The Bicycle Outside

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I pulled the hood of my jacket up and knocked on the door. Her bike was locked on the rails, so she was home. I swallowed my fear.

“Yes?” she asked, opening the door. Her jaw was somewhat square, but I couldn’t let that stifle my bravery.

I coughed. “I live across the street, and I noticed your bike. Uh, it’s cool.” I wiped my brow sweat away. “I like bikes. You want to go riding in the country this weekend? I’ll drive.” Why’d I say that? I hated biking.

She smiled. “With me?”

I nodded.

“I’d love to.”

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This was written for the Carrot Ranch’s November 21st Flash Fiction Challenge: Romance. So, I am terrible at romance, but I remembered this award-winning (haha! I am so proud!) poem/post that I made back in July. That poem left everything unrequited, so I decided to write a follow-up in which the speaker braved up. The “square jaw” is supposed to hint that the female character has transitioned, which was inspired by North Carolina’s extremely transphobic HB2 law (now defunct). One day I should write a post about that and why a repealed bill is still important!

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

Run, Sinner

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The dogs barked. They were getting closer.

“Dear God, please save me.” She clutched a small rock tied to a thong and prayed they not sniff her out. She’d stolen a crust of day old bread for her kid brother, but that was illegal. Draconian laws still demanded her hands be amputated for thievery.

She pulled herself further underneath the poplar’s roots. The dogs’ feet splashed in the creek as they sniffed and snorted.

“Hoh!” a man’s voice called. The dogs looked up and ran back to him, the hunt called off.

She waited until they left, then ran for the next county.

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This was written for Sammi Cox’s Weekend Writing Prompt #132, Draconian.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Dio de Muertos

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The priest lit a candle in the altar for intentions. He sat and prayed to God for the departed soul.

Little Juan burst into the sanctuary, calaveras makeup painted on his face. He tugged on the priest’s robes. “Your Madre would want you to celebrate! She is in heaven, Padre!”

“How can I celebrate? She is but a few days in her grave. I can’t be happy now, Juan.”

Juan took a wrapped taffy from his pocket and placed it next to the priest’s candle.

The priest smiled, allowing just a touch of Dio de Muertos to cheer him.

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This was written for the October 31st Carrot Ranch Prompt, Day of the Dead. I took inspiration from the syncretization of indigenous beliefs and Catholicism that go into the Mexican celebration.

Photo by Genaro Servín on Pexels.com

Tea Ceremony

Tea Ceremony

The courtesan poured from the teapot into the fairness cup, mixing the water and steeped flavanols before splitting it into two dainty cups.

The client took a cup and sipped. “This ceremony soothes me.”

The courtesan nodded. “As it was designed to.”

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This was written for Sammi Cox’s Weekend Writing Prompt #121teapot. I considered writing about the Teapot Dome scandal, but I just couldn’t fit it into 42 words! 😦

So here you go – hopefully something calm, soothing, and visual.

Photo by 五玄土 ORIENTO on Unsplash

The Things They Do to Me

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She tossed some of the powder onto the safe’s handle and brushed off excess, but the results came back as she expected. “Perp wore gloves,” she told the officer.

The uniformed man snorted. “Good lord. Sendin’ me a lady fingerprintist… the things they do to me.”

She pursed her lips, then ran out of the room. The cop laughed, thinking he’d sent her crying, but time ran short.

If she couldn’t solve the case from the perp’s traces, she could follow the money trail. Her dad had been a safebreaker – and she knew where he’d sell jewels and jade.

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This was written for the August 29th Carrot Ranch Challenge, safebreaker’s daughter. I couldn’t imagine a better picture than the one Charli provided, and I wrote a story that I thought the picture told. Perhaps it’s uncreative, but…

Anyway, I wanted to participate a little bit, but I’m still on semi-hiatus due to my hands feeling poorly. 😦 I may not respond to your comments immediately.

Trip to the New World

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The old world had been good, but not perfect.

What would this new one hold? She’d never been told exactly what this place would be like, and all the souls held in the bow of this ship were similarly confused – if they even spoke the same language.

Which, much to the sailors’ consternation, most of them didn’t.

