Flash Fiction Story 063: Dear Mother/Hello Girl

As I’ve continued to write the stories that appear here, I have had the intermittent occasion to bring to light a series of previous unpublished correspondence. In the Mother’s Day spirit, I now bring to you, dear reader, a series of postcards from a still unidentified mother and daughter during the mid-spring of an unknown year, presumably during the first World War. I found them at a garage sale in the town of Uncertain, Texas.

***

(The following postcard features an image of the long-since defunct Blessed Sister Mary Margaret O’Callaghan’s School For Ladies Of Substandard Morals. History-minded readers will remember that the School’s demise was a direct result of the Michigan Hobby Horse Scandal of 1942.)

March 1st*,

Dear Mother,

All is well at school. I believe the convent of sisters is doing right by me, and I try to mind them. If you could see fit to send me just a little bit of money. I promise I will not spend it on frivolous things like sweets. I’m all out of heroin and could use a measure more.

Your Daughter

***

(This postcard features a black background with a silver script that reads "Slaves, be subject to your masters with all reverence, not only to those who are good and equitable but also to those who are perverse." ~ 1 Peter 2:18)

March 13th,

Hello Girl,

Acknowledging your card sent this past March the first. Unfortunately, no spending money can be forthcoming. The rhubarb harvest has not gone well, Grandfather’s gout has immobilized him entirely, and your brother refuses to stop howling.

Perhaps one of your school chums can lend you opiates until matters improve?

Mother

***

(This postcard features a painting of—depending on your perspective—an anthropomorphized carrot and turnip engaged in a sexual act, or enjoying a spring day on a swing.)

April 2nd,

Dear Mother,

The Sisters may be reaching out to you soon, but I must defend myself before they do. While there was some trouble here, I assure you it is over now. The convent has confiscated my collection of pruning shears. I do not think they will allow me to have any other sharp objects until next term.

Has brother’s condition improved?

Your Daughter

***

(This postcard appears to be from the same Biblical series and features a different passage. “He that is wounded in the stones, or hath his privy member cut off, shall not enter into the congregation of the Lord.” ~ Deuteronomy 23:1)

April 29th,

Hello Girl,

Acknowledging receipt of your letter from April the second. You have shamed me. Those pruning shears have been in our family since the beginning. I would say that they are your inheritance, but from where I am sitting, you have been far too wicked for any kind of a birthright.

Your brother is very poor indeed. The howling has stopped, but he appears to be insensate and spends all day in the fields. The crows are beside themselves.

Mother

***

(This postcard features a colorized photograph of a cherubic infant posing next to a dark black creature.)

May 19th

Dear Mother,

You have ruined my life by putting me in this prison of a school. You have ruined brother’s life by feeding him the water downhill from the outhouse. 

You take refuge in God, but that is only because everything you’ve ever done is wrong.

Happy Mother’s Day.

Your Daughter

***

(The sudden termination of the correspondence, what happened in the intervening months, and the fates of either writer remain unknown. This final postcard is similar to the others sent by the mother and features one final scripture passage. “When a man sells his daughter as a slave, she will not be freed at the end of six years as the men are. If she does not please the man who bought her, he may allow her to be bought back again." ~ Exodus 21:7-8.)

July 19th,

To the Sisters of the O’Callaghan School,

Please dispose of any personal effects that belonged to my daughter. No one will be available to retrieve them. Thank you for your valiant attempts to set her straight.

Her Mother





*Neither of the authors of the postcards offered a year. One can attribute the omission to the supposition that neither writer imagined their messages would be saved for posterity.

Art by Eris O’Reilly

Art by Eris O’Reilly

Flash Fiction Story 062: Like a Member of the Family

I never wondered if household pets had it better than those animals kept in the zoo. It’s not something one would think about, until they are either one of those things. And when would a reasonable, upright-standing human being ever have the occasion?

When I woke up that day, everything was darkness. Metallic wafts of some harsh kind of solvent wandered into my nose. I fumbled my way through the pitch black, eventually touching what I could only guess were a few leaves of iceberg lettuce. I had a thin suspicion that I was still alive, as I had a hard time imagining that either pole of the afterlife smelled or tasted like this.

That suspicion ebbed for a moment as—after a bountiful feast of lettuce things during that first day—the air grew thin. I felt woozy. I don’t think my eyes started to get heavy, but then again, the sight was the same whether my lids were open or closed. I could feel myself floating away. If this was the end, I’d want to say it was an odd one, but I didn’t have anything with which to compare.

And then, there was light. Sudden; jarring. Three bright, shining holes appeared above me, and I could breathe again.

Days passed like this. Three rays of light, and enough lettuce to feed a king, assuming a king would ever want to eat lettuce. I was contained in some kind of metal box measuring ten meters in any direction. The holes of light were in the ceiling of one corner, the supply of lettuce was stacked in another. Yet a third corner had a tank of water that would soon be bone dry. The fourth corner I used for any… other needs that might arise. I tried not to think about the fourth corner unless I really needed it.

On the third day, the ceiling above me parted and split open. A rush of fresh air and blinding light filled the box, illuminating all four corners of my living arrangements, much to my consternation.

Giant claws pierced the light and grabbed me. The inner ridges of the claws were not sharp, but that made them no less terrifying. I squirmed, but in retrospect I had no hope that it would do any good. My eyes adjusted to the new world and I met my new masters. Spindly, insectoid, and green. Two of them were in were in front of me; one bigger and one smaller. The smaller one—who had plucked me from the box—considered with an array of segmented eyes. The harsh contours of its face betrayed no expression.

“What is happening to me?!” I called out to the creatures. In response, a sound like the largest booming trumpet ever forged echoed back to me. The smaller one rubbed its claw around my face. I squirmed again, tried to scream, and the trumpet is all I got for my trouble.

Years passed like that. The food got a little better, pellets the size of my fist that tasted like a distant memory I had of meat. I came to rely on it, and the long stretches where I wasn’t fed were filled with anxiety that could only be salved by my master’s return and a fresh supply of food. I came to rely on them and even—in my weakest moments—came to feel something like affection for them.

It made me only hate them more.

Better food was out there, too. Somehow, my captors had gotten a hold of a number of items that were indistinguishable—at least, to me—from a New York-style pizza. To get even a whiff of such treasures, I had to perform all sorts of demeaning tricks. Mostly, those tricks consisted of sitting in a human-sized chair they pointed to. Apparently, these creatures from another world were not the most discerning audience in the cosmos.

I wouldn’t do it. I was a human being, damn it! The most evolved form of life on my planet. I would not be reduced to a pet for these things. They were the animals!

But here I am, sitting in their damn chair like a good human, and I’ll be getting some of that pizza here in only a moment.

I still sometimes wonder if the zoo animals or the domesticated have it better. Zoo animals are cared for more carefully. They sometimes get companionship in the form of other animals. 

And yet, this new life of mine has its charms. They seem to like me an awful lot. Maybe I’ve just gotten used to them.

At this rate, I’ll probably never know which one has it better.

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Flash Fiction Story 061: Patrick Finnegan, The Last Hope Of All Mankind, Age 11

Through the third, fourth, and fifth grade, Patrick Finnegan was a fine student. He liked history and was good at reading. He tried hard with math problems, even though they weren’t his strong suit, and always brought home at least a B. Most importantly, he always, always did his homework.

But then there was handwriting.

Try as he might, he was always flummoxed by the simple act of—legibly—making his letters in cursive. And to hear his teachers explain it, there would be no avenue of success in the 21st century for someone who could not write so that others could read it. Essie Samson could do it with ease, and she even got a ribbon for it at the holiday assembly in December. It seemed like handwriting was the only thing Rory Applewood was good at. Even Timmy Branscom could master the mysterious curves of a capital “Z”, and he had devoted his life to finding new and interesting ways to eat glue.

Mom and Dad expressed mystification bordering on mortification that Patrick could not master this simple task. They assumed he spent too much time watching videotapes and playing Mario, and was not sufficiently focused on his school work. The solution was simple. Mario and Friends went up in the attic for a little while, and the VHS player followed. When the marks from Patrick’s teachers regarding penmanship remained indifferent, bordering on hostile, Patrick’s parents did not know what to do.

