Tales of the Bearded Toad

Short stories and the occasional true tidbit devised in the life and times of the Bearded Toad

Sunday, January 26, 2014


A faded moment gave way to another which spawned a brother that spurned its father and destroyed its mother,
leaving the god of their creation wondering what went wrong in what he’d seen only as divine procreation. 
A plan so smooth and flowing in thought it couldn’t be possible the havoc it wrought. 
Could it be this was merely a trial, or was it true, and he faced denial? 
Must be the need for more concentration to steer the time to its allotted destination, rather than foresee twin besotted contrivances of mind that he should be glad to leave behind. 
Yet with each attempt to control the course, the deity was left with such remorse
that tears wetted the eyes behind which you can see he sorely fretted.
With head in hands the brain commands to fear the sands that flow toward that he cannot know but soon will show
the place whereupon the light consumes his face. 
For in release there can be joy in the one I call me.  Please?

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

A Scoop of Saffron

It crept into his memory more rapidly than the scent did his nostrils.  A slow recognition of what it reminded him of like a haze clearing from a windshield as the defrost does its job, it filled the lower lids of his eyes with tears like a tub left unattended.  That’s almost how it felt, actually. That he had left this part of himself unattended for so long that it overflowed with the drop of scent into the basin.  He couldn't leave it unattended now.  He had to walk off the stage, because he couldn't speak anymore.  The words wouldn't form on his tongue.  Low groans of confusion from the crowd matched those of his own.
As he exited the building to breath in air that he hoped was as devoid of emotion as he thought he had been, he caught the toe of his shoe on the sill and tumbled into the piled garbage bags tossed out for pickup. A cacophony of odors burst from the pile and granted him relief from the emotion, but replaced it with the sudden need to vomit, which he indulged more readily than he had the catalyst on stage. He stood up, leaned on his knees for a moment and collected enough control to walk to the corner.
The first taxi passed by, fare in seat.  The next pulled up to his raised arm and welcomed his expected payment.  “115 Walnut.”  The driver nodded and snapped his foot to the pedal on the right, which pressed him into the seat with comfort.   He let his mind take him where he hadn't let it go, as the taxi escorted him to the physically avoided.  Shivers all through his body in rapid little waves in each muscle went unnoticed by the driver and by him.  He was nervous.  Not now, but then.
He had wanted to tell her.  The words in his mind clear, concise and poignant could never make it past his defenses.  Imaginary Maginot Line pill boxes behind each of his teeth had kept the contrived enemy at bay, but the enemy found a way around the line completely.  As they stood in front of the shop, his hand had risen up and presented her with it. The card in matching envelope had encased within the words he could not utter.
He paid the driver with a generous tip, stepped onto the cobblestone sidewalk and stared at his foot slightly askew in a crack.  Her smile, broad and full, had gone that way too as she read his words, so carefully scribed.  The tiny lines around her eyes had become more pronounced, until she moved her gaze to his. He had known before that she would feel unfavorably, which is why he had tried so carefully to hide it, to hold it in.
She had turned from him, taken two steps down the street before turning only her head with a shake of the card to say, “But not like this.”  Her eyes had said the rest.  He set his fingers to undoing the buttons of his shirt as he looked at his reflection in the window.  He had stood there that day, with his head leaned against it, watching his breath blur and clear from surface until someone who smelled of saffron told him to leave.
He leaned down and scooped his hands together on the ground as if he were picking up his heart where he’d left it and put it back in his chest.  As he buttoned his shirt, he felt the pain swell and the numbness fade.  The words he had written spewed from him with passion into the darkness, as he cried and let the loss drip from his face.  

