458 Morton Avenue
This completed 32,000-word collection of interrelated stories describes the adventures of the animals who live there, narrated primarily by Gatsby and Jack (guinea pigs) and Jules and Vincent (cats). Human boys, Evan and Adrian, keep the creatures company in their home. Two stories are narrated by Pedro, a blue-fronted amazon parrot who figures into the cats’ nighttime heists, and Violet, an American Toad who resides behind the storm sewer grate on the corner directly across from 458 Morton.
Other short stories
“PC High School Bingo” describes a clever game devised by three high school boys to mock a Martin Luther King Day celebration at their progressive alternative school.
“Welcome to Work World!” describes a family trip to Cleveland’s brand-new “Work World” theme park with rides modeled on exciting (and realistically treacherous) job experiences. Details regarding occupational hazards reflect my years of experience working as an industrial epidemiologist. It was selected as a quarterfinalist in the 2017 Screencraft Cinematic Short Story Contest.
In “Four Wings,” Giselle, a four-inch teenage fairy, uses her gift of flying to join a human boy in saving an endangered native orchid from extinction.
“Fish Tale,” below, tells the story of two flying fish friends, one of whom longs to ride a bicycle. A genial genie grants his wish.
Waves drew Anthony to the shore as he flew high in the air and then plunged below the surface, head giddy and gills submerged. It wasn’t necessary to think—the wind and tide did that for him, irresistible in every meaning of the word.
Roberto sailed alongside, up and down in the glittering ocean. The rhythm of his chanty matched the arcs and dips of their progress.
Oh the life of a flying fish cannot be beat
We does as we please and we drinks our grog neat
We swims with the tide as we eats sea sweetmeats
And the ladies, they find us a treat, Yo, Ho…
As they did every morning, Roberto and Anthony swam toward shore, with its sandy beach and sun worshippers in loud bathing suits. A lifeguard sat in an impossibly tall white chair. The path beyond just visible, a lone cyclist zipped past on a man-made work of art—spare and fast, with a frame that glinted, not unlike Anthony’s own sleek scales, in the morning light.
“Roberto, there he is. Can you imagine what it would feel like to ride that? Fast and free, dorsal fin streaming in the breeze, no salt water dragging you down ….”
Roberto squinted into the distance. He’d heard Anthony’s wistful comments so many times before, yet responded as if this were the first. “Yes. So elegant, and without a sound.”
Pectorals fluttered madly as they sculled to stay in place—not too close, not too far. The moon had faded away, but its tidal pull remained. The cyclist slid across their field of vision, then vanished from view. Finally, the two fish turned back to rejoin their school at the ocean’s floor.
Home. Behind an orange and yellow coral bed, sunlight penetrated the depths to showcase wild pulsations of aquatic plants and animals. Long fingers of kelp undulated with the water’s movement. This was Roberto’s favorite time of day, returning to his soothing natural habitat. Fellow flying fish, friends and relations, congregated in silence. From time to time a member of the group darted out to catch passing plankton.
“What’s new shoreside? Any sightings?” Anthony’s father knew of the bicycle obsession and admired its imaginative, if ill-conceived, nature. “Something about your yearnings reminds me of ‘The Little Mermaid.’ Such a lovely story, but like so many of Mr. Andersen’s tales, it ends in complications.”
Anthony knew why his father felt compelled to mention the resemblance. His words meant, “Be careful what you wish for ….”
But Anthony still did. The next morning the tide washed in, bringing Roberto and him just to the buoys that marked the swimming zone. He watched and waited for the bicycle, his object of desire.
Anthony sighed as the cyclist pedaled away. His dream seemed hopeless. He dove toward the bottom, ready to return to his compatriots.
But what was that? He saw something shiny on the ocean floor that did not belong there. More trash, he assumed. As he and Roberto neared, they saw not an empty beer can but instead what looked like a … a teapot, maybe?
“Would you look at that,” Roberto breathed. “It’s just beautiful. Could it have fallen off of someone’s boat?”
It moved with the ocean’s gentle current. Or did it? At first glance it seemed to rock, but as the two fish got closer, the vessel became more agitated. It rolled and pulsed as if alive.
“Please, please,” the teapot said to them. “Release me, I beg of you.”
Roberto and Anthony looked at each other uneasily. This had never happened before, at least not to them personally. They’d heard endless stories about boats, sunken treasure, and sea witches, but their own experiences to date had been fairly mundane.
