Contest #157 shortlist ⭐️

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Contemporary Fiction Funny

Bob Oaker braced himself against the shed door and grunted when the goat rammed it. He might have shrieked too but he chose to dis-remember that, as it was unbecoming of a man in the prime of his mid-sixties.

But then everything grew silent. All he could hear was the wheeze of his own sweaty breath in the sweltering shed, the dzee-dzee-dzeeing of the cicadas – or grasshoppers, or whatever – and the caw! of distant northern cardinals.

Well, he didn’t know they if they were cardinals. They might have been bluebirds or, well, turkeys for all he knew. He had a bird watching book – a pile of bird watching books – sitting on his study table back at home. Toby Dunsworth, one of the design guys from back at the firm, had come in one day several years ago, raving about his new hobby. He said he loved just getting out there, taking a nice stroll, having a good pipe, and just spotting all the birds in the wild. Like hunting, but without a gun, and best of all Naomi didn’t get on his case about it. Of course if Toby could do it then damn sure Bob could too, and it sounded really good since he had been meaning to get back into the outdoors for a while, and also to take up the pipe life. Kathleen said no to the pipe, but he did order the books, and he was going to become the best bird watcher ever. He’d go down in history for spotting hundreds of new species.

Turned out there was a lot of reading to do and the books were boring as sin. And anyway, having some egghead describe a birdcall isn’t the same thing as hearing it, so reading was a waste of time regardless. But Bob did like the photos, and one of the books had a lovely snap of a northern cardinal on the cover, so that at least stuck in his memory.

It must have been silent for a good hour – well, at least a minute, probably. The shed was run down and he had great plans to fix it up, but first he’d need some tools and paint, and he found this awesome series of DIY DVDs at the library where a guy showed you everything about carpentry and woodworking. Basically, it was all super easy and just by watching them, Bob had already mastered it. But all that would have to wait till he got out. The shed’s door was junk too, filled with great gaps between the boards where the wood had warped over the years. He looked through one.

And the Devil stared back at him, with its hourglass eye.

Bob shrieked and fell on his rump. The goat bleated and scrambled away.

Laboriously, Bob got to his feet and groaned. His knees weren’t quite what they used to be, even though he had started this amazing new regimen where he’d eat a kind of banana/onion smoothie every morning, blended with a secret Vitali-knee Extract filled with herbs and botanicals, all organic of course – except, he’d only had it once, because to be honest it tasted not great and the extract was very expensive which Kathleen grumbled about, and anyway, he could regain his flexibility through good old fashioned stretches which he was planning on starting any day now.

But the goat, at least, was gone.

He saw it through the door hole, at the far end of the overgrown garden. Ostensibly there was a fence there, just as shoddy as the shed. Another project for another day, of course, he just hadn’t gotten around to it yet.

“C’mon, you bastard,” Bob hissed through the door. “Escape! Be free! You know you want to.”

The goat leisurely nibbled at some tall grasses and relieved itself. It bumbled around for almost fifteen minutes – Bob checked his watch religiously – until it did finally slip out, bounding off into the distant wilds.

“Yes!” Bob cheered, raising his fist into the air. That’s $500 he’d never see again, but at least the mongrel was gone.

He shouldered the warped door open and stumbled outside, gasping. His clothes were soaked with sweat. The shed had been stuffy but now he stood in the merciless sun’s blistering light. He needed a beer. He needed AC! He shambled down the cracked cobble path and made his way to the run down farmhouse, listing to one side.

Along the way bees attacked him.

He’d been installing their hive earlier, and installing a hive is super easy, especially for a soon-to-be master beekeeper like himself – he’d read the pamphlet and he saw a TV special. The bee guy he bought the bees from had tried to fleece him by coming down and doing it for him, but Bob knew better. Waste of money, that. It all would have worked out too, if the goat hadn’t gone berserk.

So now Bob screamed and ran to the farmhouse, the bees menacing him all the way. They probably weren’t even bees. The shifty bee guy probably sold him wasps. He’d have a word or two with him.

The farmhouse was in marginally better shape than the shed. Everything creaked and groaned, but at least it had electricity and that meant fans. Well, a fan, since he only had the one, but it was glorious. But he was still too hot, so he stripped to his boxers, socks, and Crocs.

And, oh, what sweet ambrosia that cool air was! What a breath of fresh life, which caressed his worried skin and gave succor to a tired body that had seen so much. A body abused by the rigours of the sun, branded by fields of heat-rash. But even these battle scars cooled under the gentle embrace of that divine breeze. Yea, even those little black dots rejoiced in–

–Bob glanced down at his gut. “What the hell?”

