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I once got paid to spend the summer telling lies to little kids. I ran a mountain man program at a district Boy Scout camp. I told my guests I was born in my log cabin and I traded for everything I had. Late evenings I shot muzzleloader rifles with campers and then told ghost stories around the fire. Oh, how I wish that would pay enough to be my career instead of just a one-time summer job.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Killer and Max

    The two little dogs had met in the pound. The miniature pinscher and the pug became friends by commiserating with each other each time families walked past their kennel and chose larger dogs, cuter dogs, furrier dogs, or – heaven forbid – cats. Finally, at the end of the week, e-day had arrived. Since the dogs were small, the pound employee wasn’t paying too much attention. The man in puppy dog scrubs was quite sad about the odious task that fell on his shoulders, so he delayed until the very last possible minute. Just as the bosses were beginning to lock up, he relented and started preparing the drugs. Right when he opened the small kennel, a huge commotion arose nearby. Lucy, an over-excited Dane, crashed through her kennel and started running laps around all the other kennels. All employees started chasing her, and Killer saw their chance. The two little dogs, normally quite yippy when excited, very quietly trotted out of the kennel when everybody was working on cornering Lucy. The boss had accidentally triggered the automatic door, so Killer and Max quietly scampered into the darkness.


    For the next few days, they scavenged what they could. They worked together to catch a stray lizard or grasshopper. They mostly only hunted in the late evening or early morning. Nighttime was spent hiding from coyotes and daytime was spent hiding from the heat. On their fourth day of freedom, Killer realized they weren’t getting enough water. Max was reluctant to follow, but slowly the pair started exploring backyards on the edge of town. The first yard was xeriscaped with cacti and gravel. The second yard had a leaking sprinkler head, but the sight of an unfriendly Rottweiler kept them away. In the third yard, a grumpy middle-aged man was sitting on his patio and waving a fan in front of his scruffy face. A glass of ice tea sat on the ground next to his chair, and even though it was a dry day, some moisture had condensed on the glass. Slowly, Killer snuck into the yard from the side of the house. The min pin was too focused on her objective and how the cold, wet glass would feel against her dry tongue. She didn’t notice the man stop fanning himself when his peripheral vision caught slow movement.


    She was just a couple feet away. She would have to crawl under the man’s chair to get to the glass, but the payoff was worth any risk. The man had slowly turned his head toward the dog. Just a couple seconds after she entered his shadow, he simply reached down and scooped her up. Killer was too thirsty and hungry to make a fuss, so she just whimpered once and went slack. Max watched from the shadows of the bordering shrubs as the man examined Killer from nose to tail. The person grumbled something about “mangy-looking dog” and “acceptable anniversary gift”, and then he took Killer inside. Max whimpered quietly in the shadows and laid down.


    About an hour later, Max awoke to an uncomfortable feeling. Something was in his ear. Something wet. Something slimy. He opened his eyes and recognized Killer. She looked happy. She started pushing on Max’s side with her muzzle. Reluctantly, he got up. She went out from the comfort of the shade, but Max stayed. Returning to her friend, Killer started pushing on Max again. Stubbornly she pushed against his rump until he exited the shade. Killer trotted over to the patio and then turned to look at her companion. She gave a couple little yips and then started trotting in circles around a bowl of water the man had given her. Max was wary because the man was out of sight, but his thirst compelled him forward. Just as his tongue was about to begin lapping up the water, giant hands from out of nowhere scooped him up. The grumpy man examined Max with the same lack of excitement he showed to Killer, and then grumbled something about “guess she gets two anniversary presents.”


    At first, things with the new family went very well. The wife was very excited to have two little dogs. Max took a little longer to warm up to them than Killer did, but after the first week they both relaxed. After about a month, both dogs wagged so constantly that they seemed like little balls of energy. In their eagerness to show their new people gratitude, at least one dog was licking a person at all times. Even at night just before falling asleep, both Max and Killer scampered around the bedroom until they got picked up so they could slobber affectionate kisses all over the people. The woman seemed to enjoy it, but the man seemed to endure it.


    After a couple more months, the man stopped picking up the dogs for his evening showering of affection. He began closing the door to his den. He began reading the newspaper on the patio despite the heat. Finally, instead of an afternoon “business” walk he just started pushing the dogs out into the backyard and leaving them there until they were done.


    One day, Killer overheard the man grumbling words like “pest”, “craigslist”, and “money”. She trotted into the bedroom and saw the man typing on his laptop. He looked up and said something like “get rid of you both” and set down his laptop. Killer recognized the look the man gave her. It was the same look her first owner had when he dropped her off at the pound. It was a look of disgust. She scampered off and hid under the couch.


    The man shrugged his shoulders and took out a camera. He snapped a picture of Max. “Both small dogs, picture doesn’t matter”, he thought to himself. He turned down the lights in the dining room and began shaking the camera just a little. He snapped another picture of Max. Figuring somebody’d care more about the dog than the picture, he went back to his computer to finish the ad.


    Killer knew what would happen next. Somehow, they’d end up back at the pound. That was no place to be, so she decided to make her escape. She had become so fond of Max though, so she knew she’d have to drag him along. That night, as soon as the man pushed them out the door Killer started shoving Max toward the edge of the yard. He thought it was a game, so he started pushing back. Killer yipped a little warning, but Max returned a playful yip and charged her. Being more stocky than the min pin, Max knocked her over. Each time she’d get back up, he’d knock her over again. She realized he was having fun, so she finally just stayed down. Max waited for her to get up, but when she didn’t he lost interest and took care of business. She reluctantly did the same and sat patiently but sadly next to the door.


