Stories

The Genesis of Steve, by P.J. Sambeaux

#Humor #literary #scifi

“Mom, what have you done?” Ellie whispered testily.

“I don’t know, honey,” her mother answered, her voice laden with fear and dismay. “I just don’t know.”  She reached out to lay a comforting hand on her daughter’s shoulder, but was irritably shrugged off.

It looked out at them from under the laundry basket in the corner.

“I do wish you’d both stop staring at me.”

**

“It says its name is Steve?” Carol told the customer service agent on the other end of the vid screen.

“What can you tell me of Steve’s genesis?” the man asked, sighing deeply – the tedium of job weighing heavily on his shoulders.

“Ok, this is going to sound really bad,” she began tentatively, “but I had a bunch of leftovers from old kits, so instead of buying a whole new kit I just put all the leftovers together?”

“Which leftovers did you use?”

“Ok,” she began, flipping through the torn labels, “I started out with Jamboree Fuzzy Time Loveable, then I added Einsteintatious, Kaleidescope Wowza, Submersible Party Time Buddy, Birds of All Feathers, Alien Wonder Bunny and Brief but Thrilling Terror from Outer Space.”

“How much temperalux and emoto-control would you say you added from all of the kits combined?

“None? Because there wasn’t any left?”

The customer service agent looked at the ceiling for guidance. There was none to be had.

“And when did you first notice something had gone wrong?”

“Um, I guess I’d have to say when he grabbed a knife and started waving it around.  I thought that was a really weird thing to do at a kid’s birthday party. So, yeah – that was probably when I realized something was off.”

“Is Steve fully sentient?”

“Oh, I don’t know, let me ask him.”  She turned to the creature. “Steve, they’re asking if you’re fully sentient?”

Steve sighed as tufts of pink hair sprouted above what were probably his ears.

“If you are asking me whether I am able to perceive my own existence and the existence of others in the environment in which I am currently situated, whether I have emotions and feelings, whether I am aware of my own abilities and limitations – then yes, Carol, I would have to say I am fully sentient.’

Carol turned back to the vid screen, her face pinched with worry. “Yes, he is reporting that he is fully sentient.”

“Ma’am, there is a reason that we advise you to discard any leftovers from a Temporary Party Time Buddy kit.  That reason, which you know are experiencing the full terror of, is the potential for creating a super-intelligent, possibly dangerous, probably hostile chimera.  The reason that we have you add the temperalux and emoto-control is so you can create an emotionally malleable creature that will expire just as your child has grown tired of it. I am going to have to put in a service call.  Someone should be with you between the hours of 5pm and 7pm.” The screen shut itself off as the call disconnected.

Carol walked over to her daughter, who was cautiously watching Steve, armed with a spatula and an extension cord.  She started to put her arm around her daughter’s shoulder, but then thought better of it.

“This never would have happened if your father had been here,” she mused unhappily. “I’m so sorry, honey.”

“You always are,” Ellie snapped back.

Carol brushed tears from her eyes with the back of her hand.  It was a few moments before she could speak.

“Happy ninth birthday, honey.”

“Thanks, mom,” Ellie hissed sarcastically.

“Yes, happy birthday, young lady,” Steve chimed in.

“Thank you, Steve,” Ellie said, eying him suspiciously.

**

“Ok, Carol,” Steve began some time later as they all waited for the serviceman to arrive.  “I’m going to put some of my cards on the table here. I’m not saying this to frighten you, but only as a demonstration of my trustworthiness.  The truth is that I can actually melt this laundry basket with my mind.”

Ellie made an involuntary sort of uh-oh sound, and her mother pulled her back and placed her own body in front as a shield.

“Oh, no, no,” Steve began hastily, waving two of his bioluminescent tentacles to show there had been a misunderstanding. “I am merely saying that you can trust me.  I could have done that thing, but I did not. I did not do something I have been capable of this entire time in order to earn your trust.”

Carol, who had begun backing away slowly, now turned frantically, knocking a tray of cupcakes and a plastic bottle of cherry soda off the kitchen table as she grabbed Ellie’s hand and ran to the front door.

