penpusher: (Default)
I know there is resistance in moving from the old place over here. What I don't know is why.

I mean, I do know why. You are already at the old place and so are the people you read and who read you. And predictive text in your searchbox sends you right there. But I have to say, once you get over here, it's pretty much business as usual. You read through your friends posts (it's called your "reading page" instead of your "friendslist"). You comment. Post. It's all pretty much the same. It does feel slightly clunkier at first, and there are other different names for things. But you can figure this stuff out! And a couple of the people who deleted their journals at the old place are here and posting.

I didn't mention that I'm commenting on anything I can on any posts on DW. I'm here and I want to be here. This is the best way to establish that.

I need to begin exploring communities. I'm sure that's a good way to find active users here that I don't already know. But I know that's going to take some time and I'm kind of pressed because I have three writing projects going on all at once. I'll have to tell you about that when I get a free minute.

Meantime, come find me and add me to your reading page!
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penpusher: (LJ Broken)
If you follow me on the old blogging site, or if you glanced at any entries here, where I'm writing this, you'll know I've been pounding the Dreamwidth drum pretty loudly this year. The time has come for me to convert.

For the moment, I'm continuing to cross-post to the other journal, but I suspect that when the new year starts, I'll be exclusively on DW. I haven't decided if I will delete my original journal, private lock it all, or possibly use the nuclear option yet. Not sure what will influence my choice. Could be an event that hasn't happened yet. Or it could be the nostalgia.

At any rate, I'm starting to comment on DW entries. Seeing how it feels, "reading" as it's called here. It's not a mirror, not a perfect parallel. But it is more like the olden days of the original site and without the specter of all of the stuff I suggested in previous entries.

So, yeah... it's still a "house." But the more I move in, the more I think it'll become a home.
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penpusher: (LJ Broken)
Back when I was interviewing LJ users for my little project I called [livejournal.com profile] talk_show, one of my interviewees was a guy named Ryan Estrada. He had just started drawing his "Frank the Goat" comic at that time, which was gaining popularity. Frank the Goat, if you didn't know, was the long time mascot of LiveJournal so having a comic based on the character was both a natural fit and a boon to both the site and the artist.

When the site was bought outright by the Russians, in the wake of the SixApart debacle, Estrada discontinued his comic, and I presume, like many, left the site. But more recently he came back and posted a new comic speaking directly to the issues of freedom of speech, of rights for LGBTQ members and supporters and of why a so-called long form blogging site has rules in place that do not permit opinions of specific sorts.

Thanks to [livejournal.com profile] tamar for calling my attention to this, even though it occurred in July, so a full season ago. Still, it's a topical take on what's happening around here and is worthy of consideration as we continue to move forward on a platform that feels like a raft made of very thick cardboard on a very troubled sea.

The article about Ryan's action is posted HERE, but here's the comic.



For the record, the comic above is still available on the [livejournal.com profile] frankthecomic account.


And if you want to go more in depth about this, there's the website listed at the bottom of the comic:

https://gimletmedia.com/episode/100-friends-blasphemers/

That allows you the choice of listening to a podcast or just reading the transcript to delve more deeply into this topic. Just to give you an overview of what this podcast/transcript is: they go into more detail about how Russia was angry about the criticism of their government by their own citizenry and by some in the west and how they actively sought to shut down the criticism by buying LiveJournal. It's a fascinating report and one that will send you reeling if you didn't know the details.

Still, for my sense about it, the facts are pretty clear: there is no "western" division of LiveJournal. Previously, there was a board that worked in concert with the Russian element. That hasn't been true in years, as far as I can tell, possibly dating back as far as when other [livejournal.com profile] talk_show interviewee [livejournal.com profile] marta, who acted as a liaison between the Non Cyrillic and Cyrillic sides, left her position with LJ, about 2011 or 12.

That all leads us to the inevitable questions: "what does it mean?" and "what does it matter?"

For the first question, keep in mind, if the folks running the Russian servers of LJ are determined to disallow us from making certain kinds of statements, they can. We signed their ToS and they have every right to shut us down without any notice and without any recourse. You have to know and understand that when you're examining this situation. Will they shut us down? It's unlikely, because they have other things far more important than the blog entries of some westerners that probably have nothing to do with them. But we know that when it came to the dissidents within their homeland, they definitely cracked down on those posts and perhaps used LJ as a method of locating the people responsible to bring them to "justice." We don't know all the details because we never will.

This, to me, is why I feel unsafe remaining on LiveJournal. No western influence, Russian servers and a proven track record of abuse based on their standards. Will everything remain the same? It might, but we can't, with any kind of certainty, say yes.

To the second question, the most accurate answer I can muster is it depends on what you're willing to accept. We have a documented record of what has already taken place. To simply ignore that record and continue as if nothing has happened? That seems very shortsighted.

Based on what we know about the history of how Russia views LiveJournal, we know two things:

1. The Russians will never let LiveJournal out of their control.

They see LJ as a potential threat to their power and will not release it to some other entity at any time. They worked very hard to get LJ and to prevent people from using it as a platform to air their grievances against the Russian government. There is no price that would permit anyone from buying it back now. LiveJournal, now and forever, is a Russian entity.

2. The Russians could literally pull the plug on LJ at any moment.

Granted, it doesn't seem imminent, nor is it likely to be, but there is nothing that states that, just as they arbitrarily threw up that ToS for all of us westerners to sign ten months ago, they won't just shut down and destroy LiveJournal if some Russian government figure thinks that would be the best choice.

I'm trying to envision a scenario where it makes sense to remain on LiveJournal, knowing these facts. If you think of any, let me know.
penpusher: (Flag)
I previously mentioned I quit Facebook again this past week. It's not the first time I quit but hopefully it will be the last (in that I'll never go back). I can't foresee returning but I never thought I was going to return about a year ago when I did, so there is a slim possibility.

One of my friends from the juggling group that I regularly attend talked with me about leaving. See, there is a Facebook group for our juggling community and one of the things that is lost when you leave that platform is that you are removed from all of those groups as well.

I mentioned the time suck that Facebook requires, and frankly it is a bigger time suck than LJ could ever be, if only because there are so many people that you feel compelled to interact with on a regular basis, and there are news sources and other stuff and the app constantly sends notifications about what stuff your friends are sending. Insidious doesn't even begin to cover it.

But then I also mentioned how being on Facebook really wasn't all that much fun for me. Really, if something is taking up a portion of your life, you better be having fun in somewhat equal proportions to the amount of time you're spending. Otherwise, that's time badly spent. And my friend said something interesting. He said "You like to post those social change issues. I don't think that stuff really plays on there."

He went on to say that "you can't change anyone's mind about things, certainly not in a format like that." That wasn't specifically why I quit, but I was taken somewhat aback by the statement anyway. He typically didn't comment on anything in my feed at all, sticking with just commenting to things in the juggling group. It was rather an interesting insight specifically because he obviously saw what I posted but never commented. And that's a reflection on the nature of social media, generally. I think when I post comments, it is going to rub some people the wrong way, specifically because that is the nature of politics and the nature of what our politics is doing to the people of this country. Life isn't as simple as many believe it is for many citizens of this land.

I responded that the problem when we talk about "social change" issues is that there are a lot of people that don't even know a problem exists. People live their lives with the assumption that everyone is dealing with the circumstances they face in about the same way.

THAT ISN'T TRUE.

And the first step in hoping to fix that is through discussing it, because why would anyone who has been insulated and is busy trying to live their life know or understand the circumstances of someone else who has a very different experience? The only way to start is by talking about the facts of a situation, at least letting people hear about it, seeing if they understand it and reaching out to others for help and support. It's how we erase assumptions and replace those with facts.

He agreed with my points, so that was a small victory, but it made me think about everything to do with social media and how difficult it can be. I'm sure there are people on LJ who do not agree with my politics. Certainly at least one person removed me from their LJ specifically because of that element, and likely others have as well along the way. And that's the segregation of social media. People who do not share the same thoughts and values as you do typically don't belong on your feed because that will just cause annoyance or anger. It will make you upset and you don't use social media to get upset. Unless you do. But that's a different kind of circumstance.

I do visit a couple of message boards that are specifically political and are mostly conservative. I go there for a couple of reasons. First, I like to read what someone who has a different point of view is saying about various topics. If I want some culture shock, I visit Breitbart, a site that I guess is back under the control of former Trump aide, Steve Bannon, but was run in the interim by a guy who graduated from my Alma Mater, much to my shame and regret.

I never comment to anything at that board because that would be begging for abuse. People there have views of reality that are so distorted, it doesn't make sense to attempt to engage them in rational discourse. Just treat it like an horrific traffic accident, slow down, view it, shake your head, say a prayer and keep moving.

But there are a couple of boards that are a little more to the center and I will bat some concepts back and forth with some of the people on those boards. The one I most frequently attend is Scott Adams' blog. Adams, who draws the "Dilbert" comic strip, has become something of a political savant after his commentary about how he thought Trump would do during the 2016 election turned him into a Cable News talking head, a year ago. He's now trying to convert his success into a payday by getting his readers to join him on some other social media platform where he'll likely get a payday for bringing new eyeballs to see ads on the other site he's coercing folks to join.

The point is that most people who post on Adams' current blog don't quite expect someone with a liberal, or as they prefer, "libtard" mindset to come to that group and start posting stuff that doesn't align with their opinions. But I've had some successes along the way, or at least the people I converse with said they understood what I was saying, which is a pretty big step, from my POV, or better, if they don't respond to the point, it means they have no response, and that's a victory, too.

This is the issue when it comes to social change. We can't stay segregated. That's helping fuel the problem. Everyone needs to hear what the aggrieved are saying when it comes to how society is treating them, and then we have to do something to help them. Unless we are not acting in the way we claim we intend to be. How do we face the view of ourselves if we're being honest about what we believe?

But at the very least, we have to keep talking with one another. Cutting off communication, choosing to insulate around only people that believe everything that you do? That's creating an echo chamber, a situation where we can only hear our own beliefs, and everything becomes warped when we have a situation like that. We have to continue to challenge each other, to be willing to state what we actually think and to listen when someone has a different view. That's the way to help the country and continue to move forward.

There's a famous quote that reads "My country, right or wrong." But there's another part to that famed phrase: "if right, to be kept right; and if wrong, to be set right."

Here's hoping.
penpusher: (Pen)
The biggest positive of disabling my Facebook, which I did this morning, is simply getting the time back that was spent on it. And that's time that I can use back here, both for posting and reading. I had disabled FB back in 2012, returned last October, and nearly lasted a year, and I would call it a "bad" year, before pulling the plug again.

It also frees up time that I need to use for writing. I have two projects I'm working on that I hope will be worth time from other folks eventually. One of those is the novel, which I already know needs a rewrite, at least the middle section which is going to go much faster than I currently have it moving. I've got a handle on it and I really almost want to go back and fix those sections now, rather than going to the end of the work and then doing a proper rewrite. But I'm resisting that urge because of the very word "rewrite." You can't rewrite until the writing has concluded. That's my approach.

I am considering a sequel novel already, but that might not be viable or useful because an idea that I thought would make an intriguing television series is, according to a contact in the industry, isn't very salable. So, that might become the next novel. And I think I'm going to want to have a change of pace from the material that I'm working with in this piece. Still haven't ruled it out for a future story tho.

And of course there's the relief of not having LJ Idol to deal with on a weekly basis, now that it has concluded. In case you hadn't heard, the winner was [livejournal.com profile] marlawentmad. I finished a very respectable second.

Idol really took a lot more time than you might imagine, as there was the issue of deciding what to write, coming up with a story, then crafting it into the piece I submitted. The great thing is that LJ Idol definitely helps with my process for preparing and executing a story, so that is invaluable, especially where I'm at right now.

