The Joneses

 

“Did you see what the Joneses got?” Marco gazed out the window.

“Don’t tell me you are falling for this nonsense!”

Marco swallowed a retort. His wife often yelled first and considered second. Getting into an argument in ‘phase one’ only delayed (or destroyed any possibility for) ‘phase two.’

“So?” her hands left wrinkled wet spots on her kitchen apron.

“I’m considering it,” he allowed. Silence tended to increase her ire.

“And for what Godawful blasted reason?”

He shrugged and tried for his one-sided smile. It used to work like magic in the past. Still did, sporadically. Worth a try.

The corners of her eyebrows shifted slightly away from each other. Good or bad, he wasn’t sure, but it was now or never.

“We could tie our Blimp to it, Dear. It is all the rage to have one’s own anchor. Makes it so much easier to unload the groceries.”

 

 

For Crispina’s Crimson’s Creative Challenge #64

 

 

Eyes Of Time

Photo prompt: Sue Vincent

 

“Learn to listen,” He-Who-Runs-With-Crooked-Legs told him as they sat to whittle spears and arrows out of saplings.

The old man’s hands moved the sharp bone deftly over the yielding wood, smoothing any bumps that could confuse an arrow’s spirit and send it listening to things other than the direction intended by the hunter.

He-Whose-Smile-Fades-Fast had hands that didn’t listen. The bone slipped. The sticks broke. The tips burned instead of hardening.

“You are still young,” He-Who-Runs-With-Crooked-Legs nodded at the boy’s frustration, his own fingers flying like starlings in a sky dance. “Your patience needs many more moons to grow.”

“…And you face special challenges,” the older man added, and the unexpected compassion softened the lined face in a way that soothed the boy more than the salve where the fire had wounded him. “It is your path to struggle. It is your path to overcome and become One-Who-Knows.”

“Like you?” the boy asked, eyes gliding over his mentor’s legs — one long and lean and straight, one tight and oddly bent. It had taken him months to build the courage to speak to the Shaman, and months more to dare note what all saw but was taboo to mention. The deformity was part of the man’s magic. It lent him awe. It caught the curiosity of spirits so they crowded closer to examine him, bringing hardship but also allowing him to speak and sing and plead and wrangle with them on others’ behalf.

“Yes, like me,” He-Who-Runs-With-Crooked-Legs replied. “A path of pain becomes a path of wisdom. If you let it teach you. If you open your heart and listen to your mind, your eyes, your hands, your scars.”

The boy lowered his eyes. He’d seen the man unclothed and he knew the many scars that crisscrossed the Shaman’s torso and that they were part made in valor, part born of harm.

 

He-Whose-Smile-Fades-Fast still remembered the evening when the old man had tapped the flap to the family’s dwelling, and poked his staff in to let his parents know who’d come. It wasn’t his mother who’d let the guest in. It wasn’t even his brother, who’d since become a man. But his father who had gotten up to greet the healer. His father who’d vacated the best seat and who’d served the steaming pine tea in the whorl cup.

The boy had gone to hide behind his mother’s back while the men talked. He curled his webbed fingers under his thumbs. He stuck his tripping, stubby toes under his mother’s furs. The Shaman scared him, and he felt it in his stomach that it was him the words concerned. He felt it in his mother’s muscles, too, tensing as she listened to a future that she must have known was his, and to the losses that she had to know were coming.

Shamans did not hunt. Shamans did not marry. Shamans did not dangle babies on their knee. They fasted. They prayed. They endured. They traveled worlds of mist and danger to bring back people’s souls. They blessed weapons and fought the spirits of famine and war and ill. They were feared and respected but not often loved. It was not a life a mother would will.

That night had been his last in his mother’s arms. He’d been entrusted to the Shaman since. For days he’d ran in tears to his mother only to have her return him solemnly, her own eyes dripping, to the feathered tent.

“You are fortunate,” she whispered to him once when he clung fiercely and her own hands seemed reluctant to release him. “Some Shamans can be cruel in their training, but he is not. He was my uncle once, in the years before he turned a holy man. He had been raised in violence and he promised he would not impart it on you. Go, my son. He will be like a father and mother to you now.”

 

The moon was born a dozen times since, and his mother had been right. He-Who-Runs-With-Crooked-Legs was firm and exacting, but he did not whip or lash or wound him, not in body, not in mind. Underneath the distancing exterior, the healer was kind.

The boy bent his head to the stick, determined. Still his hands refused to do his bidding and the sharp bone bit deep into his flesh. He blinked and breathed and wept but let no sound escape.

