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All God’s Children

All God’s Children
 
 
 
     Recently, I had a thought that may have world-shaking implications, and change the way we look at genetics, and genetic manipulation, forever.
     For no reason in particular, I began to think about Christian dogma, and the concept that God gave his only son to the world, a child conceived within a human womb, with a bit of human and some divine aspects in his DNA that would allow the child to grow up with an innate sense of right and wrong, plus abilities we would attribute only to a divine being, like being able to revive the dead, to change water to wine, and to walk on water.
     The Bible clearly identifies God as male, and says that the child was his son, not just someone he created, like Adam and Eve, so the implication is quite clear, that God, the one in who’s image mankind was created, had some pretty special DNA to contribute, even were that contribution not made in the usual way.
     Interestingly, the abilities of the human/divine hybrid didn’t manifest immediately, but required the attainment of full maturity for the more magical aspects to be observed—though from childhood he was said to be pious and admirable.
     My first thought was that God sacrificing his only child wasn’t the great thing it had been made out to be, because, after all, being God he could cause another, or a million children of equal capabilities to be born. The “only child” thing, therefore was personal choice, and obviously must serve some purpose other than sacrifice. What did hit me as unique was that it was all accomplished through genetics.
     God took one of Mary’s eggs, and either cloned it, while at the same time, changing the genetic coding so as to produce that magical child, or fertilized that egg with chromosomes of divine origin. Either way, in doing so he changed the history of the world. But of more importance: he left mankind a critical clue that is only now apparent, because now, we have not only the technology to clone, we can change DNA. And that means that with care, diligence, and research, it is entirely possible to recreate that miracle. It is within our grasp to have every single woman on the face of the planet give birth to offspring who can truly be called a child of God, and who will innately know right from wrong.
     Think about the result of that fact, alone. No more wars. No more strife. “Turn the other cheek” will be the rule, without it even having to be taught. And the ability to feed the multitude with only a bit of food will conquer hunger. And that doesn’t touch the effect of being able to raise the dead, and survive a shipwreck by simply walking to shore—or calming the storm with an act of will.
     Assuming that the mutation breeds true, the cloning and genetic manipulation will need be only a one time thing, bringing peace and plenty to the planet in one single generation.
     Any woman would be overjoyed to bear such a child. Right? And what man would not be honored to be raising God’s child?
     Once this amazing opportunity is pointed out to the faithful, I am utterly confident that Christianity, as a whole, will support the necessary research, and help usher in the era of endless perfection.
     Is that cool, or what? Though I do kind of suspect that there might be some who won’t be pleased to read this.
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Breaking Point

Breaking Point

 
 
 

     The scene is a dank, dungeon-like space, the floor stained with old blood, the walls impregnated with the screams of the dying. Centered, is a table on which James Bond lies, shackled and helpless. With him stands a man in a tuxedo. His face shows no cruelty, only indifference, though his eyes belie that indifference. They glitter with malice.
      “So, Mr. Bond It’s down to this. You will tell me your department’s secrets or you will suffer more than you have believed humanly possible.”
      Cooly, and with a sneer of dismissal, James Bond shakes his head. “Do you think you can frighten me, Coldfinger? I’m a trained agent. Pain means nothing to me. You may kill me, yes, but I will never give in, and I’ll take my government’s secrets with me to the grave.”
      That brings a smile and a sad shake of the head. “You may believe that, Mr. Bond, but once I use this machine on you, you’ll be a spillway to everything I want to know.” He points to a small machine sitting on the table next to where Bond is chained. It’s a simple box, with only one control, a small push button. From the box two slim wires run, presumably connected to James Bond, in some unknown way.
      Bond turns his head as much as the shackles will permit. He frowns before saying, “What does it…do?” The simplicity of the thing obviously has him concerned.
      “It makes you talk, Mr. Bond. It makes any man talk. When I push that button you will know agony such as no man has ever faced. It’s directly connected to your neural system, and will make you know exactly how a woman feels in labor…hard labor.” Coldfinger grins, cruelly, as he leans back in his chair, his hand poised over the box, awaiting a response.
      For a long moment Bond stares, as though accessing the chance that the man is lying. He weighs his options and resources. Finally, he shrugs and takes a deep breath.
     “Okay…the man in charge of my department is named Quincy Farber, and he…
 
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
Author’s Note:
     This was something prompted by my daughter’s pregnancy and long labor. I’d talk, too.
     And if my little story pleased you, I’m glad. There are other stories posted, as well. You and others like you are the reason I write. If it did bring a moment of reading pleasure, take a moment to rate it. Feedback matters to me. And if you’re in the mood for something a bit longer. make a stop to look at my novels, and read the excerpts to see if they please, as well
 
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Posted by on August 11, 2012 in Short Story

 

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Tingle

Tingle

Note: Adult content.
 
 
 

     Stephanie trudged up the steps from the subway. Another workday. Another day thrown away, to be followed by a night of boredom.
     Had it been a mistake to ask Jordan to move out? True, he was insensitive. Also true that he had the sophistication of a slug. But he was someone to turn to in the night. And he was, if nothing else, comfortable.
     As she pushed through the turnstile into the gray Philadelphia morning, she stiffened her spine. Jordan, when all was said and done, was, and always would be, a jerk. And now that he was finally gone, he could be replaced by someone better.
     Good riddance and goodbye, Jordan. It’s time to think positively for a change.
     Above, the clouds were thinning, and the morning dampness was fading from the street and sidewalk. It was the beginning of a new week and time for a new outlook. Perhaps today would be the day. And with that thought, she straightened, put a spring into her step and headed toward Roe & Rowe, ignoring the voice in her head that whispered, You’re so full of shit.
     The clock display over the corner bank said it was just 7:30. She stopped, nearly at the building’s door and gave thought to a stop at the coffee bar, but discarded that. A half-hour spent browsing the Internet was better, because coffee would invariably lead to Danish, too, and that would go straight to the hips.
     That decided, she turned and walked directly into the path of the man who was reaching for the building’s front door.
     “Excuse me,” he said, smiling, as he steadied her, and kept her from falling. “I’m clumsy this morning, I’m afraid.”
     Their collision was obviously her fault, but he politely ignored that, a bit of chivalry that made her look more closely at his face, now only inches from her own. There was surprise there. But that aside, it was a nice face, newly shaved, pleasant, and of an age that said the man was a possibility, if he wasn’t married, or gay, or…
     Interesting, though. Definitely interesting.
     Then, as he placed her on her feet more securely, his hand brushed her neck, just at the collar of her sweater, and it happened. A tiny tingle, like a pulse of electricity jarred her fully awake.
     Frozen, she looked into deep brown eyes, for several seconds more, stunned, and wondering if she should kiss him. Then he was releasing her and whatever had happened was only a memory.
     You’ve been reading too damn many romance novels, Steph, old girl. But it had happened, and she was seized with the urge to touch his cheek to see if it repeated. But that would be insane, so she clamped down on that bit of stupidity and said, “No, it was my fault. I should have been watching where I was going.” He had a really great smile.
     He pulled the door open and gestured her through, saying, “Even if it was, it was fun…I’m Frank. Frank Nelson. Do you work here?” He followed her toward the elevator.
     For an instant she hesitated. But she had run into him, and it was fairly obvious that she did work in the building, so she took a chance and said, “Stephanie Holt. I’m a paralegal with Roe & Rowe. You?” Perhaps he would suggest another meeting? The week was already looking up.
     “I’m an analyst with Harper Price, up on twenty,” he said, as he pressed the button to call an elevator.
     There seemed to be nothing else to say, for the moment, so she waited in silence, while the indicator over one of the elevator doors ticked its way to the ground floor. Had it really happened? Or was it simply the spring weather and her hormones combining into a romantic daydream? The urge to reach out and touch his cheek to see if it happened again was almost overpowering.
     Then the elevator door was opening and he was bowing her through. It was the perfect excuse, so as though in play she touched his hand in thank you as she moved past. Then, as a sense of electric rightness jolted through her she took his hand in her own as she turned to face him, almost unable to speak.
     “Did you feel…” She pulled his hand, and him, toward her as she said, “I mean, am I crazy? Are we?” And then, as the elevator doors sighed closed behind him she was in his arms, breathing in the scent of him, tasting mouthwash and electricity in equal measures.
     This is crazy…crazy. It was. But her body, without asking permission, molded itself against him, and her hand met his as she fumbled for the button that stopped the car and took it out of service. Crazy.
     It was wrong. That was certain. And when his hand slipped under her sweater to burn a path across her skin she should have shouted, “Stop!” Instead, she turned to guide that warmth to her breast, then guided his mouth there, a thousand volt shock that caused her to press ever tighter against him, as she ripped the sweater over her head, tossed it, then fumbled for his belt. Crazy, crazy, crazy… echoed in her head as her weakened knees buckled under her.
     He tasted of sex, cotton underwear and electricity.
     And then they were on the floor of the elevator, his hands and his mouth a flame on her body, bringing wave after wave of ecstasy, along with, crazy…crazy…crazygood, followed by better…better…betterbetterbetter…oh…my…God! as she fitted herself to him and lost all sense of self, and all vestige of control.
 
