Friday, June 24, 2011

#FridayFlash - Rising Above

Carl cocked his head to the side and gazed upon his latest creation not as an artist would, but as a doctor might while working on a patient in surgery. His hands had previously guided the pickets through the routing machine, the aged pine surrendering easily to the cut of the bit, and had afterwards hinged them together with the kiss-chuck! punch of a pneumatic nail gun. Now the perfect hexagon stood before him, a dutiful student waiting for its master to lay the perfect foundation, and then give it meaning and purpose. Applying a bead of glue to the ends of the frame, Carl positioned the wood upon an even wider hexagon base, shooting in a few nails to hold everything until the glue set. He took a ruler and double-checked the measurements. Six equal ledges brought a smile to his face.

His earliest attempts had failed miserably compared to these latest creations. But then, just like one couldn’t expect to make the perfect omelet without breaking a few eggs, or so the saying went, Carl knew that crafting the perfect birdhouse took time, energy, and determination to reach beyond the imperfections of this world.

All things considered, the roof turned out to be more difficult than the rest. Cut into six equally shaped triangles, each then routed on all sides, the wedges were glued and nailed together to form a steeple. When laid upon the top of the frame, everything formed a nice fit. Over the wood, he glued metal sheets—a perfectly balanced contrast, come to think of it—and instead of a cross, he used a fleur de lis at the peak. Not everyone liked crosses, he discovered. In fact, some shoppers had actually accused him of trying to impose his will upon everyone else. His individual will had nothing to do with anything. It was more a matter of one idea, one goal and purpose: exposure.

For Carl, being human came with a certain level of iniquities. Along with the imperfections of the flesh, disease and dependency, within each person there was also free will, an insipid seed of destruction where everyone believed they held rights, above everyone else it seemed, and they usually fought and died to prove their point. What good was free will then? Carl wondered. Wouldn’t it be better to have one will instead? He held no complaints about being human, though. He could have easily been something further down the food chain—a cow, a goat, or perhaps a pig—some creature whose sole existence amounted to nothing more than to eat grass, to be used like a whore, and then to be eaten. But that was the way with chance, wasn’t it? Once born and given wings to fly, with infinite possibilities to target, one could never know the outcome of fate until it was too late. By then, there would be no turning back.

The house constructed, Carl applied a base coat of paint. The dry wood sucked it in like a starving child seated in front of a bowl of ice cream. Setting the project aside, he turned his attention now toward another house—the paint already dried, the finish work also completed. To the bottom of this, he placed a date. A buyer once asked about his scribbles. He smiled and told her it was the expiration date, after which the house would spoil and be unavailable for sale. She laughed. He laughed with her.

Carl reached down and kneaded a few lumps in his belly, finding one that felt just right. Perfect, in fact. He stiffened his index finger like a dagger, and then knifed it into the flesh, twisting it, hooking the end, and pulling out the mass of tissue underneath. Looking at it, he watched the lump twitch and wiggle, the larvae inside feeling the change in temperature. After a few seconds, the sac turned brown and thickened in response to the air around it; before it dried too much, he pushed it through the small porthole in the birdhouse, the mucus membrane easily adhering like glue to the dry wood inside.

In six weeks, the larvae would finally hatch. From there, it would crawl out, spread its wings in the dark of night, and fly off in search of its new host. Hopefully it would find another human, leaving only a small welt as it bored into skin. A spider bite, some would think, nothing more. From these creations, a few would fall short. Those unfortunate seeds would find their way into a household pet—a dog or a cat, which would then get sick and die. Or they might find a baby instead that would then turn still in its sleep. The smaller hosts never survived. But that was the risk with chance, wasn’t it? Not everything could reach for perfection.

Today’s work finished, he boxed up the product and loaded it into the back of the Suburban along with the others. Tomorrow, the flea market would open, as it always did, and Carl expected to sell at least five units, maybe six.

Humans loved birdhouses.

Friday, June 17, 2011

#FridayFlash - Taking a Vacation

Jackie smiled as she pulled into the space for Cabin No. 2 and turned the ignition off. In front of her, the ground sloped downward about a quarter mile, dropping into a sleepy hollow covered with a blanket of trees before it turned up to the ridge across the way. Stepping out of the Jeep, the caliche drive crunched under her feet, and the sweet fragrance of pine filled the air around her. Hummingbirds, their wings chirping like crickets, buzzed along the line of cabins where feeders filled with nectar, put in place by the owners, waited. Inside, her smile grew as the cabin’s rustic atmosphere—the wood paneling, the stone fireplace, the scenic landscaped pictures and wall sconces—added to the feeling that now overwhelmed her: such a beautiful place for a vacation.

