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Friday, July 23

Founding Fathers at Work and Play

"Founding Fathers at Work and Play"
by Rod Drake

Storm clouds gather around the edges of Philadelphia. The humidity in the air makes this hot day even more miserable.

Benjamin Franklin dozes in the front row of the hall. He dreams of kites, electricity and lightning storms. John Adams’ loud oration rouses him. Adams is a windbag, Franklin grouses.

Franklin glances out the window. Carriages glide past and foot traffic bustles despite the heat. He wishes he were outside. Anything for a cool breeze and a cold drink.

Now Thomas Jefferson speaks. He is impatient. He is impassioned. The bane of youth. Franklin admires his full head of thick red hair. No powdered white wig for him. Franklin absently smoothes the few imaginary hairs on top of his head.

Sam Adams smiles across at him. Sam knows what Franklin is thinking. Sam always knows.

Franklin dozes again. He dreams of a flying machine, like in Da Vinci’s sketches. In the dream, Franklin pilots the ungainly craft over Philadelphia, waving to surprised citizens so far below. He is naked and much younger as he soars through the heavens like a giant bird, and he laughs uproariously at the panic in the streets beneath him.

Jefferson is ready to draft the document, this declaration of American independence. Now. But John Adams wants more discussion about its content. John Hancock, sitting at the table facing the congregation, feigning interest, playing idly with his gavel.

Thunder crackles in the distance. Franklin rouses and smiles. Perhaps blessed rain is coming. And maybe violent lightning. Franklin becomes the scientist again.

Another thunderclap rocks the sky, closer this time. John Adams continues talking above the excited murmuring of the delegates. Rain is more important than freedom today.

Hancock raps his gavel without enthusiasm. Jefferson laughs quietly at a joke Sam Adams has just whispered to him. Adams winks over at Franklin. Mischief is at play. A sudden cooling breeze whips through the open windows. All of the delegates feel it and sign relief.

Franklin’s daughter, Sally, slips into the back of the hall quietly. She waves mail that she has for her father. A thick stack of it. All sizes, colors and textures.

A second, more powerful blast of cool air comes. Papers are blown, maps and charts flutter. Hancock gestures to close the windows. No one moves to do it.

Francis Lightfoot Lee sticks his head out one of the windows and breathes deeply. Little gusts of wind whirl about outside. The air is charged. Shoppers and sellers hurry to find shelter.

A sharp crack of thunder ripples through the sky. Dark clouds are overhead now. All of the delegates rush to the windows. Hancock calls for order, pounding his gavel firmly. Then he gives up and crosses to the windows too.

In the sudden confusion, Franklin retrieves his correspondence. Many people seek the Great Franklin’s advice, support, approval or help. There is a new propaganda tract from Thomas Paine. Franklin enjoys these, so full of fire and outrage. Paine is a masterful writer but a terrible speller.

Thunder rumbles once more, and then the downpour starts. Everyone whoops and hollers. Some delegates stick their heads out the windows, letting the rain drench them. Others just breathe in the storm-cooled air. Independence from tyranny forgotten, they all simply enjoy the rain.

Franklin takes the opportunity to escape. Frock coat over his head, he runs as best he can to the inn across the street. He keeps his mail safe and dry. Franklin hopes that pretty young barmaid, Molly, is working. She flirts with him, and he likes that.

The tavern is dark like the day outside. It is mostly empty. Franklin takes his customary booth in the corner opposite the door. He blots the rain off his head with a perfumed handkerchief.

Then the door bursts open and half a dozen delegates charge in, laughing and dripping rain from their coats. It is raining hard now. Franklin hears the steady drumming of rain on the tavern’s roof. Candles are being lit in the suddenly boisterous inn. Time for ale, conversation and dirty jokes. Franklin smiles and feels young again.

Thursday, May 13

Doctor's Orders

"Doctor's Orders"
Flash Fiction
by Linda Courtland

My date enters the restaurant, meets my eyes, smiles. I look for a seat against the wall, hoping to disguise the small hump on my back. He surveys my legs, my lips, my breasts. If only he could see inside of me.

Sometimes I wish I'd been born with a tail, or six fingers, or any abnormality that would be immediately apparent. Instead, I hide my shame deep inside. A tiny second head is attached to my upper spine, sitting right under the skin, just above my shoulder blades.

"Is he handsome?" the head whispers directly into my auditory canal.

I rarely answer the head, especially in public. The only person who talks to the head is my internist. At each visit, the doctor presses a cold stethoscope against my upper back and giggles conspiratorially with whatever the head is telling him.

"What's so funny?" I say.

