Tuesday, March 15, 2016

FictHaus6 Chark's Day

Clark’s Day
by Headley Hauser
It’s a January day in 1952. A bespeckled man in a conservative suit steps gingerly up to a mid-twentieth century sky-scraper, the Daly Planet building. Although it’s cold, he doesn’t seem to be feeling it. Wait a moment. He just shivered, but it sure didn’t look like a natural shiver.
What is he thinking?

Alright, here’s the door, gently grasp the handle and pull lightly.
Perfect. That looked just right.

Hi Clark! I heard you were on vacation.”
Hi Sam. Yeah, I had a slight mishap at my vacation home, so I came back early.” Why did I ever make my house out of crystals? Those who live in glass houses shouldn’t compress coal into diamonds. One little slip and the whole place came down.

Sorry about that, but welcome back, Clark.”
Remember to wince. Sam likes to make people wince when he slaps them on the back.

Yup, Clark, back to the old grindstone. Just don’t get your nose too close!”
Remember to laugh. Earthlings expect laughter even about things that aren’t funny.

Now the elevator. Walk slowly; don’t jostle. Let other people run into you. Don’t crush anyone.

Somebody hit five for me.”
Oh no, I’m next to the panel again. Pushing these buttons is like pressing down on lily pads without sinking them.

Seven for me, Buddy.”
Twelve for me, too.”
Right.” The twelve button is showing a worn wire behind the panel. Should I tell someone? If I was alone, I could probably fuse it myself.

Twenty-five for me, Kent.”
Right, Chief.”
So Kent, We’re looking to have Superman as the Planet’s Man of the Year for 1951. Can I depend on you for an interview?”
You want to interview me?”
Great Caesar’s Ghost, Kent, of course I don’t want to interview you. I want you to interview the Man of Steel!”
I wish people didn’t call me that. I sound like a character from the Wizard of Oz.
Oh, yes, I think I can manage that.”
Honestly, Kent, sometimes I wonder where your mind goes.”
Let me by, will ya Buddy?”
Right.” Step slowly back a half step. Don’t land on somebody’s foot or dent the wall. I wish the shaft wasn’t lead-lined. I can’t see a thing outside, and everyone in this elevator is showing early signs of lead poisoning.
Oh no, Jimmy!

Hey, Chief! Hi, Mister Kent!”
Olson, what are you doing on the fifth floor?”
I wanted to ask Angie in classifieds if this ad for stuffing envelopes is on the up and up.”
Of course it’s not, Olson. Those things never are.”
Then why do we advertise for them in the Planet.”
Don’t be impertinent, Olson.”
Oh, Mister Kent, Mister Boyle says he can’t repair your typewriter this time. You’ll have to requisition a new one.”
Please stop talking, Jimmy! Why can’t you ever stop talking?
What’s this, Kent!”
Oh, I had a little problem with the keys.”
I’ll say, Mister Kent! The whole side of the carriage is busted! How’d you manage to do that?”
What’s this? Someone is pushing me from behind. Is it an attack by a super-villain? Maybe I should… No, just a rude guy.

Outa the way, folks. This is my stop.”
I don’t know who you are, but if you work on the 7th floor, you work for me! Walk around!”
Yes Sir, Mr. White.”
Golly gee, Chief. You sure scared him!”
I wish I could scare you into doing your job, Jimmy, instead of your cockamamie want ad schemes.”
Well, gee, Mister White. You could pay me a little more.”
You think I’m made of money, Olsen! And Kent, I’m not made of type-writers either. Stop ruining the equipment!”
Sorry, Chief.”
Sorry doesn’t feed the bull dog.”
Gee Chief. Don’t blame Mister Kent. He types like a thousand words a minute.”
Don’t be ridiculous, Olsen. Nobody types a thousand words a minute.”
Mister Kent does. I’ve seen it. He typed a whole page in seconds.”
Jimmy always shows up at the worst times. If only I could make him forget the things he sees. Maybe I could learn hypnotism and do it at super speed. I’ll take a class and sell Mr. White on a story about the subject.

Olsen, I’ve heard about enough from you, today. Next you’ll be telling me that Kent was flying through the air like Superman.”
Well, once I thought…”
Jimmy and Mr. White is a dangerous combination. Maybe a little heat vision under Mr. White’s collar will do the trick. Not too much. People are starting to doubt that spontaneous human combustion excuse.

Be quiet, Olsen!”
Ulp. Right, Chief.”
No matter how scared Jimmy is of Mr. White, he can’t stop talking all the way up to the 23rd floor. If only I could just fly to work. If I flew fast enough, would anyone see me? If I flew faster than atoms collide, could I fly through my office window without breaking the glass? I should ask Professor Einstein next time I see him.
Why bother. Even if I could, Jimmy would probably be in my office looking for a paper clip or something. Would it be such a bad thing to be a few seconds late next time Jimmy needs saving?

I’ll be getting off, here, Mr White.”
What business do you have in legal, Kent!”
Ah, time for my blanket excuse that Mr. White always buys. “I’m doing a favor for Superman.”
Well then, go right ahead.”
See ya later, Mister Kent!”
Olsen, I thought I told you to be quiet.”
Right Chief.”
Jimmy won’t be quiet though. Maybe if I… Whoa! Check out the skeleton on that secretary!

