Friday, April 13, 2018

My Kid, the Artwork Winner

I have something else in mind for a blog entry, but I don't have it ready. Perhaps it would help if I start typing it. Hehe.

To satisfy your thirst for words this week, I will share a tidbit: Gia* won the local Girl Scout camp T-shirt design contest. It won't be the exact image, but the T-shirt printer will use it as inspiration for the final graphic. She drew a picture of turtles using their teamwork skills to sell Girl Scout cookies. She also wrote the word "Teamwork" at the top with a turtle in place of the letter "O." I know you're wondering why I don't just upload a photo. Well, time ran off with my critical thinking brain cells and by the time time brought them back, we had already submitted her artwork. So until I can get her artwork and/or final product returned to me, use your imagination. However, I guarantee her Teamwork Turtles were totally terrific.

Gia was informed of her win during her last Girl Scout meeting. Somehow, her winning the actual contest didn't compute so she didn't inform mom and dad. (I heard about it later from the Girl Scout leader.) When I picked up Gia after school the following day, I asked her why she failed to mention that she won the Girl Scout camp T-shirt design contest.

Gives me funny look. "What are you talking about?"

"I'm talking about the fact that you won the contest you entered."

Momentary pause as it sinks in.

"Wait. I won?!"

"Ye--"

"Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!"

That would be the high-pitch teeny-bopper scream of delight.

"I finally won something! Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhh!"

Now she has her hand over her face like Macaualy Culkin from Home Alone. The face squeezing and shrieks continue for about the next minute and sixteen seconds or so. (I know, I know, I should've thought to record this.) After she finished, I'm fairly certain my hearing shrank by half a decibel; there was residual ringing for the remainder of the afternoon.

Anyway, you get the gist she was pretty excited. She has entered various contests but hasn't won. I suppose we should work on her listening and comprehension skills since they weren't in place at the meeting when she was informed. Hopefully, she didn't lose any hearing capabilities during her celebratory teeny-bopper screaming.


*I change names on here, remember?

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Flash Fiction Friday: What if Money did Grow on Trees?

Image Credit: Pixabay under CC0 Creative Commons License


What if Money did Grow on Trees?

By,
Jennifer E. Miller

I had a conversation with someone recently, who told me, “If money really grew on trees, it would only increase the cost of everything because of inflation. Everything would skyrocket since no one would have the drive to work to produce consumer items.”

Being an imaginative person, I quickly conjured up an image of a tree with crisp clean dollar bills billowing off the branches, swaying in the breeze. Instead of the sweet smell of colorful blooms, the hot-off-the-press smell of Ben Franklins would waft under my nose. If it cuts down on pollens and allergies, I’m all for this change. And seriously, who wouldn’t love their own personal bank account growing in their backyard? Aside from my acquaintance's opinion regarding inflation, would a money tree be worth it?

Let’s first examine seasonality. Assume that the money tree is a deciduous tree, meaning it sheds its leaves in the fall. I guess this means that we’d rake up all the “leaves” and save them for Christmas spending. After all, we will need it since inflation will now ruin the thrill of Christmas shopping.

During the winter, a deciduous tree hibernates and its branches remain bare. Unless enough was stored to last throughout the winter, this might be the time where everyone gets to work because they need money.

Springtime brings buds to the tree branches. In this case, dollar bills curled up tightly with tips protruding their way out onto the branch. Slowly they open and unfold those much-needed dollar bills. Be sure to watch out for the occasional bird who decides to snatch one to build their nest, though.

Late spring and into summer brings the money tree to its fullest. It’s lush with dollar blooms and families pluck them off the tree into ever-fattening wallets. When one bill is pulled off, no worries, another one will eventually sprout in its place.

Now that we’ve looked at the plant/money life cycle in conjunction with seasons, we need to question technical stuff. How long does the money tree last? Traditional trees may live for many years, but eventually they perish for one reason or another. How long can someone count on a money tree? If or when it’s gone, were a few dollars tucked away somewhere to plant a new tree?

That brings up another question: how does a money tree get planted exactly? With paper bills or coins? Does the soil consistency have to be just right in order to grow anything at all? With apple seeds, you plant a seed from one variety of apple, but your tree may grow another variety. Is it possible to plant a twenty dollar bill, yet have the tree yield two dollar bills? Or worse, pennies?

Then there’s the issue of theft. How does one protect their money tree? Anyone can jump into a backyard and snatch off all the dollar bills, rendering the tree useless until more bloom. How does one guard a money tree? Armed guards? How would the tree owner compensate them? Just pluck their paycheck off the branches?

My once happy-go-lucky imaginary scenario with the money tree is getting complicated. I suppose it’s best to just earn dollars the old-fashioned way: work for them. 

