Saturday, July 26, 2008

Writing for Peanuts

“Dang you to blazes,” I said. The man ignored my outburst and continued rummaging through my glass of iced tea. He seemed intent on removing every cube of ice that had nicely rounded edges. The pointy ones seemed to scare him and he dropped them back into the beverage where they splashed about, happy to be free of his meaty, grease-infested hand.

I looked into my drink, which until a minute ago had beckoned me with promises of cool refreshment. Now I could almost see the bacteria multiplying, squeezing refreshment about the throat and stomping its instep.

“You’ve ruined my glass of cool refreshment,” I said. “I demand you buy me another.”

“And I demand what you hand over that bag o peanuts you been eatin,” the man said, chewing on an ice cube. His voice was sullen and sounded much like a strand of barbed wire being drawn through a length of metal piping.

I had known riding a bus three hundred miles to see my parents was a bad idea. But I hadn’t expected the trouble to start this early in the trip. The bus driver started the engine.

“We’re on our way!” The driver sounded happy and I glanced out the window, hoping to see some manner of calamity heading his way. But, alas, all was sunny and bright. Carefree children played in a nearby field, a game of Frisbee occupying their attention. On a street corner a bum was being helped to his feet and given the deed to a Montana cattle ranch. In an office on the top floor of a soaring skyscraper a mailroom clerk was being promoted to CEO.

Inside the bus I sat in a seat half the size of my ass, while a devolving primate pilfered my nuts.

“I spit upon the ground you tread,” I said.

“I spit in yer tea,” he replied, doing just that. “Got any licorice?”

Hoping to keep him quiet I handed over a bagful. We had yet to leave the station and already my stash of food, designed to last the entire trip, was seriously depleted.

“This is red licorice,” the man whined. “I like the black.”

“You would.” I slouched in my seat and pulled my baseball cap over my eyes. “Black licorice is horrible, evil stuff, much like your soul, which I again dang.” I tried to relax and felt sleep nudge the back of my eyelids. Perhaps I’d be able to doze this trip away…

The man called me a name and filled his mouth with candy. “Could I have some o that iced tea?”

I pushed up the cap and gazed at him. “You’re asking me? Have you been born again?”

“Just wanted to know if you was sleepin,” he said.

A vein popped out on my neck and I tried to remember if I’d taken my medication. It had been hectic just getting to the bus station and had I known the frantic morning would be the high point of my day I would have remained in bed.

I replaced the cap and settled back into my seat.

“Are ya?”

“Am I what?”

“Sleepin.”

“Quit speaking to me or I will tie your tonsils to the bumper of a passing semi,” I said. I was pretty sure I’d forgotten to take the medicine. Things had been so frantic.

I slept for an hour before I became gradually aware of a manic giggling. Nudging the baseball cap up I saw the creature in the next seat holding my laptop and reading from the screen. I shot out of my seat and yanked the computer from his sweaty grasp.

“What the hell--!”

The bus driver turned and looked back. “Sir, please remain in your seat.”

I ignored him.

“That’s funny stuff ya got there,” the man said. “You write all that?”

“Yes, I did. What’s funny about it?”

“Ain’t no characterization,” he grinned, showing a gob of licorice between two front teeth. “The plot don’t start til too late in the story and then it don’t make sense.”

“I suppose you’re an expert on prose?” I checked my laptop for damage and, having satisfied my immediate concerns, resumed my seat. “Have you ever written anything? Can you spell your name?”

“Yeah, I can write my name,” he said. “Wanna see?”

“No.”

“Want me to help ya fix yer stories?”

“No.”

The man turned away. He breathed on the window and wrote in the mist. “See? My very own name what my parents done named me.”

I looked over to read it, but half the mist had already faded and all that remained were two letters, “Ed.”

“So ya wanna know what’s wrong with yer stories?

“I told you, no.”

Silence. I couldn’t handle it.

“All right!” I screamed, again shooting from my seat. My skull banged against an overhead luggage compartment. “Tell me!” I shouted. “Spill your pearls of wisdom before me that I may lap them up with reckless abandon!”

“Yer clich├ęd, for one thing,” the man said. “Reckless abandon. Where ain’t I heard that before? Yer dialogue don’t lead nowhere and yer characters got no depth. Ya wait too long to start the story and yer usin too many passive sentences. And yer wordy.”

“Anything else?”

“I could use another bag o peanuts.”

