Tag Archives: humor

Wave of the Future

I am not particularly happy with the way trends are heading when it comes to possessions these days, especially anything digital. To be specific, we really don’t own anything any longer. We either license products or rent them or subscribe to them and those same products often take our information and sell it to advertisers. That got me thinking what these sort of ideas might look like in another context.

Adapted from “Antique Stove” by Kool Cats Photography over 14 Million Views is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

Wave of the Future

Pansy was excited. She still felt the glow of the wedding last week, and now she and Walter were moving into their very own home in town and even getting a new stove. She wasn’t going to cook over a fireplace like her mother had for her whole life. This was 1875. These were modern times.

“These here are the finest examples of the latest in stove technology,” the salesman said, sweeping an arm to encompass the room full of shiny ironware. “Now, at this end are all the standard ranges. They’ve been around for a while. They’re good, but nothing special. But I’ve got a feeling that you want something special.”

Pansy nodded and beamed up at Walter, who was looking less certain. “How much does special cost?” Walter asked.

“Worth every penny,” the salesman said, winking at Pansy. “Take this Ramscackle #6 Food Instantiator, made by the Ramscackle Brothers right here in town. Wave of the future, this one is. We took design ideas straight out of the twenty-first century to make this. Just think: you’d be 200 years ahead of your neighbors, ma’am.”

“How do you know what they’ll be doing in 200 years?” Walter asked. Pansy frowned at him. He was entirely missing the spirit of the occasion.

“It’s all very scientific, I assure you,” the salesman said. “Nothing good Christians like you would object to, I’m sure.” He hurriedly threw a newspaper over a crystal ball that was sitting on the desk.

Walter seemed resistant, but Pansy wore him down over the next few hours and by the time they left, they were in possession of a brand new Ramscackle #6 Food Instantiator. The company promised it would be delivered the next day.

The stove arrived the next morning. Pansy fairly bounced up and down with excitement as the delivery men carried it into the kitchen and set it up. A small boy came in with them, and Pansy assumed he was the son of one of the men until they thanked her and left. The boy stayed behind, crouching by the side of the stove.

“Excuse me, do you belong to one of the men?” Pansy asked him. The boy ignored her.

Pansy ran outside. “Did one of you leave your son behind?” she asked. “There is a young boy in my kitchen.”

“He comes with the stove,” one of the men said. “It was on the papers you signed yesterday.”

“Like a servant, you mean?” Pansy asked.

“No, of course not! He doesn’t do any work. He’ll just sit there. You don’t need to feed him or talk to him. It’s his job, but we’ll switch him out with another kid every so often.”

“Why is he there then?”

“He just comes with the stove,” the man said, looking more uncomfortable. “Well, we gotta go. Bye!”

Pansy went inside and began to investigate the stove. The boy watched her but did not say anything. It was a little creepy but she forced herself to ignore him. After all, this was the modern way.

The next week, Pansy and Walter were sitting on the porch after dinner when a man approached.

“Good evening,” he said. “I wanted to let you know that Thomas and Sons General Store just got in a shipment of molasses. They’re selling it at a discount for anyone who buys more than one gallon.”

“That’s very convenient,” Pansy said. “I just ran out of molasses this morning. Thank you for letting us know. We’ll go get some.”

“That’s strange,” Walter said a minute later. “He just skipped three houses but went to the fourth one. It’s like he knew we were out of molasses.”

“The boy must have told him,” Pansy said. “Still, that’s convenient.”

“Excuse me.” There was another man at the front gate. “If you’ve got a minute, I’d like to tell you about Slatterly’s Woolen Goods. Are you plagued by holes wearing too fast in your undergarments? Slatterly’s patented anti-hole technology means fewer holes in your undergarments, for both the men and the ladies.”

 Walter jumped up and there was a screech from the kitchen a moment later. He came back carrying the boy and put him down outside the fence. The boy gave him a reproachful look and flounced away.

The next morning when Pansy went down to make breakfast, the boy was sitting by the stove again and a group of men were prying something off the front of the stove.

“Excuse me!” Pansy cried. “Who are you?”

“Oh, don’t worry, we work for the Ramscackle Brothers,” one of the men said. “You see, the company got a new logo, so we are just switching it out on your stove.”

“How did you get in though?”

“The boy let us in with his key,” the man said. He saw the outrage on Pansy’s face. “Well, of course he needs a key,” he said. “How else is he supposed to come and go when his shift ends.”

“Yes. Very reasonable,” Pansy said. “When will you be done? I need to make breakfast.”

“I’d say we’re about 22% done,” the man said. The others nodded. “Maybe another hour?”

Walter was not too happy to come down and find a bunch of strange men in his kitchen and no breakfast ready. “They’re updating the stove,” Pansy whispered.

“Could you possibly do this later?” Walter asked.

“Well, we could, of course, but we’re halfway through now. In the future, we can schedule updates to your stove at night, so you won’t be disturbed.”

“You think there will be more?”

