Category Archives: Fiction

Balloons Under the Boardwalk (Part 2)


Betsy slithered beneath the boardwalk, tactfully navigating her way through the shattered shells, broken glass, and ripped condoms. The varying colors of the latex made it look like a graveyard for balloon animals.

Sand fell between the planks, dusting her scalp with dirt at each stranger’s step. These showers couldn’t be avoided. The most she could do was to keep the sand from getting into her eyes.

It was worth it, though, for Betsy to indulge in one of her favorite pastimes – eavesdropping on other people’s conversations. Betsy loved skulking beneath the boardwalk’s shade, tracking unwitting targets above.

It was a bottomless well of intrigue. There was talk of romance and crushes – who liked whom. There were debates – vigorous back-and-forth exchanges about bands, television shows, movies, and even food. There was gossip – scandalous secrets, lies and hearsay. And best of all, there were fights – enemies exchanging barbs, friends betraying each other’s confidence…

The best were husbands and wives taking thinly-veiled swipes at one another, all in an easily decipherable code that wasn’t doing enough to shield their traumatized kids.

In some ways she found it saddening; in others, deeply comical. But she also found it enviable. Betsy had had a stutter for as long as she’d known how to talk. She could never express herself so clearly or so directly as the people above her.

She savored their conversations. Each tasty morsel of dialogue rattled down through the cracks of that rickety wooden walkway. Down they tumbled into the shadows, like so much loose change, just begging to be collected.

The trick was knowing which trails to follow. Betsy knew better than to get caught listening to some boring conversation. She once spent 45 minutes listening to two old ladies compare medical ailments, doctors visits, prescription pill routines, and dietary habits. She stuck with it, vainly hoping something interesting might come up.

No such luck, but banality of the banter better prepared her for future missions.

She learned not to hone in on one conversation too quickly. Instead, she would dangle her attention in the blurring cacophony of carnival music, arcade games and chatter until it hooked into a promising lead. Then she’d follow it wherever it went. Often, it took her nowhere, but occasionally, the destination made the whole journey worthwhile.

This was what she was doing now, cycling her attention through the conversations transpiring above – like a blind channel surfer.

And that’s when she heard it…

Two sets of feet building from a slow walk into a near jog. Then, two girls giggling in a way that soon broke into laughter. They sounded like they were close to Betsy’s age, in either junior high or high school. She could tell because the laughter sounded familiar, it wasn’t boisterous and warm, like that of a shared experience. It was the laughter of ridicule, like a minimal effort was being made to suppress it on behalf of the humiliated party. It was chilling.

“Oh my God! Oh my God! Oh my God!” one clamored to the other.

Betsy followed.

“Okay, yeah, that was totally Kirk!” the second girl confirmed.

“I know! Oh my God, what is he doing? What a weirdo!”

“I can’t believe he gave you a balloon! Can we please talk about that?”

“Ugh. I know, so weird. He’s not watching is he?”

“No, no. We’re fine.”

“He’s so gross. You should see the way he looks at me in gym class. I ignore him. It’s not even funny.”

“What are you going to do with it? Take it home with you? Keep it as an undying symbol of Kirk’s love for you?”

“Gross, no. I don’t know.”

“Let’s pop it!”

“No, that’s too mean. I’ll just let it go or something once we get a little further away. I don’t want him to see.”

“Yeah he might stalk or kill you or something. Oh my God, like John Wayne Gacey!”

“Ew. I don’t think he’s that bad. But… ugh it’s just weird. Like, I don’t want your balloon Kirk. I’m not fucking five years old and you’re dressed as a fucking clown!”

Uproarious laughter ensued.

“BWAAHAHAHAHA! I know right! Oh my God. Kirk Franklin dresses like a clown on the boardwalk… I am going to tell EVERYONE at school.”

Betsy stopped walking and let the girls carry on. She felt bad for this boy, Kirk. And she felt anger towards these two girls, these two nameless, faceless, careless girls.

That’s m-mmmm. M-Mean!” she stammered quietly.

Betsy tried practicing the word ‘mean’ a few more times before ducking out from under the boardwalk to find the nearest set of stairs. The sand was hot and the sun was almost blinding, but she could still see them as they walked off into the distance.

One was blonde, the other brunette. Both were thin. They wore short shorts and tank tops. The dark-haired one looked back, but it was hard to make out her face. When she turned away again the blonde one held out her arm and let go of the heart-shaped balloon she was holding.

Betsy turned in the opposite direction, and started walking. About a block down she saw him.

The face paint, the red nose, the rainbow wig… The green and white striped shirt and red suspenders, the goofy hat, and yellow pants… He looked ridiculous alright. No wonder those girls made fun of him.

The kid was practically asking for it… Except he wasn’t…

So he’s a clown. Hadn’t these girls never seen a clown before? And he gave them a balloon. That’s nice. At least he’s doing something. He’s out there. He’s trying.

Betsy watched from a distance. She faded back a bit, trying to disappear into the crowd as she watched this oddity before her.

Kirk smiled and waved at the public, trying to get the attention of kids. Some cried or ran away. But others laughed and humored him. For those children, the ones that stayed, Kirk made balloon animals.

That’s pretty impressive,” Betsy thought. “It does look kinda like a dog, I guess.”

The kids that got them were genuinely happy.

Then there was juggling. Also impressive.

A small crowd gathered at one point. And when he finished they applauded. Some gave him money.

Only then, at the culmination of the juggling performance did Betsy realize how much time she’d spent watching Kirk clown. She shook her head, trying to erase the entire memory, and began walking away.

Then she stopped and turned around once more. She walked up to Kirk who smiled a big grin and waved an exaggerated wave.

He gestured towards his flaccid balloon, and Betsy shook her head yes.

The clown held his finger to his lips and struck a pose of deep thought. Then he pointed to an imaginary light bulb above his head. He reached for some more balloons and started filling them with air from a canister. His fingers worked nimbly, folding and weaving, and bending the latex.

After he finished, he held it out. He’d made a dolphin. There was no way he could have known this, but dolphins were Betsy’s favorite animal. She took it, smiled warmly at him and mouthed the words “thank you.”

As she turned to walk away with her prize, as Kirk waved goodbye and blew her a kiss.


Balloons Under the Boardwalk (Part 3)


The crowd was mostly quiet but Kirk felt like he was killing it.

It was the first time he’d juggled plates instead of bowling pins and he didn’t break even one. He’d always broken at least one when he practiced at home.

Rather than make a bunch of small balloon animals the audience wouldn’t be able to see, he made a giant giraffe. Even a coulrophobic could be impressed by that. Couldn’t they?

The magic tricks, while hardly dazzling, passed as illusions. The magic rope, the rings, the wand tricks, all of it.

He even heard some gasps and a distinct “Woo!” as he wrapped up his finale with a somersault.

A show simply couldn’t go any more smoothly for him.

Even still, there was a smattering of boos as Kirk danced off stage. (They were high school kids after all.) But mostly there was polite applause and a few cheers.

As he made his way backstage he ran into the next act, which happened to be a mime. He’d seen her getting ready earlier, practicing and touching up her face paint. She’d been watching in silence the whole time. As they bumped into one another the mime smiled a big grin and gave Kirk two thumbs up.

He was about to say good luck, when he heard the host’s voice over the PA system: “That’s Knick-Knack the clown everyone! Give it up for Knick-Knack!”

There was another polite round of applause.

Next up, we have a mime,” the voice said. “Everyone welcome Oddball!”

Music cued up and Oddball donned her smile. She ran out on stage and pretended to slip and fall as the spotlight caught up to her. Or at least Kirk hoped she was pretending.

Oddball started off with some standard mime fair. She pulled on a rope. She pretended to eat a carrot like Bugs Bunny. She was trapped in a box.

Kirk felt like he could have done better, but Oddball seemed pretty new at this, and he was happy she was trying. He knew being a clown was tough, but mimes always seemed to get it worse.

And with that thought, the crowd started booing. It wasn’t a smattering, either. It was a bass-y roar, the kind that overwhelms.

Oddball worked for a few more seconds but then froze. This time it wasn’t part of the act. The boos had sunk in and she’d hit the wall. The sound reverberated through her body making her feel hollow. She became acutely aware of her rising body temperature as sweat soaked through her black and white striped shirt.

A few more long seconds passed and then Oddball fled, running off stage as fast as she could. Again, she slipped and fell. This was the only time during her act that audience members laughed. Others gasped in horror. A few let out a rubber-necking “Oooooh.”

Oddball got up and finished her trot off stage.

The voice from the PA chimed in like God chiding his flock from on high.

Oh no, no, no,” it said. “Everybody give Oddball a hand. Come on now. Be respectful. Give her a hand.

With that more people applauded, trying to salvage the situation and a scrap of Oddball’s self-esteem. But it was far too late for that.

Kirk turned to follow where the fleeing mime had run. He asked one of the other talent show performers where she’d gone and was directed to one of the dressing rooms. There she sat with her head down in her arms crying.

Are you okay?” Kirk asked.