I stared at the man, taking a good look for the first time. He was large and unshaven. He wore ill-fitting clothes and his latest contact with soap had probably been recorded somewhere on an ancient cave wall. He didn’t appear to be the type of person one would seek in moments of writer’s angst and yet I had to admit he made some valid points. Issues I struggled with on a daily basis, he had managed to pinpoint in a matter of minutes.

Rummaging in my briefcase, I handed him my last bag of peanuts. “Okay,” I said, “but this better be good.”

* * *

“All out!”

I awoke with a start and looked up. The bus driver was getting out of his seat and stretching mightily. “Where are we?” I asked.

“Rock Island, Illinois,” said the driver.

“But…that’s my stop!”

“So get off.”

My head whirled, but I stood and gathered my belongings. I turned to thank my traveling companion, but he wasn’t in his seat. As I struggled down the aisle carrying my bags, I spoke to the driver.

“What happened to the man sitting next to me? Did he get off at an earlier stop?”

He frowned. “There wasn’t anybody sitting next to you,” he said. “You were alone the entire trip.”

Once out on the station platform I opened my briefcase. Inside were packages of peanuts and licorice…all empty. I didn’t remember eating a thing. I booted up my laptop and opened a story file. The pages were filled with tiny notes, headers, footers, and markups. I scrolled to the end and saw this little note typed at the bottom of the last page.

About time you finally began listening to me. Hope these changes help.

Your Inner Editor, aka, Eddie.

P.S. Thanks for the peanuts.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Male Social Faux Pas

I'm going to go out on a limb and suggest that this is a males-only problem. I suppose women may have the issue too, but since I'm not allowed to be around when (if) it happens, I cannot be sure of pan-gender relativity.

I'm talking, of course, about the "Guy Who Wants to Talk to You While You're Peeing or Pooping in a Public Restroom" phenomenon.

Ladies? Does it happen to you? Do they knock on the wall and ask you how your day is going, or if you're enjoying the concert or whatever?

Anyway, this little facet of life (for life has much facets, many of them small) has been grunted into total saturation by just about every comedian or late-night talk show host. The punchline is always that this action is Strictly Forbidden, and any guy caught doing it should be handed a coloring book and sent right the hell back to Kindergarten. I mean, we just don't do that, right?

Okay. Why not?

Before I go any further, I would like to stress that I am not advocating a change in the social norm. I'm not pining away for the chance to have piss-conversations with strangers. As a sociophobe, I don't pine away for the chance to have conversations with anybody.

Maybe it's being trapped in the conversation. You can't jolly well walk away whenever you want when you're in front of a urinal. Biology takes precedent there.

"So! How about them Red Wings?"
"The Red Wings are total sacks of lame."
"Oh, well...this conversation turned sour in a hurry. I'm going to jolly well walk away now."
"Hey! You're peeing all over the floor!"
"I'm not listeniiiiiinnnng!"
"And those kids!"

I can understand that. Where the argument hits the wall is the simple fact that people willingly engage in unpleasant, unbreakable conversations outside of the bathroom all the time. It's a social faux pas to just leave the confessional booth while the priest is giving you your penance, too. If you could just wander off while your boss was pointing out one of your mistakes (you incompetent bastard, you) the world might be a better place. It would certainly be a different place.

Is it because we have trouble taking one another seriously when engaged in this most basic of biological acts? As advanced beings with highly developed minds (which is what we tell ourselves), do we find it hard to accept the fact that, just like the lemurs, we have to piddle?

I suppose it would be difficult to take the President of the United States seriously if he was at the podium, giving the State of the Union address and he suddenly got a crampy look on his face and asked everyone to follow him to a bathroom.

I personally would welcome the man's sudden honesty. Sort of.


Even if he didn't actually DO it, but just mentioned it, the vast majority of the population watching on TV would probably be unnerved.

"And that concludes the obscurantist bullshit for today, my fellow Amercians! You know that last law I told you about? I thought it up while I was on the crapper, fittingly enough."

Is it a matter of vulgarity, then? Then how come some of the most foul-mouthed comedians still consider it weird when someone talks to them in the restroom?

Maybe it's a matter of concentration.

"Gotta, uh...gotta...hey, um...pants..."
"Hey! Did you see that thing on the news today about the lemurs?"
"...zipper...relax...bubbles--huh?"
"Lemurs!"
"Oh, great. Thanks a lot, buddy. You broke my concentration. Now I gotta start all over!"

Concentration that bad would probably be indicative of more serious problems, I guess.

How about homophobia? That could be it. But are most men really that suspicious? They're afraid that some gay ninja is going to sidle up, distract them, then whip an abomination on them while they're not looking? Oh, those gays and their tricks! Though, the few gay men I knew were pretty loud in dress, voice and gesture. They were anything but stealthy.