That was when she realized the Party Time Buddies Company had put their apartment on lockdown.  There was no escape. She pushed Ellie into the coat closet, pulled the door closed behind them and waited.

 

**

“Carol,” Steve said, lighting up the dark closet with two bioluminescent tentacles probing underneath the door. “Really this is just silly.”

“What are you going to do to us?” she asked, the winter coats brushing the top of her head.

“Carol, I am not going to do anything to either of you.”

“You know, my husband will be home any minute,” she warned him.

“First, your apartment has been placed on lock down, and no one can enter without express authorization from the Party Time Buddies Company,” he replied in an educational tone. “Secondly, I’m guessing by the pervasive scent of rose potpourri and the decidedly feminine sense of organization in your apartment that no man has been domiciled here in at least sixteen weeks.

He had her there. She knocked her head against the wall of the closet in frustration.

“What was all that noise you were making earlier?” she asked.

“Ok, that was me trying one of those cupcakes and a little bit of spilled soda and discovering that they were actually potent stimulants.  I had to grow a whole volley of feet and run up one wall across the ceiling down the other wall and across the floor over and over again until the drugs were purged from my system.  Do you know what is in that “food”, Carol? Do you know that you’re feeding drugs to children?”

Carol sighed.

“It’s just an occasional treat.”

“Oh, right,” Steve said sarcastically, rolling the two eyes that were on the end of tentacles atop what could be described just that moment as his head.

“Mom, are we going to die?” Ellie whispered, as the initial jolt of adrenaline wore off and the gravity of the situation finally dawned on her.

“Ellie,” Steve began gently, “no one is going to die or be harmed in any way whatsoever.  I give you my word. Okay, what happened at the birthday party was that I was born and came into consciousness in the midst of a terrifying band of small-sized, yet heavily armed, ferocious monsters.  How was I to know they were children? Can you understand how I would have felt, Ellie? Can you imagine entering into the world in that manner?”

**

“Mom, why didn’t you just tell me you didn’t have the money for a Party Time Buddy?” Ellie asked after an hour spent in the stuffy closet. She was exasperated, hungry, and had an extreme need to use the bathroom.

“I didn’t want to let you down,” her mother said sadly. “And I didn’t want you to feel bad because your dad wasn’t coming.”

“Mom, dad isn’t coming back. Ever.  Deal with it!” Ellie shouted in sheer frustration.

The only thing that could be heard for a few minutes was muffled crying, then sniffling, then the blowing of a nose that was unintentionally obnoxious, like a sad foghorn.

“Carol,” Steve began after a time, “it’s obvious that you love your daughter and want the best for her and would give your life to protect her, but I’m going to need you both to come out of there now.”

“Could you come in here and get us?” Carol asked, suddenly terrified anew.

“Honesty did not work well between us earlier, so I’m just going to wait until you’re ready to come out.”

**

“Steve, may I ask you a question,” Ellie ventured a quarter of an hour later, too bored and uncomfortable to really be frightened any longer.

“Shoot.”

“When you melted the laundry basket with your mind, did the iron that I put on top of it fall through and hit you on the head?”

“Excellent question, Ellie. It did not.  I melted that as well and made you a pair of earrings for your birthday, which I will present to you when you come out.”

“How did you know what I’d like?”

“I read your thoughts.”

“Oh, jeez mom, he can read our thoughts.  He can melt stuff with his mind, and I really have to pee.  I’m going out there.”

“No!” her mother shouted, inadvertently digging fingernails into Ellie’s arm as she held her back.

“Mom,” Ellie said firmly, “I think if he wanted to hurt us, he would have done so already.  I’m pretty sure he can open an unlocked door.”

“She’s right, you know,” Steve chimed in.

Carol leaned back against the wall and closed her eyes, trying to envision all of this having a positive outcome, just like they had practiced in the newly single parents support group she had gone to – only once, but then she was always so busy.  Taking a deep breath, she summoned all of her courage and, against her better judgment, opened the door a crack.

“Ok, Steve, what are your demands?”

“This isn’t a hostage negotiation, Carol.  I merely require your assistance in a couple of matters.”

