The Joke

“Ick, was this the best you could do?” Madison glared at Ashley, her country mouse cousin. They were seated at the table in the middle of a beer joint in a small town near the Indian reservation; no one called it the Native American reservation. Along three walls were booths containing a few locals, drinking beer and chewing on the regional fare, which seemed to consist mainly of meat and butter sandwiches on white bread, with a bag of potato chips on the side, and a dill pickle? The locals watched the four cousins curiously, but didn’t speak.

“Stop putting on airs, Madison,” Morgan snapped. “You didn’t want to go up to Ashley’s house with the aunts and uncles. This was the next best thing.”

“I can’t wait to get back to the city,” Madison seethed, “at least we won’t have to bury Grandma twice! I hate funerals.”

A tallish man in blue chambray shirt and faded jeans walked over to the cousins; he was obviously the proprietor and obviously native. “What can I get you?”

“I suppose white wine and brie would be asking too much?”

“Shut up, Madison, he’ll spit in your sandwich.” Morgan smiled up at the man apologetically. “Please don’t do that, she’s always a bitch to serving people. We’ll share a pitcher of the best you’ve got on tap and take it from there.”

The man chuckled, “You’re making my day interesting, that’s for sure, and no, I won’t pee in the pitcher; you can watch me. Are you here for the funeral of Mrs. Johnson, the old lady from that little cabin by the lake?” He directed the question at Jesse, the only male.

But they all nodded pleasantly, except for bitchy Madison. “Grandma was so disgusting in her old age, living in that hovel that’s returning to the ground. I heard she had money, but there was nothing much in her bank account. And those damn tulips she was always crossbreeding; she kept saying, ‘The late ones are the best,’ and winking like it was some sort of joke. I suppose it was her hobby, seeing the surprise colors, and trying to get them to bloom as late as possible, but they were brown, or some weird striped arrangement; they looked muddy! The ones on the southeast corner were the late ones, the ones she created by herself, and they looked awful, disgusting. I was ashamed to visit while they were blooming. Thank God she didn’t have any close neighbors.”

“You must be a joy to live around, Young Lady.” The owner returned to the bar area to get their pitcher and mugs.

When the cousins had paid their bill, with Madison claiming she had nothing but an out-of-date credit card, so everyone else took up her slack, Jesse jumped into his pickup and headed for the lake. He’d already said his goodbyes to the aunts and uncles. He considered taking a room at the little motel in town, but if the old cabin by the lake had been home to Grandma, it was good enough for him until he could get it in shape to sell. He hoped the refrigerator/freezer contained more than spoiled food.

Jesse scooted a lump of frozen hamburger, Cousin Ashley had called it hambuger until she was six, around in the hot pan, thawing and frying at the same time. He thought long and hard on Grandma, there was supposed to have been more money; where did it go? Grandpa had left her a nice life insurance; she hadn’t used much for her living expenses. And the way she used to look at the cousins and say, “The late ones are the best,” then wink, her little joke.

After a supper of hamburger gravy on toast, jazzed up with old Tabasco that Grandpa had used in Sunday afternoon Bloody Marys, but Grandma never touched, Jesse pulled on a pair of Grandpa’s old work gloves. He took a shovel from the shed and walked to the southeast corner of the cabin. The August evening shadows were long, but he still had a good two hours of daylight. He started to dig up the crossbred tulip bed.

“Ohmygod,” sealed Mason jars with little stamped gold bars. Well, of course, Grandma had never trusted banks, feeling bankers controlled the world and could take everyone’s money without penalty on a whim. So, she’d bought identified and marked gold bars; these were real. Where did she get them? She’d lost money on the transactions, probably, but gold had inflated, and there was great value in the tulip bed, whatever her costs must have been. Any potential thief following the gold purchases had been successfully ditched by Grandma; no surprise.

He held the jars to his chest and smiled. Should he tell the cousins? No, he wouldn’t do that. Madison would get a lawyer involved, trying to take it all, and the lawyer would get everything in the end. Ashley and Morgan couldn’t be trusted not to gloat and clue Madison.

He’d keep track of his relatives, making sure they didn’t suffer from want. But Madison could go fuck herself.

 

 

This is a Chuck Wendig Friday Flash Fiction. He gave us eight words and told us to write a story around four of them. I chose joke, gloves, funeral and motel. I added both hambuger and hamburger for extra credit (smile).

 

http://terribleminds.com/ramble/2012/08/24/flash-fiction-challenge-another-random-word-challenge/#comments

 

 

 

 

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The Lie

“Three truths will I tell you and one lie.”

“I spend my life working and not playing games. I can’t imagine changing that now. I’m only sitting in this airport because my mother is arriving from Seattle.” Elizabeth glanced at the tall, portly man who had taken a seat next to her. He looked rather like a middle-aged elf that spent too much time at Wendy’s; slight points on the ears, no mistake. Well, hell, he might have been pulled out of his mother with forceps, that still happened, she supposed. She stared at the sneakers of a woman reading a book. If the guy didn’t shut up, she was going to move.

