Short Story Contest

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I entered the NYC Midnight Short Story Contest again this year. My short story “The Graveyard Shift” received an Honorable Mention. Not bad. Not great. At least one of the judges seemed to have liked it. Not enough of them, though. I suppose it is a blessing in disguise, as I am going on a vacation with my wife and son this weekend and would not have much time to write much of anything.

For those of you unfamiliar with the NYC Midnight Short Story Contest, participants are sent prompts (usually, a character, a situation, and a genre) on a Friday night and have seven or eight days to write a 2500 word (not a word more) story. My prompts were ‘A Radio DJ’, ‘Addiction’, and ‘Horror.’ To me, a lot of the point is the fun of having to write on such a tight deadline stories that I really have no other interest in writing. I suppose, to be honest, I would prefer to win the whole contest, sell my story to a film producer, win a Nobel, and make a huge amount of money. Until that happens, though, I will simply enjoy the contest for what it is: an exercise.

Anyway, here is “The Graveyard Shift.”

“The Graveyard Shift”
Synopsis: A radio DJ contemplates starting his new gig all alone in the studio.

“FIVE DJs, two years? Big turnover.”
“Don’t worry, son.” The manager constantly wipes sweat from his face. “Great place to work. Two got spooked by the hours. Other two got earlier shows. It can happen.”
“And the fifth?” No answer. “What happened to him?”
“Her…. Uh…. Started her show one night. Never finished.” He pours them each a shot.
“Picked up and left?” Drinks. Cheap, but warming.
“Left all her stuff.” Drinks. Sweats. “Probably stepped out for a deal or a trick. Maybe just took off. Had issues. Personal. Look. You’re new here. Clean slate. Just do the show. Don’t worry. That’s a strong door. New door. Guard will bring ya up 11:45. Down at 6. Be a bit quiet, but even the rats don’t go above the fifth floor now the bank’s pulled out. Things will get better. Be right where it’s happening.”
* * *

“Good evening from high above downtown. Dave here. New to the 313, hailing from somewhere that beat you in football and baseball last year. I won’t say where; you won’t spit at me at the supermarket. Ha. Ha. Really, I’m new here—love it already. So, welcome to ‘The Graveyard Shift’. Let’s start the evening right, with a selection of some of my favorite songs. Email or text me any requests, and if I like them, I might play them. Here we go: ‘It was fifty years ago today…’”
“…Sergeant Pepper taught his band to play…” Paul sang.
Dave turned the monitor down.
Deep breath. Off to a good start. Off to a start. Who the hell’s awake at this hour, anyway? Not much of anyone. Not me. Barely me. Hmm. Adderall. ‘Little blue’. Will you keep me going? No. Not yet. Not yet. Let’s get into the groove here. Take it slow. New Place. New Job. New Dave.
The phone light flashes. First caller, right off the bat. This is good.
“Hello. Welcome to the Graveyard Shift.”
“Dave? Dave?” A young woman’s voice. Sounds odd. Scared.
“You okay, miss?”
“Dave? Don’t leave me alone! I’m all alone!”
“Miss?”
Silence.
“Miss?”
Dial tone.
Weirdo. Coed, probably. Prank. No matter.
Feet up, kind of. Can barely lean back in this booth. Look at the clock. 12:02. Half-hour set. Deep Breath. Bored.
Quiet.
Dave hears something, jerks eyes open. Not asleep!
Was that a bump?
A scrape?
A scratch?
“Hello?” Nothing. “Hello?”
A dream?
The echo of a sound? The echo of an echo of a sound?
He looks around the station. Three rooms. ‘Rooms.’ The booth barely large enough for his chair and the board. A storage closet filled with old CDs, chair, minifridge. Junk. A bathroom smaller than the booth.
“Hello?”
Too soon to be hearing things.
Little blues?
A smoke would be better. In the stairwell. Cool air. “Dress light, son. The AC’s been busted forever.” Fresh pack. Heaven!
“Hello down there?”
Ridiculous! Dim shadows, shade, still. Even the bums don’t want to live downtown.
Even the echoes don’t want to come back up.
Grinds the butt out. Kicks it down the stairwell. “Not mine!” should anyone ask. Who would? “Even the rats don’t go above the fifth floor now that the bank’s pulled out.”
Back to the booth. Twenty minutes left. Sets his watch for fifteen. Kicks his legs up. Deep Breath.
* * *
“Come on!”
“You’re drunk.”
“Ya know ya want it.”
“You know you’re married.”
“Let me touch ya one more time. So fine.”
She feels his hand slide along her waist. His fingers scrabble at her skirt. She does want. Wants.
Wanted. Wanted. No longer. No longer. Why won’t he understand? Someone must. Someone.
“Leave me alone!”
His fingers reach in.
She struggles. “I said….”
* * *

JESUS! Dave snaps to.
“Who’s there?”
No one.
No noise but something in the air. A cry? A sob?
No. No noise.
Not true. The alarm is beeping. No music.
Crap! Look at the clock. The set just finished.

