Greener Fields

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Hi guys.  Welcome back!

I had a Twitter conversation with @TonyNoland and @LauraEno earlier this week about not posting #FridayFlash’s exactly on Friday.  I looked over my computer and, wouldn’t ya know it, I found like 13 flash fictions that I didn’t save properly in the auto-recover section.  Baby, I’ve hit a gold mine.  I can be lazy again!

This story is based almost exclusively around smoking marijuana.  For those of you who have never, shall we say, “partaken,” let me say that pot doesn’t exactly work like this.  For those of you asking how I know this, I’ll say…that I…did a lot of…READING on…the effects of…uhh…

And here’s this week’s #FridayFlash, “Greener Fields.”

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Powered By: J.M. STROTHER!

Powered by J.M. Stother!

GREENER FIELDS

Mark Reynolds had one final thought before he died and it had made him smile.

Mark thought of his college days that had been—what—fifty years past?  Fifty-five?  It didn’t matter.  What did matter to that Mark Reynolds who had just turned twenty-one, was, in alphabetical order: Ass (as in “to get some”), Booze, Partying and Pot.  There was the minor, irritating necessity of attending class, which Mark had done from time to time.

This particular day was a Friday, a day that Mark only had one class: English.  Showing up to class was bad enough, but for it to be English?  And on a Friday?  Preposterous.  And so, as to “gird up his loins for battle” as the pretentious TA that taught his class might have said, Mark Reynolds smoked pot before he went to class.  Mark Reynolds smoked a lot of pot before class.

It had been an afterthought, a standard case of pre-class jitters, and what better to calm him down than hitting his bong?  He filled the bowl to the brim and made short work of it.  After his third prolonged exhale, it occurred to him, only briefly, that maybe that wasn’t the best idea.  With no time to think about it (or the fully functioning capacities to do so), he made his way to class, thoroughly enjoying the walk.

The stuff that he had been smoking had the peculiar quality of gradual, paralyzing paranoia and then instant euphoria.  This usually wasn’t a problem because he usually smoked with his friends.  There would be a tense fifteen or twenty minutes in his apartment where everyone eyed everyone else suspiciously and then the levee would break and there would be nothing but warm fuzziness.  It was fun after a while, once you knew what was going to happen, but Mark started feeling the paranoia set in just before he got to the class room.

“Oh God,” he thought, with his hand on the door knob, “This is going to be bad.”

To his surprise, there was a different person standing in front of the class today.  This different person, whose name Mark had instantly forgotten because he was somewhere in the stratosphere, told the class that their regular instructor was sick and that he would be filling in today.  Mark’s first thought was that this was pretty good news.  Then, paranoia gripped him so tightly it was hard for him to breathe.  This had to be some kind of trick.

The sub told the class that they should work on their projects and, again, this had to be a trick.  It was too easy, wasn’t it?  Project? Mark thought morosely, what project? This guy is clearly some sort undercover…narc, or whatever you call it.  A spy or something.  Look at him up there.  Shoes up on the desk.  Pretending to read that magazine.  I don’t think so.  You’re not fooling me.

Mark stared at the sub as clandestinely as possible, trying to pick up anything from his behavior.  The sub sat, still reading his magazine.  Mark thought about his blindside and realized that maybe some of his classmates might be in cahoots with the sub.  Mark glanced around him as casually as he could.  Everyone else was working quietly.  That’s what it looked like anyway.

Mark glanced up to the front of the class to find the sub suddenly on his feet with his hands on his hips and staring at Mark.  Mark’s eyes went wide and terror froze him.  This was it.  He was done for.  He had a brief vision of some torch-lit, rat infested dungeon and how he’d never get out.  Then the sub looked away at another student.  Then another.  He nodded to himself.  He clapped a single time and Mark jumped.

“Okay, guys,” the sub said.  “Look, it’s Friday, I got nothing for you.  This is seriously a big waste of our collective time.  Would anyone object to cutting you guys loose early?”  He held up his hand and looked over the room.  The other students looked around to see no one raising their hands.

“Good.  You guys are free to go.  Same Bat-time.  Same bat-channel.”

The combination of incredibly good news and odd Batman reference brought what machinery still operating in Mark’s head to a grinding halt.  Students around him shuffled, packing their back packs and making a move to leave.  Mark didn’t believe what was actually happening until he saw four people leaving the class without some violent act performed on them.  Before you could say, “Pass the dutchie on the left hand side,” Mark was out and free.

