Deathly Pale (Weekly Writing Challenge)

(Monday means a much needed Weekly Writing Challenge.  And seeing as how The Walking Dead came back on T.V. last night… well, you get the idea.)

I also have always liked the monster within idea. I like the zombies being us. Zombies are the blue-collar monsters.” George A. Romero

**********

Outside, the thick layer of gray clouds was not to be permeated.  Only a month ago, an early morning setting of bright blue skies joined by puffy white clouds would have offered up a promise of hope.  However, in the thirty days since September had waved good-bye and exited off stage, things had changed dramatically.  Gone were the picturesque sunsets.  There would no longer be beautiful sunrises flooding one’s windows with orange and pink hues that danced and melted into each other.  The mountains that looked so majestic and daring off in the distance were covered by an intrusive layer of dismal color.  The grayness was so absolute and so all-encompassing that it even began showing on the denizens of the world.

Rick, trying his best to keep warm, looked at his roommate.  Earlier in the year, Robert had been the picture of health.  He had spent his summers working at the beach.  His bronze tan had served as proof of the countless hours that the golden sun had shone down on his muscular skin.  Running around in only swim trunks, Robert had portrayed an image of perfect health.  The men had envied him, the woman had smiled his way; Robert had looked as majestic as the sandy beaches and the clear blue ocean that he stood watch over.  It seemed ironic to Rick that a man who had spent so much time being a lifeguard now personified the cold visage of decay.

Once again, Rick found himself standing back in horror.  The normally bright green eyes of his friend had gone dim.  A low, “nnnnngh” sound was coming out of Robert’s slack jaw.  Weirdly enough, Robert’s teeth were still as white as ever.  His tongue even retained its purple-red color, like a plum that had been left out in the afternoon heat.  Clearly, some rich blue plasma must still be pumping through the man’s veins.

Pic from WP Clip Art

The pallid skin tone, however, told another story.  The formerly tanned face was now ashen.  Deep lines masked any freckles or smiles that had once decorated Robert’s face.  It wasn’t enough to describe Robert as pasty.  His face now seemed the very absence of life or spirit.  Robert was at the halfway point between lively human and stagnant corpse.  Even his brown hair had joined in with his face and had gone completely dark.  Robert was not entirely lost to the world of the living, but he certainly had packed his bags for the trip.

Rick tried to look away, but couldn’t.  The newly added creases under Robert’s eyes haunted Rick.  They sagged and drooped under the depressed state that Robert had sunk into.  The man’s eyes, no longer charged with glimmering or shining, had taken on a vacancy that was horrifying.  Rick couldn’t take it.  There needed to be some color added to Robert’s morbid features.  With a dab, he drew a long line running from the blackened lip and traced it down to the chin.  Rick stood back and looked at the trail of blood.  He gasped.  The contrast of the deep, dark-red streak only showed just how desolate Robert really looked.

“Dude”, Rick finally said.  “That is messed up.”

“Really?  The makeup works?”

Rick nodded as he stared at his work of art.  “The face is frickin’ perfect.  We just gotta get you some tattered clothes.”

Robert clapped his hands.  “First prize, here I come!  No more losing to guys dressed like TeleTubbies.”

Caught Cheating While Playing (on) the Field

He that will cheat at play, will cheat you any way.” –Dutch proverb

**********

Lance sat on his couch and stared past the television.  If this were a normal Saturday night, Lance would be watching the game that was playing out on the screen.  The announcers were excited and a flurry of activity was occurring on his five-foot, HD display.  There was much cause for enthusiasm and uproarious behavior.  Yet, Lance couldn’t focus on the players.  He had heard about a game that had happened earlier in the week, and he had been obsessing over it ever since.

A series of knocks roused Lance from his brooding.  He got up from the couch, trudged over to the door, and opened it.  Without a word or a look to the man standing on the doormat, Lance returned to the couch cushion that was still warm.  He took his beer from the cup holder and took a long, slow sip.

“Sorry I’m late”, Vince said as he shook off his coat.  “Traffic was out of control.  You’d think people had never driven in the blasted rain before.”  He tossed his wet attire in a pile by the hat rack, just as he always did.  “What’d I miss?”

Lance jerked his head in a way that drew attention to the screen in front of them.  “Game’s right there”, Lance replied.

“You mind if I have a beer?”

“You know the way”, Lance stated.

Vince, feeling unsure of his standing, headed to the kitchen, removed an aluminum can from the door, and headed back to the living room.  “You bettin’ on your team tonight?  Even though they’re favored to lose?”

“They’ll be fine”, Lance said quietly.

“What is with you?”

“Do you wanna talk, or do you wanna watch the game?”

“You just seem mad.  Trouble at work?  Are you taking out Cynthia grief on me?”

“Maybe I get annoyed when people talk during the game.”

“That’s not it.  You’re usually screaming at the dang thing.  Besides, there’re commercials.”

“This beer’s empty.  I need another”, Lance announced as he went to the kitchen.

“All right, that’s it.”  Vince ran to the kitchen and stood in front of the door handle.  “What is your beef?”

“You’re blocking the beer.  Move.”  The last response was more of a threat than an actual sentence.  Lance’s broad shoulders and jar-sized head seemed all too eager to punctuate any statements with violence.  Lance could do plenty of damage when he wanted too.  And at the moment, Vince thought his friend was too ready to attack.

“Not until you tell me what’s wrong”, Vince demanded.  He hoped that the bravado in his voice was effective, even though he strongly suspected that his bluff wasn’t entirely convincing.

“Why don’t you ask Burt”, Lance replied.

“What does Burt have to do with anything?”

“I wouldn’t know.  You’re the one that’s so chummy with him all of a sudden.”

“What?  Lance, I haven’t seen Burt in weeks.”

A massive fist zoomed past Vince’s head, narrowly missing him and landing full-on into the refrigerator door.  An intimidating dent was now present where Lance’s hand had landed.

“Lance!  What the-“

“Don’t lie to me!  You two were playing football just last night.”

“How did you-“  Vince stopped himself.  Somehow Lance had found out.  Suddenly the sullen mood made perfect sense.

“What am I, stupid?  Of course I found out.”

“You weren’t supposed to”, Vince replied quietly.

“Oh, c’mon.  Half our friends were there.  You wanted to get caught.”

“Why would I want that?”

“Maybe you’re tired of me and you’re just too gutless to say anything.”

“Lance, if I that were true than why would I be here?  I’m not tired of you.”

“But you are avoiding me.  You’re just here for the beer”, Lance replied.

“Now you know that’s ridiculous.  C’mon, we’re close.  You can’t pretend that we aren’t.”

