Saturday, September 10, 2005

Tin Can Communications

Another 'Communications' story written in April of 2000. This is one of my favorite stories.There are only eight more AOL Short Story contest stories left to post I think. After that anything posted here will be new. I may do it from time to time just for kicks.

"Would you kids go out and play, dammit?! Your mom and I are trying to talk here!" Daddy yelled as my sister Ashley and I cowered in the corner. Mom and Dad seemed to be shouting at each other all the time lately, and it was scary.

"Talking?" Mom said, as we slunk out of the room. "When do we actually ever 'talk' anymore, Daniel? Maybe if you didn't yell all the time, then things would be better."

"Don't blame it all on me,", Daddy shouted, "I'm not the one that starts it!"

We left the house, and headed toward the vacant lot, and the tree house in the big old oak tree. In the house right next to the lot, old Mr. Patterson was tinkering in his garage, and we went up to see what he was doing.  It was usually something interesting, and Mr. Patterson was always nice to us.

"Well, Danny and Ashley, what brings you to my abode this morning?" He was always saying little things like that, calling his house an "abode."  He was a funny guy, and sometimes we didn't understand his words, but we could usually figure it out.

Ashley kind of sniffed as she'd been crying a little; but I'd told her to hush that everything would be ok. I just hoped I was right.

"Ah, Ashley what's wrong? I heard your mom and dad arguing again... is that it?"  Ashley nodded.  "Tell you what; how would you kids like your very own telephone for your tree house? One of you can be in there and the other on the ground and you can talk on it!" With that, Ashley brightened up and I got curious, too!

He dug around on his workbench a bit and grabbed a couple of cans and some string. He had me punch holes in the can myself, since he said I was practically a grown-up at 10 years old! I scowled at Ashley when she laughed at that; but heck, she's just a kid at 8. Anyway, in no time he had those cans connected with a string; and sure enough, when we pulled the string tight and held the cans to our ears, we could hear each other talking through it!

"Thanks, Mr. Patterson!" we said, as we took off running to the clubhouse.  But before we did, I heard him say under his breath, "Now, if only you could get your parents to communicate that easy."  I knew that word "communicate," we'd just learned it in school. And it sure did sound like something Mom and Dad needed; with all that yelling at each other. I thought about that as Ash and I tried out our new phone in the tree house; but I was surprised to discover that we did have to yell a bit to be heard through it. Maybe *some* yelling wasn't so bad?

Ashley and I played with the tin can phone until she got bored, and had to go to the bathroom. I took the phone with me, as it was too cool to risk somebody stealing it.

When we got home, it seemed like Mom and Dad were calmer. I showed it to them and told them how it really worked but you had to yell a little to be heard. Dad kind of flinched at that, and that gave me an idea. I asked them to come to our clubhouse and try it out. When they asked why we couldn't do it at home, I just said it would be no fun because you'd be looking at each other. They finally gave in; and I actually got Dad to climb up into the tree house. He said it was nice and asked if I'd built it. I told him Mr. Patterson had helped a lot and told me what to do; and he got this sad look on his face for some reason.

We ran the phone through the hole in the floor, and Ash and I made sure it was working. Then I gave my end to Dad, and she gave hers to Mom. They weren't talking loud enough at first and I told Dad that now was the time to shout. He smiled a little and shook his head. He said hi to Mom and they started to talk. And we made them keep going, because they were ready to quit after a minute---geeze, what's with grownups? When it seemed like they were doing okay I climbed down.

Mr. Patterson was standing outside of his garage watching, and I dragged Ashley over to give Mom and Dad some time alone. He smiled and asked if that had been my idea to get my parents talking on our phone. I said yep, and he ruffled my hair and told me I'd done well.

Then Mom started climbing up into the tree house. Ashley and I started to go, too, but Mr. Patterson took both of us by the shoulder and turned us toward the house telling us there were fresh cookies. I know he was trying to get us to leave Mom and Dad alone; but Mrs. Patterson makes great cookies, so I didn't mind.

Mr. Patterson was telling us a story when Mom and Dad climbed down what seemed like a long time later. Mom's hair was kind of messed up, which was unusual for her. I got worried and ran over asking if everything was okay. They smiled at me and said that everything was just fine. On the way home, Dad said thank you to Mr. Patterson---for what I wasn't sure!

It seemed like after that day, Mom and Dad didn't yell as much; but they did sometimes ask to borrow our clubhouse for a bit. I would never have figured they'd want to do that, but it seemed to make them happy, and that made Ashley and me a lot happier.

I may never understand grownups!

Friday, September 9, 2005

Better Late Than Never

This story was written in April of 2000. The theme this week was "Communications". It was one of my more favorite stories although in re-reading it I find a lot I'd like to rewrite.

