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Dammit, Jim, I’m a Doctor not a Writing Prompt follower!

If you don’t remember the origin of this series (or, more likely, you’ve just stumbled upon this posting in your quest for pictures of naive boy scouts and have no idea what I’m on about), you can catch up here with Part I, here with Part II, and here with Part III. Just don’t expect reading those entries to help any of this make sense and you’ll be fine. The rules are simple: include the ten provided words (underlined in the text) in a story using the given title. Failure to do so results in a slow, agonizing death (or equivalently, parenthood).

In my last “Write The Story” writing prompt post, I closed by promising the next entry would be out of this world. Given that a significant portion of the Earth’s orbit has been traversed since that post, the description is even more apt now.

Chasing the Enemy

Captain Kirk stared at the viewscreen, his escaped quarry but a blur far ahead of them.

“Scotty, I need more power!” Kirk shouted. The demon carnival cult nurse, possibly from the future, possibly from the past, but definitely not from this time, would not elude him again. The memory of the singing lute saleswoman, an innocent bystander phasered into ash in front of the Church of the Empty Void cathedral, hit him like a hammer. Kirk would not return to 55 Cancri B and the elder high priests without that nurse in his custody and ready to be turned over to the Church and its harsh justice.

Kirk remembered the solemn oath he’d made to the Church’s Popess, her ceremonial parakeet flitting back and forth across the cavernous audience room as he spoke: “I will not rest, your Holiness, I will not pause or deviate from my task, until I have captured that freakish time-travelling medic and placed her in your custody.”

Popess Hildegard Penelope Fiona Fabberblast III nodded. “We hear your oath, Federation Captain James T. Kirk, echoing majestically in this Empty Void, and we are pleased.” The parakeet, Father Commander Toby Hashtag McFizzBin IV, alighted on the Popess’ shoulder and pooped his approval. “Ah yeah,” he warbled.

The Popess smiled. “It is destiny, Federation Captain James T. Kirk. See the poop of approval the Empty Void has bestowed upon your words.” She gestured to the greenish brown blob slowly spreading across her ceremonial tank top, settling in among the older, fainter stains already present. “Go in Peace. Go in Justice.”

The Popess sat down on the Holy Folding Chair of Receiving and lifted both gilded loafers high. Kirk, following Church custom, knelt and kissed both heels to seal his commitment to the task. Then he rose, smiled rakishly, and said, “You’ve gotten something on your tank top. Do you need any help taking it off?”

Now, three days and four dead red shirts later, the diabolic nurse was within his grasp. Once he had her, he could return to 55 Cancri B, return to his Most Holy of lovers, and deliver sweet, downy justice.

“More power, Scotty! She’s getting away!”

The lights flickered, the engines rumbled, then all fell silent as the ship came to a stop. The devil nurse moved out of sensor range.

“Tha’s done it, Captain,” came Scotty’s response. “We’ve cracked a dilithium crystal!”

Kirk pounded the arm of his chair, hissing in frustration.

 

 

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Posted by on 6 October 2018 in Writing, writing prompts

 

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I’m not getting older, dammit! The world is just getting darker!

So I have a problem. One that requires more than a little blue pill to resolve.

Oh, if only a pill could solve this problem!

Or, for that matter, even a suppository.

I am deeply saddened to report that when it gets dark, and I mean very, very dark, I can’t see.

This is particularly disturbing because I do my best work at night. When it’s, you know, dark.

Yes, when my body most desperately needs to rest and rejuvenate itself, my brain is all, “Hold my beer.”

But in a good, non-alcoholic, non-electoral sort of way.

As you might be starting to suspect, I wrote this entry during the day. But I had no choice, given I can’t see at night.

You see, since everyone else in my household have brains that listen to their bodies, they’re all asleep at night.

Or should be. Get back to bed right now, Kiddo!

Sorry about that. Because of this (nearly) mass slumber, I can’t just flip on all the lights, crank up the volume on my .mod files, and take care of business.

Oh no. Everyone else in my household gets cranky when I turn the productivity up to 11 past, well, eleven. Suddenly the Missus and the one kiddo who actually does sleep at night are making snide remarks about needing rest and don’t I have work in the morning and look you’re making the dogs bark and oh my gawd what is that racket you are listening to it should be illegal to distribute it!

