(Honorable mention in Writer’s Carnival’s Create a Creature contest!)
Faye stared through the trees into the open fields. She sighed as she watched the other children laughing and playing without her. This was life in the enchanted country: every seventh day, when the sun was high, the youth would engage in a friendly game to see who could put on the biggest show of magic. And during every game, Faye watched from afar with a heavy heart. It never mattered who among her peers won; she envied every single one of them.
All dragons were born with a beautiful coat of iridescent scales that shone as bright as diamonds in sunlight and that functioned as the source of their magic. All but a rare few. Roughly once a century, a hatchling was born with pure white scales that didn’t so much as glimmer when the sun touched them. Such individuals were dubbed Achromatic, and for their dull appearances that left them powerless, they were considered inferior to normal colorful dragons. Faye was one of the unlucky few.
“Monochrome!” “Colorless!” “Pale-face!”
The other drakes’ taunts had driven her to hide in the forest during their magic contests. As always, Faye watched silently as they showed off the powers they so often seemed to take for granted, trying to guess who would win this time. She knew the fire dragons usually placed first in this game, their red-and-gold scales absorbing enough light to shoot their fiery breath as high as the treetops. Sometimes the blue-green dragons achieved victory with strong jets of water, while yellow and orange dragons scored an occasional win by conjuring small yet powerful tornados. She had even seen an earth dragon win once (she later learned it had taken him a month to store enough solar energy in his brown scales to split that boulder in half). The magic displays were essentially the same every week, and today was no different from any other match day.
Except for Faye’s plan to change her life.
Two weeks ago, a traveling dwarf had stumbled upon the Crystal Cave that the Dragon Clan called home. In exchange for shelter for the night, he had shared half the gold in his pack and stories of his travels across the world. The children were especially fascinated by his tales of humans, with whom they had been warned for as long as they could remember that they should never interact. It was the main reason they weren’t allowed outside at night: they couldn’t risk running out of magic when the sun wasn’t up to regenerate it.
“Humans? Bah!” The dwarf scoffed at his juvenile audience. “Demons, more like! Tear ya down soon as look at ya! Darn near lost me leg to ’em last summer! Caught me in a snare and wouldn’t let me go ’til I told ’em where to find the witch!”
“Witch?” one of the older scarlet girls whispered in awe. The traveler nodded.
“Ay, a folktale from the olden days. The stories differ: sometimes she’s a witch, other times an angel. Human children even call ‘er a fairy queen. But they’re nothin’ but stories. I told ’em all I’d heard, but I never seen ‘er meself.”
“How do you find her?” asked a cyan-scaled boy. The dwarf laughed.
“When the moon’s full, find a clearin’ in the heart o’ the woods with a pool o’ crystal clear water. Close yer eyes and make a wish, and if ya believe with all yer heart, the witch’ll appear and make it come true.”
The very idea of such an event made the children quiver with excitement.
“Any wish at all?” said an amber drake, her eyes wide.
“I s’ppose it could be”, the traveler mused, then shook his head. “If she was real. But she en’t! I tried ages to find ‘er. Asked all across the land. Been a hundred years since anyone’s seen anythin’ o’ the sort! She just don’t exist! But humans, those buggers are real. Real as these here scars from the time I fought off three at once…”
The children listened intently as the dwarf returned to his stories about humans, but Faye, ever silent in the back of the group, couldn’t take her mind off the tale of the witch. That was it: her one chance at a better life. If there was even the slightest possibility that this omnipotent being did exist, surely she wouldn’t object to such a simple request as coloring the scales of an Achromatic dragon. It was worth a try.
Since the new moon when the dwarf had passed through, Faye had had two weeks to prepare for her big wish. While the other drakes practiced their magic, she spent the days scouring the forest until she finally found the clearing. All that was left to do was choose a color. Unfortunately, hours of watching her peers proved this was harder than it seemed, and by the time night fell, she still hadn’t reached a decision.
I’ll figure it out when I get there, the white drake thought as she waited for everyone else in the cave to drift off. Maybe the witch will know…
The young dragon lay still for what felt like an eternity, but at last the entire clan fell asleep. Her heart beating wildly, it was all she could do to keep from shaking as she snuck out of the cave and into the quiet forest. This was it: time to change her fate.
To be concluded next Friday
Welcome to the conclusion of “Beastly Pains”. If you haven’t yet, be sure to read Part 1 here. Enjoy!
The creature pondered the proposal for a minute, then nodded once. “Deal.”
Relieved that he might actually survive this encounter after all, Alexander inhaled a deep breath as he felt the weight of the enormous foot finally being lifted off his chest. While the young man steadily rose to his feet and reached for the sword, the dragon lowered himself to rest his head on the ground.
“Try any funny business, human, and I’ll crush you in my jaws faster than you can say ‘dragon egg’.”
With a polite nod, the teenager approached the beast as he opened his mouth wide. Carefully as he could, Alexander crouched down after dropping his bag and sidled into the dragon’s gaping maw. He subtly covered his nose with his shirt at the overwhelming smell of rancid breath, and he tried hard not to think about the fiery death he’d face at the slightest twitch in the wrong direction. Just another patient, he thought as he gently eased the sword between the large teeth above him. Just another patient…
The human worked at this task for several minutes, sliding the weapon between the creature’s teeth with the utmost caution. Every now and then, the blade would touch something hard and broken pieces of bone would fall out. Before long, Alexander felt the jaws in which his upper body lay tremble slightly as the familiar deep voice echoed out of the darkness that was the dragon’s throat.
“Ai eh-ee-hee eh?”
Assuming those words were supposed to be “find anything yet”, Alexander called out reassuringly, “Yes, almost got it.”
Confident he had found the source of his patient’s pain, the boy dared to stick the sword a little deeper into the gap and scrape the object out. After another minute, the blade jerked and a large saliva-coated deer antler fell on his lap.
The young man grabbed the antler and quickly leapt out of the dragon’s mouth. While he dropped the items in his hands and rummaged through his bag, the beast closed his jaws again and began sliding his tongue over his teeth in relief.
“Much better”, he said. “Your competence surprises me. Good work, human.”
“I’m not quite done yet”, said Alexander, and he pulled a jar of green salve out of his bag. “This will help ease the pain. I made it myself from the herbs by the river.”
Noticing the look of suspicion in the red eyes before him, the teenager made a point of applying the ointment to his own gums first, to prove it wasn’t toxic. Satisfied that he was telling the truth, the dragon opened his mouth again and allowed the human to spread a generous amount of salve over his swollen gums.
“That should do it”, said the boy, shutting the jar and tucking it back into his bag. “In a few days, it’ll be good as new. Just try not to eat any more deer for a while.”
Alexander slung his bag over his shoulder and rose to his feet while the great lizard lifted his head once more. Upon catching sight of the blade lying in the grass before him, he froze. Suddenly nervous, the teenager tentatively turned his head up, his blue eyes locking with the red ones several feet above him.
The dragon stared down at him without moving, and the human recoiled slightly, braced for the worst… But a moment later, the creature bowed his head.
“A deal’s a deal. On my honor as a dragon, you may leave in peace. Now go, before I change my mind.”
Alexander smiled as the beast turned and started back up the mountain. When he was several feet away, the boy suddenly noticed something strange…
“Wait!” he called, and the lizard stopped to look over his shoulder. “You forgot your sword!”
Rows of sharp teeth reappeared in a gesture that the teenage boy perceived as the dragon’s smile.
“Keep it”, he said coolly. “Consider it payment for a job well done, and proof of your virtue. It isn’t just anyone who can earn the trust of a dragon.”
The human grinned and swiftly picked up the golden sword. The creature faced the opposite direction again as he spread his wings. Just before he took off, the young man called out to him again.
