Sunday Snippet, The Ants by Bill Chance

“One day when I went out to my wood-pile, or rather my pile of stumps, I observed two large ants, the one red, the other much larger, nearly half an inch long, and black, fiercely contending with one another. Having once got hold they never let go, but struggled and wrestled and rolled on the chips incessantly. Looking farther, I was surprised to find that the chips were covered with such combatants, that it was not a duellum, but a bellum, a war between two races of ants, the red always pitted against the black, and frequently two red ones to one black. The legions of these Myrmidons covered all the hills and vales in my wood-yard, and the ground was already strewn with the dead and dying, both red and black. It was the only battle which I have ever witnessed, the only battle-field I ever trod while the battle was raging; internecine war; the red republicans on the one hand, and the black imperialists on the other. On every side they were engaged in deadly combat, yet without any noise that I could hear, and human soldiers never fought so resolutely.”

― Henry David Thoreau, Walden

Big Lake Park, Plano, Texas

The Ants

Even with her new cane, the walk to the park was difficult. Joann needed her artificial hip replaced again and didn’t want to go through that pain another time. The excitement of the day sped her up, though, and thoughts of the past decades made the time go by quickly. She found her bench – dark green paint peeling a little more than it did a year ago – and sat down.

She pulled her birthday card from her grand-niece out of her purse. It said “I always think of you as my grandmother,” and that made her smile. She had been coming to this bench on her birthday for fifty years now, she had been looking forward to the silver anniversary.

Joann jumped with excitement as a few birds landed on the little-used playground equipment next to her bench. She chuckled as she thought that the scene was so similar to the one out of that old horror movie, “The Birds,” – though this wasn’t scary. Slowly more and more began to show up, lining up along the bars.

She couldn’t help but think back to the first time she had come here – thinking about James… when she still was in college down the road from there, a half-century ago.


Joann hadn’t actually been out on a date for over a year and she wasn’t sure she was out on one now, but it was close.

That afternoon – she had been working on her graphics assignment in the sixth floor lobby – her room wasn’t large enough to stretch the huge canvas out. She was working on two large horizontal triangular sections. While the rest of the piece was made up of geometric shapes of solid colors, fitted together in what she hoped was a clever, attractive, and subtly symmetrical design, these two triangles required, in her mind, a graduated hue of orange. It went from a bright saturated color a the pointed end to a pastel, almost white at the other. She worked slowly and carefully with an airbrush, slowly layering the colors, learning as she went.

She had been so intent and concentrated she didn’t even notice the boy walk up and sit down in an extra chair.

“Hey! Whatcha doin?” he said, a little bit too loud.

The unexpected sound startled Joann enough that the airbrush spray drifted out of the border a bit.

“James! Look what you’ve made me do!”

She angrily picked up a razor blade and began carefully scratching off the errant pigment. She shook her head at the mistake.

“Sorry Joann, I was just tryin’ to be friendly.”

The still-wet paint came up easily enough and after only a few seconds she looked down at the fixed error. Then she realized that the boy knew her name. For the first time she tilted her head away from the canvas and looked at him. He was a few inches shorter than her, stocky in a pasty sort of way, and had an unkempt shock of long, thin, red hair. He peered back at her through a pair of thick black-rimmed glasses.

She remembered him. His name was James… something… James Ellsworth. She had met him through some mutual friends at some informal group gathering or party or something. He didn’t live there – he couldn’t afford it… she seemed to remember. He was always hanging around, though. Didn’t seem to have anything better to do.

“That’s OK, I guess,” she said. “I didn’t see you come up and you startled me.”

“Sorry. What are you working on?”

She explained her ideas on the piece, how they fit in with the assignment from her graphics class. He listened intently. He even asked what seemed to be half-intelligent questions. After a while Joann began to forget her aggravation at being startled and started to enjoy the conversation.

“Well,” he said, “How much longer are you going to be working on this?”

Looking back at her work, she realized that the paint had dried and she would have to wait until it cured, at least twelve hours, before she could start blending again.

“That’s it for tonight, I’m afraid. I’m going to have to leave it sit to cure before I can work on it some more.”

“You gonna leave it here?”

“Yeah, it’ll be good – I leave big stuff out all the time. Everybody knows to leave it alone.”

“Cool. You hungry? You wanna go get a bite?”

Without thinking, Joanna nodded yes.

James had no car and no money. The only thing he had to offer was some food and some wine at his apartment.

“It’s not far. We can walk it no prob,” he assured her.

It wasn’t far, across the highway on the pedestrian overpass and then down into an older neighborhood of once-wealthy big wooden mansions now run-down and subdivided into tiny apartments for college students.

