Below is a collection of short stories written several years ago and based on titles given to me by other people. If you have a title you would like to see on this list, please write it in the comments section and it will be written and added.
Today is Friday. I love Fridays, because on Fridays we have PE. I can never wait for PE because instead of sitting around in boring old class, we get to stay outside and play games. Right now we’re all out here in a big circle doing our stretches. It’s always the same – first we run, then we do stretches, then we play a game. We haven’t played a game in a while though because we’ve been practicing for track and field. But track and field was last week, so today we’re playing dodge ball. I love dodge ball.
I know who doesn’t love dodge ball, though. I look at Daisy Bradshaw, which isn’t very hard because she’s nearly right across from me. Daisy Bradshaw is short and round and slow, and she has one of those faces that never looks like she’s thinking anything. It’s long and chubby and oval-shaped and sits right on her shoulders like she has no neck. Her eyes are blue but not the pretty kind, they’re kind of pale and dull looking and she never smiles. If she ever did then maybe she wouldn’t get picked on like she does. Daisy never gets the school bus – she did last year but then some of the older kids stole her jacket and made her chase around after it. Every time she went to grab it whoever had it would throw it somewhere else and yell Oopsie Daisy! It was just a game, but I guess Daisy’s too dumb to know that because her face went bright red and she got that look she always gets when she’s about to cry. Then she got off the bus without her jacket and now her mom picks her up from school.
Her mom looks just like her too – I saw her in the car park once when we were walking out to PE and Daisy had to go for a doctor’s appointment. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised though, because her mom must be as dumb as Daisy is to give her a name like that. It makes things too easy. I said that to the older kids on the bus right after Daisy left that time, but they just laughed. They said Daisy’s mom wanted her to be called Oopsie Daisy, because Daisy was an accident. I don’t know what they meant by that though. Falling and scraping your knee is an accident, missing the ball when someone throws it to you is an accident. A person can’t be an accident. But Daisy is always falling and missing the ball, so I yell Oopsie Daisy on the playground and giggle when she trips and throw the ball at her in dodge-ball like everyone else.
We’re getting up from stretches now and Miss Jackson is picking the team captains. I’m good at dodge-ball, so even if I don’t get team captain I’m always picked first. I’m little and quick so I always stay in until the end. Daisy always gets picked last, and whichever team gets her always groans. She never stays in, which is funny because she can’t get near the ball in any other game. We don’t get Daisy this time, which means that our team gets to throw the ball at her. I don’t know why she takes it like she does because if everyone threw the ball at me like that I sure wouldn’t stand there looking silly. Maybe she’s not smart enough to mind.
We’re in the middle first, so the other team holds hands and gets in a circle around us then steps back until they can’t hold hands anymore. We always do this because it makes a perfect circle. Daisy gets one of the balls and I smile, because that’s one less ball I’ll have to avoid. As well as missing the ball, Daisy also can’t throw. We all stand in ready position with our hands on our knees, listening for the whistle and watching whichever ball we think is coming at us. I watch Courtney’s ball, because even though she’s far away she can throw pretty hard and there’s nobody between her and me.
Screeeech! There goes the whistle and Courtney throws the ball at Jessica. I’m just figuring out where to go next when something hits me so hard it nearly knocks me over. There’s a moment of nothing and then a stinging, burning pain starts in my right cheek. I put my hand up to my face without even knowing it and turn around to see who threw the ball. I stare behind me, and that’s when I see Daisy staring right back with that mega-dumb look she always has. Her mouth is shaped like an “O” and her hand moves up to cover it. I’m shocked and super mad and I want to teach her a lesson. I want to tell her what an idiot she is because everyone knows you can’t hit people above the shoulders. I want to tell Miss Jackson to kick her out of the circle because she cheated. I want to tell everyone I’m staying in, because that was a dirty shot and so it doesn’t count.
But I can’t, because there’s a sound that’s getting in the way. At first it’s quiet but I can hear it in the background and then it gets louder and I know that some kids are laughing. I don’t know why they are though, because this isn’t funny. They should be mad, they should be yelling at Daisy because she’s dumb and slow and now she’s also a big dirty cheat. But they’re not yelling, they’re laughing and worst of all I don’t think it’s at her. I look around the circle and feel my other cheek go red, because it’s not just some of the kids that saw. Everyone has stopped playing and everyone is staring at me.
Normally I like to be watched and I know I should give them something better to look at, but somehow this isn’t the same. All I can do is stand there looking silly with my hand on my face, and I hate myself because I know that’s just what Daisy would do. I can’t look at the rest of them so I keep looking at Daisy, and maybe it’s just because she’s gone a little blurry but I think she’s almost smiling. Then I know she is because the laughter gets louder and the smile gets bigger and she’s staring right at me the whole time. Then, in a voice just loud enough for me to hear, she says: “Oopsie Daisy.”
