A Spouse Never Forgets

Love will draw an elephant through a key-hole.” –Samuel Richardson

**********

“Em, I’m home. Time to hide all your boyfriends.”

“Oh, but they brought me flowers and everything”, came the response from the dining room.

Tyler Cohn kicked his shoes off and rolled his eyes. He found the mail by the door and thumbed through it carelessly. Not seeing anything in the stack of bills and donation requests to catch his eye, he let the stack fall from his hands, most of it landing back on the table. He shrugged at the mess, tossed his keys in the general direction of the mail, and walked towards the living room.

Tyler had not been the most attractive person in high school. His odd skin tone made him stand out in a crowd, but his unruly hair had singled him out even more. It was not until college that he discovered the real him was only a few buzzes away. Coupled with a roommate who introduced Tyler to the joy of working out, and a new version was born. Tyler found that the quick, aggressive, thrilling move of hefting weights was an adrenaline rush that he loved. His muscular physique, olive skin, and shiny dome now all complimented each other. He had lost his childhood nervousness and now approached life with what his wife could only describe as swagger.

“For the record, I saw you first”, he countered as he doffed his jacket and let it land on the living room couch. In front of him was the large gray mass. He avoided looking at it, as always, and turned into the dining room. “Where are you?”

“I’m on the other side of it”, Emily called back.

An alarmingly loud trumpeting sound blared three times from the living room. Tyler and Emily both hurried to cover their ears, and by the time the noise had stopped, Tyler was almost in the dining room.

“I swear, The Moustache is going to drive me crazy”, Tyler said as he looked to his wallet and pulled out the receipts that he had collected over the day. “He keeps telling me that his business is going to get sued. I swear, that man thinks his workers are just there to collect on disability. I respond to all his e-mails but he won’t believe that we have his risks all covered. If he gets anymore up my butt, that facial monstrosity of his is going to start tickling my stomach. I wish I could get him out of my haiiiiiiiiir.”

Tyler had looked to Emily for the first time and was shocked at what he saw.

“Hey”, Emily said with a smile as she went towards him.   With her typical elegance and grace, she made every small step look like it had been planned out for months. Her composure had been the first thing that attracted Tyler to her. However, much to his delight, he found that when she went to hug him, her perfectly straight spine curved into him. Her hips ever so slightly leaned into his waist, her shoulders softened, and her long neck listed to the left, finding his nape and taking up residence there. With her normal ballerina-like stance, Emily stood a solid two inches taller than her spouse. But when they were having their quiet moments, he ended up being a bit higher up. She didn’t really care. Many of their best talks had been shared in this position, starting with when her father died. Tyler didn’t worry about being the tallest when they went out and Emily wore high heels, and Emily didn’t worry about her poise when she was alone with Tyler.

However on this night, Tyler found the embrace a little awkward. Normally he would feel her long, wavy chestnut hair against and under his chin. This was not the case tonight.   Instead Tyler felt a soft cushion of hair, then short bristliness, then another tuft of long hair. Had her entire head fit, Tyler would have felt another shaved section. And, to his great horror, sections of the hair were dyed orange and blue.

Is this what it feels like for her to kiss me when I haven’t shaved?

The only long hairs that felt familiar were the ones attached to the tail from the gray mass as it swished and brushed against Tyler’s leg from the living room.

“I got a text from Tess and Burt.”

“Are we supposed to be having them over for dinner? I don’t have enough cooked to feed us and my greedy siblings.”

“Greedy, or filled with a hunger for victory?”

“Greedy, Tyler. Definitely greedy. You play tennis with them, but you never had to share LEGOs with those two. Susan was the worst though. Leave it to the middle child to always cause the problems.”

“Em, there are four of you”, Tyler said as he tried to decide whether he should pull away from this painful dome or if it was best to keep her hair as out of sight as possible. “That makes you a middle child too.”

“Yes, but she was the first middle child”, she replied, pulling slowly out of the embrace. “You only children don’t know what we had to go through.” She kissed him, showing more passion than usual, and went back to the spaghetti on the stove.

“Regardless, your siblings want to know if we would play tennis tonight.”

“Tonight? Tyler, it’s seven p.m.”

“Right. Still daylight out there.”

“Honey, we have dinner to finish. And eat. Then, if we change into gym clothes, play several matches—“

“Then we can still be home by ten. C’mon, it’ll be fun.” Plus, knowing those two, they’ll bring up the haircut so I don’t have to.

Now out of their embrace, Tyler had the full effect. The left quarter of Emily’s hair was shaved off, except for a tiny, bristly layer of what used to be beautiful hair. That prior hair was hinted at by the next fourth, which was neon-orange and flopped around with four inches of length. The third section was the same shaved style as the first. And to finish off the monstrosity of it all was a section of long hair, looking just as it had before, only now filled with blue streaks in abhorrent strands.  

“Tyler, I know you. When we drive to the gym, under the auspices of playing tennis with my siblings, you’ll want to lift. This, as we both know, will require a change of clothes. And you’ll want me to lift with you. Honey, I just don’t have the strength.”

“You can always go swimming while we lift. The pool should be pretty empty. Maybe you’d have it all to yourself?” Maybe your new hairstyle will act like a fin that will help you steer in the water. Like a graffiti-obsessed dolphin. Or The Rocketeer on his worst day.

