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Sep. 21st, 2017

LJ Idol - Week 32 - Why I should Win Idol - And Why My Opponents Should

Pulling through the old swinging gate, rusty metal still flecked with paint, you smile wistfully behind your windshield.

It wasn't so very long ago - no, actually it was, it was an entire decade ago - that you first came here, hesitant, expectant, a little fearful, tires crunching over the freshly poured gravel, marveling at the hordes of other seekers who had shown up at this vacant spot for the very same experience.

Now the gravel is softer, worn down by time and the tread of a thousand startling revelations, a million striking words. Clumps of determined dandelions and opportunistic crabgrass sprout in the lesser trod corners of the parking lot. There aren't as many people here now, but those that do come are still bewitched, beguiled, enthralledby what lies within.

Stepping out into the cool of the autumn twilight, your arms prickle with gooseflesh. You smile at the chill. Autumn always was your favorite season.
In the distance you hear the laughs and cries of the crowd, see the glow beyond illuminating the purpling dark like a halo.

Is this place that profound, that rare, that even the sky surrounding it speaks to you of saviors and enlightmement and redemption?
Perhaps for some - perhaps for you, that is exactly what it has been.

Eyes fixed on that glow, you follow the solitary, snaking path through a field of ripe grain. As you walk, you run your palms along the tops of the heavy, golden heads of wheat as they hunger for the harvest, long for the scythe, for winter and fallowness and rest. You can sympathize.

Glorious scents waft to you on the breeze - salty popcorn, sweet cotton candy and funnel cake. The promises of such glories to be tasted, devoured, digested makes you pick up your pace, hurrying up the hill.

Breathless, you reach the top of the rise and find yourself at the foot of the entranceway, a crimson arch spreading above you.
You have reached the gateway to the fair.

Filled with a wave of nostalgia so great it takes your breath away you walk through, trying not to notice the peeling paint, the bulbs that need replacing. This old girl ain't what she used to be, but that isn't what matters anyway, was never what mattered - not the bright lights or fancy trappings. What always mattered most here were the people, the amazing, astonishing people at this crazy carnival and their words - always the words.

You buy your ticket from a sleepy looking gal in a blue-striped blouse and walk inside.

Unsure of what to choose first - what to choose last- you glance around and then, without warning, a man on stilts careens around a tattered tent and begins to call out to the crowd through a megaphone. "LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, BOYS AND GIRLS, CHILDREN OF ALL AGES...ASSORTED HIPPIES AND NEVERDOWELLS...WELCOME TO THE LJ IDOL CARNIVAL! "

You don't fear the maniacal ringmaster of this writer's circus. For the unindoctricanted, he might seem a bit frightening, a smidge sadistic, certainly a little cruel. For those that looked deeper though, he was the beating heart of everything within the carnival, loving the players and loving the game with a heart so big he had to hide it behind a smirk.

Barkers begin to call out from the various candy striped tents and you spin to listen. What wonders lie within?

"Step right up! Step right up! Little lady, are you looking to discover the wonders of a gloriously brilliant, bawdy mind? No truer tales have been told of the relationships between men and women, of the heartbreakingly laughable state of American politics and of the horrors stories of cities without rent stabilization! Peer inside the murky morals 'Merica and be sure not to miss the reanimated monster with a massive member! Step inside to discover Penpusher! "

Your eyes go wide. Massive member? You could cetainly use some truth telling, some humor tonight!

From a different tent the calls begin anew.

"Steel yourself, kid! Don't even think about coming here if you are afraid of the dark! Bring your ticket over to see Marlawentmad! Never have you experienced the wonders of fairy tales like these - but try not to cover your eyes! Who knew such inky truths lay beneath the surface of simple things - a marmalade cat, a pair of pointy stillettos, a somnolent beauty. Shadowed and twisty as Hansel and Gretel's woods, this tent will make you sigh in recognition with the sting of its often bitter bite. When you step back into the night you'll have left a bit of your soul behind!"

You give a shiver - of fear, of anticipation. You always were drawn to the dark.

A final carnie begins to cry from the steps of a third tent.

"Hide your eyes, my friend, from all that is Messygorgeousif you aren't ready to hear the truth! Like the Oracle at Delphi, her words are from the heart - and hearts were made  to be broken. The truth is wilder than fiction! Watch her fearlessly display the shadows of her own past, and breathe life into dusty tales from history as well. Be awed as she weaves the events of these unsettling times into moving works of fiction and irreverent fantasy. Her range will leave you with a chill!

The exceptional offerings form a triptych before you. You find yourself drawn to the laughter that spills from one tent, the darkness looming in the next and the tang of honesty promised from the third.

Truly, you can't go wrong with any of these options. But, you only have one voucher to give.

Squaring your shoulders, you make a final decision and pass your ticket to the gawking barker.

He tips his hat and you step inside.

 

Sep. 12th, 2017

LJ Idol, Week 31: Swan Song

Jessie breathed a sigh of relief the day the "Sold" sign went up in the yard of her childhood home. She and Jaden had moved out weeks before, but now her mom and dad could join them in their new place and they could all start over together, finally put the horror of the last few months behind them.

She'd always been her daddy's favorite. It had nearly killed her a couple years ago, when she found out she was pregnant, to have to break the news to him. She was just 20 then, and wasn't even married, and she knew he'd be so disappointed. Perfect little princesses did not sneak their boyfriends in late at night and have sex in the basement and get knocked up in the process.

The day she told her dad, she brought Tom over for moral support and shared the situation with her parents over dinner. Her mom sat in shocked silence, but it was the hurt on her father's face that cut her deep.

He had yelled at Tom and pounded his fist on the dining room table at the disrespect. Tom had practically ran from the house, tires squealing in the driveway, leaving Jess to face her parents alone.

Her mother had asked for them to pray then, extending her arms across the scarred wood of the farmhouse table. Jess and her father took her mother's shaking hands and lowered their heads as a family.

"Lord, I know you are always with us, watching over us. We could really use your counsel right now. Please help heal our family. Please give us the wisdom to make the right choices for Jessica and..." her voice caught, "and for our grandbaby."

In the stillness, a sniffle came from Jess' right and she opened her eyes to see her father crying, head still bowed. She had risen and rushed to his side, cradling his head against her chest.

"I'm sorry, daddy, I am so, so sorry!" she cried.

"A baby, any baby, is a gift from God," her father said and he reached up to wrap his strong arms around her smaller ones. Her mother rose and joined them.They were a family and they would weather this storm as they always had - together.

Instead of kicking her out, her family bonded over the pregnancy. Her daddy had insisted that she and the father of his grandchild live in the house with them. A girl needs her mama when a baby is young and they could fix up the basement, make a little apartment down there with their own kitchen and a nursery and everything until they'd "figured things out."