He walked slowly back to his apartment, taking occasional glances over his shoulder.  Then, like the sun rising after a black night of storms, Mark had a realization.  It was four simple words: “No Class Till Monday.”  He had the whole weekend.  It was just past noon and he was done until Monday.  The THC that had taken its time meandering through the parts of his brain that caused fear, finally came to their destination.  The wave that had been building for the past half hour finally broke and Mark’s face was slack with gratefulness and joy.  He pounded a fist in the air and gave a little squeal.

There were moments in his life that were better than this.  The day that he met his wife for example.  That was a good day.  The day that his son was born was another.  And then his grandson.  And so many more.

But this memory of his wilder college days was different.  It was a depthless sort of joy but it was simple and that made it almost as good.  He never experienced a feeling that was so pure and carried no weight to it—no nervousness or threat of responsibility.  That was definitely a good day.

At the age of seventy-eight, Mark Reynolds died surrounded by his family.  They all saw the smile and they all wondered.

The Desert Moon

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Well, hello again.

This week’s bit of drivel is taken from a novella that I’m working on.  I was surprised that this section of the piece  stands on its own (at least in my opinion) and that it was under a thousand words.  I think I’m on the home stretch as far as finishing the first draft.  With any luck and an intricate web of blackmail and bribes, I may get the whole thing published one day.

This week’s #FridayFlash, “The Desert Moon”

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THE DESERT MOON

Sergeant Burton made some hand signals in the darkness that were unintelligible to the untrained eye.  His soldiers saw and nodded.  He gave the signal to go and two soldiers went past him around the corner.  He came next, followed by the rest of his squad.  They shuffled silently down the street, keeping close to the building on their right.  They reached a wooden door and the two in front of Burton posted up on either side of it.  A soldier behind Burton squared himself up with the door and kicked it in where the knob met the jamb.  Burton shuffled into the darkness.

Burton went through and felt his feet give way to sand.  His rifle came in contact with some kind of sheet and he pushed through it.  On the other side, he met a massive expanse of desert.  It didn’t immediately register in his mind that there was no massive expanse of desert in a Baghdad slum, but he pushed forward anyway.  He looked frantically to his left and right for his target.  Seeing nothing but desert, he turned back to where he came from and saw nothing but sand and the night sky.  He was alone in the middle of a desert with nothing but dunes for company.

“What the—”

Burton pointed his weapon around him, kicking up small clouds of fine powdery sand as he went.  He slowly lowered his weapon but continued twirling.

“What the fuck, over?”

He pulled the chinstrap of his Kevlar off and let the helmet hit the desert floor.  He spun a few more times, slowing eventually before looking up at the moon, which gave everything a light blue glow.  Meaningless time passed in which all that seemed to matter was the moon.  He stood transfixed, basking in its light, distantly aware of the M-16 that he still held by its pistol grip.

“Hell of a moon,” a voice said from behind him.

Williams turned, bringing his weapon up to the place where muscle memory told him it should be.  He fired four shots at the voice in rapid succession.  Four small spouts of sand kicked up behind the man sitting on the dune.  The man seemed unmoved by the shots as he sat placidly gazing up at the moon.  He was wearing flip-flops, khaki cargo shorts and a white button-up shirt that was three buttons short of being buttoned.  He sat with his forearms holding his knees and what little hair he had was spiked.  He looked like a college kid on his way to a beach party.

“Identify yourself,” Burton said and slowly approached.

The man on the dune broke his gaze and looked at Burton, laughing a little.  “You know, I always imagined you saying something like that to me, Sergeant, but I never thought I’d hear it.”

“Identify yourself!”

“No need, sarge.  You know who I am.”

After a moment, Burton lowered his weapon slowly and stared.  “Brown?”

“Well, that’s half right, but I’ll give you points for trying.”

“It’s…Sam, isn’t it?  Sam Brown?”

“DING DING DING!” Sam said, ringing an imaginary bell.  “You have answered this question correctly, Staff Sergeant Burton.  Now, do you want to keep the money or risk it all for our grand prize?”  Sam began laughing a careless laugh that only the young and obscenely rich can pull off.

“What do you…what are you doing here?  What do you want?” Burton said getting closer and having serious problems comprehending things.

