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Wednesday, December 29, 2010 4 comments

The Fun Age, and a Power-Squabble

As Mason approaches 16 months, he’s hitting what I’ve always thought of as the “fun age.” For the next few months, he’ll be a constant source of hilarity as he explores, learns, and expands his vocabulary. Think of it as paying forward the Terrible Twos. He loves fruit, especially apples and oranges, and is equally happy to bite and spit out the skins of either one. He refers to both apples and oranges as “apple,” and it’s fun to hear him say it (sorry about the Flash trash):


He’s also learning the whole toy-snatch thing from Moptop, who is well into her Terrible Twos, and we sometimes despair of her ever getting out of them. While she annoys him quite often, he has learned to reciprocate — he got into a rather unpleasant mode yesterday afternoon, and bounced a plastic block off her head, and now all he has to do is hold his hand behind his shoulder to get Moptop to cut loose with that ice-pick-in-the-ear shriek. But when she ’s cranky and sitting on M.A.E.’s lap, he’ll come over and wiggle his fingers at her feet and go “tick-tick-tick” (tickle). Now that’s funny.

The Boy and Snippet weren’t going too far through the afternoon, and (after a morning run to repair two chicken house furnaces) I found myself with a little time to start clearing off the bank out by the road. There’s still a fair amount of snow laying around, but I either had to work around the snow or not get any of it done. I made both more and less progress than I expected — I got most of the small junk cleared out, but the bigger logs were immobile and I decided to come back with the chainsaw later. I hacked the vines off the trees and will whop them back with rake and weed-eater in the next day or so.

As I was working, Mrs. Fetched drove up and placed me in the middle of one of her & The Boy's power-squabble games, an act that I deeply resent. “You need to go up to the house. They’re not to take Mason anywhere,” she said. I think she was mad because The Boy didn’t dedicate enough time to helping her with the chicken houses — but that should be between them, why drag me into it? But the orders were given and, in her mind, that meant they were to be carried out or it was my @$$. I hiked up to the house.

“We’re taking Mason to my dad’s,” said Snippet. “He doesn’t smoke or drink” — yeah right — “and he hasn’t seen Mason since he was like a few days old.”

“Mrs. Fetched said no,” I said. “That’s all I know.”

“Well, we’re taking him,” The Boy snapped. “He our son and that’s that.”

“I guess you don’t give a care that your mom will be all over my butt if you take him, huh?” He had nothing to say about that, but Snippet went off on a tangent.

“I’m tired of him calling you ‘Daddy’!” she snipped.

“I never asked him to. I think he’s trying to say ‘Granddad,’ because it comes out different than the ‘Daddy’ he uses for The Boy.”

That mollified her somewhat, but The Boy was unmoved. I told him to call Mrs. Fetched and wait until everyone reached an agreement, but of course she wasn’t answering her phone. She tends to be incommunicado when at the chicken houses… or any other time, for that matter. I grabbed my phone and stormed outside to deliver a blistering voice mail, then saw my car sitting there. Hm… I’ll just pull a fuse or something, I thought, and opened the door.

Bee-bee-beep. Bee-bee-beep.

The Boy had inadvertently left the “key” to the whole problem right there in the ignition. I pulled it out, pocketed it, then stashed it off my person. They bundled up Mason and assured me they would be back by 9 (yeah right), and out the door they went. A minute later, The Boy came back in and went upstairs. A couple more minutes later, he came down and Snippet came in with Mason.

“Where’s the key?”

“I don’t have it,” I said, which was technically the truth. I emptied my pockets for him. “Your mom might have come and got it.” Snippet bought this, but The Boy is a professional liar and could see an amateur at work.

“Fine,” he said at last. “We’ll leave Mason here if you give me the key.”

“I’ll help you look for it,” I said, and he left. I again pocketed the key, dropped it on the floor of the car, and “found” it for him. They left… and their idea of “by 9” is 11:30. Whatever. At least The Boy wasn’t drunk — he has done that before; he gets one screen a week and yesterday morning was his screen, so he’s clear until next week. I’ve seen him come home hammered and confident he won’t get caught. On the other hand, one more violation and he’s in the clink for 90 days; he just has to stay clean for six more weeks and he’s done.

One encouraging note: he told me, “after I get done with this,” and said something that wasn’t some variation of “I’m going to drink an entire 30-pack.” He needs to grow up, not bang heads with Mrs. Fetched, and they both need to leave me out of their power-trips.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010 2 comments

Christmas After Dark

But first, Andi asked me to get a shot of Mason and me out in the snow. Daughter Dearest took the shot, I fixed the tilt in Photoslobber.

After dark, the front yard turns into a miniature Festival of Lights. Mason loves to have me hold him up to the window so he can see. Sometimes, if he wakes up around 6, the lights come back on and he gets a little show while his comfort milk is warming up.

Moving indoors… Mrs. Fetched uses this time of year to cover most horizontal surfaces in the living room — at least the ones nominally out of reach of Mason — with fiber optic angels and related kitsch. This is a kind of traditional defender angel, wielding something a little heavier than a lightsaber… maybe a lightbroadsword? It turns different colors.

Not all angels prefer the traditional arsenal. This one appears to be wielding a laser cannon along with an astershield.

I have to admit I have a bit of a soft spot for this angel. She hangs on the wall, no weaponry. But you have to reach up her dress to turn her on. (Something that I like to point out because it annoys Daughter Dearest to no end.)

And that is how we roll after dark, coming off the bottom of the year.

Monday, December 27, 2010 2 comments

White Pickups, Episode 67


From the diary of Ben Cho, winter–spring 2012

Things seemed to get a little better (except for Cody) after the bashers — maybe the universe decided it had shit on us enough for a while. We had an early warm spell, unusually long and dry for mid-winter, and people stopped complaining about being cold for a little while and started wondering if global warming had hit a runaway phase as some feared. The community grew a little — there were other people nearby, and curiosity (and running low on canned food) finally drove them to see who we were. Even better, two other women joined Sara in pregnancy, and Rita was happy to be the pre-natal nurse. We had occasional sickness and minor injuries for her to deal with, but (except for Sondra) nothing she couldn’t handle. One of the former homeless women moved in with Cleve, and everyone had to rib them about it because he’d arrested her back Before. The rest of Patterson’s crew started to truly become part of us as well. We had Cody on suicide watch for a while, but he made it. He ended up building a cairn of sorts over Sondra’s grave, with help from Patterson and several others.

The long dry spell got us a bit nervous about our water situation again. We’d had enough rain to live out of our rain barrels up to that point, but we were getting pretty worried before we got more rain at the end of January. It got us thinking about droughts and how we’d deal with them…

Part V
Water Shed

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Lanterns and oil lamps, hung over the card tables, augmented the dim light from the window over the pool. Outside, rain continued to pour down, with an occasional rumble of thunder.

“I guess I can live with this,” said Cody, sorting Tina’s pass into his hand. He laid his cards face-down on the table.

“It has to be better than what you gave me!” Sara grimaced.

“Yeah, this is an improvement.” Cody smiled and flipped the two of clubs into the center of the table. Sara sighed and played the ace that Cody had given her. Tim and Tina followed with the jack and king respectively.

“Aw!” Cleve groaned from the next table, “that pass was sloppier than this weather!” Kelly gave him a wicked grin. “At least the rain is doing us some good.”

“Let’s see who’s got the queen,” said Sara, leading the jack of spades. Tim sighed and played the queen; Tina and Cody played lower spades.

“Hey guys,” Lily called from the top of the steps, “they wanted me to ask how long the batteries are good for.”

“Hard to say,” said Johnny, taking the first trick at his table, with Cleve, Kelly, and Elly. “Even with the clouds and rain, the panels are still giving us a little power. It’s not enough to keep the batteries charged and all our stuff going, but you’re going to stop at four anyway. What are you guys playing?”

“Me and Ashley and Caitlin are playing Dance Fever. The boys are playing Barnstormer on the Playstation. Why do we have to stop at four? We can’t do anything outside.”

“We can’t let the batteries run too low. We have to have enough light for this evening, and we don’t know if it’ll clear up tomorrow or not.”

“God,” said Tina, playing the ace of hearts on Tim’s middle diamond lead, “I’d about kill for even a half-assed weather forecast!”

“Hey, Stef’s leg told us the rain was coming,” Rita grinned, standing behind Johnny as he dropped the queen of spades on a grumbling Cleve. “Now if it could tell us when it will stop…”

“I miss the Internet,” said Johnny. “It was made for a day like this. Just stay inside and surf. Besides, you could pull up radar and see if the rain was going away anytime soon.”

