Flash Fiction: A Thousand Conversations

“Good morning,” Jeremy said, greeting the first customer of the day. “What can I do for you?”

The customer smiled, but her focus was not on Jeremy. Instead, she was focusing on all of the pastries held within the case which served as the focal point of this small café and bakery.

“Oh, there’s just so many to choose from,” she said, leaning closer to the glass partition keeping her from directly touching any of the freshly baked goods.

“There sure are,” Jeremy answered. “That’s why I always just take one of each,” he said with a joking smile.

“Don’t tempt me,” she replied. Her focus finally turned to Jeremy. “How long have you guys been here? I live in town, but have never managed to make it down.”

“We’ve been open for just about three months now.” Jeremy shrugged, wishing he had a more fun answer to give. He’ll have to work on coming up with something better.

“Well, I’ve definitely been missing out then, haven’t I?” she asked, walking around the corner of the case to see the rest of the items on display. Her eyes darted left and right as she took in all there was to see. Between the macarons, the croissants, the tarts, and all of the other sweets that had been baked in house that morning, there was plenty for her to take in. As she did, a family of three walked through the door, a man and a woman and their daughter who looked to be about five years old.

“Good morning,” Jeremy said to them.

“Good morning!” the father said loudly. “What have you guys got good today?”

“It looks like everything,” the first customer said as she smiled at the family.

This was Jeremy’s favorite part of working at the bakery. It seemed like everyone who came through the doors were happy to be there and wanted to share that happiness with everyone else who happened to be sharing the smells at the same time.

“Oh, we know that,” the mother of the family joined in. “Although, if you’re looking for a recommendation, I’d suggest the souvenir beaune. It’s the one with the pear right there,” she added, pointing in the case at a small square-ish pastry filled with pear halves and raspberry jam. “That’s Bella’s favorite, isn’t it?” she said, asking her daughter. The young girl nodded her head enthusiastically.

“Oh, well, if you suggest it, then I have to take that,” the first customer said happily. “And I’ll take one of each of the flavors of macarons, if I could.”

Jeremy laughed. “I guess I’ll let you.”

All day, it seemed, his conversations were variations on this same theme. And he would play his part, primarily as a third wheel to discussions about the goodies his wife and staff had been baking, interjecting well rehearsed quips and comments to try to aid in the atmosphere of pleasure that his wife’s business had managed to present.

Another customer walked through the door as Jeremy boxed up the first customer’s order. A tall man, with a long white beard hiding behind the mask he wore.

“Robert!” Jeremy shouted as he saw the familiar form of one of the shop’s regular customers. “I’ll make sure they get your order started.”

“Sounds good, Jeremy. I’m going to pick up something tasty for the wife as well.”

“I’d be surprised if you didn’t,” Jeremy chuckled.

He finished packing up the order and entered the order into the register. As he completed the transaction with her, she smiled while gathering her packages.

“Thanks for stopping in,” Jeremy said as she started toward the door.

“I’ll definitely be back,” she said proudly.

“Glad to hear it,” Jeremy smiled back.

And he was. Not because he needed the business to make money so he didn’t lose the house, but because he loved watching all of these customers come in and enjoy the things his wife and staff slaved over. He adored the positive attention the fruits of his wife’s long years of wanting to open her business was now garnering. And he loved the way he felt as he helped people through the process of deciding what they wanted to eat immediately and what they wanted to take home with them.

And although he could definitely use another coffee to drink to help him get pepped up, he was ready to have this exact conversation another nine hundred ninety-nine times today. If only he could figure out a good quip about how long they’ve been open. Maybe something about how he’s still new here?

Showtime-Adam

This past weekend, I celebrated the graduation of my goddaughter/niece, as well as a couple of cousins. I probably also shouldn’t ignore that this was my own graduation weekend, but since I decided not to travel down to Milwaukee and put on an ill-fitting dress and hat to be allowed to sit in an uncomfortable chair for multiple hours (even if Willem Dafoe was being given an honorary degree from the same school at the same time), I allowed that to take a back burner. Besides, I feel a little weird about the whole graduation thing anyways.

But that’s not the focus of the story. The focus is that at this graduation, which is from the same high school that I’m an alumnus from, it is quite the common occurrence to come across a large number of people I went to school with back in the day, seeing as this school is filled with a large number of people who are related to each other through marriage and the like. It’s not an uncommon joke about how difficult it can be for students to find a relationship partner in this school due to how interconnected it is. I even came up with a genealogy/dating app idea this weekend which was already starting to gain some traction, for all my angel investors out there…

And so, since I have a ton of family members who are regularly graduating from this school, I find myself attending graduation here almost yearly. And that means that I then wind up seeing people I haven’t seen for over 20 years. And it also means that I have to take on this persona that I don’t generally use in my daily life. I’m sure I’m not the only one who has this persona. I’ve been calling him “Showtime Adam” as of late, although I’m really hoping I come up with a better term for him soon.

He’s this chipper, friendly, full of jokes kind of guy who definitely isn’t incredibly exhausted from life and certainly could never suffer from crippling depression. I actually like Showtime Adam, even if I’m not sure he comes across quite as likeable as he thinks he does. I also like being him. He brings me back to this far older version of myself who everyone believed was an extrovert. He’s this version of me who can push past the anxiety and run up to someone and have a good ol’ regular conversation with them like it’s nothing. He is, actually, everything I wanted to be growing up.