“Wait!” Sam said, holding up his hand.  “Wait right there.  Don’t move.”  Sam reached behind him and brought forth a professional looking camera.  Sam held it up to his face for a moment and Burton heard the shutter of a lens.  “Ahh, that’ll be a good one.  Got you and the moon in the same shot.  Thanks for that, big saw!”

Sam put the camera down on the sand and stood up.  He walked to Burton and said, “What I want, Sergeant Burton, is very simple.”  Sam put both hands on Burton’s shoulders.

“I just want you to make it count.”

Sam pushed Burton backwards, catching him off guard.  He fell and did not hit the sand.  The blue aura of the moon was extinguished and he tumbled into pitch blackness.

“Sam!  Your name’s Sam!” Burton said, sitting up on his cot.

His tent was lightless, save a few LED’s indicating that an electronic gizmo of some kind was charging in the night.

“Sergeant,” said the voice of Specialist Garcia.  “It’s alright.  We’ve all been having dreams about Sam.”

“You have?” Burton said in the general direction of Garcia’s voice.

“Yeah.  I was in the humvee with him when it happened,” the voice of Garcia said again.  “It’s best not to think about, I guess.”

This advice helped Burton sleep no better.

Hackney’s Pub

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Hi guys.

Every now and then, I’ll imagine a place I’d really like to be.  Sometimes it’s my own privately owned tropical island.  Sometimes it’s a beautiful villa in the French countryside.  But no matter where I imagine myself, there are always naked coeds eager for my attention.

What was I saying?

Oh yeah, every now and then, I come up with a place that I’d really like to visit some time.  This is one of ’em.

So, here’s a my stab at #FridayFlash again (even though I’m posting this on Monday).  It feels good to be back in it again.  Plus, the more I make it like Friday, the better, right?  Who likes Mondays?  Voldemort, that’s who.

[Note: There is a certain demographic that might find this offensive, so I therefore feel obligated to preemptively apologize to horses everywhere.  My apologies.]

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HACKNEY’S PUB

Charlie slammed his beer down on the bar.  The sniggering that had been constant ceased at once.  Charlie stood.  For too long had he endured their constant jokes.  Their mocking glances.  Their smiles.  Always their smiles.

He turned and faced them and his body blocked the light coming from the bar mirrors.  He surveyed them.  There were no smiles now.

“I have HAD IT!” Charlie said, and his voice actually rattled the martini glasses hanging from the low ceiling.

“NO MORE,” he said, reverberating through the bar.  “I’ve been coming here for years and I have heard all of your jokes.  That’s right.  You may not have thought that I heard them…but I did.  “Why the big—paws?”  “That was a barbiturate?  BAR-BITCH-YOU-ATE?”  Get it?!  And you know what?  No more.  That’s it.  I’m outta here.”

Charlie walked briskly to the door, grabbed the handle and paused.  With a tear brimming at his eyelid, he said, “And you only do it…you only do it…because I’m a bear.”  He sniffled, spat and left Hackney’s Pub for the last time.

Before the crowded bar could react, Father McAlister stood and spoke in a light Irish accent, “I am a man of the faith and we are told to forgive and forget.  But what Charlie said was right, and I’m sick of your jokes too.  May God have mercy on your souls, you miserable bastards!  Come on, Hershel.”  This last he said to his friend, Rabbi Goldberg, who stood and followed the father out.

“Hershel!” Carl the barman said, who had just started to fully grasp the situation.  “Come on man!”

“Geh cocken offen yam, ya putz,” Hershel said.

The heavy veneer of fear that Charlie had laid over the crowd evaporated.  Laughter exploded throughout the bar and with each patron that left, the laughter grew in pitch and in stridency.  Tommy the horse, who never did anything to deserve this kind of treatment, stood and left, enduring comments about the length of his face all the while.  Linda, who wasn’t actually a prostitute but an actor who likes to stay constantly in character, left suffering through a barrage of wolf-whistles.  Then the rest: James the farmer, Terry the mime, Julius the stereotypical black guy, several costumed villains, a small army of furry creatures who had been drinking in the back, a trio of Martians, five ventriloquists, and Phyllis and Lula the Siamese twins.  They all left and Hackney’s was a racquet until most laughed themselves horse.

When it all finally died down, the bar looked at the one person left.

“You know,” the man said in a quavering voice, “I am a structural engineer.  I have a master’s degree.  I’ve even published books, for God’s sake!  And yeah, so I’m not good with changing light bulbs or making popcorn or changing a tire.  And…I mean…so what if I’m Polish? I just—” but whatever else he had to say was drowned in laughter.  When the crowd had wiped away enough of its tears to see the man again, he was gone and they laughed on.

