A Boy and His Gingery Friends

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[Weekly Writ is an entertainment project where we take story suggestions from our Your Ad-Vantage Facebook page and turn those ideas into a flash-fiction vignette every week. This week’s special Christmas-themed story is written by Loren Rugen. It is based on a true story (though embellished in folk-tale style) and inspired by Linda, who reminded me to create this account in story form.]

There once was a young couple who lived a simple sort of life. They were raising a delightful son, whom they loved, and he was their greatest joy. He was a source of continuous entertainment and glee.

Even while no older than a toddler by stature and age this boy reveled in laughter; whether it was his own or that of his admirers was inconsequential. Though he lacked the motor skills to speak, the boy displayed an astonishing fascination with human interaction, constantly striving for their good humor and attention.

Because of this desire, he was never content with being alone. If he found himself absent of company, the boy would devise the existence of companions he could babble with. Before long, in the occurrence that others were near, his companions occupied him even in their presence.

These companions of his did not truly exist, of course, but they were real on an entirely basic level to the boy in the form of his stuffed animals, the pictures in his books, and human-like shapes he perceived in his surroundings.

It came about that Christmas was only a fortnight away and the boy’s family was actively baking ginger Christmas cookies. Among them were stars, teddy bears, rocking horses, angels, Christmas trees, and little gingerbread men and women. Of all the shapes on display for the boy’s perusal, it was the gingerbread men that caught his eye the most. To him they were a happy sort and he longed to get his hands on them. His parents, occupied with the task of crafting the delightful things, kept them at arms length from the boy, thinking he only wanted to eat the tasty treats.

The time came when all the cookies were done and the three of them were preparing to depart in order to decorate the cookies with family. The wife grabbed the boy in one arm and the cookies in another and started to descend the flight of stairs that led down to the car, where her husband had gone to warm it up.

The close proximity to his new companions was a treat indeed for the boy. The gingerbread men were dancing such a silly jig and singing such a silly song that he impulsively reached out and grasped the plate of cookies. The imbalance caused by this motion slipped the plate right out of his mother’s hands. The plate fell to the nearest step and promptly scattered its contents. The gingery escapees bounced every which way down the flight of stairs and beyond.

The boy didn’t even hear his mother’s cry of dismay. He was too busy watching the gingerbread men dance and twirl like he couldn’t believe down the concrete steps. And he laughed, as he is prone to do, because they were so free and giggling with glee as they went.

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The View

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[Weekly Writ is an entertainment project where we take story suggestions from our Your Ad-Vantage Facebook page and turn those ideas into a flash-fiction vignette every week. This week’s touching tale was written by Your Ad-Vantage’s Lee Rugen.]

The little old man looked down from his perch and took in the magnificent view that spread out before him. Majestic mountains reached to the heavens while juxtaposed by rolling fields of wavering grains. Diverse clusters of animals scattered about demonstrated the imagination of the ultimate Creator.  Villages of people hustled down the streets between countless buildings of all sizes and shapes.

But this gentleman was searching for something in particular in the middle of this collage of humanity. He scanned the scene some more until he found a familiar setting. His eyes strained a little more and gradually everything started to come into focus.

His heart lept when he spotted her. She was walking through the house, a little slower than he remembered. The woman was in her early 80’s, but as she spoke with someone on the phone, her tone and spirit seemed to contradict her years. She set the phone back on the cradle, paused and heaved a huge sigh. He wasn’t sure but he thought he saw a tear forming in the corner of her eye.

They spent 54 wonderful years together. So many experiences; so many memories. They were practically inseparable. He missed her terribly.

That’s when a wave of emotion swept over him. But it wasn’t what he was expecting. It was a pang of joy. That’s when he remembered something. He had been told to expect this long ago. He had even read about it himself. But now he was experiencing it firsthand.

No more tears. That’s what God promised.

He knew they’d be together someday. The years would seem like days here.  In the meantime he could spend his time thanking the One who made it all possible.

