Sunday Snippet – Punch Card (How I Met Your Grandmother)

I had a writing teacher once that said that ideas were swimming through the air all around us and if you didn’t catch one as it went by, someone else would.

This morning, I caught an idea for a short story and wrote down an outline before I went out for a bicycle ride. There are four scenes, spread out over, say, forty years. The working title for the story is Punch Card (How I Met Your Grandmother).

Here’s the second scene, which takes place in the past (maybe 1975 or so). I’ll write the other three scenes over the next few days – hopefully to take to my writing group. If you want a copy of the first draft when I finish it, send me an email at bill* – except put a period where the asterisk is and the number 57 where the 99 is (take that spammers).

I hated the punch card machine more than anything I had ever hated before. I was a junior, majoring in comparative literature and since I wasn’t in the computer science department I could only use the computer lab after ten in the evening. The giant computer itself took up half of the bottom floor of the building – but nobody was ever allowed to go or even see in there. The other half was filled with a filthy snack bar, lined with rusty autobots that spat out moldy candy bars and bags of stale off-brand potato chips – and a series of dingy rooms filled with hundreds of punch card machines.

I had taken an elective class in Fortran programming because I thought that computers were the future and I was worried about paying rent after graduation. Writing the assigned programs was easy – find the sides and angles of a right triangle, the day of a date, or draw a series of boxes. I could write the code, but I couldn’t punch the cards.

My homework problems had to be punched onto these beige cards – rectangular with one corner cut off. I had to buy a case of the damn things at the beginning of the semester. I couldn’t imagine using all those cards. I didn’t know. Three months later, I had to buy another half-box from some kid in my dorm. I was always a terrible typist and would get nervous, freeze up and hit the wrong letter.

This was worse than a typewriter. You would load a stack of cards into the machine and then it would warm up and start to hum. The heat would rise and the ozone would burn your nose. The keys were big and yellow and had to be shoved hard before the machine would roar and then… “Blam!” it would whack a little tiny rectangle out of the card. A paper flake would fly through the air to join the thick layer of cardstock confetti coating the floor and, magic, a corresponding hole would appear in the card itself.

With the punchcard machine a mistake was a disaster. I never could see that I’d missed a key. Sure, the code printed out along the top of the card but they never put new ribbons in the machines and it was always too faint for me to read. When I had my stack of cards all finished I’d take them into the computer room, wrap them with a rubber band, and shove them through this little wooden door in the wall where they would fall down a chute. You never could even see what was on the other side.

Then it was time to wait. Wait for hours. I’d spend all night there, waiting for my program to run. Then, my output would drop down another, bigger, chute into a pile. Every time an output would drop, all the kids waiting would run in and see if it was theirs. It was horrible.

You see, if your program ran correctly you’d get a few sheets of paper with the code and the answer printed on it but I never did. I’d find my cards still rubberbanded together and clipped to a huge stack of pinfeed folded green and white striped paper. On the top would be a handwritten note that would say something like, “Core Dump, you loser!”

Whenever you made a mistake, even a tiny one, the core would dump and the computer would print out hundreds of pages of gibberish. You were supposed to carefully peruse the printouts and find your error in there somewhere but nobody had time for that. You’d throw the printout in this huge wooden bin, scratch your head, and start looking for your mistake. I have no idea why they wasted all that paper.

Sometimes it would be a mistake in my work, but usually it was a typo in my card punching. I figured out that the little holes corresponded to letters, numbers, or symbols and I punched out a card with everything on it, in order, and I would have to slide the thing slowly over every card I had punched to try and find the mistake.

It was horrible. I would be so tired, my eyes swimming, sitting at that huge punch machine, trying to type. I’d make a mistake and throw the card onto the overflowing trash bins and start again. Even when I made it through a card, I’d be terrified I had made an unknown error and would generate another core dump. It was killing me… but I had nowhere else to go.

Our instructor was always harping on us to put in comment cards. These were punch cards marked in a certain way that they didn’t make the computer do anything, but simply left comments. You were supposed to leave comments about what your code was supposed to be doing or what your variable represented or why you decided to do something the way you did. It was a pain in the ass and I never did it until the teacher started marking my grade down because I had insufficient comments in my code.

So I started putting the comments in, though I never commented on the code. I figured he didn’t really look through everybody’s work for these things and only took the computer’s count of how many comments were in here. Sometimes I’d just gripe… like, “Fortran really sucks,” or “This is too hard,” or “It’s way too late at night to be doing this.”

