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This year's writing contest topic is: A Funny Thing Happened...
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    • 500 words or less
    • Story must be original work posted by the writer on the Writing With Style DB.
    • Story must be original and have never been posted on the Writing With Style DB before.
    • Stories must be posted no later than 11:59pm, Pacific Time, Wed, June 29th.

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(#5463421) The Black Widow Meets the Cannoli Killer
Posted by Spades Master on 1 Feb 2023 at 4:18AM

The Black Widow Meets the Cannoli Killer
by Tony Hall

what if a psychopath matched wits with a ruthless assassin? this is a tale of evil vs evil… with a touch of Valentine's Day cheer sprinkled in. sorta/kinda. ;-)

***

Lola Garcia read in the NY Post obituaries that college student Jonny Fontaine's powerful father had recently passed away. After her research, Lola staged a chance meeting with Jonny at a neighborhood bakery in Little Italy in the Lower East Side of Manhattan. It's where Jonny regularly bought his favorite pastry of cannolis.

They were both 20-year-old students from nearby Fordham University. Jonny had won a scholarship to play on their Rams football team; Lola's major was Criminal Law. She was already committed to a life of crime, but she studied criminal law so she would know its intricate ins-and-outs. She was just being pragmatic. It was like playing football and receiving the opposing team's playbook.

Lola turned on her charm and sex appeal, getting rewarded with a whirlwind romance with Jonny and a wedding date by month's end.

Shortly after their marriage, Lola got Jonny a box of cannolis for his 21st birthday. She neglected to tell him they were poisoned. But instead of dying, Jonny slipped into a coma. Lola was livid and swore never to repeat this mistake. She sold his car and townhouse, stole his $4M inheritance from his bank accounts, and skipped town with Jonny's beagle pup named "Sonny."

***

Five years later, Johnny awoke from his coma... but he didn't come back all the way. He was diagnosed with severe Post Traumatic Stress Disorder because of the poison’s after-effects and the intense feelings of betrayal. He constantly relived the event through flashbacks.

Jonny vowed vengeance on Lola. He got work from his father's brother, Uncle Vinchenzo, in New York's Little Italy, as a low-level criminal enforcer for the mob.

Because of Jonny's compulsive intensity and single-mindedness, he quickly rose through the ranks as one of its most deadly and feared mobsters. Rumors spread about how Jonny sent his victims a special delivery of cannolis, just before he brutally murdered them.

Ten years later, Jonny killed his own uncle and replaced him as the undisputed crime boss of Little Italy. Johnny reached out and offered - on the cryptic Dark Web - a million-dollar reward for the whereabouts and/or death of Lola Garcia.

Two months later, a California crime syndicate reported spotting her in San Francisco.

***

At Fisherman's Wharf, Elena Gardenia shared a steak and lobster dinner at the Bubba Gump Shrimp restaurant with her new fiancé, Sarjensi Wong, the Bay Area's prosperous "Parking Lot King,"

After going through 15 marriages in 15 years, Lola Garcia was an expert Black Widow with the practiced skills of an assassin. Her acting abilities rivaled those of Hollywood's best actresses. Each year before every new job, she’d give herself a complete makeover. This time, she played a Portuguese artist named Elena Gardenia. She even had her favorite pieces of dialogue that she repeated annually to each new fiancé.

It was kind of like role-playing, with Lola receiving millions of dollars after the scam ended. It always ended with the husband's untimely death, and Lola as the sole beneficiary. Afterwards, she'd celebrate overseas for a few months. Then she'd return the next year, relocate to a different state, and start the whole scam over again with a new mark. Her scheme operated flawlessly like clockwork.

What a fun and rewarding life! she thought. The life of a Black Widow. I could easily see myself doing this for another 15 years!

Slightly past midnight, while she and her beau walked along a nearly deserted Pier 39, Lola felt something she'd never experienced before. Her entire life, Lola was always the predator. But now she felt eyes upon her. Someone was stalking HER!

They were in a somewhat isolated part of the pier, with no current passers-by except a pair of approaching police officers. Because Lola had been play-acting for 15 years, she could easily spot two imposters impersonating the pair of SF cops.

Lola reached into her purse for her Walther PPK handgun. To keep her skills sharp, she practiced twice a week at the local pistol range.

"I'm scared, my love," Lola feigned fright, as she hid behind her large fiancé.

"Don’t worry. I'll protect you, Ellie." Sarjensi said confidently as he raised his hands to block the police, "I'm a mixed-martial artist, so you two better--"

Both fake officers opened fire on Sarjensi, using revolvers equipped with silencers to shoot him eight times in the chest and stomach. Before he fell, Lola appeared from underneath Sarjensi's armpit in a flash, shooting both phony cops in the head, killing them instantly.

Lola recognized the tattoos on the side of their necks, identifying them as local gang members.

Why would they target me, she wondered. Or was this some random act of violence?

Her fiancé, unfortunately, was already a lost cause. Lola could not allow herself to get involved in his murder, lest she risk 15 years of her own history being uncovered during the investigation.

Frick! All that time and effort put into this relationship -- all for nothing! What a freakin' waste!

Lola pocketed her gun and nonchalantly walked away from the three dead bodies. But her senses were on high alert.

I don't believe in coincidences. Therefore, this was no random act of violence. Therefore... someone was deliberately targeting me, and would continue to do so until they succeeded.

Someone just messed with the wrong girl!

***

Jonny heard about the San Francisco syndicate’s failed attempt to collect on his million-dollar bounty. That same night, eight of Jonny’s most trusted men accompanied him on a red-eye flight to SFO International Airport. Tomorrow would be Valentine's Day. Perfect karma.

If you want something done right, Jonny thought, you gotta do it yourself.

***

After receiving intel about Lola's address from the San Francisco crime syndicate, Jonny dispatched his eight men into two teams of hit squads. They arrived at her apartment complex the next morning. The first team of four killers would meet Lola at her 5th story penthouse, while team #2 patrolled the ground floor, guarding the building's perimeter entries and exits. Jonny was posted on the rooftop to best coordinate his men.

Jonny radioed both teams to first wait for Mara's Italian Pastries to deliver a special order of cannolis to Lola's apartment. Once the package was sent and Mara's delivery van had left the area, Jonny radioed the first team of hitmen to proceed to her apartment.

They kicked open Lola's front door and quickly moved inside.

An explosion suddenly rocked the penthouse, causing a multitude of death and destruction.

The 2nd hit squad of four killers hurried upstairs to investigate the unexplained blast. What was left of the apartment was a smoldering debris of broken furniture and twisted metal. No one from the first squad had survived. The 2nd squad moved further into the apartment, searching for Lola's body as confirmation of her death.

At the rear of the penthouse, they heard movement inside a closed closet. They gathered at the closet door and flung it open. An old and injured beagle, whining in distress, painfully limped out. Around its neck was an oversized collar with two things on it: a dog tag that read, "Sonny," and five pounds of C-4 explosives wrapped with a radio transmitter.

The dog suddenly exploded. The second detonation was equal to the first.

***

On the rooftop, the second impact knocked Jonny again off his feet. He snarled, "What the hell?!" as he struggled to get back up.

From behind, someone said, "Thanks for the cannolis."

Jonny slowly turned around. Lola was standing behind him, munching blissfully on the Italian treat. In her other hand, she casually held a Walther PPK.

Lola shrugged, then smiled sweetly at Jonny. "I believe the proper introduction is, 'Welcome to my parlor, said the spider to the fly.' "

Jonny, face turning beat red, raised both of his own hands high, and managed a grudging smile. "Lola Garcia. In all my years as an enforcer for the mob, I've never failed at my job. Until now. Anyway, happy Valentine's Day."

"Same old Jonny. You were always the sentimental type. While I, on the other hand, was ever the pragmatist. My extensive training in Afghanistan seems to have paid off. I must thank my Taliban instructor, Abdullah, for his lesson about the importance of setting-up a secondary bomb attack to take care of pesky first-responders. And apparently," she winked at Jonny, "it works great against secondary hit squads, too.

"By the way, I'm really sorry about your pooch, Jonny. He was good company over the years."

"Apology accepted. Since, I doubt you'll kill me."

Lola stiffened. "I think you may have hit your head harder than you thought, Jonny. Let me see – you killed my fiancé, cost me millions of dollars by ruining my marriage scam this year, and sent thugs to kill me three times in the past twelve hours. Why on Earth would I NOT hesitate to cap your sorry butt, right here and now?"

"Because I've had time, Lola - 16 years, in fact - to think things over. You knew there was a chance that I'd awaken from my coma. You could've killed me any number of times when I was helpless and unconscious during those five years. But you never did. Because you couldn't bring yourself to do so. Our marriage was never annulled, so technically, we're still husband and wife. I know for a fact, I can't live without you, Lola. Deep down inside--where you can't even admit it to yourself--I believe you still love me, too."

Lola's eyes opened wide in disbelief.

Then she began laughing so hard, she worried she might drop the gun while in her manic throes of mirth. Her eyes inadvertently teared up.

"Jonny, Jonny, Jonny. You are truly the funniest - and stupidest - person I've ever met. You don't know anything about anything! You're not a man, you're a freakin' wussy!" She threw her leftover piece of cannoli at Jonny. It bounced harmlessly off his shoulder.

