Tuesday, July 21, 2015

ficthaus5 Two Little Magic Words

Two Little Magic Words
                                 by Headley Hauser
I’d signed on as the quest’s conjurer. It’s true I had no experience in magic, but that didn’t matter. A decade’s worth of participation trophies and good attitude ribbons told the tale. I would excel in my task because I was special – just like every other kid in my neighborhood.
I also had one other advantage – magic words, two of them to be exact, and I had great confidence in these magical utterances. They had never failed me in the past, and even the possibility they might fail me on this quest was beyond my comprehension.
Together with my band of common adventures, we struggled through hardships and battles. They did all the fighting and climbing. Being the conjurer, I demanded that they carry me through the rough spots, and protect me from the dangers.
I also let them do all the cooking and cleaning, but I praised them for their work so that they could feel good about themselves.
They never gave me credit for that. Actually, shortly into our adventures I caught a number of dirty looks.
“That’s not good attitude,” I warned them.
“Well you could help out more,” they grumbled.
“You forget that I am special,” I warned them. “I am somebody because I was made for a special purpose. There is nothing I cannot do if I want it badly enough.”
“You mean like turn us all into banana slugs?” one asked.
“If that’s what I wanted to do,” I answered.
Their attitude improved somewhat after that. While they worked to dig us out of mountain goblin prison, I made little ‘improved attitude’ trophies for each of them out of chips of rock and stale biscuit. They didn’t say thank you, but I think it meant a lot to each of them.
“Maybe you could conjure us out of this prison,” one of them asked.
“No,” I replied. “My magic words are too special. I better save them. And you are doing such a wonderful job digging us out with your hands manacled like that. Good job! You are each so special!”
Yes, that was a lot of praise for such common work, but I figured they needed the pick-me-up.
Later in the snow wastes I demanded an extra cloak. It was far colder than I found acceptable.
"If one us gives you his cloak," they complained, "he will freeze to death."
"Not if you share," I told them. "Sharing makes every task easier."
One of them - I never learned his name, grumbled, "Maybe we should share in getting rid of you."
"Now, now," I said patiently, "remember my two magic words!"
They shared, but not with a co-operative attitude. I made a note in my book that each of them should lose one gold star when we finished our quest.
Days later, the food ran out. I knew it was gone because I ate the last of it. The ration they had given me was far too small, and I've always been helpless against the late-night munchies.
"Alright," said the leader guy. "This is it. Even if we won't have your magic later, it won't do us any good if we starve to death. Use your magic words."
"You're certain?" I asked.
"Yup!" he said.
"Then hand me your largest food container." The container turned out to be a poncho, which isn't exactly Tupperware and was far from sanitary. I decided to be generous and ignore their negligence and poor hygiene. I held out the poncho as my fellow adventurers backed away in fear. I took a solemn moment before I uttered the two words that I knew had never failed me.
"Yes, please."
Nothing happened. No food appeared in the grubby poncho. I wondered if its lack of cleanliness was the problem for I knew it couldn't be my magic words. All during my childhood I had gotten anything I wanted each time I spoke those two words.
The other adventurers came closer. Once again I held up the poncho.
No food appeared, though the adventurers looked ready to eat. Each pulled out his knife and fork. Why did the leader have that funny look in his eye?
"Mom?" I called. "Dad... Grandma? I SAID YES, PLEASE!"
And that's how I came to haunt this scruffy pack of adventurers. I can accept that they cooked me and ate me...
But they didn't even say, Thank You!