    The same scene played out each night. Each day, Killer sat remorsely in the window, sad that the previous night’s effort had failed but determined to try again. Each day the man grumbled something about “nobody else wants you either” and the woman became a little more concerned about Killer’s behavior. At the end of about a week, Killer noticed some strange activity. The woman didn’t seem happy, and she had made a call to somebody named “vet”. Killer became quite nervous. She started whimpering, and finally Max noticed that something wasn’t right. The woman noticed Max’s change, and said something like “better take them both.” She scooped up both dogs and took them to the car. After fastening her seatbelt, she noticed there were no keys in her hand. Hurridly, she got out of the car and rushed back to the house. Even though the keys were swinging in the door lock and she was back to the car in less than a minute, that was all the time the little dogs needed to vanish.


    On their own again, the two spent a few days chasing lizards and grasshoppers. It was the middle of fall, but the days were still too warm to be really active. This time Max was the one to realize the need for water. Killer didn’t want anything to do with people any more, but she stuck to her friend out of devotion. The pug led the way into a few yards. They had wandered around the desert near town, but they were nowhere near the house they’d just left. Quietly, Max would sneak around a yard looking for water while Killer would hide in whatever cover she could find nearby. Yards were going into hibernation for winter, gardens were harvested and drying out, pools were covered. Max was beginning to give up hope because it seemed like no payoff was coming for all of the risk he was taking.


    The last yard he approached was surrounded by a gigantic fence. He could smell something unusual, but couldn’t identify the faintly familiar odor. In the corner of the yard, the ground was quite disturbed. It looked as if a gigantic chunk of earth had been removed and then replaced. This seemed recent because the ground was still soft. Max pushed aside teaspoons of dirt at a time with his tiny paws until there was a hole just big enough to squeeze through. Peeking around a large tree, he saw what appeared to be a little table with little cups. He didn’t think people came in packages small enough to drink out of cups that small, but there seemed to be some water spilled near the cups.


    Very cautiously, Max crawled across the ground toward the table. As he neared the table, his attention switched from scanning for danger to anticipating the liquid. Just a couple body lenghts from the table, he had completely forgotten everything but that water when he was completely eclipsed by a shadow. Freezing, he began to growl. When Killer heard her friend growling, she reluctantly left her hiding place and crawled through the fence to the base of the tree. Peeking around the corner, she nearly fainted at the sight.


    Max nearly exploded with panic as he noticed the changes to his environment. On both sides of Max’s head were a dog’s paws, either of which was nearly as big as Max. Attached to the paws were two legs almost twice as long as Max’s body. When Max looked up, he saw just inches from his head a dog’s mouth into which he could fit. Staring down at him was a pair of eyes that seemd to Max to be bigger than the entire sky. Between the mouth and the eyes were a pair of nostrils into which Max could fit his entire forepaw. Above the eyes were a pair of ears either of which Max could use as a blanket. Perched askew between the ears was a pink rhinestone tiara with ringlets of fake golden blonde hair. When the two dogs’ eyes met, the giant mouth opened and the ground around Max shook with a single bark. From that angle Max didn’t recognize the Dane that broke from her kennel the night Max and Killer escaped, but Lucy’s tongue licking Max and covering him with slobber from tail to nose and flipping him over caused any dread to evaporate from Max’s heart.


    Killer darted out from her hiding place determined to protect her friend. When the Dane lay down, Killer grabbed one of her hears and started to shake it as fiercely as she could, growling. Lucy simply shook her head and Killer sailed through the air, landing in a heap at the feet of a squealing 6-year-old girl decked out in a pink princess gown. The little girl scooped up Killer and scampered off to her mom, pleading to please rescue the poor little thing. The mom looked at her daughter and saw from the welling tears that the little girl’s birthday wish had changed from a pony to a min pin.


    That night, Lucy and Max slept in the same room. They shared a queen-size mattress bought just for Lucy in a room others would describe as a guest room, but these people described as their Dane’s room. Lucy stretched her long legs all the way across the bed and dangled her toes over the edge and Max used her ear as a blanket. The birthday girl insisted on sleeping in her princess gown and sharing her bed with the new queen of her bedroom. Killer still felt terrified from the giant dog’s head shake and thought she might’ve been a little bruised, so she winced no matter how gently the little girl stroked her. Just before falling asleep, the little girl yawned and whispered “Your highness, I hope you like your new kingdom enough to stay here with me forever and ever. I love you.” Despite the misadventures of the past few months, Killer found herself completely at ease as she licked the child’s cheek once and then fell asleep.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Conversation About What's in the Box

My wife and I have three cats. I'm hoping to get a dog some day. This is the conversation I imagine our cats would say the day I bring puppy home.  Most of this conversation recounts events through courtship and adding cats to the family.

    “Dammit.”

    “What’s wrong?” The queen rolled her eyes at such an obvious question. She could hear the unusual sounds in her domain. There was also the smell. Sure, that smell sometimes came through the window, but never was it this strong. She hadn’t smelled that smell since the end of her nightmare years. These kids had been spoiled. They didn’t know it, but they were spoiled. She plopped down on her favorite pillow and started to tell the story. They had to be warned that the new smell and sound surely meant the years of spoil were over.

    “You know those stinky-breath monsters we sometimes see when we go see the doctors? The ones that don’t seem to be aware of their volume ‘cause they’re always yelling? There was one at the last place I lived. I think they called it stoptryingtoeatthecatyougoodfornothingfleabag or something. I don’t know. At first they called it puppy, and it was wiggly and cute and everything, but then it got bigger and just kept chasing me. Always had that big dopey grin on its face. Cat, I tell you, the day our person took me away from there I was so grateful. I even showed my willingness to share her with the cook when he first started coming over.”

