The Porcelain Cat

Reading Time: 5 minutes

The ornate wrought iron and glass door swung open on silent hinges. The woman who opened it looked out on a man who appeared to be in his late forties.

He was dressed immaculately in a dark slate suit and matching tie. His white shirt, which was only slightly more pale than his skin, was brilliantly blinding in the Phoenix sun. He had a black cane, which was topped with a porcelain monkey’s paw, tucked under his right arm and a fedora, the same grey-almost-black as his suit, was perched on his head. Even his eyes were a dark misty grey. The only color on his entire person was a bright crimson pocket square, folded into a neat double triangle in his right breast pocket.

“You must be Mr. Jones.” Said the woman in that thick husky voice that only comes from a lifetime of smoking.

Where Mr. Jones was a study in monotone the woman was a cacophony of color. She was dressed in bright red pants and a leopard print blouse. Bottle blonde hair cascaded down around bright, red over-sized frames that encircled her violet contact-colored eyes. Her skin, which looked to have been stretched too tight over her face, was the weird orange-tan that only comes from a spray or a bottle.

She took a drag off the cigarette in her left hand and then held out her right, palm down, for Mr. Jones.

Mr. Jones stared at her hand for a moment, his face a mask that barely concealed his repulsion.

“Yes, quite.” His voice was smooth and silken with only the slightest hint of the old country. “And you are Mrs. Anderson. If I may…”, he gestured with his left hand towards the open door, “I do detest the heat.”

Mrs. Anderson left her hand outstretched, but when Mr. Jones didn’t take it she pulled it back and grimaced.

“Of, course. Please come in.” She said as she stepped back into the house.

Mr. Jones stepped into the blessedly cool house.  She then closed the door behind him.
“May I take your hat and your” Mrs. Anderson stopped in mid-sentence. Mr. Jones’ upraised hand had shocked her into slack-jawed silence.

“Ma’am. Let us dispense with the pleasantries.” A slight grimace showed what Mr. Jones thought of “pleasantries”. He continued, “You have asked me here for a job which I would like to complete post-haste. You have the payment?”

Mrs. Anderson was still staring wide-eyed at Mr. Jones. She had never been dealt with so succinctly before. She was still staring at him until he cleared his throat with a light “ahem”.

This seemed to shock Mrs. Anderson out of her stupor as she nearly bounded off into another room and returned with her Hermes handbag. She pulled a bulging envelope from within. She went to hand it to Mr. Jones but hesitated, stopping halfway.

“It’s all there. Twenty thousand in cash.” She then extended her hand out the rest of the way.

Mr. Jones reached out and took the envelope, carefully avoiding even brushing her hand with his own.

“You can count it. It’s all there.” She said again.

Mr. Jones smiled a smile that didn’t leave his lips. He quickly tucked the envelope into the inside pocket of his jacket without even a glance. It could have been stuffed with Monopoly money for all the care he gave it.

“That’s quite all right ma’am. Now that that unpleasantness is out of the way if you would tell me where I may find the room in question?”

“I can show you…” again Mrs. Anderson was left wide-mouthed while Mr. Jones held up his to silence her.

“I think not Mrs. Anderson. Please just tell me where the room is.”

“Up the stairs. Last door on the right.” She looked like she wanted to say more but Mr. Jones’ cold glare kept her silent.

“Yes. That will be enough. Please wait here or in the kitchen. I will return as soon as I am done. It won’t be long.”

Mr. Jones turned to the stairway and made his way up the spiral staircase. His feet sunk inches deep into the plush carpet.

When he reached the top of the stairs he made his way to the end of the hallway. As he walked towards the end of the hall he noticed that it was getting warmer. By the time he reached the last door on the right it was almost warm enough to be unpleasant.

Mr. Jones licked his lips and then flicked his tongue into the air, almost like he was tasting it, like a snake. He then opened the door, stepped into the room and closed the door quickly behind him.

