The Sledgehammer – Version 2.0

August 24, 2014

The Billionaire and the Blimp – A Short Story

Filed under: Short Stories — Brian Lutz @ 12:34 am

(Note:  This is a short story (more of a joke really) that I wrote about a year ago on Shmups Forum, one of the boards I read which is devoted to the topic of 2-dimensional shoot-em-up type games.  If it makes absolutely no sense (for most people who read , context is provided at the end, but don’t read it until after you’ve finished the story.)


There was once an eccentric Brazilian tycoon who traveled the world in a luxurious airship. No expense was spared on this craft; Every space was luxuriously appointed with the best that money could buy. He had fifty servants aboard who catered to his every whim as he flew around the globe attending to his business. Nonetheless, he never seemed content with what he had, and he was constantly remodeling and adding new things to his airship. Oftentimes, even his servants wouldn’t know just he had been up to until they showed up to make preparations for another journey.

One day, the tycoon was preparing to depart for an economic summit in America. Unfortunately, his personal chef got stuck in a traffic jam on the way to the airport, and was very late in arriving, so much so that he barely had time to board before the airship was set to take off. Fortunately, there were several hours before it would be time to prepare his master’s evening meal, so instead of heading for the galley, he took the time to get settled into his quarters and take a nap as the airship began its northward flight over the Amazon rain forest.

They were well underway by the time the chef was ready to begin cooking. He made his way toward the galley, but before he could get there, he was surprised to find his master waiting for him there.

“Ah, I was wondering when you would get here. Come now, I have a surprise for you.”

They both proceeded toward the galley, and when the chef opened the door, he saw that it had been completely remodeled since the last time he was there. There was gleaming stainless steel everywhere. Any appliance you could think of was available. There were convection ovens, fryers, griddles, Sous-vide machines, kettles, mixers, blenders… You name it, it was in this kitchen. The chef didn’t even want to know just how much his master had spent on all this shiny new equipment.

After the chef had taken several minutes to take it all in, the tycoon finally asked, “Well, what do you think?” The chef just stood there staring, unable to come up with a reply.

Sensing the shock on the face of the chef, the tycoon replied, “Well, I see you’re a little surprised by the changes, so I will leave you to it. If you wouldn’t mind, I think I would like to have some fish and chips this evening. I believe you will find that the fryer has already been pre-heated for your convenience. Please let me know when dinner will be ready.”

The chef continued to just stand there, staring at the newly remodeled kitchen. He never expected to see a kitchen this luxuriously appointed on land, much less on an airship. The tycoon, seeing that his chef had been staring transfixed at the new galley, finally tapped him on the shoulder and asked, “What’s the matter, is there something wrong with all this?”

It took some time before the chef was able to respond. Finally, he turned around, looked at his master, and replied:

“I never thought I’d be frying over a jungle.”


(If you have no idea what I’m talking about, take a look at this bit of butchered English from a video game released a number of years ago.)

June 18, 2014

A Tale of Smoke and Accordions: A short story

Filed under: Short Stories — Tags: , , — Brian Lutz @ 11:02 pm

Image credit: Flickr user Bernat Casero, Creative Commons


Based (very loosely) on a true story.  This is another one of me and my friends’  random conversations over dinner a few nights ago taken to yet another ridiculous and absurd conclusion.  There will be a quiz later.

It was on a gloomy Friday evening that me and a couple of friends found ourselves in front of the old Italian restaurant.  Neon beer signs glowed in the windows on one side of the building, and the decor of the place seemed to suggest that Julius Caesar himself probably ate here at some point, and they hadn’t bothered to do much remodeling since then.  Still, you never know when you might find a hidden gem in a dive like this, and I figured it was worth a shot.

As we approached the front door, the faint sound of accordion music began to emanate from the inside of the restaurant.  Instantly I recognized the tune as one of the standard cliché songs  you hear any time someone on TV needs something to sound Italian.  As I opened the front door, a pair of singers could be heard from some back corner of the room.  A quick look around confirmed that the place might have looked reasonably fancy at some point, but the decor inside looked almost as shopworn as the exterior, and yet the place was surprisingly busy.  Nobody was at the front counter, so as I waited I grabbed a menu and took a look.  It quickly became clear that the only thing luxurious in this place was the prices on the menu.  But before I could look up, a waiter in a dinner jacket and bowtie appeared in front of me.

“Can I help you?”

“Yes, a table for 3 please.”

“Would you like smoking, or non-smoking?”

“Non-smoking, of course.”

“And would you like accordion or non-accordion?”

The place wasn’t exactly all that huge, but I figured it’s tough to carry on a conversation with an accordion blasting in your ears, so slightly less accordion might be a good thing.

“Non-accordion please?”

“Ok then, you’d like the non-smoking, non-accordion section.  You will have to wait a bit, but if you’d like I could get you a table in the smoking accordion section.”

“No, we’ll… Wait, what?”

“The smoking accordion section.  It’s one of the loveliest corners in our fine restaurant.”

“That may  be, but why is it a smoking accordion section?  Did someone accidentally light their accordion on fire?”

“Of course not, that would be absurd.  You see, many years ago there was a great master accordion craftsman in the Italian village of Castelfidardo by the name of Giovanni Carini who crafted some of the finest accordions this world has ever seen, but he so enjoyed smoking his pipe that he could not bear to be without it.  One day in 1879, he got a brilliant idea to build an accordion with a pipe built in, so he could play his accordion and smoke his pipe at the same time.  ”

“OK, so…”

“Soon he carried his accordion everywhere he went.  Everywhere he went, people praised his fine smoking accordion, and soon everyone wanted one.  He always wanted to make people happy, so he made sure each of his children, and each of his grandchildren got a smoking accordion of their own.  One of our accordion players has one of these fine instruments, which sounds a bit different from a regular one.  And yet, some people prefer the sound of the normal accordion, so we offer different sections with each one.”

“But didn’t I say I wanted the non-accordion section?”

“Ah, you see, we don’t have much room here, so you may have to think of our non-accordion section as more of a less accordion section.”  This was starting to get just a little bit confusing.

“Well, OK…  The non-smoking accordion section, I guess.”

“And would you prefer the smoking accordion smoking section, or the smoking accordion non-smoking section?

“Didn’t I say I didn’t want to be in the smoking section?”

“So you’ll want the non-smoking accordion smoking non-smoking accordion non-accordion non-smoking section then?  Very well.”

“Wait a minute here, what’s all this about smoking accordion smoking?

“You see, our accordion player isn’t the only one here with a smoking accordion.  Many of Mister Carini’s grandchildren immigrated to this area over a hundred years ago, each bringing their prized smoking accordions along.  They have now been passed down through generations, and the great-great grandchildren who own the prized smoking accordions are now some of our most loyal customers.  As with Mister Carini himself, they too travel everywhere with their smoking accordions.  But not all of them smoke their smoking accordions, so we need to have a smoking accordion smoking section and a smoking accordion non-smoking section.”

“Ah, I see,” I said, even though it was pretty clearly a lie.  “But what if I don’t want to be near any smoking accordions, smoking or otherwise?”

“Oh, then you’ll be wanting the non-smoking accordion smoking accordion non-smoking smoking section then?”

“Wait, I…”

“Or was it the non-smoking accordion smoking accordion non-smoking non-smoking section?  I’m sorry sir, I seem to have forgotten what you wanted.”