“You know… toothaches are a nasty business. They can come back worse if not treated properly. Perhaps I could return on the next full moon to check up on you?”
The beast looked back and nodded once. “Come every full moon, if you like. You can even take a piece of treasure after each visit, as payment for your trouble. Just don’t get greedy.”
Alexander nodded in excitement, then bowed before turning and heading back down the mountain, the great lizard watching his every step. It was then that the dragon dared to say something he had never said before…
“Thank you, human.”
Those words effectively stopped the boy in his tracks. Looking back over his shoulder, he smiled at the creature again.
“Alexander”, he replied. The dragon bowed his head as well.
Grinning broadly, Alexander watched Severoth spread his wings again and take off to fly back to the top of the mountain before turning on his own heel and disappearing amid the trees. There was no doubt he would be telling the story of his run-in with a dragon for years. The villagers would revere him as a hero, and in a matter of months he’d have enough gold for his family to live comfortably to the end of their days, but what he would definitely remember most about his adventure was the excitement of having made an unlikely friend.
Hope you enjoyed the story! Thanks for reading!
“No! Please don’t!”
Alexander dared to open one of his eyes a tiny crack. Where he had previously seen a flash of brilliant green scales, he now saw only rows of long razor-sharp white teeth.
“I’m sorry!” the boy cried, shutting his eyes tight again. “I didn’t mean to, I swear! Please don’t eat me!”
“Silence, mortal!” The beast reared his great head back as he let out a roar that could easily have taken down a tree. “I’ll ask you again, and this time I want a straight answer. What were you doing in my lair?”
The teenager slowly opened his eyes again, and was relieved to find that at least for now, the teeth had receded back into their owner’s mouth. The rancid smell of brimstone breath, however, still hung in the air.
“It- It was a dare.” Alexander looked up to lock eyes with the dragon, so there would be no doubt he was telling the truth. “My friends… I mean, the other boys… they dared me to sneak into your cave and steal a piece of treasure. Just one!” he added hurriedly, as though expecting the creature to rip his head off right then and there. “I only took one, but I’ll never do it again, I promise! You can have it back! Just please let me go!”
The boy shifted slightly, as much as he could while trapped under the dragon’s heavy claws. He flinched at the sight of the beast’s teeth beginning to reappear.
“And what made you think you could get away with it, human?”
“I…” Alexander averted his gaze in embarrassment; he hadn’t anticipated this question. “…I guess I didn’t.”
The dragon narrowed his red eyes slightly, surprised to hear such honesty from a mortal. “What did you take?”
Tentatively, the young man raised himself as best he could under the weight of the great lizard’s foot and reached for an item behind his back, reflecting on his situation as he did so. Why had he accepted such a ridiculous quest in the first place? He was only 17, a simple apprentice to a physician. What did he know about dealing with dragons? Nothing. He had taken on a fool’s errand. And for what? So he could prove the bullies wrong, that he wasn’t a weakling or a coward? Nothing was worth this. Now he was going to die, most likely a very painful death, and there wasn’t a single thing he could do about it. This was the end.
Alexander slowly pulled the stolen treasure out from his bag for the dragon to see. The sunlight caught a golden hilt and illuminated the steel blade of a perfectly crafted longsword. The teenage boy cringed again as the creature’s mouth opened wider, braced for the killing blow…
But it never came. Instead, the dragon let out a thunderous sound that Alexander could only assume was analogous to a human laugh. After a minute or two, the beast’s head moved closer, teeth gleaming in the light as the blade was.
“Clever”, the dragon mused. “You’re much sharper than the last human who tried to steal from me, I’ll give you that. He tried to carry off a bag of gold dinnerware. Much too heavy for him, and it made the most terrible racket when he fled. That was a good night’s sleep wasted. Wasn’t worth the trouble for either of us; he didn’t even taste that good.”
Despite the terror that sent a chill down his spine, the boy couldn’t help but be intrigued by the creature’s observation. Yes, he had indeed chosen a sword so that he might be able to defend himself should he be caught fleeing. It wouldn’t have been too difficult either; a palace guard in his youth, his father had taught him a few things about sword fighting. He just hadn’t counted on the monster ambushing him halfway down the mountain.
His upper body still trapped under a massive scaly foot, Alexander just barely managed to lift his arms high enough to make it clear he was offering back the sword now lying across his hands. The dragon’s eyes narrowed into intimidating slits.
“You’re a curious sort of human”, he muttered, though to a dragon, muttering was equivalent to a human speaking normally. “Most of them put up a fight at this stage of the chase…”
The great lizard lowered his head further, opening his jaws to take the blade from his prey. The human didn’t dare flinch, knowing that one false move could prompt the beast to unleash a stream of fiery breath that he’d have no chance of surviving. The moment those teeth touched the sword, however, the dragon winced, sending the weapon flying from the teenager’s hands to stick into the ground mere inches from his face.
Recovering from the shock of almost losing his left ear, Alexander stared up at the creature with wide blue eyes. Those massive jaws opened to their full extent as the beast reared back and let out a screech that shook the earth beneath them. That was when he noticed a large swollen spot above the fully exposed teeth. His terror giving way to curiosity, the young man lifted his left arm again to point at the gums on the dragon’s right side.
“How did you get that?” he said. The giant lizard looked down to stare at the human in surprise, understanding exactly what he was asking.
“It’s been hurting ever since I ate half that herd of deer two full moons ago. Haven’t been able to bite right in weeks.”
Alexander asked the creature to move closer. Once he did, the boy stared fixedly at his swollen gums for a quiet minute.
“I can fix that”, he said at last. The dragon scoffed as he closed his mouth again.
“How can you do that?”
“It’s easy.” The teenager smiled, suddenly confident. “You probably have something stuck in your teeth. All I need to do is scrape it out.”
The great beast gazed at his prey warily. “What with?”
“Umm…” Alexander glanced awkwardly to his left. Catching on to the human’s idea, the dragon roughly shook his head.
“I don’t think so.”
“But it’s perfect!” the boy cried, facing the lizard again. “It’s thin and sharp enough to get the job done. I’ll be careful, I promise! You don’t have to worry about a thing.”
The dragon narrowed his eyes in suspicion. “How do I know I can trust you?”
“I help heal the aches and illnesses of the people in my village every day. It’s my moral obligation as a training physician. If you promise not to kill me, I’ll fix your teeth, give you back your sword and leave you alone. I’ll even tell the other humans never to bother you again. Deal?”
To be concluded next week
A divorced, middle-aged receptionist. She is lonely and depressed, and has long lost faith in the idea of a better life.
A middle-aged deliveryman. He is friendly and very attractive.
A secretary, and a friend of Joanne’s.
Office break room. A water cooler with a stack of plastic cups stands in the middle by a wastebasket and a counter, which holds a sink, a coffeemaker, some mugs, a basket of assorted snacks, and a roll of paper towels. A small square table stands in the center of the room, surrounded by a few wooden chairs. A clock hangs on the wall over the counter.
Mid-afternoon, the last five minutes of Joanne’s 15-minute break.
Scene 1 – Office break room. Now.
(Two women in professional attire are chatting in an office break room. Joanne stands next to the water cooler in the middle. Mary stands closer to the door on the stage right. Joanne is drinking coffee from one of the mugs.)
So then he tries to tell me that his mother’s only staying with him until she finds her own place, but by then the mood is already DOA, you know?
(looks at wall clock)
So what did you do last night?
Oh, you know, just stayed in. Ordered Chinese, went through my mail. By the way, I got my first check today.
Your first alimony check? That must have been exciting.
You would think.
Oh, come on! The guy was a jerk; you said so yourself! If you ask me, he should be paying double for putting you through hell all those years.
