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  1. Tenderiser

    Tenderiser Not a man or BayView Supporter

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    Past Contest April 2019 Short Story Contest

    Discussion in 'Monthly Short Story Contest' started by Tenderiser, Apr 17, 2019.

    Prompt

    Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.

    This prompt can be interpreted however you like.

    Requirements
    • 1,200 - 5,000 words
    • Any genre
    • Any style
    • Polished to the best of your ability
    • One entry per person
    How to Enter

    Post your entry as a reply to this thread. It will be automatically anonymized. Please title the story and include the word count.

    You will be able to post entries through to 30 April.

    Voting

    Voting will run from 1 - 15 May.

    Winner

    The winner will be announced on May 16. He or she will get a shiny medal under their avatar, automatic entry into the annual Hall of Fame contest, and their winning story featured in the WritingForums annual ezine. This means giving up first publication rights, so think carefully before entering if you will want to sell the story later.

    Get writing!
     
  2. Tenderiser

    Tenderiser Not a man or BayView Supporter

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    Testing the anonymiser
     
  3. newjerseyrunner

    newjerseyrunner Contributor Contributor

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    Angels and Hellfire (4891 words)


    The 2020 elections were over. Despite the grueling, nasty campaign, the populous overwhelmingly voted the Democrats into the office of the most powerful country on Earth. I was no longer Senator, but Vice President Gary Goldstein.

    A young stock market hotshot and self-made millionaire turned political force, Alex Trevis had been the democratic candidate out of left field. He started his campaign in his hometown of Pittsburg a full three years before the race and slowly grew in popularity. In late-2019, his campaign’s profile was boosted when a white nationalist attempted to assassinate him.

    With the swing state of Pennsylvania behind him, he became the front runner going into the primary. His charismatic speech giving and ability to improvise and play a crowd and modest education but high intelligence made him a favorite along the fierce party lines of all of the swing states and allowed him to brush off the attacks of all other challengers, including the incumbent.

    I was the junior senator from New Jersey when I got his call. I had been a criminal attorney for twenty years before entering public office. I ran for governor and lost, but by that time I’d amassed a donor machine and made my successful bid for Senator to replace a disgrace Democrat ensnared in a prostitution scandal.

    The blue wave of the previous congressional election continued and we won in a landslide. As soon as we’d won however, reports of meddling from the Russians once again started to take over the news cycles. We had addressed it at first, vowing to stop it from happening again, but it was ultimately a job for the FBI.

    We were up late three days before inauguration discussing the transition at his office in Pittsburg. He offered me a drink while I shuffled through a handful of folders, full of profiles and resumes of key positions that were yet to be decided.

    “I guess I’ll take a small glass,” I pulled out profiles of a group of men and women that the team had assembled as suggestions for the next post. “These are the candidates for the head of the EPA.”

    “Yeah,” Alex made an offhand gesture and poured two glasses, each about halfway. He placed one next to me and then his on the table, without drinking from it. He tapped at his phone. I could see that he was playing a game. I’ve seen him do this when he’s stressed. It’s an online military strategy simulator and he says having to out-plan the enemy gives him some escape from the non-stop meetings. He closed the app and put his phone in his pocket. “That’s an important job, in charge of the country’s supply of nuclear weapons.”

    “I suppose,” I too, was aware of the gravity of such a position. Most of the candidates were engineers and scientists, although there were some former executives of energy conglomerates in the folder too.

    “The EPA,” he muttered again. “Do you think we’ll ever achieve nuclear fusion?”

    I was taken aback. It was a strange question, but Alex was a very intelligent man and the breadth of his private study encompassed all fields, even physics. “I don’t know,” was all I could respond with.

    “Imagine it, a new energy source. It’d be analogous to man discovering we could split the atom for the first time. The nuclear age, but even more-so.”

    “Yeah,” I awkwardly shuffled the resumes. Alex could fixate on a topic for a while, some television psychologists had labeled him as autistic. It was not improbable.

    Alex shrugged. “Usually big pushes in technology like that only come at times of war. Hitler caused the modern age, Stalin, all those monsters our grandfathers had to fight back made us have to stay ahead of them.” He blinked and shook his head. It was his telltale sign that he realized he was rambling and was snapping back to the topic at hand.

    “The groups top recommendation is this guy, Mark Gustov.”

    The president elect had looked at thousands of resumes in the past few weeks and struggled to remember, but eventually it came to him. “He’s the physicist from Fermi Labs?”

    “Yes,” I tossed the folder to him across the table. “The recommendation is based more on the fact that he’s been one of the labs administrators for something like a decade. He’s been in government before as well as an adviser.”

    “Yeah, I think he’d be best for the job. Unless you have any objections, let’s toss him onto the “Positions Filled” pile.”

    I pushed up my glasses and shook my head. “I’m very good with that decision, let’s move on through the Unfilled pile,” I gave out an exhausted laugh.

    “I still can’t believe we won, this all still feels like a dream,” He said suddenly, picking up the next folder. Sometimes we were opposites. He liked to chit-chat a lot, especially when he found something boring, like working on appointments late at night. I preferred to move as efficiently as possible.

    “People like your message.” I said, then quickly move onto the next folder. “I think that one’s FDA.”

    The president elect let out an audible groan. “What do you say we pick it up again tomorrow, I’m kinda beat and wanna rest for a minute.”

    I was silent. I knew what he meant, I’d watched his face age ten years over the course of the last three. His hair was getting grey, and there were constant bags under his eyes. I respectfully put the folders in a pile and placed them on the table.

    He took a sigh of relief then sat down in the chair next to me with a thud. “All this stuff doesn’t really matter anyway.”

    I didn’t say anything, but I was offended. I took my duty to the country very seriously and considered it a great honor to be shaping the next four years of how our government functioned. While most of the government would be business as usual, these decisions did have an overall effect on the commonwealth of our country. He knew that, and was taking the process seriously, I said nothing because I knew that he was just blowing off steam.

    “It’s been a long road, and it’s just beginning,” I say somberly.

    He laughed. “Yeah, it sure is. Just think, we got four more years to do this together.” We laughed together, as much out of exhaustion than anything.

    As he laughed, he leaned into me a little, to whisper. “I really don’t think some of these matter, I think the military’s going to absorb a lot of them anyway.”

    I clenched my brow. He’d not spoken to me of any plans to incorporate any departments into the armed forces. “What do you mean?”

    “I knew we’re going to win,” he raised his eyebrows and smiled. I didn’t know what he meant. He seemed more than confident, like he had some privileged information about the election. This was the boastfulness that drew cheering crowds to stadiums.

    “I was pretty sure too, the polls had us up ten points” I grinned and took my first sip of the whiskey. It felt deserved.

    “I knew for sure,” he just looked off into the distance and smiled. “An angel told me all of this would happen.”

    I looked forward and smiled for a moment nodding. It took me a second to process what he’d said. I turned and looked at him. He was a christian, at least publicly and mentioned god in speeches. He’d grown up going to church on special occasions and had been married in a cathedral. Privately though, he was not practicing, and had an extremely wide understanding of science. I’d always thought he’d saw the bible as more of a guiding storybook from long ago people and a rough history of the jews and early christians, nothing more. Personally, I wasn’t even sure he believed there was a god.

    “What?” Surely it was a joke.

    The president-elect raised his eyebrows again.

    “I saw it all while I was in the surgery. An angel appear above me just before I went in.” He looked at me, seeing the confusion in my eyes. “I know, I wouldn’t believe me either, but it happened. She came to me with a bright light. She said I would bring humanity into a glorious new age and that there would be personal and communal challenges.” He touched the scar on his shoulder from the assassination attempt. He looked at me and put his hand on my shoulder. “You and I are going to push our species past the technological singularity into a golden age for all mankind.”

    This appeared to be another one of his rambling rants. He did it to unwind.

    “What are you talking about, Alex?” Saying his name tended to ground him. I tried to figure out what he was doing. He was the type of guy who liked to play out theoreticals, was this that?

    “Look,” he slid closer to me in his chair and pulled his collar aside, revealing the scar from the bullet and resulting surgery. “See the cross? Look I didn’t really believe it either, but the angel told me I’d have to suffer for the greater good. Then I got shot, by a Russian of all things.”

    The man who’d shot him was determined by the investigators to be a white supremacist. His last name was of Russian origin, but he’d been born and raised in the USA, so this point made little sense to me. Perhaps this is some weird test?

    “Sir, he wasn’t Russian, are you feeling okay?”

    He nodded and grinned. “That’s what they say, but have you seen the articles on nanotechnology?”

    “Uh…”

    “Scientists are building machines at a molecular size. They hope to use them to boost our immune system, kill cancer, things like that.”

    “Sounds promising,” I nervously shift in my chair, still trying to figure him out, and not sure what this new topic had to do with the old one. I looked at the half a glass of whiskey on the table. He hadn’t touched it. Was he drugged? Even for him, he was rambling.

    “The Russians already have them. They’re everywhere, I’ve seen them. It’s the perfect weapon, too small to be detected, they could be anywhere. In the smallest crack in the wall, attached to your clothing, even inside you and you’d never know. Plant one in the ear and whisper things to him, perfect subliminal propaganda machine. Brainwashing on a mass scale.”

    “Sounds like something out of sci-fi dystopia,” I enjoy our occasional tangent conversations, even when they perplexed me. He always had something interesting to say.

    “The angel showed them to me, gave me the gift of sight. I can see them everywhere, but they can’t come close to me. I’m protected.”

    Again, he lost me.

    “Sir, I think you should get some sleep. We’ve got a lot of work done and I think we both need it.”

    “Yeah, we gotta be up early tomorrow.”

    We said goodnight and parted ways. I brushed the strange encounter off, but was concerned enough that I would watch him carefully tomorrow. I considered alerting the secret service that I suspected he may have been drugged, but Alex had always been very eccentric.

    *****

    The next day was a flight to DC followed by a series of meetings for both of us. Diplomatic candidates, congressional offices, and military briefings. His strange ramblings were almost forgotten as he seemed back to his grounded and disciplined self. We retired at the Blair House, as was tradition.

    When we were alone, he pulled me into The Lincoln room and whispered. “Did you see them?”

    “See what?”

    “The nanoprobes, there were three of them on the plane alone. There’s two of them here.” It took me a moment to remember the strange night before. I thought it was a late-night hypothetical, for he had not mentioned anything about last night.

    Sir, are you…” I was unsure of what to say. “Show me,” I decided to investigate.

    He pulled me towards him and pointed to the portrait of Honest Abe. “They’re too small to see, the angels have revealed them to me, can you not see it?” I looked at the portrait. I saw a painting, nothing more. But that’s not what he thought.

    “You see it too don’t you? It looks like a harmless tiny fly, but it’s a Russian nano-probe. I see it in divine light.”

    “Sir, I think the stress is getting to you.”

    “Oh, come now, you saw it with your own eyes. I saw your face, I know you saw it.” I had not, but he seemed convinced that I did. I did not see anything out of the ordinary.

    “I’m not sure what I saw.” I decide to try and cut the conversation short and get back to the other people in the house.

