Short Story Of the Day (flash fiction), Brain Teaser by Bill Chance

“Nothing burns like the cold. But only for a while. Then it gets inside you and starts to fill you up, and after a while you don’t have the strength to fight it.”
― George R.R. Martin, A Game of Thrones

Spring Snow,
Richardson, Texas

I have been feeling in a deep hopeless rut lately, and I’m sure a lot of you have too. After writing another Sunday Snippet I decided to set an ambitious goal for myself. I’ll write a short piece of fiction every day and put it up here. Obviously, quality will vary – you get what you get. Length too – I’ll have to write something short on busy days. They will be raw first drafts and full of errors.

I’m not sure how long I can keep it up… I do write quickly, but coming up with an idea every day will be a difficult challenge. So far so good. Maybe a hundred in a row might be a good, achievable, and tough goal.

Here’s another one for today (#35). What do you think? Any comments, criticism, insults, ideas, prompts, abuse … anything is welcome. Feel free to comment or contact me.

Thanks for reading.


Brain Teaser

 

John Berryman realized that his two seater MGB wasn’t a very practical car, but he didn’t give a damn. It was old and it was sharp and it was cool. But the convertible roof leaked and the heater didn’t work very well. The windshield was constantly fogged in the cold wet spitting rain.

The nighttime city was shattered into iridescent jewels of waterdrops around his view, red brakes, yellow beams and the multicolored neon advertisements like harbingers of an unknown outer world. The cramped car gave off the smell of old canvas and rust, released by the moist stream seeping through from outside. John’s teeth chattered against the cold – though he knew how much better off he was in the car, no matter how freezing, than the poor souls stuck out in the elements.

He thought of Chuck and how miserable he sounded on the phone. John squinted through the fog and rain, looking for the bus stop.

A decade ago Chuck had been there when John needed him. John was broke, homeless and without hope. Chuck took him in, cleaned him up and introduced him around. That was the start of the long climb to where he was now – where he could buy impractical old sports cars when he wanted to.

Chuck hadn’t been so lucky. Now John was ready to return the favor. He had been calling Chuck and offering help. Chuck had been too proud to accept, until now.

He had answered John’s call sounding near death. Chuck was taking public transit, waiting for the bus, when this awful wet windy blue norther cold front invaded. The transit system had collapsed with the weather, and Chuck had no idea when a bus would get to his stop and take him home.

So John gladly jumped in the car ready to speed to the rescue, but Chuck’s phone battery had died before the directions were clear. Now John was looking, for his friend freezing on a bus stop bench. He was stuck in a terrible part of town, miles from anyplace worth being.

And there, suddenly, he was. In the middle of a block, lit by a nearby streetlight, John spotted the familiar form of his friend, recognizable even under the hood of a shabby and very wet jacket. He drove by slowly, smiling at his buddy. There were two other people sitting on the bench beside Chuck, which was sheltered beneath a slanted corrugated roof. It wasn’t doing any good, though, the rain screaming in the wind – hitting them almost horizontally. He parked and headed into the storm.

“John, you found it,” said Chuck “I didn’t give you very good directions.”

“No problem dude, clear as crystal, drove right here,” John lied.

Chuck stood and grabbed his old friend, turning him slightly.

“Oh, let me introduce my fellow bus waiters,” he said. “First, this is Mabel.”

An emaciated, ancient hand emerged from what looked like a pile of rags on the bench next to where Chuck had been sitting. It was shaking and John felt a weak grip as he took it. Looking closely at the rags he saw a thin lined face. She said something so weak that John couldn’t make it out. Chuck turned John with a subtle but strong gesture so that they were away from the bench.

“Hey John,” Chuck said, “I know you drove a long way to get me and I appreciate it, but I’ll tell you, I think we need to give Mabel a ride. She’s freezing in this weather and I’m not sure she can survive if it takes the bus more than an hour to get here… and it probably will.”

“Forget it,” said John, “You are my oldest and best friend and I am going to take you out of here.”

“Well, then, take us both.”

“I can’t, you know the MGB only holds two.”

“Jeez, that’s right,” Chuck looked at the tiny car across the street. It looked like a toy. “No way can we squeeze three into that thing.”