This got to be pretty boring pretty fast so I switched to some of my favorite Shakespeare Quotes, “As flies to wanton boys, are we to the gods; they kill us for their sport” or “There’s not a note of mine that’s worth the noting,” or “I am not bound to please thee with my answer.” I might make some mistakes punching the comments… but who cared? They would still go through as comments and you could still read them.

Like it was yesterday, I remember the day when I picked up my output and, sure enough, there was the big thick stack of folded paper, another core dump, but instead of a handwritten note, there was a punched card on top of my stack. It was different in that it had been done on a machine that had a fresh ribbon in it and across the top, in crisp, clear, printing, it said, “Funny Comments Ronald. You’re getting close. Ck crd 7 error in do loop – Christine.”

And sure enough, in my seventh card I had hit a capital letter “Z” instead of a number “2.” I never would have seen that.

So I redoubled my efforts at witty, humorous, and obscure quotations for my comment cards. I was reading this huge crazy new book called Gravity’s Rainbow and one day I quoted from it. Stuff like, “You may never get to touch the Master, but you can tickle his creatures.” or “If they can get you asking the wrong questions, they don’t have to worry about the answers,” or “Danger’s over, Banana Breakfast is saved.”

My program ran that time and the card on top said, “A screaming comes across the sky – Christine,” which made me so happy I didn’t stop smiling for a day.

The next program, I added a comment card that said, “Christine, I can’t see you – Ronald.”

And it came back with, “I know, but I can see you. I think you’re cute – Christine.”

So I thought about it and worked up my courage. At the end of a program that I larded with my best quotes from the composition book I carried with me and scribbled in all the time… my commonplace book, I finished with a card that said “Christine, I want to meet you – Ronald.”

All that night I was the first to fight their way in to grab any program that slid down the chute, only to be disappointed again and again as other student’s projects ran before mine. Finally, as the sky was beginning to turn a light pink in the west, my program dropped. On top was a card. I ran back to my dorm room to read it, not daring to look at it anywhere in public.

It said, “Love to Ronald. Snarky’s at six, on Thursday. Don’t be late – Christine.”

Snarky’s was a little chain restaurant off campus not far from the computer building. My heart almost beat out of my chest. Thursday was going to take a long time to get there.

Snippet Sunday – Rufus Amalgam Loved his Bluetooth, Part 3

First, If you haven’t already

Part One, Read it here

Part Two, Read it here

Snippet Sunday – Rufus Amalgam Loved his Bluetooth, Part 3

The mud down by the creek was so thick and sticky that Rufus lost his shoes within seconds and his feet were getting cut up by hidden roots and buried thorny vines as he thrashed around in the thick underbrush that covered the shallow water.

“He’s not here, I swear to God!” he yelled up at Sandy.

The sun was rising now so at least he could see what he was doing, but Rufus hadn’t slept in over a day now and his head was swimming with effort and lack of sleep. He looked up the bank at Sandy but all he could see was a blanket standing up with two hands holding the top corners. She was using the blanket as a shield so she didn’t have to see what was going on down in the creek. She didn’t want to actually have to look at a filthy naked Sylvester if Rufus pulled him out of the weeds, dead or alive.

“Keep looking!” Sandy yelled back. “He’s got to be down there somewhere.”

“I think maybe he woke up. He must have walked away.”

“Do you see any footprints?”

“We’ve been stomping all over here all night, how can I see any that are his?”

“Shit, Shit, Shit, what do we do now?”

“Hey you were the one with the dead guy… the comatose guy in her apartment, you figure it out.”

“Don’t start in with me, you sent him to see me in the first place. You’re in this as much as I am. You’re in as deep.”

“Well, he’s not here, help me up, I can’t get out of this muck.”

Sandy flipped a corner of the blanket down to Rufus who grabbed it. She backed away, pulling him up out of the creek bed.

“Jeez, look at you,” Sandy said, “You are covered with mud… it smells like hell. I don’t want you in my car like that.”

“Give me a break, what are you going to do? Leave me here? Put the blanket down on the passenger’s side, I’ll sit on it.”

“That’s my favorite blanket, no way.”

“Favorite? You’ve already used it to haul a dead guy.”

“He wasn’t dead, only comatose.”

