Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Lion In Plaid


Mina studied the artwork hanging at the foot of her bed. A line of pre-evolved wild animals and birds sat on the back of a wild-bear, appearing to ride it. “Daddy? Why is the blue bird on the wild-bear’s head?”

“She’s giving the wild-bear directions.”

“Oh.” Mina thought for a second, then asked, “Why is the wild-mouse sitting in front of the owl? Isn’t he worried about getting eaten?”

“No. That would violate the wild-bear’s Terms of Service.”

“What are Terms of Service?”

“It’s an agreement between the user and the service provider. In this case, in order to ride the Wild-Bear Bus, you have to agree not to eat any of the other passengers.”

“Cool. Is that one of the Terms of Service on the school bus, too?”

“Yes.” Mina’s father smiled, showing just a hint of tooth. “Are you nervous about tomorrow?”

“No. I was just wondering if I’d be allowed to eat any of the other kids.”

“Well, you’re not.” He tucked the sheet around his cub the way she liked it and gave her fur an affectionate ruffle. “And you tell a grownup if anyone tries to eat you.”

Mina laughed at the idea of someone eating her. Looking back at her preschool self the night before her senior year, she realized it had been incredibly naive to think that her status as a lion put her at the top of the school hierarchy just because wild-lions are at the top of the food chain. She’d be taking neither the Wild-Bear Bus nor the school bus tomorrow and would be riding her bike in. Although the bike had been a birthday present a month before, she was certain the scurry of squirrels that actually ruled her school would find several dozen faults in it, probably including an assertion that it was already out of fashion.

Sometimes Mina wondered about what Earth had been like before the rapid evolutions of the late human era, back when a group of extinct primates had somehow managed to be in charge of everything. When everyone was the same species, did everyone get along? Was high school somehow harmonious? Or were there still mean kids who didn’t literally eat the weak but metaphorically had them for lunch? Too little of their literature survived to know for sure.

She sighed as she laid out her uniform for the morning. There was undoubtedly a cool way of altering it this year that no one had told her yet. Last year it had been rips on the sleeves. The year before, it had been bleach stains on the skirts and trousers. Back in middle school, it had been the addition of pins. Mina and her best friend Yentl still wore a button on their headbands proclaiming them besties for life. Yentl’s had a lioness from an ancient book about a wild-lion who was also a king and Mina’s featured a wild-skunk in a flowerbed taken from an equally old artwork. Mina slid her pin into her new headband, the one in Senior Class Plaid that replaced her Junior Class Polkadots. She smiled faintly, reflecting on how much she’d missed Yentl over the summer and how awesome it would be to see her in the morning.

When Mina made it to school the next day she was at first relieved that she’d made it in early enough that none of the squirrels were there to spot her. Then she saw Yentl.

Yentl stood near the entrance with a troop of lemurs with similar fur patterns to her own. She had ribbons dangling from her belt and her headband was devoid of pins. She saw Mina looking at her, glared, and turned away. She walked off as Mina approached.

In homeroom, Yentl still refused to speak to Mina or meet her eyes. She did, however, slide a note across the aisle.

Mina opened the missive with shaking hands. “Our friendship was unnatural,” it said. “Herbivores and carnivores shouldn’t hang out together. You should go talk to the hyenas or something.”

Shaking her head, Mina took out a pen to scrawl out, “You can’t mean that. We’re not wild animals! We’re people!”

Yentl didn’t write back.

“I don’t even eat meat! I only eat synth! You know that!” Mina tried again, this time speaking in a hushed tone designed to carry to her neighbor and no further.

This time Yentl took pity. “It’s not about what you eat, Meens,” she whispered. “It’s about nature. And we’re only friends because we sit next to each other in home room, which we only do because we’re sorted by alphabet. If I had a different last name, we never would have spoke. And that would have been better for both of us.”

“No, it wouldn’t!”

A few heads turned because Mina had said that last bit much louder than she’d meant to.

Yentl gave her oldest friend a gentle look. “We’re going to different colleges anyway. Let me have a decent senior year instead of being a freak for my entire high school career.”

