The Castle of Blood

Once Upon A Time…

Trembling with every step, I made my way down the dim corridor of the castle. I knew what was ahead and I dreaded it, but one of the noble princes of our land had commanded me to appear there and I could not escape my fate.

At the end of the hall a woman waited, grasping in her bony fingers a long rubber band. I shuddered as I advanced toward her. She wanted my blood.

Where, oh, where, can my fairy godmother be staying these days? Why does she not swoop down to rescue me from this ordeal?

For me there has been no reprieve from this long corridor and this constant bloodletting. Oh, so many times I had to present myself to this woman with the sinister smile. So many times she reached out and took hold of my arm, drawing me into her room. So many times — yet it was never enough. All too soon she wanted yet more.

I cringed as she punctured my vein, laughing all the while. She would take my blood and spin it, twirl it, torture it. Would she love to do the same with my body, I wonder? Thankfully, permission has not been granted her to torture my flesh — and she is not allowed to pierce my jugular vein. So I have escaped with my life.

She drained enough blood to fill three pots, relishing the bright red tone. Then she released me and I fled that terrible enclave. Outside the castle door my knight in shining armor waited to carry me off to his mansion, where I might recover until the next summons comes and they want yet more of my precious blood.

As we walked back to our carriage, we heard a sound like a bull frog and turned to see what odd creature was lurking nearby. At last our eyes located the source of this unearthly sound: up in a pine tree beside the castle a raven peered down at us. No doubt he was disappointed there was no flesh for him to feast on.

My reply to today’s WordPress prompt isn’t quite a fairy tale, but I hope you enjoy it nonetheless.

The Wizard of Sherwood Forest?

It seemed to Dorothy that the tornado was losing some of its strength — she and the various things caught up with her seemed to be spinning more slowly. She felt a sensation of descent, like being in an elevator going down. Yes, the twister that carried her away from Kansas was finally dropping her back to earth again.

The tips of her toes brushed some tree tops. Green leaves fluttered around her now. She held tight to her dog, fearful of losing him among the branches that reached for them as they tumbled down in a clearing right next to a brooklet.

Dorothy let go of her small fellow traveler, who shook himself vigorously and let out a few yips. Gingerly she got to her feet and dusted herself off. “Oh, Toto! Are you all right? I don’t think I have any broken bones, but look at my dress! It’s a mess — and so many rips. Whatever will Mother say when I get home?”

She surveyed the clearing. “And which way is home? I’m so glad to be out of that horrible wind — but this can’t be Kansas. We never had such huge trees as this. Which way should we go?” Dorothy climbed onto the trunk of a toppled tree trunk and looked around. “I see a path over there. Let’s go, Toto.”

Half a mile away two men peered out from under a group of sheltering trees. “What a gale! I haven’t seen a wind like that for many a year,” said the taller man. He stood up and grabbed his bow and quiver of arrows off the ground.

“I was certainly glad to be in the shelter of these strong oaks, Little John,” his companion said as he surveyed the litter of small branches around them. “Though I wondered if the wind might have brought them down on our heads before it passed. Then he laughed heartily. “Whatever would the Sheriff of Nottingham say if, when he’s tried so hard to capture Robin Hood all these years, he found me done in by an oak limb?”

Suddenly the two men froze. “Is that a dog I hear?” Robin muttered. “Whatever would a dog be doing wandering here in Sherwood Forest?”

“Where there’s a dog, there’s undoubtedly a master,” Little John replied. “And who is he, I wonder?” He grabbed an arrow and fitted it to his bowstring, ready to take aim.

Robin pointed toward the far end of the road where a young girl was coming into view. “The dog seems to be with that young waif. Look at her dress, will you. Such garments as I’ve never seen on an English child. She’s a real ragamuffin! Must have been fearfully tumbled about in that storm.”

Little John slipped the arrow back into his quiver. “No need to fear a mistress that small,” he murmured. They listened as the girl talked to her dog.

“It looks like the road divides up ahead, Toto. Which way should we go? Oh, how I wish I were home and not stumbling around in these woods!”

The two men stepped out from their hiding place in the trees, startling Dorothy and setting Toto to barking furiously. Dorothy gasped when she saw their longbows and grabbed Toto in her arms so they wouldn’t hurt him.

“Lost, are you, little maid?” the one man asked. “How come ye to be in the forest alone? Where is your home?”

Wherever can I be? Dorothy wondered. I can barely understand what they’re saying. But she answered bravely. “I’m from Kansas, sir. The twister picked me up and carried me away from my home. It dropped me here in the woods and I’m trying to find my way home.”

She tried to hush Toto, who was still barking and wriggling, trying to escape her hold. “Please don’t hurt my dog, fellows. He’s only wanting to protect me.”

“Indeed he is, young maid, and the good Lord knows you have need of some protection if you’re wandering in Sherwood Forest alone. You can set him down; we won’t hurt him.”

“Thank you, sir.” She set Toto down. He stayed right beside her, eyeing the two men dressed in green.

Dorothy frowned. “Say, did you say this is Sherwood Forest? I’ve heard of that.” She paused a minute, trying to recall where she’d heard that name. “Isn’t that where Robin Hood lived?”

“Lived? He lives here right now. Indeed, it’s Robin Hood you’re talking to right now, and this is my good friend Little John.” Robin clapped the shoulder of the man beside him.”Welcome to this part of merry old England.”

“Excuse me, Mr. Hood sir, but I thought you were only a fable.”

