Friday, August 29, 2014

Friday Flashback: The Ballad Of Gushy The Accident Fairy

Through the end of the year, Kurt is re-running some of his favorite Friday Flash Fiction stories. If you like this one, it--and a hundred similar stories--can be purchased on Kindle in a new collection.

The Ballad Of Gushy The Accident Fairy
Word Count: 582
Published 8/9/13

Gather ye children, yes, gather around.
Gather ye joyous and merry.
Lend me your ears and I’ll tell you the tale
Of Gushy The Accident Fairy.

They say he was born in toilet of gold
Quite apart from the usual Fae.
They christened his head with the water ‘twas there
And then he went swimming away.

Finding himself in a river of that which
We flush as it does so abhor us,
He saw that mankind was too loose with their waste
So, he’d loosen it even more for us.

One bright summer day he emerged from the sewers
And spotted a mother and daughter
Alone in the park eating burgers and fries
And drinking their crisp soda-water.

The mother said “Darling you really should go;
It’s been a few hours, I’m guessin’.”
And Gushy did find this an opportune time
To teach the young daughter a lesson.

The wee one insisted her bladder was empty
Her voice sounding light and at ease.
So Gushy sneaked over and reached out his hand
And gave her poor bladder a squeeze.

The stream that she started became soon a torrent
A flood of her waters a-falling.
The mother did scream, and the daughter did cry,
And Gushy, he did find his calling.

He took up a scept of I’d-rather-not-say
A crown of the-less-said-the-better
A robe made of paper, a gleam in his eye
And a mission to make our lives wetter.

He travels all over this magical land
A-visiting those of held bladders
The young or the old, the nimble or weak
In cars or in beds or up ladders.

His faithful dog Poopsie-Pie runs at his side;
They make an adorable pair.
Leaving puddles and skid marks across this great land
On cushions and in underwear.

They go after parent and child just the same.
They go after mothers and daughters.
And fathers and sons, and any who strive
To hold on too long to their waters.

You’ve probably met him some time in your life.
You’ll probably meet him anew.
Just tell yourself often the bathroom can wait
And Gushy will come visit you.

He’ll wait until after you’ve just passed the sign:
“No facilities next 30 miles.”
Then he’ll lean on your bladder so hard that it hurts.
You’re sweating, but Gushy just smiles

Or maybe you’ll be at a child’s dance recital
Or chatting away on the phone
You’ll tell yourself surely you’ll last five more minutes
Then Gushy will make himself known.

And when your will breaks and you realize you must
Run madly away to the toilet,
But get there too late and you ruin your pants,
You can bet it was Gushy who spoiled it.

Now don’t you go thinking that Gushy is vile,
A bird of the darkest of feathers.
He gives us a lesson in humility
And delivers it square to our nethers.

And don’t you start thinking that infants are safe
From Gushy, all snug in their diapers.
For diapers need changing, and any old mother
Remembers a son who turned sniper.

Now, maybe someday we’ll no longer need Gushy,
That fairy I’ve grown to admire.
But long as we have days and waters to pass
Old Gushy may never retire.

And now that the tale is done, now I must ask
Do any require the loo?
Best go right away, if you need to or not,
So form up an orderly queue.

Another experiment, this time in poetry. Low-brow poetry.

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Friday, August 22, 2014

Friday Flashback: Dear Whoever

Through the end of the year, Kurt is re-running some of his favorite Friday Flash Fiction stories. If you like this one, it--and a hundred similar stories--can be purchased on Kindle in a new collection.

Dear Whoever
Word Count: 599
Published: 9/27/13

“Hey, Dave,” said Alan, knocking gingerly on the cubicle wall.

“What’s up?” asked Dave.

“Did you look through that pile of resumés, yet?”

“Yeah,” said Dave. “I left them on your desk.”

“Right,” said Alan. “I saw that, I just didn’t know if you’d sorted them or not.”

