Beatdown in Bangkok: A Stetson Jeff Adventure

By Justin Fike and Adam Fleming

Chapter One

I woke up and looked in the mirror. Lines on my face from my new corduroy Arkansas Razorbacks pillow. Spiked the hair on the top of my head with gel and let it dry while I combed out the tangles hanging to my shoulders with my brand new Arkansas Razorbacks comb. “Barbed wire in front, horse’s ass in the back” my Daddy calls it. He tried to make me cut it once, but I reminded him that great-grandpappy had long hair, and he rode with Wyatt Earp. Then I grabbed my Stetson, a regular Stetson. Oh, I got a few that are bright red, with a big Razorbacks logo in the center, but I’d rather shake hands with a rattlesnake than wear one of those in public.

Look, can I just say right up front that I hate the Arkansas Razorbacks? I did not choose to be born in Texarkana. I would throw out all the Arkansas Razorbacks stuff cluttering up my trailer if it wasn’t all given to me on my birthday and holidays by members of the family. But it was, so I have to keep it. I tell my family members “Ef the Razorbacks” and they all laugh and say, “Spoken like a true Arkansian, or is it Arkansite? Arkanser?” Then they all fall to arguing about what they should call me. Oh, it’s a big joke here that I was born in Arkansas. It’s become a family tradition every Christmas to see who can give me the weirdest Razorbacks memorabilia, and yesterday was no different. Everyone else got something they wanted. I got ten Razorbacks place mats to go with my Razorbacks card table, and a shiny new Razorbacks razor, which Daddy was especially proud of finding. And remember this was 1988, long before there was Ebay or Amazon, but still they managed to find stuff like a metal sign that says “Reserved Parking, Razorbacks fans only” or a desk statue of a pig made from resin that’s supposed to look like bronze. I don’t even have a desk, and I don’t need a parking spot. I swear they spent all summer lookin’ at yard sales and auctions for stuff to get me, and they laughed when I told them I don’t need more Razorback stuff, and then they just kept on debating what you call someone from Arkansas. Arkansonian? No, that’s not what you call me.

My name is Stetson Jeff Stetson.

You know, just like Bond James Bond, Double Oh Seven. Except with a bigger hat and a bigger … heh, heh. You know. Everything’s bigger in Texas. Heck, even in Arkansas things are bigger than little old Great Britain. But let’s not go there.

I threw open the door to my trailer and admired the view. East Texas spread out from my front step; the big house, the ranch, the warehouse with trucks pulled up. Somebody loading hats for delivery to San Antonio, maybe. Went over to the big house to see what kind of leftovers were in the kitchen for breakfast, probably refried steak and eggs. I was all set and ready to have a pretty great day. Maybe watch some old boxing tapes on my Razorbacks-brand VCR because it’s Boxing Day and I got nothin’ to do, but I checked the TV Guide and there’s no boxing on TV. How can that be, y’all? It ain’t right, it’s Boxing Day. All we got is MacGyver reruns, which is sort of like boxing I guess, but with extra duck tape.

Daddy met me at the door; he was coming out to limber up. He won’t admit it, but he was doing yoga. He was getting older even back then, a little thicker around the waist, but he always wanted to stay fit in case the Sheriff called and organized a posse or some such nonsense. Daddy used to be a fighter like me. He always said he never lost a fair fight, but the truth is he got his butt whupped probably the last six or seven times he got in a jam. Now he’s more of a talker.

“Mornin’, son,” he says to me, and now I know it’s on. Once he starts in like that, he’ll be talkin’ all day. “We got a pretty big shipment of hats goin’ out, considerin’ the retail season just ended. Thing is, winter can pretty well ruin hats.” As if I didn’t know all this. He went on about the business for a while, doin’ his Downward Dog and other poses. If the poses had namby-pamby names, he gave ‘em better, Texas names. Rodeo Jack, Rattler on the Rocks, Defending the Alamo, and Wide Open Spaces just to name a few.

He talked right through it all until he got to Birthing Calf and I got embarrassed for him so I went inside to find some steak and eggs. He kept right on talkin’ at me with his head down between his knees about how well the business is doin’ and how we’re gonna start making jeans now, too.
I came back out after breakfast and he was smoking a cigar, looking much better. I guess the stretches do help, or at least the cigars do.

“So, what do you say?” he asked.

“I dunno. What do I say about what?”

“Goin’ into town to meet these guys?”

I missed something in between the yoga and the cigar, but Daddy doesn’t like it when I’m not listening, so I said, “Sure, why not?”

So much for watching the Rumble in the Jungle again. Daddy walked on over to the pickup truck and I had to toss down the last of my coffee and chase after him.

“So these guys,” I asked all casual-like as I climbed into the passenger seat, “you said they were from …”

“Bangkok,” Daddy says. “Funny name, isn’t it? That’s in Thailand.”

“And you said that they came from Bangkok because …”

“Because they want to make our jeans for us over there. Seems they’ve set up a new factory, and they want our brand to be their first big contract. I can tell they’re hungry for it, too, so I told them if they can beat a certain price to fly over here and we’ll shake on it.”

“What price?”

“We were gonna have them factory-made in the USA for one-twenty-two a pair, but we can order from Thailand for half that.” I whistled low. He kept talking. “I’m all for ‘made in the USA’ but that’s the name of the model we’re going to have these fellers make, so it should be just fine.”

“You mean like ‘Levi’s, 501’s’. Ours would be ‘Stetson’s, Made in the USA’s’.”

“Right. Then we put an itty-bitty tag on the inside, you know, like on the backside of ‘Machine Warsh Warm’ that says ‘Thailand’ and nobody’s the wiser.”

“Makes sense. But what if you get caught? Is it worth it, for half of one-twenty-two?”

“Half of one-twenty-two is sixty-one cents, Jeff,” he said.

“I was coming around to that,” I said. “Sixty-one cents, you can buy three generic cokes at Wal-mart for that. I got that much between my couch cushions, I reckon. I mean, Daddy, you’re the boss, but we got a brand-name to worry about. I don’t know if you should mess with that whole Made in the USA thing.”

“Jeff,” he said, “It’s not sixty-one cents, it’s sixty-one cents times 300,000 pairs, every year.”

“Wow, over a million bucks.”

“Yes, it would be, in time,” he said, real pensive-like. The look he gets whenever he’s about to make a pile of dough. “Look, just be nice to these guys. They bow instead of shakin’ hands. Let me worry about the math, you just use your street smarts. Make sure these guys are on the level. You can always figure out people from outside of Texas. It’s your Texarkana gift, dealin’ with foreigners.”