“A fable?”

“Yes, like a fairy tale.”

“A fairy tale! Goodness me, girl, that’s even worse.” He sounded huffy. “I hope I’m more than a fairy tale. I was rather hoping with time I’d be a legend.”

“Oh, yes, sir! That’s it.” Dorothy quickly replied, hoping she hadn’t offended him too much. “Legend is certainly the better word. Yes.”

“And where might Kansas be, wee maiden?” Little John asked. “I’ve never heard of it. Your accent is not from this part of England, I’m sure. I can barely understand you.”

“I speak American, Mr. John, sir. Just like my Pa and Ma and all the other people in our country.” She paused a moment more. “Say, if you really are Robin Hood, then do you rob people?”

“Only the rich. No point robbing the poor; they have nothing to take. Well, we do snatch the odd pig or cow now and then. My merry band of men has to eat, too.”

Dorothy thought of her father, a poor farmer. It would cause him grief to have someone steal their cow or one of their pigs. She looked up at the man and stated firmly, “It’s always wrong to steal.”

“A Sheriff’s child, are you? Or maybe the daughter of a Judge?” Robin Hood asked, and the two men laughed.

“It IS!” Dorothy shook her finger at them. “It’s wicked. You should say sorry and give back what you’ve taken.”

“So much you do not know about current affairs in England, little maid. But come with us now and we’ll see if my friend, Friar Tuck, might hap to find a place for you until we can find out where you belong. It won’t do to have you wandering in the forest alone like this. There are wolves — and other wicked men, too, who might sell you for a slave. You wouldn’t want that.” He winked at her.

The prospect of wandering in the woods at night scared Dorothy and being sold as a slave was even worse. So she and Toto meekly went along with Robin and Little John to Friar Tuck’s cottage. There the three men pondered how to get the maid and her dog back to her parents in Kansas — wherever Kansas was — and meanwhile where to get her some decent English clothes.

Written in response to today’s Daily Prompt

The House that Tom & Susie Built

“Oh, to be more patient!” Susie sighed as she got ready for bed that night. If only Tom could see my point! I don’t want to be a nag but he needs to make some changes — for the good of our home.

For one thing, he could say ‘No’ to some of these pleas for help. Like this morning when Uncle Jim called. Could Tom do a few repairs for Grandma?

“Yes, we love Grandma,” Susie had countered, “but any of your cousins could help her. They just say they’re too busy; well, we’re busy, too! We’ll never get our own house finished if you’re always helping this one and that one. Say ‘No’ this time!”

And had he listened? No. Then he wasn’t home in time for dinner, either, and the children became whiny and hard to manage. Irked, Susie grumbled at him after he did get home until he snapped back at her and stomped out to mow the lawn. The girls stood looking at her in wide-eyed silence until she shooed them outside to play. And Javon started to fuss.

Susie warmed up a bottle for him. “I guess I should apologize,” she told Javon as she fed him his bottle. “But maybe your daddy will think about this, too, and see that charity begins at home.” She brushed away the feelings of guilt.

Javon fell asleep and she started to vacuum, but she found resentment a bitter companion and was very thankful when Tom came in to say he was sorry. She apologized, too, and they both agreed that they wanted a happy home.

That night Susie whispered a prayer into her pillow. “I do want to be a good helpmeet for him, Lord. But there’s so much to do around here and the children need their Dad and… Well, You know it all. Please help us.” Then weariness overcame her and she fell asleep.

Next thing Susie knew, she and Tom were walking down a long road that stretched out ahead of them, then started to curve.

As they walked along, she had a sense of years passing. She glanced at Tom and saw with surprise that he had a cane in his other hand and was leaning on it a lot. She saw the grey in his hair and knew that hers was turning white, too.

Suddenly from around the bend in the road a man came toward them. With a spring in his step and a cheerful hello, he beckoned them.

“You must be the Reeds. I’ve come to show you your new house.”

She and Tom looked at each other in surprise and delight. The man, who seemed to be a real estate agent, led them around the next bend. Beside the road they saw a lovely new cottage.

Susie gasped. “Is this ours?”

“No,” the agent replied, “this is the home of John and Linda Thomas.”

Right then an elderly couple opened the door and waved at them. It was indeed a couple they knew from their congregation, but they were both very old now.

“Well, they certainly do deserve that neat home,” said Susie. “They’ve been so faithful in the church and such a good example to us all.”

The man smiled. “Yes, they’ve been building well all these years.”

They walked along farther and passed other houses, some looking very good and some rather ramshackle. One place wasn’t much more than a heap of crooked boards tossed together. The couple outside were bickering with each other.

The agent shook his head. “Even in old age some folks are still trying to decide whose fault it is.”

“I hope we don’t have them for neighbours,” Susie said curtly.

A few miles later the agent stopped beside another house. “And here we are, folks. This one is yours!”

Tom and Susie walked over to the house and eyed it dubiously. The siding had some jagged edges, a few boards were put on at odd angles. The door frame wasn’t quite straight.

“This is ours?” Tom sounded puzzled. He studied it up and down, and wandered around to the back, leaving Susie alone with the agent.

Susie examined the house and said to herself, “Somebody sure made a mess of things!”
The man seemed to read her thoughts. “It has been fairly well built. A few flaws here and there, but most of it is quite sound.”

He opened the door and Susie followed him into the cottage. Floor tiles were missing here and there. The fireplace stones stuck out at odd angles; amazing they didn’t tumble down!

