short stories

This is a short story I wrote a few years ago. I’ve always loved it and thought I’d post it again for your holiday enjoyment. (It’s based on the “8th day of Christmas”)

Meghan dropped down in the small stool, tipped back her cowboy hat and laid her forehead against the soft belly of the Jersey, less than pleased she was here doing the evening milking—again. The youngest of eight sisters, she always seemed to get stuck finishing the barn chores. She never got to do anything exciting, like ride out into Mistletoe Canyon and find the missing cows. Resigned to her duty, she gripped a teat in each hand, rolled her fingers with a vengeance and sent milk pinging into the bucket between her feet. The cow let out a soft bellow.
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This was a fun little Valentine writing exercise. I used a WORD GENERATOR to pick some words that I had to use in a romance story. A roll of the dice and we’re given three characters, mine were a BANKER, A COWBOY, and A BASEBALL PLAYER. I need to work in the adjectives PICKY, FAMOUS and ANGRY. And the whole scene needs to take place in a TAXI CAB. Well, okay, here’s my Valentine’s story writtene especially for my visitors. Please enjoy …

The taxi driver set the gray-haired woman’s two oversized suitcases on the sidewalk of the Plaza hotel and handed the happy chihuahua’s leash to the doorman. She folded two bucks in his hand with a wink and a smile as if the five percent tip were an overpayment. He bent and kissed her on the cheek. “Happy Valentine’s Day Mrs. Bozeman. I hope you enjoy your second honeymoon with your beau.”

A sweet blush crawled up her cheeks. “Forty-seven years ago today Mr. Bozeman asked me to be his girl. Pinned me right there in the hallway before he went on to win the high school state basketball championship.”

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I know, I know. I disappeared. But I had a good reason and it can be summed up with 4 simple letters. L. I. F. E.

You know sometimes it just gets the best of you! But I’m working toward a much better 2014. And until then I’ll try to bring my blog back to life! Here’s one of my favorite free reads that at some point in time will definitely require a story of its own!

Meghan dropped down in the small stool, tipped back her cowboy hat and laid her forehead against the soft belly of the Jersey, less than pleased she was here doing the evening milking—again. The youngest of eight sisters, she always seemed to get stuck finishing the barn chores. She never got to do anything exciting, like ride out into Mistletoe Canyon and find the missing cows. Resigned to her duty, she gripped a teat in each hand, rolled her fingers with a vengeance and sent milk pinging into the bucket between her feet. The cow let out a soft bellow.

“Don’t take it out on Clarabelle, it’s not her fault she needs milking,” her sister Michelle said from the stall behind her as she leaned in and begin expertly milking the Guernsey at her hands. “Besides, having you ride out at night just didn’t make any sense. Marissa and Melinda will find the cows and have them back here before Maria and Mary have trimmed the Christmas goose.”

“I’m that transparent now am I?”

Mia laughed, patting the tawny hide of the cow standing over her two stalls over. “I’m surprised you didn’t trip on that pouty lip as you dragged your skinny ass into the barn. Besides, even Santa’s elves don’t take a break from their chores on Christmas Eve until every last train is painted and every dolly packed.” Her oldest sister and her twin, Molly seemed happiest at the Arizona farm, content to tend cattle, breed horses and gather eggs for the neighbors.

Twenty-five head of dairy cattle, two bulls, twenty-seven prize thoroughbreds, a dozen pigs, countless dogs, four geese, two swans and more chickens than Perdue could cook in a month—that was the Morgan farm. Molly and Mia had been running it with a few local hired hands since their dad passed away from lung cancer five years ago when Meghan was just starting her freshman year of high school. He’d lost his high school sweetheart, and her mother, in a freak rodeo accident when Meghan was only five. Fiercely independent, her sisters had insisted on keeping the sprawling acres of land even when it meant every last minute was spent isolated from the rest of the world, earning a living.

As soon as she had enough saved, Meghan was shaking the dust of Peartree Point from her boots and heading east to some college that didn’t include “community” in its title. There was nothing that could keep her here on the family farm.

* * * *

Marissa nudged her chestnut mare, guiding her carefully down the slippery slope of Mistletoe Canyon, praying she could find the pregnant cows. Melinda’s horse nickered beside her, the billow of air pluming from its nostrils emphasizing the steady drop in temperature. The sun had set an hour ago, clouds rolling in, shrouding the full moon in a wash of black and gray.

