Monday, September 1, 2008

Charm: A Flash Fiction Story

For unknown reasons I cannot access the forums on where I usually post these weekly stories in the Flash Fiction Challenge forum, so I'm posting it here. Hope you enjoy it:


Ben Bradley
August 31, 02008

"You have Charm, Grace and Vitality!"

Or so said Google Dungeonmaster, after rolling up a massive realistically rendered polyhedral die. I felt the need for coffee, so I got up from the computer and made a pot. By the time I had a hot cup in my hand I had forgotten all about the silly new game other bloggers had been talking about. I wanted new shoes, and the mall was just the place to get them.

"Hi, you're in luck, we have the New Balance line of running shoes, and they're the most comfortable shoes of any type, ever, and we're getting rid of these for new stock, so they're 80 percent off." So I tried them on and indeed they're by far the most comfortable shoes I've ever worn.

"Would you like to wear them out of the store? I can put your old shoes in the box." I agreed, and we went to the register. I still can't believe I paid $19 for these shoes. I also didn't know running shoes were so expensive.

While walking through the mall I saw a kiosk selling ice cream cones, with a very attractive woman running it. When I saw her i almost changed my mind about buying a cone there, as I knew I would be so flustered just telling her my order. But as I approached she glanced down at my shoes and asked "Hey, what brand are those shoes?"

"Uh, New Balance," I said, only remembering the name because I had just bought them.

"Well, hey those are cool." She smiled at me.

I of course felt flustered and barely got out my order of vanilla with fudge topping. While making it she continued to small-talk.

"You know, everybody else wears Nike Air Max, Nike Air this, Nike Air that, you know, it's like everyone wears the same darn uniform. But you have something different, you know? It's like you're thinking for yourself instead of getting the same old style. I think that's really cool." She winked at me as she spoke those last words, then gave me the cone.

With the ice cream cone in one hand, I put down the shopping back with my shoebox to free up the other hand to get out my wallet, but then she spoke again.

"Hey, it's on me, it's my treat. Just for you."

I was dumbfounded, but managed to smile back and say "Well, thanks. Thank you very much." I don't even know how the words came out of my mouth. I'm rarely so, um ... I guess the word is eloquent.

So I walked on by toward the exit where I parked. I was thinking I'd go back home and play that online game, and that's when it hit me. I rememberd the exact words sent back to me by the humongous server farm that is Google:

"You have Charm, Grace and Vitality!"

Well, now. Maybe I did. I had no idea where this came from, but I remembered the saying 'don't look a gift horse in the mouth.' I knew what I had to do [stop using so many cliche's, for one thing]. When opportunity knocks, you should answer it before it knocks you out.

I turned around and walked back to ask her for a date.

Friday, June 20, 2008

The Associated Press Asserts Copyright Claims

In a bold move involving copyright infringement against bloggers, and claiming zero tolerance for even the possibility of very short "fair use" quotes, The Associated Press has made itself irrelevant.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Special Delivery: A Flash Fiction Story

"I've studied their logistics and traffic. This is one of the busiest days of the year for both of them."

"Look, I can't believe you would do this. It's so bizzarre."

"It's the only way. Sure, it's expensive, but don't you think it would work? It's practically the only way to get through everything. Call it the shotgun approach."

"Yeah, but still how did you come up with this?"

"I visited my father a year ago, he shot a beer can with a shotgun, and all that was left of it was holes. That gave me the idea, on several levels. Lots a Little pellets, shipped separately, each in lots of lead shielding."

The doorbell rang. Hohn and I both went to the door.

It was UPS. "I have five packages for Timothy Smith."

"That's Me", I answered.

"Sign Here. This is just one of them, they're all heavy as lead."

We both kinda snickered. I signed, and said "John, can you help me carry in the others?"

"Sure", he answered, and we all three walked to the UPS truck to get three of the four remaining packages. I then walked back to the truck with the UPS guy to get the last package.

As I got back to the door and the truck was driving away, I said "I wasn't expecting any of them early! Wait till tomorrow, that's wen most of them are due to arrive."

"Tomorrow Dr. O'brien will come by to test all these. I don't want to open them up now, I figure we should wait until the last minute, so we don't get unneccesarily exposed."

john went home, and I had a restless night that night. Next morning I sat on the doorstep sipping my coffee. I couldn't believe it was all about to come together.

I didn't have to wait long for John and Dr. O'brien to show up.

"Morning, Tim, John says you already have a few deliveries."

"Yes, right here by the stairs."

"I've got my meter right here, how about we take 'em out on the back porch and open 'em up?"

"Gladly," I replied. I really wanted to know if this was what I paid for. Follow me." I grabbed one of the packages and went out to the porch.

Dr. O'brien pulled out his box cutter as if he always carried one around, and sliced open the cardboard on top and around the box, and peeled the cardoard away from the lead box within. The top was held on with about a half dozen pieces of duct tape. I didn't know to expect that, but you never know what you get when dealing with the underworld. He pulled off the tape, and carefully lifted the lead lid.