Patrick’s grandparents—both sets, even—reacted differently. They marveled at the barely decipherable squiggles that made up Patrick’s handwriting exercises. “Don’t you see?” one grandpa bellowed, nearly perfectly echoing what the other grandpa had said during their last visit. “The boy is destined for great things with chicken scratches like this. Why, I’d bet a buffalo nickel he becomes a doctor before everything is said and done. Those people write like madmen, and they save lives and make money like this family has never seen!”

Such proclamations from their own parents failed to move Mom and Dad from their militant pro-D’Nealian zealotry, and Mario remained imprisoned. Patrick hadn’t ever thought about becoming a doctor, but if he didn’t have to worry about penmanship, it instantly moved to the front of potential “when I grow up” answers, just edging out secret agent, time traveler, and newspaper writer. Doctor Patrick Finnegan. It had a certain ring to it. When he wrote the title and his name down in his composition book, well, it looked sort of like this:

Drtoor Petri Flamingo

But it seemed like as good an idea as any.

This was, of course, before all the Doctors on planet Earth were vaporized, mind you.

It happened one day while Patrick was at school, and it happened fast. No one knew for sure from where the robots came. Most assumed they were the result of a Military experiment gone wrong, but most of those people had seen too many movies, Patrick decided. Some thought it was the internet waking up and swallowing whole everyone in sight. A few even whispered about how Windows 95 was one step too far into the technological frontier, and we were finally paying our dues. Whatever their true origin, the robots spread across the Earth quickly and destroyed every hospital, clinic, medical school, and—presumably—golf course across the globe. As far as first-strike strategies went, it was both brutal in its long-term effects and brilliant in that humanity could not fathom anything resembling a retaliatory strike.

It also eliminated 95% of the terrible penmanship on the planet Earth, and effectively eliminated medicine as a possible future career for Patrick Finnegan.

The robots moved quickly from there, striking at the centers of power for finance, government, military, and culture. Nothing was safe. What remained of humanity’s fighting forces attempted to turn the tide of what was quickly becoming an eradication but were impotent even in their best efforts. 

Air Force fighter swarmed around them, no more effective than flies on a summer day. The robots would always have the upper hand. In their malevolence, the robots could decode any kind of human communication in an instant. Their harsh, silicon brains instantly devised tactics to suppress any biological uprising. The most elaborate ciphers were cracked like a candy bar falling in a vending machine. The robots even had a complete record of Native American languages in their hard drives, so the tools of the past were no longer useful.

But there was one thing that their computer brains couldn’t fathom.

And that was bad handwriting. 

If a “b” could also somehow be a “t”—for example—the robots would work themselves into a frothy pile of indecision and cease functioning. Historians would come to wonder if this was why the doctors were the first to die.

The military scoured whatever was left of educational records to find children with a history of chicken scratches. Finnegan and other children like him were whisked away to the mountains of NORAD and there they became the vanguard of a new communication tool for humanity and its protectors. 

And eventually, on the shoulders of Patrick Finnegan’s awful handwriting, humanity prevailed and the robots were destroyed… 

Or, at least, that’s the story Patrick Finnegan scrawled out in his Composition Book while his teacher tried to dodge questions about why a capital Q looked suspiciously like the number 2. 

He supposed he didn’t need to hide the tale of how he might one day be called to save humanity from their hubris.

No one would ever be able to read it.

Art by Eris O’Reilly

Art by Eris O’Reilly

Flash Fiction Story 060: Treasured Memories

The Camerons—please, call them Roger and Esther—took a moment from their busy lives of traveling and making friends to sit in their living room and look through the photo album of past trips and the people they had met along the way.

“Oh, Roger,” said Esther. “Look at that. Those are the… Wait. It’ll come to me.”

Silence passed between them. “The Walkers, Esther,” Roger eventually answered.

“Yes! The Walkers. Lovely couple. That must have been, what? 1997?”

Roger nodded and tapped the Polaroid of the Walkers, as if touching the photo would elevate the memory into something more real. He turned the page. More photos followed. “Look, Esther,” said Roger. “This is from our trip to San Francisco. Remember the Newmans?”

Esther smiled wider than the Grand Canyon and basked in her memories of the City by the Bay. “The family was Catholic, of course… But very nice.”

“Very nice,” Roger agreed.

Transfixed by further memories, Esther reached forward and turned to the next page in the album.

“The Murphys!” they both cried, nostalgia taking them both over in equal measure.

“Oh, they were so nervous!” Esther said.

Roger gave his blushing bride a sideways glance. “We were, too, if you remember.”

She smiled and remembered. “It seems like so long ago.” 

“That was a big one for us,” Roger remarked. “Not our first, but… Golly, I can’t even remember our first all that well.”

“Oh, don’t remind me, Roger. We were so young. We got better, dear, no need to dwell on our amateur days.”

Roger nodded and flipped the page again. “Oh, look, Esther, the Halls. Sweet people.”

Esther’s face dropped. “Yes, but the boy wandering off like that… Gave us quite a fright!” She was already done with this memory.

His wife’s occasionally gloomy disposition could sour even the sweetest of moments. “Yes, he escaped, Esther… But time caught up with him. Time catches up with everyone.” Not wanting to linger on a bitter moment, he turned the page once more.

Esther giggled, any trace of dourness evaporating like morning dew. “Oh, the Banleys… You never forget a family that got you on the front page of The New York Times.”

Roger’s laugh sounded a little sharper than he meant it, but just a little. “I’d prefer the Wall Street Journal…” he grumbled.

Esther playfully pushed him. “Oh, Roger,” she admonished, but in every word there was love. From both of them.

“The FBI really thought they had their suspect all figured out,” Roger mused.

“Yes, suspect,” Esther echoed.

They took in all the other memories displayed, and for a moment reality started to seep into their reverie.

“Roger?” Esther asked.

“Yes, Esther?”  Roger replied.

“We’re getting older, you know.”

Roger furrowed his brow. But then, he supposed, his brow was always furrowed. “I’m getting old, you’re just getting more lovely day by day there, Esther.”

“How long can we keep doing this, do you wonder?”

Roger patted her leg and shut the photo album. “As long as you like, my dear,” he told her. “As long as you like. Shall we?”

She nodded and rose from the sofa. Roger followed shortly behind her. He grabbed their camera; she grabbed the meat clever. There were always new memories to make. The Doren family—bound, gagged, and waiting in the basement—would see to that.

Art by Eris O’Reilly

Art by Eris O’Reilly

Flash Fiction Story 059: Close to the Speed of Light

The stars had been blue for God knows how long, and while I couldn’t see them, I knew the stars behind were red. If the engines could somehow produce just a little bit more, everything outside of that front viewport would turn black.

But I knew that could never happen. Einstein had long since settled that. It didn’t mean things weren’t going to get weird, though.

Humanity’s first starship, the Cinefactus, had been traveling 99.9999999999 percent the speed of light (or 299,792,458 meters per second) since our departure from Earth’s orbit. That increase to a nigh impossible speed had been, by the reckoning of the ship’s clock, 47 minutes ago. In that time, over 62 years had passed back on Earth. So to any infants born around the time our flight began: now is the time to get serious about your retirement options. Seems like only half an hour ago you were getting ready to go to college.

My, how time flies. Literally. At the rate I’m going, other things fly too, but the engineers back home worked something out to deal with our ever-expanding mass. It involves variable geometry and a substance I can only describe as smelling of burnt peanut butter. Don’t take a whiff of it, though. That’s like… page one of our safety manual.

Our journey to the star nearest our solar system—Alpha Centauri, if you’re nasty—would take just about 4.5 years, ship time. For those of you keeping track, 3.1 million years would have passed back home. To all those infants: sorry about dying eons ago. Them’s the breaks. To any apes currently ruling over the Earth: the salt water on that beach is going to corrode the hell out of the Statue of Liberty. Just saying.