“Oh, there must be some mistake,” she protested. “This can’t be ours!”

“Madam, I assure you, there’s no mistake,” he answered politely. “This is the house you and Tom have been building all these years. And you’ve done a halfway decent job, too. Some really good materials here.” He rapped on the wall. “Most of the subfloor is good wood. Most of the studs are in place, though some are a bit warped. Most of the roof is intact.”

“But…we would never build a place like this!”

“This is indeed your work, Mrs. Reed. What you have here is what you’ve put into your marriage all these years. You reap what you sow, you know.”

He pointed to the floor tiles. “Most of the time you and Tom have spoken to each other with respect — but not always.” Then he indicated several holes in the ceiling. “You and Tom have patched up most of your quarrels, but not all of them.” He waved at the gaps between the wall and the ceiling. “Times when each of you insisted on getting your own way. A bit was lost in your building. Selfishness is such a thief!”

Susie examined the fireplace with its stones askew and he explained. “These are the times you’ve accepted each other’s faults charitably — or complained angrily. They’re all here, just as you’ve stacked them.”

Susie cringed. What he was saying was too true. Sick at heart, she walked into the kitchen. The cabinets looked attractive, except that some of the doors were warped.
She didn’t dare ask, but he told her anyway. “Most of the time you’ve been honest with each other, but not always.”

Susie blushed, remembering a few of those times. “If only we’d known it would all show up like this,” she wailed. “How can we ever live here?”

The agent drew himself up in a huff. “That’s not my problem, Mrs. Reed. I’m only the agent of Time. My job was to bring you here and I have. All these years you and Tom have been building your old age. And may I remind you that when you were young you thought these things were good enough. ‘About like other couples,’ I believe you said then.”

He walked over to the entrance. “If you’d wanted something better now, you should have started years ago. Remember the old proverb: A wise woman buildeth her house, but the foolish plucketh it down with her hands.”

Susie hung her head in shame. “If I’d only known I was building I’d someday have to live with…”

“Perhaps you could still make a few repairs,” he suggested cheerfully as he opened the door. “And now, good day, Mrs. Reed. I have others to bring to their houses, too, including your children. They’re married now and are building their own homes.”

“My children! What kind of houses will they have? If only they could see…”

“No doubt they will be following the example you’ve left them, so their houses will be half-ways decent, too,” he assured her. Then he stepped out the door into a whoosh of wind and was gone, leaving Susie standing there contemplating his last words.

She turned around to look over the house again and a wave of despair overcame her. How many repairs could they make at this late date? She sat down in a chair and began to sob.
Then Tom was beside her and his arm was around her. “It’s all right, Susie. Don’t cry. We’ll do what we can.”

Suddenly she was sitting up in bed, with Tom’s arm around her. “It’s all right, Susie. Don’t cry,” he was saying. “You must have had a bad dream.”

Susie nodded, then thought again. “No, I’ve had a very good dream. and I hope I’ll remember it for a long time. She leaned on his shoulder. “Oh, Tom, I’ve been fussing so much about getting this earthly house finished and I’ve been neglecting the most important one!”

Part of the Family

Part II

Tyler ran into the park, avoiding the playground where other boys would be having fun with their dads. Instead he followed the path that led down to the creek, to watch the ducks and swans swimming.

Suddenly he stopped. There on the path ahead was the Canada goose. He had never been able to get this close to it before!

He watched as it pulled at strands of grass and ate them. I’m going to chase it into the water and watch it swim, he thought. In the water the goose was really neat; it looked like a sleek grey boat with a long black flagpole.

But the goose would not be chased. It waddled over to the edge of the creek, right in front of a duck family that was swimming around in the water gobbling up bugs, and there it stood, calmly watching Tyler with his tiny black eyes.

Tyler stepped closer and waved his arms to shoo it into the water. But the goose just raised its wings, stretched out its long neck, and honked a warning.

“Silly goose!” he shouted at it. “Get in the water and swim.”

The goose stood its ground at the edge of the creek, eyeing him warily.

Maybe if I had a stick, Tyler thought. He looked around beside a nearby bush and found a long one. But when he waved the stick at the goose, it stretched out its neck again, hissed and flapped its wings as if to say, “Look out, kid!”

A little girl came skipping along the path with her mom and dad following behind her. “Why are you trying to hit that goose?” she asked.

“I just want it to get in the water. I want to watch it swim, but it won’t go.”

“Do you see that duck family?” the man asked. “That’s why it won’t go in the water.”

Tyler looked at him, puzzled.

“This is a father goose–a gander,” he explained. “He has no family of his own, so he’s adopted this duck family. He always stays near them, watching that nothing hurts them. He’s put himself in between so you can’t get near them.”

“But where’s the ducks’ dad?” Tyler asked.

“We don’t know,” the lady answered. “He just went away–or maybe he got sick and died.”

Tyler nodded, feeling a lump in his throat. He knew all about dads getting hurt and dying. He studied the gander until the lump went away.

“But why does he stick around when he’s not their real dad?”

“Maybe he’s just lonesome and wants to be part of the family,” the man replied. “Maybe he sees that the mother duck needs his help to take care of all those busy babies. What do you think?”

For a minute they watched the many duck babies zipping this way and that to snap up water bugs. Yes, she might need help to watch over them all.

