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Stories 2 Fall 2023


Petting Zoo

      by Charleston Chu 

Be careful, Moonshine. Remember what the attendant said: You must always handle them gently. Coming here is a privilege, not a right.

Yes, you may pick one up. But be careful. Lay it gently in the palm of your hand. Like that. And don’t raise it too high. They’re so little, so fragile, they might get seriously hurt if they fell. 

Don’t grab. Don’t close your hand around it. Just let the little creature lie there. It might uncurl itself eventually.

Yes, you may stroke it. Use just two fingers. Lightly. Don’t crush it. And certainly don’t tug at those appendages. They come off so easily.

Do it this way. Just so. Good. 

Speak to it gently. Make soft noises. Don’t frighten it.

Oh, yes. They have feelings. Studies show that. Not feeling like ours. But some basic kind of feelings. That’s why it’s important that we not only avoid damaging them physically, but that we also do our best not to traumatize them … you know, upset them too much on the inside. 

Simply acquiring them from their natural habitats, transporting them, seeing them through their transition to a life here … all that can be quite upsetting to them. That’s why the attendants have gone to such trouble to make this pen a more enriching and comforting environment for them so they don’t get frustrated or bored or homesick. That’s why all those brightly colored balls are there for them to play with, and those ropes to swing from. Oh, they can get up to some real hi-jinks, I tell you. 

But we have to do our part and be especially kind so they can enjoy their lives here.

That’s the way. You’re doing a fine job. Why, I think this one really likes you, feels safe with you. It’s uncurled itself. And it’s hardly making any attempts to escape. 

You can try feeding it. That’s a good way to gain its trust. Not too much now. A few of these pellets. Lay them on your palm next to it. Don’t force it. Good! Very good! It’s eating. It does trust you. 

And now, listen carefully. It’s making noises. Little noises. It makes noises much like this when it’s with its own kind, and sometimes it uses them with us, particularly during the extraction phase. It’s obviously some form of communication. Researchers are even trying to find out if particular sounds have particular meanings. No, they’re not words in the sense that you and I use words. But they could well be meant to convey certain basic … information … messages. 

We call the creatures like the ones you’re holding “hepheps” because of the noise they characteristically make. “Hep. Hep,” they say. Just like that one is doing. That goes mainly for those that originate in one particular part of their home planet. Ones from a nearby area of that planet usually make a noise more like, “Ayume.” There are different characteristic sounds based on native locations. Quite entertaining.  

We suspect they might be forms of greeting.

Oh, look. There’s been an accident. 

Don’t cry, Moonshine. It’s partly my fault. I got too involved in talking. I distracted you, and you momentarily forgot to be careful. You squeezed a bit too hard. It could happen to anyone.

Please stop crying. I’ll tell you a little secret. Because these creatures are so easily traumatized, the employees here take steps to make sure the creatures’ feelings aren’t working at full capacity. They give them a kind of gas that dulls the pain or unhappiness they feel. It makes it safer for visitors, such as you, to handle them too, makes it less likely they’ll scratch or bite. So, I’m sure it felt no pain when it died.

That red on your hand is some kind of liquid that’s in them. Amazing, isn’t it? Yes. Even in the midst of loss, we can take a moment to marvel at the variety in nature. You can wash it off in the fountain.

See: Here’s a receptacle to put bodies. Accidents like this must happen all the time. Nobody will blame you. Besides, there are plenty more where that one came from. 

Oh, and just listen. Over there. Those ones are crying out, “Hep hep,” and those are calling, “Auyme,” and the new ones over there are saying, something like “Enmah.” Such funny sounds. See, they don’t blame you. They’re greeting you. They know you’re their friend.” 



Bio:  Charleston Chu lives in Richmond, CA. He has worked as a life coach, futurist and motivational speaker. He is now trying his hand as an author. Because he understands that’s where the real money’s at. 