She couldn’t understand the sailors’ tongues, but she did understand their sticks, whips, and clubs. She understood angry glares, uncaring tones, and raised hackles. She understood the chains around her wrists and ankles.

And she could guess their destination wouldn’t be fun.

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This was written for the August 22 Carrot Ranch Flash Fiction Challenge, old world.

Image by ArtTower from Pixabay

When Brian Met Bill – A Beatles Fanfic

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“So which of you lads can do the best British accent?”

The four young men, scruffy Texans with barely a dollar between them, squirmed in their chairs. A single lamp and a desk several decades out of style bedecked the shabby office, yet the suited Brit in front of them exuded a contrasting air of confidence and expense.

“I do a right good ‘pression of an Englishman, Mr. Epstein.” Dusty Hill cleared his throat. “I’m Dusty and I jolly good like tea and biscuits. Crumpets, scones, God save the Queen.”

“Stop! Oh, that’s terrible!” The man in the suit scribbled “George Harrison” onto his pad of paper, then ripped the sheet off and gave it to Dusty. “You be George and stay quiet. Now, for the rest of you: who’s got the best impression? Speak up, let me hear you talk.”

The remaining three lads gave each other passing glances, waiting for someone to bite. At last, Frank spoke up, “I’m doing me best English impression. Limey boys who love taxes and tea, wot wot.”

“Good enough.” Epstein, pulling back his nice sleeve wrote “Paul McCartney” on his pad, handing this to Frank. “You be Paul.”

“But I’m the drummer-“

“So’s Paul, if you ask Ringo.” The man in the suit cleared his throat. “We’ll just get you boys matching bowl cuts and suits. No one will notice the difference.”

 

***

 

2 MONTHS EARLIER – SEPTEMBER, 1963

“Ah, Brian Epstein.” The man pointed to a seat opposite him, then waved to the waitress to summon a tea. “It’s not every day one gets to chat over tea with an up-and-coming headhunter.”

“Not everyday I get to speak with a veteran headhunter.”

“Liar.” He tossed a card with “Bill Kehoe, Delta Promotions” emblazoned on the front. “You talk with bigwigs and veterans every day. If you didn’t, you wouldn’t have got your lads as far as you have.”

The waitress delivered the teapot and two cups. Brian dropped a cube of sugar in his cup while Bill poured the tea.

Once she left, Bill blew over his tea then said, “Everyone knows you don’t have tea with Brian Epstein without a reason. What do you want?”

Epstein swallowed the hot sip of tea. “England’s a small fish when you look at the consumption of music, and I have a band that can make it in America, where the real money is. I’m sure the Yanks’ll just eat it up. But the record labels are cocking up the deal – I’ve given them five singles plus several deep cuts, and not one bloody record company can put together an album!”

“And what can I do about it?”

“You’ve got dealings across the pond. I want your advice how to get my boys over there, touring and selling music.”

“If I knew how to do that, I’d already be rich. Tell me, your boys get along?”

“Well enough. They’ll stay together if there’s money in it, I suppose.”

“Sounds like they’ll break up soon enough, which works in your favor. Here – I’m going to give you my latest strategy, but only ‘cause my band the Zombies are fighting more often than they’re singing. My band’s more likely to explode than make it big anywhere.” He took a sip of tea. “The problem is the music business in America doesn’t want to support a band without a fan base. You have to tour to get a fan base, and you have to have support before you can tour. Vicious cycle. What you have to do is break into the cycle, any way you can.”

Brian shook his head. “I can’t foot the bill-”

“But that’s the beauty of my system, see. Only bill you have to foot is a couple flights for yourself over there, then the rest of it pays for itself.” He grinned. “You go over, find a few boys that can sing and play – doesn’t matter if they’re similar to your boys – and hire them to pretend to be The Beatles. Give them your lads’ music, set up a couple gigs, and you’ll have teenage girls screaming for your English albums faster than you can make them.”

“That’s lunacy. It’ll be an obvious hoax.”

“No one over there’s seen The Beatles. No one even cares, Brian. What’s more, your real Beatles won’t know the difference. They make music here, be a good little English band, and you make the real money with a fake band.”