     “Wow.” That was the only word that fit. Resting against him, enveloped by his arm and warmed by his skin, her breath finally calming, she looked up at the high narrow confines of the elevator car. “Crazy” was back, but it was joined by “wonderful,” and “exciting,” too. She pulled back to gaze into his face. It was a nice face. Perhaps not what she would have chosen, had he been part of a group of available men, but her body, it appeared, had chosen wisely. The man was amazing, and she told him so.
     “Thank you,” he said, beginning to withdraw, and sit up. “But I think we had better get dressed and place the elevator back in service before someone calls the maintenance people.” He pointed, grinning. “If those doors open I think we’re still at the lobby, and I’m not certain I want my boss to see me like this.”
     She laughed, then nodded and sat up, looking for her sweater. She leaned toward the corner where she’d tossed it, then retrieved his shirt, too, a smile coming at the idea that the clothing was as intertwined as they had been. But as she handed him the shirt a small box slipped from the pocket and tumbled to the floor.
     “What’s this?” she said, as she picked it up. It was a flat, featureless case, black and glossy, in size very like the rear of a calculator. A tiny slide switch showed at one edge.
     “Nothing important,” he said, quickly. But there was something in his voice that was odd, so she turned it over. The other side was equally featureless, other then for electric-looking letters that spelled out, Tingle’Er.
     Tingle’Er? That makes no— And then it came and she looked up at him. Her jaw was hanging. That was impossible to suppress, as was the anger that came afterward and brought her jaw shut and thinned her lips.
     “You bastard! Tingle Her? You were wearing a static shock machine? That is the single most…most—”
     “Despicable thing you’ve ever heard. I know. But you kissed me, remember? And you…well, you were amazing.” He gestured toward her sweater, still hanging from her hands, then toward her panties, lying on the floor of the car. “Maybe it would be best to…” he trailed off and began to dress.
     Angry or not, it made sense to dress before she hit him, so she turned to that. The stray thought came that whoever got into that car next would know, with a single sniff, of the use the car had been put to. Damn!
     “Can I explain?” he said, as he buttoned his shirt. When she said nothing, he continued with, “It was a gag gift, for my birthday, and I was bringing it to the office. Truthfully, I didn’t realize that it was turned on, and I didn’t touch you deliberately.” He hesitated, and spread his hands as he added, “But I’m glad I…” He shook his head.
     “That’s neither here nor there. The idea is that nearly every romance novel talks about the heroine feeling an electric tingle when the perfect man comes into view, or touches her. So by wearing a static generator that gives a continuous tingle to whoever touches you, it’s supposed to trigger a conditioned reaction and the woman will instantly fall in love… I…well, I never expected it to, well…” He made a noncommittal gesture of the hands.
     Shit. And she had dutifully, and enthusiastically played her part. I am an idiot. It was so stupid. One tiny electric shock and she was tearing off his clothing, and… Oh my God, I can still taste the man! And all because of an electric shock? Am I that stupid? The answer was yes. Stupid, stupid, stupid.
     Apparently, her expression showed her mood because he said, “I’m sorry, Stephanie. I…well, if it helps, I think you’re beautiful, and had we not bumped together, I wouldn’t have had the nerve to talk to you…though I wanted to. And you’re also—” He stopped for a moment, then blew out his breath before saying, “Also amazing. And for that you have my gratitude.”
     He remembered her name. That was probably a plus. And he was more of a gentleman than she deserved, because he was bending to pick up the condom she hadn’t realized he’d used. And the scent of her was on his breath—while memory of how he’d acquired that scent served to ameliorate her mood.
     He gestured for her to select her floor, and then pushed the control that restored the car to service. He tapped for his own floor, saying. “I’d like to take the time to really apologize, and maybe make amends, but I have a meeting I can’t skip, at eight.” He hesitated for a beat, before adding, “I know this is sort of backward, but would you meet me for a beer or something after work, to…well, to get to know each other?” The door to his floor opened, and he stepped to where his body would block the opening and keep the door from closing, as he added, “I won’t pressure you. I’ll just be in the lobby at five. If you walk by, or use the back stairs, I won’t bother you again.” There was a wistful quality to his voice as he stepped clear of the doors and added, “But I’d really like it if you’d gave me a chance to show I’m not the bastard I seem to be.” And with that the doors slid shut and he was gone.
     The car hummed into motion. Headed upward.
     Did that really happen? She sniffed. Obviously, it had. And the traces of afterglow that still brought warmth agreed that it had. In all, it was one hell of a first date. And she, certifiably, was an idiot. But… He was a gentleman. And he had protected her against her own stupidity—and cleaned up after himself. That had to count.
     In the end, as she made herself presentable for a day at the office she studied her reflection. He said he thought her beautiful. But if she was, that beauty wasn’t apparent—though attractive wasn’t out of the question. So maybe…
     For a moment, as she settled in at her desk she looked around, at the other desks. If only they knew how I started my day. She stifled a laugh, and reached for the first folder, the Hapwood case. Maybe an hour over a beer or two would make sense. He’d certainly had an impressive audition.
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
Author’s Note:
     This was something I’ve been planning to write for some time. I remembered that plan each time I did a critique of a romance in which the female protagonist reacts to the clichéd “electric shock” that comes when the male lead shows up. Today a bit of free time and the idea coincided, and you’ve just read the result.
     My plan for Stephanie was a bit cynical, in that the male in question was to be a bastard who used the “tickler” as a quick shortcut to sex. But in the end, she seemed a nice, and likable, if a bit overly enthusiastic and cooperative person. But she was honest, and deserving, so since poetic justice demanded that Frank be better than a sexual preditor…
     And if my little story pleased you, I’m glad. There are other stories posted, as well. You and others like you are the reason I write. If it did bring a moment of reading pleasure, take a moment to rate it. Feedback matters to me. And if you’re in the mood for something a bit longer. make a stop to look at my novels, and read the excerpts to see if they please, as well
 
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Posted by on June 14, 2012 in Short Story

 

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Footnote

Footnote
 
 
      “So,” Stan George called as he searched for the mustard. What did they say about the car?”
     Tim Shanken turned from the kitchen counter, and the book-bag he was exploring.
     “What?”
     “I asked when your car would be ready.”
      “They said it would be ready by tomorrow night, at the latest, but I’ll bet they don’t fix the problem. I’ve already brought it there twice for the same thing, and I’m beginning to doubt they have the brains to fix it.” He pulled one of the books from the bag and began to thumb through it.
      Stan backed out of the refrigerator, loaded with an assortment of sandwich makings, closing the door with a nudge of his hip. “I know about that, it took me three trips to get the Ford fixed when the transmission went bad last month. If it wasn’t in warranty, I’d go some place else… Mustard okay?” I’ve got ketchup in the fridge if you want that.”
     “Mustard’s fine,” Tim said with a shrug. He motioned toward the book he was holding. “Is this Mike’s? It’s been a lot of years since I read this.”
      Stan cocked his head to line up with the printing on the cover, then laughed. “Moby Dick? It’s been a few beers over the lips since I had to swim through that one.” He laughed again. “That’s Mike’s all right, but I doubt he’ll get much out of it. He’s already pretty ticked off over the fact that he can’t find the movie in the video store. It’s always been checked out by one of the other kids when he bikes over there to get it. Since they don’t have a waiting list, it’s first come, first served.”
      Tim slipped the book back on the bag and hitched himself up to sit on the tabletop, waving away Stan’s gestured invitation to start making his sandwich. “No, you go on. I’ll make mine after you finish.” He held out one palm in a request for more information as he said, “He’s not a reader?”
      That brought another laugh. “You might say that. If it’s not on video, he doesn’t do a book report on it—unless it’s assigned reading, like this one was.” Stan shook his head and added, “I guess I can’t complain, since lots of the kids do that. When I was a kid, my best friend and I would only do book reports on things we could get in the Classic Comic series.”
      That brought a chuckle, and, “Didn’t everybody? So what’s he going to do? Will he actually read this thing?” He pulled the book out again, hefting it. “This may be pretty heavy going for a modern kid. I read it a couple of times, and enjoyed it, too, but not until college when I had the background to understand it.”
      Stan put down the knife he was using to slice his sandwich, apparently thinking over how to say it without making his son look stupid. Finally, with a cluck if the tongue, he said, “He’ll read it, I suppose. He’s good that way. They told him to read it, so he’ll read it—even if he does find the video for it—just because they told him he has to.” He bit his lip before waving his hands in uncertainty, adding, “I don’t know how to put this, Tim, but…. Mike’s a good kid; he really is. He just doesn’t have any…” In frustration, he spread his hands, finally settling for, “Damn, I’m making him sound stupid, or lazy, and he’s neither. He’s just…” He sighed. “I guess I can’t complain—he does get decent marks. It’s just that he sort of drifts, when it comes to schooling. Like I said, he’ll read it just because they told him to, but he won’t pay any real attention, and he won’t enjoy it. He’ll just… just read it. When it comes to something like that, it’s like the old ethnic joke, where the way to keep someone busy for hours is to give them a card that has both sides printed with, ‘Turn this card over and read the other side.’”
      Tim shook his head. “I think you’re being a little hard on the boy, Stan. He’s a little better than that. He’s at least as smart as my Dan.”
      Stan laid the sandwich he was finishing on a plate and turned to Tim, wiping his hands on a paper towel and moving to where the other man sat as he did. He tossed the towel toward the trash and reached for the book, taking it from Tim’s hand and holding it up.
      “I’m serious. If I would put a note in the middle of this book telling him to start over from the beginning, he will, just because the note is there. The kid doesn’t think for himself. I dearly wish I could get him started doing that, but… Well, nothing I’ve tried so far has worked.”
      “You that sure?” When Stan shrugged, Tim slid off the table and moved to the opposite side of the work counter. He dug in the bag for a roll, and began to slice it, his expression thoughtful.
     “Okay, I’ll take that one,” he said, finally. “I can always use some easy money. Five bucks says he won’t do that.”
      Stan hesitated for a moment before nodding and placing the book on the table. He flipped to a page near the middle, motioning Tim over to join him. “Done! But you have to come over here and write the note for me, so he doesn’t recognize the handwriting and catch on.” He fished in a drawer for a pen, bringing it to the table and holding it out to his friend.
      “Here, just write, ‘Note to students: Stop at this point and return to the beginning.”
      Tim took the pen, frowning. “Let me see if I’ve got this right. The bet is that Mike comes to the note and starts over; that he does this because he’s as dumb as the guy who jumped off a building and stopped to ask directions on the way down. Further, that he does this without asking either the teacher or anyone else if the note applies to him, right?
      “You got it.”
      Tim bent over the book and began to write. “Okay, Stan, but this is easy money. No one is that dumb.”
      “We’ll see.”
 