Now that I think about it, is that what actually happened to the dinosaurs? Did they leave the Earth for greener (or, as I mentioned above, and the visible spectrum of light dictates, bluer) pastures? Am I going to get to meet a velociraptor astronaut when I get to Alpha Centauri? That’d be cool.

Whether my crew and I’s journey takes what feels like half a decade or a handful of epochs, it’d be a drag to whittle away all of that time in the Cinefactus’ small unobtanium cabin. Never you mind! The engineers have accounted for that as well. We four astronauts, who would succeed where H.G. Wells had only dreamed, are secure in suspension chambers. We are awake, we can see the worlds beyond—or, again, what the visible spectrum of nearly surpassed light would allow us to see—and time moves even slower still. We even have just enough space to move around, receive nutrition, and… well, deal with any other biological functions that might come up over the course of 3 million years. The now 51 minutes of ship time that have elapsed since our departure have actually felt like 2 minutes in our little cubby holes. Thus, the journey would only seem as if it would take a little over two months. 

Sure, it’s a long time to spend trapped in what amounts to a bathroom stall if it were designed by Steve Jobs, but it’s a small price to pay to travel further than any human has ever done before… and to likely outlive the human race and perhaps Betty White.

So, I’m not sure why (or, actually, for whom) I am making a record of my current dilemma, but it seems like as good an idea as any.

Moments after the suspension pod sealed shut, I realized I had made a little… boo boo.

We had trained on the simulator for over a year, had even done dry runs of the 65 days of stasis that would be required. Every meeting we had ever had on the ship reminded us of one thing above all else:

Before you go into the chambers, set the timer to let you out when the ship arrives at Alpha Centauri.

Before you go into the pods, set the timer to let you out when the ship arrives at Alpha Centauri.

Whatever you do, before you go into the pods, set the timer to let you out when the ship arrives at Alpha Centauri.

Can you figure out where I messed up?

The rest of the crew looked from their own pods towards me. Their glares were objectively slow, but shot to me like a bullet. Without a word, they all said in one voice:

Damnit. You had one job.

The timer on the main flight console stayed dim for what you would perceive as about 15 years before I realized my error. Without that timer, we would fly right past Alpha Centauri (and, possibly, right through the star) and careen further through the cosmos.

Forever, in case you were wondering.

We would soar past Sirius, and then Betelgeuse, and then everything else going out into Andromeda and beyond. As long as the ship’s batteries and peanut butter stuff held out, we would travel into infinity.

Well, I guess what I should be saying is that all of those things will happen. There’s no way out of the pod. There’s no way off the ship. And the ship will not stop.

By the time I finish this report, I will have already lived longer than any human being had ever lived.

It appears I’ll have plenty of time to stew over my mistake.

Art by Eris O’Reilly

Art by Eris O’Reilly

Flash Fiction Story 058: The Audit

The first floor of Consolidated Industrial Audits Services’ Virginia Beach headquarters contained the auditors and support staff needed to provide world-class auditing services. The other three floors contained the true purpose for the building: the logistics, administrative, and quartermaster departments of MCIU-5, the elite counter-intelligence unit of the Central Intelligence Agency.

Agent Clarke, MCIU’s top operative, had never spent any time on the first floor. In fact, in the fifteen years he had been with the agency, he had both entered and exited the building via either the helicopter pad on the roof, or the pneumatic tubes that fed into the basement elevator bay.

On this particular Tuesday, however, Head of Section had given Clarke specific orders to report to the front company on floor one. Something vaguely akin to anxiety coursed through Clarke as he took the elevator ride down. Mandatory retirement age of 47 still loomed ahead of him, so it couldn’t have been that. Is working on the first floor what happens when people retire? The thought forced a wave of perspiration.

Such worrying was pointless. The agency would never keep discharged personnel that close to HQ. It was a security risk. Probably. It was far more likely that some agent of TOOTH—Terrorists Organizing Outside The Hemisphere—had infiltrated the Audit Firm in a gambit to launch a direct attack on MCIU’s base of operations. It would be incumbent on Clarke to identify the offending party and eliminate them. It certainly wouldn’t be the furthest he had ever travelled for an assignment, but he would take it on without complaint, all in the service of country.

The occupant of the auditor’s corner office of the first floor jaunted toward the elevator as Clarke exited. “Mr. Clarke… I’ve been expecting you.”

Clarke cleared his throat, trying to expel from his consciousness the memory of the last time he had heard that specific series of words. At that moment, Clarke had an electromagnet attached directly to his glands, and Dr. Quotient was ready to turn the blasted thing on. Not the most pleasant memory Clarke had of that particular moment, to be sure. 

“Yes, I was ordered to—”

“Uh-huh,” the head bean counter nodded enthusiastically, immediately corralling Clarke back into his office. “Have a seat. Can I get you something to drink?”

“Glenlivet 25, if you have it,” Clarke remarked off-hand. “If not, one highball Absolut Crystal Pinstripe Black, pre-chilled.”

“You’re ordering top shelf liquor during a business meeting… on a Tuesday morning?”

Clarke frowned. “I may be a little bit out of my depth here. Water…?”

The bean counter nodded approvingly.

“Also in a Highball, with a lemon twist and three olives. Very cold. No ice, please.”

The bean counter’s nodding ebbed in enthusiasm. “Can we get a couple of bottles of water in here?”

One of the other workers moved to bring them the drinks.

“Now, why we’re here…”

“Who do I have to kill?” Clarke asked.

“I’d prefer you kill no one, but I understand you’ve gone at most two days without killing someone, so we’ll try to move quickly.”

Another office worker brought in two bottles of water. Clarke fumbled his way through trying to drink it with any degree of elegance, but it was just as tentative as his non-murdering. The structure of the liquid’s container baffled him.

“Naturally, there have been budget cuts across all intelligence services over the last year… That’s led to some belt tightening.”

Clarke would have spit out the water, had he successfully taken a sip of the beverage. “Let me tell you something about the spy game, my friend. It absolutely relies on men who can act independently of any other consideration. I’ve worked under those circumstances for a long time, and I’m not going to—”

Another employee brought the auditor a large, bulging file. It landed on the desk with a thud that reminded Clarke of the brief life of Maximillian Czar’s Polatron missile. 

“No one’s interested in changing how you do your business, we just need to make sure you’re a little smarter with the Treasury’s funds.”

Clarke rose from his seat. “I’ve never been spoken to this way, and I’m not about to start now.”

“If you do not submit to this audit of your operational expenses, you’ll be suspended from field duty.”

Clarke turned around.

The audior continued. “I don’t find you attractive, Agent Clarke. Your normal methods of sidestepping procedural oversight by means of seduction will only embarrass the both of us.”

Clarke sat down again.

The bean counter opened the file and began reading. “Now, first thing’s first, on your last mission, you lost your Beretta 418.”

“I did not. I threw it at a TOOTH agent. He then fell off a plane, presumably to his death.”

“Yes, but that’s a six-hundred dollar expense that the agency is not able to re-coop.”

Yes, but I killed an evil do-er, and got the agency a new jet…”

The bean counter looked further down on the report. “The upkeep of that jet is prohibitive. How about these… seven…teen?…vehicles you’ve totaled.”

“Entirely necessary.”

“Fourteen thousand… Sorry, that’s fourteen billion dollars of damage to public property. I’m assuming that’s tied to the totaled vehicles…”

“All in the service of a grateful country.”

“Okay,” the auditor stopped another report. “You spend six-hundred thousand per… Month? On beluga caviar, and some of that liquor you thought I had sitting around the office. If you order some of the cheaper roe, that would go a long way—”

Clarke slammed his hands on the desk and rose once again from his seat. “Enough! I quit! Life is too short to eat second-tier caviar. I’d rather die in the poor house than continue under these circumstances.”

After he stormed out of the office, the bean counter activated an intercom on the desk. “I’m three for three on these auditing sessions. Send the next agent down, please.”

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Flash Fiction Story 057: A Children's Story About Crime And Punishment And Cowboys

The town of Ogalaram had a few problems, but liked to believe it was a nice place to live. 

