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Friends and Rabid Hedgehogs: KJ Hannah Greenberg Short Story Series, #4

Friends and Rabid Hedgehogs: KJ Hannah Greenberg Short Story Series, #4

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Friends and Rabid Hedgehogs: KJ Hannah Greenberg Short Story Series, #4

Length:
355 pages
4 hours
Released:
Jun 7, 2016
ISBN:
9781533706676
Format:
Book

Description

National Endowment for the Humanities awardee and designated Keeper of the Hibernaculum of Imaginary Hedgehogs KJ Hannah Greenberg presents Friends and Rabid Hedgehogs, book four of the KJ Hannah Greenberg Short Story Series. Book Four features six short stories on matters of home, work, and love told through the eyes of a strange and wonderful cast of characters.

Released:
Jun 7, 2016
ISBN:
9781533706676
Format:
Book

About the author

Faithfully constructive in her epistemology, KJ Hannah Greenberg channels gelatinous monsters and two-headed wildebeests. Other of her Bards and Sages Publishing collections of fiction include: The Immediacy of Emotional Kerfuffles, and Don’t Pet the Sweaty Things. Currently, Hannah serves as an Associate Editor at Bewildering Stories.  Despite the fact that she eats oatmeal, runs with a hibernaculum of imaginary hedgehogs, watches dust bunnies breed beneath her sofa, and attempts to matchmake words like “balderdash” and “xylophone,” she refuses to learn to text or to use a digital watch.

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Friends and Rabid Hedgehogs - KJ Hannah Greenberg

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Preface

Our problems are often no more than small, furry critters capable of casting huge shadows. If we spin so that we face our challenges, instead of allowing ourselves to be thwarted by them, we, not they, become the conquerors. Perspectives that galvanize such actions do not necessarily transform our inner dwellers into cuties, but do take away much of their fiendishness.

Accordingly, although Friends and Rabid Hedgehogs looks like a mild-mannered collection of brief fictions, it is at once also a savage series of realizations about human nature. This book's sixty stories are as much about finding means to confront our occupational hazards and relationship foibles, as they are simple tales about dogs, cats, lobsters, and weird, space-faring eukaryotic organisms.

All that has ever been murmured about the coterie of creatures contained herein is true; many of these fleecy and scaly players are often sweet only when sleeping. Thereafter, these pages’ monsters, these strange or familiar fiends, disguised as lanolin exporters, as incumbent politicians, or as alien spore, growl, yap, roar, and look askance at readers mistaking them for simple brutes. People are the worst beasties.

Fiction, more than co-play, more than therapy and more than odd intimacies reveals humanity’s unmanageable tendencies. Accordingly, the beings that populate Friends and Rabid Hedgehogs become curative tools as well as entertainments. Goblins and guinea pigs, even when dressed as dragons and dormice, help us to identify our personal terrors and to cope with the creepy crawlies of other folks.

Imaginary hedgehogs cause damage. Likewise, those rodents’ frenetic behavior illuminates the behavior of humanity. Those bugs, plus those of their fellow fauna found in Friends and Rabid Hedgehogs, teach us important truths.

KJ Hannah Greenberg

Jerusalem, 2016

Contents

Preface

At Home

Tag

Immurement’s Usually Relative

Relatively Sexy

Lemon-Sauced Duckling

Back to the Gym

Taha and Albuquerque

If I Don’t Sleep

Nothing Wanted

Power per Unit

The Care and Feeding of Agatha

Dor l’Dor: A Grandmother’s Reflection

Ruminations

The Ballad of Jeremy One Sock

More about those Codfish

Mud Pies and Snowballs for Thursday Junebee

Red Rings of Rash

My Wee Zombie Kitten

Grit

A 1970’s Middle Schooler’s Day

Dandelion Fields

At Work

Lovesick

Unexploited Relations among Space Lobsters on Jupiter

Mentioning the Aliens

Remaining Opaque

A Certain Visitor

Remarkable Robustness

Nice Car

Silent Findings

Validating the Cohort Life

The Hidden Righteous

Of Crustaceans and an Emerging Creative Writer

Deep Sea Mothers

Owmapow Gets Fired

The Relative Utility of Betting on Zombie Yard Flamingos

Mulvey Slays

Two Fables

Statutory Theft

Rules Governing Hair Elastics and Other Prohibited Utensils

The Unmade Professor

Hedgehogs Démodés

At Love

To Likewise Deconstruct Himself for Nadia

Yitzok’s Teachers

Vinca

Jagger

Sylvia from the Amusement Park

Hypnosis

Trade Relations in the Horseshoe Galaxy Cluster

Today’s Weather: Pleasant, No Change in Temperature

Beholden Beauty

Married, but Lonely

Chandeliers of the Best Quality

Sweet Pea

Illicitly Involved in Commercial Matters

A Line Producer’s Beneficent Notes

Woodland Cacophony

Maceo

Seduction by Means of an Acoustic-to-Electric Transducer

Competitive and Foolish

Her Bulbous Eyes

Once More with Love

Credits

About the Author

At Home

Tag

Y ou’re it!

