The Measure of a Man’s Best Friend

The Greyhound halted. This was where $200 took James. He disembarked, shouldered his prison-issued backpack, and read the station’s name: Kum & Go.

“Here to rob it?”

James swung to see a man by a pickup; opened his mouth, then shut it. The man had no legs. The truck had a dog.

-But not just any dog. “Buttercup!”

The yellow lab hurtled out and licked him, desisting at her master’s call. James had trained her in prison, as a service animal for a wounded soldier.

James looked up, and both men saw each other -clearly- for the first time.

©2022 Chel Owens

Oh my goodness, Charli! Don’t ever make me do that, again! -I mean, This was written in response to Charli’s prompt at Carrot Ranch:

May 16, 2022, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about when a newly released prisoner meets the disabled veteran who adopted the puppy the prisoner trained behind bars. The prompt is based on the short story I wrote for Marsha Ingrao’s Story Chat. Yes, rewrite my story in your words, 99, no more, no less. Go where the prompt leads!

  1. Submit by May 21, 2022. If you want to be published in the weekly collection, please use the form. The Collection publishes on the Wednesday following the next Challenge. Rules & Guidelines.
  2. Carrot Ranch only accepts stories through the form [on the site]. Accepted stories will be published in a weekly collection. Writers retain all copyrights.
  3. Your blog or social media link will be included in your title when the Collection publishes.
  4. Please include your byline which is the name or persona you attribute to your writing.
  5. Please include the hashtag #99Word Stories when sharing either the Challenge or Collection posts in social media.

In Which Amelie Believes, and Disappears #99Word Stories

Scritchy scratchy wax on wall, she thought. No matter. It was the shape she needed right.

*Sniff* a hand ‘cross red nose and puffy eyes. *Stomp stomp stomp* she heard those hobnailed boots but they .stopped. off the other way.

She breathed and scritched and scratched, the purple crayon unwilling to give its wax without a fight.

“There,” she said, and loved the circle she’d formed from the bit of crayon abandoned in the hallway.

“I’m Amelie, and I believe.”

Stuttering hand reached to the middle of the circle. Pushed. And disappeared, where *stomp stomp stomp* can’t find her.

©2022 Chel Owens

Photo by Kamaji Ogino on Pexels.com

For Carrot Ranch’s prompt this week:

March 28, 2022, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about disappearance. It can be an event, act, or subtle theme. Who or what disappears? Does it fade or explode? Can it be explained or experienced? Go where the prompt leads!

  1. Submit by April 2, 2022. If you want to be published in the weekly collection, please use the form. The Collection publishes on the Wednesday following the next Challenge. Rules & Guidelines.
  2. Carrot Ranch only accepts stories through the form [on the site]. Accepted stories will be published in a weekly collection. Writers retain all copyrights.
  3. Your blog or social media link will be included in your title when the Collection publishes.
  4. Please include your byline which is the name or persona you attribute to your writing.
  5. Please include the hashtag #99Word Stories when sharing either the Challenge or Collection posts in social media.

Daddy’s Here

My Joe’s been sick, Amy read. Keep him in your prayers. She scrolled through her news feed, her finger moving faster and faster.

We’ve all tested positive.

Been down for a month.

Feeling better, but still have trouble with stairs.

Pray for my David. He’s never been sicker.

“You don’t know that’s what he has.” Matt stood in the doorway. She hadn’t heard him come in.

Amy’s eyes fixed on his silhouette. She turned back to her phone, then down to the blanket-bundle on the bed. “But he has a fever.”

Matt came forward. He placed a hand over the screen, pulled it from her grasp, and set it on the nightstand. He kneeled beside the bed. “I know, but you’ve been reading bad news all day. Maybe longer.”

Amy sighed. Another tear escaped down her cheek.

“Here.” He moved the comforter aside. Pushing her legs out to hang over the side, he rubbed at them; massaged her feet. “Go shower. I can take over.”

She met his gaze. She hadn’t moved from where he shifted her.

“Please, Amy. He’ll be fine for a few minutes.”

She sighed.

“Please.”

She shifted. He stood. She let him help her rise. She did not let him walk with her. “Stay here.” she said, head raised and eyes locked on his. “I don’t want him to be alone for even a second.”

Matt nodded and moved to the bed. He sat in the same spot she’d vacated. Looking up, he saw her watching. “I’ll stay here. I promise.”

Now she nodded. Her shadow followed her down the hall. The bathroom door closed.

He heard the shower water turn on. The bundle of blankets to his side whimpered and a fist emerged. “Shhhhh,” Matt said, stroking his son’s face. He moved his finger to the fist. It held. “Daddy’s here.”