But he is exhausting.

Like, I don’t know how legitimate extroverts do it? How do they go about their day being themselves every dang day and not have to take a week-long nap?

I’m really glad Showtime Adam exists, because if it weren’t for him, I’d never be able to catch up with these people who were really important to me for at least a brief portion of my life. He’s the Little Engine That Could for interpersonal relationships. He’s the guy who says, “Screw that little voice in your head that says no one liked you in high school and go talk to that person who used to give you hugs every morning.”

I thoroughly enjoyed getting to catch up with these people whom I’ve really only had the most basic of Facebook interactions with since high school. I’ve actually been quite lucky over the past year in that I’ve been finding myself in the presence of countless people who I’ve lost contact with and being able to regain some level of it again. I’ve joked with my wife that it almost feels like my life has become the final season of a beloved TV show, where all these people who had supporting roles over the years show up for one final hurrah.

She doesn’t like that joke.

So, thank you Showtime Adam, for allowing me to get to say hi to these people who used to be such an effortless relationship. For allowing me to reconnect with people I love. Someday, maybe, we’ll find a way to be more of the same person so I don’t have to hide behind a computer screen typing out my feelings about how much I love these people and just tell them to their faces. But for now, I’m really ready for a nap, because even four days later, the effects of Showtime Adam are still wearing on me…

Flash Fiction: Grounded Magic

“Okay, now close your eyes,” the wizened old man said to the young woman. The two were standing in the middle of an ancient forest, the trees reaching high above them, into the clouds. It was dark in this small clearing, although the sun was high in the sky due to the shadows of this prehistoric wood. The power of this aged wood ran through the area, creating a sense of purpose and place the young woman had not felt before.

When her master told her he was taking her to the middle of this sacred land, she felt hesitant. She had only known him for a brief period, having him appear at her door only a week prior to tell her she was destined for great things. Yet, there was something in his eyes which told her she should trust him. With all she had learned in these past seven days, she had started to wonder if this feeling of trust was some charm he had placed over her. Whatever the reason, his comforting aura gave reason enough to follow deep into the darkest depths of this uncharted portion of her country, to a place she wasn’t sure existed before she walked into it.

She closed her eyes.

“Do you feel it?” he asked.

The woman searched her mind. His question was so vague. Feel what? The cold air brushing against her cheeks as it whipped through the trees? The shaking of the ground as the trees creaked in the breeze? The warm energy rising up from the ground, first covering her ankles and now slowly making its way to her knees?

“Yes,” she answered in awe of the intensity of experience. She realized she had stopped breathing as her body became enveloped in the energy, her heart raced with the sheer power now running through her from the earth below.

“Now, reach out, see if you can feel around you, perhaps there is something hiding within this forest that cannot be seen.”

The young woman attempted to do as requested, but found herself incapable of feeling anything outside of herself. The rush of energy around her was strong, and felt as though it were building up to levels higher than she would be able to maintain. She pushed and pushed to seek out the area around her, the heat from the pulse of power rising.

“I can’t do it,” she said as the heat burned within her. What originally had felt empowering, now felt as though it were taking her over, that it was destroying her from the inside.

“You can, I know you can.”

She pushed harder still, trying to reach past the pain, but still struggling to feel anything outside of herself. One more attempt, she strained with all of her mental might, screaming out in agony as the fire burned within, before finally collapsing to the ground, the heat rushing out of her hands into the earth below.

“I’m sorry,” she said through tears. “I’m not strong enough.”

She looked up at the man she had declared to be her master, who now had a wide smirk plastered across his face.

“That was spectacular,” he said as he offered her a hand to help her to her feet.

“What do you mean? I failed, master.”

“Failed?” he said with a laugh. “Failed? I’ve never seen such a connection with the planet as you showcased here just now.”

“But I couldn’t find what you wanted me to look for.”

“Oh, no, of course not. Take off your shoes and try again.”

The woman looked to her master in question, but did as he requested, again closing her eyes and immediately feeling the warmth of the energy filling her body once again. However, as opposed to before, where she felt filled with the energy, she now felt it flowing through her, as though she had become part of some greater power.

“Do you feel the difference?” the old man asked.

“Yes, master,” she said breathlessly. The power before had felt incredible, but this time was completely different. It wasn’t the scope of the power she was filled with, but the scope of what it was connected to. She could feel everything around her. She was now one with the world. The trees of the forest spoke to her of tales long lost to time, of their youth when the world itself was still young, of the hundreds of men who had attempted to travel this way before, only to lose their way. The history of the entire planet flowed through her and she now realized that she was a part of that history. A part of that world.

“And do you see what’s hidden?”

“Everything, master. There’s a whole world hidden from our eyes. A world of history. A world of…”

“Of truth,” the master finished. “The world most humans live in is filled with trying to avoid the truth of this land. They live in their homes away from the nature which provides the very means of existence. They don’t see what is truly present. They don’t see what is truly real.”

“I see,” the woman replied, eager to return to the state of oneness with the earth, but also having so many questions she needed answered. “But the planet, it said it is dying.”

“Yes,” the man said sadly.

