Friday, June 12, 2009

Admin Update

Yes, I know I've been quiet a while. There's a reason for that. I've been working on some animation with Xtranormal software, and in addition to that have begun a new website at which will house those animations (also on YouTube!) as well as some more stuff.

It may effectively kill this blog off completely. Or it may not. I dunno yet. We'll see.

I blame Bush.


Sunday, January 18, 2009


Peter Pike

The church basement was cold. Not in terms of temperature—with the blizzard outside, the church’s 72 degrees was quite toasty. Rather it was the atmosphere of the place that was cold. There was something about the harsh fluorescent bulbs reflecting off the white-washed cinder blocks on the drab Astroturf-colored carpet. It made Iris feel like she was standing in the middle of the 18th hole at Gargantua’s Mini Golf and Go-Cart Extravaganza.

Iris sat on one of the cold fold-out chairs reserved for special functions in churches, schools, or prisons (in her mind, these were all the same thing). She couldn’t quite tell what color it was. Was it gray? A brownish green? Maybe it was mauve. No one had a clue what color mauve was so she felt comfortable with that label.

Iris tapped her teeth with the Bic she had been given and looked at the cold white paper in front of her. At the top she had written “My addictions.” Beneath that was a number 1. And then a bunch of nothing.

She glanced across the room at the five other inmates—or attendees, depending on your point of view. Each had been there for two and a half hours now. Why? She didn’t know all the reasons for the others, but she had been walking down the sidewalk when a gust of wind blew a piece of paper off the lamp post and stuck it to her face. She couldn’t see so she did the logical thing: she screamed and clutched at her face. The man behind her walked right through her as if she hadn’t been there at all. She fell to the ground in a heap as he sauntered on without even a glance back at her.

She prepared to scream at him to vent her frustration, her hidden tiger rage. Then she looked at the paper in her hand.


Maybe it was a sign.

Iris had been looking for signs her entire life. Well, at least since her mother had told her that she was a sign. Mommy and Daddy had been Fooling Around when (uh oh) something didn’t happen when it was supposed to happen. It was a sign that Daddy had to marry Mommy so Mommy’s Daddy wouldn’t shoot him with his 12 gauge.

“You were that sign, Iris.” Mother never tired of explaining this. “That’s why we named you Iris.”

“Whatever, Mom. That isn’t even logical.”

““You’re a seer.”


“The iris is important for the eye to function right.”

Iris sighed. “It’s just the part that gives it color and controls light levels.”

“It’s also a mythical Egyptian god if I remember right.”

“That would be Isis, Mom.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes. I watch the History Channel, you know.”

It was Mom’s turn: “Whatever.”

Iris brought herself back to the present: the cold atmosphere of the basement. She sighed, stared at her paper. It was still blank. Well what did you expect, Gnomes to write it for me?

She looked back up to where Cosmo stood smiling down at his wards. He wasn’t really named Cosmo, but he seemed like a Cosmo so Iris had dubbed him that. He caught her gaze and her eyes darted away. The last thing she wanted was to get caught in Cosmo’s clutches.

She tapped her Bic on the blank paper. Maybe this whole day was pointless. And that illustrated her life in a way nothing else could. Despite being a seer, as far as she could tell nothing she had ever done held purpose. It was just random events that followed other random events.

Beside her to the left, Kyle exhaled. Iris could smell the Folgers wafting from his mouth, mingling with the smoker’s lung from Bobbi, the small petite girl on her right side who worked in Cowboys and Cowgirls Bar and Dance Hall. She crinkled her nose at the bad combination of odor, and imagined a pug doing the same. Iris wondered why she thought of things like that. She blamed it on the frigid atmosphere.

Iris cleared her thoughts, glanced to the left. Kyle’s page was almost used up. His addictions included Coors, Bud Light, Miller, Newcastle, Sam Adams, and beer. Beer? Who woulda seen that one coming?

Iris glanced to her right at Bobbi’s paper. Bobbi had bent down in deep concentration, her pen almost slashing through the paper. But Iris could see the top of it: Bondage, leather, hand cuffs, whips.

Iris tapped her tooth some more as Kyle coughed. More Folgers in the air. No, not Folgers. Burnt Folgers. Like the coffee pot had been left on all day and he drank it anyway to make up for the seven beers he’d had for breakfast.

Now she was judging people. Iris sighed. Still, that was better than nothing for her paper. She wrote down “Judgmentalism.” There, that was finished.

She glanced up from her paper and caught Osiris’s eyes. Osiris wasn’t a real name any more than Cosmo was, but that’s what came to mind. Iris smiled at Osiris: real name, Tristan. She noted that Tristan had a blank piece of paper too. Maybe it was a sign.

And maybe she was Queen of Arcadia.

Iris coughed and stood. Cosmo looked at her and she nodded her head toward the restroom in the back of the church. He shrugged his shoulders as if she had told him the blizzard outside was cold. Iris shrugged back and walked to the Important Room.

She locked the door and sat on the Porcelain Throne. She didn’t need to vacate her bowels, she just needed out of that drab room. At least here the light came from a naked yellow bulb rather than another cold, harsh florescent white. One of these days, she thought, they’re going to find florescent bulbs give you skin cancer. Then where will the cubicle industry be?

Iris pulled a square of toilet paper off the roll and blew her nose. She tossed the used paper into the trashcan by the door and pondered how she could escape this meeting. Then she wondered why she needed to “escape” in the first place. She had come here of her own volition. She didn’t have a court order like Burnt-Folgers-Breath.

“I’m going to get up, march outside, and exit stage right,” Iris said, as if vocalizing the words would make it so. But she was a seer, not an enchantress, and had never had command of nature through declaration. She flushed the toilet as if she had actually been using the Porcelain Throne, washed her hands, killed another six seconds, opened the door.

Osiris stood there. “H-hi!” she stammered, surprised.

“Hey Iris,” he whispered, glancing back over at the group. “You want to take off?”

“Do I ever…”

“Come on,” Tristan responded as he started toward the back door. “I know a great place for coffee.”

She thought of Kyle’s breath. “Can we do, I don’t know, dinner instead?”

Osiris/Tristan smiled. “In that case, I know a great place for steak.” He opened the back door. Cosmo gave them a dirty look, but they were far enough away to escape the clutch of his gaze. Iris stepped into the blizzard and the door swung shut behind her.