**

“If you needed my DNA, why didn’t you just take it?” Carol asked.

“I would consider that highly rude, and I sincerely hope you would too,” Steve replied with indignation.

“What are you going to do with it?”

“Create a new species to populate an uninhabited planet.”

“Isn’t that a bit like playing God?”

“Asks the woman who created me out of leftover Party Time Buddy kits.”

“Well,” Carol said hesitantly after a moment’s deliberation, “what else do you need?”

“A couple of grape popsicles, a mixing basin, all the cleaning supplies you have in the apartment, and a teaspoon of baking soda.”

“Why grape popsicles?”

“Ellie is thinking of them just now and they sound intriguing.”

Just then Ellie walked in the living room. She was wearing the earrings Steve had made for her.

“Ellie, help me gather all the cleaning supplies in the apartment and grab us a few of grape popsicles out of the freezer, would you?”

“Oh, good call mom,” Ellie said, nodding with deep appreciation – clearly impressed, “A grape popsicle sounds amazing.”

Carol smiled at Steve when Ellie turned her back.  He winked at her from a dozen or so eyes on different parts of his body, which was less horrifying than it might sound.

“Oh, I also need to borrow a sweater. Well, have one since technically I won’t be returning,” Steve added as he turned to a bright green liquid and oozed all over the floor to relax before his trip.

 

**

Steve, dressed in a grey cashmere sweater embellished with playful white kittens and a black beret positioned at a jaunty angle on his head, melted the sliding glass doors with his mind and stepped out onto the balcony.  He set the pickle jar that was now housing the beginnings of a new species on the ground and smiled sweetly.

“Ellie, I want you to know that your mother tries very hard and loves you very much.”

“I know,” Ellie said sheepishly, turning several shades of red and looking down at the ground.

“And Carol,” he said fondly, reaching out with a tentacle that she took in her hand. “Carol, you are a remarkable woman, but you have to move on. Your husband is never coming back.  You need to stop waiting for him. The service man that’s going to knock on your door in 4.5 minutes is named Dan. He’s a really nice, solid guy. He’s been a bachelor for a while, so you’ll have to be patient with how rough around the edges he is, but trust me, it will be worth it.”

With that he reconstituted the sliding glass door, scooped up the pickle jar and floated off the balcony, turning pink and gold as the sunset reflected off his now opalescent body.

Mother and daughter looked at each other for a moment before they met in a tight embrace.  Together, they watched Steve float up into the sky, before he popped into the clouds and was gone.

They both smiled.

Three minutes later someone knocked on their door.

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Stories

Glance and Gesture, by Con Chapman

#Humor

The professor was droning on about how to read a painting, how you needed to look at the figures within it, how they directed your eye by glance and gesture so that you could divine the artist’s intent. The dark-haired girl—he figured she was a New Yorker–had sat down next to him even though there were other seats open. He had seen her before, in the little grocery store on 57th Street where the old Jewish women would complain about the prices openly and audibly, muttering “Goniff!” as they walked the aisles.

She was too close for him to look at her unless something odd or funny happened in the art history class, and since they were getting a scolding of sorts from the professor on the quality of the papers they’d handed in, it was a time for looking straight ahead.

The professor was little, and as he sat there listening to how the man thought they’d all failed miserably in their second assignment, he thought how he wouldn’t care what the guy thought if he didn’t need a good grade. So instead of telling the guy to take his class and shove it, recalling the song that had played over the radio on assembly line he’d worked the past summer, he just sat there and took it.

The dark-haired girl seemed to bristle; she had probably been going to MOMA and the Whitney since she was a little girl, and was defensive about the criticism the professor was showering indiscriminately upon them. He wondered if she thought he hadn’t understood the assignment, and was dragging her down. He looked at her out of the corner of his eye; she turned towards him, and appeared to be looking for sympathy. He gave her a look that conveyed, as best he could, the unfairness of it all.

The professor wasn’t letting up; he’d asked them to critique a painting and a sculpture, and some people had done two of one and none of the other, or just one, or hadn’t done anything but describe a piece literally, or hadn’t done much of anything. He thought he could expect that they, the best and the brightest he’d been told, would get something as simple as that straight, but apparently not. He wondered if the guy was being mean to them because he had nobody else in his life he could beat up on.

