Cleansing - By Brian Law 

“Hi, Missy. This is Bob Watkins from Santa Rosa. You remember me. My wife and I are coming to the ‘Spa’  this weekend and we wanted to make reservations,” he said into his phone. 

“Oh, hi, Bob. Sure, let me just get my appointments calendar out here. Now, what are you two going to want as far as our services are concerned, “ Missy answered. 

“The usual. I want a mud bath and massage on Saturday, and so does my wife. And on Sunday we’d both like the hot rocks and a steam bath,” Bob requested. 

“No problem. I’ll book you Saturday morning and Sunday afternoon. As I recall, that’s sort of what you prefer,” she replied. 

“Sounds good, Missy. See you then,” Bob responded. But just before he hung up, Missy came back with, “We have something new this year, Bob. We’ve developed it especially for our older clientele. I think you and your wife might be interested. Want to hear some more about it?” Missy teased. 

“Sure, why not. We have the whole weekend, Missy.” 

“Well, it’s called a “Soul Cleansing” and it takes about two hours and we charge $125 per customer. It’s really wonderful and our clients rave about it, Bob,” she gushed. 

“Did I hear you correctly? A ‘Soul Cleansing'? You’d better explain that a bit more, Missy. But I’m interested. I mean at my age who wouldn’t?” Bob responded. 

“We have purchased a device that you sit in and it detects the condition of your soul. It rates your soul’s condition on a scale of 1 to 10. One being that you’re basically going to Hell, Bob. And 10 being you won’t need to pay the $125. But for anything in between, we put you through a series of processes that basically wash away many of the impurities on your soul. Then we put you back in the device and you can see the improvement in your soul’s condition. Interested, Bob?” Missy explained. 

There was a pause on his end of the line as he thought about what to say next. “Missy let’s say I get into the device and my number is 1. What is the typical improvement after the two hour treatment? “ Bob wondered. 

“That’s a great question, Bob, and I’ll tell you why. Since there’s no number lower than 1, we’ve discovered that your individual improvement depends upon how deeply depressed the condition of your soul really is. Some people who register 1 are just really shallow 1’s. But some are really degraded 1’s. So, how much you improve depends upon how bad a life you’ve lived.” She paused and then probed a bit, “Bob, what are we looking at here? Have you lived a really bad life?” 

Bob breathed deeply as he contemplated his answer. “Look, I wasn’t a monster or anything, okay? But I’m not proud of much of what I’ve done in my life, Missy. So, let’s just assume my soul is a middling 1. What kind of improvement might I achieve?” 

He could hear Missy talking to someone in the background before she came back on the line, “Bob, I just talked to the device operator and he thinks you might get to a 4 number. Still, that’s  a pretty good improvement for just $125.” 

“That’s good to know, Missy. Now, just two questions. First, if I do the process on Saturday and get to a 4, can I go back in on Sunday and do it again, hoping maybe to raise that to a 7? And second, if my wife also goes through the process and she gets a high number, say like an 8, will it change her personality? I mean will we still have the same relationship as before? She won’t, like, become saintly or anything, will she?” 

Missy laughed a bit on her end of the line and then answered Bob’s two questions. “You can do ‘back-to-backs’, Bob, and you will get a bump with the second process. As far as your wife, we make sure both husband and wife leave the ‘Spa’ with the same soul number. We’ve discovered that if we don’t do that, some marital problems creep in later on. So, we make sure everyone is simpatico on a soul level when they leave. So, what do you say, Bob? Have I convinced you to try our ‘Soul Cleansing’ process?” 

She’d had enough experience selling this process to know it wasn’t always a slam dunk. And she thought she probably knew what was going on in Bob’s mind as she waited for his response. So she took a chance and asked one last question, “Bob, are you concerned about your ability to sell cars after you leave the ‘Spa’? Is that what’s concerning you?” 

“Frankly, Missy, yes, that’s it precisely. I’m kinda torn between what’s going to happen after I die and how I’m going to make a living before that. Does that make sense to you?” Bob lamented. 

“It sure does, Bob. So here’s what I’m going to recommend. Why don’t you wait until you retire before getting the process? That way you can have the best of both worlds. You can still sell the hell out of cars and get into heaven when you die. Sound like a good solution to you, Bob?” Missy proposed. 

