Writing

Grumpy Monkey Fiction: It’s Natural to Be Afraid

{Editor’s note: This week your humble Monkey is trying a new experiment in which he is using song titles as creative writing prompts. The inspiration for this came after your Monkey reviewed a list of particularly evocative song titles from the instrumental guitar band Explosions in the Sky. This title is from a song on their album “All of a Sudden I Miss Everyone.” Kind of ironic that a band without lyrics would have a knack for coming up with great song names, but your Monkey digresses.}

It’s Natural to Be Afraid

Don’t worry, Virginia, it’s natural to be afraid of the dark.

Children your age are always afraid when the lights go out.

Your mother and I can understand why you’d cultivate some concerns about the monster that lives in your closet, that great green beast who pants and slobbers and sneers from behind the door while you sleep.

We can’t blame you for being anxious about the giant snakes that live under your bed, that slither and slide across the carpet while you snooze, just waiting for you to step down onto the floor so they can grab you and squeeze the life out of you.

It would hardly surprise us if you had some pangs of anxiety about the Great Glumbering Galoot, the pale gray man who paces and moans outside your window, tapping at the glass and asking over and over again for you to let him in.

There’s no shame in being uneasy about the skittery scratching sounds being made by the thousand centipedes that crawl around the attic at night, or worry about the way the wind howls and moans through the walls of the house, working its way into your room and whispering needles into your ears.

It seems prudent to be petrified of the bathroom, for you and I both know that when the lights go out, the rats come up through the pipes and thrash and snarl in the toilet bowl, searching for something to sink their teeth into.

There’s sound logic in steering clear of the kitchen as well, because nasty things happen in the refrigerator when the lights go out. The milk goes sour, the grapes get fuzzy and the Brussels sprouts bare their sharp little teeth. If you open the door to get a drink, the sprouts will come tumbling out and eat you up like a school of piranhas.

It’s also smart to stay away from the living room, because if you sit on the couch after midnight, the creases between the cushions grow deeper and fill with quicksand. If you aren’t careful, you’ll fall down through the cracks and be trapped inside until there’s no air left to breathe.

It’s natural to be afraid of these things, Virginia.

In fact, sometimes your mother and I wonder how you can sleep at all.

Writing

Not So Fast Fiction: Odd Couple, Arctic, Zoo (or at long last, The Penguin Story)

{Your humble Monkey has been struggling with this Penguin story for a long time now, and since this week is marking a fresh start for him, he thought it was time to polish it up as best he can and send it out. This was based on the prompt above but took numerous revisions and one day of brutal frustration to bring to realization. Thanks in advance for your kind indulgences. P.S. No animals were hurt during the making of this story, though one Monkey did get very stressed out.}

It was feeding time at noon on Monday, and Claude was once again being an asshole to the penguins.

“You look so stupid with your black and white tuxedos and your big floppy feet,” he sneered as he dumped the bucket full of salty fish into their holding pen.

Claude had the most ridiculously thick French Canadian accent I had ever heard. It matched perfectly with his slick black hair and pencil-thin mustache. He seemed so stereotypically French, in fact, that I sometimes wondered if the whole thing was an act. Like maybe he was a theater student from Wisconsin who had come up north to train for an acting role.

“Don’t say that kind of stuff to the penguins,” I said, watching as the birds waddled over to the pile of fish and started gobbling up their lunch. “They’re sensitive creatures.”

Claude sniffed and gestured towards the pen, where two penguins were flapping their flippers in an apparent argument over a particularly juicy mackerel. “They are not sensitive,” he said. “They are stupid. Haw!”

Claude dropped the empty bucket to the ground and it clanged against the cement. He shuffled off in the direction of the polar bear house.

I reached down and retrieved the bucket, then smiled in at the birds.

“Don’t listen to him,” I said, putting on my best faux French accent. “He is the one who is, how you say, stup-eeed.” I smiled my big smile at them, but they continued munching on their fish and did not seem too interested in me and my empty bucket.

That was OK, I thought. They probably felt safe in my presence and were happy to eat without interruption.

As anyone who has worked at the zoo, visited the zoo, or read my penguin blog on the zoo’s website could tell you, I love penguins. I love love love penguins. I care about those black and white birds like the children I never had.

