Ad Out - By Brian Law 

As he patted his neck with his towel, she bent down and dried off her legs with her towel. As he watched her, he remarked, “Your backhand today was the best I’ve ever seen it.” As he waited for her reply, he reminded himself that he was the luckiest man alive to have a woman like this in his life. 

She stopped what she was doing and looked up at him but didn’t smile. Instead, she asked in a steely tone, “What in the hell do we do now, Jerry? I mean, he told you today was your last day as my tennis instructor.” She put down her towel and moved closer to him. “Will we ever see each other again? Who knows how long this stupid ‘shelter in place’ is going to last, anyway?” 

He suggested that they sit down for a moment. He had something he wanted to run by her. Away from the sun, under the umbrella, Jerry leaned close to her and asked, “Do you love me as much as I love you?” 

“You know I do,” she said, kissing him gently. “I’ll do anything to be with you. Anything. But my husband is rich, powerful and has almost complete control over me. My God, he’s eighty-three and I’m forty-two. What was I thinking?” 

He took her hands in his and told her he had a plan. “This pandemic might go on for months. Who knows how long you’ll be pent up in that mansion of yours with that old goat? But I think I can solve our two problems at the same time. You interested?” 

She nodded vigorously as Jerry continued, “Okay, that can of tennis balls over there looks pretty normal, right? But the three balls inside are infected with the virus. Don’t ask me how. But they are. Are you following me?” 

“You want me to infect my husband? Is that it?” she asked tentatively. 

Jerry looked around before continuing. “Yes, but now here’s the hard part. I want you to infect yourself and then make sure you pass it on to him. That way it won’t draw any suspicion on me.” 

She sat still, not saying anything at first. Slowly, a smile crept across her face as she responded, “I like it. The young wife survives the virus but the old decrepit husband dies. And the murder weapon is a tennis ball. Jerry, you’re a genius. And a soon-to-be-rich one, at that!” 

He hugged her and told her he was thrilled she liked the plan. “And I will give you some of that medicine combination that Trump was touting, but just enough for you. Once you start feeling yourself getting sick, take it and it will minimize your symptoms. By the time you’re up and better, the old man will be dead or dying. And I will just be the simple tennis instructor who was let go several weeks before. Who’s going to suspect me, you, or both of us?” 

They ordered drinks and discussed additional details. By four o’clock, Jerry was gone and she was headed back home in her Jaguar, the can of tennis balls in her workout bag on the passenger seat. About a mile from home, she popped open the can, took out a ball, rubbed it on her lips and threw it out the car window. She did the same with the other two balls and as she drove up the long entryway of her palatial home in Brentwood, she could see her husband standing out in front, supported by his walker. She waved, parked the Jag and walked towards him, a broad smile on her face. “Hi, honey, ready to start our lonely vigil together?” she joked, as she hugged him and gave him a kiss. “I know I am.” 

That night at dinner, the two of them sat at opposite ends of a large dining table. Dinner had been brought in and was left on the front porch. Walter, her husband, had been to the wine cellar and had retrieved a special wine for their first ‘shelter in place’ dinner. He told her he wanted to make their seclusion as painless as possible. “By the way, how was your tennis class today, dear?” the old man asked, taking a sip of wine. 

She sighed and told him that she was going to miss her daily tennis workout, but that she knew it was absolutely necessary for them to remain separate from the world for a while. “How long do you think it will be like this, dear?” she asked innocently. 

The old man got slowly up from his chair and replied, “I’ve asked the best minds in my company for that answer. They say to be prepared for at least four months, minimum.” He watched her wince a bit as he walked towards her. “But to relieve your burden, I had this made for you,” he said as he laid a jewelry box down on the side of her dinner plate. 

She eagerly opened the box and inhaled sharply, saying, “Oh my God, Walter! This is magnificent! Here, help me put it on, will you?” 

As the old man moved behind her to secure the necklace, he bent down closer and added, “And I have another surprise for you, my dear. It won’t be just the two of us here for the next four months.” 

She turned her head as he fumbled with the latch on the necklace. “What do you mean, Walter? Who else is going to be here?” 

Walter stood straight and proudly announced, “Your children Ben and Mary, from your first marriage! Their colleges have shut down suddenly and what with Mary’s Lupus and Ben’s diabetes, I thought this was the perfect solution. And I’ve always wanted to get to know your kids better.” 