Where the hallway had been mildly unpleasant the room was a raging inferno. Mr. Jones’ surmised, correctly, that it was much hotter in the room than it had been outside in the scorching, Phoenix, summer.

He pulled a snow-white handkerchief from his back pocket and dabbed at the perspiration that had popped up on his forehead. He had not been lying when he told Mrs. Anderson that he detested the heat.

For what may have been the thousandth time he wished that it worked like Hollywood thought it did. That when the other side was close things got colder and not hotter.

Mr. Jones sighed and then started to scan the room. Lost souls were usually bound to a location, though sometimes they would end up locked to a specific object, if it was something that they had held especially dear. He flicked his tongue into the air a few more times and then licked his lips again as he spun slowly around in the center of the room.

Finally he saw it, on the shelf. He couldn’t really describe what it was that he saw. It was almost like he caught it out of the corner of his eye. Almost like an impression of something that wasn’t really there. Whatever it was, though, he could find it. Always.
He walked over to the nightstand and picked up the object. It was so hot that he almost dropped it. So she was bound strongly.

Once long ago he had gone hunting for answers. He had spent years trying to find out why some souls got lost, or stuck and ended up bound to something before moving on, but he never found anything satisfactory. It was true, sometimes they were people that had suffered great tragedy or loss, but more often than not they were just regular people who died and then couldn’t move on.

Mr. Jones turned the small object around in his hand a couple times. He was now licking his lips almost constantly, like a child waiting for their ice cream.
Finally he held it up in front of his face and smiled a smile that was broad and wide and terrifying. It was a smile of pure ecstasy.

Mr. Jones then opened his mouth wider and wider and wider until it was a gaping maw that stretched his face into hideous proportions. His open mouth was a gaping tunnel that seemed to open into oblivion itself.

Then a sound began to grow. But it was a sound without a sound. It was like the voice of a million silent screams.

Then it was over. Mr. Jones closed his mouth and licked his lips one more time. He looked satisfied and filled and seemed less thin than he had been only moments before. The thin lines on his face had gone and the wings of grey that peaked out from under his hat had gone jet black.

The room was now blessedly cool and the small object in his hand was cold to the touch. Everything was as it should be.

Mr. Jones turned on his heel, made his way back to the door and opened it.

He called out, in a voice that seemed rather heartier than it had before, to Mrs. Anderson downstairs, “Your daughter, was she very attached to the porcelain cat on her nightstand?” Mr. Jones chuckled a bit at his own joke as he made his way down the hallway.

This story was written in response to a Flash Fiction Challenge by Chuck Wendig. I chose the title The Porcelain Cat (d.moulou).

Ode to an Instant Pot

Reading Time: 1 minute

For a while I have coveted an Instant Pot pressure cooker. For Christmas this year my wife purchased one. In the roughly month and a half that I have had it I have made (in no particular order):

  • Carne Adovada
  • Barbacoa
  • Pulled Pork
  • Spare Ribs
  • Baby Back Ribs
  • Chicken Tortilla Soup
  • Pot Roast
  • Hard Boiled Eggs

None of these took longer than 2 hours from start to finish. It has almost completely replaced our slow cooker.

I’m sure that I’ll be posting more about it (and the delicious food I make with it) in the future.

Gopher Battle | Pt 1

Reading Time: 1 minute

We have gophers. No, not as pets but burrowing around in our back yard. Making little (or big) mounds all over the place, eating the roots of plants, and generally being a total nuisance.

Today starts the beginning of the gopher battle. I just ordered some pellets that are supposed to repel our little invaders into parts unknown. Apparently they are made of castor oil, cinnamon and other things that gophers find wholly noxious.

I hope that the pellets work. The gophers had been confined to the back yard where their wanton destruction could be hidden but they have now moved to the front yard where their hills are now displayed for all to see. They have fired the first shots but now we will return fire.

