Weekly Challenge #769 – Why is Mother crying?

Sleep

LIZZIE

Why is mother crying?
Why does she not listen?
Why is she stubborn?
Why?
Why does she live in the past?
Why does she have those photos up on the wall?
The architect. The painter. The President.
Why?
They tried, she said once, but she was too good for them.
Why?
She sneered in contempt. She was too good for them.
Why is mother crying?
Why?
They never acknowledged her talent, never.
Why?
She shrugged away their stupidity.
Why?
She doesn’t care. She doesn’t listen. She is stubborn and will never change.
Why is mother crying?
That’s why, that’s why.

RICHARD

Why is mother crying?

Johnny was a wrong ‘un; Johnny was a thug

He got caught up in a gang, hawking a new designer drug

When the cops kicked the door in, our Johnny didn’t run

Three shots rang out, two cops fell dead, thanks to Johnny’s smoking gun

And now his days are numbered, waiting on death row

Two more appeals, and final meals; one long walk left to go

The chair awaits to claim his life; justice will have its way

An eye for an eye, a life for a life, on Johnny’s final day

So, Johnny sleeps; and his mother, weeps.

SERENDIPITY

Miss Appleton crouched to look at my painting.

“So, this is your house, and that’s your dog… And who’s this then?”

Tongue, stuck out in concentration, I mumbled, “That’s mother.”

“Oh, and why is mother crying?” Miss Appleton asked, pointing at the smudged red teardrops running down her face.

“She’s not crying, Miss.” I replied, “She’s bleeding!”

Miss Appleton looked at me curiously, “And why is she bleeding?”

“Because I stabbed her in the eyes with a great big knife!” I chuckled.

Maybe that’s why Miss Appleton called my parents, but it was far too late.

They were already dead.

TOM

Why is Mother Crying?

One minute it was a mixture of laughter and warm conversation. Then I saw the shadow pass her faces. The mussels set and her voice was edged with an empty breath. It got very quiet. Time slowed down, then stopped. My mother glazes was turn away from her assembled children and toward a haphazard pile of old worn books. Of the 100s of books in that house only three were my father’s. He was not much of a reader, but he love Tarzan. I catch my mom’s eye, she knew I knew. I said, “Sabor.” She smiled, then she cried.

NORVAL JOE

The flames of the fire reflected in the tears of Billbert’s mother’s eyes. Billbert saw no need to ask his mother the reason for those tears.
Mr. Blanketmaker put his arm around his wife’s shoulder and hugged her. “I know it’s sad, dear. But we’re insured. We can rebuild our lives.”
Mrs. Blanketmaker shook her head. “It’s true. This is sad. More than that, I’m angry. I’ve had it with Nuclear Fission harassing us. It’s gone on for years, but this is going to end. I’m going to kill her.”
Billbert knew his mother wasn’t one to make idle threats.

TURA

Why is Mother crying?
———
The mothership was less than halfway to its destination, the star directly ahead, still light-years distant. Maintenance droids scurried about, perpetually undoing the work of entropy upon the ship.

But in the most important chamber, sirens perpetually wailed. Softly, so as to not alarm the droids, but Mother would not silence them entirely. For over the decades, the humans carried in hibernation had, one by one, all died. The machinery had been built as well as it could possibly be, but still it was not enough to preserve them through the voyage.

The ship flew on, crying in the dark.

JARED

Mama Cried
My parents are very much against Country music – they didn’t like the depictions of infidelity, and alcohol and drug use. Naturally, in this environment, when I reached my rebellious adolescence, I began listening to this ‘forbidden’ siren’s song. If you imagined these men were singing about their actual lives? I began to understand what my parents had been saying. Merle served a life sentence without parole. Johnny shot a man in Reno, just to watch him die. Hank and his son Hank lamented about the troubles booze has wrought upon them. We can only imagine why their mamas were crying.

PLANET Z

The afflicted stumble the desert in large herds.
Their black robes like shadows on the dunes.
They stop to kneel and pray.
Then rise up together to continue.
To where, nobody knows.
Their faces show determination and direction.
But if you watch them… track them like we do, microchips sewn into their robes, no pattern exists.
Day to day, they wander this way and that.
We leave food and water out for them.
“A MIRACLE!” some shout, falling to their knees, praying.
Are they praying to us?
Their providers? We who watch over them?
Or to be saved from us?

Weekly Challenge #768 – Fire

LIZZIE

The fire crackled, sputtering snapping sounds.
The evening began with a quiet conversation about something, she couldn’t remember what.
Then, slowly but surely, everything started collapsing. He snapped, venomous words, venomous sentences and venomous hatred. He sputtered spite and a storm of grudges, loading and malevolence. His skin sizzled, tiny drops of sweat popping here and there on his forehead.
She sat in silence. The fire used to look so beautiful, so warm and welcoming. But, for some reason, it didn’t today.
Silence, the whole evening. And the fire spoke and crackled and snapped.
The next morning, she was gone.

RICHARD

Fired up!

