Wednesday, November 24, 2010

BLACK FRIDAY BLUES: A FUZZY-WUZZY CLUB ADVENTURE!


By Thorsten Mungren

It was just before dawn on the day after Thanksgiving. Farthington Bear, Priscilla Piglet and the rest of the Fuzzy-Wuzzy Club were waiting outside Wal-Mart with hundreds of other excited shoppers.

"Oh boy oh boy!" exclaimed Farthington Bear, rubbing his tiny paws together to keep them warm. "I can't wait to get a big ol’ plasma television for our tree house. Then it will be the very best tree house in all of Rainbowville! All the other animals will want to be our friends! Hooray for Black Friday!"

"Thank goodness we made so much money at our bake sale!" added Priscilla Piglet. "My yummy hot chocolate and rhubarb tarts were the stars of the show!"

"I sure could use some of that hot c-c-chocolate right about now," sputtered Timmy Turtle. "M-m-my reptilian b-b-blood is feeling icy cold!"

Suddenly, the crowd erupted in cheers and squeals of delight as a blue-vested man unlocked the doors. "Yikes!" cried Timmy, who was kicked upside-down and sent skittering across the floor by innumerable pairs of stampeding feet.

"I'll see you in the electronics department!" he called out to his friends as he disappeared into the tumult.

The rest of the Fuzzy-Wuzzy Club waited politely until all the other frenzied shoppers had charged past them. Then they made their way to where the televisions were, careful to avoid several bloody brawls.

“When we have our television, I’m going to watch cartoons all day!” cried Oliver Otter, his black whiskers twitching in anticipation.

“And I will watch the Recipe Channel, so next year’s bake sale will be even better!” said Priscilla Piglet, her oinks barely audible above all the screaming and crying and sounds of shattering glass.

“Don’t worry,” said Farthington Bear, dodging a scrum of senior citizens battling over an exquisitely discounted blender. “We’ll have time to watch everything, especially all those documentaries about black bears! And brown bears, too!”

But when they arrived at the electronics department, they were sad to discover that all the televisions were gone!

“Oh fiddlesticks!” sobbed Farthington Bear. “Now we shall have nothing to do all winter!” Mr. Possum suggested that they spend the morning playing charades or drawing in their coloring books, but even he had to admit that watching television would have been much, much better.

As the dejected little animals began walking back to the entrance, they saw that aisle after aisle had been stripped bare. Shelves had been smashed to pieces; some were on fire. And all of the most popular toys were gone. All of the unpopular ones, too.


Soon they came across several women tugging ferociously at the store's very last Miley Cyrus animatronic unicorn. One of the women stopped and stared at Farthington Bear and his friends.

“Look,” she cried, pointing with a trembling finger, “more walkin’, talkin’ stuffed animals!”

And so the woman and her big horrible family and a mob of other empty-handed shoppers began chasing the members of the Fuzzy-Wuzzy Club around and around the store! Eventually, everyone managed to get away -- everyone, that is, but poor Farthington Bear, who was so very slow because he had eaten too much Thanksgiving dinner.

"Oh dear oh dear," said the little bear as he was snatched by the lapels of his handsome tartan vest and stuffed into a shopping bag. “I hope you at least have plenty of cake and ice cream at your house," he called out to his abductors. "And a nice big television!”

(This is the fourth installment in Thorsten Mungren's Fuzzy-Wuzzy Club Adventure Series for Young Readers. His last thrilling tale was The Pawshank Redemption.)

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

PIG-HEARTED WOMAN!

By Corliss Potsdam

Edna was a wild woman. A tornado of tight jeans and hot-magenta fingernails who could be found most any night aprowl the streets of downtown Barleyburg, huffing spray paint and guzzling bourbon like her intestines were on fire.

Then there was Orville, a humble pig farmer. He'd been sweet on Edna since elementary school, and though she would occasionally smile at him or compliment his choice of overalls, his deeper affections went tragically unrequited. As they loped into adolescence, Orville found solace in the 4-H Club, while restless Edna sought the companionship of truckers and wildcatters and too many itinerant rodeo clowns to count.

The years went by, and her lifestyle only grew zestier. Snuffling family-size cans of bug repellent and dancing until dawn became standard practice, as did public nudity and modest acts of arson and crop defilement. Meanwhile, Orville quietly excelled in the art of animal husbandry, and he came to be known as one of the most competent pig farmers in the county. But all the pig-farming accolades in the world couldn’t fill the emptiness in his soul every time Edna stumbled by with a clattering gunnysack of paint thinner slung over her shoulder.

It seemed inevitable that all the hard living would catch up with her. And indeed, Doctor Tibbets showed up on Orville's front porch early one morning with news that Edna's heart had finally exploded after brawling with several members of the Women's Auxiliary. Now the only way to save his beloved, said Tibbets, was with a new heart. A pig heart.

Well, the transplant was a roaring success, and when Edna woke the following day, she felt more alive than she had in years! And there was Orville the pig farmer at her bedside, his rough hands clasped gently around her own, explaining breathlessly how the heart from his very best sow had come to be inside her. For a moment, Edna was too overcome with emotion to speak. Then she pulled him closer, kissed him deeply, and whispered in his ear those few simple words he had longed to hear all his life.

Edna moved in with Orville that week. Her porcine heart was beating steady and strong, and their new life together was blissful, at first. But it wasn't long before Edna returned to her old ways. Empty liquor bottles and aerosol cans soon littered the farm. High school football players shuttled in and out of the guest bedroom with alarming regularity. Most distressing to Orville was the fact that his girlfriend no longer seemed willing to rise at dawn to slop the hogs.

Then there came a particularly frenzied Sunday afternoon of drinking and glue sniffing, which finally compelled Edna to break into the slaughterhouse and climb atop the de-snouting machine, where she began to dance her maladroit version of the Oklahoma Shimmy. Suddenly, the contraption rumbled to life, and as Edna slipped and tumbled into its furious maw, a whir of blades neatly severed both her feet.

The next day, Edna woke in the hospital for the second time in as many weeks, her faithful Orville again by her side. And there was another familiar sight: her bottle of hot-magenta fingernail polish, which Orville was using to delicately paint her fine new pair of hooves.

(Corliss Potsdam is a rising star in agrarian-romance literature. His last story was the heartbreaking From Russia With Love.)

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

THE LITTLE ENGINE THAT COULD

By Marc Noodly, PhD

There was once a jolly little steam engine. He worked very hard and was always eager to please, but he just wasn't strong enough to haul loads of zinc pellets or rubber gaskets or the other things that the bigger locomotives could haul.

Every morning, the little engine stood in the rail yard and watched his friends leave for the day with long lines of railroad cars rumbling behind them. And then the little fellow would fill his tiny boiler with coal and head into town, where he spent his days pulling a trolley full of screaming children around the petting zoo.

But all that changed one fateful winter day. The locomotives had been enjoying a leisurely breakfast when all of a sudden, the door to the yardmaster's office flew open.

"Listen up," the yardmaster barked, sweat dripping off his panic-stricken brow. "There's a terrible epidemic of hemorrhoids in Saskatchewan. I need one of you to haul an emergency shipment of ointment over the mountain, right now!"

The big locomotives looked at one another and shrugged their shoulders.

"I can't," said one of them, "because my wheels are being polished this afternoon."

"And I ran over a hobo yesterday," another grumbled, "so there's a lot of paperwork to fill out."

"We're all so very tired, and that mountain is so very tall," said a third locomotive, letting out a great yawn. "Don't they have ointment in Canada?"

Well, the yardmaster pounded his fist against the door and called the locomotives all sorts of names that made the little engine's ears turn bright red! Soon, the little fellow decided there was only one thing to do.

The big locomotives began to laugh and laugh. Why, the little engine had hitched himself to the tanker car full of hemorrhoid ointment, and he was trying to pull it all by himself! Even the yardmaster had to chuckle. But that didn't stop the little engine.

"I-think-I-can! I-think-I-can! I-think-I-can!" he said, his smokestack puffing furiously. And to everyone's surprise, he began to inch forward.

"I-think-I-can! I-think-I-can! I-think-I-can!" the little engine exclaimed as he rolled faster and faster down the tracks.

"I-think-I-can! I-think-I-can! I-think-I-can!" he gasped as he began to climb the mountain.

Hooray! cried all the other locomotives, realizing they had greatly underestimated the little engine. Hooray for our friend!

Soon the little engine reached the mountaintop! And then there was a terrific boom as his boiler exploded, and a great plume of wretched black smoke erupted into the sky. The other locomotives stopped cheering. The yardmaster shook his head sadly and walked back into his office. After gulping down a great big glass of whiskey, he called the Premier of Saskatchewan to deliver the bad news.

Up on the mountain, the little engine felt like he had the worst tummy ache in the world. And if that wasn't bad enough, it began to snow.

