Saturday, November 23, 2013

Why I Am Spending $179.97 On A New Career

I am by nature a catalog reader. I can spend endless hours perusing things I will never purchase just for the sake of "looking things over" for when I do decide to buy something. Be it a new pair of shoes, a sweater, or reproduction of a Vietnamese tomahawk, I have a fair idea of my options and prices. One of the catalogs I get comes from an outfit called the Sportsman's Guide and it is chock full of stuff you wouldn't find most anywhere else.

For example, in my most recent edition of the military surplus catalog, I find on page eleven a gently used German military police riot set, complete with jacket, pants, and flak vest, all with polmer shields that slid neatly into shin, elbow, shoulder, neck and groin pockets. Everything is rubberized and the gauntlets have metal reinforcements. As far as this sort of thing goes, it's a nice set if you are looking for that sort of thing.

Then I got to wondering, who would need this sort of thing? I had a cup of coffee and a smoke and I thought it over. In my mind, there was only one sort of person who would want such a thing. An entrepenuer. Someone who courted danger in the vain hopes of making a buck. In short, a rotten fruit saleman.

A guy who would travel to any large gathering of people and set up a small stand at the fringes of the crowd. He would be clad in riot gear and have bushel baskets of rotten fruit, scythes, pitchforks, and torches. He would be the one guy who would be prepared in case a mob broke out. Political rallies of any kind would be his bread and butter.

Of course everything he sold would come with a signed disclaimer absolving him of any blame so that no lawyer had to have his ass, so to speak.


Friday, November 22, 2013

The Most Powerful Word In The English Language Slathered In Mustard

Today I rediscovered a few things. Nothing too breath taking so there is no need of copying and pasteing any of the following. For an extend amount of time in my life I considered the most powerful word in the English language to be YES. Mind you, English is a second language for me as I was raised in a household that only spoke Appalachian and I've found that leaves me at some disadvantage with those who have had a lifelong exposure to it. Nonetheless, I've noticed that the most pointed of questions are YES or NO ones but no one ever answers YES or NO, not unless there is a box to check mark next to them. The answer is always Yeah or Naw, or occasionally Nope.

I rediscovered Yeah when I sat down to watch a Eurymics concert that I recorded off of VH1 about ten years ago. It turns out that Annie Lennox can make Yeah into a whole new word, replete with all the gusto of a punch in the face. I'm sure there are those who would disagree but their opinions will not be presented here.

It turns out that Yeah is the ideal word for me right now.

Monday, November 18, 2013

What's for dinner?

I tell the kids they're making dinner. Riley says "Hope you like Ramen noodles." she heads to the kitchen. Lucy picks up ball bat, "How does sister sound?"

"Gamy" I reply.

Sunday, February 24, 2013


I have been bothered as of late. Well, not bothered as such, nor if I was honest, as of late. I am not myself and I haven't been for some time. I can't quit thinking about love. Anytime I'm not concentrating on the job at hand or there isn't some other pressing matter (e.g. going to the bathroom, eating, extinguishing a small kitchen fire, etc.) I find myself thinking about love. The music at work is no help. Without exception, almost every song is about finding or losing love. There is one that complains of buying something that the singer can't afford but it is under the assumption that this is for a loved one and not for himself. Regardless, I am surrounded by other peoples loves and I find it more than a little disconcerting.

Not too long ago I overheard my boss describe in detail the way she delivered oral sex to her husband and how he described it as "okay, but not the best he had ever had". In no way did I ever want to picture my boss in such a manner. When we were alone, I explained how he lied about that and other things too. It was his idea of a pep talk I explained. She gave me a quizzical look and left it at that. I felt fortunate.

It isn't this kind of love that I keep thinking about. I keep thinking of my wife. I'm sure lots of husbands, when pressed, give this same answer, but not me. My thoughts wander to her at all hours of the day and night. I wonder about her day and the particulars of what happened. I wonder about her mood and influences. I'm curious if her lunch was any good or if traffic was a problem to and from work. I worry.

Not too very long ago, we went through a bad patch and she suggested that we get a divorce. I was devastated. She broke my heart. I have never been more hurt in my existence. I was crushed. We worked things out and get along just fine now but I can't seem to lose the feeling that at any time I'm going to be booted out the door. It is a palpable fear I can't put to rest.

She means everything to me. She is the one who taught me what love was. I would be lost without her, but I can't quit thinking of her, day or night, waking or sleeping, good day or bad. She is with me always and nothing else seems all that important. I've taken to buying her jewelry, much more than I can afford, but somehow it seems like the least I can do to hold on to the one tangible bit of love that the world has left for me. At night, in bed, she reaches out and holds my hand and it makes all the rotten stuff of everyday fade in the distance. The warmth of her hand reassures me that all is right in the universe and tomorrow is going to be a grand day. She means the world to me and to say anything less would be a lie. I can't live without her and it hurts still to know that at one point she considered throwing me away.

I revel in the fact that we are past that but it is a specter that haunts me still. I live in dread of the day she changes her mind and I am consigned to the scrap heap like a Ford Tempo after a fender-bender. As corny as it sounds, I long for her. At one point in my life I swore I would never, ever, use the word yearn, but the fact of the matter is, I do for her.

I know in my heart of hearts that I will never know peace without her. If fate exists, then ours are intertwined and life without her would be poor indeed.

The rotten thing is, she is going to read this and scoff, poo-poo, and downplay the whole thing. "You are such a romantic! Just a sentimental old fool! Shut up and lump it you dick." The rotten thing is, she's two-thirds right.


Wednesday, January 30, 2013

With A Little Time Mr. Lincoln

"The time spanner works," Eion said matter-of-factly. He said it in the same manner as calling out that cheerios were for breakfast. I'd been living with Eion for eighteen months now since my divorce had come through and what better way to recover from a break-up than to build a time machine?

"How's the placement? Does it go anywhere, do anything?" I responded.

