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) in 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

Thomasina Tull

Thomasina Tull clomped down the school bus steps, head lowered, books clutched tightly to her chest, and waited for Mr. Earl to lever open the door. She always hated these few beats of time that seemed to last forever before she could escape the yellow monster filled with mean grins and even meaner eyes.

On the ride to and from school—as well as on the playground—the other kids’ relentless teasing, contemptuous looks, and sometimes shoves or kicks had lessened as she and they had gotten older but had never stopped. Only in the classroom was she free of harassment. She was always assigned the front desk in the center row so she could see the blackboard. All the faculty at Blackburn Elementary knew she couldn’t see worth a flip.

The doors whooshed open, and Thomasina quickly stepped to the ground and strode away. She knew she shouldn’t look back, but she did and saw Jackie Carter’s fuzzy face hanging out the window, making those disgusting smacking noises before yelling, “What’s up, doc?” his top lip poking out and his bottom lip pulled back in a bad Bugs Bunny imitation.

The bus pulled away, trailing hoots of laughter and a swirling cloud of dust.

Thomasina sighed, well past the point of being hurt—or told herself she was. After all, it was nothing she hadn’t experienced a thousand times before.

She grabbed the mail from the listing, rusty mailbox and started the quarter-mile walk down the little-used lane to her home. She stuck to one of the two parallel tracks that were bisected by tall Johnson grass and crowded on both sides by thick trees whose limbs twined their leafy fingers across the road, keeping it in perpetual shade. Wouldn’t do to brush against any stray stalks; though it was mid October, there hadn’t yet been a hard freeze to kill off the seed ticks and chiggers that clung to grasses and brush in shady spots, laying in wait to transfer to some unlucky warm-blooded host.

So, Thomasina stepped carefully, bunching her long, faded skirt in one fist to keep it from touching the grass, remembering her first run-in years ago with chiggers, the scratching and misery. When she had told Daddy about the itching, he had rubbed the wide scar that parted his dark hair on the left side, frowned, and studied the small red bumps on her legs for a time. Then his sky-blue eyes, which she had inherited, brightened, and he’d grinned. “Them there are chigger bites, Tom.” And in his limited way, had told her about chiggers and seed ticks—she had already known about regular-sized ticks—and smeared her legs with calamine lotion.

Sometimes, Daddy knew things, and sometimes he didn’t, but all in all, she knew more than he did. At one time—and this was so long ago she barely remembered—he knew everything, but the accident at the sawmill had stolen the bigger part of that knowledge. And it had even stolen Mama, who’d slipped away in the dead of night after Daddy came home from the hospital, leaving four-year-old Thomasina with a daddy that had trouble even tying his shoelaces. And that wasn’t even the worst of it.

Continue reading Thomasina Tull

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

Faces R Us

“What do you think about this one?” the face tech asked Skyler and Hudson. “The skin tone is a perfect match, cafe au lait…mmm…and that adorable smile…” The tech echoed the smile gracing the small mask’s face—though his with teeth, of course. “Sets the dear little one off on the right path.”

“I don’t know…” Skyler fingered a green-tipped, black cork-screw curl, turned her dark eyes to her husband. “What do you think? Is it too girly?”

“Well, she is a girl, Sweetums,” Hudson answered. “And well…uh…” He felt the heat of an unbecoming blush—thankfully hidden beneath his pale mask—at the unintended faux pas. “Well…uh…for now, that is.”

Skyler’s perfect lips strained slightly downward as her eyes turned back to the tech. “Can you whip up something a bit more gender-neutral? We wouldn’t want the mask to influence how they might develop.”

#

It took several days, but little Domino became accustomed to their face and stopped fussing when Skyler smoothed it back on after removing it to clean the bare skin beneath. Skyler hated the daily ordeal, revolted by the imperfections on her infant child’s face…slight, yes, but still ugly. More and more she had turned the task over to Hudson, who seemed unaffected by the baby’s unmasked face. She was so ready for Domino to be able to do the daily cleaning for themself, but the child was only seven months old, so that was a couple of years away. Why, Skyler could barely stand to see her own under-face, let alone anyone else’s. Continue reading Faces R Us

Flying

When we left the city, there had been seventy-three of us. Now we were nineteen.

And the armadogs were closing in.

The armadogs were silent stalkers. They didn’t howl or bark like their biological counterparts, and unless they were close, you couldn’t hear them. Their big, spongy footpads absorbed sound on both grass and dirt. They communicated with each other and their controllers via Service-Web, and humans had never had access to Service-Web. Why would we need or want to know all the mundane details that kept our workers working?

Darcy fell into step beside me. “Jimmy says they’re less than four hundred meters behind,” she said. “We need to find a place we can defend, Shelia.”

I glanced at her face, a pale smudge in the grey, early-morning light. The bandage around her head was seeping blood again. But no time now to stop and change it.

“How much firepower do we have left?” I asked, not breaking the fast trot we had been moving at most of the night.

“Two flame pistols still have a charge. And one scrambler, but it’s low. A few grenades. We have tons of bullets, but well, you know…”

Yes, I knew. Bullets rarely stopped an armadog. “Be on the lookout for a place to take cover. And tell Jimmy to let me know when they’re within two hundred meters.” Then we would have to make a stand regardless. Continue reading Flying