The wind howled and the rain crashed heavily against the roof, thundering as it fell and drowning out all other sounds. The door to the room opened on its own. The thing in the hall was bulky and tentacled... It snarled, and squished it's way through the small door frame. Even above the crash of the storm, Gary could hear a squelching sound as one clawed foot-like object after another struggled to drag the heaving, slimy bulk across the floor. Gary yawned, and pressed the "off" button. It was late, his mother said to be in bed by 9, and he had a math test tomorrow.
Tue 9 Aug, 2022 06:50 am
C'mon folks, this can be fun...!
Seven-year-old Cleo sat on a lawn chair, looking over the battered remains of her lemonade stand. The Big Kids had come, teased her, drank all the lemonade, took the small profits she was making for her school trip, and finally destroyed the little stand she had built herself. Cleo calculated that she would need some rope, plastic garbage bags, and few other items from the kitchen. Oh yes, she would probably need her raincoat and boots too -- this was going to be messy.
Tue 9 Aug, 2022 07:51 am
Olive June winked at her favorite star. It winked and went right on winking. With a smile she lay back, wrapped in a sheet, feeling the chill dissipate. At first, she lay and recounted her day of fun with Granny at the park, but sleep slowly stole in, bringing to her dreams of clouds and ponies. She sat in one dream high atop a pink pony, looking down on her school. Far below played the boys who teased and bullied her. She rode low over them and the pony shat all over the boys. Olive June woke that morning, fresh and smiling, and at school asked the boys why they appeared grumpy today.
Tue 9 Aug, 2022 07:56 am
I guess you could call me a freighter pilot. Except my cargo is alive. Dozens of babies for eager parents-to-be on Rigel XII. All sedated (thank the gods for that!) and trusting as we go. But their trust is misplaced, as I've lost control and that planet is coming up fast. I hope the natives are friendly, because I have zero doubt that we're about to crash.
Tue 9 Aug, 2022 08:08 pm
Skipper Lane knew the man intended to rob him even before he saw the Glock and before he saw the mask covering the man's face. Skipper froze. He stared at the man waving the pistol as a signal to hand over the funds he had just withdrawn. "Here," he said. "I make you a present of it. I don't intend to report this." The man snatched the money and fled. Skipper walked to his car, playing in his mind the Zen story of the monk who looked to the sky and said, "I wish I could have given him that moon."
Wed 10 Aug, 2022 10:08 am
Ice cream's happy food. Melton enjoyed a bowl of his favorite flavor most every night. There came a day of shortages, where ice cream became widely unavailable. Desperate to find more before his half-full carton ran out, Melton descended to the dark part of town, where throats are cut and unholy deals are made. In a moldy old building where the lights are dimmed by dirt and corrosion and the freezers drip moisture all over the floor, he found the last carton of ice cream in the whole town. Professor Grimme's Select Ice Cream. "Becomes your best flavor simply by wishing." Melton gave the cutthroat looking clerk his last fifty dollar bill. The change he received was just three dollars. But it was worth it.
Melton set the ice cream on the counter. Following the instructions he bowed his head before it and wished for his favorite flavor to be inside the carton. Then he carefully pried off the lid. The vanilla he had wished for greeted his feverish gaze. Turning away to take a spoon from the drawer, he was prepared to eat right out of the container. But the mutant ice cream was ready for him when he returned to the counter. Freed from the restraining box when the lid opened, the white mass attacked and chewed at his throat. By reflex, Melton knocked it away. The ice cream attacked again, over and over, until Melton felt his consciousness fading -
Wed 10 Aug, 2022 04:12 pm
Detective Carlton looked over the grim scene. The middle-aged man – or what was left of him – was lying on the floor by the kitchen counter, his head and part of his upper body blown away. Scattered multi-grain flakes on the floor had already attracted ants. A carton of milk stood unopened by a clean bowl and spoon on the kitchen table. Something caught Carlton’s eye and, donning plastic gloves, he bent to gingerly pick up the charred and empty cardboard box lying by the dead man’s left hand. The garishly-colored clown, crocodiles, and pole-dancing sloths grinned up at him from the half-burned box of breakfast cereal, a brand especially popular with kids. “Aha – here’s what killed him.” Despite a clearly-printed warning, the fool had opened the box at the wrong end.