“Then why?  Why would you claim that the game got cancelled?”

“I didn’t want to hurt your feelings.”

“Uh huh.”

“Don’t be like that”, Vince said.  “Look, just because I spent time with him doesn’t mean that I’m done with you.”

“Is he better than I am?  Does he have skills that I don’t?”

“Lance, c’mon.”

“No, I’m serious.  Does he know tricks that work for you?  Are his moves sleeker than mine?”

“Lance.”

“And I’ve heard about that T.V. at home.”

“What?”

“Oh, the guys can’t stop talking about it.  ‘Look how big it is!  It’s so gorgeous!’   I’ll bet he lets you be in charge when you’re over there.  Does it make you feel like a big, macho man?  He just thinks you’re so great to be around.  If only he knew the truth.”

“The truth?”  Vince was tired of being on the receiving end.  He had played defense in college and was ready to dust off his old skillset.  “And what is the truth exactly?  That I put up with people who are abusive?”

“I’m abusive?  Me?  That’s a laugh.”

“Please.  Everybody’s seen it.  The way you treat people.  The pushing, the shoving, the name calling.”

“It’s football!  That’s how you’re supposed to behave”, Lance replied.

“Well, nobody else acts that way.  Just you.  And our friends feel the same.  Several of the guys actually asked me to talk to you about it.”

“What, their feelings are hurt?”

“And their backs, and their shoulders.  You don’t respect other people, Lance.”

“I don’t tow cow to whiny little twits with no drive, if that’s what you mean.”

“That’s what I’m talking about.  Why can’t you try to see it from their side?”

“Whatever”, Lance growled.

“All right Lance.  There are two reasons why I snubbed you.”

“Finally, the truth comes out.”

“First off”, Vince said as he jabbed his finger dangerously hard into Lance’s chest.  “You’re a cheater.”

“I am not!  I would never do to you what you did to me!”

“Not that kind of cheating you emotionally unstable nimrod.  You go out of bounds”, Vince exclaimed.

“You went behind my back!”

“On.  The.  Field!  You run out of the boundary lines that are there for a reason.”

“Oh”, Lance said quietly.  “That.  Well, that’s me taking advantage of a situation.  If a ref ain’t gonna call me on it, then I’m gonna do it.  Anything for a victory.”

“Yeah, well the guys have noticed.  So stop it.”

“And?”  Lance shoved Vince’s finger aside and took a step closer.  His beer breath was pungent and inescapable.  “What’s the other reason?”

“I’m really not supposed to tell”, Vince said reluctantly.

“I knew it.  What, you’re in love with him or something?”

“No, you moron.   Burt has pancreatic cancer, okay?”

Lance froze.  “Seriously?”

“Yes.  He has to get treatment, go to the hospital, post-op; the whole thing.  He doesn’t know when he’ll be able to play again and his team wasn’t up this week.  We used to be teammates.  We were something special before you came along and changed everything.  So he wanted to have one last round.  Him and I.  I didn’t think you’d understand.  So I didn’t tell you.”

“So it wasn’t that you’re dumping me, it’s that you were getting back together with your old partner.”

“Lance.”

“It’s the legs, isn’t it?  His legs are better than mine.”

“You aren’t as young as you once were”, Vince admitted.  “Plus you are gettin’ a few extra pounds around the waist line.”

“Wow.  Hurtful much?”

“Enough”, Vince said.  “You aren’t perfect, and I’m not perfect.  But you can see why I did it right?  Why I went behind your back?  I still love ya, you’re still my guy.  I had no choice.  I had to team up with Burt.  It was a onetime thing.”

“It would still appear that we need to work on keeping our lines of communication open”, Lance commented.

“Dude”, Vince replied.

“What”, Lance asked.

“That psychologist wife of yours is really changing you.”

“You’re jealous because Suzanne won’t let you drink in your living room.”

“Can we just watch the game now?”  Vince felt himself pleading but couldn’t stop.  His wife would want to talk when he got home.  There would be forced discussions about emotions later.  Right now he wanted to watch large groups of men beat the ever-living snot out of each other.

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?”

In the Blink of a Cursor

The trouble with worrying so much about your security in the future is that you feel so insecure in the present.” -Harlan Miller

**********

Thomas sat in front of his computer screen and pondered.  He knew what he wanted to do.  The computer screen glowed back at him, waiting expectantly.  Bandwidth was being used, but the keys remained idle.  Thomas clicked the mouse, typed in the proper command, selected the individual that was on his mind, and tapped the mouse button one more time.

“Are you sure?”  The screen asked what seemed like a perfectly benign question.  When the programmers created such a prompt, they surely only meant for it to be a double-checker.  Those nerds with their thick glasses and poor posture were adding one more layer of verification.  They had just been trying to prevent an accidental keystroke from bringing about embarrassment.  However, for Thomas, that was on more moment when doubt was allowed to settle in and take a nap on the couch in his mind.

He tried to tell himself that he was over-complicating things.  He knew what he desired to do.  Still, there were those times when what he felt like sharing and what he kept to himself were separated by only the narrowest of margins.

Thomas and Thelma had conversed over this matter many times, but never came to full agreement over the topic.  Thomas wanted to shout his feelings to the world.  Thelma was the cautious one.  If Thomas dared to click “OK” on the screen, there was a chance that Thelma wouldn’t like to his actions.  It might even start a fight.  But what if she agreed?  What if he could finally shout from the rooftops what he’d been clamoring to share with his friends for weeks?  Shouldn’t they know what had brought him joy and bliss all this time?  Thelma liked keeping her light under a bush, but that could only last so long.  People would eventually notice the fire burning and investigate, wouldn’t they?

Thomas couldn’t take it.  He had to at least try.  And with that, he set the pointer on his screen loose on its prey.  The white arrow of determination was pointed definitively towards its goal.  It was ready to act.  With a deep breath, Thomas tapped boldly and with emphasis.  The screen brought up a new message in confirmation of his deed.

“You have now listed yourself as ‘In a relationship with Thelma Thorpwite’”.  The secret was out.  Now maybe the hiding could end.  Maybe he could kiss his girlfriend when they left work together.  Perhaps they could go to parties together knowing that they had someone to arrive and leave with.  Thomas nibbled nervously on his fingernail.  The malleable material merely bent under the pressure his teeth tried to exert.  He had taken the first step in declaring his love out loud.  Now it was up to Thelma to respond.  Thomas hoped she’d publicly join hands with him, but she could just as easily shun his declaration of affection and ask him to tamper his enthusiasm.

