"What was that, Christopher Robin?" said the yellow bear, his voice full of menace.
How could I have ever thought they were small? thought the young man as the animals crowded around him, blocking out the sun, and his last, desperate thought: Where DID the path out GO?
Note from me - I'm skipping the Arthur one, because I've always felt like it was the least artistically successful one in the whole series. Poor Arthur.
That Time Of Day Between The Afternoon And Full-Out Evening.
(1st published 2009-10-26)
"Darling," he said, the sunlight causing him to sparkle like a big shiny pair of gold lame leggings from Ardenes. He was as handsome as a Calvin Klein underpant billboard but totally hot and also in full colour and ALSO a vampire.
As always, she was thrilled to see him. And she was also wearing a white eyelet sundress, black high-tops, some colourful rubber bracelets, knee-length argyle socks, fingerless motorcycle gloves and a denim jacket that she'd carefully bedazzled to say "My Boyfriend Is A Hot Vampire." All that bedazzling had made her fingers bleed, but that was cool - he liked blood.
"Yeah," said some snarky inner voice, "Way more than he likes making out."
"SHUT UP!" she had told her inner voice. "Waiting is sexy. And cool. Those people who say that attractive male vampires are a metaphor for sexually unavailable gay men don't know what they're talking about!"
He was walking towards her now, striding like some He-God, coming to claim her, a plain mortal. His black cape flapped in the wind. His purple skin was luminous in the sunlight. His unibrow was like some holy caterpillar of manliness.
"One!" he cried. "ONE sexy girlfriend! MWAH HA HA!"
Thunder crackled. They embraced. Chastely.
(1st published 2009-10-27)
One morning, after a night of anxious dreams, Sheila Tubman awoke to find herself transformed into a monstrous bug. She lay on her squishy bug back and wiggled her tail around - her arms and legs having vanished painlessly during her sleep.
"What has happened to me?" she wondered. She looked around her room that she shared with her sister Libby. Libby was squeezing pimples while frowning at herself in the bedroom mirror.
"Libby! A little help here!" Sheila called out.
Libby grimaced at her. "You are SO immature!" she said and stomped out of the room.
Sheila sighed and attempted to roll off of her bed. Finally, she landed with a heavy thump on the carpet and lay panting on the floor for a few minutes.
"Sheila!" her mother's voice called. "It's ten past seven! Hurry up and come out for breakfast!"
"Coming, mom!" yelled Sheila. She was startled by her voice, which was her regular voice, interspersed with a series of loud crackling sounds. Well, that's weird, she thought. She discovered that she could move around quite quickly by squirming, so she squirmed down the apartment hallway and into the kitchen.
"Oh, that reminds me," Sheila's mother said. "You need to clean that room of yours up TONIGHT."
Sheila attempted to heave herself up onto her chair. "Um, mom?" she said. "Can I eat my breakfast down here this morning?" Her mother sighed and placed her cereal bowl on the floor.
"Sheila," said Libby. "Stop making that disgusting crackling sound. FATHER! Make her stop!"
Sheila's dad looked down at her.
"Sheila," he said, sternly. "Stop showing off."
Sheila was hurt. And then she was distracted by the full garbage can in the corner.
"Hey," she thought. "Yummy!"
(1st published 2009-10-31)
My dog thinks he is a WWI flying ace, I told my mother. She sighed and stared out the kitchen window and told me to go play outside.
"But it's dark out today," I said. "And there's that weird buzzing noise."
"Just go outside, please," she said and so I go.
I hate playing outside. The other kids avoid me, run from me laughing and shouting insults. I stand alone, the shadow of my head making a perfect circle on the ground.
"I'm having a party," catcalls Violet. "We are having snacks and pop and fun party games and you are not invited." All of the other girls - even my sister, my own golden haired sister - titter behind her, their eyes narrowed with malice. The dark skies crackled and the sun was hidden.
"Last one to the treehouse has to kiss him!" calls one of the girls and they all turn and run, shrieking, their feet throwing up gravel. My dog and a small yellow bird watch me silently as I walk by and as I pass I swear they laughed.
There is a boy on our street I sometimes spend time with.
He used to be the Sunday School champion, able to memorize each week's verse, coming home each week with gold stars and roles in the church play. But lately he's been spending all his time alone, muttering to himself and dragging his filthy blanket behind him.
"See that star?" he says, pointing upwards. There, in the mid-afternoon sky, is a falling star.
