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Member’s Choice Voting (Prose) September 16 to December 15

View Poll Results: Member’s Choice Voting (Prose) Sep 16 – Dec 15
Life, and the aggregation of small pleasures by salgoud 0 0%
Black Fly by Tor 2 20.00%
A New Word to the Pa-ayello by AbdulaOblongata 0 0%
A Bottle of Vodka and a Pack of Cigarettes, an excerpt by Futureblues 0 0%
Cleaning Toilets for Minimum Wage by beefheart 1 10.00%
Boring Brian's Revelation-Part Two by Phoenix Lazarus 1 10.00%
Best football (soccer) match ever! by CumbrianLad 0 0%
Siberian Tigers (About 1200 words) by Judith 1 10.00%
Maddy of Railhead by KBR 2 20.00%
Service with a Smile by AbdulaOblongata 3 30.00%
Voters: 10. You may not vote on this poll

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  #1  
Old 12-17-2012, 08:11 AM
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Default Member’s Choice Voting (Prose) September 16 to December 15


This is the voting thread for the Prose nomination in this seasons Member’s choice.
The Poetry voting thread can be found here.

The nominated pieces are duplicated below for your convenience.
This Poll closes on the 22nd of this months.

Good luck all.

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Last edited by Tau; 12-17-2012 at 08:40 AM..
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Old 12-17-2012, 08:13 AM
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Default Life, and the aggregation of small pleasures by salgoud

By the time you have finished reading this short story of mine, I suspect you may find me a rather unsavoury character. This is an unfortunate but, as anyone with even the most rudimentary understanding of human psychology could explain, entirely understandable reaction. That is why I would ask that you let me take a just a moment to explain my actions. It is my hope that by doing so, at least a portion of you may see that what I did was not out of evil, nor was it fuelled by some twisted perversion. Rather, I gave a fellow human being a deeper insight into the very essence of life’s beauty; for any believer reading this, one might say that I gave her a glimpse of our Lord’s most precious and wondrous gift. I removed the grime that for so long had distorted her vision, and I would like to do the same for you, dear reader. I ask of you only that you would read my story with an open mind; that you let me show you the gift of life.

Too long ago for a particular date to be of relevance, it occurred to me that people do, in general, not appreciate their lives. That may not be what you would call a mind-blowing realisation, but bear with me. People are too busy indulging in self-pity over the smallest of things to take a step back and look at the infamous “big picture”. Unrequited love, an unsatisfying career, a stubbed toe, money, a particularly stubborn cold, boredom, the length of this and the girth of that – the sheer number of utterly underwhelming “evils” that people insist on obsessing over to the detriment of their own happiness is astounding. If you think about it, eventually you will find that all of these issues boil down to one fundamental problem that appears to lie at the very heart of human nature: greed. People constantly seek for new ways of inducing artificial happiness - be it through alcohol, drugs (legal or otherwise), new gadgets, fancy clothes, or entering the increasingly popular race to become the first person to outweigh a football team.

Everyone goes about it differently, but at the end of the day they are all looking for the same shallow sense of deluded satisfaction. The underlying logic seems to be that if a little is good, it must naturally follow that more is better. That, dear reader, is not only a fallacy, but the very definition of greed, would you not agree? If, for instance, they are lucky enough to find that most precious of things – pure, mutual, unquestioning love – regardless of how long it lasts, people are never satisfied. It is generally the way that one person falls out of said love; the other left hurt. We have grown to accept this hurt as an inexplicable but undeniable consequence of being left by one we cherish, and we speak of our hearts being broken.

I put it to you that this is not the case; what you are really experiencing is the ugly consequence of greed. Take the very same example but replace love with money, status, or power. Imagine having a seemingly endless supply of it which suddenly runs dry. Would you not experience a very similar set of emotions? Is it not fair, then, to take a slightly wider view of causation and point to their common denominator? Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that we shouldn’t pursue material goods, money, power and certainly not love. These are all important pieces of the proverbial puzzle, but, if you will allow me to throw one last cliché in your direction, variety is the spice of life. Everything that brings us pleasure, so long as it is legal (yes, I am aware of the irony), can only be a good thing. Unfortunately this is a concept beyond the understanding of your average person. What, in a rather verbose way, I am trying to get at here, is that the key to happiness is the aggregation of small pleasures. A simple concept on the surface, but one that is difficult to understand in earnest. Once you do, however, you, too, will have touched upon the essence of God’s grace.


*

At this point in time I expect most of you will be familiar with the basic premise of my story. I have myself witnessed the vulturous, not to mention biased and inaccurate, media coverage which unfortunately precedes this article. As such I will not go into too much detail on the events preceding the culmination of the event in question. Instead, my focus shall be largely upon the parts of the story which by their very nature are unknown to anyone but Stephanie and I. In the interest of preserving context for anyone who might read this in the future, however, I will ever so briefly summarise what you are presently being bombarded by in the papers, on the Internet, and through your radios and TVs. Those of you already familiar with Stephanie’s background may wish to skip the following section.


*

Stephanie was, for as long as I knew her, a 28 year old woman. For a host of trivial reasons on which I do not wish to waste any of this unfortunately limited space – suffice to say that it was essentially a tediously clichéd jumble of female predicaments; expanding thighs, a shrinking friendship group, an unfulfilling career, and a lonely heart – she was depressed. Not in the true sense, mind, but in the sense of popular psychology, where self-pity is tenuously equalled to depression. As I understand it she had been in this state for quite some time, and the proverbial last straw was when her boyfriend – who she admitted, in confidence, to not actually having truly loved anymore – left her. This is what led her to me. Not long after he had left her, having metaphorically bathed in an overflowing bathtub of previously mentioned self-pity, she turned to strangers on the internet for advice. As it is not in my interest to tarnish the name of innocent third parties I shan’t use the real name of the website on which she posted. Let’s call it rubberbush. Rubberbush is a large classifieds website, and Stephanie used one of its more open categories to ask the quite blatantly attention-seeking question (and I quote):

How should I kill myself? Should I jump in front of a train, cut my wrists, or overdose on paracetamol? Don’t bother telling me not to do it, I’ve had enough and my mind is made up. Just vote, thanks.

Quite melodramatic, isn’t it? I personally thought it was a bit over the top, but who am I to judge. I got in touch with her and said that I was in the same position, but didn’t want to go it alone. I said I had tried before but always chickened out before causing myself any serious harm, and was looking for someone with whom to enter a suicide pact. She got back to me pretty quickly and sounded positive to the idea; we decided to meet the very next day in the middle of the Meadows, a park in central Edinburgh, where we both live. Not to take our lives, mind, but to discuss the practicalities of our arrangement.


*

This is the point from which what is said in the news diverges from the truth, and I welcome back any reader who opted to skip past the preceding section. It is also the point at which this story takes a rather more macabre tone, and I do advise readers who find themselves in a particularly fragile state of mind to consider deferring their reading until a later date. While I recognize that it may seem a bizarre or even morbid gesture, I would also like to extend my sincere condolences to any friends or family of Stephanie. You, in particular, may wish to reconsider your continued reading.


*

I met Stephanie at the appointed time. She told me what had finally driven her to this decision, and I fabricated a story to the same end. I have always had a flair for making up stories, and never found it difficult to keep a straight face when lying. She held nothing back. She told me about her job, her upbringing, her friends, family, everything; we “clicked”. We decided to meet again a week later, as we both needed time to put out affairs in order. We would then overdose on a combination of sleeping pills, to which I claimed to have ample access, and paracetamol, just to be sure. I walked her home.

In reality, of course, I had absolutely no intention to take my own life. I enjoy it far too much, which is the very reason that I did what I did. I want others to enjoy their lives to the extent that I enjoy mine, and this is the only way I could see to open your eyes. I spent the next few days following her, mapping her life, praying to the good Lord that she wouldn’t notice me. It came as no big surprise when, a mere couple of days into the week, she sent me an e-mail explaining how seeing her family had made her doubt her decision. Maybe she had something to live for, after all. That awful word: maybe. I asked her to meet me still, so that we could at least talk, and she obliged. It stands testament to a good upbringing that she had too warm a heart to leave me out in the cold, on my own.

The second time we met, once again in the Meadows, I sat across from her and after exchanging the usual pleasantries I extended to her an envelope. I told her not to open it now, to leave it until she got home, but that it would confirm that I was serious, that the path we were about to walk down could not be changed. A look of worry quite naturally spread across her face, and I found myself filled with – and I see how this might seem repulsive, but the truth should be told – sheer excitement. I was about to remove the grime from her vision, to show her the true beauty of life! The feeling of sharing that with another person cannot be described in words. I looked into her eyes, took a deep breath, shaky with exhilaration, and told her that in seven days, I was going to take her life.

She stared at me in silence, her fists tightly clenched around the envelope. I told her that she wouldn’t be able to change my mind, nor would I do so on my own accord, and the envelope would make it clear why she could not escape. I explained that she could choose how I would do it, and I would do my best to accommodate her wishes. At this point she tried to get up and run, and I grabbed onto her wrist so as to leave her with a few final words. I can’t remember exactly what I said, but in essence I stressed the importance of the envelope, and urged her to read it the moment she got back.

The envelope, as the more mentally agile reader will doubtless have guessed, contained pictures of her walking into her parents’ home, visiting her sister, seeing her friends. Along with the pictures I had placed a note explaining that I had been following her, that I knew where some of her dear ones lived, and that any attempt to contact the police or otherwise escape would result in some rather unfortunate consequences for them. I would like to make it clear at this point that I had no intention of hurting innocent bystanders. Had she run away, I would have let her. Between my not having the slightest idea of how to track someone and my total respect for life, I would have been unable to find her, and unwilling to hurt her family. Unlike her, they had never, to my knowing, disrespected life by wishing for death.


*

Stephanie accepted her fate with remarkable grace. After an initial e-mail pleading for me to reconsider, to which I responded by quite sternly letting her know that any further attempts to manipulate me would result in the direct deterioration of her situation, she asked to be shot. What happened over the next few days was the most beautiful transformation I have ever witnessed.

I once again followed her around, miraculously managing to stay unnoticed (to the best of my knowledge), and from a distance saw her saying her farewells. Her loved ones, of course, were unaware of her predicament, which made it all the more moving. Every time she left one of them it was entirely obvious that she had been enjoying every second in their company; her walk a curious cross of joyous skipping and fearful dragging. She had finally learned to appreciate the small things, and they were aggregating before her to make this week the best of her life! There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that this is true.

One my most striking memories of her is when was walking down the street, eating a chocolate bar. Anyone who has seen a woman depraved of chocolate tuck into a bar of Cadbury’s will have seen how much pleasure it can give. Imagine that times a hundred – imagine it being their last ever bar of chocolate, and they know it. I doubt whether you, or I, could ever fathom the pleasure she derived from it. How beautiful life seemed to her then, as she walked down the street towards her sister’s house, birds singing, sun in the sky, munching her favourite sweet treat. If there is a more blissful image I am yet to see it - and to think that I gave this to her! I took from her nothing but self-imposed pain and suffering, and I gave her the gift of life!

Granted, it was only for a short while, and I’m sure that if I had let her live she would have continued to appreciate it. Trust me when I say that I wanted nothing less than to take her life, seeing how much she was now enjoying it. It was the most difficult decision I have ever made, but equally the most important. For the only way to show you the gift of life was through her, and it is my only wish that her death was not in vain.