Every morning we had a team motivational meeting, designed to inspire us, build mutually beneficial relationships, and fire us up, ready to face the challenges of the day ahead.

It was supposed to energise us, and enable us to start the day with energy and pace.

It was as awful as it sounds.

Calisthenics to start, then group hugs, a song of the day and a rousing shout of affirmation!

We’d do anything to get out of it: Arrange early morning meetings, and appointments, or just get stuck into work as soon as we arrived.

I guess the meeting succeeded!

SERENDIPIDY

Fire pit special roast.

First, prepare your fire pit: Dig out a large, shallow hole in sand.

Next take one prime human, well-matured, seasoned and spiced to taste, and sear on a spit over open flame, until the skin crackles and caramelises.

Line the prepared pit with stones heated in the fire, cover with a layer of straw and lay the meat upon it. Drizzle generously with olive oil, and knobs of butter, then cover with straw and sand.

Bake for three hours.

Serve with your favourite accompaniments.

Delicious!

And I bet your mouth is watering, despite your revulsion!

TOM

You Are Not Safe

Tom knows fire. In the last five year, five forest fires have caused me to leave my home, not knowing if that home would be standing when I returned. A few months ago the three largest fire in the state’s history burn directly above, below and next to where I write this. To escape the last fire I drove directly into a pyroclastic cloud. To the casual listener that’s a god damn mushroom cloud. When we finally rounded the monster down US 5, the sky turned Mordor red and black. I know fire and I know it’s coming for me.

NORVAL JOE

Billbert sat in silence as his mother drove them home from the hospital.
Pulling onto their street a commotion in front of their house forced his mother to stop the car. Red lights of fire trucks flashed in the night while the blue lights of police cars held spectators and residents away.
“That’s our house,” Billbert’s mother gasped. “It’s on fire.”
Mr. Blanketmaker paced back and forth on the sidewalk, frantically looking past the firefighters.
They parked the car and ran to Billbert’s father who threw his arms around them. “Honey. When I drove up, Nuclear Fission was running away.”

TURA

Fire
———
Centuries ago, I sold my soul in return for living “so long as the sun’s fire burns”. I thought that meant forever, so the devil could never collect.

I’ve done a lot of things since. I was once king of a country that no longer exists. I’ve been shipwrecked and fought in wars, but I miraculously survive everything.

Now, scientists know when the sun will go out. In less than 10 billion years. The universe will be habitable a lot longer. Some say our future descendants could reincarnate all their ancestors, and everyone will live forever in paradise.

Except me.

JARED

The Fire Triangle
I don’t know the secret to a fiery relationship, but anyone who knows the Fire Triangle knows how to extinguish any fire. Every fire requires fuel, oxygen, and heat. Even metaphorical ones.
Separate a burning stick from anything combustible. Once the stick is consumed, the fire goes out. Block a fire from getting oxygen or take all the oxygen away – the fire dies. If things are cold enough, there’s not enough energy to ignite the fuel.
Keep two lovers from touching long enough…
If one lover feels smothered, or ignored…
Start giving your partner the cold shoulder…
No more fire.

PLANET Z

Fred was the laziest guy in the company.
Sure, he got his work done, but it seemed like he was always napping at his desk.
Metrics showed Fred was outstanding in productivity and quality, but it didn’t seem that way.
“I’m going to light a fire under his ass,” said his boss.
But nothing could motivate Fred to stop napping at his desk in between tasks.
So, Fred’s boss got out a pack of matches, stuck it on Fred’s chair under his ass, and lit them.
Fred quit and moved to the competition.
And they kicked his old company’s ass.

Weekly Challenge #767 – PICK TWO the hand that feeds you, scope, dresser, pit stop, quip, knave

Toes

LIZZIE

“This is the hand that feeds you!”
The boys’ silence screamed horrors of pain and misery.
There was only one way out of this. They knew it.
That evening, while the police scoped the house, all three boys, aged 5, 8 and 14, sat outside. None of them spoke, not even the 5 year old. They knew nothing. The father had walked into the woods and had never returned.
An aunt came over. The police left.
The dresser had to go. The hidden compartment, they had found long ago, came in handy after all.
The body would never be found.

RICHARD

Out with the old…

I grabbed my keys off the dresser, skipped breakfast, and jumped in the car.

It was a new year, a new job and a new opportunity, and I wasn’t going to make a bad impression by being late on my first day, I could always make a quick pit stop and grab a coffee and a sandwich at my desk, once I’d settled in.

I certainly made an impression, but not the one I’d hoped for.

That was last January, and ever since, my boss has insisted everyone follows my ‘good example’ by turning up super early every single day.

SERENDIPIDY

They say, don’t bite the hand that feeds you, which if you’re my position doesn’t leave much scope nutritionally.

After all, if I’m not permitted a nibble of a hand, it stands to reason that gorging myself on an arm, leg, or juicy liver is certainly going to be frowned upon. That’s a slippery slope that I’ve no wish to descend.

Because who ever heard of a vegan cannibal?