Shifting Lines

The door swung open unceremoniously in that speed between graceful and abrupt, exposing that from which he had been hiding his eyes:  hers.  Pale green and intense in what they could say without audible language, he avoided contact for periods longer than one or two beats, but this time he couldn't break free.  His mind was taking too long to process what her presence meant, what that pain was he was feeling suddenly, all while taking in more and more to process from those stunning orbs.
Once he sorted out that she must have found out where he was from his boss at work, he moved on to why she would actually put in the effort to find him. Flashing, swirling possibilities took turns in his brain, none catching hold as a real possibility, so he let go of that conundrum to focus on the first thing depicted in the quick increase of white visible, surprise possibly.  No, it was more elation.  She was happy to see him. Initially.  That gave way to the second expression, when the white disappeared, brows came down together at a harsh angle, and the pain started.  She had remembered that she was angry.
That’s when the pain started.  The brows raised in the middle. Her head tilted slightly to side, and little lines appeared around the edges.  Satisfaction.  She had gotten what she wanted.  Why did that fade so quickly?  The lines became more pronounced, but everything had softened.  Concern.  She was worried that things weren't as she had hoped now.  It wasn't clear what that was even to her anymore.  It was shifting through the windows.
As he was slowly moving toward the floor, he realized that he was about to lose her gaze, but he wasn't finished figuring it out.  The tile was hard on his knees, and when he saw his face was about to hit it too, he realized what had happened.  The black plastic shell and the nodes of the stun gun bounced off the tile in front of him.  The grout lines shifted and the pattern wavered. 
She cradled his head in her lap, and started to sing.  It was a lullaby, sweet and soft, full of imagery that replaced what his actual sight could no longer register.  Her hands were gliding through his hair the way they used to.  Even if he had wanted to resist, he couldn't, but it felt so good to be like a child with no control.  If only it could stay that way.

Monday, July 09, 2012

Mane Attraction

The curl released from her finger like a spring and bounced back into the jumble of its companions. A deft twist, and she had it again, twirling it in counter clockwise circles with her left hand. She was staring of course, but not in that frozen, completely oblivious to the world way. She was staring at the man who had just walked in the door. Her friend could tell that she was impressed with something about him, but she wasn’t really sure what.

Her friend nudged her with her elbow to break the stare, just as the smile was beginning to get a little too big, a little too telling. Neither said anything, but they looked at each other quickly and turned away. A little cough from one; it doesn’t matter which. She tried to remember what she was saying just before the little bell dinged on the door when it opened. Her brow furrowed a little, then released upward, bringing the sides of her eyebrows with it as the daydreams crept in.

Her friend was weighing it out, searching for what had grabbed her. Was it the way he was dressed? The way he walked in confidently? The tattoo peeking out from his sleeve?
“Do you remember that guy I dated two years ago that was obsessed with his car? Jeremy. He was always talking about the next part he was going to put on it, and the next auto cross race, and how his car compared to that one. Do you know which one I’m talking about?”
She nodded in reply and said, “Yea. Why?”
“Well, I remember getting really excited about him when we met, because I was drawn to him for some reason…of course I was a bit tipsy that night. Somehow, though, when we’d gone out for a couple of weeks, the lustre wore off of him faster than he was trying to wax it back into his paint job.”
“Right, we laughed about that, and said it was because he paid more attention to his stick shift than he did to your glove box.” They giggled again.
“Exactly, but I don’t think that’s it anymore. I realize now that I wanted him because of his hair. He had that long flowing hair, just like the guy that just walked in the door, and all I wanted to do was run my fingers through it. But after I got that out of the way, I figured out he was a pretty hollow vessel.”
The bell on the door tinkled again, and they both turned to see. The guy she’d just been fantasizing about was about to greet the newcomer. He did so with the nonchalance of a rapper, facial expressions included. They both watched and listened to every step to the handshake, every distortion of vocabulary in the completely topical conversation that ensued.

They looked at each other and shook their heads slowly, but that sly smile crept up on one side of her face. “So, I’ll take the one with better hair,” she said.

