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: Scriptorium Meditation

The Etienne Chevalier Books of Hours

Public Domain – Per the British Library
The Etienne Chevalier Books of Hours

The excess pigment pooled off Jonathan’s favorite brush as he touched it against the cup’s side. Now safe, he passed it over the manuscript page to the illumination panel. Three quick strokes blended the new lapis blue with the still wet paint of the background. Large fills were the hardest. If the paint fully set between brushstrokes, a clear line would develop between the old and new paints.

Desert heat increased the difficulty. The pigment in the cup constantly needed adjusting with additional liquid and binder. After the noon sun had burnt off the last of the night cold, the parchment absorbed water as fast as he applied it. Once, the paint had dehydrated on his brush before he could transfer it to the page.

It could drive one mad.

Which, Jonathan chuckled to himself, is exactly the opposite of the results he was hoping for.

The painting was to keep him sane between skirmishes. A mediation to take him away from the here and now. Many of his fellow brothers of arms had their own ways to escape the boredom and terror. The few who didn’t fell into a dark place where only the terror circled.

He reloaded the brush. After an inhale and exhale, he followed the outline supporting the capital letter.

Abruptly, a siren sounded.

Jonathan steadied his hand, pleased to see no paint went outside the sepia lines he had inked yesterday.

The sound dragged him away from his artistic center; the solider part of him translated the shrill noise to “incoming aircraft”. No doubt their new lieutenant will be rushing them into bomb shelters.

… And there’s the second siren for the tail tuck. Shelter time.

The feral-warrior imbedded in every man’s head since Neanderthal times snarled, until the solider which boot camp had programmed into him slugged the lizard-mind. Jonathan pushed them both aside, staring at the manuscript page until the art spoke to him again.

Reviewing the page being painted, Jonathan estimated he could take a break in six to eight minutes. He dipped his brush to continue. Really, the enemy could at least do their runs when he was on-duty. Quite rude of them to interrupt his off-duty hours.

A head topped with rustic red hair poked inside the doorway. “Private Swartz, didn’t you hear the siren? We need to get to safety.”

“On my way, sir, just cleaning my brush.” Jonathan started filling in the final area he wanted blue.

Verbally assured, the lieutenant continued his hurried walk.

Too much paint had dried on the brush, creating lumps above the portion of the brush tip. Jonathan swirled the brush in his water glass. He glanced around the abandoned adobe building he had appropriated for his recreation time. One of three buildings located in the crossroad they were guarding. Millions of feet over thousands of years had hardened the unpaved paths. And only three families though it worthwhile to live here.

Uncle Sam thought it an excellent location for an inspection station.

Wonder who has the guns today? Haven’t heard the planes yet. Flying too high, or still a ways off? Well, we all will find out who is on duty as soon as the shots are fired. Manuel and Sebastian had very different approaches.

Gently squeezing the water from the horse hair, Jonathan brought the brush to a point. He took the cap off the binder and added just a touch to the pigment cup. Quickly resealing, the artist wiped the outside of the container. The binder was sticky. Then he added a little more water to the pigment.

The brush was dipped, twisted, and compressed in the cup until the pigment amassed throughout the fibers. He brought the brush to the parchment just before the last moisture left his previous stroke. The grumbling of engines became audible.

The ground trembled as Manuel let loose the anti-aircraft. Trust Manny to wait until he could see the whites of the enemy’s eyes. Dust drifted from the ceiling of the clay structure, but Jonathan’s make-shift fly crafted from one of his blankets kept the dust from falling into the wet paint.

Jonathan sighed.

If Manuel was firing, the run was for real. The spic didn’t like giving away range to anyone. The guy was a miser with bullets; he only shot when in danger and if he thought he could hit. And he was even stinger with missiles.

After capping his pigments and cleansing his brush, Jonathan reached down to lift the cover he made with four small feet. He carefully positioned it over the manuscript where it would hold the parchment down without touching the paint. Satisfied he had done everything to protect his art, Jonathan ran to the shelter.