“Funny,” said Cody, “I don’t miss the net as much as I thought I would. You know what I miss? Going to my job at Breakbeat. I never thought I’d miss working!”

“I miss hot showers,” said Kelly; the women, and several men, voiced agreement. “It might smell better around here if Cody could get one!” Cody hunched his shoulders but otherwise pretended not to hear; Tina gave her daughter the glare.

“Running water, period,” said Cleve. If we hadn’t got this rain, we’d have been in trouble in a day or so.”

“Cheese!” Caitlin called from the top of the stairs; Lily must have replaced her on the dance pads. “It made me fat, but I love it!”

“You’re not so fat now though!” Sara called back, making Caitlin grin. “But yeah, cheese. And dairy products in general. We’re about out of that nasty powdered milk, even.”

“Not to mention beef and chicken,” Johnny laughed. “We need to round us up some livestock! Yeah, the venison is okay, especially what we smoked, but there ain’t enough fat in it to make a good burger with.”

“I don’t suppose you know how to train a herd dog?” asked Tim.

“Well… I tried once. Let’s just say the results were mixed.” Johnny laughed at the memory. “He wasn’t much of a cow dog, but he’d keep the neighbor’s free-range chickens rounded up!”

“Speaking of chickens,” said Elly, “I’d love me a big ol’ plate of eggs! Over-easy or soft scrambled, with a hunk of sausage and a side of hash browns!”

“Careful, babe,” grinned Cleve, “I could put on a couple of pounds just thinkin’ about that kind of food!” Everyone laughed.

“Sondra said she was good, as long as the coffee and chocolate held out,” said Cody, with a rare smile. “I always knew when it was time to hide, she’d be digging into her private chocolate stash.” He sighed and studied his cards, finally playing a middle diamond.

Kelly broke the silence. “Cheese… sausage… God, I’d love a pizza about now. Even one of those crappy cheap frozen ones!”

“Plenty of ex-frozen ones around,” said Cody, “but they’re probably all rotten by now.” He wrinkled his nose. “Remember how much it stank when we cleaned out the Saver-Mart and the other places? And set those dumpsters on fire?”

“Yeah,” said Tina. “That’s one of those things we used to call ‘hidden dividends’ at Maxcom. In other words, stuff that had to be done but we didn’t see the benefits. We’d have seen all sorts of problems if we let them go, though.” She led the two of hearts. “If we’d just left all that crap in there to rot, we’d probably be overrun with rats by now.”

“Aw, man,” Cody said, playing the jack of hearts. “Yeah, good point. But what about all the places we haven’t been to? As far as we know, we’re the only group of any size out there.”

Sara looked at him across the tables. “If we made it, other people must have.”


Saturday, December 25, 2010 2 comments

White Christmas!!! [UPDATED with video]

First one in over 45 years!
The weather peeps said it was coming in at 1 a.m., but I guess it got hung up at the airport. It started at 9 and hasn’t stopped since (now 2 p.m.). Mrs. Fetched said the last time we had a White Christmas here, she was three or four.

Mason got lots of goodies, and Mrs. Fetched got the LCD TV she’s been wanting for over a year (Daughter Dearest and I got it for her).

[UPDATED] Just a little video from out front of the manor:

Mrs. Fetched was really happy with her present; Daughter Dearest and I chipped in on a 32" LCD TV. Instead of wrapping that monstrosity, we covered it with a quilt and stuck it behind the playpen and just wrapped the wall-mount bracket.

Hope everyone has a happy whatever-you-celebrate-this-time-of-year!

Friday, December 24, 2010 6 comments

#FridayFlash: For This Night

Welcome all readers and fellow writers. If you’re participating in #FridayFlash, feel free to leave a link to your story in the comments. If you want to follow my blog, I’ll follow back when I notice. :) There’s also plenty of other fiction here:

• All the short stories on the blog
• The whole of a peak-oil novel, FAR Future, written as blog posts from 2012–2045
• A novel in progress, White Pickups, of people surviving in a depopulated world

Today I give you a Christmas-themed story, based loosely on the events described in Matt. 2:13–16.

For This Night

The soldiers stepped out onto the dark narrow street. They took their positions: back to back, waiting for their eyes to adjust. Their ears needed no time to adjust — throughout the village they could hear shouting and the screams and wails of bereaved mothers.

“This is no work for soldiers, Odo,” one said. “Thugs, perhaps. I may just fall on my sword rather than stain it with another drop of innocent blood.”

Odo was quiet for a moment, watching the shadows. “Others command, Kleon. It is ours to obey,” he said at last.

“And that is all this is to you? Obedience? No. No man could be unmoved by this… work.”

Odo was silent for a moment. “I must admit, Kleon,” he said at last, “I’m relieved that last one was a girl.” He paused again. “Upholding honor is not often easy.”

“Honor? Bah. We served in the Nile campaign, we faced the Saracen horde in the desert — and history will remember us for this night, if she remembers us at all. A night of killing innocent boy-children in a backwater town, at the whim of a mad kinglet.”

“Seditious talk is good for the soul, my friend. But one should take care where it is spoken.” Kleon heard the smile in Odo’s voice. “But is not this king Greek? Like you?”

Kleon spat. “Any barbarian can learn Greek. Even a Gaul.” Odo snorted. “But to be Greek — that is something more. A true Greek would not order all boy-children of a village slain out of hand, especially if that village had offered no rebellion.”

“Perhaps. But this barbarian Gaul can now see the street. Shall we continue?”

“I shall —” Kleon hissed. “Something ahead,” he whispered. “Forward, but quietly!”

The soldiers kept to the shadows, their quarry unaware of their presence until Kleon and Odo were upon them — a young man leading a donkey, which in turn carried a woman. In the dim light, Kleon saw she hid something under her cloak and sighed.

Perhaps seeing his Nemesis, the man dropped the lead and held his staff cross-wise. He hissed something at the woman, but she only sat and watched wide-eyed. Foolish woman, Kleon thought, her husband would buy her life — and their son’s — with his own, but she will sit there and lose her son as well.

“Caesar’s soldiers!” Odo snapped in the local language. “What is your business? Be quick about it!”

“We are… travelers.” Kleon was mildly surprised that he spoke passable Greek — a tradesman then, a tentmaker or carpenter. His accent suggested he was telling the truth. “From Galilee. Going to Egypt.”

“It’s past curfew,” said Kleon. “Bandits are out.”

The woman said something, too quick for the soldiers to catch. “What did she say?” Odo demanded.

The man looked amused, but did not let down his guard. “She said with all the soldiers in the streets tonight, bandits are the least of our worries.”

“Woman. What are you hiding in your cloak?” Their eyes grew wide; the man shifted his footing a little. His face was that of one expecting to die shortly, but would do what he could to buy the seconds needed for his family to live.

“If it’s not a weapon, it is of no concern,” Kleon said quickly. “Is it?”

The woman shook her head. “No.”

“Then go about your business,” said Kleon. “But do not travel through Bethlehem — things are unsettled tonight. The nearest gate is that way.” He pointed. “And things are much the same in Jerusalem. You would do best to go overland to the coast. Take a ship, if you have the means.”

The man nodded. “I give thanks for your advice. And your mercy.” He took up the lead and they departed the way Kleon had pointed.

“What have you done?” Odo demanded.

“I have followed our orders. To the letter, like a good soldier,” Kleon smiled. “Boy-children of Bethlehem under two years of age are to be slain this night. We were not ordered to slaughter Galileans.”

“I am not convinced. What if you just let flee the child that Herod was concerned with? Then all else we have done tonight is pointless.”

Kleon nodded. “True, my friend. And that is how it should be.”

Thursday, December 23, 2010 9 comments

Hell Hath No Fury…

Even in the alternate universe of Weirditude that is FAR Manor, there are physical laws and constants. One of them is anyone who undertakes to help Big V, long term, will come to regret it in about two weeks. That’s about as long as it took The Boy this time — yes, he’s been here before. So Spring #1 comes in with a BANG.

I think it might have been because Snippet wore out her welcome at FAR Manor some time ago, but they were spending most nights at Big V’s place — taking care of her grandkid Skyler (Cousin Splat and his wife make Snippet look almost like a halfway involved parent), driving her to doctor appointments and so forth. Actually, from what I heard, it was The Boy taking care of Skyler… like when she’s here, Snippet can’t get much motivation to deal with a baby, hers or otherwise.

