Flash: No More Cheeseburgers

Cheeseburger Stock Art

Image courtesy of Mister GC at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

“Mom, it’s the end of the world!” Gilbert charged into the house, slamming doors behind him, shedding books, backpack, papers, and electronics in his wake from his day of college classes.

His mother looked up at her teenage son from the oven where she just pulled out a sheet of baked French fries. “Of course it is.”

“No, I mean for real! It’s all over the news.”

“Uh-huh.” His mother nodded moving the fries to a serving platter. “Would you like a cheeseburger or hamburger?”

“Why is that even a question?” Gilbert put his hands on the back of a kitchen charge, shaking in his urgency. “A meteor is about to hit Earth!”

“Correction, the meteor will hit Earth in a little over nine months.” His mother tsk’ed. “Please do not exaggerate.”

Blinking at the calm his mother produced, entirely at odds from the explosion of opinions on campus when the news was released a couple hours ago, Gilbert shook his head before whining, “But the world is going to end.”

“But not today or tomorrow, and I am assuming you are hungry now.” His mother nodded to the sizzling burgers. “So tell me, cheese or no cheese.”

“Cheese, please.” Gilbert muttered weakly, pulling out the chair before sitting down. He planted his elbows on the table and buried his head in his hands.

After placing Swiss cheese slices on the ground meat patties and returning the cheese to the refrigerator, Heather brought over fries platter and ketchup. “Where is my kiss?”

Dropping his hands to the table, Gilbert kissed the cheek his mother presented.

“Much better. Now make yourself useful and get out the drinks.” Heather returned to the stove. “I’m your mother, not your waitress.”

“Yes mom.” Gilbert got up again and started setting the table for dinner. “I just don’t understand why you aren’t bothered. The news says there will be anarchy, looting, lawlessness.”

“Well it’s not going to happen in this house.” Heather said firmly. “People who do that are the stupid ones, and you and your sister are not stupid.”

Gilbert’s bushy eyebrows met in a frown while putting the glasses out. “I … what?”

“Oh, for the love of goodness.” Heather pulled the toasted buns from the oven and placed them on the table beside the lettuce leaves, onion slices, and tomatoes. “Anyone who goes the panicked mob route is just asking to die. The president already declared marshal law, and the National Guard has been deployed. She promised to bring on-line the draft for both men and women, and veterans should call in to the nearest post according to their last name.” Sliding the cheeseburger patties on a heated plate, Heather joined her son at the dinner table. “I got to call in at the gadawful hour of three a.m.”

Heather bowed her head and her son followed suit. “Dear Lord, during this time of trouble, please give our leadership the strength and wisdom they need. Give us the endurance and intelligence to be able to help them. Always remind us to look first to you for guidance.” Gilbert winced at the very pointed comment. “And bless this food unto our bodies. In your name, Amen.”

“Amen.” Gilbert echoed before grabbing a warmed bun. “So you are getting called up again?”

“What else did you expect?” Heather squirted some ketchup on her bottom bun, leaving the top of the bun on the serving platter since carbs were her biggest enemies in her ongoing battle of the bulge. “Though it’s likely only for the initial check-ins since hospitals will be a priority staffing issue.” His mother’s nursing career spanned three deployments overseas and half a decade stateside since she quit the army to raise her children after her civilian husband died of cardiac arrest.

“So I don’t even get to see you before it all ends.”

Heather pointed The Finger at her son. “Okay, stop that negativity right there. I raised you better than that. Heck, your father, bless his black heart, raised you better than that. What are the solutions?”

In the middle of biting into the burger when the question was asked, with mayonnaise, mustard, ketchup, and meat juices dripping onto the plate, Gilbert chewed and swallowed before answering. He wasn’t going to risk his ears getting boxed for talking with his mouth full. “The meteor is going to hit the Earth. It’s too big to move. The news says it’s nearly eight kilometers.”

“Try again, that is not a solution.” The military officer grilled her son.

“Whatever.” Gilbert picked up a fry and considered it, slipping into programming mode. “Okay, there are three states to this equation. First we do nothing and continue as we are.”

His mother nodded. “With the minor change of controlling the anarchy and any idiots who use disruption to become petty dictators.”

“Scat, Dad would have loved this.” Gilbert’s dad taught high school history and ran the debate team most of his life, in between serving local political offices and as an adviser for state and military offices wherever they had been stationed.

“Focus.”

“All right, so option two is we try to move the rock and option three is we dig in and make an ark.” Everyone at the college figured the politicians didn’t release the news until they had the ark option all set up for their families and are already hiding underground.

“That is my conclusion as well.” After scooping some more onto her plate, his mother offered her son a half-filled platter. “More fries?”