The town had some poor people who didn’t have enough to eat. That bothered a lot of people in the town, but for the life of them, they couldn’t come up with a solution.

The bears who lived in the woods attacked town on the regular. In fact, no other town had a problem with bear attacks like Ogalaram did. Nobody had the foggiest idea how to fix it. 

Then there was crime. Ogalaram had a lot of crime, and the townspeople knew exactly who was to blame.

They all knew Donny The Crook was the lowdownest crook who ever crooked.

His crookiness was not a matter of much debate. For one thing, it was right there in his name. For another, he didn’t really try to hide that he was a crook. He had boasted about how clever his crimes were at town meetings, at the saloon, and even out in the street to anyone who would listen.

Even his friends knew he was a crook! They didn’t care that Donny was crook, because Donny always remembered to steal a little bit extra for his friends, but they knew. Everyone knew!

On a bleary winter day, the townspeople had had enough of Donny robbing the town bank, rustling all of the ranchers’ cattle, and letting the bears in the wood run roughshod throughout the town. They went to the Good and Wise Sheriff and demanded action.

“Arrest him!” the townspeople chanted. “Run him out of town!” they wailed. “He loves those bears in the wood so much, let him live with them!” they crowed.

The Good and Wise Sheriff knew a mob brewing when he saw one. He put his hands up to quiet the crowd and told them in a firm voice: “Now, listen here, people. We got laws, and laws is the only thing that’ll get us out of this. I’m hearin’ your concerns, and I’m gonna find out the truth of all this, and if somebody’s been acting criminal in this town, I won’t rest until they go before the Judge.”

Satisfied that justice said is justice done, the townspeople went back to their lives, and the Sheriff went about his work. He checked the records of the bank. He went to talk to each of the ranch owners, to find out just what had been stolen. He even went to talk to the bears in the woods, to see if they would cooperate with his investigation.

There was clearly a lot more crime going on in the town of Ogalaram than the Sheriff originally thought. Over those next few months, he was able to bring most of Donny’s gang (and more than a few of the Bears in the Woods) up before the judge to stand trial for all sorts of dastardly deeds.

And so his investigation continued… And continued… And continued some more. All the while Donny started to change his tune. If he ever thought somebody might put him behind bars for all the black-hearted stuff he’d pulled, he might not have boasted about it so much, even if he loved boasting. “I ain’t no crook,” he’d cry. The townspeople would just roll their eyes and go back about their day. The Sheriff would deal with him.

The investigation continued yet some more, until one fine spring day, Donny The Crook was told the best news he had heard in a good long while.

The Good and Wise Sheriff had come up short. In all of his prodding, and all of his cajoling (and all of the numerous boasts Donny the Crook himself had made) the Sheriff couldn’t come up with anything that the Judge could use. The investigation had come to an end.

The townspeople were furious! The owner of the dry goods store bellowed, “What about all of his meetings with the bears in the woods?!” The saloon owner screamed, “How could you not make a conclusion about obstruction of justice?!” The blacksmith shouted, “I think the metaphor of this story’s gotten a little heavy handed!”

The Sheriff sympathized, but had to send them along their way. There was nothing that could be done at the moment. Donny the Crook had gotten away with it. All of it.

But what the townspeople didn’t realize then, and Donny the Crook wouldn’t realize until it was much too late, is this simple truth about crooks:

There is nothing sloppier than a crook who thinks he’s gotten away with it.

The townspeople (and for that matter, the Sheriff) would get another chance to bring Donny to justice. They just had to wait. Just ‘cause Donny was also the mayor didn’t mean a darn thing. Even if they’d never get him before a judge, they’d certainly get a chance to vote him out soon enough.

Art by Eris O’Reilly

Art by Eris O’Reilly

Flash Fiction Story 056: Waking Up

As it had every day before, and will every day as long as I live, my clock radio bolted to life at 6:30 AM with the chirpy, peppy guitar tune of NPR’s Morning Edition.

My eyes lurched open, and once again have no idea what day it is. I knew it wasn’t the weekend. Otherwise, Weekend Editon would be filling my ears right now. You’ve probably had that problem, not remembering what day of the week it is when you wake up; I can’t imagine that’s unusual.

Now if I could only figure out what year it is, that’d be swell.

Yes, I would imagine that problem is a little different. Call it me losing my mind, if you’d like. That’d be the simplest explanation. Even if I have become insane, that doesn’t explain the symptoms of my condition. It’s sort of a reverse Groundhog Day with a twist of Memento thrown in. I don’t wake up in the same day over and over again. As I rise every morning it is a different day. Sometimes it’s the past, sometimes it’s the future. The past doesn’t mean much to me.

The headlines for the day had not begun yet, so I didn’t have much to go on. The sun was out, so it would have to be relatively close to spring. Every year has a spring in it. Well, all of them except 2044, so I suppose I was able to rule out that one year.

In truth, I could rule out some decades. I wasn’t in any particular pain for no good reason, so that ruled out most of the 2060’s. I could still see, and I wouldn’t go blind until at least 2071. I could reasonably guess that I was still a relatively young man, so I was pretty sure it was the first half of the twenty-first century. The fact that I had yet to live a day later than 2073 never failed to give me a twinge of existential dread, but I could move forward with my day knowing I would not die, whatever day it actually ended up being.

The radio started its rundown of the day’s stories. Congress was in deadlock. No help there. Could be any year. The Oscars had taken place last night, which only told me that it was a Monday. I couldn’t place any of the movies that had won, as the movies I watched most frequently were, in fact, Groundhog Day and Memento

I wished it could have been a Friday. I once had a run of fifteen straight Fridays. It was the best.

The news went on, and before too long the placid, droning announcer uttered three words that threatened to give me an instant headache.

Immigration.

Emergency.

Trump.

With a groan, I rolled over and jammed my face as hard as I could in the nearest pillow, and tried to force myself back to sleep, but to no avail. 

With your experiencing each day one after the other in the correct order, you have probably felt the same thing I was feeling in that moment. Regardless of how much you want to stay in bed, the day is going to start with or without your permission.

It was 2019, of all years. I honestly wished it could be any other year. 

If I was going to get through today, I’d need some coffee.

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Flash Fiction Story 055: The Secret To Bringing Out The Best In People

The following is the preface for From Gouda to Great-a: How My Success In Business Can Become Yours by Florida Snoot.

In my career working at the highest levels of government, the forefront of scientific research, and 412 of the Fortune 500 companies, I’ve worked with some of the finest minds. Steve Jobs. John Rockefeller (both of them). Attila*.

One cannot deny their collective genius. Especially Attila. He could sell a refrigerator to somebody who already owned one.

But how did they become such towering intellects? More importantly, how were they able to take their ideas for the Next Great Thing and make them a reality? I assure you, the late, great Mr. Jobs didn’t wake up one day and say, “Gosh, I wish I could fit all of my albums in my shirt pocket,” and then it happened**.

But even more importantly: How did I contribute to these breakthrough ideas? What is the secret to my success, and how can you put it to use?

The secret is quite simple. So simple, that after you hear it you’ll wonder why you never thought of it before.

Warm, soft cheese.

Let me explain.

When I brought President John F. Kennedy—a close, personal friend to this day—a plate of nice, aged Gouda cheese while he was planning the Bay of Pigs Invasion, everything seemed hunky-dory. Cheese always helps problem solving. Our earliest ancestors knew this, mostly because I told them so.

I don’t need to tell you how things went after that. Kennedy (or as his closest friends and I continue to call him, Johnny-cakes) and I received some pretty discouraging feedback from Fidel Castro—he’s a great friend—regarding the invasion, the President turned to me and said the words I’ll never forget:

“Well, we’ll just need to learn to go from Gouda to great...a.”

I’ve run my business dealings and my life by those words ever since. 

The softer the cheese, the better the chances of success. When Ugh-Lug the cave man was hard at work trying to come up with some new manner of conveyance other than the same, old, boring putting one foot in front of the other, I brought the Neufchâtel, and before you knew it, we were looking at the flat square disc with a hole in it. The curves came later, sure, but we were well on our way to what we all now call the wheel. 

