exploration

explored id, ego, superego. id won.

 

For Sometimes Stellar Storyteller Six Word Story Challenge

Lee Child’s 23 Jack Reacher books

I’ve long had the habit of listening to guilty-pleasure books, rather than reading them.

It was a sad day for me in 1986 when I learned that John D. McDonald, creator of Travis McGee, had died. He was a go-to guy for me, together with Donald Hamilton, who produced 33 years worth of Matt Helm novels through 1993, but then was done.

Spillane croaked in 2006 at the age of 88.

Donald Westlake, writing as Richard Stark about Parker, bought the farm in 2008.

The first Robert B. Parker Spenser novel appeared in 1973. A sad day in 2010 when Parker keeled over at his computer, heart-attacked. That was a blow.

Laurence Block is almost 80, which fortunately is the new 70.

But Lee Child is still churning them out, not to jinx him. 22 novels and a collection of short stories. He says that he never knows where the book he is writing is going to go, just gets to the end using logic. Does that sound logical?

Various authors have been suggested to me as good guilty listens. I count Anthony Trollope and Steven King amongst those I cotton to. Always looking for more.

Easy Money

Rain ran down the window like water in a car wash. I was sitting at my desk in the gloom, working my way through a deck of Luckies when my brother walked in.

He gave me the phony grin.

“I’ve got a job for you,” he said.

“In a pig’s eye.”

My brother is family. He’s blood of my blood. He’s a good-looking guy with a cesspool for a brain. I promised our mother I’d look after him. I promised her I’d straighten him out. I lied.

“Beat it,” I said.

I sucked on my cigarette, drawing the burning tip down to my fingers with a hiss. The smoke torched my throat on its way into my lungs.

“You need a payday,” my brother said. “I’ve got one for you.”

“Whatever you’ve got, I’d rather not catch. Scram.”

“There’s a rich guy over in Greencrest thinks his wife is cheating. He’ll pay good for proof. Trail her around, take some pictures. Collect your money.”

He dropped a scrap of paper on my desk.

“The guy’s mansion,” he said. “Stake it out. You can’t miss the wife. She’s the real thing.”

“I’ll let you know,” I said. “Now get lost.”

He knew I’d do it, because of my promise to Ma. And because I was dead broke.

I sat and waited for the hate to die down. Then I got tired of waiting. I pulled on my trench coat, slapped on my hat, and left the office.

I staked out the mansion and followed the dame into the city. She met a guy in the lobby of the Stratford and they rode together up to the twenty-fifth floor. She had a body that was built to keep a guy busy long after she was ready to take a shower. She had the face of an angel, probably fallen.

Five hundred to the house dick got me their door unlocked. I stepped in and took snaps of the action. They weren’t missionaries, that’s for sure.

I called my brother and told him I was ready to present my bill. He told me to wait an hour, which I spent drinking.

An evil-looking yellow moon hung behind ragged clouds in the east. The temperature had dropped and my cigarette was the only warm thing in the car. At the cuckold’s gate, I spoke into the squawk box.

“I’m here about the missus,” I said.

The gate swung open.

I drove up to the mansion through thick pines. The front door stood ajar.

I stepped inside. A light was on in a room to the right. I went in, doffing my hat. An old bird with white hair stood behind a large mahogany desk at the far end of the room.

“You’re here about my wife?” he said. His voice quavered.

“That’s right,” I said.

“You expect money?”

“You said it.”

He produced a gun and pointed it in my general direction. Looked like a .25.

“What’s that for?” I said.

“To kill you with,” the geezer said, coming around the desk. “You think I’ll just pay you to go away?”

“Hold on, partner,” I said. He was going to kill me if he could hold the gun still.

Reluctantly, I pulled my .38 and shot him through his wrinkled old heart. No fee for me. I put my gun away.

The blond slid into the room. She glanced at me and then crossed to the corpse and picked up the .25. She stepped over the body and centered the gun on my face.

She read my expression.

“I needed my husband dead,” she said. “Thanks.”

I wouldn’t be shooting this babe in that big chest of hers.

My brother joined us, grinning.

“Nice, huh?” he said. “She inherits and you get the blame for the shootout with Pops here. He thought you were the lover coming over for a payoff. You shoot each other.”