* * *

NO calls. “Is anybody out there?” he says to himself, laughs. Starts the next set. Makes it to the bathroom just in time. He leans against the wall as an evening’s worth of coffee splashes against the porcelain.
He feels the fingers on his waist.
“Please don’t touch me.” A whimper.
“It’s all right, baby. Just let me….”
Jesus Christ!
He turns, sprays the bathroom. Sees….
No one.
Dozed off. That’s it. While peeing. Ha!
What was that noise?
A bump?
A scratch.
A door slamming?
Had he forgotten to shut the door? Stupid!
But it is shut. Outside? He kicks open the door. “Ha!”
No one.
No noise.
He looks down. Shadows, shades, stand still in the flickering light.
He goes back to the booth laughing at himself. Outside the window is a skyline devoid of light. Hulking, towering, black shades. A graveyard. A graveyard shift.
* * *

SHE gets up and leaves the booth.
“Stop following me.”
“Come on, baby!” he slurs.
Touching, following.
She spins, wanting to see him, wanting Dave to see him, but he is a blur, just beyond sight, grasping, wheedling.
“Don’t follow me in here.”
He stands, a presence, a shadow, a smell, just beyond the door.
“Leave me alone!”
* * *

THE DJ almost falls over in the chair. Catches himself at the last moment.
The phone is ringing.
“Welcome to the Graveyard Shift,” he says, relieved. He looks at the clock and chokes. It is almost 1:00. Jesus! “Welcome to the Graveyard Shift.”
“Don’t leave me alone,” the girl wails. The same caller? Her voice? “Don’t leave me alone! Please understand!”
Slam the phone down. Run commercials, the next set.
Deep breaths.
Another couple of the little blues. No water? Choke ’em down dry. There’s water in the bathroom. Drink a handful. Some cold water on the back of the neck. Close eyes. Deep breath. There’s a sickly sweet smell of whisky and sweat.
Right behind him.
Who the…? What the…? He swings at the air, at the shadows.
“Hello? Who the hell is here?” Pull it together, Dave!
He turns up the monitor, kicks open the door, steps out to the stairs for another smoke. Air out the place a bit.
He hears someone pounding on a door, looks down the stairwell.
“Hello?”
“Open the door!”
No one moving down there.
“Open the God damned door, bitch!”
“Leave me alone!”
They’re in the God-damned studio!
“Ouch! Shit!” His cigarette has burned down to his fingers.
“Who’s there?” Grabs the rusty fire extinguisher from the floor and charges around the corner. “Who the Hell are you?”
No one. Energy-saver light bulbs. Funny shadows. No AC. Not enough sleep. A stale peaty smell hovering just beyond.
Stay awake, Dave. A few more hours. By weekend you’ll be fine. Time for another set, but first a few more little blues. Just a couple more. Just to clear away the cobwebs.
The phone’s ringing.
“Welcome to the Graveyard Shift,” he says, trying to steady his voice.
“Dave!” she says, her voice distant, in a closed space. Dull echoes. Metallic cocoon. “Dave! Don’t leave me alone!”
Leave.
“Do you understand?”
Leave!
Rushes to stairs. The door is locked.
Locked? He just….
He looks up and sees the hanging key above the door.
“In an emergency, use the key to get out,” the station manager had told him. “Otherwise, the guard’ll come at six to walk ya down. Just a precaution. Even the rats don’t go above the fifth floor now the bank’s pulled out.”
But he’d gone out to smoke. Hadn’t he? Has the pack right in his pocket.
Had.
Back in the booth, smokes in his bag. How many had been in there at the start of his shift?
Jesus! Had he…?
His collar damp. From the water?
The clock reads 12:20.
Jesus. He’d fallen asleep! That was it. His collar was wet with sweat.
Stay awake, Dave. A couple little blue pills. Burn off the fog, the haze, the mist of interrupted sleep.
The phone is ringing. He has to answer. Hates to answer, a dream call echoes just out of thought.
“Welcome to the Graveyard Shift.” He holds his breath.
“Dude! We want some Floyd!”
Thank God! “You got it fella! You all partying?”
“Well, you know. Big blow out at Upsilon O before exams. Keepin’ the buzz on after closing time.”
“Yeah, I hear you.” Turns on the mic. “Good evening from the Graveyard Shift. A request for some of the classics. I’ll be giving you a full set of Floyd to help you get in the mood for that education you don’t need. Girls, head on over to Upsilon O where the boys are lonely, the beer is free, and whatever you may do: think of Dave; it’ll put you in the mood and no one has to know.”
Well, if he can’t smoke on the stairs, the bathroom will have to do. Good timing. Kill two birds. Someone should oil the hinges on the door, he thinks as he washes splash off his hands. He lights a cig and blows smoke at the mirrors and rubs the light burn on his finger. Students. Thank God he wasn’t in school anymore. What kind of lame place closed the bars at midnight?
None. He thinks. None. But those frat boys said….
He glances at his phone.
2:25.
2:25. Not 12:25. He’d read the numbers wrong.
That explains it.
God! He’d slept for two and a half hours. Thank God those boys woke him up.
Can’t fall asleep.
He chews on a few of his little blues. Killer headache. He’d been dreaming some strange shit. Or hearing things in the glooming quiet of the early, like that echo of the squeaking hinges just now, bringing in the smell of sweat and whisky.
“Ya thought I wouldn’t come in here?” Who’s that?
“What are you doing in here?”
He feels his face slammed into the mirror. Feels the cracked glass cut into his cheek. His head is pulled back. His face. Not his face. Smeared mascara. Blood trickling down her cheeks. Her long hair pulled back by a heavy hand. Can’t see the man’s face, not for the shadows.
Whoever it is slams the face into the mirror again. “Not so pretty now, bitch. Are ya?”
She’s thrown to the floor. Dave tries to pull free, but can’t. The man is too strong.
“Don’t!” he cries, she wails. “Leave me alone!”
Thick fingers tear at her panties. Exploring. Conquering.
“Please!”
Tiles tearing at the knees. Shoes lost. Can’t get a grip, toes slipping in blood.
“Tell me ya want me.”
“Please.”
“Tell me!”
A blow comes to the back of the head.
Dave is stunned. He opens his mouth to speak and hears her: “Don’t hit me. Don’t. I want you. I want you.”
“Ya know ya do, bitch! Say it again!”
“No.”
Their face is shoved into the brown-stained toilet.
“I.” Please. “Want.” Please. “You.”
He stabs, tears, pounds into them. Dave feels him. She feels him. They sob. Hands, fingers, nails rip into her breasts, raggedly tearing the flesh.
“Is it good?”
“Please.”
“Is it good, bitch?”
“Wonderful.” Sob. “So good.” Sob. “So.” Sob. “Good.” Sob.
He finishes, goes to wash his hands. Dave curls up in a ball in the corner and closes his eyes.
* * *