With a significant effort, Lola quickly pulled it together, but was surprised by her momentary loss of control. She sighed deeply.

"Soooo, it's finally come down to this." Lola shook her head with sadness. "Goodbye, Jonny Fontaine. Consider this a divorce."

She aimed her pistol right between Jonny's eyes.

Jonny's smile widened.

Lola couldn't help herself. "What the hell are you smiling at, you crazy wussy?!"

All of a sudden, Lola's vision began to spin. Her knees buckled, making her fall flat on her back, like a puppet whose strings had just been cut.

While the world spun faster and faster in her mind's eye, Lola heard Jonny approach her paralyzed body.

"I had to wait for the poison in those cannoli's to take effect. Luckily, you think everything's about you, Lola. You couldn’t resist hearing and talking about yourself."

Jonny pried the Walther PPK out of Lola's hand and placed its muzzle against her forehead.

The last thing Lola heard was Jonny saying, "Happy Valentine’s Day, sweetheart. But never, ever mess with another man's cannolis… you wussy!"

Jonny pulled the trigger.

***

A single tear rolled down Lola's cheek. She had seen the madness in Jonny's eyes, and she feared it. The fact of her shocking death only confirmed that fear.

Sixteen years ago, Lola couldn't kill Jonny because he was her daughter's biological father. Now, Lola silently prayed for their teenage daughter, hidden away in Paris. She felt a sense of loving satisfaction knowing that her older sister, Luka, and her elite team of Black Widows, which included her daughter, Rosie, would someday avenge her.

As Lola's spirit began to fade into eternity, she thought – Make Mama proud, Rosie. Kill that crazy wussy!

(end)
(#5452517) The Pygmy Story
Posted by Spades Master on 31 Dec 2022 at 10:56AM

The Pygmy Story 
by Tony Hall 

happy new year, everybody! a new year -- new stories. this next one, not so happy. it's the tragic tale of four hapless college students caught in the uncompromising headlights of fate.  

no, not those four college students.  

these particular young people attend a university halfway around the world. but time and distance mean little when destiny comes calling... 

 

*** 

 

"You wanna do what!?" cried Tanya Jones.  

"I said we could spend our final weekend on North Sentinel Island," replied her boyfriend, Bob "Bubba" Willis. He paid the Indian barmaid for the four beers she had just brought to the table. 

"I heard you the first time. Your jackass idea just caught me by surprise, that's all." 

"Wait," said Billy Atkins, "What's North Sentinel Island?" 

Billy's fiancée, Anna Patel, answered, "North Sentinel Island is about 30 miles south of Port Blair. By government decree, it is protected land and is strictly off-limits. The Indian Navy patrols the seaway and prohibits any approach closer than three nautical miles. The island is completely untouched by modern civilization. Primitive inhabitants of pygmies drive-off outsiders with their spears and arrows." 

"Holy crow, that's awesome! Let's go, babe!" exclaimed Billy. 

"Excuse me!" Tanya said. "What part of 'pygmies slaughtering outsiders' did you not understand? A few years ago, a missionary got murdered there by these savages, just for preaching the Bible to them! As a pre-med student, I can't begin to tell you all the potential diseases and injuries you'd be exposed to." 

Bubba said, "Look. We're four American exchange students in India on our final week in-country. This is our last chance to do something truly unforgettable before going home. Sure, we could join the boring class picnic celebration this weekend. But I say we go out with a bang." 

Billy chimed in. "I vote for a memorable weekend, too! Bubba and I can acquire rifles in town for protection." 

Tanya turned toward Anna. "You're not seriously considering this, Anna, are you?" 

"Well, I am Indian, and my major is anthropology. This adventure appeals to my interests and professional curiosity. Besides, I can go as the resident expert on indigenous tribal behavior to help keep us safe." 

The trio faced Tanya, who eventually rolled her eyes and sighed in surrender. "Dang. OK, beam me up, Scotty." 

The other three cheered as they all raised their drinks in a toast.  

*** 

The night was warm. A faint mist surrounded the shore. The moonlight shone everything in a silvery cast, making their arrival at North Sentinel Island appear surreal. 

"Wow," observed Billy, "This is paradise!" 

"It is so beautiful," Anna said. 

"Shhhh!" whispered Bubba. "Keep quiet." 

Tanya said, "Guys, help me hide our canoe under these branches." 

They trudged through the jungle and gathered at the base of a large, steep hill. Anna quietly said, "Let us review the plan.  

"Simar, who helped smuggle us past the Indian patrol boats with his fishing trawler, will rendezvous with us in two days at midnight. Also, he and I exchanged cellphone numbers for emergencies. 

"We will keep to the high ground to observe the villagers from afar by wielding binoculars and record these events using our videocam's telephoto lens. That should minimize the danger of encountering any pygmies face-to-face. If worse comes to worst, Billy and Bubba have their rifles for self-defense. Do not wander alone. Stay in pairs. Remember, we absolutely can not interfere with the villagers in any way.   

"Questions? None? Good. Bubba, lead us up the hill." 

The following day was drizzly and tropical. The group had found a small cave near the hilltop, which they used as their shelter and base camp. The hill overlooked the village 2,000 feet below, where the students covertly watched and recorded the pygmies as they went about their daily lives. 

Billy swung from his hammock. "This is soooo cool!" 

"You know," Tanya said, "I had doubts when we started, but I'm glad I came along! Even the constant sprinkle adds a certain mystique to the place." 

Bubba adjusted the rifle slung across his back. "Like we've traveled back 10,000 years in time." 

Anna closed her eyes. "I feel it, too. It is definitely magical." She tilted back her head and stuck out her tongue to catch the raindrops. 

That night the rain stopped, but the sweltering heat returned. They succumbed to the intoxicating aura of the island as Bubba and Tanya made love on their sleeping bags in the cave. Billy and Anna did likewise in the warm breeze of the jungle floor. As Billy had predicted, it was memorable. 

The next morning, the students sat together in a cluster of tree branches, eating a breakfast of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, corn chips, and Kool-Aid under the returning drizzle. All felt content. 

Suddenly, a high-pitched scream pierced the hillside, making the group jump in surprise. 

Tanya said, "What the freak!?

Both men unslung their rifles. "Stay here!" commanded Bubba as the pair raced into the jungle. 

The women huddled nervously together, eyes frantically searching for danger. 

A sharp crack of gunfire sounded. Then another. A third shot. 

Now in abject fear, the women desperately held each other and shouted their friends' names, dreading the worst. Soon both men appeared through the tree line and approached the camp. Bubba was carrying a third person. 

"We heard the gunfire," shouted Anna. She ran to Billy, giving him a tight hug, "It scared us half to death. What on Earth happened? And who's that with you?" 

"No worries," said Bubba. "We're both fine. We saw this pygmy boy surrounded by a pack of wild dogs. When the dogs attacked, we couldn't just stand by and watch him get torn to pieces." He handed the injured boy to Tanya. "Can you please see what you can do for him?" 

As Tanya carried the pygmy boy inside the cave for first aid, Anna confronted Bubba. 

"Bubba, I told you when we first started that we absolutely could not interfere with the villagers in any way. In. Any. Way. The repercussions could be catastrophic for both them and us!" 

Bubba stared incredulously at Anna. "If we did nothing, the dogs would've killed the boy. That sounds pretty freakin' catastrophic to me." 

Tanya sighed. "Bubba... you have a big heart, and we all love you for that. But in this instance, inserting ourselves into this situation is not wise. We cannot interact with these pygmies!

Bubba shook his head in disgust. He walked away to smoke a cigarette. 

Billy kissed Anna, then shrugged his shoulders at her. "Don't worry, babe. I'll talk to him." 

*** 

"The boy has some deep, nasty bites on his right arm and both legs," Tanya told the group. "I gave him antibiotics for infections and aspirin for the pain. However, here's the thing: he cannot walk, so he cannot make it back to his village. Once we leave tonight, the pack of wild dogs is sure to pick up his scent of blood again." 

Anna said, "So, what are you proposing?" 

"I'm proposing nothing. I'm merely stating a fact: this child will die if we leave him. Bubba saved him, so Bubba's ultimately responsible for the boy's life." She stared pointedly at Bubba. 

Bubba weighed the options then nodded his head. "We return him to the village." 

"No, we cannot do that!" Anna said. "I am the only anthropologist major here. In my professional opinion, we must leave the boy here. If he dies, then that is how it was meant to be. I know it sounds callous, but it is not for us to change that. We are not even supposed to be here in the first place, remember?

"But we are here," countered Bubba. "I say we put it to a vote. All those in favor of taking the boy back to his village, raise your hand." Bubba held up his own hand. 

Tanya, after a short hesitation, raised hers. 

Billy looked apologetically at his fiancée. "Sorry, babe." His hand went up. "The pygmies may be savages, but I am not. I won't have the boy's death on my conscience.

Anna closed her eyes and shook in helpless frustration. 

Tanya volunteered to carry the child, who was wide awake by this time. He was talkative in his native tongue, and licked Tanya's hand like a stray puppy, as if grateful to be rescued by the newcomers. 