There was no response. Just more sobbing.

God, that’s a stupid question. I’m sorry. Is there something I can get for you?”

Again, Oddball said nothing, but this time she lifted her head.

Her make-up was smeared and running from the tears streaming down her face.

Sweaty, sad, and breathless, the mime shook her head ‘no.’

Okay, well I thought you did okay,” he said. “You’re going to be fine, trust me.”

Inhaling one more deep breath and letting it out, Oddball pinched her fingers at the corner of her mouth, dragged them across her lips, and turned them.

Oh, right. Of course.” Kirk said. “Mime’s don’t talk.”

The mime sniffled and looked down.

Okay. Well, clowns do and let me tell you, I’ve been booed, and yelled at, and jeered lots of times. I’ve had people call me names and throw things at me.

And you know what I do when they do that stuff?” he asked.

I keep performing. When they boo, I act sad. When they call me names, I play along. When they throw things at me, I juggle them. Because I’m a clown. And if the audience is doing all that stuff, they’re being entertained. I’m getting a rise out of them. I’m doing my job.

Of course I want to make people smile. Of course I want to make them laugh and I do – the happy ones anyway. But the truth is, unhappy people don’t laugh. And they don’t smile. They boo and they jeer. Nothing else makes them feel quite so good. And that’s not a reflection on you, it’s a reflection on them.”

I’ll leave you alone now,” he said.

Having said his peace Kirk turned to leave. Then he felt a slight tug. He turned around and Oddball hugged him. Hard. Her face was still wet and he could feel it.

You’re fine Oddball,” he said. “You really knocked’em dead out there.”

They both laughed, even though mimes aren’t supposed to.


Balloons Under the Boardwalk (Part 4)

(Part 1, Part 2, Part 3)

Having given up on Julie, Kirk decided to try his luck online once more.

When he signed back into his  dating profile he was surprised to find he already had a message from someone with the handle “BubbaBetsy.”

The message simply read: “Howdy.”

Kirk looked at the young lady’s profile and was surprised to see she was rather pretty. It felt odd to him, like it might be a trap. Traditionally, he had been the one to message pretty girls. Then he’d wait patiently for them to not respond. In fact, he’d recently given up on pretty girls almost entirely. So this was unusual.

Kirk didn’t know how to respond. He tried several variations on the word hello beginning with “Hey!” and ending with “Howdy yourself.”

Ultimately he settled on: “Hi.”

The entirety of the message read like this:

From: ClowninAroundTown

To: BubbaBetsy

Hi. I’m Kirk. What’s your name? Do I know you from somewhere? You look vaguely familiar.

He got a response a few hours later…

From: BubbaBetsy

To: ClowninAroundTown

Hi Kirk. I’m Betsy. No. I don’t think we have met before. But we should. Why don’t you take me out for some drinks?

This can’t be real,” Kirk thought when he read it. “It’s definitely a trap.”

Kirk looked over to his cat.

What do you think Topper?”

Topper said nothing.

Well, alright,” Kirk said. “If you think it’s a good idea.”

Kirk messaged Betsy back and they set a date for the weekend.

Kirk got to the bar first, which was typical. He liked to be ahead of schedule, to be a gentleman.

Betsy arrived a few minutes later. She found him quickly and greeted him with a hug.

Hi, Betsy,” Kirk said with his most practiced personable smile.

Howdy, Kirk,” Betsy said.

From there the conversation flowed smoothly. Kirk and Betsy talked about their day jobs and families. They grew up in the same area. They went to the same high school, though Kirk was a year older and graduated ahead of her.

They were a few beers deep and talking about music when Betsy’s stutter finally slipped out.

F-f-f-fff Fugazi!” she said.

Kirk was taken aback.

S-sorry,” Betsy said. “Sometimes I stutter. Especially when I’ve been d-d-drinking. Or if I’m nervous”

Kirk couldn’t help but laugh a little.

I’m sorry,” he said. “I don’t mean to…”

Betsy stopped him there.

It’s okay,” she said. “I know it sounds ridiculous. It is kind of funny. I’ve been working on it all my life. I can control it most of the time. Sometimes, it just s-slips out though. It’s embarrassing.”

Oh no, don’t be embarrassed,” Kirk said. “I actually, genuinely, 100% find it endearing.”

Really?” she asked.

Yes. Really. I promise. I think it’s cute.”

Okay,” Betsy said. “Well, that’s my s-secret. What’s yours? You have to have one.”

It was at that point in the conversation that Kirk knew the time was right. He didn’t want to make the same mistake he did with Julie. And this was the perfect chance to share something embarrassing about himself.

I guess my secret would be that I’m a clown,” he said. “Like, an honest-to-goodness clown. I juggle, make balloon animals, I do magic… the whole nine yards. I’m a clown. That’s it. I’m a clown.”

Betsy looked mortified.

Oh wow. I can tell by your expression, you don’t like clowns…”

Betsy stared at Kirk coldly.

A clown killed my father,” she said.

What?” Kirk asked laughing. “You’re kidding, right?”

Betsy pushed back with deadpan delivery.

N-no. I’m serious.”

What? Come on,” Kirk said. “How could that possibly be?”

Betsy took a deep breath and began to explain…

I was really young. We were at the circus, my whole f-family and I. All the clowns were out. They were running around the crowd trying to get people to participate. Then this one clown, the lead clown, just settled on my dad randomly. He led him down to the ring to be a part of the act.”

Kirk was skeptical but he listened intently.

It s-started out pretty normal,” Betsy went on. “The clown did a stern imitation of my father, putting his hands on his hips and frowning. Then he pulled a n-never-ending stream of rainbow handkerchiefs out of my dad’s ear. He went side-to-side behind his back…

Then,” Betsy said choking up, “he led my dad over to the elephant. He crouched down by the elephant’s foot and lifted it into the air. The elephant was just holding it up on its own, like it was trained, but the clown stood there under his f-foot pretending to hold it up with one hand.

Then he motioned for my dad to stand under the elephant’s foot with him and prrre-tend to hold it up.”

Oh no,” Kirk said, seeing the whole travesty playing out in the theater of his mind.

There they both were, standing right under the elephant’s foot,” Betsy said, now starting to cry. “The audience applauded. Then the c-clown put his finger up and gestured to my dad, like ‘Wait a minute, one second,’ you know? And he walked out from under the elephant’s foot, leaving my dad there to pretend like he was holding it up him-himself.

And then…” Betsy broke down. She put her face into her hands and started sobbing.

Kirk leaned forward wondering if he should hold her.

And then,” she sniffled. “And then… I… I can’t believe you’re buying this!”

Betsy brought her head up from her hands and she was laughing.

Oh come on!” Kirk said. “I can’t believe you! You really had me going there! That’s not even funny. That’s just mean!”

Kirk had half a mind to get up and walk away right there. But there was no way. He knew deep down that he liked it. He liked Betsy’s story. He liked Betsy.

She looked at him again, this time nicely, and said: “I like that you’re a clown, Kirk.”

Oh yeah?” he asked.

Yeah,” Betsy said smiling and focusing on him and her words. “And you know something else? I have more secrets.”

Oh, really?” Kirk said, trying not to sound too excited.

Mmhmm. But you don’t get to find them all out at once,” Betsy said. “You’re going to have to work for them.”

That was a challenge Kirk was excited for.

The rest of the date went well. So, they went out on a few more. Kirk learned all about Betsy and her uncommon habits and hobbies. None of them were enough to scare him off. Not until it finally came time to see Betsy’s apartment, anyway.

She made him dinner and opened a bottle of wine before finally breaking the news.

Kirk,” she said, putting on her serious face. “I’ve told you a lot these past few weeks, but there’s one more thing you need to know about me.”

Oh no,” Kirk thought. There had to be something. This girl was too good to be true.

Is she really a man?” he wondered, not sure if even that would be enough to drive him away. “Is she dying? Is she related to me somehow?”

What is it?” he asked.

I can’t tell you.”

What do you mean you can’t tell me? You said there’s something I have to know. But you’re not going to tell me?”

I just can’t. I literally cannot tell you.”

I don’t understand,” Kirk said.

Hold on.”

Betsy went into her bedroom and shut the door. Kirk sat there alone on the couch, frustrated and nervous.

When Betsy came out, she was wearing mime makeup and a black bodysuit. She pretended to be stuck in a box, then walked hard against the wind, before running to jump on his lap.

Kirk was shocked.

What the heck?!” was his startled exclamation. “No. No way.”

Kirk pushed Betsy off his lap and stood up.

I mean, a mime?! Are you serious?”

Betsy was shocked, too. She didn’t know what to say.

Kirk walked to her door.

A mime?” he asked, looking back one more time with disgust. “I’m not dating a mime.”

Then he walked out and closed the door behind him.

K-K-Kirk!” Betsy shouted.

She got up and ran to the door.

When she opened it, he was still standing there, smiling.

I love mimes,” he said.

Betsy was still crying a little. But she smiled too.

Kiss me you b-b-b-bastard,” she said.