Sunday, July 08, 2012

Clay Motion

She slipped out of her boots, quickly with a tug on each heel, and stepped into the clay. It was cool on the bottom of her feet. Pressing down firmly, her weight caused the firm red earth to ooze through her toes making a mould of the space in-between. She pulled her shirt, wet with the sweat of a warm day and a long hike, over her head and brought her bra along with it. Carefully, she guided her shorts over her clay covered feet and tossed all of her clothes on top of her boots.
As her hands scooped up helpings of the slick clay, she could sense the connection to it building. It spread evenly over the skin of her belly, her hips, her breasts. The legs coated nearly last, except her back. To cover the area that her arm could not reach, she lay down in it, ignoring that her hair too would become a part of the process. Her body shifted in a serpentine glide curving her spine until the small of her back touched to cover all of it.

A deep inhale, exhaled through pursed lips. Another. Eyes closed, the sound of the breeze in the tree leaves, shaking with the joy of summer enveloping her ears, she felt the weight of sleep on her eye lids, the only bit of skin remaining uncovered by the thick substance. Flashes of so many memories and imagined happenings skipped across the red interior of her vision that she could not focus on just one it seemed for quite some time, until her mind settled on a blanket. It was the one her grandmother had made for her when she got engaged. “You can put it in your hope chest,” said the shrinking, closeted smoker. She hadn’t the courage, or lack of tact to tell the old-fashioned parts of her family that she did not have that sort of hope.

The blanket began to expand from the arm of the couch where it had been spread. The pattern, crocheted with such care over so many predawn mornings tucked away in the one room others weren’t allowed in her grandparents’ house. The scalloped sides began to elongate into tentacles, the holes suction cups. As she lay there, unable to move, the tentacles wrapped around her tightly, puckering her skin. Her pulse rose in her ears. She could feel it on her forehead, the veins running up her temples. Shallow, quickened breath. A muffled scream, and a shudder.

The light of the day burst into her awareness, as did the realization that it was a dream; however, she felt very stiff. She puffed her cheeks and felt the clay cracking across them, making a mapped hemisphere of a globe with each. She knitted her brow and felt a few pieces tumble away. Analysing. Always analysing what it meant. Everything. In this case she began to think of the pressures. Societal pressures, family pressures, and husband pressures all together. The pressure to live the life that they all wanted. The pressure she placed upon herself to help them all feel fulfilled through her actions. The pressure of judgement. And the pressure to have a child of her own.

Then she felt a pressure from within. This was not the outside pressing on her, yet something within herself straining to make itself known to her and to those outside forces. Her lips spread across her teeth. She pulled her legs up, knees toward her chest, flexing them along the way, popping large patches of dried, restrictive mud from where it clung. Wrapping her arms around her shins, she rolled up to her feet, released and thrust herself into the air above the flowing, clean waters of the creek.

With the splash, the chill of the water enshrouded her, and refreshed her spirit. She rubbed herself vigorously, washing away her treatment. She held her breath to free her hair of the clumps. As she slung the water from her locks, she let forth a loud fit of laughter, and wrapped her arms around herself, breasts behind biceps and fingers holding shoulder blades.

Her clothes did not want to go back to the job of covering her; the pieces clinging to her wet skin. She forced them, balancing on one foot at a time. Boots on, she started back in the direction of the car, radiating from her core with what needed to be freed. She fully recognized it. Yet, something nagged at the string of her thoughts. She recognized it too, and knew that both would always be there.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Pressure Release

All at once, the branch broke beneath his feet. His breath left him as his stomach pressed his lungs into his throat. The knife he had been using to carve into the tree remained stuck in place at the end of her initials. When he hit the ground his knees hit his chest and he rolled backwards, flattening out. The leaves of the branch cradled his head as he looked up at his knife.

It has been 26 years since that fall, and the knife is rusty now, with the blade completely swallowed by the growth of the tree around it. The polish worn from the handle. No one else had ever seemed to notice it there, and he had never told anyone the story. His crush having been a secret, still being a secret, just like the knife, which he had stolen from his grandfather's desk drawer.

