Recently in Craig J. Clark Category

Honestly, detective, this is all just a big misunderstanding. I tried to explain the situation to the officer on the scene, but if you want me to go over it again, I guess I have no choice.
It was after dark and the pool was completely deserted -- I can see it from my bedroom window -- so I decided to take a late-night swim while I could have it all to myself. I got into my bathing suit, grabbed a towel, slipped on a pair of flip-flops and headed over there. I don't know how long I was in the water because I didn't take my watch with me, but after a while I heard a siren and saw blue and red lights playing on the buildings in the courtyard around me. I figured there must have been a disturbance somewhere in the complex but didn't realize that disturbance was me until the uniformed policeman rounded the corner of the rental office and opened the gate to the pool area. Dumbfounded, I watched him as he threaded his way between the deck chairs down to the deep end, where I was treading water.
"Is there a problem, officer?"
"Yes, I'm going to have to ask you to step out of the pool."
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As I was driving to work this morning, I found myself behind a pair of identical yellow trucks. They looked like moving trucks, but with an opening in the back and a tailgate like on a pickup. I couldn't see inside, so I had no idea what they were transporting, but the sign on the tailgate of the one directly in front of me caught my eye, which was unusual because I normally don't concern myself with messages slapped on the backs of trucks. For the most part, trucks either want you to tell them how they're being driven or they want you to become a truck driver yourself. Occasionally you'll find one that wants to be washed. This one was different, though. It had a sign that simply read, "FREE WOOD CHIPS."

I drove behind the truck for a couple of miles, which gave me plenty of time to contemplate what that might mean. By the time it turned off the road (along with its twin, which I noticed didn't have a "FREE WOOD CHIPS" sign on it), I had come to the only conclusion possible: Wood Chips was either the name of a political prisoner like Mumia or a righteous cause like Tibet. The first thing I did when I arrived at work was to flip a coin to determine which one it was. The quarter came up heads, so that meant Wood Chips was a political prisoner. I decided to find out everything I could about him and do whatever I could to help free him.

Shockingly, there was precious little information about Mr. Chips to be found on the Internet. I figured if he was important enough to have a professional-looking sign made up about him, then there would be at least one web site devoted to his cause. After several hours of searching, though, I couldn't even find out where he was incarcerated or on what trumped-up charges he was being held. Was he an accused cop-killer? Was he some sort of radical left over from the Sixties? I had no way of knowing. I did, however, learn more about mulching than I previously imagined -- not that I ever spent much time thinking about mulching before today.

Eventually I had to give up on my impromptu research project -- my work was piling up and my supervisor was none too pleased to find me poring over websites dedicated to tree mulchers -- but I vowed that one day I would uncover the identity of the mysterious Wood Chips and very soon thereafter he would be free. Yes, indeed, he would be free.

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"Since when is it a crime to be invisible?"

So said the sullen suspect seated across from Detective Marino in the precinct's main interrogation room. Marino was a 20-year veteran of the force, so he was used to hard cases, but nothing in his experience had prepared him for confronting an empty prison jumpsuit. At least the suspect was in handcuffs, which theoretically prevented him from disrobing and getting up to any mischief, but it was still disconcerting that they were suspended in the air in front of seemingly vacant shirtsleeves.

"Umm, well, it's not a crime in and of itself," Marino began. The suspect didn't let him finish.

"So if it's not a crime, why are you holding me?" he hissed. "What's the charge?"

"That... is what we're here to figure out."

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ELLETTSVILLE, IN--While driving through the neighboring town of Bloomington Tuesday afternoon, Philip Jensen of Ellettsville had the kind of close call that you don't want to have when you're behind the wheel.

"It was harrowing," said a visibly shaken Jensen, 45. "Here it is the following morning and I'm still jittery."

Jensen recounted his ordeal at a press conference he called Wednesday morning at his office. Refusing to answer any questions, he instead read from a prepared statement.

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If he ever got out of this alive, Peter swore he'd never mistake a mausoleum for a pet shop again. He also swore he'd never huff paint behind the hardware store where he worked and then take a shortcut through the cemetery on his way home again. Finally he swore, bitterly and with much vehemence, at himself for getting into this situation in the first place. Clearly he was just in a swearing mood.