By now I might have been getting just a little bit impatient.  “What if I don’t want any freakin’ accordions anywhere near me?”

“That depends, sir.  are you looking for the non-smoking accordion non-smoking accordion smoking smoking section or the non-smoking accordion non-smoking accordion smoking non-smoking section?  There shouldn’t be too many accordions in either of those I should think.”

“Well, I’ll…”

“Actually, now that I think of it, I think we might have had to put a smoking accordion smoker in the non-smoking accordion non-smoking accordion smoking non-smoking section tonight.  I’d have to find out if he’s smoking his smoking accordion in order to figure out if it’s the non-smoking accordion non-smoking accordion smoking smoking section or the non-smoking accordion non-smoking accordion smoking non-smoking section right now.


“Or I just had a lovely little table open up, but it’s in the smoking accordion section next to some smoking accordion non-smokers…”

“Oh, you mean the smoking accordion non-smoking accordion smoking non-smoking section?”

“Actually, I believe it’s in the smoking accordion non-smoking accordion smoking smoking section.  Unless the smoking accordion has switched places with the non-smoking accordion, in which case it would now be the non-smoking accordion non-smoking accordion smoking non-smoking section… Or was that the non-smoking accordion non-smoking accordion smoking smoking section?  You’ll have to bear with me sir, I occasionally have trouble keeping track of these things.”

“Gee, I wonder why.”

“Either that, or it appears I also have a table in the non-smoking accordion smoking accordion smoking non-smoking section…  But the smoking accordion smokers don’t smoke their accordions much there.”

“Actually, I was hoping for a section without any smoking accordion, without any non-smoking accordion, without any smoking accordion smoking and without any smoking accordion non-smoking.”

“Did you mean the non-smoking accordion non-non-smoking accordion non smoking accordion smoking non-smoking accordion non-smoking smoking section or the non-smoking accordion non-non-smoking accordion non smoking accordion smoking non-smoking accordion non-smoking non-smoking section?”

“Um…  Whichever one of those has the most non-smoking in it, I guess.”

“Unfortunately, we’re all booked up in that section, but if you’d like, I think the smoking accordion player should be off by 9, and the smoking accordion non-non-smoking accordion non-smoking accordion smoking non-smoking accordion non-smoking  smoking section should be a non-smoking accordion non-non-smoking accordion non-smoking accordion smoking non-smoking accordion non-smoking  non-smoking section, assuming there aren’t any non-smoking accordion smoking smokers in that area by then.  Would that work?”

“Um…  On second thought, do you happen to do take-out?”



March 9, 2014

Furniture Spam: A Short Story

Filed under: Short Stories — Tags: , , , — Brian Lutz @ 12:23 am

Image credit: Flickr user Greenkozi, Creative Commons

Earlier today, me and a couple of my friends made a trip out to the friendly neighborhood monolith of vaguely Scandinavian furniture to partake of the suspiciously cheap breakfasts they offer in their cafeteria and pick up some miscellaneous housewares.  While we were there, we saw that they were running some sort of event where you could get entered into a drawing for either a gift card or the ever vague “other prizes” by signing up for their mailing list.  After all, when you get a chance to get your inbox spammed for the next eternity or two in exchange for a longshot chance at a $250 furniture shopping spree, you’ve got to take it, right?  Then again, when me and my friends get together, we have a tendency to take these things to the most illogical and absurd conclusions we can possibly think of…

Thanks to the ridiculously cheap alarm clock that failed to go off for the third time this week, Ed was running late for an important meeting at work.  After hastily putting on the first three socially acceptable items that came out of the dresser drawer and halfheartedly combing his hair into something that bore a passing resemblance to a part, he quickly rushed down the stairs.  If he hurried, he might still have a chance of getting there on time.  After grabbing some frozen thing out of the freezer for lunch and shoving it into his bag, he quickly made his way to the door, opened it…  and stopped dead in his tracks.

It had happened again.  Why did it have to be today, of all days?

There, sitting on the front lawn, was a trendy new sofa, complete with matching loveseat.  Between these was a rather lovely little side table with a nice lamp, and a well-coordinated area rug tied the whole set into a coheisive group.  It was immediately apparent that someone had carefully selected these items to coordinate with each other and to compliment just about any room, and the overall effect made for a cozy little gathering place  that the whole family could enjoy.  On top of the loveseat, a colorful flyer helpfully suggested some coffee tables and shelves that might coordinate well with this grouping, and even provided some valuable coupons.  Not that Ed really had much use for the coupons in the first place, since a number of bookshelves had already appeared on the front porch just a couple of months ago, and one of the entertainment centers highlighted on the flyer was already occupying a considerable portion of his garage.

In fact, ever since the fateful day a few months before when Ed put his name and address into a drawing at the big-box furniture store and somehow managed to end up winning the grand prize, this type of thing had become a rather common occurrence.  The sign on the entry box had informed him that he could win free furniture or other great prizes, but there didn’t seem to be a whole lot of details there.  Surely if he had bothered to read the fine print he might have figured out what he was getting himself into, but at the time they were offering the meatball combo in the cafeteria for a dollar off the regular price, and he was too hungry to bother with such trivial things.  Maybe if he had stuck around for the drawing he might have been able to figure out what was going on, but he had too many other errands to run that day and had to leave quickly after lunch.  So it wasn’t until furniture started randomly showing up on his doorstep one day that he even had any idea what was going on.

At first, the whole thing was kind of amusing.  He would walk out to collect the mail and find a brand new set of pots, pans and dishes sitting at the doorstep.  Upon returning from an evening out he might find that his parking spot had been occupied by a brand new queen size bed, complete with tasteful yet cheerful sheets, pillows and duvet.  But then it just kept coming.  At least 2 or 3 times a month, Ed would find upon waking up that another shipment of stylish new furniture had been mysteriously delivered in the dead of night, always fully assembled, and always arranged very carefully to brighten up the place while still allowing maximum possible use of the available space.  And whoever was doing it was apparently very efficient about it, because he had never heard a peep from them, and always slept right through it.  Nobody he had talked to at the furniture store had any knowledge of what was going on, at least none that they would admit to.  It was clear to Ed that this was a well-organized and professional operation.  And in spite of his best efforts, nothing he tried to do seemed to be able to stop it.

And here he was, late for work already and facing the dilemma of yet another living room set on the front lawn.  And the clouds on the horizon made it clear that he was going to need to get the stuff inside unless he wanted it rained on.  Ed quickly took out his cell phone and scanned through his contacts list, trying to see if he could find someone he could call for some help.  Lately this had become an increasingly difficult task, as many of his friends stopped answering his calls after the fourth or fifth time he needed help hauling stuff into the garage.  Not that he had a whole lot of room in the garage anymore anyway.  A lovely dining room group was currently occupying the space where his car once parked, and a nice computer desk and set of filing cabinets followed soon after, as did a set of dresser drawers and nightstands, and a couple of rather large decorative vases.  Even Ed had to admit that it was all pretty nice stuff (at least in comparison to the mixed assortment of bachelor pad hand-me-downs and garage sale specials that comprised the current decor of his house) but somehow that didn’t provide a whole lot of consolation when he knew he was going to have to call the boss and explain that he was going to miss the meeting because the lawn is full of brand new furniture.  Yes, again.

