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Free Space

November 11, 2017

a short story written by andrew j. bartlett

The young man had never hitchhiked before.

He’d seen television shows where lonely men walked down the side of a road or a highway, with a sad piano tune accompanying their journey, the lonely men’s individual thumbs pointed toward the sky in the tried and true signal of “I need a ride, if you’re willing to provide”; so that’s what he did: he walked down the road, thumb positioned with a semi-professional air, sans sad piano music.

A guitar strap across his chest anchored the instrument pressed against his back. The young man didn’t know how to play guitar – he’d owned it for several years, but never picked it up, except to move it when he was in search for an item underneath. In movies, he’d seen young men, strapped with a stringed instrument of one sort or the other, walk a lonely road until they reached a crossroads, selling their souls to the first devil who happened upon them in order to get their dark desires fulfilled.

The young man had been hiking down the highway for so long, he was starting to itch for such a crossroads, just to break the monotony of the entire venture. All this time, and not a single taker, not a single Samaritan had answered his plea for a lift to where he was heading; or, for lack of a better hitchhiking adage, “or bust”.

He glanced down at his watch – to gauge how long he had actually been on this one-way trek – but didn’t have a chance to look at the time, as his attention was diverted by an abrupt, obnoxious horn. Looking in the direction of the noise, he found a large, four-door passenger truck slowing to a stop just mere feet from where he was standing.

A head wearing a bright red hat popped out from the passenger side window, and a voice from under the hat shouted, “Well? You gonna come on in, or are you fine with that piano solo, Dr. Banner?”

The young man felt relief wash over him, he didn’t catch the reference. He grabbed the strap across his chest with both hands, and ran to the truck with a renewed sense of energy. As he came nearer and nearer to the truck, he saw that the red hat provided shade to a middle-aged face whose stubble had missed the five o’clock deadline, with a wide grin that parted and came together again as a piece of gum  fulfilled the purpose for which it was intended.

“Thank you. Thank you, very much,” said the young man as he finally reached the window and the red-hatted head protruding from it.

“Where is it ‘ya headin’?” smacked the head in the window. The breath gave off no scent of flavor of the gum; as if it had served its purpose long ago, and now served as a stand-in for that “dead horse flogged” saying.

The young man gave the name of a city, but punctuated it by saying, “… or however far you can take me, if it’s no trouble.”

It turned out to be no trouble at all. After the red-hatted gum-chewer confirmed it as such, he invited the young man to hop into the backseat of the truck, which was already occupied by the biggest dog he had ever seen. He didn’t know much about dogs, but in films he’d seen over the years, this one stood out to him as the type known to terrorize mothers and their sons, trapping them in their broken-down car on a hot summer’s day.

“Oh, pay no mind to Geezer,” the man in the passenger seat smacked comically. “He’s almost twenty years old and don’t do much but sit there and drool.” As if on command, the old dog’s mouth connected with the seat cushion via a thick strand of saliva.

Once the young man was completely in the truck and comfortably seated, the vehicle made its way back onto the highway, in the direction the young man had intended all along; the added benefit, of course, being it was a direction met at a much faster speed.

The man in the red hat introduced himself, though the young man, in spite of knowing better, came to know him as “Red”. After giving a brief introduction of who he was and a mini-biography to his recent time leading up to riding in this here truck – of which the young man didn’t retain, as he couldn’t find any way that it would interest him in the slightest – Red turned the introduction to the driver, a man with thick, black hair on the top of his head and the front of his face, whose name didn’t elude the young man: Tim.

“And you’ve already met Geezer,” Red concluded the introductions. “How about you? What’s your story?”

It was not a lot to tell, the young man said, as he told Red, Tim, and Geezer a heavily made-up story of how he had wound up on the highway and why he was headed in the direction of his destination. He didn’t like lying to these two men and their elderly hound, but he felt the truth wouldn’t have been as entertaining.

Red, whose head had been turned in the direction of the young man, in respect of the conversation, gave a nod and said, “Well, that definitely sounds like proper reason to be out here, on your own, trying to get to where you’re goin’.”

The young man nodded, looked out the window at the passing landscape as they made their way down the highway.

“Well, it’s going to be some time before we get to where you’re headin’. We don’t mind taking you as far as we can, ” said Red, “s’long as you don’t mind Geezer’s breath back there, a-and,” he continued, “if you don’t mind indulging Tim and me in the occasional road trip game.”

Shaking his head, the young man told Red he didn’t mind. In response, the man in the red hat gave an excited laugh and said, “Oh, good! In that case, I think it’s time we played our favorite – Travel BINGO!”

Red opened the glove box and pulled out three cardboard slabs; they were square in shape and looked like they had seen many years – decades – of road trips. They had been professionally-made, the young man could see, as they were more involved than the standard BINGO sheets he’d seen in his time; in lieu of marking a space with a pen or pencil, a tiny plastic cover moved from one side of the other, to indicate when that space had been fulfilled. At the end of a round, the plastic cover would be moved back to its starting point, refreshing the space for the next round.

“D’you wanna play?” Red asked, his chewing grin paused in wait for the young man’s response. When the latter shook his head and declined in the politest way he felt possible, Red shrugged with good humor and said, “No problem. Maybe if you see how much fun Tim and I have, you’ll want to join next round, eh?”

The round began the moment Tim’s BINGO board landed on his lap. Both of his hands stayed on the wheel, his eyes stayed on the road; yet, despite not having stolen a single glance at the BINGO board, he called out, “Cow.”

“Oh, it’s like that, is it?” Red cried, playfully fixing his hat in mock-agitation. “Well, okay, let’s see how this goes.”

From the young man’s vantage point, it was a short, quick volley of driver and passenger, calling out items they saw on the road as those items lined up with their individual boards. He could tell the two men had played this game, used these particular boards, many times – enough to memorize them to the point where neither man seemed to look at the board, for confirmation, as they declared another item for themselves. Red was very animated about his game, jumping in his seat and pointing, while Tim kept his attention on the road, saying only as much as the descriptions from the BINGO board itself.

At the end of this first round, it was Red who won, with “dog in a car”. He had legitimately seen a dog in another vehicle, though he had tried, in a fit of desperation, to use Geezer’s presence, to help him secure victory earlier in the game; it was vetoed by a single grunt from Tim, but in the end Red had found another dog in another car on the same road.

Red turned back to the young man, face almost the same color as his hat, and, nearly breathlessly, asked, “You up for round two?”

The young man gave Red a smile, and again respectfully declined. He almost took back his decision after seeing Red’s face flicker with what seemed like disappointment; but the man had already turned back to the front before he could do so. “Whaddaya say, sir?” he asked Tim. “Best two out of three?”

A grunt later, and Red and Tim were back at it with the BINGO. The second round turned out to be just as quick as the first: Tim saw another cow, starting off the game, but it was Red who carried the game almost to the bitter end; that is, until Tim called out “bird on a wire” to help lead him to victory. Red muttered and mumbled to himself, complaining about Tim’s luck and quickly commencing with the third round of BINGO, the tie-breaker round.

This time, the game lasted much longer than the previous two rounds. Neither man said anything at the start; in fact, five minutes had almost passed completely before either Tim or Red said anything at all. It was Red who started the round this time: “Church.”

