Category: Short Stories

If you enjoy short stories with a twist of the bizarre, check out Tales From The Grouch.  Here’s a list with links (in green):

 

 

 . grouchyeditor.com Rusty  “Rusty” — Happy times in suburbia.

 

.  grouchyeditor.com revelation   “Revelation” — Unhappy times in suburbia.

 

.  grouchyeditor.com homebodies   “Homebodies” — The people next door.

 

.  grouchyeditor.com ass   “The Porthole” — Be careful what you wish for.

 

.  grouchyeditor.com the ufo   “The UFO” — Stand by me … and a UFO.

 

.  grouchyeditor.com Tales From Grouch   “Carol Comes Home” — The spirit of Norman Bates.

 

.  grouchyeditor.com thwup   “Thwup!” — The case for eating more (or less) beans.

 

.  grouchyeditor.com Wisdom   “Wisdom” — Cabin in the woods.

 

.        “Row, Row, Row Your Boat”  Thelma helps a guest.

 

.   grouchyeditor.com Americans    “The Americans”  — Kevin goes for the gold.

 

.        “Margaret” — The greatest love story of all time?

 

 

© 2010-2022 grouchyeditor.com (text only)

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Margaret

by J.D.H.

 

 

The servants of Mumsford House, composed of the cook, the maid, and the butler, were respectively atwitter, aflutter, and aghast.

News had arrived that morning that the master of the house, Lord Arvid Mumsford, was on his way home. He was expected to arrive at Mumsford House that very evening.

“Mercy me,” declared Lily Evans (atwitter), the portly cook, speaking to herself in the kitchen. “I’ll have to prepare something special. This is a fine occasion, and the master deserves no less.”

 

***

 

“Harrumph!” barked the butler (aghast), Seymour Evans (no relation to Lily), to the timid maid, a girl named Marcie Pootz. “The man is certifiably insane.” He glared at the girl, daring her to object. She simply stared at the floor.

“Nevertheless, he is the source of our income, and we are duty-bound to adhere to our contract. As such, you must see to the condition of the entire house, and in particular the parlor. Oh, yes, especially the parlor.”

Marcie Pootz (aflutter) was intimidated by Mr. Evans, whom she considered the true master of Mumsford House. This, because in her short tenure as the newest employee, she had yet to meet the mysterious Lord Mumsford. He was always abroad and visited rarely.

As for the lady of the house, well, although she resided just upstairs in the main bedroom, that is where she remained all day, every day, being an invalid. Marcie was responsible for the upkeep and cleaning of every room in the house – save Lady Mumsford’s room, which she had yet to behold. Mr. Evans himself saw to the maintenance of that room.

Marcie had never set eyes on poor Lady Mumsford. As far as the girl was concerned, the inhabitants of Mumsford House numbered just three: herself, Mr. Evans, and Mrs. Evans.

“Yes, sir,” said Marcie to Mr. Evans, avoiding all eye contact with the imperious man. “But if I may ask, sir, when is the master expected?”

“This evening. Now off with you. There is much to be done. Lay emphasis on the parlor.”

 

***

 

Meanwhile, a hundred miles away in London …

 

Stanley Swinepool, heir to a fortune and man about town, studied the silver-haired man seated among a cluster of elderly gents in the center of the Devon Club’s lounge. Stanley turned to his constant companion, Sven “Sniveling” Snodgress, and pronounced judgment:

“So that’s the world-famous Lord Mumsford, is it? Back from his tour of the globe, is he?”

Sniveling Snodgress said nothing in reply.

“Doesn’t exactly cut an imposing figure, does he?” Stanley took a drag off his cigarette and left it dangling from a sneering lip. “I don’t see why he bothers to come back, after all. His reputation far outweighs his countenance in the flesh. If I were him, I’d stay in hiding rather than come out and disappoint everyone.”

“He comes back every year about this time. Wants to see his wife,” said Sniveling Snodgress.

Stanley considered this, never allowing his gaze to leave the huddle of men in the center of the lounge. “I read something about that. Some sort of tragedy, wasn’t it? Or was it a scandal of some sort?”

Sniveling Snodgress said nothing.

 

***

 

Lord Mumsford took in the ongoing conversation among his distinguished companions in the Devon Club lounge. Nothing but idle gossip, really. One of the club’s long-time members had recently dissolved his long-time marriage because, apparently, he’d grown repulsed by his wife’s appearance.

“Too fat for his taste,” said one man.

“Hogwash. Her teeth had fallen out,” chipped in another.

“Regardless, the husband said she was more suited to the stable than the bedroom,” quipped a third.

Amid the subsequent burst of laughter, Lord Mumsford cleared his throat. The chortling ceased.

“He sounds like a very foolish husband,” said Mumsford. “Let me explain. Margaret and I have been husband and wife for many, many years now. Physically, you might say the bloom is off the rose. Oh, yes. Certainly that.

“But there are more important things in a marriage. Things like common interests, similar values and, above all, shared memories.”

“All well and good,” snorted a gentleman. “But memories will only take you so far in the bedchamber.”

More laughter.

“As for that,” continued the lord. “A little imagination will work wonders. If a woman’s face no longer arouses a man’s passion, there are other means to attain the desired effect. For example, she can always lend you a hand. If you get my meaning.”

 

***

 

The preparations at Mumsford House had reached peak frenzy. The master had arrived for his annual visit and was expected at the house at any moment.

Marcie Pootz was startled by the change in Mr. Evans and Mrs. Evans (no relation) as the arrival of Lord Mumsford grew imminent. Marcie discovered Mrs. Evans frantically polishing house silver and simultaneously keeping an eye on the special meal cooking on the stove.

“Excuse me, Mrs. Evans. I can’t seem to find Mr. Evans and I knows he wanted me to do one more thing but it’s slipped my mind and –”

“Mr. Evans is upstairs, giving the lady of the house a manicure. After that, he’ll need to carry her down to the parlor. Have you cleaned the parlor as we instructed?”

“Oh, yes ma’am. Everything is clean and everything is tidy, just as you said. I don’t –”

“And especially the table by the master’s chair?”

“Yes ma’am. Especially that. I hope I’m not out of place, but Mrs. Evans I have to say I’m quite excited by this visit. I’ve been here some time now, and yet I’ve only seen the lord the one time, as he was leaving the house. And I have yet to see Lady Margaret.”

