Writing

Fast Fiction: Memos from the Corporation in Control of Arnold’s Life

Subject Name: Arnold Zimmerman
Age: 38
Height: 5’6″
Weight: 160 lbs
Project Objectives: To keep suspect in continuous state of dread and unease. To convince subject that the world is out to get him, but to provide no solid proof. To counterbalance small victories with major defeats.

Memo: May 25

Bonuses were handed out to all members of the Committee for Housing Insecurity this morning after a subject A signed the lease on a particularly ill-advised studio apartment in a bad part of town.

Subcommittee members gleefully report that building is plagued by terrible smells, criminal individuals, and a general lack of respect for personal space and privacy. Tentative plans call for smoking, shouting and drinking go on at all hours of the night, and numerous attempts will be made to break in to subject’s apartment through the rear windows.

Memo: July 1

This is the fourth straight day of temperatures in the mid-90s and subject appears to be maintaining sanity.

The excess heat has caused him to sweat through his shirts at work, leaving unsightly wet patches, and it has made him feel nauseous and winded when walking outside. However, the anticipated suffering does not meet our second quarter expectations.

The Subcommittee on Climate Inconvenience believes it may be time to up the pressure by short-circuiting subject’s air conditioner or hiding rotten food somewhere in his apartment.

Also, subliminal whispering will be employed at night to encourage subject to worry constantly about global warming, and to believe that his apartment is likely to catch on fire while he is at work.

Memo: August 23

The Subcommittee on Career Control reported in today that subject A has accepted a new position that is going to pay him substantially more than his previous job.

The subcommittee chairman has alerted the executive committee about a troubling new sense of peace and well being in subject A, as subject now believes that his financial worries have been resolved.

Accordingly the subcommittee will begin cost inflation adjustment accordingly to restore subject to state of constant worry.

Other financial adjustment tactics will include forcing subject to pay several hundred dollars to repair timing belt in car, sending subject on a series of expensive but ultimately unproductive dates with women who are too attractive for him, and increasing the finance charges on subject’s credit card without any notice.

Memo: September 5

The Subcommittee on Sexual Response reported in today that Subject A has taken tentative steps toward starting a new sexual relationship, which has him feeling pretty good about his appearance and desirability.

Initiating Tactical Response Plan 1B, in which subject will suddenly be seized by a crippling fear of unplanned pregnancy and/or sexually transmitted disease.

Memo: November 13

General status report meeting of all subcommittees and stakeholders involved in Project A indicates that subject A has reached generally desirable levels of fear, anxiety, uncertainty and self-doubt.

High fives were exchanged all around the boardroom, and plans for the company party were discussed.

Just a reminder that frozen turkeys will be distributed next Friday following the weekly ice cream social.

Memo: December 9

Annual performance reviews are due at the end of the week.

Anyone who has been implicated in any of Subject A’s goal achievements over the past year (the new job, decision to seek therapy, the attempt to maintain a more positive life outlook) will be expected to present a full accounting of their failures.

Those with two or more lapses in oversight on their work record will be asked to report to corporate headquarters for additional “re-training.”

Memo: December 20

The final touches on next year’s strategic plan were approved by the Board of Trustees prior to the long holiday break.

Among the initiatives for the coming fiscal year will be to have have subject’s car stolen just as he has accumulated enough money for a down payment on a house, and to have subject believe that friends and family secretly dislike him.

Other long term strategic plans include an increase in male pattern baldness and early onset erectile dysfunction.

Have a great holiday season everyone!

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Shameless self indulgence, Writing

Fast Fiction: The Fury of Burt

Burt stripped down to his boxer shorts, stood in front of his full length mirror, and grinned.

Ever since he had taken up steroids, he never got tired of looking at his massive physique. The muscles were literally popping off of him at this point. Swollen biceps, giant delts, massive pecs. Quads like tree trunks. Calves like, well, smaller tree trunks.

Burt took pride in the precise, military-like way that his muscles aligned themselves on his body, and part of each morning’s ritual was to stand in front of the mirror and call each platoon into action.

“Grrrr” he growled at his reflection as he mobilized the pecs brigade.

“Rrrrrrr” he rumbled as he turned around and spread out his lats.

“Arrrrr” he snarled, closing one eye like a pirate as he raised each arm and popped out his biceps. The muscles swelling up from the crooks of his arms looked like Easter Eggs.

Burt glared and glimmered at his reflection, looking for some small sign of weakness, some imperfection in his frame. But there was nothing to be found.

Finally satisfied, he slipped a tight white t-shirt and a pair of jeans over his swollen frame.

Once dressed, he took another look in the mirror, noting with pleasure the way his muscles rippled underneath the cotton tee.

“Fucking all right,” he said.

Then he grabbed his wallet and keys and headed out the door.