    “He’s our person too, isn’t he?”

    “Oh yeah, forgot about that. When she saved me from the house with that stinky monster, it was just me, her, and the rodent. I kept trying to figure out how to eat the rodent, but he was bigger than my head. Anyway, one day our person brought somebody home. They sat there and talked for awhile. He took off his shoes and sat with his stinky feet on my favorite curling-up spot in front of the couch. I pretended to like the smell of his shoes so she’d think I approved. I even purred a little when he petted me. Guess he liked the purring, ‘cause he started coming around a lot. I guess it was ok, ‘cause he was good at petting. I didn’t want them to think I was glad to see him, so I’d always wait for awhile until getting close enough. Sometimes I’d even stay hidden until he left. Then one day he comes home with this box. A small box with a strange smell and a strange sound coming out of it. I tried eating his hand ‘cause I knew what was in the box, but he mistook my effort for wanting petting and opened the box anyway. He reached in, and out came this tiny little black fluff.”

    “Hey, I remember that day! That’s the day you and I met!” The queen rolled her eyes. She thought she’d taught the others their place, but they always seemed to interrupt. “You were so big back then! Man, I saw you and I really got scared. Then they put me behind a big door and I just started exploring. Cat, that room was a MESS! I kept finding new spots to explore. I wanted to see if the rest…”

    “Alright, you liked exploring. But this is about the new box, remember? SHUT UP.” She knew the others would think she was rude for interrupting them, but she was here first, wasn’t she? They interrupted first, didn’t they? “Anyway, for awhile they kept you behind that door and it was ok. I still got almost as much attention as I wanted. But when they let you out, I was terrified. You really made that room stink! What happened in there?”

    The joker (at least that’s what the queen thought of her) looked down at her paws. “I was too excited. I had lots of fun throwing sand around.”

    “Yeah, but what happened after you grew up?”

    The queen was surprised by the joker’s reaction. She was all black, but it seemed like her nose and the pads of her feet turned red. “I got too big. I couldn’t tell if I was in the sandbox or not. And then the people got that covered one, and I couldn’t turn around, and…” The joker felt horrible. She tried. It’s not her fault she was twice as big as the queen. She remembered the humiliation and let out a tiny sob.

    “Whatever. Anyway, I was terrified they wouldn’t pet me anymore. I had to swallow my pride and plop down on their laps. Our person even told the cook ‘look, she loves you!’ Ugh. As if…”

    “Stop calling him that! He’s our person too! The king sat up, hair on his spine rising. He thought of himself as the king, even though he was the youngest in the group and the others still pushed him around and ignored his effort to push them around.

    “Alright, fine, he’s our person too!” The queen had forgotten that he never knew anything different. As the last newcomer, there was never a time to him that the man’s smell didn’t permeate everything. “Anyway, when the rodent died I thought things would be ok. With the guy coming around pretty regularly, me and a little black furball got lots of attention. I thought that’s the way things were going to stay. One day he comes over and picks her up. When they come home, he doesn’t leave! Sure, he goes away for a few days, but he sleeps here now! The bed used to just have the woman and me because the little black furball couldn’t get on it. Suddenly, this little black furball is twice my size! I was even more terrified at first. But slowly I realized we got along. I and you would say hi to each other sometimes, but mostly we slept on different sides of the house. After the guy moved in, you had his legs and I had hers. We were ok. The place was small, but there was one of them to one of us. We were ok.” She misted up a little bit. Yeah, that place was crowded. So much stuff. Only a few rooms. But it was great. Really great. She set her jaw ‘cause she didn’t want the others seeing her reminiscing. Especially since the boy never knew that place.

    “Anyway, where was I? Oh yeah, the place. We left that place for here and it was amazing. It’s so big here! Really seems like there’s less stuff, too. Our people kept showering love on us, but we could find hiding places if we wanted. And then it happened again. I couldn’t believe it. They wrecked paradise!” She dripped scorn from each word as she said that. She wanted her male subject to know her feelings. She slowly shifted her glare over toward him, but when her eyes beheld him she about lost it. Her amazing, non-verbal disdain for him lost. She did such a good job. Did he catch it? No. He was licking his paw. Probably wasn’t even paying attention. “Fine”, she thought. “No matter where you lay down tonight, I’m kicking you off.” She continued with her story with a sigh. “I had to figure out you, too.” Despite his lack of attention, she wrapped “you” with as much scorn as she could muster. She pointed at the jerk, as she thought of him. He looked up. “Maybe he was paying attention”, she thought, with a satisfied inner smile.

    “Yeah, why did they bring in another? The two of us had this place and our people to ourselves. Sure, there’s that thing with the ears, but it stays in that metal box. No problems from it.”

    The king licked his lips at the mention of that box. He thought to himself, “one day, I’ll get in there. I’ll find out yet how you taste, Mr. Hoppy.”

    The queen hissed. Disruptions. So many disruptions. She couldn’t stand it much more. The hiss wasn’t effective enough. She smacked the jerk with her paw. She thought about smacking the joker, but that one would hiss back. The jerk probably wouldn’t. She was right. He didn’t fight back or run off, but he did start listening again. “I’ve seen pictures of some of those monsters recently. Now that I think about it, I think the guy was trying to choose one. Now they come home with a big, smelly box. Dammit, I think there’s a monster in there. We’re not going to get another moment of peace once that box opens.”

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Mad Mike's Carpet Emporium

The following tale was inspired by a craigslist ad skewered by the fine folks over at YSaC. The ad included the following text:

Real Perishing Rugs – $5500

Handmade Real silk Perishing rug

"Perishing" caused my imagination to get away from me.