Mrs. Evans paused in her work, considering something. “You know, Marcie, the master and his wife, in my opinion, are one of the greatest love stories of all time. I daresay you might not think so; you might find their relationship a bit odd. But then you are a young lass, and you haven’t suffered as they have.

“It was a horrible accident, it was,” continued the cook, wiping away a tear. “I think of it every time I set foot on a train.”

Mrs. Evans composed herself and shot a stern look at the girl. “So it’s best you keep your mouth closed and learn from them. No matter what you might think.”

“Oh, Mrs. Evans, I do so adore a good love story!”

 

***

 

Marcie could not help herself. She knew what she was doing was wrong, but the temptation was simply too great.

The door to the parlor was not completely closed; Marcie had nudged it ajar, and now stood quietly in the hall, straining to hear the words of Lord and Lady Mumsford.

But it was a frustrating exercise for Marcie. Aside from soft murmurings and the occasional coo from Lord Mumsford — “my darling” … “love of my life” — she could make out very little.

She glanced back at the main entrance. Earlier, Lord Mumsford had greeting Mr. Evans and Mrs. Evans and had nodded curtly at Marcie, but that was it. He had handed his coat and hat to the butler and gone straight into the parlor.

She looked at the staircase. Mr. and Mrs. Evans were far away, occupied in the kitchen. The lady’s bedroom would be vacant. This might be Marcie’s only opportunity ….

 

***

 

Meanwhile, a hundred miles away in London ….

 

Snodgress and Swinepool sat in a seedy bar, having tired of the stifling atmosphere of the Devon Club. Smoke and working-class shouts filled The Black Dog, and a bored waitress stood patiently between the two men-about-town.

Swinepool sized up the waitress: a tallish, red-haired girl wearing spectacles. Not unattractive, he judged, but rather dead in the eyes. He reached behind her and raised her skirt to the waist, then squeezed a buttock.

“What’s the name, darlin’?”

“Kit, sir.” She remained expressionless.

Snodgress leaned over and squeezed her other buttock. “Kit what?”

“Mancini,” said the girl. “Would you gentlemen like another?”

“Certainly,” said Swinepool, as Kit leaned forward to wipe detritus from their table. “But before you go,” he tugged at the girl’s blouse, baring her breast, “let’s have a look at your top.”

 

***

 

As the girl sauntered off with their order, Swinepool turned to his companion. “Now, about Mumsford.”

Snodgress frowned.

“Nasty business, that was,” he said. “I remember it well. Mumsford and his wife had just returned from a trip somewhere or the other. At the train station here in London. The lady got off the train, but she oughtn’t. Bad timing.”

“Hmmm,” said Swinepool, who was distracted by Kit Mancini’s swaying backside as it crossed the dingy room.

“One of those parallel tracks, where one set is just a spit away from the other. Of course, just then a second train came along. Mumsford reached out for the wife’s hand, caught it, held fast … but too late. But he never let go.”

Sniveling Snodgress shook his head. “They say the old fellow never recovered.”

 

***

 

Marcie stood in Lady Mumsford’s bedroom and surveyed her surroundings. It was a lavish room, large and well-kept by Mr. Evans. Her gaze kept returning to the bed. It was so small, like a child’s resting place. Beside the bed, Mr. Evans had carelessly left tissue and nail polish, the remnants of his earlier manicure of the lady.

 

***

 

In the parlor, Lord Mumsford was kissing his wife’s hand. As he did so, he caressed a wedding ring attached to a finger of her left hand.

He raised his head, squeezing Margaret’s hand as he did so. Something putrid and vile dripped down the lord’s chin.

“Damn that man, Evans,” he muttered. He used his handkerchief to wipe the preservative from his lips.

“No one cares for you, Margaret, as I do. You know that. My love for you is undying.”

Mumsford took one last, loving look at what remained of his wife, then carefully lifted the pale-green, stiff appendage — cleanly severed beneath the shoulder — and placed it gently back into the large jar of formaldehyde on the table.

Margaret’s arm floated in its liquid preservative for a moment, then began to sink to the bottom of the jar.

“Evans!” Lord Mumsford cried. “I am done in here!”

Evans was aghast. Mrs. Evans, in tears, was atwitter. Marcie, as always, was aflutter.

 

THE END

 

 

Click here for the index of short stories.

Click here to see all of the stories.

 

© 2010-2022 grouchyeditor.com (text only)

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The Americans

by J.D.H.

 

 

Kevin Trapp watched the large-screen TV that was affixed to a peach-colored wall in the waiting room. The on-screen images changed rapidly: a crowd of thousands cheering wildly in a cavernous arena; a female gymnast navigating a horizontal beam; an Asian sports analyst interviewing a stone-faced athlete.

When the camera cut back to the crowd, Kevin noticed a small group — likely a family unit — passing a box of something edible from member to member. This made Kevin hungry, so he reached for an open bag of Doritos on the table at hand and began stuffing chips into his mouth. Outside the spartan room in which he now sat, he could hear the periodic, muffled roar of the crowd. He wiped crumbs from his chin.

He stared at his bag of chips and began to reminisce about his schooldays. His “misbegotten youth,” as he liked to think of it. He remembered the ninth floor of the dormitory which he shared with a score of other boys. He had not been particularly popular with the other students — except for on Saturday nights. Kevin closed his eyes and smiled as he recalled the familiar refrain: “Kevin’s down!”

 

**

 

On Saturday nights, he and the others would walk the six blocks to the town’s bar district, where they would do what young men have always done: drink heavily. Some hours and many pitchers of beer later, they would stagger back to the dorm and ride the elevators to the ninth floor. Five minutes later would come the call: “Kevin’s down!” Again. Everyone knew what that meant.

The dorm was coed, i.e., boys on odd-numbered floors, girls on even-numbered floors. Occasionally, the clarion call about Kevin would attract a few girls, but mostly it drew other boys. They would open their doors, peer into the hallway, and behold the sight of poor Kevin sprawled in the hallway, so drunk that he could move no more. The protocol then was that several of the boys, sometimes more, would be tasked with heaving him off the floor and guiding him to the safety of his room and his bed.

