Fiction, short story

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The Lesson (A Fable)

Published May 23, 2020 by Nan Mykel

Mine is a tale of initiation. Were it otherwise I would invoke the muse. Please note, gentle reader, that I content myself with a statement of theme. Gods, as they appear herein, are but the mere acknowledgements of a symbolic convention older than my own breed, perchance. At any rate, to begin with an invocation to a muse would be an act paralleling selling one’s daughter to provide her with a dowry.

My tale and I begin, ab ova. For it is inescapably a fact that I am a chicken.

Phrased another way, in emotional language, a small white hen.  A chicken, whose brain disturbed itself, alas, not with ways and means of mounting the barnyard pecking order, but rather grasping that lightning often accompanies rain, and that from eggs come biddies. A beady-eyed chicken whose neck jerks when she walks, whose head will tilt and her little comb flap just like all the rest of the chickens in the barnyard, though she tries and tries to break the habit.

Had this chicken realized at a tenderer age– (here I can’t help shudder at what is implied by that phrase)–the inferior position relegated chickens in the intellectual world, she undoubtedly–yea, indubitably–would have chosen a model other than her mother, or her mother’s kind, to emulate. However, habits rooted in the very nest proved  difficult to overcome, and even now I find myself drawing my head back sharply, aghast at the thought of performing an act so gross and irritating to me, and even so completing the circle which has fenced me into my own particular type of hell.

It seems I have always known where little chickens come from, if not where they will go. But to this day I am not convinced that one out of ten of my sisters realizes the significance of the lovely white oval eggs in her nest daily. Perhaps that is why they part with them so peacefully. As you shall see, my reason for allowing my nest to be daily robbed was very different.

Things went well on our farm. When the rains came down we roosted–how I despise the word–in our hen house until the sun came out again, bringing the fragrance of dirt steaming upward in a heavenly earthy manner.

The humans who fed us did so generously.

Not being high on the pecking order, still I managed to keep strong and healthy. The humans protected us, also. Once a weasel had almost worked his way into the coop from the pasture side, when one of the humans, chancing by at that time and hearing our fearful cry (although mine was more of outrage than fear, I verily believe and maintain), the human disposed of the vile animal and mended the place in the coop which had left us exposed to the whims of passing animals, as it almost were.

As I grew older and laid my own eggs it seemed only natural that the humans should take my offspring and hatch them themselves. They seemed so much cleverer and capable than all the hens in the yard. I suspected that even our rooster was far inferior to the humans, our protectors.

It was rather a lonely life I led, in the chicken yard. I was the scorn of my instinct-ridden sisters as well as the scorn of my masters who saw me, rightly, as a feminine fowl.

With the dawn, the first beams of which coming through the slats in the chicken coop woke me, invariably came a feeling of exhilaration. Our rooster crowed grandly, and morning was to me a new chance. That is what I felt it–another chance. Another chance at what I couldn’t have told you, but it was welcomed.

Day began. Small particles danced in the sunbeam entering the slits in the slats. I saw the spider in his web in the corner, apparently still asleep. I saw my sisters, my poor dumb clucks of sisters, apparently still asleep. The arrival of food would stir them, however, and they, with slapping wings and squawks, would flock outside for the grain, leaving me sitting in the coop thinking of our frailties.

What an albatross it is to be a chicken. Or should I say more correctly that my albatross was my nature? Or perhaps it was my spirit which was not compatible with my nature. Nevertheless, I was a lonely but contented chicken. It seems my days were filled with observing. Thanks to the humans there were things, events to observe. Large machines lumbered by the chicken coop. Young humans danced nearby, even made musical sounds with instruments.

They could do infinitely more with their mouths, and as unnatural as it may sound, after listening to the screaming, singing and laughter of the young humans, the staccato muttering of my sisters irritated me.

It was to escape, momentarily at least, the senseless chatter of my sister hens that I wandered from them one day when it was getting warm again, and found myself farther from the coop than I had ever been before.

It was a glorious morning and I felt happiness swell under my inescapably white-feathered  bosom, (breast, I believe it’s called), as my feet took me to the rear of the human house, and I found some edible scraps around the screen door.  The steps led up, and being of a curious nature I hopped up to see if perhaps a mess of grain lay there. I was not so hungry as inquisitive.

Hating chicken noises as I did, and being unable to imitate any others, I was naturally speechless there on the steps of the human house. I reached the top of the steps and there was no pile of grain. I raised my head with a jerk and realized that I could see through the screen door on the back of the house. There the humans were, not very far from me. Each had an egg in front of him, and was scooping the insides out and devouring them….

Everything in front of my eyes went black, and when it got gray the light was spinning round and round. Half flying, half stumbling down the stairs, I departed.  They were eating my biddies…

Perhaps this is a humorous tale to you, reader. A ridiculous chicken who aspired to values more human and, as she felt, therefore higher than her calling.  “A chicken who thought she was a woman,” I can almost hear you say. But reader, dwell on this: I knew no better; I had been in the world less than two-year when I inadvertently came across a truth indigestible to me.