Carrots in the Sky
Despite the afternoon ahead of her, Emily was happy. The school-week was over and she’d finished it with art, her all-time favourite subject. The class had spent the last two hours learning about perspective and how small and far away are the same when you’re drawing a picture. Some of her classmates had struggled with this, but Emily had always known it. It was obvious, wasn’t it? Real things looked smaller in the distance so it stood to reason you’d draw them that way. So Mrs. Meyers had given Emily an exercise to work on by herself. There had been a picture of a girl standing at an angle in front of a mirror and it had been Emily’s job to draw what was in the reflection. It was easy enough to decide what the girl should look like, but figuring out where to put her had been harder. After the eraser had ripped a hole in her second sheet of paper, Mrs. Meyers had given Emily her own mirror and stood her the same way the as the girl in the picture. Emily had been surprised to find her own face so far to the right, but she had drawn it and it had turned out ok. At Mrs. Meyers’ suggestion, she’d even managed to put the table behind her in to the picture.
“Of course not, Emily! Not everything in the reflection has to be in the outside of your drawing!” the teacher had told her emphatically, in answer to one of her questions. “You can’t see that desk without your mirror, can you? Well, the person looking at your picture shouldn’t see it without the mirror either.”
Emily had been so thrilled with this concept that she’d wanted to go right home and practice it. Shame about the dentist. On a normal day she’d have gone with her friends to the bus stop, but today her dad was picking her up at the front of the school. She figured she’d have nobody to talk to, but at least she could sit on the wall by the fountain and watch the fish. Emily’s hand brushed the side of her skirt and she was surprised to feel something sticky on her palm. She glanced down – green paint. She hadn’t even been using paint today, nobody had! Instantly, her mum’s voice popped in to her head: “Really Emily, you are so messy. I don’t know how you manage it!”
It was true. Her Dad often called her Messy Tessie, or sometimes Untidy Heidi when Messy Tessie got boring. Well, hopefully the paint was washable. Emily was so preoccupied with her skirt that she was surprised to look up and find a stranger sitting on the wall. She’d never seen an adult here before and her heart leapt when she saw what the stranger was doing. The woman was crouched over a pad and was drawing a detailed sketch of the koi carp, which were milling languidly around the pond. Part of the fountain peeked in at the top of the page and there were even ripples where its splashes had disturbed the water.
“Wow, that’s good!” declared Emily, plonking herself down beside the stranger. “Are you going to paint it?”
The woman jumped so violently that Emily felt a shock go through her own body. A thick black mark appeared on the page. “Do you always feel the need to ambush people while they’re trying to work?” the woman turned angrily to Emily. “Don’t you think I have enough to worry about without being pounced on by silly little children?”
Emily was taken aback. “I’m s-sorry, I didn’t mean to scare you,” she stammered. Then as an afterthought: “But you are at a school, you know. I’m Emily by the way, what’s your name?”
The woman stared hard at Emily for a moment, gave a strange little grunt and set about erasing the mark on her page.
“It is good though,” Emily continued. “I love those fish. I never could remember their name when I was little so I always called them carrot fish because they look like big carrots.”
The woman turned again and looked at Emily as if she’d come from another planet. After several seconds, she returned to her work having said nothing at all.
Undeterred, Emily carried on. “You should paint it, you know. Then you could get the reflection of the sky in the water. It would be cool having clouds next to the fish, they’d look like they were flying around in there.”
The woman heaved a huge sigh at this, and turned sharply to Emily. “Well I hate to disillusion you young lady, but I didn’t ask for your opinion. What I do is nobody else’s business, and it’s certainly not yours. If you’re going to be so rude as to stare, then at least keep your thoughts to yourself.”
Emily felt her face flush and a hot surge of anger go through her. “Fine, then! I was only trying to help, but now I don’t want to talk to you anyway. When I grow up I’m going to be an artist, and I’ll paint much more interesting pictures than you. And I’ll be nice to people that like them and I’ll let people watch me draw. I’m going now anyway, my dad’s here.”
And without a backward glance, Emily swung her bag on to her shoulder and headed toward the waiting car. “Who’s your friend?” her father asked as she got in, looking in the direction of the fish pond.
“Oh, nobody really,” Emily replied. “She’s not my friend.”
He frowned. “Well, she sure seems like she is. She didn’t take her eyes off you once since you got off that wall.”
Emily shrugged. “Well I don’t know. She’s probably happy now it’s quiet. Who cares about her anyway, what’s it matter?”
Her father seemed to realise the subject was better left alone and no further mention was made of the woman. In fact by the time she got back to school on Monday morning, Emily had nearly forgotten all about her. It was only during lunch break, when she was summoned to the office to shed some light on a mysterious package, that Friday afternoon came flooding back to her.