"Sorry, can't violate patient confidentiality," he says, handing me a prescription for the head.

My date moves closer when the entrees arrive. We sip wine with dinner and make small talk. The head gets tipsy and starts making off-color jokes that no one can hear but me. I smile at my date and listen to his stories, suffering my inner torment in silence.

I wish I could tell my date about the head. I'd hold his big, protective hand and run each finger over my hideous hump. My date would appreciate my uniqueness. He'd think I was special and precious. He'd listen to me whine about how hard it is to have an extra head. He'd take my side when the head got drunk and argumentative.

But even before dessert, I knew I'd never tell him. The shame runs too deep. I've hidden the head since childhood, and my carefree personality is now a permanent disguise.

My date and I discuss dessert. The head is rallying for chocolate mousse but I order the cheesecake. The head whispers death threats while I’m eating. The violent fantasies escalate with each bite. My date asks if something's wrong. I tell him I'm not feeling well. The head screams obscenities that echo inside of me. I hurry home, where I can scream too.

The next day, I go back to the doctor's office.

"When did the head go off its meds?" the doctor says.

"I swallowed all the pills that you prescribed," I say. "It's the head's responsibility to get them in its mouth."

The doctor listens to the head's side of the story through the same chilly stethoscope.

"It's upset about having to take this medicine," the doctor says. "It just wanted to feel normal for once."

I'm struck with a pang of empathy.

"But bi-head depressive disorder needs to be treated medically." The doctor fills a syringe with psychotropic drugs and attaches a very long needle. "Turn around," he says to me. "The head's having a breakdown. It needs to be sedated."

"I should've been more sympathetic to its pain," I say.

The doctor looks at me kindly.

"I'm a terrible two-headed person," I say, opening the back of my gown.

"We all have our challenges." The doctor jabs the needle deep inside my upper back. "Start the oral medication again in six hours. The head will take it now."

I follow the doctor to the exit. He casually rolls up a sleeve, revealing an unnatural bulge on his bicep. "It's okay to be different, you know."

I recognize the familiar cephalic shape, and for the first time, I feel like I'm not alone with my head. I reach for his arm.

"Just keep this little secret between us," he says, closing the door. "Doctor's orders."

Linda’s new book, Somewhere to Turn, is available on Amazon. Read the first story free at www.LindaCourtland.com

Wednesday, April 7

Psychedelic Apples

Psychedelic Apples
Flash Fiction
by Rod Drake

It was April 1967. San Francisco was teeming with wide-eyed kids looking for answers.

Johnny Acidseed stood on Haight Street in front of the Free Store. He watched the endless throng of people that filled the sidewalk. Outrageous hippies, underage flower children, vocal college students, dazed runaways, stoned dropouts and potential revolutionaries.

Johnny checked them all out as they walked past. Every so often, one would catch his attention, usually a cute girl, and he would slip a hit of LSD into her hand. Today it was sunshine, the little orange tablet that looked like children's aspirin.

Some days it was little squares of blotter paper with drawings of a pyramid that had an eye radiating on top like on a dollar bill. Other days it was light blue microdot and on holidays, gelatin "window-pane."

"A day without sunshine is a day without acid," he said each time he pressed a pill into a palm, smiling at his own little joke.

Sometimes the girl would give him a hug or a flower; sometimes they offered him some change or a dollar, depending on what they had. He always refused to take any money. And sometimes a girl would invite Johnny back to her apartment to drop the acid and have sex. That was the best payback. It was usually for window-pane.

Giving away acid was what Johnny did. Every day, he passed out 50 to 100 hits to the endless new recruits on Haight Street. Johnny knew a chemist who made psychedelics, didn't care about money and enjoyed turning on as many people as possible. The chemist had an autographed photo of Albert Hofmann in his lab. Dr. Hofmann had invented LSD in April 1943 thinking it could serve as a psychology tool. What must he think of this whole generation turning on to his little medical experiment?

Johnny liked being part of the process. It was much better than being in the army, which he had been. He had served 18 months in Vietnam. It was during 1965 and early 1966 when the country more or less supported the American effort or at least was quiet in its opposition. Johnny saw things in Vietnam that haunted him. He did things over there that he still couldn't believe he did to fellow human beings.

All he wanted to do for those 18 long months, over 500 days, was to escape. Escape into a beautiful, peaceful world without pain and heartache. Now he helped gentle strangers in the Haight do that every day. Johnny was starting to feel good about himself again.

The Haight was definitely the place to be, and it was growing in population every day. Johnny's real name was John David Armstrong. He was the new All-American Boy. Someone in the Haight had dubbed him Johnny Acidseed in a moment of psychedelic humor. It fit and had stuck.