So I guess it's a mystery! Thanks for joining me in this discussion, time-wasters. If I come up with any more Mysteries of Life, I will not hesitate to talk to you about them.

At a safe distance.

Like, over the Internet.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The Moron Overcomes His Fears and, After an Internal Struggle with Events from His Past, Answers the Phone at His New Job

It was a very good day for the Moron. His instructor had told him to "keep busy," and then she let him work at his own pace while she shuffled through some papers and made phone calls.

The Moron figured that this was because he was so professional. Why waste your time molding someone who is already a perfect fit for the job? He reached under his desk and extracted an oatmeal cookie from a really rustly plastic bag.

He had half of the cookie stuffed in one cheek when the complicated-looking phone on his desk rang.

Instinctively, he flung his hands up to protect his head, sending the other half of his cookie thudding into a ceiling tile, where it stuck by a corner.

"Holy duckwash! A green light!"

Yes, this was the Moron's only true weakness. He was absolutely petrified by green lights. Once, when he was small, a green light beat him up at school, and ever since then he could not bear the sight of them.

But this time, he had a Job to perform. People were counting on him, not the least of whom might be on the other side of that horrible, pulsing green light. The Moron took that little wad of thought, fondled it and then put it in his pocket. There was a person on the other side of the light who needed his help!

With a war cry, the Moron leapt out from under his desk and charged toward the phone. He shut his eyes tightly and engaged in a brief slap fight with the handset before wrestling it up to the side of his head. He swallowed the rest of his delicious cookie and mashed the keypad with his palm.

"OhmygodwhatthehellcanIdoforyou? MakeitfastbecauseIhaveto--Aaaugh!"

The fact that the phone was still ringing was a startling discovery indeed.

The Moron flung the handset away as though it were red hot and drew back against the far wall of his cubicle.

The office went dead silent.

Other staff members peered cautiously from cubicle entrances.

"Sales call," explained a sweaty Moron, edging along the wall, toward his cubicle's doorway. "I, uh, I need to get a Snickers. Another one. A better one."

He made a quick dash to the bathroom.

Once inside, with the door locked between him and the green light, The Moron relaxed a little. He looked into the mirror, but saw nothing. He scanned the rest of the bathroom too, but came up with a similar lack of visual input.

"Curse you, green blinky! You've stolen my sight! I shall seek revenge 'til the end of my days!"

A knock on the bathroom door roused the Moron from the position he'd taken up on the floor, so as to cry more effectively.

"Anyone in there?" asked a voice.

"Just us blind folks. Could you call my dad? He's going to need to help me brush my cats, now that I can't see any more," sniffed the Moron.

"Huh?"

"It was the green light what done it!" wailed the Moron, releasing a freshet of tears.

The bathroom door opened, spilling light into the darkened room.

The Moron gasped. He could see! Providence had seen fit to grant him his sight again so that he might carry on! He hugged the confused-looking man and pranced back to his cubicle. There was a red light blinking on his phone now, next to a button cryptically labeled "Msg".

The Moron knew what MSG was, so he gave the button a wary glance and made a mental note to stay away. Part of his mind suggested that the button might not be for releasing a flavor enhancer after all, but a much more benign function. Massage, for example, seemed possible. But the Moron hadn't gotten where he was today by being foolish and rash. He sat back down in his chair and set to work ignoring the Msg button.

"I will not be rash," he told Vista sternly. "I will not get a rash, either," he said with less certainty, and scratched himself.

You know how these things are, don't you? How long do you think our hero was able to ignore the invitingly blinking red light? Red lights, as you may have guessed by now, invoked happy thoughts in the Moron's mind. Happy thoughts of a land made of sugar and doughnut holes and populated with singing chocolate penguins and dancing socket wrenches.

Or perhaps you didn't make that leap of logic. Oh well. You are not the Moron, after all, and logic leaping may not be your forte. The point is that about 20 seconds passed before the Moron reached out and poked the Msg button and was greeted with a beep from his phone.

"It's a beep button!" he said happily. No sooner were those words out of his mouth, however, when a stilted female voice asked him to input his voicemail passcode.

The Moron leaned back in his chair and eyed his supervisor's cubicle. She was the only female within earshot, and he suspected her like hell. This could be that office camaraderie he'd heard about or seen on TV or something. Harmless jokes and what is known as "banter" in some circles.

"Ha ha!" he said loudly.

"That is an invalid passcode. Please try again," said the female voice.

The Moron rounded on his phone.

