Back in December, I signed up for a contest called NYC Midnight. The basic rules were simple: In January, they would send me a prompt, and I would one week to write the story. If they liked it, I could move on to round 2 a few months later, get another prompt, have 3 days to write the story, hope for a chance to go to round 3 a few months after that, and get 24 hours to write a new one.

The prompts were cool. They’d give you a random genre (sci-fi, humor, romance, etc.), main character (auto mechanic, psychopathic clown, street sweeper, etc.), and a setting (bedroom, gas station beer cooler, porn store, etc.). I got humor, with a waiter at a family reunion.

While I am quite the hilarious character in my everyday life, I’m not a humor writer. I’ve never even tried. So after some quick research online, I went ahead and wrote my story. It didn’t win, but it DID get an honorable mention. Of several hundred entrants, I’d say honorable mention is worth something, right?

They sent me some criticism, which I cherish. It helped, but I don’t plan on doing anything else with this story other than posting it here for your pleasure. I’ll put the comments up in a day or so.

Without further adieu, I present to you…

“All the Rage in Rooty Hill”

Nolan had never seen a family this collectively skinny put down so much food. Four courses in, and the entire Sparks family still had room for dessert. This was the specialty at Kukamunga’s Three Star Inn, Grille, and Pottery House, (conveniently located in downtown Haskins, Ohio), though.

Of the thirty-seven people seated around the mammoth round table in the private dining room, not one of them could have weighed over one-sixty. Even after a double serving of prime rib and three large chocolate milkshakes, Uncle Dashiell looked like the trail winds from a passing train could knock him flat.

If not a train, then definitely that new hostess, Olivia.

Nolan had volunteered to deal with the family by himself. Not only would the tip help his college tuition, he could actually observe a real family. What no one had bothered to tell him, however, was that he alone would be responsible for delivering and bussing all of the dishes. As a bonus, Damon the dishwasher would be kept busy, and not doing the Tuesday crossword, as usual.

For the fourth time, Nolan got to work clearing the table.

With small bodies and massive appetites, the Sparks family hadn’t moved for two hours. While they enjoyed their reunion and each other’s company, they enjoyed the food even more. Not a scrap remained on a single plate.

Even little Maddy, three years old and pigtailed, slurped down her spaghetti and meatballs in between answers to questions about her preschool classes. She was first in class with finger painting, but still had trouble making it to the potty on time. Listening in while pulling plates, Nolan nodded his understanding, considering she had promptly wet herself while telling the tale.

“It’s been ten years since we all gathered together,” Uncle Dashiell called out. He rose, holding high a champagne flute that he had wrestled away from Cousin Eamonn, already on his fifth glass. “I just want to say that I’m glad we could all be here today, especially those who drove such long distances.”

All eyes went to Cousin Audrey and her two children. All three sported matching perms, even little Bobby. Audrey blushed, but stood up.

“Thanks, y’all. Getting here wasn’t the problem, just escaping from the compound.”

Uncle Jim, his napkin tucked into his shirt collar, beamed at her announcement. “Where’s Ben?” he asked.

“I left him,” Audrey claimed. “When he took over the cult, I knew it was time to hit the road. But don’t worry, we’ve found a new religion.”

“Oh?” Uncle Jim cocked an eyebrow. “Which is it?”

“Scientology.” Audrey rolled her eyes as if Jim had just asked the most obvious question ever.

“So anyway,” Uncle Dashiell continued, “I’d like to propose a toast to everyone here. To the Sparks family. Oh, and to Grandpa Bill, too. May he rest in peace.”

Everyone raised their glasses, some filled with champagne, others water or soda, and a few with pennyroyal tea. Nolan, now clearing silverware and napkins, noticed a few confused faces.

“Grandpa Bill is dead?” Cousin Conrad asked. “I didn’t know that.”

Maybe he got blown away in a gust of wind? Nolan thought. He took a little longer separating the spoons, forks, and knives from each pile into the bus tub. There were, after all, five types of each.

“Ah, your grandfather,” Granny Dot said. “I loved that man more than anything.” She crossed herself.

“Then why did you divorce him?” Aunt Kayanne asked.