Balloons Under the Boardwalk (Part 1)

Kirk sat at the dinner table toying nervously with the handkerchief on his lap. His hands unconsciously folded and unfolded it. He crunched it in his palms, hoping to soak up some of the sweat.

He tried to display more poise above board, but his eyes wandered and his breath got shallow.

It wasn’t a full-fledged panic attack, but he could feel that familiar tightness in his chest and his stomach bubbled like seltzer.

Finally, Julie touched his hand.

Are you okay,” she asked. “What’s wrong? You’re making me nervous.

Julie was a nice woman. As an elementary school teacher, she must be accepting, Kirk thought. In fact, in a way, she’s something of a performer herself.

Kirk pictured Julie standing in front of a room full of kids, 12, 13, 14 years old; their hormones raging, their attention spans short.

Some grease paint might actually be to her benefit. It would keep the boys from being distracted by her round features and full lips. Some oversized pants and a colorful shirt, paired with the right scarf, would suit her Rubenesque frame rather nicely. At the very least, it would disguise her large breasts.

On the other hand, her voice was anything but comical. He could hear the inner authoritarian when she asked…

Are you going to dump me?”

No!” Kirk shot back, feeling the pressure.

Then what is it? What’s going on?”

There’s something I have to tell you,” Kirk said.

Julie slumped her shoulders.

Great,” she thought. “He’s been hiding something from me… lying to me.”

Her mind shot through all the possibilities: He’s married… He has kids…. He got his dick shot off in a war…

Whatever it is, I knew it,” she steamed to her inner-self. “I never should have done this. You meet these guys online and they never turn out to be who you they say they are. They hide behind masks.”

In a brief but morbid sideshow, Julie flashed back to the last man she’d met online. His name was Kristof. He’d said he was an “art dealer.” How exciting that was! They dated for a few weeks before she found out what he really did was buy junk at yard sales, just to turn around and sell it on ebay for a modest profit.

When she finally visited his house for the first time, the “art” she found piled waist high included broken toys (a Simon Sez, old Nintendo games, Super Soakers, pogs…), some old tea kettles next to an open bottle of polish, at least three scooters and a blunt “samurai” sword. Indeed, Kristof’s “studio” was a menagerie of misbegotten memorabilia.

Also, his real name was just Kris… with a ‘K’… Kris Krueger…

Now, who was this?

It’s nothing… bad,” said Kirk. “At least, I don’t think so…”

Okay,” Julie said softening slightly. Suddenly, her brain re-calibrated and her anger gave way to more fear and guilt — “Oh my God, maybe he’s sick… He’s got some kind of a mental problem!”

Finally, she broke.

Jesus Christ, Kirk, just spit it out!” she blurted. “What is it? Do you have cancer or something? Kids? A wife? A second life? An STD? What?!”

I’m a clown!” Kirk screamed in a whisper.

There was an awkward silence.

What?” Julie asked. “Like… What? Is that a metaphor? Or do you mean an actual big shoes, big red nose, face-painted, small car-driving, McDonald’s-peddling clown?”

A clown-clown. Like… Yeah, like with the paint and the costume.”

Jesus Christ,” Julie said, again slumping down in her chair.

Are you mad?” Kirk asked.

Julie tried to get a handle her feelings, but couldn’t.

What was she feeling now?

Not anger. Not guilt. Not empathy. Surprise? Yes. Disappointment? Yes, closer. Disgust? Not quite… but maybe.

No. No, I’m not mad. I just don’t understand… So when exactly are you a clown?”

Weekends mostly.”

At what? Kids’ birthday parties? Hospitals?”

More just, like, in the street… Street performing.”

Again, Julie blinked her eyes and shook her head in disbelief.

So. On the weekends you dress up like a clown, and entertain people in the street…”


Okay… Well, that’s interesting.”

So you’re not mad?”

No, I’m not mad. I mean, if that’s what you’re into.”

Do you not like clowns? Some people are scared of them, which is why I was afraid to tell you. A lot of people don’t like clowns. So if it’s something you can’t deal with…”

Oh, I can deal with it. I’m not afraid of them or anything. It’s just… I didn’t expect it. And now we’re sitting here, and I keep picturing you as a clown. When did you start clowning, or become a clown or whatever? Did you go to clown college?”

Not college. Camp. I started doing magic as a kid, juggling, too. I even tried ventriloquism.”

Oh my God, please tell me you still don’t do ventriloquism.”

Oh I don’t! No, I wasn’t any good. I guess I still do have the dummy… But I don’t practice with it anymore… It’s just more of a prop.”

Julie brought her hands to her face, afraid that her disbelief would morph into flat-out laughter. She managed the stifle the impulse and nodded, encouraging Kirk to continue.

Anyway. My parents wanted to encourage me, so they let me go to a magic camp. Then, there were other kids and counselors and instructors. It was a lot of fun, actually. I learned new tricks and all about the history of magic and clowning. We worked on improv and developed these comedy routines.

That’s where it started. I just started doing it. In the summer, I would go up to the boardwalk and entertain people. I handed out balloons. It was my summer job. A lot of kids worked summer jobs. They were lifeguards, cashiers, delivery boys… I was a clown. No one knew. I didn’t tell anyone.”

Did you hang out with other clowns?” Julie asked. “From school or anything?”

No. I didn’t have any, I mean, many friends in school. I’d see people from school sometimes, when I was clowning, but they wouldn’t recognize me. I gave a girl I liked a balloon once. She had no idea it was me.”

Aw. That’s sweet,” Julie cooed. And for the first time, Kirk felt she wasn’t judging him.

She was listening, empathizing… maybe even… accepting?

It was sweet. And that’s how I got my start. I don’t really do many paid gigs. It’s mostly just for the fun of it. Like I said, street performing and stuff. I don’t like kids’ parties. They’re kind of a nightmare, actually. Most of the time, the kids aren’t even interested. The parents just don’t know how else to kill time or entertain a bunch of children at a party, so they hire a clown.

It goes over like a lead balloon animal,” Kirk said, feeling uneasy at his own bad joke.

Julie forced out a small laugh and excused herself to the bathroom.

When she came back she noted it was late and that they ought to go.

As they parted, Kirk caught her watching as he climbed into his Prius. It was uncomfortable.

Later that week, Kirk decided to text Julie. It’d been a few days since they’d last spoke. Maybe she’d be available that weekend. He wrote out a couple rough drafts before settling on something breezy. Then he killed an hour or so, watching an old Marx Bros. film with his cat, Topper.

No reply came.

Kirk looked at the pistol on his coffee table and began toying with it. He spun the gun around. It twirled to face the wall. He spun it again, landing on Topper.

Don’t worry, little guy,” he said. “One more time.”

Finally the barrel pointed towards Kirk. He picked it up, held to the side of his head, let out a deep breath and pulled the trigger.

Out popped a flag with the word ‘Bang!’ on it.

Part 2

Sprinkles On Top

Chapter 1: The Love Lab

The laboratory was… unusual. A Costco-sized warehouse, filled with the whirring echoes of humming electricity. There were cavernous vats of jelly laced with with clear tubes pumping what appeared to be blood.

The floors were sticky like a movie theater’s. The lab notes, loose papers, doodles, and drawings  were sticky, too, pasted to the countertops like lollipops to a sidewalk.

Commander Cortasche peeled a book up off a desk, and flashed an incredulous look at Dr. Wildadoo.

“The Love-A-Lot Bears and the Magic Rainbow Romp?” he asked

“Yes. It’s my daughter’s,” Wildadoo replied. “It’s what gave me the idea.”

An awkward silence ensued. The doctor fumbled with his glasses as he pulled them from his labcoat and slid them onto his face. He put his hands in his pockets and then quickly pulled them back out, gesturing towards the commander.

“These bears, you see, they love… a lot. I mean they love evvvvverything. They use the power of love to solve all of their problems – from petty arguments to sinister outside forces. Reading this book, to my little girl, I thought: ‘What an amazing idea! What if we could do that? Maybe love, love like these bears possess, is all we need to defeat ISIS.”

Cortasche had been a commander for 25 years, and this was the dumbest thing he’d ever heard. He adjusted his monocle, took a closer look, and frowned a discerning frown.

“I don’t like it,” he said. “I think we should use grizzly bears. Angry, wild, genetically enhanced grizzly bears. We could drop them down with some parachutes.”

“No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no,” Wildadoo said “No!”

“No. Those bears would die in that climate. Even if they didn’t, they’d just get shot. These bears are different. The terrorists won’t shoot them right away. They’ll at least, you know, hear them out first. They’ll come to realize that they’re going about things all wrong.”

“I see,” Cortasche said. “Well, what if the terrorists don’t listen?”

“In the unlikely event that the terrorists don’t respond to the Love-A-Lot bears positively… And, again, from what I’ve seen in these books, and the cartoon, that is a very slim possibility…” Wildadoo went on. “Well then, in that case, I’ve rigged the bears to explode. They’ll blow up and kill as many enemy combatants as they can.”

Cortasche struggled to get his mind around what he was hearing.

