Thursday, April 29, 2010

MUGGS AND THE CAKE, a #fridayflash story

By John McDonnell

Muggs brought the last box of whiskey bottles in and set them down on the long counter in the center of the gleaming kitchen in the Stokes mansion, next to the other ten wooden boxes he’d unloaded from the Packard. Petey was sitting at a table, discussing something with the chef, a large man dressed in white, with a red face and a walrus mustache.

“Nothing doing,” the chef said. “Put it on our account.”

“That won’t do,” Petey said. “Mr. Donovan said your boss was to pay us upfront.”

“I don’t have time for this,” the chef said. “I am preparing for the biggest social event of the season. I have 300 guests coming tonight.”

Petey whistled. “300? I’d hate to see that many people with dry throats.”

The chef laughed, and his whole body shook. He took a white towel from around his neck and mopped his face with it. “You’re trying to scare me? You palookas don’t mean a thing to us. Mr. Stokes knows everyone. The Governor is going to be at the party tonight. Charles Lindbergh is coming. This is the first party he’s been to since he got back from Paris. There’s a Cardinal coming, and several mayors.”

“Be a shame if they got thirsty,” Petey said.

Muggs was having a hard time concentrating on the conversation. The kitchen was alive with smells: turkey, ham, cake -- in fact, there was a very large chocolate cake on the counter not far from the whiskey.

“Could I have a piece of that cake?” he asked.

“What?” the chef said. “Sure, help yourself.” He turned back to Petey. “You don’t understand, do you? Get it into your thick skull that you’re to charge the whiskey to Mr. Stokes’ account.”

“This is swell cake,” Muggs said, eating a large slice of the cake with his hands.

“I better talk to Mr. Stokes,” Petey said, getting up from the table. “He’s a banker, right? I’m sure he knows a lot about paying bills.”

The chef got up and went over to a section of the kitchen where there were big knives stuck in a wooden block. He pulled out a very large gleaming butcher knife and came back, then stood in the doorway that led from the kitchen to the rest of the house, blocking it with his considerable bulk. “Get out of here now, you scum,” he said. “Or I’ll carve you up like a couple of beefsteaks.”
* * *

“Gee, that was swell cake,” Muggs said, as Petey drove down the mile-long driveway from the big house. “You should have had a piece.”

“I wasn’t hungry,” Petey said.

“I wish I knew how to cook,” Muggs said. “I’d make a cake for myself every day.”

“I hope they have an assistant chef,” Petey said. “Otherwise, dinner ain’t going to be served on time.”

“He should have stuck to making cakes,” Muggs said, licking a speck of chocolate icing off his thumb. “He was good at that.”

Copyright John McDonnell 2010
Chocolate Fudge Birthday Cake 7"

Friday, April 23, 2010

PARADISE, a #fridayflash story

By John McDonnell

“Trees,” she said. “Look at that magnificent grove of trees.”

“There are no trees on this planet,” he said. “The computer says it’s 200 degrees out there, and the atmosphere is poisonous.”

“I haven’t seen a tree in ages,” she said.

“It’s an illusion,” he said. “We have to leave here, there’s something wrong. As soon as the computer repairs the acceleration system we’ll be gone.”

“How many years have we searched for a planet like this?” she said.

“Too many, but that’s not the point.”

“It looks like Earth. The way Earth used to look, with trees. Before it died.”

“We have a mission,” he said. “We could be the last humans in the universe. We have to start a new civilization soon. We can’t take a chance on this planet.”

“Look, one of them has fruit on it. When’s the last time we ate anything except Nutro Shakes? I want to go out there.”

“No! It’s a trick. You’ll die.”

“Those trees. How can anything be wrong with them?”

“You are not going anywhere, and that’s an order.”
* * *
He woke up on the floor with a splitting headache, and slowly realized she’d hit him with a wrench. He could see on the monitor she was already in the airlock, ready to go outside. She must have overridden the computer somehow. “No,” he yelled hoarsely, pulling himself up on unsteady legs. “Stop. Don’t go out there.” He ran down the narrow passageway that snaked around the ship, till he got to the airlock.