Carl rushed to the door and yelled for the man to come back.  The barman didn’t actually know the man’s name, he had always thought of him as “The Pollack.”  He had enough control left to stop himself, but not enough to stop on the right moment.

“Hey, Pollack, don’t be—” Carl said and lost another patron forever.

When Carl returned, he found his bar in the same uproarious good cheer he had left it in.  He reached behind the bar and pulled out an air horn.  Carl pointed it at the ceiling and it took nearly ten seconds of pressing the button for the crowd to calm down again.  In silence, Carl walked slowly around the room.

“Guys, this is no good for me.  Don’t get me wrong, I get it, okay?  I mean, there are some…”interesting characters” that come in here and I can see why you’d make fun of some of them.  But guys, Tommy the horse was my best customer and I don’t think he’s coming back.  Do you understand what I’m saying?”

He paused and looked around the room.

“This is my livelihood here, fellas.  Do you understand?  And you’re driving them out.  So please, in the future—”

“Yeah, but come on Carl,” someone said. “A priest and a rabbi walk into a bar and—”

“No, I get it!  I get it, okay?  Just please stop driving off customers.  This isn’t that much to ask, is it?”

The crowd murmured its agreement.  They hung their heads for a moment and then looked to the jiggling bells of the front door.  A nun was standing in front of a mirror adjusting her headband.  Carl glared at the crowd for a moment and approached her.

“Hello, sister,” Carl said, knowing the whole bar would be listening.

“Oh, hello,” the nun said.

“You know…you’re free to come in if you want.”

“That’s very kind of you,” the nun said, giving him a chased smile, “but…you see, Mother Superior has a very strict dress code and, well, the wind has blown my coif askew.”  She looked again at the mirror and adjusted “whatever it is you call those hat-things nuns wear” as Carl thought of it.

“Oh,” Carl said, trying to remember the proper name for nun-hats.

“This isn’t the first time this has happened,” she said.  “Something about this street and the way the buildings are positioned, maybe.  The wind always blows me in here.  I really should stop coming into this bar, but I have a bad habit.”

Silence.

Shortly following this silence was an uproarious volcanic eruption of laughter.  The nun’s smile slowly faded until she too left the bar, never to return.

Carl turned and faced his bar.  He shrugged.

“What the hell,” he thought, “She wasn’t a paying customer anyway.”

Situational Awareness: A Rant

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Uhh…hey guys.

I haven’t posted anything here in a while due to the minor annoying distraction of college classes.  Taking this long to post something new feels a little like I’ve invited someone to my home, and then gone to the movie theater with them still sitting in my living room.  Is it presumptuous to think that I’ve actually found people that would be willing to read what I write about?  Being that I want to be a novelist someday, I’d hope not.

Don’t worry, though.  Come the new year, I’ll have my priorities straight.  Blog first, then college.

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Situational Awareness

(A Rant)

I’ve given this quite a bit of thought and maybe…maybe I’m not being fair.

For those of you that don’t know, I spent four years in the Army and four years working as a civilian on a military base.  The Army, as the saying goes, breaks you down so they can build you back up…the way they want you.  You have to learn to do everything all over again.  There’s a proper way to tie your shoes.  There’s a certain way to wear your clothes.  There’s the correct way to talk and to walk and, in some situations, to breathe.  Some–no, most of these things are useless in the real world, but there was one thing that I learned in the military that has clung tenaciously to my subconscious and I hope it never lets go.  I’ll call this thing: “situational awareness.”

I remember many days of training on, say, the proper maintenance and operation of an M-16.  Training on any particular subject would be followed by weeks of reinforcement by our ever-watchful and constantly enraged drill sergeants.  Should any unfortunate private happen to forget a minor matter of protocol, a drill sergeant would set them on the straight-and-narrow again with a barrage of expletives and personal insults.  The same was true for any number of things the military had deemed necessary for us to learn.  Situational awareness never came up in training, but we all learned it quickly.

To give you an idea of what I’m talking about, I’ll give you an example.  Say that you go to, I don’t know, Wal-mart and you’re there for, let’s say…toilet paper.  That’s the only thing you need: toilet paper.  You came all the way out here to Wal-mart for toilet paper and that’s it.  You just want to buy it and go home without delay (presumably to make use of your purchase).