Copyright 2018 Jennifer E. Miller

Thursday, March 22, 2018

New Camera Fun

I veering away from Flash Fiction Friday this week and focusing on personal stuff, which is what I originally intended this blog to be in the first place, but things evolve.

Last autumn, my trusty Penxtax K30 DSLR became problematic when I noticed photos occasionally would turn out dark despite setting the exposures correctly. Hmmm, I wondered. I am fairly knowledgeable with camera stuff, so I figured I adjusted some other setting and forgot to reset it. Unable to locate anything unusual, I set the camera aside until next use. Well, with the next use each frame grew gradually darker until the only thing my camera produced was completely black images. I combed the owner's manual, scoured the internet, even enlisting the assistance of other photographers. Nada.

Next, I located a local camera repair shop, Camera Care. Most repair places, including Camera Care, generally work on Nikon and Canon brands. Pentax poses a bit of a challenge simply because they aren't as popular, but the guy was up to the challenge.

Upon picking up my repaired camera, it seemed to be working properly. The exposures weren't dark abysses on the LCD screen. I thought it was fixed until I switched to shutter priority mode to shoot some eagles. The camera was now overexposing images; opposite from the original problem.

Camera Care felt it must need a factory calibration, and he was unable to make that adjustment; I would have to send it in to Pentax for that. As it turned out, Pentax wanted more money than the camera was worth to diagnose and repair the unit. Therefore, I decided it was time to order a brand new camera (that's the part were all you camera savvy people say 'ooooooo!'). I decided on the Pentax KP model. It's a more expensive model than some of their other entry level cameras, but I feel like my skills were worthy of it. Plus, I was worried if I purchased the current model equivalent to my K30, I may encounter the same issues down the road.

I would like to add that I was happy with the service I received from Camera Care. The owner was helpful and friendly and offer to work with me on cost if I decided to send off my camera to Pentax. It seemed there was more than one issue going on, making diagnosis difficult to pinpoint. I would recommend this business for your camera repair needs.

Back to the new Pentax KP. If you're a photography nerd, you understand the thrill of lifting that sparkly new camera from it's neatly packed box and unwrapping the bubble wrap, and being the first person outside the manufacturing facility to handle such a marvelous invention. Inhaling a whiff of that new gizmo metallic smell tickles your senses to the core. It's like striking gold, except way easier cause the UPS guy/gal delivers it directly to your doorstep.

Enough of the nitty-gritty, here are a few photos from the inaugural photo session at the river. I was also experimenting with my new Pentax 55-300 zoom lens. The little house finch makes me smile and the grass widows are a sure sign of spring. The ducks were wading in this little pool on large boulders overlooking the Spokane River. If you look close, you can see the river in the background. They were situated in bright sunlight which is why the images aren't as clear as the others. Plus, I'm still familiarizing myself with my new camera. (I also condense the file sizes for internet upload/viewing and watermarked them because there are stupid www pirates out there who steal photographs.)

I'm excited to have a working "big" camera again, and look forward to photographing all the springtime buzz like birds and flowers. I'm sure I'll get some photos of my cute little kid, eventually.







Copyright 2018 Jennifer E. Miller

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Flash Fiction Friday: The Puddle

Hello, readers. Sometimes story ideas fester as I figure out how to lay them out. Once in a while I'm struck with an idea and just pour it out on the computer screen. That's what happened this week.

The Puddle

By,
Jennifer E. Miller

It was Saturday and raining. I decided to meet my girlfriends for coffee at the corner cafe on the old fashioned neighborhood's lamppost-lined sidewalk. My feet get wet as I dodge puddles. I had hastily thrown on a pair of those ballerina flats and raindrops splatter onto my shoes from passersby. I was so concerned over keeping my feet comfortable, I didn't see the large puddle ahead of me. I step right into it and disappear; sucked below the surface. 

Disoriented at first, I hold my breath and swim around the mysterious abyss below the puddle. It's narrow and dark and deep and I don't wish to know how deep. I feel a jagged rock wall along the sides but fear it thins as the depth increases, ending somewhere.

Paddling to the top, my heart plummets. A clear cap of glass like glacier ice separates me from the world I was meant to exist in. Pressing my palms and face against the invisible barrier, I exhale a few bubbles and watch the scene above.

I must've vanished from the sidewalk quickly. I observe the a growing crowd at the puddle; their voices muffled. 

"What happened to her?" 

"Who?"

"The woman walking in front of me. She disappeared into this puddle."

"Another wonky street magician's trick, probably. World is full of those people who can't find anything better to do with their time."

"No. No, she sank."

A hand reaches into the puddle, clawing for answers. I grab for it, but am blocked by the glass shield.

