Flash Fiction Month #2, Episode 4: Partially Hydrogenated

We are up to four episodes of Flash Fiction Month now! It all ends next week, but try not to think too hard about it. Sometimes, you just have to live in the moment. The overall plot of today’s story was inspired by a longtime reader’s suggestion. Read the last installment here, and read the installments from the first Flash Fiction Month here.


Somewhere in the unfathomable depths of rural Iowa…

Okay, let’s be honest – Bill doesn’t like carnivals all that much. Sure, he tags along if his family wants to go to one, but the peculiar mixture of low budget thrills and low budget customers doesn’t quite sit right with him. Too much of either actually tends to make him wake up in the morning with either a hangover, or a stress migraine. Still, he’s here, so he figures he ought to man up for his wife and kid and try to make the most of the day. Bill has, however, picked up a few tricks for minimizing the casualties of carnival. First, he gets all of his thrill riding out of the way in the morning, when his breakfast (bacon and eggs) has settled a bit, and isn’t quite at risk of emergency ejection. Afternoons, on the other hand, are a better time for games and shows that don’t require quite the same level of physical endurance and toughness. After all, it’s not like he’s the one getting dunked or shot at. In the middle of all of this, though…

“Get yer fried butter here! It’s deep fried, it’s buttery, and this is the only place ya’ll can git without your doctor having a heart attack for you!”

Bill has already sampled enough fried carnival food to legally change his name to “Big Bill”, but the novelty of fried butter is simply too much for him to pass up. He heads over to the stall that’s selling the product and asks for a portion.

“Fried butter! Bright as the moon and tastes better, too!”

That’s a little weird, but the carnie is still following through and prepping Bill’s “food”. He pays for the fried butter, eats a piece; I’m not entirely sure what he was expecting, but he seems to like it, at least as a work of carnie art.

“You like that, eh? Got plenty more where that came from, n’yeh,” says the carnie, finally addressing Bill, who has by now pushed down about half his portion and is beginning to reconsider his initial approval. It seems a bit too greasy, even for carnival standards.

“You know, I just go with the moon stuff because the kids seem to like it,” the carnie continues, because Bill’s suddenly glazed expression makes it obvious that he’s clearly very interested in what the carnie has to say. “Thing is, nobody’s ever been to the moon, so I don’t know if it’s true.”

“I, I, what?” Bill finally says. His mouth doesn’t feel right. There’s a congealed mass of something inside that’s interfering with his diction. It turns out to be fried butter.

“Oh, sure, they broadcasted moon landings in 1969, but everyone knows those are fake,” continues the carnie. Fried butter was an afterthought – this is his true passion in life. “Haven’t you seen them so-called photos? They’re full of flaws and glitches that a trained eye can see.”

Bill is questioning whether or not he should eat the last blob of battered butter. It looks like it’s beginning to get cold.

“And for every faked photo, there’s a photo or film that NASA claims exists, but it’s missing! Do they think we’re all rubes?”

Bill is beginning to question the entire course of his life about now.

“And NASA is still faking science in an attempt to drain money from the military! We have to do something about, I-”

“I gotta get to the bathroom, man. I’m gonna hurl-” Bill can’t even finish his sentence before the fried butter and other carnival delicacies (partially reconstituted by now) force their way up his digestive tract and end up spattered on the dirt below him.

“You okay, man? I was sure I washed my hands before I served you?” says the carnie, who clearly doesn’t have the temerity to preach to the sick. Let’s hope his boss didn’t hear him.

Flash Fiction Month #2, Episode 3: Emergency Preparedness Edition

Another episode of the second season of Flash Fiction Month! How many of these are there going to be? (Hint: Probably five). Today’s installment is inspired by actual events… which I altered just enough for this story that I won’t have to pay anybody. Read the last installment here, and read the installments from the first Flash Fiction Month here.


“Aw, crud baskets! The power just went out!”

Joan didn’t really need to tell me. The sudden darkness and awkward silence that descended on the house were evidence enough. The lights flickered on briefly for a few seconds about a minute later, but then they were gone yet again.

“Guess we’d better call the electric company,” said Joan from downstairs. “What was their number again?”

“I think I wrote it down on a magnet on the fridge,” I responded. “Use your phone as a flashlight.”

