HARRY THE HORSE by Art Youmans
“Are you Harry the Horse?” “Yeah, that’s me.” The pug points to a limousine.
“The boss wants to see you!”
One day, I knew it would come to this. Some people have perfect pitch and become famous singers; others have coordinated muscles and develop into great athletes. It’s genetic. With me I’m a genius at the racetrack.
The pug opens the rear door of the limousine. A small man in the back seat smiles and extends his hand.
“Harry the Horse. Glad to finally meetcha.” He signals the driver out of the car with a wave of his fingers
I stare as the driver and pug lean against a telephone booth across the street.
“Do yaknow who I am?” he asks in a soft voice.
“Yes. You run the St. Louis mob.”
“Do ya know why we’re meeting?”
“I’m not sure.”
“Take a guess, Harry.”
I look out the window and see two others have joined the pug and driver.
“Well, I’ve had a bit of luck lately on the ponies,” I say.
“Hell,” he interrupts, “your winning bets bankrupted our Oklahoma bookies and closed down Remington Park and Blue Ribbon Downs. Horse racing’s nearly died in Oklahoma because of you!”
I wipe the sweat from my forehead and look him in the eye. “Mr. Costello…”
“Call me Frank.”
“Okay, Frank. I’ve been called ‘Harry the Horse’ all my life. Since I was a kid I could tell which racehorse would win at any track. It was a gift. When other kids were reading books, I was studying the Racing Form.
” “How come you never lose?” “
Oh, I lose, sometimes. I lost on Violinist and Silver Bullet in ’96.” “
Hell, they both lost in photo finishes. You ain’t lost since!”
“ I seem to know what horse will win.”
“Harry. I’d like you to stop betting on the ponies and come work for me.
” “I can’t do that, Frank. Betting is the only thing in life I’m good at. It’s in my genes.”
Frank pushes a button and the trunk opens. He signals for me to get out. We walk to the back of the limousine and stare into the trunk
“Whatchasee?” he asks
“A pair of shoes.”
” I try to lift them. “They weigh a ton,” I said. “ What are they made of? Concrete?”
Frank smiles. “How’d you guess. They’re size 11D.
“That’s my size,” I say. “What a coincidence.”
“It ain’t no coincidence.”
A light bulb goes on in my head. I look him in the eye and say, “Frank, you have a gift of persuasion. I’d be happy to work for you.
” “Do you have any questions?”
“Yeah, just one. What are you gonna do with those concrete shoes?”
He grins. “We’ll keep ‘em handy in case you ever change your mind.”
I gulp. “It’s in my genes, Frank. Once I make my mind up, I never change it.”
And I never did.
This all-dialogue tale is my best short story. It won 2nd place in Heartland Author's Flash Fiction contest in 2005 (up to 500 words). This was my first fiction award & was published in 2005 in a paperback book called “Voices of the Heartland,” Hawk Publishing Group. I bought 15 copies & sent them to my relatives to prove that I really was as good a writer as I believed I was. :)
Wet snowflakes struck Robbie in the back like rubber bullets fired at close range from a machine gun. He tumbled to the ground.
Robbie regained his balance, shook mud from his beak and hopped through Chandler Park.
Clouds of rain followed the snow. A little rain doesn’t bother me, he thought…never has… never will.
Instinct told him to angle his wings and tail toward the ground, forming a raincoat. The water slid off his feathers onto the ground, keeping his body dry.
Robbie shuddered when he saw lightning crash through the northern sky ahead. He kept moving forward. His brick-red breast throbbed with excitement as thunder echoed through the swaying trees.
The storm had begun on New Year’s Eve.
He tried to fly but the gale-force winds bent his wings like an umbrella blown inside-out.
If I’m going to get home before New Year’s Day, it will have to be mostly by ground transportation, Robbie thought.
The other thrushes laughed at me when I built our nest on a sheltered ledge of the Granite Cliffs instead of in a tree or bush. Now, their nests have blown away. I’ll bet they’re not laughing now.
Protected from the howling wind by fallen trees, Robbie hopped to the base of the Granite Cliffs.
His legs collapsed and he sank to the ground li
Like a frozen flower. Robbie’s heart beat like a hummingbird’s wings in flight.