    The candidate just smiled and nodded, winking at me. “You’ll see it soon, you’ll have to.”

    I left the room and found the candidate’s oldest daughter and future cabinet member and grabbed her by the arm. “Can I speak to you?” I pulled her aside, not really asking. She was startled for a moment then followed me into an area without anyone else.

    “What’s up?” She looked up at me with a worried look. I wasn’t sure how to approach what I was thinking.

    “Has your dad mentioned…” I paused. “Have you noticed your dad behaving strangely?”

    She scrunched her brow. “What do you mean? Not really.”

    “Has he mentioned anything about… angels, religion?”

    She shook her head and laughed with her eyes. “When there isn’t a camera around, my dad’s an atheist. You know that, what’s this about?”

    “I think he’s having some sort of mental breakdown.”

    She shook her head. “No, I’ve known him my whole life and he’s just a steady now as he’s ever been.”

    “Look…” I cut her off. “He’s hallucinating, and delusional.”

    “No, he’s not.” She became combative. “He’s as perfectly focused as he always is. I would know, I talk to him every fifteen minutes. Now please…”

    I cut her off again. “If he does something stupid, would you vote to invoke the 25th amendment?”

    She seemed annoyed. “No.” She looked back at her associates then back at me. “Excuse me,” she brushed by me and my mind raced.

    “Jerry,” I looked around for the candidate secretary of defense. He’d be level headed. Jerry Adler was a combat veteran from Iraq turned entrepreneur, which is how he got into business with the candidate.

    I found him quickly and pulled him aside. “We have a problem.”

    When I was sure that there was nobody around, I blurted it out without any primer this time. “I think Alex is losing his mind.”

    “Why do you say that?” Jerry was going to be easier to convince than Alex’s daughter I thought. He was a very reasonable man and liked facts.

    “He believes an angel is telling him the Russians are spying on him.”

    The candidate sec-def didn’t seem fazed, it was more likely that he just didn’t believe him. “What lead you to believe this?”

    “He told me, outright.”

    He gave off one of those old-man laughs and stroked his beard. “I think he was just playing with you, come, let’s go talk to him. And for what it’s worth I’m sure the Russians are spying on him.”

    “No, we shouldn’t talk to him, I don’t think that’s a good idea. And yes, of course, but...”

    “Well then, son, what are you looking for?”

    I was taken aback. “You don’t think that’s serious?”

    He paused for a moment, choosing his words carefully. “The health of the president is always serious. I think that if you believe he’s not well, I suggest you discuss it with him directly. Look, we’re all trying to figure this whole presidential thing out, I’m not going to do anything to risk a job I don’t even have yet.”

    I nodded and turned, but then put my hand on his shoulder.

    “If he were sick would you help remove him from power.”

    The military man stared me down. “I will perform my duties to the country. If I believe the president is unfit, I will vote to remove, if I do not, I will not. I don’t know if you are seeing things that I am not, or if this is some kind of power game, but I suggest you speak to him.”

    That knot in my stomach started to come back and he walked away from me. I kept looking around, going between different people who would become members of his cabinet. Nobody believed me, or gave non-answers.

    *****

    For two more days, I frantically tried to talk to the members of the cabinet, but the more I did, the more they became concerned for me, not him. By the time of the inauguration, I’d told everyone what I felt and thought I was completely alone in worrying. He was exceptionally good at convincing everyone else that he was sane, and told them that he worried about my mental health. I gave up. I put my trust in the chain of command and Alex’s control of himself. He seemed normal other than for those few moments that frightened me so.

    I became more and more anxious as the inauguration came and went. The night after the inauguration, I could not sleep. I could not leave the Oval Office, I did not want to leave his side. I wanted to make sure nothing happened.

    We were alone, so I put the papers aside and sat up in my chair.

    “Sir, we need to talk.”

    The president smiled and sat back in his chair. He motioned with his hands for me to continue.

    “I need to know that you’re okay.”

    “I appreciate that, but I can assure you, I am feeling quite well.”

    “Sir, you’ve spent your life talking about science and technology. Religion is a curiosity to you. It is not normal for someone to so drastically change their core views.”

    He just nodded for a moment. “Unless said change is triggered by an event, which I told you about. I was visited by an angel. Besides, technology is my mission. I’m on a mission from god.”

    “Sir, you don’t even believe in god.”

    “No,” he dismissed it. “I saw no evidence for a god, that has changed.”

    “But sir, you said it yourself, it was just before surgery, you don’t think you were just in shock? You were shot in the shoulder. I swear I’ve seen my father in times that I was less stressed than that, but I’m quite sure he’s buried in New Jersey.”

    “I considered that while it was happening, but I still have the gift. I can see it right now, that’s not from shock or anesthesia.”

    “See what?”

    “The spy probes, the nanobots. They’re trying to get in here right now,” he motioned his head towards the door.

    “Is it possible that you’re sick?”

    “I considered that as well, but the angel told me the future. She told me I’d win, she told me I’d see the bots, she told me I’d set humanity on a new course.”

    “Will you consider seeing a doctor?”

    “Look, I know what you’re trying to do Don’t you think I’ve wrestled with this myself? I know what god is asking me to do, I know it’s consequences, but it must be done.”

    “Sir, what exactly are you planning on doing?”

    “I told you, push humanity into the next world order and technological step. It is our destiny.”

    “How?”

    My stomach started to twist again as I saw the news channels all at once go to a breaking story. I stood slowly from my chair and my mouth dropped open as I watched in patriotic horror as the Capitol building was engulfed in flames. I had flashes of documentaries from The History Channel. Images of the Reichstag blazed from my subconscious as I turned to face the president.

    “The prophecy continues,” he said softly. He picked up his phone and punched some buttons.

    I circled around the Resolut desk. “Sir, who are you calling?” I opened my phone and dialed the secretary of defense.

    “Gary,” he spoke calmly to me. “We’re under attack.”

    “Sir, did you have anything to do with this?”

    He grimaced and shook his head, waving me off. “Meet me in the situation room in five minutes, get the secretary of defense and the pentagon. Upgrade military alert to defcon three.”

    He’s practiced this. Good god, he’s planned this moment. He moved and acted calmly. “Alex! Look at me.”

    He paused and waited for me.

    “What is going on, come on man, tell me everything. Did you hire someone to…” I looked at the flaming capitol building on the television.

    He just smirked. “Did you know that we invented computers to win World War Two? We figured out nuclear power because of it too. The Industrial Age came about because of the civil war. God wants us to take the next step, he’s shown me how and I have to complete my mission.”

    “Sir, think about what you’re saying. You’re not thinking right. This is not who you are.” I pleaded with him as he put his hand out to stop me.

    “We need to get downstairs.”

    We rushed to the situation room, I sweated and panted in panic. He didn’t waste any time. “Gentlemen, it looks like Putin is trying his hand at good old fashioned terrorism. This can not be tolerated.” I watched as a small handful of confused, rookie men entered as he talked with authority and confidence.

    “Are you sure it was the Russians?” Military advisers were on the phone, rushing towards the White House.

    “Yes, Trump told me he feared exactly this happening as he was leaving.” That was a lie, I was sure of it. I had to stop this, things were snowballing.

    “Stop it, this isn’t real.” I attempted to get in the middle.

    “Gary, pull it together,” he scolded me, which took me off guard. “I need response options, now.”

    The men around the room who had barely had time to find a seat started a mad rush for information and communications with the military. Messages and secure phone calls went out from every person, but no answers.

    “People look at me,” he stood at the head of the room and attempted to carrall the group. Everyone settled down. “This timing is not an accident. They’re counting on the USA to be a lame duck during this transition. We need to show that we are not weak. We will not take the burning of our capital.” He worked the group like he worked the crowd at rallies. “Give me options for an effective response against the Russians.”

    “Stop!” I yelled out again. “There are no Russians, we’re not under attack.” I pleaded with them.

    “Mr. Vice President, Washington is on fire, that’s not delusion,” the secretary of defense spoke with one hand over the receiver of the phone. “The Russians are upgrading their readiness.” He then said into the room, which sparked a flurry of panic. The atmosphere was surreal.

    “That’s because we raised ours,” I deduced and pulled the phone from his hand. I went in close so that only he could hear me over the chatter. “I told you about this, this is what I told you about.”

    He angrily pulled the phone back and stood up. “I said I would do my duty. I don’t see him in a straight jacket, but I do see the symbol of American democracy in flames. That’s not delusion.”

    “I’m still not convinced it’s the Russians,” a sane voice came over the phone. “They haven’t shown any aggression.”

    “No aggression?” The president barked. “They stole the last election, they interfered in this one too. The country is on fire as we speak, and I took a bullet to the chest. No, they’ve been very aggressive. This isn’t even a first attack, it’s a second, or third. They’re playing us as fools and we can’t allow that.” He tried to think of a way to rally the group. A quip at a previous commander-in-chief came to mind. “There’s a saying in Texas. Fool me once, shame on you, you can’t fool me again.”

    The light-hearted Bushism disarmed some of the anxiety in the room and voices continued to drown out all other sounds. “A limited response will cause them to retaliate, and build up their forces.”

    “We have to cripple them before they cripple us.” The president debated back.

    More phone calls came in joined the debate.

    “Sir, it’s not like sending some cruise missiles into Iraq, Russia’s a technologically modern military. We’d need weeks to plan a strike like that.”

    “We don’t have weeks!” he barked.

    I picked up a line to the pentagon. “Get Putin on the phone now.” Then I yelled to the group. “Let’s ask the damn Russians, there is no threat, he set the fire himself.” I pointed my finger square at the president.

    He seemed offended and looked around the room. “Calm down,” he spoke too calmly. He was acting and playing exactly the part everyone else in the room expected out of him, but I knew better.

    “You hired someone to start the fire so you could go to war.”

    He looked around the room and feigned a confused laugh. “I have never advocated for war, but this was thrust upon us. I didn’t start the fire and I damn sure aren’t going to be accused of such treason in this room.” He spoke with authority, like a father scolding a son but I didn’t back down.

    “We can not start a war without facts.” I addressed the room, not the president.

    “The war has already started,” he yelled, but not in a lunatical way. The way I imagine he saw in military movies. “The only question is what are we going to do to win?” He moved with energy, keeping the room in a state of confused chaos. “Right now, the Russians are banking on us not responding at all, how do we tell them there will be retribution.”

    “They burned our capital, we could send a targeted strike at the Kremlin.” A suggestion came out of the back of the room but this erupted an argument.

    “This is not the Russians, we are not under attack!” I belted out. They looked at me like I was insane, especially after the news report broke again. Grand Central Station in Manhattan and the Chrystler building in Chicago had both been rocked by bombs.

    “If we hit Moscow, they’ll hit back, it’ll only escalate,” the military advisers chimed in.

    “I agree,” the president said, then to my horror: “We need full scale tactical strike against their military bases and missile facilities.” The room quieted down for a moment.