“The sky has a story today,” the old man said quietly. “Use your pain to wipe your inner eye so you could hear what it tells.”

The boy pressed his lips together and looked up through a veil of tears to see the sky ablaze. Darkness hovered near.

“It will be dark soon,” he said, and the echoes of the throbbing in his hand reverberated in his chest with a desolation only matched by the loneliness he’d felt during the first nights without his mother’s tent. “A dark time.”

The Shaman nodded.

“Fires spat by sticks of thunder. Cunning mouths and thieving hands …” the boy’s eyes lingered on his deformed palm and in the small pool of blood that gathered it in he saw the life of his people dissolve like a reflection distorted by a sudden breeze.

“A dark time is coming,” the Shaman agreed, oddly pleased. “Not in my time. Not in yours. But it will come and our people will discover many needs. You have cleared your eye well, and you have listened. You are young but with patience and more moons, you will become a One-Whose-Eyes-See-Time.”

 

 

 

For Sue Vincent’s WritePhoto Challenge

 

 

 

Owning It!

KeithKreates247

Photo: Keith Kreates

 

 

She was owning it.

In a city packed with cars for hire, she always got a second look from other drivers and passersby. Not always the business, mind you, but a second look. And … that meant they remembered her the next time they needed a car.

Not that everyone dialed for hers.

I could see how it would require a certain level of self-confidence to not be unsettled by being seen entering or emerging from her vehicle.

“Which is fine by me,” she chuckled. “Weeds out the weirdos and overly judgemental. I don’t need them in my ride.”

Her phone rang.

“Moron Taxi,” she answered cheerfully, “where and how far?”

 

 

For Keith’s Kreative Kue #247

 

 

 

Darn Yarn

https://crimsonprose.files.wordpress.com/2020/01/alpaca-1.jpg?w=1024&h=682

 

She never did like thready business.

Yet there she was, darning holes, patching elbows, sewing up dangling hems and chasing runs on stockings.

How did it ever come to that?

She squinted and held the needle to the light.

The story of her life, it was. That squeezing through the eye of the needle. Barely, barely making do. Struggling to fit another stitch before the end of her rope.

It was all wrong.

She tied the knot.

It slipped.

She tied another, hoping it would hold. Hoping that the hidden stitches she put in will keep things covered long enough to soothe the chill that ever lurked, awaiting exposed places.

Existing really should not be so threadbare.

The thin wrap of life, knit together moment by moment in complicated patterns of dropped stitches and messy mistakes.

Will it come together at the end?

She did not know, but she hoped.

 

 

 

For Crispina’s Crimson’s Creative Challenge #63

 

 

Dogged Dobbie

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Photo: Keith Kreates

 

“What’s he doing?”

Martha shrugged.

“What’s in there?”

She tilted her head at him, and he demurred. She was clearly occupied. She had a bone to pick and he knew that if he pushed her with one more question she’d snap his head off. Or try.

He wasn’t going to let her try.

He moved closer to his friend.

“Dobbie?” he asked the headless figure. Did she snap his head off already? No, there was a tail wag. He didn’t think Dobbie would wag his tail if he didn’t have a head. He’d be too sad. No sniff. No lick. No yum.

“What’d’ya doin’ in there?”

The tail paused, then gave a halfhearted, one-sided sway. A sign?

“You stuck?”

Hesitant then enthusiastic wag.

“How’d you get stuck there?”

There was probably no way to wag an answer to that. Not to mention that Dobbie found a way to get stuck just about anyplace. Between the legs of a chair. Under the bed. With a garbage bin over his head. …

Max sniffed. There had to have been some food up there. Dobbie never could resist anything gobbleable. Max sniffed again. Traces. It’d be all gone by the time Dobbie realized he should’ve planned a way out before he stuck his head in.

Dobbie’s tail wagged in half-regret, half-plea.

Max sighed.

“Hold on, Dobbie! I’ll get Com’eer!”

 

 

 

For Keith’s Kreative Kue #246

 

 

Custom Made

 

“We have every kind you want. Every length. We can tailor one for you. Custom-made.”

The prospectors nodded and ambled across the display, hands clasped behind their backs. It wouldn’t do to knock anything off a peg. You never knew what could unzip itself from one of those. Bounty, sure. But just as possible was war. Or flood. Or plague.

The proprietor smiled. Not quite reassuringly. The merchandise was safeguarded against accidental activation, but there was no need to divulge that trade secret. It was best to keep a customer unsettled, a bit in need.

