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Pennies from Heaven

Ken's short fiction has appeared in Fantasy & Science Fiction as well as Interzone, Daily Science Fiction, BuzzyMag, Abyss & Apex, Perihelion, and various anthologies. His first short story collection Fortune's Fantasy was released last year. He has created an arctic fantasy world based on Inuit mythology in Alaana's Way, his series of epic fantasy novels from Cat's Cradle Press. You can preview this work and others at his website KenAltabef.com.
"Did I ever tell you about the time it rained frogs, right here in my back yard?"
Miriam watched her granddaughter's delicately penciled eyebrows twitch.
"No," answered Jenny. "No Grammy, I don't think so."
Damn. She knew that twitch. Jenny was trying to be kind. It was impossible she hadn't heard the story. "Yes, of course I've told you. I must have."
"No, I'd really like to hear it."
Liar, thought Miriam. But a well-meaning liar, trying to protect whatever was left of her ancient grandmother's pride. Miriam decided to go easy on Jenny for that sort of white lie. Having to sit through the story one more time would perhaps be sufficient punishment.
"It happened right here." Miriam motioned to the neatly trimmed yard beyond the garden table and chairs where they sat. "Right in our backyard, if you can believe it. My mother and I, your great-grandmother, rest her soul, had just come back from a walk. It was such a sunny day and we both had umbrellas. That's how it was in those days. Ladies went for walks in the summer with umbrellas. It was a different time."
For the hundredth time Jenny glanced down at her cell phone, jabbing at it with her thumb. A different time, all right.
Miriam had asked her not to bring the cell phone on her visits, or at least not to fiddle with it every five seconds. But Jenny would have none of that. If she couldn't bring the phone she wasn't coming, she made that quite clear. So Miriam had reluctantly relented to the childish blackmail of a new generation's addiction.
"So listen. We had just come into the yard when suddenly the sky darkened. A huge crack of thunder nearly knocked me down. No lightning, you understand, just the thunder. The noise made us look up, around the edges of our umbrellas. I remember mine was bright blue."
Jenny's phone beeped again and she glanced down and tapped out a reply, her fingers moving with blinding speed.
"Your boyfriend?" teased Miriam.
"No," said Jenny flatly. "My friend Cece posted a picture of her lunch--fish tacos."
"How exciting," said Miriam. Jenny held up the phone so she could see, but the screen was so small and her eyes weren't at all what they used to be. "Fish tacos. Whatever will they think up next?"
Jenny met her gaze, her cheeks blushing slightly. "Go on. I'm listening."
Miriam raised her eyes to the gray autumn sky, trying to recapture the moment. "The sky, it just opened up. We saw them coming down, all in a sheet, but couldn't even guess what they might be. When we saw they were going to hit, we put up our umbrellas again. Thump. Thumpp! The first few bounced off the dome of my umbrella, but soon they were hitting the ground all around us. And they were frogs--can you believe it! Frogs, coming down hard and fast. Spinning, squirming, dancing in the air. These weren't normal frogs, either. I'd never seen the like. They were such a bright yellow. And they each had eight little black eyes, just like a spider.
"When it was over my blue umbrella had turned purple with the muck. There were frogs splattered everywhere. That part was pretty horrible. The few left alive scampered away."
Jenny looked up. "Didn't catch any I suppose?"
"You try and catch a frog. And these were fast. A lot faster than regular frogs. I still see them around sometimes, all these years later, not that you'd ever be able to catch one."
Jenny smiled. "And the ones that fell, I guess they were too smashed up for anyone to study."
Miriam pursed her lips. "You don't believe me."
Jenny's brow wrinkled in telltale fashion. "I do, Grammy. I do."
She didn't.
Jenny took a sip of lemonade. "Lots of people have stories like that one, so I guess it does happen. There are all kinds of explanations, you know. Freak storms. They say strong winds can pick them up from a lake--"
"There wasn't any wind, just that one clap of thunder. I told you. It was a sunny day."
"The storm could have been two towns over for all you knew. The waterspout sucks them up and the wind blows them any which way. I saw it on YouTube."
"You don't understand. It was a miracle."
Jenny groaned slightly. "Probably a tornado. A frognado." She chuckled.
Miriam felt her temper flare. "Listen to me, young lady. In those days miracles could happen. And we didn't try to explain them away. We knew we couldn't."
"If only you'd had the internet...."
"We didn't need it," she said harshly. "What good are all kinds of ridiculous theories? Waterspouts? Really. They were miracles, pure and simple. I don't suppose they happen anymore, or if they did, who would notice with everybody's head stuck in some kind of video game?"
"All right, Grammy. Don't get upset. I said I believe you."
"What would you say if I told you that a year before that, it rained pennies?"
Jenny huffed and shook her head. "I'd say it never happened."
"Why? Because it's not on the Internet? But it did happen, Jenny. It was a sunny day too, just like with the frogs. Not a cloud in the sky and when you looked up you could see them hanging there, all those shiny new pennies catching the sunlight. What a sight!"
Jenny glanced down at her phone.
"And when they fell! I didn't have an umbrella that day and some of those pennies pelted me. And they hit hard too. Stung and left a little bruise. My friends and I ran under the porch. The whole thing only lasted half a minute and then there were all these pennies lying around. We scooped up hundreds of them, bright and shiny, brand new, and they all had the same date. 1944. I remember that date because the pennies that year were made out of steel. They needed the copper for the war effort, so the pennies were steel. I remember it smelled of iron in the air for a minute and then it was gone. But the pennies were there, all over the grass. We scooped up hundreds of them--" Miriam laughed.
"I've got to go, Grammy. But it sure is wonderful to hear you laugh."
Jenny kissed her forehead and gave her shoulder a gentle squeeze.
"I'll see you next month," she said as she turned to leave.
Miriam was still lost in the memory. "Pennies from heaven," she muttered. "It really did happen."
She watched her granddaughter as she waved again and disappeared around the side of the house. Beside the path, the lowest branch of the azalea bush twitched slightly. Miriam squinted down at the grass and four pairs of eyes, set in a little yellow head, stared back.
"What are you looking at?" she asked the tree frog. "It really did happen!"
The End
This story was first published on Friday, February 3rd, 2017

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