Near 500 words: The day the wizards lost it.

Wizards were common in my younger days. Now you don’t see them much. Once a year, they showed up in the forest near the house and had a Wizarding poker game. For some reason, they seemed to love poker. Instead of chips, they used bags of Old Toby. While they played their game, a bard came and sat by the fire near them and sang songs of the olden days and the wars between the black arts and the white magicians.

The wizards were not always a gentle folk. One year one wizard, the one with the gray beret, lost every one of his bags. He was not too thrilled about that. Had a real surly attitude when he left. It was said that dragon puff spat from his ears. If you’ve never seen a wizard with dragon puff coming out of his ears, take my my word for it. It is not a pretty sight. You’d just better get out of the way.

The next year Gray Beret showed up and cleaned everybody out. The others thought he might have cheated but he proved them wrong. He showed them he had nothing up his sleeves and they believed. They believed they were not as good at poker as they had thought.

Well, those wizards didn’t take well to losing their bags of Old Toby. No, sirree. Talk about surly. They pointed their wizard wands and zapped just about everything in sight. In case, you’ve wondered about Humpty Dumpty. He was a victim of those wizards. In case, you haven’t seen the Easter Bunny or the Tooth Fairy lately. They too came down with a bad case of wizarding wand flu. Thank the gods that the Queen of the Fairies heard all the ruckus. She showed up and kicked some wizarding butt. Otherwise there wouldn’t have been any forest left.

Unfortunately, that was the last year the wizards came to the forest. Oh, sure we heard rumors. Rumors about rings and something about the One Ring. There was even stories about Hobbits. How they went adventurin’ and journeyin’ with dwarves and with rangers. There were stories about elvin folk helping those Hobbits and rangers and wizards and dwarves and men out.

Me, I’ve never been much for rings but give me a good pipe and a good bag of Old Toby and I’m in Hobbit Heaven.

The eclipse

Today there will be a solar eclipse. All the world plans to watch the moon show off her goods. Or at least in my neck of the woods. The ones that have them will put on their special glasses and go outside and watch as the sun and the moon do their little dance.

Let’s hope that people do what they’ve been told. But who knows? Some might get headaches. Others might develop a fever. Blood pressure might rise. I’m not a pessimist but it could happen. Then the show would be a real downer.

Am I scared? Not really. I’m sure it’s going to be some kind of show.

Now if this were a science fiction movie, that would be a different story. Extra-terrestrials might land and try to take over the planet. It has been known to happen. Remember the pod people in “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”. I’m just saying.

If on a summer’s day,

the windows rattle. Perhaps, which is another way of saying maybe, perhaps there might be an enormous spaceship landing in the field behind your house. There is no field behind your house, you say. Actually there is barely enough room for a tree. And the tree that is there is scraggly. So there can’t be a spaceship landing behind your house.

Well, what is causing that rattling? What about an earthquake? You live in Florida. Florida doesn’t get earthquakes. Hurricanes. Yes but you would have seen that sucker coming. Tornadoes? Yes. Sinkholes? Yes, but the house would be sliding.

You checked the Weather Channel thirty times already this morning. No tornado watch and your house is not sliding. Africa has not flung a tropical storm your way off its coast for weeks.Absolutely no earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, sinkholes..

So why are the windows rattling? You could go outside and check. Remember the last time you heard the windows singing like they are tonight? You ended up lost in time. You were gone a month of Sundays, and you kept going every whichaway. It definitely was not fun. Talk about nausea, you had nausea big time.

One moment you were in Kansas with Dorothy and Auntie Em. Toto was barking his butt off, wanting out to pee. The next thing you know you were about to be roasted by the Spanish Inquisition. You had discovered a time warp. Quite accidentally, of course. How did you know it was a time warp? You passed Spock and he gave you that live-long-and-prosper hand signal all the Trekkies know.

That time you walked out your front door, saw your neighbors doing what neighbors do on a Saturday afternoon in front of their houses, and walked right smack dab into that time warp. It was like being shanghaied and shipped off on a slow boat to China. You were flying to God-knows-where because you didn’t have a clue.