“This gander will fight anything that tries to get near his family,” said the dad. “When he flaps his wings and hisses at you, he means, ‘Look out! One more step and you’re in for it!’ His wings are strong and could give you a few good bruises and if he grabbed your leg with his beak, you’d feel it!”

“But if you want to watch him swim, go sit down a bit,” he suggested. “Once he knows the ducks are safe, he might get back in the water and join them.”

The people walked away. Tyler threw away his stick and sat down to watch; pretty soon the gander did waddle into the creek and swim over to the ducks.

As he watched the unusual family, a thought came to him. What if one of the ducklings decided he didn’t like the gander and tried to chase him away? Tyler smiled as he pictured a tiny duckling chasing a big goose.

“Like you’re doing to Paul?” The words popped into his mind, surprising him, but he realized this was the truth. By refusing to like Paul, by being crabby to him, he was trying to make Paul give up and go away.

So why did Paul stick around? Was he lonely, too? Tyler knew about lonely, about the ache inside that never went away since Dad died. Many times he wanted to cry and there was nowhere to go with his loneliness. If he told Mom how he felt, she might cry, too, and that was worse. Did Paul sometimes feel like that? Did he want to be part of their family so he would not be alone anymore?

Did Mom really need Paul’s help to raise her family? He thought of one little duck trying to look after the whole family. Silly! The gander obviously could do a much better job. He was big and brave enough to stand up for them.

Maybe Paul feels like that, too, Tyler thought. Maybe he thinks we need him. He sat and pondered the idea. And maybe we really do, he finally decided.

Tyler jumped up and started for home. Paul would be there now and might play ball with them. Maybe they could be friends. Paul wasn’t Dad, but having him there might not be so bad after all.

The End

Restoring Grandpa’s Clock

Colleen frowned at her brother Tom, then sighed. “I still think you should just ask her for it instead of trying to steal it. I can’t see how you can help but get caught. Is that clock really worth so much to you that you’d stoop to theft?”

“It’s the principle of the thing, Sis. Auntie just claimed all Grandpa & Grandma’s stuff and took it home with her, just because she lives close. And she’s going to hoard it until the day she dies. All the stuff they wanted to give us will be passed on to her children.

“You can’t really call this theft exactly; it’s more like restoring our inheritance. I know Grandpa wanted to give me that clock; he told me several times. One time when I went there he was chiseling my name on the back, so everyone would know. And I’m sure Auntie’s not blind. So she’s just keeping it. Period.”

Coleen shook her head sadly, remembering the Lone Star quilt Grandma promised her that she wasn’t going to get, either. But she wasn’t going to go steal it. “And when she sees it’s missing? If I’m there right at that time, how can I help but be implicated?”

“She won’t even know it’s gone. You know how cluttered Auntie’s house is. You could lose a Saint Bernard in there.”

Tim ran his hand through his hair and outlined his plan again. “I’ll be driving the company truck. You know the old lane to the pasture, not far from Auntie’s place. There’s a that clump of chokecherry bushes; I’ll park behind those and take the path through the woods. When you see my truck sitting there, you just go ring her doorbell and chat her up. Ask her about her garden. You’ll be with her the whole time, so she’ll know you didn’t take it.

“If she sees my truck and guesses I was around, I’ll say I was tending to an emergency nearby. She has no right to have that clock. It’s mine and I want it.”

The next afternoon Colleen drove out to Auntie’s house at the designated time but her nerves felt like a swarm of grasshoppers and she felt a tension headache coming on. She saw the Apex Roofing truck as she passed; it was well-hidden from the road.

Slowly she turned into Auntie’s driveway, but she made up her mind as she came to a stop that she’d ask Auntie for Grandpa’s clock on Tom’s behalf, even if doing so would implicate her in its disappearance. She couldn’t bear to see her brother become a thief over such a trifle, though it was an heirloom.

She walked up to Auntie’s door, dread in every step, a prayer in every breath. She shouldn’t be doing this. How did she ever get roped into it? But she had to protect her rash brother somehow. Surely God could work something out for them.

She rang the bell and Auntie came to the door right away. “Colleen!  How nice you came. I was just about to have a drink.”

“I… I was driving by and thought I’d stop for a minute,” Colleen began. “I know we haven’t been together since Grandpa’s funeral and I was thinking it’s high time.” The word “time” reminded her of the clock and she winced.

“Well, I’m so glad you’ve come!” Auntie gushed. “Come join me for an iced tea. Yes, when the folks died I was so overwhelmed with it all, all the arrangements, being executrix… Then I had to have the house cleaned out within two weeks.

“You did?”

“Yes, it was sold privately, you know, and the new folks wanted possession right away, so I just gathered up all Mom & Dad”s stuff and brought it here. I’ve finally gotten up courage to sort through it. I was so happy when I found a list your Grandma made; she’d rolled it up in an old slip in her undies drawer.” Auntie rolled her eyes. “Easy place to find it, right? It’s a list of things they wanted each of the grandchildren to have, and I see you should be getting that Lone Star quilt she made years back. Now I can give it to you.”

“And the clock Grandpa carved…?”

“O, that has your brother’s name on it. Dad said several times that it would be Tim’s someday, so I’m planning to give it to him next time I see him.”

“Wow, Auntie, That’s super. You know, he came along with me today, sort of, but he wanted to…was going to…wander through the woods a bit. But I’ll give him a shout. He’ll be so happy to know he’s getting Grandpa’s clock. Maybe you could pour us both a glass of iced tea while I go find him.”