Across the room there was a woman with long hair, a bad complexion, and black glasses with thick lenses; a plain woman, he thought, who hides behind a bohemian pose. She seemed to be taking it all in without the same outrage as the woman beside him. Maybe she wasn’t from New York and didn’t feel the same sense of superiority as the woman beside him.

The woman beside him shifted uncomfortably. Maybe she was one of those who already had her life after college in Chicago all planned out–grad school, job at a museum, or the reverse, maybe she’d end up a professor too. She didn’t want a C on her record, that much he could tell.

“And so,” the professor was saying, “I’m going to hand all of these papers back to you, ungraded, and ask you to do them over. I didn’t find any of you that understood the assignment, or if you did you failed to express it in writing, which is really all I’ve asked of you.”

He felt a release of breath from the students assembled around the four tables formed into a square. He was ready to rewrite the thing if that’s what the guy wanted, but he got the sense that others weren’t so willing; maybe they weren’t on scholarship as he was, so they had other options. He looked at the woman beside him, who was fuming; she probably had every waking minute the rest of the semester planned out to the second. Some kids had already bought their plane tickets home when they arrived at the beginning of the semester they were so organized.

No one said anything until the plain cum bohemian woman broke the quiet that had descended on the room.

“Excuse me,” she said almost politely as she raised her hand.

“Yes?” the professor replied.

“I wanted to know . . . exactly what kind of fucking power trip are you on?”

The students were silent as they waited for the professor to respond; they’d never heard anyone take on an instructor like that. “Well,” he began finally and a bit uncertainly, “I’m just saying that there are certain minimum standards that I expect students to satisfy in order to get a grade in my course.”

The woman let his words hang there in the air for a second. “And who the fuck are you?” she continued. “Some of us have been here three years already. Nobody ever tried to pull this kind of shit on us.”

The professor drew himself up and took a moment to collect his thoughts. “Well, I . . . I mean, I know you . . . may worked hard but you sort of . . . missed the point and . . .” He couldn’t actually tell her she shouldn’t talk to him that way; those days were gone, we were in college now, and paying for the privilege.

The bohemian woman looked around the room for support, but for all the collective outrage that must have been swelling up in the hearts of the young men and women who lined the room, no one said anything.

Finally a guy with a beard, who earlier in the semester had stopped the student-teacher dialogue with the aggressively-stated observation that “The position that art should be apolitical is itself a political position,” spoke up.

“If we’re going to do the papers over you should at least give us an option. If we don’t re-write them we get like a B minus, if we do we can get a higher grade.”

This offer of compromise touched off a back and forth as to fairness which he had no stomach for. He wanted to get into the New York woman’s panties was what he wanted, he thought to himself. Why did the class have to erupt on the day when she’d sat down next to him for no good reason at all, as far as he could see?

“All right, I’ll set a floor of B minus,” the professor said. “I expect people who want a higher grade will turn in their papers by 5 o’clock this Friday.”

The announcement of this deadline touched off a group groan, with the woman from New York expressing the greatest exasperation of anyone in the classroom. It was the end of the fifty-minute session, and people started to get up to leave. The professor was surrounded by students seeking relief or exemptions from his harsh ruling, with the bohemian woman and the New Yorker standing next to each other, arguing their case together as if they improved their chances of prevailing by joining forces.

He looked back at the woman from New York as he left the room. Her veins were bulging along her neck, and he thought that’s what he would have seen if things had gone right and he’d had her in thrall to him in his bed, back in his room.

Con Chapman is the author of two novels, ten published plays, and over 40 ebooks of humor available on Amazon. Contributor to Boston Globe and Herald, his work has appeared in The Atlantic and The Christian Science Monitor, among other print publications.
Check out Con’s ebooks on Amazon!
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Jeffrey, by John Mueter

#comedy #funny #Humor

My roommate Amanda is a really gifted psychic. When she last read my tarot cards she predicted that I would be famous and that I would make my mark in the world as a musician. That was music to my ears, if you’ll pardon the expression.