“I can travel back and forth through time.”

“Sure you can. And I can travel to that vacant seat over there. Don’t bother to get up.” But Elizabeth was shocked to discover she couldn’t move. Then the clock on the wall moved back two hours. The woman with the interesting sneakers disappeared, as did the rest of her fellow folks-sitting-around, except for the big elf; he was large, in charge, and smiling indulgently. A cleaning lady puttered around with a broom and dustpan. “My mother’s plane?”

“Is safe as long as you cooperate; in a moment, you’ll find yourself in the hallway of a nice hotel. We’ll go into a clean room. The poor housekeeping staff will be blamed for leaving it messy, but those are the breaks; I’m not going to waste effort making it right when I’m done. If you want your mother to arrive safely, you won’t fight me; you’ve seen what I can do with time. I can throw her plane out of the sky just as easily.”

“Why me?”

“A good point; there are prettier women. But, you’re unmarried with no children and a decent job. You have a good mind and you’re kind to family, all traits I admire. Let’s get to that hotel room, I’m very horny.”

One hour and two orgasms later, Elizabeth lay sweaty and naked on the bed next to the elf; it had been the best sex in her limited experience. Nevertheless, she wanted more answers. “Can I ask you some questions?”

“Of course; all women ask questions,” he smiled that same indulgent smile.

“Who or what are you?”

“Shortest answer is that I’m a fallen angel. I can appear as a man, troll, elf, fairy, even an animal. You think all those folktales are fiction? No, some are true. The reclusive maiden who got pregnant and it was blamed on the bachelor uncle living in the cellar? That was bad luck for the uncle; because it was me. I love Earth and the carnal pleasures of Earth. I like to fuck.”

“Don’t take this the wrong way, Mr. Elf, but if you can look like anyone, why didn’t you choose an Olympic swimmer or Usain Bolt?”

“Were you unhappy with my performance?”

“No, it was just great, but you’re middle-aged with a gut.”

“That puts more power in the thrusts. My boss, Satan to you, gets a kick out of my shenanigans. He’s always around when I’m screwing. He was in this room, but he’s left now. For some reason, he can’t get that same joy going, so he lives vicariously through me.

“This is what I looked like when I fathered Bill Clinton. Too bad he didn’t get my ears, oh well. His mother was no beauty, either, but she made a good parent. I was a small man when I fathered Putin, but very athletic, and I had to watch over him closer than I liked in his early years. Still, he turned out very well and I’m proud of him.”

“You mean I’m going to…?”

“Have a baby in nine months? You certainly are!”

“No!”

“If you terminate the pregnancy, there will be horrible suffering. Go along with it, Elizabeth, you’re getting close to thirty, and babies were on your mind, I know. Claim a one night stand; everyone has them, even you! The child will give your great pride, and your mother will help out.”

“But…,” and Elizabeth found herself dressed and back at the airport. Her mother’s plane was arriving on schedule. The big elf was smiling down at her fondly. “When you first spoke to me, you said something about truth and lies.”

“Three truths will I tell you and one lie.”

“Yes, that, what was the lie?”

The elf laughed sincerely. “The sentence was a lie. I’ve been telling you the truth for the last two hours. My boss is the Great Deceiver, so he requires a little lying; it makes no difference to me. And besides, you were intrigued, you can’t deny it. For all their righteousness, women like the bad boy.”

“Will I see you again?”

“I may be in the area, admiring my kid, but you won’t know it. You’ll just have the one child from me, if that’s what you mean. Don’t worry, you were great in bed, but I like to spread it around.”

“Mr. Elf…” He was gone. She saw her mother walking from the plane and waving. Then the sun came out, and the woman next to her had a perfume that gave Elizabeth immense joy. She ran toward her mother.

 

 

 

This is a Chuck Wendig Friday Flash Fiction. He gave us three sentences to write a story around. I chose “Three truths will I tell you and one lie,” coined by Joe Parrino.

 

http://terribleminds.com/ramble/2012/08/10/flash-fiction-challenge-the-opening-lines-revealed/comment-page-1/#comment-182532

 

 

 

 

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Return to Barsoom

Andy rocked back in his computer chair, causing such a squeaking that Mr. Sparky opened one eye to check the situation.

Breakfast cleanup and vacuuming, Andy’s daily household chores, were over. Mr. Sparky was HIS dog, part Rottweiler, and “blew his coat” once a year, causing hair clumps the size of quarters to fall everywhere. Although Victoria dutifully bit her tongue as hair leapt onto her work clothes and crept into her eyes, Andy was too smart to let a good wife suffer. As soon as her car rounded the corner and headed toward work, he grabbed the vacuum cleaner and beat the berber into a relatively hair free state. Then he settled into his work space, with Mr. Sparky soaking up a sunbeam nearby.