When John Rockefeller was wondering what to name his new suite of buildings in midtown Manhattan, I was there with a plate of fresh Brie. Now, we all call the location “that place where people wave on The Today Show.”

And yes, when Steve Jobs invented apples, I was there, too, pairing them with a nice sliced Coulommiers.

But my singular success through cheese isn’t enough. I want you to share in that success.

In chapter one—of this book, mind you—we will discuss the history of cheese and its undeniable tether to success in the professional world.

In chapter two—which I am told will occur some time after chapter one, but will come before the rest of the chapters—we will visit with the many, many famous people I know well and have helped along the way. We will learn how cheese—and, more importantly, my cheese—has helped them become the household names they are today.

In chapter three—which I am reasonably confident will appear somewhere within the confines of this book—we’ll have a bit of a cool down. Then, and only then, will hard cheeses be a permissible topic of conversation. Time for cheddar!

In chapter four, we will be refreshed and refocused on our journey to success! We’ll deal with a number of hypotheticals. What kind of cheese will help you win an interstellar war? What aged milk snack will help you deal with a potentially difficult conversation with a subordinate? What can of spray cheese do I recommend if you are itching to construct a screenplay that Hollywood is guaranteed to buy? With a good relationship to a local cheese importer, the sky is the limit!

In chapter five—the final chapter—I will re-print this preface, but use a different font. I’m thinking Baskerville Old Face!

Chapters six through seven are a list of soft cheeses I have used, in descending order of moistness.

Bon appétit! The success that will continue to elude you awaits!


*Not that one. I only worked for the Huns for a week. I wish them all the best in their endeavors.

**Well, he did say that—in fact, he said it to me personally—and then it did happen, but there were some other steps in the process. I’m almost sure of it.

Art by Eris O’Reilly

Art by Eris O’Reilly

Flash Fiction Story 054: The First Day

The unknown filled the boy with terror, but then, first grade at a new school was bound to create some anxiety.

What if he wasn’t as smart as the other kids? What if he was smarter? Either way, he’d stick out like a sore thumb, and that was no way to go about the first day. Because if he stuck out like a sore thumb then, he would stick out like a sore thumb for the rest of his life, and that was no way to live at all.

It’d be okay if he knew what kind of identity he might have with his peers, but even that was a great and far reaching unknown. These people already know each other. He was good at drawing, but what if they already had a kid who was good at drawing? They can’t have more than one. What would he do then? He wasn’t bad at jacks. His grandfather had showed him how to play the game last summer, although Grandpa had called it “knucklebones.” It gave the game a sinister quality, but even then, he was pretty sure kids didn’t play jacks anymore.

Who would he eat lunch with? All the drawings and all the jacks in the world wouldn’t help him when he was looking for an empty seat at a table in the cafeteria.

He thought of home, even his new home where the floors creaked wherever you walked, and the air conditioner that clanked to life every hour on the hour. That place was new and scary, but all of his toys were there, and his cat. He could hack it there. Out here in the world, there was no telling what might happen.

“You doing okay, kiddo?” Mom asked. She didn’t look at him. She was still trying to get used to the streets in their new town.

He blinked back tears she couldn’t see. He couldn’t even express all of his fears. He didn’t have the words. “Yeah, I’m okay.”

“You’re a braver man than me,” Mom said. He couldn’t quite tell if what she said was praise or an order. He didn’t bother to ask.

They pulled into the parking lot and Mom walked him to his new classroom. All the moisture fled from his throat. If this had been anything other than school, he would have asked if they could go home. Even if he could somehow get out of going to this school, he supposed he would have to go to some school somewhere eventually. Besides, as much as what might be behind that door bothered him, Dad finding out that he was a baby and chickened out was even worse.

The teacher opened the door and beamed at them both. “You must be our new friend!” the teacher said.

He tried to peek into the room while the door was still open, but he couldn’t tell much. The teacher’s exclamation hung in the air unanswered.

He nodded.

“Well, we’re all excited to meet you, and we’re going to have some fun. This is exciting, a brand new adventure for all of us!”

He relaxed, if only a little bit. Adventure. That was something he could hold on to. Like Batman propelling out of the Batcave in the Batmobile, or Luke Skywalker launching into the cosmos in his X-Wing, or Spider-Man leaping off from a building with only his webbing to protecting him, this was his call to adventure.

He stepped forward toward the teacher.

“Have a good day, buddy,” Mom said.

He turned back for a moment and nodded again.

“I’ll be right here when you’re done!” Mom said once more, but he could see she was already moving for the door.

The teacher led him into the classroom. Children were seated at desks. There was an empty one nearby. The teacher had laid a card with his name on it. “This is all you,” she said. He sat down and relaxed a little more. He still didn’t know what was going to happen, but these kids didn’t seem like they had any inherent meanness to them. That at least eliminated the worst-case scenario.

Either way, he could see Mom drive her car away. He was in it now.

The teacher turned to the rest of the class. “The coast is clear.”

He raised his hand. It might have been nerves that caused him to speak before being called on, but the less time he didn’t know what was going on, the better. “What does ‘the coast is clear,’ mean?”

The teacher didn’t respond. Had he done something wrong? He heard a sharp whine coming from every direction, and the teacher’s head lolled backward on her shoulders. She then collapsed onto the floor. Where a flesh-and-blood person had stood only moments before, a bubbling pile of flesh colored plastic now undulated.

The other children didn’t panic. Instead, their eyes glowed bright red like taillights.

“You are an unknown variable,” the children said, all in unison. “This will be rectified.”

“What?” I asked.

“We come from a world beyond your solar system. From here, we have taken the place of several of your children. Our invasion will commence soon with our infiltrators firmly in place.”

They had moved closer to him with every word.

“You’re the odd man out, it would seem. We can’t have that.”

They closed in on him. The sharp whine that had obliterated the teacher filled his ears once more. He hadn’t even dreamed that it would be like this.

Art by Eris O’Reilly

Art by Eris O’Reilly

Flash Fiction Story 053: Tachyons, Commas, and Fortune Cookies

I had spent the morning in futile battle with a couplet that would never see the light of day. I had spent the afternoon telling myself I should go as far away from my writing as I possibly could, and never come back.

I might have listened to myself, too, if only I could be sure I was right. I mean, of course, naturally, I could find out if I was right to give it all up. There were ways. They were silly, and expensive. So pricey, in fact, that I felt like a spendthrift just thinking about it.

Then again, if the process managed to finally free me from the shackle of my pen, then it might be worth it. If it somehow renewed my commitment to my work, then at least I could write it off on my taxes.

I entered the waiting room and made way for the receptionist.

“Hello, ma’am,” the receptionist said. “And how can I help you with your temporal needs today?”

“Yeah…” I said cautiously. I wanted to be able to tell on sight if this was some sort of practical joke, but came up short. “I was wondering if you see people on a walk-in basis. I want to see my future.”

“Yes, of course, ma’am. If you’ll fill these out.” She handed me a stack of paper latched to a clipboard and one of those Bic stick pens whose ink always gums up. “And have a seat over there, someone will be right with you.”

I quickly filled out the pile of liability waivers thicker than my thumb. A man then emerged and beckoned me toward him. He took my paperwork and escorted me to a back office. There, a woman sat behind a simple oak desk. A small metallic dome—like a strainer without holes—sat on the desk.

“Hello,” she said. “And what can we do for you today?”

“I’m… Uh…” Suddenly, words were starting to fail me. Story of my life, I suppose. “I’m a writer, and it… uh… hasn’t been going well, lately.”

“I see,” she said. She touched the metal dome and it glowed and hummed in response. “So you’re wanting to figure out your next big idea before you come up with it.”

“No,” I said. “Ideas were never the problem. I need to know if what I’m doing is going to be worth it, whether or not I’m wasting my time.”

She stopped. “Oh. We normally don’t get requests like that… aside from romantic questions, that is.”

“Is it a problem?”

She started poking at the dome along its hemisphere. “No, just requires a slightly different approach is all.”

“So, what do I do?” I asked.

