Monday, December 28, 2015

I AM Santa Claus



I am Santa Claus.
I am. I’ve just downsized.
Rather than worrying about all of the children in the world—good Lord there are a lot of them, you know—I focus all of my attention on one very special little boy. All right, maybe he’s not that little, but he sure is special—because he’s mine. And as far as he’s concerned, I am Santa. I have all of the qualifications—the ones that really count, anyway.
  • I see him when he’s sleeping
    • Sometimes when I go in his room to say goodnight before I head out home, he’s already crashed out, curled up in bed, his slightly sullen teen-aged face relaxing in repose to once again form the lines and curves of the angelic face I remember from when he was a quarter the size he is now. I do enjoy those moments.
  • I know when he’s awake
    • More accurately, I usually know when he’s been awake. If I go over there at 11:30 or noon and he’s still sound asleep, with no signs of waking, then chances are that the night before, when I saw him go to bed, it only lasted until I was safely out of the house and on my way home. As soon as the Mini’s tires were on the road, my little red car following its headlights through the night toward my own bed, that boy was up and on his computer, logging into game servers and talking to friends he has around the country. I was thirteen once too, remember, and though I was usually up half (if not all) the night reading books (people just didn’t have computers when I was thirteen), the final effect was the same: bleary eyes, a pale face, and a tendency to nap at the drop of a hat. I’m a father, not a fool.
  • I know when he’s been bad or good
    • That’s my boy: of course he’s been good. There’s no question. You come to me with unsupported accusations that he hasn’t, and chances are you’re going to go home with all the bits of you I consider unnecessary carried in a sack: teeth, testicles, and something a little more internal if I’ve got the time.

      Of course, if you come to me with some sort of proof he’s been bad, well, that’s a different story. Then he’s likely to be carrying the sack—metaphorically, anyway. There is that thing about being good for it’s own sake, and he does that, don’t get me wrong; but he’s also good because if he isn’t, it’s his ass. Merry Christmas.
  • Shouting, crying, and pouting
    • We shout. We’re an excitable people. We shout when we’re excited, we shout when we’re upset, we shout for simple emphasis. At times we just feel the need to project our words all the way to the back row. There’s no harm in that, and if there’s no harm, then no foul, right?

      We cry. We’re an emotional people. You think I’m going to tell my kid he can’t cry when every time I watch the movie RUDY (1993) I start to blubber at the end? I begin to well up right about the time the boys are all laying their jerseys on the coach’s desk, saying “This is for Rudy, Coach,” and by the end of the movie I’m a sniveling, snot-nosed, teary-eyed mess. If my boy feels bad enough about something that he starts to cry, then I feel bad, too. I wish like hell I could take away whatever it is that’s causing his pain, but I’m not going to tell him not to cry. Tears are a little like bad gas: better out than in—though you may want a little privacy.

      We do not pout. Period. I’ll go along with the shouting and crying, that’s all fine; but if you have a problem and you want to sit there pulling faces about it, well you damn well better be ready to tell me what the problem is and try to do something about it if you can. I’ll help, if you’ll let me. There’s only one situation where pouting is tolerated in my house: when I want to do it.
  • I’m coming to town
    • Yup. Early Christmas morning, before the sun has even thought about getting up, there I am buzzing along with my cargo of prettily-wrapped presents for the boy. No, I don't have a red sleigh and eight tiny reindeer: downsized, remember? I consolidated the whole thing into one tiny red car, the rear seats folded down in my shoebox-sized Mini Cooper to accommodate more than you think should fit—sometimes more than you think could fit, somewhat like that mythical bigger-on-the-inside sack I’m supposed to carry.
In the end, all of it comes down to being the guy sneaking the presents into the house—though if you think I’m having anything whatsoever to do with that chimney, you’ve got another think coming. I go in through the front door, shushing the dogs as I do. I arrange the gifts in a way I hope will please the eye, piling the smaller items on top of the larger, forcing him to open them in ascending order, hoping at least one of the damn things will inject my hulking, surly teenager with a bit of uncontrolled cheer. For instance, this year, though he asked for some bits to help him upgrade his desktop computer, we had a bit of a whip ’round and simply bought him a new gaming computer. The result:

video

Mission accomplished!

Ho, ho, ho . . .