Just the thought of subsisting on vegetables, and plant matter products -whatever those are- makes me feel sick!

Now please, hold still, and don’t scream when I light up the barbecue!

TOM

Stupid People often Say Stupid Things

“Never smear peanut butter on the hand that feeds you,” quipped Lennie. The scope and limit of his wit fell short in every regard. It was like the two lobs in his head were fighting for some unseen bag of French fries. Damn near everything he ever said was a mash-up of disconnected thoughts hell bent on disconnected outcomes. Once it was out of this mouth he could not care less if anyone took notices or questioned the motivation. Of course his Pop had left him a cold half a billion. So people were subject to nodding thoughtfully. I certainly was.

Attachments area

NORVAL JOE

The remaining assortment of superheroes crowded around the federal agents harrassing them with witty quips and insults, allowing Billbert’s and Linoliamanda’s families to escape.

Billbert laughed as they drove away from the hospital. “That’s an odd group of superheroes, Mom. How do you get anything done?”

His mother scowled. “You have to understand the scope of our mission. We’re not flashy like Superman or the Avengers. We stay out of the spotlight and fight crime and inequality in a more local and individual way.”

Billbert raised an eyebrow. “Is that why Nuclear Fission came all the way to our town?”

TURA

Knave; dresser
———
I start awake to discover a playing card— the knave of swords— nailed to the dresser with a dagger. The message is clear.

I raise a steel-braced arm as I whirl to deflect the intruder’s crossbow bolt into the wall behind me. Snatching up a sword, we engage in a storm of flashing steel. I pour everything into a lunge, which he parries, but my momentum overbears him onto the bed. As we wrestle, I inexorably force my dagger to his throat. “Yield!” I demand, and he finally nods, not quite reluctantly.

My turn to be the top this time.

JARED

“Juliette didn’t want to stop driving; she was making too good time. Her bladder was uncooperative. She saw the next exit had services and found the tiniest outpost of human encroachment on the deserted wastes of — she didn’t know if she was still in Texas, or had made that imperceptible transition into New Mexico. She hated making these runs. They were too long, and she didn’t even know what they accomplished. But, she was again reminded that ‘the scope of [her] employment does not extend to the enterprise’s transactions’. But she also knew not to bit the hand that feeds.”

PLANET Z

You would think that the Truck Stop Preacher was the Truck Stop Killer.
I mean, everywhere the Preacher showed up, a waitress wound up dead.
A waitress that had served the Preacher.
Grilled cheese sandwich, black coffee, and a five dollar tip.
Every body found had a bloody five in her mouth.
But there was no evidence. No witnesses.
No fingerprints, DNA, nothing at all.
Just a coincidence, a solid pattern.
It wasn’t enough for the police to hold him.
Truck stops won’t serve the Preacher now.
“Go use the vending machine,” the waitresses say.
And nobody’s been killed since.

Weekly Challenge #766 – Fruitcake

Blep

Lizzie

The teenagers sat side by side. “What is it like to live with a dead person?” he asked. She looked down. Then she looked up again and stared at the horizon. He knew what she meant. He was living with a dead person too but had never admitted it to anyone else. He sat closer to her and wrapped an arm around her shoulder. “I’m not crazy,” she said. “I know…” he whispered. “She’s just dead inside and she doesn’t know it.” He nodded. That’s when he knew he would be the one to take her away from it all.

Richard

Fruitcake

Uncle Sidney was, for all intents and purposes, a total fruitcake.

We’d frequently get calls from the police after he’d been arrested for parading around the park, naked, save for a pair of flippers and a turban.

He’d been banned from all the local stores for trying to sleep in the frozen food cabinets.

And he insisted on planting umbrellas and pogo sticks in the garden.

To say he was difficult to tolerate is an understatement, but we did nevertheless.

Not because he was family, or we were particularly kind, but because he was loaded.

A very, very, rich fruitcake!

Serendipidy

They call me a fruitcake, a few peas short of a pod -a bit loopy, but harmless enough.

It’s just a bit of dressing up and harmless fun, after all, and if it keeps me happy, why should it matter?

Of course, come the Festive Season, everybody is more than happy to play along, even encourage me. They love the red outfit, white beard and jolly disposition.

What they don’t know, is that every Christmas Eve, I sneak out from the secure accommodation, climb down the nearest chimney and massacre an unsuspecting family in their beds!

Compliments of the season!

Tom

Always Inedible

The New York Times reports that the Secret Service does not have a plan for a president who will not exit the White House when their term has expired. Nice play Secret Service guys, Oh Br’er Rabbit please don’t throw me into the briar patch” Right, want to hide what you be doing, dos that is plain sight. I heard a squaw on an Intel site over the Christmas. The term Fruitcake keep popping up. After a mess of cross filters chewed it up, it seems to be some operational code word. Yup Individual One is Fruitcake. Seem holiday fitting.