“If you release me, I will grant you three wishes,” emanated from the spout. “I am Robin, the Genie.”
“A good genie or a bad genie?” Roberto burbled out. The question did not seem particularly useful. Who would admit to being a bad genie?
“I am powerful—my gift to earth’s creatures. Whether that strength is used for good or ill depends on you. If you rub the vessel’s side, you will liberate me to do your bidding.”
Roberto felt unsure. In fairy tales, genie adventures had a tendency to go badly. And once he escaped from the bottle there would be no turning back. Anthony, on the other hand, did not hesitate. With visions of bicycling dancing in his head, he snatched up the teapot and stroked its side.
A swirl of blue exited the pot. Up it went, ten, then twenty feet. The cloud condensed into the form of a human man. “Thank you, thank you! Blessings on thee. Your wish, of course, is my command.”
Robin’s wavering form became more distinct as it grew to final size, four times that of a normal human. His massive chest shone with necklaces of heavy gold and gemstones and a matching belt held up billowing white trousers. Although the genie’s overall demeanor was imperious–almost frightening—something kind about his eyes softened the effect. Roberto and Anthony stared, speechless.
Robin’s arms crossed his chest, biceps bulging. “Well, gentlemen, what will it be?”
The situation unfolded too fast for Roberto’s taste. Still, he could not help feeling curious about the details of whatever contract they were getting themselves into. “Is that three wishes, total, or three for each of us?”
Robin peered down, annoyed. “Your companion released me from my prison. The wishes belong to him. Of course, if he wants to share them with you, that is his choice.”
Roberto glanced at Anthony, wondering what he might be thinking. It seemed impolite to ask, but if Anthony were to offer ….
Anthony had no hesitation whatsoever. “I only need one wish—give me the ability to ride a bicycle. On land. Lungs, legs, arms—whatever it takes. I don’t care about the other two wishes—you can have both of them, Roberto.”
Robin regarded Anthony with concern. Did he have any idea what he was asking for? Would it culminate in unhappiness? “By rights I must obey your directive. But …” he looked down to his bare toes, “Are you sure?”
“I’ve longed for this all my life.” Anthony was firm, ecstatic, expectant.
The genie’s voice boomed as he gestured grandly toward Anthony. “So be it. This fish will transform, leave the ocean, and cycle away on a carbon fiber racing bike as light as an angel food cake!”
In an instant, anatomical changes began, limbs popping out, scales falling away, gill slits absorbing into his neck. The morphological transformation complete, Anthony gasped, searching for oxygen.
In matching black lycra shorts and cycling jersey, Anthony waded to shore with the awkward gait of someone new to the species. A custom-made two-wheeler lay on its side on the beach. Stumbling out of the water, Anthony grasped the handle bars, threw himself onto the seat and found his footing on the pedals. The wheels turned, slow in the sand, and then faster as he found the paved trail. It was as if he’d been born to do this.
Turning back, he saluted Robin and Roberto, then sped away. Roberto continued to wave to the retreating figure long after it faded from sight. Disbelief changed to sadness, his constant companion gone.
“The two remaining wishes fall to you,” Robin reminded him. “What is your heart’s desire?”
Too despondent to think clearly, Roberto mumbled, “I don’t know. Maybe a beautiful lady flying fish?”
“I grant thee a lady friend.” A golden fish with iridescent rainbow scales appeared, stunning, yet demure.
The minute she took shape, Roberto knew he’d made a mistake. “What am I thinking? This is all wrong.” The female fish looked at him invitingly. “I’m sorry to summon you, Miss. I spoke too soon.” Turning to Robin, he stammered, “I made a mistake and I know there’s nothing I can do about it. It did help me realize what my real wish is, though. To be with Anthony.”
Robin saw the misery in Roberto’s face. The idea of sending the first fish off to become a terrestrial cyclist had worried the genie. How would Anthony ever find a place in that world? Roberto had the answer. “How do you feel about learning to ride a bicycle?”
Roberto beamed. “Fine. Just fine.”
The genie performed his magic once again. Now a tall, thin, young man, Roberto sloshed through shallow waters to dry land and hopped on his bike. Although awkward, he learned quickly, the thought of joining his beloved Anthony strong motivation.
Despite his excitement, Roberto took a moment to say farewell. “Bye, Robin! I cannot thank you enough!”
The lady fish looked on in astonishment, shaking her head. “I guess fish really do need bicycles. At least some of them do.”