After a couple of calls that went straight to voicemail, Ed quickly carried the lamp into the house and made his way to the shed in the backyard, realizing he would need to sort this one out later.  As he trudged back toward the front yard with a couple of giant blue tarps, he silently rued the day that he had signed up for the furniture store’s spam list.

August 21, 2013

The Ugly Little Bomb Pop Incident – A Short Story

Filed under: Short Stories — Tags: — Brian Lutz @ 1:24 am

On a night like this, I’m pretty sure that just about anyone more creative and/or bored than myself could have come up with any number of better places to be than hanging out in the frozen food aisle at the supermarket, but with as hot as the weather was outside, I certainly couldn’t think of any.  Well, Alaska maybe, but that tends to be a little tricky when I’ve got a 9am meeting tomorrow morning that I’m expected at.  This was a lot cheaper anyway, and besides, as of the last time I checked the modern American supermarket tends not to be populated by too many wild animals inclined to devour you.  To be perfectly honest, I had no idea what I was even there for, only that it was way too hot outside, and the frozen food aisle seemed as good a place as any to get out of it.

After aimlessly wandering up and down the aisle a couple of times I decided that I should probably consider actually buying something there before someone decided I was loitering.  There was no shortage of potential choices here, but for some reason, nothing seemed quite right.  Ice cream just sounded too heavy right now, and none of the good stuff was on sale anyway.  The usual litany of ice cream bars, sandwiches and other novelties wasn’t exactly sounding all that appealing either.  And the pies, cakes and other desserts were just right out.  Without any idea what I was even looking for, I began to make yet another slow walk down the aisle, pausing only to let the occasional shopping cart pass by.

Then it hit me.  As I looked into the freezer case, I saw the Bomb Pops.  Even though I hadn’t had one in years, I could immediately taste them in my mind.  The combination of cherry, lime and blue raspberry flavors sounded like just the thing I wanted at that moment.  And yet, as I took a closer look at the case, I found a rather odd sign placed above them:  “Please ask an associate for assistance with these items.”  I quickly dismissed the sign as some sort of misplaced leftover from something else as I reached for the handle to the door, but strangely enough, the door would not open.  Further investigation revealed that for some unknown reason, there was a lock on this particular freezer door, which appears to have been a recent addition.  Not that it would have done any good anyway, since I could have just reached in from the next door over and grabbed a box anyway, but that was beside the point.  At this point, I suspect most people would have just given up and wandered a couple of doors over to the generic popsicles a couple of doors down, but at this point morbid curiosity took over.

Down at the far end of the aisle I found a store employee stocking the shelves, and wandered over.  Trying not to act too suspicious (which I suspect was rather difficult at this point since I had probably already spent twenty minutes slowly walking up and down the aisle by this time)  I got the clerk’s attention, and asked him where I might find the Bomb Pops.  In retrospect this was probably a really stupid question since I had been staring right at them no more than thirty seconds before, but I naively assumed I could feign ignorance.

The employee looked up from the shelf he had been stocking, pointed back to the front of the aisle, and said, “The popsicles are at the front of the aisle on the right.”

“Yes,” I replied, “But I’m looking for the Bomb Pops.”

“I’m afraid we don’t sell those anymore,” replied the stocker.  “But we do have a 2-for-1 sale on our store-brand ice pops…”

At this point, there was no point in maintaining any sort of pretense.  I pointed toward the locked case.

“It appears that you have at least three boxes in the freezer over there.”

“Fine, but I’m afraid those aren’t very good.  If I were you, I’d strongly recommend the Fudgsicles…”

At this point it was clear that this had become far more of a hassle than the situation really warranted, but by now I was determined to carry on, if for no other reason than to see just how ridiculous it could possibly get.

“Is there a problem with the Bomb Pops?” I asked.

“No, I can assure you that the Bomb Pops are just fine.  I stocked them in that case on Thursday.”

“Then why can’t I just buy a box?”

“BUY A BOX?” the stocker exclaimed, with a sudden look of shock on his face.  “Why on Earth would you want to do THAT?”

At this point, I found myself straining a bit to avoid breaking out into laughter.  After a pause, I replied, “Well, because I’m looking for a snack.”

“Well, if you’re looking for a snack, why don’t you just go get some POTATO chips?” the clerk quickly blurted out, sounding like a con artist who had just figured out a way to weasel out of his rapidly collapsing web of deceit  “The Pringles are currently Buy two get one…”

I interrupted before he could continue, “Potato chips aren’t what I’m here for, I’m looking for Bomb Pops, and I’m trying to figure out why this is so difficult.”

“Clearly you have no idea what you’re asking for!” the stocker exclaimed.  Apparently our conversation had attracted the attention of several other shoppers in the store, who had now congregated at the opposite end of the frozen foods aisle.  By now we had also attracted the attention of a store manager.

“May I help you?” the manager asked as he approached the conversation.  The stocker took this opportunity to hastily  back away, apparently wanting nothing to do with this conversation.  It seemed that he had some pressing business in the cereal aisle that required his immediate attention.  A shortage of Cap’n Crunch perhaps?

I continued the conversation with the store manager.  “I’m just trying to buy some Bomb Pops.”

The manager paused for several seconds.  “Are you sure about that?”

“Yes,” I replied.  “It seems they’re being locked up in the freezer for some reason.”

“Of course they’re being locked up,” the manager replied, with a slight hint of condescension in his voice.  “We can’t just have anyone wandering in and buying the things now, can we?”

“I don’t see why not,” I replied.  “I mean, they’re just popsicles, right?”

“Popsicles?” responded the manager, who had now reached the point of full on indignation.  “Of COURSE not.  Only Popsicles are popsicles!  Those things are…  Are…  Are…”  He struggled to find a word.

“Quiescently Frozen Confections?” I offered.

“Yes, those!” the manager replied.  “But it’s a lot more complicated than that.”

“How complicated can it be?  I’m looking for some Bomb Pops, your store is selling them.  If it wasn’t for the fact that you’ve got the things locked up in the freezer I’m pretty sure I’d be halfway home with a box of the things already.”

“Wait,” replied the manager.  “You mean you would actually take the things HOME?”

“Of course I would, unless you expect me to sit around and eat a whole box of the things here in the aisle.”

“Clearly you have no idea what you’d be getting yourself into.”

“And just what would I be getting myself into?”

“Trouble, of course!”

“Listen,” I replied, “Just how much trouble could I get myself into with those things?  I mean, I’m pretty sure I could just walk into the Safeway three blocks away and buy the things off the shelf without any hassle.”

“Of COURSE those irresponsible nitwits at Safeway would sell the blasted things to anyone who wandered in off the street!” the manager snapped back, clearly irritated by now.  At the other end of the aisle, the other shoppers continued to watch, transfixed by the pointless-yet-amusing drama unfolding before their eyes.  The manager paused again, this time for several seconds, possibly noticing for the first time the stares of the other shoppers.  Afterward, he assumed a much quieter tone.

“I apologize sir,” he said.  “I suppose we can’t expect every customer that wanders into the store to understand.”

“Understand what?” I replied.

“Let’s just say that there have been certain… Shall we say… UNFORTUNATE incidents, related to Bomb Pops in this store.”


“Well,” the manager replied in hushed tones, almost as though he didn’t want anyone else to hear, “We still haven’t figured out all the details really, but the place was a disaster area.  It took three people an entire Graveyard shift just to clean up all the red and blue goop before the morning rush arrived.  I mean, we were finding the stuff in the BAKERY for Heaven’s sake!”