*
 
      Tim pulled the throttle back to stop the engine, bringing the old mower to a halt, as he called. “Hey Mike! Got a minute?”
     As he waited for his friend’s son to walk to the fence gate, Tim fished a plastic bag out of his back pocket and opened it, preparing to empty the grass-catcher. He laid the bag across the mower handle as the boy came through the gate.
      “Yes, Mr. Shanken?”
      Tim studied the boy with interest. Mike was a typical sixteen year-old, awkward with his sudden new size and always slouching in an attempt to keep his eyes at the height they were last year. He was a good kid, and though Tim didn’t know him too well, Mike was a friend to his own boy since they were toddlers.
      “I noticed that you were reading Moby Dick, and I was wondering how you liked it.”
      The boy shrugged. “It’s okay, I guess. I just wish I was finished with it. It’s pretty hard to read, with all that old fashioned language and all. Lots of what they do doesn’t make sense anymore, either.”
      “Oh?”
      Mike shrugged again. “It’s sometimes hard to understand why they get upset over something that would be no big deal today.”
      Tim’s respect for the boy went up a few points, and he decided that his father had underestimated his ability to absorb the story. Casually, he said, “So you’re finished?”
      He shook his head. “No. I would be by now, but there was a note from the teacher, near the middle, telling me to go back and re-read the first part. I guess she wants us to understand it before we go on, and since I don’t, I’m re-reading it. It still doesn’t make a lot of sense, but I see things I missed the first time, so I guess there was a good reason for the note.”
      As the boy walked away Tim reflected that technically he had lost the bet, but certainly not for the reasons his friend gave when the bet was made. He wondered if he had not done Mike a favor with the note. Certainly he would enjoy the story more.
 
*
 
      Stan leaned back in his chair and shouted up the stairs to the kitchen. “Hey Mike, would you bring us some more beer?” He turned back to the men gathered around the card table. “One of the advantages of having children is service like this. When Mike complained that I was treating him like a servant, I told him he gets the chance to have one of his own when he has children.”
      There was laughter as Mike came down the stairs carrying a six-pack from the refrigerator. He put it on the side table and was about to launch himself back up the stairs when Tim stopped him with a hand on the arm. “Did you ever finish that story, Mike?”
      That brought a frown. “No, I didn’t. I’m on the fourth time around, and I still haven’t found what they want me to see, so I can’t go on.”
      “Well maybe if you finished it you could see—”
      “No,” Mike said, firmly, waving his hand in negation. “No, I can see a lot of things I missed, like the fact that the whale is actually symbolic, as is a lot of what is going on in the story, but I don’t think it’s that.” He thought a moment, then sighed. “I guess I’ll know it when I finally understand it, but it’s pretty tough.”
      The boy sounded so troubled, and so sincere that Tim debated telling him of the hoax, but at this point could see no way to do so without hurting the boy.
      “Maybe you should talk it over with the teacher?” He took a breath before saying, “Maybe someone else wrote the note—a student, maybe.” He spread his hands. “You do have to turn in the report, don’t you?”
      The comment about the note being other than from his teacher only brought a stubborn look to the boy’s face, and, “Maybe… but if so, someone found something worth looking for, and I want to see if I can do it for myself. I did the book report on Great Expectations, rather than Moby Dick, since I couldn’t get through it. This is just for me.”
      As Mike vanished up the stairs Tim frowned, then frowned again as Stan said, “That kid’s strange, sometimes.” Tim stared at the empty stair-well for a moment, then, with a shrug, shook himself back to the present. When he turned back to the table he found his friend’s hand extended.
     “Which reminds me, Buddy. We have a bet, and you just lost. Pay up.”
      Itt wasn’t worth arguing so he paid Stan the five dollars, but he looked thoughtfully at the stairs up which Mike had gone.
 
*
 
      Tim pulled to a stop at the traffic light. He stretched the sleep out of his muscles, enjoying the early morning feel to the air. It was a perfect day for a round of golf. He glanced over at Stan, relaxing in the passenger seat, yawning himself awake. “So, Stan,” he said, with a laugh in his voice. “I hate to ask, but has Mike ever finished that stupid book, or is he endlessly cycling up to the note and back to the beginning? He seemed almost obsessed with it the last time I talked to him.”
      Stan turned his head and gave Tim a sour look. “Let me tell you, Buddy, that is one weird kid.”
      “Uh-huh? And?”
      “And, I asked him about it last Monday. He said he was reading it for the tenth time, and that he had a real grasp of the motivations of the people now, and more importantly, the author. He told me he was making a detailed outline of where he thought the story was going, based on his interpretation of the intent of the author. He also told me how he thought it ended, and he was dead on. He claims that before he read it he had no idea of how story went, except that it was about a whale. That’s scary.”
      “Yeah? I guess it is, if it’s true. He could have just forgotten he saw it as a cartoon, or something. You sound like there’s something else, though.” The light changed, and Tim charged forward to block a Toyota intent on jumping into his lane before adding, “You said this happened last Monday. I assume there’s more now.”
      Stan looked even more sour, as he shook his head. “I don’t know if you’d call it more, or just craziness. He’s now into an analysis of the printing process in general. He spent almost an hour just explaining such things as sans-serif type and another on the history of ink pigments. The kid spends half his spare time doing research and half re-reading the first part of that damn book.” He threw up his hands in frustration. “I’ll tell you, Tim. I really don’t know what to do about it. I’m glad he’s learning something, but it’s starting to worry me.”
      Tim drove in silence for a time, then ventured, “Have you thought of telling him who actually made the note?”
      There was an equally long silence before Stan quietly said, “I did. He said it doesn’t matter.”
 
*
 
      Tim reached for the phone, hurrying to answer it before it woke his wife. “Hello?”
      “Hi, Tim, it’s Stan. Thelma said you called. What’s up?”
      “Not much, it’s just that I happened to think about your son Mike today. What with the baby being sick and all, I haven’t heard a progress report for weeks. How’s he doing?”
      There was the sound of a long sigh. “How’s he doing? I really wish I knew, Tim. He’s been almost living at the library, lately, and he’s got a whole room-full of books on things like communication theory and the structure of languages. It’s starting to scare the hell out of me, but he’s aced every test he’s taken in school since the start of this thing, so it’s hard to complain. We may have created a monster, or pushed him onto the path of becoming a great scientist; take your choice. I’d rather it be the scientist, but I’m afraid it might be the other.”
      Tim hesitated before saying, “Is he acting strangely in other ways—skipping meals and such?”
      There was a snort of laughter from the phone. “The human garbage disposal skip a meal? You’ve got to be kidding. No, he’s okay except for that. In fact, he’s a lot more fun to talk to now. He reads the paper, and thinks about it, where before he only read the comics. No, I really don’t think he’s going crazy, or anything like that. It’s just that he’s always so… busy.”
 
*
 
      “Tim! Hey, Tim…up here!”
     Tim searched for the source of the call, finally locating his friend Stan at a second floor window. His voice had been half whisper, half shout, and his face bore a look of urgency.
      “Hi, Stan,” Tim called. “What’s up? You look like you’ve just caught Irma in bed with her grandfather again.”
      Stan ignored the attempt at humor and motioned Tim closer to the house. As he approached, Stan pointed toward the porch, stage-whispering, “Front door’s open, come on up here… and hurry.”
      Tim took the steps to the second floor two at a time, wondering what was going on, but afraid he knew.
     