Steroids, it turns out, were the best thing that ever happened to Burt. Having grown up a skinny weakling who was pushed around and pounded on during high school, he had spent the first half of his adult life trying—and pretty much failing—to become a dominant physical presence.

Sure, he went to the gym every day. Sure, he lifted and lifted and sweated and strained and grunted. Sure, he maintained good form and rotated between muscle groups and took his proper rest days.

But it was those goddamn genetics.

There was some genetic bear trap buried deep within him that wanted him to be small and weak and pathetic. No matter how much he lifted, there was always someone in the gym who was bigger and stronger, who handled the weights with more ease.

And if for some reason Burt had to miss a week of lifting, he could feel the small muscles that he had developed fleeing his body like rats from a sinking ship. It was only the highest level of discipline and total dedication to perfect form that kept him from turning back into a total pussy.

Weakness, it seemed, had been wired into his DNA.

But that all changed the day he met Sal.

Sal with the steroids.

Sal who explained what cycling on and cycling off was, who told Burt how to use the clean and the clear, who showed him how to  get the maximum blast.

The first time Burt had stood naked in his bathroom and injected the steroids into his veins, he knew that he had finally come home.

Maybe it was his imagination, but the clear liquid being pumped through the syringe felt like white hot lightning shooting into his body. Within two weeks, he was starting to see and feel the results.

Before the roids, Burt would get tired and sore after working out. Now, his arms and legs crackled with latent energy even after he got done blasting them at the gym. He always wanted to lift more.

Before, Burt would plateau at the same weight for weeks on end, sometimes even slipping back down by 5 or 10 pounds when his joints grew weary from straining and struggling to make his reps. Now, his muscles felt insatiable. All he wanted to do was lift and grow and dominate.

Before, when he went to the gym, Burt would avoid the stares of other men, worried that they would sense the weakness that was buried in his core, just waiting for the chance to get out.

Now, he strutted around the weight room like a peacock, seething and sneering as he watched lesser men struggle with smaller weights.

He liked to wait and watch for someone to fail at a certain weight, then set up next to them and blast through that weight like it was nothing. The failed men would look over at him and their bodies would damn near pucker in defeat.

Burt almost felt like he could see their balls crawling back into their bodies.

It was his gym, and this was his time.

Writing

Fast Fiction: Waking Life, Living Death

{Dear erstwhile Grumpy Monkey reader —
Thank you so much for your kind indulgences during your Monkey’s recent and unfortunate sojourn into topics that have no place on a fine upstanding, highly literary blog like this one. A blog that is so respected that it sometimes hurts. We here at Monkey headquarters think you’ll find this latest tale to be much more in line with what you’d expect from a monkey with rusty old typewriter, a chip on his shoulder and limited well of creative talent to draw upon. Enjoy! –TGM}

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Waking Life, Living Death

You wake up and it is morning and you are in a nursing home.

You are old and frail and the hard mattress of the twin bed digs into your bones. You are an 86-year-old man who sleeps in a diaper and shares a room with a guy who lost both legs to diabetes.

The nurses’ aid comes hustling into the room and drops a breakfast tray on your end table. It lands with a splat.

“Good morning Mr. Johnson,” she calls out in her insincerely cheery Haitian-accented voice as she crosses to the window and draws back the shade. Sunlight spills into the room. “Time for breakfast.”

Inside your bed, you feel your thin legs rustle against the sheets. You can see the blotches and bruising on your arms, and the clear patches of tape that they have wrapped around your hands to prevent skin tears.

You wince as you think about what “breakfast” really means.

Soggy eggs and lukewarm oatmeal shoved into your mouth by someone with eight other old people to feed and no time for niceties like waiting for you to chew and swallow.

And that god-awful thickened coffee that they give you instead of real coffee because they are worried about you choking on thin liquids.

“Dysphasia” is what the nurse called it the other day. Everything gets thickened now. Water. Coffee. Desserts. All your nutritional options are slowly turning into the consistency of soft paste.

No, you wake up and you are not in a nursing home.

You are back in your third grade class, getting ready to work on a construction paper turkey that you are going to bring home for Thanksgiving.

The smell coming from the open jar of paste reminds you of early school days and crisp new folders and book covers made of paper bags.

There is a girl in the class named Amy that you like, and you brought a notepad with you to school today so you could send her a note.

In between cutting and pasting colorful feathers onto the turkey shape that you drew by tracing your open hand, you slip Amy a hastily written note. “This is kind of boring,” it reads.

You actually don’t mind doing art projects and aren’t bored at all, but it seems like the type of thing you should write.

Amy looks back at you and wrinkles her nose. “I don’t know. I kind of like art class.”