She could sense the relief in Bob’s voice as he answered, “Missy, you’re the best. I got a couple of years before I retire and I really want to make the most of those years. So, we’ll delay the process until then. But in the meantime, kiddo, if you’re ever in Santa Rosa, come on into Bob Watkins Chevrolet and Buick and I’ll give you a deal you won’t believe!” 

End

The Racoons Came Again Last Night - By Brian Law 

The violin music from his radio swept over him as he settled back into his recliner in the den. Everything was just about perfect, he thought, smug in his comfortable house. As Summer merged into Fall, he had done everything on his list to get ready for the change in season. His garden was flourishing, his lawn and trees were vibrant, his back deck newly restained, and his view towards the nearby forest cleared away. True, he couldn’t interact with others because of the virus, but still it was near perfect, except for the racoons. 

They came at night or early morning when he slept. They dug up his garden a bit, tipped over the garbage cans, slopped water from the watering cans all over, and left their paw prints on the deck and on his windows. It was a minor inconvenience to clean up after them, but that wasn’t what bothered him. What really got to him was their complete freedom from everything, their disdain for convention, and their apparent immunity from the virus. They just did whatever they wanted without reference to the human world around them. 

They had adapted perfectly to the situation and it bothered him deeply. They came and went with abandon and they even had their own little face masks provided to them by Mother Nature. They’d been like this for millennia, he mused, and would probably be here after Climate Change battered humanity into fleeing. 

A loneliness started to creep over him, a feeling he hadn’t experienced even though his situation certainly would have justified it before now. He looked around and inspected the room he was in. It was clean, neat, well-decorated and lonely, just like all the other rooms in his perfect little home. 

He checked his watch. It was close to one-thirty in the morning. He sat still, thought about things one more time, then got up and went to the sliding glass door that led to the deck. He pulled back the curtain just a bit and moved back about ten feet. 

He didn’t have to wait long. The motion activated deck light came on about ten minutes later and he could see five of them on the deck. They seemed unperturbed by the light and the big one slowly moved towards the sliding glass door and peered in. There was just enough light for it to see him standing there, ten feet away. For a moment, they stared at each other. Then, the big one got up on its hind legs and put its paws on the glass slider and just continued to look in. Some of the others gathered around him, also looking in. 

He didn’t know why at the time, but he took off his bathrobe and let it drop to the floor. Looking back on what he did next, he couldn’t really explain it very well. But he remembered going to the sliding door, opening it, and getting down on all fours next to the big one. The others gathered around him, made soothing sounds for a few moments, and then all of them trundled off together towards the forest. 

It wasn’t until his eyes got accustomed to the dark and he got up to the tree line that he saw the others who were waiting and watching, and who like him had decided to change their lifestyle. 

End

The Coroner's Children - By Brian Law 

“Nobody liked them much,” the skinny teenager whispered to her friend. “But nobody expected this. I mean, they’re just kids, right?” 

The two stood shivering in the rain on the sidewalk across from the children’s home. Yellow crime scene tape and cops were everywhere and the press had just started to arrive. Word travels fast in a small town, especially when there’s suspicious behavior in a prominent family. But the two teenagers had their own unique pipeline to the Coroner’s family. Their mother was the housekeeper for the prominent family and was being questioned by the police. And the story she hinted at was nothing short of bone chilling. 

They isolated the housekeeper in a corner of the kitchen and made sure no one interrupted them as they asked their questions. The first one was the big one, “Were there problems between the kids and their parents?” 

The housekeeper fidgeted with the towel in her hands as she answered, “Well, the kids didn’t have any friends. And they blamed their father for that.” She fussed with the towel, looked nervously at the detectives, and then added, “The other kids in the neighborhood called their Dad ‘The Ghoul’ and things like that. Nobody wanted anything to do with the kids. It was sad.” 

“So, did the kids act out? Did you see any behavior that you thought was out of the ordinary?” the burly detective asked. 

“Oh, no question! The daughter especially. She was cutting herself and stealing alcohol from her Dad’s liquor cabinet. And the boy, he was starting to wear makeup and to dye his hair. You know, stuff like that. Not normal,” the housekeeper related. 

“And when did you come to work for the family?” was the next question. 

“Oh, about twelve years ago when they first arrived in town. He had left his job as the Coroner for a small city upstate and got the job down here. The kids were just toddlers, really, when I first got the job,” she answered. 