Martel placed his hand roughly on Jamie’s shoulder and then sped away. Jamie’s dog barked at the aggressor.

That companion, Sirloin, like most other Aussiepoos, was of slender build, strong boned, and possessed of a soft coat. In brief, he was fierce of voice, but not of the heart. Although he tried to be a good watchdog, his main utility was cuddles. Hence, Martel had been able to sneak up on Jamie.

Martel loved getting one over on Jamie; she dragooned him with her accomplishments. Everyone in their extended family knew that she had been the only one among them to sing solo in a school concert, to get accepted into a preferred college, and to commemorate their grandparents’ fiftieth anniversary by buying them smartphones.

Whereas Martel’s cousins were more concerned with breeding, with earning a living, and with attending the clan’s annual get-together at Idlewild Amusement Park (Williams Grove having closed in 2005) than with rivalries, and whereas Jamie and Martel’s brothers and sisters, except for Brenda, were still so young as to be more preoccupied with finishing community college, finding mates, and preparing for entry-level positions than with sibling infighting, Martel grasped and was stung by Jamie’s actions. She might not have intended to constantly one-up him, but she always succeeded in doing so.

As an actuary, who had lost out on a promotion against a more senior clerk, Martel’s best holiday gifts for Gramps and MooMa had been matching Heinz pickle pins, which he had purchased on EBay. MooMa had claimed that Martel’s present brought her found memories of her Pittsburgh childhood, but she had made that declaration while browsing the web on her new phone. She claimed to be waiting for an urgent email, but Martel knew better.

Gramps had said nothing, putting his second finger to his lips to indicate to Martel that no one ought to tattle about the sort of files Gramps was downloading. Later, he confided in Martel saying that back in the day such images were best left hidden under a bed or beneath freshly stacked bath towels.

As per being the owner of the family’s most cherished voice, it had been the case that Dad had accompanied Martel, on the boys’ night out, which preceded Brenda’s wedding, to a karaoke hall. There, Dad had, between songs, taken to thumping Martel on the back and proclaiming the virtues of Martel’s off-key baritone. Then, too, Martel had known better. The karaoke hall’s sound mixer software had filtered out the worst qualities of his and of the other patrons’ voices.

Maybe, Martel weighed, he could give himself credit for Brenda’s marriage. Brenda had asked for his help, a decade earlier, with college applications, claiming that he was the brains in the family. Martel had known better; Brenda had wanted to get her mitts on the email address of Martel’s friend, Teddy Bennet. It was Teddy whom Brenda wed.

At the picnic, where Martel had smacked Jamie’s shoulder, it was her purple potato salad over which everyone was making a fuss. No one seemed to care that Martel had brought a cake fashioned from cookies mashed together and then glued in place with boiled icing. Dad had had three helpings of the cake while looking dubiously at Jamie’s bourgeois contribution, but Martel knew better.

Mom and Dad had a decades’ long spat over Dad’s blood sugar. Although the family doctor had doomed Dad to death more than twenty years ago, Dad disregarded that prophecy. At reunions, birthday parties, and the like, he habitually and less-than-clandestinely filled his plates with whichever comestibles contained the most sugar, salt, alcohol, or mixture thereof. The result of that behavior was that Mom developed a stress ulcer, but Dad remained as far from needing an undertaker’s services as he was from being measured for an Olympic cross country team jersey.

To wit, Dad still smoked a pack a week, still drank two rounds of boilermakers at a local pub, every Thursday night, and still had better cholesterol levels than anyone in the family except for Jamie. Jamie had enrolled in some new-fangled exercise that lowered her body fat, pumped up her arms and back, and gave her a permanently rosy complexion. Even Brenda, who usually didn’t care about such things, had complimented their sister on her trim figure.

Jamie and Sirloin had arrived at the family get-together in a well-used 2010 Kia Forte, and Martel, his wife, and their children had gotten to the park in a 2015 Subaru Outback. All of Brenda’s kids had run to see Martel’s station wagon. However, Martel knew better; they had gathered to count the bugs squashed on his windshield.