"Oh dear, oh dear," said the shivering little engine. "I'll never try to exceed my personal limitations again!"

(Renown child psychologist Marc Noodly is the author of more than 100 inspirational short stories for young people, including Donnie the Giant.)

Sunday, November 30, 2008

FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE

By Corliss Potsdam

Orville and Clem were eating breakfast when Old Man Hoskins and his comely female companion strolled into the diner.

Clem said to Orville, "You remember when it was Hoskins got himself that new lady friend?"

"I remember clear as day," Orville replied. "Mornin' after that Commie spaceship Spoot-nik burned up in the sky, here comes Hoskins waltzin' through town with this big shiny gal on his arm. Whew! What a looker!"

"How you suppose an ol' prune-faced alfalfa farmer the likes of Hoskins snares a dame like that?" Clem said, taking a sip of coffee. "Why, that girl's got two of the finest pairs of gams I ever laid eyes on!

"But she ain't exactly the friendly type," he murmured, rolling up his sleeve to reveal a bright red chemical burn.

"I know what you mean, friend," Orville said, pointing to the puncture wounds dotting his forehead. "Lady can't take a compliment to save her life."

"Sure is crazy 'bout Hoskins, though," Clem said, staring wistfully at the two lovers. "Just look at her ― beepin' all them sweet nuthins' in his ear!"

(Corliss Potsdam's other tales from the heartland include Paradigm Shift and the soul-stirring Livestock, No More.)

Thursday, November 20, 2008

THE UNICORN DOCTOR

By Tully Standish McBride

The double doors to the emergency room flew open, and there appeared a magnificent unicorn, a stethoscope bouncing against its snowy chest, its flowing mane glowing like silken alabaster in the burst of ethereal light accompanying its grand entrée.

The nurses stepped aside as the unicorn pranced to the operating table, where a young man lay clutching his bleeding and horribly misshapen head. The gorgeous creature gently nuzzled the patient’s cheek. Its warm equine breath smelled of sweet alfalfa and enchanted forests, and soon the man stopped moaning and writhing.

Then the unicorn plunged its mighty ivory horn deep into the man’s chest cavity, and when the creature raised its head, a throbbing pancreas was impaled on the tip of its gore-smeared shaft.

The nurses clapped and wiped tears from their eyes, and the unicorn whinnied and neighed and stamped its hooves excitedly. Then, after nibbling on a gift of carrots and sugar cubes, it galloped away beneath a sparkly rainbow, to a magical land where malpractice suits don't exist.

(Writer, composer and choreographer Tully Standish McBride's last story was The Widow Rassmussen Rides Again.)

Thursday, November 13, 2008

CALL OF THE WILD

By Pam Orlovsky

You are home alone, listless on your futon, watching a television program about celebrity appendectomies. Then, suddenly, you hear the call of the wild.

It is a like a primal echo from time immemorial, rousting you as if Mother Nature herself is shaking your soul awake. You forget about the triple-sausage pizza slowly rotating in the microwave. You fling open your front door and race into the night, heeding this mysterious, ineffable supplication.

You are led down the street, past shopping centers and chain restaurants and the rest of the backdrop to your workaday existence. Soon you are at the edge of town. The call of the wild grows deafening now as you approach a gas station near the highway. You walk to the back of the building and there, in the glow of the moon, you find a Yeti, a very soiled and odoriferous Yeti, slumped against a dumpster with an empty jug of mango schnapps clutched to his hirsute chest.

You recognize him as the same vomit-covered Yeti you saw stumbling around outside the plasma donation center last week. What's more, you realize the call of the wild you've been hearing has been the Yeti’s throaty plea for more liquor and fruit-flavored cigarillos, and also some smoked oysters.

You tell the Yeti you have no money. The howling stops abruptly, and the creature tries to rise from his nest of pine straw and hamburger wrappers so he can claw you to shreds and feast on your insides. But that quickly proves too difficult a task.

“Fuck it,” says the Yeti, and falls asleep instead. And you look at this slumbering, defeated beast and wonder if you are gazing into a mirror ― or if you are just looking at a very inebriated Yeti.

(This is cryptozoologist Pam Orlovsky's second work of fiction about Yetis.)

Friday, February 08, 2008

FLIGHT OF THE SNOWBIRD

By Hildegard McEwan

Autumn had arrived. The leaves on the trees were turning crimson and gold, and the skies had begun to fill with long, slender chevrons of Canada geese, honking and flapping their way south for the winter. It was also the time of year when the Engelbergers headed for warmer climes, bypassing the frigid Midwest winter in favor of Floridian sunshine and orange trees and reasonably priced seafood buffets.

Stanley was readying the Winnebago for the big trip when he saw his Gertrude promenading across the lawn, suitcase in hand. Oddly enough, she was wearing a leather helmet and aviator goggles, and Stanley was equally surprised to see a pair of enormous white wings affixed to her back. It was then he began to wonder if their travel plans might unfold differently this year.

Gertrude confirmed his suspicions, announcing that she would be wintering in Arizona with Albert Fleishman, the handsome widower podiatrist with whom she had apparently developed a deep and meaningful relationship following bunion surgery last spring. And they would be flying, she told Stanley, staring with no small amount of disdain at the gently rusting Engelberger motor home. The feathers of Gertrude's new appendages ruffled in the breeze as she scanned the skies for her paramour, and Stanley caught a minty whiff he recognized as his denture adhesive, which seemed to be what was holding the wings together.

"You're going to fly to Arizona with those flimsy things?" Stanley chuckled. "Good luck, Earhart!"

But no sooner had the words left his mouth when Fleishman swooped down, his own feathery wings flapping magnificently as he slowed to a hover above the Engelbergers. Gertrude offered him her hand, and the two laughing septuagenarians rose high into the air, pirouetting around each other with a grace that belied their years. Higher and higher they flew into the brilliant morning sky, riding the updrafts like a pair of mighty eagles, soaring above flocks of migrating birds and through contrails of passing airplanes until, finally, they were no more than two specks silhouetted against the sun.

Stanley lit a cigarette and watched them go, and then he shuffled back inside the Winnebago to finish polishing the dashboard. Soon he noticed droplets of melted denture adhesive pitter-pattering on the windshield, and a dull sadness filled the old man's heart. That is, until he turned on his windshield wipers and watched with growing satisfaction as the new triple-strength polymer blades swept the glass sparkly clean.

(Authoress Hildegard McEwan does not remember writing this story.)

Sunday, January 27, 2008

A YETI REMINISCES

By Thorsten Mungren

The large window by the cigarette machine afforded patrons of Rusty's Bar & Grill a commanding view of the snow-capped Rocky Mountains.

"You call those mountains?" the Yeti asked of no one in particular. "Those little pieces of shit?"

The Yeti had been drinking since late morning. He had started with bottles of Bud Light and various wine coolers, and by the afternoon had progressed to whiskey, Malibu and whatever else caught his momentary fancy. And now the Yeti was now thoroughly drunk. His fur, once white as Himalayan snow, was dusted with cigarette ash and tangled into dirty, crusted knots that stank of beer and onion rings.

"Where I'm from, we know what a mountain is," the Yeti muttered, motioning for another drink with his smelly, bandaged paw. "Ain't no real mountains here, that's for damn sure."

Everyone felt sad for the Yeti. He was so far from home. He had no friends, no job prospects, nothing to do at all but sit at the bar and daydream about the mountains of Nepal he so dearly loved.

The Yeti drained his glass of bourbon and stumbled toward the bathroom, pausing at the pool table to tear the head off an unsuspecting lumberjack. And after that, folks couldn't help but feel a little less sad for the Yeti.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

THE OLD MANIAC AND THE SEA

By Greg Grogan

Everyone in the village of San Rafael knew old Santino the fisherman. They knew that every morning just before dawn, Santino would gather his oars and fishing poles and walk down to the beach, where his little skiff sat in the sand. Though its blue paint was peeling and its gunwales were cracked and splintered, it was a good and sturdy craft. It had served Santino well for many years.

Santino was the son of a fisherman, and the grandson of a fisherman. He had fished these waters longer than anyone could remember. And he had always begun the day by drinking a quart of dishwashing liquid and making farting noises with his armpits. Then he would push his skiff into the water and row out toward the open ocean.

Santino's boat was always full when he returned at the end of the day – full of driftwood, plastic bottles and pieces of Styrofoam. Santino was fond of saying that he knew the ocean like an old friend, and that was why he was such a fine fisherman. The fact that he spent most of the day naked and smeared with his own dung also helped, he would say, but not as much as one might think.

When Santino unloaded his catch on the beach, he would take great care to arrange everything into a neat pile. Then he would scream obscenities at the pile, or try to light it on fire. When someone would wander over to see what Santino had caught, he would fall to the ground and beat his fists into the soft white sand, which was his way of saying hello. It was also, he would explain later, his way of punishing the sand crabs for gossiping about the length of his manhood.