In the interests of full disclosure, some family members helped pay for the thing (thanks Mom, Dad, and Sis!) and Handsome's mom picked it out. All I did was order it, wrap it, and sneak it into the house. Just like Santa . . .

Happy New Year, everyone! Talk to you later.

~ ~ * * ~ ~

If you haven't read my post titled Carol of the Bells, please give it a look. I'm selling a holiday horror story for just 99 cents on Amazon, and every sale helps out someone in need. For details, check out the post.

. . . and if you're not interested in the details, but you'd like to spend less than a dollar to receive a terrific novelette and know the proceeds were going to a good cause this holiday season, just click HERE to go right to Amazon and give the story a try. You get a story, someone gets some help they need, and we all get to walk around with a good feeling inside.

Where's the downside?


Happy holidays!

Monday, December 21, 2015

Forced to Run Errands


Greetings, WYMOP fans!

Knock-knock.
“Yeah, Dad?”
I opened the door and stuck my head into the boy’s bedroom. “I’m going to need you for a while.”
Blue eyes turned my way, and the big, retro headphones, pulled askew for the purposes of having a quick conversation, came all the way off with a sigh. “What?” he said. “Why?”
“It’s probably going to be a while,” I said gesturing toward the computer he sat behind. “You might want to tell your friends. I need you to help me with something for Grandpa.”
Handsome sat up straighter in his chair. “What? Why?”
“I just got off the phone with him,” I said, moving into the room to lean on the bed’s footboard. “He has some big stuff he wants to get upstairs into his workshop, and he asked if we’d help him. I don’t know how long it’ll be, but I assume you won’t be home for a while—we even have to make a side-trip to Home Depot on the way there to pick up some two-by-fours to use as runners on the stairs.”
“What are we moving?”
“I’m not sure. Grandpa tried to explain on the phone but . . . well, it’s my dad.”
He shot me a look of understanding. His grandfather—my father—is not the most communicative of men. Then he pointed to the computer. “But I was—we were . . .” He paused a moment, then sighed. “Fine.”
I knew what the issue was: I’d ordered him go to the store with me earlier, to do some grocery shopping and run some other errands. He’s thirteen now, and ordering him is one of the only ways to get him to spend time with me anymore. He’d been pretty good about it then, and we’d had a fine time; but now he was online with his friends, and here I was interrupting him again.
“Look,” I said. “I’m sorry. I don’t know how long we’ll be, but hurry up and get some shoes and a jacket and I’ll try to have us back as soon as I can, okay?”
“Okay,” he said, turning back to the computer to let his buddies know he was leaving for a while—maybe for the night. “Fine. I’ll be right there.”
A bare minute later he was out of his room and moving fast. He’d gotten his sneakers on in record time and was wrestling his way into a big red-and-black hoodie as he led me out to the car. I hustled around to the driver's seat and got us rolling.
“We have to stop at Home Depot, like I said.” I took a right without slowing, trying to just get where I was going and get it done. “I’ll stop in the one at the mall, ’cause it’s on the way.”
“There’s a Home Depot at the mall?”
“Yep,” I said. “But I never use it. I hate going to the mall in general, and less than a week before Christmas the place is going to be a madhouse. But it’s the one on the way, and I’m trying to have you back home as soon as possible so—”
We exchanged a glance.
“To the mall!” I said.
Four minutes later we were in the mall parking lot and circling.
“I hate this,” I said. “Tell you what: I’ll just park far away and we can walk in, okay? I’ll just try to get close to the entrance nearest Home Depot.”
I yanked the Mini into a spot and we hopped out and started hot-footing it through the parking lot. We got to the entrance and I pulled the door open letting the boy lead the way into the back of the AMC Loews theater that's attached to the mall. Going through this door, you have to cross the corridors leading to the theaters, where the ticket-takers sit, then go through the lobby and out past the ticket booth to enter the rest of the mall. The boy blew past the ticket-takers and was halfway across the lobby already when I whistled him back.
“What?” he said, throwing a thumb over one shoulder, toward the waiting Home Depot. “Don’t we have to—”
“I give this to you, right?” I said, holding my smartphone out to one of the ticket-takers. “Two online tickets to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens?”
He took my phone to scan the QR code on the screen, and his machine spat out our paper tickets. He handed them over and I looked at Handsome, who had dropped the thumb and was squinting at me in dawning comprehension.
“You told your friends you were gonna be a while,” I said. “Right?”
Because that’s the other way to get the boy to spend time with me now: lying, deceitful trickery. I should probably feel bad about lying to him like that, just to get him out of the house. Part of me does, I think.
Halfway down the hall to our theater he gave me a quick hug, and said “I love you, Dad.”
I changed my mind. I don’t feel bad at all.