“It’s all right, dear,” a strong voice piped up behind them. “I’ll stay with you until the bus comes. I’ll make sure you get home all right.”

It was a woman’s voice. To John it was a sudden shock to hear something so melodious in the middle of the rainstorm. The two men turned around.

“Oh, hey John, I forgot to introduce the third member of our miserable company. This is Nancy.”

John felt his stomach jump and his pulse race as he looked down at Nancy. She turned from Mabel and a shower of watery gems fell from her hair. Her hand was warm and strong as she shook his and stabbed him with her eyes.

All he could do was mumble a greeting. Caught completely off guard, John hadn’t felt like this since he was a teenager.

“So you’re going to drive Chuck?” Nancy asked. “Good, at least someone can have a warm evening.”

Chuck turned to John, “Now listen….” But John cut him off. He had made a quick decision.

John said, “Walk with me to my car,” and shook off Chuck’s objection.

The MGB had a tiny boot in the back. John unlocked it and opened the cargo door. Then he handed his keys to Chuck.

“Here, you take my keys,” he said. “Take my car.”

“What? Why?”

“I want you to drive Mabel home, make sure she’s all right and warmed up, get her something to eat, then you go home with my car. We’ll sort it out later.”

“But… what about…”

“I’ll wait here for the bus. In your place. The route goes by my condo…. Eventually…. I think.”

“I can’t…”

John cut him off again. “Of course you can. This is what I want. Trust me.”

He looked down into the boot of the car. He kept a warm wool stadium blanket down there, for emergencies. He pulled it out and nodded to Chuck, who seemed to suddenly understand. The two walked back across the road.

“Mabel, John’s giving me his car, I can take you home,” Chuck said.

The old woman could barely reply as the two men helped her up and across the street. She felt like she was made of paper as they folded her in the passenger seat. John felt suddenly warmer as he watched the tiny car move away.

He walked back to the bench with his stadium blanket and was very happy to see Nancy smiling at him as he approached.

“Well, it looks like it’s the two of us waiting now. Do you want to share my blanket? It’s warm and dry,” he said.

Upping My Bicycle Commuting Game – Part 3, A Christmas Present

“I had to ride slow because I was taking my guerrilla route, the one I follow when I assume that everyone in a car is out to get me. My nighttime attitude is, anyone can run you down and get away with it. Why give some drunk the chance to plaster me against a car? That’s why I don’t even own a bike light, or one of those godawful reflective suits. Because if you’ve put yourself in a position where someone has to see you in order for you to be safe–to see you, and to give a fuck–you’ve already blown it… We had a nice ride through the darkness. On those bikes we were weak and vulnerable, but invisible, elusive, aware of everything within a two-block radius.”
Neal Stephenson, Zodiac

 

Santa doesn’t seem to bring me things any more – maybe I haven’t been a good boy – so I tell people what I want for Christmas. And what I want is gift cards.

In this day and age – Amazon gift cards are best.That way I get what I want and I get the fun of figuring out what I’m going to order. Also, a lot of times what I want is too expensive for someone to buy me (such as a new camera), I can save up cards over Christmases and Birthdays until I have what I need.

For this Christmas, I cashed in a gift card and bought a new cycling jacket.

Cycling Jacket

There were myriads to choose from, in all price points, but after a lot of looking I decided on an ARSUXEO Winter Warm UP Thermal Softshell Cycling Jacket. In that crazy internet way things happen now – the next day it was sitting on my porch.

I have grand ambitions on bike commuting in 2020. I need to lose weight, up my fitness, and we’re short a car – so it’s on the bike to work I go. The ride is getting easy enough that the actual bike riding part in the best part of my day (the getting ready and changing clothes at work is the worst). Dealing with weather is tough – and even here in Texas, there are cold, windy days in the winter time. I’ve had a few days of riding around the ‘hood, and a couple of commutes in already.

The jacket works great. The key to getting in miles when the weather is whipsawing around is to layer effectively. I can go three or four layers under this thing, and peel some off if the sun comes out and the day warms. The jacket has some areas that let in the breeze – I can feel it when it is really cold, but necessary to evaporate out the sweat.