“I did,” said Dave. “Was there anything else?”

“Nah, that’s it,” said Alan, biting his lip. “Actually…”

“What’s up?” asked Dave.

“So, I checked out the resumés you looked at, and I was a little confused about how you sorted them.”

“Something wrong?” asked Dave.

“I wouldn’t say wrong,” said Alan, “but… well… okay, this one: Clive Denton. He was in the reject pile.”

“If you say so,” said Dave. “I don’t really remember.”

“He had a lot of what we’re looking for,” said Alan. “But you rejected him.”

Dave considered this for a moment. “Maybe I put it in the wrong pile… by mistake,” he said.

“Sure, accidents happen,” said Alan. “No biggie.”

“Anything else?” asked Dave. “Because I need to get this report—”

“Actually,” said Alan. “There were several other good candidates in the reject pile.” He held up a handful of resumés.

“Let me see that,” said Dave. He took the pile and looked over the first one. “Here we are,” said Dave. “Weak cover letter.”

“I didn’t think it was particularly weak,” said Alan.

“Sure it is,” said Dave. “Look at the salutation.”

Alan leaned over. “To whom it may concern,” he read.

“See?” asked Dave.

Alan stared at Dave for a moment. “I’m confused,” he said. “Was something misspelled?”

“No, it wasn’t misspelled,” said Dave. “It’s cliché.”

“It’s a standard salutation,” said Alan.

“It’s a standard weak salutation,” said Dave.

Alan bit his lip and inhaled. Then released his breath slowly. Then took another. “I’m still confused,” he said at last.

“Okay, let me break it down for you,” said Dave. “First off, it’s overly formal and antiquated. Nobody talks like that anymore. And nobody—nobody—uses ‘whom’ correctly. So, having gotten it right in the first sentence, any other mistakes are going to be amplified. You’re basically setting yourself up for failure. And it’s generic. I mean, it’s really generic. ‘To whom it may concern’? You’re basically saying ‘Dear Whoever’. That’s just weak and lazy. You see, it’s a shibboleth for me. If they can’t get the salutation right, it goes into the reject pile.”

“A shibboleth?” asked Alan.

“Yeah, like a red flag,” said Dave.

“I’m pretty sure a red flag is the exact opposite of a shibboleth,” said Alan.

“Whichever,” said Dave.

“What would you rather they open with?” asked Alan. “What would be acceptable? I’m curious.”

“‘Dear Mr. Saunders’ would work,” said Dave. “Or ‘Dear Hiring Manager’ or ‘Dear Sir or Madam’ or something like that. I’d give them a second glance if they changed it up and said ‘To whom it concerns’. I would even settle for the time-honored ‘Hello’.”

“Huh,” said Alan. “And that’s the first thing you look for.”

“The salutation in a cover letter is pretty much the first thing I see, yeah,” said Dave. “That’s my system and it works pretty well for me.”

“Didn’t your last interviewee have to be escorted out by security?” asked Alan.

“It’s not completely foolproof, I’ll admit.”

“Are you just trying to get out of looking at resumés?” asked Alan.

“Why, is it working?”

“No,” said Alan.

“Then I’m not,” said Dave.

Alan left.

Ten minutes later he returned with a pile of resumés. “Would you mind sorting these?” he asked. “Funny thing, though, I’ve lost all the cover letters.”

The neurosis described here is my own. I absolutely hate seeing any kind of professional correspondence that opens "To Whom It May Concern." Not an auto-reject, really, but definitely a point against. It's a good thing I don't work in HR.

I like this story, but if I were to write it today, I'd make one of two characters a woman. Men tend to be over-represented in my fiction. Alan would be the obvious choice, since HR departments tend to be staffed by females (... in my limited experience). Therefore, I'd probably flip Dave.