“And what did the planet want you to hear?” he asked, true curiosity covering his face.

“That it’s sick. That all of this power, it’s being taken away.”

“Ah, yes, that’s what I expected you to hear.”

“What do we do about it? How do we help?”

“The first step,” the man said as he turned away from the woman, “is to hear. To listen.”

He stepped into the thickness of the trees, disappearing into the darkness.

“What does that mean?” she shouted after him. After receiving no response, she ran in the direction he had left in. She quickly realized how impossible it would be to find him. She closed her eyes and allowed the energy to flow through her once again, seeking in all directions for the man who had disappeared from her life as quickly as he had appeared. In every direction, the only human she could find was herself.

She was alone. And she was starting to wonder if she had always been alone. But now that she had found her place in the world, she was also wondering if she could ever truly be alone again.

Flash Fiction: The Graduate (no, not that one)

Adam sat alone in his dark basement, considering his options for the future. He had recently finished school, at the young age of forty, and knew he needed to use all the effort he had expended over the past two and a half years to propel his career forward, even if it would primarily be for money, instead of a passion for his work. He opened the job site, sighing as he realized that he still felt the weight of waiting for the final confirmation that he had, indeed, graduated.

Not that he hadn’t received certain forms of confirmation, such as the email he received from his university that he could pay an additional fifteen dollars in order to download a digital version of his diploma. Or the email he had received from the honors society telling him that they wanted to hear his story. Or the message from his advisor saying that he had, indeed, graduated. Summa cum laude, even, which made him laugh because of how much he knew he could have tried harder and that this was probably more of a commentary on the level of schooling he had received, in opposition to the actual effort his had provided.

Yet, even with all of these definitive versions of confirmation, he still didn’t quite feel like it was real. This thing had worked on for so long, that he had stopped working on for so long after having his initial time in college end with him being frustrated at failing a class for inconsequential reasons having nothing to do with his academic performance, this thing he started again mere years later only to learn he would have to start at the beginning because his credits from the unaccredited college he had originally attended wouldn’t transfer, this thing he dropped out of again because he simply couldn’t stomach doing it all over again, this thing that had become more of a unwanted requirement than something he cared for, had happened, yet he didn’t still feel the relief he had hoped would come with the completion.

He couldn’t understand why the relief wouldn’t come. On why he, after working so hard (even if he knew he should have worked harder) on fitting in his coursework between all the requirements of life with a wife and three children and a day job, simply didn’t feel like he had accomplished anything.

As he sat staring at the job opportunities he could apply for, he still found himself feeling like none of them were quite what he was looking for out of life, that they weren’t things he could truly feel passionate about. And, remembering his past history with job hunts, he felt truly concerned about the idea of getting excited about a job he could be passionate about, only to never receive any sort of message back.

With yet another sigh, he decided to remove himself from his computer for a moment and find some other way to fill the time. He walked up the stairs and out into the crisp fresh air of the still-frigid April Wisconsin morning. While taking in a deep breath, as though to try and fill his body with the newness of spring and wash away all of the stress he had put himself under these past thirty months, he saw the mail truck pull away from the mailbox at the end of his driveway.

He walked to the mailbox, mind still stuck in the world of what to do about his life, feeling that he was far too old to still have questions like this. Retrieving his post, he walked back to the house, sifting through the documents in his hand. The most apparent piece was a large white cardboard envelope addressed to him from his university. When they had emailed him a few days prior, they had said his diploma would take six to eight weeks to arrive, so he girded himself against the idea that this parcel was somehow the harbinger of bad news.

Entering the house, the pulled the strip of cardboard across the top of the envelope to open it, and pulled out a thick piece of card stock. His heart leapt into his throat as he saw the piece of paper he had been ridiculing as being meaningless since he had first rage-quit from college twenty years prior.

But there it was, his name, on an official document, stating he had, in fact, received his bachelor’s degree with the highest of honors. And although he would never reveal this next fact to anyone, he felt tears well up in his eyes.

He had long ago decided that he had no actual interest in receiving this piece of paper, outside of, after deciding he should finally finish school to make him more valuable to prospective employers, as a marker of his completion. But at this exact moment, just briefly, it felt as if the world was slightly less heavy.

And he sighed again. This time, a short sigh of relief. It was over. Now he just had the rest of his life to contend with.

Everything, Everywhere, All at Once

The past week has been a bit of a whirlwind, which is why things have, again, been a little quiet on here. I was going to put another piece of flash fiction out to try to express this, but I didn’t think it would do things quite the amount of justice they required for expressing just exactly how much this past week has been too much.

While it started well before last Friday, with my wife being stuck at the bakery all week due to some time off for our kitchen staff and I had an overnight shift that Tuesday and just a whole lot of things going on at work, things really took a whole new level of effort starting Friday, where, not only did I start my morning off at the bakery helping out where I could, but then I took a four hour drive south to Galena, IL. The boy scouts had an event in Galena, which both of my kids who are in the BSA were set to attend, but the middle child had an event at school that day as well, which meant he couldn’t leave with the rest of the group. I felt bad for him, because he had worked so hard on the event, but this Galena trip is such an important part of the BSA experience, so, I made the decision to drive him down there after he got done with school.

