Small Minds, Ch. 9

Small Minds, Ch. 1

Small Minds, Ch. 2

Small Minds, Ch. 3

Small Minds, Ch. 4

Small Minds, Ch. 5

Small Minds, Ch. 6

Small Minds, Ch. 7

Small Minds, Ch. 8

“We have reason to believe that the recent news of a talking ping pong ball is a hoax!” said a newscaster the next morning.  “The talking ping pong balls have seemed to disappear suddenly and without notice!  The entire thing could be just a puppet show, or computer generated images.  I’m informed that causing cameras all over the city to malfunction in the exact same way at the exact same time is extremely difficult, but who knows?  Perhaps the instigator of this plot was an extremely difficult person.  More at thirteen—I mean, eleven.  We also have news of the recent robbery of a rubber duck factory off the coast of Tennessee.  We’ll be back with that just after this break.”  The man looked busy for a few seconds as the camera zoomed out for effect, then got up and stretched, off camera.  “Get me a coffee,” he ordered an underling.  “Was that news true?  About the ping pong ball?”  His camera crew shrugged.  The man who owned the ball had somehow lost it the day before.  No one knew what to make of it.

.

“You know what,” said Gene the next morning after they were released.  They were walking along a sidewalk in downtown Atlanta.  Boswick hadn’t pressed charges.  “I think we can use those two things against Boswick.”  He pointed at Steve and Sam, who were resting on Cole’s shoulder.

“Can we forget about Boswick?” groaned Cole, looking up at the sky.

“No.  We’re going to get famous instead of him.”

“Oh, that will be fun,” said Steve, giving the impression of shooting a withering glance at Gene.  “I feel used already.”

“Stop it, Steve,” said Sam.  “Just because you were abducted twice in a week doesn’t mean you should be nasty.”

“Maybe I’m not being nasty,” Steve shouted.  “Maybe I’m being kinder than normal!”  People across the street began to look for the source of the noise.

“Shut it, Steve,” said Cole.  To Gene he said, “I think we should just stop chasing Boswick.”

“Well, aren’t you weak,” sneered his grandfather.  “Why would we do that?”

“Because there’s no reason to go any farther.”

“No reason to go any farther,” repeated Gene in a high voice.  “You heard what I was saying.  You don’t think that’s reason enough?”

“No.”

Gene grunted.  “Well, I’m going to make those two things public.”

“Things?  We are not things!  Well, maybe Sam is.  But I’m not! And I’m nobody’s claim to fame!”

“Maybe I’ll make one of those things public,” Gene threatened.

“You aren’t leaving me out of this!” yelled Steve.

“Maybe I’ll just destroy you!”

“Never mind.  But I still want in on it.”

.

“We have reason to believe that the recent news of a talking ping pong ball being a hoax is in fact a hoax as well!” said the newscaster later that day.  “Two other men have procured two more ping pong balls that also talk, though the original ball is still missing.  Of course, we could be fooled again, so be on your guard!  It is my opinion that this hoax about the news about the ping pong balls being hoaxes is a hoax as well. More at two.”

.

The sun saw it all.  Boswick and Karen driving home, defeated; Gene and Cole (though mostly Gene) arguing that his ping pong balls were authentic and failing; the newscaster getting yet another plastic surgery operation.  He saw as time went on and they all grew older.  Gene died, Boswick died.  Steve and Sam were lost, arguing all the way.  Cole and Karen both grew older and eventually both died.  Times changed, and whether it was for the better or for the worse, the sun couldn’t tell.  He found the accelerator on his boat, sending massive winds over most of the earth for a few “days” as he sped across the sky, but he didn’t find any joy in it.  Eventually he slowed down and defrosted parts of the earth that he had missed in his erratic course through the heavens, watching politicians argue about the wildly fluctuating temperatures.  First global warming, then global cooling, then global warming again.  Pretty soon they were going to be complaining about global equilibrium, when the temperature never changed from year to year.

In another hundred years he was relieved of his duty by a bouncy young lad, and went to retire in the retirement home for old suns, known to earthlings as stars.  There he spent his days watching the earth below just as he once did, and watching the new sun searching for the gas pedal on the new boat they had given him last Christmas.

The sun was depressed, and he didn’t really want to live.  So he decided to be the youngest star ever to go out with a bang.

About half a millennium later the sun exploded, sending the most depressing supernova ever to earth’s telescopes.  His last thought was this: Fame isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

.

I apologize for the rather abrupt and potentially saddening ending, but the fact is that I lost interest in this story after about chapter four. The first chapter was the only good one, in my opinion, and the only members of that chapter were the only good characters: Steve, Sam and the sun. It might be a coincidence that all three characters have names starting with S, but possibly not. Anyway, I hope you liked this story at least a little bit, and I hope to give you better examples of my writing in the future.

Just a note: I always wanted to do a heartbreaking ending, where none of the characters (or the readers) get what they wanted in the end, a Shakespearean tragedy sort of ending. Unfortunately, I always wanted to do that with a story I actually liked, so that ending is still on my list of things to do in writing. The next thing on that list is to write something good, which seems to be failing as well.

I won’t be starting the Phil Phorce immediately, but probably somewhere in April or May I’ll begin that. Thank you for reading!

Small Minds, Ch. 8

Small Minds, Ch. 1

Small Minds, Ch. 2

Small Minds, Ch. 3

Small Minds, Ch. 4

Small Minds, Ch. 5

Small Minds, Ch. 6

Small Minds, Ch. 7

Was this the right one?  Cole peered at the number with his flashlight.  No, the next one down.  He moved to that one, his feet making no noise on the carpeted floor of the hotel hallway.  Gene, however, made considerably more noise behind him.

“Is this the right one?” Gene asked loudly.

“Be quiet!  There are lots of people in this hotel, and we don’t want anyone to wake up!”

“Are you sure this is the right hotel?”

“It’s the right address, and here is the room.  Did you bring the key?”

“No, I gave it to you.”

“Oh, that’s right.”  Cole checked his pocket for the hotel key card.  It had been easy to get it.  They had just walked into the hotel lobby and said, “We’re staying with Boswick Ruminton III, but we lost the key he gave us.”  She had given them an extra without any questions.  Now they were at his room.  Let’s hope the key works, Cole thought, and used it.  The light flashed green on the lock and he opened the door.

“Where do you think it will be?” asked Gene.

“Probably on a table somewhere,” said Cole, remembering Steve’s favorite places to sit.  “In a nest of crumpled paper.”

“Like this one?”  It was the one.  Steve lay there, giving the impression of being curled up, though he didn’t have any way to do that.  It was amazing how many positions the ball implied.

Cole reached down and picked up Steve.

“Help!  I’m being abducted by alien life-forms that probably will suck my brains out with blue plungers!” yelled the ping pong ball.  “Die, aliens!  Die, die, die!”

“You know that in Italian that means ‘Go’, don’t you?” Cole whispered, trying to quiet Steve down.

“Cole?  Well, you could have told me it was you!  I would have killed you a bit quieter.” said Steve.  But the damage had been done.

“Hello, room service?” a voice said.  It was Boswick on the phone, calling the lobby.  “There seems to be someone in our room, and this isn’t the regular time for the cleaning service.  At least, I hope it isn’t.  What time is it, anyway?”

“Get out,” Cole hissed at Gene.  “Out, out!”

“By the way you guys are running, a fellow would think you didn’t want to be found in here or something.  Weren’t you invited?”

Cole held his hand over Steve’s mouth and kept running, pulling Gene along with him.  They took the stairs, Gene falling more than he was running.  They reached the door to the outside and exited, Cole sighing in relief.  If the police knew what they were up to…

Then a flashlight shone in his eyes and he heard Gene’s least favorite police officer say, “Put your hands up!  This ain’t some movie, so you can just keep your guns where they are, if you have any.”