“Why don’t you just come out and admit that you want to see me walking around in a bathing suit?”

“Naturally”, Tyler said as he retrieved a mammoth bag of peanuts from under the kitchen counter. He took one, broke it, and nibbled on the nut while he tossed a handful into the next room. “I will always admit to wanting to see my wife in her element. You are a sexy woman and I appreciate that about you.”

“Uh huh”, she said with a look of disbelief behind her eyes. “I should never have taken you to that first swim meet of mine in college. It set a bad trend. Speaking of which, don’t go filling up on peanuts. Dinner is almost ready.”

“You don’t want me stocked up on protein before the gym? Besides”, he said as he threw another heaping handful into the living room, “how many do you think I’ll get the chance to eat?”

“We both know I’m going to be the one to clean those shells up, one way or the other. Go easy.”

“I will if you go to the gym with us. Please?”

“Fine”, she said with a feigned sigh. “But we are getting home no later than eleven. Got that? I’m still trying to get the payroll system up and running. Also, some of us don’t get to set our own hours. Twerp.”

“What can I say”, Tyler said with a shrug as he stirred the sauce, “it is truly challenging being a highly sought-after risk assessor.”

“Emphasis on ass-essor.”

“You’ll stop making that joke one day.”

“Plates please, Monsieur. And I’ll stop making that joke when it ceases to be funny.”

“Oh, I don’t know, I think you’re already cutting it too close.”

“What?” Em pulled the noodles off the strainer and carried them to the table.

Stupid, Tyler. Stupid, stupid choice of words. “Nothing. I’m only trying to defend myself against your rapier wit. You do love to cut me to the quick.” Again?!?! What is wrong with you? Dig yourself out before you get into a close shave. Tyler had to stop from slapping himself in the face. What is wrong with you? Freak.

They sat down at the table as munching noises became audible from the living room. The two often talked about eating by candlelight, but they knew that the constant threat of methane from the gray mass made that unwise. The whole situation lacked the romance that they yearned for. One day they would seek out a solution, but their everyday lives demanded their attention.

“So are we going to talk about it or what?”

“Talk about what?” Tyler filled his mouth with a forkful of spaghetti so that he would not be expected to respond anytime soon. Unfortunately, he had made the sauce hotter than he realized and was forced to take a swig of water and add it to his already full mouth.

“The hair, you twit. You don’t like it, do you?”

Tyler made a show of chewing and swallowing, trying to think of the proper response.

“All those sitcoms from my childhood and I still don’t know how to handle this”, he half-joked.

“So you hate it”, Emily replied as she set down her fork with purpose. “That’s great. You couldn’t come out and say that?”

“Risk assessor, remember? Not risk creator.”

“Don’t do that again. I’m being serious here.”

“Look, I didn’t lie to you. I just didn’t say anything.”

“Because you don’t like it.”

“Honey, it’s three different lengths and three different colors. Maybe when we were in school, but in our 30’s? I’m amazed you think people will take a human resources person seriously like that.”

As if to accentuate the finality of his argument, a large tooting noise came from the living room.

Emily turned her nose up at the new smell but was not done talking. “That, well that is a load of crap.”

“Cute.”

“Don’t cute me, it’s true. Work didn’t factor into your thoughts. You wanted someone else to tell me it was ugly.”

“Emily, that haircut isn’t you. Why would you do that?”

“Because it isn’t me.”

Tyler leaned away from the table. “Okay, well now you’ve lost me.”

“You don’t think I see how people treat you? You’re the cool one. You’re the one that travels around putting out fires. You work in crises. You get to watch cars get smashed and houses collapse. You think I don’t noticed that my siblings, my own family, they text you more than me. And why wouldn’t they? I sit behind a desk and deal with coworkers that can’t play nice with each other or decide they want to play nice in the bedroom, and then they come to me when it’s over and, guess what, they can’t play nice. You’re exciting, I’m dependable. Why wouldn’t I want a change?”

From across the table, Tyler could see Emily’s eyes tearing up. She picked up her napkin and dabbed her eyes with it. Tyler backed his chair away from the table, stood up, and slowly made his way to the other chair. He knelt down in front of his wife and put his arms on her legs.

“Because you are perfect.”

Another tooting sound came from the living room. No no, you’re timing’s perfect. Please, keep it up.

“More crap”, Emily replied sadly.

“What I’m saying is not crap. Do you know that half of the time I’m talking to Tess and Burt, I’m bragging about you? They’re the only ones who get it. They’re the ones who love you as much as I do and can’t stop being blown away.

“You? You spend forty-plus hours a week taking care of people, making sure that they get paid. In addition to all you do for me. On top of that, you make time for your church committees. It’s all I can do to get to church each week. Yet you somehow find the patience and the energy to tend to others. That is amazing to me. Why are you trying to be more like me when I’m trying to be more like you?”

“If you’re just saying this to get yourself out of the doghouse…”

“I’m not. You have this inner peace about you. I try to find little doses, little spurts of that in me. For you, it just happens. You define grace for me. I see all these people that have lost things, all these homes that have been wrecked, and while I’m trying to comfort them my brain is screaming that I should get back home to you right that second. Learning in the field is great; being away from you is not.”

“But people still like you more”, Emily said through small sniffles.