Norval Joe

Linoliamanda placed a hand on her father’s arm, helping to difuse her potentially explosive father. “Let’s go home, Daddy. As threatening as these gentlemen may appear, they haven’t produced a warrant for Billbert, us, or anyone else.”
Mr. Withybottom scowled around the room. “I guess it’s best we aren’t associated with any of these fruit cakes, anyway. If these agents have any issues with them, they can leave us out of it.” He took his daughter by the hand. “Let’s go, Linny.”
Taking advantage of the distraction, Billbert whispered to his mother, “Come on, Mom. Let’s get out of here.”

Planet Z

Most people joke about fruitcake being inedible, but when the pandemic shut down food processing plants, distribution systems, and grocery stores, yeah, that fruitcake your grandmother sent you looks awfully good.
You’ll go through every can of cream of mushroom soup, every can of lima beans, every box of pasta you have on the shelf first.
Might even stare at those cans of Alpo dog food.
Anything but that fruitcake.
Until, it happens.
You open the tin, peel back the plastic, and reach for the knife.
Which gets stuck in the sugary brick.
With enough ketchup, that Alpo tasted good.

Weekly Challenge #765 – PICK ONE

Flop

LIZZIE

Pick one, they said. Yeah. Easier said than done. There were so many wonderful pieces available and he just couldn’t choose one. So, he decided to do what anyone else would. Flip a coin, right? He smiled. OK, that one will do fine. Everyone said he was always distracted and this time he would prove them wrong. This was just perfect. A March! There!
When he was kicked out, the groom’s father was foaming at the mouth and roaring “This is the bloody Funeral March, the Funeral March”. He just whispered “Well, the poor bride didn’t look that happy anyway”.

RICHARD

Gifted

Pik Wun crouched lower in the bush, listening for the tell-tale rustle of undergrowth, muscles straining to keep the bow string taut.

Unaware of its fate the jungle pig emerged from the greenery, snuffling the ground, intent on finding something good to eat.

The arrow was true, and Pik Wun would have meat to sell at market tomorrow.

He was a good hunter, and despite his parent’s constant entreaties to go to school and make his mark upon humanity, what really could he offer the world?

He sold the virus-laden meat next day.

His offering to the world.

SERENDIPIDY

I held out my fist and invited my companions to pick one.

One at a time, hands trembling, they reached out and each drew a straw, an arbitrary act that would seal their fate.

Each having taken their turn, only mine remained, and it was I who drew the short straw.

They bound me and abandoned me – an offering to the ogre – then fled to the hideaway before nightfall.

The ogre was an agreeable fellow, and was happy to exchange my life for directions to the hideout.

I walked free, and the ogre and his family feasted on my companions.

TOM

Cluster Fuck Final Destination

Greg thanked everyone for coming out to celebrate the life of a larger than life woman. “Many of you consider yourselves closer to Ann. I have heard some say they were best friend.” OH NO I thought I know exactly where this is going. Greg paused for effect and stared straight into the eyes of the woman in the front row. She nearly recoiled from the pressures gradient slipping past her into the whole theater. “I am Ann’s fucking best friend.” I pick up one of the pray cards, sure enough there is was in print Greg Lambert: Fuckn Best Friend.

NORVAL JOE

Mr. Withybottom shook his finger at his daughter. “Listen, Linoliamanda. I’m your father and you’ll do as I say. Where is your loyalty, to your family, or this boy?”
Linoliamanda finally spoke. “If I have to pick one of you to defend, it will be Billbert. He’s been kind to me since we first met. He doesn’t treat me like a weirdo like everyone else at school. If he has secrets that these men want to know, they will have to find out some other way.”
Mr. Withybottom’s face turned bright red and he looked as if he would explode.

TURA

Pick one
———
The troll at the bridge barred our way. “Feathers or lead?” it demanded. “Pick one!”

“Don’t answer,” our guide whispered urgently. “Under his geas he can’t attack us unless we guess wrong, and he decides.”

“Scylla or Charybdis?” it boomed.

“How long does this go on?” I asked the guide.

“He’ll run down eventually,” said the guide. “We’ll get past while he’s thinking up new questions.”

I shouted to the troll, “Pick one or pick two?” It stopped to puzzle over this and froze in thought.

It was still standing there, petrified, when we returned from our quest months later.

RICK

The Pick

Patty knew … Kira knew… It wasn’t a secret … Not anymore. Seeing two women is exhausting, especially when it is covert. At least that part was over.

Mad as a couple of hornets, stabbing eyes, and spitting fire …
“Pick one they said!”

Unfortunately … It just wasn’t that simple.

Larry loved them both! Each truly wonderful in both similar and different ways. These two girls covered a wide spectrum without ever stepping out of bounds. The honest truth being that picking one over the other was simply undoable.

If there was any picking to do Larry wouldn’t be the person doing it!

PLANET Z

The Caretaker goes from ecosystem to ecosystem, collecting specimens.
“Pick one” was the rule of The Zoo.
“You can always go back and get more,” said The Director.
The Caretaker’s massive Ark contained species from around the quadrant.
Collector vessels docked with the Ark, and The Caretaker offloaded the living specimens to the Zoo vessels.
Those that hadn’t survived, he preserved and sent to the Museum vessels.
And he added them to the next collection run.
Some species never survived the collection process.
But after thousands of years, The Caretaker didn’t care.
And he just went back out for more.