Superheroes in Disguise

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[Weekly Writ is an entertainment project where we take story suggestions from our Your Ad-Vantage Facebook page and turn those ideas into a flash-fiction story every week. This week was written in honor of Veteran’s Day by Loren Rugen.]

Little Lisa couldn’t believe her luck. The newest assignment was a persuasive paper, and while most such assignments were greeted with sighs and groans, this one was met with hearty approval. The purpose of this paper, the teacher explained, is to choose your favorite superhero and support your choice with evidence and persuasion. While every seventh grader met the challenge with enthusiasm, and immediately began debating with themselves and their peers about which superhero beat out the rest, Lisa sat still in quiet confidence. In her mind’s eye, her superhero of choice would be superior to anyone her peers chose. She wished she could bring her choice to school to show off while she read her essay out loud. The thought brought a smile to her face as she began writing her first draft.

She was proofreading her second draft when she discovered she left an important factor out of the essay, something that would add an element of true understanding to her work. She discovered that the most realistic superheroes always have a quirk, a problem of sorts that they have to work through. Furthermore, her superhero suffered from several thorns in his side, and to her, they were suddenly very daunting. At first, this dismayed poor little Lisa, and she nearly started to cry as she picked up her paper to crumple the neat handwriting. But wait, a quiet voice began a persuasive speech of its own in her head. Of course every superhero has his own set of problems, the voice began. Not only does it teach them humility, but it teaches them to rely on others, and gives others a chance to be helpful, to be a superhero in their own way. As she pondered this, she concluded an extra paragraph was needed, but wasn’t sure whether to place it toward the beginning of the essay or at the end. She decided that it would be best to consider this quirk early on, so that people can see how it only makes the rest of her positive points all the more impressive.

The due date arrived and Lisa was ready. She eagerly waved her hand in the air to be chosen as the first student to recite her persuasive speech. As she stepped up to the short podium she carried a bundle in her arms that her mom helped her to prepare. Her superhero might not be here to stand beside her, but she could at least show off what kind of outfit he wore. Ever so carefully, she laid out the bundle’s neat contents onto a nearby table and began.

“Superheroes are often the subject of legend, with superhuman exploits that seem to separate them from the rest of society. As you hear my explanation for who I deem to be the best of superheros, I hope you will also see how true superheroes are not above, beyond, or apart from society, but are an essential part of it, whether they are performing superhuman feats or displaying everyday human traits. What is more, superheroes want and need to be accepted and needed for the everyday tasks and liked as an everyday friend. I say this because I know my superhero well; you see, my favorite superhero is my dad.

“He served in the U.S. Military, periodically traveling overseas, and was part of the counter-terrorist surge in Iraq. I have many tales to recount concerning his bravery, courage, good humor, patriotism, selflessness, and military prowess, but I wish to begin by detailing the finer points of what I already hinted at—how even superheros have needs.”

At this juncture Lisa gave a sigh, more to settle her nerves than to put much needed oxygen through her lungs.

“Indeed, even superheroes have needs. That is because no superhero, no matter how super the hero, is entirely invincible. Superman has his kryptonite. Tony Stark, Iron Man, has a piece of shrapnel near his heart, and also happens to be a headstrong alcoholic. Matt Murdock as the Daredevil is blind and impulsive. My dad, after an especially hectic deployment, suffered from PTSD, which is short for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.”

Lisa continued to explain how her dad was made a better man as he dealt with PTSD. It was harder than anticipated, however, since people could not relate to that kind of psychological stress. Through mentoring, prayer, and lots of family time in-between deployments, he kept a handle on it. Lisa made the point that some superheroes are defined by their inner battles just as much as the external ones. When a man has the strength to address those weaknesses humbly yet with dignity, that, too, is a superhuman accomplishment, even if it is as a superhero in disguise, under the cover of his civilian alter ego.

