Flash! Stuff

It's been a while since I wrote any flash stuff for this space. (Has it really been a month?) "Busy, busy," as I said. But I decided to knuckle down today.  The headlines were:

“Avengers Smashes Record With $200 Million Debut”
“Public Square In Public Spotlight As City Focuses On Safety Of Patrons”
“Cuyahoga Officials Compare Notes With Pittsburgh”
“More Teacher Cuts Intended Only To Pare Deficit”
“Nonbank Mortgage Officers Now Fewer Than 3,000 In Ohio”

From these I borrowed “200 million,” “public,” “compare,” “deficit,” and “mortgage.”

Perhaps inspired by the somber tone of "Delicates," the recent 100-word contest winner by Madeline Mora-Summonte, I came up with something darker as well.

What Choice Did They Have?
He really didn’t want to mortgage their future. But what choice did they have? They had racked up huge deficits in an effort to have a child...a child of their own, with no success. Originally, they had investigated adoption. But something about the whole process of creating the “pick me” book—the photo-filled folder which would allow birth mothers to compare the cars and home sizes of prospective parents—was distasteful to her.
    So they put their faith in medical technology. The treatments were neither guaranteed, nor cheap. But they wanted a child so badly.
    And then it happened.
    A routine blood test as part of his annual medical exam revealed a rare form of leukemia. Several weeks later, in preparation for the latest round of IVF, doctors found the same disease in her.
    Every family member on both sides was checked to see if any could be a match. None was. The National Bone Marrow Registry likewise could not produce a suitable donor. Time was running out.
    And then he read an article about an Ohio couple who conceived a second child in order to save their first, who was stricken with the same form of cancer which was ravaging their immune systems. The baby was born, and the stem cells from her umbilical cord were transplanted to her older sister within days. It was a success, medically speaking, though the court of public opinion was divided.
    Since then, the procedure has been done successfully numerous times. But only with siblings. Theirs—their desperate, final shot—would be the first documented case of using a baby’s stem cells to save a parent, let alone both parents. Doctors say there is a 1 in 200 million chance it will work for both of them. But what choice did they have?
    And besides, if it didn’t work, the credit card bill would be the least of their worries. 

It’s Monday, which means more flash fiction. I started to concoct the basic idea for this one early on in the day, and worked on it, mentally, here and there. But I just wasn’t “feeling it,” even when I sat down and started typing. Nonetheless, I persevered, and came up with “The Eternal Optimist.” I’m pretty happy with it, actually. I pulled the words “two-year,” “record,” “reservation,” “personal,” and  “buddy” from

“Tribe, Cabrera Agree On Two-Year Contract Extension”
“It’s A Wrap! Cleveland’s 36th Film Festival Sets Attendance Record”
“Rivergate To Become Part Of Metropark’s 17th Reservation”
“Teens Are Invested In Personal Finance Class”
“Buddy Holly Band At Long Last gets Its Due”

I was really tempted to use “Rivergate.” It just screams with possibilities. But that immediately made me think “scandal,” which made me think of my intrepid reporter, Brent Scowlcroft. And he was the focus of my last story. So I opted to skip it.

The Eternal Optimist
“Hey, Buddy! How are you today?”
    Mr. D. always hated it when folks were so familiar with him. Don’t these idiots realize whom they’re talking to? he thought.
    “I have a reservation. It’s under the name ‘Happy.’ That’s Happy with an ‘H.’ Ha-ha. A little joke. Happy isn’t really my name. I wasn’t born ‘Happy’ though, for some reason I never understood, my mother, my father, my teachers, my co-workers, and even strangers in elevators often would say that I must have been. Isn’t that the strangest thing you’ve ever heard?”
    “Not by a long shot. But, I’ve pretty much heard it all.” Does this guy ever shut up?
    “Anyway, for the record, my real name is Harold. But I never liked that. It’s nothing personal. It just sounds like a newspaper, or an angel. You know, like, ‘Hark, the Harold angel sing—’ ”
    “Don’t say that!”
    “What that?”
    “I can’t say it. Just don’t say that any more.”
    “OK, I will refrain from saying ‘that.’ Anyway, like I was saying, I was thinking that—oops, sorry—I was thinking perhaps I could see my room before committing? I have this bad skin condition, this kind of hivey-rashy thing. I know, TMI. The point is, heat really exacerbates it, and... Tee-hee. I shouldn’t use that—oops, sorry again—word.  It sounds so naughty, even though it’s not. Anyway the heat makes it worse, so I was thinking if I could see my room, check out the ventilation and the air conditioning beforehand, tha... it would be great.”
    “Check out? Air conditioning? You don’t get it! You don’t get to choose!”
    “Hmmm. I’m not sure I can live with those conditions.”
    “Live with those conditions? What do you think this is...a time share? This is forever! This is—”
    “I’ll tell you what. I’ll commit to a two-year agreement. Two years, tops. If I don’t like it, I’m gone. I don’t know if you make use of contracts around here—”
    “All the time. It’s a little recruiting tool I like to use. But no one—”
    “I agree. We don’t need one of those. We’re grown ups. You seem like a trustworthy fellow. A man of his word. We can shake on it, call it a gentleman’s agreement. It’s kind of like my Aunt Ida said, ‘You can put a pig in a suit, but at the end of the week, he’s still a pig.’ Sorry, I didn’t mean to imply you’re a pig. Like I said, you seem pretty nice. Pretty friendly, and all. Though you would be a lot less intimidating if you’d put away the pitchfork...”
    The rest of Happy’s words were little more than a drone, a buzzing little mosquito that he could not swat, as it was against the rules. Why do I get the feeling that this guy is going to make my life Hell? thought the Devil.