No, you wake up and it is late at night at a loud party. You are in college now, but back for the weekend visiting your home town. Amy is there, a girl you haven’t seen since high school. She’s still as cute as ever, but she has had a lot to drink and is a little unsteady.

She remembers your name and your face, and seems glad to see you, but she probably doesn’t remember that you once brought a a notepad to school with you for the sole purpose of impressing her.

You are older now and still desperate to impress women, but you are also very drunk.

Amy is more drunk than you are, and you have brought her upstairs to an open bedroom so she can lie down. You are kneeling next to the bed and you are on the horns of a dilemma.

You have always had a thing for Amy, but she always seemed so distant and so unavailable. Now she is so real, so close, and so available.

She may want to kiss you, and possibly even sleep with you, but she may also be so drunk that she doesn’t  know what she wants.

Luckily, your friends are smarter than you are. One of them bursts into the room. “Time to go,” he barks at you.

You wake up from a dead sleep in the middle of the night. Amy taps you on the shoulder and whispers, “Time to go.”

“It’s time?” you answer. “It’s time to go!” You suddenly understand that your wife is about to have the baby.

You leap out of bed and dash into your clothes, moving with practiced speed and efficiency.  You and Amy have rehearsed this trip a thousand times, and the practice has paid off.

Your suitcases are packed and you are out the door and in the car in no time at all. You say a silent prayer that the old Dodge won’t seize up on the way to the hospital, but you get there OK.

The nurses come hustling out into the ER when you arrive and take Amy away to the delivery room in her wheelchair.

You sit in the waiting room and watch the battered color TV on the wall, and you marvel at how it was that you got to be here at this time, with this girl, in this situation.

You remember how Amy had called you up several days after that college party and thanked you for “being such a gentleman.” How that had led to a first date. And a second date. And a third. And a proposal. And a marriage. And now, a baby.

You take a deep breath and pace back and forth between the rows of  plastic chairs of the waiting room. You are going to be a father. This is going to be big. You are so excited to get started with your life.

No, you wake up in a nursing home. Breakfast is being shoved into your mouth by a nurse’s aide who doesn’t like you. “This isn’t right,” you think. “I’m not in a nursing home. I am in a hospital. I am waiting for my daughter to be born.”

You wake up in a hospital.  But this is not the same hospital.

You are in an examination room this time, and Amy is sitting on the table in a johnny.

Her hair is streaked with gray and she looks frail and weak. The doctor grimly hangs a set of X-rays in the light tray on the wall and points to the places where the tumors have spread throughout her body.

You wake up and you are in a funeral home.

The place smells sickeningly like lilies and bad breath and maybe formaldehyde.

Amy is there, too, but she is lying still in the coffin and her face is heavily made up. What you see of her, when you can bear to look, is so plastic and pancaked with makeup that you don’t know who it is supposed to be.

You wait in the reception line and shake hand after hand and hand and exchange hugs and hear promises of lunch dates and get-togethers that you know will never happen.

Your daughter is there somewhere, but she is off in her own world, talking to her own friends and flitting in and out of the reception line. She doesn’t want to accept this. She is going to stay as far away as possible.

You wake up and you are in a nursing home. Breakfast is over and you are being tugged and shoved and prodded onto a padded extend-o-toilet seat so you can take care of morning business.

No, this can’t be right. You shut your eyes and pray to wake up somewhere else. Somewhere earlier. Somewhere good.

But you are fully awake now. And there is no other place to wake up.

Writing

Fast Fiction: Gary Gets Mad, Kevin Gets Let Go, and a Monkey Compromises His Morals

{Dear Humble Grumpiest Monkey Reader — Please accept this latest offering as a companion piece to last week’s rather poorly done story about Kevin’s talking butthole. In fact, it will probably help your understanding of this tale to read that one first. Not that your Monkey wanted to continue crafting his prose in this admittedly crass vein, but he can only write what the muse tells him to write about. And right now it is office politics and buttholes. All apologies. }

Gary sighed and let his eyes drift over to his computer as another email dinged his inbox.

It was not even 9 o’clock in the morning and already Barry from accounting wanted a phone call about unpaid invoices, Bill from IT wanted to talk about new lead generation software, and Steve from human resources wanted to run some applications by him for new sales reps. There was shit to do.

But what was he doing? Listening as some sad-eyed paper pusher named Kevin went on and on with some ridiculous sob story about how he had discovered the meaning of his life with the help of his talking butthole, or something like that.

Gary had to admit that the whole talking butthole thing was a new twist, but it was the same old story. Every so often one of the sales reps would come into his office with a quavering voice and tell him they were leaving because it was time to go hike the Appalachian Trail or churn butter or fuck llamas or some other hippie dippie bullshit.

Every one of these jackasses would walk out of his office thinking they were going to go on rule the world, and every time they sent him a desperate email a few weeks later saying they made a terrible mistake, asking for another chance because the job market was bad and it was tough to get insurance.