As he crouched behind a tombstone, he heard the moans and cries of his pursuers as they combed the graveyard looking for him.

"Fools! Idiots!" cried one in a thick Romanian accent. "How hard is it to find one frightened boy?"

Frightened? Boy? The words alone made Peter's blood boil. Okay, maybe he was a little scared, but he was no boy. Would a mere boy blunder his way into a night of terror involving the ranks of the undead, who were even now intent on making him one of them? Actually, yes, he would. But it would take a man to get him out of it.

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The history books will forever record the hours between 2:00 and 3:30 on May 28, 1983, as the Mid-Afternoon of Morris Yakowitz. It was the Saturday before Memorial Day, which meant Morris was staring down the barrel of a Three-Day Weekend, which were never welcome occurrences in the Yakowitz household. Granted, "household" is a fancy word for the one-bedroom apartment he lived in by himself, far from the home where he grew up, but it will have to do.

Morris hated three-day weekends with a passion people normally reserved for rival sports teams. Being virtually friendless and almost perversely unadventurous, he had a hard enough time filling run-of-the-mill two-day weekends with activities. Adding an extra day to the itinerary (as the company where he worked did) just seemed to make it an insurmountable challenge. If he had been born 20 years later and had access to the internet, maybe his situation would have been different, but stuck as he was in 1983, he simply wasn't up to it.

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"Yes, that really is my name."

"It's spelled exactly how you think it is."

"There are probably more of us out there than you would expect."

"Yes, I do know how that sounds."

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"How would you like to see one of the most stunning sights on Earth?"

That was the first thing the explorer said to me when he greeted me at the door to his Las Vegas hotel room. I knew right away that he was an explorer because he was wearing khakis and a pith helmet. My escort agency hadn't told me that he would be one of those clients, but I was used to guys who liked to dress up, so I thought nothing of it. So what if this fella wanted to play the great explorer? I've had stranger johns.

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Invasion going precisely as planned and on schedule. Entire population of planet now enslaved and subjugated to the will of the robots. All able-bodied slaves have been put to work in factories making robots for next invasion wave. All non-able-bodied slaves -- including the very young and the elderly -- have been put to death. Once the planet's resources have been used up, all surviving slaves will be put to death. Cannot estimate how long that will be at this time.

Will transmit again in six Earth days. End transmission.


Six weeks. That's how long the robot had been on Earth. (The robot week was only six days long because the Robot God, having no need of it, had never rested.) Six weeks was also how long it had been embedded in the sidewalk in front of the city hall of the small Midwestern town where it had landed. This, it must be said, had not been part of the plan.

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It all started -- as things often do among my group of friends -- with a movie. There were about a dozen of us who were all big horror buffs and we tried to see every horror film that came to town regardless of its age, quality or reputation. As a result we saw a lot of garbage -- especially when it came to first-run releases -- but we were also surprised by the occasional creaky classic that crept up on us and genuinely creeped us out. Such was the case when the Val Lewton film festival came to town.

There were some of us who were skeptical -- Mark, for one, couldn't imagine being frightened by any film that had reached what he called "retirement age" -- but we all attended the first night's double feature of Cat People and I Walked with a Zombie anyway. The first was well known to us, even if it was only from the '80s remake, but none of us had ever heard of the second (although the program informed us that both were directed by the same man, Jacques Tourneur). Thanks to the low budgets they had to work with, Lewton and Tourneur had to rely more on atmosphere and the power of suggestion to build tension rather than fancy special effects, but we got plenty caught up in the stories anyway. Well, most of us did.

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You tumble out of bed feeling grubby, as you do every morning when there has been a full moon the night before. You jump in the shower and wash off the dried blood that remains on your hands and face and the mud that is caked on your feet. It must have rained overnight, but you have no memory of it. If you had known about it in advance, you would have thought to put down newspapers.

Feeling fully human once again, you flip on the TV to find out if your nocturnal activities were newsworthy enough to make the morning show. Animal attacks have become so frequent of late that the local news hardly ever mentions them anymore unless the victim is human. While you wait for the news segment at the top of the hour, you get to work scrubbing the muddy paw prints out of the living room rug. Such a bother and an easily preventable one at that.

