Friday, January 19, 2018

The Michael Scotts of the Roads


The Michael Scotts of the Roads

By,
Jennifer E. Miller

I watched an old episode of The Office the other night. The comedy was cancelled several years ago, but it remains one of the only shows I never missed an episode. Every Thursday, Dwight, Michael, Jim, Pam, and the rest of the crew, sensationalized their otherwise mundane ordinary office life with pranks, jokes, and even stupidity.

In one episode, Michael Scott, the not-so-smart Regional Office Manager, follows his GPS directions too literally. While driving on a back road, the GPS instructed "turn right." Dwight, his loyal Assistant Regional Manager, points out that the road simply curves, and the device means bear right. Michael disagrees, puts his trust in the GPS, and leads his car straight down a shallow embankment into the lake. Luckily, Dwight escapes the sinking car and, in his typical, showy dramatic fashion, swims to the opposite side to rescue Michael. Michael insists someone put a lake in the way of his GPS instructions; Dwight points out that it's necessary to anticipate errors. Hanging in the air was the question: how reliant we have become to electronic devices for directions? How many Michael Scotts are driving around?

In terms of convenience, it's no secret technology has taken over our lives. Why carry around a map or atlas, when we expect our handheld pocket computers to be available on a whim? We no longer plan ahead to get an idea of a road's windiness or how far off the main highway we will travel (God forbid we lose cell reception!). With a GPS's turn by turn directions, we have become so reliant on a voice giving us instructions, that we have forgotten how to provide it ourselves.

Recently, a local beach was in the news because a car drove down the boat ramp, drowning the driver. According to this article, there have been eleven car vs boat ramp deaths at this location since 1995, which sparked safety improvements in 2007. Shouldn't the GPS cartographers have fixed this issue by now? As it turns out, each instance involved alcohol, which may explain why someone wouldn't notice they were driving passed the warning signs toward the water.

Obviously, in the unfortunate local deaths, intoxication was a huge factor. Alcohol affects our ability to think critically and react appropriately. However, the article didn't mention if the driver(s) were familiar with the roads in that area. With today's WIFI and cellphone obsession, is it that far-fetched to imagine a sober driver plugging an address into their GPS, which then incorrectly instructs them to "turn right" when it meant "bear right," leading the clueless person off road? Take a look at the disasters this article discusses (it even brings up The Office episode I mentioned.) Could the scenarios have been prevented if drivers examined their route and had an idea ahead of time where they were going and any possible obstacles?

On a girls trip to the Oregon Coast with my mother, sister, and daughter this summer, I used my car's in-board navigation system. I plugged in our hotel's address; in case we took a wrong exit or whatever. My sister drove as we passed through Portland and on toward the coast. The GPS said to take such-and-such an exit, but road signs indicated a different one. Confusion is rampant. Which one to take? I finally said follow the road signs because we just got through construction and who knows if there will be more on the GPS's original route. My sister checks her smartphone's map for confirmation that my proposed alternate route will take us to our hotel in a timely fashion (mind you, while passing numerous warning signs of a $500 fine for cell phone use while driving.) We made it to our hotel just fine and luckily didn't drive ourselves into the Pacific Ocean. But a quick look at an Oregon State map, and knowing which towns to expect along our route, would've been helpful.

More or less, GPS is simply basic guidance to steer us to our destination. We recognize when our device is wrong, but we all make the occasional mistake. When suffering an embarrassing snafus, it may become subject of a television show script. Now, off to watch more reruns...

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Flash Fiction Friday: Call From Beyond

I took a brief break. Here is this week's Flash Fiction story. Enjoy.

Call From Beyond

By,
Jennifer E. Miller

Tracy Cornwall's phone buzzed on the nightstand, waking her. Groggy, she sat up and rubbed her eyes. One look at the caller ID, and she felt the blood drain from her face.

The name on the screen read: Billy Cornwall. Tracy's brother passed away three months ago. His contact information was still programmed in her cell phone. She hadn't thought to remove it, but his phone was deactivated and the contract terminated. Had the cell phone company already reissued Billy's number to someone else? She hit the green “accept call” circle on the screen, expecting to advise of a wrong number.

"Hello?"

Static squawked through the speaker.

"Helloooo?" she repeated.

The static pulsed a few times followed by a voice.

"Tracy?"

She felt nauseous, unable to speak.

"Tracy. It's me. Tracy?"

She swallowed. "I'm here."

"Hi, sis."

His voice sounded as though it was in a tin can. Like there were miles and miles separating them. 

"Billy?”

"Yeah,” he said.

"But you're... you're..." she struggled to finish her sentence.

"Dead?"

Choking back tears, she answered, "Yeah."

"I'm here, sis. I never left."

"Where's here?"

"Here. I don't know how to describe it. But I'm safe. Don't worry about me."

Even though the coroner confirmed his death, his remains cremated, and a funeral service, Tracy felt his presence at times. She heard his footsteps behind her along the sidewalk. His favorite song frequently sprung up on the radio. Most haunting was seeing his name everywhere. Billy Bob's Diner. Willy-Nilly-Billy Bean coffee stand. The police department's new K-9 was even named Billy.

The static pulsed again. Billy said something but his voice cut out.

"What?"

"Save yourself," he said.