I somewhat cheated here. This one was completed over the course of two days. But, hey, there are only so many hours in the day and I had a review of “Castle” to write up. The headlines were:

“Real Estate Websites Hit Logisitical Cul-De-Sac”
“Meth Labs Proliferate In 'One-Pot' Formulation”
“Kansas Defeats Carolina”
“Groups Seek To Build Business By Tearing 'Up' Vacant Homes”
“Job Loss Forced Factory Worker To Retool, Change Careers”

From them, I took, “cul-de-sac,” “meth lab,” “Kansas,” “vacant,” and “retool” for “What A Difference A Letter Makes.”

What A Difference A Letter Makes
“Good evening, America. This is Brent Scowlcroft, and once again, I am coming to you live from a quiet cul-de-sac, somewhere in the heartland of America, such as Kansas.”
    “Brent, this is Tom back in New York. Can you reveal your location only as  ‘somewhere in the heartland of America’ because the local authorities have asked you to not reveal the exact location?”
    “Yes, Tom. Well, no, not really. The truth is, I fell asleep in the car on the way here. So to be perfectly honest, I have no idea where the hell I am.”
    “That happens to me all the time, Brent.”
    “I know, Tom. I have pictures to prove it.”
    “You’ll pay for this, Brent.”
    “Let’s do lunch some time, Tom. Anyway, you will notice I am wearing a flak jacket emblazoned with the word, ‘Reporter.’ The police are about to raid this suspected meth lab you see behind me. They’ve invited me to come along, but want to keep me safe from harm.”
    “What about me?” said an off-camera voice.
    “You what?”
    “Keeping me safe from harm.”
    “You’re a videographer. You guys are like kittens. You’re a dime a dozen. You can be replaced. Sorry to have to be the one to break that to you, but—”
    At that moment, shouts of “Go! Go! Go!” dominated the audio track. The camera focused on the door, as the police swung a battering ram and smashed it open.
    “Come on, let’s go.”  Scowlcroft turned his back and started running; the camera stayed put.  After several seconds, the on-air personality stopped and walked back.
    “What?” he said. “You’re not still sore about that ‘kitten’ remark, are you?”
    The camera nodded up and down.
    “OK, I’m sorry. You’re not a kitten. You’re a valuable member of my team, and I value your contributions each and every blah blah blah. Can we go now?”
    The camera nodded up and down again, and started moving toward the now-open front door. By the time they entered, most of the excitement had been captured by the Channel 8 News Team, who had ponied up for flak jackets for both of their employees. Viewers saw several older men, all wearing glasses, on their knees, hands locked behind their heads with the police holding them at gunpoint. Calculators and dry erase markers were scattered about. At that moment, an officer entered the scene from the left.
    “It’s clean, sir.”
    “What do you mean, ‘clean?’ ” said the commander, or so one would assume, based on the large, blue ostrich plume affixed to his cap.
    “I mean there’s nothing, sir.”
    The camera panned to the right and settled on a large whiteboard, upon which was written “P ≠ NP.”
    “All right, you! Where it is?” yelled the commander, grabbing the nearest collar.
    “I don’t know, sir. I came in with you...remember? Jensen, sir.”
    “Jensen...right.” He then grabbed one of the men from the floor, pulling him up and moving into his “personal space.”
    “Where is it?” he bellowed again.
    “Where is what, officer?” came the unruffled reply.
    “The drugs! You scumbags are running a meth lab.”
    “Meth lab? No, it’s a eth lab.”
    “Eth lab? What the hell does that mean?”
    “Exponential time hypothesis, or ETH, holds that numerous NP-complete problems cannot be solved in subexponential time because, if true, it would imply that—”
    “Ow! Stop! My head hurts!”
    “We do that to people.”
    “No drugs?” he said sheepishly.
    “No, officer.”
    “Not even Ny-Quil, or anything?”
    “No, sir.”
    “Oh. Sorry for the intrusion folks,” said the contrite commander
    “No problem. By the way, if you’re looking for the meth lab, it’s across the street.”
    “Across the street?”
    “Yes, can you see that vacant, boarded-up house? The one with the string of cars, lined up halfway down the block? And the guy in front, tossing the drivers bags, and then running credit cards through a portable reader? I think that’s what you’re looking for.”
    One could almost hear the grind and pop as his brain retooled.
    “Hmmm. You may be on to something, citizen. Let’s go, men!”
    With that, the blue parade marched out of the door.
    “This has been Brent Scowlcroft, live from Kansas...or wherever.”

