Time For Some Flash Fiction

I’m overdue for some creative writing on this blog. I know that it is something that is appreciated by the readers, and it’s just been a while since I had anything that merited posting. Short-form fiction is tough: it’s got to hit the mark quickly. I’ve been working on books and audio books for the last few years and have been remiss in providing this for you.

If you are of a mind, please click on the links to the right, buy a book or two of mine, or download and listen to some of the audio books I’ve created for Mr. Michael DiMercurio. If you’re paying close attention to what I’m writing, the first five people who put a comment in asking for free downloads might just get the mother load, as I’ve got 150 free downloads to burn through this month. 

And, without further ado:

JERRY’S STORY

Two more passengers got on at the Civic Center, both presenting their passes to the bus driver and then giving Jerry a very wide berth as they walked past him to the rear of the bus. Nobody had dared to sit in the dozen seats surrounding him, so fierce were his body odor and scowl. 

Inside, Jerry was having a conversation with Mark, and occasionally it slipped past his lips. Mark had been hanging out inside Jerry’s head for the past twenty years, over half of his life. Mark was not a good influence on Jerry, but without a doubt, he was the largest factor in Jerry’s life since his father had died in 2007. 

Today the two of them were discussing the merits of “The Plan.” Having been over it several hundred times in the past week, neither was in opposition to the other’s desires, but there were always a few things to iron out. 

The primary point still in need of resolution was number and timing. Mark, who had usually advocated a more conservative approach to such things, was instead pushing for a more graphic, demonstrative effort to correct things. Jerry, usually the radical, was not sure that he could increase the number and still make his plan work as he wanted. 

From his seat near the front of the bus, Jerry made sure that he could see at least three of the camera’s that the transit commission had installed. Anything less than a complete visual record would be a failure. Mark’s only concern was that the video was streaming back to the bus garage where it would be recorded on their servers. Both of them had eyed the system when they got on board, and had confirmed that the link light on the driver’s control panel, near the window and above her seat, was a solid green with a flashing green light next to it on the 5G connection. No matter what else happened, it would survive.

The bus rolled down the  road and crossed the intersection, heading for the interstate. It was a short 12 minute drive to Minneapolis, and once the bus hit I-94, it was non-stop until they got off downtown.

Mark, who had been quietly coaching Jerry in his demeanor, now amped up his call to action. Screaming in Jerry’s brain, he demanded that they “Get this thing done, NOW!”

Jerry, who had largely enjoyed Mark’s company over the years, was angry that he was taking control of the day’s plans, and leaving Jerry as his errand-boy. Well, enough of that nonsense.

Jerry stood up and pulled the first pin before hurling the grenade to the very back of the bus. The second grenade was already in the air and landing in the articulated section that joined the two bus halves together, as he pulled the last two grenades from his pockets, pulled the pins, and dropped them to either side. Looking right in the camera near the driver, he shouted “Allahu Akhbar.” He didn’t know what it meant, but Mark had said it would make things more fun.

The express bus never even slowed down, as the driver merely heard shouting before the back area bulged out, throwing flames, dismembered passengers, and bits of glass and metal into the cars in close proximity. She registered the explosion just as the articulation point disintegrated, causing the back to slam to the left, thrusting the semi-truck beside the bus into the center median. Carrying a heavy load of pipe, the driver over-corrected and climbed up the short barrier, flipping on it’s side into oncoming traffic. 

The final two grenades fragmented the front of the bus, and it skittered to the right, smashing through two lanes of traffic before jamming the flaming wreckage under a bridge at Lexington Avenue. 

Nobody survived the incident, a total of 47 people killed on the bus, 13 on the other side of the freeway from the pipe truck, and over 80 people injured in the collisions resulting from the explosions. 

ATF agents found another 7 grenades at the apartment Jerry had shared with his father. The markings on the case indicated they’d been manufactured in 1969, and been shipped to Vietnam. Jerry’s father had been a supply sergeant in an airborne unit, and taken them home as some kind of souvenirs. 

Jerry, who was long since gone by the time the agents had traced the grenades, was still living in the first moments the grenades had torn his flesh from his body, the exquisite pain never-ending. And, in fact, it would indeed never end in the very small corner of Hell that he was sharing with his friend Mark for the rest of eternity.

Mark, however, was in charge of the place and didn’t really care about Jerry’s discomfort. He had other things to do as he moved to and fro.

My Personal Appearance May Be Declining.

For those of you who know me, that headline may not be much of a news flash. For the reader who doesn’t have any background with me, the barbarian pictured below is me.

Lotsa Cargo

Needless to say, at 6′ and 300+ pounds I’m hard to miss. With the full ZZ Top beard thing (and usually shades if I’m outdoors) I present a somewhat different/imposing appearance. Now, combine that with my beloved workout clothes – most of which look like stuff that’s a decade old because they are – and you have a guy that people want to move across the street to avoid if there are any alleyways in the general locale where our paths will cross.

