Adventures in Writing

Take a word chosen at random and write something about it. Simple? Maybe not.

EVIDENCE

The evidence was obvious and overwhelming, at least to me.

Poor John “Buddy” Boddy’s braincase had been cracked wide open by a baseball bat wielded by none other than Jonathan “Jack” Mustard, legendary gridiron great turned sportscaster The murder took place in the observatory of Buddy’s Hollywood Hills party home as he peered through his 150mm Maksutov-Cassegrain during the wee morning hours. The dumbbell never saw it coming.

I was sure that I had more than enough evidence to take Mustard off the air for the rest of his life; but Buddy’s body was missing, and the other five overnight guests hadn’t a clue. I knew that I had no choice but to roll the dice and play the game if I was to come out a winner.

Who am I? My name is Victor Plum. I’m a billionaire software designer, and I’ve got “game.”

Let’s start with the party guest/suspect list. In addition to myself and Mustard, we’ve got Kasandra Scarlet, leading lady and consummate casting couch cover; Jacob Green, a man of murky occupation who, a couple of hundred years ago, would have been a highly successful snake oil salesman; Diane White, a child film star whose grip on the present is tenuous, at best; and Eleanor Peacock, a woman so filthy rich she can only marginally relate to lifeforms beneath her caste.

cluecharacters

We had all received the party invitation, which had included an intriguing addition. Buddy had scribbled a note to each of us that he feared for his life and hoped that his true friends could help.

“True friends” was a stretch. To me, Buddy was, at best, a frequent associate; but who could resist a note like that?

We all arrived fashionably late and were met with enthusiastic greetings by our host. Dinner and drinks filled the night. We all asked Buddy about his strange note. He had no real evidence to support his fears, only a sense of being watched and a vague feeling of dread.

As the party wound down, we all bid Buddy good night and retired to our rooms. By morning, he was gone.

While the others buzzed about the shocking but not unexpected development, I quickly gathered my evidence. I knew that Buddy was dead, but I wanted to make sure I had what I needed to implicate the killer.

I had been around the board enough times to know that jumping into a room and announcing the perpetrator right up front would not work, so I bowed to tradition and let Scarlet take the lead.

She quickly sashayed to the spa and declared that Green had done the deed in that very room with a wrench. She couldn’t have been more wrong.

Buddy was about as handy as a thumbless Tim Taylor. He had wrenched his back several years ago attempting to do a cartwheel after six margaritas, but any wrench Buddy had owned was left behind when he moved from his old mansion to his new home in 2008.

Green was livid at the accusation. Buddy was his best bud, he said — an unquestionable quid pro quo kind of guy. He wasted no time in naming the real culprit. Without a doubt, he said, White had offed Buddy by whacking him over the head with a lead pipe in the library.

I stand corrected. Scarlet could have been more wrong. Not only was Buddy’s home too new to incorporate lead plumbing, the library had been remodeled into a theater not long after video had replaced print as the world’s primary source of entertainment.

White, although she said that she was flattered by being cast in such a central role in the intrigue, could not claim credit. She nominated Peacock for the honor, adding that she believed Peacock clubbed Buddy to death with a baseball bat whist he was spying on the neighbors from his observatory.

Whaaat? Right location, right weapon, wrong perpetrator. Had she actually seen something?

Peacock frostily replied that she would not dignify the accusation with a response.

It was Mustard’s trip to the plate. The man sputtered something about Buddy having no enemies and expressed complete amazement that any foul play could befall the man.

Mentally, I rubbed my hands together in glee. Everyone had taken a shot, so my turn had come.

I dismissed the clueless Scarlet and Green in short order — no wrench, no lead pipe, no library, no supporting evidence. White was another story.

I questioned her and was able to determine she had only seen a shadowy figure in the observatory with Buddy when she looked out her bedroom window during a bout with insomnia. The baseball bat was pure conjecture because she had seen one in the hallway umbrella stand when she arrived for the party but it was no longer there. “Evidence” like that would not hold up in court.