Currently, there's no clear answer to if there will be another full season of Idol. Gary, the guy that runs the show, has already stated there will be a mini-season coming soon. But there are a lot of questions, not the least of which is where will it happen? LiveJournal is on the bubble since we are a Russian entity. And nobody, so far, is treating Dreamwidth like it's a reasonable replacement. It is still the attic for your old LJ entries and that's about it.

But that's not for me to figure out. I'm just back here, and, at least for the time being, glad to be back.
penpusher: (Pen)
If you've been following my journal this past year, you know that the bulk of my entries have been for LJ Idol, the writing competition that has been going on for ten seasons.

This is the end of the LJ Idol competition and the votes are coming in: There is less than 24 hours until the poll closes. I would ask, if you are able and you find anything I have done around LiveJournal worthwhile, to please vote if you can. Here is the link. I could use any and all support to make it through this last and final vote.

https://www.livejournal.com/poll/?id=2072814&mode=enter

Thanks very much.
penpusher: (Going To End)
“Why?”

This is, bar none, the most difficult question of all. “Who?,” “what?,” “where?” and “when?” Those are all pretty straightforward: that person, doing something, in this location, at an acknowledged, particular moment. Even “how?” isn’t quite as problematic. That’s just the mechanics of it.

No, WHY is the ultimate challenge. Why this and not that? Why not the other? Why is everything the way it is? Why can’t we change it into what we want?

There’s nothing at all simple about “why.” That’s because “why” is the bones of it. It’s the skeleton on which everything is hung. It’s the basic acknowledgement that we all must face, sooner or later. It is The Reason.

It’s difficult to face The Reason, isn’t it? Especially difficult when it’s a difficult circumstance, a difficult choice to make. And let’s be clear: a lot of the choices made are not always reasoned. Sometimes they happen simply because someone did NOT make a choice. Or because someone made a wrong choice.

But even when everything goes as we would want, we still have to examine the “Why.” Why did we get our way when someone else did not? Why are we able to do the things we do and someone else can’t?

I hope you’re realizing just how important, how massive, how colossal “Why” can be and that we should never take for granted the answer to that teenie-tiny query.

That brings us to this, the final episode of this season of LJ Idol. There are three writers that remain: [livejournal.com profile] marlawentmad, [livejournal.com profile] messygorgeous and me. And it’s time to view each of us through that kaleidoscopic prism known simply as “Why?”

I would say, just on the surface, each one of the three of us presented extremely different offerings to get here. Whether that makes this choice easier or more difficult is, again, a question that is a mix of daunting and delight, depending.

[livejournal.com profile] marlawentmad made an impression on me in her Week 0 Introduction, as she wrote an entry about writing, and that’s something we all were here to participate in, either through crafting or reading and ultimately both. And she certainly followed up with a host of unspeakably beautiful/horrific fairy tales, poems with words that were collected like wildflowers, hand-woven into charming bouquets – she may have written more poems than any other Idoler this season (except [livejournal.com profile] sestinaqueen) – and scathing commentary suitable for any Op-Ed page in any newspaper that’s still in business.

And when it came to it, that’s what you could count on from her: something unexpected, something meaningful, something always well-crafted and worth reading, every time. They say the devil is in the details, but when it came to her entries, that’s where the heaven always could be found. When it came to any of the pieces she wrote this season, attentive readers were always rewarded with extra texture, precious little intricacies that flavored her pieces with a distinct and perfect palate – a master chef creating a culinary delight with her particular brand of spice that could feed the mind but nurture the soul.


[livejournal.com profile] messygorgeous consistently held to the tenets and the traditions of LJ Idol and to what LiveJournal has been, and may still be, all about. She frequently wrote tales from her personal life, about her family and their experiences, about herself and her particular circumstances, and had done that with a tremendous amount of style, heart, warmth, and truth. If you are an LJ Idol purist, on this point alone, she has a distinct advantage. She writes to El Jay, in the manner that made this platform famous, probably better and definitely more consistently than anyone else in the competition has done this season and for that, she deserves great praise. In a sense, she completely captured the concept of LJ Idol!

Not that she can’t do other styles of writing, because she certainly did. But there’s something presentational and inspiring about living a life that is worth telling stories about. It provided great fodder for wonderful, rich and detailed entries whether she’s talking about the real Georgia or the one that she slightly tweaks for the tale, whether she’s referencing a monumental moment with mom or a difficult discussion with dad. And I know there were times that she wrote a piece that I didn’t know how to appropriately react, the feelings were so tender, so emotional, so there. I don’t want to say I was speechless, but.

The fact is, when I did have something to say about either of these writers, their work inspired some of my better comments. The world we dwell in is rife with overt racism and sexism and it all seems so much more out of control now (when perhaps it was just as out of control as in previous years). I think we’re all starting to feel that element of our society much more heavily and our view of how much work we have left to do to have the world we want and deserve is starting to weigh on many of us.

Related to that thought, During week 29, in the midst of the portfolio, I noted to [livejournal.com profile] marlawentmad on her Surrender Under Protest prompt, the following comment as it related to a story about a Witch being removed from her community:

//
My revelation from this piece is a simple one. The witch hunts generally were about women, who many of the men in whatever sad villages they lived in at the time, found them "not attractive" or found them "too attractive" or found them "behaving inappropriately," or were people they just didn't like and were likely used as a method of driving said women out of sight of the townsfolk. It is a continual storyline for many - we don't want to see you, now get out. Of course, that would be inhumane for the group leaders to do if those were the reasons for sending these women away, so there needed to be a string attached - she is a witch. " I couldn't help laying with her, I was bewitched." "Her mere presence in our community is a blight. She must be removed."

And it makes sense that those women would at least attempt to find ways to make what would be an utterly hateful practice into something they could use to defend themselves creating a "need" for magic. Self-fulfilling prophesy. You want a witch? Here's your witch! And may the wrath of this witch's powers come down on them.

//

That was a kind of eye-opening understanding I got from the piece that helped me contextualize that historic event in a way that I might not have fully appreciated without it.

Perhaps my response to [livejournal.com profile] messygorgeous’ entry of Week 30’s topic, “Impossible” can be recycled right here and now as part of the question of “Why,” even though the topic of the piece was choosing (or choosing not) to have a child or children. Of that entry, I stated:

//
Certainly you have touched a nerve when it comes to this topic and it's one many people have to consider as a part of the situation. With so many angles to view it, and with so many situations to need to negotiate it, it's impossible to say one decision is "right" and one is "wrong." Just like most of life, it's not entirely up to you anyhow. I have a pair of close friends who swore they would never have kids because they similarly felt that the world wasn't a place for them and used both male AND female contraception - and still got pregnant. Their son is now seven and is both their pride and joy and seems like he could be on track to help change the world for the better... Sometimes it really isn't up to you at all! The best we can do is the best we can do when our circumstances are what they are.
//

And that brings me to my efforts in this game. I am still very new to the whole process of LJ Idol, as this is only my second season. The advantage I have in talking about myself is that I know the process that I worked through and I can share what I hoped to achieve through it.

Prompts are the pegs, the clothespins we hung the washing on, and I lucked out a bit because I felt I connected closely with the bulk of the prompts from this season. But more, I especially wanted to take the prompts sometimes in perpendicular ways to how I thought they might be typically interpreted. That’s due mostly to my learning experience from the ninth season of Idol: find a way to use the prompt to tell the story you want to tell.

Using the prompt to get you to find a way to talk about what is on your mind really was worth the experience of the previous season for me, and I wanted to try to do it in as many ways as I could. Sometimes I did it directly, by recounting our political history. Other times I did it in thinly veiled fictional ways about a leader that was down in the Dump. And let’s face it, the outside atmosphere informed a lot of the writing as much as the prompts did! I wanted to be a little more comedic, but current events made that a challenge, if not impossible, some weeks.

I think I’m the only contestant that referred to this season as “LJ Idol X.” But I wanted to use that not just for the Roman Numeral element, like a Super Bowl, but also because “X” is the symbol for a kiss. Related directly to that, I want to use this second to last moment to say thanks and send Valentines to some very special people. First, I must thank [livejournal.com profile] brad for creating this place a millennium ago. Without that, where would we be? I want to thank all of my fellow writers and competitors in LJ Idol over this two-season arc. Reading your words and following your stories, whether they were stand-alone pieces or continuing tales with recurring characters, always provided useful insights, unique perspectives and all of that is grist for the mill. I hope whatever comments I provided in response to your entries helped you as much as your writing helped me.

Extra special thanks to my Intersection partner [livejournal.com profile] xlovebecomesher for working with me fearlessly during both of these seasons. And likewise, extra special thanks to [livejournal.com profile] halfshellvenus for providing a great story that I milked for two weeks.

I wanted to also include a heartfelt note of thanks to the people who read and commented to the two excerpts from my novel that were entries in this season’s competition. I won’t complete the first draft by the first of Autumn, but at 75,000 words, I’m close enough that I won’t mind. Thanks also to our two younger idols, [livejournal.com profile] kfp_rawr and [livejournal.com profile] yamyam_kat for participating and for inspiring us all to be better, and we’ll see you both writing again soon!

And last and most certainly least, that hippie-kicker, that hurricane dodger, that continually confounding cohort who makes everything happen and who makes everyone happy (not), the Louis Renault of LJ, [livejournal.com profile] clauderainsrm who keeps us all askew, even when we ask you. Thanks Gary. And thanks to your lovely wife.

Finally, there’s nothing left to say except the answer to the question. But I fear the answer can’t be answered by me, and that’s the secret: it was never meant to be answered by me. Only you can decide how you want to survey it, when you think is the right time, where your heart takes you, what you find important to the choice, and who you want to vote for.

Thanks again for everything, and see you at the why.
penpusher: (Pen)
“You know, I did not imagine things would go like this. The Earth has been around for how long? At least two-thousand years, right?” he said.

“Yes. At least,” she said.

“There never was a problem. Things happened and everything was eventually okay. I mean sure there were plagues and pandemics and natural disasters. There were droughts and famines and floods and people died,” he said.

“But not everybody,” she responded.

“Yes! Not EVERYBODY. We were supposed to be here forever. We were supposed to be here until the Earth wasn’t here,” he insisted.

“Well, we were around for about… two-thousand years,” she stared.

“Is it too late to figure out what went wrong?” he asked.

“Pretty much,” she nodded.

“But I want to. I want to figure it out. They say a problem has its own solution, buried in it,” he suggested.

“We’re buried in it, alright,” she stated, stoically.

“Humor me a little. We don’t know how much time is left. We have to figure this out,” he demanded.

“Great, so that when the Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin of Kepler 23b finally arrive here, we can have some sort of written explanation of our stupidity,” she sighed.

“Yes. We should write this down. Can’t rely on any electronics actually functioning. Or people from other places knowing how to use it,” he considered.

“What about paper, burning?” she asked pointedly.

“Chalk on a slate?” he tried.

“Rain and moisture,” she reminded.

“Maybe we could get a bulldozer and move some tree trunks so they can see it from space,” he offered.

“Mother Nature is the greatest terrorist on the planet,” she said. “a sustained wind would blow your message out to sea.”

“There’s nothing we can do; we can’t survive and we can’t leave a message about who we were?” he lamented.

“Maybe paint it on the wall?” She theorized.

“I don’t have any paint,” he realized.

“Doesn’t matter. There won’t be anyone to read it,” she shrugged.

“Are you certain EVERYONE is going to expire?” he asked.

“I think if anyone survives, they will wish they hadn’t, and will have a relatively short and extremely unpleasant remainder of their life,” she said firmly.

“Do you think everyone took the overdose medicine?” he asked.

“Obviously not,” she said, looking at him.

“A lot of people did,” he said, looking at the deserted area outside. “Are you absolutely certain…”

“Please stop,” she said. “You are continually whining and pleading and complaining and bargaining. In case you were wondering, we finally know what the last man on earth is like,” she said.