He was my husband, Mary. And yeah, he was a jerk, but it’s not like it was hell the whole time we were together.
Just enough at the end for you to leave him.
Exactly: I left him. I don’t want him in my life anymore. That’s why I moved away. I thought I was done with him, but then I got the check in the mail and, I don’t know… it was like he suddenly came back. And now I keep thinking that every month, I’ll be getting a personal reminder in the mail that he’s still around, hanging over my head.
Don’t stress about it, Joanne. That feeling goes away. You’ll be fine.
(glances at wall clock)
Hey, I gotta get back to work. Mr. Clark wants those papers filed and on his desk before he gets back from his meeting.
All right. I should get back to the front desk too.
You’ve still got five minutes of break left.
I know, but the temp is new, and if he screws something up, it’ll be my head.
Suit yourself. See you later.
(Exit Mary. Joanne places her mug in the sink. A knock sounds at the door on the stage left. Joanne turns around as a good-looking man enters, wearing a brown uniform and holding a medium-sized cardboard box in his arms. Sandwiched between his left arm and the box is a clipboard.)
Excuse me? I have a package here for Clark & Walker Importers.
(Joanne doesn’t react, staring at the man. Henry hesitates, then clears his throat.)
This is the right floor, right? I can’t seem to find the front desk.
(snapping out of her “trance”)
Oh, yes! Yes, this is Clark & Walker. Um, I can sign for that. I’m the receptionist.
Oh, good. Thank you.
(looks Henry up and down)
Would you like some water? I know the elevator’s out of order. It must have been a long walk up the stairs.
OK, yes, thank you.
(Henry walks to the middle of the room to place the box and clipboard on the table. Joanne turns around to fill a plastic cup with water from the water cooler. She turns back and bumps into Henry, spilling the water onto his shirt and the box.)
Oh my gosh! I’m so sorry!
(wiping at his shirt with his hands)
No, no, it’s all right, really!
(Joanne puts the cup on the counter, then takes the roll of paper towels and places it on the table. She and Henry start ripping off sheets and using them to dry Henry’s shirt and the box.)
I’m really sorry…
(pauses to read the name tag on the front of his shirt)
It’s OK! Really, it’s fine.
(Henry pulls up his sleeves and reaches for the paper towels again. Joanne stops to stare at his tattooed arms. Henry notices and pauses.)
You like ’em? This cross here…
(points at his left wrist)
…I’ve had since I was 21. Always been a newborn Christian. Jesus helped me through a lot of bad times. And this…
(holds up his right arm so Joanne can read the two words tattooed there)
…”Carpe Diem”. Means “Seize the day” in Latin. Got that one the week after running into an ex-girlfriend who told me she was engaged. Kept thinking I should have proposed when I had the chance. After that, I told myself I’d never make that mistake again. Seize the day, you know?
(Joanne smiles as Henry reaches for the paper towels again. The two finish drying the box and Henry’s shirt.)
You still want that water?
Sure, long as it comes in the cup this time.
(Joanne chuckles and picks up the cup again to refill it at the water cooler. She gives the cup to Henry, who hands her the clipboard to sign, along with a pen from his front pocket. While Joanne reaches out to take it, Henry stares at her fingers.)
On your finger. Is that a tan line?
(glances at her left ring finger)
Oh! Yes, it is. I’m recently divorced. Just signed the final papers last month.
I’m sorry to hear that.
Don’t be; it’s fine.
(signs the paper on the clipboard)
He wasn’t so bad at first. He just… wasn’t the guy I thought he was. Didn’t respect me, put me down, made me feel like my dreams were pointless. You know how it is: one day, you wake up and think, “I’m done with this.” So I left. Moved to a new town, got a job as a receptionist, and that was that.
(looks up at Henry, suddenly embarrassed)
I’m sorry! I’m rambling. You don’t care about any of this stuff.
No, no! I admire that, honest!
(Joanne offers the pen back to Henry. He pauses as his fingers close around it and touch her fingers.)
I think I’d like to see you again. You wanna get coffee sometime?
That would be lovely.
(Joanne takes the pen back and scribbles on the bottom of the clipboard. Henry drinks the rest of his water and tosses the cup in the wastebasket. Joanne hands the pen and clipboard back to Henry. He turns the clipboard right-side up to read the writing on the bottom.)
(looks up at Joanne with a smile)
All right, I’ll give you a call later this week.
Sounds great! I look forward to it.
It was nice meeting you, Joanne. Take care now.
Thanks. You too, Henry.
(With a friendly wave, Henry walks back to the door on the stage left, clipboard under his arm. Exit Henry. Joanne picks up the box and walks to the door on the stage right with a smile. Exit Joanne.)
This script is the second half of a two-part writing exercise I gave myself a few years ago. The exercise is to write the same story twice: once as a narrative with no direct dialogue, and once as a script for a stage play. The idea is to explore the differences between narrative and pure dialogue, in order to get a feel of how writing in one format differs from writing in the other. I hope you enjoy what I’ve written. Thanks for reading!
Be sure to check out last Friday’s post to read this story again as a narrative!
(Note: I apologize for the flawed script formatting in this post. The piece was actually formatted correctly in my word processor, but for some reason, I couldn’t adjust it properly in the WordPress editor. Oh well, I hope you enjoy it anyway! Thank you!)
Joanne stood idly by the water cooler in the break room, staring blankly at the opposite wall as she held a small plastic cup filled with water in her right hand while using her left to lean against the counter. She sighed as she brought the cup to her lips, her thoughts drifting off into the same disheartening flashback of her life story that they always found at this hour. How exactly had she ended up here? She’d had such high hopes in her youth. A 20-year-old Joanne had dreamed of becoming a successful businesswoman, of traveling across Europe, of marrying a decent man with whom she could someday spend a golden anniversary. Now twice that idealistic age, she found herself divorced, lonely, and answering phones for a living. What had become of her life?
The middle-aged receptionist checked her watch. Her break was almost over. She might as well return to her desk; Heaven forbid the temp should screw something up and she would have to take the heat for it. After all, what else did she have left to hold on to but her menial job?
Just as she threw her empty cup in the wastebasket, however, there came a knock at the open door.
Joanne looked up to see a handsome man stepping into the break room. He was tall and well built, probably in his mid-to-late thirties. He sported a plain brown uniform, and in his arms he carried a large box, no doubt containing the office supplies the staff had ordered a week ago.
The man asked to whom exactly he had been sent to deliver the box. Joanne smiled awkwardly, suddenly flustered. What nice eyes this man had. She had never noticed how attractive hazel eyes could be, almost like little topaz stones. After a few quiet seconds, the deliveryman repeated his question, and Joanne snapped out of her trance to answer that she was the receptionist and she could sign for the package.
The man nodded once with a smile and entered the room. Joanne asked if he would like some water, and turned around to face the water cooler after he accepted her offer. Unfortunately, she didn’t notice how quickly he made it to the table to unload the box; the moment she turned around, the two collided, and the gentleman’s outfit was splashed with water spilt from the cup.
The woman apologized profusely for her clumsiness and quickly reached for the paper towels on the countertop as the man insisted it was quite all right. Joanne helped him to wipe most of the excess water off the box and his shirt, and as she dabbed at the brown fabric covering his shoulder, she caught sight of the name tag sown into the clothing over his chest. Henry. What a perfectly nice name, well suited for such a nice man.
Henry grabbed another paper towel, pulling his sleeves up a little as he wiped his hands. That was when Joanne caught sight of a pair of tattoos, one on each of his arms. The left arm had a plain evangelical cross over the wrist, while the right arm bore a Latin phrase: “Carpe diem”.
