Tag Archives: quirky

The Old Man and the Seafood

FF46 Janet Webb

copyright Janet Webb

The Old Man and the Seafood

Shoppers meandered around the store in hip waders, shopping carts half submerged.

“How did you come up with this idea?” the reporter asked.

Jeff grinned. “I thought it was about time someone applied the self-pick produce model to seafood. With seafood, freshness is everything. Here, everything is alive up until you buy it. No expiration dates needed.”

An old man shuffled up in oversized boots. “Excuse me, I just need a can of tuna.”

“No cans here, I’m afraid,” Jeff said, throwing the reporter another grin. “Everything’s fresh.” He handed the man a spear gun. “Bluefins are in aisle 30.”

Grandpa and the Piano of Secrets


copyright John Nixon

I was sure the piano had eaten Grandpa. I only stepped away for a moment and he vanished.

As I approached, I could smell roasting flesh. Dear God, it had sucked him in and was cooking him!

“You monster!” I shouted, grappling frantically at the keys. A door in the knee panel fell open, revealing a ladder.

I found Grandpa in a cellar, hunched over a grill like a barbecuing troll. He spun around, then relaxed.

“I thought Grandma made you guys go vegan?” I said.

“Six years ago,” he said. “Right about the time I took up ‘piano lessons’.”


One Stop to Hwajang Station


Come on, come on. That frantic thought is sculpted into the crowd’s poses and expressions. Some are sitting, but most pace awkwardly.

Far off, they hear the train rumbling. Visible relief flashes from face to face.

It’s an awkward two-minute ride. No eye contact, rocking back and forth, biting fingernails. Come on!

The doors open and people lurch forth, loping crab-like with thighs clenched, men out the right side, women out the left. A moment later, a hundred stall doors slam. A long, protracted sigh.

“They should put these in houses,” someone says.

“Gross! What is this, the Dark Ages?”



*hwajangshil (화장실) is the Korean word for bathroom. This story does not take place in Korea. You can only imagine the sort of world where it does take place.


A Farm Upstate

The van arrived an hour after the call. It was clinical white with the words A Farm Upstate in large black lettering. Next to them, as if to add legitimacy, was a picture of a red barn and an oak tree.

Bruce got out and ran the doorbell. A harried man answered the door. “Thanks for coming so fast,” he said. “He’s not doing well.”

“No problem,” Bruce said. “What kind is it?”

“Black lab,” the man said. “Come on in.”

The dog was lying in its bed in the laundry room, breathing shallowly.

“Marcus Aurelius,” Bruce read off the side of the bed.

The man shrugged and nodded towards the girls sitting cross legged in vigil with her back against the dryer. “Her mother’s a history prof.”

Bruce knelt by the dog, checking its vitals.

“Are you a vet?” the girl asked. Her cheeks were wet.

“No, but I know a lot about animals. I’m from a farm upstate.”

The girl’s face clouded with skepticism. “Oh, yeah? What’s the name?”

“Sunny Porch Farms. It’s a great place. There’s a huge porch where dogs can lie out in the sun, lots of window sills for cats. We even import butterflies for them to chase if they want.”

“So, you’re taking Marcus Aurelius?” She sniffed and ran a hand across her eyes.

Bruce nodded. “I’m afraid so. There comes a time in every pet’s life when they need specialized care. He’ll be happy up there though. I guarantee it.”

“Can I come visit him sometime?”

“It’s best if you don’t,” Bruce said. There was no point explaining why.

The girl said good bye, hugging the poor dog so tightly Bruce was afraid she was going to kill it right there. Then he picked it up and carried it out to the back of the van.

“Thanks again for doing this,” the man said, handing Bruce a check. “That’s a great marketing idea, by the way. Just to make sure, there won’t be any pain, right?”

“None at all,” Bruce said, pocketing the check. “I’ll give him a quick shot and he’ll be good to go.” They shook hands and Bruce got in and drove off.

“Hang on back there, Marcus, okay?” he said as they got on the highway. “We’ll be there in a few hours.”

Two hours later, Bruce arrived back home. The dog was motionless and Bruce was afraid he’d died until he opened his eyes and licked Bruce’s hand. Bruce carried him in to the treatment room and put him on the table.