The baby was born, but two years had passed and Tom still hadn't figured anything out. Hadn't asked her to marry him, hadn't even kept a job longer than a few months so they could get a place of their own.

Jess was sick of waiting for something to change. She was young, dammit, and plenty of men would love to date her. She grew frustrated with Tom's dithering about a wedding date and watching him lie on the couch her parents had given them and play video games while she went to her job at the Best Buy every afternoon.

Their bickering became constant, exploding into screaming matches late at night that prompted her mom or dad to sometimes stick their heads through the door to the basement and call down to make sure everything was all right.

Tom resented being a father at 25. He had never wanted a kid so soon and now that he had one he hated all the responsibility it put on him, Plus, he was sick of how Jess' parents got so damn involved in their lives. He wanted to be the man of the house. He was an adult for fuck's sake and their precious little babygirl was a grown ass woman - a mother now. They needed to just back off!

One night Tom came home late, a little drunk. Jess started in on him about where he had been and he told her it was none of her goddamned business. "Oh it IS my business! I am the mother of your child and as long as you live under my parent's roof you will tell me where you are going!"

He sneered at her. "What are you now, my mother? You let your parents walk all over us. I'm not about to let you start doing that shit to me. I'm done!"

"There are a thousand other men that would marry me instead of your lazy ass. But don't think I will ever let you see Jaden. If you walk out that door, you can consider him gone. I'll make sure he's adopted by some man that is actually worth a damn and you'll never see that boy again."

Tom was headed for the door but he swung around, head low, like a bull ready to charge. "That boy is as much my son as he is yours, Jessie. Don't you threaten me with shit like that. What makes you think some other man would want to be with a used up whore like you anyway? Are you cheating on me? I will not put up with that shit for a second."

"Good! Get the hell out then! You can walk, but you will never see that boy," she repeated, and turned away from Tom, a satisfied smirk on her face. She had certainly won this argument she thought, and then the shotgun blast hit her in the back in a blinding, searing burst of pain. She fell to the floor in a shower of her own blood.

Tom walked around her prone form and knelt by her head. "Don't you ever threaten to take my son away," he whispered hoarsly, raising the gun to point direclty between her eyes. For a moment she focused on the mouth of the gun then her eyes rose higher and she whispered "Daddy..." before her head fell to the floor.

"Your daddy isn't here to help you now, you little bitch," Tom growled, moments before his head split open and showered  the couch with gore.

Jessie's daddy had always been a fine hunter. He knew that boy his daughter was shacked up with had been acting real strange lately and when he heard the gunshot from down below, he'd grabbed his hunting rifle and ran for the stairs. As his wife screamed into the phone for 911 to get to their house he had rounded the basement stairwell and seen that sonofabitch pointing a gun right at his daughter's head. He'd only done what any father would do. He had rescued his princess from the monster in her bed without a second thought.

He ran, practically falling down the steps, to his daughter's side. She was a lucky girl. She was bleeding but the blast had hit her shoulder more than her spine, and he didn't think the wound was mortal.

He grabbed a pillow from the couch and applied pressure, and Jessie tried to smile at him.
"Thank you, daddy," she rasped, and he nodded at her. "You're safe, baby. You're safe."

"Mommy?" a plaintive voice called from the hall. Jessie's father turned from the carnage in the living room and hurried to grab his grandson before he saw his parents both lying in pools of blood on the floor.

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The Freemans were amazed when they found the house on the Internet. It was for sale by owner, fifteen acres of wooded property, with three bedrooms and three baths and a wraparound porch. The part they liked best was the finished basement. It looked like the whole house had a fresh coat of paint and the basement was especially prime with new paint and baseboards and carpet! The ad said the sellers were "motivated" and they weren't kidding.

The price had already been a steal and they were willing to haggle even then, throwing in the stainless steel refrigerator and a wrought iron woodrack just because Mrs. Freeman mentioned liking it.

Mr. Freeman kept asking his wife "What's the catch?" expecting at every turn they'd discover termites or black mold or a haunted pet cemetery deep in the backyard.

On the day of closing, the deal was so good he had to ask the owner "Are you sure there's not like, an old indian burial ground under the basement you aren't telling us about?"

The man had looked across the lawyer's table at his wife for just a moment before laughing heartily.

"Most definitely not, sir! Nothing in that house but a lot of old memories."

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On move in day the Freemans pulled up to their new home in a packed U-Haul truck followed by a little Honda Civic.
Mr. Johnson hopped out of the cab with a grin and walked back to the car where his daughter sat eyeing the house through the bug-splattered windshield. Liz been away at college and hadn't even seen the new place yet.

"So this is it?" she asked him. "It seems a little...remote."

Mr. Freeman's smile faltered a bit. "It's just private. There's plenty of land for me to go hunting! Come on, you are going to love it inside."

She opened the car door and he helped her stand up. Six months pregnant, her balance was a little wobbly.

"Your mom and I knew this was perfect the minute we saw the basement," he told her as they walked up the porch steps.

"There's a whole apartment down there just for you, with a nursery and everything! And when Matt gets back from Afghanistan, there will be plenty of room for all three of you," he patted his daughter's belly, "to make a bunch of memories here!"

As she stepped into the cool dark of the house a little chill ran down Liz's spine. It was pretty all right, but something about the place seemed off, she just couldn't put her finger on what. Pregnancy hormones, she decided. They really made her feel crazy sometimes. She shook off the feeling and followed her father to the basement door.

Hopefully Matt would love it as much as her dad did.
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So, my husband discovered this house for sale a few days ago - he was exclaiming over the impressive price until something about the address jogged his memory.

This actually happened three months ago here in my hometown.

Sep. 5th, 2017

LJ Idol - Week 30 - Impossible

"I'm never having children."

Sitting on my front porch in the sharp afternoon light of a late summer's day, the look on my mother's face was one of pure sorrow. 

"But, why?"

Overbright rays of sun spiked through the pine thicket around my house and left blinding patches on the needle-blanketed yard. I squinted at the contrast of dazzle and dark and squeezed my temples. I could feel a migraine coming on.

"Because it would be irresponsible to bring a child into a world like this."

In the shadows that cut across her face, starkly highlighting all the creases and crevices that 50 years on this earth had given her, I saw the sorrow change to hurt.

She was thinking of the two decades she had spent raising me. The time and love and heartache that had been wrapped into the art of parenting me. The dreams she had surrendered in her own quest to be a "good" mother to me.

In all those years of midnight vomit and scrimping to pay for braces, of disrespectful and distracted teenagerhood, of watching her children grow up and out of her home, with hardly a second glance back at the old bird who tended their comfortable nest, through all that, she had harbored the hopeful dream of the next generation, of the simpler time to come, when she could end the discipline and the dreariness of being a mom and just be a doting grandmother.