Since the wife was set to be busy at the bakery all weekend, I took the youngest with me as well, which means I then had to come up with some method for this drive to be a worthwhile experience for him. He decided we should take the three hour drive the following morning to Six Flags, which, although we managed to have some fun, was a mess of an experience of broken down rides and lack of staff meaning that we had to wait over an hour simply to even order food.

And then we drove back home that night, meaning I was on the road until 1am after spending 9 hours running around a theme park.

But we got back home, got a few hours of sleep, and then I had a day filled with trying to keep a 7 year old busy, while also doing some necessary running around for errands for both the house and the bakery, until the other two kids got home around 3pm. Sunday evening was then a brief respite in the crazy that has been the week, because right away Monday morning I had to be back at the bakery to meet the guy who was going to fix our espresso maker, which then led to that being a day for completely rearranging the front end of the bakery (because we’ve been wanting to fix the flow through the establishment for customers since before we bought it), and getting home to take kids to karate and other such things.

But things went into a full tilt on Tuesday when my wife had to leave early so she could go to Minneapolis for two days for an in-person work thing for her actual job, which meant that now I had to hustle through the workday and transfer kids through three different places, including the dentist which happened at the same time as my daughter’s softball game, leading to a dash across town so I could finally have all three kids in tow, bringing us to 5:30 without a dinner strategy, which was resolved when my daughter told me there was a fundraiser for her school at Culver’s.

With dinner in our bellies, I got the kids home, put them to sleep, and I had an actually fairly quiet night, where I got to sleep before 10, which is quite early for me, and would prepare me for the rock show that would be Wednesday, with yet another busy day at work, a karate lesson that took 30 minutes longer than usual because the middle kid was testing into his yellow belt (he got it), leading to my wife having to transition immediately from getting home into making dinner so that we could get everyone fed before we all collapsed.

And then yesterday…Yesterday I took off from my day job, because it was the first open day for the bakery since I rearranged the front end, so I wanted to be there if there were any issues with the new arrangement, had to onboard a new employee, found out that the espresso maker still wasn’t working, figured out a way to fix it that, fingers crossed, may actually keep, ran a few more errands, went to the clinic for my allergy shots, had a meeting with my boss at work, even though it was my day off, picked up the boys from school, ran a few more errands for the bakery, helped do some prep work at the bakery while the boys hung out at the library, nabbed them, picked up the daughter from softball practice, dropped them all off at home before heading back to the bakery to help with getting an enormous order to the ECCT’s Purses with a Purpose fundraiser, before finally picking up some pizza at 7:08 (about 40 minutes later than the latest my kids normally allow us to eat), and getting home and feeding the children before getting them to bed just a little after their normal bedtime.

It was a lot. And I’m finding myself quiet eager that today’s schedule claims it to be a far quieter day than the past week has been. But all the same, I could really go for a nap. Or a vacation…or both.

And I definitely needs a drink.

Flash Fiction: The Wrong Bunker

Julianne was employed at the theme park, Six Flags Great Adventure, when the zombies arrived. Not only did she feel particularly prepared for the oncoming apocalypse due to her interest in zombie films and television shows, but she also had made all sorts of contingency plans in the ridiculous event that zombies actually did become a thing and take over the world.

Although she had fantasized about this moment, a world which didn’t involve the hustle and bustle of a day job and a side hustle as one in which she felt she could truly thrive, she was a realist, so even when she first heard the reports on the news of people biting other people and causing them to get sick, she laughed it off as a crazy similarity to the countless forms of entertainment she had enjoyed watching and reading. No person in their right mind would ever believe that zombies could actually be a thing. The very idea of the dead coming back to life and craving human flesh or brains or whatever, it’s outlandish.

Even after seeing them first hand, she couldn’t quite wrap her head around the idea that they were truly zombies. Maybe cosplayers? COVID-brain?

Speaking of which, who would have thought zombies would be the thing to follow up COVID? The world was just beginning to come out of a global pandemic, one which she often felt reminded her of the stories of the living dead, and here they were…zombies.

It wouldn’t be until far later that the world would learn zombies were actually an after-effect of the COVID-19 virus. That those who suffered from long-COVID were actually percolating this entirely new set of symptoms which would cause the animation of corpses. But even that revelation would have seemed far too much in the vein of lazy science fiction writing than something that could truly happen, if Julianne had been aware.

Regardless of her immediate thoughts, here Julianne was, struggling to survive in what could now be called a wasteland of ghouls, trying to remember all of those equally ridiculous plans she had made for her own survival when the time had come. And as eccentric of an idea as she saw it to be, she found herself heading right back to the place where she had been underpaid for so long. The place she had found herself dreaming that zombies would take her away from. The place where she had been spit on, cleaned up countless piles of vomit, and prayed to every deity she could think of to save her from. Six Flags Great America.

There were a number of things which made this amusement park appealing to her as a safe haven from the hordes of walking deceased. The first was that although it was possible there were a large number of these infectious cadavers roaming the park, the idea that more would enter was limited. The large walls around the border, previously used to keep unpaying patrons from entering, would provide a protection from an increase in opposition from the dead. She also saw it as being a rather fitting backdrop to the horror show that the world had now become, reminding her most closely to a similar scene in Zombieland where they dispatched and decapitated countless not-so-stiffs among the flashing lights and corny music. The third reason was that this park, in particular, happened to be powered entirely by solar power. While she doubted the claims of park management that the entire park could be run off the grid, she had to believe that those large panels she drove past daily on her way in to work could power at least a portion of the park at a time, meaning she may actually be able to have heat in the winter and refrigeration for food.