The only tough part was getting up into James’ place. He rented an attic space in a high turret of of of the largest, but now most decrepit homes. It was little more than a garret and after climbing up three stories past countless wooden doors, each leaking some genre of overblown music; they had to twist up a final spiral stair into his place. He pushed open the thin, unlatched door.

“No reason to lock it. Nobody comes up this high, and nothing inside worth stealing.”

The place was a large single, round room. The entire floor was cheap patterned linoleum. Blankets hung from cords divided up a kitchen, living area and a bedroom peeking around one side. Joann used the bathroom and was relieved to find it clean, although small with only a sink, toilet and narrow standup shower.

When she came back out to the kitchen, he had set out plates with microwaved chicken breasts, mixed vegetables, and rice. He had a cold bottle of some generic white wine and was pouring it into a pair of mismatched jelly glasses.

The meal was surprisingly good. Joann had been eating in the cafeteria or various fast-food places around campus for so long, a sort-of home cooked meal, no matter how humble. After they finished eating, James rinsed and piled the dishes in the sink and they finished the wine and another large bottle of something red.

The wine was gone and Joann was feeling more than a little tipsy and she began to wonder whether she was on a date or not. She was beginning to like James more than she thought she would – and he had fed her and given her wine. He hadn’t driven or taken her to a restaurant, but it wasn’t his fault he was a poor student – there were plenty of those around. She fell silent, thinking for a minute, when James spoke up. His voice was a little slurred and Joann realized that she didn’t know if he had drank more wine than her or not.

“Hey, Joanne… I wanna show you something.”
He stood up from the table and walked over to the couch. He reached behind and pulled out two cardboard boxes – one a small shipping box and the other the kind you use to sell shoes in. It was a bit bigger than usual – maybe a boot box. Joann noticed that it had holes cut in the lid and pieces of fine screen glued over the openings.

“Watch this!” James said, his face flushed with wine or excitement. “I’ve been working on this for two years.”

He gestured for Joann to back her chair up and then folded the table and set it away. He cleared the other chairs and pushed a shelf back to make as big a space in the center of the kitchen area as he could. He turned on some lamps to illuminate the linoleum as much as possible.

Then, with a little bow and a flourish, he opened the small box up and poured its contents out onto the floor. At first, Joann thought it was only little pieces of paper, like confetti or something, but she saw that each one was glued to a tiny stick. They were a pile of miniature flags, a fraction of an inch high, some were bright red, the rest were green.

James how had the large shoe box and was getting ready to take the lid off. He was getting excited now – he sort of hopped from one foot to the other as he pawed at the box.

“Watch closely! This is really something.”

He slid the lid off and poured out a mound of what looked like some sort of reddish coarse powder. At first Joann thought is was a copper colored rough sawdust, but as soon as it hit the floor it began to flow and move. She realized with a start that it was alive.

“Ants!” she shouted. “Dammit, you dumped out a bunch of ants.”

“Don’t worry. Relax and watch.”

James had some sort of an odd flashlight in his hand. He pointed it at the ants and pushed a button.

“Ultraviolet. The ants can see it but we can’t. It’s what I sue to train them with.”

Suddenly the roiling movement of the large pile of ants began to setting into a shape, a square. James flashed again and the ants swarmed over the pile of tiny flags and Joann realized that they were picking them up – each and was emerging with a flag in its tiny jaw.

Another click and James began to yell.

“Watch this – it’s what took so much time to teach.”

Joann felt her eyes widen and her breath catch in her throat. She simply could not believe what she was seeing. There, on the cracked linoleum, the ants were marching in formation – moving geometric patterns of green and red, colored by the tiny flag that each insect was holding aloft.

They started with a checkerboard of red and green and then the ants marched past each other, forming two separate grids apart. Then they wheeled and separated into two linear ranks that moved past each other. Then they moved in a confused heap until they lined up in one square – red on one side, green on the other, with a graduated mix in between. Finally the square dissolved into a triangle, then a hexagon, then, finally, a red circle. A smaller green disk began to roll around inside the larger circle.

“That was the hardest to do. It took a long time to train them to do that,” James said.

He flashed another code onto the insects and they dutifully dropped their flags in a neat pile. He laid the larger box on the floor sideways with the lid off and the ants swarmed back inside.

“See, they like it,” he said.

Joann was speechless. Five minutes ago she was worried about how to deal with this dumpy, nerdy guy, now she was faced with something fantastic and unbelievable. She felt as if the floor had been pulled out from beneath her feet. She jumped up, breathless.

“Umm, I gotta go!” was all she could blurt out.

“Wait! Don’t you think that was cool! Aren’t you amazed?”

“I… I don’t know what I saw. That was impossible. That scared me.”

“It’s only a bunch of trained ants.”