“So, why were you in there anyway?” Tristan asked. "There" meant the church, not the Important Room, Iris realized.

“I don’t know,” she responded. She supposed that was true. She could have said she had found a sign and had followed it, but that would have made about as much sense as saying that she was constipated and really liked the church’s bathroom.

“I know what you mean, Isis.”


Tristan flushed red. “I’m sorry. For some reason, when I see you I think Isis instead of Iris. Isis was an Egyp—”

“Egyptian god.”

“Goddess, actually. She was the wife of Osiris.”

Iris’s heart skipped a beat. Before she could say anything he continued: “I only came here because I slipped on some ice and smacked my forehead on a light post. There was this bulletin there.”

Isis laughed. “ADDICTED? WE CAN HELP!”



“I know. I just figured it was a sign or something,” he responded.

She said nothing. She didn’t have to.


Sunday, January 04, 2009

Snake Oil

NOTE: I read this story and set it to some music and uploaded it to YouTube. It comes in five parts. You can listen to all five of them in order by clicking here.

Snake Oil


Peter Pike

I’m sorry ta bothah ya, ma’am, specially on such a frightfully cold day, but I was walkin past when I happ’nd ta see ya get outcha car earlyah. D’ya mind if I ask: is it a hip spur?

I knew it! My mother, God rest her, she had the most dreadful hip spur ya’d evah seen. And ev’ry time winter set in, why it ached so. It’s the air pressure, ya know. When it changes all sorts of joints go out of whack.

I see ya know what I’m talkin about. Lands, no I don’t think yer
that old! But ya do remind me a bit of my mother, God rest her. It’s yer eyes, I think.

But listen ta me babble on! I do apologize. Once I get started it’s so hard for me ta stop. Anyways, my mother, she died come near ten years ago.

That’s nice of ya ta say, ma’am. No, really? Well, if’n ya insist sittin inside would be a bit warmah, and I wouldn’t wanna let alla yer hot air out inta the woods.

Now what was I sayin? Oh yes, my mother, God rest her. When she was eighty-three years old, she developed a fleshy tumor in her calf, an—

Pardon? Oh, yer eighty-three years old now? What an amazing coincidence! P’rhaps it was fate that drew us here today.

Now ma’am, I’m but an only child. Don’t have no brothers, no sisters, and my father walked out on my mamma when I was nary seven years old. I didn’t have no one but her, ya see? And when that tumor started growing, she was in such agony. Ya wouldn’t believe—well, I see maybe ya would.

Anyways, I decided that I was gonna be a doctor. But lands, ya can’t start studyin ta be a doctor when yer sixty years old! They wouldn’t let me, said I needed ta retire.

Oh, they forced ya ta retire too? Ain’t it just like ‘em! They tax ya and then they kick ya out, and then when ya need help for yer pain they don’t do nothin for ya a’tall!

They did the same thing ta my poor mother, but I found something ta help. See, even though they wouldn’t let me be a real doctor, I was able ta get in ta those labs them pharmaceutical comp’nies got. Worked as a janitor, and I tell ya they have all kinds of things lyin around in there. But they don’t wanna sell none of them, cuz ya see, if they sold the pain relievers they got developed ya’d nevah feel no more pain again. And if ya nevah felt no more pain, why ya’d nevah buy anything from them eveh again, ya see?

Lands no, it ain’t right! That’s why I studied. My mama didn’t raise no fool, ya know. I looked at them chemical charts and I watched how them technicians mixed ‘em. I paid attention and I figgered it out. So one day I gets ta work early in the morn and I snuck in ta the lab. There no one around then, so I whipped up a batch that I’d seen them workin on. And wouldncha know it, I got it right!

I had ta sneak it out of the lab ‘cuz this is more valuable than gold, ya know. More valuable than anythin. It literally stops pain! Ya won’t feel no more pain eveh again. But don’t just listen ta me talk about it! Lands, no! When I seen ya get out of ya car, I knew that I had ta let ya try it.

No ma’am it won’t cost ya a pretty red dime. I’ve got this little bottle here an it’s yers right now. Won’t cost ya anythin. Give it a shot!

What did I tell ya! Is there any pain? Of course not! Why, I do believe ya
could dance all ovah the street if’n ya wanted to! Lands!

Why yes, ma’am, that is the perfect name for it! Jebediah’s Miracle Potion! It’s perfect! Go head an keep that little bottle all fer yourself if’n ya want, but I’ve got a big bottle—it’s five times bigger, in fact—and I’ll letcha have it fer pennies on the dallah. Doncha think having yer hip spur pain go away is worth…say, fifty dallahs? But ma’am, I wouldn’t want ta charge ya that much for it. Lands, no! Lessay I give ya this here twenty ounce bottle for twenty bucks. That sound fair to ya?

Oh, yer too kind, ma’am. No, really. God bless ya, ma’am. Don’t get in too much trouble dancin around town now, ya hear!

* * *

No one could remember exactly when the dark man arrived in Hickory. Some say it was a few days (others claimed months, but everyone agreed it was some time) before Beatriz McLean found her miracle cure for her hip spur. Everyone knew he lived out by the edge of town, but no one knew the exact address. He was the kind of man who could show up and you’d feel like he’d always been there. And when he left, no one remembered he’d been there at all.

No one quite knew what to make of it when Beatriz waltzed down Main Street, dancing that three step movement. Some thought she had gone insane, others felt she’d found Jesus. But there could be no denying that she was happier than she had ever been.

“I ain’t got no pain!” she proclaimed to all who would hear. “Jebediah’s Miracle Potion done took it away.”

And off she went in that one-two-three, one-two-three step.

Odd people were plentiful in small towns like Hickory. Beatriz only made the buzz around the chess board in the Blackhawk Tavern for two days before she had been replaced with more pressing concerns.

There was a snow storm brewing, a real big one. Henry Wallace had a date that night with Naomi Beckett. They had known each other from high school, and they had been the only people their age to remain in Hickory. It was inevitable that they’d be forced to find each other, although it did take them a decade to do so. By that time, Naomi had been through a real wrecker of a marriage, had popped out a kid, and had been on her way toward the Single Mother Graveyard.

In small towns, old women don’t have much to do. Beatriz had gotten together with some of her pals, Carla Andrews and Amanda Fuller, and they had discussed the issue of what to do with poor Naomi Beckett and her son Lance. Lance was quite the handful, and that was putting it gently. The boy was short for his age, could barely talk, and had a rather unhealthy obsession with matches.