The woman sighs. "I hit the bottom."

"Of course you did, it's a three inch deep puddle. Dirty, I might add."

Other witnesses reach in, knocking the pavement, like they are trying to find a trap door. The sound reverberates and stabs my eardrums. 

"Ow," I say. 

I accidentally inhale water when I speak and I panic, imaging my lungs drowning before this batch of strangers who can't even see my struggle. But it doesn't happen. Instead, I breathe again and easily. The water isn't water; can't be water. Some liquid substance that still allows for regular breaths. It swirls through my windpipe and settles in my veins and capillaries. I hadn't realize until that moment that the liquid wasn't cold like a puddle; it was comfortable, nearly body temperature. 

The confused onlookers above disperse, and I'm left to watch footsteps pass by, dodging my puddle. Swimming to one end, I can see from an angle, and the cafe squeezes into view. I watch patrons enter empty-handed, while others exit with their coffee. One of my girlfriend walks in, then soon the other. Just as I disappeared into the puddle, they disappear into the cafe. I imagine them excitedly greeting each other as they wait...for me. But I don't arrive. Do they worry? Try to call? How long do they wait? How long must I wait?

I worry about how long I am destine to be trapped here in this aquatic world. Deary raindrops plop continuously, tapping my glass roof. The morning passes into the afternoon, which eventually passes the wand to the evening; the day's last relay member. The final sliver of sunlight is pinched out. I curl up into a buoyant ball, rest on a fairly flat place on the rock wall, and close my eyes. 

After the right amount of time lapses, the sunlight reappears. It takes me a moment to find my composure and surroundings. Too early yet for pedestrians, a little songbird bathes in my puddle. His tiny talons tap gently on the barrier. He dips his head and wiggles his rump, flaps his wings, delighting in his morning rinse. I enjoy his happiness in this simple activity. All too soon, he leaves. I'm left alone and suddenly envious of my feathered friend who the freedom to roam the world we both were made for.

The same pattern of walkers commute past my puddle, dodging it entirely. Would another splash through? I could use the company. 

It is beginning to feel hot as the midday sun strikes its rays directly above. The puddle warms quickly and I feel a wave of panic rush over me. The ice barrier cracks, prompting me to swim up to investigate. The shallow pool of water above is gone; the sun must have evaporated it. Another crack startles me and my eardrums. The crackling continues and I bring my hands over my ears, close my eyes, and clench my teeth. It sounds like the fat opera lady hitting the right note, and another, slowly fracturing the delicate glass. Finally it pops, and shatters completely. Gravity inverts it pull on me, yanking me towards the sidewalk. I emerge in the now dry pothole spitting up liquid goo, gasping for air. I welcome oxygen as it rushes into my lungs bringing a familiar but strange sensation.

"Did you trip over that blasted thing?" a woman asks.

I look around for the source, but she misinterprets my noggin swinging about as a head shake for "no."

"You didn't trip? Goodness what happened? And why are you all wet."

She kneels down beside me to pat my back. I finally get to look at her face, and she at mine. We both freeze.

"I'm not crazy," she says.

I try to reply but my throat is pruney and raw from extended liquid exposure. A small grunt is all I manage.

"You're that woman from yesterday who fell through the puddle."

I don't know what to say, lest she thinks I'm crazy. 

"That was quite some magic trick."

If only that were the truth. 


Copyright 2018 Jennifer E. Miller

Friday, March 9, 2018

Flash Fiction Friday: The Lady Thief

Photo by Jennifer E. Miller

The Lady Thief

by,
Jennifer E. Miller


Recently, I saw a question on social media as follows:

How Smart Are You?
A lady walks into a store and steals a $100 bill from the register without the owner's knowledge. She comes back 5 minutes later and buys $70 worth of goods with the $100 bill. The owner givers her $30 in change. How much did the owner lose?
A. $30
B. $70
C. $100
D. $130
E. $170
F. $200

There were all sorts of answers and arguments towards which is the correct answer. "$100 is $100;" "It depends on the profit margin of the goods;" "$70 plus the cost of the goods." Of course, my creative analysis presents a different spin to answer the question of "How smart are you?"

For one thing: how did the lady thief go unnoticed? The sentence says she simply walks in, which would mean the store is already open for business. In other words, no breaking and entering. It also says "without the owner's knowledge" which would lead us to believe this is a mom-and-pop operation because most chains don't have owners working in the stores. Mom-and-pop stores typically have those little bells that ringy-ding-ding when the door is opened. Unless, the lady somehow outsmarted the bells' sound, I find it unlikely she would be unnoticed and/or not greeted in the first place.