    “Sir, I would advise against that,” the secretary of defense was true to his word that he would do his duty, which at this moment was to advise. He looked at me for a moment, in a moment of lucid horror that I may not have been as crazy as I seemed.

    “Is there a way to bring Putin to justice without taking on his military?” The president asked his sec-def directly, knowing that he would not be able to come up with a reply.

    “No, I don’t…”

    “Bring me the satchel,” the president cut him off. The room was quiet again as the nuclear football was unloaded onto the table and military advisers began to encircle the president and provide information on codes and operational options.

    There was intense debate, and shouts of diplomacy started to rise, but it seemed that everyone had accepted the manipulation that the Russians were attacking us. “Russia is not our enemy.” I yelled and rushed towards the president, trying to get close enough to push the football away from him. A general and the secretary held me back, grabbing me by my clothing and not letting me go.

    “This is not the time for pointless infighting,” the president raised his voice and the room went silent. “I’m well aware of the consequences of both action and inaction, and ultimately I bare the responsibility and blame for anything that happens. As far as I am concerned the Russian government is directly responsible for these attacks on American civilians. That makes them terrorists and the USA does not negotiate with terrorists I will not allow them to continue to detonate bombs in American cities.” He took a breath and nobody spoke. He looked across at the secretary of defense, then up at the military advisers. He pulled “the biscuit” from his coat pocket which contained authentication codes and waited for the challenge code. “Anyone who wishes to resign, I suggest you do so now.”

    As the vice president screamed at the room, hired goons continued to set off bombs across the USA, the people of Russia went about their day, the small tumor continuously pressed on the back of the president’s brain, and US strategic nuclear forces readied its missiles to be launched.
     
  4. davidm

    davidm Poodle of Guernica

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    Your Past Follows You Like Your Shadow (2,880 words)

    Dick nudged my elbow, leaned toward me and whispered, in a confidential way: “Deke, they’ve got a fool here. Honest.”

    I stared at him, drunkenly aghast. We had on matching black T-shirts emblazoned with the Confederate battle flag, and both of us wore Yankees baseball caps turned backward. Couple of young shit kickers, in our early twenties.

    We had just finished busting our asses loading and then unloading from our moving van the shit of a young married couple who were moving into their new East Village digs: God help us, a fifth-floor walkup! Up five flights of stairs with a fucking couch, a giant bureau, an easy chair …

    By the time we were done every muscle in my body was on fire, particularly in my lower back, and my buddy and business partner, Dick, took me to a nearby dive bar called Drink It Off to, well, drink it off … the pain, the sweat, the meaninglessness of our mean little lives. …

    We had our stupid truck, Dick and Deke (alliteration!), Movers, scrawled across it, amid cyclones of spray-painted graffiti, not of our making. Lynyrd Skynyrd on the radio. Always talking girls and guns, getting shit-faced whenever possible, smoking weed. … Our dream: being self-employed movers?

    Hey, at least we weren’t working for the Man.

    “A fool? Here?”

    He nodded tipsily.

    “How the hell do you know?”

    “Because I’ve seen him.”

    “You never said anything about it before.”

    “Wanted to spring it on you. As a surprise. After a particularly shitty work day, like today. Dude, you need to see a fool, after that walkup fuckup we just did. Make ya feel better about life, about yourself.”

    I pounded down my eighth PBR while pondering this.

    “Dude,” I finally said, “Fools are urban myths. There can’t be any such things.”

    “No, Deke, they ain’t urban myths. They’re real. They got one right here. Underground. Understand? ”

    “Under — ?”

    He nodded toward the rear of the bar.

    I saw the rusty hinges in a floor made of rude wood planks that were fleeced with sawdust. A big iron ring, too. A padlock.

    “Trapdoor,” Dick said. “They keep the fool underground. In a fucking dungeon, dude! I ain’t shitting you!”

    “Nah,” I said. “It’s stone bullshit, Dick. They ain’t nothing down there but cleaning supplies and shit. C’mon, dude, get real.” But something in his eyes and voice disturbed me. It was as if he liked the idea that there was a fool in a dungeon downstairs.

    “You calling me a liar?”

    “Dick, drop it.”

    But Dick gave the bartender the high sign and he came over and they traded whispers. Dick slipped the guy a C note.

    Dick turned to me and said: “We can come back at closing time, 4 a.m.”

    “For what?”

    “For feeding.”

    I looked at him cross-eyed, seeing him double. His double leer.

    “Nah,” I said. I was incredulous.

    “Why not?”

    “Just — not interested. Drop it, I said.”

    “What are ya, Deke? Pussy?”

    “I ain’t pussy!”

    “I just paid the man a hundred — fifty for you and fifty for me — to watch feeding.”

    “I didn’t ask you to pay shit for me.”

    “Pussy.”

    “I ain’t pussy!”

    “Then be here at four tomorrow morning. Or be pussy.”

    I went home to my shitty studio apartment and slept it off.

    Later, I was there — at the bar, at the appointed time.

    God help me, I was there.

    I don’t know why. Morbid curiosity? A determination to prove Dick wrong? Or — God forbid — fear of being called, or of actually being, a pussy?

    The bar was empty except for me, Dick, and the feeder. I think my knees knocked as I watched the feeder pop the padlock and then open the trapdoor. Its rusty hinges creaked, something out of a horror movie.

    We looked down.

    Yeah, it was a dungeon, all right.

    Holy fuck.

    It was dimly lighted with torches that flickered menacingly through garlands of cobwebs. A rat darted by on a dank cinderblock floor. And the stench! Hoo, boy! It teared my eyes and pinched my nostrils shut.

    The feeder held a bucket of slops.

    “Hey, fool!” The feeder yelled down into that hole. “Do a little dance for us, willya? Work for your grub! C’mon, show your ass!”

    The fool appeared. Skin and bones.

    He payed out a chain that, fixed to a manacle around his ankle, kept him confined more or less closely to a damp and mossy wall. I swooned at the sight of him.

    “Shake your ass, fool!” The feeder yelled.

    The fool, half naked in shit-covered rags, shook his scrawny ass. The little bells on the drooping pointers of his fool’s cap tinkled merrily. He opened his maw. He had no teeth or tongue — the feeder was shining a flashlight down at him, so the interior of his mouth was plain to see. The fool let out a combination moan and groan that was bloodcurdling. His eyes were bright with madness.

    He danced a jig, jittering like a marionette on invisible strings. He grunted and snorted. The bells tinkled.

    The feeder pitched down the slops at him. The gruel engulfed him, and he immediately sank to his knees, cupped his hands, and began frantically scooping the muck into his maw, right off the floor. Dick slapped his thighs and gave off a hee-haw.

    I fought not to faint.

    “That’s it,” I said. “I’ve seen enough.” I wanted to throw up.

    Dick quit laughing.

    He gestured contemptuously down at the poor bastard in the dungeon and said, “Fuck is wrong with you, Deke? He’s a fool! This is his lot in life! This is just as good for him as it is for us! Don’t you get the fucking point? The fool reminds us that no matter how bad off we are, someone is always worse off! So we can feel better about ourselves by looking down at, and looking down on, him. And in return for playing his God-given role, the fool gets fed. So it’s a win-win!”

    I wanted to say, “Shame on you,” but I couldn’t quite get the words out. They would have sounded … well, pussy.

    But refraining from saying this didn’t help me with Dick.

    “You really are a pussy, ain’t ya, Deke? I always say that kiddingly, but — it’s true!”

    I ran out of the bar.

    I wished I had done something more than run away, like … well, like a pussy. But I didn’t. I’ve always regretted that.

    You might wonder why I didn’t call the cops, at least.

    There was no point. According to the urban legend, a select few places are licensed to keep fools. But it turned out this wasn’t a myth — it was true. Just like these days cigar and hookah bars are exempt from the no-smoking rules.

    Licensed venues are decided by a worldwide lottery held once every five years, and tickets are in great demand, since showing fools to the public on the QT is a big underground revenue source. But these days lotteries are kept hush-hush on the Dark Web, to avoid attracting the attention of do-gooders and busybodies, the kind of people that the so-called alt-right today calls the SJWs — social justice warriors.

    Back then, of course, when this happened to me in the late 90s, before the internet really took off, these lotteries were conducted by word of mouth, by secure telephone, by mimeograph, by secret handshakes, by signs and symbols …

    Privately financed “security forces” — aka paid kidnappers — scour urban hunting grounds for potential fools to kidnap: there are plenty of pickings.

    Later I learned that this shit has been going on for a long time. The Pony Express and the telegraph were used in the nineteenth century to organize the lotteries. Before that? Who knows? Smoke signals?

    But fools have always been around. Lotteries, too.

    And, friend, they always will be.

    Guaranteed.

    The black man as the fool. The yellow man. The red man. The brown man. The poor man. The homeless man. The Other. The kike, the wop, the spic, the Mick, the raghead, the lonely man, the man in the wrong place at the wrong time who gets shanghaied — who gets his tongue cut off, his teeth pried out, and then gets clapped into a dungeon with a manacle slapped around his ankle and a chain affixed to a wall. Who gets a fool’s cap with tinkling bells mashed on his noggin, like the crown of thorns on Christ’s head. The Everyman — just as long as you yourself are not that man, it’s fine. For you. You can look down on the fool and not even think, there but for the grace of God go I. No, you think: God gave the fool what he deserves. I’m better than him. Hey, I’m no fool.

    I never saw Dick again.

    I just upped and quit our moving business. Let him have, gratis, the truck we co-owned. Wouldn’t even take his phone calls.

    I hitchhiked cross country, from New York City, where this happened, to San Francisco. On a whim. I had to get the stink out of my nostrils, the tears out of my eyes. I felt compelled to put as much distance between me and that bar as I could. God!

    All this happened twenty years ago. Since then, my life has changed — a lot.

    Long story short, I cleaned up my act — thanks to seeing that fool.

    I got an education and a good job, not driving a shitty moving van but first working for, and then eventually managing, a computer programming business that creates novel, ground-breaking apps. Silicon Valley whiz-kid stuff.

    Got married to a wonderful woman, and we’ve got a kid on the way, our first. Never told her — or anyone — about the fool.

    I dropped the tough-guy act. Someone wants to call me a pussy today? Go ahead, make my day. Call me a pussy.

    I’d rather be a pussy than a prick like Dick.

    Deke was my pseudo-name, when I was a young and stupid asshole. My real name is Donald, and that is the name I use now. I don’t wear a backward baseball cap or a Confederate flag T-shirt anymore. I wear a suit and tie. The name Deke belongs to another life that I want to forget — my phony-baloney shit-kicker life.

    Call me a pussy, if you want.

    Just don’t call me Deke.

    Because if you do, I might kick the shit out of you.

    That’s when the old shit kicker in me comes back from the dead.

    Or so I had thought.

    I saved up enough money and bought out the programming business.

    Everything was going great.

    Until now.

    A few weeks ago, I took on a partner: gentleman by the name of Richard. I wanted to expand and diversify the business, and he promised me all sorts of contacts. His background checked out. Although I hadn’t got to know him well, he seemed personable and highly professional, so I went with my instincts and took a chance. We signed a contract.