That made me think of a line from Ranger Discoveries, the second greatest book ever written, although if I’m being real honest I’ve read it way more often than the Good Book itself.

If you’ve got a gift, you’ve got to humbly accept it. The world needs what you’ve got to give.
Jeremiah P. Johnstone, Ranger Discoveries, page 271.

I thought about that in silence while we drove through town, and Daddy was quiet cause he was doing the math. Soon enough we got to the bar, parked in back, and went inside. The Tipsy Cow wasn’t the best bar in town, but it’s the spot where Daddy learned drinkin’ so he stayed loyal to it even after the time he found a fingernail in his chili. The place was always noisy, and if you stood in one place too long you had to work hard to pick up your feet to get them unstuck from the floor, but to this day the smell of old beer and boot leather makes me feel right at home.

I looked around, I didn’t see anybody from Bangkok but I saw two foreigners, maybe Chinese guys in the back pouring their own shots from a big bottle of Jack’s.

“Must be them,” Daddy said, and walked over to say hello.

I watched how they bowed, and I bowed back the same way. Daddy stuck out his hand, and they shook it.

“Welcome to Texas,” Daddy said, “You fellers been here long?”

One guy was the interpreter. His English was pretty good. He said they came early to get a head start, and Daddy said he respected that. They started talkin’ business. I tuned out of the conversation, but kept my feelers on for vibes. (You can see that I humbly accept my gift, Ranger Johnstone.)

We drank all day. The interpreter’s English got worse, then went from worse, to bad, to downright mediocre, with words from Bangkok startin’ to get mixed in.

Finally, Daddy said “I gotta take a piss,” and I said “me, too,” because that’s the signal.

“It’s a great deal,” he mumbled into the urinal.

“I smell a rat,” I said.

“It’s the goddam bathroom in a bar, son, of course you smell somethin’ unpleasant,” he said.

“No, Daddy, it’s these guys. Something’s wrong. I can’t put my finger on it.”

“Are you sayin’ I shouldn’t shake on it today?”

“No, that might piss ’em off. Shake on it, do a short-term temporary deal, tell ’em we’ll give them a try for a while. Six months. How many jeans is that?”

“150,000 pairs. It’s not a bad start, and I think they’ll agree. They might charge me a bit more per unit, but still better than a buck. But how are we gonna figure out if we want to keep workin’ with these guys, though?”

“I dunno.” I felt the feeling of being at a loss.

As we went back out I saw that our friends had meandered over to talk to some girls at the bar, and the older Bangkokian was actually making a move on this pretty blonde. She was beautiful, I mean, cheerleader foxy. Her name is May Daisy Cook. I didn’t take much notice of her growing up, cause she used to just be a little girl. She was maybe two–three years younger than me and she surely was no little girl now, in fact all my friends who didn’t have girls of their own to stick up for agreed she was the most beautiful woman in the county.

As he moved in beside her at the bar, his hand brushed her rear end. Looked intentional, I mean, he did it in the way drunks who think they are being subtle do, but what they’re doin’ is obvious to everyone else.

“Crazy idjit,” I said.

“Yup. Looks like they may be in a jam. Good thing I limbered up,” said Daddy, as we broke into a trot. Sure enough, Big Mac Wallace, who was seeing May Daisy Cook at the time, was getting red in the face and didn’t like that feller talkin’ to his girl let alone touchin’ her bottom that way. He’s dumb but he don’t miss subtle.

I went to school with Big Mac, he was in my class, and let me tell you if you want someone to write you a killer essay so that you can get into the Texas Rangers, which is my dream and that is even why I am writing essays like this right now, well, Big Mac is not much of an essayist but he’s sure as shootin’ a killer. I come up to his solar plexus, which is this little knob below the sternum, so the one time I did fight him I nearly killed him with a head-butt to the chest, cause I almost broke off his solar plexus and drove it right into his heart. As it was his heart just turned out to be bruised and it laid him up for a good while, but I wouldn’t want to fight him again because as he told me himself, next time I will not be so lucky because it will not be a fair fight. I am not afraid of him at all unless it is not a fair fight.

Big Mac took a longneck and busted it on the counter and everybody cleared away except for the Bangkokian, who didn’t seem to know better. Big Mac came a-swingin’ for him, glass shards flashing in an arc through the air. But that is when I saw something that if I didn’t see it myself I wouldn’t have believed my eyes.

The younger Thailander guy, the interpreter, came up alongside Big Mac and punched him in the ear, with only two fingers. Wow! It was such a hard punch, and it stopped Big Mac in his tracks.

Well it was a brawl now, and you may think it was racism but I tell you what, if you are a Chinaman or a Mexican or an Indian or a British Gentleman or a Fighting Irish from Notre Dame or just from Texarkana it does not matter to Big Mac, you are a foreigner and besides you are touching his girl which is the main point, and so he didn’t stay down. He got up swinging, and his brother and two cousins were off their stools faster than heat lightning in July. They got all bunched up trying to get to the Bangkokers and they clipped a few of the fellers standing nearby who started swinging back, and you can imagine how things went from there.

Now I got to say the rest of the day was a kind of a blur, because we got those boys out of the bar while everyone else was fighting so I did not get a chance to speak politely to May Daisy Cook and besides it was not a good time to talk. I wanted to talk to her again some day if she would just stop hanging around with Big Mac, not that I had anything against him personally. We always got along okay, and even helped each other out of a few scrapes down the road, but before she started seeing Big Mac semi-regular, May Daisy had danced with me one night when they had a boot-scootin’ at the county fair. I said something that made her laugh, and she kissed my cheek when the dance was over, and she said “You’re cute, Shorty,” and that was the sorta thing that was hard to forget. But she was still in her Senior Year at Texas A&M and I knew I would see her on the sidelines during the Cotton Bowl on TV in a few days, bouncing up and down with her pompoms and whatnot lifted skyward and that was a comfortin’ thought I must say. I like Texas A&M a lot more than the Razorbacks, I tell you what.

“You fellows really know how to box, over there in Bangkok,” I said, once we’d got some ice packs on our faces and things were mellowing out, as the hippies say. We were sitting on the veranda back at the ranch.

“Yes,” said the interpreter. “We practice Muay Thai.”

“Mooey what?”

“Muay Thai. Thai-style boxing. My master taught me. I am not only interpreter, I am his bodyguard. He was great fighter but now he need me. He has become thick in the middle. Fat-fatty.”
His English was getting better again.

“You dudes have your own brand of boxing?” I said. I was feeling a feeling of incredulity.

“Yes, it is our national sport. We have a big tournament in Bangkok every year. Like your Series of World Super Cups, but with kicking. In summer time, I think you would call it. You should come and see sometime, Stetson Jeff Stetson.”