“So that means you have to lock up the Bomb Pops now?”

“It’s the only way to be sure.”

“Be sure of what?”  By now, It was pretty clear that this entire conversation was a was doing nothing but wasting everyone’s time, but nobody was backing down at this point.

“That there won’t be another Ugly Little Bomb Pop Incident.”

Wait,” I replied.  “Let me get this straight.  Somehow there was an incident involving Bomb Pops, and now everyone is so afraid of the things that they have to keep them under lock and key?”

“To make a long story short, yes.”

“So why do you even sell the things?”

“Believe me, I’d be more than happy to just get rid of the things and be done with them, but someone in corporate just keeps putting the things into the weekly ad, and the warehouse just keeps sending more.  We’ve tried explaining to them, but they just ignore us and keep expecting us to sell them anyway.”  By now, the manager’s face grew increasingly nervous, and as he spoke he made several glances to the side, as if to look for a way out.  I figure that by this time the stocker with whom this conversation started was hiding out in a dark corner of the breakroom, waiting for  the whole thing to blow over.

“Listen,” the manager said nervously, apparently getting as sick of this conversation as I was, “If I let you buy a box of Bomb Pops, will you agree to never speak of any of this again?”

“Well, that’s what I’m here for, right?”

“Are you sure there isn’t something I could do to talk you out of this?”

“OF course not,” I replied.  Sure, I had just wasted the last fifteen minutes in a pointless argument over a three-dollar box of popsicles, but I sure as heck wasn’t leaving without them after all that.

“Very well then,” the manager finally said, with a barely concealed sigh.  “Now if you can follow me over to the customer service desk, we have some papers we will need you to fill out.”

As we proceeded down the frozen foods aisle toward the front of the store, I noticed another “Please ask an associate for assistance” sign located above the case holding the Eggo waffles.  I’m pretty sure I don’t even want to know what prompted that one.

October 31, 2012

A House Too Far: A Halloween Short Story (Part 2)

Filed under: Holidays, Short Stories — Tags: , — Brian Lutz @ 11:47 pm

(Note:  If you haven’t read it yet, part 1 can be found here.)

As Old Johnson watched from his perch at the top of the ridge, he could see the shadowy figures beginning to converge on the Baker House below, flashlights in hand.  From the skies above, he also saw the occasional ghost float into the window.  As the skeptics have continued to grow in number over the years, the number of ghosts attempting to drive them away has gradually declined to the point that only a few brave souls even make the attempt anymore.  Old Johnson figured that most of them would be sticking to all the old tried and true methods of haunting.  Granted, when you’ve been hanging around in incorporeal form for the last fifty years or more, your options are a little bit limited.  Most new ghosts, once they managed to get past the initial stages of unbridled rage and swearing vengeance on whatever brought them to their fate, generally learned to manipulate very small objects without too much trouble, and gradually worked up to somewhat larger ones.  A dropped candlestick here, a rattling window there, maybe even something thrown across the room if you’re motivated enough.  In most cases that and a few eerie shrieks and moans would be plenty of skills to hold down a respectable haunted house, but not the Baker House.

At least that’s the way it seemed.  Although Old Johnson hadn’t been to the Baker House before, he had heard all the stories.  It didn’t matter what you did to the skeptics, they would immediately find an excuse and write it off.  Bangs, rattles and creaks were settling.  Ominous noises were the wind.  Vague senses of dread meant you probably left the oven on at home.  There’s just nothing you could do to these guys that they wouldn’t immediately dismiss as the work of some easily explained natural phenomenon.  An unsubstantiated rumor was floating around that one particularly vengeful (and thoroughly demented) spirit even tried a full-fledged fountain of blood coming from the chandeliers many years ago, and even that was quickly chalked up to some sort of plumbing malfunction.  What was even more shocking was the sheer speed with which the skeptics could come up with these “perfectly logical” explanations.

Eventually, the crowds outside began to wend their way into the house, and it appeared that the 61st annual Halloween meeting of the Society of Skeptics would be getting underway shortly.  It was at this point that Old Johnson decided to make his entrance.  Even though he could float right through pretty much whatever he wanted, he still preferred to stick to the front door.  Completely unnecessary, but it seemed to be one of the few forces of habit that remained from his mortal existence.  Someone even conveniently left the door ajar, so with a small amount of exertion he was able to swing it wide open with a convincing slam.  One of the skeptics, sitting on a dilapidated old couch in the entry hallway, looked over, quickly made some offhand comment about the wind, and went back to his own thoughts.  Not that old Johnson expected anything else.

The entry hall opened up into a rather large foyer, where the main body of skeptics was gathering on a number of conveniently placed folding chairs.  As Old Johnson entered the room, he could see that a number of the spooks and spectres were already hard at work.  One swung slowly from a chandelier located above the  crowd (which was no easy feat for the average ghost, but given enough time it was possible to work up enough momentum to get the chandelier swinging pretty well.)  Another young lady spook was in the upper part of the room, inching a dusty old book out of its place on one of the shelves.  It was clear that she hadn’t had much experience with this, so this was likely to take her most of the evening to accomplish, and likely to be dismissed as a problem with the structural integrity of the bookshelf in seconds.  With various ghosts throughout the room straining at their various self-appointed tasks, the whole scene looked like something out of an amusement park haunted house, except for the part where none of the humans in the room could see any of it, and when the occasional physical manifestation showed up they were surprisingly quick to make up an excuse.  But in spite of his considerable talents in object manipulation, Old Johnson didn’t join in.  As he found himself a spot in a conveniently empty corner, someone came to the podium (or what passed for one, which at this point seemed to be some sort of end table with a dusty old bust with the face of some long dead tycoon on it)  and called the meeting to order.

“Gentlemen,” said an older man in a somewhat raspy voice, “We would now like to call this 61st annual Halloween meeting of the Society of Skeptics to order.  Everyone please rise.”

Everyone in the room stood up, and began some sort of nonsensical chant about how everything had a logical explanation and that there was no such thing as a haunted house.  As they stood, one ghost hastily floated across the room and tried to push one of the chairs away from its occupant, but was barely able to move it a half an inch before the chant ended, and everyone sat down.  The leader of the society rose again to speak.

“Once again, I would like to welcome everybody to the 61st annual Halloween meeting of the Society of Skeptics.  As you may know, the mission of our society is to prove irrefutably and incontrovertibly that there is no such thing as a haunted house, and that ghosts and other supernatural phenomena are nothing but figments of an overactive imagination.  As you may know-”

His speech was interrupted when a drinking glass full of water that had been placed on the table suddenly tipped over and spilled all over his suit.  Old Johnson could see that the glass had been given some assistance in this matter.