The man shrugged. “Hard to say.”

Pansy gave a party for her neighbors the next day and the praise and admiration over the stove was enough to make it all worthwhile. She tried to ignore the boy, even when she found him reading through her diary. She laughed off the ads that were baked into the side of each loaf of bread made with the Ramscackle loaf pans they had bought. It felt good to be modern.

Two months after they had bought the stove, a woman came to the door. Pansy showed her into the parlor.

“Thank you for seeing me,” the woman said. “My name is Miss Cuthbert and I am a lawyer for Amalgamated Ranges and Cookery, Inc.”

“A female lawyer!” Pansy said. “How very modern.”

“We are a very modern company,” Miss Cuthbert said gravely. “We have just purchased the Ramscackle Brothers factory. As a customer of Ramscackle Brothers, I wanted to extend to you a special offer. It is known as the Eternal Cookery program. For one dollar a month, we will provide you with a new model of stove every time one comes out. The subscription also comes with ten cubic feet of offsite storage.”

Pansy confusion was evident. “That means you can store food at our warehouse downtown,” Miss Cuthbert said. “There are a million reasons why you should. What if you make too much food and your icebox fills up, as well as your pantry? Are you just going to throw it away? That’s such a waste. And what if your house burns down? You wake up the next day in a tent in the backyard and there’s nothing to eat! Just call us and we’ll deliver the food you stored there. You can do it anytime. Just say ‘I want my stored food’ and the boy will run and tell us.”

This was all too much. Pansy suddenly thought of cooking with her mother over the fireplace when she was growing up on the farm. That had seemed much simpler even if it was a lot harder in some ways. It would be nice to go back to that simpler time.

“Four of your neighbors have already signed up for the Eternal Cookery Program,” Miss Cuthbert said.

“Very well,” Pansy said. “We’ll do it.”


Saving the Short-Legged Ones

Basile Morin, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0&gt;, via Wikimedia Commons

Saving the Short-Legged Ones

Alice was driving to McDonald’s when she saw a woman walking her leash. The first thing that flashed through her mind was that it was one of those invisible dog gag leashes that seem to be popular at carnivals. But this leash was trailing far behind the woman, and there was no one else around to appreciate the humor. Alice couldn’t imagine anyone being that committed to the joke, especially one that wasn’t very funny to begin with.

Ghost Dog 2: The Rebarkening (source)

Do people actually walk their pet skinks? she wondered, then felt very proud of herself that she had thought skink and not just lizard. Her Reptile-a-Day calendar seemed to be working.

As she got closer, she saw that there was an animal at the end of the leash, a real dog, or at the very least an especially hairy skink. It seemed to be some sort of teacup poodle, although for this one, thimble poodle might be more apt.

The woman was wearing earphones and seemed to be striding along to the oldies. The little pup was giving it the old community college try* to keep up with her but when you have to take four hundred steps to your owner’s one, it’s pretty much a losing battle. It occurred to Alice that the dog might have been much larger at the beginning of the walk but had burned off most of its body weight already.

*like a college try, but mostly done in the evenings and on weekends.

Of course, all of this happened in the space of a few seconds and then Alice had driven past and the woman and her marathoning pet were receding into her rear view mirror.

Alice happened to tell her family about the episode at dinner that night. Her husband Mark laughed.

“You should have filmed it,” he said. “That would be great for the channel.” Mark had recently started a YouTube channel called Good for What Fails You, which was terribly named and consisted mostly of fail videos stolen from other sites.

“No, that’s terrible!” their 12-year-old son Corbin said. He was planning to be a companion-animal veterinarian when he grew up and hated to see any animal in distress. “We need to call the authorities.”

“And say what? There’s a dog out there whose legs are too short?”

“It’s cruelty,” Corbin said. “It’s like you being tied to the back of a car and then forced to run.”

“So what do you want to do?”

So Corbin came up with a plan. It was bold, it was daring, it was completely insane, but Alice did not want to discourage him from thinking creatively. She even helped him implement it.

Mark agreed to help only if he could film the encounter and put it on his channel. “Don’t try too hard,” he said. “If this ends in a disaster, so much the better.”

Through some stake-out work over the next week, they discovered that the woman walked her dog along the same route every afternoon. The next Monday they had everything ready and by 4:15, everyone was in their place. Alice was loitering on the corner of 45th and Penelope Street while Corbin hid in the bushes nearby. Mark was parked across the street with his camera ready.

The woman appeared around the corner and came towards Alice, trailing her leash. The dog seemed to have gotten smaller. Maybe it would eventually just shrink to the point where it would just slip the collar and run away.

“Excuse me!” Alice said as the woman approached. She waved a hand. The woman stopped and took off her headphones.

“Yes?”

“Have you seen my gila monster?” Alice asked. “I was walking him and he seems to have disappeared.” Mark and Corbin both thought this was an idiotic cover story, but Alice was determined to get the most out of her Reptile-a-Day calendar.