"Damn, Jack, I'm late!" Kate said, pushing away from her computer and grabbing her purse. She gave me a peck on the cheek and asked, "Are you sure you don't want to go with me?"

To the grand opening of a new mall with her other lady friends? Yeah, right! "No, honey, that's okay I'll just putter around here today," I responded, having plenty in mind to do that I thought would be much more exciting.

She left, and I decided to surprise her by having the taxes done before the deadline. That was when I found out she'd left herself logged into her mail account. I know I should have just logged her out... but curiosity got the better of me.

That was what led me to read through a series of torrid love letters, between my wife and another man. I was shocked and hurt. They were letters like I could not begin to write, not having the words. And here was another man writing them to my wife. But, the letters she wrote hurt more I think.

I sat back, dumbfounded. I'd thought I was giving her everything! I made a good living, did my share of housework, made sure her car and the household appliances were always working. But then I read as she poured her heart out to this other man, telling him how much she craved what he did for her. And I read the letters and cards he sent, declaring his love for her. She told him how she much she wished I'd just give her a rose every now and then, or call her from work. I winced as I read her words telling him my responses to those simple requests... that a rose would just die, and that I was busy making a living for our family, and could hardly be expected to remember to call her every day.

My heart sank as I read on, and found her falling more in love with this man who was giving her all the things I had thought so fleeting and frivolous. I could tell she really wanted those things; and I finally began to believe that she would have given up all the physical comforts I was so proud to provide her, for the simple, random expressions of love that he offered.

Was it too late I wondered? Well, I decided if I was on my way out, I was going out trying. I logged out of her mail account, shaken but with a new resolve to try to win her back.

First I found the link to a resort for which I recalled her showing me brochures... a vacation spot that I'd told her was just not practical. I cringed to remember her trying to tell me how she wanted romance---not practicality! I found they had an opening for the weekend after next and booked it, hoping it would not be too late.

Then I went out, feverishly running from one store to another, praying I would beat her home with my surprises. At one point I felt jealousy and anger fighting their way up; but I reminded myself that all the things that she'd said to him, she'd said to me first... and I had ignored them. After reading how lovingly she responded to his fulfillment of those requests, I knew how much they'd meant to her, and I felt ashamed... and even more determined to try to set things right between us.

I sat, beat to a frazzle and keyed up with worry, as she came in the house. She looked around and smiled. A large banner hung on the staircase saying, "I love you." And on the dining room were a dozen roses, a romantic card, and some of the candy I'd often told her was just too expensive and "no better than the cheaper stuff." Her favorite music was on in the background, and the kids were at her mom's house. And I was dressed in the black shirt, pants, and boots she'd so often tried to get me to wear... but I'd refused because they were hot and uncomfortable. Little did I know when she asked, that she might have reacted romantically enough to remove them, and discomfort wouldn't have been a problem!

Without a word she moved to the bedroom, and found the bed turned down with a rose on the pillow. Another smile. The she went into the bathroom, where candles were lit and glowing, and the bubble bath was ready to be poured into the tub.

She then approached me, and took my hands in hers, looked me straight in the eyes, and said, "I see you read them. I hoped you would not be able to resist."

"You... you wanted me to find out about him?" I stammered.

"No. I wanted to force you to hear what I was trying to tell you. I'm sorry to trick you. And it is a trick, Jack... he doesn't exist. I've been writing mail back and forth to myself, imagining a knight in shining armor, ever since my sister told me about her real on-line lover. I couldn't do that, honey; but I knew I had to do something! You just wouldn't communicate with me anymore. You stopped listening to what *I* was telling you would make me happy; so I thought that maybe you'd listen to what I said to "him." She put her arms around me and added, with a smile, "I hope you will forgive me for tricking you into all this."

"In a heartbeat, dear... just so I know you're still in love with me. You've made me into a believer," I said. Then reaching for the zipper on her dress, I whispered, "Now, how about starting with a nice warm bath together?"

She smiled and kissed me, and I knew that day that I'd learned a lesson that I'd never forget.

Thursday, September 8, 2005


The theme for this one was chocolate. From skimming through this before I post it I see that I was taking jabs at a few different groups at once. It's one of the few (intentionally) satirical pieces I've written. It was written in March of 2000, just before Easter of that year which is reflected in the OTHER chocolate story I wrote for this theme.

"Alright, show them in," the sweating rotund man said into the intercom, from his seat at a huge cherrywood desk.  Clad in shirtsleeves, no jacket, a rumpled lowered tie, and red suspenders straining to hold up his voluminous pants, he stood to greet his guests.