Sebastian had been watching and opened the door for a split second. Sebastian or Manuel always was by the door; if the guns fell, the backup needed to be activated.

“Painting?” Sebastian smiled.

Jonathan nodded at the needles in the doorkeeper’s hands. “Not all of us are lucky to have portable art.”

“I got extra.” Sebastian kicked his yarn basket. “I could teach you.”

“I might take you up on that tonight. Painting sucks once the sun has set now that the lieutenant insists on blackout conditions. Seriously that man needs a hobby.”

“Scared he might start crucifying mice like the last one?”

A deafening exchange of the aircraft and anti-aircraft exchanging munitions prevented a verbal response, so Jonathan nodded. Watching your superior officer make little crosses and execute rodents for treason was terrifying beyond anything else in Jonathan’s experience. And Jonathan had done some stupid-ass, shouldn’t –be-alive-now shit. Sanity was precious.

(words 940 – first published 9/3/2013; republished new blog format 6/5/2016)

Flash: Smells Like Teen Spirit

Black Sneakers Stock Photo

Image courtesy of bigjom at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The stench of sweaty male nearly overpowered the potpie cooking in the oven when LaVarr and Alijah started opening cupboards to set the table for dinner.

“Hold on a moment.” Melissa leaned over and did a quick sniff on both her boys. “LaVarr, figure out if it is you or your clothes and get whichever it is clean before we sit down.”

Looking smug, the younger brother declared, “Told you, you stink.”

LaVarr made to shove his brother but saw his mother cross her arms, so he just glowered instead. As a teenager, he was great at glowering and stomping; he proved the second by stomping to the shared bedroom.

Pulling out the juice and salad dressings, Melissa mentioned to her youngest. “You may want to figure out a better way to word things if you actually are trying to help.”

“But he does smell. How else can you say that?” He asked placing the glasses around their small kitchen table.

Melissa thought about it a moment before shrugging. “Better somehow.” She started speaking louder as the shower turned on elsewhere in their apartment. “Sometimes pointing out the consequences works.”

“Like what?”

“Like learning about mythology can help you write better video games. Carrot works better than a stick.”

Alijah nodded, clearly remembering the argument his mom had presented last week when he tried to blow off an English paper, “Okay. Yeah. So telling LaVarr if he wants to date Sherra, he needs to look sharp.”

“That might work.” Melissa agreed.

Since her declaration in September the boys were in charge of cleaning their own room, Alijah and LaVarr had been going head-to-head a bit more. Alijah was a neat freak, and LaVarr, to put it mildly, was not. Alijah learned to do laundry and took over that chore from her by Halloween; he liked getting clean sheets twice a week, as opposed to her once every other week schedule, and thought it stupid to do less than a full load. The school lessons on recycling and saving energy found a convert in him.

But as successful as the new situation was with Alijah, after a month of picking up after his brother, a family meeting was necessary which resulted in a line of electrical tape down the center of the boys’ bedroom. Since the clear demarcation of territory, she wasn’t sure if any of LaVarr’s clothes had been washed. She had hoped he would have a sharper learning curve, but since turning fifteen his ability to be reasoned with seemed to have entirely disappeared.

LaVarr rejoined them in an entirely new outfit, one of the ones he never wears because it was beyond uncool, likely the only clean one in his closet that fit since his last growth spurt. He also had shaved the curly wisps from his chin. He glowered at them eating before dumping the rest of the salad on his plate, pouring on croutons and dressing, then stabbing into the tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots, and lettuce like serial killer.

“So since neither of you have sports tomorrow, Grandma Clark offered to pick you guys up from school.” Melissa inserted the words into the heavy atmosphere her oldest had brought to the table. “She and PopPop are thinking about taking you to that new cartoon you have been wanting to see.”

>Alijah rolled his eyes before loading a second serving of potpie on his plate. “It’s anime mom. Hayao Miyazaki is a wizard. You really need to see some of his stuff.”

“Sorry, but I got to work late.” Melissa pushed the last of her peas onto her fork. “Afterwards, they will be coming back here so we are going to do some house cleaning tonight.”

“Is Dad going to come?”

