Funny! Fiction for Cracked Flash

Waiver

Most epic adventures don’t start out with an application and an insurance waiver, but Tom Kinzel, CEO of Chilly Thrills saw the writing on the wall: the positive correlation between epicness and peril. The 200 bodies strewn upon Mt. Everest gave their silent testimony: counterphobia (charging your worst nightmare) while epic, is risky. But to Tom’s way of thinking, the real tragedies were the corpses of entrepreneurial start-ups that met death in small claims court (a misnomer) all because they didn’t have that one little (but “HUGE, believe me”) piece of the business puzzle: the waiver.

I____________________ am a willing participant in the Chilly Thrills 5000K Mt. Mortem hike, an epic adventure of extreme proportions which requires excellent mental judgment and a high degree of physical fitness, agility, and dexterity.

I FURTHER UNDERSTAND AND HEREBY ACKNOWLEDGE THAT MY PARTICIPATION IN CHILLY THRILLS 5000K MT. MORTEM HIKE INVOLVES CERTAIN HAZARDS AND DANGERS SUCH AS INJURY OR POSSIBLY DEATH AND/OR RISK OF DAMAGE TO OR LOSS OF PROPERTY.

I release, waive, forever discharge, covenant not to sue, indemnify, and hold harmless Chilly Thrills from any and all liability, claims, suits, demands, judgments, costs, interest and expense, (including attorneys’ fees and costs) arising from Chilly Thrills’ 5000K Mt. Mortem Hike.

I have read all applications, preparatory materials, and instructions in their entirety (including this waiver) and signed it knowingly and voluntarily. And I’m mentally competent, fully aware that a 5000K peak is 16+ million feet (3280 feet/kilometer x 5000) that brushes against the floorboards of heaven, a destination I couldn’t reach if I strapped twin F-16 thrusters to my boots and chugged a keg of Monster Energy drink. But– I certify I’ve read this waiver in its entirety. Yes. No lie. Every word. Bring on the epic adventure.

Signed, Epic Participant

 

The Problem of Otterness: A Fable for the Restless

The lake marsh had become a peaceful, bounteous place; the animals no longer worried for their next meal or for their safety. Wolves barely came by anymore, and the deer only nibbled the tree leaves and tamped lovely paths to the water’s edge. Even the trees had conveniently died and their smooth bones reached like skyscrapers out of the placid waters, homes for the tree swallows.

You know what they say about ease and idleness.

Not surprisingly it was an otter who first became… dissatisfied. Or perhaps the word is disgruntled. Or confused. Or certain. Otter felt in herself a strange disquiet. Like a belly that, even stuffed, wasn’t filled.

Otter realized: I feel uncomfortable in my fur and in this thick, luxurious tail. In the pit of myself is a wrongness I can’t quite put my paw on, but it’s wrong to my core, it’s thwarting my happiness.

Otter wasn’t sure what the solution was, but the problem was clear: otterness. Otterness was the problem.

Otter lay down on a mossy rock and cried in the warm sunlight, free of predators. Into her haze a busy sound began to prod… slapping tails, gnawing teeth, and the papery crashing of a young tree, then the scraping of weight against old leaves as a trunk was dragged: the constant carpentry of beavers. Otter sat up with a start.

Inspiration struck.

A furry paw smacked a furry head. Otter ran around in circles of triumphant joy and nearly fell into the water. It was exquisite revelation. It was like pulling heaven down by a white wispy beard and grumbling a complaint in His face: You got me wrong. I’m so… beaverish. Otter looked at her fine grey fur and thick tail, despising the cuteness. Otter ran a tongue along the petite teeth, the useless teeth.

Surely there had been a mistake. Otter should know. Otter felt beaverish through and through, and Otter came up with a plan to make things right.

Some beavers were chewing on a particularly thick tree when Otter came by.

“I wouldn’t stand there if I were you,” warned a grey-haired beaver. But he’d been chomping and had a mouthful, so it sounded more like Ah woodna stan air wiff ahh eryoof and was punctuated by bits of wood spit from his mouth. How beautiful they looked to Otter, those huge, yellow, useful teeth. That should be me, thought Otter. But the beaver, being old, probably wouldn’t understand, so Otter did not share her thoughts.