©2022 Chel Owens

Photo by Wayne Evans on Pexels.com

Beatrice Box

Beatrice was a square sort of being. Squat, brown, dusty, a bit bent; she couldn’t help it. See, Beatrice was literally a box. Still, she longed for love. Like most boxes, however, she couldn’t open her mouth without attracting the wrong sort of attention.

“I can’t even lift a flap,” she complained to the bureau, “Without acquiring an odd or end.”

He squeaked a commiseratory joint. “I’ve the same problem with me drawers, Love. Have ye tried tape?”

Beatrice hadn’t, so she did. The tape worked quite well for keeping out; but, how could she get love in? She appealed to the cedar chest. “What’s your secret? However do you attract such finery?”

The cedar chest considered. She sniffed. “Smell, mostly. Seems to keep riff-raff at a distance. Then, there’s the carvings up top what observers always notice.”

“Carvings? Smell?” Beatrice examined the parts of herself she could. What she saw failed to instill confidence. She was, as noted, a box. Her relations tended more toward the packing variety and less toward containers in millinery shops. “Have I a scent? What about designs?”

“Hm.” The cedar chest strained; Beatrice thumped in an awkward, squarish spin before her. “You’ve an essence of forgotten memories, like old jumpers. Not unpleasant, I’d say; not pleasant, either. Ooh! I can make out a bit of an imprint… Upst- Hm. Upstares -Yes! Upstares closet. …could be an exotic locale…”

“Oh, dear,” Beatrice sighed. She knew how ‘exotic’ the upstairs closet was. But just when she thought to give up all hope, she met him: the box of her dreams. He fell on her like a ton of bricks.

Literally.

Good thing the tape held.

“Well howdy, ya pine box!” he addressed the cedar chest. “I’m Bob, a box. I’m currently haulin’ a buttload o’ building blocks! Ha!” He scratched at his top with a handy flap. “Thing is, I’m a mite lonely. You wouldn’t happen to know where a fella could find some company, would ya? -A good, solid, squarish sort of company?”

Beatrice could hardly speak for excitement. She could hardly speak for the box of bricks named Bob that sat atop her as well. She tried. “Mmph mmm mph phuhm.”

“Who said that??” Bob swept the room.

“Mmph mmm mph phuhm.”

Bob shifted. He couldn’t catch where the noise came from. “How’s that, pardner?”

“Mmph! Mm mph mph phuh mphm.”

Bob scooted a titch more; which, it turns out, was a titch too far. *CLONK!* He landed on the floor like a ton of -oh, you get the idea. He caught sight of Beatrice. “Well, howdy!”

Beatrice blushed. “Hello.”

It was the start of a beautiful future. Beatrice had such a crush, she was already making moving plans.

Photo by RODNAE Productions on Pexels.com

©2022 Chel Owens

The Valley of Spirit

They’d warned her about Old Adavndo Valley. Locals, etched in lines of wisdom’s dust, shook their heads slowly. Raised a hand. Or a crooked finger.

“Don’t,” they said, “Disturb the dead.”

She brushed them off. Turned away.

“An’ don’,” they added, “Film nothin’ ’bout yourself…”

But she was Alda Evenfeld, two-times winner of the Fergus Film Festival. No age-worn, brain-worn superstitions stood against book-worn, theatre-worn critics.

Still, fans later reflected, what a tragic coincidence. Late opening night; neighbors, drawn in moonlight, found the shell of Ms. Evenfeld. Exactly as her film’s protagonist lay. With the same scare-worn, dusty face.

Photo by Ganapathy Kumar on Unsplash

©2021 Chel Owens

Written for Carrot Ranch’s prompt this week:

November 4, 2021, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about a film festival. It can be a small-town indie fest or the Festival de Cannes or anything in between. Who is in the story? An audience-goer, filmmaker, actress, or something unexpected? Through in some popcorn for fun. Go where the prompt leads!

Respond by November 9, 2021. Use the comment section [on the site] to share, read, and be social. You may leave a link, pingback, or story in the comments. If you want to be published in the weekly collection, please use the form.  Rules & Guidelines.

Ted and Trudy

Ted and Trudy had been married forever; four years, in fact. Each still said he or she was in love. Still, each found himself or herself dreading the drive home after work.

Their marriage counselor tried. “What you need is to find and speak each other’s love language,” she said.

Ted and Trudy tried.

Physical intimacy didn’t touch on the issue. Spending quality time together made the evening drag on and on. Neither received gifts presently. Words of affirmation didn’t speak to either of them. And we won’t even mention how self-absorbed each became when performing acts of service.

It wasn’t until Ted finally snapped and complained about it all that Trudy felt an unexpected spark.

“Ooooh. Say that again, Ted,” she cooed.

Ted blinked. “Uhhh… the counselor’s charging way too much for something that’s not working?”