    Last night he took me to a swank club in San Francisco’s Pacific Heights, to introduce me to his … contacts.

    Place with a French name. Chez something.

    I looked around. What a difference from that old dive bar with the underground dungeon, the Drink It Off!

    This, I thought, is real achievement. At that moment I’d have snapped my suspenders with satisfaction, were I wearing any. Master of the universe!

    Lots of suits and chandeliers. Strolling strings. Waiters in tuxes. Fine dining.

    Hinges in the polished hardwood floor, toward a nook in the rear. Padlock. Ring.

    When I noticed those, I got a funny feeling in the pit of my stomach.

    Nah, I told myself.

    Just, nah.

    “Call me Dick,” Richard said conversationally, as we got lubed at the bar. We were bending the ol’ elbow and really getting chummy for the first time while waiting for his contacts to show up for dinner. I had begun to unwind.

    But, call me Dick?

    The unwinding stopped a little.

    After a few martinis, Dick nudged me, leaned in close and said, with a confidential whisper: “Donald — may I call you Don?”

    I looked at him.

    “They’ve got a fool here. Honest.”

    So much for unwinding.

    Very slowly, I put down my drink. I gripped the edge of the bar until, I suppose, my knuckles turned white.

    I took a deep breath.

    Then I slowly looked back over my shoulder, and looked again at the hinges.

    I think, as I turned my head with agonizing slowness, the tendons of my neck audibly creaked — like those rusty old hinges at the Drink It Off, from twenty years ago. …

    Then I faced Richard — Dick — fully. I looked at him in silence, for a long, long time. His goofy grin began to falter with uncertainty but then picked up again when I finally said:

    “Dick? Call me Deke.” I turned on a radiant fake smile as if by a light switch. In fact I was gritting my teeth.

    “OK, Deke, ol’ buddy!” He whacked me on the shoulder and hee-hawed. “Dick and Deke! It’s perfect! Partners! We oughta make that our company name!”

    “Alliteration!”

    “Yeah! Whatever!”

    “Dick and Deke Dot Com!”

    “Ha! Genius!”

    “Cheers!”

    We clinked glasses.

    I looked again at the hinges in the floor.

    “Trapdoor,” Dick said, with a smug smile in his voice. “A dungeon under it, though in a sophisticated establishment like this, of course, they use the French: oubliette.”

    I thought: oubliette, eh?

    Well, fancy that.

    At a fancy-schmancy dump like this, one wouldn’t want to say plain ol’ dungeon, would one?

    No, indeed.

    That would be gauche.

    I looked back at good ol’ Dick. Noticed, for the first time, how chubby he was. One might even say porcine.

    Well fed.

    “Feeding is at four a.m., after the place closes,” he said, his whisper bright, enthusiastic. He nudged me again and leaned in close. I smelled the stink of his breath.

    It was like smelling his soul.

    “They feed the fool his slops. From latrine buckets. What a hoot! I get a free pass, to watch. A perk of this club. For the real VIPs. I got you a pass, too, my friend. You’re in like Flynn, now. One of us, Deke!” His eyes shined. “This is the only place — the only place — on the entire West Coast with a fool!”

    “You need a fool to feel better about yourself, Dick?”

    “Hey, Deke! One can’t ever feel too good about oneself! Am I right, or am I right?”

    “Right as rain, buddy.” After a pause, I said: “Dick? You’ve really seen this fool?”

    “Sure as shit! Would I lie to you, my new business partner?”

    “Know what, Dick? I saw a fool once. One time.”

    He looked at me with redoubled respect in his eyes.

    “And because of seeing him, I am what I am today. If I hadn’t seen that fool, I think I might have ended up a fool myself.”

    A great grin cracked his porcine puss. I felt myself go rigid with terror at the sight of it.

    That’s what a fool is for,” he said. “You ought to count yourself blessed, my friend!” He raised his glass.

    And I …

    … clinked his glass.

    I never escaped my past.

    Does anyone?

    Your past follows you like your shadow.

    But what I want to say — so desperately want to say — is this: That this time, it was different. That this time, I didn’t just run away.

    I want to say: Fool me once, shame on you.

    I want to say: Fool me twice …

    I want to say that I rose from my barstool.

    I want to say that Dick said, his puss puzzled, “Deke?”

    I want to say that I said to Dick, “Dick? Don’t call me Deke.”

    I want to say that after that, Dick didn’t call me Deke anymore.

    Or anything else, for that matter.

    That’s what I so desperately want to say.

    I badly want that to be what happened.

    It wasn’t.

    Instead, we had a great dinner with his contacts. I had a scrumptious boeuf bourguignon and a chocolate soufflé for desert, and we all savored fine Burgundy. Dick discoursed knowingly on vinology, Matisse, and Hugo — he’s a real Francophile — while tucking into pot-au-feu, followed by fromage blanc. We laughed and told stories. Bonded. Hatched grand schemes.

    One of the contacts, a top-shelf programmer, outlined his plans for an app to make it easier to target and kidnap likely victims to serve as fools. “You can zoom right in on a good mark, using GPS and directions from Siri,” he gushed. “Security forces will snap this shit up like hotcakes.” I remarked ingratiatingly on his ingenuity. After all, my wife’s got a bun in the oven, and I’ve got our future to think about.

    Hey, I’m no fool.

    “Call me Deke,” I told the gang.

    “Deke!” They raised their glasses. “Salud!”

    We even finalized the name of our partnership: Dick and Deke Dot Com.

    After closing, we watched a feeder feed the fool.
     
  5. exweedfarmer

    exweedfarmer Contributor Contributor

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    Shame on Pluto (1923)

    The admissions councilor pulled into the faculty parking and her mouth went dry. Dr. McMasters pulled in the same time as she did. She pretended to search for something lost in her car seat. Anything to avoid the awkward moment because, McMasters had a little crush on her and she wasn't interested. She really wasn't interested, her mother had warned her about this sort of thing. Earlier on she had toyed with the idea of dating him for the sake of his dreamy pale blue eyes and his obvious interest but .... The man had been born with flaming orange hair, he looked like a lit match. The professor hadn't asked her out yet, but his sad attempts to engage her in conversation were becoming more frequent. He was waiting, lingering, before going into the building just to ambush her. She braced herself for another bad moment and pulled the door lever.

    “Good Morning to you both,” Dr. Hadley interceded from an unexpected quarter. He had arrived unnoticed and saved the day for her. His voice broke the stillness in the bright, crisp morning air of the parking lot. He was the school's resident curmudgeon in the astrophysics department and McMasters only friend on the faculty. He smiled broadly and winked at her so that the lit-match couldn't see. The awkward moment had been narrowly averted. With polite nodding they went their respective ways.

    The councilor walked into her unaccountably crowded office. She saw student after student that morning until about 11:30, they all wanted the same thing and she tried to talk them out of it. It was her duty to the school.

    “I'm sorry, no... I won't be fooled again.” The latest young woman in the series said while leaving, letting the door slam loudly behind her. The councilor's usually quiet outer office was noisy. There was the sound of clamoring outside the door. Definite clamoring.

    “Next!” The councilor said in raised voice.

    Another young woman came in with her papers. Several others tried to push their way in behind her but she had blocked them. She was a rather wide young woman and well able to fend off the rest, especially from behind.

    The admissions councilor stared her down, “... and what can I do for you?”

    “I would like to withdraw from....”

    The councilor held up her hand to stop the round young woman. “What's going on?”

    “What do you mean?” The girl blinked timidly as though she had been accused of something.

    “I mean that you're about the fiftieth student this morning to ask to withdraw from classes. Where do you think you're going to get in life without a college degree?” The councilor caught sight of a duty left undone. Her ficus was screaming at her from atop the filing cabinet, begging for the water she hadn't had time to give her. The Ficus was named Lucille.

    “It doesn't matter any more,” the girl said nervously. “After the announcement, no one is going to care about degrees. My parents just don't want to pay for this anymore, they think it's foolish seeing as....”

    “What announcement?” The councilor spoke over the sound of hands beating rudely on her door.

    “From NASA, you heard about that? Are we done here?” The girl seemed in a hurry.

    “Are you in a dorm? We can't process this until all your fees are current.” The councilor handed back the paper. The girl fled to clean out her residence.

    Another face pushed through the door after her but the councilor held up her hands, “No! I need a few minutes.” Actually, the Ficus needed a few of her minutes. Watering time. A time to breathe and collect herself. What could this have to do with an announcement from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Could it be that “Armageddon” movie was coming true? Damn Bruce Willis anyway! She thought he was really sexy for a bald guy.

    Her computer was the newest, a 2007 model IBM. It was demon fast with Windows XP. She searched for an announcement from NASA on the internet but found nothing. The kid must have had it wrong. That's why they were in college in the first place, all sorts of wrong ideas in their heads.

    Her doorknob was jiggling, they were not going to leave her alone. “All right come in.”

    A tall young man with bad acne stepped through the door, papers in hand.

    “Withdrawing?” she asked bluntly.

    He nodded his head.

    “Are all of your fees current?”

    He nodded his head again. She held out her hand for his paperwork. Reading it over for errors she said,
    “Okay, Next!”

    The bad-acne with tall boy attached took its leave. That was just as well, it was painful to look at. A little blond girl in a pony tail came in and brushed the boy as they crossed in the doorway. He was grateful for the female contact. She nearly knocked Lucille-the-ficus off the filing cabinet trying to avoid him.

    “Withdrawing?” The councilor was tired of saying that.

    “You must have known this was coming.” The girl said with an air of authority. She seemed a smug little bitch, and had endangered the ficus too. The councilor took an instant dislike to her.

    The councilor snatched the papers from her hand. She began to look them over. The smug little bitch had neat handwriting and wrote succinctly in the spaces of the form where required. “Is NASA expecting a meteor strike or something?”

    “Oh, it's not just NASA. I've been expecting this since 2003 when word first got out. NASA finally just confirmed it. Can I get a partial refund on my parking pass?”

    “No, but you can still park in the lot until the end of the quarter.” The councilor smiled and handed the papers back to Ms. Smug. “The date is wrong.”

    Smug-little-Bitch looked in amazement at her imperfection. The date wasn't really all that important but there was a price to pay for smugness, and endangering the life of a beloved houseplant. The councilor stood up, “Bring those back to me after lunch.”

    The councilor pushed her way out of the door and headed for the faculty lounge. She could hide from the madness there and maybe get some perspective.

    Doctors Hadley and McMasters were playing chess as always during lunch in the otherwise deserted room. Hadley's gray hair a sharp contrast to McMaster's orange. There were black and white chess pieces on a green and beige roll-up board, the colors were an interior decorator's nightmare! She had thought about interior design as a career. McMasters moved a knight to the fifth rank and tried to distract Hadley in conversation, “It hardly matters. We'll both be out of a job soon.”

    The councilor noticed him noticing her and the dry mouth was back.

    “I don't care. I should have retired two years ago. No real point in going back to class. I only had three students show up all morning.” Hadley took the knight. A quick series of captures sprang from that.

