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!”

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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!

Mr. Manager

There’s a little known secret about me (I honestly have no clue how well known it is) that I have long avoided being ‘The Boss’. There have been a number of situations in which I’ve been offered management positions, or at least had the concept mentioned to me, and I’ve always turned it down. This isn’t to say I haven’t had management experience, it’s just always been somewhat unofficial. I’ve run teams, project managed, and a whole host of other things which ultimately come down to the concept of “management”, but when it really comes down to it, if someone asks me if I want to be in charge, I am pretty darn quick to say no.

It’s not that I think I’d be a bad boss. I just don’t want to be the boss. I don’t want to be in charge. I don’t want to be responsible for other people in that way (yeah, I know, I have three kids, so I’ve obviously failed in that regard of avoiding responsibility). I don’t mind being the person who takes responsibility, however. I generally work as the lead on many projects and am always ready to be the one to step forward and accept blame for things that happen along the way. I don’t mind getting into the line of fire by any means. Even back in my early days of food service, I would typically just handle the customer problems and find ways to make them happy, instead of feeling the need to bring a manger into it. In fact, I don’t believe the words “Can I speak to your manager?” were ever once spoken to me in my many years in customer-facing positions.

I’ll get things done, and I’ll work toward leading teams to success…but for whatever reason, I’ve never been interested in being officially “The Boss”.

However, regardless of all my attempts to avoid this fate of leadership, it turns out I am now “The Boss”, or “Mr. Manager” as my much preferred moniker.

No matter how many times I tell the employees of the bakery how I’m not their boss, they keep telling me that I’m wrong. They come to me when there are customer issues (when I’m in the store anyway), and look for me to give the gladiatorial combat thumb up or down. While I’ve still got my wife as the absolute head honcho, it turns out, I’ve found myself in somewhat of a place of management.

And I still don’t really want it.

Especially considering how the employees at this shop know way more about the place we own than I do right now. I’m obviously hoping that won’t last too long, but for right now, when they come to ask me what to do about something, I often have to wonder what they did before I was there, or sometimes, even straight out ask them.

So, yeah, I’m a manager, I guess…just not a very good one. At least not yet.

Flash Fiction: The Sun Worshipper

George looked to the sky and grimaced as he noted the gray coloration, hiding him from the light and warmth he desired so badly. As the snow flurried around him, he felt a sense of dread pass through his body. Why had the sun deserted him? Why did it refuse to pass its rays through his skin and allow him the relief he so greatly required.

George knew that he had brought this torture to himself. Being settled in the Midwest of America meant there were great stretches of time when he would be separated from his god. Ra, Apollo, Helios, Freyr, or however you chose to refer to the deity of light and life, they didn’t live here for large periods of the Wisconsin winter. And George, a man of limited needs, was unable to survive without the blessed countenance of his beloved divine creature.

He knew it was a ridiculous concept to consider the large ball of fire in the sky as anything more than a scientific marvel of compressed gases being ignited in a massive fusion reaction, but the way he found himself feeling when he was separated from its divine light reminded him of the way in which religious people would talk about turning their back on their gods. To feel as though their lives had been lost, that they couldn’t find their way, that they were, simply, separated from the sacred.

This is how George felt as he stared up at the dark sky, being covered in the icy coldness of the unwanted precipitation that was now starting to turn his green grass white.

Why had his god forsaken him when he needed him the most? Why must he stand here, considering falling to his knees in reverence to something he knew was purely governed by the weather patterns of the area, knowing that April in Wisconsin was a chaotic experience of seasons leading to periods of light and dark, cold and warm, glee and devastation?

George needed a change, a pilgrimage. He needed to find his god, seek him out, because at this point, George couldn’t help feeling that there was no chance his god was going to come and find him.

If only, George mused, I could find the time to get away. To drive or fly or even navigate by ship, somewhere to which his totem of vitality could be found without effort. If only, he continued, there were a way I could find my god.

Yet, he knew his options were limited. That he would merely have to wait for his god’s return. He only hoped his return would be soon.

George walked back inside his house, a tear in his eye for reasons he couldn’t fully explain. He returned to his office, turned on his heater, and stared at the golden calf he had on his desk, a mere idol of his true salvation. A light which promised to aid in his feelings of despair. A light which served as but a blasphemous version of his true deity.

George missed the sun.

Back to (Thinking About) The Future

If you’ve been paying attention, 2022 has already been a pretty huge year here at the Oster household. As of yesterday, I officially received an email allowing me to pay to download a digital version of my diploma (because…after paying $40 just to graduate, the opportunity to download a PDF is apparently not included) AND we bought a bakery, not to mention all of the little things going on all around that.

Which means that I’ve been at this point of late where I’ve been spending an awful lot of time thinking about the future and what it means for me.

Obviously I do that a lot in general, but I’ve been doing it even more of a lot as of late.

And the truth of the matter is that I still don’t have any freaking clues about what my future should look like.

Yeah, sure, so now that we have a bakery, that’s going to be a huge part of our future for the time being, especially until we can get some more employees in there and increase the cooler space and a billion other little improvements that need to happen. And yes, now that I have a degree, that means I should probably find a new job that can take advantage (financially) of that level of higher education.