The skunk waltzed to the front of the room to talk to the teacher, who nodded and directed one of the front row students to move to Yentl’s old seat under the premise of Yentl’s tablet having poor reception in the back of the room. It wasn’t a great excuse; everyone was issued the same type of tablet and the coverage was universally good throughout the school.

A fellow lion named Deshaun slid into the recently vacated spot, adjusting the seat to accommodate his taller size. “Been there, done that,” he whispered to Mina. “It sucks.”

Mina’s thoughts were reeling enough that it took her a while to remember what Deshaun was talking about. He dated a deer sophomore year, until she dumped him for “aggressive potential” even though he was the chillest and most mellow person in their class and had never so much as bared his teeth at her. “Yeah,” she said as he rummaged through his bag for something.

A moment later, Deshaun held out a ribbon to her. It said, “Preds for Peace” on it, advertising the school club he was president of. “Come to our meeting today. Three o’clock in O’Kent’s room.”

Although she’d been somewhat derisive about the group before, calling them hippies and accusing them of spending more time smoking weed than actually promoting coexistence, Mina took the ribbon and tied it to her belt. “Yeah. I’ll try.”

“And…” Deshaun paused for a deep breath before saying in a rushed jumble, “Feel free to eat lunch at my table if you want.”

The offer made Mina want to cry all the more, but she nodded. There was no doubt the day was going to suck. She reached up and took the pin off her headband, not caring if it left a hole. It was appropriate for it to leave hole to match the hole in her heart.

Hole in her heart? She drew herself up straighter. That was not the kind of thought Mina Saint Clair was going to have.

“Hey, Deshaun?”

The male leaned toward her with poorly contained eagerness. “Yeah?”

Mina pointed at Deshaun’s belt, which had about two dozen ribbons tied to it. “Think you could spare a couple of those?”

He gave her the careful large carnivore smile, the one that managed to cover his teeth so as not to alarm smaller people. “Sure thing. Although in some cultures, I think that would mean we’re married.”

Taking the clump of shiny strands he handed her, Mina smiled back with a less careful smile, knowing Deshaun could handle her teeth. “It’s cool. Giving them back tomorrow will make us divorced.”

Deshaun snorted out a laugh. “As long as no one owes alimony, I’m down with that.”

In the front row, Yentl turned to look at her old seat with a frown. Mina stopped smiling, but didn’t stop showing her teeth.

Quickly, Yentl turned back to the front, obviously spooked. It made Mina feel a little bad, but not bad enough that the more aggressive side of her mind didn’t snarl, “You shouldn’t have provoked a carnivore if you didn’t want to get eaten.” She gasped at the thought, took a breath through her noise, and said out loud, “Yeah, I’ll definitely be at the Preds for Peace meeting this afternoon.”

The image above is "Traveling with Friends" by Andrea Doss. You can buy this charming piece at UGallery. It was offered as a prompt on my Wording Wednesday Project.

Sunday, September 13, 2020

Who Says Camels Don't Ski?

It is said, at least by t-shirts sold outside Ski Dubai, that camels don’t ski. Josef al Shameel, a camel technically owned by a minor noble in the United Arab Emirates but granted the freedom to roam about the desert on account of how he freaked his owner out, could only read Arabic. As the shirts were generally written in English, he didn’t know that they said he shouldn’t do the thing depicted. All he knew was that he’d seen a human wearing a picture of what was clearly a camel on flat planks of wood going down what Josef took to be a sand dune. He’d seen that and thought to himself, “That is a thing I want to do.”

In the history of the Ski Dubai indoor ski area, no camel has ever shown up and asked for a lift ticket. Josef didn’t either, possibly because he didn’t know what snow is and possibly because when he tried to find someone to design camel-sized skis for him, the human’s first thought was to contact a film crew because he’d discovered a talking camel. Sharif the Engineer got on the phone to his cousin Mustafa the Film Student posthaste.

The crew arrived in the early hours of the morning. It was mid-January, which is also mid-ski season, although determining when ski season is in an area that only sees a scattering of snow every decade or so is a challenge. They found Josef sitting by the roadside waiting for them.