 

**

 

Kevin’s dirty little secret: After the first hallway episode, in which he was indeed quite drunk and indeed passed out, Kevin began to fake it. It was simply too much fun having the boys carry him to bed. It was now a favorite memory.

 

**

 

In the waiting room of the sports arena, Kevin waxed nostalgic about dorm life and munched on his bag of chips. He washed them down with a Pepsi.

He thought of the boys and girls in that long-ago dormitory. Those were hedonistic times for most of them. Kevin did not miss the wanton sex nor the drunken revelry. What he missed was the companionship, the camaraderie. The emotional closeness he shared with the guys.

Kevin did not dwell on sex. His diabetes had long since rendered him impotent. Thinking about sex was a waste of time. He munched some more chips.

His time was at hand.

 

**

 

Kevin looked up again at the TV screen. The Asian sports analyst was interviewing an American athlete. Kevin scowled.

Ten or 12 years ago, the American gymnasts had fallen into disrepute and brought shame to the entire United States delegation. A videotape had surfaced on the Internet. The video featured a shining star of the female gymnastics team, a pretty Hmong American girl who had already secured one gold medal and was expected to garner more.

But the video did not celebrate her gymnastic achievements. The grainy, shaky footage initially revealed the girl, 20-year-old Suni Wang from Minnesota (her popular nickname was “Butterfly”), lying naked on the floor at a raucous party. Suni was the only female at the gathering, which was punctuated by loud, drunken whoops and whistles emanating from young men. Male athletes from the men’s gymnastics team, it later came to light.

 

**

 

Whoever was holding the camera panned up and down the comatose girl, from head to tail. Someone in the background made a rude comment, but loud music and shouts rendered it inaudible.

The videographer zoomed in on the poor girl’s face; in her stupor, her mouth was half open.

And then the penises came into view. And then they took turns, in the infamous words of one drunken boy, “giving her something to drink.”

 

**

 

After the video appeared on the Internet, the men’s gymnastics team was disbanded. No one in the general public seemed to care because the team hadn’t medaled in many years.

As for the girl, her career, too, was effectively over.

Kevin, who had by that time lost interest in all things related to sex, remembered a single image from the videotape scandal: the pretty Hmong girl curled up on the floor in the fetal position, her back to the camera. Beside her lay the tattered remains of her fancy red party dress.

 

**

 

Kevin looked back at the TV screen and again heard a faint roar from the nearby stadium. It was a strange sensation, sitting there in a room thousands of miles from home, snacking on Doritos, sipping Pepsi, and counting the minutes until his moment on the Big Stage.

There were very few Americans participating in this year’s Olympics. After the fall of the men’s gymnastics team, the country began to lose interest in sports in general and the Olympics in particular. It didn’t help that it had been years since any athlete from the United States had medaled.

Except, that is, for Kevin and his teammates.

Kevin and his mates still brought home the gold.

America might have given up on Olympic athletics, but here in Beijing, as attested to by the thunderous crowd, the Olympics were still a very big deal.

 

**

 

There was a knock on the door. It was time for Kevin to go.

Half a dozen Chinese men, all of them fit and wearing matching white casual clothes, entered the waiting room and approached Kevin. One of the men glanced at the table near Kevin’s chair, but his expression betrayed nothing. The table was littered with bare plates, empty bags of chips, and numerous soda bottles, also emptied.

The men faced a daunting task, but they were rehearsed and issued no complaints. They surrounded Kevin’s oversize recliner, which was set on oversize steel wheels, and began to push.

Large folds of his morbidly obese body began to spill over the edges of the chair, impeding the progress of the men situated at the sides of Kevin’s rolling transport, but the Chinese men had done this before for the Americans, so they made good time rolling down the hallway and into the arena.

 

**

 

The crowd grew silent as Kevin steeled himself for the challenge to come. He had prepared for this his entire life, and he was ready. Looking at the six men who strove mightily to wheel him into the arena, he thought again of the boys in his old dorm. “Kevin’s down!” they had cried, staring down at his 340-pound frame on the hallway floor.

But that had been years ago, when he was comparatively light.

Today he tipped the scales (literally) at 440 pounds — which was in line with the size of his American teammates.

 

**

 

As he was wheeled into the stadium, Kevin briefly took in the crowd of thousands and then turned his attention to the gigantic screen suspended high above the center of the arena. The screen was where Kevin lived. It was his heart and soul.

He was the king of the only Olympic event in which Americans still excelled — “esports.” His specialty game awaited on the hovering screen, his control pad rested comfortably on his lap, and he put down his Pepsi. This was his moment.

 

**

 

Kevin kicked ass.

Kevin brought home the gold.

 

 

THE END

 

Click here for the index of short stories.

Click here to see all of the stories.

 

© 2010-2022 grouchyeditor.com (text only)

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Row, Row, Row Your Boat

by J.D.H.

 

Thelma pushed her spectacles up the bridge of her nose and studied the contents of her medicine cabinet: Pravastatin … Lisinopril … Propanolol. In the background, outside of her tidy bathroom, she could hear Henry Popkins droning on and on. Now Henry was onto the nature of God and existence.

Geezus, the man was intolerable. His visits, frequent, were a trial to her. Thelma contemplated a translucent bottle of something called Verapamil, then slammed the cabinet door shut, unsatisfied. Henry’s voice boomed out from her kitchen.

“I ask you this, Thelma: Could it be that the Almighty created all — billions and trillions of birds, bees, people and animals — because He was bored?”

Thelma shuffled back into the kitchen and eyed Henry carefully. She would get no closer to him than an arm’s length; the man’s cologne was overbearing, but that was nothing compared to his halitosis. He needed a remedy for his bad breath, and if there was a spray or a pill for that problem, Thelma would find it.

 

**

 

“Think about it. Jus’ say you are God. If God was a woman,” Henry chuckled at his own joke.

“You are bored. It’s just you, and nothin’ else. So what do you do? You create things. But just a few things ain’t enough. You’re still bored. You need to create billions of things, so that there are billions of things havin’ thoughts, and it still ain’t enough. On account of those thoughts, none of ‘em, are new to you, ‘cuz you already thought of ‘em ‘cuz you are the Creator.”

