Weekly Challenge #781 – River Crossing

Caaaaaaaaaaat

LIZZIE

“River Crossing…” said the sign.
River? There was nothing there, not a single drop of water in sight.
He looked left. He looked right. If he was to cross anything, he’d follow the rules.
Then he took a step forward and looked left and right again. He had always been very cautious.
He looked at his watch and took another step forward.
That’s exactly when, out of nowhere, a huge pack of wolves knocked him down.
The locals nicknamed the pack leader River and crossing River where he usually crossed was not a healthy thing to do, cautiously or not!

RICHARD

River Crossing

Welcome to River Crossing, possibly the most inappropriately named town in the County.

There’s no river here. Nearest one is two hundred miles south; so, no need for a bridge across it neither, nor any sort of river crossing, for that matter.

In fact, bridges is the one thing we’ve got in short supply around here. No river bridges, road bridges, footbridges or railway bridges, on account of there being no rivers, roads or trains.

So, no railway crossings either.

Beats me why they gave it the name in the first place.

But, I guess you gotta call it something.

SERENDIPIDY

If it’s a river crossing you’re considering, then a wise man will take my advice and avoid the old stone bridge.

For beneath its arches lurk the trolls, who will beat you senseless, steal your coins, then eat you for supper.

For a small fee, I will ferry you across safely to the far bank, out of harm’s way and protected from the evil clutches of the trolls.

Of course, when we land, I’ll beat you senseless, steal your coins and leave you for dead.

But at least, unlike the trolls, I’ve no intention of eating you for my supper!

TOM

Big Muddy

Sam raised his hand to shade his eyes from the setting sun. The river was
high after the late storm rolled in from the Rockies. A few lights had
started to glow on the far bank. One single light grew larger as it moved
to where he stood. Blue brown water merged with the blue brown hull of the
river crossing ferry. It was a size fitting the population it served, and
made returning home for the night possible. Without the tiny boat it was a
four-hour trip to next largest town on the river.

DUANE

The man looked cool in his khaki shirt with epaulets and unbuttoned to show his hairy chest. Even standing up to his waist in the jungle river, he had an air of comfort and confidence. With a rope over his shoulder, he pulled a simple bamboo raft with his supplies stacked upon it. He wasn’t even sweating. His loosely permed hair and big brown mustache were perfect. And he was enjoying a Camel cigarette.

The younger me stared up at the billboard in awe. The message was clear what I needed to do next to become that man of adventure.

NORVAL JOE

“Daddy,” Linoliamanda called back to her father. “I’ve told you before. There’s nothing wrong with Billbert or his family. He’s my friend.”
“Don’t make me come and get you,” her father said, hurrying down to the sidewalk, but stopping at the street and eyeing it like a hazerdous river crossing.
Billbert’s father crossed the street, his hand extended and a big smile on his face. “Hello Mr. Withybottom. I’m Hosmer Blanketmaker. My son speaks very highly of your daughter.”
Mr. Withybottom looked at Hosmer’s hand as if he was offering him a dead fish. He folded his arms and frowned.

TURA

River crossing
———
The Great Crossing is best witnessed from the watch tower by the grand market. Look to the river, before dawn. Soon the barges from distant Harem will appear, a fleet that blots out the river, their gaudy pennants outlined by the rising sun.

Then all is a jostling to unload and furnish the market stalls. Not a single pottery jug is broken, nor a single bolt of silk dropped, by the time the Market Bell sounds the opening.

Towards evening it sounds again, and the stallholders close up and row back to Harem, the barges glowing in the setting sun.

PLANET Z

There’s an old puzzle where a monkey, a pig, and a person need to cross a river.
But if you leave one of them alone with another, something bad happens.
Like the pig eats the monkey or the monkey rips the face off of the person.
So you have to think through who crosses the river in a boat and who is left together on the shore.
Me, I just sent the person and the pig across in the boat and leave that damn monkey behind.
Because that monkey will rip the person’s face off at some point anyway, right?

Weekly Challenge #780 – PICK TWO: Remember only this…, Scope, Church, Melt, Fade, Bare

Myst

LIZZIE

The vet’s schedule is imprinted on my brain. For many months, that was the most important schedule in my life. Mondays and Tuesdays, morning and afternoon. Wednesdays, afternoon and evening. Thursdays, night shift. Fridays, not there. There were other vets there, of course, but… It wasn’t the same thing. They hesitated, read the files ten times, messed up the meds. And I used to ask, not sure whom, please, please, don’t let him get really ill on a Friday. Or weekend. The vet’s schedule is still imprinted on my brain, but I don’t need it anymore. My kitty is gone.

RICHARD

Words of Wisdom

It was, I suppose, one of those formative moments in life.

In his last moments, as I sat at my dying father’s bedside, he beckoned me closer and breathed the words to me: “Son, if you make nothing more of your life, remember only this…”

The wisdom he then imparted meant little to me at the time, and over the years, consumed only with life’s purely material things, his words began to fade until, eventually forgotten.

And now, lying on my deathbed, desperate to impart a lasting gift of wisdom to my own son.

I simply cannot remember those words.

SERENDIPIDY

They always used to laugh at me.

They’d mock me and say that if ever I dared to set foot inside a church, I’d most likely melt into a sinful puddle of evil, unable to bear anything even remotely good or holy.

Maybe they were right, after a fashion: I’ve hardly been a model of decorum and decency. But nobody’s perfect.