This year, Jackie knew it was time to go to the mountains. She had visited the coast last year, spent her evenings walking along the shoreline, the waves lapping against her bare feet. A silly thing to do, really, what with all the warnings she had read and heard about jelly fish being washed ashore, but she couldn’t help herself; she had been drawn to it. As if South Padre had called to her—like the Caribbean Islands had called the year before, the Everglades the year before that—like it had all been planned and there was nothing else to do but to listen and obey. It was predestined.

She had first heard about predestination in church. Of all places, come to think of it. At four years of age, sitting in a wooden pew, the ceiling fans humming and swaying above, she listened as the minister hammered the lectern, ranting on about what the Scriptures said regarding the strange belief. The only thing predestined, he told them, was where people would go when they died. But of course, she had been too young to dispute him then. That was before her sixth birthday, before her father took her on a special getaway to London and there introduced her to the family diary.

Standing at a window now, her bags on the bed behind her, Jackie looked out across the valley and felt the energy flow through her body. Every nerve sparked—every muscle on edge. Contrary to what that old preacher in the sweat-soaked black suit had said so many years ago, being here was indeed where she needed to be. The San Jacinto Mountains had waited long enough for her bloodline to arrive. This was their year. Their turn.

It took only minutes to unpack her things and step into a bathtub filled with steaming hot water and bubbles. One leg shaved, she lifted the other up and rested her foot on the faucet, feeling the excitement grow with each careful pull of the straight razor along her skin. No more waiting now. At the end of each vacation, while gratifying, she always felt a slight loss, like it had wrapped up too soon, and she looked forward to the next time she could do it all again. Sometimes, the wait turned out to be too much, and she would make opportunities for mini-vacations. Like the few days she spent in Seattle last winter attending the Issues on Women’s Health seminar. It wasn’t her specialty really, but CME was CME regardless of what you took and where you took it. Besides, Seattle had beckoned her then just like the mountains did now.

One of the things she liked about vacations, whether the annual event or the little ones in between, was how much she learned at each stop. Like how the dank smell of the Everglades shrouded over everything or how, like a sponge, the sand along the South Padre shore could absorb much more than water. Those little things were like iced flowers on a cake, delicious morsels that she could write into the family diary, which would one day pass along when the time…

A small ache stirred inside. Eventually the vacations would come to an end as she in turn would settle down, find an actual mate, and begin a new chapter in history. Having kids would change everything, she knew. That is, until one of them turned old enough for another special getaway, this time with mother and child.

She shook her head, pushed the thoughts aside and quickly turned on the faucet to wash her hair, letting the water rinse the shampoo and everything else down the drain. Now was not the time to consider children. Now was her time. To live. To be. To fulfill her destiny.

The bath over, Jackie stepped out of the tub and into the bedroom. The chill of the air raised goose bumps along her arms. She toweled dry, patted some powder over her bare skin, and selected a nice evening dress with spaghetti straps. Looking in the mirror, she nodded. This was the right image. It wasn’t much, but it showed enough and teased plenty. What red-blooded single man would possibly turn her away?

She picked out a change of clothes, stuffed them into a duffle bag, and then stepped into the bathroom to grab the straight razor, which she slipped into a small purse. The lights out, the duffle bag in hand, and the cabin door closed, she walked back to the Jeep, once again taking in the cool air, the smell of pine. If everything went well, she would find her first man tonight; and like her father before her, his father before him and so on, she would carry on the tradition that has lived for years, crossing the Atlantic in the process. And while those men had chosen to slice through the necks of prostitutes, her selections were just as equal. After all, men can be sluts, too.

Turning the key in the ignition, she smiled. This was going to be a great vacation.

Author's Note:

I'm going on vacation soon, which reminds me that my definition of vacation—quiet days with a book in hand—is not the same definition my family holds—running around, doing as much as possible. Knowing how the world works and how people define things differently, I decided to observe how somebody else might define vacation differently.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

#FridayFlash - This is Your Life

Jack gazed into the darker half of the studio and found Camera One’s red eye staring back at him. A tinny voice crackled in his ear monitor.