She sits in the corner. Curls up small to get as far from the man as she can.
He steps over.
“Please, leave me alone.”
“I will. I’ll leave ya all alone.” His hand touches her throat. Closes around it. Squeezes.
No!
Squeezes.
“I’ll leave ya all alone. Far from everyone,” he laughs.
* * *

DAVE lies in the corner, weeping.
How could he have done this? To me? I…. She….
She’s all alone.
Looks up. Through tears sees the vent. Big enough, he decides.
Stands up. Muscles he did not know he had, doesn’t have, hurt.
“I understand!” he calls out, retching.
Hold it together!
His legs have trouble lifting him up. A few more Adderall will help out.
He climbs into the duct. Goes in. Way in.
By the light of a match, he finds her. Dumped in a corner. Simply dumped. Her clothes tossed next to her. Her skin now long dried up, mostly gone. Only shreds. Only the faintest smell. Her hair like straw.
“Don’t leave me alone.” She’s looking at him. Her eyes wide, hoping. “It’s been so long.”
Jesus Christ! Drops the match. All is black.
Deep breath. Hold. It. Together. Another match.
The body lies there. No eyes to look. No tongue to speak.
He can get her out of here if he can find his way out. Which way to go? Jesus! Too many Adderall. Needs some reds to take the edge off. Just a few. He chews them and swallows.
Deep Breaths. Deep Breaths. How to get out of here! Metal everywhere. Every side. Metal. Up down. Metal. Forward back. Metal. Left right. Metal. Heart pounding.
Did I take any reds? He didn’t. Did he? A few more won’t matter.
She takes his hand. “You will stay with me?” Her breath is dust. Her lips dry and cracked against his, her tongue hard, brittle. “I won’t be alone.”
God! God! God! God! Pushes her away. Lunges this way and that. Metal. He slaps at the walls. Metal. Keeps hitting metal.
He falls on the body. Skin crackles, tears. Bones snap.
Another match.
It’s just a dead body. That’s it. A sad dead body. That’s it.
Light a cigarette. Kill the sickly sweet smell, the taste. Calm down. Did he take some reds? A couple will take the edge off, calm down his stomach, which is killing him. He wants to throw up. Can’t. Stabbing. Stabbing pains. He curls up in a ball and tries to scream.
Jesus! Leave me alone!
“I’ll take care of you,” she says, caressing him, embracing him. “We won’t be alone.” Her fingers explore him, find him. “I’ll take care of you. You know you want me.” She pulls him to her.
It’s so…so…so….
* * *

“WELCOME aboard, Jenny.” The manager pours two shots and hands one to her.
“Thanks. Glad to be here, sir. I’ve always wanted to work in radio.”
“Glad we had the opening.”
“Can I ask what happened to the last guy? He was only here a day, I heard.”
“Don’t really know. He disappeared. Word is he had something of a drug problem. Police suspect he went out for a score and, well…. Lot of empty buildings around here. Lot of places to hide a body. Don’t ya worry, though. That’s a strong door. New door. Guard’ll bring ya up 11:45. Come and get ya at 6. Be a bit quiet, but even the rats don’t go above the fifth floor now that the bank’s pulled out. Things will get better. Be right where it’s happening.” Chuckles. “Maybe I’ll drop by. Say ‘hi’.”

Judges Responses to “Special Delivery”

I did not make it to the Final Round of the NYC Midnight Short Story Contest. 😥

However, I am pleased with the story. I generally prefer to write longer-form fiction, but I really liked the structure and challenge of the contest. I will certainly enter again. NYC Midnight has other contests as well, including a script-writing contest over the summer. I am directing a play I wrote and working on two books, so I will simply wait until the next short-story contest.

I just received the feedback from the judges. I appreciate the comments. Some seem to be contradictory (there were several judges). I find the comments informative. I am not going to argue them, other than to say that one of the judges apparently defined the phrase Martial Artist very specifically. When I see the phrase, I also think Kung Fu or Ninja or something vaguely oriental. However, the phrase simply means someone who is skilled in warlike arts. Bruce Lee, yes. Huo Yuanjia, yes. But also von Clausewitz and Audie Murphy.

