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Thread: April '15 Elimination

  1. #1
    Pièce de Résistance Scheherazade's Avatar
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    April '15 Elimination

    Please vote for the story you like best and the winner will be taking part in the final vote at the end of the year.

    Discussion of the stories, to avoid influencing the outcome of the poll, are not allowed.

    If contributors would like to ask questions, they should email us at [email protected].

    Please note that the authors agree to keep their identities secret when they enter the competition.
    Those who breach this rule will be disqualified automatically.

    Good luck, everyone!



    Competition Rules
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    Note: This poll will close on May 24th.
    ~
    "It is not that I am mad; it is only that my head is different from yours.”
    ~


  2. #2
    Pièce de Résistance Scheherazade's Avatar
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    "Freedom 500 -- The Thrill Is Gone"

    Warm summer mornings are like a magnetic force, pulling on one's motorcycle. There is no wrong reason to explore a new road on a Saturday morning. I was working for my brother-in-law for the summer after having flunked out of college the previous spring semester. My sister and he were a well-to-do couple living on an exclusive, man-made lake in the foothills of the Berkshires. They had a couple of bikes, hers was a Kawasaki 400 and his was a just-enough-larger 500 something or other, Japanese make, back before the wonderful idea of the ninja bike came out. Whatever it was represented freedom for me and it was licensed, insured and inspected to boot. My brother-in-law was a great guy -- pretty free with his stuff, given that he had worked hard for everything he had, where as I, well, let's just say, I was the baby of the family. Anyway, he asked me to, "take it easy on the mileage", it being a new bike and his having a new job and no time to ride, so I unhooked the odometer and I rode!

    The idea was, it was a cost-effective way of my getting from their place, where he let me stay, to the job he had gotten me, and back. I gratefully accepted this and also got to know many of the evening establishments around the area. Weekends allowed for such extra curricular exploration as the weather permitted. One Saturday morning, instead of turning the usual left, as I did every day to go to the shop, I took the right, having always wondered where it went.

    Out of Lunenburg, past the Lanni Orchards, I rode north and then east toward Townsend Mass. on Route 13. Winding lazily into Old City and up through what I used to think was the Willard Brook State Forest, it was good to get out of the city limits and explore the many gears this thing had. I still wore my full-face Bell helmet. Even though the strap was somehow too short to comfortably thread into the double ring cinch on the other side, the helmet seemed to "snuggle down" into position, comfortably encapsulating my skull. If I ever had had a major snafu, the helmet probably would have popped off just before my head struck the pavement, but, so far, so good. Somehow that old helmet made me feel as though I was "in" something.

    Anyway, I was on the Old Fitchburg Road, the morning still had the smell of moist pines about it and I twisted through the forest as the last few days were running out of August. This bike had a little red, digital display of what gear you were in. Sometimes, like right then, and especially when I was feeling, how shall I say, extra-creative, riding this machine was like playing a really cool, new video game. I just wanted to keep shifting, getting more ships. With my 200 pounds on board, the engine didn't really have enough torque to wind up very good in gears much higher than fourth. But hey, ride what you've got.

    Not long after you blow through Townsend, still on Route 13 you get a nice run along the edge in the Townsend State Forest, at some point, rolling right into New Hampshire. This came as a little bit of a surprise to me, being from Maine, I didn't think New Hampshire was that close at hand. It was probably getting on past 11 a.m. by then and the sun is getting nice and hot. I hadn't planned on trekking, one never does, but here I am, entering a new state. What did I want to do today? Just ride, that was it. My stomach signaled casually that it might want for something, sometime soon. I made a mental note and continued on.

    Departing Route 13, somewhere around Brookline I think, I bent more to a true easterly heading, thinking I might stop in Hollis, New Hampshire. I pulled over to shed my skin and adjust my creativity level, up in a little, gravelly wood road. The bloodsucking type bugs of summer were just about gone and this was a wonderful little place, some water could be heard trickling down from a cool spring. There goes the sound of the, "hot bugs", as I remember my father used to call them when I was a kid at our summer place on the lake, but that is another story. I hear them rasping in a nearby tree, never in unison; they always seem to wait for one another, perhaps competing in a mating buzz-a-thon, they remind me that this is going to be a, "hot one". The water is so cool, cold really, that I risk a deep draft, down in a push-up position. I'll probably get some rare form of New Hampshire dysentery, but man is it good, with my mouth so dry. There is nothing like water.