Not even that bunch of holier- than- thou hypocrites!

So I burned down the church.

And all of them burned along with it.

Somewhat ironic, don’t you think that it was they, not me, who melted within its sanctuary?

DUANE

As time goes by the memory tends to fade and you might forget a few things. Important events get etched in your mind and stay fresh forever. Favorite movies and songs tend to stick. You never forget a great movie.

My favorite is Casablanca. It has that guy. You know who I mean. Classic story that imprints on your mind. I think the movie had the French and Nazis causing trouble in his bar and he had to run off.

Not only a great movie, but it has an unforgettable song. “Remember only this, your kiss is on my list…”

TOM

What You Willing TO DO?

Covid is killing churches. It’s sort of under the radar. Many were
actually just holding on by their spiritual finger tips. For years I was a
UU trustee, we had weathered major size reduction, based on the Secondary
Retirement Syndrome. You think that home in the country is your final
destination, forgive the ref, then illness settles in, bam, you’re back in
the bay area at some miscellaneous child’s back bedroom. But now the
covid has reduced membership to the single digits. People are just
drifting away; we are just fading away. Hard to watch something so hopeful
fade away.

NORVAL JOE

Billbert ran across the graass to Linoliamanda. She dropped the cat which yowled and melted away into the darkness. “Linoliamanda. What are you doing at our Air Bnb?”

She smiled. “Oh. Hi, Billbert.” She turned to his parents. “Hi, Mr. and Mrs. Blanketmaker. I was just looking for my cat. That’s my house across the street, next to the church.”

Mr. Withybottom stood on the front porch, his fists on his hips. “Linny. Get away from those people. If you remember only this one thing, you might live to graduate from high school, those crazy people are a bad influence.”

JARED

In the remnants of online society after the apocalyptic flame wars over food debates, the silence was broken by the call for peace: seek not for what is best or you will risk missing out on what is good.
This new online religious movement preaches a hedonism found in moderation, pleading with the remaining self-important and self-aggrandizing pedants to set aside their judgments. “Don’t yuck someone else’s yum,” they preach.
I am returned from that dark future time to forewarn you now. I plead with you to remember only this: Do not read the bottom half of the Internet.

TURA

Church; bare
———
The church in the woods was not yet a ruin, but the interior was stripped bare. “Is this… safe?” I asked. “Oh, come on,” my girlfriend said scornfully, “they can’t watch everything. They probably don’t even know this is here.”

“Not much to see,” I said. “Where did they kill and eat their god?”

“It wasn’t like that.”

“Well, what was it like?”

“You’re too scared to want to know,” she snapped. “When are you going to get a backbone?”

Right now, I decided. When we got home I would report her as a religionist to the Ministry of Truth.

PLANET Z

Frederick’s head injury left him a vegetable.
The only memory left in his head was the church he was found in.
A cult’s sacrifice, rescued from death by the police, but caught in the crossfire.
Holding his bleeding head in his hands, Frederick tried to scream, but nothing came out.
His surroundings fading from view, seven surgeries later, kept alive, but for all intents and purposes, gone.
Staring out the window, if you sing a hymn or read scripture, he will smile.
Put a spoon or straw in his mouth, and he will swallow.
One cruel orderly feeds him roaches.

Weekly Challenge #779 – Unlimited

Guard the fuck out of the bed

LIZZIE

The phone call was short. The woman spoke fast. The construction or something… The hall is too small…
She spoke too fast. The construction was fine. He checked. The hall was fine too.
The phone call was short. She blabbered a few words. And she hung up. The construction she said, the hall…?
What does she know? She heard stories about this and that and she had the gall to think she could replace him, yes, the gall.
The other phone call was also short. “How much?” The man also replied fast.
No one would ever take his place. Ever.

RICHARD

Ticket to ride

My thirteenth birthday, and I was thrilled to receive an unlimited day pass for a theme park I’d always wanted to visit. I insisted we went immediately, even though it was a national holiday.

The roads were insane, and the hundred mile trip took over four hours. Another two hours queuing to get in, and then a further hour waiting in line for the Devil’s Mountain Thunderbolt Experience -the greatest experience ever, according to the hype.

I’ve never vomited so much in my life.

After seven long hours, and one short ride.

All I wanted, was to go back home!

SERENDIPIDY

The judge recommended an unlimited term in custody.

It was, he explained, the only fitting sentence for an immortal being, whose crimes were as evil and inhuman as mine.

I appealed, of course.

And won.

I successfully argued an unlimited term of imprisonment was itself, inhuman, and therefore could not be rightfully handed down by a mere mortal judge… And besides, with immortality at my disposal, I had all the time in the world to become a reformed character.

It was, of course, a lie.

I’ll never reform, but who is going to live long enough to learn the truth?

TOM

Not quite right

When we say something is Unlimited is the usage correct? We tend to shoot
for the upper range. A striving, the place where the rising ape meets the
falling angle. Or a word destine for an affirmation poster. Wouldn’t it be
just as proper to dial down to zero. Take the term unloved, unread, or
even unsophisticated. Unlimitedly unloved, Unlimitedly unread, Unlimitedly
unsophisticated. Not a ring endorsement there, aye. Is it because we rail
against continent containment, so we are willing to walk right out of
Africa? Stuff that limed limed-y thing. Or is it just a catch phrase in
Wicked?