Naomi was twenty-nine years old. Henry was twenty-eight. That was all the math that the Old Crones Group needed to hear. After the hints were issued, Henry finally capitulated and asked Naomi out. Carla offered to babysit Lance, and the deal was brokered.

Then the storm came. It hit while Naomi and Henry were still in Oakdale, a town twenty-three miles away. Oakdale was almost the same size as Hickory but held one advantage over its cousin: a working movie theater. It only played one movie a day, and it was always a year after it had already been released on DVD, but no one minded much. It beat driving all the way into the city.

The snow meant that Naomi and Henry were stuck in Oakdale while Carla was stuck with Lance back in Hickory. Carla wasn’t old, but she wasn’t a spring chicken neither. In three years, she’d qualify for social security.

Lance was seven. He had enough energy to run her into the ground three fold. And he used the opportunity afforded him by the snow storm to do just that.

Carla had already hidden all the matches from her home but she hadn’t counted on the power going out when the snow took down a power line. (More to the point, it took down the old pine tree on Second Avenue and then the tree took down the power line.) Normally, it wouldn’t be a problem. But because it was winter and Lance was a youngun, it meant that Carla had to light a fire to keep the house warm.

Lance watched the flames flicker with rapt attention. Carla made sure he stayed well away from the pit, but it was getting late. It had already been pitch black due to the storm well before the sun had set and with only the fire to provide its seductive light Carla’s mind drooped into a stupor.

She fell asleep on the couch and didn’t wake until she heard Lance scream in pain. He had opened the fireplace door and had grabbed one of the burning logs.

Carla pulled him away from the fire. She used the tongs next to the fire place to push the log back in—it wouldn’t do for the house to burn down now would it?—then she rushed Lance to the bathroom. Under other circumstances, she would have put his hands right under the cold water in the sink, but she didn’t do that this time. For you see, just the other day Carla had been walking down the sidewalk when she hit an icy patch. Her legs shot out from her and she had fallen square on her tailbone.

When she landed, she knew she’d broken the bone. She cried and raged but there was no one nearby.

Except the dark man. He had run over and helped her to her feet. Then said, “Try some of this. Is the pain gone? I knew it would be! Say, would ya like s’more of that? I think I could sell ya this twenty ounce bottle for…lessay thirty dollars. Soun’ fair?”

She had bought three bottles. And there in the bathroom, she let Lance take a sip.

His screams stopped instantly. His fingers still blistered up and Carla knew that Naomi would not be pleased. She also knew that Jebediah’s Miracle Potion must wear off sometime. But the thing was, it had been over thirty hours since she had fallen on the icy steps and she still felt no pain. She had only taken one sip and it had lasted that long.

Naomi and Henry arrived early the next day, following the snow plow into town. Lance was playing outside, wearing his winter gear, and that included gloves. Naomi wouldn’t know Lance had burned himself until she prepared his bath for him that evening and by then it was too late for her to think something had occurred at Carla’s house.

* * *

Four days later, Kelly Nightingale woke from his dream with a start. He felt an urge, and he knew it was one he couldn’t ignore. Ever since he had been diagnosed with diabetes, the urges had gotten worse and worse. When the body said it was time to go, it was time to go.

He jumped out of bed and ran through the living room towards the bathroom. He never made it, for in the middle of the living room he kicked his toe straight into the leg of the coffee table. He screamed in agony, fell to the floor, pounded his fist on the carpet. Jessica rushed out of the bedroom, yelled: “Are you all right?”

He couldn’t answer. He had broken his toe, cracked the toenail. Blood dripped on the carpet, but Kelly also knew that he no longer needed to use the bathroom—blood wasn’t the only thing dripping on the carpet. He just prayed that Jessica wouldn’t turn on the light and expose his shame.

The prayer didn’t go through. Jessie hit the lights and rushed to his side. “Oh your foot!” she cried out, blessedly ignoring his shame. She had just the fix for his toe and that was all that she really saw. She rushed to the bathroom, got the bottle Carla Andrews gave her just the other day. “Try this. It’s Jebediah’s Miracle Potion and it makes the pain go away.”

Kelly was desperate enough to give it a shot. He never regretted it.

* * *

Henry sat at the chessboard in deep contemplation. Kelly sat across from him, smiling. He had been smiling like that all day long. It unnerved Henry, and he supposed it was just Kelly’s way of psyching him out so he’d lose the game.

Kelly was doing a good job. Henry already knew it was over. He was about to lose his queen and then, three moves after that, checkmate.

He tried to rescue his queen anyway. Kelly laughed and moved his bishop. “Checkmate.”

Henry stared at the board, but it was true. “Good game,” he said, extending his hand. It was the first time in a month that Kelly had won. And there was something else odd about the game. Usually Kelly was complaining about his back, his shoulders, his feet, his diabetes, you name it. But not today. Not one word about anything.

Just that stupid smile.

Henry moved away from the table then, went to get a beer and give Naomi a call. Because of that, he never asked Kelly what was different.

Not that Kelly would have known what to answer exactly. When he had gotten up that morning, he hadn’t felt any pain at all. He had walked merrily all over the house and it wasn’t until he was heading back to the bathroom that he realized he had left drops of blood all over the carpet. He looked down at his toe, saw it bulging and bleeding. But it didn’t hurt.

Not even when he crammed his foot into his shoe. Should have hurt like the dickens. But nothing at all.

Kelly wasn’t one to waste good money on doctors. If it didn’t hurt, it would eventually heal. So he had gone out to play chess like before. And as the evening progressed, his foot continued to swell inside his shoe. Although he didn’t realize it, Kelly would never get the shoe off after that.

He couldn’t explain the lack of pain. But he didn’t regret it. Lands, no.

* * *

And so it began. Chelsea Kramer was bitten in the back of her neck by a spider. Ron Crawford accidentally nailed his hand to the drywall with the nail gun. Priscilla Fletcher stepped on a rusty nail.

None of them felt any pain and so none of them did anything about it. By now over three quarters of the town had tried Jebediah’s Miracle Potion and those who hadn’t were beginning to worry.

After the evening’s chess tournament, Henry sat at the bar. Eddie Kramer came in, nodded toward him. He pulled up a stool and ordered a beer.

“Hey Eddie.”


“How you doin?”

Eddie sighed. “You see the sore on Chelsea’s neck?”