The only exception to the above description is when the cross-fit members are out for their cute little group runs. Then it appears that the self-entitled deem the entire sidewalk to be theirs, and walk three-abreast, forcing me to move out of their way. (Hint to the cross-fit group I ran across this morning: tomorrow you had best move or the bruises will likely be legendary. I’m guessing my 360 pound mass travelling 8 mph toward your 140 pound mass is going to win. Move over, it’s a courtesy.)

A short time ago I was walking down University Avenue in Saint Paul on my way to work. I had my 100 liter backpack hoisted on my shoulders, and was carrying my 5’10” walking staff. I got to Dale Street, and had to wait for the light to cross. There was an older woman waiting at the corner, and I held back a bit so she wouldn’t feel that I was encroaching on her personal space.

When we both got across University, I turned to cross Dale as well. I heard a voice to my right, and looked over: it was the woman saying something to me. Turning Glenn Campbell off for a minute, I removed my earbuds and apologized for not hearing her when she spoke to me.

She pointed at the public library and said (in the most genteel voice you can possibly imagine), “Sir, if you’re looking for a job, they’re having an employment fair at the library.”

In my most disarming manner, I smiled and said, “Thank you, Ma’am, but I’m actually walking to work right now. I’m ready to retire in another year. But it’s very kind of you to help a stranger.”

She nodded and said, “Well, I just thought you might like to know.”

Now, it would be easy to judge her as a busybody talking down to some guy on the street, but that clearly wasn’t the case. Instead, this frail little woman, 1/3 of my size, and a good foot shorter than I am, had the decency to try and elevate a fellow human with an opportunity, and a vote of confidence that I’d use that information wisely.

I have wondered in the days since if I have mustered that good Christian compassion often enough. Have I extended myself to others? Do I judge and not offer help? The answer is not often enough, and yes I do judge.

That day I started looking for opportunities to lend a hand, not the back of mine, when I see a chance to elevate a stranger. (The people I already know should expect no change!) This may not apply to cross-fit walkers on West 7th street. I guess I’ll find out next time we meet.

Can you? Will you? Won’t you lend a hand to one who could use it? Not a hand-out, but a hand-up.

It won’t be easy, but I’ll keep trying.

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My second novel, Nicholas of Haiti, is now available. Go fetch your credit card for the Kindle, print, and audio book versions. This is not a sequel to Assault on Saint Agnes, but a unique book in the speculative Christian fiction world.

Audio book cover on the left, Kindle cover on the right.

Please follow me on Twitter, and “Like” the Facebook author page.

Don’t forget to subscribe (the box is on the right side of the page) to be eligible for free e-books and other benefits! Oh yeah – grab a copy of Assault on Saint Agnes if you’re of a mind.

That’s The World’s Tiniest Violin You Hear Mourning Student Loan Debt.

Recently I was trapped in a Doctor’s office for the semi-monthly make-your arm-hurt, feel-like-you-got-the-flu shot that prevents yellow-jackets from killing me. On the monitor was the CBS Morning Show (or whatever silly name they have – only watch that tripe when forced to wait 30 minutes for the shot to either kill me or not) and the wailing and gnashing of teeth over student debt was akin to the lamentations if a gorilla had smashed its way into a day-care center and rent the children limb-from-limb.

I just smiled at the “more free stuff is needed” editorial that was passing as a news piece. I am perhaps less sympathetic than most to the issue of college loan debt. Mainly because I’ve managed to obtain my education via good grades and hard work. I had a couple of scholarships due to academic excellence (yeah, me… it didn’t take.) I also worked full-time ++ during my entire education. I worked overnights, weekends, summers, and in one case got the degree in question because my union and employer agreed that my being educated was a plus to everyone. I worked over 40 hours each of those weeks during my sophomore through advanced degree work years. And went to school full-time, or close to it.

I worked hard. I didn’t get to go out much with friends or dates. But when I grabbed the sheepskin at the end of each run, I had money in the bank, a car that was paid for, and some nice toys. I also had $0.00 in student loans – never took one out.

When I got married, one of our first financial goals was to pay off my wife’s student loans. That was accomplished in under two years. We didn’t want to owe anyone anything.

This morning’s piece bemoaned the lack of financial counseling “unaware 18 year olds” are given about assuming all that debt. Uh, yeah. I guess if you’re too stupid to know that borrowing $100,000 and studying Art History is a combination that says “Barrista”, perhaps you deserve your fate.

One woman was truly upset that she had to get a job in TEXAS (I know, I know) and work selling engineering products to pay off her debt. She had to give up her dream job of registering voters in Colorado.