“I can’t believe we’re ending the species on an insult.”

“Biblically speaking, it began that way,” she said.

“Why hasn’t God just come down to spare us?” he inquired.

“Maybe this is the spare,” she said bitterly.

“Hey, listen about that ‘going out with a bang’ joke I made earlier. We can still do that,” he said.

“I wonder where it will happen first,” she asked. “Will it be the larger continents, Asia and Africa that will start to collapse, or will it be based on where the sun is located,” she thought aloud.

“Did you hear me? I actually meant that,” he said.

“What will survive? Will there even be any proof that humanity existed? All of our buildings, our monuments, our tributes to ourselves. Will any of that remain?” she asked.

“You know, I really, really want to,” he pleaded.

“Will the earth split up into pieces? Will the atmosphere remain or will it be torn apart?” she wondered, looking to the sky.

“I don’t want to die alone,” he said.

“We’re all dying alone,” she snapped. “You can’t die with someone else, not really. Or we’re all dying together. The whole planet.”

“Let me comfort you,” he said, reaching out.

“I don’t need comforting!” she screamed. “I have accepted what is inevitable. This is the end of humanity. And look how you’re acting! You’re a baby, a whiner, a drunken frat brother wanting one more fuck, you’re a thinker that thought too late, wanting to come up with a solution that needed to happen decades, maybe centuries ago! You are an apologist for every thoughtless, selfish and inconsiderate action we have done!”

“That’s… that’s not true and that’s not fair,” he said. “Certainly, we all want to experience life and to have pleasure. The least we can do for humanity is to share what love is left.”

“I’m not interested in that,” she said. “I want to reflect on life, my life and the remainder of what life is out there.”

“Please. I'm asking you nicely to have sex.”

“Look! You didn't even bother to figure out what went wrong!” she yelled. “So let me do that for you. What went wrong was guys like you!”

“I think I'm starting to understand. Help me to see things your way. It would be a lot easier if you’d let me slide into you,” he said.

“Look,” she said. “Is that the Red Horizon? It’s coming closer to us. Has it destroyed everything before that?”

“We don’t have much time,” he said. “I hear clothes will stick to your skin which will only make everything much more painful. We need to get naked, now.”

“I want the pain. If I didn’t, I would have taken the overdose,” she sneered.

“Well, I’m going to get nakee,” he said and started taking off his shirt.

“Do that in the other room, please,” she asked politely.

“Come on,” he said. “When are you going to see another one of these?”

“Seriously, you’re ruining the end of the world!”

“But I want...”

“That’s totally it,” she began. “You want. It’s always about what YOU want. It’s never about what anyone else wants. It’s never about a compromise. It’s never about anything but you.”

“This is hard for me,” he said.

“Yeah. I can see that,” she said, giving a sidelong glance to his thighs. “After all of this, this is how we’re going to finish. With a boner. You know, that word used to mean ‘mistake.’”

“If you don’t join me, it still does,” he smiled. “Come on. Are you waiting till the last minute?”

“The Red Horizon is getting closer,” she said. “I guess you could say I am.”

“Procrastinator. There’s not much more time for you to be indignant and abrasive,” he stated touching himself. “You better come for it.”

“You might as well hump the couch,” she stated, “But if you do, let me know so I won’t have to see that upholstery get usurped.”

“I love it when you talk polysyllabic,” he stared.

“Time is running out,” she said.

“That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you!” he said, approaching.

“Is this your final legacy?” she asked as he got to within arm’s reach.

“At least I’m not sending you a dick pic,” he said. “I don’t even have a phone for a selfie.”

“Here. How about one more drink before we go,” she said, handing him a tumbler of strong spirits.

She toasted him; he downed the beverage, then his throat tightened, and he hit the floor.

“Wow, that stuff really works. But, then again, you drank two doses at once.” she said sidling up to his ear. “I don’t know if you can still hear me, but the best part of this is that your last word was ‘selfie.’”

She ran to the window, but the Red Horizon suddenly appeared to stopped moving, and began to recede. The sky cleared and the stars were visible.

“Hah,” she said, “Apocalypse averted.”

//

This story was written for LJ Idol using the prompt Swan Song
penpusher: (Pen)
The Story So Far – (Picking up from the Week [29] story – The Truth Shall Be Televised)

A certain Doctor Fremd enlisted a couple of students from the local college to film a promo for his research work, hoping to use the PR film to help secure funding to continue his experiments.

After claiming he already received a grant from their school and when the two students filming the piece specifically asked about the funding, the doctor threw them into a locked cell, occupied by one of his more successful experiments: Rogi, an assistant twice the size of an adult human.

Rogi agrees to help Hal and Ray, the students, to get out of their circumstance if they agree to help Rogi and the other experiments by killing them.

---

Hal and Ray stared at each other, mouths agape.

“What are we supposed to do?” Hal whispered to his classmate. “We can’t kill Rogi. I got a two point oh in Bio because I wouldn’t dissect a frog!”

“I don’t know,” Ray said in a hushed tone, scanning the floor with his camera light. “But, I wouldn’t have a single worry about killing off those beetles that were on my shoe.”

“And what exactly are these other creatures?” asked Hal. “What if they’re just as big as Rogi? Trying to kill them would be like trying to kill a Subaru! Even if we wanted to, which we do not!” Hal paused and looked into the camera. “Shouldn’t you be saving that battery for when we really need it?”

“Don’t worry. I have two more fully charged in my pack,” Ray nodded. “But you’re right. I don’t see an answer to any of this.”

Rogi waved Hal and Ray over to a corner of the cell and he pushed a brick which revealed a foothold. Rogi slid the front part of his right foot into the hold and leaned against the wall. After a moment, the wall began to move, slightly at first, then swung, like a door, into what looked like a hallway.

“Was this house constructed by Doctor Fremd or did he buy it like this?” Hal asked.

“This place is all I’ve ever known,” cried Rogi.

The three of them gingerly stepped down this hallway and at the end of it was the laboratory. All sorts of cages and cases filled with all kinds of creatures.

“Look at this!” Ray called, pointing out a rat with a full spread of peacock feathers.

“Yeah, okay,” said the rat. “It’s great for getting dates, but horrible for trying to escape.”

Ray blanched and quickly walked away.

“We are the experiments,” said Rogi. “We need help.”

“I think we can work some things out,” Hal said, examining a shelf with various medicines. “Try some of this!” Hal uncorked and handed a large (to him) bottle that Rogi held easily in the palm of his hand. He swallowed it whole.

“Mm. Tasty,” Rogi said. “What was that?”

“I don’t know exactly, but it was labeled ‘Pain Relief,’” Hal said, expectantly. “Do you feel any different?”

“Yes. I feel good. I feel better! I want I want Iiiiiiieeeee!”

Ray stared at Hal, “What did you give him?”

“It was right here on this shelf! Pain Relief.” That’s when Hal noticed the other box: Penis Release, right next to it, and also empty.

“Listen Rogi, you have to concentrate.” Hal said. “Think about baseball scores or ‘The Golden Girls’ or something!”

Rogi’s yelps brought another visitor to the lab.

“What is this?!” Doctor Fremd shouted and the room fell silent. He turned to the two college students. “How did you escape that cell?” The room remained deathly still.

“It doesn’t matter,” the doctor lamented, “I’ll just have to increase the security around this place, right Rogi?”

Doctor Fremd eyeballed Rogi. “Is there something wrong?”

Rogi said nothing; he just tried to breathe deeply and smoothly.

“Doctor, what’s going on here?” Ray jumped in. “There are some very unusual creatures here and they are apparently suffering.”

“That is completely untrue,” Doctor Fremd insisted. “Isn’t that right, Rogi?”

“He’s the one suffering most of all!” Hal said. “And you’re not doing anything about it.”

“Oh, come now, Rogi,” the doctor tried. “You know I have taken care of you. And I didn’t forget the promise of a companion for you. Would you like that? Hm?”

Rogi let out a wimper and suddenly there was what looked like an oak tree trunk sitting in front of him. He turned and it smashed the cages open, releasing the creatures within.

Before the “oak” could pin him inside, Doctor Fremd scuttled out of the lab and upstairs. That’s when the rest of the crew went on the move. They marched up the staircase and to the front door.

Rogi got to the door but only his extra member could exit. That’s when Hal gave the command that did the job.

“Rogi,” he said, “fuck this house.”

Rogi yelled and motioned his hips back and forth in the portal and after three thrusts, the front façade of the house collapsed freeing him. He pummeled the frame of the door and the other creatures followed along.

“He’s getting away!” Ray yelled, filming the progress.

“Not if I can help it!” said the Peacock Rat, who ran along the oak with super quick speed. And as he was doing that, it engorged Rogi even more, “catching up” to the doctor. Rogi turned and knocked the doctor’s course, pushing him off to the right and near the lookout footpath.

The rat nearly reached the doctor too, tickling Rogi all the way by brushing feathers along the shaft. Rogi turned again and knocked the doctor onto the lookout path as the rat reached out and mouthed the hem of Fremd’s lab coat.

The rat ran up the spine of the doctor’s coat and settled on his head, splaying the feathers out in front of the doctor’s eyes, just as he approached the small wire fence next to the cliffside.

Rogi turning and brushing himself across the field of soft, gentle and scratchy weeds did it… A sudden burst of cream jolted into the doctor, he slipped on it, tried to catch his balance, but a second, larger burst followed it, covering his lower half entirely and spinning him around.

But it was the third burst that sent him sliding in the direction of the fence, and toppled him over the edge, tripping across the top, into a freefall, out of sight.

“Oh wow! The rat went over too!” Ray shouted, as the students carefully approached the area, making sure not to step in the wet spots.

“Um, not quite,” came the voice from below. The rat was on the very lowest edge of the fence, hooked by one of its own feathers. “I told you these made it hard to escape!”

Just then both Ray and Hal’s phones started buzzing. Hundreds of people on campus saw the video and were texting to let them know the authorities were on their way.

Later, after the scene was cleaned up, Hal and Ray had a chance to talk to Rogi.

“Listen. We hope you’ll be alright. Do you know what you’re going to do now?” Hal asked.

“There’s a nature preserve in Montana that they said would accept most of us,” Rogi said. “They can help us be more comfortable and will bring in researchers to understand our circumstances.”

“Oh that sounds wonderful,” Ray smiled.

“It’s just…”

“What, Rogi?” Hal asked.

“I never did get my special someone, like the doctor promised.”

They all sat quietly for a moment. But then, Rogi started to get an erection.

“Rogi!” Both Hal and Ray shouted.

Up popped the Peacock Rat, swishing his tail. “You know, I can be a really, really great companion!”

Then, they all laughed and laughed!

//

This story was written for LJ Idol and was based on The Future Shall Rise, a story by [livejournal.com profile] halfshellvenus, written during Week 15 of this season’s competition, AND was written using the prompt Impossible
penpusher: (Trump)
Interviewer: Today, we’re having a discussion about the state of the nation, and we wanted to ask an Average American what they think. Pardon me sir?

Average American White Guy (doing something on a smart phone, glances up and then looks at the camera) Oh, hey.

I: What’s your name?

AAWG: Why do you want to know?

I: I don’t mean to be intrusive.

AAWG: Sure, you did. That’s what all you so-called (makes “air quotes” with his fingers, still holding his smart phone) “newscasters” do.

I: We’re live by the way.

AAWG: In that case let me say to all my peeps out there a big fu—

I: I WAS TELLING YOU - I was telling you we were live to PREVENT you from saying something inappropriate for broadcast.

AAWG: I was only wishing my friends a fun day. What did you think I was going to say?

I: Let’s get to the question.

AAWG: No. First, I want you to say what you thought I was going to say when you interrupted me.

I: I believed you were going to say a word we couldn’t broadcast on television.

AAWG: And that’s why, ladies and gentlemen, we have a problem in this country. The media assumes wrongdoing before it even happens and they base what their reactions and what they show on their own biases.