WHAT THE JUDGE(S) LIKED ABOUT THE STORY

  • Interesting and creative writing format.
  • Vivid imagery allows the reader to feel as if they are witnessing the development of the story as a member of the neighborhood
  • The description of how the babies are made is interesting
  • The character of the stork is memorable, even though it is something (especially with the cigar) that we’ve seen before; I think this is achieved through the character’s voice
  • The concept here is very high-impact (!) and gives rise to much food for thought.  In this context, it’s very unusual.  
  • It’s brave to play around with the short story format, too
  • The voice of Stork is very well done
  • And the television news item certainly has an authentic feel

WHAT THE JUDGES FEEL NEEDS WORK

  • Some readers may find the format difficult to follow.
  • Breaking up the newscast a few times with a few narrations might be beneficial and capture readers attention through the duration of the story
  • One thing that is missing from this screenplay is the conflict — the stork delivering to someone who doesn’t want it — should be up front, so that the reader knows what to expect
  • As far as building in challenge after challenge,
    • There is much time spent talking and not enough time in actual action
    • The part where the stork storms in, and the image of the tired mother and the father — is wonderful
    • I wanted to see more of that
  • The kung-fu element is not really integral to the story, however. 
  • And I do feel the idea of mass-produced babies took over from the story itself. 
  • As it developed it became more and more a stand-alone dystopia. 
  • The violence used to deliver the babies was the comic element and a satire of Internet shopping
    • But I’m not sure how well it meshed with the mass produced babies. 
  • Perhaps a different structure would have worked better

Special Delivery

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As I mentioned in an earlier post, this year I made the second round the the NYC Midnight Short Story Contest. I expect to find out the results in the next few days. Until then, I thought it might be fun to post my second-round entry.

My prompts were (genre) comedy; (subject) a delivery service; (character) a martial artist.

I will admit that I am stretching a little with the ‘martial artist’ character. Technically, though, one is. I suppose that they were looking for a karate or kung fu master, but they did not ask for one.

I spent a long day (out of four) trying different approaches. In the end, I went back to my roots and wrote a ‘teleplay.’ Perhaps this is reminiscent of “93”, my other short story. Perhaps the programs are even related. I expect that at least one of the judges will object to the style.

Word Count = 1974

Special Delivery

Synopsis:

A popular news program observes Storks delivering a baby to a very difficult customer.

INT.    NEWSROOM — DAY

The camera fades in on John Lockey, anchor for TV 42 News.

LOCKEY

Good afternoon. We are interrupting today’s repeat episode of Are You My Baby Daddy? to bring you a breaking story from Channel 42’s own Mia Dante in Dantes Informals: Gripping News That Really Doesn’t Make a Difference.

Good afternoon, Mia!

 The camera cuts to:

EXT.   A SUBURBAN NEIGHBORHOOD — CONTINUOUS

Mia Dante is an attractive young woman in her late 20s.

 MIA
(Brightly)

Thank you, John. Welcome back from vacation. The Caribbean sun really agrees with you.

(Seriously)

Good afternoon. Welcome to Dantes Informals: Gripping News That Really Doesn’t Make a Difference. This afternoon, the quiet suburb of Elm Hills was disrupted by gunfire. This neighborhood, usually filled with au pairs and young mothers playing on manicured lawns with little children, exploded today in violence.

The cause? A local man refusing to accept what appears to be a lawful home delivery. Homeowner Pat Arnolds has barricaded himself into his house with his nine children, all of whom appear to be armed. The delivery company? Stork’s Baby Delivery.

Colonel Julius Stork, a former tank division commander and Indian War veteran, is the owner of Stork’s and has agreed to speak with us.

Colonel Julius Stork, a burly former army officer, strides into shot. He wears a leather jacket, riding boots, and aviator sunglasses. He is puffing away on a large cigar.

MIA

Good afternoon, Colonel Stork. How are you today?

STORK

One of my drivers has been shot in the leg, and there are bullet holes in my van.

(Into megaphone)

You’re paying for the van this time, Pat. My insurance isn’t covering bullet holes any more.

ARNOLDS

Screw you, Stork! I will not accept delivery!

STORK
(To someone off camera)

Sergeant! Prepare third squad for a Franciscan Envelope.

SERGEANT
(Off camera)

Sir! Yes, Sir!

STORK
(To Mia)

Alberto Francisca. There was a genius. A pioneer in home delivery. Could drive a tank right into your living room and drop the package on the coffee table without leaving a scratch on it. On the table that is. The living room walls would be knocked down, of course.

MIA

Kind of rough on the lawn, as well, isn’t it. Ha, ha.

STORK

Our job is delivery, lady, not landscaping. Besides, we are fully bonded.

Get down!

Cover!

Stork pulls Mia to the ground just as semi-automatic fire sprays the area.

Someone take out that kid on the second floor bedroom! Sandbag him!

There are several popping sounds, followed by glass shattering and a scream.

Those damn politocrats in D.C. really made things tough on home delivery when they outlawed real bullets and ordinance. Sandbags? Flash grenades? It makes you want to cry. Francisca started out delivering summonses with a crossbow. Back then, of course, we were not hamstrung by customer-centric laws. Other process servers would tape the sucker to a warhead and deliver it via an M9A1. Let me tell you, when a crossbow bolt is pinning your shoulder to the wall, then you know you’ve been served. The man was an artist. I have tried to live up to his example since we studied his career at West Point. An artist at war. A master at home delivery.