Now she was watching her favorite daydream burn like a bug beneath a magnifying glass. And I was the cruel child kneeling over the ant hill.

I looked at her, unwavering, firm in this decision.

I was thinking about famine, and war. About global warming and religious intolerance and racism, human trafficking, heroin abuse and the way women are portrayed in the media, about nuclear weapons and overpopulation and antibiotic resistant strains of bacteria, about AIDS and cancer and the growing hole in the ozone layer and supercell tornados and the fucking, shrinking polar ice caps.

How insane could you be, to want to bring an innocent life into this crazy world? How could you ensure that life would be a good one? Good Christ, what kind of person would choose to birth a child into these unstable times?

A few years later I was talking to a much older woman, one who, due to circumstances beyond her control, never had any children. Watching me leave the adults at a party to play with the kids on the lawn, she asked when I planned to have a few of my own and was shocked when I said I didn't want any.

"Well," I clarified, "It isn't that I don't want kids, but there are so many terrible forces at work on this planet. I think it would be nuts to bring a child into this crazy world."

She eyed me, perceptively. "Sounds like you're afraid."

I raised an eyebrow at her. This lady didn't know me - but she saw right through my words.

"The world has always been a crazy place," she said, "but it's also a magical one. That's your job as a mother. Protect your children from the madness and show them the beauty. You can do that. If you want children, have them. Don't let fear keep you from doing what you want. Especially not something as important as this."

Looking at the little ones around us, barefoot in the grass, chasing fireflies in the purpling twilight, I knew she was right. Tears filled my eyes as their giggles and squeals of delight rose in the night. I did want to be a mother.

That didn't mean the fear wasn't still with me. Doesn't still shake my soul 13 years after my first child was born. Motherhood is saturated with the greatest joys and sorrow I have ever known.

On the day of my first ultrasound for my daughter, I lay alone in a dim room on a hard bed. The tech slid the wand across my abdomen in a slick of cold jelly and I wondered "What now?"

The galloping tattoo of a tiny heartbeat, a second heart beating within me, filled the room and I had to draw in my breath. I saw the baby in fuzzy black and white on the screen, at eight weeks, barely more than a peanut with arms and legs just beginning to bud. This was real, this life I was growing inside me.

I left the doctor's office in my car but had to pull to the side of the road a few miles away, I was shaking so badly. The responsibility I had to the new life inside me was overwhelming.

Sobbing, I wrapped my fingers around my belly, still flat, but not for long. This world was so fucked up, and this baby was so tiny. "I will take care of you, Peanut," I whispered fiercely. "I will protect you."

And then she was born, a whole month early and just four pounds nine ounces when I brought her home, and I realizedI was a liar.

I sat in a sunny window the day we brought her back from the hospital, nursing the most precious gift God could give me and again, I cried. Looking at her, so small in my arms, I knew even if I did my best I couldn't protect her from everything.

Forget the horrors of the world, I couldn't even keep her safe from the little things! My tears dropped to her head like a baptism of remorse for the times I wouldn't be able to shield her from the sting of mean girls or the ache of boys who would break her heart. From the little hurts that etch away at a child's soul, the scars growing harder as they grow up until one day the child is gone and you are left with an adult who faces the world, for better or worse, an amalgam of all their experiences, good and bad.

I vowed then that the good would outweigh the bad by a ton. THIS I could take ownership of.

I lost my second baby. Said I would never try again, but six months later, watching my daughter chortling as she was pulled in a wagon by her cousins at Thanksgiving, I realized again I couldn't let fear keep me from what I wanted, keep my daughter from having the joy she might find with a sibling.

A year later, my son was born. Watching them play together over the years, and fight together, and fight for each other, I am so glad I didn't stop at one. They fill my life with laughter and music and yes, frustration and fear and socks left everywhere but there is no greater happiness for me than spending time with my perfectly imperfect family.

The world may be a mess, that is something I've learned I have absolutely no control over. But inside my house, where mama is in charge, you'll find acceptance in droves, safety from the storm outside and magic, wherever I can make it.

My mother, she loves her grandchildren with the ferocity of a lioness. She watches my antics with bemusement and I know she thinks I go overboard sometimes, but she knows the place it comes from too.

Not once has she brought up that conversation on the porch 17 years ago and made me eat crow for scaring her and for foolishly believing I'd never have children.

"Never say never," she'll intone to me, waggling her finger in admonition. I echo her words with my own kids.

Never say never, indeed.

Aug. 28th, 2017

LJ Idol Week 29 - Favorite Entry

This was inspired by the following entry. It was written by my daughter who threw her hat in the ring for Idol this season, for one whole week but then got too busy to carry on. She didn't want anyone to know we were related or that she was a kid, lol, but she didn't get voted out that week and I can't wait to see what she does in Idol Junior this fall!
http://danceypants04.livejournal.com/781.html

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Silently, she got in my car after her Nutcracker rehearsal. For a child who was never silent, hardly ever even quiet, this was an obvious sign of distress.

"How was practice, sweetie?"

Dance was her refuge and her release. Most nights when she left the studio, she was so full of joy it emanated off her body in waves. A normal teenage girl, who had normal teenage worries about her body, her place in this world, dance made her feel strong and powerful and beautiful and I loved to be there afterwards to share in something so empowering for her.

Not so tonight. I turned around to look at her in the November dark backseat and realized she was sobbing.

"What? What's wrong? Are you okay? Are you hurt?" There had been other nights, other tears, for bruises or strains, but this felt more like heartache than a pulled muscle.

Gasping for breath, she cried "They're going to...cut me..from the dance," she gasped out.

"Cut you? Did they tell you that? What did Ms. Danielle say?"

Haltingly, she told me that while they were rehearsing, she overheard Ms. Danielle telling one of the other instructors to look at some of the other students for costume sizing because if my little dancer couldn't get her act together, they were going to cut her from the Flowers Dance, the one she had been looking forward to most of all.

"So, at the end of rehearsal did they say you were out?"

"I don't know," she said, sniffling. "I just came out here as soon as it was over. I didn't want to know."

"Did you not know the dance?"

"No, I knew the dance. But...I was scared."

If you have ever seen The Nutcracker, you know the Flowers Dance is an acrobatic feast for the eyes. My daughter has never been a gymnast, or a cheerleader, never taken an acro class at the dance school, but after auditions, when she proved she could do the kicks, they had put her in the number.

Now, it seemed, she was having trouble with the flips.

As a mother, this is one of those moments where you don't know if it's better to push forward or pull back.

The flips looked scary, even to me. She had to trust another dancer to hold her while she did cartwheels with no hands and they tossed her over their backs. She could break her neck if one of the other petite dancers were to fall themselves or drop her on her head.