Next problem: how did she physically take the money? Let's stay she premeditated her whole plan. She is hunkered down in the nearby bushes peeking into the store windows with binoculars. She waits until the owner goes to the back room (or somewhere away from the counter) and casually strolls in, muffling the mom-and-pop bells. If the $100 was in the cash register, how did she open it? I imagine that even though this may be a small-town operation, store owners are aware of the potential for theft and have secure storage devices to store their cash. The register would need a key, code, or other means of opening it. She's a former employee with a code that hasn't been updated? Okay. Maybe.

This brings me to another chin-rubbing question: what mom-and-pop store keeps a $100 bill in the cash register? Anyone who has worked retail or even manned a garage sale, knows that you need small bills for change. Lots of them. Perhaps it is the end of the day and the owner is letting it sit in the register until he places it in the safe or bank deposit bag. If it's the beginning of the day, a customer must've paid with it prior to lady thief's arrival. How did I come to the presumption that the theft happened at the beginning or end of the day? Remember, lady thief went unnoticed. There are no witnesses per the described scenario and she returns to the store, so it's easy to come to the conclusion that she chose a non-busy time to rip off the store owner.

All right, the stars align for lady thief and she somehow enters completely unnoticed, opens the cash register, and steals the $100 bill. The second sentence of the scenario says she returns in five minutes to buy $70 worth of goods. Hmmm. Based on criminal behavior patterns, I'd doubt our thief would use the money for purchasing of store goods. Criminals steal cash for drugs. But lets say she was down-and-out on her luck. Perhaps she got laid off, food stamps allotment got cut, simply got sick and was unable to work for a few days, etc. Why didn't she just snatch the goods from the shelf and bolt? It's sorta risky to show your face in the same place a short time later. She would be on surveillance twice.

Hey, that brings up another question: if security cameras were in use, this gal is in t-r-o-u-b-l-e.

Anyway moving on with the scenario. The owner next gives her $30 in change for the items she "purchases." Here is the large bill problem again. How many $100 bills do mom-and-pop operations get? I'm going to venture not too many because enough small businesses don't accept them to begin with. My point is, having a $100 bill in the cash register would be a rarity, and wouldn't the owner notice it's missing when he retrieves her change? I would say, yes, he would. He would then become suspicious, wondering what happened to his original $100 bill when this woman pays for her items with one. He would mentally jot down her physical description and/or take note of her license plate number. Seriously, though, in a small town with a store that uses an unsecured cash register, he would probably already know who she was.

That wraps up the scenario analysis and brings us to the final sentence: how much did the owner lose?

Answer G: The owner would actually make a profit because he could identify the lady thief with surveillance cameras, license plate, or personal recognition. She would get charged with theft, then the owner sues for losses, damages, and attorney fees caused by his absence due to the subpoena to testify at her trial.

But I don't think small-town folk get too excited about those sort of things, so I will go with

Answer H: The owner, living and operating a business in a red state, would lose a bullet.



Copyright 2018 Jennifer E. Miller

Friday, February 23, 2018

Flash Non-Fiction Friday: The Evolution of Customer Service

The Evolution of Customer Service

By,
Jennifer E. Miller

Customer service in this country, and perhaps abroad, has changed so much recently; and not necessarily in a good way. 

I remember calling 1-800 numbers and annoyed at punching number after number in a phone tree, many times getting nowhere. I finally figuring out simply pressing 0 several times, confused the system, and it eventually connected me with a living human being the wrong department. Nowadays, it's becoming more difficult to contact a company at all.

Have you ever tried to find contact information online lately? Open the company website, click on the "Contact Us" section, only to be rerouted to a general FAQ section containing canned questions and answers. If there is a number or email address for the customer service, it's buried behind some super secret squirrel website coding patter, in which one needs a masters degree from Sherlock Holmes to find. It's like I have to know some sort of crazy control+shift to uppercase letter+tab key sequence and type it correctly within 0.3779 seconds.

When I do finally find customer service service information, I rarely find a telephone number. Sometimes I manage to locate an email address, but most of the time the icon with the comic-strip-style dialogue bubble appears "Chat with Customer Service." Online chat: the equivalent to text messaging with strangers. However, as I found out recently, customer service chat can sometimes prove entertaining.

My package, from a certain online super giant who shares its name with a South American rain forest, did not arrive on time. Thanks to the handy FAQ section, I tracked my package only to find it was labeled as delayed, for whatever reason.When it still didn't show up on the new expected arrival date, I tracked it again. This time, a message at the top of the screen said, "Oh no. It looks like your package was lost. Click her for a refund." I don't want a refund, I want my stuff. This is where the FAQ section is no help. After successfully cracking the Sherlock Holmes keyboard sequence code, I was given the option to "chat with customer service." *Sigh.* Fine.