"Not quite," he scratched absentmindedly at his goatee, "The placement is spot on. I can get you there to within two seconds and a foot and a half of target. The only drawback is we can only go backwards. The future isn't solidified and isn't a viable target. The past is whole and concrete. Easy to pinpoint. The snag is..." and here he paused to light his twice a year cigarette, "I can give you a fifteen minute window. Twenty, tops." he exhaled a plume of smoke and looked very satisfied with himself.

The truth of the matter being, he had every right to congratulate himself on something that man had only dreamed about since Jules Verne bothered to put pencil to paper. Eion tapped the little bit of ash that had collected at the end of his cigarette into the kitchen sink. "One other thing," he paused, "there is a weight limit. 266. That's it. That is as much as the system can hold. One ounce more and the whole thing gets shredded in the conversion with no chance of retrieval. So," he filled his smug look with a swig of the first beer of the day, "where do you want to go?"


For lack of anything better, I hung onto the the backpack straps tight. The swirling light was so bright that I had to close my eyes, but even that wasn't enough to keep it from blinding me with it's brilliance. I felt solid ground beneath my feet but I blinked and stared for a few minutes before the room came into focus. "fifteen minutes," I kept reminding myself.

As my eyes came into focus, I could make out a large desk and a tall, angular man behind it. "I've come to speak to Mr. Lincoln," was all I could blurt out.

"You have, sir?" came back in a soft country voice, tinged with a hint of surprise.

"I have come very far to bring you gifts," I began. It was a very stupid thing to say but I was still reeling from the transport. My eyes were still blinded but I managed to shuck my backpack and feel for its contents.

"First, I bring you books. Shelby Foote's edition of the civil war and Ken Wilber's The Brief History of Everything. There is also a paperback of The History of Knowledge by Dave somebody. You will find these useful in the days to come. There is also The History Of The Gun by the National Rifle Association. Please use it sparingly. We don't want any more dead than this country can possibly bare."

As my eyes adjusted to the sunlight streaming in from behind him through the windows, I noticed his face cloud with confusion as I laid each book on his desk. "Oh, and two more things. Here is a five-year supply of Welbutrin. You face some dark days ahead as a President and a father. These will help you through the tough times where no whiskey ever could. Also, I've brought some gummi bears and starburst candies for the children. There is also a brass bust of you that I thought Mrs. Lincoln might enjoy."

We stood there staring at each other for a full minute before the silence was broken. "I don't-" he began.

"There isn't time for more than this. Just rest assured that every president after you will seek to be as wise, as compassionate, and as noble as you-" and then the bright light cut in. I sat in the kitchen of our trailer for a full twenty minutes before I could see the beer Eion offered.

"Well," he said with a knowing smile, "how'd it go?"

"We're still one country aren't we?" I asked.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Those Who Rule, Flash Fiction Friday cycle 44

El Presidente stared across his expansive desk at the naked muzzle of the gun in Raoul's hand. "So it has come to this has it, Raoul, old friend. You, of all people, would turn on me? I am your President! But more than that, I am your friend, and now you lash out at me like a viper in the sugarcane. Why? Have we not grown up together, shared the same ideals, the same goals? Have we not weathered every storm together? Faced and conquered the challenges of running this country and kept it from falling into the hands of the rebels and extremists. How could you bring yourself to betray me like this?" He spread his hands in a pleading gesture.

Raoul cocked the pistol and aimed ever so carefully at El Presidente's heart. He adjusted the cheroot in his lips and looked the President in the eye before he spoke. "Do not think that I have arrived at this decision lightly Don Miguel. For years, I have championed our cause together. I have lead your troops against the rebels and rooted out dissidents and unrest where ever they have raised their ugly head. I have always been your biggest supporter but something has come to pass that has made me realize that I have misjudged you, and in so doing, I have wasted my life." Raoul sighed and took a long pull from his cheroot.

"What could I have possibly done that would make you turn traitor and murder me in cold blood? That is what you have in mind isn't it old friend?" Don Miguel asked.

"Oh yes. Make no mistake about it Don Miguel. You are going to die by my hand, and you are going to know what you are dying for. On Sunday last, you signed a death warrant. Just one of thousands that has crossed your desk. I have seen you scribbling furiously to get through a stack of them on a Friday afternoon so that you could leave early for the weekend. And if there is one thing that will be remembered about your administration Don Miguel, it is the efficiency of your Death Squads and Secret Police. They are quick and ruthless. The man on that warrant was caught and executed in the street within the hour, but then it isn't hard to find a priest on Sunday. Father Juan Maria Ramerez had his brains blown out in the town square after saying the morning mass. A mass in which he prayed that God would guide you in running our beloved homeland."

"I remember that case. He was blatantly providing aid to the Upsequa rebels. He deserved to die!" Don Miguel said with venom.

"He was giving first aid to a ten year old boy who had been shot by one of your soldiers while trying to keep his sister from being raped!" Raoul spat back, and he threw his cheroot into Don Miguel's face. "No matter," Raoul said, steadying his calm and his aim, "You will die just the same. Your country cries out in agony under your oppression. Instead of the peace and prosperity that you give lip service to, we have a country over run by kidnapping, rape and murder. While your countrymen struggle to put food into the mouths of their children, you have a fleet of armored limos and dine on steak and caviar here in the palace. Your police and troops number in the thousands but our streets aren't safe to walk because of them. The rebels fill the hills and jungles because that is the only place they can live without being under your boot heel. The farmers don't grow food anymore because the cartels insist they grow drugs instead. The one man who may have saved us all from spiraling into the pits of Hell had his head blown off and he died by the stroke of your pen. For all that, you must die Don Miguel." Raoul settled back into his chair and let his words sink in.

Don Miguel's face blanched white as he realized that his time had come. "Is there nothing I can say Raoul...nothing I can do? I have money," he offered weakly. Raoul shook his head no. "Well then, can I write a short note to my wife? It will only take a moment and it will mean so much to her."