Andy turned and looked at his bookcase, smiling; there were his great-grandmother’s time travel books, and the Edgar Rice Burroughs Martian adventures, also collected by Nana. She hadn’t been terribly popular in her quilting circle, since none of the other ladies knew how to talk with her; they didn’t know nor care about red Martians.

Aliens crossed his mind, as they often did. Were they truly alien, or just time-traveling future people; he was starting to believe the latter. He wasn’t so arrogant as to think humans were alone in the universe, but the distances were vast, and there were no extraterrestrial signals arriving. Wormholes were only hypothetical, but space-time deformation was real; it might not be possible to jump between galaxies, but a body the size of Jupiter or Saturn would certainly deform space-time, with the masses of their orbiting moons causing additional ripples and rifts. Space-time around Saturn might look like a metropolitan spaghetti bowl, with dimensional shortcuts everywhere.

Strange visitors were real. His great-grandfather, an early crop sprayer, had chased them more than once across the waving Montana fields, until the “aliens,” if that’s what they were, tired of the game and lifted vertically at great speeds. No airplanes of such vintage could manage those feats. That may have been why Pops and Nana liked each other; they had much in common.

Andy leaned back again, linking his fingers behind his head. The chair squawk roused Mr. Sparky sufficiently to fart contentedly, sigh, and go back to sleep.

Groups existed with the will and resources to bypass obstructive governments and send more people into space; there were accomplished men, and possibly women, willing to lead those missions; Andy had seen them on the television, first the moon, then Mars, then the moons of the gas giants. If colonization “took,” the appearance of those people would change drastically in a few dozen generations.

Why did they come back to Earth via warped space-time? Education, collecting and monitoring, he supposed, and if they were truly people, they might need to get back once in a while for their health.

Since the strange visitors were already here, Andy determined not to worry much about the possibility of changing the past; that problem seemed to have been settled, or maybe it never mattered, sort of like Y2K. If he universally changed a document from Calibri to Times New Roman, did the document care?

He needed to write. He imagined a gray person, in a secure environment, looking over the beauty of Jupiter, but also knowing a safe, quick route to the little blue dot out there in the blackness.

“I’ll dedicate the first one to your memory, Nana.” Andy began to write of a new Barsoom.

 

 

This is a Chuck Wendig Flash Fiction. He wanted us to do some time travel.

It must have worked; I keep losing track of where I am with the laundry.

 

http://terribleminds.com/ramble/2012/07/20/flash-fiction-challenge-must-love-time-travel/#comments

 

 

 

 

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The Smart Snake

The old minister sighed and put down his Lutheran Catechism. “Are there any questions?” The boys were doing the one hundred foot stare in the ten foot room, and the girls were watching butterflies feast on the graveyard flowers through the open windows; except for one girl, she seemed genuinely involved. “Any questions at all?”

“Pastor, this isn’t about today’s lesson, but I’ve been wondering… We’re taught that there will be a judgment day for the quick and the dead, essentially, both the living and the deceased will be judged before God on the same day.”

“Yes, that’s fundamental to our faith.”

“When we die we go to heaven or hell?”

“Yes.”

“Why would God judge the dead again; they already know where they are?” The other children took a sudden interest in religion, all turning toward the speaker. She was on to something!

The old minister was rocked; no one had ever asked such a thing. The Lutherans always sat dreamily in the pews, sometimes singing, sometimes praying, as led; AS LED, just like the sheep the bible constantly referenced. He could answer her with a Catholic bias, saying souls in heaven or hell would stay where they were, but no Lutheran minister should do such a thing! Having no acceptable answer, he smiled crookedly at the teenager. “Curiosity killed the cat.”

“’And knowledge brought him back.’ That’s what my dad always says.” She returned his smile, but it held an implied challenge.

After the children were dismissed, the old minister sat in his office behind the pulpit. The kid was right, of course. The bible was full of stories that couldn’t be read literally; they were intended as lessons to the peasants. Take Eve and the snake; the snake lived in the Tree of Knowledge, for God’s sake. The forbidden fruit was knowledge! Knowledge was bad and women were bad for bringing it up. Adam was a cowardly weasel; fit for nothing but disgust.

Keep ‘em dumb and down on the peasant plot. We kings and priests will handle things up here in the nice buildings, thanks very much. Society had functioned just like that long before there was a compiled document called a bible.

The Lutherans liked it. They lapped up the pabulum like a cat enjoying melted ice cream. “Baptize ‘em, marry ‘em, and bury ‘em.” Tell them they have a place in heaven as long as they attend church; they don’t even have to pay attention, and most of them don’t!

He got up and walked around the room. That girl was easily his smartest student. In another time, he might have reported her to authorities and had her killed as a witch. “We don’t need those types rousing the rabble.”