“I gotta take a piss,” I said.

Daddy followed me into the bathroom.

“I know what I gotta do,” I said, “I’m going to Bangkok. I’m going to tell them I want to watch their Mooey Thailand Tournament, but I’ll check out their operations while I’m over there.”

“Sounds good, son, let’s shake on it.”

“Wait until I’m done pissin’,” I said.

“No, I mean we’ll shake on it with the Big Shot out there. Whatshisname. Fat-fatty.”

“Sounds good. I’ll call Betsy P. at Texas Travels tomorrow morning and get a one-way ticket to Bangkok.”

And you know what, I did it. And that is how the story began to unfold as you will see.

Editors’ note:

“Beatdown in Bangkok: A Stetson Jeff Adventure,” is a new book from Justin Fike and Adam G. Fleming, available on Amazon. It’s the first of a planned series.

Their lighthearted story follows Stetson Jeff Stetson, a Texan from Arkansas who travels to Bangkok on a mission for his father’s company, which makes Stetsons and is looking to get in on the cheap Asian jeans market. The book doesn’t get any less absurd from there.

The book masquerades as light fluff, but lands some sneaky punches on unfair labor and trade practices. It also manages to poke fun at two serious cultures and the clash between the two while showing an underlying respect for both.

Justin Fike grew up in the Blue Ridge mountains of Virginia. He has a master’s in Creative Writing from Oxford University. He is a martial arts aficionado, a gaming nerd and a classics geek. He lives, travels, and works with his wife Mindy and dog Chino.

Adam Fleming is a novelist and life coach hailing from Goshen, Indiana. Married with four kids, he is a writer, speaker and professional executive coach. Adam is a world traveler and has spent significant amounts of time in Zaire/ DRC, France, Ivory Coast, and a dozen or more other countries.

The Resurrectionist

By Tom Miller

Franklin Montane waited while Gabriela Martinez, executive vice president and head of programming for the network, drummed her glossy red fingernails on her desk and stared past the brothers into an Art Deco mirror on the opposite wall. Franklin and his younger brother, Richard, looked over their boss’s perfectly sculpted hair, through a floor-to-ceiling window, and into a cloudless blue southern California sky. They had just pitched the return of “Visigoth,” the hit series they had created and produced until its seventh and final season finished just over a year ago.

“So Lucas’ movie career didn’t take off as he’d planned,” said Gabriela, referring to Lucas Harte, the muscular actor who played Theoderic on the former show.

“He only landed one role,” said Franklin, who did most of the talking for the duo. “He was the beefy fiance who was hindering the course of true love between the two main characters. His performance was described as ‘wooden’ and the film tanked at the box office.”

“I remember that,” said Gabriela, who now leaned back in her plush, leather office chair. “I can’t say I was entirely displeased. I was miffed he didn’t come back for an eighth season when the show was still at the top of the ratings.”

Franklin nodded without saying anything. When the boss relaxed, it meant that she had made her decision. Any further attempts at persuasion would only bias her against the proposal in front of her. As he waited, Franklin detected the subtle note of Gabriela’s perfume. He was not sure how to describe it, but it made him think of an older Sophia Loren, whom Gabriela resembled.

“OK,” continued Gabriela, “let’s say hypothetically that I did want to bring Lucas back. There’s still a huge problem. Theoderic died on the finale. And he didn’t just die, but he was beheaded, roasted on a spit, his body eaten and his bones burned. I remember thinking at the time that it did not seem like an ideal way to end a television show.”

“Lucas wanted us to kill him in a way that would scotch rumors of a possible return,” said Franklin. “We tried to make his death as noble and heroic as possible. He held off five hundred Roman soldiers by himself and enabled Fritigern to escape and win at Adrianople. Rome was never the same after that. In doing so, Theoderic also saved the life of Hilda, his love interest, and their unborn child.”
“Still, I remember how many angry emails the network got because of that,” said Gabriela. “You’d think we’d murdered somebody’s brother.”

“Rich and I got a couple death threats,” said Franklin, “but in the end, it accomplished its goal. Nobody ever asked us or Lucas about the possibility of Theoderic returning.”

Gabriela, ready to think again, scooted forward in her seat, set her elbows on the desk and rested her chin on folded hands. “So how do you propose to bring him back?”

Richard, who was spare with words but always quick with ideas, finally spoke. “We reanimate him in a druidical ceremony.”

“Reanimate him from what? There isn’t any of him left.”

Franklin provided a more detailed explanation. “About twenty-five years have passed since Theoderic died. Tensions with Rome remain. After Rome sacks a Visigoth border village and kills all the inhabitants, people begin to long for their hero of old. A local woodworker carves a perfect replica of Theoderic out of an ancient, mammoth tree, and the priests bring it to life.”

The brothers hoped to see Gabriela’s thin lips curve upward in a toothless smile, but as she leaned back in her chair again, her expression remained neutral. “So it’s a fifth-century version of Pinocchio.”

The Montanes looked at each other and each exhaled a long, slow breath. They had feared a Pinocchio parallel, and their boss’s facile, devil’s advocate mind had immediately seized on it. Franklin tried to salvage the idea. “We could have a master stone mason sculpt him from granite.”

Gabriela briefly considered the change but soon shook her head. “It’s not just the Pinocchio thing. It’s the whole idea of magic. We never had any magic on ‘Visigoth,’ which was one of the things I really liked. Theoderic rose from his position as a humble farmer not because of some cheap spell or charm, but because of his hard work, courage and intelligence. Magic just seems like lazy writing.”
Franklin saw his brother’s eyes begin to blaze at this suggestion. For the last two weeks, Richard had brainstormed ideas for the show’s return, and both brothers had stayed up very late during the last couple nights honing the best idea into a detailed proposal. Richard had a high tolerance for criticism except when the word “lazy” was involved.

Franklin moved to stave off his brother’s impending eruption. “With all due respect, Gabriela, I think our scenario is a lot more plausible than a quick incantation or a prayer to the gods. I mean, unless we want to make Theoderic’s death a case of mistaken identity — which would be lazy writing and also extremely lame — there has to be some element of the supernatural here.”

Gabriela looked over the Montanes’ shoulders again into her artsy mirror. With the second finger of her right hand, she smoothed one of her perfectly shaped eyebrows. “I get what you’re saying,” she said, “but the whole reanimated statue thing just doesn’t feel right. It’s not unique. It’s not authentic.”
Franklin looked at his brother and had no trouble reading the thoughts behind his thinly masked expression of exasperation. There was no such thing as an authentic return when the person in question has been cooked, eaten and digested. He decided to try another direction. “Authentic is going to be tough on this one, Gabriela. We do have another idea, though. It’s an entirely new show, called ‘The Hun,’ where the action focuses on Attila’s campaigns into Europe. We could bring Lucas back as the grandson of Theoderic and Hilda who fights to protect his homeland from the new horde.”