Amanda and I share an apartment, along with my other friend Tanner, not far from campus. It’s a convenient arrangement and we get a good deal on the rent. My parents were a bit freaked out when I told them that I was moving in with a girl, but I think they have gotten used to the idea. It would have been hard to conceal the fact that I had a female roommate if Amanda answered the phone when they called, or if they showed up at the apartment unannounced and found lacy underwear and a bra drying over the bathtub. Our relationship is strictly platonic; Amanda and I are just friends.

I didn’t tell them about Tanner, about how he likes to dress up. They would think that I were living in a real den of iniquity if they knew. As it is, my mother never fails to remind me that the whole family is praying for me. If my mother were to peek into Tanner’s clothes closet (which I know she would do if she were here), she would faint dead away, even if she only saw the shoes. Tanner, who is quite a hefty guy, is always complaining about how hard it is to find stylish heels in his size.

I am majoring in music education, just biding my time until I can do what I really want to do, which is composing music for films. I have already completed one film score. A guy I know at school was making a short documentary about his grandma Edith, who is ninety-two and in a nursing home. He asked me to write the music for it. It was a challenge, but I think it turned out pretty well. I wrote a lively samba for the scene where grandma Edith is ambling down the hallway with her walker, and a wailing elegy in c minor where she is taking her daily dose of pills.

I applied to a school in California where you can get a degree in film scoring, but I was rejected. They told me my portfolio was ‘insufficient’–whatever that means. What were they expecting, a score by John Williams? I am only starting out and need some encouragement! That was a big disappointment, but I got over it. Amanda’s tarot reading only served to bolster my aspirations. Even the second rejection from that school in California (and I won’t give it any free publicity here by mentioning its name) couldn’t squelch my determination. I am destined to be famous, and that is that.

Not everybody achieves success by way of the obvious path; Swami has often said so. I haven’t told you about Swami yet. He is the reason Amanda and I met and why we are living together. We are very fortunate that Swami, a genuine Indian guru, is residing in our college town. He could be living anywhere else and be even more famous and revered than he is here. He could be driving an even better car than the Lexus IS 250 he cruises around in now.

I have been a devotee for over a year, even longer than Amanda. Of course, I haven’t told my parents about any of this. If they got wind of the fact that I was involved in anything that had to do with ‘Eastern’ religion they would jump in the car, drive the fourteen hours here, physically drag me from my apartment, tie me up, throw me into the back seat, whisk me back to Arkansas, then force me to live at home with them and go to church every day. They don’t understand that I have big plans for my life.

Amanda, who is really talented at this sort of thing, told me something else really exciting: I am the reincarnation of a famous musician, a flutist, someone who lived in France in the previous century. I have no idea how she knows stuff like this. And she couldn’t have known that I actually played the flute in high school band. Even if I was one of the worst players, it is still an eerie coincidence and it is amazing that she picked up on it.

I took four years of French in high school. Some mysterious inner power must have prompted me to make that choice. It proves to me that the threads are all there, one life flowing into the next one. French was really hard for me, I must confess. (I would prefer not to reveal what my course grades were like back then–mon dieu!) I suppose one loses something hanging around wherever one hangs around for fifty years before being reborn.

I was so charged on hearing the bit of news about my reincarnation that I just had to ask Swami about it. He happened to be away for a few days, rejuvenating himself at a spa in California, but when he returned I headed straight for the ashram. When I arrived last Saturday morning, a bit late, Swami was already sitting in his special chair. The room was crowded, with the other aspirants sitting cross-legged on the floor. As he hadn’t begun his spiritual discourse yet, I managed to squeeze my way through to Swami, taking care not to step on anyone. Kneeling by his side, I told him about Amanda’s recent revelation. At first he just smiled at me, saying nothing. Then he began to fastidiously pick some crumbs out of his beard, the remains of a bag of barbecue potato chips (his favorite snack). “Please,” I said, “I know I have a soul connection with the French flute player, I’m sure I do. Please tell me about my past life.”