    Welcome to Mad Mike’s Carpet Emporium, where we have everything you need to turn your cold, sterile floor into a warm, beautiful, inviting floor. At MMCE, we have everything from astroturf (for you baseball fans who want to turn your home into an homage to your favorite team – bachelors or want-to-be bachelors only) to the most beautiful and elegant Persian rugs. You can offset a beautiful ceramic tile with these luxurious silk, hand-woven conversation pieces. You’ll want all of your friends to leave their shoes at the door and wash their feet before entering any room adorned with these pieces of elegance.

    For a short time, we even have area rugs that speak to the absolute height of luxury and opulence. The rarest of carpets, the most sought-after Perishing rug. This beautiful piece is made from silk spun by the endangered suicide moth. This silk vanishes over time. No two suicide moths spin silk that vanishes at the same rate. These insects are endangered because the unlucky moths die during metamorphosis when their cocoons vanish and they drop to their deaths. Chinese monks have discovered a subspecies of the suicide moth, termed the Russian Roulette moth by people antipathetic to this type of silk. Silk spun by the RR moth lasts the longest of any of the suicide moth subspecies, so the Chinese monks raise these moths in a small, isolated monastery.

    Perishing RR silk rugs are quite rare and very valuable for a second reason in addition to the shelf life of the silk. These beautiful pieces are spun by expert weavers in what is considered China’s most deadly job. When a monk learns his craftwork, he spends years weaving with cheap, every-day silk. He must develop both incredibly artistic skill and the ability to weave flawlessly at lightning-fast speed. After 20 years of practicing with common silk, a monk begins work with the Russian Roulette silk. If the rug begins to vanish before he is finished, he must begin again. As you may understand, the level of stress produced by both the demand for such speed and the perfection required shortens the lives of these monks, but the biggest problem is the suicide rate. Monks who fail to complete more than one rug per week sometimes snap under the pressure and kill themselves. The production of these carpets is as much in danger from the rarity of RR moths as the high turnover rate of monks.

    Fortunately, a very short-lived war termed The Silk War ended any demand for clothes made out of this material. The Silk War began when the emperor of a small, central European country commissioned the finest robes be made from RR silk. When his royal procession began, he wore the most opulent clothing the subjects had ever seen. As he proudly walked through his capital village, the silk rapidly perished, leaving him more than a little embarrassed and completely nude. In his anger he ordered the invasion of his weavers’ home country. Swift military conflict broke out, but was quashed by the defenders when the invading invantry, wearing uniforms made of RR silk, found themselves mid-combat with their anatomy flapping in the breeze.

    If you decide to buy one of these Perishing RR rugs, consider blacking out the windows in the room where you display the carpet. Natural light seems to accelerate the vanishing of the silk. Ensuring that no natural light ever falls on your rug is an investment in the longevity of the piece, but just to be safe, consider keeping the room pitch-black and sealed unless very special company appears.

    Finally, MMCE requires all purchasers of these Perishing RR rugs to sign waivers stating they are aware of the transient nature of their purchases and they will not hold Mad Mike, employees of MMCE, or ACME*, the corporation of whom MMCE is a subsidiary and proud publishers of the ACME product catalog of guaranteed-to-work products, at fault should they be embarrassed by the absence of these beautiful pieces when stars, foreign dignitaries, elected politicians, political candidates, family matriarchs or patriarchs, 3rd-grade teachers, proctologists, urologists, scientologists, astronomers, astrologers, vacuum-cleaner salesmen, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Jehovah Himself, or any other guest is seen into the room only to find scraps of partially-vanished silk and dust bunnies.

    *Fine print: The ACME Corporation stands by its products despite the several lawsuits by one individual, identified only as W.E. Coyote (no address given, residing somewhere in the American Southwest), in which the plaintiff claims to have received faulty merchandise. The ACME Corporation maintains Mr. Coyote used the purchased products in an unsafe manner or in a manner not consistent with the product's intended purchase. The lawsuits remain unsettled, as no judge is willing to hear a case when it is shown that Mr. Coyote continues to use ACME products despite a nearly-endless list of injuries and another nearly-endless list of damages to the local scenery caused by Mr. Coyote while using ACME products.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

The Cat part 3

    She sat at the dining room table, furious. Her daughter knew tomorrow was a school day, so she promised she’d be home by 10. Pauline looked at her watch again. It still said 10:45. As each minute slowly and painfully ticked by, she let herself get more angry. Almost half an hour ago she started getting scared, but then realized anger was a less-terrifying feeling. Her daughter was always a good child growing up, but even the best children caused a few grey hairs and late nights as teenagers. She couldn’t believe Mark wasn’t down here, too. Her anger seemed to double as she thought about her husband sleeping peacefully upstairs and her daughter out there doing - doing - doing whatever teenagers do that cause their parents to worry.

    When the phone rang, she expected it to be her daughter with some flimsy excuse for not being home yet. Pauline grabbed the phone from the table and snarled “What?” into the receiver. Her face went from scarlet to ghastly pale when she heard a timid voice on the other end. It was the type of voice that was bearing bad news.

    “Is this Mrs. Thomas?” Pauline held her breath and struggled to hold back her imagination as she tried to answer in a more calm voice.

    “Yes. What may I do for you?”

    “Mrs. Thomas, this is Gerald Willis calling from the Bedford Retirement and Hospice Center.” Pauline recognized Tiny’s voice an instant before she heard another sound - the furtive turning of a key in a door. She struggled to stand under the dizziness of the relief that her daughter was home, and then she slowly walked through the dining room so she could stand in the entryway.