Talk to you later!

~ ~ * * ~ ~

If you haven't read my post titled Carol of the Bells, please give it a look. I'm selling a holiday horror story for just 99 cents on Amazon, and every sale helps out someone in need. For details, check out the post.

. . . and if you're not interested in the details, but you'd like to spend less than a dollar to receive a terrific novelette and know the proceeds were going to a good cause this holiday season, just click HERE to go right to Amazon and give the story a try. You get a story, someone gets some help they need, and we all get to walk around with a good feeling inside.

Where's the downside?

Happy holidays!

Monday, December 14, 2015

Spilled Milk.

Greetings, WYMOP readers!


I had a blog post all written and ready to slide into this week’s slot, but then something happened on the way home tonight that was just too good to be true.
Ready?
Okay, this is one of those times my blog will suffer because I’ve not yet developed the reflex to grab my phone and take  pictures when something happens.
Our parents like to complain about how things have changed, and in recent years I find I’ve joined them to a certain extent. The way kids dress (or don’t) nowadays, some of the music my son listens to, the fact that all it takes is a YouTube channel and the ability to play a videogame—and not even well for some of these guys—to become a hero to millions of kids . . . all of this just puts a wild hair across my ass. Sometimes I listen to myself and I know that somewhere, inside, and not even very deep inside, there’s a wrinkled old man with oversized ears and nose who just wants to stand on my porch in bermuda shorts and black socks, popping his dentures into place every time someone under the age of fifty goes by so he’s ready to yell at them to get the hell off my lawn!
*Sigh*
But there’s something I’ve always agreed with my parents about, for as long as they’ve been bitching about it—which is as long as I can remember: kids working the register who can’t make change.
You’ve heard older folks bitching about this, I know you have. The register wasn’t working for some reason, and the total came out to $1.37, and they gave the kid working the till a dollar and a half and watched as a blank look came over their face and they started punching calculator buttons with desperate fingers. I get that. I’ve run into that. And they’re right, it’s goddamn infuriating. All you have to do is subtract 37 from 50 and you’re breaking out in a cold sweat and reaching for technology? Seriously? I can understand running the numbers through a calculator to verify your math, but not being able to do that math?
Well, tonight I did one better.
I went to the rear of the store, and I was moving fast. I was in a hurry, I’ll admit, and that very likely had something to do with what happened. I hooked a gallon jug of milk off the bottom cooler shelf, and my fingers slipped on the smooth plastic and I sent that gallon skidding across the floor. I didn’t spike it like I’d just run into the end zone, I lost it as I was swinging it up and sort of bowled it down the aisle. I’d felt my grip on the jug going, though, so I was right there chasing it along, trying to scoop it up before it tripped somebody—so I was right there watching as, on the first bounce, a three-inch gash appeared across the side of the bottle, right down near the bottom.
Milk was going everywhere.
I was quick, though, and was after that skipping jug like a pouncing cat . . . if a pouncing cat were to shout “Whup! Shit! . . . oop-oop-oop . . . well damn!” The thing had barely made it across eight feet of floor before I’d scooped it up with the gash on top, cradling it in an effort to keep the rest of the moo-juice on the inside of the bottle where it belonged. I looked at the small crowd of faces, all turned my way, some of them hiding their mouths behind cupped hands, others simply grinning outright.
“Wasn’t expecting that,” I said, and started toward the deli counter. I butt-bumped the door open and leaned in.
“Uh, guys?” I said. “I think I’m gonna need a mop over by the milk.”
“Oh,” said one of the four young men staring at me with wide, round eyes. “We’re going to have to tell them up front.”
“Up front?” I said. “Got it.” I headed toward the front of the store, my drippy fistfull of dairy goodness held high.
The first person I saw up front was the young dude working the express register. “I think we need a mop over in dairy,” I said. He just stared at me for a moment, a moment that stretched out to become uncomfortably long, and I was preparing myself for some sort of scathing reply about my clumsiness, but what he finally said was, “What?”
“A mop,” I said. “Over by the milk.” I held the leaking momento of my clumsiness out toward him, shaking it slightly for emphasis. His eyes followed the movement of the jug for a moment, then darted past me to the other cashiers.