      “He’s been like this for the past hour. Watch him.”
      Stan guided Tim to the door of his son’s room. Inside, Mike sat on the chair in front of his desk, staring at an open book, his body unmoving. He appeared to be looking at the book, but his eyes were staring—as unmoving as the rest of his body.
      Tim turned his head to speak, but Stan stopped him with a hand on his arm, whispering, “Just watch.”
     Tim did as he requested, and a few seconds later the boy reached out and turned the page, only to resume his motionless position. At Tim’s confused look, Stan motioned to the stair and headed in that direction. With a last look into the silent room, Tim followed.
     
      “He’s reading? It sure doesn’t look like it to me.”
      “Me either, Tim, but that’s what he claims to be doing. He says he’s teaching himself to take in the whole page in one single gestalt—of what is, and what was intended to be, and how it fits into the book and the world.”
      “Gestalt? What the hell is that? It sounds like something he pulled out of a psyche book.”
      Stan shrugged. “I’m not sure, but I looked it up, and it means the whole of a thing that cannot be derived from just the sum of its parts. I don’t know what the hell he means by it, though. He’s starting to really scare me and I don’t know what to do.” He looked at his friend, his expression hopeful. “Do you have any ideas? I’m fresh out.”
      Tim blew out a long breath. “None. This thing has really gotten wild. Have you taken him to a doctor?” At Stan’s affirmative nod, he added, “A shrink?”
      Stan looked glum. “A shrink, and a psychologist, and two other kinds of head doctors, too. They love him. They say he’s the most well balanced and intelligent kid they’ve seen in years. They think I’m crazy!” He held out his hands, as though seeking guidance, or at least a little reassurance. “I’m not, am I?”
      Tim thought that over for a time, then asked, “How is he when he’s not doing the yoga thing?” He pointed in the direction of the second floor, indicating Mike’s present activity.
      Stan deflated, leaning back in the chair and shaking his head in frustration. “That’s the hell of it, Tim. When he’s not like that, he’s great. He helps around the house, plays ball, and does all the things he always did; maybe even more. Hell, I’ve never seen him so full of energy.”
      Tim was at a loss to suggest anything, but a question occurred. “Um… When he finishes with that… uh, reading?” He wasn’t happy with the word, but plowed on anyway. “When he puts the book away, has he actually read it—gotten anything out of it?”
      Stan scratched his chin, thoughtfully. “Well, I can’t tell for sure, but he seems to. When he finishes a book, he can discuss what it was about, it just seems a weird way to read. He’d be a lot faster reading it the regular way.”
      “Have you told him that?”
      “Sure, but when I did he said he’s getting better and that he gets much more out of the book this way.”
      Tim was silent for a long time, and when he spoke, his answer didn’t satisfy him. He just couldn’t think of anything else to say. “Well, if it doesn’t hurt him, and he’s okay in every way, I guess it makes him happy. Who knows, maybe he’ll come up with a new way of reading. I’d give it a little while, and keep an eye on him.”
      It was obvious from the expression on Stan’s face that it was not an answer he was comfortable with, but there was little choice in the matter, and Mike’s energetic feet on the stair ended the conversation..
 
*
 
      “Hi, Mr. Shaken. I haven’t seen you for a while. How are you?”
      “Mmm?” Tim turned from polishing the car. “Oh, hi, Mike. I’m pretty fine. We’ve been at the lake house for three weeks.”
      Tim studied the boy for a moment, before going on, noting that he seemed changed since the last time he had seen him. In some indefinable way he seemed more grown up. For one thing, he stood straight, and had a look of confidence Tim had never seen him wear before. There was more, though. Tim just couldn’t put his finger on what it was.
      “Well, Mike,” he continued. “You look pretty happy this afternoon.”
      “I am,” the boy enthused. “I finally broke through yesterday morning, and I have to thank you and my father for making it possible.”
      “Broke through? I’m afraid I—”
      “No, I guess you wouldn’t understand,” Mike said, with a smile, interrupting him. “What I mean is that I finally understand, and now it’s easy to learn.”
      Tim put down the rag he had been using to polish the car, and held out his hands in a request for enlightenment. “Mike, I’m afraid I—”
      “Still don’t understand,” Mike finished, interrupting him once again. He looked thoughtful for a moment, before saying, “It’s hard to explain to someone who doesn’t have it, but what I now understand is communication, and how it’s really done. It means that I can pretty much tell what you’re thinking by watching your face, and that I can read a page by just glancing at it.” He shrugged. “In fact, if it’s an opinion book, rather than an accumulation of facts, I can usually tell what the thing contains from the first few pages. Most people are far too wordy when they try to say something.”
      Tim blinked rapidly for a few seconds, before Mike continued, speaking for him, and saying, “But that’s not possible, Mike, and you can’t know my thoughts.” He stopped, grinning at the expression Tim was unable to keep from his features, and there was laughter in his voice as he said, “Of course I can’t read minds, no one could do that, right?” He hesitated, still grinning, then went on more gently, moving away from the subject of mind-reading.
      “Anyway, I really want to thank you for making it possible, even if you didn’t have this in mind when you put that note in the book.”
      Tim just stared for a long moment, then tried again. “So—”
      “What will I do now?” Mike put a hand on the Tim’s shoulder, saying, “I’m sorry, Mr. Shanken, I have to remember not to do that. It seems to upset people… Well, in answer to your question, I’ve read everything in the house, so I’m on my way downtown to read the library. Then, who knows? Maybe I’ll go swimming with the guys.”
     
      Tim watched him go, and had the thought that he ought to go find Stan and ask for his five dollars back.
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
Author’s note:
     I hope you enjoyed it. If you did, and got here from Facebook, pressing the “Share” button at the page bottom will let others know the story is here, and give them the chance to read it, as well.
     
     And if my little story pleased you, I’m glad. There are other stories posted, as well. You and others like you are the reason I write. If it did bring a moment of reading pleasure, take a moment to rate it. Feedback matters to me. And if you’re in the mood for something a bit longer. make a stop to look at my novels, and read the excerpts to see if they please, as well.
 
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Posted by on November 11, 2011 in Short Story

 

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Addiction

Addiction
     The meeting room was small, with that seedy drab sameness possessed by service organizations the world over. The graffiti flecked walls were a dirty pastel green and mildly in need of paint, while the flickering fluorescent lights had long lost their reflective grillwork to the ravages of mid-city air—the once white paint coated to a greasy tan that absorbed rather than reflected what light remained in the old bulbs.
     The audience numbered less than twenty, and were scattered among the rickety chairs, whose battered desk flaps attested to the multiple uses to which the room was subjected.
     As a group, the people gathered there were unexceptional, a cross section of American culture, though something, perhaps a slight tenseness around the eyes, and a reluctance to indulge in close conversation, indicated that this was not another Monday night literary association or religious group. These people were gathered for more serious purpose.
     In the front portion of the room the inevitable rickety podium, and the also inevitable row of chairs for the comfort of those conducting the meeting, gathered. In the rear, the coffee pot burbled to itself as it prepared for the onslaught of the social period at the meeting’s end.
     The ritual of opening the meeting and reading the minutes was completed, as was the equally dull invocation of God’s blessing on those gathered there. It was finally time for the introduction of the newest member.
     The chairman glanced behind him, to verify that the man had not fled before the time of his presentation. In spite of a mental bet that the man would not be able to go through with his ordeal—a common occurrence among those who came to that room for help—he remained. It was a good sign. Those who stood to testify could not be coerced or cajoled into speech. When it was the right time for them they would know it. Until then, nothing on earth could drive them to stay. In this case, surprisingly, the man remained, although the tension lines on his face overshadowed the pain the chairman had seen there earlier, when the little man had quietly slipped into the room.
     He could not long remain unnoticed, however. His dress alone gave him away: torn and patched pants below a shirt that displayed a veritable menu of his encounters with life. He wore shoes of a sort—cast off sneakers with gaping holes through which his toes peered—but socks were a luxury he obviously could not afford. In the life he had probably been living, even removing his shoes to sleep was not allowed, lest he wake to find those meager symbols of status gone.
     His eyes, too, gave him away, the shifting distrustful eyes of the street-person, overlaid with the driving urgency of his need. He had hit bottom, and in his despair had finally admitted to himself that he could not go it alone. At last, he was ready to turn to others for help. It was his time.
     The chairman turned back to the podium. His voice, as he began, was deliberately calm and matter of fact, and his words chosen with care. The man sitting behind him needed reassurance. He needed to know that he was not unusual, simply another in a long line of those seeking the support the people in that room could provide. There was warmth in the chairman’s voice when he said, “Ladies and Gentlemen, we have a new brother with us tonight, a man who needs us, and the help we can give him. I’ve spoken with him, and have explained that each of us here in this room have, at one time, stood in his shoes. Each of us has taken the step of unburdening their souls to those who understand their suffering.”
     He turned, motioning the little man forward; urging him, when his resolve seemed in danger of giving way. “Please, even I took my turn here,” he said, gently. “It’s easier than you think.” He smiled reassuringly. “Believe me, only the first few words are hard.”
     The man finally sighed, and, seeming to steel himself against what was to come, stood and moved to join the chairman at the podium. That man smiled and patted his guest on the shoulder, whispering reassurance as he stepped to one side, motioning toward those seated and waiting. “Go on, Sam, you’ll do fine. I’ll be right here.”