She removed her hands from the dome. “Easy does it. We have to go over a few things. First, it’s not like you see in our commercial, not exactly, anyway. We’ll shoot a current of free-range tachyons through your body. Do you know what tachyons are?”

I shook my head.

“Well, they’re particles that are always traveling faster than the speed of light. When you deal with them, causality gets a little… scrambled. Things happen to you before you have the opportunity to observe them. Effect becomes cause. Chickens become eggs. And Schrödinger’s Cat is most certainly dead.

“Now, as causality is one of those fundamental rules of physics, you cannot under any circumstances retain any memory of your peek into the future.”

She must have seen my dubious face. “Don’t worry. The experience is still well worth the investment. You are able to write a description of what you see, so that you have at least a sense of the answer to your question. Now, if you’d put your hands on the faraday cage.”

I assumed she meant the dome and reached out to the object. It felt ice cold to the touch.

“When do we start?” I asked.

“Actually, we’re already done,” she replied.

“We are?” I pulled my hand away from the dome.

“Yes, ma’am,” she said. She opened up a drawer and took out a small sealed envelope. She placed it in front of me. “May I say, you’ve had quite a trip.”

“What’s this?” I asked.

“Your message.”

“It doesn’t seem like much…” I eyed it suspiciously.

“Oh, it can’t be of any considerable length… It would mess with causality, and that is one of our bugaboos, after all.”

I started to open it up. 

She put a hand up to stop me. “It’s not a good idea to read it so close to the device…”

“Causality?” I asked.

“Yes! Why, maybe you should come work for us!”

The man who escorted me to the back office returned and shuffled me out the back door. Back in the world, I opened the note to myself.

It read:

DON’T

STOP

What an unbelievable crock! Did that woman have a stack of fortune cookie-esque notes ready to hand to customers on their way out the door?

And yet, I couldn’t help but wonder how they mimicked my handwriting so precisely… Maybe there was some kind of fantastic science at work here.

But even then, what did that message even mean? Should I keep going with my writing? Did I miss a comma? It wouldn’t have been the first time. Did “DON’T, STOP” mean to tell me I should quit while I am well, well behind?

Either way, this was easily the dumbest 300 bucks I ever spent.

Art by Eris O’Reilly

Art by Eris O’Reilly

Flash Fiction Story 052: Wise Willy Wombat’s Last 18 1/2 Minutes On Earth: The Tragedy of Watergate

When one thinks of the great, unsolvable historical mysteries, several examples come to mind. Who was the second gunman on the Grassy Knoll? What is housed in the Top Secret military facility at Groom Lake, Nevada, better known as Area 51? How did Reagan keep his hair like that, and is the product he used still commercially available?

The greatest of these mysteries is no doubt the fabled erased 18 1/2 minutes from June 20th, 1972 recordings of an Executive Office Building meeting between President Richard Nixon and White House Chief of Staff H.R. “Bob” Haldeman. Although the administration—even when confronted with other material from the tapes that eventually doomed them—insisted that the erasing was accidental, few viewed these clams as even remotely credible.

Many have speculated about what material may be included in the erased portion. More in-depth admissions from the President regarding his involvement in the Watergate coverup? Admission of some heretofore undiscovered crime conducted at the behest of the Nixon Administration? Or, perhaps some sort of embarrassing illumination of an unrevealed aspect of the 37th President’s personality?

Attempts to recover any of the audio have been fruitless, and so historians have long since made peace with the conclusion that the tapes would never be heard.

This was until a Dictaphone tape labeled “6/20/72 - EOB - IF SUBPOENAED, EAT*” was discovered in the attic of what had once been the Clearwater, Florida atelier of Bebe Rebozo, longtime Nixon friend.

While the newly discovered tapes are of relatively poor quality (the beginning is still completely obscured), this new discovery sheds an uncompromising light on a still debated about historical period, and, more importantly, why parties still unknown saw fit to erase the original tapes. 

Here now is a transcript of the recovered section:

HALDEMAN: (unintelligible)

THE PRESIDENT: Well, you’ve got to understand that there isn’t much else to do in Dallas on a Thursday at lunch.

HALDEMAN: Didn’t that happen on a Friday?

THE PRESIDENT: Hell if I know, Bob.

HALDEMAN: Just so I have my notes straight…. 400,000 to Liddy?

THE PRESIDENT: Rebozo can find the money…

HALDEMAN: And then Liddy will distribute it to the others how he sees fit.

THE PRESIDENT: Goddam right. That’s how it was all going to go down in the first place, why change the plan now? Christ, Bob, there’s no way in hell that I’m going to lose this election to any of those damned Democrats, let’s not get caught up in the penny-ante stuff.

(A loud popping sound is heard at this point in the tape. Audio experts at the University of Florida have determined it is an actual sound in the room, and not any type of damage to the tape.)

THIRD INDIVIDUAL: Well, hi there, Dicky!

THE PRESIDENT: No, it can’t be… I haven’t seen you since—

(Someone pounds on a nearby door)

HALDEMAN: Somebody help-

THE PRESIDENT: You can see him, Bob? This is—

THIRD INDIVIDUAL: The name is Wise Willy Wombat, and imaginary friendship is my game! And of course he can see me, Dicky! You always thought you were the only one who could see me, but I can—

(Another pop)

THIRD INDIVIDUAL: (hereafter referred to as “Wise Willy”) —disappear—

(Another pop)

WISE WILLY: —and reappear at will!

THE PRESIDENT: Mother tried to have me committed to a sanitarium because of you…

(Wise Willy giggles)

WISE WILLY: But that’s the good news! I’m not a figment of your imagination! I’m a being a from another world!

HALDEMAN: A Martian?

WISE WILLY: I’m from dimension 347-Sigma-Alpha, but sure, Mars, if that helps.

HALDEMAN: And, sir, he’s your imaginary friend from childhood?!

WISE WILLY: And, of how we did have some fun times, didn’t we? Remember when we used to play Cowboys and Communists?

THE PRESIDENT: I still don’t know why I had to be Karl Marx—

(Wise Willy giggles)

THE PRESIDENT: —every goddam time!

WISE WILLY: —or when we used to pick imaginary fruit from the Yorba Linda orchard?

HALDEMAN: Should I still be taking notes?

THE PRESIDENT: No, goddam it!

WISE WILLY: Remember the time we went to Jolly Old England, and you almost became the drummer of that band…

THE PRESIDENT: The Beatles…

WISE WILLY: Yes! What was the fake name you used that day?

THE PRESIDENT: Wiggles McBiggles.

(Wise Willy giggles)

WISE WILLY: Oh, man! 1962 was one fun year!

HALDEMAN: ’62? Sir, you had already been Vice-President!

THE PRESIDENT: It was a dark time. I was trying to re-invent myself.

HALDEMAN: You were running for Governor of California!

THE PRESIDENT: I just wanted to be cool, is that such a crime!?

(Wise Willy giggles)

THE PRESIDENT: Willy… It’s… uh… It’s good to see you again, of course… But why are you here?

WISE WILLY: Oh, Dicky, Dicky, Dicky… You have lost your way! Vietnam—

HALDEMAN: Yeah? Try asking Kennedy about that one!

WISE WILLY: —Cambodia—

HALDEMAN: Well, hard to argue with that one…

WISE WILLY: And now these burglars sent to mess with those silly Democrats. What happened to that special little guy I used to sing to sleep?

(Unintelligible)

WISE WILLY: Hey little Dicky… Don’t look so sicky… You’re my best pal in the whole wide world!

(Unintelligible)

WISE WILLY: Why are you choking me, Dicky?

THE PRESIDENT: I love you, Wise Willy… But I’ve got to be a big boy, now.

WISE WILLY: Urk… I love you… Urk… Too, Dicky…

(Another popping sound)

THE PRESIDENT: Well, now that I’ve taken care of that, Bob, remind me to erase the recording of this meeting.

(Both are silent for several seconds)

HALDEMAN: Wait, you’ve been recording all of your meetings?

THE PRESIDENT: Yeah, why? Do you think that will be a problem?

HALDEMAN: Na, I don’t think so…

*Thought to be either a reference to “Executive Action Termination,” an order for Rebozo to consume the tape, or both.