They woke the next morning in jail.

.

Boswick, once he was dressed, knocked on Karen’s door.  She had a separate hotel room just across the hall.

“There was someone in my room,” he told her.  “I think they were looking for Steve.”

“Hopefully this will make you even more famous,” she said.

“But they took Steve.”

“Ah.”

“They did no such thing!” yelled Steve from the end of the hallway.  “The dumb guy dropped me a second time!  I don’t think he cares about me.”

“What guy?” asked Boswick, picking the ball up.

“Cole.  He dropped me before at the party, then he tried to abduct me and dropped me again!”

“That’s the same boy I helped with his car the other day!” exclaimed Boswick.

“I know.  His grandpa was with him this time, too.  He must have gotten out of jail.  Not for long, though!”  Steve giggled.  “I heard them get arrested.”

“Are you Cole’s ping pong ball?” asked Boswick.

“Yeah, but he’s got—“

“Then we’d better give you back, if he wants you enough to steal you.”

“He doesn’t want me, though!  He’s dropped me twice!”

“Accidentally, I’m sure.”

“I’m not,” said Steve darkly.  “Anyway, he’s got my sort-of-brother.”

“You have a brother?” asked Karen, finally waking up fully.

“Yeah, his name is Sam and he’s a wimpy excuse for a—“

“None of that, Steve,” admonished Boswick.  “We need to get you back to Cole.  Do you think they’re still at the police station?”

“Probably.  This is their, what, second offense together?  And it’s the grandpa’s third.  He bad-mouthed a police guy.”

“Well, let’s go visit them, then,” said Boswick.  “Later.”

.

“You!” exclaimed Gene when he saw Boswick.  Cole, Gene and Boswick were sitting in the police station.  Karen had decided to stay at the hotel.

“Me,” Boswick agreed.  “What about me?”

“It’s you.”

Boswick nodded.  “I know.”

“It’s—“

“Yes, Gene, we know,” said Cole.  “It’s him.”

“I believe this is your erm, ping pong ball?” asked Boswick, holding Steve out to Cole.

“I’m nobody’s ping pong ball!” yelled Steve.  “I’m—“

“Yes, it is,” said Cole.  “Sorry about trying to… well, you know.”

Boswick nodded.  “So Steve was yours anyway?”

“Yes, he was,” broke in Gene.  “And you stole him from us, just like you did so many years ago with that miniature blimp…”

Boswick looked confused.

“No, wait, that was someone else,” said Gene.  “Let’s start over.  You have wronged me, Boswick Ruminton III, in more ways than you know.”

“How?”

“See?  You don’t know.  You were the one standing in the background at the Burkle Elementary School as I was punched in the nose!”

“Burkle…  Are you Gene… something-or-other?  I don’t think anyone ever knew your last name.”

“That was me,” said Gene proudly.

“The same one who picked fights with everyone at school, and then often was beat up for it?”

“Exactl— No, not at all!  I was always the one who—Well, maybe I was.  But you were behind it all, and I have sworn to revenge myself!”

Boswick glanced at Cole.  Cole shrugged.  “Really?” asked Boswick, just to be polite.

“Well, it was more of an ‘I’d like to’, not an oath, really.  But it still stands!  I want revenge!”

“For getting punched in the nose while I was going to your school?”

“And for taking the second-to-last cookie at that one party when you knew I was two people behind you in the line, just so I wouldn’t get one!”

“I don’t even know what he’s talking about,” Boswick said apologetically to Cole.

“Me neither,” said Cole.

“Neither have I, just for the record,” said Sam.

“There’s another one?” asked Boswick.  Cole nodded.

“Yes, there’s another one!” shouted Gene.  “I can see the shock on your face as you see that your evil plot to steal our ping pong balls has failed!  Ha!”  He did a little handcuffed dance.

“I heard lots of yelling.  Is everything all right in here?” asked the police officer.

“Of course it’s all right,” said Gene.  “I was just pointing out to my so-called friend here that his evil plot failed, and miserably too!”

“That’s it, time’s up,” said the officer, taking Gene away.

“So you two are in league with each other!” spat Gene.  “I should have known…  The evil was right there before me and—“  Gene’s words were cut off as the officer shut the door.  He came back for Cole, who went rather more quietly than Gene had.  As the door was opened for Cole, Boswick could hear Gene still ranting, “And then there were the peanuts!  That was the last straw—“ and then it was silence again.

Boswick went back to his hotel, thoroughly confused.

Small Minds, Ch. 7

Small Minds, Ch. 1

Small Minds, Ch. 2

Small Minds, Ch. 3

Small Minds, Ch. 4

Small Minds, Ch. 5

Small Minds, Ch. 6

Fun is, by nature and definition, a fun word.  In fact, it means “fun”.  And fun is, well, fun.  Without fun stuff just wouldn’t be… fun.

Parties are fun.  This is what you might call a fact of life.  Another fact of life is that you have to die at the end of your life, but that’s beside the point and it isn’t too nice to think about how it will come about while eating dinner.  Parties are occasions where people get together wearing sometimes their Sunday best and sometimes their absolute worst, to have fun together.  Often parties involve music, which is usually fun; often parties involve dancing, which some say is fun.  Parties usually include food and drink, which some say is very fun indeed.

There are two kinds of parties in the world.  The first is the kind where everyone who attends must répondez s’il vous plait, or RSVP, three months before the party is actually announced.  The guests then show up in stiff monochromatic clothes and make small talk while a well-paid musician plays an exotic instrument badly in the background.  That’s why they make small talk, you see.  Someone steals the microphone from the musician (for which act everyone is extremely grateful) and thanks everyone for coming.  Then people begin to disperse.  That seems fun.

The second kind of party is the kind held in a small place for family and friends.  Usually these are boisterous occasions, where the adults become quite tipsy but try not to show it; and the children are naturally tipsy and don’t try to hide it, running around and making nuisances of themselves.  For this kind of party, the dress code is of a rather restricted qualification: anything at all, so long as it isn’t nothing.  Food and drink are also provided here, mostly in the form of potato chips and Coca-Cola.  Music is played from an MP3 player, but the volume level of the fun conversation drowns it out for most of the evening.  In this kind of party, no one makes a speech of any kind for fear of never seeing their friends again.  This is a party devoted to fun, thus it stands to reason that it would be fun.

There is another type of party that falls just between the two categories: public but relaxed.  So there really ought to be three categories of parties, but since this one is so flexible, it doesn’t really count.  This kind of party is free to any who pays to get in, and doesn’t really have a mold, mostly because mold is a fungus and parties usually don’t have green growths on them.  These kinds of parties also don’t have a template that they fit into, but instead go above all that.  Usually in these parties have bands that actually play music instead of monotonous droning, and dancing that can be either stiff or relaxed.  Here is where people meet new friends and have fun together.  Here is where society meets to figure out who’s who.

Here is where Boswick has gone to get famous.

It was nighttime there, so the sun didn’t see what exactly happened; he was over in Japan.  But he saw the next morning as Karen and Boswick spoke.

“I don’t think that worked, really,” said the old man.

“As my friends would say, a ‘miserable fail’,” said Karen, nodding.

“Well, I wouldn’t say it was miserable; it just shows us how not to do it.  Edison and the lightbulb, you know.”

“People always talk about Edison and the lightbulb, you know.  You’d think that was all he invented.”

“Well, you know what they say: if Edison hadn’t invented the lightbulb we’d all be watching TV in the dark.”

The sun laughed at this.  In all his travels he hadn’t heard that one.