Because of Big V’s lackadaisical credit history, she doesn’t keep much money in the bank — they have no problem using her deposits to make her payments for her. And somehow, she had something north of $1000 cash in her purse where it was safe… from bankers, at least. And that cash turned up missing some time on Saturday, while The Boy was at probation-mandated classes of one sort or another much of the day and Snippet was there at Big V’s at least much of the morning. The more Big V thought about it, the more convinced she became that Snippet was the culprit.

Now it must be said that Snippet isn’t exactly famous for her respect for other people’s property. Daughter Dearest found a ring that belongs to her (actually, M.A.E. gave it to her) down at Big V’s, among Snippet’s stuff while looking for something else (the money). So Big V has been calling the house, wanting us to get involved with Snippet while doing all the other things she thinks we should just be happy to do for her.

I made the mistake of trying to work at home the last couple of days, and with the phone ringing every few minutes, I found myself getting rather annoyed at the constant interruptions. This morning, I announced “I’m not answering the phones today,” and removed them from the bedroom. That didn’t stop the noise, of course… especially when The Boy started screaming upstairs, then came storming down into the bedroom.

“You need to talk to this $#@%!” he yelled, thrusting the phone at me.

“I don’t have anything to say to her.”

“You need to talk to her!”

Seeing as I wasn’t going to get any work done with him waving the phone and yelling at me, I finally took it and listened to Big V imply that she was going to hang The Boy right along with Snippet. I asked her what evidence she had, she told me, and it was all circumstantial at best — especially when Snippet is an expert at the poor-pitiful-me act, and has a face and figure that would get her the sympathy of any male jurors right off the bat. Big V started the sob story — I’m pretty sure she was trying to panic, guilt, or pity me into giving her the money to buy The Boy another day, but I don’t have any either — and I told her the sob story thing wasn’t going to help and she just had to do whatever she felt was best. I also told her I was trying to work, and got her off the phone.

And… I had an audience. I took the opportunity to announce that I was packing up, taking Mason, and moving out. “I’ll come with you!” M.A.E. offered. Um… no. Daughter Dearest, who was already upset by the crap, called Mrs. Fetched to tell her I was leaving and she had to come right home NOW. While she was on the way, I called The Boy into the bedroom.

“If Snippet took that money, you need to scrape her off,” I said. “You don’t need that crap right now.”

“She didn’t take it!”

“I said if. I’m not saying she did take it, but if she did you need to get her out of your life. Pronto. That’s all I have to say about it.” And to be honest, I’m not 100% convinced myself that she took it. There were other people running loose in Big V’s house, and I liken Snippet to a crow. She’ll snatch something sparkly if the opportunity presents itself — but we’ve had money in various quantities laying around here and there and it’s never disappeared without turning up (often after Mrs. Fetched tells me Snippet probably took it). On the other hand, given her recent behavior I’m not exactly motivated to step up and defend her.

Oh… and here’s a good one. Big V was trying to get a loan (a big fat “yeah right” given her history); The Boy and Snippet took her up to a place they’ve used in the past. While they were there, they decided to get a loan to pay their phone bill (um… what part of “recurring charge” are you missing here?), and got $500. As it turned out, they used my car for collateral. Without asking me.

Now… it’s personal. I think what I’ll do is contact the loan office, explain the situation, and remind them that they have lots of ugly lawyers to do their bidding. If Snippet ends up in jail, for that or for snatching Big V’s wad-o'-cash, I won’t shed a tear.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010 4 comments

White Pickups, Episode 66b


“I need to know something,” Cody told Patterson as they shoveled, filling in Sondra’s grave. Her final resting place was in the vacant lot behind the townhouses; Cody thought she would have wanted to be close to the place she’d called their home. He also insisted on helping with the burial, although he had paused for a long last look at the freezer before it disappeared under the clay.

“What?” Patterson was certain what — he’d heard what Cody was about to say many times over the years — but knew better than to say so.

Cody didn’t look up. “You talk all the time about your god and how he loves us,” he said, pushing a big lump of dirt in. “If he really loves us, why did he let Sondra get killed? Why not me instead?”

Patterson paused for a moment. “I’m just a man, Cody,” he said at last. “I don’t know His plan, or how this all fits into it. But I do know He loves us, enough to let us go our own ways and even mess up His plans from time to time. And he even loved the men who came at us, even if they’d been led astray by false teaching.”

Cody pushed his shovel into the dirt, then stopped and looked at Patterson for the first time. “Huh. Those last two, talking to each other… they said the same thing. ‘False teaching. Led astray’.”

“Too bad — if they’d lived, perhaps they would have repented.”

“Nuh-uh. Next thing, they were planning to slip in and wipe us out. I heard ’em.” Cody give the preacher a defiant look.

“You’re right, of course. I knew of Carlton Worleigh — he’d written his name inside the cover of the Bible you brought me — and I knew he was still abroad in the land, before the Truckalypse. But his…” Patterson shook his head. “His margin notes were bad enough, but he had gone so far to strike through those passages that didn’t support his twisted beliefs. I don’t use the word desecration often, but I can’t think of a better word to describe what he did to that beautiful old book.”

“What are you gonna do with it?” Cody looked genuinely curious.

“I’ll burn it, with prayer and fasting. It’s the best thing, I think. And by the way, you did what you thought was the best thing at the time with those two men as well. You avenged Sondra, and you may well have saved some more lives. I won’t judge the rightness or wrongness of that, it’s done and over. But I want to go back to the other thing you said: why not you instead?” He gestured at the grave, now half-filled. “If you could change places, would you want Sondra to feel what you’re feeling now? She would have, you know.”

Cody scooped up a shovel-full of dirt, took a deep shuddering breath, and threw it in. “No. But better that than her…” he looked down. “She would have gotten over me, sooner or later.”

“And you won’t? What are you going to do? Do you know what Sondra would want you to do?”

Cody stabbed his spade into the dirt pile with a chunk, then crossed his arms to glare at Patterson. A gust of wind blew his hair over his eyes, and he made no attempt to push it away. At last he gave a long sigh and shook the hair away from his face. “She’d want me to get over it too, I guess. I don’t know how the hell I’m supposed to do that, though.”

“Neither do I, Cody. But you’re making the right start. You were there for her at the end, you spoke at her funeral. And you’re here to make sure she’s laid to rest properly. Whatever happens, you won’t regret doing these things.

“Listen a minute,” Patterson continued; Cody paused, one hand on the shovel. “Delphinia… sees things, sometimes. She has a gift, I think, and I fear it may have driven her mad. She calls you ‘Father of Nations,’ and says you’re destined to be a legend —”

“Some father, lettin’ the mother die before she could have our kids.”

“— but legends are about nothing more than ordinary people who stepped up and did what had to be done.”

Cody shook his head and returned to shoveling, saying nothing for a long time. Patterson worked alongside, waiting for him to finish thinking. Finally, “I never signed up for this legend crap. All I ever wanted was to be me.”

“But if you’re to be a legend, you are signed up. For as long as you want to be yourself.”

Cody shoveled up the last of the dirt and poured it on the grave, now a low mound. “Yeah? So it comes back to the same question: what the hell do I do now?” He patted the mound with the flat of his shovel. “I guess first thing is to get some rocks from that stone place across the freeway and make some kind of monument. Some cement, if it ain’t all gone hard by now.”

“Continue to honor her memory, Cody. But don’t let it turn into an obsession. I’ll help you lay the stones, if you wish. Just let me know.”



Monday, December 20, 2010 2 comments

White Pickups, Episode 66a


Thursday, January 12, 2012

The banging noise filtered through the sound effects of the game, and just wouldn’t go away. Cody finally hit PAUSE, pulled on a pair of sweat pants, and went to see what was what.

Tim, Sara, Tina, and Kelly stood at the front door of his old house. “What the fuck?”

“Sondra’s funeral,” Tina said. “We thought you would want to pay your last respects.”

“To your wife,” Kelly added; Sara elbowed her.

“Aw, shit,” Cody said. “Yeah. I’ll be right out. Come on in. Or something.” He walked away, leaving the door open.

Tim shrugged, then walked in and gestured for the others to follow him. It smelled a little musty inside, but better than most of the houses in the subdivision. The others sat on the couch; Tim walked back to the bedroom.

“Hang on,” Cody said through the closed door, “almost ready.” Tim waited; Cody finally opened the door. His black jeans perfectly matched the black t-shirt; the shirt had a picture of a little boy holding a huge power plug, with the caption “SKILLET - COMATOSE.” The clothes Cody had worn the night before were piled at the foot of the bed with uncounted wet wipes. All looked bloody.