“But… I feel… I feel the world isn’t the same as it was when I got here.”

“The world is the same, maybe you saw something you didn’t know before.”

That was all she could take. She stammered out an “I’m sorry,” and staggered to the door. The stairs down were steeper than she remembered, the brick sidewalks outside more uneven, the blocks home longer and lonelier than she could imagine.

As she feared, James kept calling her every day for a week. She was so confused. He explained that it was all a simple, though ingenious process, to train the ants. A combination of rewards for proper behavior and an electrified grid that provided punishment for errors – the ants were able to learn amazingly complex tricks. He said it was his ambition to expand his techniques to other species and types of animals.

She would talk to him on the phone but asked that he not follow or try to meet her. The thought of going back to that attic apartment gave her chills.

Time went by and she began to thaw a little.

Then one day, one her twentieth birthday, he asked her to go to an isolated spot just a bit off campus. There was a bench in a little used park. She sat down and waited, more than a little nervous. Then the first one came, followed by the rest.


And now Joann was in the same place, fifty years later. The bench had been replaced twice, but she supposed James had made sure that the city put the new one in the exact right place. It was funny, she had never seen any children playing on the equipment – though she supposed some must have. Somehow, they all disappeared on her birthday. She was sure James had something to do with that too.

She had not actually seen him in twenty years. After they had left school his life became more and more disjointed. He said that his innovative animal research had made him some serious enemies in the government and that he would eventually have to disappear.

Joann always wondered how much of this was real and how much was paranoia from the strange recesses of James’ brilliant mind. Almost certainly a little of both. Even though she never saw or heard from him anymore, and missed him terribly, she knew he was still out there, somewhere. Otherwise, where would the birds come from?

She sat back and watched the last of the dense flock of birds land on the playground equipment. Most years there were only one type of bird but this year half were some small brown wren and the rest were large gray doves. She purposely had avoided learning types or species of birds – the mystery made her birthday present all so more special. She knew that James had planned something special for the silver anniversary – and having two kinds of birds reminded her of the dual-colored ant flags from so long ago.

She smiled as they lifted into the air, as if on a signal, all at once, in a mass. Rotating in a whirlwind above her, they began to separate into smaller groups and these groups began to form patterns.

Her fiftieth trained bird presentation, her seventieth birthday present, was beginning and Joann was very happy to get to see it.

The World is Full of Monsters

The story that meant the end arrived late one night. A tiny story, covered in green fur or lichen, shaky on its legs. It fit in the palm of my hand. I stared at the story for a long time, trying to understand. The story had large eyes that could see in the dark, and sharp teeth. It purred, and the purr grew louder and louder: a beautiful flower bud opening and opening until I was filled up. I heard the thrush and pull of the darkness, grown so mighty inside my head.

—- Jeff VanderMeer, The World is Full of Monsters

Trinity River Bottoms, Dallas, Texas

The world is invaded by horrible monsters – monsters that take the form of stories. The world is destroyed and changed over a hundred years and the author, a writer, is taken over by a monstrous story-packet left on the stoop.

I found this bit of fiction as an audio book on Hoopla. Hoopla… if you don’t know about it – it’s a streaming service that is offered through local libraries. You really need to check it out if you have a card from a booklender that offers membership – there’s some good shit in there. And as far as I can tell, none of the stories it offers are invading the earth.

I’ve been a fan of Jeff VanderMeer, the author, of The World is Full of Monsters, for a while now – ever since reading The Dead Astronauts for the Wild Detectives Book Club. I find his mutating, doomed characters distasteful, but in a good way. Borne is greatness. So I saw this on Hoopla, and decided to give it a listen.

It was a tough, long day at work, and I needed a break, so I listened to the audiobook on my phone, sitting at my desk, office door closed, eyes mostly shut. It helped.

Then, I discovered that the story is published by Tor… and there is a copy online here:

This World Is Full of Monsters | Tor.com

Enjoy.

Short Story of the Day, Flash Fiction, Harvest Moon, by Scotch Rutherford

But there’s a full moon risin’
Let’s go dancin’ in the light
We know where the music’s playin’
Let’s go out and feel the night

Because I’m still in love with you
I want to see you dance again
Because I’m still in love with you
On this harvest moon

― Neil Young, Harvest Moon

The moon rising over the Dallas skyline and the pond at Trammell Crow Park. From the October Full Moon Ride.

Full Moon Tonight. It’s the Harvest Moon. I remember when we would go on bike rides at night on full moon nights. The last year and a half – it’s been so bad… Sometimes I feel I’ll never do anything fun again.

From my blog (I called it an “Online Journal” then), The Daily Epiphany, Wednesday, December 4, 2002. A longish entry, about falling stars.