So I’m back after a three-day hiatus from flash fiction. Most of my weekends are crazy enough without finding the time to write. (Plus, it’s tax season.) But when I saw the headline, “Robocalls By Mysterious Groups Upset Candidates, Raise Legal Issues,” I knew I had to take that one on. The other headlines — which just seemed to scream out with obvious words — were:

“Cavaliers Take A Pounding From The Hawks, 103-87”
“Amish Case Hinges On Hate Law, Commerce”
“Ohio Keeps Dancing Into The Sweet 16”
“Can Stanley Block Stand Up To Crush Of Litigation?”

So I used “pounding,” “robocalls,” “hate,” “dancing,” and “crush” for “Robocall Of The Wild.” At first, I was going to write something light-hearted. But as I started typing, my immense dislike of telemarketing took over...

Robocall Of The Wild
“Hi, I’m  Marlin Perkins III, and welcome to Mutual Of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom. Today, we’re going to talk about a pesky pest that persists in America to this day, despite our best efforts to eradicate it. This blood sucker causes pain and suffering for countless people all over the world. Further, the amount of time and money that must wasted dealing with this parasite is incalculable. Recognizing the dangers that this annoying predator presents, the United States government took the unprecedented step in 2003 of declaring “open season,” if you will, and outlawing its very existence. But despite our best efforts to crush this—unfortunately—man-made monstrosity, it manages to keep dancing away from our best and most concentrated efforts to wipe it off the planet.
    “Today, we are going to look at...robocalls.
    “This electronic beast was first reported in the wild sometime in the 1990s. Initially, it just seemed to be a minor annoyance like its cousins, the mosquito, the tick, and the leech. But it quickly morphed into a far more virulent creature, pounding our ears with vaguely—and deceptively—threatening screeches like, ‘Don’t panic, but this is your final notice’ and ‘We have already attempted to contact you through the mail.’
    “The Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991 was the first attempt by the government to rein in robocalls. But when it became apparent that the vermin of the telemarketing world were openly and brazenly excreting all over this particular piece of legislation, Congress attempted to drastically cull the herd with the Do-Not-Call Implementation Act of 2003, which explicitly prohibited any type of marketing call—save for their own political drivel, I should add—to anyone who has registered his phone number with the Do Not Call Registry, which is to say, anyone who has a brain. But despite the overwhelming evidence that nobody likes getting these calls, these bottom-feeding scum suckers continue to...excuse me a minute. I’m expecting an important call.
    “Hello, this is Marlin. Who? What? No! I’m not interested in refinancing my mortgage to a lower rate! I own my damned house, you idiot! No! I’m not interested in a  home improvement loan, either. Let me talk to your manager! He’s busy? Yeah, right. That’s a load of bull! Leave me alone! I hate you! I hate you! Die, you vampiric piece of sh—  Ted, let’s got to a commercial. Now where was I? Oh yeah, I’m going to hunt you down, find you wherever you are, and skin you alive in front of your other boiler room loser friends. I can’t call them your co-workers, because you don’t work. You steal! You swindle! You’re no better than common thugs who hit old ladies over the head and run off with their purses! Why don’t you man up, and tell me where you are? Then I can demonstrate for you personally that old joke. You know, the one that goes, How do you kill a pink elephant? With a pink elephant gun. How do you kill a telemarketer? You paint him pink and...

I guess I was in an evil mood today. This one is nasty. But I like it. From the headlines:

“Defense, Prosecution Work Out Deal On family Home, Pension Forfeiture”
“White House Dinner Follows Cameron-Obama Talks”
“Cuyahoga Valley Landowners Get Offers To Lease”
“Kasich Budget Update Has Income Tax Cut”
“How To Keep A House Neat”

I pulled “pension,” “talks,” “valley,” “income,” and “neat” to pen “Happy Hasbeen Valley.”
Happy Hasbeen Valley
“Hi, I’m Pat Boone. You might remember me, unless you're under 60 years old, that is. But I used to be famous. No, really, I was. In the 1950s I had a lot of hit singles. You might remember ‘Love Letters In The Sand’ or ‘April Love.’
    “Hmmm. How about ‘Sugar Moon?’ Yes? Anything? ‘The Wang Dang Taffy-Apple Tango?’ Does that ring a bell?
    “What’s that? No, ‘You’re Having My Baby’ was Paul Anka! Can’t you folks keep that straight, god d— I mean, gosh darn it.”
    “Well, since those days I’ve been trying like the dickens to get my name back into the public eye again. In the 1970s, I founded my own record label. But since we pretty much only released records by me and my direct descendents, it didn’t go very far. Then in the 90s, I thought I’d try to be hip and cool by singing a bunch of heavy metal covers. I sure did have to say a lot Hail Marys to compensate for that one. I even tried jumping on that President-Obama-Citizenship-Thing. But that only endeared me to Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck, which is kind of like that old adage, ‘How do you stop petting a ferocious dog? You don’t!’
    “Well, I’m back, mainly because I still need a steady source of income. Selling Chevys was a good gig, but in hindsight I probably should have taken my payment from them in the form of cash, rather than stock options. Then I tried shilling this zit cream, and the FTC came in and kicked my fanny all up and down Grand Avenue. I learned my lesson...no more iffy products. That’s why I'm here today to tell you about something I’m really excited about: Happy Hasbeen Valley, a retirement community. It was either this, or hawking Grandpa diapers. And I don't have that problem, knock on wood...
    “Um, excuse me a minute.