Dating, Thomas thought to himself.  It’s a wonder guys have any hair left when we get married.  Thomas started thinking about his relationship with Thelma in the long run.  He started to let his mind wander to five, ten years into the future.  It was at that point that Thomas knew that, as was his nature, he was over analyzing everything.  There was a time and a place to think things over.  There was also a time to shut up, grab some potato chips, and watch television.  Thomas walked to the kitchen cabinet, happy that the remote was something he could still have complete control over.

Fighting for What’s Mine(sweeper)

Listen, here’s the thing. If you can’t spot the sucker in the first half hour at the table, then you ARE the sucker.” –Rounders

**********

There are two types of people in this world; the kind that play Minesweeper for fun, and the kind that play it because they have no choice.  Oh sure, it started out as a simple office diversion for most of the world.  There’s that old story about a county that had to have the game removed from computers because productivity was going down.  Those are my kind of people.  They’re the ones that realized the sort of draw that that grid can have.  When the world’s serving up nothing but 8’s everywhere you turn, some of us stare the challenge in the face and defy it.  Some of us are up for the challenge.

Despite what your grandpa told you, there are plenty of ways to play Minesweeper.  I know, you think it’s just some little program that you can pull up and click away at your leisure.  If you’ve beaten the game once on “Advanced” then you think you’ve accomplished something.  Please.  Those folks will always be beginners to us.  Advanced is just the starting point.  There’re those of us that stay at home, designing custom grids, and running drills.  Any wrong box sends us right back to square one, yet we keep going for hours into the morning.

Pic from Wikipedia

The Minesweeper Underground Teams, or Mutts, started off with a simple challenge.  You set yours on Advanced, they set theirs on Advanced; the first person to clear the board wins.  And I’m not talking about the layout that they have now.  That stupid little sanitized blue-board with the countdown at the bottom of the screen.   No, I’m talking original, classic design.  We want the numbers ticking away in blood red and we want that little man in yellow to pop up and call you a failure.  Don’t bring that whitewashed, safe, welcoming game around us.  You’ll end up getting our typical treatment.  We truss you up, steal your watch, stomp on it, and shove you out the door with that watch superglued to your nose.  It’s the “Time’s Up” mark of shame.

Take Hanz, our inspiration.  No one knows his real name, but we all revere Hanz.  The man’s a legend.  Some say that he took the one hundred most called up permutations of the board and memorized them.  Others claim that they were present when he cleared the bombs in seventeen seconds.  There’s even a story that he knows the guy that invented the game, and the sunglasses are on that yellow face to hide the fear that the programmer had for Hanz.  I don’t know if I believe it all, but I do know that you don’t want to plant a marker on Hanz’s turf.

In his brilliance, Hanz hacked the classic MS and changed one factor.  For every bomb that you tag, another bomb shows up on your opponent’s counter.   It’s always a special treat for us when noobs play.  You should see their eyes twitch when three bombs add up on their total.  When we’re feeling bored, when the opponent is no challenge at all, we’ll spend a good thirty seconds just marking squares that are perfectly safe just to screw with their heads.  Watch a guy try to clear ninety-seven bombs in a one hundred square plot and you’ll know true joy.

I’m not saying I’m the best, but I’m no question-mark using poser.  I’ve tussled with Hanz and walked away with my dignity intact.  I have the standard calluses on the side of my thumb and at the base of pointer finger.  You don’t come around to the warehouse without being scarred by the game a little.  There’s a trick to it all.  If you’re walking into an unknown Minesweeper Club, or Miscy’s, you don’t want to play your hand early.  I mean that literally.  Any thug who’s guarding the door is going to check your hands.  If you walk in with some pansy wrist brace like a data processor that belongs in a button-up short-sleeved shirt and narrow time, you’re not going to get any play at all.  Yeah, hours of holding that mouse are going to do crazy things to your wrist.  Suck it up.  You gotta pay your dues and the game demands that you compensate all the way.

Don’t come around with any stupid ergonomics either.  Guys come in with their titanium cases pulling out their mice shaped like commas with buttons on the side and some trackball pimple growing out of the top.  “Best of the best”, they say with a grin.  “Allows for faster game play”, they gloat.  Not here it doesn’t.  Any self-respecting Mutt that sees that sort of garbage will slam their mouse against the wall, make the dweeb eat the trackball, and give them the proper “Time’s Up” exit.

So yeah, you gotta have a few bumps on your hand.  It comes with the life.  But if you got too many bruises, if your hand is too obvious, you’re not gonna be able to find a game.  Nobody wants to be the minnow to a shark.  We’ll take you down.  But at twenty bucks a bomb, the stakes add up pretty quick.  We Mutts save our bankrolls for real challenges.  Sometimes we just want an opponent that’ll make it easy for us to buy a new car.  It all depends on the player’s taste.

Then there’s this one chick; Celeste.  I’ve decided that when someone finally takes down Hanz, one on one, it’ll either be me or Celeste.  I’m good.  She’s art.  I’m not going to give away too many secrets, but I have my logical methods.  I operate off of patterns.  I know every move I’m making to at least three degrees.  Everyone has their favorite first-square to start with.  Mine has never failed me.  Nothing in life is completely random.  There are patterns.  And lemme tell ya, I’ve spent years finding all the patterns I can and using those to buy me some pretty nice swag.  That sports call with the shiny gray paintjob and the license plate, “ALLMINE”?  Yeah, that’s my ride.  Got a 60-inch, HD, 3D TV at home too.  You don’t get to carry around a wad of scratch in a leather jacket unless you’ve got the skills to bring ‘er home.  And I do.  I’ve taken my explosions, sure.  We all have.  Eventually life’s gonna blow up in your face; time’ll run out.  But I’ve taken my shrapnel and learned from my scars.

Celeste; she’s the opposite.  You look at her and you don’t see a threat.  She’s just around five foot, blonde, pretty cute with that whole glasses/librarian thing going.  She always has her hair pulled back in a loose ponytail.  Says she can’t afford to have it fall in her face when she’s in the zone.  For all her academic appearances, the woman’s an artist.

Celeste never plays it safe.  She plays recklessly.  I’ve seen her click through more failed screens than any four players combined.  But she’s fast. Wicked fast.  You should see her wrist.  She hides it well, wears long sleeves and has learned to hold it just right so that it doesn’t show.  But every once in a while, when she’s had one too many shots or she’s at the end of a forty hour session, it’ll come out.  Her right hand, especially her thumb, is permanently curved to cradle a mouse.

She’s fascinating to watch.  She claims that Hanz taught her how to play when she was a little girl.  It’s a nice story, just like the story of a guy who clicks once and the whole field of blanks clears away for him.  I don’t know if I believe the story.  But I do know that she and I have scrapped more than a few times.  We tangle almost every time we’re in the same Miscy together.  Once in a while we’ll tangle out in the parking lot too.  What can I say; we’re like oil and fire.  I’m slick, she’s hot; every once in a while we’ll let the inferno rage.  Regardless, she’s the one to beat.