Another several minutes of silence passed, before Red spoke again: “Cop car.” Tim grunted his acknowledgement.

The silent moments were stretching uncomfortably for the young man. Neither man had made any motion in his direction, whether physically or conversationally. Every now and again, he looked at Geezer, but even the two-decades-old dog seemed to have lost interest in him, as the large animal’s attention was affixed to whatever was happening out his window. The window itself was covered in a film of several-times-applied saliva.

Tim grunted “barn” and Red countered with “warehouse”.

Red only had a few more spaces to fill before his ultimate victory, but Tim made things interesting by calling out “tree”, “bridge”, and “bus”, within the span of thirty seconds. He allowed Red to sweat for another minute before finally saying, in a short grunt: “BINGO.”

Despite Red’s animated game-playing tactics, the young man noticed that his sportsmanship was better when he accepted his loss to Tim. “You got me again, you cheat,” Red said jokingly, “You and that damned ‘free space’.”

Tim simply grunted. Red took the board from Tim’s lap, and replaced all of the boards, including the one the young man declined to use, in the glove box.

“Well, what’s fair is fair,” Red said, in a resigned fashion. “And you get to do the honors, Tim.”

The young man had become so enthralled by the back-and-forth of Red and Tim’s BINGO game, he had failed to notice the shift in the speed of the truck – as there was none at all. At a complete stop, the truck sat at the side of the road, a little further away from the highway than one would consider for a simple roadside pit stop.

Tim turned the key and the engine went silent. Without any preamble or utterance, he opened the door and got out of the vehicle, making his way to the bed of the truck.

When asked by the young man what Tim was doing, Red replied with a shrug, “Tim won BINGO.”

Before he could say another thing, the door on his side of the truck was thrown open, and Tim’s large hands grasped him, tightly, to pull him from the backseat. He was dragged further and further away from the truck, further and further away from the road; he kicked and screamed, but nothing he did seemed to help him in his current situation. The young man hoped that something would come to make sense with all this; he also cursed himself, for hitchhiking in the first place.

His kicking and screaming ultimately zapped him of whatever energy he’d built up when he was picked up by these two strangers and their dog. His breath heavy, his entire body exhausted, he started taking stock in his surroundings – and the realization of where he was sent a short wave of adrenaline through him, adding a few more seconds of kicking and screaming to his “to-do” list. The stones that surrounded him ranged in different sizes and heights, yet they all carried the same themes in their inscriptions, as they legitimized the time frames of vitality for those dearly departed.

In short: he and Tim were in the middle of a cemetery.

The young man, exhausted and terrified, wondered how deep into the graveyard they would be heading when, out of the corner of his eye, he saw the hole. He groaned and, his throat tight, tried to plead with Tim to let him go. For a moment, he thought he had gotten through to Tim – the man had stopped, albeit right next to the open grave, and released his grip on the young man; however, as he crumpled to the ground and took a whiff of the freshly disturbed ground next to him, he saw Tim reach for the shovel he’d brought with him. It was strapped to his back, as though mocking the young man for how he had looked when Tim and Red had found him on the side of the road.

Tim brought the shovel to his front and gripped it with both hands. Even as the young man wept and tried to back away from him, Tim lifted the shovel in a batter’s pose. “I won BINGO,” he said, and took a swing.

When Tim was finished, minutes later, he threw the shovel – covered with dirt, blood, and possibly some other bodily  composition – back into the bed of the truck and covered it with the truck’s ever-present tarp. He walked back to the driver’s side, wiping his hands on the sides of his pants to remove whatever dirt he could, opened the door and hopped back into the driver’s seat.

Red, who had been sulking in his seat the entire time, looked out his window for a moment, then looked at Tim. “A cemetery, huh?” he said.

Tim only grunted, as he turned the key and started up the engine once more.

The truck made its way back onto the highway, leaving the incident in the cemetery in its wake. It was only a few miles removed when Red finally asked, “What made you think of doing it in a cemetery, this time?”

The driver didn’t answer immediately, but when he did, it was in a humorless grunt: “Free space.”

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[1 November 2016]: The Princeless and the D

November 1, 2016

Not long ago – possibly during a time when you were younger, or your parents were younger, or their parents were younger, but not long ago – there was this guy, see; let’s call him… Richard. Yeah, that sounds good: Richard.

Now, Richard was a man of special tastes. He liked his food a specific way, he liked his drink a specific way, and he liked everything else he consumed in a specific way. Mind, don’t ask me what these “specific ways” entailed, as I’m just the narrator and am not, contrary to the beliefs of certain family members who will be left unnamed (you’re welcome, Aunt Susie), the “Richard” spoken about in this here story; if you’d like to know the details of these “specific ways”, you would have to acquire a time machine, set it to the exact date and coordinates of a location when and where this Richard was located, and either ask him yourself or sit out in the bushes like a creep and watch him like one of those nature documentary filmmakers.

But, seeing as we don’t have a time machine at hand at this particular moment in time, I’ll just have to continue the story. Unless, of course, you do have a time machine, then peace be with you, and please don’t affect the timeline too badly – I am trying to tell a story, here.

There came a time, during Richard’s specific way of life when he realized how lonely he was, enjoying things in a specific way without someone else around to enjoy watching him enjoying things in a specific way. He turned to his mother, a full-time matchmaker who was also a matchmaker on the side, to help in his search for such a specific someone else to be by his side for life.

According to the propaganda she spread herself, Richard’s mother was the best in the business. There was neither truth nor fiction to the claims, as matchmaking had been outdated for some time at that point; any would-be competitors would catch a whiff of interest in the profession, then another aroma would hit their olfactory senses, and said competitors would then take up more lucrative professions, such as stamp-collecting or lion-taming.

As Richard’s mother adhered the final striker plate to the last box of that week’s batch, she looked at Richard and nodded to the file cabinet in the corner of the room. “Dickie, go over to the file cabinet in the corner of the room, open the second drawer and pull out the folder marked with a ‘D’,” she told him.

Richard walked over to the file cabinet in the corner of the room and stood in front of it. He put his hand to his chin and studied the file cabinet in the corner of the room with a fierce commitment.

“The second drawer, dear,” the matchmaking matchmaker told her son.

Richard turned toward his mother, and pointed at the file cabinet in the corner of the room. His mother nodded, and he opened the drawer of the file cabinet in the corner of the ro-

“I said the second drawer, duckie,” he heard his mother say from the other side of the room. He immediately closed the drawer and opened anoth-

“That’s the bottom drawer, Dicky.”

Richard closed that drawer and opened the next dra-

“The. SECOND. Drawer.”

He closed the drawer and opened the last drawer in the file cabi-

“That’s the bottom drawer again! Honestly, can’t I even…” his mother grumbled as she stood from her matchmaking table and shuffled over to the file cabinet in the corner of the room. Not without a hint of an idea of love behind it, she shoved Richard from in front of the file cabinet in the corner of the room, opened the second drawer, pulled out the file marked with the ‘D’, closed the drawer, shoved the folder into Richard’s arms, and shuffled back to the table to finish packing up her day’s work.