"Aha! It was you all along!" he said, pointing. "Think you can get my voicemail passcode do you, phone? Well, flatulent hippopotamusses couldn't drag that information out of me! I'm company loyal to the end!" He said that last part loud enough for the entire building to hear, because he figured that they would want to hear it.

"Invalid passcode," said the phone. It beeped again and fell silent.

The Moron became very smug. Half an oatmeal cookie fell from above and exploded on his desk in a festival of crumbs.

"I'm being rewarded by God!" he said, and would have gone on expanding on how great he was, when the phone rang again. This time, however, the light next to one of the buttons was red. Red he could handle. He pressed the button, and the ringing stopped.

"Takes care of that," the Moron said to himself, notching his smug up a bit.

"Hello?" said a male voice from the phone.

"You're not getting my passcode, so don't even bother asking."

"What? Hello?"

"Sorry. Switching your gender and acting confused isn't going to fool me."

"Is this The Company?" asked the voice. It dawned on the Moron then that this could be one of those People Who Needed His Help. The light he lit up was a harmless and pleasant red, after all! He picked up the handset and said in a conspiratorial whisper:

"Yes it is. Are you in trouble? Shall I deploy the rescue badgers? What are your coordinates?"

"Um, I'm actually looking for George Watson. Is he in today?"

The Moron perked up. A question he could answer! If they were all this easy, he'd be on Easy Street, naturally.

"He is! Indeed! Certainly! Of course!"

About 5 seconds of silence ticked away.

"Well, thanks for calling The Company!" the Moron chirped, and hung up the phone.

Yes, the phone menace was definitely defeated. The Moron ate his crumbs with relish, aglow with residual sweat and the knowledge of a job well done.

Monday, July 07, 2008

The Hardass Babysits A Child

The Hardass watched the city scroll past the porthole window on his personal Titan IV rocket with a tender eye.

Perhaps tender wasn't quite the proper term. Less flinty than usual was closer to reality.

"Damn," he growled into his helmet. It was black cast iron and had a visor made of half-inch-thick stainless steel. The visor was riveted in place. The Hardass had driven those rivets himself with his thumb.

So actually, he wasn't watching anything scroll past. He was merely facing the porthole window and fantasizing about things scrolling past. He was also fantasizing about dropping incendiaries on the dwellings of criminals, and this made him smile slightly. If you could see through the stainless steel, you'd note that it was a grit-toothed and determined smile. You might also detect a hint of tenderness in it, but you'd be wrong. It was dark inside the helmet, after all, so you could be forgiven for making the mistake.

No bombs would be dropped tonight, though. His smile spoke of determination to be sure, but it was determination to perform feminine conquest that drove it, for tonight The Hardass was on his way to his woman's place. He chuckled turgidly into his helmet.

Chastity had invited him over for a movie and some popcorn, and The Hardass had thoughtfully brought some napalm and gear oil to pour over it. She always put some sort of yellow goo and a sprinkling of wuss crystals on her popcorn, and The Hardass could barely taste it. He considered putting some Fluff on his popcorn the next time, because Fluff was friggin' delicious.

The rocket landed on the street outside of Chastity's apartment building, charring the living hell out of half a block's worth of parked cars. The Hardass charged down the ramp and through the front door of the apartment building, head-first.


He greeted Chastity at the door to her apartment with splinters and chunks of plaster on his shoulders, and a bouquet of socket wrenches in his hand.

"Brung you some wrenches, babe," he said, smashing a head-shaped hole into the top of the doorway as he entered.

"Oh you!" she squealed, taking them from him. "I see you didn't eat them this time!"

"Not all of them."

"There's one teeny-tiny little itsy bitsy change to our plans tonight darling..." Chastity began.

"Waaaait," The Hardass growled, nostrils flaring and eyes darting suspiciously about. Of course, this would not have been observable, as he still had his helmet on. "It smells like babies in here."

"Well, that would be the change," Chastity laughed nervously. "I hope you don't mind, sweetie."

"Don't call me sweetie. Are you planning on making a salad and some rolls to go with these babies?"

"Tee hee! You're so funny! No, silly. There's only one baby, and my friend Veronica asked me if I wouldn't mind babysitting him tonight. He's such a dear. Come see!"

The Hardass removed his helmet and dropped it to the floor, where it crashed through into the basement. He followed Chastity into her guest bedroom.

"I'm so sorry about this, but Veronica and Steve really needed a night to themselves. After they had little Tyler here, they've just been sooo busy!" She lifted the infant out of a crib and put him over her shoulder.

"Damn, he's ugly."