Wed 10 Aug, 2022 06:25 pm
She murdered the man. There was no doubt about it. Surveillance cams caught the whole thing, and she could be followed from the moment she entered the charity ball up to the second she pulled the trigger. Over 30 eyewitnesses saw Miss Adeline DeLaney Venture pull the gun out of her handbag, level her aim, pull the trigger twice, then laugh as the man slumped to the floor. And yet, she would get away with it. The judge, jury, and even the man’s family would, in the end, come up with the same verdict just as in her several priors. Death by Miss A.D.Venture.
Wed 10 Aug, 2022 06:47 pm
It's totally forbidden. Yet we're doing it anyway. The sacred spring of Aardsimia, some sort of shrine for our hosts, the Kyrtirii.
Annnnnd, we're skinny dipping in it.
The entire Linguistics contingent (we're mainly female) and the entire Science contingent, who are mainly male, are here. Of course, there are folks who prefer others, but for the most part, the ratio is decent.
The wine has been drunk and the weed has been smoked. And I am just about to accidentally on purpose graze Josh's thigh.
****, there's the siren. They've found us. May as well surrender. There'll be hell to pay with our superior officers, but running would only make it worse.
I can translate most Kyrtirii lingo, but they keep repeating Aardsimia, as if we're supposed to understand what the hell that means. Okay, so we were in the spring, yadda, yadda, yadda, could you people please get to the point already?
If this scolding or lecture or whatever from the Kyrtirii authorities goes like everything else they talk about, it'll take a few hours before we even see the point, let alone get there.
The Kyrtirii authorities are pissed at us, and getting frustrated. You don't have to be a linguist to figure that one out. But the part I don't get is why they're hauling out what looks like the periodic table.
Then Josh goes totally white—we are all still naked as jaybirds. The Kyrtirii must be snickering, if they can snicker. Can other species snicker?
Josh, Josh, the periodic table. So, I finally asked him what the hell it all means and why he looks like he's about to lose the wine he drank.
And he tells me. "Diana, they're talking about atomic number thirty-three. Which is arsenic. I think they're trying to tell us that we've been poisoned, and only have a few hours left."
And so, I am going to die, naked and probably puking my guts out, on an alien planet, listening to an unending lecture.
Thu 11 Aug, 2022 08:48 am
The man was overdressed for the weather - black hoodie, darkest lenses ever of sunglasses - The nurse said, "Are you here to give blood?"
After significant silence, the man replied, "Blood. Yes, blood."
The nurse received a message. "I will be back in just a moment," she said, hurrying out.
The man slipped bags of plasma inside the hoodie. He was about to leave when the nurse returned. She noticed right away there were bags missing. "What are you, stealing plasma?" she demanded accusingly.
The man regarded her belligerently. "Do not try to stop me."
A second man burst into the room and did a slide as he came to a halt. "Uncle Igor," he said hastily. "Somehow I knew I would find you here. Take that blood out of your clothes and give it back. That's not what I meant when I said we need new blood at the job."
Fri 12 Aug, 2022 07:18 am
(Apologies for what was going to be 3 or 4 sentences, but became a short story...)
The device finally arrived. “Cattalk” was small, about the height and width of the average pack of cigarettes but only about a third as thick. The controls were simple – after a full USB charge, turn it on in the proximity of the cat, and speak (or “be spoken to” by the cat). Peter knew he might regret having spent so much on the “translator”, but he had to know something, and he had to know now.
“Well, Siren”, he said to the small black cat, “Your three room companions all passed away years ago, and every day you scream, nearly all day and night. This has gone on for years. Do you really miss them that much?”
The "translation" came out as a series of modulated mews, a purr, and a slight but friendly growl.