Only thing good to come out of the whole experience was that you met someone. It was not just anyone. It was The Someone. Pretty soon sparks were flying between the two of you. The fire was hotter than the one the Inquisition set you on fire with. It was like bazinga. You were smitten. Can I use that word smitten? Darn right I can. It’s my post and I’ll write it if I want to. Yep, you were smitten. It was The Someone. You were Soul Mates.

So you got married. It was a big wedding. All The Someone’s relatives showed up with gifts out the wazoo. Your partner’s Uncle Irving gave you enough cash to buy a modest three bedroom house, this house that doesn’t have much of a back yard. You didn’t do bad with your relatives either. Then you bought the house. The two of you started careers. You liked your jobs, even though you didn’t like the nine-to-fives. Before you knew it, you were raising the 2.5 children the average American family is supposed to be raising. It was a happy time. Until now.

Oh well, guess you’d better get off your duff in this comfortable chair and go see what is causing that rattling. You pull yourself up out of the chair and make the long walk to the front door. Actually it’s not long. It just seems that way. You’re really dreading opening that front door. But you do and…

Use your imagination and imagine what happened. Put it in the comments section or use it for a Prompt for a post on your Blog.

Short Story Wednesday: A Day in the Life Of Martha 270

Short Story Prompt: “Harrison Bergeron” by Kurt Vonnegut

Monday, April 7, 2025.
6:00 a.m. The alarm went off inside his head. “Mr. Patterson, it’s time to wake up,” the Voice said. He rolled over on his side and said forcefully to the chip inside his head, “Leave me alone, Martha.”

6:02 a.m. “Sir, it’s time to wake up,” the Voice went off again like an alarm clock with a sharp beep that he could not put on snooze. “Okay, okay,” he climbed out of bed. He went into the bathroom and quickly relieved himself.

6:05 a.m. Patterson stumbled down to the kitchen. He poured water from the tap into the coffeemaker. “Sir, you have to use distilled water. You never know what poisons they put in the water these days.” “Yes, ma’am,” he responded. He went to the pantry and pulled out a gallon bottle of water, then poured the water into the coffeemaker. “Happy now?” he said to the Voice. The Voice came back, “Sir, please do not be smart with me. I am only doing my job.”

6:30 a.m. The Voice reminded Patterson that it was time to shower. He showered and dressed.

7:00 a.m. Patterson headed for the front door. “Sir, are we not eating breakfast this morning?” He answered, “I’m just going to stop at Krispy Kreme for a couple of donuts.” “Sir,” Voice said firmly, “donuts are bad for you. Loaded with sugar. How many times am I going to have to remind you. Now fix yourself a healthy breakfast.” He said begrudginly, “Okay, okay.” While Martha played some morning motivational music, he prepared an omelet. Once his breakfast was on the table, he opened his tablet and read the Wall Street Journal.

7:30 a.m. Bing! a soft reminder went off in his head, letting him know it was time to leave for work. He placed his dishes in the sink, did a quick brushing of his teeth, straightened his tie and went out to his BMW. He said to Voice, “Lock the house please, Martha.” The Voice obeyed.

7:35 a.m. Patterson’s BMW headed up the interstate on-ramp and followed the flow of the traffic. The robotic driver corrected the car’s speed to the flow of the other cars. The traffic eased along at a steady pace, each car driven by its own robotic driver. Thanks to technology, there were no more traffic jams or pile-ups. “Martha, could I have the market report?” he requested. The radio came on with an update of the financial news.

8:30 a.m. The BMW pulled into his parking spot at The Company. He checked his digital for the time. It was good to be early this Monday morning. He had a meet-and-greet with a major investor that afternoon. The extra time would give him a head start on his preparation.

8:35 a.m. Patterson entered the door of the office of the Vice President for Financial Affairs, his office. He said hello to his administrative assistant. “Helen, can you cancel any appointments I might have today.” It was not a question; it was a request. “I have a big meet at 3:00, and I need the time to prepare.”

Helen looked up from her work. “Yes, sir. All but one. You are to report to HR102 at 9:00.”

He said, “Cancel it.”

“No, sir. It’s an order from upstairs.”

He argued, “I’ve got to prepare for this meeting.”

Martha interjected, “Sir, you are to report.”