Once that paragraph was exposited, Lisa rallied through several paragraphs of what she deemed as awe inspiring virtues. She then took the leisure of one more calming sigh before she began the conclusion.

“In summary, I find that the most endearing traits of the superhero are not in talents larger-than-life. Rather, his life showed me that my life is not just about me, as his life was not just about him. Living that out is a display of true strength.” Lisa stooped to take off a medal from her dad’s uniform as she spoke, trying to keep her voice from wavering. “In 2007, while on his last tour in Iraq, for his remarkable valor in saving three civilians when a suicide bomber detonated, he posthumously received this purple heart.”

The Trestle

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[Weekly Writ is an entertainment project where we take story suggestions from our Your Ad-Vantage Facebook page and turn those ideas into a flash-fiction vignette every week. This week’s touching tale was written by Your Ad-Vantage’s Lee Rugen.]

The mournful wail of the distant train whistle immediately transported Jessica to her childhood.

She had grown up hiking with her dad to the trestles in the nearby hills. They’d sit for hours, sometimes not saying anything at all, waiting for the long lines to pass through the picturesque settings. It was almost a religious experience for both of them, so bringing a camera wasn’t even considered until her dad was almost too sick to make the trek anymore.

As she stood gazing down the rails she began to relive those close moments with her father. It was just a peaceful time, when they could share the sunsets and stop and listen to the wind blowing through the trees. It helped her escape. When she was eight the ocean had claimed her sister and mother in a freak boating accident. Which left her and her father to carry on and sort out life alone…but together.

The little girl in her had returned. The warm tears began to flow again as the memories came pouring back. He was the one who could solve all of her problems. She remembered the hard times at school, the weight problems, the dating troubles. But then she thought of his long, strong fingers that would wrap around her little hands. Whenever her gaze went to his gentle, dark eyes she knew everything would be alright.

The headlight on the train was visible now. The engine close enough where she could begin to sense the faint vibrations through the ground below. It reminded her of the last time she had been up this path with her father. His stiff joints making the excursion quite demanding for them both. The saddest part was, the Alzheimer’s would probably make this trip an empty memory for him. But it was indelibly marked in her mind.

Now that he was gone, she felt as though there were nobody that cared enough to hear about her daily experiences…her daily struggles. This walk seemed to alleviate that feeling. She felt close to her father as the form of the engine appeared in the distance. She looked around and felt invigorated by the breathtaking scenery. The orange, yellow and red blended in with what was left of the green of summer. The leaves rustled as they resisted the Autumn breeze, clinging to the branches, until the tension was just too much and simply let go.

The birds above began to take flight as the monstrous giant roared toward their haven. But for Jessica, this was an opportunity to recapture the bond that had been broken by death. It was still quite fresh. Only two weeks since the funeral. She was numb then, and the numbness hadn’t faded yet.

The view was spectacular from where she stood, transfixed by the beauty around her where the trestle clamored for solid ground after spanning the picturesque valley below. The melancholy train whistle was quite close now. She knew that the rumbling at her feet meant it would only be seconds before the train went racing by.

At that moment her thoughts took her to a day like this about a year before. One of the few lucid days that her father had before that insidious disease claimed his mind. He had looked into her eyes and said, “Thank you.”

“For what. I didn’t do anything.”

“Oh yes you have.”

“Come on. I should be thanking you for taking me here so many times.”

“No, that’s not what I mean. Since the accident, you have helped me through some very scary times. I remember right after it happened, I was ready to just jump in front of one of these trains.”

“What stopped you, Daddy.”

“Well, I remembered something I had learned when I was a a little boy. That there was more to this life than what I wanted – what I felt. God had me here for a purpose. And part of that purpose, was you. Please promise me, that no matter what happens in life, you’ll remember that God loves you and has a reason for you to be here. You may not find it right away, but it’s worth looking for.”

That moment was so vivid now that she could almost see him sitting on the tree stump sipping the coffee from his thermos. But in a moment the vision was gone. Her eyes stinging from the tears, she stumbled as the ground shook beneath her feet. Then she took one step back just as the whistle screamed again and the 200 ton beast whizzed past.