I: That is a little bit unfair.

AAWG: You came up to me to talk. Then you assume that I’m going to say something wrong? Talk about the pot calling the kettle black.

I: Let’s get to the question. How are you viewing the country today?

AAWG: First I’m thankful for those that serve in the military. The constant sacrifices of those families is what keeps our country strong and proud. Don’t let what the unpatriotic say and do stop you. Stay strong. America is getting great again.

I: Specifically, what do you see is wrong with the country right now?

AAWG: Mostly it’s the liberal media portraying the president as either somebody who’s evil or somebody who’s stupid. Where was that when we needed it during the Obama administration?

I: So you believe that the Obama administration was evil and/or stupid?

AAWG: I believe that the media never challenged it because they thought they’d be considered (using ‘air quotes’ again) “racist” even though there were hundreds of things they did that were illegal or at least immoral. Call a spade a spade!

I: Can you give some examples of what you’re talking about, either from the Obama side that you think were not reported or from the Trump side that you think are not fair?

AAWG: Come on. You call yourself a (using ‘air quotes’) “journalist?” If you don’t know what these things are, it’s not up to me to educate you. There’s plenty of proof online if you would ever even bother to look.

I: What sort of job do you think President Trump is doing?

AAWG: He’s doing a lot better than anyone is willing to give him credit for. He named a great Supreme Court Justice. He’s building the wall to help keep our border safe, two things he said he would do, he’s got the economy going great and he would have gotten rid of Obamacare if Congress and Mitch McConnell hadn’t screwed it up.

I: How do you blame Congress for that issue?

AAWG: They were the ones who voted to stop it. If they didn’t, Trump can sign off on it and it’s over.

I: And you don’t believe that Trump treating John McCain like something other than a war hero had any effect on McCain’s vote.

AAWG: That’s what I’m talking about. The media ALWAYS wants to blame Trump. Why should Trump be punished for calling it like he sees it?

I: Let me ask you this. How do you feel personally, about your own life and how things are progressing and what you see for the future?

AAWG: I’ll be honest, I’m concerned. Everybody is out to get white guys these days. It’s clearly the worst thing you can be in the United States.

I: No, but seriously…

AAWG: I’m being serious! It’s like being a dirty word or something. You can’t have a march, you can’t be critical of anybody without somebody saying “white privilege.” Let me tell you, I’m not privileged. I had to work hard for everything I got.

I: You do realize that the word “privilege” doesn’t mean you didn’t have to work for what you have.

AAWG: I don’t care what it means to you. I care what it means to ME.


I: I’m just saying...

AAWG: You’re constantly (‘air quotes’) “just sayin’” and nobody is ever really doing. (glances at his phone screen) Look at this, my phone is blowin’ up! Thank my friends for helping your ratings.

I: Speak a little bit more about what your fears are all about.

AAWG: I don’t want to say I side with the Nazis or White Supremacists or anything. I’m not about that in the least. But let’s be honest. They do have a point.

I: Are you really…

AAWG: Now hear me out! Hear me out. When you look at how white guys are treated in this country? It’s like THEY are the illegal immigrants. All the criticism, all the anger is directed at us, and Trump is kind of the lightning rod for that. He is the Average White Guy, and we’re seeing all the hate from everyone who is not. That’s why people hate him. He’s just the white guy and people hate white guys right now. We can’t say a word. We have no voice.

I: Do you really believe that Trump is the Average White Guy?

AAWG: Well he is a white guy, but no, really, he’s better than average. And he’s helping to give us our voice back. You read his tweets. You know what he talks about. This way, he’s going right to the people to tell them his thoughts. They aren’t getting filtered and censored by the mainstream.

I: What would you like to see; what is your best case scenario?

AAWG: I hope that Ginsburg and Kennedy croak so that Trump gets to appoint two more justices to the Supreme Court. I hope that people start holding the people who really are responsible for the problems in this country responsible, like the illegal immigrants who should be kicked out of the country as soon as they’re found, the welfare cheats who are a major tax burden to the hard-working people of our country, the people causing the violent crime who need to be locked up and taken out of our society permanently, and that people like you, in the media, will finally stop poking into areas that nobody cares about. How many times can people ask to see those stupid taxes? How many times can people claim Russia is involved when there is no proof?

I: And what do you think the final result of all of that would be?

AAWG: Making America Great Again! The idea was to go back to a time when America stood for something, when men were men and weren’t afraid to act like it, where women were women and weren’t competing with the men who are working to support them. Where we aren’t flaunting our sexual deviancy for everyone to see. Where we don’t punish a business owner for making a moral decision between their faith and their need to obey a law that is wrong. Where we all stand for the National Anthem. Where we protect against illegals and support those in charge. That’s MY kind of America. And that’s Trump’s America. Welcome to it, unless you don’t belong here.

I: As you can tell, there are strong feelings on both sides of the discussion. And clearly this is how some of America…

AAWG: MOST of America.

I: (using ‘air quotes’) “MOST” of America is feeling right about now. Back to you in the studio.

//

This piece was written for LJ Idol using a prompt from Week [23] of this season’s competition: Backing The Wrong Horse.
penpusher: (History Channel)
It was very warm that May of Eighteen hundred and sixty-four. Unpleasantly hot, truth be told. But the temperature still was not as hot as the hotheads who made that wager.

You’d think that neighbors would get along well with one another. ’Specially those that have so much in common. Jebediah Jehosaphat and Rory Calhoun. Two gentlemen farmers, they were. Each had a spread, parcels of land, acres and acres next to each other and they’d farm cotton crops, and they each put up soldiers as them troops moved through the area, usually north to the front lines, but sometimes south with their wounded and dead.

Let me tell you, these two? They were the cream of the Confederacy. They might have won the war if they’d’ve teamed up and joined the fray. Too busy fightin’ each other, I s’pose.

Oh! But as I were sayin’, that May of ’64, there came this heatwave like we hadn’t had in a long spell. Crickets were chirping without a stop, bullfrogs were looking for ponds but all they found was mud about a foot deep, where there was mud. It was the blazes, even at night, the air was like a wool blanket in a furnace.

I don’t know what got into those two one evening but they must’ve been drinking some rum and chasing it with corn whisky because they started in with their measuring. This one had the largest cotton field or that one had the biggest kitchen. But you could always tell things were about to get agitated when they started measuring each other. It always started with who had the purdyer wife. But this time it turned to who could satisfy, with her womanly attentions, her man.

Maybe Rory said something first, about how Jeb’s wife couldn’t stand the stench of the stink beneath her husband’s male saddlebag, maybe it was Jeb who said Rory’s wife was losing her eyesight from trying to find her husband’s staff, then one of them said something about how the only thing the other one’s wife pricked her finger with was her stitching needle.

Somebody had had enuf, and a challenges were issued. There were some back and forth about it, how to do it and what be the stakes and whatnot, but Jeb, a lawyer by trade, decided to write it all out, legal-like, and they made it official with witnesses watching ’em sign the document.

They agreed to a race. It was gonna be two laps around both their properties. The winner would receive one Confederate Dollar. And the loser would die.

In the week leading up to the race, you could tell, there was pride on display. Word got around to the nearby counties and people started coming to see this big event. You would’ve thought the Circus come to town the way the people were clamoring. Most anything to take their minds off of the war, which tw’ern’t goin’ so well.

Come the day of the race, and a crowd of people showed up in the heat. A lotta folks wanted to be near the finishing line to see the results first hand. But others preferred to be out of the sun and found some shade along the course with some trees. And that were important because of the rules.

There were parasols for the ladies and a drinking gourd was by the well so that the viewers could wet their whistle. It was time to introduce the competitors.

“Hello, everyone! My name is Rory Calhoun, and I am the proprietor of the Calhoun Plantation!”

The crowd applauded mostly to get the air moving.

“My name is Jebediah Jehosaphat, and I am the owner of the Three Js Plantation.”

More applause.

After the speechifying, there came the moment, the two men who would race each other got to lay eyes on one another.

“Hammer?”

“Jesse?”

“The winner of the race will get a week off from their duties, as a part of the prize!”

“The race is two times around the property and the person crossing the line first is the champion!”

The crowd cheered, hoping to cool the air down in any way, most of ’em. And examining the competitors, there was a question whether some of the ladies in attendance were swooning only from the heat.

The two slaves, Hammer for Calhoun and Jesse for Jehosaphat stood next to each other, each shirtless and already glistening with the dew of their bodies. Anyone could see they were evenly matched in height, weight, and muscle tone, each of them valued members of their masters. But that was the thing. Hammer and Jesse were brothers.

“Are both ready?”

The two brothers looked at each other, then looked back and nodded.

“Go!”

And go they did! It was a speedy start as they both took off, keeping stride for stride as they disappeared around the first turn. And that was about when I got involved.

See, I knew there were a bunch of people watching the northern side of the land to make sure these two weren’t gonna run for freedom, so before they got that far, I ran through the brambles and bushes and met them.

“Stop, stop!” I waved them over to the side of the road and I told them what I knew. That the loser of the race was gonna get kilt.

They didn’t want to believe it, at first. But why would I lie, I told them and I told them about the wager. Then it became what to do. If they tried to escape, they would be recaptured and then they’d prob’ly be tortured before getting kilt. And they both got babies born since the war started.

It was Hammer who said “Let’s finish the race in a tie.”

“What’s that gonna do?” Jesse asked. “Won’t that mean we’ll just have to race again?”

“What else is there?” Hammer asked. “Besides, this is just some contest to see who is best. If we both tie, then maybe they’ll see that don’t make no nevermind.”

“Yeah. I guess you right, brotha.” Jesse answered.

Just then, about a thousand yards away, I could see some movement up ahead. One of them spotters was peepin’ down the road. I dashed back through the brambles and they went on their way.

I got back to the house before they crossed the finishing line the first time. Hammer had a slight lead but Jesse was close enough to touch if he fell down. That’s when Jehosaphat brought out his whip and cracked it on Jesse’s backsides. ‘Jesse moved in front in a matter of steps, while Hammer was moving too fast for Rory to do the same. They dashed off out of sight and again toward the northern part of the course.

I couldn’t help but wonder what they were all about. Did they talk on the way? Did they consider trying to make a break? Did they think maybe their women or their babies would suffer because of it? In a way, I started to hope that they did try to get away, ’cause this would have been their best chance to make it.

At the finishing line, I saw that a man was setting up some large contraption. It looked like some sort of picture frame with one big glass eye in the middle of it. I could overhear the man explaining it was to capture a likeness of the end of the race. It kinda looked like some sort of cannon to me.

We waited for them to come around, and I looked to see if their families were around. I was thankful that they wasn’t cause I didn’t want to see they faces.

I could hear shouting. And here they came, around the bend! Both Calhoun and Jehosaphat ran up and started whipping Hammer and Jesse as they started to come down for the final yards. Calhoun would whip Hammer and he’d inch ahead, then Jehosaphat would whip Jesse and he’d move up.

The four men, all running to the finishing line, the two masters flogging their property until the last minute when the masters moved out of the way of the picture maker. Suddenly a flash of white light and the two racers continued past the line, breathless, battered and bathed in their own sweat and blood from their open wounds.

Who won, everyone wanted to know. Many on the inside of the track saw Hammer cross the line first. But the folks on the far side thought Jesse made it first.

The referee said it looked like it was a tie. He couldn’t tell.

The masters decided to wait to see about the picture, so it took a couple of days more, but even the picture had both Hammer’s and Jesse’s feet crossin’ the finishing line at the same time. They did it! Hammer and Jesse did the tie!

Later that day, both masters brought Hammer and Jesse’s families out to the backyard of the Calhoun estate, took them away from their daily chores and had them sit down on chairs. Then they brought out Hammer and Jesse who were busy at work themselves. Then they brought out all the slaves from both plantations to stand behind and view the presentation.

