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.

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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.”

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 Problem With Alex

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Hey guys.

I got sick of the depressing, kind of somber stories I had been writing and switched to some lighter stuff.  I hope it makes you laugh.  I very nearly called this one, “A Long Way To a Bad Pun,” which is basically what it is.

Also, I redecorated the place a little.  I think it’s an improvement.

Here it is, (two days late due to flaky internet connections) my #FridayFlash of the week, “The Problem With Alex.”

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THE PROBLEM WITH ALEX

Mr. Johnson was leaning over his desk going through papers and reading various important memoranda when he heard a knock at his office door.  He called for the person to enter as he peered over an order for sixteen tons of raw granite and wondering why his department would need so much stone.  He jotted a note next to the request asking about the shipment and looked up at the man sitting opposite him.  The man’s name was Kingsley, head of the new dragon wrangling project and he looked wide eyed and disheveled.

Mr. Johnson looked up at him and said, “Yes?” in a slow, rising, inquisitive tone.

“We’ve got a problem with Alex,” Kingsley said.  He was wearing a chambray work shirt that was unbuttoned at the neck and singed around the collar.  Black soot covered the man’s bald face and head and he had an odd, exaggerated look of surprise to him.  It took Johnson a moment to attribute the constant look of surprise to the fact that Kingsley was no longer in possession of his eyebrows.

“What’s the, uhh…” Mr. Johnson leaned back in his chair, clicking his pen in one hand, “What seems to be the problem?”

Kingsley threw up his hands and let them hit the armrests of the chair.  “All the bastard wants to do is read!”

Johnson looked about the room for a moment.  “Well, why’s that such a—”

“First of all,” Kingsley said, “he’s allergic to paper and anything else made from wood.  Yeah, the boys in the labs can make him red and scaly and fire-breathing and all the other stuff that makes dragons dragons, but they can’t seem to work out that little kink.  So, he gets to maybe page five into one of those big, oversized  books we bought for him and then starts sneezing like crazy.  Poof!  There goes the book!  Ever seen a dragon sneeze?  It ain’t pretty.”  Kingsley furrowed his brow, looked upwards and brought a hand up to his forehead.  He let out a small yelp of dismay, apparently noticing his lack of eyebrows for the first time.  “And it ain’t safe, neither!”

Johnson frowned.  “Well, isn’t there some other—”

“Oh we tried that,” Kingsley said.  “We thought plastic pages might do the trick, but—well, have you ever been inside his lair?  It’s bloody hot in there and dragons breathe fire, you know.  We tried Teflon pages and that was no good.  Then we just started carving books into stone tablets.  Oh, sure, that worked for a little bit, but all that chiseling takes time and he burns through a book like a…” Kingsley realized what he had just said and decided to leave it at that.

“Then we thought audiobooks might do the trick,” Kingsley said, anticipating Johnson’s reply.  “We thought that maybe we’d come across something that worked finally.  But as soon as it gets to dialog, he loses it.  He kept saying that the reader wasn’t doing it right or that they didn’t put the right inflection in the right spot or that they didn’t “capture the voice of the character” properly.”  Kingsley had put up his fingers at this and made quotation marks in the air, clearly disgusted.  “And don’t get me wrong, we had proper actors—thespians, for the love of God—reading these books but we just can’t seem to please him.”

Kingsley paused and started up again.  “And have you ever seen a dragon angry?  They’re vengeful buggers.  After being irritated by a reading of “The Old Man and the Sea,” he broke free of his restraints and found the actor that read it.  Then he ate him!  I’ve got a theater troupe missing their Hamlet all because he didn’t, “adequately portray Santiago’s simultaneous hope and despair” as the big, fire-breathing asshole put it.  We can make the stone books, but they take time and he demands new reading material and I think he’s about fed up with me–with all of us!  I’m out of ideas here.”

Once Kingsley was finally quiet, Mr. Johnson started thinking.  Kingsley pooched out his lip as he stared longingly at Johnson’s inadvertent eyebrow movements as he thought.  Kingsley sighed.

Finally, he said, “What about film?”

“Movies?”

“Yes.  I mean, he seems like a bit of a snob but maybe he’d be satisfied with some of the classics.  You know, “Citizen Kane,” “The Godfather.”  That sort of stuff.”

“Alex won’t like it.  He said the other day that film is dead…but I don’t think that he’s seen “Citizen Kane.”  He might like it.  Then again, he might kill us all.”

Mr. Johnson nodded and frowned slightly.  He must have caught on to all the eyebrow movement and tried to keep it to a minimum.  He didn’t want to look like a show-off.  “It’s a chance we’ll have to take.  Just explain to him that it takes a while to chisel an entire book into stone and offer the movies as something to tide him over in the mean time.”

“Alright,” Kingsley said and blew a breath through parsed lips.  “I just wish these dragons didn’t have such a need to know everything…pretentious bastards…”

Kingsley was getting up to leave when Mr. Johnson started sniggering.  It was a single laugh at first then more followed.  “What is it?” Kingsley said.

Johnson smiled.  “A dragon that wants to read all the time?”

Kingsley cocked his head and raised a non-existent eyebrow.  “Yes.  What about it?”

Johnson’s smile grew.  “Well, I guess you could call him a…book-wyrm?”

Kingsley looked at him for a moment, not understanding what he was saying.  As comprehension dawned on his sooty, hairless face, he made an expression like he had just walked into a particularly pungent fart.