One day at sea, Santino hooked a bicycle tire – the biggest, most beautiful tire he had ever seen. He fought with this tire for three days and three nights. And then a curious manatee slipped the tire off his hook and disappeared beneath the waves. Exhausted and heartbroken, Santino slowly rowed back to shore. That night, he sat alone in the cantina, staring into his drink.

El neumático,” he sighed, over and over. “Donde está el neumático?

“Look, there are tires everywhere on this island,” said Salvadore, the kindly bartender. “It is full of tires! Come, let us go out tomorrow and find the loveliest tire, just for you!”

Santino smiled and shook his head. “No,” he replied, “there is only one tire for me.” The sad old fisherman took out his flask and poured himself another tall glass of cat piss. Then, quietly, he urged Salvadore to tell him the best way to kill a manatee.

(This bittersweet tale was inspired by author Greg Grogan’s love of the ocean -- and old men. Grogan last graced these pages with his dazzling story, World’s Horniest Grandpa!)

Friday, January 25, 2008

HALL & OATES AT WORLD'S END

By Howie McLemore

John Oates sat warily on the hood of a wrecked taxicab. Gray ash swirled in the icy wind, powdering his moustache with acrid grit. All around him, a frozen sea of rusting automobiles.

Nearby buildings, those not completely collapsed, were broken into a spectral skyline of jagged spires that rose from heaps of crumbled concrete and slag. Along the scorched and buckled asphalt there lay a scattering of corpses, too charred and mutilated to contemplate eating.

With what was left of his greasy index finger, Oates coaxed the last morsels of corned-beef hash from an old, dented can he had shot a man for earlier that day. He was thinking about how it had been a good week, all things considered, when suddenly he saw something stirring in the rubble. Oates grabbed his crossbow. Then he smiled. It was Daryl Hall!

Hall staggered through the ash-covered detritus and collapsed beside Oates. He was wearing an adult diaper and a large, filthy pelt. One of his eyes was missing, and his left ear was blistered and oozing. But otherwise, Oates told him, he looked well. Oates reached into his tattered plastic bag and fished out a rotten sparrow carcass, which his old friend immediately snatched up and shoved into his mouth.

While Hall devoured his lunch, Oates began to hum a few notes from an old tune. Hall cocked his head and listened, his horribly abscessed foot instinctively tapping in time. When he had swallowed the last of the sparrow, he started humming, too. Neither man could remember the words to the song, but just hearing the familiar melody issuing forth from each other's cracked and peeling lips was enough. Any comfort, however small, was welcome in those dark times.

Before long, Oates bent over and vomited a thick, orange knot of hair and bile. And then Hall’s left ear fell off. The two men looked at each other for a moment, and then they burst out laughing, their raspy, blood-flecked cackles echoing off the ruins. Oates cleared his throat, and the song resumed.

They were two hopeless souls, adrift in a doomed world of post-apocalyptic misery. But they were together again, and that was all that mattered.

(Author Howie McLemore is fond of chives.)

Thursday, January 24, 2008

THE JOLLY RANCHER

By Billy Q. Pickett

Murphy and Smith were driving to the Cattle Expo when they saw Pete Johnson leaning against his fence. As the old pickup truck rumbled by, Johnson flashed them one of his famous smiles.

Murphy leaned out the window and spat a thick glob of tobacco juice into the wind.

"That sumbitch Johnson's a real jolly rancher," he said. "Why the hell's he always so dang jolly? Is it 'cause his fancy-pants uncle left him all that money from his fruit-flavored-candy business?"

"Could be," Smith said. "But I reckon it's the fact he's been porkin' your wife somethin' fierce."

The two men stared at the highway as it stretched out to the horizon. The Cattle Expo would not come soon enough.

(Billy Q. Pickett is known among cowboy literati for his terse but vivid depictions of hardscrabble life in the West.)

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

PAUL CHAD MASTERS: TIME-TRAVELING MOTIVATIONAL GURU

By Paul Chad Masters

The hatch of the time machine opened, and motivational guru Paul Chad Masters stepped out into the brilliant sunshine of ancient Egypt.

Nearby, thousands of laborers were building a pyramid. Masters noticed that one group wasn't working as quickly as the others, no matter how menacingly the foreman cracked his whip. The author of more than 40 self-help books strolled over and gently took the whip from the foreman’s hands. Then he switched on his universal translator.

"Before you try to build a pyramid," Masters said, "you have to build something far more important: your self-confidence!" Everyone dropped what they were doing and stared at him, mouths agape. How had this stranger unlocked the wisdom of the ancients? they wondered.

"You're building this pyramid for the pharaoh, am I right?" The laborers nodded. "Well, when it comes to building self-confidence, you have to be your own pharaoh! Write that down.

“Now let’s really get serious about drafting your own personal blueprints for life success!” Masters continued, pacing back and forth along the dusty ground. “You and your coworkers are out here every day moving these enormous blocks of granite, but you never seem to move them fast enough. Why is that?” The laborers shrugged and stared down at their leather tunics.

“Maybe,” Masters said, “you’re spending too much time thinking about how you can move these blocks, and not enough time thinking about how these blocks” ― he paused, and pointed to his heart ― “can move you."

"By the fists of Anubis, I never thought of it like that!" one laborer exclaimed.

"Take what you've learned today and get ready for some amazing results!" Masters said, waving goodbye to the cheering men and hopping into his time machine. As the hatch closed and the machine began spinning furiously, Masters settled into his shiatsu massage chair and prepared for his next speaking engagement. Three thousand years in the future, there was a listless group of Easter Islanders staring dejectedly at their half-finished stone megalith. "It's hopeless," they were saying. "We never seem to finish what we start!"

Very soon, Paul Chad Masters would have something to say about that.

(Paul Chad Masters is the author of more than 40 self-help books on a variety of topics. The following excerpt is from his latest bestseller, "Think Like a Pharaoh: Proven Strategies for Life Success!")

A HOBO LASER

By Dick Nelson

The International Festival of Science had drawn some of the world's most brilliant scientists and their new technological marvels. Hans Immerschlosser, for example, had designed a pocket-sized particle accelerator. A team from Korea was unveiling a car that ran on milk.

Then there were the hobos and their laser.

It was not immediately recognizable as a device that amplified light by a stimulated emission of radiation. It looked more like pieces of garbage that had been tied together with string and old electrical cords and then dumped into a shopping cart. The scientists, despite all their accumulated knowledge, could not figure out how this alleged laser was supposed to work.

Balls of aluminum foil, empty liquor bottles and several well-gnawed chicken drumsticks had been arranged inside an eviscerated television set, which was connected by several frayed wires to an old clock radio. Fluorescent light bulbs, a toilet plunger and several tattered volumes of Reader's Digest Condensed Books were among the other items that seemed to play a part.

Two members of the hobo design team, Pickles and Scabby Jones, announced that there would be a demonstration. The scientists gathered around as Pickles attached two wires to a badly corroded car battery. He turned a knob on the television and blew into a harmonica that had been mounted to the remnants of an oscillating fan. Nothing happened. The scientists chuckled and shook their heads. "Why don't you just sing us a song about freight trains," one of them shouted, "or maybe cook us a big pot of stew!"

The hobos had heard it all before. Ignoring the taunts, they unfolded their cardboard blueprints and got to work. Greasy Gus and Tin Can Willie came over to help, and soon they decided on a course of action. As the scientists looked on with obvious disdain, Pickles placed a dirty tube sock over one of the light bulbs and readjusted some of the television knobs. Then he turned to his audience and gave a thumbs-up before once again blowing a few notes on the harmonica. A burst of blinding white light erupted from the shopping cart, shooting across the convention hall and incinerating several dozen of the world's greatest minds.

"Success!" the hobos cried. Then Pickles and Tin Can started dancing the Tramp Two-Step, and Scabby Jones unscrewed the evening's first bottle of celebratory Thunderbird.

(Author Dick "Dirty Beard" Nelson himself rode the rails for many years until he was partially decapitated by a runaway boxcar. He now flops and writes near Cincinnati and still dreams of Big Rock Candy Mountain.)

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

OH, BUT FOR A KERNEL OF COURAGE!

By Tammy Salazar

On the final day of the Hazelville Grain Symposium, Tommy dazzled the Future Farmers of America with his keynote address on the unparalleled virtues of corn. He moved passionately and methodically from tortilla chips to whiskey to grits, and then on to the wonders of ethanol and corncob pipes, until even the most ardent wheat and barley supporters were on the verge of tears.

“There is nothing,” Tommy roared, pounding his fist on the dais, “nothing at all that corn cannot do!”

Scarcely had the words left his mouth when a band of crazed Norsemen rowed ashore and began pillaging the stores along Main Street. Then the robots arrived, and after they had slain the Norsemen with their pincers and whirling blades, they started vaporizing the townsfolk. Then a meteorite smashed into the Redenbacher Senior Center.