While he lay on a bed of icy leaves, he recalled the New Year’s Resolution of a wise owl that circulated through Tulsa’s parks a week earlier:
“Great perseverance, some ability and a little luck are all any creature needs to achieve success. This resolution worked for outnumbered British pilots during The Battle of Britain in 1940
. It can bring success for winged creatures in 2016, too.”
When Robbie regained strength, he rose to his feet. Jabbing at the ground he pulled out worm after worm, and waited. His eyes widened with delight when he noted longer periods of time between lightning strikes
. Neither Oklahoma storms nor bad luck last forever. He thought of the nest hidden in the cliffs above him and knew he had to take a risk.
The wind stopped howling, almost as though it was marshalling power to resume its terrifying sounds.
Summoning all his strength, Robbie forced his streamlined body into the air.
The down stroke of his wings caused air pressure on the underside, which turned his feathers into an airtight fan. Gaining speed and forward motion he rocketed toward his target like a fist-sized Superman.
A noisy nest full of hungry young robins greeted Robbie minutes later. They were glad to see him.
FLYING PORK CHOPS By Art Youmans, 249 words, Flash Fiction, 2007
“We’ve suppressed NASA’s information from the public for over three years,” the lawyer explained. “Now, animal rights activists and vegetarians are clamoring for our hide.”
“We’ve done nothing illegal,” the new Director of the American Pork Council proclaimed. “We told half-truths. If people were jailed for lying …there wouldn’t be any politicians left to run America.”
“Problems started when space shuttle Columbia exploded, during re-entry in 2003.”
“Absolutely! One genetically-engineered pig named Icarus may cause our pork industry to disappear like the Dodo bird.”
“Americans were shocked by the loss of Columbia’s astronauts four ago,” the lawyer summarized, “so NASA sent a chimp and Icarus, a pig, on the next space mission in 2004
. How could we know the chimp would panic on re-entry when the shuttle spun out-of-control?
Scientists were astounded when the pig grabbed the controls, fired thrusters to turn the shuttle orbiter tail-first to slow it, then fired the thrusters again to pitch the shuttle nose-first on the glide to touchdown
. At Kennedy Space Center, engineers gulped a sigh of relief when Icarus pulled up the nose, 2,000 feet above the ground to slow rate of decent, and deployed a parachute to increase drag.
They cheered when the shuttle landed midway down the runway.”
“It wasn’t hard to suppress the truth after NASA scientists learned the pig’s I.Q. was higher than theirs,
” the director chuckled. “What should we do next?”
“Do what I’m doing. I’d check the employment ads if I were you.”
FROM: Art Youmans, “William Shakespeare's 1st Poem,” 29 December 2015, 199 words
“Life is a chess match in County Bunches, , I always think thee wants to shout, We are all like fighters avoiding punches Until Father Time finally knocks us out.”
“Well, well,” Bishop Stephen Yoakum exclaimed, “ I didn’t know you were a poet, Will.”
Shakespeare shrugged. “It’s the start of my first poem,” he replied. “I read Italian and French sonnets in 1591, and believe we should have Elizabethan sonnets, too.”
“Dear friend, if you can write stage plays for The Globe Theater as brilliant as Hamlet and King Lear, you can write poems, too, or sonnets as you call them. What is a sonnet?
” Will thought for a moment before replying
“A sonnet is a monologue. Most reveal a dramatic situation – the infidelity of a mistress, the estrangement of a friend, the joy of children, true love and our life-long fight against death
. My sonnets will be three quatrains of ten syllable (pentameter) verse, rhymed abab, cdcd, efef, sometimes followed by rhyming couplet gg. Quatrains are 4 lines of alternate rhyme.” “So most will be 12 line sonnets…some 14 lines?
They will be as brilliant as your plays, Will.”
“Aye, Bishop Stephen, they will be.”
And they were.
NOTE: Someone challenged me to write a short story in 200 words or less.,, four years ago. This what I wrote, above
The opening lines of a short story are like the opening lines of a book. These lines are meant to hook the reader’s interest into finding out more about the story by reading more of the narrative.
On this page, below, can you match up the following ten opening lines with the novel or book in which they appeared?
A correct score of 6 or more is excellent 3 to 5 is average. 0 to 2 is poor
. 1. “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”
2. “Call me Ishmail.