The woman’s forehead wrinkled. Behind her, the dog had slumped to the ground, panting.

Corbin tried to creep out of the bushes, but tripped and sprawled on the sidewalk with a loud crack of breaking branches. The woman started to turn around.

“Wait, is that him?” Alice cried, pointing ahead of them. Corbin picked himself up, then carefully picked up the dog as well. He slid a small custom-made skateboard under it, then snugged the safety belt across the dog’s back. He pushed the straw that led to the on-board water bottle towards the dog’s mouth.

“I haven’t seen anything like that, sorry,” the woman said. Corbin was massaging the dog’s head with two fingers. Alice tried to signal him with her eyes to get out of there.

“Okay, thanks. I’m sure the little guy’s around here somewhere.” She walked past the woman and jabbed a finger at Corbin to get moving.

They stood on the sidewalk and watched the woman recede into the distance, the tiny skateboard bouncing along after her.

“She’ll notice it when she gets home,” Alice said. “It might not solve anything in the long run.”

“But at least it helped the little guy this time,” Corbin said.

“You’re a good kid,” Alice said, putting an arm around his shoulders. “Now let’s go cheer your father up. He’s going to be sad no one got hurt.”


Portentous Tinsel

My apologies to all my Friday Fictioneers friends that I could not read your stories a few weeks back. I usually try to read as many as I can but this has been a busy time. I’m looking forward to reading them this week, plus looking forward to Thanksgiving in a few weeks when I can get a few days off.

copyright Dale Rogerson

Portentous Tinsel

Dad thought Christmas made everything better, so when he started putting up decorations in August, we knew something terrible had happened.

Jasmine felt the dog’s pulse as Dad assembled the Christmas tree. When he put on carols, I called to check on Grandma.

By the afternoon, he was putting up the outside lights and my search history included words like “asteroid” and “zombies”. Mom had no idea, but she gave us a signed affidavit they weren’t getting divorced.

Dad came inside. “Merry Christmas.” He wiped away a tear. “I have tragic news. Tom Seaver died today.”

Silence. “Who?” Mom asked.

In case your reaction was the same as Mom’s: Tom Seaver


Where You Stare into the Story, the Characters Stare Back

copyright J Hardy Carroll

“Check it out what this old man gave me,” Brad said, showing Mark his backpack. “Any books you put in here are weightless. The drawback is you forget how to read.”

“That sounds like that one Rick & Morty episode,” Mark said.

“So?”

“So, do you want to get sued?”

“That’s fiction!”

“So are we!” Mark looked nervously at the edges of the blog post.

*         *         *

David sat back in frustration. This cursed story generator worked great, but the characters kept announcing the plot and breaking the fourth wall. Still, it was worth it to get Friday Fictioneers ideas every week.

Read all the other Friday Fictioneers stories based on this picture.


The Exchange Bank

The idea for this story came about seven months ago when I was traveling and wondered what it would be like to travel internationally in a purely barter economy.

Prescott stood in a crowd at the exchange bank, meaning a long section of the river bank where you could exchange things. He had just arrived by boat for vacation. This was his one chance for adventure and to see new things. So far, the exchange bank was providing enough new sights, sounds, and smells for at least a month.

Standing in front of Prescott was a man with the word Teller on a placard around his neck. Prescott wasn’t sure what that meant, although it apparently meant someone whose job it was to tell him things.

The teller was looking skeptically down at the sand dollars Prescott had spread out on the table.

“I don’t know,” he said at last. “Who would want them? I mean, what do they do?”

“They’re transportable wealth,” Prescott said, feeling an uncomfortable feeling growing in his head. “You can carry them around. And they’re pretty. Look, I just want to trade them for something that would be valuable where I’m going inland.”

“Onyx is big these days,” the teller said. “They hit a big vein just down the coast six months ago. Of course, that means people don’t want it as much either. I mean, it’s pretty, but you’re better going with something practical, like wheat or cheese.”

“So, what should I do?” It felt like a betrayal of his own abilities to even have to ask, but Prescott could not envision himself carting around a hundred pounds of cheese for the next month.

“You know what you should get into,” the teller said, with a thoughtful squint. “Sheep. They’re walking meat, milk, and wool. Plus, a caravan came through a week ago and snapped up all the sheep and herded them south. There’s a severe shortage now.”

“Then how am I supposed to get them?” Prescott asked, surrendering all pretense of competence in finance.

“There’s one herd left,” the teller said, pointing to a dirty white clump of bodies a stone’s throw down the bank. “They’re old and ornery, so no one wants them. You’ll get them cheap. All you have to do is drive them ten miles inland to the town of Wakk and trade them for miniature stone carvings of the god Bingbong, the patron god of miniature stone carvings. Those things are valuable anywhere.”

This was sounding like an awful lot of work just to get enough wealth to travel for vacation. It would make a good story though.

“Yessir, you could travel a week on a single Bingbong if you’re careful,” the teller said, answering the question Prescott never asked. “You should be able to get 8, maybe 10 for that herd in these times.”