Thelma sighed. She pulled a chair up to the kitchen table and eased into it. Her legs objected. Her legs objected to any change of position. To take her mind off her arthritis, she studied Henry’s hair. It oozed gel, it sparkled grease, and Thelma wondered if perhaps it was Henry’s hair gel that assaulted her nostrils, and not his cologne.

She did not want to look at Henry, and she did not want to smell him. And she sure as the dickens did not want to listen to him. Her cotton skirt had hiked up around her thighs, so Thelma contemplated her own varicose veins. And Henry droned on ….

 

**

 

“You take the Big Bang. We are told that the universe came about from mass no bigger than a pin’s head. But what do you suppose that mass was? Could that mass have been a thought — God’s thought? Is that all we are, Thelma, just a bunch of thoughts that God came up with because He was bored?” Henry felt triumphant. He waited for some sort of acknowledgment.

Thelma issued a grunt. “You shut up for 12 seconds and listen to me, Henry Popkins.” She leaned toward him, caught a whiff of his gel, and sat back again. “This talk of life being not real, you know who always says it?”

Henry was silent, so she continued. “I’ll tell you who says it — the idle. The dreamers like you. My daddy, your daddy, my mum and all them’s that works, them’s like the migrant field hands, they don’t cotton to this ‘God’s Dream’ talk because that’s a luxury of the idle.

“When the migrant comes in at night, and his hands are blistered and his back is broken, you think he’s a singin’ ‘Row, row, row your boat, life is but a dream’? Any who sweats for a livin’ knows he ain’t a part of nobody’s sweet dream. Not even the Almighty’s.”

Henry said, “Hmmmm.”

 

**

 

“Know what else is real, Henry Popkins?” Henry said nothing. “That life-killin’ breath of yours, that’s what’s real. And I know I ain’t a-dreamin’ when I am forced to sit here and inhale it.” She paused, and a sly smile crept across her face. “Boom-chucka, boom-chucka, boom-chucka-boom!”

Henry smiled back at her. Softly, he echoed, “Boom-chucka, boom-chucka, boom-chucka-boom.” It was a special thing of theirs.

 

**

 

Thelma studied Henry again. Something was moving in his hair. Wasn’t it? She leaned forward, squinting at him … sure enough, there just above his left ear, something small was moving sporadically, struggling in the hair goop. It was a fly, trying to work its way free. This had happened before, Henry’s hair so thick with goop, insects would check in and they wouldn’t check out. Row, row, row your boat.

Thelma frowned and got up from her chair. She peered out the small window above her kitchen sink and saw movement out in her beet field. The migrants.

 

**

 

When she was a girl, she and all her friends did what these migrants did today, marching up and down the rows, hoeing the beets. But she and the other kids were carefree and lazy, just killing time and earning soda money. The migrants were serious about their work, it was their little piece of the American Dream.

Thelma squinted out the window. One of the migrants, Jesus she thought it was, had an erection.

“Henry, come look at this here. Jesus got him a Johnny-on-a-Pole, I knows it.”

Henry did not stir, so Thelma shuffled back into the bathroom, humming as she went: “Row, row, row your boat, gently …

“Where now, woman?” Henry barked.

“You need things, Henry. Lots of things. Let me get one thing just for you. Jesus gave me somethin’ the other day, might cure your bad breath.”

“Bad breath, you say? Crud and nonsense. It’s all in your head, Thelma. Everything’s in your head!”

“Got something right here … hold on … from Jesus. All the way from South America.”

 

**

 

There was a knock on the door. Thelma sat in her rocker, half-asleep and half-contemplating the veins on her chubby thighs. Whoever was knocking was persistent. With a grunt and a sigh, the old woman rose and slowly made her way to the entry.

Jesus, clad in dirty khaki pants and a striped cotton shirt, removed his tattered hat as Thelma invited him inside.

“Miss Thelma, hello. Hello.”

Thelma glanced at the man. She didn’t need to examine him, his appearance never changed. She did notice that his erection was gone.

“I have more raw cassava for you.” He removed a plastic bag from his pocket and held it before her.

 

**

 

Thelma’s eyes brightened at the site of the bag. “Don’t say? Don’t mind if I take it off your hands.”

Jesus peered over the old woman’s shoulder at Henry, still seated at the table and apparently studying the contents of his plate. He hadn’t budged since Jesus entered the house.

She gestured to the kitchen table. “Last batch worked good. Come see!” She ambled over to the table and stood just behind Henry.

“Problem with old people, Jesus, yours truly included I suppose,” she chuckled, “is we get set in our ways. Comfortable. Too comfortable.

“Old Hank, for example. You can’t argue with the man. He doesn’t see reason; he only sees what he wants to see. So I’d argue and argue and get nowhere. It tires you, Jesus, it really does.”

 

**

 

Jesus made his way, tentatively, to the table. Henry, paralyzed and half-comatose from Thelma’s serving of the South American toxin, raw cassava, blinked once.

“Henry did not believe in pain, Jesus. Old Hank thought it was all in our head!” She chuckled. “So I had to learn him. Henry knows reality now, don’t you Henry?” She punched him, hard, in the smallish goiter that was forming on his neck. No reaction from Henry. Just a soft moan.

Thelma smiled down at Henry. “Row, row, row your boat, life is but a dream ….”

Henry’s lips parted. A tear trickled down his cheek. Two flies, trapped by the hair goop above his left ear, struggled in vain to escape their final resting place.

 

 

THE END

 

Click here for the index of short stories.

Click here to see all of the stories.

 

© 2010-2022 grouchyeditor.com (text only)

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Wisdom

by J.D.H.

 

The old man looked around for a spittoon, realized there wasn’t one, and spat a wad of something brown and chunky into the corner of the room. He shot a glance at the boy seated on a stool near the cabin door.

“Like that one, Johnny?”  The old-timer began to cackle but stopped when he recalled the duration and unpleasantness of his last coughing spell. Laughter, like everything else when you grew old, had become a health hazard for him.

The boy sat very still and quiet on the two-legged stool, which was no longer three-legged and was only useable if one leaned back against the cabin wall — Johnny’s current, precarious position. The old man winked at Johnny and began rubbing the crotch of his grimy overalls. Johnny kept his gaze on the rheumy, dewy eyes of the geezer.