Yet those endless fields of Silver Queen sweet corn did nothing. Absolutely fucking nothing. Just stood there, green leaves fluttering impotently in the cool morning breeze.

(This is the final entry in Salazar's celebrated "Corn Trilogy," which includes the Indiana homemaker's other "a-maize-ing" tales: A Lesson at Breakfast and Tender is the Corn.)

DIRTY BONES

By Diego Steed

According to the official police report, the museum’s Hall of Human Ancestry had been vandalized during the night by an unknown number of intruders, most likely a group of inebriated teenagers or radical creationists. The curator, however, suspected that something far more sinister had taken place.

He ducked under the crime-scene tape and walked inside. Mounds of shattered Plexiglas crunched underfoot as he made his way through the detritus of wrecked exhibits. Soon he stumbled upon several partial Australopithecus skeletons that lay curiously entangled with one another on the floor. Nearby, a fully articulated Homo erectus had been positioned on all fours, with a Neanderthal skeleton crouching lustily behind it.

Whoever did this knew exactly what they were doing, the curator said to himself, noting the soft jazz still playing over the intercom. Then he glanced toward the staircase and saw the museum's prized Paranthropus robustus specimen handcuffed to the railing; the skull of a Homo habilis was nestled in its pelvic girdle, along with a can of whipped cream and a pair of thong panties.

Now it all made sense. The curator had heard stories about the dark and lurid side of paleontology from his European colleagues, but ― call him naive ― he never thought someone would dare film a skeleton porno in his museum.

(Author Diego Steed lives and works in Chatsworth, California.)

Monday, January 21, 2008

WAR IS HELL: ANOTHER ADVENTURE OF THE FUZZY-WUZZY CLUB

By Thorsten Mungren

As the battle raged into its second, blood-soaked day, Farthington Bear and the other members of the Fuzzy-Wuzzy Club sat around a small wooden table in the deserted command bunker, drinking tea and eating cookies.

"My, these are delicious!" said Farthington's friend, Mr. Possum, helping himself to a pawful of macaroons.

"They sure are!" Farthington replied, steadying the tray as another mortar round exploded nearby. "I baked them myself ― with a little help from Priscilla Piglet, of course!" Priscilla giggled merrily, but she could barely be heard above the thunderous discharge of a Browning .50 caliber machine gun.

"You know," said Farthington, "we baked so many cookies. What a shame it will be if no one else joins our party!"

Suddenly, a soldier burst through the door. His fatigues were dusty and torn, his face caked with blood.

"Who's in charge?" the soldier screamed. "We need to call in air strikes now!" It was then he noticed that the radio was inoperable, for someone had spilled strawberry jam all over the controls.

"Hooray!" cried Kitty Cat. "Now we have a new friend to have fun with!"

"Have some cookies," said Mr. Possum, offering the wild-eyed soldier one of his macaroons.

"And some mulberry tea," said Priscilla, hurrying over with a steaming pot.

"I don't want any fucking tea and cookies!" the soldier growled. He grabbed Farthington Bear by his little tartan vest and shook him back and forth.

"Where is General Stinson?" he yelled. "Where the hell is General Stinson?"

"Gosh, I d-d-don't know," the dizzy bear sputtered. "Maybe he's t-t-taking a nap."

"After all these cookies, I could also use a nap," said Kitty Cat, patting her stomach.

"Me too!" squeaked Milly Mouse, curling up in an empty ammunition box.

Exasperated, the soldier let go of Farthington Bear and slumped to the floor. So this is how it ends, he thought. Now the walls started to shake as enemy tanks rumbled toward the bunker. In the distance, he could hear scattered gunfire and cries of agony. As the animals continued to chat merrily with one another, the soldier grimly contemplated his pistol and its single remaining bullet.

Then he felt something tickling his ear. He turned and saw it was none other than Oliver Otter and his faceful of bushy whiskers. The otter looked terribly worried.

"You know," said Oliver, placing his paw on the soldier's knee, "if you don't like cookies, we have some yummy cake as well!"

(Author Thorsten Mungren's masterful "A Yeti Reminisces" was most recently translated into Klingon.)

Sunday, January 20, 2008

BALLAD OF THE REGURGITATING TROUBADOUR

By Greg Grogan

Esmeralda was at home knitting a fish blanket when the front door flew open, practically off its hinges, and in rushed her best friend, Maria.

"Come quickly!" Maria cried breathlessly, her green eyes wide and wild. "The Regurgitating Troubadour of San Lorenz is in the village square at this very moment! Let us hurry!"

Esmeralda's heart began to race. She leapt to her feet, and the two young women raced out the door. It was not long before they heard the enchanting notes of the troubadour's lute echoing softly through the narrow village streets. And then they heard coughing and vomiting, and their pace quickened.

But hope soon gave way to sadness, for when Maria and Esmeralda finally arrived in the square, the Regurgitating Troubadour was gone. Left in his wake was a clutch of fair village maidens, all dreamy smiles and tear-streaked cheeks. As Maria and Esmeralda looked on, one of the women wrapped her arms around her chest and sighed. "So sweetly does he throw up," she cooed, her hair still dripping, "like the most heavenly of songbirds!"

Shielding their eyes against the setting sun, Maria and Esmeralda spied the troubadour in the distance, astride his trusty steed. Alas, he was now no more than a dark and handsome speck, trotting into the dusty hills that rose beyond the river and the fig orchards. His performance had been as brief as it was magnificent, and he would not return to the village for a very long time.

The two disconsolate women sat down on the edge of a stone fountain in the middle of the square ― near Alfonso the village drunk, who abruptly vomited all over himself. Esmeralda wiped away a tear as she embraced the soiled old man. "Thank you," she told him, "But somehow, it just isn't the same."

(Author Greg Grogan's other exciting stories include
The Old Maniac and the Sea.)

TASTY DISH

By Bonnie Stansfield

Whether served in a thick black tarp or wrapped up in garbage bags, dinner was always something special at the Dunsler household. Mother and chef extraordinaire Janet Dunsler made sure of that!

But husband Rich didn’t know quite what to make of her latest creation. At first glance it appeared to be a slain prostitute – nothing terribly outlandish about that – but when he poked his fork at the milky white flesh, a look of confusion crossed his face.

“What is this?” he asked. Janet and daughter Karen exchanged nervous glances.

“It’s tofu, mostly” Janet said. “Karen’s decided to become a vegetarian, and I thought this would be a great way for us to show our support.”

Rich grimaced. He was a meat-and-potatoes-hold-the-potatoes guy if there ever was one, but he had to give his wife credit: It certainly looked like the real thing. The ersatz corpse was dressed in a miniskirt and torn, sequined halter top. It had a coiffure of angel-hair pasta and long, curved fingernails made from thin slices of red bell pepper. A convincing slash of tomato gravy ran across its throat.

“These ears,” he said, tearing off a lobe and running his fingers over its cartilage-like texture, “how did you–"

“Braised tempeh,” Janet said proudly. “And check out the eyes: They’re radish rosettes!”

“They look a little bloodshot,” Rich deadpanned, stabbing them vigorously with the carving knife. “She must have had a very long and terrifying night!”

The Dunslers all had a good laugh, and then Rich set about slicing up the tofu whore – just like it was the real thing.

(Many years ago, on the advice of a local psychopath, Bonnie Stansfield killed and devoured her social studies teacher in order to acquire the woman's life force. Little did she know that the seemingly innocuous event would come to inform her long and illustrious writing career.)

TAKE YER DUMP, JOHNNY REB!

By Richard Fescue

It was a warm spring morning in the gently rolling hills of central Tennessee, and a large crowd had gathered to watch the annual reenactment of the Battle of Blood Mountain, one of the most horrific conflicts of the Civil War.

At precisely nine o'clock, the Union reenactors proudly hoisted aloft the Stars and Stripes and charged down a grassy bluff toward the Confederate line with cries of Huzzah! and Remember Ol' Mildew! In the wink of an eye, the battlefield roared to life with cannonade and withering musket fire, tooting bugles and impassioned Rebel Yells.

Soon the famed Confederate reenactor Rutherford Pickling, a private in the 134th Alabama Volunteer Infantry, lay down his musket and clutched at his stomach with Shakespearean intensity. The crowd watched with growing anticipation as Pickling emerged from behind his earthen fortification and staggered toward a small copse of magnolias a short distance away. This was what everyone had been waiting for ― the performance that had become the pièce de résistance of the reenactment.

“There he goes,” a father told his son excitedly. "Now you're about to see history come alive!"

Imaginary projectiles whizzed through the air, shredding flesh and pulverizing bone. Cries of anguish from Yankee and Rebel alike mingled with the multitudinous explosions. But Pickling, now practically doubled over and groaning as if mortally wounded, seemed oblivious. He dropped his canteen and threw off his burlap jacket. Then he yanked down his woolen trousers and squatted beside an old, stout tree. There was a rubber bladder surreptitiously taped to his thigh, and Pickling uncorked it with a flick of his thumb, releasing a homebrew of dark, fetid sludge that splattered on the ground beneath him. And thus commenced Pickling's reenactment of horrific Civil War diarrhea.