Stay tuned to see how the battle fares.

2016 – Not All Bad

Reading Time: 2 minutes

I know that most people would say that 2016 wasn’t a great year. Many in fact would say that it was a horrible year. I think though that even in years that fall short of what we would consider “excellent” there can be much good. There is a pretty popular article making the rounds on 99 Reasons 2016 Was a Good Year which is a good start. With that in mind here is a short list of why 2016 was a good year for me (and my family).

  1. We paid our bills, kept food on the table and our house cool (it’s Phoenix, so you know you never need to keep it warm).
  2. Our two oldest boys moved to a new school that is more challenging and offers a lot more for them to participate in (sports, choir, etc.). And they loved it.
  3. Our youngest, who has been dealing with a swallow disorder where she can only drink thickened liquids (think almost the consistency of honey), finally got into feeding therapy after three years of trying and can now drink un-thickened liquids. (This is hands down our biggest win this year).
  4. We did a better job of doing family activities this year. If you look at our photos from 2016, most of them are from places like the bowling alley, Arizona Science Center, the Phoenix Zoo, etc. Our kids are still small-ish (though getting bigger every year) so we will have less and less time for this going forward.
  5. Best of all I remained happily married to my wonderful wife and the love of my life.

This isn’t to say that our year was all rainbows and lollipops, because it most certainly wasn’t. But even in the midst of the things that weren’t perfect there was still much good and that is always important to remember.

Flash Fiction | Another Day at the…

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Gerald turned on his laptop. While the Windows XX icon (for some reason Microsoft had skipped from 15 to XX) did its little dance he sipped at his coffee, hot and bitter and acrid, just how he liked it. After a small eternity (Microsoft could promise faster load times all they wanted but it was total bull) the welcome screen popped up. In another moment Gerald was logged in by the facial recognition component.

“Good morning Gerald.” Gerald had replaced the stock voice, a warm caramel that was simulated to be the perfect female voice, with a 2013 era badly simulated voice he had found on the web named Cortana. “You have 1 message from the IGF.”

Gerald cursed under his breath. He had been hoping for a quiet day of R&R.

“Open and read.”

The computer dutifully opened the message and read it.

Gerald Jimenez you have been selected for a mission today. There are three available missions for you to choose from:
1. Java trench
2. Urban Chicago
3. Mare Tranquillitatis (See of Tranquility)
You must login to simulator no later than 0800 local.

Gerald glanced at the clock on his laptop. 0755. Cutting it close as always, he really needed to stay off the sims and get to bed earlier.

“IGF. Login. ID:G Jimenez. Mission…” He hesitated for a moment. Java trench was out. He hated the underwater missions. Low grav missions were a pain too but he didn’t really want to deal with an urban mission either. Finally he made his decision. “…Mare Tranquillitatis.” The odds of dying were too high…and that would cost him credits he needed for the sims. He really needed to get off the sims.

“Welcome G Jimenez to Mare Tranquillitatis. Your mission…” at this point Gerald quit listening. As soon as he started the mission he would see a HUD with all of the relevant info for the mission. Enemies, targets, etc. For him the biggest goal was always the same. Don’t get fragged. Every time you re-spawned you were docked the cost for another Spartan. Die too many times and he might not make anything, or even worse might end up owing credits to the IGF.

Gerald leaned his head back and waited. As soon as the voice stopped talking there was a brief stab of pain as the neural link at the base of his skull was linked up to the system. This was accompanied by an intense sense of vertigo as the HUD came up.

Gerald quickly scanned the display, looking for objectives and enemies. Satisfied that he was safe for the moment he pulled his sniper rifle from his back and loaded it up. He loved being a sniper for a mission. Not only was he one of the best but it meant the odds of him being killed and losing a Spartan were very small.

Once he was satisfied with his weapon he tabbed through the objectives and then moved off to his primary location.