By late afternoon, there was a steady rain as the group arrived at the village. Scores of pygmies surrounded them at a safe distance, pointing at the strangers and talking excitedly amongst themselves in their language. None stood taller than five feet. Some carried bows, spears, and other weapons, but, so far, exhibited no hostile action.   

Anna was repeatedly cautioning the group, "Keep calm. No sudden movements. Show no fear.

Near the center of the village, the group abruptly stopped. They were dismayed to see their canoe here, leaning up against the tallest of the grass huts.   

"Aw, crap," Anna swore softly. "Guys, we need to trade the boy for our canoe."   

Several elaborately decorated villagers, led by a bearded and elderly pygmy adorned in colorful body paint and bone jewelry, emerged from the large hut.    

All of the villagers instantly fell silent and bowed their heads.

The pygmy chief approached the group alone until he stood before Tanya and the boy. In Pygmy-speak, he addressed the boy as they spoke briefly together. The chief then extended his arms toward Tanya. After Tanya glanced toward Anna, who nodded her head, she handed the boy to the village leader. He smiled and cradled the boy in his arms. As he'd done with Tanya, the boy eagerly licked the chief's hands. He gave the child to one of the mothers. 

Anna stepped forward and bowed. She repeatedly pointed to the canoe then at herself, until the meaning was clear. The pygmy leader spoke a command. Several villagers retrieved the canoe and lay it down at the feet of the four students.   

Anna said, "Everyone, bow." The others anxiously followed suit with open relief on their faces. The chief nodded. He turned and walked back toward his hut. The crowd of villagers resumed their chatter as the students quickly picked up the canoe to leave.  

Anna's cellphone suddenly started to ring Blondie's song, "Call Me." Everyone in the village froze. The pygmy leader slowly turned his head back to the group, his face filled with rage.  

Eyes wide, Anna said, "Oh, crap. RUN!

"Go!" ordered Bubba. "I'll cover you." Bubba raised the rifle into the air and fired twice, scattering the villagers helter-kelter through the rain and confusion. His friends, seeing their chance, raced out of the village and made it safely into the jungle.   

Bubba sprinted to catch up but a dozen archers barred his escape. Bubba shot two more rounds into the air. This time the pygmies stood their ground. They nocked their tiny arrows and let loose their volley. At least half found their mark. Bubba fell to his knees. He raised his rifle and dropped three archers before he ran out of ammo. The pygmies quickly advanced, surrounded Bubba on all sides and let loose a second volley. All of them struck their target this time. 

The other three hurried desperately to the beachhead. Billy ran slightly ahead, his rifle at the ready. Anne carried the bow of the boat, Tanya, the stern.   

All of a sudden, Billy shouted in surprise as he fell six feet into a booby-trapped hole hidden by leaves and branches. His shout was abruptly cut-off as his falling body was met by dozens of long, sharpened bamboo spikes sticking up from the ground. Anna cried out in despair and tried to climb into the hole with her dead fiancé. 

"He's gone, Anna!" Tanya dragged her away from the hole. "C'mon, we've got to keep moving!" The women picked-up the canoe over their heads and continued their race toward freedom.    

Within sight of the beachhead, a pack of wild dogs caught their trail and ran in pursuit. Tanya was carrying the back of the canoe, and thus was first to encounter the pack. Three large dogs pulled her down as she dropped her end of the craft. The full weight of the boat was too heavy for Anna alone. She fell forward, sending the inside of the boat plummeting on top of her.  

Fortunately, it covered and protected her from the rest of the dogs. Inches away, on the other side of the canoe, she heard Tanya's shrieks intermingled with the wild dogs' ferocious growls and bites. Anna covered her ears and screamed. 

Inside the upside-down canoe, Anna soon realized she was very close to the water. She pushed forward the boat foot-by-foot, dragging it in starts and stops slowly along the beach. She could hear the dogs trying in vain to reach her through the craft the entire way.   

Gradually, Anna felt the sand getting wet beneath her feet. Then the tide, as she advanced the canoe further and further into the water. No sound of the dogs; they remained onshore. When the water was waist-high, Anna flipped the boat right-side up, then jumped inside. She untied the paddles, put them in the water, and rowed away from shore as fast as she could.    

*** 

It was dark by the time Anna stopped rowing. Like clockwork, the rain ended, and the sweltering humidity returned. The day's tragedies caught up to her as she dropped her head into her hands and wept uncontrollably.    

At some point, Anna came to her senses and took stock of her options. She opened her cellphone and called Simar, the fisherman who had smuggled them onto the island, for help. No answer. But a blinking light on her phone, indicating a recorded message. She pressed the playback button and listened. 

A spotlight from a nearby craft unexpectedly turned its blinding lights on Anna. The Indian sailors manning the Naval boat's railings pointed and anxiously shouted at her.  

Anna stood and waved both arms at the craft, grateful to be alive despite all that had happened.  

A volley of arrows struck Anna on the right side; a second volley hit her on the left. The sailors stopped their shouts of warning. The Indian Navy commander swore under his breath as Anna's lifeless body pitched forward.   

Into the spotlight glided two boats full of pygmy archers.  

"Anna, this is Simar," Anna's cell was on speakerphone, as it played back its message. "I hope this phone call finds you well. I will be unable to make our rendezvous tonight. The authorities have confiscated my fishing trawler and arrested me for helping you onto the island.

"You need to take the canoe and turn yourselves in to the first Naval vessel you meet. They have orders to be on the lookout for you American students.    

"The Indian government officials said that if you remain on the island and something unfortunate happens, their protocol is strict non-interference with the pygmy tribe. The Navy is prohibited from offering any assistance to your group until you're physically aboard their vessel. I urge you to leave the island ASAP. Good luck and God speed."   

The two small canoes slowly circled about and headed leisurely back to the island. One of the villagers, an old pygmy adorned in body paint and bone jewelry, looked back at the Naval commander. The pygmy chief smirked with satisfaction as his boat glided gently out of the Navy's spotlight. 

(end) 
(#5449329) Ivan And The Devil...
Posted by Ziggy Zugzwang on 22 Dec 2022 at 3:33PM
Ivan Sikorsky never backed down. He’d bought a house right by the chess club. He loved the game and would always insist on a rematch if he lost. Club players would often throw the rematch to escape his orbit. Once or twice players would have the affront to refuse. Ivan would scream blue murder and accuse the other of being a coward. The last player to refuse had seen Ivan delivering leaflets with the ‘cowards’ picture on in the neighbourhood with the perpetrator’s crime of "chess match avoidance" spelt out in great detail
Despite Ivan’s unhinged attitude to chess, he had other responsibilities. He was a married man, whose wife was expecting a baby. They’d moved into a new house. It was an expensive purchase but thankfully he held down an important job in a large organisation.

At chess club one evening Ivan was on a winning streak  against a new player of high reputation who'd just joined the club. He’d received a call from his wife. She said her waters were breaking. He was just about to leave when his defeated opponent pulled him back: ‘You’re not leaving now are you? I demand a rematch’

Ivan thought that it might seem hypocritical to dodge this and so said, ‘OK let’s play’. Ivan won again. His opponent was again insistent. This time Ivan’s boss called. He said, ‘I need you to have a look at something urgently. Stop what you are doing and give it your attention please!’

He looked at his opponent and realised that his boss would have to wait. Unfortunately, this meant a summary sacking…but he played on and won. His opponent once again demanded a rematch…

Outside fire engines could be seen. His house was on fire. Rumour was that a pregnant woman had just died, but Ivan played on… He won his last game. All around the room people looked on in astonishment.

‘No one can ever call me a coward,’ said Ivan.

The defeated opponent seemed to change his appearance. His skin turned red and a tail became apparent. As he picked up a trident like fork, people noticed he had cloven feet. Leaving the club he said,‘It’s been a pleasure playing you Ivan’.

(I wrote this on chess.com after countless people have winged about not getting a rematch against someone who beat them.)
(#5435404) Blessed Are the Children
Posted by Spades Master on 12 Nov 2022 at 10:51AM

is it too early for a christmas story? i don't know. maybe. but since no one else is posting here, it looks like it's my choice. lol i'm in one of those holiday moods, so i'm sharing a revised version of one of my personal favorites.


#


Blessed Are the Children
by Tony Hall


Sunday Night 23 Jun 2019

"How do you get to Carnegie Hall?" Mother asked for the zillionth time.

10-year-old Latoya Williams, smiling, replied, "Practice, practice, practice!"

A collective cheer erupted from the three people in the silver Nissan Versa Note.

Behind the wheel, Father asked, "And who exactly is performing there this coming Christmas Eve in that August and hallowed hall?"

"I am, Daddy!" Latoya jumped excitedly from her seat.

"Darn straight, baby girl. Never forget—you've earned it."

Mother, in the backseat beside Latoya, gave a hug. "Oh, Latoya, we're so proud of you!"

Latoya's parents, both classical music teachers, recognized their daughter as a child prodigy early on. She began playing piano at four-years-old. At eight, she could perfectly reproduce on the piano almost any song, even after hearing it just once.

Her exceptional talent had spread over the next two years, culminating in a VIP piano recital at Walnut Creek's Lesher Center for the Arts earlier that evening. After the concert, they were met backstage by Sanford Weill, the Carnegie Hall President, who personally invited them to play in Manhattan this 24 December for their annual Christmas Gala, six months from now.

