Short Story Contest Entry: Bedpans and Walther P38s

Today we have another entry received for the Writers Forum 2020 Short Story Contest.

Since the contest judges are supposed to be judging the entries without knowing who wrote them, the author’s names will be withheld until after the winner selection. After the winners have been chosen, all authors will be identified, and the top three stories will be re-posted. The contest is only open to Writers Forum members. Click here for the complete contest rules.

So far our Member Monday Short Story feature is looking pretty good!


 

 

Bedpans and Walther P38s

(A Christmas to Remember) 

 

Many people escape via expensive out-of-the-country vacations or by weekend get-a-ways.  Some escape by watching movies or by playing games. Me? I Amazon. I am addicted to seeing that brown box (the box with a questionable phallic logo) resting on my front porch as if to say, “Pick me! Open me!”

Amazon’s intrusion began several years ago. My “old-school” wariness would not release me to commit such sin as shopping online. The realization that I could stay in my pajamas and get the all the grandkids their Christmas presents convinced me to risk everything.

True joy begins from that moment I see a screen-full of possibilities on my lap-top or iPhone, items to feed my addiction. The beautiful (sometimes ruinous) journey is afoot.

It didn’t take Amazon long before they offered the best marketing scheme ever: Buy Now With 1-Click?   If ever a sentence could be described as delectable, this would qualify.  But they didn’t stop there––Prime delivery––why, you can have this in two days for “free.”  Free for an annual fee––ingenious.  A recent addition is the “buy again” button––extremely convenient. What will they think of next?

As I sat pondering potential deliveries, I remembered past disastrous purchases: the Christmas ornaments that looked huge on-screen but arrived a mere one-quarter inch diameter; the children’s animal book that failed to pique interest from the four-year-old; weirdly (and putrid) colored shoes; wall décor sized completely wrong for my walls. I have learned to read with care and read between the lines as my hand hovers over the keyboard ENTER key, I think twice– three times–before making the final click.

I choose my items, and proceed through the steps: would you like the arrival date to be this Tuesday, postage-free; for $3.99 more you could have this on Monday; add to your dash button? It would be ever so easy to reorder.  Thank you, Amazon.

I’m always eager to help family find just what they are looking for.

“Gramma, did you say you need a bedpan? Let me look for you.” I am giddy.

If only hindsight had been my guide.  I now have a bedpan in my Face Book feed; subject lines of countless emails read: because you bought a bedpan; just press “click” to buy again; people who have purchased a bedpan have also purchased the following items; and finally (although, I’m sure it won’t be) I have a picture of Gram’s bright, shiny––thankfully still unused––bedpan in that blasted buy again? button.

* * *

It was seven days before Christmas, and I still had to purchase gifts for 21 grandchildren, two great-grandchildren, and 10 adults. Technically, Christmas was eight days away, but our family gathers for dinner on Christmas Eve, opening gifts after the grandchildren wash the dishes.

Ho! Ho! Ho! Oh, here I go. I snuggled into my favorite love-seat position: blanket; feather-pillow; pajamas; steaming mug of coffee latte at the ready, with the Amazon page brightly shining and resting on my lap. Christmas/Sarajevo 12/24 by the Trans-Siberian Orchestra transmitted via Apple TV; it was so loud that I thought I heard the neighbors singing along.

I read that Amazon Prime members were extended an offer-of-the-day to have purchases gift- wrapped for free. I started to clap my hands. I had forgotten I was holding the latte, and nearly doused my shopping cart.

The doorbell rang. I was greeted by a small crowd; my third-born daughter, Angela, her six-month-old twin daughters, Annakate and Adeline, and her ten-year-old son, Dylan. I welcomed them in, and as they were seated, Dylan spied my computer and asked if he could play Minecraft on it.

“Of course,” I said with a wink at the platinum-haired boy, “That’s why I downloaded it, silly Dilly.” He carried the laptop to the dining table, and I set my attention to oohing and awing over the twins.

They left. I returned to my Amazon shopping, made my selections and set about washing dishes, making the bed, and tossing clothes into the washing machine.  As I cleaned, I made a mental grocery list for the big dinner. Then, it came to me; a jolting revelation, so jolting I swear I heard the angels sing. I could order all my groceries on Amazon.