The final reason was that she had long ago identified the perfect bunker for her to spend the last days of humanity. One of the opening day attractions which still operated at the park was called Sky Trek Tower. It was a 330-foot tall observation tower. And importantly, the observation deck of this incredibly tall tower was a room that would lift from ground level up to the top of the attraction. She had first come up with the idea of using this to keep away from the hordes, as well as any people who may mean her ill who still survived, when she noticed how the observation deck would be locked at its highest position during times that the ride wasn’t operational. This meant she could spend her nights 330 feet in the sky, far away from any potential danger.

Even better, the ride had electric outlets available on the observation deck, meaning if she were to find a refrigerator and food, she could survive up there for days if necessary, with both Lake Michigan and the Chicago skyline to serve as her viewing entertainment, at least on clear days.

Julianne pulled into the employee parking lot in the early twilight hours. While she was slightly concerned about the oncoming darkness, she also thought that the lack of direct light might make it easier for her to sneak through the park without being noticed. And considering she didn’t know the current state of affairs inside those walls, she definitely didn’t want to be seen if she could help it. She had also chosen the employee parking lot because although the main parking lot was quite a lot closer to the tower, she expected that most of her coworkers would have bolted the second things went south, meaning it should be far emptier than the customer lot, which had a far better chance of being overrun with those things she was working to avoid.

While the parking lot wasn’t empty, the few stragglers were easy enough for her to evade, especially while she was still in her car. They seemed to follow the noise of her vehicle quite readily, meaning all she had to do was to slowly drive a few circles around the lot to gather them all up, before leading them down the hill and out of the park itself. Once they were there, she slammed her foot down on the gas, peeling out while she whipped a quick donut in the intersection, and she sped back up the hill to the lot.

She drove right past the parking lot and into the park itself, driving down the backstage paths into the heart of the park. She had never been allowed to even use the golf carts that were regularly used to make this long trek into the depths of Six Flags, so something about this act made her feel uncomfortable, breaking a rule that had been so deeply engrained in her. Then a smile crossed her lips as she realized she didn’t have to follow their rules any longer and could do anything she wanted. A few of her ex-coworkers poked their heads out from around corners at the sudden sound of her door slamming, but they were easily lost by simply crouching down and sneaking around to the side of the interview center building. Once they had made it far enough away from her and toward her car, she slipped past them and onto the main drag of the backstage, driving past gaping carcasses as they heard her speed past. She drove into the Batman the Ride maintenance building and continued through, feeling lucky that the doors had been left open, as she wasn’t sure her little 1983 Pontiac Sunbird would have quite the force necessary to bust through the doors if they had been shut.

And finally she was at the gates to the park, the place where the parade route began. Here, the gates weren’t open, but she also didn’t want to stop and get out of the car if she could help it, as she had now garnered a not-insignificant fanbase drunkenly stumbling toward her all along the route she had taken in. She knew the gate here was held together with only a simple latch, meaning her car would probably be able to break it open rather easily, so she again stepped down on the gas pedal and slammed into the off-white gates. Her car shuddered with the impact as bits of wood shattered all around her. She took a hard right turn so as to avoid running into the fence surrounding the Mardi Gras Hangover ride, and immediately took a hard left to avoid the Big Easy Balloons before skidding to a stop. She had made it, she was in the park, but still had a long way to go.

Thinking through her previous experience in the parking lot, and looking at the far more numerous zombies here in the park, Julianne knew she needed to come up with a better plan for getting to the Sky Trek Tower than simply driving up and parking outside. There was very little chance that the area around there was empty, and although those guys on The Walking Dead made it seem easy to stab zombies in the head to take them out, she didn’t know if she had it in her, not to mention that there was nothing saying this was how you got rid of real zombies.

She revved her engine loudly, causing even more zombies to be alerted to her arrival than had already noticed her loudly crashing through the parade route gates. She smiled as she slowly drove around the Big Easy Balloons toward the exit of Orleans Place and past the Dark Knight and Superman rollercoasters. She laid her elbow across the horn for the car, creating as much noise as possible as she continued past the Columbia Carousel and got her first real glimpse of her destination. The Sky Trek Tower stood tall, with the observation deck still locked in the up position. She knew she would need to buy herself some time as the deck would slowly come down to allow her to get on, which made her realize that her plan was going to work perfectly for her needs.

She took a left turn, still following the parade route, causing her to think of how ridiculous of a parade she had developed in her short time as manager of this park. She’d like to hear what her managers would think of her now, with the festival of fright she was bringing down into Hometown Square. Surely they wouldn’t reject her appeals for promotion due to her lack of creativity now, would they?

She continued her slow drive down past the Lobster and into the Southwest Territory area of the park, where she saw the train tracks. This was what she had been looking for. She knew that these tracks would lead her almost all the way back to the Tower, while also being far less likely to have any sort of ex-people milling about. She turned her car onto the train tracks as she released the pressure on the horn and slowly started rolling down the tracks toward her final destination. If she had done her job correctly, her path from here to the tower should be completely empty. Except as she turned the corner to drive underneath Maxx Force, she saw that the train itself was in her way. It appeared that the train driver had succumbed to zombification, and he and a number of the people who chose to ride the train for reasons Julianne could never understand, were now staring at her car driving toward them.

