10/14/10: Way to shame me into updating again by commenting, people who comment! (Seriously, though, hi, welcome, and pull up one of the splintery old orange crates that we use for seating 'round these parts seein' as we can't afford no fancy chairs.)

The rules from
here still apply.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Collection


Cora watched the boy hobble into the classroom, feeling an unpleasant suspicion twisting around in her gut. Third time this year that Robbie had broken a bone; and while some children were just unlucky, Cora didn't think it was just bad luck dogging this child. Not unless you counted the luck of the draw when it came to parents.

Robbie's mother had run off with a trucker when the boy was three years old; Robbie's father was rumored to be a prodigious and violent drunkard, although he was apparently smart enough to do most of his drinking out of town. Robbie himself was a small child, with the kind of face that always looked bruised around the eyes. Cora sometimes wondered whether he ever got any sleep at all. A bit of prying had revealed that he and his father lived out by the woods in an old Airstream trailer, but nothing beyond that. She didn't like to get too nosey about her students.

The problem, she found herself thinking as the clock edged towards 7:30, was that Robbie's case was so... unusual. He acted enough like any second-grader, and seemed only a little shy. Loud voices or noises did not cause him any apparent fear. He committed the usual number of classroom transgressions, and responded to discipline just as well as the other children. But there was that look he got, sometimes, when no one was paying him much attention, as though he were sadder than any little boy had a right to be...

And there was the fact that he kept breaking bones, of course. And the oddly-shaped bruise she had once found on his arm, that he had refused to talk about. That was the one time he had seemed... fearful. As though the bruise was part of some guilty secret. Cora wondered now, for the millionth time, whether she should say something to someone, or whether she was just being paranoid.

The morning bell rang, and Cora forced herself to smile as she rose from her desk. "Good morning, class," she said, and "Good morning, Miss Sedgwick," they all chorused back at her. Except Robbie, who was looking down at his fresh white cast as if afraid to meet her eyes. By the end of the week, she knew, it would be covered with the names of classmates; more well-wishing signatures for a collection already bigger than any child that age should have.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Polling


Martha fancied she could feel a sweatdrop roll down her forehead. "Oh, well. They were both... so good," she managed to reply. "I really couldn't say which I liked better." That much was true, anyway. Edna couldn't cook to save her life, and she couldn't throw together pre-cooked ingredients together to save her life, either. That three-bean salad had tasted like death on toast... in part because Martha was pretty sure Edna had actually added lumps of toast to it. Something had been oddly soggy in there, anyway.

"Hmm. Really? No preference?"

"Not a bit," Martha answered with as much cheer as she could muster. Then, to try to allay Edna's suspicions: "In fact, I was thinking of asking you for both of the recipes. You know how my husband is looking for that big promotion? -- well, it also so happens that Susie Mitchell is married to one of his managers, and they're both coming over for dinner Thursday night. I was thinking of making them both dishes!" A harmless enough lie; it would turn out that Mr. Mitchell was allergic to both tuna and... whatever might have been in the bean salad... and thus she would be excused from bringing either food-related abomination into being.

"Why, how lovely!" Edna exclaimed. She sounded pleasantly surprised. "In that case, no need for the recipe -- I'll bring them over to you myself! You'll have enough on your hands with trying to impress Ronnie's manager!"

Oh no. "That's really not necessary at a -- "

"No, no, dear, I insist. You needn't trouble yourself about it at all. And I'm sure my casserole will make a real impression with that Mr. Mitchell!"

Martha rubbed her forehead. "That's what I'm afraid of," she mumbled into her hand.

"Hmm?"

"Nothing, dear." Martha eyed the wall of the room she was in, and wondered vaguely just how hard it would be to torch the place and give herself an excellent reason for not serving Edna's food.



Huh. The dread specter of continuity? Really? How terrifying.

At least, I'm pretty sure the Edna here is the same Edna as this one.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Property


She signed it just a little larger this time, the words "PROPERTY OF" just a little bit more prominent, in the hopes that maybe this time Harriet would actually return the damn thing.

Somewhere on the other side of the phone, Harriet herself laughed. "Oh, dear, you are too good to me," she said, and Edna privately agreed. "I did so enjoy the book I borrowed from you last year... such a delicious little turn of story, it was."

"Yes, well. It's always been one of my favorite books. Every year or so I pick it up and read it again." Hint, hint, Harriet. Maybe fourteen months and counting is too long to hold on to a book you've "borrowed"...

Harriet laughed again. "Oh, Edna, you are too much."

"Quite," Edna managed to reply, instead of groaning. Dealing with Harriet and her irritating way of speaking and her infuriating way of never returning borrowed things was enough to drive a saint to murder; but since they were both on their church's Events Planning Committee, a certain degree of amicability was required.

Of course, if Edna had been thinking, she never would have volunteered any information about her reading habits in the first place. And if she had to say anything, she could just claim to have taken up Stephen King. Harriet didn't approve of all the curse words in conjunction with all the sex; that was why she preferred clean-talking trashy romance novels. The twit.

"...yesterday," Edna suddenly realized Harriet was saying, "and so I really can't see my way clear to it, you know? -- as much as I would like to. You see my problem, dear, don't you?"

"Uh, yes," Edna replied; and then, since this call had gone on long enough to count as amicable, "Look, Harriet, I should -- "

Harriet fairly crowed. "I'm so glad you'll help, Edna dear," she burbled, and Edna found herself sinkingly wondering just what she had agreed to. "Oh, it is rather a lot of work, but so rewarding, and I am so terribly glad that you can take over for me. They'll expect you there at four AM -- sharp, dear, but you understand, I'm sure!"

"Uh," Edna offered.

"It's been so lovely talking with you, Edna dear! I'll see you in church this Sunday; and you can tell me all about how the good work went!"

"Er."

"Good-bye, dear!" Click.

Edna muttered something foul.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

On Diesel


Phoenix rolling up behind him now, rearview eventually giving way to rock-strewn emptiness, and he was on his way. North to Flagstaff, east to Albuquerque, a quick run through Amarillo. Nick had christened his truck the Yellow Kid a few years back, once it became apparent that the Phoenix-to-Oklahoma-City drive had sort of unofficially become his. Nobody got it.

Nick flicked through the radio spectrum for a while, trying to find something that wasn't either brimstone or steel guitars, but finally gave it up as a lost cause. Instead he hummed to himself, some song he'd heard recently about a cat in the rain, or something, he wasn't sure; it was in Spanish, which he had known as a kid but managed to mostly forget somewhere along the way. Probably the song had nothing to do with cats, or rain.

Once or twice he glanced at the photo taped to the dashboard; it was an old one, and the kids were still frozen at four and six and running laughing through Teresa's backyard. There were newer photos at the house in Wichita, he knew, but he preferred the ones that still had Charlie in them. Teresa's daughter Julieanne was in high school now. Every Christmas Teresa sent him family pictures, which he kept in a shoebox. On his dashboard Charlie and Julieanne laughed and ran, and neither cousin betrayed any knowledge of the fall that would neatly remove Charlie from future scenes. Nick was pretty sure you could see the offending tree in the background of that photo. He'd never asked which one it had been, though. Hadn't even been there in the first place. He'd been on the road.

He worked the gears, babying The Yellow Kid up a hill, and then eased it down the other side. In a couple of hours he'd stop at the same diner he always stopped at outside Phoenix. Clara or Berenice or Steph would be there, one of the waitresses who'd served him coffee a hundred times before, and she'd ask him as she poured how his family was, and he'd lie and say fine. As far as Clara and Berenice and Steph were concerned, his wife was still around and his son was still alive. They all lived in a pretty little ranch house in Phoenix. Rhonda wasn't tired of him being gone all the time. Charlie's six-year-old neck hadn't snapped against the hateful ground. Nick enjoyed the fantasy.

Tonight he would sleep in the cab of his truck, and tomorrow night, and probably the night after that, before catching a Greyhound up to Wichita. He'd sleep on his sister's couch, say hi to his niece, and then go back to The Yellow Kid and get back on the road. He didn't have a home; or if he did, then the Kid was it. The pretty little ranch house in Phoenix had been sold years ago, once he no longer had a wife or child to share it with him. Now all he really had was the road.

It was enough, Nick told himself firmly.



Yeah, I don't know. It was going to be a quiet little reflection about a guy with a quiet little life, rolling from job to job, occasionally seeing his sister but otherwise being very much alone. Then I started channeling Richard Bachman at his weakest. Next I guess I die of cancer of the pseudonym?

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Coffee Mugs


George set the coffee maker going, then looked up as the doorbell rang. "Little early, ain'tcha?" he muttered under his breath; then, "Come in!", he yelled. He listened to the door open and close, and nodded to Jason as the latter man ambled into the kitchen. "Coffee's not ready yet."

"'m early," Jason agreed. He rubbed his hands together. "Cold out there. Glad I don't hafta walk down to the bus stop an' wait around in this weather."

George nodded curtly. "How's the truck coming along?"

"Might have it fixed this week."

"Good. Good." Sooner the better. Jason was a decent neighbor and coworker, but that didn't mean George wanted to keep giving him a lift out to the plant every day. Especially since the bastard never chipped in for gas.

Jason interrupted his thoughts. "You get a raise this year?"