(My hearing is fine. Spider by They Might Be Giants is meant to be listened to loud.)

In order to appease the Missus, I turn everything off, go to bed, and when dawn’s surly light finally returns, make yet another medical appointment.

My doctor always sort of wilts and sighs when he walks into the exam room and sees me, like a blow-up punching bag suddenly deflating after one punch too many, then mutters “Oh no, not again.”

While most people would see this reaction and think, “Uh oh, I must be really sick!” I’m not worried. I’ve been here before. Seen the doc about this many times. And after the poorly hidden but inevitable eye roll, he always tells me the same thing:

“Still not getting more exercise? I really think you should focus more on that. Not being able to see in the dark? That’s nothing to worry about. You’re just getting old. Try turning on the lights.”

I am not getting old!

And turn on the lights?? Did he not read the above paragraph about other people in the house wanting it dark so they can sleep?

Since modern medical science has cast me aside despite my numerous co-pays, I was forced to do my own research.

My own experiments.

And I figured it out.

(So start writing up those Nobel Prize nominations, in case they won’t accept my self-nomination.)

I’m not getting older. Nope.

The world…is getting darker.

Hear me out. Once you see the evidence you will drop your jaws in amazement.

(Or disbelief. But if you stay silent, I can still imagine it’s amazement. So hush.)

Here’s a modern-day keyboard. Notice anything about it, aside from the dirt?

Peek-a-boo, I can't see you, goddammit!

Who uses this? Members of the band Disaster Area?

That’s right. It’s super dark.

Here’s what it looks like at night with all the lights in the house in the mandated OFF position:

I see London, I see France, I do not see this freakin' keyboard

The real reason schools started mandating touch typing classes…

Now you can see my problem (or more specifically, can’t).

And don’t tell me to get a back-lit keyboard! I’ve tried that! They require you to press a key combo to turn on the back-lighting.

Can you see any of the keys in the dark on the above keyboard? Can you? Then how the hell am I supposed to see them, hmm?

Think about it. Their design solution when you can’t see the keyboard is to require you to hit specific keys on the keyboard so you can see the keys. On the keyboard! It’s Kafkaesque!

They’ll be the first ones up against the wall when the revolution comes, let me tell you!

But, I perceive you mumbling as you nervously edge away, what do keyboards have to do with my supposition that the world is getting darker?

Well, aside from black reflecting back less light into the environment (ergo, making the surrounding environment darker), we once had, long ago, better keyboards.

And by better I don’t mean clickier (though that was better too). I mean beige:

Seriously, does it get any better than an IBM mechanical keyboard?

If my sunglasses were handy, I’d put them on before using this keyboard

See what this pinnacle of keyboard engineering looks like in normal lighting? Compare that to yet another modern keyboard (this time grey):

The Great Computer Compromise of 1995 between IBM and Apple solved nothing and only punted down the road the final, disastrous decision to switch to black for computers and accessories that future generations would lament for all time.

“We think beige is too bright. Waa waa. If black is too dark, how about we meet in the middle and try gray?” No. Just no.

But check it out what happened when I photographed my, if the Keyboard Industrial Complex PR hacks are to be believed, “old, tired, and passé” vintage keyboard in the dark.

WTFtl;dr! It actually got brighter:

OK, even I agree that white is too bright. Turn it up to beige AND THEN STOP!

CAPS LOCK on because DAMN IT, YES, I’M EXCITED ABOUT THIS KEYBOARD! AND NO COLLUSION! TOTALLY NO COLLUSION! COVFEFE!

Beige is a color I can type on in the dark. Because with beige, the cold encroachment of darkness is stopped in its sneaky, disabling tracks. I can look down and see the damn keys I need to press and then press them.

Presto! No back-light, front-light, or side-light required.

And it’s not just the keyboard. Tell me, how am I going to find that black CD eject button, cleverly placed, of course, right next to the black power button, on this particular, recently manufactured computer?

Stephen King's got nothin' on this scary beast

Hell, in this photo I have a spotlight on the chassis and I’m using a flash, and you still can’t see anything (except the dust bunny residue)!

But take away the above modern, fancy-pants, 1080p, USB 3.0, multi-core and multi-threaded (guess the color of the thread – hint: it’s BLACK) super computer and replace it with a late-80s, early-90s computer, and what do you get?