Tracy's heart quickened. His tone, the seriousness, was exactly how she remembered when he tried to prevent her from harm. He had an uncanny ability to sense approaching danger.

"Save myself from what?"

"I left...”

Billy was cutting in and out again.

"Someone...try...hurt you...”

“I don’t understand, who will hurt me?”

Billy wasn't making any sense. Tracy wasn't dating anyone.

The static squawked again. “…ove…you…sis…ake…care.”

Tracy realized Billy was leaving her. “Billy! Don’t hang up!”

“…otta…go...careful…”

Static screeched evenly, like a heart monitor's flat line.

“Love you, too,” she whispered.

Then the line went cold. No noise, no dial tone. Just emptiness.

With a sigh, Tracy touched the end call button, replaced the phone on the nightstand, and began sobbing. She missed her brother terribly, even though Billy lived in another city. The car accident took him swiftly, with no suffering, according to the medical examiner.

A multitude of disillusionment rushed through her tired brain. Should she take Billy’s caution seriously? Was it even Billy that called or his ghost? She thought herself going crazy. Deceased persons cannot possibly make phone calls, or can they? She didn’t consider herself superstitious, bet she remembered a paranormal television program where they discussed communication with the dead, sometimes by phone calls. She thought it was made up for the show. Now she wished she’d paid more attention.

After her sobs subsided, Tracy decided the only option was to keep Billy’s warning in the back of her mind. She switched off the lamp and returned to sleep.

* * *

One week passed and Tracy’s life resumed as normal, but she didn’t tell anyone about the phone call.

As she logged off her work computer for a lunch break, her office phone beeped.

“Tracy?” It was the receptionist.

“Yes?”

“There’s a Finnigan McChord here to see you.”

“Who?” She didn’t know anyone by that name.

“Finnigan McChord. From Lockton Insurance Group.”

Confused, she responded, “I’ll be right up.”

She grabbed her purse and locked her office door behind her.

A few moments later she arrived in the reception area. A man not much older than Tracy stood waiting.

“You must be Mr. McChord?” Tracy said, approaching him with and extended hand.

“Yes. But call me Finn. You must be Tracy,” he replied, as he smiled and squeezed a handshake.

His accent was Irish or Scottish, Tracy couldn’t distinguish which.

“This won’t take long, but I need to discuss some documents with you.”

“You caught me at a good time. I’m on lunch; can we talk in the park?”

“Of course.”

They exited the office building, walked down the block to the park, where Tracy found an empty bench for the two of them.

Finn opened his briefcase, shuffled some papers around, and produced a small stack of legal-sized papers and a pen.

“Your brother had a life insurance policy with us. We got word he passed away. Our condolences.”

Tracy felt emotion boil up her throat. She wasn’t expecting abrupt business regarding Billy from Finn. She thought he was simply an insurance salesman she would blow off.

“I need you to sign.”

“For what?”

Finn looked up at her in surprise. “Didn’t you know? Billy listed you as the sole beneficiary.”

“No.”

“Well, he did indeed. You’re to inherit two million dollars.”

Tracy blinked.

Finn chuckled. “Sometimes these things come as a surprise. It’s a lot of money, people don’t know how to react. I just need to verify your identity and sign a few documents. We’ll release the funds within sixty days.”

The two dove into a business discussion about the intricacies of the policy and how payout works.

She signed the papers and Finn handed over her copies, along with his business card. Tracy flipped through the documents again and noticed that Billy’s legal name, William, was on the form.

“Did you know Billy well?” she asked.

“No. I’m just the insurance representative Lockton sent out to call on you. He initially called our 1-800 number to purchase the policy.”

How did he know to call him Billy? Tracy wondered. She suddenly felt on high alert.

Finn snapped his briefcase together and smiled.

“You have my business card there. Give me a call if you’d like to get together. You seem like a lovely woman…”



Copyright 2018 Jennifer E. Miller

Friday, December 15, 2017

The Season of "Giving"

Photo copyrighted by Jennifer E. Miller 2017

The Season of "Giving"

By,
Jennifer E. Miller

Let's start with a poem, shall we?

It's that time of year again. 
There's a nip in the air and bronchitis flares. 
Toes go numb and reflux needs Tums.
Eagles flock along the lake and cameras break.
So....
When the hell is summer coming back? 

This season is oh so pleasantly giving me plenty. Does winter take refunds? Cause I'd sure like to toss back a handful of unnecessary items. I don't think any of them would make decent white elephant gifts.

Who likes being sick? No one. Albeit my younger self when I skipped school due to chickenpox and watched cartoons all day long. Grandma fed me noodle soup with as many Zesta crackers as I wanted. She shoved a can of 7Up with a straw bobbing in the seltzer bubbles, insisting I would get healthy faster if I drank it a room temperature. I didn't believe her but wasn't going to turn down pop. Fast forward a few decades and sickness seems to hang around longer than it used to. Why do coughs hang around for morbidly long periods of time? I don't have time for this. Or reflux or foot problems.

There is a good thing about winter. Bald eagles congregate at Lake Coeur d'Alene to feast on the kokanee. It's fun to watch them. Driving over, Tom and I spotted eight perched in a tree. They leap from their branch and glide over the water's surface, scooping up a fish. The eagles also makes for a popular photography spot. After recently getting my camera repaired, I was excited to put it to use. It was working fine the weeks after the repairs. Go figure on the day I need it most, it acts up again. I tried all the troubleshooting tricks I could think of, but it was overexposing all my images. Some even came out completely white-washed. Finally, I found a work-around that gave me a handful of, at least, workable images. (The eagle at the top of this page is the one semi-kind-sorta decent eagle photo. It's a little blurry, but he is staring right at me.) I don't know what winter did to my camera, but it quit bullying it anytime now.