“Yeah. And Kelly Nightingale’s entire leg is black now too.”

“They’re rotting and falling apart and none of them knows it. How do you think I’m doing?”

Henry took a sip of beer. Eddie had a point.

* * *

Kelly Nightingale was the first to die. The gangrene marched its way up his leg and he never noticed it, not even when his entire foot snapped off as he got out of the car. He fell to the ground and tried to stand back up, but couldn’t gain his balance.

He just laughed. The blood poisoning continued its way up his leg, sending its red tendrils toward Kelly’s heart. The night after his foot fell off, he went to sleep and never woke up.

But Nightingale had diabetes. Why should anyone else be concerned?

* * *

Chelsea Kramer brushed her teeth and spat into the sink. She heard Eddie fishing around for something in one of his desk drawers. She ignored the noise and continued to brush, her eyes focused on the snow outside the window.

It was going to be another stormy day. But Chelsea liked winter. It was more relaxing than summer was. You could snuggle up next to a fire, which was something that was impossible in the August heat. Fires were romantic, and she liked nothing more than to sit in front of one with her Eddie beside her.

Chelsea finished her teeth. She washed her face and toweled it off. As she replaced the towel she heard a bang followed by Eddie’s curses. She glanced up and froze.

She had caught sight of her reflection in the bathroom mirror. Her face was swollen. It was beet red and she could see her pulse vibrating in her cheeks.

She screamed. And not just because of the horror of what she saw. Now she felt it too. The bite in the side of her neck burned in fury, her face was stretched to the point of snapping. And she felt the poison in her very blood.

Chelsea screamed again and jerked open the medicine cabinet. Eddie rushed to the bathroom but Chelsea had already found the bottle of Jebediah’s Miracle Potion. She took a sip and the pain vanished. She laughed in relief, but she made sure not to look in the mirror as she closed the cabinet door.

* * *

Back at the bar Henry glanced over at the table where Kelly would have been sitting if he hadn’t been occupied with pressing business at the morgue. “So you think mirrors cure this?” he said with a chuckle.

Eddie didn’t seem so happy. “I don’t know if ‘cure’ is the right word. I mean, excruciating pain could hardly be considered a cure, could it?”

Henry shrugged. “You could ask Kelly, I s’pose.”

“Very funny.”

“You do realize your wife needs a doctor, don’t ya?”

“Yeah. But she doan wanna go.”

“Because she doesn’t feel any pain.”

It was Eddie’s turn to shrug.

“You know it’s true,” Henry pressed. “If it always hurt as bad as it did when she glanced in the mirror, she’d be at the doctor’s office so fast she’d leave a sonic boom.”

Eddie was silent. He just sipped his beer.

“Do you love her?”


“Do you love Chelsea?”

“Of course I do. Why else would I have married her?”

“I’m just sayin, Eddie. I’m just sayin that if you love her, you’re gonna have to take her to the doc whether she wants to or not. Otherwise, in a week at most we’ll be filling another hole in the cemetery.”

* * *

Lance Beckett stood in the living room waiting. He could hear his mother banging a pot in the kitchen as she prepared supper. Lance hesitated, made sure it was safe. Then he picked up the lighter.

A couple of flicks with his right thumb got the flame going. He watched as it flickered in front of him, dancing its siren call, beckoning him to play. He smiled, his eyes dazed but his mind serene.

He ran his left hand over the flame, watched it kiss his skin. He felt heat from the flame, but it was pleasant. No pain at all.

Eventually he held his finger over the flame and watched the tip turn black.

Naomi dropped another pan and cursed from the kitchen. Lance let the lighter go out, pressed his left forefinger against his cheek, soaked in the comforting heat.

“Lance! Dinner!”

Lance smiled and put the lighter back in its place. His mother would never know he’d been playing with it.

* * *

“Everything’s getting worse,” Henry said as he sat on his usual stool in the Blackhawk Tavern and kicked back a Sam Adams.

“Maybe it’s not that bad,” Eddie responded.

“Not that bad?” Henry almost coughed up his beer. “Have you been paying attention? This town looks like it’s becoming Night of the Living Dead.”

Behind them, the bell rang to indicate someone had come in. Both turned toward the sound, saw it was Ron Crawford. He nodded toward them as he sat and ordered a beer of his own.

“No one else has died yet.”

“That’s beside the point,” Henry retorted. “They’re gonna die. It’s just a matter—”

“Excuse me,” Ron interrupted, holding his unopened bottle of Miller Genuine Draft toward them. “Barkeep didn’t open this. Could one of you?”

“It’s a twist cap,” Eddie pointed out.

Ron shrugged and held up his left arm. His hand was missing. It had turned black after he had nailed it to the drywall and had fallen off the previous morning.

Eddie blinked, then took the bottle in trembling hands. “Here you go.”

After Ron returned to his seat, Henry whispered: “See? It’s getting out of hand.”

“That’s a horrible pun.”

“I didn’t mean it as a pun. I’m serious. It’s getting worse and worse.”

“Maybe. But what can you do about it?”

Henry pulled out a mirror. “See if this works,” is how he responded.

Before Eddie could restrain him, Henry moved over to Ron’s seat. “Ron? Can I trouble you for a minute?” He held out the mirror.

The sound of screams drowned out the jukebox.

* * *

Henry became an evangelist. The mirror worked better than he had imagined it would. As soon as people saw their rotting flesh, they felt it. And as soon as they felt it, they acted. Ron rushed to the clinic in Oakdale. They had to cut off the rest of his arm at the elbow, but they saved his life.

Others did not fare as well. When Henry showed the mirror to Beatriz McLean, she fell to the ground screaming about her hip spur. And immediately took out her bottle of Jebediah’s Miracle Potion.

“No!” Henry said. “You have to fight it!”

“Get away from me, Henry Wallace! I knew your father and he was a good man and he would not approve of this!”

“Mrs. McLean, you have to believe me—”

Someone had grabbed Henry’s mirror then and tossed it to the ground. It was a miracle it hadn’t broken on impact. Beatriz took a gulp from her bottle and climbed to her feet, almost snarling. “If you ever do that again I’ll see you lynched!”

The voice Henry heard didn’t belong to the sweet eighty-three-year-old woman. It belonged to Jebediah’s Miracle Potion.

* * *

Henry sat in Blackhawk Tavern alone. No one would come near him knowing he had a mirror in his pocket. Henry wished they’d understand that it was for their own good, but they were too obsessed with the miracle cure.