Tim refrained from commenting and looked at the screen; it showed an aerial view of a farm and several biplanes frozen in mid-air up ahead. “You playing something?”

Barnstormer. It was Sondra’s favorite,” Cody said. “I just can’t get into the shooters right now. Not that I’m getting into this one, either.” The 8/8 in the corner of the display confirmed Cody’s assessment.

“Yeah. I can imagine.”

“No you can’t.” Cody gave Tim a defiant look.

“Maybe, maybe not,” Tim said, suppressing the urge to mention Rebecca, “but that’s not the point. Sondra deserves a proper send-off, and that means you have to be there. For her.”

“F— yeah.” Cody turned off the display, then the Playstation.

“Where did you get the console?”

“Neighbor kid had it,” Cody said. “He lived a few doors down. Not like he needs it anymore.”

“What about the generator?”

“One of those camping generators we had laying around. It’s enough to run the game, not much more, so I pretty much forgot about it until last night. Let me go shut it off.”

Reverend Patterson stood over Sondra’s body, wrapped in blankets and plastic packaging tape, lying in the open freezer that was now her coffin. “I’ve never conducted a funeral under these conditions,” he said, “but I’ll do what I can to honor the memory of our fallen hero.” Everyone in Laurel waited for him to continue.

Cody stood. “I’ll say a couple of things, if you don’t mind.”

“Of course.”

Cody walked to the front and looked down at Sondra. He caressed her cold cheek, speaking too quietly for most to hear. “Sondra was… when the trucks came, and there were only three of us, I thought I was happy. The people at school who hated me, because I wasn’t like them, were gone. My mom and dad wanted me to be a different person, and they were gone too. Finally, I thought I could be who I wanted to be and not have to worry about anyone else.

“Then Sondra came. I don’t know what it was anymore… maybe it was the way she looked at me that kept me looking at her. But I knew one thing: I was in love. And she loved me back…” his face crumpled for a moment; he rubbed his eyes and continued. “And then I knew I was happy. I had a place here, and I had someone who loved me the way I am. What more could anyone want?

“But I guess… I guess there were people who hated the idea that someone might be happy. Or just not like them. They’re gone, but they took Sondra with them. And now… now I… I don’t know what I’m gonna do with myself.” He sank to the pavement and sobbed.

The preacher reached down and laid a hand on Cody’s shoulder. “Sondra was a hero, in the old sense of the word — her courage was superhuman, and some might say her ability with a gun was also superhuman. But she was also a hero in the sense that she was the one who saved the day for our community. Not just yesterday, but in the first days after chaos swallowed most of the human race.

“But there was more to Sondra than that. We honor her today not just for her heroic deeds, but for how she loved this community — and especially the love she had for her young groom. Had she lived, she would have no doubt been the mother of a new nation — as this young man may be destined to be the father of nations. So today, we consign the remains of Sondra Lucado-Sifko to the earth, along with the weapons of her enemies as befits a hero fallen in battle, but her soul has risen to join her Maker… and her memory will be before us, always.”

Cody stood. “Amen,” he muttered, and shuffled back to the others.

Delphinia worked her way from the back of the circle and approached the coffin. Her hood hid her face, but her slumped shoulders betrayed her sorrow. She looked down at Sondra and caressed her face, brushing back a wisp of hair a stray gust of wind had pushed out of place.

Caitlin, standing with her Jenn-mom, watched the Strange Lady. She looks so sad, she thought. I thought she didn’t like Sondra. But… I’m sad too. She must have been special, for Cody to love her like he did.

Delphinia removed her hood and ball cap; her golden hair cascaded to her shoulders. She looked at Cody, and he was lost in her eyes — a deep blue that could drown the world. Without realizing, he found himself approaching Sondra’s makeshift coffin again.

“Sondra,” she said, still looking at Cody across the freezer, “you were the first wife of the Father of Nations. Even though you bore no children, your deeds, your love for this young man, and his love for you, will be remembered through the centuries to come. Your story will be the root of legends for the new age.” Her voice rose, carrying to them all. “Thus says the Oracle: remember Sondra, all of you. Tell your stories to each other, and let them grow as stories do. Men of this place, remember her strength and bravery, that you do not claim such qualities as yours alone. Women of this place, do you likewise and strive to be like her. All of you, remember her love and devotion. Thus will you honor her memory.” She paused and looked down; Cody thought she was finished, but then she raised her face to the skies and sang. As at their wedding, it was breathtaking: a pure and clear soprano soared over them. Again, many swore that they heard it accompany itself.

True and brave, our fallen one,
Her final race has now been run
Take heart, all you who stand and mourn:
Her spirit has rose unto the Son.

She has gone, and we are left
We all mourn, we stand bereft
Our love, our light is gone away,
Taken by the cruelest theft.

In Heaven with her Father, dwells
Our fallen one, whose deeds we’ll tell
And as we mourn our loss below
We know with her soul all is well.

Rejoice, all people! Lift your face!
Our Sondra’s in a better place!
We shall see her once again,
When on Earth we’ve run our race!


Sunday, December 19, 2010 No comments

Holiday Haircuts

Mason's bed hairIt’s a good thing Mrs. Fetched scheduled everyone to get a haircut yesterday — Mason woke up with a case of Epic Bed Hair:

I tried smoothing it down a bit, to no avail. Oh well, he was more interested in eating breakfast than his appearance, so I got him (and me) some cereal.

Mason was the first to get a haircut. I sat in The Chair, he sat (then stood, by request) and did pretty well. He kind of flinched at the sound of scissors snapping around his ears, but he got the bed hair fixed then trimmed down. He no longer has Old Man Hair, which is his usual state. Then it was my turn. He sat on Mrs. Fetched’s lap and watched big hunks of my hair fall to the floor… and said “oh dear!” loud and clear. He’s really started talking a lot in the last week; he’ll often repeat words spoken to him or at least try (except he won’t say “grape” — he’s too busy eating them to name them).

Mason hugging a fairy statueSo after we got our haircuts, and while Mrs. Fetched and Daughter Dearest were getting theirs, Mason started wandering around. The shoppe has a helpful basket of rollers that kind of stick to each other that they keep out for the kids to play with — “we had someone here with her 15-year old kid and he made a Christmas tree out of them” they told us — and he had a good time pulling them out and strewing them across the floor.

But that didn’t last too long… he likes to explore. He thumbed through a couple magazines out front, then found the bathroom area. They have this little flower fairy statue, and Mason was fascinated with it. I didn’t get the camera out quick enough to catch him rubbing “her” boobs, but at least he hugged “her” afterwards. DoubleRed came by later; I told her about that and she said, “Yup, sounds like Mason. He’s gone for mine a few times.”

Then he took a little nap on the way home.

Friday, December 17, 2010 10 comments

#FridayFlash: Assignation

Beep. After a few months, Wes no longer jumped. It happened two or three times every lunch hour. Whoever it was, she was looking at his profile now: Age 51; Married; In-Program 6 mos; Preferences none; IQ 120–140; Confirmed impregnations 4 (a little above average); etc. Her profile was on his pad as part of the exchange; he’d look at it if she came around.

It was routine now: query, interview, clinic. Pete’s Deli was booming these days; between the clinic opening two doors down in the strip and lunches on the government dime for active donors, it was the place for lunchtime assignations.

A tall thin woman — the beeper — laid her tray on his table and sat. Wes pulled up her profile; her photo appeared as confirmation. He skimmed the parts that stood out: Age 27; Engaged; In-Program 1 mo; Vegan; etc. “Mild hypertension and elevated cholesterol,” she said. “What’s up there?”

“The usual. Not enough exercise, not enough paying attention to what I ate when I was younger. I’ve taken a little better care of myself since. Still on meds, but I think they’re for the doctor’s peace of mind as much as anything.”

She snorted around a mouthful of salad. “Yeah. Does your wife know?”

“She got me to join the program, even though she doesn’t like it much. What about your fiancee?”

“He’s not happy about it either, but he knows it’s necessary.” She scratched her forehead and took another bite of salad. “By the way, I kind of agree we needed a reduction, but not a total wipeout. This… sucks. Are you eating meat?”

“Not today. I cut back on meat for the cholesterol. Turns out I can live without it.”

She picked up his receipt. “Garden on a Bun? That’s got cheese.”

“I said I can live without meat. I didn’t say anything about cheese!”

She laughed. “Yeah. You’ll do. I think this one will take. I’m ready when you are.”

“You had one of those… those meetings today, didn’t you?” his wife Trina asked.