    “Hi, Gerald. I’m sorry for snapping at you, but I was expecting somebody else.” When Tiny heard the more approachable tone she’d adopted, the timidity faded from his voice. He began explaining that Juan had asked him to call, but Pauline was focused on the girl coming in the door. Milagrita was hoping to sneak into the house, but as she opened the door she could hear her mom’s end of the conversation. She timidly walked in and looked down at her mom’s waist. As Milagrita slowly raised her head to look her mom in the eye, Pauline stood silently, pointing upstairs. When Milagrita saw the outstretched arm, she slowly finished closing the door and began walking upstairs. Finally, Pauline turned her attention back to the phone. “I’m sorry, Gerald, what were you saying? I had a teenager to deal with.”

    “I’m very sorry to have to tell you that your father probably doesn’t have much time left. Mr. Garcia asked that I call you and let you know he thinks there’s only a few days before he passes away.”

    Pauline was still glaring up the stairs toward her daughter’s room. As the caller’s message began to sink in, she grabbed the bannister and eased herself down to sitting on the steps. “Pardon, did I hear you correctly? My dad’s predicting his own death? I’m sorry, Gerald, but it’s been a really rough night. I know my dad’s health has been a little down lately, but I’m sure he’ll bounce back. He’s going to be fine so long as he’s got-”

    “Meph died about a half hour ago, Mrs. Thomas.” There was silence on the phone. He heard deep breathing become a little shallow and punctuated by occasional sniffles. Almost a full minute later, he said, “Ma’am, I am very sorry to bear such bad news this late at night.”

    “My dad told you about his cat? You know the story about how he got it?”

    “Yes Ma’am, I’ve heard Meph’s story. Your dad used to make up stories to entertain a few friends, but slowly the circle of listeners got smaller and smaller. When the last one passed away, your dad seemed really sad without somebody to listen to his stories. So one day I asked him to tell me a story or two. One story led to another, and finally late one night he said there was one story that he kept to himself because nobody’d believe it. Just then Meph hopped up into his lap, and Mr. Garcia said ‘What do you think, Meph? Should I tell him?’ Ma’am, I don’t know if I’d believe it coming from anybody else, but I can see how much Meph meant to Mr. Garcia and how much Mr. Garcia meant to Meph.”

    Pauline sat quietly for about a minute. Tiny could still hear an occasional sniff, so he just sat at the attendants’ station and waited patiently. He knew the cat was a deeply cherished family pet, so he didn’t want to explain that he’d put Meph and the cat bed into a large box and put the box in the trunk of his car. He finally realized, though, that she would probably want to know what would become of the animal. “Mrs. Thomas, I know how deeply your entire family loved that cat. He was such a wonderful character and was so friendly and loving with anybody who approached him and treated him well. Petting him was the first thing I did before punching in and the last thing I did before punching out every day. Your dad and his cat have always been my favorite residents. I would like your permission to bury Meph in my back yard.”

    “Yeah, I guess I’m ok with it. Dad has told me a few times about your visits. I know how much your company has meant to him, so thanks for being there for him. Could you tell my dad we’ll be there as soon as we can?”

    “Yes ma’am, I’ll tell him first thing in the morning.” Pauline thanked Tiny again for visiting with her dad and the cat, and then they got off the phone. She made flight reservations for the next day. On such short notice, she couldn’t find four seats on one plane. She and Milagrita would fly out early in the afternoon and Mark and their younger daughter would follow a couple hours later. Having finished that business, she sat at the dining room table with a box of tissues. Two tissues were drenched with tears before she decided to go to bed. She had one stop to make first, because she knew only one other person in the house was still up. She walked to Milagrita’s room and gently knocked on the door.

    “Mom, I’m really sorry. We were studying, and time got away. There were about four of us, and we started debating...” Milagrita had a speech prepared detailing the arguments that she was having with her boyfriend and their classmates about whether Kennedy was a good president, but she stopped when she saw the dropped shoulders, tear-streaked cheeks, and bloodshot eyes. Pauline walked into her daughter’s room and hugged her, crying softly on her shoulder.


To be continued in The Cat part 4

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Captain Destructo's Crimes

    Captain Destructo was pissed. He paced his lair fuming at this recent turn of events. Ever since the jocks in high school harassed him, he started planning his revenge. He decided in college that he would study computers and programming so he could wreak havoc on the internet. His plan was to cause humiliation to his tormentors and generally vandalize other people through the net. He was so focused on his plans, that his course of actions had brought him here. He turned down good opportunities, but it was worth it if his hard work caused the humiliation and confusion for which he’d hoped.

    But somehow, each of his cyber attacks ended up backfiring. It all started with the pictures of fellow WalMart customers. His intention was to embarrass those who weren’t that style-forward. One of the bullies who picked on him dressed like the Fonz even though it was the 80s. The community of high school geeks all comforted each other by talking about “the Fonz” behind his back, so Destructo figured this would continue. But the cool people ate it up. They turned the site into pictures of very extreme fashion sense and entertainment. The people in the pictures were supposed to be embarrassed by being 30 years out of style, but instead they enjoyed the attention and got to showcase senses of style that were very far removed from the mainstream.