There was no chance for Julianne to turn around, not in this small space, not with the train tracks below her tires, and not with the giant horde of zombies she had left behind her. The only option for her now was to jump out of the car and take the rest of the trip on foot.

She ran east, toward the Whizzer, and saw the scary wooden bridge across the water which ran under this old rollercoaster. She had always avoided taking this bridge, because she was absolutely uncertain it was capable of holding any weight. As she weighed her options, looking ahead across the bridge to no zombies and behind her to over a dozen, she decided there really wasn’t any choice.

Quickly, she bolted across the bridge, hoping that speed would keep her safe. Luck had been on her side so far, it only needed to hold out for a little longer. And much to Julianne’s surprise, both luck, and the bridge, did manage to hold out. She was now back on the parade route, headed in the opposite direction she had been going only a few minutes prior. To the tower.

She made it to the tower without incident, seeing the angry faces of a number of the undead through the fence which separated this park from the water park called Hurricane Harbor. Something about these flesh-hungry goblins wearing sunglasses and swimsuits made the whole thing seem even more garish than before. Why did we never see zombies who looked like they died while they were having fun? Julianne sifted through her wide expanse of experience in zombie culture and couldn’t think of a single book, film, or television show that had done this.

“Just another way in which we can’t trust the media,” Julianne laughed to herself. She was feeling giddy now. She was at the base of the tower, and the lights were still on, meaning that all she had to do was to push the button and bring it down, and she would be home free.

She hesitated briefly before slamming her hand down on the button. Instantly a loud screeching sounded from the base of the machine.

“Oh crap,” Julianne muttered under her breath. This old ride had never been well maintained, and she had completely forgotten how loud it was to operate. On a normal day, with all the screams and people talking and music and whatever other noises you would hear around the park, it wasn’t nearly as noticeable, but now, when noise was all those demons wanted, it was deafening. Julianne looked around feverously. She had made all of her plans around this one idea, and here she was, realizing that it was all a huge mistake.

It was at this moment that Julianne also made one final realization. If all the lights were on, that meant the ride had been operational. That also meant that it was incredibly unlikely the ride was empty.

She had screwed up. Majorly.

Just then she noticed Jeff, one of her managers, stumbling down the path toward her, giving her a disapproving look as he growled a demonic growl.

“Well, at least I’m not a fucking zombie, Jeff!”

Staring at the Screen

As a parent, I spend a ton of time trying to convince my kids that they shouldn’t stare at screens too long throughout the day. That staring at screens will melt their brains and they simply won’t be capable of doing the things they need to get done in a day. And it’s accurate. I can tell you that if my kids stare at a screen longer than an hour, they are nearly impossible to deal with. Movies are a struggle for us, even, although if the movie is good enough and we’re watching together as a family, they generally come out of it ready to talk about the experience, more than just being completely melted little people.

So, I’m aware. I know. I know how bad these screens in our lives are. I love them. I love technology and all the things we can do with these screens that are infiltrating our world today, but I also know that there are plenty of options on them that aren’t productivity related.

And I absolutely fall into those traps way too often.

The truth is, I’m far worse about this when I’m tired, but after a day of staring at screens for work, I also find myself still scrolling through endless piles of nothingness on my little phone screen because I simply don’t know how to interact with the world any longer and I guess I feel like that’s something that I can handle, when I can’t handle anything else.

This issue is far more prevalent during winter in Wisconsin, as we spend far more time outside in the world and doing things during the warmer months than we do during the never-ending winter. But, all the same, staring at these screens serves as a form of comfort, even if they tend to be something which makes me even less capable of doing the things that need to get done.

The productivity loss I have due to these screens which are also responsible for all of my productivity means I find myself in a regular process of rage deleting things off my phone. It’s so easy to find some other time waster to put on my phone. This is why I don’t do Wordle any longer, because although it didn’t take much time out of my day, it was a gateway drug to Quordle and Nerdle and Heardle and…soon I was out of time entirely.

But, I need these screens. Especially now that I’m running a business with my wife, we’re constantly needing to find ways to keep the business running. I just need to get better at putting the screen away when I don’t need to be using it.

Especially since I know how bad of an influence I’ve been on my kids about it.

Flash Fiction: The Tireds

Harvey opened his eyes to the loud alarm sounding from his phone on his nightstand and looked at the clock through bleary eyes. It read 6:15am, a time that he had become accustomed to reading on his phone every morning, but that somehow didn’t get any easier every time he saw it.

It was early, and his night before had been long, and here he was, in the middle of this battle for his time between bed and life, trying to determine if there was an option for him to hit the snooze button and squeeze out just a couple more minutes of rest before he had to jump into his day.

He decided to throw caution to the wind, and he slid the slider on his phone to the right, lying back down on his pillow in the comfort of knowing that he could rest easy for the next ten minutes.

In what felt like a manner of seconds, his alarm sounded loudly again and he jolted awake, grumpy that his plan for more rest had merely resulted in him feeling even more groggy than he had during the previous few seconds he had of consciousness. He groaned loudly and slid off the bed, collapsing onto the ground.