I’m not sure if I could say that the penguins loved me, too.

Thus far, my attempts to move my tent into their pen and commune with them one-on-one had been met with gentle rebuffs in the form of them headbutting me in the knees and pooping in my sleeping bag.

But now that Claude was here, I reasoned, the penguins would come understand what a true friend I was to them. And they respect me and welcome me in. That was the one upside to having him around.

Getting on good terms with the birds was all part of my plan to be the world’s foremost penguin researcher, the first man to live among them and be accepted as one of their own.

I fell in love with penguins after reading a book about them as a child and had studied them all through elementary school and high school, even going as far as dressing in black and white every day during my senior year.

Went I couldn’t find a college that would let me major in penguinology, or a college that even offered penguinology as a major, I decided to join the staff of Cole’s Arctic Zoo in Winnipeg.

Sure, the pay was lousy. Sure, I lived in a small trailer with a gas-powered heater that never seemed to work quite right. And sure, the zoo might have been a few decades past its glory days.

But the zoo had penguins. Lots and lots of penguins.

I thought Claude might have been impressed, or at least charmed, by the majestic black and white birds with their graceful waddles. but he hated them from the moment he arrived.

“Hi,” I had greeted him when he first came roaring up to the gates of the zoo in his Peugeot a few months back. “You’re going to love it here. There are lots of penguins.”

The Peugeot belched a cloud of black smoke and Claude rolled his eyes. He flicked his cigarette out the open window. “I do not like birds,” he said.

“How can you not like birds?” I asked.

“Bears I like,” he said. “Polar bears. Grizzly bears. Kodiaks. Those are creatures. They have grace. They have majesty. These birds, they are nothing to me.”

“But penguins mate with each other for life,” I said. “And when they mate, the male penguin finds a pebble and presents it to the female penguin as a sign of affection. How cute is that?”

“Bah!” Claude spat. “Your penguins would make a great lunch for the bears. That is all.”

Ever since that first exchange, I had made it my habit to trail behind Claude when he did the noon feeding.

I was there to make sure the penguins got the attention they needed, and to pick up the bucket that he inevitably tossed aside after dumping their fish into the pen.

Our work styles could not have been more different, and I hoped the penguins appreciated how much care I took–and how much contempt he showed.

When it was my turn to do the noon feeding, I handed out the fish one by one, speaking to each penguin in turn and trying not to wince as their eager beaks clamped down on my fingers.

Handling salty fish with fingers that were rubbed raw by penguin teeth was not fun, but it was all part of the bonding experience between me and these transcendent birds.

Most days, the noon feeding with Claude went without incident, aside from the dropped bucket and his general indifference to the birds that were my heart and soul.

But today, something didn’t seem right.

The penguins were all eating OK, but…what was it?

I did a quick mental head count and my heart leaped into my chest. A bird was missing!

“Claude!” I shouted, hoping to get a second set of eyes to confirm my count. But he was too far away to hear me. As I stared at his disappearing figure, my alarm bells went off. There was something too quick, too eager in his step.

Sure, he liked the bears. But Claude never hustled for no one.

I broke  away from my penguin friends and sprinted after Claude, yelling his name all the while.

But he either didn’t hear me, or was trying to ignore me.

I finally caught up with him just inside the overlook to the polar bear enclosure. And I could see from the gleam in his eye that something was afoot.

The missing penguin was waddling around in the pen with the polar bears.

“You bastard!” I wheezed, still trying to catch my breath from the sprint. “You put him in there!”

“Haw!” Claude jeered as I joined him at the edge of the overlook. “I did nothing of the sort. I told you these birds were stupid. This one is going to be an easy meal for my bears.”

I watched in horror as the penguin tottered around the pen, apparently oblivious to two sleeping bears on either side of him.

I wanted to scream. I wanted to shout. I wanted to choke Claude out.

But my heart and my hands were stunned into silence. All I could do was watch.

Male penguins are beautiful, majestic and handsome birds. But they are not graceful, and they are not quiet. This bird was tottering all over the pen, making penguin sounds and generally looking lost and confused.

I looked over at Claude, saw his eager smile, and my blood ran hot.