It was time to find out what God wanted her to do next.

A Night at the Hospital – 1 & 2

icu_bed_space20130618110113[Weekly Writ is an entertainment project where we take story suggestions from our Your Ad-Vantage Facebook page and turn those ideas into a silly flash-fiction or commercial-style vignette every week. This week was written by Your Ad-Vantage’s Lee Rugen! This story has two versions to show how drastically mood can affect the same plot.]

Version 1 – Humorous

“Unless something comes up on the last test, I think you’ll be able to go home tomorrow.” I was clinging to those words that the doctor had uttered when he stopped in the room before dinner.

This hospital room has become a jail of sorts. Don’t get me wrong. The nurses, the doctors, even the orderlies that clean up the ghastly messes that I can’t even imagine – they’ve all been wonderful – but this sterile environment crowded with sick people…it’s taking it’s toll. I’m not sure I enjoy being the center of attention as I pass one room after another during my walks every two hours. But I do it anyway to get my strength back. I want out. Three weeks is a long time.

I should know in the morning. It’s late and the family’s gone home for some much needed rest. All I need to do is sleep through one more night here. Just a few more hours. I shudder from a chill. How many hospital blankets does it take to keep a patient warm? I’m too tired to come up with a punchline, but I still smile as I close my eyes.
It’s 12:42.

Something icy cold grabs my wrist. I jerk my hand away. “Oh, did I startle you?” The lab technician looks about as tired as I am. “I thought you were asleep.”

“Well, I was.”

“Sorry, you’re my last stop tonight. We need one more sample, Hey, I heard that if all goes well you get to go home tomorrow.” Reassuring words…but now, I just want to sleep.

“That’s what they tell me,” I mutter. One more prick to the human pincushion couldn’t hurt, right? Ouch! Nevermind.

As he leaves I fidget with the mane of the stuffed giraffe my wife left to keep me company. The fibers tickle my oversensitive skin, but that’s okay, because It smells like her. It’s 1:17.

The steady beeps of my own monitor are making me drowsy. It’s reassuring. That wasn’t always the case. At first, it would keep me up all night. I would stay up to make sure no irregular beats broke the steady rhythm, dreading the moment when those beats would eventually succumb to a steady drone. But now, (yawn) I feel –

I jerk from the unexpected hacking of my roommate. No offense, I mumble silently, but you remind me of the goats at the petting zoo. He shifts in his bed and the wheezing subsides a little. It’s 2:04.

The sheet that separates us offers little privacy, but I reach out to hide him so I don’t have to see those odd faces he makes in his sleep. Are his eyes open? At least he isn’t subconsciously picking his nose anymore. I need to focus! I’ve got to get some rest.

My attention turns to the conversations going on at the nurses station. I don’t hear words, but a mix of laughter and reassuring tones. They calm me; their kind voices helping to dispel the unrealistic nightmares of late-night hospital dramas worthy of Grey’s Anatomy.

I turn the pillow and settle in again. It’s 2:57. Finally, my eyes start to droop.

“And how are we doing tonight?” My eyes pop open. The nurses smile is disarming as she checks my stats…but I’m still irritated.

“Not bad,” I say.

“Maybe you should get some sleep.”

“Good idea.” It’s dark enough, so I feel safe rolling my eyes. She leaves but I’m wide awake again.

Tap. Tap. Tap.

Something is causing the shades to methodically caress the window pane. The AC? My neighbor’s fan? Once again, I shift uneasily so my ears point in a different direction. It’s 3:22.

Whine-swish. Whine-swish. Whine-swish.

The old copier by the nurse’s station must be printing a book. I gently swing my feet over the side of the bed and slip on my sandals and stumble to the entrance of the room. I slide the door shut. What little light that was available diminished futher. Somehow I manage to get back to bed without stubbing a toe. It’s 3:38.