If a cat could look surprised, the widening of the eyes, the slight dropping of the jaw, along with the sudden perking of the ears, would be the expression.
She made a murmur and a slight mew that ended in an upward intonation, which came out of the Cattalk as “You – you can understand me?”
“No, not I”, said Peter. “This – thing – in my hand can interpret your vocal expressions to approximate words in my language, and changes my words to approximate their meaning in yours.” It was a bit more complex than the instructions called for, but the translator apparently handled the diction OK.
“Oh! Oh my! Then you can understand – you have to let me out of here! I have to leave this room! Large as it is, with so many toys and fresh food all for myself every day, I have get out – get away!” said Siren.
“But you are not social with the other cats in the house”, said Peter. “You were OK with your old companions. I miss them too – Cherie, Hope, and Chance. You fight with all the others, even the gentler cats, or I would have one or two in here with you to keep you company. So you have this room all to yourself, even though that leaves you all alone.”
“Alone?”, said Siren, looking up and around, frightened now. “Alone? Alone! What I would give to be alone!”
“But you have been alone for more than five years, since your roommates went away”, said Peter.
“No no no! Not alone!” Siren’s voice began to wax and she was apparently becoming hysterical. “Alone? You don’t know why I scream all day and night? Alone? Daddy – they never left! They are here all the time! Staring, and stalking, and pouncing at me! Through the cupboards, through the book shelves, through the walls... They never leave me alone! I have to get out of here, don’t you see? They are ALWAYS HERE!”
And she began screaming; sounds that the device was utterly unable to interpret.
Psst Seizan, that was fantastic!
Connie looked skeptically at the alien beast.
Her orders were clear. With no sapient life on the planet, but plenty of sentient beings, the mission was to either domesticate them or at least get them used to humans enough that they wouldn't try to kill any inevitable colonists.
The beast was aqua in color, all the better to blend in with the local flora. It smelled vaguely of lime. It had long, thin scales that were fine enough to pass for hair or fur. And, like a camel, it had humps. Except unlike any Earth camel, it had six.
The beast was longer, too, and relatively low-slung. A family of five could easily toss saddles between each of the humps and travel several kilometers. It was low enough to the ground that virtually any adult—and most teens—would be able to get on without assistance.
With short legs, it was like a Corgi crossed with a camel crossed with Connie didn't know what. Rumor had it that the expedition on the Northern continent had killed and roasted one, claiming it tasted like fajitas, with the lime flavor already baked in.
But on the Southern continent of the unimaginatively named Thalia-627-g, no one had dispatched one. Connie, the area commanding officer, had forbade it unless the troops were starving. Which, by the looks of Jenkins, Frasier, and Wojzowicz, was nowhere near a pressing danger.
She eyed it again. The beast was trusting and let her stay close by. It shnuffled her hands and took a sugar cube, crunching it loudly. It even allowed pats.
"Good Corgi-camel, nice Corgi-camel," she murmured to it.
"You say something, Boss?" It was Jenkins, walking by with an entrenching tool.
Not to you. "Nothing. Carry on. Nothing to see here." Connie turned back to the beast. "Well, here goes nothin'."
She got on it, between the second and third hump, and screamed.
Between each of the six humps, mouths opened on the Corgi-camel's back, and she was digested, feet and crotch first, in a matter of seconds.
Jenkins and Frasier ran over, but it was too late. "Damn," said Frasier. "Wojzowicz will need to know so she can take command."
"Yeah, and good lord, we'd better warn the folks in the north before they try anything like this."
The beast, contented, belched through its five back-mouths, closed them up, and shnuffled them, undoubtedly hoping for another sugar cube or, perhaps, a foolhardy soldier, for dessert.
Fri 12 Aug, 2022 07:50 am
Open carry is legal here. Arnie carries his AR-15 like a dog his squeaky toy - shopping, dating, sports - Today he's at the zoo. Playfully he points his weapon at the lions, then at the chimps. "F-ing chimps," he thinks. "Don't do that," says a concerned lady. Half turning, he addresses the lady, "Don't tell me -" His inattention puts the weapon within arm's reach of the chimp, who has the presence of mind to grab it. He accidentally touches the trigger and blasts a hole in Arnie. He screams a chimp series of screams, tossing the gun away. Then, looking at the lady and the running humans, he grabs it up and fires volleys everywhere.