He could see on the monitor she was still inside the compartment, so he pulled on a pressure suit quickly, hoping to stop her before she went through the final door. He put on his helmet and switched on the computer link, ignoring the computer’s warnings about the temperature and atmosphere outside, because he was too worried she would get away before he could stop her.

He pushed the button in the wall and a panel slid aside, and he stepped inside. “Yvette, please,” he said, but the heavy outer doors were open and she was already down the steps and outside.

He watched as she took a few more steps, then opened her arms wide, turned, and said on the helmet link: “See, nothing’s wrong. It’s beautiful, isn’t it?”

The landscape looked the same as it did from the ship. There was the grove of trees on a little hill 80 yards away, swaying gently in the breeze, under a deep blue cloudless sky.

And yet.

The computer readout at the bottom of his face mask showed a surface temperature of more than 200 degrees Fahrenheit, and the presence of methane and hydrogen, with no oxygen at all.

Now she was dancing, skipping along the path toward the trees, looking like a silver caterpillar in her pressure suit.

“Wait,” he said, and started after her. With every step, the screen in front of his eyes was setting off warning lights and alarms.

Now she stopped by one of the trees and clapped her hands. Look at it, she said. Isn’t it magnificent?
She started to take her helmet off.

“No,” he shouted. “Don’t do that!”

But it was too late. She had it off in seconds. She took a big gulp of air and let it out, grinning with joy.

“It’s fine,” she said. “No problem.” She reached up and grabbed a piece of fruit off a low branch. It was red, and he remembered that it was called an apple. She took a bite, and her face was contorted in ecstasy at the taste. “It’s delicious,” she said. “Delicious! Here, have one.” She grabbed another apple off the tree and held it out to him.

He couldn’t figure out what was going on. “The computer. . .” he said.

“Damn the computer!” she shouted. “It’s a paradise out here. What are you waiting for?”

“Okay,” he said. He unlatched his helmet.

He took it off.

Already he could feel his face starting to burn from the heat. His throat tightened, and he gasped for air, his eyes wide.

And then he saw her twisted body on the ground, her face purple and bloated, the eyes bulging in horror with the shock of seeing what paradise truly looked like.


John McDonnell Copyright 2010

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Petey and Muggs and Bix

When I write the Petey and Muggs stories I listen to 1920s jazz to get me in the mood. Bix Beiderbecke is my favorite musician from that time. Here's a song featuring Bix, called "Royal Garden Blues". It's got the high-spirited feel that I love about the 1920s.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Petey And Muggs Discuss Evolution -- a #fridayflash story

By John McDonnell

“The sign says don’t throw peanuts to the lions,” Muggs said.

“This one ain’t interested anyway,” Petey said, pointing to the huge male who was pacing back and forth in his cage inside the lion house, his shoulder muscles rippling with every step. “This boy wants his steak dinner.”

They had come into the lion house following a short man in a blue suit and a white straw hat, who was holding the arm of a young woman in a red pleated dress that stopped an inch above the knee. The man and woman were leaning against a railing near one of the cages at the far end of the corridor. There were six male lions, each with his own cage, and they were all pacing back and forth, waiting for their dinner. Every once in awhile, one of them would let out a deep, moaning roar, which echoed like thunder in the tiled building. The air was thick with their animal smell.

“So is that Mrs. Fishburn?” Muggs said, pointing to the woman in the red dress.

“That, my friend, is not Mrs. Fishburn,” Petey said. “But that is the reason Mr. Fishburn has been fiddling Mr. Donovan’s books. He’s got a chippie.”

“That ain’t right,” Muggs said.

“Aw, marriage ain’t natural anyway,” Petey said. “Look at them lions. They don’t get married, do they?”

“Animals and people is different.”

“No they ain’t. Ain’t you heard of evolution? They’re havin’ a big trial about it right now in Tennessee. All them Bible people want to convict a teacher named Scopes for teachin’ that we came from monkeys.”

“I didn’t come from no monkey.”

“You sure about that? I think I seen some of your relatives in the gorilla house.”

“Hey, what’s he doing down there?” Muggs said.