DUANE

A ten-year-old only needs a towel and a safety pin to be a superhero. Being a real superhero takes training, equipment, and an unlimited supply of cash. That’s why you only see billionaire self-made superheroes.

Luckily, we have the Internet. Anything can be learned on YouTube. With 3D printers you can create cool costumes and gadgets. If you need a name, you can’t go wrong asking for suggestions on social media. For the money, set up a simple go-fund-me page. Just remember to let everyone know that for the cost of a cup of coffee they can change the world.

NORVAL JOE

Billbert and his parents stood on the sidewalk scanning the dark bushes and trees along the Air Bnb. There were an unlimited number of places for a wily super villain to hide.
“Do you see her?” Billbert whispered to his mother.
“See who?” his mother asked.
“Nuclear Fission,” Billbert and his father said in unison.
“Oh. No. She’s not around. I would know if she was anywhere in the neighborhood. The only thing hiding in the bushes is a cat and a girl with blond hair.”
As if on command, Linoliamanda stepped from the bushes holding a large orange cat.

JARED

I met my wife at work. Sort of. We both worked for the same national supermarket chain: she, in Human Resources at a warehouse in California; I, in the corporate offices in Idaho.
We met over the phone. Our first phone call lasted several hours. It was fundamentally work related; we just kept getting distracted with side conversations.
We started talking at home on nights and weekends. I changed cell phone providers to the same as hers because they offered unlimited minutes between customers.
At the height of our courtship, our phone bills showed ‘unlimited minutes used’ in the thousands.

PLANET Z

Cellular and internet providers claim to offer unlimited plans.
But if you use a certain amount of data, they will reduce your speed.
“It’s still unlimited,” they say. “Just slower, you pig. That’s all.”
“But that’s still a limit,” you say.
Then they point out the contract and offer to sell you a new unlimited plan.
“There’s no speed limits on this one ever,” they say.
So, I find out where their executives live.
And when they drive to work, I get in front of them and slow down.
Swerving quickly to cut them off when they try to pass.

Weekly Challenge #778 – Behind a bush

Happy cat

TURA

Behind a bush
———
The woman had no more than glimpsed her attacker on the country path. After frantically fighting him off, she fled for her life. What few details she could report were inconclusive.

The only other evidence was a picture she had snapped just moments before, of a prominent laburnum bush, behind which her attacker must have lurked. The police used the latest AI techniques to remove the bush from the image, plainly revealing the perpetrator.

The trial collapsed when the defence produced pictures of the residences of the judge and prosecution counsel, with the walls removed to reveal the goings-on within.

RICHARD

The abandoned quarry

What we’ll do, is head out to the abandoned quarry and aim to get there in plenty of time before the girls arrive. We’ll find a good spot and hide behind a bush, then wait for the fun.

You just know those girls are going to go a little crazy after they smoke the weed I sold them, I’ll bet anything they’ll end up going skinny dipping, and then get a little horny… And then, who knows what might happen?

So, who’s in?

Awesome! Well let’s get going then.

What do you mean no-one knows the way to the quarry?

LIZZIE

Just pretend that fog is wonderful.
Just pretend the trees are magnificent.
Pretend, just pretend the rays of sun are not burning the grass dry.
Pretend.
Part from your heart.
Part from your soul.
Someone will look for you.
Someone will shout for you.
Just pretend you’re not sinking, pretend your whole life is not running through your head, a host of bizarre what ifs.
Just pretend you can still move your legs, pretend the thick mud is not pulling you down, dragging your dreams into the darkness.
Dreams?
There are no dreams. Only tragic nightmares. And the suffocating fog.

SERENDIPIDY

You hear a rustle in the darkness and you know that it’s me. Did you hear that twig break? Was that a shadow amongst the trees?

You know I’m out there, watching, waiting, prowling and homing in.

You stop, unnerved, fists clasped tight, heart racing, senses taut as a bowstring.

Where am I?

Am I behind you, or am I lurking on the path ahead?

Maybe I’m behind a bush, poised to leap out as you pass!

I’m not.

I’m at home, watching TV, feet up, relaxing.

But you don’t know that.

And that’s just the way I like it!

NORVAL JOE

Billbert’s mother hugged him. “Thank you, Son. I’m happy you consider me strong and worth respect. Even so, I don’t think, ‘The Mother’ is a good name for a superhero.”
Mr. Blanketmaker shrugged. “What other name embodies the qualities of organization and efficiency?”
Billbert suggested. “How about, ‘The Optimizer’, or ‘Optimum Control’?”
Mrs. Blanketmaker laughed. “Now we’re getting somewhere.”
Something outside thumped against the wall of the Air Bnb.
Billbert’s dad ran for the door. “Stay here.”
They all ran outside onto the sidewalk and carefully scanned the house to see if anything hid behind the bushes along the wall.

TOM

Not So Bright

It is said in Greenland there is a naked woman behind ever bush. Or maybe
it was a tree, of little difference that hunk of ice has very little of
either. Not a good place for god fearing Europeans, it took them a century
or two to die out. Could have learned from the native people, but you know
how hell bent on being right will kill you dead. Behind a bush not bad
metaphor for westward expansion. When your down to your last stick, the
fire is soon to follow. In the end its just wind and ice.