“This is going to be a long day,” he thought to himself.

While Harvey didn’t have much that needed to get done with his day, the one thing is most absolutely required was for him to remain upright and awake. Working as a security guard at the mall meant there were very few options for him to simply close his eyes and doze off for a couple of minutes. And since he had been working double shifts for the past few weeks, doing both the overnights and the daytime guard shifts, he felt more like a zombie than a human.

If only he could simply take some time to get away. Not to actually go anywhere, but to his warm-ish bed. To a place where he could simply dream away his days.

If only retirement were an actual option for him, he thought. Maybe I should have done a better job of saving up for retirement, but I guess that would have meant I would have had some extra cash I could use for saving.

Harvey dreamed about a life lived much more comfortably, one in which he could actually talk about his 401k and all it was doing for his future, instead of being a man who spent most of his waking hours thinking about how great it was going to be when he could get back to sleep.

Harvey was tired. And Harvey didn’t know any other way of life than to be tired.

Florida Man Strikes Back at Corporation that Disagrees with Him

While I’m typically much more interested in the Florida Man headlines involving meth gators or bath salt zombies, there’s quite the moment happening (yet again) in Florida between a bunch of rich and powerful people. And as is generally the case, it looks like the not-so-rich and -powerful are going to be the ones who suffer from it.

As we’ve talked about on here before, Florida has recently passed a bill that many like to refer to as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill. The details of this bill are unimportant for this discussion here, but what is important is that although The Walt Disney Company was initially quiet over their thoughts on the bill, they did finally come out with a statement claiming how they would do everything in their power to get the bill repealed.

And, of course, that meant that those who pushed the bill through, took this as a direct attack and saw it as a business using its money to impact legislation (because, of course, that never normally happens), and decided to strike back.

The method for striking back is that the State of Florida is now working to repeal a much older bill, one which has allowed The Walt Disney Company to operate its own government within the confines of the State of Florida.

Quick history lesson here with at least some of the facts correct: When Walt Disney was deciding where to put his new theme park, he made a whole bunch of deals with the State of Florida. Florida, realizing the boon that a Disney theme park could entail for their state, was rather willing to do whatever it took to get Disney there. So, since Walt at this point owned the land equivalent of the island of Manhattan, and they wanted to move quickly on the development of this land, an agreement was reached to create what is called the Reedy Creek Improvement District. In short, this would allow Disney to basically govern itself in things like building inspections and emergency services (to really gloss over the full details of this whole thing).

This is huge. Like, for everything I’m going to say in the rest of the post which might not make this seem like quite as big of a deal as it is, I want to highlight just exactly how huge of a thing this is. While I can appreciate how The Walt Disney Corporation has used this land they own in many responsible ways, such as creating their 11,500 acre Wilderness Preserve, the very idea that a corporation could operate as their own government entity is, at the very least, a little bit questionable. Scary is probably a better word.

So, I actually can see why the State of Florida might be interested in dissolving this deal. I’m not a huge fan of corporations being able to hide completely from oversight, even if in many ways its in the corporation’s best interests to keep their guests safe. Heck, the very fact that they manage their own police should cause many people to wonder if there’s a bunch of stuff going on behind the scenes that isn’t exactly kosher.

But here’s the thing, folks. This battle between rich and powerful people isn’t as much about this bill from 1960s as it is a way for one rich and powerful person to flip the other one the bird after being flipped the bird in the first place. It’s a battle of egos. And because of that being the focus, there isn’t much thought going into how this dissolution could be best enacted, but all about how quickly it can be done.

Here are a few of the issues I’ve seen discussed with how the dissolution of the Reedy Creek Improvement District could play out. First, since Disney, or more specifically the Reedy Creek Improvement District, provides its own emergency services, if the district suddenly no longer exists, those services have to be provided by local government. Immediately you are looking for a fairly severe increase in the overhead required by the existing local governments to provide services for an organization that has been providing them for themselves for the last 50 years. While this may allow for some job growth (although, let’s be honest, it would actually simply move jobs from one employer to another at best), it also would increase the taxes for the people currently in those areas. Sure, there may be an opportunity to gather more taxes from The Walt Disney Company, but the reality is that the people in the area are going to have to pay for these increased needs.

But that’s not even the biggest cost. Because it looks like The Reedy Creek Improvement District has about a billion (yes, billion with a b) dollars worth of debt in bonds. There’s a pretty strong belief by even the supporters of the dissolution of the district, that that billion would come due immediately upon dissolution of the district. A billion. While there may be some way for the State of Florida to push the burden of this on Disney, the reality is that Disney’s lawyers are sure as heck going to lean on the law and how this is not actually their debt, but the debt of a government entity that the state is dissolving, and, you guessed it, this debt is going right back to the taxpayers.

But, there’s even more to consider. Because Disney has actually been making moves in recent months to move a not-insignificant portion of their employee base to a new campus they’ve been working on in Florida. The numbers I’ve seen are as big as 20,000 jobs they would be bringing to the State of Florida. One can only assume that the next big middle finger in this battle of the rich would mean those jobs would be not sent to Florida.