There were no leaves to cushion his head now, so he placed his hands, one on top of the other beneath it. He closed his eyes and remembered the feeling of his pulse in his feet and knees from the fall. His knees had felt so hot. A deep breath and exhale, just like he had done that day: relief that he wasn't really hurt. Physically he never really had been.

He purposefully acknowledged that feeling of relief, and the feelings that followed: dread that someone would find out and longing for her to. Courage was one feeling he had not been able to muster when he had the chance. This much time later, the dread remained, but much more muted. The longing having since passed on with his adolescence and his ability to sleep through the night.

The dream was still there sometimes too. He was reminded of that as soon as he drifted off beneath the tree. She was there, wearing those little blue shorts, a tank top with the strap of her bra hanging loosely off her shoulder. Her smooth skin shining in a line from the bottom of the fabric to her ankles. He stared, hoping she wouldn't notice. When his eyes finally made it back up to her face, those eyes with the blue circles inside the green fading together, she was staring right back into his. That's when she collapsed. And all he could do was run, panicking until he woke up startled and sweating.

He got up from his nap, his frightful recurring dream, dusted off his pants, and started back. The rest of the family was sitting around the table reminiscing as families do on the rare occasions they get together.

"Oh, there you are. We thought you would remember. What was that girl's name that was in your class? The one that died while she was out by herself in those woods." He felt his stomach pressing on his lungs again, but his pulse was in his face this time.

"Leana," he managed to choke out.

"Leana. That's right. They say she had a stroke or annuerisn or something like that. She laid there for dern near two days before anybody found her. Of course, everybody thought it was some pervert or something done got her. Carl here wouldn't go back in those woods for years after that. Said he was afraid it was haunted or something. Isn't that right, Carl? Sometimes I wondered if he was a bit off, but he turned out all right."

Thursday, April 15, 2010

The Pit

She sat down on the curb and carefully plucked two pebbles from the broken skin of her knee. Her hard feet were planted in the still damp rain gutter, and her hair, darkened from sweat, was plastered to her pale neck. She grimaced as her deft, dirty fingers worked the sandy remains of the road grime from the wound. She pursed her lips and blew gently on it before looking up to see how far her friends had gotten ahead of her. One more deep breath to steady her pulse again as she rose to her rather foal-like stance, she started running with a steadiness that surprised her.

It didn’t take her long to catch up with the other two who were weaving back and forth across the old road with their arms stretched out like featherless wings. Ashlyn had tripped her but hadn’t seemed to notice.

“Oh, there you are.” Amber was barefoot too with her hair in a braid and clothes as filthy as her feet.

“Yep. Thanks,” she said as she kicked Ashlyn’s right foot from behind her so that it caught in the crease of her left knee, just enough to break her stride. They both giggled, and then made the sounds hawks flying overhead, that unmistakable screech that makes you look up to find it.

Shadows darkened their way in spurts as the trees let the sunlight through in odd shapes and patterns like the seemingly unrepeated designs on her mothers clothing. Never animal prints, but never solids either. Her mom said it confused the prey, men, so it was like camouflage. She must have been a good hunter, she thought.

Large clouds of gnats had to be dodged, and spider webs ducked since this roadbed was rarely travelled anymore. It led to the old quarry that shut down nearly twenty-five years ago when her mother was about her age. Her mom was still young, so she could imagine her out here too with her friends, boys actually.

As they arrived at the edge of the pit, they could smell the change in the air that flowed up from inside. The wind swirled and floated dust up from the edge and rolled it back down toward the ground causing it to look as though it were water going over a slide. They walked around a little further to the spot they had cleared to be able to sit on the edge and avoid the dust.

“I keep forgetting to look up why the water down there is so green. Do you think it’s full of emeralds or jade or something?”

“No. It’s probably got gunk growing in it from just sitting there all the time. My mom calls water that just sits ‘stagnant’. Stuff is always growing in that water, and it stinks. She said that about a guy who stuck around too long once too.” Her dirty feet were swinging, with her heels clunking against the stone wall inside.