“Who was that one young man you were talking to near the end of the party?” asked Karen.

“That was Cole, the boy we helped change a tire on the way here.  He dropped this on the ground.  I meant to give it back, but I didn’t see him again.”  Boswick held a white ping pong ball in his hand.  It had a split along the middle.  He squeezed it, making the split open.

“Hey!  Watch what you’re doing!” yelled the ball loudly.  Boswick dropped the ball onto the carpeted floor.

“Ow, ow, ow, ow, ow,” said the ball as it bounced.  “What’d you do that for?”

“It talks,” said Karen.

“Yeah, thanks for stating the obvious, missy,” the ball said rather insincerely.  The sun wanted to slap him.

“What are you?” asked Boswick.

“I’d think it would be obvious,” the ball yelled.  “You’d think more people would know a ping pong ball when they see one.”

“Well, if it was obvious I would have said it, according to you,” Karen told it.

“Why, yes, I didn’t think of that.  Very smart, girl…  But I do believe it says that I’m a ping pong ball, right across my front.  I used to think it said ‘Steve’, which is my name, until that guy who dropped me last night told me differently.”

“Yes, it says ‘Hi-Quality Ping Pong Ball’,” said Boswick, picking it up.  “’Hi’ is spelled wrong.”

“Y’see, that’s the second thing wrong with that label!  First of all, it’s H-I-G-H, not H-I.  Second, it’s table tennis, not ping pong!”  The ball gnashed its nonexistent teeth.

“Well, I’m sorry about that,” the old man told the ball.  “I can try and get you fixed.”

“Don’t bother.  The repairman would probably seal up my mouth too, the stupid person he probably is.”  The ball sighed and slumped as much as it could.  If it had a hand, the sun supposed the ball would have rested his chin (also currently nonexistent) on it.  This ball, though without limbs, seemed to imply the use of them to his audience when he had one.  “Anyway, what’s your goal in life?” he asked.  “Everyone has one.  As if I care,” he added under his breath.

“I want to get famous,” said Boswick.

“Don’t we all?  As if it were that easy.”

“I know.  I was at that party last night with that goal.  We were at the party, that is.”

“I know a way to get you famous,” said Steve casually.

“Really?  How?”

“Me, of course.”

“You’re just conceited.”

“I am not!  Think about it: have you ever seen or heard of a talking ping pong ball?  One that actually talks?”

“Well…”

“Exactly.  Just take me to some terrible little newspaper and let me do the rest.”

“How about we make you talk to a news reporter instead?  We met one last night.”

“Did we?” asked Karen.

“Yes, that one with the overly gelled hair and that really bright smile.  Botox too, I think.”

“Oh, that one.  He looked like any other newsperson to me.”

“I think it’ll work, then,” Boswick told Steve.

“Of course it’ll work!  I’m part of it!  What do you think, I ruin every plan I’m a part of?”

.

The next day the sun saw a man come on the news sitting at a large desk.  He was leaning slightly to the side on his elbow, his hand near his mouth, and his other hand flat on the desk, arm away from him.  It was such a normal posture and such a normal-looking newscaster that the sun paid no mind, until the man said, “We have just heard of a ping pong ball that actually talks.  Either there is amazingly complicated ventriloquism going on here, or we have the real deal.”  The man went on to show shots of Boswick, Karen, and Steve.  Mostly Steve.  As the sun heard Boswick’s name mentioned more than once, usually followed by a “That’s got to be the last person alive with that name”, he grew more and more certain that Steve’s plan was working.  Confident that Boswick was well on his way to being famous, he moved on to other tasks.

.

Gene was released from the police office that morning, with the one condition that he wouldn’t talk his grandson into anything else stupid.  Cole drove him to the hotel room he had rented.  Gene stayed uncharacteristically silent.  Sam on Cole’s shoulder was also silent, sad about the loss of Steve.

In the hotel room, Gene slumped on one of the beds, flipping through TV channels.  He came to the news channel and was just about to flip to the next when he heard Boswick mentioned.  He called Cole over, who was just getting Sam a drink.

“Is this that man who helped you the other day?” asked Gene, pointing to the screen.  It wasn’t showing Boswick at the moment, so they waited.  “That man!” said Gene, jabbing at the screen.  He’s the one, right?”

Cole nodded.  “I saw him at the party last night.”

“What, and you didn’t ruin him?”

Cole shook his head.  Sam had talked him out of anything stupid.

“What’s he doing on TV, though?” murmured Gene, reading the little caption on Boswick’s picture.  “Owner of a talking ping pong ball?  How does that happen?”

“What did you say?” asked Cole, who had momentarily gone back to helping Sam with the drink.

“Boswick has got a talking ping pong ball!”

“It’s table tennis, not ping pong,” muttered Cole absently, looking for a picture of the ball.

“Yeah, whatever.  But still! It shouldn’t be talking!  Look at it!  Listen!”  Gene turned up the volume as the TV showed a video clip of Steve talking.

“Well of course I can talk!  Can’t you talk?” the ping pong ball was yelling.  “That guy, Boswick, found me yesterday at that big party downtown.”

“It’s him…” said Cole, meaning Steve.

“I know, and he’s got a ping pong ball!”asked Gene, misunderstanding.  “Where do you get those, anyway?  Can we get a pack and see if they talk?”

Cole made up his mind quickly.  “That ping pong ball used to be mine.  It was on my dashboard for a while.  I found it and another one in a deli in South Carolina.”

Gene was flabbergasted.  “You… what?”

Cole picked up Sam out of the bathroom.  “Talk, Sam.”

“Sure thing,” the ping pong ball said.  “Hey, Gene.  Nice to be able to see you face to face finally.  It’s hard to know you from up on Cole’s shoulder like that.  Hey, is that Steve on TV?”

“We’ve got to get that other one back,” said Gene, beginning to smile.  “It’s our best chance of humbling Boswick.”

Small Minds, Ch. 6

Small Minds, Ch. 1

Small Minds, Ch. 2

Small Minds, Ch. 3

Small Minds, Ch. 4

Small Minds, Ch. 5

The sun was in a bit of a slump.  He didn’t like the fact that the moon got more attention than he did.  When the moon was full, people said so.  When the sun was a perfect circle, people didn’t say anything.  It was just a fact of life that the moon was more appreciated than him, and for no reason!  Where did the moon get her light, after all?  Solar panels!  The sun knew the moon.  She was a good person, but it was all she could do to stay fully lit for a day or two.  She started to deteriorate in her brightness and shape after that.  It was the power supply, the sun thought; solar panels just didn’t charge things long.  But nevertheless, the power came from the sun.  But though that was true, people still didn’t give him any credit.  They said, “Look at the moon shining through the leaves and on the lake” or something like that.  They never said, “Look at the sun shining through the leaves and on the lake”, ever.  It was just too common.  And when an eclipse came along, everyone takes pictures, but when the sun was at full strength (every day except eclipses), no one cared.  At least the heathens got scared when the sun “disappeared”.  The only time modern people ever say “Look at the sun” or “Look at the light it makes” was when the sun was leaving at the end of the day or was partially hidden by a cloud.  Shows how grateful people are for how much the sun did for them daily.  Sometimes they noticed when he came up, but not so much then; people these days like to sleep in and watch videotaped sunrises on TV more than watching it live.

One day the sun had tried to garner attention by yelling “The sun is in the house” when he came up one morning, but it’s a sad fact that the acoustics of the sun’s position in the heavens are woefully inadequate for that sort of thing.  Might as well be trapped miles belowground instead of miles aboveground; you’d get the same effect.  Actually, you’d get less.  Underground you might startle a few worms or cause an earthquake up top, but in the air, too high up for anything to fly, you can startle no one and shake no one else.  It’s a sad existence.