The old beaver shook his head at Otter’s insistence on standing in the very path of a Buckeye tree that was mere bites away from plummeting.

The sharp crack of wood prompted the beavers to take cover. Otter stood with her eyes tightly closed, paws clasped, resolute. The tree came right at her, was going to fall directly on her, crush her.

Suddenly, from behind, a young beaver plowed into Otter, shoving her out of the way just as the trunk slammed into the ground like a gavel, throwing up a cloud of dirt and leaves and skittish ducks. Beaver and Otter tumbled end over end and were tangled in the smaller branches of the fallen colossal.

Beaver smiled his huge toothy smile. “Whew! That was close.”

Otter blinked.

Beaver asked, “You hit your head or something?”

Otter came to herself. “Gar! Now I have to start all over, thanks to you.”

“Huh?” asked Beaver.

“I want to be a beaver.”

“Beavers get out of the way when trees fall.”

“Duh, I wanted it to crush my tail flat like yours. Then I was going to pluck the hairs out.”

“Sounds painful.”

“Not as painful as being an otter.”

“Huh,” Beaver said. Huh was the perfect noncommittal when he didn’t know what to say. Then he added, “There’ll be other trees to fall on you, no worries.”

But Otter did have worries. Big trees were rarely felled, which meant waiting. Not like she was waiting for a pleasantry. This tree business was seriously frightening. And her other problem: what to do about her tine-like, ugly teeth that were only good for eating fish, not felling trees? Unjust and unfair were her dealt cards, and the more Otter thought about it, the madder she got.

Being mad is a potent motivator.

Otter convinced her beaver friend to chew on a mature tree. He had to enlist help, and it still took them almost three weeks to get through it. This time Beaver didn’t push Otter out of the way, and the tree crashed right on her tail. Otter screamed and flailed her arms. Her eyes bulged and her paws pushed ineffectually at the huge tree.

“Get it off!” she managed, though hyperventilating fiercely. In their haste to free Otter, the beavers dragged the trunk instead of rolling it, and ripped the tail clean off.

***

“You were lucky not to bleed out,” said her new friend the beaver.

Otter rolled her eyes. “Where’s my tail?”

Beaver looked uncomfortable.

“I know it fell off. I want it anyway.”

For a pregnant moment the only sound was Beaver’s nervous tail, thumping against the forest floor. Huh could not help him now, though he desperately wanted to try it.

“Huh?” Beaver asked.

“Where’s. My. TAIL?”

Beaver licked his huge teeth and took a deep breath. “I hung it on a tree… Hawk took it.”

Otter’s response to this piece of news could be heard well into the forest depths, stopping animals short, drawing ears to instant attention, tightening haunches like ready bows for flight. Such a fit no animal had ever before thrown.

But when no threat manifested, all went back to their business. Otter’s tirade so took the life out of her she fainted back into the leaf bed, comatose. Beaver kept vigil, certain Otter would die of despair. But inside Otter was counting the cost, deciding whether or not to give up. Otters don’t, you know.

Set within Otter was an unrecognizable creature who did not match the reflection in the water and who was now officially disfigured. Could it get any worse?

***

By and by Otter became a beaver. Otter insisted on being referred to as “Beaver,” which was very confusing, especially to the younger animals and transients.

“Hey, uh… You. Your… thing fell off,” buzzed a dragonfly, a recent migrant to the marsh who didn’t know the story and thought he was being helpful.

Otter glared and stomped away.  It fell to Beaver-who-saved-her to duct-tape the piece of tire to her stump whenever it fell off, which was often. Beaver also whittled her a new set of teeth when her old ones broke off or got soggy. All very inconvenient, this.

Even with all the beaver accoutrements, Otter’s insides still felt empty. But being a beaver took so much work, and there were the marsh meetings Otter called where she made passionate speeches about the problem of otterness, or gooseness, or duckness, or any number of other problems. Like hawks: they had to go. In all the work to be done, all the self-manicuring and re-training into beaverness, Otter was so distracted she didn’t have time to think.