Raoul considered this. "A very, very short note," he said with resolve. Don Miguel pulled open a drawer in his desk and shuffled past the blank death warrants looking for a pen. The click of the mechanism he triggered was almost silent. Suddenly Raoul gave a shout of pain and began to claw at his back, still trying desperately to hold the pistol on Don Miguel as he slumped forward and slid from the chair to his knees, a pleading look in his eyes.

"Don't worry old friend. The poison in the needle concealed in the chair works fast. You won't have any pain. Goodbye." Don Miguel smiled. Raoul spread out on the floor and with his last gasp uttered, "See you in Hell!" and with that, he died.

The soldier threw open the door to El Presidente's office brandishing his automatic weapon. "Sir, the alarm," he sputtered, "Are you all right?"

"Yes, yes," Don Miguel reassured him. "Send someone to collect General Ortez here and bury him in an unmarked grave." The soldier saluted smartly and turned to go about his duty. "Oh, and one more thing soldier. Tell the Secret Police to track down and kill his family. Brothers, sisters, uncles, cousins, anyone who would want revenge. He has a mother along the coast. Make sure she dies too." And with that, Don Miguel returned to the work of troop movements that would help him make his final push into the rebel strongholds.


Wednesday, July 06, 2011

F3, Cycle 38, The Unwanted Man

"It's time for your medication Mr. Smith," the nurse intoned with as much of her sunny disposition as she could.

"B-bugger off! And my name isn't S-smith. S-stop calling me that." Smith returned to staring out the window, searching the horizon, always searching. He couldn't say what it was that he was looking for but he kept hoping that something would pop up and he would suddenly be gifted with everything he had lost.

The nurse handed him his little white tablet and held out the tumbler of water. "Well what would you like to be called then? Somehow being refered to as a surly pain in the ass doesn't have quite the same ring to it now does it?" Her frosty smile at her own sense of humor rubbed Smith the wrong way but he gulped down the pill and the water if for no other reason than it would send her on her way all the faster. She turned on her heel and left the room to finish her rounds of pill pushing to the drooling imbeciles on the ward. She met the doctor at the door. "Be careful with him today Dr. Kroger. He's in a right state," she warned. Dr. Kroger nodded and gave a knowing smile. He sat down in a chair next to Smith and opened a file, uncapped his pen and looked Smith over with a critical eye.

Smith was of an average height and build with sandy blonde hair. No tattoos or obvious scars other than the small, pink pucker at his right temple where the bullet had entered his head a year and a half ago. He had been found in an alleyway, shot, presumably mugged since no wallet, watch or phone had been found on him. The surgeon who had removed the slug had said it was a tricky business but Smith had quickly regained his strength, but not his memory. The surgeon swore that it would return in time but all Smith could recall for certain was a few dirty words in French and the phone number of a pizza place two blocks from where he had been found. His fingerprints weren't on file anywhere and posters in the neighborhood had turned up zilch.  They had only taken to calling him Smith as they needed something for the forms. "Good morning Mr. Smith," Dr. Kroger began.

"Oh, h-hello Doc. I didn't notice you come in. I-I was hoping you'd be by. I was kinda looking forward to a cig-cigarette. Have ya got one?" Smith's eyes brightened at the prospect. He knew he could only smoke under supervision and the nurses just didn't have the time nor inclination. Dr. Kroger shook two from the pack and lit them both. Smith inhaled deeply and closed his eyes at the rapture of the nicotine. "Ah, now," he grinned, "what did y-you want to talk about today?" Try as he might, Smith just couldn't lose the stutter. The surgeon didn't think he ever would.

"Well, I just wanted to check in. You know, to see if you had remembered anything new. Something that we could use to track down your friends or family. You've been with us here at Shady Acres for some time now Smith and I'm sure you are eager to return to your life." Dr. Kroger took a puff of his own cigarette and tried not to think about the fact that funding for keeping Smith had run out two months ago and it was only his stalling and reshuffling of paperwork that had kept Smith from being turned out on the street.

Smith grinned as he examined the lengthening ash on his cigarette, "N-now that you mention it Doc, something occurred to me yesterday."

"Anything would help," Dr. Kroger encouraged, "What was it?"

Smith snickered, "Y-yesterday Nurse Kelly dropped my anti-depression pill on the floor and as she bent over to pick it up, I recalled that I was more of an ass man than a big tit man. I-if that's of any use, please put it down in my f-file."

Dr. Kroger made a big show of putting a large check-mark in the folder. "Well we know you are heterosexual which I guess is something. I'll write it in next to the fact that you are right handed," Dr. Kroger chuckled. "On a more serious note, I have someone who wants to see you." Dr. Kroger noticed how Smith stiffened with fear at the prospect. "It's all right. It will only take a moment. It's a long shot, but she is the only one to have answered our ad so far. Be brave Smith, and come on." Smith stubbed out his smoke in an empty coffee cup and rose slowly to his feet. Dr. Kroger noticed the sweat that beaded his forehead and upper lip as he slowly followed him to the door. "Sweet Jesus," the doctor prayed, "let this be the one." He lead Smith to the visitor room and ushered him in.

Smith seated himself at the stainless steel table on a chair that was bolted to the floor. "I....I'm ready" he mumbled. Dr. Kroger opened the other door on the far side of the room and a woman walked in. She nervously crossed the room and sat in the only other chair. Her eyes never left Smith. They stared at each other for a full minute before Dr. Kroger broke the silence. "Smith, this is Ellie Griffin. Ms. Griffin, this is Mr. Smith."

