A Christmas Memory

We all have a favorite Christmas memory, and mine happens to be one of my earliest—
As all kids do, I would pilfer around under the tree in the days leading up to Christmas, looking at the presents and looking for my name, and shaking those of course. When I was around five or six, at a certain point in all the looking and shaking, I realized my mama didn’t have a present under the tree. And that made me sad. 
I remember going into the kitchen where Mama was working (she was always working at something) and asking why she didn’t have anything under the tree. I don’t remember her answer, but she must have seen the distress on her youngest’s face. She didn’t tell me that providing Christmas for seven children put a severe strain on her and Daddy’s limited resources; she didn’t tell me they didn’t have the money to buy presents for themselves; she offered up a solution instead. She gave me a powder compact she hadn’t yet opened, a small square of Christmas paper, and told me I could wrap it up for her.
To this day, I still remember how good it made me feel to put that small present under the tree for my mama. And looking back, I think I realized that day that it truly is better to give than receive.

My favorite Christmas song, “Little Drummer Boy”, is about giving; more specifically about the giving of self, whether it’s your time, talent, donating to charities—something other than buying presents that put you into debt, and/or will be shoved in a closet and forgotten by New Year’s day. Make lasting memories instead.

Little Drummer Boy (also known as Carol of the Drum) video
Performed by: Vienna Boys Choir
Written by: Katherine Kennicot Davis

©2019 KT Workman

(Note: This was originally posted on a previous blog. I've been so busy this week, I haven't had time or energy to post, and very little time to read posts of those I follow.
Here's wishing all a very Merry Christmas. I hope Santa brings you all your heart desires.)   
 

Image by monicore from Pixabay

Feeding

Trish roused from a deep sleep, her body lethargic, heavy, and so, so tired. She wanted to roll to her other side off her aching hip and fall back into blissful unconsciousness but couldn’t summon the energy to do so. As she was slipping back beneath the veil of sleep, her full-to-bursting bladder spasmed—shouldn’t have drunk that fourth Margarita.

With a sigh, she threw back the covers and made her way to the bathroom. While sitting on the toilet, Trish became aware of a bone-deep aching in the muscles of her arms and legs, the weighty feel of them. She’d have to make an appointment with Dr. Lane soon if whatever was going on with her body didn’t improve. It didn’t seem right having perpetually sore, tired muscles when she sat at a desk all day. And it was interfering with her life. Last night, she hadn’t danced—hadn’t for a long time—when she and Logan met for drinks at Yancey’s Bar and Grill. She was always too tired for that anymore.

She flushed, returned to her warm bed, and was asleep almost as soon as her head hit the pillow.

And came awake with a start.

What the…

Trish felt things, some things, crawling over her scalp, her arms and legs, and even something wriggling inside her vagina. Screeching, she sat up, reached for the lamp, clicked it on.

Her screech turned into a wail of terror when she saw numerous thin wires piercing her body (in places, through her short gown), and she tracked the wires upward where they met in the center of the ceiling fan and disappeared inside.

Continue reading “Feeding”

Birds of a Feather

A couple of days ago, I received the good news that my novella “Across the Elsippi” has been accepted for publication in The Colored Lens and will most likely appear in their fall issue. I must admit, it surprised me that it was picked up, owing to its length: about 17,300 words. Most magazines want something under 10,000 words, and the majority of those prefer works under three to five thousand, tops.

“Across the Elsippi” takes place on a dystopian, alternate Earth that I have used as the setting for several earlier stories. The ones I sent out to magazines were all published quite a few years ago, but under a different pen name. The first story I wrote in this series titled “Birds of a Feather” was published in the now-defunct online magazine Mindflights in (I think) 2010. I submitted it as a reprint in 2019 to The Literary Hatchet under KT Workman, and it was published in issue #24.

“Birds of a Feather” continues to be my favorite of the many short pieces I have written. I know I have a few followers who have stayed with me through several metamorphoses, so have read this story before. But for those who have not—

Come close…I have a story to tell you….