The voice was hesitant. Henry swallowed and looked up. “Yeah, Eddie?”

“There’s been some talk in town.”

“Has there?”

“We want you to leave.”

Henry sipped his beer. “You can’t make me leave. It’s a free country.”

“I know that. But you have to stop with the mirror.”

Henry glowered. “How long have you been taking Jebediah’s Miracle Potion?”

“I haven’t.”

“Then why?”

“Why what?”

Henry shook his head in frustration. “You know what. Four people have already died. They didn’t have to die. All it would have taken is one look in the mirror and they would have gone to the hospital and been saved.”

“But it brings back all the pain.”

“So what? It saves lives.” Henry paused for a moment.

“Perhaps some people would rather die without pain than live with pain.”

“That isn’t rational. I mean, look at yourself, Eddie. Are you in pain?”

He shrugged. “Nothing major.”

“And most of them would be the same way. None of their injuries would have gotten as bad as they are now if they had felt warning pain in the first place.”

Eddie sighed. “Henry, what difference does it make? These people want to live this way. Just let them.”

“Just let them die? When I could save them? Eddie, how could I live with myself if I did that? How can you?”

“Because it’s what they want.”

“But it’s not what they should want.”

“Who are you to make that decision for them?”

“Eddie, you’re not thinking—”

“Henry, I’m through talking. I was asked to tell you to leave town tonight.”

Henry leaned back, glanced around the bar. He could tell everyone in there was listening to their conversation. “I get it. They sent you because they were all scared of the mirror.”

“Aye, that’s so.”

“How could you do this, Eddie? How could you so callously disregard their lives, cast them away?”

Eddie shrugged again. “It’s what they want,” he repeated.

“I’m not leaving, Eddie. This is my home.”

“In that case, you’ll have to give me the mirror.”


Eddie fumbled in his pocket, pulled out a revolver. “Perhaps you didn’t hear me.”

“You’re threatening me?” Henry stared at his friend in disbelief.

“Just give it to me, Henry.”


“I don’t want to shoot you.”

“Then let me!” The voice carried through the bar. Henry and Eddie both turned and saw Beatriz McLean there, a shotgun held to her shoulder.

“You pull that trigger you’re gonna fly out through the back door,” Henry said.

“But I won’t feel it, will I?” the old woman responded. “Eddie, back away. There’s been too much talk already.”

There was murmur of agreement from the others. Henry turned toward Eddie just as he heard someone say, “What should we do with him?”

Beatriz smiled. “We ain’t had a lynchin in a long time.”

There was a roar of approval.

“Eddie? Eddie, where are you going?”

Eddie paused and looked back at Henry one final moment. “I’m sorry. It’s what they want.”

* * *

Ninety percent of the town had taken Jebediah’s Miracle Potion by the time they dragged Henry out of the Blackhawk Tavern, his mirror smashed on the floor. He’d only managed to get one of the townsfolk to look into it before his capture and it didn’t matter because everyone had a bottle handy.

As they dragged Henry up the street, people left their homes and came to watch. Even Naomi Beckett watched from her porch. She was bemused that the man she had dated just a month ago was about to be killed by the town. But it didn’t hurt her.

Nothing had hurt her since she had cut her finger instead of her bagel and Doris Freeman had given her a shot of Jebediah.

As she watched the street, she couldn’t watch Lance. And so Lance picked up his mother’s lighter and walked out the back door, down the hill beyond the house. He had burned off all the fingers on his left hand already and his mother hadn’t even noticed it. It had been a magical time.

He sat in the alley behind Hagstrom’s gas station and lit the oil-soaked rags that had been tossed out. He watched them flare to life and gave his melodic laugh. The world was his playground and he would watch it burn.

* * *

Pardon me, sir. I dinent mean ta bother ya…butcha look like ya gotta bit’a arthritis, am I right? Oh lands, I just knew it!

I got a touch of it myself. Got it years ago playin too much rugby. What’s that? Ya played rugby in college yerself? What an amazing coincidence! P’rhaps it was fate that drew us here today.

Tell me, does your arthritis flare up in these cold winter evenings? Lands, yes, mine does too! I tell ya, it burns so much. It burns…well, like that town of Hickory burned.

Oh yes sir, I understand that the Oakdale Fire Brigade is much better than Hickory’s was. No way they’d let a hunnert and forty-seven people burn ta death, no sir! Yer right about that.

Ya know, sir, ya remind me a bit’a my father, God rest him. It’s yer smile, I think. So lemme tell ya a secret. I have a friend back in Washin’ton an he’s a chemist. Makes all kinds of things for the gov’ment. Ya know, like those plastic insoles for shoes fer when yer feet are out of whack.

What’s that? Ya wear them too! Lands, what a small world!

I tell ya, this friend I got, he told me that he mixed himself up a concoction ta help with the pain. Did I tell ya he lost an arm when a drunk hit him? Aw, yeah, it was painful for some time, but now he’s just fine ‘n dandy. And he says ta me, he goes: “The gov’ment don’t want no one knowin about this, but I’ve got a cure for pain.” I says, “A cure for what?” and he says, “Pain. I can make it go away.”

Course I don’t believe him, but he sends me some of it. Says he’d patent it but the gov’ment would arrest him on the spot. So he gives me the recipe instead. I’ve got a small bottle of it here. Ya wanna try it for your old arthritis?

See! What did I tell ya, the pain is gone! Indeed, I think ya could run a marathon, good sir. What’s that?

Why, yes, that’s perfect! Jebediah’s Miracle Potion would make a wonderful name for it.

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Wednesday, December 10, 2008

An Opening

There has been continued dispute about the events leading up to the tragedy of January 3 in Lake Hanson, but the outcome of those events is well known. Forty-seven people died that day, forty-six of them at the hand of domestic terrorist Tucker Morris. That itself, while tragic, is hardly grounds for an in-depth inquiry into the matter. We have seen terrorists kill hostages before and we have seen police kill terrorists who don’t surrender. That is not unique. What makes this story worth telling is that by all accounts Tucker Morris was the first person killed on January 3.

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Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The CANdidates

ASP News, Denver – Pundits, anchors, and other members of the media waited in eager anticipation for the first speech candidate Pepsi would give after accepting his party’s nomination for President of the United Sodas of America.