“Had you ever seen the children be violent before towards their parents?” the burly detective asked, stubbing out his cigarette. 

Shaking her head and lowering it, the housekeeper reluctantly murmured, “No, never before. It was just after I saw something that I shouldn’t have seen that the kids attacked their parents.” 

As she looked up at the two detectives, she sensed their excitement about her last statement as they stopped writing in their notebooks and leaned in closer, “So, you saw something unusual? Go on.” 

“Uh, well I had to get some cleaning solution from the workshop. So, I went out the back door and walked back there, but I didn’t go in. The door was slightly open and I saw the parents standing over something on the table. And they were, like, chanting or something,” she said. “I got a bit closer and saw that they had a young child in a body bag. Obviously dead, you know, from the morgue where the father works. And they were chanting something over and over again.” 

“Okay, now, are you sure there was a stiff on the table?” 

“I’m sure.” 

“Could you remember what they were chanting?” 

“Uh-huh. Something like, ‘Accept our offering, Osiris. Here lies Emily. Please let her cross over, let her cross over’. Yeah, that’s it, they were chanting that over and over until they saw me and then he slammed the door shut and I went right back into the house.” 

“And about how long after that did the fight between the kids and the parents take place?” 

“Oh, about twenty minutes, I’d say. The kids probably followed me out to the workshop and had seen what I saw. That’s my guess. Pissed ‘em off something terrible. They attacked their parents while they were still in the workshop!” 

Just then, a third detective stuck his head into the kitchen and in a hushed voice said to the burly detective, “Joe, the EMT’s just told me they found something that they missed when they were treating the parents in the workshop.” 

“Don’t tell me,” the burly cop answered, “It’s a child, a little girl, right?” 

“Yeah, Joe, how’d you know? And here’s the weird part. The EMT’s tell me they’ve never seen anybody with a body temperature that low who was still alive.” 

End

Smile for Me - By Brian Law 

“This is Julie. Welcome to ‘Smile for Me’. How can I help you today?” she chirped, adjusting her headpiece. 

“Hi, I’m a first time caller, so you’re going to have to be patient,” he responded. 

“No problem, sir. The way we usually start is to ask your age and whether you live alone or not. Do you feel comfortable answering those two questions, sir?” Julie continued. 

“Yeah, okay, I can do that. I live with my daughter and her two kids in a little house on the edge of town. Oh, and I’m seventy,” he replied. 

“Great. Now, how would you expect to pay for your order today? We take most major credit cards and PayPal. And, if you join our Smile Forever Club, your first order is free! Are you familiar with our Smile Forever Club, sir?” Julie asked. 

“I don’t think I’ll need the Club deal.” he said, a bit exasperated. “I mean this stupid virus can’t hang on forever. All I need is just one or two visits, you know, just a tune-up. I just need someone to show me how to smile again. I’m sure that’s all it’ll take. It’s kind of like riding a bicycle, right? And I’ll just pay with my Visa.” 

Julie entered some data into her computer and then came back on the phone, “You’ve indicated that you think just one or two visits will do the trick. Is that right, sir? I’m only asking because we’re finding that learning how to smile again, especially with our older clients, can be a challenge.” 

He muttered something to himself, and then told her, “No, let’s just go with two visits.” 

“Right, sir. Now, our cheapest package is the Slow Drive-by Smile. You stand on the curb and one of our smilers will very slowly smile as they pass you by. The next cheapest is the Doorbell Smile where our smiler will smile into your doorbell camera. And of course there’s our personal package which is the most expensive. That would be the Six Foot and Holding Smile package, most likely in your front yard. Our smiler will actually meet with you and talk you through the whole process. Do you want me to repeat any of that information, sir?” she wondered. 

“No, no, I think I’ve got it. Here’s what I want to do. I’ll take a Doorbell Smile package followed-up by a Six Foot and Holding Smile package. Different days, okay? That should do it,” he answered excitedly. “Oh, do you allow groups, you know, like me and my daughter and her two kids?” 

“You bet, sir. There’s a small surcharge, but we certainly can accommodate your whole family. So, I’m going to take your personal information now, sir, and we’ll start the process. Can I have your address first of all.” 

“Sure, I live at the intersection of  Delight Street and Joy Avenue. Do you know the area?” he asked. 