“The guy in the hotel room?”

“Some yegg we hired.” His grin became a smirk.

“You think she’ll let you live?” I said.

The smirk held.

“She loves me,” he said.

I smiled, imaging the look on his face when he arrived in Hell right behind me.

The Mathematics of Future Paradox

“Can we watch Michelangelo work today?” my wife said, at the breakfast table.

“I have to go into the future today,” I said.

“The future? You said that you would never go into the future. You said going into the future is like a man opening his girlfriend’s mail. Ignorance is bliss, you said.”

“I’m only going ten minutes forward, max. To test and prove my theories.”

“Your equipment works,” my wife said. “Isn’t that proof enough?”

“We now know that we can observe the past. We can’t interact with it. We can’t change it. We can only watch it, like a movie. My calculations tell me that the same is true for the future, but I haven’t tested that yet.”

“The universe does not permit paradox, you always say.”

“My calculations prove this. Yet I must test the theory.”

“Will it be dangerous?”

“I don’t think so, but…”

“I want to be there.”

“This won’t be like our travels into the past. Nothing exciting will happen.”

“Nevertheless, I want to be there.”

I nodded.

“OK,” I said.

After breakfast, we cleaned up and dressed. Angela followed my out to my lab behind the house. The day was clear and warm.

In the lab, we sat down side-by-side, facing the counter that held my setup. I ran through my startup procedures and calibrated the central nexus. We put on our helmets.

I switched on the apparatus.

“I don’t see any change,” Angela said.

I moved the mouse and as we sat, we seemed to float backwards, so that we were watching ourselves from behind.

“I’m fast-forwarding,” I said. “Ten minutes into the future should take us only two.”

We sat quietly for two minutes. In front of us, we sat quietly for ten minutes.

I watched the timer and clicked the apparatus off after one hundred and twenty seconds.

“Now what?” Angela said.

“You saw us. For the next eight minutes, we sit here.”

“So?”

“Neither of us stands up during that time. We can test this. Do you understand?”

“Not exactly,” Angela said.

“If we can see into the future and then act to change it, we can create a paradox, just as we could if we could change the past. We know we can’t change the past. We can only observe it, observe the universe’s stored hologram of spacetime. Now, however, we’ve observed future events in that same hologram. Suppose I stand up?”

“I don’t think you should,” Angela said. “I don’t think you will. We neither of us did. We just sat there.”

I stood up. I stepped away from the chair and looked back. I was still sitting there.

“What the…,” I said, or thought I said. No sound came out.

“Perhaps you’re right,” said the me sitting in the chair, to Angela.

“No!” I said, soundlessly.

I stepped back to the chair and reached out. I couldn’t see my arm. I looked down. I couldn’t see myself. My hand passed through the me in the chair.

“My math is clear,” said the me in the chair. “The universe does not permit paradox.”

Why British Women Are Insecure About Their Nipples

First, a salute to the Oxford team that has performed this valuable study. I have been interested in nipples for years. It’s more than a hobby for me. Some might say I’m obsessed.

Whatever the case, at last we have some fresh, new, hard-won data.

The research team investigated the nipples of ten thousand women, with a few cross-dressers thrown in. This was not some casual study. There were metrics.

Each set of nipples was measured and graded according to four separate attributes: size, three-dimensional shape, colour, and aspect. A scale from one to ten was used to supply a value for each attribute. No specific meaning was assigned to any particular nipple code, although on my visit to the university, I did hear 3-1-2-10 referred to as “angelic” once or twice, and 8-6-9-2 as “befitting a chimp.” Just normal, casual, ongoing theorizing.

The researchers did not want the women to catch any vagrant expressions on their faces as they took the measurements. For this reason they all wore identical rubber pullover masks in the shape of the current Prime Minister.

With a  woman’s nipples coded, the researcher would remove the mask and ask the woman to please make herself decent.

“I’ve seen your nipples,” the researcher would say.

“Oh, yes?” was the typical response.

“You may say that I’ve graded them,” the researcher would say.

“Have you then?” the woman would say.

“I have indeed. Do you know what I think?”

“Why, no. I haven’t a clue.”

“You haven’t a clue? You know your own nipples, I suppose?”