Pepsi, marketed as the Choice of a New Generation, has enjoyed wide appeal in the media. “The first time I tried Pepsi, a shiver ran up my leg,” said Chris Matthews, a short-tempered and short man who we assume has a TV show somewhere. “That shiver continues to this day.”

Pollsters are convinced that Pepsi will win the election despite the fact that those they poll do not agree. “We alter the polls consistently, changing the questions here and there, and eventually they get the right numbers,” said one anonymous pollster who wished to remain anonymous because he was spineless.

After months of speculation, Pepsi announced Dr Pepper as his running mate. Dr Pepper ran against Pepsi earlier in the race, denouncing Pepsi as a radical leftist who was too blue. It had widely been assumed that Mr. Pibb would get the nod after her close race with Pepsi.

“After looking over the details,” Pepsi said, “we decided to go with the purple-ish can of prune juice. Dr Pepper’s experience is evident by the ‘Dr’ sans period at the front of his name. Mr. Pibb just couldn’t compete with that. Even though her husband, Mrs. Pibb, was a successful president if you can ignore his record.”

The Pibbs were unavailable for comment.

ASP News, St. Paul – SHOCK!

That is the only word that can describe the scene here in the Xcel Energy Center as Coke Classic, an aged formula long popular with nursing home residents and prescription drug addicts, announced his choice for running mate: Mountain Dew.

“I never saw that one coming,” said Anderson Cooper, who never saw it coming. “Every indicator pointed to Coke Zero topping the short list. Instead, Coke Classic picked someone who is completely GREEN! Mountain Dew has no experience whatsoever. In fact, only drunk co-eds like Mountain Dew, and only then because of her looks.”

Diet Coke had spent months campaigning for the candidate’s coveted VP slot. “This is a complete sell out,” said the junior diet soda from Georgia. “They say it’s not easy being green. Well, it’s about to get a lot tougher.” Diet Coke is now said to be stumping for Pepsi.

The media, working in conjunction with Pepsi's campaign, has promised to vet Mountain Dew’s credentials. Already, however, it looks like a lost cause for Coke Classic. “Have you ever opened a can of Mountain Dew?” one Pepsi spokesman said. “It looks like a can of urine. What does it say about Coke Classic’s judgment if his pick looks like human waste?”

Sprite, and other women’s rights groups, have denounced Mountain Dew over her views on abortion. “Mountain Dew totally should have aborted that Code Red crap. The only thing we have in common is carbonated water and high fructose corn syrup” said Sprite. “That’s not enough to make me vote for a sell-out.”

ASP News, Someone’s Basement – In other news, 7-Up has announced Ale-8-1 as his running mate. 7-Up, running on the environmentalist green ticket, so far only has the backing of Moon Mist Shasta, the former vice president tuned recycling activist who earned fame last year after the success of his film “An Inconvenient Fizz.”

Critics are already questioning Ale-8’s experience, given his limited distribution in and around the state of Kentucky. “We all know that Kentuckians are just a bunch of racist rednecks,” said Dr Pepper. “What do the hicks down there really know anyway?”

ASP News, Washington DC – The presidential campaign took a nasty turn today as Pepsi and Coke Classic both went negative. Pepsi’s negative campaign was witty and refreshing, as Pepsi called Coke classic a “flat” and “undrinkable” beverage.

Coke Classic responded with a vicious character attack, saying Pepsi had been “left out in the car under the hot sun for too long.” When asked if Coke Classic thought the negative tone of the campaign would hurt him, he responded: “He started it.”

Pepsi retorted with “I know you are but what am I?”

Meanwhile, 7-Up has asked to attend the first presidential debate, scheduled for next week. So far, no one is paying him any attention.

ASP News, Washington DC – The continual vitriol of the campaign took a turn for the worst as Coke Classic accused Pepsi of ties with the pink can, TaB. TaB, which in 1969 contained the now-banned chemical cyclamate, supposedly launched the career of Pepsi from TaB’s living room, if you believe Coke Classic and the people who were there instead of those of us in the media who don’t want you to focus on this.

Pepsi has fired back that TaB is just some can in the neighborhood and that Pepsi was only eight years old when TaB’s cyclamate was banned by the FDA. Coke Classic countered that while “Pepsi” was only eight years old, “Pepsi-Cola” had been around since 1903, and was originally called “Brad’s Drink” in 1898.

Since we’re the media and we are objective, we will ignore everything about TaB. Instead, an important thing to ponder is the fact that Coke Classic is the real hypocrite here. Coke Classic had an original formula, but now is only pretending to remain true to the original formula having substituted high fructose corn syrup for his original sweetener, cane sugar. Furthermore, Coke is made from processed cocaine leaves. Explain that, Coke Classic!

ASP News, Washington DC – The Red party is becoming increasingly desperate as Coke Classic sags in the polls, down by as much as 7/32 of a percentage point. In an attempt to deflect attention from failed economic policies, Coke Classic has accused Pepsi of fraternizing with COLON. COLON, which stands for “Confused Organization of Liberals for Oligarchy Now” has been active in registering 6.8 trillion people in Los Angeles alone.

“It is obvious that there is voter fraud going on,” said one Coke Classic spokesman.

“What is going on is disenfranchisement,” Pepsi spokesman Diet Coke responded. “Coke Classic doesn’t want your vote to count more than once. He is skewering this election away from the will of illegal aliens, felons, and other up-and-coming Blue candidates. That’s why Coke Classic didn’t pick me—I mean Coke Zero for his running mate. He’s racist against the black can!”

In unrelated news, the Red Party released a YouTube video showing a 1990s Pepsi rally where Pepsi stated: “A colon is not that far behind.” Pundits have supposed the Red Party is going for the irony angle, but as we are objective media personalities we don’t understand it.

ASP NEWS, Toledo – Earlier today, Pepsi made an unscheduled stop in Toledo to talk to random sodas. There he met Grape Soda, who asked him: “Why are you planning on increasing my carbonation?”

Pepsi responded, “I want to spread the carbon around.”


ASP NEWS, Toledo – Who is Grape Soda?

That is the question the media will focus on until everyone forgets Pepsi’s poor answer to Grape Soda’s question.

Grape Soda is not who he claims to be. For one thing, his name isn’t really Grape Soda. It’s “Big K Diet Grape Soda.” For another thing, he’s not a real soda. He’s a generic brand. In fact, he only costs $0.70 for two liters! Under Pepsi’s plan, only those sodas which cost more than $2.50 for a two liter bottle would be extra-carbonated.