Pausing for just a second, the leader of the society continued, “Oh, I’m sorry, I suppose I must have a talk with my doctor about my hand-eye coordination.  Anyway, as I was saying…”

It was at about this time that Old Johnson tuned out the speech, which consisted mainly of shopworn claptrap about how only idiots believe in the supernatural and how skeptics would soon be the ones in charge of everything because everyone else was being too superstitious about things.  Instead, he turned his attention to the audience, looking for the most gullible person he could find.  Shockingly, this turned out to be a lot less difficult than it might seem at first, since there were clearly a lot of gullible people here trying desperately not to look gullible.  Having the advantage of being incorporeal and not having to worry about silly things like personal space or the laws of physics, Old Johnson was able to move at will through the crowd as they sat, seemingly enthralled by the drivel coming from the podium.  As he moved along, he noted that several people in the audience were reading from a small reference card of some sort.  A closer look revealed that it contained a list of some of the various symptoms of the other ghosts’ attempts at haunting, followed by an “explanation” of exactly what they “actually” were.  He didn’t have time to read the whole thing, but he did find an unattended one underneath a chair, and quietly began to “push” it underneath one of  the couches in the room to come back and read later.  One person actually noticed this, but after muttering something under his breath about how breezy it was in the room, and quickly turned his attention back to the front of the room.

Finally, after identifying 3 or 4 particularly gullible subjects within the room, he turned his attention back to the speech (or, the way it was being presented, more of a sermon really) at the front of the room.  As before, the ghosts throughout the room were busy with whatever endeavors they thought might manage to invoke a scare or two (but in reality, the whole “blood from a turnip” thing seemed more likely at this point.)  Occasionally something would rattle, fall, creak or sound ominous, but by now most people weren’t even paying attention.  As the leader droned on, Old Johnson moved over toward one of the targets he had identified earlier, moved his mouth toward the skeptic’s ear, and sat in wait as he listened to the speech from the front of the room.  Even by ghost standards this was nothing unusual; already Old Johnson had observed several other ghosts trying to make spooky noises in peoples’ ears, suggest to them that they’re getting really, really, REALLY creeped out right now and generally just trying to haunt people one at a time, but as with practically everything else going on around here, it was dismissed as something in the wind.  But Old Johnson had a different idea.

“And by now,” the leader droned on, “we should ALL know that there is NO POSSIBLE WAY for this house to be haunted!”

With this, Old Johnson spoke quietly into the skeptic’s ear, “There is no possible way for this house to be haunted.”  The voice, as perceived by the human that would be hearing it, would be very quiet, almost imperceptible.  Perhaps it would even take some time for it to register.  While this was happening, the leader continued.

“There is NO SUCH THING as a ghost!”

Old Johnson repeated into the skeptic’s ear a second later, “There is no such thing as a ghost.”  This evoked an almost imperceptible nod.

“You have NOTHING to fear in the Baker House, There is a perfectly logical explanation for EVERYTHING!”

Old Johnson continued quietly repeating the leader’s words into the ear of the skeptic.  “You have nothing to fear in the Baker House.  There is a perfectly logical explanation for everything.”  As he continued, it became clearer and clearer that he was reacting to what he was hearing.  After all, the voice in his head was telling him exactly what he wanted to hear, so why not?  He kept up the routine for several more minutes, until there was a brief lull in the leader’s speech.  Old Johnson used this lull to make his play:

“So what am I even doing here?”

The skeptic paused.  Perhaps for the first time all night, he thought for a moment.  He pulled the reference card out of his pocket and consulted it, but found nothing.  Sure, the card included the standard explanation for hearing unexplained voices, but in the skeptic’s mind, there was nothing unexplained.  The voice he heard was merely confirming to him exactly what he had already heard, and exactly what he wanted to hear.  For all intents and purpose, it was his own voice speaking to him.  Old Johnson knew that he was on to something, so he tried again.

“My bladder is starting to get full.”

With this, the skeptic began to twitch almost imperceptibly in his seat.

“I really need to go to the bathroom.”

While this was going on, the leader continued on with his incessant hectoring and lecturing, but the skeptic was distracted.  Whether or not it was actually true, he had started believing that he really needed to go.  It took Old Johnson a few more tries with this suggestion, but eventually the skeptic got up from his chair, and shuffled past several other people toward the center aisle.  Old Johnson followed close behind, but soon he realized he had a problem:  There were no fewer than six ghosts in the bathroom, just lying in wait for someone to try out their usual shopworn haunted clichés on.  Sure, the old self-unrolling toilet paper trick tended to be a hit at parties and in the right context could literally scare the pants off of someone (believe me, this actually isn’t a good thing,) but these were skeptics here, and such a party trick would likely serve only to put this man right back into skeptic mode, probably finding an explanation on that little card in his pocket.  Old Johnson knew that he would need to make his move now, and make it fast.  He quickly caught up to the skeptic, moved up to his ear, and whispered again:

“You know, this whole thing is really kind of silly.  I should really just go home.”

The skeptic stopped for a second, appearing indecisive.  Old Johnson took the opportunity to whisper again:

“Wait, I didn’t really need to go to the bathroom anyway.”

A quiet filled the air, interrupted only by the droning of the leader’s talk in the other room.  The skeptic stood motionless for a second.  Old Johnson made another suggestion:

“What am I even doing here?” 

The skeptic shifted his weight from one foot to the other and looked back.  Quietly he said, “What am I even doing here?”

“This is getting boring,” Old Johnson whispered again.

” This is getting boring,” the skeptic muttered just a second later.  He turned around again, looking toward the front door. 

“I should really just go home.”

Almost immediately, the skeptic spoke.  “I should really just go home.”

With that, he turned and headed for the front door of the Baker House, still wide open from Old Johnson’s earlier entrance.  In the other room, the other skeptics were all too busy listening to the speech, and none of them paid any attention to his departure.  A slam of the door briefly interrupted the talk coming from the other room, but naturally everyone just assumed it was the wind, as usual.

Eventually, the overly long speech came to an end, and as the skeptics milled about in the foyer and socialized, Old Johnson experimented a bit more with his methods on a couple of the other gullible people he had identified earlier.  Although he did manage to get one or two minor reactions, his results turned out to be decidedly mixed.  Eventually the night wore down to a close, and the rest of the skeptics dispersed.  None of the other haunts in the Baker House had paid much attention to Old Johnson that evening, and since the skeptic had not left the building screaming, few were inclined to treat it as anything special.  Eventually the ghosts too began to float slowly off into the distance, assuming that the skeptics had won the battle for another year.  Old Johnson quietly wandered back into the woods, made especially spooky by the ominous clouds overhead and a stiff breeze in the trees.  Perhaps he hadn’t gotten the screaming panic that ghosts everywhere seek to inflict on the Society of Skeptics, but that wasn’t what he had been aiming for.  What he had done was sow the seeds of doubt.  Perhaps if his efforts were effective enough, he could get a few more people to either leave next Halloween, or perhaps not even show up in the first place.  Then he could work on a few more people.  And then a few more.  Eventually, the numbers would dwindle, to the point that even the leaders of the Society might be left vulnerable.

Sure, it wouldn’t have the glamor of scaring the living daylights out of them, and it might take years or even decades to successfully pull this off, but that didn’t matter to Old Johnson.  After all, for better or for worse, he had all the time in the world.

A House Too Far – A Halloween Short Story (Part 1)

Filed under: Short Stories — Tags: , — Brian Lutz @ 1:59 am

From the top of a nearby hill, Old Johnson surveyed the scene.  Barely visible in the few remaining rays of twilight that managed to penetrate the dark clouds overhead was a house in the small ravine below, dimly illuminated by what appeared to be candles in the windows.  Although this particular house had been built stoutly enough to withstood nearly 200 years of the ravages of time, it clearly hadn’t been spared their effects, as even at this distance the telltale signs of wear and neglect were clearly visible on the house’s outer walls.  The decrepit state of the house by itself was enough to keep most sane people away from the place,  but even the bravest souls of Old Johnson’s acquaintance would think twice before approaching the Baker House on Halloween night.  Most saw that as a warning to stay away from the place, but there were a few particularly brave or particularly foolhardy individuals who saw the Baker House as a challenge.  Perhaps the greatest challenge of all.