BIRDS OF A FEATHER

My little sister was born with wings, or at least the beginnings of such. Little nubs on her sharp shoulder blades. When they reached any size, when from time to time tufts of white feathers dared blossom out, Ma cut them off with the cow dehorners. Morphia cried and carried on, but Ma said it didn’t hurt none, no more than snipping off a fingernail did, and if she didn’t cut them off, Morphia would fly away like Pa had.

Fact was, Ma had lost Pa to the winds, and she was bound and determined not to lose Morphia too. “Should’ve never let that bird-man in my bed, Henry,” she’d told me more times than I could count.

Folks in town said the bird-people had died out more than a hundred years ago–if there ever had been such beings, and they weren’t just made-up things like vampires and werewolves and such. And Preacher Conroy said they were unholy creatures, and if one ever did show up, they’d burn it like they had that strange cowfish that’d flopped out of the river last year. But they’d never seen Pa sail down out of the sky, his big, white, angel-wings flapping against the wind like Ma and me had. And I prayed they never would.

Continue reading “Birds of a Feather”

The Hatchling

I dreamed it, and now it’s mine...

The vile thing cries out from under the bed, demanding to be fed when I nurse Mikey. I try to ignore it, but I’m its mother, and I can’t.

I can’t! Lord knows I’ve tried.

Its garbled screeching affects me every bit as much as Mikey’s soft cries. I can’t deny it substance. So, I gather its scaly body to my breast, hot pain piercing my nipple as its teeth sink in, and it feeds, first on my milk, then my blood.

#

It’s growing much faster than Mikey, barely two weeks old and already crawling. How long before it walks? How long before it climbs unaided into bed with me? How long before it can clamber up the side of Mikey’s crib?

Before I grow too weak from blood loss, I have to kill it.

#

I have the knife in my hand. I can do this.

Freshly fed, stomach full of my milk and blood, it’s sleeping in its dark nest under my bed. Now is the time.

I hunker to my knees, raise the knife, and slowly lift the dust ruffle. The ugly, lumpy thing lies on its side facing me. Its long pink tail curled over its eyes tells me it is sleeping.

Mikey whimpers. I glance over my shoulder, lay a finger over my lips, “Shh," then turn back to my other son—

And see a dark blur of movement, angry red eyes, and a huge, suckered mouth full of needle teeth. Then pain—oh god, the pain—and darkness as those teeth close over my face. And rip.

©2021 KT Workman

Image by vargazs from Pixabay

Pay the Fiddler

(Note: this is a follow-up to Good Enough.)

Marlena wouldn’t have opened her door to just any man, a girl had to be careful after all. But when she’d parted the curtains a smidge and got a gander of the pretty man standing on the stoop, she about tripped over her own feet getting to the door and flinging it open.

“Well, hello there,” she said, pasting on a saucy grin. “What can I do for you?”

Light bugs and moths danced around the porch light, throwing flitting shadows over his scarred face. He quirked a black eyebrow. “Marlena Bledsoe?”

“The one and only.” Must’ve been asking about me down at Rudy’s. She tucked a bleached-blonde curl behind her ear, cocked a hip.

“It’s time to pay.”

The smile slid from Marlena’s face. Her belly knotted up. “Huh?” But she knew…

Continue reading “Pay the Fiddler”

Good Enough

Marlena was going to have to do something about the sheriff.

“You be nice to me, and I won’t pay Marshal a visit,” he’d said last night, his hot damp hand squeezing her thigh. “Won’t go poking around in the woods out back of his trailer, see what I can find.”

She had been taking a break between shows at Rudy’s, slumped in a back booth sipping a beer when Leroy Jones, sheriff of Rooker County, had plopped down beside her and delivered his ultimatum. She’d known what he meant by being “nice”, she hadn’t fallen off the turnip truck yesterday. The nerve! She might strip for a living, but that didn’t make her a whore.