LaVarr growled at his brother. “Of course Dad isn’t fucking going to come.”

“Watch your mouth LaVarr! I can have them leave you with the after-school program tomorrow.”

His mouth formed a grim line as he gritted out, “Sorry, mom.” Reaching across the table he grabbed the main dish, scouped out a double-sized serving, and started plowing his way through that. He clearly wanted to storm off, but the food was here and he was fifteen.

“Alijah, Grandma Clark had not mentioned anything about your father being there.”

Their father had managed to shirk his child support for the past six years, but just because their son ended up being a jerk, Melissa saw no reason to cut her children off from the Clarks. She had half grown up in their house and still loved and got along with everyone on that side of the family, aunts, uncles, and even second cousins met at the summer family reunions, everyone except for her ex-husband, whom had taken to dodging his entire clan because everyone was on her side.

“Oh, okay. Just wondering.” Her more sensitive son slouched in his chair.

“Well, I am done. Shall you and I start on the laundry? You were wanting to know how to do ironing.” Melissa took her plate over to the dishwasher.

Alijah shoved in the last three bites before bounding over with his dishes. Talking around his full mouth, he said. “Sure do, the orchestra tuxedo shirts look crummy unless ironed.” Glancing at his brother, he added, “Can’t get the girls looking crummy.”

“Like you get girls in orchestra,” his brother sneered.

“Sure can, over half the orchestra is girls.”

“Nerd girls.”

Alijah smiled wide. “Yep, nerd girls who like video games.”

“Anyone in particular you might like to ask to go to the movies with you tomorrow?” Melissa asked.

Alijah’s face lit up as they walked to the laundry alcove in the hallway. LaVarr would have gagged at the thought of having his grandparents be chaperons, but for Alijah getting to take a girl out would be a first. “Elaina, she plays in the violins, and loves sci-fi. We were discussing the mythology of Star Wars in class.”

“Do you know her phone number?” Melissa pulled down the ironing board and plugged in the iron.

“We are in the net-group for English, so I think I can get her.” Alijah frowned, considering.

Melissa nodded, “So it is possible to ask her and her parents tonight. Why don’t you call Grandma Clark while the iron heats up to see if she is willing to take on another passenger?”

(words 1,058 – first publication 2/21/2016)

Flash: Monsoon Inspection

Woman in Red Chair

Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

“I’m okay mother.” The young woman opened the phone conversation after the other line picked up and waited while the electronic stream bounced up to a satellite and returned from orbit to station to feed into her mother’s archaic landline on the other side of the planet.

“Why on Earth wouldn’ t you be?”

“The monsoon. geez, don’t tell me American news didn’t cover it.” She raised her galoshes-covered feet to rest on the red plastic chair and laid an arm over her knee, then answered herself. “Of course not, it wasn’t like it was a big–”

Her mother interrupted, or more accurately, the stun of her child being in danger and the time delay caught up. “Monsoon! Dolores, I told you that foreign job was no good. If you stayed here you could have married that nice boy from college…”

Whom you never bothered to learn the name of because he was totally forgettable, and a drunk … but I didn’t bring up that part of his sparkling personality with you. You did not need to know everything I got into while in college. His frat did throw the best parties.

“…and have you met any rescue workers. They do have rescue workers there? And food drops like you used to help with. Oh, do I need to send anything to you?” Her mother asked finally winding down.

“No mom. We are set up for this weather. My house is on stilts and everything.” Dolores closed her eyes and crossed her fingers for a small white lie. “I’m totally dry.”

“So no cute rescue workers?”

“No, mom, no cute rescue workers.”

Someone laughed. Dolores eyes popped open. Florescent orange waders rose out of the floodwaters, followed by a dark blue t-shirt with a logo related to some construction sites she had seen around, and topped by a very cute face of the male persuasion. “Got to go mom, the inspector is here.”

Doing the small hand twist which locally translated to the American equivalent of holding up a finger for ‘wait a second,’ Dolores waited for her mother’s response. “Inspector? I knew something was wrong.”