"Oh, he is not! He's so cute and chubby, I could just eat him right up."

"Me too. Got any salsa?"

"Hee hee!"

"Dammit."

The baby made some gargling noises.

"I think Ruddiger's going to barf," The Hardass observed, stepping back.

"His name is Tyler. He was just fed, so I wouldn't be surprised if he did burp up a little." She patted the baby's back as she walked back into the den.

"I'm calling him Ruddiger," The Hardass stated with finality. "I don't like you," he said to the baby's face.

The baby grinned at him and burped softly.

"Blazing moose nuggets! The little bastard just gut-sassed me! I'll stuff him in my shoe!"

"Did Tyler make burpy burpy? Awww!"

"Christ."

The Hardass went back into the guest bedroom and, spitefully, ate the crib.

"I thought we'd watch The Spreadsheet tonight. It's about this old couple that work in Accounts Receivable and meet through the Excel document they share and fall in love. Does that sound okay?"

"No." The Hardass eyed the baby mistrustfully. "Is it going to be watching the movie with us?"

"Of course!"

"Can we put it on the floor when we have sex?"

"He's not going on the floor, silly. It's drafty down there."

"So where are we going to put it while we have sex? In the flowerbox?"

"We're not going to have sex."

"Nice."

The movie started and Chastity made whimpering noises as the old people's younger selves first meet through a flashback at an office party. The Hardass chomped manfully at his bowl of napalmy popcorn and kept one eye on the baby. He didn't trust Ruddiger one bit. The baby looked sly. He especially didn't like having him on the couch between him and Chastity.

Sullen, he reached over and ate a lamp.

At the part where the male love interest gets fatal carpal-tunnel, Chastity began to weep copiously. "Oh, it's just so...so...believable!" She honked into a tissue. "It's just like real life!"

The Hardass poked the baby. "If real life was really lame."

"I must be a mess," she sniffed. "Makeup all over the place."

The Hardass looked up.

"Yeah. Looks like you've been crying licorice. You wanna go wipe it up?" he said sympathetically.

"Mm hm. Can you keep an eye on Tyler? I'll only be a half hour."

"No."

"Thanks honey!" she said, and kissed him on his crags.

"Dammit. And don't call me honey!"

She pranced into the bathroom and slammed the door. The Hardass and the baby sat, or sprawled, as was Tyler's case, on the couch, awash in the blue glow from the television. He poked the baby again, and this time it smiled. Then its little face twisted up into a look of intense concentration, like it was trying to read hieroglyphics.

"What the hell?"

The baby made some grunting noises. Then some other noises. Then his face cleared up and he looked radiantly happy.

"Holy bats." The Hardass leapt from the couch as the smell hit him. "Chastity! It's decomposing! There's this horrible smell, and I think it's decomposing, but it's happy about it, apparently, and--what the hell?"

"Aww! He's dirty!" she squealed from behind the door. The Hardass could hear power tools operating in there.

"I know!" The infant was sticky. The Hardass figured that was normal. This new smell, however, was unearthly.

"Well, change him!"

"God! I think it's defective! Shouldn't I just throw it away?"

"No, silly, just change his diaper."

The Hardass turned his jaw-dropped face from the bathroom door down to the baby on the couch. It was happily squirming, very proud of its work.

Then it clicked.

"It shit itself!"

"That's what they do at that age, pumpkin."

"Don't call me pumpkin. God. If I did that, I'd want someone to shoot me."

"You did it too when you were little."

"Like hell I did!"

"The diaper bag's in my room, under the bed."

The Hardass thundered into Chastity's bedroom and threw the bed into a corner. Underneath it was a layer of dust, a thong, and a duffel bag full of what looked to The Hardass like wadded-up white sweatsocks.

"Damn. Anyone craps themselves on a couch in front of a TV, they're defective. No argument. But if you're only 18 inches tall, then it's cute. Unbelievable." He grabbed the duffle bag and a mouthful of nickels from a jar on his way out.

"So what the hell should I do with this bag of socks?" he yelled at the bathroom doorknob.

"Socks?"

"Friggin' crinkly white socks with tape on 'em. Damn! I think the smell's getting worse! I'm going to put him under the vent hood."

"Those are diapers, and you are not putting Tyler on the stove!"

"I'll do what I want because I have a driver's license. And consider your lighter fluid drunk," he yelled over his shoulder as he rummaged under Chastity's kitchen sink.

The Hardass found what he was looking for: a blue plastic dustpan. He scooped the baby up with it and carried it at arm's length over to the stove. It was an electric range with a smooth glass top. He covered it with a layer of Cosmo magazines and deposited the giggling infant on top. He turned the fan on high.