You getting the picture yet, kid?  There are Miscy’s all around; you just gotta know where to look.  My suggestion?  Hang out around software and airplane guys.  It’s the engineers you want to tail.  What, you think engineers don’t want their kicks to?  You think it’s an accident that the fifteen biggest Miscy’s are all within two miles of airplane and computer manufacturers?  Those nerds with their pocket protectors are tougher than you think.  Their glasses make them look weak, but they’ll take you down and make you cry.

If the Miscy doesn’t fill up a hanger or a warehouse, then it’s a rookie joint.  You want that place to be filed.  There are plenty of us Mutts and if we avoid a place, there’s a reason for it.  Some guys, Landminers, we call ‘em, they’ll rig the games.  The SWAT leader at each Miscy is supposed to keep things on the up and up.  But sometimes the SWATs get greedy.  Sometimes they hack a game and give their buds a field guide.  We don’t deal that way, nor do we deal with those kinds.  There’s no planting for real Mutts; we play it straight up.  You want the high walls of an abandoned building to be constantly echoing.  If you aren’t distracted by hundreds of mouse clicks resounding off the metal walls, men hunched over computers as far as the eye can see?  Well then you’re dealing with Landminers and you should get yourself to an honest Miscy with real Mutts.  Don’t waste your time on those loser L-M punks.

You know those corners that cause you trouble?  You’ve got all your known bombs marked, you still have two bombs left, but there are five spots all closed in and you just walk away and figure some miracle will fix it all while you deal with an easier section?  Not us Mutts.  We barrel through.  We get it done.  You go ahead and work up a sweat.  You worry about time running out as your fingers start to shake in fear.  When you’re ready for a real game, you can find us.  We’ll be only too happy to take your money and shove you back out the door.

**********

(P.S.  If you’ve never watched this 2 minute fake trailer, you should.  It’s my favorite.)  😉

Repetitious Excuses

Repetitious Excuses

It was the end of a VERY long day.” –Groundhog’s Day

**********

“I must have misheard you”, Patty said as she put her purse down on the kitchen counter.  “Say that again.”

“I thought I could go to Stephen’s gradation next time”, Lawrence answered.

“Next time.  Next time?  Lawrence, that doesn’t make any sense.  How could you miss your son’s graduation?  Your parents are still back at the high school looking for you!”

“Now, you claim that I skipped it.  That I’ll never know what it was like.  But that’s because you don’t know the whole story.”

Patty’s keys joined the purse as they skittered and slid across the marble surface.  Her hands were now free to cross in front of her white formal silk blouse.  As Lawrence looked up past her pearl necklace and her chin that was lightly dabbed in makeup, he was met with a distinct frown and severe eyes.  Glancing even further upward, he could see veins coming out of his wife’s head that were hidden to the casual observer behind her black bangs.  Patty was furious.

“You have five minutes.”

“Okay”, Lawrence said as he felt his feet moving back and forth underneath him.  He’d been wondering the whole time how he was going to explain what had happened.  He still didn’t fully grasp what he had gone through.  Regardless, it was time to try and figure it out.  A simple, “I’ll tell you later”, wouldn’t work today.

“I didn’t miss his graduation because I’ve already been to it.  I’ve been to it dozens of times; maybe even a hundred.  The tight shoes, the tie, your mom’s thick perfume attacking me in packed together folding chairs.  I couldn’t take it again.  I love our son, but once or twice is enough.”

Patty’s thin eyebrows voiced her disbelief.  “Exactly how many graduations do you think your son gets?  What is this nonsense you’re spewing out?”

“I get it.  I see where you’re confused.”  Lawrence studied his wife’s face again and corrected himself.   “Upset; I can understand why you’re upset.  And yes, Daniel only graduated high school once.  I’ve seen it over and over.  I’ve relived the event more times than I can keep track of.”

“How; try tackling that part of your story.  How?”

“I don’t know.  Somehow it’s all related to my toothbrush.  Every time that I brush my teeth, I get taken back to the bathroom this morning.  I work a full day, I survive traffic, I eat dinner, I go to the graduation, I come home, and I brush my teeth.  Boom.  I wake up to find myself in bed and then it’s morning.  Again.  This morning.  The same morning over and over.”

“Because you brushed your teeth?”

Lawrence heard the incredulity in Patty’s voice and started talking faster in hopes of beating her wrath to the punch.  “I know, it sounds crazy.  The only theory that I can come up with is that I was in some sort of dream.  Maybe there’s a vein near my teeth that controls my internal clock or my perceptions and it was inflamed just enough to be overly sensitive.  You know how the dentist always says she has to numb all these areas of my mouth simply to work on one tooth.”

“Your tooth is responsible for your brain time traveling back repeatedly to this day?”

Lawrence nodded excitedly.  He thought about a follow up statement, but knew that it couldn’t possibly help matters.

“Lawrence Edward Tonlin.  How stupid do you think I am?”

“Now don’t be like that.”

“Time traveling teeth?”

“Honey…”

“So, what, your toothpaste raises your I.Q.?  Einstein talks to you while you floss?  What?”

“Do you really think I’d make up something this ridiculous?”

“Yes”, Patty replied without pausing.

“Why would I do that?”

“I don’t know”, she answered.  “Why would you tell the kids that Santa got stuck in the chimney and that he could never come back here due to the lawsuit between his people and the construction company that built our house?”

Lawrence paused to laugh.  “Oh c’mon, that was genius.  We would have never had to Christmas shop ever again.”  Seeing his wife turn to the refrigerator for a drink, Lawrence changed his laugh into a cough, and then into a clearing of his throat.

“What did you do when you were supposedly too busy to spend time with your only son?”

“It really depended on the day”, Lawrence said as a flood of memories rushed around his head.  “There was the time I drove out to the lake and spent all day fishing and barbecuing.  I ran onto an airplane without a ticket.  I went bungee jumping out by the-“

“Wait, what?”

“Oh don’t be so shocked.  You know I’ve always wanted to try bungee jumping.”

“Not that.  Before that.  A plane?”

“Sure.  I ran onto a plan without a boarding pass.  Man, that day was fun.  Those ticket agents aren’t nearly as fast to grab their little walkie talkies as you would think.  The male flight attendant was trying to chase me down the tunnel thing.  Heh.  I had a head start and I didn’t have any luggage to slow me down.  They tried to shut the plane door.  Your old husband though, he’s pretty quick.  Still, I pitied the people that had to wait until the sky marshals arrived.”