Wes nodded. “How do you know?”

“You always take a shower before you come home. I guess that’s better than you smelling like whoever.”

“It’s anything but romantic, believe me. You want me out? I’ll drop out.”

“No… I know it needs to be done.”

Two years ago, some genocidal fools released a gengineered virus. It targeted men, felt like a flu, and was gone after three days — leaving them sterile. It wasn’t perfect — it left older men and pre-adolescent boys unaffected — so they started a crash program to maintain a reduced birth rate while developing a vaccine to protect the boys. The assignation system stressed marriages and other societal norms, but was better than nothing.

The next day, Wes was looking at his pad when he got beeped, and the profile with the come-hither photo once again popped up on the screen: Age 22; Single; In-Program 4 mos; Assignations 0; etc. The same woman beeped him at least once a week. He stole a glance around the deli, and saw her a few tables away, reading her pad. What was the deal — four months and she hadn’t pulled the string once? An informal set of rules were already establishing themselves, one of which was that the woman made the approach, but that wasn’t happening here.

“Mind if I sit?” Wes held his tray over the table. She shrugged, saying nothing, so he sat. They ate in silence for a while.

“I’m in downtime right now,” said Wes — give the boys a couple days to reload, a friend once chortled — “no pressure.”

“So why are you here?”

“Well, you’ve beeped me six times in the last month, but your profile says you haven’t had any assignations. Makes me wonder if you really want to be in the program.”

She looked at him for the first time, and gave him a smug smile. “Or maybe I don’t like doing it in a clinic.”

“Kind of risky.”

“That just makes it more exciting. Don’t you think?”

“I suppose. But most of us aren’t doing this for the excitement.” Wes poked his pad and laid it face-down.


“Yeah. It’s kind of weird, only being wanted for your protoplasm. Some of us need pills to compensate.”

She laughed. “Now you know how women have felt forever.”

“Well… I never heard a woman complain that men were only interested in her ovaries.”

“Whatever. I want something else, and I happen to have a van outside. Save us a walk.”

“Um… thanks. But I don’t think so.” Wes stood, glanced up, saw the fertility cops at the door. “So what was the plan? Put me out of commission?”

“What?” She doesn’t fake innocence well, he thought, as she used a makeup mirror to look behind her. When she sighed and reached into her purse, Wes didn’t wait and see what she took out; he knocked his drink over and dodged for the front door. One of the FPs jerked him to the side as he came out.

“You okay?” the FP asked him. She had a little belly bump of her own.

“Yeah. I hope everyone else in there will be.”

“They’ll be fine,” her partner said. “She just bolted for the ladies’ room. We’ve got the blue suits on the way in case there’s a hostage situation, but I think she’ll come quietly. Good thinking, forwarding her profile — we’ve been after her for a while. She’s been spreading several STDs, any of which would put you out of the program for good. What got you suspicious?”

“She was coming on to me. You know the saying, if it’s too good to be true…”

Thursday, December 16, 2010 4 comments

The Longest Drive

The nearer your destination
The more you’re slip-sliding away…
— Paul Simon

Yesterday’s drive home was one I would prefer to not repeat for… ever.

Daughter Dearest called me at work just before 6, as I was running a bit late. “We’ve got sleet coming down up here.”

“Okay,” I said. Sleet doesn’t bother me. Freezing rain bothers me, but I didn’t hear much about that so I wasn’t too terribly concerned. I finished up what I was doing and headed out.

It was raining and (of course) dark. There was a slick spot on the little side road I take to cut off some of the drive, but I figured once I got to the highway I’d be fine. So I was at the corner, waiting for the traffic to clear, and…


Bumper dentI said a four-letter word meaning excrement, and got out to survey the damage:

The guy who hit me was pretty good about it, he gave me his info and called the local fuzz. The fuzz said it would be an hour or more before anyone got out there, and to just swap info and go. Okee-fine. He had some minor damage to his front; the Civic was drivable but the trunk is hard to open and close. Up the road I went, no problem. Got to 400, and it was pretty slow and thick… all… the… way… up. I think I got to 40MPH once. With as much traffic on that highway as there was, I knew there wouldn’t be any icing, but people were being cautious (and with good reason, many roads in Atlanta closed last night).

Things started going pear-shaped as I got off the four-lane and headed toward town. The road was a little icy, but nothing anyone couldn’t handle with a little caution and common sense (yeah, I know, Planet Georgia). Still, it was slammed up solid. It took about an hour to get three miles, where the first seriously slick spot had been lurking. The salt truck rolled by and getting through town was no problem.

There were several cars ahead of me on the road out of town, all moving a bit faster than I was comfortable going at this point. Hitting an icy patch at 30MPH, you might be able to keep it straight until you get through it, but whatever. I caught them at the stop sign and they took off down the highway — again, faster than I thought was prudent. Turned out I was right: I slowed way down as I topped a hill, and doing one of my periodic traction checks I found a really slick spot. I was able to keep the car straight and tap the brakes, getting the car stopped. At this point, it was crawling pace, with plenty of traction checks and complete stops, for another mile.

I caught up to the rest of the cars, all right… three of them were off the side of the road. I got stopped, as did the car behind me (last thing I needed was another rear-ender) and I put my foot on the road.

It was a skating rink. But I was bored and got out, sort of skating around (pushing off with one foot, skidding along on the other). To make a long story slightly less long, it took about two hours to clear the road enough to slip (literally) on by. A guy in a 4-Runner pulled the Chevy pickup out of the ditch, and the local marshal (tooling around in a 4x4 pickup) got another car back on the ice. The deputy said I’d probably be okay if I kept two wheels in the grass (still slick, but some traction) until I got past the creek, where the road was in better shape, and asked everyone where they were going. It turned out not to be idle curiosity; they sent the salt trucks in the directions that people were going. One passed me about three miles from home, as I was gingerly navigating one of many ice patches on my road. Again, there were cars behind me but as they found the going really icy and weren’t using the grass, I left them behind.

So I left work just after 6, and got home about 11:30. If I’d known it would be that bad, I’d have just holed up in a motel for the night.

Monday, December 13, 2010 2 comments

White Pickups, Episode 65


The Bobs tended a small fire in a corner of the vacant lot across from a QuickFill. A warm front came in with the night, but the air was damp and “warm” is a relative term in January. A small hillock sheltered them from the wind and direct observation, and the surrounding weeds gave them at least an illusion of cover. Neither spoke for a long time in the dark. A colony of peepers in a nearby creek or pond began singing of springtime. The fire popped and hissed, smoke smelling of treated wood and trash. The wind, perhaps, made a scuffing noise — a noise one could imagine made by a black-clad youth, carrying a loaded pistol and a mind for vengeance — but imagination wasn’t the Bobs’ strong suit. In fact, Jared was the only one of them who’d had much imagination at all, for what good it did him.

“Did we do the right thing?” one of them said finally.

“You mean not staying and getting shot down like the others?”


A long pause. The peepers sang. Finally, “Yeah. We did. That guy was nothing he said he was.”

“False prophet.”

“Led astray.” The silence took over again, broken only by the peepers.

“Someone on their side knew what they were doing,” the first one said after a while.

“Jesus, yeah. Sucked us right in.”

“And that skinny queer again! Where’d he learn to shoot like that?”

“At least I got that sumbitch.”

“Yeah. Y’know, I was thinking: they prob’ly figure we’re halfway to Oklahoma by now. We could slip in and take ’em tonight. Go big, or go home?”

“We have to find some ammo first. Maybe tomorrow night. With their sharpshooter gone, we might have half a chance. I wonder who he was.”

She was my wife, you worthless fucks.”

“No!” Cleve rasped at the others, gathered at the gate. Several people had heard gunshots toward the freeway, and Cody was nowhere to be found. “Stay here! Those other two could be frickin’ anywhere. If Cody’s out there, Tim and I will find him!”

“It’s dark!” Kelly looked wild-eyed. “We can help look, they’ll never see us!”

“Hush, child,” Elly said; Kelly glared at her. “Cleve’s right. We get a bunch of folks runnin’ ’round out there, Cleve and Tim won’t know who’s us. Those bad men just have to stick together, and they can shoot anything else that moves. Who knows what’s goin’ on out there? You gotta know how to not be seen —”

“Sssh!” Tim hissed. Under the wind, they could hear a rhythmic clacking noise, approaching the gate. “For God’s sake, get out of sight!” Cleve and Elly slipped into the shadows along the guardhouse; the others dived into the bushes on either side behind the gate. The noise drew closer, then stopped.