*

We are now about to embark upon the very last stretch of the metaphorical journey that was Stephanie’s life. There really is very little need for most of you to read this. For those of you who choose to do so, I suspect it will be particularly difficult to keep that open mind that I asked of you earlier. To this end I ask that you remember how much she loved her last days, remember the gift I gave her, and try to embrace it within yourselves. Try to understand it. Try to live by it – for the only reason this last section had to exist is so that I may give that same gift to you. Reading this with a closed mind will cost me nothing, the punishment I will receive remains unchanged; all it would accomplish is take from her death some of its meaning.


*

It was Wednesday evening, the day I had told her would be her last. I knocked on her door and could hear her moving around inside, trying to gather the nerve to face the end of her existence. It must have been very hard. I held a photo of her sister up to the peephole to remind her of the situation she was in. I knocked again and, finally, tentatively, she opened the door. Her face was red and she was crying violently, her whole body shaking, her breathing uneven and strained between suppressed wails of fear. Her lips moved to form the word please. The show she put on for me made the situation all the more surreal; it took on the flavour of parody.

As I raised the gun to her head she strained to look me in the eye, her lips seemingly taking on a life of their own, trying to escape from her face in opposing directions, leaving her teeth defenceless. I fired, bang, and into her screaming face unravelled a piece of cloth, aptly adorned with the word “bang”. She fainted, and I pulled her fully inside the flat before placing the toy gun and another letter next to her and taking my leave. The letter explained that I had wanted her to see the beauty of life; to open her eyes to the aggregation of small pleasures.

In truth I had wanted to give her one last night of euphoric happiness, relief, and love of life in its purest form. I hope that is what she experienced. As she left her house the next morning I stepped out from around the corner and shot her, from behind, in the head. I want you to know that she died immediately, and that she did not, at her time of death, feel any fear, anxiety or pain. She was in a state of bliss, prolonged for eternity.
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Old 12-17-2012, 08:14 AM
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Default Black Fly by Tor

Black Fly

Many people have heard about black flies. But they can never "know" about them until they have experienced them in the Adirondack Mountains. It must be something to do with the weather and other extreme conditions. All of the crawly or air born creatures are bigger and nastier (probably due, in part, that they are New Yorkers - well, upstate). I swear I have seen mosquitoes in the dead of winter at forty below out of the corner of my eye. As best as I could tell they seemed to be wearing little parkas and were walking using snowshoes rather than flying. But that could just have been a bit of ice on my glasses. Never the less, in the summer the mosquitoes and even houseflies are tough. I have tried flyswatters but end up having to resort to a claw hammer to end their existence. And then there are the black flies.

I recall a spring when the weather was cool and damp and it went on like that for the entirety of what the calendar identifies as spring. After winter in the Adirondacks the spring greening happens very quickly - warm or relatively warm weather does not last long so everything that grows does so at breakneck speed. That speedy growth applied to all living things and especially our insect brethren. During that cool wet spring those little tormentors grew at a pace that was talked about in Revelations.

One day late in that spring I was in my office at the residence for the mentally retarded doing my best to manage the place, when one of the staff staggered in her arm wrapped in a bloody rag. She was a large sturdy Adirondack woman but at the moment she was pale from a loss of blood. "The nasty thing bit me!" she said. I said, "Sit down, what bit you?" She said, "I’m not sure but it was big and hairy and fast. I ran over to me from behind a tree, bit me on the back of my arm and ran back behind the tree." "I know this is going to sound crazy", she said, "but the thing looked like the biggest bug I ever saw!" I thought she must be delirious from the loss of blood so I had the nurse patch her up and take her to the hospital.

But I had to find what had made this attack and get rid of it before the residents got home from their day program. I called together two guys (Joe and Sam) who were doing some work for me in the front yard and arming ourselves with baseball bats from the recreation locker we crept into the trees behind the house.
It was very quiet and still in that patch of trees. We knew something was up because no birds were singing. We stood back to back to back so we could see in all directions at once. Nothing! Joe said, "Is that a wing sticking out from behind that tree?" As I turned to look a thing as black as the inside of a cow and about the size of a medium sized dog came around the tree and charged at Joe. The thing was as ugly as 1950’s Sci-Fi movie monster and had what looked like two big fangs protruding from its mouth-thing.

The speed of the attack surprised Joe and before he could hit the thing with his bat it took a large bite out of his leg. But then Sam and I were on the thing with our bats. The thing took a blow to its head (well, the general area of where I thought its head was) and turned from Joe toward me as Sam connected with his bat. Those two blows only seemed to agitate the beast. But fear being a great motivator Sam and I took turns smacking it like it was a railroad spike. Joe was on the ground wrapping his shirt around his leg so he wasn’t much help. But between Sam and me, we beat the critter into a pile of dead flesh.

Once we were sure it was dead, Sam and I collapsed on the ground next to Joe. It took all our strength to dispatch the thing and now we just looked at it for the first time. I had never (I thought) saw anything like that before. Then I squinted my eyes as I looked at it and it came to me, this was a black fly - the biggest and nastiest I had ever heard of but never the less. I left Sam to guard the carcass and went and called an ambulance for Joe all the time my head spinning. While we were waiting for the ambulance, I went in the house and brought out a bathroom scale to weigh the thing - 42lbs! Good God! Who would believe such a thing existed. But we knew there were things in these wilderness woods that no one had seen.

It must have been the shock of the encounter because the three of us got to talking and laughing about the whole thing and started wondering what black fly would taste like. Sam took out his knife and cut steaks out of the bug. We realized that we had, out of necessity, beaten the bug into a pulp just to keep it from getting us and now had cut it into steaks so there was no body for proof of its existence. So with nothing else to do we fired up the grill and threw the steaks on. The "meat" took a long time to cook (it was very bloody) but in the end it got done and we sat down to eat. What did it taste like? - Well, to be honest it tasted nothing like chicken.

Yes, I know it is hard to believe this story. Many will say that mountain folk are prone to exaggeration. I guess I have to admit I have exaggerated somewhat - the bug was only 10 lbs but it was real mean.
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Old 12-17-2012, 08:16 AM
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Default A New Word to the Pa-ayello by AbdulaOblongata

Frigid winds howled across a surface of deerskin pelts stretched taught over skeletons of wooden rods, providing shelter for the people huddled within. The eastward migration of the Pa-ayello had come to a standstill as monumental sheets of ice and snow blocked their passage.

Even the great orb that was their guide made its appearance only briefly each day, having graced the shivering nomads with precious little light and even scarcer warmth. The Pa-ayello, translated simply the people, were perishing.

As with virtually all masks death would wear as he afflicted mankind, it was the youngest and eldest that first succumbed to his icy clutches. Palinka returned from his somber task of burying both young and old in one of many such ceremonies performed in these times of sorrow.

A meeting had been called, an assembly of elders, to determine the fate of this driven band. Palinka was not yet numbered among the three called chiefs though he was by custom, the next in line. As such, he had a place but no voice, for his father Maiya spoke for his clan within this tribe of one people.

Ducking and weaving through the maze of angled wooden uprights, he made haste to this most important gathering. Palinka it was who orchestrated the intricate construction, to retain precious heat and light. The tipi of old and of times after these would stand alone, but necessity moved him to gather the bones and create a singular creature, wrapping skins around all to protect them as one. With privacy absent, its greatest drawback in times as these was the torment of having to bear the plaintive cries of a mother’s anguish, walking one side to the other.

Approaching the meeting lodge, he encountered Metuay, recently ascended to the status of chief. His father before him was lost several months back when the Pa-ayello made the perilous crossing of the straits to the west.

“Let this be the day” he said with a troubled smile.

“Let it be” was Palinka’s response.

“Your father comes in moments Palinka; he grieves still with his sister and brother.”

The young heir nodded in understanding.

“Take your place and be seated, we await Maiya before any speaks” Metuay gestured to the arena of sons, the traditional gallery of the ascending.

Palinka crossed his legs then dropped to the floor into position in one swift motion. No sooner had greetings been made when Maiya appeared at the doorway, crestfallen but still determined. All bowed, averting eyes until the honored chief took his place among the other two notables.

El-ayon, the third of the three declared, “Let this be the day!”

“Let it be!!” returned the room in one voice.

As propriety dictated for this ancient community, it would be El-ayon first that should speak, being both chief and priest.

“We assemble in mourning for those lost of the people and are united by desire to hear word from the Mouth of the Most High. Let him speak to each heart so that all are in accord.”

“Let him speak” they all answered. “Let him speak!”

“The people have walked many generations at the urging of the Mouth. All know that he does not change though seasons pass before and behind us. All have agreed that the ancestors heard wisely when the mouth sent them eastward in a quest for His hope. If it is believed that He does not change, then why would the word of this day differ from the last? Our father’s fathers set out in obedience to follow His hope, should we dishonor their hearing? Let us continue east as He rises in the morning and have faith that He’ll keep us in the hazards ahead.”

All bowed their heads to honor his words as another rose to speak. It was Maiya that stood, as was expected, an effort to plead for change. The hearts of all men were difficult to veil living in a community of such close proximity. His views were well known and shared by many and though Maiya was not priest, he too heard the voice of the one on high as any man faithful could hear.

“El-ayon speaks wisely in all that he says. He tells truth when he talks of the Mouth as unchanging, for we depend on Him to rise and settle each day. But consider that he does not remain unmoving nor does he speak the same to the people as he grants us seasons and times. In the spring he says growth, and the summer warmth…is there not a time for every season and a new word for each time and day? In the moon before he said life to my nephew but today he has declared death. The white mountains stand before us to block our path east, is he not speaking to us that hope is not the word for today?”

The men began to murmur among themselves. Maiya respectfully allowed the elders to ponder the words before continuing. An aged brother of Metuay’s clan petitioned Maiya to clarify “Hope has driven the Pa-ayello for generations, tell us Maiya, has He given a new word that we may receive it with gladness?”

The sturdy chieftain bowed in reverence as he prepared his next sayings for release. He held out his hands, inviting the rest to join him as he revealed what the mouth spoke to him and to others.

“Again it is truth that hope has sustained us as we walked through the years planting nations. The mouth beckoned each morning that we arose, warming us through the day then settling behind with the promise of his return on the next. We left the green lands because of His calling and pursued Him to this point in the frozen waste. Now it is that we spend our days when we don’t see his face until midday. The morning light is hidden by the imposing whiteness, how are we to consider that so great a one as he…calls us from behind it?”

Many nodded in agreement.

“I propose that He speaks when he makes his presence known, face to face in His power at midday. I believe he now calls us to go south in his strength, for it is his power that beckons us this day!”

The Pa-ayello council were both stunned and intrigued as were onlookers gathered beyond the small room. El-ayon bowed as did the rest then invited Metuay to speak his say.

The man of gentle might and warm disposition rose to voice his understanding. He had watched the proceedings with a discerning eye and a mind unmatched in wisdom. Having no sure answer to the question posed, he did know one thing with surety.

“Many here know my heart on the matter and I see truth in both of my fellows' wise words. I and those of like mind would that the Ancient grant us a land to dwell for the rest of our days, for though the journey brings strength, of what is it if the destination is never granted? This land offers only death for so great a company, and the white mountains threaten far more than invite. The only thing to be known for certain is that we cannot stay here and only His strength can conquer our great weakness.”