Frustrated with my camera, I decided a hike on the Mineral Ridge Trail nearby was in order. Tom tried to tell me not to do it for a multitude of reasons: it's too cold; my foot wasn't in bad shape; we both had coughs. The most important reason: he didn't want to. So off we went.

I only wanted to hike a small portion to the nearest viewpoint. At the trail head, a sign says to stay to the right as the sign to the left said "do not enter." Apparently, they want hikers walking in one direction. Well, the shortest distance to the viewpoint was to the left so that's where I started walking. Tom, being a rule follower, mentioned the sign to me. I snuffed, suggesting the probability someone comes at us with a shotgun were slim. Besides, I was grumpy and not interested in following any rules.

The ground was covered with patches of ice crystals that caught my attention. They looked like something out of Tinkerbell's fairyland. 

Photo by Jennifer E. Miller 2017

An interesting topographical quirk is that the top of the hills have frost, while the lower sections don't (at least, not yet). We reached an area where the trees on the outer section had said frost, but not the trees on the inner section. It was like walking through The Snow Queen's kingdom.

Photo by Jennifer E. Miller 2017

While, so far, the season isn't exactly what I planned, I tried to make the most from it. Winter is not my favorite season, after all. 

Things I like about summer: warmth, outdoors, berry harvests, and road trips. My birthday used to be included in this list, but now the years are creeping forward way to darned fast. Summer can keep that day.

Things I like about winter: when it's over.



Copyright 2017 Jennifer E. Miller

Friday, December 8, 2017

The Bell Still Rings for Us


All Aboard The Polar Express!

By,
Jennifer E. Miller

The Polar Express exists. Not just the story, the train; the actual train. Believers of Santa ride The Polar Express all the way to the North Pole. With the super powers of Grandma Joyce*, we had seats secured. The magic starts in the town of Elbe WA, where we board the locomotive. It's like being in the movie. Riders wear pajamas (we opted for robes), get special gold boarding tickets, enjoy hot hot...well, now, I can't divulge everything in the introduction paragraph can I?...

Toot! Tooooooot! blows the whistle.

"All aboard the Polar Express!" announces the conductor. With our tickets in hand, we hop on the train and take our seats. The Polar Express theme song playing through the sound system. The conductor keeps on his very tight schedule, but finds time to punch our tickets, dusting us with confetti remnants. The engine exhausts its sizzling steam and the train lurches forward to begin our journey.



First, of course, we are served hot! hot! chocolate! The wait staff dances to the hot chocolate song up and down the aisle then twirl to present us with a cup of hot hot chocolate and a cookie.




Just as we lean back and relax in our seats, the Hobo shows up. No! No! No! Not Grandpa Darren*; the Hobo from The Polar Express. He makes his rounds, ensuring there aren't any Santa doubters aboard.


Good news! Everyone is a believer and we approach the North Pole. It's dark outside and we can't see a thing. But then, we glide by glittery houses, and soon the twinkling sparkle of the town's Christmas tree comes into view. There, in front, waving to us, is Mr. C. 


 He is seen for only a moment, and disappears.

Where did he go? Isn't he supposed to greet the children aboard The Polar Express before departing on his sleigh? Maybe we aren't true believers after all. 

"Ho! Ho! Ho!" says a jolly voice.

Who's there? wonder the kids. 

They turn around to see a man with a white beard and a velvety red suit. 

What do you know? We are all believers after all. 

Photo from Grandma Joyce

But that's not all. Santa has a surprise. The first gift of Christmas. Can you guess what it is? That's right. A bell. A shiny, crisp, jingly bell. 


The ride back is filled with singing and Christmas Carols. The kids get to dance in the aisle to their hearts' content.


In this version of The Polar Express, Gia* doesn't have a hole in her robe's pocket. The bell makes it safely home. It's hanging in a souvenir picture frame along with a photo. When tapped, even Tom* and I can hear it. A reminder that no matter how old we are, "the bell still rings for me."



*(Names changed for privacy)


Friday, December 1, 2017

Coffeepot

This week I bring a haiku poem. Haiku is a Japanese poetry technique of three lines, totaling seventeen syllables, with a 5-7-5 rhythm. Generally, they contain an image, a descriptive element, and a juxtaposition of the two. Please note that, if you were to internet search various haikus, many would fall out of the 5-7-5 rhythm. This is because the translated Japanese words to English words don't necessary have the same syllables. (Hello has two syllables, versus four with konnichiwa.)



Coffeepot

Empty coffeepot,
seeks attention from master.
Sits, waits for morning.


Photo by Jennifer E. Miller 2017


Copyright 2017 Jennifer E. Miller


Friday, November 24, 2017

Flash (Non)-Fiction Friday: Bring Back Summer!



Bring Back Summer!

By,
Jennifer E. Miller

The leaves have fallen, there's a nip in the air, jack frost is ready to rear his ugly face, forcing us to board up in our homes. Winter. The season of living in close proximity to each other while somehow avoid The Shining's version of cabin fever. 