“A retriever, I see,” his wife Jane said, walking in. She got a syringe from a drawer and filled it with amber liquid. Marcus Aurelius was quivering with fear and Bruce held him still while Jane stuck the needle into the dog’s leg, pushing the plunger down slowly.

“How was the traffic?” she asked.

“Not that bad for a Saturday,” Bruce said. They watched the dog. He shook his head several times and then took a deep breath. A minute later, he jumped off the table and barked.

“There, he’s doing fine now,” Jane said. “Go show him around and I’ll go get supper ready.”

Bruce opened a door in the far wall and Marcus Aurelius bounded after him. He seemed to have all the energy of a puppy now.

The door led to the wide yard that echoed with the barks of dozens of dogs. There was a porch a hundred feet long, facing south with rows of comfortable pillows.

“This is a popular spot, Marcus,” Bruce said, leading the dog around. “Find yourself a pillow and soak up some sun, if you want. The cardboard box room is over there, although you’ll have to share it with the cats if you want to go play. The toys and bones are wherever you can find them, so feel free to bury them. The elementary kids come on Tuesdays for playtime and belly rubs, so I’d pencil that into your schedule, if I were you.”

A bell rang and feeding stations all over the farm deposited food. The air exploding into barking as the dogs ran here and there.

An hour later, Jane and Bruce sat down for their own supper on the second floor balcony, overlooking the farm. A parrot perched nearby.

“You realize that Marcus Aurelius was the one hundredth animal we’ve taken in,” Jane said. “How many more can we afford?”

“You think we should sell the serum,” Bruce said. “It still only works on animals, though.”

“But it could still do a lot of good. Plus we could make a ton of money.”

“Yeah, I guess,” Bruce said. He watched Marcus Aurelius cross the yard, nose to the ground as he intently followed some invisible scent trail. “I got an idea: let’s expand to goldfish.”

“Everyone has toilets. No one’s going to pay you to take their goldfish away.”

“They might. We could call it A Pond Upstate.”

“You just want the animals, don’t you?”

“Do you mind?”

She shook her head and with a smile, squeezed his hand.

How to Make a Suffocake

Well, I’m finally back, I think. I took a few unplanned weeks off for various reasons, including travel, sickness and general busyness. Luckily, the semester is mostly over, so I should have a bit more time in the future.

#1:     Explain to captain that cake would boost morale for space station crew.

#2:     Listen to lecture how flour would clog life support.

#3:     Offer to temporarily turn off life support in galley.

#4:     Wait for him to stop laughing.

#5:     Pretend to drop idea.

#6:     Wait for everyone to sleep.

#7:     Take smuggled ingredients from personal locker.

#8:     Preheat oven stolen from lab.

#9:     Turn off life support in galley.

#10:   Mute alarms.

#11:   Take deep breath and start mixing ingredients.

#12:   Try in vain to clean up flour floating everywhere.

#13:   Start feeling woozy.

#14:   Put cake in oven.

#15:   Faint.

#16:   Get rescued.

#17:   Endure reprimand.

#18:   Enjoy perfectly spherical suffocake with crew.



The good ol’ red white and blue for half a million Europeans


“I think you’re being aggressive.”

“I am not being aggressive! All I said was that I really want a vacation by the sea. I’m feeling stifled.” Luxembourg sighed. “All I asked for was a tiny corridor to the ocean. Even for a month?”

Belgium looked doubtful. “Yeah, but what if you don’t give it back? I know, let’s just hook up. Then you’d get lots of beach, through me.”

“Me and you?”

Belgium shrugged. “Yeah, and Netherlands too, if you want. Whatever.”

“That’s sick.”

“Just picture is: Benelux. It could be a thing.”

“Hey, what are we talking about?” a bleary voice from the northeast asked.

“Oh go back to sleep, Netherlands. It was just a joke,” Belgium said.

“You know, there’s more than one way to get to the sea,” France said, sidling over.

“Look, I really didn’t mean to imply that—oh geez, here comes Germany.”