     Sam stepped to the podium, regretting his decision to come and wishing he could be almost anywhere else. But it was to late. Clutching tightly to the small rail at the rear of the podium, he centered himself defensively behind its feeble protection, distancing himself from those in the room.
     He looked out over the faces gathered there, most smiling their own reassurance at him, some frowning as though in remembered pain. He took a long breath, in an attempt to steady himself for what was to come, his eyes darting toward the chairman, attempting to gain a measure of strength in his close presence. But that man had taken a step backward, making him the center of the room’s attention.
     He slumped. There was nowhere to run, and no way to deny anymore. All he could do was clamp down on emotion, to keep the despair from his voice—if that was even possible.
      But possible or not, he was committed. There was time only for a quick glance around for reassurance, a deep breath, and, “My name is Sam, and I’m…” He sighed, then bowed his head, shaking it in shame. “… I’m a writer.”
     The words were said at last, and they hung over the room, the shame in them almost like a living presence. He raised his head then, and stared at those facing him, daring someone to laugh. But there was no laughter, only the warmth of their support for his pain. Shared pain.
     He had named the devil, though, and now the words came easier.
     “I started small; letters to the editor and stories for my kids. They never published the letters, but I assumed that it was because there were many responses on the same issues. He hesitated. It was time for the brutal truth. Time to stop lying to himself. He squared his shoulders and forced himself to go on, saying, “I couldn’t see…wouldn’t see…that it was because I simply had no talent for the written word.”
     Ignoring the stir from the audience he plunged on. “I tried to improve the quality of my letters—to add humor and insight that might have been missing. It took a year, but then a disaster happened: I was published.” He leaned forward, gripping the podium. “My words had appeared in print!” His voice was strong now, as was he, filled with the self-loathing the admission brought. “No matter that the letter was heavily edited, it had been printed! My words were read by thousands! I was no longer an writer, I was an author!
     He snorted in disgust. “That simple letter was my undoing. After that it was just a matter of time. I began to carry a small pad, and, wherever I was I began to write down story ideas and thoughts for articles. I bought a word-processor and I learned to type. Slowly, the devil began to rule my life.”
     He paused, breathing hard, the chairman’s steadying hand on his shoulder helping to bring him under control. Now that he was started, the story was bursting to be freed, a catharsis of his agony.
     “You probably know the story… I began to write in the evenings, ignoring the television set and even my family, submitting my work to short-story magazines.” He laughed “I wasn’t rejected, I told myself, there were simply too many other good stories that month, and the professionals had the name that was necessary to break into the closed circle of authors. I couldn’t see!” He sighed. “I didn’t want to.
     “Then came the novels, and even more time with the keyboard. Soon evenings became entire nights, as my life began to center on my addiction.” He shook his head. “Though I could never see it as an addiction. I still thought of it as a hobby.”
     He sighed. “One by one I lost my friends. Not only did I stop returning their calls—I saw their calls as interruptions, you see…” He spread his hands. “When I did see them I saddled them with manuscripts, forcing friends to read them and then questioning them at length as to plot twists and characterization.” He laughed “They began to avoid me. I can’t say I blame them.”
     He hung his head for a moment, before continuing, in a voice devoid of emotion.
      “My regular work began to suffer as I daydreamed plots and story lines instead of paying attention to business. As time went on, and I sank deeper into addiction, I began to sneak a half-hour here and there to make story notes, finally abandoning all pretense of work.”
     He closed his eyes in remembered pain. “When I lost my job for the first time I tried to give it up. I realized what writing was doing to me, even then, but I had sunk too far…too far. By that time I was reduced to carrying my short stories with me, maneuvering conversations with strangers to the subject of writing and then forcing copies on my unsuspecting victims.” He looked at nothing for a moment, lost in memories, then snorted, adding, “The money I wasted on duplicating, alone…”
     He pressed his face into his hands as he gained strength for what had to come next. When he lowered his hands he made no effort to keep the resignation from his voice.
      “It went quickly after that. My family left me, of course. They still loved me, I think, but they really had no choice. I know it was hard for them, but I hardly noticed.
     “Without a job, and with no other source of income, I soon found myself on the street, begging for food money, but in reality, using it to buy paper and pencils to feed my addiction.
     “Even that didn’t last… It couldn’t.” He stopped for a moment, eyes focused on nothing. Then, returning to the present, he shook himself awake with a short bark of a laugh. “I woke this morning to find myself under the platform of the subway.” His voice was strong now. “I tried to make myself get up and get something to eat, but I couldn’t; I had to write something first!” His voice was a reflection of the darkness inside. “Do you know? Have you felt the soul-searing need that grips your very being?” He stepped around the podium, arms stretched forward in supplication. “I-wrote-on-a-wall! I had no paper, and still I couldn’t stop doing it!” He sank to his knees, reaching out, pain a tearing shriek in his voice. “Please…please help me before I write again.” He collapsed on himself then, a miserable figure of a man, alone in his need, sobbing, face pressed against his hands.
     But he was not to remain alone. Heedless of the stinking filth of his clothing, a woman hurried forward to gather him in her arms. Quickly, the others came forward to form a human bulwark against his pain, helping him to his seat and remaining for a moment, whispering individual words of encouragement to him before slipping back to their places.
     Once more the chairman stood at the podium. He spoke to the group, but his words were really meant for the man behind him. “We all share that affliction with Sam, and well know his pain. For so many years, the disease of writership was unknown, masked by the success of that small group of people who possess an actual talent for writing. It was assumed that those of us who suffered and starved for the written word were simply misguided. It has only been a few years since Stafford’s great discovery that writing is an addiction, one as darkly destructive as alcohol or drugs…one that destroys more lives each year than even tobacco.”
     He paused, nodding. “But now that the sickness has been identified for what it is, we can treat it, and even identify it in the young, preventing its taking hold in children; possibly the worst tragedy of all. With avoidance therapy, and the latest advance, ridicule therapy, those of us who have fallen may rise once more, to control those terrible urges and become productive members of society again.” He leaned forward, his eyes bright. “There is even hope that in time we will find a way to allow social writing by addicts without triggering a relapse in their condition.” That statement brought a stir of interest from the audience. He held up a warning hand. “Nothing definite yet, I’m afraid, but in the latest issue of Writer’s Anonymous, there was an article on just that possibility.
     The meeting slowly dragged its way to a close, the closing prayer signaling a release from the hard chairs. With a final comment of, “Don’t forget to feed the coffee kitty,” the chairman turned to Sam, only to find him gone. With the prayer he had slipped quickly through the nearby door, unable to face the group on a personal basis. The chairman shrugged, then turned to the podium to collect his things. But the podium was bare. His notebook and pencil were gone. For a moment there was a flick of anger, but he suppressed it. The book was gone, and this was not really unexpected—though he had hoped that the little man was ready. Many of those who visited this room for the first time could not stay for long. But it was a start. There always had to be that start: an admitting of the problem. When he was ready he would be back. They always came back.
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
     Author’s note: Please…help me. Stop me before I write again.
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
     I hope you enjoyed it. If you did, and got here from Facebook, pressing the “Share” button at the page bottom will let others know the story is here, and give them the chance to read it, as well.
     
     And if my little story pleased you, I’m glad. There are other stories posted, as well. You and others like you are the reason I write. If it did bring a moment of reading pleasure, take a moment to rate it. Feedback matters to me. And if you’re in the mood for something a bit longer. make a stop to look at my novels, and read the excerpts to see if they please, as well.

 
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Posted by on May 25, 2011 in Short Story

 