Gilbert dumped the rest on his plate before smothering them in mayonnaise and ketchup. At nineteen, his appetite still hadn’t found a level between his track and his soccer scholarships and his continuing growth. Six foot would be in the rear view mirror in a few months, if he lived through the end of the world.

Heather steepled her fingers. “So the first step is control the lunacy and the second step is to direct our energies to humanity’s survival. Which option do you prefer?”

“I don’t see how we are going to move that rock, so I guess the ark is the best bet.”

“Hide instead of act.” Heather shook her head. “Well, half of humanity is conservative and half is action, which is how we survived so far. Diana takes more after me and you take more after your dad.”

Gilbert protested. “When action will accomplish nothing, using your brain is the best option. In fact it is always the best option – use the brain before acting. And in this case, the brain says a conservative reaction is best.”

Shaking her hand side to side, Heather responded. “Yes and no.”

“Right. So your turn.” Gilbert started on his second burger.

“Well, first we need to get everyone concentrating on the rock instead of panicking. We can go back to our petty bickering later, just like Africa did once Europe left. I think the U.N. is already working on that, though I expect some of the extremist groups to respond poorly.” Heather’s face hardened. “I also expect the kid gloves will come off and we will stop pussy-footing around with what is ‘humane’ and ‘civilized’ during this time.”

Gilbert smirked a moment, then took great delight and saying a word his mom constantly used on him for the last five years since she returned from overseas. “Focus.”

Heather’s brown eyes sparkled and a wry grin crossed her face before she started speaking again. “The problem with the ark solution is the limited amount of what can be saved. Therefore moving that stupid rock into the sun or at least off orbit is the better option.”

“I realize most of humanity will still die, but that is the trade-off for the ark. It is the more viable solution.” Gilbert tucked the last of the burger in his mouth.

Heather stood up and began to pick up the empty dishes. “There will be no more cheeseburgers.”

“I know that mom, but it’s okay; I’m full.” Gilbert stood up to help her load the dishwasher.

“No, Gilly, what I mean is there will be no more cheeseburgers after the ark. The cows won’t fit.”

Gilbert froze, glass in hand. “No more cheeseburgers?”

“Yeah, even if you get chosen for the ark because of your brains, brawn, genes, and youth, and don’t get all big-head on me, but you would be a prime choice, but cows take up too much landscape to raise so there will be no more cheeseburgers or steak.”

“Well, fuck that. We need to move that rock.”

His mom smiled evilly. “Why don’t you get on internet and get your friends on it. SpaceX has a rocket going up in two days and needs number crunchers to figure out density programs for their sensors. They advertised the crowd sourcing just before you came home.”

(Words 1,478; first published 7/17/2016)

Flash: Memory of a Lifetime

Broken Egg With The Yolk And White Oozing Out

Image Courtesy of artur84 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Cheryl hummed happily as she unwrapped a cracker for April. Her baby immediately started working on it with her limited teeth, making a gummy mess.

The weekend had been wonderful, just her and her husband, with the added bonus of the children spending quality time with their uncle. Having breakfast out after picking the kids up was the perfect end to the perfect weekend, giving them time to be a family before jumping back into never-ending chores and work of a two-career household. These were the memories to last a lifetime.

The waitress finished taking Joe’s order and asked “Anything for the child?” she said nodding to Scott sitting neatly in his booster seat.

Cheryl smiled with parental pride at her oldest. “I think he is old enough to order his own breakfast.”

“Okay, little man, what would you like?”

“I want to devour the unborn.” Scott carefully enunciated and spaced words, his volume only slightly less than his normal four-year old tones.

Cheryl looked at the waitress mortified. Her cheeks flushed when she realized most of the diners had heard his request. The nearest two tables stopped eating and turned to stare at her family. No one could have misunderstood what he had said.

When looking for support, she discovered her husband had covered his mouth with his hands. His whole body was shaking and tears were escaping the sides of his eyes. Cheryl shot death towards him, until he calmed enough to remove his hand and translate. With only a slight gasp he said, “Eggs, he want eggs.”

The waitress nodded cautiously before asking the boy, “And how would you like them cooked?”

Proudly Scott said. “Shattered and beaten with the juice flowing forth.”

Joe’s grin widened until he saw his wife’s face. After rearranging his features into a sterner expression, the father relayed, “Scrambled but runny.”

The waitress scratched the order down. With a wince, she asked, “And what would you like to drink, little man?”

“Utter madness.”

Joe’s head tilted as he considered the request. “… aha, Scott, do you mean ‘Udder’?” He  clearly pronounced d’s.

Scott nodded several times. “UD-DER madness.”

Turning to the waitress, Joe let her know, “He wants chocolate milk.”

The woman quickly retreated to the kitchen.