I am connected with customer service agent, named Queenie.

Say what? If you are familiar with The Berenstain Bears children's books, Queenie McBear is ringing a loud bell right about now.

Queenie asks how she can help me today. I have to type out the whole ordeal regarding my package. She apologizes for the trouble and states she will, as expected, help me out. Her next line is one that I have never heard from a customer service agent: "Everyone needs a hero and let me be yours."

Yeah, I just want my items delivered.

How can an online customer service agent can be my hero? Is she be able to dispatch an ambulance during a health crisis? What if the customer service agent's FAQ section can't reroute her screen to display my address? Does she even know where the real Washington is? Or will she connect to dispatch in Washington, DC?

Yeah yeah yeah, I know that's not what Queenie meant by being "[my] hero," but that does show how customer service has changed over the years. When we ordered something (even in the good old days of catalogs) it took a couple weeks or longer to find its way to our doorstep. We didn't start panicking until perhaps the six week mark. In a world of instantaneous satisfaction, we need customer service heroes to come to our rescue.

What I find strange, is that phone numbers and telephone calls are becoming obsolete. Why do companies make it so difficult to reach out to them? I don't understand why having a vocal conversation with someone is so off-putting. Even the supermarkets are pushing for those carside grocery pickups; where the customer places their order online, then an employee does all the shopping and brings it to your car (for a fee, of course). It seems physical shopping is beginning to be shunned.

It seems ironic that the world wide web was created to bring people closer together, yet appears to be having the opposite effect. Unless you consider online chatting or social media interactions personal, we are having less and less old-fashioned connections.

In case you were wondering, Queenie was able to reship my items and save the day. The evolution of customer service heroes rolls on.


Copyright 2018 Jennifer E. Miller


Friday, February 16, 2018

Flash Fiction+ Friday: Bootlegging

Illustration from Pixabay under CC0 Creative Commons license


Recently, some family members compiled a descriptive time line of family history of my great-grandparents, which I greatly enjoyed reading. While there weren't lengthy details, there were some interesting stories which I expanded using some imagination. Therefore, this is a semi-biographical tale in whole, but fine details, characters, and dialogue is not necessarily accurate. Also, I titled this Flash Fiction+ because the word count is 1454 words, not quite within 1000 that I aim for. I hope my readers have patience for an extra four hundred words or so. Enjoy. 

Bootlegging

By,
Jennifer E. Miller

“Quick. Roll the barrel into the corner,” Vincent ordered.

A teenage boy and teenage girl did as they were told. In the cellar, they stashed it in a corner, covering it with blankets and other boxes. Vincent went around the room, pulling the cord on the light bulb, steadying its sway afterwards.

They huddled, crouched under the stairs. Behind them were bottles with corks.
Upstairs, the front door slammed, followed by angry footsteps. Caroline spat various expletives at the unwanted visitors.

“Where is it?” a man said. His voice was raspy and deep.

“Where is what?”

“You know what,” a second voice said. It sounded younger than the first voice.

“Go away,” Caroline said. “I no invite you here.”

“Bootlegging is against the law. You know it,” the young man said.

“Go pester another. I no welcome you.”

Footsteps continued and soon the raspy man said, “Here.”

The cellar door creaked opened. A flashlight illuminated the steps and shiny black boots with jangling buckles descended. The first man stopped at the bottom, the second followed. Walking across the room, they found the light bulb Vincent had just switched off, and pulled the cord.

Caroline shrieked from the top of the stairs, ordering them to get out. Two more children came running from a bedroom; a boy of about ten and a younger girl perhaps eight. She instructed the boy to fetch the neighbors.

The men searched the cellar, speaking to one another and they pointed to various items of interest. The older man poked around in the corner and found the barrel. With the younger man’s help they threw off the blankets, a dismal attempt at hiding a large object, and rolled it out. The barrel stood mid-thigh.

Using a side to side rocking motion they heaved the barrel to the foot of the stairs. Its contents sloshed with the movement. Motionless, Vincent and the teens held their breath.

“We need to note the time the contraband was discovered,” the older man said.

Whipping out a pocket notebook and pen, the younger man stuck his flashlight under his arm and scribbled some notes. When he finished he looked up; something glinted in the flashlight’s beam and he grinned.

“Sarg, over here,” he said.

He walked around to the back of stairs and ordered the three to stand by the barrel. Vincent saw their polished badges pinned to their uniforms.

“Caught ‘em, did we?” the Sarg said. His boots jangled over to them. “This your property?” he continued, pointing to the barrel.

Vincent stayed silent.

The younger officer asked the teens, “Yours, is it?”

