Thursday, 25 April 2019

Pete the Penguin, World Penguin Day April 25th

 

World Penguin Day April 25th 

by James Bates

Miller Beer


On his way to Larry's birthday party, Tim stopped at a Quick-Trip for a twelve pack of Miller. On his way to pay for it he passed a toy section and that's when he first heard Pete. Of course he didn't know it was Pete at the time. What he heard was a faint, "Squeak, squeak." He looked. There in a toy bin was a four inch tall, black and white soft rubber penguin with a yellow beak and yellow feet. It's dark, shinny eyes seemed to plead, "Please take me home." He picked it up and squeezed it and the little penguin squeaked. Too cute! How could Tim resist? He felt a connection right away and thought Larry would as well. So he paid for his purchases and continued on his way, happily squeezing the little penguin, squeaking it the rest of the way to St. Paul.
            The party, Larry's thirtieth, was in full swing by the time Tim arrived.
            "Hey, man," Larry slurred coming up and giving his friend a hug. "Thought you'd never get here."
            Behind him Tim saw Karen shaking her head. She looked pissed. She didn't like it when her husband drank to excess.
            Tim understood, he had a little trouble over indulging himself sometimes. But today was special, he reasoned, you were only thirty once. Plus, he and Ann were on the outs so it was a night he was especially looking forward to, unwinding with his best friend. He handed over the gas station plastic bag. "Here you go, buddy. Happy birthday."
            "Hey, pal, I'm touched," Larry joked. Then he opened the bag and took out the penguin. He  squeaked it once. Then again. Then again and again and again, "Squeak, squeak, squeak!"
            For many it was annoying but not for Larry. His eyes lit up. "I love him," he said, immediately assigning the penguin a male gender. He pulled Tim to him and hugged him tight. "Best present ever." And this was coming from a guy who'd just opened a new CD player from his brother. He turned and yelled, "Hey, everyone, look what Tim gave me." He held the penguin high in the air and started squeezing it. There was something about the little penguin's squeaky voice that was enduring to both Larry and Tim. Even Karen smiled. "His name's going to be Pete," Larry announced, squeaking the penguin some more. "Pete the penguin."
            And that's how it started.
            Nearly every Saturday night for the next couple of years Larry and Karen and Tim would get together. They'd have a few beers and talk over the their work week at their respective jobs. Tim worked at a hardware store, Larry was an assistant professor of history at the University of Minnesota and Karen was a secretary for an insurance company. Pete was always with them. "He's part of the group," Larry said early on, giving him a squeak. Pete had a stately yet easy going demeanor. He was non-judgmental and easy to care for, only requiring the occasional bit of fish for food. Most importantly, he had a calming effect and always put folks in a good mood.
            Karen grew to love Pete and made little outfits for him to wear: A cowboy hat and chaps for Cowboy Pete. A red cape and black mask for Super Hero Pete. A surf board and knee length trunks for Surfer Dude Pete. And many others. Pete came to occupy a place of honor near wherever they sat, being squeaked whenever someone was in the mood, which was a usually quite often, especially after a few beers.
            Larry created a narrative he called, The Story of Pete. "Pete was born in the Arctic and fell in love with Paula, the most beautiful penguin within a thousand miles of the Arctic Circle. During a violent storm she got lost at sea and Pete began searching the world high and low for her. His search was thwarted, however, when a huge wave smashed him upon the rocky shoreline of Lake Superior during a winter blizzard. He was airlifted to recovery at the University of Minnesota Avian Recovery Center where he was to be destined for the local zoo. But he escaped and ended up in a toy bin in a gas station in western St. Paul. That's Tim found him, rescued him, and gave him to Larry." (Which got Tim to thinking the "squeak, squeak" he heard that day might actually have been, "Please. Help me.")