Hey, Fella. We work here on twelve. We’d sure love to help Superman.”
Uh, no thanks. I’m just going to take the stairs.”
I get it. You don’t want to ride all the way up with the boss.”
Something like that.”
Don’t blame ya, Fella. I wouldn’t want to be around Mr. White much either, but say hello to Superman for us, will ya?”
I sure will.”
Alright, lightly grasp the door handle, twist slightly and pull gently. Well, at least nobody’s in the stairwell, but it’s hard to see through all this lead paint. I have to walk slowly and remember to breathe heavier as I go. Maybe I should start to show symptoms of lead poisoning. When’s the last time I pretended to catch a cold? I should have marked it on my calendar.
It’s not even nine AM, and I’m already a nervous wreck. Anyone who thinks it’s great to be super should see how many buttons I have to sew after changing to superman in super speed. Maybe I can do that tonight.
No, tonight Superman’s got a date with Lois. She says she wants to introduce more passion into the relationship. How do I do that without turning her into a red smear on the wall?

I should ask around at the next Justice League meeting. Maybe Wonder Woman or that Lantern guy can recommend a more durable planet.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

FictMcfa7 Unintended Consequences

Unintended Consequences
by Stanley McFarland

Here, raise your head,” he said as he held a bundle of long grass to support my neck.
We should call...”
"Your phone was in the truck."
I looked over at the flaming wreck that was once my F-150.
You don't know how much freedom your mortality gives you.”
I took a few moments to let those words soak in. I'd just seen this... person pull me out of a fire that had engulfed my truck. I was almost certainly dead if not for him. I was lying in prairie grass by the side of hwy 2 in northern Montana. He was squatting there and staring at me. I was in surprisingly little pain though barely modest as much of my clothing had burned away.
He wasn't hurt at all. His clothes were untouched. He didn't even smell like smoke. He looked and seemed the same as he had when I had picked him up hitchhiking outside of Cheyenne.
"You need medical assistance," he said. "You're about to go into shock. Nobody's likely to come down the road this late at night."
"Maybe you could carry me?" I asked.
"The last town was what, ten miles back?" he asked. "I have no idea how far the next one is. I don't think you'd survive that."
"Oh," I said, unable to think of anything else to say.
"You see," he told me, "the problem is the law of unintended consequences. Rescuing you from the fire was instinct. They rarely blame you for that as long as your reaction is benign in nature. Now I have time to make choices, to think things through. That makes everything more complicated."
"Maybe somebody will come by," I said.
"Maybe," he agreed, "but unlikely. I can't base my choices on unfounded hope."
I couldn't think of anything to say, or rather I had too many thoughts to pick one. I wanted to plead with him for my life. I wanted to ask him what kind of person isn't touched by fire. Was he an alien, a superhero, a mutant, a god? Were there more like him hitchhiking the prairies and foothills?
He stood, knuckling his back as he straightened just like any sixtyish human man might. Whatever his powers might be, they didn't include super-dry-cleaning. His jacket and pants were rumpled. He had what looked like a coffee stain on one sleeve. Then again, maybe he did have dry-cleaning power, but using it might lead to his unintended consequences.
"No," he said as if I'd asked him a question, and I wondered if he'd read my mind. "No lights that I can see, no houses. Left alone, you'll be dead in a couple hours or less."
"Bad luck," I said, thinking it was an incredibly stupid thing to say, but the only thing that would come out.
"Yeah," he agreed.
"So..." I asked, "You can heal me?"
"But you're afraid to?"
He dropped back down to sit on the verge, hugging his knees in front of him. "I'm not afraid, exactly. It's not like anyone will do anything to me if I do."
"Well, I'm for it," I said.
He laughed. "Good to know."
"Maybe it would help if we talk it out."
He reached into his pocket and pulled out a pack of gum. "You want a piece?" he asked. "The chewing might help you stay with it."
I nodded my head weakly and he unwrapped a piece of perfectly normal Wrigley's -also undamaged by the fire - and put it in my mouth for me. I wondered why he didn’t just hand it to me; then realized that one of my hands was clenched like a claw while the other was red and swollen. I could only feel the swollen one which throbbed horribly.
"The thing is," he said, "that even talking it out is a choice that leads to unintended consequences." I must have grimaced because he paused and looked at me.
"A lotta pain?" he asked.
"Yeah," I said.
"I can do something about that." He laid a finger on my forehead. It reminded me of the movie ET only his finger didn't glow or anything; the pain just stopped.
"Better?" he asked.
"It'll come back," he warned me. "Just let me know."
"So stopping pain doesn't have unintended consequences?"
"I suppose it does," he said, "but they're rarely worse than letting somebody suffer."
"Oh," I said, stupidly.
"You see," he told me, "the way you're wired, the pain is suppose to tell you that you got a problem and where it is. You're not likely to forget that even when the pain stops, so it's not like I'm stopping your body from doing its job."
"Makes sense," I replied. "What about keeping me from going into shock?"
"That's more complicated. Giving you gum, making you comfortable, and elevating your head are all things that any of your people might do, but beyond that..." He shook his head.
"I see," I said and contemplated the choice between dying now, and surviving horribly disfigured and probably one-armed. How much of what I did with my life would have to change?
"What if I promised never to tell?" I asked.
He smiled and shook his head. "I'll never understand you people and your promises. You know that they're worse than useless, don't you? A bad person's not going change his behavior just because he makes a promise; a good person won't either, but the weight of that promise is going to bog him down."
"I don't understand."
"A good person," he explained, "is going to break his promise if he has a good reason to do it, but he'll carry a load of guilt for it. If he's forced to do it enough times, the load of guilt will get so heavy that he'll either get depressed..."
"Or sear his conscience?"
"Exactly," he said. "You see, you people know how destructive your promises are, but you still make them. Please don't make me any promises. That's one consequence I want nothing to do with."
Though it was a warm night, my teeth started chattering. I spit out my gum so I didn't swallow it.
"Forgive me," he said. "I wasn't thinking." He took off his jacket and laid it over me, tucking it under my arms."
"Better?" he asked.
"A little," I manage to say.
"It's going to have to do," he said. "There's nothing left in the truck."
"I'm going into shock, aren't I?"
"'fraid so."
"So what have you decided to do?"
"Ease your pain," he said, and he reached his finger over to touch my forehead.
I woke up in a hospital bed. A deputy sheriff was staring down at me.
"There you are," he said smiling.
"Huh?" was all I could answer.
"It's the drugs," said the deputy. "You'll be a little stupid the next few days, but I gotta tell you, you are the damned luckiest son-of-a-bitch I ever did see!"
"You'll have a few scars to remember it, but you're gonna be fine."
"But I oughta cite you," said the deputy.
"We got a seatbelt law in Montana. No way you got out in time if you was buckled."
I knew I'd buckled my seatbelt, but I wasn't going to argue.
"One thing I can't figure," said the deputy.
"Your jacket. How'd your jacket come out of it like that? It ain’t even scorched."
I looked where he was pointing and saw my rescuer's jacket hanging from the back of a chair.
"Oh, I helped myself to a stick of gum," said the deputy. "I hope you don't mind."
"No consequence," I mumbled.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