“Of course. We do a lot of business out in your part of town, sir. It can be a little rough at night, but during the day our smilers haven't had too many problems.” 

End

Mysterious Ways - By Brian Law 

The police sergeant pulled his cruiser into its assigned parking slot at the Hollywood Division, shut-off the engine, began making a few entries onto his clipboard and remarked, “So, Dudley, this is it. You’ve just completed your training period with the L.A.P.D. You got anything to add before I go in and complete my training report on you, son?” the sergeant said, still making some last entries. 

“No, sergeant,” Dudley replied, “I think you have a good idea of what kind of police officer I’ll make. You know how I think and act. So, no, I think I’ll just leave it at that.” 

The training officer put down his clipboard and looked over at Dudley and asked in a serious voice, “So you stand by all that stuff about God putting you here to do his will? You don’t want to back off from some of that?” 

“No, sergeant,” Dudley responded just as seriously, “I am merely an instrument of the Lord Almighty. This baton, this spray, this taser, this pistol, they have been put into my hands to do his bidding. That’s what I’ve told you from the first day and it still stands today.” 

The sergeant paused and then asked, “But you’ll follow Department Protocols, right?” 

“There are laws that come from a higher authority, sergeant, and I am bound to follow those laws first. The Ten Commandments are my Protocols, sergeant,” came Dudley’s reply. 

“Right,” the sergeant interjected, “but are you going to pull that weapon on someone just because they stole something or used the Lord’s name in vain?” 

Dudley smiled for the first time today as he replied confidently, “The Lord works in mysterious ways, sergeant. I am merely his instrument. But I am not a foolish or violent person, either, and the Lord knows that. That’s why I’ve been chosen.” 

The sergeant nodded, took a deep breath, and said, “Well, that’s good to know, Dudley. Why don’t you pack it in and I’ll go talk to the Captain about your training. Don’t worry, you passed with flying colors, son.” He held out his hand and Dudley shook it enthusiastically. “But I want you to do me a small favor, Dudley?” his training officer added 

“Sure, sergeant,” Dudley responded, “anything you want.” 

“Don’t tell anyone else what you have told me, okay? You know, about being God’s instrument and all that. Just keep all that under your cap. Do me that favor, will you? I think you’ll find out you will be a lot more effective if you do,” the sergeant said, again in a very serious voice. 

Dudley nodded and the two of them went their separate ways. The sergeant smiled as he watched Dudley walk away knowing he’d keep his promise. Then the sergeant knocked on the Captain’s door. “A moment of your time, sir?” he requested. 

Looking up, the Captain motioned him in and asked, “What’s up, sergeant?” 

“Well, sir, it’s about trainee Dudley. He’s just finished his training and I wanted to talk to you about him if I may?” the sergeant replied. 

The Captain put down his pen and indicated for the sergeant to go ahead. Clearing his throat, the sergeant started, “Dudley is going to make a fine officer, sir. He’s cool-headed, smart, patient, and instills confidence in others. But I wanted to make just one request of you, sir?” 

“Sure, sergeant. You’re my best trainer so I take your requests very seriously. What is it?” the Captain asked. 

The sergeant shifted in his chair and then asked, “I request that you partner Dudley up with Clancy, sir. I think they’d make a good pair.” 

The Captain leaned back in his chair, his arms behind his head, as he asked, “I’d heard rumors that you and Clancy had issues, sergeant. Any truth to that?” 

“No, sir, none at all. I have the greatest respect for Officer Clancy. Otherwise I wouldn’t make this request, sir,” came the sergeant’s reply. 

“Okay, then, sergeant. I’ll make that happen on the strength of your recommendation. Dudley will be partnered up with Clancy as of Monday morning. Anything else, sergeant?” the Captain inquired. 

“No, sir,” the sergeant replied as he got up out of his chair and headed for his locker. He smiled again for the second time today as he thought about just how long it would take Clancy to start bragging to Dudley about how he was screwing the sergeant’s wife. And about just how long it would take patrolman Dudley to dutifully administer God’s wrath for this grievous violation of the Seventh Commandment. 

He gave it a week at the outside. 

End

Moving Violation - By Brian Law 

He knew it was risky, but he had no choice. He’d agreed to take Tricia for the weekend because his ex-wife had to go on one of her ‘business trips’, and if he didn’t take their daughter as a favor, he’d pay for it later in some Reno lawyer’s office. That he knew for sure. 