What I did know was that I wasn't going to allow my child to wait a week until the holiday break was over to find out if she had been picked off the cast. That was just cruel. I was surprised the dance school would have left her with such uncertainty. We were going to get some answers.

I am not a helicopter parent. I'm not a dance mom, not my kid's stage manager, hell, I have never even joined the PTA, but there are moments when life is bigger than our children and we have to advocate for them.

In the South, sugarcoating a message tends to be the best way to say something uncomfortable.
I was beyond spoonful of anything at this point.

I found the studio owner and asked him what was up. Was she cut from the dance or not? I told him that if she was cut, I was fine with that choice, I just didn't want her overhearing a conversation and getting the wrong idea.

He looked taken aback at my forthrightness. I think he was used to other mothers with softer voices and less crazy eyes.

He was stuttering as he told me that a final decision had not been made, but that if she hadn't worked out the flips by the time she came back from vacation then she would be cut.

"Okay. Show me how to do them."

He raised his eyebrows.

"How else am I going to help her learn these tricks if you don't teach me now? She's only going to be with me for the holiday, so I need to know how to coach her."

He walked me back to the studio and called another young lady over. Katie was an older dancer than my daughter, but not much older, and someone my daughter idolized.

He had her demonstrate the flips with my child. I could see the fear in her eyes as she was tossed over the young woman's back. She released her knees too early, fell hard, and crumpled to the floor, holding her ankle.

The studio owner looked away as her eyes filled with tears.

I didn't know what to do. I know as an athlete there are moments of struggle and physical pain. Moments that make you stronger for living through them and overcoming. But as the mother of this beautiful girl, the last thing I wanted to see was her be afraid, or hurt, even in pursuit of a dream.

As I stood, frozen, unsure of my role in what was unfolding, Katie sat down beside my daughter and whispered something in her ear.

She told her she was ok, but that she needed to get up, keep going. My daughter's eyes went wide, and then something changed in her face.

She set her quivering chin and stood up.

"Let's try it again," she said.

She and Katie worked on the flips and cartwheels. And then I took her home and she and I worked on the flips and cartwheels as well.

She wasn't cut from the dance. When the show opened, she was a shining beautiful star in the Nutcracker and I couldn't have been prouder.

Proud because she'd been afraid and fought through it. Proud because she persevered, and accomplished something she didn't think she could do.

Proud because she'd showed that witch that wanted to give her part to someone else that she needed to shut her mouth and not underestimate my girl!

It was a valuable lesson for me. That her mother doesn't always have the answers. And that my daughter is getting old enough to fight her own battles - that she is tough enough to fight her own battles - and win.

LJ Idol Week 29 - The Distance Between Us

It was a long distance romance that made them create the machine.

If you've ever been a part of such a romance, you know the desperate nights of longing in a bed too big for one body, the lonely dinners sitting in a restaurant, partnerless, watching other couples happily feeding one another Tiramisu and laughing their tinkley, over-bright laughs while your heart breaks a little at each lilting note.

And the horniness, good God, let's not forget the crotch-boiling horniness that comes - or rather doesn't cum - with such an arrangement.

They were scientists, and smarter than their situation, or so they believed. But work visas and student loan payments and limited vacation days kept them apart so they had to get creative.

Anyone who has seen Star Trek knows people have been dreaming about "beam me up" technology for decades. And that was the glory of science fiction - it presented a world that wasn't...but with the right amount of money and research, it certainly COULD be!

After long nights of Skype theorizing - followed by frenzied online mutual masturbation sessions, because dear Lord, smart is sexy! - they felt ready to move their ideas to the here and now, to take them from graph paper to graphic lovemaking, bodies tangled together in a bed, not just wrapped up mouse cords on the Interwebs!

They applied for grants, hired interns, and moved into shiny labs on opposite sides of the world to begin exploring this solution to their loneliness.

They began to experiment. Space time continuums and physics conundrums weren't enough to ground their enthusiasm or their rising hormones, so even small setbacks just elevated their desire to succeed, or suck something anyway.

They built portals on each end, and hoped the government wouldn't get involved. They wanted to build a love machine, not a weapon!

In the beginning, transmission was spotty. There were incidents of course. On her birthday he tried to send her a slice of cheesecake and a slinky negligee. She received a bra and panty set made of American cheese.

She sobbed and said "You know I look terrible in orange!"

For their anniversary, she tried to send him a perfectly cooked sirloin of Kobe beef, his favorite, and a tuxedo, because she thought a guy in a tux was hot. He received a rather irate cow, strangling in a suit and tie.

"I know I've gained weight, but Jesus, couldn't you have come up with a kinder way to tell me?" he cried.

But one day it happened. The Western Hemisphere interns were trying to play a joke on the Eastern Hemisphere interns and packed a box full of piglets under a quilt into the reactor. As the universe seemed to have a sense of humor, they included a bottle of ketchup. They were hoping it would become a tray of delicious pigs in a blanket. When the box arrived in the East, full of wriggling piggies, they knew they'd seen a breakthrough!

The scientists tried it on more living things. Mice, monkeys, a very startled sloth.

They decided that they should be the first humans to test the machines though, in case of catastrophic failure, or lawsuits from angry intern's parents.

She stood in her laboratory in Japan, and her heart thrilled when she opened the door and found him standing before her, lab coat slung over his arm. They rushed into one another's arms and kissed. She pulled back and looked into his eyes. Her first words to him were intense.

"Did you eat pickles before you came over here?" she asked him.

He nodded sheepishly.

"Gross! Let me get you a breath mint!"

Oral hygiene. Something you don't really have to worry about in a long distance relationship.

Their machine change the world, or at least, it certainly changed the dating scene. Now, singles could meet people from all over the globe and be in their bedrooms instantaneously if so desired.

They even created a mobile app-based version of the tech. On Tinder, you could now swipe once to like someone and swipe twice if you wanted to give them an immediate pass to your boudoir. The rising rate of one night stands was astronomical!

The scientists were content, their creative juices and carnal desires both spent.

Months later, when the initial fervor of CNN interviews and Scientific American photo shoots finally died down, they lay in each other's arms after a round of good, old fashioned humping.

She turned to him, a pinched look on her face.

"Soooo..." she began,"I think this was all a lot more exciting before I got to spend every night with you..."

"I would have to agree with that analysis," he replied. "Our formula for bringing two bodies closer together was successful, but it seems to have brought our hearts farther apart."

"They do say absence makes the heart grow fonder," she agreed.

"And familiarity breeds contempt," he concluded, glancing at the way she had carelessly thrown her clothes on the floor.

"Yes, you really should floss more. Perhaps now we could work on finding a simple way to keep people interested in one another over the long-term," she added, gathering her clothing.

"I don't think there's anything simple about a long-term love," he told her.

"Well, let's work it out over Skype next weekend," she said, and stepped back into the machine, naked.