Richard stared at the folder for a moment, then joined his mother at the matchmaking table, where he proceeded to sit across from her. He set the folder on the table and opened it carefully.

The opened folder revealed its contents to contain that of personal files – personal files of every single and eligible female in town. Richard didn’t have to ask his mother why he had such a folder in her possession – given her profession, it wasn’t uncommon for the girls (and some times boys) of the area to request her services. A part of the service required each girl or boy, or “client”, to submit a file containing personal information; such personal information included date of birth, eye color, familial medical history, and how they liked to spend their Friday evenings when it was raining and the moon was in its waxing crescent phase.

The matchmaking matchmaker’s son pored over the files, setting aside the ones that particularly interested him while keeping in the folder the ones that did not. Several minutes later, and with six files pulled from the folder, Richard looked up at his mother and asked what he should do now.

Looking at the six files spread out on the table, his mother asked, “Are these the clients you wish to test, to see if they are compatible?”

Richard had never heard his mother speak in such a manner, but he trusted she was asking him the right thing, so he nodded. His mother smiled in response and gathered up the files of the clients in question. “Well, now… there’s only one thing we need to do, then…”

In short, what Richard’s mother had planned was this: she would contact the clients in question and invite each one separately to a one-on-one evening with her son. The evening would include dinner, music, and light entertainment. For the purpose of the thing, the client would also have to spend one night in the matchmaking matchmaker’s guest room – the reasoning of which was unclear to the clients, but for the sake of the thing, the ones who agreed to the terms and conditions without any questions asked (and, mind, only three of the six agreed; the other three immediately claimed that the matchmaking matchmaker had reached the wrong number, don’t call here again, this is the fourth time lady, do it again and I’ll contact the authorities, click).

The first client was set for Monday evening. Seeing as the entire thing had been set up by Richard’s mother, all of the evenings would be taking place at the matchmaking matchmaker’s home. When Monday’s client walked through the door and saw all the matchmaking paraphernalia, she made a quick joke about the “fun evening in store”; Richard didn’t get the joke.

Monday evening progressed as planned: dinner was made, then set, then eaten; music played in the background, some classical, some jazz, some cat-yodeling; and light entertainment, which consisted of Richard completing a Medium-level Sudoku puzzle – he only had to look at the answer key in the back three times.

The puzzle was completed, and Monday evening was minutes away from turning into Tuesday morning. As the client made her way to the matchmaking matchmaker’s guest room, Richard noticed his mother standing in the hallway, watching from the shadows. He could see she had a grin on her face, but did not think to ask what she thought was so funny or why her eye was twitching like it was; instead, he himself went home, where he liked his bed because it helped him sleep in a specific way.

The next morning, when the client came out of the guest room and into the kitchen, she found Richard’s mother at the table. On the table itself were all kinds of breakfast fixings – toast, jam, eggs, bacon, cereal, juices, jelly beans, sardines, a boot, and milk. As the client pulled out a chair and sat down, the woman sitting across from her asked, “So, dearie, how did you sleep?”

The client started to tell her how it was the best sleep she’d had in a very long time, but she didn’t get finish, as a glob of jam had collided with her face. “Get out! Get the hell out of my house!” screamed the matchmaking matchmaker to the client, who was now looking at the woman with extreme incredulity.

In minutes, the client had run from the kitchen, then from the house, not sparing a moment to wipe the jam from her face. Richard’s mother finished her breakfast, cleaned off the table, and set to getting the house ready for the second client, who would be arriving a few hours later for her evening with Richard.

Tuesday’s evening went agonizingly similar to that of Monday evening. There was food, there was music, there was the entertainment – only this time, Richard played Solitaire for three hours straight. The evening had finally come to a close, the client made her way to the guest room, and once again, Richard had found his mother looming in the hallway, grinning as she had been the night before. When Wednesday morning rolled around and the client told the mother of her restful night’s sleep, she too was found fleeing the house, only this time with a glob of eggs streaming from her hair.

Richard and his mother found themselves at a depressive level of energy when Wednesday evening came around, thanks to the failures of the previous two evenings. Wednesday evening’s client was their last hope in finding someone suitable for Richard’s interests and the pressure was on. Regardless, when the client finally did arrive for the evening’s activities, Richard and the matchmaking matchmaker went about the evening as they had the previous two.

When the client made her way to the guest room and Richard found his mother in the hallway, no longer with a grin on her face, he decided to ask her what was going on. All she said was a sad “Oh, nothing” and she turned away to head for her own room, calling it a night, not daring to hope that the morning would be different, for a change.

Thursday morning rolled around, and the client came down to the kitchen to find a single box of cereal on the table. Sitting next to the cereal box – in a chair, as opposed to on the table as well – was Richard’s mother, looking tiny and sad. As the client pulled out the chair to sit down, the old woman sighed and said, “Don’t bother sitting down. Tell me… how did you sleep last night?”

The client sat down anyway. “I have to be honest,” she said, “it was very uncomfortable. I found this under the mattress…”

Richard’s mother looked up from her study of the kitchen table to see that the client had something in her hand. It was small, pink, tube-shaped, and ended with a curved tip at the top. At the bottom was a dial, which the client turned; the object proceeded to hum as she held it. A few moments of humming passed, the client turned it the dial the other direction and the humming stopped.

The matchmaking matchmaker’s eyes lit up. “You found it! You found it! And all because you felt it under the mattress! Only those with specific needs could feel that under the mattress! You and my son should be married on the morrow!”

“Well now, hold on,” said the client, setting the object in her hand on the kitchen table. “I don’t know what kind of language you’re speaking lady, but I’m most certainly not marrying your son and this here-” she pointed to the tube-shaped object on the table “-is not why I couldn’t sleep last night.”

The mother’s shoulders slumped a little as she said, “Why couldn’t you sleep last night?”

The client scoffed. “Really? You’re being serious, right now? Truth be told, I don’t know what I’m still doing here. Maybe I thought it was all some kind of horrible dream and I’d wake up from it in my actual bed.

“But I’ll tell you this: I don’t know how you’re still in business, lady. Matchmaking is an outdated profession, and matchmaking is right on its heels. Your son is a droll buffoon, who doesn’t know how to play Tic-Tac-Toe correctly. I was hoping the evening would be savored by a bit of shallow fun, but if this is any kind of indication-” she nodded to the pink, non-humming-at-the-moment object on the table “-I think I’m good, not getting mixed up in whatever craziness is going on here.

“And don’t think I didn’t see you last night, skulking in the hallway. Straight-up Creepsville, lady.”

With that, the client stood from the table and strode out of the house. Interestingly enough, said client went from there to move on to bigger and better things; by that, of course, I mean that as soon as she got home she was able to utilize bigger and better things, and thus have the quality rest she was unable to get the night before.

As for the matchmaking matchmaker and her son, they eventually found a woman who would fit in with Richard’s specific way of things. She never spoke and was made of plastic, and that suited Richard and his mother just fine – he could enjoy things in specific ways without recourse, and she could continue matchmaking and matchmaking. Ultimately, Richard’s plastic woman passed after a faulty seal, and the matchmaking matchmaker had to throw her file cabinet in the corner of the room into the bottom of the lake across the street, as she had to accept the fact that matchmaking was outdated and that she was not really cut out for matchmaking.