If the fact that the practice is not indigestible to humans, and this is taken as a pun and made light of,  then I can only believe it a morbid sense of humor on the reader’s part, and cry out in my small fated clucking voice against the injustice of a world that I do not understand.

Away from the back stairs I staggered with grief.  The stones in my gullet gritted alarmingly, and I nearly swooned with strange emotions rushing through my poor chicken head.

I did not head back to the coop, however. My path led away from the farm and over the furthest horizon.

 

Nan, Time Wrinkles, 2015

Ever Start a Story You Didn’t Finish?

Published December 18, 2018 by Nan Mykel

That’s me. (I mean start writing without finishing it).  Bad habit. Do it all the time. Just came across this in my papers:   The author is a cat.

MOTHER

My adoptive parents took me in when I was only two weeks old.  My dear mother was struck by a car that didn’t stop, and she left me and my sister all alone in an abandoned barn. No one knew we were there, since Mom was a free spirit and didn’t put much trust in people.  Of course she was proved right, given what one did to her. My sister and I cried and cried. At two weeks old we couldn’t do much more, but finally I set out for the open door where what turned out to be birdsong lured me. You’ll have trouble believing what happened next: a big old tom cat heard me and picked me up in his mouth. I thought I was sure a goner, but he was just carrying me to his adoptive parents, who responded with a dropper full of warm milk.  Though temporarily safe, I couldn’t abandon my sister, so I tried to return to the almost empty barn. My attempts and cries resulted in the humans becoming curious and, exploring from whence I came,  with the tom cat’s help, they found my little sister, lonely and feeling twice abandoned, I guess.  Anyway, she got her share of warm milk and we were so exhausted and traumatized that we snoozed right off, without even looking over the family that we hoped would adopt us. There was discussion whether a 3-feline house made sense.  Two young humans begged for us to be adopted, and when we dozed off for several hours the matter had not been resolved. My reference to my sister as little is because, although I forget which order we were born in, she is literally littler than me.  Although I have affection for her, I was afraid they would adopt her and toss me out. As it turned out, it seemed the two young humans each wanted one of us, so I was spared the difficult choice of surviving versus being a loving big brother. You may wonder why my little sister doesn’t know English. She’s only a cat and always has been, pure cat down the line, whereas I have a tad of Old Joe in my genes.

 

 

The Man Eater — a Short Short Fable

Published September 28, 2017 by Nan Mykel

Fidelio’s footsteps faltered as the lion bounded against the bars upon his approach. The old man sighed and shook his head sadly as the lion roared and pawed the floor of his wagon. ‘If you would only show yourself out of your cage, in the ring, before the paying customers,” He said. The lion’s roar resounding in his head, Fidelio’s footsteps took him to the shelter of his temporary home where wife and children awaited his return. They were huddled together in a corner for warmth. Looking into the large hungry eyes of his beloved wife and children, Fidelio shook his fist weakly but with determination. He would take some action. But what? Josie, the baby, began coughing and  Fidelio, unable to face his family without better prospects, departed the hut.

He walked and pondered. Why would his lion only roar in its cage and not in the ring? Why would it remain silent, timid and cowering in the ring when the paying customers wanted a  good show?

His family would never survive the long winter if old Leo could not be made to roar outside his cage.

Fidelio paced the night and he was feverish and delirious when he returned to the carnival at show time. In his delirium he considered killing the beast and devouring him, but the beast was their only hope of livelihood. As his fever rose, the answer appeared: the family would feed the beast. Numbly Fidelio led the lion from cage to ring, noting dully how the great beast quietened once he entered the spotlight.

Fidelio was ready, and as the roll of the drums attracted the crowd’s attention, Fidelio placed a small covered object before the lion and gently uncovered it. The crowd gasped. Blue-eyed Josie cooed as she looked up at the lion, kicking and waving as babies are wont to do.

Suddenly Fidelio’s lion put back his head and roared mightily. In the crowd spectators  clutched their children to them. The beast was coming to life. Fidelio looked on in bewildered surprise, and reached for Josie. A large paw came down on Fidelio’s arm, and paws pierced the thin fabric of his coat. Then the beast was on the child, the screams of onlookers drowning out her last wails and Fidelio’s horrified gasps. The old man slumped forward and lay still, and the lion once again threw back his head and roared. Josie was a filling meal, and the lion circled once,  laid down and slept beside his unconscious master.

For seven days and seven nights beast and man slept. The awed townspeople gave shelter to Fidelio’s wife and remaining children, but did not disturb the sleeping pair.  As they came each day they noticed that the man’s hair was turning white. During the night of the .still, weak and silently weeping, and then slowly sat up and looked at the lion, who had also wakened.

Silent tears continued to fall as Fidelio stood and woodenly began cleaning up after the lion. A sharp pain pierced him and s he saw an intact bootie in the black animal feces. Horrorstruck, he watched as the bootie moved. On hands an knees now, Fidelio grabbed the dirt and lifted his child from the dung heap. A dousing in the water trough brought pink flesh forth from the filth.

The child was undamaged except for a crippled leg, and her eyes were bluer than before. She smiled  at Fidelio, and held out her arms. People would call her Angelica ever after.