“Oh, he just couldn’t stop begging for sex.” Granny downed a shot of whiskey. “God, I miss him.”

After a moment, someone asked: “So…what happened to him?”

“That man just couldn’t sit still,” Aunt Star said. “We couldn’t have a funeral because of his accident.” She cleared her throat, and everyone at the table silenced, ready for the story.

“About three weeks ago, Grandpa Bill wanted to prepare for the coming fall months. You all know how he was, once it hits fifty degrees, he locks his doors and windows and doesn’t step outside, as a result of his being a crotchety old geezer who hates pretty much everything.”

“You can say that again,” Uncle Jim said. A chorus of agreement followed him.

“So anyway,” Aunt Star continued, “one of his neighbors told me what happened. Grandpa Bill wanted to get that hornet’s nest out of his chimney. You all know that he was horribly allergic to the winged monsters, so there’s no need to remind ourselves of that very obvious point. I don’t know why he didn’t hire a professional.

“So anyway, a couple buzzed out and stung him, and he slipped on a shingle, fell off the roof, and landed on the lawn, breaking his ankle. Remember Toody, his Weimaraner?”

“Oh yeah, that gray dog with the soulless blue eyes.” Cousin Ephraim said.

“Yep, that’s the one,” Aunt Star said. “Of course we all know how that dog loved to hump everything it could get its crotch on, and this time was no difference. Grandpa Bill laid there, reeking of canine love, and writhing in agony. He thrashed around, trying to get the dog and hornets off of him, but slammed his head against the front porch. He passed out for a while, but the neighbor wasn’t sure how long.”

“Well, why didn’t he go help Grandpa Bill?” Uncle Rhys asked.

Aunt Star scoffed. “He was in the middle of a Frasier marathon.”

The other forty-six people murmured their understanding at the neighbor’s reticence to help. Nolan agreed; nothing could pull him away from such a great show.

“So, Grandpa Bill managed to make it inside and got his hot dogs in a boiling pot of water.”

“Grandpa Bill loved his hot dogs,” Cousin Dorothy said. Everyone else nodded.

“Sure,” Aunt Star said, “and he didn’t like to chew enough, either. I guess he choked on a hot dog, and passed out at the table. The dog barked and whined, but couldn’t raise his attention. That was when he went over to the neighbor’s house, and caught the man’s attention. When they got back to Grandpa Bill’s, the neighbor noticed everything, but Toody wouldn’t stop barking. Eventually he gave him a hot dog and everything was fine.”

“Yeah, Toody loved hot dogs even more than Grandpa Bill,” Granny Dot said.

Everyone sat quiet, but Nolan heard a few stomachs grumbling. Still hungry, of course. He knew what could satisfy them. He had the dessert list memorized, and stepped over to the table to recite it.

“Okay everyone,” he said, “if you’re interested in dessert, I can list off our selections for you.”

Everyone at the table nodded in agreement, wide eyes and watering mouths all around the table. Cousin Eamonn sipped from a wine bottle, flashing a thumbs-up.

“We have a decadent, double chocolate cake, a potent tiramisu, or peel-and-eat turnips with a jalapeno peanut butter dipping sauce.” Blank expressions looked back at him, so he added quickly: “Don’t you know? It’s all the rage in Rooty Hill.”

Everyone collectively nodded and murmured their understanding.

“We’ll each have the turnips,” Cousin Francois said.

Nolan nodded and headed to the kitchen to pass along the dessert order to Marcel. He had to swerve to avoiding stepping on Uncle Danny (adopted), former circus chimpanzee, currently a private investigator.

If Nolan had a family of his own, he would definitely suggest a reunion. He had to admit, this looked like a ton of fun. It just seemed unfair that he was genetically created in a lab three months ago.

The past three months at Kukamonga’s weren’t so bad, but he knew that going to college would get him a better life. Maybe if he said something to the wealthiest member of this family, possibly a sob story like the death tale of Grandpa Bill, he could get an even bigger tip.

“Here you go,” Marcel said, “forty-seven peel-and-eat turnip dessert platters. Send my regards.” He always seemed happy to make his signature dish.

Plus, it ensured that Olivia didn’t eat them all.