“Want to see my manhood now, eh Johnny?” The old-timer got no reply to this; the boy apparently had no sense of fun. The old man waited patiently. No response.

 

**

 

“Tell me more,” Johnny said at last. “You can’t stop talking now.”

The smile vanished from the old man’s face when he realized that the boy meant business. He looked away from the kid, toward the mottled, disgusting wad of phlegm and tobacco he’d spat into the corner. Two ants were rapidly making their way across the floor toward the messy glob, sensing a meal.

“OK. OK, then, watch and learn something,” said the old man. He closed his bloodshot eyes, raised his face toward the ceiling of the old hut, furrowed his brow, and recited a quote from the Bible: “While I was praying, Gabriel, whom I had seen in the earlier vision, came flying down to where I was. It was the time for the evening sacrifice to be offered.”

The man stopped and checked on Johnny, making sure his audience was paying heed. Satisfied, he looked again at the ants, now climbing atop the splash of spent tobacco.

“He said to them, ‘It is written: My house shall be called a house of prayer; but you make it a den of robbers!’”

The old man raised a boot and brought it down hard, squashing the ants as they fed. He bent low to the floor, retrieved what was left of one ant, and studied a spindly leg protruding between his fingers. The leg appeared to twitch once, and then ceased all movement.

“That was you, Johnny Blackwell. You and me. Tell me now, just before I sent them ants to kingdom come, were you concerned about their eternal souls? Answer me that!”

No reply. But Johnny was rapt.

“Them ants don’t belong here, no ways. Know what they be, Johnny? Robbers! Robbers and squatters!

“Squashed squatters!” He laughed uproariously at his own joke.

 

**

 

Johnny had watched as the old man squished life out of the ants, but now he returned the geezer’s stare. “You speak wisdom, old-timer,” he said.

“Damn right I do. Give me them preachers and them philosophers and them’s on TV and whatnot. So concerned about our souls! Who’s to say them ants don’t have no souls? Not you! Nor me!” The old man’s face expressed rage and revelation. He trembled. He smiled again. “Now, I ask you agin: Want to see my manhood?”

Johnny slowly shook his head. Sooner or later, their conversations generally came around to this.

He rose from his seat in the corner, careful not to topple the rickety stool. “As per usual, you speak wisdom, old man. But your horniness will get you in trouble one day.” Johnny shuffled toward the cabin door, felt his face flush a bit, and turned back. “Well, I reckon just a quick one then.”

The old man’s eyes lit up. He frantically tugged at the fly of his overalls ….

 

**

 

Johnny opened the door of the ramshackle abode and began walking away. Without turning back, he said, “We’ll do this again, old man. I allow that I still have much to learn.” And then he was gone.

 

**

 

The old man watched Johnny walk down the path. He turned to his gun cabinet, opened its door, and removed a shotgun. He knew it was loaded, and it took him no time at all to level the barrel at Johnny’s receding backside. Another Bible verse came to mind, and he spoke it to himself: “And as a dog returneth to his vomit, so a fool returneth to his folly.” He lowered the shotgun, cackled again, and re-entered the hut.

 

**

 

He examined the splotch of chaw on the floor, then studied what was left of the ants. He looked up at the ceiling and watched it implode.

Boards, dust, and dirt flew scattershot. A sudden blaze of sunlight nearly blinded him.

A chariot with teeth was descending toward him, like the vision of Gabriel: He came flying down to where I was. His mouth gaped wide.

The chariot with teeth lowered itself and took hold of him, clenching its jaws shut as it did so. The old-timer was hoisted up, up, and out through the roof, toward the blinding sun and, the old man had time to hope, toward his reward in the heavens.

 

**

 

Johnny, still walking down the dirt path, heard a crash from behind and turned in time to see an amazing sight: the old man, aloft high above the cabin and in the grip of a metal box. One spindly leg protruded from the claws of the giant crane. It appeared the old man was being crushed.

 

**      

 

City employee Jim Hagerstrom was in heaven. He sat in the cab of a brand-new MB excavator and watched in awe as its attached crusher emerged from a cloud of dust and climbed high above the cabin roof.

The MB was amazing, an incredible (and expensive) piece of engineering that made small-scale demolition — like that of this abandoned eyesore of a cabin — easier than ever. Jim Hagerstrom was proud of the expensive machine, and he was pleased that his supervisor had trusted him with such dear hardware. The excavator and its crusher together came to near $80,000.

As the dust began to clear, Jim thought he saw movement in the jaws of the metallic crusher. Almost looked like a man’s leg. Probably just a piece of furniture.

Surely that old squatter who they’d chased away in the spring was long gone … surely?

 

THE END

 

 

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Carol Comes Home

by J.D.H.

 

Carol burst into the apartment and slammed the door shut, locked it, bolted it, and then, back against the door, slid down to the floor.

The apartment was dark, but the red light on the phone’s answering machine was blinking. Messages.

Carol was breathing heavily, eyes closed, when the memories came flooding back.

This can’t keep happening … these men are horrible!

 

**

 

Eyes now open, Carol rose from the floor and shuffled to the phone machine. Three messages.

Message 1:  “Carol, it’s mother. I’m worried about you. Please pick up if you’re there … otherwise, call me when you get this.”

Click.

 

**

 

There was a muffled sound just outside the apartment door, and Carol wondered if someone from the bar had followed and was out there. Surely not ….

Unwelcome memories from the nightclub kept coming back:

Minding my own business, having a drink, checking my cell phone, and the creep sits down beside me. When I don’t acknowledge him, the creep looks at my phone and says, “Can I send you a dick pic?” I say, “Why would I want that? I can tell just from looking at you that you’re hung like an acorn.”

All he did was smile.

 

**

 

Message 2:  “Hi Carol. This is Xavier from the club. You don’t have to return this. I was just wondering how things went the other night. You know, with my bro Alex? Seemed like you two hit it off (laughter). Anyway, I’m sure I’ll see you soon at the club. Bye.”

Click.

 

**

 

Alex from the club. Right.

These damned men! They have no idea the time and effort I — and millions of girls around the planet — put into our appearance, and they have no clue as to why. Yes, we want to look attractive — but that doesn’t mean we want to sleep with you! We enjoy the attention, it feels good to be noticed and desired, sure, but that doesn’t mean we want to bonk!