    Fine, but he figured out another way to post humiliating pictures of his tormentors. He created a website where viewers would vote on whether a person were hot or not. But there was some special code that he added to the picture uploader to change some of the facial characteristics. Those who were so absorbed in looking good ended up average, downright ugly in some cases. He was really proud of this script, because it reversed the facial characteristics of his victims. That backfired, too. The good-looking ones got to laugh at each other, even at themselves when they saw what the pictures looked like on that site. They even turned it into a game. Whoever submitted the best picture of themselves usually ended up looking the worst, so they started keeping score. Whoever was voted the ugliest in a week won. At least there was one positive side effect. Since this reversed general facial characteristics, some of the more plain-looking people ended up looking like models. They got a real confidence boost seeing their “hot” score going up. That was great for his friends, but somehow still caused real anguish to him. He turned and looked at the framed picture of his senior prom. He’d taken Emily Fefferman, who was constantly told by the “in” crowd how ugly she was. He fell in love that night as she sobbed on his shoulder. Looking at them in their glasses and rented clothing, he could still feel the warmth of her tears on his neck. Stuck to the corner of the frame was a wedding announcement. Chuck Williams, “Big Bill” as he was called when he was the captain of the football team and biggest stud on campus, saw her picture on the hot/not site. It was her, but of course supermodel her. Big Bill remembered her kindness when he needed a tutor, so when he saw her online he contacted her to apologize for being a prick. Well, now she was Mrs. Big Bill with two little Big Bills and a little Big Feff on the way. Destructo slammed the picture frame against the dirt floor of his lair.

    That taken from him, he decided he’d create a phony online encyclopedia. He would leave it open-source so other tormented souls could post embarrassing faux articles about their bullies. It worked great at first, but then one geek shared the URL with the wrong person. It absolutely exploded in popularity. Experts could share info about their fields of study. Major discoveries in the scientific field could be shared with researchers and the general public almost immediately. The encyclopedia took on a life of its own, and since anybody could update articles, it was becoming a quite authoritative resource for everybody. Sure, he could open up an article and change the content, but almost immediately somebody more knowledgeable would come along and correct it. He laughed with wicked glee when he made himself and Emily homecoming king and queen, but was crushed when Emily herself corrected it almost immediately without anybody else noticing.

    When he saved enough to buy Photoshop, he really started abusing photos of his classmates. Destructo had hours upon hours of glee vandalizing photos from his yearbook and circulating the pictures among his fellow geeks, but once again one geek shared it with the wrong person. Now people were using his site to post disasters from Photoshop. Users of the site got feedback on how to be better at Photoshop and viewers of the site got to laugh non-stop.

    Then, he found a way to both embarrass the bullies and disrupt their online commerce. Destructo had helped a friend named Craig set up a local online auction site. He told Craig he’d do it for free. He put a back door into the programming code and then added a little bit of mischief. One bully went on to be a wildlife photographer who occasionally sold pictures online, so Destructo tagged his name with code that would change the text for his posts. Who would want to buy a picture from a guy who called the striped big cats lions? Well, that worked once, but backfired afterward. The tag malfunctioned, so now random ads about tigers, regardless of who posted them, had the text changed to say “lions”. Some people laughed at the photographer who didn’t know the proper names of big cats, but they stopped laughing when they saw his stunning photography. His business started booming.

    Destructo really should not have set up the auction site for free. He was left out in the cold when it went national. He kept vandalizing Craig’s auction site to work out his frustration. He added code that would randomly replace dollar signs that were followed by numbers with the word “free”. He set up fake ads to get strangers to call his old classmates, but that didn’t seem to work. He didn’t know that nobody wanted the types of stuff he listed, like the boat that had decayed so much, it was just a boat-shaped sandbox. The bot he created to trick bullies into asking his computer for a blind date appeared on his end to be working, but just came out as gibberish. The only things that seemed to work as designed were segments that changed spelling, word order, and pictures associated with an ad. Those ads came out as complete gibberish, but that victory was short-lived. Sitting in front of him was the site that turned his success into yet more failure. Destructo got up and, staring at the site that poked fun at his mangled ads, began yelling “I suck at Criagslist? I suck at Craigslist?! No, YOU SUCK AT CRAIGSLIST!!!” He yanked the dial-up modem from the wall and hurtled it at the image of a tiger timidly dressed as a lion.

    Just then the door to his lair opened. A gravelly, old voice boomed down the rotting stairs. “Dickie? Hey Dickie! Are you going to work today? Those pizzas aren’t going to deliver themselves!” His mom took a few steps into the basement and was shocked. What was once her sewing room had been turned, but by neglect and intention, into a dark, gloomy cave. ” Son, what’d you do down here? That’s it, I’m not using my retirement check for your internet no more!”


To be continued when Captain Destructo faces consequences.

Captain Destructo Faces Consequences

    He couldn't believe the charges. Domestic terrorism? How many counts? Captain Destructo had always been good at math, so it only took a few seconds for him to figure a guilty verdict would put him in jail for the rest of his life. He figured the district attorney was trying to look good in an election year. That was the only reason the charges included one count for each of his "victims". The good news was the faux online encyclopedia he'd created to humiliate those who picked on him had changed so much once he launched it that nobody knew it was his creation, so there were no counts from that. It didn't help though, because there was plenty of bad news. They tried bringing charges for each photo on the other websites he created because they claimed the sites gave bullies an online bullying platform that could be anonymous. Thousands of pictures between the backward style site, the photoshop disaster site and the site that distorted people's pictures meant thousands of counts of domestic terrorism. The judge decided to limit posts they could conclusively prove came from his computer, but Destructo had kept each one in a special folder. At first he thought he'd escaped charges on the auction website, but then that prick Craig came forward and explained some suspicious things he noticed about posts that varied wildly from the material sellers had prepared. His vandalism of that site was automatic, so there was no way to count how many posts had been corrupted. The judge outlined a possible sentence of 5 years for the auction site and 1 year per picture for the other sites. Destructo would certainly rot in prison.

    He had no savings from pizza delivery, so he had to put his fate in the hands of the court-appointed attorney. Destructo gave up all hope when they met for the first time. Apparently court-appointed attorney was code for passing the bar exam on the sixth attempt and picking up cases others deemed as no-win. Rather than a name and law firm, "I think we can plead you down to 60 years" was the introduction the attorney gave. Markus Fishbinder, Public Defender, seemed proud when he came back with a plea agreement for 75 years. Destructo knew he'd be dead meat in prison, so it wouldn't matter if he signed the plea agreement or a jury found him guilty and the judge imposed the sentence she had outlined earlier.