He heard her call out, as she disappeared into a billion particles, "I'll bring the tiramisu!"

LJ Idol Week 29 - Nevermind

"Come as you are,
as you were,
as I want you to be..."

She stepped out of the shower and stared with heavy lids at her gaunt reflection in mirror. She grabbed her breasts, once pert and full and squeezed the sad sacks of flesh together, giving the semblance of cleavage, then let them fall, sagging and stretch-marked, back against her chest.

'A push up bra it is,' she thought.

She turned to the side, stared at waist, her ass, smiled a little. At least THAT was still perky, and her legs had always been long. She'd wear the oxblood pleather mini tonight.

In the gray light of a Seattle afternoon, she walked through her studio apartment, past the band posters, the album covers she'd pinned to the walls, winced when she crunched a roach on the hardwood floor beneath her bare foot. Damn things kept coming back, even when she laid traps.

Her closet door stood open and she stepped in, over the clothes piled on the floor, lifted a bra to her nose and sniffed, grimacing at the smell of B.O. and booze and last night's cigarettes and put it on anyway. Pawing in her underwear drawer, she found a pair of graying thongs and slipped them on too. She definitely needed a trip to the laundromat.

Parting her clothes on the rack, she pushed shirts to the side, past the STP hoodie and the Soundgarden tank, looking for the black tee with the dead-eyed smiley face emblazoned in yellow. She grinned when she found it, then frowned as she noticed the holes around the neckline. They were getting bigger with every wash.

She pulled it on over her head. Why the hell not? Holes just made it look grungier, right? More authentic!

Slipping the burgundy skirt over her hips she did a little hop to get the tight waistband past her butt, and zipped it up the back.

"As a friend,
as a friend,
as an old enemy..."

Across the room, in the curtained corner she called her bedroom, the phone rang. She reached across the unkempt mattress to answer it.

"Hello?... Gina?... Hey girrrrl!" she crowed, voice gravelly from too much whiskey, too many American Spirits.
"You in town?... Sweet!...Hell yeah, I'm going to the concert!... I'm leaving the house in about fifteen... I'll see you there. I'll buy you a shot of Jager for old times sake...Killer. Bye girl!"

She'd met Gina back in school, when they both worked at Tower Records. The skank still owed her $300 from when she bailed her out of a "drunk in public" charge back in '93, but she was funny as hell and a force to be reckoned with in a mosh pit.
It would be good to see her again.

Back in the closet, she pawed through the scattered shoes on the floor; flip flops and Doc Marten's mixed with platform heels and Chuck Taylors. Glancing at the rain on the windowpane she decided it was definitely a shitkicker kind of night. She slid the big black boots on over her torn, thigh high stockings and laced them tight.

"Take your time,
hurry up,
the choice is yours,
don't be late..."

She glanced at the clock and realized it was almost time for her to catch the bus. Shit, she still needed to get her makeup on.

In the bathroom, she pulled her cherry-red locks into a high ponytail and fluffed her Betty Page bangs. She stroked thick eyeliner around her lids and spread it wide,  making it look like she had a heroin habit, or at the very least, had been on a three-day bender. While she hadn't done the hard shit since the late 90s, just a little blow now and then, that was the look she was going for.

She added some mascara, then painted on her crimson lipstick, smearing it to the side of her chin, like she'd been kissed hard and didn't even care.

She opened her wallet to make sure she had her concert tickets and then stuck it in her back pocket, hooking its jangling chain to a belt loop in the front.

"Take a rest,
as a friend,
as an old memoria,
memoria..."

She opened her apartment door and a chilly breeze hit her. Damn! She'd almost forgotten the most important thing! She reached behind the door and pulled a faded flannel from the hook. Sliding the red plaid fabric over her shoulders, she sighed with contentment.

Twenty years of wear had made it soft as Egyptian cotton, threadbare at the elbows and filled with the memories of late nights in smoky bars, laughter-filled diner breakfasts at 3 a.m. and the music, gawd the amazing music that shirt had seen.

She clomped down the stairs and walked to the bus stop on the corner. A fresh-faced undergrad, irridescent with youth and money, in sparkly accessories and a millennial pink blouse, sat on the bench, looking her up and down.

'Go on and judge me, honey,' she thought, brazenly staring into the girl's eyes. 'I LIKE who I am, and you worry too much what other people think.'

Cocking her head, she winked at the sweet little thing and chuckled when the girl blushed and looked away. Kids today were too damn soft.

Popping her earbuds in, she scrolled through the bands and found just what she was looking for while she waited for the bus.

As the deep bass of Nirvana rolled across her eardrums she sighed with contentment. Sure, everything had been better, brighter,  when Kurt was alive, but somedays you just had to let it all go.

Aug. 17th, 2017

LJ Idol - Week 28 - Going Forward

They lay together at the edge of the wood, her arm thrown across his chest, skin slick with sweat. Their mouths were bruised from the force of desperate kisses, limbs shaky with release, but now they were still, staring in uneasy silence up through the sun-dappled leaves of the tree.

Minutes before, she had knelt astride him, back straight and proud. His hands slid up her belly, wondering at the heat of her, the smoothness of her skin, to cup her breasts and rub rough palms over the bumps of her areolas, the points of her nipples stiff in the warm breeze.

When he reached behind her, pulling her close, her chest to his chest, her lips on his, she had cried out, grinding into him and he had thrust harder, until their cries mingled together, rising like a hymn, startling a bird from the brush near their bed in the leaves. It rose to the sky with a cry of its own and the lovers broke apart.

Now they sat quietly together, sated, but chilled by sudden coolness as a cloud passed before the sun.

"Was that...bad?" She asked.  "It felt so good, but now, something inside me feels wrong, a little...sick." She glanced around, wishing she had some way to cover her nakedness from his searching eyes.

Beside them were the remains of a picnic. Meats and cheeses, plump fresh fruit. She toyed with the stem of an apple and looked to him for support.

He felt it too. The good and the bad. The delicious satisfaction of his body was being eaten away at the edges by something rotten that turned his stomach, left him with a heaviness in his chest.

"It'ss called guilt, child," a quiet voice whispered. "Guilt and shame and maybe a hint of regret. You've never felt those thingss, have you? Never even heard the wordss! How delightful!" With a sly smile, the serpent slid out from the tree.

Eve covered her chest with her arms and crossed her legs beneath her. "But you said he'd like it! You said it would make him happy! The fruit and the wine and the kissing..." She looked to Adam.

He was grinning sheepishly. "The kissing and..." he began, reaching out to tweak one of her delicate blonde curls, a blush spreading across his cheeks.

"Oh, Adam liked it, you know that, honey, but the big guy upstairss isn't going to be too thrilled when he findss out you disobeyed him!" The snake chuckled. "I think you're going to find everythingiss about to change!"