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Friday, August 15, 2014

Friday Flashback: Estate Sale

Through the end of the year, Kurt is re-running some of his favorite Friday Flash Fiction stories. If you like this one, it--and a hundred similar stories--can be purchased on Kindle in a new collection.

Estate Sale
Word Count: 452
Published: 9/13/13

Milton Haynes (1937 - 2013) was preceded in death by his wife Sophia Haynes nee Wentworth (1941 - 1983) and survived by his son Andrew Wentworth and grandchildren.

Anyone with interest in the following items should come to the Precious Oaks Retirement Community common room between 10 am and 2 pm on Friday the 27th.
  • Wheel Chair, six months old and in good condition. 
  • Walker, three years old, much use but in good condition. 
  • Assorted Canes, three to thirty years old, various styles, all in good condition. 
  • Matching Bureau, Armoire, and Bedside Table, about forty years old, white with avocado trim. 
  • Twin bed, about fifteen years old, good frame, probably needs a new mattress, does not match bedroom set 
  • Linens, for twin bed. 
  • Clothing: 
    • Dress shirts, 17-neck, large 
    • Pullover shirts, large and medium, and a few smalls that have only been worn once or twice 
    • Pants, 32 waist, 30 inseam 
  • Gold Locket, engraved “S.H. + M.H.” Inside glass is cracked. One picture has been taken by family. 
  • China set, gold leaf pattern, good condition, eight place settings, missing a tea cup and bread plate. 
  • Dish set, brown and yellow pattern, oven-safe, four place settings, one plate chipped, otherwise fair condition. 
  • “World’s Greatest Dad” coffee mug, faded. 
  • Assorted Flatware. 
  • Framed Nevada License Plate, 1984 tag, frame in good shape although the plate appears to have been mangled. 
  • Books: 
    • Several regular and large-font titles by John le Carre, Robert Ludlum, and Tom Clancy 
    • Several Bibles, Revised Standard Version—Catholic Edition 
    • Assorted books on pain management 
    • Fifty-plus books about military history, including Churchill’s history of World War II and many titles focusing on WWII aircraft 
    • Assorted political thrillers, literary fiction, historical fiction, one romance novel (yellowed, but untouched except for a few dog-eared pages) 
    • One book on grief management, binding coming loose 
  • Three crucifixes. 
  • Hip Flask, appears to have been engraved, although the engraving is no longer legible. 
  • Framed Box of Military Medals: 
    • Republic of Vietnam Civil Action Citation 
    • Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal 
    • Vietnam Service Medal 
    • Assorted Campaign Ribbons 
  • 8 x 10 Picture Frame, good condition. Picture has been taken by family. 
  • Kitchen Table, about twenty years old, good condition. 
  • Three Kitchen Chairs, two in like-new condition. 
  • Brown Leather Couch, about fifteen years old. 
  • Recliner, less than five years old, worn. 
  • Entertainment Center, four pieces including bookshelves and TV stand 
  • 23” Flatscreen TV, minor screen-burn. 
  • Assorted Lamps. 
  • Assorted Toys, for children aged newborn to three, some recently purchased, some appear to be a few years old, all new in box. 
  • Box of Sobriety Tokens, twenty-seven bronze, one each of other twelve colors. 
  • Manual Typewriter, old but appears to be in working order, unfinished note on yellowed paper still inserted.

Another experimental piece. I got fixated on the idea that you could tell an entire story using only a list of objects. The reactions I've gotten to this piece are all over the place. Some people liked it but found it overly sentimental. Others felt like it was too under-written. Which, I suppose, by definition, it is. So I don't know if I can rank this among my better pieces, but I really enjoyed it as an exercise and I still find the novelty of it compelling.

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Friday, August 8, 2014

Friday Flashback: Salesman Of A Death

Through the end of the year, Kurt is re-running some of his favorite Friday Flash Fiction stories. If you like this one, it--and a hundred similar stories--can be purchased on Kindle in a new collection.

