Fall 2019 Short Fiction

Short Stories

A Trip to Bullfrog Bayou

by Krista Loomis

“Where are we going?” Chad said. We walked down the road past our house. Chad held back, a few paces behind me. The sun had just begun to set throughout the trees, casting shadows on the gravel road that stretched before us. I was taking him out to the old fishing hole, fondly known to some as Bullfrog Bayou. I was going to teach him how to gig frogs tonight. I hadn’t told him this yet, however. He wouldn’t have agreed to come. He’d been too busy feeling sorry for himself about the fact that Maggie Baynard wouldn’t go to the end-of-school dance with him.

“We’re going out to gig frogs,” I said. I twirled a flashlight in my hand. 

“Ugh!” he said. “Why’d you drag me outta the house for that?”

“You’ve been pining after Maggie Baynard long enough,” I said. “It’s time for you to get out and do something.” He sighed but didn’t protest any further. I turned back to look at him. He was just about to finish 6th grade. He was pretty tall for his age, standing at about 5’3.” At this point, It seemed that all his pants were highwaters. His dirty-blonde hair stuck straight up at his cowlick and his front teeth had a bit of a gap. But he had a big heart. Maggie was a dang fool not to go to the dance with him. 

As we approached the pond, I handed him the gig. “What am I supposed to do with this?” he said. He scrunched his face in confusion.

“You’re gonna use it to get the frogs,” I said. His eyes widened at the thought of the task. 

“Are you sure?” he asked. “I’ve never done this before. What if I mess it up?”

“Oh, don’t worry about that,” I said. I cleared a limb from our path. “Just find a frog you like, and I’ll blind it with my flashlight. Then you sneak up on him and stab him with the gig. Simple as that.”

“Simple as that,” he said, repeating after me. I knew it wouldn’t be as simple as that for Chad. Nothing had ever been that simple for my brother. He was very competitive. He always felt that he had to perform well in order to please others. When he didn’t get people’s approval by doing his best, it affected him considerably. Something as simple as not being able to gig his first frog could send him into a sorry spell for days. 

“Shh!” I whispered, though neither of us had been speaking. “Hear ‘em?” We inched our way closer to the water. I shown the flashlight in the direction of the croaking noises. I spotted a group of bullfrogs over by a patch of weeds. 

“Now you go creep up on them very quietly, Chad,” I said. “When you get up close enough, stab them through the gut with the gig”. Chad moved towards the frogs, quietly. He held the gig steadily in his hands. As he took a step, he snapped a twig. The frog jumped and the gig plunged deep in the mud. 

“Sorry,” Chad said. His face fell. He kept his eyes on the place where the frog once sat.

“What have you got to be sorry for? It’s your first time. Let’s try it again.” I couldn’t see his face in the dark, but I felt a weight being lifted off his shoulders like he’d been waiting his whole life to hear these words. “It’s okay,” I said, reassuring him again.

After a few more failed attempts, we spotted a massive bullfrog up the embankment. Probably about ten or eleven inches. “Now see if you can get this one,” I said. He crept up real close, and I shone the light stunning the creature. With a decisive stroke, the gig went straight through the frog and into the dirt, keeping him pinned. 

“I got him!” my brother said. His voice echoed into the night. 

“Well, would you look at that,” I said.

“What do you reckon I should do with it?” he said. He picked him up, wrapping his hand around its ample torso. 

“What say we go hang it in the old oak outside Maggie Baynard’s window?” I said. I shone the flashlight in his direction to catch his response. I can’t describe the look I witnessed on my brother’s face that night with anything other than “free.” In that moment, he knew that he was free from other’s expectations. Free from his need to please others. Free to do as he wished. He threw down the gig and broke into a run toward the Baynard house. 

“Last one there’s a rotten egg!” 

***

Gubbage

November 14, 1985 Serves 5

by Jessie Thomas

The name is strange, and the ingredients even more so, but it will fill their bellies. Some protein, starches, a vegetable. They will remember the smells, the textures from nights like this and feel warm inside, despite the cold outside and the strange newness of open rooms and water heaters. They will remember this, the good parts, and not the rest.

Ingredients:

1 pound ground beef
2 store-brand cans of spaghetti
½ an onion
1 can cream of mushroom soup
1 can sweet corn
Salt and pepper, to taste

Directions:

Dice the onion. Just cut the bad spots out. Brown the beef with the onion. Strain and save the drippings for cabbage soup or maybe gravy tomorrow. 