Father beamed. They were driving on Highway 4 East to their home in Antioch.

"Now, baby girl, remember not to forget us when you become rich and famous. We just may need to borrow a million dollars from you, every now and then."

Latoya giggled. "Oh, Daddy. You two will always be..."

"LOOK OUT!" Mother screamed.

A diesel truck in the next lane had a sudden blowout. It lost control and slammed into the driver's side of their car. The Nissan rolled over twice before smashing head-on into the concrete barrier wall.


#


Latoya awoke. She could hear snoring nearby, but it was too dark to see who it was.

"Hello. Is somebody there?"

Abruptly, the snoring stopped.

"Hello, Latoya. How do you feel?"

It took Latoya a few moments to place the voice.

"Is that you, Uncle Steve?"

"Yes, it's me, honey. I've, uh, been waiting for you to wake up."

Latoya stretched her arms wide and yawned.

"Yeah, I guess I'm still a bit tired from last night's recital. And achy everywhere. Can you please switch on the lights, Uncle? Where’s my mom and dad?"

"Latoya, you're at John Muir Hospital in Concord. And the room lights are on."

"I-I don't understand. I can't see a thing."

"I've got some bad news for you, honey. There was a car accident. You've been in a coma for the past three months. The doctors say..." Air Force Captain Steve Rogers took a deep breath before continuing. "They said you're blind."

Latoya was shocked into despair. She was condemned to live the rest of her life with one of her greatest fears.

"Uncle, I'm ascared of the dark. I want Mommy and Daddy."

"Latoya... I'm so sorry. Your parents didn't make it."

Latoya covered her face; her body shook uncontrollably with each wailing sob. Rogers held her close until she eventually stopped.

"Latoya? I need to tell you something else, honey, and it's best you hear about it now rather than later. OK? Both your legs were crushed in the accident. The doctors had to amputate them."

"But... but I can still feel them, Uncle!"

"What you're feeling is known as 'phantom limb pain.' Apparently, one could still feel sensation in one's legs, even after they're no longer there."

The awful revelations took a toll. Latoya feinted.


#


During the next two months, Steve Rogers commuted 35 miles daily from his base housing at Travis Air Force Base in Fairfield to visit Latoya at Concord's John Muir Hospital.

Latoya's rehabilitation was, so far, a non-starter. She was so traumatized by her injuries and her parents' deaths, she frequently sat motionless in her wheelchair, unresponsive to any audio stimulation or encouragement.

Some nurses whispered amongst themselves the word, "shell-shocked."



Wednesday Morning 27 Nov 2019

Steve Rogers visited Latoya at John Muir, greeting her with a kiss on the forehead.

"Hey, champ. Happy Thanksgiving Eve."

Latoya gave an exaggerated yawn.

"Sweetie, how would you like to go for a ride?"

She shrugged and grunted noncommittally.

Rogers unlocked her wheelchair brakes. "I'll take that as a 'yes.' C’mon, let's roll."

He wheeled her to the garage, folded the wheelchair into the back of the white SUV, then drove west on Highway 4. Rogers rolled down the windows and took in a deep breath.

"Ahhh. Some fresh air and sunshine will do wonders for you, Latoya."

"Yeah, right. I'm just glad I'm blind so I don't have to watch people's reactions when they see the freak coming."

"You're not a freak."

"A monster."

"Stop that! Have some self-respect."

"Now I know how Mrs. Butterworth feels. She's got no legs, either, you know."

Rogers sighed. They drove on for a few more minutes in silence.

"Ok, Munchkin, here we are."

"Yeah, I'm about the size of a Munchkin now."

"Enough, already! You want to feel sorry for yourself? Fine. But do it on your own time at the hospital. You're on my time now, so shut the puck up."

Latoya flinched as if she'd been slapped.

"Y-you can't talk to me like that!"

"Let's get something straight, missy. We've tried it the doctor's way for two months, treating you with kid's gloves while walking on eggshells around you. Well, now it's MY turn. Life as you knew it—IS OVER! As your legal guardian, I'm saying you'd best screw your head on straight, ASAP! Now then, just sit your black butt in that wheelchair and keep quiet. I want to show you something."

Latoya was shaken into a tense silence at her uncle's tirade.

She heard the automatic sliding doors whoosh open and close as they went indoors.

Immediately, she felt the slight breeze of the air conditioner on her face. She was pushed through what she guessed was a long corridor, catching intermittent conversations from people as they passed by. More doors opened and closed. Muffled sounds of metal clanked rhythmically against metal. Heavy grunts and snarls. And the pungent odor of sweat and... dirty socks?

Rogers said, "Latoya, welcome to the Martinez Veterans Affairs Clinic. This is the gym for the In-Patients. The soldiers here receive treatment for various disabilities.

"Near the back is Cpl. Jeff Thompson, he's a newbie from Iraq. His jeep hit an improvised explosive device last month on Halloween. It left him wracked with hemiplegia, meaning one side of his body is completely paralyzed. He's doing leg-lifts with his physical therapist.

"The driver of that jeep, PFC Elsa Lundgren, she's like you, both her legs gone from above her knees. She's on your left at the weight machine, bench-pressing more weight than I ever could.

"To your right, is Lt. Jim Diamond, a VietNam Vet. He's a quadruple amputee—no arms or legs. The lieutenant's doing a version of CrossFit exercises, a strength and conditioning workout that's developed especially for patients like him. I also hear he's the biggest flirt in this medical wing.

"None of them are freaks or monsters. These are heroes and patriots. Every last darn one of them."

Behind his niece, Rogers placed his hands gently on her shoulders. "Just like you."

In the back of Latoya's sunglasses, tears came unbidden from her sightless eyes.

"I'm sorry, Uncle Steve! I wish I was brave and strong like your friends. But I'm just a kid!” Her body shrank in her chair in shame as she whispered. “I’m no hero."

"No. You have a different kind of strength. Let me show you."

They moved through several more automatic doors before stopping.

"This is one of the lounge areas. I want you to meet this facility's oldest current resident, he's often found reading here. Korean War veteran, Gunnery Sgt. Anthony Miller. Gunny, this is my niece, Latoya. Well, I'm going out for a smoke. You two get acquainted."

"Hey, kiddo."

"Hi, sir."

"Cap'n's told me lots about'cha. Like me and you are both blind as a bat."

"Huh? But Uncle said you read here all the time!"

"Yup, I do. Braille books for the blind. Just because you can't see, doesn't mean you have to give up the things you love. It's an adjustment—starting over—but also very rewarding.

“I hear you're quite the pianist."

"No, sir, that was before the accident. I can't--"

"Are your hands injured?"

"Well... no."

"Good! Because we just so happen to have a piano sitting right here in front of you. What a coincidence! I haven't heard anything good coming out of these here ivory keys in years. But I bet you can rustle up a grand tune or two."

"I'm sorry, sir, I can't--"

"Cap'n tells me you can play most any song after hearing it just once. Iff'in that's true, that means you don't have to look and actually see the keyboard, right?"

"Well..." Something like an electric shock passed through the girl. "Holy shoot, you're right!"

Slowly, she brought her hands up to the keyboard, tiny trembling fingertips lightly brushing over the keys from one end of the piano to the other, as if re-familiarizing herself with an old friend.

Latoya smiled for the first time since the accident. Then she began to play.



Tuesday Night 24 Dec 2019

After the full-house audience finished applauding, an elderly man wearing a black tuxedo and red bow-tie walked to the center of the stage.

"Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. I'm Sanford Weill, and I'd like to welcome you all to Carnegie Hall." The audience responded with a short but enthusiastic cheer.

"Tonight, we have a special treat for you. Perhaps it's fate that Christmas will arrive in just a few short hours, because this first performer will have you believing in miracles.

"Six months ago, a tragic accident befell this talented, 11-year-old girl. In one instant, she had lost almost everything. But with faith, perseverance, and true grit, she found the strength to fight her way back.

"I am also indebted to her uncle, Captain Steve Rogers, who, early on, had hope enough for the both of them when times were the bleakest. If ever there was a real-life Captain America, this is him.
"And now, without further ado, I’m proud to present to you the beautiful and gutsy young lady, Ms. LA-TOY-A WILL-LI-AMS!!"

Steve Rogers pushed Latoya's wheelchair onstage to a standing ovation. Once in front of the piano, she waited until the thunderous applause subsided into an expectant silence.

With tears rolling down her cheeks, she adjusted her sunglasses.

Softly, Latoya said into the microphone, "This is for my mother and father."

(end)
(#5431836) Keeping the Faith
Posted by Spades Master on 1 Nov 2022 at 5:00AM

i posted a much shorter version of this story last year. this is the full version, in honor of all american vets for veterans day on 11 nov 22. semper fi.

***

Keeping the Faith
by Tony Hall
Hi. My names Michael Goldman and Im in the 3rd grade. Rabbi Horwitz axed the class to write a story about what we think faith is.

Mamma tole me faith meens to beleeve in God, but not to speek his name out loud cuz it was to holy. My sister Patty is a softmor in high school, She says theres no such thing as God, its juss a fairy tale to forse peepole to think a like. My naybor Ali, says theres only one true God in the world, and its not mine. Im so confoozed.