Above them, that first small cloud had grown and thunderheads began to darken the sky. A bolt of lightning streaked toward them, splitting the trunk of the apple tree and reducing its bark to cinders.

Eve screamed and leapt to her feet, dragging Adam with her. Fat drops of rain began to fall upon them, pelting their bare skin.

"That'ss my cue," the serpent hissed gleefully. "And good luck when daddy getss here. You're going to need it!" With that he slithered into the woods and was gone.

Thunder began to rumble, a furious growl that built to a roar.

Eve looked hopefully at Adam.

"Well, we're in this together, right?" she asked, pleading, reaching for his hand.

Adam stared up at the growing storm and back at Eve, fear in his eyes, and stepped away from her.

"Are you kidding me?" He scoffed. "You're the one who tempted me! I never even looked at an apple before you!"

With guilty eyes he turned from her, unwilling to share the blame.

"Coward," Eve whispered.

It set a precedent though, and be it B.C. or A.D, we all know it's true...it's always the woman's fault, isn't it?

LJ Idol - Week 28 - Fatal Flaw

My heart. That brilliant, bruised, wide-as-sky organ that beats in my chest.

My father always said it would be the death of me. But I don't believe that, never did believe that a gentle heart, a caring soul was inferior, inadequate.

Dad certainly felt otherwise. To be softhearted made me deficient in some way, defective.

When I was 10 and I cried at the scenes on C.N.N. of families stranded and children starving in the flooded slums of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, he shrugged and said they should have been better prepared.

"Just look at those people," he'd muttered, "How they live, what did they think was going to happen?"

When I was fifteen, with a fresh learner's permit in my mom's old, gold Plymouth Minivan, my dad screamed at me for swerving into the gravel on the roadside to avoid hitting a dog in the road one afternoon.

In the sun-dappled shade his face was purple with rage.
"Jesus CHRIST, Alicia!" he'd yelled. "If there is an animal in the road, you hit the gas, not the brake. You gun it, do you hear me? You could have killed us both! It's just a worthless animal!"

When I was seventeen and he barked at me -  a skill he learned from one of his drill sergeants, I'm sure - for getting pizza with a half-black boy I met in my honor's English class, I ducked my head and took it, but I knew there was something twisted inside him when he jeered "No daughter of mine is going to be branded a nigger lover. If you think you're ever going to date another black boy, I will disown you and hang him!"

He hated the blacks, hated the gays, HATED Muslims, HATED OBAMA, probably more for being an uppity nigger than merely because he was an African American president.

He couldn't see the harm in anything our government did, couldn't see the hurt in the dialogue that ran in his head - in the heads of his friends.

"Waterboard the ragheads! Hell yeah! Make 'em pay. Maybe we'll finally learn where Bin Laden is hiding!"
"Why am I working to pay for lazy black bitches to pop out 15 babies and sit home on their fat asses eating fried chicken and watermelon? They need to cancel welfare permanently and sterilize the whole race."
"Did you hear the one about the Mexican who died of starvation? Yeah, someone hid his food stamps under his work boots!"

Of course he loved Trump, ate up every word of the White Nationalist, disenfranchised middle-class, faux-sympathy that he spouted, sent a hundred emails during his campaign that hollered "HILLARY FOR PRISON" in all caps, swore he'd LOVE to pay a little more in taxes if it meant we could build a wall to put the Mexicans back where they belonged.

I was in college by then, and at first I tried to meet the emails and my father head on, like an adult, with facts and logic, but after a few months I just shook my head and deleted the hate-filled crap nuggets he'd send out. It disgusted me to see them, but when many of his friends would reply, affirming the dark words, I also felt fearful of what this meant for our nation.

And then Trump was elected, a man known for grabbing pussies who was still supported by deeply devoit Christian women, a man who made racist and sexist jibes at journalists and soldiers, who encouraged violence against every variety of brown people and liberals at his rallies and who made fun of disabled folks - just the icing on the cake.

A nightmare. It was like that ignorant voice I'd heard all those years at the dinner table was suddenly speaking from the Oval Office. How the fuck had my dad been made the head of our great nation?

For months after Trump was inaugurated I watched marches and demonstrations, cheering on the participants, but I didn't have the nerve to go myself.

Until Charlottesville. My home.

It had made the news that a herd of angry alt-right crazies were planning to gather in my little college town, were planning to spread their fear of change and their hatred of anything outside their whitewashed, hetero-normative worldview like fertilizer all over my community. My friends are here, black, white, brown and all shades in between. My life is here.

I owed it to the people I loved to stand up for them in the face of the nonsensical hate.

And that is how I found myself on a narrow, side street a few blocks off Emancipation Park. The White Nationalists and Neo Nazis had shown up bright and early and ready to party, armed with guns and batons and Confederate flags with poles to use as weapons.

The Anti-Fascist folks were soon on the scene, with their own weapons and camo and righteous anger.

The two sides clashed in the park where children played, angry waves beating against one another in  the early morning dew.

How had we come to this again? Hadn't we evolved as a nation beyond this lunacy? It was horrible to behold.

My little group stayed on the sidelines chanting and singing "This Little Light of Mine" with a group of clergy - Christians and Muslims and Jews - together lifting our voices against the cacophony of hatred. A lone man stood near us holding a sign  that offered "Free hugs." No one was taking him up on his offer.

We wanted peace, we wanted order restored, we wanted the racists and the hate OUT of our town.

Before us violence was breaking out everywhere.
Punches and tear gas were thrown with equanimity.
Around 11:30, just three hours in, the cops finally declared the assembly unlawful, not peaceable by a long shot and crowds began to disperse.

My crew of singers and chanters made our way back to our homes, avoiding the main street because of all the frustrated people causing one hell of a snarl of road rage.

We didn't mean to block the avenue, but at a time like that, who was paying attention to jaywalking? We marched happily, feeling like this one was a win for our side.

And then from behind me, screams, tires squealing. I turned at the sound and watched a girl, a girl who could have been me, disappear beneath the bumper of a car that was plowing down the alleyway, mowing down bodies like a thresher in a field.

There was nowhere to go when the car reversed and then used the clearing it left to accelerate toward us. We tried to press to the sides of the buildings but I couldn't quite get out of its path.</i>

As that car bore down on me, as I stared at the face of a vengeful driver, for a moment I could only think of my father, yelling at me to speed up if an animal was in the road. Now I am the worthless animal, Daddy.

When I woke, kind people were putting me on a stretcher, and kind people took me to the hospital to treat my broken leg.

My father called my cell as I lay in recovery. Said he saw a video on Fox News and saw my face in the alleyway.

"What the hell is wrong with you?" He yelled. "Going out there in that mess with those damn hippies and blacks? You're lucky you aren't dead. Didn't I raise you better than that?"