Ellie fumbled in her purse and produced a tissue to dab at the single tear that slid from her eye. "It's Mrs. Griffin actually. And your name isn't Smith. It's Gary Oscar Griffin. Your buddies at the department store call you Merv as a nickname. Your birthday is October seventeenth and your favorite food is your mother's meatloaf but you always say that mine is almost as good. At Christmas, you always play Santa. You like to garden and raise tomatoes but you hate ketchup. You vote in every election but always vote out the incumbant. You hate sports but always watch the Olympics. You cry at movies and blame it on alleregies that you don't have. You love dirty jokes and you can translate them into the little bit of French you learned in high school. You...oh God, at last I've found you!" She covered her face and wept. Smith reached out and took her hand and she clutched it with all of her strength.

"I-I've missed you Ellie," was all he could manage to say. She looked up at him and smiled as if the light in her life had been ignited again. Dr. Kroger counted that moment as one of the most rewarding of his career. He was even a little choked up himself.

Dr. Kroger waived from the front steps of the sanitarium as the cab pulled away and Mr. and Mrs. Griffin waved back. Gary settled back in the seat and said, "I can't wait to see our home. Y-you say we've got a garden? Oh that will be nice," his eyes drifted to her's and his grin betrayed the extremity of his joy.

"Oh well," she thought to herself, "at least this Mr. Griffin will be better than the last one. I can train him to be the husband I want and not the drunken lout that had the good sense to get himself lost at sea on a fishing trip. Besides," she reasoned, "this one might be good in bed."

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Jackie Boy - Flash Fiction Friday; Cycle 31

Jackie looked down at the shiny, black .38 in his lap. The weight of it seem to hold him in his chair. Cold sweat trickled down the back of his neck and his stomach tightened into knots. "What's this for George? What do I need a gun for?"

George settled back into his seat and took a long drag of his cigarette. "Jackie boy, you are going to do a job for me. A simple little job, but it is one that has to be done, and you are the man to do it." George smiled like he had a chicken bone caught in his throat. It was his way of trying to be charming.

"But George, I'm just a nickel and dime man. You need someone hustled for a few hundred bucks or a pawn shop busted into, I'm your guy, but I don't want no truck with guns. If they even catch me toting this thing around, I'll go up for a stretch. We go back a long way, you and me, clear back to the ol' street gang, and you know I don't do muscle work. No knives, no guns, no fires. You got guys for that kind of gig, so why shove it off on me?"

"Because Jackie boy, if I use one of my regular boys, it'll lead straight back to me. You know I don't wear no prison orange, and that's because I'm smart an' careful. No Jackie boy, you are the man for the job. Everyone knows you are small time. Everyone, and that's why no one is going to look for you. Now tonight you are going to a little bar on Lamont and you are going to show up right before closing time. There is a little old man who owns the place who just can't seem to get it through his thick skull that our protection is worth paying for. He is starting to rile up our other clients and that just won't do. So, you air him out and the rest fall back into line. Simple. I'll meet you back here at 2:30, you can tell me how it went and I'll dispose of the gun. In a week, you'll have your money." George smiled a little wider as if he was trying to rearrange the bone in his throat.

Jackie picked up the pistol off of his lap and held it as if it was roadkill. The revolver weighed a hundred pounds in his hand. Its cold heft made him shudder a bit. He tried to hand it back. "Naw George. You know me. I don't have the guts for this sort of thing. I'm tender hearted. I couldn't hurt a flea. You want me to scam the old buzzard for everything in the register, sure. You want me to break in after hours and bust up the joint, swipe his liquor, and crap on the bar, Hell I'd even consider that. But to walk in and shoot a man in cold blood, naw George, you got the wrong guy. Find somebody else."

George shook his head no. "If it's about the money Jackie boy, you know you will be well compensated. I have always been more than generous in the past and you will be paid what it's worth. So shut up and take the gun!"

Jackie blinked as a bead of sweat from his wet forehead dripped into his eye. He set the gun away from him on the coffee table and with a trembling hand, slid it to George. "I can't do it George. I'm a chickenshit. I cry at the fuckin' movies for fuck's sake George!" he pleaded.

George shook his head no. He picked it up and shoved it into Jackie's chest, hard. "You can and you will do this Jackie boy, cause this is only going down one of two ways!" he screamed. "You off this guy tonight or I come and off you! Cause I ain't going to have you squeal and cop a bargain the next time you get busted. No. Come two-thirty, I'm going to be back and one of you is going to be dead. Get me?"

Jackie took the heavy black lump off of his chest and stared at it. Jackie was stunned at how lethal it looked, as if it had an innate menace to it. He looked up to George's snake-like eyes. They had the same menace too. Jackie knew George would carry through, he would kill him. "W-what if I miss? What if I just wing him? I'm no crack shot. I've never even fired a BB gun!" his voice wavered.

"Just get in close, like this. Then just aim for the eyes. If you can get behind him, put it right behind his ear and pull the trigger. One shot to kill him and one more to make sure. Simple, Jackie boy, simple." George pasted on his chicken bone smile.

Jackie never heard the sound of the shot that made a ragged hole in George's forehead. He just felt the recoil, saw the flash. And from the other side of a puff of smoke, Jackie watched George's corpse settle back in the into recliner among the remnants of what had at one time been the back of his skull. George still wore that sickening grin and cigarette smoke trailed from it."I ain't doing your dirty work," Jackie spat, "and quit calling me Jackie boy!"


Wednesday, May 04, 2011

"Scornful Dogs Will Eat Dirty Puddings" - Flash Fiction Friday, Cycle 29

"Scornful dogs will eat dirty puddings." - In emergency men will do many things they would scorn to do in easy circumstances.

Iberia, in the year of our Lord, 1645

Rodrigo crawled through the underbrush on his belly, swatting mosquitoes and praying to God that he wouldn't die tonight with a brigand's blade in his back. He followed the shallow ditch full of brackish water and tried to move as silently as he could but briers tugged at his clothing while nettles stung his face and hands. He could see a pale window of moonlight through the brush and made for it. Here the ditch emptied into the river and would provide him with some means of escaping the bandits that had his ancestral home surrounded.