After tagging Jamie, Martel moved on. Sirloin barked and then pushed at Jamie’s ankles. The dog was lovable and sociable and, like half of his family tree, steeped in herding instinct. He didn’t care if his mistress made a respectable five digit income or if her surprising source of success had been a blog that had quickly become popular with college students. It was equally of no matter to him that Jamie’s latest love had gone unrequited.

All that the former puppy wanted was for Jamie to tell him that he was a good boy. Good boys, as doggies knew, kept their people out of harm’s way. A treacherous Frisbee, aimed at his companion’s head, counted as harm. So, Sirloin had pushed Jamie.

Except, he had failed; Aussiedoodles are not particularly large. The best that Sirloin managed to do was to jump at Jamie’s legs, causing her to bend down long enough to hear a curved plastic disc whiz by the spot, where, seconds earlier, her brow had been. Jamie, who was quick at making deductions, bent down even farther and hugged Sirloin.

As the oldest sister of a tribe of six children, she refused to believe that any of her brothers and sisters hated her, let alone that any of them might, at a family outing of all places, try to damage her. When those boys and girls were small, she had wiped their bottoms. She had helped them with homework when they were a bit older and had given up many nights’ worth of sleep when, later, they fussed over prom dates.

Jamie saw herself as their perennially sacrificing relative, not as an obstacle to their happiness. She had no reason to believe that any of them might feel ill will toward her.

Mom and Dad had suffered from neither unemployment nor affection for prescription drugs. Yet, it had been the case, when they had been busy during their children’s formative years with double work shifts, with landlording the family’s triplex, and with getting dinner on the table, that they had needed a parental supplement.

It had been natural for them to task Jamie with supervising bath time, lice checks, and ironing. It had made sense for her to water the plants, to clean up the cats’ hairballs, and to pack school lunches. They had never thought that giving her the role of third parent would bring problems.

Sirloin’s rough tongue returned Jamie to the smell of overcooked hamburgers and sunscreen. She smiled as her siblings’ children spilled their bottles of bubble detergent, dropped their softballs, and fought over turns at jumping rope. Nearby, under a large tree, Mom stood queenly among macaroni salads, chopped vegetables, and assorted condiments.

Again, Sirloin licked Jamie’s hand. Beasts of his ilk were intelligent, followed directions well, and got along with other animals. Martel and Brenda had also brought their respective pets, but Brenda, who lived in nearby Latrobe, had had to bring her Cockapoo home. That small, yippy thing had taken a bite out of the leg of Martel’s Rottweiler.

That rip had been superficial. Although Martel’s dog hobbled, to great effect, gobbling up all bits of burned meat and leftover coleslaw offered to it in compensation, the injury to the fraternal bond was far worse than was the break in the dog’s skin. Martel’s glare had been unrelenting. Brenda felt compelled to take her sweetums home.

After the incident, Martel chained his dog to a tree, where it slept off the sympathy snacks it had been fed. The pooch’s band aid had long since detached from its leg. Except for the few flies that buzzed around its cut, no one would have thought that anything of interest had occurred. Martel, though, knew better. He had doctored Brenda’s soda with a wee bit of tabasco sauce before flinging the Frisbee at Jamie’s face.

Out in the parking lot, Jamie pulled at some of the intertwined tuffs in Sirloin’s coat. Dogs like him needed not only regular exercise but also lots of brushing. A neighbor kid, whom Jamie trusted with a copy of the key to her apartment, took care of the former. Jamie wrote from home, but ordinarily didn’t emerge from her office, during work hours, except to use the bathroom or to grab a quick snack. Sirloin’s bladder was smaller than hers.

Per the latter, Jamie sincerely meant to call a groomer, but kept getting distracted by things that she read online, such as a rumor that someone down the block was launching a rocket ship to Jupiter in search of space lobsters, and such as the report that someone else in their community was raising money to buy winter coats for the hedgehogs that were burrowing under the town’s library. Such news filled her juiciest blog entries.

Such blog entries, in turn, paid the rent, bought the groceries, and might, if invested carefully, accrue to become surprise tickets to Iceland for Martel and his wife for their fifteenth anniversary. So, Sirloin suffered a little.

As Jamie sat on the boulders that bordered the parking lot and the picnic grounds, Jamie wished she could blink away Sirloin’s slightly matted hair and the chance that such knots provided home for multi-legged nuisances. It wasn’t fair to her dog that saving for a wonderful gift for her little brother meant subjecting her furry dear to the possibility of fleas.

The dog sighed and softened as Jamie worked her fingers into his tangles. His revelry went undisturbed until, a second time, during that afternoon, Martel whacked his big sister on the shoulder and shouted tag.

Sirloin barked ferociously. Like the cockapoo who had been sent home, Sirloin was excitable.