Im jewish but I dont feel very faithful about anything speshil. Maybe its cuz Im only 9 years old and havnt bin around the bend enuff. Thats what my Daddy used to tell me when he workd in the Marine Core.

I had to ax rabbi horwitz how to spell some really hard words, thats why those words are in big letters in the next parts of my story.

We CELEBRATED the ANNIVERSARY of dee day. Daddy said that its one of the most importint days in all of the histry. If we lost the fight on dee day, Daddy said we wood have bin EXTERMINATED juss for being jewish. im glad we won. I wood be ascared to be EXTERMINATED like a bug.

Last year, Daddy and me went fishing with my sister Patty to. He took all of us out to the middle of the lake in a moter boat. I was so exsited that I koodnt sit still. And then I was the first one hoo cot a fish! I reeld it in and Daddy and Patty helped me pull it in the boat. We were all laffing and shouting.
The fish was looking strate at me and he looked so sad. I got sad to. I told Daddy that I changed my mind and that I wanted to set him free. Patty got mad and said its my very first catch and its going to be my supper tonite. I cried and said I dont wanna kill him, I want him to go home to be with his fambly. 

Daddy looked at me for a long time and then he nodded and unhookd the fish and handed it to me. Patty called me a dummy and said this trip was a waste of time. She said theres ZILLIONS of fishs in the lake so it duznt make any DIFFERENCE to save juss this one. I put the fish back in the water and watched him swim away.

I told Patty that it made a DIFFERENCE to that fish and his fambly.

Daddy tot me to beleeve in myself and the UNITED STATES OF AMERICA and the Marine Core. We went to some of the prezadents rallys and even got our own red hats. Daddy sed we are the PATRIOTS hoo protect the contry, even tho haff of the peepole in the contry hate us and the prezadent.

My sister Patty hates the prezadent to. Shes always mad at him and joins big crowds in the streets to carry sines to screem at him. Mamma tole me to leeve her be, she said Pattys sick in the head with TRUMP DISORDER SYNDROME.

But Daddy said no, Pattys using her freedom of the speech. He said evryone has there own OPINIONS and shood be rispected for them. Daddy said thats why he fights, so that peepole will always have the right to say what they want, without feer or werry.

My daddys my bestest friend and the most bravest man in the hole wide world. He died last week in AFGHANISTAN. Mamma told me and Patty that Daddy went to Heaven and that he loves us so much that he came back down to be our gardian angel hoo protects and watchs over us even tho we cant see him.

Sunday morning, Mamma gatherd us all in the living room. Then she read us a letter from Daddy from last week.


My dear Pamela,

I miss you and the kids terribly. Is Mikey still working on his Faith assignment? Rabbi Horowitz told me Mikey is the best young writer he's read in twenty years, so I have complete confidence that Mikey will write nothing less than a New York Times bestseller for his assignment.

I know you sometimes worry about Patty's activism. But I think she feels she has to do it, to learn and grow in her own way, on her own terms. She's developing into a beautiful, strong, and independent woman.

I couldn't be more proud of them.

Babe, we're almost home free! I’ve put in my 20 years and am finally ready to retire. Our unit has just one last mission tonight, then I'm coming home for good next week! Pammy, can you believe it? Woo-hoo! Can't wait to get my hands on you. I'm so looking forward to just being a husband and father for a change.

Well, gotta run. Wish me luck and keep the porch lights on for me. Sending you guys long-distance hugs and prayers. As always, if for some reason I don't make it back, know that you three have been the happiest things to ever happen in my life.

I love you all, Dearest Heart.

David


Later that day we had FUNERAL for Daddy to say goodby. He wore his blue UNIFORM with white gloves. Tiny meddles covered his chest. I gave Daddy a big hug and left him my g.i. joe soldjer for company. g.i. joe is from the army but i dont think Daddy wood mind much. Evryone was so sad, they cried. At the end of FUNERAL, a rifle SQUAD fired three times in the air. The marine gards took the big flag covering Daddys coffin and foldid it up into a little flag that the general gave to Mamma. Then the byoogler played taps.

I miss my Daddy so much.

***

Today Mamma and me and Patty brot fresh flowers to put on Daddys grave. Mamma spends a lot of time there to talk to Daddy. She says she can still feel him. I cant feel him like Mamma duzz, but I know Daddy watchs over me. I think about him a lot and all the fun we had together. I always try to pictcher his face. I hope i never forget what Daddy looks like. Or the lessons he tot me.

What is faith?

Daddy tot me faith is fighting for what you beleeve in, even if peepole might disgree with you. Thats what makes our contry great. Thats what makes our contry free. Daddy thot that was worth fighting for. And dieyin for.

And thats how I feel about it to.

(end)
(#5422585) The Day the Clocks Stopped and Hot Dogs Were No More
Posted by Spades Master on 4 Oct 2022 at 4:56PM
The Day the Clocks Stopped and Hot Dogs Were No More
by Tony Hall

***

It was Wednesday, the 5th of October 2022, when the lights went out and clocks stopped at 9:13 a.m.

That was the first sign of trouble. I was attending a peer-support creative writing class at the Martinez Veterans Affairs Center, about 25 miles northeast of Oakland, California.

We heard cars on the street start crashing into one another. Outside the classroom windows, we witnessed a Muni-bus knock down a lamppost and barrel halfway into a house. Three of the six members of our group brought out their cellphones. All three phones were inoperative.

The deafening shriek of a plane falling from the sky suddenly filled the air. A Boeing 737 was in a flat tailspin. It crashed about a half-mile away, onto the Center Avenue onramp by the Contra Costa movie theater. The concussive explosion shook the ground like an earthquake and shattered every window within a mile radius, including our building's.

There were screams in the hallway -- some in pain, others in terror. I was surprised to realize I was screaming in panic, too! The fire sprinklers activated, snapping us out of our paralysis. The six of us ran from the classroom and fled through a nearby fire exit.

Outside was chaos. Alarm bells and air sirens blared. Warning lights on the walls flashed their alert in the smoky haze. People were running helter-skelter through the plaza. There were three fiery car accidents in this section of the VA alone. Shattered glass was everywhere. On the sidewalk, some elderly veterans lie dead.

“What in the hell is going on?!” screamed Kendrick.

Floyd said, “We must be under some sort of terrorist attack!” Both his fists were clenched as he frantically sought an unseen enemy.

“No! No! No! No! No! No!” squealed a wide-eyed Progency. He unsheathed a 6-inch knife from his ankle holster and shakily held it forth for protection.

Our writing group facilitator, Devon, said, “Alright, everybody just calm the freak down! Progency, put away that knife!”

Progency turned the blade towards Devon. “Man, screw you!”

“How about,” Everly said, “everyone please calm down. Before someone accidentally gets hurt.”

Progency, breathing hard, slowly moved the knife down by his side.

Everly examined an elderly couple lying on the sidewalk. She slowly shook her head. “There is no apparent injury. As far as I can tell, they just dropped dead. I have no explanation.”

I lit a cigarette and slowly surveyed the horrific scene around me. “A blackout. Inoperative cellphones. Cars and planes ceasing to function. Now, people are falling dead in their tracks. How are they all connected?”

Kendrick was thinking out loud, too. “No lights. Cars off. Planes off. Sounds like... a power outage? But what does that have to do with people dropping dead?”

“It shouldn’t," I said… then snapped my fingers, "unless those people had pacemakers!”

Devon said, “Tony, what are you suggesting?”

I waved the group in to gather closer. “While serving in the Marines, I was the Nuclear, Biological, and Chemical (NBC) non-commissioned officer for our unit. Meaning, I was the resident expert on NBC warfare.”

“So,” said Kendrick, “is that what this is? A nuclear attack!”

“No, this is most likely the result of an EMP: an electromagnetic pulse.”

Floyd shrugged his shoulders. “Umm… in English?”

“Typically,” I explained, “a nuclear bomb will detonate three miles above the ground to maximize its radiation fallout. A small-scale electromagnetic pulse will accompany the blast, usually covering a ten-mile radius of the explosion. Every machine circuit, computer chip, live wire, and generator within that ten miles would be disabled by the gigantic electrical power surge.

"But there’s no visible mushroom cloud nearby to confirm that theory.

"If, however, a nuclear bomb was detonated high enough in the upper atmosphere, it would cause a nuclear chain reaction. Electrons from the explosion would interact with Earth's magnetic field, resulting in a huge geomagnetic superstorm.

“For example, if a single nuclear warhead - just one nuke! - were to explode 300 miles over Kansas at the center of the United States, the amplified EMP shock waves would cripple the power grid for the entire country, along with most of Canada and Mexico. America, as we know it, would cease to exist.

We'd be living in a world like in the 1800s. No refrigeration, no running water, and no transportation, except for horseback. Cars made after 1990 wouldn't start. The ideal vehicles for surviving an EMP are the diesel-fueled cars from the early 1980s or before."

"My girlfriend lives alone in Oakland!" Progency wailed, "If cars don't work, how am I–"

"A bicycle,” I suggested, “will get you there by this afternoon."

For the first time today, a spark of hope shone in Progency’s eyes. He nodded to us, then left. Kendrick also departed, heeding my advice.

Floyd asked, "So, we’re basically at war. But who's responsible for this attack? Russia? China?"