“Hey,” a familiar voice said. “It’s me.”

“Shit!” Johnny gasped, standing. “You okay, Cody? Where the hell were you?”

Cody joined them, carrying an armload of guns; his jacket and face were covered with something, hard to see in the wavering flashlights. “Takin’ out the trash,” he said. “These are Sondra’s trophies. I want them buried with her.” He laid the guns at their feet.

“Cody!” Tina snapped. “What happened?”

“There were two left,” he said. “I took care of them.” He glared at the others, challenging them.

“What?” Kelly gasped. “You could have been killed too!”

“So what?”

Kelly gaped for a moment. Tim rescued her: “Where were they?”

“I figured they’d go back toward the freeway, so I just hiked up the road until I smelled smoke. You know all that lumber across from the QuickFill?” There was no humor in Cody’s smile. “We left the barricade out there in the vacant lot, and tossed the busted ramp over there too. That’s where the assholes were camping out, in the far corner. I kinda figured they would be. They were using the lumber for firewood. I heard ’em talking about getting some more ammo and coming back tomorrow night, they weren’t paying attention to nothing else.” He smirked. “They thought Sondra was a dude. So I took out the trash, and I was gonna dump ’em in a truck, but they would have just dropped through. I laid ’em out where they were, puked my guts out, then I got a shovel from that gravel place up the street and threw some dirt over ’em. Then I pissed on their grave.”

“Cody!” Tina gasped.

“What the hell, they’re dead anyway,” Cody said. “Like they had a right to say anything. I’ll get rid of the other assholes the same way, so don’t go lookin’ for them in the morning.” He turned away, then turned back. “Well, I guess that’s it. After I’m done, I’m goin’ to bed. Not that I’m gonna sleep much. I guess I was supposed to be alone all along.” He turned and walked away, disappearing into the night.

“You want some help?” Johnny called after him. “Y’know, we can do this tomorrow.”

“We’ll be scraping ’em off the pavement by tomorrow, the way the damn’ trucks keep running ’em over,” Cody called back through the dark. “Yeah, I guess you can help. I was gonna drag ’em all down to the vacant lot. You got any better ideas, I’m all ears.”


Sunday, December 12, 2010 2 comments

Mason & Moptop Hang Ornaments

Mrs. Fetched wanted the kids to participate…

Kids hanging ornaments

Of course, now that Mason hung ornaments up, he thinks he’s supposed to go pull them off. The pile of boxes make a barricade of sorts, but Mason has demonstrated some pretty good problem-solving skills in getting through it: “Okay… I pull this box back, push this chair forward, and I’m through!”

I’m trying to remember what we did when The Boy and Daughter Dearest were that age… seems like we had the smarts to downscale and uplift the grab-ables. Oh well.

Saturday, December 11, 2010 6 comments

Friday Flush

This was going to be a Friday Flash post, but things didn’t quite work out that way. I’ll have it ready next week, but I might as well catch y’all up on the everlasting soap opera here…

Five generationsMrs. Fetched’s granny died earlier this week, age 98. The photo here is from last fall, obviously, when Mason was rather tiny. The Boy got tagged as a pallbearer, which meant he had to do the monkey suit thing… which meant I had to tie a tie for him and loan him a jacket and black pants. The funeral was in Rome (GA), which meant I put over 300 miles on Mrs. Fetched’s car Wednesday and Thursday. Mrs. Fetched’s sister (the one who gave me the iPad) got a block of hotel rooms near the funeral home, but The Boy needed to be home because it was nearly certain he’d have a probation-related drug/alcohol test on Thursday morning… which meant I got to drive home. Mason stayed at the hotel with Mrs. Fetched.

“Make sure you get me up at 5:00 to make my call,” he said as he headed upstairs.

“If I wake up, I will,” I said. Left unsaid was this is your responsibility, why are you trying to dump it on me? But I did wake up shortly after 5 a.m., and heard the squawk of his alarm all the way in my bedroom. No surprise there, he’d sleep through World War III. I went up and poked him, told him to make his phone call. He turned off the alarm and I went back to bed.

Surprise! He also rolled over and went back to sleep. A friend of his called at 8 a.m. to let him know he needed to do something, so I took him to the ER to get a screen there. He got his papers, and we came back home. Whether it will be enough is the question… if the judge declares him in violation, he goes to jail for 90 days this time.

We got some breakfast and headed back to Rome. Mason did fair… he loved the flowers and wanted to touch (and chew) them. He finally got bored about halfway through the service and Cousin Al took him out back. Then at the graveside, he decided he wanted to preach his own sermon. His second cousin Skyler was already removed from the immediate action (via a nephew), and his other second cousin Wyatt (with his mom) joined us soon after. Being removed from the scene did not deter Mason from delivering his sermon, though.

Meanwhile, my car was in for a new idler pulley (yay, I was afraid the power steering pump was shot). $180 got me rolling again. The mechanic was impressed by the 402,000 miles on the odometer, and that’s a little low because the speedo only works intermittently these days. At least with a manual transmission, you can use the tach to figure out how fast you’re going.

This evening, Mrs. Fetched decided to (finally) put up the tree… so the living room looks like it always does this time of year. Mason and Moptop each hung ornaments on the lower branches, I’ll post pics tomorrow when I get a chance. I also made a loaf of bread this evening, and marked it with an M (for Mason). There was some dough stuck to the bread machine pan after the dough cycle completed. so I rolled it out and put it on top of the loaf. That I’ll also shoot in the morning…

Tuesday, December 07, 2010 12 comments

Winter #1 Comes In Like a… Snippy Snippet?

Along with the first serious arctic blasts from the uttermost north, comes a serious arctic blast from an uttermost ding-a-ling.

This really started Saturday, when I was alone with Mason pretty much all day while Mrs. Fetched and The Boy (and even M.A.E.) were at the chicken houses. Around 5pm, Snippet called wondering how she was going to get home from work.

“Sit tight, Mason’s been napping for a couple hours. I’ll just get him up and we’ll come get you.”

“Can’t The Boy come?”

“He’s still in the chicken houses.”

“Oh.” The unhappy kind.

I got Mason up. “You want to go bye-bye?” I asked him.

“Bye-bye.” He pointed at the door.

“You want to get your mom?”

He shook his head. Seriously, even Mason doesn’t like Snippet much.

As we were on our way to town, Mrs. Fetched called and asked me to meet them in town for supper. No problem… except that M.A.E. was riding with The Boy while Mrs. Fetched rode with Panda. Snippet is projecting her own guilt of cheating on him onto others, which means she has serious problems with The Boy’s long-since-ex M.A.E. being around him when she’s not there to supervise. Or whatever. Snippet even came out and told me she didn’t like it; I told her she had nothing to worry about.

To confirm my (lack of) suspicion, I later asked M.A.E. whether she had any designs on The Boy, which got her a bit pissy about Snippet’s suspicions. Somewhere along the line, M.A.E. went and told Snippet in essence to get over herself, she and The Boy were ancient history. Indeed… she was like 13 when they got together. (“I wonder who she was screwing then,” said Mrs. Fetched later. OUCH)

So we come to last night… Daughter Dearest arrived for the long Christmas break, and the three of us plus M.A.E. were chatting in the bedroom, when The Boy came down. “Can you come upstairs?” he asked. “Snippet wants to tell you something.”

What she had to say started with “You don’t talk to me, I don’t talk to you.” and continued with a rant about how I messed stuff up for her by “dragging” M.A.E. into the situation.

“What I was trying to do was help you get over this ridiculous idea that M.A.E. has any feelings for The Boy.”

“Yeah, well she posted something on Facebook about how she wanted to get back with him.” I was more than a little skeptical about this, and left. Turned out Snippet was right, M.A.E. had posted that… about three years ago. Jeeeeeeeeeez.

So this morning, she started in on me again, and I had enough. “As long as you keep pointing fingers in every direction except at the real problem, which is yourself, you’ll never solve your problems.” I had to repeat this, given that it contained a three-syllable word, and expected a “yeah whatever” kind of response. She turned away, then turned back.

“If Mason wasn’t standing right there,” she said, “this coffee would be all over you right now.”

“It’s a very good thing, for your sake, that it isn’t,” I said, and she woke up two brain cells long enough to agree. I may have ended up in jail, but I would have delivered unto her the ass-kicking she needs and deserves first. Now that I have time to plot a reaction if she actually does do something like that, I’ll settle for bodily throwing her out of my house — a much more satisfying solution, both short- and long-term.