I pounced.

I produced the bat, decorated with Buddy’s blood and Mustard’s fingerprints. Solid evidence establishing the bat as the murder weapon and Mustard as the culprit. Then, I led them to a large trunk in a storage room just off the observatory, opened the lid and produced another essential piece of evidence in the case — Buddy’s body.

Mustard was still proclaiming his innocence as the cops cuffed him and took him away. I knew he would. Despite all the evidence against him, Mustard did not kill Buddy. I did.

Back in my office, I removed the incredibly lifelike mask I had worn to the party and resumed my true identity — Professor Plum. Yes, I had killed Buddy for the sole reason of framing Mustard and taking him out.

I knew that Mustard, as an ex-jock, could not resist the urge to swing that bat sitting in the hallway when he arrived for the party, leaving a nice set of fingerprints. The rest was easy.

Victor Plum had been my first victim. I had primed Buddy’s paranoia by following him for weeks.

Next on my list is White. She came a little too close to derailing things this time. I’m not going to give her a second chance.

Nothing is going to get in the way of my master plan. In the end, nobody in my game will have a first name.

Adventures in Writing: (Part 15 of 20?)

Take 20 words chosen at random. Put them in a bowl. Draw one, and write something about it.

Simple? Maybe not.

Hold

enceladus
Breathing view offered from a survival tent far, far away.

“What’s in the hold, Captain?”

I cringed inwardly. I was expecting the question, of course. I had hoped it would not be asked so soon after we had emerged from the stasis pods.

“That’s ‘need to know’ only,” I told my overly curious co-pilot, George.

I didn’t really care if the only other crew member aboard the SXS Elon Musk knew what we were carrying, but I had been sworn to secrecy before launch. Time had been too short for questions when we boarded and were hustled into the pods. The ground crew had stowed our cargo after putting us under. Even I had not gotten a look at it.

“Oh, come on,” George pleaded. “I’ve got the same top secret clearance as you, and I really have a need to know.”

“Not the same thing, as I’m sure you’re aware,” I said.

I smiled. George could be persistent. Good thing I liked him. Even more saving to the relationship was being in stasis for most of the four-year trip out to Enceladus.

Without the pods, I would like him a lot less. One of us would be dead, and I probably wouldn’t have cared who.

As it was, we were in for a long couple of weeks of keeping each other company. Nobody, especially us, trusted the ship instruments to take us the last million or so miles to our destination. Too many things could go wrong in this crowded solar system neighborhood for us to remain asleep on the job.

“Do you even know what we’re carrying?” George asked.

“I do, and you will too, eventually,” I answered.

“Well, if I correctly guess what’s in the hold, will you tell me if I’m right?”

“We’ll see.”

I didn’t see any harm in that non-committal promise. I didn’t want George to get too squirrelly. I was confident that, with a little bit of misdirection, I could keep him guessing until delivery. The only condition I stipulated was that the questions could only be answered with “yes” or “no.” Besides, if George had even momentarily considered his childhood, he would have remembered that “we’ll see” means “no.”

So, he guessed — constantly — unless I called a timeout, or he hit his mandatory sleep period. Blessed relief!

I gave him quite a few hints along the way. Our mission was unique. Its more than $2 billion price tag had been internationally crowd-financed in record time. George never put the pieces together.

He was still guessing as we made our final approach to the designated landing site. All he had established about the contents of our hold was that it was “animal,” bigger than a breadbox and would not fit in his mouth. George was not a good guesser.

The landing was perfect. George was amazed, after I keyed the door open, when he saw what was in our hold.

“What the hell! A stasis pod!” he exclaimed.

“What did you expect?” I countered. “You guessed that it was a living thing. Did you expect to see a food trough and litter box that were good for four years?”

“Who’s in it?”

“Still can’t tell you.”

“Chris, you are a bastard!”

“I know.”