“Of course I do. I’ve had four children and two husbands.”

“How would you describe them, in so many words?”

“Well, my youngest has red hair…”

“Your nipples, I mean. How would you describe your nipples? I’ve coded them here in my notebook,  you know, but now I want to know what you think of them. Are you proud of your nipples? Have you named them? Do they reflect your personality? Do they have a mind of their own?”

“My word!”

“You seem unsure of yourself. Are you insecure when the conversation turns to your nipples?”

“What’s that?”

“Just my phone. Would you unbutton again for a moment, please.”

“It has a camera, your phone?”

“It does indeed. If you don’t mind, I’d like to get a quick shot of your breasts. Just for our clinical debriefing in the pub tonight… Hey! Don’t do that. Insecure, that’s what you are, all right. What a pity.”

Nine of My Fifty-Word Stories

Fifty-word stories.

One of my stories, posted on Huffington’s Fifty Featured Fiction

Seeing the World

Woman with Longest Legs Has Surprise Neighbor

(Huffington Post headline]

“Just don’t ask me if they go all the way up,” says Lona Calvesouvo.

Lona has the longest legs in the world. The longest female legs, anyway. A number of men have longer legs, but nobody cares about them, other than a few basketball enthusiasts. Nobody ogles those legs. Lona’s legs have been ogled since she turned thirteen and began wearing heels, short skirts, and nylons.

As a teenager, she had the legs of a twenty- or thirty-year old woman with the longest legs in the world.

The Rockettes sought her out but Lona wanted to go it alone. She didn’t want to be just one more dancer in a line, even if her legs would kick out twice as far as everybody else’s.

Instead, she signed on with Acme Razor Blades. Acme claimed in its advertisements that a single Acme blade was sturdy enough to shave both of Lona’s legs without losing its edge. Perhaps this was an exaggeration; Lona would help things along with a little pre-shave waxing. Nevertheless, the world came to know and love the sight of those lengthy gams getting lathered up on-camera.

Of course there were soreheads – there always are – who pointed out that Lona’s arms were normal in length. That her fingers were not particularly gracile. Such complaints were overwhelmed by the steady stream of marriage proposals she received.

And now, ironically, who moves in next door? (Lona still lives at home with her folks.) A double amputee? Ha ha. That would be funny. But no.

Somebody with a long nose or long earlobes or suchlike? Or three legs. Hah! But no.

Lona’s Aunt Mary and Uncle John moved in next door. It was a total surprise, as they always said that they would never leave their farm. But one day they just got sick of it out there in the country, especially the rooster crowing before dawn every morning, so they snapped up the foreclosed three-bedroom, two-bath colonial that the Smorda family had owned for so long next to Lona and her folks.

Three 50-Word Stories

Popular Destination

They walk among us. Amos couldn’t hold his liquor and spilled the beans. I didn’t believe him until he levitated the bottle of hot sauce on our barroom table.

Here to invade, these aliens? Nope. Earth is a galactic Tijauna. Alcohol. Drugs. Violence. Littering.

It’s boring out there, in civilization.

 

Hugs and Hoes

Janie wanted hugs. She demanded them. She pestered me for them.

I hugged her but my arms began to hug her tighter. Tighter. And finally, too tight.

Mary doesn’t need hugs. She just wants a beautiful yard. She buys me shears and spades. Sharp and heavy tools.

She pesters me.

 

Crows 

Why are there more crows? Global warming? More neighborhood carrion? The crow is not a solitary bird. Crows flock.

They communicate, these birds, now more than before. Loudly. The crow is a grumpy bird, a querulous bird. Increasingly loud.

Increasingly angry.

Reports have been coming in. The crows are attacking.

(Published in FiftyWordStories)

Cindy Ella Jones

“Cindy Ella,” my stepmother said, “when I come home tonight, I want this house spotless. I’m having friends over.”

“Yes, ma’am,” I said.

My stepmother likes a clean house  but she doesn’t like to clean it herself. She doesn’t like to waste money on maids. Instead, she asks me to clean it. I don’t mind. I like a clean and neat house, probably more than she does.

She can sound bossy. Actually, she is bossy. It’s in her nature. I don’t blame her for it. It’s probably the way she was raised. Or maybe she was just born bossy.