George frowned. "Ain't your business, I suppose, but no. Didn't get one."

"I gotta friend in HR, says this year's round of reviews finished yesterday. Says nobody got raises, and a lotta guys got laid off besides."

"So?"

Jason shrugged. "It's a hard life, is all I'm sayin'. Blue-collar grunts like us, there ain't much left for us no more."

"Ain't you a cheery guy." George reached up to grab a couple of mugs from the cabinet. "You must be the life of every party."

"No, really," Jason replied, as George handed him a mug. "information tech-naw-lo-gee, that's where it is these days." He sipped at the coffee. "Here I am just hopin' to make it to retirement."

George glared at his own mug. LONNIE'S CB MART, it read. Jason's mug read ANTON'S HOUSE OF PORK. "You get to be my age, you'll be more or less used to losin' your job. Eventually you find another one." Not that it was the kind of thing he wanted to be thinking about, but since Jason never knew when the hell to shut up... George sighed, kept talking. "My brother came to me, ten, fifteen years ago now, asked me for help. Said he was starting up a new company. He just needed a couple thousand bucks and an extra pair of hands. Was goin' into computers, just like you're goin' on about now.

Jason gaped in a manner that George found supremely annoying. "An' didja help him?"

"Course not. I thought he was crazy. Flint County didn't need no internet -- we needed manufacturin', we needed the GM plant and men like you and me to work it." He rubbed his forehead. "Last I heard he was worth three million. Guess one of us was crazy, at that."

"Wow," Jason replied helpfully.

George glared at his mug again. "Fuggin' LONNIE'S CB MART," he muttered.

"Huh?"

"Nothing."

Thursday, October 02, 2008

I Thought You Would Never


Here's how it was supposed to happen:

After college, I packed up and moved. Fled. Flew to you, literally and figuratively. When I got off the plane and past security and saw you standing there waiting for me, the only thing I could think about was how, this time, I wouldn't be leaving again in a week. I was here to stay this time. I was home.

I got a job, maybe at the hospital near where you lived, maybe not. You'd gotten your degree about the same time I had -- maybe a little before, maybe a little after, the details aren't important. We got married. Six, seven years waiting for life to begin, and now it finally had.

We had an apartment and a cat -- or two, or three, though I would've balked at four. Life wasn't perfect, and it wasn't always easy or even pleasant, but we managed to muddle through somehow. Sometimes in the evenings we would watch Star Trek together and I would pity all the rock stars and kings and millionaires of the world because they weren't here, arms wrapped around you, feeling your heartbeat, your breath.

We never had kids, of course. Neither of us ever wanted them in the first place; and our lives were full enough without them. We never needed them. We had each other.

Eventually we left the apartment for a house somewhere, a small one, enough room for you and me and the cats. Maybe even a place on the street you showed me once -- remember? -- sweet little homes on garden lots with tall, leafy shade trees lined up by the curb. Walking distance to the international market, all the Pocky we could carry. You used to pass that street on the bus and dream. Wherever we wound up, though, it was home.

We grew older together, and it turned out to be as simple and good as we had always imagined, back when we were stuck thousands of miles away from each other. Life went on, and we went with it, and it was the same as it had ever been since it started that day we married. Mostly happy. Mostly good.

Eventually we both retired, still together, still you and me and maybe a cat. You were my world. I was happy to be yours as long as you wanted. We had forty years, fifty? -- not much more, probably, I was already edging towards 30 by the time I graduated -- but we had decades, and we never fell apart like my parents did, never drifted away like your parents did. It was like a fairy-tale romance, if there was ever a fairy tale with more frogs than princes.

But eventually, of course, one of us died. Maybe both. Maybe there was a gas leak, both of us going peacefully in our sleep. Our bodies found together with your head still on my shoulder. Better that than the alternative. If it came down to that, though, I'd be willing to be the survivor. Waking up each morning, knowing that this is yet another day in a long, long string of them without you: it hurts more than anything else I've ever experienced; and I've had an organ slowly fail, undiagnosed, over the course of years. I wouldn't want you to have to go through this, and so I'd be willing to be the survivor, again. At least I'd be at the end of my life, instead of still staring decades more of it down. Nobody bats an eye when one eighty-year-old dies and the other follows a week later.

That's how it was supposed to happen, plus or minus a few details: you, me, a good half-century of happy married life together.

Apparently it would've made us Pluggers, but who cares about that?


Way to go, Pluggers. I know that you're better than me because you don't bother with ridiculous citified things like computers, cable TV, paved roads, or basic sanitation; but do you have to rub it in by reminding me that you get to have your Twu Wuvs not die young, too? I mean, really. Apparently I missed the one where Brookins illustrated "Pluggers are big mean jerks".

All of this fic is true, or at least as true as an alternate history of the future can be. I have school notebooks going back to about 2001 where the back pages, unneeded for class, are filled with daydreams of a similar nature... though of course there was more hope involved when it was still, y'know, actually possible. Mine is a sad and kind of pathetic story. I'm just glad I got my gothy-poetry phase out in high school, so I haven't had to sink quite that far again.

"Mostly happy. Mostly good." is a bit I have lifted from Neil Gaiman's "The Wedding Present," from
Smoke and Mirrors. It's in the introduction, not in the table of contents. It's very good, although I can't really read it anymore. Maybe because it's too good. Way to go, Gaiman.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

But Not in the Same Box


Oh, that's too fancy. Put it back and get something a little simpler, would you? Maybe some nice vanilla. Or even chocolate chip, I suppose, if you want to go a little wild.

It's not that I don't like chocolate, mind. Or even strawberry now and then. And certainly you'll never see me turn down a little dish of vanilla after dinnertime. Only, I'm a simple woman. You know that. I've always believed that it's not good to make things too complicated.

French vanilla? Oh, no, no. It's so exotic!

And please understand, I'm not trying to seem ungrateful. Heavens no! All grandmothers love to spend time with their grandchildren, especially with a sweet young granddaughter who's willing to help run errands. Your brother would never help me shop for groceries -- so busy with his work! Is it true he's moved his practice to New York City? My! I could never live there. No, I'm happy here, same place I've lived all my life. Blueberry may not be a big city, but you know I've always been one for the simple life!

Oh, dear, I know I could just eat the vanilla bits of the neapolitan if I wanted, and leave the rest for guests, but that just seems so wasteful. And even if I decided to indulge a little and try one of the other flavors... well. It's like with the French vanilla. "Neapolitan"? You know what they say about continental cuisine! No, dear, I'm an old woman now, too old for such fancy things.

Thank you, dear. Now, we've got the vanilla ice cream, the potatoes, the oatmeal... was there anything else on the list?


It's really, really hard to decide whether I should change New York to Liberty.

Why do I keep setting fics in San Andreas?

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Meta: Past Expiration


Funny thing... I was going to write the Plugfic for this one, and then I realized that Arthur Machen beat me to it over a hundred years ago.

Pluggers are stuck in 1895.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Out In The Rough


It took a while to hunt him down, although finding the bodies helped. After all, a half-dozen corpses in the woods by the golf course meant that all those missing persons cases really were related. And it gave the cops somewhere to stake out and wait for the perp to show. If there was one thing the Ashland cops loved, it was a stakeout.

The bodies weren't too mutilated, and the families of the most recent victim were even able to do an open-casket funeral, after the mortician put in a few hours of reconstructive work. So the guy was crazy, but it could've been worse. Most of his kills were even adults. Sergeant Douglas had a cousin on the force in Colorado, and he'd had to clean up a quarry full of dead kids last spring. Their murderer was still at large.

This guy, though, there didn't seem to be too much pattern to his victims. They came from all over town, and some from out of town; they were all ages, both sexes, and of no particular note but for the fact that they were all rotting a couple hundred yards from the green. No one had even realized, except the last couple he'd apparently gotten lazy and hadn't buried properly. People'd thought the stench was from a dead deer.

The selection of bodies confused the hell out of the cops at first, until someone figured out that they'd all had dealings with Ed Cobbs at one time or another. The guy who'd briefly dated Ed's daughter despite the old man's vehement disapproval, who'd seemingly run off one spring day; the drifter who'd panhandled outside Ed's hardware store for maybe a week before apparently moving on; even Petey Marsh was here, who'd delivered Ed's newspaper until one went through a window. When he disappeared six months later, his parents thought he'd run off.

It didn't take long to get a warrant.

When they got to the Cobbs residence, Ed and his wife were out in the front yard. She was raking leaves, obviously not paying him much attention as he recounted his golf-related exploits.

"...by the fourth hole," Ed was saying excitedly, "weeds up to my thighs, mosquitoes the size of small schnauzers swarming around my face..."

"Uh huh," his wife replied, frowning at the drifts of leaves still covering the lawn, and obviously mostly ignoring him.

Ed bared his teeth in a manic grin, eyes wide in his sweating face. "It's so much easier to drag them to my special place in the woods now, since the hole was redesigned and I don't have to go around the water trap anymore." He giggled.

"That's nice, dear. Maybe you should get a rake before you finish telling me about your golf game..."

They both looked up as the cops crunched across the leaves towards them. "Ed Cobb?" one of them said. "You're under arrest for the murder of Sarah Linwood, Albert Frohm, James O'Sullivan, Petey Marsh..."