“Yes, Ted! Yes! What else isn’t working?”

“Uhh…” he thought for a minute. “That plumber we hired this morning was late, incompetent, and left a mess.”

Trudy sat up and perked up. “What else??”

“No one knows how to drive anymore?” He was starting to get excited as well.

“Yes! Yes!”

“Whenever I go shopping, I can’t ever find a good clerk! How difficult is it to know where the polos are?”

“Ohhh, Ted.” She drew right up to him. “What else?”

“The governor’s an idiot and this country’s being run by imbeciles!”

“YYYYYESSSSS!”

…..

Their counselor was surprised to see them practically bouncing at their next (and last) appointment.

“We did it!” Trudy gushed. “We found our love language!”

“Oh?” the counselor asked, intrigued. “Which is it?”

Ted and Trudy looked at each other, smiled; then, in unison, answered, “Complaining!”

©2021 Chel Owens

Priorities, Priorities.

It didn’t matter anymore.

That shipment of designer-label makeup and brushes Maggie saved and saved for, finally sitting in its box on her porch.

Those Mike sneakers Joe wasted his entire paycheck on.

The brand-new, glistening, powerful Lawn Steere tractor (and attachments) Lori drove home from the shop just yesterday. Parked in the outbuilding of her late grandfather’s estate.

Steve’s collection of bottle caps.

Ada’s books. Oh, how she loved books.

Even Clair’s six pack of beer, alone on the dusty counter.

None of that mattered, anymore, as Maggie, Joe, Lori, Steve, Ada, Clair, and every sentient being watched-heard-felt-breathed Methuselah’s Comet break through the atmosphere. And silence all of Earth.

©2021 Chel Owens

Tell Me the Story, Daddy.

“Tell me the story, Daddy. Tell me …when you met Mommy. Tell me when you knew.”

Arthur smiled that smile that never quite touched his eyes anymore. “When I knew what, son?”

Little Sammy squirmed atop his bedcovers. “You know, Daddy. When you knew… You know.”

Arthur almost laughed. Almost. “Okay. Okay. …Once upon a time, your dad -me- was young. I was barely an adult and was working my first job, at a bookstore…”

Arthur could still smell the scholarly breath of time and leather that greeted him each morning, could still hear the muted tinkle of the bell over the door, could still see the morning light filtering through mullioned front windows. Tomes ranging from paper romance to hardbacked alchemy built labyrinth paths between the barely-visible masonry walls. The dust of every bibliophile’s essence hung, distilled, in the motes that danced where empty spaces dared exist.

“I stood at a desk where I could see the door. Everywhere else was books.” This is where he changed the story; embellished it. “Harry Potter, James and the Giant Peach, Shel Silverstein, and even Where the Wild Things Are; comic books, picture books; fat ones, thin ones; old and new.”

His son’s eyes shone and then twitched over to the bookshelf in the corner. “What about your books, Dad? Did they have those, too?”

“Yes, son. Those, too.”

“Did Mom like your books, Dad?”

Sammy hadn’t asked that one before. The question gave Arthur pause. “No, not really. She -well! That’s a different story!”

This elicited a giggle and more rocking. Sammy even turned a lopsided somersault into his pillow.

Arthur wagged his finger in a pretended sternness. “All right. One day, I heard the bell on the door that meant someone had come in…”

There had been more light that day, enough that the younger Arthur could not see who entered the store. He raised a hand against the brightness and squinted at a diminutive shadow. The door closed, the bell sang, the shadow resolved to a timid, tiny young woman. Encircled by light and interrupted space, Arthur was smitten.

“I saw a very small, very beautiful woman. She came up to the desk and slid a paper on the glass -too shy to ask me for the name of the book she’d written on it.”

His son’s eyes -her eyes- were round in his small, attentive face.

“It was a book on poetry. ‘For school,’ she whispered. She wouldn’t look up, but I saw her look at me when I was searching through our book about books. …We didn’t have computers then, you see. We had a book that we wrote all the books in -well, we typed them on papers, then…”

Sammy yawned.

Now, Arthur managed a shadow of a chuckle. “I came around the desk. She seemed surprised when I stood; later, she said she hadn’t realized we were so close to the same size.”

Something inside fluttered at being nearer to her, he remembered. Her smile set it off again. The feeling was unlike any he’d felt in his lonely, empty life; one spent with one relative or another handing him off till he could move out and raise himself. Whether she smiled, or not, her very existence shook his. Next to her, he could be anyone or do anything.

“But, Daddy! When did you know?”

Arthur’s eyes refocused to the bedroom of the apartment he and Sammy shared, just the two of them. “I …walked with the gir- woman, over to our poetry section. I found what she needed. Walt Whitman. Leaves of Grass. She took it from my hand, and our fingers touched.”

