I posted this picture just for fun.
No, these tiny creatures are not rats. They are baby kangaroos.
Each one has a personality that shines through his eyes and body language.
What would you name each one of these?
Write a short story about a secret meeting, after hours, in an abandoned house in the suburbs. What do these creatures have to do with the outcome of this meeting? Are they valuable merchandise? What or who changes in the story? Is someone waiting outside? What is the meeting about and what is the outcome? Keep it simple. One story line. Minimal number of characters. Incorporate a change of some kind. Keep it under 1000 words. Use the title: “The Case of….”
Here’s one of the stories from my upcoming short story collection: “Running Naked through the Mall” A collection soon to be published….
The Case of Mrs. Belle’s Creaky Bones and Stiff Brain
With her creaky, achy bones, and a diagnosis of “old age,” Mrs. Belle has wallowed in widowhood for the last ten years. She pulls apart the curtains just a little, and peers out, as she does every morning, but today, unlike any other day, three neighborhood kids fling their bikes on her lawn, run up the front path and bang on her door. One has a box under her arm. Mrs. Belle creeps away from the window, wide-eyed and panting, her back clinging to the wall.
“We saw you through the window,” a girl’s voice calls out. Mrs. Belle hears the strained giggles and feels the world tilt over— a loss of balance, stiffness in her brain. Heat rises up her back and nervous, sweat marinates her armpits. Before her husband died, she welcomed a knock at the door and company for tea at four o’clock. Now, she shuts off the lights for Halloween, or any other day that might require dealing with “them.”
“Go away,” Mrs. Belle shouts.
There’s a shuffle at the door and her world rocks again. Childish chatter moves into the distance and Mrs. Belle shifts her knotted hands along the wall towards the door, opens it a crack and peers out. “They” have left a plain brown cardboard box on her doorstep.
Mrs. Belle pushes the featherweight box inside with her feet, glances over her shoulder and slams the door. She lists the possibilities: a kitten (dead or alive), an infestation of cockroaches, a severed finger with a faded ring mark, or perhaps a collection of faded orange monarchs pinned to a piece of cardboard. Those monarchs scare her—their sense of community, their co-dependence, a clinging together that only works for monarchs and old hippies.
What else could they have put in a box? Poisoned cookies? Kids sometimes do weird things like bake marijuana in chocolate brownies.
“I’m no fool,” she whispers. “I smell a joke.”
The box now sits on the floor next to the kitchen counter, near the piles of unwashed china dishes. Mrs. Belle rocks in her armchair and watches, as if spiders might appear from the box at any moment. She holds a fly swatter and a can of cockroach spray. She takes out a knife and slits the tape, the knife ready to strike. The box is empty.
“Those damn kids. It’s not even Halloween.” Mrs. Belle kicks the box and it rolls over. A pale blue envelope falls out. She plants her prismatic reading glasses on the middle of her nose and opens the envelope. A free-fall of colored shapes—tiny kangaroos, dogs and cats—cascade over her lap and onto the floor. The card, scrawled in red and white crayon, is an invitation to the Fairy Godmother’s Ball and Mrs. Belle has been assigned the role of fairy godmother. She feels a rush of prickly heat across tight neck muscles. Her trembling fingers work up and down and around the card.
“I can’t do that…no, never.” She throws the card into the trashcan and goes to bed, hiding under the covers.
The next day another box arrives. Mrs. Belle pushes the box with her hands through the front door and opens it immediately. Within folded pink paper shreds, lies a white silk kimono with rough, hand-sewn designs in orange, red and black thread. Her heart flutters as she studies the patterns of skinny storks standing on one leg, koi fish swimming in blue water, koi fish jumping over bridges, bamboo stalks bending in the wind. Tears moisten her eyes as she places the robe on a wire hanger on her bedroom closet.
“Who did this?” she whispers, feeling confused, rocking back and forth. She examines the tiny stitching along the hem and seams, neat but crooked, just like the stitches around the designs. She pulls aside a few threads. Colored pencil marks peer from random chocolate stains. She imagines young hands at work but shrugs her shoulders and lies across the bed covers, remembering a time, decades before, when she would have worn such a gown to a masquerade ball.
The next day, the box that arrives on her doorstep contains a crown shaped from aluminum foil. Mrs. Belle lies on her bed studying its fine crinkles and the sparkling stars glued to the frame. Her head nods asleep, the crown resting on her chest.
The day after that, another package arrives. It holds a wand fashioned from a bamboo stick, an aluminum star glued to the top. She swirls around the kitchen waving the wand and retrieves the invitation from the trashcan.
The next day, she anticipates a delivery but it doesn’t come. She sinks into bed, half under the covers, eyes peeking at the white gown hanging on the closet door. Mrs. Belle decides the dateless invitation is a ruse and stays in bed the next day and stares at the ceiling, getting up only to drink a cup of tea and eat a ham sandwich.
After another day, Mrs. Belle gets up and paces the floor, staring out the front windows, at the path and down the street. Feeling a hollow space within, she dresses up in the kimono and models in front of the mirror. She adds a few strands of pink pearls (a wedding gift from her late husband) and finds a black laundry marker, drawing the outline of a daisy on each of her old pink satin shoes. After brushing her short gray curls, applying powder and rouge, mascara and eyebrow pencil, red lipstick and lip liner, she places the crown upon her head.
Mrs. Belle steps outside, roams the small back garden and touches the flowers and tree trunks with her magic wand. She sprinkles fairy dust over the vegetables and special blessings over the tangerine tree in the corner, (the one that never seems to grow). She blesses each parsley plant, the blueberries, the persimmon tree, the apple tree and the crooked old fig tree.
She sings to the plants. After a few weeks, Mrs. Belle’s garden attracts butterflies and birds. Green shimmery hummingbirds buzz their wings, two Chaste trees bloom white and purple, fat rabbits run through blueberry bushes, sparrows sit on tree branches, and the fruit trees produce sweet purple figs, juicy tangerines, lemons and crisp red apples.
Mrs. Belle asks the neighbors if they could help take down the fence around her yard. Would they be alright with a “no-fence” policy? That Sunday, three neighbors gather at her yard and take down the fence. Their kids run around picking fruit off the trees and adding fresh green parsley to the pot luck baked beans, and mint leaves to the lemonade their mothers make with Mrs. Belle’s lemons.
The next Sunday, the yard spills over with people, kids and dogs. Laughter echoes between homes and kids cluster in line waiting for Mrs. Belle to offer them a magic blessing with her wand. She dresses in the silk kimono and crown, reading fantastic fortunes from small palms.
Each Sunday, the neighbors bring vegetable stews, and apple and fig pies baked from Mrs. Belle’s fruit trees. They gather in her yard, in the streets, in the houses and across the neighborhood, like wintering black and orange monarchs, clinging together to stay warm.