Now, she was between a rock and a hard place. Either give the sheriff what he wanted, or see her brother, Marshall, get hauled in for growing marijuana—wasn’t like he cooked meth or nothing bad like that—leaving his wife and five kids to fend for themselves.

Yeah, she was going to have to do something, and that was the reason she was here now, crawling at a snail’s pace down Forked Tree Road, risking tearing the bottom out of her old Thunderbird, to pay a visit to Aunt Hassie.

‘Cause everybody knew that Aunt Hassie could fix most anything—for a price.

Continue reading “Good Enough”

Let’s Make a Deal

“I’ll pay you fifty million dollars,” Angela Burk said, her sharp gray eyes boring into Mark Pearson’s. “And all you have to do is give me a little nudge so I can die.”

The old lady was serious! Mark couldn’t believe it. He had agreed to have lunch with Mrs. Burk prior to her surgery on Monday, something the anesthesiologist had never done before with a patient, but she had been insistent; though, her asking this of him was the last thing he thought she may want to talk about. Questions about the operation, yes, but never this. It was just a simple operation—a vaginal hysterectomy for fibroid tumors that had enlarged, which was an uncommon occurrence for women of Mrs. Burk’s advanced years, but not unheard of.

I can’t be hearing her right…this is crazy. Or maybe she was senile. She couldn’t be asking him to kill her. “Mrs. Burk, do you know what you’re asking of me?”

“Yes, young man, I know perfectly well what I’m asking: I want you to help me pass on.”

Mark took a big drink of the expensive wine, started to set the glass down, changed his mind, and swallowed another big gulp. He studied her face for a moment, noted the set of her jaw and the astute intelligence in her steady gaze. Though her shoulder-length silver hair hinted at her age—ninety-five—the rest of her spoke of a much younger woman. Makeup expertly applied, a shocking red dress that skimmed her slim body, and red pumps to match, she could have passed for someone in her fifties. Truth be told, he wouldn’t mind having a look under that red dress and maybe even tapping the old broad.

Continue reading “Let’s Make a Deal”

You Are What You Read

Jane Hitchcock twitched the feather duster over the shelf of old books, stirring up years of dust that had settled upon their frayed tops. Wonder why they’re hidden away in here where no one can see them, she thought. A treasure they are, so old. And worth a lot of money, I’ll bet.

Her nose tickled. She sneezed, the sound as loud as a thunderclap inside the small closet. The flailing duster snagged one of the books, knocking it to the floor where it lay open, its fragile insides exposed. Jane bent over—no easy task for her two-hundred-pound-plus frame—and reached for the book. But then she noticed something. Strange. The lines upon the yellowed pages squiggled, wiggled, jiggled.

What in the world…

With a pained grunt, she dropped to her arthritic knees. She pushed back wisps of graying brown hair that had escaped its tight bun and peered at the dancing letters. Something was there, on the page beneath the words. She leaned forward for a closer look. Her belly shoved upward against her ribs, demanding room for itself, almost cutting off her supply of air and causing her to breathe in fast little pants. “What…is…that?” Her chubby fingers splayed over the brittle paper.

And she was falling. Arms waving, hands clawing futilely for something to hold on to, Jane Hitchcock pitched headfirst into a sepia-ink nothingness. She tumbled head over heels, a muffled scream spiraling out behind her. The long skirt of her full, flowery dress puffed out and wrapped about her shoulders and head. Cold caressed her dimpled thighs. Her scream turned into a wail of panic. I can’t see! Expecting any second to feel her body slam onto the bottom of whatever she’d fallen into and splat red like an overripe tomato, she tore at the twisted cloth, I must see! She yanked the dress tail, heard the growl of its rip, and didn’t care, and jerked it away from her face. And she was still falling. Sepia brown all around, sepia brown above, and below…

Continue reading “You Are What You Read”

The Vacation

“So, you want to go back to the beach this fall,” Michael said, his eyes on the bright brochures spread across the breakfast table between him and Elise. “Did you even give any thought to the mountains?”