“Molly just radioed from the other side of the canyon. She’s got nothing,” Melinda said.

“I’d hate to have those cows calve tonight out here. I’m not sure the newborns will survive the squall coming in.” As if her words had summoned them, snowflakes floated lazily from the sky.

“Tell Molly to meet us on the other side of the ridge. We’ll join up by route 17. If we don’t find them there, we’ll go home and pick up the search in the morning.”

Marissa kicked the mare into a trot and gave the horse her head. They’d ridden this section of the land so often the horse knew instinctively how to maneuver safely over the rocky terrain even in the shadowed night. Ten minutes later as the snow fell in earnest, the canyon walls opened up. She could see the lights of the gator up ahead, but Molly wasn’t alone.

A motor home loomed over the gator, her pregnant cows tethered to its grill. Oh hell no! Some yankees looking for Santa in a cowboy hat weren’t going to ruin her Christmas.

* * * *

Ayden stood his ground. In a short sleeved T-shirt, freezing his ass off, he was feeling more than a little desperate. The feisty blonde before him might be small in stature, but her attitude was rivaled only by the storm swirling around him. He hadn’t had a chance to explain himself when two horses thundered across the plain, their riders dropping to stand with the woman in front of him.

“We have a problem here, Molly?” the brunette from the horse asked.

The blonde tipped back her cowboy hat, exposing a heart-shaped face with rosy cheeks and full lips. Even pursed in displeasure, they looked damn kissable.

“No problem here,” she responded. “I was explaining to this man that the cows he’s stealing belong to the Morgan farm.”

“I’m not stealing your damn cows. I’m—”

His brother Aaron chose that moment to poke his head out the door. “Can they give us a ride Ayden? It’s fucking…”

Active splitting Aurora Borealis arcAlex plowed into him from behind, the two of them tumbling out of the stranded motor home. “I do not want to spend Christmas stranded in fucki…”

“Well, hello.”

“Please forgive my language, ladies.”

Ayden rolled his eyes as his brothers’ surly demeanors morphed into flirtatious charisma the moment they realized their rescuers were female.

“You look…” The third woman pointed first at Ayden then to Aaron. “And you…” Her finger moved to Alex. They got that reaction a lot.

“We’re triplets. Aaron, Alex and I’m Ayden Williams. And as I was saying we’re not stealing your cattle. We held on to them in hopes—”

“Their owners would rescue us.” Aaron finished.

“I’ve got the three duffles and a backpack of electronics.” Even at 20, Abraham, his youngest brother had the boyish look of a high school kid. Only his well developed physique hinted at his age. “They agree to take us to town?” he asked as he jumped down from the motorhome.

His twin Acton came down with as much enthusiasm. “Awesome, they brought horses.”

A whistle cut through the air, halting all the verbal confusion. Ayden turned back to the blonde. “One person.” She poked Ayden in the chest. “Why don’t you tell us what’s going on and why the lost cows that are keeping me from Christmas dinner are tethered to your motor home.”

Adam, Andrew and Anderson joined the rest of his brothers and he held his hand up, turned back to them and mouthed “Shut up.” He had hoped to negotiate the ride into town before his Good Samaritans realized there were eight hungry cowboys in need of rescuing.

* * * *

IMG_9207Meghan loved Christmas. The lights of the nine-foot Douglas fir standing proudly in the great room winked at her through the dining room door. Marie had started the fire while they’d been milking the cows. Presents in festive wrapping paper were scattered around the base, ready for the morning’s festivities.

“Are you sure there’s eight of them?” Marie asked, carrying the last of the crystal wine goblets and setting them around the additional place settings.

Mary balanced a tray of serving dishes, arranging them along the length of the table. “I think Mom and Dad always planned on a very big family. There’s plenty of room for all sixteen of us.”

The responsibilities on the ranch were so demanding, Meghan barely had time to do more than think about dating. Now eight men were being delivered to their doorstep.

“They’re brothers,” Mia said. “Molly said they’re buying the Fitzpatrick spread next door. I didn’t get any more than that over the radio.” Mia and Michelle carried more food from the kitchen. No one was worried there wasn’t enough to feed them all. They’d learned early on, that leftovers were never wasted. Mary and Maria had cooked enough food to feed a small country.

