The stories below were entered in a local writing contest over the last four years. All four have won awards in the short story category.
The rain was falling, yet again, on another lonely day. As I sat in a Banyan tree, under the jungle canopy, I couldn’t help but wonder how long I’d been here and how long I’d have to stay. A big python rested on the branch beside me. I heard the colorful Macaws screaming to each other a few trees over. A big cat sauntered along under me. He was long and sleek with black fur and big yellow eyes. I watched his whiskers twitch. He was on the hunt for supper.
I slid out of the tree, visible, and silently tracked him through the jungle. Being careful not to make a sound as my bare feet squished the dead leaves. He’d made his kill and was finishing his supper. I waited behind a Ficus tree, watching, but grew impatient. I charged out of my hiding place to see what he would do. He jumped, startled, and charged toward me. I instantly turned invisible, thinking he would pass right through me. I became one with the cat instead.
Trapped inside the beast, I opened my eyes. I saw through the cat’s eyes. I felt him lick his lips. He sensed the smallest creature tiptoeing through the forest. The clarity of his vision was as sharp as the blade that hung in the small of my back. His hearing eclipsed even mine, in my new form. His sense of smell could differentiate between a rat and the rotting tree it was hiding under.
We ambled through the jungle. I could feel each muscle expand and contract with every step. I knew every sound, smell, and sensation that he did. His tail swished back and forth. An ear twitched from a mosquito buzzing. We watched a wild hog come out from the cover of the forest, but he wasn’t interested. We continued our stroll, stopping once to sharpen his claws on a nearby tree. He stretched as each claw caught on the bark. He yawned and lightly roared.
A familiar scent caught his attention. His nose went up. He let out a soft growl. At the other end of the meadow I saw another Jaguar appear out from the foliage. She sauntered to about twenty feet from us, lay down and rolled onto her back. The big cat and I burst into a full run toward her. She crouched ready for us.
In a flash she’d jumped us. We rolled over and over each other, somersaulting playfully. Her jaws came down on his front leg and clamped, not hard enough to draw blood, but he knew she had the upper hand. He licked her ear and ran his tongue up the side of her face. She turned him loose and grumbled playfully. He responded. Their bouncing rambunctious play took a more seductive tone and I could sense they were headed for something more primal.
I wasn’t ready for that encounter, and on the next tumble, I leaped from the cat and went rolling across the grass. I lay on my back laughing, joyously. I’d forgotten what it was like to taste food and feel full from a great meal. I’d buried the desire for female companionship so deep that I found myself envious of the big cat, now. Well, that kind of thought wasn’t going to do me any good, I scolded, getting up and brushing off the bits of jungle loam.
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I lay flat on my back, squeezing my eyes shut, and trying to avoid the searing white light that was forcing me to reflect. I had a lot of thinking to do and a monstrous decision to make in the next few minutes. I exhaled. The events of the last few hours organized and started playing through my mind like a black and white movie.
The party was stupid; who in their right mind would celebrate with the blind girl, especially after she’d stolen my boyfriend. Not me, and surely not any of my friends, but they had. “I’ll see to the cheerleaders and football team, later! They’ll never go to Serena’s to celebrate Halloween, again,” I swore.
They all knew the history! Serena was a nobody! She lived on the wrong side of the tracks and her house was tiny. Oh, she was pretty enough with her head of long, curly, raven hair and her large emerald green eyes. But, didn’t they notice the blank stare coming out of those thick, dark lashed orbs? “They must have attended out of pity. Unbelievable!” I chattered.
“I mean, really, why would anyone want to dress-up in crazy costumes to be with Serena over me? I’m pretty and live in a nice big house. My nose has been reconstructed, my lips plumped, and the most expensive hairdressers style my blonde hair. Don’t my friends understand the pain I’ve gone through with my personal trainer?” I exhaled forcefully. “And then there is Jake, the captain of the football team; he’s been ogling Serena all year.”
“Well, I’ll fix them. They’ll think twice before going against me,” I giggled, crushing up laxative pills and stirring them into the dip. I mixed live slugs in with the gummy worms and added real chocolate covered grasshoppers to the candy bowl.
“Oops! Hi, Jake!” He stood behind me, watching me spike the punch. I turned bright red.
“Carla, you are the ugliest person I’ve ever met. Don’t you get it? It’s not what you look like or where you live, it’s what your heart says about you. Kimber, Garrett, Lucy, and the others, are here out of friendship. We know Serena’s not perfect, but her soul is kind and she cares about others,” Jake grumbled, shaking his head. I glared at him, puckering my brow, and rolling my eyes. “Oh, just get out of here! We don’t need to watch you gloat,” he snapped, waving me off and turning his back. He marched off, leaving me standing in the dark.
The tears welled up in my eyes. Had I overstepped some boundary? Did Jake speak the truth? Was there more to being beautiful? I slammed the car door and fired up the engine. The tires squealed as I sped down the dark street and onto the rural road leading back to town. My mind whirled with the words spoken by Jake. I pressed the accelerator down as the tears trickled off my chin. The last thing I remembered was the car tumbling through the corn field.