“I can’t! I left it charging in the living room, and I can’t see anything! Can you help me out here?”

Luckily for Joan, mine was literally at my desk. I navigated down the stairs with some trepidation, but eventually I managed to make my way to the living room without breaking any important limbs. To my consternation, Joan’s phone was, for all purposes, a torch cutting through the total darkness of the living room, and I was wondering why she couldn’t use its reflection or other forms of luminescence to make her way towards it. I valued my life too much to actually express these thoughts to her face, so I just grudgingly unplugged the the phone and brought it to her.

“Excellent! I’m getting that number and making a call. Just sit tight and we’ll have power in no time!”

Five minutes passed. The bastards at the electric company had apparently put Joan on hold. I made my way over to the window – it looked like all the rest of the houses on the block were electricity-free for the moment. Nobody outside, either – I guess they were just sitting tight and waiting for the power to come back on. But I’m better than that sort of passive behavior, so I had to find something to do.

It occurred to me all of a sudden that I had a mostly charged smartphone in the palm of my hands. When did that happen? No matter. I logged onto Facebook – my circle of friends was up to their usual shenanigans – pontificating, photobombing, pigging out, and so forth. Nobody else seemed to be complaining about a lack of power, which was further evidence for this being an entirely local problem. I started composing a status message.

“The power just cut out here. That’s super lame, and it’d better come on soon!” I ended up writing; now to wait and see what happens. Several minutes passed without the electricity being restored, but then…

Samantha just liked my post! Life is sweet. I mean, not the outage, but the rest of my life is still pretty good.

Flash Fiction Month #2, Episode 2: Mission Impossible

Another episode of the second season of Flash Fiction Month. Read the last installment here, and read the installments from the first Flash Fiction Month here.


Resolved: We should increase marshmallow consumption by at least thirteen percent. Anything more than twenty percent may result in a potentially undesirable chemical cascade.

Also resolved: The price of peanuts, and their corresponding paste and butter products is too damn high. We do not have other options, and the vendors understand this on the most intimate of levels. Regardless, we must increase peanut product consumption as well, although it may take several months to form a reasonable estimate.

There is one major logistical facility approximately 2 kilometers to the east that contains supplies of our required sustenance. It is heavily fortified – the entire facility is, in fact, encased in a foundation of reinforced bricks and concrete. Furthermore, it is surrounded by dangerous, rugged terrain full of rapidly moving obstacles, and also static barricades that can tear through even the thickest armor if we are not careful. The only factor in our favor is that this fortress is understaffed. While the building is heavily trafficked, the majority of its visitors are travelers from distant lands who seek to use its services, as opposed to defensive personnel. If we make our move at a time when the place is undermanned, then our chances of success are substantially increased.

To this end, we have requisitioned a special combat package from home base that will assuredly increase our combat effectiveness on this mission. Since heavy armor is most likely to be unnecessarily cumbersome and would provide insufficient protection against enemy fire or environmental hazards, the equipment included focuses on boosting mobility, firepower, and to a lesser extent, stealth capabilities. This is ideally going to be a quick smash and grab mission – get in quickly, disable all opposition, acquire the victuals, and get out, ideally before the place goes on full alarm. Of particular note is an experimental nerve gas dispenser that can incapacitate organic life forms in a fifty foot radius, although so far we have only managed to scrounge up a few canisters of ammunition.

We have forty hours to prepare. Best of luck, and pray to your various gods that you’ll survive.

8:26 PM, Shopping Pun Mart Superstore:

“One loaf of bread, one package of Jif peanut butter, one package of marshmallow fluff, a half gallon of milk, two pounds of bananas, and a package of breath mints. That will be $11.38.”

“I’ll pay with cash,” I responded, handing the cashier a twenty dollar bill, and getting my change, receipt, and a bag of groceries in return. I left the store without incident.

“Fucking price gouging stores. Do they think I’m made out of money?” I muttered under my breath. “Next time, I’m going to Market Basket.”

Flash Fiction Month #2, Episode 1: Stage VI

Flash Fiction Month is back! The rules are the same as last time each of this month’s posts will be a self-contained story, most likely of about the usual 400-500 word length. I make no guarantees of subject, style, or anything else. You can read last year’s installments here.