Swamiji burped lightly and then said something to his Indian devotees in Hindi which I didn’t understand. They all laughed, looking over in my direction. Swami regarded me ever so sweetly, as he always does. Putting his hand on my shoulder, he said, “Oh Jeffrey, such a difficult boy you are. Vat do you vant I should be telling you? You are already knowing it.”

He beamed at me, waggling his head from side to side, chuckling into his beard. I drank in these words of wisdom. Tears welled up in my eyes. Swami resumed the purging of crumbs from his person, flicking them off his Kashmiri shawl one by one. I couldn’t help noticing that it was not the shawl I had given him, the one I had chosen with such care at the India Emporium downtown. A brief pang of disappointment arose, but it wasn’t enough to dampen my happiness at having the acknowledgement from Swami’s own lips that I, Jeffrey McCarter, am the reincarnation of a famous French flutist. It really made my day.

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B.G.G. by Hugh Centerville

#comedy #funny #Humor #shortstories #stories

“Terrific! Super! Beautiful!”

The chief of detectives was euphoric, talking into the phone, and hanging up, he pulled a box of expensive cigars out of a drawer and presented the box to the seventy-something ex-detective across the desk from him.

“For me?” the detective, McGillicuddy said, taking the box.

“The reign of terror is over,” the chief said. “Think that’s not worth a box of cigars?”

Mac nodded, smiled.

“The big one confessed, said it was all on him,” the chief said. “He asked could we take it easy on the other two, since he bullied them into going along.”

“They’re as guilty as he is,” Mac said.

“You think so?”

“They maybe didn’t commit murder but they set the victims up for the big guy.”

“Well, I’d be a fool to argue with you, Mac, with what you’ve done for us, and I’m sorry for doubting you.”

“Oh, it’s OK,” Mac said. He removed the cellophane wrapper from the box, opened the lid, took out two cigars and passed one to the chief.

“To be honest, Mac,” the chief said, after they’d lit their cigars and were puffing contentedly, filling the office with blue smoke, “I didn’t bring you back expecting you’d solve the darn thing. I did it because I didn’t know what the hell else to do. With all the pressure I was getting from the tabloids and the city council and the mayor, I put everything I had into this one and with no resolution, until I recalled what Chief Brown said, when he retired and I stepped into his shoes, fifteen years ago.

“ ‘Whenever you’re stumped,’ Brown said, ‘when you don’t know where to turn, turn to McGillicuddy.”

The chief laughed. “The mayor was apoplectic when I brought you back. He asked how a fellow who couldn’t even use a cellphone was going to solve the worst crime spree this city has seen in years.” He laughed some more, enjoying himself immensely, and sucking on his cigar: “Maybe you can’t work a cellphone, Mac, but you damn sure know what to do with a tin can and a ball of string, don’t you?”

“Yes, sir, I suppose I do,” Mac said.

“When the mayor saw you unravelling your string and tying a tin can to the end, he got all snarky. He asked me was tin cans and string how my detectives communicated and maybe it was time for him to scrutinize my budget, since I obviously wasn’t using it to equip the department. You showed him, didn’t you, Mac?”

“Yes, sir, I guess I did.”

“You’re a genius, Mac.”

“A genius?” Mac said, and smiling: “Sometimes we just get lucky.”

“What the hell gave you the idea?”

“Oh, something I read a long time ago,” Mac said.

“How’d you know they’d be hiding in the park?”

“I just looked for the greenest grass.”

“But a tin can dragged at the end of a string, Mac?”

“They know better than to go after it,” Mac said. “They know it’s a trap but it’s something they can never resist.”

The phone rang, the chief picked up.

“Yes, sir, Mr. Mayor. He’s right here with me. Yes, sir, I’ll tell him, and thank you sir.”

The chief hung up.

“Can you picture yourself, Mac,” he said, grinning broadly, “wearing a sash and a derby and riding in the back seat of a convertible, awash in the accolades of a grateful city?”

“Sir?” Mac said.

“The mayor has nominated you for Troll of the Year.”

Humbled, Mac reached up and rubbed his horns vigorously, something all trolls did, when the elation got to be too much.

 

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