FictHaus4 Tender Vitals

Tender Vitals
by Headley Hauser

"Look!" said Dander. "There it is again. They named a candy after you, Skittles!"
Skittles pouted. "It's not named for me. There are lots of fairies named Skittles."
"But not near this Seven Eleven! Look, some of the candies are green like your eyes, some of them are yellow like your teeth, and some of them are red like the color your cheeks get when you're angry."
"Stay back in the flower bed!" scolded Skittles. "A human will see you - or worse, a cat!"
Dander gave a little jump at the mention of the C word. There were a lot more of them now, and they weren't staying in houses and getting fed small cans of meat and meat byproducts; they were out hunting for birds, rodents... and fairies!
"A-ha!" laughed Skittles, "worried about your tender vitals, I see."
"The humans never should have named their cat food that. The cans turn every content house tabby into a fairy hunter."
"The humans named the cat food Vittles," said Skittles.
"Close enough!"
"And they don't think cats can read, or even understand their language."
"They don't think cats can read," said Dander. "They don't think cats can turn door knobs, or drive an SUV, or load and fire an M16. Humans aren't very bright."
"Most cats prefer Uzis. They're easier to carry."
"It's not like the old days when we twitched our wings and flew out of the cat’s reach."
Skittles bobbed her antennae. "It's hard to out-jump a nine millimeter bullet traveling at four hundred meters per second."
"I'll give the humans one thing," said Dander, "Their veterinarians help slow the rate of fairy-folk genocide."
"Yeah,” said Skittles. “They get those cats right in the bob-o-links.” Like most fairies, Skittles chose her euphemisms from among the names of small flowers and birds.
"Shush," said Dander in a whisper. "There's a calico at five o'clock."
"What's she packing?"
"It looks like a Kalashnikov."
The two fairies hid among the marigolds. Marigold scent was unpleasant, but it masked their fairy airy from the hunting feline. The cat must have heard them, or seen movement because she was staring at the marigolds. Three banana clips hung from the cat's collar, and she wore a small medal with the word, "Neverland" inscribed at the top. This was no casual Sylvester, but seasoned campaigner. A lot of Tink's best fairies bought it in the catastrophe of '07.
A mole scampered across the path, catching the cat's attention. The calico released the Russian-made automatic weapon's safety and followed after the small rodent.
"You know," said Dander after the danger had passed, "maybe we fairy-folk should consider a new career as house pets."
"Like the canaries? You want to live in a cage?"
"We could avoid cages by using a litter box, and making ourselves useful. We could help them find their house keys after the imps steal them. They might even feed us Skittles!"
"Very funny," said Skittles, "but count me out. Humans claim to love their pets but how is it that the world is filled with homeless cats? Remember what happened to Charlotte’s 4H friend, the pig. Instead of feeding us sweets, the humans are more likely to feed our Tender Vitals to their cats."
You’re right,” said Dander. “We should stick to fairy stuff. You go paint a water stain of the Virgin Mary on that Seven Eleven, and I’ll grab the candy while the humans are staring at it.”