(To the sergeant off camera)

Sergeant! Cut off egress from the garage! Enfilade between the minivan and the station wagon!

(To Mia)

I’m only bonded within the county. If Arnolds crosses 12th Avenue, we’re shit out of luck, and I’m out the deposit. Might have to lay off some of my guys.

MIA

But certainly the market for babies is booming. Population has been on a steady rise for years.

STORK

Yes. Recently, though, more and more people have been exploring alternate methods for child acquisition. Natural childbirth? What is this? The Middle Ages? This sort of attitude makes it harder for working men to support their families. Fortunately, in Pat’s case, everything was done on the up and up.  We have the paperwork, the receipts, the waivers.

Pat Arnolds might complain, but he had the chance to withdraw the order. Once the order is finished, though, the baby is processed, tailored to their needs and wants. Much more efficient and reliable than manual impregnation.

MIA

Without all the mess as well.

STORK

Storks of Switzerland has been breeding babies for almost 75 years. They are the world leader in propagation services.

Duck!

Shots shatter the van’s windows.

(To someone off camera)

Put some suppression fire on on the kid in the gables!

SERGEANT
(Off camera)

Sir! Yes, sir!

STORK
(To Mia)

Oh, Shang Zhing Corp. may have streamlined production and can out produce in numbers, but Storks of Switzerland has higher quality and greater variety. Stork babies are not mass-produced. They are tailored to the customer’s demands.

MIA

I suspect you may be somewhat partial. You are a Stork, after all.

STORK

I had to change my name when I bought the franchise. All franchise owners have to. My name’s Jackson.

Anyway, both my kids are Storks’ kids. They came out just fine.

He grabs her left ear and looks behind it.

You have a Stork stamp on you as well. Beta 32. Entertainment model. Fine workmanship.

MIA

Thank you.

STORK

Now, I remember when I brought Pat his first delivery. An Alpha 68.

MIA

“First Born.” That’s a good model.

STORK

Pat and his wife were so happy. They were happy a year later when I brought their second model. Another Alpha, this time a 12.

MIA

Slightly more utilitarian, but still a good model.

STORK

A good solid workhorse, yes.

After that, he started filing complaints, trying to refuse delivery.

Life doesn’t work that way. You order a baby, you don’t just get to wake up one morning and decide you don’t want it. Sure, it is rare that the order is processed right away, but once the paperwork goes things start moving pretty quickly. Time and money are invested in the final product. Trainers are assigned. Technicians brought in. Resources allocated. If every customer could pull out of the deal at any time, the industry would collapse, at least the higher quality companies like Storks. Our investors would run and hide, and the stocks would plummet. Companies like Shang Zhing and Babies Babies Babies would be able to flood the market with low quality children bred on assembly lines.

At one point, the laws were so customer-centric that customers could refuse delivery of a product. The company would be forced to sell it at a fraction of the price. Sometimes to agents for the original customer. The company’s profit margins were slashed. That still happens, from time to time. Rarely, though.

MIA

And Arnolds?

STORK

He’s all right. When his first wife died about fifteen years ago, he took the insurance money and upgraded to a Delta 32.

MIA

That must have been some payout.

STORK

Her electric toothbrush short-circuited and fried her brains. Tragic.

MIA

I remember that case. Very sad. But a Delta 32? Wow! That’s a serious upgrade. What was wife number one?

STORK

Don’t remember the series, but she was a Pi model.

MIA

Ooh. That’s tough.

STORK

You’re telling me. I had a cousin who was a Pi. Very difficult. Most irrational woman I ever met.

Anyway, the new wife has been ordering children regularly ever since. Even worse, they use a joint account, so he cannot refuse to pay or accept delivery. I suspect that she shops drunk. Stupid, but not illegal.

MIA

Certainly there is something you can do.

STORK

Why should I do anything? Not my responsibility.

Don’t get me wrong. I feel for the guy. Nine children, with a tenth in the back of the van. He and his wife have to take personal responsibility. They go online. They go to the checkout. No one is stopping them from browsing. Storks provides fine babies. It does not trick customers. If Pat and his wife can’t control themselves, they don’t have to go to the sites. Relationships are about more than just online shopping together. C’mon, these guys aren’t teenagers!

Whatever their intentions, their problems…. Well, I have a job to do. I’m delivering this baby. It isn’t the baby’s fault her mother can’t control her urges.

I’ve got some of the best-trained deliverymen in the business. Some served with me in the army. Some studied at the College of the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul. It has been accepted for years that the skills that made for a great warrior could be applied to commerce. When the politocrats finally allowed the military to take over the economy, things really took off. Customer satisfaction increased.

MIA

Or, at least, complaints decreased.

STORK

That’s the same thing.

Bills were paid on time, so debt decreased. Subcontracting out to paramilitary organizations like mine simply made sense.

We will get the job done.

Sometimes I feel like an artist, bringing order to the chaos that is the consumer condition.

Look, they are almost in position. In a few moments, the sonic flares will go off. Third squad will approach the rear while second squad will take the right flank. Then the Urban Assault Vehicle will cross the lawn and enter the kitchen on the left. That’s where the wife is. Once everyone is rounded up, I’ll make delivery. Piece of cake.