    “Phew! Thanks for waiting. Anyway, Happy Hasbeen Valley is a neat place to live. Hey, do you want to spend your pension in some miserable, hot, tiny Florida condo, surrounded by punks in swim trunks that look like Capri pants, with the roar of the ocean aggravating your tinnitus? Or would you rather have these luxurious homes, wide open vistas, and great neighbors like Ozzy Obsourne and Annette Funicello who, by the way, sunbathes nude in the back yard.
    “Oh, crap! Our father, who art mumble mumble mumble. I think ‘The Beav’ lives just down the street. But no one talks to him. Loser!
    “The houses here in Happy Hasbeen are top-of-the-line. They all come equipped with customized, state-of-the-art entertainment centers, which play nothing but the highlights of your glory days. News helicopters regularly fly over the development. And a ‘Homes Of The Stars’ tour bus comes through here on a daily basis, at least, as long as that detour sign remains in place.
    “But don’t think that Happy Hasbeen is just for old folks. If you look over there, you can see that they’ve just platted our newest cul-de-sac, ‘Jersey Shore Way.’ You’d better hurry up. I imagine that one will fill up pretty quickly.
    “So come join me, Pat Boone, and enjoy the warm, wistful camaraderie of  Happy Hasbeen Valley, the greatest land of all.”

I wasn't sure that I would finish this one. When I began writing, I didn't have a good idea of what I wanted to do. As I got a little into it -- though at 162 words, there isn't much more than a little -- I started to get a feel for it. I came up with a final sentence, the "kicker" of "But if his twin sister Darla could survive rush week at Alpha Chi Omega, then damn it, he could too."

I liked that line. But it made the story too similar to another flash short story of mine, Six Days Of Absolute Heck." Then while playing with my son, I came up with a new closer, filled in a few details, and voila!

The headlines:

"City Firefighters Abused System For Years, Audit Finds"
"Santorum Wins In Alabama, Has Slim Lead In Mississippi"
"Bolstering The Inner Belt Bridge"
"County Council Halts Hiring Of Ex-Judge For Revision Board"
"2 Medina County Couples Sue Firm Over Toxic Wells"

The words were "abused," "slim," "bolstering," "revision," and "toxic."

Read and enjoy "K"

Darren knew that the odds of surviving were slim to slimmer. He wouldn’t allow the thought of “none” to slip in as a way of—in his mind, which is where it counted most right now—bolstering his chances of making it out alive.
    He had been physically and mentally abused, filled with toxic chemicals, and subjected to incessant, ear-splitting, headache-inducing noise.
    Like all 25-year-olds, he imagined a long, happy future filled with both the exciting and mundane things like travel, work, family, grandchildren, etc. As such, he was less than thrilled with the prospect of a pending revision to that life-story arc.
    He had been punched.
    And kicked.
    His hair had been pulled.
    They infected him, intentionally, he was certain...with a cold.
    Oh, and there were Spaghetti-Os in my pocket.
    How much longer can this last? Darren thought. Let’s see, spring break starts next week, and then the year ends. So that’s 79 days. Maybe I’m not cut out to teach kindergarten.


Another day, another story. This one was fun to write. I could not have done it without my trusty voice recorder. When I settled on the words "complex" and "highway," I knew I wanted something...off the wall. So I just spoke, and let the stream of conscience take over.

The headlines were:

"Fitzgerald Orders Investigation Of Ameritrust Complex Purchase"
"Expanded Highway Rest Stops Part Of Bill"
"Goo Bag In Potholes Fills A Need 'Cold Patches' Can't"
"Amish Beard Cuttings"
"Horizontal Drilling For Natural Gas Is Contested"

In addition to "complex" and "highway," I used "goo," "beard," and horizontal."