Salesman of a Death
Word Count: 599
Published: 8/10/12

“Influenza! We’ve got influenza here!” cried a hawker. The man across from him tried to drown him out with shouts of “gunshot wounds” and “major automobile accidents.” Terrence passed them both and made his way warily to the back of the alley, ignoring the offers of accidental hangings and broken necks as he passed.

Wedged in a corner at the far end of the row was a booth—a table, really—and the man with the hood. Supposedly he was the only trader worth talking to. Terrence absently fingered the crinkled Fate Chart in his pocket, a list of major events in his future given in no particular order. Children. Divorces. Downsizing. And, of course, his death.

“Mr. Johnson,” said the man with the hood.

“Um, my name’s Whitaker,” said Terrence.

The man with the hood shrugged. “Would have been creepy as hell if your name was Johnson, though, right? Have a seat.”

“It would have,” said Terrence, sitting.

“I’m Mr. Abrams,” said the man with the hood. “There’s a lot of them out there—Johnsons, I mean. It’s startlingly effective. What can I help you with?”

“Me?” asked Terrence. “Yes, of course. I, uh… I wanted to see about trading up.”

“What have you got?”

“Drowning,” said Terrence.

Abrams snorted. “Not worth very much, I’m afraid. It’s a very unpleasant way to go, and the market’s a bit flooded, so to speak. Probably a big disaster coming in the next few years.”

“What can I get for it?”

“Torture,” said Abrams.

“I’m serious,” said Terrence.

“So am I. What were you hoping for?”

“Quietly in my sleep,” said Terrence.

“I thought you said you were being serious,” said Abrams. “The people who die like that aren’t the kind of people who barter Fates.”

“What’s more reasonable?” asked Terrence.

“I’m sorry, but drowning just isn’t worth anything. You’ll have to throw in something extra.”

“I have money,” said Terrence.

Abrams clicked his tongue. “I trade fates, not quantifiables.”

“But… they told me to bring cash.”

“The cash is for me,” said Abrams. “But I’m just the matchmaker.

Terrence pulled out his Fate Chart and started skimming. What would he be willing to live without? 
“How about a promotion?” he asked.

“Interesting,” he Abrams, rubbing his chin. “Quality of life for quality of death. I could get you a nice heroin overdose for that.”

Terrence winced.

“Too close to home?” asked Abrams.

“Too much of a lifestyle change.”

“Gotcha,” said Abrams. “Do you have any preferences?”

“I don’t know,” said Terrence. “Something quick.”

“How important is an open-casket funeral?”

“Not very,” said Terrence. “I guess.”

“Tell you what,” said Abrams. “I know a frequent flyer who’s slated for a plane crash. It’s making his working life hell.”

“I don’t know,” said Terrence.

“Listen, there aren’t a lot of options for you. A plane crash is a good death. The last minute or so is terrifying, but it’s not painful. The actual death is very quick. They might even put your name on a memorial.”

Terrence pondered. “Okay,” he said at last.

“Excellent. It’ll be two hundred down, the rest on completion of the transfer. How’s Saturday?”

Terrence counted bills out of his wallet. “I have plans in the evening—“

“Fine,” said Abrams, holding out a card. “Meet me at this address at two o’clock.”

Terrence handed over the money. “I’ll be there. Oh, I heard something about Ironic Death Insurance?”

“Waste of money, if you ask me,” said Abrams. “Last thing—and this is important—until Saturday, try to avoid large bodies of water. You know, just in case.”

This one of the first stories that really felt good. I was very happy with the way it came together and considered submitting it to short story markets instead of giving it the Friday Flash Fiction treatment. But it hewed a little too close to the Machine of Death books.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Friday Flashback: Initials

Through the end of the year, Kurt is re-running some of his favorite Friday Flash Fiction stories. If you like this one, it--and a hundred similar stories--can be purchased on Kindle in a new collection.

And since my wife and I just had a baby (!), I'm bringing back a baby-related story. Enjoy...