But the movement caught on. At first the animals came to gawk at the cobbled creature who waved her paws around and defiantly cursed whatever powers be, who challenged the status quo. “Should we not all ask ourselves if we are what we want to be? Are you satisfied?” asked Otter-beaver. Most shook their heads, no.

“Well then do something about it,” thundered Otter-beaver, and she was quite the orator. Before long, animals were mutilating themselves left and right. Everyone had a problem. The sounds of the marsh evolved. Gone were the primitive whacks and slaps of work. No. Mostly there was talk, complaints, advice, how-to’s. Entrepreneurs and savvy thinkers took to collecting tire pieces and making wooden teeth, antlers, fake rabbit tails from milkweed strings. The marsh was a busy, busy place.

…a harried, frenzied place where not a lot of thinking went on, not a pollen-sized piece of true joy could be found. Just a trade: one dissatisfaction for another. Otterness for psuedo-beaverness and all the complications thereof. No doubt a real and tangible discomfort existed in Otter and in the other changeling animals– a yearning for wholeness or satisfaction, for more, for less, for peace. A real and tangible discomfort existed in Otter. And still does.

The end.

I have seen all the works which have been done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and striving after wind. What is crooked cannot be straightened and what is lacking cannot be counted.  Ecclesiastes 1:14, 15

Godliness actually is a means of great gain when accompanied by contentment.  For we have brought nothing into the world, so we cannot take anything out of it either. 1 Timothy 6:6,7

 

Tickled Slink, A G-Rated Story

“So where is it?” Jude asked as he spun me and gathered my hair in his fist, exposing my neck. “No ‘on’ button here,” he whispered huskily, “How do I turn you on, Kate? I’m so very hungry…”

I stared flatly into his eyes, barely holding my stoic mask.  Suddenly he jerked my arm straight up. “…Here?” He asked, tickling me with artful precision until I squirmed and shrieked, breathless at the silken touch.

“Let me go!” I screamed with zero conviction. Jude cinched me to him, and with one thickly cabled arm pinned my writhing form to his.

“Found the ‘on’ button, Kate. Any chance I can program you to do my bidding?” Jude swept his arm around the disheveled area like he was Vanna White displaying my prizes, as opposed to the gross accoutrements strewn around the tiled room, evidence of just how much he needed me to “do his bidding.” My jaw dropped open as I understood what it was he wanted me to do. He couldn’t possibly think I’d lower myself to this paltry undertaking, overcome my ascetic nature and touch those things, did he– just because he was charming me inside out? Jude, the enemy of my better sense, the man who crushed all sound thinking with a flash of his disarming smile. Jude had only to ask, and I’d fold into his will.

But this was too much.

My disgust must have shown on my face, for he began his assault afresh, sending me into spasms and giggles. “A friend would do it…” he pressed.

Where we were joined his body seared me, melting my willpower, overpowering my nerve.

“Never!” I said.

“Come on, Kate. Make me an omelet.”

gabe-art

Credit: Gabe Griffiths

 

Cracked Flash Fiction entry, modified.

Incidentally You Have a Brain Tumor and Your Van Won’t Start

I’m not whining, for the record, I’m recording. Those violins are entirely coincidental.

Ever have an experience that was so thoroughly insane that you wondered whether God-in-heaven had just bragged about you to Satan, “Have you considered my servant, X?”

March, 2014. I had pneumonia. Not walking pneumonia, mind you. Although I walked from the parking lot into the doctor’s office, mewling, and kept it up while I waited for them to work their magic and make everything better.

“Well… what have we here?” asked a motherly Indian doctor. I cried. I gasped. She said she doubted I had pneumonia but she’d do a chest x-ray just in case. I didn’t even say I told you so. Breathing the words required too much effort.

Dr. Thank-God gave me some superhero antibiotics, steroid lung mist, and a codeine cough syrup that made me think I was hearing choruses from The Grateful Dead. I looked forward to being not dead and grateful.