Ed twitched a little as each name was read, then flung his arms wide and laughed. "Hole in one!" he yelled gleefully; and that was about as much sense as they were able to get out of him, so they put him in handcuffs and led him away.


What, two serial-killer fics in a row? Yeesh. It smells like the dread specter of continuity around here.

But
you tell me what I was supposed to make of those eyes.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Left At The Railroad Tracks


The man drove hunched over the wheel, knuckles bulging yellowly beneath the skin of his hands. He cast the occasional quick glance at the truck's passenger seat, but mainly he kept his eyes forward. He had the headlights off, and the last streetlight had been about twenty miles back.

"Just a little farther," he muttered yet again. "Almost there. Almost there."

The boy stirred fitfully on the seat beside the man. It'd been a trick to get him into the vehicle with his wrists and ankles all bound up together like that, but once that was done, he hadn't moved much. A couple of blows to the head with a chunk of wood had helped. Now the boy barely moved but for the occasional twitch, or a flutter of lids over unfocused brown eyes. It'd been those eyes that had caught the man's attention in the first place.

"I guess you didn't want to play anymore," the man muttered, as he turned from the country road onto an even smaller one. "And that's fine. That's fine. But if playtime's over, then everyone has to take their toys and go home." The man glanced over at the boy again. "Time to put my toys away."

Woods grew up thick to either side of the road as they traveled on. At last the man slowed to a stop. He flicked his headlights on briefly, and the set of railroad tracks crossing the road reflected dimly back.

"Left," he said to himself, turning the truck in that direction. "Left. Left at the railroad tracks."

There was a faint path through the woods by the tracks, where a set of wheelruts could be seen if you knew enough to look; he followed them now, the truck bouncing along the uneven ground. A tree branch snapped against the passenger window, and the boy moaned thickly. His eyes opened fully for the first time since the trip had started.

"Hey," he said now, his voice fearful, but not panicked yet. "Hey, mister. Please. I just want to go home."

The man glanced over at the boy. Those were really wonderful brown eyes; dark, deep, promising all sorts of secrets. The man had learned lots of secrets from the boy during all those lovely days down in the basement. The boy had called for help, of course -- they all tried that, all the boys he had played with since discovering this game -- but to no avail. The man lived far from any neighbors, alone but for the playmates he would sometimes smuggle home in his truck.

"Please, mister," the boy tried again. "I won't tell anyone. Just... just let me go." He swallowed. "Right here is fine, even."

The man didn't answer, and the boy seemed to give up, falling silent again. When they reached the abandoned quarry, though, he tried one more time. "I just want to go home," he said to the man, and now he began to cry. "Why won't you let me go home?"

He struggled when the man tried to get him out of the truck, of course, but a couple swings of the tire iron and the boy went limp. The man dragged him to the quarry and sent him tumbling over the edge. The boy's body hit the still water with a loud splash. It was too dark for the man to see, but he imagined the boy sinking, falling to rest alongside all the other boys that the man had played with over the years.

"All done," he murmured, returning to the truck. "All cleaned up from playtime." He swung the truck around until it was pointing back toward the trail through the woods, and smiled as he started driving back toward the road. "Maybe I'll find some new toys to play with tomorrow."


Okay, so let me explain.

The comic shows a dog-man and a dog-dog. There is an obvious imbalance of power and of -- for lack of a better word -- humanity between the two of them. Why is this? Why does the dog-man get to drive the dog-dog around wherever he wants? Why should the dog-dog be subservient to the dog-man?

If you translated them into a human-man and a human-boy, what kind of relationship might you wind up with?

Serial killer and hapless victim, that's what.

See? It makes perfect sense!

Saturday, September 06, 2008

The Original Cost


"An' it's a genuine Rolex, too," Joe finished happily, holding his wrist up to eye level again. "Says so right on the dial." He shook it and smiled. "Just watch that baby go. Tick-tick-tick-tick. Like clockwork."

"Funny," Steve replied colorlessly. The others continued to work on their sandwiches.

Joe's grin got a little bigger. "Aw, don't worry, buddy. I ain't too good fer bowlin' night with the guys now that I'm runnin' around with the big boys."

Marv raised one eyebrow above his egg salad. "With the big boys, huh? Funny, I hadn't heard that bein' named Employee Of The Month carried such priv'leges with it."

"Well, they don't give you that $200 bonus check for not bein' an asset to the cump'ny," preened Joe. "Which is why I went for the watch -- show I'm up to th' job, y'know? Watch like this mebbe even says a man is management quality." He shook it by his ear, and smiled at the rattle. "Cost just 'bout my whole bonus, but it was worth it."

Roger spoke up for the first time. "You got a Rolex for two hundred bucks?"

Joe beamed. "Do I gotta eye for a bargain, or what? I figger that's why th' brass is takin' an interest in me, too. They can see just how good I am at makin' decisions."

"It's fake," Marv replied.

Heads nodded all around the table, and Joe turned a delicate shade of green.

"Faker'n a three-dollar bill," Steve added, "and never mind that the guy at 7-11 swore it was legal tender when he gave you your change that one time, Joe; you're an idiot, and that's all there is to it."

Joe held the watch up to his face again, as though expecting it to have changed since the last time he'd looked. "Look, this guy told me it was for-sure real..."

"Oh, for Chrissakes," groaned Marv. "'This guy'? You buy your watches from 'some guy'? What, did you meet him in an alley? Did he insist on unmarked bills? What?"

"He did say cash only," Joe mumbled.

"Jesus wept."

"Now, hold on, fellas," Joe exclaimed suddenly, glaring around at them. "I see what this is. You're just jealous, right? Because I'm movin' up, an' you're all stuck... stuck... stuck not bein' employee of the month." His jaw set. "So you hafta tear down alla my accomplishments insteada makin' your own. Yeah, I get it."

"No, it's a fake, all right," Roger replied calmly. "Real Rolexes tick so fast you can't see 'em do it. And they don't rattle." Then he smirked and pointed at Joe's wrist. "And they don't say 'Rolox'."

Joe's wrist snapped back up, and he peered at it again for the umpteenth time in the last half-hour. "It doesn't say that... it, uh... shit."

Roger slapped him on the back. "Yeah, you sure showed us, big spender," he grinned, adding a wink to twist the knife that little bit extra. None of them'd ever much liked Joe.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Biofuel


Looked like the backyard hummingbird feeder needed a refill again. Well, that was easily enough done.

Ben stepped outside to grab the bottle from the feeder, then carried it into the garage, humming idly. He rinsed it out in the sink by the clothes washer, letting the hot water run for a couple minutes before adding a bit of bleach to kill any mold. Once the bleach was rinsed out, he stood the bottle on an old towel while he fetched his nectar solution from a shelf.

His ma had used a homemade mixture of sugar and water, boiled and stored in the freezer till needed; for a while after she'd died and left him the house and its hummingbird population, he'd tried various commercial solutions. Eventually, though, he'd tired of the results those gave him. After a few tries he'd come up with the mixture he used now, which had the benefit of being easy to whip up while also managing to not attract any bugs along with the birds. Ma's old sugar-water do had always wound up getting pillaged by ants.

Ben half-filled the feeder bottle from the gallon jug of nectar solution -- almost empty, now, he'd have to make some more soon -- then put the jug back and carefully carried the bottle back out to the backyard. Still humming, he screwed the bottle back onto the feeder, then stood back and admired his handiwork. He turned to go, and something went "crunch" under his shoe. He looked down.

"Heh," he said, scraping dead hummingbird off his shoe. "Guess you just couldn't help yourself, huh, little guy?" He surveyed the lawn around the feeder, where maybe a dozen dead hummingbirds lay in various stages of rot. "Was it tasty, fellas? I sure hope it was." He sneered. "Little bastards."

He went back into the house, careful to take off his shoes before entering. "Almost out of nectar..." he muttered to himself as he walked into the kitchen. Stuck to the fridge with a magnet shaped like a cow was the beginnings of a grocery list; eggs, milk, toilet paper, Hamburger Helper. Ben rummaged through a drawer until he found a pencil, then walked over to the list.

Antifreeze, he wrote.

Ben grinned. "Little bastards," he said again.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Proud To Be An AMERICAN!


I knew this trip had been a mistake almost as soon as I crossed the state line. Problem was, I had to get to Grandma's funeral, and it just wasn't worth the cost to fly from Pennsylvania to southern Ohio. And that meant a trip through West Virginia.

About three miles in, I passed over a stretch of road stained a dull red. My first thought was an upended truck full of paint. Then I realized it was blood, and spent the next half-hour trying to convince myself that it hadn't been human. Just a deer that wandered into the path of an oncoming car. Sure.

I'd left late, figuring it would be easier to make the trip at night, when there wouldn't be much traffic. Now I found myself cursing that decision as I carefully negotiated an increasingly narrow road winding crazily between mountains where maybe one light shone every couple of miles. Several times someone came barreling up behind me, passing me at what had to be eighty miles an hour, and each time I shrank against my seat and prayed to survive the night.

Eventually I decided to take a break, which meant trying to find something open at 11:30 at night. Of course, there are easier tasks than to find something open in the middle of West Virginia at almost midnight... say, grooming a wolverine with a toothache and a taste for human blood. That sounded good right about now. Thirty miles on, though, I found a truck stop, and since no wolverines seemed to be in evidence, stopping and getting some food seemed an acceptable second choice.