***

I opened the door to the UPS delivery truck driver asking for my signature and I happily signed, although I wasn’t sure why this particular delivery required a signature; she didn’t look happy. She must have made 12 jaunts––truck to doorstep, using a dolly–– getting more red-faced each time, as I stood gawping. Her parting words were something about why I thought I needed 42 Christmas hams and concluded with a caustic Merry Christmas.

I smiled, dripping with saccharine to shield my consternation, I called out something about her job security. I ogled (my face as frozen as the hams) for a few minutes at the mass covering the front porch and decided the Amazon SNAFU could be dealt with in the morning and began dragging the boxes inside.

The new day arrived; the sun shining in a clear blue sky despite putting my order with the Big Guy for snow. I wondered if I should have checked with Amazon Prime.  I hoped and prayed that the one special gift would arrive before dinner as I baked all day for the expectant, hungry horde.  The gift was delivered at last, and I placed it upon the swollen mound that exceeded the “under the tree” notion.

I rang the Amazon office contact number only to reach an automated response: closed for the holidays, please try again December 26, 2017

***

The moment the kids had waited 365 days arrived. I beamed at my family–– mostly for the expectant joy on all faces. I donned my Santa hat and began dispersing gifts. The family rule was to wait until everyone had all their gifts piled at their side. The teenagers offered to play Santa’s elves to speed things up.

I gave the traditional secret Santa signal and madness ensued. The neat freak son-in-law trailed behind, best he could, crumbling shreds of wrapping paper into large, black trash bags.

Holliss, seven, shrieked, “How did Santa know I like red foxes?”

Her mother, Rebecca, the family baby, gave me the look that she was famous for and I asked what was wrong.

“Really, Mom? You gave my daughter a water bottle that reads “‘What the Fox’?’’

I couldn’t answer.

“Mother!”

It was Christa, my second-born and mother to seventeen-year-old Janessa, who screamed, “What are you thinking? The Kama Sutra? A book on sex?”

Oh boy, I thought, I know I’m in BIG trouble. Still, I said nothing.

“Gram-Gram.”

I turned toward Nathan, his face as white as Christmas snow.  He told the room that Cohen had just opened his present. As he spoke, he twirled what looked like a toy gun in his hands. Nathan, 15, was a sharpshooter whose goal was to become a Special Ops sniper.

“Did you know this gun is real? It’s a Walther P38. You bought a five-year-old a gun?”

The room was still, not-a-creature-was-stirring, not-even-a-mouse kind of still. And quiet.

I felt the blood drain from my face as I stammered, “I-I-I.” I proffered a weak defense that I knew nothing.

“This is a mistake, Amazon doesn’t sell guns,” I yelled, and I snatched the gun away, “You all know how Amazon is, remember the fuzzy elf slipper incident?” Details best unknown.

Dylan started blubbering. His mother clutched him at the elbow and escorted him into a bedroom.

Everyone began gathering their things. The grandkids begged to stay and be entertained by the annual reading of The Night Before Christmas, and the parents acquiesced. They helped themselves to a glass full of my home-brewed eggnog. I was thankful this year’s batch was alcohol light. (The cook may –– or may not have––consumed the 16 ounces of rum the recipe called for.)  I noticed a flask being extracted from Rebecca’s pocket.

I was called into the bedroom and Dylan tearfully told me the tale. He noticed my Amazon page open and thought he was being helpful. When questioned about the book he said he added that to the cart because Janessa likes to exercise, and the book cover looked like people were exercising. He admitted he looked at toy guns for his cousin because he knew Cohen wanted to be a policeman.

“How did you order?”

“Easy. Buy now with one-click, Gram-Gram.”

“What about your mother’s stack of ten road signs that read ‘Drive like your kids live here’?”

“I have little sisters.”  I was thankful he didn’t order a sleigh full of toys. Or an Oozie.

“Gram,” Dylan added, “When I was playing Minecraft, you got an email attachment that I clicked on. They might have downloaded spyware.”