She stammered something but Walter was insistent, “You know me. Once I’ve made up my mind, there’s no going back.” 

As she pushed her chair away from the table and quickly got up ready to tell Walter ‘No!’, she saw the door to her right open and her two children limp to her side, their arms open and their faces beaming. 

“Surprise, Mother!” they yelled, hugging and kissing her. 

Walter stood still, watching, his fists clenched. 

End

Here Goes Nothin' - By Brian Law 

Most just called it “The Ranch”. It was a five thousand acre spread in the mountains of northern New Mexico and since the Sixties it had been the playground of the rich and famous. But the Pandemic had closed it down since early February as dozens of their best customers quickly cancelled their reservations. 

The stately Main House lay empty and quiet guarded only by ‘Old Jim’ who had been with “The Ranch” since before it was just for rich dudes. Nobody knew how old he really was but there was speculation that he was possibly over a hundred. It didn’t matter much to the management since ‘Old Jim’ was more reliable than any of their other employees and twice as savvy with the horses. 

The old man had just finished feeding the horses when he heard the phone in the barn ring. He wiped his hands on his jacket, walked to the phone and picked it up. It was a call from the owner of “The Ranch”. 

“Jim, it’s Walt. I’m in Santa Fe and will be up later this week. We’re opening up again, my friend!” As he held the receiver, ‘Old Jim’ spit some chewing tobacco onto the barn floor as his boss continued, “They’ve lifted the restrictions. Our first guests will be arriving next Monday morning.” Wiping his nose with the sleeve of his jacket, ‘Old Jim’ managed to mutter, “Uh-huh” into the phone. 

“Right. Just make sure you have seven horses saddled and ready to go. No children this time. All adults. One guy you’ll remember. The drunk that fell off his horse two years ago. You’ll have to watch him very carefully this time, Jim.” There was a pause and then the owner finished with, “Okay. That’s all for now. See you in a couple of days, Jim.” 

Hanging up the phone, the old man thought back to when he was a young boy on “The Ranch”. His father was the foreman then, and he was a mean drunk. ‘Old Jim’ took many beatings over the years from his father until he learned how to handle hard drinkers. And he’d handle this drunk coming up on Monday the same way he’d handled his father. 

He didn’t remember exactly how he learned how to do it. It just happened one day when his father had a heat on and had reached for the belt. Jim was about seven then, but he was a big seven-year-old. As his father moved towards him, Jim just stood sideways, his hands by his side with a cold look in his eyes. His father never got closer than three feet away from him. He took one look at Jim standing there with that look and never laid a hand on him again. Jim’s father died in 1918 along with his mother, and it wasn’t from hard drinking. Almost everyone in Jim’s family died that year. He was seven and all alone. And he had handled drunks the same way since then. And it was the same year he began working with the horses in the barn. And there was something he knew about the horses in the barn that nobody else alive knew. 

By Monday morning, the Main House was open for business. Delivery trucks had been arriving all weekend and the staff had been called back for the reopening. ‘Old Jim’ had started saddling the horses in the barn as soon as he saw the limo arrive with the new guests and he was just finishing up when his boss and his new guests arrived just outside the barn door. 

“Ladies and gentlemen, this is ‘Old Jim’. He’ll be your trail guide on today’s ride. He knows these mountains like the back of his hand,” the owner related to the group. 

The drunk was weaving a bit in the rear of the group as he blurted out, “Jush how old is the old coot, Walt?” 

Jim said nothing. Instead, he just spit some tobacco on the ground between him and the group. 

Walt didn’t respond to the drunk but turned to Jim and told him to bring the horses out. Jim looked at him and matter-of-factly said, “They ain’t comin’ out, Boss. They won’t budge.” 

The drunk pushed his way through the small group of guests and stumbled towards Jim, yelling “Get those goddamn steeds out here right now, old man!” 

Jim said nothing. He turned slightly, his hands down by his side, a cold look on his face. 

The drunk stopped dead in his tracks. Something told him to not take one step further, something that cut through the haze of his mind like a knife. He looked around, embarrassed, and said at the top of his voice, “Let’s get out of this dump!” The rest of the small group agreed and turned and walked back towards the Main House and their limo. 