But no matter how sad, or how existential the sad existence is, you can count on it that something’s going to happen, unless you’ve been marooned on a desert island in the middle of the ocean, which is a bit of an oxy-moron in the sun’s opinion.  Well, being the sun is no different; something happened.

The sun was looking over the edge of his boat, as usual, and saw through his sunbeams the strange amount of activity in the police station of Atlanta.  It seemed that the two people Boswick and Karen had run into the day before were still there, and the old man was still fighting, though there is nothing whatsoever still about fighting, but…  The sun turned his attention back to the present matter.  The old man was handcuffed and shouting at the police officers.

“You can’t keep me here!  I know my rights!”

“Do you?  What are they?” asked an officer.

“Well, this side is my right side,” Gene told him, wiggling his right arm and leg.  “But you can’t keep me here!”

“You can go to court if you want, but you’re going to get nowhere,” warned the officer.

“I would, but I don’t have a lawyer.  All ya’ll better be glad that I don’t!  I’d have you shut up in your own jail in no time at all!”

The officer turned to Cole.  “Look, we’ll have to keep your father—“

“Grandfather.”

“Your grandfather here un—He’s really your grandfather?”

Cole nodded.

“Hm.  Well, we’d better keep him here until he settles down.  You can go.  We can drive you to your car if you like, or you can walk to it.  And there’s always the matter of a hot-air balloon…  You wouldn’t happen to have one of those, would you?  I didn’t think so.  Too bad…  Anyway, you can go.  Sorry for the inconvenience of the whole thing…”

“Actually, it’s fine.  He needs a bit of time to… to wind down anyway.”

“Whaddaya mean ‘wind down’?” yelled Gene.  “You are…  I’m gonna…  Well, if you’re going to leave me here, can you at least do something for me?”

“I suppose so.  What did you want?”  Cole turned back at the door.

“Can you keep after… you know.”  Gene gestured in a confidential way.

“No, I don’t.  What do you want me to keep after?” asked Cole, confused.

“You know!”  Gene stuck his head forward and raised his eyebrows.

“I don’t.  What?”

“Who we were, you know…”  Gene wiggled his eyebrows and wiggled his ears.  The sun had never figured out how to do that.

“Who we were what?

“Boswick!” Gene yelled at last.

“Your name is Boswick?  Wow, you must be the last person alive with that name…” remarked one of the officers.

“No, really, it’s not my name,” Cole told him.  “Well, I’ll be going.  I understand.”  He was telling the truth that time.   Cole rode with an officer to the spot where his car had been and drove it back into Atlanta.  It was as good a place to start as any, the sun realized, especially since that was where Boswick actually was.

.

Boswick was actually in a motel in the north of Atlanta, telling Karen about his plan.  “So there’s this party here that takes place in three days.  I figure if we can get invited to it, we can probably improvise some way to make a spectacle of myself.”

“And that’s good, right?” Karen asked, looking at the newspaper article.

“It’s supposed to be, yes.”

“So how do we get in?”

“Well, if we were really slick we could forge a security pass for me and I could let you in through the fire escape or something like that.”

“That’s kind of illegal, though…”

“Yes, and we did agree not to go against the law.”

“Should we un-agree, then?” asked Karen, flipping through the paper.

“No, we’ll find a way.  Maybe you can just pay for tickets.”

“Hey, that’s an idea,” said Karen, flipping back to the front page.  “Yep, it says here that—“

“Good. That’s what we’ll do, then,” Boswick told her. He picked up his car keys.  “Where do you want to go for lunch?”

Small Minds, Ch. 5

Here is chapter five of Small Minds, or the Potentially Fatal Ping Pong Ball. Enjoy!

Small Minds, Ch. 1

Small Minds, Ch. 2

Small Minds, Ch. 3

Small Minds, Ch. 4

“How are we going to make you famous?” asked the girl as she drove her grandfather south through Georgia. The sun hadn’t had any bright ideas yet either.

“I’m not exactly sure,” said Boswick, pursing his lips. “I brought along a newspaper; let’s see what the stories are mostly about.” He opened it and began scanning. “Murder… Suicide bombing… Car crash… Oh, I’m reading the obituaries! No wonder.” He flipped the page. “Murder… Suicide bombing… Car crash… Karen, it looks like the easiest way to get famous is to mess up your life, which is not how I mean to do it.”

“What else is there?”

“A politician lied again.”

“Same deal, right?”

“Oh, wait, here’s something about a rock star. But he’s a musician and songwriter, and I’m really not.”

Karen shook her head. “So far we have two ways to get famous: Do bad stuff or write music.”

“Or play well at sports, but none of them are very sure of success.” Boswick closed the newspaper. When the sun saw the cover, he gave himself a mental high-five. “It looks like we’ll have to think up our own—Wait…” He looked down. The sun shone a brighter ray than usual on the top headline of the paper, catching his eye. He read it, muttering to himself. “This might work, Karen. Look at this.”

“I can’t,” she said. “I’m driving.”

“Good girl. It says—Wait, what’s that?” Boswick folded the newspaper, looking out the window. “Someone has a flat tire… Karen, we don’t need to be in Atlanta for a few more days. Let’s stop and help.”

The sun had seen that very car driving north through Georgia in the past few days, then turn around and start driving south when it reached the northern border. He had wondered, but not too much.

Karen pulled over to the shoulder, the car vibrating over the rumble strips and coming to a stop just behind the crippled car. The owners were two men, one young and one old. The young man was trying to figure out how the jack worked, and the old man looked like he was yelling at the car.

Boswick opened his door and climbed out partially. “Can we help you?”

“What are you, a waiter? No!” yelled the old man. “Do we look like we need help?”

“Yes.”

“I’ve really got to stop asking answerable rhetorical questions,” said the man, too soft for Boswick but loud enough for the sun. “We’ve got it under control.”

“Actually, I could use a hand on this jack,” said the young man, looking at Boswick. “Do you know how one of these things works?”

“Sure,” said Boswick, squatting down beside the man with a sigh. As he worked, he asked “What’s your name?”

“Cole. Yours?”

“Boswick.”

“Wow, you must be the last person alive with that name…” Cole glanced up at the old man. Obviously the name of Boswick meant something to one of them.

Boswick chewed his lip and continued working with the jack. “Now you’re ready to take the wheel off. You need help with that, or…?”

“No, I think I’ve got it. Thanks for your help! Erm, how do you lower it again when you want to?”

“You just do this… Oh, I’m sorry.” In giving Cole an example, Boswick had undone his previous work.

“It’s fine. I know how to do it now. Thank you!” Cole waved and Boswick climbed back into the car.

.

Cole had kept quiet about Boswick’s identity due to Sam’s influence. The ping pong balls had jostled for position and Sam had come up closest to Cole’s ear, giving him advice. Thus Cole was much more agreeable toward Boswick than he had been toward Gene earlier.

Once they got on the road again, Cole worked up his nerve. “Do you know where we’re going yet?”

“No.”

“The man back there, his name was Boswick.” Cole heard Sam sigh.

“You’re pulling my leg,” said Gene.

“I’m not. I can’t even reach your leg,” said Cole, attempting a joke. He heard Steve sigh.

“Shut up. Was he really Boswick?”

“I don’t know if he was the Boswick you’ve been looking for, but he was a Boswick.”

“Well, there can’t be more than one Boswick alive in the world, so it’s a safe bet… Where do you think he was headed?”

“He was on this highway, going the same direction as we are.”

“So if we go twice as fast, we might catch up with him. What kind of car did he have?”

“It was white Volkswagen, but I don’t think…”

“Speed up.”