    Just as he was reaching for the pen, he heard the door open. "Don't sign that plea agreement." The man in the doorway was wearing a suit that cost more than Destructo's car.

    "Who are you, and what does it matter if I sign or not? Whether I admit guilt or sit in front of a jury, I'll be in jail longer than I'll be alive."

    "I'm Henry Pritchard from the Smith, Pritchard and Pritchard Law Firm. Your attorney let himself get pressured into accepting a plea bargain that should never have been offered. I'm going to take your case to court and get some real results."

    "I think you might be in the wrong place, Mr. Pritchard."

    Reading the folder in his hand, Henry said "Richard Thomas, Domestic Terrorism, enough charges to lock you up for good. I'm in the right place." He put down an alligator skin brief case and gathered up the papers outlining the plea agreement. He held the agreement and hotel pen in front of him as he walked toward the public defender, who backed away from the intimidating figure until he was outside of the room. Pritchard dropped the bundle and pen at his feet and turned to walk back to Dickie, closing the door behind him. "Mr. Thomas, I can assure you after reviewing your case that you won't have to worry about rotting away in jail. Following precedents, I think we can get you out with time served and community service."

    "Wait, who are you again? And what are you doing here? I can't afford..."

    "I'm a junior partner at a family-run law firm, and I'm taking this case at the request of a mutual friend, who's picking up the tab. That's all you need to know for now."

    Dickie snorted. "Mutual friend? Mr. Pritchard, the only people who have mutual friends with me are junior partners at fast food franchises, not family-owned law firms. Seriously, who..."

    "Seriously, Mr. Thomas, that's all you need to know for now. We have to get some info straight. First, we're going to court. Second, you're not testifying." Pritchard opened his brief case and pulled out a few files. "The prosecutor brought up these charges without considering malicious intent, which is a necessary component for domestic terrorism to stand up in the eyes of a jury." Pritchard continued for a few hours, outlining holes in the prosecution's case and loopholes established by precedent. Dickie tried to keep up, but legal jargon was one thing at which he never excelled. He still felt hopeless until Pritchard laid on the table a document outlining conditions for release on bounty. "Put your trust in me and sign this document. You'll be out in time for dinner with your mom." Almost in a daze, Dickie reached for the gold leaf pen and signed.


To be concluded when Captain Destructo finds redemption.

Captain Destructo Finds Redemption

    It took two months for Pritchard to maneuver through courtroom backlogs and other delays, and during that time he continued to refuse to elaborate on Dickie's benefactor.  Finally, the day came that Dickie found himself sitting at the defense table. He was confident at first, but the prosecuting attorney's opening arguments deflated that feeling. Their software analysts had found 1436 different images that they could prove had been vandalized by Dickie. He sure made it easy for them. He didn't expect any of those to be seen by anybody but him and a couple friends, so he didn't bother trying to obscure his digital tracks. As the prosecutor sat down, Dickie began regretting the confidence he had placed in Pritchard.

    "Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, Your Honor, the prosecution wants to charge my client for domestic terrorism because of 1436 different pictures and software code they claim corrupted attempts by individuals to sell personal items online, conduct online business, or meet others. I intend to show that the prosecution cannot prove malicious intent on my client's behalf. I also intend to show that it is not possible to prove posts corrupted by my client's code would've succeeded as the users originally wrote them. I will finally show that the only charge we can consider against my client is a single case of vandalism because of what he did to online pictures of his senior homecoming." There was an almost audible click in Dickie's brain. Since the first moment they met he thought Pritchard somehow looked familiar, but couldn't figure out why. As soon as the attorney mentioned the online homecoming picture, Dickie figured it out. He had changed the homecoming picture to show him and Emily as the king and queen. Reviewing the case with Pritchard, he had discovered Emily herself had changed it back almost right away, so very few people would've known about it and nobody involved with the prosecution had mentioned it. Dickie started looking around in the audience of the court behind him. Sitting in the back row were Big Bill and Emily. Having seen them face-to-face for the first time in several years, Dickie finally noticed clearly family traits in both Pritchard's and Big Bill's faces.

    Dickie tried to pay attention to the proceedings throughout the day, but his mind kept wandering back to the people in the audience. He kept asking himself why they were here and what prompted them to arrange for Pritchard to take the case. A few things throughout the day caught Dickie's attention, but his mind kept going back to the audience. His mind was so concentrated on Big Bill and Emily that he was completely shocked when Pritchard poked him and hissed "Stand up." Dickie's attention refocused to the front of the court room as everybody stood up and watched first the jury, then the judge walk out. Dickie expected the case to take longer, but prosecution ended their material just in time for lunch. As soon as the bailiff followed the judge, Dickie spun around and tried making his way into the audience to talk to Big Bill and Emily. Pritchard, however, caught his arm and dragged him back to the table. "What's wrong with you? You've been distracted all day!"

    "Yeah, I've been trying to figure out why a bully from high school would arrange for a lawyer to help me."

    "Big Bill's my cousin. He begged me to take the case. He kept saying something about making amends." Pritchard kept talking, but Dickie's mind wandered back to Big Bill and Emily. By the time the lawyer stopped talking, the courtroom had emptied.