I pulled in next to the top half of a pickup truck, connected by a delicate tracery of rust to its chassis and shored up by a wealth of bumper stickers. Proud To Be An AMERICAN!, declared a flag on the left side of the bumper. Love It Or Leave It, added another flag to the right. On the tailgate was another sticker, with a picture of Barack Obama next to the words If We'd Known It Would Turn Out Like This, We'd Have Picked Our Own Cotton! Charming. Maybe I'd get my food to go. I was driving a Rustmobile too, but the two stickers I'd thrown on there -- one for the Human Rights Campaign, one for my favorite band -- really didn't seem to mesh with the local politics.

A tired-looking waitress looked up as I entered the truck stop diner. "Can I help you?"

"Uh, yeah. Can I just get, like, a sandwich or something?"

She nodded toward a booth by the door. "There's a menu there, if y'wanna take a look."

I slid into the booth, opened the menu, and pondered whether I wanted the Hootin' Holler Burger or the pulled pork sandwich advertised alongside a drawing of a psychotic-looking pig in overalls. Then the door opened.

"Damn, Edda! Who parked that thing out front?"

"Which one?" the waitress replied.

"Th'one with th'stickers!" I shrank back into the booth. A huge mountain man strode past me towards the counter, and I swore I heard banjos. He settled onto the stool in front of the waitress and slammed his keys onto the counter. "Now, what th'hell d'I pay m'taxes for, Edda? Can't we just get ridda these people already?"

I decided to practice becoming invisible.

The waitress shook her head as she poured out a cup of coffee for the man. "People gotta right to their opinion, Luke. Can't help that."

"Hell I can't. I gotta shotgun, don't I?" Then, just as I was about to run screaming from the establishment, he swung around to glare at me. "That ain't your ve-hickle, right, boy?" he growled threateningly.

"Uh, er. Which... one? Sir?" I added helpfully.

"That damned truck with all the bumper stickers!" He pointed a grimy forefinger out towards the parking lot. "If I get my hands on whoever that racist asshole is, I swear I'll--"

"You won't do nothin, Luke," the tired waitress broke in.

"It ain't right," he grumbled.

By this point, I was starting to understand that mister Deliverance guy's anger wasn't actually directed at me. My heart decided to maybe stay inside my chest, after all. "N-no, sir. I'm driving the blue Chevy." I held up one hand. "Honest."

The mountain man sighed, turning back to sip his coffee. "Goddamn people," he muttered unhappily. "What the hell makes a man think like that, anyway?"

"I sure don't know, Luke," the waitress replied.

I decided to get back on the road and worry about taking a break later.


West Virginia is a state of incredible natural beauty, with an insanely depressed economy and drivers who really do go ninety miles an hour down unlit, winding, mountainous roads, in the rain. It's not all toothless hicks, but I have family there, and lived there myself briefly, and I'm sorry, some of it really is Deliverance country.

Someone of my acquaintance really did see that Obama/"picked our own cotton" bumper sticker on a car in Clay County, Indiana. Heartland American values, folks!

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Young Men


The restaurant was already crowded when Alex and Richie got there, even though it had only opened twenty minutes earlier. "Frickin' office drones," Richie muttered as they waited by the front counter. "It's almost noon, so naturally they all gotta go out for lunch at once."

Alex held up two fingers to the waiter currently approaching them, meanwhile grinning at Richie. "Hey, that hurts. I'm one of those office drones you apparently hate so much."

"Telecommuters don't count. When's the last time you saw the inside of your office?"

By now they were seated at a table near the door to the kitchen. Behind Richie was a family with two screaming babies and an unruly toddler. Behind Alex were a couple of teenage kids currently sharing a milkshake. Alex hooked a thumb over one shoulder at them. "Is it just me, or does the redhead look like me as a kid?"

Richie snickered. "Been nice knowin' you, buddy. Ancient wisdom has it that seeing your doppelganger means you're about five minutes from death."

"Convenient for you. You always did want my PS3."

Behind Alex, the teenage couple stood up, the boy unsuccessfully trying to rush around and pull out the girl's chair before she could rise. In the process, he smacked into Alex's elbow. The water glass that Alex had just picked up went flying.

"Sorry, mister," the boy said quickly to Alex, before hurrying after his girlfriend.

Richie turned to watch them leave. "Man, you're right," he said. "She looks just like you did in middle school." He turned back to Alex, then blinked at the shocked expression on his friend's face. "Hey. Yo. Anyone home in there, man?"

Alex's face broke into a wide grin. "Oh, wow. Wow."

"Wow?"

"Did you know," Alex went on, leaning in towards the table, "there is nothing awesomer than having someone call me 'mister'?"

"Ahh, of course." Richie raised his water glass in a toast. "Congratulations. You just passed."

Their waiter emerged from the kitchen, pen poised over a pad of paper. He smiled at Alex, who had been born Maria Inez, and said, "Ready to order, sir...?"

Richie stifled a laugh at the goony smile on Alex's face.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Mom Said


From the patient record for JESSUP,TIMOTHY

Progress note by Dr. Major, MD


Patient is a 43 y.o male admitted to surgical unit after presenting to emergency department with acute back pain and concussion coincident with recent fall. The history is provided primarily by patient's wife.

The current episode started today. Onset was result of a fall from roof of the patient's home. Pain is continuous and is described as sharp and extremely severe. Pain is worsened by activity.

Patient was put on saline glucose and #3 morphine drip upon arrival in emergency department. Patient reported decreased pain upon receipt of morphine, but has become disoriented and semiconscious. Recommend remaining on #3 only until admitted to med surg, at which point pt should be switched to #2 morphine drip.

Episode history as provided by pt's wife is as follows. Pt's wife reports pt's injury is due to a fall from the roof of their house. Pt was attempting to adjust exterior television antenna when he lost his footing on the roof. Pt landed on his back on concrete patio. Wife reports that pt lost consciousness briefly, but regained it before ambulance arrived. Pt reported pain at that time as extremely severe.

Tentative diagnosis at this time is spinal cord injury at multiple sites with possible spinal fractures. Consulting surgeon scheduled for examination and probable surgery at 1300 hours.

Prior history of back pain: none.

Prior history of falls: none.

Diet: NPO.

Activity: strict bed rest.

Next round on pt scheduled for 0800 tomorrow.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Bank


"But I spent it all, mommy," Billy whined. "I got some candy an' some gum an' bet Franklin fifty cents he couldn't eat this worm I found."

Monica paused in the act of folding the laundry, staring at her son. "You bet him what?"

Billy shrugged. "It was a big worm. I didn't think he'd really do it."

"Okay, fine," Monica replied, shuddering. "It doesn't matter how you spent your allowance, it's still gone. You'll have to wait until next Saturday."

"But I want more money now! Joel's got a Grimlock action figure he doesn't want anymore an' he says he'll give it to me for only three dollars!"

Monica dropped a clean towel onto his head, and smiled at his outraged squawk. "Funny thing, I seem to remember your allowance being only two dollars a week."

"Yeah, well." Billy gazed studiously down at the towel as he balled it up in his hands. "I was kinda hopin' you'd give me a little bit extra, too."

"Oh really." She reached out to tousle his hair. "Maybe I should ask my boss for a little extra money, too, if it works that way."

Billy gave her a wide-eyed look. "So... no money?"

"Not a cent till Saturday, champ."

"Aww, mom," Billy replied, but he left easily enough. Monica chuckled to herself, then paused.

Maybe he'd given up a little too easil --

CRASH!, went something in Billy's room, and Monica hurried there to see if her suspicions were correct. They were. She groaned.

"Billy, sweetie, your piggy bank does have a removable plug in the bottom."

He looked down at the hammer in his hand, the coins scattered amid ceramic shards on his desk; then he looked back up at her. "Oops?" he replied.



I've had about five piggy banks throughout my life.

Every single one had a plug on the bottom.

Has anyone in the real world ever actually had to smash one to get at the money inside?

Friday, August 08, 2008

R&R


At the end of a long day -- the stressful morning commute, the exhausting hours of work, the mad rush-hour struggle to get home -- Bob did not, he felt, ask for much. Dinner on the table, and not burnt. A half-hour with his pipe in the alcove of the living room that he called his den. A quiet, relaxing evening in front of the TV.

He didn't feel that these were too much to ask for, and so felt himself justified in becoming angry when they were not provided.

"I'm sorry," Cheryl repeated tiredly. She kept her hair dyed blonde at his insistence, but hadn't touched it up in a while, and the brown roots were showing. The sloppiness only added to his irritation. "I didn't mean to have dinner late, but I didn't get Lynn back from the doctor until three-thirty, and then there were still the other kids to pick up from school..."

"Then you should've made them walk home," Bob snapped, even though it had been he who decided that Cheryl should take their school-aged children to and from school in the first place. "Maybe then they wouldn't have the energy to whine all through dinner. And for Christ's sake, could you maybe put some damn salt in the meatloaf next time? It was like trying to eat shoe leather." From somewhere down the hallway that led to the bedrooms, three-year-old Lynn started crying again. "For Christ's sake," Bob repeated in disgust.

"The doctor said you needed to cut back on your salt," Cheryl murmured, but he could tell she wouldn't try to pull that health-foot shit again.