JARED

Lane and Cale had the typical older brother/younger brother dynamic: their enthusiasm for spending time together was inversely proportional.
One day, Lane and his friends discovered a small grotto between the hedges and the house. Cale spent the whole morning searching and never found them. Mom called him inside and consoled him with milk and cookies. She sat him at the breakfast nook and opened the window a crack. She smiled, pointed down behind him and winked.
Cale spent the rest of the summer getting to snoop on Lane and Lane spent the summer enjoying his privacy from Cale.

PLANET Z

When I was ten, I liked to play Hide and Seek with the neighborhood kids.
I was really good at hiding, and nobody ever found me.
But when I would be the seeker, I always found everyone quickly.
Kids hiding in closets.
Kids hiding in trash cans.
Kids hiding behind bushes and trees.
One kid went as far as hiding in a neighbor’s basement.
He’d been chopped up and stuffed into the freezer.
“Nice try,” I said. “But you can’t beat me at this game.”
After that, the police wanted to hire me as a consultant.
But they wouldn’t hide.

Weekly Challenge #777 – Tilting

Basket case cat

LIZZIE

Imagine being in hospital. You can’t move. You can barely breathe.
No one believes you.
Imagine peering through the window and seeing the elegant bridge crossing the river all lit up, beautiful at night.
Imagine the little dots of light coming from the fishing boats, like fireflies.
Yes, imagine smiling and thinking I will die in a few minutes, but I’ll die having the most gorgeous view.
Imagine they still don’t believe you. And you still can’t breathe.
But you’re smiling. You’re smiling because that tilted postcard window is your hope, your only hope, the hope that keeps you breathing.

RICHARD

A Titanic Effort

The tilting had was quite noticeable now, I had to prop my music stand between my knees, and a stray flute had begun a steady roll across the floor.

Our conductor raised his hands, and the sounds of Strauss rang out amidst the shouts and screams around us.

Now fighting to stay upright, we battled on bravely, determined to finish this one, final performance, barely aware of the terror and panic, we played on, until – one by one – the notes were stilled as the icy waters claimed us for their own.

Leaving only the music of waves and tortured metal.

SERENDIPIDY

The sun was a problem.

From the position he’d taken, it was blinding him. He blinked, and coloured blotches filled his vision. This was no good; it wouldn’t do at all.

Thankfully, such things were easily fixed, and he adjusted the angle of his hat, tilting it so that the brim shaded his eyes from the sun’s glare.

Blinking rapidly to adjust; his sight began to clear, and he squinted ahead, watching and waiting for the critical moment.

The sound of motorcycles filled the street; and the motorcade came into view.

From behind the grassy knoll, three shots rang out.

TOM

Tilting for Fun and Profit

In Poker if you’re not intent on winning for a long long time, you can
deal hands that will drive players insane. The goal is to create a titling
so strong the moment you go for the kill, hand may well go for your
throat, best to serious muscle close at hand. I got this deep move with
faro shuffles that servers up pairs and broken straights. Most player
start out with a slight tic, but hand for hand a feral look clouds their
eyes. You know the monkey brain just got its ass kick by the old reptilian
brain.

NORVAL JOE

Billbert’s father looked at his wife with a tilting half smile.”Gee, honey. A name change? I thought you liked the name, Blanketmaker.”
She put her hand on his arm and returned a much more endearing smile. “Of course I do, sweetie. I meant my superhero name. ‘The Secretary’ sounds so, I don’t know, weak? It elicits no fear or respect. Not like Nuclear Fission. I want something strong and commanding.”
Billbert laughed. “How about, Mom.”
She looked at her son. “What about what, Billbert?”
Billbert shook his head. “No, Mom. I think the name Mom is strong and commands respect.”

JARED

Tommy’s Steel Balls

Darkness. A metallic scrape, followed by dulled clinking. Electronics buzzing to life. Light. Then rolling, falling, landing. Shuddering into a socket. A spring whines in a rising pitch of compression. A pause. Then a soft swish, and an incredible punch. Immediate acceleration. Rising, banking, turning, dipping. A cacophony of electro-mechanical music, punctuated by chirps, chimes, zips. Non-stop movement, crashing into every surface, immediately impelled in another direction. A bump from below, the floor shifts unexpectedly. A sharp buzzer screeches. Suddenly, everything goes dead. All is quiet. Pathetic echoing rumble. Over a precipice. Falling. A thud. Darkness.

RICK

Tilting
It’s one thing to be a biker at 6-2 and 240 pounds of solid muscle … Quite another when you’re 5’6 and 150 pounds. Dave was the latter, and Dave wasn’t the type to take shit from anyone.

So many “rights” from so many big men …

Broken jaw, ribs, teeth, and nose … He never really learned when to shut his mouth.

He’s surprised a few of them big boys, but mostly, a whole lot of ass whippings.

His whole body kind of tilts to the right.

Older now Dave still won’t shut that mouth … and he still don’t take no shit!

TURA

Tilting
———
The Tilting Tower of Pisa is more remarkable than its more prosaic cousin, the Leaning Tower, for no matter what angle you look at it from, it always tilts to the left or the right.

If you try going close up, to determine the direction it is really tilting, you only get confused.

People who fly cameras on drones around and above the Tilting Tower obtain footage that they can make no sense of.

Some take the Tilting Tower to be proof that we are living in a simulated world, and the Tilting Tower is a bug in the simulation.