Here we go.

Explosions can be heard off camera. Men yell. Shots are fired.

A small tank roars roars into view. The camera follows the tanks as it claws its way across the lawn and crashes through the wall of Pat Arnolds’ house.

Men rush into the house from several sides.

After a few moments, a sergeant steps out of the remains of the front door and waves to Stork.

STORK

That’s my cue.

He goes to the van and pulls a basket out.

The camera and Mia follow Stork into the house.

Arnolds and his children have been restrained and are being guarded. Arnolds’ wife, a tired looking woman in her forties, sits at the kitchen table, right next to the barrel of the tank’s gun.

STORK

Here you are, Mrs. Arnolds. Congratulations. My lieutenant will have some paperwork for you to fill out.

Pat.

He turns to Arnolds and hands him a cigar.

Congratulations. It’s a girl.

ARNOLDS
(Lighting the cigar)

You son of a bitch.

Next time.  Next time.

Stork waves a younger officer over to him.

STORK

Good work, Willis. Report.

WILLIS

Four WIA. One critical. One KIA.

STORK

Who was it?

WILLIS

Marsten.

STORK

Shame. Good man. He have a wife?

WILLIS

No, sir.

STORK

Well, then. We won’t have all the paperwork.

(To Mia)

Home delivery is a tough business, but we got the package in the customer’s hands. That’s what’s important. Home delivery is a lot like war: victory is everything.

(To Willis)

Second platoon was a little premature. We’ll work on that over the weekend.

 (To the camera)

I’m Colonel Julius Stork, and this is Stork Baby Delivery. We delivery your baby to you—any time, any place—whether you want it or not.

Stork strides off, puffing on his cigar.

MIA

Thank you, Colonel Stork.

This has been Dantes Informals: Gripping News That Really Doesn’t Make a Difference.

John?

Cut to:

INT.    NEWSROOM — CONTINUOUS

JOHN

Thank you, Mia Dante.

Truly fascinating.

In other news: a popular soda has been found to have killed several young children; a local school is involved in white slavery and prostitution; two missiles from Taiwan have slipped through Japan’s defensive net and struck Tokyo, thousands dead.

We now return you to Are You My Baby Daddy? in progress. But first, a word from our sponsor, Bathory’s, the maker of fine, recycled rectal syringes and other enema supplies. Use Bathory’s, when a laxative simply isn’t enough.

Fade out:

 THE END

“93” A short story, by Edward Eaton

In 2010, I entered the NYC Midnight Short Story Contest for the second time. We were given a genre and a subject: sic-fi and a day care center.

I was living in Oman at the time. I remember coming home from work (1 1/2 hours away) and trying to figure out a hook to the story. I could not. Then, on Thursday, I came up with an idea: a television program running a puff piece on a day care center. As you can see, I wrote it in script (or, rather, teleplay) format. One of the criticism of the piece was that it was written mostly in dialogue. In my defense, so was Hamlet.

‘USE IT’ by Edward Eaton SYNOPSIS – A government-sanctioned news program investigates a privately run Child Care Center in 2141 – a Center that is dedicated to making the children useful to society.

For the record, I have tweaked it a little since then. The original version probably exists somewhere in cyberspace. The datight revisit it. The dates (years) are different. The title is better now. In any case, here is a sample of my writing or a teaser of what is to come.

__________

93

The Canamerexican News Program

Int. The 93 Studio – EVENING

The camera fades in on Martin Ryle, the Anchor for 93.  Martin is a respectable looking man in his early 50s.

MARTIN

Good evening, Canamerexicans.  Welcome to 93 — the official news show for Canamerexica that brings you all the truth worth knowing to make for a better tomorrow.

Good evening, I am Martin Ryle your host for the evening.

Later this evening, I will be speaking with Minister of Public Opinion Rodham about the recent talks in Beijing with Greater Chinese Commonwealth Foreign Minister Chen-Wu on opening Hawaii to visiting CAM warships for next month’s 100th anniversary of Pearl Harbor.

Former Deputy Chief of Staff Heather McAllister is also here to give us some insight into the Colonial Secretary’s recent negotiations with the European Dictate over payments for exports from the Gulf Colonies.

But first, here is Special Correspondent, Anjelica Juarez, who recently paid a visit to the Archangel Children’s Center in Baja California.

Anjelica!

The camera picks up on Anjelica Juarez, a strikingly pretty young woman in her late 20s.

ANJELICA

Good evening, Martin.

Last week, I had the opportunity to visit the Archangel Children’s Center with a camera crew.  The administration was most helpful.

MARTIN

Archangel Children’s Center.  That’s one of the new private care centers…

ANJELICA

Yes it is.

Even though the Mandatory Child Care Act of 2033 set up centers in all 93 states, the number of children being born, especially in the mid-latitude states, was beginning to overwhelm the state-supported centers.

The 2038 Presidential Amendment to the Act allowed for Private Organizations to set up centers to try and relieve some of the congestion.

MARTIN

Hasn’t there been some concern that private centers would simply exacerbate preexisting socio-economic disparities?

ANJELICA

The current counter argument is that with the population of Canamerexico poised to break 1.5 Billion in the next year, trying to find a life track for members of the younger generation will do more to promote comparability than imposing social programs on the more mature generations.