“Sky marshals, Lawrence?”

“Yeah.  I tried to walk myself off after they closed the cabin door.  The officials wouldn’t let me.  They thought I was some sort of security threat and they wanted to search the entire plane even though I’d only been on the front part.  Can you believe it?  I felt kind of bad about that.”

Lawrence brightened up.  A twinkle in his look showed his mischievous side.  “Now, it never happened.  Those people made their plane.  Today’s a different version of today than that today was.  Today I never even went to the airport.  That today though; man.  Those sky marshals are rough.  And yet, I gotta say their holding cells are surprisingly comfortable.  They shouldn’t have loaned me a toothbrush, those silly guys.”

“You’re… you’re not making this up, are you?”  Patty had since turned around with a cup in her hand.  She had intended to make herself some tea to soothe her nerves, but her husband’s story had distracted her.  The dry tea bag flopped around in the porcelain cup, its tag bobbing along merrily with no water to weigh it down.

“Could I really make something like this up?”

“I don’t know.  You’re weird, but this is psychotic-break kind of weird.”

“Patty, I’m fine.”

“So you did go to Daniel’s graduation?”

“Many times.”

“What was his signature move at the podium?”

Lawrence rolled his eyes.  “He yells out, ‘Good Night, Vietnam.’  Darn kid.”

“Any one of your father-friends from the baseball team could have called you and told you that.”

“But they didn’t.”

Patty’s mood and posture had softened.  She was inquisitive now.  “What did we do?”

“Pardon?”

“What?  You’re telling me that of all those times that you supposedly existed in a repetitive cycle that you didn’t spend any of those with your wife?”

“I tried, but most times you were dead-set on going to Daniel’s graduation.”

“And other times?”

“It depended how I phrased it.  If I explained it just right, I could get you to stay home with me.  We’d go to the bedroom, have a little fun, and watch a movie.”

“Really?  That’s it?”

“Well, a few times I took you out to a fancy dinner.  But that gets old for a fellow rather quickly.”

“It doesn’t get old for his wife”, Patty declared with her tone as she poked her finger into Lawrence’s chest.

“Point taken”, Lawrence said as he raised his arms in surrender.  Patty snuck into his arms and put her forehead against his chin.

“So what did you do tonight?”

“Say again?”

“Tonight.  This time”, Patty said as she put down her cup and looked at the clock on the wall.  “You can do anything you want.  You partake in whatever fancy strikes you.  What’d you do this time?”

“Watched Die Hard.”

“What?”

“Y’know, Die Hard.”

“That’s what you did?”

“It’s a really great movie!  It’s not like I have time to read A Tale of Two Cities or anything.  A two hour movie sounded great to me.”

“Ugggh”, Patty walked away in disgust.  She still didn’t know whether to believe her husband, but she knew without a doubt that her husband was behaving like his normal self.

“Patty, c’mon”, Lawrence called after her from the kitchen.  “It’s Die Hard!”

Cooking with Claude

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.

Cooking with Claude

I don’t like food that’s too carefully arranged; it makes me think that the chef is spending too much time arranging and not enough time cooking.  If I wanted a picture I’d buy a painting.” -Andy Rooney

“Hello my Cuisinbros and Cuisinettes!  Welcome to the very first webisode of ‘Cooking with Claude’.  I’m Claude, and I’m going to walk you through those challenging menu items that seem so daunting to us.  If you’re like me, you sit down in a restaurant, order a fancy meal, and think to yourself, ‘If only I could cook these kinds of meals at home!’  Well why don’t we break down those borders right now?  Thanks for joining me.

“Today we take on a dish that taunts many.  This delicacy mocked me for years; the fluffiness, the flavor, the mouth-watering allure of it.  Yes, today we shall tackle an omelet.  I know!  You’re terrified; you fear for your pallet on such a first attempt.  But that’s why we’re doing all this together Cuisine-Crew.  That’s why we’re streaming this live with no editing.  We are teaming up to tackle this monster.  So let’s get to it.

“First off, you’ll need a few eggs.  I have a few extra in my fridge right here.  Huh.  They seem to have expired.  Ah, what’s a little disease between friends?  You’re not five years old, right?  Your immune system can certainly handle this sort of challenge.  Remember to never let those little inconveniences stop you from accomplishing what you desire.  Say, that’s pretty good.  We’re going to have to make up some t-shirts with that slogan!  Tell ya what; we’ll place a link right under this video.  You can snatch them and support our wonderful program here.  Twenty-five plus shipping sounds like a reasonable price, doesn’t it?  Let’s go with that.

“Right; back to the cooking.  That’s the reason you’re here and that’s what we’re here for.  Heretofore?  Wherefore?  I never really understood those words.  I suppose we could look them up, but we’re too busy cooking!  What we have here are three eggs.  Oh, and a bowl.  I really should have gotten that bowl first.  Hmm, this one looks a little too small.  That’s like a water dish for a kitten.  We want room to whisk, darnit!  I really should have washed the dishes first.  Now would probably be a good time to stop and edit, wouldn’t it?  Ha ha!!  Well we’ll have none of that!  I’ll just rinse out this cereal bowl.  I’m sure it’ll be fine.

“All righty.  We’ve all seen Ratatouille, we know how chefs work.  What more is there to understand?  Take your egg; thrust it onto the edge of the bowl, and crack that sucker open!  Hmm.  A little drippy.  Okay, maybe we should crack with a bit less vigor.  I really should clean that up.  Ah well, time enough for that later.  A slippery floor never hurt anyone after Vaudeville, right?  Besides, it looks like the cat of the house has it under control.  Lap it up, kitty!  Let’s just grab another egg from the fridge to replace the first one.

“Okay, with a gentle, but still enthused thrust, crack that sucker onto the bowl!  There ya go!  See the way the shell just falls open and gives you a pleasant revealing?  Huh.  That is a surprise.  I’ve never seen an egg with red before.  It’s kinda runny too.  It was just a red dot, but now it’s sort of taking over the whole bowl.  Man, that’s actually pretty gross.  It’s like the chicken is bleeding itself all over the bowl.  Eew.

“Ahem.  No time to delay, let’s just rinse that egg out and try again!  We still have three more eggs to work with; we can make a go of it!  Oh, and in case I haven’t told you already, be sure to subscribe.  I don’t really know how often I’ll be able to do this, but I’m sure it’ll be a hit.  Go ahead, sign up, and you won’t have to miss a minute!  Fun and entertaining!  We’ll have aprons and t-shirts for sale.  Ah, isn’t this the great life?