The owner roughly pulled ‘Old Jim’ aside and under his breath growled, “There goes fifty thousand, Jim. Just because you can’t get those damn horses out of the barn. What is wrong with you?” 

Jim removed the boss’s hand from his arm, turned his head towards the barn and said, “The horses inside, their bloodline goes back to before I was born on this ranch, boss. I seen this happen once before, horses refusing to move from the barn.” 

“What are you talking about, Jim. Make some sense, will you?” his boss demanded. 

“It was 1918, boss. Before any of us knew anything was happening. But the horses did. They sensed it and wanted nothing to do with it. Just like today, boss. They sensed it in those people. The horses know them folks got it and them folks either don’t know it or won’t tell. Either way, best you get rid of them, and fast.” 

His boss just stood there dumbfounded and stuttered, “You mean . . .?” 

“Yeah, boss. Wash yer hands.” 

End

Righty Tighty - By Brian Law 

The young man and his Supervisor sat patiently in the waiting room of the Director of the Wuhan Laboratory. It had been a long day for both of them and they were anxious to return to their homes for the long weekend ahead. Bingwen had only worked at the Lab for a month since his graduation from the local technical college and he had never met the Director. So, he was slightly anxious, especially when he was told to report to the Director’s office that afternoon and all of his fellow employees looked at him with some concern. What had he done? they whispered among themselves. Nobody is ever called to the Director’s office, ever! 

The Director’s door opened and his assistant waved them both into the office. The Supervisor allowed Bingwen to go in first, and he followed close behind. The Director looked up from his desk, smiled, and rose slowly. “Welcome, please, sit down, both of you,” he said in a pleasant tone. Bingwen immediately began to feel better and when he glanced over at his Supervisor, he saw a sly smile on his face. 

“Now,” the Director began, “You are probably wondering why I have asked you here so late in the afternoon, hmmm?” Bingwen nodded obediently as he continued, “Well, it’s because I have been hearing good things about you, young man, very good things.” He looked over at the Supervisor and added, “Mr. Zhang, your Supervisor, has forwarded glowing reports on your progress. Let me see here, ah yes, here’s just one section from his most recent report . . . ‘Bingwen is undoubtedly the most proficient technician in the Level 4 Laboratory, even though he has only just completed his training and has only been on the job for a month! His competency exceeds even those of our most senior technicians!’” He put down the report and looked at him and merely said, “Congratulations, Bingwen. We could use a dozen more like you! By the way, what is your background? Where did you acquire your technical skills? Were you an engineering graduate in college?” 

The young worker looked down a bit sheepishly and replied, “I studied Art History before I entered the technical school, Director. I never handled a tool until then, sir.” 

“All the more impressive, Bingwen, all the more impressive. Your Supervisor tells me that he has so much confidence in your abilities that he allowed you to secure the lab alone in preparation for the long weekend ahead. He tells me that he has never allowed anyone with less than ten years of experience to do that. You should be congratulated to have achieved such a depth and breadth of skill in such a short time.” 

As he prepared to answer, his Supervisor proudly jumped in, “And Director, he did it without reference to the Manual. He has memorized the Manual completely. I made sure of that before he proceeded. Here, let me show you how extraordinary his memory is!” With that, his Supervisor started to ask Bingwen questions about specific shut-down procedures for the Lab Manual and had him repeat the Manual from memory, word for word. 

As he spoke, the Director followed along with his copy of the Manual. Bingwen recited sections of the Manual for several minutes with no errors until the Director held up his hand and announced, “I’m convinced, thank you!” 

Thoroughly excited now and wanting to further impress the Director, his Supervisor asked just one last question, “And Bingwen, your final act in securing the Lab. What was it?” 

He turned to look at him and answered, “Why, I closed the condensate drain from the Autoclave, the last and final possible connection to the outside world.” 

His Supervisor couldn’t contain himself as he asked, “And that condensate drain valve, you closed it all the way, until it stopped, correct?” 

“Of course, all the way to the left until it stopped,” he answered confidently. 

The look on the Director’s face was one of horror as he immediately reached across his desk and slammed the red button on his desk. The red light on the wall started to glow and rotate and the alarms began to sound. 

