Picture Prompt: Blue Highway (500 Words)

“Hedges. Hedges, Wilhelm. Why is it always hedges?” Lars grumbled. “And look!” He pointed with an agitated arm. “Now they are putting hedges next to the trees!”

“Calm yourself, Lars. It’s not seemly to get so excited. It’s a beautiful morning,” Elder Wilhelm Yoder soothed. “Look there. You see how the trees form a line like they are walking to market?”

“Yes,” he sighed, “I see them.” He clucked at Mila and Kesta to hurry up. The two black mares obligingly moved into a light trot, their unshod hooves making soft ‘clops’ on the pavement.

The road was only two lanes. He and Wilhelm drove in the right-hand one. The English in this land drove on the right, but in their home country drove on the left. It numbered among the many things Lars didn’t understand. To the right of the white line separating the road, the ugly hedgerows began. Nearly waist-high and wide to the depth of his forearm, trees had been planted just beyond them, spaced evenly like in an orchard. But this close to the exhaust fumes of automobiles, the trees would be useless for produce. Another hedgerow started just after the trees, like a fence, and then the woods began.

“Are those Mr. Madden’s woods too?” Lars demanded, the thought popping unbidden to his mind.

“Mmm,” Wilhelm responded. “I do not know. Why is it you ask?”

Lars blushed and looked away. “Curiosity only, Elder.”

“We Amish are a curious people,” Wilhelm said softly.

After a moment, Lars realized he was teasing. “Forgive me, Elder. I feel out of sorts this morning.”

“And why is that, young Lars?”

“It’s Rebecca!” he burst out. “Viktor Sauder gave her flowers at the Meeting. Flowers!”

“It is Easter, my son,” Wilhelm said quietly. Then, “Are you out of sorts because you neglected to bring any?”

Lars shot a look at the Elder and found himself regarded by calm, age-filmed blue eyes. “Yes,” he said miserably and looked back at the road. “What if she chooses Viktor?”

“If you neglect to bring her any gifts, perhaps she will,” Wilhelm said gently. When Lars whirled to retort, he held up a hand. “I said ‘if,’ my son. ‘If.’ We go to market after Mr. Madden’s delivery.”

Lars stopped. That thought had not occurred to him. “I brought candles to barter,” he noted thoughtfully.

“Perhaps you should barter with Mrs. Mills, young Lars. She makes such pretty hair ties.”

When Lars met Wilhelm’s gaze, he found the old man twinkling at him. “Do you approve of the match?” Lars asked, greatly bold.

“I do, my son.” He patted Lars’s knee. “But first, to business. We have much work to do, and we are missing the scenery.”

Lars grinned and turned back to the road. The sun, not up yet, provided enough light that the woods were cast into bluish shadows. “Aren’t the hedges rather attractive in this light?” he asked the Elder.

Elder Wilhelm just smiled and settled deeper into his seat.

Picture Prompt 03: Ferret; “Untitled”

I snapped the picture through the car window and sighed. Fourth effing ferret this week! I grabbed the purse through the open window and saw the Lovecraft book. Good Lord. Pseudo-intellectuals are entering the illegal ferret trade? With a pink purse?

I slipped the little guy out of his home, removed the gold pen from his little clawed hands and gave him a popsicle stick to play with instead. I put the purse back and went over to the van.

“Got another one, Luther,” I called.

“Be right out!” he yelled back.

I sighed and got in the front, the ferret in my lap. His tail was flipping back and forth and he pounced on one of the buttons of my jacket.

The radio crackled. “Hey Reece, you on?”

I picked it up and thumbed the talk button. “Yeah, Miller, what’s up?”

“You guys done with the mall yet? I’ve got another call.”

“Hey Luther, you about ready?”

He grunted and I heard a cage door close and latch. “Yeah!” He squeezed his bulk through the door between the cab and the back and got into the driver’s seat. “Oh. You need another cage?” he asked, seeing my burden.

“Yeah, I guess. He’s cute though.”

“Guys?” Miller asked.

“Oh, sorry Miller. Yeah, we’re about done. What do you need?”

“Possible puppy mill about an hour from your location. Local control called us, they don’t have a truck free.”

I met Luther’s shocked gaze and thumbed the radio. “Yeah. Send it to my blackberry; we’ll leave in five.”

“Gotcha.”

Luther reached around for a cat carrier we had behind the seat and I lifted my little friend into it. He clutched the popsicle stick in his paws but wriggled around, sniffing everything. The minute I let him go, he tried to come back out again.

“Oh no, old son, in you go,” I murmured, pushing him back. I latched the door and slid the carrier back against the side of the van where it wouldn’t move around much.

My blackberry vibrated. I pulled it out and looked at the directions. “Just get on the freeway westbound from here,” I told Luther. “Take it for about twenty miles and then a bunch of local streets. This place is kind of hidden.”

Luther started the van with a rumble. One of the cats we had in the back started meowing again, piercing and lonely. I sighed and shut the door to the back.

“Four ferrets and a puppy mill,” Luther sighed, pulling into traffic. “It’s a banner day.”

I dozed against the door until our exit.

“Hey, Reece. We’re here,” Luther woke me.

I rubbed my eyes. “Take a left at the end of the on-ramp.”

I pulled out the blackberry and directed him through the suburban sprawl. We ended up on a lonely road beyond the housing complexes, bounded on one side by a cornfield and the other by a cow pasture with four or five scrawny cows. We saw the rotating red lights up ahead.

“They brought the van for this?” Luther blurted, seeing the big incident-control vehicle beside the road.

I laughed. “Must be nice to have such a quiet neighborhood,” I said and froze. As we pulled past the van, the ambulance started its siren and pulled out in a spray of gravel. “What the hell?”

A big policeman with a budding paunch and no-nonsense expression flagged us to one side and Luther pulled over, rolling his window down. “Luther Foxglove and Reece Martin, Greater Metro Anti-Cruelty,” Luther told him.

The big man studied us. “See some I.D.?”

I pulled mine out and handed it to Luther, who handed both to the policeman. He grunted and handed them back. “I’m Sergeant Black. We’ll need you in a minute,” he said and turned away.

“Sir?” Luther called softly. “How bad is it?”

Black stopped but didn’t turn. “Bad,” he finally snapped, and kept walking.

Luther turned to stare at me and I swallowed. It was a puppy mill! How bad could it be?

We were finally allowed to get out of the van. The birds chirped, delirious with Spring. The breeze touched my hair, bringing a fresh smell of wet earth and growing things. It didn’t help to settle my tension. I grabbed two of the cages and Luther did the same, and we followed the silent Sergeant Black toward the big, white building just off the main road.

The smell started when we were still ten feet from the building. By the time we got to the door, I wanted to go home.

“Hey, Reece?” Luther said to me as we carried the fourth set of cages out of the building.

“Yeah?”

“Next time Miller calls, don’t get it, okay?”

I snorted. “Yeah.”

It took us three more trips to get them all out. Luther and I didn’t speak when we got into the van.

I reached around to the cat carrier and let the little guy out of his cage. He attacked my button again and I opened my jacket. He curled up on my stomach and fell asleep, one paw still holding the popsicle stick.