You find yourself behind a group of people in a narrow aisle.  Without much warning, this group of people stops and does anything but get out of your way.  It could be that they’re trying to remember what it was they came here to buy and they’re having a discussion about it.  It could be that they’ve just run into another group of people they know and they’re catching up.  Whatever it is that they’re doing, it has nothing to do with you, and it certainly is not expediting the purchase of your toilet paper in any manner whatsoever.  The aisle (which is utterly inescapable aside from the way you’re going and the way you came) is now blocked thanks to the mouth-breathers in front of you.  You get an idea that these people might need toilet paper too, judging from the useless twaddle coming out of their mouths and what is probably between their ears.

Of course, this isn’t a doomed situation.  Usually a simple, “Excuse me,” gets you past without much static–once you say it enough times to stop their yammering.  But honestly, should it really come to that?  Shouldn’t you realize that this aisle was not built with you and only you in mind?  Shouldn’t you realize that, since you’re in public, maybe you should take a look around?  Shouldn’t you–and I know this is going to sound crazy–think that there are other people than just you in existance?

It seems incredibly unnecessary to go to the effort of making the following diagram.  However, considering that this post itself seems necessary, visual aids might be needed as well.  Consider Figure 1.

Figure 1

Consider that you (A) have just walked into a bar. In front of you is a gaggle of people vaguely resembling a small European country for some reason (B).  (The resemblance to a European country is coincidental.  These are the pitfalls of working with a fifth-rate artist who shrugs and thinks it’s good enough for some blog post (namely: me).)  Note the natural walkway (C) that B is blocking.  You could go around, there aren’t that many people in this bar, but that means shuffling sideways past chairs and excusing yourself to people sitting at tables.  Those at tables look at you and, though they’re smiling on the outside as the scoot forward for you, they’re annoyed on the inside.  These people are thinking, “Why don’t you just use the walkway between the tables instead of bothering me?  Can’t you see that I’m with friends here?  You’re interrupting my conversation…you douchebag.”

Yeah.  Now you’re the douchebag instead of the heard of douchebags blocking your path to the bar.

[Tangent: a group of douchebags should be referred to as a “Doucheberg.”  Tell your friends, pass it on.]

This doucheberg should collectively consider where they are, think that maybe they’re not standing in the best spot and move along somewhere–I don’t know–where they wouldn’t be inconveniencing every patron that walks through the door.

NORAD doors (not a standard door)

Here’s a very simple example.  Double doors.  Fully functioning double doors.  Here’s thirty or so people trying to go through these doors and no one, not a soul, coming out.  Why is it that most of these people would rather wait for a door to be opened for them, than to use other door (remember, double doors means “two doors”).  It’s not like these are the doors at NORAD.  These are not the doors at Fort Knox.  These are doors that children can open.  Hell, if there’s a button, they open for you!  But no.  No.  People (some people, anyway) would rather wait twice as long while inconveniencing a multitude of others, just so long as they don’t have to burn the handful of calories it would take to open the other one.

There’s two doors.  If no one is coming out the other, use both.  See?  Situational awareness.

At this point, you might be thinking that I’m being too sensitive.  You might be thinking that I should just take it easy, right?  You might be thinking that I should just stop, smell the roses and appreciate what I have while I have it and let those others alone.

Sure.  And when the Doucheberg rises to power, I should just let it ride, right?  And when the Doucheberg orders me to live in only one specific part of town, I should comply.  Judengasse, huh?  Sounds fun!  And when the train shows up and they tell me to get on, sure, I should hop on and just enjoy the scenic ride to the Douche-Führer’s death camp!  No…not this guy.  Not this guy.

Okay.  Maybe I’m being overly dramatic.  Maybe I’m not being fair.  This brings me to where I started from.

It’s hard to describe exactly the fear and terror that a drill sergeant can instill in an unsuspecting and more-or-less naive private.  To an eighteen-year-old kid in boot camp, a drill sergeant is a whirling dervish of doom and utter despair.  Drill sergeants are the epitome of dark evil and red malice.  A drill sergeant with a soldier at their whim is more maniacal than the most ill-tempered, sadistic tomcat with a mouse in its jaws–in only one way.  That tomcat will eventually put an end to that mouse.  A soldier is always ready to go.