“Carla! Carla! Your time is up!” A harsh voice I didn’t recognize spoke above me. I looked around seeing no one, but realized I was lying on white cotton, so soft and light, and untouchable. I inhaled sharply, holding my breath. “Where am I?” I whispered, wide-eyed.
“Carla, we need your answer now! Do we send you back for a second chance or do you follow us to Purgatory?” the male voice asked, now quieter and more forgiving.
“I understand my mistakes. I’ve learned my lesson. I promise to be better. Send me back, please,” I cried.
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Mom, dad, the twin girls, and their younger brother gathered around the campfire. The orange and blue flames crackled beneath the thick marine fog that shielded them from the outside world. It was the last night of their vacation and they had to get an early morning start for home, the next day. So after the marshmallows had been roasted and consumed and snuggles had been shared all around, the children were ordered to bed. Each child begged for their dad to tell one of his famous ghost stories before they retired.
“Not tonight,” mom said, after watching dad roll his eyes.
“Awww!” came the chorus of disappointment from the kids.
“Hey, Dad! What is that smell?” Sandra asked, stalling, but wrinkling her nose at the putrid stench.
“Smells like someone forgot to close off their sewage hose. Now, get to bed. I’ll be in in a minute to kiss you all good night.”
The children sulked up the steps and into the trailer. The water came on in the bathroom, the toilet flushed three times, and the spats began.
“I’m gonna tell Dad,” Debra groaned.
“Go ahead…” Robby snapped.
“Get in bed,” mom called from the bonfire. Dad stood and after stirring the embers, he entered the trailer.
“Bed, all of you,” he said, then kissed each child on the forehead and tucked them in tightly. He turned off the lights and waited a moment. When he was satisfied they’d settled in and their breathing had become rhythmic, he crept back out to the fire.
“Sandra is right. The mixture of salt air and sewage smells like death!” Just as he sat back in his camp chair, the giggling and stomping began anew. The trailer rocked and shrieks of laughter pierced the quiet of the night. “They were asleep, I swear!” dad said, standing again. He doubled his fist and pounded loudly on the trailer wall. The noise ceased.
No sooner had he relaxed in his chair, lit a cigar, and took a swallow of beer, when the giggling and noise began again. Dad sighed loudly, “If I didn’t know better, I’d say that sounded like the kids from next door.”
“We haven’t seen them for three days. I heard they went to visit an aunt. You’re imagining things,” mom smirked as dad tossed the half smoked cigar into the flames and stood. He looked over his shoulder and grinned.
“Here I come! You’d better get into bed! Any kid making noise is going to feel my wrath!” He emitted a spooky, horror-movie laugh. At that, he threw the door open, clomped up the steps making as much noise as he could, and stomped through the trailer to the bunk beds. He peered behind the curtain to see that all three children were fast asleep. He wrinkled his brow and rubbed his chin. A childish snicker broke the silence behind him, and a man cleared his throat. Dad spun around, wide-eyed. No one was there.
The next morning, they awoke to flashing blue lights and police cars surrounding the adjacent trailer. The family stared out their windows, watching as the trailer door was forced open. The rancid smell of rotting flesh filled the air. It was later learned that two children and their father had been found inside -- dead.
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“Wake up, girls! The sun has risen, and the campground will be rockin’, soon. I love summer! No school, dad on vacation, family bonding… Whee! It will be a great season! That’s right, Genie; open those baby blues or browns. I can’t see you, but I know you’re on my left, and Carman, stop snoring. Rise and shine, girls! This summer, I’ll reach the ocean.”
“Oh, Stella; I’m tired of your silly dream of going to the beach. We’re stuck on the wall in the girls’ restroom. How do you imagine you’ll end up surfing?” Carman snapped.
“Carman, don’t spoil my fun… A girl can dream!” Stella smiled.
“Yeah, Carman! A girl can be insane,” the mirrors on either side of Stella giggled hysterically.
“You never know… Oh, here comes Doris to make us sparkle.”
Doris, the janitor, came in through the door and set her box of cleaning supplies on the floor. She scrubbed the sinks and wiped down the counters.
“Hey, Doris! Hit me with your foam spray. Ah, it’s cold, and it tickles. I love the minty fragrance. Oh, here comes my favorite part the massage. Make sure you rub my corners. Hey, there’s a streak in the middle of my vision. Push harder… Yes, right there. Great!”
“Stella, don’t look now, but here comes your favorite camper.”
“Are you kidding me? Good, she went into the stall. Oh, what is that stench? Don’t use my sink! Please, don’t use my sink. She’s using my sink, and splashing! Don’t stick your face so close to mine! I don’t need to see up your nose, but you do… There’s a boogie, way up… Yeah, go blow it, and when you’re finished, leave the door open on your way out. We could use the fresh air! Woman, you aren’t the fairest of them all!”
“Carman, why do you always get the sweet teenage girls? They come here to shower and do their hair and makeup, ready to meet Mr. Right. Oh, look out; she’s squeezing that pimple on her forehead… And, we have an eruption. Icky! It splattered all over your face, Carman. I’m so sorry, my friend.”