Drip drip drip.

You’ve got to be kidding me. Every noise seems to be magnified in this darkness. I get up again and try not to get tangled in the wires that monitor my every breath. Every heartbeat. The birds are starting their morning chats. I plop back into bed and drop the pillow over my head. I peek from under the corner. It’s 4:37.

I start to think about what’s happened over the last few weeks. I’ve got to pray. I start to tell God how grateful I am for my family. Skilled doctors who performed a miraculous procedure that still amazes me. A clean hospital. A loving, supportive wife who’s always there for me. And…not…….to………..mention – I catch myself falling asleep. Good grief. Of all things, how could I doze off when I’m talking to God?

I glance at the old alarm clock that my dad gave me for camping trips. It can’t be. It’s 5:34.

Two hours to go, if he’s on time. Finally, my eyes are getting heavy. I hope he’s got good news. My selective hearing blesses me with one final sound for the evening.

Tick. Tick. Tick.

Version 2 – Serious

Except for the steady wheezing of my roommate, it’s quiet. But with every strained breath he draws in, my chest seems to ache.

“A one day visit”…they said. “Simple tests”…they claimed. Well-even though they were only doing what was best, I still couldn’t shake the feeling that they broke a promise. Or at least that they weren’t completely honest. They must have suspected something.

I slowly reach out and carefully pull the sheet that provided the appearance of privacy. A joke, really. I still hear the labored breathing of my neighbor, but at least it didn’t sound as painful as before. It’s 1:17.

I lay still as I relive the recent events of my life. My wife and I had been to doctor’s offices on 3 separate occasions in the last 6 weeks. The symptoms didn’t seem that serious, but were still unsettling at the very least. In my condition, it could be something quite routine or rather serious.

Tap tap tap.

The AC ensured that everything was well chilled, or preserved, depending on whether it reminded you of a fridge or a tomb. At the moment it was an annoyance because it was causing the blinds to tap the wall. Once again, I shift uneasily to distract myself from the noise and find a warmer position for my feet. It’s 2:29.

Why am I still here? Every time they came back to the room with more test results they were concerned. They tried to hide it, but I knew. They were uneasy. Not a good sign when you’re supposed to be in the presence of experts.

Whine-swish. Whine-swish. Whine-swish.

Not even the repetition of the copy machine was enough to soothe me. I gently swing my feet over the side of the bed, intending to shut the door, when I realize the movement has jostled one of the many tubes on my person, and it starts to bleed. Somehow I manage to stub a toe as I climb back into bed and reach for the call button. It’s 3:09.

Through all of this, she’s been by my side. She’s my rock, calm as I could have ever hoped and needed her to be. Always ready to talk, but willing to stay silent. Taking everything in stride, and makes a point to make me smile. A constant support who could reassure me – when I so desperately wanted to be the one to comfort her. I love her. I’m not ready to leave her yet.

Drip. Drip. Drip.

No more! No more! Every noise seems to be magnified in this darkness. I sit up again and try not to get tangled in the web of wires that monitor my every breath. Every heartbeat. So much struggle—just for a pillow. The birds are starting their morning chats. It’s 4:37.

They tried to reassure me. “This is only a precaution”…they said, then a feeble attempt of a smile. You could see it in the eyes of the specialist that this was serious. They didn’t have a clue how I was still alive did they? But I can’t blame them. They’re doing their best. And I’m still alive.

I glance at the old alarm clock that my dad gave me for camping trips. It can’t be. It’s 5:34.

Finally, my eyes are getting heavy. The doctor should be here in just 2 hours.

I hope it’s good news. I need some good news. Well, I suppose any news will do. Any news at all. Every day not knowing anything is another day in purgatory…

Tick tick tick.

Feline Business; Canine Justice

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[Weekly Writ is an entertainment project where we take story suggestions from our Your Ad-Vantage Facebook page and turn those ideas into a silly flash-fiction or commercial-style vignette every week. This week was written by Your Ad-Vantage’s Loren Rugen!]