With thoughts of having his trip financed for ten whole weeks, Prescott made his way over to the sheep herd. He had planned to travel until he ran out of funds, but he had not been sure how far the 48 sand dollars he had collected would take him.

“What do you do with them?” one of the shepherds asked when Prescott proposed the trade.

“You carry them somewhere else and trade them for other things,” Prescott said. He lifted up his right foot and scraped it off on a nearby rock. “And they don’t smell or poop.” The shepherds did a straight swap, trading all 48 sand dollars for the 26 sheep. One of them even threw in his staff as well.

“You’ll need it,” the man said before the two of them wrapped up the sand dollars and ran off, whooping with joy.

The sheep weren’t just ornery, Prescott found. They were also old, decrepit, lame, and in one instance, dead. He discovered this when he made an exploratory attempt at herding (by yelling and accidentally hitting himself in the foot with the staff). The flock had moved a desultory few feet, except for one particularly bad-smelling ewe who stayed put. Prescott found that it was being held up by wire.

He had gotten the flock up the bank and almost to the main road that led out west when there was a sudden buzz in the air, as if a celebrity had just entered the room, or at least an especially large wasp. Prescott turned to see four ships entering the harbor.

“Sheep ship!” he heard. “The sheep ships are here.”

Prescott found a teller. “We’ve been waiting for these for weeks,” the man said. He caught sight of Prescott’s decrepit flock. “Ooh, you might want to get those inland as fast as possible. That’s the only way you’ll get anything for them now.”

For the next few days, Prescott struggled to keep his vile flock moving along the inland road as huge flocks of strong and relatively nice-smelling sheep passed him by. He was almost relieved when five of his sheep got lost in the woods and another two fell in the river.

Finally he arrived in Wakk and made his way to the local exchange meadow. There seemed to be more sheep than people there.

“I’ll give you half a Bingbong for them,” one man said, sizing up the flock. He shrugged. “I dropped it on the ground.”

I think I have a title for my travel memoir, Prescott thought as he walked away. How I Turned 48 Sand Dollars into Half a Bingbong. If he ever got home alive, it would make a good story.


The Brushubus

The horror…the horror… (Source)

The phone rang just as I was waking up. To be fair, it was noon, so I couldn’t complain. I looked at the screen: an unknown number, but it was coming from Moldova, which intrigued me. My Romanian was pretty rusty, but I figured even if it was a scammer, it was worth answering.

“Bună,” I said into the phone.

“What?” It was a woman’s voice, sounding confused.

“Who’s this?” I asked.

“Georgette. Is this Apollinaire Jobhy?”

“Call me Paul,” I said. I liked to have it both ways, the distinction of having a unique name without the hassle of actually using it. “Are you in Moldova?”

“What? I’m here in Montreal. Are you in—”

“Your phone says you’re in Moldova,” I said, cutting her off. I liked my conversations as short as possible before I had my coffee.

“I found this phone in my apartment when I moved in,” Georgette said. “It still worked so I’ve been using it. I don’t know who’s paying the bills. Look, are you the paranormal accountant? I need help.”

“That’s me,” I said with a yawn. I didn’t tell her that I had never actually used my degree in paranormal accounting. My college advisor had been way off about how useful it would be. “How did you hear about me?”

“I found you on the Internet,” she said.

That was a bad sign. I could only afford to advertise on pop-up ads and I automatically distrusted the intelligence of anyone who would click on a pop-up ad, let alone call the number it gave.

“What’s the problem?” I asked.

She hesitated for a minute. “It’s something you have to see.”

Oy, this kind of client: the show and tell kind. She was the kind of person who would refuse to say “my husband’s been murdered” over the phone and would make you drag yourself over to the crime scene in order to point at the mangled body of her late spouse half in the washing machine and then say, “my husband’s been murdered.” To give a hypothetical.

I agreed to come to her apartment at three. She gave me an address in the Mile End neighborhood, which was a good sign that she would at least be able to pay for whatever services I provided.

I got to the house at 2:55 and hung around outside until 3:15 before climbing up the white-trimmed stairs to the second-floor apartment. It’s never good to be on time too often or people start to expect it.

Georgette met me at the door in a terrycloth robe with her hair tied up in a rainbow bandana. She led me into the living room. I didn’t see any deceased spouses half hanging out of anything, so things were looking okay so far.

“Here’s the problem,” she said and untied the bandana. A cascade of auburn hair fell across her shoulders, as lustrous as a shampoo commercial. I stayed silent since I had no idea where this was going. We stared at each other for a second.

“It’s brushed,” she said. “I think it’s even conditioned.”

“Oh, it’s beautiful,” I said quickly. “You did a great job.”

“I didn’t do it!” she shouted. “I went to bed an absolute mess and woke up like this.”

“Good?” I ventured. I took another glance around, just to make sure this wasn’t leading up to a dead husband somehow.