He was a good man and he would soon retire. He had lived a good life with his wife and children. He believed the words of Jesus, when he was able to separate them from the background dramas.

And sometimes he taught fairy tales; just like the rulers had wanted.

 

 

This is a Chuck Wendig Flash Fiction:

“Take a fairy tale — any fairy tale at all you want, or a fable, or a Mother Goose story — and rewrite it in a modern context.”

http://terribleminds.com/ramble/2012/07/06/flash-fiction-challenge-fairy-tale-upgrade/#comments

 

I may be stepping into dangerous waters here, but, what else is new?

 

 

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Screaming Cheap

“You’re the one!”

“Huh?” I looked up from the variegated rubber plants in the Lowe’s garden section. “I’m most certainly A ONE, but am I THE ONE, well, of that I’m uncertain. Who are you?”

“My name is Amber. Johnny Jones pointed you out one day.”

“Johnny Jones, he’s still around? I thought he left for Phoenix or someplace.”

“He came back, said things didn’t work out.” Amber looked down at her flip-flops.

“I’m sure they didn’t.” Johnny Jones; my first known experience with a compulsive liar, but damn, the guy was good in bed, at least that was one thing he didn’t have to lie about, my brain experienced a memory dump from long term storage so extensive one thought flew out of my mouth. “He’s way too old for you.”

“That’s what my mother says, but I’ve never met a man like him.”

No, she probably hadn’t. This child named Amber was chunky and plain; she was just the sort Johnny would diddle and discard. She was a temporary distraction, extra emphasis on temporary.  “He’s married; has been for a long time.”

“He doesn’t seem to respect her,” Amber looked at me intently, “I think I can get him to leave.”

“Amber, his wife was a flight attendant back when those folks made good wages. Any resources he has are comingled with her money and property; he’s not going to walk away from it, especially now that he’s getting older.”

“But he’s rich! He was a member of a rock group called The Trashmen!”

Suddenly, the dank atmosphere of the indoor plant section was too much. “Amber, I’ve got to get into the sun, please follow me.” I nearly flew into the colorful annuals. When we were surrounded by petunias and geraniums, I whirled on the poor girl. “Johnny was never a member of The Trashmen; he tried that same lie on me, but I let it slide. Back then, it was hard to verify, but I finally found an album cover, and he wasn’t on it. If he was ever in a musical group, it was Screaming Cheap or some such thing, and I’m pretty sure he didn’t even do that. He was never a frontman, and I never saw a single musical instrument in his apartment. He did not perform Surfing Bird; look it up. I’m surprised he still tries those old howlers, but maybe he’s not much for computers; it doesn’t cost anything to dust off the old lies and hope no one checks. Anyway, there are all kinds of references on the internet. Family Guy performs The Bird is the Word! Even Tweety appears on YouTube singing the song.”

“Tweety?”

“Ever heard of Sylvester the Cat; big tuxedo cat with a pinkish red nose?”

“Oh, yeah, that one,” her face flushed with quick anger and tears sparkled in her eyes. “You’re saying he’s a liar!”

“He’s talented in some ways; I met him when we worked together. But he gets bored with small rewards from honest labor, he has no patience, and then he tries to supplement his existence with bullshit, and it works! I don’t know how many females he’s bedded in his life, but I guarantee it’s in the hundreds.”

The poor child turned white, then bright red. “You’re just mad because YOU didn’t get him!”

“I got what I wanted. He was like an elephant to me; fun to look at, but I sure didn’t want to own him!”

“You’re horrible, you’re just horrible!” I could tell she wanted to make a nasty remark about my age, but I’m well-preserved from all the workplace chemicals. “I’m going to tell him to forget about you, you’re not his friend.” She stormed past the nursery counter, into the parking lot.

“You were warned, Little Girl. Ask for something he doesn’t want to give, and see how quickly he turns on you.” I paid for some red petunias.

Unable to resist, I rocked past startled looky-loos, purse in one hand and bobbing petunias in the other. “Papa-oom -mow- mow.”

 

 

For Friday Flash Fiction, Chuck Wendig gave us random band names and asked us to write a short story around one. I chose Screaming Cheap (but it should have been The Trashmen).

 

http://terribleminds.com/ramble/2012/06/22/flash-fiction-challenge-thats-my-new-band-name/#comments

 

 

 

 

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Aisle Nine in the Grocery Store

Cat toys jingle.

The dense multipacks of toilet paper made no sound at all, so Aisle Nine was chosen. With dusty plastic and prices set way too high, the TP façade was never bothered by the thousands of lottery ticket buyers threading the narrow aisles on the days leading up to a big jackpot. When Prince buzzed Patrick at the checkout to tell him he was ready again, Patrick would trigger a big and meaningless display of lights and sound over the cash register, which claimed everyone’s attention even though they saw it every few minutes, but sometimes the lights spelled words, and that increased the anticipation. Then Prince would soundlessly slid the toilet paper panel, remove a wallet or open a purse, and extract a five, ten, or twenty; what he felt could be explained by simple forgetfulness. Order was restored to the victim, and the panel closed for a short time. Prince never opened the panel if there was a child nearby.