“How did you get funding for this?” he asked.

Wildadoo chuckled.

“Let’s just say, we at Amore Armaments have made some very generous campaign contributions.”

Cortasche chuckled, too.

“Haha. Of course,” he said.

Dr. Wildadoo laughed.


Then, Cortasche laughed back even louder.

“Ahaha. Hahahahahahahhhaha…”

Soon both were laughing.


Then they got tired and stopped. It grew awkward once more.

“Oh,” Dr. Wildadoo said, noticing an open valve. “I left the Happy Gas on. That’s what gives the bears their congenial spirits.”

Gives them?” Cortasche asked. “So they already exist?”

“Oh yes,” Wildadoo replied. “They’re very real. I had a few…. um… mishaps… early on… Some what, I think, more unforgiving observers might call… abominations, I suppose. But these are good. I believe in this latest batch. Initial interactions with them have proven quite pleasant indeed… Would you like to meet them?”

“Yes,” Cortashe said. “Yes, I most certainly would.”

“One moment,” Wildadoo said, walking briskly towards a door.

The doctor pulled a lever and left the room. Minutes later he returned holding the door open behind him.

“Come in. This way. Don’t be shy,” he said.

Five four-foot tall bears came bounding into the room. They were each different a color: blue, red, green, yellow, and purple.

“Commander Cortasche, allow me to introduce, Sprinkles, Ruby, Ollie, Sunshine, and Milkshake.”

“We’re the Love-A-Lot Bears!” they shouted in unison.

“The pleasure is all mine,” Cortasche said. He was totally stunned.

Stunned… and moved. He could feel the warmth radiating from their little teddy tummies. Their bodies were soft as marshmelllows. Their fur was as gentle as a kitten’s. Their affectionate enthusiasm was infectious.

“Are you with the military?” Sprinkles asked.

“We LOVE the military!” Ollie interjected.

“I taught them that.” Wildadoo whispered.

“Yes. Yes, I am,” Cortasche told the bears.

“Papa Doctor says you need our help!” shouted Ruby.

“Is there something we can do for you?” asked Milkshake. “We’d just LOVE to help the military!”

“Why yes,” Cortasche responded. “I believe there is.”

“I recently lost an operative… I mean, a friend of mine. He was taken by some… not-so-nice people.”

The bears gasped.

“Yesss. I was hoping maybe you could convince them to let him go…”

“If we can help, it’d be our pleasure sir!” Sprinkles yelled.

The bears cheered.

“With the power of love, we can accomplish anything!”

Commander Cortasche turned back to the doctor.

“Well,” he said. “Nothing else has worked so far. Let’s give it a shot.”

Chapter 2: A Sticky Situation

Flying low through the night, the helicopter churned its way over the barren desert landscape.

Commander Cortasche’s voice came through the bears headsets: “Down there,” he said. “That’s the ancient city of Palmyra. It’s 4,000 years old.”

“I love history!” Milkshake shouted.

“Well, enjoy it while you can,” Commander Cortasche said. “These men you’re going to visit are destroying it. Piece by piece, they’re tearing it all apart.”

The bears were confused.

“Why?” Sunshine asked.

“Like I told you,” Cortasche responded. “They’re not very nice.”

The helicopter ride carried on to the city of Raqqa.

“We’re going to let you off here,” said the commander. “The city is just north. Here’s a picture of the man you’re looking for. Find him and see if you can’t convince him to let our friend go.”

“Will do!” Sprinkles shouted.

The bears climbed out of the copter amid a cloud of swirling dust. They all agreed they loved helicopter rides.

As they made their way into the city, the sun started to rise. The bears were disappointed by what it shed light on.

The city itself was largely a ruin – slightly more modern, but no more furbished than the 4,000-year-old Palmyra. Women and children gathered in long lines, too tired, too exasperated, too hungry and too thirsty to be moved by the sight of five cheery bears meandering through the streets.

“This isn’t what I expected,” Ruby said. “I don’t know what I expected, but this isn’t it.”

“I don’t love this,” Ollie agreed.

None of the bears loved it. They hated it, and as their walk continued, they grew more and more upset.

“It’s okay,” Sprinkles said, trying to cheer up his comrades. “I bet with enough love, caring and generosity we can turn this all around.”

The rest of the bears agreed, albeit half-heartedly.

Eventually, Sprinkles spotted a man that looked like the one they were looking for. They composed themselves and set about their task.

“Hello Sir!” Sunshine shouted. “We’re the Love-A-Lot Bears and we want to be your friend!”

The man looked surprised at first, and then scared and angry. He pulled his AK47 up to his shoulder and pointed it at the bears. They each stepped back slowly.

“Uhhh Sprinkles,” Ruby whispered. “What do we do now?”

“No need for that,” Sprinkles comforted. “We’d just like to talk. We mean no harm. We bring only love and the offer of friendship.”

The man shouted at them in a language they didn’t understand. Then he gestured with his gun and the bears started walking. They went a couple of blocks before being ushered into a shabby building. There, the bears were led into a dark room.

“This is good,” Sprinkles said. “I think this is where we wanted to go.”

The man with the gun left the room and locked the door behind them. About 15 minutes later he came back with another bearded gentleman.

“What are you?” the man asked in English.

The bears were relieved to hear their native tongue.

“We’re the Love-A-Lot Bears,” Sprinkles said.

“Fareeq, here, says he found you in the city,” the man replied. “Where did you come from? Who brought you here?”

“The U.S. military!” Milkshake blurted. “They brought us here in a helicopter. It was lots of fun!”

The man grew very serious.

“Why?!” he shouted. “What do you want?! What are you?!”

“We’re the Love-A-Lot Bears,” Ollie repeated. “And we don’t want anything but friendship.”

“And,” Sprinkles added, “If it’s not too much trouble, we think it’d be really nice if you let us have our friend back.”

The two men looked at each other.

“Your friend?” Fareeq asked. “You mean the American spy?”

“I guess so,” Sprinkles said.

Fareeq turned to his partner, and nodded towards the door. Together they left.

“What do you make of this Bahij?” he asked.

“I don’t know,” Bahij said. “It’s obviously some kind of trap. The Americans are capable of nothing more than deceit.”

“Yes. We kill them then?” Fareeq asked.

Bahij paused.

“Part of me thinks,’Yes,’ that is what we should do,” he said. “But another part of me thinks different. For some reason, I feel comforted by their presence. They don’t seem to mean harm. And they smell like babies.”

“Yes, which is why it must be a trap,” said Fareeq. “As you say, the Americans are capable of nothing else… And they want the spy!”

“Yes, yes, yes,” Bahij agreed. “But still, I don’t know.”

“Maybe,” Fareeq said after a long pause. “We kill one?”

Bahij thought for a moment and then agreed.

“Yes,” he said. “We’ll kill one and see how it goes.”

The two marched back into the room.

“You are spies!” Fareeq shouted. “You are spies and infidels and by Allah’s command you will be slaughtered!”

The bears shuddered and stepped back in shock.

Fareeq pulled his gun up to his shoulder aimed it at Milkshake and pulled the trigger. A large glob of jelly plastered the concrete wall behind them.

“Milkshake!” they shouted in unison.

Sprinkles ran over to Milkshake, drenching himself in the sticky goo of his fallen comrade.

“You monsters!” he yelled. “We’re not gonna take this are we Love-A-Lot Bears?!”

Sprinkles looked over at his remaining friends, but they didn’t appear up to the task. In fact, they looked sick… sick and unstable.

Ollie started to shake wildly.

Fareeq and Bahij looked on at first with amusement, and then with concern. Ollie took a couple steps forward, shaking ever more violently.

And then BOOM!

He exploded in a cloud of jelly. Moments later, Sunshine did the same. The room was now dripping walls to ceiling with sugar.

“Ruby?” Sprinkles asked.

Then Ruby exploded, too.

Bahij and Fareeq looked at Sprinkles with nervous anticipation… But nothing happened.

Sprinkles, not wanting to waste a moment more, rushed for the exit.

“Shoot him!” Bahij yelled.

“I can’t,” Fareeq said. “My gun is jammed – jammed with jelly!”

Sprinkles punched Bahij on the way out and he fell to the ground.

Fareeq tried to give chase but his feet stuck to the jelly floor and he slipped, awkwardly pulling his groin as he fell to the ground.

Sprinkles ran through the door and back outside. There, one militant saw him and fired a single shot. Sprinkles felt the impact on the left side of his head and started to get dizzy. But he kept running, the whole time thinking of things he loved.

“Friendship, helicopter rides, history, Friendship, Papa Doctor, the U.S. military, Friendship, and Sprinkles on cake. Sprinkles…. Sprinkles… Sprinkles…”

When he woke, he was back at the base. Commander Cortasche and Dr. Wildadoo were there, too.

Sprinkles cried for the first time in his life.

“I’m sorry, Mr. Cortasche, Papa Doctor, I couldn’t get your friend. And Milkshake, and Ollie, and Ruby, and Sunshine… I don’t know what happened,” he said.