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Baby Talk

Baby Talk
     “Hey Chazz, here’s another load of dead babies. Where do you want them?”
     Charlie Kane looked up from his magazine and pointed toward a clear spot on his desk. “Just drop them here, Max. I’ll get to them tomorrow, maybe.”
     The man placed the small stack of CDs on the desk, shaking his head as he said, “How in the hell did you get such a cushy job, Chazz? I don’t think I’ve ever seen you busy, and you’re not even in your office half the week. I know the hospital had no choice after Big Al gave the order to hire you, but who are you to him? I—” The man stopped, abruptly. Apparently, it had just occurred to him that he might be prying into matters best left alone. He extended his hands, palms outward waving them in negation, as he said, “If you don’t mind saying, of course. I didn’t mean to pry.”
     For a moment he hesitated. But it wasn’t exactly a secret that the godfather of the local crime family had ordered the hospital to hire him, so he shrugged and said, “I’m Big Al’s son-in law, or was, till Frank Calasi and his men shot Susan two years ago.” He pasted on a sad face, then, and didn’t mention the fact that he was the one who pulled the trigger for Calasi. That marriage was a year that felt like ten, and best forgotten. And, his time in hell hadn’t even gotten him a decent job within the family.
     “Jeeze, that’s tough.” Max said. “But, why plant you here? Why not… well, give you something more exciting than this?” He waved a hand to indicate the modest space that comprised Charlie’s office.
     Why indeed? Certainly, he wasn’t going to tell Max that Al thought him a screw-up, and that the job was from a sense of family obligation, only. Did Al suspect him of complicity in Sue’s death? Perhaps, but since Al hated her nearly as much as he had, it probably didn’t matter.
     To Max, he said only, “It’s temporary.”
     The man left, and he went back to his magazine. But that was boring, as would be going home, so he decided to finish with the babies, to kill the evening, then take tomorrow off and spend the day getting the boat ready to go into the water.
     He moved the stack of DVDS closer, placed a tablet in a comfortable position for note taking, and slipped the first dead baby into the computer.
     Two hours later he frowned and hit the pause button. There was something odd about the video. Like the rest it was a film made by a bedside camera, as part of the study of sudden infant death syndrome. And like the others, it showed an apparently healthy baby, who simply stopped breathing and died. This baby, though, like one or two of the others, had been playing—gurgling and learning to make the sounds that would, eventually become speech. And then it died.
     But there was something odd about this baby. He played the video again, and then again. There was nothing obvious, but he had the impression of a slight flattening of the baby’s features, and movement of the baby’s head backward on the mattress, deflecting the bedding by just a fraction, as though a giant invisible hand was being used to block her nose and mouth. Certainly, the baby’s frantic movements as death claimed her seemed to support that.
     Three times more he played the recording. The average person would have missed it, but after watching as many deaths as had he, he had a feel for it that the average viewer wouldn’t have. Did the babies on the other DVDs display the same thing? It was hard to tell, because the cameras weren’t the best quality, and the pictures had been taken in near darkness, but at least one of the others did, too.
     He checked his notes, then pulled images from the archives, of other babies who had been awake and active when they died.
     And there it was. On several of the recordings, invisible unless you were looking for it, something was blocking the baby’s breathing. Those babies were being murdered. But how? And how could he make the discovery work for him? Were he able to learn the trick for himself, he could become the highest paid hit man in history. To know how to kill without leaving a trace? That would be a skill to pray for.
     For the next fifteen minutes, he searched. Then it hit him. There was a common element: the baby’s voice. Although they were babbling and making random sounds, at some point, within the moments leading to their death, they had all uttered the same string of nonsense syllables, “ba-ba-ba-kee,” as part of their play.
     He studied the transliteration of those words, glowing on his computer screen. “Ba-ba-ba-kee? What in the hell can that mean?” Frustrated, he spread his hands “Who the hell would—”
     “It means kill me.”
     “What?” Charlie spun his chair around. But, the office door was closed and there was no one there. Still, the voice had been real. There was no doubt of that. At least he thought there wasn’t. It wasn’t the kind of voice you forgot. It was deep, and gravely, and sounded like the kind of voice the earth would have, were it capable of speech.
     Reluctantly he turned back to the desk, shaking his head and wondering why his imagination was working overtime.
     “And since you asked me to kill you so nicely…” A wave of heat swept over him from behind, and the texture of the air in the room changed. Someone, or some thing, was in the room with him.
     Every hair on his body attempted to stand on end, as he whirled in his chair to face a vision right out of nightmare. How it got there he had no idea, because there was no way in hell that it could have come through the office door. It was far too big for that. Something, was crammed into his office, its bulk occupying virtually all the space he and his desk were not. There was no doubt that it was real, and solid, though. The stench of its body had a solidity of its own, bringing tears that he suspected were as much for his coming fate as for the assault on his sinus cavities.
     Slowly, he sorted out a jumble of visual impressions. Eyes came first. They were the size of basketballs, and patterned in shades of black, other than for fire-red lightening jags of what he guessed were veins. There were teeth, of course… rows and rows of them. The less he thought about them, the better. The fact that they were set in a mouth that was grinning broadly was not at all reassuring, especially given what the beast had just said.
     The body came next, though that was hard to think of in terms more definitive than, “Oh my God!” both because it was so overwhelmingly close, so huge, and so hot that he wondered if his clothing might soon catch fire.
      Holy shit, I’m sitting next to a special effect! That he would die seemed assured, but the beast was so far outside both possibility and reason that it was too much to accept. So much so, that his mind began to function again, doing what it did best, looking for an angle.
     “Hang on a minute,” he said, his mind searching for possibilities. “If you’re going to kill me, at least let me know who’s doing the job, so I can be properly appreciative.”
     Black irises focused on him from a scant two feet away, giving the beast a cross-eyed look. What he took to be its forehead creased in response to his words.
     “You’re not…frightened?” It wasn’t easy to tell if the words of a talking cement mixer carried tones of curiosity, but the fact that he wasn’t already dead brought a flicker of hope. If he could convince Big Al that he was interested in his sister—given the way she looked—perhaps he could work with this guy. The trick was to keep him talking.
     “Frightened? Sure. But I’m impressed, too. Those are pretty spectacular muscles.” At least he thought the various bulges under its pebbly skin might be muscles.
     “Really? Thank you. I work out.” The beast shifted a bit, and took a breath that depleted most of the air in the room, then flexed. It was impressive. But then it exhaled, and he had to close his eyes and focus on remaining in control of his digestive system.
     “So, who are you, and what brings you to my office?” he finally said, regaining control and opening his eyes again. The view hadn’t improved.
     “You can call me Nacky, and I’m here because you called me, and gave me permission to kill you. I really appreciate that.”
     “I don’t think—” Then it hit him and he pointed to the baby’s image on the monitor. That baby… You killed it simply because it babbled ‘Kill me,” in your language? Are you some sort of a pervert?” It occurred that he hadn’t been terribly diplomatic, but what was said was said.
     The beast shrugged. “Those are the rules. It was a legal kill.” Its tone on the last few words sounded a bit defensive.
     “But… you eat babies?
     “In a manner of speaking.” A finger the thickness of an elephant’s trunk pointed in Charlie’s direction “I suppose you don’t eat calves liver. Or lamb chops?”
     “I… Well, sure, but those are animals, not people.”
     The beast was smiling again, as it said, “Take my word for it. You’re not people. You’re barely above a monkey in intelligence. In any case, you have your question answered, so now—”
     Think Chazz, think! Nothing came so he went with desperation.
     “Wait! Won’t you at least explain what in the hell is going on? You don’t physically eat the babies, and you sounded like you wanted me to be scared when you kill me. Maybe… maybe if you explain, that will scare the crap out of me and make me taste better?”
     Nacky cocked his head in what seemed interest, so Charlie added, “Unless you have to be somewhere?”
     “No. I have time.” The creature settled himself, and leaned toward Charlie, something that inspired no confidence, as it said, “My people kind of screwed up.”
     “Screwed up?”
     “Yeah. Once we were geeks like your people, though we evolved from carnivores not monkeys. So, hunting is pretty big in our culture.” That squared not at all with his claim that he didn’t actually eat the prey, nor that the prey was composed of helpless infants. This whole thing made no sense.
     “I know what you’re thinking,” Nacky said, shaking his head. “But hang on for a minute, because it comes together…
     “Anyway, our science types gave us a way to live forever, move from place to place by just thinking about it, and to improve our bodies to what you see here.” He pointed toward his torso. “So naturally, we redesigned the chassis to make us even better hunters, and to scare the living shit out of our prey. And since we no longer needed to actually eat what we kill, they also fixed it so we could taste the lives of our prey, instead of their flesh.”
     “And?”
     “And it’s better. Plus, with nothing coming through the pipes you don’t need toilet paper no more.
     “No, I mean what happened then.”
     “Oh… well it turned out to be boring. Nothing can outrun us. Nothing can kill us. Nothing even presents a threat. So even when we moved off our own world and went exploring, we were hunters with nothing worth hunting. Worse yet, we were a threat to other races, and that pissed them off enough to do something about it.”
     Charlie rubbed his lips in thought, as his mind sought an angle. There seemed to be none, so to keep the monster talking, he said, “So… you went to war?”
     “We didn’t get the chance. Hunters like us tend to be solitary, and focused on the chase. The others, they got together to work against us. They didn’t like us wandering all over their worlds and killing their people.”
     “I can imagine.”
     “Yeah, but they couldn’t kill us, so they fixed things so we couldn’t kill them either. Then they made life even more boring.”
     “How?”
     “By fixing it so we couldn’t hunt them anymore—or anyone, unless we had their okay.”
     Charlie blinked in thought. “So, babies saying ‘Kill me’ are, what…a loophole?”
     “You got it. It’s not much, but it is a loophole, and makes this place a popular vacation spot.”
     “But… babies. Where’s the sport—”
     “Where’s the sport in any of it? I told you. We screwed up, and now we’re stuck with it. Nothing can beat us and nothing can outrun us.” He shrugged, before adding, “Adults are a lot better tasting, but the rules are the rules.” He scratched. “And you said the words, kiddo, so… It’s my turn in the rotation, which means I get an honest to God adult to taste.” He looked apologetic, and shrugged, as he added, “Normally, I’d give you a running start, to make you feel like you have a chance, but with me blocking the door…
     The beast leaned toward him, but he held up his hands in a wait gesture.
     “So that’s it? You guys are reduced to killing kids? The men and women from your world come here to kill children? That’s absolutely pathet—”
     “Listen, you take what you can get. You know? But no, we don’t all eat babies. The women have a thing about that—even no-brain kids like those on your world. For them, it’s fires.”
     “Fires.” Not a word of this made sense. The creature currently bringing the room to furnace temperature was so powerful it was unkillible. It could travel through space, apparently by simply willing it. It somehow knew when a child’s babbling simulated its language, from an unknown distance away. And, their females liked to watch fire victims die—or maybe they liked to personally toast them. That wasn’t clear.
     He, and the others like him, weren’t examples of the best their race had to offer. They couldn’t be. The fool who was currently threatening him was more like an intergalactic idiot, with no more actual brainpower than Big Al’s bodyguards. But, that wasn’t something to think about yet, because Nacky was talking again.
     “Yeah, they like fires. But don’t knock it. Taking lives via fire has the victim in the right frame of mind for the very best feeding. And that turns the ladies on, thank you very much. If you’ve never gotten some loving from a flame-bathed female you haven’t gotten any at all.”
     There wasn’t room for Nacky to stand, but he came as upright as space permitted, as he said, “But talk isn’t entertaining, and you’ve had your answer, so let’s get started with—”
     “Suppose…suppose I could supply you with all the victims you want—adult victims.”
     Nacky settled on his haunches, blinking. “What do you mean, all I want?”
     “Just that. Suppose I got lots of people to ask you to kill them? Suppose I even got people to shout that they wanted to be burned alive? Would a female be grateful to you for pointing to that? I mean—”
     “Go on.”
     “Here’s the thing.” He had a handle on the angle, at last, and it was beautiful. “I have a friend, and he often has people who need to be… removed. So suppose I was to send one of those people a letter, advertising a new club—an exclusive club. And suppose this club has a secret password. You figure the guy will practice it a few times before he goes to the club?”
     “… Clever. And the fires?” There was definitely interest in the beast’s voice.
     “Well… Suppose instead of asking to be killed, the guy shouts, ‘Hey, please burn me up,’ in your language? You figure a girl would be grateful for a favor like that?” Big Al was going to pay well for untraceable deaths. In fact, why limit the action to only the city, or even the country? Why not think in terms of politics?
     Still, there was one thing that nagged, so he extended a hand as he said, “But there is one thing.”
     “Mmm?” A frown replaced Nacky’s smile.
     “Well… It’s about the babies. You gotta stop that shit. It’s just not right.”
     “Done… as long as you can provide the product.”
     Relaxing and leaning back in his chair, Charlie waved a hand in Nacky’s direction.
     “Call me Chazz… I think maybe you and I can do business. In fact, I see this as the start of a positively beautiful friendship.”