Patrick and Prince were fraternal twins; one young man normal, and the other with a common type of dwarfism. If the days got long for Prince seated behind the toilet paper, they were equally long for Patrick, working the cash register without a break. The money was worth it. Knowing Prince’s health would fail early, the devoted twins planned to earn and steal an early retirement, return the “grocery” store to its original condition, and sell out. Sitting on the border of a state with a huge lottery, they pulled in all the local gamblers. Patrick had already been approached by potential buyers of the old place.

Early life also instructed their tolerance for petty crime. The issue of an older widow and the young farmer she befriended and “gave a start,” the parents had been surprised at the mother’s late pregnancy. When one twin arrived with dwarfism (there had been no prenatal tests), the distraught mother implored as to how a dwarf could farm, since that was the family occupation. Her doctor coldly reminded her that she had taken a gamble with such a late pregnancy; she could have had tests and an abortion. As he walked out of her room, he tossed over his shoulder, “Let him join the circus.” Both brothers heard the story at an early age.

Ashamed that one of his biological trophies was defective, the father soon sold the farm out from under mother and sons and ran off with the church organist. That same church helped the family survive, with money and child care, and the sons grew to maturity. Patrick was so protective of Prince they were often without work; their job histories were varied and short, but everyone still had praise for the devoted twins and their plucky parent.

After all her bad luck, the twins’ mother finally caught a break; she won a smallish lottery. She decided to become a grocer, since she had done that at various times in her youth, and she wouldn’t be a harsh taskmaster with her boys.

As they were refreshing the old grocery store, the father of Patrick and Prince came sniffing around, hoping to exchange smooth talk for money. Patrick beat him so hard he fell into an aisle, where Prince kicked him in the balls. Law enforcement did nothing but laugh, and the outline of The Plan came to the twins together. They weren’t living a charmed life, for sure, but the world seemed inclined to let them smudge the edges.

They called the store Lottery Luck, and people took that as an omen for their own chances.

They took Sunday and Monday off (the young men seriously needed rest). Small winners easily waited until Tuesday for their money, and big winners often hid for quite a while; terrified at this earthquake in their lives.

The mother made a show of stocking shelves, even though tickets were about the only product, but mostly she maintained an apartment over the store for the three of them. She knew what they were doing, but told herself it was all part and parcel of gambling. Worse things went on in casinos. No food or rent money was stolen.

Neither boy married, or even got serious, since that could compromise The Plan. They visited the red light district occasionally, and the ladies were pleased to see Prince almost as well-endowed as his brother. The twins didn’t drink much, didn’t do drugs, and they went home promptly.

When people asked after Prince during a workday, Patrick would jerk his head toward the back, “Office stuff.” No one took it further, it was sensible that the dwarf would tire and need to be seated.

Patrick stretched on his bed after a full day, a good dinner, and a shower. He would live long, he felt. Some of those years would be lonely; maybe he’d get a pet, they didn’t tell on you. He would be a quiet man, a man with secrets. He’d crunch the numbers, and if he felt he could afford it, he’d engage in some philanthropy, that would garner good press. But right now, he wanted to sink into his world of fantasy and planning, half-asleep, his greatest pleasure.

Patrick would eventually kill his father. The blame would fall on the organist and the doctor who’d insulted his brother. Quiet measures at pushing those two together were already fruitful, but Patrick was in no hurry, he savored every night and every alternative death scene. Finally, he would act alone, setting the stage and tone for his senior years.

 

 

This is a Chuck Wendig Flash Fiction. He gave us a choice of settings for the story. I chose Aisle Nine in the Grocery Store.

http://terribleminds.com/ramble/2012/06/08/flash-fiction-challenge-choose-your-setting/#comments

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Heretic

The bully set down the milkshake she’d brought from home and greeted her posse; the women too afraid to stand up to her lest they be attacked as well. Members of the posse took turns arriving early to save the best table in the cafeteria for their leader, Carole Anne. That grown women could be so sniveling was disgusting, but Carole Anne took full advantage.

A whiff of perfume caused her to swing her head in the direction of another table. Karen was there already with two of her friends. “Didn’t that bitch take her show dogs down into Chicago this past weekend?”

“Yes,” an eager flunky pulled out a chair for Carole Anne’s bulk, “but she and her husband take the dogs in a motorhome. They take turns driving, and it’s not that far from Minneapolis to Chicago.”

“I wouldn’t do it. Has anyone made any headway about getting her in trouble for that perfume she wears?” Carole Anne set her oversized lunch bag next to her large purse on the table, nearly spilling a neighboring coffee. “One of you needs to say it gives you a headache.”