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

FictWrig9 Bease

by Will Wright
I rarely criticized Bease's taste in girls. Claudia was gorgeous, and unlike many beautiful girls, she never had an unkind word for anybody. Maybe that's why Bease hoped she'd go out with him. Most of the girls in our school kept their distance from Bease. One told me she wouldn't spit on Bease ‘cause he might think she was trying to kiss him. Though awkward, and perpetually lovesick, Bease remained irrepressibly hopeful.
Bease's real name was Thomas. He'd been Bease since second grade when Jeremy Del Clate noticed that his scrunched-up features and thick glasses made him look a little like Mrs. Beasley, the doll that the little girl, Buffy carried on the show, Family Affair.
Nine years later, only his mother and Principal Pappel called him Thomas. Once I heard his Mom slip and call him Bease. If the name bothered him, he didn't show it. All Bease seemed to care about was finding a girlfriend. He'd been that way back before most guys even wanted girls around.
"Claudia is nice," said Bease.
"That's true," I said. It was my policy to be honest with Bease. If he asked me if Claudia would go out with him, I'd tell him no, but I couldn't deny that she seemed like a nice person.
"And she doesn't have a boyfriend," he added.
"That's true, too," I said. As a matter of fact, I'd never seen Claudia with any guy. She didn't seem to be into girls either. She was always there, looking gorgeous, pleasant to all who spoke to her, but almost always alone.
I don't know about the other guys, but the reason I stayed clear of Claudia was because I found her intimidating. Any girl that nice and that good-looking was too good for me. I wondered if she was alone because other guys felt the same way.
"I think she's lonely," said Bease.
"Could be," I admitted, though it hadn't occurred to me until that moment.
"She's like me," said Bease.
"She likes you?"
"No, she is like me."
"Bease," I said, "how in the world is Claudia Diamente like you?"
"Well, we're both lonely."
"Bease, Buddy, you're doing it again. You're setting yourself up for another heart-break. Claudia will not go out with you."
"Why not?"
"Because she's gorgeous!"
"And she's lonely - like me."
I might as well have saved my breath. Once Bease got it into his mind that a girl might like him, nothing stopped him short of crushing rejection. I'd been there to watch the inevitable disaster enough times to know, girls at school, girls in the neighborhood, the lifeguard at the pool, the girl at the pet shop.
Bease had a cage full of canaries from the summer he pursued Kaitlin from the pet shop. Kaitlin, two years older and a bird lover, was friendly to Bease longer than any other crush, largely because she couldn't believe that such a pathetic guy had any hope that she might be interested.
Hope was a commodity Bease had in abundance. Perhaps he had so much hope that there was no room left for common sense. I mean, he still wrote letters for heaven’s sake, but he only got one written reply. It was a stern letter from Emma Watson's agent telling him that Miss Watson was in a committed relationship and asking him to please stop sending her lyrics to love songs he had written.
Bease showed me one of his songs. It was predictably awkward, but I give him credit for finding so many phrases that rhyme with Hermione.
You had to figure with so many crushes that several of them must have overlapped. Could a guy be madly in love with two or three girls at the same time? For all his social failings, Bease had more capacity for love than any other guy I knew.
And that's how he was until one Sunday when he got involved with a female that was happy to love him back.
Her name was Stargirl; at least that was her name after Bease named her. Stargirl was a stray cat that must have lived with people sometime because when Bease called to her, she ambled right up to him. Stargirl was a gray tabby with a torn ear, two-thirds of a tail, and a sore on her side that didn't look good at all.
It didn't smell good either, or maybe that was Stargirl's natural scent.
"Really, Bease?" I asked as he picked up the putrid cat.
"She likes me!"
"She'd like you to feed her."
Bease held the cat towards me. Stargirl hissed. "No," said Bease, "It's me. She likes me."
A smelly half-hour later, the cat was still attached to Bease even though he hadn't fed her anything.
"All right," I agreed. "She likes you, but she's still an ugly, stinky cat. You should take her to a shelter."
"They'd kill her in the shelter!"
"They might be doing her a favor."
"Don't say that."
"You can't keep her, you know. You've got a cage full of canaries, and isn't your Mom allergic to cats?."
"Yeah," said Bease, rubbing his face into the cat's putrid coat. "Hey! we can keep her at your house!"
"No, Bease. I'm not having that stinky cat anywhere near where I eat, or sleep, or... brush my teeth."
"Well I can't just let her go."
"Why not?" I asked. "She was on her own until today; she'll be fine. Cat's do great in the wild."
"Not this one," said Bease as he pulled out the tail of his shirt to wipe the puss off the cat's smelly wound.
"Look - the cat doesn't even like me. Even if I was willing to keep her, she'd just run away." Stargirl gave me a look that I'm pretty sure was the cat equivalent to, Up yours, Fella.
"Aw," said Bease. "There's just gotta be a way."
You'd think somebody who'd been told, "No way," by so many girls would stop believing that there had to be a way. I breathed a little easier. The last thing I wanted at my house was a typhoid feline that hated my guts. If I wanted someone around who hated me, I could ask Mr. Learishaw, the gym teacher to live at my house. He'd probably hang a rope from my basketball hoop just to make me climb it all the time.
"Claudia," said Bease.
"She won't go out with you, Dude."
"No, but she's the answer."
"What's the question?"
"I'll give Stargirl to Claudia! Stargirl will have a good home, and Claudia will love me!"
I know it was cruel, but I couldn't help it. I laughed. "Bease, please! Think for a minute."
"That's the answer," said Bease. He must have been talking to himself because he was ignoring me, lost in his hopeful fantasy.
"Bease, are you hearing me? Claudia is not going to want a diseased stray! She's going to think you're weird or sick, maybe both."
"I'll do it at school tomorrow!"
"Bease, you can't bring a cat to school! At least not unless it's dead and soaked in formaldehyde, which," I sniffed at Stargirl and nearly got a claw across my face, "this cat almost qualifies. But you don't want to give the girl you like an animal to dissect in Bio. Nobody does that, Bease!"
"I just need a place to put you for one night," he said to the cat as she licked his nose.
Then both Bease and the cat looked at me. I swear, they did it together like some grotesque dance routine. One moment they were staring into each other's eyes, and then they moved in unison to point four eyeballs at me. For one eerie moment, they looked related.