Bingwen was stunned as he turned to his Supervisor for guidance. The Supervisor's face had lost all color and tears were rolling down his cheeks and it was clear from the smell that something else had happened, too. 

End

The Frustration Bureau - By Brian Law 

“Good Morning, this is The Frustration Bureau. I’m Betsy, your assistant today. How may I help you?” 

A tentative male voice came on the line, “I’m, uh, a first-time caller. Are these calls recorded or anything?” 

Betsy cheerily replied, “We do record all conversations for quality control purposes. But I assure you anything you say will be kept in strict confidentiality, sir.” 

“Okay. And if I tell you my major frustration, what do you do with that information, Betsy?” he asked, a bit more confident. 

“First, you and I work together to develop a precise description of your frustration. Then I give you some suggestions and tips. But if that isn’t enough for you, I can enter your frustration into our database, give it a distinctive identifier, and our experts will then review it and get back to you via email about how they think you could best address your frustration,” Betsy proudly replied. 

“Look, uh, Betsy, is it? Let’s skip that second part, okay? I don’t want my email in your database. So, let me just describe my problem and maybe you can help me. God, I’ve never been so frustrated!” the voice answered in desperation. 

“That’s fine with me. I’m just a level-headed gal from the Midwest. Grew up on a farm in a large family so I have a lot of experience solving interpersonal problems. So, what is the gist of your frustration today?” Betsy asked. 

“Well, for most of my professional life, I’ve been my own boss or the boss of others. But in my new position, I have to take orders from a guy who’s a real jackass. He’s put me in charge of a big important project recently and I’ve staffed it up with the best people I could find. And we’ve developed some really terrific ideas and have presented these ideas to our customers.” 

“So, what seems to be the problem?” Betsy inquired. 

“Well, during our presentations, my boss just jumps in willy-nilly and makes outrageous statements without any basis in fact. It makes me look like a fool, undermines our ideas, and makes our customers nervous. And believe me, quitting is not an option nor is complaining to my boss. I’m at my wit’s end, Betsy.” 

“Is it possible to go over his head? You know, to his boss?” she suggested. 

“No.” 

“Okay, is it possible that customer dissatisfaction could become so great that your boss might lose his job in the near future?” she pondered. 

“Yeah, in a way. Yeah, that could happen. But I’d be out of a job, too. It’s not like I’d take over as boss,” he answered, a bit forlornly. 

“Well, all I can say is what a Kansas farm boy once said and I think it bears repeating here, sir. He said, 'Farming looks mighty easy when your plow is a pencil and you're a thousand miles from the corn field',” she added. 

She heard the man on the other end of the phone repeat that saying slowly, several times. After a moment he came back on the line and said, “You know, Betsy, I needed that. I’ve been away from my Midwest roots too long. I’m going to get my perspective back and dive back into my new project, crappy boss be darned!” 

The phone line went dead, and Betsy took a moment to make some notes in her call log. Her friend, a new employee, leaned over and remarked, “Uh, Betsy, you’ve never been on a farm in your life. You were born in Brooklyn, kiddo. Who are you trying to kid with that farm lingo, anyway?” 

“It was Mike Pence, again. He calls in about once a week, always trying to disguise his voice. We all just make up some shit to make him feel better. It seems to work for a while, anyway,” she replied. 

End

White Mask - By Brian Law 

“Ronny, can I call you Ronny?” the man wearing the white face mask asked. 

“Yeah, that’s my name. Can you talk slower? It’s hard to understand you through the mask and all.” 

“No problem, Ronny,” the man answered. Speaking slowly and carefully, he continued, “Let’s go back one day, okay? You live over your brother-in-law’s detached garage, right? And you’ve lived there for, what, about three years?” 

Ronny fidgeted, tapped a smoke from his pack and lit it as he answered, “Yeah. I leave the rent in cash in a box on the back porch every month. We don’t talk.” 

“So yesterday, you woke-up early about 3 a.m. and walked to the local Seven Eleven. Is that about right, Ronny? And you told the others that you didn’t see anyone on the way to or from the store.” 

“Yup. I bought breakfast, you know, a Slurpee and a pop tart. Left the money on the counter like always. Fawad lets me do that so he can sleep in the back. I was back home in twenty minutes, tops. I got home in time to start watching the morning shows on ESPN.” 