“I tried,” a little weasel offered, “but my boss told me to take an Advil.”

“Hmmm,” Carole Anne took a deep sip from her milkshake straw. She looked at the container. “My do-nothing husband says I eat enough for the rest of the family combined. I tell him I’m eating my way into a body transplant.”

The rest of the women laughed politely. “Is he looking for work?”

“Not much, but he still finds time for his soccer friends. They went drinking last night; he got home around midnight. At least he got up to make breakfast for the kids.” She gave a woman with mousey locks a long look. “Karen has a flower blooming in her cubicle.”

“I think it’s an African violet, why?”

“I want you to dump that flowerpot. You sit closest to her area, and she always attends meetings on Monday morning. Knock the plant off her desk; make sure it lands upside down.”

“But…”

“No buts,” Carole Anne gathered her sizable possessions as the first buzzer rang, “if you don’t do it, your husband will get a call about your Saturday activities, when you’re supposed to be visiting your mother. You shouldn’t give me so much ammunition.” She waddled off toward her employment.

No flowerpot was tipped. The backyard scrape Carole Anne’s oldest son had received two days before bloomed with foul bacterial growth. A terrified father raced him to the emergency room, but the child still lost his left arm. Carole Anne tore out of the building, and news spread as fast as the infection.

On a coffee break, Karen walked into Mr. Ramon’s office; he was the top boss. “If Carole Anne can’t return right away because of her son, what will happen to her?”

“I’ll have to let her go,” he sighed, “that’s cruel, but the only way we stay in business is austerity and growth. We don’t have much growth, so that leaves austerity. No raises, no time off to be covered by women like you doing overtime. If Carole Anne can’t pull her weight, sorry, she’s history. She has no union protection and I know she’s too poor to retain a lawyer. Besides, I’d drag out every dirty trick; don’t think I haven’t documented her. Why does she hate you so much?”

“She eats and plots against adversaries. I don’t kiss her butt, and I have a full life, so I was chosen as an enemy; I’m sure there are more, a personality like that fights on more than one front. Please hold off letting her go, she’s the sole breadwinner for the family.”

On Wednesday, after a severe reprimand from the top boss, Carole Anne sat before her computer screen and tried to concentrate. Tears created thin streams on her chubby cheeks. Her light was dimmed by someone standing in the cubicle opening. “What do you want?” She wiped her face angrily.

Karen placed a throwaway plastic container next to Carole Anne’s right hand. “Turkey baloney on whole wheat with Hearts of Romaine lettuce; it’s break time and you didn’t bring your lunch bag.”

“I’m too upset for anything.”

“Try to eat the sandwich. How’s your son?”

“We’ve taken him home already, and my husband’s providing care; I must say; he’s good at it. But the insurance pays nothing! I was shocked. What good is our company insurance, anyway?”

“The plan wouldn’t pay for my husband’s broken leg. You’re right; it’s worthless to us, I think was created around providing heart care for the older bosses. If you quote me on that, I’ll just deny it.”

“I’ve tried to hurt you. I’ve tried to get you in trouble all the time. When I learned you didn’t go to Catholic school like me, I tried to get you labeled as some sort of heretic.”

Karen gave a genuine laugh, “That’s the one thing you’ve been right about.”

“So, why are you being nice?”

“I have a puppy to give away.”

“Huh?”

“I’m sure your son is depressed. I have an extra puppy; purple ribbon, but not top show quality. Can you feed a midsized dog?”

“If I eat less, yes, yes we can. I mean, the dog might have to share tuna casserole with the rest of the family.”

“He’d love it. Now, don’t get sweet; this heretic couldn’t stand it. I’ll make sure the puppy has his shots and his nails are trimmed. Tell your son what to expect; I think it’ll help his mood.”

“You know what?”

“What?” Karen turned at the cubicle opening.

“Nothing; I’m going back to being an asshole. The posse would be lost.”

“Play your strong suit; just leave my innocent plant alone, word got back to me.” Karen walked away, head held high, feeling warm and fuzzy.

 

 

 

This is a Chuck Wendig Flash Fiction entry using four of eight words. I chose bully, milkshake, heretic and flowerpot; not in that order.

http://terribleminds.com/ramble/2012/06/01/flash-fiction-challenge-eight-random-words/#comments

 

 

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Timeless Lilac

“You’re not painting the guest room purple?!”

“No, Mother, I’m painting it lilac.”

“You’re a forty-year-old man! People will think you’re gay! What will I tell the people in my church?”

“Don’t tell them anything. They’re never invited here; they’ll never see the room. Besides, I painted the girls’ bedroom shell pink.”

“Well, of course, the twins are female. Where did they come from, anyway? Not that I’m complaining, I love being a grandma and they’re awfully cute.”

“I paid a pretty young woman to get pregnant. I paid a lot, and yes, I’m the real father.”