The man smiled at the sight of the woman looking curiously at his tattoos. Seize the day, that’s what it meant. He had been trying to live his life by those words ever since he found out an ex-girlfriend he once loved was marrying another man. Maybe he should have proposed to her when he had the chance. As for the cross, it had been there for 15 years, since he was 21, as a constant reminder of his unfaltering faith in Jesus. After all, what was life without faith? The receptionist smiled, fascinated.
Joanne offered Henry some more water. He accepted, on the condition that this time it come inside the cup. She chuckled. A handsome face and a good sense of humor. How charming! The woman handed the refilled plastic cup to the man, who gladly took it from her in exchange for the clipboard holding the paper she needed to sign to receive the package.
The deliveryman handed the receptionist a pen, catching a glimpse of her hand as she reached for it. No ring? Not possible; she was an attractive woman. A closer look, however, revealed a faint tan line where a wedding band must have been for some years.
Henry inquired about his discovery. Joanne blushed. Yes, she was recently divorced, having only just signed the final papers last month. Her ex-husband didn’t respect her enough, so she explained. Turned out he wasn’t the man she thought he was. He put her down, made her feel like her dreams were hopeless fantasies, so one day she left him. Moved to a new city, got a simple job as a receptionist, and that was that.
Suddenly realizing she was rambling to a complete stranger, the receptionist hastily apologized, but the deliveryman smiled brightly. It must have taken a lot of courage for her to turn her life around like that in the hopes of finding something better. Carpe diem.
Joanne handed the pen back to Henry. He paused as his fingers closed around the pen and touched hers. Carpe diem… He might not see this woman again, but he was certain he wanted to. Maybe she’d like to get coffee sometime? Joanne laughed, a cheery melodious sound she hadn’t heard herself make in a long time. Yes, that would be lovely. She eagerly took the pen back to write her phone number at the bottom of the clipboard, then handed everything back to the deliveryman.
Henry tossed out the empty cup and smiled as he took the clipboard and pen, looking down at the former to read the name scribbled in neat cursive handwriting. Joanne, a pretty name to match a pretty face. With a polite nod and farewell, he was out the door. Still blushing profusely, Joanne picked up the package and carried it back to her desk with a broad grin on her face, somehow feeling that a lot more than a box full of office supplies had been brought into her life that day.
This short story is the first half of a two-part writing exercise I gave myself a few years ago. The exercise is to write the same story twice: once as a narrative with no direct dialogue, and once as a script for a stage play. The idea is to explore the differences between narrative and pure dialogue, in order to get a feel of how writing in one format differs from writing in the other. I hope you enjoy what I’ve written. Thanks for reading!
Be sure to check in next week to read this story again as a scene in a play!
Sawyer sat on the edge of the shelf, staring at the mysterious box with narrowed hazel eyes. Soon, he thought, the time would come again. Every time the spinning stick pointed straight up, his enemy would appear. And every time, she got the best of him. But not this time. No, this time, victory would go to him. He would make sure of that.
The sound of ticking was the only noise filling the air. Sawyer’s tail flicked for the umpteenth time, and his whiskers twitched. The tension was almost palpable. Just a little more, he thought, flexing his legs and digging his claws into the wood. The stick was nearly vertical now. Just a tiny bit left, and at last he would catch her…
Sawyer and his enemy had been at war for a year. He knew this because she had entered his life the last time his owners had set up the lighted tree in the living room, the same way they did every year, the same way they had last week. The year before, one of the boxes under the tree contained this strangely shaped object, with two spinning sticks and a little flap behind which lived…
The cat shuddered. He didn’t even like to think about it. Oh, how he loathed her. She was awful! From the moment they’d met, all she ever did was annoy him. And what was worse, she did it all day, every day! No, it wasn’t enough to make irritating noises just once in a while; she had to pop out and mock him from her high perch every time the larger spinning stick made a full turn. Why every time? Didn’t she ever get tired? Didn’t she have anything better to do than wait for the stick to spin all the way around yet again? Sawyer couldn’t imagine she did… but it didn’t matter. Soon he would catch her, and his family would surely thank him for ridding them of this terrible nuisance. That was, after all, why they had recently built the shelf right next to her, right? Right? Yes, he’d be treated like a hero, but in all honesty, he would just be glad she was gone.
A loud chime suddenly rang through the room. That was the signal. In the blink of an eye, Sawyer screeched and pounced at the box the exact moment he knew the flap would open. Yes, there she was! Halfway through the air, he could already hear her horrible high-pitched tweet.
The feline unsheathed his claws, a split second from the box now. He was so close, he could already taste victory. But wait, what was she doing? She was already retreating? No, he couldn’t have miscalculated! Yet by the time he was close enough to swipe at the bird, she was halfway back into her nest. Unbelievable, he missed her by an inch!
Sawyer cried out in frustration, flailing his paws wildly in a flash of orange fur. He wasn’t about to admit defeat. He could still catch her; there were a few chimes left before she settled into her nest for another hour. His claws still unsheathed, he just managed to grab the swinging weight under the box before he fell to the floor. This wasn’t over yet.
The cat pressed his back paws against the wall to steady himself. Startled by a loud splintering noise, he looked up at the flap to see the bird emerging again.
“Cuckoo!” she cried a second time. Surely she was laughing at him. Infuriated, Sawyer cried out again and swiped his free paw up at his enemy… but before he could touch her, the wooden box collapsed from his weight, and the next thing they knew, cat and bird were plummeting to the hard floor together.
A dazed Sawyer scrambled to his feet and looked around. Strewn about the ground were dozens of pieces of wood and metal. Lying amid the shattered remains of the box was the little brown bird, finally off her perch and, more importantly, silent.
Satisfied to finally see his enemy immobilized, the orange feline was brought abruptly back to his senses when a group of humans came rushing into the room. Looking up at his family, Sawyer took a seat beside the fallen bird and started to purr with pride. The job was done; all he had to do now was wait for the praise…
The woman at the head of the group started toward the cat. Sawyer had seen that look in her eyes enough times to know he didn’t like what was coming. Quick as a flash, the confused feline turned and fled from the humans hurrying to see the remains of the shattered box. Leaping up the couch to the top of the armoire, he looked down and watched his family pick up the scattered pieces of wood.
The girl kneeling by the box lifted the fallen bird and showed it to her mother, who shook her head at the sight of it. Sawyer tilted his head. How odd… Weren’t they glad to be rid of that pest? Of course; they were just surprised. Yes, that must have been it. After all, they probably thought they’d be stuck with her forever. Lucky for them, they had a hero in the family.
The people set about cleaning up the mess, while the cat looked on from his perch. The sight of his enemy being swept into a dustpan with the rest of her broken nest filled him with immense satisfaction. Come to think of it, destroying the box wasn’t part of the plan. He knew how much his humans liked it. Why else would they hang it on the wall if they knew what lived inside it? But if that was the price to pay for getting rid of the noisy bird, it was worth it.
Purring softly, Sawyer curled up and closed his eyes, ready for the nap he had earned. There would be plenty of time for praise later. For now, all he really wanted was to enjoy the peace and quiet.
How long does it take to get into a concert in Brazil?
A few years ago, my baby sister was part of a theater group, whose most recent accomplishment at the time was winning a chorus competition on a very popular variety show on national TV. Since then, they’d been getting calls left and right to perform at events, many of which were local. One of these calls was a request to open for a band that was going to be playing in town, the same band whose songs the group had performed on TV. It was a good opportunity for exposure, so naturally they accepted.
My sister informed us of the date and time of the concert, then told us that everyone in her group would be putting the names of their family members on a list so they could get in for free. After all, what’s the point of paying full retail for a concert ticket if you’re only going to watch your kid perform in the beginning instead of staying for the whole show? It made sense.
