30 Mar

Mrs. Morton’s House 3

When we got to our bikes, Mark and Ajay yelled at us, asking what took so long. We got on and pedaled back to my house, where we burst through the front door, shouting out theories over what the sounds might have been – trolls eating a neighborhood toddler, gremlins playing hot potato with baby rabbits, or maybe the witch herself slicing off her own big toe for some evil concoction.

As we were yelling out our theories, Scarlet, our black house cat, ran through the living room, and Adam shouted, “Ah, it followed us!” We joined in with a chorus of theatrical cries of terror. Mom told us we were being ridiculous.

Dad walked in from the kitchen. “If only you knew the truth about the witch,” he said. He paused until one of us asked, “Well, what’s the truth?”

“Every summer . . . .” He leaned in. “At the fourth of July . . . .” He looked from Mark to Ajay to Adam to me. “She grills . . . .” His eyes grew wide. “Little boys!” He made an evil laugh and came after me.

I grabbed a pillow off the couch and threw it at him, causing an eruption of pillow tossing, until Mom shouted, “Hey! Boys!” We stopped. “Act your age,” she shouted. My friends were kind of shocked. They weren’t sure if she was serious. “Oh wait,” she added, pointing at us, “I guess you four 11 year-olds are acting your age.” She flashed my father an evil glare, but she was smiling at the same time. “Take it outside,” she said, and we kids piled through the sliding doors to the back yard.

“Your parents are pretty cool,” Adam said later.

“Yeah?” I wasn’t sure if he was being serious. Mark and Ajay nodded. “Yeah,” I said. “Yeah, they’re pretty cool.” I felt pretty cool myself.

The next morning, Adam’s dad called and said he should come home. He didn’t tell him then, but he had discovered their cat Remi dead. Later, when we learned they found the cat in the witch’s yard, we realized we may have heard Adam’s cat that night. As we were biking through the cool, dark streets and then pillow-fighting each other, Adam’s cat was dying. Maybe being murdered. It was a chilling revelation. It seemed a crime to have been enjoying ourselves while this tragedy was unfolding so close. Later, we wouldn’t admit that we had fun that night. And so it would be forgotten that my parents – and thus I – were cool.

Privately, Mark announced a theory to me. “I think that anything or anyone who goes into the witch’s yard ends up dead.”

“But I was in the yard,” I said.

He stared back at me and didn’t respond.

I wondered if it was possible. Could I have been cursed?

Mom assured me I wasn’t cursed and called Mark insecure. “He’s like Yertle the Turtle, building himself up by stepping on others. Some people need to hurt others to feel good about themselves.”

I hated Mark for making me go on the property in the first place and then for coming up with his stupid theory, which he shared with everyone. I tried proposing different theories that might level the field: What if everyone who sets eyes on the property ends up dead? What if everyone she sets eyes on ends up dead? But no one else wanted to share my curse.

28 Mar

Mrs. Morton’s House 2

Maybe at the pool that afternoon or maybe at a baseball practice later that week, Mark said we should go to the witch house “to see what really goes on there.” Adam and Ajay said they were in. I pictured Mrs. Morton’s daughter, looking in my direction and smiling at me. And then I pictured my mother shaking her head and mouthing “poor decision.”

When Mark asked, “Alex, are you in?” the faces of my friends replaced the faces of my daydream.

“Um . . . sure.”

We began a series of surveillance stakeouts that included binoculars, flashlights, ski masks, and once a set of walkie-talkies which were too loud to use. Each time, I was as much afraid of getting caught as I was hopeful that I would. I didn’t want to meet Mrs. Morton, but I sure did want to see her daughter again.

One night, while I was having a group sleepover, we snuck over to the witch house, stashed our bikes down the block, and staked out a few houses away. Mark suggested that one of us peek through a back window. He flipped and re-flipped a coin several times, and before we knew what he was doing, he said, “Alex. It’s you.” I thought about arguing with him, but I knew I’d lose.

It was a moonless night, and there were patches of shadows alongside every gate, hedge, and parked car. I scoped out my path, keeping an eye out for any headlights that might be approaching. As I passed over the freshly mowed and watered grass of the yard next door, I kept low. At the edge of the property, I paused to listen for neighbors out for a night stroll. I was hoping for some noise that might give me a reason to abort the mission. All I heard was the blood rushing through my ears.