“It was the strangest thing!” said the receptionist, peering at Emily over the rims of her glasses. “An old woman came in here this morning asking for a little blonde girl called Emily. Your form teacher guessed it was you. Does this ring a bell?”
Emily’s eyes widened as the receptionist brought out a large, rectangular object. There was a piece of A4 paper stuck to the glass at the front, with a single word in the middle. “Sorry”.
Emily pulled off the paper to reveal a brightly painted watercolour of several koi carp swimming in a pond. There were ripples in the water and a patterned corner of stone peeking in at the top. Reflected in the water was a border of tree-tops and a blue sky interspersed with cloud. At the bottom of the painting was a signature and at the top was the heading: “Carrots in the Sky”.
The Smell of Fear
The room is quiet and dark. The only sounds are the constant ticking of the small, plastic clock on the wall and the occasional rustle of the other mouse in the shavings. But light is already beginning to enter the room – the day isn’t far off. The mouse gnaws on a half eaten, orange block of cheese which is comforting although his belly is already uncomfortably full. An anxious, fearful scent emanates from the corner as a distant rumble penetrates the silence. Not long now.
There is a click from the other side of the room and a long, slow creak. Then the steady fall of footsteps and a piercing, blinding light. The mouse’s heartbeat quickens. The sound of occasional bangs and shuffling papers fills the air.
There are more distant rumbles, then many shrill sounds coming closer and closer, vibrations from the floor coming nearer and nearer. Then, all at once the air explodes with noise. The whole cage is rattling now, tremors running through the floor and up the legs of the table, through the bottom of the cage and into the feet of the mouse. The high pitched sounds are getting closer, the vibrations stronger. The mouse can see two figures approaching but not clearly – the light is too bright for that, but there is no place to escape into darkness. The sound is now very close, two frequencies, one higher than the other.
“Please teacher! I’ll be really quick!”
The floor shakes as a large object is lowered from above. The mouse’s heart is threatening to beat right out of his chest – he wants to run but there is nowhere to go.
Then worse, a scent fills the air. It’s recognizable anywhere – the menacing, unmistakable scent of the predator. The mouse is paralysed with fear, the scent is so close. Even if there was somewhere to go he couldn’t move now.
Another loud bang and a vibration as the object hits the floor, and then a high pitched sound from above.
“There you go, you can play hide and seek now!”
Then suddenly, the scent lessens and the sounds grow further away. The mouse is still frozen with terror but blinded by the harsh, stinging light. Eventually, the scent of the cat disperses and the panic lessens. The new object still remains. It takes up nearly half of the cage. The other mouse makes no move to approach the object – he never does.
Well, whatever it’s like, it can’t be worse than here. Cautiously, the mouse moves toward the object. It’s dark and shadowed, sounds are muffled. The mouse’s eyes are no longer stinging. The walls taste nice.
The days are getting shorter, and although the temperature is often still in the nineties the nights are already starting to cool. I look around my empty room with the inevitable mixture of excitement, nerves and sadness – a perfect cliché in the movies but not so much when it’s actually happening. Not that the room’s completely empty – after all, I can’t take everything to college. It’s just that when you pack up everything you think you’ll need, you’re left with the old stuff and things that were hidden suddenly make an appearance. And that’s exactly what happens now. Taking the miniature grandfather clock off the top of my little blue bookshelf, I’m stunned as I see what’s hooked to the wall behind it.
A dream-catcher. A particularly beautiful one in my opinion, its intricate woven design offset by brightly coloured feathers of blue, pink and green. I haven’t seen it for almost exactly ten years although I’m in no doubt as to where it came from. The trip I bought it on was an unusual one. The dream-catcher came from a gift shop at Disney World in Orlando, Florida. Tommy and I, depressed by the back to school ads and the fresh stock of school supplies already installed at Wal-Mart, were beside ourselves when the trip was announced. Almost a whole glorious week was spent riding on rollercoasters, playing games, walking around buying balloons, taking pictures with Mickey Mouse and eating out at Friday’s. And, of course, visiting the gift shops. Even at eight years old I remember my surprise when I first saw the dream-catcher. Everything was cute in gift shops, but it was usually plastic and cheap, and rarely did you find anything really pretty. Tommy and I were each allowed one thing and I had to have it, so my mother bought it for me and I happily took back to our hotel. The only thing is, I’m sure I lost it.