“Well, a little,” Elise answered, her hands clenching into fists in her lap. “But you know what the cold does to my arthritis, and I thought…”

Michael’s icy, blue eyes lifted, bored into hers. “You thought what?”

Now it was Elise’s eyes that dropped. “I thought you’d want…er…me to be…” She swallowed the growing lump in her throat. “Comfortable. And I can’t…” Tears filmed her eyes. “I can’t be when all my joints ache.”

Michael stood, swept the brochures and his half-full cup of black coffee from the table. “You know what’s wrong with you, Elise?” he asked, a sneer twisting his lips. “All you think about is yourself.” He stalked to the door leading into the garage, yanked it open, and said over his shoulder, “Take an aspirin, you’ll be fine.”

When Elise heard the garage door closing, she rose unsteadily to her feet. “I can’t go on like this,” she muttered under her breath. “I just can’t.”

Pixie slunk into the kitchen, her grizzled head hanging low. Whining, the old spaniel looked up at Elise.

“I just can’t,” she repeated to the dog.

Elise squatted and began picking up the cup shards, her hands now steady and her fear gone. “I guess I’ll just have to kill the son-of-a bitch.”

Pixie yipped her agreement.

“Now, where did I put that book on poisons…”

©2021 KT Workman

Image by StockSnap from Pixabay

The Branch—The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

The branch runs close to the old house I grew up in. It is still there, though the house is long gone, torn down and replaced when I was around twelve or thirteen, with one having indoor plumbing. Yes, it still meanders along the base of the hill where the now old, but newer house still sits, and children are yet making memories along its twisty-twiney path, some of them my great-grand nieces and nephews, and cousins, both removed, second, thirds, and what-nots. It played a central role in my childhood, provided many hours of entertainment back in the dinosaur days of no internet, no cellphones, just a rotary phone whose line was shared between eight households.

When heavy rains came, the branch jumped its banks, sometimes spreading over the nearby fields my daddy had cleared for the cows to graze. It flooded the place where our road crossed it to the main road—both dirt—and we couldn’t get to the other side, sometimes for days. That could fit into both the Bad and Ugly, and Good. Much depended on which side of the branch you were on when it flooded, and whether you were a child or adult.

We lived near the road crossing, but there were two other families, plus my grandparents on my Daddy’s side, who lived farther down our side road. No one could get to town, no one could get to jobs, but us kids didn’t mind that the school bus couldn’t cross the branch to pick us up. And if one happened to be on the other side and it flooded, you couldn’t get home until it went down. Once, when I was in junior high, that happened to me. I remember Mama being on the other side of the branch when the bus pulled up. She yelled at me to go to my sister’s house, and Lord, did she have to scream loud for me to hear her over the water’s roar. Luckily, my recently married sister and her husband lived maybe half a mile (I’m not good judging distances, so it might have been more or less.) back along the school bus route, so the driver dropped me off there. I stayed at least one night, possibly two. The Good was I got to stay with my sister; the Bad and Ugly, I still had to go to school. Thank you, Sister, for providing clean clothes.

The worst of the Bad and Ugly happened when I was to be the second-grade princess in the school’s spring pageant. My cousin loaned me a formal dress, for I was to sit on stage with the other royalty—a sixth-grade boy and girl who were king and queen, and the princesses and princes, one boy and one girl, each chosen from grades one through five. I don’t remember who my prince was, but I do remember the joy in my shy, little heart at being picked as a princess. My sister, who was in fifth grade, was slated to sing with a group in the pageant. You ought to have seen how beautiful she looked in her bright yellow dress. Well, it rained the day of the pageant, which was being held at night, and all of us kids made it home from school okay, but between then and time to leave, the branch rose higher and higher until it was impossible to cross without risking life and limb. I was so disappointed, and most likely muttered a few choice curses under my breath, probably learned from my older brother, who was also Good and Bad, but not Ugly.