“Gross. Count how long it takes for this rock to make a splash.” Ashlyn tossed a stone that looked about the size of a cherry over the edge and waited.

“I didn’t see a splash.” Amber said it flatly still peering down.

“Here try this one, it’s much bigger.” She grunted as she pushed it into the air.

“Four Mississippi!” The sound of the splash echoed up hollow and soft. They sat there gazing down into it, quiet except for their breathing.

Amber put her hand to her belly and scrunched up her nose, pulling her lip with it to show the two teeth in the front so much bigger than the others. “Ugh, I just remembered I have homework I haven’t done. It made my stomach feel weird.”

“Like how?”

“Like it’s all bundled up tight, like a bunch of string that’s gotten tangled in a knot.”

“Oh. I get that feeling too, only it’s not about homework.”

“What’s it about, then?” They were both looking at her now.


“Come on, tell us. It’s no big deal, right?”

“Well, I get that feeling every time I have to go home. It’s really bad when I’ve been out here with you two. I just don’t want to do it; I don’t want to be there anymore.”

“Why not?”

She crossed her ankles and lifted her butt off the ground so that only her hands were touching. She shook her head and said, “It doesn’t really feel like knotted string.” She paused and looked down at the shimmering water. “It feels like this deep hole is inside me with that green nastiness at the bottom.”

She rolled back, flipping on her hands and planted her feet. She smiled. “But I don’t have to go home yet.” She sprinted toward the trees and let out a screech. The other two looked at each other and jumped up to follow. There was still some Sunday left.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Shaded Strands

Not so much! He was pouring salt into the mixture as though he were trying to completely hide the other ingredients. The taste of ginger was something she liked, but if he put too much salt in it would overpower it.

He put the heat on high and turned to look at her. His eyes were brown with a little ring of green around the pupils when there was enough light to make them small, like little holes poked into a tie-tied shirt. A little bit of darkness was still underneath his left eye from a few nights before. Seeing it made her twinge.

“What?” he asked, seeing the small crease appear and disappear just as quickly from between her well-plucked eyebrows.

“Nothing.” She said it flatly so hopefully he’d believe her, not wanting to talk about it again, hoping he’d let it go.

She was shorter than him by a couple of inches, with curly black hair and a pretty smile that always got her out of speeding tickets and got her free drinks before he showed up. He’d even bought her drinks that first night. Walking up to her with feigned confidence, betrayed by the shy way he looked down when she said yes to his offer, he asked to buy her a drink and maybe even a chance to wrap his fingers in those curls.

Thinking about that night, she wondered about how much she’d had to drink. These days it seemed she couldn’t handle more than two glasses of wine without forgetting some of what happened, some of what she said. That’s why she didn’t want to bring it up again.

She smiled at him now, with her head tilted to the side and slightly lowered, put her index finger into a ringlet of hair, and said, “Don’t you wish this was your finger?”

He laughed for the first time in days. “I do.” He slipped his hand under her arm and jerked her in close to his hip.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “My eye had no business getting in the way or your fist like that.” They kissed, shallow to start, but it moved on toward genuine feeling.

She pulled back and gently kissed his bruised lid. When he opened it back, the green wasn’t visible. She watched the pupil shrink, letting her see the color emerge. It was why she said yes.

He moved one barrel of hair from her forehead with his index finger, letting it slip into it for a moment. When he first hit puberty, it was redheads he’d fantasized about, with orange eyebrows outlining long lashes, pail legs leading up to what he still couldn’t really picture. Now, though, it was her he envisioned all the time.

So why had he said it then? The girl was nothing special, especially not compared to the one right in front of him. But the color of her mane caught him off guard, made him revert back to one of those fantasies. He was still mad about her punching him, but it had definitely brought him back to his senses.

“I’ve got an appointment tomorrow with Missy at 4:30.” She said it with a little smile creeping up one side of her mouth.

“I thought you just got your hair cut. Don’t you like it?”

“I’m not getting it cut this time.” He felt his stomach drop, as he pictured her in red ringlets.