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

fictmcfa7 Jordan

                                  by Stanley McFarland

I was grieving. People believe odd things when they grieve.
I didn't cry at Jordan's funeral. I walked stone-faced with Grace's brother, Jeff, my father, and Kent as we carried the small coffin out of the church. We placed it into a hearse that was far larger than necessary.
"I think it would have fit in my trunk," said Jeff.
Grace was crying, embracing people, as a grieving parent should. I stood and watched. I was an observer, unable to feel, unable to reach out for comfort. Jordan went into the ground without a tear from me.
After all the ways I'd failed Jordan, being out of town on his birthday, divorcing his mother, watching him melt away in that hospital bed, this felt like the greatest betrayal in a fatherhood that was nothing but failure and betrayal. If only I could manage one tear, he would know that I loved him, that I was sorry, that I wished I could have been the kind of father he deserved.
Shelly from human resources approached me after the internment.
"I'm so sorry, Steve," she said.
"Thank you for coming," I said, though I didn't know why she had. I barely knew her.
"You probably know," said Shelly, "that I've put you on bereavement leave."
"Bereavement leave?"
"Yes," she said. "It's one of your benefits. You have the next two weeks to work through things, to do all the things you need to do. There's no need to be worrying about work at a time like this."
"Oh," I said.
Neither one of us had anything else to say, so after an awkward pause, Shelly patted me on the arm and left.
Later, Dad hugged me. I tried to hug back, but my arms weren't working right. He was in tears, Kent was in tears, even Jeff who never did or said an appropriate thing in his life was sobbing softly. Eventually, they all circled around Grace, while I stood alone, like a tall stump, or a short pillar, or just a bad father failing my little boy one last time.
An hour later I was back at the condo. There wasn't much to do. Jordan had a toothbrush, a set of PJs, and a couple of toys that I had bought him that he didn't like enough to bring to his real home.
It didn't even fill a box.
"Well, Shelly, I said to the eggshell cream walls, "I've done everything I need to do. Should I go back to work now?"
It was quiet. Not even my neighbors were making noise.
Mechanically, I went into the kitchen and made a sandwich. I put it on a plate like Grace had always harped on me to do, but I hadn't done till I moved out.
I stood there with the plate in my hand and looked at the kitchen table, then the dining table, then the couch. I couldn't bring myself to sit anywhere even though my legs were aching now.
My condo had a little courtyard with two patio chairs I'd never sat in, next to a grill I’d never used. I pushed open the sliding glass doors displacing leaves and other debris that had settled in the tracks. I stepped out into the courtyard, shut the door behind me, and sat on a filthy chair and held the plate in my lap.
The remains of some kind of bush brooded in the corner, partially drowned in leaves and trash. There were weeds sprouting up through the cracks in the tile. Some green plant was crawling up the fence. I couldn't identify it. Everything else in the courtyard was dead.
I sat and ignored my sandwich. The rain had left a pattern on the wall. I tried pretending it was a passing cloud and name its shape. I couldn't resolve it into anything other than a stain.
I don't know how long I sat there, staring at the wall-stain, but the shadows from the setting sun grew longer and finally swallowed the courtyard. It wasn't yet dark, but the sun wasn't shining on anything I could see.
I heard a sound behind me. It wasn't a big sound, but in such a quiet day, it sounded loud. I turned my head to see a chipmunk on the fence. I watched as he ran along the top of the fence and then ran back again. He looked over at me. He didn't seem frightened - more curious.
"Is it my sandwich you want?" I asked. I tore off a piece of crust and tossed it to the base of the fence.
The chipmunk scrambled down the fence and picked up the crust with his front paws while sitting back on his haunches. He watched me as he ate.
"I can't promise you good company," I said, "but I'm glad you're here."
The chipmunk finished the crust and I threw him some more.
"I buried my boy today," I told him. "I don't suppose that means much to you. The only things you bury are nuts. Or is that squirrels?"
The chipmunk looked at me as I spoke. I threw down more bread. He didn't pick up this piece, but he didn't run away, either.
"He was a good boy," I said, "much better than I had any right to expect. He was a sweet kid. He hardly ever whined or complained, and man did he have good reasons to complain."
The chipmunk got up and ran over to the bush. He dug around in the leaves and came away with an acorn.
"Good for you!" I said. The chipmunk looked over his shoulder at me, stuffed the nut in his cheek and then slowly walked towards me. He sat a foot away, staring up at me as if it was a perfectly natural thing for a chipmunk to do, and there he remained for hours as I poured out my heart about Jordan, telling the chipmunk all the things I wished I could tell my boy.
I was in tears long before I finished.
The sun woke me. I was still in the filthy chair; the chipmunk was gone. I wondered if he was ever there. The third piece of bread I tossed was still on the tiles, but the first two crusts were gone.
Mostly, I wonder what or who I was talking to, crying with that night.
I've never told the story to anyone. How would I explain it? The chipmunk had been someone's pet, or the previous tenant in the condo had fed him? That's why he stayed by me all that time. These explanations were the most feasible I could think of, but not what I believe to be true.
I can't help it. I believe that as in some Native-American myth, my son visited me that night transformed into a chipmunk.