“We had a wager,” Jehosaphat said, “and there was no resolution.”

“We had hundreds of guests to view this race,” Calhoun said, “And there was no winner.”

“So, for that,” Jehosaphat said.

“We now have this.” Calhoun said.

Both men drew revolvers and fired at each other’s slaves. Both Hammer and Jesse screamed a single time before they fell, both hit the ground at the same time, bleedin’ the same blood.

The two slave owners stood over their bodies as they squirmed and watched the last bit of life oozing out of them, frowned up, then caught a glance of each other, lookin’ at the other. Then, they started to chuckle and laugh, before shaking their heads, then doing some backslaps and hand clasps. They waved the rest of us back to our tasks, the mamas trying to hush up their babies, still crying from the jolt and sound of the pistol fire.

After that, the rivalry between those two never much amounted to nothin’. But then again, neither did the Confederacy.

//

This story was written for LJ Idol using a prompt from Week [17] of this season’s competition: Nevermind.
penpusher: (SciFi  honoring <lj user=melodymuse>)
It was rare that anyone would contact Ledbetter College to produce a video. For starters, Ledbetter didn’t actually have a film or television degree program. And even their theater was a stage at one end of the gym where the Ledbetter Lions played their home basketball games.

Most people either being tech savvy or having products that made them seem knowledgeable, would shoot something on their own with a phone or a digital camera. But the guy who contacted the school had a special request. He wanted some continual publicity at low cost so if he threw the school a bit of cash, they would make this video, use it as a promotion for the school itself and then he would be seen as a part of it, any time the school ran a promo. Getting more eyeballs on the project was key. There was also a suggestion that he could possibly get some funding for his work through the school, another reason to do some campus outreach.

Hal and Ray, each responsible Seniors, and each about to graduate with degrees in English Lit, were both fairly well versed in the methods of shooting a vid. Hal also had a way with words, so he could write up a script on the fly. Ray was expert at knowing what to show, so he’d be the cinematographer. They were permitted to use this shoot as a kind of internship, with the money they received going to help establish a Photo Department for the school. The bonus was they’d get to keep a portion of the payment and it would lead to an expansion for the campus and a possible opportunity for both Hal and Ray to establish themselves as instructors, if there was enough interest from incoming and undergrad students.

Arriving at their destination, Ray took a shot of the surrounding neighborhood, a rundown former church and its adjoining cemetery, a field with weeds as far as the eye could see, the cliff with the small wire fence as its only safeguard and the destination, the doctor’s home, a dark red bricked edifice with a deep sloping roof.

Before the lads could knock, the door was open and there was a tall and wide… person. Hal and Ray glanced at each other almost as if to say, how does this person come and go from this house?

“Are you Doctor Fremd?” Hal asked.

“Ohhhhhhhhhhh…”

Suddenly Hal and Ray were also involuntarily screaming.

“Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhh!”

“Noooooooooooooo.” Said the door holder.

“Rogi, no! Rogi, go!” came a voice from behind the door. The door holder gingerly turned around and marched towards the back of the house as a man in a white lab coat and a three-piece dark grey suit without the jacket took its place.

“Hello. You must be the young men from the College,” he said, reaching out his hand to shake both of theirs.

“Are you Doctor Fremd,” asked Hal.

“Actually, it’s Doctor Friend,” Doctor Fremd said. “It’s an honest mistake. Won’t you come in?

Ray entered, filming the whole while, getting the high-ceilinged roof and the wider than you would expect staircase down to the basement.

“Come this way!” The doctor beckoned, and they entered his office.

“May I offer you some coffee or tea, or something a little harder? I know you college kids enjoy beer.”

Ray chimed in, “I was a little curious about who answered the door when we arrived.”

“Oh, that’s Rogi,” the Doctor said. “He’s an assistant.”

“More like Yogi because he’s the size of a bear,” Ray responded. “How does he fit through the front door?”

“I’m on a really tight schedule and I was told you were well prepared for this meeting. Let’s see what you’ve got.”

“Yes, sir.” Hal reached into his back pack and pulled out a notebook. “I worked up a short script based on the information we received about your project. I tied it back to Ledbetter because of the cross promotion.”

The doctor briefly read through the text. “This should suffice.”

“And we can shoot your comments right here in your office,” Ray said.

Moments later, after Ray set up a tripod in front of the doctor’s desk and cued him to begin.

“I appreciate the efforts made by Ledbetter College to help my progress and to aid my project. With the one-hundred thousand dollars they provided…”

“Cut.” Hal called.

“What happened?” asked the doctor.

“I didn’t write any amount or suggest you say an amount for this.”

“Are you actually getting a hundred thousand dollars from Ledbetter?” Ray asked. “We need to ask for more money for this gig!”

“This is a promotion for your school, am I correct in thinking this?” the doctor asked.

“Which is why you should not be saying any dollar figures as part of our video,” Hal retorted. “You might give prospective students the wrong idea.”

“You’re talking about students coming to the school,” said the doctor. “I’m referring to funding for research, crucial work that will change the course of humanity!”

“Maybe we should move on to what you are working on?” Ray suggested.

“We didn’t talk about that,” said the doctor. “I’m not completely prepared to show my lab.”

Ray quickly undocked the camera from the tripod and was ready to move, while Hal grabbed his back pack and they exited the office and headed for the staircase.

“The lab is downstairs, right?” Ray asked.

“Yes, but,”

“That’s fine,” Ray said. “I’ll just shoot around anything that doesn’t look savory. We’re not trying to make you look bad.”

“Who in the administration did you speak to about your research grant?” Hal asked as they descended the staircase.

“Actually, no one, yet.”

Hal laughed. “No one? That can’t be. You just said you got a hundred…”

At the foot of the stairs, the doctor shouldered the two students into an enclosed room and slammed the door shut and locked it. A small slit where light from the outer hall could be seen was just as quickly sealed. They were in total darkness.

“What the hell happened?” Ray asked.

“Nothing good, that’s for sure.” Hal responded. “Are you okay.”

“Yeah.” Ray flipped on one of the camera's lights to see and noticed a bunch of odd beetles crawling by his shoe and starting to march up his leg.

“Aaaaahhh!” he yelled, shaking his leg and swatting at the insects to get off his pants.”

“What’s going on?” Hal asked, pounding on the solid door. “Doctor Friend!” he called, “We need to talk to you.”

“And now I have no signal.” Ray lamented.

“So, we can’t call anyone to get us out of here?” Hal asked.

“I was livecasting the entire thing,” said Ray.

“You mean the whole thing, that big yogi thing at the door, the doctor and getting tossed into this cell is on your video channel?”

“Maybe. I’m not sure when I lost the signal. If it happened before we got thrown in here, I don’t know what it’ll look like. It might look like we just stopped the cast.”

“Do you know if anyone was watching?”

“I don’t,” Ray responded. “And I normally don’t cast at this time of day, so my usual audience isn’t around.”

“But someone will see it,” Hal said hopefully.

“If they look at the channel archives,” said Ray. “But not everyone does that right away. And I think I titled it ‘School Project’ so that probably isn’t going to help boost the interest.”

“So now what?”

“Maybe it’s time for a new plan,” came the voice from the darkness. Both Hal and Ray jumped so high, they would have set new track and field state records. Ray spun the light toward the sound and there was Rogi seated on the floor on a pile of straw that doubled as his bed.

“When I overheard that you were coming here, it gave a lot of us hope.” Rogi cried.

“Are you recording this,” Hal whispered. Ray nodded back.

“Who are you,” Ray called to him.

“I am more than the sum of my parts. But my parts are not all me.”

Both Hal and Ray stood in stunned silence.

“I am a creation, a being made by Doctor Fromd.”

“That’s Doctor Friend,” Ray corrected him.

“He is no ‘Friend.’” Rogi corrected him.

“Point taken,” said Hal. “Are you his research project?”

“One. He has ten that I know of and at least twice that many that have already failed.”

“And what is he attempting to accomplish,” Ray asked. “Is he trying to create new creatures, extend the life expectancy of humans?”

“I don’t know. I don’t think he knows. But he is just trying things and seeing what works, and if anything does, he keeps it.”

“You just said that when you heard we were coming it gave you a lot of hope,” Hal said. “Who are you talking about?”

“All of us, his experiments.” Rogi cried. “we are all in great pain.”

“Physical pain?”

“Physical pain, emotional pain.”

“How can we help you, now?” Hal asked. “We’re trapped in here.”

“I have a way of getting out.” Rogi said. “But you have to promise to do one thing for us.

“Of course,” Ray said. “What is it?”

“Please. Please. Kill us.”

//

This story was written for LJ Idol and was based on The Future Shall Rise, a story by [livejournal.com profile] halfshellvenus, written during Week 15 of this season’s competition.
penpusher: (Trump)
Feardeal Academy was a Boarding School in Massachusetts where many of New York’s well-to-do families sent their progeny for their undergraduate studies. It was an institution that taught discipline and obedience but also gave students skills and understanding. It also allowed those parents the ability to have some time to themselves for the bulk of the year at least until June, when there were three weeks between school and the start of Summer Sleepaway Camp season. But it was really about the learning that these second-generation future leaders and future absentee parents were getting that made it worth the exorbitant cost.

By all rights, Tronald Dump probably should not have been permitted to even apply to the school. His parents net income from their real estate business was barely passable at the time of his enrollment. But thanks to Tronald’s father, the real estate developer, Tred Frump (there was a name change along the way, let’s not dwell on it), who got a couple of Feardeal’s board members some commercial property in Manhattan, young Tronald found his way in to the school.

Early on, Young Tronald was quiet and pensive, content to remain an observer, based on how his father demanded he be when they were together. But soon, Tronald was becoming a voice to be heard and a force to be noted. He began becoming a notable classroom commenter and forming coalitions with his fellow students. After a few semesters, the name of Tronald Dump was known by every administration, faculty and student body member.

One day Tronald and some of his pals went to a local eatery, as they would do on a regular basis, taking a Saturday to spend some time off campus. At some point after the crab cakes and before the bananas foster, the conversation turned to the topic of ethics, which was one of the points of discussion on an upcoming exam.

“What is ethics, really?” Tronald asked the collective. “Is it a system of ‘right’ and ‘wrong,’ or is it an obstacle to success that we must move beyond to reach a greater truth?”

His friends sat silently, mulling over the concept. Dump jumped in again.

“I think it’s the ladder,” he said. “It’s the way of climbing over and beyond to succeed in a way no one has done before, and in a way no one has thought to try before.”

One fellow was about to reply, when Tronald continued his musing.

“Ethics is something that other people need to deal with in their daily lives. It’s the rules that they have to follow because they don’t know any better!” Dump smiled and sliced into his tenderloin, the blood still dripping from its center and daubed a bit of A-1 Sauce on it before popping it into his mouth. “That isn’t us. That isn’t us. As the future leaders of this country, we have to be able to explore everything. And because we have the money, the intellect and the know-how, we do.”

At first the others remained still, but then a couple began to nod, until all of them were in agreement.

Tronald smiled as he speared a succulent piece of lobster and dipped it into some butter sauce.

“Let me ask you this one, gentlemen,” Dump continued. “We’re starting to see the Negroes getting more vocal. The Negroes of the nineteen-sixties might be trying to get special privileges from the government. Maybe they’ll be moving into your neighborhood? What do we do? How do we handle this?”

Again the rest of the table remained silent as they all thought about the question.

“I’ll tell you what we do,” Tronald said. “We just continue to make and support laws that are to the benefit of those in charge, because that is how we can continue to keep an advantage.” Dump shrugged as he first glanced, then looked deeply into the eyes of the others, making sure he didn’t see any twinge of doubt coming from them.