“What are you waiting for?” I snapped. “Get the bears their lunch. Toss it in and they’ll all come walking over towards us. Then I’ll jump in and grab the penguin.”

But Claude only grinned and leered. “Watch this,” he said. Then he put his fingers up to his lips and let out a shrill whistle. I jumped. The penguin jumped.

But most importantly, the two polar bears stirred. They were a male and a female, brought in for breeding purposes. Both were massive creatures with yellow-white fur and dark stains around their mouths.

Both had become fat and lazy on the cheap zoo food, but both were still polar bears. When they stirred and saw the penguin, I feared the worst. Then the male bear got to his feet and lumbered in the direction of the bird, and I knew the worst was inevitable.

“That’s it,” I said. “I’m going in after him.” I put one foot up on the fence, and Claude grabbed me and pulled me back.

“You are not really that stupid, eh?” he said. “They will eat you instead. Watch and learn, my friend.”

In the wild, polar bears live in the Arctic and Penguins live in the Antarctic. Same type of environment, but opposite ends of the earth.

So polar bears don’t get many chances to eat penguins, though many biologists believe that they would if they got the chance.

I was panicking. “How did he get in there?” I cried. I glared over at Claude. “You must have put him there.”

“I did not,” he returned evenly. “I told you, penguins are stupid. He must have walked over on his own.”

The polar bear and the penguin made contact moments later.

I will spare you the brutal details of what happened next, but let’s just say that a penguin is no match for a polar bear.

I watched with sickened eyes and clenched teeth as the penguin went from one of my close, personal friends to a pre-lunch polar bear snack. This was too much for me to take.

I turned to Claude, and his satisfied smile made my blood boil. “You–you murderer!”

I grabbed him by the lapels of his coat and shook him. He smirked. “My friend, I assure you that I did nothing wrong.”

But behind the protestations of innocence, there was a gleam in his eye. I lost all control. “I’m not your friend! I hate your accent. And I think you’re stupid, too. Let’s see how well you do in with your precious bears!”

I pushed him towards the edge of the overlook fence.  The low rise fence had been built during a simpler time, when safety regulations were routinely ignored. It offered little in the way of resistance as I pushed Claude up and over and dropped him into the pen.

He fell to the ground with a thud and looked up at me with stunned silence. For the first time, I could see fear in his eyes. “So you do have another expression besides smug,” I said.

Both polar bears were awake now, and even though the male had just eaten, they both looked hungry. They ambled over in Claude’s direction.

Two thoughts went through my head at the same time.

The first was,”If this goes the way I think it’s going, I’m going to be a murderer.”

The second was, “Man, I wish the penguins could come and see this.”

Writing

Not So Fast Fiction: Sacrifice for Love, Robotic, Kitchen

{Yet another in a series of small stories based on creative writing prompts. It has been a few weeks since your humble Monkey has posted here on the blog, so it would be something of a stretch to call this one fast fiction. This story has been in the works for a while, and has required several hit and miss attempts just to get it to this somewhat passable form. The important thing is to keep moving forward though, right?}

It was clear to all the other appliances in the kitchen that Blender was madly in love with Toaster.

Microwave Oven saw it, and beeped affectionately whenever Blender got a chance to come out of the cabinet and sit on the counter next to Toaster for a while.

Refrigerator knew it, even though Refrigerator was all cool and calm and collected and claimed not to have any emotions. “I’m too frosty for love,” he’d always say.

Even the Juicer knew and approved, though this was a little strange because the Juicer and the Blender were sometimes rivals when it came to finding work in the kitchen.

Did Toaster love Blender? It was tough to say, because Toaster played it close to the vest. She was a throwback kind of appliance, a wide, two-slot white toaster with big round curves and a bold red lever.

Because of the wiring limitations in the kitchen, she and Blender were rarely plugged in at the same time.

So we never knew how much Toaster could see and respond to Blender’s charming “whir whir whir” mating call.

Sure, the Humans thought that Blender was there to puree their soups, chop their vegetables and blend their smoothies. And he did love those jobs. With all apologies to Dishwasher (who is notoriously sensitive about these things), he was the hardest working appliance in the kitchen.

But we all knew that Blender only had eyes, or ummm….blades, for Toaster.

We thought their love would last forever.