 

**

 

“Funny thing about dick pics,” the creep at the bar had said. “Women complain about them, but they don’t understand the motive. They think men are like peacocks, strutting their feathers — or dicks — in a bid to attract a woman. But that’s not the case. Usually, the man knows he has no chance with her. The dick pic isn’t for her benefit; it’s actually an act of aggression.”

 

**

 

Message 3:  A hang-up.

 

**

 

“The guy thinks, OK, she’s not into me. But at the very least, I can get her to see my dick, plant that image in her brain. At some point, she’ll probably imagine sex with that dick — if only for a moment. And so the dick pic is for the guy’s benefit, sort of a mind fuck. Pathetic, sure, but not what most women think it is.”

At that point, Carol stood and faced him. “You speak like you have a lot of experience sending dick pics. No thanks. Like I said, I can tell just from looking at you that you’re probably sporting a baby dick.” Carol left him sitting there, a smirk on his face.

 

**

 

No more phone messages. Somewhere outside, a siren was wailing. It grew louder, then fainter as it moved on.

Of course, everyone has some sort of … kink. I certainly have one. But some of the fetishes these men entertain …. There is a difference between tolerating a man’s kinks, and actually indulging them.

 

**

 

“I know your secret, Carol.” This new guy, unlike the creep, was somewhat good-looking. He wasn’t vulgar and had a certain charm. But after he’d sat there, at the bar, for ten minutes or so, his hand was suddenly on Carol’s upper thigh. “I don’t mind your secret,” he said.

As with the first creep, this was a cue for Carol to leave. He’d blown it.

 

**

 

But he had followed Carol out of the bar and into an alley. They stood next to a reeking dumpster.

“What happened then was self-defense,” Carol said aloud. “He cornered me, and I had no alternative but to …”

 

**

 

Carol looked down at the blood-stained stiletto heel. It had gone into the man’s eye socket, pushed in hard until it struck bone. Now his body was in the dumpster, where someone would eventually find it. But it was self-defense.

These men!

It was a repeat of the scene with Alex a few nights ago. Lovely Alex, who did not understand that Carol had no intention of sleeping with him. Carol simply craved attention. But Carol didn’t swing that way.

Alex’s body was now in a dirt heap beneath a highway bridge. They would find him, eventually.

 

**

 

Carol went into the bathroom and removed his wig and began to disrobe. There was blood on his dress, and on his blouse. He stood and relieved himself in the toilet, flushed, and then, like always, he left the toilet seat up.

 

THE END

 

 

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Homebodies

by J.D.H.

 

Dr. Loris Limm, eminent surgeon and pillar of the community, stepped into the foyer of his house. It felt good to be home. It was drizzling outside, and the good doctor tossed his wet coat onto the back of a chair in the hallway, thoughtfully removed his shoes, and placed his laptop computer on a small, antique table. To his right, the door to the library was slightly ajar. Light from the room was filtering out into the foyer.

Dr. Limm began to open the library door, but then hesitated. A frown creased his handsome, middle-aged face.

From within the room, he could hear the smack-flutter of damp flesh on paper, and this distressed him. It reminded him of his wife, Eleanor, who had the annoying habit of licking her index finger before turning every page of whatever book she happened to be reading. A harmless enough thing, certainly, but to Dr. Limm that “wet” sound was infinitely more grating than the proverbial fingernails on a chalkboard.

And now it would seem that one of the twins — perhaps both — had picked up Eleanor’s irritating tic. But then he chastised himself, recalling that his children would never be guilty of such obnoxious behavior.

 

**

 

Dr. Limm pushed the door open and, sure enough, his children — the boy Neil and the girl Lisle (affectionately nicknamed “Pincushion” by the family) — both had their noses in books. Of Neil, Dr. Limm could see but the top of the boy’s curly brown hair, just visible above the backside of a roan-colored sofa. Neil’s book was propped against a throw pillow. Lisle he could see in her entirety as the girl lay sprawled on a shaggy rug near the fireplace. Her book was splayed upon the rug.

“Father!” Lisle cried. No such greeting came from his son, but Dr. Limm could hear a faint rustle of shifting plastic in the vicinity of the boy.

“Children,” Dr. Limm graced them with a barely perceptible smile. He did, however, lean over the sofa to ruffle his son’s unruly crown of hair. “Studies, or pleasure?”

“Studies, father,” replied the boy. “Father, what will we eat tonight?”

Dr. Limm ignored this and turned to his golden-haired daughter. “And Lisle, studies or pleasure?”

“Pleasure, father. Mother says I am ahead of Neil in my studies, and so I am waiting for him to catch up.”

“And what are you reading for pleasure?”

A Farewell to—“

“Father,” her brother cut in: “Might we have hamburger and potato salad for dinner? It’s Thursday, and—“

“Let me check with your mother,” said Dr. Limm. “Now get back to your books. I don’t want to interrupt Neil’s education, and Hemingway waits for no man.”

“Nor girl!” squealed Lisle.

Dr. Limm graced them with a second weak smile, and pulled the door shut as he moved back into the hallway.

 

**

 

A light at the end of the passage informed him that his wife of 33 years was in the kitchen. The light was blue-tinged, which indicated, not surprisingly to the doctor, the glow of a television. No studies or Hemingway for Eleanor. As Dr. Limm entered the smallish kitchen, he beheld the usual scene: Eleanor on her loveseat, feet planted on an ottoman, hand deep in a box of some-kind-of-snack, and the television tuned to some “reality TV” absurdity.

On the screen, a half-dozen Southern teens were filling the bed of a pickup truck with water from a garden hose. They had lined the truck’s bed with a large plastic sheet, and were attempting to create a Kentucky poor kids’ version of a backyard swimming pool.

“Neil is asking about a special meal again,” the doctor said, after glancing at his wife to ascertain whether she was awake or asleep. “I told him I would check with his mother.”

One of the redneck girls on TV, the doctor noted, had managed to lose her bikini top. MTV had tactfully pixilated this moral offense. Eleanor either heard nothing her husband had said, or determined that no reply was required. Her nose twitched, as though something foul-smelling had suddenly entered the room, but her eyes stayed glued to the TV.

