October Stories

As I was walking to the Charles Spa for a soak the other evening, I spotted what I thought was a purse lying on the sidewalk at the corner of Clancy and Broadway. Concerned, I bent to pick it up, and then stopped. It wasn’t a purse. It was a large pink bra. The cups—double-D, I guessed—were on top of each other, and the straps lined up, making it look like a purse. I left it there in case its owner should realize she lost it. If it had fallen from her spa bag on her way to or from a soak, she would surely miss it. There was no one else using or departing from the women’s hot spring baths, though, when I got there. No one to whom I could say, “Excuse me, did you lose a bra?”

On my way back from my soak, I saw two people approaching up Clancy from the direction of the river, and one of them was shouting something over and over. A thin man with a cane he wasn’t using and a thin woman in tight jeans strolled along, their pace and demeanor out of sync with the fact that she was yelling. As I got closer, I could make out her words. “Jeremy! Jeremy!” I paused and looked at her, puzzled. “I’m trying to find my husband,” she said, and kept walking and hollering. All the dogs for blocks around barked back at her. No Jeremy appeared. I didn’t ask her about cell phones. There are still a few people in the world who don’t have them, and some of us have been known to lose them. How she’d misplaced him, though, is a mystery.

I saw a perfect circle in the sand at Elephant Butte Lake State Park recently, near a trail where I was running the desert. Curious, I had to stop and examine it. The circle had been cut into the sand by animals, their paws and hooves digging deep. The paws ran up the center of the circle and followed the hooves part-way in the arc. On the trail a few feet from the circle was a scuffed and scarred area. Mule deer spring straight up, tucking their legs under them, when they take off. I pictured a deer stotting on the trail, then leaping away in an attempt to escape. The coyote came straight at its prey, but the deer kept running right past and around its enemy. Mysteriously, there were no tracks leading to or from the circle except for the take-off spot, the deer’s stot marks. No other animal tracks, that is. Plenty of humans. Shapeshifters? Eek. I wish I hadn’t thought of that.

But that could explain everything. Jeremy couldn’t answer his phone in his deer shape. The owner of the pink bra discarded it as she felt herself becoming a coyote. This transformation first happened when they met on the trail, and then again when passed each other in town. Anything’s possible at this time of year.

*****

My shapeshifter short fiction, Bearing, is a horror story without gore, as you might expect from the author of mysteries without murder.

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Orange and Blue Evening, or a Perfect Mistake

It was the wrong Tuesday for the event in Hillsboro I meant to attend. Not realizing I was a full week early, I drove through rolling desert hills to the historic town and arrived at the community center to find no cars in the parking lot. Only a man out for a walk who told me it was ping-pong night at six-thirty, and that the off-leash dog with him was not his. I decided not to stay for ping-pong, but moved my car down to the main street and took my own walk in light rain. After all, I couldn’t come all the way there and not enjoy the place.

The old buildings are solid and well-kept, the houses as well as the art galleries, antique stores, and the museum. The former county seat and former mining boom town is now small, serene and beautiful, with a population of a little over a hundred.

I spied a large, handsome cat on a stone wall around a yard and went to greet him. He was one of those extremely friendly cats who not only allows petting but demands more. He had blue eyes and brilliant orange markings in the Siamese pattern which made his eyes look even bluer, but he didn’t otherwise resemble a Siamese cat. More like a very attractive knock-off, a variation on the theme. He jumped down to follow me a short way but decided to stay home.

As I was about to get in my car, I turned back to look at the view just in time to see a mule deer and her spotted fawn crossing the street and ducking into a ruined building near the park, where a few fragments of wall stand around weeds and a table full of objects that may have survived a fire. The doe and fawn ambled through the underbrush, taking occasional glances over their shoulders to observe me while I observed them.

I read the historic marker commemorating the colorful life of Sadie Orchard, then the rain grew heavier, and I started driving home. When I was about half-way there, the sunset appeared, not in the west at first but in the north, a glowing pink aura with a flame-like sword of rainbow in it.  Then a double rainbow arched across the gray sky, so the road east seemed to drive under it, and the root of the rainbow in the south grew as vibrant and intense as the end in the north. I pulled over to get out and admire it. It’s not safe to drive under the influence of too much beauty. In the west, the rainstorm had broken up enough to let in orange light that coated the bottoms of the clouds. On the horizon, streaks of rain caught the color against a blue backdrop, while brushstrokes of gray floated across the orange overhead.

In the middle of empty land, nothing but sky and earth and colors. I actually went to Hillsboro on the right night.