Convalescing is lovely for kids and old people and anyone else who can afford two weeks on her back. Not me. My refrigerator was empty, and the minions were hungry. No, starving. They’re always starving. We go straight from full-of-orange-chicken to desperately languishing. It takes five minutes, I tell you, and a mother can only take so much whining.

I shuffled into Aldi, weak and shaky, and considered turning around and going back home, but I’m prideful and didn’t want to admit weakness the kids would flog me for returning empty-handed. As I pushed the cart down one aisle and then another, I felt weaker and weaker, like my knees couldn’t be trusted. That being an entirely new and unwelcome feeling for me, I became alarmed. My heart raced, and no matter how much air I gulped, it wasn’t enough. I began to fear the very real prospect of fainting in Aldi.

It took herculean effort to put those groceries on the belt and gasp into my phone. Come… get me.

In all our 20 years of marriage, I have never asked Bob to come get me.

On a bench in Aldi, quite the spectacle, I waited. Bob was taking forever (7 minutes), and I regretted not calling the squad. I’m going to die in Bob’s car.  Because I couldn’t feel my arms and legs, because my heart was completely out of control, because I couldn’t breathe– I sincerely believed I might be dying. What a relief to make it to the ER. Much rather die there.

The intake nurse asked if I ever had a panic attack before.

No. I don’t have panic attacks. I’m here for you to fix this whole weak kneed, heart pounding, head hurting, unable to breathe thing I’ve got going on. Don’t judge me, just fix it.

I think the strategy in ER’s is to make you wait until you either 1. die or 2. get better on your own. My symptoms worked themselves out while I lay there waiting for test results. #2 for me.

The doctor told me they didn’t know what caused my presenting symptoms, but they had found something else while they were in there looking around. An incidental finding, he called it. A mass, he called it, about 7 millimeters diameter in my brain.

[record screech]

I know metric measurements, and I know what diameter is. And I thoroughly know masses don’t belong in one’s brain. Still, I held up my fingers and asked: This?  Like a marble? Yes, that. He was a nice-enough guy. He was just punching me in the gut with his incidental finding. It’s hard to like someone when they’re doing that, even if they speak like Buddha and gently touch your skull while illustrating. I wouldn’t lose sleep over it, he told me. Just see this neurosurgeon…

Don’t lose sleep over it?  I have pneumonia and a brain tumor and I still don’t know what mutiny happened inside my body to bring me in here in the first place.

Have you considered my servant, Kelly?  Only that could explain the ridiculous pile-up of medical afflictions with which I found myself. Don’t lose sleep over it, snort.

Bob put his arm around me, and we hobbled to our van, aware we still had a trunk full of groceries in the Aldi parking lot. I was in shock and beat down and mumbling bits of Scripture to myself.

The van was dead. The whirring, moaning sound it made left little doubt. In my mind I laughed that I-can’t-believe-this-is-happening maniacal laugh reserved for the truly absurd. I wouldn’t be more surprised than if we walked out of the ER to a couple of dairy cows in our parking space.

What I know now, without a doubt, is there is no hedge and no escape from the brokenness of our world.  Anything can and will happen. Jesus tried to warn me (John 16:33b), but I’m more of an experiential learner: In the world you will have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world. 

He has, I tell you– overcome. It’s been more than a year since they discovered my marble. I find it a handy excuse when I forget things or am generally scatterbrained. Maybe I’ll have it cut out someday if it gets unwieldy. Life gets unwieldy sometimes, like that day. But then there’s a next day, and a next. And eventually you can look back and laugh, not even maniacally. You can look back with Jesus and watch your personal storm together like you’re watching a movie, and he looks at you and you look at Him, and He winks.

Carpe Diem. They’ll Never Notice the Pillow Cases.