Dr. Limm followed her gaze to the flat-screen television. Every other word out of the teenagers’ mouths was being “bleeped” by the network’s censors. Dr. Limm sighed.

 

**

 

“The children on this show are animals,” Eleanor whispered, more to herself than to her husband. “It’s obvious we made the right decision.”

Dr. Limm took a seat in a rocker and sat in silence for some minutes, observing with his wife the hedonistic behavior of the MTV kids. “They are having a wonderful time of it,” he said at last. “Give them five years, and they’ll have a wonderful time of it behind the walls of some penitentiary, or in the waiting room of some seedy abortion clinic.”

“We made,” repeated Eleanor, “the right decision. Oh, yes.”

Dr. Limm nodded his head in assent. “Discipline may be short-term pain, but it’s … it is long-term gain, I assure you.”

“You don’t have to tell me, Loris.”

“I’m sure I don’t. Those children on your television program, assuming they have parents, will wind up costing them a bundle. Parents must do what they must to maintain discipline. And to keep children safe from the wicked influences of the outer world. At least, whenever possible.

“And if that means their children must suffer some inconvenience, well.” The doctor paused to consider. “I’m not suggesting that I don’t enjoy a … respectable income, but even Neil and Lisle, at times, cost me an arm and a leg.”

Eleanor burst out of her loveseat as though the fumes she detected earlier had blossomed into a full-blown nuclear explosion. In two steps she was standing above her husband, delivering one vicious slap to his left cheek, and a follow-up blow to his right.

Dr. Loris Limm’s eyes widened in shock, but he regained his composure almost immediately. He looked down at his lap in shame. “I’m so sorry, Eleanor. I … I didn’t think. That was careless of me.”

 

**

 

The rustle of plastic against wood caused them both to look back at the kitchen entrance.

“Father,” said Neil from the doorway. “There was a joke in a book and it’s upset Lisle terribly. The joke was: Three boys come to the door of Little Johnny’s house. Johnny’s mother answers the door and one boy says, ‘Mrs. Smith, Mrs. Smith, can Little Johnny come out to play baseball?’ And the mother tells them, ‘Now boys, you know that Little Johnny has no arms nor legs.’ And the boy says, ‘That’s OK, Mrs. Smith, we just need him to be second base.’’’  

Neil paused and looked from one parent to the other. “Lisle is awfully upset.”

Dr. Limm looked down at the stump of his 32-year-old son, whose arms were amputated below the elbows and whose legs were missing below the knees. The doctor frowned when he noticed the plastic bag the boy had dragged down the hall with him. Behind the boy, Lisle, also 32 years old and similarly dislimbed, shed tears from the spot on the hallway carpet to which she had slithered.

“Neil,” Dr. Limm admonished, “Your colostomy bag is leaking. Please clean up after yourself at once.”

“Neil,” added Mrs. Limm, “Guess what? Hamburger and potato salad — tonight!”

 

THE END

 

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Revelation

by J.D.H.

 

Harry and Louise both had the same thought at the same time: refills. They rose from their respective lawn chairs and began the short stroll toward the back door of the kitchen and, inside, the lemonade pitcher. Refreshing.

As they walked, Harry and Louise had just time enough to notice the brilliant white flash on the horizon, followed by a billowing mushroom cloud.

 

**

 

Then the world blew up.

 

THE END

 

 

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Thwup!

by J.D.H.

 

Mr. Brickbottom adjusted his Van Cleef & Arpels’ cufflinks. He straightened his Tom Ford tie, and glanced at the corner of his office, at the shiny new X.222 PowerPak. He pushed a button on the ebony console on his desk, and silently began counting to five …

On the count of four, the office door opened and his secretary, the ever-efficient, ever-timely Eliza Toot, ran a hand through her red hair and smiled at him. Brickbottom ran his own hand through his own hair — recently groomed at a cost of some five hundred dollars.

“Good morning, Ms. Toot. I was wondering what time they scheduled my three o’clock.”

Ms. Toot replied: “Three o’clock, Mr. Brickbottom.”

Brickbottom glared at Toot. Was this her idea of some kind of joke? But then he realized his error. “Of course, of course. I meant to say, where have they scheduled my three o’clock? I don’t want to miss it.”

 

**

 

From the hallway outside of Brickbottom’s office, there came a faint sound: “thwup.”

 

**

 

Ms. Toot consulted her daily planner. “The conference room on the 38th floor, Mr. Brickbottom. Would you like me to be there?”

Brickbottom opened his mouth to reply, but before he could say anything, Ms. Toot was thrust violently over his desk and fell clumsily onto his lap. Without a word, Ms. Toot removed herself from Brickbottom and scurried back to the other side of his desk.

“Quite all right, Toot,” Brickbottom said, readjusting his tie and brushing back his hair.  “I take it you forgot to remove your Pak.”

“I’m so sorry, Mr. Brickbottom. Yes, I just got in ten minutes ago, and then Mr. Barnstebble approached me with some issue or other … I quite forgot about the Pak.”

Out of the corner of his eye, Brickbottom watched as an intern in the hallway, some cute young college student named Julie, flew past his office in a blur. “Thwup.”

He turned to survey the scene outside his 36th-floor office window. A score of businessmen and businesswomen were soaring through the air, no doubt late for work, judging from their harried expressions. A few of them whizzed by just feet from his window.

As he was observing this scene, one of fliers, a man in a grey suit and fedora, halted in mid-air.  The man appeared to convulse … lurched forward a few yards … convulsed again … and plunged 36 floors to his death.

 

**

 

Brickbottom turned back to Ms. Toot. Eyes wide, Ms. Toot had also witnessed the falling man.

“Better move the three o’clock to one o’clock, Ms. Toot. This can’t be good.”

Ms. Toot was all business again. “Yes, sir.” She turned to leave the office.

“Oh, and Ms. Toot? I guess I needn’t remind you what you should have for lunch. Or rather,” at this, he nodded toward the window, “how much you should have for lunch.”

Toot nodded and began to leave the office, but was again propelled forward by some unseen force. She smashed headlong into the office door. “Thwup.”