“Ten seconds, Jack.”

Just one more, he thought. The last segment done, he could call it a night—go home, kick his feet up, have a beer. It was a luxury, sure, but he could afford it. At five dollars per can, Budweiser had finally realized its own American dream, finally replacing the champagne budget.

In the ear monitor, the director’s voice popped with excitement.

“And five… four…”

The back half of the studio turned completely dark while the lights on stage burned brighter.


Behind him, three feet above the floor, a hologram of the show’s banner unfurled like a flag on a breeze. Blocked letters were conspicuously backdropped in red, white, and blue, a point not lost on Jack.


Jack blew a raspberry to loosen up his lips.


He took a breath. Only here, he thought. Only now.

“…and showtime.”

Staring into the eye of Camera One, Jack turned on his bright smile.

“And welcome back to This is Your Life.” His sonorous voice resonated so well the techies in the sound room didn’t even have to process it. “The show where life takes center stage and everyone is finally allowed their fifteen minutes.”

“Camera Two, Jack.”

He turned his head first and then rotated his body. Below the camera lens, tonight’s script inched its way up a small teleprompter.

“So far tonight, we’ve been introduced to a farmer, a lab technician, and a day care worker.”

He had joked once that they should fade the teleprompter words back and out like George Lucas did in the Star Wars movies. Make it feel like the future. Like they had the force and knew how to use it. Nobody laughed.

“Excellent, Jack. Now forward.”

He took two steps toward the second camera, careful to keep his feet on the pre-marked line. The young man behind the camera—a new guy—looked disturbed. Jack pressed on. After the show, he thought.

He raised both hands, the left gingerly holding the right, his index finger stuck in the air like a professor making a point. A silly thing to do, he thought, and had said as much before the show, but the director assured him it would be a nice touch. Delicate. Showing compassion. Definitely not aggressive.

“Our final guest this evening is Mr. Howard Parker.” On a separate monitor that allowed him to see the show as the audience did, he looked like a meteorologist giving a weather report. The hologram switched to a face, the skin pale white and blotched with liver spots. “Mr. Parker was born in Eastland, Texas, a small town one hundred and twenty miles west of Dallas, where he graduated from the local high school and then from nearby Ranger College.”

Jack had been there once. Or rather, he had passed through the area years ago, the highway taking a steep dive into the lower valley. He made the journey at the advice of his father. “If you want to live, son, really live,” his dad had said, “then you got to be in the city, make a difference so big people can’t overlook it.” Jack’s dad didn’t know how close to the truth he had been.

“It was there at Ranger College,” he continued, “that Mr. Parker met his sweetheart. They married, later having two kids. The youngest graciously brings us this video.”

For a second, nothing happened.

In the ear monitor, Jack heard: “Where’s my video!” He ignored it and kept his smile for the viewing audience. A second later, the hologram flickered. The weathered face of Howard Parker was replaced by that of his daughter who, tears streaming down her face, talked about her dad—about his life as a father, a husband, and a civil worker who helped to build roads.

Jack’s smile faded as he turned and stepped away from the hologram. The video lasted for ten minutes, the viewing audience now watching Parker’s life unfold. He had served his country, his daughter said, and served it proudly. It was a great life, heading for even greater heights, until a tiny blood clot changed everything.

The video came to a close. The director’s voice buzzed in Jack’s ear.

“Okay, Jack, close it up.”

Jack scanned the studio and found the red eye above Camera One. He smiled.

“As with all of our guests, the producers have assembled a fair and balanced report on Mr. Parker.” Numbers and statistics popped up on the hologram, and like the hosts in other markets Jack read through the data with precision, his words conveying the costs now associated with Mr. Parker’s life. “And here, dear viewers, is tonight’s final guest.”

From the left, an interned wheeled Mr. Parker across the stage. The man’s head hung down. Saliva covered his chin.

“Our job is done,” he said to the camera. “Now it’s time to place your votes.”

The hologram image changed. Two sets of percentages grew, one faster than the other. After a commercial break, the hologram turned red, the intern wheeled Mr. Parker off the stage, and Jack closed the program.

Afterwards, he stopped to talk with the young man on Camera Two.

“It’s Carl, right?”

The young man nodded.