San Juan, 20 years ago. I wore a white sundress with yellow daisies and felt like Ponce de Leon. We posed for pictures on the crumbling ramparts of stone castles and swaggered along narrow cobblestone streets watching artists birth exotic paintings using only coffee cans and spray paint. My hair was half braided into cornrows because that’s all we could afford, and that was cool. Both the poverty and the half-head of tight braids– kind of like having one ear double pierced. It said, I cannot be tamed. At least, in January, 1995 it said that. Today if I want my appearance to hint bohemian, I need to wear a pound of metal on my face and sport enough tattoos to identify my dead body from a space satellite.

St. ThomasWe were married on a cruise ship, docked in the port of Saint Thomas. In the sea glass morning hours before we got married, we snorkeled. Carpe diem was never spoken truer of a couple. Getting married? The best snorkeling ever? We can do it all.  Such incredible hordes of fish and eels and neon dust riots we saw under the water that day.

Our vows were beautiful. Bob was dashing in his black tuxedo, this gentle man who’d been my best friend since 5th grade. After the ceremony, we paraded the streets of Saint Thomas, spectacles in our white and black wedding attire. Then we ate slices of the best pizza ever. I remember feeling like an island princess.

We always seized the day. And wrung every bit of adventure out of it– especially on our wedding cruise.

One of our ports of call had sea doos available for hourly rent. We’d passed them on our way to the phone booth, and I noticed the wistful look in Bob’s eyes. After calling home, we found there was “just” enough time to ride a sea motorcycle and ensure some vacation whiplash before the ship left. It was too tempting a rush for Bob to pass up.

The cliché is that time flies when you’re having fun. Well, it grew thrusters in those moments, and the ship waits for no one. Not even ridiculous newlyweds trying to squash too much thrill into too little time.

Panic: we stood on the sidewalk, little puddles of sea water gathering around our bare feet, all testifying to our romp on the waves. Taxi after taxi went by without stopping, the drivers shaking their heads at the two messes who would not be wrecking their cabs.

Finally, a taxi stopped, and we were directed onto the tarp in the way back seat. Smart guy. A fare’s a fare. Except, we weren’t. Fares, that is. We had no cash. More panic. Furtive whispering. Also the realization that Bob had left his shoes in the phone booth. No shoes, no cash. Hurtling toward the moment we’d have to deal with those unfortunate facts.

Ahh, life. And the kindness of strangers. Two such kind ones were sitting in front of us and happened to be on our ship. We knew that they had to trust us for the money. They paid our fare, and we paid them back once on board. A life lesson, and we came away richer in wisdom, poorer one pair of shoes, and carpe diem!, again.

The shoes we lost were Bob’s casual pair. Unfortunately, we lost them at our last port, so there was no opportunity to buy new ones. His shiny black dress shoes were all he had left. For dinner, he wore his shoes; the rest of the time, he went barefoot.

The last night of any cruise is different. All luggage, except toiletries and the next day’s outfit, is placed outside the room by midnight. While we sleep, our stuff gets sniffed and searched by the customs department. Then we, after disembarkation and a customs turn of our own, are reunited with our luggage.

It’s a process that works swimmingly.

So long as one doesn’t pack one’s jeans in the luggage.

If one were to pack his jeans in the luggage, that would be very unlucky, as the ship’s stores cannot be opened while the ship is at port. The luggage is long gone into America, and one is left with whatever is in the cabin.

If one were to walk through customs wearing the Emperor’s New Clothes on his lower half, shod in his black dress loafers and white tube socks, it would be a long walk, indeed.

psycho

Critical fact #1: We shared a waist size in those early days of our marriage.

Critical fact #2: Ship cabins have everything one needs to survive the walk through customs.

Critical fact #3: We are a resourceful couple.

Picture this: Half my hair in cornrows, with a sunburn on my face and a sleep deprivation hangover, with dainty sneakers on my feet, I walked off our cruise ship and through customs– wearing pillow cases tied around my waist. Like a skirt. Like, I meant to do that. Bob wore my jeans. Carpe diem.

It was a most comedic moment.

It was the perfect union of ridiculous and sagacious.

Us, holding hands on our first walk into America as husband and wife. Carpe diem. Seize the day. Or seize whatever’s available. And walk with a swagger. No one will notice the pillow cases.