A unanimous cry in agreement rang out then other elders spoke their peace. Each present sighed when receiving the words of wise chiefs three and more. Having said by men what was heard from above and conveying to these down below, the council dismissed those gathered to determine the destiny of the Pa-ayello.

Palinka sat beyond the communal lodge, feverishly kneading a small slab of blubber, making it pliable and soft in the frosty air of mid-morning. Once performed, he rubbed the block of flesh along the soles and seams of his waxen mukluks. The winds had died and the clouds receded as the ice came alive with light reflected. Many days it had been since sky wore any color but gray. This day Palinka was startled by the glare as it grew bolder with each unfolding moment. The Mouth of the Ancient bellowed before him as it rose to beckon the people to His strength.

Maiya was wise as was his son below him for the son now heard the words spoken to his father from above. Palinka smiled. Soon he would be called to return to council but knew already the decision they would make.

Generations had been driven to traverse the land east toward the hope of another tomorrow, but today a new word will give solace to the heart, and freedom from ever wandering.



“You have long pursued me in your hope; now receive me in my strength”
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Old 12-17-2012, 08:17 AM
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Default A Bottle of Vodka and a Pack of Cigarettes, an excerpt by Futureblues

So I'm walking out of the liquor store with a black plastic bag in my right hand. I have to switch it over to the other hand as I reach for the keys in my pocket. There's a pen in there I used to sign off on a planogram at Jerry's earlier that day, since I get up at three-thirty in the morning. That's when I get up for work. It's twelve-thirty in the afternoon – just after noon, now.

The keys jingle as I slip them out of my pocket. I press the little button on my key chain that says unlock and you can hear the car locks on my 2001 Toyota Corolla click from pretty far away. The inside of the car smells like an ashtray was rolled around in it for a while. I do my part. I light one up and roll down the window.

The drive home goes over Beach Boulevard. The road likes to act up between drives and put more cars on the road one way over the other. But really, the time of day shows on Beach like it were a great big yellow-striped sundial. The work rush between seven and nine o'clock clogs things up wonderfully so you can't get anywhere on time. My favorite is the traffic at four-fifteen in the morning where sometimes I don't get a single car behind me for at least a half-mile. In the morning I listen to a mix of classical, romantic, baroque and the like of music on a single radio station that I really like, because it also hosts news when it's not so early.

I get home which is a nice little place off Commerce that I share with two friends I have known since high school. One of them, since grade school. The grass is untrimmed and it's my fault because it's my week but I don't plan at all on mowing today. Not today. Inside I grab a glass and head for the back porch. It's screened in nice so there aren't any bugs or anything, except for the occasional cockroach. I crack open the vodka and pour myself a straight shot. Drinking warm vodka may be an acquired taste for some in Russia but for whatever reason I haven't acquired it. Maybe it's in the genes. My head jerks as the shot goes down. I make that exhaling sound and feel the alcohol burning on my breath. I set the glass down because I know what I have to do next and it isn't drinking. Probably more of that later, though. I pick my phone out of my pocket and dial my father. The phone rings for a bit and then I hear the other line pick up, but no sound.

'Hey, pop?'

*

I hear the front door open and close and I know it's Rich. He gets home first. My arm wobbles in trying to sit myself up on the couch. The majority of the bottle is gone and digested. I palm my forehead like I'm already hungover. But I know I'm not – it's just another drunk movement like every movement I make now. Not much of it will make sense.

Rich opens the door to the back porch and asks me what day it is like he won't be surprised when I answer, but he's not indignant about it or anything. More weary. I tell him what he already knows and he sighs. He goes inside and comes back out with a glass of his own. He pours himself one, tips it at me and takes the shot.

'You wanna talk about it?'

'Not really.'

'You should probably leave the rest of the bottle for later tonight, so you're not hungover 'til morning.'

'Solid logic.'

'You talked to your dad?'

I look at him then gesture my eyes at the bottle of vodka. He nods understandingly. I burp noxious gas and taste the stomach acid on the back of my tongue. Rich waves it off.

'You write anything in the last week?'

'Yeah, just one story...'

I can feel the words slurring on my tongue like an alcoholic slushy. As if my mouth were the dispenser and Rich were the one pulling the knob. My mouth feels gas station-dirty as well with the taste of cigarettes and vomit.

'Let's hear it.'

'You really want to hear this crap?'

He nods his head yes.

'It's about a man who ruins every great relationship in his life with a single phone call. Except, he wants to say it's not his fault – it was the phone. The buzz. The reception, whatever. When he wants these relationships back and nobody believes his story, he decides to bring the cell phone to life so it can tell everybody it was its' fault. You want me to keep going?'

He nods yeah. I light a cigarette.

'Alright. The phone turns out to be a she in life – a female – which causes some communication problems between the guy and this girl phone. They don't talk on the same wavelength, right? So this guy is parading the phone around to his ex-wife and his used-to-be friends trying to say, 'See, see, it's the phone!' The problem is nobody can hear the phone talk but him. He takes the she-thing home defeated. Now, at this point the phone is only speaking in fragments. Eventually, though, the phone starts remembering all the ways people talked over her in the past, before she was alive. The phone and the guy start having real conversations, right? They communicate differently – the phone is all digital, you know what I mean – but they really receive each other. The relationship speeds up. They start getting intimate. He texts all over her keypad, obscene words all typed as fast as possible. That really gets her off. More than turning her on, right? He does this so much an so often he starts running down the battery to the point where she can't hold a charge. She knows she is dying and tells him so. He has had her for years. He refuses to acknowledge it. They start having fights because she wants to go out and see the world before she dies and he wants to spend time inside with her. But he has the control. They become distant, having less time to talk while she is charging. One day she tells the guy she doesn't like it like being turned on any more, which the man takes as a sign of depression. So he takes her to the doctor. The doctor says he can't do anything – that he's not familiar with electrical medicine. You with me?'

Rich nods and makes a continuing motion with his hand.

'The man decides the only course of action is to replace the battery. He tells the phone this idea and the phone says nothing. The man panics, assured that his companion has finally died. Scrambling to the local Radio Shack, the man buys a new battery for his phone and brings it home. He pops the old battery out, throws it in the trash, and puts a new one in. Powering the phone on, it speaks to him but in a voice that is assuredly alien. This is not his old phone. He refuses to talk to the new friend, placing the phone in his closet. Confused for days, he goes on ignoring the incessant ringing in his closet, conjuring up theories as to why his method failed. He eventually figures it out and knows it in the back of his mind for the rest of his life. That phone had to die, as is the lifetime and nature of phones.'

'So the battery was like it's soul.'

'I guess. That contrived?'

'No, it sounds good. You going to publish?'

'We'll see.'

Rich picks the bottle up and pours himself another shot of vodka, choking it down.

'Cheap shit.'

'Can't afford anything else.'

'I thought you were going to ask for more hours.'

'To buy better vodka?'

'What better cause?'

'Feeding starving African children.'

'Starving African children don't get you drunk.'

'That they don't, my friend.'

I pour the last glass of vodka, smiling big after I drink it.

'You want to get more?' He asks.

'Yeah, let's go.'

It's dark as we drive up to this party at one of Rich's co-worker's apartments. Sue, he says her name is while we're walking around to the door. The place is pretty standard lower-middle class with a small lake dividing the complex where we can see somebody is out on their canoe. Little black PVC fountain in the middle. Some ducks and ducklings glide over the reflected lamplight.

We get to the door and you can already hear the music is loud enough to get a police call. But they won't be called because people here understand it is the order of the universe that students will have parties. And I know the equation. Let x be parties per complex per night, a the distance from a university in miles and b the university populace.

x = b/1.5(10^3)-a

I realized not long after making up this equation that you can end up with a negative number of parties, but I'm no mathematician.

So a kind of big girl answers the door – the kind who's got cheeseburgers for breasts bursting over a big bowl of vanilla ice cream. Her nostrils open wide like she's smelling something she likes. She flicks her greased auburn hair under a straw hat.

'Sue, Michael. Michael, Sue.'

'Pleased to meet you.'

She reaches her paw out in my direction and I shake it like thanks I'll be drinking all of your alcohol. Need anything else? She lets us in and while Rich is stuck behind saying hi to the rest of his co-workers I head straight for the bar. There's a keg in the pantry. Cheap whiskey. Cheap rum. Cheap vodka. I pour myself a vodka tonic. Suddenly, Sue.

'So you're Rich's friend?'

'Yeah.'

'How do you know him?'

She grabs a cup and taps out some beer. I look over my shoulder and see Rich chatting it up.

'Uh. Well we're roommates. We've been friends since high school, though.'

I look for an exit but she's in the way like I'd have to squeeze past her mongo tits just to get though.


'So what do you do?'

'I'm a writer. But that hasn't played out yet so I'm working at Jerry's.'

'Oh, the arts and crafts place?'

'Yeah, I specialize in ribbon. Red ribbon, blue ribbon, cupcake ribbon. You name it. I'm a regular ribbon connoisseur. I thought about writing a story about killer ribbon once. On Halloween the pumpkin ribbon raps around your neck 'til you've got pumpkin seeds bursting from your eye sockets. Your private parts become a crusty mold, incubating the pumpkin king and his underlings, ushering a new seedy world era.'

'Oh.'

She looks a little confused so I make my exit, bumping into her belly as I go. I find Rich who introduces me to Sarah and Kelly. He tells me they work in customer service. I smile and introduce myself. Michael. Starving artist. No, arts and crafts major. What? Neuroscience major, currently pre-med. That's what I go with. Rich pats me on the back and goes for a drink. I'm not lying about being interested in neuroscience. And it could always become my major. I tell the girls I once paid a visit to New Haven and got to tour about Yale for a while. Stoic buildings and museums. Best burgers in the country. If I I could, I would go. Though I wonder if my beggarly writer brain could manage lectures in the ivy league. One of the girls – I forget her name already – mentions she's pre-med too – going into nursing. Rich returns with what looks like a rum and coke and asks openly if I've started hitting on either of the girls yet. We all laugh a bit but secretly I'm thinking about what one of them – Karen, was it? I'm thinking I wouldn't mind see her naked. Then I remember I'm already full-on drunk and do not plan on stopping. Oh well. It's the prozac, I know. If I wasn't taking prozac I'd attempt to sober up and play choir boy for the rest of the night just at the chance I'd get in her pants. As is, I'm looking to refill my cup.

So I do, and what do you know, there's Sue.

'I thought about your story and I think it's funny, because it really reminds me of something I wrote.'

'Oh yeah? You're a writer?'

I take a sip of my vodka tonic and notice I poured it stronger this time. Not on purpose, of course – must have been a slip of the hand.

'Well, yeah. Sort of. Personally, I really like vampires. I know, I'm such a nerd.'

'No, no. Vampires can be chic. Cool. Whatever. Tell me a story.

'Well, right now I'm doing this fanfic thing about a girl who lives in a house with two vampires. The part I'm at now, she gets attacked by this wicked rogue vampire. But she learned voodoo in a previous chapter, so she uses a voodoo doll to get him against the wall. That's when her vampire friends – Locke and Vermin – come running into the room to protect her. They get in a fight with the rogue guy and accidentally end up biting him. This sort of turns him into a super-vampire.'

'What powers does a super-vampire have?'

'It's pretty cool. They grow to twice their normal size and over time they learn mind control. Also, they have very long fingernails.'

'Cool. You going to publish?'