I took a deep breath and lay my hand over my heart, my strong, determined, passionate heart.

"No daddy," I answered. "I'm afraid this is exactly how you raised me."



Aug. 8th, 2017

LJ Idol, Week 27 - Be patient and tough; Someday this pain will be useful to you.

"Evan...EVAN! It's time to go!"

Evan trudged down the stairs as if his feet were full of cement and slung a look of irritation at his impatient mother.

"You don't even have shoes on yet? Kid, you are killing me!" She ruffled his hair affectionately as he passed her in the hall. "Go get your sneakers on quick. We're going to be late for our appointment!"

He took the socks she pushed at him and plopped heavily down on the floor.

"I don't even want to go, mom! Come on! You told me when I turned 11 I didn't have to get shots again till I went to college!"

His mom's smile was strained. "Baby, this is different. Completely unexpected. This immunization is really important. You know everyone in Atlanta probably applied for the lottery but the CDC only had 100,000 shots to go around. We were super lucky to get picked. You know it's only gonna hurt for a second anyway!"

"Whatever. Dad says you're a hypochondriac..." His voice trailed off as his mom shot him a look.

Since the divorce his mother hadn't really wanted to hear about his father's opinion anymore.

"Well, when your dad gets the fungus and we're walking around healthy as can be, you be sure to tell him where to go for me."

In the car, his mom was quiet, a sure sign she had something on her mind. Usually chatty, he could see the lines of tension around her mouth as she drove carefully through the maze of blockade-choked streets.

She had to stop every few miles, show her credentials to soldiers in camo and face masks, prove again and again that they were allowed to be on the street when the state was under martial law, heading into a city that looked like a war zone.

As they drove, Evan watched smoke rising across the city from a thousand brush fires. He had no idea it was so bad down here. Where the suburbs had once been a landscaper's paradise, now he saw people in their yards, bandanas tied over their faces, vengefully tearing out great clumps of vegetation. They tossed the green masses onto pyres, vines writhing as if the flames had turned them more animal than vegetable.

Kudzu. It was everywhere. No one could have known that "the vine that ate the South" was probably going to be the vine that destroyed civilization as they knew it.

His great-grandad had been a botanist. He told him all about the stuff. Back in the 1930's, Southern farmers, desperate for a solution to cure the erosion caused by a hundred years of king cotton raping the soil, were encouraged by the good ole' government to plant this Japanese import generously on their land. By 1946 it was estimated over three million acres had been introduced around the South.

Imagine everyone's surprise when they discovered this plant had no natural predators in the U.S., that the climate down South made for ideal growing conditions and that, in its mature state, it could grow up to a foot a day. The shit was mercenary! By the 1970's kudzu could be found from Florida to Novia Scotia and was considered an invasive plant and "noxious weed" by the Federal Government.

Evan's eyes watered and he coughed into his hand as they cruised through a particularly smoky neighborhood.
His mother cut a worried glance at him.

"You feeling ok?" She reached across the car and placed the back of her hand on his head.

"I'm fine mom. Really! It's just all this smoke. Both hands on the wheel, woman!"
Evan pushed her hand away.

He knew why she was scared. Because that's how it started. He'd seen it on t.v. First there was a cough, but before you knew it there were nosebleeds and vomiting blood and, even though his mom had turned the channel before he could really get a good look, he could have sworn he saw someone covered in sores as men in hazmat suits pulled a white sheet over their face.

People in the mountains started getting it first. In the beginning, they though it was some kind of bird flu, but then they realized it was something more insidious.

Kudzu spread by snaking out wide-ranging secretive roots under the ground, and they went everywhere. That's why it was so difficult to get it out of your yard when you discovered it growing. The vines had developed a subterranean fungus, one that spread rapidly from vine to soil and quickly to the roots of anything growing in your yard. And people were highly, highlyallergic.

And the soil of the Appalachains was held together now, virtually woven into the mountains, by a nest of kudzu roots.

Everyone thought the hillbillies were nuts when they started hacking up their crops and burning their fields, but when the fungus began to spread, and kids on playgrounds fell to the dirt with bleeding eyes, the whole country took notice.

It spread fast. Now the government was desperate to find a way to save America's food crops and oxygen-giving trees while not allowing all the citizens to die of the "vine-rus."

They were nearing downtown and Evan could hear a roar, like a stadium, nearby. Were there still ballgames in the midst of this? The steel buttresses of the CDC arched across through the sky just a few blocks away.

Around their car people crowded the sidewalks, chanting, screaming, sobbing and stretching out their hands. Many were waving green bills at their car, hundred dollar bills with pleading looks on their faces. Soldiers in tactical body armor pressed the masses back with their shields and waved tear gas cannisters over their heads as a threat.

"What are they doing, mom?" Evan looked around in fear.

"I told you we were lucky to get these shots, baby. Not everyone was so lucky. A lot of folks think it's unfair that there aren't shots for everyone. They're scared, desperate. I've heard some people have sold their lotto passes for a hundred grand a piece."

At the CDC gate his mother stopped at a final check point, wincing as someone threw a green vine onto the windshield of her car. She handed the soldier her winning lottery papers like she was handing him gold leaf. When he nodded them through the reinforced fence, his mother sighed in relief.

A man in a white lab coat met them at the curb of the CDC and walked them inside the steel and glass structure.

"Right on time, I see, Mrs. Strickland, Evan."

"That's Ms. Strickland, thanks," his mother answered tightly, and reached out to shake the man's hand.

"Well, Msss. Strickland," he responded, insolently drawing out the s, "We're glad you made it in today. Considering that your grandfather was so instrumental in introducing kudzu to the United States - this plagueto the United States - we wanted to be sure you received the treatment you deserve."

"Great Grandpa? What does he have to do with kudzu, mom? I thought we won the shot lottery?" Evan was so confused.

His mother's eyes were flicking around the long hall like a trapped animal, panic stricken.

"I didn't think anyone knew," she said quietly. "He did everything he could to get his name off the contracts, the reports. It wasn't his fault! It was the damn Japanese! They're the ones to blame! He just thought he was helping!"

Two soldiers had padded up quietly behind her and taken her firmly by the arms.

"It's not that simple, ma'am. Dr. Harrison Strickland at the University of Georgia tried his best to erase his gross environmental failure from the annals of history but it's not so easy to hide out these days. And now he's gone. But someone needs to be held accountable for these crimes."

"Are you mad? What about my son? Won't you at least give him the shot? Please, have mercy on my little boy," his mother wailed, tears streaming down her cheeks.

Evan stood frozen as they dragged his mother toward a cell filled with fat green vines.

"Ma'am, there is no shot. People need something to believe in, but the truth is, none of us are getting out of this alive."