Footsteps pounded across the front porch. The wide door opened, the fresh scent of a Christmas snow carried in with all the men entering the foyer. Meghan would have to rethink that whole moving to the east coast thing.

It seems Santa did deliver on Christmas wishes after all.

This is the ninth installment of my short story Test Drive. If you would like to read the first 8 installments please click on Test Drive in the right hand column.

**********   TEST DRIVE   **********

The silence hanging heavily in the car made it hard for Margo to fill her lungs. Perhaps it was the sight of the brick building receding in the side mirror or the hills of Canada looming in front of her, but something made her dizzy with inescapable despair.

“Margo, I’m sorry that frightened you. But we’ve come so far, I couldn’t let you talk to the Border Patrol and ruin our plans. This did seem to do the trick. I promised not to hurt you and I meant it.”  Peter held a screwdriver in Margo’s face.

She realized it was the handle that had been pressed into her ribs and not another gun.

“What the fuck?” John shot Peter a scathing look over his shoulder.

“Oh, don’t blow your wad, dear brother. No harm, no foul. We all agreed getting through the border would be the toughest part. I could see Margo getting antsy and just helped her through it. It’s all down hill from here.”

John narrowed his eyes at Margo. Obviously, he considered her the most difficult part of whatever they were doing.

“Damn, this thing itches,” Peter said. “I’m glad to get rid of it.”  Margo turned to see Peter ripping off the baseball cap along with the scraggy hair. He picked at the goatee on his chin.

“You idiot! You fucking idiot! What are you doing?” John kept turning around, the car bumping off the shoulder before he turned back and brought it under control. He shoved Margo’s face, forcing her to look forward. “Don’t look at him. Keep your eyes forward.” Spittle flew from his mouth with the words. “Stop! You asshole. What the fuck, man?”

“For Chrissake, brother. Breathe. The damn thing was only for the border patrol. I think Margo’s cool.” He reached forward and laid a reassuring hand on her shoulder. “When this is over, I have a feeling she won’t say a word.”

Cold panic slithered down her chest and coiled in her belly. Now she could identify them. Hope sank as Peter pulled his hand from her shoulder.

“We’ve got everything covered Paul, just chill,” Brent said, settling back into the seat.

“It’s John. You idiot! You fucking idiot! If I weren’t driving…”

“Oh, but you are big brother. That was the deal, I was only the wing man, remember?  The front guy. But it seems to me I’ve done all the work. Everyone at the furniture store can identify me, what’s one more, especially when she’s as classy as Margo?” He leaned forward between the seats. “And by the way, my name is Brent, nice to meet you again.”

Margo didn’t want to look at him, but he captured her chin and pulled it so their noses were only inches apart. Chestnut curls framed a clean shaven face with a square jaw. The deep blue eyes scanned her face and she couldn’t help but return his mischievous smile with a trembling one of her own. In another life, at another time, she might find his boyish charm appealing. But having no idea what they intended for her, this moment wasn’t about anything more than having this man care about her enough to keep her safe.  

“Oh, what the fuck are you doing?” Paul pushed Brent to the backseat and broke the tenuous connection.

“Brent, you’re a fucking idiot!” His fist thumped the steering wheel emphasizing every word. “This whole thing is unraveling. First this bitch decides to go on a joy ride with us and now you’ve opened you’re fucking mouth. What the hell’s next Brent, a fucking four way split? I’m sure you know who will love that.” Paul gave up on the disguise and pulled the Fedora off, slamming it and the gray wig on the console between them. “Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. It wasn’t supposed to go down like this. A whole fucking year, and for what? A fucking bitch who couldn’t mind her own business. I say we get rid of her now.” Paul’s hand went for the gun just as Margo grabbed the steering wheel.

Copyright Kara Dunn 2008

I hope you’ve been enjoying this short story. If you’re just finding this for the first time, feel free to click on “Test Drive” in the left hand column and read the previous 7 entries. Please enjoy the next excerpt:

*******   TEST DRIVE   ********

“Ever the knight in shining armor aren’t you dear brother?” John asked sourly. Looking at Peter over his shoulder, he threw the car into reverse, the gears grinding like the tension roiling in the air between them. Margo had no idea what she’d fallen into. As dirt and rocks flung backwards, she wasn’t sure whether it was the extreme acceleration or the fear, but her stomach lurched and she swallowed the bile as they turned onto the main road.