“We’ve got our bowl all washed out.  Those whole egg one and egg two dilemmas are in the past.  We have a new egg, we crack it open, and….  Look at that!  What a great yolk.  Now, if you like to add just a dash of salt or a splash of milk, this would be the perfect time.  You know, we want to have all those additives in there before we really whisk it together.  If you’re vegan or allergic, why not substitute the dairy in the milk with soy?  It should really pair well with the egg and butter.

“What?  Why are you all trying to instant message me?  I really can’t take comments right now.  What are you, anti-soy?  You wacky vegans; you’re always so picky with your dairy consumption.

“Oh, but that reminds me, we really should get the pan going while we’re whisking.  Take a slab of butter, toss it on a frying pan, and really crank that heat up.  There.  That chunk’s about the size of my thumb.  That should do it.  Now I just add two more eggs.  There’s number two.  This is going to be quite the omelet!  I know; you’re hungry already.  So why aren’t you joining in?  C’mon, catch up at home!

“And here comes egg number three.  Huh.  This one feels a little heavy.  That just means it’s fat with flavor right?  We’ll just crack this guy open.  Odd.  Let me try this again.  We’ll crack…  Man, this sucker refuses to open.  Maybe if I chip away with this fork.  There we go!  We’ve got the shell started.  Aw, shoot.  It’s one big frozen mass.  There must be… yep, there it is.  A crack in the exterior; I guess this little guy’s gonna stay a solid chick-sickle.  Hey, a two-egg omelet will fill me up, right?  I mean, why not?

“Okay, time to check on our oven.  It’s been about a minute so hopefully that butter had been melting nicely while we talked.  …except it’s not.  Well isn’t that strange.  It’s still… oh, wait!  I forgot to turn the oven  on.  Hmm, I wonder why it won’t work.  What?  Oh, my cameraman is telling me the oven is gas.  I don’t actually know how to work one of these things.  Pilot?  What’s a pilot light?  This button over here?  Okay, but shouldn’t it turn out by itself?  I mean, we’re in the twenty-first century after all-

“Ah!!!  Man, that flame really jumps right up, doesn’t it?  Someone really likes to have a hot time in the ol’ kitchen!  Wow.  Good thing I trimmed my eyebrows before the show.  I’m not singed right?  Okay, good.  Keep in mind ladies, ol’ Claude keeps cool under pressure and his eyebrows tidy.  I’m just sayin’.  Women love a guy that cooks, right?

“Next up, we whisk our eggs.  I’ve got two eggs, I’ve added a splash of milk, and now I’ve decided that I do want some salt.  I wasn’t certain before, but now I’m gonna go for it.  Where’s that salt shaker…  Ah ha!  Thought you could get away from me, you little rascal?   These holes in the top look to be a tad crusted over.  I’m going to give the top a little tap.  I really want the salt to come out in a controlled manner.  A little tap…  Shoot.  I didn’t realize the lid would fall of like that.  Man that is not a small amount of salt, is it?  I mean, I can see little crystals forming together at the top.  I really think those lids should be stronger.

“What the-?  Oops!  We’ve got ourselves some smoke here.  I think this would be a great time to remind you viewers that you should always keep an eye on the burners.  You really don’t want your skillet setting off the smoke detectors.  Man that thing’s sensitive.  Shrill, too.  I always thought it would take more to set them off.  What?  You can’t hear me?  Okay, I’ll take the battery out.  We’ll have it be our little secret.

“Isn’t this fun?  And to think you could be waiting at a table for food and missing all this?  There’s no place like home… cooking!  Hey, that could be another t-shirt!  Man, I’m all kinds of quotable today!  Keep an eye out for that shirt too!  We’re gonna make sure we’re stocked up so you can get them as soon as your credit card clears.  Well, and I gotta have a big enough stack to make the trip to the post office worth my time.  C’mon, it’s like three miles away.  You folks know how it is.  Ahh, what’m I worried about?  I’m sure you’ll order plenty!

“Let’s check how we’re doing.  The smoke is almost all gone.  Whoops!  Better not hold that battery over the burner.  Ha ha!  Let’s put it over on this countertop out of the way.  We snagged a fresh pad of butter and it’s melting just fine.  Yeah, I think the pan is pretty well coated.  Time to add the eggs!

“Those eggs are on their way now.  I like to coax them along as they cook.  You just dab at the sides when they start to bubble with your spatula.  Wait.  Where’s my spatula?  Tim did you see where…  Darnit!  Your cat’s nibbling on the spatula!  Give that back!  Ugh.  Now there’re teeth marks on it.  Dude, your cat is just messed up.  I have to rinse this stupid thing off now.  Gah.

“I’d say it’s about time we finish this puppy up.  Take your spatula and nudge at the sides a little.  There it is!  That’s more like it!  I like to flip my omelet as soon as possible; make sure both sides are evenly cooked.  Simply take your utensil, get it under there and…

“Crud.  It broke.  Eh, scrambled eggs are acceptable.  Let’s all make scrambled eggs together.  If you have a nice omelet; well then congratulations to you.  But we’re making ‘em scrambled now.  Chop ‘em up!  Chop chop chop with your spatula.  Hey, look at all those pieces of egg deliciousness!  They’re starting to get a little brown so let’s pull ‘em off and toss ‘em on a plate.

“Terrific.  Eggs, scrambled, just like that.  It couldn’t be simpler!  Now all we have to do is dig in!  Let’s all try it together shall we?

“Oh my…  Ugh.  That’s nasty.  That is like the worst thing I’ve ever…  Dude, seriously.  I can’t even get that down.  How much salt fell in there?

“Tim!  The oven!  Your cat knocked the battery onto the burner!  Put the camera down!  Grab the fire extinguisher!  Move man, move!”

The Petty Loss

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.

The Petty Loss

The size of a misfortune is not determinable by an outsider’s measurement of it, but only by the measurement applied to it by the person specially affected by it. The king’s lost crown is a vast matter to the king, but of no consequence to the child.  The lost toy is a great matter to the child, but in the king’s eyes it is not a thing to break the heart about.” –Mark Twain

The small boy was instantly struck with fright
When his eyes were met by the tragic sight.
Warren came home and saw the door ajar
And worried his cat could be rather far.

His precious pet was the curious type
Its need for adventure was always ripe.
The family tried to keep the door shut
So the cat would be safe from any mutt.

Often Warren looked at the furry face,
Warning the feline of the outside place.
He liked the fluff ball to stay at his side,
Who knew what could happen to it outside?

Hours of searching with no cat around,
No paw prints to follow on the hard ground.
Calling out and searching were all in vain,
The parents called it with the start of rain.