All of the clients never looked back on their weird experiences. They continued to have restful nights of sleep; especially one, in particular, who always went to bed with a satisfied smile on her face.

The End.

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A Scene from My As-of-Yet-Unwritten Cop Drama

September 7, 2015

[crime scene – murder, actually, let’s not mince words here; crowd of onlookers, held back by police tape, semi-surround uniformed officers; a forensics tech takes photographs of evidence]

[CAPTAIN stands off to the side, one hand authoritatively on his hip, the other hand up to his face; the hand holds a walkie, into which he is yelling]

CAPTAIN: Get me two more units over to the old steel mill. NOT the one from the previous case. And find out where the hell DET. MAYER is and why he’s not here!

[voice of DET. MAYER startles CAPTAIN]

DET. MAYER: I’m right here, CAPTAIN.

CAPTAIN: Ah! Mayer, you startled me. Where the hell have you been?

DET. MAYER: I’ve been here this whole time. There was some exposition I had to weed through.

CAPTAIN: To this day, I’m afraid I’ll never understand what the hell you’re talking about.

DET. MAYER: [removes sunglasses] What’ve we got?

CAPTAIN: Were you wearing those sunglasses before?

DET. MAYER: Yes. What’ve we got?

CAPTAIN: This way…

[CAPTAIN and DET. MAYER make their way to the center of the crime scene; a middle-aged man in a dog costume lies on the ground, a downed tree pinning him to the ground… literally – one of the branches has impaled the guy]

CAPTAIN: A Mr. Jim Lee Soon. Aged forty-two years.

DET. MAYER: What’s with the outfit?

CAPTAIN: Sources claim the victim was employed by one of those “rent-a-cartoon-for-your-birthday-party” agencies. For this gig, the clients wanted that cute cartoon dog from that classic comic strip series.

DET. MAYER: I thought that dog was white…

CAPTAIN: Cheap knock-offs. That’s the kind of thing you get, with those agencies.

DET. MAYER: How’d the vic die?

CAPTAIN: Witnesses claim Mr. Jim Lee Soon seemed to be running from something. He looked to be climbing the tree – for safety? we don’t know – but unfortunately the tree could not hold his weight, the trunk snapped, and the results sit in front of you.

DET. MAYER: Hm.

CAPTAIN: What is it?

DET. MAYER: Was just thinking… looks like he barked up the wrong tree.

CAPTAIN: Really, Mayer?

DET. MAYER: Too soon?

CAPTAIN: Now that’s just vulgar! I can’t stay in this scene any longer!

[CAPTAIN storms out, he-]

CAPTAIN: Nope! Don’t you dare dictate how I leave this scene, you!

DET. MAYER: CAPTAIN… you alright?

[CAPTAIN keeps wal-]

CAPTAIN: What’d I say! You don’t have a say in what I do or say! You hear me?

[CAPTAIN smacks himself in the face]

CAPTAIN: Ow!

DET. MAYER: Did you just… smack yourself in the face?

CAPTAIN: Not by choice!

[CAPTAIN is suddenly a duck, wearing a fez, and suspenders]

CAPTAIN: Now, that doesn’t even make any sense!

DET. MAYER: What doesn’t make any sense, CAPTAIN?

CAPTAIN: That I’m a duck, wearing a fez and suspenders!

DET. MAYER: Haven’t… haven’t you always been a duck wearing a fez and suspenders?

[yes]

CAPTAIN: No!

DET. MAYER: Sir, do you need me to call someone for you?

CAPTAIN: I mean, how do the suspenders even work in this scenario? To what are they suspending?!?

[DET. MAYER turns away from CAPTAIN; he speaks softly into his walkie]

DET. MAYER: I’m going to need someone to help escort CAPTAIN away from the crime scene.

VOICE ON WALKIE: Roger.

DET. MAYER: Roger, is that you?

ROGER: Yes.

DET. MAYER: Please let Delores know I absolutely loved the five-layer dip from the party Saturday. And let her know I’ll be begging for that recipe.

ROGER: Roger.

[DET. MAYER turns back to CAPTAIN; two uniformed officers are helping CAPTAIN move away from the crime scene; CAPTAIN is making noise and carrying on; the uniformed officers put him in the back of their cruiser; the officers drive away from the crime scene]

DET. MAYER: This job… it’s not all it’s quacked up to be.

GHOST OF JIM LEE SOON: [snorts] Nice!

[DET. MAYER and GHOST OF JIM LEE SOON high-five]

[end of scene]

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Response from the “Peanuts” Gallery

April 23, 2015

[This was originally supposed to be a quick comment, to an article a friend on Facebook posted about the upcoming “Peanuts” movie. It turned into this… (For reference, click here for the original article.)]

Why is “Peanuts” still a thing? Why is anything these days “still a thing”? The short answer: those who grew up with these “things” are now in a position to bring them back, to “make them better”, to tell the stories they’d come up with when they were younger, playing with the action figures or reading the comics and thinking of what THEY would do if THEY had creative control.

And today, THEY HAVE THAT CONTROL. It’s why we have all these reboots of what was established thirty years ago.

Personally, thanks to the miracle of VHS, “Peanuts” had its longevity. I’m sure my parents weren’t the only ones who recorded the “Charlie Brown Christmas” special from CBS during one of the earlier broadcasts; from then on out, it became a mainstay in the family household, for years to come. Mind, it is true that, as one grows older, the viewpoint of the world slants in a different direction (depending on your own personal experiences) and something like the “Peanuts” Christmas special feels too cookie-cutter, too simple, and almost too saccharine to stomach for too long.

But then again: sometimes it is that simplicity that is needed. One doesn’t need to go all out, to have some kind of grand spectacle to show off “the true meaning of Christmas”; one simply needs to step outside of their own personal sanctuary, and do something for someone else. Charlie Brown did it for the tree, the gang did it for Charlie Brown.

As far as the “relevance” of “Peanuts” goes… while the strip series was established during the height of wartime in the country, “Peanuts”, like many cartoons, have that underlying – and sometimes not-so-underlying – social commentary. The most obvious examples of said social commentary are the characters of Snoopy and of Lucy.

Though it was possibly said in irony, for someone who dresses as a Ghostbuster and portrays different characters and scenarios on a six-second application, making a comment about Snoopy’s “multiple personality DISORDER” sounds very uneven. It’s like the pot calling the birds in the bush an overused cliche. And just like the charity work is done as the buster of ghosts, and there’s an entertainment factor to the Vine posts, Snoopy’s changing of characters – from the sleeping dog on the doghouse to fighter pilot and/or to Joe Cool – had/has a purpose, as well. He went from being a normal dog to the fighter of the Red Baron; from normal dog to the laid-back Joe Cool – this, to emphasize the idea of sameness. You had the “soldier vs. hippie” struggle back in those days, and Charles Schultz was emphatically stating that one was doing for the other, and vice verse; we were already at war with SOMEONE ELSE – why participate in a war with OURSELVES???

And, you know: the use of a dog simply helps get that message across clearer, if you’re paying attention. If Schultz were to present a human with those same characteristics, we would think they were mentally unstable, automatically dismiss them, and not get the point of the message. With a cartoon dog, it creeps in with the cuteness factor – and then it’s got you.