“Kids nowadays; not that I’m complaining, mind you, I love those girls. Lilac, argh! Well, maybe a guest room that ugly will keep another guy from moving in with you. What if the laws change? What if the government takes those kids away because you’re a single parent? I’ve heard talk about that. Fewer white kids are being born, and those girls would be prime babies for a childless Caucasian couple.”

“I would fight to the death for them. Have more blueberry cobbler, Mother, I know you love it.”

“Ah, all right. I’ll have more coffee, too.”

Dakota looked across the table at his munching mother. He hadn’t seen much of her since he was twelve. That was when she dropped him at his grandmother’s house and chased her old lover across the Midwest. She never succeeded in snaring the man.

Unlucky in love, she fled to the largest city in her home state; there she found a simple job to pay the bills and flung her meager talent and disposable income into a mega church which became her social life. The other parishioners were homophobic and intolerant and suited her just fine. She only came back to her home town and saw her son and widowed mother on holidays, which she spent delivering sharp criticisms. They were always happy to see her leave.

Dakota’s eyes half-closed in a daydream; he was sitting in Grandma’s big porch swing, it was late May, school was almost out, and the lilacs were bursting with beauty and perfume; there were the old-fashioned ones, the dark purple French ones, and even some white ones which matched the white, weathered siding on the old house. He shared cherry licorice with a friend, and they kissed with red, sweet lips.

“What are you smiling about?”

“I was thinking about Grandma’s lilacs, her timeless lilacs.”

“Ah, they were sort of pretty, do they still bloom?”

“They did this year, yes. I think I’ll have the guest room done by Sunday. Maybe instead of taking the girls to the assisted living center, I’ll bring Grandma here to see the paint job. She’ll like that, if she’s having a good day.”

“That old liberal; the other Alzheimer’s patients don’t like her, you know.”

“Funny, I’m old enough to remember those pious old biddies going into bars. They weren’t virgins then, either.”

“Don’t be a jerk. They’re facing death. My mother could take a lesson from them.”

“Maybe she has nothing to regret?”

“If you love her so much, why not bring her back here?”

“The nanny is willing to change Pampers but not Depends.”

“Ha, ha, ha, ha, snort.”

“However, I’m going to bring the girls up to be as much like Grandma as possible.”

If he saw one of them kissing a lovely lass in the porch swing, he would do just as Grandma had done when she accidently saw Dakota with Ty. “Those Michaelmas daisies need water!”

 

 

This is a Chuck Wendig Flash Fiction challenge for paint colors. Yum!

http://terribleminds.com/ramble/feed/

 

 

 

 

 

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Miss Castorocauda

Millions of years later, humans would call her Miss Castorocauda, Cassy affectionately. She didn’t know that, and wouldn’t have cared. She lurked among the tall weeds on the edge of a warm, shallow, landlocked sea. She ate fish and invertebrates from the water, but her favorite meal was a stolen egg from the crude debris covered clutches of small dinosaurs, guarded, but mostly unmanaged in the heat and humidity.

The humans that came later arrogantly felt intelligence was a modern development, but smarts of some sort were nearly as old as life itself, and Cassy was ahead of her tribe; evolution had favored her. When she wasn’t nursing her pups, she hunted and observed her surroundings.

She learned to toss a pebble into the water, causing the parent dinosaur to scramble toward the sound, hoping to catch an easy fish. Then she snuck an egg, but they never learned. They might not even have noticed the clutch mound getting smaller.

But the eggs were hard to crack, and sucking out the contents was a difficult endeavor for an early mammal like Cassy; she was no egg sucking dog. Her children were hungry, so she still needed to fish. She laid in her favorite wallow among the weeds and thought. She looked at the hundreds of dinosaur mounds near the sea’s edge, then back at the bright water in case a fish jumped in her direction. She left to nurse her pups, still thinking.

One day, as she laid in her wallow, a hatching clutch of baby dinosaurs seized her attention. The top of the mound pushed up from the little, lifting, squeaking heads, and Cassy licked her lips thinking of how they would taste. She couldn’t go near them, because the mother was a carnivore, but she could certainly watch them from her hidey-hole in the weeds. The babies were cracking their own eggs and appearing as a group. An idea started to form.

Cassy pushed together wet plant material by the side of her burrow. Her four pups watched this unusual activity, stopping to maul each other occasionally. Cassy nipped them sternly, her way of telling them not to destroy what she was creating. Then she stole an entire clutch of eggs from a dizzy mother dinosaur that went nearly crazy from chasing so many invisible fish. The eggs were pushed under the moist plant material. Cassy continued to fish daily, but she and the growing pups also observed the steamy mound.

One day the eggs hatched, and Cassy and her pups watched joyfully. The mother dinosaur was quite a distance away, and wouldn’t have recognized her offspring anyway. When the last baby wiggled out of its shell, the Castorocauda family feasted. The new behavior was repeated several times, with the assistance of the pups.