“I don’t think that’s true. They certainly love you more. Not a Sunday goes by when someone doesn’t pull me aside and sing your accolades. Even strangers, visitors to church; they talk to you for brief moments and then they meet me and tell me how blessed I am to be with you. They like both of us, sure, but they’re in awe of you.”

“Really? ‘cause this is stuff you could be telling me.”

“And I probably should. I’m sorry.”

“While we’re at it”, Emily said as the color in her cheeks, if not her hair, returned to normal. “You could also hang up your jacket when you come home instead of lazily throwing it on the couch.”

“People have been commenting on the straw odor.”

“It would also make your wife happier”, she said with a smile.

“What if I offered to shave your head? Would that help this situation or should I leave you be?”

“You know, that was what I was tempted to do”, Emily replied. “But the hairstylist said this would be less extreme.”

“I’m sorry… what?”

“She thought I might want to ease my want into this.”

“That’s ridiculous. Shaving your head is much less traumatic. I mean, you’re already halfway there, for corn sakes.”

“I said that, but she got so worked up about it”, Emily said.

“Okay, let’s try this. Do you like it? Not me, not the hairdresser; you.”

“Maybe if they had used hair dye colors that were found in nature. But as is? Notsomuch.”

“Will you let me shave it then?”

“You think you have enough expertise? I’d need someone who was used to having their hair short.”

“I think I can manage to figure it out”, Tyler said with a grin.

“All right, let’s do it. The sooner it’s over, the sooner my hair will grow back.”

“You know, I’ve never seen you with short hair. That could be cute.”

“Well, you’re going to find out. And we’re skipping the tennis and gym tonight. Now I really am too tired. And you have to help me.”

“Yes ma’am. I’ll send them a note after we finish dinner. Then you’ll get your head all shorn.”

“Where do you think we should do it, over the sink?”

“I was actually thinking the shower”, Tyler said as his smile grew. “That way, you know, we wouldn’t make such a mess.”

“I should probably take my blouse off too. It will keep the hair from getting everywhere.”

“That is an excellent point. Less clothes, less mess. And I know how you hate messes.”

“First thing’s first”, Emily said with a look in her eye. “You have some business to take care of.”

“Oh”, Tyler said as he adopted his “come-hither” voice. “Do I?”

“Yeah”, she said plainly. “Dumbo over there. He needs to be tidied up.”

“Yes ma’am”, he said with a chuckle.

“Trust me”, Emily said as she brushed her long strand away from her right eye and winced at the blue dye. “Things will all be better after we’ve dealt with the elephant in the room.”

Birth of a Daredevil

“There is danger, destruction, torment- what more do we need to make merry?” –Bernard Shaw

**********

There was only one activity that could satisfy Arnold.  Across the grassy lawn, he saw the object that he had heard so much about.  Breaking away from his mother’s secure grip, he ran across the playground at full speed.

Other children Arnold’s age were eager to try out the newest video game.  He had peers that thrilled at each baseball game that their families took them to.  There was Ralph; the boy who had been to seven different countries before third grade.  But in that one moment, the only thing at the end of Arnold’s tunnel-vision was the merry-go-round.

Uncle Barry had told Arnold about the wondrous contraption.  To some kids, going in repeated circles could come across as being rather boring.  Arnold was fascinated by the idea.  He would travel quickly on the limited path.  His rate of acceleration would climb greater and greater.  There had to be some sort of perfect speed waiting for him, and Arnold was going to attain it.

Public Domain in the U.S. due to age

With his mother following at a distance, Arnold hurried past the swing-set and the jungle gym.  He saw the disc-shaped attraction up ahead.  It was just as Uncle Barry had described it.  It looked like a giant metal coffee table fastened to the ground by one single table leg right in the middle.  Instead of boring old vegetables or some new casserole, the top was decorated with six or eight metal rungs that were welded in place.  As he got even closer, he saw that it was topped with a bumpy surface to assist with grip and traction.  Encompassing this grand piece of excitement and engineering was a thin pile of wood chips that was joined by patches of grass.

Three older boys were playing on the merry-go-round and Arnold looked at them with hesitation.  He wanted to try out this technological treat, but he also wanted to avoid being pummeled by these much older; and far bigger boys.  He turned back to his mother who nodded him on.

“I’ll be right here if you need me”, she called out.

Hearing the dreaded voice of parental authority, the three strangers put a stop to their adventure.  There was Arnold’s mother, keeping watch.  Seeing his opportunity, Arnold dashed up to the others.

“Can I play?”

The three boys glanced at each other.  Mischievous expressions were exchanged and heads were eagerly nodded.  They waved to Arnold, cheering and motioning the small boy closer.  That was all the prompting that he needed.

Safety and security were soon abandoned as Arnold saw his dream coming true.  He plowed through the grass and leapt onto the circle.  It groaned ever so slightly under Arnold’s Velcro tennis shoes.  The other boys rubbed their hands together and took their positions around the merry-go-round.  Arnold noticed what they were doing and hopped onto the ground.  He held onto a vacant bar and started to run.

The four boys began their first ring around.  Next came a second, and then a third.  The thrill was already growing in Arnold.  Faster and faster he went.  The other boys’ skill began to overpower him.  He had to scurry more than run in order to control his feet.  With each move he made it became less of a step and more of a leap.  Within a few more seconds, Arnold’s feet came off the wood chips entirely.