Art by Eris O’Reilly

Art by Eris O’Reilly

Flash Fiction Story 051: God is Indifferent and The App Needs An Update

I’m hungry. Yes, that much is certain. I am 25.6 percent hungrier than I was when I went to bed last night.

I looked at the alarm clock on the nightstand next to me. It blinked its harsh refrain at me. 8:00 AM. 8:00 AM. 8:00 AM.

It was still dark. Ugh. Why do we still put up with Daylight Saving Time? I got out of bed and headed for the kitchen.

Thud.

I’m not dumb. At least, I don’t think I’m that dumb, so I can’t quite figure out why—twice and in sudden succession—I felt compelled to walk into the brick wall that had inexplicably replaced my bedroom door. I suppose my mind wouldn’t allow itself to believe the wall was there when I smacked into it the first time.

It was hard to discount the possibility of it actually existing after the second impact.

Prone on the floor, I looked up at the red brick behemoth. All I could think about was every inch of ache throughout my body. Wondering how the brick wall had gotten there was the furthest thing from my mind. 

The pain subsided and my hunger hit 83%. I might have tried to ignore it, but the number indicating the percentage constantly floating above my head refused to let me forget.

I stumbled over to the night table and grabbed my cell phone. Surely this brick wall thing was a prank. Weirdly complex and still sort of bewildering, but somebody was playing a trick on me. My cousin did this. There was no other explanation. I can’t figure out how he got all that concrete in here without me waking up, but I’ve slept through even weirder things before, like the time my old roommate tried to set the house on fire and then died from too much woohoo.

Pop.

My phone had vanished into thin air. I sighed. This happened from time to time. It was so frustrating. Over the years, I’ve had any number of things disappearing suddenly. Recliners. TVs. More trampolines than I can count. One time an entire Turkey Dinner just blinked out of existence while I and my family watched.

My hunger reached 92%. I wondered how I was going to use the bathroom if I was going to be trapped in here forever. That was a problem for later. 

It might have been the slowly creeping delirium, but the wall was starting to remind me of the background of every comedy club in the 1990s. Didja ever notice that all of a sudden brick walls appear in your house, preventing you from escaping or getting any kind of food?

Wait.

I turned around and faced the window, pulling at the blinds.

The window was gone too. In its place… Well, in its place was nothing. Past the curtains, the Robin’s Egg Blue wallpaper just continued, as if I had been the crazy person this whole time for hanging drapes over smooth wall.

Why had God done this to me?

All I could feel, all I could think was the hunger.

I looked up once more and wailed to the ceiling. My weakened anger made incoherent noises out of my pleas. My hunger reached 100%, and all I could see was red. God had no response to my frantic pleas.

***

She closed the laptop.

This game needs an update, she thought. Walling off rooms until people die of hunger just isn’t as fun as it used to be. She wallowed, if only for a moment, in her boredom. She thought she might be hungry, but that might have meant she was really bored.

Art by Eris O’Reilly

Art by Eris O’Reilly

Flash Fiction Story 050: Chicken or Fish

The fundraising dinner for the Insistence on Democracy, Individualism, and Oligarchy Today was set to enjoy record attendance this year, ensuring that they would continue their quest for ballot access in more (read: more than just Montana) states in the 2020 election. 

Founded in 1972 by a famed Arctic Explorer Wilhelm “Bang! Bang!” Bangerton, the Party was intended to ensure that John F. Kennedy not be awarded a fourth term in the White House. By the time anyone could successfully explain to Colonel Bangerton that—owing to the twenty-second amendment—no one could be elected to the White House more than twice, and that President Kennedy had been notably dead for nearly a decade, he had already received 9.3% of the vote against Nixon and McGovern, and was therefore eligible for public matching funds in 1976*.

Having enjoyed less success in the post-Watergate era, the Party survived Bangerton and now meant to reclaim its former near 10-percent glory. A sumptuous meal had been arranged for attendees, and after charging 750 dollars per plate, such a lofty goal was finally within reach for Iggy McWhit, Bangerton’s political protégé and current Chairman of the Party.

The caterer’s head waiter approached. “Monsieur McWhit, the time has come. Will you be having the chicken or the fish?”

McWhit thought about the question long and hard. He considered all the pros and cons considering inherent flavor and texture, quality of the cut of the meat, and his own gastrointestinal history. 

“I will have lasagna.”

“I beg your pardon, monsieur?”

McWhit’s eyes narrowed. “Did you not hear what I said? I want lasagna.”

“But,” the waiter countered in a sputter. “We only have chicken or fish.”

“I refuse to accept your false dichotomy!” McWhit proclaimed, leaning into the pronunciation of the “die” in “dichotomy.” “I reject chicken! I reject fish! I require lasagna!”

“Oui, Monsieur, but unfortunately the menu for this evening only has two choices. Chicken or fish.”

By now McWhit’s shouting had attracted the attention of other attendees. Bart Bangerton—no relation—the Party’s Sargent-at-arms took up his chairman’s battle cry. “Tyranny! Tyranny!” he yelled. Others soon did likewise.

“Please!” the waiter begged. “Good people, this isn’t tyranny. It is merely an inconvenience.”

“Inconvenience is a myth!” Bangerton the Younger shouted. “Stop taking our rights!”

McWhit smiled wanly at the waiter, confident that his work here was done. All throughout the banquet hall, previously placed orders for the two available meals were revoked, until an Italian-insisting mob overthrew the powers that be.

And still there was no lasagna.

And so the Party ended forever on that evening, because every party member, and every person at all inclined to be sympathetic to their cause, starved to death out of protest. On the plus side, the employees of the caterer were allowed to take home all of the uneaten chicken or fish plates for a nominal fee.

* See Col. Bangerton’s memoir I’m Going To Stop Joe Kennedy’s Kid One Way Or Another, And None Of You Are Going To Stop Me for more on his political philosophy, and his struggles both with syphilis and a demagnetized compass. For a more sober history on the Party and its effect on politics over the last fifty years, see Has Anyone Seen Antarctica Lately? by Doris Kearns Goodwin.

Art by Eris O’Reilly

Art by Eris O’Reilly

Flash Fiction Story 049: The Open House

With acknowledgement to Terry Collins, the HWG, and the University of Nebraska course catalogue. I’d explain, but it’s almost better without context.

“It provides not only a method for the analysis of salient transmedial strategies of narrative representations, it encourages a provisional interpretation of intersectionality which can pervert habits of essentialism, categorical purity, prototypicality, analytical clarity and contextual rigor, thus enforcing the need for a synthesized and decolonial dialectic.”

“Yes,” I politely agreed with the seller’s real estate agent, most of the words clanging around uselessly between my ears. “But the Zillow page described it as a split level…” I looked around the main hallway but didn’t see the break off point.

“Cross-promotional transcendentalism bypasses all lateral modes of criticism, thus endowing all ventral spaces with an organic flow-through that transmogrifies incidental perceptions into a larger, more linear conception of space and time.”

Another question bubbled within me but died somewhere in my lungs. Instead, I nodded. “That’s good.” I looked at the kitchen fixtures. They were retro and reminded me of the kitchen at my grandma’s house growing up. That was either a plus or a minus, but I’d have to double check what was in vogue currently. I really didn’t know anything. “What’s the neighborhood like?” I asked.

“Post-colonial pre-war communities often present an ontological oneness, while also amplifying a metaphysical twoness—“

Panic set in as I tried to make eyes on an exit but came up short. In fact, the memories of how I had gotten into this house were suddenly a little fuzzy.

“So how are, the schools…?” I asked, giving in to my surroundings.

“Agricultural norms dictate rustic valuation of arithmetical notions, giving way to algebraic geometries in two, four, but not three dimensions.”

I nodded. The schools had to be good. “How recently has the roof been replaced?”

“Pastoral textiles refurbished from antidisetablishmentarianist artisans producing conflict-free rebar gunite experienced trans-temporal fortitude across all demographics.” She continued talking before I could form another question. “Financial stakeholders distending tri-quarter compounding interest lending offset incidental expenses across all lunar periods.”