“I’m glad to see you all are in agreement,” Dump said, finishing off his last savory bite of steak. “To me, it’s important to have a coalition of right thinking, same thinking people who can accomplish a lot. It’s necessary to have that kind of a group because anyone who isn’t thinking the same way is thinking differently, and that gets in the way of getting to the same place, you know what I mean?”

“My father was instrumental, in-stru-men-tal, mind you, about making sure the laws that are on the books are there to help the people they need to help and to not help the people we don’t want them to help,” Dump stated. “My father gave me a lot of good advice as well, and that includes a lot of things that only we should know,” Tronald smiled as he looked around the table at his supporters.

Still later, after the meal was over, Dump had a few more points to make.

“Lads, and I mean this with a great deal of respect, You are a great part of who I am. No! I mean that. Whether you know it or not, you inspire me, you motivate me, you help me. And because of that, I want you to always be a part of my Inner Circle.”

Trump was glowing as he pointed at each of them, until they each broke out into a grin.

“You guys are going to stay with me, because you understand and appreciate me. And I know that many times, many times after graduation, people lose track of one another, or don’t really have time… I’ll always have time for you. I’ll always support you and I’ll always be there for you because you have always been there for me.”

The waiter walked over to the booth with the check, then wordlessly turned and walked away.

“The only thing you guys don’t ever do is cover the bill!” Tronald laughed and went for his wallet. “It’s okay. I’ve got this.”

“We are definitely on the cutting edge. We are on the way to this new decade and beyond,” he winked.

The waiter came and took the bill.

“You can keep that.” Trump called as he stood up and straightened his school uniform, which he wore, even on a Saturday, and waved again to the waiter.

The waiter waved back. Despite his lack of stature relative to the high schooler, the waiter couldn’t help but feel a bit sorry for Tronald Dump, who always came in, just as he did today, always to dine, always all alone.

//

This work of fiction was written for LJ Idol using the prompt Going forward
penpusher: (Trump)
Young Tronald Dump’s father, a man named Tred Frump (there was a name change along the way, just go with it) was, early in his career, a modestly successful businessman and real estate developer. He wanted to instill in his son a sense of what is right and wrong, a sense of what is good and bad and how to act and react to any circumstances, both in the world of business and in life.

One day, Mr. Frump had a real estate deal to handle. It was a big project, potentially worth millions of dollars to his company, which would translate to a huge boost for his personal pocketbook.

The deal wasn’t “a sure thing.” In fact, Frump thought that maybe there would be trouble. So, he decided to bring eight-year old Tronald along to his meeting for two reasons. The first was he wanted to indoctrinate his son into what a business negotiation was all about, to give him an understanding of the process and a clear concept of what that meant for the life of a company and their family. But he also was hoping to manipulate and distract the negotiator with a cute kid and maybe get a better result.

Frump tramped in, with his little Dump, behind.

“Sorry. My babysitter went to summer camp!” he said brightly.

Young Tronald climbed into an overstuffed chair next to his father, wearing a serious face just as well as he wore his Brooks Brothers suit.

“You might as well have just sent over a messenger,” came the reply from the attorney representing the project. “This deal isn’t going forward. We’ve decided to go another way.”

“You’re crazy!” Frump harrumphed. “This will provide beautiful homes for all the returning G.I.s from World War II. Well, not ALL, just the white ones, of course.”

“Mr. Frump, you have done other deals with other people, most of them in New York City proper, but here on Long Island, we have our own way of working. I’m sorry to tell you, the Lovitt family has brought in a contractor that they simply preferred in this case and they will handle everything else in house. Good luck in your future endeavors.”

Frump frowned. “Is there nothing I can sa...”

“Please. Don't embarrass yourself.”

After a single glare, a grab of his son and a march toward the door, Mr. Frump walked into the hallway, got down on one knee, straightened his son’s tie and jacket and looked him in the eye.

“I want you to remember what just happened in there,” Tred said to Tronald. “When someone treats you badly, you be sure to treat them just as badly.”

Frump stood and walked over to a phone booth in the lobby and fished out a five-cent piece from his trousers.

“Showing me up in front of my child.” Frump muttered, sticking his finger in the rotary dial and turning. “Hello, may I speak to the Office of Urban Planning?” A pause. “Yes, I have a complaint about an upcoming project that is scheduled to begin later this year... yes, I’ll hold.” he covered the phone receiver’s mouthpiece, chuckled and gave his son a wink.

A few weeks later, during a lavish breakfast, Tred Frump was in a particularly good mood. He put down the business section of the New York Herald, with the headline: Lovittown Deal Inked With New Contractor.

“My son, my son!” Frump called as Tronald wandered into the dining room. “Wonderful news today.” Frump pulled out a chair for his son to sit upon and got him a plate of pancakes, eggs and sausage. “Not only did the company that beat us for the Lovittown project lose their contract, the great people at the Federal Housing Authority have backed our plans for our new urban buildings!”

Tronald sat quietly and listened attentively through bites of his egg.

“Always support the people who supported you. They are the people you can trust,” Frump enthused. “Loyalty, above all else. That’s something that you can’t buy or trade. When loyalty comes along, stick to it like glue.”

Tronald mulled over the concept as he sipped his orange juice.

“Be loyal to those who are loyal to you,” Tronald Dump said. “And cut off anyone who is disloyal.”

“No, no.” Frump corrected. “Listen to me carefully. People being ‘loyal’ are all very well, and you will have employees and tenants and sycophants who are going to be ‘loyal.’” Frump continued. “They don’t matter.” Frump paused a moment to let that thought come through.

Frump continued, “It’s the people who have power, who actually do something to help advance your career, help you achieve what you wanted to do, help to increase your finances that are the people you need to remain loyal to, through thick and thin.”

“I see, Father,” Tronald responded.

“Always remember that, son.”

“I swear, I will.”

Tronald Dump shook his head and blinked out of his reverie. He blankly stared at the TelePrompter with the opening remarks of a speech in the lobby of Dump Tower.

“My fellow Americans.”

Dump read ahead and noted the speech was to do with some violent attack by a White Nationalist group and the death of a protester against that group. He decided to ad-lib.

“Let me say, that we condemn violence of any kind, especially as it relates to humans. But let me say that we condemn all violence from every direction it comes from. EVERY direction, not just one.”

“We know that there is guilt,” he continued, “And we know that this guilt must be shared equally among all the participants.”

A reporter in the crowd shouted, “Are you actually saying that the protestors of this hate group deserve to be blamed equally for the violence that occurred?”

“They were there, weren’t they? Hey! If they did not go to the rally, they would not have been there to be a part of it.”

Several reporters began to shout.

“Buh-buh-buh. Now you shut up with your fake news and your twisting the story stories,” The Tronald demanded.

“Is this to do with the fact that a lot of your voting base were these so-called White Nationalists,” another reporter called.

“Next question.”

“Sir, you haven’t answered…”

Dump glared at the reporter. “I’m not here to answer your fake news questions. You people are always out to get me! You people are constantly harping on every word I say.”

“You don’t get it. I’m here to help this country in every way possible!” Dump stated. “By continuing to criticize me for the little things you think are important, you are preventing me from my vision. Don’t you see how you are the ones that are wrong?!”

The crowd went silent and in that silence, Tronald Dump could see the spirit of his father, smiling up at him. And in that moment, as he remembered the lesson of the Code of Honor he was taught all those years ago, Tronald Dump smiled down on his father as well.

“I’m doing this for you.” Dump said to his vision.

“What was that?” a person in the crowd yelled.

“I’m doing this for you, the American people!”


//

This work of fiction was written for LJ Idol using the prompt Fatal flaw
penpusher: (Trump)
For a moment, let’s forget everything we know (and let’s definitely forget everything we DON’T know) about the 2016 United States Presidential Election. Let’s forget the people chosen to be cabinet members of this administration. Let’s forget the inane and sometimes seriously flawed tweets, the blatant attacks against the press, the awkward meetings with heads of state that are our allies, the inexplicable meetings with heads of state that are our adversaries, the policies that clearly are not in the spirit of our country. Let’s forget the maxims and slogans that are meaningless, let’s not think about the continual weekends away from DC, the lack of knowledge of basic geography, basic diplomacy, basic government policy, or the revolving door of White House staffers that is spinning like a merry-go-round powered by a warp drive engine. Forget. It. All.

We are left with Number Forty-Five. And without all of the negative banter, the attempts to control everything around him, the continual contradictory statements, the constant demands for loyalty, we can now clearly see one fact that is crystal clear:

Donald J. Trump is a terrible president.

Now, I know what you’re thinking, if you’re a supporter of Trump. You’re thinking, this is another “libtard,” “sore loser” commentary coming from a “snowflake” about how you “can’t get over” the fact that he “beat” Hillary and you just won’t shut up and let him “run the country” the way he wants. You’re also probably thinking that “this kind of commentary” is “dividing the country” and that we “can’t move forward” if you aren’t willing to accept “President Trump” for what he is, the guy who is going to “Make America Great Again.”

But, here’s the crux of the issue when we are talking about Trump’s presidency to date. During the election, people are generally divided along party lines: Democrats and Republicans mostly, though certainly Libertarians and Independents were heard from as well. However, when the election is over, the winner must become President of the United States, not President of the People Who Voted For Him.

The problem isn’t that Liberals are “cry babies,” it’s that the President has chosen to ignore anyone who doesn’t agree with his policies and rhetoric. In other words, he is still playing to his base and ignoring everybody who isn’t already in his camp.

Donald Trump candidly admitted that he really didn’t know or understand what being President was all about before he started to run for the office. That’s usually a dangerous indicator, especially in a job that has so many moving parts and is so very important for both the image of our country with the rest of the world (as the most visible representation of the nation, POTUS is the filter through which the rest of the citizenry is viewed by people in other locales). But, it’s also a problem for those that live here. The policies, the concepts, the elements of knowing what to do are crucial in maintaining a sense of control, of steadiness, of caring, of expertise.

The issue is Trump has never stopped being the Republican Nominee. Everything he has planned, everything he has said, everything he has done was to the liking of the GOP, and nothing of any kind to even attempt to reach out to the Democrats, who, despite all of the conservative talk suggesting otherwise, are still intelligent minded citizens of this country.

Again, this is a demonstration of how little Mr. Trump knows about how government works. Those people that didn’t vote for him are not expected to suddenly be supportive of everything the president says and does, just because he took the oath of office. It is up to him to reach out in word and deed and act like he cares about the entirety of the country.

That’s why there are constant outcries from the liberal side of things over just about everything Trump is doing. When we say “He’s Not My President,” that’s really because of what the man, himself, is saying or trying to accomplish. The phrase, more accurately stated, is “He’s Not BEING My President.”

Every candidate has to pivot, at least a little bit, toward the center when they become the president, if they intend to include all citizens. And the president really must include all citizens if that person intends to govern properly. There is no way around it. President Obama did not dismantle the NRA or hand out Reparations to African American families, as many conservative commenters all over the internet were anxious about during his tenure in office. In fact, President Obama had a rather moderate term, not doing anything so far left it would create some angered response from conservatives. But then again, for most of Obama’s term, he had a Republican Congress to deal with, and they were not about to give him any bills that he actually wanted to sign.

When you look at everything that Donald Trump wants to do, it slams Democrats/Liberals in a way that makes them seem like he views them as “the enemy.” While that might delight everyone who voted GOP, who are still pushing the partisan agenda, who are still trying to trash and bash Hillary, that does not endear him to the rest of the nation who are feeling as if this is turning into a game of “Keep Away.” And the fact that this seems like it’s being treated like a game itself is problematic.

Worse yet, The Donald was partially responsible for the atmosphere that we are currently in: as his suggestion that Barack Obama perhaps was not born on United States soil meant that maybe he should not be the president at all, and that maybe all of the bills he signed into law should be considered void. With his constant comments and calls for President Obama’s Birth Certificate, Trump definitely helped to divide the nation and to became the darling of conservative commentators around the country, eventually leading to his candidacy, the Anti-Obama crusader.