Due to my Raynaud's, I'm not a cold weather person, like at all. I prefer warm temperatures, perfected at about 75-80 degrees. Even the feeling of an air conditioner is too cold at times. The freezer section of the grocery store is my mortal enemy. The end of fall into winter is simply a reminder of why I like summer over all the other seasons.

Ways to alleviate the winter blues are to go on a tropical vacation; don't have the money. Go to a local amusement park; they're closed. Go fishing; bundling up with coat doesn't help with that warm and toasty feeling. Sigh. What to do?

Why not bake something? I remembered I still have a few quarts of huckleberries from the summer harvest sitting my freezer. It was an insanely good huckleberry season. Normally, I eat them fresh, but there was just too darned many to eat by myself. And in no way am I sharing more than necessary with anyone. Go pick your own berries and see how tedious and time-consuming it is (and why the going rate is around $50 per gallon for those suckers!)

I dug out a tupperware container from it's top secret locked-up hiding place deep inside the freezer. Tearing off the lid, I inhale the sweet scent of huckleberries. Few things top the smell of small round purple berries one harvested themselves. They take me back to the mountain spot where I chased away all the bears to have the best patch for myself. The berry shrubs, which are only three to four feet tall, grow around all the fallen trees, tucked on a sloping hillside. The wind echos its breaths around me as I quietly pluck each berry off and into my bucket.

Ahhh! Summer! Like Olaf says in Frozen, "lets go bring back summerrrrrr!" Baking huckleberry muffins will surely accomplish that. Their sweetness swirls in the batter, and the oven heat permeates the aroma throughout the house. Four about forty-five minutes or so, it's summer again.

Once the muffins cool, and are ready to eat, I peel off the wrapper. I sit down at the table to sink my teeth into it. Then I look out the window. Snow; reality bites. Bring back summer, please.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Flash Fiction Friday: Passport Veterans

Photo by Jennifer E. Miller 2015

Good afternoon, readers. This isn't a fiction piece, but it is under a thousand words. Events last week inspired me to put this together. Happy Belated Veteran's Day. A big thanks to those who serve(d). 

Passport Veterans

By,
Jennifer E. Miller
Last week, I applied for my passport at the post office. I had an appointment, but they request early arrival of ten minutes. I got there twenty minutes early. There was a gentleman being waited on in front of me. Another man got in line behind me and asked if this was the passport line. I told him it was.
“Oh, good,” he said. “I have a question.”
“Well, my appointment isn’t until 11:45. It looks as though the gentleman in front of me is almost done. You go on ahead, if all you need is a question answered.”
“Are you sure? You have an appointment. I need to know if I can renew my recently expired passport. I got the date mixed up and thought I had more time.”
Since I already did all the research on whether or not I could renew my own passport, I informed the stranger that renewal is permitted if your expired passport if it’s within five years.
“Is that so?”
“Yes. I missed it by a year, so I have to start all over.”
I pointed to the applications on the wall and helped him select the correct form. He was thankful I had done all this research and could help him out. I stated I wished I’d done my research sooner or I could’ve avoided starting the application process all over again.
The stranger seemed eager to have someone to talk to, and since I didn’t have anything better to do while waiting, we chit chatted. He needed a passport to get to Canada.
“Flying or driving?” I asked.
“Drive. I don’t fly.”
“An enhanced driver’s license works for that, too,” I explained.
“Oh yeah? I heard of it, but I get confused what it is and why I need it over a regular driver’s license.”
I explained that EDL holds proof of citizenship, like a passport. He wasn’t aware our standard licenses had devalued and was annoyed. I don’t blame him. US Citizens shouldn’t have to pay more for a compliant government identification.
The stranger mentioned he felt the same way. He fought for the country and felt it was a disservice to himself and other veterans. I agreed. Then, I thanked him. Almost stunned by my remark he paused.
“You’re welcome,” he responded.
We chatted about the nonsense of politics and such until the man ahead of me finished up with his passport business. He whipped around and mentioned he also served in the armed forces. The two servicemen inquired as to which branch they served, as most typically ask. Then, I thanked the second gentleman for his service, too. He cleared his throat and said, “Don’t thank me, thank my Marines.”
After all three of us talked for a few minutes, the men parted ways. I, of course, had to stay ro finished up my passport application. After handing the employee all the signed forms, and proper identification, the appointment ended with me holding up my right hand and swearing that I provided true and correct information to the best of my knowledge, yackity-yack-yack.
Later that afternoon, I volunteered with the yearbook class at Gia’s school as I typically do on Thursdays. I incorrectly read the school for the day. In lieu of afternoon classes, there was a Veteran’s Day assembly. Well, I already drove to the school. Gia rides home with me on my volunteer days and I wouldn’t be able to tell her to ride the bus, so I figured I’d simply stay.
The assembly began with the principal briefly reminding the students the significance of Veteran’s Day. The middle school kids played the national anthem and other patriotic songs and a few even performed a short skit.
Next up, was a speaker: a veteran. He gave the students a brief history of the birth of the USA, and how many veterans existed. He talked about how the members of the military fight or have other jobs to maintain freedom. Then he explained something. Each enlistee holds up their right hand and solemnly swears before God to protect and serve and preserve the constitution and to defend it against all terrorists, foreign and domestic. He repeated word for word his service pledge while holding up his right hand.
My thoughts brought me back to the post office, where only a couple hours ago I held up my right hand and swore true to my own word. A couple of hours ago I spoke to complete strangers and thanked them for their service. I realized, I wasn’t just getting a passport, I am honoring my privilege that those two strangers, the speaker, and others, secured for me. They helped give me, and millions of citizens, the freedom to be free.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Flash Fiction Friday: A Modern Prehistoric

I'm back with a new story. Enjoy.