The savvy executive whose programs had put the network on top of the ratings quickly nixed the idea.

“Too derivative,” she said. “I’m predicting some major backlash on that one. No, if we’re going to bring Lucas back, it needs to be in the same role. I suppose you’ve got a point about the authentic part. Let’s stress unique over authentic.”

Franklin glanced again at Richard, who was looking down into his lap so that his laser glare would not burn a hole in their boss’s body. Franklin knew what his sibling was thinking — let’s see you come up with something better, Ms. All-Knowing V.P.

Franklin sought to convey this thought in a more respectful manner. “Got any ideas?”

Instead of sliding forward in her chair and searching for an idea that would never come, Gabriela responded at once. “Remember that show ‘Knight-Errant’? This was probably about seven or eight years ago.”

“I remember the show,” said Franklin, “but Rich and I were trying to get ‘Visigoth’ off the ground and we didn’t watch a lot of TV.”

“The main character was a guy named Sir Geoffery. Like Lucas, the actor was ready to wind down the show, so he fell off a cliff into a two hundred-foot gorge after saving the king in what was to be the final episode. That was the final scene — Geoffery was falling through the air to his imminent death.”
“That’s easy,” said Richard. “Create a prehistoric bird to save him.”

Gabriela pointed at Richard. “I know — obvious answer, right? Except, that wasn’t what they did. The whole next season had Geoffery falling through the air in real time, while parts of his life flashed in front of him. It was a series of flashbacks. In the finale, Geoffery realized something that he had buried deep within his subconscious — that he was a descendant in the line of Pegasus, the winged horse. As soon as he figured this out, Geoffery activated wings he never knew he had and flew himself to safety.”

“Ridiculous,” said Richard.

“True, maybe a little,” said Gabriela, “but it had flair. Sir Geoffery and his new wings were back on top of the ratings. I remember the guy who conceived the idea did the same thing for a couple of other shows.” She moved forward in her chair and snapped her fingers as she searched her memory. “He had an unusual name.” She tapped her forehead. “Cambridge … no, Cobalt … no — Cerulean. Cerulean Meeks — that’s it. People in the biz started calling him The Resurrectionist. Find him.”

With all but his narrow face covered by his hot dog costume, Cerulean Meeks waited for traffic to approach as he stood outside of Fran’s Hot Dogs. The fabricators of the hot dog suit had discovered a material so heat retentive that NASA should be using it to insulate astronauts during their space walks. While his cheeks only glistened in the summer Tennessee sun, the rest of his body dripped with sweat inside the suit. Yet, as potential customers approached, Rue embarked on a vigorous impersonation of John Travolta in “Saturday Night Fever.” One car actually slowed, turned into the gravel drive and stopped at the window of Fran’s tiny hot dog stand.

After successfully luring a patron, Rue decided that it was time for a reward. He lifted a thirty-two ounce Styrofoam cup from a spot on the ground where the gravel had eroded and was now just a small square of hard packed dirt. He closed his lips around the straw and let the ice water revive his dehydrated flesh.

With his free hand, Rue waved at cars as they passed, but this was not enough for Fran, who had finished with her recent customer. “I don’t pay you to wave,” she called out the drive-through window. “You get paid to dance. You couldn’t attract a hungry bear in here with just a wave.”

Rue held up his cup as if to show that he was not loafing but refueling for the next round. Fran looked as if she was about to ask him to reimburse her for the cup when Rue turned toward oncoming traffic. He set his cup back down on the dirt and commenced his Gangnam Style routine that rarely failed to draw at least a horn honk.

The results exceeded his expectations. A shiny, silver Lexus pulled into the drive. Rue saw two men in their late forties or early fifties in the front seats. He figured they were good for a four dog order, maybe even six.

Instead of pulling up to the ordering window, however, the Lexus parked in front of a pair of wooden picnic tables that Fran had set up for eat-in customers. The two men emerged from the car and walked not toward a waiting Fran, but to him.

The visitors had enough similarity of feature — the same long, straight nose, the same pointy chin, the same mop of thick, unruly hair — for Rue to conclude that they were related. One of the men — the older one, if Rue’s perception was correct — was a couple inches taller than the other one. He took the lead and looked straight at Rue, while the other man lagged behind and took in everything about the scene except Rue.

“Are you Cerulean Meeks?” the taller one asked Rue.

“Yes I am,” Rue replied. He could feel Fran’s impatient eyes boring through him from her position inside the stand. “Are you hungry for some lunch today?”

“Maybe,” said the man. “My name is Franklin Montane, and this is my brother Richard. We were wondering if we could talk to you for a few minutes.”

Franklin held out his hand, and Rue shook it through one of his mustard-colored gloves. Over the brother’s shoulders, he saw Fran pointing at him with a pair of tongs.

“I’m working right now, but if you talk to that lady —” Rue pointed behind them toward his boss in the window — “you might be able to work something out with her.”

When Franklin turned around Fran’s dour expression transformed into a smile. “I’ll see what I can do,”
he said and walked toward the eager frankfurter vendor.

With his brother gone, Richard seemed to size up Rue, as if they were about to engage in a medieval joust. Rue felt self-conscious in his hot dog outfit. “Who are you and what do you want to talk about?” asked Rue as the silence became more uncomfortable.

“We’re writers and producers from Hollywood,” said Richard. “We hear you have a special talent for bringing people back from the dead.”

When Rue heard the word “Hollywood,” he felt a sharp pain in his gut as if someone had reopened an old knife wound with a razor blade. He remembered leaving the town six years ago, a financial and professional failure. His sister lived here in Tennessee and had offered to squeeze him into her small house along with her husband and three children. He overstayed his welcome just long enough to land a job as a crossing guard at a local middle school, as well as the first in a series of fast food jobs. He thought he had left Hollywood, with its pressures and expectations, behind for good, but now it was here right in front of him. “I wrote a few good scenarios that people liked,” he said.

Franklin returned from his negotiation with Fran. “She said we could have you for ten minutes. But I hope you’re hungry, brother. I had to buy twenty hot dogs.”

Rue always admired the way Fran seized her opportunities. The three of them walked over to one of the picnic tables, the siblings taking one bench while Rue sat down in the other.