On the day of the show, my dad and I drove down to the concert hall to see my sister’s group perform. My mom couldn’t come with us, since she was out of town at the time, so I took my digital camera with me to record it for her. We got there about half an hour before the show was supposed to start, and found a long line outside leading into the building. The man at the entrance of the parking lot told us that parking was going to cost R$25 (Brazilian reals). To give an idea, that’s about 15 US dollars. My dad thought this was a bit steep for only a couple of hours, but we were going to watch my sister on stage one way or another, and the price wasn’t going down, so we paid and left our car in the lot.
If my dad had known the ordeal we were about to go through, he might have tried a little harder to haggle with the attendant.
The line outside the concert hall prompted a wait of about ten minutes to get into the building. When we finally reached the ticket counter, my dad mentioned the list with the names of the family members of the theater group that would be opening the show. One would have thought he was speaking a different language, based on the looks he got from the ladies behind the counter.
That was the last thing my dad wanted to hear when asking for tickets to the concert of a nationally famous band. He wasn’t prepared to shell out for something that was obviously going to be way too expensive, so he insisted that there was indeed a list. He was not alone in this argument; a few other families whose names should have been on that list showed up right behind us, asking the same questions my dad was. The staff then took the time to search through their VIP lists, which for some reason were located on the other side of a curtain behind the ticket counter instead of on the counter itself. I can only assume that’s what made them nearly impossible to find, since this process seemed to take three staff members a total of almost ten minutes to complete. When they finally returned to face a small crowd consisting mostly of confused parents, they did in fact have the mysteriously elusive list in hand. However, it came with some bad news: the list was not official, since the group hadn’t secured permission for it with the managers of the concert hall, so it was not valid for free admission. Great.
Well, turning around and leaving was not an option, since we had come with a special purpose (and a digital camera). From this point, we could either continue insisting on complementary VIP entrance just to see the opening act, or simply pay for VIP tickets. It’s probably obvious which was our first choice, but when that plan failed, my dad pulled out his wallet in defeat. This should have been the end of our struggle to get into the concert. Sadly, it was only about to get worse.
“Do you take credit cards?”
“Sorry, sir. Our card machine isn’t working today. Cash only.”
“Cash only” wasn’t a problem most of the time, but that’s because most of the time we weren’t obligated to pay overprice for parking. To our dismay, my dad discovered upon opening his wallet that he no longer had enough cash on hand to buy admission for both of us. The irony of this was that he was less than R$20 short of what we needed. It’s moments like these that make some of us wish irony were an actual person, just so it could literally be smacked in the face.
Our choices for how to get into the concert had been narrowed down to paying for tickets by credit card, and even that didn’t seem like an option. Still, we were determined. Now my dad was asking if they had any other card machines around the building that he could use to buy tickets. When the staff couldn’t provide one right away, he went so far as to visit the gift booth on the other side of the room to find one that might work. I stayed by the ticket counter, laughing to myself as I wondered who in the world Murphy was and how he could possibly have understood the universe so well that he even came up with a law to account for its perversity. I hid the smile on my face when I saw my dad walking back with an annoyed expression on his. No luck at the gift booth. This was really getting ridiculous.
Thankfully, it was around this point that we found a ray of hope. A man appeared from behind the curtain dividing the entrance and the concert floor just as my dad was explaining to the ladies at the counter that all he wanted to do tonight was watch his teenage daughter sing and dance on stage. What I saw next was proof to me that there are few things women find sweeter than a man who is genuinely supportive of his daughter’s career in the performing arts. While the ladies started to put a little more effort into helping us, the man who had just arrived, having obviously overheard, introduced himself to my dad as the manager of the concert hall. As it turned out, he had seen the theater group performing on national TV, and he remembered my sister from her solo in that performance, as well as having had the pleasure of meeting her and being charmed by her sweet personality.
The manager quickly sent someone to fetch a credit card machine from the bar inside the floor. A few minutes later, my dad and I finally had the VIP tickets we had thought would have taken much less time to buy. We thanked the staff for all their help, bypassed security, and made our way inside to the section of the floor closest to the stage.
The rest of the evening went about as well as one could imagine. My sister’s group was as great as ever, definitely worth the hassle to come and watch. It didn’t even matter that the show started over an hour late. Or that I had forgotten to clear out space in the digital camera’s memory, so we had to keep deleting old photos between songs so we could keep filming my sister. Or that we found out later that night that we could have gotten in for free the whole time if we had met with the other parents in the parking lot before the show. No, it didn’t matter. For the most part.
How long does it take to get into a concert in Brazil? If you’re lucky, less than half an hour. If the universe decides to make you its next victim, though, all you can really do is accept the test of patience while trying your best to laugh at the absurdity of life.
I wrote this short story as an assignment for the Humor module of my online UCBX creative writing course. The piece is based on a true story that happened to me and my dad a couple of years ago, and because of the absurdity of the events that took place that night, I thought it would make a great funny story. I hope you enjoy what I’ve written. Thanks for reading!
“Cela? Cela, you’re up.”
The illusion of darkness was broken as a pair of amber eyes opened to look up at the silhouette towering over them.
“Celandine, did you hear me?”
As her eyes adjusted to the light, the young woman saw the face of her friend – a well-built man with bushy hair – looking down at her in concern.
“I heard you, Lee…”
“It’s your turn. You don’t wanna keep ’em waiting…”
Celandine didn’t move right away, sitting with her back to the wall as she looked around at the dozen other people in the room. From the flaky old man crouching in the shadows to the mousy girl flitting in and out of the light every few minutes, each face had a story to tell. But it was always the same story.
“You don’t have a choice!”
The two friends turned simultaneously to see who had spoken. A tall, slender woman emerged from the shade, eyes gleaming almost menacingly in the light.
“You have to do this, Cela”, she said softly, ” for all of us. Remember their promise…”
“I don’t believe them, Psi!” Celandine rose to her feet to level with the approaching woman. “They were never gonna set us free! We’re just animals to them! They like controlling us, keeping us for display! They’re all liars!”
“You won’t know that until you finish the task you were trained for!” The taller woman turned to the young man beside her. “Leonidas, help me out.”
“Psipsina’s right; if you don’t go through with this tonight, they might never let us go. Please, just get up there…”
“And let all those people stare at me like the freak I’m supposed to be?!”
As she shouted these words, the young woman thrust her right arm out to the side. Still her greatest desire for the last five years remained unfulfilled, for where she wished she could be seeing smooth bare flesh, there were nothing but brown feathers.
“I’m not normal!” Celandine continued tearfully. “None of us are! You think Lee wanted to be born part-lion? And you, Psi? I don’t remember you ever saying you love having pointed ears and a cat’s tail! I’m sick of these wings that were never meant for me! I hate being a Hybrid! I wanna be human!”
“Ungrateful child!” All eyes now turned to the elderly man in the corner, who rose to his feet and stepped into the light as he glared at the avian woman through livid reptilian eyes. “You dare defy the humans’ will? You’re a product of years of refined biotechnology, a marvel of genetic engineering! They made you the superior being that you are; you owe them the chance to proudly display their work to the world! Now get out there and fulfill your purpose, siren!”
Celandine felt a tear slide down her cheek as she looked up at the saurian man now standing a foot from her face. “Siren” was one of the derogatory terms that inevitably came with having a humanoid body with the wings of a bird. “Harpy” was even worse, but fortunately, not as common. Noticing his friend’s despondency, Leonidas offered her a kind smile and reached out to gently stroke her feathered arm.
“Don’t worry, Cela”, he whispered. “You’re not a freak; everyone else will see that. Now get out there and make ’em wish they were Hybrids. After tonight, you’ll be free.”