After dispensing with greetings, during which the film crew professionals did their best not to blurt of things like, “Holy hellfire, a talking camel!” they moved on to the matter most important to Josef. “Where are my sliding planks?”

Mustafa, who most interested in fiction but willing to start out with a documentary, supplied him with a word in English. “Skis.” He then added in Arabic, “The planks are called skis. And they’re in the van.”

When the documentary hit the internet of the skiing and talking camel, the overwhelming response was for people to complain that they were sick of CGI animals. No matter how many interviews he gave, Mustafa was unable to convince the world that the whole thing hadn’t been faked. And Josef refused to give any more interviews after seeing some of the more hateful things being said about him on Twitter.

The story ends well though. Mustafa landed directing job for an Arabic reboot of Lost in Space featuring a CGI camel in the place of the robot, one of several projects he would undertake for Netflix. And while Josef never did learn what snow was, he can still be found still getting his turns in on the dunes of the UAE. If you look closely in the distance while traveling through some of the less populated parts of that nation, you just might see him.

The above image is an untitled travel piece by Missy Dunaway. Dunaway is releasing her graphic travel diaries soon. Details can be found at

The prompt was offered by my Wording Wednesday Project.

Further inspiration came from my Ski Dubai "Camels Don't Ski" t-shirt. I would have taken a picture of it for you, but it appears to have gone into storage and I won't be able to get to it until next year sometime.

Wednesday, September 2, 2020

On a Hot Desert Highway


Calico whistled her way down a remote roadway, her body more relaxed and at ease than it had been for decades. Unless she managed to catch a ride before the sun finished rising, by the end of her walk she’d go from a light bronze tinged brown to a deep mahogany. Her mother would have tsked had her mother been paying attention to anything that happened on Earth.

If not paying attention to Earth was something Calico could do, she’d have been doing it. It wasn’t though; not anymore. Thanks to a summoning ritual that the participants had foolishly video taped back when tapes were something humans recorded on. If they’d spent more time worrying about their protective sigils and less time worrying about their camera angles and lighting, they might still be alive.

How the man who had summoned her had obtained her true name, the one needed to drag her from the depths of Hell, she’d yet to ascertain. If she ever figured that out, she’d have to get back to killing. But all he’d known was that it was whispered to him by a voice in the dark. Completely useless information. He’d hoped confessing would save his life, but that just went to show how little he understood demons.

Calico had killed her summoner as his followers had fled. She got a few of the stragglers, but then had to spend decades tracking down not only the people who had been there but the people unfortunate enough to be told of the ritual’s success. Arguably, the people being told were unlikely to actually complete a ritual themselves since they were being told how easily one could go sideways, and none of them had been given her name, but it was easier just to kill them anyway. The tape had helped, as had Calico’s gift for forcing people to tell the truth, which worked even when they didn’t actively remember the details of the truth and were too scared to even try very hard as they were being stared down by an honest-to-Satan demon.

After asserting that the last of the summoners, a middle-aged gentleman who had promptly left the summoning ceremony to enter seminary and had spent the last thirty years trying to save souls, had told no one what he saw, Calico had calmly obliterated both the man and his car. There would be no evidence for mortal police to try to trace to her, just as there had been no evidence of any of the other slayings. The stereotype that demons are into overt violence and blood splatter is both harmful and inaccurate. The vast majority of hell’s children are happier not to see evidence of the icky things humans store inside themselves.

She strolled away from the death site, pulling her luggage behind her. After a few steps, she realized she didn’t need the video tape anymore. She tossed it to the side because she enjoyed the gesture, but then sent a pulse to disintegrate it where it landed. It simply wouldn’t do to have someone find it and possibly release it to the public. Sure the public would assume it was fiction of the found-footage genre, but why give them that much?

Calico shifted the song she whistled, replacing a tune she knew from her childhood to something by a human named Elvis. Within steps, she’d replaced whistling with words. “Viva Las Vegas....” Sounded like as good a destination as any.

Above image is by Ric Nagualero and entitled "Wherever I May Roam." You can buy a copy at

It was offered as prompt on my Wording Wednesday Project.