Jul. 30th, 2017

LJ Idol - Week 26: The Goal is Zero

When the government learned an invasion was imminent, they mobilized quickly.

The NSA put the pieces together first, noting a drastic uptick in frustrated Facebook comments about files not found and blue screens of death across the Eastern Seaboard.

Soon it was spreading nationwide. Verizon customers in Nebraska were pissed that they could only get cell reception while standing in a strawberry field with one hand patting their heads and the other rubbing their bellies. Amazon Prime subscribers in Silicon Valley were incensed that their Echoes had only played honky tonk music for five hours straight on a Saturday when they had a cocktail party for 80 members of the Chamber of Commerce. Social media was the perfect monitoring system for just these kinds of attacks.

Soon, digital demons were spawning across the globe and someone had to take action, lest these vicious wraiths, spawned from two decades of broken code and faulty hyperlinks take over the world.

In a small war room, 200 feet below the surface of an undisturbed desert, in an undisclosed location in an indeterminate state *cough* New Mexico *cough* an elite group was assembled to come up with a plan to combat the demons.

Mr. President- (Obama of course, because we all know Trump wouldn't give a shit.) What the hell are we going to do about this? The kids just got out of school for the summer! There's going to be mass panic if parents can't access their DVR'd episodes of Peppa Pig, can't use their devices as babysitters for the next two months!

His voice rose in fear.

There will be rioting in the streets! Mayhem! What will our cities look like if people can't binge their Netflix series or, god forbid, play Candy Crush? CANDY CRUSH, MAN! IT COULD GO DOWN!  I'M AT LEVEL 248! 248! All that work for nothing! Do you know how many times I had to play level 237? Do you even know?!?

The president dissolved into tears.

Major General General Major- Sir! Pull yourself together, sir! We have a plan, and it hinges on just what you are suggesting. In order to fight these things, we are going to need a massive army on the ground - global, passionate and highly mobile, ready to fight at a moments notice. We need to get as many men, women and especiallychildren involved as quickly as possible.

Mr. President- Children? You're mad! No one is going to agree to let children fight a war!

Major General General Major- Oh, but we think they will, sir. Not only will they let them fight, their parents will drive them to the battlefront! Noreen, would you like to tell the president what we have in mind?

The general turned to a petite Asian woman sitting quietly in the shadows. She nodded briskly.

Noreen: Certainly. Mr. President, it's a little thing we like to call Pokémon GO.

Noreen explained the particulars to the president. How digital demons could be fought and captured from the safety of cell phones across the world. How they could use a well known and well loved game to lure soldiers to the battlefront and how there was already a framework in place based on an earlier app game called Ingress. They could be ready to go live in weeks.

The organization responsible for Ingress, Niantic, was quickly brought into the need-to-know loop. Apple was quickly drawn in as well, but this was nothing new. They'd been on the NSA's speed dial for years and loved a good government conspiracy. Google was next in the mix. They were thrilled to get the call - they always wanted to be in the know.

Niantic agreed, for a sizeable fee of course, to switch gears and turn their original augmented reality game into something marketable to adults andkids in order to draw the greatest numbers of soldiers to the battlefield. Soldiers who would be given the much more marketable title of "trainers." And the digital demons were given the beloved faces of Pokémon characters, darling pocket monsters that families could capture and train and evolve together, and even battle them against one another in gyms!

Rumors were "leaked" to the Interwebs about the coming of an awesome game that would premier just in the nick of time, just when parents across the U.S., desperate to find ways to survive the "I'm Booooooooorrrrred!" doldrums of late July would need it most. It would even feature, drumroll here, augmented reality!

Pokémon Go dropped and parents pounced. It quickly became the most downloaded game of the year and no one suspected a thing. People left their homes in enthusiastic droves to join the fray.

The digital demons congregated where cell phone signals were most numerous- large public venues, historical sites. The DD's had been efficient, seeking out locations with the most numerous pathways into our world. Trainers quickly got their number.

They gathered in squadrons in shopping malls and baseball stadiums, turning museums and national parks and church parking lots into battlefields. They hunted the buggers mercilessly, grinning all the while, trapping them in their Poké balls as quickly as they spawned and cheering when it was done.

Not to be underestimated, their enemy became wiley. The early days of the "game" were plagued by buggy features. Trainers were getting booted from the app and finding themselves unable to log back in for hours as they poked fruitlessly at their touch screens. Pokémon would spawn but intense lag would leave trainers hopelessly swinging their balls around, unable to catch the creatures taunting them just within reach.

Although Niantic took the fall as the public cried out for updates and answers and better ways to track the monsters in-game, it was the damn demons causing all the issues. They were striking out at the xenocidal soldiers in a desperate attempt to save their race!

As summer waned, the initial issues caused many trainers to leave the game for more stable entertainment, but the truly dedicated, the terribly talented and those trainers with haunted eyes, driven by the need to get a complete set of the little monsters just redoubled their efforts when the going got tough. In no time, the rabid public, hunting demons across the globe, made short work of the demon population and the threat was practically annihilated.

To the government, it was a shining success. The trainers had decimated the DD's to the point developers began filling the app with placebo Pokémon -  a "Second Generation" - just to keep the trainers playing daily and their skills fresh.

Back in the undisclosed desert bunker, tucked away in an unknown locale, *cough* Roswell *cough*, Major General General Major tented his fingers and smiled with pride. He'd never waged war so efficiently, with so little collateral damage and so many goddamned smiling faces in the process.

It was beautiful! A veritable work of art. Now there were hardly any digital demons left, but he knew the trainers wouldn't rest until they had every one. His only regret was that his cell reception wasn't strong enough thirty stories below the sand to actually catch some of the Pokémon himself. He really wanted to evolve of those Pidgeottos - they reminded him of a gorgeous golden eagle! He placed his hand, cell phone in his palm, over his heart.

Behind him, Noreen sat, nursing a Starbucks and staring intently at a wall of screens. Her eyes widened.

Noreen: Major General General Major?! We have just intercepted com on the dark web that a massive attack is coming to Chicago this summer, sir! It looks like this is the DD's greatest push yet and they are bringing down some serious firepower! What are we going to do?

Major General General Major- Get Niantic on the phone, Noreen. I think it's time to mobilize the troops to the city. We need get our best and boldest trainers from all over the world to gather for this end-all motherfucker of a battle.

Noreen: And how do you plan to do that, sir?

Major General General Major- We'll make it a party. Call it something snappy like...like...Pokémon GO Fest and offer them something they can't refuse - something LEGENDARY.

His eyes were sparkling.

Noreen: And you really think they'll come, sir?

Major General General Major- Oh yes, Noreen. I know they'll come. You've seen them out there. They won't be able to stay away. As long as there is a gap in their Pokédex, you know they've gotta catch 'em all!

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