The best part is the visibility. That geeky green-yellow color is a lifesaver at dusk and dawn in Dallas rush-hour traffic.

So it’s time to charge my lights for tomorrow, make sure my tires are good, and get some sleep. Dawn comes early.

Upping My Bicycle Commuting Game – Part 2, Cockpit Storage

“To be in hell is to drift; to be in heaven is to steer.”
George Bernard Shaw

As I worked on commuting the 5 miles to work on a regular basis – I realized I needed storage attached to my handlebars to keep some stuff that I could reach without getting off my bike.

First, and most important, I needed a place to keep my badge. I work on the big Texas Instruments campus at Hwy75 and 635 (though I don’t actually work for Texas Instruments) on a little peninsula of Dallas sticking up into Richardson, Texas. I need a badge as I ride past the security gate to get onto the campus. I can’t really ride the whole way with the thing banging around on my neck (for safety and comfort) so I would stop a block short of the gate, dig around in my pack or panniers and put my badge on. Although the quick rest was good (help my heart slow down and a little less sweat) I didn’t like wasting all that time looking for my badge mixed in with all the rest of the stuff. I realized I needed something small on my handlebars to keep my badge.

Also, after trying a lot of lights, I prefer some knockoff lights with a USB on the end that I run from portable cell phone battery packs. They are cheap and I can carry extras as backup. But I needed something on my bars to carry the battery. I had been running the wires all the way to the bag on the back of my bike and it kept getting caught on stuff. Finally, I wanted a place to keep my phone and wallet that I could keep my eyes on. Peace of mind, you know.

My cockpit is crowded with lights, bell, plus interrupter brake levers and a standard handlebar bag would take up too much space. So I started looking around and asking other cycling commuters that I know what they use. They all recommended a feed bag style of stem bag.

Feed Bag Cycling Pouch

These looked useful and I was leaning this way. However – I didn’t like the shape – they seem designed for a water bottle and I already have three cages on my bike. What I wanted to store was flat in shape. Also, these seemed a bit pricey (I know, you get what you pay for… I am horribly cheap) – so I held off and kept looking.

After looking around I came cross these things – Toughbuilt Fastener Bag – Heavy Duty Mesh Window, Hanging Grommets

Toughbuilt Fastener Bags

These were inexpensive – 3 for around twelve bucks. I knew they’d be strong and well made. People (carpenters, plumbers, electricians, etc.) that use these things don’t fuck around with stuff that breaks. Plus they were flat in shape, you could see into them, and had a stout metal grommet. So I bought some.

When they arrived I mounted one on the stem of my bike with a carabiner clip and an old bracket from a bike reflector that I had laying around. It worked great.

Toughbuilt Fastener Pouch on the stem of my commuting bike. It holds a battery pack, my badge, and usually my wallet and phone.

I know that my love for cheap gadgets and using things not for their original purpose is often self-defeating – but this is perfect – just big enough and it moves sideways through the wind without much resistance. I can keep an eye on my badge, phone, and wallet while I ride and get my badge out when I need it. In hot weather I keep a small paper towel in there too to wipe sweat or clean my glasses while waiting at a stop light. I’ve learned that with bike commuting – when you have to get out that door every morning – it isn’t only about what you carry – it’s about how you organize it.

These little indestructible pouches are a big help with the small things.

Upping My Bicycle Commuting Game – Part 1, Overview

Looking back over old journal entries I realized it has been over seven years since I first rode my bike to work:

I Need a Victory

Not long after that I wrote a detailed description of my ride home from work (at that time I was only commuting one way):

My Commute Home from Work

Over that vast span of time I have been up and down on the bike commuting… mostly down. However, lately, to aid in recovery from my sickness this summer and because of various things we now have three people at home with only two cars, I have been bike commuting more and more. Things have changed a lot since 2012 – I am riding a different bike now (a vintage Cannondale 1987 touring bike) and have recently done some serious route tweaking….

My 30 year old touring bike in The Cedars, Dallas, Texas

As a matter of fact, my two main bikes from 2012 – a Yokota Mountain Bike, and a vintage 1986 Raleigh Technium – have both been broken in the meantime and replaced.