PLANET Z

There’s a stop sign at the corner of Main and Ash.
It’s been there for years.
Bumperstickers for whatever band of cause or phrase of the day slapped across the front and back, scraped off, and replaced again.
The pole’s not quite straight, it leans a bit to the left.
But it’s never been hit or knocked over, like so many signs in the neighborhood.
The Main and Ash sign’s been knocked over so many times.
The Dead End sign, too.
But not the Stop sign.
I guess people respect a stop sign more than others.
So it’s still there.

Weekly Challenge #776 – PICK TWO Ruins, Cone, A toast!, Rebel, Dive, Name change, Glow

Dirty Princess

LIZZIE

“A toast! My kingdom for a toast!” The crowd at the café chuckled. They all knew him. They all loved his silly jokes. The room was always dark. That gave them a sense of protection and the silly, often crude, jokes made them feel like they belonged. One day he didn’t show up. They looked for him everywhere. Weeks went by. Then they received a letter at the café. “I’m fine. I got a job digging up some ruins. The archaeologists are OK. But they lack one thing. They don’t have toast!” The crowd at the café chuckled once again.

RICHARD

Rebel for a Lost Cause

I’ve always been a rebel, albeit not a very successful one.

The trouble is, I really don’t like to make a fuss; so whilst other rebels are toppling governments, standing up against perceived injustices and sticking it to the man, my own rage against the machine may seem somewhat insignificant.

Still, rebellion is rebellion, no matter how it may manifest itself.

So, while I still have breath in me, I’ll continue to have an extra sugar in my tea; I’ll refuse to go to bed at a reasonable hour; and, whenever somebody raises a toast… I’m never clinking my glass.

SERENDIPIDY

From the ruins of a shattered life, I crawl: The embodiment of pain, anger and dismay.

Within my breast beats a heart devoid of love, compassion or care. I know only hatred and pain, despair and woe.

I’m coming for you, and when I find you, I will destroy you… Break you… Rend your flesh and torment your soul.

Because I will never forget those vows you swore and a toast! To us, our health and happiness: To you, just hollow words, but to me a loving promise you failed to keep.

Just remember.

Your promise.

For better, or worse.

TOM

In the wake of endless sorrow

She burns bright with rage. It tempers every move. Make no mistake her
rebel heart with drop you without a second thought. Your glowing remains
will smolder beside some long-forgotten road. Your only hope to master the
intensity of task at hand. Never waver from the glorious quest or let less
soul dissuade you with words of comfort. In the night of a 1000 flames be
the rebel glow be hers alone and know at the end of all things you rose to
be the one. The light breaks set your mind of stone, your heart to iron,
you will to iron.

JARED

A Lucky Man and a Brave Woman

Their courtship and engagement had lasted a little more than 11 months. James would have been fine getting married on the anniversary of their engagement, but Natalie didn’t want to wait. And she couldn’t resist being a ‘June bride’.
The planning and the ceremony were a blur of memory now, as they were seated at the head table.
“Ahem… Hi, everyone. I’m Michael, James’ Best Man. I’ve known James since Second Grade. I met Natalie a week after she met James. James, hold on to her. You will never find another woman willing to be ‘Mrs. Hooker’.”

NORVAL JOE

Billbert and his parents arrived at the Air Bnb. They punched in the code and entered the house. When they flipped on the lights Billbert took in the view. A table was prominently displayed in the middle of the sitting room with an array of bottles of wine, cheese and crackers.
“Dive in, Billbert,” his mother said to him pointing to the crackers. She picked up a single serving bottle of wine. “Maybe we should have a toast.”
Mr. Blanketmaker laughed. “A toast to what? Our house in ruins?”
His wife shook her head. “No. How about a name change?”

PLANET Z

The rebels fled Freedom Town, leaving behind piles of dead hostages and setting fires as they left.
Fire suppression crews did their best to limit the damage.
Rebel flags on the poles were wired to explosives.
Anti-government posters were chemically treated with poison.
The water system was poisoned, too.
The rebels claimed the government did it all.
And the media repeated their lie.
So, the government raided the newspapers, radio stations, and television networks.
Expelled the ambassadors of countries that hosted rebel training camps and condemned the government’s response.
And the war raged no, there was nothing civil about it.

Weekly Challenge #775 – WINE

Pest

RICHARD

Miracle?

Yeah, turning water into wine, just a cheap parlour trick really. It’s not like anyone checked the jars for the false water trays.

Feeding the five thousand? Well, did you see the food come out of the baskets? Of course not, because it didn’t! All misdirection and sleight of hand.

As for Lazarus: Well, it could have been anyone wrapped up in those burial cloths… And it was!

Of course, people want to believe in miracles, and nobody looks too closely in the heat of the moment.

You’re going to love my final trick… It’ll be the stuff of legends!

LIZZIE

Everyone sat at the table and toasted. Everyone smiled. Yes, that fake smile that goes well with wine and the possibility of a new job. He thought about the cool car he’d buy, the shiny new apartment, even the weekend lodge by the lake. And then he blurted out that stupid thing. He had to say it, didn’t he? Why? Because he was a moron. “This wine is not one of the best I have had.” No more job for you, you simpleton. Why had he decided to apply for a job at a winery? He didn’t even like wine.

TOM

Wine

I live in the wine county. No really. Not that sugar injected region known
as New York. Or that euro-trash region outside of Paris. I am talking
above the Napa Valley. A land hip deep in volcanic red soil. Of course,
having tastes buds raised in Chicago took a fair amount of time to mature.
Also getting over the idea of a bottle costing a day’s pay is, well now
reasonable, also took some time. When I was young wine choice was binary,
how its more taxonomical. But really, it’s all about the pairing. What
wine goes with Cap-n-Crunch.