On the dead lawn, I crawled toward the backyard, where a flickering light was shining from a sliding glass door, which opened to a back deck. I figured if I could spy through the cleavage of the closed curtains, I might see something our binoculars couldn’t.

The dry stubble of the lawn cut into my hands and knees as I moved along the side of the house. Near the back corner, the lights from inside sent blue shadows dancing across the neighbor’s trees. Behind me, the boys were whispering something I couldn’t hear. I was almost to the deck when a low grumbling sound stopped me. I froze so I could concentrate fully on listening. I heard a loud, phlegmy cough, followed by my friends franticly whispering my name, and then just as I was turning around to face them, a feline wail cut through the air.

Mark and Ajay ran, but Adam stayed behind, shouting, “Alex, c’mon.” I couldn’t move. The hair-raising yowl had me paralyzed.

Then I heard a click followed by a sound like a skateboard on pavement. I realized it was the sliding doors on the back deck. I ran.

27 Mar

Mrs. Morton’s House 1 (of 7 parts)

Mark shouted, “ooh,” and skidded to a stop behind me.

I braked ten feet in front of him. “What happened?”

“See that house?” he said. “A witch lives there.”

I looked across the street at a single-story, white house on a corner lot. It had crooked aluminum awnings hanging above the windows; the paint was chipped and flaking; and there was a crumbling rock wall in the front yard. But the weird thing was that all the vegetation in the yard was dead. Though it was mid June, the two trees in the front remained leafless, and the grass was a sandy shade of brown. The foundation of the house was lined by dry dirt.

“Looks like an old person lives there,” I said, just to say something. Mark didn’t respond, so I added, “Creepy.”

“It’s not that creepy,” he said. He took off on his bike. “C’mon.” I lingered for a second, looking at the dead lot, curious. Then I worked up a sweat catching up to him.

I didn’t really think of the house as creepy. Not yet. But a few days later, I was on my bike again, riding alongside my mother on one of her jogs. We went into the older section of the neighborhood where the houses were smaller, and I noticed the witch house. I guess I thought pointing it out to her would be cool.

“See that house? A witch lives there.”

Mom stopped suddenly in front. I hit the brakes and looked back at her. “You mean Mrs. Morton?” she asked. It occurred to me I didn’t know who I meant. “I’ll show you a witch.” She marched up the front walk and rang the doorbell.

“Uh-oh,” I thought. I wanted to say something to stop her, but when I opened my mouth, I only managed a “wa.”

From the street, I watched as the door opened, and a gorgeous blonde woman stepped out. Their conversation was impossible to hear, and I was frozen still, staring at her. She was the most beautiful woman I’d ever seen. I only took my eyes off her when she looked at me and I looked down at my feet.

Mom jogged back to me. “Was that Mrs. Morton?” I asked.

She shot me a sly smile. “No. That was her daughter. Mrs. Morton isn’t feeling well.”


I was trying to memorize that face when Mom said, “She just graduated from college.”

“Mrs. Morton?”

“No,” Mom said, “her daughter.” She smiled at me again. “I think she’s a little old for you.” I would have turned red had she not changed the subject quickly: “So, I thought we could head to the pool around one.”

“Okay.” I was grateful to be let off the hook.

19 Mar

Fish Tale*

Down below, in the cold waters of Lake Salina, there lived a school of beautiful fish. They were painted with the most brilliant colors you could dream up, and their tails were long and graceful. They danced every night to the songs of the water and enjoyed themselves greatly. In the middle of the night, in the middle of their dance, the fish would jump out of the water and fly through the air. Some say that on a well-lit night, you can see their colors glow in the moonlight.

One of these fish, whose name was Simon, was known for being a dreamer. His wife, Kaya, always scolded him for daydreaming and told him that the he thought too much. One night, while Simon was dancing with his friends, he jumped out of the water and noticed something he had never noticed before. Now the moon was especially bright that night, and Simon saw some parts of the dry world that he didn’t know existed. He started to dream, and he wished that he could, somehow, see more of this glorious world. The dance continued, and when Simon jumped out of the water again, he noticed that he wasn’t falling back in. He was flying! He couldn’t believe it, but he had wings and feathers. He flapped his new appendages and went higher and higher and flew across the land.

He was enjoying himself a great deal when he noticed how lovely the dry world looked. He especially noticed the large plants with lots of leaves. These were bigger than anything he had ever seen under water. Simon got to dream again, and he wished that, somehow, he could get to know these large plants better. He flew down to a branch and kept dreaming when, all the sudden, he became a tree! He was very excited to see how big his many arms were, and he began to talk with other trees, asking them what it was like being a tree. His companions didn’t say much – just, “it’s alright.” And so Simon went on being a tree. But it got tiring, and Simon found that life as a big plant wasn’t very eventful.