The man wrote something down, adjusted his face mask, and continued, “So you spent most of the morning over the garage watching ESPN. When did you go out again?” 

“Lunch. I walked to the Seven Eleven and bought some stuff, uh, let’s see, a burrito and a coke, I think. Paid the same way. Took a nap and then watched ESPN some more till dinner time. Went back to the store, got some chow and came home, ate, caught one last show on ESPN and went to bed.” Ronny stopped, took a drag on his cigarette and then added, “And then you guys woke me up around 2 o’clock this morning and started asking me all these questions.” Pausing, he proudly announced, “You guys are the first people I’ve seen for, like, a long time!” 

The man in the white mask got up from his chair, walked around the room a bit and then turned to address Ronny, “So, not seeing anybody for weeks or months is not unusual for you, correct? And ESPN is your only contact with the outside world, so to speak? Have I got that right, Ronny?” 

Ronny nodded and crossed his arms. “What’s this all about, anyway? Am I in any trouble?” 

The man in the white face mask smiled for the first time as he replied, “Trouble? No, nothing like that, Ronny. We’re just trying to figure out how you managed to survive when almost nobody else around here did.” 

"Survived what?" Ronny asked, stubbing out his cigarette. 

End

Tell Me About It - By Brian Law 

“Welcome, everyone, to today’s radio broadcast of ‘My American Life’, the only radio show that celebrates the lives of everyday Americans. I’m Bob Olney and today we have as our guest June Wesley from Tripto, Michigan. June, welcome to the show!” the host began. 

“Thanks, Bob, it’s an honor to be with you, even if it’s only over the phone.” 

“So, June, you and your family like so many others are ‘sheltering in place’, and you’re having to make-do. Can you elaborate on how your family is coping?” Bob went on. 

“Sure. I have four kids, ages three through fifteen, and their hair doesn’t stop growing, Bob! So, I’ve had to learn how to cut hair for both the boys and the girls. It’s been quite a ‘learning curve’,” June joked. 

“I can imagine. What else have you had to learn that you would normally rely on others to do?” 

June excitedly answered, “Okay, well the refrigerator went out last Wednesday. And if there is anything that is critical for a family who can’t leave the house, it’s the refrigerator, Bob! So, I had to learn how to ask the right question of some internet experts on those DIY sites. Then I had to order the right parts online, and then I had to learn how to install the parts. It took me a while, but I got it working again.” 

“Well, good for you, June. I’m sure our listeners are getting some much-needed inspiration from your good old American gumption and resolve. Anything else you’ve done for your family that might interest our listeners today?” Bob asked. 

June paused, then added, “The gas fireplace stopped working. And out here in Michigan it gets really cold, so I had to fix it fast. But working with gas is tricky, so again I went to experts online. They walked me through the diagnostics step by step. Turned out it was a couple of electrodes that were a bit corroded. Cleaned them up and got it working before the sun went down, Bob.” 

“Marvelous, June. By the way, where’s your husband in all this? Sounds like you’re doing all of this by yourself. Is he helping or what?” the host asked. 

“Vern’s been laid up for a few weeks with a bad ticker, Bob,” June explained. “He’s been weak as a kitten, so that’s been a real problem. So, when the emergency generator started acting up, I knew I was going to need his help, and fast.” She paused, and then continued, “You see, Bob, Vern’s an electrician when he’s working.” 

“Okay, but what about his heart problem? That sounds serious, real serious, June. How did you work around that problem without a doctor?” 

“Well, Vern and I talked about it some. And you know, Bob, he’s a real gamer, that Vern. He’s always been one who’s been up for anything. And he’s a hunter, too, Bob. So, he knows a bit about animal anatomy ‘cause he’s gutted so many. So, he talked me through it!” 

Bob said nothing as he digested that last comment. His producer was in his earphone insisting that he quickly change the subject. DO NOT ASK HER WHAT HAPPENED! But Bob trusted his instincts and instead asked a question whose answer he didn’t know, “Ah, June, so you performed some sort of medical procedure on your husband that allowed him to fix the generator? Is that it, June? I’m sure my listeners are waiting to hear how it all worked out.” 

Bob and his listeners could hear June talking in muffled tones to someone else in the background. It sounded like she was telling her kids to ‘shut the hell up’ or something like that. Anyway, June quickly came back on the line and calmly continued, “Well, Bob, the generator is still acting up. And I’m now trying to teach myself how to run this darn backhoe Vern left in the backyard.” 