“Oh God!  What a terrible pun!”  At this Kingsley left the office.

Mr. Johnson looked down at his papers again and put a line through the note asking about the shipment of stone.  Next to it, he wrote: “Never mind.”

Coming Soon

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Hi guys!

Sigh…another pic from a Google image search.  I’ve got to stop doing that.

Anyway, Joe’s back this week and he’s in a bad way.  If you’ve been paying attention (and trust me, I wouldn’t blame you if you haven’t been), the Brad and Joe stories have been a little more serious than they once were.  Don’t worry though.  They’ll be back to idiocy in no time, I bet.

Here’s this week’s #FridayFlash, “Coming Soon.”

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COMING SOON

Tommy was looking over his bar one last time, making sure that he hadn’t forgotten anything.  The stools were up on the tables, the floor was swept clean and the “OPEN” neon light had been off for a few hours.  He sighed resolutely and locked up.  He made his way for his car in the now empty parking lot that seemed to drown in the orange sodium light being poured into it.  He fiddled with his keys until he found the right one, opened the car door and started her up.  For no particular reason, he thought of one of his regulars.  “He was in a bad way tonight,” he said to himself.  He shook his head and made his way to the IHOP.

He had forgotten about the guy and would have completely if it weren’t for one of the articles he read in the newspaper over his breakfast.  He had finished his usual meal of pancakes, sausage and hash browns and was scanning the headlines of the local rag as he blew on the steaming cup of coffee he held to his lips.  Near the last page of the “Politics” section, he read, “CITY REP SAYS BUDGET REFORM COMING SOON.”  That made him think of Joe.

There were people you had to worry about in bars and then there was Joe.  At a glance—an unprofessional glance, a glance that hadn’t be honed to a keen edge from decades of running a bar—Joe might seem like one you might have to worry about.  Joe was loud maybe, but it was a good kind of loud.  A happy kind of loud.  A kind of loud that seemed to say, “Well gosh, isn’t this swell!” and not one that said, “In a few more beers time, you’re going to have to do something about me, Tommy, because I’m about to teeter over the edge and no telling who I’ll take with me when I go.”  Joe was a good guy, even if his volume knob and every other knob for that matter had been cranked up to eleven and broken off there.  But tonight, he was just another lonely, sullen drunk bellied up to the bar and nursing his drink.

Tommy was not the kind of bartender to take pity on someone’s plight, usually leaving that to the other girls behind the bar fishing for good tips.  But there was something wrong with Joe.  It wasn’t that there was something bothering him or he had plenty on his mind.  Joe seemed wrong like a four-cornered triangle or a cannibal vegan.

“You alright, Joe?”  Regardless of what he said next, Tommy would have left it at that.  But the way Joe looked up at him, the way his eyes seemed to be somewhere else entirely when he said, “Yeah, I’m fine,” made Tommy keep at him.

Joe looked up and when he saw that Tommy was still there, he realized that he had to say something else.  He brought in a breath and exhaled it deeply.  “It’s just…I got promoted and—”

“That sounds terrible,” Tommy said.  “Some guys have such shitty luck, ya know?”

Joe smiled, but it seemed like a smile that was just there to placate.  “Yeah.  Anyway, I got promoted and I had to…I had to fire a guy today.”

Tommy gave a sigh, one that might have told him that he empathized with him but sometimes things like this have to happen.  To everything: turn, turn, turn and all that.  That sigh came across to Joe as meaning nothing, which it basically did, and he went on.

“He was a shitty employee.  Couldn’t trust him to find his pecker with a flashlight and road map.”  Tommy laughed and Joe did give a reluctant smile.  “He…he started drinking pretty heavily.  He had been talked to in the past about it, but would he listen?  Kept bringing his problems into work with him.  He had skipped out of counseling, came to work hungover, wasn’t doin dick while he was there.  So…I had to shit-can him.”

“Fucka had it comin from the sound of it.”

Joe looked up at his bartender.  “We all got it comin, Tommy.  Some of us sooner than later.”  Joe took another drink.  “The worst part is that he accused me of doin the same thing he did.  He threw it in my face that I drink in my off time and wanted to know how what he did was any different.  That hit me.  That hit me pretty hard, I think.  I mean, I’ve had my days, you know?  I’ve fucked up every now and then, but…”  Joe shook his head.  “It makes me wonder…how much longer before I’m in his seat?  How much longer before I’m no better than him?”

A group of girls came up to the bar next to Joe and ordered a drink.  Tommy smiled and took their order, thinking that they might serve to cheer the morose bastard up.  But by the time Tommy got back, Joe was gone.

Tommy put his paper down and drank the rest of his coffee.  He had never seen Joe so upset, even when Joe had called it quits with what’s-his-name who was apparently his best friend.  Joe never drank because of something work related, which was good, but Tommy thought that might change soon.  Tommy didn’t know what to say then, but he sure as hell knew now.

“Never shit in your own mess kit,” Tommy said looking out the IHOP’s window, glimpsing the first wan trances of a sunrise.  “Nope.  Never do it.  Because when you start doing that, it becomes one hell of a mess.”

At that, Tommy folded his paper, left a tip and made tracks for home, bed and sleep.  Maybe he’d tell Joe what he just thought of if he saw him tomorrow.  “What am I saying?  Of course I’ll see him.  He’s hooked through the bag, ain’t he?”