Sorry, had to end the paragraph and go to the stairwell to scream. Doing it where others can hear me is upsetting – or so I’ve been told in those meetings with Human Resources.

The second woman was “the oldest student at the college” and she had taken out tens of thousands of dollars in loans to pursue her advanced degree in social work. SHE WILL DIE WITH UNPAID STUDENT LOANS!1!1!!! Oh, the horror.

I think we’ll likely see a plot to forgive all of these loans come to fruition. That’s awesome. I worked my behind off to get through school, and now I can pay off loans for people not smart enough to know that a masters degree in Lesbian Origami is likely to be a not-for-profit labor of love.

The rules for student loans are the same as they are for car loans, dishwasher loans, and loans so you can upholster your garage and launch a band: you have to pay it back. The only difference is you can’t give back an education, but they’ll be over at 4 pm to pick up the refrigerator you didn’t pay for last month.

Spare me the whining: pay your debts.

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NEW BOOK IS OUT!

My second novel, Nicholas of Haiti, is now available. Go fetch your credit card for the Kindle, print, and audio book versions. This is not a sequel to Assault on Saint Agnes, but a unique book in the speculative Christian fiction world.

Audio book cover on the left, Kindle cover on the right.

Please follow me on Twitter, and “Like” the Facebook author page.

Don’t forget to subscribe (the box is on the right side of the page) to be eligible for free e-books and other benefits! Oh yeah – grab a copy of Assault on Saint Agnes if you’re of a mind.

Hooray For The VAMC Minneapolis!

I have been hard on the VA in the past, usually not my local hospital, but the institution as a whole. I hate to see veterans treated badly, and some providers at some facilities were not fit to work there based on the news, and personal accounts from friends who use the system.

Things have taken a great turn for the better in the last two years: you can thank Donald Trump for that change. He’s made it clear that “business as usual” wasn’t going to cut it, and that we, veterans, needed to be treated well, with dignity and respect, and great medical care.

Unfortunately, I recently had occasion to use the VAMC for an emergency. I’ve mentioned it before, but if you missed it you should know I have hearing loss and tinnitus that were a result of my military service. High noise environments that were beyond dispute.

So, when my sense of balance vanished on Saturday night, and the tinnitus was the loudest I’ve ever heard, I put two and two together and had my beloved spouse drag me to the VAMC emergency room.

From the minute I checked in until the minute I checked out 30 hours later, I was treated as though I’d worn four stars on my collar instead of two upside-down chevrons.

Every technician, clerical person, doctor, nurse, and food service worker, did their very best to make me comfortable. The meals were excellent in quality, the blankets warm, the explanations of what was being done thorough, and a genuine sense of concern pervaded each transaction.

I was blessed because it wasn’t a stroke. It was an inner-ear issue that they trained me on, so that should it come back (and it’s likely) I can readjust the rocks in my head myself.

I also want to give kudos to my wife, who handled the whole thing brilliantly and calmly.

So, VAMC, you should be proud of your people and the care they gave me when I came in unable to walk in a straight line.

Thank you all for serving our veterans.

The Dog Who Never Talked.

 

If you read this blog via email, stop right now and go to the blog on the website. There’s a lot of photos and video, and you won’t get the full impact unless you can see the visuals. Thanks. 

 

I have been blessed in my life to have a great number of canine companions. Not all of them have lived with me, some belonged in the home of a friend, or were dogs I just met along the way and got to be friends with in some manner.

Most of my dogs had voices. That is probably more reflective of my imagination than their actual voices, yet all but one had a voice. Those voices, honed to a very sharp edge, formed the basis of my first major commercial contract as a voice over talent. None of those voices was that of a soaking wet Sheltie, but I wish one had been.

One did not have a human voice that was easily heard. Only one remained effectively mute for all of her days. Only one did her pleading with her eyes, almost never vocalizing her pleasure, disgust, anger, or needs. Only one was an occasional barker at worst. Only one died silent in this regard: Stormy.

For those of you who have followed the blog for many years, you will find this to be sad news. God knows I’m working very hard not to start sobbing while I write these words, because I sure loved that dog.

Stormy came to us as a rescue in the eighth year of her life. She was a two-time loser in the rescue game, and that surprised me. She was neurotic, but anyone that lives with me is liable to wind up that way. But outside of an extreme fearfulness when she came to live with us, she was one of the most gentle creatures I’ve had the pleasure to know.

She had a very “soft” mouth” and would only take food if it was tossed out on the rug or gently handed to her. She never snapped at it. Come to think of it, in the 6.5 years she lived with us she never growled, snapped, snarled, or expressed anger of any sort. Except for airplanes, squirrels, hose water, and birds – she hated everything in the sky, and the picture below was a common sight at our house: Stormy getting ready to shoot down an enemy. Other than that, if she didn’t like something, she just left the room. Kind of like Friday when she left the room for the last time.