My Technium on Winfrey Point, White Rock Lake. Dallas, Texas. Look carefully and you can see a guy on a unicycle.

Adios Technium

The ponds at Huffhines Park along my bike commute route. This is my old, long gone, Yokota mountain bike converted into a commuter.

Craigslist Commuter

My goal for 2020 is 3,000 miles – my commute is five miles each way – so if I commute every day for 300 workdays I’ll hit my goal. I won’t be able to commute by bike every day (weather, laziness, I often need to drive to other sites for work) so I will have to ride extra on the weekend and in the evening, plus I will count an hour on the spin bike as ten miles.

Like I mentioned, I have been doing some serious route tweaking – mostly for safety purposes. I’ll write later about what I’ve learned about bike safety riding daily in big city traffic – some of it is counter-intuitive. I was a bit peeved that, after working on my route, it turned out to be something like 4.95 miles each way… and that is less than my 10 miles per day goal. So I tweaked it a little more to add a couple tenths of a mile. I know that’s nuts – but a goal is a goal.

Here’s my current route home from the Texas Instruments campus to East Richardson – I’m pretty happy with it.

My bicycle commuting route home from work – 5 miles from the Texas Instruments campus at 75 & 635 to East Richardson

 

I’ll have to duplicate my 2012 entry and document my route. I can’t take photos on my commute – it’s dark now both ways – so maybe I’ll ride the route this weekend and take some pictures, then write it up.

Summers are tough, it is so hot here and I don’t have a shower available at work. I arrive drenched in sweat and have to towel off and change clothes in a handicap stall – not a lot of fun. The key is to get up really early, before dawn, and take my time.

Now, though, is another kind of problem. I hate being cold. But I’ve been working on my cold-weather gear, my layers. This morning it was right around freezing, which is pretty cold for Texas. I was nervous last night, I have ridden in the cold before, but never commuted in these temperatures. When I went out of the garage the ground was rimed with frost and clouds of vapor pulsed out of my mouth. I glanced at my car as I clipped in my pedals and noticed the glass was covered with ice.

At least when you bike commute in the cold, you don’t have to scrape your windshield.

As it turned out, I did fine. I was wearing multiple layers of various kinds of clothing and once I was moving and working I warmed up and was comfortable. Changing into my work clothes (and back again for the ride home) was a pain, but it is what it is.

This time of year I’m riding home in the pitch dark (on my trip in the sun is just beginning to peak over the horizon). Today was bad because there was some kind of wreck at Beltline and Greenville and traffic was spilling out onto all the neighborhood roads – the drivers were in a bad mood – angry and fast. That makes for much unpleasantness when you are on a tiny unprotected and vulnerable bicycle.

But I made it home, checked the forecast (cold again) and set out my gear for tomorrow morning. Another day, another ten miles.

Cold, Cold And Hop-Bitter

“Oh, this beer here is cold, cold and hop-bitter, no point coming up for air, gulp, till it’s all–hahhhh.”
Thomas Pynchon, Gravity’s Rainbow

Taps on the wall, and a bear. Braindead Brewing Company, Deep Ellum, Dallas, Texas

All Work And No Play Make Jack A Dull Boy

Yesterday, I wrote about riding my bike and drinking coffee. I really like my little thermos that I bought years ago at a gift shop called Plum (now sadly gone) off Magazine Street in New Orleans. It is small and has a cool leather wrap printed with graphics inspired by The Shining.

 

It’s pretty cool and keeps the coffee pretty hot.

My coffee thermos.

The Emptiness Below Us

“Anyone whose goal is ‘something higher’ must expect someday to suffer vertigo. What is vertigo? Fear of falling? No, Vertigo is something other than fear of falling. It is the voice of the emptiness below us which tempts and lures us, it is the desire to fall, against which, terrified, we defend ourselves.”
― Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being

Crystal Beach, Bolivar Peninsula, Texas

Now, here is is, the first day of a spanking new year. And I have these goals for 2018 – I’ve worked hard on these… and the main three are:

  • Read 100 books
  • Write 50 Short Stories
  • Ride 3000 miles on my bike.