The lion roared a little now and then in the ring, but that was less important,  because he was respected as a man eater, which he was.

LADY IN WAITING — Part 1 of 2 — short story

Published May 6, 2016 by Nan Mykel

The joy of early retirement and the glory of the bright June day fill my mind as I slow my van to turn into the driveway. Glancing at my front entrance deck I pause. A figure in white waits on my stoop, her gauzy dress and coat echoing her veil. She stands erect, chin up, hands clasped in front of her. Despite her dramatic appearance, she looks somehow insubstantial, a wraith-like figure. I blink and peer again. My glasses have been bothering me. She still waits. As I draw abreast of the house she turns toward me, and a chill of foreboding descends. My joy has instantly soured, and the word death is assaulting me.  Death?

Without further ado I step on the gas and pass by my house, leaving the patient figure waiting.  I know that my fear response is totally irrational, but  my stomach has tightened with dread.  I am beginning to doubt my senses. I slow my van and turn around.  Maybe an optical illusion? I head back toward my house again. Although my grandmother was prone to see things that weren’t there, I am  not.  I peer through the windshield and see the woman still waiting, showing no sign of impatience. I am not ready to meet my Maker, or the other Guy either, for that matter.

Poetic lines come to me. Surely I’m not wrong to want to avoid death?  Death is but a sleep….”  but how about “Rage against the dying of the light?”   My van seems to be thinking clearer than I am, for it deposits me around the corner at my friend Harvey’s house. I turn off the engine and remain inside the van for several minutes, picturing the conversation to follow.  I can’t share this with anyone, not even Harvey. Before I can restart the van a figure emerges from the side of the house. Harvey. He waves and approaches the van, grinning and wiping is hands on an old rag. Harvey is the local librarian during the week. Weekends he putters in his garage.

“Jane! Good to see you! I’ve been thinking about you, and you appear!  Spooky!”

I can hear  my voice falter. “What thoughts about me?”

“Oh, just wondering what you were up to, how you were doing.” He leans against the van’s door and wipes his brow with the  rag.

I clear my throat.  “Harvey, I’m having a little crisis here. Would you help me out?”

“Sure.” He cocks his head, concerned. “What can I do?”

“Climb in.” I open the door on the passenger side and he gets in. “Harvey, we’re going to drive by my place and I want you to look at the front of the house and tell me what you see.”

He looks questioningly at me and nods. “No prob.”

My heart thumps away in my chest as we turn the corner and approach my house. She is still there. I glance at Harvey. He stares at the figure in white, who is still in the same position and in the same spot. He speaks softly. “Who is she?”

He sees her! At least I’m not hallucinating!

We drive on by.  I stammer, hesitate.  I am unable to blurt out the cold bare facts. Instead I say, “I think she is someone who means me harm.”

“Have you talked to her? Who is she? What does she say?”

“I’ve been too afraid to approach her.”

He makes an impatient motion. “Turn around. I’ll talk to her.”

I hesitate again. I don’t want to be anywhere around when he does meet her. I pull into his driveway. “Let me wait here while you talk to her.”

Harvey gives me a quizzical look, but when I get out at his place he slides over into the driver’s seat and with a wave backs out of the driveway.

Seating myself on Harvey’s front stoop, I hold my stomach, feeling equally fearful and foolish. I shoo away a gnat that is buzzing me. My mouth is dry. The shades of deceased friends and family rise up before me. How I ran from them, too.  Too fearful to say goodbye when I left them.  Goodbye for good?  Goodbye?   The crunch of tires on gravel rescues me from my mournful memories. It is Harvey’s partner Duane driving his gleaming 1952 Plymouth. Duane, who teaches sociology at the university, is another old friend. It is obvious he has been playing tennis, and already sports a golden tan even though summer has just begun.

“Janie! How goes it?”  He reaches down and gives me a hug, to which I respond with intensity.

He draws back. “You okay?”

I nod yes, then shake my head. “I’m feeling a little confused right now,” I manage.

“Well come right in and let Uncle Duane whip you up something tall and cool to drink.”

I manage a grin and shake my head. “Something short and hot.”

Tea cups clatter as he speaks over his shoulder. “We can manage that.”

I look around the familiar kitchen, with its built-in breakfast nook and  blue and white checkered curtains. It’s utterly comfortable and reassuring. Duane passes me a cup of of hot herbal spiced tea and sets down a plateful of macaroons. “Enjoy.” He sits across the table from me, waiting for me to begin.

“I went for a routine mammogram today, and when I drove up to my house I saw a woman all in white waiting for me, and  the thought hit me that she represented my death. I drove on by, scared out of my wits. Harvey has gone to see who she is and what she wants.”

He reaches for my hand and gives it a squeeze. “It was scary having the mammogram, huh.”

I shake my head.  “Not so you’d notice. I have it done every year, no problems.”

He stares into his tea, stirring it. “What was different about this year, other than you retiring?”

I ball my fist and gently tap the formica table top, ignoring his question. I look up at him. “Is it  a sign?”

“What would it be a sign of?”

The kitchen door swings open and Harvey strides in….     (See separate post for the balance of this short story which is by Nan Mykel) May 2016

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