“Is it legal?”

Bill Kehoe shrugged. “Well, I haven’t heard it’s not illegal. Just keep your eggs in separate baskets, and you’ll be fine…”

 

***

 

JANUARY, 1964

“So John’s got fanmail. What’s to complain about?”

“The bloody cowboy hat.” Paul McCartney reached into his jacket, searching for something. “Some bird in America sent John a photo to autograph. It said ‘The Beatles’ and had our names on it, but the man depicted as ‘Paul McCartney’ was wearing a cowboy hat. I don’t wear cowboy hats.”

Brian picked up the photo Paul lay before him. Sure enough, Frank-the-Paul-impostor wore a cowboy hat over a rangy head of hair in his promo picture. What was worse, and probably the next thing Paul would complain about, someone had faked Paul’s signature on the picture. Brian chuckled and handed it back. “I wouldn’t worry about it. Some group in America has the same band name, or perhaps some bird just got confused.”

“The picture was printed with my name on it, Brian.” He shoved it back onto Epstein’s chest. “You’ve been making money off us for years, keep telling us how we’d make it big in the States if you could just get Capitol to listen. So what kind of deal did you make? What’s going on?”

Brain held up his hands in surrender, innocent. “Look, this is the first time I’ve ever seen that picture. If someone’s impersonating you in the states, I’ll find out about it. It means their record companies are screwing me over, too.”

Paul crumpled the photo. “Good. John and I are coming up with tons of stuff, and we can’t have some impersonator destroying our image.”

“No. Of course not.”

 

***

 

FEBRUARY, 1964

Brian clutched the telephone so tight his fingers tingled. With the cost of the trans-Atlantic phone call, he might as well have booked a flight. “What do you mean, ‘your own stuff?’”

The Texas drawl of Dusty clamored over the call, “You know, our songs. We’ve been singing your boring old Beatles stuff, but we didn’t have time to learn all of it. We had to fill in with something.”

“That wasn’t the deal. You’re being paid to be the Beatles just long enough so I can break the real band over there. It was bad enough you didn’t get the haircut and wore cowboy hats in your photos, but singing ‘your own stuff’ tears it.” He put his hand to his forehead. “Didn’t you listen to the songs I gave you to learn?”

“Yeah, but some of it just wasn’t our style, and we had to learn an awful lot in a short time. You gave us a ton of gigs, Mr. Epstein.”

Epstein pursed his lips and held back his anger for just a moment. “I’m going to cut you loose if you can’t play by my rules. You know who I got interested in your group? Ed Sullivan, that’s who. Now you’ve been good to me, boys, and all the Beatles singles are flying off the shelves. But I could take my boys, the real ones, and you’d be back on the streets. Is that what you want?”

Silence.

“Now shape up. Get your hair cut, get fitted for those suits, and learn your music.” He moved to hang up, then remembered, “Oh, and George – I mean, Dusty?”

“Yeah?”

“Let Paul do all the talking.”

 

***

 

MARCH, 1964

John sat calmly on a pillow, anger seething somewhere deep inside him, while Paul reddened and steamed.

“That’s all I ask,” Brian said. “The American market is cracking, I know it. You just have to write something tailored for them. Something with more blues influences, something more rural. You boys are good at this. You can do it.”

“But our songs are great already.”

“Your albums are great, boys, but we’ve got to start thinking of the next album. Hey, George is into that Indian mysticism and whatnot – get together, make an album with international flavor. How does that sound?”

John stood. “You can’t control our creativity. We write what we write, and you are powerless to change that.”

“And people buy what they buy, and you are powerless to stop that.” Brian pointed to each young man in turn. “Come on. You’ve got it in you. Write the songs for me, make an album.”

Paul swallowed. “We’ll see what comes out, Brian.”

John nodded in agreement. “Yeah. We’ll see.”

 

***

 

JULY 3, 1964

Brian read the headline of the culture section in the Daily Mail and coughed on his morning digestive. He pounded his chest with a fist to clear the blockage and, hand shaking, picked up his cup of morning tea to wash down the crumbs.