Back in the private dining room, Nolan set down the tray and began distributing the desserts. He noticed Uncle Jim talking to Peggy, the hot redheaded waitress. Peggy nodded and left the room, Uncle Jim soon following, his napkin still tucked into his collar. Nolan couldn’t wait to see the aftermath of this one; Peggy was actually a man in drag.

“Dig in, everyone,” Nolan said. “The dessert chef sends his regards.”

He stepped back to watch the waiflike Sparks clan peel into their turnips. If he didn’t know any better, he’d say this entire family hailed from Rooty Hill, given their vigor and zest at devouring the dessert. Even the jalapeno peanut butter dipping sauce went quickly, with more than a few satisfying burps echoed from around the table.

“Have you had one of these?” Uncle Dashiell asked Nolan.

“Oh, certainly. They’re so good!” Nolan personally would have preferred a French Breakfast, but Marcel wouldn’t allow that particular crucifer into the building.

Strictly due to professional reasons, of course.

“So tell me, young man,” Grandma Dot said. “What are you doing with your life other than working in this beautiful restaurant?”

Nolan beamed. “Well, I’m glad you asked.” He wondered if the dollar signs in his eyes showed. “I’m currently going to college, hoping to make a difference in this world.”

“Oh, wonderful!” Grandma Dot leaned back, smiling wide. “So tell me, what specifically are you majoring in? Social work? Criminal justice? Early childhood physical education?”

“Secondary education stress and psychological management,” Nolan responded. At Grandma Dot’s blank stare, he elaborated. “I’ll be asking teenagers to open up about their feelings, especially regarding their parents.”

“Ah, the never-ending struggle,” Aunt Star said. “There must be a lot of money in that.”

Nolan nodded. “It’s only second in pay and placement to a dermatologist to lepers.”

From across the table, young Cousin Chester stood up, his hands at his throat. Coughs and hacks rang throughout the room, while his face quickly turned blue.

“Oh my god, somebody help him!” Uncle Pietro cried.

Nolan noticed that Cousin Chester’s half-eaten turnip. He rushed over to the young man. These kinds of situations came up all the time and he had been trained to handle it.

“I’m so sorry, young sir,” Nolan began, “but this isn’t the first time this has happened! Marcel’s peel-and-eat turnips with jalapeno peanut butter dipping sauce are actually a rather new menu item, and most people aren’t familiar with it. I understand you’re dissatisfied, but I’ll have Marcel come out and answer for this!” He turned, facing the direction of the kitchen. With his hands cupped around his mouth, he called out. “Marcel! Get your lazy, flea-ridden ass out here and deal with this kid! Your dessert sucks!”

Uncle Pietro glared at Nolan. “No, you fancy-fingered stockinghead, he needs help!”

Nolan nodded. “I know, I know, that’s why you need to tell him what he did wrong! How else can he serve a good dessert if he doesn’t know what to fix?”

“No, you trout-lipped milkburglar, it’s my son. He’s choking!”

“He could just tell the chef to his face,” Nolan said, “but if he wants to find a way out of telling him off, that’s his problem.”

Uncle Pietro held up a hand, looking ready to slap Nolan. “The Heimlich, you fool!”

“Ah, well, if he just wants it out of him, that’s one way to deal with this, I guess,” Nolan said. He stood behind Cousin Chester and wrapped his arms around the young man’s body. With a mighty heave, he pulled in and up, squeezing the preteen.

With a mighty gasp, followed by hacking and coughing, a chunk of turnip flew from Cousin Chester’s mouth, across the table, and into Aunt Hayley’s Chablis. Cousin Chester slumped down in his seat, waving away beverages offered to him. After a few minutes, he breathed easy and took another bite of the dessert.

Uncle Jim entered the room, his napkin still tucked into his collar. “What’s going on, everyone?” His smile stretched from ear to ear.

“Oh, nothing much,” Cousin Dorothy said. “Cousin Chester almost choked to death.”

“That’s nice,” Uncle Jim said. He looked over at Nolan. “That Peggy…she’s a lot of fun.”

Nolan cocked an eyebrow. “Really? What happened?”