“It’s O.K., Dylan. I’m not mad and you’re not in trouble,” I comforted, “I’ll get to the bottom of this after Christmas.”

I remembered getting a package that didn’t quite look like it came from Amazon, but the gift inside was in wrapped in Santa Claus paper so I shrugged it off.  My imagination exploded like gas on flames and visions of ruthless arms dealers in Nigeria popped into my mind.

As I turned to the hopeful crowd waiting for their story, memories of my own childhood prank streamed like an Amazon Prime movie. When I was nine, my little sister, Lisa, and I walked across the field to Gramma’s house. She was outside hanging clothes on the line and unaware of our presence. I had a flash of brilliance and coerced Lisa (so she claims) into making the house appear ransacked. Then we hid while waiting for Gramma’s reaction. No one laughed at that either.

***

The families were leaving, and I was informed by unanimous consensus I was to send a screenshot prior to all purchases for their children. My four-year-old self’s inner monologue screamed, “You’re not the boss of me.” Instead, I shouted that I wasn’t in an assisted living home yet and asked, “What’s next? Taking car keys away?  Don’t forget who will be having to taxi me around town, if that’s what you’re thinking!”

I stopped just short of threatening to have an appointment every day when I remembered the party scheduled the next day and abruptly changed my tone to be as sweet as Royal Icing on a sugar cookie. I reminded them to drop the littles off at 4:00 p.m. They weren’t sure if that would happen.

“But we always have a Mad Hatter’s Tea party on Christmas Day,” I implored, “Since you were knee high to a grasshopper. It’s a thirty-something-year tradition.”

They weren’t convinced. I slammed the door. I heard engines roar and tires squeal.

Four o’clock Christmas Day came, and grandkids filed into the house, all in smiles and costumes appropriate for the Mad Hatter. But I suspected their attendance had more to do with quiet time and free babysitting––their parents looked quite disgruntled and no one spoke.

“Don’t mind them,” Holliss, a precocious child, piped up and hugged me with the strength of a baboon and within a split second I was cocooned in a group hug, “You’re the best Gram ever–– parents just don’t understand.”

 


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Member Monday: Recycling, by Dale Angel

This week’s surprisingly poignant Member Monday contribution is from Dale Angel. Dale remains a crowd favorite at the semi-annual Read Arounds, and has become something of Redding’s Erma Bombeck.

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There’s a consistent recycling program going on in my back yard. It runs on its own power. It makes me feel good when I volunteer piles of beautiful dead leaves, weeds that have served us all by holding the earth together, garden debris, useful kitchen peels, coffee grounds, cantaloupe rinds. It doesn’t need my assistance…but I get to help…like a bee that brings a small drop of flower juice to the hive…a gift he shares with us. He’s contributing to something bigger than himself.

My back yard is a small world. I walk on the violets, mint, oregano, and whatever else is hiding among the weeds. I have lots of weeds. The unrestrained strawberries produce delightful little flowers that turn to berries, then returns back to the earth for another recycling season. Undemanding little laborers work quietly under my feet preparing and repairing to make us happy for next year’s surprises.

The pear tree is parading its treasure at this time of year, knowing as soon as it gives birth and yields its beautiful golden fruit, it will drop its leaves that return to nourish the earth that allows it to live here. It pays its rent.

It can be interrupted by adversity. If death interferes with its ability to be productive, a new tenant will move in. A consistent recycling program keeps our earth alive. Most all life are producers in some way. I’m not sure that humanity is all that faithful to build. A closer look in our backyards is a good place to begin practicing appreciation on our part.

When I visit the dark corner of my yard with little sun, there are always white impatients greeting me. This is unearned beauty. They flower, if not for me, then for the angels.

Soon the earth will move a bit and you will find their spent life returning to nourish our place in the Universe. Every time I pile leftovers of plant life from a wild summer, placing the pine needles to keep the white Azaleas happy, I’m paying my rent, because in the spring, my son will visit. Although he’s asleep in the earth, his gift of them to me…as they flower, he revisits.

When we close our eyes to sleep, it’s comforting, quietly moving life is replenishing our home without disturbing a dew drop.