“Oh no,” said Dr. Wildadoo, sitting on the bed to comfort his protege. “I’m the one who is sorry. Commander Cortasche is too. We never should have sent you into the clutches of those brutes.”

“We failed you, Sprinkles,” Commander Cortasche conceded. “Not the other way around.”

“Is there anything we can do to make it up to you?” Wildadoo asked.

Sprinkles wiped the tears from one eye, but when he reached for the other he found only jelly seeping through a bandage.

“It’s gone,” Wildadoo said. “You lost your left eye.”

Sprinkles sniffled.

“Dr. Wildadoo. Commander Cortasche,” he said. “There is something you can do: Send me back.”

“What?” Wildadoo asked.

“Send. Me. Back.”

Chapter 3: The Love of Vengeance

The desert air was hot and I was thirsty. I was tied fast to the chair, where ISIS had been torturing me for weeks.

“We’re going to cut off your head,” Fareeq said.

Normally, I’d be offended by that kind of a threat, but I knew Fareeq was just trying to look tough in front of his terrorist friends.

“Not cool,” I said. “But if it helps you get that promotion you’ve been gunning for…”

Fareeq nodded his head reached for his scimitar.

“Bahij,” he said. “Get the camera. We’ll put this on YouTube.”

Bahij went to get the camera but couldn’t find it.

“Ugh. I think Ahmed had it last.”

Bahij opened the tent flap and then quickly turned around. He looked as though he’d seen a ghost.

“He’s here,” he said to Fareeq. “He’s back!”

“Who?” asked Fareeq

“The little bear. Ahmed is outside. He’s dead. There is a knife in his throat.”

“How do you know it’s the bear?”

“Who else would it be?!”

Suddenly, there was a loud shot and Bahij dropped to his knees. There was a hole the size of a softball in the middle of his chest.

“I just love this SSK .950,” I heard a small voice say.

Fareeq turned and was terrified by what he saw – a four foot tall teddy bear with blue fur and a high-powered rifle. He had pretty good aim considering he was wearing a rainbow eyepatch.

Fareeq looked for his AK but it wasn’t anywhere near him.

“Untie my friend and put the scimitar down,” the bear said.

Fareeq did as he was told.

The bear approached us casually and handed me the rifle, which I could barely hold. Then he walked up to Fareeq looked him in the eye and punched him square in the nuts.

Fareeq fell to the ground and the bear hit him in the balls some more –  about a dozen times by my count.

“This is for Ollie,” he said. “This is for Sunshine. This is for Milkshake. This is for Ruby. This is for me. And this is because I. LOVE. Punching. You. In. The. Nuts.” – each word punctuated by a fierce blow.

There were tears streaming from Fareeq’s eyes.

“I got some girls I want you to meet,” the bear said. “Seventy-two to be precise.”

He pulled a grenade off of his vest and tried to force it into Fareeq’s mouth. It wouldn’t fit, so he reached in and broke Fareeq’s jaw.

“I love that sound,” the bear said.

Fareeq screamed but his chin dangled loosely.

I threw up in my mouth a little.

Having forced in the grenade the bear looked back at me.

“Well,” he said. “Get the fuck out!”

Then he pulled the pin and we started to run. We got about ten paces away from the tent before it exploded.

And that’s when the real carnage started.

Too weak to go any further I collapsed to the ground.

“Yeah,” the bear said. “You wait here. I’ll take care of the rest of these assholes.”

He took back his rifle and started dropping more bodies. A Blackhawk helicopter came into the vicinity. It laid down some suppressing fire while the bear mercilessly tortured his foes like a blood soaked Viking berserker.

“Leave none alive!” he shouted.“I’ll eat my own young, before I see a single one of these camel-fuckers make it out of here!”

The bear pulled his knife out of Ahmed’s throat and threw it right into another enemy’s eye. Then, I’d swear I saw him use it as a phallus to penetrate the skull before taking it out and wiping the blade on his fur.

Limbs were severed. Bodies were burned. The heat was so intense the sand around us turned to glass.

It was bedlam.

I passed out and then woke up in a helicopter. I looked up and saw the bear, leaning out the door, pissing on a fire down below. When he was done shaking he walked over to a cooler reached down deep and pulled out a beer.

“It’s over now,” he said cracking it open. “You want one?”

I did. I really did.

The bear just sat there while I sipped my brew. He closed his eyes and a satisfied smile creeped across his face.

“Wow,” I thought. “Now, that’s a bear that loves what he does, and does what he loves.”


“I’ve got something for you,” Dr. Wildadoo said. “It’s a surprise though. So you must cover your eye.”

Sprinkles did as he was told. He heard Papa Doctor rustle around and then a door open.

“Okay,” Wildadoo said. “You can look now!”

Sprinkles did look and he was instantly filled with joy. Standing in front of him were Milkshake, Sunshine, Ruby and Ollie.

“You’re all back!” he shouted.

The bears hugged and love filled the room.

Dr. Wildadoo took the hand of Commander Cortasche standing next to him.

“See. Love conquers all,” he said.

Baltimore Unveils Memorial for CVS Looted in 2015 Riots

April 27, 2016

Baltimore – One year after a wanton gang of thugs and criminals ransacked the city of Baltimore, Maryland, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake today unveiled a monument to the riot’s first casualty – the CVS located on the corner of North Ave. and Pennsylvania Ave.

I hereby dedicate this monument to the CVS that stood so proudly in the face of lawlessness, and the unprovoked rage of a mob drunk on its own power,” the mayor declared in triumph.

The CVS, an enduring icon of perseverance and courage, never returned to business after being looted and set ablaze by marauding vandals.

It’s hard to believe it’s not here, anymore,” said Burt Hamilton, a Baltimore resident currently living in Roland Park. “It’s such a senseless and tragic loss. How could this happen in 2015? Why and for what?”

Indeed, few remember what it was that spurred the godless horde on its path of carnage and destruction in the first place.

It’s because they were angry about being poor, right?” asked one of the ceremony’s attendees. “Or did we win something? Was that the year the Ravens won the Super Bowl? I don’t know. They’re just animals, I guess.”

While the motive remains murky at best, nothing can replace the value the retailer provided to the community.

Sadly, the CVS on North and Penn can never be replaced,” said Larry J. Merlo, president and CEO of the nation’s second-largest retail pharmacy chain, valued at $114 billion. “However, Baltimore residents can still enjoy access to the seven other CVS locations in the immediate vicinity.”

Also on hand at the unveiling was officer John J. Hunt, who stood courageously amid a contingent of 20 other officers holding riot shields to ward off any further onslaught.

I just did what any other officer would have,” Hunt said accepting his Medal of Honor. “I’m sworn to protect and serve. Whether it’s a CVS or City Hall, it doesn’t matter. I’m part of that thin blue line standing between businesses and government property and those that would destroy it in some fruitless, symbolic act of frustration.”

Following the monument’s dedication, the mayor and chief of police led a procession through the surrounding area, stopping to lay wreaths on sites that once hosted a check-cashing store, a 7-11, and a deli.

A Song For Mickey

“There’s a monster in my closet,” Amanda said when she was five.  Her dad chased it out with a flashlight.

At age six, the puppy he bought her seemed to distract Amanda from the fact that her mother was gone.

“We’ll name him Mickey,” she said.

Then Amanda was seven and wanted the red lunch box with the rabbits, not the pink one with the ponies. Her dad had to take the first one back, but one hour and three stores later he got it right.

When she was 10 Amanda’s dad helped her color in the poster she made for her school’s bake sale, and when she was 12 he helped her catch a bumble bee in the backyard and preserve it in formaldehyde for science class.

Then Amanda turned 15 and  her father had to answer all of the tough questions about why her mother had left them all those years ago.

The answers did little to compensate for the fact that it was her father giving her advice about boys before her first date, and helping her to choose a dress to wear to her first prom when she was 16.

When Amanda was 17 she bought her first car but it was still her dad’s name on the insurance.

When Amanda graduated at age 18, they both shared the pride but she alone went to college.

When she was 19, Amanda called home every week. Her dad always picked up on the first ring.

By the time she was 21 she called less frequently, and by age 23 Amanda was living on her own and spending a lot of time with a serious boyfriend.

On Amanda’s 25th birthday that boyfriend became a husband.

It was tough on her father, he had just lost poor Mickey that same year.

Good news was on the way, though. Soon, he’d be a grandfather.

The Journal of Noah

While the fabled Ark of Noah itself has yet to be found, pilgrims venturing to its alleged crash site have returned with the tattered remains of what appear to be the feverish rantings of a 600-year old man dating back to roughly 2500 B.C.

What follows is a rough translation of the original Aramaic script…

Day #1

I have done the Lord’s bidding. I have spent the past 120 years of my life building the divine vessel. I have herded all of His earthly creatures onto this ark, two-by-two. (And that was no small chore with the lions eating so many of the lamb.)

Now, the rain pours down in torrents. Let it wash away the sin of this wayward world, and let this vessel sail forth as a seaworthy shrine to God’s might and wrath.