“We didn’t know that at the time, did we?“ Rufus snarled as he haphazardly spread the blanket out and plopped down. “Start ‘er up and let’s get the hell out of here.”

As they were driving, Sandy turned up the radio to drown out Rufus’ constant complaining with some Country Music. At the twenty minute break there was a morning traffic report.

“And the East-South Carribelo Expressway is stopped,” the voice said. “Police report a naked man running across all six lanes of traffic. We have not had confirmation.”

“The Carribello? That’s right near your place isn’t it.”

“Yes it is, dammit. You don’t think that he’s…”

“Of course he is. Where else is he gonna go. I don’t think we should go to your condo… lets head to my place and wait it out.”

“No way. I am not going to that hellhole of yours. And I want some help, some reinforcements if he shows. I’m not gonna let that loser run me out of my condominium.”

It didn’t take long. They parked and as they were rushing to the apartment the thick bushes along the front walk began to rustle and the naked Sylvester popped out to block their path. Sandy and Rufus jumped back, but really didn’t have much choice but to throw the blanket back over Sylvester and rush him up the stairs and inside as quick as possible.

They hustled Sylvester into the shower. While he was getting cleaned off, Sandy dug around trying to find something for him to wear. They had already thrown his clothes away on the way to dispose of the body. She found a green pair of sweats and a T-Shirt – that would have to do.

She threw the clothes into the steamy bathroom and he emerged looking like a lime popsicle.

“I am so glad to see you, “ he said to Sandy, “I have no idea what happened to me.”

“Now that you’re out, I need one too,” Rufus pushed by into the bathroom, hoping there would be some hot water left.

“Hey, why is he so muddy? He smells like the place that I woke …”

“Umm, I have your wallet,” Sandy changed the subject, “and your keys.”

“How did you get those?”

“Ummm. Well… you see….” Sandy couldn’t think of a thing she could say.

Snippet Sunday – Short Story – The Fortress of the Copper Thieves

This week for Snippet Sunday I’m putting up an entire short story. This is the rough first draft I wrote some months ago and then abandoned. The biggest problem is that it is simply too damn grim. I like a few things about it and want to completely re-write the thing in a lighter vein, if possible. In the meantime, here is what I’ve got. Any ideas?

The Fortress of the Copper Thieves

Mobungu tossed all afternoon – he had a two day shift of guard duty coming up starting that sundown and he wanted to get some sleep. In his dreams he ran through a thick forest – its image was blurred and indistinct because he had never actually seen more than a handful of trees at once – chased by something hissing and shaking the foliage behind him, out of his sight. He wanted to turn and look, but knew that if he paused, it would overtake him, whatever it was. In the dream he could feel hot breath on the back of his neck. All he could do was continue to rush forward in a fog of overpowering fear – thorn-studded vines tearing at his skin, brambles cutting his feet, and branches grabbing at him, pulling him back. It felt like he wasn’t moving at all and the thing behind was just about to catch up.

For the twentieth time he woke shivering, his blankets cold and wet – soaked through with his own sweat. Orange light was pouring in under the lip of the lean-to and Mobungu realized that it was finally evening and time for him to move to his guard post. His joints creaked as he rose and pulled on his tunic, then his woven serape marked with the double triangle symbol of his tribe, and placed the rusted iron pot over his head. He gathered up his spears and atlatl. They clanked as he bound the the throwing stick and the barbed shafts with the cloth strip that served as holster and sheath – again embroidered with the sign of his tribe. Mobungu shuffled out of the shelter and struggled through the cold mud down to the water.

His canoe was tied up on a stake driven into the slippery clay of the bank. Mobungu slid down and hooked a knee around the stake, reaching out with a metal bucket to bail the water out of the canoe. It was made of thin iron plates hammered flat and riveted together. It leaked like a sieve. As he worked, the clang of the bucket against the wet metal was familiar to Mobungu – but that didn’t make it any more pleasant.

The sound reminded him of his old pirogue, which never leaked and was always quiet. His father had built the canoe before he was born. It had been hollowed out from a single log – a log that must have been far larger than any piece of wood that Mobungu had ever seen. His father said they had built a fire inside the log and used scrapers to hollow it out, to fashion it into the long smooth shape that slid so silently through the water. His father had been a great warrior and the pirogue his prized possession. When his father had fallen in battle – an arrow pierced his throat – there was some talk in the village of the honor of burning his body in the fire of his battle-canoe, but his wife said that was too wasteful and the pirogue was passed down to his son.