“Do our rooms too,” her daughters said.

They’re as bossy as their mother. You learn from your parents I guess.

My mother and father have both passed away.

“You’re lucky I let you live here,” my stepmother says, usually after asking me to do something.

I don’t mind working hard to earn my keep. My girlfriends Tiffany and Candace say that I’m a workaholic. Why even think of hiring a maid? I’m here and I’m ready.

I also work for my godfather in his shoe-repair shop after school. I’m in my senior year.

One of my stepsisters is a senior, the other is a junior. They’ll be going on to community college when they graduate. My stepmother won’t help with my tuition, so I have to save as much as I can. I work and then I go home and clean, and then I do my homework. Sometimes I don’t get to bed until really late. That’s ok. I like keeping busy.

My stepmother says she won’t ‘turn me out’ when I go off to college, as long as I keep cleaning and pay her some room-and-board. I’ll have to keep working when I’m in college to do that.

My godfather is not bossy. I work hard in his shop, but not because he pushes me. Because I like him.

I was refurbishing a worn pair of Allen-Edmonds oxford lace-ups on Monday when he spoke up.

“Are you going?” he said, out of the blue. His name is Mike. Mike Fairy.

“What?”

“Are you going to that dance I’ve been hearing about? At your school.”

I laughed.

“No way,” I said. “I have nothing to wear.”

“Mary can fix you up.”

Mary is my godmother.

“I couldn’t afford anything from her shop, Mike. You know that.”

“Come on, girl,” Mike said. “You know what I mean.”

I shook my head. I don’t like handouts, even from my godparents.

The next day, Mrs. Fairy stopped by the shop.

“How’s my favorite godchild?” she said.

“I’m fine,” I said, stepping back from the shop’s old Landis McKay.

“Cindy Ella, I want you to come by my shop when you’re done here,” Mrs. Fairy said. “I won’t take no for an answer.”

“Mrs. Fairy… Mary… I don’t…”

“I’ve heard about that dance,” she said with a smile. “I won’t take no.”

When she had gone, Mr. Fairy put his arm around my shoulders and gave me a quick hug.

“My friend Mr. Washington is going to send a limo for you on the night of the dance,” he said.

“Oh, no!” I said. “Really, Mike, this is too much.”

“All he asks is that you leave the dance at the time you both agree upon in advance. Can you promise me that?”

“I do promise! I’m so grateful. I’ll be standing there waiting for him.”

When I went to my godmother’s dress shop later, she let me choose from a collection of the finest dresses I had ever seen. The one I picked was a dream come true, in silk.

“On the night of the dance, come over here early,” she said. “I’ll have someone ready to do your makeup. We’ll keep the dress here. We don’t want your stepmother spotting it. She’d take it from you and give it to one of those trolls she calls her daughters. The witch.”

“She’s not so bad,” I said. I had to laugh, though.

My friends Tiffany and Candace were surprised  but delighted that I was coming to the dance. It’s all we talked about that week. I was a little mysterious about my arrangements with my godparents. I try to keep my situation at home with my stepmother as quiet as possible.

Mike presented me with a pair of Badgley Mixchke Randalls five days before the dance, fitted out with the special orthotics I use. I have unusually high arches. The shoes were a deep blue with a flower on the toe.

“Practice with these all week,” he said. “They aren’t for amateurs.”

“My lord,” I said. “Look at those heels.”

“They’re high, but you’ll get the trick of it. The shoes are broken in, so they won’t be stiff.”

I tried them on. I have narrow feet, which was good, because the Randalls were a narrow shoe.

On the night of the dance, I worked in the shop and then walked over to my godmother’s shop. She had a woman waiting to do my hair. Then I dressed and another woman did my face. The limo was waiting.

At school, I stepped out of the limo and took a moment to get my balance in the heels. I walked alone into the gym. The lights were turned down and a slow dance was playing. Couples danced with the teacher chaperones watching to ensure that hands did not wander. I looked around for my friends. The girls who had come alone were clustered here and there in groups along the sides of the dance floor.

I spotted Tiffany and Candace and joined them. There were flattering remarks about how beautiful I looked, how different, how grown-up. I was blushing in the dark and begged them to stop.

