Summer Bird Stories

Family-Friendly Short Stories, Cartoons, and Illustrations

Marking the Spot

Gerald looked both ways and then darted out the back door of the manor and into the nearby woods. He pressed his arm against his chest, holding the golden chalice in place, hidden under his black coat. He tried to run as quietly as possible through the thick snow, but his boots crunched loudly beneath him leaving an easy trail through the snow that anyone could follow.

Finally, he stopped and listened. Far away a bird sang. Nothing more. He chuckled quietly as he pulled out the chalice. It glinted in the weak sunlight that filtered through the leafless trees from the over cast sky. It was finally his.

It was always meant to be his. He knew it the moment he’d come in for his interview for the assistant gardener job.   He’d waited in the front room and glanced through the open door into the parlor and saw it there on the mantle.   It glowed in a beam of sunlight and he thought he heard angels sing. At that moment he knew that he had to have it, no matter what it took.

He’d cautiously asked around. It was a priceless family heirloom, valued at more than Gerald had made working hard the last ten years. There wasn’t any way for him to acquire it legally. He looked at it longingly through the windows whenever he could.   It was always all alone, unloved, uncherished.

Now its owners were out of town for a week, with just the butler home. The butler had slipped and fallen on the icy path and turned his ankle and Gerald was called in to sweep the walks. It was a sign. The way was clear. The butler had gone in to take his pain medicine and lie down. Gerald walked in quietly and took the chalice.

Unfortunately, he had no way to get it home. He hadn’t brought a bag, just his shovel. The sharp-eyed postman had offered to drive him over.  The postman wouldn’t look the other way on the ride back.  He was so law-abiding it made Gerald’s teeth hurt.

He’d have to hide it and bring a bag the next time he was called to the house.   If the family came home before then, they’d blame the butler for its absence. Everyone always blamed the butler, right?

Gerald looked around. There was a little den, just the right size, nearby in the thin snow under a large tree.   He wondered what animal lived there.   It didn’t really matter.

Gerald murmured an apology to his chalice as he wedged it into the den and put a large rock on top. He built a snowman right on top of the rock. There, he’d marked the spot well. He blew a kiss. He’d be back.

He did marvelous job shoveling the walk. He felt as light as air. Mine, mine, mine, he thought. He smiled at the postman who picked him up. The postman frowned and looked suspicious, but he’d never know.

Gerald grinned. The next time it snowed, he would be back with a bag, and the chalice would come home with him. He’d keep it under his pillow and look at it every night. He couldn’t wait.

But it didn’t snow. It rained.   It rained off and on for weeks. It was a month before Gerald was called back to trim the hedges. He brought a large bag with a lunch in it in case anyone asked. As soon as the head gardener turned the corner, Gerald slipped into the woods.

There was no snow left, so the snowman was gone of course. He tried to retrace his steps, turning over stones as he went. None of them had chalices underneath, or even likely looking animal dens. He’d lost the chalice. He took as much time as he dared and finally wobbled out of the woods and started trimming.

He wanted to weep. How had this happened? He should have walked miles in the dark to return here the very night he’d hidden it. The chalice was worth it. This was all his fault.

At lunchtime, he wandered over to the parlor window to peek inside and mourn the lost chalice. He looked, and the chalice was there on the mantle once more, glowing. Had losing it been a bad dream? It didn’t seem likely.

Was he dreaming now? He rubbed his eyes. It was still there, as beautiful as ever.

“A hunter found it out in the woods,” the head gardener said at his elbow.   Gerald jumped.

“Found what?” he asked.

“The chalice there. No one knows how it got there. It was next to a fox den. The hunter took it as a bribe from the fox and left the poor thing alone,” the gardener said.   “He took the chalice into town to look for the owner. It came home before anyone knew it was gone.”

“What a strange story,” Gerald said. “How did it get out in the woods?”

“No one knows. The butler says that no one is to go into the house any more but the family. He’ll mail us our pay,” the gardener said.

“No one?” Gerald asked. His heart sank. He’d failed the chalice and lost his chance. It was no longer his. He looked back in the window. The chalice glowed, reserved and remote.

“Nope. He says it was a warning from a guardian sprite or something that the security needed to be tightened. A lot of nonsense if you ask me. I makes a good story though.” The gardener laughed. “Lunch is over now, back to work.

“Back to work,” Gerald echoed. He turned and walked away from the window. He didn’t look back.

12-25-goblet

Kindness

The three pigs had lots of wolf stew leftover, even with eating like pigs.   “I can’t eat another bite,” the oldest pig said. “But I hate to waste good food.”