Fri 12 Aug, 2022 09:01 am
jespah and Seizan amaze me. Their last works were fantastic.
Tue 16 Aug, 2022 11:08 pm
Farmer MacGregor had had it with Peter Cottontail. The little bastard ate his lettuce and carrots every morning and none of his efforts even slowed him down. This morning he waited behind a bush, shotgun in hand. After a long period he grew tired of his vigil and was about to go away. Then he saw a hole with a mound of dirt around it. The bunny had tunneled in. He stood with the shotgun pointed down the hole when a bunny seized his gun, bent the barrels doubled back and kissed him on the mouth. "Eh. I should have made a right toin at albecoicy," the bunny said. As he hopped away Farmer MacGregor pulled the trigger and the shotgun blasted him in the face. He stared after the bunny while a strange voice said, "A-be-a-be-a - That's all folks."
Tue 23 Aug, 2022 12:57 am
A voice slowly filtered through the cotton in his mind. “We are pleased to see you have regained consciousness. It was ... ‘touch and go’ ... for a short time, but we managed to ... ‘pull you through’. This is much to the credit of our scientists.”
Grady opened his eyes and felt, well, very different from any way he ever felt in his life. “What ... what happened...?”
“Your flying machine was destroyed, quite accidentally, by our sudden emergency maneuver in your lower atmosphere,” came the voice again. “Please forgive us, we are the ‘new kids on the block’ here, and did not know the danger our sudden appearance might incur. Your corporeal being was rather severely broken and in danger of losing its life force. We have no ... medical facilities ... on this vessel, since we are not in need of such as your species is. But we took full responsibility for the event as directives indicate. We have restored you, and we have compensated you for your ... inconvenience.”
Grady took a few seconds to sort his sensory input, and realized he felt no pain, discomfort, pressure, broken bones, nothing but energy surging through him. He could see nothing but a swirling grey mist, like steam or fog, but felt no current of air or cold, but could smell a faint and pleasant lemony scent.
“Where are you – why can’t I see you? Where are you from – what did you do, if I was nearly dead? How could you ‘restore’ me? What happened to my plane? And why ...”
“Please, be patient, we know this is confusing. We will try to explain. Your ... human ... physiology was really quite simple to repair after we accessed the medical records and texts of your major ... medical ... institutions. Replacing the crushed or completely destroyed components of your anatomy was an uncomplicated process of reconstruction using your ... DNA ... and simple combinations of elements found everywhere on this planet. As for where we are from ... it is not so much a ‘where’ as a ‘when’. We simply displace ourselves from one time block or ‘period’ into another, and back again as needed. In a few billion of your ... years ... this location – where this planet is – will be where we are from. We hardly move, we only ... shift time zones. A name for this might be ‘slicing’. We literally slice a passage from one zone to another, then seal the slice behind us. During this slice event, we encountered some rare ... turbulence ... and had to physically shift our vessel back by a fraction of a ... meter. We collided with your ... machine. Otherwise, not being a physical part of this time-space continuum, you and we would never have made contact. Essentially, you would have flown right through us without even a ... glitch ... on your magnetic compass. However, the slight shift backward to effect the slice-seal made our vessel vulnerable to a physical collision by changing our phase-frequency, and your ... plane? ... was the less fortunate participant. Upon realizing we had jeopardized the existence of a sentient lifeform, we took you ... aboard ... with as much of your ... body ... as we could locate, placed all in stasis, and commenced the reconstruction process. We are sorry, but your ... plane ... being non-biological, was beyond our abilities and outside of our directives to repair.
“Do you see the mist about you? That is us. We are that. No solid form, but an accumulation of thought-particles so big they can be sensed by your ... eye ... as a misty shape. Of course, we can take a cumulative form if it helps to relax your apprehensions. To do so, we will select a random image from your memory, one that gave you comfort and allowed you to feel secure at some point in your life.”