Colleen hurried outside and headed down the path to the woods. But before she called Tom’s name, she looked up to heaven and waved. “Thank you, God!”

The Hazards of “Wish Counselling”

Although this puts me out of sync with Fiction on Friday, I wrote this story yesterday in response to the Daily Prompt, which was:
You’re a genie who’s just been emancipated from your restrictive lamp. You can give your three wishes to whomever you want. Who do you give your three wishes to, and why?

So this is the thanks I get. You tell some people the truth and they toss you in the lake.

Of all the people who could have found me today, it had to be a teenage girl. Vexations untold!

I’m a genie, you see; I live in this fancy corked vase — have for several centuries now. You can believe I’ve seen lot of different types over the years and granted a lot of wishes, sensible and stupid, but whenever I see a teenage girl peering in at me I know my job’s going to be tough. If you’ve ever tried to please a teenage girl, you know what I mean.

Anyway, this rather plump girl comes plodding down the path not far from the shrub where I’d been left by my last liberator. I feel the thump, thump of her size ten clodhoppers — then I hear her stop. I gather she saw this squirrel dash up a tree, so she wanders into the bushes with her eyes on the squirrel and steps on my vase. People do that from time to time, then usually go on their way, not bothering to look inside.

Anyway, this girl picks up my bottle, lifts the cork and peers in at me. “Hey!” she shouts. “Are you a real genie? Wow, is this my lucky day or what? Outta there, you!”

So I waft out in my little cloud — my bit of fanfare, you know — and she asks if I have a name. Dumb question. “I’m Mabella,” I inform her.

That was considerate of her, actually. Most people just start with “Gimme.”

“And you can grant me all my wishes, Mabella?”

“Ha! In your dreams. Listen, let’s go over the ground rules right off. I can only grant you three wishes. Once those are gone, so am I.”

“That’s all? I can think of about twenty things already.”

“One, two, three, ciao. So I’d advice you to take your time. I’ve found that when people know they can have free stuff, they start babbling out whatever pops into their heads and later they wish they’d given the matter more thought.”

I could see the wheels of her mind turning. She almost seems to have some sense.

“I can believe that,” she says. “So how can I make the best use of my three wishes?”

“You’re in luck. Seeing the downside of some demands, I’ve gotten into Wish Couseling in recent years. I suggest you make a list of all the things you’d like to have, then from your list pick the three most important things — three things you can’t do for yourself. Maybe I can even help you decide. I’ve fulfilled a lot of requests and seen the results, so I can tell you what works in the long run and what doesn’t. Just don’t say the words “I WISH” until you’ve decided.”

“Okay.” She nods and pulls a scrap of paper out of her cargo pants pocket. Then she fishes around and finds a stubby pencil that looks like a chipmunk worked on it. (Hmm … She might wish to be cured of the habit of chewing on wood.)

She sits down on the grass and writes List of Wants: A size four body.

“Uh… Well,” I say, “I can give you that in five seconds. But remember: you’ll need to maintain it yourself. If you want to stay a size four, you’ll have to eat like a size-four person. Otherwise you’ll be size sixteen again before you know it.”

She sighs, scratches that out and writes: Mild case of anorexia.

“How about a lifetime membership at a local gym?” I suggest. She groans and rolls her eyes.

Then she writes: Fame; Singing talent like J-Lo.

Ah, yes, teenage girls. I knew this wasn’t going to be a picnic. If she knew how much work is involved in maintaining a singing career and dealing with obsessed fans, she might think twice. I won’t go there.

Then she writes: Hunky teen boyfriend.

“I can bring one of those along in a jiffy,” I told her, “but I can’t make him stay. You have to do that.”

“I do? How?”

“You have to be the kind of person he will want to spend time with.”

She sighs forlornly.

Although my former clients’ affairs are confidential, I decide to share one. “One day a sixty-year-old man found me. Right off he wished for a million dollars, a yacht and a young blond bombshell. So I delivered his goods. It took her about half an hour to assess the situation, get her hands on the million and be gone. The old man was so mad he threw me down a well — and it wasn’t my fault at all. I hope he’s at least enjoying his yacht. I put it up in Alaska where the harbor wasn’t so crowded.”

“That was pretty heartless of her.”

“Would you stay with a dirty old man whose only feeling for you was lust?”

“Gross! No, I sure wouldn’t.”

“And a teenage boy might feel the same, right? Or what do you want him for?”

“Ummm. Because everybody else has one. To hang out with. To impress my friends, I guess. You know.”

“If you just want him for an ornament, if you’re not prepared to be the kind of person he could love to be with — someone that actually cared about him — he may not want to hang around, either. Besides, you wouldn’t want your friends to admire him too much or they’d try to steal him.”

“True. But couldn’t you give me someone who’d never look at any of my friends?”

“Do you want a real human being or a cardboard cutout? I can’t manufacture flawless people; I only work with what’s here already.”

“This is getting so complicated,” she wailed.

Then she wrote on her list: One billion dollars.

I chuckle over that one. “These days it’s a billion. Inflation, I guess.”

I grin at her. “Back in 1934 I was liberated by a farmer hard-hit by the Depression and he requested the greatest amount he could think of right then: ten thousand dollars. So I handed it over in cold hard cash. He went out and bought his wife new furniture, his family all new clothes, and himself a new car. Made a few ‘loans’ to friends down on their luck. He’d intended to pay off his mortgage, too, but his money ran out before he got to that and he lost his farm.”