    “Do you boys know what is going on?” She broke their concentration. Neither looked up.

    “About what?” McMasters said after finishing the sequence. He had noticed her noticing him noticing her and decided not to be so obvious about the noticing.

    “Why are we losing all our students?” She blurted out.

    “Oh, it's those damned pictures from the Hubble telescope. It's pretty conclusive.” The ginger haired McMasters said pretending to look over the position on the board rather than at her chubby yet (in his opinion) succulent legs.

    “I was at the original conference in '03.” Dr. Hadley said proudly. “I suspected it all along. The odd orbit.... mass calculations were never consistent. And it was off the disk for goodness sake.” The older man suddenly had a moment of inspiration and moved a rook.

    McMaster's eyes grew wide. He had completely missed that threat. “The kids are over reacting. We may get a few days off, but they'll be back.” The orange headed man looked over the board a bit more and pushed over his king. Then he intentionally didn't look at her again.

    “I still don't know what you're talking about,” The councilor said in frustration.

    “It's Pluto...” Dr. Hadley's voice was lordly and satisfied for having trounced his opponent.

    “The Disney cartoon dog?”

    “No, the planet Pluto.” Hadley put some of the chess pieces into a bag. “They've downgraded it. It's officially no longer a planet. The Hubble Space Telescope got pictures and there are definitely two or three bright pieces where we thought there was only one.”

    “Stuff and nonsense if you ask me.” McMasters rolled up the board, “Its not like Pluto actually affected anyone's life outside of a few astronomers! But still....”

    “But, why would that cause the students to desert the school en mass?” The councilor failed to make the connection.

    “Because.... From 1930 until today, we were teaching that there were nine planets in the solar system. Don't you see? We were lying to them, like so many things we teach.. We have been 'outed!' The lie has been handed down year after year after year, and it was wrong. Absolutely wrong. We've lost their faith. Our credibility as educators and as an educational institution are shot.”

    “I don't believe it,” her suspension of disbelief had been pulled beyond it's breaking
    point.

    “You see!” Hadley stretched in his seat and prepared to get up at last. His old body protesting the effort, “My credibility is shot even with you. I'm just not sure if I should put in for retirement of wait for them to fire me.”

    “Most of what we teach is pointless anyway,” McMasters was still stinging from the defeat and nervously trying not to look at her. “I mean, I was standing in front of an introductory calculus class the other day and I asked myself 'Why would anyone really need to know the instantaneous rate of change in a mathematically predictable line anyway?' Anyone who would actually use that sort of information wouldn't be going to a liberal arts, would-you-like-fries-with-that, college.” He regarded her with an unintentional longing gaze again. He couldn't help himself.

    A little sweat broke out on her upper lip.

    “Exactly so,” Hadley confirmed. “Everything is a bit of a lie in one way or another. These days, college degrees are common, so why should they be valuable? Does a certificate make a person more or less competent to do their job? Fool me once shame on you...”

    McMasters continued the old adage, “Fool me twice....”


    The councilor took the information in with incredulity, and deflected yet another unwanted leer from McMasters. She looked in his blue, blue and kindly eyes. Maybe it could work. Was his hair really all that orange? He was a pretty nice guy except for that. But... No! He was really, really intolerably orange! Her mother had told her that anything that bothered her about a man a little in the beginning would become intolerable as time went on. She finished his sentence referring to her foolish reconsideration of the impossible, “...shame on me.”
     
    Last edited: Apr 23, 2019
  6. John-Wayne

    John-Wayne Madman Extradinor Contributor

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    The Dictator (1881):

    A cocktail of shouting and sporadic gunfire echoed throughout the city. Plumes of smoke billowed into the sky from the burnt-out buildings, clogging an already gray sky.

    “Let’s go, Let’s go,” Captain Gael shouted as he led his squad through the bombed-out streets as they shot it out with Security Forces.

    Gael took cover behind a car as he replaced the magazine in his carbine. He jumped out and fired, killing several officers, before ducking back down to avoid the bullets as they sparked off the car. He pressed his earpiece as he shouted. “Captain Caedmon, are you and your squad in place.”

    “My squad is almost to our target, do you need assistance?”

    “Negative, keep pushing forward.”

    “Affirmative.”

    Gael lept over the car, firing his carbine as he shouted. “Let’s go, we can’t let Captain Caedmon beat us to the palace!”

    They pushed towards the palace taking out the defenders. Once there, they blew open the gates and rushed on to the grounds, where more defenders came out, firing at them. They came to the palace steps as another squad of rebels joined them.

    “Captain Gael,” Captain Caedmon said as he nodded.

    “Captian Cademon,” Gael nodded then looked over the others. “This is the last push, the Dictator is no doubt hiding somewhere inside. He is going to pay for his crimes.”

    “Sir!”

    Gael breathed in, holding it as he gripped his carbine. He then kicked on the door along with Captain Caedmon as they rushed in, the others flooding in behind them.

    They quickly scanned the foyer, filled with dedicated art and fancy carpets. Soft symphony music filled the air as Crystal chandlers hung from the ceiling, illuminated the room. It had given off a stark contrast from the gloomy outside.

    “Look at all this decadence,” Gael disgusted.

    “All paid for by the labor of the working class,” Caedmon groaned.

    Gael motioned for the rebels to move out. “Search the Palace thoroughly, watch out for traps. That snake is in here somewhere.”

    “Where is everyone?” Caedmon said as he glanced around.

    “Laying in ambush no doubt,” Gael groaned.

    Caedmon nodded.

    They moved through the palace, guns readied.

    “Cleared…” shouted a rebel.

    “Cleared,” shouted another.

    Gael led his team up the stairs to the second floor, where they were joined by Caedmon and his team.

    “Find anyone?” Gael asked.

    “Nope, empty!”

    “What could he be up too?” Gael nervously.

    “I don’t know, but be ready for anything, he’s a sneaky bastard,” Caedmon said.

    Gael nodded.

    They made their way down the hall, coming to a large set of black doors with gold trim.

    “This should be the study,” Gael said.

    “I bet he is just sitting in there, sipping on wine as he waits for us,” Caedmon amused.

    Gael chuckled with a nod. “Well, it will be his last glass.”

    Caedmon nodded. “Let’s go.”

    They gathered at the door, preparing to barge in.

    “Alright, no doubt they are waiting for us. So, be ready. On my count,” said Gael. “3… 2… 1…, Go, Go,”

    They bashed open the doors and rushed in, guns readied. Inside, they found a lone figure dressed in a uniform, sitting at an oak desk. He seemed to have little interest in the rebels as he wrote.

    “Your reign of terror ends today, Dictator. You will pay for your crimes against the people,” Gael said as he approached the desk, his gun aimed at the man.

    The Dictator chuckled as he disregarded Gael, continuing to write.

    “Come on, get up, now!” Gael commanded.

    Caedmon smirked as he chuckled.

    The Dictator set his pen down as he let out a deep breath. He sat back as he smirked at Gael. He nodded. “Captian, I expected you a bit sooner.”

    “Enough of this, get up,” Gael ordered.

    “Oh… very well!” The Dictator groaned as he pushed up, out of the chair. His bones cracked as he stood up. “Oh! It feels like I have been in that chair forever.”

    The Dictator looked at the rebels. “Never get old,”

    “That won’t be a problem, now come!” Gael ordered as he kept his gun drawn on him.

    The Dictator chuckled as he held out his arms. “Why are you so nervous Captian Gael, I am but an old man. See, no tricks up my sleeves.”

    “Come around, now!” Gael shouted.

    The Dictator chuckled as he finished off his wine. He then walked around the table, the other rebels keeping their guns drawn on him. He looked around as he amused. “Afraid of an old man.”

    “We are just being cautious,” Gael said. “You are known for trickery.”

    “Indeed, Captian. I am rather dangerous, aren’t I, these old, feeble hands,” as he raised them. “Have been known to kill thousands in a single swipe!”

    “Bastard!” Gael shouted as he butted the Dictator across the face with the stock of his rifle.

    The Dictator chuckled, recomposing himself as he rubbed his cheek. “So, ends my reign of terror, and begins the Tyrannical reign of Captian Gael.”

    “I am nothing like you,” Gael growled.

    The Dictator laughed.

    “That’s what they all say… just as I was nothing like the Dictator before me… and the one before him… and the one before him. Tell me, Captian Gael, have you ever heard the saying, Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me.”

    “No, Sir!” Gael groaned.

    The Dictator chuckled as he walked towards the middle of the room. “It means, Captian, that once a person is tricked, they must learn from it, so they are not tricked again.”

    Raising his hand in the air, the Dictator snapped his fingers.

    Captian Caedmon and the others turned their rifles on Gael.

    Gael gasped as his jaw dropped, he backed into the desk as he held his rifle nervously. “Wha… What is going on here?”

    The Dictator laughed as he pulled a device from his pocket and begun pushing the buttons on it. “You see, Captian. A long time ago, the founders of this city, the Grand Council.”

    “The Grand Council?”

    “Yes, the Grand Council, the real leaders of this city. Decided to put into place contingencies to avoid upstarts, and created a puppet figure we affectionately called the Dictator. It was through the Dictator that we could make the hard decisions to keep Humanity alive after Mother Nature decided to reduce our population. The title of Dictator has been passed down for generations from father to son, with the previous Dictator....”

    “Father to Son? But you have no children!”

    The Dictator chuckled as he looked at Captian Caedmon, he motioned to him. “Come here boy,”

    “Father,” Caedmon nodded as he approached him.

    The Dictator turned to face Gael as he placed an arm around the back of his son’s shoulders. “I would like you to meet my son, Vincent Caedmon. Or now, the new Dictator.”

    “No,” as Gael raised his rifle.

    The Dictator quickly raised the device and pushed a button.

    Gael found himself unable to move as he was frozen in place. “No, it can’t be!”

    “Tell me, my dear Captian, do you know what this is,” the Dictator asked as he approached him.

    “It’s… it's an Android Neutralizer, but… that only works on androids!”

    The Dictator grinned. “And that is what you are, Gael. and you did your job excellently. programmed to cause dissent and incite a revolution against an evil Dictator.”

    “What! Why? How?” Gael gasped.

    “Why? Population control! As you know, thanks to our dear mother nature, and possibly some acts caused by man itself. We have a very limited area at this moment, to farm, graze cattle, to feed a growing city. And sometimes, a city needs to be culled a bit.” The Dictator said as he turned and walked towards his son. He smiled at him, patting his shoulder, then turned to face Gael. “Remember my dear boy, there are two types of revolution, the one you can control and the one you can’t control. Never let the latter come to pass.”

    “Father,” Vincent smiled as he bowed his head.

    The Dictator approached Gael. “By controlling the revolution, we can get what we want and the people can get a bit of what they want. We stay in control and keep the city functional. And, when the time comes, the People get revenge on a corrupt and vile dictator. But, hopefully, one day, we shall no longer need this grand charade and the people can live once more in harmony with the planet. Now, you are going to be a good boy for us, Gael,” as he pushed some buttons on the device, forcing Gael to lower his arms as he dropped his rifle. “You are going to obey everything my son tells you to do.”