“It’s terrible!” she cried. “I’m an actress, you know. I just moved here to shoot a movie called Legal Animals. I play Kitty, the former Miss Universe-turned-homeless woman with a heart of gold. She’s been living on the streets for years. My hair has to look horrible and shooting starts in three days!”

“I’ve heard of this,” I said, just to stall for time. “Where do you sleep?”

She showed me the bedroom. Clothes were strewn around like the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. I reached under the bed and pulled my hand back sharply. My finger was bleeding. Turning on my phone’s flashlight, I looked under the bed.

“Just as I suspected,” I said. I grabbed a hanger lying nearby and fished out a hairball the size of a tennis ball.

“That’s gross,” Georgette said.

“You have no idea,” I said. I pulled out a Ziploc bag and pushed the hairball inside. “This is a demonic hairball. I think I know your problem.”

What was surprising was that I actually did. Paranormal accounting is more about hidden treasure and satisfying the demands of long-dead auditors. We don’t do much with hair that get mysteriously brushed during the night, but paranormal everythings tend to talk. We have conferences and everything and I just happened to attend a breakout session about this very problem at the last conference I’d attended: SpookCon ‘18.

“You’re being haunted by a brushubus,” I said. “It’s a demon that sneaks into your bedroom at night and brushes your hair. Sometimes it even styles it. You can tell they’re around by demonic hairballs under the bed.”

“And by the fact that my hair gets brushed every night by itself,” Georgette added. I nodded sagely.

“So what do we do about it?” she asked. “Shooting starts in three days, and I absolutely have to look like a bum.”

“Can I see your phone?” I asked. I wasn’t sure it would help with the brushubus, but I’d been curious about it ever since she mentioned finding it.

Georgette handed me a beat-up cell phone. The photo album was full of selfies of an elderly bald man in a variety of poses. I instantly recognized Dr. Iulian Turcan, the Moldovan professor of criminal entomological engineering, the incredibly niche field of designing insect-like robots to steal things.

“Here’s the problem,” I said. “It looks like this guy, Dr. Turcan, used to live here. He’s been hiding for years from a group of crime-fighting anteaters. They probably got wind of him and he had to leave quickly, forgetting his phone. He’s bald, so the brushubus must have been starved for anything to brush for that whole time. When you moved in, it took out all that pent-up brushing on you.”

“So what can I do?” Tears were queuing up on her lashes, preparing to kamikaze her cheeks.

“There are two options,” I said. “It is possible to get rid of a brushubus. The first think you have to do is—”

“Make a pentagram of combs!” she cried, clapping her hands.

“Please let me finish,” I said. “You would need someone with even more hair to come stay here. Every day you move their bed a little closer to the door. Soon they’re sleeping in the driveway, and the brushubus will go with them. Over a course of months you move their bed further down the road until it reaches another house and there you go.”

“What’s the second option?”

I told her. She took that option.

Georgette insisted on paying me my hourly rate of $60/hour. Unfortunately since I was so good, that left me with ten dollars for my work. Taking my advice, she made a reservation at a hotel for the three weeks of shooting where her hair would remain as messy as she liked. When it was over, she could return and have free hair care for the rest of her life.

“Just watch out for the demonic hairballs,” I said. “They bite. But they do eat all the dust bunnies, so it’s not all bad.”

Putting my ten-dollar bill carefully in my wallet, I went outside and down the stairs. Another case successfully solved, another client happy. But as I walked to the bus stop, a nagging discontent pricked at my mind.

Was I ever actually going to use my degree in paranormal accounting?


The Clue of the Pickle

copyright Ted Strutz

I froze when I opened the trash. There was a pickle.

I hate pickles.

And I live alone.

Someone was in my house! Eating pickles.

Then a man walked into the kitchen.

He screamed.

I screamed.

Not for ice cream.

I called 911. He did too.

911 came.

They arrested me! They said I was living in this guy’s attic for months.

That doesn’t seem right, but it’s true I’m not in any of the framed pictures.

Which is strange.

They ordered a psych evaluation.

I just have one question.

Who have I been paying rent to all this time?


Ringing

tinnitus

The doctors were perplexed, although not enough to do much about the problem, which was that Tonya’s ears had been ringing for the last month. The low tone monotone squeal made Tonya want to rip her hair out and stick her head under the water. She played loud rock music whenever she could, but then at night, when the noise departed and silence washed back over the house, the ringing resurfaced.

The first doctor suggested a few things she could try—none of which worked—and charged her $150 for the 10 minutes of terrible advice. The second doctor spent 20 minutes with her and prescribed her medicine. But he charged $180, and the medicine didn’t work.

Tonya was watching TV five weeks after the ringing had started and kept turning up the volume to drown out the sound in her ears. Finally, she hit her right temple just once with the heel of her hand, using defective-alarm-clock logic to stop the ringing.

The ringing stopped.

She muted the TV just to make sure. Blessed, blessed silence.

“Hello?” a tentative voice said, seemingly out of nowhere.