"We may never know. All radios, cellphones, and satellites are fried. There’s no communication anywhere in the country.

“Also, it may be that no one is responsible. A massive enough solar flare, like the Carrington Event of 1859, would cause the same effect as a nuclear EMP. "

"Screw this," murmured Floyd, shaking his head. "I’m gonna get me a drink." He absently shuffled away.

Devon smirked, "Just imagine if someone had actually written a story about this event for our creative writing class. Ha-ha, no one would ever believe it!"

Everly observed, "You seem a bit overly chipper, Devon."

"I was going to file for bankruptcy next month. But since the whole freakin' country is now bankrupt, I guess I’ll go out and celebrate, instead. I’m outta here. Have a nice life, you two."

I looked at Everly. "Are you going to be okay?"

Tears fell from her eyes. "No. I am not." She gave me a sad smile. Everly bent and picked up a shard of broken glass from the sidewalk. With a fluid motion, she sliced open her own throat.

"Everly, no!" But it was too late. A stream of blood pumped out of her severed artery as life drained from her eyes. Grief-stricken, I removed my jacket and draped it solemnly over her body.

Four VA cops set-up two M-60 machine guns at the northeast street entrance to the VA complex. They claimed the VA was officially sealed-off. No new-comers allowed.

A group of medical staff gathered outside the urgent care clinic building, encouraging everyone to pray to the Lord – “for the Rapture was upon us!” I didn't have the heart to tell them 90% of the survivors would perish within the first year.

I walked across the street toward the vacant cafeteria. Much of the foods currently on display there would disappear forever within a week. I filled my tray to the brim and sat at a corner table, alone in the darkened room.

I was already missing the late great American hot dog, even as I savored the last bite of one. My stomach grumbled with sorrow. Never again would I ever taste the like.

Because I knew what was coming.

Within a few weeks, people would be eating real dogs.

And soon after that… eating each other.

(end)
(#5421009) Re: GoldTokens 23rd anniversary
Posted by ladyvic on 1 Oct 2022 at 9:42AM
You got it Jools, High five
(#5420995) Re: GoldTokens 23rd anniversary
Posted by Jools on 1 Oct 2022 at 9:35AM
hoot's hide-a-way
(#5420971) GoldTokens 23rd anniversary
Posted by ladyvic on 1 Oct 2022 at 9:02AM

Members of The Save Our Earth Club are not eligible to win in this particular contest.
You can only win 1 of each of these tokens.
(unknown photo)(unknown photo)(unknown photo)
First person to answer this question wins

What Club won Club of the Year in 2021?
(#5420953) Re: GoldToken's 23rd Anniversary Contest
Posted by RabidWolff of the Wolf Pack on 1 Oct 2022 at 8:48AM
.
Yes you are correct!

This contest is now closed.
(#5420942) Re: GoldToken's 23rd Anniversary Contest
Posted by Jools on 1 Oct 2022 at 8:41AM
19 variants, including large variants
(#5420890) GoldToken's 23rd Anniversary Contest
Posted by RabidWolff of the Wolf Pack on 1 Oct 2022 at 8:02AM
.

Members of the The Wolf Pack Club are not eligible to win in this particular contest.


(unknown photo) ~ (unknown photo) ~ (unknown photo)

For your chance to win one of these tokens, be the first person to correctly answer this question...

How many different game types/variants does GT offer in Crossdowns? (including the main variant)
(#5413971) Who Controls the Present Controls the Past
Posted by Spades Master on 10 Sep 2022 at 4:49PM

Who Controls the Present Controls the Past
by Tony Hall

{ image: www.christianparley.com/blog-parley/2014/9/11/the-story-behind-thomas-e-franklins-firefighters-raising-the-flag-photo }
Friday, 10 Sep 2021
It was late night when I parked my aged Mercedes Benz into the driveway. The house was as cold as it was dark. I took all the mail addressed to me, Dr. Maurice Darnell, and placed them on the coffee table. I inserted an old homemade VHS tape into the VCR. With a glass of rum in hand, I plopped my achy and middle-aged body onto the sofa, used the remote control to switch on the TV, and pressed PLAY for the VCR.
The shaky camerawork of the video showed me as a 20-years-younger version of myself, walking across the front lawn and carrying grocery bags from my new Mercedes Benz. 
Suddenly, I felt both legs immobilized. From behind, my twelve-year-old twin girls, Jasmin and Kayla, had their tiny arms wrapped around each of my legs, trying to topple me.
My wife, Tierra, holding the camcorder, howled with laughter, as she, and our nine-year-old son, “Little" Mo, appeared from behind the bushes of the front lawn.
I joked, “Oh, so you highway bandits think you can ambush a hospital surgeon and steal his shiny new car, huh? Just wait until I get free. You're BOTH gonna need surgery!”
"No, Papa!” exclaimed Jasmin, “This is a revolt!"
Kayla protested, "We don’t want no more spinach tofu salads!”
Tierra passed the camcorder to Little Mo to continue filming while she helped the twins trip my legs, then all three piled on top of me.
"We want pizza!” came the girls' chant, “We want pizza!”
"OK, OK! I surrender, you little Munchkins! Pizza, it is!”
“YEA!” came the cheer as the girls jumped and danced around the lawn.
My wife tweaked my nose, saying, “You old softie, you."
Watching from the sofa, I took another swig of alcohol as a tear rolled down my dark brown cheek. With eyes closed, my mind wandered back to that fateful day—the worst day of my life. 
I recalled how it all started, after my family's must-have pizza dinner: I had felt an overwhelming sense of déjà vu as I sat behind my office desk at work. My 6 p.m.-6 a.m. night shift had just begun for the emergency room at Massachusetts General Hospital. The Thomas Kincade wall calendar said today was Monday, 10 Sep 2001. Everything looked normal, but I couldn’t shake the feeling. I viewed my IBM ThinkPad laptop and paperwork neatly organized on the desk. All seemed in order.
The speakers of the building’s PA system grabbed my attention. “Dr. Darnell. Dr. Darnell. Your presence is requested at Surgery Room A, stat.”
Fourteen-and-a-half hours later at 8:30 a.m., I was finally able to leave the hospitalleave hospital, after spending all night saving casualties from a six-car pile-up. I rubbed the back of my neck to ease the strained muscles there. Driving 50 miles southwest to my home in Blackstone, I turned the radio dial to WXKS-FM, the best R&B station in Massachusetts.
About fifteen minutes later, the music was interrupted by a breaking news report about a plane that had crashed into the World Trade Center's North Tower.
“Holy cow!” I could scarcely believe my ears.
I called home. No response. Despite the sunny skies, a chill ran up my spine, a sense of dread premonition. I accelerated the Mercedes Benz to 90 mph. When I arrived home, my worst fears had come to pass. My family had died of carbon monoxide poisoning from a gas leak in the kitchen.

***

I awoke with a start. Gradually, I took in the living room, the bottle of Bacardi and assorted mail on my coffee table.
Another nightmare—a tortured memory of guilt that had haunted me for the past two decades.
I’d found each member of my family that terrible morning. Still in their beds. All in their pajamas. All dead.
And here was the kicker: their bodies were still warm. Carbon monoxide can kill within five minutes. If I’d left work at 6 a.m. as my schedule had indicated, instead of staying two-and-a-half-hours overtime, this whole tragedy could have been averted. If only...
I placed my thumbs on my temples, squeezed, and tried not to finish that thought.
A happy memory flashed by. Little Mo had once won an award from his 2nd Grade class for writing a paper about me.
My Papa The Super Hero 
My papa has for real super powers. He saves lives every single day. He saved our nabors when a drunk driver hit there car. He saved our teacher's husband when he fell off there roof. He even saves gang members who shoot each other. Papa said his healing powers were on loan from God, to save as many peeple as he could. He'd always tell me that it's not the destination, but the journy that really mattered in one's life. That's why he's my hero.
I was so proud, I taped Little Mo’s paper on the fridge door, promising him I’d always try to live up to it.  An empty promise, as it turned out.  I managed to save everyone except for the ones I loved most.   
After struggling through the past 20 years - through 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, Benghazi, American socialism, a worldwide pandemic, nightly riots, open borders, rigged elections and Afghanistan - at times, it felt as if me and the whole freakin' country were stuck in the worst dystopian-reality imaginable.
I closed my eyes and prayed, as I did every night—but especially on this anniversary night—for the Lord to keep my family safe until we'd meet again. But mostly, I prayed for redemption, for failing to save them. A few more drinks later, the world mercifully faded away.