Several hours later, after untold glasses of wine and beer and several annexation proposals, Germany wandered off and Belgium fell asleep. Luxembourg sat and pondered. There had to be a better way to get some beachfront property: something less wussy than being absorbed into another country, and less super-villainy than blowing up all the land between it and the ocean.

France was still there, drunkenly explaining how big it was.

“Dude, I’ve got this place called Clipperton Island. It’s off the coast of Mexico in the Pacific, of all places. I haven’t even been there in like a hundred years. I just like to tell people I own it. I even tell people I own part of Antarctica, though not everyone believes me.”

“How much land do you have?” Luxembourg asked.

“Beau—coup.” France smiled, then got up and went home.

Luxembourg called up a friend in the United Nations. “It’s not that I’m feeling small or anything, Kimoon. I’m just wondering if there is any land no one has taken yet. I just need some lebensraum, you know? I mean—forget I said that.”

“Two words for you,” Kimoon said. “Bir Tawil.”

“No thanks. I’ve already had a lot of beer this evening—”

“No, it’s a place in Africa. Maybe you could have it.”

“Actually, I’m a little leery about colonizing Africa,” Luxembourg said. “Belgium’s told me a thing or two about what it went through there. I don’t want to become that. It’s just not me.”

“No, it’s perfect. It’s a tiny little place between Sudan and Egypt—actually, it’s about your size. Sudan says it belongs to Egypt and Egypt says it’s Sudan’s, so neither one claims it. Honestly, if you want it, you can just have it. It’s a real headache for map makers. Rand McNally has been breathing down my neck about it for years.”

“You sure it’d be okay?”

Kimoon laughed. “You’re Luxembourg! Who’s going to say no to you?”

This was sounding pretty good. “Okay then! I’ll send some guys down this week with a flag and get things set up. How are the beaches there?”

“Beaches? It’s totally landlocked. That’s shouldn’t bother you though, right?” He laughed and hung up the phone.

Luxembourg sat alone in the bar. It had just doubled the size of its territory, so why wasn’t it happier? It didn’t need to be like Canada, with its 200,000 plus kilometer coastline. All it wanted was a place by the water, where it could sit and listen to the seagulls.

And maybe a navy.

Marketing 101

“What’s this car run on?”

“It runs on love,” I said.

The investor stared at me. “Really?”

“Yeah.” I was sweating. “You think about someone you love; it powers the car.”

“I’m out,” he said. “I don’t want to break down because of an attack of road rage.”

Actually, the car ran on belief. If you believed it worked, it did. But belief was too nebulous. You had to concentrate on something. I picked love.

The next year, I saw an ad for the Chevy ‘Murica. It ran on American greatness. They sold millions.

I should have gone with that.

The Office Zebra

I love my job a lot, but it has been a hard last couple of weeks there. I never write about my job. Not directly, at least.

zebra stapler.gif


The Office ZebraTM

I sat next to the smoking wreckage of my cubicle and took a sip of coffee. No one blamed me for what happened; I knew that. I did have a lot of work on my hands; everyone knew that.

Looking back, there was no real way to avoid it, but I still had that faint feeling like I should have known.

Clearly I should have gone into studying tardigrades. At least they were tiny and nearly indestructible. But no, I had to study zebras. Zebras were definitely not tiny and, looking around at the assortment of black and white striped flesh that was strewn liberally around the remains of my cubicle, I could say with some certainty that they were not indestructible.

The reason I studied zebras was that our former CEO had been crazy about zebras, and so all the researchers went whole hog into zebras. Unfortunately, it turned out that the CEO had been literally crazy about zebras, a fact we all discovered when they hauled him off, raving about how the next president was going to be a zebra and he knew because he’d already voted for it. Suddenly, there were a lot of us with advanced degrees in zebras (including the highly dubious PhZ) looking sheepishly around, wondering how to make ourselves profitable.

“I’ve got a great idea,” my co-worker Adrian said.

“What?” I asked.

“Promise you won’t steal it.”

“I promise.”

“Zebra flight attendants,” he said proudly, like a 3-year-old showing off his indecipherable finger paint smears.

“That is literally the worst idea I have ever heard,” I said. He ran off crying.