Leonids

I have always wanted to go camping during a meteor shower. I’ve tried to schedule a trip to West Texas, Big Bend, during one but the timing has never been right. One year I did drive out with Nicholas, then only a tad bigger than a toddler, and ended out in a cornfield east of Rockwall; but Nicholas was impatient, we were still in the pool of city light, and ended up seeing nothing. Last year I was ready to go out and see the Leonids, but the state was swathed in a belt of thick clouds and nothing would have been visible.

Last Month I read that this year was going to be the last predicted good Leonid storm for a long time, and I didn’t want to miss it. I have a snotload of vacation left that I have to take before the end of the year so I scheduled a day off the next day and drove out after work into East Texas, heading for Lake Tawakoni State Park, where we had gone family camping a while back.

The park office was closed when I pulled in so I dutifully filled out a little envelope, put my fifteen dollars in (nine for the campsite, five for the entry fee, and one because I didn’t have change) and dropped it into the heavy metal tube. The park was almost completely empty – only a few RV’s scattered here and there. I picked a spot on the first loop, choosing one right next to the trail to the bathrooms. It only took me a few minutes to set up my tent.

While I wrestled with the aluminum poles I spotted a bright meteor crackling down between two trees. I watched for a while but didn’t see anything else. The peak was supposed to come somewhere around three AM, so I set the alarm on my IPAQ PDA and settled down in my tent to read myself to sleep. Even if I didn’t see another meteor, at least I had spotted one – and my trip wouldn’t be completely wasted. I tried calling home but was on the very edge of cell service. I could hear Nick answer on the other end, “Hello! Hello! Who is it?” but he couldn’t hear anything I said.

It wasn’t much longer until a big diesel pickup rumbled by, screeched its brakes, backed up, and started shining a powerful spotlight on my tent. I dragged myself out and walked over to the official truck.
“I paid in the box out front,” I said.
“Oh,” said the bearded, grizzled man in the truck.
“You here for the meteor shower too?” he continued.
“Yeah,” I said.
“They say this will be the biggest one for thirty years,” he said, “and we’ll be at another park by then, for sure. There’s a bunch in the other camping loop that’s going to meet down at the dock at three and I think the wife and I will go down there to watch.”
“Thanks.”
“Well, have a good night.”

It was starting to get cold, so I slithered back into my bag and fell deeply asleep until my IPAQ started buzzing.

The full moon was out and very bright. The park was lit with what looked like a flat blue daylight. It was light enough for me to easily move around and set stuff up. If I had had a newspaper, I could have read it without trouble. There were some engines running and people moving around down towards the lake, and I thought about joining the folks down at the dock but ultimately decided to go it alone. The trees at Tawakoni are thick so I set my folding chair up in the middle of the park road and wrapped myself up in a blanket and my unzipped sleeping bag. My folding chair leans way back which is unpleasant for what I usually use it for (it stays in the trunk of the Taurus) – watching soccer games – but was perfect for stretching back and looking up at the sky. Some small animal, probably a possum (too quiet for an armadillo) shuffled around in the grass beside the road, and then shambled back into the woods.

The bright moon washed out a lot of the stars. It would be impossible to spot any faint meteors. I thought for a few minutes that there wouldn’t be anything and I’d go back home empty-eyed. But after a few minutes the shower started.

The meteor shower wasn’t spectacular; it didn’t make me think of the Fourth of July. Still, it had a powerful ephemeral beauty. There would be a pause, a minute or so, when nothing would happen, then maybe a single quick transient streak across the sky. That would be followed by a little burst – a cluster of four or five and the activity would keep up for a few minutes until it tapered off for another pause. A few falling stars were big enough to scream across a big arc of the sky, leaving behind a little trail of sparks for a split-second. I know they were silent but I could imagine a crackling sound as those fell.

It was obvious how the meteors appeared to flow from a single point, in Leo. They would radiate out, the big ones lingering, traveling across a big chunk, the tiny ones merely a fugacious slash across the dark. It was this temporary nature of the display that fascinated me – a tiny sliver of an instant… then they are gone. I had a big grin on my face, half-frozen there by the cold air.

I watched for a little over an hour or so until the show petered out. I never really went back to sleep – it wasn’t long before the sky began to lighten in the east and I packed everything up. Driving back into the city, I realized that I could go on in to work – it was early enough.

I decided to take the day off anyway.

And a piece of flash fiction for today:

Harvest Moon, by Scotch Rutherford

from Every Day Fiction

Scotch Rutherford page

Short Story of the Day, Flash Fiction, Appearances are Deceptive, by Mary Papas

“I’ve been making a list of the things they don’t teach you at school. They don’t teach you how to love somebody. They don’t teach you how to be famous. They don’t teach you how to be rich or how to be poor. They don’t teach you how to walk away from someone you don’t love any longer. They don’t teach you how to know what’s going on in someone else’s mind. They don’t teach you what to say to someone who’s dying. They don’t teach you anything worth knowing.”