The elation that came upon Arnold was like nothing he had ever gone through before.  Half of the boy was terrified, knowing there was nothing he could do but hang on for dear life.  The other part, the side Arnold had never experienced before, was delighted beyond belief.  The force of being lifted off the ground was exhilarating.  The air rushed through his hair and t-shirt.   His fingers cried out for relief.  Arnold’s brain begged for safety while his adrenaline demanded more.  Suddenly his hands slipped free from their handhold and Arnold felt himself flying through the air.  He screamed in panic and delight.  Then, as the force of colliding with the earth kicked in, the world went black.

In the years that followed, Arnold would often think back to that day.  His mother remembered it well too; for it was the first time she had rushed her son to the emergency room.  Arnold got his first scar that day.  A thin line comprised of seven stitches adorned the middle of his forehead.  As he grew older, the bumps and war-wounds would only multiply.  The BMX bike would add a broken leg and three scars on his arms.  The ski trip in the winter break of senior year would throw in a concussion and a broken foot.  The rock climbing, the sky-diving, the high-dive into the waterfall that was surrounded by signs decreeing, “No swimming”; they all were influenced and inspired by that event early in Arnold’s life.  For as his mother sat there thanking God that he was okay, Arnold had only one question.

“When can I do that again?”

Winter Precautions

In “Anecdotal Tales”, stories will be told.  Some will be fun, some will not.  Some will be great, some will be less so.  Some stories are true, some are merely possible.  This is one of them.

Winter Precautions

When you’re safe at home, you wish that you were having an adventure; when you’re having an adventure, you wish that you were safe at home.” –Thornton Wilder

“Hank McRoph knew that the odds of his surviving unscathed were slim.  There were many dangers in front of him, many trials that he needed to overcome.  Truly, the first thing that he needed to do was look the challenge in front of him square in the face and guffaw in utter braveness.

“Others had laughed when he said he could cross the arctic on bare feet.  But Hank would show the unbelieving fools.  They were the same ones that claimed he couldn’t swim the Amazon or mingle amongst koalas.  As always, Henry had proven them wrong.

“So here we find the mighty Henry, about to climb the tallest peak on the cruelest continent that this earth has to offer.  The temperatures have negative signs to go with their triple digits.  The wind blows harsh and bites all it comes into contact with.  Only the manliest of all men would even look at pictures of this unforgiving realm, let alone attempt to conquer it.”

“Henry?”

“Hank McRoph remains steadfast and undeterred.  Hank looked at the odds, tossed his head back, and laughed at the danger that was in front of him!  He laughed, I tell you!  Like a careless maverick with nary a care in the world!”

“Henry!”

Henry heard his wife’s voice and was brought to reality.  He ceased his activity, pulled his head free, and turned to his wife.  “Yes, dear?”

“Henry, what are you doing?  Why is your head in the freezer?”

“I think the better question is; what are my hands and head doing in the freezer?”  Henry made a point to wiggle his glove-covered digits as he smiled.

“Henry”, Laurel said as she rolled her eyes.

“I feel that it’s pretty obvious”, Henry answered.  “I’m preparing for ski season.”

“By putting your head in the freezer?”

“Of course.  How else am I going to be ready for the great wilderness?”

“By going outside”, Laurel replied.  “You get ready for ski season by actually going skiing.  It’s still two weeks away.”

“Some of us like to take extra steps so that we’re prepared”, Henry defended.

“And the voice?”

Henry paused and then answered with a hint of hesitation in his tone.  “I was narrating.”

“Of course you were”, Laurel said with a sigh.  “Hand me that slab of beef would you?”

“Here ya go.”

“Thank you.  Now try to wrap it up somewhat soon, would you?  I’d rather not have a husband with freezer burn.”

Hats Off to the Hardy Adventurer

In “Anecdotal Tales”, stories will be told.  Some will be fun, some will not.  Some will be great, some will be less so.  Some stories are true, some are merely possible.  This is one of them.

Hats Off to the Hardy Adventurer

Travel develops a man’s mind, especially his imagination.” -unknown

Excitement and far off places were only dreams for some pieces of clothing.  For the brown fedora, they were a part of everyday life.  The brown fedora had survived tropical storms as they had whipped and battered it, but never succeeding in removing it entirely from its owner’s head.  The scorching sun had beaten down on the brown fedora’s brim, forcing the explorer to take off the hat for a moment.  However that was only to wave the brown fedora back and forth as a makeshift fan.  The brown fedora was rugged, intrepid, and had lived a life that all the other denizens of the local haberdashery envied.

Pic from Wikipedia

The credit belonged to the owner.  He was an archaeologist and a respected one at that.   Even when teaching his college courses he managed to drag traces of the sand and mud of the world with him.  The girls in their tiny desks would forego their notes so that they wouldn’t have to take their eyes off the man.  His self-mocking tone and passion for adventure held their attention up until that very last minute of the class when the young admirers reluctantly left his magnetic presence.  Any hat that resided on the head of this exciting individual had to maintain an element of mystique at all times.  Fortunately for the brown fedora, it reveled in such demands.