The crowd fell silent. In his sweat-drenched face, twisted in gastrointestinal agony, the crowd saw ― no, they could almost feel ― how a diet of hardtack, rancid salt pork and pond water could lay low even the proudest fighting man. Pickling crouched beneath the tree for only a minute, but in the heat of reenacted battle, it seemed like hours. And when he could befoul the soil no more, he wiped himself with a shiny magnolia leaf and pulled up his musty grey trousers. Now the crowd erupted with wild applause and cheers of Attaboy, Johnny Reb!

Pickling doffed his cap in gratitude. Then he buckled his belt, took a deep breath and headed back toward the swirling smoke, the thundering salvos, the carnage.

(Author Richard “Ricky” Fescue, distinguished professor of southern literature at Cyprus City Community College, last thrilled readers with
Bunky Takes Flight, his dark epic of spiritual rebirth and all-terrain vehicles.)

Saturday, January 19, 2008

FOR WHOM THE DUCK QUACKS

By Maurice Updike

“You know what?” Jim Fletcher said. “I ain’t never heard your duck quack. Why is that so?”

Billy Troutman stared at Fletcher like he’d asked why more people don’t drink motor oil. “Just never you mind why that duck hasn’t quacked,” he said. “But I tell you what, if you ever do hear that duck quack – and I’m not saying the duck will ever quack, but it most certainly could – then you best run.”

“And why would I run?” Fletcher said. “It’s just a damn duck. A defective, no-quackin' duck.”

“Oh, that duck can quack,” Troutman said, “It can quack like you wouldn’t believe a duck could quack. I just pray that it don’t care to anytime soon, 'less you want to trade in them work boots for a pair a runnin' shoes and a cast-iron overcoat.”

Fletcher laughed and lit a cigarette. “Look here, friend," he said, "if that duck quacks, I ain’t goin' nowhere, and that’s a fact."

“Well,” Troutman replied, “I expect the duck'll have a thing or two to say about that.”

It wasn't long before the two men saw the duck in question waddling up from the pond. Troutman immediately dropped his cup of coffee and began backing up toward the house. The duck looked at Fletcher and then at Troutman, and then it fixed its gaze firmly back on Fletcher.

And then the duck began to quack.

The cows in a nearby pasture began stampeding. Troutman’s hogs tried to bury themselves in the mud. Troutman himself hurled open the cellar door, grabbed his screaming family and leapt inside. But Fletcher, true to his word, did not move – could not move, as if hypnotized by the duck's piercing brown eyes and glossy green head feathers and, above all, its rhythmic, scalp-tingling quacks.

The air grew deliriously hot, and the world seemed bathed in fiery orange light. And as the quacking reached its terrifying crescendo, it occurred to Fletcher that perhaps his curiosity had finally gotten the better of him.

And then his face melted off.

(Author Maurice Updike has twice won the Raymond Carver Prize in its lesser-known Aquatic Fowl category.)

THE WIDOW RASMUSSEN RIDES AGAIN

By Tully Standish McBride

No one had really wanted to kick Evelyn Rasmussen out of the building. She was a kind old woman who enjoyed baking pies and knitting scarves; she was no troublemaker. But the terms of her lease were quite clear: no whales.

Evelyn had described her recent vacation on the coast as little more than "looking high and low for that perfect bowl of clam chowder." Someone might have thought to ask why she had brought along a copy of Peabody's Guide to Capturing and Transporting North Atlantic Cetaceans, but that seemed trivial at the time.

Soon after she returned home, though, it became increasingly apparent that she had brought some whales with her. They could be heard clicking and grunting late into the night, along with the drone of Evelyn’s accordion. When they were hungry or excited, which seemed to be all the time, they slapped their flukes and flippers against the floor like giant, petulant children. Truckloads of plankton and krill began arriving several times a day.

Evelyn would never fess up completely. "Oh, there's a porpoise who drops by once in a while," she would say with a twinkle in her eye. "But that's about it." Judging by the fantastic amount of excrement that quickly clogged the garbage chute, however, it was more likely that Evelyn was cohabitating with several full-grown minke whales, though no one could say for sure; the mass of dark, shiny flesh visible through her living room window indicated only that several very large marine mammals of an indeterminate species were spending their days lazing on her sectional sofa.

One day, Evelyn was finally called before the tenants association and presented with the overwhelming circumstantial evidence. "Fine," she snarled, "I'll get rid of them all right." And then she marched out of the meeting room, leaving it suffused in a heavy odor of brine.

The next morning, the building's residents awoke to a strange silence. The door to Evelyn’s apartment had been flung open, nearly off its hinges, and the doorjamb was cracked and splintered, like something huge and unwieldy had been hurriedly crammed through it. There was no sign of Evelyn or her charges, just a hallway of sopping wet carpet.

At that moment, several miles away, a tugboat captain nearly swallowed his corncob pipe in disbelief. He had seen a pod of whales before, but never this far up the river, and never in the company of a wild-eyed senior citizen.

But there was Evelyn Rasmussen astride the largest of the whales, dressed only in a shower cap and her threadbare, floral-print nightgown. One hand was gripped tightly around the edge of the whale’s blowhole, and the other held aloft a freshly polished silver trident that gleamed in the early morning sun.

"Onward!" cried the fiesty senior, looking like the daughter of Neptune herself. The whales lingered for a moment, as if to give Evelyn one last chance to bid farewell. Then they turned and swam for the open ocean, their skin gleaming in the early morning sun.

(Writer, composer and choreographer Tully Standish McBride has long been a fan of nautical themes. The following story was written during the production of “Pole Position!” – his ice-skating extravaganza based on Robert Falcon Scott’s doomed Antarctic expedition.)

CODY AND LINDSEY: WORLD’S WORST TEEN MYSTERY-SOLVING DUO

By Carla Cuthbert

It was near the end of class when algebra teacher Daniel Huff’s stomach began to churn. Funny, he thought, he hadn’t eaten anything out of the ordinary. But as he gulped down the last of his coffee, he noticed an unusual taste. Then he spied his bottle of liver medication in the trash can. Huff picked it up and gave it a shake.

The bottle was empty.

“Who's been messing with my medicine?” Huff asked the class. He saw that the Patterson twins, Cody and Lindsey, were snickering.

“Oh, we wouldn’t know anything about that,” Cody said.

“I’m sure you wouldn’t,” Huff shot back, wiping the sweat from his forehead. “For a pair of mystery-solving teens, you and your sister never seem to know much of anything.” Suddenly, a massive cramp seized his bowels, and the two-time teacher of the month fell back into his chair, understanding now that he had been the victim of a malicious prank.

“Good Lord,” Huff croaked, reading the label on the bottle. “Ingesting too many of these pills causes searing, explosive diarrhea!”

“Yes, our investigation did reveal that much,” Lindsey said, biting her lip. “But we simply can’t figure out why someone would crush all those pills into a fine powder and pour it into your coffee while you were talking to the principal. The clues just don’t add up.”

“That’s right,” Cody chimed in, “they don’t add up. Of course, seeing as you gave us failing grades on our last exam, it’s obvious that we can’t add up the clues, even if we wanted to.”

“We’re terrible with mysteries that involve math or pills,” Lindsey said.

Huff informed his students that class would be ending early that day. Then he leapt from his chair and disappeared down the hall. And it wasn't long before Cody and Lindsey were working fruitlessly to solve the next big mystery at Fairview High School: Who took photos of Daniel Huff racing to his car in a pair of freshly soiled trousers?

(Author Carla Cuthbert produced a staggering number of coming-of-age books for young women under the pen name, Sissy Saskatchewan. This is her first mystery, and the first story in which she fails to use the phrases "totally awesome" and "nuclear nightmare.")

Friday, January 18, 2008

LOVE IS NEVER A GAMBLE

By Anonymous

Ed Johnson was as happy as any man who had just enjoyed a steak dinner for only four dollars and 99 cents, plus tax. Patting his swollen stomach, he paid the bill and shuffled down to the gaming floor, where his wife Helen was busy working the slots.

It seemed like only yesterday they had first vacationed at Chief Big Wampum's Casino and Resort. Ed fondly remembered piling Helen and the kids into the old Buick station wagon for the long drive from the city. Every summer, they would rent the same little cabin on Lake Teepee and play miniature golf until the moon rose high over the shimmering water. He sighed. The kids were grown up, and the Buick died years ago. But Helen was still with him, beautiful as ever.

Ed found her straddling a stool between two machines, where, for the last 12 hours, she had been plunking in nickels and pushing buttons, pausing only to reload every few minutes with a fresh Virginia Slims. When one of the machines began spewing coins, Ed sidled up to her.