A couple of the little black dots moved. They had legs. They were ticks.

Bob screamed and leapt to his feet.

He tore through the cramped living room of the farmhouse and somehow ended up in the bathroom. Just as well, as he had been thinking of taking a shower, and no time was better than right now. Maybe he could drown the little bastards, or failing that, himself.

A cold shower did wonders for him, though he started sweating as soon as he finished. But he did spend a good hour plucking the little monsters off his flesh. Fifteen. Fifteen! Nobody had ever told him there’d be ticks in the wilderness.

He returned to his fan just as the sun was beginning to set. He looked outside his kitchen window and saw his garden. Raised planters filled with tomatoes and peppers, a long strip of cucumbers and another one of gourds – and the world’s biggest pumpkin, no less! – a massive patch of potatoes, and a whole host of radishes, onions, and myriad herbs. And off in the distance, fields of golden corn.

That had been the plan, and that’s what he pictured in his mind. The real garden was more of a jungle of weeds with one rough shovel-deep divot in one spot, where he had started on things before he remembered the bees roasting in his car, and so he went to do that instead.

He grabbed a beer from his cooler, enjoying the kind of sore muscles that could only be won by a day of honest – if not exactly productive – labour.

And a thought started nagging at him. Actually, it had been nagging at him ever since Kathleen had actually been nagging at him, but he had ignored it then as he did her. He was a man, after all! Sixty five damn years old! Retired! Life was too short to waste on the same boring trip to Florida each year, with Kathleen’s viper of a spinster sister in tow, and if he wanted to become a farmer he god-damned would!

How hard could it be?

Maybe, just maybe, a little harder than YouTube made it out to be.

But it was a meaningful life! It would bring him close to the land, to the way people used to live, for millions of years. That’s much better than some stupid boring “golden years” in the middle of some grey city, filled with the same bland people doing the same mind-numbing things. How many restaurants can you eat out at, anyway? The years just kept slipping by, and there was just so much he hadn’t had a chance to do yet.

Oh, goat herding too. YouTube really lied about that one. Goats were not put here by God, they are an invention of the Devil himself.

But maybe, he started to admit, this wasn’t what he was looking for either. Maybe it wasn’t too late to get back to the city, and join Kathleen and her miserable sister for their annual trip. Maybe Florida, boring as it was, was also nice, and seeing how it changed year after year had its own charm.

He resolved to spend at least one night at the farm before making any choices. Who knew what the morning would bring, after all. Apologizing was one thing, but he wouldn’t slink back without at least that much.

All the same, as the sky darkened and he supped on cool beers and microwaved hotdogs, he started searching the net for how to sell a rural property. From what he was seeing of the going rates, he got swindled when he bought this dump a month ago, but oh well. Maybe this was a sign from the heavens. Maybe life wasn’t about constantly rushing after new things, but instead learning to appreciate what you have. Depth instead of breadth.

Then he saw an ad for a yacht. It was all sunshine, martinis, and smiles, and the model was called the Northern Cardinal.

Bob’s eyes lit up with newfound meaning.

August 01, 2022 23:50

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73 comments

L.M. Lydon
00:59 Aug 10, 2022

One of the most spectacular opening paragraphs I've read lately. Your narrator is an actual riot. I'm not sure if I pity Kathleen or envy her for having an inadvertent complimentary comedy troupe built into her life. And the goat...

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Michał Przywara
01:47 Aug 10, 2022

Thanks so much! I always strive to get a good opening, so it's nice to hear when it pays off :) As for Kathleen, she probably has her own complimentary stories :) I appreciate the feedback!

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Yves. ♙
07:02 Aug 07, 2022

This was a fun one! I've got to say, I always love seeing an older person's POV-- that's one we rarely see, and it never fails to bring something new to a story.

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Michał Przywara
18:04 Aug 07, 2022

Thanks, Yves! I agree, it's good to explore all sorts of POVs, and seniors certainly offer up an interesting one :) I'm glad you enjoyed it!

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Beth Jackson
01:44 Aug 07, 2022

Oh Michał!! This story was absolute gold!! I laughed so hard, the whole way through. You captured the essence of the goat so perfectly - ‘Goats were not put here by God, they are an invention of the Devil himself.’ So true… We had a goat on the farm and it was definitely a wretched thing. It used to climb in the window of my car and neither blood nor money would get it out… (if I noticed - otherwise I’d get halfway into town before I looked in my rear view mirror and saw it sitting in the backseat. Used to frighten the bloody life out of me....