He took a key from his pocket and shoved it into a desk drawer. There, in a box sitting next to a bottle of fine Scotch and a couple glasses that needed cleaning, sat a row of business cards. Brian sorted through the cards and took out an ivory piece of cardstock. His hands shook as he took the card and closed the desk door, whiskey and glasses clinking as he did so.

His shaky fingers trailed around the rotary dial. “Please be in the office,” he begged. “Please pick up…”

The dial tone hummed twice before the line clicked and a man answered, “Bill Kehoe.”

“Oh, Bill.” Brian wiped the sweat from his brow and leaned forward. Despite the distress in his body, he kept his voice even. “I was just getting in the office, and I noticed the newspaper. Have you seen the article in the Daily Mail about my boys?”

“The Mail? Brian my boy, I’ve seen about it in the Independent. Your boys’ arrival back on English soil is everywhere in the entertainment pages. Good show, I say, good show-”

“You don’t understand-”

“I don’t? Why, it means you’ve cracked the American market and successfully toured the planet! No one’s done that, not even me.”

“Shut up, Bill. It’s you who’s got me into this mess, and it’s you who’s got to get me out.” Brian huffed, looked to the door to make sure his secretary hadn’t heard his outburst. “I made the fake band like you suggested. Problem is they sold like hotcakes, and the American public wanted their image, not the real thing. I couldn’t substitute my real band back in before the Ed Sullivan show, and then it was far beyond too late.”

Bill grumbled on the other end of the line. “You’re saying the boys in the article are the Fake Beatles.”

“Yes. They weren’t supposed to come here!”

“Do your real boys know about them?” The telephone line crackled a bit as he spoke.

“They might suspect, but I haven’t told them anything specific.”

“Oh.” Bill Kehoe coughed on the other end. “What do you plan to do?”

“I don’t know!” Brian reached for a cigarette even though he didn’t like smoking indoors. “I haven’t lost control yet. None of them get out of bed this early, after all. They might even be working on this mystical Indian nonsense, in which case I might have a day, maybe two on the outside, before they figure out the ruse.”

“Then you have a little while to come up with something.” Bill grunted on the other end of the line. “I see three options, Brian: one is to tell your boys what’s going on, then try to hold their money out of reach in order to force them to work with you.”

“It’s not their money in the first place. I’ve done all the work.”

“Will they see it that way?”

Brian paused a moment. “Their contract gives me complete control over their image and brand.”

“So they’ll complain and eat everyone’s profits away in court. You’ve got them by the small and curlies, my boy. Offer them greater royalties for writing, singing, and recording their songs, but let your American boys with their American smiles keep touring. Not a bad deal for anyone, really.”

“What’s the second option?”

“Get all the money you have in cash. Preferably American dollars or Soviet rubles. Then take all you can in a couple of briefcases, go to some third world country, and establish yourself as a king of sorts amongst the savages.”

“Option 3?”

“Suicide, naturally.”

Brian clenched his fist. “You’re no help, Bill.”

“But I got you rich-”

Epstein hung up the phone before Bill could finish.

 

***

 

JULY 4, 1964

Brian slammed the door behind him. Dusty and Frank roused themselves from where they slept on the Brighton hotel room’s couch.

“Mr. Epstein!” Dusty shouted, his voice still quiet and stuffed from having just awoken.

“What is the meaning of this?!” Epstein fumed. He kicked an empty can of beer out of his way and made a path to the expensive couches. “You were supposed to return to the States after you finished at Brisbane. The real band is here in England, and they weren’t supposed to find out you existed.” He tried to rouse the sleeping band members, but their eyes batted just briefly before they fell back to snoozing. “Get out. My boys will do this Brighton show.”

The closet doors opened. John, Paul, Ringo, and George stepped out. Their faces were bedraggled, their facial hair fuzzy and scraggly like that of poor-kempt young men. “You really think that will work? That anyone will be expecting us?” John asked.

Epstein stammered wordlessly. Senselessly.

“You’ve had this fake band touring for so long that not even our own countrymen recognize us,” Paul accused. “We’re not the Beatles anymore. These dumb yokels are.”

Frank smiled and Dusty nodded in agreement.

Brian clenched his fists. “So you know what’s going on.”