A Modern Prehistoric 

By,
Jennifer E. Miller

On an early spring day, Ron Guillroy drove to shores of Tiger Lake. It was the kind of day where the sun warmed his car, but he shivered once he stepped out.
In the center of Tiger Lake was Wall Island, an avian sanctuary, where many people enjoyed bird watching, Ron included. Tall plateaued rocks surrounded the island, like a guarded fortress Unfortunately, this meant spectators couldn’t see the direct center of the island. It was a crater, hidden from view. Visiting the island itself was prohibited, so people watched from the shore.
Ron was curious what lie in the center. He imagined all sorts of bird species nesting together in harmony, helping one another survive. A silly whimsical thought.
With the ground crunching under his feet, Ron walked to the shore’s ideal spotting area: a long peninsula jutting into the water. It was the closest point to Wall Island, which was still a few hundred feet away.
Pressing the binoculars to his face, he spied the birds on their sanctuary.
Canadian Geese waddled around as they typically do. Their rear ends wiggling back and forth and heads constantly scanning the area for food or a way to cause trouble. They let out an occasional honk.
Ron’s favorites were the pelicans. They were enormous compared to the rest of the birds that inhabited Wall Island. Thinking they were only a coastal bird of the warmer climates, not many of his friends believed pelicans lived this far north. To prove it, Ron purchased a set of binoculars equipped with a built-in digital camera. He snapped away as the large white birds tucked their heads under their wings for a nap, or leaped from the cliff, becoming airborne. He even got a few shots of one with small fish in its beak’s pouch.
Shortly, he pulled the binoculars away from his face to rest his eyes. Blinking a few times, he turned away from the island and glanced around at the scenery near him. Sometimes he saw raptors in the trees, but saw none today.
Out of the corner of his eye, something large moved, catching his attention. He looked at Wall Island and saw an enormous bird fly straight up. Then it flipped over, diving head first into the crater and disappearing from site. At first, he thought it was a pelican, as it had a long beak. But its wings were bat-like and had a pointy protrusion on the back of its head.
Whipping the binoculars back onto his eyes, Ron scanned the plateau for any signs of this bird—the largest one he’d ever seen. All he saw were the typical pelicans, geese, and gulls. None of which were bothered by this gargantuan feathered beast.
However, Ron didn’t recall seeing any feathers on this creature. Did it have a disease? With the creature nowhere to be seen, Ron pulled the binoculars down again. As he kicked a rock out of his way, the figure emerged from the crater again. It circled around the island, casting a large shadow below.
Through the binoculars, Ron saw it indeed was featherless. In fact, its skin’s appearance was leathery. With an estimated eight feet from head to talons and a ten-foot wingspan, it was unlike any bird he had even seen.
He snapped photos of the creature and then watched it with his naked eye. Ron was so entranced, he thought he heard its wings flapping.
His mind zipped through all the possibilities of what bird species this is. Was it a lesser-known species that migrated out of its regular travel path? Certainly, he didn’t know each and every species, but there wasn’t one he could think of that resembled this creature. If he didn’t know better he’d say it looked prehistoric. But dinosaurs died out thousands of years ago, everybody knew that. Ron thought of the scientific theory that dinosaurs were relatives of birds, not reptiles like previously thought. One thought came to mind: a pterodactyl. Oddly, it made sense because it resembled the shape of the pelicans.
Ron thought about the crater in the center of Wall Island. The Department of Fish and Wildlife acknowledged its existence. Research wasn’t permitted. Who knows what was down there. His whimsical thought of bird harmony was taking a nightmarish turn.
The pterodactyl glided down, landing on the top of a plateau. It folded and tucked its wings; just like a bird. It hopped from one place to the next; just like a bird. It cocked its head, as though curious, just like a bird. Ron swallowed hard as he observed and photographed the avian traits.
A curious goose, waddled up to the pterodactyl, honking away. The pterodactyl lowered its head to investigate the strange noisy intrusion. As the goose inched closer, the pterodactyl straightened itself upright, staying in one spot. Finally, the goose got too close. The pterodactyl spread its wings slightly, opened its mouth and gobbled up the goose in one swift gulp.
Terrified at the sight before him, Ron let out a yelp and took a step back. His yelp echoed across the lake to Wall Island, catching the pterodactyl’s attention. In one powerful leap, the creature was airborne off the island and heading for the shore. Ron began to retreat backwards towards his car, while watching the pterodactyl’s movement. With a thud, it landed on the edge of the peninsula.
About a hundred and fifty feet separated Ron from the beast. The pterodactyl eyed him suspiciously. It let out a cry. Its breath, nauseating.
Terrified, Ron walked slowly backward, in hopes of reaching the safety of his vehicle. The pterodactyl hopped quickly, approaching until it stood directly above Ron.
Heart pounding, Ron met the creature’s gaze, whose eyeballs were as big as his fists. He dropped his binoculars to the ground.
The last thing Ron saw was the inside of pterodactyl’s muscular throat.