 

**

 

Mr. Brickbottom was alone now in his office. The meeting was to take place in less than an hour, but it seemed pointless to him. He looked again at his X.22 PowerPak, and then out the window. More of them were falling now. It was lunchtime, but instead of making their way to restaurants, people were plunging face-first onto the sidewalks and streets far below.

It was a full-scale catastrophe, and Brickbottom, architect of this disaster, contemplated his options.

He studied the bookcase across from his desk. The top row was lined with cans of Flatula, his company’s main product. Combined with the X.22, Flatula produced a form of energy that had replaced cars and planes and buses and gasoline. It had been hailed as a “miracle product.” People would consume Flatula, attach their PowerPaks, and propel themselves anyplace and anytime that they liked. It was the ultimate “green” energy.

But something was obviously going horribly wrong. People like Ms. Toot and Julie the intern could no longer control their propulsions. Others, like the poor businesspeople outside his window, were falling to their deaths. And it was all Brickbottom’s fault.

Brickbottom slowly rose from his chair and put on his PowerPak. He made his way to the window, opened it, and stepped out onto the ledge.

What could be the problem? Was it the formula, Flatula, or was it his pride and joy, the X.22 PowerPak? If either was flawed, he was effectively finished. He and the company he had created.

Brickbottom reflected that his formula and device had been tested and tested and tested … no, the problem must be human error. People were not operating them correctly. He stepped off the ledge and farted. “Thwup.” He activated his PowerPak.

 

**

 

Ms. Toot knocked gently on Brickbottom’s office door — eight times. No answer. She wanted to make sure he would be at the meeting, especially since everyone was calling and demanding that he be there. Including members of the board of directors. She pushed open the door and peeked around it.

Mr. Brickbottom was not at his desk. His window, however, was open.

Ms. Toot frowned and walked quickly to the window. She looked out, then down. She saw a spinning, cartwheeling figure plummeting toward the pavement. The figure’s shiny cufflinks twinkled in the sunlight.

The spinning figure seemed to be making rapid-fire sounds as it fell: “thwup-thwupthwupthwupthwup” —

splat!

 

 

THE END

 

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The Porthole

by J.D.H.

 

Sarah Seemore was drunk … and stuck.

“Oh, my,” Sarah said. Fog-headed, she tried to recall how she’d gotten into this predicament. In front of her, she could see the outline of the ship’s railing as it swayed up and down, up and down. This disorienting motion — along with the alcohol in her system and the pre-dawn darkness at sea — did nothing to clear her head.

“My goodness,” Sarah said. From what she could tell, there was no one on the outside deck.

When she felt well enough to move, Sarah found that she could not; something was binding her at the waist.

She began to cry “Help!” — but then memory began to come back. It was a porthole, of course. She had foolishly joined the men at their party, and had drunkenly said that, of course, she was small enough to slip through that porthole … if someone would just hold her drink for her …. And so here she was: stuck.

 

**

 

Inside the ship’s lounge, Moogbar stirred on the floor. He thought he might vomit, decided he would not. At least not yet. Through bloodshot eyes, he surveyed his surroundings and counted three other men on the floor. Passed out. Some party, Moogbar thought.

He heard a soft moaning, and sat up on the floor. The moaning turned into a voice: “Someone?” A high-pitched, girlish plaint.

Moogbar turned to his left and there it was. Jutting out from the bulkhead of the ship’s lounge, like a peach-colored corsage on a lapel, was the most enticing thing he’d ever seen — a perfectly shaped derriere. In a blue-denim skirt. A blue-denim miniskirt.

“Oh, my,” said Moogbar, to no one in particular.

Moogbar blinked and rubbed his eyes. He looked again at the fleshy protuberance in the bulkhead. To its left was a bank’s ATM. A metal plate affixed to the machine announced: DEPOSITS, WITHDRAWALS. Moogbar felt much better.

 

**

 

Sarah had nearly passed out again when she felt something touching the part of her person that was still in the lounge, not out on the deck. “Hello?” she said. No answer. But someone was fumbling with her skirt. “Oh!

 

**

 

Moogbar wracked his brain, trying to recall the name of the movie. The Toxic Avenger, yeah, that was it. He had raised the girl’s skirt, yanked down her lacy panties. “My goodness,” Moogbar said, overjoyed with his good fortune.

Oh!” said Sarah.

 

**

 

Someone else stirred on the floor of the lounge. It was an older gentleman, stooped and bald-pated. “Whuh?” he said. He saw movement near the ATM machine. The old gent blinked and tried to focus his eyes. Where the hell were his glasses?

A rhythmic motion at the wall; the idiot Moogbar seemed to be humping it. His sweaty ass was pumping frantically. There were red blotches on his rear. Pimples. The old gentleman looked away.

 

**

 

Oh, please stop!” cried Sarah.

“Ooomph!” said Moogbar. “Ooomph Ooomph OOOMPH!” said Moogbar, and he collapsed to the floor.

The old man stared at Moogbar. Moogbar looked back at him and grinned. He had finally remembered the line from Toxic Avenger: “Always did want to corn hole me a white bitch,” he quoted. He smiled at the older gentleman and gestured to the bare buttocks protruding from the porthole. “Now’s your big chance, old timer.”

The older man gaped at the sight. He could not recall the last time he’d had sex. He would think of sex, look at his wife, and immediately lose interest. But now, as he ogled the shapely young peach just a few feet away, it seemed to beckon to him.

Why not? Who would ever know?

 

**

 

Ahhhh!” said the old man.

Oooooh!” said Sarah.

Yaaahhh!” cried the old man. His old-man pants drooped to his old-man ankles. Keenly aware of Moogbar’s judgmental gaze, the old man thrust his bony pelvis as he hadn’t thrust it in years, deep into this gift from the gods.

Ooooooh!” said Sarah.

“Boom-chucka, boom-chucka, boom-fucka Ohhhh!” cried the old man. Spent, the dirty deed done, he collapsed to the floor.

Moogbar laughed. “Enjoy that, old man? Not bad for such an old rooster. What say we go outside, see what she looks like from the other end?”

 

**

 

On the deck, outside in the dark, there she was, her long auburn hair partly obscuring her face. At the sound of footsteps, she looked up at them.

“Daddy!” she cried.

The old man gaped at his daughter, and his dentures fell out of his mouth and dropped to the deck.

 

 

THE END

 

 

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