Oh, there was no doubt that the Baker House was haunted.  In fact, on a particularly busy Halloween night, one could find no less than 200 ghosts lurking the halls of this old Colonial mansion.  In the Baker House, it wasn’t the ghosts you would have to worry about.  Each year on Halloween night, the Baker House was infested with something even more terrifying than ghosts, creeps, spooks, haunts or perhaps even demons.  For each of the last 83 years, Halloween night found the Baker House occupied not only by ghosts, but also by a particularly intractable group of skeptics.  And in all that time, no amount of chain-rattling, vase dropping, door slamming, tormented groaning or any other manner of haunting could get a single one of the skeptics to budge from their ironclad conviction that there was no such thing as a ghost. 

It wasn’t always this way.  The Baker House, abandoned by its owners over 150 years ago under unfortunate circumstances that are now largely lost to the winds of history, was once a respectable haunted house, with a resident population of spooks and spectres who could generally invoke a hasty retreat in the occasional visitor who entered the house on a dare or a bet with a few rattles of the chandelier or the occasional sense of impending doom.  Eventually, the house developed a reputation as being haunted among the local Human population, a reputation that the house’s occupants drew great satisfaction from.  That all changed back in 1929, when one particularly foolhardy individual by the name of William Meyer boldly made a large wager with several members of the local gentry that he could not only spend an entire Halloween night in the Baker House, but that he could prove that there was no such thing as a ghost while doing so. 

To this day, it is still disputed exactly what happened during that fateful night, but either by sheer force of will or sheer force of thick-headedness (possibly aided by the fact that his relatively meager financial reserves would in no way come anywhere near covering the amount of the bets he had made,) William Meyer managed to somehow completely ignore any attempts at haunting made by the resident ghost population on that fateful night.  As Mr. Meyer emerged from the house the following morning apparently none the wiser (and considerably richer), he made a big show out of it, loudly proclaiming to the local populace that there was no such thing as ghosts.  The following year in another show of braggadocio, he invited several others to join him in the Baker House.  These additional houseguests, perhaps aided by Mr. Meyer’s boastings and hasty excuses for whatever unexplained phenomena occurred during the night, proved just as intractable as Mr. Meyer himself, and once again, all emerged from the house boasting. 

Over the years more and more people joined in, to the point that in 1951 a number of them formed a Society of Skeptics within the town, and from that time forward, each year the Society makes a big deal out of spending Halloween night in the Baker House, where they spend the night mostly boasting to each other about  how nothing can scare them, explaining to each other just why ghosts can’t possibly exist, and generally sitting around not believing in things.  Although the resident ghost population of the Baker House departed for browner pastures many years ago, some spooks just can’t resist the challenge of trying to scare off the skeptics.  To date, none have succeeded, and not for lack of trying.  As many a ghost has learned from painful experience, about the only thing that a typical Society of Skeptics member believes is that they don’t believe anything.  Gradually many of the local spooks gave up on the Baker House, and over time the house began to develop a reputation exactly opposite from the one it once enjoyed:  An unhaunted house.  Every once in a while a particularly brave ghost would boldly pronounce that he would be the one that would finally scare away the Society of Skeptics, but inevitably each one would fail.  Now it was Old Johnson’s turn to try.

One thing was clear about Old Johnson:  He was old.  Exactly how old nobody knew, and even he didn’t really care to bother finding out.  When you’ve restlessly wandered the Earth for as long as he had, you tend to forget a lot of things, and to be honest, Old Johnson kind of liked it that way.  By now, Old Johnson had no idea how or even when he died, nor did he know why he ended up trapped between two worlds as he had, and he didn’t really care to find out either.  He fancied himself to be something of a free agent among ghosts, providing haunting services when and where they were needed.  Over the years he had seen a lot of ghosts that had chained themselves (literally and metaphorically) to various places, apparently unable to get past the unfortunate circumstances of their mortality, and he was determined not to be one of them.  So in order to keep himself busy, Old Johnson made a business (if that’s what you could call it) of acting as something of a freelance spook, going from place to place and haunting as needed.  Sure the hours could be long and the pay nonexistent (not that it really mattered anyway) but it had to be better than sitting in some decrepit old basement forever with nothing to do but rattle the doors every once in a while.

Although Old Johnson was generally content with this arrangement, he was prone to occasional bouts with extreme boredom and unease with his situation.  Sure the usual haunting kept him reasonably well occupied, but it was often mind-numbingly boring, and rarely much of a challenge.  Somewhere in Old Johnson’s heart (or whatever passes for one in a disembodied spectre,) he knew that there had to be something better for him out there.  It was on his aimless wanderings last year in search of a new haunt that he first heard of the Baker House.  Immediately he was drawn to the challenge of trying to haunt the unhauntable, but the reports were discouraging:  For years, there had been countless ghosts that had gone before him, and all had failed to raise so much as a vague sense of disquiet among the skeptics that infested the house.  At one time or another, practically everyone had tried practically everything in the book (up to and including throwing the book at someone’s head) and every time the skeptics would brush it off with one lame excuse or another.  In casual conversations with some of the ghosts that had failed in their quest to rehaunt the Baker House, many of them spoke of a belief that there had to be some way through their defenses, some weakness that would send them fleeing in panic.  But nobody had found that weakness, and by now all but the most diehard of spooks had given up on the Baker House altogether.  Many spoke of elaborately constructed and elaborately choreographed plans, some calling for an all-out assault on the collective psyche of the skeptics, others calling for a slow buildup of dread leading to a crescendo of sheer terror.  Inevitably, all of these would fall apart.  Most of them somewhere around step 1.

To be honest, Old Johnson didn’t have much of a plan either.  But he did have an idea…

(Continue to part 2)

October 16, 2012

The Pizza Genius: Based on a (Sort Of) True Story

Filed under: Food, Short Stories — Tags: — Brian Lutz @ 12:04 am

It was about 6:30 on a rather nondescript Tuesday evening when I arrived at the pizza place.  After getting off work an hour earlier I had stopped along the way home for some grocery shopping, and at this point didn’t feel particularly inclined to cook.  This is, of course, a pretty typical situation; Being single and living alone means that I rarely find a hot dinner waiting on the table for me when I get home from work, and in the unlikely event that this does happen I’d be more likely to call the cops than to note my good fortune.  In the meantime, I was on my own for dinner as usual, and since the pizza place was basically next door to the grocery store, I figured it would be as quick as anything else.

When I walked in the door, I was the only customer there,  Nonetheless, all the employees seemed to be back in the kitchen attending to various duties, so there was nobody at the counter.  I watched from in front of the cash register for a minute or two as whatever pressing matter that was going on at the pizza oven was attended to.  As I did so, I happened to notice that one of the employees had a shirt on that proclaimed him to be a “Pizza Genius”.  This seems like a rather bold proclamation, especially in a place like this.  This particular place (name withheld, but probably not too hard to guess) doesn’t exactly have a reputation as the type of place where one would go when looking for true excellence in pizza.  If you’re looking for cheap pizza and\or you’re looking for fast pizza, this is the place for you.  But if you’re looking for good pizza…  Well, you probably want the pizzeria ten bucks up the road.  Nonetheless, whatever was going on the kitchen was either more important or more enthralling than the presence of a hungry customer waiting at the counter, and my presence continued to go unnoticed.