Gary enjoyed deleting those emails without a reply.

“…I guess, that, you know, it’s time for me to do something other than work here,” Kevin was droning on in the background. “And I think what happened this morning helped me realize that.”

Gary grunted. “What’s that? This morning? The talking butthole thing? Yeah, sure. Sounds great.” He shuffled through some papers on his desk. “Look, ummm….Kevin. Your sales figures pretty much suck. I have one….two….three….looks like four separate sexual harassment complaints filed against you by Erica up in reception. I think we can agree to call it a day.”

But of course, Kevin couldn’t call it a day just yet. There were some protestations, some outright denials, some cries of “if only I had known she felt uncomfortable!” Gary had heard it all before. All it did was delay the inevitable.

Finally, Kevin gathered up his stuff, and he and his magic talking butthole started making their way to the door. Kevin reached his hand out for a final goodbye shake, but all that butthole talk had set Gary’s germ phobia on edge. “Just go, OK?”

At last, the door was shut. And Gary was alone to bask in the greatness that was his to create when other people weren’t holding him back.

If there was one thing that Gary hated, it was wasting fucking time. And if there was one thing the world was conspiring to do, it was waste his time.

Gary had sales figures to reach, phone calls to make, a staff to discipline, deals and discounts to negotiate. He didn’t have time for Kevin and his stupid talking butthole or Erica and her sorry HR complaints or any of the other distractions that ate up his hours.

These days there were time-suckers were everywhere. People who took five fucking minutes to put sugar and cream in their coffee at Starbucks.

Clueless assholes who shuffled in aimless circles on the sidewalk while they buried their faces in their smart phones.

Wrinkled old fucks doddering back and forth on their way to doctor’s appointments that would only prolong their inevitable demise. “Just die already,” Gary would mutter as he sprinted around them on his way into the office.

At work, the meetings that he didn’t take the lead on seemed to go on and on forever. It was like no one else had anything to do but waste his time. Gary would tap his pencil against the table and check his phone and check his phone and check his phone until someone got the message that it was time to wrap it the fuck up.

And now Gary was going to have to find someone to take over Kevin’s sales territory and follow up on his emails and answer his phone calls. Someone he could trust to tell them that Kevin had left, but not say anything about the psychotic break that had led the poor bastard to think his butthole was talking to him.

It never seemed to end. How was a man supposed to get ahead when the whole world was holding him back?

Writing

Not So Fast Fiction: The Day Kevin’s Butthole Took Over

{All apologies in advance for the…ummm…scatological nature of this piece, but it came to your Humble Monkey and demanded to be written. Thanks as always for your kind indulgences.}

It was on a Thursday at 9 a.m. that Kevin’s butthole suddenly seized control of his body.

“This is the butthole,” Kevin heard a harsh voice whisper from inside his suit pants, “I have the command.”

As you might imagine, Kevin was surprised as all get-out to hear a declaration of command coming from his butthole.

For one, he didn’t think that his butthole could talk. For another, he wasn’t aware that anyone but his brain could run his body.

Luckily, at the moment this “coupe de butt” occurred, Kevin was riding solo in the elevator up to his dreary office on the 10th floor of his dreary office building. There was no one to witness this surprising turn of events.

“What do you mean, ‘you have control’?” he asked, not quite sure where to direct his voice or the question.

How exactly did one talk to one’s own butthole, anyhow? Was there a guide to butthole relations that he was supposed to have picked up along the way?

“Listen,” his butthole hissed back. “I’m tired of being on the ass end of things all the time. All day long I get squished into your rolling office chair and rubbed back and forth against the seat upholstery. I want something more out of life.”

If a talking butthole was a surprise to begin with, a butthole with feelings and life ambitions was downright shocking.

“Look,” Kevin said, once again thankful the elevator was unoccupied, “I can totally sympathize with you. It’s not exactly glamorous to be my butthole. There is a lot of sitting and squishing and rubbing and shifting that goes on.”

“No shit,” his butthole retorted, apparently oblivious to the irony of this reply. “You mash me around in that chair all day. The only time I get out to breathe some fresh air, it’s so you can hang me down in some filthy public toilet and make me do all your dirty work. Then you rub me raw with some cheap 1-ply toilet paper and shove me back in your pants. It’s not a life, I tell you. It’s no life at all.”

“Well I hate to say I told you so,” Kevin ventured cautiously. “But what kind of life did you imagine yourself having as a butthole, anyway? I mean it’s kind of all there in the job description.”

“Screw that,” his butthole snapped back. “Who wrote the damn job description, anyway? I never signed off on anything.”