'Probably not. It's not really that good.'

'No, it sounds good. You really should. Hey, there's Rich.'

I flub past her and realize my drink is already half gone, slip back by her to pour more vodka and then back by again. I join up with Rich, who is now smoking a cigar on the balcony. He's talking to a guy who he forgets to introduce, but that's okay because I introduce myself and find out his name is Derek. Another co-worker. Programming jockey like Rich. They're going off together on tangents about programming which I know very little about so I keep myself out of their business and light a cigarette. Rich says he would have offered me a cigar but I tell him I'd say know anyway so it's alright.

Across the lake there's another party where some sorority girls are screaming their lungs out to pop songs.

I go back in after my drink's empty and find the vodka bottle missing from the bar. I look around and see it nowhere. But here come Sue. I ask her if she has seen the vodka and she tells me the last time she saw it, it was in the laundry room. I don't know where that is so she kindly offers to show me the way. When we get there she abruptly pushes me up against the dryer so now I'm sitting on top of it. And she unbuttons my pants and grubs at my zipper hastily like I'm about to get away and I'm very well thinking of it. But with her blocking the way I only see one course of action. I fall back behind the dryer, head cracking on the floor but I didn't feel it I was so drunk. She yanks on my pants and manages to pull them off. Panicking, she calls for Rich to help her get me out from behind the dryer. If I could have only seen his face. He pulls me out and I get my pants on. I tell him it's time to leave, so he says his goodbyes and we get out of there.

While we're in the car, I tell Rich what happened. He laughs his ass off.
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Old 12-17-2012, 08:17 AM
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Default Cleaning Toilets for Minimum Wage by beefheart

Oh, how they keep me hungry for it! Oh, how they keep that price just a little bit higher. Higher now, higher baby, that's it -- like a carrot on a treadmill. And I'm working, Lord I'm working, at twenty six hours a week. Eight-seventy-five and hour -- I'd work more, baby, but they won't give me the hours! They say -- these times are hard for everyone, baby -- then they slap me on the ass and shove me out the door. And I get paid just shy of two hundred a week.

That's enough, yeah, that's just fine! I got holes in my shoes, but that's drugs for the next couple weeks. I'm so grateful -- Lord, I'm grateful! On Fridays baby, I don't have to think about it! My eight dollar cigarettes and my six dollar six pack and my three point five grams. I'm golden, baby, I'm set -- set 'til come Tuesday.

I go to school, now, I go to school! To get a higher wage, to get a decent job -- to secure at least ten dollars an hour. That's the best I can hope for. (Oh, women! Oh women!) My rubles, my copecks, give me bread but give me roses -- I'll smoke the fuckin' roses!

My teachers have attended the likes of Yale and Stanford and MIT. But they teach here now, and that's the difference. With their hundred thousand dollar educations and mediocre salaries. Spent the entirety of their youth in a text book. Most can't even get tenured. What a glamorous lifestyle it's afforded them! Eight a.m. remedial math class, with students who don't give a shit, students who are sleeping. Students who's parents pay fifty thousand dollars a semester, cause they love that little shit to pieces, he's gonna go so far! Education ain't worth a dime.

In a world looking at gas station attendants with bachelors degrees. In a world full of historians and film majors -- of nutritionists and dental hygienists -- in a world of fire-science and English-writing degrees!

Yeah baby, yeah, child, you can be anything you wanna be! Yeah, baby, for a price.
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Old 12-17-2012, 08:18 AM
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Default Boring Brian's Revelation-Part Two by Phoenix Lazarus

‘Okay,’ said Brian. ‘So, you weren’t just a dream.’ He waited for the man to respond.

‘I warned you last month didn’t I-warned you of something that was imminent-something very very important….’ the man’s voice tailed off.

Yes?’ said Brian.

‘The time is now here,’ said the man.

‘Is it?’ said Brian.

‘Yes,’ said the man. ‘The time has come-and it has come today!’

‘Ah!’ said Brian. He did not really know what else to say.

‘I am in contact now to give you your instructions for today,’ continued the man. ‘And the very first of those instructions is that you are to get rid of that number which you were intending to ring.’

‘But how did you know….!?’ Brian began to protest.

‘Never mind that,’ said the voice. ‘You are to get rid of that phone number, and you are to do so now, you hear!? You are to tear up the number, and flush it down your lavatory.’

‘Y-yes,’ said Brian.

‘Take the phone with you, so I can listen while you do so,’ said the voice.

‘Okay,’ said Brian. Standing up, and taking his phone with him, he went to the table nearby, upon which the number was inscribed on the notepad. Tearing off the sheet of paper, without looking at it, he tore it into several pieces, and screwed them all into a little ball, close to the receiver, so the noise would be audible. Heading upstairs, with his phone, he dropped the paper bits into the lavatory bowl, then pulled the chain.

‘Okay, done that,’ said Brian.

‘Good man!’ said the voice, approvingly. ‘Now back downstairs.’ Brian obeyed.

‘Right then,’ the voice continued, as Brian arrived in his front room, still listening to the phone. ‘After our previous conversation, last month, you should have secured possession of certain items, should you not?’

‘Yes,’ said Brian, doubtfully. He looked at the tall rectangular box on the table, and the high square box next to it, both securely wrapped with brown paper and string, and labelled with addresses. ‘I have them all wrapped up-at least the two that were posted to me,’ he qualified, his eyes now straying to the two large canvas bags, with straps and drawstring mouths, that stood in the corner. ‘I’d decided to post them back to….’

‘You’re not sending them back!’ said the voice firmly. ‘Not now! You say you’ve got them all wrapped up for delivery-well, you’ll just have to unwrap them, now, won’t you!?’

‘Okay,’ said Brian.

‘I want you to get up and do that, right now,’ said the voice. Brian stood up, and went to the chest of draws nearby. Opening one of the draws, he found a Stanley knife, which he took out and brought over to the two wrapped parcels. Using the knife, he cut off the string and wrapping paper, leaving just the bare cardboard of the two boxes underneath. This done, Brian went back to the phone.

‘Done it!’ said Brian.

‘Okay,’ said the voice. ‘Well, I want you to load them-and the other stuff we brought, after our conversation-into your car, right now.’

Brian stood up and lifted the square box, which was quite heavy, onto the flat rectangular box, before lifting both, with both hands, and carrying them to the hall by his side entrance. Opening the door, he carried them out to his parked car, and put them down on the pavement. Unlocking and opening the back door of his car, he then loaded the two boxes onto the rear seat.

Returning into his main room, he went over to the two large canvas bags in the corner. Lifting them, he hooked the straps over his shoulder. As he did so, a rattling sound came from one, and the sound of liquid sloshing in a container emerged from another. From inside the bag, Brian felt hard edges against his side and hip. He headed out to the car.

Outside, Brian loaded the two bags into the pit of the rear seat below the two boxes on the seat above, and beside the painting which sat in the pit of the seat, too. As Brian did so, he drew the mouth of each tight, with the drawstring, which he then secured with a knot. Closing and locking the car door, he returned into the house.

‘Okay, that’s all done,’ said Brian.

‘Good,’ said the voice. ‘Right, just a question-after we spoke, last month, did you write the letters I asked you to? There was seven of them, remember?’

‘Yes,’ said Brian, confidently. ‘I did send those-yes.’

‘Okay, that’s great!’ said the voice. ‘So, that’s the first part of the mission done. I’m just going to leave you for a little while, to relax and generally prepare yourself. However, I am going to be back with further instructions very, very soon, so do be prepared, please.’ In the meantime, I suggest you have a sitdown, on your sofa, and contemplate those pictures which you so recently hung upon your wall. Keep the phone on and close at hand, and I’ll speak to you soon.’ With that, the line went dead.

Brian got up from the table, picking up the phone with him, and went over to sit down on his settee, as asked. As the man on the phone had told him to, he stared at the two paintings hung on the opposite wall.

The picture to the left, hung just above the electric fire, showed a man in a long white gown, with a golden girdle, standing, surrounded by a ring of seven lit candles contained in brilliant golden holders. The man had long hair and a beard, both which were a gleaming shimmering gold, while the man’s delicate looking face itself was ethereally pale. The right hand of the figure in front of him was shown outstretched, with the palm open, and facing upwards, with a series of pinpoints of white light, with rainbow edging-seven in all, hovering just above his palm. Hovering in mid air, just in front of the man’s face, and pointing from it, was a sword, whose handle, bejewelled with a rainbow of different coloured gems, faced just towards and in front of the man’s mouth, as though it had emerged thereof. This whole image was shown against a cloudy looking background of pale blue, faint grey and white. The painting took up the left half of the space just above the mantelpiece.

The right half of the space above the mantelpiece was taken up by a second picture, of equal size. It showed a majestic golden throne, with a grandiose looking figure in white robes, with long white hair and beard sitting. Around the figure, and reaching behind him, was a semicircle of smaller similar thrones, with similarly garbed but dark-haired figures-with a couple of blonds and one redhead-garbed in similar robes. In front of the man on the throne sat a lamb, with its throat cut, but yet seemingly still alive. In front of this, in turn, sat seven gold lamps, with flames ablaze, sat just before the dominant figure. Above the main throne hovered a lion, a calf, an eagle, and an unidentifiable but humanoid creature with a man’s face, all of them of similar size, and each with three pairs of wings. The scene was pictured against the same cloudy pale blue, faint grey and white background as the other. Overarching the whole scenario was a giant rainbow.

As Brian look at the two pictures, he thought of the man who had given him them, and thought how unlikely his friendship with John Marshall was. Brian, he himself knew, was one of the dullest people who had ever lived. John, on the other hand, must be one of the most colourful characters ever. The former art college student and one-time actor, who now worked as a children’s entertainer and amateur artist had just one thing in common with Brian: a devotion to Christianity, and regular attendance at the church and Bible study class to which Brian went. That is how the two of them had got to know one another.

On learning of Brian’s family’s shop, John had become a customer there, and several times now, his paintings had been accepted, in lieu of payment, for books. The painting which sat in the pit of the rear seat of Brian’s car, was another of John’s paintings, which Brian had chosen himself, on a visit to John’s house, to exchange for a particular book. John Marshall was due to visit this very afternoon, for he had another book ready to collect from the shop. As jolly and light-hearted as his public persona was, John’s paintings were always on sombre religious themes.

Brian jumped a little, as the phone beside him suddenly rang again. He answered.

‘Just me again,’ said the voice. ‘Told you I’d be back soon. Right then, have you had a good look at those pictures?’

‘Yes,’ said Brian.

‘Okay then,’ said the man. ‘What I would like you to do now, then, is to take this phone and yourself, into the room at the front of the shop, and have a little sit down at the seat behind the counter. Tell me when you’re there.’ Brian got up and passed quickly into the main room of the shop, where he sat down.

‘Okay, done that,’ said Brian.

‘Right then,’ said the man. ‘I believe you have, on the counter there, a number of books that were delivered this morning.’ Brian looked at the row of books that the postman had brought that morning.

‘That’s right,’ said Brian.

‘You’ve not opened any of them yet, have you?’ said the man.

‘No,’ said Brian.

‘Okay, I’d like you to start doing that now, please,’ said the voice. ‘I shall stay on the phone, as you do so.’ Brian set down the phone and began to unwrap the first of the books. Seven books to unseal. It brought to mind the seven book seals to be unsealed, in Revelations Five to Eight, he thought, with a wry smile.