I didn’t tell him my idea, because it was actually good. My grand idea was to make a zebra that would work in an office setting. Your average zebra has no business being anywhere near an office, so clearly this was going to involve genetic engineering and maybe something more.

One night a bottle of vodka and I laid out my plan. The Office ZebraTM was going to have a stapler for a mouth, the ability to recycle paper by eating it, and maybe a mobile Wi-Fi hotspot in its back. Honestly, I quickly ran out of ideas for what a zebra could actually do in an office. Luckily the vodka had some ideas. About halfway through the bottle, the pencil drawn diagram of the Office ZebraTM had really come to life. It had a different stamp on each of its hooves, you could pull on its tail to dispense hot coffee, and its eyes shot lasers, for some reason. The next morning, when the vodka could no longer give suggestions, I got rid of the coffee dispenser and laser eyes.

The lab started work right away. After a few focus group meetings, they decided to give the zebra a larynx and the instinctual ability to say “Good job!” at random times. It also pulled a small cart with snacks and coffee (no unfortunately placed dispenser, luckily).

“What are you working on?” Adrian asked one day.

“I’ve got something in the works,” I said coolly.

“Me too,” he said, smugly. “It’s going to blow your socks off.” He strode off, still looking back smugly at me and promptly walked into a door.

The lab really came through, I must say. Six months later, I went down there to find a zebra that not only stapled my papers and brought me snacks and coffee, but also stamped my parking ticket and brayed a rather indistinct “Good job!” at me. It was not its fault that it said it just as I was coming out of the bathroom.

The next step was that step which every R&D person dreads; field testing, or in my case, office testing. I decided to bring it to my cubicle and see how it fared. It arrived the next day and I led it proudly it through the halls as my co-workers all gaped. Adrian was nowhere to be seen, unfortunately.

I started with the stapler. I fed paper into its mouth but it just ignored it or bit the paper in half. I tried the stamps on its hooves, but they didn’t seem to work. Even the Wi-Fi wasn’t on. I went to copy room to get some scrap paper to feed it when I ran into Adrian in the hall.

“Hey, have you seen my KamikazebraTM?” he asked.


“My KamikazebraTM. Hey, why are your eyes widening in dawning horror?” It was about then that a distant boom from the direction of my cubicle answered his question.

All zebra projects were quickly cancelled. Apparently, when no one can tell a stapler from a bomb, it’s a bad thing. Adrian got in trouble for bringing his KamikazebraTM to the office. I didn’t get in trouble, they just made me clean up what was left of my cubicle.

I wasn’t in any hurry. I took another sip of coffee, appreciating the thin silver linings. I didn’t have to check my email today. The air smelled vaguely of barbecue. Adrian had gotten in trouble.

Things would work out somehow. They always did.

House Trap: The True Confession of a Fictional Reality Show Star




Reality shows audiences had become so jaded that they were not interested in watching unless there was the possibility that someone could die onscreen in front of them. Of course, people still lined up to be on the shows, because fame and fortune with the chance of grisly death is still fame and fortune. I was one of them. I’d like to say I did it to raise money for cancer or to feed the starving children of Baluchistan or something but really, I just did it for the money.

A million bucks for 8 hours of work, if you could call it that. Tell me you wouldn’t be tempted.

The show I was on was called House Trap. The premise was that the contestant goes about their daily lives but there is a fatal trap hidden somewhere in the house. The audience keeps watching because the person could die at any moment. Maybe there’s a bomb in the butter or the shower shoots acid or there is a trapdoor that drops into a vat of alligators when the front door is opened. The person moves around the house in a panic and the audiences cheers for him to stay alive, or sometimes, to not stay alive. If the person stays alive for the whole day, he gets the million dollars. If not, it goes to the charity of his choice.

My episode was the fifth in the season. The idea was that I was just going about my daily business but according to the script (and yes, there was a script), I started by cleaning out the garage, then baking cookies, then polishing my collection of antique swords. Just like a normal day, right?

“Don’t worry,” the director said. “The trap is real and it can kill you but we’ll tell you where it is ahead of time so you won’t just stumble into it.” That sounded great but the day of shooting came and I still didn’t know. I asked the director.

“Ask Jack,” he said.

“Where is he?”