“We’re going at the speed limit n—“

“I don’t care! Speed up!”

Cole sped up.

Only ten minutes later they were sitting on the shoulder again being interrogated by a police officer.

“Would you just leave us alone? We’re trying to catch someone!” yelled Gene, leaning across Cole to look out the window.

“Look, mister, you can’t speed like that. I saw you. You weren’t catching anything but a quick death.”

“I’m still alive, aren’t I?”

“It was only a matter of time…”

“Exactly! So if you would just let us go so we can catch our—“

“If you keep arguing you’ll have to come with me.”

“You have clearance to go faster than the speed limit, don’t you? You can help—“

“I’ll only help you get arrested.”

“You can’t do that! I’m a free Florida citizen!”

“Well, you’re in Georgia, and there are laws here just like down south.”

“Down south? Down south?” Gene spluttered. “Young man, you—“

“Get out. You’re under arrest.”

The officer cuffed Gene but let Cole loose as they drove to the police station in Atlanta, the nearest city.

Small Minds, Ch. 4

Chapter 4 of Small Minds/The Potentially Fatal Ping Pong Ball is here. Chapter 1 is here. Chapter 2 is here. Chapter 3 is here. Enjoy!

The sun knew what “famous” meant. He had seen many “famous” men and women come and go, and knew they never stuck around in people’s minds for that long. There was one guy named Presley that people still liked enough to pretend to be him, and Michael Jackson was big, but he was on his way out.

When the girl he had been watching spoke about making someone famous enough not to be forgotten, the sun knew that it would be a hard task; you had to be abnormal in some way, preferably good, to be even noticed– and unlike that guy who paraded across a highway saying he was “Cuckoo for Coco-Puffs,” you had to be abnormal enough to be remembered.

The old man in the girl’s company didn’t look like the famous type—he was average through and through—so the sun didn’t know how he was going to get noticed, but they were right about one thing: the best place to start would be in a city, especially a capitol city, and the only capitol city in Georgia the two knew of was Atlanta.

The sun watched as the girl drove her grandfather down from his home in the northeast corner of the state toward Atlanta and began thinking about what he could do to help.

*

After an hour of silence (Gene didn’t want the radio on; he said it was too entertaining), Cole finally got the nerve up to ask a question.

“Where did Nicole go?”

“Who?” asked Gene, too confused to admonish his overly inquisitive grandson.

“Nicole, your cook.”

“Oh, I fired her. She was too good at her job.”

Cole accepted this and pressed his advantage while his grandfather didn’t realize there was one to be had. “Do you know where she went?”

“On vacation.”

“I thought you fired her.” Cole was the confused one now.

“I did, but I fired her because she asked for vacation too much.”

“Did you ever give it to her?”

“Of course not! I can’t feed myself, you know!”

Cole decided to ignore the oxy-moron of those remarks. “I thought you fired her for doing too good a job.”

“I did! Did I ever tell you differently?” Gene said irately.

“Yes.”

“I’ve got to stop asking rhetorical questions that need answers,” muttered Gene to himself.

“Pardon me?”

“No!”

Cole fell silent, feeling that his grandfather was in a less-than-jovial mood, as always.

Gene, now that he was warmed up, decided to have the conversation take another turn. “What are these?” he asked, pointing to some objects on the dashboard: a cube entirely made of chewed gum, a large rock in the shape of a nose, and a seashell with a capital C engraved in it. Cole described each one.

“And these?” Gene pointed to the two ping pong balls.

“Those… are ping pong balls,” Cole said truthfully.

“Yes, but what are they doing among these other strange examples of modern trash?”

Cole didn’t want to divulge the real reason for their presence, and was glad Steve was taped up. He shot a warning look at both of them just in case. “Um… they’re a little bit cracked, and I liked the shapes.”

Gene shook his head disappointedly. “You are truly pathetic.”

All Cole could do was nod.

.

When they stopped to get gas halfway through Georgia, Gene used the restroom inside. Cole waited in the car as it filled up.

“Gene’s right, you know,” remarked Steve casually, having chewed through his gag.

“About what?”

“’You are truly pathetic.’ That’s what he said, right? Well, it’s true, bud, and it won’t change anytime soon.”

“Steve, I’m disappointed in you,” said Sam. “I thought we agreed to be nice to our new benefactor.”

“That was you who agreed; I was taped up!”

“Yet you didn’t complain.”

“I was taped up!”

“So you say.”

“Just stop it,” said Cole.

“Why?” asked Steve.

Cole was almost at a loss for words, but he forced something out. “Why? Because I said to!”

“Undo my bonds and I’ll…”

“Steve, stop. But Cole, it would be nice if you would untie us. It’s rather uncomfortable in this position. I’ve got this itch…” said Sam.

Cole reached across and untied Sam, but not Steve.

The other ball protested. “Hey! Why is he untied, not me? I’m going to yell at Gene right when he comes back!” The old man was just coming out the gas station door.

Cole had no choice. He picked up Steve as well.

“Put us on your shoulder,” said Steve, “or else!”

Again, Cole had no other options.

“We’ll stay quiet,” said Sam kindly.

Just then Gene reached the car and climbed in with a sigh. “Get going,” he told Cole.

Cole just nodded and pulled away, but the gas nozzle was still attached to the car. He stopped and climbed out, replacing the nozzle, then drove out of the station.

Gene was still determined to converse; his mouth needed exercise once in a while. “Where’d those two round things go?”

“The…”

“Those round things with the cracks!”

“Oh, the ping pong balls?”

“Oh, I thought they were… Oh, I don’t know, two round things with cracks! They looked too useless to be anything else.”

Cole heard a voice from behind his ear—it was Steve. “Of all the stupid… Useless! That was uncalled for!”

Without thinking, Cole repeated the ping pong ball’s words. “That was uncalled for.”

“What?” asked Gene.

“That wasn’t nice,” Cole said, rephrasing it so his grandfather wouldn’t mistake his meaning.

“So? They were little inanimate round things!”

“Inanimate, indeed! Gene, you are a nasty person!” hissed Steve.

Cole repeated it. Gene was shocked. “What?” Cole repeated it again as Gene turned purple and fell silent. Cole relished the feeling of power he had over his grandfather at the moment. He turned on the radio.

“Shut that off,” said Gene, reaching for the knob.

“Don’t let him,” said Steve to Cole. “It’s your car!”

“It’s my car,” said Cole, “I’ll do what I like.” He turned the volume up.

Thus came about the pivotal moment in Cole’s life. Never before had he stood up to anyone; he was just too indecisive. But now, under the influence of Steve and his anger, he realized that he didn’t have to life in the shadow of his grandfather; he could make his own shadow.

Small Minds, Ch. 3

Here is the third installment of Small Things Amuse Small Minds, or The Potentially Fatal Ping Pong Ball.

Small Minds, Ch. 1

Small Minds, Ch. 2

Cole parallel parked his car by the Corner Deli of Maristown. A car racing past honked at him loudly. So he didn’t parallel park that well, what did he care? So his rear bumper was almost halfway into the street, what did he care? He scooted over to the right side of the car and climbed out. He stepped inside the deli and sat at a table, wondering why the waiters were so slow. Then he realized that this wasn’t that kind of restaurant.

He walked to the counter and ordered a chicken sandwich on rye. He walked back to his table with a turkey sandwich on whole grain.

As he sat down, his chair disturbed two somethings on the floor, which made a strange knocking noise together. He reached down with his left hand, the non-sandwich-holding hand, and picked up something round: a ping pong ball, split almost in half. It seemed to be smiling at him. He put it in his pocket; he collected odd trash from every state as a hobby.