"Change it..." he muttered, looking for some tongs. "Gotta stick a new diaper sock on you, huh Ruddiger? Nice."

The Hardass worked diligently. He skillfully unfastened the diaper from Tyler's abdomen with the tongs and a salad fork and hurled the soiled atrocity out the window.

"Dill-scented mother of monkeys! It's covered in mold!"

"That's just baby poop," Chastity explained over the hiss of her airbrush.

"It's green! Chas, if this is--damn. I'm going to Windex it off him. "

The Hardass applied the paper towels, stuffed the baby into a new diaper, wrapped his lower half in masking tape and called it a night. During the whole ordeal, the baby had fallen asleep. The Hardass scooped him up with the dustpan and stuck him between two pillows on the couch.

"It's on the couch, and I need some strippers," he told the bathroom door.

Chastity exited and smiled up into his flint grey eyes. "Oh, you big teddy bear you!"

The Hardass allowed himself to be hugged and stomped to the door. Chastity followed until she fell down the hole his helmet had made. She met him at the front door.

"You did good," she said.

"I learned something too," The Hardass said, looking introspectively up at his rocket.

"What's that, smooshybeans?"

"Don't call me smooshybeans. I learned that gravy would be better than salsa."

The neighborhood filled with the Titan's thunder as The Hardass took to the skies. He had some strippers to lunge at.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Granola Prose XI

mysteriolith Bruce made an abrupt lateral move, almost dislodging Stubs and Becky. There was a loud, electronic beeping and Stubs clamped his hands over his ears.

“What is that?” yelled Becky.

“My missile warning system,” answered Bruce. “It seems the Loneos is trying to get a lock on us.”

“But Merbert wouldn’t do that,” Stubs insisted, having uncovered one ear. “He gave us Twinkies!”

“Ah, the old Twinkie ruse.” Bruce snorted and began swooping violently. “Merbert’s oldest trick. I should tell you about the time he used it to…”

The beeping turned into a solid, ear-splitting shriek.

“Whoops! He’s got a lock.” Bruce extinguished his hoof-boosters and discharged several flares. He then went into a series of jinking maneuvers, all the while trying to maintain as much altitude as he could while his thrusters were off.

There was a sudden puff from the side of the Loneos’ basket and the missile warning shriek notched up a few tones.

“Merbert just fired a missile at us!”

Stubs stood up on Bruce’s back and brandished his hammer at the pursuing hot air balloon. “Thought you could buy us with Twinkies, did you?” He reached into his beard and pulled out one of the treats he’d been saving for later. Barely maintaining his footing, he hurled the Twinkie at the Loneos. It was a poor throw and the pastry fell to the earth, where it landed just a couple of yards in front of the continuously fleeing Tony.

“Oh, shit!” the antagonist screeched, abruptly changing directions and flailing wildly. “A Twinkie!”

The missile plowed into the flare field and exploded harmlessly. The celebratory cheers from Stubs and Becky were cut short, however, as two more puffs appeared from the Loneos.

“Determined, isn’t he?” Bruce observed. “What’d you all do to piss him off?”

Becky looked at Stubs and Stubs looked back. They both shrugged. Had they merely imagined the camaraderie they had felt back in Merbert’s cave or was the ex-wizard simply a damn fine actor? Stubs reached up to muse, but was interrupted as Bruce began a stomach-wrenching Immelman maneuver.

“I’m all out of flares,” the unicorn shouted over his shoulder. “And if I don’t light my hooves soon, we’ll crash land into the forest. Our only hope is to out-maneuver the missiles. Hold on tight!”

What came next would have made a wonderful bedtime story for future generations of dwarves and fairies, but neither Becky nor Stubs will be able to pass the tale along, because neither of them kept their eyes open long enough to see many of the details. The reader will please forgive this transgression of viewpoint, however, and understand that the Writer just doesn’t give a damn.

Bruce completed the Immelman and then threw himself into a nose dive. The wind whistled by their ears as the trio streaked toward the ground, which was rushing up to meet them at a terrifying speed.

Despite the unicorn’s velocity, Merbert’s missiles were gaining on them. So close were they, that when Becky sneaked a backward glance, she could read names painted on the noses of the missiles. One was named Becky and the other Stubs.

Why does Merbert hate us, so? Becky wondered, just before squeezing her eyes shut once again.

Bruce had been monitoring the missiles’ progress on his HUD and, just as the weapons were about to make contact, he began pulling out of the dive. Once his nose was pointing slightly upward, he fired up his hoof-burners and began scrambling for altitude. The missiles were forced to break off abruptly to avoid crashing into the ground.