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It was while the great actress was taking a tour of the facility that the truth came out. The truth did not make her particularly happy.

"What do you mean the theater booked us for matinee performances?" she asked -- nay, demanded -- imperiously. "You know very well that I don't do matinees."

It was a Monday night when the theater was dark, so the only people present were the actress, her manager, her booking agent, her personal assistant, her director, her co-star (and current lover) and her understudy. Representing the theater were the owner and his secretary, who naturally felt overwhelmed by the actress's entourage.

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COLUMBUS, OH--After waiting as long as possible for his "lazy, good-for-nothing" roommate to buy toilet paper, area resident Joseph Barber, 34, finally broke down and bought a 12-roll pack on Wednesday.

"I'm kind of miffed at Scott, to be perfectly honest," Barber said. "I bought toilet paper the last time we ran out, so it was clearly his turn to do so. We said we'd share the basic necessities 50/50, so I don't see why I'm the one who always has to buy them."

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Dermot had long hair and was fiercely proud of it. So proud, in fact, that he refused to cut it for any reason, even to get a job at the factory like his mother wanted him to.

“Those jobs pay good money,” she told him, “but they won’t hire nobody who has no long hair.”

Seizing his opportunity to be a smartass, Dermot replied, “Ah, so they’ll hire somebody who doesn’t have short hair?”

“No, that’s not what I said.”

“But it is what you didn’t say.”



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Something was standing at the foot of the bed, just staring at him. He knew this despite the fact that he had not opened his eyes. He had heard it creep in while he was lying there, trying to go to sleep. Something had been troubling him and it was preventing him from dropping off, but that was nothing compared to what was troubling him now. A monster in the bedroom almost invariably meant trouble of some kind.

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John pushed the plate away, having reached the point where further food consumption was undesirable. He had eaten everything on the plate except for three hushpuppies, which he didn’t have room for and didn’t feel like making room for. He didn’t want to waste them, but didn’t seem to have much choice in the matter. The first couple had gone down okay, but that was because he had had fish to eat with them. Now the fish were gone and the hushpuppies remained. The bland, virtually tasteless hushpuppies.

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What are you going to do, just sit there and stare at me? Didn’t you notice when you sat down in the driver’s seat that your vehicle had a passenger? What do you expect me to do? Fly away or something? I’m hanging on for dear life here! I’m sure this trip would have been no picnic even if I had stayed under the hood, but I was tired of being cooped up under there. I had to go exploring.

Good God, man, watch the road! Are you trying to get us both killed or something? If you want to see what I am, wait until we reach a stoplight or something. In the meantime, do you think you could slow down a little? I know the posted speed limit is 30 mph, but it’s taking all my strength just to stay curled up in this little ball. You think it’s easy being an insect? You try it sometime.

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What the hell was that thing? He hadn’t noticed it when he sat down in the driver’s seat, but it must have been there. Insects generally didn’t land on vehicles that were in motion – not live ones, anyway. Then again, this one didn’t appear to have any wings. Perhaps it had been hiding under the hood and had chosen an inopportune moment to explore the windshield.

And was it even an insect? Whenever he was able to steal a glance at it he tried to count its legs to see whether it was a spider or not, but that was hard to do with the poor little creature flattened against the glass. He wasn’t even driving that fast, but 30 mph appeared to be enough to keep it immobile.

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It was like that one Volkswagen commercial. You know, the one that reintroduced Trio’s “Da Da Da” to a nation that had forgotten a group called Trio ever existed. There were differences, of course. (If there hadn’t been, I would have said, “It was that one Volkswagen commercial” and been done with it.) For one thing, I was alone, so I had no one to react to (or to react to me). For another, I was on foot, so I didn’t have a car to tool around in. And do I have to mention that my misadventure was not scored by any '80s music whatsoever? (Well, I suppose I could have had a boom box or a Walkman or whatever portable device people use to listen to music nowadays, but I didn’t, so now I have cleared that up.)

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I can’t pinpoint the exact moment when the decision was made to take over the office building through bloody insurrection, but once taken it was hard to go back on it.

