Each section is based on the Oxford English Dictionary’s word of the day from July, 2021.
I. hen scratch, n.
An omen, they say, crawling across the sky. Hard rain, thunder, lightning will scar our cropland.
II. baksheesh, n., adj., and adv.
To stop the storm, we offer a loaf of bread wrapped in a ceremonial woolen cloth buried beneath an ancient cedar’s roots.
III. zinger, n.
“You actually believe in the burying bread thing?!” my son laughs. “You might as well ask them to make Monday follow Tuesday!” He shakes his head. I sigh. “You’ll understand when the rain calms and the clouds burn away.”
IV. noctambulist, n.
Moon walks behind the layer of blue-black clouds — a bruise across the sky. Stars appear, sprout rays toward the moon, which set clouds ablaze — a sheet of pale flame.
V. astrogator, n.
I point at the clear morning sky. “You see! You see! They took the offering” My hands wave back and forth. “They cleared the storm with the moon’s fire!” “Preposterous. There must be a scientific explanation for all that,” he dismissively shakes his head.
VI. seven-pennyworth, n.
“Look here, right here! An explanation for the storm!” He points to an article in the newspaper. “An abnormal weather pattern brought about by the changing climate. It’s science, Dad.”
VII. amazingness, n.
I scan the article. “Reasonable, I’ll give you that, but you cannot be certain.” Pointing to the final paragraph, “There’s always a chance you’re wrong. It’s science, Son.” I sip my coffee. “The climate, the moon, or the stars — The fact is: the storm is gone.”
VIII. dunger, n.
A quiet drive in my old truck, a Ford whose red paint has faded to the hue of a house finch’s breast. Its motor’s hum, the only sound between my son and me.
IX. okada, n.
The truck hiccups, comes to a complete stop. “Did the moon and stars kill your truck too?” He laughs, pulling out his phone. I pinch my eyebrows. “So what if they did? We’re stuck either way.” He calls a friend who lives nearby, who can get him to the station on their loud motorcycle.
X. krump, v.
I stay with the truck to poke at it, see if I can figure out what the problem is. I turn on the stereo on the seat which I bought after the built-in one broke to find a radio station to help me think. It catches when I try to start it up, and I pop the hood to find something moving around the engine.
XI. odditorium, n.
A bushy tail. Eyes red as arterial blood. Two long claws on each paw. A claw cuts a cable. A hiss through sharp teeth. Two wings unfurl, carry it all away.
XII. seventhly, adv. and n.
Dave arrives to tow me home. “What the hell happened? Leo said your truck just died?” I completely forgot the plan we came up with when we saw Leo only had enough service to text. I can’t keep my voice down. “I don’t know! Did you see that?! Why are there so many omens lately?! “What is happening?!”
XIII. ovulite, n.
Dave cannot draw the connections himself, so I help. I talk about the storm, the stars, the creature in the truck, every weird occurrence around town, how each element fits together like sedimentary rock.
XIV. dogleg, v.
Dave listens as he tows me home, curves around the backroads, nods politely as I talk.
XV. automorphism, n.
It can’t just be me. Everyone must see it too; it’s too obvious. Dave gets it. He doesn’t say so, but he does.
XVI. staycation, n.
“I think the sun might be getting to you,” Dave says as he maneuvers my truck into the driveway. “You might need to rest a while.” His sentence punctuated by the grip of the emergency brake.
XVII. papri, n.
Dave leaves. I pop the hood, the knife of my leatherman unsheathed, ready to strike. Nothing emerges. I find the broken cable, unattach the loose halves. I get Leo’s road bike from the garage, ride it to the AutoZone by the strip mall. Its thin wheels hum in the wind.
XVIII. mandela, n.
The stereo on the counter blares some talk radio voice in the store; its antenna pokes over the register. I pace through the aisles ’til I find a replacement cable, then return to the counter. Ger methodically rings me up, grumbles, “Always namedropping insteada doing anything to change anything.”
XIX. custard pie, n.
Ger holds the cable in his callused hands. “How this happen?” I sigh, “The truck died, and a monster under the hood cut it.” He looks at me, then at the cable, raises an eyebrow, then guffaws. “Musta been one scary squirrel, Harv!”
XX. butin, n.
Not wanting more ridicule, I notice the month with no clouds, but say nothing. At least the storm didn’t destroy our crops.
XXI. buster suit, n.
Midafternoon. Condensation pools around a glass of water on the table. In the waves above the road, I see myself as a child running in the soft rain of early fall.
XXII. star shot, n.
An omen, a message from the stars, hanging from the sitka spruce branches, I say. A common mold, a fungus without meaning or purpose, Leo says, showing me a picture on his phone.
XXIII. olive branch, n.
Lift my cap, scratch my head, “It wouldn’t hurt to leave an offering just in case.” “A loaf feeds us for a week. We can’t afford to waste it.” He rubs his eyes with both hands.
XXIV. rebetika, n.
Midnight — when the moon and stars meet to discuss their plans. Midnight — when crevices and faults open to release demons to our realm. Midnight — when I take our last loaf of bread to bury under the ancient cedar’s roots.
XXV. genteelness, n.
“Dad. What the hell? Where’s the bread?” Leo slams the cabinets shut. I rub my shoulders. “We can get by without it. The offering had to be made.” Before he speaks, I hold up a hand. “Now hold on. Listen. Rain will come and save us and our crops.”
XXVI. roman à clef, n.
I try to read the stars as they appear just after dusk, to see if they’ve listened. Without a cipher, I don’t recognize any of the names they mutter to themselves.
XXVII. unplug, v.
Leo makes breakfast the next morning: coffee, eggs and toast. I stare at the plate. “Where did you get more bread? I thought we couldn’t afford it.” “I dug up that loaf you buried. The soil kept it cool, the cloth kept it clean.” He smiles at his own cleverness. He has no faith in the process, no idea what he’s done.
XXVIII. Henatrice, n.
A hellish caw echoes over our acreage, shakes the window frames. In the sky, a winged beast, feathers and scales and menace in its eyes. It soars over the house toward town, death in its wake.
XXIX. ang moh, n. and adj.
Looking at the window, blood drains from Leo’s face, now pale as calla lilies. “I- I don’t- I don’t understand,” he stammers, wide-eyed, mouth agape.
XXX. Parafango, n.
I get out of my seat. “You took its offering. Now we need to fix it.” I gather all the pieces of the loaf, blend a mixture of wax from a prayer candle, ash from the wood stove. After coating the bread in ashwax, it’s wrapped in a woolen cloth, reburied at the cedar. Shielding my eyes while running back to the house, I hear its caw as it returns.
XXXI. Greeze, n.
“How did you know that would work? It’s nonsensical,” Leo scratches his head, as the beast flies away. I take a deep breath. “It’s drawn to the ash and wax, something the elders said worked long ago.” “That’s all superstition though! That’s not scientific at all!” He grips the hair above his temples. I put a hand on his shoulder. “Science isn’t an answer; it’s a question.”