Posted in flash fiction

Welcome to the neighborhood

“What’s that monitor for?”

“I don’t know,” I replied. “The old lady just left it here. I don’t even know if it works.”

I reached behind the twenty-three inch screen and pressed the power button. The screen immediately lit up with a dozen little views of the outside world. I looked at them for a moment, and then I stepped outside. I hadn’t noticed them before but there were security cameras at each corner of the house, one aimed at each door, and others covering the yard. When I went back inside, I realized I could see anyone approaching from any direction any time of the day.

When we looked at the house and drove around the neighborhood, we felt like a very safe place to life. None of the neighbors we talked to mentioned any problems with break-ins. Why had the previous owners invested in such a high tech system?

“Look, I can tap here and fill up the whole screen with one camera view. Oh, and look, I can zoom in and out, too. And pan across the yard. This is crazy. Wait a minute, that looks like some kind of night vision mode. And what’s this?”

Tapping the icon brought up a whole bunch of file folder icons. Each of them was filled with footage from each of the cameras. Whoa! Years and years of security footage from every imaginable angle.

I tapped on an icon and saw the backyard. I watched the grass grow for a few moments. A rain shower flooded the side yard. Squirrels chased each other on top of the fence.

I tapped a third and watched people and traffic passing by the front of the house. You know, the usual. Kid on a scooter. Ice cream truck. A cat. Mom with a stroller. Amazon truck. Pretty boring.

“Now that’s interesting…” A camera panned back and forth, zoomed in and out trying to find the focus. Suddenly, there it was, two people shouting and pushing each other inside the house right across the street. I couldn’t look away. She pummeled him. He tried to cover up. Spit and blood flew everywhere. They shifted out of sight for just a moment. When they came back he had his hands on her neck!

The video cut out. I just stared at the blank screen. When was that? How do I bring up a time stamp. Did anyone call the police? Should I call someone?

Bring-bring-bring. I think that’s my doorbell. The screen switched to the front door camera.

It was them.

Her hair was a mess. His eye was swollen shut. Blood dripped out of his nose! Her blouse was ripped. And they looked pissed.

Bring-bring-bring. They weren’t leaving. Thy stared at the camera. They knew. They knew I was watching.

What do I do? Grab a bat? Call 911? Here goes nothing. I took a deep breath and slowly turned the deadlock. They stood back as I cracked the door.

“Yes?”

“Hi. We saw you moving in the other day. We just wanted to welcome you to the neighborhood. We brought you some cookies.” Tupperware. Figures.

“Uh, ok. Thanks. Can you just leave them there? I’m not feeling very well.”

“Hey, no problem. Let us know if you need anything.”

I bolted the door and watched the video of them walking hand-in-hand back across the street.

I flipped on the camera, popped open a beer and sat down.

A door slammed. Something flew across the room.

Round two.

Posted in camping, Travel

It’s just for one night

We were on our way back home after camping for a week at Lake Tawanoki State Park, just a bit west of Dallas, TX. I decided I wanted to try and drive a little longer on day one. After doing a little online research, I made a reservation at Askew’s Landing Campground near Edwards, Mississippi. It had mostly positive reviews and the woman who answered the phone was very nice, so I thought it would be fine for an overnight.

About half-an-hour west of Monroe, Louisiana, I got a call from the campground. The power company had been at work all week, and they didn’t know when power would be back on. If it were a little cooler, I would have considered a stay there. No AC in the boiling hot midsummer was not an option. I told her we would find another RV park.

On the way out we stayed at Ouachita RV park in Monroe. In expensive, pull-though sites, pretty clean and fine for an overnight stay. So I called them. Three calls all went to voice mail. So I checked of my Dyrt and Campendium phone apps. There aren’t a whole lot of RV parks out across I-20 in Louisiana and Mississippi. But I came across Pecanland RV park in Monroe. When I called them, they had a couple of pull-through, full-hookup sites available that night, so I made a reservation. Not many reviews online, but it was only $28, and it was just for the night.

Well, the sign was nice. The park was as plain vanilla as could be. Row after row of empty concrete pads. Further back were rows of well-lived in trailer homes. Two sites available? More like forty-two. I only saw one other rig parked. As my daughter would call it, sketchy. But the grass wasn’t too long, there was a tree near our site, and it was just for one night. I pulled in, hooked up, and everything worked just fine. Maybe all the other spots would be occupied later that night.