For several more minutes I continued to observe the goings-on in the kitchen and generally tried to look interested  in the purchase of a pizza at some point in the semi-immediate future, but the Pizza Genius and his cohorts continued to be enthralled by whatever happened to be going on in the kitchen, and I still couldn’t determine what exactly they were doing.  Perhaps they were running some sort of experiment to push the limits of pizza making and lead us into a bold new future of Mozzarella-fueled innovation.  Perhaps there was some sort of dire pizza crisis underway that mere mortals such as myself could not comprehend, and they were working feverishly on the solution to save us from the threat of a pizzaless existence.  Maybe the Genius’ pizza-making abilities had been honed to such precision that the mere act of making a large pepperoni with mushrooms and olives required split-second timing, and they couldn’t take their eyes off of it for a second lest something goes horribly wrong..,  Well actually none of that seemed very likely given the fact that this was a random take-out pizza place in a nondescript suburban strip mall and not some top-secret pizza lab in a secured bunker.  It was far more likely they were just catching up on the supply of pepperoni before the next wave of the dinner rush came in. 

And yet, for all my speculation, my presence had yet to register with anyone behind the counter in spite of several minutes of my standing there,  It was about this time that I got sick of standing at the counter, and decided to go take a seat in the waiting area until someone happened to notice I was there.  Once I was seated, several more minutes of assorted pizza geniusness happened in the kitchen, apparently oblivious to my presence.  Finally, whatever critical Olive Application Window (or whatever it was that was going on) was  approaching had apparently safely passed, and the Pizza Genius finally wandered back toward the counter.  Unfortunately, before I could react to this, the door opened and a lady came in and walked up to the counter.  I guess it was my fault that I had lost my place in line since I had sat down, but since most pizza purchasing transactions here tend to be rather quick, I just got in line behind her rather than press the issue.  Of course, anyone well versed in Murphy’s Law and its ilk can probably guess what happened next.

At this particular pizza place, the entire menu consists of about ten items, none of which should be particularly complicated to figure out.  In spite of this simplicity, this lady seemed to be determined to plumb its depths and unlock its hidden mysteries, whatever those might happen to be.  What for most people would be a simple transaction that would usually get them in and out with their pizza in less than a minute rapidly turned into a lengthy discussion of the intricacies of the menu that would probably be suitable for a scholarly dissertation if anyone could be bothered to write any of it down.  As the lady carefully considered her family’s pizza consumption needs and weighed them against the choices being offered, the Pizza Genius patiently explained things that could probably have been figured out just as easily by looking at the menu board.  I suppose this would have been quite the sight to behold if not for the fact that I was behind all this in line and just trying to get one of the pizzas that was probably already sitting in the big warming box right behind the counter.  Somewhere during this whole process, a mother with three children entered the store and took her place behind me as her kids alternately complained of being hungry and pestered her for some quarters to play the little pinball-like bouncy ball device in the corner. 

 Eventually, after several more minutes of careful consideration of the choices and more deliberation than some people put into the purchase of a new car, something resembling a pizza order emerged out of the whole process.  Given how long this whole process took, it wouldn’t have surprised me if she then tried to pay with a check.  Fortunately, the payment process was only half as painful as I had expected it to be, and the transaction was finally completed.  I had previously planned on ordering the 3-meat pizza which usually takes a bit longer than the generic cheese and pepperoni types usually kept on hand, but by this time I had already spent far more time waiting for nothing than  I had really planned on and was half-expecting to get hit up for quarters by some random six-year-old if I waited there much longer, so I just defaulted to Pepperoni, paid for my order, and went on my way.  For all I knew, the guy behind the counter was, in fact, a pizza genius.  Unfortunately, this doesn’t do a whole lot of good when the person in front of you in the line happens to be a pizza idiot.

July 6, 2011

An Example to Others: A Short Story

Filed under: Short Stories — Tags: — Brian Lutz @ 2:57 am

Image credit: Flickr user Kol Tregaskes, Creative Commons

It was a lovely summer day as I took my customary stroll through the park.  From the looks of things, I wasn’t the only one taking advantage of the weather, as the park was full of people walking around, playing in the grass, or just lying down in the shade of one of the park’s many trees.  For my part, I wasn’t paying much attention to any of it, and I mostly just wandered along the paths that cut through the grassy areas, halfway lost in my own thoughts, occasionally pausing to take notice of something that happened to catch my eye.

Suddenly, I was snapped out of this state by the sudden notice of what appeared to be a commotion around the fountain in the center of the park.  From a distance, it was difficult to tell what was going on, but I could see that a crowd was beginning to gather.  Slowly I approached the scene, not wanting to get involved in anything that could result in trouble, but as I approached, I could see the crowd continuing to gather.  As I got closer to the fountain, I still couldn’t see what was going on, but unless my eyes were deceiving me, it appeared that there was actually someone who was trying to climb up on top of the fountain.  By the time I arrived at the scene, quite the crowd had gathered.

Sure enough, as I looked on the scene, I saw that the man I had seen earlier had now climbed up to the top of the fountain, fully clothed, and was now standing on what was surely a precarious perch at the top, seemingly oblivious to the torrents of flying water splashing around him.  There wasn’t any indication that the man was drunk or otherwise a danger to anyone there, but he also didn’t seem to be up on top of the fountain for any particular reason that anyone could see.  It almost seemed as though he was waiting for the still-increasing crowds to gather before he set out to do…  Well, whatever it is that people standing on the tops of fountains in busy parks do.  Which could be anything really. Clearly nobody here had any idea what was going on, except that there was a man of indeterminate sanity who was  already doing one crazy thing, and seemed to have the potential for more.  For all anyone there knew, that thing could be anything from a sermon to a sales pitch.


December 25, 2010

He Knows When You’re Awake

Filed under: Holidays, Short Stories, Stories — Tags: — Brian Lutz @ 1:47 am

(A semi-autobiographical short story…  Except for the parts I made up.  Which is is most of it.)

Although the clock had not technically ticked past Midnight yet, as far as I was concerned Christmas Eve was finished.  Another fine family Christmas Eve get-together was now in the proverbial books, all present had been well fed (with the possible exception of a couple stubborn children that seem to regard any food which isn’t made of sugar to be a necessary evil at best,) friendships and kinships had been renewed,   and all of the usual traditions had been carried on for another year.  Everyone had gone their separate ways to prepare for their various Christmas celebrations the next day, and as far as I was aware, nobody’s car had broken down on the way home this year.  I had retired to my own apartment to settle back into my usual late-night routine.  If Midnight Oil is a commodity to be burned, I seem to have enough of the stuff to supply a small country with a healthy strategic reserve, and don’t anticipate a shortage anytime soon.  When you frequently go to bed at 1:30 in the morning, the stroke of Midnight doesn’t often mean much more than a few numbers on the clock, and even though Christmas would be arriving soon, tonight didn’t seem to be any different from any other night.  With maturity and responsibility (sort of) comes a certain degree of pragmatism, and the knowledge that even if I had a stocking hung by the chimney with care (assuming I had a stocking or a chimney in the first place) the chances of it being filled with anything were slim.