“Maybe he should have asked for rain?”

“That was his second wish: six inches on his wheat crop. So I obliged, but the land was so crusted most of it ran off. Still, he had about the greenest field in the area. The grasshoppers found it a refreshing change from tumbleweed and fence posts.

“Anyway, back to your billion. Yes, I could do that for you, but just remember that people have kidnapped and murdered for less. Better use some of it to hire a bodyguard. Here’s another heads up: you’ll have a ton of friends while the money lasts, but don’t count on them. Really, you’d be better off with $1000 and a financial planner. That way you’d learn to handle money on a small scale before hitting the big bucks.”

“Hmm… How come this always comes back to me doing stuff and learning stuff? Do I dare ask for instant popularity? Can you make my friends all love me?”

“Don’t waste a wish on that,” I tell her, “when you can do it so easily yourself. Just love all your friends and they’ll love you in return.”

She muses for a minute. “But my friends are all zeros. I don’t want to love them.”

“So why do you want a bunch of zeroes loving you?”

Suddenly she jumps up. “You know, Mabella, you sound just like my mom! She probably put you up to this.”

She grabs my bottle. “IN,” she orders. Then when I’m in she jams the cork into the hole, jogs to a nearby lake, and throws me in.

So here I am, floating on the waves and getting seasick. I sure hope the next person who finds me is a fisherman who only wants a new boat and the biggest fish in the lake. That I can do.

Teenage girls are just too temperamental. I sure don’t wish for another one.

Grandma’s Birthday Party — Part III

Concluding chapter:

Still holding Joyce’s arm, Steve turned to Brian. “We’re not having Mom’s 80th Birthday ruined by a squabble between you two. Dad’s coming in a few minutes. Can you just cool it long enough for us to get his feelings on the matter.”

“They’re here,” Darryl announced.

The doorbell rang and Rick & Emily walked in, followed by Grandpa.

Rick waved. “Hi, everybody. We’ve brought Grandpa, so you’d better be on your best behavior now.”

Grandpa slowly walked into the room and Rick closed the door behind him. Then he stepped over to Uncle Steve, his father, and whispered something in his ear. Steve frowned.

Hugs and kisses were exchanged all around, but it seemed to Todd that Grandpa wasn’t his usual self. Had he caught wind of the argument, too? As Jim & Jenny hugged Grandpa, Todd caught the glimmer of a tear in the old man’s eye.

Then Grandpa looked toward Brian and Sylvie and smiled. “So, everything set for Mom’s birthday party? The Seniors Centre is spoken for, the cake’s ordered, the guests invited.”

Brian flushed. “Uh…we were just discussing that last part. Joyce was to invite the guests and she thinks…uh…she decided not to… ”

“Come, Dad.” Cassie took his arm and led him to the recliner. “Let’s all sit down and then we can discuss all these details. Let me get you some iced tea first.” She gave a sharp look at her brother-in-law in passing and he followed them into the living room.

Soon everyone was seated in the living room. Grandpa inspected his three children in turn as if picking up some bad vibes. “Now, what were you saying, Brian? Joyce decided what?”

Joyce started. “My brothers left it to me to put the announcement in the paper, but I feel strongly that we shouldn’t throw open the doors for everyone and his pup. You know there are always so many who come just because it’s a party and there’s free food. People Mom wouldn’t even know.”

“I wanted to spare her that, so I thought it best if we’d just phone the ones we want to come,” she said, leaning back into the sofa cushions. “But Brian doesn’t see it that way and he’s being so stubborn about it.”

Brian turned to his dad. “You and Mom are friends with half the people in town and goodness knows how many more out of it. We’ve already phoned all your special friends, but we’d decided an announcement in the paper would take care of letting everyone else know. That was to go in last week.” He gave Joyce a sharp look.

“So what if a few extras come,” he continued. “However… It’s almost too late now. But the thing is, Joyce went ahead and decided this all on her own.”

“It’s not such a big thing really,” Cassie said, handing Grandpa a glass of iced tea. “We’ll just phone a few more folks…”

Brian thumped the arm of his chair. “Which we wouldn’t have to do if Joyce had just done what she was supposed to in the first place! It IS a big thing! She can be so…so positive that she’s right. Nobody can tell her anything.”

Grandpa digested this for a moment to digest, then he laughed. “Say, this is just like old times. You two used to have some real rows when you were tikes. One would say ‘Yes’ and one would say ‘No!’ and you’d go at it for half an hour.”

He looked out the window as if gazing back over the years. “But you’d sure stick up for one another, too. Why, I remember the times, Brian, when you’d beg your big sister to take you to the park because you weren’t able to go there by yourself. Even if she had something else she wanted to do she’d take your hand and off you’d go together… You had complete faith in her back then; you knew she’d stand up to them if the big kids bullied you.”

Brian cleared his throat and looked at his shoes.

“Remember the time a stranger offered you a ride. He had this cute little pup in his car and he wanted you to come along home with him because he had a boy just your age. You two could play with the pup, he said. When Joyce saw you heading for that car she came running and dragged you back, screeching so much everyone on the block turned to look. That stranger laid quite a bit of rubber on the road getting out of there. Her being right paid off that day; if it wasn’t for her you might not be with us today.”

“I can dimly recall that,” said Brian softly.

“I remember.” Joyce chuckled. “You were furious when I wouldn’t let you go play with that boy and his puppy.”

“I guess you understood the situation a lot better than I did. Thank God.”