“Listen, we’re not too off schedule, we should be at the border in ten minutes. We’ll figure out what to do with this beautiful lady.” Peter tapped Margo on the shoulder.

“Shut up! Just shut up! Will you, let me think?” Spittle flew with the unexpected explosion of anger. Peter had warned her of John’s volatile temper, but this was the first time she’d seen him get angry without cause. John flipped on the radio, the crooning oldies a stark contrast to the turmoil in the car.

With the volume hindering any further dialogue, Margo focused on her breathing. At least she wasn’t tied up and in the trunk. Between the screaming music and the terror pounding in her ears, she found it hard to string together two rational thoughts through the emotional fog. Nervously she cracked each of the knuckles of her right hand, hoping to mask the tremble in her hands.

Peter had rifled through her pockets and taken her cell phone and wallet. She didn’t like that she had no identification. Did they intend to kill her and dispose of her body, hoping it would take longer for them to link these men to her? She shook her head, refusing to give into those kind of thoughts.

She pondered how long it had been since she left her office; thirty minutes, more? She doubted anyone had even noticed. Once, on a beautiful summer day, she’d taken a convertible out with a girlfriend. They were gone close to an hour. Only the receptionist had commented. She missed her only because it had run into her lunch hour. There was a chance no one would give her a second thought until the police showed up asking them to identify her body.

Dylan wouldn’t realize she was gone until late tonight when he was looking for dinner. She never bothered to call her boyfriend during the day, knowing his lazy habits would only upset her. So even he wouldn’t wonder where she was.

The hill leading up to the border was lined with trees blazing with crimson leaves. But she wasn’t on a fall foliage tour, she was headed to some unknown destination. On the other side of the border could be nothing for her but danger.

With this tiny crossing in northern Maine, getting into another country would require nothing more than a piece of identification and answers to a few questions. 

John slowed the car and turned to Margo, evil mapping ugly roads across his features. “Don’t say a word. Don’t smile. Look straight ahead. Don’t even draw a deep breath. Nothing to bring attention to yourself.” Venom dripped with the words he pressed through clenched teeth. He hit the switch for the window as he pulled up to the brick building.

The glass window on the side of the building slid open, the elderly gentleman barely looking at them as he ticked information off on the registration sheet in front of him. “Beautiful morning. Everyone a U.S. citizen?” Canadian border patrol were always pleasant.

“Yes, all of us are from Willowdale, we’re having lunch in Great Falls.” John replied.

“I need driver’s licenses, birth certificates or passports.”

Peter handed two things to John who passed them onto the grandfatherly man leaning out the window. Obviously Peter had pulled her license from her wallet.

Margo’s head spun. What was she doing? Scream. What would these men do to her in Canada? The reality of her situation crashed down upon her once again and she refused to cower under its weight. Scream. The word echoed in her head. Do something. She sat back up and turned to the border patrol. Her mouth opened, but fear for her life kept the sound locked in her throat. 

The barrel of a gun pressed painfully through her jacket, digging into her ribs. Peter had it pressed into her right side. She slouched back into the warmth of the leather. Her glazed eyes of defeat once again stared straight ahead. 

The man perused the licenses in his hand. “Wait.” He readjusted his glasses and looked at the identification and then into the back window. “Peter, this you?”

“Yes, sir.”

Hope soared even as Peter pressed the gun painfully into her side. Perhaps they would be asked to go inside.

“You were born on Christmas Day same as my youngest,” the older man stated. His tongue clicked on the roof of his mouth. “She always hated not having another day to celebrate. You’re about the same age.”

“Yes, sir. It is a disappointment.”

“Guess we all live with disappointments.”

As he handed back the licenses, Margo wanted to scream out her own disappointment. But the gun in her side may as well have been wrapped around her vocal chords. No air would pass over them. Even as she screamed for help in her head. Only silence filled the car as she waited for the man to realize something was terribly wrong.

He handed back the licenses and in a monotone voice ran through the obligatory questions. “No mace, pepper spray…”

“Nope, nope and nope.” John smiled through the window for the first time since arriving at the dealership. He certainly knew how to toy with people.

“Have a nice lunch.” The gentleman waved them through.

The Sebring rolled out of the shaded protection of the building into the blinding fall sun. For the first time in her life, rather than the giddy anticipation of a vacation, crossing into Canada brought with it a sense of finality.

Copyright Nina Pierce 2008