“I’ll shut up,” Candace said, “but I can’t get over it. You look like a princess. You’re the most beautiful girl here.”

I shushed her again and kept my eyes down. Kids were looking at me and I was embarrassed to death.

Once Tiffany and Candace calmed down and pretended to get over my makeover, we all had the second shock of the night. Into the gym came the dreamiest hunk any of us had ever seen. You could tell at a glance he was athletic, smart, rich, and Nobel Peace Prize material. School-dance royalty. I thought of him as a prince.

He was obviously a student at the university. High school was behind him. He looked around, as if searching for someone. Kept looking.

I saw him shrug. He turned in our direction and started toward the refreshments in the corner behind us.

As this prince strolled along, he ran his eyes over the crowd. When he got to the three of us, his eyes met mine and time stopped long enough for me to go wobbly on my heels. Then he was past.

“Did you see that?” Tiffany said.

“Get a room,” Candace said to me.

When he passed on his way back with a cup of punch in his hand, I studied the DJ.

“He did it again, Miss Modesty,” Tiffany said.

We watched him move through the crowd. Great shoulders. He moved in a casual way that somehow opened a path in front of him. Students smiled at him when he passed.

“He’ll be back,” Candace said. “Pray that somebody doesn’t beat him to you.”

“Stop it,” I said. “I’m just glad to be here.”

He did come back and before I knew it, we were on the dance floor. For a moment, I worried about the kids around us watching me dance in those heels. I felt kind of rusty and the music was fast. The prince was so casual and such a good dancer, so friendly, and held my eyes so well with his, that I quickly forgot about everything but the two of us and how we were moving together. It all made sense.

When the music slowed, he took me in his arms.

“I’m Ethan,” he said.

“Cindy Ella,” I said.

He had a quizzical look on his face.

“There is something about you, Cindy Ella. You stand out like a beacon in this crowd.”

“Not me,” I said. “You.”

He shook his head, wondering. Then he shrugged and we danced quietly. We fit together so well, I was wondering too. Could he possibly be as special as he seemed?

The evening passed in a blink. He had been supposed to meet a girl there but she hadn’t showed up. He didn’t know anyone there. Except me, now.

He told me about the university and I talked about making shoes. The way he listened, it seemed like making shoes was the most interesting subject in the world for him. The most interesting thing in the world for me at that moment was him.

When I finally checked the time, I had two minutes to get outside.

“Can you excuse me, Ethan?” I said.

I walked away from him, into the crowd. When I got to the door of the gym, I tried to run in the heels. At the steps down to the street, I pulled one off and as I did so, the other fell off. I ran down the steps with one shoe in my hand. The limo was waiting at the curb with its motor running, driver holding open the passenger door in back. I jumped in and we sped away.

It was so wonderful and then over in a heartbeat. I was too excited to think straight. I don’t know if I was happy or heartbroken, alone in the car.

At the store on Monday after school, Mike was waiting for me to come in.

“I had a visitor today,” he said.

I nodded, inviting him to go on.

“A fellow named Ethan. He’s a university student. He had your shoe in his hand.”

“My shoe?”

“How do I know it was yours?” Mike said. “Not too many Badgley Mixchke Randalls at a high-school dance, not with your orthotic in it.”

“What did he want?”

“He wanted to know who belonged to the shoe. He’s going around to every place in town that fits and sells orthotics.”

“What did you tell him?” I said.

“I didn’t know what to tell him, so I told him I’d check around and that he could come back tomorrow. What’s up?”

“I lost the shoe at the dance. I was running to the limo.”

“And?”

“I spent the night dancing with him. I never told him my last name, I guess. I left too fast to give him my number.”

“Sounds like you want to see him again.”

“That’s putting it mildly,” I said.

“He may call me back,” Mike said.

Ethan is all I had been thinking about. Kicking myself for the way the evening ended.

An hour later, the doorbell rang. My stepmother and her daughters were out. I answered the door. Ethan stood there, flowers in hand.

“You ran off and left me,” he said, “but I had to come.”

I nodded.

“I made a mess of it,” I said. “Until I left, the evening seemed like a fairy tale. Too perfect to be true.”

He smiled.

“And they lived happily ever after,” he said.