” 3. “To the red country and part of the gray country of Oklahoma, the last rains came gently, and they did not cut the scarred earth.
” 4. “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”
5. “The sun was nearly overhead as Maury the Mouse walked to the ship. He squinted at Officer Kokua when the explosions started. The first bullet hit Maury’s Kevlar vest like a hammer. The second and third shots slammed him into the pavement. “That phone call was a set-up!” he screamed as bullets chipped concrete around him.
“ 6. “Scarlett O’Hara was not beautiful, but men seldom realized it when caught by her charm as the Tarleton twins were.
” 7. “Amergo Bonasora sat in New York Criminal Court Number 3 and waited for justice, vengeance on the men who had so cruelly hurt his daughter, who tried to dishonor her.”
8. “It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.” 9. “Mr. Jones, of the Manor Farm, had locked the hen houses for the night, but was too drunk to remember to shut the pop-holes.”
10. “When Augustus came out on the porch the blue pigs were eating a rattlesnake-not a very big one. It had probably just been crawling around looking for shade when it ran into the pigs. They were having a tug-of-war with it, and its rattling days were over. The sow had it by the neck, and the shoat had the tail. “You pigs, git!” Augustus said, kicking the shoat…
: 1 .Genesis, The Bible
2.“Moby Dick” by Herman Melville
3.“The Grapes of Wrath,” by John Steinbeck
4. A Tale of Two Cities,” by Charles Dickens, 1859
5.“Tales of a Detective Named Maury the Mouse,” by Art Youmans 2007 rev. 6.“”Gone With the Wind,” by Margaret Mitchell
7. “The Godfather,” by Mario Puzo. 8.“1984,” by George Orwell
9. “Animal Farm,” by George Orwel
10. “Lonesome Dove,” by Larry McMurtry
Sedgwick’s Ghost by Art Youmans, 2009, 367 words
The Confederate enemy was positioned a few hundreds yards away as Union Major General John Sedgwick stood on a hilltop (as majestically as WWII General George S. Patton Jr. would), just prior to the Battle of Spotsylvania, on May 9, 1864, in central Virginia.
From the hilltop, the enemy was barely visible. An occasional bullet from an enemy rifle struck harmlessly in the dirt or whistled overhead around the Union soldiers at the top of the hill. 3.
During his casual inspection of the enemy’s position, Union Civil War General Sedgwick was warned by officers to keep his head down.
Sedgwick ignored their advice with a backward wave of his hand…like you’d use shooing-away a dog sprayed by a skunk.
General Sedgwick stood at the crest of the hill. When he noticed his soldiers ducking about when a bullet zinged overhead, he said loudly for all to hear, "What! What! Men, dodging this way for single bullets! What will you do when (the battle begins and) they open fire along the whole line? I am ashamed of you! They couldn't hit an elephant at this dist….."
As you might guess, seconds later, a Confederate sharpshooter proved the opinionated fifty-one- year-old general wrong. …….Dead wrong.
On May 9, 1864, Sedgwick became a dead example of the “NEVER SAY NEVER” philosophy, a branch of Murphy’s Law.
Anything can happen. Often that anything can be fatal to you. Some advice is worth listening to.
In other words don’t take risky chances like Sedgwick did…unless you have no other choice.
Let someone else climb that rickety ladder to fix a missing shingle on your roof.
Don’t tempt fate by taking a walk in your neighborhood after dark…or don’t open your front door & stick you head out to see who’s firing a gun in the street. Let someone with no common sense do it. Call 9-1-1 instead.
Be wiser than General Sedgwick. Let others play Russian roulette with theirlife. Not you.
Unless you want to join Sedgwick’s ghost sooner than later, keep your head down & avoid potentially-dangerous situations. You’ll live longer that way. I guarantee it!
Art Youmans, “A DOZEN ROSES,” 16 July 2007 476 words
The 911 call was received at 2:40 A.M
. Rose Simpson heard the police sirens and opened the front door, minutes later.
“I had to protect myself!” she screamed. “I heard a noise and awoke as a man was about to jump into bed and rape me. He had a club. I grabbed my .38 from a holster on the bedpost, opened fire and ran from the room. I think I hit him.”
“It’s okay, Lady,” the policeman reassured her. “You can protect yourself from any second-story man who breaks into your home, when your safety is threatened. It’s the law in this state.”