Now, obviously, one of the bigger questions is, will this hurt Disney. Sure, there will definitely be impacts. However, none of these are things that The Walt Disney Company doesn’t have to deal with for any of its other theme parks across the globe. Will there be greater costs for operating their theme park in Florida? Maybe? I don’t know. But it doesn’t really matter, because Disney’s shown it’s really good at passing any of those costs on to its customers. The true impact to Disney here would purely be one of ego. But the people actually impacted would be those who live in Florida or are patrons of Disney’s products.

Here’s the thing, folks, The Walt Disney Company is one of the largest corporations in the world today. Something like this isn’t integral to their operations at all. If anything, it was probably only most useful to the corporation during the time they were initially building the park. They still file building permits and still require inspections on all their equipment. They still provide emergency services. And, while it may be a big part of the State of Florida’s income, it’s only a small portion of Disney’s portfolio.

This pissing match will only hurt the little guys.

But at the same time, I want to reiterate I think it’s probably about time that we look toward getting rid of Disney’s special powers in Florida. I just simply think there might be a need to consider how its done a little bit more than just ripping off a bandaid and dealing with whatever struggles come next.

Flash Fiction: The Password

Charles sat down at his computer, ready to tackle the tasks of his early morning routine. While he wasn’t exactly keen on starting another day of work, he was rather excited about how little work he expected to have to do that day, and was ready for allowing himself to leave a little early so that he might be able to enjoy some time outside for the first time in weeks.

It had been a busy period in his life, and he was excited for the opportunity to have an easy day, without complications. He pushed the power button on his laptop and took a sip of coffee as he waited for it to boot up. He pulled out his phone to check a notification, only to find that his phone thought he’d be interested in knowing about the latest celebrity hookup at 8am. He was unable to resist the urge to click on the notification, although he had very little actual interest, and learned that two people he didn’t know by name or by picture were now dating.

By this point, his computer had finally reached the login screen. He pressed the spacebar twice and the prompt for his password appeared. He typed in his password quickly, hit ENTER and the blue screen gave way to his background picture of himself petting a donkey during a recent visit to Oatman, Arizona. He loved having this picture on his desktop for whenever he had to screen share so that he could share his favorite joke about it just being a couple of asses hanging out.

As he computer finished the login process, a prompt appeared.

“Your password will expire tomorrow. To change your password, press CTRL+ALT+DELETE and then click ‘Change a Password’.”

Charles groaned inwardly. He had been ignoring this prompt for the last two weeks, deciding that the longer he waited to change his password, the longer his password wouldn’t need to be changed again later. But his procrastination had finally reached its tipping point.

He had to change his password.

He pressed CTRL+ALT+DELETE and clicked on ‘Change a Password’, just as the prompt had told him. He grumbled to himself about the idea of needing to remember yet another password. He barely remembered the password he had now, how did Microsoft think he was possibly going to remember an entirely new one. Besides, hadn’t he just changed this password a month ago? How regularly did you need to change a password anyway? Couldn’t they just do away with passwords? It’s not like they ever did any good, right?

Charlie thought back to an article he had read not too long ago about how passwords were easily crackable, which is why so many companies were moving to multi-factor or biometric authorization. While he didn’t exactly like the idea of having to pull out his phone every time he had to log in, or for Bill Gates to have his biometrics on file, he also didn’t like that he had to constantly keep space in his mind for countless passwords, especially if they were proven to not work.

The prompt stared at him asking for his Old Password. He typed in the characters he had entered just moments prior. Then, realizing he may have typed them incorrectly, he backspaced through all of them and started over. This reminded him of yet another article which commented in a derogatory manner about how such a large percentage of people would completely start over when mistyping a password instead of simply correcting the wrong character. How in the world would you know which character was wrong? We’ve only got a limited amount of mistypes we can use before we get locked out of our own machines, surely we want to be absolutely certain that we typed it correctly instead of merely correcting the letter we think we did wrong.

He was realizing he was already getting frustrated at this whole process, which was completely against the point of what he was going for this morning, so he took a deep breath, and considered his options for a new password. Hey, he thought to himself, that might work. He typed in ‘NewPassword’. Then he typed it in again in the next box which required him to verify the password he had just typed. He hit ENTER.

A new dialog box appeared stating that his password required numerals as well as letters.

Charles growled outwardly. “Okay, fine,” he said as he typed ‘N3wP4ssword’ angrily on the keyboard twice. He hit enter again and was given yet another dialog box telling him that he also needed to use special characters.

Charles responded slightly more subdued this time, realizing he had an easy answer to this one. ‘N3wP4ssword!’ he typed twice. Hitting ENTER he was greeted with yet another message from the demons who ran his computer.

“You cannot use any of your previous ten passwords,” the dialog read.

And at this point, Charles started seeing red. “I can use whatever damned passwords I fucking want!” he screamed at the screen.

He hit enter three times in succession, causing his computer to ding loudly at him. He knew this wasn’t doing any good, but he thought that if he was going to be frustrated at the act of changing his password, his computer may as well join him.

“You know what, you stupid computer, I know exactly what password I’m using today,” he said to his machine. He typed in ‘Stup!dC0mputer’ twice and then hit enter.

The dialog disappeared and he was returned to his background screen of himself and the donkey.

You know what, Charles thought to himself, there are actually three asses on this screen. Stupid computer!