Bob shifted position on the couch. "Now hand me the remote and shut that kid up, will ya?" he grunted.

"Oh, but before you get too into your show," Cheryl began.

"But nothing." She handed him the remote, and he shook it at her. "I've been working my ass off all day to make money for you to spend, Cher; I need to relax now, and you are going to let me relax."

She retreated quickly down the hall. He heard her talking to Lynn, but softly, as though she was afraid to make too much noise and thus incur his wrath. Well, fine. It was nice to be shown a little respect for once. Maybe she could even get the kid to quit whining. Hadn't the doctor prescribed any damned pills?

Maybe five minutes passed; in the kids' room Cheryl tried to soothe the pain of their toddler's ear infection, and on the couch Bob flicked idly through the channels. He had just about decided which of the two currently-playing episodes of CSI to watch when his son advanced cautiously into the room.

"Uh, hey, dad?" Terry's voice was just starting to change, and the words came out in a sort of squeak. The boy cleared his throat and tried again. "Dad? Can I, uh, have the TV now?"

"What the hell is wrong with you people?!" Bob snarled. "Can't you see that I work all damn day for you, and that the least I ask is to have some peace and quiet when I finally come home?!" He glared at Terry. "Get out of here before I really lose my temper."

Cheryl emerged from the hallway just as Terry tried to disappear down it. "Honey, that's what I was trying to tell you." She made a helpless little gesture. "Terry has to watch that special on PBS tonight for his honors English class."

"The hell he does!" Bob roared. "Terry, you're grounded for a week and don't you dare tell me any more lies." The boy pelted out of the room, and Bob turned his attention to Cheryl. "I knew you were stupid, but falling for a twelve-year-old's lies? Christ, woman. Christ."

Lynn began wailing in pain again, and Bob winced. "And now I've got a headache. Great job, Cheryl. Way to ruin my evening, again." Then his voice dropped. "I ought to just strike you," he muttered, glaring at her. "God knows there's no other way of getting any sense in your head."

Cheryl took a step backwards, and he noticed that. Terry, listening from just outside the room, clenched his fists and then held them to his mouth to stifle a sob. Fortunately for him, Bob didn't notice that.



This one's for you, dad. Are you dead yet? I honestly have no idea. If so, how's the weather down there?

Sometimes I wish you'd beaten up on us kids, instead of just always telling us we were worthless, and screaming at us if we were ever in the living room/bathroom/kitchen/wherever when you Needed To Be There, and regularly
threatening to hurt mom while being just crazy-crafty enough to not actually do it. Maybe if I'd shown up to school with my eyes blackened and my teeth knocked out when I was eight, then you wouldn't've still been around to make our house a place of fear when I was eighteen.


For the record, this scene never happened, and Terry isn't me. The scene just kind of popped into my head when I saw how happy that bear was to have his R&R.

*adds the 'sidetrack' tag*

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

What The Hell, Man, Since When Can I Not Form A Somewhat Relevant Title From The Comic Text


(Seriously, "crude awakening" does not contain anywhere within it the seeds of a title for this'un.)


"Hey, you gotta dollar?" the man asked as Evan got out of his car. "Change for a dollar?"

Evan closed the door to the Suburban, after carefully making sure it was locked. "No, I don't got no money," he answered a bit too loudly. Then he mentally cursed himself as he entered the gas station convenience store. Don't got no? What kind of language was that, anyway? The guy was going to think Evan was trying to talk street to seem tough, except he really hadn't been, it had just been a slip of the grammatical tongue...

He forced himself to smile as he approached the register. "Hi," he said, setting a bottle of Fanta down on the counter. Then he held out his Visa. "And pump three." The clerk grunted and hit a couple of buttons on the register.

Evan took a swig of his Fanta as he walked back out to the pump. "This is gonna hurt," he muttered, grabbing the gas nozzle and starting it pumping black gold into his Suburban. He winced at how fast the "THIS SALE" number was going up.

Suddenly something hard pressed against his right side. "You got that right," a voice said quietly. "Wallet. Keys. Now." Evan opened his mouth, and the pressure against his side increased. "Bullets move faster'n yells. Gimme the money."

"Bu -- but I don't have any money," Evan managed to choke out. His eyes felt about ready to pop out of his head. "I told you. No cash."

"Whaddaya mean, you told me?" Evan risked a glance to his right, and realized his mistake. The man asking for change had been black. The one with a gun jammed into his ribcage was white.

The gas pump clicked off with a loud THUNK noise that drew a terrified whimper from Evan. The man with the gun didn't flinch. "Give me the money or you die," he snarled.

Evan squeezed his eyes shut. Please let this be a nightmare please let this be a nightmare please -- "My bank card is in with the store clerk. Go in, tell him Evan sent you to get his card. My PIN is 8510 and I've got a $200-a-day ATM limit. It also works as a Visa." He drew in a sobbing gasp. "Take it, it's yours."

The gunman made an irritated noise. The pressure against his side miraculously disappeared, and Evan fell thankfully to the ground and listened to the sound of rapidly receding footsteps. Then common sense returned to its post inside his skull, and he fumbled for his keys, unlocked the car and all but threw himself inside, and cranked the engine.

As he squealed out onto the street and fled towards home, he spotted the man who'd asked him for change, waiting to cross the street three blocks south of the gas station. Evan roared past him without so much as a second glance.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Don't Need a Key


"Back in a sec" Ray grunted, setting down his drill and stepping around a pile of two-by-fours. "Gotta make a visit to the Executive Washroom." The others laughed, as they always did whenever someone used their standard term for the onsite john. Ray wasn't even sure who'd started it, anymore. Might've even been him.

He hummed along to no particular tune as the freight elevator carried him down to the ground floor. The building was really taking shape; he'd be sorry when this job was over. The work was good, the crew got along. Even the onsite boss was an okay guy. One of those "hands-on" guys, the type who started every conversation with a hand on your shoulder and ended it with a slap on your back, but at least he didn't ride your ass all the time. Ray'd had bosses like that.

Dirt puffed up from his footsteps as he made his way across the lot, toward the "executive washroom". A couple months back, someone had taken a marker to the side of it, changing the Os in the "COOPER" logo into the breasts of a naked, grinning woman. Ray had his suspicions as to the culprit's identity -- it was a pretty good drawing, and there was only one guy on the crew who'd been a commercial artist -- but so far there'd been no noise about it from up top. She'd acquired a nickname of "Goldie", for some reason.

"Heya, sweetheart," Ray greeted Goldie now, as he eased open the door to the john. "You may not have a lotta fashion sense, but boy do I like your style."

"I'm glad to hear it, Ray."

Ray froze, one hand still on the door, not quite processing what his eyes were telling him yet. When it clicked, he became aware that he was staring at the boss, seated on the portable john, and in a definite state of less than total dress.

"Uh," Ray began uncertainly, feeling the pink slip coming. "I, uh, sorry, boss -- I didn't realize -- the door wasn't locked--"

The boss smiled. "Oh, I know. I left it that way on purpose." He shifted on the seat, then crooked a finger at Ray. "Care to join me? There's room enough for two, if we get cozy."

Ray stared, blankly, feeling his brain try and fail to make sense of this situation. "Uh. No thanks? I." He pointed spastically back toward the building. "I gotta get back to work."

"Oh, all right," the boss answered with a mock-sigh, and Ray carefully shut the door and went back up to where he'd left his drill.

"Everything come out all right?" someone quipped.

Ray shuddered.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Red


Marty peeked over the fence again, then ducked down before Old Man Seeger saw him. "Nah, it's just watermelon juice," he reported. "I'm pretty sure."

"Nuh uh," Greg said from his position atop the slide. "It's blood 'cause he killed a guy. And then he cut the body up an' threw the parts in the creek. I saw 'im."

"You didn't see nothin', Greg Morrison," Terry replied scornfully. "You saw someone walkin' around by the creek, an' then you found somethin' that mighta been a guy's leg all rotted up but was prolly a dead raccoon."

"It was a leg," Greg said for about the tenth time. "I could see the little toe-bones."

"Because there for sure aren't any little bones in a raccoon," Terry concluded triumphantly. She was a year older than the rest of th em, and tolerated despite her know-it-all nature (and her status as Marty's big sister) primarily because she was the only one of them who could always think of something fun to do. It had been her idea to start using the old Catholic school playground, even though nobody else really did anymore. Brookhurst Elementary's playground was better, really, but since St. Clare's had closed two years back, its swings and slides went basically unused. Unless Old Man Seeger came over from next door and used them, that was.

Greg launched himself down the slide, then climbed back up its curving surface. "Nobody uses a knife that big just to eat watermelon," he argued. "So even if the stuff on his knife is just juice, Seeger's still a crazy killer. A completely crazy killer who stabs guys in their sleep." He sounded rather chipper about the matter.

Throughout all this Pat had been listening silently, idly tracking one sneakered foot through the dirt as he twisted back and forth on a swing. He laughed now, and the sound cut across the quiet spring evening. "Bet you ten dollars you can't go up to Ol' Man Seeg's and knock on the door," he said to Marty.

"No way!" Marty scrambled away from the fence separating the playground from Seeger's yard as if the old man himself might come leaping over at any second. "I don't think he's a murderer, but he's still all creepy."