Monday, December 06, 2010 10 comments

White Pickups, Episode 64


Sondra watched the sky, hurrying clouds gliding above the bare trees, knowing she was missing something important but not caring to grasp it. Suddenly, Cody’s twisted face replaced Sondra’s view of the sky. “Oh God, Sondra, oh God oh God, hang on, Rita’s coming, oh God —”

“I’m okay, Cody,” she whispered. “I just don’t remember getting down off the guardhouse. What’s the matter?”

Cody started crying. “They shot you, Sondra! Oh God, there’s blood everywhere, just hang on —”

Shot? She tried to think around Cody’s freak-out. She took out the preacher, the dangerous guy with the deer rifle who spotted her too late, Mr. Mirrorshades… and did she shoot that guy closest to Cody or not? She was on the guardhouse… and now she wasn’t. And what about Rita? It must be bad, she thought, Cody’s really freaking out. I should be scared… it should hurt. Am I dying? She felt the barest twinge of fear, but it was gone before she could catch it. She raised her arm; it felt heavy but she touched Cody’s lips then took his hand. He gripped it tight in his. “Are they gone? What about everyone else?”

“There were two left, the ones that shot you. They ran off. I tried to shoot them first, but I missed. I totally suck. Everybody else is okay. Cleve got ‘winged,’ he called it, but he bandaged it himself.” As Cody said his name, Cleve was there, kneeling at her feet, looking worried. An apparition, she ignored it.

“Good. I need to rest, Cody. Stay here.”

You stay here. Don’t leave me.” He kept talking, but it faded into buzzing as light seemed to shine from Cody’s anguished face and she closed her eyes…

Hi, cara.

“Dad? What are you doing here?”

I’ve been here all along. I was afraid something like this would happen.

“You were really here then? I thought you’d drove off.”

Nope. Just drank myself to death. I think that’s what happened, anyway. I looted me a couple cases of prime quality bourbon, the stuff I could never afford, and next thing I knew I was here.

“But I—? Oh God, no. I’ve gotta get back, Cody’s already freaking out!”

There’s no going back to the mess that guy made, cara. He was using hollow points.

“I… can’t I at least tell him good-bye?”

A pause. Yeah. But you don’t have much time. You — both of you — deserved better than this. He really loves you, you know. More than anything. I want you to tell him something…

The buzzing sound faded back to Cody’s voice. “Oh please God, let Sondra hang on, just a little longer, oh please —”

“Stop,” she whispered, and mirabile dictu, he did. She could barely see him — it was darker than it should have been — but that wasn’t important now. “Dad said I don’t have much time.”

“Your dad?”

“Yeah. He’s going to be all the way there for me now. He said to tell you, Revenge is a dish best served cold. But throw away the leftovers.”


“That’s what he said. You’ll figure it out. I believe in you, Cody.”

“Sondra, I love you, Sondra. I don’t want to live without you. I wish it was me there, not you.”

“I love you, Cody.” She shivered a moment. “But don’t —” She gasped as a spasm clamped her mangled guts.

“Don’t what? Sondra! Sondra!” She tried to force the words out, but the buzzing and the light came back…

“— push the world away… damn.”


“I needed more time!”

Yeah. Like seventy years, at least.

Before she could respond, she felt a tug on her arm — her right arm, now as dark and feeling as her left. A small, silent boy held her hand in both of his, looking up at her. His hair was jet black, and hung down nearly into his eyes; his complexion was olive like her own. Those eyes were big and round and dark… but luminous —

“Well, hey there,” she said, blinking. “Who are you?”

Looks like I almost had a grandson.

“Grandson? You mean — oh, crap. I was a few days late, but —” she sighed. “Yeah, I guess I knew, but I was pretending not to.” She looked down at her son. “Poor guy, you never had a chance, did you? You look just like Cody, too.” He said nothing, just held her hand and watched her with the same bright and solemn gaze.

He’ll get his chance when he’s reborn.

“Reborn? Is that what happens to babies who don’t make it?”

Yeah. Souls have to be tested. It’s time to go now. Your granmama is waiting for you.

“Oh, her too?”

Yeah. She had a heart attack the night of your first gunfight.

“I’m glad she didn’t drive off, anyway.” She took her father’s hand, and the three of them walked away.

“I’m so sorry, Cody,” Rita said, holding his hands in hers. He looked terrible, but wondered if she looked much better — the last few hours had been some of the worst of her career and life. The frenzied ride to the guardhouse, hearing Cody’s wail and knowing she was too late; she and Cleve loading Sondra’s lifeless body on the backboard and riding it back to her clinic, Cleve’s siren wailing… her clinical detachment broke several times through the afternoon.

Now, they sat in office chairs in the clinic, Sondra’s body lying covered on the exam table above them. A pair of oil lamps pushed back some of the gathering night and masked some of the clinical odor. “Please, believe me: even if we’d had a fully-functional trauma center here, with the best surgeons standing by, we couldn’t have saved her. She was…” Again, the droning voice of a certain pathologist at Grady began running through her head, as it did during her brief autopsy: Victim was struck by two gunshots to the abdomen. Exit wounds and extensive organ damage consistent with high-powered rifle, using soft-point or hollow-point ammunition. Damage to spinal column means Victim would have felt very little before expiring from blood loss. A final note: Victim’s uterus was swollen, consistent with early stage pregnancy. Test strip confirms diagnosis. “She was just so torn up.” She dared not say much more; Cody was already on the edge. No telling what he would do if she told him Sondra was pregnant.

Cody shook his head. “It’s my fault,” he said. “I panicked. I just started shooting at those guys, didn’t take the time to aim or anything. If I’d done it right, they wouldn’t have had the chance…” He took a deep, shuddering breath, but he’d run out of tears hours ago.

“Don’t blame yourself,” Rita said, squeezing his hand again. “You did the best you could. When I was stitching up Cleve, he told me all of you did a lot better than he’d expected. He said most soldiers never fire their weapon at all in their first battle. If you have to blame someone, blame the people who came here to kill us all just because we aren’t like them.” Cleve had also said Sondra should have stayed down and used the roof for cover, but that was something else Cody didn’t need to hear just now.

“Yeah.” Cody stood, turned to the exam table. For a moment, Rita thought he would lift the sheet, but he only put his hand on the table. He looked down, hair covering his eyes. “I know you did what you could, too. You’re not the bad guy here.”

“And neither are you, Cody. Remember that.”

“I know.”

Neither spoke for a moment. Rita stood to join Cody at the table. “Take care of yourself, Cody. I won’t try to tell you to get some sleep, or eat anything, but you’ll need to do both sooner or later. Preferably tonight.” Cody nodded, and Rita hugged him, wondering if anyone would sleep much tonight. He felt wooden in her embrace, but after a moment reached up and patted her shoulder.

“Thanks,” he said. “I gotta go now. I got stuff to do.” He slipped free and into the dark before Rita had a chance to ask him what he had in mind.


Friday, December 03, 2010 3 comments

A Comedy of Errors (not the TB kind)

Mrs. Fetched reminded me yesterday morning to get off work early so we could go see Daughter Dearest in the Christmas Concert at Reinhardt. Even DD herself got in the act, suggesting I skip picking up the Christmas present we bought Mrs. Fetched because I’d likely be going straight to the campus from work. And she was right, of course.

I was put slightly off-stride when The Boy called at 4:50 though, from Mrs. Fetched’s phone, wondering when I’d be home: my thought was, can’t she make her own call from her own phone? I had just slapped down the last piece of a major rewrite of a chapter, for a firmware manual at work, so I assured him I was just a couple steps from being out the door. I did have to throw the completed PDF in the approval tool, but that took about ten minutes. Packing up for the day took another ten, and I was off. Traffic on the freeway was a little bumpy; but GA141 now has two lanes open going both ways, all the way, and that knocked a good ten minutes off a 1-hour commute. At 6:02, I was on the last leg, about three miles away, and my phone went off again.

“Three minutes out,” I said. It was as good a substitute for “hello” as anything, especially since I knew what (s)he wanted.

“Okay, see you shortly.”

Before I was even out of the car, The Boy was crossing the driveway with Mason in the portable car seat. “We’re going to the tree lighting,” he said by way of greeting. “Then we got to go to T-Mobile and get my phone straightened out.” Aha, mystery solved. It wasn’t Mrs. Fetched poking him to call me, he was anxious all by himself. I’d planned to pocket the key and “forget” I had it, but it wasn’t that important. If he wanted to go places, he’d have to put gas in the car. No biggie.