If the brown fedora had been tossed aside whenever trouble arose, it might not have loved the archaeologist as much as it did.  Though somehow, the man always seemed to keep the brown fedora nearby.  When an ancient tomb wall was slamming down and poisonous projectiles were flying through the air with deadly intent, the owner still took a few precious moments to grab for the brown fedora and hurriedly replace it atop his hair.  When the man rushed through a raging river and the rain was pouring down on him, he continued to cling to the brown fedora.  The hat dripped and ran dark with endless moisture.  It could not fulfill its purpose of keeping the great explorer dry.  Yet the owner only shook off the excess water and wore it once again.

There had been fires.  A windstorm had thrown debris and sand all around.  Lightning had lit up the creases and wrinkles which had been added to the brown fedora with years of harsh living.  And of course, there was the relentless desert heat that faded and tormented the brown fedora.  In spite of all that, the man’s treasured accessory showed up for each trek across the globe.

The fun times about town had been plentiful too.  When strutting around shirtless for his cherished mate, the scrappy man had doffed his shirt but kept the brown fedora on.  Later, when the man and his mate strolled across the campus, he in his suit and she in her white dress and her own lovely hat; the brown fedora continued to look rugged and stalwart in the afternoon sun.  Walking around the cool halls of academia, the brown fedora knew that the professor would place it on the highest perch and let it take in the sights.

Yet, with all the risks that the pair had weathered, there remained a jealousy that the brown fedora could not escape.  There was another that hogged the spotlight.  The brown fedora felt that its role as a head-coverer was responsible for at least part of the man’s coolness.  The brown fedora thought that it brought enough style and practicality to the globe-trotting that the man wouldn’t need any other accessories.  The owner felt differently.  For while the brown fedora got to ride along every day in any region, he knew that the man depended on another item when things really got tight.  The brown fedora didn’t make any fascinating sound effects, not like that ratty old rope did.  The brown fedora couldn’t escape the truth.  If the seeker of artifacts were to tell of his most valuable tool of the trade, the brown fedora was well aware that the owner valued his bullwhip over everything else.  That included the always loyal brown fedora.

Noah the No-Good

In “Anecdotal Tales”, stories will be told. Some will be fun, some will not. Some will be great, some will be less so. Some stories are true, some are merely possible. This is one of them.

Noah the No-Good

You go for a man hard enough and fast enough, he don’t have time to think about how many’s with him; he thinks about himself, and how he might get clear of that wrath that’s about to set down on him.” –True Grit

Noah the No-Good was the cruelest outlaw to ever roam the country.  People from all across the prairie would cower at the mere mention of his name.  It was said that the troublemaking hombre once let an entire herd of cattle out of their field just so that he could watch them trip over each other and fall flat on their brown chins.  Noah the No-Good had that sick kind of humor.

This time, the desperado had picked a fight with the wrong lawman.  Marshall Henry Stronglad was tired of No-Good’s shenanigans.  The man with the silver-star pinned to his vest pulled his hat brim closer to his brows.  His gray eyes glared across the dusty town.  Noah the No-Good was without his posse.  He had never needed a group of nefarious tagalongs before now.  No-Good had just thought that they would get in the way.  Now, he realized some other fellas could have distracted the Marshall and his six deputies.  However, as with many realizations, it came too late.

Noah the No-Good felt the Swingin’ Saloon behind him and yearned for a happier ending.  He imagined all the wild times he had gone in there and downed a cool drink; usually milk.  The bandit thought of all the games he wouldn’t be able to play around a table lit only by squeaking lanterns.  No-Good wanted to hear his spurs clink on the wood as he stomped his feet and flakes of mud fell off when other men accused him of cheating.  It didn’t matter to No-Good that he was a cheat.  Truth be told, the fugitive cheated more times than he played fair.  His mama had always told him that it would get him in trouble.

The crook thought back to his mother.  She wasn’t any kind of perfect, but she was a right better companion than most cowboys that Noah the No-Good had ridden with in the past.  The only real complaint the young rogue had with the woman was her strict ways.  She was always telling him that he shouldn’t go out riding too long.  He was warned to watch his manners when in the presence of ladies.  And for some strange reason, she kept hounding the lad about how much candy he ate.

Noah hadn’t been able to stomach such fierce adherence to morality.  He was made to live by his rules, not others’.  He dismissed the Stenger surname and replaced it with No-Good.  With a pack on his back and his best horse, the maverick had sauntered away to find his own path.  Noah the No-Good didn’t cotton to any fancy book-learnin’.  He wasn’t about to take off his cowboy hat just because some smelly girl walked by him.  Noah was trouble and he didn’t need to wash up for supper.  Noah was a maverick.  Noah was too much to be controlled by anybody, even his mother.

Apparently Marshall Stronglad was in agreement with No-Good’s opinion.  From the moment that No-Good had come into town and started leaving flaming bags of cattle poo on establishments’ entry way, Stronglad had been No-Good’s fierce enemy.  “I’ll not have you causin’ a ruckus amongst the good folk here”, Stronglad had declared.  The man with the badge and the lad with a temper had stared each other down many times on the street.  Normally, No-Good would have skipped town after a week or two.  No single place could contain this legend on his way to becoming a mythical renegade.  But Stronglad’s threats had only tempted No-Good to stick around longer.  Noah the No-Good was going to show Marshall Stronglad who really ran this town.