“What?” said the girl behind me, so I half-turned to see all three of the young ladies running the registers as well as their two bag boys, all staring at me. “What,” said the girl closest to me again. “ . . . what do you . . .”
I held my wad of perforated plastic on high, two handed, like some ancient priest showing a new baby to the gods, and spoke in a clear, ringing voice: “This jug of milk was dropped and has become damaged. Some of the milk that was once inside has come outside. It’s currently pooling on the floor in front of the other milk, in the back corner of the store. Someone should get a mop and clean it up, before somebody slips in it and breaks their neck.”
Six sets of baffled eyes stared back at me. Not a word was spoken.
“It’s my fault,” I said, “so if you’re swamped, just get me the mop and I’ll clean it up.”
The boy running the express line, the first one I’d addressed in the front of the store, looked at the other five kids and said—and I shit you not—“What do we do?”
I looked from him to the five. The five looked from him to me. No ringing up of items was being done, as they all stared at each other. One of the girls tossed out “Don’t we . . .” and trailed off, hoping someone else was going to grab that opening and run with it, but nobody did. The bag boys exchanged a glance and shrugged. One of the customers, an older gentleman who had just one more item left to ring up, dropped his face into his hands as it came home to him just how close he’d been to being done and out of there, and that if I’d been just thirty seconds later in my run to the front of the store, he would have avoided this entire shitstorm of stupid.
A woman toward the back of the line who had the look of a teacher wept openly. All business had been stopped for close to sixty seconds by then. I’d broken the entire front-of-the-store staff with my dilemma: there was a puddle on the floor, and not one of them knew what to do.
Then a woman—an adult woman—sailed up from the back of the store with a perfect customer service smile on her face. “We’ll handle that for you, sir.”
In seconds a phone call had been made to the back of the store, and someone had taken the broken jug from my hands and placed it into a big plastic bag for non-drippy transport to a slop sink somewhere. All the kids’ eyes went back to normal, and the scanning of price codes began again. The teacher in the back of the line dried her tears. The older gentleman paid his bill, grabbed his grocery bag, and scurried for the door muttering something about damn kids these days . . .
And I still needed milk. I threaded my way through the people to the back of the store again and took a firm hold on another gallon of the bovine byproduct—and stopped.
There, in the middle of the aisle standing over a huge pile of something gray mounding on top of most of the spill, stood one of the store’s stockboys. The teen had a boxcutter in hand, and was using it to cut open a second forty pound bag of Tidy Cat (a brand of cat litter known for absorbency). Rather than simply spreading the mounded first bag so it covered the rest of the spill, he began to dump fresh kitty litter onto the floor.
“Wow,” I said.
“I know, huh?” he said.
“You guys don’t have,” I said, “you know, a mop anywhere?”
His shoulders slumped, and he looked over toward the empty spot on the shelf where, not long ago, eighty pounds of expensive kitty litter had taken up space. His face went a little pink. His posture and expression spoke volumes, but every word of it was some version of Oh, shit. He looked up at me. “No?”
I shook my head. “Seriously?”
He started rolling the top of the half-used bag of litter closed as I oh-so-carefully carried my purchase toward the front of the store.
Wow. Just . . . wow.

Talk to you later!

~ ~ * * ~ ~

If you haven't read my post titled Carol of the Bells, please give it a look. I'm selling a holiday horror story for just 99 cents on Amazon, and every sale helps out someone in need. For details, check out the post.

. . . and if you're not interested in the details, but you'd like to spend less than a dollar to receive a terrific novelette and know the proceeds were going to a good cause this holiday season, just click HERE to go right to Amazon and give the story a try. You get a story, someone gets some help they need, and we all get to walk around with a good feeling inside.

Where's the downside?

Happy holidays!







Monday, December 7, 2015

Carol of the Bells


Carol Cover final.jpg

Greetings, WYMOP readers!


I’ll start off this week with a little announcement: The Storyside, the writing group I’m working with to try to bring the public the highest quality fiction we can, has gotten its toes wet in the publishing pool. Carol of the Bells, my 40-page tale of holiday horror, is now available from Amazon and Smashwords as a 99 cent ebook, the first little thing to roll off The Storyside Press.
Huzzah!