“I’ll get right to it since our time is limited,” said Franklin. “Do you know the show ‘Visigoth’?”
“I’ve heard of it but I’ve never seen it,” said Rue. Since he moved out of his sister’s house, he had in fact not watched any shows because he did not own a television. He had found it impossible to enjoy a program because his mind was always analyzing the dialogue, the characters, the plot, and thinking of ways in which he would do it better. Only when he read novels could he give himself over to the author’s creation and get lost in the story.

The Montanes scanned the area for a few moments as if to find the rock that Rue had been living under. Franklin continued. “The main character died in the final episode last year. We want you to bring him back.”

A dream that Rue had long ago suppressed now flashed again in front of his eyes. He was accepting an Emmy and then an Oscar for Best Screenplay. Superstars took pay cuts to act in one of his movies, and critics praised his subtlety and perception.

Rue shook his head, both as an answer to the Montanes and to clear his mind of these poisonous aspirations. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I don’t do that anymore.”

“You’re the only person that can help us,” said Richard. “When our boss suggested that we find you, I took it as an insult to my own creative abilities. Then on the plane ride, I read over your reanimation scenarios. I had to admit — and this is not easy for me — that you’re the best.”

Richard paused and Franklin picked up the thread. “The guy we’re trying to bring back was cooked, roasted, eaten and burned. We proposed to reanimate a sculpture, but our boss shot down that idea.”

“The Pinocchio parallel,” said Rue.

“Exactly,” said Franklin. “She wants something with as little magic as possible. Something unique.”
Like an all-star shortstop reacting to the crack of the bat, an idea immediately occurred to Rue. It was as if his subconscious mind had taken on this problem many years ago and was finally free to release the solution into the world.

Then his inner voice screamed the promise that he had made to himself all those years ago. Never again! “I’m sorry that you wasted a trip all the way out here,” said Rue, “but no, I’m not going back.”
Fran walked out of the back door of the stand carrying two plastic trays filled with hot dogs. “Here are your dogs,” she said. “Just come around to the window if you need condiments.”

“May I ask why?” Franklin asked Rue. “You could make a lot of money if you did this, and you don’t look too comfortable in that suit.” He picked up a plain hot dog from its cardboard container and took a bite of the bread and meat.

As Franklin chewed and Richard took a couple dogs to the window to add mustard and relish, Rue considered refusing the request for an explanation and getting on with reality. But when Richard returned to the table, Rue decided that he might find more understanding among these fellow writers than he had among his so-called friends after he had left Hollywood.

“You can’t imagine the frustration I felt,” he began. “I was developing these resurrectionist scenarios that people raved about, but then when I tried to write complete screenplays they went nowhere. How could I be so good at the one thing and not the other? I mean, I had a great reputation, and I had the entree. People were excited to take a look at my work, but it never clicked.”

“I can’t tell you how many times we’ve had projects rejected,” said Richard.

“I realize it’s a subjective business,” said Rue, “and I stuck it out for years. I wrote and pitched fourteen screenplays, none of which ever got the slightest nibble. I’d invested my money in a couple of promising restaurants both of which took a sharp downward turn once they’d received my funds. I decided it was a sign that I should leave.”

ranklin swallowed the last bite of his first hot dog and slid another cardboard container in front of him. “I’m not going to give you some rah-rah speech about how you should never give up, never surrender. But I will say this. Rich and I have read your scenarios. They are outstanding. Maybe you can’t write a full episode, but you can bring characters back from the dead with a skill that has never been seen in Hollywood before or since. The dimensions of your talent may be narrow, but it’s a talent nonetheless. I’m not asking you to come back and conquer Hollywood. I’m begging you to use your God-given abilities to bring back a character that means so much to us and the viewing public.”

Rue wiped a bead of sweat from the bridge of his nose. Even while sitting motionless at a picnic table, perspiration continued to ooze out of his pores. “How much money are we talking about?”

“You get five thousand dollars for just agreeing to attempt this for us,” said Franklin. “I’ve got a contract in the car to that effect that Gabriela Martinez, executive VP, has already signed. If we like your material and want to use it, you get one million dollars.”

Rue was glad he was not eating a hot dog, because he would have inhaled a frankfurter into his trachea after hearing that figure. “That’s in the contract too?” he asked.

“It is,” said Franklin. “If you agree, Ms. Martinez wants to meet with you in two weeks.”

“That’s not a lot of time. I’ve never even seen the show.”

“We’ve got DVDs of the entire series in the car,” said Franklin, “but really, I think you just need to watch the final episode. The rest of the show is your typical fourth-century warrior stuff — battles, honor, justice, fawning women — that sort of thing.”

“Rue darling,” called Fran in her mock-sweet voice, “it’s either time for you to get back to work, or your friends need to purchase some more product.”

Rue pondered the effect of one million dollars on his current life. He promised himself he could just do this one job, get in and get out before the obsessive dream of Hollywood glory could take hold. While the money after taxes would not bring lifetime financial security, it would at least allow him to escape from the stifling hot dog suit. The rest of his body, and not just his face, would experience the sublime feeling of airflow during working hours.

“Why don’t you buy ten more hot dogs,” said Rue. “I want to read over the contract before I sign.”

Two weeks later, Franklin led the way into Gabriela’s office with Richard behind him and a dapper-looking Cerulean Meeks between them. While Franklin had never known his boss to mix business with pleasure, he also knew it would not hurt to have Rue look his best. Even in a hot dog suit, Rue’s intense blue eyes could mesmerize whoever they beheld. With a new suit and a teeth-whitening treatment paid from Franklin’s own pocket, however, Rue’s looks approached those of the actors who brought the written words to life.

Introductions were made, smiles displayed, seats taken. In his left hand, Rue held four stapled packets of paper that contained his mental labor of the past two weeks. When Richard had asked for an overview of his scenario, Rue had politely declined. The work was complete, he had promised, and he did not want Gabriela to draw any preconceived notions from even a stray facial expression or inadvertent tone.
Franklin was about to initiate some prefatory small talk when Rue spoke. “Ms. Martinez, thank you for inviting me here today.”

“Please, call me Gabriela.”
Franklin and Richard shot each other a sidelong glance. It was usually years before Ms. Martinez became Gabriela to a supplicant. The striking eyes must have had a superb initial effect.
“Thank you, Gabriela, and please call me Rue.” The Resurrectionist distributed copies of manuscript to each of the people in the room. “This is the scenario that I created for Theoderic’s return. It’s not that long, so I suggest we each take a few minutes to read it, and then you can tell me what you think.”

“Sounds good,” said Gabriela, whose eyes immediately began to scan the paper. Franklin doubted that the script in front of him could possibly live up to the expectations that preceded it, but he felt the anticipation that he often did when he read the first sentence of an accepted novelistic masterpiece.