Weekly Challenge #764 – STILL

Tinny the traitor

LIZZIE

He looked outside. Nothing… He squinted and felt trapped. The river was still there, flowing freely. But where were they? No boats, no whales, no dragons. They weren’t coming after all, were they? He squinted again and thought he saw a… No, nothing. The people here mustn’t know he was expecting them. Then the horn sounded. Alarm, alarm. He rushed back to the window, but… “Ronnie, what’s going on?” He shook his head. “Come on. It’s time. Let’s get you bathed.” He knew one day they’d come and rescue him. “And don’t forget to take your pills,” said the nurse.

RICHARD

Sparkling or Still?

“Sparkling or still?” The waiter asked, his face cocked expectantly to one side.

“Tap!” I responded bluntly, and his upper lip curled into a semi-snarl.

Yes, I’m one of those annoying people who balk at the thought of paying for ridiculously overpriced bottled water in posh restaurants.

It’s bad enough being charged for the dry and tasteless bread rolls that they slip onto your table without invitation, but it just adds insult to injury when you’re expected to pay for water too.

“One tap water”, he snarled.

“Oh, with ice, please – I assume that’s made from tap water too?”

SERENDIPIDY

At first, there is the terror – the screaming and crying; the frenzied fighting. The heart pounds, arms and legs flail, the body twists and turns maniacally as the pain courses through.

Time passes; your struggles begin to cease, breathing becomes heavy and laboured. Then comes sobbing, the weeping, the whimpering.

Soon, exhausted, broken and beaten, both physically and emotionally, you cross the boundary between hope and despair. The will to live that has driven you so far, now fails and fades.

Succumbing to the inevitable: There is nothing, save the occasional involuntary twitch.

Until, at last, all is finally still.

TOM

Cluster Fuck III

As music dies down, all that is left is the rustle of paper and fabric. Then just a still. On the stage is a lone mic, a singular silver thread in a mass of mat black flats and curtains. Greg slowly walks across the stage dozens upon dozens of eye tracking him. In the row ahead and to the left sits the woman who was the departed woman’s best friend. I know because she has said as much the whole week. Greg tracks the room and takes hold of the mic stand like a man born to the touch.

NORVAL JOE

Billbert held his breath when the federal agents approached Linoliamanda. “Okay, young lady. Tell us what you know about this boy’s super powers.”
Linoliamanda stood there, as still and silent as a winter night after snow fall.
Mr. Withybottom put his hand on her shoulder. “Come on, Linny. Tell them what you told me.”
She glared at her father, fire burning in her eyes. She pressed her lips still tighter together and shook her head.
The federal agent folded his arms. “Your dad knows something and we don’t have all night. Do we need to take you downtown for interrogation?”

RICK

Still

Meditation is the art of doing nothing constructively. Our conscious mind steers our lives, for the most part, from infancy to old age. There is an incredible benefit to be had in training oneself to release control of our thoughts by the conscious mind, and allow the subconscious to take the wheel.

Once the mind is truly motionless you may be surprised, or enlightened, by that which fills the void … or skitters along a distant but visible horizon.

Observe and contemplate.

Observe is a powerful verb!
It can be all encompassing!
Observation done properly, well contemplated, can be / should be life-changing!

PLANET Z

It’s been twenty-six years since you died. Twenty-seven?
Our baby, the one you were going to tell me about, would be about that old.
A boy? A girl?
I didn’t ask.
But they’d be on their own by now.
Graduated college, maybe finishing medical school.
Or some time in the military, maybe make a career of it.
Like you did.
Would they earn honors and medals, raise kids of their own, or earn an early grave?
Like you did.
It’s easy to live in the past and the never-was.
And be just as dead in the now as you are.

Weekly Challenge #763 – PICK TWO: reward, puppet, global, gear, shop, pit stop

Baby panther

LIZZIE

She hated being a puppet in his hands. What gave her some peace was walking down the pathway with the old trees. One day, she noticed something shiny to the right. A marble perhaps? The next day, she brought some beads and left them there. And that’s when the gifts appeared on the pathway. First a bit of glass. Then, a button, an old key. It made her smile. It gave her strength. And she said “no more”. She walked away from him, for good. Today, she still walks that pathway, exchanging gifts with her new friend, a very generous crow.

RICHARD

Scum

“Got any gear?”
I looked at the kid with distaste. He was every inch the stereotypical druggie: Shambling and sniffing, his vacant eyes darting around in paranoid fear from his sallow, pock-marked face.

I nodded. “For the right price.”

He fumbled a handful of dirty bills from somewhere deep within his sweatpants – now you know why I always wear gloves – and I slipped him the small polythene packet.

I despise scum like him.

And I imagine that you despise scum, like me.

But, I’m just a puppet. It’s the people pulling my strings you should despise most.