"My gal's got the golden touch tonight," he said, gently squeezing her shoulder. Helen felt his rough, familiar hands and looked up, smiling. "Eddie," she said, "my legs are asleep and I gotta take a dump. Wanna help me up?"

"Of course, my sweetheart," Ed replied lovingly. "Of course."

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

SNUGGLIN' WITH THE DEVIL

By Anonymous


Late one moonless night, Bob Johnson went down to the crossroads to sell his soul to the Devil. "Show yo'self now, Devil," he did holler into the darkness. "I aim to sell you my everlastin' soul!"

The Devil soon appeared out of the gloom. "And what, pray tell, do you want for your soul, Johnson?" he whispered, rubbing his red, scaly hands in glee.

“I aim to be the best real-estate agent in all a Mississippi!" Johnson replied. Well, the Devil he didn't say a word for some time. But by and by, his tail began a twitchin'. He looked Johnson up and down. "You serious?" the Devil finally growled. And Johnson told the Devil that he was.

The Devil said an everlastin' soul was a mighty high price to pay to be the best real-estate agent in all a Mississippi. And then he said, "Look here, Johnson, I got plenty a souls down in Hades. What I ain't got is companionship. Real companionship. An that makes me plenty sad.

"So I got me an idea," the Devil continued. "I'll make you the best real-estate agent around if you and me" ― and now the Devil he was a lookin' down at the ground bashful-like, scratchin' at the dirt with one a his cloven hooves ― "if you and me can snuggle for a little while. Jest 'til I sweep these 'ol blues away."

Johnson said that would be fine, and so him and that rascally Devil walked across the frontage road to the Comfort Inn, and the Devil got them a nice room with a king-size bed, and he did send Johnson out to the vendin' machines for a few Coca-Colas and a bag a tater chips. And then those two lay down together in that king-size bed and watched them some television. And by and by, the Devil did put his arm over Johnson's chest and squeeze that real-estate agent good and tight ― yet with remarkable tenderness.

Well, Johnson's nose filled with the terrible smell a brimstone and the stink a rotten Devil breath as he snuggled there with ol' Lucifer, snuggled with him 'til the cocks began a crowin'. But Johnson he was smilin' the whole time, 'cause oh my, did he have himself a big 'ol surprise in store for all them uppity assholes down at the RE/MAX office!

(This story first appeared in "The Deviled Egg Made Me Do It," an anthology of Southern folklore compiled by the late Dr. Louis Lamar Hodge.)

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

HERE COME THE CLAMS

By Meredith Fitzsimmons

The wedding had been picture-perfect. That is, until the clams showed up.

Todd and Kristi held hands beneath an arbor interwoven with pink roses. Around them sat a small group of friends and family, their bare feet resting in the cool, powder-white sand. Getting married on the beach had been Kristi’s idea, and everyone agreed it was a wonderful place for the active, fun-loving couple to join each other in matrimony.

The sun shone brightly in the clear blue sky, and waves broke gently along the shore. Nearby, smiling islanders in pastel tuxedos prepared for the reception by pouring fruity drinks into coconut shells and setting fire to a pig. Todd’s mother reached for a Kleenex — she couldn’t believe her little boy was finally getting married! — and that’s when she saw the clams.

There were several dozen of them at the water’s edge. These clams were unusually large and seemed to project a vague sense of menace, which was unusual for Caribbean clams. Todd’s mother quietly nudged her husband and nodded toward the ocean, but he wasn’t impressed.

Clams,” he whispered. “Just a bunch of stupid, friggin' clams.” And then they turned their backs to the shore, unaware that the clams were now moving out of the surf and up onto the beach in a pair of single-file columns.

It was when Kristi began to recite her vows that she saw the advancing party of mollusks. They were moving much faster than she thought clams could move, swinging themselves from side to side with a malevolent swagger that put the bride ill at ease. The minister was worried, too. He picked up a Bible and clutched it tightly to his chest.

The clams took the string quartet by surprise. The musicians scattered, and there was a cacophony of screeching strings and splintering wood as the clams demolished a cello and two violins. Now the guests began fidgeting in their seats. Some of the approaching clams began opening and closing their shells, making a sound not unlike Canada geese being strangled. Over the din, Todd urged the minister to continue with the ceremony, but he chose instead to cower behind a nearby sand dune.

The clams cleared a path through the startled guests, rousting them with their horrible squawking and implied threats of violence. Kristi began to sob, but this didn't seem to matter to the clams, who bullied their way right up to where the bride and groom stood. Then the largest of the clams slowly opened its shell. On top of its soft, glistening body there was a set of four Crate & Barrel pewter coasters.

“For you,” the bivalve said in its thick, wet voice. “On this very special day.” Kristi was stunned by the unexpectedly kind gesture. “Why thank you!” she said, bending down to softly stroke the clam's shell.

And then she reached for the coasters, and the clam shell snapped shut, severing Kristi’s hand at the wrist. She shrieked and flailed her bloody, handless arm in the air, splattering her would-be-husband as well as her resplendent Julianne Tiswick gown. Screams of horror erupted from the guests. Todd grew woozy and crumpled to the ground.

Amid the chaos, the clams opened and closed their shells, over and over, their terrible honks filling the air. And as Todd faded into unconsciousness, he remembered that he had heard this sound before, during a film in his freshman marine biology class. Yes, it was unmistakable: the cruel laughter of heartless shellfish.

(Author Meredith Fitzsimmons continues to challenge readers to explore the timeless themes of matrimony and shellfish.)

Monday, January 14, 2008

THE CRABS SHE GAVE HIM

By Renaldo Tartaré

After a night of roaring passion he had slept late into the morning, and when he finally awoke, he discovered she had already gone down to the docks. But she had left him something.

Crabs. She had given him crabs.

What a lovely gift he thought as he peered into his kitchen sink, filled to the brim with fat dungeness crabs that she no doubt had caught herself only the day before.

He would cook these crustaceans, he said to himself, and when her trawler returned to port that evening, they would enjoy a sumptuous and romantic feast together.

But then he heard on the radio that it was all-you-can-eat crab leg night at Red Lobster, and he slumped in his chair, a shattered man.

"The strumpet!" he cried, brokenhearted. "The wretched, seafaring slut!"

(Author Renaldo Tartaré is a third-generation turd sculptor.)

Friday, January 11, 2008

SPYCRAFT!

By Hildegard McEwan

Chrissy opens her eyes groggily to find herself in a dank, windowless room, its cinder-block walls illuminated by a dusty lightbulb that hangs from the ceiling by a withered cord. Her head is throbbing, and there is a strange, bitter taste in her mouth.

The last thing she remembers is pouring herself a glass of iced tea after stocking the shelves of Chrissy's Country Craft Emporium with a new shipment of wooden angel door-knockers. And now, inexplicably, here she is: sitting on an icy metal chair, staring at at an old table replete with deep gashes and scorch marks. She tries to get up, and realizes she has been bound to the chair by a length of thick rope.

She is not alone. A severe-looking man emerges from the shadows and sits down across the table from her. His silver hair is shorn into a tight and glistening crew-cut; formidable muscles bulge beneath rolled-up sleeves. He lights a cigarette and leans back in his chair. Several minutes pass in silence. He takes a last drag and flicks the butt into a dark corner of the room, and then he asks her to confess.

“Confess to what?” Chrissy murmurs.

The man smiles, but it is not a kind smile. “Are you comfortable, Chrissy?” he asks her. “I hope so. I really do. Because you're going to be here a very, very long time, unless you tell us exactly what we want to know.”

The man slings a leather attaché onto the table and withdraws a thick stack of photographs, which he fans out like a deck of playing cards. “Look familiar?” her interrogator sneers.

She peers at the pictures, and her pulse quickens: Christmas-tree ornaments made out of pine cones, rainbow wind chimes, rag dolls dressed in tiny pairs of overalls. They do look familiar. Terribly familiar.

“How much do you really know about your new boyfriend, Kevin?” the man asks her. "Ever wonder why Kevin began visiting your store? Ever find it strange that a grown man would be so interested in candle holders shaped like ducklings?

"What does Kevin have to do with this?" she says.

"His real name," the man replies, "is Sergei Demitrovich. And he's not a chiropractor from Knoxville. He works for the government of Balonkistan. He's a spy, Chrissy. A spy."

"A spy?" she gasps.

"Yes, a spy," the man replies. "Sent to America to infiltrate our crafting community. And now, our reconnaissance satellites have confirmed that Balonkistan’s clandestine arts-and-crafts program is light-years ahead of where we thought it was. Thanks to you.”

Chrissy's lower lip begins to tremble. Tears slide down her cheeks. She feels the cold, macramé needle of betrayal stabbing at the strawberry-shaped pincushion that is her heart.

"We started talking about scrapbooking," she sniffles, "and, well, things just took off from there."