With that, the mist began to consolidate, and a tall, thin figure of a man in a smoking jacket formed. Grady thought he looked very much like an actor he saw on TV as a child. Who...? Ah – Basil Rathbone, in character as Sherlock Holmes. “Basil” spoke again.
“As we reconstructed you, we found several anomalies present. We corrected them easily – a formerly broken femur was renewed, some holes in your ... teeth ... were filled with metal while a few teeth were missing completely, so we restored the full set of teeth. A small organ had been removed from your ... abdomen ... many years ago, also one from your throat. There was a small .... growth ... in your left lung, and another beginning to grow in your brain – these did not belong. They have been removed, and the condition that allowed their growth corrected. Your ... heart ... was damaged, so we repaired and enhanced the muscle tissue for much greater efficiency. The lenses in your eyes were not as flexible as they might be, and we corrected and refined them. It was noticed that your body was showing signs of the slow deterioration of age, and that the renewal genes, while present, are not active in your species. We activated them. It appears that your average lifespan was severely limited by several factors, all of which are easily correctable, and so we did. Your ability to self-repair was functioning at a very sluggish and limited extent, and to compensate for the near-loss of your life force, we ensured that any physical damage you might incur for the remainder of your life would be repaired almost immediately. Your musculature showed signs of inhibited potential which we released to their full extent. Even your digestive system is now close to 100% efficient, so you can go without ... fuel? ... for quite an extended period of time. There were several other corrections and slight adjustments, but they will become evident to you during your life.”
“Wait a second,” said Grady. “You enhanced my lifespan? By what degree, how long can I expect to live?”
“Oh, we are unable to enhance an alien lifespan to equal ours”, Basil said. “But we feel assured that your lifespan will equal about a thousand revolutions.”
“Oh. That’s maybe three more years,” said Grady. “But considering the damage my body must have sustained, I guess that’s more than I could hope for.”
“Years?” said Basil. “Merely one revolution of the planet about the star? No no... At least a thousand revolutions of this solar system around this galaxy...”
“All of this took the equivalent of three of your years, during which time we remained in place but out of phase, so we would not incur such a disaster again. Several machines similar to yours have passed through our location, some directly through the middle of our vessel, to no effect. We are completely undetectable. However, we are faced with the necessity of explaining your sudden reappearance among your fellow ... humans. And so, we constructed a bio-replica of your body and its broken parts, then scattered the remains in the area of the wreck of your own machine. It carries your ... DNA ... signature, so when the remains are finally discovered, there will be an exact match.”
Grady, who would not be missed by more than a few people anyway, had lived a solitary life since Deborah died in the train disaster, and there were no children. Probably, Grady thought, the only person who might report him missing would be the plane’s mechanic back at the hangar. And all he could say is that Grady must have flown off to his fishing spot in the mountains, wherever that was. The wreck might take years to locate.
At least he was out of debt, had no drug, alcohol, or other vices following him, had no enemies, and his will was updated a short time after Deborah went away, because, well... Accidents happen. His distant cousin would have the house, the two cars, the more-than-modest accounts, the little cabin on the lake, and the plane. Well, not the plane.
Grady was free. Of everything.
“But what about my appearance?”, asked Grady. “Each human has a specific physiognomy, unique finger-prints, and other identifying features that can be recognized by others who might be familiar with him. If I suddenly reappear, someone will know I am not really ... dead.”
“We reconstructed your facial features and other personal identify markers. You are now simply representative of more than 5000 faces, skin tones, and ... fingerprints. However, your physique is far superior to that which you originally had; the enhanced musculature is not extremely bulky, but is as tough as your ... steel. It is highly doubtful that you can ever be recognized as your former self.”
“You did all this to compensate for my near-loss of life? Surely there must be a cost – a reason beyond helping a life form injured as a result of your miscalculations. Am I right – you do expect something from me in return, right?”