The stick of dynamite on Marshall Stronglad’s saddle hadn’t scared the man off.  The nasty note calling Stronglad a “mean ol’ cuss who’s so stupid that he doesn’t know how stupid of a stupidhead he really is” failed to yield results.  And finally, in some strange twist of fates Marshall Stronglad and Noah No-Good had found themselves sitting across the other at a poker table.

As soon as the lawman had sat down in that chair, everyone else at the table had scattered.  They knew some harsh words were bound to be had between the bitter fellas.  Stronglad kept muttering that No-Good was rude and selfish, while the outlaw kept trying to kick Stronglad from underneath table, only to find that his legs were too short.

Then the trouble had really happened.  The Marshall played a full house.  He had two queens and three sevens.  No-Good had played a straight flush.  The only problem was that both hands had the queen of hearts.

Chairs flew back as both men jumped up and starting yelling at the other.  One called the other a cheater.  The other responded by doing the same.  Snarls were uttered.  Growls were heard.  Sides were soon chosen.  The town-folk, the deputies, and the keepers of the Swingin’ Saloon all joined their resident representative of order and justice.  Noah the No-Good stood alone.  He tugged at the red bandana around his neck and felt the room growing fierce.   Marshall Stronglad pushed No-Good outside and shouted that his reign of cruelty ended now.

Marshall Stronglad snatched a rope from a nearby wooden fence post.  He started twirling it expertly in the air.  His deputies pulled out their pistols.  A vengeful look took over the lawman’s face.  “You better run, boy”.

Noah the No-Good did exactly that.  He tore off as fast as he could.  He ran with his gun-belt slapping his leg with every stride that he took.  He reached up to his hat and pulled it down onto his head, determined not to lose his favorite accessory after his reputation had betrayed him.  He ran as quickly as he could, but it wasn’t fast enough.  Noah felt something wrap around his torso.  The more he pulled, the tighter the restraining force dug in.  He felt his legacy of terror slowly coming to an end.  A strange voice lectured him.  “You should have listened to your mom.”  Noah knew the end was here.  He could feel the scene growing darker as the pulling force continued to subdue him.

With that, Noah woke up.  From his cowboy nightlight, he could just barely make out his bedroom.  The rope that had been pulling on him was actually his sheets.  In his dreaming, he had twisted and turned so much that his own bed had turned against him.  He looked to his toy horse in the corner and wondered why it hadn’t helped him out in his dream.  Some noble steed you are, Noah thought to himself.

Maybe his mom had been right.  Maybe eating all that candy before bed had been a bad idea.  Noah began to consider the idea.  What if he had been wrong all this time?  What if his parents really did want the best for him?

Nah.  Noah laughed at the silly idea and settled back into bed.  Soon enough, he was back asleep.  Only a tiny glimmer of the idea remained that his parents might know a thing or two that he didn’t.

Scott the Pretty Great Ventures Out

In “Anecdotal Tales”, stories will be told. Some will be fun, some will not. Some will be great, some will be less so. Some stories are true, some are merely possible. This is one of them.

Scott the Pretty Great Ventures Out

If a man walks in the woods for love of them half of each day, he is in danger of being regarded as a loafer. But if he spends his days as a speculator, shearing off those woods and making the earth bald before her time, he is deemed an industrious and enterprising citizen.” -Henry David Thoreau

(This is a continuation of “Scott the Pretty Great”. That first part can be found –here-, but I doubt that it is required reading.)

Scott whistled to his pet raccoon and the two walked to the other side of the room. Scott turned and walked to the back door. He was pleased to see his creation was following his movements from a distance. It wasn’t every boy that could create a robotic blue robot, let alone one that was so loyal.

Scott again turned to the rest of the warehouse, eager to share his robot with someone. Nothing had changed; all the eight year-olds were still focused solely on their workstations. The arrows on the floor pointed towards the main exit door, least the children should forget their instructions. Scott was feeling rather contrary and he began to exit through the entrance doors. A thrill that can only come through rebellion rushed through him as he continued walking in the opposite direction that the arrows instructed. He wondered what the other children would do and he looked around. Not surprisingly, no one had noticed. The others still toiled to make more car brakes and they had no time to see Scott’s curious act.

Scott waited for his raccoon to catch up. One of the hind legs seemed to be a little bit shorter than the rest, so the robot was forced to compensate. Scott considered going back to the bench and making the needed adjustments, but he couldn’t do it. The idea of turning around and voluntarily sentencing himself to another day of work was more than he could handle. Scott swung the door open, stepped outside, and was quickly joined by the raccoon.

The weather outside was quite pleasant. Climate was one of the great challenges that continued to plague the technological world. They could create perfect children, but they couldn’t guarantee them a perfect day. Most buildings were earthquake and hurricane proof, so structurally and property-wise, the weather and nature was a non-issue. Besides, should snow or rain ever start to fall from the sky, shelters and awnings would protrude over every walkway. Since no one ever veered from the walkways, there was never a need to be more than a foot away from the coverings.

Scott decided that he didn’t want to follow the paved path that was lain out before him. There was a tree that stood tall across from the warehouse. It was accompanied by a small patch of grass that was irresistible to Scott that day. He scooped up the robot in his arms, looked back and forth to see if anyone would stop him, then he ran right for the tree.