“Stop laughing, Stella!”
“Next on our list of visitors is a mom and her two-year-old little boy, all sandy. How fun! They’ve been on the beach my heavenly beach. Can you smell the seawater covering him? No no, mom! Don’t let him stand on the counter. He’s stomping his feet, and sand is falling everywhere. Listen, kid! Keep your grimy little fingers away from me. No, that kid did not make hand-prints across my glass! I’m hyperventilating. Stop!”
“Hey, Stella! Here come your teenage girls again,” Genie pointed out.
“Mandy, if you break off the corner of that dirty mirror, we’ll have what we need,” her friend said.
Later that day: “Here comes that cute guy from yesterday. Hand me the mirror. I need to check my hair and lipstick,” Mandy said.
Her friend reached into the beach bag and pulled out the piece of Stella that they’d broken off, handing it over to Mandy.
Stella opened her eyes. “I’m on the beach, and there’s the ocean, as blue as I imagined! Mirror, mirror on the wall, I’m the luckiest of them all!”
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“Hey, dad, when are we leaving on our trip to Lamar Valley?”
“Son, I’ve told you, we need to wait until the snows melt. Yellowstone has many treacherous obstacles that can be hidden under the snow,” dad explained.
“Honey, what about the wolves, with just the three of us we’ll be easy pickings for them,” mom said.
“Another good reason for waiting until summer. The wolves will have many animal choices and won’t be hungry for my tough old hide.”
Time crawled for Junior; he was sick of eating scrub in Westgate Yellowstone and had been assured Lamar Valley was full of green grass. He was ready for summer and the long walk across the Park.
The day finally came. “Junior, wake up, the last of the snows have melted,” dad said as the sky brightened.
“Hip-hip-hooray,” Junior cheered. “Hurry up mom!” He bounced as mom chewed her breakfast scrub.
“Junior, calm yourself it’s a long walk, now eat something and drink some water. Remember you are to stay close to your father and me at all times. The park is dangerous to children. Your hide hasn’t aged into a tough old bull. And we haven’t talked about the humans, stay clear of them too,” mom said.
The three buffalo set out on their trek through the park, walking the entire day. As the sun began to set, Junior’s head hung low. “What’s wrong?” mom asked.
“We aren’t even out of our valley, and I can still see the herd off in the distance. Mom, this is boring, when do we get to the good stuff?” Junior moaned. She snorted and laughed.
The following week… “Wow, what are all those clouds squirting from the ground?” Junior asked.
“This part of the park is hazardous. Each one of those clouds of steam is coming out of the Earth’s crust. The volcano below our feet is heating water and shooting vapor and gases into the air. Every day new spouts appear. So don’t wander off alone, you could get trapped in a pool of hot water or step in a mud pit and burn,” dad explained.
“Oh, what is that smell?” Junior asked, snorting the stench out of his massive nose.
“It’s sulfur, a gas coming out of the ground. Don’t worry, when we cross the next ridge it won’t smell,” mom said, nudging Junior around a steam port.
“Oh, look, honey, the humans are gathering to watch Old Faithful, she must be close to blowing,” dad said.
The ground began to gurgle, the steam thickened, and before Junior could comment, water shot a hundred and thirty feet straight up into the air. “Hey, that was cool! I want to see it again!” Junior laughed.
“Hey guys, we are at Yellowstone Lake. Let’s graze, drink, and rest before we head over that mountain,” dad said, nodding in the direction of a mountain ridge taller than Junior ever imagined.
“Hey dad, there is a bear and her cubs over there.” Junior pointed.
“A Grizzly… give her plenty of room Junior,” mom said.
“Cool, I’ve seen Grizzly bears, Black bears, moose, antelope, elk, deer, a fox, and tons of different birds. Hey dad, check out the lone, bull bison walking up the road,” Junior said.
“Yeah, they hang outside of the herd during rutting season, and Fred is holding up traffic,” dad groaned.
“Watch out Junior!” mom warned as a human jumped out of his car and challenged the old man.
“That human is making a mistake; Fred is in no mood to be toying with an idiot.”
“He’s pawing at the ground and staring Fred in the eye. Oh no, Fred’s tail is standing up!” Junior observed.
“Junior don’t look!” mom screamed and blocked his view of the human vs. buffalo. She hurried Junior off.
“Junior, we are standing on the rim of the volcano and Lamar Valley is on the other side of that ridge where the grazing is endless, and the water never dries up,” dad snorted.
“Good, I’m ready to be there and away from all the humans. They scare me more than I thought they would. I mean most of them respect my home, but the few that don’t could spoil it for all of us.”
“You’re right, Junior! I think it’s great when we can all live in harmony. It’s too bad when some don’t understand what is at stake for our kind, we almost died out once.”
“We are here, look!” Junior cheered. “The valley stretches as far as I can see which is nothing but buffalo, grass, and water. I see youngsters my age. Can I go…? Do you think they will like me?”