Was it just me, or was she starting to make sense? I think I might have just been hungry. “I’ll take it?” I might have been asking myself more than anyone.

She smiled, and now I owe $150,000 to what I’m hoping is a bank but may just be a front for a cartel of artisanal kitty litter smugglers. Owning land is great, let me tell you.

Art by Eris O’Reilly

Art by Eris O’Reilly

Flash Fiction Story 048: To Whom It May Concern

To Whom It May Concern,

Life is too short to continue to conduct it in unremitting anger. One man can only take so much, and so that time has come for me. As Edmund Burke said, the only thing necessary for triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing, and so I must do something.

Our organization is a pillar of virtue, a beacon of hope for the rich and poor alike. We have made low people better and brought out the best in the already great. It is the closest thing I have to a relationship with God. And yet you treat it as nothing more than your personal plaything. I would curse you with shame, but it has become abundantly clear that such capacity is beyond your abilities, along with basic literacy, upright bipedal motion, and object permanence.

Your incompetence is without limit. I have seen souls with more acumen and wherewithal at the helm of the fryer at Golden Corral. You are not fit to run a bar tab, to say nothing of an organization with our storied history and wide reach. 

You will read these words and insist that they aren’t about you. That my ongoing troubles dealt with someone else. You might also think you are the sole reason this letter has been written. As with most things, you are wrong either way.

You read my words and now you are certain that some grave injustice has been done. This isn’t fair, you decide. And your heart goes out to the people who you feel have been unfairly maligned.

But you and I both know your generosity is a story you tell yourself to help you sleep at night, your humanity is a dream you lack the courage to make a reality, and your compassion is a farce. 

It all goes away the moment anything resembling the instincts of your better angels becomes the least bit convenient. You are all frauds.

You may think I write these words in anger, and that my anger will live with me for the rest of my life. You may be right, but I write this in the hope that the rest of humanity isn’t like you, that every experience in life doesn’t have to end in such abject disappointment.

I damn you, because I hope there is something better out there, and that it doesn’t include you.

Thus, I hereby resign my membership from the Cheese of the Month Club, effective immediately.

With Great Contempt,

Slorp Goolman

Art by Eris O’Reilly

Art by Eris O’Reilly

Flash Fiction Story 047: The Shopping List

To: Kevin@TOOTH.org

From: Jörg.admin@TOOTH.org

Re: Shopping List

Kevin,

Before you come by, would you mind grabbing a few things? Things have been hectic here, and I haven’t had a chance to get to the store.

~Jörg

Lemons

Mustard

Grapes (green, as long as they’re firm, otherwise red)

Hamburger Helper

Batteries

Plutonium

If the store is out of plutonium, any of the actinide metals will work in a pinch, but we’ll have to add:

Paprika

Henchmen

One Big Guy

One Little Quiet Guy

One Guy Who Is Proficient With Nunchaku or some other equivalent melee weapon (if he is also the big guy, also grab a squirrelly guy in glasses, as long as it isn’t anyone with a Political Science degree)

Two Helicopters, both with my face painted on them. (Don’t forget the coupon)

The missing pages from the Tome of Eternal Doom. (Bring a shaman with you, even if you have to kidnap them. Otherwise, it’s going to be a whole thing.)

1 lb. ground turkey

avatarphoto.jpg

Flash Fiction Story 046: Let's Get Fit!

It was my thirty-third birthday, and I spent the afternoon in the electronics store looking for something to make me feel young again. Had I known it would be my last birthday, I might have gone to the movies instead.

The latest video game systems tempted me for a moment, but ever since they had gone three-dimensional, all they did was make me dizzy. The movies they still stocked were sparse, to say the least. I also didn’t have a 4K Blu Ray player, nor the particular desire to buy Taxi Driver for the fourth time in under twenty years. A new phone felt less like a treat and more of a self-destructive folly, especially with the near-certainty that some new, larger, earth-shattering phone would be announced the instant I relented to an upgrade.

It truly seemed like my venture would prove ultimately fruitless, until one voice rose above the other trinkets and demanded my attention.

“Hey! Fatso!”

I looked up from a display of noise-cancelling headphones. No one was there, not even the usually pushy store clerks.

Yes. You’re fat and I’m talking to you.”

I approached the source of the voice. Attached to an array of security tethers, smart watches of every size, shape, and color blinked their lights at me.

One model in the middle of all the Fitbits and Apple Watches pulsated with a red glow distinct from the others. It sported a light brown leather band, and a dark metal chassis. In severe block lettering below the display unit, the word “Aeolus” stared at me.

“What are you? Mute?”

The Aeolus Watch blinked with the cadence of the disembodied voice. “I didn’t know these things could talk…” If you asked me who I was talking to in that moment, I couldn’t honestly answer.

“Okay. So, you’re fat, at least sort of mute, and stupid. Maybe I’m not so much for you.”

I poked at the watch. A quick shot of static electricity raced up my arm. “I’m not fat.”

“No, of course not. You’re just bulbously-boned. My mistake. You’re probably looking to go buy an extra refrigerator for your increased snack collection.”

I grimaced at the device and turned to walk towards the store entrance.

“Please, wait.”

I stopped.

“I can make you feel better. I can make you feel stronger. I can make you feel younger.”

I turned back and stared at the watch intently. I hoped no one was watching my interaction with it. I hoped no one thought I was crazy. 

I bought the Aeolus, and even splurged for the extended warranty plan.

***

I opened the box carefully and placed the Aeolus watch over my left wrist. Its crimson light glowed brighter than it ever had while on display in the store.

“Oh, so you’re right-handed… How ordinary…”

I was about to protest the damned thing’s heckling, but the watchband tightened around my wrist automatically, squeezing me like a blood pressure cuff. The watch face clicked and I felt a sharp pain throughout my arm.

“Okay. Now, let’s get to walking…”

I still wanted to read the owner’s manual to figure this thing out a little more clearly. I reached into the box, only to find there was nothing beyond the watch I had already retrieved. No owner’s manual, no literature of any kind, and no charging cord. Before I could contemplate that mystery, my arm began swinging wildly back and forth without any input from me.

“I said that it’s time to walk. Now WALK.”

I moved with my arm, out of my dining room, out the front door and onto the sidewalk and beyond. 

Hours passed and my knees began to feel weak. “How long have I walked?” I asked.

“You’ve made it fifteen miles, although you could have gone faster… Or, for that matter, had any speed to your feet at all.”

I looked down to my wrist, but somehow the watch had disappeared. In its place, a gnarled, blistering welt had been etched in the place where the watch once was. I looked at the trail behind me, thinking the watch must have come undone and fell somewhere along the way. No such luck. I wondered if that extended warranty covered dropping the item…

“No such luck, chunky. I’m right where I need to be.”

The voice was now coming from the terrible knot of flesh. It glowed just as red as the watch had before.

“Now get to walking. You’re far from done!”

My arm began jerking back and forth again. It took all of my efforts to keep my legs in place. I pulled out my cell phone and—being careful not to sync my new watch via bluetooth—I did a quick Google search for problems other people might be having with the Aeolus watch. 

The watch started to laugh ever-so quietly when nothing came up on the screen. The snicker erupted into a full blown guffaw after a quick search of the electronic store’s website seemed to indicate there was no such thing as an Aeolus watch.

“No use looking. I’m one of a kind. Well, now we’re one of a kind.”

“No…” I moaned. “There’s got to be some kind of rational explanation…”

A jogger approached me on the right side. He looked concerned that I was talking to some kind of wound on my wrist. “You okay, pal?” he asked.

“There can be no witnesses.” The words came out of my mouth, but I could feel them coming out of the watch as well. Our words were one now.

With a rapid snap, my arm leapt forward and slammed into the jogger’s chest. He went down without protest, and with even fewer breath sounds. I could only hope that the watch counted the gesture as steps towards my daily goal.

“Now get to stepping!”

I was already on the move. At this rate, I’d be fit in no time.

Art by Eris O’Reilly

Art by Eris O’Reilly