May He have mercy on those that perish in this great flood.

Day #7

Seven days now, and still the rain comes and the water rises.

I must admit, I thought the mighty Lord would rest on the seventh day.

After all, it took him only six days to create the earth. And it’s been at least two days since I saw the last heathen clinging to a treetop before being washed away.

Hearing their wails and screams as they drowned was… disturbing. More than a few tried desperately to cling to our boat before sinking into the abyss or being taken away by sharks.

It was a gruesome display, indeed. But it is God’s will, and who am I to question it?

I am but a humble servant in His divine plan. And so I say, let the rain pour, mighty God, as I continue to pray for your mercy, and call upon your Heavenly blessings.

Day #12

The rocking… I definitely underestimated the rocking that would accompany the Lord’s mighty wrath.

Perhaps, as God’s anointed messenger and prophet, I half-expected to be spared the sea sickness, but alas…

Then again, the rocking probably wouldn’t be so bad if it weren’t for the smell. The animals have gotten sick, as well, of course – many of them not accustom to the ocean. (One died, I regret to say. It appears the world has lost the Orangtapus.)

Given that, and the animals’ natural impulse to defecate, it didn’t take long for the hull of the ship to fill with the most Hellish stench.

I dare not venture above deck as God continues to pour rain down from the Heavens. The ark, crude as it is, tumbles violently though the sea of the damned. And I fear being washed overboard – or at the very least, drenched with rain.

This is my only pair of clothes…

And yet, below deck, the hull reeks with the stench of vomit and droppings – both of the animals, and I’m embarrassed to say, my own person.

Still, I thank God that he’s spared me… And that I’ve run out of food to purge from my stomach.

Day #14

Two full weeks, now.

The earth has been properly flooded, yet the rain pours still – God’s fury assailing us from the sky.

I’m quite sure most of the sinners have drowned by this point, even those that scaled the mountains.

Again, I make this point not to question, but merely to observe.

Surely, God is the greatest of all possible planners. This must have been the most efficient and humane way – if not the only way – to purge the earth of its blasphemous human scum.

Day #20

I do not know how long this journey will last, but I trust His infallible presence watches over me… from His throne… conveniently located in the sky… in the Kingdom of Heaven… where it doesn’t rain… ever…

Day #25

Lacking vitamins C and D, I’ve acquired scurvy…

Day #26


Day #27


Day #30

This trial has been so long and so great.

My only solace is knowing that it will never happen again.

Never again will animals – much less humans – be crowded onto a ship, separated from their homeland on a vast ocean voyage, and made to lie, get sick and even die in their own waste.

No just and merciful God would EVER allow such a thing.

Day #35

[Editor’s Note: Here, what appear to be stick figures are drawn: One in which a man has hung himself from the bow of a poorly constructed rectangular ship… Another in which a hand protrudes down from a cloud giving the finger… Still another shows a large bearded man urinating onto a globe… The remainder, I’m afraid, are too crude to describe…]

Day #41

It’s over! It’s over! Jubilee! I cannot wait to return home, to dry land, farming and a flock.

Praise the Lord! Praise Him!

I knew the Lord Almighty would see me through this tribulation.

Blessed are you Lord! Blessed am I Noah! Blessed are His creatures (except for the Orangtapus)!

Day #42

…. The water appears to be receding rather slowly…

Party Animals

It’s no secret that all across the country there is farmland. It stretches from the fertile river plains of the East, through the towering cornfields of the Midwest, all the way to the great plains of Montana and Wyoming and the potato fields of Idaho.

On many of these farms, of course not all, there are animals. And some of these animals, unbeknownst to their masters, can talk. Now, it’s true that most of the time, they stay quiet. Many are too busy working, some are shy around humans, and others are just plain antisocial. But the animals do speak, often to each other and rarely to a small child by and by.

So, it should come as no surprise (as a farm animal’s life can often be dull, even boring,) that they commonly exchange stories to pass the time. And there’s one story, in particular, the animals enjoy telling more than any other…

It has lots of variations, as it’s been passed on for many years, but it always ends the same. It’s the story of a pig named Pilkington and his dealings with a particularly harsh master. Some piglets have questioned the story’s veracity, suggesting it was made up to scare them into obedience. But then there are some animals who will swear to its truth and even claim to have known Pilkington themselves.

The story takes place on a small country farm, no one’s certain exactly where.

It, like many farms, had a large red barn with a tarnished copper weather vane sitting atop the roof. There were clumps of fresh, golden hay scattered about the floor and dangling from the open shutters. A large grass field wrapped around the structure like the rolling sea around a ship. A rickety wooden fence encircled the land, but it was very worn and served little practical purpose. There wasn’t another soul or farm like it for miles.

Yet, on this farm, there lived a most exceptional group of farm animals. There was Anne May the heifer, the Farmer’s strong-backed oxen Lenny and Bruce, and the farm’s senior resident, outside of the Farmer himself of course, Murphy, who was a dog.

Being the longest lived animal on the farm, Murphy had developed the most thorough understanding of its workings. He also had what many would describe as a sturdy bond with the Farmer. Yes, Murphy wore his age outwardly. His eyes were crusty and cloudy with on-setting glaucoma.  His long, scraggly whiskers and his brownish-grey patchwork coat reminded all of the other animals just how much old Murphy had seen.

There were other animals of course, hens and roosters, stray cats and dogs, ducklings from a nearby pond, jack rabbits, groundhogs, and crows which would happen by and so on. Also among them was Pilkington the pig, who like most pigs was stout, portly, and all-too-often covered in mud from the day’s wallowing.

Pilkington spent more time wallowing in the mud than any other pig.  This was due not only to his enormous girth and stumpy legs, which made getting up a Herculean task, but his laziness, as well.  He was so large and sturdy, small piglets would often crawl about him in games of cat and mouse or king of the hill. While Pilkington was obviously agitated by all the small hooves clattering about his head and shoulders, he did little more than snarl angrily before resigning himself to failure and returning to sleep.  The only concentrated energy one ever saw Pilkington exert was to get to the trough and consume three or four portions of food before most other pigs could stomach one.  Feeding time was when Pilkington’s large, cavernous snout could be heard across the farm, snorting breathlessly.

Pilkington was quite content with his station on the farm, being required only to eat and sleep throughout the day while the other animals worked in the fields.  At times, it even seemed that he derived a sense of self-satisfaction and enjoyment from watching the other animals toil in the hot sun.

Of course, despite his frighteningly morbid obesity and total lack of constructiveness, Pilkington was quite astute and manipulative. His reputation as wily was well-founded and enhanced by a profound ability to articulate. Pilkington once convinced a young piglet that he was not a piglet at all, but an adopted duckling and for that reason had no right to the feeding trough.  Indeed, Pilkington had tricked nearly every animal on the farm into doing or saying something they didn’t want to, at some point or another.

All of these animals and more lived under the supervision, and some might say despotic rule, of a wary old farmer. He was something of a cross old man whose wife had left him many years ago. Since then, few had seen him wearing anything other than his worn blue overalls, straw hat, and the same tight-lipped, unforgiving expression on his face. He seemed to have little else to do but work. In fact, the Farmer worked tirelessly, constantly driving the animals to maintain his pace, which was exhausting to say the least.

One day it was extraordinarily hot. The thermometer on the side of the barn stretched nearly to its limit of a hundred degrees. (Fahrenheit, of course, as neither the animals or farmer had mastered the subtle intricacies of the metric system.) Despite the harsh temperature, however, the Farmer continuously worked the tired, panting animals. He demanded a near deathly effort from his oxen, Lenny and Bruce. They were forced to drag the large plow, a crude wreckage of iron that easily weighed ton, through the dense and stiffly soiled fields.

“Faster,” the Farmer screamed, “This field needs to be plowed by midday if I am going to get all of the necessary crops planted on time!”

The Farmer drove Lenny and Bruce forward, giving them light strikes with a long wooden stick of about a finger’s width. As Lenny and Bruce struggled to finish plowing and dragged their stern instrument back into the barn, the Farmer tossed buckets of seed to the ground, and hurriedly moved on to Anne May who was waiting to be milked.

The Farmer wasted no time tearing his milking bucket from its place on a nearby shelf and slinging it right under Anne May’s bulbous utter. He tugged at her furiously nearly causing her to wince and kick. It seemed he had about milked her dry.

As the Farmer yanked the bucket from under her, Anne May caught a glimpse of its contents and was proud of the amount she had seen. It looked as if she had set a new personal record. Still, the farmer looked disappointingly at the bucket and then scornfully back at Anne May.

“I’d expected more from you Anne,” he said bitterly.

Then, he turned and walked away with no expression of remorse or gratitude whatsoever. (The hens received a far worse scolding moments later as it was brought to their attention that they had not fulfilled their egg laying potential.)

By the end of the day the animals were exhausted. As the sun began to set, and the Farmer retired for the day, many of the animals gathered around a modest watering hole and some nearby shade. Pilkington was the first animal to muster enough energy to speak.