Their father nodded. “Yes, Thank God. And, Joyce, remember the time when you and Brian went swimming at the pond, then you got that cramp and went under. I don’t know how Brian managed to drag you out, being so scrawny at the time, but he saved your life.”

Joyce nodded soberly. “That’s right.”

“We thanked God many times over for that one, too.” Then Grandpa chuckled. “And when you were in grade eight you almost tore your hair out trying to pass geometry. Your brothers both patiently explained it many times until you finally got a handle on it.”

Brian grinned at her. “Pie are square.”

“And remember when we got our first computer, the year you started high school, and Brian figured the thing out lickety-split. So that’s who you called every time you crashed the thing. Now you work with one every day.”

“I still call on him when I have problems,” Joyce admitted, smiling at Brian.

“And Brian, I think Joyce gave you your love of good books, ’cause she was always reading to you once she learned how herself…though you probably don’t recall those times.”

“Yeah, some.” Brian nodded at Joyce. “I think you kept it up until I was in third grade or so. Then you helped me get my grammar straight.” He laughed. “You never dreamed I’d be an editor someday.”

“Well, enough reminiscing,” said Grandpa, setting his drink down. “We have a party to plan. And we want to make it the best one yet.”

He was quiet a moment. A tear trickled down his cheek. “Because this is going to be the last one.”

Joyce gasped. “Dad! What’s wrong?”

“We didn’t want to spoil the party, so we were planning to gather the family together afterward to tell you all together, but I just can’t hold it in anymore. Mom saw the doctor a few days ago. He says she has acute leukemia. He gives her about six more weeks in this old world.”

There was a collective gasp. Tiffany threw her arms around Todd. Brian, Joyce, and Steve embraced each other, all of them in tears. Then the cousins were all hugging one another and Grandpa, each other, their aunts and uncles.

Aunt Cassie squeezed Todd’s mother and whispered, “They say the family that plays together stays together. In this case it’s the family that weeps together.”

Sylvie nodded as they watched Brian, Steve, and Joyce hugging each other. “Thank God,” she murmured.

Grandma’s Birthday Party — Part II

Jim eyed his mother-in-law, then his Uncle Brian. “Tornado — Red Alert, “ he called out. “Everybody to the basement!”

Brian stopped mid-stride and looked around, then out the window. “Tornado? What are you talking about? The sky is clear.”

“The atmosphere in here looks pretty stormy, Dad.” Todd looked from his father to his aunt, then back again. “The way you came marching in here, you look like a thundercloud about to zap somebody.”

Brian glared at his sister. “Well, somebody here needs zapping. Maybe they’d get hit with a little common sense.”

Aunt Joyce bristled. “If anyone here needs common sense…”

Brian gritted his teeth. “Your aunt has taken it upon herself….”

“I don’t want Mom’s party turning into a free-for-all. And if you weren’t so obstinate, you’d admit I’m right.”

“A free-for-all?” Jenny repeated.

Brian stuck out his chin. “Of course you’re right, Joyce. You’ve always been right, ever since we were kids and I tried to correct some crazy idea you had.”

“And you never would admit it when my idea was better!”

“Whoa, you two,” Todd interrupted. “Would one of you care to explain what this is all about?”

“Your Aunt Joyce has ruined Grandma’s birthday.”

“I’ve saved it from being spoiled by a bunch of party-crashers. You’re too stubborn to…”

“Mom,” Jenny demanded, “what exactly did you do?”

“It’s what she didn’t do,” said Brian. “Without consulting any of the rest of us, she decided to NOT put the announcement in the newspaper. Now nobody knows about the party.”

Everyone looked at Joyce. “You didn’t?” said Aunt Cassie.

“No, I didn’t. Do you know how it works when someone announces a party. Everyone who’s ever so much as said hello to that person — and a lot who haven’t — show up for the free eats.”

“But how will Grandma’s friends find out about it if we don’t announce it?“ Jenny asked.

Brian clapped her on the back. “Finally someone’s talking some sense! That’s just what I said.”

“We can get a list of their friends from Grandpa and Grandma,” Joyce explained. “Then we’ll call the friends and personally invite them. That way none of them will miss the party because they didn’t see the announcement. Plus, their friends would appreciate a personal invitation a lot better.”

“Hmph,” said Brian. “Mom and Dad know practically everyone in town. Do you know how much phoning we’ll have to do?”

“That’s right,” said Uncle Steve. “You really should have talked this over with us, Joyce.”

Joyce plopped her purse onto a chair. “This is a family affair. We don’t have to invite everybody in town. And this way people like the Tanners won’t show up to spoil the evening. I’m doing this for Mom’s sake.”

“The Tanners have known Mom and Dad for years! Folks will want them to come. Where’s your head, Joyce?” Brian threw up his hands in frustration.

“I know you’re good friends with their son, Brian. But the Tanners have a drinking problem. At the Franklin’s golden anniversary last month at the Seniors’ Center, they came bringing their bottles with them. They spiked their punch in the cloakroom and got pretty tipsy.”

“Well, we don’t want that.” Tiffany paused. “Do you really think it would be a problem?”

“No!” Brian declared.

“Yes,” Joyce countered.

“You’re just being paranoid — and you’re letting your wild imagination ruin Mom’s birthday celebration.”

The cousins looked back and forth from Joyce to Brian. Then they looked at each other and shook their heads.

“Now Brian, let’s not overreact here.” His wife squeezed his arm gently. “The party isn’t ruined. We’ll just start calling people.”