Looking up close at the base of the tree, Scott couldn’t help but smile. He put his fingers to the rough bark and felt the bumps and moss push against his hand while his robot pet rolled merrily in the grass. Turning his attention to the top of the tree, Scott marveled at the many branches that shot out. Each branch looked so healthy and alive complete with green leaves that waved to him in the slight breeze.

“Are you going to climb it or just stand there?”

Scott stumbled backward and almost fell on his toy robot. The raccoon saw him falling and skittered off to the side, allowing Scott to fall on the soft grass. He crawled on his hands and knees around the tree and noticed an old man sitting with his back against the bark.

“I didn’t mean to startle you son, but you were frustrating me.”

“What, I, what’re you doing here?”

“They still let a few trees grow here and there”, the elderly man replied. “Somebody’s gotta use them for something other than offsetting all those industrial smokestacks.”

“How do you use a tree?”

The old man sighed. “Son, that may be the most depressing question I’ve ever heard.”

“Sorry”, Scott answered.

“The really depressing part is that I’m not at all surprised that you asked. Guess they don’t think that sort of thing is important enough to program into yer noggin.”

“Actually, I…” Scott started to explain that he didn’t have all the information that other kids did, but he stopped himself. There was a more important topic that he wanted to know about. “Actually I’d appreciate it if you’d explain what you first said.”

“What, about climbing it?” The old man shook his head. “It’s as simple as that son; you grab a limb, pull yourself up, and then keep going as far as you’d like.”

“Then what happens?”

“There’s only way one to find out.” The old man punctuated his point by taking his bony finger and pointing it up the tree. “There’s no better way to do it than to just do it.”

Scott looked back up at the tree. It certainly seemed possible. The branches were close enough together, they all seemed healthy, and there was no one openly discouraging him from trying this activity. Scott looked back at the man who only jerked his head upwards impatiently.

Scott turned to his robot raccoon. The sun through the branches was giving him a new appearance. The parts of the metal and plastic that weren’t shaded by the leaves were reflecting the sun and showing each little screw and splash of paint that Scott had so joyfully added. The last time he had done something just for fun, it had turned out quite well. Why not?

Scott reached his hands above his head, the branch only just out of reach. He jumped, grabbed as firmly as he could, and felt his legs swinging slightly. With the few muscles he had, he managed to pull himself upwards while his feet made contact with the trunk. Half walking, half pulling his body up the tree, Scott felt exhilaration rushing up his body. No one had ever told him how much fun the outdoors could be. He climbed higher and higher until he couldn’t even see the ground through the leaves.

Scott stopped two-thirds up the tree and finally looked out at the world around him. The buildings were ordinary and depressing, but there was so much more to see. The crowds moved in a flow around the streets, cars zoomed to intersections then slammed on their brakes at the last minute. Beyond that, past all the ordinary, was a horizon Scott had only glimpsed before. Past the city, past the everyday business, was a sun shining on mountains and lakes. Scott had explored the outdoors before, but never in this kind of panoramic setting. For he didn’t know how long, Scott simply sat and took it all in.

Scott the Pretty Great

In “Anecdotal Tales”, stories will be told. Some will be fun, some will not. Some will be great, some will be less so. Some stories are true, some are merely possible. This is one of them.

Scott the Pretty Great

Scott stood back and admired his work.  Not too bad, he thought to himself.  The blue raccoon stared up at him with glassy eyes that betrayed its current lifelessness.  In the dreary industrial setting that surrounded him, Scott was thankful for his creation that sat there in a myriad of blue colors.

It had not been Scott’s intention to make this animal-robot a bright color when he first started.  But, as young boys are wont to do, Scott had gotten the idea after he had started and leapt at the opportunity to implement the color scheme.  The change to a blue-theme had only served to complicate his already complex endeavor.  There were only so many blue pieces of metal lying about the factory for him to use.  The paint cans that he came across were mostly empty; a thin layer of blue chips taunted him with its uselessness.

As he admired the raccoon in all shades of blue, Scott decided the extra effort had been worth it.  True, the hues and tones didn’t quite match, but nobody said they had to.  The raccoon was most decidedly blue.  The ears were blue-green, the stomach was a murky grey-blue, and his tail was a striped set of royal blue and sea-blue.  The curious machine stood in stark contrast to the steel table it stood upon.

Scott turned to his fellow workers, eager to show off his new companion.  Sadly, the blank gaze in his raccoon’s eyes was nothing compared to that of the rest of the children.  Scott was the only boy in the entire warehouse not hunkered over his task.  Filling the room were hundreds of work stations, all of them occupied by eight year-old boys.  As the only twelve year-old, Scott knew that he had been expected to be a regional supervisor by now.  That was how things went.

With the advent of Insta-Learning, childhood had become a shortened period.  Women had nanites injected into them while in the second trimester of pregnancy.  Genetic advancements had already prepared the babies to be as healthy as possible.  Any gene which wasn’t regarded as beneficial was a gene that could possibly be altered.  Harelips and severe acne were a thing of the past, as were asthma, severe baldness, and weak teeth.  The children were born picture perfect, each one of them perfectly adorable.