Further examinations have uncovered the possibility of Grape Soda’s fraudulent portrayal of himself while daring to ask a question Pepsi answered truthfully. Big K Diet Grape Soda had indicated his affiliation with King Soopers while his recently released tax records suggest strong ties with Kroger.

In a press conference yesterday afternoon, Diet Coke commented, “Which is it ‘Grape Soda’? These questions demand an answer – you can’t have it both ways!”

As if that weren’t enough, Sprite also noted, “You can’t spell ‘Grape’ without ‘rape.’”

What does “Grape Soda” know, and when did he know it? Why did Coke Classic plant Grape Soda at an unscheduled Pepsi stop? The media demand answers! We will continue digging until our last latex glove is soiled.

ASP NEWS, Washington DC – The Coke Classic campaign has accused the media of bias due to its kid gloves treatment of Pepsi and its anal examination of Big K Diet Grape Soda, the fake soda who Coke Classic planted to trip up Pepsi.

The media, biased? As if! We aren’t biased if there are no objections to our reporting and after Pepsi gives his acceptance speech on January 20, we will help usher in a new world of fairness via the Fairness Doctrine which guarantees the suppression of views that disagree with us.

It is Coke Classic who is against being fair. That’s just a fact. It’s not biased to report the facts, even if we only report half of them and occasionally retract three quarters of the half we do report. That’s what true, objective journalism is all about.

ASP reporters Travis Johnson and Peter Pike contributed to this report.

Travis Johnson is a freelance writer from Colorado Springs and blogs at

Peter Pike is the author of the novel
Public Transit available on-line and in many black market stores worldwide. His website it

Johnson and Pike are currently collaborating on a screenplay version of
Public Transit. So far, they have finished six pages and consumed fourteen gallons of coffee.


Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Dialogue Fragment

"Wow, you look happy today. Don't tell me. You finally asked her out!"

"Whatever, man."

"You know it's true. Nothing but asking out the girl you're obsessing over could possibly make you feel as happy as you look."

"Right, except not."

"C'mon, tell me!"

"Fine then! I didn't ask her out."


"We exchanged The Look."

"The Look?"

"Yes, The Look. You know, the one where you look at her, she looks at you, and you both get that stupid grin on your faces. It's inevitable."

"But you didn't ask her out?"

"No. But she'll say 'yes' when I do."

"That's why you're happy? Because you know she'll say 'yes' but you didn't bother to ask her out yet?"

"When you put it that way--"

"You're a freaking moron!"

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Monday, September 01, 2008

Deleted Scene

Note: The following is a scene that I deleted from an upcoming short story entitled Snake Oil. The cuts were due to length restrictions. But I figured with the internet being sort of like the special features on a DVD, I could just paste it here. Take that, vicious word-limiters!!!


David Franklin was the star athlete at Hickory High School. He played three sports and excelled at all of them. He liked basketball the most, his parents thought he was better at short stop, but the scouts wanted him for his abilities at wide receiver.

Hickory had never had scouts show up in the stands before Dave started to play. As a Freshman, he caught thirty-eight passes for 486 yards and seventeen touchdowns. And that was as the only Freshman on the varsity squad.

His numbers had only improved. Despite playing in the 1-A division, he put up numbers to get recognized. Not by USC or LSU, but he did get a visit from BYU earlier in the year.

Now more scouts had come for the final game of the season, the 1-A Championship Game. The Hickory Cougars took the field against the Ralston Panthers. It would be a real catfight, and with 3:27 left in the game, Hickory was down by ten points but they had driven to the twelve yard line.

Dave lined up in the slot. He took off on the snap and angled for the corner of the end zone. The ball was a little high, but he jumped and grabbed it in the air. As his feet hit the ground the linebacker hit his side. His cleats caught in the grass for just that horrible second, his knee refusing to bend.

There was no instant replay in high school but everyone who had seen it knew that Dave’s scholarship chances had just gone down the tank. He had blown out his knee forever.

He writhed in the end zone, but he had not let go of the ball. It was a touchdown and with just over three minutes left in the game Hickory would have one shot to hold Ralston and get the ball back.

They brought the stretcher for Dave. He was wheeled to the sidelines where he pleaded: “Please, let me see the end. You owe me that much!”

The paramedics shouldn’t have listened, but they knew this was it for Dave’s sports career. And besides, it was only three more minutes of game time and they were interested in the outcome too.

With the paramedics watching the game, no one noticed the dark man move over to Dave’s stretcher. “You’re in pain,” he said in a low voice. “Try some of this.”

“Get away from me,” Dave moaned.

“It’s okay.”

“I’m not drinking that crap. You’re just trying to poison me!”

“I promise that it ain’t poison. It’ll make your pain go away. Trust me. Take it and you’ll score the winning touchdown yet.”

Dave looked at the dark man dubiously, but found himself reaching for the bottle. He sipped the liquid and the pain in his knee melted away.

Ralston was held to a three and out and punted the ball away with 0:52 on the clock. Then, while everyone looked in awe and marveled that the boy from Hickory must be made of steel, Dave Franklin trotted out on the field to take his position. The ball was snapped, Dave raced down the field, undressing the safety with a frightful juke. He was wide open and the throw was a perfect spiral.

Dave watched it in slow motion. The stadium lights burned like the sun, the white gleam of the stripes reflected it like a diamond. And the ball sailed right into his hands. He pulled it to his body, pumped his legs, and hoofed it 53 yards to the end zone.

Hickory had won state. David Franklin had won scholarships to three different schools. And the dark man had won the soul of a town.

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Sunday, August 24, 2008

Dialogue Fragment

“What’s the difference—I mean, besides the obvious shape differences—between a hotdog and piece of bologna? Have you ever wondered that? Hmm?”


“Of course not. No one wonders about those kinds of things. We wonder about who will win the Super Bowl, or whether Virginia Oldman is wearing panties under that tight skirt, or whether we’re going to get out of a strange predicament alive. The exact scientific breakdown of what constitutes a hotdog and what constitutes bologna isn’t high on the list. But I’m curious now. And you should be too.”


“So what’s the difference between them?”

“I don’t know. Please—”

“You don’t know. You’re pathetic. Looking at you through the sites of this here Mauser, you’re even more pathetic than I originally thought.”

“Please, sir. You don’t have to hold all of us. You can let some of us go.”

“Hmm, and I suppose you’d be the first to go. Isn’t that right?”