“Backhoe, June?” Bob asked cautiously. “I don’t understand. How does a backhoe figure into all of this?” 

June chuckled and then replied, “I can tell you’ve never tried to dig a six-foot hole in Northern Michigan in late March, Bob.” 

End

Live Music - By Brian Law 

He woke suddenly and sat bolt upright in bed. “What the hell was that?” he muttered, startling his wife. 

“What the hell was what?” she asked, yawning and barely awake. 

“That sound. It’s coming from outside. There it is again. Can you hear it?” he asked, climbing slowly out of bed and padding carefully towards the bedroom window. 

She didn’t move for a few moments as she listened closely. “Yeah, now I hear it. It sounds like music. But that can’t be, not from outside, anyway.” 

“No, it’s from outside. It’s coming from the park just like when they used to have those outside concerts. Remember, the sound would drift all the way over here,” he added wistfully. 

She got up, too, put on her bathrobe and joined him at the window. “But it can’t be live music. I mean, with the restrictions on outdoor activities and martial law and all that. It’s got to be a recording, right?” she mused, scratching her head. 

“No, listen carefully, it’s definitely live, and there’s an audience, too. You can hear the clapping and yelling. And I can even smell marijuana smoke in the air.” 

“My God, you’re right and I can smell it, too. But it doesn’t make any sense. It’s been over a year since anybody went outside. It’s too dangerous and there’s military types all over the place. No way there’s a live concert in the park, just no way!” she exclaimed. 

He turned and went to sit on the bed. He patted the place beside him and she sat down next to him. He looked at her in the dim light, sighed heavily and said, “Honey, we’ve been locked-down so long we’ve lost hope. We don’t even go online anymore except to order food. I bet the curfew has been lifted and we didn’t get the word. Possible?” 

She took his hands in hers, beamed and said, “God, you may be right. I mean, it’s been over a year and we have all but given up. It can’t hurt to get dressed and just go over for a peek, right?” 

They both got up at the same time and hurriedly dressed. He grabbed a flashlight and she snatched her purse. As they opened the front door and moved to the porch for the first time in a year, he cautioned, “We’ll walk, okay. No use going too high profile. We’ll stay away from the streetlights and move in the shadows. And we’re just going to catch a glimpse of the concert and then get right back here, okay” 

“Okay!” she answered with glee as the two of them headed down the front steps into the night and down the street. 

Had they taken the time to let their eyes get accustomed to the dark, they might have seen the two men seated in a car nearby, their cigarette embers glowing in the car’s dark interior. One spoke quietly into a walkie-talkie and said, “Blue Boy to Rover, targets are on the move. Pick ‘em up at the corner and arrest ‘em.” Putting down the radio, he turned to his partner and chuckled, “Well, we won't be able to use that little trick again for a while, will we?” 

His partner stubbed out his cigarette in the ash tray, nodded and replied, "Yeah, but I think the recording of the little kitten meowing helplessly will probably get the old lady on the corner out for a few minutes tomorrow night. Want to give it a try?" 

End

Herd Immunity - By Brian Law 

She found him looking out the back window again. It was 2:30 in the morning and he was peeking through the curtain at the cottage they owned. She padded quietly up behind him, put her arms around his waist and asked, “Did she get back late?” 

“Yeah, well, she got back early this morning, about an hour ago. She was with someone,” he answered, moving his head a bit to get a better view. “He wasn’t one of her regulars. He’s still there, as far as I can tell.” 

“What woke you? Were they loud? What was it?” she wondered. 

“Oh, you know, I was worrying about our finances, about our son in Michigan, and about the septic system. The usual. Then I heard them drive up and I watched.” He paused, then admitted, “It’s my only outlet nowadays. I’m a voyeur of all things. I used to be an accountant.” 

She should have laughed but she knew he was serious. What they had become worried her, too. They couldn’t leave the house and they had to hire the girl to be their outreach into what was left of the community. The stores and shops were all boarded up and only the immune ones and the asymptomatic ones roamed the city. The girl was immune, knew her way around the black markets in food and repair services, and agreed to work for free rent, a free car, and a few thousand a month. 