So on this particular occasion when Midnight arrived, I found myself momentarily startled when an unexpected clatter arose from the roof.  Yet, after a brief pause as my mind sought out a plausible explanation, I dismissed it and went back to whatever task I had been working on. Until a couple of seconds later it started again, and sounded suspiciously like… hooves?  By this point my mind seemed to be trying to rationalize the noises in one way or another, and yet at the same time virtually every bit of Christmas lore I had squirreled away over the years was flooding back into my conscious mind with a vengeance.  I just knew that it couldn’t be possible, but at the same time I found myself wondering:  Could it really be Santa Claus?

Of course, this being an apartment building, I figured that even if it were somehow true that Santa Claus was actually here, he would have to be here for someone else.  And yet, morbid curiosity demanded that I investigate further.  I hastily put a semi-decent looking shirt back on, found a convenient pair of shoes, and slowly opened the door to my bedroom… And almost jumped at the sight.  There, in my very own living room, was Santa Claus!  Every last detail, from the impeccably polished black boots to the jolly red stocking cap, was just the way you’d expect it to be.  As quietly as I could, I closed the door down to just a crack to try to see what he would do…  But he didn’t seem to be doing anything.  He was just standing there, apparently looking out the window at something, until he turned in my direction:

“Oh, just come on out, I know you’re watching in there.”

As I slowly opened the door, my mind was racing even more than it was before.  What I was seeing was impossible.  There’s no possible way that what was happening right there, right before my very eyes, could ever happen.  And yet it was undeniable.  Santa Claus was standing right in front of me, staring me in the face.  If I had been thinking rationally at the time I probably could have come up with at least a dozen different questions I would have asked in this situation, but I had never anticipated the possibility that this would ever happen, and even if I had I  was clearly not thinking rationally at this point.  After taking a couple of seconds to try to regain some semblance of composure, I stammered out:

“Um….  Mr. Claus?”

“Please, just call me Santa, I’ve never been big on formality.”

For some reason I found some small degree of relief in that statement, and I slowly began to calm down a bit.

“OK Santa…  So…  Um…  What are you doing here?”

“Well, it’s Christmas, isn’t it?  Why else would I be here?”

“Yes, I know that…  But, why are you HERE?  I mean, don’t you have presents to deliver?”

“Oh, that?  Don’t worry, it’s being taken care of.  Everyone will get their presents on time.”

It was quickly becoming apparent that I wasn’t going to be getting any clear answers out of Santa, but still, I had to ask.  “I’m not worried about people not getting their presents, I’m just curious as to why you’re here, in my apartment.  I mean, I’m just some random single guy in a big city full of nice little boys and girls, I certainly haven’t done anything that would warrant a visit from Santa this year.  I mean, it’s not like I asked for a new bicycle or anything like that.”

“Hmmm…  You’re right.”  Santa paused for a second, almost as if to think.  “I don’t think we’ve received any requests from you since you asked for that electronic Animator thing back in 1987.  How did you like that one anyway?”

Pausing briefly to poll some of the dustier corners of my memory, I recalled the toy in question.  “Well, I enjoyed it, but I was never much good at drawing on it.  I think the batteries eventually leaked and it stopped working though.”

“Well, I’m glad you liked it, I had a particularly clever elf that came up with that one.”

“Wait, the whole elf thing…”

“I’m sure you’ve heard of the operation.  Granted, some people have taken a few creative liberties with that one over the years, but I’d like to say I’m pretty proud of the way we’ve been able to modernize the whole operation over the past decade.”

Although I probably would have been fascinated to learn more about the logistics of elf-based mass-production techniques, it seemed to me that Santa was dodging my questions.  It looked like I was going to need to take a different strategy if I was going to get any answers.  Although I remained in a state of shocked disbelief at this point, I figured that I could at least follow the standard rules for this type of thing.

“Oh by the way, I’ve got some extra cookies over here if you’d like some, and there’s some milk in the fridge.”

“If you don’t mind, I think I’ll pass.  I’ve gone through about 756 million cookies so far tonight.  A glass of water would be nice though.”

I fetched a cup from the cabinet, poured a glass of water, and handed it to Santa.  He accepted it, and quickly drained half the cup.

“Thanks, I was getting thirsty, and all that eggnog really gets to you after a while.  So, have you been good this year?”

I found myself taken aback by the question.  Pausing for a second to think, I briefly considered making up some sort of story, but quickly came to the realization that any effort to do so would prove futile.  After all, who in their right mind would think they could get away with lying to Santa Claus?  Finally I replied, “Well, um…  I’d like to think I’ve been good this year, but sometimes I’m not so sure of that.  I’ve got things I need to improve on, and things I need to stop doing, and some that I should be doing that I’m not.  For the most part though, I think I’ve been reasonably good.”

“Well then, let’s see here…”  Santa went to his bag, and pulled out what appeared to be an incredibly long list of names.  “Lute, Lutt, Lutto…  OK, here we go, Lutz.”

Santa paused for a minute, squinting into his glasses, providing just enough time for a certain degree of low-grade dread to settle over me, for reasons that I still couldn’t quite explain.  Finally, Santa looked up.

“Well, It looks like you made the nice list, but just barely.  You really should work on not judging others so quickly.”

At that moment I felt some relief, but at the same time a bit of reproach.  I still couldn’t be sure that I was seeing what I was seeing, but I could not deny what I had heard.

“So… Um…  What does that mean?  If this is about presents, I really don’t need any.  I have what I need, and can get what I want.”

“I know that.  I just wanted to make sure you know where you stand.  So, is there anything you’d like to know?”

By now, I had no shortage of questions, and almost no answers, but some of the sounds coming from the roof seemed to suggest that the reindeer (or whatever else happened to be up there) were getting impatient.  Knowing that time was of the essence, I quickly asked the first question that came to mind:

“So, what’s the deal with the whole Rudolph thing?”  Silently I scolded myself for asking something so frivolous, but Santa answered.

“Oh, Rudolph?  Yeah, he’s up on the roof leading the sleigh team tonight.  I do have to say that the whole thing’s been exaggerated quite a bit over the years though, The nose is more of a brownish-red really.”  A thud from the roof startled Santa for a minute, then he looked back:  “Well, I better be going, I’ve still got most of the West coast to finish up.  Have a merry Christmas, and remember that I’m watching…”

At this point Santa moved toward the door and went into his familiar laugh, which faded quietly into silence as he walked straight through the closed door and off to attend to the rest of his duties.  I stared blankly at the door for some time, still not believing what I had just seen, until I caught an unfamiliar glint in the corner of my eye.  Turning toward the Christmas tree, I found myself looking at a new ornament I hadn’t seen before hanging from one of the upper branches of the tree.  This ornament, although relatively plain compared to the rest of the ornaments on the tree, seemed to sparkle a lot more than one would expect it to.  I stared at this ornament for a few moments as rational thought slowly began to return to my mind.  As I looked out the window, I could see a faint glimmer of what almost appeared to be a sled  pulled by nine reindeer.  I could almost swear that I heard some jingle bells off in the distance too, but couldn’t be entirely sure of this.  Still a bit shaken by the whole experience,  I returned to my room, and prepared to settle down for what I suspected would prove to be an unexpectedly short Winter’s nap, with a lot more than visions of sugar plums dancing through my head.

Once again, I would like to offer a thank you to all of my Blog readers, and wish everyone a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

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