"No, Man! I told you. I don't want a cat in my house! I don't like this cat. I don't like the way she smells. I don't even like healthy cats that aren't trying to scratch my eyes out. There is no way I'm running a hotel for diseased hell cats."
I was as firm as I knew how to be. That's why two hours later I was moving boxes and junk in the basement.
I'm not sure if it was the sound of moving boxes or the yowling and hissing that brought Mom down.
"What is going on down here?"
I was doing my best to coral Stargirl into a corner. I didn't want her wandering around all night. Cats, I was learning, were not easy to contain.
"Is that a cat?" asked Mom.
"Yeah," I said, "but it might also be an evil zombie."
"What is he doing here?"
"She actually. Mom meet Stargirl."
"You got a cat without asking? You don't even like cats!"
"I don't want her, Mom. Bease picked her up from the street. He's going to give her to a girl at school."
"Oh... Surely not."
"That's his plan."
Mom stared at Stargirl, taking in her numerous deficiencies. "Your friend," she said at last. "It just breaks your heart."
I suppose it's possible that Mom's heart was breaking for Stargirl, but I think it was more likely for Bease, who never seemed to find a reasonable way of showing his affection for girls. Never-the-less, Mom applied her considerable compassion on the stinky hell cat, cleaning her wound, combing her fur, making every effort to make Stargirl less hideous.
For her part, Stargirl didn't hiss at Mom or try to scratch her as she did with me. Maybe the can of tuna had something to do with that.
Bease was jumping up and down when I answered the door next morning. He didn't need to pee; he was excited.
"Where is she?"
"Down in the basement."
"She didn't sleep with you?"
I didn't have to answer. Bease was already bounding down the basement stairs. I heard Stargirl make a hideous sound that might have been hell cat for 'where have you been?" Moments later Bease was running back up the stairs with Stargirl mounted triumphantly on his shoulder.
Even after all of Mom's work the night before, the cat looked disgusting, but she was a happy disgusting, that was clear. She and Bease had made a connection. I shook my head. There was no way this was going to end well.
We ended up walking to school because even Bease recognized that Grundy the bus driver wouldn’t let Stargirl on her bus.
Jeremy Del Clate, the top jock in our school, and the class Romeo pulled over his Mercedes convertible when he saw us. In many ways, Jeremy, who had given Bease his nickname, was the anti-Bease. Girls swooned over him. Freshman year, he had taken three dates to the same dance, and none of them complained.
I hated him. I don't know how Bease felt. Jeremy was always a jerk to him, but Bease's focus never strayed from the current girl of his dreams. I wasn't even sure he noticed Jeremy.
Maybe that's why Jeremy was such an ass with Bease. Jeremy didn't like being ignored.
"What's that on your shoulder, Bease," he asked, "VD of the esophagus?" Not content to hurl an insult and drive on, Jeremy slowed his German status symbol to our walking pace.
"This is Stargirl," said Bease. "I found her yesterday."
"How, was it clogging your plumbing?"
"No," said Bease, looking unannoyed and still walking purposely towards school. "She just walked up to me."
"So you're putting her back?"
"No, we're bringing her to school."
Jeremy shot me a look of amused contempt. Unlike Bease, I was not immune to scorn. It was so unfair. I wasn't bringing Stargirl to school. I was just there for moral support. But if I said that in front of Bease, that wouldn't have been very supportive, so I just kept my mouth shut and tried to think of at least one snappy come-back I could hurl at Jeremy.
"Hey Bease," said Jeremy. "I think the road kill is supposed to be dead before you dissect it."
Alright, I felt a little ashamed there. I had had almost the same thought the day before, and as embarrassing as it was being Bease's best friend, there was no way I wanted to be like Jeremy!
Half a mile from the school parking lot, Jeremy finally pulled away. "He's probably gone to make trouble for you, Bease," I said. "You're really not supposed to bring pets to school."
"I'm just bringing Stargirl to Claudia."
"And what if Claudia doesn't want her?"
Stargirl's head, previously resting on Bease's chest as she rode his shoulder, rose up to look Bease in the eye. "How could Claudia not want her?" he asked.
I had a lot of answers to that question, but I knew Bease, and my answers wouldn't mean a thing to him - if he even heard them. I was there for moral support. Bease wasn't looking for advice.
By the time we got to school, Jeremy had raised a small welcoming committee. Nine or ten guys - mostly jocks, gave us a mock cheer as we walked onto the grounds.
"Is that your girlfriend, Bease?" asked Jordan Strong.
"Maybe it's his sister," said a kid I didn't know.
Just as Bease was deaf to unwanted advice, he seemed not to hear abuse either. He looked happy and proud as he marched through the gauntlet, up the steps, and into the school. With Stargirl firmly attached to his shoulder, he walked by the school office as if he had nothing to hide. If it had been me, Vice Principals would have streamed out of the office, zip tied my arms and legs, and carried me off to permanent detention.
With Bease, nobody said a word. I wondered what the homeroom teacher would say, when Claudia came around the corner.
"Hey, Claudia!" said Bease.
"Hello, Bease," said Claudia.
"What?" said Jeremy, who I hadn't realized was right behind me. "Is he hitting on Claudia now? Nobody's good enough for her!"
"She turn you down, Jeremy?"
"I caught her on a bad day."
Claudia was still talking to Bease, but I couldn't hear what they were saying. Bease was holding Stargirl, and Claudia was petting the cat hesitantly.
At least Stargirl wasn't hissing or biting.
"He brought a stupid cat to impress a girl!" said Jeremy. "What a Beasely!"
That's when Claudia kissed Bease - not on the forehead, or even the cheek, but right on the mouth!
"What?" said Jeremy. "She's just being nice."
"Claudia is nice," I agreed.
Claudia took the stinky cat from Bease's arms, and you would have thought she'd been given an academy award, she looked so happy. The two of them - no three of them walked off as if there were in a world of their own.
"Uh," said Jeremy.
"What can I tell you, Jeremy," I replied. "Some guys got it."
Stargirl looked near dead the Sunday Bease found her, but it was eight years later when she finally passed peacefully away. I was there with Claudia and Tom (Claudia got everyone to stop calling him Bease,) and their two children (who thankfully resembled their mother,) as they laid her to rest in their back yard.
Bease was still girl crazy, but his affection was limited to four girls now, Claudia, his little girls Leia and Uhura, and Novagirl, a cat they kept from Stargirl's last litter.
Like her mother, Novagirl smelled bad and hissed whenever I came near. I didn't mind.
I'd learned never to criticize Bease's taste in girls.