Run. Just keep on running. Jasper repeated the mantra as he bolted down the alley. You can outrun them. He had to hold this thought at the forefront of his drug-addled mind in order to stay focused. Run. Just keep on running.

The splat of an ill-aimed shot burst beneath his feet as he lept past an overturned trash can. Good thing; he almost stopped to sniff at its contents. No. Have to stay focused. Run. Just keep on running.

No matter how fast he fled, the barking of his pursuers surrounded him and filled him with dread, each echo a death knoll, a prophesy of his inevitable capture. This terror conspired with his otherwise sluggard thought process and actually inspired him to press on, to escape. Run. Just keep on running.

Another splat suffused a cardboard box beside him with the dreaded stuff (what a waste of a perfectly good box!). Those water guns they had mounted on their backs had poor aim, though it did little good for his partner, who received a full blast in the face at short range. He wondered if a cat could survive a trauma like that.

It was too bad too, cause Felix was an expert producer. He was single pawededly responsible for nearly half of the clan’s production of cat nip. Did pet owners even know how many house cats are addicted to the stuff? Where did they think the cats went when they go outside for days at a time?

While I’m on the subject of those talking pink-skins, do those humans realize the extensive and brutal reach of the DPA they helped to create with all their hype about ‘man’s best friend’? The Dogs of all Paws Alliance is a decidedly anti-feline co-op. And what better way for them to disrupt our way of living then by going after our most lucrative business: cat nip. Just thinking about it makes me want to hiss.

Around the alleyway’s corner Jasper perceived a stack of boxes providing a neat ramp that would enable him to clear the upcoming fence. Once he escaped there would be much to do to get the business up and running again. But first, he thought, he must run. Run. Just keep on running.

Obscure Phenomena

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[Weekly Writ is an entertainment project where we take story suggestions from our Your Ad-Vantage Facebook page and turn those ideas into a silly flash-fiction or commercial-style vignette every week. This week was written by Your Ad-Vantage’s Loren Rugen!]

The ship, or what I can best describe as a ship, soars onward through empty space, headed toward, as it seemed, nothing but empty space. However, we were indeed very near the threshold of our destination. In a matter of several minutes, and several thousand miles, my companions and I will attempt to behold the most ominous natural phenomenon on God’s green earth, er, black universe. You understand my point.

The uncertainty of this situation arose a trepidation nearly as dense as our enthusiasm. The milestone of man’s first step on the moon will be swallowed up on the hype of what we will behold. This crew will gaze upon what no optical nerves have ever processed. Quite frankly, no one is certain how my brain might attempt to assimilate the visual data.

Some physicians have warned of adverse effects on the eyes and even the brain if this anomaly of astrophysics breached my retina. “It could end up like putting a vacuum cleaner tube to your eyes!” one burly professor expressed. I found the irony of his statement apparent.

My stars! I digress. We are thirty seconds from the calculated threshold of visibility. But let me be more precise here for a moment, if I may. I speak in terms of a threshold due to the exact angle we must be arranged at for our object of observation to ‘appear.’ This is because of the barrier of warped space time. This not only irregulates the linear existence of matter, but even the path of wavelength patterns, in this case, the visible spectrum. A distortion blurred my view for a moment then snapped into focus. I beheld the phenomenon in unadulterated clarity, gaping wide before me.

“What do I see? What do I see?” I cry in a loss of composure, frenzied according to the law of excitement in discovering the unknown. Yet, I suppose no one else will ever share my personal encounter. For my crew, my companions these last sixteen years, is the apparatus attached to my person. It has memorized my brain activity, blood pressure, retinal response, temperature and so forth for the benefit of those on earth, once they receive transmission of the data.

Thus, my destination being reached, my journey is nearing the end. For I have left out, until now, that this threshold I speak of is descriptive of another arrival: the point of no return.

The ship soars onward toward the emptying of space, my sacrifice for science now complete.