It had worked out so far. She was good at getting decent food at a decent price, getting immune ones to fix things that needed fixing around the house, and keeping the riffraff off their property. They gave her a pistol and she’d used it once or twice. She was fearless but had good judgement. And it looked like she was close to getting the septic system back into working order. 

It bothered them at first when she started bringing men back to the cottage. They’d last for a day or two, then there would be a big argument and the guy would stomp off, never to be seen again. They weren’t sure what they would do if she ever settled on just one guy and he decided to move in. She’d have them over a barrel, no question. 

They left the back window and sat in the kitchen. She made coffee and he told her he had a story to tell that began a few weeks ago. He recalled how he found an old walkie-talkie in the garage and got it working again. He turned it on and sent out a general invite to anyone listening and he got an instant reply from an old friend of theirs, Milt Fletcher. The Fletchers were in a similar situation but Milt was a little more adventurous than he was. Seems like Milt liked to sneak out at night while his wife was asleep in an effort to find out what was really going on. 

He found out all right. All the immune and asymptomatic ones had formed a makeshift open-air commune in a meadow just outside of town. It was sort of a ‘burning man’ deal with everybody running around half-naked and bartering all sorts of stuff. Milt would hide on a nearby hillside at night and watch the goings-on. He said it was like something out of a Mad Max movie. He actually said it might be worth getting the virus and surviving it just to spend a night down there with the rest of them. 

They agreed to communicate again the next day at the same time, but Milt didn’t come up on his walkie-talkie. He went to his garage secretly and tried for two days, but no Milt. On the third day, he snuck out to the garage to try again. He found a walkie-talkie nailed to the garage door. It had been crushed and there was a note attached. 

“Oh, my God! Was it Milt’s radio?” she shrieked. He nodded. He had given it to Milt a few years ago as a gift and he recognized it. 

“The note. What did the note say?” 

He slumped in his chair, a look of fear and despair on his face as he managed to stammer out, “It was from her, our boarder, and her friends. It said, ‘Don’t try this again or there will be no food!’” 

End

Matriarch - By Brian Law 

“Ah,” she replied, “I always knew you were the one, from the moment you could speak.” 

The great-grandchild sat at her knee, her great-grandmother patting her on the head. “But how do you know? How do you know who to trust, great-grandmama?” 

The old woman had not confided in anyone for over thirty years. She had held her own counsel and had trusted no one, not her husband, not anyone, not until today. Today, providence had delivered someone she could trust, and it was a seven-year-old girl. 

“Trust, my dear, is not something you can depend upon. It is a rare gem, maybe the rarest, like you. I can trust you because you have asked the right questions, without guile, without deceit. You are the one I will trust with the answers. So, sit while I reveal them to you, my dearest,” the old lady replied, her hands taking hold of her great-granddaughter’s hand. 

“You want to know who you can trust, don’t you. As a young woman married to your great-grandfather, I trusted many people. And I learned to regret those decisions. So, I had to learn who to exclude and who to let in,” the old woman explained. “I learned that it was all about power, money and access.” 

The young girl stayed silent and paid rapt attention to her mentor as the old woman continued. “People were attracted to us and wanted access to us. Sometimes it was obvious, but often it was subtle. I’m no different than others, I like people and like them around, but when I discover their motives, it’s time to cut them off.” 

The young girl moved close to her great-grandmother’s knee and asked, “How do you do that without letting them know you are doing it?” 

The old woman smiled, stroked the child’s hair and answered, “Precisely the problem, my dear. The secret is in the access. You reduce access just a bit at a time until, finally, they have no access at all. Understand? Just a bit at a time, almost imperceptibly.” 

“Is there anyone left who’s close to you now, great-grandmama?” the young girl wondered. 

“Just you, my dear. Just you,” she answered wistfully. “And maybe the dogs,” she laughed. 

“Are you lonely, great-grandmama?” the young girl asked. 

“No, not really,” the old woman replied wistfully. 

“Was there ever anyone who you had to deny access to quickly, without hesitation?” the young girl asked. 

The old woman removed her hands from her great-granddaughter, sighed and answered, “Yes, once.” She paused as if thinking back to a different place and time and then continued, “And I would do that differently, but I was stubborn and headstrong. Do you understand those words, my dear?” 