            Tim loved listening to The Story of Pete, and over that first year Pete's life became real to them all, right down to Pete developing a craving for Swenson's Gourmet canned sardines. By the time Larry's thirty-first birthday rolled around he had adopted the little penguin, becoming his father. Karen became his mother and Tim, of course, became Pete's uncle.
            For seven years all was well with the four of them until Life intervened. Larry was offered a teaching job at the University of Madison. Karen's mother was in poor health and lived nearby in the town of Pardyville, so after very little deliberation the couple decided to move to Wisconsin.
            "We'll stay in touch, buddy," Larry told Tim, giving him a farewell hug just after his thirty-seventh birthday, "That's what email and Facebook is for."
            "Sounds good," Tim said. He and Larry had been friends since grade school and he was confident their friendship would survive.
            So was Pete."Squeak, squeak!" said the little penguin.
            But, over time, they drifted apart. Larry became head of the history department and he and Karen adopted a child from Korea. Then another one. Karen's mom moved in with them, and their lives become increasingly busy and complex. Tim's wife divorced him. They shared custody of  their two kids and Tim devoted his time to being a better father. He quit drinking and became manager of the hardware store. A few more years went by and eventually the friends lost touch.
            So imagine Tim 's surprise when out of the blue he got a friend request on Facebook. It was from Pete the penguin. Tim had to laugh because it was accompanied by a picture of Pete wearing a tie-dye tee shirt and red headband. "Hippy-Dippy Pete wants to become your friend," the caption read.
            In an instant, all the memories of his friendship with Larry and Karen came flooding back; warm memories of nights spent together hanging out and talking; times of companionship and good will with Pete calmly standing nearby keeping them company. It'd been too long. Tim immediately confirmed the request. Within minutes Pete sent a message: "My mom is giving a fiftieth birthday party next month for my dad. It's going to be a surprise and she would very much like it if you would attend. It would mean the world to all of us."
            Tim didn't have to think. He replied right back, "I'll be there."
            And that's what put him on the road that day, driving to Madison to see his friends, friends he hadn't seen for over ten years. What would their reunion be like? He didn't party anymore. He'd never met their kids. Larry and Karen and he were different people from what they'd been when they were thirty and Pete the penguin had first entered their lives. It could be a disaster.
            Or could it?
            The more he thought about it, the more he thought, naw, no way. As friends went the three of them had something special, and Tim's overwhelming feeling was that their friendship could withstand the test of time. It had to. They had Pete the penguin as their glue. And if that sounded like a weird thing to say, and if other people didn't get it, well, too bad. As far as Nate was concerned it only meant those people had never met a penguin quite like Pete, because if they had he was convinced they'd be singing a different tune. Or squeaking one, for that matter.
            Speaking of Pete, Nate almost forgot. Outside of Madison he pulled into a grocery store and roamed the isles until he found what he was looking for: a can of sardines, Swenson's Gourmet, of course. They were a gift for Pete. It was the least he could do for the little guy for bringing the friends back together. Then he remembered to pick up another can. He'd almost forgot. He'd heard a rumor that Pete had found his old girlfriend, Paula, and she might be at the party. It wouldn't hurt to have some extra food on hand for the happy couple, just to be on the safe side. When it came to penguins Nate knew one thing for sure, you could never have too many sardines.
            He paid his bill, got in his car and continued on to Larry and Karen's home. He couldn't wait to get there. He could already hear Pete's enthusiastic voice, greeting him, "Squeak, squeak, squeak!"
            And that's all it took to make him smile.