But the end came quickly, and it all started with a sleek gray box that arrived on the kitchen table one day. The Humans had dropped it there after one of their Saturday shopping trips.

Out of all of us, only Microwave could read. As soon as the coast was clear, he let out a questioning beep. “What exactly was a Toaster Oven, anyway?”

We didn’t like the sound of Toaster Oven from the get go. We liked his looks even less.

When the Humans came back into the kitchen and let him out of his box, we were shocked by how black and square and cruel he seemed. Even his dials had the cold gray automatic precision of a German army officer.

It got even worse when the Humans put him on the counter next to Toaster.

In his massive presence, Toaster seemed small and weak and out of fashion. There was hardly any room for her on the counter once the massive rectangular Toaster Oven was in place.

We all had an uneasy sleep that night. And things took a turn for the terrible the next morning.

The Humans came downstairs and went about their morning routine. They used Refrigerator to get their juice and water. They used Coffee Maker to brew their coffee. They turned on Stove and dropped a few sizzling strips of bacon into a frying pan.

Everyone was humming along, content in the knowledge that they were performing their daily routine.

Then the unthinkable happened. The humans went to the breadbox.  They pulled out the bread. They took two slices out of the bag. But instead of doing what they did every morning, dropping the bread into Toaster’s waiting and accommodating slots, they opened the sleek glass door of Toaster Oven and shoved the bread inside.

Microwave gasped. Dishwasher wailed. Coffee Maker perked up. Refrigerator made some offhand comment about the world being cold and unfeeling.

All of us watched in horror as the glass-covered canyon in the center of the Toaster Oven turned from slight orange to bright orange to deep red, then calmly beeped once and shut itself off.

Even though we loved Toaster, we had to admit that this Toaster Oven fella had the goods. The toast had come out in tip-top shape. It was brown all over, crispy without being burned. The whole process had been short, smooth and fast. There was no smoking or burning like when Toaster was on the job, no pressing down the lever twice just to get the bread to toast. It was a one and done.

The male Human placed this perfect toast on his plate, and we watched in horror as he dropped a pat of butter on top and it melted perfectly into the bread. A few quick strokes of the knife and the toast was positively glistening.

The next thing we knew, Toaster was being unplugged. The cruel words from the Humans stung our robotic ears. “Guess we don’t need this thing anymore.”

And with a cruelty that only the Humans seem capable of displaying, they wrapped the cord around Toaster’s white body and tossed her into the trash.

It was no way for a faithful appliance to end her service, and the entire kitchen fell into a stunned silence. Microwave stopped displaying the time. Coffee Maker brooded. Even Refrigerator lost his cool. “Bastards,” he whispered.

Blender was beside himself with worry. From his position in the cabinet next to the stove, he could just make out the trash can through the crack in the door. After her unceremonious dumping, he was inconsolable. All afternoon he paced back and forth on his shelf, muttering to himself.

After dinner, the Humans came back into the kitchen and pulled out a bottle of tequila. Sitting on his darkened shelf in the cabinet, Blender stiffened. He knew what this meant.

It was time for him to perform his duty.

It was time for him to chop and blend the ice so the humans could have delicious drinks.

Blender came out of the cabinet and sat on his usual spot on the counter. He did not even look in Toaster Oven’s direction. We couldn’t blame him.

In went the ice. In went the tequila. In went the margarita mix.

Margaritas were normally the Blender’s favorite drink to make because the Humans were happy when he was working and when they poured out the blended margaritas they clinked glasses and cheered.

The man pressed the button and Blender whirred into action. He might have been a romantic at heart, but he was still a mean, lean, blending machine.

But even though Blender was doing what he loved, we could see the anguish in his every spin. Was it just our imagination, or did the “whir whir whir” sound seem more like “why, why, why?”

The drinks were seconds away from being done when Blender did something that was quite literally shocking.

He stopped his blades and sent a burst of electricity back down his cord and into the outlet, shorting out the fuse and emitting a small puff of smoke from somewhere in his innards.

To this day, we don’t know what he did or how he did it.

The Humans were just as puzzled. One went to the basement and flipped on the breaker, but Blender did nothing. They unplugged Blender and plugged him back in, and Blender did nothing. They fiddled with his switches. They pressed his buttons. But still Blender did nothing.