A man with an Old Testament-looking beard and a halo of kinky hair thumb tacked a handbill announcing a free concert today in the Panhandle by Big Brother, the Grateful Dead and other local bands. Johnny gave him a hit as a community service. A couple of giggling teenaged girls stopped and held their hands out to Johnny. And both girls were cute.

Rod Drake continues to live in Las Vegas and to be amazed by the neon wonderland. Check out Rod's other fiction in Six Sentences, The 6S Social Network, Powder Burn Flash, MicroHorror and AcmeShorts.

Monday, November 30

The Adventure of the Whitechapel Murders

"The Adventure of the Whitechapel Murders"
Short fiction - Supernatural/Sci-fi
by Rod Drake

I remember it was bitterly cold that winter night, December 21, 1888, as we hid shivering in the Whitechapel area of London, Holmes and I, our trap baited and nothing to do but wait. I gripped the revolver in my pocket tightly, wondering if Saucy Jack, as he called himself, would indeed make his deadly appearance tonight.

Our prostitute target circles around the gas-lit side streets, alone and perfectly offered for Jack in her solitude. Holmes’ research, based on the previous 7 ghastly murders here, pointed to tonight and these streets as the location where Jack the Ripper would claim his next victim.

Holmes is quiet, unmoving in the cold, totally focused on the wandering girl, all of his senses acute and attention focused. He is scarcely ever wrong once he commits himself to a case, and Scotland Yard is depending on Holmes this time.

Something moves in the shadows behind the girl. There, it moved again, back in the alley. Holmes’ nostrils flare and his exhale of breath is visible, cloudlike in the chill evening, so I know he too has noticed it.

Then things happen all at once. The girl screams, disappears into the dark alley, and Holmes vaults past me on a dead run, blowing on the police whistle he holds at his mouth. I fumble for my revolver and trot after him, down the cracked cobblestone street and into the black alley.

Holmes has ignited a flare from his pocket, the thin white light illuminating a truly hideous monster in a gentleman’s suit and coat, snarling and slashing at Holmes with a knife in one twisted hand while the other holds the struggling girl aloft.

“Watson,” Holmes cries out, “use your pistol, shoot him.”

As I aim it with frozen, stiff fingers, the beast in human clothes tosses the girl at me as though she weighs nothing more than a rag doll, and the resulting impact knocks me to the ground, my revolver skidding across the cobblestones.

But the distraction has worked for Holmes, as he had planned. He quickly puts a blowgun to his lips and blows a dart into the monster before he can react.

The monster lunges awkwardly toward Holmes who fires a second dart, then beast sags backwards as the darts’ fluid courses through his freakish veins, and he collapses against the filthy wall, still clawing uselessly at Holmes as he passes out.

Inspector Lestrade and Scotland Yard officers arrive then, bearing torches, pulling the unconscious girl off of me, knocking her wig off in the process. “Coo, what’s this?” an officer exclaims.

The ‘girl’ is actually one of the Baker Street Irregulars, a young boy in disguise and fetching enough in the darkness.

“Are you alright Watson?” Holmes asks me, pulling me to my feet.

“Yes, I believe so. My God, what is happening to that creature?”

The monster is, melting it appears, changing shape from beast into . . . a small, pale man, fragile in comparison to the burly beast he was.

“Inspector, Watson, let me present to you Dr. Henry Jekyll. I believe the beast he was is named Edward Hyde, a transformation brought about through drugs. The evidence I gathered indicated they would be one and the same person, and our Whitechapel murderer. Jekyll cannot control Hyde, and Hyde is without restraint, morals or remorse.”

“Then those notes sent to the police,” Lestrade remarks, “were Jekyll—“

“Yes, Inspector,” Holmes interrupts, “Jekyll trying to leave clues so I would find and stop Hyde. Jekyll knew I was on the case.”

“And this?” Lestrade points to the blowgun still in Holmes’ hand.

“Our salvation. I consulted an expert, one Dr. Moreau, who is doing fascinating things with animal re-engineering, to prepare a solution that would change animal back to man. The dart was the best way to get the fluid into his system. And Watson provided the distraction to let me use it.”

“Well,” Lestrade comments,” this ends the Whitechapel murders. But Dr. Watson, I don’t think you should print this case; might cause a panic if people knew a man could change himself into a murdering monster.”

“Yes,” Holmes agrees, ”let’s keep this one of our secret cases.”

Rod Drake, like Elvis Costello, believes his aim is true. Check out Rod's other fiction in Six Sentences, The 6S Social Network, Powder Burn Flash, MicroHorror and AcmeShorts.