“No, nothing is wrong. Just got to officially get the house looked at. Happens after every monsoon. And no, before you ask, this is my first inspection; my work just told me to expect it. I love you.”

The man face arranged in a pleasant waiting expression. Nothing like the rush-rush the Western world, but also lacking the ever-present fake smiles she would have seen back home too.

“I love you, too. Send me an email when you can.”

“Will do. Good-bye.” Dolores clicked off her phone. Taking a second to change her thinking patterns to Burmese, she stood, putting her phone back into its waterproof sling. “Thank you.”

“To support mother and father, this is the good luck.” The man responded in Burmese, before switching to her native tongue more quickly than she was capable of. “Would you be more comfortable in English?”

“If it is not too much trouble.” She smiled, then bit her lip. Smiling wasn’t always good here. She didn’t make that mistake in Burmese mode. “The last couple of days have been a strain.”

“Mynmarr sends me the foreign housing since I speak languages. My name is Salim.”

“My name is Dolores.” She dragged the plastic chair over to a stilt and bungeed it to the house. “I speak several myself, but the weather took a lot out of me. I’m surprised to see you so soon.”

“High ground this is, houses well built. First inspections always here.”

Ah, Salim has some constant phrases well memorized, like she could ask “Where is the bathroom?” in a dozen languages, but new sentence construction was based on his primary tongue’s structure of subject, object, and verb. When her brain was translating instead of straight hearing, everyone sounded like Yoda. Well, he talked faster even with that then she could translate or hear Burmese right now. She felt mostly okay, but her inner self was curled in a ball shaking from living through a natural disaster. In her life, she had always been part of the rescuing, not one of the rescuee. “Yes, the company told me they put these houses in well. Drilled down into the bedrock to drop the stilts.”

“Good company. They bring lots of jobs. You agriculture instructor?” From one of his many pockets of his mid-chest waders, Salim pulled out a telescoping metal prod and started pushing the foundations around each of the stilts.

“No, I am system admin.” She switched languages. “Computers I work and fix.”

“Smart girl.” He moved to another stilt. “You speak Burmese well. Where did you learn?”

“I picked it up while in India on summer work-studies. Along with Hindi and a few other languages.” She double-checked the sling; she didn’t want to loose the satellite phone. “Where did you learn English?”

“We are taught English in school, then I went to Memphis University on an exchange program for a year. Okay to climb?” He motioned to the ladder leading up to her house. “Need to check floor…” The inspector mimed sliding sideways, his sun-darkened face animating surprise while his black eyes sparkled.

“Pitch of the floor.” Dolores translated. “Slant.”

“Yes, yes, slant.” He motioned at the ladder again. “Climb okay?”

“Please do. Do you want me to come up with you?”

“Yes, good would be.”

Dolores waited until he got to the top before following to avoid the drips from his waders then climbed quickly up the wooden planks. “The front door is unlocked.” The twenty-something inspector did not move until she opened the door for him. She could see everything in her one-room house from the door, so she did not follow him in as he poked around and hopped up and down along the various walls.

“Roof good, no leaks. You no lie to mother about dry.”

A light blush rose in Dolores’ cheeks. “She worries.” In his world, this dry would count since half the people around regularly have their houses flood. Her mom would have problems with water being as far as the eyes could see.

“Mothers worry.” Salim walked over pulling a green card out with numbers in a big block font. “I will put this outside to indicate the house has been inspected.”

Dolores watched as he tucked it into a small plastic square outside her door. She had never figured out what it was for since her house wasn’t numbered and all mail went to her work. “Do I owe you anything?”

“No, no payment needed. Your company pays for the inspections.”

That answer was firm and clearly rote. So the normal additional gifts she had come to expect with all government dealings would actually get him into trouble. Maybe she should offer some simple hospitality. “Would you like anything to drink?”

The man tilted his head considering. “I houses inspect. Three. Can I come back in an hour?”

“Yes you can.” Dolores let a full American smile light her face. “Would you like something to eat as well?”

Salim smiled back. “Yes, I would.”

(words 1,192 – first publication 1/24/2016)