“Lady, you stay here,” the second policeman interrupted. “My partner and I will check the bedroom.”
Both men snapped Glock .40 caliber pistols from their holsters.
“The bedroom’s upstairs…first door on the left,” she gasped, before collapsing in a chair.
“Watch your step,” the first policeman muttered, as he felt his way up the darkened stairs.
“I can’t find the light switch.”
“Here it is,” the second policeman said. “Damn! The bulb must be out.”
“Yep!” his partner whispered.
At the top of the stairs, the first policeman pushed the bedroom door open with a foot and flicked the light switch.
Both men looked at a man’s head, sticking out from beneath a blood-stained sheet on the bed.
Like scientists with a microscope examining a bug, they stared at his wide-eyed expression.
“Dignified-looking fellow,” the first policeman said. “Looks about sixty.”
He felt for a pulse. There wasn’t one.
“Geez, Joe. What a shot!” the second policeman muttered. “Right between the eyes. That old dame’s another Annie Oakley!” “
The guy was dressed in his underwear. She got him just before he would have got her.”
“Do you see what I see?” the second policeman exclaimed, pointing over his shoulder.
The first policeman stared at the photo on a dressing table. He shook his head, and muttered, ”Cheesiz!”
The policemen holstered their weapons and slowly walked down the stairs.
* * *
“Mrs. Simpson, can you identify the corpse?” the medical examiner asked, an hour later.
He pulled back the sheet, which covered a body on his gurney.
“Grab her before she hits the ground,”
the first policeman cried. “Too late
,” the medical examiner replied, taking smelling salts from his medical kit. He knelt down and held the bottle to the woman’s nose.
* * *
“What are the charges?” a homicide detective asked, the following day
. “First-degree murder,” the district attorney replied. “Mrs. Simpson says it was self-defense. BULLSQUAT! That dame ambushed her husband for his million-dollar insurance policy. The poor guy returned a day early from a business trip. Mr. Simpson still had a dozen roses clutched in his hand, when the M.E. wheeled him into the morgue.”
Story under 500 words 7
Art Youmans, “The Case Of The Purloined Egg,” 1997
Sherlock Hawk lit his pipe.
He stared at the streak of dirt on the carpet from the empty exhibition case to the window.
The thief must have entered here he thought. as he ran his hands along the unlocked window. It opened with ease.
In the moonlight he saw footprints leading away from the house. They were beneath the window. He smiled with the satisfaction that the case was already half-solved.
After a month’s vacation in the south of France, Sherlock was ready to resume working as a crime fighter. It was a profession in which he had excelled for nearly twenty years.
Scotland Yard had asked his help in solving the disappearance of the Queen’s sapphire-studded Romanoff Egg. It was a most baffling case.
The crystal exhibition case in the British Museum was locked when the museum guard discovered it empty at 4 a.m. The Romanoff Egg had been in the exhibition case, during his inspection only an hour earlier.
Glancing at his watch, Sherlock noted that it was 5 a.m. The thief has a one hour head start, he thought.
Opening the French doors he went directly out into the garden where the police were clustered around a grassy knoll.
One of the men greeted Sherlock with an embrace. Sherlock recognized his boyhood friend, Inspector Hercule Parrot (pronounced “Pair-oh”) of The Belgian Secret Service.
With his usual alert intelligence, Sherlock mentioned that the police did not look too happy.
Parrot smiled. “No they are not,” he said. “The footprints from the house end at the grassy knoll.”
Both men looked closely at the three-toed footprints which vanished where they were standing.
Hercule Parrot was small but powerfully-built. His scimitar-shaped beak gave him the appearance of possessing much dignity and intelligence.
“What do your little gray cells tell you about the robbery?” asked Sherlock.
Hercule came to the point immediately. “Mon ami, the robbery had to be an inside job. There were no scratch marks around the lock showing it was forced. So whoever stole the egg had a key to the exhibition case.”
“Yes, and by the three-toed footprints we can assume that a chicken is the thief,” interrupted Sherlock,as he picked up a small pellet from the ground. Sniffing it he replaced this evidence on the ground after briefly tasting it. “Indeed, a chicken is the thief.”