The man puts his hand on Chrissy's shoulder. “Listen to me,” he says, his voice much softer now. "There may still be time. Your country needs your help, Chrissy. You need to tell me everything you told Sergei. Everything."

"But what good will it do now?" she cries.

The man takes a deep breath. "There is an underground bunker, deep in the mountains of Balonkistan," he explains. "Inside that bunker, our sources tell us, a team of Balonkistani scientists are making a pillow ― a great, big needlepoint pillow. We have reason to believe that on this pillow there are several adorable little bears, each clutching brightly colored balloons.

"And do you know what the bears are saying?" he whispers. "They're saying, 'Have a beary nice day.'"

"Oh my," Chrissy can't help but squeal. "That sounds so cute!"

"Cuter than we ever thought possible," the man says. "That's why we need to stop the Balonkistanis before it's too late. I don’t need to tell you, Chrissy, what it means for America if those bears and their balloons ever see the light of day!"

(Authoress Hildegard McEwan is a proud member of the Daughters of the Spanish American War.)

Friday, December 21, 2007

NATIVITY NIGHTMARE: A CODY AND LINDSEY CHRISTMAS MYSTERY!

By Carla Cuthbert

Cody and Lindsey, the world's worst teen mystery-solving duo, were shopping for Christmas presents one afternoon when they got an urgent call from Reverend Sneed.

"Meet me at the church as fast as you can," the Reverend implored. "We've got a real mystery on our hands!"

"You bet!" cried Cody and Lindsey, dropping their bags of gifts as they raced for the mall exit.

Minutes later, the pair arrived at the church, where they were warmly embraced by the Reverend.

"Cody and Lindsey," he said at last, "someone has destroyed our nativity scene!"

Lindsey took out her detective notebook and began to survey the scene, while Cody dusted for fingerprints.

"Well, Reverend Sneed," Lindsey said with a frown, "I'm not sure what the problem is here. Headless Joseph and one-armed Mary seem to be fine."

"Fine?" The Reverend gasped. "They're not supposed to look like that!"

"And the Wise Man who's been scorched to a crisp," Lindsey continued. "He's still here."

The Reverend looked at her incredulously. "There were three Wise Men," he said. "And none of them were supposed to be burned."

"Maybe he got too close to the Burning Bush," Cody suggested. "Then his friends abandoned him, because he was horribly disfigured, and he stunk. That would have been the wise thing to do, if you ask me."

"And speaking of things that stink," Lindsey added, "where are the donkeys and sheep? All I see are some rotting squirrel carcasses someone has apparently scooped off the highway and left in your manger."

"Reverend Sneed, can't the church afford a few nice wooden sheep?" she asked. "Has someone been embezzling money from the Christmas fund so he can have some good times at the dog track?"

"Heavens no!" the Reverend exclaimed. "Cody and Lindsey, I don't know where you come up with these wild ideas. Maybe the Sheriff was right. Maybe you two aren't such a good mystery-solving duo after all!"

"Well then," Cody said, "how did we just figure out that Baby Jesus is sitting in the top of that big old elm tree beside City Hall?

"In the elm tree?" the Reverend cried.

"Yes, the Baby Jesus has risen, just like the Bible says," Lindsey told him. "Don't you know your Scripture?"

"No, no," you've got it all wrong," said the thoroughly exasperated Reverend, but Cody and Lindsey weren't listening.

"Now we're off to spread the good news!" they exclaimed. Cody took Lindsey by the arm, and the two teens went skipping merrily down the sidewalk.

"Baby Jesus has risen!" they shouted. "Baby Jesus has risen! The End Times are nigh!"

(Be sure to read Cemetery Plot, another exciting adventure starring the World's Worst Teen Mystery-Solving Duo!)

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

THE PREENACTORS

By Richard Fescue

When the Civil War reenactors arrived shortly after dawn, they were surprised to find the park's grassy meadow already occupied by other costumed individuals.

The strangers wore shimmering metallic unitards and bulbous helmets the color of candy apples, each crowned by a pair of quivering antennae. They were congregated around several picnic tables, drinking coffee and talking excitedly with one another, and only gradually did they become aware of the two dozen Union and Confederate soldiers staring at them from across the gravel parking lot. There was some whispering and a few worried glances, and then one of the strangers cautiously approached the reenactors and introduced himself.

“My name," he announced in a high-pitched whine, "is sub-commander Meklon. I and my fellow Xylenoids have traveled many light years from our home planet to participate in the preenactment of the Battle of Sector Zeta, which will take place at these precise coordinates in the year 2750, according to your Earth calendar.”

From a distance, the other Xylenoids nodded their heads ― heads painted purple and festooned with gold glitter.

"But today is the anniversary of the Battle of Possum Ridge," replied a man in a handsome blue Union frock coat. "And by God, we're here to reenact it."

Meklon frowned and readjusted his glasses, his antennae now bobbing with nervous energy. "Our most sincere apologies, noble humanoid,” he chirped. “Our orders from the Supreme Galactic Council are quite clear! You must find another location for your theatrical production."

This did not sit well at all with the reenactors, who began to curse Meklon and make light of his costume. Someone grabbed a beer bottle from a nearby trash can and threw it at the other Xylenoids, who began contemplating a strategic withdrawal. And then, much to their relief, the rest of the preenactors emerged from the restrooms.

"Impudent Earth slugs!" one of the insectoid creatures cried as he zipped up his fly. “You dare interfere with our plans? I am the mighty Zorgon Glorth, leader of the Voltarians!

"And by the moons of Pflaxos," Glorth exclaimed, beating his claw-laden arms against the thick rubber exoskeleton of his thorax, "I shall feast upon your craniums if you do not leave this place immediately!”

One of the reenactors took a piece of paper from his rucksack. "We have a permit," he said, handing it to the towering Voltarian. Glorth snatched the document from the man's hands and tore it to shreds with his mighty claws.

"Bah!" he snorted, to the delight of the other preenactors. "The parks and recreation department will not save you from enslavement in the dilithium mines of Quebulon Six!” For good measure, Glorth knocked the man's slouch hat to the ground and stomped it flat, eliciting lusty cheers from Voltarian and Xylenoid alike.

No one knew who fired the first shot, but it was the sharp and unmistakable report of an Enfield musket that suddenly echoed across the meadow. A great Rebel Yell arose from the ranks of the 65th Virginia Volunteers, and the men began to charge across the parking lot toward the preenactors, bugles tooting, canteens clanking wildly against ammunition belts. Soon they were joined by the rest of the Confederates, and as they rushed by the Union reenactors, their erstwhile enemies fell in behind them, pistols and sabers in hand.

Meklon and Glorth were knocked to the ground, where they were beaten by a handful of vengeful Confederates, led by the man whose hat had been ruined. Meanwhile, the rest of the preenactors hastily prepared for combat. The snarling Voltarians un-holstered their particle-inverter cannons and molecular-destabilizer rifles, while the Xylenoids ― those that had not locked themselves inside a nearby minivan ― wheeled their plasma catapult into position. And as the first wave of reenactors drew near, guns roaring, swords flashing in the early-morning sun, both sides knew that history was about to be rewritten.

(Richard Fescue is a professor at Cyprus City Community College and a frequent contributor to Electric Storytime.)

Thursday, October 04, 2007

THE MATTRESS PEOPLE

By Orville Perkins

The Mattress People are shy and quiet folk. You can sit on them, bounce up and down on them, and you won't hear so much as a peep. Stretch out, spread your arms wide and wriggle your shoulders vigorously against their feathery contours, and only then, perhaps, will you detect a slight exhalation of nervous excitement.

Of course, the mattress salesman will tell you this is the product of refractive dual-coil technology, the same system developed by the military to transport Faberge Eggs over rough terrain. You will be impressed by this explanation. Impressed and unsuspecting.

The next day, the mattress store will deliver one of the Mattress People to your home, and you will dress it in crisp new sheets and a multitude of extraneous pillows. That night, sleep will come more swiftly than you ever thought possible. And as you sink into that deep, delicious slumber, the last thing you will remember is being gently embraced by a pair of soft white appendages, and realizing that you now have a new and completely unexpected friend.

(Author Orville Perkins treasures a good night's sleep. This shriveled little prune of a man recently thrilled Carl Sandburg enthusiasts with his short story The Fog.)

Monday, September 24, 2007

THE GRAVY TRAIN

By Dick Nelson

The townsfolk stood in the gathering darkness, empty buckets and pails in hand. A light drizzle danced around them in the cool autumn wind, and they warmed themselves with thoughts of gravy, thick with giblets and piping-hot.

A whistle shrilled in the distance, and soon a beam of yellow light blazed through the twilight, illuminating the tiny weathered train depot. The townsfolk hurried to the edge of the platform, and now they could see the mighty locomotive rounding the bend. Their mouths began to water as it chugged down the tracks toward them, black and gleaming like liquid obsidian. And as the train drew near, the townsfolk were surprised to see hobos ― gravy-covered hobos ― dancing wildly on the roofs of the railway carriages like ghastly apparitions.