Six years ago, I found a discolored patch of skin on my leg and went to see the doctor. Turned out that I had a malignant melanoma that I’d luckily caught very early on. We excised it, I did my share of chemotherapy, I recovered, and then I went on with my life, seemingly unharmed but for the need to schedule extra maintenance checkups with my doctor to make sure it didn’t come back.

Six months ago, I got a strange envelope in the mail with no return address. It contained a musty, foul-smelling piece of paper stained with brown ink that vaguely resembled words, but was otherwise completely unintelligible. At the time, I thought it was a prank gone wrong, so I tossed the letter out in the garbage. It slipped my mind soon after – I had a lot of important projects going at work that I didn’t want to leave hanging.

Six weeks ago, however, I received a much more disturbing letter. A pair of lawyers (Richard and Simon Dowling, who had colonized late night TV with their advertisements and burnt their phone number into my mind) sent me a letter informing me that one of their clients had demanded restitution from me for “unlawful separation”, and since I had refused to provide it, I was now required to appear at my local courthouse.

“This has to be some sort of joke, right?” I asked them in a call I placed soon after. Read more…

Dead Kennedys – Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables (1980)

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Here’s an album with two souls inside of it, fighting for supremacy! On one hand, we have a (relatively) poppy, occasionally even surf flavored rock band called the Dead Kennedys. On the other, we have a mile-a-minute, no fucks given loud fast rules hardcore punk band who’s also called the Dead Kennedys. Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables doesn’t mix these two approaches all that often, so it’s basically a rollercoaster ride of quick punchy songs with plenty of songwriting variety. That doesn’t always work, though – relatively older bands have been felled by their failure to pull this off, so what became of the Dead Kennedys’ debut?

DK, however, has an ace up their sleeve. Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables is a stereotypically vocal-driven album, so it really helps that the band is fronted by Jello Biafra. His skills go undermentioned here for my lack of relevant genre experience, but when it comes to these types of music (hardcore punk and… uh… not-so-hardcore punk), you can’t find many who are better. His actual vocal technique seems adequate for both if not particularly special, but the way he performs (and his lyrical finesse) contributes enormously to the potency of these songs. It’s hard to exactly quantify the level of snark and vitriol on display here, but you’ll hopefully agree that it’s integral to the overall aesthetic on display here.

Jello Biafra also happens to be fronting a band with reasonable chops and… an admittedly iffy studio budget, although I’ve forgiven that last bit on many occasions. It might be due to the older influences here, but the actual instrumental parts are rarely as deconstructed and simple as they are on some of this band’s rough contemporaries. Critics like to talk up the ‘surf rock’ influence, if that means anything; it does add a neat, wavy gravy flair to the more pop inflected tunes on here, and presumably was a nice bonus for the earliest listeners who, back in 1980, presumably weren’t innundated with an entire internet’s worth of music in all genres. The actual recording fidelity doesn’t do as well, although “Holiday in Cambodia” is a notable and significant exception, with a deep and virile sound compared to the generally tinnier, trebly sounds that the other songs showcase. Expecting a really good production might be too much, but to my (clearly not a professional audio engineer) ears this sounds like the sort of thing that could’ve benefited from having some knobs turned up, perhaps at random. You can perform pretty much the same effect on your own by turning up your speakers/headphones, so maybe the problem is just that I don’t listen to music at levels that are acutely harmful to my hearing? Whatever.

It might be a bit obvious of me to say that I accept Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables‘ high position in the hardcore punk pantheon, but that’s what I do. Given that I don’t listen to a lot of straight up (or straight edge) punk rock, it’s probably for the better that what I do have is quality stuff.

Highlights: “Kill The Poor”, “Chemical Warfare”, “California Uber Alles”, “Holiday in Cambodia”

Vader – De Profundis (1995)

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Are Star Wars jokes still topical, and if so, are they popular in Poland? Vader got their start in 1983, in the turblent last years of the local communist government; by the time it fell they apparently had enough momentum to get their debut (1992’s The Ultimate Incantation) released via Earache Records. I haven’t actually listened to that one, though. De Profundis, on the other hand, is a worthy entry in its genre, being one of those recordings that strikes a good balance between immediate accessibility and hidden depths. It also keeps a consistently high level of intensity and aggression without wearing out the listener, unlike some of the content I have to deal with…

Executive summary – De Profundis is death/thrash metal, ill defined as that is. It does have a pretty even mixture of the stereotypical instrumentation and aesthetics of each, giving us a reliably fast, monophonic, bassy and growly sound. Even in 1995, this style had been done to death (pun intended), although I can also argue that there was never really a time when sounding like death/thrash was enough to get you even the slightest iota of attention. The production this time around is competent – clear enough that you can hear the intricacies of the compositions and generally genre appropriate, but lacking the punch that the more prominent extreme metal albums of the time had. Were I the producer, I would probably have gone with something more trebley and incisive, but that might just be my preferences showing again.