The boy was about to answer but Vincent held up his hand.

“If you wish to take it, then take it,” Vincent said.

“Oh? You hide it but are now gonna give it to us?” the younger one said.

A toddler in pajamas screamed from the top of the stairs. Caroline scooped him up, scolding the men for upsetting her children near bedtime. Yet another child appeared and clung to her skirt.

Sarg shook his head. “All these kids. Too many.”

His comment made Vincent frown. Before his anger could grow, Sarg spoke again.

“You,” he pointed to Vincent, “and you,” pointed to the teenage boy, “get this barrel upstairs. Now.” Turning to the girl, “You just stay outta the way.”

Vincent instructed his daughter to go upstairs. She hurried up the steps.

Looking as his son, Vincent said, “Faustino, we do as this man says.”

The Sarg permitted their request to obtain a contraption with handles that wrapped around the top of the barrel, allowing for easier, quicker transport. One step at a time, they lugged it up the stairs. At the top, they were sweating; Caroline handed them handkerchiefs.

“Out the door with it,” Sarg instructed.

Tucking the cloths in away in their pockets, Vincent and Faustino obeyed. Once outside, they paused again and the officers spoke to one another.

“Where should it happen?” Sarg asked the younger man. He phrased it like an examination question. The younger man must be a trainee.

“Mmm. Sidewalk?” the trainee answered.

“Works for me.” Sarg turned toward Vincent and Faustino. “You heard him.”

Vincent nodded and the two moved the barrel to the sidewalk. By now the ten year old returned with the neighbor, a big burly Norwegian man. He was twice the height of Vincent and his chest equaled the width of the barrel.

“What is it you want with my friends?” he demanded.

“Stay back. This doesn’t concern you,” Sarg said.

The man’s wife shouted from down the street, gesturing for him to return as she pointed at something. The Norwegian told Vincent he’d be right back.

“Now what?” Vincent asked the officers.

“Drain it,” Sarg said.

Vincent wondered why the men didn’t take care of it themselves.

Caroline reappeared and spoke quickly in Italian as she dashed to the sidewalk standing with the ten year old. Vincent began answering, but was interrupted by commotion from the Norwegians. They spoke sternly to a man in a brimmed hat, telling him to go back; that there was nothing to see here. Ignoring them, he continued walking toward the scene.

“Christ,” said Sarg.

The stranger was holding a square box with a bulb on top. He was a newspaper reporter.

“How the hell do these guys know when and where to show up?” the trainee asked.

“Who knows,” Sarg answered. “Well, let’s give ‘em a show.”

Unsure and fearful of what Sarg meant, Vincent instructed Faustino back to the yard with his mother and brother.

“Hey fellas,” the reporter greeted.

“Ignore him,” Sarg said to Vincent. “Pour.”

Vincent stared at the barrel. He labored in secret making its contents, and it wasn’t easy. How the police found out, he didn’t know. With a twinge of sadness, he pulled the plug and in a steady stream, the red succulent wine splashed onto the concrete. The officers touched the flowing wine as the reporter flashed his camera once. Vincent looked up as the bulb recharged; the reporter snapped another.

Shamefully, Vincent watched his wine disappear as Caroline and the children watched in silence. His whole family was outside now.

“Plug it,” Sarg said.

This command confused Vincent, but he obliged.

“Should be light enough for you now. Throw it in the cruiser.”

“Sure thing,” the trainee said.

“But I only emptied it halfway; maybe a little more,” Vincent said.

“Gotta book some in for evidence,” the trainee said.

The reporter saw the scene dying and left.

Expecting to be arrested or at the very least, cited, Vincent stayed put on the sidewalk, but the officers got into their car and drove off.

Turning back toward his family, he motioned for everyone to go inside. He waved goodnight at the Norwegians and they all went inside.

***

“Of course, you will go to school today,” Vincent said to his children over breakfast.

“Pa, we’re too embarrassed,” Faustino said. “Ask Elnora and Giovanni.”

The teenage girl and ten year old boy nodded their heads in agreement.

“Bah. If anyone gives you trouble, hold your head high and ignore them.”

Faustino picked up the newspaper again and groaned. On the front page was the reporter’s photo of Vincent and the officers with wine pouring out of the barrel. The headline read: “Italian Vino Busted.” The article gave an accurate depiction of the events, making a mockery of the family’s good upstanding reputation.

“I’m too mortified to face my friends,” Elnora said.

“Me, too,” Giovanni said. “The whole town is laughing at us.”

“They shouldn’t; we were taken advantage of,” Vincent said.

“How?” Faustino asked.

“It’s against the law to drink alcohol, no?”

“That’s right, Pa,” confirmed Faustino.