 

If you would like to contribute an original piece to Writers Forum for posting on the blog, please submit to writersforumeditor@gmail.com .  Please note ‘Submission’ in the subject line. All submissions are considered, but shorter pieces of 500-1500 words are preferred. We will consider all original works–poetry, short fiction and nonfiction, essays, humor, and memoir. We would also love to run your short pieces on writing as well. Share your writing insights with us. Thanks!

Member Monday: Larry Watters

Today’s Member Monday piece was read at last Saturday’s Read Around. Thank you, Larry, for sharing. Thank you, Vickie Linnet, for the photo.

Other Writers Forum members can submit the pieces they read to writersforumeditor@gmail.com , and they could be published in a future Member Monday.

Larry Watters

Vending Machines Are Evil…

Vending machines are evil. When you have severe food addictions like I do, they should put the vending machines out of reach. Maybe up a ladder would work, ‘since I can’t do ladders.

I don’t care how fancy my salad is, how many carrot and celery sticks I bring in (I store them in my shirt pocket, poking up like pens and pencils), or how weird some of my seaweed rice cakes are to other people (I like them), I still find myself drawn to the vending machines here at work. We have a whole wall of evil.

But our machines are not only evil, they are tricky. The ones that take paper money are the ones that don’t have any items over a buck, most being 60 cents or so. We have one that has sandwiches, etc, and they run you over 2 bucks. But that machine doesn’t take dollar bills!

We have another that if it repeatedly refuses your bills, you can reverse your dollar and it works. That one continually surprises people when I tell them to try flipping it around. They have a look of doubt about my sanity, looking as if they decided to humor me (which most do, since I am the favored idiot). But that goes away when it accepts it.

I am the ruler of the vending machines here, a fitting title for my “Life without Clots” style.

 

Vending Machines-Revisited…

It has been quite some time since I blogged about the evil vending machines here at work. One reason is that I have been managing to avoid them, so I have no thoughts about them.

But today I succumbed. And naturally, it generated a thought.

Wouldn’t it be nice if one could read the nutrition label before plunking in the quarters? Our Wall of Evil recently added Sconza’s Yogurt Pretzels to the mix. Hoping against all odds, I decided to buy a bag on the premise of, “Pretzels are good, yogurt is good,” knowing all along that yogurt as a sweet is not all that good for you, no matter how fancy the wrap, nor the claims of the company (Sconza has organic, kosher and other products).

Well, the bag proved me correct in my inner thoughts: The first ingredient was sugar and no fiber. Sigh. But they still tasted good, and hopefully, my “Life without Clots” will forgive my slip.

 

Larry Watters

A Different Sort of Member Monday

Our Member Monday spot usually features an original piece by a Writers Forum member. This week, we highlight a member who could use our help.

A novel from the Aimee Machado Mystery series by WF Program Director Sharon Owen (writing as Sharon St. George) has been nominated for an award. We can help her win that award.

Spine Damage, book four in the series, has been nominated for the 2018 “Reward of Novel Excellence” known as the RONE Award! You can see the nomination at this link: http://indtale.com/2018-rone-awards-week-six

Sharon’s book received a 4.5 star or higher review in InD’tale Magazine. This qualifies it to continue to the reader voting phase of the 2018 RONE Awards.  In this round the readers will be narrowing down the nominees for each genre by choosing the books they love best.

The voting for Sharon’s genre will be May 21st – 27th

Here are the voting instructions from InD’tale Magazine:

It is extremely important that all of Sharon’s readers and fans know about the voting dates!  We would hate to think a superior quality book lost only because people were unaware of the time limit. Also, voters MUST be registered on our website at www.indtale.com in order to vote. Once they register, if they haven’t already, they will be required to click the verification link sent to them via email. If they do not verify their registration with this link, they will be unable to vote. This is very important to help ensure that the voting is fair and maintains the high quality standards required for this top-tier award.