    The Dictator snapped his fingers as soldiers approached Gael and stripped him of his uniform. They dressed him in a uniform similar to the Dictator’s and applied make-up to his face and grayed his hair.

    The Dictator stepped in close to Gael as a soldier held up a mirror, allowing the android to see a mirror image of himself next to the Dictator.

    “What!”

    The Dictator smirked. “You didn’t realize how similar we looked this entire time… just add some wrinkles, gray the hair. But of course, you only ever saw me from a distance, or when I had my face mask on.”

    The soldiers then gagged Gael and tied his hands behind his back.

    The Dictator patted Gael’s cheek then stepped back. “Now be a good boy for my dear Son,”

    Vincent smirked as he stepped forward, grabbing Gael by the arm. “Let’s go, tyrant!”

    “Wha! na!” his voice muffled. Gael was walked out onto the balcony. Where below, a large mass of people had gathered, booing and yelling for the Dictator’s death.

    “My fellow Citizens, the Dictator has fallen!” Vincent shouted.

    The people cheered.

    Vincent turned Gael towards him as he glared into his eyes. “Your reign of terror is over tyrant, for the crimes against the people of this city, for the countless lives you slaughtered, I sentence you to death!”

    Vincent pulled out his pistol and shot Gael in the head twice. He fell to the ground as the crowd cheered. The new Dictator then turned towards the crowd as soldiers grabbed Gael’s body and dragged it away.

    “The City has been cleansed of the filth that infested it and a new day has dawn, one of freedom,” Vincent shouted as he raised his hand in the air.

    The crowd cheered as they raised their fists.

    “However, now is the time to morn and cremate our dead then rebuild our beloved city, one of the last bastion of humanity left in a cruel and desolate world. A world that turned it’s back on its children.”

    The crowd cheered as Vincent waved. He then returned to the study, where his father wrapped his arm around the back of his neck.

    “Well done, son,” The dictator smiled proudly.

    Vincent amused as he smiled.

    “You will do a fine job for the next few decades, now I think it’s time to go home and spend some time with your mother. I’m officially retired.” The Dictator smiled.

    Vincent laughed as he nodded.

    The two walked out of the study.
     
  7. Laughing Rabbit

    Laughing Rabbit Member

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    A Monster’s Practical Jokes (4,110 words)

    The air roared in Samantha’s ears as she fell, tears blinding her eyes as she struggled with the parachute. Her main chute hadn’t deployed and she desperately tugged at the emergency line. Nothing. She screamed in horror as she realized death was imminent.

    She gave one last tug and to her relief, the chute opened! But it didn’t deploy properly, the lines were tangled, causing the chute not to open fully. It slowed her descent, but she was spiraling out of control. Samantha cried as she tried to yank the lines apart to get the chute to open more. But it was too late.

    The branches of trees clawed and scraped her as she tumbled through them, and a sudden lurch broke her fall. Samantha choked, still sobbing, and wiped tears and blood from her eyes. Breathing heavily, she looked up. The torn, battered parachute had been caught in the tangled mass of branches and leaves. Looking down, all she could see was more branches and leaves. How far was she from the ground? She couldn’t tell.

    “Help!” She screamed, hoping someone would hear. “Someone help me!” She yelled until her voice was hoarse. Samantha listened, but all she could hear were insects. She shivered at the thought of insects coming near her.

    “My hair is ruined!” she groaned. She was almost glad no one could see her. Her makeup and hair were destroyed and her dress was torn and filthy. “Ugh!” For a moment she was distracted from her predicament and grew angry over the ruined $500 dress and her missing $200 shoes. Until a sharp stinging sensation along with a warmth spread across her forehead. Something dripped into her eyes. Shakily, she put a hand to her forehead and it came back covered in blood. The high pitched scream was cut short as she blacked out from the shock.

    When she came to, Samantha was still dangling from her harness. No one had come for her. She began crying again, not understanding how easy it would be for her to simply grab onto the large branch beside her, undo her harness, and climb down.

    “Someone help!” She shrieked, panicking at the thought of no one coming for her. She flailed her arms and legs and shrieked again. Night was descending rapidly. Already she couldn’t see much.

    A voice from below broke through her wails. She stopped crying and listened. There was the voice again! “Hello? I’m up here, come get me down!” She yelled. The voice called up at her. She couldn’t understand what it was saying. “Are you a foreigner?” She hollered down. “Get me someone who speaks English!” She wailed.

    Samantha sniffled. Was the person still down there? “Hello? Hello are you there?” She panicked when there was no reply. “Listen, it’s okay if you don’t speak English! I’ll pay you whatever you ask, just please get me down!”

    A rustling sound and presence beside her startled her and she shrieked again. “Help, help me!” she flung her arms and legs away from the branch, causing the battered chute to rip and drop a bit. This caused Samantha to panic more, screaming and flailing around, while the person on the branch tried and failed to grab a hold of her. The chute slowly tore more and more until it ripped free of the branches and dropped her gently to the ground.

    The person on the branch sighed and climbed down after her.

    Samantha groaned as she pushed the remnants of the parachute off her and sat up, rubbing her back. “Oh, oh, oh!” she groaned. “I think my back is broken!” she glared at whoever was climbing down the tree. “It’s all your fault! I’m going to sue!” She slowly stood up, undid the parachute harness, and put a hand on her back and leaned over, putting another hand on her knee. “And my knee! It’s also broken!” She hobbled towards the person, who had stopped walking toward her. “You are a terrible rescuer!”

    Samantha stormed up to the person hollering threats as she went. “Just you wait! I’ll have….” She was finally close enough to see the persons face. It wasn’t a person. The grotesque creature in front of her was at least a head taller than herself. It tilted its head, mouth opening showing off large sharp teeth. In the fading light, Samantha could see green glowing eyes staring back at her. She moved her mouth up and down and let out a shriek. The creature covered its ears and leaned back. Samantha tried to turn and run, but stumbled and fell into the parachute. She grabbed it and shrieked again as she gathered the cloth around her in a protective cocoon.

    Too scared to even try to peek out, she sobbed herself to sleep, not waking until the sun broke through the treetops the next morning.

    ****

    It took her a few moments to remember what had happened and where she was. Samantha sat up with a gasp and maneuvered the parachute around until she found an opening. Slowly, she peeked out. Nothing. Carefully, she crawled out of the parachute and looked around. She was alone. Shakily, she ran a hand through her hair, pouting sadly as she pulled sticks and leaves out of her once meticulously groomed hair.

    “I must’ve had a bad dream. From hitting my head.” She reasoned, putting a hand to her forehead where the blood had dried. She flinched as she ran a finger across the small wound. Her stomach growled, reminding her that she hadn’t eaten since noon the day before.

    Looking around, she slowly stood up, muscles aching from the abuse her body had been through and unused to sleeping on the ground. Eyes welling up with tears again, she slowly limped around in circles, unsure of what to do next. Her feet ached, having had lost her shoes she had to walk on the ground in her nylons. She sniffled at the injustice. Her stomach growled again and her mouth was dry.

    The snapping of a twig caused her to pause. The twig snapped again and she slowly turned in the direction of the sound. The monster was there, leaning against a tree, a stick clutched in its clawed hand. Moving a finger, it pressed a claw against the stick and broke off another piece. Snap! It bared its glistening white fangs at her in a sneer.

    “Stay away!” Samantha screamed and blindly ran in the opposite direction of the creature. She tripped over a rock, but jumped up and kept running. When she ran out of breath, she stopped and collapsed to her knees, breathing heavily, feet throbbing from pain. Sweat was pouring out of her, hair sticking to her face and neck.

    She froze, heart pounding wildly when she realized the creature was standing next to her. It sauntered in front of her and crouched down, staring at her. Samantha covered her face with her hands. “Don’t eat me, don’t eat me, don’t eat me!” she blubbered over and over. The monster did nothing but dig in the dirt with the stick until Samantha peeked out between her fingers at it. It bared its teeth, causing Samantha to shriek and cover her face again, willing the creature to disappear. It didn’t.

    Panicking, she jumped up and ran in another direction. She heard the pounding footsteps behind her and tried to run faster. She looked behind just as the monster tackled her to the ground. She screeched and tried to wriggle out of its grasp, but it was too strong.

    Samantha began crying into her hands as a claw moved her hair from around her ear, then pressed something into it. A sharp pain radiated through her ear, making her gasp and clutch at her ear, moving into the fetal position. “Leave me alone, don’t eat me!” She cried. The creature moved away.

    “I won’t.” A pause. “Eat you.”

    Samantha stopped blabbering. “What?” She peeked out from behind her hands. The creature had backed up and sat back on its haunches.

    “I won’t eat you.” It said again, giving her another tooth filled grimace.

    “You can speak English?” Samantha asked, confused.

    “No.” It dug in the dirt again. “I gave you a translator. Like mine.” It tapped at its ear.

    Samantha felt around her ear. There was a metallic object there. She tugged on it, but it wouldn’t move. She closed her eyes, trying to get the nightmare to go away. But when she opened her eyes, the monster was still there.

    “What do you want from me?” she whimpered.

    “To help you. You asked for help.” It stopped digging in the dirt. “Do you not want my help?”

    Samantha didn’t know what to say. “I want help. But I want help from rescuers. With helicopters. And food. And water. And, and…” She stopped. “I want you to go away.”

    “Why?”

    “Because you’re a monster!” she whined. “Monsters don’t help! They eat people!” She wailed.

    “Oh.” The thing stood up. “I want to help, and I don’t eat people. So that means I’m not a monster.” It began to walk away. “But if you don’t want my help, or my food, or my water, I won’t give it to you.”

    Samantha watched it walk off, swinging what she guessed was a canteen. She licked her dry lips.

    “Wait.” She sat up and lowered her hands away from her tear streaked face.

    The creature stopped and turned, holding up the canteen. “Thirsty?”

    Samantha nodded.

    The monster walked back to her, crouched down, and handed her the canteen. Hesitantly, she took it, but couldn’t figure out how to open it. After watching her struggle, the creature held out its clawed hand and she handed it back, watching as it deftly pushed the lid down and slid it into an obvious slot. It handed the canteen back and she took it, eagerly drinking the cool water. It was the best she had ever tasted.

    “Not too much.” The creature hesitated. “If we drink too fast on an empty stomach, we can get sick. Is it the same with your species?” It asked.

    Samantha paused, lowering the canteen. “I don’t know.” She admitted.

    The monster held out its hand. “Then better not drink too much at once.” Samantha handed the canteen back. “Eat some food.” It held out something wrapped in a leaf in its other hand.

    Samantha looked at it with a mixture of disgust and curiosity. “What is it? If it’s lizard or some kind of insect, I won’t eat it. I’d rather starve.” She said. “I’m vegetarian.”

    The creature gestured around. “It’s some kind of fruit. From one of the little trees. Tastes terrible, but better than nothing.”

    She took the leaf and unwrapped it. Inside were a bunch of round berries. She looked up in surprise. “Blueberries!” She eagerly ate the berries, savoring the sweet taste.