Mona Speaks
“It’s kind of complex.”
    “They all seem that way at first. But as you talk through it, it will become less so.”
    “I don't know where to begin.”
    “Try the beginning.”
    “I'm on a highway. And it’s endless. It stretches on forever and ever.”
    “That's typical.”
    “And this highway is not horizontal.”
    “Not horizontal?”
    “No. It's vertical.”
    “So you’re looking at this highway, which probably represents a mountain, and you’re wondering, ‘How am I going to climb it?’ ”
    “No, I don't have to climb it.”
    “You don't?”
    “No, I'm walking on it.”
    “But it's vertical.”
    “I know. I'm still walking on it.”
    “That’s uncommon.”
    “What you think it means?”
    “Let’s go on. So you're walking up this highway. Do you have anything to guide you, to help you? A rope perhaps, like the kind the television Batman and Robin used to climb buildings?”
    “Never mind. Go on.”
    “So I'm walking along this highway, and I come to a zoo.”
    “Is this zoo on a platform?”
    “But you said that this highway is vertical,”
    “It is. And the zoo is on the highway.”
    “I see. And what is in this zoo?
    “Well, it's kind of strange. Actually it’s the people who are behind the bars, in the cages. And the monkeys and lions and giraffes and peacocks are looking at them. And they’re buying hamburgers and Coca-Cola from vending machines, and feeding the people. And that's very strange to me.”
    “Why is that?”
    “Because there is a sign that clearly says ‘Please do not feed the people.’ ”
    “And that's the only thing that strikes you a strange?”
    “Go on.”
    “Then a penguin walks over to me. But he's not a normal penguin. He's a giant penguin, four or five feet tall, with shaggy pink hair. Kind of like those oversized, over-coiffed poodles.”
    “Let me guess... he barks at you?”
    “No. He says, ‘I am the walrus, goo goo goo joob.’ And I say to him, ‘I'm sorry but I left my rooster at home.’ Then I look down, and see that I’m wearing safari garb. And I realize that I work there. As a tour guide. So I say, ‘Right this way folks...er...fauna.’ We all then begin walking. We come to a cage. In it is Angelina Jolie. And she’s painting the Mona Lisa.”
    “Was in the Louvre, painting a copy of the actual Mona Lisa that is hanging there?”
    “No. Mona Lisa was there, and Angelina Jolie was painting her. It was odd. She had a beard.”
    “Which one?”
    “Both of them.”
    “Then what happened?”
    “We move on to another cage. In that cage was Jackson Pollock. And he’s painting.”
    “Is he painting the Mona Lisa?”
    “Don’t be silly. That wasn’t his style. He was the guy who threw splashes of paint at a canvas.”
    “Of course. Sorry. So was he doing that? Throwing paint at a canvas?”
    “No, he was throwing paint at Angelina Jolie. But on her body, the splashes formed the Mona Lisa. And he looks at me and says, ‘I call this one “Female and Female.” Do you like it?’ And I say, ‘Yes, sir, Mr. Pollock. I’m a huge fan of the opera.’ And he says, ‘Then you’ll want to see this.’ He waves his arms, and an immense curtain—heretofore not present in the dream—parts. And behind that curtain is a junkyard. And it was bizarre.”
    “More bizarre than anything else you’ve told me?”
    “Oh, definitely. This junkyard had a bunch of singing, dancing cats. At least there were cats, until the crashing chandelier scared them off. Though it might have been the helicopter taking off which sent them scurrying. And once the helicopter took off, then there was a huge plaza, with thousands of people, standing there, looking up at a magnificent palace. A beautiful woman appeared at the balcony. She started singing.”
    “Don’t tell me. Let me guess. The song went something like, ‘Don’t cry for me, Argentina.’ ”
    “Actually, it was ‘Don’t cry for me, Angelina.’ ”
    “So Angelina Jolie wasn’t singing?”
    “No. It was Mona Lisa. And then she...she...”
    “Said something...inexplicable.”
    “Really? What was that?”
    “She said, ‘Life imitates Art. Life imitates Art.’ But there’s one thing confusing me.”
    “Only one thing? Pray tell, Arthur, what is that?”
    “How does Mona Lisa know my name?”
    “What are you thinking?”
    “I’m thinking you need to get out of my office. Now. Get out of my office now, Arthur, and never come back!” 

I love writing. When I sat down to work on this, I only had the first two sentences. But I kept typing, and words kept coming. Will it win a Pulitzer? I doubt it. But I think it's fun. And it contains a subtle message, too.

The headlines:
"U.S. Promises Justice After Soldier Kills 16 Afghans In Their Homes"
"Mayor Gets Heat, Praise For Radical Schools Plan."
"Mild Winter, Wet Fall Add Up To A Soggy Mess"
"Higher Prices Could Nudge Developers To Build More"
"Safety Net For Working Poor"

The words: "justice," "radical," "soggy," "nudge," and "poor."

I’m a poor radical.
    While my friends are occupying Wall Street or occupying Main Street, I’m occupying my living room, afraid of getting soggy socks if there is a run of bad weather.     