Hercule was someone who made few mistakes in his career and he had learned from every one of them. He stood and slowly turned in a circle, peering into the distance as he moved from right to left. He lifted his left wing, as Babe Ruth had done in Chicago years ago, and pointed to the chicken coop one hundred yards to the east. “There we will find the thief,” he said.
Sherlock followed Hercule as they walked to the front door of the chicken coop. The door was painted bright red. It was blocked by a powerfully-built rooster who stood with wings folded.
The Rooster looked like an ex-fighter with his cauliflower ears and flattened nose. “Whatta ya want?” he grunted.
“Aren’t you Kid Rooster? Didn’t you fight Fred Chicken for the Bantamweight Championship in ’85?” asked Sherlock.
“Yeh. That was me.”
Bam! Sherlock threw a punch and it caught Kid Rooster on the jaw. The rooster fell to the ground, motionless.
Sherlock smiled. “Kid Rooster was always a sucker for a left hook,” he said.
Hercule opened the red door and peered in.
Sherlock followed him inside.
There was a loud noise of feathers flapping and a large chicken in the back of the chicken coop escaped to the roof through an open gable vent.
“We can get her later,” chuckled Hercule as he reached into her nest and took out the missing Romanoff Egg.
Art Youmans, “WAR IS HELL,” 1998
“Men, this is war!” Biffo cried. “Give the enemy no quarter. Pound ‘em until they surrender.”
The men sat on hard benches like frozen zombies.
Each stared ahead as if in a trance.
Captain Kozwalski fidgeted as a fly landed on his nose, stared at him and flew off. Today is the most important day in my life, Kozwalski thought as he adjusted his helmet.
“What you do today can affect the rest of your life,” Biffo continued. “In war you give no mercy to the enemy. They would give none to you, either.
We’ll hit ‘em with end-arounds, like General Norman Schwartzkoff did to the Iraqis in ’91. We’ll bomb hell out of ‘em like our troops did in the Persian Gulf War.”
Kozwalski gazed at his shoes as he mentally reviewed what his job was, that day.
“We’ll feint here and hit ‘em hard there on the ground as well as in the air,” yelled an aide.
“Men, we’ll give ‘em an old fashioned thumping they’ll remember for a long…long time. Whatta ya say to that, Captain?”
Kozwalski pointed at the men seated around him. “Hit ‘em in the trenches, blast ‘em, bomb ‘em, give ‘em a fight they won’t forget!”
The men cheered and pounded their arms on each other as combat veterans often do before they go into battle.
They were still cheering when Kozwalski won the coin toss in the inaugural Peace Bowl National Football Championship game.
Art Youmans, Sir Lancelot the Knight (1998)
“Merlin,” said King Arthur, “I have a problem.”
King Arthur waved the courtiers out of the throne room
. “This is my problem,” he whispered. “Sir Lancelot has fallen in love with Queen Guinevere.”
Merlin’s eyes widened. “This cannot happen at Camelot.”
“I agree,” said King Arthur. “What do you advise?”
Merlin shrugged. “Assign Sir Lancelot the twelve
labors of Hercules. This will keep him away from Camelot for many years.”
King Arthur smiled. “Your wisdom will preserve my kingdom, Merlin. Call Sir Lancelot before me.”
* * *
“You may rise, Sir Lancelot,” said King Arthur. “As penance for falling in love with Queen Guinevere, you are to perform the twelve labors of Hercules.
When you are finished, you are to locate the Holy Grail and bring a unicorn back to Camelot. Then, you will be assigned a final task.”
“Yes, sire,” replied Sir Lancelot. “I will depart, immediately.”
* * *
Six Months Later “King Arthur,” said a squire. “Sir Lancelot has returned. Shall I bring him in?”
“Sire, I have performed the twelve labors of Hercules,” said Sir Lancelot. “ Here is the Holy Grail and a unicorn I captured. What is my last task?”
“You must find an honest politician,” said the King.
* * *
Sir Lancelot was never heard from, again.
* * *
So, if you see a knight riding his horse through your town, offer him and his horse food and water. They both have a long journey ahead of them.
Art Youmans, “The Last Teddy Bear,” (1997)
A tear ran down his cheek and fell to the floor. Might as well forget about my future, Teddy thought, staring at his missing left leg.
“That’s the one I want, Momma! The bear on the top shelf all by himself!” the little girl cried.