Mobungu protected the pirogue as long as he could, but as the white powdery plant-death spread and spread the shortage of wood became so acute that one icy winter evening, the village elders commanded him to drag the canoe up to their metal hut where it was chopped apart and used for their heating-fire. It felt like a chunk of Mobungu’s heart had been ripped out and consumed by the Elder’s need for heat, but there wasn’t anything he could do about it.

Once the canoe was bailed, Mobungu slid into it, nestled himself against the cold bottom and ungiving sharp bulkhead and began to paddle. The oar was a metal tube with a flat piece bolted to the bottom and it was cold in his hands. The vessel was not efficient but Mobungu was strong and he moved quickly down the estuary and out into the choppy salt water of the large bay. It was short distance across to a small island where the first line of defense for his village was set up.

They had traveled a long way to reach this point, the farthest east they could go. Almost a third of his village – most of the children and all of the old people – had died in the terrible journey, but they had no choice; driven forward by tales of a gigantic ancient city full of treasures. The elders had called the tribe together and set them on the long trail to the east, knowing they could no longer survive on the dying lakes and barren mountains of their home. The pain and tribulations of the journey were almost unbearable, but the tales were truthful. Paddling with his head held high – as he neared the guard post Mobungu could see the rotting towers of the ancient city still glittering in the failing light of the setting sun. It was still a long way away, isolated on a huge island in the estuary, covering an island that split a mighty river that poured down from the north right before it joined with the sea.

The expanse of water between the shore and the city was rough and wide, but not an impenetrable barrier. After their terrible migration Mobungu’s tribe was stopped, though – trapped, starving, on the bank, thwarted in their desperate quest by the powerful tribe that lived in the city. They were doomed by the tribe of the copper thieves. The vast bay and the estuaries that lined it was guarded by the fortress of the copper thieves, which was on a small island. Mobungu’s guard post faced that island fortress, across a short stretch of water. If the copper thieves were to launch an attack on his village, a quick warning would be the only thing that might save them.

Darkness fell quickly as Mobungu slid into the guard station and climbed out of the canoe. He was replacing Teemanga, who had been on duty for the last two days. As he approached the shack Teemanga was stretched out beneath a blanket and snoring loudly. Sleeping while on guard duty was a crime punishable by death, but Mobungu simply kicked Teemanga on the back of his legs until he woke with a snort. There were many crimes that were going unpunished in these dark days.

“It’s all yours. Your food has been delivered,” said Teemanga as he gathered his few belongings together for his return to the village. He moved with a weary sloth and gestured at a small pile of stale disks of biscuit arranged on a cloth.

“That’s not enough for two days,” said Mobungu.

Teemanga shrugged, “That’s what you’ve got.”

“You bastard, You’ve taken some of mine, let me see.” Mobungu started grabbing at Teemanga, pulling on his clothes.

“Go ahead, look all you want. I’ve got nothing.”

“Then you must have already eaten it.”

Teemanga simply gave another shrug and silently walked down to his canoe, which was smaller and leaked even worse than Mobungu’s. He would have a difficult crossing in the cold darkness.

The sun was now completely gone and a cold fog blowing in from the sea. Mobungu sat down in a chair they had fashioned that looked out towards the island fort. It was invisible in the darkness and fog, but Mobungu knew his duty was to keep looking, no matter how futile. Weakened by hunger and exhaustion he didn’t think he slept, but still, the dream in the forest kept coming back, so he must have dozed off. He was amazed by the beauty of the forest but terrified by the unknown horror that chased him.

He thought he felt a scaly hand lined with icy razor claws begin to close on his shoulder when he started awake with a scream and realized the sun was rising to the east, the horizon glowing orange and peach, the water calm. The sun warmed him and gave him a little strength and after an hour or so burned the fog off of the water and Mobungu could see the fort of the copper thieves clear as crystal in the still morning air.

The island fortress was silhouetted against the distant slanted falling towers of the ancient city and stood like an impenetrable obstacle to the riches that must still be there. Mobungu lifted an apparatus they had built out of a metal tube and glass lenses found in an abandoned town along their journey and raised it to his eye.

The clear morning and magnification of the telescope enabled him to see the fortress clearer than he ever had. It looked so close, he could almost reach out and touch it.