Pat grinned. "Anyone?" He rooted around in his pocket for a few seconds, at last extracting a grimy ten-dollar bill. "Just go up to his door an' knock, an' if he answers, say somethin' to him." He wiggled the bill at them.

"I'll do it," Greg answered. He came down the slide again, walked over to Pat, and held out his hand. "I'll ask 'im if he's seen my dog."

Terry looked doubtful. "I don't think that's a good idea, Greg. I mean, he is creepy. And it's getting late."

"Yeah, Greg, it's almost dark," Pat added mockingly. "Ain't you scared?"

"No way!" Greg shouted, and snatched the money out of Pat's hand. "You wait right here, an' I'll prove it!"

None of them moved much as he stalked off the playground, headed for the house next door. When eventually Marty thought to peek over the fence to try to see what was going on, the house was still. Neither Greg nor Old Man Seeger was in evidence. They waited maybe half an hour more, and then Terry's watch beeped. "Eight o'clock," she announced softly. "Time for me an' Marty to go home."

"Yeah, me too," Pat replied. He glanced again toward the Seeger house. "I bet he just took my money an' ran," he added, with little conviction. "Sure. Just took it an' went right home."

"I hope so," Terry said.

Pat went on to his home, and Terry and Marty to theirs. Sometime after midnight, a dark figure dumped something by the creek, but no one was there to see it.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Slow to Adapt


He reached out one gnarled hand to fiddle with the television. "Now, let's watch some TV, hmm? I think Happy Days is on." He grabbed for the knob, and seemed surprised to find instead a row of sleek buttons. "You like Happy Days. Why won't the channel change?" He burst into tears.

"Okay, Mr. Dalton, okay," the nurse said soothingly, taking his arm and gently leading him back to his bed. "It's all right. I can change the channel if you like."

Wyatt raised one withered old arm to scrub at his eyes before lying down. "All right. At least I got that damned VCR clock fixed."

"I know, Mr. Dalton." The nurse pulled his blanket up over him.

"I wanted to tell Sara. Where's Sara?" He looked panicked. "Sara?!"

The nurse took his shoulders as he started to rise. "She'll be here soon, Mr. Dalton. Just rest for now."

"She'd better get here soon," Wyatt grumbled, though he allowed himself to be put back to bed. "She's going to miss Happy Days."

The nurse smiled at him, patted the cover over his spindly chest, and let herself quietly out of the room. As soon as the door clicked shut behind her, she slumped.

"Wyatt giving you trouble?" asked one of the other nurses as he passed.

"No, it's okay." Wyatt's nurse put a hand to her head briefly. "Just my first day on the job. He's kind of... draining."

The other nurse nodded sympathetically. "You'll get used to it, a little. If that's any consolation."

Wyatt's nurse uttered a humorless little laugh. "Not really."

"Yeah."

She grabbed a cup of coffee from the lounge, then headed back to Wyatt's room. He had moved back to the TV, and was doing something to the VCR again.

"Look, Sara! I figured out the clock on the..." He turned to her, and his face fell. "Sara?" he added doubtfully.

"She's not here," the nurse said gently. "Why don't we get you back in bed, Mr -- "

"I don't want to go to bed!" Wyatt snapped. "I'm tired of bed! And I want Sara!"

The nurse tried to smile again. "She'll be here soon, Mr. Dalton. And if you don't want to rest, why don't we watch TV?"

"All right," Wyatt replied, reaching once more for a nonexistent knob on the television. The nurse quickly stopped him before he could get upset again, then picked up the remote and began flicking through the channels.

"No, no," Wyatt muttered irritably. "None of these shows are any good. Bunch of junk. Is Happy Days on?"

"I don't think so," the nurse replied doubtfully.

"Hmph."

She left the TV on some nature show; Wyatt was still sulking, but she preferred that to more tears. Or more questions about--

"Where's Sara?" Wyatt asked suddenly.

The nurse sighed. "She's not here, Mr. Dalton."

"I can see that. I'm not stupid." He glared at her from watery eyes. "But where is she?"

She's dead, the nurse thought to herself. She's been dead for three years, and they stopped telling you that because they couldn't bear to keep breaking your heart. Your wife's dead, you don't remember because you have Alzheimer's disease, and you're rotting away what's left of your life in a second-rate nursing home. "She's just stepped out, Mr. Dalton. She'll be back soon."

Wyatt smiled. "Good. She wouldn't want to miss Happy Days." His eyes lit up. "And maybe I can get the VCR clock set before she gets back, too. She's been on me about that for ages."

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Lunch Alone


Bill hung back as the other workers stowed their tools and headed towards the break area. They were joking and laughing amongst themselves; he might've joined in, but didn't see the point. If any of them noticed he was still around, they gave no sign. He busied himself with his gloves, making sure they were lined up neatly on the I-beam.

Eventually he couldn't hear their voices anymore. He ambled across the construction site to the parking lot, where the other workers had already gotten their various lunches and picked a tailgate to congregate around. Today it looked to be Fred's. PJ was regaling them all with what was undoubtedly a profoundly filthy story. Bill had a pretty good one from the time his cousin had gone to a prostitute while on business in Australia, but when he had started to tell it his second week on the site, he'd only been met with stony stares. Today, as every day for the last three months, he ate his lunch sitting alone on his own tailgate. His wife's tuna salad was probably as delicious as ever, but it generally tasted like ashes when she packed it for his lunch.

Loud laughter erupted from the knot of workers around Fred's truck, and Bill glanced over there briefly. They all seemed to be okay guys, Fred and PJ and the rest, except when they were talking to him; and then they all clammed up, mouths drawn down, eyes narrowed. He wasn't sure what he'd done wrong. All the guys at his old job back in Rockford had liked him just fine. He'd even been on the bowling team, after Jimmy had retired and left his spot vacant. But the Rockford job had ended, and there didn't seem to be any more jobs anywhere closer than Pike Creek, and so Bill and his wife had moved. Now Bill was that one guy on the crew that nobody else ever wanted to talk to, and he couldn't for the life of him figure out why.

He finished his sandwich, washed it down with warm Pepsi. The others were still talking by Fred's truck, although by now PJ had surrendered the floor to someone else. Eventually they'd finish up and head back over to the site. Then he'd trail behind them again, slinking back to his post, quietly returning to work without making eye contact with anyone. When the day ended, the others would all exchange their various farewells, while he went quietly back to his truck and went home. And then he would do it all over again tomorrow.

Bill wasn't ordinarily a contemplative man, but sometimes even he had to stop and wonder just what the hell was wrong with the world.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Top of the Food Chain


"But they're people!" cried the woman, struggling against the grip of several riot cops. "How can you do this, how can you when they're just people!" Her voice grew fainter and was swallowed up by the crowd as she was dragged away.

"Amazing," Clyde murmured, surveying the view from his seat by the window. "There must be hundreds of them."

"Thousands, according to CNN," Maria replied. She swung her laptop around so he could see the screen. "They've got aerial photography from the police helicopters."

"Hm." Clyde turned back to the window. Outside the restaurant, a mass of protesters still seethed against the police barricades, their shouts and chants audible even though the reinforced glass. "You'd think they'd have something better to do."

Maria raised an eyebrow. "Apparently Flavio's is considered quite the violation of basic rights."

Clyde chuckled, then hummed appreciatively as their waiter appeared, a steaming plate in each hand. Both plates were set before them, their wineglasses were refilled, and t hen the waiter disappeared as silently as he had come. Flavio's was renowned for its staff almost as much as for its food.

Clyde bit into his burger, then hummed again. "Superb, as always."

They both jumped as a loud CRACK resounded through the room; it became apparent that one of the protesters outside had thrown a rock at their window. Clyde laughed uproariously as the culprit was first teargassed, then pulled back towards a group of SWAT vans. The glass remained undamaged. "Ha! I love it when they bring a good beating down on themselves." He took an extra-large bite, leaning into the window to make an elaborate show of chewing. Several of the protesters outside gestured rudely, but none appeared ready share the fate of the rock-thrower by doing anything more.

Maria dabbed primly at her mouth with a napkin. "You know, Clyde, one of these days, you'll antagonize them too far."

"And what?" replied Clyde, "-- they'll throw a rock at me? And then the nearest cop will work them over with a baton." He grinned evilly. "Wouldn't be the first time a protester'd accidentally fallen down the stairs seventeen times in a row."

Maria merely smiled. "Never underestimate the power of the little people," she murmured, before going back to her burger.

Outside, another woman had worked her way to the front of the crowd and begun shouting. Clyde had observed more than once that it always seemed the middle-aged old cows who were the loudest. Younger people were more into petty vandalism; the husbands and fathers were too busy actually working to bring in money for their middle-aged old cow wives to spend.

"Flavio's is murder!" this particular middle-aged old cow was screaming now. "Flavio's kills our friends -- our neighbors -- our families!"

On their side of the glass, Clyde erupted into laughter, spraying crumbs of bread and meat. "Hey, you!" He shouted at the window. "Hey! Yeah, that's right, over here!" He bared his teeth at the woman outside. "See this?" he called, pointing to the remains of his burger. "I hope it was your family!"