“With that article in the paper advertising the Beatles’ arrival back in England? Of course we knew, you fool.” Paul pointed a finger. “How much money did you steal from us?”

“Nothing. I earned every pound I made.”

“Bullshit.” Paul’s brows furrowed into deep, angry trenches. “We made the songs. We sang the recordings. These bloody yanks jumped around the world however you told them – they did more work than you.”

“Well they bungled that last trip,” Brian cried. He pointed to the Americans on the couch. “You’re fired. I don’t care if you’re popular in the States.”

Dusty and Frank chuckled on the couch. “You can’t fire us.”

“I hired you to be front men, and you’ve frustrated me since day one! I can fire you whenever I please!”

“They don’t work for you anymore,” Paul spoke up. “None of us do.”

“Your contract –”

“Making a second band in our name was illegal, Mr. Epstein,” John said. “The lawyers Mr. Kehoe hired for us back in June agree that our contract was voided as soon as you hired the impostors.”

Brian’s eyes widened. “Mr. Kehoe?”

“Our new manager.” Paul pointed to the door. “It’s you who are fired, Mr. Epstein.”

Brian gritted his teeth and clenched his fists. “That traitor! This was his plan all along – he’s the one who told me to hire the impostors! It’s his fault!”

“Get out of this room.” Paul opened the door and pointed to the exit with an angry finger. “It’s your fault we’re no longer The Beatles. You killed us, Mr. Epstein. You ruined our names and our fortunes, and I never want to see your wormy face again!”

As Epstein turned to leave, he wiped a tear welling in his eye. He stepped over the threshold into the wood-floored hallway. “You could always make a new band. Hell, I’d manage you for free, after everything that’s happened. I wouldn’t make the same mistake again.”

“Get out.”

Epstein lowered his head. Taking all his money and becoming a king in some desert island sounded better every second.

 

***

 

SEPTEMBER, 1964

The meeting took place in Bill’s office. A beautiful secretary filed her nails at her little desk, ready with a pen and stenographer’s pad if need be. “The song’s a massive hit,” Bill explained. “Not like your Beatles stuff, but we couldn’t expect lightning to strike twice, could we?”

Paul grumbled. “Those silly fake ‘Beatles’ still make money off our songs.”

“But you’re back from the dead as ‘The Zombies.’ Better than ever and 100% genuine…”

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I’ll admit, this story was written for a themed anthology about the Beatles. They were looking for speculative fiction including alternate histories, so I gave them one based on mashing together the true stories of “The Beatles” with the even weirder true story of British Invasion band “The Zombies.” Since this story wasn’t chosen for the anthology, I was like, “Wtf am I supposed to do with this now?” and thus you receive this tale. Ta-da!

As far as I’m aware, no one has claimed copyright on the photo. At least this is what it says on Wikipedia…

Watch for Witches

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Red-capped Jeroboam soldered the gear. He wound the mechanism and let it go. The device turned and whirred as he expected, so he put it down to tinker on it further.

“What are you making, gnome?” asked a human customer.

“A device that tells time. Wind it up in the morning, and it will work all day.”

“Sounds like witchcraft.”

The gnome squinted. “You could make one too, if you’d get over that ‘witch’ crap.”

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This was written for Sammi Cox’s Weekend Writing Prompt #119Tinker. As an avid D&D player, I immediately thought of tinkering gnomes and couldn’t put that idea down!

Photo by Susanne Jutzeler on Pexels.com

Hijacking Euphoria

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Johnny hopped in. “Gun it, Euphoria!”

The hot, 375-horsepower Cadillac roared, but she pressed the brakes at a screeching metal sound.

“Door’s jammed! It got caught on the sidewalk!”

Euphoria screamed. “What the hell you doin’ to my car!?”

“It don’t matter! Gun it, or the cops will catch us!”

She put her long, pink fingernails up to her face. Tears streamed down. “Oh no, my baby!”

The cops caught up, guns at the ready. They saw Euphoria’s tears and manhandled Johnny out. “Hijacking a car and robbing a bank!? You’re going to jail for a long time, bub!”