As the kids grew, the parents worried that their offspring would have a hard time establishing themselves.  The doctors and philosophers offered that there were great advantages to allow the next generation to adopt a sense of homogeny.  If no one was different, then no one would be discriminated against.  Why not allow physical traits to turn towards sameness and idyllic features?

But the parents still wanted their child to be the “special” one.  They were grateful for the next generation’s freedom from many health concerns, but they still wanted their offspring to be the one that was the best.  Insta-Learning came along and was only too happy to help.  For decades, doctors and educators had been recommending teaching a child as early as possible.  Reading together with a child was no longer enough.  By the time they entered the school system, it was soon common place for children to have the encyclopedia ingrained in their memory.  Insta-Learn had let the infants acquire massive amounts of knowledge through a two-step process.  One part of the invention allowed the brain to change and adjust itself, allowing the brain to form in the way that retained the most amount of information.  At the same time, the program constantly fed the baby terabytes of facts, procedures, and muscle information.  If desired, (and if the Premium Package was ordered, the one that offered customizable traits that the Economy Package and Standard Package options did not have) the child could come out of the womb knowing as much as its parents did.  By the end of the week, the Insta-Learn process had programmed the child to not only walk and talk, but hit a homerun and recall humorous quotes from Oscar Wilde’s works.

Soon, the world where everyone was special gave way to a land where no one was special.  Children lost their precocious and curious nature; having already learned all that was needed.  The traits that they had may have varied from child to child, but eventually all parents made whatever sacrifices were needed to upgrade their now-perfect child to the Premium Package.  The limits were gone; each child could do it all.

With nothing left to learn, schools and parks were soon closed.  The education system could be replaced with a nightly upgrade from Insta-Learn and parks were deemed to unreliable.  Playing was seen as frivolous.  The children had no need to entertain themselves; that was the opinion of certain government figures.  Why would they allow all these workers to walk around when there were plenty of tasks they could help out with?

So began the Production Age.  The need for newer, better, more impressive belongings had never been greater.  And with millions more skilled laborers now introduced into the population, it only made sense for them to lend a hand.  Warehouses like the one Scott worked in had been built almost overnight.  Thanks to the Insta-Learn, each child woke up knowing exactly what device they were to build, where they should report to, and with the necessary information and skill set already in their brains.

Scott however, had been different.  He looked healthy enough, but what information had been loaded into his brain was incomplete.  Scott himself theorized that if Insta-Learn had an almost one hundred percent success rate, he was that exception.  He knew enough to blend in, but he found himself curious about things.  He found himself walking around the streets looking up while his peers walked wordlessly in organized patterns focused only on their next achievement.  While Scott’s head was in the clouds, others’ minds were on productivity.

That was how Scott had a robotic raccoon in front of him while thousands of car brakes were being efficiently assembled.  Scott often admired the precise and dedicated way that the eight year-olds worked.  There were no flaws, no errors, and no slip-ups in their work.  Scott looked back to his raccoon and shook his head.  Of the four legs on his new toy, only two of them were the same color.  Wires were uncovered by the casing he had managed to assemble.  There was a bump on the hindquarters of his creation because he simply didn’t feel like filing down the dome.  In the end, and just for fun, he had cut open the area, cleared out innards, and made a storage spot to hide any great treasures that the two of them might come across in their adventures.

Adventure.  It was a funny word to Scott.  Whenever he tried to explain his desire to go out and see new things, he was always met with confused looks.  Why would someone want to travel around and see things that were already in their mind?  Why use up valuable work time when one could simply research it on the Insta-Learn?  Scott tried to tell them for a while.  He tried to explain that he thought looking at a mountain was more interesting to him than reading about one.  He extolled the virtues of trying to hold as much lake water in his hands before it leaked out.  In return, his fellow workers just commented that they would need to dry their hands off before they returned to their assigned task, so it was more efficient to keep as dry as possible at all times.

Scott reached behind his raccoon’s chin and depressed the power button.  He clapped his hands when the whirring and humming started up.  He could see the gears moving behind the plastic paneling by the legs.  Slowly, the raccoon stood on its four legs.  It tried to lift its head, but it was met with a few jerks and spastic movements.  Scott was alarmed, and leaned in for a closer look.  The raccoon tried to back away; apparently scared of Scott the would-be attacker.  But Scott managed to hold it down long enough to free a stray wire that had caught around the neck.  Making a note to contain the wiring better, Scott backed away from the raccoon.

Blinking, the robot looked up at Scott.  It tilted its head to one side and took in its maker at a thirty degree angle.  It blinked.  The glassy eyes now flicked from side to side.  It seemed to be taking it all in.  The quick-adaption protocols that Scott had created were working just as he had hoped.  Learning would be a gradual process for his robot.  Everyone else started their lives knowing everything.  Scott didn’t want his robot to be like that.

Scott whistled to the raccoon and watched as the robotic animal turned towards him.  He patted on his knees, whistled again, and waited to see if the protocols would follow as he had hoped.  Sure enough, the raccoon edged towards the end of the table top.  Scott patted his knees, whistled, and patted his knees again.  The raccoon came to the very edge of the table, looked down, and took in its options.  A few moments later, it carefully and curiously hopped down to the chair, and then hopped down to Scott’s feet.  The robot looked up to Scott with an inquisitive air.  What next, it seemed to ask.

That, Scott thought to himself, was an excellent question.

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