From above, we see about five hundred Roman soldiers gathered around a fire over which something is roasting. The soldiers are lounging, drinking, and making merry.

CLOSE UP: The soles of two bare feet rotate in a counterclockwise circle.

A COOK, short and fat, turns the handle of a roasting spit. We hear the squeak of metal on metal as it slowly spins. In the background, a blurred head sits atop a spike.

The COMMANDER, a hairy, muscled man still in his armor, approaches.

The men are hungry, cook. When will they be able to feast on the flesh of Theoderic, Rome’s greatest enemy?

Soon, my lord, soon.
While the cook waits, he sharpens the carving tools he is about to use.

As day turns to night, fires are lit. Feasting and revelry continue.

2 ext. italian plain — day
It is the morning after the extended party. Most of the soldiers are still sleeping, but a few are beginning to stir, moaning as they rise.

3 int. commander’s tent
The commander wakes up next to his naked MISTRESS. He slowly removes her alabaster arm from his broad, bronzed chest.

Marcus, bring me my pot!
MARCUS, in his early twenties and wearing servant’s clothing, appears holding the commander’s chamber pot.

It’s time to expel this wretched Goth from my system.

The commander takes the chamber pot and disappears behind a curtain.

4 ext. commander’s tent
Marcus waits patiently outside the tent. The commander, holding the chamber pot, appears and hands the pot to Marcus.

Marcus, do something for me before you dispose of this. Take Theoderic’s charred bones and whatever else may be left of him and throw him into the privy first. Toss this on top. The other men can also give our former enemy a similar present before we head for home.

Excellent idea, my lord.

5 ext. italian plain — day
The commander clicks his heels against his horse and the Romans head out. The camera pans over the smoking remains of Roman fires and comes to rest on the privy, which is now just a mound of dung.
A SQUIRREL scampers down a nearby tree and picks up an acorn from the base of the tree.
The squirrel looks around, wondering what to do with his newfound treasure.

The squirrel watches the last of the Roman soldiers leave the campsite.

After one more look around, the squirrel scrambles over to the dung heap and buries the acorn.

6 the dung heap
Days and nights pass in rapid succession. During one of the days, the skies darken and there is a torrential downpour.

Time begins to pass even more quickly. Snow covers the ground then melts. The former Roman privy is once again a seamless part of its surroundings, except for one single difference. A new plant has shot up out of the ground and has now grown taller than the grass.

years later
Time moves even faster now. During the time lapse photography, we see the oak tree grow taller. Leaves appear and disappear as the seasons and years pass. As the trunk thickens, animals rest in the shade of its branches. A house is built nearby, and children climb the tree and frolic beneath its canopy. The house is abandoned and disappears, but the tree remains.

the present
The rush of time stops. A caption at the bottom of the screen reads “NORTHERN ITALY, c. 491.” The trunk of the mighty oak is so thick now that most men could not wrap their arms entirely around it.

7 ext. horizon of the italian plain
We see a ragtag contingent of Roman soldiers appear on the horizon. They are walking toward the tree.

8 At the great oak
A ROMAN GENERAL, wearing a once luxurious red cape that is now soiled and tattered, dismounts his horse and takes shelter from the bright sun under the oak tree. His two lieutenants, BRANDUS and CRUICIAN, also the worse for wear, join him.

Are the Franks still pursuing us?

They have left off, sir, and are allowing us to limp back to Rome.

Will we regroup and campaign against them next year?

roman general
That will be up to the emperor, Crucian, but if he asks my opinion, I will advise against it.

Do you not think we will be strong enough to defeat them, sir?

roman general
We are still strong, Brandus, but our enemies are many. We have pagans attacking us from the east as well as the west. If we are to campaign, I will suggest that we go east.

And what will become of our western flank, general?

roman general
The Goths are still a powerful force that stands between us and the Franks. We will let Clovis expend some of his strength on those barbarians before we decide to attack.

A wise idea, sir.

roman general
Now I trust the report from the rear guard, but I would feel better if we were a little closer to Rome before we made camp. Tell the men to be ready to move out soon.

brandus and crucian
Yes, General.

full shot from under the oak tree — italian plain
Through the overhanging branches of the oak tree, we see the remnant of the once mighty Roman army disappear in the horizon opposite from which they came.

9 at the great oak — night
Darkness has fallen, and the night is silent. The wind begins to pick up, and the oak leaves rustle in the strong breeze. Lightning flashes in the distance, and thunder rumbles.

It begins to rain, slowly at first then harder. More distinct lightning bolts hit closer to the oak tree, as if it is the bull’s-eye in a game of lightning darts played by the gods.

Finally, one of the bolts smashes into the tree. The great oak shudders. The lightning has ripped the tree in half vertically. The severed half falls away from its still implanted twin, slowly at first, and crashes to the ground.

10 close up — inside the great oak
Inside the trunk of the tree, we see THEODERIC, his eyes closed, but his torso still rippling with muscle even after his long hibernation.

close up — theoderic’s face
From an expression of peace and serenity, Theoderic’s blue eyes pop open, alert and wary.
quick cut to black screen

Franklin looked up after he had read the last word. Rich was also finished, and he raised one eyebrow, soliciting his older brother’s silent opinion. In response, Franklin glanced at Rue, who was staring down at his lap, waiting for the critique to begin. Across the desk, Gabriela was still immersed in concentration.

Franklin imagined producing the scene that Rue had written and continuing the show. Having Theoderic sprout from the waste products of his own flesh might draw some jeers from the entertainment press, but the unique reincarnation would draw a buzz. People would gather around the water cooler at the office the next morning and the comments would fly: “Did you see ‘Visigoth’ last night?” “How crazy was that?”

“That was ridiculous!” “I can’t believe Theoderic is back!” People would love or hate the scene, but the show would be back, and back in a big way.

Gabriela lifted her eyes from the script. Franklin had known her for long enough that he could usually predict what she was going to say even when she was trying to keep her expression neutral. In this case, however, her face was truly a Switzerland between East and West.

“The script still seems a bit raw to me,” was the first thing she said.

“Sorry,” said Rue. “It’s been a while since I’ve written anything. I’m out of practice.”
“The scenario is not realistic in the least,” said Gabriela.

“Theodoric was as dead as a person can be,” said Richard. “Total realism was not an option.” Franklin knew that his normally restrained brother felt compelled to defend a fellow creator before Gabriela shot down the script.

