Friday, May 31, 2019

the petitioners, part 2

by horace p sternwall

part two of three

to read part one, click here

“i was born for love,” the woman with the feather in her hat began, “and i have remained true to my soul and my path all my life.

my mother was a hard working woman. she worked in a dress shop where she sewed clothes for high and mighty women who never lifted a finger to do anything for themselves their whole lives long.

there were a lot of us kids. the boys ran wild, and mama was always glad to see them go, to jail, to the factory across the river, or just down the long dusty road to nowhere.

mama used to tell us girls, don’t believe all you hear about love. in fact, don’t believe anything you hear about love. the world is a jungle, she would say, and men are beasts, but women can be beasts too, they just have to be a little more patient and pick their spots. men are beasts, and you have to wear them down and stare them down, and trick them and track them and nail them to the wall.

but the more mama talked, the less i was having any of it. love made the world go round, in my humble opinion, and i knew in my heart that some day my prince would come, that somewhere among the million slobs and monsters was the perfect gentleman who would speak to my heart and be true to me forever.

the day came when i was all grown up and had not met my true love and i had to make my own way in the world. i had a girl friend named bella and we decided to help other girls find love and we borrowed some money and we set up a counseling service to help both girls and guys find love. we were successful at first and the money came rolling in and me and bella were so proud of ourselves for helping people and giving back to the community.

but sad to say, though we were so adept at finding love for ordinary folks like you might see at a bus station or a ball game or a picnic in the woods, i myself, with my insatiable and uniquely beautiful soul, was not able to find the man of my dreams, or anybody who even looked like him if you saw him striding forth from a distant horizon.

there was one time - one time, when i thought - i can not bring myself to speak of it now, but when the dust has settled and the chips have fallen where they may and rolled away into the dark corners of fate, perhaps then the tale can be told. i prefer not to dwell on it now.”

“that might be best,” the man behind the desk agreed.

"but recently," the woman with the feather in her hat resumed, "times have been tough and me and bella might have made a few mistakes and you know how it is, and if you read the papers, mr grover, or listen to the nightly news you may have heard some of the lies spread about us.”

“excuse me. can i ask you a question?”

“of course.”

“have you ever considered doing an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay?”

“why - i consider helping to spread love to be honest work. the most honest work there is. and the most fulfilling.”

“to be sure. well, we will consider your appliication. and let you know.”

“thank you so much,” the woman with the feather in her hat smiled and stood up and left.

the man behind the desk rubbed his eyes and looked at the clock on the wall.

one more, he thought.

part 3

Thursday, May 30, 2019

the petitioners, part 1

by horace p sternwall

part one of three

can you help me out?” the man in the gray suit asked.

“just tell me your story,” the man behind the desk told him.

“my father was a truck driving man,” the man in the gray suit said. “my mama didn’t want me to be a truck driving man, or even a railroad man, but to be a preacher.

we had a bible in our house. my mother read it every night, but when she put it down on the table my father would out his glass of beer down on top of it and leave rings on it. the cover of the bible was covered with rings where my father put his glass of beer down on top of it.

sometimes my mother would ask my father to stop putting his glass of beer on top of the bible and she would start to cry and my father would haul off and smack her one.”

“can i ask you a question?”


“why did your mother keep putting the bible down where your father could put his glass of beer down on top of it? why didn’t she just put it away in a drawer or hold it in her lap or something?”

“i don’t know. that’s a good question. i never thought about it that way before.”

“all right, go on.”

“i had a great hunger for life and i only wanted to escape. i met this guy called bix at the pool hall, and he had been around the block a few times and he knew the score and knew all the angles. he said he killed a man in sacramento california in the gold rush and i believed him. bix had a plan, and he let me and a couple of other guys in on it. the other guys were like me, greenhorns who were barefoot in the pool hall, and didn’t have a proper upbringing or know any better and we were just babes in the woods.”

“excuse me, but didn’t your mother reading you the bible count for a proper upbringing?”

“not like i went to harvard in the springtime with my own butler or anything like that. i was wet behind the ears and putty in the hands of a smooth operator like bix. anyway, bix had this plan where we went around and sold a combination life insurance and encyclopedias to rubes in the sticks - to poor folks who just wanted their kids to get a good education so they could live the american dream. if they bought the life insurance they bought the encyclopedia and if they bought the encyclopedia they bought the life insurance and they could also buy a waiver of intent or something like that - “

“a letter of intent?”