As for Lucy, the arrow went in the right direction at the start of her description in this, and then went completely off-course.

Lucy is the epitome of the type of person who non-stop causes problems in your life, then proceeds to set up proverbial shop, and dutifully asks you “What’s wrong? Why you mad, bruh?”

Charlie Brown encapsulates the grand majority of people who fall for the ploys of the Lucys of the world; the grand majority of people who are, in some way, in an abusive relationship – whether it be romantic, professional, or any other kind of adjective that fits in this place. Charlie Brown also, and especially with his relationship to Lucy, personifies the core ideal that, with each passing situation, people grow and evolve into something different than they were previously. No, I’m not talking a person goes from Charmander to Charmeleon or any silly way to take “evolve” the wrong way; I’m talking a person goes from ignorant of something in one situation, to being able to walk into a similar situation with a little more knowledge.

When it comes to the “football gag”, Charlie Brown goes in with the hope that Lucy has changed her ways. Granted, for the sake of the joke, she doesn’t, but from Charlie Brown’s side of things, he gives her a chance. She fails, but in her failure is Charlie Brown’s success. He has forgiven her for the previous instance(s) and gives her another chance. Not to say that this doesn’t cause any kind of psychological harm to Charlie Brown… as he then goes to see a “psychiatrist”.

The fact that said “psychiatrist” is Lucy is also very telling: giving that idea of putting an irrational trust in those who abuse you. “If they didn’t care, it wouldn’t hurt as much, would it?” is a question that seems to come up a lot; and, hey, if the person who hurts you presents him-/herself as wanting to talk things out, to help “mend” things, they can’t be SO bad, right? And let’s not forget that, since they’ve developed a routine, Lucy needs Charlie Brown, as much as he needs her, in this instance. Lucy’s confident that Charlie Brown will go for the kick, and while she might have some kind of personal, internal conflict going on, she NEEDS this… and she moves the ball at the right time. It’s what keeps her days going. (I would make a “Batman/Joker” parallel, but… neh.)

Mind, all these words – and the words presented above – have been committed to not only a movie about cartoon characters, but they have been committed to a movie about cartoon characters THAT HASN’T YET TO BE RELEASED. While I, too, am curious as to the changes to be made, to make the characters and their adventures seem more “modern”, I’m left with one truly reasonable thought: If I see the trailer, and I like it enough, I’ll see it; if it doesn’t interest me, I’ll move on to something that does.

And, if anything, it’ll spark that little bit of nostalgia I have for the gang and their beagle. Which, at the end of the day, is part of the reason why this stuff is making a comeback.

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Taking the Cake (Or, “The Worst Way to Promote Twinkies”)

April 19, 2015

It’s midnight-thirty. I currently have a load of laundry that has about forty-five minutes left to wash before making the transition to drying. Yes, I should be in bed, getting a number of hours of sleep before waking up at early-o’clock to head back to work in the morning; and yet, what do I decide to do?

That’s right, ladies and gentlemen: I decide to tell a story!

Now, this is a story that I should have written out sooner. This is a story that, every time I tell it in person, I think to myself, You know, you really should write all this out – make the storytelling process all the easier on you, eh? And up until this point, the idea hadn’t fully solidified. Thankfully, a conversation with a friend of mine, recently, slowed down the molecules of this story, just enough, to bring on the intangible physical change of solidity.

Is that enough prefacing of this story for you? Should I just go ahead and get to the actual story? Are you wondering when I’m going to stop asking all these stupid questions? Where in the hell did I put my box of Cheez-Its?

Back toward the beginning of the summer of 2014, I had begun talking to this girl. For the sake of storytelling, we’ll call her “Ellen”. No, this wasn’t her real name. In fact, her real name starts with “L”, but in typing out this particular section of the story, I became concerned that repetitious “L”s in the story would ultimately give the story some kind of inadvertent Latin or Spanish feel. And so, to avoid all that, I decided to name her “Ellen” in this. Think that’s stupid? Well… tough. This is my story, not yours.

Before I go any further into this story, I’m going to spoil the ending: during the tenure of my talking with Ellen, I had never actually met her in-person. We talked on the phone, we messaged each other via text, and we utilized a couple video-chatting programs, to give the illusion of face-to-face communications. But never, in the entire six months we talked, had we ever been in each other’s presence, in the physical sense.

That being said…

I had found Ellen through Twitter. Somehow. At this stage in the game, I cannot remember who had been following her, or how she had been recommended for me to “check out” and possibly follow. All I know is that I saw the tiny, half-inch-by-half-inch icon of a pretty girl with shockingly red hair, clicked on it, and found her Tweets to be so funny and real that I actually did start following her profile.

Several back-and-forth Tweet threads later, we finally decided to take our conversations to a more limitless platform (one-hundred-forty characters just wasn’t doing it, for the amount of words we were presenting to the other); we exchanged numbers, and that’s when the more intimate conversations took place. Soon, we were Facetime-ing each other until very early in the morning, and “good morning/good night” texts became a thing of normalcy when it came to how we conducted our interactions.

When I had first started corresponding with Ellen, she was in a point of transition: moving from the midwest (a good umpteen hours from where I lived) to the East Coast (a mere five hours, give or take, from where I continued to live). She was in between jobs, and had applied to a prestigious art school along coast. This was perfect, I figured, as we had really started to get along, and I had actually just been down to that part of the country, half a year prior, visiting family.

The first month of her only being five hours away had Ellen experiencing the troubles of finding room and board over the equivalent of Craigslist. Long story short: DON’T.

Also during that time, she had started to grow accustomed to her school life, and started meeting new people. It was a common thing to have her, during our constant communications, mention something about making a new friend and her being excited about having made said new friend. Yes, a lot of these “new friends” were of the male variety and, though the only role I could play in her life at that time was the really good long-distance friend, it somewhat stung a bit, as I had foolishly started to develop feelings for Ellen. (“Foolishly”, I say, mostly due to the reality of the long-distance aspect.)

After her straining and dangerous foray with the Craigslist roommate, followed by living for a week and a half in a hotel room with her dog, she managed to find a place to live: an apartment where three other girls lived at the time. This seemed a positive arrangement – especially for me, as the “aww” factor of mine and Ellen’s “budding romance” seemed to be the central focus whenever the roommates interacted with Ellen.

One of the things Ellen loved to do was take pictures of herself, then immediately send them off to me. “This is my ‘outfit of the day'” or “My hair is going crazy today” or “My boobs are having an off-day”: these were a few types of the many she would send to me, on a daily, if not hourly, basis. And, hey, I was perfectly okay with that. (I did mention, several paragraphs ago that she was pretty.)

There was one day, in particular, where she had sent me a series of pictures of herself. Honestly: these shots were amazing. Her roommates had helped her with her hair, her makeup, her choice of attire, and even the choice of footwear. I was so taken by the images she sent that the idea of possibly asking “What’s the occasion?” never set foot in my head-space at that moment in time.

Later that night, as I was about to get some sleep, already in bed and just finding a place of relaxation in order to actually get to sleep, I thought to make one final visit of the night to all of my social media haunts: Vine, Instagram, Facebook, and finally, Twitter.