The elevator dinged as it arrived at Kevin’s floor. “Well, you’re going to have to learn to deal with it for now,” Kevin pleaded down at his pants. “I can’t going into the office with my butthole barking complaints at me.”

“I don’t think you understand who is in the position of power here,” his butthole replied evenly.

Like a battleship firing warning shots across the bow of a fleeing enemy craft, Kevin’s butthole tensed and let three puffs of gas fly. The “toot toot toot” sound was unmistakable to Kevin, but luckily the opening of the elevator doors masked the sound from prying ears.

Kevin’s face flushed a deep red as he hustled out of the elevator and into the lobby, where the first person he saw—of course— was Ericka, the shapely blonde receptionist.

“Good morning,” Erica said.

“Morning,” Kevin grunted. Normally, this one bit of interaction with an attractive female was the highlight of his day.

He wanted to stay and talk for a moment, to smell her perfume and drink in her good looks before heading into the dull gray prison that was his office.

But he knew his butthole could not be trusted to cooperate. Cold drops of sweat formed on on his forehead.

“Early meeting today…” he said, offering a weak smile of apology as he shuffled off down the hall.

“Hey she’s not a bad-looking broad, ” Kevin’s butthole rumbled as he hustled down the corridor. “Let’s go back so I can say hello.”

“Shut up…” Kevin hissed back. He shuffled his newspaper as he walked to create some kind of distraction from the talking sphincter that was now seemingly intent on ruining his life.

Finally, the door of his office loomed large and welcoming on the right. Kevin threw himself inside the door and slammed the door behind him.

“Hey! What did I say?” his butthole demanded angrily. “Are you forgetting who is in charge here? We’re not sitting down in that chair!!!” With that he emitted a loud, long burst of gas that rumbled and buzzed and vibrated through Kevin’s suit pants. “Just know I can do that at any time, in any situation. Meetings. Elevators. Dates. Funerals. And that’s only the beginning.”

“The beginning?” Kevin stood with his back to the door, putting just enough pressure on it with his upper back to make sure it stayed closed, but not enough that his butt would touch.

During negotiations as tense as this, it wouldn’t do to make his butthole any angrier.

“Think about it,” his butthole said. “I don’t just control gas, do I? Isn’t there another function that I am responsible for? Something that would be even more embarrassing should it happen, say…the next time that you walk by Erica’s desk?”

A wave of horror flashed over Kevin’s face. “You wouldn’t…” he said.

“I could,” came the grim reply.

Kevin thought frantically. “Doesn’t that break every rule of the butthole code? I mean, aren’t we supposed to be a team here? If we work against each other…we both fail.”

“Hey, don’t you start talking about teamwork,” the response came snapping back. “I’m the one who’s been getting mashed into the bottom of this miserable chair for the past 10 years.”

“So what do you want me to do?” Kevin asked. “Sitting is part of the job. I work in an office! I suppose I could try standing while I type every once in a while. Or maybe we could get out for a walk at lunch?”

“None of that!” the butthole cried. “Kevin was surprised by the notes of anguish in the voice. “I don’t want to do it any more! I want to go swimming. And surfing. I want to go to nude beaches and sun myself. I want to get massages and have adventures and maybe find someone to fall in love with. It doesn’t matter if you’re a butthole or a man, life has got be more than this!”

Kevin thought he heard a slight catch in the voice, almost as if his butthole was crying. He softened and gave his backside a sympathetic squeeze. “Why didn’t you tell me you were so upset?” he said.

“I tried, man. I tried. All that rumbling and shaking and twitching. All those frantic trips to the bathroom last week? That was me saying that I need something, man. I need something new.”

Kevin knew that his butthole was right. He hated being in his office, too. He hated sitting all day. He hated the 9 to 5 grind and the lack of adventure and all the rest. “You’re right. I’m so sorry it had to come to this.”

“Me too, man. Me too.”

Kevin took a deep breath. He no longer feared his butthole. In fact, he had come to appreciate him more than ever. “Let’s go see my boss,” he said. “It’s time for us to quit.”

“Yeah,” said his butthole. “And then let’s go see that Erica.”

Writing

Not So Fast Fiction: Odd Couple, Arctic, Zoo (or at long last, The Penguin Story)

{Your humble Monkey has been struggling with this Penguin story for a long time now, and since this week is marking a fresh start for him, he thought it was time to polish it up as best he can and send it out. This was based on the prompt above but took numerous revisions and one day of brutal frustration to bring to realization. Thanks in advance for your kind indulgences. P.S. No animals were hurt during the making of this story, though one Monkey did get very stressed out.}

It was feeding time at noon on Monday, and Claude was once again being an asshole to the penguins.

“You look so stupid with your black and white tuxedos and your big floppy feet,” he sneered as he dumped the bucket full of salty fish into their holding pen.