***
I felt an overwhelming sense of déjà vu as I sat behind my office desk at work.  My 6 p.m.-6 a.m. night shift had just begun for the emergency room at Massachusetts General Hospital. The Thomas Kincade wall calendar said today was Monday, 10 Sep 2001. Everything looked normal, but I couldn’t shake the feeling.  I viewed my IBM ThinkPad laptop and paperwork neatly organized on the desk.   All seemed in order. 
I suddenly gasped, then stood unsteadily to my feet as I realized where I was.
“I’m back!” I said shakily, short of breath.
“Am I dreaming?” I rubbed my eyes, then gingerly tapped the desk to confirm it was real. Well, at least it felt real.
The wall clock read 6:15 p.m. I didn't know how to rationally explain to myself what was happening, and I didn't really care. Dream or not, all I knew was that I had a chance to save my family. Now, I had the time!
The speakers of the building’s PA system grabbed my attention. “Dr. Darnell. Dr. Darnell. Your presence is requested at Surgery Room A, stat.”
"Dammit! The six-car pile-up! And I’m the only surgeon on duty tonight."
On the off-chance this wasn't a dream, there's no way I could abandon my responsibilities. The on-call surgery staff would arrive later, but even then, we were still going to get swamped. I phoned my house but got only a busy signal. Promising myself to be home before disaster struck tomorrow, I said to myself, “OK then, I’ll make time.”
I ran down the hall to Surgery Room A and got scrubbed in record time. Before I began the operation on the first patient, I turned to one of the nurses.
“Betty, can you please call-in other surgeons on leave for possible assistance? I have a feeling we’re going to need all the help we can get. And please phone Blackstone Sheriff's Department to check in on my family.”
The nurse gave a strange look, but nodded and said, “Yes, doctor,” as she left the room.
The following morning at 6 a.m. sharp, I left hospital on time and gratefully drove home.
Ha! It worked!
Betty had successfully recruited two surgeons from leave to help with last night’s heavy caseload. She said my family was surprised by the Sheriff's visit, but nonetheless sent their love and good wishes.
Partway home, I pulled my car off to the side of the road to park, as suddenly, it hit me.
I realized the gravity of my presence here in this place, at this time. My heartbeat rapidly sped up as I broke-out in a cold sweat. I was in the miraculous position to intervene in the 9/11 attacks which would begin in just a few short hours. The impossible possibilities were frightening to contemplate.
But, what of my family?
I called home. The line was still busy. “No, no, no!” I tried again to no avail.
Next, I dialed Blackstone Sheriff's Dept. to request someone check my family again.
“I’m sorry, Doctor,” said the male voice of the dispatcher. “The Sheriff and his deputies
are tied-up trying to resolve an active hostage situation downtown. Only in an emergency can I dispatch an officer’s car away from that scene.”
“But this is an emergency!”
“What’s the nature of the emergency?”
I couldn’t tell him the real reason: a gas leak in the kitchen. There was no way to convince anyone how I knew that fact. I thought quickly.
“My son’s sick at home. But I can’t reach anyone there on the phone.”
“I’m sorry, Doctor, but that’s not an actual emergency. I can’t pull anyone from this scene just because no one’s answering your phone. I’m sorry.” The line disconnected.
“I don’t believe this,” I said, looking at the dead cell phone in my hand.
I forced myself to calm down. Home was about an hour away, still plenty of time to avert my family’s tragedy. Exiting the car, I lit a Newport cigarette, and started pacing.
Deciding to chip away at the other problem, I dialed a new number.
“This is 9-1-1,” answered a female voice on the phone. “Please state the nature of your emergency.”
“Hi. I’m calling to report a terrorist attack that will happen this morning at 8:45 a.m. Two hijacked airplanes will crash into each of the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center. A third plane will hit the Pentagon. A fourth plane, United Airlines Flight 93, will crash in Pennsylvania.” I’d seen the movie, Flight 93, a few years ago—now I knew how those passengers must’ve felt.
“And how did you come by this information, sir?”
“Well, I... uh... I can’t say, but you’ve got to believe me! I'm telling the truth!"
“OK, sir. Please calm down. Do you know the terrorists' names or why they’d do this?"
“The mastermind behind the attack was named Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, under the authority of Osama Bin Laden in Afghanistan. There were about 15 to 20 terrorists in all, most of them were from Saudi Arabia. The reason why they did it, as far as I know... is that they were crazy, radical, Islamic terrorists!”
“Excuse me, sir, but you keep saying the word, ‘were’ as if it had already happened. Are you sure you’re not confusing this with a previous terror attack in another country?”
“Uh, no. Sorry, ma’am. I meant to say ‘are.’ Or ‘will be’? Oh, I don’t know, dammit! The point is, you need to send someone to stop these attacks before they happen. There’s not much time left!”
“Sir, could you please give me your name?”
I hung up, kicked my tires, and yelled some curses that would've made a sailor blush.
Panting, I tried desperately to get my temper under control. This was no time to lose my cool. I had never felt so helpless since the day...
I took in a deep breath to refocus, then redialed home.
“Hello, Papa.”
“Little Mo? Thank God I got through. I'm so happy to hear your voice again, Son! I need to talk to your mother right away!”
“Mamma’s sleeping.”
“You'll need to wake her, it’s vital we speak immediately.”
“No, Papa.”
“Say, what? Mo, you move your little butt and get your mother on the dam phone right this minute!”
“I can’t do that, Papa.”
“What? Why not?”
“We never blamed you for our deaths. None of us did. You were just doing your job. Saving lives.”
“How did...? Little Mo, I’m so sorry. I should’ve been there for you guys.” Tears were welling in my eyes, but I couldn’t help it. “I promise you things will be different this time. I’ve been given a second chance! Papa’s on his way home right now. I can save you, Little Mo! I can save all of you!”
"We will meet again, soon enough, Papa. But 3,000 innocent people will also die today. Unless you save them.”
“B-but I’ve already tried and failed. It’s only me here, Little Mo. Against an attack so big, I wouldn’t even know where to start.”
“I’m not allowed to tell you how, Papa. All I can say, is that the answer is within your reach.”
I stood there holding the phone to my ear, crying like an idiot, not knowing what to say.
In the back of my mind, I perceived this both was - and wasn't - my real son on the
phone. The basis behind this conversation was far beyond my comprehension to understand.
“Go now, Papa. Go do your superhero thing. We love you.”
“I love you, Son.” The line disconnected, but I was unable to move.
What the hell was I going to do? Both Crises were in opposite directions.
Part of me desperately needed to get home now! The clock was expiring alarmingly fast.
I stood there on that lonely roadside, striving to decide the most crucial dilemna in my life: save my family... or save 3,000 strangers?
I screamed into the heavens at the unfairness of it all.
Then I turned the problem on its head—what would my family want me to do? The choice was clear and straightforward. Once I made my decision, I swore to see it through to the end, whatever it took.
Little Mo implied I already had the answer to stop 9/11. After a pause to think things through, I snapped my fingers and jumped behind the wheel. I opened my IBM laptop and did a Google search. When I found what I was looking for, I turned around the car and sped back toward Boston.
I arrived at Logan International Airport at 8 a.m. This was my one and only chance.
My foreknowledge of what had already occurred during 9/11 was the key to stopping it.
I hoped.
I remembered reading in the local paper the two planes that had hit the Twin Towers both originated here at Logan Airport. The hijackers chose planes headed for California since those carried the most fuel. To cause the largest explosions.
The confirmation of those two flights is what I had Googled earlier.
According to the airport lobby's electronic display board, the two flights that fit the bill were American Airlines Flight 11 and United Airlines Flight 175. Flight 11 was already on the tarmac, awaiting its turn to take-off. Dammit! I was too late to stop that plane! But Flight 175 at Gate 44 had not yet boarded its passengers.
I ran to Gate 44, thinking of the old commercials of O.J. Simpson sprinting through the airport. It felt strange not having to wade through any TSA security lines to remove my shoes or pass endless X-ray monitors and electromagnetic wands. These were the good old days of airport travel.
As I passed random security personnel, I shouted, “Flight 175 is going to get hijacked!” By the time I reached Gate 44, there was a sizable group of security in pursuit. Ha! Here comes the cavalry, Mo! I was actually doing it—changing history! I felt emboldened, invigorated!
Maybe a bit overconfident, too, because I found myself tackling the first Muslim passenger in the boarding line for Flight 175. I must've watched too many TV episodes of Jack Bauer.
I heard the terrorist's box cutter clatter onto the tiled floor as we both rolled over each other. Of course, I forgot he was a highly-trained operative. Duh. He easily broke my grasp like he was Jackie Chan, himself. Then he struck me hard with his open palm to my face, breaking my nose and flinging me several feet backward onto my butt.
Fortunately, I landed beside the box cutter. I snatched it, stood, and flicked open the blade, pointing it at him in self-defense.
Suddenly from behind, I heard, “Freeze! Drop the blade or you're done!”
Slowly, I turned completely around to see four police officers and three airport security guards aiming their service revolvers.
Behind me, the terrorist hurled a suitcase at my back. The sudden impact forced me to take a few inadvertent steps forward toward the police—with the open box cutter still in my hand!
"Crap..." I gasped.
Time seemed to shift into slow motion. The seven law enforcement officers instantly fired their weapons. I felt the individual bullets strike my chest like a hammer repeatedly hitting me.
Sorry, Little Mo. I was a fool to think I could stop 9/11. The only thing I did was went and got myself killt. Epic fail. Sorry, kiddo.

