Hal cursed and slammed the book closed. That ending had to be the most self absorbed, nihilistic piece of crap he had ever read. How could he possibly have wasted so much time reading this piece of meaningless garbage?  Hal generally tried to choose his reading to be uplifting. A good story could bring one of those bright spots of insight and meaning that allowed his personal fog to lift, even if only for a short period. Not this one, no matter how highly his friends had recommended it. 

He threw it across the room, the pages fluttering.  Spinning, the white pages melted into feathers… wings… and a sharp-beaked bird that pivoted on its tail in the air and spun back toward him, squawking.

The bird pecked at him as its white wings battered his head. Hal felt blood running down the back of his neck. He swatted at it and got clawed. Turning fast, he tipped over a lamp. His fluffy black dog flew into the room, barking. Dino jumped at the bird, snapping at it. The bird flew up, but dove back down again as soon as it was above Dino’s leap. Hal had a moment to breathe. He picked up a blanket, thinking he might trap it.

Hal flung the blanket over the bird, and Dino pounced, paws landing hard, as the blanket hit the floor. Hal dropped and patted to feel for the bird. Nothing was there. Something slammed into his head and his cheek caught fire. Hal leapt up, arms waving but felt nothing but air. He spun around, looking for his attacker.

The bird was now going after Dino. It pecked at the dog’s eyes and Hal could see blood on Dino’s fur. He flipped the blanket at the bird, but as he stepped forward his foot caught on the leg of the table and he fell, his head hitting the floor. 

Hal came back to consciousness feeling a touch on his cheek. It was wet.  He was being licked. He heard a whine, and put his hand up to reassure his friend. The memory of the bird and the book resurfaced. 

“Holy shit, that was a weird dream,” He sat up holding his head. “I think I gave myself a concussion.” The dog whined again. Hal put his arms around Dino and rested his head against the thick fur. “Well, at least you saved me in my dream buddy,” he said. The dog gave a low woof, not loud enough to aggravate the headache that was blooming. Hal crawled to the sofa and managed to get himself up onto it. He looked at the dog. Dino had a bloody furrow on his head. Hal’s eyes widened. He looked around the room. On the floor was a pile of white feathers and a bloodstain. He looked at his dog, who gave him a canine smile and another woof. 

Hal thought Dino would be pooping out paper later.

Style Matters

Maizie admired her feet in the shoe mirror. The Louboutin Follies Strass Pumps were perfect. The flash of red on the bottom sending just the right message. They were so very elegant. She turned around and looked at the back of her legs. Perfect. 

“Wrap them up!” she sang to the salesman. 

He looked up from the dark haired woman he was helping and replied, “Certainly. One moment please.”

Maizie took the waiting time to examine other shoes. She never rushed when shopping. Presently, the pumps were wrapped and bagged, and she was out on the street. She had gone about two blocks when something hit her shoulder hard and the bag ripped from her hand. There was a whisper of wings, a screech, and a clawed leg with black wings and a human head was carrying off her bag.

No, this was not happening. She bolted after the harpy. Fortunately she was not wearing heels. She could run in them, but she was faster in the Ellen Rubens. If the bag had not been heavy for the nasty bird monster, Maizie might have lost her. But when the beast finally came to ground in an alley, Maizie was on her tail feathers. The harpy dropped the bag and shifted back into the dark haired woman that had been trying on shoes in the store. Making sure she was between Maizie and the shoes, the woman spread her claws.

Maizie pulled out her Hello Kitty expandable baton and snapped it out, gripping her favorite sharpened kubaton hand enhancer – powder-coated with blue flowers – in the other. 

“Please return my shoes. Theft is terribly rude.” Maizie was a firm believer in good manners. Without them, civilization would collapse.