About the author 

Jim lives in a small town twenty miles west of Minneapolis, Minnesota. He is an avid bird watcher and penguins are among his favorite bird species. His stories have appeared in CafeLit, The Writers' Cafe Magazine, A Million Ways, Cabinet of Heed and Paragraph Planet. You can also check out his blog to see more: www.theviewfromlonglake.wordpress.com.

Wednesday, 24 April 2019

Hang Man


by Elizabeth Montague 

mild ale

He upheld His Majesty's law, executed the punishment set by the courts. He was lauded as the greatest; quick, effective and sympathetic. He felt nothing for those he saw to their maker or that's what he told himself each sleepless night. In the dark hours he counted each one, recalled their names and their crime but the sentence was always the same.

He'd seen traitors, rapists, serial killers but their meetings were always brief. Weight, height, build, measured and accurate before a knot and a drop.

He had killed more than any of them in the name of the law.

About the author 

Elizabeth has previously been published in eight anthologies from Clarendon House Publications and is currently working with them to produce her own collection of short stories. She has also featured in A Flash of Words from Scout Media and has been published on several online platforms.



 

Tuesday, 23 April 2019

Symphony

by Dawn De Braal

  dry sherry

The lights in the concert hall lowered. The audience took their seats. Their tones hushed as the lone conductor walked onto the stage. He stepped up on to the platform, tapping his music stand with the baton to garner attention, he put his hands up. Instruments went to their mouths or into the playing position. Down came the baton, the cellos and violins and tympanies started to play building up to a crescendo. The conductor motioned for the woodwinds to join beckoning them with his one hand while the other kept the 6/8, time signature.  All eyes of the musicians’ split between the music on their stands and the man who held them in his hands. Wonderfully, he danced on the podium while the hand signals drew them out, or pushed them back down with his flat hand, brought up their volume and hushed them to silence. The musical interpretation of the piece held the audience captive. When it ended, the conductor bowed and then stepped off the stage to give the musicians their due. The crowd rose to their feet with a standing ovation
" Encore!”  the audience shouted. The conductor stood smiling at holding his hand out to his orchestra. Finally, someone tapped him on the shoulder to let him know they were requesting an encore. They spoke to him in sign language. No one expected the conductor, who brought out so much emotion in the music, to be deaf.

Monday, 22 April 2019

The Sad Man

by William Edgar

a pint of bitter


The sad man walks into the pub. There are  about thirty people there and he goes to the bar and gets himself a pint and then sits on his own at a table. He sees four men talking and laughing and he wishes he was part of a group like them. He then sees a woman on her own and finds her attractive but experience tells him that she would not want to speak to him. He has a drink and then thinks if his feet are like David Beckham's then why cant he kick a ball like him. He has another drink and then leaves the pub with his glass still half full. It's raining outside and he sets off walking home and a car goes through a puddle beside him and the water is thrown on to him. When he gets back to his flat he sits down and picks up the telly controls and the telly won't come on and then he realises that he has not plugged it in. He then picks up his diary and writes in the diary these are the best days of his life.