He eased himself into the cool waters of the river and tried very hard not to make a ripple as he made for the other side. The sound of the water dripping from his wet clothes seemed like a raging surf in his ears as he emerged on the other side and climbed the steep bank. As he crested the bank, he heard the unmistakable sound of a horse on the far side. At this, he threw all caution to the wind and bolted into the trees. His heart pounded in his throat and his legs pumped with all the fury of a charging bull. He ran as far and as fast as he could but with no moonlight to guide his way in the thick forest, his progress was arrested when he ran full speed into an unyielding tree.

How long he lay flat on his back unconscious, Rodrigo couldn't really say but the sun was dappling the forest floor as he rose on unsteady feet. He touched his sore, disjointed nose and looked around but every way was simply more trees. "God's eyes!" he swore, "I've gone and gotten myself lost!" and not knowing what else to do, he trudged on.

Rodrigo couldn't remember ever feeling more low. His fine clothes were now wet, muddy rags. One of his boots had lost it's heel and was raising a grape sized blister. His mouth was dry and his belly grumbled, not to mention the odd crunching noise his sore nose made when he touched it. "At this rate," he thought, "I'll be dead by nightfall. I would have been better to have stayed at the keep and face the bandits. At least I would have had an honorable death instead of perishing from hunger lost in the woods."

Rodrigo pushed through a thicket and entered a clearing and there was a log hut. At it's door stood a friar holding a leather tankard with a puzzled look on his face. "Please dear brother, some succor for a fellow Christian who has lost his way," Rodrigo pleaded. The friar shrugged and beckoned him inside. Rodrigo slumped on the only stool, took the mug the friar offered him and gulped it down. "I have seen some sights in my day boy," the friar began, "but I ain't never seen anything like you stumble out of the woods. I've seen beggars who were less the worse for wear. How came you to be in such a state?"

At this, Rodrigo poured forth his awful tale. He explained how his father, Count Alvarez, had taken the men of the valley and marched off to fight the King's war and had left him in charge of the family lands and keep. He told the friar about the brigands who had shown up the day before and how they had only managed to bolt the door in time to keep them from charging right in. With no way to get in, they simply set up camp around the keep and waited. Since the men of the valley were gone, the crops hadn't been harvested yet and the larder was nigh empty. So with no other recourse, Rodrigo slipped out through the waste water ditch and ran to find whatever help he could, only to break his nose in the dark. At the end of the tale, the friar nodded.

"You're not going to like this boy but you will thank me later. Now hold still a moment," the friar said, and with that his hand shot out and gave Rodrigo's nose a mighty tug. Rodrigo swore he heard an audible snap as his nose fell somewhat back into place.

"God's eyes, that hurts!" he exclaimed as he struggled to see through his own tears.

"Now don't touch it," the friar admonished. "I expect you will be wanting something to eat after your ordeal." Rodrigo smiled at the mention of food. "Well I was just sitting down to break my fast when I heard you rustling through the brush. Here, eat mine." The friar passed him a wooden trencher and a sea shell for a spoon. Rodrigo looked down at the mottled mash before him and his empty stomach turned.

"I can't eat this," he exclaimed, "It has got maggots in it!"

"Those are not maggots," the friar scowled, "Those are wood grubs and berries steeped in bark tea. It is perfectly healthy. I eat it all the time. Besides, even scornful dogs will eat dirty puddings if need be. Now eat up, we've a long walk ahead of us as I know how to save your keep." Rodrigo grimaced, closed his eyes and scooped some into his mouth. It had a sweet, earthy taste but it wasn't as unpleasant as it looked. After a couple more bites, Rodrigo was sorry that it was all gone.

"How are you going to save my keep? Do you know how to get a message to the army?" Rodrigo queried.

"Nothing of the sort. I just need my bag of herbs," the friar said with a knowing smile.

"You are going to drive off forty blood thirsty bandits with a bag of herbs?" Rodrigo asked incredulously but the friar ignored him, grabbed a little leather pouch from the bedpost of his pallet and set off at a brisk pace, out the door and into the woods. Rodrigo jogged to catch up.

In two hours time, they arrived at the edge of the woods and Rodrigo could see the bandits milling around their camp in front of his family keep. "You wait here in the trees and stay out of sight," the friar warned, and with that he strolled off as if he didn't have a care in the world. Rodrigo watched as the friar approached the bandits and one came to meet him. They spoke for a few moments. The friar seemed quite animated as he pointed towards the woods. He held up his little herb bag and then pointed to the keep. Soon all of the bandits were gathering around the friar and Rodrigo feared the worst. But then, miracle of miracles, they began to pack up their things, mount their horses and off they rode down the valley road. They crested the hill and never looked back.

When they had gone, the friar ambled back to the tree line. "It is all right now. You can come out. They've gone, and in quite a hurry too." the friar smiled.

"What did you say to them?" Rodrigo asked in wonder.

"Oh nothing really," the friar grinned sheepishly, "Only that I had come with some herbs and ointments for the nice people in the keep who were suffering from the plague!"


Saturday, April 16, 2011

Peabody's Hex; Flash Fiction Friday-Cycle 27

**Author's Note** This week's installment is another themed word list with the provision that it is a courtroom drama and under 1000 words, but money, foolish, kneecap, trace, and widow must be among them. Enjoy!

The Village of Peabody, Near Salem, In The Year Of Our Lord, 1692

"Reverend Breedlove and the honored deacons of the church, there is much to this trial that remains to be seen. The widow Mary Selby stands accused of witchcraft and much evidence has been brought to light. Mr. Mason has gone to great lengths to convince you of her guilt of being a witch while I am not so certain. There is no doubt that on the night of November first, All Saint's Day, she went to the farm of William Smith, a close neighbor of hers. She visited after dark and spent some time at their window without knocking. She stayed long enough to observe them at their evening prayers and to trace a heart in the snow with a stick. Mr. Mason suggests that this was part of her spell to summon the Evil One. I say she went to see a happy family at prayer because she missed her departed husband, Peter Selby, a man that no one could impugned of being impious, and drew a heart to represent her lost love. She was lonely and heartsick, seeking comfort in the Lord by watching William Smith and his family pray." Nathaniel Saltonstall clasped his hands in supplication and then continued.