The woman who had been the harpy laughed and spoke a stream of inventive invective. Maizie flinched internally. She knew better than to let an opponent see weakness. But seriously, ladies should not swear. The woman leapt at her. Maizie side stepped, striking with the baton. A head shot like that would have dropped a human. Harpies were tougher. The woman shook herself, and lunged again claws extended from her fingertips. Maizie faded back striking at the hand with the baton. Bones crunched and the harpy hissed. Maizie flowed back in, grabbing the broken hand and hooking the kubaton on the back of the woman’s neck flipping her to the ground where Mazie dropped her knee hard on the harpy woman’s head. The she drove the sharp kubaton into her opponent’s throat. 

The harpy twitched and bled out. Maizie felt dizzy and had to sit down.

“Oh my,” she murmured. Blood was so… messy. Only the bounty on the harpy and things like her made it worth it. 

When the police arrived, they commended her for killing the beast. A public service. 

“I didn’t kill her because she’s a harpy. I killed her because she stole my shoes.” But the bounty would pay for a new dress.

Copyright Sabrina Rosen April 2020

Acknowledgment to Amy Augustinyak for shoe advice.

Growing Season

I knew we had new neighbors when their son came home with mine on a bright spring afternoon just past Ostara. 

“Dad!” my son called to me from the other side of the barn. “Come meet my new friend!” I called for them to come back to where I was splitting wood. David’s new friend was taller than my son. Not surprising given his species. We didn’t see many of his kind on the high plains. For some reason his people preferred forests, which frankly had never made much sense to me. Hooves and tree roots just seemed like a bad combination. The plains seemed much more logical. But what do I know? Everyone has a preference, and there is no accounting for taste. 

David introduced his new friend. “Dad, this is Miles, Miles Fastfoot. Miles, this is my dad, Jason Armstrong.” Miles offered his and I took it, looking him in the eye and giving a firm shake.

“So you just moved here?” I asked.

“Yes sir,” the boy replied. “With my mom and dad and my little sister.” 

“Will you be farming?” I asked.

“Yes sir,” he said again. 

“I should probably come over and introduce myself to your parents. Farming is tough here.” The boy’s eyes slid away and his tail swished.

“Um, sure Mr Armstrong.” Miles replied. 

“You guys go socialize for a bit. Let me know when you’re ready to go back, and I’ll saddle up and ride with you.”

“Okay,” he agreed, still looking a bit uncomfortable.

“Come on, Miles,” my son said. “I want to show you the chicken tractors!” The boys ran off, feet and hooves stirring up dust. 

I didn’t know what was under that youngster’s skin, but I guessed I would find out. I stuck my head in the house to see if May wanted to come with, but she was in the middle of baking and said she would introduce herself another time. 

A couple hours later, me on my saddle horse and David on his typically stubborn pony, we followed Miles back to his new home, David and Miles periodically racing and Miles clearly living up to his last name. I wondered which of his parents was the fast one. Centaurs took each other’s last names based on some system that must have made sense to them, but looked completely random from the outside. 

Miles’ dad was big. Like the size of a plough horse. And he glowered when Miles introduced us, offering his hand only slowly, and letting go quickly.

“Mr Armstrong says farming is hard here,” said Miles. 

Rogan Fastfoot raised his eye brows and said, “I’m a master gardener, I think we can manage.”

I wanted to ask if he had ever gardened in dry conditions, but I kept my mouth shut. Advice given unasked isn’t appreciated and won’t gain friends. “Well,” I said, “if there’s anything you need to know about the countryside, I’m happy to help. My wife, May, is likely to drop by to say hello at some point.” 

Rogan just nodded and scooped his son toward the house. Halfway there he looked over his shoulder. “Nice to meet you,” he said.

The next few months were the usual intense level of activity that is normal for any farm during growing season. This year, David was big enough to help move the cows every day to their new pastures, and since it was not a difficult job, he was soon able to do it himself. He also helped May with the household garden, picking bugs, helping his mother lay a deep layer of leaves, kitchen vegetable scraps, and straw over the bare soil to keep it moist and healthy, and putting in seeds and the vegetable starts.