Meanwhile, Mrs. Fetched was in the usual “out the door” tizzy. Skyler was at the house, and Big V was supposed to have picked him up already, but Mrs. Fetched had made arrangements to drop him off at her mom’s. Big V called and wanted me to come toward the retail and meet her, which was out of the way for us (not like that concerns Big V), but we told her where Skyler would be and that’s how it was. As always with these weeknight-evening concerts, time was a little tight for us.

I’ve mentioned before, Mrs. Fetched isn’t huge on planning ahead. “Living in the moment” is supposed to be a virtue, but can be annoying to everyone around when carried to an extreme. So we jump in her car, and I see it too is low on gas: not enough to get to Reinhardt, but plenty to get to several gas stations along the way. On the advice of Daughter Dearest, we passed by the first station (Chevron) since the second (Citgo) was 10 cents/gal cheaper. I got our gas and jumped back in the car —

Nothing. Not even a click. “What’s wrong?” she asked.

“Looks like a dead battery.” Fortunately, she does have jumper cables. A guy in an Explorer (which looked like it spent much of its life off-pavement) gave us a few minutes to get restarted, and away we went. Suddenly, Mrs. Fetched saw some virtue in making a plan: 1) Get to the performing arts center, and back into a parking spot near a streetlight. 2) Afterwards, take the battery out (Mrs. Fetched had a set of tools in the truck, ironically for Daughter Dearest’s car) and ride with DD to get something to eat. 3) Swing by Mal*Wart in Canton and get a new battery (Canton pretty much rolls up the sidewalks at 8, and Mal*Wart has the whole commercial scene to itself most evenings). 4) Come back and put the battery in, go home. It made me feel better that she wasn’t insisting on winging it, even if the old saw no plan survives first contact with the enemy holds true. In this case, things took a big left turn after step 1.

We went inside, got through the line… and there were two old bats in our seats. Mrs. Fetched’s eyes aren’t all that great lately, so I double-checked the row and seat. Yup, those were our seats, and they weren’t even looking at us. Mrs. Fetched decided to get an usher, who looked at our tickets. “These are for tomorrow night,” she said.

“What?” she wasn’t exactly prepared for that. Needless to say, I wasn’t terribly thrilled about the situation. They reprinted our tickets and we went back out into the chilly night.

We had to park a long way from the door, so we discussed our next move. “I have a spare set of keys for DD’s car in my purse,” she said. “We can find her car and jump off mine with it, go to Mal*Wart, then meet her for supper after the concert’s over.” This sounded like a pretty good plan — she’s quite capable of making logical plans, it would be nice if she’d do it more often — but in this case she was wrong about the keys. At that point, The Boy called. “We’re almost out of gas, so you need to come get us.”

“We’re all the way to Waleska,” I said. After some back and forth, he whined about how much gas was left. “Just go straight home and you’ll get there, that’s about 30 miles worth of gas.” Of course, he chose to ignore the “go straight home” part, but that came later.

There was a slope where we parked, so I figured we could roll the car off and get going that way — and there were plenty of open spots below, so if it didn’t work we could still get the car out of the way. “I’ll push,” Mrs. Fetched said, “you can drop the clutch faster.” I also stomped the gas as I dropped the clutch, and there was just enough juice in the battery to do the job! We got to Mal*Wart without incident, even getting an open spot near the door as we arrived, got the battery, and (with the usual working around the lack of space that is prevalent in maintaining a Japanese car) put it in. Problem solved, just in time for Daughter Dearest to call. “You guys are still here?”

“We had to get a new battery for the car,” I said. “You want to get some supper? We can come back for you or meet you.”

“We’re still going, won’t be done until like 10. Just go on and we’ll meet tomorrow.” (In other words, the night we actually should have been there.)

We grabbed some chow, and the text messages started arriving before we’d properly finished. Everything was coming from Snippet’s phone, but sometimes it was unclear which one of them was sending. Transcript:

TB/SN: Yup guess what we are out of gas stuck in town
Jam is bring us a gas can
Me: OK, good that you have a can coming. Just got both msgs.
TB/SN: Yeah thanks
Me: The blue car had a dead batt when you called. We had to go to Mal*Wart for a new one. Is Mason OK?
TB/SN: Ha that's what u get for leaving us with a car with no gas and yeah Mason is fine we are at [JW’s] and when we went to leave the car would not start
Me: So I guess you didn't go right home? But I didn't know you would be going anywhere anyway, & even then it's not my job to buy you gas.
TB/SN: Yeah well [JW] ask if we could stop bye and thank god because if would not of stopped we would of run out of gas in the middle of no where at lease w
e were somewhere and they live right inside of town so we didn't go out of our way to see them

There was more… Snippet had told me earlier in the week that she was getting paid Thursday, so I wondered why she didn’t have gas money herself. Turned out she got paid early last week because of Thanksgiving and she actually gets this week’s check this afternoon. oooooops But we got home, they got home, they ate our leftovers, they put Mason to bed. Just another cRaZy evening at the free-range insane asylum.

This morning, Snippet was whining about her paycheck not being enough to cover her bills — welcome to my world. “What kind of job can I get to make more money?” she asked me.

“I dunno,” I said. “Stripper?”

Wednesday, December 01, 2010 2 comments

Wednesday Wibbles

Wibble: (UK, Internet slang) Meaningless or content-free chatter in a discussion; drivel, babble.

Maybe this should be Monthly Musings, given the frequency I post them. Anyway…

• • •

I found this Eschatological Taxonomy Poster to be interesting. On this scale, FAR Future is a Level 0 apocalypse, and White Pickups is more or less a Level 2. I say “more or less” because (in the story) the bulk of the human race is eliminated not by war or disease, but a zillion trucks.

• • •

Mason and I have both had colds lately. It’s more effort than it’s worth, trying to figure out who passed it to whom. But Mrs. Fetched waited until last night to tell me I ran a high fever Monday night. I must have worried her; I knew I had a fever because I had major chills — like I had no body heat at all — when getting out of bed to use the bathroom. But I woke up some time in the night, and was really hot on top. I figured Mrs. Fetched had dug out an electric blanket to help warm me up, and it had done a fine job.

“I’m hot. You can turn down the electric blanket now,” I told her.


“The electric blanket. You need to turn it down, I’m too hot.”

“Um… I don’t have the controls.”

“Okay, just turn it off or unplug it.”

Needless to say, there was no electric blanket. It sure felt like one though. She may have thought I was delirious, because she asked me if I remembered it. She did say I was really hot; she didn’t stick a thermometer in me but figured I was around 104°F. Just to be sure, though, I stayed out of work on Monday and Tuesday. The good thing about when I get those chills is that it means the cold is almost over. I figure I’ll be fine by the weekend.

• • •

This just in: Snippet tells me that Mason just climbed up into a chair on his own! I see many faceplants in his future. Or maybe not… The Boy did okay. I did have to convince him that he could climb down from whatever he climbed up to, though.

• • •

We’ve gone from a November that felt like October, to a December that feels like… December.

• • •

Mrs. Fetched canceled the planned move of video equipment. M.A.E. and Moptop sleep in the guest room; that wouldn’t be a problem except that Moptop has a really bad habit of feeding DVDs into VCR slots and anywhere else they’ll go. And can’t be trusted with markers or anything else resembling a writing utensil. So says my dresser, some of DoubleRed’s sheets, other furniture…

• • •

Speaking of Moptop, she’s almost as skilled as Snippet at getting on people’s nerves. Even Mason’s. Either she has no concept of personal space, or Mason has an early start at the concept himself. I can be doing something with him, and Moptop will start crowding in — either to see what’s what, or just to be a part of it — and Mason will go “Urrrrrr!!!” and shove her away. It’s kind of funny, really.

• • •

Mason, on the other hand, has really been good about letting us wipe his nose during this cold.

• • •

The toilet in our bathroom may need to be replaced. Or there just might be something in there that Mason tossed in while I wasn’t looking… he’s fascinated with toilets for some reason. Maybe he was a plumber in a previous life. But at the same time, the flapper thing isn’t seating right and Mrs. Fetched wants to replace the guts anyway. I think just moving the chain to another position will help.

“But it’s all corroded and I want to replace it.”

At this point, I just have to fall back on the old standby: “Do what you want — you will anyway.” She grinned.

• • •

After all the sturm und drang around the Wikileaks release of s00p3r-s3kr1t diplomatic cables, we have learned that: 1) diplomats have opinions; 2) Russia is a kleptocracy. In other words, they’re trying to nail this Assange guy on what could very well be bogus rape charges, for telling us stuff we knew already?


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