“Maybe we could invite someone over,” the middle pig said.

“As long as it’s not that scary wolf,” the youngest said. “Never mind. I forgot.” He giggled.

“Let’s go talk to the three bears. They don’t live far from here,” the oldest pig said.

Papa Bear opened the door just a crack when they knocked. “Oh, it’s you,” he said, and opened the door wider.   “I thought it was that little human girl that wouldn’t stop bothering us.”

“We had a wolf like that,” the middle pig said.

“So we ate him,” the youngest pig said. He looked quite pleased.

The bear raised a brow. “Isn’t that a little extreme?” He asked.

“It was really more of an accident,” the oldest pig said. “He was climbing down our chimney to try to eat us and landed in a pot of boiling water we happened to have on the fire.”

“All right then,” Papa bear said. “I guess it’s not my business. It wasn’t clever of him at all to climb down a chimney when the fire was lit.”

“Right,” the middle pig said. He smiled widely.

“So why have you come to visit?” Papa bear asked.

“We have too much wolf soup,” The oldest pig said. “We thought we could invite some friends over to share it.”

“We are getting a little tired of oatmeal. It stores well, but it seems like porridge is all we eat any more.   If you’d like, we could bring some of that over?”

“Sounds great!” The youngest pig said. He bounced on his hind hooves.

The dinner party was fabulous and they decided they’d have to have another.   The pigs served baked apples at the end and everyone nibbled at them feeling content. “It’s nice to have lots of food, Papa,” Baby bear said.

“It is,” Papa bear agreed.

“Does everyone have lots of food?” Baby bear asked.

“No dear,” Mama bear said. “Not everyone does.”

“Then we should bring them the rest!” Baby bear said. His little face looked determined.

“Yes, let’s!” The youngest pig said.

“Fine,” the oldest pig said. “We still have the rest of the barrel of apples to share too.”

“Who should we bring all this food to?” The middle pig asked.

“Well, there’s old mother Hubbard and her poor little dog,” Mama Bear said.

“And that woman who lives in the shoe with all those children. I think that little girl who bothers us all the time lives there. She does seem pretty hungry,” Papa Bear said.

The oldest pig frowned. “If we deliver the food, they may try to catch and eat us,” he said.

Papa bear laughed. “That might be true. I’ll bring it over. I’ll hold out the food in front of me so they don’t get scared and attack me.   People are so weird,” he said.

Mother Hubbard shrieked when she saw the bear, but her little dog whined and pushed past her when he smelled the food. When she realized the bear was bringing food for her and her little dog, Mother Hubbard cried. Papa Bear wasn’t sure how to deal with that.

“There, there,” he said awkwardly. “It’s from us and the three pigs.” He handed over the food and wheeled his wagon over to the shoe house.   Curious children instantly mobbed him.

“Hi, Mr. Bear,” said a tiny child. “Why are you so fuzzy?”

Papa Bear saw a little girl with golden curls rush inside. The old woman came out soon after, looking nervous.   She also cried when she saw the food.   The children yelled and cheered and hugged him. It was hard to break free and leave.

Papa Bear reported back to his family and the three pigs. “That’s so nice,” Baby Bear said. “We should do that again too!” And they did.
12-25-bear-potluck

Bad Neighbors

The citizens of the planet Zid had always been good friends with the citizens of the planet Erd. They both were peaceful, creative societies that had much in common. So, when the planet Erd made the unfortunate mistake of importing telma weed seeds, the citizens of Zid happily agreed to let the citizens of Erd live on Zid’s moon while Erd was properly fumigated.

At first, this went quite well. They were able to visit each other for concerts and plays and festivals.   It was all a lot of fun. However, once it became clear that the fumigation process would last nearly a year, things changed.

The farmers pointed out that they weren’t ready to support two planets.   There would have to be some rationing.   The citizens were given tickets and could only buy a certain amount of food each week. This put an end to many of the festivals and parties.

Some of the more wealthy people tried to buy extra tickets. Some of the more criminal people tried to forge more tickets. Some of the less practical people ran out of food early in the week and sat by the stores looking hungry. Every one started worrying that somewhere some one else was getting more than them.

Fresh water had to be shipped to the moon. As the farmers couldn’t do with less water if they were going to grow as much food as they could, water had to be rationed too. Parks went brown. Swimming pools emptied. People showered less and did less laundry. They felt icky and smelly and grumpy.

People argued over little things. Law enforcement was stretched thin. There was a large fire in a city park in the planet’s capital. When the fire brigade finally arrived, they didn’t have enough water available to put it out. It burned for days. The citizens of Zid demanded that their leaders fix everything right now or they’d be replaced.