But the truth of the matter is that none of these quite fit within the vibe of where I thought I’d be at this point in my life. Not that these are things I’m unhappy with. I’m actually pretty excited for what the future has in store, but I’m also trying to figure out how I got here.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m 100% the reason we now own a bakery. I’ve been supporting (read: pressuring) my wife to do this for as long as I’ve known her, so although there have been some exhausting nights over the past month since we pulled the trigger, this is exactly where we need to be so that she can live out her dream. But I still struggle with what my own dream is…and how to get there.

This has been part of the issue with me populating the blog here as of late. It’s not that I don’t want to write, it’s that I’m not sure that this is the best usage of my time for my creative outlet during this period in which my available time for creative outlets is exceptionally minimal. I’ve actually been questioning whether writing is the place where I need to be putting my creative efforts in general nowadays. Because, well, although I enjoy it, it’s not exactly something that gets much for a return on the time investment outside of mental health (which is a big one, don’t get me wrong).

And…well…that makes me a little sad. But at the same time, if I’m being completely honest, I haven’t done much for writing at all these past 5 years. So…I don’t really know what to say about it.

But…that’s where I’m at, and right now, I can’t promise I’ll keep populating this space because it’s taking up time that I simply don’t have. Which is a really crappy thing for me to actually put to the page here.

Especially since there are about a dozen writing projects in different levels of development that I’d actually really like to get back to…

Becoming a Part of the Community

Growing up in the church meant that I’ve always had a pretty solid sense of community. It felt like I had countless moms throughout all of the women in the church, and there honestly wasn’t a single person in my life every day that I didn’t know pretty much all of the details about. Very rarely was anyone I talked to known as “John’s Mom”, but instead as “Mrs. Smith”. We were a tight-knit community who would help each other when needed and it felt as though no matter what was going on in our lives, there was always someone around who could cover any slack when needed.

On top of that were things like regular potlucks and parties where, honestly, the people in this small church were a constant part of my life and felt (still feel) like family.

As my wife and I have now made it through our first month as business owners, one of the biggest things we’ve been talking about from the start is regarding how much we want to be a part of the community that our business is located in. We have all sorts of ideas for community events and ways in which we can really feel as though our business is truly integrated within the community it resides.

However, while we had all of these ideas, the concept of how to implement them is one we haven’t quite gotten to. While I like to consider myself a fairly affable guy, years working from home has meant that I feel somewhat introverted and don’t necessarily feel comfortable going out of my way in trying to get to know people. My wife, on the other hand, has never considered herself much of a people person, so, we were both looking at the concept of becoming a part of the community as an incredibly overwhelming concept.

Turns out, we didn’t need to worry about it at all.

Since we’ve taken over the bakery, the community has come to us. We’ve been greeted friendly by business owners, city administrators, and non-profit coordinators almost non-stop since we’ve taken the keys to the business, and now, well, I’m actually at the point where I find it difficult to keep up with all the requests people have for how we could be a part of the community.

It’s exciting, and I’m really eager to put The Nostalgic Bean on the map for being a hometown bakery that the community wants to stand alongside, but also, I’m exhausted. I forgot how much work it can be to put on a smiling face and remember how to be that friendly guy who used to come so easily to me.

All the same, there’s a lot in store for the not-so-distant future for The Nostalgic Bean and the Chippewa Valley (and Altoona specifically), and I couldn’t be more excited for it all…even if it all sounds more than a little exhausting.

Remembering How to People

Since early on in the pandemic period of our lives, I’ve been making a joke about how I don’t know how to interact with people anymore. Things like asking if licking someone’s face is the appropriate way to greet someone or not, because that’s how my dog does it. It’s not a great joke, but I work with what I’ve got…which, as a dad, is generally just corny nonsense.

However, now that we’re reaching a point in this country where it’s not as taboo to see people again, I’ve found that my joke isn’t all that far from the truth, not that I expected anyone to disagree with it.

After two years of hiding out in my house (not to mention the 2 years we were living on the farm and seeing people fairly minimally as well), I’ve found that my previously okay skills at peopling have become even more lacking. It’s not that I can’t interact with people, and it’s not even that I don’t want to interact with them, it’s just that I feel far more awkward doing so than I ever did before. And, as the awkward human that I am, that’s saying a lot.

Those two years of sitting around in sweat pants and a purple dragon sweatshirt means that I became more accustomed to being my worst self than I’ve ever been before. While I don’t want to completely turn my wife off, she knows who she married and I wasn’t exactly afraid of being as me as I could be. But now that the world exists again, I have to remember that my nose hairs grow a bit too long and I should probably do something about them before going out and seeing people. Of course, one lucky thing about being a short person living in the land of giants that is Wisconsin is that there are very few people who are looking up my nose.

And now that we have a public-facing business that we’re running, and I tend to act as the face of the business while my wife does all the actual work, I’m realizing I have to put even more effort into presenting myself as an actual human.

It’s exhausting.

Those years in lockdown meant that I could live the life like an author should, hiding out in his basement, alone, without a care for what people think he looks and acts like. Now I have to remember that not everyone wants to know about the details of character development or how World War I was really just an act of sibling rivalry or how I think that Thor: Ragnarok gets a lot more credit than it deserves (even if it’s a fun piece of cinematic candy). They’d, in fact, much rather simply talk about the weather.

So, I’m working on it. A little bit of self-improvement, I guess. To try to remember how to not only people, but also how to human.

Who knew it took so much work to be a part of society?