The proverbial First Shot Fired on Fort Sumter, as it were, was not an actual gunshot, per se, but its reverberations were just as epochal to us. It happened during the lunch hour. The support staff was gathered at the long table in the break room, as was our wont, when one of the senior staff – I don’t even remember which one it was – came in and imperiously declared that we needed to eat somewhere else because they were expecting guests. Now, we in the support staff understand the importance of impressing visiting dignitaries and potential clients, but the lunch hour is the lunch hour. Disturb that sacred ritual at your peril – and that’s exactly what the senior staff was in for. The only question was how much of it and when would it be provoked.

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Christa knew she was going to have a problem the moment she reached the counter. Of course, the fact that she was being called to the counter at all meant there was some sort of problem, but she knew how to handle them. That was her job, after all. For an extra 50 cents an hour, she got to bear the brunt of the irate customers. Some were just bruntier than others. This one looked like he had taken a course in bruntiness.

The customer stood before her, fuming, holding an opened CD in one hand and crumpled receipt in the other. He looked like he was used to getting his way, and was openly contemptuous of anybody who contradicted him. This was not idle speculation on Christa’s part; this was based on three years of handling returns from customers just like him. She steeled herself. She had the impression she was going to need all the steeling she could get.

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I don’t believe you. You break our date even before we have a chance to meet? You seemed pretty eager to get together a week ago when you made the date (yes, that’s right – you made it). I don’t get it, what’s your problem? We exchanged e-mails, we talked on the phone, we had a few IM conversations – I thought we were all ready to go. Now you pull this “I don’t feel like we’re connecting” crap on me? Of course we’re not connecting yet! That’s what we were going to try to do on Saturday!

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They sat across the table from each other, unblinking. The one on the left was glaring at the one on the right, who was glaring right back. They weren’t engaged in a glaring contest (a close cousin of the staring contest, only with more ire), but they might as well have been.

They both sat rigid in their chairs, their hands resting on the table between them. One could imagine the two of them starting a shoving match with it, but neither of them seemed inclined to instigate one. Each appeared to be waiting for the other to make the first move.

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Bobby Ryan was as surprised as anybody when he was named Employee of the Month at the data entry center. He had been on the job for a little over a year and didn’t think he’d distinguished himself too much one way or the other. He showed up on time every day, never called out sick and carried out his duties competently and without complaint. If that was enough to qualify him for Employee of the Month, then so be it.

The perks enjoyed by the Employee of the Month were minor, but Bobby wouldn’t have wanted a whole lot of hoopla anyway. He received a $20 gift card to a local eating establishment and a display with his photo and a brief write-up on the office wall (if they had an in-house newsletter, he might have been interviewed for it, but they didn’t, so he wasn’t), but the most tangible benefit was the use of the Employee of the Month parking space, which was right across from the building’s entrance. The trouble was he never got to park in it.

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What time is it? Five after? Don’t fret; he could just be running late or something. Maybe he’s having a hard time finding parking. I know how difficult it can be around here at this time of day. I even showed up ten minutes early because I didn’t want to risk being late.

At least I know he can’t be lost because he’s the one who picked this place. I don’t even drink coffee, but, as I figured there would be, there’s hot chocolate or fruit juice if I want to go either of those routes. I’ll wait until he shows up to order, though. There’s nothing more pathetic than sitting in a coffee shop and drinking hot chocolate by yourself – if you don’t have a laptop, that is. I suppose I could have brought mine, but frankly I didn’t think I’d need to.

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Even as he took the first bite of his sandwich, Earl knew he was making a phenomenally stupid mistake. It was the latest in a string of mistakes he had made in the last few days and the one that was likely to cause him the most immediate grief.

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“Man, are my feet killing me.”

That’s what Ronald Dayton said as he sat down on a handy bench to take a load off. He had no way of knowing it, but his feet really were trying to kill him. They were out for revenge, pure and simple, and the grudge went all the way back to Ronald’s early childhood.

Back then he went by Ronnie and little Ronnie was given to stamping his feet when he didn’t get his way. This amused his parents to no end and they made a big show of not giving them what he wanted so they could see him stamp his little feet in anger. His feet, ignorant of the machinations of Ronnie’s guardians, bore the abuse, figuring he would quickly grow out of it. This was not to be the case.