Jamie’s parents despaired of their children ever owning a pet not related to a poodle. Mom hated smart beasts. Dad laughed at bright critters only when intoxicated. That Martel had bought a butcher’s dog, instead of a hound with water retriever in its genes, had pleased them more than had making their final mortgage payment.

Martel, nonetheless, had failed to receive that memo. He let everyone within earshot know just how problematic was Jamie’s familiar. Until that afternoon, whenever he had complained about Sirloin, Jamie had regarded Martel through heavily lidded eyes and had given him half of a smile. That afternoon, though, between the game of tag, whose rules only Martel seemed to know, and the near Frisbee accident, she decided to swing back at her younger brother.

A single hammer fist to Martel’s stomach immediately felled him.

Jordan, another brother, was known to be violent. Once, when he had roughhoused with Martel, the bigger boy had had to have a leg set in a plaster. Brenda and Alison, likewise, as teens, had pulled out handfuls of each other’s hair. Even baby Sonny had been expelled from school, a few times, for punching or otherwise brutalizing classmates.

Neither Martel nor any other family member, however, had considered Jamie-the-Nurturer capable of inflicting injury. Jamie, though, knew better.

None of her family had bothered reading her blog. So, none of them had seen her entries about studying mixed martial arts.

Jamie, what the foo?

Sirloin barked and barked as Martel slowly got to his feet. Jordan, Brenda, Sonny, and Alison came running. Mom looked up from the table of eats. Dad shrugged and pulled down another beer. MooMa and Gramps waved from their lawn chairs and returned to texting. Various first and second cousins came running.

A little blood trickled out of one of Martel’s nostrils. He bellowed like a bull being castrated.

Jamie hugged Sirloin. She shrugged at her approaching family. Tag, Martel, you’re it.

Immurement’s Usually Relative

From wrist to fingertips , red blooms beneath my skin. I turn the handle, anyway, and only then gasp. To slog over the threshold, I exert myself. The door locks behind me. Three stone walls plus an opening to another chamber rise. I sally forth, repeating this action again and again. There is just one route and many closed apertures. My still ruddy limbs drip sweat.

Pa is as wealthy as is Uncle Phillip, but only Phil had secret passageways constructed beneath his wine cellar. Perhaps, I ought not to have skinny dipped with George and ought not to have fed Little Page those snot and cream cheese sandwiches. She can’t be faulted for filling me with sherry. I blame her, though, for pushing me down the first staircase so hard as to bruise and probably break my hand. Relatives are not always friends.

Pa taught me to go left. His notion worked for paper and pencil mazes and for applications to Ivy League schools but seems to make no difference here, in Phil’s labyrinth or there, bedding George. My journey has no forking passages, only shafts; Page, too, had slept with her brother.

I hear something. Waterboarding?  Kneecapping?  Page looking for me? When George and I hooked up, he had said nothing about seducing his sister; doing it with a first cousin was bad enough. Did Phil do Ma? Page and I look nearly identical and, if SAT scores can be believed, she’s equally smart.

There’s no exit in this last chamber. It seems that no one impedes Page with impunity.

Relatively Sexy

Wetness is suggestive . Suggestive qualities are lucrative. When I was growing up, teens not left on tropical islands for the express purpose of propagating atypical amounts of secretory skin organs were deemed proletariat no matter their parents’ looks or commercial success.

My people deposited their preadolescents at the Huahine School, where, until we aged out at eighteen, we played hokey pokey (not the dance), and otherwise engaged in activities that caused dampness. We juveniles were encouraged to ooze in order to grow an abundance of sudoriparous cavities. Our close relatives counted on us increasing physiologically.

My grandmother’s generation, in balance, hadn’t grasped the need to build extra perspiration-producing structures. My ancestors might have been able to paddle to the Galápagos Islands and to use additional, primitive means to propel themselves to the Aleutians, but they had failed to cherish their resulting exudate.

It seems that my immediate forbearers were smarter. They sent us kids to unventilated, albeit palatial, dorms and left us to picnic, to fly kites, and to roast guinea fowl. Our revved-up metabolisms were deemed good.

The insurrectionaries among us, however, were deemed bad. I was corrupt, for instance because I collected airflow disbursing machines. Only rebels researched the comparative power of various artificial breezes. Only agitators valued learning classic mechanics over playing find the stick. Only troublemakers produced minimalist gadgets instead of maximum numbers of epidermal spouts.

No matter how many droplets trickled from me, I persisted on being the fiend who’d rather sit in front of an anemometer than hug or play racquetball. What’s more, the lack of salty water running from my limbs caused my associates to endure transpiration imbalances. Only Goth chicks liked me.