And in so doing, transformed me back into a human.

Friday, July 3, 2015

FictHaus6 Wally

by Headley Hauser
Wally didn’t mean to keep people away. He liked people, but most found him forbidding, stand-offish, and restrictive.
Maybe if I was made of field stone, thought Wally, or even decorative brick.
Wally, as you may have guessed, was a wall. He wasn’t just any wall. He was the 28 foot, razor-wired exterior wall to the Murphysboro State Correctional Facility for Men, and in spite of every attempt to look pleasant and friendly, people avoided Wally.
Maybe it was the three strategically placed sharpshooter towers. The guards were not at all understanding when friendly inmates socially scratched Wally’s mortar.
In spite of his isolation, Wally wasn’t bitter. He reflected the gentle early morning sunshine into the exercise yard when the highly violent inmates of C block lifted the weights and did their drug deals. He blocked the harsher afternoon sun when the mob enforcers of B block smoked their cigars and planned who needed to sleep with the fishes.
The mobsters and murderers lives would have been far less pleasant if it hadn’t been for Wally, but as he was off-limits, he had to content himself with listening the inmate’s conversations.
“So, we got a movie tonight?”
“We did, and it was a good one, at least my kid liked it when they showed it at Youth Correction.”
“Your ex-wife tell you that?”
“She might have if I hadn’t planted three nine-millimeter slugs behind her right ear.”
“You know? The metric system ain’t as bad as people say.”
“You got that right.”
“It’ll be nice to have a good movie.”
“It’s a no go. Bubba smashed up the flat screen to make shivs out of it for A block.”
“Why didn’t he ask me? I got a gross of ready-made shivs hiding in my mattress!”
“Tough break.”
“Yeah, the marketplace is a jungle – hey, don’t they still have that old projector?”
“Sure, they still got it, but Jerry’s blood is all over rec room wall.”
“Ain’t it like Jerry to get in the way of a good time?”
“Yeah, if he weren’t in a coma, I’d…”
Wally stopped listening as an amazing thought occurred to him. My surface doesn’t have any blood on it! No one leans on me, or paints gang symbols on me, or anything. Once the sun goes down, all these great guys could gather in the exercise yard and watch their movie on me!
But there was one problem. Having no mouth, not to mention lungs, diaphragm, or larynx, Wally couldn’t communicate with humans whether they were guards or serial killers. Wally blocked harmful UV radiation from Big Louie and South Side Gang as he contemplated his problem – Wally was an accomplished mult-tasker.
Suddenly he heard a squawk. Wally looked for blood, but everyone in the South Side Gang looked unpunctured.
“Stupid Wall,” said a voice. “What’s the big idea, putting all this sharp stuff up here where folks are supposed to land?”
Wally followed the voice to the razor wire on top of him, and saw a grey bird.
“Don’t move,” said Wally. Birds can hear walls – even ones without a mouth. “That razor wire can hurt you.”
“I figured that out on my own, Blockhead.”
“If you stand still, I’ll get you out.” Wally shifted his blocks, slightly stretching the wire in one spot, and opening a hole in another. The bird jumped out of the wire and perched on Wally’s central rifle tower.
“Thanks, Wall, you’re a pal,” said the bird. “Anything I can do for you – just let me know.”
The bird must have thought it was unlikely that a wall would need a favor – or maybe he was insincere in his offer because he was already in flight before Wally could shout, “wait!”
“What now?” said the bird with less than perfect manners.
“I don’t want the mobsters and murderers to miss their movie,” said Wally. “They could show it on my surface if they wait until after sundown, but they don’t know that because humans can’t hear me when I speak.”
“Yeah?” said the bird. “I can take care of that for you.”
“You can?”
“Sure. I’m Stoolie the Pigeon. Talking to the Warden is what I do.”
So that night the inmates of Murphysboro State Correctional Facility for Men got to watch their movie. There was less than the normal amount of violence because Wally the Wall reflected the movie in all its wonderful colors. (The sound was crappy, but Wally didn’t have anything to do with that.)

And yes, the movie turned out to be Wall-E, but Wally didn’t think the main character was any relation.