I do.

SERENDIPITY

Have you ever wondered why so many serial killers remove their victims’ body parts to take as souvenirs?

It’s our reward for a job well done.

After all, no-one else is going to congratulate us on our work, so we have to take things into our own hands.

But, what to do with all those body parts, once we’ve got them? We can’t exactly put them on display or show them off to our friends!

So, I turn them into children’s toys: Lovingly crafted marionettes and puppets from stolen parts and pieces.

Perhaps your kids would like one for Christmas?

TOM

Cluster Fuck II

The woman who had set this in motion gave me that second grade teach stare. “Inappropriate language Master Marquette.” I always vexes me when someone with multiple children takes umbrage with the term. How the fuck did you end up with them, but say cluster fuck, well that just not polite intercourse. So I looked at her and gave her a “WE BE ADULTS HERE LOOK.” I wanted to say “I an’t no reward puppet, you call me up to dance, you better have a band a hand.” But she had dash back inside the hall as the music played.

TURA

Gear; Pit stop
———
At car races nowadays, the cars drive themselves, and the pit stops are totally automated. The machines can swap out a busted gearbox in seconds. No-one programs anything, the robots learn by competing against each other.

Rumour is that there’s no longer any human input, from the racetracks, to the factories, to the mines and oil wells. New tracks get built without anyone asking for them. There are twice as many as two years ago, and they’re bigger.

It’s still the most popular spectator sport, but soon the world might be just one huge racetrack, with no-one left to watch.
———

NORVAL JOE

One of the federal agents shouted at Mrs. Blanketmaker. “There’s a global conspiracy to turn all of you heroes into villains. You’re walking into their trap. Before you know it you’ll be puppets of their evil organization.”

Mr. Withybottom blustered at the agent, “Are you telling me that skinny little kid over there is, in fact, a superhero?”

The agent turned his back on Billbert’s mother. “We suspect he is. We will reward anyone with firsthand knowledge of him or anyone else using unusual powers.”

Mr. Withybottom pushed Linoliamanda forward with an evil smile. “Linny. Tell them what you know.”

RICK

General Store

Jerry had an old farmhouse, wrap around porch, big … BIG front room. And Jerry is always been something of a hoarder … food, water, cleaners, paper goods … He was set for the next 20 years.

Had a handpainted sign that read …

“General Store”

… If the sign was out front he was open for business … If not … then not.

Without a store around within 15 mi Jerry did well with cigarettes, soda, beer, and such, not a living … but he did okay.

He did make a killing on the corn liquor and homegrown marijuana!

Jerry what’s the richest guy in the county!

PLANET Z

It’s not like stealing the Mona Lisa, but long ago news broke that someone had stolen Kermit the Frog from Jim Henson’s office.
Sure, he had dozens of the things back in the day, but there was something special about this particular puppet.
And he kept it in his office, and after he died, they found it there, sitting in his chair.
People say it’s cursed. Or haunted.
The janitor at Henson Productions doesn’t even touch it.
Sometimes, when a tour goes through, people claim it’s staring at them.
But that’s just crazy. It only hunts and kills people, okay?

Weekly Challenge #762 – Cluster

Mice

LIZZIE

Throw it in the bin and forget about it.
But this area is a cluster of infected cases.
Throw it in the bin and forget it.
Walking away is not an easy task when your conscience nags you.
He had to go back. He grabbed the bin, dragged it away to the dump area and chuck it into the fire.
The bin was closed the whole time. He made sure of it.
When he got ill, he was tossed in that same neighborhood, forgotten.
The others, they kept throwing infected stuff in the bin, carelessly, just like they did before

RICHARD

This is it…

“This is it… We’re going to die!”

Emily voiced what we’d all been thinking, but couldn’t bring ourselves to say.

The cluster of meteorites glittered; green sparkles on the radar screen. Each the size of a football pitch, with a combined mass that meant the earth was doomed.

It was just a matter of time now.

There would be no last ditch space rescue missions, no desperate missile strikes, no long shots… But it might just work.

This was it. Immanent global extinction.

I swallowed, then heard my own voice, matter of fact and steady.

“Yes, we’re going to die.”

SERENDIPIDY

A cluster of deaths.

Such an evocative term.

One or two, or just the occasional passing barely raises an eyebrow, but a cluster is something else entirely.

Follow it with the words, ‘in suspicious circumstances’, ‘in the local area’, displaying the same pattern’, or ‘by an unknown cause’, and you have the beginnings of a recipe for fear, panic and rampant speculation.

And whilst people are entirely distracted by the cluster – my favourite diversionary tactic – I can pick off whoever I want, in ones and twos, occasionally and without displaying any clear pattern or similarities.

And nobody will ever notice.

TOM

The following is more a moment than a story. Also I need to drop the name for those living and dead. A vastly popular women in our county had died. The memorial service was to be done in a theater with over 700 people present. The day of the event I got a call in San Jose they need a sound guy. I had to drive 120 mile in 2 hours. Do the math. Somehow I defied physics and got there on time. The woman who had called me said they had found someone, hadn’t I got the message. I said, “What the fuck, this is a total cluster fuck.”