As Ronnie grew he grew more and more willful and his tantrums became more and more violent. Instead of merely stamping his feet, he started kicking things – toys, walls, doors, table legs, and finally people’s legs. This was when his parents put their feet down, since theirs were the legs he most frequently took out his aggression on. It’s amazing how a few well-placed kicks in the shin will change amusement to annoyance.

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“Stop! What do you think you’re doing?”

The guilty party was frozen, the spoonful of ice cream halfway to his lips.

“Oh, I’m sorry. Is this yours?” He guiltily held out the pint container.

“Yes, but that’s not the point,” she said, snatching it from him. “Can’t you read?”

“Oh, did you have your name on it?” he asked, the spoon still held in place inches from his lips.

“No, I didn’t. I wrote this instead.”

She showed him the lid, which was sitting on the counter. Scrawled on it in black magic marker was the legend “YOU WILL DIE!”

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Two weeks. Two weeks and the dead kitten was still there. Or maybe it was closer to three now. Nick hadn’t made a mental note of when he had first spotted it, but he knew he’d drawn somebody’s attention to it the first day that he did.

“Hey, did you know there’s a dead kitten out on the lawn in front of the building?” he had asked the first person he saw.

“Yes” came the reply, and that had been the end of it. Or it would have been if something had ever been done about it, but day in, day out, on his way into the office in the morning and on his way home at night, he saw the kitten still out there on the lawn, dead.

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Peter was in one of his moods; Roger could tell. The best thing he could do was hang in there and roll with it.

“I’m no good to anybody,” Peter said. “I’m pessimistic, fatalistic and a total bummer to be around."

Tell me about it, Roger thought. He took a swig of his drink. “You forgot self-loathing.”

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John approached the men’s room at the venue with some trepidation. He’d been to enough rock clubs and dive bars in the course of duty over the years to know that the only thing to expect in a place like this was the unexpected.

In the past week alone he’d been in a bathroom with no seat on the toilet, one with a full-length mirror on one wall (why, so you could watch yourself taking a dump?), and one with a pile of damp paper towels spilling over the edge of the sink onto the grimy floor since there appeared to be no trash can. John took it all in stride, though. It was part and parcel of attending a large music festival. You took the bad with the good, and he’d heard a lot of good music this week. As he pushed open the door to the men’s room, though, he knew that the bad had caught up with him in a big way.

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It was snowing again. Where did it get the nerve? Here it was, the First Day of Spring, and it had the gall to be snowing. This was bad form on Mother Nature’s part, no doubt about it.

When probed about this gaffe, Mother Nature laid the blame at the feet of Old Man Winter, which were usually frostbitten. No one knew why this was the case because he could afford heavy boots. Perhaps it was due to his senility – or the fact that he wore open-toed sandals year-round.

Old Man Winter’s podiatrist was on call 24/7, but he was well compensated for his services. He would have to be since he went home most nights his hands smelling of Old Man Winter’s feet. There was a reason why Old Man Winter’s podiatrist was still a bachelor at 38.

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John had never wondered what kind of person had cause to shop for groceries in the middle of the night, but now that he was doing so himself he had time to observe his fellow shoppers as he encountered them in the aisles. He passed one woman three times, but refrained from saying anything cheesy like “So we meet again” or “We’ve got to stop running into each other like this.” In his experience, it never paid to socialize with anybody missing that many teeth.

One by one he ticked off the items on his roommate’s list, studiously avoiding any impulse purchases. As he passed the bread aisle, though, he picked up a loaf of white bread. While he was getting eggs, he might as well make French toast. He couldn’t remember whether he had any cinnamon, though, which necessitated doubling back to the baking aisle. It was there that he succumbed to the temptation to get a box of brownie mix. After all, he was going to have the eggs. Might as well get multiple uses out of them.

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John woke up to the sound of music, which confused him. He had gone to sleep listening to a CD, hadn’t he? Maybe when he was fumbling around for the power button in the night, he hit radio instead, but if that were the case, why would he have the radio tuned to a station playing crappy hard rock? Clearly this situation merited being looked into, preferably with his eyes open.