“Hello?” Tonya said, looking around her chair for tiny home invaders. She checked her phone to make sure she hadn’t butt dialed anyone.

“I’m glad we could reach you,” the voice asked.

Tonya got up and moved to the kitchen. “Are you still there?”

“Yes. Thank you for answering. We’ve called you several times.”

“You have?” The voice seemed to be following her. It seemed to be in her own head. She thought about the medicine she was taking and wondered if hallucinations were a side effect. Tonya looked under the kitchen table.

“Oh yes!” the woman practically cooed. “We’ve been calling and calling.”

“So . . . what do you want?” Tonya asked.

“I’m glad you asked,” the woman said. “We have this great limited time offer on a new Pan Am credit card, only 45% APR for eligible customers, with 25% on balance transfers and very affordable annual fees. You gotta act now though.”

Tonya hit her left temple. She did it a couple times until the woman’s voice suddenly cut off. Well, that was that.

A minute later, the ringing started again.

It took five minutes before Tonya broke down and hit her right temple. The ringing stopped.

“Hello?” she said.

“Good evening, ma’am,” a man’s voice said.

“Are you from the credit card?” Tonya asked.

“Credit card?” the man said. “Goodness, no. Nothing like that. I was just wondering if you were satisfied with your long-distance service. Deseret Telecom now has a package deal for this month only—”

Tonya hit her left temple so hard she only most knocked herself out.

*         *         *

“Let me get this straight, you want me to prescribe you medication that will put you on a no-call list?” The doctor’s forehead wrinkled so hard it looked like a geriatric pug. Tonya thought she could see his hand straying towards the speed dial button marked Psychiatric Ward.

“Well, not exactly,” Tonya said, “but essentially, yes.”

The doctor prescribed her medication to help her relax and charged $240 for the service.

*         *         *

“I don’t think you’re lying,” Tonya’s sister Debbie said that night. “You don’t have the imagination for it.” They were sitting on Tonya’s couch eating Slovenian takeout from their favorite restaurant, Little Ljubjana.

“But you think I’m crazy?”

“Eh.” Debbie shrugged. “Is it still ringing?”

“Nonstop. I’m going bonkers, no joke.”

“So answer it. Answer it now. Let’s see who it is.”

Tonya set down her Styrofoam container of štruklji and tapped her right temple. “Hello?”

“Congratulations, you’ve won the lottery!” a cheery woman’s voice said.

“So, how much did I win?” Tonya asked, picking up the štruklji again.

“Ten million lievers!” the woman crowed.

“Oh, really? Ten million levers?” said Tonya, who couldn’t see how the woman had spelled the word. “So what is that in real money?”

The woman’s confident tone faltered. “I’m sorry?” The conversation had apparently gone off script.

“What’s a lever?” Tonya took a big bite and gave Debbie an apologetic look. Debbie, who could only hear Tonya’s side of the conversation, was looking worried and fascinated and a bit like she had to pee. Worrinated, Tonya decided. I won the lottery, she mouthed.

“It’s . . . money,” the woman said. She appeared to find her place again. “So anyway, we are all ready to send you your winnings. All we need from you first is—” Tonya tapped her left temple and hung up.

“I’m not ruling out insanity,” Debbie said, when Tonya had relayed the call to her. She held up a finger messy with prekmurska gibanica. “But, you may be getting telemarketing calls from another dimension. I’m not saying you are, but it is either that or insanity.”

“Okay, Stephen Hawking, so what do I do about it?” Tonya asked, stabbing a piece of štefani pečenka with her fork.

“Do whatever you want,” Debbie said. “What are they going to do, steal all your money? Good luck getting it from wherever they are.”

Tonya’s ears started to ring again. She tapped the side of her head. “Yep?”

“Good evening,” a young man said, clearly reading off a script. “Do you dream of a vacation away from it all where you can relax and be your true self?”

“Yes,” Tonya said. “Yes, I do.”

“Oh. Good!” the man said. “Um, when you take a vacation, do you like to lie on the beach or go mountain biking?”

“I like to ride a mountain bike on the beach,” Tonya said. “Look, just give me your most expensive package.”

She heard pages rustling. “You mean, the month-long getaway on a private island in Viti Levu?” the man asked in a tone pregnant with commission payment calculations.

“That’s the one. Make it for two. My sister’s coming with me.” Private island, she mouthed.

Everything went well until they got to the credit card. Tonya made up a number and gave it to him.

“I’m sorry, what kind of card it this?” he asked. “We take Adventure, BNY and Bourse. Oh, and Discover, of course.”

“It’s an Adventure card,” Tonya said, winking at her sister.

“But all Adventure card numbers start with a ‘P’, the man said, sounding confused.

“Right. Sorry, I’m skydiving at the moment and couldn’t read the card number well.”

She tapped her temple and hung up. “I got us a month-long trip to a private island.”

“That’s great,” Debbie said. “Good for you.” She held up container. “You want any more jota? I’m stuffed.”