Gabriela nodded and, resting her chin on a hand, pondered Richard’s comment. “You’re right,” she said.
The executive then broke into a wide smile and Franklin could feel the tension start to drain from his body. “I love it,” she said. “The Earth itself returns Theoderic to life not only because the people need him, but the planet itself requires his return. And the Franks as the new enemy. Opportunities for new characters, new storylines.”

“Only one small caveat,” said Richard. “The Franks defeat the Visigoths in 507, and after that, the Visigoths are about done in Gaul.”

“By my calculation that gives Theoderic sixteen years to do his thing,” said Gabriela. “Plenty of time for us to get several more good seasons out of him.” She leaned back in her chair. “Cerulean, you’ve done it again.”

Franklin looked at the triumphant man sitting next to him. He expected to see joy and excitement from a man who had just earned a million dollars and resurrected not only a fictional character, but his own Hollywood career. Instead, Rue looked as if he were admiring distant mountains from his back deck. He loved the view, but he had no intention of climbing the peaks.

“More than that, Rue,” continued Gabriela, “I want to give you the opportunity to stay in practice as a screenwriter by offering you a salaried position here at the network. There may be some projects from time to time that I’d like you to get involved with, but other than that, you’re going to have total creative freedom.”

Franklin was shocked by this sudden offer of employment. Screenwriters were usually only as valuable as their next script. Almost no writers existed who enjoyed the benefit of getting paid whether they produced work or not.

Franklin patted Rue on the shoulder. “Congratulations, Rue. It looks like you’ve worn that hot dog suit for the last time.”

Rue’s expression did not change, nor did he reply. Franklin assumed that it was from that shock of having success thrust upon him so suddenly and completely.

Six months after his victorious day in the office of Gabriela Martinez, Rue lowered a basket of tater tots into the sizzling, golden peanut oil. This was the first batch of tater tots to fry at the grand reopening of Fran’s Hot Dogs. Beside him, Fran, now his co-owner instead of his boss, arranged hot dogs on the new, spacious grill.

After opening its doors only five minutes ago, the new restaurant with eat-in dining room — no longer a mere shack — had attracted three customers through its glass and metal doors. It did not quite match the return of “Visigoth,” which aired to an audience just shy of Super Bowl size, but it was still a good beginning.

Rue had no regrets about turning down Gabriela’s generous offer. When he had accepted the job of reviving Theoderic, he had promised himself that he would not get sucked back into the vortex of Hollywood’s enticements. Maybe his ability to mold complex characters and craft genuine dialogue would improve if he accepted the secure position at the network. Maybe he would finally live up to the creative potential that his numerous reanimation scenarios portended. Then again, maybe the work he so carefully polished would still be seen as “raw.” Maybe after two or three years of writing scripts that would never be shot, Gabriela would approach him and suggest an extended sabbatical to help him find his voice. Even a writer with a salaried, secure position was only as valuable as his future work.

Some acquaintances had questioned his avoidance of a risk that so few people ever got a chance to take. To these doubters, Rue would smile and respond, “I invested in two restaurants that failed, yet I’m now again in the restaurant business. I don’t think you can say that I’m averse to a little risk.”

In reality, Rue had never thought of his partnership with Fran as a risk. He had worked with Fran for two years and learned that the woman had ample business acumen. She had a great feel for the market and for what her customers wanted. She made a great tasting hot dog at a fair price and always received outstanding reports from the health inspector. Rue had no doubts that Fran would succeed and he considered his investment as safe as a U.S. Treasury bond. He would not only be a financier in the new enterprise, but he would also be an active participant in its success. Fran had promised to initiate him into the ancient mysteries of the frankfurter. She also had no problem with him keeping his job as a crossing guard. He did not need the money anymore, but he still enjoyed seeing the kids who depended on him for their safe passage to and from school.

Another customer walked through the door, and Rue went to the register to take his order. Behind him, Rue heard Fran wrap and bag two hot dogs with graceful efficiency and present them to a waiting customer.

The man in front of Rue wore a uniform shirt that had two patches sewn to it. The patch on the right read “Dawson’s Plumbing” and the one over his heart listed the man’s name as “Dennis.” He ordered a Tater Dog Basket, and Rue gave him a drink cup and took his money.

“Aren’t you that Hollywood writer guy?” asked Dennis. Rue had refused an interview with the local paper that had been seeking information about his recent Hollywood adventures, but they lived in a small town and word spread without the help of media.

“That’s me,” said Rue. “I wrote a few little bits for various shows.”

Dennis asked if Rue had ever met the stunning female whom one magazine had just named “The World’s Sexiest Woman.”

“No,” said Rue. “I can’t say that I’ve had the pleasure.”

After realizing that he would have no vicarious contact with The World’s Sexiest Woman, Dennis lost interest in the conversation. His face assumed a dejected look, as if Rue had squirted a hated condiment on an otherwise perfect hot dog.

“How do I look?” asked a female voice.

Rue turned to see Andrea, the cheery twenty-one-year-old woman who was now the new dancing hot dog. The suit, freshly cleaned of Rue’s dried sweat, concealed Andrea’s lithe figure but accentuated her large brown eyes and sparkling smile.

“You look a lot better than I did in that suit,” said Rue.

“Looks to me like there’s going to be a large rush here shortly,” said Fran as she handed Dennis his food. “Now get out there and do your thing. I want that parking lot full in half an hour.”

“Will do,” said Andrea as she headed out the door.

As Fran spread more hot dogs on the grill for the expected rush, Rue got some fries going and grabbed a damp towel to wipe down the counter.

When he looked out the front window again, Andrea was already by the road doing the “Whip and Nae Nae,” as she had called it during her interview. While Rue did not know whether this was one dance or two, he enjoyed watching somebody from the next generation update the moves of his old character. Andrea seemed to have the energy and enthusiasm to continue nonstop through the dinner hour. Compared to her, Rue’s disco steps were the lackluster gyrations of a tired man.

As two cars, lured by Andrea’s spectacle, pulled into the parking lot, Rue felt a new energy surge through his veins. The rush came not from the achievement of Hollywood and fortune, but from a feeling of contentment. He had not rejected Gabriela’s generous offer because he feared failure, but because he preferred the peace and serenity that life in this small Tennessee town offered him. He had pulled out of the rat race to enjoy the simple pleasures of connecting with regular people and providing them with quality hot dogs. Rue headed back to his register, ready to serve the new customers and knowing that he was right where he belonged.

Tom Miller has published several stories in literary magazines such as Red Fez and The Wordsmith Journal.