Once the voting is final and the four finalists’ books in Sharon’s genre are announced, those four books will then be read and judged by a group of professionals in the industry to determine the very best mystery novel in the indie and small published world!  The winner will then be announced and awarded the prestigious RONE Award at the formal ceremony, October 6th, 2018 in Burbank, California at the InD’Scribe Conference. http://www.indscribe.com

We at InD’tale Magazine have put in an incredible amount of time and effort to create and present the most credible and prestigious award in the industry today.  Our three-round system of elimination covers every facet – highly rated and reviewed, loved by fans, and critiqued by qualified judges.  No other award system today compares, making the RONE award the very highest of honors bestowed on a novel in the publishing industry.

Don’t forget, the voting window in Sharon’s genre is May 21st – 27th. Email writersforumprogramchair@gmail.com if you have questions.

Good luck, Sharon!

Member Monday: Larry Watters

Last Saturday was a Writers Forum Read Around. That means we have fresh material for our Member Mondays!

Our first piece will be from past Writers Forum President Larry Watters. Larry says that since he has stepped down from some positions of responsibility, he actually has time to write. We look forward to more from Larry!

Too Many Graves

By Larry Watters

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Chapter One: The Counting

Matt shook his head in frustration. The first time he counted he thought he had made a mistake. He just as easily could have signed off on the tally, but being a perfectionist, he just had to get it right.

But when the second go-around came up with the same number, he got concerned. “Boy,” he said aloud to himself, “there should only be eighty-one graves, not eighty-three.” Then he giggled at the thought of what someone would think if they overheard him; a mass murderer maybe.

Matt Wampler was the supervisor of the, some would say gruesome, job of relocating graves before water started covering them next month.  Matt had won the bid for relocating the old Brandy Creek Cemetery to higher ground before the waters behind the new dam started flooding what had been the old communities of Brandy and Bourbon, both so named from the freely flowing kegs of yore.

It was a mix of old and new graves. Some of the sites dated back to the Gold Rush days when the area was host to California’s second major gold find. It was said that gold was on the surface back then, needed no picks, or even shovels, to gather it up.

Others were fairly recent. While the soon-to-be-covered towns were technically ghost towns, the cemetery was still active, popular with descendants of the early pioneers.

But having two too many graves was unsettling. He had hired a crew of five to dig the new graves, dig-up the old and rebury the remains. He suspected that his crew had got a little over eager when digging fresh sites with the backhoe and had simply lost count. He had let them go, all except for Paul. He briefly considered that he and his sole helper could uncover all to find the empties, and then decided that they didn’t really have to go to that extreme; that they only needed to poke a rod down to find the empty ones.

They didn’t really need to check all either; only the twenty-three that were unmarked. The rest had markers.

He rang Paul on his cell, and explained the mystery. Paul said he’d be there the next morning with a couple of long rods for probing.

Contented, Matt decided to call it a day and enjoy the beauty of the new location. Situated on a small rise above the dam, it overlooked the soon to be lake. Scrub pines with their raucous Scrub Jays filled most of the hill side. But in clearings a cavalcade of color ran riot. The native wildflowers were in bloom.

Sighing, Matt pulled his lunch from his backpack in the shade. He ate the same thing most every time when he was working at the site; Cheddar cheese from a local creamery, salami from a local meat locker, and Ritz crackers. It was a meal that seemed made for graveyards. Well, not really. But it was one that he was used to.

He fondly remembered being with his dad on road trips, and how it was almost a rule to have that same snack on stops. Sometimes roadside, but most of the time dad detoured off and found an old cemetery. After wandering to see who found the oldest grave, they would sit on the tailgate of the pickup and chow down; Matt with his sodas and Dad with his beers. Matt had outgrown sodas, preferring water these days.

He wished his dad had outgrown beers, but alas, it never came to be. Hal had never been one to get drunk, but Matt could never remember when his dad didn’t have a beer can stuck between his legs while driving, sitting on a tree stump when they stopped, or perched on the tail gate eating.

Listening to the birds, Matt sliced his salami, cut his cheese, and piled each on crackers. Cracker by cracker, he polished off the tube. He had a sense of being watched. Maybe it was the squirrels expecting a hand out. He hoped so any way.

Not many people shared his love of eating with dead people. It was an oddity that he could not explain. But today was different.

He really had the feeling that more than squirrels were watching. It was a sense that had saved his life back in ‘Nam.

Premise: After checking, they discover that none of the graves were empty.