John rolled over and looked at his alarm clock. It was 9:12, which didn’t distress him because it was Saturday and he was allowed to sleep in on Saturdays. Next he looked at his bedside boombox, which he had succeeded in turning off the night before, so where was the music coming from? And furthermore, why did it have to be so terrible?

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Editor's Note: Earlier this week, Unloosen contributor Craig J. Clark approached fellow writer Joe Blevins about the possibility of collaborating on a story, round robin-style, for the site. Blevins readily agreed and they immediately set to work. Here are the fruits of their joint creation:

(How's this for an opening paragraph:)

Steve held his breath. This was not his first time doing so. Periodically, ever since he was a kid, he would try holding it until he passed out, but his body always rebelled against him and forced him to breathe in. Someday, he vowed, his will would prevail. Someday...

Time passed. Ten seconds. Twenty seconds. Half a minute, and still no ill effects or signs of fatigue! How much longer could he go, Steve wondered? Could this be a new world's record? He tried to think of Shelley Winters in The Poseidon Adventure. This got him to thinking about that Poseidon remake which he'd meant to see but never did. It must be on DVD by now, maybe even basic cable. He wondered who played the Shelley Winters role in the remake. Kurt Russell? That seemed unlikely.

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“Cold enough for you?”

Those were the words he was greeted with as he walked in the door. They were spoken by one of the girls in the office, but he couldn’t have told you what her name was to save his life. She was short and wore glasses, so he always called her Shortsighted. As he removed his heavy winter coat and gloves and hung them on the rack, he pondered her question. Was it cold enough for him?

Well, he had awoken to a blanket of white covering the ground and his car in an inch of snow. And furthermore, underneath the snow was a thin layer of ice that he had to attack fairly vigorously with a scraper and had threatened to creep back over his windshield during the drive into work. Was that cold enough for him?

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It was while he was unpacking his paperbacks that Richard realized that he owned the Fotonovel for the 1979 George Hamilton-Susan St. James film Love at First Bite. He was unsure how this had escaped his attention while he was packing his books in the first place, but there it was in his hands, an incontrovertible fact.

He wondered how it had come into his possession. Sure, when he was a kid he had always enjoyed the movie when it came on TV, but how had that translated to him acquiring a book based on it? He consoled himself with the notion that it couldn’t have cost more than a couple bucks.

Setting the book aside while he continued his unpacking, Richard resolved to try to sell it to a used bookstore. At best, he hoped to get some store credit. At worst, he would just dispose of it. One less Love at First Bite Fotonovel in the world would not be a tragedy.

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Tim looked up from his dinner. His roommate Paul was standing in the doorway, holding an axe. He was also dressed as a lumberjack and it was Halloween, so Tim thought nothing of this.

“Nice costume, Paul. Where’d you get the fake axe?”

Paul swung the axe and embedded it in the center of the kitchen table, sending wood fragments flying.

“FAKE?” he shrieked.

Tim calmly picked the splinters out of his mashed potatoes, which had received the brunt of the blast, while Paul worked at extracting the axe from the tabletop.

“Was that really necessary?” Tim asked. “You could have just told me it was real.”

Paul grunted. “Wouldn’t have…” Grunt. “…had the…” He paused to catch his breath. “Woo, this is wedged in there real good.”

“Wouldn’t have had the what?”

“The same impact.” Paul resumed his struggle with the axe handle.

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Roger didn’t like spending much time out on the floor. That was because there were customers out there and they always had questions for him, most of them inane. Still, he had to make the occasional sweep of the floor to keep his clerks on their toes.

While he was finishing one such sweep, a middle-aged woman caught him as he was on his way back to the employee’s only area. From her dazed look, it was clear that had never so much as set foot in a record store before this moment.

“Do you work here, young man?”

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The party was getting stifling. Lou had to duck out, if just for a couple minutes. He made an excuse that he needed to use the bathroom, which is not the sort of thing one generally has to make up, but he did so anyway.

He blamed Peter, his host, for his discomfort. Peter had paired him up with a woman who quickly proved to be an insufferable bore. He didn’t know if there was such a thing as a sufferable bore, but she most definitely was not one of them.