The problem that made it tricky was that he was on call, too. It was his weekend ‘in the barrel’. He had to stay home near the phone with his truck loaded and ready to go, waiting for a service call. And just as he and his daughter settled in to watch the football game, the call came in. One look at who was calling and he knew he couldn’t duck it, which also meant it would be a four-hour round trip  with Tricia by his side. Which would probably be alright except it was Sally’s Pleasure Ranch calling. 

“Butch, this is Misty out at Sally’s. You’re on call today, huh? Good, haven’t seen you in a while. Look, our normal service is tomorrow, but we’re getting slammed this weekend. Horny devils! Anyway, we need you right now, Butchie Boy! The regular order. . . . and I know it’s already in the truck, ” the caller insisted in a nice way. 

Butch thought for a moment, then answered, “Listen, Misty, I got a little problem here. My daughter has to come with me today. It’s a long story.” 

Misty took a long drag on her perfumed cigarette, watched the smoke rise to the ceiling of the mobile home they called the lobby and finally said, “Do you have any idea what would happen if your little daughter was seen inside the compound, Butchie Boy? Any idea? We’d be on the front page of the Carson City newspaper so fast. And forget about our license.” 

“Look, she’ll stay in the van,” Butch promised. “I’ll be in and out with your laundry order in, what, five minutes. You’re right, it’s all in the truck . . . the towels, the sheets, pillowcases, and the rubberized blankets, everything. But, bottom line, my daughter stays in the truck the whole time. Gotta be that way, Misty!” 

“Okay, but we’re going to run it differently, then. You get here at three-thirty sharp, right? On the button, Butch! Carlos and Rory will meet you by the rear entrance. And Butch, have that little girl covered up before you get here. So far, so good?” Misty replied. 

“Yeah, yeah, Carlos and Rory at three-thirty. I can make that easy,” Butch added. 

“Okay, they’ll punch in the gate code, and you back in this time. Stay in the van with the kid and Carlos and Rory will unload the van for you. Don’t get out of that van, no matter what, okay? The surveillance cameras won’t pick up the front of the van if you back in, so you’ll be fine. Any questions, Butchie Boy?” 

“Nope, I’m good. See you at three-thirty . . . sharp, Misty,” was Butch’s answer as he hung up his phone and turned towards his daughter. 

“Honey, change of plans. We gotta make a delivery. Sorry. So get your doll and your blanket. We’ll be leaving in just a minute, okay?” Butch asked her. 

“Sure, Daddy. We going to Sally’s in the desert, Daddy?” 

Butch froze. ‘Did she just say what I think she said? My five year old daughter knows about Sally’s Pleasure Ranch?’  “Uh, yeah, honey, that’s where we’re going.” ‘Should I ask her how she knows? Do I really want to know?’   

But before he could get up the nerve to ask his daughter, she piped up, “Oh, good, Daddy. Mommy says she worked there before she met you. That’s where she met grandpa and uncle Jeff.” 

End

Homespun - By Brian Law 

“I know, I know, Mr. Secretary. You keep reminding me, but my upbringing was different than yours,” the tall man with deeply sunken eyes related, his voice slow and patient. “You grew up in Ohio in a fine house next to other fine houses. Now, myself, well, I grew up  on a farm, and not much of one at that, Mr. Secretary.” 

His Secretary of War stewed at what he thought was just more claptrap from this man from Illinois. But he knew that the man sitting across from him was not swayed by ire or threats. So, he proceeded carefully and with as much decorum as he could muster, he continued, “Mr. President, I implore you to reconsider my recommendations. I am quite sure that after careful thought, you’ll realize they can shorten this terrible war and bring an honorable peace to this divided nation. After all, those are our ultimate goals, are they not. Sir?” 

The President stood, puffed on his pipe for a moment, then turned to Secretary Stanton, and began speaking, “You know, Edwin,  mice like dark, damp areas. So in the barn, you need to keep the aisles, stalls, and storage areas well-drained and well-lit.” Letting those words sink in, he continued to puff on his pipe and eyed his Secretary of War. 