“That’s too bad,” the female Human said. “Guess this one’s a dud, too.”

“Oh, well. Let’s go out for drinks instead,” the male Human said.

They unplugged Blender, dumped the icy, half-finished chunks of margarita mix into the sink, and tossed him into the trash next to Toaster.

In the brief moment before the Humans clicked off the lights and left the kitchen, we all could have sworn that we saw Blender smile.

Shameless self indulgence, Writing

Fast Fiction: War Torn, Madness, Fountain

{Another in a series of quick fiction pieces written off a creative writing prompt in a short amount of time. Thanks as always for your willingness to cast aside judgment and overlook grammatical and editorial flaws :} Yours truly in bananas, TGM}

The bullets had been pinging around the square for so long that Joe didn’t even bother to duck when he heard them anymore.

Four straight days of combat and his instincts had gone numb. Self-preservation was no longer a reflex. It was something he thought about only occasionally, like a rusty door that needed oiling that he just hadn’t gotten around to yet.

Every once in a while, Joe would remind himself that it was worth his while to stay under cover, but another, more alien part of his body resisted this urge. If death was going to seek him out in this town square, Joe wanted to see it coming.

He gazed out into the shattered town center, looking at the bodies scattered around the fountain that was once the center of the square. Pools of blood had soaked into the ground, leaving dull maroon-brown rings around the corpses that had fallen there during the earlier firefight.

For a moment, Joe was tempted to walk out and touch the pools of blood to see if they had gone dry, but he wasn’t that crazy yet. Instead he lingered half-covered under the corner of a doorway, his M16 readied at his side.

Suddenly, there was a ping and a snap, and a section of the doorway above Joe’s head crumbled as a bullet slammed into it. This woke Joe out of his daze long enough for him to duck back inside the doorway to safety.

Let’s see. Where was he again?

Oh yeah, this was Iraq.

Some small town somewhere in the Al Basrah provence. Some small town with a fountain. Some small town with a fuckload of insurgents. Some small town where most of his platoon had been killed or injured or evacuated.

And who was he? He was Joe. Army Specialist Joseph P. Smith, of Garden City New Jersey. First of four sons. Proud member of the Army’s Seventh Infantry. Guitar player. High school football star.

He was Joe. Wired Joe. Tired Joe. Shaky, dehydrated Joe. War-weary Joe.

Joe who was doing a real poor job of covering his ass like a professional soldier.

He took a deep breath and pawed at his face with a gloved hand, grinding the dirty fingers against his shut eyes until they watered. Anything to get his senses and his system flowing again.

There had been so much shooting over the past few days. So many explosions. So many bodies dropping. So much that had gone wrong.

It was hard not to give in to the madness and just sit down and wait for whatever was going to happen.

But there was still hope, Joe knew. Somewhere outside the village was a backup brigade that was fighting their way towards his position.

There was also danger. Somewhere inside the village was the cocksucking insurgent that had just taken the pot shot at him.

“Anger.” Joe whispered. “Focus.” He knew that if he was his normal self, if he had a few hours of sleep under his belt and his senses weren’t numbed by sound and fury and death and loss, that he would burn with a vengeful desire to track down the fucker who had shot at him and put a bullet in his head.

But try as he might, Joe couldn’t get his anger to kick back on. He was like a gas stove with the pilot light out. He turned on the gas and waited for an ignition, but nothing came. Just a clicking sound. Click. Click. Click.

Click.

Wait. Was he imagining that click? Or was he really hearing it?

Joe took a tentative step in the direction of the door.

Click.

The sound was familiar, but seemed to be totally out of place. Was it a camera? One of those dog training tools?

Click.

No. It was the sound of an empty weapon. Whoever had been firing at him must have run out of ammo, but either didn’t realize it or was too crazy to care.

Click. Click. Click.

The sound was almost comically soft after so many days of explosions and screams and the deafening roar of submachine guns.

Click.

Wary of being baited into a trap, Joe took a cautious step toward the doorway, then snapped his head back. It took his brain a minute to interpret what it was his eyes had seen during their brief exposure to the open square.

On the opposite side of the fountain was an Iraqi insurgent. He was thin and brown, wearing a dirty t-shirt and dirty jeans. He was bent down on one knee, holding a Kalashnikov and firing it uselessly in Joe’s direction.