SERENDIPIDY

When I bought the house, I had only one stipulation.

I didn’t care about the state of repair, the number of bedrooms or whether the shrubs were well-established and cared for.

The only thing I insisted upon was a wine cellar.

A large wine cellar, dry, and with thick, thick walls.

The agent thought I was a connoisseur; someone of refined tastes and an eye for quality.

Which, of course, I am.

And you could say, I do enjoy a ruby red claret.

So why not come over, sample my hospitality?

I’ll keep a space on the rack for you.

TURA

Wine
———
When the wine has been drunk, the bottle is discarded.

When a teaching comes into the world, it comes in a bottle, that being the individuality of the teacher, the time and place where he appears, and the types that he draws to himself.

One day, the teacher is gone, for such people live and die as do we all. The wine poured out, his students thereafter venerate the empty bottle, worshipping the dead husk of his teaching.

Those who would discard the bottle and seek the source of the living wine that he brought are driven away as heretics.

NORVAL JOE

The chief handed Mrs. Blanketmaker a slip of paper. “Here’s an Air BnB we’ve rented for you. It’s called ‘The Wine and Cheese, if You Please’ bed and breakfast. Apparently, they have a deal with a local winery and stock the place with a bunch of little sample bottles of wine and all the cheese and crackers you can eat. And you can stay as long as you need to find a new place.”
Billbert’s hopes lifted. “You mean we don’t have to move away?”
The chief winked at him. “Not yet, anyway. There’s still work to do right here.”

JARED

Anticipation
After their week in San Francisco, James was anxious to get to Napa. You could say it had been a whirlwind, his and Natalie’s courtship. He couldn’t help but smile to himself, thinking of how far they had come.
He breathed a little more easily once they had cleared the Golden Gate Bridge and were headed past Sausalito. He was never comfortable driving over bridges.
As he continued driving, he began to realize – he was still anxious. Not because of a bridge, but because of the little box in his coat pocket. And because of Natalie’s answer to his question…

PLANET Z

Never conduct a seance with a cheap bottle of wine.
Or candles. Or dishes.
You need the finest of everything to summon spirits.
The cheaper the placesettings and decorations, the weaker the gateway you will make between worlds.
And, should you manage to summon something from beyond, the harder it will be to send them back.
So, should you get lucky and entice a greater demon from the pits of hell to your living room with paper plates and Mad Dog 20, well done.
Not that I would call you lucky, seeing as you’re going to be stick with him.

Weekly Challenge #774 – Pizza

Happy Tinnyversary!

RICHARD

Pizza!

I love pizza!

I don’t mind what kind – thin and crispy, stuffed crust, deep dish… Just bring it on, and you’ve got a friend for life.

I’m not a topping snob either. You’ll never see me look aghast at the suggestion of pineapple on top; you’ll never hear me insist on only authentic toppings, and no more than six because any more spoils the taste!

Nonsense! Pile them on, I say, and don’t be mean with the helpings.

Tomato, white sauce or barbecue, I’m equally happy. They’re all wonderful.

But, there’s none for you.

Get your own: This one’s mine!

LIZZIE

It’s the best food on earth, he said. What did you put in this? It tastes funny. Oh, it’s the seasoning. I can’t remember, but I tossed everything I had on it. And he laughed, amused by his friends’ hesitation. Eat it, eat it. I made plenty of them for the picnic. And they did eat. When they started dropping like flies, he scratched the name of each one of them out from a list. He had that list since he was 13, when they made him eat pizza with rat meat in it. Revenge is such a sweet thing.

SERENDIPIDY

Giovanni’s allegedly sold the best pizza in town, which was a punch in the teeth for my business.

We may not have made the best pizzas, but ours were cheap, and until Giovanni came onto the scene, we had the monopoly, but now sales were falling every week.

The community was shocked, but it came as no surprise to me when the police found Giovanni’s body, baked in his own pizza oven, sliced, stuffed into pizza boxes and delivered all round town.

They never found the culprit.

Very sad, but on the positive side, my business is booming, once more.

TOM

Seemed like a good idea at the time

A few years back I saw a movie about meat consumption. After watching I
removed it from my diet. For two long years, no pizza. No pepperoni, no
sausage, no Canadian bacon, or even chicken. Boy I missed chicken. Two
years in the wasteland. Would still be there, but for a video by a noted
nutritionist. Perky beyond human endurance. Happily, she chirped “A lack
of animal protein may lead to nerve damage. NERVE DAMAGE. She was actually
smiling. Well, screw that. So, I did the math. I can eat pizza three time
a day for the rest of life.

TURA

Pizza
———
Once upon a time there was a baker. His genius was not content to bake the same loaves every day, and he experimented with every method of baking bread, and baking every foodstuff into it.

Once, he had a surplus of unsold stale bread. He crumbled and baked it into a new batch, creating the renowned “pane del pane”, or “bread bread”.

His greatest invention was to bake a layer of cheese onto a flatbread, and embed into it a variety of vegetables and meat. A fad for this novelty swept through his city, for which it became named: Pisa.