“I’ll check to see if we can afford him, Alice.”
“Oh, Momma, he’s just what I want for Christmas.”
“May I help you, Madam?” the toy store owner interrupted, eyeing a five-dollar bill the mother clutched tightly in her hand.
“How much is that teddy bear?” she replied, pointing. “I see it’s damaged.”
“It’s our last one. The others cost twenty-dollars.”
“But all I have is five dollars.”
“Madam,” he said, glancing at the clock on the wall. “I’d like to close my store early on Christmas Eve. I’ll sell you the last teddy bear for five dollars including tax.”
Alice was fascinated as the manager took the bear from the top shelf. I didn’t remember him smiling before, she thought.
The manager watched her leave the store with her mother. Alice tightly clutched the bear she cradled in a red box tied with green ribbon.
* * *
The manager whistled “Jingle Bells” as he walked into his house, and hung his overcoat in the hall closet.
“Did you ever sell that teddy bear with the missing leg?” his wife asked.
“Yeah. A little girl named Alice Jones wanted it. I felt the Christmas spirit and let her buy it for five dollars. She was smiling like a Cheshire cat when her mother pushed her in a wheelchair, with the bear, out into the mall.”
Art Youmans 13 August 2013 This is the first short fiction I’d written in 50+ years. It won a gold medal (5th place) in an AOL 250 words-or-less writing contest in December, 1997. (There were about 200 entries.) I wrote this & a few hundred subsequent stories while listening to J.S. Bach's "Brandenburg Concertos." I write about 250 words (one page) an hour & use mostly dialogue, It's hard to describe, but I let my stories end themselves when the ending pops into my mind.
Art Youmans, “NOTHIN’,” November 1998, 248 words
“How was your high school reunion. Jessie?”
“I hadn’t seen my classmates in fifty years. They looked old as Methuselah.”
Betty shrugged. “Everybody gets that way. You lose your youth, you lose your friends as they die, you lose your mind and then you lose your life.”
“I read in a newspaper that we lose thousands of brain cells, every day, from when we’re born to the day we die.”
“How’re you holding up, Jessie? You’re a young sixty-seven.”
“I thought I was doing fine, until I tried to introduce myself to some classmates. I couldn’t remember my own name. My mind went blank. I had to look at my name tag.”
Betty laughed. “That’s why they give out name tags. After a couple of drinks anyone can forget her name. You can always reorient yourself and know who you are with a name tag.”
“I didn’t even have a drink!” Jessie said. “I hope I’m not in the first stages of Alzheimer’s.”
“Health deteriorates and mental processes decline as we age. That’s why companies want to get rid of old employees.”
“Yeah. It’s tough to get old.”
“Did you read Art Linkletter’s book, ‘Old Age Is Not For Sissies’?” Betty asked.
“Yes. Linkletter’s right. You become a loser when you get old. You lose your keys, you lose height as you shrink, you lose your hearing and eyesight…”
“What the heck, Jessie. As long as you don’t lose your health, what else matters?”
“Nothin’,” she said smiling. “Absolutely nothin’.”
Under 500 Words Story 12
Art Youmans, “I’m a Chocolate Chip Cookie,” 10 May 2000 (214 words)
Hello! Let me introduce myself. My name is Art.
I’m a chocolate chip cookie in your local bakery. I’m feeling sad since I’m getting stale, and maybe no one will buy me and take me home with them.
For Mother’s Day, all my brother and sister chocolate chip cookies have already been selected. I’m sitting alone on a bakery shelf waiting for you to come for me.
The Mother’s Day cakes and breads won’t even talk with me. I overhear their chatter and know how proud they feel about the other cookies, which have gone to happy homes. Just because I’m the runt of the litter is no reason for them to shun me.
In life, they should realize that no one’s perfect. Like snowflakes, cookies are all made by nature different… some are big, and others, like me, are not so big.
So, when you have a craving for a chocolate chip cookie, go to your local bakery, look for me on the shelf, sitting alone and wondering if I will ever find a happy home for Mother’s Day.
When you plunk down two quarters, and the clerk slips me into a white paper sack, know that I’m saying to you, “Thanks, you made my day, dear friend!”
MORAL: A Cookie in hand is worth 2 in the Bush.