So Warren went to bed, the time was late
He couldn’t believe his best friend’s new fate.
Tears flowed as he thought of his pet with dread,
Then he heard a meow from under his bed.

Pic from Best of Web

The boy sat up quickly, hearing the noise,
He cleared away all the mess and the toys.
And there, in a heap, just as sure as that,
Was the confused, still sleepy, pussycat.

Fresh as a Daisy (Weekly Writing Challenge)

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.

(This post is once again made possible by The Daily Post.  Much thanks for the idea.  I like painting pictures with metaphors.)

Fresh as a Daisy

The path of a good woman is indeed strewn with flowers; but they rise behind her steps, not before them.” -John Ruskin

It had started off with the older males.  The retired fellows in the coffee shop would see her in line and call her “sweetheart” or “darling”.  They didn’t bother to ask her name.  They never introduced themselves.  The elderly fellows thought that their old-fashioned attitudes would somehow win a soft spot in her heart.

At first, Daisy did her best to brush it off.  The older gentlemen had their way of expressing their affection and she wanted to accept the compliment.  Yet, there was a limit to how many coffees these grandfathers could buy her.  In truth, the drinks (supposedly meeting every definition of a complimentary beverage) came at a cost.  “Give us a smile”, they’d goad.  “Hey Doll, how about giving us a peck on the cheek?”  Eventually, Daisy ended up buying a coffee maker and avoiding the affronts on her person.

Yet, it was the men that she worked with that created the most difficulty for Daisy.  She was raised to be kind and courteous to all.  With her pleasing curves and ready smile, many men interpreted her attempts at politeness as flirting.  Daisy tried to temper her natural tendencies towards being outgoing, but it was a delicate balance.  If she was too cheery, the men took it as an invitation to hit on her.  When she tried to be strictly business oriented, whispers circled around about her being “frigid” or “a tease”.  It didn’t matter what she wore or what environment she was in.  There always seemed to be one or two guys that took the whole thing too far.  Daisy was done with all of it.

On a Thursday afternoon, Daisy was putting together a series of reports that her boss had asked for.  Having previously requested a three-day weekend, the pressure was on to deliver all the work before the end of her work day.  The sooner Daisy finished, the more time she could spend in Hawaii celebrating her friend’s wedding.  She had tickets for an eight thirty flight, but she had hopes of making a six o’clock one.  All she had to do was complete the tasks that had been placed on her plate.  Of course, that was the time that Bradley showed up.

Bradley had been following Daisy for months.  Ever since she had been introduced to the staff, Bradley had gone out of his way to take Daisy under his wing.  In the beginning, his advice had been helpful and Daisy had appreciated how he went out of his way to guide her through the office floor plan, policies, and even the politics.  However, as time passed, Bradley kept talking less about work and more about his designs on her.  Daisy felt the muscles in her jaw tighten and her teeth clenched together.

“Hey there, Dearie.  How’s your wonderful self today?”

“I’m actually quite busy, Bradley.”

“Too busy for me?  I don’t believe it.”

“Well”, Daisy said without looking up from the papers, “it’s still the truth.”

“Look, Daisy.  We’ve been dancing this little routine for far too long.  Why don’t you just give in to me?  I’ll show you a real good time.”

“Three reasons, Bradley.  One, I like my boyfriend just fine.  Two, you started off using charming phrasing; now you’re crude.  Third, I’m busy.  So off you go.  Please.”

“Daisy, Honey, it’s dangerous to deny that which you clearly need so desperately.”

With that, Daisy snapped.  That little switch in her mind that she’d tried to keep her itchy trigger-finger away from for so long finally flipped on.  Her limit had been breached.  Throwing down a pile of papers with a slam, Daisy fixed her eyes on Bradley and stared him down with a determination that added a foot to her perceived stature.

Photo from Wikipedia

“Bradley, have you ever had a mole?”

“What?”  The formerly charming fellow was easily confused.

“A mole.  Not a little garden pest that can be turned into a cute creature in children’s books.  I’m referencing a growth or discoloration on the skin.  Got any moles, Bradley?”

“Uh, no.  I don’t think so.”

“See Bradley, moles sound all kinds of fun.  At first I thought that a mole would be a nice little addition.  You know, it would add a touch of character.  If my face was lovely before, wouldn’t the mole make things a little more interesting?  I could dress up the mole.  Take it out on the town.  People would notice my tiny tagalong.  When if first comes onto the scene, the mole is something to celebrate.  Ya with me so far here, Bradley?”

“I guess…”

“Great”, she continued.  “Next is the second stage of coming across this new mole.  It starts to become irritating.  One has to wonder if they should cover up the mole when they go out in public.  The mole thinks it has control of what the rest of you wants to do.  You go to wash up at the end of the day, and you wish you could just rub that silly mole right off.  The allure is gone.  The mole has started to grow hair.”

“What does that have to do with me?”

“Maybe it will become clearer in phase three.  See, that’s when the mole has worn out its welcome.  The mole is now a worry-inducing pest.  Moles can show signs of cancer.  The bigger the mole is, the easier it is to see on your face, and the less you like it.  Even your coworkers start to mention things.  ‘I think that mole is diseased’, one gal says.  ‘I once had a mole like that.  I got rid of it and my life’s only been better.’  See, it turns out that moles are more trouble than they’re worth.  In the end, it’s really just best to excise them, forget them, and go find better things to occupy your time with.  Moles are nothing but an annoyance.”

Daisy looked back at her files and saw that she had nearly completed her work.  She only needed a little clarification from her boss and then she could finish quickly.  A glance at the clock confirmed what she dared to hope; that early flight was possible.  She’d have to call Joel and see if he was packed yet.  A charming boyfriend, Hawaii, and three entire days without work; it sounded like paradise indeed.  Daisy gathered the final piles of papers and made her way to the glass door with its ornate lettering.

“Wait”, Bradley called out as Daisy put her hand on her supervisor’s door knob.  “I don’t get it.”

“Neither does the mole, Bradley.  That’s the whole point.”

B(ee)-Grade Material

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.

B(ee)-Grade Material

When I jumped off a roof in Cannes in a bee costume, I looked ridiculous. But this is my business; I have to humiliate myself.” -Jerry Seinfeld

“All right fellas, I’ve got quite the story for ya.  You’re never gonna believe it, but I bet ya anything this’ll knock yer socks off.  It’s a gasser, I tell ya.  A real smash!”

Johnny looked at the assembled group in their expensive suits and knew that he would really have to break out the big guns.  It was like looking at a pride of animals at the zoo.  For the moment, the large desk was enough to keep them at bay as they blinked at Johnny with boredom and disinterest.  Their attire was regal, but their viciousness was legend.  Johnny needed to make each move skillfully and cautiously.  He could only hope to leave the room with the angry crowd smiling and well-fed, not hungry for his head on a plate.