You get this, a right proper computing machine:

This. This I can effin' see.

The IBM “Just Try And Make The Room This Is In Dark” PS/2 P70. They don’t build ’em like this any more. Can’t afford to. Too much lead needed for the chassis.

That’s right. I closed the curtains, turned off the lights, and then tented the entire house (due to termites) before taking this picture, and it still looks like I’m standing outside on a bright summer day.

That’s how much frickin’ light beige computers give off!

Now it might be the termiticide talking, but I think I’d be able to use my computer at night just fine…if it were made out of beige. But sadly, as amazing as the above computer is, it does lack one feature deemed unnecessary in the 1980s and 1990s:

WiFi.


Do you have tales of horror trying to use an albedo-challenged computer in the wee hours? Share them in the comments so we can commiserate together and maybe put together a kickstarter to make a modern beige computer!

(Please comment. The Missus thinks I’m nuts and I need you to help me prove her wrong.)
 

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If H. P. Lovecraft had written for the New Yorker

Bit of a break from my writing prompt series, but don’t worry, I’ve got three more entries written and that fiendish carnival cult nurse is eager to return.

Instead, I want to write about something new: an entirely different writing prompt exercise!

After you’ve finished rolling your eyes, but before you click off to another site, let me explain. Not too long ago, a friend of mine posted a blog entry about a creative writing book written by Jeff VanderMeer called Wonderbook. She made it sound intriguing enough that I went out and bought it.

The book is about the creative process, has a lot of pictures and essays and, well, read my friend’s blog post. It’s late and I don’t feel like describing it when someone else already has. I will say that while I find the book interesting, it does require…focus, and because of that and my current circumstances¹, I have struggled a bit with it. Not to say I don’t like it, because I do, but it feels, to me at least, like a well-written textbook on an interesting subject rather than a light read that you tear through in one sitting.

Oh no, definitely not one sitting.

In keeping with this textbook feel, it has exercises. I just finished Chapter 1 and got to my first writing prompt, which I will reproduce below. This prompt is different from the WRITE THE STORY prompts in my other posts, in that WRITE THE STORY is a writing journal where each page gives me a bunch of words to integrate into a story. This exercise from Wonderbook just presents me with a picture and says go.

So, without further ado, the writing that resulted from the first prompt! Temper your expectations – this is no carnival cult nurse escapade…

I don't know. There's something fishy about this whole thing...

Insert New Yorker caption contest entry here. Mine? I’m pretty sure that isn’t the book I’m looking for.

 

Adolfus stared with no small amount of irritation at the apparition rising before him. The Emperor would be displeased with his fallen angel if Adolfus’ failures continued along these lines. An explosion or a smaller, more colorful conflagration, while still failures, were at least entertaining. But a giant, winged singing fish, conjured from a painter’s palette? That had been done before.

The owl on Adolfus’ right shoulder clicked with consternation, while the cockatoo on his left issued forth a stream of obscenities. “That last variation should have worked,” Octavius, the owl, finally sputtered. Tersius just continued to swear until Adolfus flicked her beak sharply and she fell silent.

“If you can’t be helpful, be quiet,” Adolfus scolded. Both familiars lowered their heads, in thought, submission, and shame as Adolfus stroked his chin, going over the incantation silently, trying to see the source of the error.

The winged fish, oblivious to the trouble it had caused, burped and then broke out in a wet, throaty rendition of Fidelio.

“I’m sure it sounds better under water,” observed Octavius.

¹ Life has been a little more…chaotic and uncooperative of late, and I’ve been using these writing prompts to break out of the funk I keep finding myself in. That, along with an improv class I’m taking, have been surprisingly effective, so I will continue to use this tool until such time I either feel better or the head honcho at Simon and Schuster stumbles across these vignettes, offers me a huge, multi-million dollar contract, and I find myself catapulted into literary fame. Or once I’ve gotten through the two books I’m currently using. Whichever comes first. I’m kinda hoping for the multi-million dollar contract option, but I don’t think Simon and Schuster can really afford me these days…
 
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Posted by on 22 July 2018 in Art!, Life, Story, Writing, writing prompts

 

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I had a fever for cowbell and all I got was a blood sample drawn

It’s that time again. I’m behind schedule, utterly bereft of ideas, and have a few writing prompt pages, not so freshly inked, waiting for their shot at the big time. If you don’t remember the origin of this series (or, more likely, you’ve just stumbled upon this posting in your quest for pictures of naive boy scouts and have no idea what I’m on about), you can catch up here with Part I and here with Part II. Just don’t expect reading those entries to help any of this make sense and you’ll be fine.