Friday, October 9, 2015

FictMcFa7 How Nana Saw Lima Beans

How Nana Saw Lima Beans
by Stanley McFarland

It was Nana who taught me the right way to view people, and it all started with lima beans.
Nana had come to live with us when I was a kid, and early on it became clear that I would have to adjust my behavior.
“Lima beans?” I shouted one day. “I hate lima beans!”
“Don’t say hate,” said Nana calmly. “It’s a word you should use with great discretion. Say that you don’t care for lima beans.”
“But I do care about lima beans,” I said, being a smart-mouthed eleven-year-old. “I really hate them.”
“Hate is a word for extremes,” said Nana. “You might say that you hate fascism, or genocide, but you should never use the word with people, and it is simply ridiculous to say you hate a food just because its taste doesn’t agree with you.”
“Wait,” I said, thinking I had caught her, “you say I shouldn’t hate people?”
“That is correct.”
“But it was people that created fascism, and people who committed genocide.”
“That’s true.”
“So if Hitler were alive today, it would be wrong to say that I hate him?”
“It would.”
“How does that make any sense?”
“It’s all a matter of seeing things from a higher perspective.”
“You mean, like… God?”
Being a pre-adolescent know-it-all, I stopped listening right there. I didn’t go to church, and neither did Nana. I wasn’t about to listen to a sermon about Hitler and lima beans.
But she got me thinking. How would seeing things from God’s perspective make a bad person seem any better? For that matter, what WAS God’s perspective?
I imagined being a thousand feet tall. My head was so high that I had to stoop to avoid low-hanging clouds. Below me were swarms of tiny people that I’d step on if I closed my eyes. These tiny people were like ants to me. Would I care if one ant killed another ant, or thousands of other ants? Was that what Nana meant?
I liked the idea, especially about stepping on people I didn’t like, but I was pretty sure that wasn’t what she was talking about.
The next day as school we got back our science tests. I got a D minus. Mr. Hubble just didn’t like me; that’s why I failed. I imagined God as this giant brain. He would look down on Mr. Hubble and say, “Do you think you know science? You know NOTHING! You fail, Mr. Hubble!”
The thought made me smile, but as I pondered it, I realized that God wouldn’t say that. For one thing, he would call Mr. Hubble by his first name.
Weeks passed without me thinking about it much. Nobody told me why Nana had moved in with us, but I noticed that she was moving slower and getting skinnier. Finally she went into the hospital. When we went to see her she looked terrible. She had a tube in her arm and she was coughing a lot. I hated seeing her like that.
I didn’t say anything because I remembered what Nana said about the word, hate. Instead, I decided I wouldn’t go back to the hospital. I’d just wait until Nana got better. I made every excuse I could think of over the next week when Mom asked if I wanted to go see Nana. Every time I thought about the way she looked I got the creeps.
One night at dinner Dad announced that as soon as we were through we would all get into the car and visit Nana.
“I better stay home,” I said. “I still have homework, and I’m failing science.”
“You can bring your homework with you,” said Dad.
“But I don’t want to go,” I said more honestly. Mom looked like she was about to cry and left the table. She’d hardly eaten anything.
“Stanley,” my father said after she’d left, “you know your Nana has cancer.”
“I know she’s sick,” I said.
“It’s worse than that. She’s not going to get better.”
“She’s going to die?”
“Yes, and soon. Tonight might be the last time you ever see her. It’s important for you to tell her that you love her. And it’s important that you be there for your mother. Nana is her mother and this is very hard on her.”
“Um… okay,” I said.
My older sister, Stacey took my hand. “I’ll stay with you,” she whispered.
The nurses on Nana’s floor insisted that only two people see Nana at a time. Mom and Stacey went in first. As they opened the door, I could see Nana on the bed. She looked like a skeleton with tubes not only in her arm, but in her nose, and a mask over her mouth.
“When Stacey comes out, Stanley, you go in.” Dad wasn’t using his angry voice, but it was clear he didn’t want any argument from me. I sat on a plastic couch and stared at the cover of a magazine. All I could see was Nana. I didn’t want to go in that door.
I don’t know how long Stacey was in there. It felt like both forever and not nearly long enough.
“Stanley,” said Dad, “you go in now.”
“I can’t,” I said.
“You can and you will.”
I just turned and walked away. I could hear Dad get up from his chair, and then Stacey’s voice say, “I’ll go with him.”
I kept walking and moments later Stacey was walking beside me. We didn’t speak – just walked. The hospital consisted of several buildings tacked together with walkways. We left one building and entered another. We ended up in pediatrics and stopped in the viewing room.
“Look at the babies!” said Stacey, stepping up to the glass. There were five babies in normal bassinettes. Three of them had pink blankets, and two had blue. There was also a bulky machine with a window in the top. Inside the machine was a tiny wrinkled baby. I didn’t know if it was a boy or a girl because there was no blanket in the machine. The baby wore a mask with a tube in its nose and another tube in its arm.
Just like Nana.
“Is it going to die?” I asked Stacey.
“I don’t think so,” she said.
“Why not?”
“I don’t think they’d have her out here if she was in danger. She’s just a little premature.”
“How do you know it’s a she?”
Stacey pointed to a name card on the machine. It said, “Dora Mitchell, 3lbs 5oz 3/7/70. Tiny Dora was three days old and still looked like a pink raisin. I shook my head. “Those poor parents.”
“I don’t know,” said Stacey.
“What do you mean, you don’t know? Look at her!”
“She looks bad,” Stacey agreed, “but she’s alive, and she’ll probably look a lot better in a couple of weeks. Dora’s parents are probably thrilled to have a daughter. Daughters are much better than sons, you know,” and Stacey poked me in the ribs.
Together we walked back to Nana’s wing and instead of dread, I thought about tiny Dora and what my sister said about her parents. Maybe that’s what Nana meant when she spoke of seeing things through a higher perspective. My mind was in a muddle. I felt like I was thinking too much and not at all. My head hurt, but I wasn’t afraid anymore.
When I walked into Nana’s room she looked just as bad as she had before. The machine by her bed made hissing noises like something out of a horror movie. I still saw all that stuff but I concentrated on Nana’s eyes. They were still the same eyes they’d always been when she teased me, or played cribbage with me. I cradled her hand in mine and she gave my thumb a little squeeze. Through her breathing mask it looked like she was smiling.
“I love you, Nana,” I said.
She died a few hours later.
I still get angry with people. I get frustrated or afraid, but sometimes I remember that lesson I learned from Nana. I look at the person I’m having trouble with and I see a baby. Babies get sick; they get cranky, grabby, even mean, but because they are babies, they are lovable.
But I still don’t care for lima beans, and I hate cancer.