I saw Miles with him from time to time, helping him move the chicken tractors, and I wondered how his family was doing. May had visited and said that Teema – Rogan’s wife – was shy but very sweet, but they hadn’t really had time to get better acquainted. And May’s growing belly kept her from wanting to travel on horseback. In the lull between when everything was planted and the first harvest, I decided to go see how the centaur family was doing. 

When I came upon Rogan, he was in the middle of a plowed field, leaning on a hoe, and looking even more dour than at my last visit. The field was largely bare of plants beyond some tiny shoots of corn. It was just past Litha, and our corn was knee high. 

Rogan looked up at me and then back down at the bare dirt. “How in Chiron’s name do you get anything to grow here?” he groaned. I didn’t gloat. I dismounted and picked up a handful of dry soil, looking up at him from my crouch. 

“My first year here was horrible,” I said. “May miscarried, nothing was growing. Winter. Well, it could have been worse.” Rogan looked stricken. He had a family to support.

“Miles has told me about your farm,” he said in low tones, looking down and away from me. Then he met my eyes. “Is there anything I can do here?”

I stood. “I don’t know yet, but let’s look at the place and see what you have. If there’s something you can grow that folks around here need, then you can trade. You might have to change how you do some things though,” I added. Rogan straightened his back.

“And how can I repay you for your help?”
I grinned and hoped this proud centaur could take a joke. “I could really used some help plowing the back 40.”

Rogan blinked and then burst out in laughter. “That I can do!” He offered his hand and I gave it a firm shake. 

Copyright Sabrina Rosen April 2020

The Swap

“They are such total assholes!” Brit muttered to herself, slamming the car door behind her. “Amy is a traitor! And why is mom being so mean?” 

“Alexa!” she nearly shouted as she walked into her efficiency, “play Slipknot!” 

Death metal burst from the speakers and she spent the next few minutes singing along with the music off key, and slamming her head up and down.

When the song ended, she turned down the volume before her scummy neighbors complained. That’s when she heard the scrape. Snatching a knife from the drawer she stalked to the closet door and ripped it open demanding, “what the fuck?”

There was nothing in front of her, but something made her look down. Small red slitted eyes stared back. For a second, they bled to blue, then they became red again, and slipped away from contact. The brown furry creature stepped under her arm and strolled into her bathroom. She followed, and as she watched, it used the toilet, toilet paper, and flushed. Then made a surprising leap to the sink and washed it’s tiny hands.

“What ARE you?” The creature ignored her and opened the refrigerator, peering in. She reached to slam the door shut, but somehow her hand missed. The fur ball began to hum and pulled out bread, butter, and American cheese. It jumped to the counter with the three items impossibly balled in it’s short arms, and set about making a toasted cheese sandwich. 

Her faced reddened and her lips thinned. How dare this little monster take her things without asking! She reached to knock it off the counter, but again, her arm just seemed to slip over his body. She swung again, harder. This time she whipped around in a circle. The fur ball hummed, red eyes on his sandwich. It was perfectly toasted and her mouth watered. She reached out to grab it. But somehow the creature was already chewing and there was nothing left but crumbs.

Over the next two days, the creature slept in her bed, used her computer – managing to download a virus in the process, took her jewelry and disappeared with it, stole money out of her wallet, and ate all her favorite food. She plotted its demise in several ways, hitting it with a tire iron – she broke her favorite coffee mug in the attempt, throwing boiling water at it, and finally setting it on fire, which set off the smoke alarm but didn’t have any more effect than her initial attempts to stab it had done. When Amy, her case worker, arrived for her twice weekly visit, Brit was in a lather. 

As Brit’s hand touched the door knob, her perspective suddenly jumped across the room. She was staring at herself as she invited Amy in. Listening as pleasantries were exchanged. Feeling herself scooped up she heard her own voice say “Isn’t my new stuffed toy cute? It’s a Puckwudgie!”

“Very,” agreed Amy, “and I love it’s blue eyes. Just like yours!”

Copyright Sabrina Rosen April 2020