    “Blueberries? I’m glad you like them, can’t stand them myself, but there’s not much else.” It scratched its head and looked around. “I’m not vegetarian. But the little animals are quite wily. Hard to catch.” It bared its teeth again.

    Samantha looked up at the creature. In the daylight she could see it much better and noticed that it wasn’t just baring its teeth, it was actually smiling. A big Cheshire-cat grin, complete with the sharp teeth.

    It still made her very nervous, but it had given her water and food and said it wouldn’t eat her, so she was feeling a little better around it and could look at it without flinching. Its skin was bluish gray, with a mop of black hair covering its head and most of its ears. It wore dark green clothing, she wouldn’t even try to guess what material it was made from, but figured it was low-end. It didn’t wear shoes, its clawed feet looked tough, probably didn’t need shoes.

    “W…why did you jump on me if you don’t mean to eat me?” Samantha asked, warily.

    The monster licked its lips and laughed. Samantha didn’t like the sound, it was grating.

    “I saw you fall from a flying machine. I saw you fall from the tree. I saw you fall on the ground, several times. You fall a lot. I stopped you from falling again.” It threw its head back and laughed, pointing behind her.

    Samantha looked in the direction it was pointing. She frowned, sitting up taller to get a better look past the trees, then gasped. They were sitting near the edge of a cliff!

    “Do you think you can survive that fall?” The creature asked, still chuckling.

    Samantha paled. No, she definitely would not have survived. The creature had saved her life. She should be thankful, but the laughing was getting on her nerves. She scowled. “What’s so funny? Do you think it would be hilarious if I fell to my death?”

    “No, that would not be funny. I laugh because the situation.” It grinned at her. “Do you not think this situation is funny?”

    “No! I think it is a horrible situation!” She folded her arms and glared at the creature.

    It shrugged. “I think it is funny. It is funny you are of this planet. Yet you cannot survive without aid. Always falling down. Always cry, cry, cry! I am lost on this planet, its so weird and alien with yuck-berries. Yet I have survived a long time without aid! And I don’t fall down or cry!” It laughed. “I think it is very funny!”

    She glared. It wasn’t funny at all to her. If anyone else was in her place, they would have been ecstatic to meet a friendly alien from another planet. But Samantha? She didn’t care. All she saw was a monster laughing at her misfortune. Wait, it said it had seen her fall from a flying machine?

    “You saw the airplane, the one I fell out of?” She asked. “And did you see where it crashed?” She couldn’t believe she hadn’t thought of the plane or her husband earlier. Too focused on herself as usual.

    “I saw the flying…the airplane, yes.” The creature spread its arms and mimicked the airplane. “Crash, no.” It moved its arms in the other direction and pointed towards the east. “The machine continued on.”

    Samantha sat back, stunned. “He said we were crashing…” she murmured. “There was only one parachute. He wanted me to have it.” Her hands started shaking.

    The creature tilted its head. “Something wrong?”

    Samantha took a deep breath. “No. No. Nothings wrong. It was probably another of his practical jokes.” She smiled. “Henry likes to play practical jokes. He just didn’t know the parachute was faulty. He’ll be here for me soon. So, I shouldn’t wander off too far.” She smoothed her hair and smiled again.

    “What is a practical joke?” The creature asked curiously.

    “It’s where someone does something to someone else. At first it seems to be a bad thing, but then it turns out it was just a joke and everyone laughs.” Samantha lamely tried to explain.

    “I don’t understand.” The creature confessed. “It is a funny thing?”

    “Yes. Everyone laughs, so it’s funny.” Samantha smiled.

    “So you were practical joked.” The creature clarified. “And so it is funny you fell from the plane and almost died.” He put his hand on his chin. “But you were not pleased when I laughed earlier.”

    “No. That’s not… what… I mean.” Samantha stuttered trying to explain.

    “I am confused.” The creature said. “Can you give another example?”

    “Okay. Last week my husband, Henry, wanted to take me out on the yacht. We had a great time, just the two of us. Just before it was time to head back in, he tosses me in the water and leaves me. So there I am, treading water and scared because I don’t know if there are sharks or when he will come back. I see another ship coming towards me, so I think I’m safe, but Henry comes back and picks me up first. He’s laughing and says it was just a practical joke!” Samantha smiled. “You see? At first it seems bad, but then it’s not!”

    “The water was a lot? You can not swim?” The creature asked.

    “Yes, the ocean is very big. We traveled so far out that we could not see land at all. I can swim, but not that far.”

    “Are sharks dangerous? They live in the water?”

    “Yes, sharks are dangerous animals that live in the ocean, they sometimes eat people. I don’t know if they were near me.”

    “Can you explain how you fell out of the flying machine, the airplane?” The creature narrowed its eyes, unnerving Samantha.

    “W..Well. We were flying in my private airplane, the yellow one, not the blue one because I like yellow, Henry wanted to show me a secret waterfall only he knows about. So we flew for a long time and I was getting bored. Suddenly the plane is wobbly and keeps going up and down. I start feeling sick, then Henry comes to me all panicked and says the plane is about to crash! He then goes to get the parachutes and finds out there is only one on board. He gives it to me, shows me how to use it, says he loves me very much…. Now that I think about it, he was being so sweet and kind, but I was so scared because I never jumped out of a plane before, so I didn’t pay much attention to him. He had to push me out, I was so scared!” Samantha took a deep breath, shuddering at the memory.

    “And you say this was Henry practical joking you?” Asked the creature, chin still resting in its hand.

    “Yes. Of course. If the plane didn’t crash, then yes, it was a joke!” Samantha insisted.

    “Henry is your life mate?”

    “Yes. We are married. Husband and wife.” Samantha held up her hand, showing off her diamond ring. “Til death do us part.”

    “Only death parts life mates?”

    “Usually. Not always. I divorced my first husband. But Henry and I, we are happy together.”

    “Hm. Your culture is so different from mine.” The creature stood up and stretched. “Have more water.” It gave her the canteen again, which Samantha eagerly accepted. “In your culture, if a life mate dies, does the other mate receive benefits? My culture varies on this topic.”

    “Well, it varies with us as well. But my husband and I each have accidental death insurance on each other, so if one of us dies, the other doesn’t have to worry about finances.”

    “If you die, Henry gets compensated?”

    “Yes, but that’s not important.” Samantha hand waved away the concern that was beginning to wiggle its way into her head.

    The creature sat back down and picked up a stick, chewing on it. “I’m glad my culture does not have practical jokes. Nobody would laugh. If a life mate practical joked another in the way you describe, the law givers would take away the practical joker, we would call it ‘attempt to do a murder’, and not ‘practical joke’.” It pointed the stick at Samantha in a knowing way.

    Samantha scowled. “Why would it be attempted murder, its just a joke, something funny!”

    The creature looked at Samantha with disbelief. Then shrugged and began laughing. “Yes, so funny! Your culture is hilarious! Henry tricks you so you are in water for a long time, he goes away, does not know if shark is in the water to eat you. Does not know if maybe you grow tired and drown in the big water. Does not know because he is not there.” The creature slapped its knee and laughed mockingly. “So, so, so funny practical joke!”

    Samantha struggled to her feet, ignored the pain and stalked away from the creature, who got up and followed her, not done mocking her ignorance.

    “Yes, again, so funny practical joke! Push you screaming out of the flying machine! Hah! Don’t know if you survive the fall! Great joke! Such love of husband to the wife!”

    Samantha twirled around, angry. “Henry didn’t know the parachute didn’t work properly!” She yelled at the creature.

    “Why only one? In my flying craft, we have emergency supplies for each seat. One for each body on the craft. Why only one parachute on your craft? For the practical joke, yes? For a dangerous practical joke Henry does not check to make sure the parachute does work properly. So his beloved will not die.”

    Samantha glowered and walked away, trying to get away from the creature that was starting to make sense. She didn’t want it to make sense. Monsters should never make sense.

    “Either you are stupid or Henry is. Can’t believe two are so stupid. Or maybe your culture. If everyone enjoys such practical jokes.” The creature chuckled. “If it’s your culture, how long will your people survive the life?” It laughed at the thought. “Soon I will have the whole planet to myself! Just let everyone practical joke each other to the death!” It was laughing at its own idea of a joke, and didn’t notice Samantha picking up a branch off the ground.

    Samantha turned around and started whaling on the creature with the branch. “Henry is not stupid! I am not stupid!” She screamed as she hit the creature with the branch. It just stood there, taking the punishment, angering her more. She hit it again, splintering the branch, so she hit the creature with her fists until she was exhausted and sank to the ground.

    The creature knelt beside her, no longer laughing. “I do not believe Henry was being stupid. Devious. Evil. Not stupid.” It sighed, rubbing its arm where Samantha had hit it. “You are not stupid. Naïve, immature. Not stupid.”

    Samantha just stared at the ground, tears streaming from her eyes. She couldn’t deny it any longer. The creature was right. She had been too naïve and too in love to see the truth. It had been so obvious, she just didn’t want to believe Henry would try to kill her. Twice. And she had fallen for his tricks both times.

    “No.” She whispered. “I am stupid. I’m a stupid fool.” She sniffed and wiped at the tears streaking her face. “Here I am crying again.”

    “This crying I understand. Crying at the betrayal of a life mate is very understandable. I would cry as well, if such a thing happened to me.” The creature said seriously.

    A thumping sound interrupted them. They got up and peered through the trees and saw a helicopter circling a distance away.

    “What is that flying machine? It’s different from yours.” The creature said with wonder, staring at the helicopter.

    “That’s a search and rescue helicopter. Probably sent by Henry to find my body. He probably made up some believable story to tell them, I’m sure.” She said bitterly.

    “Yes. And you can practical joke him back. You are not dead. Tell your law givers the funny story.”

    “Oh, I will definitely tell them everything I know.” Samantha said. She looked at the creature. “What is your name?” She finally thought to ask.

    “I am called Therial.”

    “Nice to meet you Therial, I’m Samantha.”

    “Nice to meet you, Samantha.” Therial replied. “I am almost sorry you will leave now you are become fun to talk to. I have had only myself to talk to for a long time. But you do need doctoring. I am not a doctor.”

    “Would you like to come back with me?” Samantha said suddenly, surprising herself.

    Therial was equally surprised. “But will the other people think I am a monster and want to eat them as you did?” He asked curiously.

    Samantha hesitated. “Probably.” She admitted. “But I know now you are not the monster. And I can get this exact location from the search and rescue pilot, so I can come out later, properly prepared, and bring you back to my house secretly. It’s a big house, very private, you can live there and never have to eat blueberries again.”

    “I would very much like to not eat blueberries again. And live in a house.” Therial grinned at her. “I will wait here for you.”

    The search and rescue helicopter was nearing a clearing close by, so the two made their way there. Samantha entered the clearing while Therial remained behind. Samantha waved at the helicopter as it passed over, the pilot inside noticed her, waved back, and prepared to circle around for a landing.
     