JARED

First Date
James anxiously checked his watch for the third time in less than three minutes, and wondered how early ‘too early’ was. He hated this part of first dates.
Unbeknownst to him, Natalie was simultaneously anxious about being early, and on the verge of being late in her preparations for their date. She couldn’t decide if she was nervous or excited. Maybe just gassy?
They both felt like their first meeting had been interesting enough that it merited an official first date. They agreed on pizza. And agreed on Zito’s. They debated on which one, but compromised by picking Orange Plaza.

NORVAL JOE

Billbert sat with his parents in the diner feeling as empty and desolate as the tables around them. “Mom. I understand we’ll start over. Can we do it here? I like my school, and Linoliamanda is my friend. I don’t want to leave all this.”
A short, bald man walked into the diner, picked up a pizza box from the waitress at the register, came to their table and sat down.
Mrs. Blanketmaker frowned at the man. “Good evening, Chief. Are you hungry?”
The chief smiled. “Yes. But really, we need to make plans for your family, and Nuclear Fission.”

PLANET Z

When the power came back on, the first thing I did was turn on the lights, run to the kitchen, and fire up the oven to make pizza.
It took about 8 minutes to preheat the oven.
Then, I opened the freezer for the first time in three days and got out the frozen pizzas.
Well, they had been frozen.
I opened the boxes and they came out floppy.
Were they still okay to eat?
Well, if I’m going to heat them up in the oven, that will kill any really bad things, right?
I shrugged, and closed the oven.

Weekly Challenge #773 – Smalltalk

Impediment

RICHARD

The Date

Don’t you just hate this bit? The whole ‘getting to know you’ nonsense?

Yet, social convention dictates that we go through the wearisome business of awkward smalltalk, embarrassed half-smiles and long silences. A weird mixture of nervous excitement and barely-disguised reluctance.

We play with our food and wonder why we’re here, then smile sheepishly and plough on, negotiating the minefield of our fledgling relationship.

If only it could be easier…

Skip the smalltalk and get straight to the point.

After all, that’s really why we’re both here, isn’t it?

Can’t we just fast-forward straight to the sex?

LIZZIE

Small talk is such an effective way of getting to know people, he thought. The event was promoted as an informal get-together to meet your soulmate. He needed a soulmate, desperately. After the usual introductions and polite smiles, the whole conversation took an unexpected turn when one of the ladies said she enjoyed being tossed in the river. At first, he didn’t understand what she meant. He laughed nervously and he noticed she did have a strange color. “It’s the river,” she said. “Too much pollution.” He nodded. Let’s just say he didn’t find his soulmate. He wasn’t that desperate.

SERENDIPIDY

Smalltalk: Because what else is there to do while you wait?

At first, it was the embarrassing silence, feet shuffling, staring into the middle distance; then as seconds turned into minutes, and minutes into hours, the need to talk became overwhelming.

We talked about the weather, our jobs and families, the state of the economy – anything really – just to fill the time.

And, eventually, the allotted hour came… And went.

I gave it a little longer: More smalltalk. And honestly, I’ve enjoyed getting to know you.

But really, we were only killing time.

And now, it’s time to kill you.

TOM

Pathologically Auditorial

I would like to say I don’t do small talk, but the truth is I will talk to anyone about anything. The least important the better. God knows the weight of the world’s problems are heavy enough to pitch one into a blackhole death-sprial of ennui. The key to quatlity small talks is raising or lowering the scope of ones replies. Best when in counter point to the direction of the conversation. Just enough to cause a gap, but not so much to cause a gasp. And remember to be galactically unforgettable, with a comely smile. Have a nice day.

NORVAL JOE

Sitting with his parents in the diner, Billbert thought about making small talk. After the catastrophe of their house burning down random talking seemed, trite.
“Mom. Dad,” Billbert began. When they stopped eating and looked at him, he continued. “Are you two in shock? Our house just burned down, and you don’t seem that upset.”
His mother nodded. “I’d forgotten how young you were the last time something like this happened. Don’t worry. Everything important, pictures, documents, and that, were all just copies. The originals are stored in a secure location. It takes a little time, but, we’ll start over.”

RICK THOMAS

Ears Wide Open

Jimmy Alvarez had a gift, early on everyone thought it was ADD, and they weren’t entirely wrong, but, what it was … was a gift … More like a superpower.

Jimmy had an amazing sense of hearing!

He could hear whispers at incredible distances.
He could listen to conversations through walls, doors, and glass …
And he could focus in on one conversation out of 20 he could hear at will.

None of that mattered much until he started keeping a notebook.

Combinations to locks
Hidden keys
Criminal confessions
Shameful secrets

There was power … and opportunity in such things.

Jimmy’s future looked promising!

JARED

Chit Chat
“Hi. I’m James.”
“Hello, James. I’m Natalie.”
“Nice to meet you, Natalie. How do you know The Taylors?”
“I work with Michael. You?”
“I used to be their brother-in-law.”
“…Used to be… How does that work?”
“I used to be married to Lonni’s sister Lisa.”
“Why don’t you say you’re her sister’s ex-husband?”
Two reasons: I like Mike & Lonni. Saying it my way keeps the relationship focused on them.”
“OK. And the second?”
“If I had said ‘I’m Lonni’s sister’s ex-husband’, odds are you wouldn’t have been interested in much conversation beyond that. I wanted to increase my odds.”