NORVAL JOE

Dergle Vander Hoont, his wiener dog growling from his hiding place in the bulky man’s coat, joined several other odd looking men and women who clustered around the federal agents. The man covered in dust growled in a genial way at Bilbert’s mother, “You can take your son and go, Gladys. We’ll take care of these two clowns.”

As Billbert’s mother ushered him toward the car, Linoliamanda and her family reappeared from an exam room. Linoliamanda’s head was wrapped in a white, gauze bandage.
“Hold on, Mrs. Blanketmaker,” Mr. Withybottom boomed. “I’d like a word with you about your son.”

PLANET Z

The Cluster is a group of stars, about twenty thousand light years from Earth.
We’ll send you the coordinates and spectral signatures.
There’s a man we want.
What’s his name?
Doesn’t matter.
You’re going to destroy the planet he’s on.
So, here’s a solar detonator.
You blow up the star, the flares destroy the planet.
What about the rest of the people on that planet?
Who cares?
Here’s half the contract, and half when you finish the job.
Just be sure to get out of the system before the star explodes.
Otherwise, I’m getting a half-off deal on the contract.

Weekly Challenge #761 – Chainsaw

Cat box

LIZZIE

Grasp a line of thought. Or try to.
And those animal heads mounted on the wall. The moody embalmed fish that was supposed to look alive and looked even deader. All conspiring to kill.
The door swung open and there it was. They dumped it on the table.
To work.
The chainsaw slashed through the skin, the meat, the bones. Cracking sounds signing the final surrender.
A leg, another leg. An arm, another arm.
The head… Oh, the head… That grimace of anger.
Good thing they didn’t have to mount her head on the wall. The fish wouldn’t like it.

RICHARD

Chainsaw

I’ve never owned a chainsaw, never wanted one and have no idea what I’d do with one anyway.

It’s not exactly an essential accessory for the man about town in an urban environment; chainsaws aren’t really necessary for unclogging the photocopier or for hosting Zoom meetings.

I don’t possess any checked shirts, or have any giant redwoods requiring felling, and I just know that putting me in charge of a chainsaw is about as sensible as giving a baby a loaded Kalashnikov.

It’ll all end very badly.

Even so, being a guy, I feel I really should own a chainsaw.

SERENDIPIDY

Those chainsaw massacre slasher movies really wind me up. Clearly created by idiots with no practical experience of serial killing, carving up bodies, or for that matter, owning a chainsaw.

To begin with, chainsaws are messy. Yes, a bloodbath sounds fun, but in practical terms it’s a nightmare when it comes to cleaning up.

Then there’s chainsaw maintenance – cleaning and oiling the chain and guide, constant re-fueling, and the tedious business of sharpening chain teeth: Bone blunts them dreadfully.

It’s a lot of hassle, time and energy, when an axe will do the job just as well.

It’s quieter too!

TOM

The Flying Karamazov Brothers

I’ve lived a Forest Grump life. I’ve meet a mess of folk early in their careers. Robin Williams, Penn and Teller, Donald Rumsfeld, Rodger Stone, the girl who sang on Paradise By the Dashboard Light and the band Styx. Hands down the odd guys were the Flying Karamazov Brothers. I was living in Santa Cruz and I would go watch them practice moves in the park near the bakery during lunch breaks. They had this funny bit juggling running chainsaws. While cross tossing eight saws they did this patter. “You rip a these, you mend a these.” Damn they were good.

NORVAL JOE

Billbert’s mother hurried to take him in her arms.
A man followed her, still covered in the dust from the collapsed headquarters. He laughed at the two agents with a ratcheting growl that sounded more like a chainsaw. He asked, “What’re you federal boys doing here?”
“Why we’re here, is federal business and we’re not ready to share that with the likes of you people. What we’re here for, is to take this boy for questioning.”
Billbert’s mother stepped in front of her son. “If you’re going to take this boy for questioning, you’ll have to go through me, first.”

TURA

Chainsaw
———
The kid pushed through the saloon doors and stared wildly around. The old men stared back.

At last, one broke the silence. “You lost, boy?”

“This is the Last Chance Saloon, right?” said the kid.

The old-timer grinned. “Well boy, that depends which way you’re headed.”

The kid said nothing.

“If it’s advice you’re looking for, I got some right here.” He leaned toward the kid and leered. “Don’t cut your genitals off with a chainsaw.”

“Hey, that’s some pretty good advice you got there, boy!” wheezed another old-timer.

The kid bolted outside.

It was exactly three in the afternoon.

RICK

Good Gig

It’s one thing to have a cord of wood, and another to make it suitable for the stove or fireplace. Pickup truck, chainsaw, log splitter … Mike had a good gig going. Splitting logs and stacking wood all over the county, cash only, all word of mouth recommendation.

Snakes, poison ivy, bees … Easy enough to deal with if you know how. Blue skies, sunshine, cool mountain air … The benefits outweighed the hardships.