Drama In and Out Of the Lab

The carnival cult nurse had taken my blood samples back to her lab. Beginning to suspect there was more to her than met the eye, I picked up the telephone, called my wife to let her know I’d be late getting home, and followed my uncanny medical companion.

The shoe was on the other foot, I quickly discovered, and had to stop to swap them.Walking was far more comfortable after that, but more than one bystander had looked askance at me during the switch. I rushed to catch up with my quarry and in my hurry I tripped, despite the re-shoeing, and fell inside a roadside trench being dug as part of the More Canals for Gondolas initiative that was recently passed by the city council after a team of international boating enthusiasts, led by the world-famous microbiologist and amateur mountain climber, Gloria Pffitz, lobbied heavily for the ordinance.

The carnival cult nurse at this point revealed the hitherto unknown hidden heights of her diabolical genius. Somehow, while I’d been scrabbling my way out of the precursor canal, she managed to persuade multiple pedestrians, bicyclists, and other innocent and not-so-innocent bystanders to obstruct my forward progress.

Soon the nurse was but a distant blip on the horizon, the location of her secret lab still a mystery to me. Discouraged, I headed home where a suspicious wife and kids were chatting with my wife and kids, filling their heads with preposterous innuendo about infidelity. I assured my wife, to no avail, that my interest in the cultist was purely scientific, and passed the night on the sofa, where even the dog deigned not to keep me company.

If only I knew where that lab was, I could have spent a comfortable night there on a cushy lab bench rather than this lumpy sofa.

I promise you, the next entry in this series will be out of this world!

 
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Posted by on 10 July 2018 in Writing, writing prompts

 

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Ha ha. But no, I’m dead serious. Are you going to eat that or not?

Being young at heart is a curse.

It’s true.

When you’re actually young, you can eat all you like and not gain weight. You can not exercise and your growing body will consume all those calories and turn them into height and, somewhat less gloriously, pubic hair.

When you’re young at heart but not actually young, you think you can eat all you like. And because you feel young, you don’t feel the need to exercise regularly.

Then you unexpectedly get an ear infection and need to go to a doctor’s appointment and the nurse weighs you beforehand and gives you a healthy portion of side eye as she noted the number and holy crap, you’ve gained weight!

So yes, being young at heart is a cruel, dirty, unfair curse.

I wouldn’t be ‘sporting some extra baggage’ if I was old at heart. If I was old at heart, I’d be starving myself and cursing my slowing metabolism and worrying just how much longer I had left before I’d just die already and no longer be taunted by that ice cream in the freezer I can’t have.

How do I know this? Because nothing flips you from young at heart to old at heart like a nurse’s tut-tutted disapproval as she takes more than the usual amount of time to write the greater than usual number of digits associated with your current weight.

The doctor isn’t going to be much help, either. “How much exercise do you get, Ian?” he’ll ask you. And, “Have you considered getting more than that, Ian, because I think it would be a good idea.” You, like a fatted deer in the headlights, will just sit there on the wax-papered bed, still winded from the effort of having your blood pressure taken, unable to respond beyond mumbling, “Well, I do walk to my car on the way to and from work…”

Exercise. Is there a more cruel form of punishment in life? Some say there should be a Constitutional amendment banning it, but to that I merely have two words:

Eighth Amendment.

Let’s face it. Exercise hurts.

It does.

Don’t say it doesn’t. Don’t say it “Hurts so good.” That’s utter nonsense and you’re on drugs.

By they way, can I have some of those drugs? I’ve been having nightmares about walking to and from my car at a brisk pace, and I wake up with my legs in such fiery misery…

Look, if exercise didn’t hurt, we’d leap out of our beds every morning, a glint in our eye and all agog about getting in some cardio.

Do you leap out of bed every morning, or do you pinch your eyes shut, pull the blanket over your head, and wistfully think, “Just a few more minutes.”?