― Neil Gaiman, The Kindly Ones

A wide angle view of Dealey Plaza at dawn on the morning henge day (or two days later). The brick building in shadow on the far left is the infamous Texas Schoolbook Depository. President Kennedy was shot on the curved road on the left, almost fifty years ago.

Took a day off work – the COVID-19 vaccination mandate is overwhelming everything – there are so many questions unanswered. It’s been a while since I had my jab and am thinking about a booster, but the FDA Booster Shot decision is putting it into the fog like everything else (I don’t turn 65 for a few months).

From my blog (I called it an “Online Journal” then), The Daily Epiphany, Friday, January 1, 1999 – More than twenty years ago. The kids, at that age, were connoisseurs of fast-food ball-pits – we knew all the ones in a ten-mile radius of our house and most of them along the highways radiating in all directions.

Saturday, January 1, 1999, McDonald’s with Playland

….. House is empty.
Holiday is spent.

I needed to get the kids
some exercise.
Drizzling Wet Warm Fog
No day for outside.
So it’s off to
McDonald’s with Playland.

Nick and Lee are good enough
I can let them go around
on their own.
I can sit and write.
notebook on green laminate.

Lee borrows my pen
to follow the numbers
on a placemat puzzle.
He says he knows
it’ll be a snowman.
he traces the outline
still.

Three
amazingly fat women
sit at the next table, here in the
McDonald’s with Playland
without any children.
So close I can hear them talk.
at least snippets.
Recipes – they are trading
“I get these headaches,” one squawks
“Then I go eat me some chocolate.”
Hmmmmmmmm – the others intone
worshipfully.

Nick and Lee want ice cream
I give them all the cash
I have
and send them to the counter.
They come back with cones
and a single dollar bill
and three pennies.
One so sticky I leave it behind.

A young mother
excites into her cell phone
in Spanish.

A toddler drops her
Orange Drink.
The thin liquid puddle grows
as she stares mute

An older man- a customer
cleans it up.
A teenager- a worker
appears with a mop and bucket.
“Don’t touch that!”
The old man growls.
He rants on about how dirty
the mop water is-
and cleans up the mess
with his own cloth handkerchief.

He must be nuts.
Nobody carries a cloth handkerchief.
Anymore.

And a piece of flash fiction for today:

Appearances are Deceptive, by Mary Papas

from the Short Story Society and Flash Fiction Society

Short Story of the Day, Flash Fiction, 100 Word Story, The Phone Call, by Janice Siderius

“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

― Arthur C. Clarke, Profiles of the Future: An Inquiry Into the Limits of the Possible

Downtown Square, McKinney, Texas

From my blog (I called it an “Online Journal” then), The Daily Epiphany, Saturday, September 8, 2001 – Exactly twenty years ago. Wow… only twenty years ago… and coming up only three days from 9/11. It’s so strange reading my thoughts from the point of view of a semi-distant future. I talk about getting a new cell phone and a Pocket PC. An iPhone or a Smart Phone only a dream of the future..I (we) had no idea.

Saturday, September 8, 2001, Gadgets

The folks at work, in all their infinite wisdom, have bought me a couple of new cool toys lately.

I try to resist the temptation of becoming a gadget-freak. A fascination with technology is a powerful, seductive trap in this day and age, this best of all possible worlds. The underlying geek-gene is there, though, I can’t deny it. Plus, if somebody else wants to buy me cool stuff… so be it.

I was one of the last hold-outs against having a cell phone. When I finally picked one up with my new job, however, I was hooked. Especially with all the soccer stuff going on, with Candy and I hardly ever being home, driving all over the place, and with me stepping up my business travel, the cell phone became, finally for me, the irreplaceable part of life that it is for everybody else.

Now, they have replaced my run-of-the-mill phone with a new service, one designed for corporate, industrial use. It’s a Nextel phone, with the two-way radio and, especially seductive, internet access. I had to attend a training class, read a big thick manual, and spend hours punching little buttons and fooling around on web sites to set up and learn all the features of the silly thing.

I always thought web access on a cell phone was sort of useless, but it does have its geeky charm. I especially like the movie service. I can code in a film, punch in a zip code, and it will tell me the closest theater and show times, along with directions to get there. It has an amazing word-completion algorithm for entering emails from the otherwise-almost-useless numberpad.