Phaedra Seraphine, singularly, nearly shifted my paradigm. That kohl-rimmed cutie, who had no fear of my box and floor puffers, and who had even asked me to show her the operation of my computer cooler, gave me a reason to exude moisture. During free time, we’d get clammy together gaming with my electrostatic accelerator and my antique bellows.

I thought my cherished would-be slattern was going to burst with briny liquid when I revealed my low-pressure airfoil to her. Just the sound of the words "Coandă Effect" appeared to make my macabre maiden swoon. Unfortunately, I was mistaken. Our union never got consummated. My attractive, eerie gal pal immediately stopped trying to enhance my growth of endocrine-directed ducts.

More specifically, upon viewing the temperature regulating wings that I had fashioned, Phaedra jerked upright on my bed, pointed her luxuriously sodden finger at me, and called me idiot. She grabbed her black clothes and silver jewelry and sped out of my room. In route, she kicked my prized cross-flow whiffer, rendering it somewhat inoperable.

I had invested great effort in obtaining that treasure, having traded a case of pure vanilla extract and a box of dried coconut shavings for that appliance via Yankee Magazine’s What-Have-You swap meet (Few behaviors could have exclaimed my adolescent defiance more than did my browsing, regularly, through those cold clime pages.)

As it happened, during a lunch break, shortly after Phaedra and I broke up, I was visited by government doyens, who plied me with fustian talk. Their overbearing rhetoric caused me to slick all over my nono juice and my makiawa sandwich. My puddles, in turn, caused those grownups to shrug and then to leave the island. Anyone who could perspire on command was considered redeemable.

My life, though, did not stay charmed. On Family Visiting Day, my aunties, those biochemists and physicians who had determined that overheated teens were a good source of clear fluids, berated me. Word had traveled to Moorea and to Tetiaroa that one of their kin had invested in variable-pitch blowers and in miniature wind tunnels.

More specifically, they flamed me, scolding that my family would disown me. They also reinforced, under heat lamps, and in co-ed steam rooms, just how irresponsible it had been for me to bring refrigeration devices to Paradise.

They blazed that my insistence on low pressure, high volume currents hurt my family. They flared that I would soon be eligible for marriage and that no self-respecting young woman would agree to be permanently fastened to a young man as given to chilling as to seeping. Their glowing codswallop was unambiguous; I was to lose my gusters or prepare for horrific consequences.

So, I advertised on EBay for punkahs and for vacuum-driven gizmos. Shortly thereafter, my parents hauled me away from the humid, jungle sanctuary.

Interestingly, in the decades that followed, my peers, those mortal marvels of hyperhidrosis, to a one, developed thyroid problems. All sprouted goiters. Some ripened ignoble cancers.

Phaedra, for instance, died in her fifties from the surfeit of abnormal cells that had attached themselves to the large, ductless gland of hers that secreted hormones that regulate growth and development. It was a pity that she, the reigning Polynesian Sauna Queen, croaked; even in midlife, she had retained somber beauty.

Despite the many funerals of those individuals formally schooled to dribble, no apologies were put forward for the harsh treatment I had received. Likewise, no comeuppance was dealt the elders, who had subjected me to untold magniloquence when I was a defenseless minor. Though my peers were dying from the sap my apparatuses had mitigated for me, no one offered to acknowledge my past or to requite me for the harassment I had suffered. Powerful persons still regarded sweat as profitable and as stimulating.

I’m still not convinced they were right. I think society ought to be equally welcoming to individuals with nominal amounts of eccrine and apocrine hollows as to persons with abundant amounts, thereof. We less sweaty people, too, are capable of doing well in business. We, too, are amatory. We, too, deserve our fangirls.

Lemon-Sauced Ducklings

I ’m so happy... I’m bleeding! chanted Tongan.

Spencer lowered his multifocals and shrugged. Even in middle age, his wife was ditzy.

I’m not getting older, after all!

You’re still the same age.

But I’m menstruating!

That makes you happy?

Very happy.

While everyone else in their extended family was feasting on lemon-flavored ducklings at a resort, Spencer was home with Tongan, fussing over the occupants of their chicken coop. Neither their hens nor their rooster were well.

The birds had contacted fowl pox. Some of them had died. The couple was nursing the rest. Soft food and warm, dry nesting boxes were what the veterinarian had suggested. He had said, as well, that the surviving birds ought to be able to get past the contagion.

If only the chickens had had no joy in eating mosquitos, all of them would be alive, mused Spencer. Meanwhile, his singular human hen was daydreaming about brooding.

Tongan, we’re too old for babies.

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