“Why must we constantly tire ourselves for the old man in spite of how poorly he treats us?”

Sensing some righteous indignation on Pilkington’s part, and perhaps an ulterior motive, Lenny and Bruce spoke up.

“What do you care Pilkington?” Lenny asked. “You didn’t do anything but wallow in the mud all day.”

“Yeah we were the ones dragging those plows through the hot sun,” Bruce added. “And poor Frankie the mule has already passed out from exhaustion.”

The oxen’s large size and narrow, beady eyes lent credence to what they had to say.

“I’m just saying,” Pilkington responded, “maybe it’s time we did something for ourselves… like throw a party.”

The animals were taken back by Pilkington’s proposal and decided to listen to what he had to say.

“I know some Clydesdales that can have a whole bunch of that beer the humans drink over here by tonight. The only thing we have to do is wait until the old farmer falls asleep. Then we’ll be able to relax for a change.”

The animals seemed to be swayed by Pilkington’s argument. They had worked hard all day, which as previously stated, was extremely hot. Just then, Murphy sat up to speak.

“I don’t like this idea Pilkington,” he said. “The Farmer is not a man to be tampered with. I suggest we enjoy our nights rest and prepare for tomorrow’s work.”

Pilkington again assumed his tone of refute, as if he had been personally assaulted by Murphy’s suggestion.

“Murphy, you old farm dog, you’ve been under the Farmer’s thumb ever since you were a pup. Whose side are you on? Are you with the humans, who abuse and take us for granted, or are you at heart an animal, a young pup that wants desperately to feel alive for once in your life? This could be that opportunity, our one chance to do something for ourselves and truly live. I say that, in this case, the reward is well worth the risk, and I for one will not be a slave! Now who is with me?”

Stirred by the rousing speech given by Pilkington, the highly susceptible animals heartily agreed, all with the exception of Murphy who slipped into his makeshift dog house as the Clydesdales arrived later that night.

As the horses departed, leaving tall barrels of beer behind, the animals quietly began their party. It was the first the animals had ever thrown, and it started off small. Many animals were wary and unsure of how to act.  They sipped their beverages slowly, giggling and feeling naughty. Soon, however, the animals became increasingly intoxicated, and as word of the party spread, the night’s events grew increasingly boisterous.

Anne May had gotten into some moonshine and could be seen staggering about with a bottle marked with three poorly drawn X’s on the side. She stopped staggering for a moment to relieve herself behind some bushes unknowingly showering several small field mice. Fortunately, the mice, whose low tolerance levels had reduced them to a drunken stupor, thought it was merely raining.

Lenny and Bruce began confessing their undying affection for one another. They’re large arms squeezed tightly around each other in a brotherly embrace, tears rolling down their cheeks.

“I’ve never felt so close to you Lenny,” Bruce remarked.

“Yeah, it’s almost like we’re two eggs who came from the same hen,” Lenny moped back.

Then, the two gazed off into the light of the moon which never seemed quite so bright. As was the case with Anne May, the furthest thing from the minds of Lenny and Bruce was getting discovered by the Farmer.

Murphy, however, was stirred by the sounds of what started out as a dull roar, but had grown into a clamoring cacophony.  He found Pilkington amid the thick of animals.

“Pilkington,” he said, “You must do something about this party, it’s getting far too loud.  You’ll wake the Farmer and we’ll all be in serious trouble.”

Pilkington looked at Murphy incredulously, as if Murphy’s suggestion was so implausible it was beyond comprehension.

“If the Farmer was going to catch us, he would have done so by now.  Why don’t you go in and sleep with him in his bed?  If your loyalties lie with him, why don’t you?”

“That’s ridiculous,” Murphy responded objecting to the notion that he would take the side of humans over his own kind.

Pilkington wasted no time pressing Murphy further.

“Of course it’s ridiculous because the Farmer would never have you in the house.  He feels you are so beneath him that he considers your mere presence an insult. Yet, you stand here before me asking on his behalf that I adhere to laws he invents for us on whims.”

“I’m not asking you to do right by me or the Farmer, Pilkington, I’m asking that you do right by our entire farm, and all of these animals, by ending all of this before something bad happens,” Murphy said.

“I do right by me!” Pilkington snarled.

With that, the conversation was over, and Murphy returned to his ragged dog house, his head pointed directly at the ground.

Meanwhile, more and more animals flooded in. A band of stray cats had brought the necessary instruments to form a small string band and began to play. The cats screamed out the chorus and refrain in a series of well pitched meows, while crows and birds chirped along with the melody. Dancing broke out across the farm. Dogs and cats joined hands, and loving jack rabbits snuck off behind bushes.

Now, the festivities had reached a fever pitch. All of the animals, be they drunk residents or unconcerned strangers, let their voices grow louder and louder.  Animals barked, screeched, oinked, meowed, mooed, and trampled around noisily.

Suddenly, the rickety porch door swung open and a shotgun blast sounded, splitting the night in two as it echoed off into the distance.

“What is the meaning of all of this racket?” the Farmer exclaimed.

All of the animals scurried, fleeing to their respective living quarters and far off the farm. This left only Pilkington, who thoroughly inebriated, slipped in the patch of mud from which he had berated Murphy moments before. He struggled to get back to his feet, as the other animals – terrified of what ramifications may await them- remained quiet and still in their positions.

The animals waited for the Farmer to come scold them, but there was nothing.  Eventually, they fell asleep relieved that the Farmer had seemed unconcerned with what had transpired and left them to sleep off their afflictions.

Murphy was the first to wake the next morning, as the rest of the animals were in no condition to rise so early.  The farm was more quiet than he had ever known it to be. There wasn’t so much as weak chirp from a chick, or muffled snort from a sleeping piglet. Not even the morning rooster could open his sleet-filled, bloodshot eyes to make his daily morning call.

Murphy proceeded across the farm investigating what was left of the previous night’s carnage. As he strolled about the farm he noticed that all of the animals seemed to be accounted for, with one exception. Murphy thought hard for several moments about who was missing. Then, as he approached the farmhouse, he caught the distinct smell of bacon.



Dark Night

Change is inevitable. Only a fool would try to fight it.

This was the conclusion at which Dracula had arrived. He’d long ago lost track of his age in years, but was certain he was nearing a 1,000 – at least that’s how it felt. And Dracula had seen a lot of change in that millennium.

Dracula was there during the Dark Ages of Europe, feasting on the peasants without remorse. It was easy to justify his killing in those days because so much of the population preferred death to life. If not for Dracula’s tender bite – a quick and near-painless drain of the precious fluid that grants us life – it would have been the plague, or pneumonia, or marauding warlords that brought death’s release to those poor, wretched beings.

Certainly, the act of birthing a child in that time took far more lives than Dracula ever could, and it was doubly cruel in that it brought new life into the cold, unforgiving world. Dracula’s murder, at least, came with a modicum of mercy.

He was there for the renaissance, as well. It’s true that in this time Dracula was responsible for robbing humanity of more than a few of its greatest minds. The taste of an intellectual, a poet, a philosopher, or even a surgeon brought him an unparalleled satisfaction. Sadly, it was a short-lived phase, all things considered.

By the 19th century Dracula had lost his taste for even the most refined fare. He relocated to the United States, lured by the dual promises of a new challenge and a change in scenery. But by then, he’d seen so much change in the world that feelings of despondence had already taken root – whether he was aware of it or not.

Watching the world’s greatest monarchies rise to soaring heights, only to come crashing down under the tow of democracy forced Dracula to contemplate his own purpose in a way he never had before. Meanwhile, technological advances like electricity, the telegraph, and the automobile, gave simple people powers that rivaled his own, making him feel obsolete.

They erected street lights that kept him from sneaking up on his prey. They used an elaborate system of wires to communicate his potential presence in given areas. And they made quick passage out to the more remote regions of the country to track him.

More and more, the supernatural abilities that had once given him so much pride and set him so far above humanity made him feel useless and antiquated. As many of the world’s farmers turned to factory work, as many of the great hunters ran out of game to hunt, and as many of the world’s great explorers ran out of new land to trek, Dracula had seen his time come and go. He had as much place in the 20th century as Blackbeard or Billy the Kid.

By 1950, popular culture made him more of a joke than a boogeyman. Kids dressed in his garb and bad actors mocked his accent. The memory of World War II was still fresh in everyone’s mind, and even Dracula had to admit that Hitler was guilty of crimes against humanity that made Vlad the Impaler look absolutely amateur.

As the 20th century drew to a close, Dracula finally got access to the Internet, and was forced to admit to the cable representative who installed it that he had no idea how to use it. The cable man rolled his eyes and patiently walked him through the process. As the man was leaving, Dracula beckoned him from his van once more to help him rid an error message that had popped up on his screen.

The man obliged and as soon as he’d turned to leave a second time Dracula bit his neck and drank his blood.

Something was wrong, though. It brought him no satisfaction. He felt just as empty as he had when he woke up that morning – as he had the weeks, months, years, no, decades before.