    While my friends are getting their faces on the TV news as they champion for justice for homeowners displaced by the mortgage crisis, I’m thinking, Well, perhaps if that person really understood economics, then he or she would know that any asset—be it a stock, a precious metal, or a home—doesn’t always go up in value, and that he or she should not have based any decisions on that fiscal fallacy; further, even though it’s in the fine print, he or she needs to look up terms like “balloon payment” and “rate change cap” if he or she doesn’t know what they mean.
    While my friends are piloting skiffs in an effort to nudge whaling vessels and create an international incident, I’m wondering if the Japanese are telling the truth when they say that they no longer are engaged in commercial whaling, but rather are studying the size and dynamics of whale populations, with an eye toward the reasonable culling of their numbers in order to preserve fishing resources.
    While my friends are going vegan, I’m thinking, I like hamburgers.
    While my friends are firing off letters to the editor, posting tweets decrying working conditions in China, and penning angry manifestos, I’m doing the crossword puzzle.
    While my friends are gathering outside of City Hall to protest police brutality, I’m wondering if those youths who found themselves on the wrong end of a baton or a bullet were not simply in the wrong place at the wrong time, but rather really were engaged in criminal conduct, no matter how much their tearful parents lament otherwise.
    Come to think of it, I may not be a radical at all.

This is another short one. But it's the weekend. Nonetheless, I still managed to come up with "The March, Part 1." Those of you who are perceptive might notice that there is an implied series. I'd like to continue this story; ideally, it will be tomorrow. The previous stories in this space -- indeed, if memory serves, all of the flash fiction I've written -- have been light and comedic. But when I saw the headline, "March Madness," I decided to try something different. In addition to that headline, I worked off of

"An Ode To Joy"
"McCormack Had Early Suspicions Of Dimora"
"Primary Revealed Romney's Weak Spots"

to get "march," "madness," "joy," (though I did wind up using "ode to joy"), "suspicions," and "weak."

Enjoy, maybe. 

The March, Part 1
I had my suspicions that things were changing.
    As I sat on the back porch, slowly stirring my not-too-weak (Irish) coffee, I watched as the birds paid a visit to the feeder, to enjoy their breakfast of seeds, nuts, dried fruit, and corn. I closed my eyes, and took in their songs. I could with ease place their voices: the jericho, jericho, jericho, jericho, jere, jere, jere of the cardinal; the shree shree shree of the tufted titmouse; the ha ha ha ha ha ha-ha-ha-ha of the red-breasted nuthatch. Yes, I still heard birds singing. But they were now serenading me in a minor key.
    Later, I took in the rhythm of an afternoon rain. Normally, I would close my eyes and imagine that the staccato beat on the deck was the shaking of maracas or perhaps even a tight roll on a piccolo snare. But today, it reminded me of the rattle of a poisonous snake.
    After dinner, over wine, I normally would revel in my favorite work of Beethoven, Symphony No. 9 in D minor. But even the final movement, with its chorus exulting the lyricism of Schiller’s “Ode To Joy,” made me sad.
    That’s when I knew that my march to madness had increased its pace.

I knew I wouldn't have much time today. It's the weekend, after all. I wrote this one sitting in the car while my wife bought groceries.

The conviction of former Cuyahoga County Commissioner Jimmy Dimora on racketeering charges topped the headlines. So I borrowed from

"County In Crisis: GUILTY"
"With Dimora At Last Spending Night In Jail, Cuyahoga County Residents Can Rest Easier"
"State Says Injection Wells Caused Quakes, Set New Rules"
"Activist Wants Restored Parishes To be Opened By Palm Sunday"

the words "crisis," "guilty," "jail," "quakes," and "restored" in

A Trial In The Lower Court
    That simple word restored calm, allowing the citizens of Thessaloniki to finally believe that the crisis was over. Though Attornicles did not imagine that jail time would be forthcoming—after all, the defendant’s youngest brother was well connected—the quakes would stop, and the tidal waves would abate. Perhaps even the horses would once again be docile.
    Yes, this was a victory. It had been a lengthy, intense, sometimes contentious trial. Finding a jury of the accused’s peers was reasonably easy. Convincing them to come down from Mount Olympus was an entirely different matter.
    Attornicles knew that he would face a similar uphill—or should that be downhill—battle were he to try the defendant’s other brother, Hades.

Day four, and here is story #4. This entire post--including this lead-in--was done entirely on my digital voice recorder, and then translated using my wonderful Dragon software, which even knew to capitalize the "CAD" of "CAD modeling." (Wow!)

Thank goodness for technology.

The headlines were:

"Teammates Not Surprised By Irving's Late-Game Heroics"
"Eastlake Plant May Get Turbines"
"Ballet Done Southern Style"
"RTA Wants To Expand Southeast"
"Video Shows Atrocities"

The lead headline today again contained "Vatican." Though it would have been fun, I opted to not include it today.

Instead, I selected "heroics," "turbines," "ballet," "southeast," and "video" to create ...