As he finished unwrapping the first book, Brian suddenly heard a low rumble in the air. He looked up and out of the large window towards the street beyond. Rain could be seen spotting against the window. It looked as if a storm was brewing. Yet it had all seemed so fine earlier. As Brian finished unwrapping the book, he heard the clip-clopping of hooves, and a white horse came trotting down the street, with a grand-looking man on top.

Brian began to open the second of the wrapped books. As he did so, there were more sounds of hooves, and a second horse followed in the white one’s wake, this horse a gleaming hue of chestnut, and, like the first, ridden by a grand-looking man. As he opened the third book, a black horse with horseman came after the reddish-brown steed. Brian had just begun to unwrap the fourth book, when a pale grey horse followed all the others, with yet another man on top.

‘How many of those books have you opened now?’ Brian heard the voice on the phone ask, from where it lay. Brian picked up the device.

‘Four,’ he said.

‘Okay, then,’ said the voice. ‘Well, as you open the fifth, would you mind having a look at that painting I know is hung just behind where you’re sitting.’ Picking up the fifth book, Brian turned on his seat, and stared at the picture which hung on the wall behind him. The painting showed a white-haired, white-bearded figure with white robes, on a gold throne, sitting before a large, ornately carved, stone altar, beneath which was visible a sea of ghostly faces, crying out in anguish. From amongst the faces could be seen the occasional hand, reaching out, as if for supplication. It was another of the paintings John Marshall had given him, for a book.

‘Opened it, yet?’ said the voice.

‘Yes,’ said Brian, as he finished unwrapping the book.

‘Okay,’ said the voice. ‘Turn away from the picture then-and open the sixth book.’ Brian turned away to face the front window, and picking up the sixth book, began to open it. As he did so, the sound of thunder, much louder than a moment before, made him look up.

‘Lord!’ exclaimed Brian. ‘Can’t believe how dark it’s gone!’

‘Brian,’ said the voice. ‘Once you’ve finished opening the sixth book, take the seventh one, the one you’ve still not opened, and go back into the living room. Once there, please do not sit back down on the settee, but sit in the armchair to the left of the settee, do you understand?’ Brian confirmed it and, taking the phone, he went and sat in the front room, in the place directed by the voice, taking the phone and book with him.

‘Okay, I’m there,’ said Brian.

‘Good,’ said the voice. ‘Well, don’t start to open the last book yet, please. Instead, just sit there, and have a look at the three paintings which are hung on the wall, above the settee, which will be visible from where you are sitting.’

Brian did as he was bidden. On the wall he now looked at, just above the sofa, two slimmer paintings, which together took up most wall space, were hung above one shorter but broader painting whose width was enough to take up most of the wall alone.

The leftmost of the paintings in the top corner portrayed the globe of the earth, with the continents visible as familiar from any atlas. At each of four corners each side of the earth, could be seen positioned winged angels, facing from the globe, and, with arms outstretched, facing tubular shaped billowing clouds that were emanating from each of the four corners of the painting, in the direction of the earth. By so doing, each of the four angels was preventing the billowing cloud-like tubes from reaching the world, at his corner.

Brian’s eye shifted from that, to the picture below it. The second picture showed a range of mountain peaks: six lower ones in the foreground; six higher ones rising above, in the rearground. Each of the peaks could be seen to have a multitude of small figures crowded around it and reaching up to the top; each of the peaks had a name and number shown beneath it, as if carved in letters of stone, that somehow floated in space, at the base of the peak. The names were Juda, Reuben, Gad, Aser, Nepthalim, Manasses, Simeon, Levi, Issachar, Zabulon, Joseph, Benjamin. The number beside each was twelve thousand. At the top of the picture, in the cloud-filled sky, the clouds could be seen to have formed themselves into letters, spelling: ISRAEL: 144’000.

Brian’s eye shifted in turn from this, to the picture above and to the right. This last picture showed again the tableau with the man on the throne, with the lamb with the wounded throat before him, both ringed by a semicircle of men on smaller thrones, with four beasts just above. In this painting, though, this part of the picture was in the distance, to leave room for a big crowd of people in robes, standing before the throne, facing it, with their hands stretched out. Both this and the previous paints, like the two opposite and one in the front room, were ones that Brian had accepted from John Marshall, instead of monetary payment.

‘Okay, have you had a bit of a look, then?’ said the voice.

‘I have,’ confirmed Brian.

‘Okay then,’ said the voice. ‘Now open the last of the books, which arrived this morning, will you?’ Brian did so, and, as he did so, recognised the small burgundy-covered book that sat in his lap.

“An Exposition of Prophecy” read Brian, from the gilt lettering on the spine. This was the book John Marshall had on order. He was due to arrive and collect it at any moment.

‘Okay, done that?’ said Brian. ‘What now?’

‘Wait for my next directions,’ said the voice. ‘I’ll be back in touch soon. I’d say about half an hour, in fact. Speak to you soon.’ Once more, Brian heard the man end the phone call.

Brian sat, thoughtfully, in silence, after the man rung off, and recalled how the mysterious man had rung him, at the time of his mother’s funeral, and told him to buy certain things and prepare for certain coming events. He had heard no more from the man and had convinced himself he would not be doing. It appeared he had been wrong.

He sat, now, and looked through the window nearby. The sky was getting lighter already. The storm which seemed to have been looming, just a moment before, had now, it seemed passed on, for somewhere nearby to take the brunt of.

Presently, after almost half an hour had gone by, Brian, getting bored with waiting, got up and went into the shop front. Through the big glass window, he saw now the sun shone brightly. The windows were not even spotted with rain. The threatened storm had indeed passed the town by. As he looked out into the street, the phone suddenly rang again.

‘Hello again,’ said the familiar voice. ‘Here I am, true to word. Half an hour, on the dot. I made a point of timing it-and the timing is most important, in this little lark. Anyway, I want you to get yourself out to your car, right now, taking this phone with you-because, this, my friend, is where it all starts getting really exciting!’

Pausing only to get his raincoat, for fear of the storm recurring, Brian exited his rear door, and got into his car, outside.

‘Okay, I’m here,’ said Brian.

‘Right,’ said the man. ‘I want you to drive to Maple Street, to the end of the terrace of houses there, at the point where the road runs just over the brook nearby, as it passes through the recreation ground. Once there, you park on the side of the road by the metal fence overlooking the brook. You follow me?

‘Sure,’ said Brian. Putting the phone down on the dashboard, he started the car and set off. Soon, he had reached the location the man on the phone had stipulated. Having done so, he parked, just beyond the final house on the terrace. Through the posts of the metal fence, he could see the brook running by, below. He recognised the final house on the terrace, nearby, as one where he had heard loud noises of rather discordant trumpet notes sounding, when he had passed by. Presumably some child was been educated in how to produce a passably music sound there.

‘Right, I’m there,’ said Brian.

‘Okay then,’ said the man. ‘Now, I believe that you have another of your friend John Marshall’s paintings still sitting in the rear seat of the car. Can you fish that out and study it a moment, please?’ Brian reached into the rear seat and fished out the painting, which he stood on his lap and examined. It showed a stone alter, with an angel holding a gold censer, from which the vapour of fumes were portrayed as rising in tendrils. A little behind this figure and the altar, were seven other angels, holding large golden trumpets.

‘Okay. Have you had a look?’ said the man. Brian confirmed he had.

‘Right, listen carefully, then,’ said the voice. Brian listened intently, as the figure began to relay a set of instructions to him. As he did so, he was unaware of an old woman, from a house on the opposite side of the road, peering through her front window, to stare curiously at his parked car, and at Brian, as he sat listening, and giving the occasional nod or ‘Yes,’ of affirmation. Presently, a large van with printed lettering drew up not far from where Brian now sat. As Brian watched, two men, dressed in overalls and wearing safety helmets, got out of the van. The men each fished out of the rear of the van a road blocking sign, in red and white, mounted on a metal pedestal. While one placed his sign at the point in the road just passed Brian and the metal fence overlooking the brook, the other man placed his sign still further down the road. This done, one of the men approached a manhole in the road, and set about removing a cover, while the other one returned to the van, and came back holding two large toolboxes, one of which he gave to his fellow, before leading the way down the manhole, followed by his companion.

‘They’re here, now,’ said Brian. ‘The men I told you about, doing maintenance on the phone lines, or gas pipes, or electricity lines-I forget which it was the lady from the council said they’d be doing, when I saw her at church. Anyway, they’re here, and they’ve taken off the manhole cover and they’re going down there.’

‘Okay, that’s fine,’ said the man. ‘Now, you just get out and do what we arranged, when we spoke last month-do you reminding of any of that?’

‘No, I remember!’ said Brian, confidently. He exited the car, putting the phone in the inside pocket of his raincoat. Opening the rear door of the car, he climbed on the backseat and opened the two cardboard boxes. As he did so, the woman watching from her window stared curiously at the movements of the young man in the back of the car. What could he be doing? Finally, as he watched, she saw Brian emerge, with the two canvas bags he had placed in the rear of his car hanging from his shoulders. Brian removed his phone from his inside pocket.

‘Okay,’ he said. ‘I’m out of the car, with the bags, with everything inside, ready.’

‘Good, good!’ said the voice. ‘Now, you just go off and do what we’ve arranged!’

Brian walked, now, past the metal fence that overlooked the brook and, coming to the gateway beside it, leading into the recreation ground, he made his way there in. Along the grass, parallel with the brook, a row of evenly-spaced saplings had been planted. Brian walked, slowly and casually, from one end of the row of trees to the other, before returning once more. Brian made his way back to where his car was parked, with the old woman in the front window still staring, curiously. As he did so, he noticed that one of the lower windows of the house at the end of the terrace, near him and on his side of the road, had been opened.

‘Okay, I’ve done the first bit,’ said Brian, to the man on the phone.

‘Okay,’ answered the man. ‘Well, get ready for the next bit then.’ Brian put down the two bags on his shoulders and began to rummage inside them, removing some of the things. As he did so, the old lady across the road continued to stare curiously. Finally, Brian straightened up again, with the bag hooked back over his shoulder.

‘All ready,’ said Brian.

‘Right,’ said the voice. ‘Now wait for the signal.’ Brian stood, and waited. Some minutes passed.

‘I’m waiting,’ said Brian, at last, to the man on the phone.

‘Okay,’ said the man. ‘Well, you’ll get it soon. Just you listen.’ Brian did so.

‘Excuse me please!’ said the fat middle-aged woman, suddenly approaching.

‘Sorry!’ said Brian, moving to one side, beside the fence, where he had positioned the items he had taken from the bags.

Suddenly, a series of discordant trumpet notes reached Brian’s ears.

‘I can hear it! The trumpet!’ said Brian, into the phone speaker.

‘Excellent!’ answered the voice, with a sudden note of excitement. ‘Now do your bit!’ Brian suddenly looked out, over the metal fence, and lifted his arm.

‘Fall ye, hail!’ cried Brian, at the top of his voice-and, as he did so, a sudden shower of hailstones seemed to begin to descend.

‘Fall ye, fire!’ cried Brian, and, with this, Brian threw one hand upwards, in command, and he seemed now to see fire itself falling, from above, to set alight the row of saplings nearby.

‘Fall ye, blood!’ cried Brian, and it seemed now that Brian’s face were becoming spotted with droplets of blood falling as rain, before dissolving as dark clouds, in the waters of the brook below.