With a little elbow grease and no small amount of robotic help, we were able to move the pod through the main airlock and onto the frigid Enceladus surface. We encased the pod in a survival tent, which we stocked with 2 years of survival supplies.

After setting up a video camera far enough from the tent to take in the entire scene, we quickly retreated to the Musk. We wasted no time on niceties like a countdown before we lifted for the return trip to Earth. If we wanted to get back before we were nursing home fodder, our window of opportunity was critically small.

I watched the moon grow smaller until it was time to head for the stasis pods. En route, I found Curious George with his eyes glued to the video feed from the surface camera.

Just microseconds before the Enceladus rotation took the transmission offline, I took a look at the monitor. Our former passenger had emerged from the survival tent. Even distorted by the suit faceplate, the mug under the disheveled, badly-colored orange comb-over was unmistakable.

The man had finally gotten what he wanted. He was king of the world.

Adventures in Writing: Part 11 of 20?

Take 20 words chosen at random. Put them in a bowl. Draw one and write something about it.

Simple? Maybe not.

Light
There I was, routinely guiding my Parrot Bebop over a nearby enchanted forest, intensely watching the camera feed on my battered laptop, and there he was! Clearly visible in a small clearing, unmistakable, a dragon!
I jumped into my red Nissan Juke, the Ruby Rocket, and sped to the location. Surprised to be discovered, he was hostile, at first. After much cajoling and whining on my part, he reluctantly agreed to an interview. A lifelong dream realized!

dragon

Me: Thanks for agreeing to this, Mr. Dragon. I’m a big fan.
Dragon: My first impulse was to burn you to a crisp, but my race has a longstanding tradition of watching over humans — the good and the stupid ones, anyway. Besides, people probably knew you were out there in the woods. If you mysteriously disappeared, it would bring publicity, search parties and other unwelcome attention.

M: Well, thanks even more for that, Mr. Dragon. Has anyone ever told you that you sound a lot like Sean Connery?
D: I get that a lot, mostly from people who have watched Dragonheart a few too many times. You can call me Pete.

M: Peter Dragon. Hey, you aren’t by any chance, the author of Line in the Sand, are you?
P: No, I’m not. Neither did I pen Sitting under the Grandstand, by I. Seymour Butts. Are we done revisiting your childhood?

M: Sorry. I’ve always wanted to interview a dragon. You’re so mystical.
P: I’m just another one of God’s creatures. Other than my multi-millennial age, I’m nothing special.

M: Nothing special? You’re kidding, right? None of the other creatures breathe fire.
P: The fire-breathing dragon is just an illusion perpetrated by your species through popular media. No living being can breathe fire. The first breath would scorch it’s lungs and result in painful, instant death. You’ve got to be the one who’s kidding. How did humans ever get so close to the top of the evolutionary ladder? You must have bumped your heads a lot on the way up. Is your brainpower as much a myth as my fire-breathing?

M: What? I’ve seen dragons breathing fire lots of times on Game of Thrones. You know George R.R. Martin would never write anything not based on fact. How can you deny having this ability?
P: Hold on there, laddie. I said we didn’t breathe fire. I didn’t say we can’t produce it.

M: How do you manage that illusion?
P: Without going into a lot of complicated anatomical detail, let’s just say that dragons have a far greater ability than humans to manufacture and store methane. The composition of our teeth includes significant amounts of rock and metal. Whenever we snap our jaws just right as we discharge accumulated methane, presto! Instant flamethrower.

M: So, you’re really just burning off farts?
P: Crudely put, but accurate. Although you must admit that it’s an improvement over humans, who wastefully vent their precious methane into the atmosphere, often in socially unacceptable situations.

M: That’s quite an evolutionary accomplishment. Was it developed as a defense mechanism?
P: No, this trait is rooted in the fact that dragons have never been able to digest raw meat very well. I’m not saying that flicking our Bics hasn’t also been useful for defensive and offensive purposes. Things can get a little toasty during mating season.