The woman struggled furiously against the cops. She was screaming something at Clyde, but he was laughing too hard to pay attention. "I hope it was your cousin!" he screamed gleefully. He took a huge bite, and grinned madly at her through it. "An' i' wa' DELISHUSH!"

The woman outside screamed something incoherent, and actually managed to break free of the police line. In an instant she was at the window, clawing at it, pounding with her fists, her horns. It took seven cops to finally pull her back, and she went down fighting, her hate-filled eyes never leaving Clyde.

Maria only raised her eyebrow again as Clyde resumed his meal. "Goddamn cows," he chuckled, shaking his head.



Honestly. It's a world of animal-people. If you're not a vegetarian, then aren't you just eating your fellow sentients?

And yes, the restaurant
is named after an Animaniacs character, I have been making use of my Netflix account lately, why do you ask?

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Low-Mileage


Oh, well. I see you got a new car, huh? Oh, a Toyota. A foreign car. Huh. Funny, good ol' Chevrolet always did fine by me. But I guess everyone's priorities are different.

And I see it's a Prius. Kind of expensive, I hear, not the kind of thing a blue-collar workin' man is likely to be drivin' around. But you've got that job workin' with computers, so it's probably no problem, you bein' able to afford to pay extra.

Sure, sure, the mileage, I hear ya. Seems all them foreign cars have the fancy engines these days... how much does it get? Forty-eight miles per gallon? Very nice. That'll almost make up for the cost of the car. Plus I suppose you're doin' your part, savin' the environment by drivin' this thing. Guess you feel pretty good about yourself, huh? Guess I'm not quite the hero you are. Not when my old Chevy gets eighteen, twenty miles a gallon, tops.

You'll fit right in when you go drivin' to Whole Foods to buy your arugula, now. Heck, you might even have trouble figuring out which car is yours next time you go off to your little voter-registration rallies. Meanwhile I'll keep drivin' my old Chevy to Wal-Mart, an' try to not think too much about how much a better person you are'n me.

Damn kids these days.



I recently [as I type this up in September 2008] moved to Unnamed City in Unnamed State; the car population here has to be at least 5% Priuses. Then I drove 400 miles (in a 20-year-old van that gets a little over 20 miles to the gallon, if anyone's keeping track) back down to Other Unnamed State, which I had moved from, and saw one Prius over the course of an entire weekend there.

There are a lot of farmers and rustic types in Other Unnamed State What I Moved From, who maybe aren't so much into the whole elitist leftist arugula-eating hybrid-car thing, and while I know they are not all cantankerous old bastards, I'm still allowed to make up what I think they might say if they were to see the shiny new Prius coming to me in Local Toyota Dealer's October shipment. Whee!

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Suit


She looked at him silently, just staring for a moment from heavy-lidded eyes. Then she snorted. "But not a receipt for dry-cleaning, I'm betting," she muttered, just loud enough for him to not be quite sure if he'd heard her right. He thought about asking her to repeat it, but settled for rubbing futilely at the oyster sauce stain that still showed faintly on one sleeve.

"It's a good old suit," he mumbled to her back as she turned away. She didn't answer, so he added, "Good for a marryin' or a buryin'." He smiled a little, but she still wasn't looking at him. Apparently there was something more interesting in her purse.

At last she snapped it closed again, then glanced over her shoulder at him. "Well, given the options, this is definitely more of a buryin'." He winced, and finally a thin smile touched her lips. "Are we ready yet?"

"Yeah. Yeah, I guess so."

"Fine." She strode out of their bedroom, although lately it had really been more his bedroom. He'd glanced in at the guest room the other night, as he passed by on his way to the bathroom; it was a nice little setup she had in there. Her grandmother's quilt was on the old twin bed, the one she had never wanted to put on the bed they'd shared.

"Well?" he heard her call. She didn't sound all that eager to go -- seeing the counselor had been his idea, not hers -- but he knew her basic philosophy on life. Soonest begun, soonest done. Or as she usually put it, "Get it over, already."

"Coming, dear," he called back, and pretended not to hear her irritated sigh.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Reunion


They had been the hellraisers of their graduating class, although the be-pink-mohawked waitress assigned to them would probably not believe it. Said be-pink-mohawked waitress was currently ignoring them in favor of the teenagers three booths down. They were wearing approximately enough black leather to re-cover the cow.

Herb and Tricia had come off the worst from the last forty years, really. Tricia had wound up a born-again kindergarten teacher with diabetes, who looked the first two and wouldn't quit talking about the third. Herb -- "H.B." back in those days, thank you, "Herbert Bloom" was his father and the old man was a square -- had done a bout with cocaine in the 80s, done another one with cancer in the 90s, and now mainly sat there nodding his head constantly. Lorraine didn't think he was actually agreeing with anything; she was pretty sure he just couldn't help it.

Jerry had always been the creative mind of their group, the one who came up with the really good gags. Gluing the mackerel to their English teacher's windows had been his idea -- fifty pounds of expired fish, salvaged from behind the butcher's shop, carefully arranged in smelly lines across the windowpanes and stuck fast with industrial-strength adhesive swiped from his dad, all while the old woman slept. Or Lorraine's personal favorite, swapping the mayor's wife's prized terrier with another one they'd found by the train tracks, and dumping the "missing" pet in the yard of a woman suspected of being the mayor's bit on the side. That'd been good for a month's worth of laughs. Jerry had probably aged the best of any of them; and as if to prove it, he was wearing his sunglasses even in the dim restaurant, and somehow managing to pull it off.

As for herself, Lorraine supposed she had done all right. No drastic personality changes like Tricia, no drug problems like Herb (at least not after the 70s, and not so much that you could really call it a problem)... she hadn't managed to make her living as a free-wheeling poet, despite all her youthful plans, but being an art historian wasn't bad either. It certainly let her visit a lot of museums, where she could reflect on the past and how many, many stupid decisions it held.

Suddenly Jerry grinned. "Remember the time we filled the principal's trunk with limburger?"

"In the middle of July!" Lorraine replied, laughing. "You and Tricia were so mad about having to go to summer school."

Tricia's mouth turned down. "What little monsters we were back then. Shameful, really." Herb nodded vaguely, staring in no particular direction.

"So we pooled our money together -- " Jerry continued.

Lorraine snorted. "Sure, 'our' money in that we acquired it somehow -- "

"Bought out the town's entire supply, I think -- "

"And Herb jimmied open the trunk with a paper clip!"

Lorraine and Jerry both laughed. Tricia tweaked at the cross hanging around her neck, muttering something about forgiveness; Herb scratched his arm vaguely.

One of the teenagers three booths down leaned over to yell past the be-pink-mohawked waitress. "Howzabout you shut up, huh, y'old geezers? Go talk about your bingo or whatever somewhere else." Then the waitress said something, and the entire group of teenagers erupted into unkind laughter.

Jerry looked at Lorraine again, and there was a hard light in his eyes. He ignored Herb and Tricia completely. "There's a cheese shop a block away, and I saw which car those kids came in. What say we go for Stinking Bishop this time?"




If you think about it, the principal would've had to have his "new '39 Ford" some sixty-nine years ago. Assuming these folks were all early bloomers, and already in high school at a mere ten years old, that would still make them older than John McCain.

They've actually aged remarkably well.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Well-Balanced


Kevin’s doctor’s appointment at four Elsie’s soccer practice at six Matt’s permission slip signed sometime tonight so he can go on that field trip tomorrow and sometime tonight, the bills paid.

MATTHEW, YOU PUT THAT DOWN RIGHT NOW

More bills every day, it seems sometimes, and really no money coming in to pay them. Rent and utilities, clothes and food, and Kevin’s medicine and Matt’s inhaler and the new glasses the doctor swears Rachel needs though how he can tell when she’s only three I just don’t know –

KEVIN I TOLD YOU TO STAY OUT OF THERE

If I could just get more hours at the diner it’d be something. Or if Paul could ever cough up on child support. Maybe I should just try to sell the car, instead of getting it fixed again.

ELSIE, KEVIN, NO

And Rachel’s cough just isn’t going away. Still paying off the bills from when she got sick last year, and we just can’t afford another hospital stay like that, but if I don’t take her in and it turns out to be serious –

BOYS NO FOOTBALL IN THE HOUSE

And of course I’ve still got to mop and vacuum and get the dishes done, and the laundry soon too if Elsie’s to have any clothes to take to camp.

MATT I SAID NO FOOTBALL, GO TO YOUR ROOM YOUNG MAN

Well, hopefully I can get to the chores sometime after the kids go to bed and before it’s time to leave for work…

MATTHEW I SAID GO AND THAT MEANS RIGHT NOW

I need to calm down. Calm. Maybe do the dishes. That’s relaxing. Nothing but me and the dishes and –

ELSIE YOU QUIT IT RIGHT NOW OR I SWEAR I’LL

No no calm now just me and the dishes.

Just me and this plate, and this sippy cup, and this spoon.

And this knife.

Calm.

Calm.



Because kangamom there is very obviously about two seconds from snapping.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Smith-Corona


Warren sighed as he extracted himself from the truck and carefully shut the door behind him. Damn thing was near rusted to pieces, and here he was driving all over creation for a typewriter ribbon. Of course, he hadn’t expected to have so much trouble actually finding the ribbon; but he’d already tried the Harpersville Office Depot, the Staples and Frederick’s Office Supply in Dillimore, and the Wal*Mart and other Office Depot in Blackwater Point, all with no luck. He was starting to worry he’d have to go up the city to find what he needed. There were over five thousand souls in Palomino Creek, and being surrounded by that many people always made Warren feel claustrophobic.