Another knocking noise ensued, and Cole once again reached down. He drew his hand back up quickly—it had been bitten. There must be a rat down there, he thought. He set down his sandwich and peered under the chair. No rat; just another ping pong ball, this one split and slightly dented. He reached to pick it up and yelled as he was once again bitten.

The cashier behind the counter looked up. To all appearances the deli was empty. He went back to reading his book.

Cole used his foot, still bent double, to nudge the ping pong ball out of the crack between floor tiles. He studied it for a while, then tried to touch it again. The crack in the ball moved to bite his finger. Cole drew his hand back quickly. The ping pong ball was possessed by an evil spirit! He took two hands and put one on the side above the split and one on the side below it. He quickly clamped the “mouth” shut, then picked the ball up.

He straightened and transferred his grip, using one hand holding the mouth shut as he used the other to eat. After studying the thing, he took a crumb of bread on his fingertip and held it up to the split in the ball.

The ball bit his finger, not the crumb, but still the crumb went into the mouth. Then it came out, at a considerably higher speed than it came in, into Cole’s eye. He blinked viciously and wiped his eye, then put the ball on the table in front of him. He ate and studied.

It didn’t move a muscle-imitating fragment of plastic.

When Cole stood to throw out his plate, he contemplated throwing away the vicious ping pong ball as well. He decided against it—something like that could get a good price in a zoo or a laboratory someplace. He carefully picked it up, keeping his hand well away from the split, and walked outside.

In his car, he found a roll of invisible tape in his glove compartment—one of the many things that made up his traveling “survival kit”—and taped the ball’s mouth shut. He taped it to the dashboard, along with the other ping pong ball, whose split he left as it was. His dashboard was covered in odds and ends he loved to look at and study. Only while parked, of course. He drove out of the South Carolina town, heading south.

.

Cole drove south through Georgia, keeping his eyes on the road like a good young driver. He had never gotten over the fear that he would blink and crash into an ice cream truck, ruining both his life, the ice cream man’s life, and the lives of all the kids who depended on that man’s ice cream.

Cole lived just outside of New York City. His favorite pastime was to drive his car through NYC very slowly, pausing extra long at each light. On his rear bumper was a sticker that said “Honk if you love the Red Sox!” (He had crossed out the X and written in a ‘cks’. He liked being correct.) He elicited many honks this way, and was always pleased with the result, even though it was more anger at his driving than love for the Sox that brought the honks. Because of his slow driving, he had taken over three days to get from New York to where he was in Georgia.

Suddenly he felt a sharp pinch on his right arm.

He slowed down, not daring to look down just yet for fear of that ice cream truck, and pulled over to the shoulder. He rolled to a stop, and then looked down.

It was that ping pong ball that had bitten him before, doing it again.

“How are you doing that?” he asked himself.

“I would think you’d know,” said the ball, letting go of his arm. “But I suppose you might not, seeing as how you thought you could contain me with tape alone! Ha!”

“Ignore him,” said another voice. “He’s a little bitter.” Cole looked up to see the other ping pong ball, still taped to the dashboard, talking as well.

“A little? After humans spurned me and cast me out of paradise into this wasteland of dunces?” raged the first ball.

“It was paradise, wasn’t it, if you got over being beaten nigh unto death every day,” mused the second.

“Who are you?” asked Cole.

“The name’s Steve,” said the first ball. “See, it says it right over my face. See?”

“It says ‘Hi-Quality Ping Pong Ball’”, said Cole, confused.

“It does? I didn’t know that. Well, in some language it probably means Steve.”

“No, somehow I don’t think so,” said the second ball. “My name is Sam, by the way. Thank you for rescuing us from that deli.”

“Rescuing us? Ha! He’s going to enslave us and make us clean his toenails!” shouted Steve. He bit Cole again.

“Steve, stop that,” admonished Sam. “What’s your name?”

“Steve. I thought you knew that,” said Steve, speaking through his mouthful of Cole.

“No, I mean the man.”

“Who cares?” asked Steve, biting deeper.

“My name’s Cole,” he said, running a hand through his hair.

“Cole. I bet you never get ‘Cole’ in your stocking,” said Sam. He laughed lightly.

“I bet he always gets…” Steve began, then broke off. “Wait, was that a pun?”

“That it was,” said Sam.

“Of all the stupid things to say. ‘Cole’ in his stocking… Really!”

“It wasn’t that great, was it?”

“No, not at all.”

Cole took the opportunity of their unfriendly banter to pick up Steve and again tape him to the dashboard, using twice as much tape this time. “Tell me if he tries to get out, will you?” he asked Sam.

The ball nodded happily.

Cole shook his head and pulled back onto the highway.

.

He reached his grandfather’s house in Florida the next day. He rang the doorbell, expecting to be greeted by the cook.

He was disappointed; he was greeted by his grandfather.

Gene was old, and most people who knew him hated him, and most people who didn’t know him obviously didn’t hate him. They would, however, if they got the chance to know him. Cole had come to terms with his grandfather’s bitterness because of his indecisive disposition. Gene wore suits mostly—a bathing suit with suspenders on the lower half, a pinstriped suitcoat and grey vest on the top. He wore a bright green shirt under the vest, which almost blinded you when you saw it in full light. He only wore flip flops, but since the straps had worn out after the first few years he replaced them with duct tape. The lower half of him was the typical dress of a retired Florida resident, while the top half was mostly reminiscent of his businessman days. His hair was all combed straight forward, and since there was a large bald patch in the back, this looked rather strange. His eyes, when you could see them from under the curtain of thinning grey hair, were a greenish color, and he wore his green shirt for the purpose of “bringing out the green in my eyes”. Unfortunately, it outshone the green in his eyes. His nose was a peculiar sort of shape, straight to the distant viewer, but shaped sort of like a flattened w when you saw it closer. His mouth looked like two emaciated colorless worms had crawled up and died on his face, and his real chin was like a rock; bumpy and hard-looking. He currently sported three chins when looking up, and five when looking straight. But he never looked straight; though he was bold enough to stare down a bull, he never met your eye.

“Oh, it’s you. Come in,” growled the old man. He led the way upstairs into a study littered with candy bar wrappers. “I might offer you something to drink, but let’s not kid ourselves; you know I wouldn’t do that. Sit down.” Cole sat, speechless in the presence of his grandfather.

“I called you here so I could tell you something.”

Cole sat up straighter, the movement reminding him of the two ping pong balls in his pocket. Steve was still taped up, but Sam he had left unfettered, exacting a promise to remain silent from the genial ball.

“I need your help to make my life complete.”

“How?”

“Did I want you to ask a question? No! But I want you to help me by helping me get revenge on someone.”

Cole nodded.

“Stop moving your head in that ridiculous way! Now. I want you to drive me to the house of…” He dug in his coat pocket and brought out a gum wrapper, reading from it: “…of Boswick Ruminton IV.”

“Where is that?”

“Would you be quiet? Silly, stupid questions!” Gene shook his head. Then he frowned, deepening the lines in his face. “I don’t really know. I’ll have to figure that out as we go. I know he’s in Georgia, so that’s a start.”

“Sir,” Cole began tentatively, “Georgia is a big state. If we don’t know…”

“Did I say I didn’t know?”

Cole nodded.

“Oh. Well, I’ll know. We start today.”

With that Gene got up and pulled Cole toward the door.

“But…”

“You might have one, but that doesn’t mean you should bring it up. Now drive me to Georgia!”

Small Minds, Ch. 2

Read the first chapter here.

What is in a name?