Click. Click. Click.

Joe searched back through his training. He had learned tactics for being under constant fire, but never for being under constant faux fire.

Why was the guy continuing to shoot if he had no ammo? Why didn’t he run? What the fuck?

What were the rules of engagement for someone who was trying to kill you without any bullets?

Click.

Joe grunted. It made no sense.

Suddenly he heard a rustle of gravel. And then footsteps. Slow and steady, but clearly coming closer. Echoing in the square.

The click was growing louder now, too. Click. CLICK. CLICK.

Instinct took over and Joe stepped around the corner and through the doorway. He brought his M16 level and dead-eyed the Iraqi in his scope.

“Stand down!” he yelled. “Stand the fuck down!”

The Iraqi kept walking, though. Kept walking and pulling on that impotent trigger.

Click. Click. Click.

“Last warning,” Joe shouted, his voice hoarse from fatigue and confusion. “You’re out of fucking ammo, dude!”

But the Iraqi kept closing. He was steps away from the doorway now.

Joe was tired, too tired to process the gray moral and tactical challenges of an armed man attacking him with an empty gun in an endless battle in a senseless war. “Dude!” he pleaded one last time. But the man kept coming.

Joe squeezed the trigger of his M16 and a burst of fire exploded from the barrel.

The bullets slammed into the Iraqi with professional Army precision. New holes appeared in the man’s shirt near his heart and lungs, and fresh, dark pools of blood began to spread through the dampening cloth.

Joe fired again and put a bullet straight through the Iraqi’s head.

The man dropped to the ground, gun still in hand, finger still on the trigger. There were a few shallow breaths, a rasping cough, and then one final, surprisingly insistent, somehow defiant CLICK.

And all went silent in the square.

Shameless self indulgence, Writing

Fast Fiction: Competition, Ivy League, Mansion

{More fast fiction written by your humble Monkey protagonist. Thanks as always for your passive acceptance of my prose…}

The year was 1925 and there were hundreds of students graduating from Harvard that spring, but for all I cared, there were only two that mattered — me and Phineas T. Phelps.

Phineas was a business school major whose parents owned a large multinational coal conglomeration.

My father had been the surgeon in chief at a prominent Boston hospital and the personal physician to many of the city’s top politicians and businessmen.

Neither of us were lacking for money–or ambition. And the fact that Mr. Phelps Sr. was on my father’s patient roster was a perpetual source of irritation for my classmate and arch-nemesis.

It seemed like we were always trying to outdo each other; on the squash courts, on the debate team, in the drama productions.

If he got the lead in the fall musical, I’d take a turn heading up the spring Shakespeare production.

If I made it to the squash finals, he’d wind up in the same court and beat me on a tiebreaker in the final game.

If I got a 3.8 one semester, he’d fall all over himself to point out his 3.9.

If he bedded a pretty nursing student after a night of beers in Harvard Square, I’d take home a prettier one the next night.

I had figured that our competition would naturally come to an end when we donned our caps and gowns and picked up our diplomas, but here we were sitting across from each other in Harvard Yard one May morning with another contest about to begin.

We were both studying the property listings in the two competing papers of the time with one goal in mind– to turn our considerable family trust funds into a property that would shame the other’s.

Phineas’s face was buried in the back of the  blue-blooded Boston Globe. I was hoping that the more pedestrian Herald-American might reveal a hidden gem.

Our latest competition had started when I had casually mentioned that I would be moving out of my Harvard Square apartment in the summer and taking up residence at a family property in Andover that had recently been left vacant by a departed aunt.

I had hardy got the words out of my mouth when Phineas began chattering about a summer home in Newport that he planned to turn into his year-round residence.

I can’t remember the first person to use the word “mansion,” but things had escalated quickly in the property war, and now both of us were studying every real estate listing we could find, hoping to find some run-down piece of property, turn it into a restored gem, and claim the title of mansion for our own.

I heard a rustling from the other side of the bench. Phineas cocked an eye over the top of his paper and sniffed at me. “Surely you won’t be finding anything of note in that rag. Maybe an abandoned box car that you could live in.”