Claude had the most ridiculously thick French Canadian accent I had ever heard. It matched perfectly with his slick black hair and pencil-thin mustache. He seemed so stereotypically French, in fact, that I sometimes wondered if the whole thing was an act. Like maybe he was a theater student from Wisconsin who had come up north to train for an acting role.

“Don’t say that kind of stuff to the penguins,” I said, watching as the birds waddled over to the pile of fish and started gobbling up their lunch. “They’re sensitive creatures.”

Claude sniffed and gestured towards the pen, where two penguins were flapping their flippers in an apparent argument over a particularly juicy mackerel. “They are not sensitive,” he said. “They are stupid. Haw!”

Claude dropped the empty bucket to the ground and it clanged against the cement. He shuffled off in the direction of the polar bear house.

I reached down and retrieved the bucket, then smiled in at the birds.

“Don’t listen to him,” I said, putting on my best faux French accent. “He is the one who is, how you say, stup-eeed.” I smiled my big smile at them, but they continued munching on their fish and did not seem too interested in me and my empty bucket.

That was OK, I thought. They probably felt safe in my presence and were happy to eat without interruption.

As anyone who has worked at the zoo, visited the zoo, or read my penguin blog on the zoo’s website could tell you, I love penguins. I love love love penguins. I care about those black and white birds like the children I never had.

I’m not sure if I could say that the penguins loved me, too.

Thus far, my attempts to move my tent into their pen and commune with them one-on-one had been met with gentle rebuffs in the form of them headbutting me in the knees and pooping in my sleeping bag.

But now that Claude was here, I reasoned, the penguins would come understand what a true friend I was to them. And they respect me and welcome me in. That was the one upside to having him around.

Getting on good terms with the birds was all part of my plan to be the world’s foremost penguin researcher, the first man to live among them and be accepted as one of their own.

I fell in love with penguins after reading a book about them as a child and had studied them all through elementary school and high school, even going as far as dressing in black and white every day during my senior year.

Went I couldn’t find a college that would let me major in penguinology, or a college that even offered penguinology as a major, I decided to join the staff of Cole’s Arctic Zoo in Winnipeg.

Sure, the pay was lousy. Sure, I lived in a small trailer with a gas-powered heater that never seemed to work quite right. And sure, the zoo might have been a few decades past its glory days.

But the zoo had penguins. Lots and lots of penguins.

I thought Claude might have been impressed, or at least charmed, by the majestic black and white birds with their graceful waddles. but he hated them from the moment he arrived.

“Hi,” I had greeted him when he first came roaring up to the gates of the zoo in his Peugeot a few months back. “You’re going to love it here. There are lots of penguins.”

The Peugeot belched a cloud of black smoke and Claude rolled his eyes. He flicked his cigarette out the open window. “I do not like birds,” he said.

“How can you not like birds?” I asked.

“Bears I like,” he said. “Polar bears. Grizzly bears. Kodiaks. Those are creatures. They have grace. They have majesty. These birds, they are nothing to me.”

“But penguins mate with each other for life,” I said. “And when they mate, the male penguin finds a pebble and presents it to the female penguin as a sign of affection. How cute is that?”

“Bah!” Claude spat. “Your penguins would make a great lunch for the bears. That is all.”

Ever since that first exchange, I had made it my habit to trail behind Claude when he did the noon feeding.

I was there to make sure the penguins got the attention they needed, and to pick up the bucket that he inevitably tossed aside after dumping their fish into the pen.

Our work styles could not have been more different, and I hoped the penguins appreciated how much care I took–and how much contempt he showed.

When it was my turn to do the noon feeding, I handed out the fish one by one, speaking to each penguin in turn and trying not to wince as their eager beaks clamped down on my fingers.

Handling salty fish with fingers that were rubbed raw by penguin teeth was not fun, but it was all part of the bonding experience between me and these transcendent birds.

Most days, the noon feeding with Claude went without incident, aside from the dropped bucket and his general indifference to the birds that were my heart and soul.

But today, something didn’t seem right.

The penguins were all eating OK, but…what was it?

I did a quick mental head count and my heart leaped into my chest. A bird was missing!

“Claude!” I shouted, hoping to get a second set of eyes to confirm my count. But he was too far away to hear me. As I stared at his disappearing figure, my alarm bells went off. There was something too quick, too eager in his step.

Sure, he liked the bears. But Claude never hustled for no one.

I broke  away from my penguin friends and sprinted after Claude, yelling his name all the while.

But he either didn’t hear me, or was trying to ignore me.

I finally caught up with him just inside the overlook to the polar bear enclosure. And I could see from the gleam in his eye that something was afoot.

The missing penguin was waddling around in the pen with the polar bears.

“You bastard!” I wheezed, still trying to catch my breath from the sprint. “You put him in there!”