That question has been asked many times, and not always has had an answer. People use names all the time, and rarely recognize their value. A name is the one thing that you can’t be selfish about—you own it, but everyone else uses it. Names are sometimes how you define something, or how you distinguish something from its neighbor. By a name you and others both know what you’re talking about. A name can communicate a wealth of information to a listener. Names are important things. There are some names that instill fear, some that uplift, some that you just want to discard like that much trash. But in all this, it still remains that a name is an important thing in the workings of the world.

Thus, it’s a terrible thing when a name dies.

A name is a fragile thing. Sometimes it is split among thousands of people, but sometimes it is only carried by one, and it can disappear easily. When a name disappears, it isn’t remembered. When a name isn’t remembered, it has disappeared. Some names are so rare, people think “Wow! That must be the last person alive with that name!” And unfortunately, they’re often right.

Every year has its most popular names: Justin, perhaps; Melinda was popular once; they all have to do with the waxing and waning of popularity. And as any popular man or woman can tell you, popularity waxes and wanes quite regularly, whether you like it or not.

So when a name is forgotten, it is forgotten; the name has died. And one peculiarity about death is that things that succumb to it don’t often come back.

Boswick Ruminton IV knew this as he entered the last stages of his life. He was eighty-four now, and knew he was dying. One doctor said he had cancer, the other said he was dead set for a heart attack, and a small boy he knew claimed he just had a giant cold. But even for all this, Boswick knew there was more at stake than just his life. He had lived a full life, and had accepted the opinions. But there was more.

For some odd reason, the dying are sometimes blessed with insights beyond the normal sphere as they reflect on what made them who they are and what made their life what it became. It was in one of these revealing moments that Boswick realized that his name was dying.

Just as the doctors couldn’t do much about his conditions, Boswick couldn’t do much for his name. One day he looked Boswick up on the Internet and found it wasn’t in the online dictionary. He took down his own dictionary, speculated widely to be the cause of the second doctor’s heart attack theory, and looked under B-O-S. It didn’t have Boswick. His name was being forgotten.

But not being able to do much isn’t exactly the same as not being able to do anything. Boswick hatched a plan. He called his lawyer, wrote his will, then contacted his granddaughter, Karen. She would help him, he knew.

.

People are fickle things. One minute they decide to do one thing, then do the opposite.

Eugene (Gene for short) had decided to starve himself to spite his hired cook. The next day, feeling half dead already (he was eighty-three), he had a revelation. So he stopped trying to spite his cook and decided on a different course of action: he fired her and called his grandson, Cole.

His revelation was that he was going to die. He had come to terms with this when he started his slow fast, but he hadn’t realized what came with it: all his enemies would go unpunished.

He had read The Count of Monte Cristo at the early age of fifty, and had decided to imitate that man. The next day, he decided against it. For one thing, the Count was immensely rich (Gene wasn’t), and for another the Count was young (Gene wasn’t), and for another the Count had enemies (none came to Gene’s mind).

So, when he tried to die and failed thirty-three years later, he wrote up a list of people who he thought had wronged him. He started with his cook, and fired her. Then he went down the list looking for someone to wreak his revenge upon. He decided Cole should help him.

Unfortunately, two things happened: Cole was delayed half a year in coming because of a sick relative (As if I wasn’t sicker than that, Gene thought), and almost all the people on his list had died years before. All except one: Boswick Ruminton IV, who lived in Georgia.

Georgia was only one state away from Gene’s home in Florida, where he had moved to when he retired, just like the rest of that generation. It shouldn’t be too much of a hassle to get there, but he would have to wait for Cole, which was a bore. Cole lived in New York, and drove slowly, and insisted on driving, so he would be a while in coming. Since he fired his cook, he didn’t have anything cooked on his menu, so he just ate everything raw. For half a year, this was especially tiresome. I’m an old man, thought Gene, so life oughta hurry things up. He wasn’t getting any faster.

.

Karen pulled up to her grandfather’s house and walked in. She was in her twenties, with brown hair and brown eyes, an average face, and average clothes. She knew she wasn’t the most noticeable person in the world, and she liked it that way. She liked observing the crowd, not leading it.

She hopped up the three steps toward the door and rang the doorbell. She waited for a little bit, shifting from foot to foot impatiently. The door opened to show her grandfather.

Boswick Ruminton IV wasn’t exactly in the prime of his age. Until age seventy, he had looked just the far side of middle aged, but from there he grew progressively older, as do most. By now he looked young for his age, and at the same time old for his age. He always dressed in a collared short-sleeved shirt and khaki pants, always wrinkle-free. His white hair was combed across his head, leaving his bright brown eyes in full view. He had deep laughing lines through his face, and a wonderful smile, which showed itself often, as in the present circumstance.

“Karen! I’m so glad you could come,” said Boswick, motioning for her to enter. His voice had the slightest tinge of a lisp. “Come in, come in! Would you like Jell-o?”

Karen could never say no to Jell-o. She sat down at the kitchen table as Boswick took it out of his fridge.

“I was wondering what you wanted me for,” said Karen.

“You might be wondering what I wanted you for,” said Boswick at the same time. Then he laughed. “Jinks!”

Karen smiled and waited for an explanation.

“Well, my child, I am old. I am dying, in fact.” He brought over the Jell-o and spooned a generous helping of the green mass into a large bowl. “I don’t know what of, but that isn’t important.”

“Why not? You’re dying!” protested Karen.

“Yes, that’s true. But honestly, I don’t know why I’m dying. But I know that my name is.”

“Your name?”

“Yes. My name has been passed through many generations, but it has ended up with me, who has no children named Boswick. I had refused to name my child Boswick because I remembered how ashamed of it I had felt as a boy. So your grandmother and I named your father Christopher, and you, I had no control over.” He gestured at her. “It wouldn’t fit you anyway. Karen is much better.”

She nodded. “But… how is it dying?”

“I am the last person alive with this name, Karen. After I die, there will be no more Boswick in my place. My name will be forgotten by the world, and thus it will die.”

“What? I thought a name was just a name, nothing more.”

“Just a name. I suppose it is, but a name is important. Can you imagine a world without names? It would be a world without language, really. We wouldn’t be able to communicate. Names are important, Karen, and I want mine to live on.”

“Okay,” Karen said, trying to collect her thoughts. “Okay… Okay…”

“Okay what, Karen?”

“Okay…”

“You already said that.”

“What are you planning?”

“I don’t want my name to be forgotten. What do you think would be the best way to ensure that?”

“Buy insurance?”

Ensure, not insure, Karen. Make it certain. How do we make that certain?”

“I don’t know. Get famous?”

He beamed at her. “Exactly. Now eat your Jell-o.”

Small Minds, Ch. 1

I’m going to start a periodical story. Chapters will come out every every weekend, probably. If not, Monday works too. Anyway, I’m starting today. Here is the first chapter of what I call… Okay, I don’t have a name yet. I’ll think one up eventually. For now we’ll call it Small Things Amuse Small Minds, or Small Minds for short. Please, critique at will. Enjoy!

A man sat in a large speedboat, looking down over the edge.

There were a few things wrong with this picture: 1) the man was too bright to look at directly, 2) the speedboat was suspended thousands of miles over the earth, and 3) this wasn’t surprising to anyone at all.

Why should it be surprising? He was the sun.

It’s hard to be the sun. Imagine being suspended over the earth in a boat for all your life. You aren’t allowed to upgrade that boat unless that style has gone out of style. The sun had been so glad when he was allowed to get this model instead of his old triple-masted sailing ship… Imagine, not being able to interact at all with the people below you, though you could see them up close through your sunlight, which was good, since the sun had horrible eyesight, and he had lost his prescription eyeglasses years ago. Now his optometrist refused to speak to him. No one would look at him; they all either shield their eyes with their hands or put on glasses that doesn’t allow the sun to see their eyes. The only ones mildly polite are the blind, and they can’t even see. Needless to say, that isn’t a comforting thought; the sun thinks constantly, “What? Do I have something on my face? Am I ugly?” But it wasn’t that; children were taught in school not to look at him, which wasn’t comforting either. (The sun could also hear through his light, and smell. The only things he couldn’t do through his beams were talk, taste and feel.) What was it that made them all avoid him? The sun didn’t know. But despite humankind’s hostility, the sun liked to look over the edge of his speedboat and observe the way people acted.