As the tension increased, the leaders of Zid met with the leaders of Erd.   The Erd leaders said that their people weren’t happy with the rationing either. They pointed out that rationing hadn’t been part of their original agreement.   They implied that the people of Zid were less than honest, and that they were keeping back extra food and water for their own citizens. Talks broke down after that.

The people of Zid continued to send shipments of food and water to the people of Erd. However, the boxes often had insults written on them by unidentified vandals. In retaliation, an unidentified hacker reprogrammed Zid’s communication devices so that everyone’s voice sounded high pitched.

Someone kept messing with the artificial gravity on the moon just slightly, and no one was sure what to expect from one hour to the next.   Someone painted rude words all over Zid’s famous statue gardens. Someone disabled half of Erd’s laundry facilities. Someone sent Zid’s leaders a computer virus that turned their computers off an hour before lunchtime one day.

Erd began negotiations with another ally and moved out after one of their leaders woke up one morning shaved bald. The citizens of both planets rejoiced. The rationing ended.

Erd’s people never stayed more than a month at a time with their other allies.   They had a year of travel and parties and returned home with warm feelings toward everyone but Zid. They sent gifts and payments to everyone else when they finally returned home.

Zid’s bill was ignored, as were their angry missives. The friendship between the two planets, which had lasted for centuries, was over. Or was it? A well-meaning Kettian leader, an ally of both people, decided to step in and help.

In a meeting broadcast all over the galaxy, he tried to gently counsel both leaders to forgive and forget. When they mentioned their grievances, he tried to counsel them to see the other point of view. He was rational and reasonable and calm. The Erd and Zid leaders felt resentful.

When he told them to stop acting like children, it was the last straw. A Zid leader poured his glass of water on the Kettian leader while an Erd leader threw a pie at him. Their people cheered them on.

“We can fight if we want to,” the Zid leader said.

“It’s none of your business,” the Erd leader agreed.

They marched out of the room together. They laughed. “That was great,” the Zid leader said. “The pie was a nice touch.”

“Thanks,” the Erd leader said. They looked at each other awkwardly for a moment. “We had fun visiting you until all that rationing,” the Erd leader finally said.

“It was fun. It’s too bad our resources got stretched so thin,” the Zid leader said.

“I’ll talk to my people. Perhaps we can meet again when things have cooled down a bit?” The Erd leader said.

“I’ll talk to mine too. I think with some work, we can put this behind us,” the Zid leader said. And, with some work and some time, eventually they did.
12-25-bad-neighbors

Charlie’s Room: The Candle

There was a present on his desk when Isaac returned after the team meeting.   It had a tag that said “to: Isaac, from: Secret Santa”. It was a little puzzling, because Isaac was fairly certain they weren’t doing a secret Santa gift exchange this year. He’d better go check. He hoped he hadn’t missed something.

Isaac hurried over to the office manager’s desk while trying to think of what he had in his desk and car that he could rewrap and gift to someone if he needed to. His stapler? The emergency flashlight? Maybe he could duck out really quickly and go to the antique store.

“No, we’re not doing a secret Santa thing this year,” the office manager said when he asked.

That was a relief, but also puzzling. “Then why did I get a gift?” Isaac asked.

“Who knows? Maybe someone wanted to do something nice anonymously,” the office manager said.

Isaac returned to his desk and looked at the gift again. It was a simple red gift bag. He sat down and started taking the white tissue paper out of the bag.   Nestled inside, he found a little bulbous glass candleholder.

The glass was textured, and four smooth heart shapes were pressed outwards in a row around the holder. Inside, there was a little purple candle. It looked cute and cheerful. Isaac smiled.

They were sent home early for the holidays. Isaac stopped at the grocery store for marshmallows. Once home, he arranged a ring of pillows on the floor of Charlie’s room and placed the candle in the center. They could use chopsticks to roast marshmallows over it and tell ghost stories.

Isaac went back to the kitchen for chopsticks and slipped a box of matchsticks into his pocket. Next, he gathered a water bottle and a book of not-too-scary scary stories. He assembled the treasures in Charlie’s room.

Would the candle be bright enough to read by or would he need a flashlight?   He should probably test it out.   Isaac closed the curtains and lit the candle. The flame flickered and cast shaky shadows on the walls.

The heart shapes must not be as smooth as they looked. The shadows they cast had menacing faces that seemed to be laughing as the shadows flickered in time with the candle flame.

Isaac looked at the candleholder. It was still cute and cheerful. He looked at the shadows. He could still see the laughing, menacing faces. He heard a murmur, as though there was a radio playing in another room or maybe outside a few houses away.