Mix all ingredients together in a large pot. Perhaps the one he gave you for your first anniversary. At least he left you that. Heat contents until bubbling, stirring occasionally. Season to taste. It will be dark by then. Winter shortens the days. Pretend it is almost over already.

Get out five inherited bowls and five thrifted spoons. Set the table in the space between the wood stove and the curtains hiding your bed and theirs. Call the children in for supper. They will be excited to have their favorite meal tonight. They will come in the door, shoes dusty and faces red from their time spent playing outside.

Amanda will tug your sleeve and tell you happily that she found a quarter on the ground after school today, so she got a sucker from the drugstore on the way home. Smile and congratulate her. Aaron will slyly take the rocks from the driveway out of his mouth and put them in his pocket. He will think no one saw, and you will let it slide this time. Pick up little Sara with her father’s odd red hair, and put her in her chair. Aimee, the oldest, will hum the Rainbow Brite theme song under her breath as she hangs up all their coats on the rack by the door. She stands on tiptoes to reach. They will all need new shoes soon.

Sit with your children. You will realize how much your back hurts only after you sit. Standing at work all day will do that to you. Rub your eyes and dish out dinner for your family. Eat, slowly. Clear the table. Tuck them all into bed. Kiss Aaron, in the bottom bunk. Kiss Amanda and Aimee, in the top. Kiss little Sara, sucking her thumb in the toybox, toys taken out and blankets put in. Turn off the light, close the curtain. 

Lock the front door. Climb into your own bed. Take a deep breath and stare at the ceiling. Prepare yourself to do it all again tomorrow. Again and again until things change.

***

The Unfurling

by Bethany Powls

Emma and Edmund celebrated their second wedding anniversary in September on separate ends of the farmhouse, neither speaking nor acknowledging the other. 

One early morning, in November, Emma woke to Edmund’s gruff voice whispering in her ear. 

“Get up,” he said. “I hear Sam whining.”

She grumbled, lifting herself off the mattress, and grabbed a flannel as he pulled on some pajama pants. She made the disrupted side of the bed, waiting for him to grab a flashlight, and followed him out onto the porch. 

The last time Sam had cried in the night, he had discovered a group of monarch cocoons in the garden behind the house. They found him lying on the ground, pawing at the broken chrysalises he had trampled in his frenzy. Some were hatching, their wings twitching, poking out from their shell as they died. 

Edmund must’ve been sleeping on the couch if he had heard Sam’s cries. She pretended not to mind. Sometimes he trampled her delicate chrysalis. Yet she missed what they had before the fight. The argument had been unbearable, but the aftermath was even more so.  

Once they were outside, she was glad she’d grabbed the flannel. They both took off in the direction of the whining, wind whipping at their legs. Edmund led with the light as they headed in the direction of the garden, where Sam had first discovered the butterflies. 

They found him whimpering softly, the bloody marks along his side, visible in the moonlight. His lungs were punctured. She dropped next to the aging dog, gently scratching behind his ears as he cried, her eyes welling with tears. 

“Must’ve been coyotes,” said Edmund, “Probably an alpha pair. They work better together. We don’t have a gun.”

She looked up at him, his face was grim in the moonlight. But now, the hard edges softened as he stared down at Sam’s prone body. Eventually, he dropped into a crouch next to her and stroked his hand along Sam’s back. 

“Maybe he was guarding the late-season butterflies,” she said. The corners of Edmund’s mouth turned up slightly in vague amusement. They both looked toward the motionless chrysalises, suspended from a tall tomato cage.

“Thank you for waking me up. He shouldn’t be alone.” she said. His gaze caught the frozen trails on her cheeks.

He smiled softly, kindly for the first time since before September. Her wings fluttered a little, the wind drying the damp. 

“I suppose I haven’t thanked you for anything in awhile,” she said. There was a lot that they needed to say to each other. He  moved to sit on the chilled earth next to her. 

Something flitted in front of their faces and she jumped. It was a monarch, landing on Sam’s still body, where it perched, wings trembling in the breeze. They moved their hands over Sam’s fur as his whimpers faded and the wind stole his breath. They were still stroking his fur when the sun peeked over the neighboring field.


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