Shaking his head, he said, “Since it seems I have no choice, I’ll go. But there will be hell to pay if this meet-and-greet don’t go well this afternoon.”

“Sir,” the inside of the head said, “you will still have plenty of time. I can help as well.”

“Okay, I’m going.”

8:50 a.m. Patterson got on the elevator and pushed the button for the 13th floor, the Human Resources Floor.

8:52 a.m. Patterson stepped out of the elevator on the 13th floor. The receptionist showed him Room 102, better known throughout The Company as the Interrogation Room.

8:53 a.m. Patterson entered Room 102. A man and a woman, both wearing dark glasses, sat behind a table, facing the door. “Have a seat, Gregor,” the woman said. “We can call you Gregor, can we not?”

“Yes.” Patterson took his seat. “I have an important meet with a client today. Can’t this wait?”

“Not really,” the woman said, “but this won’t take long. Less than thirty minutes.” Then the man, his hands folded on the table, asked,” Are you happy with your work here at The Company?”

“I am,” Patterson said. “Quite happy.” His palms sweated.

8:55 a.m. The woman asked, “Gregor, you are happy with your office? With Helen, your administrative assistant? With the perks of your title, such as the BMW? With the support you are getting from The Company? You do like it here, don’t you?”

“Yes,” Patterson said, wondering why the third degree.

“Then what seems to be the problem, Gregor?” the man asked. There was a smirk in his voice.

8:56 a.m. Patterson looked confused. “There’s no problem.”

“Gregor, we have been receiving reports from the Martha 760 that you are not happy. She says you have been not giving her your full cooperation. You’ve been arguing with her. Is this true?”

8:57 a.m. Patterson answered, “Ah, c’mon guys. I have been following Martha’s instructions to the letter.”

“Yes, but you are not getting into the spirit of the program,” the man said.

“I am. I can assure you absolutely that I am,” Patterson said.

“We hired you,” the woman said, “right out of college to be our youngest vice president ever. We are paying you a very lucrative salary with very good benefits. I hope you appreciate that.”

8:58 a.m. “I do,” Patterson responded, “I do.”

The woman continued, “There was only one condition on which you were hired. That we implant the Martha 270 chip in your head. And that you follow her instructions to the letter and in the spirit of the program. You did agree to this, did you not?”

8:59 a.m. Patterson was starting to get scared.

“Would you like a glass of water, Gregor?” the man asked.

“No, no, no,” Gregor answered. “Yes, I agreed to that.”

“Then why are you resisting?” the woman asked.

“I didn’t think it would be so hard,” Patterson said.

“But it isn’t,” the man said. “It’s very easy. All you have to do is listen to the Martha 270 and respond positively.”

“You know,” the woman said. “You have been upsetting Martha 270. You don’t want to do that, do you?”

9:00 a.m. “I didn’t know,” Patterson said.

“She doesn’t deal well with conflict, Gregor.” The woman smiled

“You don’t mind apologizing, do you?” The man was not asking a question. He was making a demand.

“Of course not, and I promise I will do better,” Patterson said.

“Then all will be well,” the man said.

“You play your cards right,” the woman added, “you could very well be the youngest CEO of The Company. You would like that, wouldn’t you? You haven’t changed your mind?”

9:01 a.m. “No,” Patterson said, “I haven’t changed my mind.”

“Then it is settled,” the man emphasized. “You will comply with the Martha 270’s instructions. After all, Martha is looking out for your best interest. You think you can do that? Of course you can?”

The man and woman stood up. Both walked around the table. Patterson stood up. They offered him their hands and he shook hands with both. As the man was leading Patterson out to the door, he said, “Or else.”

9:02 a.m. The woman turned Patterson toward her and straightened his tie. “One last thing,” she said. “Don’t forget the party tonight. We’ve got a woman for you to meet. She’s going to make a perfect wife for a future CEO.”

The man added, “And don’t forget to apologize to Martha.”

Cookie Jarré Saves Us All

It began with the lettuce. Then it was the beets. Then the peanut butter. Batch after batch of the stuff turned up bad. In early January, lines of people from around the country started showing up at emergency rooms with new cases of what the doctors termed “foodease”.