The major part of the fortress was a huge star-shaped stone building, taking up most of the area of the little island. Mobungu knew that an assault against these vertical walls of stone was a hopeless gesture – the warriors within were safe from an outside threat. Rising from the center of the star was a series of gigantic steps leading up to a stone building in the shape of a giant pillar, towering up into the sky. This pillar was decorated with columns and windows and was built stout and strong.

The elders of the tribe had said that this giant pillar had once supported an enormous statue, reaching a hundred arms high. They said it was a statue of a woman and it was made of the most precious metal of all, it was made of copper.

Mobungu smiled at this – surely it wasn’t true. He had never seen more than a handful of copper in his life, what tribe could possibly have the unimaginable riches they could use to build a giant woman of this metal, and put her up on that stone pedestal. He closed his eyes and imagines the smooth, red-orange expanse of polished copper. He thought of the smooth curves of the giant woman, the swelling thighs, the overhanging breasts, the flowing hair molded in precious metal. Mubungu imagined she would be smiling at him, maybe with giant arms outstretched in welcoming.

It was impossible, but it warmed his heart to imagine it so.

The elders said the copper thieves pulled the statue down and melted it to make armor and weapons. Mobungu returned to his telescope and gazed at the top of the pedestal, at the statue the copper thieves had built to replace the woman they had destroyed.

This statue was obviously male, and, while not made of a rare and beautiful metal, it was constructed of something extremely precious to Mobungu and his tribe. It was made of wood.

It looked like it towered fifty arms high, half as big as the elders said the woman was, it wasn’t as high as the pedestal it perched above, but it was still the most massive thing Mobungu had ever seen made in his time. It was a stylized warrior, feet together, knees bent facing out to sea. His head was topped by a fringed helmet, his face obscured behind a lathwork of a protective screen. His hips were thrust forward and one arm held a huge round shield. The other arm was raised high, holding a spear toward the heavens. The tip of the spear was barbed with a wicked looking series of wooden hooks.

The statue was not very old. When his tribe had arrived the thing was still yellow and fresh and they could smell the fresh-cut aroma when the wind was right. They could still hear hammering and cutting sounds booming from the interior as the copper thieves completed some unseen bracing.

As the summer ended and the cold winter fell upon them, the tribe gazed upon the graying and weathering statue, imagining the warmth that the wood could produce. They never could figure out where the copper thieves had obtained the raw materials. All their searches west of the river were in vain, everything was dead, killed by the spreading white plant-death. Any attempt to cross the river or to approach the ancient city was met by swarms of soldiers from the army of the copper thieves. They were watching and would dispatch death upon any one that tried to enter their territory.

Mobungu looked at the statue, at the fortress below and at the small area of the island that bordered the fort. The island had grass. It was dormant and brown now, but during the summer the ground was green, a color Mobungu rarely saw. Most amazing of all – there were still living trees. Some stood alone, and a couple of small groves hugged the stone walls or the surging shore. Some had lost their leaves for the winter, but a few were pyramid-shaped and still held their foliage. Seeing the color green, and knowing the trees were still alive, filled Mobungu with longing and a tiny spark of hope.

Through the day and into the night Mobungu stared at the statue. He would look through the telescope until his eyes grew tired and then he would stare with his bare eyes. By the afternoon he had eaten all the biscuit that had been left for him and he knew he had a day and a half of hunger ahead of him.

He knew he was supposed to stay awake, but how was that possible for two days? That night was clear and the moon was full. As he sat in the chair and looked through the telescope he could see the statue and the fort below… dim but clear. Beyond, the ancient city seemed to glow with flickering ghosts in the moonlight.

Without realizing he was doing it, Mobungu drifted off into sleep and instantly began to dream. This time he was running through the forest but he didn’t feel the rough branches clutching at him, he didn’t feel the thorns of the vines tearing at his skin. Instead of a panicked run he felt like he was floating along a wooded path. He was able to look around and realized that the trees now looked like the ones he had seen that day on the fortress island. He was still being chased but he felt no fear.

Once he realized he wasn’t afraid any more, he drifted down to a stop along the path in the forest. He calmly turned toward what is was that was chasing him, and he saw the branches shaking and moving and he felt a great joy as he waited for whatever it was to emerge from hiding. The first thing he saw was a wooden man – a copy of the statue on the island, but small, human sized. His wooden skin was polished, supple, and showed a glossy grain. One arm was still extended back into the hidden shadows beneath the trees and as Mobungu watched, the wooden man held the hand of a companion that emerged into the light. It was a copper woman, a normal sized woman, a copy of the ancient statue that Mobungu imagined in his daydreams. She gleamed in the sun, polished and flawless. She stood beside the wooden man and they smiled at him, together. Mobungu noticed the swelling in the copper woman’s belly and he realized she was pregnant.