The only problem is that it does not play cool songs when it rings (I had my old phone set to play the theme song from the old puppet TV show – Thunderbirds are Go). When I complained about this to our phone rep she replied, “This phone is intended for the corporate market, we don’t go for the cute sing-song stuff.”

The really cool gadget they bought me, though, wasn’t the cell phone, but a Pocket PC – a Compaq IPAQ. Compaq is apparently discontinuing the black and white units, offering them for an insanely low price, plus a fifty-dollar rebate, so I ordered one.

I think I like this one better than a color unit anyway. The screen is readable enough and the batteries last forever.

A Pocket PC definitely falls into the category of one of those things that you can’t imagine using until you get one, then you can’t imagine living without it. Especially Syncing it up with my PC – downloading maps, Avant Go,… geez, the free ebooks. It isn’t much for writing fiction or journal entries (my Alphasmart is perfect for that, anyway) but it is fine for writing short poems. The slow process of handwriting recognition actually helps the poetry process.

It’s a digital voice recorder and an alarm clock. It’s a crude sketchpad and a file transfer utility.

Of course, like all things addictive, there are add-ons and additions I want. At the top of the list is a big flashcard memory or two. That would let me use it as a killer MP3 player, perfect portable music. Next, a Targus folding keyboard – then I could use it for significant text entry. Then, especially in conjunction with that flashcard, there’s software. I’d love a powerful dictionary and thesaurus program. There’s even something out there that will turn the IPAQ into a programmable multi-function remote control.

Now that’s a gadget addiction.

And a piece of flash fiction for today:

The Phone Call, by Janice Siderius

Short Story of the Day, Flash Fiction, 4 A.M. Burrito, by Avalon Dziak

Eating a burrito is like eating a living, breathing organism – you can feel the burrito’s ingredients sigh inside with each bite, each squeeze.”

― Gustavo Arellano

From my blog (I called it an “Online Journal” then), The Daily Epiphany, Sunday, August 31, 2001 – Exactly twenty years ago. As I look back 20 years ago… I’m coming up close to September 11, 2001.

Burrito

I’ve been trying,
lately,
to work hard in finding the hard truth
in everything.

But what,
possibly,
could be the hard truth
in a fast food burrito?

And a piece of flash fiction for today:

4 A.M. Burrito, by Avalon Dziak

From Flash Fiction Magazine

Short Story of the Day, Flash Fiction, Death in the Desert, by Connie Cockrell

“I have always loved the desert. One sits down on a desert sand dune, sees nothing, hears nothing. Yet through the silence something throbs, and gleams…”

― Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince

Cadillac Ranch, West of Amarillo, Texas

From my blog (I called it an “Online Journal” then), The Daily Epiphany, Sunday, August 12, 2001 – Exactly twenty years ago.

Saguaro

I had a leisurely day today – an actual quiet morning home with Lee while Candy took Nick to a soccer game. This was the last game of their Classic League Tournament – they won today, but still fell short of making it into the league, they were tied for 21st in the tourney with the top twenty teams going making the grade. I did some errands around the house and then packed, getting ready for a flight to Tucson, where I’ll be most of next week.

I decided to leave for the airport two hours before the flight (I hate having to rush for a plane, plus with the craziness that is DFW airport, you never know) but when I was almost there, Candy called me on the cellphone, she had locked her keys in the MiniVan at a birthday party with the kids. She borrowed a car and sped across the top of the city while I doubled back. We met at a restaurant where I pushed my Van key through the window and immediately headed back to the airport.

I still made it in plenty of time… and the flight was delayed too. The flight was packed, overbooked. It was a shame I had an important early meeting scheduled because they were offering three hundred fifty bucks to bump people, and I was sorely tempted. I’m a good corporate drone, though, so I boarded on time.

They had nice little headphones stuck into the magazine pockets on each seat. The armrests had the music, though the quality was bad. I remember when airline headphones were simply twin transparent plastic tubes that conveyed sound from tiny speakers concealed below holes in the armrests. Now, they looked like quality miniature headphones with a standard plug – inside the black plastic headband, though, was black writing.

Please do not remove from airplane. Will not work with home equipment.

I wonder why (or if) they won’t work with home equipment. The plug sure looks the same. There are left and right channels and a center ground, three connectors. I wonder if they manufacture these with the order of the connectors on the plug different than on home equipment. I considered getting my laptop out and trying the thing out, to see if the airline headphones really truly don’t work. I was too tired and this guy was crammed in to close next to me so I didn’t bother.

I’ve never been to Tucson before, never been to Arizona. Walking from the baggage carousel to the rental car I passed a big Saguaro and realized I’d never seen one of those in real life before, either. I’ve always had a soft spot for cactus and was unexpectedly impressed with the beauty of the giant spiny things, the symbols of the desert.