*         *         *

Over the next week, Tonya answered as many as twenty calls a day. She signed up for everything that was offered, plus promised to co-sign a loan for a prince from Abyssinia, and even agreed to pay the IRS $4500 in back taxes with Barnes and Noble gift cards. It was better than the constant ringing, at least.

The next Sunday, Tonya was on the treadmill when the ringing started up again. Her ears were not ringing all the time these days, so it seemed that answering it was doing something. She tapped her temple.

“Hello, sign me up,” she said.

“By Moroni’s beard,” a voice said. “It’s really you.”

Tonya stepped off the treadmill, still breathing hard. “Who is this?”

“You don’t know me, but everyone knows you,” the man said. “You’re the sign-me-up lady! I thought you were just an urban legend.”

“What do you mean?”

“They say that when you’re working the night shift and the call center only has a few operators, every so often a line will get switched and a woman answers. She has no idea about normal things like money and credit cards, and she can’t name any of the eight original Beatles, but she’ll buy anything. You take all her information and then she disappears, and none of the information works.”

“That’s me,” Tonya said. “My name’s Debbie.”

“Hey, just like the president!” the man said. “My name’s Jimmu. I don’t suppose you’re going to want to sign up for an explosive earwax removal system, do you?”

“I think we both know that I do want to sign up,” Tonya said. “But that’s up to you. Hey Jimmu, I don’t suppose you can put me on any sort of no-call list over there, can you? This is fun and all, but the constant ringing is driving me nuts.” Even as she said it, though, she wasn’t sure if it was true anymore, at least not completely.

“I don’t even know your number,” Jimmu said. “My screen says that this is the number for Adelardo Bess. You don’t know him, do you?”

“Not even a little,” Tonya said. “Have a good night. Who knows, maybe you’ll get me again sometime.”

“I’d like that,” Jimmu said. “Oh, the giant ant alarm is going off again. I’d better go.” And for the first time in Tonya’s life, a telemarketer hung up on her.

 

 

 


The Smartening of the Home

The inspiration for this story came from when I was recently reading in 1 Kings where Solomon was building the temple. He named two of the pillars Boaz and Jachin, and I realized that we name parts of our house too, the smart parts.

smart home

It was on the fourth day of March in the Year of Our Lord 2020 when Dan created his smart home. Devices he bought from Best Buy and Amazon and assembled in his living room. Twelve days of unpacking followed, with great tearing of tape and unwrapping of plastic wrap. The unpacking produced 3 talents[i] of Styrofoam and the user manuals stood two cubits[ii] high when stacked.

First Dan set up the living room. On a table near the router, he established the first of his Echoes. This Echo he named Mr. Cranberry, for he thought the name was funny, but he kept the wake word as Alexa. And when he called to Alexa, she did answer in a calming manner.

On the north wall of the living room, he set up the smart TV. The TV was five cubits[iii] diagonally from upper left corner to lower right corner. He proceeded to set up the Wi-Fi and when all was set, Dan spake and said, “Alexa, turn on TV.” And the TV turned on and thus did he watch Netflix.

Next, Dan set four smart bulbs in the lamps of the living room. These bulbs he named Michelangelo, Donatello, Rafael, and Leonardo. He connected these bulbs to Alexa and named the group Ninja Turtles, for he had always been a fan. Then spake Dan, “Alexa, turn on Ninja Turtles,” and the lamps turned on.

After this, Dan set a smaller Echo in the upper floor and connected it to the network. He named this Echo Porky, for he found this name funny as well.

Dan spent many more days after that setting up other rooms of the house, from the second TV in the den to the Echo Show with the screen that he set in the kitchen.

Lastly, Dan set up a camera outside the gate to see anyone who might approach the house. He connected this to his Echo Show, and spake, saying, “Alexa, who is outside the front door?” But Alexa did not understand. Then Dan spake again, saying, “Alexa, show me the front door,” and Alexa understood and showed the front door.

It came to pass that a week after Dan had smartened his home, the winds rose and the rain fell and a great storm came upon the house. In the middle of the night, the power flickered and then died, leaving the house in blackness.

Then Dan awoke and went to the living room. “Alexa, turn on Ninja Turtles,” he said, but Alexa did not hear and no Ninja Turtles came on. It was then that the power came on with the beeping and chirping of many devices.

“Alexa, what time is it?” spake Dan, but Alexa answered not. Instead a red light spun on top of the Echo.

Then Dan did powercycle the router and Alexa at last turned blue. “Alexa, turn on Ninja Turtles,” but no Ninja Turtles came on. Dan consulted the app upon his phone, saying, “Crap, the bulbs are all offline.” No matter how he called to them and tried to reinitialize the bulbs, no Ninja Turtle answered, for they were offline.

Then Dan in his anger deleted all the bulbs from the smart house and added them again, renaming each in its turn. Then Dan with a deep breath called out to Alexa saying, “Alexa, turn on Ninja Turtles.” And the lamps came on and again, Dan was happy.