Sean.jpgNow I’ll follow up that happy announcement with some sad news: last month my cousin, Sean, was in a fairly serious motorcycle accident, fracturing his pelvis and lower spine. A full-time student, Sean wasn’t working enough hours to qualify for health insurance, and is 100% responsible for his medical expenses—surgery, the installation of steel rods to support the healing bones, and long and painful physical therapy—and the expenses, already daunting, are mounting. Sean’s girlfriend, Chandra,  has started a GoFundMe fundraiser to help. Here’s the part where I say you can help. Are you ready?
You can help.
Below I have an excerpt from Carol of the Bells. Read it. Below that you’ll find links to Amazon and Smashwords (for you Nook and Kobo readers) where, for just 99 cents—less than you’d spend on a cup of coffee, a bottle of water, or even your average pack of gum nowadays—you can purchase a short story from a Pushcart Prize nominated, award-winning author: me. From now until the ball drops on New Year’s Eve, every cent generated through the sale of Carol of the Bells that isn’t scooped up by Amazon and Smashwords will be lumped into the payment I’ll be making to Chandra’s GoFundMe campaign at the beginning of the new year.
I’m not asking you to donate a big chunk of cash to a stranger. I don’t want you to give me something for nothing. This holiday season I’m asking you to spend less than a buck for a tale of snowy, small-town terror that I hope you’ll enjoy.
You get a story to read. We both get to feel good about doing something nice. Sean and Chandra get just a little more help during a very tough time in their lives.
Do you see a downside here? I don’t. Even if you don’t click the link, or buy the story, please share this post and spread the word.


Thank you.


An excerpt from
CAROL OF THE BELLS
by
ROB SMALES


“We don’t get many visitors here,” said Mrs. Barstow, setting a salver of bread and cheese on the table. “You two being here, well, you make this year special.”
It didn’t take Brian long, once finding out his drinks were on the house, to forgive himself for the money clip fiasco. Soon he was standing by the fire with the other men, discussing things he knew nothing about, or following them out to celebrate in the square, mug after mug of home-brewed beer sprouting from his fist.
Carol remained at their table, simmering about the money, and nervous about her part in the upcoming ceremony. People stopped by her table occasionally, most expressing their thanks for taking part in Solsticeniht before moving on. Though Carol wasn’t drinking with Brian’s unabashed abandon, Mrs. Barstow kept her wine glass topped up so she was never quite sure how much she’d had. Eventually, lulled by the constant singing, bored with waiting for dusk to come, and unused to drinking wine all day, even in moderation, her eyelids grew heavy, then heavier, until the sandman finally crept in, the world’s gentlest mugger, and stole her consciousness away.
Skully scene break - 2 - 40x200.jpg
“Time to wake up, dear.”
Carol opened her eyes. Mrs. Barstow stood before her, hands folded primly, teeth bared in a wide smile.
“Wha—?” Carol said, confused, the taste of old wine sour on her tongue.
“It’s time, dear,” the older woman said through her grin. “They’re all waiting for us in the square.”
“Waiting?” Carol looked about the taproom, finding it empty. The afternoon came back to her: the dance about the tree, holding court at her table, and her ever-full wine glass.
Carol rose and took two faltering steps: the long time spent in the wooden chair had left her unsteady on her feet.
“I’m not drunk,” she told Mrs. Barstow, worried the woman might somehow think less of her, but the landlady merely nodded and took her arm, steadying her as they walked across the taproom. Carol was struck again by the emptiness, the silence and shadows combining to make this place of friendly talk and good cheer now seem cold, almost sinister. She shook her head, trying to lose this strange feeling of dread along with the shreds of sleep-fog still clinging to her brain.
“You said ‘they’re waiting.’ Who’s waiting?”
“Oh, now, dear,” said the little woman, turning the handle and pulling open the inn’s front door. “I did say ‘all,’ didn’t I?”
Carol’s eyes widened, and her voice emerged as a whisper. “Holy shit.”


******************************************


Carol Cover final.jpg
CLICK HERE FOR AMAZON
Carol Cover final.jpg
CLICK HERE FOR SMASHWORDS


                                                         











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