The morning we were set to leave Orlando was a hectic one. Not surprising I suppose, with a family like mine. Dad spent most of the morning trying to find his glasses, Mom got her hair caught in the hotel hairdryer and just as we were getting in the taxi Tommy screamed that he’d left his Nintendo back in the room. So of course we were late and had to rush to the check-in. Then Mom further complicated matters by deciding she couldn’t possibly wear her heels on the flight and needed to find her flat shoes. This involved completely dismantling her and Dad’s suitcase, holding up the entire mile-long line and listening to a lot of muttered curse words from Dad. But finally, against all odds, we managed to get on the plane.
Like I said, this procedure is normal. The real story begins at JFK next to the baggage claim. Uncharacteristically, our bags were pretty near first on the belt: my little pink pull-along, Tommy’s Power Rangers case and Mom and Dad’s big rectangular bag arrived in quick succession. Delighted with our luck and relieved that nothing else had gone wrong, we were just about to head toward the exit when our way was blocked by an airport official. Wearing a navy blue suit, black, square toed heels, a red necktie and a pasted on smile, she spoke to my parents.
“I’ve been informed you’ve some lost baggage, I’m so sorry to have kept you waiting,” she said brightly, flipping over the top page on her clipboard. “If you’ll just give me some details about the bag and your flight I’m sure we’ll be able to track it down for you.”
My parents looked at each other. “I’m sorry, you must be mistaken,” Mom said to the lady. “We already have our bags.”
The woman’s pale-blue eyes widened earnestly. “No, I’m sure it was you I was asked to come and see. That family of four over there, they said at the desk, with the little boy holding the big brown teddy bear. They told me you’d lost a bag and needed some assistance.”
Dad shook his head. “My wife’s right, you’ve come to the wrong people. We’ve got all of our bags and even if we hadn’t there are still bags coming on to the carousel. Are you sure you’re at the right baggage claim?”
“Oh, absolutely sure!” the woman insisted. “I’m certain I saw you at the desk.”
“Well I’m afraid we can’t help you,” Dad said firmly. “Good luck finding whoever it was, but we really must get home.”
The woman made a desperate move to say something else as my father bent down to pick up his case, but next second we’d all whipped round to a thunderous stream of abuse. The source of the racket was a thin, balding man about the same height as my father. Storming up to our airport official, he continued to shout.
“What the hell is going on here? First my flight is delayed, then my bag is whipped from under my nose and now my family and I have had to hang around for an hour and a half waiting for assistance! This is a joke!”
My mother opened her mouth to protest – clearly there had been a simple misunderstanding – but the man cut her off.
“Misunderstanding? Incompetence is what it is! I could almost forgive the rudeness I was shown earlier if the staff had been more efficient, but this is ridiculous. Now I suggest you come and help my family and I or I’ll be speaking to your manager!”
And with that, the man turned and strode angrily in to the bustling crowd. Casting a worried glance behind her, the airport official muttered a hurried apology to my parents and raced off after him. We stood for a few seconds and watched her go, astonished by the scene we’d just witnessed. Then Mom straightened up. “Well! Hopefully that’s the last of that. Now let’s get out of here.”
But her face registered horror as Dad went to pick up the big case and I felt my stomach drop as if I was back on one of the rollercoaster rides at Disney. For where it had been only seconds ago, there was empty space. The case was gone. Frantically, we scanned the airport for a trace of the missing bag but there was only the flurry of the crowd, all going about their own business, all as eager to get home as we were. My father hurried around the corner to look for the airport official and the angry, balding man but they too had vanished.
We hurried to the lost baggage counter. “Excuse me,” my mother said tensely to the man behind the desk. “We were mistakenly approached by one of your officials about a missing bag.”
She continued until she’d finished the story, right up until we’d lost our own suitcase. The man behind the desk frowned. “Well I’m not sure who it was that approached you, but it certainly wasn’t any of our staff. People who have lost their luggage have to come to the desk if they want to report it, we don’t go around checking. If your bag has been picked up by mistake and someone returns it, we’ll be sure let you know.”
Of course, nobody ever did return it and after one more lap of the baggage claim, we headed home in bewilderment and never saw the bag again. Tommy and I still had our bags but they were child-sized cases, designed more for making us feel important than for actually carrying anything. They contained books, games, swimwear and little else. No shoes, no clothing to speak of and certainly no dream-catcher. But the trip had been short and we hadn’t taken much anyway, so the contents of the bag were easily replaced. Then summer ended and school started and pretty soon the events at the airport were all but forgotten. Until now, that is. I haven’t thought about that summer for years, not really. And whether it’s a good thing or not, I’m happy to have found the dream-catcher and I think it deserves to be hung where it can be seen. So I decide to take it with me. Bending down, I carefully place the miniature grandfather clock into my suitcase then stand back up to unhook the dream-catcher from the wall. But my hand stops in midair as I reach over the top of the bookshelf, and I stare at the space only inches in front of it. Because there is no hook on the wall, and more to the point there’s no dream-catcher.