Sticks and Stones – Flash Fiction for 2/24/12

Photo courtesy Madison Woods

Whenever anyone in the tribe died, the priestess would lay a small stone in the sacred place. When a baby was born, she added a stick to the collection. It was foretold by the elders that as a person got older, the stick would warp, crack and rot, but the person would continue to live as long as the stick was unbroken.

The priestess knelt on the rocky ground and a sob broke from her as she reached out and gently laid her lover’s stone among the others. Then she picked up her husband’s stick and snapped it in two.

Colvin, Ochlik killed in Syria

Marie Colvin and Remi Ochlik

As a former journalist I was hit hard today by the deaths of two journalists in Homs, Syria. Marie Colvin, an American journalist and French photojournalist Remi Ochlik were killed when the media center in which they were working was struck by artillery fire.

Just last night I listened to Colvin being interviewed about the horror in Syria on CNN’s Anderson Cooper 360. She was telling the heartbreaking story of a young boy who had been killed by artillery fire when it struck his apartment. Ochlik’s video of the boy struggling to breathe just before he died brought tears to my eyes.

This was the kind of story Colvin often focused on, tales of women and children, innocent victims caught in the crossfire of an ugly war. It takes real courage to go into war zones and risk your lives so the world can know what’s going on. Now she and Oclik have joined the tens of thousands of other victims of this tragic conflict.

She had already lost an eye covering the guerrilla uprising in Sri Lanka, but that didn’t stop her from continuing to go into hell holes around the world and practice her craft.

Ochlik, who was only 29, was an award-winning photographer whose lens had captured tumultuous scenes in Haiti, Congo, Tunisia, and Libya before he came to Syria.

Americans venerate our soldiers, sailors and airmen who put their lives on the line in foreign conflicts, as well we should. I think we also should esteem the journalists who are armed with no more than a computer or a camera. They are our eyes and ears in places we can’t go, wouldn’t want to go, but need to know about. Without them, we are blind and deaf to what is going on around the planet.

Captcha cha cha

I believe it’s the little things that drive you crazy.

You might thinks this is petty, or all out of proportion, but I’m irritated by having to type in squiggly, mashed-up, nonsense words for no real reason as far as I can tell. I recently found out the name for this nonsense, captcha, and I think it’s accurately named. It captures your time, patience and happiness. Also, it sounds a lot like gotcha, and it does.

I mean, who are they trying to fool with this little hoop-jump? The visually impaired, the dyslexic, extremely lazy people, bad typers?

I know there’s probably a good reason for the squiggle test, and it’s probably something I should just take on faith, but some web hosts have pushed me too far.

The thing that tipped me over the edge was the stupid justification given for demanding the magic letters: Please Prove You’re Not A Robot.

Asking me to prove I’m not a robot is bizarre, audacious and just silly, as far as I’m concerned. I’ve always just assumed that other people would take my word about my status as a human. Now my very species, my basic make-up is being questioned almost daily just so I can post a dumb comment somewhere.

Also, what’s wrong with being a robot? Are robots evil? I admit I hadn’t thought much about robots invading cyberspace, but now, thanks to the powers that make me type in code words, robots have been thrust into my mind.

There are so many absurdities about my having to prove that I’m not a robot, I hardly know where to start.

First of all, is this a valid test? What if robots can type in the letters? How hard can it be to program a robot to recognize the alphabet, operate a keyboard and lie about being a robot? Doesn’t this point alone invalidate the robot rational? I mean, wouldn’t a certificate of live birth be better proof of being human than the deal they’ve rigged up?

Also, do robots know they’re robots? Wouldn’t it be better to just let them think they’re people? Wouldn’t robot programmers think of this one?

Naturally, this led me to wondering how many “people” are actually robots who have been programmed to believe they’re human. And the more I think about the people I encounter daily in the search for intelligent life, the more possible it seems that I live in a world thick with robots.

So now I have robot paranoia. I don’t know who to trust. And how can you test to see if someone is a robot? I don’t even know anymore if I’m human or robot myself or how I can find out. At least if I am a robot, I’m one of the smart ones who can accurately type in letters.

Whatever I am, I do know I’m a writer. And as a writer, I relish feedback from readers, and I don’t much care if they’re people, robots, aliens, or large appliances, as long as they can post an intelligent comment. So I don’t appreciate any obstacles being put in the way of that feedback.

But I have to admit I’m actually glad the robot issue was raised, because I was totally unaware of the robot threat until now. As if vampires, wolfmen, zombies, shape shifters, criminals, terrorists, demons, and psychos weren’t enough to worry about, now I may have robots trying to kill me too.