He dropped the lifeless corpse of the Comcast technician and staggered back into his dark, dusty mansion – a dilapidated gothic-style Victorian home, which had once been located in a treacherous and remote region of the Pacific Northwest, but was now in plain view of Route 5.

Looking in the mirror that cold, lonely night, Dracula could not see his own reflection, but his outdated clothing stared him right back in his face.

“My God, is that a cape?” he asked himself out loud. “And am I honestly the last person on earth who goes by the title Count?”

Dracula had hit bottom. He was overcome with self-loathing. He slept in his coffin for weeks, even months, at a time. His already pale skin reached the ghostly white translucence of Casper. His narrow, effeminate frame grew even more sickly and gaunt.  He tried to cry, but couldn’t.

Then, after years of depression had beaten him down, Dracula decided it was time for a new approach. Rather than live off of humanity like a barnacle on a whale, he would join it. He would seek out a new purpose, perhaps even companionship.

Determined to commit to the most dramatic of all possible lifestyle changes, he used his recently installed high-speed modem to find a dentist. Then, early in the morning on a cloudy, overcast day, he put on a trench coat, hat, and sunglasses. He grabbed an umbrella, pulled up his collar, took a deep breath, and made the trip to the office of one Dr. Larry Finklestein. It was he who had the privilege of removing Dracula’s fangs and replacing them with two run-of-the-mill, composite incizers.

Dracula, the Lord of Darkness, returned home feeling thoroughly emasculated. But he knew that was the price of fresh start. He got a job as a nighttime porter at a hospital. There, he would sneak into the blood bank at night and pilfer bags of the precious fluid. Sometimes he’d poke them with a straw and suck them down like a Capri Sun, other times he would pour them into a goblet like Box of Wine. It never felt quite right, but at least it felt different. At least it felt somewhat human.

Then, one night, as Dracula mopped the floors of Skagit Valley Hospital, he overheard some nurses discussing a newly admitted patient.

“Sarah,” one said. “She’s only 15.”

“My God,” said another. “Does anyone know why she did it?”

“No, she won’t talk to anyone.”

Dracula pressed on with his mop and bucket.  That is, until he reached room 305, where the chart by the door read “Sarah Lynn Taylor.” He was curious so he went inside.

The room was dimly lit but he could make out the girl’s jet black hair. Her face was pale like his, but her high cheekbones were stroked with a bit of rose coloring. She wore the requisite gown and her forearms were wrapped in bandages.

He marveled at her. She looked so remarkably like him, at once pale and dark. Her heart monitor, by emitting a slow, perfunctory noise, confirmed she was living, but to the naked eye she looked to be dead. Indeed, she, like Dracula, was the living embodiment of death itself.

Suddenly, Dracula heard some activity in the hall and he rushed immediately back to his bucket and mop. Some doctors passed by without noticing him and he went about his standard business for the rest of the night – ensuring that the hospital was in no condition short of pristine.

When he returned home and settled down with his nightly bag of blood, he felt different than he did most nights. He thought back to that young girl in room 305 and he felt extraordinary. He couldn’t place his cold, pointy finger on it, but something was different. And as the sun came up, he retired to his coffin eager to greet the next night.

Dracula woke from his slumber the following evening and reported to work at 10:00pm sharp. He made quick work of the first two floors of the hospital and casually happened by the front desk to see if there was any word on the young patient in 305. There was none.

He waited until around 2:30am and then made his way to the third floor. He put up the pretense a little while longer and then quickly ducked into Sarah’s room. She looked a little healthier but still thin and very pale. Dracula watched her for a minute or two. Then he inched closer to her bed. Then closer, and even closer, until he almost brushed the side rail. His heart beat a little faster. And soon without even thinking about it, he took his cold jagged finger and slowly brushed some hair from her face.

Her eyes opened – halfway at first, then extremely wide. Dracula startled and jumped back. And with that leap backwards the menacing corpse-like countenance that moments ago hovered inches above Sarah’s face became a shadowy figure backlit against the light from the hallway.

Sarah opened her mouth as if to scream but no sound came out. Her jaw flapped up and down loosely, emitting only the faintest imitation of a voice. Then finally, after what seemed like hours, she spoke.

“Who are you? What are you doing?”

“Vuhhhh…I’m… I’m va doctor.”

“Then why are you dressed like a janitor?”

“Oh. Ves. I’m a janitor. I’m very sarry. I thought I svaw something on ver face. I vas vorried.”

“What are you German or something?”

“No. I’m vrom Romania. Transylvania, actually.”

“Like Dracula?”

“Vuhh, yes… Like Dracula,” he sighed.



“Yeah. Have you ever been there? Like to the castle?”

“Of course, I lived there… or close to it I mean. I verked there… as a guide.”

“That’s so cool.”


“Yeah Vampires are totally cool.”

“Veally, vy?”

“I don’t know. They’re dark and menacing. They’re mysterious. It’s macabre, you know, like Edgar Allen Poe, or those true crime stories you see on television.”

“Oh. Vell… I used to have vangs, you know…”

“No way! That’s awesome.”

“Yes vay. I vas born vith them.”

“Why don’t you have them now?”

“They scare people.”

“Right, but isn’t that the point? To scare people and freak them out?”

“Vell yes but it gets lonely.”

“Well it doesn’t have to be. You just have to find other people like you. You’re not the only person who has fangs you know. Other people have them, too.”

“There are other vampires?”

“What? No. Not vampires, just people that have fangs put in. You know, like piercings and tattoos. I saw a guy on TV that had these, like, horns in his head. And another guy had his tongue forked.”

Dracula couldn’t help but snicker a bit.

“Va va va,” he chuckled. “That sounds vidiculous.”

“Well, maybe, but that’s just who they are. You should always be yourself. If other people can’t deal, fuck’em.”

“Is that veally how you live?”

Sarah thought about the question.

“Maybe not,” she said, looking down at her bandages.

“Vut happened to ver arms?”

Sarah remained quiet, and was sullen, like she’d just been reminded of something terrible. And she was.

“I… I cut myself,” she said sniffling.

“Vy?” Dracula asked.

“I don’t know, I guess, I’m not real happy with myself either.”

“But vu vould take ver own life?”

“I guess, I don’t know,” she said, now crying. “It’s not just me, you know? My stepdad hits me a lot and my mom is a total bitch. I hate them both. And then I go to school and they make fun of me there for being punk or goth or whatever. Just because I don’t fit into any of their nice little groups.”

“Vat’s terrible. I’m sarry to hear such tings.”

Sara sat crying. Dracula stepped closer to her bed and pushed the tissue box towards her.”

“Thanks,” she said looking down at his hand. “Wow, you’re kinda goth yourself aren’t you?”


“Yeah, you know, like with the paleness, and those rings on your fingers.”

“Oh, ves. Goth. I’m very… punk.”

“Did you get picked on a lot when you were a kid?”

“I… I don’t vemember.”

“You’re lucky. Tommy Donovan, this kid at school, he picks on me all the time. He spread this rumor that we had sex in a bathroom stall and that he put my head in the toilet bowl. Now people call me Septic Slut. They say and do awful things to me all the time. They throw things at me. They hid my stuff.”

“Ugh, vat’s terrible.”

“I have no friends,” Sara said, again breaking into a wet, sniffly sob.

Dracula sat down on the bed and comforted her.

“I don’t have any friends either,” he said.

“You’re so cold.”

“I know. I’m sarry.”

Then the light came on and there was an orderly standing in the doorway.

“What are you doing in here? You’re not a doctor.”

“It’s okay,” said Sara. “He’s my friend.”

“Well, he can’t be here. Visiting hours are over. Besides he has work to do. Now if you don’t mind.”

“Of course,” said Dracula getting up and moving toward the door. He looked back at Sara, who with tears in her eyes managed a smile.

Dracula retrieved his bucket and mop and made his way toward the elevator with the orderly watching. Then he went down to the lobby and left the building without finishing his shift. Dracula returned to his mansion with a new sense of purpose. He called Dr. Finklestein’s office and left a message saying he’d be in the next day. Then he used the online directory to look up all of the Taylors in the area.

About one week later, Sarah returned home. She lay down in her bed, fell asleep and had a strange dream. She was in a graveyard but she wasn’t scared. The janitor from the hospital was digging a grave but it wasn’t hers. He looked up from his work and flashed her a sinister smile. She could see on his hand the gold ruby ring he’d worn at the hospital. She woke to the sound of something hitting her window.  She got up to inspect it and saw something on the window sill outside. She opened the window and picked it up. It was the same glittering gold band and blood red ruby she’d seen in the dream. Then she gasped and looked up to see the shape of a bat flying off into the distance.

The bat flapped its wings gracefully and faded out of sight. It flew with purpose to another house not very far from Sarah’s. About the same time a young man was returning home drunk from a party. He lifted his keys to unlock the front door but he dropped them. He bent over to pick them up and as he rose he came face to face with a dark shadowy figure wearing a cape and sporting a pair of fangs.

“Var you Tommy Donovan?” the figure asked.

“Yeah. Who the fuck are you?”