Sunday, 21 April 2019

Turok and Andar

by James Bates

hot chocolate


"John, you doing all right down there?"
            "Yeah," he yelled back upstairs. He really was, even though they were getting ready for his brother's funeral. He flipped open the comic book he'd been looking at, "Turok Son of Stone # 4, The Bridge To Freedom." The one with Turok on the cover, spear in hand, his brother Andar beside him, holding a club, getting ready to face a huge Tyrannosaurus Rex. "Just thinking about Andy."
            Maggie scurried down the steps and in a moment was standing next to him, hand resting compassionately on his shoulder, "You're going to miss him, aren't you?"
            John set his comic book aside. Over the years he'd collected all sixteen of the early editions of "Turok Son of Stone." They were published between 1955 and 1960 and told of the adventures of two young Native American Indian brothers trapped by an earthquake in a canyon in the rugged southwest desert, a treacherous land populated with huge flesh eating dinosaurs. He kept each issue in a plastic sleeve in a dark green three ring binder; the binder that now lay open on his desk. He caressed it lightly before closing it. "Yeah, Maggie, I really am."
            His wife of forty-one years pulled up a chair, sat next to him and put her hand on his arm, "We can wait a few minutes to leave if you want."
            "No, we should get going." He sighed and was quiet for a moment.
            "What?"
            "I was just thinking about one time up at the lake."
            "Up north?"
            "Yeah, my aunt and uncle's place on Big Sandy."
            "Their summer place, right?" He nodded, yes. "What were you thinking about?"
            "Oh, I don't know. Just stupid kids' stuff."   
            Maggie knew how close John and his brother had been. Andy had died the previous week after a mercifully short struggle in aftermath of a massive stroke. He'd been sixty-two. John, two years older had been by his side. Like he always had been, it seemed to Maggie. She'd never known two people as close as the brothers were. Never. Now John would have to figure out how to move on and live life without Andy.
            "What were you thinking about?"
            "You know how I told you we used to spend a month in the summer up at the lake with Auntie Harriet and Uncle Dave?"
            Maggie gently began to rub her husband's shoulder. She'd heard his stories many times but knew he needed to talk. She prompted him, "You always loved it up there, didn't you?"
            "Yeah, I did. Both of us." He sighed and fought back a tear.
            John had hundreds of stories about "Being at the lake," as he called those times. Today, this one stood out and went something like this:
            It was early August in the afternoon. White caps were marching across the big lake, waves crashing on the shore. The wind was blowing hard off the water cooling the two brothers as they played in the shade of a huge cottonwood tree in the front yard. Auntie Harriet had let them use an old quilt and they'd spread it on the lawn.
            'This will be our raft,' John had said.
            'We'll be on the ocean,' Andy added, beginning to embellish the imaginary game they were creating at just that very moment.
            'I'll be Turok and...
            'I'll be Andar,' Andy added.
            In the comics, Turok was the older brother and Andar the younger one, a relationship that worked perfectly for both boys.
            John shaded his eyes with his hand, peering out in front of them, 'Let try to paddle across to the other side. See if we can find some food. We can hunt for some Pterodactyl eggs or something.'
            'Oh, boy, Turok, these waves are huge. Do you think we can make it?' Andy said, bouncing up and down on his knees.
            'Yeah, we can,' John said, simulating paddling with a pretend paddle, 'We just have to watch out for sea monsters.'
            For a minute the brothers were silent, each bouncing on their knees as they paddled across their make believe ocean, both of them lost in their own world.
            Suddenly Andy yelled, 'Turok, watch out.' He lunged for his brother and pulled him down on the raft, covering him with his body, protecting him, 'That big water dinosaur almost got you.'
            'Oh, boy, that was close," John said, wiping his brow, " Thanks, Andar, I'm safe now.'
            The two brothers grinned at each other and began paddling again.
            The scene played out in John's mind as he told the tale to his wife, missing nothing. The memory as fresh as the day it happened, over fifty years ago.
            When he was finished John became silent. Maggie, who had been rubbing his shoulder the entire time, squeezed it and stood up. "I should probably finish getting ready." She looked at the clock on the wall. "The service starts in just over an hour."
            "Yeah, I know. I'll be ready. We can leave in ten minutes."
            "Okay. See you upstairs?"
            "Yeah, I'll be there."
            John watched Maggie walk up the steps, then sat for a minute, thinking of his brother and how missing him would never begin to describe what he was going through. They had been so close. There were so many good memories.
            After they had reached adulthood, John became a high school science teacher while Andy worked in construction, framing homes for a local contractor. They'd stayed close. Their wives became friends, and their kids even got along. Their lives had been rich and fulfilling even though they'd each battled their own personal demons, John with alcohol, Andy with pain killers. They'd continued to stay close and in touch, even during those difficult years. In many ways, they were more than brothers, they were best friends; soul mates.
            And that's why it was frustrating, sometimes, to try to explain how much Andy's loss meant. In John's mind's eye he saw Andy back at Big Sandy lake on their raft, battling the waves, fighting the good fight against water monsters and dinosaurs; he saw his brother's skin, tanned chestnut brown from weeks in the sun. Sure it must have rained back then, but not in his memory. They only wore cutoff jeans those summers, no shirts or shoes. In his memory, the air smelled of lake, a perfume of rotting seaweed and dead fish only eleven and nine year old boys could appreciate, even love; the sky was always a deep blue, with white, puffy clouds drifting by, purple martins calling in the background drowned out by the squawking of the gulls forever flying overhead; in the early evening they fished from the dock, casting their lines, the lake turning still as the sun went down, the water smoothing to glass as a yellow moon rose above the trees to the east; a while later the milky way would then magically appear, stars covering the domed sky in whitewash of cosmic beauty.
            Even now, at the time of Andy's death, John sober for fifteen years, Andy drug free for fourteen, the memory of those long ago days was as fresh and clear as it had been back then, the pure, unencumbered days of their youth.
            John sat quietly for a moment, the memories flooding over him. He knew he should get going; knew he should move on and take the next step to laying his brother to rest. But he wasn't ready. Instead, he reached for his binder. It opened arbitrarily to "Turok and Andar # 16, Secret Of The Giants," the first of the comics he'd ever purchased when he'd started collecting them. It had the two brothers on the cover, bow and arrows in their hands, facing a Stegosaurus, ready to fight to the death.
            John smiled and opened the comic to the first page and began to read. The service could wait. His brother was still with him. He wasn't ready to say good-bye just yet.