So, naturally, when a drill sergeant tells a group of privates to, “make a hole,” they do so without thinking and get the hell out of that drill sergeant’s way.  When a drill sergeant tells a group of privates to form a line for something, those privates do so hugging a wall, without getting in anyone’s way–let alone one of those men wearing the brown hats.  Should that line cut in front of a door, a space is left so that anyone needing to go into that door can still get past.  Leaving a space for the door is done so without being told.

This man likes you. He would like to introduce you to his sister.

This sort of mentality was drilled into me (pardon the pun) throughout basic training.  You were never safe from the wrath of the drills, so it helped to have eyes in the back of your head.  I remember jerking my head around behind me a few times, thinking that one of the drills was creeping up and about to unleash some godawful horror on me.  When I looked, it was just another private.  A private like me.

There were times that I would be in the chow hall and standing in front of the soda machine, not sure if I wanted Coke or Sprite.  A tap would come down on my shoulder and I would jump and give an almost inaudible whimper.  When I looked behind me, I saw a private with a plastic cup in his hand and Mr. Pibb on his mind.  A private like me.

There were times that I would be standing in the middle of one of those natural walkways with my brain elsewhere, and I’d hear footsteps behind me.  I would make a hole before one of those evil bastards could tell me, hoping that I wouldn’t end up in the grass doing tortuous physical agony that they had just now invented when they saw me.  I would turn to see just another private walking down the sidewalk.  A private like me.

Eventually, I got to where I stopped expecting a drill sergeant and did what I did as a matter of course.  If someone at point A was going to point C, and I just happened to be meandering somewhere around point B, I’d move for them.  After all, most people, when I look at things broadly enough, aren’t so different from me.  You.  Me.  Them.  Everybody.

I’m not at all suggesting something akin to all of us standing under a rainbow, holding hands and singing “Kum-by-ya.”  All I’m suggesting is that these little things that are slowly chipping away at what’s left of my sanity are easy fixes.  These are things people could easily do, but refuse to on a regular basis.

And it’s not fair.  It’s not fair, not only to these recidivist douchebags but also to most decent people.  What’s not fair, the real injustice, is not that other people don’t do and think exactly what I do (though personally, I think it’s a bit of a shame).  It took the fear of…well, not God, but certainly a hearty handful of demigods disguised as drill sergeants dispensing their harsh judgment for this to be driven into my head.  It took months of being terrorized by scary men in funny hats for me to start really thinking of other people.  That’s the real shame.

“If people are good only because they fear punishment, and hope for reward, then we are a sorry lot indeed.” – Albert Einstein

These are easy fixes.

Best Of Friday Flash: a shameless plug

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Hi, everybody!

(Hi, Dr. Nick!)

No fiction of the flash variety this Friday (how’s that for alliteration?).  I think I can be forgiven since this was my first full week of college classes.  Between classes and work I’ve been a busy, busy boy.  Once I get in the swing of things here, I’m sure I’ll be pumping out more drivel no time.

Anyway, if you’ve been keeping up with anything that’s been going on around here at Mostly Pointless (and I don’t blame you if you haven’t), you’ll know that I write Flash Fiction–stories less than a thousand words or 2-3 pages of a Word document–on a more or less weekly basis and post them here.  I started doing this because of a weekly online event called #FridayFlash, in which writers post fresh flash fiction on their blogs and post the link on Twitter.

#FridayFlash is the brainchild of a writer named J.M. Strother (check out his blog here) who, for my money, is the Patron Saint of flash fiction.  For the past year, Jon has compiled the weekly list of stories offered by different writers and otherwise organized everything related to #FridayFlash.  He has done so not to bring attention to himself, but to expose other fiction writers out there in the blogosphere to more readership. The man deserves a parade in my opinion.  A grand feast at the very least.

A while back, Jon got it in his head to compile an anthology of the best #FridayFlash pieces out there and I’m pleased to say that one of my own pieces, Balatrophobia, made the cut.

Best of Friday Flash – Volume 1” is sixty-seven, bite-sized portions of fiction and is offered as an e-book through SmashWords.com for $2.99.  The stories range, “from humor to horror, slice-of-life to science fiction.”  Whatever your flava, I’m sure you’ll find it here.

You might be thinking that I’m plugging this because I want money.  This isn’t so, I won’t see one red cent of the cut and neither will Jon.  Instead, the money will be going into future #FridayFlash endeavors.  Maybe around Volume Three this might be a paying gig for us struggling scribblers but that all depends on sales.  And who does that depend on?  I’ll give you a hint: extend both your thumbs, point them at your chest and say, “This guy.”  Or gal.  Whichever suits you.