“that sounds right. waiver, letter… it all sounded legit to me. what did i know? i didn’t go to harvard or yale in the springtime and i wasn’t a lawyer. so, where was i? me and the other guys thought we were on easy street, riding the gravy train - i was just about ready to but my own car - and then it all came crashing down around our heads and turned to dust after the tornado season. can you believe it, me and the other guys ended up in court with bix, the dirty rat, turning state’s evidence on us! how do you figure?

he was the mastermind behind the whole evil scheme and he made himself out to be little red riding hood and moses in the bulrushes all in one. and the d a had a nasty little mustache like the kaiser and he had the jurors in the palm of his hand like houdini or the serpent in eden and me and the boys got sent up the river.

so there you have it, mr grover. i have done my time, and all i want is a fair shake. i’m your man. just point me in the right direction, and i i will do anything. i won’t even ask about salary. just pay me what you think is fair, and i will do anything.”



“get lost.”

the man in the gray suit shrugged. “if that is the way you feel.”

“it is the way i feel. get up out of that chair so the next good shooter can come in.”

the man in the gray suit left, almost bumping into a woman with a feather in her hat who hurried in as if she were afraid someone in the waiting room would all her back.

the woman with a feather in her hat sat down in the chair vacated by the man in the gray suit. she had a big purse which she placed in her lap and she took a big blue handkerchief out of it.

“i hope you can help me,” she said.

“just tell me your story,” the man behind the desk told her.

part 2

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

the arrivers

by anonymous


i hope you are well today.

my name is joshua jericho.

i am a human being, just like you.

i have led an uneventful life, the details of which need not concern us here.

i have lived for a while, and , barring anything unforseen, i anticipate living a while longer.

my purpose in addressing you today is this -

i am trying to start a mass movement.

a mass movement of people, like myself, who have no opinions about anything and who mean no harm and just want to get along.

the movement will be called “the arrivers”.

there will be no program, and no organization.

anybody, absolutely at all, can join.

there are no qualifications, or disqualifications.

no applications or questionnaires to fill out.

you do not have to inform anyone, anyone at all, of your wish to join, if you do not care to.

all you have to do be an “arriver” is wish to be one.

there are no membership dues, and no way to collect them.

there will be no leaders, or officers.

and no records kept of the members, or of the number of members.

you are encouraged, though not required, to proclaim your membership, and to suggest to others that they might like to join. aggressive recruitment or proselytizing is not encouraged, however, as it might give a false or negative impression of the movement.

when our numbers become large enough, then we will make our move.

i sincerely hope that our day will come.

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

work of art

by chuck leary

“that is awful, godfrey, simply awful. i am sorry, but i can not allow you to hang that thing in my house.”

godfrey smiled tolerantly. he had had these arguments with jocasta before. and in the end she always gave in, though each time a little less graciously than the time before.

the painting godfrey had purchased at the street fair was about three feet wide two feet high, larger than most he had bought, and depicted four figures seated around a small campfire beside a railroad track.

the four figures were a sad clown, a gypsy violinist, an aging ballerina, and a waif with enormous eyes.

“it is bad enough,” said jocasta, “ that you bring home pictures with any one of these things, but all four in a single one - does it have a name? the apocalypse of philistinism, perhaps? the four horsemen of kitsch?”

“come now, my dear, it is only a picture. maybe it is not a work of art by the so-called standards of your high and mighty know it all long nosed muckety muck friends, but i know what i like and i like it. i will hang it in my own room. what harm in that, eh?””

“perhaps it is just as well,” jocasta replied, “it is a long road that has no turning, but the hour has come round at last. i am afraid i must ask you to leave, and never show your foolish face here again. and to go quietly, unless you wish to bring in lawyers, whom i can afford and you, of course, can not.”

“you want me to leave?” godfrey asked.

“immediately. and take your picture with you.”

“but i have not had my lunch yet.”

“here is five dollars. get yourself a pastrami sandwich at that corner deli you are so fond of.”


godfrey left the city behind, and began walking down a dusty road.

he walked and walked.

he came to the railroad tracks.

the clown, the gypsy violinist , the ballerina, and the waif were sitting around a little fire heating up a can of spinach, and they looked up as godfrey approached.

godfrey showed them the painting. “sorry, guys,” he said, “i tried, but it just did not work out.”