“Do you have any for, say, the ocean?” A woman in a too-tight herringbone suit and utterly-too-high heels, dared to voice the first request.

“We do,” Zip-location’s manager nodded sagely. “We can zip to a hurricane, or a shark-attack. Long one here would take you to the Mid-Atlantic. Last time used for the Titanic.”

 

 

 

For Crispina’s Crimson’s Creative Challenge #62

 

 

Eden In A Bubble

Photo prompt © J Hardy Carroll

 

They were going to have to move.

Her health. His job.

They were going to miss so many things.

The beach. Their yard. The hours spent outdoors.

He laid in bed at night, awake. Her breath gentle at his side.

She would not complain. Even if she could still speak, he knew she wouldn’t put that burden on him. It broke his heart.

He put the shards into action. Poured his mind into design.

He’d build a bubble. An Eden in the forbidding landlocked wintry ground. A lush oasis where they could both breathe in the memories of better times.

 

 

 

 

For Rochelle’s Friday Fictioneers

 

 

On Guard!

IMG_0277a

 

“How long will he be this way?”

“Dunnow,” Plucky shrugged. “But let’s get this done before he loses concentration.”

“I wanna waive something in front of his eyes. He looks so hypnotized!” Shimmer shifted excitedly from foot to foot. This was so thrilling!

“Don’t you dare!” Plucky’s hiss almost made actual sound. He bobbed his head in an effort to contain it. “Let’s get to it! Blue is good but even he can’t keep this up forever.”

Shimmer nodded distractedly.

“Coming or I go it alone?”

“Coming, coming…” Shimmer nodded and sighed in one. She didn’t want to miss anything. She wanted to see everything! She wished she could be in two places at the same time. She tore her eyes off of the dog, whose nose barely twitched and whose eyes never left the cockroach that was held in the blue-gray pigeon’s beak, just out of the canine’s reach. Blue was so courageous!

Plucky was already on the move. Shimmer stepped behind the brown bird’s sparse tail feathers, trembling with suppressed flutter. This was her first heist.

The window was open. The dog had forgotten a biscuit on his cushions. They were going to sneak into the room and steal it.

 

 

For Keith’s Kreative Kue #245

 

Wingspan

 

“I will not have everyone out in the cold!” Mrs. M’s hands were planted firmly on her hips, and when Mrs. M’s hands were firmly on her hips, any who knew what was good for them knew to nod submissively, back up slowly, and give up.

Not Tim.

Sometimes I wondered if he had no survival reflexes or if he confronted the headmistress exactly because he didn’t care to survive.

“We don’t have to be out, out,” he argued.

Mrs. M’s cheek twitched. Oh-oh.

I backed up just in case. If she reached for the switch it would be best to not remain within wingspan.

“We can use the hot-house,” he pressed. “Sunlight and no wind. We’ll be fine.”

The twitch stopped. I held my breath.

“Most panes are intact.”

Mrs. M nodded.

I gaped.

Tim won.

Cramped orphanage or not, he found a way for outdoor play in wintertime!

 

 

 

For Crispina’s Crimsons Creative Challenge #61

 

 

 

Making A Day Of It

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They were going to make a day of it.

Get some fresh air.

“It would do you good,” she’d said. “You’ve been cooped in for far too long.”

And he had. And he didn’t really care if he stayed cocooned indoors for a few more weeks. Or months. Or years. Or till life’s end.

But he also didn’t want to upset her, and she’d been putting up with him, moody silences and pacing through the nights and appetites that came and went in both extremes and often not for what she’d taken the time to prepare.

So he agreed. And washed. And dressed in something less wrinkled than what he’d been living in. And they went.

The air did do him good.

The open space. The light. The breeze. The views.

Until.

She’d seen them first and tried to shield him, but his mother has never been very good at hiding her distress, and he read through it and looked in the direction she was clearly hoping he would not.

His ex. The girl who’d left him at the altar, who abandoned him to do all the explaining and pay all the bills and mollify all the aunties and absorb all the pitying looks and lose face and his dignity and eventually his job.

There she was. Pressed into another man.

His blood rushed into his ears as he remembered: he had the same photo taken. With her. Wearing the same smitten look.

And he wondered if someone had stared at them, too, at the time, and considered him the next man she’d rob.

 

 

 

(Note: This story is fiction. I don’t know anyone in this photo and no real connection between the photo prompt and the content is intended.)

For Keith’s Kreative Kue #244