Stubs opened one eye. “Did they miss?”

“That time,” answered Bruce, checking his altimeter. “But they’ll be back.” The words were prophetic and, just as he finished speaking, the missile warning system, which had temporarily quieted, resumed shrieking.

The Writer fell out of his chair and began scooting around the room on his stomach, writhing in mirth and self-adulation. How did he manage to do it time after time? He wasn’t sure the world was ready for a manuscript this explosive, but he was feeling merciless. They’d just have to deal with it!

“Honey,” he said, doing a quick push-up and then hauling himself to his feet. “You married a genius!”

“I knew it was only a matter of time before you caught me,” she replied calmly. “Sure you’re not mad?”

The Writer frowned in confusion. “Why would I be mad?”

“Because I have dinner plans with him and didn’t know if you’d mind staying at home.” The Wife smiled coyly and continued tinkering with the SR-71 she’d purchased on eBay. “If I finish rewiring this thing before five, the Genius and I could have dinner in Paris.”

“You think you’re so funny.” The Writer stomped his foot petulantly. “I’m going back to my epic.”

The epic was in danger of coming to a sudden, albeit very impressive, conclusion. Both missiles had once again locked onto the fleeing Bruce and, guided by the heat from the unicorn’s hooves, were closing in.

Becky risked another glance back and saw the Loneos not far away. Merbert was standing up in the basket, waving his arms and shouting. Although she tried to make out the words, the sound of the missile warning system and the rushing wind made the task impossible.

“Probably just taunting us,” she muttered and huddled down a little farther onto Bruce’s back.

Without warning, the hoof-boosters died and there was a clanking sound as Bruce lowered his flaps. Without thrust and with the additional drag, their airspeed plummeted and the extra lift raised them just out of the path of the missiles, which flew by so close that Becky could have reached out and touched them. Confused, the missile named Stubs tried to make a diving turn, but ran out of altitude and crashed into a stand of oak trees, exploding on impact. The second missile veered upward and seemed to hang in the air for a moment, before slowly falling over backward and pointing directly at them.

Bruce was a sitting unicorn. By the time he managed to raise the flaps and attain a navigable speed, the missile would be on them. Instead, he dove for the ground and landed with a crash. Shaken, he struggled to his hooves, the missile warning system still screaming its head off. If they could just make it into the cover of the oak trees, they might just avoid a very nasty explosion.

Just before they reached the safety of the woods, however, Bruce stumbled and lurched forward, landing on his front knees. Becky and Stubs were thrown from their seats and hit the ground hard. They tumbled forward into the trees, both coming to rest against a huge, ancient oak.

A quick glance told Becky all she needed to know. Grabbing Stubs, who still had his eyes closed, she dove behind the tree just as her namesake embedded itself into Bruce’s chrome backside and promptly exploded.

“Uh-oh.” The Writer frantically gobbled some granola. He may have written himself into a corner. First Merbert starts shooting missiles at cute little fairies and now…hits one? Well, he didn’t really hit a fairy. He hit a huge unicorn. And a very solidly constructed one, at that!

“Is my little Writer getting all violent?”

The Writer jumped and the Wife backed up a step or two. “How long have you been reading over my shoulder?” he asked.

“Not long. I was just on my way out to Buy-Mart to pick up some plutonium and I noticed your wide, staring eyes.”

The Writer shook his head sadly. “You can’t trust anyone these days.”

“Are you still mad about my Genius joke?”

“No, I mean Merbert. How could he turn out to be so evil?” A tear slid down the Writer’s cheek and moistened a stray granola crumb.

The Wife patted his head. “There, there. Sometimes things aren’t as they seem.”

Encouraged by these words, the Writer ate the soggy crumb, popped his knuckles, and resumed typing.

Although shielded greatly from the explosion by the massive tree, Becky and Stubs were pounded by the concussion and had a few anxious moments as tree limbs rained down around them.

After a moment or two of silence, Becky risked a peek around the tree trunk. Bruce was now nothing more than a pile of smoking wreckage. The only part not seriously damaged was his carbon fiber horn, which had flown from his forehead and buried several inches of itself into the soft wood of a fallen log.

A few yards away, the Loneos was coming to a soft landing. Merbert stepped out of the basket and pulled his cloak close around himself. For some reason, possibly because he had just tried to kill them, Becky found this gesture very sinister, indeed.

“He’s coming to finish us off,” she whispered to Stubs. “Keep quiet and maybe he’ll pass us by.” She sniffed. “Or not.”