Copyright 2017 by Jennifer E. Miller

Friday, October 20, 2017

Flash Fiction Friday: The Sliced Bagel

I stayed within the thresholds of flash fiction this week with 460 words. This week's format is a little different, however. My story is made up entirely of dialogue. I set the scene, conveyed tone, and established conflict without narrative description. In fact, you will notice there aren't even any attributes (he said, Jane asked, etc.). Happy reading.

Photo by Jennifer E. Miller

The Sliced Bagel
By,
Jennifer E. Miller

“Ugh!”
“What is it, Katherine?”
“I’m putting the groceries away, and realized I purchased unsliced bagels.”
“What’s wrong with that?”
“It’s one of life’s great mysteries, I tell you.”
“Why? Is the hole in the bagel a portal to another dimension?”
“No, Richard. It’s a mystery to sell bagels without slicing them first. It’s silly. Who eats them that way?”
“Well, I don’t know, somebody must.”
“I don’t believe so.”
“How are you so sure, Katherine? Maybe they dip the whole thing into their coffee.”
“You’re confusing bagels with doughnuts.”
“Toast it with jam on the top, perhaps?”
“It needs to be sliced to fit in the toaster slot.”
“A toaster oven, then.”
“Really, Richard. No one uses those anymore.”
“I beg to differ; my mother still has one.”
“She doesn’t use it.”
“Fine. But I do say you are making too much fuss over this issue. And please stop slamming the refrigerator door when you put the groceries away.”
“Well, I expect the bagels I purchased to be sliced.”
“Katherine, how much time could it take to slice them yourself?”
“Too long.”
“You’re being a grouch. A few minutes is all it takes.”
“Would you care to do it, then?”
“Come now, that’s not necessary. You are capable of the task.”
“You just don't want to! You want your bagels sliced, just like I do. See? Selling unsliced bagels makes no sense. They must be sliced for practical convenience.”
“Perhaps the bakery didn’t have time.”
“They have machines to do it, Richard.”
“Missed a few?”
“I suppose that’s possible.”
“Ah, see! It’s just a mistake.”
“Then, you just proved my theory. A mistake indicates that the bagels were intended to be sold sliced. If they were, in fact, intentionally sold unsliced, it brings us back to my original thought: selling unsliced bagels are a mystery.”
“Alright, well, I guess the solution to your problem is to take the bagels back to the bakery and to have them sliced.”
“No, I won’t do that. It’s not worth my time.”
“But you’ve spent the last five minutes irritated, and convincing me that bagels should be sold sliced. How is this whole subject suddenly not worth your time?”
“I’ve vented my frustrations and now it’s over and done. I can move on to other things.”
“That’s reassuring. Shall we move on to lunch, then?”
“That sounds fine. What should we have?”
“Sandwiches sound dandy. I’ll gather and prepare everything since you just sat down.”
“Thank you.”
“Fantastic. Say, Katherine, I’ve got things lined up here on the counter, but it seems you forgot bread at the store.”
“Did I? Oh. Well, use the bagels instead.”
“There is a problem, though.”
“What’s that?”
“I need them sliced.”

Copyright 2017 Jennifer E. Miller

Friday, October 13, 2017

Flash Fiction Friday: Swing It Away

I'm at 1531 words with this story. Five hundred and thirty-one more than I prefer for Flash Fiction Friday. Maybe I should just call it Fiction Friday. Anyway, this story is written in the first person, but, please note, doesn't represent me personally. 