It’s true what they say: no good comes from looking at social media, “after hours”. Just as I was about to turn off my phone, ready to call it a night and wake up to start all over again in the morning, my Twitter feed refreshed itself… and there was a new post.

By Ellen.

It was the starting post of what would turn into a thread of posts, all revolving around it. The Tweet in question was a flat statement from her, saying that she had “agreed to be [some guy’s] girlfriend”.

Now, all semantics on the choice of verbiage in said Tweet aside (because, honestly, how good could the relationship be, if one has to “agree” to be one’s significant other?), the Tweets that followed only managed to compound more bad onto an already-established-bad situation. These posts silently begged for approval, giving “reason” and “rationale” behind choosing to be with someone with whom she could spend time in a physical capacity, against choosing to be with someone with whom she could only spend time in a two-dimensional capacity. Mind you, seeing as she was followed by a majority of people who hung onto her every word, solely on the “ooh, the pretty girl noticed me” basis, these same people gave her the approval of which she sought.

Under the personal assumption that I was this “latter someone”, watching these posts – and the threads that followed – gain traction was incredibly difficult. A part of me wanted to lash out, to say something against the ignorant masses, telling them that since they weren’t any of the people “involved”, they had no grounds to say anything.

However, I know how the Internet works; and as I am just one intelligent person, in an ocean of not-so-intelligent peoples, I had the foresight to understand the folly of taking action and attempting to disclaim those who felt the need to walk in with their penny-loafers about the situation. So I chose to remain silent; that is, until I decided, shortly before turning off my phone and making an attempt at sleep, to post a random Tweet. It wasn’t about anything going on – just a random, thought-of-the-moment post.

Somehow, it got Ellen’s attention.

She proceeded to send me a text message. It contained, from what I can remember, a sad-face emoji and some onomatopoeia to represent discomfort and maybe sadness. When I responded, moments later, she proceeded to send me slews of “I’m sorry”s, telling me that she didn’t know how to tell me, so she thought going to Twitter was the best bet.

Long story short: IT WASN’T.

It turned out, for those who need a little assistance in piecing the story together, the amazing pictures from earlier that day were from when she was getting ready to go out. On a date. With a guy whom she had met from one of her classes.

During our late-night, heartbreaker of a text conversation, she went on to tell me about how she felt that, even though she had started to develop feelings for me (and why not? I’m pretty awesome) it made more sense to “be with” someone she could actually physically see and touch. And even though I conveyed my understanding to certain aspects of her decision-making, my problem was with the nature of settling that had taken place, and how she had gone about “letting me know” of said settling.

Of course, she didn’t like that I legitimately used the term “settling”, and decided to try to put things into perspective. For the sake of storytelling, I’ll proceed to give as best a re-creation of said perspective:

Imagine it, like this…

You’re walking down the street, one day, down a route that’s somewhat normal to you.

This particular day, you notice there’s a bakery. And in the window, there’s a cake. It’s, quite possibly, the most perfect cake you have ever seen. Everything about it, down to the waves of frosting, catch your eye and pique your interest. Since this is your first sight of it, you continue walking.

Days pass, and as each day you’ve passed the bakery, each time you’ve seen the cake in the window, your resolve fades until, finally: you decide to go into the bakery.

You talk to the baker, the one who made the piece of perfection that is sitting in the front window, and he offers a sample of the cake. You heartily accept, and when you finally get to taste what is in the front window, you find yourself in disbelief: somehow, what you once thought was the true meaning of perfection has somehow managed to give “perfection” new meaning, while still pertaining to the same thing to which you had already thought as perfect.

After your moment of perfection enlightenment, you ask the baker of the cost of the cake in the front window. You find your heart sinking as he tells you, and reality sets in: you cannot afford the cake.

You leave the bakery and, in the proceeding days, find that as you walk past the bakery, the stronger your yearning for the perfect cake grows, the sadder you feel that you cannot have the cake for yourself.

It gets so bad that, finally, you decide you’ve had enough, and you are going to start taking another route – just so you don’t have to pass by the bakery, with its perfect, unattainable cake. You take the route past the cake one more time, as a way of saying “goodbye”, and just as you turn the corner, the cake no longer in your periphery, you run into somebody.

They offer you a Twinkie.

And you take it, gladly.

It was at that point, when she had finally finished her analogy-of-sorts, when I had to say [caution: dialogue ahead], “That has to be the worst fucking [extra caution: swearing] analogy I have ever heard.”

“No, no. It’s okay,” Ellen replied.

I stared at the phone, with a tired disbelief. “How in the hell is that meant to be okay?!”

“See,” she continued, “you’re the cake.”

You’re goddamned right I’m the fucking cake!” [repeated caution: told you there was swearing]

We proceeded to talk for another hour or so. It didn’t help any, horrible pastry analogies aside, but at the end of the conversation, we agreed to still be friends – in the sense that, even though she was now in a “relationship” (which, by the way, ended before that particular week did, so… not looking so good for the Twinkie population) we were going to continue with our late-night Facetime sessions, along with all of the other minutiae that went along with our situation, prior to the mess that turned out to be that evening.

Needless to say, I’ve not had a Twinkie since that conversation. Granted, Hostess hadn’t had their big comeback at the time, so it was hard to get a hold of one – that is, if one were to take out some kind of twisted vengeance on a poor, defenseless creme-filled spongecake treat.

And I’ve grown out of my taste for cake since that conversation, as well, because as Willy Wonka says in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, “That’s called cannibalism, and is frowned upon in most societies.”

Still, of all the things to be compared to in the world, I would have to go on and guess that a cake isn’t the worst thing. Unless it’s German Chocolate… that’s just gross. (Sorry, Mom.)

Ellen and I had our inevitable falling out right before Thanksgiving. The “why” doesn’t pertain to the story, so no need in going into any kind of detail for that. Although, when Thanksgiving finally came around, I remember sitting at the dining table, a plate situated in front of me; and on the plate: a nice, large slice of pumpkin pie. And, yes, it had a healthy glob of Cool Whip on top.

And so, as I finish writing this piece at two-o’clock in the morning, with my laundry finally in the dryer, I end this with the moral of the story:

Twinkies are for settlers. Cake is for cannibals. And pumpkin pie? Well, that’s just for people with fantastic taste.

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#PewterCup

March 9, 2015

This here tale is a telling of told stuffs, recounted and written personally for the clergy of the Church of Nerd. It is being told after the telling of a tale involving the conductive heat of a pewter cup, and a call to arms to tell a tale to be told of a similar, mildly-idiotic incident in your life. I have such a mild, similarly-idiotic tale to tell, and thus it is going to be told…

There was a time, see, when I was at my mother’s place for the evening. She was out, on a dinner date with the man who would be her future husband, and I was left alone, to my own devices, in her house.

I hadn’t eaten anything for dinner by the time I’d made it to my mother’s house, and the words “Help yourself to anything” chimed through my head as I noticed a slight rumbling in the tummy region of my… well, body. In response to the gentle tremors emanating from my belly area, I made my way into the kitchen, in search for something to possibly quell the soft demands of my digestive system.