Always a finicky eater, she would go days without eating and then polish off two bowls in 8 hours. Almost always she quit eating when a dog-sitter came to take care of her on our trips out of town. After a few days she’d resume eating, but only once her protest about our absence had been logged.

Recently, my wife and I took some road trips. I left first, and so it was only after my wife left on her trip that the dog quit eating. She went a week without much at all. Upon my return I bribed her with french fries and cheese, and she began eating a little, but not much. She was still very sad about my wife being gone – yes, she loved my wife more, and that’s okay. I love my wife more as well.

In any event, Stormy never really went back to eating well after my wife returned, and this past Friday it came to a head: she was having output issues, and hadn’t eaten her beloved biscuits for two days.  This  was  noticed  by  a slim  margin,  because  I’d  spent  a day  in  the hospital  for  an  emergency  issue,  and  it  became  “Joe-centric”  for  a few  days.  (I’m fine,  thanks  for  asking.)

My wife took her to the vet hospital, and I decided to leave work and join them: bad feelings and a nudge from God told me I needed to be with them both. I arrived just before the test results came back: kidney failure.

No matter how big an optimist you are, the prognosis for a 15 year old Sheltie is not positive when the kidneys go. They can do a sort of flush to clean out the system, but this requires hospitalization, and Stormy hated being gone from the house. When we took family trips, she refused to eat, poop, or pee for days at a time. She didn’t even like leaving the house for a walk. So that was out. It would only make her miserable, and prolong her life for our benefit, not hers.

And so, with great sadness, we held her in our arms while the shots were given. She didn’t struggle. I think she knew it was time to leave the building for the last time. She wasn’t in great pain, but that was coming. She left loved, soaked in tears, and leaving two shattered old people in her wake.

I learned a lot from Stormy. I learned about overcoming fear. I learned about unconditional love. I learned about always checking the back yard for monsters before she would go outside. I learned to laugh about having to stand on the back step in blistering sunlight, -20 cold, and driving rain while she did her business – always with an eye toward me to make sure I was watching over her.  

You see, she didn’t trust me at first. And then she did. Whether she came to me for protection during thunderstorms, or hid behind me when the pizza was delivered, or simply came to me to tell me she loved me with those big eyes and her silly grin, she trusted me. I was finally, in just the last months of her life, able to look her in the eye from inside arms length: she no longer feared that a man would beat her if he could grab her. I take that as a great honor.

In her last days she did some other unusual things. She actually stayed in the room while I recorded an audio book chapter, instead of fleeing to the bathroom (forever to be known as her office) and hiding from me. She came by more and more for just a little bit of contact, or put her paws on the couch to be hugged.

My greatest missed item was that in 6.5 years she never licked my face. She couldn’t risk it. I could see she wanted that kind of closeness, but it was a bridge too far. I often wonder what she would have been like if we’d had her as a puppy. I don’t regret it since I don’t have a time machine, but she was such a good soul that I wish I’d been there to love her from her first days.

Kip and I loved her deeply. And we’re proud to have given her a forever home where she was safe, loved, and treated well. We talked to her a lot, and on Sunday I went through all my photos for the last 7 years. She was in the vast majority of them. And the best ones were taken from the steps in the back yard where we spent  countless hours of joyful communion of souls. I will probably cry tonight when I get off work and she’s not there to join me on the back step. I spent that time with her every day I could for all those years, and usually prior to laying eyes on my wife. Not because I loved her more than my wife, but because that was “her time” each day just like when we got up early and laid on the rug for a few minutes. She met me in the hallway when I woke up, and at the back door when I got home.

Bless you, Stormy, you were an awesome friend. 

I put in a bunch of photos for you if you’re of a mind to look. They cover the very first photo I took of her until the very last one at the vet. She was even a cover-girl for a rescue calendar a few years ago. Some of the photos are special, and I put them in despite the blurry image. There’s one in the car – first ride together, and that ride led to Petco, where we got a stranger to take our photo. Others are taken next to Lake Superior where she refused to poop – it wasn’t home – and still others catch her sneezing. She had a great sneeze, usually followed with a blob of green snot that she wiped off on me. 

 

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And, before the gallery, a couple of my favorite videos from the years. The first is the one that makes me laugh and cry now. I miss that joy she would display when she felt safe. And on that day, soaking wet and heart thumping, she felt safe and able to express her joy. Today, my heart is simply broken, but the joy of her gracing our lives is right there under the surface. 

I’m hoping another rescue dog will come into our lives. It’s incredibly rewarding to save a life, improve a life, and share a life of one of these beautiful creatures. I’m going to stop now, and dry those tears that are blurring my vision. It’s suddenly very dusty in here. 

Adios, Stormy. See you on the other side.