Gerald gasped as his neural link was severed. He felt the momentary emptiness that he always did when the link was removed and he lost the feeling of his Spartan’s body.

The mission had gone very well. He had recorded 24 kills..a new record! And he had managed to stay alive. His position had been overrun by the Chinese at one point-it looked like they had hacked his own teams communications-but Gerald had managed to get off an incendiary grenade and then retreated before they could take him out.

Gerald blinked to adjust his eyes. He then used his mouth switch to turn off the computer and turn his wheelchair around. It had only been six months since he had the procedure to insert his neural link, paralyzing him from the chest down, but he hardly even thought about what it was like to have working arms and legs any more.

His parents had told him he was crazy but he hadn’t even thought twice about joining the IGF. The IGF paid well. That meant more money for the sims which, with the neural link, were so real that he didn’t even miss real life any more…

Flash Fiction | Dragon Eyes

Reading Time: 3 minutes

I slid through the forest. Brambles and briars and branches tugged at me, threatening to pull me down. I slipped, fell, tangled in the undergrowth. Then I was up again, running, running, running.

Finally I arrived. I didn’t know where or how I knew but I was there, at the lair. Sulfur rankled the air and bit bitter into my nose and eyes and throat. I could smell the too-sweet stench of death and decay below the burn.

I pulled my sword from my back, felt more than heard the sing of it leaving its sheath. It was a good sword, old and worn and new and bright. It was as long as a greatsword but the hilt was shorter. A hand-and-a-half or bastard if you like.

Great folds of metal wavered up and down its shining sides. It was straight and true and would not falter in battle. It was a great sword.

Then I unlimbered my shield. A simple metal frame wrapped in shiny coppery scales. Dragon scales. It was light and strong. All but impenetrable. This was my true prize, shield of my father’s father’s father. My sword was great but my shield was magnificent.

Once armed and protected I approached the lair. It wasn’t a cave or a canyon or a pit. It was a patch of forest filled with a feeling of strength and flight and dread. This was a dragon’s lair.

I approached on stealthy feet. Sword and shield high and protecting. Then I heard it, a rustle then a flash of amber in the trees.

I ran, pitching myself through the forest. I could see her, there, hidden among the trees and bushes. How did I know it was a her? Maybe in the way she moved, darting and dodging instead of attacking. Or maybe it was the smell, the shes have a different smell less sulfury. Whatever it was I knew that I had found my prize.

I darted into a small clearing. She had cleared it. She was magnificent. She towered above me, cloaked in amber scales that rippled in the dappled sunlight. Her claws and horns were luminescent gold.

I moved to attack, hiding behind my shield. Liquid fire rained down but he shield held, my hand was not even hot. She then tried to attack but my blade and shield held her back, turning each strike away.

I could taste her fear then, smell its acrid tang on the air. But I knew she would not flee, no matter what the cost to herself. Behind her was a boulder of pure obsidian, dragon glass. It was smooth and silky with edges sharper than the finest blade. The top of the stone was crouched with a hollow and in that hollow sat a giant egg that gleamed as gold as her claws. Even from a distance I could feel the waves of heat rolling off the boulder that had been bathed and stoked in her maternal fire.

The attacks abated for the merest moment allowing me a brief respite. I peered over the lip of my shield to see the dragon regarding me. Her eyes were glossy obsidian orbs to match the stone pedestal which held her offspring and in them I saw something. It was primal and instinctual and it was human. They plead for the life of her unborn child. They screamed for me to leave and let them be.

I admit I hesitated then, almost turned back, but I couldn’t. What then would I tell my unborn child, who rested then in his mother’s womb? That I, a dragon hunter, turned away from my greatest prize out of pity? Would that pity fill his hungry belly as he wailed in the night? Would it keep him warm through the harsh winter that he would be born into? No, it would not. But food and shelter and clothing bought with her scales and talons and horns would.

I bowed my head and turned away, unable to look into those eyes as I raised my sword one last time.