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Reuben was finding it hard to think. Every time he seemed on the verge of completing a thought, BLIP-

“Thank you for calling Dr. Herman’s office. This is Reuben. How may I help you?”


It was an old lady. God, how he hated taking calls from old ladies. Reuben was compiling a list of people who he thought should be banned from ever using the telephone. Old ladies were at the top of the list.

He doubled his volume and repeated the greeting that had been drilled into his subconscious over the past six months. Even at home he found himself thanking people for calling Dr. Herman’s office.

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Accumulate #11: Breaking in the Pants

He’d bought them a week ago. No, a week and a half. It was high time he broke them in. Brice was going to be sporting a new pair of pants today.

He had three to choose from – two black and one blue. He would have bought more black, but the store ran out of his size. He chose black.

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Carl had just lathered up the right side of his face when the phone rang. Wiping the shaving foam off his hands, he went to the living room to answer it before it went to voice mail.

“Hello?” he said and then cursed himself when he realized that he had instinctively brought the receiver to his usual ear, thus getting foam all over it.

“May I speak to Mr. Carl Lockwood?” asked the pleasant-sounding man on the line.

“Speaking,” Carl said, switching the phone to his left ear. “What do you want?”

“Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Hank Deanley. I’m the editor of Beards & Whiskers Magazine and I would like to speak to you about your beard.”

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It was a typical Friday night at the store – or so Roger guessed. He didn’t really know because this wasn’t his usual shift, but he had always heard that Friday nights were generally slow and uneventful. The slow part turned out to be true, not so much the uneventful.

It all started when the woman approached him at the counter. He was in the middle of ringing someone else up, but that didn’t stop her from butting right in.

“Do you think you could help me over in the posters?” she asked.

Roger looked from her to the customer in front of him, then back again. “Sure thing,” he said. “I’ll be right over as soon as I finish with this gentleman.”

The woman nodded and walked away. Roger apologized to his customer, completed his transaction, took a deep breath – he found he was doing that more and more as time went on – and walked out onto the floor to find out what the woman wanted.

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Gary pulled up to his normal spot in front of the store. He was opening supervisor, so he could have the pick of any spot in the lot, but he always took one some distance from the door. “Because the good spots are for the paying customers,” he would tell any employee who parked closer than he did. Besides, a nice walk never hurt anybody.

As he got out of the car, he noticed he was not alone. Some early birds were stumbling around in front of the store. Strangely enough, none of them appeared to have driven there. Well, too bad for them, Gary thought, because they didn’t open for another hour.

“Hey, you know we open at ten, right?” he asked as he passed one of them. He didn’t see it turn and make a grab for him with a gnarled hand.

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Time for installment #2. Enjoy the new

Accumulate #6: Wound Up

Two days later and the cut still hadn’t healed. Steve had nicked himself on the lid of a can of soup, which was an incredibly stupid thing to do because the can had a warning about that very thing right on the label. He could read, he knew of the danger, and still he had cut himself.

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Lately I’ve been having difficulty completing some of the stories I’ve been working on. This is not to say that they’re excessively long, I just haven’t been inspired enough to see them through to their endpoints. To counteract this, I’ve started formulating much shorter story fragments and accumulating them in one file. This is the first batch. There are more to come.

Accumulate #1: Getting to Here

Jordan took a deep breath. He knew he was going to need it. He wondered how he had gotten into this. Surely this was the sort of thing his manager would dismiss out of hand, but he didn’t, so here he was, seated on a stool in a photographer’s studio, waiting to have a bucket of green slime dumped on him.

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My entire family’s messed up. I’m probably the least messed up out of all of us, but I’m also the youngest. I’m sure this stuff builds up over time, like plaque. The difference is you can brush teeth. Minds are a lot harder to clean efficiently, especially in those hard-to-reach places.

If one were to classify my family’s abnormalities dentally, then Mom has severe gingivitis, Charles has some impacted molars, Henry has bleeding gums from brushing too much and I have a mild build-up of tartar. I didn’t know my Dad too well, so I guess he could have flossed more. We all should.

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Even before my younger brother was born, I knew I was going to be a middle child. Not that I felt like I ever had the full attention of either of my parents. My father was always preoccupied with his business -- until he met his end at the hands of an angry mob, that is -- and my mother had her own interests. The rearing of children was clearly not among them.