"Is it glowing?" inquired John.

"Not yet," said Dr. O'brien with an evil grin. He then pulled out his geiger counter, stuck the business end into the open box, and adjusted a switch on it until it gave out a good, steady several clicks per second. He looked mystified for several moments, and kept checking the geiger counter.

"What is it, Doctor?" I asked. I could tell the expression on his face wasn't good.

"This isn't what you ordered. It only gives about one percent of the radiation it should." He reached into the box and pulled out a small pellet with his fingers. John and I both took a step back, because we knew what it was, or at least what it was supposed to be, and you're not supposed to be near it.

"Well, it's heavy enough," Dr. O'brien said, hefting the little pellet up and down in his hand. "I believe this is depleted uranium. Easy enough to get, perhaps taken from some area where US troops have been shooting recently."

"So I got ripped off?" I enquired, feeling rather sick.

"Well, just for this piece that we know of. You said there were how many hundred more shipmenmts?"

About that time I heard a horn blowing in front of the house. "That must be Fed-Ex or UPS! Let's go!"

I ran to the front door, and sure enough, there was a large Fed-Ex truck outside. I flung open the door, and we all three ran to the truck. About the time we all three got to the truck, I saw men running around from both sides, and looking back, more men running from both sides of the house, some running into the front door - men carrying guns. Several of them yelled:


We were handcuffed in no time, and told "You are being charged with transport of nuclear materials. Look closely at the sun, folks. It's gonna be a loooooong time before you see it again."

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Despair: A Flash Fiction Story


"So, hun, are you in the Sunday Night Chat with your, um, writerly friends again tonight?"

My wife knew the drill. We have out usual Sunday dinner, but just before Nine O'Clock I get on the Internet to chat and write a short story. I've been doing it for a few months, and I've found it to be great fun to try to stretch myself as a writer.

"Yes, dear. Looks like a good crowd tonight! There's people from all over."

"Johnathan, you mean from all over the USA?"

Oh, gee, I thought, I need to teach her a bit more about the Internet. "Yes, Paula, here's CottonCandy, he's from Nevada, Joe is from NYC, and VegemiteGrrl is of course from Australia."

"Autstralia! You're Kidding! The Internet reaches that far?"

"It sure does. I think it's like the middle of the day there. I'll ask."

So I type:
john_hack_writer: Hey Veggiegrrl, what time of day is it where you are? Is the sun up?

VegamiteGrrl: It's 10 in the morning here, why do you ask? I'm all cooped up in here, there's no window in ths room, I should step out a minute into the sun.

"See, she says it's 10 AM."

"Well, I'll be," my lovely wife says.

I decided to explain to Paula, "The Internet is worldwide, and there's the Web on it, an that's why it's called the World Wide Web."

While saying this, another line showed up on my screen:

VegamiteGrrl: Stepping out to stretch a bit, BRB

"What's BRB?" enquired Paula.

Goody, something I can explain, and she appears actually interested in this thing! I hope it's not because there's other females I'm talking to that she feels the need to check up on me. So while I have her attention I give a longer answer: "Oh, that's just one of the shorthand phrases we use, that one means be right back. It's just a polite way of saying they stepped away from the computer to get some coffee or to go to the restroom or whatever. Maybe you've heard on radio and TV ads a bunch of them, but since we claim to be 'real writers' we generally don't use many of the shorthands in chat."

"So, how long does it take after you type something before someone in Argentina can read it?"

I tried to gently correct her: "You mean Autstralia? Actually it's probably the same as Argentina as far as we're concerned, just a second or two. It takes longer for me to type a few words than for them to be sent."

It's then I noticed our friend from Austrailia posting again:

VegamiteGrrl: I just stepped outside, the sun sure seems bright for ten in the morning. I wonder if it's some sort of weather phenomenon.

That's interesting, I thought. I know enough about science and the atmosphere to know that if it's a clear day, there's nothing that can make the sun appear unusually bright. But I have another idea and ask:

john_hack_writer: Could the sun look brighter because you've been cooped up in a room with no windows for a while?

CottonCandy: I just went out and looked at the moon, it's a Full Moon out tonite and I've NEVER seen such a bright moon!

VegamiteGrrl: I guess so, John, but I don't know... it looked unusual and weird to me.

Paula was reading over my shoulder, and being in Louisiana, I was wondering about the Moon myself, but I didn't want to leave the chat, either. "Paula, you remember seeing the Full Moon last month when we went out walking last month, don't you?"

"Yes, it was a pretty cold night out," she said.

"Could you go out there now for a few seconds and look at the moon, and see if it's any different from last month?"

"Okay, but don't you go flirting with that girl from Argentina!"

She was gone before I could correct her.

As she went out, there were more posts coming in:

CottonCandy: There's something strange happening, I'm sure of it.