Suddenly, more trumpet notes sounded.

‘The second signal!’ cried Brian. ‘Mountain afire, descend to the seas!’ And, as Brian watched, he saw a huge burning figure plummet to the brook below. The waters become clouded with blood. The trumpet sounded again.

‘Descend ye, the falling star of Wormwood, which galls the waters with its bitterness!’ cried Brian, lifting his arm. As he watched, he saw the glowing incandescent shape of the falling star falling, to land within the waters below. Yet again, the trumpet sounded.

‘The third part of the sun is smitten!’ cried Brian, and, looking up, he glimpsed a dark crescent occluding a third part of the sun’s body, before the glare made him look away once more. He reached quickly into the bag over his shoulder. The trumpet sounded once more.

‘The star falls; it lays open the Bottomless Pit!’ cried Brian, throwing his arm out. As he watched, he saw a small but brightly glowing star descend into the open manhole cover. There was a noise like thunder, and black smoke began to gush from the manhole. Brian retrieved his phone again.

‘All done!’ said Brian, into the phone.

‘Good-now return home once more!’ said the voice urgently. Running quickly to his car, Brian opened the rear door and threw the bag he was carrying inside, before jumping into the front seat. Reversing, and turning, because of the road signs that still blocked the road nearby, Brian headed away down the road in the opposite direction.

Brian switched on his car radio and hummed along casually to the songs on the local radio station, as he drove. He felt unhurried and calm, with just a faint hint of excitement at what had taken place. His attention was now taken by the speech of the DJ on the radio.

‘…Sarah Davis has written in, saying “Please, could you play a request for my fiancé, Pete, on his birthday?” It so happens Pete’s birthday is today, and his fiancé says he needs the request to cheer him up, because he’s in Denby, and she can’t think of anything more depressing than Saturday afternoon in a town where nothing interesting ever happens.’

‘You can say that again!’ muttered Brian, as he drew near to his own road once more.
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  #8  
Old 12-17-2012, 08:19 AM
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Default Best football (soccer) match ever! by CumbrianLad

I turned on the TV last night after my daughter had had more than her fair share of i-Carly.

The intention was to watch Poland v England. Now I've gone off football. I prefer rugby. The reasons for this are manifold, but mainly to do with cheating and over-paid arrogant wimps. I am a hardened masochist, though, so I do force myself to suffer England games, especially the bits where we inevitably lose at penalty shoot-outs.

Last night, I thought idly to myself, would be no different. How wrong I was! I was treated to the most entertaining televised spectacle i had seen for years. Oh, how I laughed. It was pouring down and the officials were trying to decide if the match could be played.

I roared with laughter watching the referree wandering around the sodden turf, optimistically throwing a ball into the puddles, where it splashed down like a returning apollo space mission.

How I chuckled when the most optimistic man I have ever set eyes on, kept moving to another puddle to see if the ball would do the same there.

I guffawed when it was announced that the stadium roof could not be closed because it was raining. I mean, what's the use of a roof that can't be used when it's bad weather? My daughter and I set about inventing FIFA's (Federation of Idiotic and Farcical Inventions)

Megan came up with hairspray for bald people. I came up with swimsuits that are dry clean only...do not wash. Have a go yourselves, it's really good fun.

Then the clowns came on. England fans running around the pitch, diving headfirst into the puddles and aquaplaning to a stop, arms spread wide. They were pursued by officials who couldn't keep their feet...hilarious. Better than a circus.

Next came the tortured FIFA officials, trying to justify why they had held a high-powered meeting and decided to leave the roof open. The tortured anguish on their faces was better than any psychological thriller.

Finally, at the point that my sides positively hurt from all the merriment, they declared that the weather was bad and the match would be postponed until the following day.

I have realised the errors of my ways. I will now watch all football matches avidly. What I had misunderstood was that the sport is not there to be taken seriously. It is there to provide worldwide and uplifting humour.

Thanks, FIFA, for a thoroughly entertaining evening.
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Old 12-17-2012, 08:21 AM
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Default Siberian Tigers (About 1200 words) by Judith

Some of you may admire super heroes like Batman and Spiderman; others, like me, admire super people like Sylvia. I classify Sylvia as “super” because, for one thing, she always seems to have money without ever having to work.

Sometimes she visits me and then I get her to tell me of the times she went overseas.

“Overseas?” she asks, “Ja, I’ve been there a few times. Took some nice photos too. I wanted to get an aerial view of the Great Wall of China, but I couldn’t find a pilot with a commercial licence.”

One day, I could no longer contain my curiosity, “Sylvia, can I ask you something?”

“No,” she said with dry sarcasm.

“Where do you get all your money from?” I expected her to depict a story of a rich benefactor.

She was lounging on the sofa and scrutinizing me over the rim of a glass of wine. “I used to write articles for National Geographic.”

“Rubbish!” I exclaimed.

“I was! Until I got involved with the photographer...” Sylvia picked at the scatter cushion.


“What did you have to do to get a job at National Geographic?” I prompted.


“I didn’t have to do anything. Their offices were in London. I was nineteen when I had walked in and had demanded to be accepted on the staff. I had told them I would also need a photographer and an air ticket to Siberia. They had been so shocked; they had forgotten to ask who I was and how much experience I had...”

‘“What on earth do you want to go to Siberia for?” the surprised editor asked.

‘“There is a big scoop on the Siberian Tigers.”

‘“Really,” the editor was clearly not amused at being interrupted during her busy day by someone who did not even have an appointment.

‘“This is all I have; they only spoke to journalists who had proof of I.D.” I fished out a small notebook from my carry bag and slapped it on the editor’s desk. “You have no idea of the trouble I went through to get this much out of that guard. Furthermore, I suspect he’s the local village idiot.”

‘“I’m sure,” she read the few pointers I had scribbled down. Once she had finished, she removed her spectacles and glanced thoughtfully over my somewhat creased attire. “Do you hitch-hike?” she asked suddenly.

‘“Ja, I want to see the world before I get stuck with material dispositions.”


‘“Mm. So how do I know you’re not just trying to get a free air ticket to see the sights?”


‘“In Siberia? I threw my hands up in exacerbation. I’m telling you there is something worth investigating. Why do you think there are guards in front of the gate?”

‘“Maybe they don’t want people to disturb the tigers during mating season. It could be anything.”

‘“It’s not mating season. As you said, it could be anything,” I snatched my notebook from her uncertain hand. “I could always approach ‘Time Magazine’, I’m sure their editor would appreciate a big scoop...”

‘“Wait!” I heard when I reached the door. The editor hurriedly phoned her assistant with a series of instructions.

“My photographer’s name was Desmond Buxton and he had a wide angle lens. I never did get an air ticket from that editor...”

‘“First stop: Leipzig,” Desmond handed me a pink train ticket.


‘“But I’ve been there.”


‘“Do you want to go to Siberia or not?” He obviously had not wanted to.

“I had been struggling to put my back pack on. (And it was hard seeing as I hadn’t eaten anything in three days besides beer.)”

“How could you not eat for three days?” I interrupted.

“Well, I did not trust anything in Eastern Europe that disguised itself as food. So anyway, I’d been wrestling with my rucksack and Desmond was standing around and wondering if he should offer to be of assistance or just laugh...”

For a moment I stopped paying attention. I had heard of a man who, in an attempt to add to his life savings, had lived on bananas for three months; but beer?

‘“...Berlin had had a blue ticket; Warchau had had a yellow one and Moscow purple. After that we’d gone to Swetlowdsk with a green ticket and the white one had taken us to Novosibirsk. Isn’t it strange that they all had different colours? Orange ticket had taken us to Taimyr but...”

I lost concentration again. Why should the colours of the tickets matter so much? Maybe it was her way of remembering the towns’ names.

“...but that was a different story altogether. So we had booked into this inn at the village. The next day, we had set out on foot to that fenced off nature reserve. But this time, they not only had guards with guns but guards with automatic guns...”

‘“What now?” Desmond had asked. We had been crouched behind large boulders, hidden from view.

‘“Now we are going to find another way into this tiger sanctuary.”

‘He had snatched the cigarette from his mouth and thrown it down. “Are you insane? Those tigers are vicious. Besides that, I don’t fancy getting shot by the KGB!”
‘“Are you chicken?”

‘“No, I’m not chicken!” he had almost shouted.

‘“So let’s go.” (Ha har, I caught him like that every time). We had cut a hole in the fence and gone into the tigers’ den.

‘“Do you know what, Sylvia?” Desmond had whined.

‘I had ignored him because I was sick of his complaints by then.

‘“We should have got a guide. I think we’re lost.”

‘“We are not even a kilometre away from the fence. Now shut up!” all my efforts to keep a low profile had been rendered useless by Desmond.

‘“I’m in Siberia, somewhere near Taimyr Lake. Situated very far north in Russia, a communist country plagued by...” Desmond’s bout of verbal diarrhoea had been brought on by the fact that it caused me abdominal pains.

‘“Shh,” I pointed in front of me at some kind of military plant.


‘“Oh my word!” he wiped his nose on his arm. “If anything happens to me, it will be all your fault. If they find us, they won’t fine us; they’ll kill us.”


‘“You think I don’t know that?” I had whispered.

‘He had leaned against a tree. “It doesn’t seem like it.”

‘He had taken seven snaps and had folded his arms and had just refused to do anything else...

Sylvia seemed to have finished with her narration.

“But did you get out? Did you write an article, or are you talking nonsense?” I never could stand it when she only told her stories halfway.

“You idiot. I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t get out–pass me some ice, will you? Anyway we had gotten away from that place as fast as we could. We had gone back to the inn and had hired a guide. Got good pictures too and I had written an article about The Snow Tiger.”

She had finished her story. I knew better than to ask for a proper ending, so I switched the TV on.

National Geographic was covering a documentary on the Siberian Tiger in Taipyn.

“Told you,” Sylvia said.


ends
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Old 12-17-2012, 08:21 AM
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Default Maddy of Railhead by KBR

I drove up and pulled into the cafe at the edge of town. Old but not retro, it appeared to be popular. There was only one free both on the front side by a window.I sat down,and a bottled blonde makeup crusted watiress sauntered over. "What'll ya have?", she croaked. I hadn't really had a chance to look at the menu, but I ordered a BLT,fries and coffee assuming that this was standard in all cafes. She nodded, yanked the menu from me and bellowed to the back. She had hardly left when a young woman grabbed the edge of the table and spun into the seat. She had frizzy blonde hair that looked like hay with a dark underside like many blondes do. She had on dirty old jeans and a tattered flanell shirt. she wore workman's boots that were a good bit too big. "Maddy" she said and stuck out a dirty hand to shake. I shook it, and she settled back.The waitress came back with my coffee and an ice water and Maddy said "Pancakes!" The waitress hesitated, looked at me, then bellowed again and went away. Maddy looked at me "Be right back," and she lurched up and darted to the back. I saw 'Restrooms' above the doorway where she had gone.

Then, I began to hear grunts. At first, the cafe conversation died down a bit. But then I heard Maddy's name repeated from several tables and everyone returned to their meals and conversations. The grunting became loud finally winding up with loud sigh of relief. Maddy shot back out, but the waitress caught her "Wash your hands girl!" Maddy darted back towards the restrooms but was back at my table in no time. The cook was fast because just then, the waitress returned with my BLT and Maddy's pancakes. Maddy smeared tons of butter on each pancake individually and lathered the whole pile with maple syrup. Then she began to tear into the pancakes with great vigor. She held the fork in her fist and gave no quarter until the pancakes were gone. Then, she grabbed my water and slammed it back in under 5 seconds. Then, she patiently waited for me to finish my diner and pay the bill before grabbing my hand and leading me outside.