Initials
Word Count: 600
Published: 2/22/13

“Christopher David Cook,” said Fran. She lay on top of the covers, patting her round belly.

“No good,” said her husband, Eric, shivering under the covers. “His initials will be C-D-C.”

“Does that mean something?” asked Fran.

“It’s the Center for Disease Control,” said Eric. “Not a good association to make—unless we want people to think of our son as being related to the plague.”

“At least they’re about controlling disease,” said Fran.

“I’m still vetoing it,” said Eric

“Christopher Franklin,” said Fran.

“I’m not a big fan of Franklin,” said Eric.

“It’s a family name,” said Fran.

“I know but… oh, wait, we can’t do that. Then he’d be C-F-C. Our son would be responsible for destroying the ozone layer.”

“Well, we couldn’t have that,” said Fran.

“No, we couldn’t,” said Eric.

“Franklin Christopher,” said Fran.

“The FCC is the Federal Communications… something. It’s the one that does airwaves,” said Eric.

“Is that so bad?” asked Fran.

“I think I read somewhere that they’re the reason you can’t use your cell phone on an airplane,” said Eric.

“Oh, God, I’ll veto that myself,” said Fran.

“I’ll hold you to that,” said Eric.

“How about Franklin Thomas Cook?” asked Fran.

“I like it, but it sounds like a founding father,” said Eric. “And then he’d be F-T-C.”

“What’s that?” asked Fran.

“It’s the Federal Trade Commission,” said Eric.

“Well, dammit,” said Fran, her voice tinged with frustration.

“Don’t get mad at me, hon,” said Eric. “It’s not my fault—”

“Yes, it is,” said Fran. “You’re the one with the last name that starts with C. I should have married Walt Jablonsky.”

Eric laughed nervously.

“Okay,” said Fran, “how about Ethan? We always liked that. Ethan Thomas Cook?”

“E-T-C, said Eric. “Et cetera.”

“Fine,” said Fran. “You come up with something.”

“No, babe, don’t take it that way,” said Eric. “I like your ideas, we just need to make sure it’s properly vetted.”

“I bet Walt wouldn’t have made me vet baby names like this,” said Fran.

“Probably not,” said Eric. “You can’t really be picky about them when your last name is Jablonsky.”

Fran giggled.

“Keep going, we’ve got to be close,” said Eric.

“At this rate, we’ll be lucky to have a name picked out by the time this little guy is born,” said Fran, patting her belly once more.

“We’ve got three months,” said Eric.

“We’ve been at this for five already,” said Fran.

“Oh,” said Eric. “Well, some kids go for years without names, right?”

Fran giggled again. “Ethan Scott?” she asked.

“E-S-C,” said Eric.

“What’s that short for?” asked Fran.

“On most keyboards it means escape.”

“Jesus Christ,” said Fran.

“Hmmm,” said Eric. “Jesus Christ Cook. I can’t think of anything for J-C-C. That kind of works, actually, although I don’t think your parents would like it.”

“Scott Ethan?” asked Fran.

“The SEC is the Securities and Exchange Commission. They’re pretty unpopular right now.”

Fran exhaled sharply and then rolled over. “You know what?” she said. “I’ve changed my mind. We’re having a girl.”

“I don’t think it works that way,” said Eric. “What about Dominic? You always liked that.”

“What middle name?” asked Fran.

“Isaac, maybe?” said Eric. “After your dad.”

“Does D-I-C stand for anything?” asked Fran.

Eric mulled it over. “It’s only one letter away from the FDIC, but I can live with that.”

Fran smiled. “So that’s it? We’re decided.”

“It’s late,” said Eric. “Let’s sleep on it. Maybe something will occur to us in the morning.”

Yep, this ultimately one long penis joke (see what I did there?). I'm not ashamed. And, in fact, I had a lot of fun with wordplay while building up to the ending.

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