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Michał Przywara
03:05 Aug 07, 2022

Thanks Beth! Heh, sounds like that goat of yours could be the inspiration for some stories too :) I find animals are great for that, because they play by different rules than we do and it's a great way to examine some of the bizarre things humans get up to. I'm glad you enjoyed the story. Thanks for the feedback :)

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Jim Firth
11:47 Aug 06, 2022

Bob's pratfalls are highly amusing. If he did buy a yacht, there would be some real nautical nonsense! The moral of the story for me is 'Don't half-ass lots of things, whole-ass one thing.'

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Michał Przywara
17:25 Aug 06, 2022

Heh, I think that's the right lesson, Jim :) But something about the math goes sideways here, because it's a lot easier to half-ass dozens of things than it is to full-ass even one, isn't it?

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Jim Firth
15:18 Aug 08, 2022

I agree with that a 12:1 ratio of half to full asses is easier to manage :-)

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Aeris Walker
01:55 Aug 06, 2022

Loved this one! There is so much reality in here that I think it's safe to say: Bob is all of us. The distracted execution of tasks and the overconfidence in our ability/energy to follow through with an idea that sounded really good when we were sitting in an air conditioned house in pajamas scrolling the internet, but then proves overwhelming and unrealistic in the light of day. Those DIYers....they make it look so easy. These were such great lines: "And the Devil stared back at him, with its hourglass eye." "Nobody had ever told him th...

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Michał Przywara
17:53 Aug 06, 2022

Heh, you might be right about Bob being all of us :) Certainly when I was writing it, I was wondering why this guy sounded so familiar. I've often dreamed of farming and sailing, incidentally, and let's be honest, old-timey people used to do it all the time and they didn't even have YouTube -- how hard could it be? :) Oh well. Thanks for the feedback, Aeris!

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Aeris Walker
21:03 Aug 06, 2022

It’s so true! I think inherently we are all “creators” who feel a sense of unease and unfulfillment when we aren’t engaging in something creative, like writing, or gardening, business building, etc. and social media can be a tease by making us feel like we can have it all, do it all, master it all, when realistically, most people are only able to devote their lives to mastering a few special skills or crafts…with superhuman exceptions of course. Okay rant over. Your story inspires self-reflection ;)

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Aeris Walker
16:18 Aug 12, 2022

Congrats, Michal!!

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Michał Przywara
21:03 Aug 12, 2022

Thanks Aeris! :)

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Seán Mc Nicholl
22:36 Aug 05, 2022

Michal, this is so brilliant, love it! God loves a dreamer and that’s certainly Bob! Turns out the ‘simple life’ isn’t so simple! Lovely lighthearted and funny story! Loved the repetitive barely-started projects and notions of what the farm could be! Great great story yet again!

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Michał Przywara
22:43 Aug 05, 2022

Thanks, Seán! Yeah, he's definitely a dreamer :) I'm glad you enjoyed it!

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Kevin Marlow
02:29 Aug 05, 2022

What a funny and informative tale, the Mother Earth News started selling that yarn over fifty years ago.

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Michał Przywara
03:09 Aug 05, 2022

Thanks, Kevin! I'd not heard of them before, but that sounds like something Bob would subscribe to and subsequently forget entirely, as it continued to ding his credit card :)

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Kevin Marlow
03:22 Aug 05, 2022

Damn automatic withdrawals and mandatory I Agree boxes!

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Mike Panasitti
23:53 Aug 04, 2022

Bob! Don't buy the yacht! Humorous yet poignant for those of us who keep on buying farms. (The pun, "buying the farm," i.e. dabbling = a form of vocational death, did not go unnoticed). I saw a lot of myself in the main character. Reading this story was a synchronicity - in the Jungian sense of the word - a meaningful coincidence, just as the Norther Cardinal was to Bob. I hope it serves me as a wake up call to stop dabbling and focus. Can't know it all and most certainly can't do it all. Thank you for the story, Michal.

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Michał Przywara
01:27 Aug 05, 2022

I'd not heard of Jung's synchronicity, so thanks for introducing that. It's a curious idea, and I can see it. We seem pretty good at looking for meaning and signs in things, and Bob's no exception. > Can't know it all and most certainly can't do it all. Yes :) That's an irritating, albeit crucial lesson. Something I've been fighting with as well. At least we can live vicariously through writing and other media, which takes some of the sting out. I often wonder about this. Freedom, I mean. Freedom is something that seems naturally attracti...

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Mike Panasitti
03:44 Aug 05, 2022

Your discussion of the shortcoming posed by freedom is quite accurate. The freedom to refrain from activities and practice discipline isn't usually regarded as freedom...it's a form of servitude practiced on and over the self. Indispensable to anyone who really wants to succeed in the arts, but never learned by some of us in school or at home. Better to bloom late, though, than to never blossom.

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