Mike always kept a pint of blackberry Brandy and a couple of joints in the truck for particularly glorious days …

… Like I said … Mike had a good gig going.

PLANET Z

People were always getting Rabbi Chaim Esau’s name wrong.
Instead of taking offense, the good rabbi embraced it.
“I am Rabbi Chainsaw,” he says from the dais, firing up a gas-powered McCulloch and waving it in the air. “Who wants a circumcision?”
The congregation would laugh, and he’d get right into the sermon.
He performed this opening gag for forty years.
And then, one Saturday, as he hauled the growling chainsaw into the air, he suffered a rupture.
The blade fell through his head like a knife through butter.
They made sure to get his name right on the headstone.

Weekly Challenge #760 – Plump

There’s a Squeakies over Bourbon Street tonight...

LIZZIE

The herb expert always had a suggestion and a word of advice.
“And to lose weight?”
Herbs. He took them all.
And then the cramps, the headache, the nausea, the vomiting.
He went to hospital.
“What did you take?”
“This and that,” he replied uneasy, “this and that.”
When he got home, he took some more. He wanted to be elegant and fit into those tight jeans he bought by mistake.
More cramps, more headaches. The nausea, oh, the nausea.
Herbs for this, herbs for that. Enough.
“Fuck the jeans,” he cried out loud. “Fuck the expert. I like plump!”

RICHARD

Plump

“Does my butt look big in this?” She asked, straining to peer over her shoulder at the mirror.

I tried being tactful.

“Well, perhaps a little, erm… Plump, maybe? Nobody is going to comment about it though.”

I may as well have told her she resembled a zeppelin, judging by the response I got.

“I just want to look good for my first day on the job”, she complained.

I reassured her: “You look absolutely perfect, and I can guarantee that, no matter how slim someone might be… Nobody ever looks their best when they’re wearing a bomb disposal suit!”

SERENDIPIDY

It’s a myth that witches who live in the woods steal children to fatten up and eat.

I never enjoyed my children plump – far too fatty and greasy for my liking. I much prefer them to be thin and lean.

They also produce the best kiddy bacon: Hang them up to mature for a few weeks, then slice them thinly and fry until crispy. You can’t beat it, sandwiched between two thick slices of fresh bread, with plenty of butter!

The trouble is, with all this good eating, it’s us witches who end up too plump for our own good!

TOM

Jes Sayn

The old man sat on the porch, full concentration on small piece of pine. Through the corner of his eye he saw Billy making his way down the dirt road, dust flying up from his feet dragging stroll. “Hey Billy.” Said Ven. “Hey Ven,” said Billy. “Where ya go-n?” “Water Hole.” Billy had a black bamboo rod over the shoulder, a near picture prefect posture of the first card of the Major Arcana. That would be card number zero to those not Arcanaicly inclined. “Go-n fish-n.” Ven slowly shook his head. “Son I think you’re plump out of luck on that one.”

NORVAL JOE

Dergle’s weiner dog began to growl from his hiding place in his plump owner’s overcoat.
Billbert cleared his throat. “Thank you, Mr. Vander Hoont, for speaking on my behalf, but, I know my rights. I don’t have to go anywhere with these jokers. Not without my parent’s approval. I came here with the Withybottoms and I’m going to wait here until Linoliamanda comes back out.”
One of the agents took Billbert by the arm. “Like it or not, you’re coming with us.” He marched Billbert toward the door.
A car pulled up to the ER and Billbert’s mother got out.

TURA

Plump
———
In my young days, I was a stand-up comedian. I’d rant on the stage in seedy underground bars, and if I spotted some plump, middle-aged, middle-class git in the audience I’d let rip at them until they left in tears. There’s nothing like it. You can keep your cocaine and heroin, hate is the best drug there is.

Then I got spotted for TV, got my own show, raked in the money, and here I am, a plump middle-aged git myself.

You think that changes anything? I just hate on the young skinny gits who think they’re proper stand-up comedians.

RICK THOMAS

Pleasingly Plump

Let me tell you something … A lot of guys go all crazy for them skinny little girls got no meat on them, no curves, straight lines, all the way from their chins to their ankles! Padded shoulders, padded bras, high heels … All give the illusion of curves where there ain’t none.

A big girl got curves … Girl curves!
A big girl can cook … Serves up a plate proper!
Big piles … tasty stuff!

When things get close … Hip bone to hip bone kinda hurts … I like a little cushion for the pushin.

If you don’t believe me now … You will someday.

PLANET Z

Ballpark Franks are probably the worst branded hot dogs at the store.
They taste absolutely bland. Barely any meat or protein in them.
You could almost call them Vegan.
And their marketing slogan is revolting: They plump when you cook them.
Just to let you know that the cereal fillers expand when cooked.
They also plump when you leave them out on the counter.
Not only do the cereal fillers expand in the moist air, but the miniscule meat content will putrefy and bloat.
Until they eventually explode from the casings.
I wouldn’t even feed these things to an animal.