About the author

Jim lives in a small town twenty miles west of Minneapolis, Minnesota. He collects old marbles, vintage dinky toy race cars and YA fiction from the early twentieth century. And, yes, he also collects Turok and Andar comic books. His stories have appeared in CafeLit, The Writers' Cafe Magazine, A Million Ways, Cabinet of Heed and Paragraph Planet. You can also check out his blog to see more: www.theviewfromlonglake.wordpress.com.

The Girl Who Wore Her Heart on her Hip

by Mitzi Danielson-Kaslik

white wine

She stood there in the darkness, beneath the star filled sky. The subtle evening wind blew in her long chestnut hair back in waves like that of the sea before her. Gently, she undid the zip that ran as a river up the side of her violet silken dress and softly lifted it up over her head  and allowed it flutter to the golden sand that lay finely around her where it rested in a heap. As it slipped to the floor, a small heart upon her hip came into view, deeply sketched in an amber shade of henna upon her milky white flesh. She shook her long hair out of her pale face and continued to lightly step upon the powdery sand until she once again stopped to remove her black lace bra and panties and allowed them too to fall upon the sand. She reached up and brushed her hair from her face and over her head so it hung slightly differently as she continued. She smiled to herself as she her toes touched the edge of the cool sea water and she began to enter its depths. He tip toed behind her, keeping his distance. His dark hair blew in the wind and his eyes twinkled as her saw her brazen form displayed silhouetted against the moonlit midnight skies. He shook his hair from his eyes and - naked - followed her into the water. His muscles gleamed and glistened in the subtle light that shone from the sky; pure unspoilt lunar luminance. He picked up speed as he approached the shore line, no longer caring whether she saw him or not. He watched her, coveting her, as she allowed the salt water the gently wash over her body. He entered the water himself with a strange groan, a longing released at last. She snapped around to view his naked muscular body in the water behind her, she gasped in shock. “Baby!” She giggled musically, “where were you? I was getting wet…” his ruby lips curled happily at this thought and he reached his strong hand out to her and brushed her blushing cheek lightly, as if reaching to touch a butterfly. She blushed deeper as he touched her fair skin and whispered “don’t stop”. He didn’t. He leaned in and the pair kissed as divine lovers in the crystal pure light. The cool water rubbed and lapped against their amorous forms as they pulled each other closer and embraced until they became one. Gently, they began to make love.

Saturday, 20 April 2019

The Potato Patch

By Michal Reibenbach

poteen

The neglect in the garden has long settled in. In summer the only flowers in the garden are a few Hollyhocks who stubbornly show their tall, magnificent blooms above the tangle of weeds.

Every day after work her father goes out into the garden, where he plants row upon row of potatoes.
His little daughter is curious about the potato patch, ‘Why are you planting so many potatoes?’

‘The potatoes will clear the ground from the weeds,’ he explains.

‘What shall we do with so many potatoes?’ is her next question.

‘If Moses supposes his toeses are roses then Moses supposes erroneously; for nobodies toeses are poses or roses, as Moses supposes his toeses to be,’ chants her father.

The daughter thinks to herself, ‘He’s reciting a tongue twister in order not to answer my questions.’ Out loud she simply says, ‘You are funny!’ 

Occasionally a scientist friend of her father comes to visit. He watches on with intrigue as her father rushes energetically from one end of a row of potatoes to the other, digging up potatoes at each end, then moving onto the next row and going through the whole ritual once again. Her father clarifies, ‘The potatoes are spreading at such an alarming rate, I’m endeavoring to contain the patch so that it doesn’t completely swallow up the whole garden.’

The scientist says, ‘With your energy and my brains we could build a thriving business together!’

Their cottage used to be an old stable. Her father piles up the potatoes in a part of the cottage, which hasn’t as yet been renovated. Daily the stack of potatoes is growing ever larger. The potatoes at the bottom of the pile begin to rot and to smell revolting. The nauseating smell attracts cats who come to ‘pee’ on the pile. It now begins to stink ‘to high heaven’. The little daughter asks her father, ‘Why don’t you sell the potatoes instead of letting them rot?’

Once again to avoid  answering his daughter’s question her father chants, ‘If Moses supposes his toeses are roses, then Moses supposes erroneously; for nobody’s toeses are poses or roses, as Moses supposes his toeses to be!’