Actually, only one other person pulled in that night. They were driving a 26-foot UHaul truck pulling a thirty-foot trailer. After they pulled in, though, they left in their car and I never saw them again.

Our site was pretty close to a road that got very busy with truck traffic very early the next morning. Hey, I’m usually up early anyway. We unhooked, packed up and we were on our way.

Can you really say you’ve been Rv-ing if you haven’t stayed at a sketchy RV park?

Posted in flash fiction

The flamingo

As he pulled into the driveway, beads of sweat began to run down the side of his face. His stomach knotted. It was right there, in front of his house, was the upside down flamingo. They knew. They knew everything.

He had been so careful. He never used his real name. All the money was offshore. He never used the same burner phone twice. Every communication went through at least a dozen servers all over the world, each with different encryptions. Long hair, crewcut, mustache, goatee, clean shaven – he changed his look every month.

How did they know? How did they find out? How did they find out where he lived?

It didn’t matter. His whole world just turned upside down. He just kept on driving. He couldn’t go home. He couldn’t call his family. Or a friend.

He reached into his pocket and pulled out a few folder bills. Thirty-seven dollars. He wouldn’t get far with that. But he couldn’t go to the ATM. He couldn’t cash a check. He dared not use a credit card. If he drove his car, some camera would pick up his license plate. He just had to keep moving. He had to keep out of sight.

There was only one option. He jabbed at the unused burner phone to get a taxi. He had just enough for a ride to the zoo. Flashing a fake membership card, he went from the turnstile right to the flamingo pond. Leaning on the rail, watching the wary birds, a quiet voice said, “That didn’t take long.”

“What do you want? Just leave my family alone.”

“You know what we want.”

He took the popcorn box, not surprised at how heavy it felt. It was the usual Glock. The clip was full, but he would only need one shot. He slowly walked towards the exit.

He vowed this would be the last time.

Just like last time.

Posted in Stories

My mind has left the building

At the beginning of a vacation, it usually takes me two to three days to transition from thinking about work stuff to not thinking about work stuff. I’ve discovered a shortcut to decompression. This trip to Dallas, we are pulling our camper trailer. My mind has immediately left work behind because I am not consumed with our travel.

RV park reservations, hookups, food, fuel stops, set ups, and wondering “will everything work?” Then there is Wifi, hotspot, laptops and extra monitors for my wife, propane, water tanks, tire pressures, beer for the fridge. If you’ve camped or glamped, you know the list goes on and on. Which is a good thing. I’m focused on that and not on the day to day activities of work.

I know how to pull the plug on the internet. I’m learning how to pull the plug on my mind.

Posted in noticing

Invisible

How long does something have to be in plain view before it becomes invisible?

We had to string a power cable for the camera over the front door. Obvious, unsightly, necessary and ugly. But I have to admit, when I paused to look at it today, I realized I don’t even notice it anymore. In just a matter of months it has become invisible.

So I wonder, what else becomes invisible with familiarity? What do we no longer notice or see going on around us because we see it every single day?

Could you describe all the pictures hanging on the walls of your home? Do you know which light bulbs aren’t working? What brand of TV do you own? What color is your front door? (Hey, don’t we all mostly go in and out of the garage?) What’s on that billboard you drive by every day?

More importantly, who do you no longer notice? At my son’s church, a police officer is stationed at the door every Sunday. I wonder how many people no longer notice him. He’s just part of the Sunday morning routine.

I’ve sat in enough choirs to know that some vocalists get so focused on their music that the director might as well be invisible!

Sometimes when I’m speaking, someone is looking off into the distance, as if I wasn’t even there.

I know what’s it’s like to be invisible.

Posted in Stories

The wrong color

A watermelon that has a red rind, green inside with white seeds to spit out.

A white Oreo cookie with dark chocolate cream filling.

Coffee that is light, and the half-and-half is a deep ebony hue.

White chocolate ice cream with dark vanilla sauce drizzled on top.

Black popcorn.

A green hotdog.

A light hamburger with a very dark bun.

Dark brown whipped cream.

Blue gold.

A stoplight where green means stop, red means go.

A black sun.

A green carrot.

Black instead of the “whites of your eyes.”

Recipes that call for egg blacks.

A blue tomato.