After having scoured both the cabinets and then the fridge, only to find nothing of note or any appetizing fashion whatsoever, my last hope was the mystery of the freezer; and, in a slightly anticlimactic manner, after opening the freezer door, greeted by a plume of fog as the interior cold met the exterior warmth, I settled on what was finally revealed to me: a cardboard tube of Pillsbury biscuits.

Seeing as I wasn’t necessarily hungry for any kind of numbered-course meal, the biscuits made sense; they would be filling, and they would be delicious. (I mean, you can’t go wrong with Pillsbury, right?)

Now, here’s something to know about me, during that dark time, when I was relying on a tube of frozen biscuits as a form of significant sustenance: up until that point in my life, I had never personally handled a tube of this nature. I didn’t know that the tube was pressured. I didn’t know that, after peeling off the paper label on the cardboard tube, said pressure could be used pop open the tube. Essentially, I didn’t know it was that easy to open a tube of Pillsbury biscuits.

Needless to say, this was the day of enlightenment.

I had peeled off the paper wrapper, and after a moment of looking at the now-bare cardboard of the packaging, I said to myself, “Well, now what?”

In response to myself, I proceeded to dive into the flatware drawer, and pull out a steak knife. (A steak knife because, well, the serrated edges. Sure, I could have gone for the butcher knife, but really – that seems like a bit of overcompensation, especially in front of a tube of frozen biscuits.)

Yes, this was a good idea; and I proceeded to accompany the good idea with a soundtrack: humming Monty Python’s “I’m a Lumberjack” as I proceeded to saw my way through the cardboard packaging.

In a steady rhythm of back-forward, back-forward, back-forward (not at all in time with the tune I’d been humming, mind) I managed to get a good start on being able to access the patties of dough within. I was in such a rhythm, however, that I zoned out – possibly going to think on other possible lumberjack-themed songs, but contenting myself with humming other tunes from the catalog of the Python.

The track in my head changed, and as I started humming the opening beats of “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life”, I immediately noticed that something was amiss. No longer was there rough resistance to the cutting I’d been doing, but instead there was a soft, almost accepting consistency to what was being cut.

When I looked down, I came to find that the blade of the steak knife was no longer connected to the cardboard of the biscuit tube – but to the second knuckle on the index finger of my left hand. And a good way into said knuckle, on top of that.

Looking at what could only be loosely compared to a Picasso version of Wolverine’s hand (hey, I said “loosely”, give me a break on the analogies) I took a moment, and finally said, “Hnh… that was stupid.”

After cleaning the wound and dressing it, I found the paper from the tube, read it, and came to learn how to open the tube of Pillsbury biscuits.

Needless to say, after having acquired a war wound in the process, those were some damn good biscuits.

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A Polka Dotty Hero Story

October 8, 2014

a short story written by andrew j. bartlett

The city teemed with life that morning, as it always seemed to on the days she had important appointments to keep. Even more so, it came to her attention, on the days when she was running particularly late for such important appointments.

Today, it was a job interview. Three days ago, it had been a hair appointment, for the job interview; and as she rushed through the mass of human bodies that swarmed between her and her destination, Connie Lowndes felt a waste of seventy dollars as she bundled and tied her hair behind her in a loose ponytail. “So much for that aspect of appearance,” she muttered to herself, shouldering her way between two men arguing about the “game last night”.

One of the men, sporting a protruding belly underneath a grease-stained T-shirt referring distastefully to inspection of female bodies, turned in Connie’s wake and whistled as she made her way deeper into the crowd of people. Without giving the man the benefit of looking at him over her shoulder, Connie swiftly, mechanically, lifted her right hand and expertly gave the man the finger.

Connie Lowndes had no time for the pigs who congregated on the sidewalks and subjugated women to their machismo and chauvinistic tendencies. Not today, anyway.

Her bag swayed on her left side, in full-motion and keeping up with its owner’s speedy movement. A growl came from its innards, that of the beloved Tyrannosaurus Rex; after several moments of blind sifting, Connie withdrew the source of the growl: a green smartphone, its back covered with stickers of dinosaurs of all shapes and sizes.

The phone’s growling progressed to that of a roar as Connie looked at the name on her screen. Given any other time, any other caller, she would have let the call go to voicemail. However, one never ignores a call from their own mother without having to hear the end of it later; and so it was that Connie rolled her eyes, hit the green “Talk” button, raised the phone to her ear and, with a cheery tone to her voice, said, “Hey, Mom.”

Teresa Burkhart, formerly Lowndes, nee Robinson, sounded like she was enjoying a carefree morning, contrary to the one her eldest daughter was currently having. Connie could hear the sound of a mug of coffee slowly being sipped before her mother finally said, “Good morning, sweetie. How’d the interview go?”

Connie rolled her eyes as she pivoted and cut through the throng of strangers suddenly out to make sure she would not get to said interview at anything close to “on time”. “At the moment, it’s not looking promising…”

“Oh, Constance,” her mother said with a coffee-laden sigh, “why must you get yourself into these things? If you had just stayed at the hospital, instead of taking up this wild idea of dancing-”

“Mom, I’ve told you before: it’s not dancing! It’s an exercising to better your health, your spirit, and your mind!”

She could hear Teresa pause for a moment before she said, “And how does that sound any better than ‘dancing’? Besides, why go into dan- I’m sorry, exercising, when you could be more successful as a photographer? You have such a knack for it, and your stepfather and I… we paid so much for that equipment we got you for your birthday, last year.”

“Well, Mom, you’re right: I would much rather get into photography, but in order for me to do that, I have to have paying gigs to get my feet on the ground. And until those paying gigs start happening, and in a comfortable level of frequency, I need something to keep me financially afloat.”

Her mother let out a soft sigh on the other end of the phone. “I know, sweetheart, but… does that have to be dancing?”

Connie sighed herself, much more loudly than her mother. She turned a corner and down a side alley; she hoped it would prove to be a shortcut to shave off several minutes of her already-established tardiness. Anything to make this day go quicker and smoother than it had panned out to be, so far.

However, immediately after making her way into the alley, she was forced to stop. She slumped her shoulders, slightly, and let out a groan that her mother heard.

“Is everything okay, Connie?” Teresa asked, sweetly but with a hint of growing concern.

Connie scowled. “Yeah, Mom… but, I have to go. Something’s just come up, and I have to get to it. Give my love to Barry. Love you, too.”

She could hear her mother attempt to argue her staying on the phone, but before Teresa could get anything substantial out, Connie had already hit the red “End” button. She moved toward the scene that sat before her as she put the phone back in her bag; her hand not completely out of the bag when she shouted “Hey!” down the alley.

Toward the middle of the alley, two people were caught in an altercation; one was a large man, the other was a not-so-large woman.

The man was obviously a thug, or of a thuggish persuasion. He carried the trademark look of a thug: thick articles of clothing, odd for a warm morning such as this, along with gloves and wool hat to figuratively and literally top off the ensemble. Every piece was grey or black, of the nondescript variety; and even though she was not one for stereotypes, Connie couldn’t help but wager that he had at least one scar on his cheek and was missing at least one tooth.