I forgave the branch. Like most people and things, it had its own path to follow, and its unique share of ups and downs.

The Good provided by the branch more than made up for its Bads and Uglies. My siblings, cousins—who lived just upstream—and I were in it in the spring as soon as the water warmed enough that our bare feet could comfortably wade in it. Carrying a big tin can, we searched for crawdads that often hid beneath flat rocks. Snakes sometimes hid there too. There was an art to crawdad hunting: Stand to the back of the rock you were going to raise, slowly lift it on the side farthest from you, and take a peek. Most always, a crawdad skulked there, pinchers raised in warning, but on occasion, a snake would be coiled beneath. Then it was drop the rock and run. The crawdads we caught and collected in the can containing a little water were set free after we were finished, unless a relative or neighbor had requested some to be used as fish bait. It was strictly a catch and release program, though I do recall that at least once we cooked their tails over a fire at the bluff. But the wondrous bluff is a story into itself, so I won’t go into it at this time. I don’t recall how the crawdad tails tasted—maybe like chicken?

My brother, sister, and I set out minnow jars in a deeper puddle in the branch that was fed by an underground spring. We constructed them similar to the picture above, except we used half-gallon Mason jars and screen wire for the funnel instead of a soda bottle. What we did with the captured minnows, I don’t recall, but I’ll never forget the time we hauled our jars from the water, and squiggly snakes filled the insides of the jars, and like the minnows, couldn’t escape. One of us returned to the house, fetched Mama, and she came to the rescue, breaking the jars and killing the snakes with a garden hoe.

A few times we seined the branch and caught snakes then too. I don’t know what we had set out to catch; we probably didn’t even know ourselves. It was just something fun to do that included the outdoors and water.

When the branch’s waters warmed even more, along around late May or early June, we took baths in it. We had no indoor plumbing so bathing involved heating water to a boil on the wood cook stove, pouring it and cold into a long, metal washtub, and us kids taking a bath, youngest girl to oldest, then my brother. Using the branch for this purpose was a heck of a lot easier; we grabbed a towel, wash cloth, and a bar of Ivory soap (my sister says because it floats), and waded in. I only recall us girls doing it. Either my brother stayed dirty or bathed at a different time.

When summertime’s heat and lack of rain dried up the branch, we had to result to more drastic measures on our forays to catch crawdads. They burrowed down into the mud, leaving a little hole to mark the spot. We dug a few out of their shelters, but I don’t recall often doing that. It was really more trouble than it was worth. The ones that suffered this fate at our small hands probably died. Kids can be so thoughtless and cruel.

I have a fond memory of my aunt, mother of the cousins who lived upstream, showing us how to make mud gingerbread men. At their place, the branch ran behind the house and had big slabs of flat rocks on the bank. There, we mixed dirt and water, and shaped our mud men and women. My aunt plucked the flower heads from nearby wild butter weeds, whose blooms look like black-eyed susans, but have a yellow center instead of brown, and used them to make eyes, buttons, and such for our mud people.

When fall set in, the water gradually became too cold to play in, so there was a lull in our preoccupation with it. But when winter snapped its teeth upon the water, turning it to ice, we were at it again. Wearing only our regular shoes, brother, sister, and I skated on it. We were smart enough to stay off ponds, but the branch was fair game because even if the ice gave way, at worst we would be drenched in the cold water to about our knees—maybe thighs if it were me, the smallest.

That branch, along with the woods and bluff, was our entertainment. We made our own fun, having no need of structured play time and play dates. I think we were what is now referred to as “free-range” children, no helicopter parenting for us.

Often, I think about my childhood, about the branch and how adventurous it was to explore. Seeing snakes in it, falling in it and getting hurt as well as wet, and even the leach that latched onto my leg that Mama scraped off with a knife failed to dampen its allure. After all, what kid doesn’t love playing in a branch—especially when it’s a Good branch?

©️2021 KT Workman

Featured image is of the branch, photographed by my son.

The remaining are taken from Pinterest