Then he saw a strange animal running across the land. It was a coyote, but Simon didn’t know that. He watched the animal run fast and free, and he longed to run and move freely. So then what do you think happened? That’s right, Simon became a coyote. For a few days, he loved it. He ran across the plains and yelled at the moon until something else caught his eye.

It was a man. He saw the man sitting alone, thinking, and wondered what it would be like to think like a man. Many times, he had seen men, but they were so powerful and dangerous that he never ever tried to get near one. He daydreamed about being a man and wished he knew what it was like when . . . Poof! He turned into one.

Simon thought he would be happy now, and he did many wonderful things. He used his hands to make tools, he used his legs to travel across the land, and he used his powerful mind to bargain in the cities. Then one day, he was sitting alone near the beach thinking, when he saw a fish jump out of the water. The fish looked very familiar, but he didn’t know how he could have known it before. It was painted with the most brilliant colors you could dream up, and its tail was long and graceful. He looked up and saw the moon emerge from the clouds. When he looked back down, his eyes beheld the most beautiful creature on earth. It was glowing in the moonlight! Simon reached out and caught the fish and held it near. He wished he could be as beautiful sight as that radiant animal. As he was holding the fish, he became struck with an amazing familiarity. He shrugged it off, though, thinking that there was probably an explanation for it, and he kissed the fish and threw it back in the water.

Simon closed his eyes there on the beach and dreamed. But when he opened them, things were different. He was swimming through the water, dancing in a whirl of color and grace, when he turned around and saw a familiar face. It was Kaya. “Welcome back,” she said, and kissed Simon on the cheek. Simon looked at his colorful body and long tail and jumped out of the water. He swam and swam and loved being a fish.

Down below, in the cold waters of Lake Salina, there lived a school of beautiful fish. They were painted with the most brilliant colors you could dream up, and their tails were long and graceful. They danced every night to the songs of the water and enjoyed themselves greatly. In the middle of the night, in the middle of their dance, the fish would jump out of the water and fly through the air. Some say that on a well-lit night, you can see their colors glow in the moonlight.

*just found this one. i wrote it in my “Fairy Tales and the Literary Imagination” class freshman year of college

15 Mar

Road Kill

Draft #1

Brett was on his way to propose to Heather when he ran over the animal. He saw a white streak enter the road, caught a glimpse of reflective eyes, then felt the thump.

He was hoping it was a squirrel or a rabbit, but when he got out to look, he found a cat, a calico. Maybe it was just a stray barn cat that wouldn’t have been missed. But maybe it belonged to a little girl who’d smothered it with attention or a boy who’d hand picked it from a litter of kittens at his neighbor’s house.

Brett bent down to examine the casualty, and against his better judgment, he scratched the dead cat behind the ears. He’d had a short-haired calico when he was eight. Since he believed all house cats were called tabby cats, he’d named it Tabby. His dad had smiled and told him it was a great name.

Tabby was a fearless little creature. He’d bound through the tall grass in the back yard, chasing after the dogs or flushing out pheasants. He was a horrible mouser, incapable of stealth, but he could make everyone smile. Even Mom.

By the time Brett turned ten, Tabby was dead. Brett’s brother had discovered him on the side of the road as he was biking home from a friend’s house. He picked up the lifeless body, strapped it to the rear fender rack, and brought it home.

Now, as Brett stroked the road kill by the red lights at the rear of his car, he wondered if he was doing the right thing. Could he guarantee his feelings for Heather wouldn’t change? Could he guarantee hers wouldn’t?

When Brett’s brother had gotten home with Tabby that day, he told Brett’s parents about it. Brett was upstairs, but he overheard all he needed to. He ran down and found Tabby strapped to the bike. From the doorway, his mom said, “I told you it was a bad idea to let him get that cat. Now look what’s happened.” She stormed off, leaving Dad to console his crying son.

Brett forgot most of the next year. In his mind, his parents’ divorce followed immediately after Tabby’s death. “She’s just not the woman I married anymore,” his dad explained later.

But what’s a boy to do with that? How can any child understand that love is an unavoidable roadside casualty that will forever change his life?

And what’s a man to do with a dead cat?