"Mr. Mason calls as evidence the imprint she made in the snow by the road. He says that this is where she had congress with the Horn'd One and sites the blood found there the next day as proof of how he used her rudely. I say she tripped over the stump that was hidden by the snow and cut her kneecap when she fell. Her footprints and her wound confirms it. Mr. Mason says that this is where her familiar, the hog, came to suckle after her deal with the Dark One. I say this is an untruth." Saltonstall dabbed his forehead with a handkerchief and paced the meeting house, but his eyes never left Reverend Breedlove.

"Mr. Mason makes much of the fact that Mary Selby owed a debt of money to the amount of three shillings to William Smith for the purchase of shoes for her son Elijah. A debt that was promised to be repaid in the spring with the slaughter of her hog. Mr. Mason cites this as the point she slipped into the clutches of the Evil One. That this and her coveting the husband of Patience Smith is what drove her into a pact with the Deceiver, and from then on, she was His agent in Peabody. This, he claims, is what drove her to make Mrs. Patience Smith to lose her unborn child." Saltonstall looked at the deacons and they seemed to be listening.

"I would ask you to not be foolish and hear the unfettered voice of our Lord. Listen to your God-given reason and return a verdict of Not Guilty." Saltonstall bowed his head. "Only He can guide you now."

Reverend Breedlove roused himself from his inattention and banged the gavel a few times when he realized that Nathaniel Saltonstall had finished speaking. "This court will reconvene at the summit of Gallows Hill where we will hear her confession."

"But Reverend, she hasn't confessed yet," Saltonstall sputtered.

"Well, we will already be atop the hill by then and there is still the flogging that needs attended to," the good Reverend mused. "Sheriff, do your duty!"


Monday, April 11, 2011

Tolchek's Venus and Vulcan; Flash Fiction Friday Cycle 26

Themed Word List: Fist, Jab, Knuckle, Spirit, Fighter, Rhythm.

"If you will kindly disrobe, we can get started," Tolchek said. Nastinka clutched at the neck of her peasant dress and a small shiver of fear ran through her. "Well?" Tolchek demanded, "Do you want to earn the five rubles or not?" Nastinka could only nod her head dumbly as she fumbled with the tiny buttons. In a moment, she was as naked as the day she was born. Tolchek smiled approvingly. "Now please, sit on the stool and turn your head to the light. Nyet, nyet, that won't do. Bend your head down a bit, as if you are gazing into a pool of water. Yes, that's nice. Now lean on this arm and reach out with the other as if you are going to touch the surface of the water. Good. Now hold very still."

Tolchek turned to his easel and his charcoal began to fly across the page in an easy rhythm, sketching, shading, his eyes lost to the sight of the beautiful young girl in front of him. For him, she was just a thing, a vehicle for his art. She had all the allure of a bowl of fruit or cut flowers on a tablecloth. There was no person in front of him, gifted with warm blood, with dreams of her own, or even a mortal spirit. She was just a piece to be copied and that was all.

"Damn!" Tolchek swore and tossed down his charcoal in disgust. "Your legs are all wrong! You are not sitting at a spinning wheel or churning butter! You are gazing lovingly at your own reflection you simple country bumpkin! Wait just a moment..." Tolchek hurried to move a threadbare sofa from a corner of the studio into the light. Then he carefully rearranged her on it so that the light fell just so, but he never touched her. He would not let his hand stray even a little close to her. Tolchek had learned from his master that one should never touch a model, no matter how much easier it is to pose them that way. "This girl is just another ignorant peasant," Tolchek thought, "she is probably used to the rough hands of men, and no doubt she has her wanton ways, but it would never do for her to say that I even brushed against her cheek or my budding reputation would be lost. Should that happen, I would never find another model after her and I shall be forced to do more landscapes and die in ignominy like so many before me. Nyet, this will be my masterpiece and will get me an introduction into the court of the Czar!"

Now Tolchek changed from charcoal to paint and his brush moved like a fast flowing stream. His brush would dab, then swirl, only to return from another trip to his palette to jab at the painting. Sweat formed on his brow and lip as he worked himself into the fever that was his art. So consumed by his fervor was he that he never noticed that the door of his studio had been thrown open by great force to admit a giant kodiak of a man.

"Tolchek, you he-goat! I have come to take your life for violating my wife!" the huge man bellowed and beat his fists about his chest.

Tolchek looked up in utter surprise, as if the whole of the Czar's army had arrived on his doorstep. "Do I know you?" he asked softly.

"I am Mikal Egor Sergei Timur Markastrova and I will kill you now, you lecherous fool!" the long knife in his hand seemed to punctuate every word.

Tolchek narrowed his eyes and wiped a smear of paint from his knuckle absentmindedly on his breeches as he looked over the newcomer. "Good God nyet!" Nastinka screamed, "Mikal, I was only earning money so we could keep the farm! He never touched me, I swear by the Holy Mother! Oh please..." and her sobs went unheeded as she buried her face into her hands, unable to look at the coming tragedy that was about to unfold before her.

Tolchek stroked his beard for a moment as the giant gathered his rage. "Could you take a half step closer?" was all he managed to say. Mikal lunged forward, brandishing the knife with all the menace of Cain. Flecks of foam dripped from the corners of his mouth. "Hold right there!" Tolchek exclaimed as his hand reach once again for the charcoal.

"I will cut you into little bits and feed you to my hounds, you bastard son of a whore!" Mikal swore.