Since this is only the beginning, I didn’t want to get behind right at the start. So I cheated on the reading a hundred books – and jumped the gun by starting two weeks early. I’m up to six so far… which is good. I’ve already written one short story – so I’m OK there.

But I am stuck in a beach house with no bicycle and freezing cold… incredible wind… what we used to call a blue norther. I had planned on a little flexibility on my goal – knowing that I get sick over the winter and need other means to keep up with my goal.

At home, I have two exercise bikes – so I decided that riding one of those is worth ten miles for each hour riding. That way I can keep up if I’m forced inside.

At the beach house I thought about it and decided that, in a pinch, I can walk to make up the goal. Only in emergency situations, like now – the first day. After some thought and internet research, I decided on a three mile walk, at a brisk pace, would equal ten miles of riding. I walk at about three miles per hour, so that’s about an hour – which corresponds with riding or stationary. Also, that’s in addition to whatever I walk on a normal basis – the usual strutting around doesn’t count.

So at the end of the day, I layered on as much as I could (the temperature was below freezing and the wind was… really strong. I walked out to the beach and watched the kids fire off the last of their fireworks, then headed out down the beach. There is a little creek that emerges from the dunes and blocks off the rest of the beach from where we were and I knew that to that creek and back would get me to the three miles I needed.

I started out into the wind, pulling my hood closed so I was looking out a tiny circle at the water on the right and the dunes on the left. The moon was full, so there was plenty of light. It was very cold. But I started walking.

And it put me into the thought of all the other times over my life that I had walked on the beach, especially at night. From Panama to Nicaragua, to South Padre Island over spring break (That was a long drive from Lawrence, Kansas) to this very beach over the years with my kids growing larger and larger.

There is a rhythm of walking on the beach, in the wet sand between the surf and the loose part (in Texas it is generally allowed to drive on the beach, so, especially at night, you want to stay close to the surf), as the time and the miles go by all those old memories become telescoped in to the present day, the experience of being and moving along a border between two worlds.

It was a lot easier to walk back with the wind behind me. So now I have the equivalent of ten miles of bike riding on the first day of January. Still on track – so good, so far.

Maybe They Never Vanish

“Maybe it’s wrong when we remember breakthroughs to our own being as something that occurs in discrete, extraordinary moments. Maybe falling in love, the piercing knowledge that we ourselves will someday die, and the love of snow are in reality not some sudden events; maybe they were always present. Maybe they never completely vanish, either.”
― Peter Høeg, Smilla’s Sense of Snow

One Last Look At Winter

One Last Look At Winter

Ice Contains No Future

“ice contains no future , just the past, sealed away. As if they’re alive, everything in the world is sealed up inside, clear and distinct. Ice can preserve all kinds of things that way- cleanly, clearly. That’s the essence of ice, the role it plays.”
― Haruki Murakami, Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman

I have always enjoyed the slightly dated but still beautiful fountain at Richardson City Hall, behind the library. It, for example, was one of the destinations on the famous Richardson Sculpture Bicycle Photo Scavenger Hunt.

7) City Hall Fountain

Today, I dropped some books off at the library after work, and noticed the fountain had a different look about it.

Richardson Fountain

Richardson Fountain

Richardson Fountain

Richardson Fountain

Richardson Fountain

Richardson Fountain

Ice and Iron

(click to enlarge)

(click to enlarge)

A hungry feeling came o’er me stealing
And the mice were squealing in my prison cell
And the old triangle went jingle jangle
All along the banks of the royal canal

To begin the morning the screw was bawling
“Get up, ya bowsie, and clean up your cell”
And the old triangle went jingle jangle
All along the banks of the royal canal

The screw was peeping, Humpy Gussy was sleeping
As I lay there dreaming of my girl, Sal
And the old triangle went jingle jangle
All along the banks of the royal canal

Up in the female prison there are seventy-five women
And ’tis among them I wish I did dwell
Then the old triangle could go jingle jangle
All along the banks of the royal canal
All along the banks of the royal canal
—-The Auld Triangle, trad, Dominic Behan

(click to enlarge)

(click to enlarge)