So, don’t be a cheapskate!  Buy the book and support the arts!

(yeah, you heard me, I said “arts”)

The Grocery Run

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Hi guys.

I work at a grocery store doing fairly menial work.  This gives me plenty of time to do what writers do and ask “What if” questions.  What follows is one of those questions.

On a side note, I’ll be attending my first college class this coming Wednesday.  For some reason, I’ve decided to take Latin.  Pretty masochistic, huh?  Wish me luck!

Here it is, this week’s #FridayFlash, “The Grocery Run.”

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THE GROCERY RUN

Jerry’s palms were sweating.  That was to be expected.  He was pushing a shopping cart that had maybe three hundred dollars worth of groceries inside and he had maybe thirty-two cents in his pockets.  The only other thing of any value on his person was his driver’s license but that was technically property of the state.  Jerry was nervous.

This was the Val-U-Mart’s peak hour of the day and he went more or less unnoticed by everyone there.  Of course, they were watching him.  Those black half-globes on the ceiling, surely they were watching him.  He tried not to look up because if he looked up then they’d know that he was looking at them and they’d look at him even harder.  He knew they were watching him.

They weren’t actually.

He passed by the stockboys and people with Val-U-Mart name tags.  He smiled at them—not too much, because then they’d know, just smile Jerry, just smile—but most of the employees passed him by with not much more than head nod and a perfunctory greeting.  He might actually get away with it.  Then again, this could be a sham.  This could be trick to lure him into a false sense of security.

“That’s crazy,” he thought.  And then thought, “That’s…basically crazy.  Sorta crazy.  Kinda…crazy?”

He got an urge to shake his head as if that would clear it and resisted.  Doing something like that would attract attention.  Instead, he walked slowly down the frozen food aisle, looking at chicken potpies, microwaveable dinners and, eventually, ice cream.

“It’s not too late to back out,” he told himself as he opened a cooler door and plucked out a box.  “It’s not too late to just…just…park this cart somewhere and walk away.”

But then, what happens when they find it?  Full of all of this stuff.  They’d be angry, wouldn’t they?  They’d want to make sure whoever did this wouldn’t do it again, right?  And how would they do that?  They play back the video tape.  And then they’d have him for sure.

“It’s too late, I’ve committed,” he told the anthropomorphic chicken that was printed on the box of chicken nuggets he held in his hand.  “I can do this.  I can do this.  Right?”  The chicken didn’t respond.  He just smiled back at him, one wing presenting the picture of chicken nuggets to him like a model on a game show.  Jerry nodded as if this were an answer.  He tossed the box into the cart, took a deep breath, let it out and started pushing his cart with confidence.  He was headed for the front door.

His eyes were hardened. His jaw was set.  His palms, though damp, gripped the shopping cart firmly.  He passed the occasional Val-U-Mart employee but paid them no mind.  He also ignored the ceiling cameras.

“You just have to be confident,” he told himself.  “If you look like you’re up to something then they’ll get you.  But if you look like this is all perfectly normal, you’ll get away with it.  If you look like you’re stealing, that’s what they’ll think.  Just be cool Jerry. Be cool.”

Of the many things that Jerry didn’t think of that day was the fact that, when people buy groceries, there is usually someone who bags them.  Groceries, in other words, leave the store in bags.  This, however, wouldn’t have been a problem, being that the store was so busy and no one noticed.

Twenty feet now.  “Be cool Jerry.”

Fifteen feet.  “You can do this.  Don’t lock up.  Be cool.”

At ten feet, the song “Eye of the Tiger” started playing in his head.  He hummed it lightly under his breath at what was probably twice its normal speed.

As he was at the door, everything went wrong .  There was a Val-U-Mart employee standing there, greeting people as they went in and out.  The man’s name was Stan.  Stan was in his seventies and had silver hair, rosy cheeks and all the brooding, intensely threatening qualities of a marshmallow.  Stan gave his standard, “Have a good day, sir,” and that was all it took for Jerry to start running, screaming and jabbering nonsense as he went.

The plan (what precious little Jerry had worked out) was to simply throw everything in the backseat of his car and leave.  He had to abandon this part and simply run like hell, pushing the cart in front of him.  Where would he go?  It didn’t matter, he’d figure that out later.  What mattered now the getaway.