Orange lettuce.

A white clerical shirt with a black insert.

Yellow blueberries.

A whole mouth of black teeth.

A green orange.

Posted in memories

Do you remember melting crayons?

I’m really not sure why this memory recently came back to me. It might have been while thinking about how we entertained ourselves as kids. No phones, internet, Netflix, TikTok, or game systems. How about this: melting crayons.

So I had this Tensor high intensity lamp my parents bought me for the desk in my bedroom. I did plenty of homework under that lamp. Let me tell you, the descriptor high intensity was appropriate. It got hot under that lamp. It was perfect for melting crayons.

I’m not entirely sure when I had that revelation. It might have been after making stained glass windows by ironing crayon shavings between pieces of waxed paper in Sunday School. Or the wax you melted on a letter and impressed your initial into it kit that was popular back then. I was fascinate to hold a crayon as close as you possibly could to the bulb of a high intensity lamb, without touching it, of course, and watching the wax melt.

I began dripping melted wax onto a piece of ruled note book paper and slowly but surely creating a volcanic mountain. Then I would drip enough crayon for the bottom of the mountain and then drip a gold, silver or copper crayon (they were in the coveted Crayola 64 pack, remember?) into the middle. You could then cover the precious metal crayons with browns and greens. Now you had a vein of ore running through the mountain, which you could mine with the pointy end of your compass you bought to draw circles with at school. You could also bore through your wax mountain with a beam of light focused through a magnifying glass. If I got too close and touched the lamp bulb to the crayon, a gentle wisp of smoke floated into the room, with the smell of burnt wax.

I have no idea why this was so much fun and so time consuming. But these moments vividly resurface anytime I sit down to color with my grandchildren. And then I took them to the Crayola Experience in Dallas, TX. I watched as they melted crayons to make small toys to take home. I believe I enjoyed it more than they did!

Am I the only one who ever did this?

Posted in flash fiction

That’ll teach you!

“You son of a…”

From my backyard I could hear the volume go up with each expletive and each futile tug on the starter rope. My neighbor was reaching the end of his rope but wouldn’t give up trying to revive the expired lawnmower.

I climbed into the backyard kids fort to watch the kicking, screaming, and frustration reach the point of no return. Suddenly, with surprising strength and the wrath of Khan, he picked up the mower and angrily snapped it in two over his knee! “There! That’ll teach you!”

Now it sits out in front of his house, a memorial to his rage,

Posted in Stories, time

The gift of time

I think I have long underestimated the value of time. I am sure I am not the only one. I want to share how a few precious people brought this to my attention lately.

I went to visit a friend in the hospital last week. He joined our congregation a few years ago, is just a few years younger than me, and has always been a great encourager and support for me. He’s one of those guys who’s face lets me know he understand what I’m talking about.

Anyway, when I got to his room, his condition wasn’t great but was improving. His wife had another appointment and amazingly, no one came in the room while I was there. We had an uninterrupted forty-five minutes before his next diagnostic test. We talked about many topics, from the church to his family to upcoming trips and how he ended up in the hospital. After the sacrament and a prayer, he said, “Thanks. I don’t often get you to myself.”

Later than week, I sat down to visit with a woman whose husband had died two years ago. The time sure had flown since his funeral, especially during the Covid quarantine year. It turns out we had a lot of shared experiences to discuss. I also learned a lot of new things about her family and passion for horses. An afternoon flies by when you’ve got a bowl of peach dumplings and vanilla ice cream, and a miniature bull terrier licking your hand. It turns out we both really enjoyed that afternoon.

And then today I had an exclusive invitation to a 90th birthday celebration. I was the only gentleman to score a seat with some amazing, faithful sisters who gathered to mark this moment. When it was over and I was driving away, I thought, “The most important thing was that we were there.” We were there with her. We were there to celebrate with her. We were there to eat and drink, to smile and laugh, to make an ordinary day extraordinary.

After the tea, finger sandwiches and birthday cake, I got into my truck and got a message from my wife. Someone in the hospital. I stopped in on my way home. She was doing well, but was alone. Her husband had a ailing dog to care for. Those dogs, they grab our hearts and won’t let go! We laughed and cried and prayed. I’ve been there. And I’m glad I could be there.

I really don’t have much to give other than my time. Today God reminded me how valuable that gift is.