“It’s the oil of the peanut that’s causing these allergic reactions,” the CDC announced, trying not to frighten the American people. After all, it was an election year, and the Administration cautioned its officials not to set off alarms. But everybody knew it was bad when Popeye showed up at one hospital with a rash of very proper English he’d gotten from a can of bad spinach. “I say, Bluto,” he said to the big, hairy guy standing next to him, “don’t be such a stick in the bonnet, old chap.”

By spring, every food group known to the human digestive system had made an attack on man. Needless to say, there was a run on the toilet paper. Since they couldn’t eat the corn, people had found a new use for the corn cob.

As B. P. said about its oil spill, desperate times call for desperate measures. But the President knew there was no way to plug this one up. The back-up of just the American people would result in one hell of a series of explosions. So much so, it would take years and every resource of his government and governments-to-come to clean up the mess.

He knew something must be done. Especially after his four-year-old daughter came into the Oval Office, crying, “Daddy, when are they going to fix the the spare-me-gus?” Asparagus was her favorite thing to eat.

The White House had tried everything it could think of and the President finally did the only thing possible. He made a phone call.

“Miss Jarréé,” the President said in a deep Southern drawl. He was speaking to the queen of homemakers everywhere. “Y’all should know my Administration is getting calls from every-which-a-where. The left and the right. And the center too. Damn those moderates. “

“What do you expect from an ex-con like me?” Miss Jarré asked, obviously not too concerned. And she had good cause. She had enough food in her freezers from the way-back-yonder before the foodease to last her a millennium or two. Like a good boy scout, she was prepared, and everybody else should be too.

“Folks from Congress to my Generals to the Agricultural lobby to the I-rak-ease keepa calling. Even them Ahranians are saying they’ll gladly give up their nukes if somebody from somewhere can just cure their tummy aches. We got the porta-potty people on a wartime schedule of twenty-four-hour-a-day shifts. And it still is not enough. The smell is getting to everybody. It’s a national emergency, ma’am. We need your help.”

“Mr. President, I’m just a humble housewife from California. What in the world do you think I could do?”

“Ma’am, you’re the food maven of the world,” the President said, the plea in his voice such a plea that it became known as the Plea Heard Round the World. “Oprah says it and, if Oprah says it, it must be true. If you love your country, be the Great American I know you are. Please help your people. Pretty please with sugar on it.”

“Well,” Cookie responded reluctantly, “if it’s for my country.” Then she hung up on the President. She’d always wanted to do that. A broad grin filled her face. She felt good. She was needed again.

When she’d saved everybody’s tuckus, and she knew she would, she’d be bigger than ever. Perhaps they’d tear down the Lincoln Memorial and put a statue of her up in its place. She’d never liked that thing anyway. It just didn’t fit the décor. Of course, hers would be in very good taste because she’d design it herself. She might even be the first woman on Mount Rushmore. Now that would be something absolutely perfect. She looked into her full-bodied mirror and said back at her unbelievably lovely face, “Take that Snow White. I. Am. Somebody.”

Over the days and the weeks and the months that followed, Cookie gave the task her all. She would not rest until she could solve the Great Food Problem of the Twenty-first Century.

In the meantime, things got worse. The foodease continued its decimation of the food supply. Tomatoes were making people sick. Then it was the chicken. Then the onions. Then the beef (but it wasn’t the mad cow that William Shattner kept worrying about on “Boston Legal”). It was so bad that the American people found themselves on a long overdue diet. Some were even taking the desperate measure of going on a hunger strike. Needless to say people were dropping like flies. “Dropping like flies” may be a well-worn turn of a phrase but, in this case, it was entirely appropriate. Because the flies were dropping too.

Late one night, after a long and grueling session in the kitchen—it had been six months since the President had called—Cookie had tucked herself away in her jammies in her luxurious second floor bedroom. She was just nodding off into slumberland.

Suddenly her lawn was flooded in light. Out on the lawn came the sound of a whoosh and a thump. Cookie did not need to look out through her window to see what the noise was. She knew.

Since it was Christmas Eve and she was Cookie Jarré and she was always good, and especially good this particular year, it must be Santa. She jumped out of her bed and dashed downstairs to check on her perfect, freshly baked cookies. Yes, they were there under her well-groomed Christmas tree, color coordinated with the plate to emphasize the color of the cookies. She knew that Santa would be pleased for the sight brought tears to her eyes.