Anger flushed in my cheeks, but I tamped down my temper and tried to play it cool. ” I don’t know about that.” I tapped my finger against a random listing as if to suggested some secret knowledge. “There may be a property in here that’s a few coats of paint away from being a real dazzler. I’m not sure if I’ll need a carriage house, a barn and a separate house for the servants, though.”

There was no such property in the paper, of course. But it didn’t hurt to play with Phineas’ mind a little. And even if I got him to shell out a nickel for a copy of the Herald American once I walked away, I’d consider that a minor victory.

“In any case,” I continued. “I should be off. I don’t mean to read and run, but I have listings to see all day and decisions to make.”

This was also untrue. I was going out to Andover to see if there was any way I could turn my Aunt’s respectable old house into something that resembled an estate, but I wasn’t holding out much hope.

I turned and nearly tossed the paper into a nearby trash can, but then caught myself and folded it tightly under my arm.

Glancing back towards the Square as I started to walk up Mount Auburn Street, I couldn’t help but smile .

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Phineas slink out of the corner newsstand with a fresh newspaper tucked under his arm. The blue and red banner of the Herald American was just visible under the folds of his coat.

I fought the urge to leap into the air and tap my heels together. This round, at least, had gone to me.

Writing

Fast Fiction: Slaying of A Loved One, Small Town, Garden

{Another in a series of quickly written fiction pieces that are based on creative writing prompts. Thanks as always for your indulgences on behalf of your aspiring young Monkey fictionalist.Also, fictionalist may not be an actual word. Just so you know. Cheers, TGM}

Mr. Edward Jones loved to spend time in his backyard garden, and his efforts paid off.

Each spring the tulips would bloom first, big bright bursts of red and orange and yellow. In the summer it would be vegetables: tomatoes, green beans, lumpy cucumbers, mini squashes and yellow carrots. In the fall, the garden would be lined with purple mums.

Mr. Jones was a regular down at the local farm and feed store.Every few days he would pull into the lot in his old pickup truck, saunter through the greenhouse with his thumbs hitched into his suspenders, and leave with bags of fertilizer and trays of seedlings rattling around in the back of his pickup bed.

Edward had a big, gentle face, an easy smile, and stubby hands that always seemed to be covered in dirt. He seemed to dote on his wife, Dottie, who baked blueberry dog biscuits for the local craft fair each year.

Therefore, it was quite a shock to the small town of Bedford when Dottie’s decomposing corpse was found in the back row of the Jones’ garden one sun-drenched September morning.

It was even more of a shock when Mr. Jones confessed to the police that he had buried her there.

What came next was a game of “he said, he said” as Edward Jones and the local police chief presented their sides of the story to the press.

Edward said that Dottie had died of natural causes one morning, and not wanting to make a fuss, he decided to bury her in the garden without an official wake or funeral. “It was what he would have wanted,” he told the press.

The police chief told the press that investigators “considered the garden an active crime scene,” and refused to rule out Edward as a murder suspect. “We’re still looking at all the angles,” he said.

This put me in a bit of an awkward situation, as I was not only the paperboy who delivered the news to the Jones house, but also the one who had found Dottie’s body when I came around collecting one Saturday morning.

The Garden Murder had been the one and only topic during school that week. And I had become something of a celebrity for having found the body.

“What were you doing digging around in his garden?” a seventh grader named Sydney asked me during recess one day that week.

I took a deep breath. Telling the story was getting easier now that I had done it a dozen times or so by now.

“I wasn’t digging,” I said. “I was collecting for my paper route, and I usually go around to the side door. It was open, and when I knocked no one answered. So I walked out into the garden. Mr. Jones is usually in the garden and he usually pays me. I practically tripped over this big mound of dirt that had never been there before, and when I looked down in the soil I saw a finger.”

“Eeeeewwwww.” Came the collective gasp from everyone on the playground. It was the typical response when I got to the part about the finger.

I continued. “I saw the finger and I kicked a little more dirt and then I saw it was connected to a hand. And then a wrist. And then I started running.”

I had nearly peed my pants after realizing that the finger I had found was connected to a hand, and that the hand was connected to a body, but I left that part out of this schoolyard version of story. It didn’t do me or my celebrity status any favors.