It was rhythmic, like chanting. The faces were moving in time with the faint chanting. Isaac couldn’t quite catch the words. It was strange. His head started to feel like it was filled with buzzing bees.   He opened the water bottle and filled the candleholder with water until it spilled over the edges in little dribbles.

The shadows vanished. Isaac’s head felt clearer. He carefully took the candleholder to the bathroom and left it in the bottom of the sink, still filled with water. He grabbed a hand towel to mop up the spills.

He wanted the creepy cheerful candleholder out of his house as soon as possible. It probably wasn’t safe to just throw the thing away. He didn’t want to give it away either, not when he wasn’t sure if it was safe. He didn’t want to just break it or bury it either. For all he knew, that could cause some ghastly reaction.

Thank goodness for Great-Aunt Bethyl. She’d know what to do. He called her right away. “Great-Aunt Bethyl, it’s me, Isaac,” he said. “Someone gave me a candleholder that chants when you light it. What should I do?”

“Isaac, it’s nice to hear from you again,” Great-Aunt Bethyl said. “I know someone who studies oddities like that.   I’ll send him right over.”

“Thank you, Great-Aunt Bethyl,” Isaac said.

“Of course, Isaac dear,” she said.

A man wearing sunglasses and an ugly reindeer sweater appeared at the door twenty minutes later. He was holding a little green gift bag. Isaac brought the candleholder with him when he answered the door, water and all.

The man held out a hand. Isaac handed him the candleholder. The man handed him the gift bag and left without saying a word. Isaac watched him turn the corner, then closed the door.   He looked down at the bag. The tag said “In exchange, G-A.B.”.

He cautiously opened the bag. He found a scented candle in a glass jar. The label said “roses”. He took off the jar lid. The candle smelled nice. It reminded him of his grandmother.

Isaac took it back to Charlie’s room and lit the wick. The shadows were normal. Isaac smiled. The sleepover could continue as planned. He’d have to send Great-Aunt Bethyl a thank you note. But first he needed to find the flashlight so he could make funny faces and read the stories in his book to Charlie.

12-25-candle

A Christmas Nativity

“It’s Christmas Eve,” Mom said. “Time for the nativity. Alice and Ben will be Mary and Joseph. Beth is an angel…”

“Yes she is,” Dad said.

“…and Robbie is a wise man…” Mom continued.

“Yes I am,” Robbie said.

“A real wise guy,” Alice said.

“…and Dad will be a shepherd. I’ll read the story,” Mom said.

“I’ll get my costume and set up the camera,” Dad said. He wandered off in the direction of the kitchen. Mom started bustling around, pulling things out of the box she’d brought into the living room.

Robbie was wearing a large embroidered tunic over his clothes and a cardboard crown. Mom handed him her empty jewelry box. “There you go. Very handsome. Now, sit still,” she said, and pointed at the couch.

Mom had sent Alice off to change into her blue dress. When she returned, Mom pinned a scarf to her hair with bobby pins and gave her a baby doll to hold. “All right. You look great. Now, sit over there,” Mom said.   She pointed to a chair.

Ben had already changed into his Sunday clothes. Mom smiled. “Looks good, Ben. Find a seat.” Ben sat by Robbie on the couch and Mom changed Beth into her white dress.

“Honey, are you ready yet?” Mom said, looking towards the kitchen.

Dad returned wearing a bathrobe and munching on a cookie. “I can’t find my cane,” he said.

“It’s right here. I brought it in with the other costume things,” Mom said.

“Oh, all right,” Dad said. He started setting up the camera.

“Dad, did you bring us cookies, too?” Robbie asked.

“You’ll get your costume dirty,” Alice said.

“Would not,” Robbie said.

“Would so,” Alice said. She stuck out her tongue and Robbie leaned over the arm of the couch and snatched the baby doll.

“Mom!” Alice yelled. “Robbie stole baby Jesus.” She started to wail.

“Robbie, give it back,” Mom said.

“Fine,” Robbie said. He tossed the doll back. Alice stopped wailing and glared at him.

Mom flipped through the pages of her Bible, checking her bookmarks.   “Almost ready?” She asked Dad.

“mmhmmm. Almost,” Dad said.

Beth was trying to grab the camera. “Could someone take her, please?” Dad asked.

“I will,” Ben said. He picked her up and carried her to the couch. “Beth, do you want to sing Jingle Bells?”

“No, teach her Silent Night,” Alice said.

“She likes Jingle Bells best,” Ben said.

“Bells,” Beth agreed.

“Dashing through the snow…” Ben began.