    Blowing up a little sand coming back onto the highway, I hug the tank, leading forward, getting the weight on my front tire, enjoying a little, "slewing", I learned to ride this way: dirt bike style. With enough imagination, this almost seems like a dirt bike, fairly light, ***-end breaking loose and sliding sideways like this, I feel in complete control. Now let's see, Hollis... whoops, there it was, I've gone through already, well, wasn't that hungry anyway. Moving onward, wearing only a T-shirt on top, it's really nice, I feel like I'm getting nutrition directly from the sun. Holy, Nashua, up ahead, there'll be something there worth eating.

    The Cathay Island Chinese Restaurant has several patrons at the bar already. Gradually getting my vision back from the outside, it's dark red in here. I don't like to eat at a table 1 all by myself, so I asked Mike if I can look at a menu right here at the bar. Mike, the bartender, is an interesting guy and I wind up hanging out there a lot longer than I plan to. I'll take a drink just like any other man, but I always try to keep in mind that I don't have the door frame to balance me. The couple of times I've ridden sloshed, I've wound up skidding out in the ditch, under estimating a corner, or worse, using of the oncoming lane to survive a curve. Things happen fast at highway speed and it's crazy to handicap oneself inordinately. I need to take a whiz and splash some water on my face.

    That first desperate urination after a bit of drinking seems never to come soon enough. As I lean on one outstretched palm on the wall, I contemplate the mornings adventure thus far and arrive at the unanimous conclusion that this last little bit has been definitely, tarrying too long here at the water hole. The day had been filled with Sun and fun and outdoor adventure. Sitting in this frigid meat locker in the candlelit darkness and lying to the bartender is not where I want to go today. Shifting off my palm and finishing up, I notice, through the half open window, low and behold, it's my trusty old bell, hanging, nonchalantly, face up, on the handlebar. A flurry of racing thoughts roar through my mind like the Daytona 500 -- is the window big enough? I have tallied up quite a tab and, I don't care if I ever come back here again. Did I leave anything back at the bar? No. I went out through that window faster than an eel into a minnow trap! Outside, I casually brushed myself off and mounted up, shaking my helmet into place. And in one choreographed, dirt-bike move, start the bike, kick down to first while powering off and stowing my kick stand, I return my foot to the peg and shift into second.

    I ride off to the south, looking back like a guy who just walked out on a bar tab. And there is the local constabulary, heading the other way... could they be on to me already? Probably not, but I am three sheets to the wind and I've got no speedometer, whoa baby, let's go easy. The thrill starts down the pit of my stomach, rising up like fireworks, I want to scream out, "Ye ha! I did it!", but instead, I drive straight and try to contain my effervescence while the giggles are bubbling out of me. It's a great big company, the losses won't come out of Mike's pocket, I hoped.

    At the time, it was "being spontaneous", and a total adrenaline rush. The only wrong of it was the fear of being caught. Footloose and fancy free, I lived my life without the entanglements of guilt; I "traveled light" -- my baggage was but a feather. I couldn't wait to tell all my friends how I fleeced the franchise. Over the years that followed, however, I began to feel the inertia of these kinds of activities -- my baggage grew burdensome and heavy. Just as even the tiniest of leaks eventually has you riding on your rim, harm done to others, at least in my experience, has a disabling effect over time. The apparent gains I've made through dishonesty and deceit have carried a secret tally of credit whose mounting interest must be paid in the precious currency of karma. I'm not sure how I will square with the Cathay Island, maybe it'll be along the road again on a new ride toward a different kind of freedom.
    ~
    "It is not that I am mad; it is only that my head is different from yours.”
    ~


  3. #3
    Pièce de Résistance Scheherazade's Avatar
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    Only Connect


    The last thing I expected yesterday was a blast from the past, but there it was, barreling out of a huge link of a city-wide drugstore chain just as I was going in. We literally bumped into each other.