Then she realized that there was one thing missing. She rushed to the kitchen as fast as Cookie’s little feet in her comfy white slippers could take her. She went to the refrigerator and took out a bottle of moo-juice and poured it into a Christmas glass she had designed herself. It was some of her best work, she thought. The green mistletoe and the blue light bulbs against the white milk in the glass would set the right mood beside those chocolate chippers.

She hurried back to the evergreen and set the milk down oh-so gently. She did not want to disturb little Baby Jesus and his Mother and his father in the crèche next to the tree. They seemed to be sleeping soundly. Let them get a good night’s rest. They’d need it for later when they had to get away from the bad guys King Herod would send.

She stepped back and admired her work, knowing that Santa would be so very pleased that he would have just the right gift for her. A complete pardon and an apology from Uncle Sam for all the pain and suffering he had caused her. Just like a man. Then she could go back and play with the Big Girls on Wall Street.

So imagine her surprise when her delightfully, designed French doors blew open and in stepped two little green men. The lights from a metallic flying saucer flashed behind them. One turned and pulled the doors closed while the other put forward his little green hand with ten thumbs. “We come in peace,” he said, sounding like Alvin of the Alvin and the Chipmunks.

“Where’s the little green gun?” Cookie asked, fearing that this was another “Mars Attacks”.

“Oh, we saw that movie,” the other said, his big red teeth showing the most marvelous smile you’ll find anywhere in the universe. “We’re not like those guys. We just want to get along.”

Cookie being Cookie now recognized opportunity. Especially when she saw a recipé book in one of the greenie’s three hands. Before either alien could say, “E.T. phone home,” Cookie was perusing their edition of “Recipés from the Restaurant at the End of the Universe” and she perused it with a hmmmm every so often. The alien guys ignored her hmmmm and opened the book to page one hundred seventy-one.

“Have you tried this combination?” they asked in concert sounding much like the Vienna Boys Choir, their voices filling the room with awesomeness.

“Whoa.” Cookie jumped back.

“Sorry,” Alien One said. “We didn’t mean to show off.”

“S’all right,” she answered, still a bit shaken but getting the hang of this First Encounter Kind of a Thing. “I’ve tried everything.”

“Kitchen?” Alien Two asked.

“Follow me,” she said and so they did. We could say that it was down a long and winding road to get to that kitchen. But that wouldn’t be right. After all, the kitchen was right past the dining room. But it sure felt that way to Cookie.

In the kitchen, Alien Two crawled up on the counter.

“Please don’t leave tracks,” she said to him. It was not a request.

“You’re not my mother,” he said. “Besides we don’t leave tracks. We’re not that kind of extraterrestrials.”

He then reached into the cabinets and pulled out a bit of this and some of that and a smidgen of something else. Then he jumped down to the floor and bounced over to the fridge and opened the door. Staring inward, he made several ooohs and a couple of ahs and then found what he was looking for. He pulled out several tomatoes, a bowl of left-overs, a large head of lettuce and some cheese.

“But you can’t use those. They won’t work. I know. I have tried. And when Cookie Jarré tries a thing, believe me. It’s tried.”

“We believe,” Alien One said. “But do you believe?”

“I have my doubts,” she said.

“And we have ours,” Alien Two said, his small pink eyes starting to glaze over with a summer sunset yellow. He was not a happy alien to say the least.

“Look, we’re here to help,” One said. “Mixed with the right proportions for the right recipé we’ll have something safe for human consumption.” Then to his buddy, “Alright. Let’s make some pie-in-the-sky.” And they began to dance.

Needless to say it was a very good Christmas Eve for Cookie, and all humankind. As the e.t.s took off in their tiny spacecraft, she could hear the Vienna Boys’ Choir singing, “Merry Christmas. And to all a Good Night.”

And all was right with Cookie’s world, for quiche à la burrito, her invention she claimed, would soon conquer the seven continents and all the seas in between. For Cookie was not about to give credit to any extraterrestrials. Besides who would believe that she had acquired a recipé from anything that looked like little green men. Certainly not Cookie.