His secretary escorted two men into his office.  One was tall and handsome, with what looked like plastic hair, and wore a huge cross around his neck---obviously the Reverend.  The other man, who was shorter and almost skeletally thin, he assumed must be the president of that tobacco company, whose name he could never remember.

"Thank you for seeing us," the reverend said in an officious tone that clearly conveyed he had actually expected nothing less. "I'm Reverend Kermit Killjoy, and my colleague here is Herb Hackincough, president of the Up-in-Smoke Tobacco Company of the great state of North Carolina, from which I also hail.  The matter we bring before you today, Senator, is of vital importance to the very foundation of our country, and indeed all of society.  Your cooperation with us will assure that the name of Senator Bob Blowhard will go down in history!"

"Well, gentlemen I can spare a little time.  As I understand, this has something to do with C.H.O.M.P.... is that correct?" the senator said as they all took seats, his own chair groaning as his bulk eased into it.

"Blasphemy!" cried Killjoy, jumping back to his feet, and beginning to pace theatrically in front of the senator's desk.  "That rabble is a communist militant organization supporting that which will cause the downfall of American society as we know it!  They have the effrontery to try to change the very way men and women relate in this country, something that goes back over 200 years!  This evil has always been with us---planted by the very people from whom we sought independence!  But now it's growing, and it must be stopped!"

Hackincough, wringing his hands, chimed in, "Why, they're trying to put Reverend Killjoy, and even your fellow litigators, out of business, Senator!"  After coughing into a handkerchief and regaining his breath, he continued passionately.  "They would ruin the tobacco companies to the point that we could no longer pay legal fees to both side of the tobacco settlement, and it would cost pious organizations such as the Reverend's millions in donations! And I think you already know what it would do to your very own campaign donations---it will have your colleagues chasing ambulances, I tell you!"

"Men are actually buying this romance, drivel, Senator!" Killjoy went on. "And their women are starting to forgive them for things they never would have before---or should have!  It's filth I tell you!  Romance of this type will lead only to promiscuous sex, binge eating, and scandalous affairs!  Any enlightened person can see that there is no place for romance in marriage!  It will destroy the fabric of American society!  REAL married couples go to a counselor such as myself, or to a lawyer like you, who have years of training!  They don't work it out themselves with.... with... romance!" he cried, literally spitting that his word out in disgust.

The rhetoric continued until the senator found his head spinning, still listening as promised, but sneaking nervous peeks out his window.  Then Killjoy slammed a document down on the senator's desk, and pulled back from it as if it were on fire.

"Look at it Senator!" thundered the Reverend, pointing.  "It's the bill you must introduce outlawing that repulsive mob, Chocolate Hoarders of Massive Proportions!  It also introduces a constitutional amendment prohibiting chocolate in any form in this country.  Together we can clean the U.S. of this scourge!"

Senator Blowhard looked at the men before him, shocked but not surprised.  Finally he stammered, "Gentlemen, I beg you to think of what you're doing here!  The fight in the '20s against alcohol prohibition will be nothing compared to this!  You will have people of all ages, genders, and ethnic groups in up arms against you... they'll be all over us!  And even MY backside, Reverend, is not big enough for that!"

Standing as one, Killjoy and Hackincough launched into a tirade aimed at the senator, threatening him with unspeakable penalties if he did not support them.  As they ranted, the senator again looked past them out the window and his jaw dropped as he saw a sea of people flowing up the mall, all dressed in brown, and carrying brown rectangular signs with C.H.O.M.P. displayed on them.

Reverend Killjoy turned, and seeing what was happening shouted, "Betrayed!" as he headed for the door, with Hackincough right behind.  Before they got halfway across the room, the door was flung open, and Killjoy and his crony were pulled from the room, protesting and screaming imprecations at the senator that he would pay for this.  And two women clad in brown tee shirts with C.H.O.M.P. emblazoned on them, stomped toward the senator, who was cowering in the corner.

"I did what you asked!  Now spare me.., please!  I swear I never intended to actually help them," he pleaded.

The women lead the Senator to the window.  "Watch!," the older one said.  "This is what you'll get if you cross us!"  The Senator watched with horror, which soon changed to amusement, as Killjoy and Hackincough were liberally drenched with chocolate syrup... and as they beat a fast retreat, were doused with crushed nuts thrown by C.H.O.M.P. members.

As he returned to his desk, the senator told the two women, "You know I'd never lie to my wife and my mother!"  And satisfied with his response, they left his office.

Senator Blowhard looked out the window at the chocolate footprints leading back down the mall, and wondered how long they'd keep running.  As he mopped his sweating brow, he leaned back in his chair and pulled a chocolate bar from his desk drawer... and taking a large bite, he sighed "Prohibition indeed!"