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This was written for the Carrot Ranch Flash Fiction PromptJam. I remembered this scene in one of my favorite movies, Black Dynamite, where the baddies pull up to the curb and precipitate a shootout, but they forget their car is in drive. One of the open doors screeches up against the sidewalk and they struggle to get the door closed when they’re making their getaway. So I just hijacked that idea and turned it into what I wanted!

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Frog Slime

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“This will never do,” Mrs. McGillicutty snapped. She dropped the toad gently back down to into the young man’s pail.

“Why not?”

“It’s a simple mistake, but one witches such as I – and you, if you’re willing to stick with your apprenticeship – must learn well.” The woman, whose wild curls had once been a fine jet-black but were now grayed and thick, pointed at the toad. “See the roughness of the skin? The mottled pattern? It’s a toad. In order for spells requiring frog slime to work, you must have a frog.”

The boy rolled his eyes. “So you want me to go back out and look for another one?”

“Well, if you want to make a potion to breathe underwater, you need a frog’s slime. There’s no way around it.” She pointed back to the toad. “If you find another of these, just let it go. The frogs around here are a muddy green, and they tend to live in the ponds.” She turned to her own work, dissecting flowers and carefully removing their various organs to make an aphrodisiac. “Now get on – shoo! The faster you get the frog, the sooner we make the potion.”

Young Chris pursed his lips, refusing to contradict his boss when he left. He shut the door behind him, then sauntered down the dirt path toward the pond. It was another mile away, over by where he’d already picked mushrooms and violets for the witch.

“Stupid witch,” he mumbled to himself. “Should have joined the army and fought the British like father wanted.” He kicked a rock in the middle of the road and contemplated how it rolled, how it couldn’t control its own direction or destiny. He should have followed the advice of the natural world and not tried to kick against the thorns by taking up this unnatural occupation.

Along the side of the road, however, he spotted a bunch of trillium. They were in flower, and the bunch was big enough that he could take several of them and not disturb their future growth. The witch liked these flowers, so he hoped she’d be pleased even if he didn’t find the frog. He dumped the toad out of the pail then collected some of the flowers and continued on his way.

The sun shone brightly, bleaching his hair as he continued down the path. A little ways further, and his eyes caught sight of a spider’s web. He investigated closer, then noticed the little friend of all witches: the black widow. His heart shuddered at the thoughts of the bug’s bite, but he knew the potency of the spider’s bite was something all witches desired. He took a stick, prodded the creature, and eventually convinced her to bite the end of the oak. Sure, the poison would need to be leached soon in order to be made use of, but the witch would know how to do that.

Soon, the young man came to the pond. As if on command, a frog, definitely a frog and not a toad, swam up from the foulest part of the pond and sat on a log. Green algae stuck to its skin.

Mrs. McGillicutty wanted the frog, but the young man looked at the animal and considered it. He’d taken the venom of a spider and a few shoots of a flower – why capture and torture this poor animal? Why waste that time? He scooped the frog from its perch, wiped away a little of the algae, and scooped the slime into one of the wooden gourds the witch made him take on his journeys. The frog was pleased to re-enter the pond, and the boy put the gourd back into his pail.

By the time he returned to the witch’s house, the sun considered setting, and clouds threatened to rain. He knocked once on the door and entered.

The witch looked up from where she stirred a cauldron. “Any luck?” she asked.

“No,” he answered. “I didn’t get you a frog.” He placed the bucket on the table.

“You can just look again tomorrow.”

“I don’t think so,” he answered. “Witchcraft is a woman’s work for a reason: it’s not something a man like me should partake in. I’m not learning anything, certainly not enough to make a living doing something so… foul.”

The witch opened the gourd and examined the slime inside. She shuffled through the flowers and sniffed the stick, discerning what was important about it. “Then why bring me all this?”

“Because I knew you’d like them.”

“And how did you know that?”

He bit his lip.

“You’re learning at quite the right pace. Now sit back – I’ve made us some venison stew, magic-free.”

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This was written for Alexander Eliot’s new photo prompt! The prompt isn’t on any certain schedule, as far as I can tell, but I can promise that the photos have been wonderful so far. No rules, just a story.