“The police came and confiscated it from our home. They made me dispose of it. Wasted. In front our neighbors, no less.”

“Yeah, then the stupid reporter took a photo and now it’s there!” Giovanni said, gesturing to the paper.

“Did none of you notice that nothing happened to me?” Vincent said.

“The jail is probably full,” Elnora said.

“But they took the remaining wine,” said Vincent.

“Right. ‘Evidence,’” Faustino said, biting into a slice of bruschetta toast.

“No. They took it to the police station. And drank it themselves.”

The children were stupefied into silence.

“That’s right they took my wine, claimed to confiscate it for evidence, only to enjoy it themselves. That’s why I got no punishment.”

Elnora inhaled loudly. “Well, I’m still too embarrassed to face my friends. My father on the front page of the paper; in front of our home. What will they think? What will their families think?!”

“They will think, ‘I wish I had brought my glass.’ Now get ready for school.”


Copyright 2018 Jennifer E. Miller

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Flash Fiction Friday: Muddy Waters

Sorry for the delay this week. 



Muddy Waters 
By,
Jennifer E. Miller

“My galoshes splashed the mud as I sloshed through it, desperate to get away because I didn’t understand what exactly had happened.

“Boating out on Spargus Lake was a normal occurrence for me. After launching the boat, I motored out onto the sheet of glimmering water. I cut across the calm surface, making a messy wake, to my fishing hole. I threw the line in, and waited.

“Waiting was the easy part, or the hard part depending on how one decides to look at it. I thought it was going to be the easy part today, but as it turned out, well, you’ll see.

“With the line was in the water, I eased back in the seat, hands behind my head, eyes closed, feeling the breeze sweep over my face. Coots quacks and flapped their wings as they ran over the water surface before lift-off. It was a typical day as I waited for a fish to bite. Strangely, after three hours, there wasn’t a one. Not even a nibble. A no-harvest day happened occasionally. Didn’t like it, but that’s the way it goes sometimes.

“I wasn’t going to give up. Turning on the radio, I ate lunch and stood to stretch my legs. That’s when I noticed it. Bubbles breaking the water’s surface. It was like the whole lake was boiling. I touched the water; it was cold as it normally was. Whatever was causing the bubbles, it wasn’t heat.

“The depth finder beeped, alerting me of shallow water. Strange. That spot was plenty deep. The depth crept up from eighteen feet to fifteen, twelve. What on earth is going on? I wondered.

“At the six foot mark, I saw the lake bottom. That’s when I realized the water wasn’t dropping, the floor was being pushed up. I could see sediment surfacing.

“Quickly, I put the boat in gear and headed for shore with the depth finder’s alarm continuing to beep like Morse code. About two-thirds of the way there, the bottom of the lake hit the propeller. It didn’t feel like scraping on a rock, which is typically what happens to boaters who don’t pay attention to depth. This time the propeller, motor, and hull were trapped in thick bubbly mud.

“Helpless, I watched as the lake floor pushed and pushed itself upward, then the boiling action began to slow. I wondered where the excess water was even going, but that was the least of my worries. How the heck do I get off this lake—or should I say, muddy swamp.

“I fear what will happen next if I wait for a rescue and decide the best option is to escape on foot. Not sure how anyone could get another boat or vehicle out here, anyhow.

“Luckily, I wore my galoshes on this fishing trip and hopped out. My feet sunk a few inches, but not too far and I am confident I can trudge to shore. I must make to shore, I tell myself. My truck, my escape vehicle, is in the parking lot. My steps are agonizingly slow and make a sllllurp! slllllurp! sound when I pull them from the mud.

“I notice not a single life form, lest myself, is visible. No fish, crustaceans, or seaweed. In fact, there wasn’t even trash or debris. Where did they all go? It’s like someone filled the bottom with a horrendous amount of dirt. Dirt soaking up the water; that could explain all this. Who am I kidding. None of this makes any sense. But my legs are tiring and I need to keep my brain occupied as I stomp through the new Spargus Swamp. I wondered how far the boat had been from the launch when I abandoned ship. Two to three miles? I had at least a quarter mile left in this thick sticky crud.

“But I made it. You’ve got no idea how happy I was to feel the firmness of solid ground. I ran to my truck, the mud dripping off me.

“I started it up and peeled outta there. But not long later a game warden stopped me, asking why I had an empty trailer. I told him what happened. He didn’t believe me and so I reluctantly agreed to go back with him.

“What do you know. The lake was right as it was when I drove onto it. No mud in sight. My boat was gone and I was dumbfounded.”

“So what happened after that, Grandpa?”

“Nothin’ happened, except I never got another boat.”

“Why not?”