The silence that met him was almost too loud to bear. Then Basil leveled his gaze at Grady, and a response came, inside his head.
“Indeed, we do expect something, but we will not hold you to it. We have no idea regarding your ... morals and ethics. We have no way to know if you are a ... good person, or the other ... bad? We can know your thoughts – they broadcast like light to us – but not your ... feelings. We have access to all of your planet’s news events, of this time and the past that is on record in your universities and libraries. It is, in part, what makes your planet so fascinating to us. And so, whether you follow our ... hopes ... or not, is entirely your decision.
“What we wish to see is that you discover and use your enhanced abilities to help your planet achieve its potential. You are now practically indestructible, and will continue for a fairly long lifetime, compared to the rest of ... humanity. We ... hope ... that you will use your time to repair the shortcomings of this planet before it destroys itself. More than that, we cannot tell you. But this planet has an appointment with ... destiny ... that you will see come about during your last revolutions of this system around the galaxy.
“We must leave you now. Three of your ... years ... is of no consequence to us, but in your time continuum, much has happened since you walked your planet. You will find that your restoration is both a ... blessing ... and a ... curse. You may find mates, have offspring, and will have to move on – disappear – to begin anew. You will find faceless obscurity every few decades to be your friend. You are allowed only five children in this new life of yours, and they will live nearly as long as you. Whether you encounter them again in your life, and the resulting circumstances of your meetings will be, are completely up to you and them.
“In essence, this planet is in your safekeeping. Your strength, enhancements, mental abilities, and potential achievements may seem superhuman to the rest of humanity, or you can achieve great things anonymously. You can also do nothing, if you choose, and simply live your extended lifespan quietly and peacefully until you pass.
“We have fulfilled our obligations to a lifeform that was endangered because of us. We have compensated according to our directives in such matters. And we have given you our guidance regarding how to apply what we have given, though dependent on your free choice.
“You will become unconscious, and in what seems to you to be an instant, you will regain consciousness under a growth called ‘tree’, lying on what you call ‘grass’, during the daylight hours, in an inhabited place of your language and country, a place you call ‘New York’. And that is all...”
Grady simply vanished.
An instant later, Grady walked through a narrow entrance on the other side of the bare, vaulted room, and said, “So I am gone. I have begun.”
“Yes”, said a slowly dissipating Basil. “You have begun.”
Marley Ames searched the ground before him, taking carefully calculated steps to avoid ripping away the loosely hanging sole of his right shoe. In his part of town, strands of wire littered the dirt alongside the sidewalks. Any time he needed wire, he simply started walking and very quickly discovered a suitable piece.
Sure enough, the third wire that presented itself was the kind of strong easily bendable line that would hold a shoe together. He sat on the curb to remove the shoe and then held it up so he could force the wire through the synthetic material. He made a ring of it and twisted it tightly. After bending the excess wire repeatedly until it broke free, he repeated the operation twice. Once finished, the shoe seemed good for another two to three weeks. He had wired other shoes and so had gotten to be quite the expert.
Marley was able to walk naturally now as he continued down the sidewalk. He had not realized he was this near the zoo until he looked up and saw the entry. It always surprised him that the Fresno zoo was so near to home and easily accessible. He wandered in.
In the first cages were monkeys. They were a species with dark fur and fairly large and they ignored Marley totally. After watching them for a few moments he discovered that a peanut meant for the monkeys had fallen near enough he could fish it out of the outer cage. Sure enough, with a bit of diligence, he secured the peanut. As he stood up and broke away the shell and pushed the tender salty meat into his mouth, he heard a voice say, “That damn kid’s a pig.”
A man and a woman had come around a curve in the path in time to catch Marley in the act. Embarrassed, the boy wandered away from the zoo and toward home.
He wistfully gazed inside store windows along the way, feeling the pangs of deprivation, having been aware his entire life that other families than his were somehow not as dysfunctional and actually had enough money to eat well and dress well. He had gone just five blocks when a brand new ’54 model car pulled over to the curb. “Excuse me,” a woman’s voice called out.