    “Bananas! How the hell have ya been?”

    It took me less than a parsec to place him. “E. P. - is it really you?” The years had been unfairly kind to my erstwhile college roommate. Not a single gray hair as far as I could tell. Only his barber knew for sure. “Jeez, I feel like a jerk for not keeping in touch.”

    “You and me both, ‘Nans. No excuse these days with all the social media. But back in the day we were really tight, ‘member?”

    “Totally. I’m still half-wasted from our final binge over graduation weekend.”

    “One for the record books! So. Are you still at Chase?”

    “Uh-huh. What about you?”

    “IBM.”

    “I’m glad you’re regular, but where’re ya working?”

    “Ya know, I almost thought I’d make it to noon without hearing that line.” E. P. checked his watch. “Too late. What d’ya say I treat ya to lunch?”

    I shook my head. “Gotta take a rain check. Way behind schedule today. I only have enough time to duck in here and get a sleep aid.“

    “Insomnia, huh? You got a prescription or--“

    “No, actually the battery in my smoke alarm went dead. The thought of the building burning down is keeping me awake at night.”

    “In that case I’ll let you go,’Nans. But we really gotta get together and rehash old times, you know?

    “No doubt. Meanwhile, give Steph my love.”

    “Uh – I’ve moved on.”

    E. P.’s wince instantly vanished; he’d already “moved on” to a different topic. “Oooh! I forgot to tell you - I bought a house! It’s up in Wappingers Falls. You gotta come up.”

    “Sure thing, Bro.”

    “Call me.” He handed me his card. (Maybe it’s still in my pocket.) “Don’t forget.” We exchanged one of those awkward half-hugs before he blended into the anonymous crowd.


    In mid-town at midday, the store was packed, increasing the challenge to manoeuver through those famously narrow aisles, select the desired product, and complete the transaction. So much for running a quick errand. It didn’t help that I was clueless as to the whereabouts of the 9-volt batteries.

    Nearly getting rear-ended by an senior citizen’s shopping cart, I sidestepped behind a heavyset woman bent over to study a row of pastel-colored laundry detergent bottles on a bottom shelf. My thoughts jumped back to E. P., in my memory a perpetual undergrad wearing a graphic tee-shirt with some sexist slogan, like “No Fat Chicks.”

    He had fabricated a persona as a ladies’ man with discriminating tastes, specifically for fresh crops of candidates just north of the jail bait line. He did little to discourage the campus rumors about the legendary staying power of his erotic performance, hence his nickname “Extended Play.” Yet the liaisons themselves had the life expectancy of fruit flies.

    Except of course for Stephanie. They were never an official “couple,” but she was E. P.’s default girlfriend, his Plan B. It’s possible that Steph never knew about E. P.’s caddish behavior (though that seems unlikely) or she had an infinite amount of forgiveness embedded in her DNA. After a series of brief liaisons, E. P. would always return, and she would take always him back. The on/off arrangement had gone on for years.

    I began to feel that I’d been wandering around the store as long as Steph and E. P.’s dubious alliance had lasted. I could have asked somebody to show me where to go, but the only employees in sight were manning registers for long lines of customers who’d successfully located their items. The search continued as I passed a long rack of greeting cards intermittently broken by shoppers looking at the printed artwork, reading the message inside, replacing the card, and opening another.

    A greeting card aisle is the last place on earth you’d find a guy like E. P. Neither of us were big on sending Christmas cards, the last-ditch effort before people drop off the so-called radar for good. At school we’d been as close as brothers, getting inside each other’s heads during late-night bull sessions. If one of us was pissed off, you can be damn sure the other knew about it.

    One night after seeing E. P. dump his latest victim, I let him have it. “What are you doing to these poor kids? Settin’ ‘em up just so you can knock ‘em down? It’s like playing Whack-a-Mole.”