She guided me to an old junkyard on the other side of the small town of Railhead. I pulled into the tall broken anchor fence and parked next to the central building still surrounded by junk cars though most seemed empty of engines and most of the mechanicals. As soon as I got out she grabbed me by the hand again and took me into the bottom part of the building. Everywhere was decorated with hood ornaments and hubcaps. Sometimes they were arranged on the wall to look like people or animals or in one case a Church steeple. Eventually, we arrived in what must be her part of the building. There were more decorations an old chest of drawers and a queen size matress laying directly on the floor. She quickly slipped off all of her clothes and stood in front of me. She looked like young men look before testosterone takes affect in late teens. She was slender and muscular and only slightly curved. There were obvious differences though. Almost before I knew it, she had me undressed and down on the bed.

She was on top going for broke before I knew what was happening. I'd never heard so much moaning and groaining from a woman before. She got fast and urgent and cried out. Then she slow motion collapsed onto my chest breathing heavy, but completely releaxed. She felt so light. And her frizzy hair was a constant aggravation to my face. She was brown all over and smooth as silk except for her hands that were rough like a workin' man's hands. Her feet were tough too. I'm guessing there was a lot of bare body bare footed Maddy around this junkyard. I saw a cigar box of money on the chest of drawers and some hand written orders. I think there was just enough junk left to keep a girl with very few needs going. She dozed a bit then rolled off of me only to move back over and fall asleep in the crook of my arm with one leg and one arm across me. From the ceiling, she had suspended mobiles made from more shiny things from the cars. In the fading light, I saw that she had an old ceramic pitcher full of wild flowers in one of the two windows on this level. I watched the red golden colors of the sunset through her flowers until I fell asleep.

In the morning, she was gone. I opened my pickup truck and found a bundle of the most spectacular wild flowers on my seat. I moved the flowers over and drove to the town's only motel to check in. After I had moved everything up to the room, I used one of the hotel's ice holders as a water container for my beautiful flowers. I fired up my laptop and left an email for my new employer that I had arrived in town and intended to be in for work on Monday. I went downstairs and ate in the hotel's restaurant for lunch and diner, but I saw no sign of Maddy. Eventually, I went back up to my room and watched some TV before drifting off to sleep.

Early on Sunday, there was a loud knock at the door. I opened the door, and there was Maddy in a ratty floral dress. She said "We have to go!" I beg her to let me get dressed. When she decided to stay and wait. She got comfortable on my bed, but then, she jumped and ran to look at the flowers. "You kept them!" "Of course, I kept them" I returned. She was all smiles. When I was dressed she grabbed my hand and we ran down the street to the local United Methodist Church. We didn't go in of course. She directed me to small enclosure that was near the front of the Church. It was used for storing the lawn equipment. We crowded into a small space all the way in the back. I saw that there were two seats made of carefully placed wheat hay. I sat down and waited. Soon the choir began to sing the Doxology. And Maddy sang out. I guess no one could hear us. I was shamed into singing as well. Her face was rapt as she sang. She was on the note, but I wouldn't say she had a good voice. But there was tons of feeling. She sang with every song, and listened intently to every word spoken. She produced a small Bible from her dress pocket. But the way she handled it made me think that it was for looking at not for reading. The next time the pastor said "Turn in your Bibles to The Book of Job", I gently took the Bible from her hands, turned to the Boof of Job and began to read aloud the passage for her. I started to read the book like you would a children's story with lot's of inflection and feeling. She was looking at me almost slack jawed. And then, she began to cry. I finished reading, and she took back the Bible and put it away. Then, she took my hands and began to stroke them lovingly crying all the while. She walked me back to the door of the motel but didn't go in. She kissed me tenderly and brushed the hair out of my eyes. Then, she turned and walked away.

The winter was hard in Railhead, Nebraska. I did my contract computer programming for a local meat packing company that wanted to expand and needed some custom work done. I saw Maddy every Sunday and sometimes on Saturday. Lately, she'd been strangely distant. Sometimes she cried when we were intimate. But she didn't want to talk about it. I had gathered that town was not beligerent towards her. They tolerated her odd behavior but never let her become a true member of their society. At best, she was an outlier. Many of her 'friends' were passers through. Women clutched their men close when Maddy was around. I really don't think that she had had much to do with anyone in town though. Most of her junk buisness was from surrounding towns. And most people didn't give her the time of day. I also got the feeling that she was running low on good junk and that times were getting hard. She would take nothing from me but the odd pancake treat from the diner.

Tonight was Saturday night, and something special was going to happen. Apparently, Maddy lived in the lower part of the junk building in the warm months and moved up to a higher area in the winter. Today was her "Shifting" day, and I was invited over for a special diner. She told me to "dress nice" which meant that I was supposed to wear under garments. It was an unncessary request for me, but rather, one she needed to remember herself. I drove up and saw the upstairs was lit. There was no electricity so it was all Coleman lanterns and candles.

I walked up the stairs and heard scurrying around. Then, I was in her winter abode. A large room with more furnishings and a pot belly stove that was clearly working because the typically cold and draughty junk building was warm. There was more than one room. This was some kind of ante room with a couch by the stove and some hand sewing laid down in an old chair. Maddy ran in breathless dressed in a very pretty white dress. Simple, with lines that followed her slender body, and shoes! White leather shoes were on Maddy's feet! Flats with no heel, but very fetching. I was taken back. She grabbed my hand and led me into the room. There were candles everywhere. And in the middle was an aluminum card table covered with a white cloth with one big candle. In the middle, two plates were set out. I moved towards the table. Maddy pulled back the chair to help me sit and snugged me up to the table when I was fully seated. She disappeared and came back out with a tureen of something hot. It turned out to be a beef stew. She took two large pieces of texas toast from a basket on the table, put them on my plate and poured the stew onto the toast. Then, she ran back into another room and returned with a spotless silver, cigarette receptical like the old movie theaters might use in the lobby, those ones that would be filled with sand. Only this one was filled with ice. There was also a bottle of Cold Duck in the ice. She carefully removed the bottle and poured me a drink in a plastic champagne glass and did the same for herself. Then, she sat down opposite me and raised her glass. I raised mine, and she 'clinked' it and said "To us", and drank the entire glassful in one gulp. I sipped mine and waited to see what would happen next.

She served herself up some stew and ate as heartily as ever. I joined her. It was truly delicious. I had never had anything to eat in her ''house' but fresh apples or oranges. After we had eaten, she refilled our glasses and just looked into hers as if unsure about what to do next. "What is it Maddy?", I asked. She looked at me with eyes full of tears and set her glass down. "All my life I've lived apart. I've lived apart because I don't know about nothing, I can't do nothing, I am nothing. I'm nothing but me. And all my life, nothing but me's been good enough. But I've been bigger lately. I feed Sheila the old girl dog that comes around this junkyard. I wait for the bus and walk little Billy home who gets beat up for being too small. And I love a man who's lost in a town called Railhead and not just because he loves me. I love him because he loves everyone if they let him, and I was just lucky to be one of everyone he loved."

The she got out of her chair and came and stood beside me. She kneeled and pulled a ring out of her pocket. It was made from some kind of steel piece from a small lawnmower engine. But it was narrow and had a beautiful quartz stone set in a homemade setting that was carefully soldered to the ring. She slipped the ring on my left hand. "Would you marry me Michael Dunne?", she quivered. I was stunned. I never expected this. But there she was with her hair washed and brushed in a beautiful white dress tears running down her cheeks. "It would be an honor I heard myself say", with a hoarse choking voice. She quietly stood and took my hand. And still crying said "I thank you very kindly for accepting me," then, she laughed thank God. Never had such an honest thing been done for me or such an honest thing been said to me. She took me by the hand, we put on our jackets and went to Church that we had never entered. And there was her favorite pastor and the diner waitress waiting at the front. Before we moved towards them, she looked at me. "I was so hoping you'd say yes. I hope you don't mind." I didn't mind.
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Old 12-17-2012, 08:23 AM
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Default Service with a Smile by AbdulaOblongata

Claude Adams had seen many years in his lifetime with precious few remaining, though admittedly, the majority of them were rather uneventful. Such couldn’t be said for those most recent however since Claude was enjoying a whirlwind of instant celebrity as of late.

Publication of the firsthand account of his one noteworthy adventure was six weeks on the bestseller’s list and his newfound fame and fortune had brought him recognition and admiration unseen in previous decades.

A modest man, he preferred the simple, familiar life at first imposed by necessity dictated through limited resource and humble prospects. His generous new royalty checks afforded him the opportunity to purchase a moderately sized apartment centrally located in an upscale neighborhood of San Francisco. This he shared with his full-time living assistant, Caroline Baker.

Caroline readied the car for a very special appointment arranged weeks in advance by her employer. Claude was rather secretive about the affair, leaking only the slightest of details to the curious aid. The location given wasn’t particularly unique though the well-known local eatery did feature a rather novel menu … anything you could imagine to order.

Obviously, the Omnivore was prohibited from offering endangered game or inherently fatal cuisine but as long as the delicacy was free of legal as well as lethal restriction, anything was possible.

Apart from the six month ordeal that altered the course of her employer’s unremarkable life, Claude Adams was not a man given to extravagant exploits whether culinary or otherwise. Baker daily served meals that could only be described as conventional and commonplace … so why the sudden longing for the exotic?

They pulled up to the converted Victorian facade just as the hostess hurried from the restaurant steps to open the passenger door. Leading with his red-tipped white cane, Adams exited the auto reiterating final instructions before his assistant departed.

“Caroline, I’ll see you in one hour, yes?”

“Of course Mr. Adams, I’ll return in one hour.”

The hostess seated their new client at a small table near an ornate oak-mantled fireplace in the center of the room with a clear line of travel to the front entrance. He folded his cane, setting it in the chair seat beside.

“No need for a menu eh Miss? Not that I could read it anyway. Is your chef ready to serve?”

“I believe he’s plating right now. Would you like something to drink?”

“Just water please, and maybe some bread to cleanse the palette.”

“Right away Mr. Adams.”

Claude organized his table for easy access, placing the basket of hard rolls to the left and his glass of water to the right at arm’s length. Within minutes the chef arrived with a steaming bowl.

“Mr. Adams, welcome to the Omnivore! I’m Chef Paradiso and I wanted to personally thank you for giving me the opportunity to attempt this most interesting challenge.”

“Well thank you sir for your gracious indulgence, I know my instructions might have seemed eccentric but they were absolutely necessary I assure you.”

“I understand completely though I must advise you that we had to make a small substitution. Since you couldn’t identify the grain in the recipe with certainty, I had to select an alternate based on your description. We chose barley, I hope that’s acceptable?”

Adams fanned the rising mist, drinking in its aroma. “Of course Chef, as long as the key ingredients are there. I’m sorry that I can’t comment on your presentation but I’m sure it’s wonderful.”

Paradiso nodded with a smile, “Please enjoy”, then returned to his kitchen.

Adams sat for several minutes, reluctant to begin his meal, lost in thoughts surrounding the circumstance that brought him to this place.