“I don’t know. Okay, places everyone!” The next thing I knew, I was pushed inside the house by myself and filming began.

The contract specifically said that once cameras started rolling, there were no re-shoots. If I called it quits, not only would I not get the million dollars but I would have to pay a similar amount to the studio for loss of income. And now I was stuck in a house with a deadly trap and no idea where it was.

I looked at my watch: 8:30am. Just eight and a half hours to go until I was a millionaire and home free. I was pretty sure the trap wasn’t in the first two activities, at least. They needed enough footage to fill an hour show. The previous season, a contestant had died accidentally in the first five minutes. Most of that show was interviews shot previously. Not great TV.

I went to the garage and saw the pile of boxes stacked up precarious just in front of a wood chipper. It looked like it hadn’t been used for ages, but I saw the red LED on the lower panel and knew it could start at any moment.

Skipping the first activity (hey, what were they going to do, sue me?) I went into the kitchen. It was silent and I realized that I didn’t hear the fridge running. I peeked behind it, and sure enough, it wasn’t plugged in. So that meant that either it wasn’t a real fridge or else there was something else inside it. I put my ear to the door and thought I heard some movement inside. That creeped me out.

I wanted to open the fridge really quickly and then shut it, but that was stupid. It could be electrified, could be a bomb, could be anything. Finally, I went and got some rope and with nails hammered into strategic places, I spent an hour rigging up a system where I could pull on a rope from the across the room and open the fridge door, then shut it again by pulling on another. I pushed the couch out and ducked behind it. This was definitely off script, but I figured it would be more interesting than watching me bake cookies.

I pulled the door open with a yank of the rope in my right hand, then slammed it right away with the other rope. Something dropped to the floor and to my horror, I heard a faint skittering sound. I looked up and saw a creature coming towards me like a miniature tank. It was an ant, but a bigger one than I had ever seen. It wasn’t alone either. About fifty had dropped out and were scurrying around, razor-like pincers flashing furiously.

I squashed the one that had charged me but then another one climbed up the back of my leg and bit me. It was like getting stabbed, really. I screamed and pulled it off, running into the other room for safety. My leg was actually bleeding a little and I could not imagine what would have happened if I had just yanked the fridge open and stood there while a wave of ravenous bugs had attacked me.

It took me another hour or so to hunt down the rest of the escaped ants and send them to buggy hell. I still had half the day left and I didn’t feel like playing by the rules any more.

First, I found duct tape and taped the fridge shut. Then I dragged it to the garage door and spent another hour fashioning up a funnel out of sheets and blankets and attaching it to the fridge door. Then I moved the wood chipper to the other end and turned it on. I took the duct tape off and the fridge door came open, right into the funnel, sending a wave of homicidal ants into the whirring steel blades.

The garage instantly became an entomological Jackson Pollock work, a myrmicine Texas chainsaw massacre. A very gory, satisfying mess, in other words. I turned off the wood chipper, shut the garage door and spent the rest of the time polishing the antique swords.

It turns out that my episode was the highest rated in the history of the show. They even changed the title of the show to House Trap: MacGyver Edition, where the contestants got paid double if they found the trap and disarmed it in some creative way.

I didn’t get paid any more though. They did let me keep the wood chipper though.

All I want for Christmas is a not guilty verdict

Well, Merry Christmas everyone. It doesn’t look very Christmassy here at the moment, with the warm weather and green grass, but I guess I can’t complain.

This week’s Friday Fictioneers story is the first repeat that I participated in before, back in 2012; in fact, it was my 3rd story ever, which you can read here, if you want. I was tempted to use the same story, but I ended up writing a different one.


copyright Scott L. Vannater


Okay, I ate the milk and cookies. But I did not eat the Elf on the Shelf.

I know the empty little suit is incriminating but it wasn’t me. Go ask the dog.

True, the suit was found in my bed.

Okay, I admit I ate the elf, but I didn’t attack the presents. The shreds of wrapping paper were planted.

By whom? No clue.

Fine! I shredded the presents, but that was before the fat man climbed down the chimney. I didn’t kill him, I swear.

This is all very stressful, your Honor. I request a scratching post recess.


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