He recognized the woman and the man from the park. She wore a long dress and kept her hair in a bun. He was tall and thin and wore a blue jacket. He had more grey than black in his beard. Marley paused to hear what they had to say.
The man spoke from behind the woman. “My wife and I are heading for Schultzi’s. We would like to invite you along to eat with us.”
Marley motioned with his hands as though pushing them away. “I don’t think so,” he said.
“Please,” the woman said.
“I will be honest with you,” the man said. “I couldn’t help but notice you appear to be hungry. Your shoes, the patch on your jeans -”
“No,” said Marley. “I’m going home.”
“We can’t force you,” said the woman. “But if you’ve never eaten at Schultzi’s you’ve missed some of the best eating this side of Heaven.”
“Chicken fried steak, corn on the cob. Ice cream. And you can have all you want. We’re paying,” the man added.
The more they spoke the more Marley’s poor stomach rebelled against the boy’s intransigence. Finally, as it began to seem the couple in the car might pull away, Marley said yes.
He was let in the back seat, where the clean of newness was vastly impressive to a child of poverty. They rode in silence until the car pulled onto the parking lot. As they stepped away from the car, the woman smiled and said, “I’m awfully glad you decided to come with us. I’m Daisy Chance. My husband is Professor Oliver Chance.”
“Pleased to meet you,” Mr. Chance said. “We come into town Fridays just to eat Shultzi’s wonderful food.”
“I’m Marley Ames,” Marley said.
His embarrassment over getting caught taking a peanut out of the monkey cage had long since faded. In a life filled with indignities, specifics meld into a single fabric.
Still a bit timorous, he went beside these Chance people as they entered into what proved to be an all-you-can-eat buffet.
As Oliver Chance settled the bill, Marley and Daisy Chance took up their plates and went off to fill them from steam tables and salad bars. Marley selected a portion of fried fish, a helping of beef tips on a bed of egg noodles, four green olives, four purple olives, and four tiny tomatoes. He met Mrs. Chance at the table and they put down their plates before going to the drinks station for glasses of tea. She took napkins, enough to share with Marley. As they settled to eat, Mr. Chance arrived with a plate full of various meats and a side dish of coleslaw. He was off to the drinks station when his wife told Marley, “Don’t wait. Dig in.”
But Marley felt he owed it to Mr. Chance to wait for him to get seated. He did sip from his iced tea. After the professor joined them it became a situation of every person for themselves. Marley ate his fish, olives, and tomatoes first. He reserved the beef tips over noodles for the last because it was sure to command his complete attention. He had never eaten such a dish and he intended to savor it. After a lifetime of eating mostly pinto beans, fried potatoes, and skillet biscuits he was about to fill his mouth with heaven.
It was as he anticipated. The beef tips over egg noodles put him on another level of dining. And when he finished Mr. and Mrs. Chance tried to interest Marley in the table laden with desserts. But Marley took up a clean plate after the custom and bypassed the dozens of untried dishes and desserts to fill up with more of the same, minus the fish and vegetables.
It passed through his mind when eating that his Mom and siblings would be home, preparing for the usual pintos with biscuits or cornbread and he vaguely felt sorry. Not sorry enough to forgo the feast, however. When his plate was polished clean, he sat with a stuffed belly, hating that he would have to get out and walk very shortly.
He drank down the tea, watching his hosts enjoy their desserts.
“I should go home now,” he said.
Daisy and Oliver Chance paused, forks poised above the black chocolate desserts they were eating. “Don’t you want us to drive you home?” Oliver said.
“No,” he answered. “I can walk home from here. It isn’t that far.”
He stood before them and thanked them, clumsily, sincerely, and turned and walked away.
Outside, in the late cool air, he turned toward the home on South Walnut Street. He wondered if his drunken stepfather would get home today. It had been about three days since he got his paycheck, about as long as it usually took to spend the money and come home. He thought about how Mom would quietly tally another day her children safely gathered for dinner and bed. He would never forget the Chances and the finest meal ever provided a hungry boy. This was the best day of his life.