I continued. “So I ran out of the garden and back home and told my mom.”

“How did you know that there was a whole body down there?” Someone asked from the back row.

I shrugged. “I don’t know. I just knew. Besides, it’s not like it would be any better if it was just a hand, right?”

“Were there bugs crawling all over it?” someone else asked.

I shrugged again. “I guess there were some bugs. But it was a garden, so there are always going to be some bugs. Nothing too weird.”

“Besides finding a dead body on your paper route,” Sydney quipped.

“Yeah,” I said. “Besides that.”

 

Shameless self indulgence, Writing

Grumpy Monkey Fiction: Pursuit, Fairy, Knight

{Another in a series of fast fiction stories based on a creative writing prompt}

Sir Belvedere stumbled through the glen. His heavy armor clanked and his broadsword felt heavy and useless in his hand.

Beads of sweat were forming on his brow and the small of his back, and he could feel them dripping down to the bottom of his iron suit as he wheezed and crashed through the forest.

Despite his heavy breathing and the clank and clack of his armor, he could hear the flutter of wings behind him. The fluttering was growing louder. And more sinister.

Sir Belvedere grimaced at the thought. Not only was his current situation troubling for his personal safety, his honor was at stake, too. What would the other nights think if they saw him fleeing through the forest like a milkmaid, running from a pack of fairies?

But they didn’t know. They hadn’t seen. These were no ordinary fairies. These were not wispy, well-meaning creatures of the woods who flew by in the twilight on a trail of stars.

These fairies were dark-eyed and dark of spirit.

They lived in the black and twisted trees that lined the forest path. And they whispered things. Terrible things.

“The horse,” one had hissed into his ear as he had lay sleeping under one such tree that morning.

And as if by some black magic, Sir Belevedere had risen from the ground, untied his horse and sent it galloping off through the forest, leaving him and the girl with no supplies and no means of transport.

“The girl.” They had whispered next. And Sir Belevedere — the brave, the noble, and the most just of all the knights in the realm– had thrown himself lustily at the peasant girl that he had rescued from foul bandits only days before.

“Give us a kiss,” he had gasped as he groped and tore at her blouse. She had started to scream.

“Silence” the fairies had whispered. And Sir Belevdere had clamped a heavy hand over the girl’s mouth. She bit down hard, gnashing into the palm of his hand and drawing blood, but he held tight.

“The girl” the fairies had said in their soft hiss, and his grip grew tighter and tighter until the girl stopped struggling and sank to the ground.

Something about the way she dropped to the ground had shaken awake the last remaining vestiges of the honorable knight he had once been, and Sir Belevedere had turned tail and fled into the forest, leaving the girl to gasp for air.

He hadn’t dared to look back. But the fairies did not stop coming. And they did not stop talking.

“Finish” they insisted.

Sir Belvedere splashed through a shallow brook and began climbing up a mossy hill. The fluttering was right next to his ears now, and the voices were echoing inside his helmet.

“The girl,” they said. “The girl.”

Reaching the top of the hill, Sir Belvedere dropped to one knee and readied his sword.

He was done running, he knew. The suit was heavy and waterlogged, and he had only so much wind left. It was time to fight.

Drawing a deep and steadying breath, he turned to face his tormenters.

Dozens of black shapes flittered and fluttered in the dim light like angry flies. “The girl,” they said.

“No!” Sir Belvedere shouted, and began swinging wildly. But the fairies were too small and too quick for his lumbering sword. His huge arcing swings whistled through the air and found nothing but the ground and the trees. “Stand and fight!” he bellowed.

But the fairies did not comply.

He swung his sword to and fro until his lungs were ready to burst, then sank to the ground and buried his head between his knees.  He closed his eyes.

Perhaps if he ignored them, the madness would end.

But the fluttering grew louder and louder and louder–until it stopped.

Although it should have been impossible given the size of the fairies and the thickness of the metal, Sir Belevedere suddenly felt the tip-tap of dozens of tiny feet on his back and shoulders.

“The girl,” they said. “The girl.”

Sir Belevedere gritted his teeth. A single tear dropped from his cheek. When he reopened his eyes, they were as black and empty as the fairies themselves.

“The girl,” he said.

And he rose and sprinted back the way he had come.