The young woman gazed fondly into her friend’s yellow eyes, then timidly dropped her gaze to his torso. His standard-issue jumpsuit did little to hide the superhuman muscle of his Spartan-esque physique, and she had always admired the dark human-like skin on his powerful arms. After a minute’s hesitation, she reluctantly nodded.
“All right, I’ll do it… for you.”
Though her lips spoke the words as if addressing the entire group, her eyes deemed the promise exclusive to her dearest friend. With her head held high in newfound determination, Celandine strode past the others toward the plasma screen on the opposite wall, which was currently showing her test subject profile. Upon stepping into the cylindrical chamber beside it, she was immediately scanned from head to toe by the same invasive laser that had verified all her peers before her. Then the lift slowly rose into the opening ceiling, until the next thing she knew, she was staring through the glass at a sea of white coats and curious faces. As the chamber door opened onto a stage, an amplified voice echoed through the enormous hall.
“And finally, Specimen Omega of the Fusion Project: the Avian.”
The Hybrid slowly stepped out of the chamber to approach the transparent barrier near the edge of the stage. The moment she reached her mark, the spectacled man at the lectern to her far left spoke into the microphone again, his voice booming through the speakers. By now she knew every cue of the speech by heart, and followed her routine with mechanical precision: spreading her feathered arms to first display her wings from the front, then turning to show the back; demonstrating her agility through the obstacle course erected on the platform; and showing off her flight capabilities by gliding between the perches placed on either end of the enclosed portion of the stage. She fulfilled her purpose, exactly the way she’d been trained.
Throughout her demonstration, the spokesman’s words echoed hollowly in Celandine’s ears, the same words she’d been hearing for the past half-decade. “Fusion”… “splicing”… “Hybrids”… “spy units”… “future of military operations”… None of them meant anything to her. She was just going through the motions, waiting for a promise that might never be fulfilled. As she returned to her mark, she gazed out at the multitude of eyes staring back at her in awe, scanning the audience one last time before she would be called back into the lower deck.
Then two things happened in quick succession: she noticed the control panel window high on the back wall, and a second later, a grinding noise from above drew the attention of the entire room. The enclosure roof had gotten stuck while being replaced after the flight demonstration, leaving an opening to the bright ceiling. Suddenly, the Hybrid knew what she had to do. It was now or never…
Celandine spread her wings and took off with the speed of a falcon. By the time anyone realized what was happening, she was halfway across the hall, flying over the panicking crowd toward the controls that would grant freedom to her and her friends. Her focus was unfaltering; she barely heard the alarms going off, and she didn’t see the uniformed men charging past the fleeing scientists…
But she did feel the sharp pain of 100,000 volts coursing through her body at once. Stunned in midair, she crashed into the window at high speed, shattering the glass as she fell onto the controls that triggered the opening of the Hybrid deck and the doors leading out of the symposium hall. Weakened by the collision, the avian then plummeted the several feet to the ground, some of the large glass shards falling after her only seconds before she hit the floor…
A great roar resounded over the screams of the crowd, driving the humans out the doors at twice their initial speed. The dazed Celandine noticed the pairs of black boots near her head retreating with the stun gun probes in tow, then the silhouettes of several wild-looking figures barreling toward her up the aisle as a familiar voice called her name…
The young woman felt her upper body being lifted into a pair of strong lionlike arms. Only then did she notice the rather sizable shard of glass jutting out of her abdomen, as well as the red stain spreading on the floor beneath her. Still numb with shock, she looked faintly up into the yellow eyes that were gazing anxiously back into her amber ones.
“Cela”, Leonidas whispered, “what did you do?”
And then the young man saw something he hadn’t seen in years: a smile forming on his best friend’s lips. While the rest of the Hybrids chased the humans back during their escape, Celandine found comfort in her friend’s embrace, now gazing past him into the bright lights of the metallic ceiling to which, for one minute, she had been close enough to touch.
“I told you I’d do it…” she breathed, “for you. You were right. Thank you, Lee…”
The noises around her were beginning to fade. Leonidas’s face was becoming blurred. She couldn’t feel his tears on her lacerated face, and she barely heard the three words he was uttering to her now. But Celandine was content, for gone with everything else was the life of imprisonment and helplessness she had known for too long, and as the silver skies above her slowly grew dark, her smile never faltered in the light of the truth…
She was free.
This story was my entry for the Dark Futures Contest recently held by Writer’s Carnival in collaboration with Dark Futures e-Zine. The rule was to write a science fiction or horror story, 1500 words or less, that was themed around a gathering of people. The theme I chose for my sci-fi story was a symposium for genetic engineering, the main characters being human-animal Hybrid test subjects. With the contest now over and the winners’ stories already published on the DF website, I decided to share my (slightly edited) piece here on my blog for others to read. Enjoy!
Special thanks to Writer’s Carnival and Dark Futures for hosting the contest, and congratulations to the winners!
I can hear the crowd cheering, applauding madly as the contenders before us finally complete their round. The competition is fierce today. Why shouldn’t it be? This is the Grand Prix after all, and only the best come to compete.
A cloud shifts in the sky, allowing the sun to shine brightly over the course. Some might say it’s a sign of good luck, but I choose not to believe in such things; we’ll do well because we’ve trained weeks for this, and if we win, it’ll be because of all our dedication and teamwork alone.
The judges have finished announcing their scores, and our opponents now come striding in, passing us by without a glance. I notice Belle shifting slightly in place; if I didn’t know better, I’d say she was nervous. But maybe that’s just me.
“All right”, I breathe with as much confidence as I can muster while the announcers call our names next. “Let’s do this.”
With a click of my tongue, Belle and I stride proudly out into the course. The audience follows our progress as we make our way to the starting point, and the judges fall silent as we position ourselves, ready for the signal. All eyes are on us. It’s now or never.
A few seconds pass… then the bell chimes. Time to ride.
I click my tongue once more and coax Belle forward with a firm squeeze of my legs. Obediently she begins to move in a walk, then a trot, and finally a canter. No surprises; this horse and I have been working together for years, and by now we know each other’s every intent. With the sun gleaming in her chestnut coat and the warm summer breeze flowing visibly through her light mane, I start to feel the rush of riding that is always so familiar but never gets old. There’s no question; this is where I belong.
The first jump approaches. Four feet. We can make that, I think with assurance, and I know Belle can sense it in me. As the fence grows in our line of vision, I shift into the two-point position, ready to cue the horse for the leap. Just a few feet now; she knows what to do from here. In a single fluid motion, Belle and I dip together as one, and her strong hind legs push against the ground to send us both sailing through the air and over the fence. This is by far the best part of show jumping: that brief second in every leap when both horse and rider are flying together, defying gravity like a great two-headed mythical beast. Then gravity wins, and Belle’s legs touch the ground again. As we clear the jump, I lean back slightly to allow for a smooth landing. The fence’s planks remain untouched after the leap. No penalty incurred.
With another 15 obstacles to clear, the course is far from over, but so far so good. The horse continues forward, and now I tilt the reins and lean with her to steer her toward the next jump. Another four-foot-high vertical awaits us, this time with poles. Not a problem; Belle clears it with the same effortlessness as before. I can feel the pride and triumph rising in my heart now. We can win this competition, I just know it.
The clock keeps running as we continue through the course. Verticals, oxers, liverpools – none of them are too great a challenge for my Belle and me. Expertly we turn as one past the cleared obstacles and hurtle straight toward the next fences in the sequence. One, two, three jumps in a row. Combinations have never been a weakness in our routine. Almost every fence cleared, and not a single plank or pole overturned. We’re almost there. Just one more jump to go.