With a standard production, it falls to the songwriting to carry De Profundis. As I mentioned at the beginning, it does; everything you could require from this type of music is present in a perfect balance. It all comes down to the song structures – Vader provides us a high density of unique riffs and musical ideas despite the short songs, by virtue of not dwelling on any specific section for too long. Some tracks here are obviously more complicated than others (“Sothis” comes to mind for being thorough-composed) – these are instant highlights, since they represent the band pushing themselves to the limit. Perhaps more important, though, is that Vader has mastered fluidity on De Profundis – every part of these songs segues logically into the next, even when dramatic tempo/modal/structural shifts are involved. It’s definitely harder to do when you build up your songs from dramatic musicological shifts, so the bandmembers definitely deserve a commendation for that.

I guess that years of experience before releasing your first studio album can come in handy. I’m definitely speaking from experience (insert advertisement for Critical Mass here) when I say that, but the point is that between historical circumstance and what is presumably just plain old fashioned skill, Vader had already reached a level of musical refinement on their 2nd album that some bands never acquire even after they hit their 12th birthday.

Highlights: “Silent Empire”, “Sothis”, “Revolt”, “Reborn in Flames”

Judas Priest – Stained Class (1978)

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Stained Class is the culmination of an era of Judas Priest. After this, they were never quite the same. To understand this, you have to look into the pyschedelic/progressive rock roots of metal. Not only was there a great deal of crossover, but a lot of early “heavy” moments that future metal musicians were inspired by came from prog bands pushing into more noise and feedback alongside their poppier bretheren. I don’t think anyone would classify Judas Priest as a progressive rock band, but in their longer winded moments, you can imagine the resemblance. Stained Class has some of this, but its big achievement is buffing up the band’s heaviness and aggression to then unprecedented levels.

To be fair, “Exciter” (the first track) might give you an inaccurate impression of just how fast and aggressive Priest is going to be on this album – there is nothing that quite compares to it later on. Still, it would take the band years to match it, so it’s got to be worth a mention. Important, though, is that in spite of upping the velocity and aggression, “Exciter” has a relatively complicated structure, and plenty of internal dynamics that make its own lineage apparent.  This first track also gives us a chance to preview the latest iteration of the Judas Priest sound. While the production is still arguably a work in progress, it’s a good refinement of the strengths of the previous album’s sound. We also get a major boost in the quality of drumming courtesy of Les Binks, whose more intricate style is sorely missed on the band’s most famous works from the 1980s.

Even if most of the album isn’t as balls-out as the lead-in, the rest of Stained Class has plenty going for it. It tends towards a mid-paced, spacious sense of songwriting, with a few nods towards the folk/blues-rock elements that flavored Sin After Sin coexisting with more stereotypically metal work. K.K Downing doesn’t have as many songwriting credits on this album, for better or worse, although I’m still not entirely sure how much he helped Priest push the envelope on these early works. Quibbles about authorship aside, this is generally solid, well planned material; perhaps less ambitious structured than before, but also more coherent and less prone to filler. The improvements to the production don’t hurt, either. “Beyond the Realms of Death” stands out as another one of Priest’s strong ballads; its soft-loud dichotomy makes a nice contrast to “Dreamer Deciever” and its long buildup. Overall, it’s definitely streamlined, but the songwriting on Stained Class isn’t so oversimplified that it really harms the listening experience.

I won’t go as far as to say that Judas Priest does no wrong on this album, but Stained Class gets more than enough right. A word to the the psychedelic/proggy bands of today – if you want to get gradually heavier, you could learn from Priest’s evolution…

Highlights: “Exciter”, “White Heat, Red Hot”, “Invader”, “Beyond the Realms of Death”