Stanton was close to the end of his tether. He’d heard this President go on and on about the wisdom of the farm and the old ways. ‘Why couldn’t the fool just deal with the problems at hand straight-on?’ he fumed to himself. But from experience, he knew this man from Illinois wasn’t finished spinning the wool from his agrarian past into policy just yet. So he just nodded and waited. 

“And don’t stack fence rails near the barn, either. You may recall that I used to split fence rails as a young man,  Edwin. And I learned as a young ‘un not to stack them too close to the barn. Provides too much shelter to rodents,” the President continued, slowly puffing on his pipe and looking out the window. 

Stanton waited for the inevitable conclusion of this homespun missive; his hands clasped in his lap. President Lincoln turned and added, “And you have to keep the lids on those garbage cans at all times, Edwin, and empty them frequently.” With that, he sat down and asked, “So, have I made myself clear, Mr. Secretary? Do you understand my position on your recommendations?’ 

Stanton breathed in deeply, nodded once and replied, “Of course, Sir. We’ll continue the Anaconda Policy without let-up. Our blockades at sea, our attacks from the rivers, and our forays in the border states shall continue unabated. There will be no reconciliation with Southern Politicians and no quarter given anywhere, Sir. Have I understood your comments correctly, Mr. President?” 

“You have, Edwin, you have. You would have made a fine farmer, Mr. Secretary. And keeping the mice out of the barn is a mark of a fine farmer.” 

End

There's A Tiger In the Men's Room - By Brian Law 

The pub wasn’t crowded given that it was mid-morning on a Thursday. In fact, the two young men were the only two at the bar and neither knew the other, although they both wore NYU sweatshirts. At some point, one said to the other, “I got out in ‘13. When did you graduate?” And with that, a conversation started and the two got to know each other quickly and soon forgot the football game they had been watching. 

“And after that, I went to work for a publishing company,” the younger man related as they talked, “and then I quit to write a novel. That’s what I’m doing right now. Well, not right now, but when I’m at my apartment. You get the idea, right?” 

The other one laughed and told his story. He, too, had started writing a novel, and when that hadn’t panned-out, he went to work for a publisher, which was where he was working at the moment. 

The irony of their circumstances was not lost on them as they compared notes on how and how not to write a novel. And at one point, the other one asked, “Say, how would you like to play a little bar game? It’s kind of like ‘Liar’s Dice’, but more intellectual. Here, let me explain the rules.” The younger one agreed and for the next ten minutes the rules of this intellectual little bar game were explained to him. 

Finally, the younger one asks, “So, let me get this straight. We both put money in the pot, and then one of us makes a statement. And the other one either has to accept what was said, or else forces the issue. In other words, prove it! Right so far?” 

The other one nodded and added, “The money in the pot then goes to either the guy who made the statement and then proved it or to the other guy who forced the issue and found out that it wasn’t true. Yep, you got it!” But then he added, “But after each round, the amount of money each of us puts in goes up by a factor of 3. So if we start out with putting in one dollar each, the next time it is three dollars, then nine dollars, then twenty seven dollars, yada yada, okay?” The younger one said he understood and said he had enough money for a few rounds. 

“So,” the other one suggests, “Let’s both put in a dollar and I’ll go first.” With that, both threw in a dollar each and the other one says, “Okay, I know what day of the week you were born on.” 

The younger one smiled, focused his gaze on the other one and then said, “Go ahead, prove it.” 

“You were born on a Thursday.” 

The younger one continued to smile as he scooped up the two dollars and announced, “Sorry, wrong day. Now, it’s my turn.” They both threw in three dollars each and the younger one said, “I know four digits of your social security number.” The older one put out hands as if to say Prove it! as the younger one pronounced, “One, three, six, and nine!” 

“Wow, so close!” laughed the older one as he picked-up the pot. 

And so it went, back and forth, with no one really winning big over the other. But at some point, the pot grew to $2,187.00 and there was now quite a crowd around the two young men. This amount of money was significant to both of the men, and it was unclear whether the loser could come up with enough to make the next pot. 

The small crowd was hushed as the other man took his turn, but not without first staring coldly at the younger man. “Okay. Here we go. There’s a tiger in the Men’s Bathroom.” 

The crowd as one let out a gasp! Looking around at each other, they knew instinctively that there must be a trick here, but no one could figure out what the other man’s angle was. It couldn’t possibly be true, but then why would he make such an outlandish proposition? 