M: Flicking your Bic. That’s very ’70s, but it reminds me of a question I’ve always wanted to ask my first dragon. I realize I’m taking my life in my hands, here, but I’ve got to go all juvenile on you one more time, OK?
P: OK, but I have a feeling that I know where you’re going with this. Fire away.

M: Here goes. Hey, buddy, have you got a light?

Adventures in Writing: Part 8 of 20?

Take 20 words chosen at random. Put them in a bowl. Draw one and write something about it.

Simple? Maybe not.

Present
The present is that infinitely small slice of the space-time continuum in which I travel. Behind and ahead of me stretch the infinite past and future.

present-time

The size of my now cannot be measured. Scientists have put numbers on how long the continuum has been and will be. Perhaps that gives them comfort.
I have been present throughout my timeline. To simply be present does not differ from being absent. I must be actively present if I am to steer my line, even imperceptibly outward or inward, as I move forward through time.

My infinitesimally small bubble of present is expanded to include those whose lines intersect mine. To not do so is to deny those who would add meaning to my life.

My timeline is a present from the Universe. When it ends, I will present myself to the Universal Mind and hope to not be found wanting.

Either that, or that big bottle of Belgian ale I just polished off has really messed with my head.

Adventures in Writing: Part 7 of 20?

Take 20 words chosen at random. Put them in a bowl. Draw one and write something about it.

Simple? Maybe not.

Old
Old is such a relative term. I don’t mean that in terms of Great Aunt Lucy or Grandpa Zachary, although that’s how I thought when I was a kid. Old is those people you see once or twice a year at a birthday party or on a holiday — the people who tell you how big, not how old, you’ve gotten.

sweetagelofdeathI don’t know at what point in life I crossed into old. The milestone number has been continually pushed forward.

When I was a teenager, they were saying “never trust anyone over 30.” When I hit 30, I didn’t feel particularly untrustworthy; but I was more than a little suspicious of the 50-something crowd. Now well over 50, I have accepted the remote possibility that I might very well be old — or am I just a Baby Boomer?

A lot of wiser (and maybe even younger) people have had their say on old. Let’s take a look.

I don’t know but I’ve been told, if you keep on dancing you’ll never grow old.
Steve Miller, I’ve got to say, this just doesn’t play right in my world. First, if you literally keep on dancing, you’ll soon be exhausted. Exhaustion, numerous scientific studies have shown, does not contribute to longevity. Second, if you grow old when you’re not dancing, I should have been pushing up daisies decades ago.

The only time I dance is when my wife drags me away from the bar at a wedding reception. Even then, the understanding is “slow dances only.” No point in getting too lively.

You’re only as old as you feel.
I don’t know who came up with this saying, but he or she clearly has never gotten up in the morning with my right foot. The damn thing goes missing nearly every night.

By day, it snaps, crackles and pops; it twitches, throbs and burns. I once thought I spotted wisps of smoke coming from the offending appendage, but I have since dismissed that as an agony-induced hallucination.

The foot eventually begins to function, but never without a long start-up process.

The doctor told me my arch has collapsed, and a tendon is about ready to let loose. Now, I’m wearing arch supports and experiencing a whole new kind of pain. It’s the kind of pain I might expect to experience if two red-hot marbles were parked in my shoes directly under my arches — if I had arches.

My feet have always been so flat they could be mistaken for unleavened bread, but the foot situation only kicked in a year or two ago. Nothing but advancing age can account for that deterioration.

You’re only as old as your weakest body part feels. In my case, that makes me about 95. I’m at that awkward ambulatory age: too old to walk without a limp; too young to need a walker.

Grow old along with me! The best is yet to be.
Leave it to a poet, in this case Robert Browning, to take a merry view of aging. If I may be so bold, allow me to add a few lines of my own about becoming old.

I’m freakin’ full of glee. If only I could see.
The words have grown so small, I cannot read at all.
I’m grateful still to hear, but now sounds must be near.
I’ve kept my sense of feel, although it hurts to kneel.
No, Bob, you must be wrong! The best has come and gone.