The woman, on the other hand, was of the attractive nature. She wore tight blue jeans, the kind sold with the “authentic” holes and rips that sell for about a third more than Connie’s recent haircut; her top was a hot-pink T-shirt, with the word “DIVA” scrawled in garish faux-jewels. Her hair was impeccable, Connie noted sourly as she considered her own currently tied up and restrained, and her make-up, though done to perfection, looked as though it were several coats thick and needed a quality paint thinner application for removal.

After immediate appraisal of those involved in the scene before her, it became clear to Connie that she was witnessing a basic mugging. The thug had pulled the DIVA into the alley, against her own will, to acquire, at the very least, whatever the DIVA physically had on her person: money, phone, fancy jewels, etc. Fortunately, the thug had only gotten as far as taking the DIVA’s phone when Connie’s “Hey!” broke through the momentum.

The thug looked at her, glaring at the audacity of her interruption. Before the thug could make a comment, Connie started walking, with a casual air, toward him and the DIVA, and said, “Just what in the hell do you think you’re doing?”

Confusion painted the thug’s face. He sneered at her in a way that disappointed Connie: he had all of his teeth, as yellow and misaligned as they were. Shame. “Whassat now?” he uttered.

“I said,” Connie emphasized, stopping short of the scene just several feet from the thug and the DIVA, who was now just as wide-eyed and confused as the thug, “Just what… in the hell… do you think you’re doing?”

The thug looked around, clearly not knowing what was going on, nor how he should proceed with what was happening in front of him. Before he could make any further attempt at speech, a sudden roar came from Connie’s side, in the depths of her bag.

“Excuse me,” she said, once more digging into her bag and pulling out the sticker-laden smartphone. Connie sighed with exasperation, uttering a slight curse of “Mom…” under her breath as she hit the white “Ignore” button to silence the phone.

“Sorry about that!” she said, jovially, to the thug and the DIVA. “Mothers, right?”

The phone roared ferociously, once more, and Connie jabbed her finger, hard, on the white button to silence it. “The funny thing is,” she said, waving the phone around, “the T-Rex isn’t even my favorite dinosaur. You want to know which dinosaur is my favorite?”

The thug merely blinked, while the DIVA stared at Connie with those wide eyes, her breathing heavy from fear and confusion.

“Well, I’ll tell you,” Connie continued, taking a slight step forward. “My favorite of all the dinosaurs… is the Troodon.

“Now, not many people know about the Troodon; in fact, many people would have to Google the term in order to get the spelling correct, much less to get any information regarding the Troodon.”

The phone roared again, but only for a split second, as Connie, with pinpoint precision, stabbed the phone’s screen and silenced it for a third time.

“Troodons, it is said through scientific circles, were one of the most ferocious dinosaurs to ever come out of the Mesozoic Era. More ferocious than the T-Rex, even. They had long, long necks, and sharp, serrated teeth…”

Connie continued to walk closer to the pair in front of her; when she got close enough, she started to walk around them, her hands waving as she lectured the thug and the DIVA on the Troodon.

“But you want to know one of the best things, one of my favorite things, about the Troodon?”

The thug and the DIVA watched as she made a complete semi-circle around them; the two still connected by the thug’s left hand on the DIVA’s shoulder, the right still gripping her bag. Connie looked at the two, her eyes bright and impassioned from her speech, and said, “The best thing… my favorite thing, about the Troodon? It was the size of a normal human being.”

To the pair’s surprise, Connie put a balled fist on her hip and took on a casual stance. Her free hand, the one holding her phone, lifted above her head as she said, “Now, how ’bout that?”

She looked at the thug and the DIVA individually, waiting for some kind of response. When she didn’t get one, she slumped in disappointment, and took a step toward them. “It means that, for it being much smaller than a T-Rex, it had to be incredibly smart to survive. In a world with dinosaurs like yourself,” she gestured toward the thug, “a dinosaur the size of a Troodon would have to figure out ways to live.

“Now, I’m no Troodon, but I’d like to think I’m like one, in a way. I mean, here you are, big, bulky T-Rex of a man you are. You have the heft, you have the brawn… lucky for you, your arms are of a normal length. Your coloring somewhat matches that as was to be expected of a T-Rex, for environmental and blending purposes. You use your bulk and brawn in a predatory fashion, and, hey, if that works for you, then definitely go for it.”

Connie was amazed at the lack of reaction from either the thug or the DIVA. She was starting to get bored, to be quite honest; however, she was in the midst of what she loved doing, and besides, she had already started, so why not do the proper thing and just get it finished already?

“As for me,” she continued, “a T-Rex like yourself would see me, a Troodon of sorts, and not think anything of it. Granted, I’m sure Troodons had subtler coloring than that of a pink-and-white polka-dotted dress and a glittery belt to help give it a bit of personality… but we are going with loose comparisons, here.

“But, say a T-Rex and a Troodon encountered each other, in a similar fashion as you and I have done, just now,” she took another step closer to the thug, close enough to look him eye-to-eye. “How do you think such an encounter would play out?”

Finally, something resembling a response came from the thug, in the form of a guttural noise that could be likened to that of a growl.

“Now, that’s just sad,” Connie said, shaking her head and lowering her gaze to the ground. “What’s even sadder: your shoe’s untied.”

Caught unawares at this dramatic change of subject, the thug made the error of looking down. Immediately as he did so, Connie lifted her own head, grabbed the thug by his shoulders, and brought his face down on her knee, which had been raised and expectantly waiting for impact. As soon as her knee crunched into the thug’s face, Connie then shoved the thug, kicking him in the stomach to increase the momentum. The thug stumbled backward and fell to the ground; he clutched his face as blood covered it in a thick, glossy sheen of red. He moaned and groaned in pain, rolling around on the ground; it was clear: he wasn’t getting back up, any time soon.

Connie rubbed her knee and looked down at it. “Well, wouldn’t that just figure…” she said, grabbing a handful of her dress and lifting it slightly for further inspection.

She looked up at the DIVA, presenting to her the set of white dots that now had tiny dots of red on it. “This is my best dress. And I’m supposed to be at a job interview, to boot!”

The DIVA, wide-eyed and breathing heavier now, pressed herself against the wall of the alley. She inched away from the thug and away from Connie. Staring down Connie, she pointed a shaky finger at her and screamed, “You stay away from me!

With that, the DIVA tore herself away from the alley wall, running full-tilt out of the alley and out of sight.

Connie watched the area where she last saw the DIVA fleeing for a moment, and turned back toward the thug. He was still on the ground, blood covering his face, his gloves, his hat, and anything he may have touched in the process of being in pain.

“Remember,” she said loudly in his direction. She grinned slightly as she saw him tense up at the sound of her voice. “There are Troodons in your midst, T-Rex.”

Satisfied with another confrontation disrupted and resolved, Connie Lowndes turned and made her way out of the alley. Looking at her watch, she found she was only five minutes late to her interview; only two more blocks to go, and she would be there. She hoped that they would still consider her, that they would think she was the right person for the job, and that they wouldn’t pay any attention to the red spots offsetting the pink-and-white polka dots around her knee.

Her phone, still in her hand, roared. She looked at the screen, rolled her eyes, and muttered to herself, “Not now, Mom… One T-Rex at a time…”