Cheryl hissed at Joe, “Your brother is NEVER to babysit again!”

(words 386 – first published 4/10/2013; republished new blog format 7/3/2016)

Flash: Joelie and Sarah’s Last Day

Water visible through Ice

Image Courtesy of Jeremy Ricketts at Unsplash.com
Cropped by Erin Penn

Joelie cinched the saddle girdle tighter, letting the town’s mayor attempt to make him change his mind. You would think after raising her from birth, she would know only one person got him to change him mind about anything. Finally he interrupted, “Jillie, hon, your mom ain’t goin’ to last through winter and I can’t stop that. Travel may end it sooner, but she will see something she wants to see.”

“Dad, she is barely conscious. She isn’t going to notice anything, and it’s a full day’s travel even with my horse.” The five foot nothing blond dynamo argued. “Shouldn’t mother die in the comfort of her own bed?”

Satisfied the horse was ready and everything was packed for the journey, the old farmer went into his one-room house. “Your mom has never been one to choose comfort.” He sat in a chair to change his boots and add a second pair of socks.

“At least let me see if the priest from Riding-in-the-Mud can help give travel ease.” The young woman trailed her father into her childhood home.

Joelie stood, pulling on a traveling cloak. “Magic helped the first year, but now the Tester has placed this challenge before us. We can do this on our own.” Touching the pile of skin and bones swathed in blankets, Joelie stroked his wife’s cheek. “Sarah, time to go.”

Her blue eyes focused on his for the first time in days, reassuring him that the love of his life was still with him and he was doing the right thing. Picking up the blankets and padding, he carried the precious bundle out. Despite her having been several inches taller than him and outweighing him most of their joint lives, the last two winters of illness had taken their toll and now she was lighter than a grain sack.

****

Two days of frozen purgatory guiding a horse through his normal, slightly illegal, hunting grounds finally ended. He had never been one to understand how the King could own the entire forest. He was pretty sure the White Stag ruled it.

Jolie had wrapped Sarah tightly during the day and provided her his heat at night. He wanted to carry her during the day as well, or ride the horse and provide her needed warmth, but he needed to break the trail for the horse and he fell too many times.

The horse went to the edge of the water without prompting and Jolie started pulling what was left of his wife down. He heard a whisper and leaned closer in. “Are we there?”

Seeing clear eyes and ruby checks, Jolie gave thanks to the Tester for giving him a final moment with her. “Aye, we have arrived.”

Twenty years ago, she had laid into him during one of their few arguments, saying he did not have a romantic bone in his body. Sarah had just finished a round of afternoon sickness, since morning sickness was not enough for his exceptional wife, and the additional weight at six months on her swelling feet looked painful even to him after spending the day in the field. It took time to get her to this location then, but never did she ever question his romance again. Partially because if she did, he would have dragged her the long hike there and back to revisit this place.

Sitting on the edge of a boulder half-in and half-out of the waterfall pool, he settled his forty-year old woman in his lap and let her look around. A magical spring feed the creek a little further up. The water stayed a constant fifty degrees, creating a pool warm in winter and cool in summer. The steam rising from the waterfall coated the branches nearby with crystal ice. A few flashsprite made the glade their home during the winter, and danced among the branches setting off rainbows of color. The Valley-Home water lily floated pure white from a dozen different locations in the perfect blue of the pool. Green grass grew at the edge of the pool, where the warm water pushed back the hoar frost.

Valley-Home lilies could never be moved from their home water pool. He tried for years to transplant some from the spring to the irrigation pond in the north fields until Sarah had requested he “stop killing the flowers, you fool. I can remember their scent just fine.”

Joelie held Sarah, rotating her head from where it rested on his shoulder throughout the day and sunset so she could see everything. He feed her bits of trail meat after chewing it soft. At night the flashsprites danced faster among the ice, snow, and blue water. The world was a blaze of color and the jasmine-like scent of the Valley-Home released at full strength just before the white flowers closed for the night. Sometime after sunset Sarah slipped away.

(Words 814; first published 6/19/2016)

Flash: The Girl at the Window

Painting: A woman at the Window by Henri de Troulouse-Lautrec

Painting entitled: Woman at the Window

 

“I would like to go outside.”

Eleonora startled but managed to control her movement to complete stowing the dried dinner china on the shelves. After taking a moment to control herself so she would not overreact to the miracle of words, she turned around to face her emancipated daughter. Years of sitting by the window watching other children play had taken their toll.

“Are you sure Merritt?” Eleonora hated to discourage the first sign of life her daughter displayed in years. “It’s dark out.”

A beatific smile molded the young woman’s normally blank expression into something exalted, melting Eleonora’s heart with terrifying hope while her daughter responded. “The world is smaller at night.”