"Fine, fine," Tolchek muttered, "just do it after I'm done. For now, hold still you oaf!" Tolchek grimaced as his hand moved at lightening speed. He bit his lower lip as he put on the finishing touches. "There," he smiled, "now you may deliver the killing blow, but before you do, you must promise me that this picture will find it's way to Sergei Onamatov in Kiev, and know that you have slain the greatest artist ever born and an innocent man!" and with that, he threw down his brush and palette, closed his eyes and presented his chest to receive the gleaming blade.

Mikal knitted his thick brows and walked forward to where the painter stood. With one massive paw, he shoved the painter aside and looked at the canvas. His face changed from blood red heat to the calm of a summer breeze with glacial slowness but eventually he turned to Tolchek, and instead of offering him cold steel, he offered his hand. "I am no aristocrat," Mikal began, "but you have painted my Nastinka as the Madonna herself and for that I am truly grateful. And this big man in the background, is that me?" he asked in a small voice of wonder. "Do I truly look like that?"

Tolchek smiled, "You look exactly like that and if you will stand where you were before, you will look even better." The morning worked it's way into the afternoon and the three of them hardly noticed as Tolchek labored with the ardour of a zealot. At three, he slumped onto the stool and prepared tea with thick slices of course, dark bread.

"You know Tolchek, I came here today to slit your throat. I am glad to be slicing bread instead. You are not the bad man I thought you were. For that, I am glad," Mikal said as he brushed the crumbs from his long, unruly beard.

"I too am glad Mikal. I have my life and my masterpiece, but without you, I would have neither. I am an artist and without art, I have no life, while you sir, are a fighter who will never rest without your lover, much like Vulcan without his Venus. Come, I have a little vodka left. Let us toast our success and to your ten rubles!" Tolchek raised a half empty bottle.

""Nyet," Nastinka replied, "The bargain was for five rubles and five alone," she said adamantly.

Tolchek smiled broadly as he filled their glasses to the brim, "Ah but you have forgotten my dear, it was five rubles for each model and today I have had two!"


Thursday, March 31, 2011

Buster Benson and the Mole Men; Flash Fiction Friday Cycle 24

...We join now this weeks installment of Buster Benson and the adventure of the Mole Men, compliments of our sponsor, Miracle Soap Suds. If it gets it clean, it's a Miracle!

When last we met, Buster and his trusty sidekick Ray had just escaped from the underground lab of the evil Dr. Heinsmueller and his dark army, who close in on them even as we speak...

(sound of water dripping in a cave and the hum of something electric.)

Buster: Forget the diamonds Ray! We are lucky to be alive!. Dr. Heinsmueller's ray could have turned us into goose-stepping zombies. Now we need to concentrate on finding Helen. Come on!

Ray: Ah just a few Buster. It will mean so much to the orphans.

Buster: All right you big lug. You got me. Fill your pockets.

(sound of pebbles dropping into a frying pan.)

Buster: That's enough, now let's make a break for it. Grab that torch Ray and let's head down this passage way. We're sure to find the slave quarters from there, and that just might bring us one step closer to Helen.

(sound of echoing footfalls in a cave.)

Narrator: Buster and Ray follow the passage until they reach a large cavern.

Ray: Look Buster! It's our Cave Car! Boy am I ever glad to see that bucket of bolts.

Buster: Check it over Ray and make sure it hasn't been tampered with, then get it warmed up. I'm going on to find Helen and I'll meet you back here.

Ray: Sure thing boss.

(clank of metal tools followed by the sound of running footsteps and a woman's voice singing softly in the distance.)

Buster: Helen? Is that you Helen?

Helen: Oh Buster, darling, help me. I'm chained to the wall and I think I hear those dreadful creatures coming back!

(sound of chains falling to the floor.)

Buster: I've got you my love. You're safe now.

Helen: Oh Buster. (kissing sounds, then Helen screams) Buster! There, behind you!

Mole Man: Roar, hiss. (gunshots)

Buster: My bullets just bounce right off of him! No wonder Dr. Heinsmuller created these abominations for the Nazis. Quick Helen! Run!

Mole Man: Roar, hiss. (running footsteps and some more gunshots)

Buster: Quick Helen, get in the Cave Car. Ray, fire the rock cutting beam down that passageway.

Ray: But Buster, why? It might bring down the roof on us!

Buster: It's a chance we'll have to take. Fire!

(zap. zap, zap.)

Buster: Whoa, that was close. Thanks Ray.

Ray: Anything for a pal.

Buster: Now let's use the rock cutting beam to blast our way out of this cavern and get back to the Professor. Maybe he has discovered some way to defeat these evil Mole Men and stop Dr. Heinsmueller.

(sounds of blasting slowly fade away, music swells)

Narrator: That's this weeks installment of Buster Benson and the Mole Men. Remember kids, this Friday is the scrap rubber drive, and keep saving those box tops from Miracle Soap Suds for your official Buster Benson decoder ring. Bye bye and buy bonds. Goodnight.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Best Part Of Waking Up... Flash Fiction Friday Cycle 23

Barry rubbed the sleep from his eyes and looked up at the smiling face of his beloved, Gloria. "Good morning sleepyhead," she grinned, "I made coffee and I need you bright eyed and bushy tailed. I've got plans for you buddy boy!" Her smile widened into a lascivious smirk.

"I can hardly wait," Barry hopped to his feet and followed her to the galley. His coffee cup vibrated on the table from the constant hum of the superluminal engines and he stared over it to look into her eyes. "Those amazing eyes," he thought to himself, and then he let his eyes roll over the rest of her compact frame. She was a knock out and Barry wondered how he could be so lucky. He had traveled the length and breadth of the galaxy on one off-world freighter or another but he had never seen anything like her, then he had signed up for a three year hitch on a colonization ship and there she was. She was everything he could possibly want in a woman. She was bright, energetic, had an infectious laugh, shared his sense of humor and she was as randy as an alley cat.

"Hurry and finish your coffee," she prodded, "I've got an itch that only you can scratch!" she giggled.