Uh huh, that’s what I thought.

Has anyone every said, “No thanks, honey, I’d love to jump back into bed, but that’s just not the cardio I’m looking for. Nope, it’s the gym for me, and nothing else!”

QED, exercise hurts.

So I’m faced with two choices now that I’m old and my excess calories are actually excess rather than fuel for additional stature and extra curly hair:

I can stay young at heart, be generally pleasant to hang out with, and slowly replace my wardrobe with items more…roomy.

Or I can become old at heart, starve myself, be grumpy all the time, and discover I still can’t lose weight if I don’t exercise.

I know it’s obvious what the more tempting solution should be, but let me tell you, starvation is hard.

First off, you are hungry. All. The. Time.

It hurts. Not as much as exercise, but it hurts.

Second off, and forgive me for going here, but bowel movements are weird. You kinda feel the need, but when you sit down your bowel is saying, “Yes yes yes!” but the rest of you is saying, “Now hold on there for just a second! I don’t think you’ve thought this through. Are you really sure you can afford to dump this material? There might be a few more nutrients to glean from it, why don’t we give it another run through first, hmm?”

Third off, well, actually, that’s about it. Unless you count not going out to lunch with your friends anymore as being a negative, and let’s be honest here, they’re more than happy that the hungry sourpuss has begged off this afternoon, given his penchant for whining about how miserable he is and always forking bits of food off their plate. For them, at least, your absence is a huge plus.

I wonder if there’s a compromise? A middle-aged at heart that allows me to eat all I want while still keeping off the extra pounds solely through the walks to and from my car? Maybe ensure a little extra exercise by jacking up the height of my car a bit so I have to step up into it.

“No, I don’t have huge knobby tires on my Ford Focus station wagon to compensate for a tiny, tiny penis. I did it for my health!”

It’s not fair. I’d be a lot happier in life if exercise just didn’t hurt so much.

 
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Posted by on 2 July 2018 in Angst, Life

 

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Can an 8-Bit Computer Run On Love? Or Is It Just A Desperate Bid For Attention?

Sure it looks cool and then you try to play Crysis on it

I try to show them I love them, but the love is on tape and takes forever to load…

Yesterday evening, the kiddos, most likely in a desperate attempt to get some attention from me, and having a vague understanding of my weird interests, entered my room and demanded I show them a computer restoration video.

Yes, demanded. Little foot stomping, little fist shaking demanded.

It turns out I had just noticed a 3-part Commodore 64C restoration series put out by YouTuber RetroManCave. Each episode was on the order or 20 minutes long, and much to my amazement, the kiddos not only stuck it out, but were genuinely interested.

You should have heard the excitement in their voices after the first video ended and I mentioned there were four more episodes.

And their annoyance when I later had to confess I was wrong and there were only three episodes.

I was tickled pink and moderately alarmed at the same time by their interest in such an arcane subject. But since I got to watch some “cool” videos and they were content to watch with me, it seemed prudent to refrain from rocking the boat about such an unlikely and convenient overlap in interests.

After all, it’s only going to be a few more years before the most I can get out of them is, “Whatever, Dad.” [bedroom door slam]

So imagine my shock this morning when they marched into my bedroom at 8:45am and woke me with loud demands that we buy a Commodore 64 to restore.

Yes, 8:45am. Don’t judge me! I like to sleep in on the weekends… I never get to anymore, but I sure would like to.

More specifically, my crack-o’-dawn awakening demon spawn wanted a C64 that we could retrobrite. They really, really want to retrobrite something.

For those of you not in the know, this is a process where you soak yellowed plastics in a mix of water and hydrogen peroxide for hours and hours in order to remove the yellowing. It’s not that far removed from watching paint peel and/or dry. And my kids wanted it. Bad.

I guess there are worse chemicals for them to crave and/or dabble with.

So bleary-eyed and in a mild state of shock, I started going through eBay listings with the kiddos, followed by a check of the types of TVs and monitors we had in the house to see if any had composite inputs (a couple do).

We didn’t bid on anything. The sheer volume of listings demonstrated, I explained to the kiddos, that there were plenty of the machines on the market and we could take our time to do proper research first.

They wilted. Visibly. And audibly.