Cassy’s many children became big and sleek, prime mating material, and they knew how to access a varied diet no other Castorocauda had stumbled upon; they and their descendants moved up in the world.

 

 

 

Miss Castorocauda is a little short, but I hope you like her. She’s the result of a Chuck Wendig command to write about dinosaurs, and a chance to win a book, yeah!

 

http://terribleminds.com/ramble/feed/

 

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Operation Huffy Jesus

He’d needed to get away from the greenhouse for a while; it was late July, and not much was happening there. The Easter Lilies had come and gone, Mother’s Day bouquets and potted plants were gone, Memorial Day had passed, prom corsages were scattered in shady nooks along with virginal blood, and all the townspeople grabbing bedding plants were done grabbing. When his slightly hysterical sister-in-law arrived to talk with his wife, he had seized the phone.

Stopping by a small farm to pick up one sister on the way to see another sister, he’d been pleased when a young niece came along. This was not a child who interrupted and complained of being bored; she seemed happy in her own head. Her lips often moved as she talked to herself. He identified, because he did the same thing. He made a mental note to have a conversation with the child, since his two sisters would be commiserating over something or another and neither one wanted to hear about the war. He saw them because they were relatives.

Melvin got the balance of cream, sugar and coffee just right. He smiled at his little plate with two cake donuts. In the far end of the kitchen, his sisters were whispering something not meant for the ears of men, shaking their heads and clucking. He looked across the table at his niece with her donut and Kool-Aid. “I was in the war.”

“I know. Mom and Dad mentioned it.” She looked into the depths of the cherry Kool-Aid like the French had looked into their wine.

“I married Myrtle when I got back.”

“I saw your wedding picture. Myrtle was very pretty.”

“But I wasn’t pretty,” he smiled.

His niece looked at him quickly, not wanting to offend, but since he was grinning, she continued. “You were very thin. You were very black under the eyes.” She’d never seen anyone look that bad unless they were dying, but didn’t mention it.

“Yes,” he continued to smile, happy for an opportunity to speak of his experiences; most people got upset and looked for an excuse to change the subject, but this girl was regarding him with interest and understanding.

“I was an American serviceman, and the Nazis had already captured me three times. When I escaped again, I knew they wouldn’t mess around, they’d kill me for sure.”

The girl nodded; it didn’t surprise her. To have escaped three times, he must be very smart, but she’d guessed that long ago. “Did anyone help you?”

“Not in my escapes; I always did those alone, less chance of someone slipping up. I was desperate to get back to America and Myrtle.”

“What part of Europe were you in?”

“France, I was always in France. The French people had very little because of the German occupation, but they helped me as best they could. They hid me in chicken coops, they gave me bread if they could spare it, and I foraged like a bear. I ate berries and roots, but I didn’t get any meat, that’s why I was so black under the eyes, I was anemic.”

The girl nodded again, there were many elderly people in the family sharing health woes; she’d heard of anemia. “Then what happened?”

“I had to hide constantly, but one day a German soldier found me. He was holding his gun on me when a French peasant came up from behind and hit him over the head with a shovel. I was told to “run” in French. The funny thing is; that peasant looked just like the paintings of Jesus, except for his clothes and his attitude.”

“Attitude?”

“Yeah, he was grumpy and huffy. I suppose he was having a bad day, and bludgeoning a German to save an American wasn’t high on his priorities. Still, he did it, and I finally made it back to the American line. That glass you have? My stomach had shrunk so much; I could only drink a glass of milk.”

The girl’s eyes sparkled, “Huffy Jesus,” she whispered.

“Operation Huffy Jesus,” he whispered back.

The room was suddenly frigid. Two pairs of round eyes stared at them. “Oh, Melvin, you weren’t blaspheming?!” One sister cried.

The niece stepped right in; she knew her mother. “No, Mom, a tough French peasant who looked like Jesus saved him. ‘Toughie Jesus,’ I said it first.”

“Oh, well, I suppose that’s OK then; just don’t tell blasphemies about Jesus. Maybe you shouldn’t talk about the war to that child; it makes her say things.”

Melvin sighed, both of his sisters worked hard, and both had lost children horribly, but to his war hardened sensibilities, they often seemed self-righteous and shallow. “I won’t blasphemy.”

“That was still Operation Huffy Jesus.” His niece lifted her Kool-Aid. He could read her grinning lips.

“That was Operation Huffy Jesus.” Melvin glanced sideways at his sisters, but they were again examining some grave prejudice committed by a man.

 

 

This is loosely based on a conversation with my uncle Melvin when I was about ten, and it’s also a Chuck Wendig Flash Fiction piece for Operation Huffy Jesus.

http://terribleminds.com/ramble/2012/04/27/flash-fiction-challenge-random-title-generation/#comments

 

 

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