And conservative commentators also make a mint from tapping into a portion of the population all too eager to hear and believe what they are saying. People using political speak for personal gain don’t understand how that creates a rift in the country because they remain unaffected. They won’t be harmed by the policies this administration pushes forward, so to them, it’s that previously referred to game, a chance to whip up the ire of their viewers or listeners for clickbait on websites or commercial sponsors on TV or radio programming. Ka-ching.

During President Obama’s time in office, we know that a small group of Republicans broke off and formed what they called the “Tea Party,” an offshoot of the GOP that was determined to undermine President Obama at every possible opportunity. And this group grew and blossomed, just like a weed, feeding off of other disgruntled conservatives, spouting negative commentary and just like Breitbart, which also began as a website around that same time, wanted to do as much as they could to characterize Obama as being a negative influence on the country and to rally support for all things conservative.

When Donald Trump took the oath of office, it was time for The Closer to take over. Just one problem: being POTUS is not the same as running a corporation. You don’t get to boss everyone around and do things your own way. You don’t get to act unilaterally. And as Trump himself should have known, just from his own constant tweets about Barack Obama, you don’t get to avoid criticism from the people who do not agree with your policies and decisions.

But all of these things are being used as reasons why he hasn’t accomplished more of his agenda, this though he has a friendly Congress, a conservative Supreme Court and pens aplenty to sign his Executive Orders.

Still, Trump remains unapologetic in his complete and utter disregard for anyone that was not a supporter of his during the election and seems intent on working exclusively for those that were. Certainly, his appointment to the Supreme Court, Neil Gorsuch, is a blatant example of that. Where Barack Obama nominated a slightly right leaning judge, Merrick Garland, a person most Republicans suggested would be a good or at least reasonable selection to their liking, Trump’s appointment was as far right as possible, again, supporting his base and thumbing his nose at the left.

The hate is the element that overwhelms – hate of the party that does something different from what you like. While conservatives may be inconvenienced by policies introduced by liberals, more taxes, programs that benefit other groups, liberals are often threatened directly by policies introduced by conservatives: defunding Planned Parenthood, repealing laws permitting gay people to marry as a couple of examples that may do legitimate harm to people, either through economics or the appearance of segmenting our country into groups that deserve fair treatment and others who do not.

Ultimately, the President of the United States is there to set a tone, to frame some parameters. POTUS helps to point out what is important, what we should be thinking about. The president is like a scoutmaster, constantly showing us what we need to do, and what we need to avoid. Unless he's so self-interested that you don't know what that is.

If there is any positive from Trump’s presidency, it’s that people are starting to come together and organize. Indivisible, a group created specifically to fight against the policies and agendas that Trump has been pushing has been slowly gathering support since the election and now numbers nearly six thousand separate affiliate organizations across the country. Their website is chock full of information about contacting local representatives, how to set up peaceful protests and has information about events, news about successes achieved through these grass roots efforts and updates you with info about bills up for debate that can have an impact on your local legislatures among a very extensive list of useful facts. It is worth a bookmark.

The fact is, politicians are here to work for us, not the other way around. And they are here to work for ALL of us, not just the ones with the big bank accounts or the ones that already agree with the people elected. It is up to us, the constituents, to hold their feet to the fire and make sure they do what we want, because that is their role. And if they don’t perform their role properly, it is up to us, the constituents, to vote them out of office, because that is our role.

The 2018 Midterm elections are fifteen months away.

//

This thinkpost was written for LJ Idol using the prompt: Be patient and tough; someday this pain will be useful to you
penpusher: (Hurley Ticket)
The main ballroom at the Pecunio Hotel was locked down, tight with security, almost as if a foreign dignitary was in attendance. In a way, someone just as important was in the building. For this special meeting of directors of all forty-six state lotteries from across the country, a chance to have some face time with the person responsible for turning the biggest profits for their games could be worth, literally, millions.

All cell phones and recording devices were confiscated as attendees exited the elevators on the hotel’s second floor lobby, locked in a strongbox for the duration of the session. All paperwork had to be supplied, including identification and position with their respective lottery commissions. Only two attendees per state were permitted to attend, meaning the ballroom itself, capable of handling parties of three thousand or more, would dwarf the people in it. But there was a full kitchen staff, tables and chairs, an open bar with champagne service and hotel staffers, ready to serve, in chair massages by attentive masseurs and massuses and a twelve-piece band playing background music as guests selected their menu items and found their seats.

Down the hall, in a private room, Seth Appleman smiled at himself in the mirror, paused, then really smiled. He flipped through his four by six cards one more time. Though he knew that some states had issues with people crossing the border to play another state’s lottery games, at heart, this really wasn’t a “competition.” All of the people in that room were working for the same goal. Sharing these secrets would, in fact, help everybody.

Appleman exited and made the slow stroll down to the ballroom, where most of the folks that ran their lotteries were already snacking, chatting, comparing notes. Appleman wasn’t about to eat anything but he was surely ready to dole out some food for thought.

He eyed the room, noting who was seated where. Lottery commissioners from neighboring states sometimes sat near each other, as was the case for Georgia, Tennessee and Florida, all of whom were beneficiaries of players crossing their borders from Alabama, a state with no lottery. Meanwhile, New York and New Jersey’s lottery chiefs were on the opposite side of the room, and that couldn’t have been a coincidence. Florida, New York and California were the most profitable lotteries, but even the states doing well could use some improvement.

Should he decide to enter early, work the room, feel out the atmosphere, Seth wondered? No. That wasn’t necessary. Everybody showed up, including a contingent from Nevada, notorious for NOT having a state lottery, specifically because it could potentially cut into the gaming for Las Vegas and Reno. Still, sending a representative to listen in proves that his words carried weight. Who knows? Maybe they would finally start a Nevada Lottery, based on his speech.

“Best to let them enjoy their time and digest their food before the pitch,” he thought, aloud.

Seth’s phone vibrated right over his heart, in his inside jacket pocket.

“Mr. Appleman, we’re ready for you whenever you’re ready,” said the staffer.

“Thank you, that’s fine,” he replied, walking back to his private sanctum. “Give them twenty more minutes, then cue my introduction.”

After enough Foie Gras, Prime Rib, Lobster Thermidor and Chocolate Truffle Cake was served and enough bottles of Dom Perignon were poured, it was time.

“Ladies and Gentlemen, would you please welcome the Keynote Speaker for this gathering, Mr. Seth Appleman!”

A standing ovation greeted Mr. Appleman as he stepped up to the podium, during which, all of the hotel employees quietly left the room, held by a security team outside of every exit.

“Good evening, and thank you for your presence here.” Seth smiled. “You know what? Let me tell you something some of you maybe have forgotten, or maybe a few of you never knew.” Seth paused to make sure every eye in the place was on him. “You and I? We are the lucky ones.”

Spontaneous applause erupted.

“We get to change the lives of people every day. We change the economic status of citizens in a way that they never could have imagined.” Seth paused and nodded at the crowd. “That is how this works. This is what we do!” Seth shouted over the rising applause, then held until the room fell silent.

“And we want to continue to change people’s lives.” Appleman said in a sobering tone. “We want to keep it up. But the only way we can do that is if WE, you and I, are keeping up. Tonight, I will share with you a three-tiered process for how to make your lottery even more profitable. I hope you are good at taking notes because none of this can be put on video or audio. This is your chance to tweak the games you offer in ways that will provide more excitement for players and much more success for you.”

“Let’s begin with the big money games,” Seth stated, pressing a remote and flipping on the HDTVs behind him. “SuperLarge Lotto and GinormousPayday.” On the screens, a picture of the lotto fields showed the selections. “SL Lotto has been noted for its five of forty-nine configuration, plus the Super Large Ball out of 35 numbers,” Appleman began. “But we’re looking to change that.” He pressed the remote again and a new screen appeared. “We are going to a five of eighty configuration, with a Super Large Ball field of fifty.” And we’re taking the GinormousPayday and adjusting it to a field of five out of sixty numbers with a Ginormous Ball out of a field of 40, but the cost of a ticket will go from one to two dollars.

There were some gasps in the audience.

“Here’s why you’ll love this new set up,” Seth quickly added. “The Jackpots are going to start larger and will go up much faster. Before the base level jackpot began at forty million dollars. Now, every Jackpot will begin at sixty million, and can potentially go up to one billion dollars in as little as six weeks. Imagine that!”

“Excuse me,” shouted an audience member. “But how are we getting ‘more profitable’ if we’re giving out billion with a ‘b’ jackpots?”

“I’m delighted you asked,” Seth smiled. “I was just coming to that, in fact. Look at this next screen.”

A grid with the odds of winning each prize level came up, next to a grid with the payouts for each winning level came up. “You’ll notice,” Seth continued, “That if you matched the five numbers with no Super Large Ball, the prize you earned is one million dollars, even though the odds of winning that prize are about five million to one. Four numbers with the Super Large Ball is a hundred thousand, even though those odds are about a half million to one. and so on down the line. For these higher prizes, we are cutting the payout in half, so you receive five hundred thousand now for the second prize and fifty thousand for the third prize.”

“But wait!” shouted another commissioner. “People are going to be angry that the payouts are changing! The odds of winning are nowhere near the prize being payed.”

“That is to your advantage,” Seth interjected. “We know that people don’t focus on these lower tiered prizes. In fact, some occasional players don’t even realize there ARE lower prizes! I know of several games that didn’t pay out several million because tickets were not cashed. But, if there is a complaint about not as much money going to players, that’s where we hit them with the second element,” Seth segued. “The benefits to local schools.” He called up another screen with the words ‘SCHOLASTIC BENEFIT’ in block letters. “Here, we promote the fact that every lottery ticket is a donation to their local public schools.”

A video montage of children writing at their desks in a classroom, examining a globe at the Teacher’s desk, wearing school uniforms to class and athletic uniforms in gym, and graduating in caps and gowns plays on the screens. “We will make sure we have presentations of checks for thousands of dollars to various schools in each of your regions all as part of the great work your lotteries will be doing for the school systems.”

“Excuse me, but doesn’t whatever funding you give to a school get deducted from their tax budget?” A voice asked. “That’s no benefit at all.”

“Could the person who just spoke stand up?” Seth held a hand above his brow and scanned the room.

“This person said it,” The vice chair of the Massachusetts Lottery pointed at a man in a ill-fitting suit and thick glasses.

The accused person stared in. “This all works out as a tax break for the Lotteries, but doesn’t actually do anything for any school system, doesn’t it, Mr. Appleman?”

“Excuse me but which Lottery are you with?”

“I’m with the Mississippi Lottery Commission.”

“No you are not. There is no Mississippi Lottery Commission and Mississippi has never expressed an interest in lotteries.”

The gent made a dash for the exits, but Mr. Appleman pressed a button and three security guards gang tackled him, then carried him out of the room. “The signal in this room was dampened, but make sure he wasn’t attempting to use a streaming service when you search him!” he called to the team as they hauled him out.

“I’m sorry about the unpleasantness,” Seth continued. “But progress does have a few bumps on the road.”

“You said there would be a three-tiered approach,” came another call.

“And the final element will be the new advertising campaigns,” Seth called back. “We will be targeting the people who really want a change to come in their lives: people who have a real desire for incredible wealth to come to them.”

Mr. Appleman flipped the screen again and showed a lineup of potential advertising outlets.

“We’re going to run lottery commercials and result draws during the “Hangman” game show, a favorite among our sixty-five plus target markets, and we’ll be putting billboards up in specific neighborhoods, reminding people that the potential way out of their current lives is just as close and convenient as their bodegas or their neighborhood liquor store!”

Warm applause.

“Here’s your bottom line,” Seth smiled. “The idea is to make your lottery a stand-alone proposition.” He paused to let the concept hang in the air for a moment. “The goal is to have your lottery paying out…” Seth pressed the remote, and every screen displayed

$0

Some gasps again, followed by more thunderous applause.