After the flight, I was groggy leaving the rental lot and missed the turn that curled back to the terminal and main airport entrance. Before I could think about it, I was out in the desert on roads that went who knows where. I would have liked to enjoy the scenery, but it was pitch black, desert night black. I made a couple turns on instinct alone and was very happy to see a stretch of lighted palm trees and then my hotel appear out of nowhere.

I checked in, and fell into the sleep of the dead.

And a piece of flash fiction for today:

Death in the Desert, by Connie Cockrell

Connie Cockrell Twitter

Connie Cockrell Random Thoughts

Short Story of the Day, Flash Fiction, Spring Fever Dreams, by Suzanne W. Vincent

“You can cut all the flowers but you cannot keep Spring from coming.”

― Pablo Neruda

Artwork, Dallas Area Rapid Transit Spring Valley Station, Richardson, Texas

From my blog (I called it an “Online Journal” then), The Daily Epiphany, Monday, August 6, 2001 – Almost Exactly twenty years ago.

Spring

A long time ago I noticed a sign along the Interstate Loop along my drive to work. The sign promised “Pure Texas Spring Water” and sure enough, by the sign, water ran out of the ground, bubbling up and then running down to stain the gutter of the highway and down to a street curb drain. I parked and walked to the spring, taking a picture of the sign and writing about it in my journal.

In the time since, almost a year, I have driven by that spot almost every day (though I’ve changed jobs, that part of my commute is the same). I allowed myself the fantasy of imagining that it really was a spring, an old relic of geology, a fold of shale, maybe an ancient beach, forcing a bit of water to the surface, surviving the excavation and grading of the giant loop road.

Now, the illusion has been shattered. There are four little tiny blue plastic flags mounted on short wires stuck in the ground – squaring off the spot where the water gurgles up.

Now I know that it is a leaky pipe and someone is getting ready to finally dig it up and fix the thing. I’m glad they will stop the waste but somehow, my morning commute will be even a bit more dreary.

Some humor concerning a water leak on the highway.

And a piece of flash fiction for today:

Spring Fever Dreams, by Suzanne W. Vincent

from Flash Fiction Online

Short Story of the Day, Flash Fiction, Everything They Are Running From And a Few Things They Are Running Towards, by Matt Kendrick

“Think of the fierce energy concentrated in an acorn! You bury it in the ground, and it explodes into an oak!”

― George Bernard Shaw

Running of the Bulls, New Orleans

From my blog (I called it an “Online Journal” then), The Daily Epiphany, Sunday July 27, 1997 – Exactly twenty four years ago.

Pissing in the Street

My house is a set of two rectangular blocks. One for the main residence and another, set at right angles, for the garage. Simple, cheap, boring. The only break in the monotony is one corner of the house is missing; a space carved away for the front door. This space also is a cube; a square negative room. We put a little bench there, I’m growing English Ivy up the brick wall side and around the edges on the ground. Crape Myrtles line the west side, bushes line the front. I have been letting the plants grow, trimming them when necessary but mostly letting them find their own way; painting in with green. The Crape Myrtles are now big enough to develop the smooth, curvy bark that is so attractive. I am trying to create a little restful garden spot here; a connection with the outside world.

Late Saturday night I sat out there on the bench to do some writing. I had put in an outlet for Christmas lights, it powered up my laptop so I didn’t have to worry about batteries. It was after midnight and surprisingly warm and muggy. I was sweating through my T-shirt but it was still nice to get out into some more or less fresh air. I expected some peace and quiet out there.

The entire neighborhood is a fractal expansion of my rectangular house. Rectangular lot; rectangular block; rectangular subdivision. It is set on a bias. Parallel to the closest Interstate. All laid out for the maximum profit for the long-bankrupt developer; subject to the sacred call of the auto. The suburb was literally thrown together, get ’em built, get out. Now it is a boring, sleepy village within a city. Full of families (who would live here if they didn’t have kids?). Lawns mowed, identically edged, trees, shrubs, cars, trucks, boats, RV’s.

I expected silence out there. The walls of the house are a powerful barrier; more mental than physical. Within the cocoon, the illusion of suburban life is complete; kitchen (fridge and microwave), couch, TV, (computer) the stops on the limited journey of an illusion of life. The background A/C hum supplies the white noise that destroys any vibrations leaking in from the real world. Simply walking through the door and sitting outside the walls is subversive, against the tenets of American Suburb Family Law.

I expected silence out there. There was a rumble in the distance. The isosceles triangle of Interstate Highways that mark out the area where we live provide a clamor of rubber on concrete, creaking steel, squealing tires, booming horns, the hiss of eighteen wheel compressed air leaving brake cylinders. The call of a race of steel giants racing along; my presence unknown and unimportant; life itself rushing along the asphalt, going to God knows where.