“N-n-no, sir. Not at all. Release one of the women.”

“Spare me your self-righteous chivalry. We both know what you’re really made of. Would it help you better if I guaranteed you’d get out of this alive? Fine, I guarantee it. At least, I guarantee that I will not shoot you. Can’t say what the cops’ll do when they storm the place.”

“But sir, there are nine of us. You don’t need all of us.”

“Oh, but I do. I do. My Mauser has eight shells, you see.”

“Beg pardon?”

“Mr. Hammerstein, perhaps you would do better to just shut up for a moment and ask yourself a simple question. Why is it that you, and you alone, are the only one of my victims here who is not gagged?”


“You disgust me. You don’t even take a second to think about it and you’re already begging for the answer. But I suppose you’ll never be able to come up with it on your own. So I ask you to look at this woman here. What’s her name?”


“Tell me, have you ever slept with Mi-Mi-Michelle?”

“No. Please, put the rifle down!”

“It’s a shotgun, Mr. Hammerstein. Not a rifle. And I think I’ll keep it right here on Mi-Mi-Michelle’s temple for a second longer. I want you to look deep into her eyes. You see how frightened she looks right now?”

“She’s terrified! We’re all terrified!”

“No, you only think you’re terrified. None of you has died yet. Perhaps Mi-Mi-Michelle will be the first to go. You hold her life in your hands now, Mr. Hammerstein.”

“What do you want? Just tell me what you want!”

“Oh, but I already did. I want to know what the difference between a hotdog and a piece of bologna is.”

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Tuesday, August 19, 2008


Look over beyond what the pale mystic skies show clear
To find a purposeful knowledge, wisdom we forever impart. Near
The catacomb’s shadows and the dungeon’s darkness. Hear
With a heartfelt bitterness. Hate raging, embracing fear.

Look beyond the mystic show
To a knowledge we impart
The shadows, the darkness
With heartfelt hate embracing

Over what pale skies clear
Find purposeful wisdom forever near
Catacombs and dungeons hear
A bitterness, raging fear.

Look beyond the mystic show
Over what pale skies clear
To a knowledge we impart
Find purposeful wisdom forever near

The shadows, the darkness
Catacombs and dungeons hear
With heartfelt hate embracing
A bitterness, raging fear.

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Thursday, August 14, 2008

The Rules of Chess

“I see you’ve come back.”

“Yes, Mike. It happens every day after work. Amazing, isn’t it?” Larry stretched and glanced over at the chessboard that Mike had set up. “Another game? You can’t be serious.”

“Indeed I am,” Mike responded.

“But I beat you six times in a row yesterday, and they were all Scholar’s Mates.”

“No you didn’t. And your use of the term ‘Scholar’ there is pejorative.”

“That’s the name of the move.”

“You’re just blustering and pretending to be an intellectual elite.”

Larry sighed. “Look, Mike, I just got back from work. I’m tired. I don’t want to play a game of chess right now.”

“Because you’re a coward and you know you lost.”

“No, it’s because I don’t feel like trouncing you again.”

“You know, you’ve got a real attitude. You didn’t come anywhere near beating me. I beat you each time.”

“When I checkmate you, I win. Not you.”

“Your claims of checkmate were unverifiable. I could still move.”

“Moving the king six spaces is not a legal move, Mike.”

Mike put his hands on his hips. “Oh really? Says who?”

“It’s the rules of chess.”

“Oh, the mysterious magic rules of chess. How convenient for you that they just happen to benefit you, huh?”

“They’re the rules—”

“I can’t see them.”


“I can’t see them. They don’t exist. You believe in this mythical thing you call ‘rules’ that you’ve never seen with your own eyes.”

“You’ve got to be kidding me.”

“You know what, Larry? You have a serious problem here. You have to win at all costs.”

Larry rolled his eyes. “Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t the object of a game of chess to, you know, win?”

“Yes. But not at all costs.”

“I don’t win at all costs. I win by playing a good offense and a good defense. Yours doesn’t measure up.”

“You really ought to check your elitist tendencies.”

“‘Check’ them. That’s a clever pun.”


“Never mind, Mike. It was obviously an accidental pun. I should have guessed it, as poorly as you play chess.”

“Now listen here, Larry. Just because you declared yourself the winner by invoking some mystery magic ‘rule’ that floats invisibly up in the air somewhere watching over us while we play a game of chess does not mean that you play chess better than me.”

“Of course not. Rather, it’s my continual slaughtering of your defense and capturing your king that shows my chess skill trumps yours.”

“Such violent metaphors! I’ll bet you beat your wife!”

Larry looked at Mike. “Okaaaaaay.”

Mike stood and gestured angrily at Larry. “I’m not going to stand for this anymore!” He stormed out of the room.

Larry sighed and soon forgot it. Tomorrow was Saturday and he planned to sleep in. Unfortunately, he was woken at eight in the morning by a knock at the door.

“Are you Lawrence Adams?” the man at the door asked.

“Yes,” Larry said, rubbing the sleep from his eyes.

“Get him!”

Before Larry could react, he was thrown to the floor. “What are you doing?”

“Dr. Graves has informed us you’re a threat to yourself.” Larry’s arms were pushed into the straightjacket.


“That’s right,” Mike said, entering behind the men. “It’s in my report.”

“He’s a psychology PhD,” the man restraining Larry provided helpfully.

“And I’ve made my report. Larry, you exhibit all the symptoms of a disease known as Mania. You have a narcissistic flair or ‘grandiosity’ to your personality. You are quite intolerant of others. Indeed, you have an ego-centric paradigm that means you simply lack the ability to consider the thoughts and feelings of those around you. It’s all about your thoughts and feelings. Sadly, no facts, reasoning, or logic will change you. On the contrary, arguing with you simply increases your mania, and for that I apologize. I have been provoking, perhaps envoking (I’m not sure which word to use) your illness by playing chess with you.

“The fact is, Larry, when you say, ‘I and those who play chess like me are better at chess than you’ then that’s the first sign that we’re dealing with some mental illness, and we must react with appropriate humanity. That’s why you will be taken back to my asylum and given shock treatments from now on.

“Don’t worry. I’m sure after just a few months of those shock treatments you’ll be able to play chess just as well as I can, and then you can reintegrate into society.”

Mike watched as Larry was dragged out of the house proclaiming his innocence. It was sad. The insane never realize they’re not crazy.

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