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
Author’s Note:
     This story hung in my mind, as a tickle, for years. I even wrote the opening several times, only to put it aside because the tone remained elusive—and because who wants to publish a story in which children are harmed? But one day, there it was, ready to be typed and sent out. And as I thought, who wants to publish a story in which children are harmed? =sigh=
     But it is a good story, and if I didn’t type it out it would flicker around the dark corners of my mind forever.
     I hope you enjoyed it. If you did, and got here from Facebook, pressing the “Share” button at the page bottom will let others know the story is here, and give them the chance to read it, as well.
     And if my little story pleased you, I’m glad. There are other stories posted, as well. You and others like you are the reason I write. If it did bring a moment of reading pleasure, take a moment to rate it. Feedback matters to me. And if you’re in the mood for something a bit longer. make a stop to look at my novels, and read the excerpts to see if they please, as well.
 
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Posted by on May 7, 2011 in Short Story

 

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My Father My Friend # 3

My Father My Friend # 3
My Father Is Possessed

 
Another excerpt from the memoirs of Dave Cook: My Father, My Friend—a not yet published novel. Presented just because it was fun to write. In the actual sequence this is chapter two.
 

     I’m not quite sure when it happened, but, for a time, my father was possessed by an alien being from Beta Cignis, whatever that is. Actually, he was first converted to a robot, which led to his being taken over by the alien.
     I know that sounds confusing, but a great deal of what happened between me and my father is probably confusing to anyone who wasn’t there when it happened.
     I think I was six when I refused to go to bed for the first time. I mean really refused to go to bed. I wasn’t sleepy (at least I insisted I wasn’t), and I wanted to do what I wanted to do. My father promptly agreed with me, saying, “I don’t blame you, Davy. I wouldn’t want to go to bed if I were you, and I don’t want to have to put you to bed, either.” He continued climbing the steps, with me in his arms, as I tried to understand how I could be going to bed when we both agreed it was not a good idea. It helped a little when he added, “I don’t want to, but it’s time.” He shrugged his shoulders at that, in a “what can you do” gesture.
     Somehow, I found myself without anyone to argue with, yet I seemed to have lost the argument. It was only years later that I understood what he had done. If he had insisted I go to bed, I would have insisted, just as strongly, that I didn’t want to, which was an argument I couldn’t possibly win. It was also one that would have left us both angry, and me in bed. By refusing to force me into that situation, he saved wear and tear on our tempers and I was introduced the concept of a higher authority, one to which even he had to demur.
     I tried again about a week later, as I sincerely said, “Daddy, I really don’t want to go to bed. I want to stay up and play.”
     I looked at him for reaction, but he stared blankly ahead, ignoring me. “Daddy!” I shouted, trying to get his attention. His only response was to slowly turn his head in my direction.
     “Daddy?” I was becoming worried.
     “I-am-not-your-father,” he informed me in a droning voice, devoid of any emotion. “I-am-your-undressing-robot.”
     I think I giggled.
     “It-is-time-to-undress-the-David-person,” he informed me in a monotone, headed in my direction with machine-jerky movements.
     He came to me then knelt in front of me, saying, “I-must-remove-your-hat-first.”
     I tried to tell him that I wasn’t wearing a hat, but he paid no attention, and carefully, but ineptly, removed the non-existent hat from my head, obviously crumpling it in his hand as he did so. “I-will-put-it-in-the-closet,” he said, as he opened an imaginary closet door and threw the hat inside.
     “Now-it-is-time-for-your-coat. Stand-over-here.” He pointed to one side of where I was standing, but I made no move to comply. I was too busy laughing at him. My lack of cooperation didn’t make too much of a difference though, as he simply waited a moment, said, “Thank-you,” and began to remove an invisible coat from an equally invisible David. He ignored me when I jumped on his back, shouting, “It’s not me. It’s not me,” over and over. From the looks of his motions, though, he pretty well destroyed the coat he was removing. I was glad I hadn’t been dressed for the outside.
     After he finished pretending to hang up what might have been left of the coat, he turned to me once more, saying, “Now-I-will-carry-you-up-the-steps-to-the-bed-place.” So saying, he proceeded to pick me up in such a way that I found myself hanging upside down as he carried me upstairs; all the while talking to my feet as though he was holding me upright.
     Somehow, I was undressed, washed, and put to bed, laughing the whole time. My dad returned to his normal self, though, to read me my nightly story, give me my good night hug, and to sit with me. He always sat in the dark with me for a few moments after the light went out, to chase away the nighttime monsters, and get me settled down. He claimed it was peaceful sitting in the dark, and that went a long way toward calming my fears.
     Lying there, after my dad was gone, I thought it was really strange that somehow, after deciding that I was not going to bed without a battle, I had cooperated wholeheartedly with the process. Once again I found myself tucked in, on the verge of sleep, and feeling pretty good about the whole affair. I decided that my dad was pretty tricky, but still, I was looking forward to the next night. I did that every night of my life, as long as my dad tucked me in. Even now, getting ready for bed is a friendly and relaxing kind of thing.
     