Mobungu woke, not in fear like he had every morning since before he could remember, but calm, relaxed. He realized he had a purpose. It was almost dawn, the moon had set, but there was the tiniest smear of gray across the eastern horizon. He took the cloth covering that wrapped his spears and wound it around the tip of his longest, straightest weapon. He gathered up a flint stone and striker that the guards had kept next to their lookout post. At one time, the idea was to light a signal fire in case of attack, but the fuel had long ago been used up. Still, Mobungu knew he could use it to kindle the tip of the spear. The cloth was of ancient origin and he knew it would melt and burn with a quick and strong flame.

He took the flint, striker, spear, and Atlatl and slid into the canoe. He paddled hard across the smooth morning sea towards the fortress of the copper thieves. The sun began to rise as he coursed across the water and the edge of the orange disk peeked above the broken towers of the ancient city as he slid against the shoreline and leaped up onto the island.

He had not been noticed yet. A single small canoe with one half-starved man must not be enough of a threat. He began to run and marveled at the feel of the dormant grass against his bare feel. He looked at the ruined city, closer than he had ever been to it before and realized that between the toppling towers small groves of trees were growing. He ran to the closest tree and touched it, feeling the rough bark against his fingertips. This one was leafless but he quickly moved to one that still was covered with green. The leaves were thin, sharp needles, and Mogundu ran his fingers into the branch, feeling the sharp tips pierce his skin. The ground was covered with needles that had fallen, but these felt soft against the soles of his feet. The tree gave off a sharp, sweet odor that he had never known, and a yellow sticky sap came away from his hands which smelled the same.

He heard shouting in the distance and realized that he had been seen. Knowing he didn’t have very much time he dropped to his knees in the sweet needles under the green tree and pulled out the flint and striker. A couple quick blows and the cloth wrapping on the end of his spear was glowing with flame. A spark fell and the bed of needles began to smolder. Mogundu stared and smiled at that, breathing in the sweet smoke and marveling at the crackling sound. He almost missed the soldier running at him, covered in shining copper armor and swinging an orange-gold sword.

The clanking armor slowed the soldier and Mogundu was able to dart up and run towards the fort. A horde of guards was pouring out of a line of copper-clad wooden doors and rushing toward him. They clanked along, faces hidden by copper screens, the rising sun glinting off their waving weapons. He was fast though, and he ran almost unchecked through their ranks. A swinging blade swished against his shoulder, slicing skin and leaving a red streak that began to spout. It was his left side, and Mogundu knew he didn’t really need that arm. He laughed at the pain and kept running until he began to approach the very wall of the fortress.

By now the cloth wrapping was burning brightly and flames were whipping back, fanned by the wind of his rushing forward. Without slowing down he used his right hand to fit the end of the spear into the atlatl and holding it firmly used all his momentum and the strength in his legs to swing the spear-thrower forward, launching the flaming spear in a high, fast arc towards the statue of the wooden man.

The spear rose with frightening speed, propelled by the leverage of the atlatl, until it struck the statue in the hip. The wood was dry and weathered and the burning cloth stuck to it like a bee to a flower.

Mogundu fell to his knees and stared, laughing like a madman, watching the flame immediately begin to spread. He was so delighted he never saw the guard running up behind him and swing down, his bright copper sheathed sword striking the kneeling man in the back of the neck, completely severing his head from the rest of Mogundu’s body. It was still laughing when it hit the ground.

That morning, as the villagers gathered they could see the column of smoke in the east. They rushed to the waterside to see the distant giant wooden man consumed by flame. They couldn’t know what had caused the conflagration, and it filled them with deep despair. After a short counsel with what leaders that still remained, they gathered their belongings together and began to move off, slowly, into another doomed journey, this one to the west.

Pretty damn depressing, huh. Well, to make you feel better, here’s a video to cheer you up. C’est Si Bon. It’s all good.

Sunday Snippet – Rufus Amalgam Loved his Bluetooth, Part 2

Time for another silly bit of throw-away fiction. A week ago I put up part one of Rufus Amalgam Loved his Bluetooth based on a character idea from Peggy’s Blog. If you haven’t read Part One, go read it here first. Here is Part 2.