My fear is that it is already too late and the robot revolution may have already happened, silently and unnoticed. I guess it was inevitable that robots would emerge victorious over humans. They’re smarter, tougher and they never sleep.

But the robot test needs some rigor. Wouldn’t you like to know if you’re dealing with a human or a robot? Here’s my test:

What’s 57 times 34? If you did this immediately in your head, you’re a robot. If you couldn’t do it in your head immediately, you’re human.

Who is the president of Chechnya? If you don’t know, you’re human.

Can you sing the song listing the ingredients of a Big Mac? If you can, you’re human.

Do you ever have trouble remembering the date, day of the week, your phone number? You’re human.

Do you read the terms and conditions? Yes, robot. No, human.

If you’ve ever played the Publisher’s Clearing House Sweepstakes or bought a lottery ticket, or left some of your money in a slot machine, you’re human.

If you know the value of pi to more than four digits, you’re either a robot or an incredible nerd.

If you own a snuggie, you’re not only human, the fashion police have a warrant out for your arrest.

If you’re smarter than your smart phone, you could be a robot.

Finally, if, like me, you hate having to type in captchas, you’re definitely one hundred percent human.

We desperately need more tests to be able to tell the difference between robots and humans. What’s yours? Post it in the comment section. Unless you’re a robot.


Water Of Love – Flash Fiction for 2/17/12


Water Of Love

It was our meeting place, the spring that came out of the base of the mountain and formed a rock-bound crystal stream. Where we laughed and skipped flat stones when we were young. Where we lingered on limestone monoliths, aching with longing when we were falling. Where we skinny dipped, blood racing, in the chilly deeps when we were deeper in love. Where we lay spooned in the soft grasses, dappled sunlight dancing over us. Where we said our good-byes and she wept when I went away. If you listen, you can still hear her voice in the murmuring waters.

Is Love Eternal?


Is love eternal? Are lovers somehow entwined forever? In Kurt Vonnegut’s novel, Cat’s Cradle, he explains that people move through the centuries together as a connected group. In life after life, a person keeps meeting and interacting with the same souls.

Could this be possible? Could love survive death? Interestingly, if you’ve taken a marriage vow, there is only a promise to be bound together until death. But maybe it’s even longer, maybe even eternity.

There’s no smoking gun, or even a twang from Cupid’s bow, but there are hints.

In 1997, my wife Ann and I moved to Arkansas. I knew we both had some long lost roots in Arkansas, and living here made it easier to do research so I started looking at genealogy records at the public library.

One day, I was trying to track down my great-great-grandfather, Jeremiah Woolcott. I got lucky and found him in the 1850 census of Pope County. I was elated to find this information and was poring over the hand-written page excitedly. Then I noticed something that blew me away.

Living right next door to my ancestors were my wife’s ancestors. This is truly amazing. About 160 years ago, our families were farming adjacent plots of land.

Ann and I met in 1966, in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where we both grew up. We spent our wedding night in Russelville, just a few miles from where our ancestors had lived. Our honeymoon was in the Ozarks. We didn’t know why, but we both felt somehow attracted to Arkansas and kept returning here again and again over the years.

When I found information documenting that our ancestors must have known each other, there was a kind of cosmic click in my head, an explanation for our feelings.

I mean, what are the odds? Time and distance had long since separated our families, and the place we met was hundreds of miles and more than a century distant.

Was it just a very random coincidence? Maybe, but maybe not. Perhaps people are a coalescence of past lives, refined through time. Maybe love is not transitory, but ordered, and survives, jumping from one generation to the next.

Perhaps the love of your life is even more, perhaps love is timeless, the only constant that endures.

A Walk In TheWoods – Flash Fiction for 2/10/12

A Walk In The Woods

Old Red had gone into these woods and hadn’t come out. The Cherokee feared the worst. These woodlands were thick with bear, cougar and bobcat.

He found a good print on a game trail and tracked the dog deeper into the wilderness. When Old Red left the path, it was harder. In the leaf litter, there was not much sign.

Then he saw the mushroom, the broken stem pointing like a compass needle. He walked slowly and other signs appeared, bent blades of grass, an overturned stone.

But no dog. Exhausted, he headed home, and waiting there was Old Red.

Sky High – Flash Fiction for 2/3/12


It was the first of the month so Earl and Linda made the  rounds of the pharmacies gathering the “eggs.” With ten packs of Sudafed and five gallons of Coleman lantern fuel, they headed home to their trailer, perched on a wooded  ridge

Earl got the cook going while Linda ripped striker panels from matchbooks. When the lantern fluid bubbled on the propane burner, Earl added the decongestant and the phosphorous.

The earthquake was only a 4.4, but it was enough to slop boiling fluid onto the flame. When the trailer exploded, the sky burst into a fiery yellow glow.