Outside (August 30-Day Writing Challenge)

In Fiction on August 21, 2012 at 6:50 AM

(17th in this challenge)

Alanna woke to Panda having finally ripped his sock monkey in half. She hadn’t heard the ripping but as she leaned up from her bunk, she discovered all of the evidence: cotton yanks strewn across the RV kitchenette floor, torso drool-coated, gleaming in her Lhasa Apso’s under-bite. Was it triumph or warning in Panda’s eyes? She didn’t care; she was just disappointed that she hadn’t witnessed the action. She could watch him kill a doll for hours.

“We need to buy him new one quick,” her dad said, squatting in the scene, “or we’ll wake up and one of us looking like this too.” He slurped from his tea cup. Panda scurried to him, batted a paw on pointed knee (as big as his fluffy head). Her dad grinned at this, put his hand on the paw. Panda swiped the monkey torso across it, then pulled back growling, repeated. During one swipe, her dad snatched the end of the monkey and tugged. Panda grrred, tugged back. When her dad released, Panda skid backward, rolling over, furious, monkey still clinched. Then Alanna heard the tiny rips.

“Your mother’s already in visitor’s center checking email. We need to grab things there and…want to go to buffet at hotel nearby?”

“Yes. I hate Subway.”

“You hate?”

Yes, she did. She wanted Panda to kill every sub sandwich in the world.

“No good to hate.”

When she opened the door, dust washed onto the linoleum. She put her jacket on over her Hello Kitty pajamas and leased Panda with his Hello Kitty leash and they followed her dad. Nothing her parents had told her about this national park called Death Valley had excited her. It was the same geography, blonde and white, with dirt in her mouth every breeze. She spat as a warning to all other dirt particles. She would kill them deader, she’d fill another place with the deader dirt, and she’d call it Deader Death Valley. Tourist would show up, thinking it was better. And she wouldn’t have fast food or BBQ near it. She’d have a noddle shop or an Italian place with pasta. She didn’t want fast food (especially subs) or BBQ anymore. She spat at the thought. The next breeze tossed dirt in her eyes.

People stuffed the visitor’s center, staring at their phones or laptops.

“Welcome,” a woman in a uniform said. She hovered over Alana, her hair like a spider plant. “Your dog’s so cute. What’s its name.”

“It’s not an it. He’s a he and his name is Killer. He kills. He murders.”

The woman, who looked like she could laugh and worry at the same time, glimpsed Alana’s dad, who was now in the middle of the space looking over her mother’s shoulder at the laptop screen. Neither seemed to have heard Alanna. They kind of never heard most of what she said. “Well, Death Valley is so appropriate then.”

“You’re appropriate,” Alanna said, and passed the woman. Panda grrred, lunged for something. Two women said, “How sweet!” He lunged again, and Alanna finally saw it: a stuffed animal of some kind by some plastic seats near a large glass window. Alanna walked over to it. Her parents would find her if they wanted her.

It was a long, stuffed bird, shaped like a stretched out triangle.

“That’s a roadrunner,” the woman said, suddenly near Alanna. “I think someone left it here. Been here all morning. Maybe it was waiting for you.”

Panda yipped for it and Alanna snatched it, held it up to her chest and climbed the chair.

“Be careful, please,” the woman said over the tapping of Panda’s nails on some lower part of the chair.

“You be careful.”

Something zipped outside. Then two things.

“Did you see that?” she asked the woman.

“Meep meep.”

What? Alanna thought.

“It’s a roadrunner. Like in the cartoon.”


“I guess you haven’t seen it. They look more like this doll anyway. If you saw a doll that looked more the cartoon, maybe you’d—”

“Do you have some in a room like at the zoo?”

“No. A Las Vegas hotel has fish from here in aquariums but I don’t think—”

“What’s an aquarium?”

“It’s a big fish tank.”

“I know.”

“Oh, okay.” One of the roadrunners zipped closer, dirt clouding up around it, and it tossed something in the air then caught it.

“It just caught breakfast. Everyone who comes here has to get their breakfast that way too. Have you had breakfast yet?”

“You’re not funny.” Alanna wanted the woman to go. She was squatting instead, petting Panda.

A small bird fluttered above the roadrunners, and the one that hadn’t caught breakfast, looked up, head following the bird above. She wanted the bird right now on a string, like a kite. She’d let it go higher, then wind the string over her arm to pull it toward her so that the roadrunner would follow. She wanted to know if it looked like the stuffed animal version. It probably didn’t. She imagined herself outside then, not spitting dirt from her mouth. She and the roadrunner took turns holding the string with the bird at the end, somehow, maybe the roadrunner holding the sting in its beak. They’d do this while her parents were looking at the rest of the park. She’d look through the window occasionally and see the woman. She’d leave Panda with the woman, who’d have to stand in the visitor’s center holding Panda by the window as a new job so that Alanna could check on him while passing the string to the roadrunner. Someone would make a cartoon about them. And they would say meep meep. She didn’t know what they’d say instead but it would be better.

The bird fluttered closer to the window as if it recognized that Alanna was thinking about it. Panda yipped but she didn’t care, because the bird flew in a straight path toward her.

We’d have fun, she thought, her story of her and the roadrunner’s day already in her memory as if it had happened.

The bird knocked into the glass.


Alanna didn’t watch it fall, instead staring right where it had hit, alternating between seeing the memory of it flying to her and the reality of the little spot of red brightening now in the morning sunlight. Then she was standing at the window, not having realized she’d jumped off the seat and begun to run. The glass felt cool against her nose and cheek.

“Don’t look,” the woman said, coming toward her.

But Alana stared down as one roadrunner watched the other shake the bird in the dirt and tear into its feathers. Feathers. Lots of feathers. Then a bird foot.

Panda padded toward her, yipping.

Cloud of feathers.

When Panda batted her foot, she looked down to Panda for a moment then back down on the other side of the window. He was crazy-eyed. Maybe they both were. But they wouldn’t be crazy-eyed with the roadrunner. She dropped the stuffed animal on top of Panda. He ripped it up, his sounds the soundtrack for the roadrunner she was actually excitedly focused upon.


 Inspired by this fascinating, well-written list: 10 Living Things Thriving in Death Valley.

P.S. Will I write all of these by the end of August? It can still be an August Challenge in September, right? Ha!


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