I don’t think Nana would mind me saying that.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

FictMcfa8 Plant

by Stanley McFarland

Leif curled against the cold. His circulation was sluggish. He drooped. His energy was low. Moisture flowed so slowly up the stem that it almost stopped. Were it not for the dew gathering across his body, he might have wilted.
"Will it freeze?" asked Brother. "Will there be frost?"
"There will be if this night doesn't end," said Neighbor.
"The night must end," said Leif. "The night always ends."
"Always?" asked Blossom. "What is always? I have seen the night end twice. Twice is not always."
"We are much older, Blossom," said Leif. "We have seen the sun again and again. The night always ends."
"Though sometimes the cold doesn't end," said Brother.
"Or there are clouds," said Neighbor.
"But the night ends," said Leif.
"It ends?" asked Blossom sounding vulnerable.
"It ends," answered Leif more confidently than he truly was. What if he was wrong? What if this time, the sun did not rise in the sky? What if it was eaten by a beast, or a great bug, or even a caterpillar?
"Just the same," said Blossom, "I will keep my petals tight."
That would not save you if the night never ends, thought Leif, though he said nothing. There was no point. If the sun was eaten, or if it wandered to another garden, there would be no hope. There would be nothing but cold and death.
Brother inched closer. Together they clustered.
Do we wait for death? wondered Leif. Dew ran down Brother and fell to Leif's stem.
"Thank you, Brother," said Leif.
"We are all one," said Brother. "The sun is for all. The dew is for all."
Brother's philosophy was beyond Leif's understanding. Some leaves dried and shriveled as others thrived on the same stem. Bugs or beasts ate some and left others whole.
"You are all for me," said Blossom. "I am your reason. Without me, you are nothing."
"What's this?" asked Neighbor. "We were before you!"
"Exactly," said Blossom. "You were here before me. You came to bring me here."
"We are not here for you!" said Neighbor. "Before us there was the stem. If we are here for anything, it is the stem!"
"Or the stem is here for all of us," said Brother.
"Sun!" came a cry from far above them.
"Where?" said Blossom. "I see no sun."
"Son comes to tree first," said Neighbor. "See? It is not for you, Blossom. See the stem on tree? It is stem that matters!"
It was still so cold. Leif could not see the sun, though above him, more were calling. All that were calling were on tree. Maybe Neighbor was right. Maybe the great stem of tree made the others that were calling now greater. They had sun, when he did not. It was so cold. Leif was so tired of the cold night.
More of the others called to the sun further down the great stem of tree. Leif envied their joy, their energy. What if sun only came for tree today?
No, he remembered, tree was always first, but sun came to him after. Night will end soon."
"Sun!" cried Blossom. "I will spread my petals!" Before Blossom's petals moved, Leif felt a thrill of energy tickle him, then bathe him, just as delicious as the first time. Leif's fears melted.
"Sun!" cried Brother.
"Sun!" cried Leif.
"Sun!" cried Neighbor.
"Sun!" cried the whole garden now. "Sun! sun! sun!"
Food and water surged from the stem. Leif stretched and reached. A dangerous bug flew near. Leif did not hide. He could not cower. "Sun!" he cried. It was so much better than he remembered. How could he have forgotten how this felt?
As the morning wore on the joy of the sun melted in the baking heat.
"Moisture," cried Neighbor. "I must have moisture." Neighbor's surface puckered around the tip of his reach.
"Help!" cried one on another stem. Beneath that one, a caterpillar crawled.
"Oh my!" cried Blossom. "You don't think that thing will come here, do you?"
"Not that one," said Leif, "but there are others."
"You must protect me," said Blossom. "Surely you can see that that is why you are here."
"I don't see," said Leif. Leif did not know why he was there. He heard what Brother said about being one. He did not understand it. Nor did he understand what Neighbor said about the stem. Even if Blossom was right and he was there for her, what could he do for her? How could he protect her, or do anything other than accept moisture from the stem and light from the sun? Was it enough to simply be?
"Snip beast!"
