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.

Weekly Challenge #771 – How does that grab you?

Kitchen pest

LIZZIE

“How does that grab you?”
Silence. Her friend shrugged, a hint of contempt dripping from his lips.
“Any other ideas?”
Her friend shrugged again.
She was on the verge of screaming and tossing all the brochures in the garbage.
“No cruise, too many germs. No camping, too many bugs. No flying, too many.. what was it again?”
Her friend sneered. She could see he was amused and that only made things worse.
“What about the show?”
He shrugged.
“Bloody hell. Just tell me what you want.”
He turned and walked away.
She nodded.
“Yep, not worth it. Glad it’s over.”

RICHARD

The PR Man Cometh…

Why were we paying these guys?

Seriously, they were the worst ad agency I’d ever encountered. Lame ideas, totally ineffective publicity campaigns, and so far, not a single new sale since engaging them. If anything, we’d started haemorrhaging cash, and most of it was going to these losers.

This latest stunt they’d pulled was by far the worst: A completely pointless exercise in flushing our reputation down the toilet.

Powerpoint presentation finished, the ad guy smiled: “So, how does that grab you?”

I thought grimly of the three years of the contract still yet to run…

By the balls, apparently!

TOM

How does that grab you?

At this moment the: “that” is the effect of the shot for this fuckn virus. The kind nurse asked what arm I would like to get it in. I said I have no idea, but after a beat … I said the left. Good call Tom. My arm feels like some crazed middle school punched it for a day and half. The last two day are dotted with, damn …. damn …. Damn damn damn. But wait today the other flu like symptoms arrived. I came so close to just skipping this week…. But grab this Cornona 20, fuck you.

NORVAL JOE

While the firefighters put out the blaze at Billbert’s house, he and his parents went and sat in his mother’s car.
Mr. Blanketmaker said, “While they’re putting out the house, I think we should get a quick bite to eat. How does that grab you?”
Mrs. Blanketmaker started the car. “Interesting choice of words, but yes. Let eat.”
She turned the car around. “Anyway. When Nuclear Fission and I were sophomores, we both had a crush of the captain of the chess team. I know. We were nerds. He chose me over her and it all went downhill from there.”

JARED

The Claw
A jostling, then she felt a falling. She landed with a soft bump. She blinked as her eyes adjusted to the light and her surroundings came into focus.
Beyond the bodies around her, she was surrounded clear glass walls and a solid ceiling above her. From the ceiling hung a shiny four-armed claw, connected to two tracks and a coiled cable.
Except for periods periods of darkness beyond her fluorescent prison, there was almost constant movement beyond the glass.
A figure approached, and the face of a giant peered in at her.
There were clicks and clunks.
The claw awoke.

RICK

High Maintenance

She was beautiful but she was a handful. Long blonde hair, blue eyes, that shape men, see like her clothing showed a real knack for style.

She saw my drink and said “don’t overdo it drunks turn me off.”
I offered her a beer she said “I only drink red wine.”

Hmmm …

I put on some country music she said “Really!?!? Can’t you find something more contemporary?

Hmmm

“Do you like fruit” I asked? “Oh yes … fruit is healthy and tasty” she replied.
“Well tonight” I said “we’re having ribs … how do you like them apples?”

SERENDIPITY

I’d invited the guys round for some fantasy roleplay games. We’d dressed up in costume and I’d spent hours decorating the place to look like a dungeon. This was no board game, we were acting it out for real.

Jimmy read from the card “You sneak carefully past the clutching hands in the hallway”, then laughed when he saw the clumsily modelled latex arms I’d glued to the wall.

“As if!” He snorted. “Those are crap, how are they going to grab me?”

“They don’t”, I snarled grabbing him by the throat and squeezing the life from him, “I do!”

PLANET Z

Over at Amazon, they’re automating everything they can.
Instead of people walking rows of shelves, the shelves come to the people to pick and bin.
Then the bins route to packers to pack.
Printers label the packages for routing.
Packages travel along miles and miles of conveyor belts.
They’re loaded on to trucks and sent out for further processing and transport.
Until they’re eventually delivered.
There’s still some humans involved, in picking and packing and delivering.
But more robots are coming.
Some are working side-by-side with their human counterparts.
Who often get too close, and end up grabbed and mangled.

Weekly Challenge #770 – Get a life!