“Grandma wouldn’t let me. She said I was too reckless and fudged enough fish stories as it is.”

“I like your fish stories cause they’re true.” 

“Well, she insists I should be more careful and not sink the boat.”


Copyright 2018 Jennifer E. Miller

Friday, February 2, 2018

When You’re Too Old for Text Messaging




This story was inspired by actual events. 


When You’re Too Old for Text Messaging
By,
Jennifer E. Miller


Jane: Hello, Cathy, Dina, and Marah. I found these photos of our kids from five years ago. They look so little.

Cathy: (thumbs up emoji) How adorable!

Dina: Love the photos. We should have a bunch reunion.

Jane: A brunch get together would be fun. The kids would love it.

Dina: I typed bunco, but brunch would be fine.

Cathy: Actually, you typed bunch.

Dina: Stupid automobile!

Jane: Oh no! What happened to your car?

Dina: Nothing. I didn’t say anything about my car.

Dina: Grrr. That was supposed to say “stupid autocorrect” for changing bunco to bunch which you read as brunch. Then it changed autocorrect to automobile.

Cathy: Haha!

Jane: Well, a bunch of old bunco queens could get together for brunch.

Cathy: You only sent the last message to me and not the group.

Jane: I did? Hmmm. I hit reply all.

Dina: I got it!

Cathy: Got what?

Dina: Jane’s message.

Cathy: The one she sent to just me by mistake?

Dina: No, the one she sent to everyone about us bunco gals going to brunch.

Cathy: I’m confused.

Jane: I think I hit reply all and you thought I did just a single reply.

Cathy: Wait. Was there an email?

Jane: No ???

Cathy: I don’t have a reply all on my phone.

Jane: Me neither. I didn’t know what it was called to send a reply in a group text versus to a single person.

Cathy: I’m confused.

Dina: Don’t worry. Just pick up the conversation with a bunch of bunco queens reuniting for brunch.

Cathy: (thumbs up emoji)

Marah: Sorry it took so long for me to get back to everyone. I didn’t receive any photos.

Marah: Messages might me out of order.

Jane: (resends photos)

Marah: Cuuuuute!

Marah: So the kids are playing a bunch over lunch and Dina needs a ride because her car broke down?

Jane: No.

Marah: Ahh! Will someone call me?

Jane: Do I have your number?

Dina: You just proved you do!

Jane: Huh?

Cathy: Text messaging uses phone numbers. Same ones as calling.

Jane: When I tap her name it goes straight to text messaging.

Cathy: Well, that’s odd.

Jane: I will mail out letters with a few suggestions for brunch and everyone can mail them back with their selections.

Dina: Good enough for me.

Marah: Yes, that sounds much simpler.

Cathy: (thumbs up emoji)

Jane: Shoot. How will you guys get your updated addresses to me?

Cathy: Why can’t we text them?

Dina: Because automobile might screw up the street names.

Marah: Don’t rely on your GPS.

Dina: What are you talking about?

Dina: Oh! Not again!

Jane: Change of plans, I see. Whose house are we meeting at?

Cathy: No house. We just need to get our addresses to you without our phones automatically changing the spelling of our street names.

Jane: If we met at one our houses, we could play bunch, too.

Jane: *bunco

Dina: Oooo! Jane’s hosting brunch!

Marah: Yes!

Cathy: (thumbs up emoji)

Jane: LOL That works, too. Then I only have to worry about one address.

Marah: Perfect.

Dina: Pick a date and time and send away.

Cathy: (thumbs up emoji)

Jane: Coordinating via text is compounding.

Dina: What?

Marah: Huh?

Cathy: I’m confused.

Jane: Stupid automobile.

Jane: Dammit!



Copyright 2018 Jennifer E. Miller

Friday, January 26, 2018

Flash Poetry Friday: The Gull's Perspective

Photo By Jennifer E. Miller 2017

While reminiscing about a trip to the ocean last summer, I started a little story but it morphed into a poem. I generally don't write poetry unless it hits me like it did this morning. Enjoy.


The Gull's Perspective

At the edge,
the tide's ebb and flow
brush against my small, flat feet.
Crustaceans bob with each lap.

Against the horizon
the far-off waves swoosh.
Constant, crashing.
Dive below, and there be silence.

The sun casts long shadows,
kaleidoscope of color across the canvas sky.
Warm hues,
pink, yellow, and orange.

Wind teases the grass
growing on the bank.
Returns to the sky and
stirs the dancing clouds.

People come hand in hand.
Children skip,
dogs bark, run free.
Time to leave.

At the edge,
Outstretched, knees bent, leap.
The air underneath carries me
overhead as I glide home.


Copyright 2018 Jennifer E. Miller

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