Yes, when my kids wilt, they are not subtle or quiet about it. They sent the dogs scattering for cover at the furthest points of the house. Mirrors cracked. Wine glasses shattered. A filling shook loose from my tooth.

But I’m a firm, disciplined parent. I did not give in.

Did I waver? Hell, yes.

But did I give in?

No. I already told you that. Pay attention!

Instead, I partially caved and offered to let them help me “restore” my “vintage” Athlon 3200+ tower computer which has been sitting in my own man cave collecting dust.

Don’t think I’m unaware that some of you do view an Athlon 3200+ system as vintage. Screw you, Millennial scum!

Now there was no retrobriting because I don’t normally stock the necessary chemicals for such an undertaking. I have more than enough lye to dissolve a dead body, but peroxide? I love my hair the color it is.

But despite an inability to retrobrite (and admittedly, there was some need for it), there was still plenty of room for improvement when it came to this computer’s appearance, and the kiddos happily threw themselves into the project.

Well, up to a certain point.

First we took the disassembled casing and hosed all the parts off in the backyard. Both kids were up for that.

Then we used GooGone to remove sticker and tape residue. Still had two volunteers on board for that, though at this point my discipline with regards to photo documenting the process lagged considerably.

Then the off-brand Windex spraying and wipe-down commenced. At this point, we were down to one adult and one kiddo.

But give that one kiddo credit – he stuck with it through the Magic Eraser stage (he is now a born again convert to Magic Eraser). I didn’t lose him until the re-assembly stage started.

It was fun, the kids were really engaged with me and the project (for the most part), and when I put everything back together, the computer still worked. So yay!

 
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Posted by on 11 June 2018 in Life, Parenting

 

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I not only forgot I’m lazy, but the solution to the family mystery as well!

Back in February of 2017, I posted the first result of a writing prompt found in a book I’d received as an Xmas gift. It was Part One of an epic series of blog posts I was planning.

The epic series did not fare well, given that this is Part Two.

The book is called Write The Story and like my planned series, it has not fared well either.

In my household and on Amazon.

A used copy (not mine!) is now available on Amazon for less than a buck and a half, though why you’d want a used writing prompt journal is beyond me…unless you’re even more lazy than I am!

Reader: I can’t believe you finished that entire writing prompt book in one day! You’re normally so lazy.
Writer: Hey baby, never doubt me. It was a piece of cake. It practically wrote itself.
Reader: Why are you giggling?

My intention at the time had been to regularly use the prompts to write and then share the inanity here.

Easy content!

Except being lazy is even easier, and until recently I had written only one additional prompt.

And I’m also forgetful, because I completely forgot to post the second entry. Which I only discovered just now, as I was getting ready to post the third entry, written a mere one year and three months after the second entry.

(I’m nothing if not prolific…by sloth literary standards.)

So instead of the most recent entry, today I am posting the second entry. As before, since the prompt book itself is copyrighted, I am not reproducing the instructions, just underlining the words I was told to include.

A Family Mystery Uncovered

It all started on Sunday, when my sister showed up with a notebook. My notebook. My secret notebook, chronicling my adventures when I was marooned on that island with the carnival cult nurse.

Without preamble, I issued my sister a demand to return the journal which, thankfully, was written in cipher. However, she refused.

“I have to admit to feeling a great deal of curiosity when I found this,” she said. “So much so that I scanned each page, used OCR to convert it to a text file, and then hired someone to decode it. After a marathon hacking session over the weekend, they succeeded. And revealed to me the…interesting…story of those months you spent stranded on that uncharted isle.”

“Really?!” exclaimed my kids, eavesdropping and now excited. “What happened? Daddy never talks about it!”

“Yes,” said my wife, ice in her voice. “What does his journal say?”

“Perhaps we can arrange a mutually beneficial swap,” I suggested, a clammy cold sweat setting in. “I give you something in exchange for the journal.”

Which is why I’m at my sister’s house today, putting up wallpaper while my wife and kids are visiting my mother-in-law for an extended period. My arms, neck, and shoulders are aching with the exertion.

Fortunately, there’s a nurse waiting at home for me, and she knows how to make me feel better. So it was with a light heart that I returned home, crossed the threshold, and…found my wife and kids had returned.

Awkward!

 
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Posted by on 4 June 2018 in Mystery, Story, Writing

 

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