“Rufus!” Sandy was so loud in his Bluetooth headset that Rufus had to pull it out of his ear and hold it out or he would be deafened. Sandy’s voice sounded tinny and distant like that, which suited Rufus just fine.

“Damn it Rufus! You need to get your ass down here and take care of that Sylvester dude. He’s in my apartment and he won’t leave.”

“And this is my problem, why?”

“It’s your problem because you set the whole thing up. Now you get down here right now and help me throw the guy out or I’m gonna start making some calls. And you won’t like who I call or what I am going to say.”

“Ok, Ok, calm down. Now, you said that the Radio guy is in your apartment? Where exactly is he? What’s he doing?”

“He’s on my couch. Asleep. Has been since this afternoon. I can’t get him to budge.”

“Ok, Ok, Sandy. Don’t get your panties in a wad. I’ll be right down. Won’t be any big deal.”

Rufus stood up and walked out of the Starbucks, glaring at the table of women that had been eyeing him all night. As the front door closed, he thought he could hear a smattering of applause filtering out through the narrowing crack of the glass door. “You all can go to Hell!” Rufus yelled back at the coffee shop as he walked quickly to his primer-colored Ford Taurus.

He headed directly for the car door, his eyes focused on the latch. Rufus didn’t like to look at the long, winding rusty dent that buckled along the entire driver’s side. He knew there was a shorter, but deeper puncture wound on the passenger’s. The trunk was held down with a piece of wire, and there was even a wide dent on the bottom of the car where he had driven up over a parking barricade in a drunken stupor.

Reaching the door, he didn’t need a key, the lock had been drilled out months ago. The ignition cylinder spun freely and with a turn and a few seconds of sputtering and coughing, the engine came to life, idling roughly.

The yellow “low gas” light stared him in the face, mirroring the “Check Engine” symbol on the other side of the dash. He did some mental calculations and decided he could make it to Sandy’s place, though he’d be on fumes once he arrived there.

He was glad that Sandy needed his help and as he started out down the road, began to plan his angle. He needed somewhere to stay and he thought he remembered Sandy’s place as having a good, working, air conditioner. That Sylvester Radio guy was a skinny little runt and he’d have no problem rousting him out the door. If he did it in an assertive, manly way, then Sandy was sure to show some appreciation.

Maybe he could get a little more out of the deal than just a place to crash. Rufus started to imagine Sandy’s face full of gratitude, her eyelashes batting. The fantasy became more and more involved, more and more pleasant, a nice warm spot in his mind and gut, until he sprinted up the two flights of stairs to Sandy’s apartment and rapped confidently on the door.

Rufus’s fantasy left immediately when Sandy opened the front door. She stood there, her dirty blonde hair sticking in all directions, her face smeared with mascara, and wearing old torn cutoff blue jean shorts, a dirty T-shirt, and mismatched Crocs on her feet.

“I am so glad you are here,” Sandy said “he’s not moving at all.”

“Well, don’t you worry your…  little head over this bum. I’ll just pitch him out and then we’ll talk.”

Rufus strode to the couch where he saw Sylvester’s head sticking out from under a ratty quilt. He bent over and gave the quilt a yank. It came up quickly – flying into the air.

“Okay Radio! It is time to.. Oh geez! Damn it Sandy! The guy is naked.”

Rufus had to reach in the air to grab the quilt and push it down back over Sylvester Radio as quickly as he could. The image of those skinny hairless limbs and sunken chest would not leave his mind even after he shook his head violently.

“Why didn’t you tell me he was naked!”

“Sorry, I forgot.”

“You forgot? I don’t even want to think about…”

He didn’t want to finish the sentence. It was best to get things going fast, so Rufus leaned over and grabbed Sylvester’s shoulder and started shaking as hard as he could. At the same time he started yelling to wake the dude up. Rufus wanted to get him out as soon as possible.

“Oh Christ Sandy, he’s stiff as a board.”

“What are you talking about?”

“I think the guy is dead!” Rufus jumped back in disgust as quickly as he could. He stood in the middle of the living room shaking and staring at the quilt with the tuft of wild dark hair sticking out of one end and a pair of grubby feet with overgrown, yellow toenails out the other.

“Are you sure?”

“Yes I’m sure. He’s as stiff as a board… as dead as a doorknob. What did you do to him?”

