Thursday, October 27, 2016

Toad, Part 1 -- A Short Story by Betsy Ashton

Most of you know that I tend to write about serious, even dark, themes. In my Mad Max series I explore traumatic brain injuries, racism, pastoral abuse, murder, and others. Yes, I like to kill people, as I did with great abandon in my upcoming Eyes Without A Face, about a female serial killer.

So, to show a different side of me, in my next three posts I'll share a short story about a little boy named Toad.

Toad lay in his bed while the world woke up around him. He heard his dad drive his pickup through the gate to travel the twenty miles up the highway to his job selling appliances at Montgomery Ward. His mother wrestled his eight-year-old brother into her truck. Jimmy howled because he had to get up early, because he had to stay all day with his mother at the doctor’s office where she worked in town, and most of all because he had to walk next door to the dentist for his annual teeth cleaning. Toad lay still until his brother’s bellowing faded away with the sound of the truck engine. He hadn’t heard the clang of the chain link gate shut behind her, so he knew his mother had left the gate open. Again.

She harped on him to lock the gate, but at least twice a week she ran late and skipped the task, making her the worst offender in the family. Even if he didn’t know the rules, he would always lock the gate to keep his dog safe.

On his first day living in the trailer compound, even before he unpacked his boxes of clothes, books and writing tablets, his grandfather gathered the family together to talk about rattlesnakes.

“They like to sun themselves near our steps.” He pointed to several places where he’d seen rattlers. “There, there and there.”

Jimmy’s eyes grew round as a hubcap. “Gee!”

“Never get close to one, because they strike faster than you can imagine.”

“I can outrun anything.” At eight, Jimmy had infinite faith in his ability to get away from danger.

Their grandfather laughed and ruffled Jimmy’s hair. He showed the family how to use the forked sticks he’d hung on hooks beside each exit, where he kept the machetes nearby and how to pin the snake to the ground before chopping off its head.

“Now, don’t get near the mouth. The fangs are still full of poison even after the snake is dead.”

“I want a rattle.” Jimmy’s eyes glowed with love for his grandfather.

The old man reached up to a shelf near the steps and handed dried rattles to each of the boys.

“Wow!” Toad breathed.                                                                                                         

“Yippee!” Jimmy shouted.


I can’t believe my good luck. I have the whole day to myself.

For once, he wasn’t in charge of his younger brother. At ten, Toad’s parents said he was responsible enough to be left at the trailer compound, with or without his brother.

Jimmy’s okay, but he’s a scaredy cat and a tattletale.

Today, Toad had privacy. He wanted to explore, go out to a forbidden place. Something wondrous had entered his world, and he had, just had, to know what it was.

Today I’m going further west than ever, out where the spaceship landed.

For more than a week, new loud noises carried across the open desert from the higher plateau beyond the dry wash. White trails filled the sky. It had to be a spaceship.

“What else could it be?” Toad muttered. He wondered if the white trails were a sign that spacemen were building a landing spot or a city nearby. “I bet they’re bringing supplies from a huge ship hiding in the shadow of the moon.” Could a smaller ship have already landed? Was it burying itself under the sand? It could be a scouting ship with spacemen who wanted to see if we are friendly.


He had tried to tell his parents about this stupendous event.

“Hey, Dad. I think a spaceship landed out in the desert,” he said one night at dinner.

Jimmy squealed and leaped out of his chair. “Let’s go find it.”

His father’s long arm stopped him in mid leap. “Sit.” He took a long swallow from his beer can. 

“What’s this nonsense about a spaceship?”

Toad told him about the strange noises coming from the west. He hadn’t see it land, but the animals were behaving oddly. “I’m positive it’s a spaceship.”

His father laughed. “You have quite an imagination, young man.”

“Yeah,” said Jimmy. “You make stuff up all the time.” If he couldn’t search for the spaceship, he could try stealing Toad’s thunder. Toad made up his mind that Jimmy would never meet the spacemen.

“Maybe you should become a writer,” his mother said.

“But I want to learn to fly,” Toad said.

“Ha,” said his father

Let them eat their words. I’ll find the spaceship. They’ll be sorry when I become famous.


Toad bounded out to where his German Shepherd waited. He filled his dish with kibble and put down fresh water before he trotted across the barren ground between living area and gate. After just a few weeks, he no longer found it odd that he lived in a three-trailer compound in the middle of the desert instead of a suburb outside a mid-sized city.

He scampered across the platform between his trailer and his parents’ and pushed through the screen door into the kitchen where he found a bowl of cereal waiting for milk.

“Oh boy, Rice Krispies.”

“It’s a good day for you to find the spaceship,” said Snap, Crackle and Pop.

A quick swipe at this teeth, and he was ready for his big adventure. He stuffed a peanut butter sandwich his mom had left for his lunch in his pants pocket, fastened his canteen to his belt and left the trailer. He checked for snakes before stepping off the platform into the dirt surrounding his home.
He had already killed his first snake, much to Jimmy’s dismay. The younger boy wanted, no needed, to kill his own snake and keep the rattle in his pocket.

“That’s not fair. You should have let me kill the snake.” Jimmy whined.

“You went to town with Mom to swim. I couldn’t let the snake get away.” Used as he was to Jimmy’s always feeling like a younger brother and therefore inferior, Toad promised the next snake was his brother’s, if his brother was at home.

### To Be Continued on November 17.

Betsy Ashton is the author of Mad Max, Unintended Consequences, and Uncharted Territory, A Mad Max Mystery, now available at Amazon and Barnes and NobleI'm really excited that the trade paper edition of Uncharted Territory was released this week. Please follow me on my website, on TwitterFacebook and Goodreads.


Diane Burton said...

Oh my goodness, I'm first to respond. This is a great story. Wish I didn't have to wait until next month!

Rolynn Anderson said...

What a cliffhanger, Betsy! Of course it's a spaceship, but the question is, what do the aliens look like and do they like Rice Krispies? Fun stuff.

Jannine Gallant said...

This is terrific! But I can't stop envisioning the state of the peanut butter sandwich after being shoved in a pocket!

Brenda Whiteside said...

This is so fun. Can't wait until you post again!

Margo Hoornstra said...

Now we have such a long wait to find out about space aliens, rattle snakes and smushed peanut butter sandwiches. I like this!

Andrea Downing said...

You mean, a whole month?

Alicia Dean said...

Excellent story!! I'm on pins and needles. Can't wait for the next installment.