But the final jump is a triple bar.
Of all the show jumping obstacles Belle and I have ever practiced with, the triple bar has always been the most difficult for us to clear. Roughly every three attempts we make to jump it, one try will result in the third bar being knocked off the fence. Whether this is because of a difficulty Belle has to leap completely over such a wide ascending spread or an error in timing and control on my part, it’s hard to say. In any case, this means that there’s about a 33% chance we won’t completely clear this jump now without incurring a fault. Can we make it this time?
I decide I have to trust my horse. Deep down, I know she wants that blue ribbon just as much as I do, and she’s going to do everything in her power to help bring it home for us. No matter what, we’re in this together.
The last jump approaches…
Once again, I ready myself in the two-point position, guiding Belle straight toward the center of the triple bar. Five feet away from the fence, I squeeze her sides just a little with my legs. The horse dips, my body moving with her, and she kicks off from the ground in the takeoff.
Suddenly, everything seems to be happening in slow motion. In the flight of the jump, I’m now aware of several things at once: the breeze on my neck, the steady stretching motion of the horse’s legs, the racing pace of my own heartbeat. The high poles of the fence almost seem to slide beneath us as we soar fluently above them. There’s one… There’s two…
And at the very last pole, I swear I can just sense Belle’s final surge of determination take over. In that one split second, I feel her shift her back legs the tiniest fraction upward, and suddenly I know the pole won’t be dislodged from its post as her hooves barely shave by it…
Never in my life has a jump landing felt so triumphant. I can’t even hear the crowd cheering anymore; the rushing sound of my heart almost leaping out of my chest is too overwhelming. I spare a glance at the clock, which stops after we cross the final line of the course. Two seconds under the time limit. Unbelievable; we did it!
The audience is going wild. We were far from the favorite team to win, yet here we stand, being presented with a $10,000 prize and a first place blue ribbon. I may be the one getting most of the glory, but I’ll always know who the real champion is. Could I have asked for a better show jumping horse than my Belle?
This short story is based on What If? Exercise 9: “Taking Risks”. The idea is to write a detailed first-person story depicting an event that you will likely never experience firsthand in real life. The objective of this is to step outside the limits of “write what you know” and practice writing what you can only imagine, an important skill that every fiction writer should learn.
The subject I chose for this piece is a certain sporting event that I’ve always enjoyed watching during the Olympics, but that I’m sure I would never be able to try myself. Though it took a fair amount of research to write the story as accurately as possible, I had fun imagining myself in the narrator’s place. I hope you enjoy what I’ve written. Thanks for reading!
I remember it was a chilly night in midwinter. A cold breeze was wafting through the peaceful suburban street, gently swaying the leaves of the trees and the petals of the flowers on the front lawn that I always tried to keep so immaculate. The chill of the breeze did little to decrease the elevated temperature of my face, however, as I sat leaning against the wall of my house, clutching my right wrist and panting heavily from the rush of adrenalin to which I had been subjected not two hours ago. I honestly wouldn’t be surprised to find myself aged twenty years and still looking back on those two hours as the worst of my life…
The street was empty at this hour; none of our neighbors bothered to spend winter evenings outside when such time could be better spent sitting by a warm fire or beneath a cozy blanket while the TV blared favorite prime-time shows. The only living soul in sight to witness my growing anxiety was a silver mackerel tabby sitting on a pile of boxes by the fence before me. Her hazel eyes reflected the moonlight in the eeriest manner, giving the illusion that I was being watched by some kind of condescending animal spirit. But I saw right through her disguise.
“Stupid cat”, I cursed unforgivingly, glaring right back into those brilliant eyes. “Why, Luna? You knew that dog was trouble! You remember what happened last year!”
Our next-door neighbor lived alone in his large, excessively rectangular house. The only other inhabitant of that property was his enormous Rottweiler, a real monster of a dog, who had been appropriately named Everest. Our neighbor had adopted him to keep as a watchdog and guard dog against the thieves who had somehow managed to break into his house twice. However, the Rottweiler had proven to be more of a threat to the neighbors than to potential burglars, and proof of this could be found in the form of signed compression bandage strips in my sister’s bedroom.
As sweet and intriguingly eccentric as our neighbor was, he also happened to be a bit forgetful, a flaw that had proven unfortunate for my little sister’s left leg. One day, Everest’s owner forgot the back gate open, and the dog had seized the opportunity to escape and come bounding into our yard in pursuit of his worst enemy: the little cat who insisted on provoking him from the distant fence every chance she got. The second Luna spotted him, she made a mad dash across the yard for the kitchen door, the dog only a few bounds behind her. My sisters and I stepped out the back door at the exact moment a bristly flash of silver darted past us into the safety of our house. Two of us managed to leap aside just in time to avoid the large black blur now hurtling toward us. My youngest sister was not so lucky. In his mad pursuit of our cat, Everest clipped my sister with such force that he effectively knocked her over like a ragdoll. The impact with the hard floor and the subsequent tumble she took off the back porch were enough to scrape and sprain her leg so badly that she would need cast-like bandaging for the next three weeks.
What saved our neighbor from serious trouble – and his dog from possible impoundment – was the fact that neither our cat nor her owners had suffered any severe damage from that incident. To be perfectly honest, I suspect that even if she had emerged from that event with a broken leg, my spotlight-seeking baby sister would have optimistically milked it for all the attention it was worth from her family and friends. In the end, her sprained ankle sufficed for obtaining plenty of attention and bandage signatures at school; our neighbor agreed to foot the bill for her treatment; and my parents agreed to forget the incident, so long as our neighbor made sure to install a new lock on his gate and double-check it every time he left the house. Everyone was at peace. Everyone but me.
In truth, I had never quite gotten past the events of that day. The Rottweiler on the other side of the fence had always seemed like a threat to me, regardless of the fact that he had never shown any direct aggression toward his human neighbors. My greatest fears regarding that dog were always for the health of my family and the life of my cat, and the chase incident had intensified those fears by at least a power of three. I knew our neighbor had no clue how to train a guard dog himself; Heaven forbid his clumsiness should cost something much worse than a sprained muscle next time. After several weeks of watching Everest grow even larger and more menacing by the day, however, I decided there wouldn’t be a chance for a next time, not if I could help it.
At some point during my winter break, my opportunity to act finally came. Our neighbor was out of town for the month, and he had left the responsibility of feeding his dog to the gardener who tended to his lawn every day. This was an ideal set-up for my intentions, as the blame for the dog’s mysterious disappearance could have easily been lain on the gardener’s negligence regarding the back gate after all was said and done. Now was the time to execute the plan I had been working on for several days, a plan that, if successful, would remove that “bear-dog” from our lives for good.
I was home alone that night; my family had left in the late afternoon to have dinner at our friends’ house, while I feigned a bad headache as an excuse to stay home. By 6 P.M. that evening, the sun had already disappeared behind the horizon, and the neighborhood was just beginning to glow with the artificial illumination of streetlights and household lamps. I pulled on my maroon winter jacket, grabbed the bag of supplies I had put together the night before, and headed out the back door toward our neighbor’s yard, using the spare key he had given us for emergencies to bypass the gate.