    That afternoon, Pritchard spent three hours calling and recalling witnesses and software experts. His line of questioning highlighting the end result of Dickie's sabotage - websites that amused and entertained people - and argued that somebody with genuine malicious intent and Dickie's computer knowledge would have produced damaging viruses or hacked the computers and bank accounts of their targets. During closing arguments it was obvious to everybody that the prosecuting attorney felt beaten, even though he was quite eloquent. When it was Pritchard's turn to close, he simply held up the picture of Dickie and Emily that had been put on the high school homecoming page. "My client replaced the genuine image with this one. What he did was to deface somebody's hard work. For whatever reason he did it, this is the only concrete example we have of an undeniably criminal act - an act that is the electronic equivalent of vandalism. The case of domestic terrorism has absolutely no merit."

    The judge charged the jury with finding justice and excused them to deliberate. After she and the jury left the court room, the prosecution wordlessly set a form on the defense table. "Guilty of vandalism, 6 months in jail plus two years probation and 5 years prohibited from internet access? My client will only accept time served, one year probation. Street vandals aren't banned from buying paint, so he shouldn't be banned from the internet." Dickie still wasn't sure what the jury would decide, so a lump formed in his throat when Pritchard turned down such a light plea deal. He breathed a huge sigh of relief, though, when the prosecuting attorney dropped his shoulders and nodded agreement.

    By the time Dickie and his lawyer had filled out all of the paperwork for the plea agreement, the courthouse was quiet and nearly empty. He was hoping to get to talk with Big Bill and Emily, but he didn't even look around for them. Seeing Big Bill on a bench near the main exit surprised him. Considering their past, Dickie eyed the offered handshake less suspiciously than he thought he would. "Thank you. What do I owe you for getting me a lawyer?"

    Big Bill shook the man's hand with all the warmth and respect he'd held back in high school. "There's no bill. I talked Harry into doing it because I felt horrible for the person I was in high school. I read about the things they'd charged you with and I felt like I was maybe at least partly to blame." Dickie was stunned. He'd never thought of Big Bill as a person with depth enough to notice the consequences of his actions. He felt a little less resentful and a little more understanding toward Emily. "I waited here for you because I wanted to let you know that I regret the things I did back then. The newspaper article said you were delivering a pizza when they arrested you, even though you have a degree in computers. I feel like I helped you fall so low, and I want to help you back up. I own my own car dealership these days, and I sure could use your help. Other dealers have fancy, clean websites that can search for cars. My website is just a picture of me throwing a toy car like a football. I want to offer you a job."

    Dickie couldn't believe his ears. Somebody who once pushed him around was now going out of his way to help. "You'd trust me online, after all I did?"

    "Well, about that, I hope you won't be offended, but not at first. Fool me once, shame on you,..." Dickie and Big Bill ended the phrase together. "What I'd expect is that you would show me every single line of code you write before posting it. That would kinda suck because I’m kinda stupid when it comes to computers, so you’d need to explain what each line does. You'd be working at first on a computer not connected to the internet on a desk in my office, but I think it's reasonable to say after an unofficial probation we could set you up with your own little office and a connected computer. What do you think?"

    Dickie thought back to the prospects he was facing before Pritchard walked into his life and then considered Big Bill's offer. "I just... Well, it seems... There isn't... Ok." As the men turned and headed for the exit, Dickie quietly thought about the other things he could've said. How stupid would I be to turn you down? What kind of miracle fell out of the sky? Am I dreaming? Did I die? Are you God?

    Three months later, Dickie sat in a sparse office at the dealership. The criminal probation was still being enforced, but Big Bill had ended his oversight just a few days earlier. Dickie genuinely appreciated the trust Big Bill had in him, so he put in a full day at the office and kept his nose clean. The evening salesmen were just about to start locking up, so Dickie ended his MMORPG just before shutting down servers and databases.

    "Hi, Richard, do you remember me?" Dickie looked up from his computer and saw the outline of a person. He squinted through the glare of the sunset behind her, trying to make out her face. "Probably not. I was a couple years behind you. You were always keeping a lookout for bullies, so you probably missed seeing me. You even ran right into me one time trying to get away from Big Bill. I'm sure you don't remember, but he stopped chasing you that day because he was helping me pick up what I dropped. I always felt bad about what he and the others put you through, so I used to go to chess team practices and tournaments to cheer you on. But I was too scared to cheer and break your concentration, so I just held my breath and kept my fingers crossed."

    Vague memories of a freckled redhead began to come back. "Melody... something. Melody, Melody,..."

    "Mickler. You probably remember my sister Sandy. Hell, everybody remembers Sandy. She was a cheerleader."

    Dickie snorted. "Sandy Mickler wasn't a cheerleader. She was the cheerleader. Captain of the squad, Miss Popular, the whole nine yards. I remember during senior year the cheerleader lunch table had one person that didn't look like she quite belonged. Not on the squad, all advanced ed classes, skipped sophomore year. Was that you?" The redhead blushed a little, but of course Richard couldn't see with the sunset in his eyes.

    A soft voice crept out from behind the red curls that cascaded down her face as she looked at her feet. "Yeah, my parents always said I deserved to be more than just a wallflower, so they had Sandy drag me along with her friends for a while. They started liking me when they figured out I was a patient tutor." Remembering the experience of being pulled into the in crowd, Melody's voice slowly strengthened as she looked up. "I kept a close eye on the case, and I was really glad to see how it turned out. I'm visiting Sandy and her boyfriend, and I thought I'd come by and see if I could buy you dinner."

    Dickie looked at the picture frame that he had smashed to the ground two days before being arrested. It once held a picture from homecoming, but now had a picture of the bride and groom from the Fefferman-Williams wedding. "I'm just closing up, but let me make one phone call before leaving." Big Bill had told him earlier that week to stop saying thank you. As he reached for the phone, Dickie thought that Big Bill would hear it one more time.