Youth is wasted on the young.
George Bernard Shaw left a sizable legacy of quotable quotes. While this one may be pithily clever, it’s really just another way of saying “If only I could be (insert much younger age here) again and know what I know now.”

While both expressions ring true, you can’t accomplish much by condemning everything you did when you still had a little spring in your step. Let’s say, just for fun, that you could travel back in time to give your 20-year-old self the benefit of all you’ve learned.

I know your failing memory may be a problem here, but I’ll wager that your more youthful self totally ignored any sage advice given by your parents as well as anyone else in that age bracket. What would make you treat counseling from your future self any differently? Beyond that, you probably would be hard-pressed to recognize the you-to-be, much less accept the whole time travel explanation.

Nope, as much of a disadvantage as it is, we all seem to have a universal need to learn things for ourselves.

Today is the oldest you’ve ever been, and it’s the youngest you’ll ever be again.
Thank Eleanor Roosevelt (and Google) for this variation on “today is the first day in the rest of your life.”

This is just more wishful messing with the concept of time. Sure, it puts a positive spin on getting older; but like most spins, the best you’re going to get from it is a cheap, temporary high.

This may have given you the impression that I don’t find a lot of value in the sayings of others. You’re right.

I am getting better, though. Back in my younger days, I thought of each birthday as being another year closer to death. Now I see these annual anniversaries as another year of staying one step ahead of the Grim Reaper.

Call me Old Man Optimism.

Adventures in Writing: Part 6 of 20?

Take 20 words chosen at random. Put them in a bowl. Draw one, and write something about it.

Simple? Maybe not.

Out
“Out” is a word that can’t be trusted. Not for a moment. Even standing alone, “out” reeks of something negative.

“Out” means gone, no more, not in and a few other thousand problem-posing developments. When “out” hangs out with some of its friends (especially that bad influence, “of”), the phrases you get are rarely something good.

Check out the tragic case of Donald McRonald.

Donald had an outstanding five years of high school. He went out for baseball, caught a lot of outbound balls in the outfield and struck out the fewest times in the history of the school.

Girls almost always said “yes” when Donald asked them out, even though they knew he expected them to put out. Donald believed that the few girls who thought they were out of his league were clearly out of their minds. All of Donald’s locker room buddies considered him to be the school make-out king.

As you may have figured out, Donald was not the sharpest knife his his high school silverware drawer.

During his fifth year of studies, Donald’s teachers had been not-so-subtly hinting that he might want to consider pursuing his fortunes out in the real world. Confident that his outgoing personality would continue to serve him as well outside the school walls as it had inside, Donald decided to drop out. Little did he know that his life was about to turn inside-out.

Donald was immediately dismayed to learn that his top post-secondary school career choice, phone sex, had been completely outsourced. Also out were his next two choices, telemarketing and customer service.

After a week of scouring the classifieds and pounding the sidewalks, he finally found work assembling take-out orders at an outback Steakhouse. He didn’t work out, however, as he was frequently out of sorts with the customers and sometimes, depending on how long he had been out the night before, completely out of it. He turned out to be a Bloomin’ Onion addict, and quickly became out-of-shape and out-of-breath. Less than a month after he started, he was out the door.

For a while, Donald managed to hang out with his old high school baseball buddies. His deadbeat ways were quickly found out. His friends were outraged, and they kicked him out. Donald’s parents pretended to be out whenever he rang the doorbell.

Donald was out of friends, out of work and out on the streets. The outlook was bleak for poor Donald. He was out of cash, out of ideas and out of hope. Winter came, and Donald was literally out in the cold. Running out of gas, Donald weakly stumbled, then crawled toward the best thing he could pull out of his memory.

They found him early one morning, lying face-down, just outside the home team dugout at his old high school baseball diamond, the height of his glory. For Donald, time had run out.