“damn!” exclaimed the gypsy, “and we all put so much time and effort into it.”

“oh!” cried the ballerina, “what is to become of us now? we will never get back to our own planet.”

the clown began to weep. “it is all so sad,” he sobbed. “so sad.”

“i am sure godfrey did his best,” the waif said, fixing them all with her big eyes. “we will just have to suck it up and soldier on. quitters never win, and winners never quit.”

“i’m tired,” godfrey said, “that was a long hard road.” he propped the painting up against a rock and sat down beside the others.

“would you like some spinach?” the ballerina asked him. “it’s nice and hot.”

“no thank you,” godfrey answered, “i had a sandwich on the way over.”

“i hope it was tasty,” the clown sniffled.

“it was all right,” godfrey answered. “i needed all my strength to get out here, that’s why i ate the whole thing myself.”

"now, now," said the ballerina. "let's not fight."

the sun began to set.

the gypsy began to play.

Monday, May 27, 2019


by anonymous

jonathon arrived on time for his annual review, as he always had.

he entered the interview room when he was directed to do so, and closed the door behind him.

the interviewer looked to be the same person as the year before, but he could not be sure.

good morning, jonathon, the interviewer greeted him.

good morning.

the interviewer pulled up jonathon’s file.

well, what have we got here.

i see that you have not accomplished anything this year.

or done anything at all.

nothing worth noting happened to you.

or ever has.

you did not develop any distinguishing characteristics.

and have never had any.

i see that you have no friends.

and that nobody likes you.

or finds you the least bit interesting or amusing.

you have not said, done, or thought anything original.

or made any contributions to society.

nor have you ever done so.

you are completely useless.

and just take up space.

do you question these findings?

no, jonathon replied.

or have anything to add to them?


very well then, i will see you again next year. have a nice day.

thank you, jonathon replied. you have a nice day yourself.

Sunday, May 26, 2019

the story of xyz

by emily de villaincourt

“… and so,” amanda concluded, “ having slain in mortal combat the dragon who had, in the guise of a handsome prince, presumed to ask for her hand, xarelia declared her intent to mount the throne alone, and rule alone as empress. she did so, and ruled the empire wisely and well forever and a day, until time had a stop.”

the class clapped politely, and ms faraday, known as “the goalpost” to the girls, clapped a bit longer than the class. “that was lovely, amanda, very nice. very inspiring, and with a resoundingly positive heroine.”

amanda sat down. she ranked 5th in the class in looks, 2nd in athletic ability , but only 21st, fifth from the bottom, in popularity, because of her sarcastic and haughty manner.

bedelia got up to read her story. bedelia ranked at the bottom of the class, number 26, in all categories. and on this rainy day, she had also happened to draw lot number 26, so that she would be the last to tell her story. the class, therefore, was prepared to give her a rousing ovation at the conclusion of her story, as they always did to the last storyteller.

“once upon a time,” bedelia began, “ a newborn female child was left in a basket at the back gate of a great castle. it was taken to one of the under chambermaids.

‘looks kind of scrawny,’ noted the servant who had brought it to the under chambermaid.

‘yes, agreed the under chambermaid, ‘but the stars predict a great harvest in three years, when it will be ready to be put to work, and the great lord says we will need all the hands we can get, especially if he loses this war, and and can not bring back hordes of slaves from his conquests. so, take this little beauty and feed it.’

the little child that thus began its passage through this strange world, was never given a name. for the purposes of this story, we will refer to her as xyz.

xyz survived, but when she reached the age to be put to good use and earn her keep, she was judged not strong enough to work in the fields. she was instead assigned to the castle cleaning force, where she was put to work cleaning the worst filth from the foulest corners of the castle. she was given a little brush for this purpose, and the brush lasted her for twenty years and was her only friend.

she helped clean the castle for twenty years. she never complained. when the other servants spoke bitterly of the great lord and his lieutenants and courtiers and high flunkies, she always took their side, and reminded her hearers that fate had placed them in their positions and that they were doing the best they could. this attitude did not win xyz any popularity contests with her fellows.

then one day the castle was stormed by the troops of the rival empire, and xyz and a few hundred other servants and soldiers who had survived the assault were taken prisoner and marched through four thousand miles of desert to the capital of the empire.

when they finally reached the capital, xyz was one of the only seventeen prisoners who had survived the march, out of the original three hundred or so. she had also lost her friend, the brush, along the way.