"The name of that star is Wormwood," he says.
A bird flies overhead. "Woe, woe," it cries.
The little girls cackle and laugh.
"And the four angels who had been kept ready for this very hour and day and month and year
were released to kill a third of mankind. The number of the mounted troops was two hundred million. I heard their number," he says.
Everything was quiet. Then a loud roaring sound filled the air and a great darkness began to descend. The little girls stopped throwing rocks at a cat and looked up, their eyes big. My dog moved his flying goggles off his eyes and clutched the yellow bird to him.
"During those days men will seek death, but will not find it; they will long to die, but death will elude them," cried out the boy.
I saw the flying star come crashing down in the nearby woods. Something huge stood up, throwing a giant shadow that blocked out the sun. The other boy covered his head with his blanket, shaking.
(1st published 2012-10-12)
Daphne was probably the least popular kid in the school. It wasn't just that she was weird looking - although she was, with big jug ears and bug eyes and a too-small nose and giant teeth - but she also dressed like a mutant and never brushed her teeth and laughed too loud and smelled pretty bad and picked her nose in the middle of class and was pretty dumb. The kids didn't like her and the teachers rolled their eyes at her and tried not to touch her very much. Some kid stole her bike and some kid would follow her home and yell names at her and and some kid would steal her pencils off her desk and leave her looking around, wondering where her pencils had got to.
"That poor kid doesn't have a chance," my mom said to my dad as they watched Daphne bike - on her brother's too-big bike, now hers was gone - up and down the street all by herself. Her mom was gone - taken off with some old guy because she'd decided that she was "an artist" now - and her dad drank and my mom called Daphne "one of life's victims" to my dad when she didn't think I was listening. But I am always listening.
Keep Away Daphne, all the kids called her. She ate by herself and ran around the schoolyard by herself and even the teachers didn't like her and that was the way it had always been. Then I got chicken pox and was home scratching for two weeks.
My mom brought me in mid-morning, after listening to me whine that I was just fine, moooom, and we stopped at the main office while she explained that my scabs were healed over and to call her if I couldn't stick it out and then she walked me to my room - mom! - and I noticed, just out of the corner of my eye, that the big Student Of The Week spot on the bulletin board was Daphne. That never happens, I thought.
And then I walked into my classroom and everything was different.
All of the girls were sitting in a big cluster around Daphne, who was sitting right in the primo middle of the room spot, and Daphne had a big smile on her face... and her face looked changed, somehow. Prettier and cleaner, definitely, but after I looked at her for a second, I could still see the old Daphne underneath, like the prettiness and the cleanness was just a mask. She looked at me and smiled but the Daphne underneath - the real Daphne - did not.
Sit with me at lunch, Daphne! said Emma, the most popular girl in class.
Want to play Four Square with us? the boys in the corner called to her.
Oh, Daphne! said the teacher. Your test was perfect! And she knelt down and gave smelly old Daphne a hug, just like she never did before.
Rutger, the big kid who was always really mean to Daphne, was just gone. His running shoes were still underneath his desk and his books were still open on it. Where'd Rutger go? I asked Melinda, my best friend, and she wrinkled her face up and said Who? and went back to smiling at Daphne.
There was a pink pencil and a green pencil on her desk.
I walked home after school - by myself, because my friends were walking home in a huge mob around Daphne - and went out onto the patio to think. My house is a few houses away from Daphne's and I can see into her yard, if I wanted to - and her mom came walking out of their patio door and shook out a rug. Her mom, the one who had left her whole family to paint naked ladies and live far away.
Daphne walked into her backyard. Hi baby! said her mom. How is my favorite girl? I made you cookies!
There was a pink squirrel and a green squirrel with Daphne. One of them - the pink one- pulled on Daphne's pant leg and pointed at me and Daphne stopped hugging her mom and looked across the yards right at me and I went into my house pretty quickly.
I wasn't that bad to her, I think.
Sure, her bike is my shed.
Sure, I used to follow her home and say some mean things. But a lot of kids did that.
Sure, I would take her pencils.
But I wasn't as mean as Rutger. A lot of kids were as mean as me, and they're still here.
Maybe I'll wake up in the morning and I'll forget all this and Daphne will be the prettiest girl in the world and Queen of the Playground and who knows what else. Maybe. I hope.
Maybe I will just be gone.
I'm writing this down just in case.
And wishing - oh, wishing - that I had grabbed that pink pencil and that green pencil off her desk as I walked by this morning.