Without moving as much as a finger, the younger man quietly asked, “Just let me get this straight. You are saying that there is a real live tiger in the Men’s Room. Not a stuffed tiger, or a picture of a tiger, or a porcelain tiger, but a real, honest-to-goodness tiger, right?” The other man nodded slowly. 

“And I was here when you arrived. And for most of that time, it’s just been the two of us. And I’ve been to the Men’s Room twice during that entire time, and you haven’t gone even once. And you want me to just sit here and accept that statement?” the younger man said, his voice getting louder. “You must be out of your mind.” 

The crowd seemed to agree as the other man just sat there and said nothing. After a moment, he looked at his watch and said, “Well, is there a tiger in the bathroom or not? Your call.” 

The younger man looked at the pot and couldn’t help wondering if there was some sort of con game going on. Is it possible there was a tiger in the bathroom? Or some trick he hadn’t picked-up on? As the crowd urged him to call the pot, the young man hesitated. He finally gulped and stood up and said, “Prove it!” The crowd went wild with excitement as they moved quickly away from the table to allow the other man access to the Men’s Bathroom. But instead, the other man relented and said to the younger man, “Look, she’s gentle. She won’t hurt you. Just go up to the door, open it  just a crack and say ‘Sabra’. That’s her name. She’ll just sit down and let you pet her. Yes, you can actually pet her!” 

The crowd instinctively made a path for the younger man as he turned and walked slowly towards the Men’s Bathroom. His palms were sweating and he was breathing quickly as everyone pressed close to him as he approached the door. Taking one more look back, he could see the older man standing by the table, alone, watching, a strange look on his face. 

Then, turning back to the door, his hand went out and grasped the stainless steel door handle. The crowd had gone hushed as they pressed in on him hoping to get a first glimpse of what was behind the door. 

The younger man put his face close to the door, opened it a crack and whispered in a nervous voice, ‘Sabra’. Hearing nothing, he opened the door a bit more and repeated, ‘Sabra’, this time a bit louder. The crowd, in its eagerness, leaned in too close and accidentally pushed him through the partly opened door into the Men’s Bathroom and onto the floor. And there was no tiger. Others opened the stalls and found nothing. 

Patting the younger one on the shoulders, the crowd noisily led him out to collect his pot and celebrate his victory, only to find an empty table and no other man. 

End

Conjuring - By Brian Law 

Without taking his eyes off the television set, he reached over  and extracted another potato chip from the bag on the side table. He even knew what the next pitch was going to be since he’d watched the ESPN reruns of the fifth game of the 1956 World’s Series four times this week. But he was still mesmerized by the game because it was his first real baseball game with his Dad after he recovered from polio when he was ten years old. And then the screen went blank. 

Still chewing on his chip, he looked around and saw his wife standing behind his chair, the remote in her hand and that sour look of hers on her face. “Stay right there where you are, Mister! I have something I want to show you,” she growled as she put the remote down and picked up something else. 

He froze, trying to figure out just what he had done now as she appeared in front of him holding a large book. Uh-oh, he said to himself not moving an inch, She found it. I’m in trouble now! 

“I decided to do some deep cleaning this morning. I was feeling pretty good since my little stay in the hospital, and I thought I should get this place back into ship shape. And look what I found in the linen closet! In the linen closet, of all places!” she yelled, waiving the book in his face, “Where you didn’t think I’d find it in my weakened condition, right?” 

He clumsily mumbled, “Look, I can explain. It’s. . . . it’s not what it looks like,” knowing full well it was exactly what it looked like. 

She not so gently threw the large old book down on the side table next to his chair, knocking the bag of chips to the floor. “We had an understanding, remember? You told me. . .  no, you promised me you would never look at this damn book again! And what do I find after my little stay in the hospital?  You’ve taken it from its eternal hiding place in the attic and have stored it in the linen closet while I’ve been away! So, husband, just what have you been up to, anyway?” 

He picked up the dusty old tome and quickly glanced at its cover which read, ‘Blackstone’s Big Book of Magical Spells and Incantations, Volume 1, 1885 edition’. Holding the book in his lap and with a beseeching look he asked, “Would you believe me if I told you it was for you?” 

She paused for a moment and reflected back on her recent stay in the hospital. “Wait a minute. You’re saying that you broke your solemn promise never to use that book again while I was in the hospital?” He nodded slowly as she continued, “And just what day did you use it? Get it right ‘cause it’s important!” 