    “Eh. Don’t worry your pretty little head about it. I’m just testing the water. Checking out
    the merchandise.”

    “But you always find something wrong. You’re way too picky.”

    That was true. According to E. P., this one’s nose was a little too long or that one’s eyebrows were too thick. So and so’s laugh was irritating. The chick talked too much (or too little.)

    “So? What’s wrong with that?” E. P. scratched his one of his underarms and yawned. “Why can’t I have what I want? Why do I have to ‘settle’?”

    “It’s how life runs, Bro. We’re all human. Nobody’s perfect. While you wait for the perfect, you might lose something good.”

    He popped a beer open with a snap that bounced down the entire corridor of the dorm. “For instance?”

    “For instance Stephanie.”

    “Good old reliable Stephanie. Faithful as a puppy.”

    I was convinced that I’d probably covered every square inch of the store without discovering where the batteries were hiding. I could go home empty-handed and worry all night, or I could wait on line and ask for help. The latter option meant that once I grabbed the battery, I’d have to wait on line a second time to pay for it, but the noon hour was just about shot anyway, so what the hell.

    In what appeared to be the shortest of the queues, the clerk had finished scanning the purchases of the granny who’d almost rammed me with her cart. I hoped that the lady wouldn’t suddenly produce a fistful of coupons or spend an half-hour rifling through her purse for a couple of coins.

    I was standing behind two middle-aged businessmen. Ahead of them was the shopper on deck. Appearing a bit aloof or rapt in thought, she looked a grad student. Maybe her mind was preoccupied with possible solutions to a convoluted equation or an accurate translation of a passage by Henri Bergson. She was dressed not particularly stylishly, but wore nothing that would embarrass her mother - jeans, a jacket, and a soft woolen scarf the color of the sky (maybe Mom herself had knitted the scarf.) As far as age, her tier lay a notch or two above the preferred demographic of E. P.’s college conquests. She looked “old enough” yet still young. I could detected an aura of experience about her, but she still seemed fresh and relatively unscathed by the world. She could be married, hitched to an up-and-coming commodities broker or some assistant D.A. Bottom line: it was a sure bet she was already taken. “All the good ones are gone,” as E. P. used to say.

    I heard her say “Thank you” as she took the plastic bag and her credit card from the clerk, and I followed her with my eyes. It must’ve slipped her mind that the exit door worked automatically, for just as she raised her hand to push it, the door flew open. When she shook her head and laughed, I almost fell in love.

    I received directions in accented but perfectly understandable English and went down the appropriate aisle for the sought-after item, which up to this point would never have been discovered by the most assiduous of explorers. Henry Hudson could have found the northwest passage to India in less time than it took me to come across a 9-volt battery in a frenetic 21st century “inconvenience” store.

    In the moment that I finally stood in front of the rack of batteries, a strange image popped into my brain. After so many years, I can’t remember much of my education, not even course titles or professor’s names, but yesterday for some bizarre reason I recalled a textbook page from an art survey, a gut course I’d taken to amp up the credit hour tally. The photo depicted a metal sculpture of modernistic, impossibly thin figures walking toward another. They made me think of parallel lines eternally running around the globe and never, ever touching.
    ~
    "It is not that I am mad; it is only that my head is different from yours.”
    ~


  4. #4
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    These are some generous offerings.





    J

  5. #5
    Maybe YesNo's Avatar
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    I voted!

  6. #6
    Registered User mona amon's Avatar
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    Me too!
    Exit, pursued by a bear.

  7. #7
    Pièce de Résistance Scheherazade's Avatar
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    Many thanks to all those who have been voting!

    ~
    "It is not that I am mad; it is only that my head is different from yours.”
    ~


  8. #8
    Pièce de Résistance Scheherazade's Avatar
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    Congratulations to the writer of "Only Connect".

    See you in June with more stories!
    ~
    "It is not that I am mad; it is only that my head is different from yours.”
    ~


  9. #9
    Pièce de Résistance Scheherazade's Avatar
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    You can now submit your stories for June.
    ~
    "It is not that I am mad; it is only that my head is different from yours.”
    ~


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