Swing It Away
By,
Jennifer E. Miller
The sun begins setting over the grassy fields of the sports park. I don’t know why I was out here in the first place. I prefer the walking trails on the opposite side of the park that weave through trees, leading down to the river. The bunnies emerge in the evening to munch on the grass and other wild plants. Sometimes I surprise them when I walk around the corner, and they retreat back to safety under the shrubbery. Other times, at a comfortable distance from me, they hop out and let me watch them. It’s intriguing the way their noses twitch all the time. Their dark eyes stare me down in their peripheral vision.
I guess, simply, I want to see the other side of the park. The side I didn’t know but knew was there. It didn’t look unordinary. A bunch of soccer fields, I quit counting at dozen, and several baseball diamonds.
Various paved pathways zig-zag through the park. I step onto one and follow it through the soccer fields. Games or practices, how was I to know, were finishing up. The sounds of cooler lids clang shut, zippers zip, and final bounces of balls on grass-stained knees echo. The kids high-five each other, then climb into their vans, sliding the doors shut.
It reminds me of what I wished of my childhood. I longed for their laughter, the carefree way they went about their day. Heck, not even having to find a way home; their moms were waiting for them.
My mom never showed up for me after practice. I waited, hoping I’d hear the familiar sound of the tires. After twenty minutes or so, the coach offered to give me a ride home, where I’d find both my folks buzzed, in glassy-eyed stupor in front of a flickering television screen. They forgot again, they said. I didn’t bother telling them about the reminder note I left on the kitchen table.
I wrap my jacket tighter, continuing my walk, which brings me to empty baseball fields. The wind blows a thin cloud of dust over the bases. Glancing at an outfield, I see a silhouette of a man. He swings and twists his body. I wonder why he is batting in the outfield rather than at home plate.
The soccer moms drive past, taking the laughter and good times away. It was silent except for the occasional crunch of my shoes over the first few fallen leaves of autumn.
A noise caught my attention.
Whoosh!
Curious, I look around.
Whoosh!
I hear it again as the silhouette rotates. This time I realize he didn’t swing out in front, like a batter, he starts from the back, scooping up toward the sky. He was golfing.
But I hear no contact with a ball. No click as it met the metal club, no thud when it met the turf.
Curiosity gets the best of me and I make my way over. I pause at the bleachers behind first base and watch. Squinting against the setting sun, I walk along the baseline to see better, stopping when I am in line with this stranger, perhaps fifty feet away. Even though I know it’s rude, I intrusively stare.
The man repositions himself after his last swing, hips square, thumbs properly aligned on the club handle. Shifting his feet into place, he focuses on the grass at his feet, where a pitted ball would normally sit on a smooth wooden tee. He swings the club back, and thrusts his rotating torso, arcing the club toward the sky again.
“Ah!” the man says, satisfied.
I follow his gaze towards the sky, as though tracking his shot on the course, anticipating its landing spot.
This time, the man stands back, leaning against his club like a cane. He briefly looks in my direction, silently acknowledging my presence, and sets up for another empty swing.
“Why are you hitting nothing?” I blurt out.
“Ran outta balls,” he answers, shrugging.
I don’t see any in the distance I can retrieve for him.
“Got more?”
“Nah, they just bring back the problems.”
He swings again.
“What problems?”
“You nosy, ain’t ya?”
He sets himself up again.
I snort. “Not everyday one see a man swinging a golf club on a baseball diamond.”
“I ain’t in the diamond, I’m in the outfield.”
He swings.
“Oooh! That one wasn’t good. You’re distracting my game.”
“Sorry,” I mumble. But I stay put.
“You leaving?” he asks.
“I want to know why you don’t get more golf balls.”
The man sighs. “The same reason you’re out here loitering in a place designed for sports activities.”
“What?”
He rests a fist on his hip. “When a man finds himself somewhere he don’t belong, it means one of two things: he is looking for trouble or trying to clear his mind. You don’t strike me as trouble-type.”
I study the man. Is he mad?
This time it’s he who snorts. “I see you don’t comprehend. Most don’t at first.”
He takes another swing. I welcome the now soothing stroke slicing the air. I can’t bring myself to break away from this mysterious stranger and our acute conversation, which I have no idea where it will lead. But I have to know.
“Explain,” I said. It was neither a demand or a request.
He strolls over to me. I thought him to be a small man, but he seems to grow taller as he approaches.
“You see,” he starts, “most people have a crutch; something to take their mind away from their troubles. Some drive along desolate highways with music blaring, other lose themselves in dense wilderness, many simply throw stones in the river.”
“Of course,” I say. “Otherwise they will go mad.”
The man smiles, showing a neat row of teeth. He raises his thick eyebrows as if in a eureka moment.
“Wrong. I, myself, hit golf balls as an emotional release. Standing on the range, I imagined each one representing a pesky thought, and I whacked it away far from me. Felt good to get physical. Give it a piece of my mind, if you will.”
I smiled at the pun.
“Therapeutic,” I said.
“Sure, sure.” He exhales, looking into the sky’s and its changing colors. “But they came back—and I figured out why.”
I straighten, standing more alert.
“Thinking I had knocked out my frustrations, I packed up and went home.”
Turning back, he sees my confused expression.
“It didn’t make sense at first to me either. Felt gratification doing something I enjoyed, to expunge whatever troubles consumed me. But why were they coming back into my mind?...” his thoughts trail a moment of ponder. “Then it hit me. I used golf as a way out. No, not golf. Swinging the damn club, that’s what.
“So the next time I went out to the range I didn’t bring balls with me. Wasn’t gonna let those little bastards torment me another second. I blasted imaginary golf balls off somewhere. The others thought I turned looney, swinging at nothing. Eventually, I was asked not to return on account I was making folks feel uncomfortable.”
“Now you come here?”
“Where ever. Sometimes I stand on a boulder overlooking the river. Another time, I climbed on the roof of my shed. Neighbor called somebody—adult protective services—on me. I explained I was just swinging away my troubles. They asked why I didn’t golf normally, so I described all the things I just told you.”
I shift uncomfortably. He notices.
“You think I’m mad, too, dontcha?”
“I think you found a creative way to interpret the world around you.” I was impressed at my quick thinking.
The man stands proudly, putting both hands on his hips this time.
“Ah! Finally, someone who understands,” he exclaims, gleefully satisfied. “You have a good night now.”
“Thanks.”
I reach the parking lot where my dented Ford waited for me. It hard starts, as always. I sit there thinking about what the man said. About swinging away troubles. I think about what I do to swing away my own troubles. I take walks, I guess. I go home and the next day I paint pictures with a clear mind. But the ugliness of my past returns and I go walking again.
The man’s way had never occurred to me before. How routine locks us into a thought prison.
I shift my Ford into gear and go home with the man’s revelation confusing and exhilarating me at the same time.
The next day I return for a nature walk, but I pause at the corner where I usually find the bunnies. Quietly, I sit down and dig out my sketch book and a pencil from my knapsack. I ignore the wet grass soaking into my rump, and the autumn leaves raining upon me.
When the bunnies appear I quickly sketch them, trying to capture their wiggling noses on my artist’s paper. I draw the baseball diamonds in the background, although they are disguised as hills to keep the naturalistic theme of my drawing. I finish with an outline of a man in the distance, swinging away.