“Haw!” Claude jeered as I joined him at the edge of the overlook. “I did nothing of the sort. I told you these birds were stupid. This one is going to be an easy meal for my bears.”

I watched in horror as the penguin tottered around the pen, apparently oblivious to two sleeping bears on either side of him.

I wanted to scream. I wanted to shout. I wanted to choke Claude out.

But my heart and my hands were stunned into silence. All I could do was watch.

Male penguins are beautiful, majestic and handsome birds. But they are not graceful, and they are not quiet. This bird was tottering all over the pen, making penguin sounds and generally looking lost and confused.

I looked over at Claude, saw his eager smile, and my blood ran hot.

“What are you waiting for?” I snapped. “Get the bears their lunch. Toss it in and they’ll all come walking over towards us. Then I’ll jump in and grab the penguin.”

But Claude only grinned and leered. “Watch this,” he said. Then he put his fingers up to his lips and let out a shrill whistle. I jumped. The penguin jumped.

But most importantly, the two polar bears stirred. They were a male and a female, brought in for breeding purposes. Both were massive creatures with yellow-white fur and dark stains around their mouths.

Both had become fat and lazy on the cheap zoo food, but both were still polar bears. When they stirred and saw the penguin, I feared the worst. Then the male bear got to his feet and lumbered in the direction of the bird, and I knew the worst was inevitable.

“That’s it,” I said. “I’m going in after him.” I put one foot up on the fence, and Claude grabbed me and pulled me back.

“You are not really that stupid, eh?” he said. “They will eat you instead. Watch and learn, my friend.”

In the wild, polar bears live in the Arctic and Penguins live in the Antarctic. Same type of environment, but opposite ends of the earth.

So polar bears don’t get many chances to eat penguins, though many biologists believe that they would if they got the chance.

I was panicking. “How did he get in there?” I cried. I glared over at Claude. “You must have put him there.”

“I did not,” he returned evenly. “I told you, penguins are stupid. He must have walked over on his own.”

The polar bear and the penguin made contact moments later.

I will spare you the brutal details of what happened next, but let’s just say that a penguin is no match for a polar bear.

I watched with sickened eyes and clenched teeth as the penguin went from one of my close, personal friends to a pre-lunch polar bear snack. This was too much for me to take.

I turned to Claude, and his satisfied smile made my blood boil. “You–you murderer!”

I grabbed him by the lapels of his coat and shook him. He smirked. “My friend, I assure you that I did nothing wrong.”

But behind the protestations of innocence, there was a gleam in his eye. I lost all control. “I’m not your friend! I hate your accent. And I think you’re stupid, too. Let’s see how well you do in with your precious bears!”

I pushed him towards the edge of the overlook fence.  The low rise fence had been built during a simpler time, when safety regulations were routinely ignored. It offered little in the way of resistance as I pushed Claude up and over and dropped him into the pen.

He fell to the ground with a thud and looked up at me with stunned silence. For the first time, I could see fear in his eyes. “So you do have another expression besides smug,” I said.

Both polar bears were awake now, and even though the male had just eaten, they both looked hungry. They ambled over in Claude’s direction.

Two thoughts went through my head at the same time.

The first was,”If this goes the way I think it’s going, I’m going to be a murderer.”

The second was, “Man, I wish the penguins could come and see this.”

Writing

Not So Fast Fiction: Sacrifice for Love, Robotic, Kitchen

{Yet another in a series of small stories based on creative writing prompts. It has been a few weeks since your humble Monkey has posted here on the blog, so it would be something of a stretch to call this one fast fiction. This story has been in the works for a while, and has required several hit and miss attempts just to get it to this somewhat passable form. The important thing is to keep moving forward though, right?}

It was clear to all the other appliances in the kitchen that Blender was madly in love with Toaster.

Microwave Oven saw it, and beeped affectionately whenever Blender got a chance to come out of the cabinet and sit on the counter next to Toaster for a while.

Refrigerator knew it, even though Refrigerator was all cool and calm and collected and claimed not to have any emotions. “I’m too frosty for love,” he’d always say.

Even the Juicer knew and approved, though this was a little strange because the Juicer and the Blender were sometimes rivals when it came to finding work in the kitchen.

Did Toaster love Blender? It was tough to say, because Toaster played it close to the vest. She was a throwback kind of appliance, a wide, two-slot white toaster with big round curves and a bold red lever.

Because of the wiring limitations in the kitchen, she and Blender were rarely plugged in at the same time.

So we never knew how much Toaster could see and respond to Blender’s charming “whir whir whir” mating call.

Sure, the Humans thought that Blender was there to puree their soups, chop their vegetables and blend their smoothies. And he did love those jobs. With all apologies to Dishwasher (who is notoriously sensitive about these things), he was the hardest working appliance in the kitchen.