Brian snorted. “No, if Joyce wants to do things her way we’ll just let her. But we’re not going to be there.” He gave his two sons a pointed look, daring them to disagree.

“If you’re going to be like that, we won’t be there, either!” Joyce snatched up her purse and headed toward the door.

Uncle Steve grabbed her arm as she passed. “Just a minute, you, two.”

Grandma’s Birthday Party

Part One:

“I think it’s so great that you still have your grandparents,” Tiffany said to Todd as they walked up the steps to his Uncle Steve’s home. “And a family that gets along so well — not everyone has that.”

Todd nodded. “Yeah, we have a lot of reasons to be thankful. We’ve been able to celebrate Grandma’s birthday every year, but this one will be the party to end all parties.” Todd and his wife were joining the family this evening to plan some last-minute details of Grandma’s eightieth birthday coming up in four days.

Uncle Steve opened the door just as Todd reached toward the doorbell. “Hello, nephew. Hi Tiffany. Glad you could make it. Come on in. Darryl, Jenny and Jim, Matt and Shelby are here already.”

Tiffany glanced at Todd and he whispered in her ear. “You’ll remember Matt & Shelby when you see them. He’s Uncle Steve’s son; they were at our wedding, but moved to BC two months later. Jenny is Aunt Joyce’s daughter; she and Jim live in Nova Scotia.”

Aunt Cassie swished by in her long dark skirt. “I’ve set out punch and snacks on the kitchen counter. Help yourselves when you’re ready.”

Todd and Tiffany walked into the living room and exchanged hugs and greetings with his brother Darryl and the cousins gathered there.

Jenny gave Tiffany a big hug, saying “Now I finally get to meet Todd’s wife. Welcome to the family. I see you two are being fruitful and multiplying. Congratulations.”

“Thank you,” said Tiffany. “I’ve really enjoyed being a part of your family and am looking forward to meeting the rest at Grandma’s party.”

“We all are. But are you going to be there? Mom tells me your baby’s due in a couple of weeks — which means any day now.”

“I hope Junior can wait a bit — at least until the next day!”

“Yeah,” said Todd. “We’d be disappointed to miss Grandma’s big do. Mind you, not TOO disappointed.” He put his arm around Tiffany and winked at Jenny. “If we’re in on another birthday party instead.”

Jim laughed. “You wouldn’t want to miss that one, I’m sure.”

Todd grinned, then glanced back at Jenny again. “Your Mom not here yet?”

Jenny shook her head. “I don’t know what’s keeping her. Your Dad and Mom are coming, too, aren’t they?”

Todd shrugged. “I’m sure they will. I thought they’d even beat us here.”

Jenny frowned. “You know, Todd, I’m getting wind of a little difference of opinion between my mom and your dad. I heard her talking on the phone yesterday evening — I think it was to Uncle Brian — and she seemed pretty upset about something. I’m hoping this blows over and doesn’t spoil Grandma’s special day.”

Todd’s brows arched. “My folks haven’t said anything to me. Can’t imagine what they’d quarrel about – especially right now.”

“Well, your dad can be pretty stuck on his own ideas sometimes.”

Todd bristled. “If I recall correctly, Aunt Joyce can be pretty insistent at times, too.” Tiffany nudged his arm.

“Well, yes, she can. I have to admit that.”

Aunt Cassie caught the last part of this conversation in passing. “I hope they can set aside their differences for Grandma’s sake. I’ve been looking in on her more lately; it seems she’s not as strong as she used to be. I was surprised how pale she looked last week.”

Jim nudged his wife. “Here’s your mom now.”

They all looked out and saw Joyce get out of her car, holding a cell phone to her ear. She appeared to be having an angry conversation with someone, waving her arms at times.

“I hope she wasn’t talking like that while driving.” Jim’s tone was reproachful.

“And here come Brian and Sylvie,” said Cassie as Todd’s father and mother got out of their car and stood on the street.

“Dad’s talking on his phone, too.” Todd saw his father run his hand through his hair impatiently. “He seems pretty upset. Why aren’t they coming in?”

“You don’t suppose they’re talking to each other, do you?” Tiffany asked.

Todd frowned. “When they’re only fifty feet apart?”

“I hope not,” Jim added. “They both look like tornadoes about to touch down on someone. Maybe us.”

They watched Joyce shut her phone with a snap and stuff it in her purse. She shot an angry glance at her brother, then hurried toward the house. Aunt Cassie rushed to open the door.

Todd’s father shut his phone at the same moment and rammed it into his pocket. He turned to his wife to discuss something with her.

Joyce charged into the house. Her eyes fastened on Todd and she hissed, “Your father is a pig-headed imbecile!”

Jaws dropped all over the room. Aunt Cassie gasped. But before anyone could answer, the door banged open and Brian marched in, his trembling wife in tow.

To be continued…


 

This is Part One of my reply to the Write 101 Day Fourteen challenge:

Think about an event you’ve attended and loved. Imagine you’re told it will be cancelled forever or taken over by an evil corporate force. How does that make you feel?

Forgotten Again

Old man, alone now,
buys his own gift,
pays for his own
dinner on Friday–
with a glass of cheer–
at an obliging restaurant.
He can’t wait for Father’s Day
to discover he has been
forgotten again.

C. Goodnough

I’ve reblogged and slightly changed this. I’ve written it as fiction — yet I’m thinking it’s sadly true.