Copyright 2017 Jennifer E. Miller

Friday, October 6, 2017

Flash Fiction Friday: Target Cox Junction Part III

Welcome to the final installment of Target: Cox Junction which I reluctantly ended. I enjoyed this story line so perhaps I will change a few things and eventually make this a longer short story. If you haven't already, be sure to read Part I, and Part II.

Target: Cox Junction 
Part III

By,
Jennifer E. Miller

Sockeye’s smartphone screen blinked, asking if he wanted to connect to the new network. He wasn’t sure what to do. There was no protocol on how to handle outside wifi; because an outside router wasn’t expected.
Where is the damn thing? he wondered.
It wasn’t easy to sneak into a dam. They were quite secure, even smaller ones like Cox Junction. Stashing a router, while placing rocks and dead birds at various places, couldn’t go unnoticed when monitors watched and recorded every inch of this place. Even an inside job was nearly impossible. Sockeye’s thoughts settled on that one little word: nearly.
The siren nearly made Sockeye nearly jump of out his skin. It was the emergency evacuation siren; part of Bordman’s duties. He let out a deep exhale, but his pulse didn’t slow. Gathering his wits, and his keycard he opened the exterior door with a beep and dashed inside.
The siren blared inside the corridor. Red and yellow lights flashed, spewing eerie reflective shadows on the walls. Alone, Sockeye ran down the hall which led to an open floor with the generators. He scanned the floor. The area was deserted, which meant personnel evacuated like they were supposed to.
At the far end of the generator floor was a door leading into the engineers’ offices. Sockeye burst through it. One of the engineers was on the telephone.
A rap on the window interrupted the telephone conversation and Sockeye burst into the room.
“Move it!”
He covered the phone’s mouthpiece. “I’ve done drills before. I know what to do.”
“Obviously, not. This isn’t a drill.”
The engineer dropped the receiver to the base. He tried reaching for his coat but Sockeye pushed him out the door, ordering him to run down the hall.
The two men ran down the hallway to the other end of the dam. He ordered the engineer outside and stay with the group. Then Sockeye ran to the security control room where he met Jay.
“Hey, sir,” Bordman said. “I’ve checked all the monitors and no other movement or keycards were detected.”
Sockeye set the rock down on the desk and realized he was sweating. Sweating with fear rather than exhaustion.
“What’s this?” Bordman asked as he picked up the rock and examined it. “Jesus! Is this for real?”
“It might be.”
“What does it mean?”
“It means we need to grab the computer back-up and get the hell out.”
Sockeye grabbed his keycard and waved it in front of a small door behind the monitor. Pushing a button, he swung open a door, and yanked out small metal box. Its wires dangled limp as he shoved it into Bordman’s arms. Next, he scooped up the painted rock and a grasped a laptop. Sockeye intended to hook it up to the backup and examine the monitor history himself. Together the two men raced for the nearest exit and up the interior stairwell.
As they climbed the flights, Sockeye’s phone dinged again, but he didn’t notice it over the sirens. If he had, he’d realize the icon had accidentally been touched, therefore, connecting his phone to the RavensDam1 wifi network.
The last two employees of Cox Junction Dam joined the others in the parking lot. They were huddled together, relieved when they saw the security personnel.
Bordman set down the computer back up to catch his breath.
“What the hell is going on?” someone demanded. It was Quinn, head engineer.
Sockeye answered through gasps, “Don’t know…for sure.”
He showed the Cox Junction employees the rock.
“You evacuated us because of that?” he asked, flabbergasted.
“No,” Sockeye said. He quickly ran through the rest of the details; the emails regarding the activists, the raven, the fence post, the wifi network. He was certain they were all connected somehow.
Hearing some of this information for the first time, Jay Bordman said, “Wifi network?”
Sockeye pulled out his phone to show him. His heart dropped. The screen indicated “connected to RavensDam1.”
Noticing Sockeye’s pallor, Bordman said, “Sir?”
There was no need to respond. A muffled explosion, like dynamite buried deep within a hard surface was heard, and the ground shook. The employees shrieked, demanding to know what it was. Sockeye waved his hand at them as he and Bordman ran to the edge of the parking lot. The water over the far gates wasn’t flowing; it was spewing sideways from a gaping hole.
There was a second blast from the next gate, and a third, and so forth. The Cox Junction team watched helplessly as the entire dam collapsed, sliding into the river. The rapids tumbled and foamed about the debris, shoving it to its final resting place. Over the empty hollowed-out space behind, the river reworked itself to its ancient flow route.
Speechless, the crowd could do nothing but stare on in horror. Quinn tried calling the dam downstream to warn them, but there was no cell service. Sockeye hoped the issuance of code 999 alerted headquarters in time to give ample warning to other locations. He took one last look at his phone. There was no trace of RavensDam1 wifi network.
The activists were serious, and now a threat to national security.
Bordman walked up to Sockeye. “What should we do now, sir?”
“I’m not sure. I guess we wait.”

 The End
Copyright 2017 Jennifer E. Miller