But we all knew that Blender only had eyes, or ummm….blades, for Toaster.

We thought their love would last forever.

But the end came quickly, and it all started with a sleek gray box that arrived on the kitchen table one day. The Humans had dropped it there after one of their Saturday shopping trips.

Out of all of us, only Microwave could read. As soon as the coast was clear, he let out a questioning beep. “What exactly was a Toaster Oven, anyway?”

We didn’t like the sound of Toaster Oven from the get go. We liked his looks even less.

When the Humans came back into the kitchen and let him out of his box, we were shocked by how black and square and cruel he seemed. Even his dials had the cold gray automatic precision of a German army officer.

It got even worse when the Humans put him on the counter next to Toaster.

In his massive presence, Toaster seemed small and weak and out of fashion. There was hardly any room for her on the counter once the massive rectangular Toaster Oven was in place.

We all had an uneasy sleep that night. And things took a turn for the terrible the next morning.

The Humans came downstairs and went about their morning routine. They used Refrigerator to get their juice and water. They used Coffee Maker to brew their coffee. They turned on Stove and dropped a few sizzling strips of bacon into a frying pan.

Everyone was humming along, content in the knowledge that they were performing their daily routine.

Then the unthinkable happened. The humans went to the breadbox.  They pulled out the bread. They took two slices out of the bag. But instead of doing what they did every morning, dropping the bread into Toaster’s waiting and accommodating slots, they opened the sleek glass door of Toaster Oven and shoved the bread inside.

Microwave gasped. Dishwasher wailed. Coffee Maker perked up. Refrigerator made some offhand comment about the world being cold and unfeeling.

All of us watched in horror as the glass-covered canyon in the center of the Toaster Oven turned from slight orange to bright orange to deep red, then calmly beeped once and shut itself off.

Even though we loved Toaster, we had to admit that this Toaster Oven fella had the goods. The toast had come out in tip-top shape. It was brown all over, crispy without being burned. The whole process had been short, smooth and fast. There was no smoking or burning like when Toaster was on the job, no pressing down the lever twice just to get the bread to toast. It was a one and done.

The male Human placed this perfect toast on his plate, and we watched in horror as he dropped a pat of butter on top and it melted perfectly into the bread. A few quick strokes of the knife and the toast was positively glistening.

The next thing we knew, Toaster was being unplugged. The cruel words from the Humans stung our robotic ears. “Guess we don’t need this thing anymore.”

And with a cruelty that only the Humans seem capable of displaying, they wrapped the cord around Toaster’s white body and tossed her into the trash.

It was no way for a faithful appliance to end her service, and the entire kitchen fell into a stunned silence. Microwave stopped displaying the time. Coffee Maker brooded. Even Refrigerator lost his cool. “Bastards,” he whispered.

Blender was beside himself with worry. From his position in the cabinet next to the stove, he could just make out the trash can through the crack in the door. After her unceremonious dumping, he was inconsolable. All afternoon he paced back and forth on his shelf, muttering to himself.

After dinner, the Humans came back into the kitchen and pulled out a bottle of tequila. Sitting on his darkened shelf in the cabinet, Blender stiffened. He knew what this meant.

It was time for him to perform his duty.

It was time for him to chop and blend the ice so the humans could have delicious drinks.

Blender came out of the cabinet and sat on his usual spot on the counter. He did not even look in Toaster Oven’s direction. We couldn’t blame him.

In went the ice. In went the tequila. In went the margarita mix.

Margaritas were normally the Blender’s favorite drink to make because the Humans were happy when he was working and when they poured out the blended margaritas they clinked glasses and cheered.

The man pressed the button and Blender whirred into action. He might have been a romantic at heart, but he was still a mean, lean, blending machine.

But even though Blender was doing what he loved, we could see the anguish in his every spin. Was it just our imagination, or did the “whir whir whir” sound seem more like “why, why, why?”

The drinks were seconds away from being done when Blender did something that was quite literally shocking.

He stopped his blades and sent a burst of electricity back down his cord and into the outlet, shorting out the fuse and emitting a small puff of smoke from somewhere in his innards.

To this day, we don’t know what he did or how he did it.

The Humans were just as puzzled. One went to the basement and flipped on the breaker, but Blender did nothing. They unplugged Blender and plugged him back in, and Blender did nothing. They fiddled with his switches. They pressed his buttons. But still Blender did nothing.

“That’s too bad,” the female Human said. “Guess this one’s a dud, too.”

“Oh, well. Let’s go out for drinks instead,” the male Human said.

They unplugged Blender, dumped the icy, half-finished chunks of margarita mix into the sink, and tossed him into the trash next to Toaster.

In the brief moment before the Humans clicked off the lights and left the kitchen, we all could have sworn that we saw Blender smile.