"What about some breakfast first? I've got more than one appetite you know, and three months in hypersleep does tend to work up a hunger." Barry pleaded.

"Oh no, me first," in one fluid move, she slid his cup aside and tugged at the zipper of her tight jumpsuit, "then we will see what you are hungry for." She pulled him close for a passionate kiss and the stellar engines hummed on.
Barry layed back against the pillow as Gloria snuggled close at his side and he thought about how the two of them had been thrown together. It was on their first shift that they realized their potent connection. The crew consisted of the two of them and the pilot, Roy. While the flight plan had been programed into the computer before they left Earth, Roy became the defacto pilot because he was the only one with the wetware to interface with the ship. Roy spent the entire trip in a suspended half sleep and monitored their progress as well as life support and other ship functions without ever leaving his sleep chamber. Every three months, the computer would wake them and they would spend a week staring at unmoving gauges while Roy got some deep beauty rest. It was boring, but it was part of the company's safety plan and the work wasn't hard.

The computer had awoken them a little early for their first shift and it only took a moment to figure out why. A food dispenser in the galley had sprung an unexpected leak and shorted out. The puff of smoke that it's frying motherboard emitted registered on the sensors and the computer roused them in a hurry. The parts needed for repair were locked in storage and only the pilot's okay would let them into the hold. Barry shivered a bit as he recalled trying to wake Roy. The needler made it's familiar hiss as he injected the stimulant into Roy's arm and he waited for his eyes to flutter instantly awake. He waited and waited. Nothing. He gave Roy another dose but to no avail. Roy's lifeless eyes would never open again. The feedback from the short had been too much and fried Roy's sleeping mind like an egg.

Now the ship had a crew of two, with three thousand frozen colonists in the hold and a busted food dispenser, light years from home and just as far to their destination. The decision to eat Roy was not one that they arrived at lightly but death by starvation does tend to rearrange one's priorities just a bit. Barry was all thumbs in the kitchen but Gloria made a wonderful pot roast that just melted in your mouth. It would have been better with some potatoes and carrots but beggars can't be choosers. Afterwards, they made love for the first time and that seemed to bring the universe back into alignment and seal their relationship forever.

Barry sat up in bed, finished with his post coital musings, "What about that breakfast you promised? I need some mind food if I'm going to spend a week staring at dials and playing rumpy-pumpy with you my love."

"Oh that's all taken care of. I've a nice American thawing as we speak," she said in a lazy voice.

"I hope he isn't an athlete. The last one was stringy and as tough as boot leather. Good flavor," he conceded, "but chewy."

"No, no. This one is as fat as a Christmas goose. You'll love him, but he won't be ready for at least another hour. What do you propose we do to fill the time?" she said with a purr. Barry pulled her close and the stellar engines hummed on.


Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Jamal & The Hermit

Flash Fiction Friday Writing Prompt: This week’s story challenge is to explore a character’s defense mechanism at work in under 1500 words in any genre you want.
Fate has written a tragedy; its name is “The Human Heart.” The Theatre is the House of Life, Woman the mummer’s part; The Devil enters the prompter’s box and the play is ready to start. - Robert W. Service, "The Harpy".
Jamal struggled with the last few feet and heaving out of breath, threw himself down at the summit of the mountain. "Oh my sweet God," he thought to himself, "I never thought I would make it!" He panted, trying in vain to catch his breath in the thin, icy air. He looked down over the edge and surveyed the hard climb he had just surmounted. Each jagged rock and switchback seemed to taunt him still, even though he had spent three of the hardest days of his life climbing them. He turned his attention away from the precipice and back to the object of his journey. There, in a patch of scrub pines, stood a crude stone hut with wisps of smoke rising from some unseen chimney.

Jamal made for the hut in some haste but paused at the ill-fitting door, almost afraid to knock. "Come in young one," came an ancient voice from beyond the door, "Come and warm yourself by my fire." Jamal stooped to enter the small doorway and let his eyes adjust to the smoky darkness of the interior. A small, withered old man sat hunched by the fire and beckoned him to sit down.

"Oh great master, I have traveled so long and so far to seek you out. I-" Jamal began.

"I know why you have come," the old man interrupted, "You have come, like many before you, to seek the answers that you could not find below. You have braved the mountain, seeking the answers to life's hardest question. You want to know what life is all about, don't you?" The old man thrust a steaming cup of tea in his hands and turned away from him to gaze into the fire once more.

"Yes, oh master. You know my innermost heart. Please, wise one, tell me what I must do to live a good and happy life!" Jamal's eyes grew wide and he leaned forward so as to catch every word that tumbled from the old man's weathered lips.

"You must..."

"Yes, yes." Jamal trembled.

"You must find a pretty girl and settle down. Have children. Enjoy yourself and try not to think too much."

Jamal sat in silence as the words rolled around in his head. "That's it !?!" he barked incredulously, "Get married and try not to think too much? That's it?"

The old man poked at the fire with a stick, "All of life is a sad and funny play. Sit back and enjoy the show." The old man shrugged as if there really wasn't anything more to say.

"You can't be serious!" Jamal sputtered, "There has got to be more to it than that!" Jamal swore loudly and smacked his knee. "You sit up here at the summit of the mountain, reading and contemplating the wisdom of the ancients, pouring over the holy word day after day, and communicate with God himself, and that is all the wisdom you have to offer? You sir, are a fool! You are no wise man at all!" Jamal spat on the hard packed earthen floor.

"I never said I was wise. You did. I tell you to go and find a wife and live a happy, simple life because I do not want you to make the same mistake I did and live the cold, solitary existence of an aesthetic as I have done. Go, drink the wine, make love to a woman, smell the flowers." Jamal shook his head in disbelief.

"Besides," the old man continued, "Who is the greater fool? The old fool who wastes his life at the top of a mountain seeking something that cannot be found, or the young fool who risks his life climbing the mountain seeking a shortcut to enlightenment?"