Remember, the 2034 class at the state centers, will be voting in ten years…

MARTIN

If they are passed as Eligible by the Ministry of Voting and Civil Privileges…

ANJELICA

Remember, the Act of ’33 does not guarantee equal rights; it mandates that all children be made useful.

MARTIN

I am looking forward to your report.

ANJELICA

Thank you, Martin.

EXT. The Archangel Children’s Center, Baja California

The ACC is located on Isla Ángel de la Guarda in the Sea of Cortez.  The main building, in front of which Anjelica Juarez is standing, is a large building built somewhat in the style of a hacienda.

ANJELICA (V.O.)

We were flown over to Isla Ángel de la Guarda by helicopters owned by the Valentine Trust, the main benefactor of the ACC.  There we were met by Miriam Beauchamps, the Administrative Director for the ACC and the government liaison from Mexicali, and Frank Speer, the Head Teacher.

Miriam Beauchamps is an attractive but over-dressed woman in her mid 30s; she clearly considers herself to be important.  Frank Speers is slightly overweight and clearly uncomfortable in front of the camera.

ANJELICA

Good afternoon, Ms. Beauchamps.  Doctor Speer.

MIRIAM

Good afternoon, Anjelica.

FRANK

Hey—

ANJELICA

Am I right is seeing that your compound is fortified?

MIRIAM

All part of letting the children grow up in a realistic and practical atmosphere.

ANJELICA

I do not recall ever seeing anything more than local security at the public centers.

MIRIAM

One of the many areas where the private sector is far in advance of the public sector.  When the Act of ’33 was passed, the state governments had done almost no preparation.  There was no bureaucracy.  There was no organization to speak of.

The private sector lobbied and prepared for the ’38 Amendment.
Frank here was part of the team that developed the curriculum.

FRANK

Yes, that’s right.

MIRIAM

“All children must be made useful.”  That was the rallying cry that got the Act of ’33 passed.  That is also our motto.

ANJELICA

But as a private organization, aren’t you just catering to children of an elite few?

FRANK

Not…

MIRIAM

…at all, Anjelica.

To begin with, and to set the record straight, 75% of our children are supplied by the state.  We have no say in how they are selected.  They arrive when they are three and stay until they reach seven, at which time they are processed into, perhaps, the private elementary schools.

We do not concern ourselves with where they come from or where they are going.

Our role is to determine and develop their greatest potential.

ANJELICA

How can you determine that without the input from the state?

MIRIAM

That is one of the problems with the state run system.

Frank will explain it to you.

The state makes training decisions based only on the information gathered through genetic testing.

Objectivity has its value, but raising a child that way is almost as bad as having its parents raise the child.

ANJELICA

I was raised by my parents.  I think they did a pretty good job.

MIRIAM

I was raised by my parents, too.  Frank was raised by his parents.

FRANK

My Aunt Rose, actually.

MIRIAM

Research has shown that parents are precisely the last sort of person who should raise their children.

For one reason, the lack of consistency.  Generosity conflicting with stinginess on a daily basis.  Extreme forms of discipline and affection alternating by the hour. Emotional extortion.  Instead of being punished for being naughty, a child is condemned to hating his mother or father simply for misbehaving.  That is certainly unhealthy for the child as well as for the parent.

Of course, I’m not a doctor, but research has shown that since children started being sent to the state-run care centers in late ’34, the heart-attack rate among parents under 50 has dropped a staggering 17%.

Parents also have a completely unrealistic towards their children’s potentials.  Would you believe that my parents wanted me to be a ballerina?  My mother had me in dance classes for years.  She was clearly projecting her own dreams and inadequacies on me.  No one in my family had been a dancer of any sort; we were not genetically inclined towards any kind of athleticism — at least professionally so.  Furthermore, I hated the ballet; resented going.

What was she thinking?

I went into the law, something all my aptitude tests indicated I would thrive at and something several members of my extended family had done quite successfully.  I’m sure you went through quite a similar upbringing.

ANJELICA

My parents expected me to be a farmer like they were.  I would’ve hated it.

FRANK

My father wanted me to go into—

MIRIAM

So, you see, parents are little concerned with their children’s wants and needs; rather, they are obsessed with their own.

They are also completely blind to their children’s faults.  No doubt you have met many parents during your life who barraged you with glowing descriptions of children whom anyone with a modicum of objectivity could tell were stupid, ugly, and obnoxious.  Useless.

Parents are clearly the last people who should raise children.

However, unlike the state-run schools, we do care about the family relationship and regularly send reports on the children to their parents on the approved request of the parents.

Anyway, we study the genetic testing and use that as a leap-off point.  The new students are then given a battery of aptitude tests to try and weed out those who will certainly be unable to function in the modern world.

You asked why we have fortifications.  I suppose that is because you see the machine guns. With wars happening on four continents as well as government- and privately-driven paramilitary and terrorist groups all over the place, a little military presence serves to remind the children of some of the realities of life today.  Many of these children will leave here for service elementary schools.  The government’s need for a capable and educated military is well documented and a high priority even in the private sector.

Stuffing the ranks—all ranks—of the military with offal from the lower classes simply increases the need and cost of coffins.  It does not make the army a stronger force or the conscripts useful.

“All children must be made useful.”

ANJELICA

So, you a feeder system for the military?