What should you get out of reading the Saga of Donald? Well, the next time you’re out and about, look out for “out.” Those three little letters can easily outwit, outplay and outlast you.

(Word count: 521. Out count: 63)

Adventures in Writing: Part 5 of 20?

Take 20 words chosen at random. Put them in a bowl. Draw one and write something about it.

Simple? Maybe not.

Memory
Back in the day, I was inclined to use the phrase, “if memory serves,” which was a polite way to say “my memory is better than yours, so here’s what really happened.”

I no longer use that phrase for one reason. Memory no longer serves. I can’t even get memory to return my calls, much less produce what I need at a moment’s notice.

It’s a little disturbing. I chalk it up to age, but does that mean I’m on a fast track to Alzheimer’s? Not necessarily, from what I’ve read. Being unable to recall simple words or names every now and then is normal, some experts say, even among those relatively young, like 40-somethings. Still, that knowledge does not rule out developing a completely blank mind down the road.

I continued to fret until yesterday, when I saw a television commercial for Prevagen. This over-the-counter miracle medication, according to the manufacturer’s web site, can improve absentmindedness and memory, plus helps with “mild memory problems associated with aging.” Check, double-check and triple-check. My worries were over.

I read more. The magic ingredient in Prevagen is apoaequorin (say that three times fast, or even once), a protein that makes certain jelly fish (specifically, Aequorea victoria) glow.

Eh? Not to worry, the web site reassures potential Prevagen customers, “glowing is not a side-effect.” Hmm. That was a little disappointing. As side-effects go, that would have been a pretty neat one.

Anyway, among the other facts provided on the site, apoaequorin was discovered by a Nobel Prize winner, so you know it’s got to be good. Furthermore, vast numbers of jellyfish are not being killed to make Prevagen, as apoaequorin is now grown in a safe and controlled manufacturing process.” The site proudly displays the “Made in the USA” flag logo.

Well, as promising as all of this sounded, I was still not convinced that swallowing jellyfish protein even the “extra-strength” version, every 24 hours for 30 to 90 days, was my path to memory salvation. The site notes that the benefits of Prevagen are backed by a 90-day study done by Quincy Bioscience, a Madison, Wisconsin, company which also happens to be the “official retailer” of Prevagen.

Hmm. Seemed like the results of that study might have something of a conflict of interest involved, so I decided to do a little investigating of my own. As luck would have it, several Aequorea victorias, including one I had met, Alfred, just happened to live in my neighborhood, so I dropped in on him for a little chat.

Keeping in mind that Al was under water, behind glass and English was not his first language, our conversation went something like this:

“Hi, Al,” I began. “Sorry to show up without calling ahead, but I’m doing a little research into Prevagen, and I thought you might be in unique position to give me some answers.”

Al glowed bashfully. “Excuse me,” he replied. “Have we met?”

“Sure. We talked sushi for a few minutes at the Fourth of July party here last month, remember?”

“No. Please forgive me, but my memory isn’t what is used to be. I’m already four months old. That’s 85 in human years. I get more absentminded every week.”

“But, aren’t you mostly made of the protein used in Prevagen to aid human memory. In fact, isn’t that the very thing that makes you glow?”

“I think that’s what somebody one said, but I’m not sure. The days all seem to run together. I can’t even say for sure what I ate for breakfast, although I’m told it’s the same, soft-bodied organisms every meal.”

“That really makes me question the value of your magic memory protein. Hello?”

Al seemed to be drifting aimlessly in his tank, apparently dozing until I rapped on the glass.

“Huh? Hi,” Al said with a waking snort. “Do I know you?”

“Yes, we’ve talked.”

“I take your word on that. Have we talked about anything interesting?”

“No, just sushi and memories.”

“Memories are nice. I wish I had some.”

Well, I guess I can cancel that order for a lifetime supply of Prevagen. For now, I’ll continue to rely on salmon, whole grains and Cheetos to keep me sharp.