Tinny hoodie

LIZZIE

Trip, fall, get up, stand straight.
Trip, fall, get up, stand straight.
Trip, fall, get up, stand straight.
Drip, crawl, fed up, stand straight.
Drip, maul, fed up, stand.
Blip, tall, fed up, stand.
Trip, trip, drip, blip.
Sip.
Stand.
Straight.
Hate, hate, hate!
Hate…
Well, trip, stand, wait.
The tap sang this song. Drip, trip, blip. On and on.
Stand, wait, stand, wait.
The tap sang this song. On and on.
Skip, blip.
Skip, stand.
Skip, wait.
Skip, the tap sang this song, skip.
No.
Skip.
No.
Slip.
No.
Stand.
Life? What? Life?
What life?
Get a life.
Trip.

RICHARD

Ambition

I really need to get a life!

All day, every day, I spend my waking hours sat at this keyboard, staring at this screen.

My sleepless nights are filled with restless thoughts, mind churning constantly with ideas and plans, few of which ever come to fruition.

Then it’s back to the keyboard.

Coffee. Aspirin. Irritation.

I thought I was pursuing something noble and worthwhile; something rewarding and respectable, but what it all boils down to is…

Me, sat at this keyboard, staring at this screen.

My only achievement: A hundred words about how I really need to get a life!

SERENDIPIDY

Tonight I’m going out.

I’m going out to get a life, to take it from another and make it my own.

I will drink their blood, feast on their flesh and steal their soul, and when I am done, they will be no more and I will live once again.

Every night another life, another victim – their passing is my sustenance, one more day that I shall survive and live to kill again.

I consider it a fair trade: An eye for an eye, a life for my life; survival of the fittest.

And so far, it’s always been me!

TOM

A Retiring Position

I spend my waking days interviewing county officials. I would be cooler if the ceiling in the room had a field of stars in a deep sky blue. A visual cue which could only be enhanced by red robes and a fully functional rack in the corner. I joke: “Let me show you the instruments of the question.” Funny, no? Some might say, you really need to get a life. I return, If one would give me six lines written by the hand of the most honest man, I would find something in them to have him hanged. Who’s next?

NORVAL JOE

Mr. Blanketmaker put his arm around his wife. “Honey. I know you’re upset. We all are. You can’t allow yourself to become consumed by a personal vendetta.”
Billbert’s mother looked at her husband crosseyed. “I think the one with a vendetta is Nuclear Fission. I’d like to tell her to get a life and move on, but you have to agree. She’s a little more invested in this battle than that.”
Billbert cleared his throat. “Um. Mom. What does Nuclear Fission have against you?”
She shook her head. “It goes way back. She and I used to be best friends.”

JARED

“If It Seems Too Good to Be True”
Warren couldn’t wait to get to school and show those jerks he wasn’t the loser they thought he was. He had ordered a new Life from the back of a comic book and it had finally arrived. He didn’t really know what it was, exactly, but he he packed it carefully into his backpack and walked with pride and purpose to the bus stop. His bubble was quickly and thoroughly burst.
“Dork!”
“Weirdo!”
“I didn’t think you could be more of a loser.”
He thought back to the ad. And the $1.99 price. And learned , you get what you pay for…

RICK

Get A Life

“Get a life” they said.
Problem is that’s kind of vague.
Life comes in all shapes and sizes …
Some people fill their life with family … friends, others … perhaps … with work, achievement, and material possessions.

Some spend their adult years cherishing memories of youth, while others are faced with the task of trying to drink away nightmares scenarios, or acts of horror that have played out before their eyes.

Frank’s life had been the latter type.
A failure of a son.
A failure as a parent.
… alienated everyone who had tried to befriend him.

Gun in his mouth
Frank pulled the trigger.

cPLANET Z

Laws are lies we tell ourselves and others to do better.
But, really, we can’t, or shouldn’t, or won’t actually do better.
Deficits are lies that we tell ourselves that we can afford whatever this is.
That we can’t, or shouldn’t, or won’t actually afford.
Debts are lies that we tell ourselves that we will pay this all back.
That we can’t, or shouldn’t, or won’t actually pay.
We can’t keep lying to ourselves.
We shouldn’t lie to ourselves.
But we keep lying to ourselves about the lies.
We say that we’ll stop the lies.
But we can’t. And won’t.

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.