Leif heard the warning filter across the garden. The snip beast was the most feared of all the predators, and the most unpredictable. A snip beast might bring water on a hot day, or even nutrients for the root, but it was also known to cut plants at the stem, several at once, not eating the plants, as other beasts might, but to take away. Why the snip beast acted as it did, no one knew.
Snip, snip, the snip beast great claw cut swaths in the air. The stem trembled, making Leif shake.
"Sacrifice yourselves!" commanded Blossom. "You must protect me!"
The ponderous beast dropped to a knee, shaking the earth. It leaned and bent plants with its massive bulk. It extended a limb to the stem with the caterpillar and detached the much smaller beast.
"Perhaps the beast is here to help," said Brother.
"Not when it brings the claw," said Neighbor. "It seeks the stem. Only the stem has meaning, and so the snip beast attacks it."
Leif stretched himself toward the sun, trying to remember the joy he felt as it returned. Perhaps the sun could save them. A shadow blocked the sun. The snip beast leaned over the plant.
"Protect me!" shouted Blossom.
A beast limb encircled the stem. It touched Leif's underside. Its texture was soft and oily.
"It seeks the stem!" shouted neighbor, and a great rush of fear rushed into Leif through the stem, and then was silenced by one deafening snip.
"No!" shouted Neighbor.
"Protect me," whimpered Blossom.
Leif and Brother were silent. It was death, but not complete death. There was no connection to the earth. It was as if Leif had become a creature of the air. He flew up in the beast's limb above the garden and watched as other stems were snipped. The severed stems with their leaves and blossoms joined him in the beast's grip.
"And what now, Brother?" asked Leif. "What is there after the garden?"
"I don't know," said Brother.
"The sun has changed," said Neighbor.
It was true. The sun remained above. Leif could feel its heat and see its light, but it no longer sent him life. "The sun's life is for the uncut," he said.
"It was for the stem," said Neighbor. "How will the sun go on without the stem?"
"There is something more," said Blossom. "This cannot be all there is for me. I am meant for more!"
Other blossoms agreed or disagreed. Leaves from other snipped stems murmured, but their voices were muted, half alive, half dead, as the gathering of cut stems grew in the beast's limb.
The beast stood and lifted them all high above the garden. Leif had never imagined that there were so many leaves, stems and blossoms. In great lumbering steps, the beast moved them over vast spans across the garden, and then beyond it. The leaves around him were silent. Even the blossoms said little as the beast came upon a steep hill, then opened a passage to enter the hill.
Inside the hill were suns, many of them, but not as warm. The beast put the stems on a mound and walked away.
"Why!" screamed a blossom.
"Tree," whispered a leaf.
"What do you mean?" asked Blossom. I see no tree.
"This mound," said the leaf. It was a tree.
"Will we be mounds?" asked Brother.
"Only the stem," said Neighbor. "The beast will make mounds of the stem."
"No!" said Blossom. "I will be saved. I will not be a mound."
"A blossom could not be a mound," murmurred a leaf quietly. "It lacks what trees have."
All the blossoms started screaming at once at the quiet leaf.
"Brother, do you know?" whispered Leif.
"We are all one," said Brother.
Leif felt comfort in Brother's words, though he didn't understand them. He tried to draw closer to Brother, but without the life of the stem, he could not move.
The mound shook as some great object landed on it. A moment later, the snip beast gathered all the stems in its limb and raised them into the air, then pushed them into the object.
"I feel something," said Neighbor. "I feel something through the stem!"
It was true. Something came through the stem. It wasn't the life Leif had known, but it had moisture, and food.
"Yes!" shouted Blossom. "It IS for me. I feel it making me stronger!"
"No," said Neighbor, "it is for the..."
Whatever Neighbor was going to say stopped. The beast tore Neighbor from the stem, and cast him to the tree mound.
"Brother!" shouted Leif, "I don't under..." Leif could not finish. He was torn from the stem and could not talk. He fell near Neighbor, and other leaves that formed a pile on the tree mound.
Leif's vision became cloudy, but he could still see Brother standing out from the stem beneath Blossom.
"This new life is for me," said Blossom. "Only for me. I will live forever!"

Perhaps she will thought Leif as he began to curl. I wonder if she will miss the sun.