the imperial capital was not as merciful an employer as the great lord’s castle had been. a slave was a slave, and no allowances were made for weakness.

xyz was assigned to a work gang in the desert. the work consisted of collecting stones to be brought to a gigantic rock crusher and cement mixer. the sun only set every fifteen years, and xyz missed the cool atmosphere of the castle’s noxious chambers. but she never complained, never disrespected the guards and whipmasters, and survived another thirteen years.

one day one of the whipmasters took her aside and told her, ‘you can’t pull your weight any more. i give you a choice - you can wander off into the desert, or be hanged.’

xyz thanked the whipmaster for his thoughtfulness, and chose to wander into the desert.

when she got about nineteen miles into the desert, she found a water hole.

she knelt down in front of it to take a drink, and was bitten by a scorpion.

the scorpion’s bite caused her body to swell up, and to be covered with a foul green fungus.

she tried to crawl away. the sky above her suddenly turned black.

a giant meteor crashed into the planet she was crawling on and smashed it into a trillion little pieces.

so ends the story of xyz,” bedelia concluded.

all the class applauded, as ms faraday had known they would.

“good one, bedelia, old girl!”

“way to go!”

“best story ever!”

“i am sure you put a lot of work into your story, bedelia,” ms faraday told her. “perhaps your next effort will be a bit more positive.”

“perhaps,” bedelia replied.

the class broke up, it was the last one of the day. most of the girls went to their rooms, but a few went out into the rain, headed for the donut shop in town .

Saturday, May 25, 2019

the light

by nick nelson

kenneth got a job on the graveyard shift at a gas station and 24 hour store in abbotstown.

he had to drive through waterville to get to it. he had been told that waterville was a ghost town, completely deserted, and so it seemed to be.

he drove through waterville night after night without seeing a single light. granted, it was pretty late, but even so, if there was anybody there he thought somebody might be up once in a while.

then one night he had almost gone through waterville and was about to cross the town line, when he saw a light. it was in a wooded area, and he was not sure if the light was in the woods or in a house just off the road.

it was a warm night, and he had his window rolled down. as he went past the light, he thought he heard a cry. it sounded like a cat, but it could have been a child, kenneth thought.. or a woman… or i could just be imagining things…

two nights later, he was again driving through, faster this time because he was a little late, and he saw the light, and he thought he heard the cry, a little fainter than before…

as he stood at his post behind the counter of the 24 hour store, dispensing mountain dew and beef jerky and tortilla chips , kenneth could not help wondering about the light, and the cry.

maybe some sicko had a woman or a child held captive in the little house. kenneth had seen things like that in the movies, and he knew that they really happened.

then another thought occurred to him. suppose there was a sicko in there with a captive and it came out later that he, kenneth, had driven past night after night and never reported it or done anything about it! he remembered reading a story about people in an apartment building in new york and there was a woman screaming for help right outside their windows and she was killed and they did not help her or even call the police. after that everybody hated on those people and they lived in infamy forever.

kenneth decided if he saw the light a third time, he would stop and investigate.

it had been a clear night and it was summer, and getting light early, and as kenneth drove back that morning, he could see the little house where the light had come from. he had never really noticed it before. it was just a shack, and hidden by the trees.

he made a decision to stop and check it out right then and there.

he pulled over and got out of his car and started walking toward the shack. i am probably just going to just make an ass of myself, he thought, but he just wanted to do it get it over with for his own peace of mind.

kenneth knocked on the door of the shack. he thought he heard something inside - someone telling him to come in? he waited a few seconds to see if someone would open the door and then he pushed it and it opened.

he saw a man sitting at a little table with a laptop open in front of him. there was no sign of a victim or anybody else.

the man turned and looked at kenneth, and kenneth thought he looked like kevin, his twin brother whom he had not seen in years.

“what are you doing?” kenneth asked the man who looked like kevin.

the man pointed to the laptop. “what does it look like i am doing? i am writing the story.”

“the story? is there only one?”

“of course.”

“and what might that be?” kenneth asked.

“the story of st george snd the dragon. everybody is either st george or the dragon. which are you?”

kenneth started to say st george, because he did not think of himself as a dragon, but then he thought it might be a trick question, so he said,

“can i think about it and come back tomorrow?”

“of course. we have time. nothing but time.”