Sandy said nothing. She simply stared at Rufus and he was horrified when he thought he saw a small grin flash across her face for a second.

“Where’s your phone? We need to call the cops.”

“Oh no,” Sandy said. “No cops. No cops! I’m on probation you know. This will send me back to the big house for sure. And I’m telling you I’m not going back there because you sent me some scrawny pervert with a weak heart.”

“Well then what do you suppose we’re going to do?”

So Sandy told him what they were going to do. It bothered Rufus when she came up with a plan so quickly. He suddenly had the thought that Sandy might have known Radio’s condition before she even called him at the Starbucks. He even wondered when that quilt had been placed over the corpse. The first step, Sandy told him, was to wedge the dead guy off the couch onto the floor while keeping him wrapped up in the blanket.

Rufus looked around for something to use; he did not want to touch the body. All he could find was a toilet plunger leaning against the end of the couch. He didn’t even want to think why it was there. He grabbed the wooden handle and used it to wrench the corpse off the couch. Thankfully, it landed in the quilt, and the blanket settled draped all around it. He took two corners and Sandy took two and after checking the front stairs they dragged the body out the door and down the two flights as quickly as they could. Luckily no curious bystanders showed up.

“Okay, where’s your car,” Sandy said.

“My car? Tanks dry as a bone, coasted here on fumes. We’ll have to use yours.”

Sandy shook her head in disgust and clumped around the corner. Rufus heard the whine of a small engine and a tiny Smart car appeared.

“What is that? Is that a toy? How are we going to fit in there with him?”

“You should have thought about that before you came here with no gas.”

“I know. I have an idea. I’ll wait here and you can drive with him in the passenger seat.”

“No way! I am not going to do this alone. You sit in the passenger seat and hold him on your lap.”

And that was how they drove. Sylvester Radio’s head was covered with the blanket and sticking out the passenger window at an angle. His corpse was too stiff to sit down and Rufus held the body with his eyes scrunched shut. They drove to a spot Sarah knew about where a rough gravel road crossed an old railroad spur and dipped down into a thick grove of scrubby trees.

“I don’t even want to think about why you know about this spot,” Rufus said.

“It is lucky that I do.”

They opened the door and slid the body on the quilt down to a thick weedy patch and pulled the blanket while the body rolled away into the darkness.

“I don’t know,” Rufus said “it doesn’t seem right to leave him like that. Should we cover him?”

“That’s my quilt. I’m not going to leave it here for the police to find. God knows what kind of DNA is in there. Don’t worry. They’ll think he’s just some dead naked junkie. He’ll never be missed.”

As they were driving away Sarah asked Rufus to open the glove box. Inside was a wallet and keys. Rufus instinctively checked the wallet.

“There’s no cash, no credit cards. I’ve already pulled them,” Sarah said. “I want you to check his driver’s license and give me the address.”

“What for?”

“We’re going to his place. Those are his keys. I want to see what’s there, I want to look…”

“Come on Sarah, we are not burglars”

“You can’t be a burglar to a dead man.”

Rufus recognized the address, he had been there before. It was a small brick duplex not far from the University. They parked a half block away and walked along the darkened sidewalk. As they approached the door with Sarah holding the keys they jumped as a voice called out from the darkness of the next door entryway.

“Are you two friends of Sylvester’s?”

“Uhhh,” the same confused sound came out of both their throats as they started to slink away from the unexpected interruption.

A spindly old woman suddenly moved from the darkness into the blue light from an overhead street lamp.

“It’s good to see that Sylvester has some friends, some young friends.”

“Yes,” Sarah said, thinking quickly, “we are Sylvester’s friends, we’re here to check on him.”

“Good,” the old woman said, “Sylvester needs someone to check on him, especially with his, well, you know, his disease and all.”

“Disease?” Both Sarah and Rufus spoke at the same time.

“Yes, don’t you know? That’s why I stayed up waiting for him. He has this nervous disorder. When he gets too excited. His whole nervous system – his brain and spine – his muscles – they freeze up stiff as a board. Catatonic. You would swear he was dead. Sometimes he won’t wake up for hours. Scares me to death to think that something bad might happen to him. You don’t think… Has something bad…?”

Rufus and Sarah stared at each other.

“No, no,” Sarah said “nothing bad… but, you know, we had better be going.”

“Yes yes,” Rufus replied, “we had better be going right now.”