The Flight Of Icky Russ
I wet my index finger and held it aloft to gauge the wind direction. The breeze was coming from the southeast. Perfect. I looked down and saw Gordon, my best friend since kindergarten, far below. He gave me a thumbs up, the signal that the video camera was ready to capture my heroic exploits for posterity. And for bragging rights at school. I took a running start, and took the plunge.
    It was working. I was flying. I wasn’t talking with exclamation points because I wasn’t surprised. After countless hours of CAD modeling on my PC, designing and building balsa wood prototypes tested in a wind tunnel (let me tell you, it was quite the exploit to sneak onto the NASA base and fire that thing up), and several trial-and-error test flights of the to-scale version off the roof of my house using my dog as a test pilot, I knew that they would work.
    So shelving that self-restraint, I thought that maybe I would allow myself to express a little excitement at the sensation of flying. It felt fabulous. Glorious. Amazing. I glided and swooped, as though I were performing a graceful aerial ballet with the clouds and the birds. Though I did have to steer clear of a red tailed hawk which seemed to be eying me as an appropriate dance partner. My mind started to reel at the thought of the potential future implications and implementations of my invention, the RussWings. It could revolutionize the transportation industry. The travel industry. And it would really impress the pants off of (literally, I hoped) Becky Sue Jergens. At the moment, that one was in the forefront of my mind. 
    My reverie-on-high was broken by the faint sound of Gordon yelling. I looked down, and saw him waving his hands frantically. Unfortunately, with the wind rushing by my ears, I couldn’t make out any words. And it was far too far away to try to read his lips.
    He seemed to be motioning to his left, which represented the direction that I was heading. I turned my gaze away from him, and toward him where he was pointing.
    You would think that living here for my entire life, all 17 years of it, I would've noticed those wind turbines before today.

I know I originally said that I couldn't do this every day. But so far, I'm three for three. I can't help myself. It's so much fun! And today's was easy. It took about 30 minutes.

The headlines were:

"Vatican Orders Local Diocese To Reopen 13 Closed Churches"
"Big Solar Storm Could Affect Power, GPS, And Air Travel"
"Kucinich Lashes Out After Primary Loss"
"Ohio Schools Pass Tough Test At The Ballot Box"

I chose Vatican (I just had to), solar, storm, lashes, and box.

So please enjoy:

Vatican Dot Com
“You’re certain about this, Your Excellency?”
    “I am. I saw the communication myself.”
    “It seems hard to believe.”
    “I agree. They are most unusual Pronouncements. But they are fairly detailed and straightforward.”
    “Please let me hear them again.”
    He put on his reading glasses.
    “Ahem. One. From now on, Fridays will be not only meatless, but fishless as well. Pizza will be served on Fridays. Since pepperoni isn’t really meat, it is an acceptable topping. Two, light is good. After all, it’s all over the Bible: ‘And God saw the light, and that it was good;’ ‘Sin grows in the dark, but Christians are called to live in the light;’ ‘Take heed therefore that the light which is in thee be not darkness;’ ‘There’s a light over at the Frankenstein place.’ Therefore, believers are mandated to install solar panels on the roofs of their homes. ASAP. Three, the proper and only acceptable attire for Mass now will be the costume of Storm, from the X-Men. Five, anyone who fails to adhere to these Pronouncements shall be subject to 42 lashes and encasement in a box measuring exactly three cubits by two cubits by one cubit.”
    He put down the paper.
    “Did the letter bear the official Papal seal?”
    “It didn’t arrive as a letter.”
    “It didn’t? How did it arrive?”
    “In an email.”
    “In an email? Your Excellency, I’m not certain that we can—”
    “No, I’m positive it’s legitimate. See for yourself. You can see that right here on the ‘From:’ line, it clearly reads, vatican.com.”
    “Vatican dot com?”
    “Yes. What’s the matter with that?”

This one could not have happened without my trusty digital recorder, and my Dragon speech recognition software. The headlines I chose were:

"Super Close; Romney Holds Slight Popular Vote Lead, Takes Delegate Prize"
"This Year's St. Patrick's Day Parade Could Be Biggest Ever; Weekend, Special Observances Help Swell Ranks"
"Kaptur Appears To Push Kucinich Out Of Office"

I will admit that after I started working on the idea, I somewhat cherry-picked words which fit, and ended up with super, prize, parade, swell, office. But, hey, it's my project.

So I present to you:

The League of All that is Menacing Enterprise
“Right, then. Would everyone please take a seat.”
    “We all are.”
    “Right, then. This meeting of the League of All that is Menacing Enterprise will now come to order. Roll call. Office Copier Jam Man.”
    “By the way, I like the new name. I think it’s so much more intimidating than ‘Toner Spill.’ I really do.”
    “The Purple Swell.”
    “By the way, exactly what does The Purple Swell signify? What is is supposed to connote?
    “It’s like bruises. When you get a bruise, it swells up and it turns purple. And people don't like having bruises. So I wanted to invoke that kind of fear—the fear of bruises—in  them.”
    “Right, then. Super Cerebellum...here.  Right. Let's get started then. The first order of business is, should we choose a new name?
    “I can’t quite put my finger on it. But something about the name we chose is...I don't know...it just strikes me as lame. Don't you get that impression?”
    “I like it.”
    “Well, that's because you chose it, Swell. Office Copier Jam Man, what do you think?”    
    “Right, then. It’s settled. We will vote on a new name at next week's meeting. I will accept suggestions—by registered U.S. Mail—until midnight, the day before.”
    “They don’t deliver mail at midnight.”
    “Excuse me?”
    “They don’t deliver mail at midnight. So you might as well say 5:00 p.m. the day before.”
    “Right, then. The next order of business is charting a plan that we can follow to strike fear into the hearts of the citizens of Noble City, so that when they hear the name League of All that is Menacing Enterprise—or whatever we vote upon next week—they will tremble in fear, quake in their boots, and, um, cry out for their mommies.”
    “How about a raffle?”
    “A raffle?”
    “Yes, a raffle. With prizes.”
    “Prizes? That's a terrible idea.”
    “Well, they won’t be good prizes. They’ll be things like—”
    “Then how about a parade?”
    “A parade?”
    “Well, a really scary parade. With floats that have fangs, or something.”
    “That is an even worse idea.”
    “I disagree. Office Copier Jam Man, what do you think?”
    “Then it’s settled. A parade, it is.”
    “Majority rules, Super Cerebellum.”
    “No buts. Here is Robert’s Rules Of Order, should you wish to—”
    “Meeting adjourned. Thank you all for coming, and I appreciate your efforts. Good night.”
    “Wait a minute...”
    “By the way, I think we’ll need to find a new super secret evil lair for our next meeting. My parents want to turn this space into a rec room.”
    “I have an idea. How about in the sewer?”
    “The sewer? Sewers smell!”
    “No, wait, hear me out. If our super secret evil lair were in the sewer, after the parade we could just dive right in through a grate, and—”
    “OK, one, sewers smell, which I already said. And two, if we dive right in after the parade—which we’re not having anyway—and all the people watching the parade—which we’re not having anyway—saw us, then it wouldn’t be a super secret evil lair, would it?”
    “Well, we could protect it with some sort of electrified chain saws, and...”
    Their voices faded as they ascended the stairs to the kitchen.
    “Um...” said Office Copier Jam Man, “you two simply don’t get it. First, the name is lame. It’s an acronym for lame, for heaven’s sake. Second, if you’re running an evil, malevolent operation, you don’t vote on things. You have an absolute leader who rules with an iron fist, and imposes his will on his dim-witted minions. And, third, you don’t have raffles or parades. You cause mayhem. You commit crimes. You wipe out the competition, as well as anyone who gets in your way. You...”
     Office Copier Jam Man sighed.
    “I really need to get over my fear of public speaking.”

Turkey Bowling
“And with the latest on the scandal, we go to Brent Scowlcroft, live in Hinckley. Brent?”
    “Thank you, Tom. I’m standing here in front of the Fowler Lane home where the alleged incident took place. Behind me, you can just make out the court—”
    “Excuse me, Brent?”
    “Yes, Tom?”
    “Was there an incident, or not?”
    “Or, there definitely was something afoul here.”
    “Then it’s not an ‘alleged incident.’ You should have said, ‘Where the incident is alleged to have taken place.’ Isn’t that really what you meant?”
    “Oh, excuse me, Mr. Hairspray. Need I remind you and our viewers exactly who finished first in our journalism class at Northwestern, and who finished 49th?”
    “Need I remind you and our viewers exactly who is sitting in a nice comfy chair earning well over six figures, and who is freezing his ass off in the middle of nowhere for peanuts?”
    “Rot in hell, Tom.”
    “Back at you, Brent.”
    “Anyway, folks in this quiet little town—a town not named for the would-be assassin of President Reagan, they like to remind people—were shocked when they first heard the reports of the incidents alleged to have taken place in this back yard. Some are asking the authorities to show leniency toward the alleged perpetrators, two brothers aged 12 and 38. Supporters say it was nothing more than youthful indiscretion, a bad choice made by otherwise good kids. But when I spoke with Sheriff Ray Mallard, he indicated that he might not be so charitable. Roll tape, please.”
    An off-camera voice said, “Um, we don’t actually use tape any more. It’s all recorded digitally so that we can easily upload it to—”
    “What is this? Give Me Shit On Air Day? Just play the damn clip!”
    The image changed to that of a grizzled, gray-haired man wearing a police uniform and sitting behind a desk, with bullet-pocked targets and various stuffed animal and criminal heads visible on the wall behind him. Though there was no accompanying caption, like quality newscasts present, one would infer that the person pictured was, in fact, Sheriff Ray Mallard.
    “I’ve seen this kind of thing before. Take a look at this,” he said, holding up a bloody, bent tennis racket. “Do you know what this is? This is a weapon of mass deplucktion. I don’t want to hear any ‘youthful indigestion’ crap. Those kids knew what they were doing. I refuse to believe that two ball boys, a chair umpire, two line judges and a half-dozen Rhode Island Reds just spontaneously showed up in these kids’ back yard. No, 40 years of law enforcement experience tells me that this was a planned event. I need to nip this kind of thing in the bud. Today, it’s chicken tennis. Tomorrow, turkey bowling. And I won’t have that. Not in my town.”