Uncle Jim shrugged. “We went into the bathroom, took our pants off, and I gave it to her good.” To accentuate the story, he made a fist and rammed it through the circle of his thumb and index finger on his other hand.

Everyone groaned, looking away from the table. Uncle Jim just smiled.

“Hey, I have my needs, too!” Done with his dessert, he pulled the napkin from his collar and wiped the corners of his mouth. Nolan couldn’t help notice the clerical collar that his napkin had been hiding, but chose to keep quiet. Those guys did have their needs, but it didn’t make sense, though, considering Peggy was legally an adult.

“Well, I don’t think I could take another scare like that,” Grandma Dot said. “I might just die at something like that again!”

Everyone agreed, sending Nolan’s heart to racing. He needed his tip, and even the slightest scare could send him home with empty pockets.

“Well, everyone, I’d like to thank you all for coming in today,” Nolan said. “You’re welcome to stay as long as you’d like, but if nobody wants anything else, I’ll just leave the bill right here on the table.”

“Did somebody say ‘Bill’?” An old voice came from the door, and all eyes turned to look.

An old man stood at the door, one ankle wrapped in a cast, with big bumps on his face and a swollen left eye. He smiled like a man recently raised from the dead. When Nolan turned back to the table, he noticed that everyone’s head had fallen to the table, or slumped in their seat.

“Grandpa Bill, I presume?” Nolan asked.

The old man nodded, stepping into the room. “Boy, do I know how to make an entrance or what?!”

Nolan grabbed the bill from next to Grandma Dot’s body, unmoving and slowly growing cold just like the remainder of her turnip.

“Well, since everyone else knows the easy way to get out of paying a check, you can take care of this.” He handed to the receipt to the old man.

In response, Grandpa Bill sat at the table, pushing Uncle Dashiell’s body out of the way. He set his elbow on the table, ready to arm wrestle.

“How’s this sound, grease monkey: pin me, I pay. Otherwise, lunch is on the house.”

Nolan shook his head. He didn’t care as much about the bill as he did his tip. Still, the boss would be pretty upset if the Sparks family didn’t pay.

“Why would I want to do that?”

“Because feats of strength cancel out large tabs. Don’t you know? It’s all the rage in Rooty Hill.”

THE END

Any and all comments are welcome and encouraged! Thanks for reading.

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Making Contact

March 6, 2015

Several new developments! I’m glad I can say that. It feels like forever since I last blogged, even though it wasn’t that long ago, really. Still, I’m very happy that I actually have things to discuss, rather than just giving a status update of absolutely nothing.

+Been really pounding out “The Third Tower” and I’m not at all upset about it. It makes going to work bearable, considering how slow it’s been!

+My editor on “In the Pale Moonlight” was very impressed with my work, and enjoyed the manuscript. Of course there is stuff that needs to be worked on, but not a lot. That’s good! I will hopefully have it done very soon.

+Shortly before this past Christmas, Black Denim Lit accepted a story from me. I didn’t want to be pushy, but I had to wonder when they would tell me the publishing date. I’ve been screwed by publishers who accept a story, then never respond again. Usually because they go out of print or shut down, and I was starting to worry. But no worries! Things are fine, and “The Man Without a Planet” will be published in their June issue. More details as they come!

+I had to get a new email address…grr, it just frustrates me. I’ll still use my traditional one unless I need to completely switch over, but it’s irritating. There are two publications that use a submission system that is unlike anything else out there. Easy to use, yes, but not easy to hear back from. They’ll send an automated email telling you that they received your story, and it’ll have a confirmation number with it. I never got said email, but didn’t think about it. Then they rejected me, but I didn’t get that either. So after six months, I started to get worried. I emailed one and he told me all about the rejection and etc., and suggested that my email provider may have been the case. So I got a new one, submitted a new story, and…nothing. Sigh… Maybe they went out of print?

+I’ve got lots and lots of great ideas for short stories! Specifically, Clay and Styg stories. I know I need to do a blog about those guys since I talk about them a lot. Hopefully soon! And most importantly, hopefully their stories can be read by the masses, and soon as well!

That’s about it (that I can think of). Typical updates, but I like to keep ya’ll in the know!