MIRIAM

Not at all.  The ACC is a strong supporter of the arts and encouraging and training children to participate in all levels of society.  We have well-born and well-connected children who we have determined are capable of little more than manual labor.  We will send them to the appropriate school to train them for a useful future.

ANJELICA

Surely their parents can afford–

MIRIAM

Their parents can give them as much money as they want.  We do not care if a child becomes the richest convenience store clerk in the world.  We are concerned that they are prepared to be useful.  No doubt you have read about the slew of ‘celebutants’ in the first two decades of the century. That type of person interferes with the development of society just as much, perhaps even more so, than homeless children or drug addicts.

In fact, one little boy here is the son of a drug addict from Los Angeles.  He was a significant disciplinary problem in L.A.  We put him through a battery of tests which suggested he would be perfect as a human crew member on the Colonial Explorer Space Flight scheduled for 2055.  Indeed, the Government testing took account of his personality issues and labeled him as “Probably Not Useful.”

ANJELICA

Personality disorders strike me as de rigueur for the CAM Space Force.

MIRIAM

Of course.

The three walk through several rooms in the hacienda.

MIRIAM (CONT’D)

As you can see, we encourage music…

A group of children plays a multi-key discordant version of Beethoven’s 9th.

MIRIAM (CONT’D)

Art…

The camera shows a gallery filled with scribbles and splotches.

MIRIAM (CONT’D)

Commerce…

Two four-year-olds sit at a small desk dispensing “money” to little children.

Two little children sell snacks and juice to other children.

MIRIAM (CONT’D)

And fiscal responsibility.

One five-year-old holds a little girl while another beats her up and takes her ‘money.’

MIRIAM (CONT’D)

Part of being useful to society is being prepared to cope with society.

ANJELICA

But there is a focus on the military….

MIRIAM

To some degree, yes.  Most of us served our country somehow in the last few decades.  My father died when I was a child during the War of European Aggression in 2012 and my husband served several years on the Russian Coalition Frontier in the Iranian Colony.

If the CAM needs to defend itself, it needs to develop the most capable and intelligent force we can.  It is no secret that we don’t have the numbers of the Chinese or the Russians or the militarism of the Europeans. But we have the brains and the talent.

Take a look at these two children.

We see Johnny and Manal.  Johnny is a little blond boy, while Manal is clearly of Middle-Eastern descent.  They are about five years old and are sitting together on a bench holding hands.

ANJELICA

Hello, young man.

JOHNNY

Hi!

ANJELICA

What’s your name?

JOHNNY

Johnny.

ANJELICA

Who’s your friend?

JOHNNY

Manal.

ANJELICA

She’s very pretty.

JOHNNY

I’m gonna marry her.

ANJELICA
(laughs)

You want to marry him?

MANAL

Yeah.  But he is a devil-worshipping heathen, so I might kill him instead.

MIRIAM

You two run along and play.

They skip off holding hands.

MIRIAM (CONT’D)

Sometimes the genetic testing gets it wrong.  If you recall, the Nobel Prize for Physics a few years ago was won by someone the government had labeled a laborer.

Johnny there scored off the charts for creativity.  His mother is a dancer.  His father a writer.  He plays the violin as well as anyone I’ve ever heard. According to his genetics and aptitude, he should….

ANJELICA

His training will focus on the arts.

MIRIAM

That was the plan…until the field test.

ANJELICA

Field test?

MIRIAM

We do have to look to the needs of the state, so we have set up a field test to determine if there is any inherent inclination for military duty.  Johnny was able to eliminate four rivals well inside the three-day limit.

ANJELICA

What sorts of weapons are used.  Laser tagging?  Paint guns?

MIRIAM

Fake weaponry would invalidate the results.

Manal was also a star of the games.  She was able to make a bomb using the supplies we left and even set it to explode when one of the first aid teams was trying to bring in an injured child.  She was caught, but we were pleased enough to forward her record to the Espionage and Reconnaissance elementary school run by the Harvard Corporation.  Actually, it was Johnny who captured her.

ANJELICA

She seemed to have survived the interrogation.

MIRIAM

We aren’t barbarians, Angelica.  There are no torture exercises until junior high school.  The program wants to minimize the psychological damage.  Not much use for a girl who didn’t pass torture—unless she can get hired as stand in for someone drafted by the military brothels.

ANJELICA
(laughs)

I could have used one of them.  Worst two years of my life.

MIRIAM
(laughs sympathetically)

Anyway, the students who pass the aptitude tests are educated as well as possible.  They are taught the basics in at least four different languages; some sort of creative art, even if it is cooking; basic math; and any child who cannot read by the time he or she is old enough to leave is placed in the lower 25%.

ANJELICA

What happens to them?

MIRIAM

Fatten them up and sell them to abattoir on Tiburon.

FRANK

“All children must be made useful.”

INT. tHE 93 STUDIO – EVENING

MARTIN

A very interesting report, Anjelica.

ANJELICA

We had the opportunity to spend the whole day at the ACC and watch part of one of the field tests.  Videos of the rest of my stay can be found on http://www.93newsshow.gov.

MARTIN

I will certainly check that out.

ANJELICA

It is nice that the private sector is working well with the government on important issues like childcare.

MARTIN

Certainly.

And now a word from the good people at Smith and Wesson.  The makers of truly useful gifts.

THE END

If you enjoyed this story, please check out my other posts and follow the links for more information about some of my published books.