Against this rhythm in the distance the symphony of my neighborhood was completed by the melody and accompaniment of local sounds. Someone was having a hell of a fight. I couldn’t tell where it came from; it sounded like the house directly across, but that house was dark; sound does travel on a calm, warm night. The sounds of battle might be coming from a long way off. Male voices, female voices, maybe six or so in all. Screaming, cussing (I couldn’t pick out individual words, but somehow the shouted obscenities could be identified for what they were), the sound of tinkling glass. This went on for ten or fifteen minutes; then the sound of squealing tires and it ended.

I expected silence out there. A house across my street has some teenage daughters, there are always guys in cars hanging out there at night; like alley cats or dogs in heat. A pickup truck roared down the road and screeched to a halt in front of their house. As the truck rumbled the horn honked on and on. Then it sped off, returning in a couple minutes with another car. The honking resumed. I couldn’t see much, I was screened by the bushes, but I could tell by the sounds that a bunch of people were out milling around. Nobody paid any attention to me as I typed; I’m not sure if they saw me or not but I’m sure that if they looked I was visible, my face lit by the screen on the laptop.

I expected silence out there. I heard a noise, liquid, running. Someone was pissing in the street. It was a lot; I know that kind of a piss, beer piss. Looking out through the leaves all I could see was a bare stomach and chest; young, slim, bejeaned; illuminated bright red from the filtered brakelights of the still idling pickup. The cacophany didn’t lessen with the urinating. I couldn’t tell how many voices were mingled in a melange of obscenities, lies, boasts, teasings, the usual testosterone late night drunken summernight pickup revelry.

The little impromptu party continued. It sure didn’t sound like fun, or sexy, or youthful. It was almost tired, frustrated, even mean. There was some stupid shoving, the house door slammed twice, tinkling of broken glass on the sidewalk, and the vehicles roared away. They circled the block twice and were gone.

I finished my typing and found that Candy had woken up and discovered the front door unlocked. I rooted around in the ivy for a half hour until I found the hiding place for the extra key. I didn’t want to ring the bell, It would wake the kids and scare my wife.

Candy says that all kids hang out like those folks were, it’s harmless. She’s right, of course, twenty-odd years ago I spent more than one night hanging out near some cute-young-thing’s house, drinking beer and boasting. They must be out there a lot; it’s not unusual to find beer cans or brown broken glass in our yard, the Mazda has an extra dent where someone bounced a quart bottle off the hood, a couple times there’s been tire tracks in our yard.

Maybe I’m being an old fuddy-duddy but I’m not entirely at ease with those kids out there, only a few feet and some sheetrock and siding away from my sleeping sons. Or maybe I’m jealous, wishing my days of hanging out weren’t receding so far into the past, that my stomach doesn’t look like the one on the guy pissing in the street.

And a piece of flash fiction for today:

Everything They Are Running From And a Few Things They Are Running Towards, by Matt Kendrick

from Cheap Pop

Matt Kendrick Homepage

Matt Kendrick Twitter

Short Story of the Day, Flash Fiction, Wave Goodbye by Fanni Sütő

“The very instant I saw you, did
My heart fly to your service; there resides
To make me slave to it.


― William Shakespeare

Shakespeare Sculpture, Dallas Arboretum

From my old journal, The Daily Epiphany, Tuesday, July 17, 2001 (exactly twenty years ago):

Stuff dreams are made on

I had a long couple days at work so I thought I’d reward myself with an evening of free Shakespeare. Candy was able to make arrangements to help her get all the kids to all the places they needed to go. So I was free to take off.

I stopped by the grocery store and bought a salad from the salad bar (make it yourself, 2.99 a pound, little black plastic bowl with clear lid, plastic silverware that I slipped into my pocket instead of the bowl – to save weight) some yogurt, a Mistic Zotics (Mozambique Marula Fruit), and finally – a bottle of Sobe (pink Lizard Fuel – Strawberry and Banana).

The preplay festivities had the clown-players embarrassing as many folks in the crowd as possible. The high point was when three of them were juggling and a member of the audience walked up, pulled three hackysacks from his pockets and joined in.

Tonight is the Tempest and it starts in a half hour or so. I’m full of food and drowsy now so I think I’ll stretch out on my Barney Blanket and nod off for awhile.

The play begins.

This production has the most important features for a successful Tempest – nasty-lookin’ babes and skimpy outfits.

I like how they do the storm – the chorus whips a green parachute into violent waves while the actors stand up in holes through the fabric.

And today’s flash fiction:

Wave Goodbye by Fanni Sütő

from Selcouth Station

Fanni Sütő

Fanni Sütő homepage