The man in the straw boater was throwing peanuts at a lion. He was throwing one peanut after another. He hit the big cat in the eye, and the lion roared. The man in the hat roared back, laughing and making a fist at the lion. The girl next to him giggled at the game he was playing.

“That ain’t right,” Muggs said.
                                           * * *

The Packard was in the shop, so they had to walk back uptown.

“Funny how them lions got so excited,” Petey said.

“It was loud in there,” Muggs said. “My ears still hurt.”

“You probably shouldn’t have pressed Mr. Fishburn’s head against the cage. I thought he was havin’ a heart attack when you did that.”

“The sign said don’t throw peanuts to the lions,” Muggs said. Muggs wrinkled his brow in thought for a moment, then said, “You think people and animals are the same?”

“Nah,” Petey said, grabbing an apple from a fruit stand while the proprietor wasn’t looking. “We’re the ones that belong in the zoo.”
Copyright John McDonnell, 2010

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

My story "New Year" is published

My flash fiction story "New Year" was published today at Bewildering Stories. It's a mix of horror and speculative fiction. I had a great time writing it. I'd love to hear what readers think about it. Here is the link:

Friday, April 2, 2010

A Bad Idea -- a #fridayflash story

By John McDonnell

Petey and Muggs were leaning against the ring ropes watching the Princeton Strongboy sparring with another fighter at the gym in New Jersey. The Strongboy was tall and blonde, and threw quick, sharp jabs that splattered sweat from the other man’s head when they connected. They sounded like wet towels smacking against a cinderblock wall. He smiled and danced on his toes between jabs.
“Nice looking fella,” Petey said. “Went to college, I hear.”
“Why’s he a fighter then?” Muggs asked. “He should be one of them Wall Street boys.”
Petey laughed. “He’s doing okay knocking out the tomato cans they’re putting in front of him. Mr. Donovan has made a few shekels from him too.”
“Then why are we here?”
“Because he’s got to go down next week when he fights Irish Tommy Nolan. It’s all set up, only he’s not convinced he wants to do it.”
A bell rang, and the round ended. The Princeton Strongboy slipped through the ring ropes and stepped down to the floor. He spit his mouthpiece into a bucket held out by his trainer, a wizened man with stubbly white hair. The trainer gave him a towel and proceeded to unlace his gloves. When that was done, the trainer whispered in his ear and pointed at Petey and Muggs.
The Strongboy came over. “Can I help you fellows?”
“We’re here about some business,” Petey said.
“Yes, I know.”
“Mr. Donovan has an idea about your next bout.”
“I don’t like that idea.” He rubbed the towel vigorously through his hair, then draped it around his neck. “Sorry that you fellows had to come all the way out here, but you wasted your time.”
“That so?”
“I have too much to lose. If I beat Nolan, I’ll be the toast of the town. I’m different, you understand? I went to Princeton. The press loves me. Not your typical pug, if you know what I mean.”
“How come you’re not on Wall Street?” Muggs said. “Ain’t that where you boys go to work?”
The Strongboy laughed, showing his white teeth. “I’ll end up there eventually, working for father’s firm. For now, though, I’m making a better return beating up my social inferiors.”
“Any way we can convince you?” Petey said.
“Not a chance, boys,” the Strongboy said. He turned on his heel. “Have a nice ride back to town.”

Later, on the way back to town in the Packard, Petey said, “I’d a bet money he could take a punch.”
“Aw, you can’t fault him for that,” Muggs said. “He wasn’t looking.”
“He’ll need some dental work now.”
“I still can’t figure why he didn’t go to work on Wall Street,” Muggs said. “That’s where I’d go, if I was him.”
Petey whistled. “The size of you, why didn’t you ever go into the fight game?”
“I did. I fought a few bouts when I was a kid. Had a manager and everything.”
“Why didn’t you stick with it?”
“I had a problem. I never could remember the rules.”
“What rules?”
“Like when to stop hitting.”
“That would be a problem.”
“Yeah. I almost killed a fellow because of that. They had to pull me off him. After that my manager said I should retire.”
“Good decision,” Petey said. “You can’t go far if you don’t remember the rules.”

Copyright John McDonnell 2010

The Greatest Boxing Stories Ever Told: Thirty-Six Incredible Tales from the Ring