Since he had taken over for the old sun in 259 AD, he had seen many things: crimes, history being made and more. That slogan that says “History is being made every day” is a lie; the sun knew that most days were pretty boring. And he saw every day on every side of the earth.

The sun had once witnessed a murder. He had also witnessed the first light bulb lighting up in public. At first he had been proud that humans loved him so much that they wanted to make replicas, but then he realized that they didn’t want to honor him, they wanted to replace him. This made him mad, and he tried to give the USA a long drought. Unfortunately, the rainclouds counteracted his wishes by pouring frequently.

The sun didn’t have much influence on weather. He couldn’t decide when to show up in the sky, or how fast to go around the earth—he hadn’t figured out how to change the speed on his boat yet—but he could mildly affect human’s choices by using his light to either highlight things or to cast them into shadow. He had gotten quite good at this; his current project was the downfall of the economic systems in some countries.

One day he stopped his work. He was directly over southern Ohio, where he saw someone worth noticing. He followed this someone until he knew all about her. Then he decided something: he was in love.

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Badunk… badunk… bawhoosh… thunk… thunk… thunk… dududududududududddddddddd…

This is the sound Steve the ping pong ball made as he bounced from table to paddle, from paddle to table, from table to paddle, from paddle to table, and from table to ground as the paddle missed him by a full three feet. He bounced along the ground, finally bouncing to a rest under a table. The clumsy boy who had missed muttered as he crawled around looking for Steve in all the wrong places, “Crowded basements are no places for ping pong.”

Steve wanted to shout at the boy, “It’s table tennis, you @#$@#!” but unfortunately for him and his need to blow off steam, he had no mouth. He would have also made a rude gesture, but two things stopped him: His mother had impressed upon him at a very early age not to do those rude gestures, and he had no appendage to gesture with.

Steve, it must be said, was not a nice ping pong ball.

In his past life, he had been a bottle cap. Not the candy ones that taste really good, but the ones you don’t care about, except to turn over and copy the rewards code off the bottom. Steve happened to know that he had said “9TVBKKT T7K4NRW.” That was all he said for about five years, until he was found and recycled and turned into a “Hi-Quality Ping Pong Ball” by a company whose label-writer couldn’t spell. And now he was being searched for, and not found, by a klutz who didn’t see the sophistication in ping pong.

Steve couldn’t see the sophistication in ping pong either, but that’s beside the point.

Finally the boy’s hand touched and grabbed Steve. Steve wanted to bite it, but again, he didn’t have a mouth.

Again, Steve was not a nice ping pong ball.

Well, one day Steve had a midlife crisis, deciding he had had enough of living like a ping pong ball. Unfortunately, he was in no position to change it. He continued to bounce. But then Dame Fortune decided to help Steve out a little bit. He was pounded so hard that he bounced somewhere no one found. Least of all that @#$% of a boy, as Steve liked to call him.

Steve was lost.

Not that he didn’t know where he was, he knew exactly where he was. If shown a map, he could probably show the exact spot where he was, something he was sure that boy could never do.

The thing was, that boy didn’t know where he was. That’s who lost Steve. That would be obvious to any but a dimwit. And Steve wasn’t a dimwit.

But Steve was lost, no matter what he thought. He didn’t know why, in the whole scheme of things, a ping pong ball was endowed with life and mental facilities. Of course, Steve didn’t ponder this too much; instead he pondered why a stupid being like that boy would have mental facilities. But nevertheless, he was lost, whether he admitted it or not.

But his being lost to the boy was a fortuitous circumstance. Why? I’ll tell you.

Steve was lost under a chair. One day the dumb kid’s parents decided to move the couch from across the room to where the chair was for no particular reason. Steve supposed they liked to see the wall they had previously sat in front of. It wasn’t much, really. It was sort of colorless, a beige, with absolutely nothing hanging there. A picture had been hung there a while back, but the family decided that they were sick of looking at the dead thing and got rid of the body.

Anyway, Steve was ignored. He was stuck in the corner. The chair was removed, the couch was replaced, and Steve was crushed.

He wasn’t actually crushed, not even in spirit. He was slightly dented, though, and a gash was cut from one side of him almost to the other. This hurt. He screamed.

The family heard it and started. The father dropped his end of the chair he was moving, and it came down on the stupid kid’s foot. He screamed too, and they forgot the little noise from under the couch.

One day, as Steve was savoring the hate he felt inside for the stupid human race, another ping pong ball bounced back behind the couch, right next to him. The kid, now a few years older, moved the couch out and picked up Steve and the new ping pong ball in one hand. He looked at the whole one and threw it back to his ping pong partner. He looked at Steve, frowned with his pathetic little mouth, then threw Steve in a trash can. Steve was shipped out with the trash.

Steve fell out of the back of the trash truck as it hit a bump beside the Corner Deli, one of the many delis of that name. This one was a misnomer, since it was actually in the middle of the main block in the Main Street of the small South Carolina town of Marisville, which most locals pronounced “Marsvl”. Steve bounced to a stop just outside the doors. When a man opened the doors to walk out, Steve waited until the man passed, then used his new mouth for something other than cursing: he pulled himself through the door, which luckily closed slowly. He was in. Where, he wasn’t certain.

.

Badunk… badunk… bawhoosh… thunk… thunk… thunk… dududududududududddddddddd…

This is the sound Sam the ping pong ball made as he bounced from table to paddle, from paddle to table, from table to paddle, from paddle to table, and from table to ground as the paddle missed him by a full three feet. He bounced along the ground, finally bouncing to a rest under a table. The boy who had missed muttered as he crawled around looking for Sam in all the wrong places, “Crowded basements are no places for ping pong.”

Sam wanted to console the boy, “Of course not; I’d help if I could,” but unfortunately, Sam didn’t have a mouth.

Sam, it must be said, was a very nice ping pong ball.

Sam was made from the same batch of ping pong balls as Steve was. They had been in the same package and had gone through almost the same circumstances. But Sam was the last of his batch. All the ping pong balls of that “Hi-Quality Ping Pong Ball” package had already been shipped off to the landfill, having suffered a multitude of injuries at the hands of their owners. Sam knew his turn for suffering was coming, but he accepted it philosophically.

Then it came. He was selected by the boy with the words, “Last one. We’ll have to get some more.” After three volleys, mostly aces by the boy’s opponent, Sam was lost too. But he was found almost immediately, and hit by the boy so hard that Sam longed to scream. Then he did. The hit had split his side, giving him a mouth. Usually you might split your sides laughing, but Sam split his sides screaming. The boy was shocked at this second scream in as many days, and, in turning around to look for the source, tripped over a badly-placed chair and hit his head, adding his own screech to the mix. Sam was forgotten, until the boy picked him up and said to his opponent, “This one’s broken too. I guess we can’t play.” Sam was tossed into the garbage.

By some freakish luck, Sam fell out of the same part of the same garbage truck exactly a week after Steve had, at the exact same bump in the road. He rolled to a stop inside the deli, which had its doors open to let the summer breeze wash out the heat and to welcome in customers, and also to give a way out to those same customers. His roll stopped just opposite Steve on the other side of a table leg. He was in, too. Where, he wasn’t certain.