Strangled by their Web

This was another 'Web' story. It was written in March of 2000 as well. I could have sworn I wrote it as a collaboration but I can find no evidence that is the case and I always credited Jeanne when she did more than just edit one of my stories so maybe not. Nobody but Connie seems to be reading these now but my main goal with these old stories was to get them posted somewhere other than the AOL short story board anyway. I see it's changed format yet again. I want to get all these stories off it before they just delete them not that I've had any indication they are going to, but also I've had no indication they are NOT going to.

I didn't set out to create the web of deception and lies in which I now find myself tangled.  But how simply and innocently these things start...

I received a random instant message one evening while I was on-line.  Her name was Laura, and we talked for over two hours that first night... and said goodnight feeling like we'd known each other forever.  My nights, which had previously been spent aimlessly surfing the Net, were soon consumed by chats with her instead.  I looked for her every time I got on-line, and we met almost every night for several weeks.  And while there was always a strong sense of flirtation between us, our discussions continued to center on our families, jobs, likes and dislikes, etc.

So when my wife casually asked one evening what I was doing on the computer after she was asleep, why did I lie and tell her I was just surfing?  When she teasingly asked if I was enjoying the porn sites, I knew that would be both believable and acceptable to her, so I just smiled and said I was.  I'm not sure why I didn't simply say I was chatting with a new friend... but maybe it was because I was secretly hoping for what eventually did happen... that is, Laura and I stepped over that line into deep intimacy.

I've never thought of myself as someone who would have an affair, on- or off-line... but it all happened so naturally.  It began one night when we were talking about a favorite movie of both of ours, "Dr. Zhivago," and we began discussing the intense passion and love that filled that story. We progressed to telling each other what we considered the most important components of a passionate relationship.  And we concurredthat it was not just the physical side, but the emotional, romantic arousal that defined true *passion*... it was not the destination as much as the *journey* that mattered.  It was uncanny how we'd write simultaneously, and receive almost the same wording back from one another.  And soon we realized... we had actually embarked upon such a journey together.

After that night, our writing became more sensuous and suggestive... our conversations concentrated on sexual teasing and deliberately arousing statements... and began lasting several hours.  Cybersex seems like too insensitive a term for what Laura and I were sharing... it was much more personal than the everyday hyped and raunchy depiction of sex on the Internet.  What we were doing truly felt like making love on-line.

And while it was something we both enjoyed tremendously, we agreed to never allow it to harm our marriages, as we both loved our spouses and had solid, secure relationships.  But Laura's husband traveled most of the time... and my wife had dedicated most of her time and attention to her home-based publishing business the last couple years... so both Laura and I found ourselves literally feeding one another's starving libidos when we got together.

I began getting to bed later and later at night... actually in the early hours of morning.  And I was always prepared with an excuse... but my wife never asked for an explanation---in fact, she rarely even woke up when I slid in beside her.  And sometimes I was still so aroused from my chat that I longed to wake her and share with her the passion that lingered in me... because it had been a long time since she and I had experienced that much intensity together.  In the back of my mind, I was actually hoping that my on-line affair with Laura would spark some excitement in my own marriage.  The enthusiasm for physical love had been revived in me, and I wanted to inspire such feelings again in my wife, as I truly did miss the physical and emotional closeness that the two of us used to enjoy.  But I never did wake her... I guess I just felt too selfish, "using" her physically for feelings and stimulation planted by Laura.

So I just continued to spin my web around me... tighter and tighter.

Then one afternoon when I arrived home from work, and I found the house empty... and eventually remembered that my wife was attending a publishing seminar out of town, and wouldn't be back until the following afternoon.  I cringed to think that we had grown so far apart that I could forget she would be gone... or that she hadn't said goodbye.  Suddenly, I longed to talk to her... I was overcome with remorse and just wanted to tell her that I loved her, and to hear her say it back.  We generally left each other's desks alone, but I needed to find the hotel name and number, and thought maybe she'd left it on there somewhere.

What I found instead chilled me to the bone.  She was not at a conference at all... she had gone to spend her first night with a man with whom she'd been having an on- and off-line affair for months.  It was all there in the letters:  an innocent beginning just like Laura and me... her telling him how she had felt so ignored by, and isolated from me lately... details about them meeting for lunch... then accounts of him coming to see her at our house, sometimes several times a week.  He was apparently seeing my wife more than I was!  And no wonder she was not interested late at night when I came to bed, hoping to share my "leftover passion" with her... she was tired and well-satisfied.

Dumbfounded and numb, I sat and waited for her to come home... examining over and over the events that had occurred.  I saw how we had both run in different directions rather than to each other when we felt lonely and shut out.  And I saw how the webs of deceit that we ultimately forced each other to weave had strangled our marriage in the process.