The death of his younger brother in faraway Singapore two years prior had necessitated a Pan-Pacific flight with a brief stopover in Hawaii. Apart from his recurrent bouts with grief, the journey was essentially uneventful until the ship encountered turbulence several hours out of Honolulu.

Claude remembered little detail after the pilot frantically announced their dilemma, nor could he recall the probable hours spent adrift in the open ocean. His first recollection was of awakening with a mouth full of sand and an insistent male voice beckoning him to consciousness.

Alan Scott was his name, a fellow survivor of the fallen aircraft. Though suffering from a deep gash to his leg, he immediately rushed out from his makeshift shelter to rescue the waterlogged Adams.

Regaining his bearings proved an overwhelming challenge given the abstract sensory assault of a tropical shoreline fused with the traumatic events that led to his situation. The breeze was warm and constant, and the surf was repetitively persistent in its ebb and flow hiss, echoing along the sandy beach, the noise seemed deafening.

“Are you thirsty?” Scott asked. “We’ve got plenty of water; I found a steady spring beyond the ridge. Looks like we have an abundance of food too though not very appetizing, the place is infested with seagulls … and not a whole lot else.”

Claude gladly accepted water from the genial young man as well as a few shards of coconut meat.

Alan had managed quite a lot given his injury. He’d scavenged articles from the wreckage whenever they washed up on shore, building a hut roofed in metal sheets from the fuselage, bound together by lengths of shredded wiring harness. Unfortunately, none of the foodstuffs survived though he made use of several storage tins for stew pots and serving bowls.

Blind from birth, Claude was utterly dependent on the wounded man to guide him through survival on what might as well be another planet. His limping companion managed to string cords of vine to key locations like the latrine, the fire pit and the shelter, denoted by numbered knots for easy identification. Claude could “sound” his way to a certain degree but the persistent whisper of the breeze and whoosh of the surf made it difficult at best to orient himself effectively.

The days became weeks and the weeks, months, but still no sign of rescue. Alan’s leg would periodically break out with infection, forcing him to soak it in sea water for hours at a time until the redness and discomfort mercifully subsided. The pattern of pain, austerity and outright boredom weighed heavily on the pair, exasperated by the tedium of their daily fare at mealtime.

Scott’s limitations kept him from acquiring the numerous fish in the deeper waters beyond the shoreline and crab, though numerous, were far too small and evasive for him to bother with an attempt. This left the two with seriously limited options: coconuts, a wild seedy grain that Scott referred to as “sea oats” and the numerous white and gray scavengers populating the island.

Alan tried to diversify his offerings but the seagull meat tended to dry up when roasted on a spit or baked in a hot pan. He settled on a stew, the only palatable solution. Every morning Adams was greeted with sea oat porridge simmered in coconut milk and shavings while sunset brought a salty seagull stew with crispy oat tortillas, baked on a flat rock in the hearth.

Both men were grateful for their provision, mundane as it was, but they couldn’t help dreaming of pasta, steak, PIZZA! It was this longing that made Claude begin to question the veracity of his senses.

Early on in their captivity of circumstance, Claude thought for a moment that he detected the faint aroma of roasting beef in the shifting winds. It lasted only a moment but he was certain that he’d accurately identified the scent. Weeks had passed before the sensation recurred, but again, it was as fleeting as the fickled breeze. As time went on he occasionally started when the delightful bouquet returned to assault his nostrils.

Alan seemed oblivious to the phenomenon, citing wishful thinking on Adams’ part but Claude became obsessed by the occurrence. He trusted his generous companion implicitly, finding it inconceivable that he’d withhold red meat if available but he couldn’t deny his senses. Ultimately, he resigned himself that Alan must have been right; it was only wishful thinking, a ghost limb of the mind taunting him with unachievable temptation.

Midway in their fourth month, Claude thought he detected another departure from the norm, though this one was not nearly as pleasant. A considerably rancid odor had been captured on the wind, and he could tell by the uneven breaking of the waves that the source was just ahead in the roiling surf. Something dead had washed ashore!

Alan was preoccupied harvesting “oats” on the other side of the dunes, so Claude took it upon himself to investigate. He honed in on the distinctive sound as the lapping waves splashed against the carcass, its pungent reek giving confirmation that he was on target. Tapping his gnarled walking stick, Adams edged closer and closer until his feet became wet with the surf.

Suddenly from behind, he heard the voice of Alan, breathless from hobbling frantically across the dune. “Claude, Claude … don’t touch it! Walk back toward my voice, I’ll take care of this.”

“What … what is it!?” he responded.

“Oh Claude …” he paused, kicking himself for not spotting it first. “It’s another body … washed up from the crash. I’m sorry my friend, I’ve been trying to spare you from having to concern yourself. I’ve been burning them on the other side of the island since the beginning.”

Adams was visibly shaken. He took his comrade’s arm as Alan escorted him back to the camp. Claude sat brooding, alone in his thoughts, as Scott labored to roll the former passenger onto a tarp with grunts and disgusted groans. He heard the sound of the plastic sheet grinding across the sand as well as Alan’s limping barefoot gait retreating down the beach until all was silent again.

The incident profoundly disturbed the sightless man, his thoughts racked by the unseen tragedy and amplified by the internal torment of his own helpless dependence. Adams began to wonder what else Alan may have withheld about their situation not to mention their most fortuitous survival.

Even the familiar flavor of the evening meal inspired questions. Scott used to joke that if you closed your eyes, you’d swear it was chicken. Though Claude needn’t do the former, the latter result, he’d noted, was far from true. Surprisingly, the chunks of meat were unusually dense and devoid of the expected gameyness common with wild fowl. Alan attributed the texture and flavor to the abundance of diluted salt water in the stewing process but now Claude began to wonder.

“I think I’ve had enough of seagull for awhile, do you have any more of those tortillas? Some coconut would be nice if there’s any left.”

“Sure” Alan said. He handed him the rest of the crispy wafers in a bowl with the fruit on the side. “I could take another shot at trapping crab but I wouldn’t hold my breath.”

“This’ll do for now …thanks.”

Claude became increasingly morose as evening followed evening with his consumption of seagull dwindling ultimately to nothing. Adams loaded up on tortillas of sea oat with an abundance of coconut as the primary entrée. As a result, he was frequently stricken with fierce abdominal pains accompanied by bouts of vicious diarrhea.

Adams didn’t want to voice his suspicions over Alan’s claims as to the origin of his “stew” but by the same token, his mind wouldn’t allow him to indulge in the alternative.

“Claude … you need to eat some protein! Please …have some stew, at least drink the broth. You’re wasting away at this rate and frankly, I’m getting seriously concerned for your health.”

Adams bowed his head between his knees, searching for a solution. His nutrient deprived brain began concocting images of his good natured friend merrily stringing passenger’s bodies from the rafters of some palm covered smokehouse, shearing off portions of flesh for the evening meal.

Claude shuddered.

The aging blind man shook his head to blot out the sensory assault. His survival was truly on the line, he could not deny that, but was it worth crossing a line to achieve it? Adams wrestled with the conflict, personal ethics versus survival. Was there really a choice?

The most frustrating aspect of his struggle, he realized, was his own inability to be certain that there was any conflict at all. Alan gave no indication that the stew was anything more than what he claimed. He had proven himself trustworthy from the very beginning, a true friend in every sense of the word yet … he had chosen to hide one pivotal truth. Why would he do that if not to shield his disabled friend from unnecessary strife?

Adams’ head was swimming. His companion had never lied about the bodies, merely refraining from announcing their existence. Was he lying now about their pragmatic disposition? And was Claude only being prudish, possibly even selfish, in his refusal to transform their tragic deaths into an opportunity to redeem his own life? He began to wonder that what may have plagued him most was nothing more than the maddeningly unavoidable ignorance borne of his congenital affliction.

If he knew, then he could decide, but what if in knowing, he chose abstinence? Would it be better to simply believe Alan’s assertions and live or have him prove his claims and risk alienating the best friend Claude would ever have?

The troubled Adams settled on a compromise, he would take Scott’s word but only after first hearing all the tedious details of the process by which the stew came into being. If Alan faltered in his delivery or became reluctant to give disclosure on what should be a simple conveyance of recipe, then Claude would reassess his decision.

Adams was subtle in his approach, consistently forming his questions seeking information rather than leveling accusation, this kept Alan off of the defensive and free to respond openly without reservation.

Scott was a bit befuddled by Claude’s sudden curiosity of Spartan survival cooking methods, but he complied gladly if only to give comfort to his hesitant friend. He spoke of ratios, salt water to fresh, as well as ingredients like palm dates and seaweed. Oats were added to the mix in sequence then simmered for an hour, at least by Alan’s estimate.

Adams listened intently to each detail but gave most of his attention to the unwavering sincerity of Scott’s verbal demeanor. Satisfied that he’d detected no evasive guile or deception, Claude willingly and ravenously devoured the bowl.

In the weeks that followed, Adam’s health quickly rebounded though the same could not be said for his thoughtful partner. The incidents of infection had increased in frequency and severity, often forcing Alan to remain bedridden for most of the day.

Fortunately, providence delivered salvation in the form of a cargo ship, rerouted in an effort to avoid a deep sea tempest to the south. Due to a keenly observant crew and Captain, the campfire smoke was spotted and a shuttle dispatched, Claude and Alan were rescued!

Alan Scott had survived the voyage home but sadly passed away within a month due to complications with his injuries. Claude Adams was once again left alone, the sole surviving witness to what transpired those arduous months.

Claude treasured the memory of his fallen friend and never doubted that he always had Adams’ best interest at heart. He would never stoop to declaring him a liar even if time revealed that he had been less than truthful. Claude preferred to think only of Alan’s compassion, misguided or not, to spare him the agony of an ethical conflict in the midst of the greater good of survival.

He imagined that if Alan believed that withholding unpleasantness was the way to redeem his visually afflicted companion then so be it, he would bear the burden alone.

Adams rose above the tragedy, even thriving, but he couldn’t live another moment in doubt. If he had done the unthinkable, then he’d find a way to cope but if not, he’d thank God for his incredible mercy in sparing the two of them that terrible choice.



**********^**********



He took a deep breath as he held the spoon to his lips, wincing slightly at the bitter flavor of the salty broth. With a promise and a prayer, he took the morsel into his mouth, chewing slowly with reverence and hope. In an instant, the truth was known. He pushed the bowl away slowly, raising his sightless eyes heavenward as tears streamed down his cheeks. The broadest of smiles crept across his face as he fulfilled his promise, uttering words unheard by those who had ears.

His waiter approached as Claude wiped his eyes, reluctant to interrupt what was obviously a solemn moment. He glanced at the full bowl then back to the diner whose face reflected the epitome of fulfillment. The obvious contradiction baffled the young waiter but failed to faze him. He’d seen the motivations of Omnivore clientele vary widely over the years, often resulting in a mere taste of the forbidden.

Reading his charge, the waiter stoically asked, “So Mr. Adams … did you find your seagull to be … satisfactory?”

Claude leaned back almost giddy, “Oh yes young man … more than you could imagine!”
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Old 03-24-2013, 07:37 PM
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who won?
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Old 03-25-2013, 05:11 AM
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If you look at the poll, or the WBQ 36, you will see the winner.

Service with a Smile by AbdulaOblongata recived the most votes, so was the winner. More voters would be nice.
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