The young woman nodded and stayed quiet. She knew about the stories, knew about the conflict, and knew a bit about the Princess. But that was all she knew. 

And for the rest of the afternoon, her great-grandmother provided her with guidance for the rest of her life. 

End

Vintage - By Brian Law 

“Cut, Cut! . . . Shit!” the young director yelled out in disgust as he quickly got up from his chair and motioned for his prop man. The director and the prop man had been close ever since film school and so the prop man knew exactly what the director was angry about. As collaborators on all the young director’s films, the two were never apart for more than a few hours each day during filming. They planned every scene down to the last detail to minimize delays, but when there was a problem, the director could be tyrannical about it. 

Out of earshot of the rest of the crew, the director pulled the prop man aside and started to lambaste him. “Jeremy, I told you I wanted a vintage ‘47 Chrysler for this shot! That piece of shit the stunt driver brought onto the scene looks like it just came from the junkyard. We can’t use the footage!” Closely watching his prop man’s reaction, he continued, “So get me what I want and get it today, okay!” 

The prop man wasn’t going to be bullied on this one as he fought back, “I told you three weeks ago we were having trouble with the cars! Remember our conversation at your mother’s house when I told you about that big company in L.A. that has been buying up all the old vintage cars from the smaller outfits we used to rent from.” 

“Yeah, I remember the conversation. And I remember you said we were going to have to spend a lot more on cars than we thought. So, what’s the problem here?” the director complained impatiently. 

The prop man took a moment to answer knowing full well how the young director was going to react, “Well, we were all set to rent a suitable car until they demanded to review the script. And when we showed them the story line, they refused to rent to us.” 

“On what grounds?” the director demanded. 

The prop man breathed deeply and replied, “On the grounds that it puts Italian-Americans in a bad light.” 

“For Christ's Sake, Jeremy, we’re doing a movie about the mob in L.A. in the late 1940’s. That was generations ago! Who are these guys who are refusing to rent to us, anyway? Will they reconsider?” the director yelled. 

The prop man used his finger to push his nose to one side. 

“Oh, shit, you mean they’re connected?” the incredulous director whispered. 

The prop man slowly nodded and shrugged. “I had to go all the way to Kansas to get this piece of junk to use in the shot! Can you believe it? It was one of the few ‘47 Chryslers the L.A. company hadn’t bought up. I think it’s been in a barn for quite a while. It still has its old California plates on it with 1947 registration tags.” 

The director told the crew to take a lunch break while he and the prop man took a closer look at the old car and talked to the stunt driver. They walked around the vehicle, looked inside it, and then stood back to consider what to do next. 

The director turned to the stunt driver and asked, “Willy, you know cars. What do you think about this piece of junk? If we give it a cheap paint job and touch up the wheels and the bumpers, will it pass muster if we don’t use it in a closeup?” 

The stunt driver didn’t hesitate as he responded, “Yeah, we can have it ready by tomorrow morning. But there’s just one thing.” He waited nervously as the young director put his hands on his hips and in an annoying voice said, “Oh, what now?” 

The prop man jumped right in and replied, “Well, we had to buy this car from a farmer in Kansas. We beat the L.A. guys to it with just about ten minutes to spare, and they weren’t too pleased that they didn’t get it. Apparently, they've been looking for it for years!” 

“So what?” the director demanded. 

“Well, they’ll be by tomorrow afternoon to pick it up from us. So, we have to get the shot done and have the car ready to ship by four o’clock tomorrow afternoon, or else,” the prop man explained. 

The director was now in full rage. “Let me understand this, will you? First, they refuse to rent cars to us and now they’re demanding we give them cars that we own! Is that what I’m hearing, Jeremy?” 

The prop man walked to the rear of the car, motioned for the young director to follow him as he opened the trunk. “Maybe this will help you understand.” As the two men looked down into the trunk, they could clearly see the skeletal remains of a large man who in life had been dressed in a suit and hat circa the late 1940’s. There was an obvious hole in the rear of the deceased’s skull. 

The director took a deep breath and then slowly asked, “Did they say anything about what would happen if we didn’t return the car?” 

The prop man and the stunt driver looked at each other, and then the prop man moved closer to the young director, put his hand on his shoulder, and whispered, “They said there was still plenty of room in the trunk.” 

End

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