“Good show tonight, huh?”

Carl shrugged a shoulder.

Jack gave him a sympathetic smile. “I know how you feel. Trust me, it’ll pass. We can’t keep paying for their hopes. With global economies surging and limited resources, population has to be dealt with on both sides of the equation. Otherwise, it’ll be too expensive for everyone, you know?” Jack then pointed to the hologram. “Besides, it’s not just us.”

Carl said nothing.

Jack smiled and patted Carl on the shoulder. “C’mon, let’s go have a beer. I’ll show you how to live.”

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

#FridayFlash - Baby Talk

Mary stared at her phone, excited about the possibilities of what the new app promised. On screen, a pink and blue banner greeted her: Baby Talk. The phone then cooed at her and vibrated as an avatar infant laughed.

Mary smiled.

Another app had promised to allow the baby to select its name from a pool of names already preselected by the parent. By measuring the baby’s kick, the app provided the baby to choose its own name. Still, the parent had much more work to do—like determining the sex of the child in advance, and then selecting a pool of names, a task which proved far more complicated than Mary wanted to absorb right now. Could absorb, in fact.

Coming away from the party with no memory except the one of her walking in—What a mistake that had been!—she had no idea who the father was. With more than a hundred fraternity brothers, none of which remembered her or knew that she even had been at their little weekend bash, there was no point in trying to chase down that rabbit. And with the self-righteous parents she had been blessed with, both of whom would probably ask her to kneel down at an altar, beg forgiveness for this most egregious sin of sins, there was nowhere else to turn. There was only her now.

So when Mary thumbed through a list of new apps, finding one that not only emitted a sonogram pulse and could determine the sex of the child with ninety-eight percent accuracy, but also connected to the baby’s brain—well, that was down-right cool. According to the app description, the connection to the baby was made possible by a new technology. The specifics of the device turned out to be like something out of Star Trek, far above what Mary could comprehend, but that didn’t matter. If, through her phone, her baby could talk to her, then she could ask it several things. Like what it wanted to be named. Suzanne Henderson from Wisconsin had done so, according to the app description, and her baby told her it liked the name Jordan. Vera White from Georgia had done it, too; her baby announced that he was Tyrone.

Mary could even ask her baby what color it would like in the nursery. Sure, the painting might be a little much, and it would certainly set her back a week in costs, what with the price of paint and brushes and such, but knowing the right color in advance would certainly take the guess work out of it.

Staring at the screen, watching the banner swirl away, Mary’s smile faded as a new thought occurred to her. How would the baby know what color to pick? It wasn’t like it had already been exposed to a palette of oils or a rainbow, right? She laughed at herself then. Okay, so the painting decision would be up to her as well.

A message instructed her to place the phone on her belly and press “Select” to discover the baby’s sex. After a minute of buzzing, accompanied by a digitized version of Brahms’s Lullaby, the screen announced that her child was a boy.

Mary’s smile returned.

The phone then instructed her to type a greeting to her child and, after placing the phone on her belly again, to press “Send.” Mary tapped the keys and followed the protocol. Ten seconds later, the ting-ting! of a countertop bell reached her ears, and her baby’s first word flashed on the screen.


Laughing, she wiped away a tear. Being an unwed mother wasn’t going to be a lonely experience after all. During the long months of waiting, she could talk to her child. She could share her experiences. In fact, they could be best friends. Right now, miles away from home, if she could consider her parents’ place a “home,” she needed a good friend—someone on her level for a change.

She quickly typed in her next message:

What is your name?

No immediate response came. The musical tune ended and the screen timed out. Her smile faded again. Had the app failed to produce upon its promise? Was this just another cheap waste of time, raising her hopes to find some level of happiness, some meaning and purpose, only to dash it all on the digital rocks of despair?

Suddenly, the phone vibrated. The bell chimed, and Mary turned the screen to see her baby's answer:

I am god.

Author's Note:

While riding to work this week, I heard the radio hosts talk about this new phone app that would allow your baby to choose its own name by measuring its kicks. I couldn't help but laugh. What is this world coming to when parents give even their unborn children the right to choose their own name? And if we come to that, then what other response should we expect? And before people start accusing me of blasphemy, I would like to point out that I used the lower case G in my story.

Anyway, I was having a little fun with this one, so I hope you'll indulge me a little twisted humor.

Until next time...