PLANET Z

When midgets talk to each other, is it all smalltalk?
Not in the Department of Midget Science at MIT, the Midget Institute of Technology.
It’s all big talk. Cosmic-level stuff.
Even the talk about sub-atomic particles is big talk.
They get a lot of stuff done, and they do it so efficiently.
Not needing big offices and big blackboards and big laboratories.
Even their supercolliding supercollider takes up just a parking lot’s space.
They smash particles and discover the secrets of the universe.
Then they all get ice cream at the commissary and publish their papers and cheer big cheers.

Weekly Challenge #772 – PICK TWO Prowling, Canon, Everything, To/Too/Two, Risk, Delinquent, Spray Tan

Sink nest

LIZZIE

The train was too cramped. But she had no other option than to take this one.
A man was playing with a rope.
Too cramped, too awkward.
She wanted to get there quickly. The boat was ready and she was ready. Sailing around the world was her dream, and that dream was so close. She only needed to survive this bloody crowded train.
Suddenly, the train hiccuped, startling everyone.
When she woke up, a rope tied her to a pipe on the wall and the police were knocking at the door.
She wanted to scream. Horrified, she realized she couldn’t…

RICHARD

The big question?

It’s out there, lurking in the darkness. Watching and waiting, hoping for an unguarded moment and the opportunity to strike.

Prowling silently: You know it’s there, but where and when that moment will come remains unknown.

It’s waiting for you.

Biding its time.

Which leaves the question, what do you do now?

Do you hide away?

Do you run?

Or stand and fight?

Are you prepared to take the risk and sit tight in the hope that it will go away?

Or risk all, and face the challenge, head on?

Well, how about it, what are you going to do?

SUSUANDUS

Everything, risk

I don’t feel very creative right now. I wish I had an inner impatient writer yearning to burst forth an utterance as the acorn seed waits to push out an Oak.
“You’re a discovery writer” someone once told me. At times I’m like a young child whose overloaded paintbrush hits the paper and a fat line of liquid aubergine appears and shocks, threatening and promising to bring presence to everything. At that young age I was attuned to the risk and ecstacy of self expression… one finger scratching my chin purple as watery orange rivulets dribble at will.

TURA

Prowling; Canon
—-
While prowling through the canon of great literature, the celebrated Shakespeare scholar Bagnold P. Bagnold chanced upon a curious work bound with a rare 18th century edition of Shakespeare. It purported to tell that playwright’s life, but its sordid and implausible detail suggested it might have been penned by the Marquis de Sade.

He discreetly consulted with some specialists in old manuscripts, who pronounced that the pages were certainly contemporaneous with the rest of the volume.

But the detail that dissuaded him from revealing it to the world was the author’s name. He identified himself only by the initials B.P.B.

SERENDIPITY

I was a good kid. Never got into trouble, always behaved perfectly, and was the very model of good behaviour.

As a teenager, whilst my peers might well be described as juvenile delinquents, I bucked the trend. Butter wouldn’t melt in my mouth.

But now, I’m all grown up, and with the maturity that comes from adulthood I’ve decided that my time has come.

It’s time I became an adult delinquent.

All that pent up anger; the rage; the disobedience and bad behaviour I never let out as a youngster is all about to be released…

All of it.

Everything!

TOM

First we kill the Writer

Everything around here is fuckn Canon. The producers got a bigger bible then the King James, and hell of a lot less poetic. The main character is british, but rasied by wolvies on the russian steeps. They want a wolf russian hip-hop delievery. I say buddie this. It turns out the money behind the money, is a guy so damn close to Putin. So I repeat everything around here is fuckn Canon. I suggested, suggested possiblely the love interest was from …. say Ukraine. Found a dead horse’s head in my bed. Really funny, you fucks. Now, its Putin’s niece, Fuck.

NORVAL JOE

“Dad. I didn’t know you played chess in high school,” Billbert said.
His father laughed. “You don’t know everything about my past, Son. I wasn’t a juvenal delinquent, but I was a bit of a loose cannon. Your mother settled me down a lot.”
They pulled into an all night diner and went inside, unaware of the woman prowling the parking lot.
When the waitress came to Billbert, he said, “I’d like to order the All Day Two Egg breakfast, too.”
Outside, Nuclear Fission didn’t risk standing beneath parking lot lights knowing her spray tan disguise wouldn’t fool the Blanketmakers.

JARED

Pursuit

They lurked behind the corner of Jaden’s house, barely stifling their giggles, unable to manage the adrenaline flooding their systems. Braxton peered out, checking if the coast was clear.
“Can you see her?” Jaden hissed, too loudly.
Braxton could easily see their target, but they both knew if Emmy spotted them before they reached paydirt, they would be caught.
“No,” Braxton whispered back, keeping his volume low. “On three,” he commanded. “One… Two…”
“Three!” they gasped in unison, simultaneously sprinting from cover.
As they barreled toward the base, Braxton spotted Emmy breaking from her cover, determined to cut them off.

PLANET Z

Nobody ever saw Mindy Bakersfield’s face.
She wore a full diving suit with air tanks.
A note from her parents allowed her to skip Gym class.
Eating her lunch all by herself in a special room, and a special bathroom set aside, too.
Kids dared each other to try to pull her helmet off.
Bobby Watkins managed to attach a mini-camera to the helmet.
But when Mindy took it off for lunch, the camera faced the wall and it never caught her face.
The next day, Bobby wasn’t there.
His family suddenly moved away.
And Mindy sat in his seat.