“Now ya see”, Johnny began as he wiped the sweat from his brow, “we have a killer story here.  It’s a real knock-‘em dead adventure.”  Johnny suddenly became aware that he had left his laptop in the car.  He would have to improvise.  Removing his gray suit jacket and exposing his white shirt and button-up vest, Johnny felt very much like a slab of pasty veal.  The higher-ups looked at the young fellow, realized just how ripe he was, and started sharpening their claws.

“Mr. Goodspeak”, the largest, oldest, and baldest of the man said as he sat forward in his leather chair.  “We really don’t have time for-“

“Right!”  Johnny clapped his hands and threw his arms up in the air and gestured for the men to sit back.  When he saw just how much he had sweated through his armpits on his shirt, Johnny hurried to pull his limbs back down.

“You’re busy fellows!  I get that; let’s cut to the chase.  We’re in ancient Egypt.  We have views of pyramids being built.  We really have to bring out the history here.  I mean, the story is a fun one, but there’s educational value to it as well.  That’s how we pitch it.  See, everyone knows about the giant pyramids.  They’re a wonder of the world, for crying out loud.  But what they don’t know is that there was a corner that had never been opened.  It’s location off to the side, and underground, kept it hidden until we had the technology to find it.”

“And in this tomb?”  The largest man spoke with venom in his voice.  If he hadn’t started shooting daggers at Johnny yet, he was certainly sharpening them.

“A bee”, Johnny said.  “A giant, mummified bee!”

“A bee”, the man replied, clearly bored.  “You’re wasting our time with… a bee?”

“Now wait just one second fellas.  Ya gotta hear me out.  I said it was a giant bee.  We’re talkin’ about a creature the size of a Volkswagen Bug!”

Johnny paused for a chuckle in response to his joke.  He heard none.  The wailing and gnashing of teeth had not yet begun, but he could sense it approaching ever closer.

“Anyways”, he said as he pulled his tie looser.  “This giant bee has been mummified the whole time.  But somehow; magic, honey, amber; we don’t need to understand right now, the bee’s alive!  We meet this bee when the wall comes down and he sends the people into a frenzy of panic.  This deep and booming voice comes bellowing out of the giant mummy-insect.  As strips of fabric fall off of its rotted face and his ancient wings beat frighteningly, the bee manages to call out in tone of doom, “Bee-warrrreee.”

“Bee-ware?  Honestly?  That’s the story you have for us?”

“I, that is, if we got the right person to voice the bee, it’d work.”  Johnny felt the sweat dripping down his back but did nothing.  At this point, all he could do was stand and face his attackers head on.  Fleeing for safety was no longer an option.

“And just who, dare I ask; did you have in mind for this?”

“Christopher Lee”, Johnny answered timidly.

“Christopher Lee.”  The man laughed.  “You think the man that did Dracula, and Tolkein is going to be associated with this stupid tale?”

“He was in Star Wars”, Johnny replied.

“Pff.  That proves nothing.  He was a Bond villain, for crying out loud.”

“Yes”, said the man to the right of the leader, pointer finger out-stretched in proper correcting form.  “But it was a Roger Moore one.”

“So?  Heath, you’ve really got to get over this whole Sean Connery obsession.  It’s annoying.”

“You’re just jealous that I played golf with him and you never did.”

“Because you didn’t invite me!  He called later and asked why I didn’t come!  I told him I didn’t know anything about it.”

“I still consider that a favor to the great Sean Connery.”

The leader roared in anger and rose up to his full height.  The dissenter got the message, sunk back in his chair, and picked at what was left of the T-bone steak in front of him.

“Look son”, the leader said, returning his attention to Johnny.  “We’re just not interested.”

“But I’m telling you, it’s a great story!  It’ll be scary and educational and if we shoot in the desert we can save all our efforts and production funding for the bee!”

“I’ve been in this business a long time, kid.”  The man stood up, his display of being an attentive audience member was over.  He leaned back slightly, tucked his hands into the pockets on his vest, and pulled out a solid gold pocket watch with the left.  “You simply don’t have a hit on your hands.”

“You haven’t even let me tell you about the main character.  Sandy Trapps confronts the bee in the dusty tombs and finds out a way to kill it!”

“Let me guess, this Trapps fellow finds a way to drop a giant piece of stone on the bee at the last minute?”

“How… how did you know?  I just wrote the ending last week.”

“Story as old as time kid”, the man said as he made a show of checking his timepiece.  “And your time is up.  We’re due for dinner.”

“Wait, there’s just one more thing!”  Panic had fully set in for Johnny.  He needed something that would save his skin.  “What if… what if Sandy Trapps is a hot female archaeologist?”

A silence fell over the room.  Johnny could see mouths closing, minds at work, and cash registers adding in the men’s eyes.  “You mean, like Tomb Raider?  We don’t want to get sued over this.  I mean, it has potential.  But I don’t want to be in litigation and get bad press.”

“No, no, she’ll be blonde.  Sandy blonde; get it?”

“Does she have to be blonde?”  The man to the right of the alpha-male had spoken up once again.  “I hear Catherine Zeta-Jones is in terrific shape.  She was in that movie with Sean Connery, y’know.”

“Jenkins!  Enough with the Connery!  I’ll lock you in a cage and melt the key if you don’t keep quiet.”

“Yes sir.”

“Now son, this is a promising idea.  Blonde, that’s inspired.  Genius.  What else did you have in mind for her?”

“Smart, adventurous; she’ll be able to talk her way out of trouble with tomb robbers and supervisors that don’t want her in the field.  She’ll cause too much ruckus out in the ‘quiet’ world of history.  She’ll be capable and savvy.”

“Okay, but will she be wearing a tank top?  We’re gonna need her in tight clothing.”

“Oh yes, sir.  Absolutely, sir.”  Johnny mentally shook his head sideways, but outwardly nodded in agreement.  You gotta give a little to get a lot, he told himself.

“Terrific.  And maybe there can be some underground lake that she swims in and gets trapped.  Movies with women in swimsuits are dynamite.  We’ll blow the box office lid wide open!”

“Yes sir”, Johnny agreed again.

“I tell ya what boy, why don’t you come and prowl the town with us?  We were going to have some lamb skewered and served raw, but I think we could all use a drink.  What say you join us down by the watering hole?  My treat.”

Johnny scrambled for his jacket and nodded excitedly.  He had survived his first meeting with the dominant-crowd.  But a part of Johnny couldn’t stop worrying that he would end up devoured by it all.

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