He breathed in deeply, thought back to that day, and slowly answered, “It was last Thursday in the late afternoon. I was desperate, at my wit’s end. They had called and told me they were going to decide whether to intubate you in the next couple of hours. I didn’t know what else to do.” 

He watched as she digested this information and then started to speak, a distant look in her eyes. “I was really sick, the fever, the pneumonia, the whole works. But I was aware of what day it was and what was going on. And it was that Thursday afternoon, late, that my fever broke and I started to rally. The doctor’s said it was a miracle ‘cause they were just about to put me on the ventilator. And we all knew what that probably meant.” 

He gulped as he realized he was probably off the hook for his little transgression as she continued, “And it was all because of you and this damn book, eh? You crawled up into that dusty old attic of ours, you with your bad back and all, and rummaged around until you found where I had hidden it. I bet it took you awhile, right?” He smiled weakly and nodded. “And then you came down here, found just the right little chant and remembered just how to do it after all these years.” He watched as tears welled in her eyes, “And you saved me, you dear little man! Oh, my God!” 

She bent down and kissed him again and again and again, sobbing all the while. For some reason he hoped she had tested negative before she left the hospital as he just sat there motionless clutching the old book in his hands. 

Finally, wiping her eyes, she straightened-up, composed herself and announced, “Well, no matter. What’s done is done. But I want you to get right back up in that attic and return that book to its hiding place, you hear! I’ll find another place to hide it when I’m feeling better, someplace where you won’t find it again. But for now, just do what I say and I’ll forgive you this time.” And with that, she marched off with that old determined look in her face. 

He remained sitting, the television still off, his bag of chips still laying on the floor, realizing that the game was probably over by now. He would do as she had commanded in just a few minutes, but he just sat there grateful that in her rage she hadn’t seen the little ‘post it note’ sticking it’s tiny yellow edge out from somewhere deep in the book. For if she had, and if she had opened the book to that certain page, this morning’s little episode might have ended very differently, for it read: 

“Mother Blackstone’s Simple Chant for the Perfect Pot Roast Every Time!” 

End

What's The Capital of Myanmar - By Brian Law 

The candidate was clearly tired and very frustrated as the debate preparations continued into their third hour. He looked over to his wife who was sitting with his Chief Strategist and complained, “Oh, come on! The other guy doesn’t know any of this malarkey! Why should I have to remember this stuff?” He picked-up the thick ‘Debate Preparation Workbook’ and dropped it on the podium with a THUD! to emphasize his exasperation. 

His wife leaned over and conferred quickly with his advisors. After a moment, she turned to the candidate and honestly replied, “Honey, everyone knows the other guy is an idiot, okay? But he’s bullet proof on that score. It just doesn’t seem to matter to his base.” She paused for a second and then continued, “But he’s getting good at convincing swing voters that you might be ‘slipping’ a bit mentally. So, we’ve got to prove you’re on top of even the smallest detail of governing. We know it’s hard, but let’s just go for another hour or so and then we’ll call it a day, okay?” 

The candidate looked at his watch and then nodded reluctantly and added, “But just one more hour. No more. So, go ahead with the next question?” 

One of his assistants turned the page of the ‘Workbook’, conferred with the others, and then asked, “What is the capital of Myanmar, sir?” 

His answer came in a clear and strong voice, “Naypyitaw”. 

As the candidate stood in front of them, his outstretched arms firmly holding the podium and waiting for the next question, the others said nothing. There was amazement in their faces. This was not some old man struggling with a failing memory, they thought collectively. No, this was the former Vice-President, firmly in command of the facts and ready to rumble! 

Finally his wife, grinning broadly, clapped her hands together and congratulated him. “Oh, Joe, that was marvelous! That’s the kind of reaction we want the American people to see during the debate. A resolute, knowledgeable candidate, in control of the details and confident of his abilities. Keep it up, honey!” Still smiling, she turned to his assistants and conferred again about what the next question should be. 

The candidate smiled as he waited for the next question, his inner voice silently congratulating him. ‘You still got it!’ it was saying. ‘And that cute blonde in the front row who called you 'Honey' seems to be responding well, too. You should find out who she is and what’s she doing afterwards, you old dog.’ 

End

Heart