Virginia: A Tale of a Virtuous Vegetarian

By Gershon Ben-Avraham

When four years old, while eating a piece of chicken on a family picnic, Virginia Coleslaw ingested a chicken claw. It didn’t chew well, and had to be surgically removed from her throat, where it had lodged itself on its way to joining the rest of the chicken leg. Virginia decided that that was it for her with meat. Going forward, she would eat only grains, vegetables, nuts, and fruits. Her mother tried to reason with her, but Virginia was stubborn. She would hold her breath until she turned purple, at which point her exasperated mother would concede and make Virginia a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

When she started school, Virginia graduated into what might be called the activist stage of her vegetarianism. It was then she learned that her older twin brothers took packed lunches to school. At night, Virginia would sneak downstairs, replace her brothers’ meat sandwiches with tofu, and feed the meat sandwiches to Poindexter, the family dog. Later, thinking more about it, she felt guilty and decided Poindexter shouldn’t eat meat either. From then on, the sandwiches went into the toilet. The next day her brothers would complain to their mother about the tofu. She would simply smile and say, “Dears, I didn’t pack you tofu.” Eventually the brothers gave up and set up a sandwich exchange program at school where they cornered the market on ham. Both died at twenty-two of massive coronaries. The doctor’s report said simply, “Chests exploded.”

In high school, Virginia started a vegetarian club. It never had more than three members. Even so, the meetings were always extremely passionate. People walking by the club’s door would think there was a much larger club in there. She received a full scholarship to a college in Mississippi where she posted a sign on the door of her dorm room saying only vegetarians could enter. This allowed her much quiet study time. However, Jimmy Mullins, a heavy, lifelong vegetarian from Itta Bena, would occasionally stop by with chocolate. This, Virginia would find irresistible. Her physics book would be shut immediately as she and Jimmy pondered the wonders of the cocoa bean.

Virginia dated only vegetarians. She even went so far as to develop a questionnaire boys had to complete before asking her out; not that she was pretty. In fact, Virginia was rather homely; but being a woman of principle, boys found her irresistible.

After graduation, Virginia and Jimmy married and moved to Hershey, Pennsylvania, not a place one ordinarily thinks of as a watering hole for vegetarians. The air appealed to her husband, though, and the countryside appealed to Virginia. “A good place to raise children,” she said. In time, Virginia and Jimmy had eight daughters, none of whom ever ate meat, and never had acne. Once, visiting their grandparents in Ohio and being told that being a vegetarian was “unmanly,” the girls replied, in unison, “Pawpaw, that’s wonderful!” Jimmy smiled, and handed each girl a dark chocolate Hershey bar.

Virginia, wiping her eyes, beamed. “There’s a whole new world coming,” she said.

Gershon Ben-Avraham lives in Be’er Sheva, Israel, with his wife and the family’s collie “Kulfi.” His poem “The Kabbalist” earned Honorable Mention in the 2015 Anna Davidson Rosenberg Poetry Awards. His short story “The Janitor” has been accepted for one of the 2016 issues of Jewish Gershon became a vegetarian while earning his M.A. in Philosophy at Temple University, Philadelphia.

Obituary of Marvin J. Furskin

By Chuck Kramer

Marvin G. Furskin, noted animal rights activist, passed away last week, poisoned while liberating an enraged and uncooperative black mamba from the city zoo.

Through his pet adoption service, he found homes for the homeless and brought the joy of animal companionship to the aged, the lonely and the forlorn. His motto was, “A pet is just another mouth to feed.”

Mr. Furskin began his career volunteering for SPCA, but moved on to more radical work with the local chapter of PETA. After serving his sentence for firebombing a butcher shop, Mr. Furskin worked as a groomer and dog-dewormer at Petland Spas. He was renowned for his magic finger.

He later opened his adoption service which specialized in rescue animals, service dogs and therapy canaries. His service also spared thousands of goldfish a final flush down the toilet, enabling them to live long, happy lives in the aquariums of caring families. “Marvin was such a gentle soul,” Helen Trawler said, “so concerned with aquatic life. He personally delivered Jules and Jim, my twin pet goldfish, in a clear Tupperware container. That’s rare for a man of his stature.”

Sandra Simpatico, local PETA chairperson, noted, “This is a great loss for our community. Mr. Furskin provided a much needed service with respect, empathy and remarkable sensitivity, and was able to counter both actual and imagined animal mistreatment with justified outrage and occasional cold-blooded violence.”

A memorial service will take place next Thursday evening in the lobby of Petland’s Grand Spa . The family is requesting that all animals attending be leashed. PETA will host and provide refreshments — iced bitters, mock turtle soup and soyburgers. The eulogy will be delivered by Kathy Robyn Warbler of the Audubon Society.

Mr. Furskin will be laid to rest the following morning at Mammal, Fish, and Fowl Memorial Park in the Friends and Allies Protected Preserve, Rev. Daniel Fang of the Holy Spirit Barking in Tongues Congregation presiding.

Mr. Furskin is survived by his wife, Smoothie (nee Velour) and his golden retriever, Marvin Jr., his flock of merino sheep, and the three dozen fleas that performed in his renowned Insect Circus Spectacular which entertained both handicapped children and wounded veterans at hospitals throughout the area. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to Mr. Furskin’s favorite charities—Those Misunderstood, better known as PROUD (Protectors of Rodents Occupying Urban Dwellings), and the Society for the Prevention of Battered Chickens.

Reprinted with permission from Animal Husbandry Weekly.


Chuck Kramer taught reading and writing in Chicago’s public schools for thirty years. He has also worked as an advertising copywriter, a public relations writer, and the theater critic for the Oak Leaves newspaper. He currently co-hosts the Weeds Poetry Open Mic in Chicago every Monday night and freelances as a photographer and reporter for Windy City Media.

Before and After

By Charissa Rabenstein

Father stopped breathing. Still, I followed his instructions. What else could I do? I sat at his big, oak table, quite alone. I ate my supper properly. I sat on the edge of the hard chair in the parlor for thirty minutes. Then I blew out the candle and went to bed.

The next morning, a crowd of the town women called. They walked up the steps of the porch, and they rang the bell. I told them that they were not needed. I told them that he was sleeping. Then I shut the door. They were not needed. Why would they think that they could take him away? Even now he would not allow that.

More town people came after that. I don’t think they believed me. They were persistent.
After three days of this, I noticed that Father was dead. I did not understand. I didn’t realize that was possible. But I let them take him away.

I ate my supper properly. I sat on the edge of the hard chair in the parlor for thirty minutes. Then I blew out the candle and went to bed. Quite alone.


Charissa Rabenstein lives in West Liberty, Ohio, with her husband, Bill. Her work days are spent at Marie’s Candies, and her leisure time involves books and baking. When she has a writable thought and takes the time to jot it down, she sometimes ends up with a bit of poetry.