 

 

[i] 225 pounds (102 kg)
[ii] 3 feet (91 cm)
[iii] 90 inches (229 cm)


A Cindr-ella Story

couple

I sat nervously in the restaurant, alternately checking the time on my phone and surreptitiously checking my breath. This is so cliché, I thought. Waiting for a blind date in a restaurant. Why didn’t I ask her to meet in the park across the road? That way, if she didn’t show up I was just some dude sitting in a tuxedo in the middle of a playground, not here in the restaurant like a weirdo.

I met her on Cindr, the app for the bottom of the dating barrel. Their slogan was, “Feeling burned out by the dating scene? Sounds like you’re a Cindr!” You got matched up but could only swipe right on everyone. All the personality questions when I was setting up my profile only had the option to choose Yes. Apparently, I was really into ballroom dancing and crocheting tiny hats for abandoned kittens.

Then I saw her enter the restaurant, tall and slim with long hair cascading down around her shoulders. She walked sensuously towards me and my heart started to pitter. She smiled and it pattered a little as well. She walked past me to a table with a handsome young man sitting alone and my heart cracked a little. Just a hairline fracture on the right ventricle, nothing serious.

Luckily, I kept watching because the handsome young man looked confused and they had a hurried conversation that consisted mostly of questions. Then the woman stood up. She scanned the room and with a look of melting expectations, her eyes rested on me.

“Terry?” she asked, the question punctuated with a cringe mark.

“You must be Aspen,” I said. We shook hands. Her hand was warm, which made me think that my hand must feel cold and clammy.

“You’re wearing a tuxedo,” she said. The four words contained a whole encyclopedia of subtext in a language I couldn’t read.

“You’re wearing jeans,” I replied.

“This is a diner,” she said. I didn’t know if this was a real conversation or if we were just swapping declarative sentences.

“I wanted to look nice,” I said. “I got this free at work. My clients are very generous, not to mention the strong silent types.” I chuckled, if only to encourage her to laugh.

A look of horror gripped her face like an octopus. “Please tell me you don’t work in a morgue.”

“No,” I said, laughing in a sweaty way. “That’s crazy. A morgue. It’s actually, uh, a crematorium.”

She tried to stand up way too fast, and her epic legs hit the underside of the table, knocking her back into her chair. I seized the opportunity, as well as the sides of the table.

“I’m an environmentalist,” I blurted out. She blinked. “I believe in recycling,” I continued. “I have my own charity where I take the clothing from bodies about to be cremated and donate them to young people who can’t afford formal wear.” I rewound the conversation in my head, just to see how I had gotten to the point of describing stripping corpses of their last earthly possessions before we’d even ordered dinner.

“But you’re wearing it,” she said. She wasn’t trying to run away; we were making progress.

“I guess I’m a charity case too, eh? Hey, I’m on Cindr.” I stopped just short of winking.

“Yes,” she said and frowned in a very attractive way. It suddenly hit me that she was gorgeous and yet she had found me on Cindr. Since I have the social tact of a rabid hyena, I asked her.

“So, why are you on Cindr?” I asked. “I mean, what’s your crippling defect?”

She picked up the menu and studied it a moment. “I’m a kleptomaniac,” she said quietly.

“Well, you’ve already stolen my heart,” I said as gallantly as I could muster.

“And a pyromaniac,” she added.

“And you’ve already set me . . . set me on fire,” I said. I was getting a bit lost in the metaphors, but forged ahead anyway.

“Don’t worry, I only set fire to the things I steal,” she said quickly. “I’m not a monster.”

“You got any other manias?” I asked, feeling suddenly hopefully.

“No.”

“Oh. Just checking.”

After we had ordered, I went to the bathroom and came back to find my wallet smoldering under the table. Honestly, I was just impressed she had been able to take it without my noticing. Plus, this meant she was definitely paying for the meal.

We sat there eating and talking for hours. Every so often Aspen would steal a napkin from another table and light it in her French fry basket. The owner was lurking behind a standing fern with a fire extinguisher but as long as we kept ordering, he didn’t seem inclined to blast us.

“I don’t want to steal anymore,” Aspen slurred into her fifth root beer float. “I can’t help it and it’s exciting and all, but I don’t want to get arrested. I live every day in fear of prison. It’s so hard to set things on fire in there.”

“My charity is a failure,” I said. I was getting maudlin too. “Sure, I get the stuff, but no kid wants to go to the prom smelling like embalming fluid.”

“That stuff burns pretty good though,” Aspen said. Our eyes met, and I thought I hear cherubs singing above us at our mutual epiphany. It turned out to be the smoke detector.

That was four months ago. I still have my charity going but I don’t actually donate any of it. Aspen just steals all my dead people clothes and sets them on fire in the abandoned parking lot behind the self-storage place I use. Sometimes I join her and we snuggle up in each other’s arms in front of a pile of smoldering formal wear. We’re not always the perfect couple, but hey, we met on Cindr.


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