A puff of hot air hit him in the face as he passed through the sliding doors, and then he was in the air-conditioned cool of yet another store. He made his way toward the back wall, where a huge sign reading “OFFICE SUPPLIES” hung from the ceiling. Rows of computers and fax machines and other technological marvels seemed to glare at him disapprovingly as he sought out the customer service desk.

“Helpya?” muttered the bored-looking employee behind the counter. Warren tried to give him a friendly smile, but was stymied by merit of the man’s apparent unwillingness to look up from the computer in front of him. It looked like some kind of card game on there – poker, maybe, though whatever it was, Warren doubted this fellow was being employed to play it –

Helpya?” the man repeated, interrupting Warren’s mental rambling. This time he deigned to glance up briefly before returning to the computer.

“Well, I.” Warren cleared his throat. “My Smith-Corona T34 needs a new ribbon, and –”

The employee looked up at him again, and something about the expression on his face made Warren falter. “This a joke, buddy?” he drawled. "We don’t sell beer here, and we don’t sell guns neither.”

Warren sighed, seeing the long drive to Palomino Creek ahead of him. “No, it’s a typewriter.”

“Uh huh. Got a lot of writing to do, buddy?”

“Yes,” Warren answered, brightening somewhat. Maybe he wouldn’t have to brave the big city after all…

“I got a recommendation for you, then,” the employee sneered. He pointed toward the aisle Warren had just walked through. “It’s not the nineteenth century anymore. Buy a goddamn computer.

Warren sighed again. “Thank you anyway,” he said, and walked back out to his car. People these days, living crammed five thousand to a town, going in for all this strange new technology when they already had ways that worked just as well. He just didn’t know what the world was coming to.


Throughout most of my high school career, I did not have a computer; when it came time to write a paper, which was quite frequently in my honors English classes and not too seldom in any of the others, I had to use an electric typewriter that we’d picked up at Office Depot for a hundred bucks. It was extra-fun when we had to do a rough draft, submit it for peer evaluation, then “edit” it and bring in the final version… because while my classmates got to make their edits, print out their new versions, and go off to have fun, I got to sit down and type the entire thing over again. Good times.

These days I honestly cannot think of a good reason to stick with a typewriter instead of a computer. I guess some people really, really like the idea of having to type an entire document over just to correct a couple of typos.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Back In My Neighborhood


"Of course, that was assuming you didn’t ask where the car’d come from," he added offhandedly, pulling the Porsche back onto the highway. "You could be particular about that if you wanted, but then you’d have to pay a bit more."

"Oh?"

"Local guy ran the biggest stolen-car operation in the state," he replied. "Small-time mobster, name of Magliore. Half the teenagers on my block were working for him – running errands, or… ‘supplying’ him with stock. All under the table, of course."

His passenger frowned. "How dreadful. I assume you weren’t involved in all this."

"Are you kidding?" he asked, eyebrow raised. "I was one of Magliore’s boys before I’d even learned how to ride a bike. How did you think I learned how to hotwire cars?"

"Well," his passenger sniffed, her frown deepening. "At least you’re old enough to know better than to mess around with any stolen cars."

There was expectant silence for a moment; finally, he coughed. "Sure. Of course I am."

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Mushroom Soup


The mother ladled what was left of that night's dinner into the container, scraping the pan clean. No sense in wasting food, after all, and the leftovers would make a lovely meal some other day. She set the pan down, fitted the lid over the container of leftovers, and then carefully placed that container on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator.

The son pushed it to the back of the shelf ten minutes later, while rooting about looking for the last can of Coke.

Nobody gave much thought to the leftovers, not even the mother who had so carefully saved them; and as days turned into weeks, it quietly brooded beneath a package of stale flour tortillas. The life stirring within it went unremarked, its original contents long since forgotten.

At last the tortillas were pushed aside, and the daughter's hand closed upon the plastic container. "Oh, here's something," she said over her shoulder. The leftovers were once more brought out into the light.

"What's in it?" the mother asked from her post at the stove. Pots simmered and bubbled, though the saucepan on one burner yet lay empty.

The daughter peeled back the lid and looked into the container. "Looks like mushroom soup," she replied.

The mother smiled, took the leftovers and their new growth from her daughter, and began preparing them to serve to her family.

Monday, May 05, 2008

In The Trunk


Norm started getting a bad vibe from the guy from almost the first second he set foot on the huge lot, but he needed a car bad enough -- and right now, if he wanted to make it to the plant tonight and thus keep his job -- that he forced himself to overlook it. No sense walking back around the woods to the car lot on the other side of town, just because the salesman seemed a little odd.

After all, it was kind of a warm day. Maybe that was why the guy -- "Vincetn", to go by the nametag, although Norm assumed that was a typo -- was sweating so much. And there were plenty of non-sinister explanations for why mister "Vincetn" had quickly agreed to sell him the old Chevy, rather than trying to take him around the lot and interest him in something more expensive. And so he kept grinning at seemingly random moments. What of it? Probably was swapping dirty jokes with the other salesmen back at the office before Norm showed up. Probably that was why he was in such a hurry, too -- Norm'd interrupted his break, or something.

Dammit, he is not a serial killer who is thinking about just where in the woods to dump my corpse, Norm thought to himself as "Vincetn" handed over the paperwork. He signed in all the appropriate places, then looked up as a thought struck him. "Hey, uh, I don't suppose you could throw in a pair of jumper cables while you're at it...?"

Vincetn's face twisted up alarmingly. "They are already in the trunk," he replied, oddly formal, and then grinned his biggest grin yet.

"Uh. Right. Thanks." Norm handed back the paperwork, got into the car, and drove away from the lot as fast as he possibly could. Vincetn's grinning, waving form dwindled to nothing in the rearview.

A half-mile down the road, the strange gravity with which Vincetn had spoken of the trunk finally registered on Norm, who pulled over and walked reluctantly around to the back of the car. He took a deep breath, then popped the trunk.

The jumper cables were there as promised, though Vincetn had said nothing about the dead racoon around which he had lovingly wrapped those cables.

"Ah, Christ!" Norm shouted.

A half-mile back, Vincetn giggled, then scurried back into the woods before the actual salesman could find him and chase him off again.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Side Mirror


His eyes drifted closed for the thousandth time, and somehow he managed to wrench them open yet again. Couple more miles, now, and then he'd be back home, where he could actually get some goddamn sleep. The very thought was soothing enough to send him drifting off again. He blinked himself back awake, cursing, then laid into the accelerator a bit more.

Just had to concentrate, that was it. Keep his mind on the road for just twenty more minutes. He rolled the window down, hoping the cold air coming in would wake him up a little, but it didn't seem to help much. He reached out to fiddle with the side mirror, peering at it through heavy eyes; eventually he gave up and turned back to the windshield, to find it oddly filled with tree. "Hey, what -- " he began, now fully awake.

Then his car slammed into the tree, and he died.



Just a short one, because DAMN that dog does not look safe to drive.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Preparing Next Week's Medications


She watched him out of the corner of one eye as she worked, carefully removing the cap from each of her prescription bottles, measuring out seven or fourteen or twenty-one of each pill and depositing them carefully in her pill organizer. He was doing the same, brows furrowing every time he had to twist open another bottle. His arthritis had been so bad lately, despite the medication.

She waited patiently, and at last he raised his head to look at her. "Could you do the rest of mine, dear? My hands..." He flexed them, once, then winced.

"Of course," she answered calmly, reaching across the table to take the bottle from him. "Shall I do all the rest of them for you, too?" He nodded gratefully, and she busied herself with the task as he rose and padded to the fridge. She could have offered to help without waiting to be asked, of course, but it was better this way. He wasn't even paying attention to her, now; he was up to his shoulders in the refrigerator, looking for the milk that she had buried at the far back of the shelf.

She worked with unhurried efficiency, opening the bottle that had stymied him -- the big orange pills, prescribed by Doctor Farson for his blood pressure -- and carefully placed one pill into each of the seven compartments of his pill organizer. Next were the pills for his kidneys; two small green pills each day, tik-tik, tik-tik as she filled out the container. The last bottle was his arthritis medication, nondescript yellow things with numbers embossed into them far too small for his failing eyes to detect.

Without pausing, she uncapped this last bottle and measured out a week's dosage. Then her hand slipped quietly into her pocket, to emerge bearing seven nondescript yellow pills, which she distributed methodically into each compartment. No numbers showed on these pills; there were, in fact, no markings of any kind, but she needed none to know what would happen to him if he kept up this dosage. Very soon they would start doing more than simply fail to help with his arthritis. Perhaps even this time next week she would be preparing her medications alone.

She closed up the prescription bottle and set it back with his other pills on his side of the table. When he finally came back over, glass of milk clutched carefully in both gnarled hands, she was just finishing up with her own medications. She smiled briefly at him as he approached.

"Thanks, love," he said, reaching out to take the container of pills. She smiled again at the sight of it in his hand, seven little boxes in a row, each with its own little secret of a clever yellow pill that was not for arthritis.