A shudder at the unnatural way the child interpreted everything was quickly suppressed. Grasping at straws to untangle the broken paths of her daughter’s mind, Eleonora searched the painted silk wallpaper just above the child’s blonde head rather than meet her expressionless blue eyes. “And being smaller is important?”

“Of course, mama.”

Sagging against the stays in corset, Eleonora surrendered another battle in a war she lost when her daughter was four. Fifteen words would have to be miracle enough for the day. “Very well. Please keep to the backyard and don’t go beyond the creek.”

Her youngest child blinked once; her face reformed into the nothing mask. Carefully placing each foot directly in front of the other, heel to toe, Merritt walked to the door, stopped, looked down considering the knob, lifted a hand slowly, grasped the doorknob firmly, and tried turning. The doors between her bed room and the piano room and the bath room were always left open. After failing to rotate the knob far enough one-handed, she raised her left hand and added it to the twist, releasing the door slightly. Stepping back, pulling the door with her, she opened it enough to take three heel-toe sideways steps to go outside, meticulously closing the door behind her.

Eleonora released her breath. Merritt hadn’t been outside since their one attempt to attend primary school. After a day of screaming and crying ending with a rocking fit lasting until the next morning, the teachers accused her of coddling the youngster with unnatural and unhealthy affection and demanded she leave the child in their care for the rest of the week. Merritt didn’t even respond to her name when Eleonora fetched the child over Clement’s and the school objections. Bruises from canings and small burns covered her body.

She didn’t play the piano or any other musical instrument for another year because she wouldn’t leave her bedroom. Instead she sat by the front window, wrapped in a blanket day and night…watching.

A cough took Eleonora, choking her throat. Shoulders and legs shaking, she sunk to the wooden floor, skirt floating around her, tears coating her face instantly. Sobs heavy enough to sink a steamship erupted. Exhaustion ceased the outburst long before the emotions had ran their course. Standing up by grasping the counter, Eleonora made her way to the sink. She leveraged the pump, priming it, until water flowed and washed her face before taking the stairs to the master bedroom where Clement was already asleep, careful not to wake her husband.

(words 536 – first published 5/22/2016)

Flash: Funner (Part 2)

Opened Dictionary Stock Photo

Image courtesy of Arvind Balaraman at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Joe was trying to get little April to accept puréed carrots, when his wife said out of the blue, “Yes, I believe funner is a word. Fun, funner, funnest.”

The peanut butter and ginger jelly sandwich was placed where their personal 4-year old tornado named Scott would land as soon as his milk glass was added. She returned to the kitchen to pour the final attraction, and then start assembling their more adult sandwiches. Joe wouldn’t mind a PB and J himself, but Cheryl tried to keep them on a somewhat non-strict diet. Thirties brought a little gut to both of them and she dislike buying clothes just for “upsizing” as she put it.

Scrapping up the carrots that were using osmosis to feed his favorite daughter through her cheeks and bib, Joe tried to place the conversation … it took a moment. Reorienting the food through the more proper channel of her small mouth, he was able to respond, “Nope, I am pretty sure funner is not a word. Did you look it up?”

Delivering the last of the Saturday lunch to the table, Cheryl mouth pursed in consternation as her husband got a point in the debate. “Well, no.” She pulled out her smartphone after sitting down. Booting up, she started navigating through menus looking. “Let’s see, some stuff about funner added to the dictionary in 2010 … Urban slang … oh here is something. Both noun and adjective, but not … drat.”

The arrival of their oldest made her put the smart phone aside, as she saved various glasses from spilling and laid down the requirement of eating at least three apple slices as well as half the sandwich before leaving the table. Joe concentrated on cleaning up the baby, the highchair, the plastic beneath the high chair and finally himself before joining his family at the kitchen table and snatching the phone for himself. Juggling April on one knee, and scrolling through the Google search he found a good article and passed it over to his wife after Scott started counting the Fritos on his plate.

She read through it, taking a bite of her chicken sandwich. Cheryl sipped some black cherry Kool-Aid then returned the phone and said “I believe the circumstances were very informal and therefore the usage stands.”

Joe laughed at loud, thinking back to exactly what he was doing during the “circumstances” of its usage. Glancing at the phone, he confirmed the article he had found boiled down to “Funner should not be used in formal writing, though it’s usage has been accepted for informal writing. For formal English writing, more fun should be used.”

“Agreed. In addition, I will concede we were not writing at the time.”

“Funner … Fun .. Ner … f.u.n.n.e.r.” Cheryl stated and spelled.

Laughter took them both, with April’s baby chortle joining in. Scott looked up from his counting; not understanding the joke, but enjoying the laughter, his high pitch child squeals joining in.

(words 498 – first published 1/2/2013; republished in new blog format 4/3/2016)