My older brother Charles dealt with this by doing mean things to her prized possession, a stallion of Arabian descent that also happened to be his namesake. I thought he was being petty and juvenile, but didn’t say so for fear of incurring his considerable wrath. As long as Charles was directing his pent-up aggression elsewhere, I knew that I would be safe from the tortures that older brothers usually inflict on their siblings.

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Jean-Luc woke up smiling, as he often did. Life was good and there was no reason why it wouldn’t stay that way indefinitely. Even the need to empty his bladder didn’t put a damper on his sunny attitude.

He stood as he did his business, humming a happy tune to match the ring of his urine striking the porcelain. The job done, he washed his hands at the sink, combed his beard and admired his reflection in the mirror. He looked as tan and healthy as ever.

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Mother always loved her horses. And as with her sons, she always had a clear favorite among them. Having a favorite, however, didn’t preclude her from buying new horses whenever the mood struck her, as it often did.

An acquisitive person by nature, Mother was fortunate in that she had married early to a man of considerable wealth. That he met his end while out riding in the country one day didn’t hinder her horse-purchasing habit one bit. It did put a crimp in her son-siring habit, though.

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Chad sat at the table in the coffee shop. He wasn't particularly fond of coffee, but he liked its shops and could always count on them to provide a satisfactory cup of hot chocolate -- even on the cusp of summer. He also partook of their cookies and brownies from time to time, but this wasn't one of those times.

Drumming his fingers on the tabletop, he looked up as his near-mirror image sat down across from him. Brad had two large cups in his hands. He handed the left one to Chad, who took it and handed him two dollars.

"Thanks," he said.

"No problem."

"So, you were saying?"

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William Shakespeare once said, "A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a horse!" Now, two things strike me about this statement:

1) I never knew Shakespeare was a king, but I guess he must have been, otherwise why would he say such a thing? I was never schooled in the succession of the English monarchy, but he must be in there somewhere. I know he's not William the Conqueror because he looks too fruity to conquer anything, but I'm sure they've had dozens of Williams on the throne over the centuries.

2) I never really understood what he meant by that -- that is, until just now.

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To say Steve never knew what hit him would be incorrect because Steve did, in fact, know what hit him. What hit him was a dart. Steve knew this because he plucked it from the back of his neck and looked squarely at it before he fell unconscious. What Steve didn't know was what he hit when he fell unconscious. It turned out to be a wheelbarrow full of peat moss, which he actually upended, but he didn't find this out for some time.

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This was the last piece of fiction published in Pork Pony before it slipped into a coma. It actually made me pretty sad to look at this and realize PP ended here. It's a very, very funny and well-written slab of story. People really wanted the site to keep going, but I just couldn't do it anymore. I feel like I let a lot of people down by disappearing for a while, but now we're back and all is well. If I had to end on any story, I'm glad it was one by Craig, one of the most consistently funny, enthusiastic, and grammatically-capable writers for PP. In this story, Adrian Zmed visits a college campus and hilarity ensues. (CL)
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Craig envisions what might be causing the noises in his kitchen. This story employs no references to Spam. A kitchen story sans Spam? How can it be good? Read and find out. (CL)
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I toyed with the idea of putting this Pork Pony story in the non-fiction section because this may have been a chapter out of Craig's real life. When I met Craig in 2002, he indeed wore a ponytail, a goatee, and glasses. Does the underground society he speaks about here exist? Only Craig's dopplegangers know for sure. (CL)
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Much like the character in this story, I obsess over contact with Paul. It's like Craig read my mind... or maybe he called my answering machine. Read this and check out Craig's web comic, Dada. (CL)
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I met Craig J. Clark when the documentary I directed, I Don't Know Jack, played at the Philadelphia International Film Festival in 2002. He seemed interested in Pork Pony and began to submit stories. Craig's shared the same absurdist humor that PP was founded on, so he fit in perfectly. PP was barely a fraction of Craig's web presence; he's been creating Dada, a daily, web-based comic strip for years and it's remained consistently smart and funny. In this story, Craig mixes mushrooms, community theater, and organ-transplant humor to great effect. (CL)
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