“We can make this happen. It’s just a matter of finding the appeal, working the angles and the elements to present the best opportunity for players to enjoy, and raising the excitement level to a place where your players provide the capital to pay the winners, and to help fund the systems that support schoolchildren in every state, except those that don’t have a lottery!”

Seth Appleman looked at the assembled multitude, the dream makers, standing and applauding him, all ready to grant wishes for those that really wanted them. He took a moment to let the adulation wash over him. Success is what you make it, and these people were all making it.

Everyone here is one of the lucky ones, Seth thought to himself, but I am the luckiest of all.

//

This fictionalized story, based on factual information, was written for LJ Idol using the prompt The Goal Is Zero
penpusher: (SciFi  honoring <lj user=melodymuse>)
Nobody can continually keep running. The “flight or fight” response is only a temporary jolt. Eventually, the adrenalin will wane, the muscles will tire and ache, the oxygen will be more difficult to process and the heart rate will level and reduce.

There is also the matter of needing sustenance. Eating nothing but fish for days and weeks at a time, with only some of it properly cooked, might be enough to survive, but there was also the possibility that even a little was tainted, poisoned by radiation still in certain areas. Consuming only as much as needed and continuing to keep moving through was the best way of handling the circumstances. It had been a very long time out on the road.

The good thing was the solitude. With no one else to share the journey with, there was no one else to need to deal with, to protect or to have to debate when the next choice of how to proceed came up. Full authority about when to go and where to go made for quick functioning.

The bad thing was the solitude. With no one else to share the journey with, there was no distraction, no diversion, no way to prevent all of the thoughts that came from all of the experiences that were part of the need to escape. With nothing but the imagination, the memories to share the journey, there was no avoiding the history of what created this circumstance.

The problem was being a recognizable person. Traveling during the day was more dangerous but it also helped to change the skin tone and, to a degree, the hair color with some sunlight.

As the area just negotiated was mostly flooded, it didn’t seem to matter. There were no search parties here, certainly none coming from any similar direction. But, the circumstances were finally changing, as the waters finally receded at the entrance to the Arid Zone.

A community was up ahead. It was time to make some decisions. Sneak by, be stealth, stay low profile. Or walk in, be bold, act like you belong. The tendency was always the former. But somehow, seeing a rather wide open and rollicking town, the latter was a little more appealing.

Jailee smelled it, in the air, the smell of food! She noted the sign in big black letters on large yellow squares: WALE HOSE. Though she had been dieting on fish this whole while, at least this place was cooking something that didn’t “smell” like whale.

She entered the brown building and was greeted by applause from the people working there.

“Welcome to Day fifty-two thousand five hundred and ninety-six!” smiled a waitress.

“Sorry? What?”

“We have been open twenty-four hours a day, every day, for, how many days is it again?” called the cook working over a hot grill.

“Fifty-two thousand five hundred and ninety-six!” yelled the rest of the staff.

“And you’re our first customer of the new day!” The waitress smiled, as she sat Jailee down in a booth by the windows. “Let me get you a menu and a cup of coffee.”

Another worker brought over a placemat and the menu, with a small glass of cactus juice. “Hi, Ma’am,” he said.

“Hello,” Jailee nodded wearily.

“I’ve never seen anyone that looks like you before.”

Jailee just scanned the menu. There were pictures of things she had never seen before that you could supposedly eat. The waitress returned with a pot of coffee and a cup, pouring, and placing.

“Do you know what you’d like, darlin’?”

“I don’t really,” Jailee said. “What do you recommend for someone who is hungry to have something other than fish?

The waitress finally looked at her customer, emaciated, gaunt, no matter how you described her, she was definitely not looking healthy.

“Gimme The State Breakfast, Charlie!” The waitress called, then went over to greet the three gentlemen who walked in.

Jailee glanced over at the group being seated. One of the men looked strangely familiar. She immediately went into defense mode. How would she exit the building if she had to right now? Busting through the window was the obvious choice, but was there a less noticeable way? Could she run through the kitchen and exit out back? She took another glance at the other table and noticed that at least one of the group was staring over at her. She quickly turned her face toward the windows. She got out her little Nerve Blaster and pretended not to pay any attention. Just then, a hand touched her shoulder.

“Aah!” Jailee yelled just before pressing the trigger, then realized it was the waitress with her meal.

“I didn’t mean to startle you, Darlin’!” she said, “but this plate is hot and I didn’t want you to get burned. Now you’ve got some pure goat sausage and bacon and two eggs, scrambled because that’s the safest way, and some hashbrowns!”

“What’s this round thing?” Jailee asked, looking at the separate dish.

“That’s our house specialty,” the waitress said. “Pour some of this syrup on it and enjoy! Oh, and let me refill your coffee.”

Jailee knew that if she ate too much too quickly, in her present physical condition, she wouldn’t be able to keep the food down. So she sipped a bit of the Cactus Juice, and nibbled at the egg and sausage before attempting the larger round item with the accompanying liquid, what did she call it? Sauce? She poured a little bit on and got a small bite. It was sweet!

She was ready to swallow it whole, when she noticed someone from the other table standing and walking towards her booth.

Immediately she got up and moved towards the women’s privacy hatch and closed the door, quickly inspecting the room. There was an air vent that looked like it led to the roof and might be big enough…

Just then the door flew open! The person walked in and shut and locked it. The bravado.

Jailee’s eyes widened as she realized the other person was a woman, too. “Who are you?”

“You don’t need to know that,” she stated and held up a medic reader. “We only have about forty-five seconds before this appears suspicious to the other people I am with. Why did you come here?”

“I had to get away from…”

“You really didn’t, you know. You were safe where you were.”

“That isn’t true. An agent followed me to where I hid and…”

“I meant you were safe where you were with my fa…” and the woman shook her head. “Take this.” She handed Jailee what looked like a keyring with three keys and two padlocks on it.

“What do I do with this?” Jailee asked, looking at the ring.

“This is a Sector ring.” She said. “the green padlock and the green key will transport you to a region you select, where no Sector officers are located – designed to get Sector officers to a location where they’re needed, quickly. The Red is a small storage of weapons, knives for close combat and a handgun.”

A knock on the door. “Is everything alright, Agent Bingham?”

“Yeah, but I shouldn’t have had that last taco,” she called.

Footsteps running from the door.

“Why is there an orange key with no lock?” Jailee asked. Bingham held up the lock.

“Because we’re about to use it right now. Get the green key ready and grab me as you turn it. Bingham opened the orange lock as Jailee turned the green key. Bingham jumped into her arms. The light of an explosion was just starting to flash in Jailee’s eyes when –

Suddenly they were on top of a tree lined mountain. Several kilometers away and below, they could see the explosion and fire. Jailee was devastated.

“Oh, no, did all those people…”

“No. I tipped off my fellow agents, I’m sure everyone got out of the building before the blast.”

“I didn’t get to finish my breakfast.” Jailee said. “And now, there’s one less place to eat around here.”

“That’s really okay,” Agent Bingham said. “They’ll be open again before sunset. They always are.” The agent pointed towards the building and that a hook and ladder and engine had already arrived and extinguished the blaze, and a construction crew had already begun measuring the area for materials.

“Very efficient.” Jailee said, sadly.

“But we still need to feed you,” Agent Bingham said. “And I can’t take you home because I’m presumed dead.” She took a long look at Jailee. “I guess we’re both outlaws, now.”

“I don’t think I can climb all the way down this mountain,” Jailee stated, looking at the height from where they were back down.

“We can use the transport lock again,” Agent Bingham said. “But the more urgent issue is what our story is supposed to be.”

“OUR story?” asked Jailee.

“I can’t be seen in my agent togs anymore. And you can’t be seen. After all, you killed a Sector Agent before making your escape.”

“When you put it that way, you made my situation even worse. Now they won’t stop hunting me until I’m found, and the punishment will be…”

“Not a problem, because I’m not actually dead,” Agent Bingham reminded her. “I think I have an idea. You really believed I was a man, so why don’t we play it like that? Boyfriend Girlfriend?”

Jailee raised an eyebrow.

“It makes sense. I know all the protocols. I can get you some skin cover to make you look more normal, um, I mean…”

“I know what you mean.” Jailee said quietly.

So, let’s get us dressed up and to the other Wale Hose before they reopen the first one,” Agent Bingham grinned. “I haven’t had my breakfast, either!”

//

This story was written for LJ Idol using the prompt The Waffle House Index.

Here is an Index of all previous LJ Idol appearances of Jailee
penpusher: (LJ Broken)
I haven't been posting "normal" entries in my LJ Account for awhile now, using it only as the place where I post my LJ Idol entries for the writing competition. Likewise, I haven't been reading your entries, since my time was spent reading through the entries of the other contestants and making comments there. I feel like I have failed my LJ friends because of this, and I do apologize for that, but there is an element behind it.

The whole "Яussian" issue - the fact that we were acquired by the Russian side of LiveJournal definitely has had an effect. Really, I have a bellyful of Russia right now. I hear about Russia every night. And let's face it. We don't really know much of anything about what's going on with our Russian owners. I can tell you that a few of my long time LJ friends deleted their journals specifically because of this.

When I purchased a permanent account, I really thought it would outlast me, or at least would last longer than I would find a use for it. Now, even though it's likely an irrational fear, I don't feel completely safe sharing on this platform anymore. We don't know anyone who is in charge of this service. We don't know what issues those that are in charge of it examine. And it's within the unease of all that we don't know about what happens here that creates a place that is the opposite of where you would want to put your most intimate thoughts and share your most personal stories.

The current LJ Idol season is coming to a close. Tonight is a voting results night, and it's possible I will not survive. I have resolved to stop using LiveJournal at the end of the current LJ Idol competition, and I suspect that end will come before the end of the year. That means I have to make some decisions.

I have to decide if I want to delete this journal and if I do delete, do I use the nuclear option, that deletes every comment I ever made to every journal and community I ever visited. Or do I friendslock the entire journal? Or do I just leave it in place, as is?

A reason not to delete is being able to access journals that I was friends to, anyone that had their own journal locked that I was on the list for would be lost to me forever. But does that really matter, if the friends are no longer posting here?

Another reason not to delete is that I said I never would. Under normal circumstances, I thought deleting was a selfish move, that hurt the other people who were still here. And especially the nuclear option that deleted the comments posted in everyone else's journal. Part of me still believes it's somewhat selfish to delete - especially nuclear style. When people comment to your journal, it's not just "YOUR" journal anymore. I absolutely believe that.

But I do have my mirrored account at dreamwidth. Basically everything that is here got moved there (and I'll likely do another transfer over of the entries from the Idol season also). All is not lost.

But there will be loss. Some people who are still here aren't going to leave. I know this because I floated the concept in my entry titled: Let's Just Deal With... where I suggested we needed to make a break from this place and collectively move to Dreamwidth. "Lukewarm" would be a gross exaggeration of the response.

Or just not use this type of platform anymore. Facebook does have the option for writing essays, and they have the possibility of going viral, if they're publicly posted.

I do know that my LJ time is now severely limited, no matter what happens, meaning that this will be one of my final thinkposts here on the old El Jay. But maybe I'll make a go of it on DW.

http://penpusher.dreamwidth.org/
penpusher: (Playboy)
Previously on “The Fixer…”

Joe Fixadore was booted from the LA Police Force and set up shop as a Private Investigator out of his mother’s basement.

His first client, Gary (who The Fixer insists on calling “Driz”), owner of a literary agency, was being blackmailed by someone using a phony picture of him in a tête-à-tête with a Playboy Playmate as leverage. After being run off the grounds of the Playboy Mansion and losing his car to the LAPD, The Fixer and his client now proceed on foot to meet likely suspects that want to punish Gary for his past actions.

--- )

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