Everest was next to his doghouse, just as I knew he would be. I also knew he wouldn’t attack me on sight; as a necessary precaution, the professional dog trainer from whom the Rottweiler had been adopted had insisted on bringing him to the neighborhood himself and personally training him not to attack the neighbors. Even in the dim glow of the house’s outdoor wall light, the dog recognized me immediately, and therefore didn’t bother barking in alarm. That’s why I like large dogs; unlike smaller breeds, they usually tend to bark only in the face of a real threat, not at every living soul that passes by. Our Labrador was like that…
It was in that moment that I began to compare the dog I once owned to the dog I was facing now. Our chocolate Labrador was the sweetest, most gentle creature I had ever known, from the day we adopted her right up to the day she passed away of a heart condition. In a way, our neighbor’s Rottweiler wasn’t much different. He didn’t mean to come off as a monster dog. He wasn’t some savage beast that thrived on the taste of innocent victims’ flesh and blood. He was just a big klutz of an animal, dangerous more for his large body mass than for his powerful jaws. Chasing our cat, knocking people over, destroying neighbor property – all the damage he had caused in the past was really just the playful behavior of a grossly oversized puppy. The way I saw it, taking this dog away from an owner who couldn’t raise him properly would be nothing short of doing him a favor.
“Come on, boy”, I whispered as I extracted a leash and muzzle from the bag I’d brought with me. “We’re going for a walk.”
Five minutes later, I was leading the muzzled Rottweiler across my own yard toward the woods behind our house, the leash in my right hand, the bag and a lit flashlight in my left. If I could just lead him far enough into the seclusion of the trees, we would come to a path leading downhill, where I could then leave him to find his own way to a new home, most likely the neighborhood down the slope where the smell of barbecued meat was ever-present. The path wasn’t too far away, and I was careful to leave the back gate unlocked and wide open. Everyone would simply think Everest had run away of his own accord, never to return to his home street, and no one would be the wiser. It was a perfect plan, and best of all, it didn’t require any physical harm to the dog.
That’s the thing about perfect plans: they’re only ever perfect in theory, because in practice, there’s always that one variable that wasn’t accounted for. In my case, that variable was Luna.
When the dog and I were about halfway across the yard, something suddenly caught my attention: a small pair of eyes glinting in the moonlight straight ahead. My heart stopped the instant I saw those eyes, for I knew exactly to whom they belonged. What was she doing out here? I was so sure I had left her upstairs in my bedroom. Could I have forgotten my window open? Everest must have spotted the cat at the same moment I did, because we both froze at the same time. That’s when everything went wrong.
Without warning, the Rottweiler suddenly lunged forth with what could easily have been the force of a small automobile. The leash was ripped out of my grasp before I had time to react, and the next thing I knew, I was lying facedown on the moist grass of my yard, a throbbing pain in my right wrist. Looking up, I noticed the torn remains of the old leather muzzle that once belonged to my Labrador now lying a few feet away from me. This could only mean one thing: Everest was on the loose, and this time, he was out to kill.
The shrill cry of a cat in distress pierced the still night air. Luna turned and scampered around the side of the house as fast as she could, her Rottweiler pursuer disappearing around the same corner mere seconds after she did. My heart now pounding fiercely with pure terror, I sprang to my feet and hurried to follow the running animals. All the sympathy I had felt earlier for the dog had vanished; he had reverted to his monstrous persona. My humane plan was ruined, replaced with a single thought now racing fervently through my mind: protect Luna at all costs.
Little Luna was only a kitten when we first found her outside our house and adopted her. For the two years that followed, her size increased little, but her growing affection for us was more than enough to compensate for it. I myself had grown especially attached to the tabby; being extremely shy by nature, I felt much more comfortable with an animal companion than with a human one. Luna had become my best friend, and now she was in danger. I couldn’t let that monster dog catch her and rip her apart. How could I live with myself if he did?
A loud crash sounding from around the side of the house sent a horrible chill down my spine. I turned the corner to see Everest now inside our garden shed, sprawled among a mess of overturned gardening tools. Luna was inside the shed as well, leaping toward an open window on the opposite wall from the door. She was still in the dog’s reach, and I knew that if he managed to jump up and grab his prey, he wouldn’t let go until she was dead. I had to act fast if I was going to save her.
Quickly as I could, I ran to the open shed and grabbed the first tool in sight: a large shovel. Everest, distracted by the escaping cat, did not notice me poising myself behind him as he rose to his feet. Just as he made a lunge for Luna, I swung the shovel down to hit him square in the face. It wasn’t enough to knock him out, but the blow was sufficient to daze the animal just long enough for me to scurry out of the shed and bolt the door shut before he turned on me. I dropped the shovel on the ground, then hurried to the other side of the shed to peer through the window. Through all the commotion, Luna had successfully escaped and disappeared into the night. I was alone with the enraged Rottweiler now. Pretty soon, I would just be alone.
I looked down at the ground by my feet to find an intriguing item: a plastic container of antifreeze, which we used for the lawn mower. In that terrifying moment, I knew what had to be done. I had made an enemy of this dog, and now there was no turning back.
I ran into my house through the door leading into the kitchen, where I hurriedly grabbed a couple of hot dogs from my own dinner to bring back with me to the shed. Everest was still growling and angrily pawing at the shed door when I returned. I opened the container beside the wall, carefully dipped the hot dogs in the coolant, and tossed them through the open window. It didn’t take long for the dog to take the bait; antifreeze has a sweet scent that tends to attract hungry animals, particularly unsuspecting house pets.
But the antifreeze alone wouldn’t be enough. If this dog had to meet his fate by my hands, it wouldn’t be a slow painful death from kidney and liver failure over the course of a few days. No, the death had to be quick and as merciful as possible; if there was one thing I wouldn’t stand for, it was subjecting an animal to unnecessary suffering.
Thirty minutes after consuming the poison-soaked hot dogs, Everest was rendered partially disabled, no longer capable of standing properly. He barely reacted when the door finally opened again and I stepped inside, and he didn’t bat an eye as he watched me slowly remove a pair of recently sharpened pruning shears from a hook on the wall. I attached the leash I’d recovered from the yard to the seemingly drunken Rottweiler’s collar, then proceeded to lead him outside into a small patch of the woods. Ten minutes and several stumbles later, the dog was lying in a hole I had dug for him in the cold soil over the last half-hour. Now for the hardest part…
I laid my flashlight on the ground and stepped into the shallow pit, pruning shears in hand. I knelt beside Everest just as he closed his eyes and drifted off into an intoxicated slumber. For some reason, I felt compelled to gently stroke the dog’s head, possibly as a last gesture of compassion and reassurance. His fur was coarse, but with a silky touch to it. I then took a deep breath, and slowly brought the shears to the unconscious Rottweiler’s chest.
“I’m sorry”, I whispered, and with that, I closed my teary eyes and plunged the blades directly into Everest’s heart.
By the end of that eventful night’s episode, the dog’s body was completely buried, the mess in the garden shed had been straightened out, and I was leaning against the wall of my house, cursing at the silver tabby who apparently had decided to show up unexpectedly twice in the same night. I had never meant to hurt anyone, and I wasn’t prepared to forgive my cat for her unanticipated interference any time soon.
“The things I do for you, Luna…”
The mackerel tabby took this moment to leap down from her box perch and slowly walk over to me. Once by my side, she lightly sniffed the droplet bloodstains blending into the folds of my maroon jacket, then crawled into my lap and proceeded to gently lick my injured wrist. At this, I couldn’t help but breathe a heavy sigh; Luna always seemed to know exactly how to express her feelings. While staring straight ahead through the gaps of the fence before me into the darkness of the night, I subconsciously began to stroke my cat’s silver fur as I softly whispered in response to her affectionate gesture…
This is the first short story I wrote for my online UCBX creative writing course. The prompt was taken from the book What If? Writing Exercises for Fiction Writers (the first book I reviewed from my Writer’s Toolkit), specifically Exercise 71: “Kill The Dog”. The exercise is to write a story in which you, the narrator, find yourself in a situation where you must kill the neighbor’s dog, the objective being to practice writing “raw” fiction so as to become “comfortable with the uncomfortable”. I hope you enjoy what I’ve written. Thanks for reading!