  8. GrahamLewis

    GrahamLewis Let me chew on your criticism a bit. Contributor

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    THE PROJECT (2258)


    I.


    The young man surveyed the room. Browsers Coffeehouse rarely filled its dozen tables, but tonight it had. He couldn’t bring himself to sit with any of the clumps of older women who filled most tables, and turned to leave.


    He noticed a table by the door, beside the plate glass window, fully taken up by a middle-aged man writing in a blue canvas-backed binder. He'd had seen him before, black-framed glasses, receding light brown hair, always khakis and a casual shirt. Significantly overweight, perhaps because he usually had a pastry, or remnants thereof, on his table. The young man knew putting on weight was a risk of the writing profession, especially when conducted in coffee houses. In his case it was also a side-effect of his medications. That at least was changing.


    Gathering his sparse social courage, he cleared his throat. “Sorry to bother you, but I was wondering. . . .”


    The seated man looked up, neither smile nor frown, simply expectation.


    No turning back now. “Do you mind if I share your table? It’s, uh, kind of crowded in here.”


    The man gestured to a chair and pulled his notebook closer to him. Jeff sat, keeping his mocha as close to his edge of the table as possible. He remembered that decorum required a bit of opening conversation. “Name’s Jeff. Jeff Stone. You seem to be a regular here.”


    The other man set down his pen and raised his eyes, a few crumbs at one corner of his mouth. “You could say that. I guess you did say that.” He smiled at his own joke. “Name’s Kirkland, Frederick Kirkland.” He licked the crumbs from his lip, took a long sip of coffee, eyes on Jeff, then returned to his writing. Jeff finished his mocha and left, no more words exchanged.


    From then on Jeff usually sat with Frederick on his evening visits to Browsers, always at that same table, Frederick’s back to the window. Jeff looked for the man’s bulky silhouette as he walked up, disappointed when the table was empty and relieved when the notebook sat in its usual place. They fell into quiet routine, like an old married couple. Frederick scribbled in his notebook while Jeff typed on his laptop, sometimes glancing over Frederick’s shoulder at the world outside. Conversation was rare and businesslike.


    Jeff realized these evenings were the closest he’d come to friendship since his breakdown. Frederick seemed to like them, too. At least he never hinted otherwise. Still, Jeff would have welcomed a chance to share his writings and get feedback from an older writer. Even more, he wanted to see what Frederick was compiling in those binders; he had filled two during the few months they had shared the table, and the third was getting full.


    Once he mustered the courage to ask. “It’s just a project I’m putting together,” Frederick had said, “nothing that would interest you. Not yet anyway.” Clearly untrue, since Jeff had already asked about it. And what was with the “not yet?” But Jeff hadn’t the nerve to pry further, and Frederick never asked about Jeff’s writing.


    One night Frederick broke the pattern. Nodding at Jeff’s laptop he asked, “You have access to the internet on that thing?”


    Jeff nearly scoffed. He had considered Frederick’s handwritten notebooks as a sign of someone who chose the feel of handwriting over typing. It had never occurred to him his tablemate might be some sort of Luddite.


    He answered respectfully. “Um, yeah I can get to Google, among others.” He smiled. “Assuming that Browsers’ browser is working.”


    Frederick apparently didn’t get the joke.


    Trying to salvage this rare bit of dialogue, Jeff went on, “Any reason you’re asking?”


    “You could save me a trip to the library.”


    “Sure. What’s the question?”


    “How much dynamite would it take to bring down a bridge?”


    Not quite what Jeff had expected. “Sure, I could find that.” He paused. “Is this for that book you’re writing?”


    “For my project, yeah.”


    “A historical work?”


    Frederick scowled. “Look, I can go to the library. I just thought you might be willing to help.”


    “No, no, I only ask for research purposes,” Jeff said quickly. “ I don’t think it many people use dynamite per se these days. More like some sort of plastic explosive. Unless you’re talking about the Wild West days.” He paused, and added, “Bridges are made a lot different these days, too.”


    “Let’s say modern times.”


    “Okay,” Jeff said. "How about I have an answer for you tomorrow?” He’d just made his first social commitment since the breakdown. Evidence of real progress.



    II


    Jeff’s mind swirled on his walk home. He and Frederick might be moving from casual acquaintances to comrades. Sure, Frederick had only asked for a bit of research, but it was a start. He wondered if the man was really that ignorant of modern technology. Maybe Frederick was just trolling him, ready to break out in humiliating laughter the next time they met. “Did you really believe me? What a dweeb.” That would be intolerable. It would also be out of the character Jeff thought he saw in Frederick. He’d often been wrong about people, but that was before.


    No, Frederick was a modern-day Thoreau, trying to keep grounded in reality. So many people had lost touch with themselves because of social media and the web. People who sat for hours before a glowing screen, reading about places they’d never go, chatting with people they’d never see meet. The world could use more people like Frederick. And even if this was just a first step, it could lead to a working partnership, maybe even joint authorship.


    He stepped onto the cracked concrete porch of the house where he rented his apartment. He opened the weathered door, stepped into the musty foyer, and opened his mailbox. Nothing there, per usual; even his disability check was direct deposit. Modern times. Too bad for Frederick.


    He climbed two creaking flights of stairs and unlocked his apartment. With the sudden flash of the ceiling light the entirety of his life burst into view. Worn carpet, an unfolded sofa bed with a blanket crumpled at one end and a throw pillow at the other. A nicked coffee table covered with fast food wrappers and a stack of magazines, mostly Writer’s Digest and Psychology Today. Landscape prints tried and failed to decorate the dingy walls. He dropped his laptop on a small desk, shoving aside two yellow legal pads and a plastic cup filled with cheap ball pens. At one corner his morning coffee coagulated in a chipped mug. Two white banker’s boxes sat on the floor.


    His cellphone buzzed and he glanced at the number. It was his sister, calling for the fourth time that day. He dropped onto the sofa bed, and answered.


    “Jerry?” Her voice had a familiar mix of worry and frustration.


    “Jeff,” he reminded her, “Jeff Stone.”


    “Sorry, I keep forgetting the new name. Anyway, I’ve been trying to reach you all day.”


    “I know. I’ve been busy.”


    She sighed. “You’re always busy, but God knows with what. You could have the decency to answer.”


    “I did now.”


    “Okay, okay. I just want to be sure you’re all right.”


    “I’m fine.”


    “Still on your meds?”


    “Sure,” he mumbled.


    She sighed again. “I can tell you’re not. Please stay on them. You know what happens.”


    “But they make me fat and stupid.” He heard the worry of her silence. “Look, I’m fine. Getting out more. Losing weight. I even made a new friend.”


    “Jerry.”


    “Jeff. Jeff Stone.”


    “Fine. Jeff, you need to be careful about that. Especially without your meds.”


    “I am careful. I learned from my mistakes. Like they say, ‘fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.’”


    “Look,” she said, “You know the conditions of your release. You’ll be taking a blood test soon. If you’re not on your medication you’ll have to go back. And you may not get another chance.” He heard a child calling on her end of the phone. “Look, Jerry, I have to go. Just promise me you’ll get back on the meds.”


    “Sure,” he said again, and clicked off. She meant well, but her meddling got old. At 27 his life should be his own. Still, she was right. He had to stay on his medication until he could convince them he was okay. He opened the specked mirror over his bathroom sink, took out a tall plastic jar, and shook out three pills. He’d tell the doctor how well he’d felt without the pills, and maybe he would let him stay off them for awhile.


    III


    What he hated most about the pills, more than the fat and stupid side-effects, was how he felt when he started again after he’d been off for awhile. He sat at his desk and began researching explosives, but in a few minutes the medicines kicked in. He felt dizzy, as though falling away from himself. He made his way to the sofa bed, and collapsed, his last waking thought being how disappointed Frederick would be when he didn’t show up that night with the answers.


    He awoke late the next morning, well-rested and ravenously hungry. He also felt dull, as he had feared, but he forced himself to his desk and opened the laptop. The fog dissipated as he worked, and by evening he had assembled several pages of data on modern explosives and the structural integrity of the typical modern bridge. That should be enough for starters, enough to stay on Frederick’s good side.


    He wondered again about Frederick’s “project,” whatever it was, which had already filled several binders. He hoped it was a novel or screenplay or such, but a nagging suspicion arose. Could it be that Frederick was not a 21st century Thoreau, but instead a 21st century Unabomber? If that were the case, this research would make Jeff a co-conspirator if “the project” were put into play. He imagined browsing his laptop and having a news flash appear describing the unbelievable carnage of a collapsed freeway bridge, and the relentless search for suspects. He could even hear the late night pounding at his door, and see the grim faces of the police thugs when they grabbed him and threw him to the ground.


    He shook his head as though to clear it. This was the medicine again, confusing him to where he found it hard to sort imagination from reality. Reality was the Frederick he knew, a good friend who avoided internet entanglement but like any good novelist wanted his story to have the ring of truth. He sometimes needed and would accept help from someone with internet abilities. Sort of like the Amish, who avoid modern technology until absolutely needed, then they willingly accept a ride in a car and even hospital care. Jeff was Frederick’s heathen friend. And right now Frederick needed help.


    Jeff gathered his pages of notes and his laptop, and headed out the door. He sighed with relief when he saw Frederick’s silhouette in the window and reached to open the door. It swung open in his face, a young mother coming out, pushing a baby stroller and with a toddler right behind. After sorting that out, Jeff entered and turned to the table where Frederick had been.


    It was empty. He blinked and looked again. At least the blue binder was there. As closing time neared he began to think Frederick would not be returning tonight. He pulled the notebook to him. It wouldn't be right to leave this for some stranger to read. If Frederick didn’t show up, Jeff would take the binder home and bring it back tomorrow.


    He grew more curious about the binder. Still no sign of Frederick. Carefully, feeling as though he were breaking some some unspoken sacred bond of friendship, Jeff opened the it. The first page had the word “Private” scrawled across it in large bold Sharpie lettering. This is it, Jeff thought, his Rubicon, he must either shut the binder now or turn the page. He wondered what Frederick would do if, or rather when, he found out Jeff had been reading the binder. Funny thing, he found it harder and harder to picture Frederick’s face, which kept slipping out of focus. Damn medicine.


    He turned to the title page. The Armageddon Manifesto: A Plan for Action. He flipped through it, saw specifications and photos of local building and structures, along calculations of the damage and disruption explosions would cause. So it was a madman’s terrorist project after all. He wondered if he should go to the police, or simply let Frederick disappear from his life. Neither choice appealed to him. He turned back to the title page and saw the author’s name. By Jeff Stone. The room seemed to spin a moment, then everything dropped into clarity. He jumped up, taking the binder with him and almost ran home, all the way expecting someone to leap from the shadows.


    He double-locked his door behind him, and stood by his desk, breathing hard. He set down his laptop and binder. He opened the top banker’s box. He carefully placed the binder atop the other identical binders, closed the lid, and dropped onto the desk chair.


    That was close. How could he have been so stupid as to leave his binder out like that? Suppose someone had read it?
     
    Last edited: Apr 30, 2019
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