Stubs whimpered. “Sorry. It must be the Twinkies.”

As Becky had feared, it wasn’t long before Merbert peeked around the trunk of their hiding tree.

“Well, yuh! What you folks doin’ hidin’ behind a tree? This ain’t no time fer child’s play!”

“You’re telling us!” Becky exclaimed, her fear diminished considerably by the sudden flush of anger heating her cheeks. “I suppose you think using us as target practice is a helluva good time!”

“You thought…” Merbert looked crestfallen. “What makes ya think them missiles was meant fer you all?”

“You mean besides the fact that you painted our names on them?”

“Oh, that!” Merbert yuh-ed and began snacking on a spud he’d pulled from an inside pocket. “I suppose ya wouldn’t believe me if I said I done it fer the best.”

“Whose best?”

“Why, you folks! Why’d I want ta hurt you an’…”

“Stubs,” Stubs said, finally sitting up and opening an eye. “The name is Stubs and, frankly, I don’t feel so well.” He curled up into a little ball at the base of the tree and hugged himself.

“So we’ve noticed,” Becky said, moving a few steps away. She never took her eyes off Merbert and her suspicious expression never changed. “You did all this,” here she gestured to Bruce’s remains, “for our good? Explain yourself, wizard.”

Merbert finished his spud and shook his head sadly. “Ya really oughta have more faith in yer friends. Bruce probably told ya he worked fer the Mysteriolith Three.”

“Wait—” Becky held up one hand. “Please don’t tell me you endangered the lives of two innocent questers just to get back at the wizards.”

“O’ course not!” Merbert looked first shocked and then a little guilty. “Well…not exactly.”

Becky kept silent, but stared at Merbert expectantly, her hands clamped firmly on her hips.

The wizard shuffled his feet nervously. “I guess that was part of it,” he finally admitted. “But mostly I was just tryin’ ta save you folks from a nasty fate. See, Bruce did work fer the wizards, but he also did a few freelance jobs on the side. Fer the Fairy Syndicate.”

“You’re saying Bruce would have taken us straight to the fairies?”

Merbert snorted. “Ya didn’t think it was kinda convenient how he showed up just when ya needed ‘im? O’ course he was gonna take ya ta the fairies! Drop ya off just as pretty as ya please, right in the lap of ol’ Fartwing. And that woulda been the end o’ yer questin’ days.”

“And our names on the missiles?”

Merbert blushed and shrugged. “One was fer you and t’other was fer Farty, here. Just not in the way ya thought… they were there ta save ya!”

“Wow,” Becky said. “I never thought I’d find having my name painted on a missile so touching.” She moved closer to Merbert and put a hand on his arm. “I’m sorry I doubted you, Merbert.”

“Yuh! Think nothin’ of it, Becky. I guess I was actin’ a bit suspicious.”

“Just a bit.”

An awkward silence ensued and then Merbert yuh-ed loudly.

“Yuh! Well, ya only have a coupla days, so if yer plannin’ ta get ta the wizards in time, ya better get a move on.”

“Yes, I suppose we…hey, how about giving us a lift in the Loneos?”

Merbert shook his head. “No can do, little lady. The wizards would see us comin’ a mile away and if ya think them missiles was scary, ya oughta see what they can cook up! Nope, you folks better just keep headin’ toward the mountains. You’ll find yer way, all right.”

A little peeved at being ignored by most of the previous scene, and feeling much better by this time, Stubs scrambled out from behind the tree and watched Merbert walk quickly back to the Loneos.

As he lifted off and slowly disappeared into one of those curious air ripples, Stubs and Becky watched from below and waved until he was completely out of sight.

“We’d better get a move on,” Stubs said, nudging Becky’s arm. She shook herself as if waking from a sleep and briefly touched her forehead.

“You’re right. We don’t have much time.”

“Is your head hurting?”

“Just a little. But mainly I was thinking of what Merbert said about Bruce. How he worked occasionally for the Syndicate.”

“What of it?” Stubs was already walking briskly away, his hammer hoisted over his shoulder. “Their plan failed, so I don’t see what it matters now.”

“Of course it matters!” Becky gave a little whimper as a sharp bolt of pain shot through her head. “If the Syndicate sent Bruce, then…they know we’re coming.”

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Introducing 95.3 and George Elliot


It always gets me when radio stations advertise "three hours of non-stop music!" only to continually interrupt the music for programming notes or station ID. So I wondered what would happen if a particularly conscientious DJ decided to...well, take a listen and find out for yourself.