     The undressing robot put in occasional appearances over the next year or so, but he was eventually displaced by the inept alien space-traveler. That happened one night when I was hoping my father would play the “dead” game. I know that sounds pretty morbid, but it’s not what you might think. My father simply closed his eyes and went totally limp, usually without warning. The idea was for me to, somehow, force him back into the world of the living. That had to be done without hurting him in any way (which made him angry and ended the game), and sometimes involved a good deal of inspiration on my part.
     Dad had somehow managed to convince me that he wasn’t ticklish. I didn’t find out until I was nearly fifteen that he had gone through hell, pretending that my attempts to tickle him were unsuccessful. Because of that, I didn’t try, which was just as well, as it would have forced the game to end long before it had.
     Part of the fun was when I forced open his eyelids with my fingers. My dad was able to roll his eyeballs back into his head, so that when I looked, there was nothing but blank whiteness, and a voice that said, “Nobody’s home.” The words were my father’s way assuring me that he was only playing. He would even argue the point with me, as I insisted that someone must be home because he was talking to me, but he wouldn’t to talk about anything else. Sometimes, when I peeled back the lids, he would be home, so to speak, and his eyes would look directly at me, the pupils fixed and staring. That was far more spooky then when there was nothing but white there. When that happened, I invariably let go of his eyelid and pushed his head away from me, saying, “Yuck!”
     I managed to “wake” him in a variety of ways, almost always fun. Sometimes it was a jelly bean or M&M pushed into his mouth; once a marble. Sometimes it was something as simple as a hug, or a kiss. Untying his shoes often worked, but I once managed to unbutton his shirt, remove both his shoes and socks, and was working on his belt before he stopped me.
     This time, however, he slowly opened his eyes, looking at me curiously, as though he had never seen me before. Then he looked around the room, equally slowly, while I wondered what new thing was about to happen. Finally, he turned back to me, his movements awkward, and his voice odd. “Is this the center?” he demanded, angrily.
     “What center?”
     Once more he studied the room, saying, “There has been a terrible mistake, for which many will be destroyed.”
     Entranced, I asked, “What kind of mistake?”
     He ignored my question, and asked, “What planet is this? What place?”
     At last I was on firm ground, and informed him that he was on Earth. I wasn’t totally sure what a planet was, but I knew mine was called Earth.
     Frowning, he said, “Earth? What sector is that in? I thought I knew the names of all ten thousand worlds in the Plampillian empire.” Before I could answer that, he suddenly glared at me and then looked wildly around, as though struck by a frightening idea. “Is this an enemy world? Have I been captured by the hated Comex alliance?” He leaned forward. “Have you intercepted the theta wave that was carrying me to Kuto?”
     He had asked far to many questions, and I wasn’t sure of the rules of this game yet, so I simply said, “This is the Earth, and we aren’t part of anything.” At least I was pretty sure we weren’t.
     That didn’t seem to satisfy him, so I asked him who he was.
     His voice was haughty as he informed me, “I am Togar, the master of the ten-thousand worlds. I am the great king of kings; the supreme ruler of the Plampillian empire.” He allowed me to absorb that for a moment, then added, “I am also now the ruler of the Earth, which I claim for the empire.” He waved a casual hand at me and said. “You are honored to be the first to know.”
     I knew it was a game, but my father was good at that sort of thing, and in the back of my mind, there was the thought that maybe he wasn’t playing, and that somehow, this was real. That was a scary thought.
     I decided to sidestep the issue, and asked, “How did you get here?”
     That earned me a sour look, but he grudgingly explained. “My mind was being transferred from my palace on Beta Cignis to the body of an id holder at the prime battle center on the planet Kuto. As usual, I was being sent via theta wave transmitter.” He indicated himself with his hand. “I am much too important to have my actual body sent there, that’s waiting back in the palace.”
     He frowned in thought for a second, before saying, “I should have arrived in the center at once, but there appears to be an sub-muvian storm, and my titanic intelligence was accidentally placed in the head of this poor excuse for a being, on this obviously backward planet.”
     I didn’t understand some of his words, but I got the general idea, and hastened to defend my homeland and my father, who, presumably, was the poor excuse for a being he had referred to.
     “This is not a backward planet,” I insisted. “We have a lot of modern things.”
     “Such as?”
     I thought for a moment. “We have television,” I ventured.
     “That is?”
     “It has pictures that go through the air and get shown on the television screen.”
     “A flat screen?” he sneered. “Glass?”
     “Well… yes.”
      He waved a negligent hand, yawning. “As I said, backward. I don’t suppose you have hypervision, or realvision, or even feelvision on this ugly dirtball.”
     I knew it was a game, but he was getting me angry. “If you don’t like it here,” I said, “why don’t you just go back home?”
     That earned me another angry glare. “I can’t,” he admitted. “I’m stuck here until they get a message to pull me back, which may never come. I just hope they have enough sense to pull me home when they don’t get a signal telling them I arrived on Kuto safely.”
     He looked unhappy for a moment, then seemed to be struck by a sudden inspiration. “Hey, I could build a theta wave transmitter here and send myself home. Do you have any tools?”
     I nodded, not sure of what he wanted.
     “A double distolated framisizer?” he asked, “and a whatsismaker with a flirp mode enhancer?”
     Now I was sure it was a game. Framisizer was what my father called a variety of things when he didn’t want to explain their operation. “No, we don’t” I said, happily. “This is a backward place, remember?”
     My father angrily pounded a fist into his other palm. “Damn,” he said. “I just wish…” With that, he collapsed onto the bed. Happily, I bounded onto his stomach and shook him, prepared to peel back his eyelids, but he opened them before I could start.
     “Boy, I feel strange,” he said, shaking his head. He glanced over at the clock, then looked puzzled. “That’s funny, I could have sworn that clock said ten after seven just a second ago. Now it says twenty after. I wonder why? Did I fall asleep?”
     I tried to explain what happened, but he dismissed the whole thing, complaining that I was being silly. It had all the earmarks of a game that was going to last a long time.
 

*

 
     It was nearly a week later when I noticed my father staring at me strangely. We had just finished with the bath game, and I was putting on my pajamas, hurrying to put my head through the neck hole. For some reason, I’ve always hated when my eyes are covered by clothing.
     My dad’s next words, and the odd tone he used in saying them, informed me that the alien had returned.
     “Oh no, not again!” he moaned. “I gave orders that I was not to be sent here again.” He covered his face with his hands for a moment, then sat up, all business.
     “Well,” he began, brightly. “How would you like to be the hero who introduces space travel to your world?”
     It sounded fine to me, and I told him so, asking what I had to do.
     “That’s simple,” he assured me. “You simply help me build a matter transmitter, and turn it on. After that, we can send the parts through from my empire to build lots more of them. In fact, after we turn on the one we build, the rest will be put together automatically, and send themselves all over this world, so the solders can come through and take over.”
     “Solders?” I didn’t like the sound of his last words, but he covered up quickly.
     “Solders? Did you think I said solders?” He waved a hand in negation. “No, no, I said Rolgers. That’s what we call the people who run the machines. That’s what I meant by take over.”
     “Uh-huh.” My dad had just established one of the finer points of the game. The objective was to conquer the Earth. Playing my role, I asked, “What do you need from me?”
     “Well,” he said, in an offhand manner. “Since you don’t have the tools I need, you can take me to the ruler of your country.”
     I shook my head. “I don’t know the ruler. I don’t even know who he is. I think he’s called the president, though.
     “Okay, the ruler of your city, then.”
     I only shook my head, then did it again as he ran through the ruler of the neighborhood, and finally just a policeman. In mock despair, he threw up his hands and said, “Okay, then just drive me around and I’ll find them for myself.”
     It was fun to watch him throw a temper tantrum when I told him that I couldn’t drive, and that my mom wasn’t home. I was sorry when the alien suddenly departed.
     The alien king game lasted until I was nearly ten years old, and evolved into quite an involved thing before I decided that I was too old to play. Until then he would appear at odd times. We might be driving to the shopping mall, or walking in the woods, when my father would announce his coming with a groan of, “Oh, no. Not again.” Before it ended, though, it got to the point where he was “aware” of the alien, and claimed that he was being forced to do things by him, simply by hearing certain words in his head—a sending from the king. When pressed, he told me the word was u-n-d-e-r-w-a-r-e, carefully spelling it out. It caused him agony when he heard it spoken, he claimed, even silently in his head. Naturally, I let the word drop into the conversation, just to test it out. Sure enough, my father feigned unendurable agony and begged me to stop. Naturally, I agreed, but managed to drop the word into the conversation at least five times before the day ended. My mother, as usual, tried to ignore my father’s bizarre behavior. I think she thought it was some sort of male thing that she would never understand.
     The next day, when I worked the conversation around to the forbidden subject, his only response was a disgusted look. When I expressed surprise, he informed me that there was a new word each day. That resulted in a battle for the current word, in which he pleaded that he didn’t trust me because of what had happened the day before. I, of course, swore I would never use the word if he would only trust me once more.
     Of course he gave me the word, and of course I used it. His lack of response, then, he claimed, was because he had given me a false word to test me. I countered that I had to use the word once to test him.
     Naturally I “convinced” him to trust me, and naturally I betrayed that trust. That was how the game worked, but I thought a lot about trust as a result of that part of the game. I think that was part of the reason I stopped playing it. I no longer enjoyed a game that condoned betrayal.
     Much later I developed a love for a game called Diplomacy, which is all about betrayal. Strange, isn’t it? I know I’ve never even thought about betraying a person in real life, though. I already know how easy it would be to hurt them, and how delicate a thing trust is. Still, it was a fun game while it lasted.
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
Author’s note:
     When my own children were young, the things presented in this and other sections of this story were part of the family’s daily life, though I was not nearly so benevolent and wise as Davy’s dad—nor did the events occur in as conveniently dramatic a way. Still, it was great fun, and if, you’ve children of your own, these are some things that might be fun to try.
     I suppose it does explain why my children tend to walk into walls and fall down a lot, though.
     I hope you enjoyed it. If you did, and got here from Facebook, pressing the “Share” button at the page bottom will let others know the story is here, and give them the chance to read it, as well.
     And if my little story pleased you, I’m glad. There are other stories posted, as well. You and others like you are the reason I write. If it did bring a moment of reading pleasure, take a moment to rate it. Feedback matters to me. And if you’re in the mood for something a bit longer. make a stop to look at my novels, and read the excerpts to see if they please, as well.

 
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Posted by on April 22, 2011 in Short Story

 

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