VegamiteGrrl: I'm gonna go look again. Maybe I was just imagining it. brb.

Paula came running back in and said, "Johnathan, the Moon IS brighter than last month! You should come out to look, it's really neat! Maybe we could take another walk tonight, it's easier than ever to see where you're going in this bright moonlight. C'mon, it'll be romantic!"

Odd that she was in the mood while giving me that news. She wouldn't just come up with something like that, and I was getting a little worried and nervous. This sort of thing doesn't happen. I've heard the hypothesis that a slightly increased energy output from the Sun is the cause of Global Warming, but this would be different. Very different and very bad.

Bob_Bachman*MOD: Our prompt for tonight's writing is posted on the board, folks. You can eithe read it there or PM me or one of the other MOD's to get it.

Well, it's time to write anyway, but Paula interrupts with another question:

"What is PM?"

"Oh that means private message. You can open a chat window with another person, and only you and the other person can see what the two of you type. It's good for side conversations." I wondered if I had just told her too much, and made her suspicious of me having an online romance. Well, that might be the least of my worries right now.

VegamiteGrrl: OMG, the sun IS BRIGHTER! Brighter than even a couple of minuts ago when I loked before. What is it? Sunspots?

Now I was truly worried. Not sure if I feel like writing now, but I PM'ed the MOD to get the prompt, in case I decided to write. But I think I'll take up Paula's offer for a walk in the bright moonlight, and we can come back and be with each other one last time. What else could there be to do if the Sun is on the other side of the world and is truly exploding?

Bob_Bachman*MOD: Tonight's prompt is: Despair. Good luck.

Oh my God, I thought, what a perfect description of how I felt. The hell with writing, chat, and the Internet for now. I had more important things to do for my last night alive on Earth.

"Paula," I said as I stood up, took her hand and looked into her eyes, "Let's go for that walk."

Sunday, January 20, 2008

On The Occasion of The 79th Birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

I was ten years old when I heard of the death of Martin Luther King, Jr. I lived in Atlanta, and EVERYONE heard about his death - it seemed it was almost as big a news story as the death of a President, and in retrospect it was indeed a big story. I didn't recognize his name, though it seems I surely must have heard it a few times before, as I vaguely remembered news of racial unrest and protests up to that time (whether protests were over race problems or the Viet Nam war, I knew there was something going on). But it was only in his death that I learned King was a black man, a preacher and a leader who was a social activist for racial equality. I didn't (yet) know of any black kids at my elementary school, but I had the distinct impression that this event could only increase racial tension, something that was already a Bad Thing. I got that impression again a year later on the first anniversary of his death.

I later heard more about him two years after his death, in eigth grade, as one teacher agreed with public calls for a national holiday to honor Dr. King's birth. In tenth grade I learned some African-American History and heard the story of his winning the Nobel Prize for Peace, and trying to raise the money for a plane trip overseas, not realizing the Prize included a check in the hundred-thousand to million-dollar range. Well, he surely had other things occupying his mind rather than keeping up with the funds given out with international prizes.

About two years ago I found and purchased this book by King, "Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?" (it's the very copy shown - see the "Customer Image From:" on this page under the cover image) in a shop selling used items:
I knew discarded public library copies "aren't worth as much" as "clean" unmarked First Editions, but expected this could sell for at least the $5 or $10 minimum price I use to make it worth my tine to sell a book online. And at "worst case" I could actually read it. Here's the description I wrote for my Amazon listing:

Harper&Row, Stated "FIRST EDITION", Ex-Library, Good, tape stains on endpapers, card pocket on FFEP with card showing 20 checkouts 1968-1970, Florida public library name stamped on endpapers, title page and top and bottom of textblock, pencil writing of lib number on copyright page, pencil writing of date "2/20/68PF" on dedication page (apparently date added to lib collection), binding loosening between pretitle and title pages, DJ VG, well protected by usual Mylar cover taped to boards, only noticable wear is at spine and flap corners, lib number on white tab on spine.

As with any book I put up for sale, I looked for comparable copies online at various venues and saw an ex-library First for $50, a "clean" First for $150, and figured I could get a decent amount for this copy, especially with its "provenance" of the library adding it to their collection less than two months before his death and the library card showing its two years worth of circulation. I priced it at $75.

A few weeks later it sold (that seems a little too quickly for such a high-priced book, perhaps I should have priced it higher), and of course before mailing it I started to "page through" it. King wrote of the passage of the Civil Rights Act a year or two earlier, certainly a great advance, but that there seemed to have been little or no progress since, and he was wondering, perhaps worried, about the future of the movement. It was easy and fascinating reading. This was no doubt due to King's clear writing style, but also becuase of the compelling story, the very words being from the leader of the US Civil Rights Movement, this being some of his last year's worth of (to use a modern expression) "blog entries" before his death, and it was history being made in my lifetime. I ended up reading about half the book over several hours before packing it up and mailing it off to its new owner.