It had felt electric, a touch of divinity that opened an eternity of thought and feeling for this tiny, timid woman before him.

“And that, Sammy, was when I knew I loved your Mommy.” Arthur smiled. For an instant, it reached his eyes.

His son somersaulted again. “So, then you asked her to marry you?”

Arthur blushed. “Yes.”

The laughter from his son sounded so much like her startled laughter, from all those years before. At first she’d been shocked, of course, then she’d laughed. How much it sounded like the door bell, he’d thought. He had also thought to hide in a pile of The Rise and Fall of the Greeks and Romans.

“All right, Sammy. Time for bed.” Arthur stood and pushed the chair beneath his work desk. He’d be revisiting it in the morning while Sammy slept in.

Sammy snuck a few more twists and wiggles in before allowing his dad to lift the covers and shoo him beneath them. “‘Night, Dad.” He rolled his head up to see the framed photograph on the desk. “‘Night, Mom.”

“Good night, Sam.” Arthur went to the door and stood. Good night, Catherine, he thought to her picture, and turned out the light.

©2021 Chel Owens

Monkeys, Happy Place, Iceland

In the few seconds between bedtime and actually getting to bed, I snuck over to my Reader’s Feed. And there, an epiphanous* idea appeared:

Why not write whatever pops into my head based on the three random words suggested at the top? Today’s prompt: Monkeys, Happy Place, Iceland.


“I say, Gorillford, this simply cannot stand.” Chimply scratched an errant flea.

His friend fixed him a bewildered look. “What’s that? Iceland’s moorings?”

Chimply sighed. “No, though that is distressing. Bad news, that, after so many years of stability. The country’ll be at Africa by summer. No, I was referring to this whole classification nonsense.”

Gorillford huffed, puffing up onto his thick knuckles.

“I know, I know. ‘Don’t you start’ -but you haven’t experienced the indignity, Gill! Everywhere I go, it’s, ‘Look at the monkey!’ ‘Mummy, may I have a monkey!’ I’ve… I’ve broken a bit; I’ve even considered saying, ‘Sod it’ and pasting a tail back there anyway….”

Gorillford had no reply. His beady eyes nearly popped from his leathery face. His jaw hung slack. A tail? That was far worse than living with mislabeling. He gathered his thoughts to attempt reasoning with his friend.

“You needn’t bother,” Chimply cut him off. “I know.” He sighed and then contemplatively peeled and ate a banana. “I know.”

This would take some thinking. Gorillford snapped his meaty fingers. “Chim.”

“Hm?”

“I’ve got it.”

“Hm?” Chimply retained a glum expression as he set the peel atop a fence post.

“I said, ‘I’ve got it.'” Leaning into the mesh between their enclosures, Gorillford grinned. “You’d rather we not be monkeys, yeah?”

Chimply didn’t even look over. “Obviously.”

“Well… given the rate at which these loony bipeds are going, do we really want to be known as apes?” Gorillford leaned back against a vine-twisted log in this, their happy place, allowing the import of his words to sink in.

It didn’t take long.

“My Gibbons! You’re right! Why, come to think of it, they’ve even used us as insults in some of their so-called ‘professional debates.’ If the orangutans aren’t safe, who is?”

“Precisely.”

They both sat, now in companionable silence. Only the clink or clunk of food pails interrupted a peaceful morning.

“Gill?”

“Hm?” The large ape monkey looked over at his smaller ape monkey friend.

“At least we’re not donkeys.”

“He.” Gorillford rolled his eyes and then rolled over to nap. “Ha.”

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

©2021 Chel Owens

*Epiphanous is not a word.

The Cay-ote Killer (Kerry Black’s Contest for Carrot Ranch)

Swirled campfire gunsmoked ’round old Ernie’s head. His eyes shone in the firelight, two August moons ‘gainst a desert sky. “An’ that,” he whispered, “whers th’ last any cowboy heard o’ The Coyote Killer!”

“Wee-yoo!”

“Ah’ll be!”

The talk still swam ’round the camp like Loui’zana fireflies when a shadow fell ‘cross the nearest cactus; when a howl yipped ‘cross the open sky. “Aowhoooooo!”

Scramblin’ to horse, rock, cactus; no man dared admit what he clearly saw: a baying, skulkin’, fur-dressed man, jus’ like what Ernie’d said.

An,’ like’n old Ernie said, no man lived to tell it still.

Photo by Tomu00e1u0161 Malu00edk on Pexels.com

This’n was mah entry fer the contest what Colleen won. Hers were fantastic so’s I reckon I don’t feel so bad fer not even gettin’ an honorable mention. 😉

©2020 Chel Owens