“Not again!” Robbie groaned. He leaned over the arm of the couch and snatched the doll again. “Here, let her play with this instead.”

“Hey!” Alice said.

“Baby!” Beth said, looking delighted. She cuddled the doll close and grinned.

“Fine,” Alice said. She smiled.   Robbie looked surprised.

“I think I’ve got it,” Dad said a few minutes later. “Is everyone ready?”

“Yes,” they chorused. He pushed a button.

Mom began reading. “And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed…”

And the nativity went well. Beth didn’t want to give up the doll, so Alice just carried her around too. Beth toddled over and sat on Dad’s lap and showed him the doll when it was time for her part, then Dad brought her back to Alice-as-Mary.

Robbie presented the chest with a flourish on his turn. It was over so quickly. Dad turned off the camera. “I think now it’s time for those cookies, Robbie,” he said. “What do you think?”

“I think let’s go!” Robbie said. And they did.

12-8-nativity-antics

 

After the Concert

Mike adjusted his collar with one hand, cradling his tuba with the other.   Dressing up for a concert in the park on a hot day like this was rather uncomfortable. At least they were allowed to wear short sleeves.

He looked around. Most of the musicians were starting to take out their instruments to tune them. It was time to block out all the distractions and focus on the music.

He pulled out his tuner and played a note. Great, he wasn’t that far off. He adjusted the valve and played again. Something was off. He played his note again. No, it wasn’t him. Suddenly, the player next to him jumped out of his seat and darted away.

Mike felt a hard pinch on his upper arm. Holding his tuba close, he jumped up and swung around. An angry swan was hissing at him and holding its wings up menacingly.   The hissing! That was the odd sound he’d heard. He backed up slowly as the swan advanced.

The swan paused. Mike’s chair was in its way. Mike darted around the chairs in front of him and ran, still clutching his tuba.   The hissing behind him finally stopped.   He stopped running and turned around.   The swan was watching him from a distance.

The ushers were slowly moving the chairs farthest from the swan over to a gazebo. It would be cramped, but there would be shade and they’d be farther from the river and possible swan nests. The swan retreated a little further and they gathered the rest of the chairs.

Mike took the long way around to the gazebo. One of Mike’s friends handed him the handkerchief he used to wipe down his trumpet. “Dude, your arm’s bleeding,” his friend said.

“Thanks!” Mike took the handkerchief and looked down. “Oh no, my shirt!” He’d managed to bleed onto his shirt. His mom wouldn’t be happy.

“Don’t give back the handkerchief,” his friend said. “I have lots.”

Mike wiped up his arm and tied the handkerchief in place. “Do swans get rabies?” he asked.

“Let me look it up.” Mike’s friend pulled out a phone and tapped at it. “Nope. It looks like only mammals can carry the disease. You’re good.”

“Great. Thanks. Well, I need to find my seat,” Mike said. Soon enough, the concert started.

Mike’s mom exclaimed over his injury. The bite had left a bruise that was starting to go all blue and purple.   The scratch was small and looked like little red dots. She insisted that he wash his arm really well and then give her the shirt to treat right away.

She got the stain out of the shirt and the handkerchief, and the bruise was gone within a week or so. The whole incident had become a funny story to tell.   Except that he’d started to crave fish and green leafy vegetables and taking long baths every night. He’d also started to adjust his clothes and hair now and then when they felt out of place.

His mom, noticing his preening, had insisted on teaching him how to coordinate outfits. Then she took him to a hair stylist. When he saw the scissors coming at him, he’d hissed at the stylist. It was completely unexpected. Luckily, the stylist laughed. Mike didn’t think it was funny, though.

That night, Mike woke up in the middle of the night feeling strange.   Moonlight was streaming brightly through the window. The moon was full. Mike felt trapped, like his pajamas weren’t fitting quite right. He shifted around. What was wrong?

He squirmed around and managed to work his way free. He tried to ignore the glimpses of feathers and wings and webbed feet. Finally, standing on his scrunched up pajamas in the middle of his bed, he had to admit it. He was a swan. A were-swan.

Mike slumped on his bed and hissed. This was awful. He didn’t want to be a were-swan. He tucked his head under his wing and tried to sleep, hoping to wake up normal.   Instead, his mind raced.

It wasn’t all bad. Tonight he was trapped in his room because he couldn’t open doors or windows. But, maybe next month he could learn to fly.   He didn’t feel any urges to bite or eat anyone like were-wolves do in the movies.

Flying sounded kind of fun. And it was just once a month. He could work around that. He preened his feathers. He looked good. Things could definitely be worse. What if he’d become a were-skunk?

12-16-were-swan

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