***

Epilogue:
WHO CONTROLS THE PAST CONTROLS THE FUTURE - George Orwell
I awoke on my sofa in the living room, the late morning sunlight streaming through the curtains.  I must have experienced another one of my tortured nightmares. 
At least, this last nightmare was a lot livelier! Ha!
Today was Saturday 11 September 2021, the 20th Anniversary of 9/11. Also, of my family's death. I should be remorseful and sad, but instead I felt a bit stoked—so full of adrenalin that I could probably run a few laps around the block!
The front door opened. A young black man entered my house.
“Who the hell are you?” I growled, grabbing the empty Bacardi bottle from the coffee table, just in case.
The man turned to me and smiled. “Hey, Pop.”
“Wha-what?” I took a closer look. "Little Mo?”
I dropped the bottle onto the carpet and shuffled forward. We embraced in a mighty bear hug. Of course, I’d lost it by then. I’m holding him, bawling like a baby, unable to stop. Eventually, I came to my senses.
“Little Mo... you’re really here! And you're all growed-up! B-but how?”
“You did it, Pop. After the police shot you at Logan Airport, they cordoned-off --"
"Whoa, whoa, wait a minute! 'After the police shot me?' Are you saying it really happened? I died?" My legs suddenly lost strength, and I collapsed onto the sofa. I touched my chest with shaky hands. "I-I'm dead?"
Mo stared at me with tender sadness. " 'It's not the destination, Pop, it's the journey.' "
He sat beside me on the couch, and placed both hands gently but firmly on my shoulders.
"You were sent back to stop the 9/11 tragedy, if you could. And you did it, Pop—you didn’t stop 9/11 completely, but you did manage to save over two-thirds of the victims who had originally perished." He looked me in the eyes and smiled. "I never had a doubt. After all, you are my superhero, right?"
His faith was contagious, made me feel a little lighter. I let out a gasp of air, releasing the tension, then nodded, smiling. "Yeah, OK. But for a dead guy, I almost crapped my drawers just now."
Mo stood, grinning. "As I was saying, after the police shot you, they cordoned-off the area, keeping all the passengers on site to take their witness statements. Flight 175 was put on indefinite standby. The man you fought was placed in police custody, pending details of what actually happened.
“Word of the first plane hitting the World Trade Center's North Tower reached the news at 8:46 a.m. The police then gave credence to your earlier warnings that Flight 175 was going to be hijacked. They searched the passengers. Three Middle Eastern men were found armed with box cutters, and arrested.
“Then the FBI investigated the recording of your 9-1-1 phone call that listed the four planned hijackings and their targeted destinations. You even mentioned Flight 93, specifically. You’d already prevented Flight 175 from departing. It was only a matter of time before they stopped the plane targeting the Pentagon.
"The intel you gave about Bin Laden and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was passed to the CIA and INTERPOL. Two days later, both men mysteriously disappeared. They were found a week afterward, hanging by their necks from a telephone pole in central Kabul, Afghanistan."
Out of breath, all I could say was, “Holy cow. I actually made a difference, didn’t I?”
Mo chuckled. “C’mon, Pop. I wanna show you something.” He led me out to the porch.
A huge block party, with thousands in attendance, was in progress. I laughed, unable to stop grinning. “Ha! There's even a live band and amusement park rides!” The crowd suddenly stopped what they were doing. All of them turned and looked our way.
Mo put an arm around my shoulders. “This party is in your honor, Pop."
He pointed to a huge billboard sign that read, "20th Anniversary—In Remembrance of Dr. Maurice Darnell (1963-2001)." It depicted a picture of me in a white lab coat with a stethoscope around my neck, superimposed with the image of three disheveled firefighters raising the American flag at Ground Zero.
"Every individual here was saved by you," Mo said, "either on the operating table or because of your sacrifice on 9/11. Also present arepresent, are the survivors' post-9/11 children and their children's children—over 4,000 bodies-strong. All these people are your redemption.”
My eyes were brimming with tears again, but I was determined not to make a spectacle of myself. It wouldn’t look very heroic to be seen publicly weeping like a little girl.
Nearby, I heard someone call out, “Hey there, you old softie, you.”
My wife and twin girls, Jasmin and Kayla, appeared from behind the bushes of the front lawn. They were 20 years older but looked more beautiful than I’d ever seen them before. We ran together, sharing a blissful group-hug reunion. Tierra tweaked my nose as we both laughed for joy. From behind, the crowd spontaneously broke out in a thunderous applause.
Nothing could stop the waterworks this time.

***

Before fading away forever with my family, I felt the love and gratitude of the people, celebrating the bright future of a better world.

(end)
(#5411152) The Day We Clashed and Spam Became Our Last Supper
Posted by Spades Master on 1 Sep 2022 at 8:06PM

The Day We Clashed and Spam Became Our Last Supper

by Tony Hall
(916 words)


-Thanksgiving Day 28 Nov 2019

"This is where Aunt Kiki lives?" asked 12-year-old Jack, incredulously. There were groups of a half-dozen tough-looking young men loitering on every corner of this block at San Francisco's Tenderloin District.

His twin sister, Jeanie, pointed out a man lying unconscious on the sidewalk in this late afternoon, wearing no shirt or shoes. Passers-by seemed oblivious to him. "Oh my God! Is that man dead?"

Their mother, Joji, sitting in the passenger-side of their silver BMW Sedan, turned in her seat. "You two behave yourselves. And stop gawking at the people. We're not here for them. We've got a nice family dinner to get to. I expect you both to be on your best behavior."

"Yes, ma'am," the twins replied.

Behind the wheel, John, Joji's husband, found a small parking lot area for their BMW that charged twenty dollars per hour, promising 24-hour security. It was nestled between two dingy hotels. He hoped it was as safe as advertised.


Kiki greeted and hugged the new arrivals at her front door.

"Joji! What up, Sis! Wow. Now, that's what I call a festive dress!"

She turned to Joji's husband. "And you must be John. I love your three-piece suit. Fancy-shmancy. What up!"

Kiki embraced the twins. "So, you be my nephew and niece? You two look like you're dressed for church... or on a date together! What up!"

Embarrassed, Jack and Jeanie mumbled, "Happy Thanksgiving, Aunt Kiki."

"Welcome to our home! This be my husband, Kofi, and this tall string-being of a boy be our 15-year-old son, Kwami."

Kofi, bearing a trim beard and mustache, waved at the in-laws. He sported a chef's white hat and apron.

"Why don't we all sit at the table," Kofi announced, "Kiki's already set up all the trimmings."

John moved swiftly to the table, famished after the long trek from their Alhambra estates in Martinez. His construction company had already taken up too much of his time today.

There were Dixie paper plates and metal eating utensils set at the table. In the center were three covered copper platters.

With great flair, Kiki removed the covers. "Ta-dah! Instead of boring turkey or ham, we made something more personal and different. It's Kwami's birthday today as well, and he chose his favorites."

John's heart sunk.

The platters contained four 12-ounce lumps of microwaved Spam, macaroni and cheese, a loaf of raisin bread, green beans, rice, assorted chips, and a large bowl of potato salad. Kofi carved the heated spam, placing two thick slices on each plate.

John sat back in his seat, plotting a scheme to escape this apartment. A plate full of food was placed before him. He gulped dejectedly, wore a polite smile, but ate only the corn chips.

"So, Kofi," John said to start a conversation, "What do you do for work?"

"Me? I'm a... neighborhood pharmacist."

Kiki giggled. Kwami laughed so hard that some macaroni shot out of his nose.

Not understanding the jest, John replied simply, "A pharmacist? Very good."

Kwami asked the twins, "What's up with those red hats you be wearing?"

"These red hats," answered Jeanie, "are to show support for our president." In a friendly gesture, she smiled and tipped the cap's bill at him.

Jack added, "And they carry the patriotic slogan, 'Make America Great Again.' " Jack turned toward Kwami and performed a sharp hand salute.

Kiki interjected, "Joji, please don't tell me you support that fool in the White House. They need to impeach that racist."

Kofi growled, "No! Impeachment's too good. Someone needs to cap his sorry butt."

Joji stood, wielding a steely knife as a pointer. "Are you people insane? You're talking about assassinating the president of the United States?!"

Across the table from her, Kwami stood and said, "Why not, Aunty Joji? He's nothing but a lying punk."

The doorbell rang, followed by frantic knocking at the front door. A woman's voice from outside called, "Hey, Kofi! This is Suzie. Please, I need another 'fix'!"

John slowly stood, saying, "A pharmacist, eh?"

Kofi stood defiantly, loudly thumping his chest with a fist. "That's right! I take good care of this neighborhood. When someone's feeling down, I make them feel good again!"

Jack and Jeanie stood together. Jack said, "Well, I don't feel good after eating this spam."

Jeanie added, "I think I'm gonna puke."

Joji said, "You must be so proud of yourself, Kofi, spreading poison to your neighbors."

On cue, the knockings on the door became more insistent. Suzie pleaded, "C'mon, Kofi! Please, man, I'll do anything you want!"

"Pathetic," said John, shaking his head in disgust.

Kofi walked around the table until he stood inched in front of John. He pointed his metal fork in John's face.

"We invited you here as guests. Then you disrespect me inside my own home? You think you better than us? Prove it, Jack! I want you to show me right here, right now!"


"Good evening, folks. This is Maureen Kelly of KRON-4 news. I'm reporting to you live from the Tenderloin District in San Francisco. A Thanksgiving tragedy resulting in seven fatalities took place in the apartment complex right behind me at the corner of Turk and Taylor Streets. Four adults and three children were victims in a deadly massacre. There are reportedly no witnesses. An investigation is underway. SFPD is not commenting at this time..."

(end)

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