He weaved in and out of people, between cars and looked up to see the yellow line that marked the parking lot’s exit.  Hard, sick determined will overcame him and he ran the cart toward it, body leaning forward, head down, his salvation somewhere just on the other side of the line.

As the front wheels cleared the yellow line, he had just enough time to feel a pang of triumph.  Then, the shopping cart’s wheels locked, his sweaty hands betrayed him and he ran head first into the now immobile cart.

Lying sprawled on the ground, everything spinning and going black, he said, “Fuckin chicken lied to me.”  He passed out.

***

The Val-U-Mart’s manager would later explain to the police that the shopping carts have a device akin to an electronic dog collar.  Once the cart passes a certain point (that point being the yellow line surrounding the parking lot), the wheels lock up.

The responding officers took quite a long time before they stopped laughing.  Once they did, they got back to business.

“So how much booze was he trying to make off with?” the older cop said.

“We don’t carry liquor,” the manager said.

“Beer then.”

“No beer.”

“Cough syrup?  Antihistamines?”

The manager shrugged.  “Five or six loaves of bread.  Rice, instant potatoes, toilet paper.  Pretty standard stuff.”

The cops exchanged a glance.

The manager shrugged again.  “Guess he’s got a family to feed.”

No one laughed at this.

This Bar Is Full Of Douchebags

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The following was written in a bar on my cell phone, drunk and unhappy.  For those of you in Lexington, “The Tin Roof” on S. Limestone is a good place to go on Wednesday nights to see exactly what I’m talking about.  Maybe it should read: “good.”

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THIS BAR IS FULL OF DOUCHEBAGS

Where there’s not pastel polos, there’s button up longsleaves. Collars
popped, egos out and daddy’s money taking care of the tab.

There are three blondes for every brunette and those latter look about
them knowing–or thinking–they came ill-prepared.  They shriek like
injured animals as they recognize those of their kind.

They drink domestic drafts from plastic cups and savor each drop
as if the golden color was indicative of the value therein. One says
something to another, they laugh and clap hands as if in celebration
of their futility.

And I sit witnessing it all at the bar.

My head shakes quite often.

Do they know that they’re clones? Perhaps thinking something like this
is against their programming, and to suggest that they aren’t
programmed in some way is nothing short of laughable. The word
“bra” as in “Sup, bra?” can just be heard along with “dude” over the
music that only barely has more substance than those listening. Every
now and then one can hear “ohmagawd” from the females, but their
loudest output is their feral cries of recognition. By far.

Occasionally, I’ll receive a curious glance as if I’m one of the more
intelligent animals that has been put in one of the common cages by
mistake. Maybe that sounds unfair. Maybe it would be fair if they
weren’t so stupidly drunk and I weren’t miserably so. But looking
around, seeing one that came out of a mold identical to the mold of
the one next to them and so on, I’d be doing myself a disservice not
to consider myself above them in some way. You would too.

It becomes too much and I stand. It’s as if this place has filled me
with so much loathing that I need to relive the pressure. But really,
I’ve drank too much and I just need to go to the bathroom. But
nevermind. There’s something bitterly satisfying about the idea of my
outrage solidifying into something tangible and that it needs to pass
through the tip of my dick.  Douchebags.

There’s a young man at the urinal in front of me talking on his cell
phone as he takes care of business. He’s wearing sandals. I consider
this. That’s the thing about proper footware: location, location,
location.

I step up to make my contribution and notice that the same bit of
doggerel has been written on the wall several times. It goes, “Why are
you looking up here? The joke’s in your hand.” Once and it might have
been funny. Six times? Tiresome.

There is group after group between me and my barstool. All of them
amazed and astonished by the exploits of those around them. They rock
and reel, gyrating into me and not apologizing for their antics. This
is, after all, their domain. If it weren’t for the bathrooms, they
might be marking their territory. Good thing for the bathrooms.

I sigh.

I’ve seen where my barstool is. And who’s in the vicinity.

Near my stool is one of those blonde clones. Pretty? Yes, but pretty
just like all the rest of them. Pretty like a sunset on any other day
of the week. Pretty like a painting you’ve passed by on a daily basis for
the last ten years. Meh.

And next to her, sitting in my stool, is one of the spiked haired Ralph
Lauren doppelgangers, drunk on his drink and drunk on himself.

Fuck it. I’m going home.

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