The rain fell harder now, and the shivering townsfolk watched in silence as the train sped past the station. And when the sounds of wine-soaked revelry and the fragrance of rich, homestyle gravy had faded into the night, they began the long walk home, empty buckets and pails clanging together softly on the dark and mournful road.

(Dick Nelson is a frequent contributor to The Bindle Stick Quarterly and Vagabondage magazine.)

Saturday, September 08, 2007

THE PAWSHANK REDEMPTION: ANOTHER FUZZY-WUZZY CLUB ADVENTURE!

By Thorsten Mungren

What in the world was Farthington Bear doing in Animal Court? My oh my, what a terrible pickle he had gotten himself into!

Turns out, selling honey without a license is a very serious crime in Rainbowville. Judge Beaver didn't even care that the cuddly little bear was only selling the honey to buy a jaunty new outfit for the Big Picnic!

"Farthington Bear, I hereby sentence you to one year in the state penitentiary," said the judge, smacking that great big tail of his against the floor.

"Oh no!" oinked Priscilla Piglet.

"How horrible!" moaned Timmy Turtle.

A miscarriage of justice! the other members of the Fuzzy-Wuzzy Club groaned and growled.

But it was no use. The police put Farthington Bear in shackles drove him straight to prison, where he was stripped naked and deloused! Then some big, scary prison guards took away his tartan vest and little bowler hat and gave him a yellow jumpsuit and a pair of crummy old sneakers.

"I don't even wear shoes!" he cried. But the guards just laughed and shoved him into his cell.

At first, Farthington Bear was very sad. None of the other inmates sat with him at mealtime, and nobody would talk to him in the exercise yard, much less play him in a game of jacks.

But little by little, Farthington Bear began to make new friends! He no longer had his favorite pipe, but the other prisoners sometimes gave him cigarettes in exchange for singing jolly songs or spotting them at the weight bench. He also whittled his pals some handsome new shivs out of birch twigs that his friend Polly Pigeon left on his window sill every morning. And after the other convicts got a taste of the pruno he had been brewing beneath his bunk, why, Farthington Bear was practically the most popular bear in the whole state penal system!

"You've sure made a lot of new friends," Warden said one day to Farthington Bear. "It's a real shame I've got to put you in The Hole."

"The Hole?" cried Farthington Bear. "That doesn't sound very nice!"

"That's the point," Warden replied gleefully. Little did Farthington Bear know that Warden's wife had been mauled by a bear, and now his cold, bitter heart was consumed with thoughts of revenge against all bears, no matter how cuddly!

And so Warden had Farthington Bear thrown into The Hole for the last six months of his sentence. Six months sure is a long time! Farthington Bear thought gloomily as the thick metal door slammed shut. But then he looked around, and his spirits began to soar!

The Hole was dark and damp, and it was very small and very warm. "Why, this hole is simply wonderful!" Farthington Bear cried out joyfully. Then the little ursine inmate lay down on the floor and curled up into a furry ball ... and proceeded to hibernate for the rest of his sentence!

(Writer and itinerant ventriloquist Thorsten Mungren has enchanted children for years with his Fuzzy-Wuzzy Club Adventure Series.)

Friday, August 31, 2007

THE WHORES OF ANDROMEDA

By Temperance Goodwrite

The rocket ship hurtled at the speed of light through the endless depths of outer space. And within its gleaming silver hull there slumbered a squadron of interplanetary astro-commandos, recumbent in their long, neat rows of suspended-animation pods, dreaming merrily of the Whores of Andromeda.

They had traversed the universe, dodging comets and black holes, battling merciless alien hordes in epic laser fights that lit the galactic skies like purple-hued supernovae. And when at last their mission was complete, and the flag of mankind fluttered proudly in the celestial breeze, the captain of the astro-commandos had steered a direct course for Andromeda. Because, as every seasoned spaceman knew, that was where you found the very best whores.

Whores covered with long, stinging tentacles. Whores with beaks and flipper-like appendages. Whores who resembled craggy boulders, or were composed entirely of foul-smelling vapor, or who looked like reptilian Abraham Lincolns, complete with stovepipe hats and phosphorescent erogenous zones. And many, many more.

Sure, there were plenty of other prostitutes in the universe. But there was something special about the Whores of Andromeda, some ineffable mystique that could the warm the heart of the loneliest rocketeer. Also, they were very reasonably priced.

The spacecraft slowed as it passed the first outlying solar systems of Andromeda. Now the cabin stirred to life with blinking lights and the soft whir of machinery. One by one, the astro-commandos emerged from their pods, yawning and stretching, rubbing the sleep from their eyes. For their first breakfast in weeks they ate Neptunian energy-wafers, washed down with mugs of space-coffee from Alpha Centauri. And then they made their way to the portal windows, where they gazed out at the twinkling heavens, licking their lips in slobbery anticipation.

(First published in 1955, Temperance Goodwrite's "The Whores of Andromeda" would prove to be the high-water mark for the Amish science-fiction authoress.)

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

PARADIGM SHIFT

By Corliss Potsdam

"Ain't no one got a bigger dick than me," Clem declared, grabbing at his crotch through the dusty folds of his denim coveralls. "I just dare any y'all to step right up here and claim they got a bigger engine under the hood!"

The group of alfalfa farmers was silent. Clem took a swig of beer and smiled. "Hoo boy!" he shouted, still cradling his genitals triumphantly. "Ain't enough stamps in the post office to mail this here package, that's what I say!"

Again, no one dared challenge his assertion. "Yessir!" Clem now roared with unbridled passion. "It is proven, scientific fact that I got the most enormous dick around, and if anyone aims to say otherwise, then we got ourselves a mighty problem!"

It was Little Bobby who finally mustered the courage to speak up. "What about Old Man Hoskins?" he squeaked. "Folks say he got somethin' real special in them pants."

"That ain't no dick," Clem snorted. "That's just some old irrigation hose he done affixed to hisself."

"Good Lord, it sure looks like a dick," someone said. "A big ol' dick."

"Hangs out like a dang elephant trunk," another man added.

"He won first prize at the state fair with that dick!" Little Bobby cried out. "I heard it's eight feet if it's an inch!"

Soon all the other men were in agreement that, in fact, it was Old Man Hoskins who had the biggest dick around, and a crestfallen Clem was left to wonder where it had all gone wrong.

(Corliss Potsdam has written for Hoof World, Monthly Cud and numerous other periodicals.)

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

PERMAFART

By Sir Richard Shelbourne Thistlebottom

The menfolk from the Inuit village warned Hobson not to dig near the bluff that overlooked the little windswept harbor where we lay at anchor. Our young botanist listened impatiently as they recited an ancient tale that told of the foul and petulant demon-spirit that slumbered beneath the ground there. But Hobson, indomitable man of science that he was, pushed his way through the worried throng and drove his spade deep into the tundra soil; it was soggy from the summer snowmelt and yielded without protest. The chieftain implored him to stop his digging, but Hobson was determined to continue the excavation until he hit the thick layer of permafrost.

Once again he sank the spade into the earth. Suddenly, a great hissing noise arose from the hole. I recall Hobson wrinkling his nose like a curious puppy before dropping his implements and galloping back to camp. The natives also scattered with panicked shouts, and soon on a nearby hillock a clutch of old village women appeared, gesticulating wildly and wailing a mournful dirge.

Those of us standing around the cooking fire witnessed a pack of seals hurriedly waddling toward the shore, their flippers smacking furiously and desperately against the stony beach. Our sled dogs howled and snarled as if suddenly rabid. Then terns by the dozens began falling from the sky as if shot in mid-flight, and at last it dawned on our small party of explorers that some great, primal danger was afoot in these northern climes.

In the distance we could see the chieftain yelling in our direction. Our linguist, MacCumber, strained to listen against the shrieking wind that now bore a preternaturally strong odor of flatulence, and soon he informed us that the chieftain was cursing the white man and his ignorant ways.

"Ignorant indeed!" the hotheaded MacCumber cried. "The nerve of that blubber-supping wretch!" But in my heart, I knew the chieftain was right. For all our marvels of science and engineering, for all our gilded volumes of history and philosophy and religion, how little we truly understood this vast and mysterious world! The stench of passed gas now enveloped us like a cloak of rotten omelets as we hastened to climb into the whaleboats and seek the relative safety of our schooner. Rowing through the frothy breakers, I glanced back toward the shoreline and there I saw the chieftain one last time ― his nose pinched shut by weathered fingers, a single tear rolling slowly down his noble cheek.

(Sir Richard Shelbourne Thistlebottom was arguably Britain's most ambidextrous arctic explorer. For more tales from Thistlebottom's recently discovered journals, we recommend "Wal-Mart of the Great White North.")