Whose Garden Was This?

   by Linda Thornton Peterson



Whose garden was this, Amy wondered. She’d bought what was probably her last house a month ago on her eighty-nineth birthday. Finally, she had time to explore the backyard. Amy had many houseplants but never a garden. Her budget was tight, and she didn’t want to waste a penny on seeds or plants that might not grow. House plants she knew── outside plants, not so much.


The four bare rectangular garden beds in the backyard reminded her of the time her grandmother told her that during the Civil War, the family next door buried their silver in the garden.


On sunny afternoons, Amy sat in her yard under the shade of an umbrella, embroidering a huge tablecloth of weird flowers that she imagined. Their color and structure pure fiction. When she took a break, she looked around and wondered if silver might be buried in her yard. Sometimes, she got up and dug her arthritic fingers into the dirt of the garden beds, a halfhearted attempt to find something.  


She got serious after a few months, and began digging with a trowel, going from one plot to another. No luck──no silver, nothing. Well, she did find an old glass TECHE milk bottle, like the ones left on her doorstep as a child by the milkman. She kept the bottle on the kitchen table with flowers supplied by friends who encouraged her to plant a garden. 


Too risky, too expensive, and too much work, she explained. 


The few weeds that popped up in the plots looked like shredded embroidery floss that had been used over and over. Amy decided she might water just those weeds for a fresh pop of green. She began dragging a hose from plot to plot. With the rain, it didn’t take much to soak the soil, but the weeds weren’t growing as expected.


Confused, Amy frowned and shook her head. Just when you want weeds to go crazy, they refuse, she told anyone who listened. Each week she dragged the hose around. Her houseplants were growing like weeds. What’s that all about? Her inside garden──a jungle, her outside garden──a desert. She shouldn’t make that comparison; she’d lived in a desert where delicate wildflowers thrived.


Friends humored her when she spoke of her yard as her “garden.” Did it remind her of a rock garden (minus the rocks). 


She liked religious and cultural beliefs different from her own and was known to adopt some of these traditions or superstitions, whether or not she believed in them. Feeling insecure after moving from her home of sixty years, it didn’t surprise her friends when, for protection from bad energy, she began wearing both her Mexican and Greek evil eye charms on a single chain. Whatever it takes she told them.


In spite of watering, the weeds looked anemic with limp stems arched over, their tops barely touching the dirt. No wonder people pulled weeds. While bending over to water and dig, it wasn’t long before she too, began looking anemic and limp.


When Amy finished embroidering her huge tablecloth of imaginary flowers, she laid it on the grass. This was the garden she wanted. As she admired her needlework, she glanced at the garden plots. What if she laid a cloth of embroidered flowers over each plot. She took her tablecloth inside, cut it in-half, got some long nails, then went out and laid the two embroidered pieces on top of two plots. She drove the nails, like spikes, through the cloth all around the sides.


Satisfied, she walked around the freshly planted beds and called out to the sun, “Now that’s a flower garden.” No water was needed, and rain would neither hurt, nor help, the embroidery. She would embroider more pieces to plant in the other plots. 


When her neighbor, Matt, complained about weeding, she raised her chin and proudly bragged that his weeds had no interest in smothering her “garden.” 


Matt countered smugly, “But, will have cut flowers.” 


Amy got to thinking about whether or not she’d seen anything done like this before, but couldn’t think of anything ──Wait, needlework on the ground. On a trip to Washington DC, she saw quilts spread on the Capital lawn for the Aids’ Awareness Weekend. Could that be the source of her idea. Possibly. 


When friends heard Amy say, just wait ‘til my flowers grow and spread, they questioned the possible need for a psychiatrist’s visit or, at the very least, a referral for a mental health evaluation. Delusions might be on the short list.   


Bio: Linda Thornton Peterson, a Louisiana native, retired from Northern Illinois University as a psychotherapist and teacher. Her short stories and poems have appeared in The Green Silk Journal. Poetry publications include: The Hanging Moss Journal, a Western State Colorado University Journal and a Northern Illinois University Journal. She won an NIU faculty poetry award and is a founding member of three DeKalb writers’ groups. She was a stringer photographer with the Associated Press and a university art teacher who continues to exhibit her art and write.