by Kathy Kexel
I missed posting this the other day, but you don’t want to miss the intrigue in this one. Janelle is always finding herself in the most interesting of situations. Thanks to Kathy for giving us this great free fiction story.
I missed posting this the other day, but you don’t want to miss the intrigue in this one. Janelle is always finding herself in the most interesting of situations. Thanks to Kathy for giving us this great free fiction story.
Sometimes labor looks like hard work and involves your hands and tools, other times, labor looks like something else entirely. Check out Derek’s story to explain. Again, these are free fiction stories, but you can check our other works on our blogs and our other laborious works.
Professor Bigham paced the front of his Themes of Western Civilizations class for the last time that year. He tucked his tie into the front of his jacket, knowing he looked more than a little silly. The tie he wore today, printed with flowing script of some of his favorite Latin phrases, was the one piece of clothing he was vain about. No one had really commented on the tie for over twenty years, but it didn’t matter to Professor Bigham. It used to be quite the conversation piece for the students, back when they were more like students and less like entitled children who had no clue what they were doing here. The Professor pushed that thought out of his mind and focused on the lesson he was about to give. It was the final one for the semester, and like the tie around his neck, his absolute favorite. This is where he tied all the themes of history they had discussed for the last several weeks and brought them all together in one powerful and evocative discussion. “What?” Bigham began with a dramatic pause after that first interrogative. “Is the strength behind civilization?” He looked down at the faces staring back at him. Some he could see were beginning to wrestle with the question. Most wore non-comprehending looks, like they had no idea what he just asked them. “What is it that makes a nation great?” he asked again. “How does one rise up and become powerful? What made America great? What will keep America great?” More blank and silent looks. Bigham sighed. It was going to be one of those discussions. He wasn’t sure if it was abject stupidity or anxiety or just an unfamiliarity with the format that made discussions like these more and more difficult. Finally, one girl spoke up. “Isn’t that, like, ethnocentric, to say that America is great?” Bigham shook his head. “Not like that, ok. Just forget about all that for a minute. America is the world super power, you can’t deny it. I’m not saying it’s good or bad. It just is. So, with that in mind, what was it that made America so strong?” “It would be our military,” a boy spoke up and suggested. “Military,” Bigham echoed, pointing at the speaker. “Yes, good answer. Military. Now do you all agree or disagree with what was said? Is it military that makes a nation strong?” “But you can’t have military without weapons,” another voice suggested. “So, you are saying it’s weaponry that makes a civilization?” Bigham moderated. “I don’t know,” the speaker shrugged. “I’m just saying....” “But it’s ultimately the military that makes the nation strong,” the first speaker defended himself. “Weapons are a part of that too. Even if they’re good, you got to have the soldiers willing to use them.” “But that’s just a bunch of colonial aggression,” the first girl piped in. “That’s all military is, suppressing other people through force and intimidation.” With that comment a new conversation started. Was the idea of a standing military colonial and oppressive to minorities? Bigham let the argument go for a little while before steering it back to his original question. “The colonial question aside, is there anything else besides military that can make a nation strong?” “I think economy plays a vital role in all of that,” another young man suggested. “You could say the vital role.” “Explain,” Bigham demanded. “Well, everything is done through money. Without economy you can’t pay your soldiers, or build weapons. Not to mention you can’t feed your people or make roads or really have anything. So, I guess economy is what’s behind a great civilization.” “That just makes you rich, not great,” a girl spoke up vehemently. “No, it makes you great too,” the boy argued. The class laughed but Bigham calmed them down and signaled for the girl to continue. “A civilization needs to have its art and stuff,” the girl said. “I don’t really think you can be great without culture. That’s what really makes it great. And it’s so much better than military or money. It’s stuff that makes life, I don’t know, happy and peaceful. That’s what I would say.” “And you can’t do that without money,” the economist argued. “But money by itself won’t make you great,” the girl shot back. “Economy is just a means to an end,” someone else chimed in. “It’s just the tool, not greatness itself.” "Then, what do you think makes a country great?” “It’s got to be the laws,” he argued. “That’s what gives direction to a country.” “But you can’t have those without a strong military,” the first student spoke up. “What about rights?” another girl asked. “I think rights have to be what really makes a nation great. If you don’t have rights then what’s the point anyway?” “This is why you need the military.” Bigham smiled to himself. It took longer than it used to, but it was getting going. The students warmed up and began to dive into the conversation. More possibilities were suggested. The original speakers defended their original positions. More than once Bigham had to calm down tempers that started to flare. Every year it got more and more difficult to have this discussion, and pretty soon Bigham knew the day was coming when he couldn’t have it at all. That was the day, he told himself, he would retire. But for now he was happy. He would let the conversation go a little bit longer before he began to lead them to the real power behind civilization. It would be gentle prodding, leading question by question, until their young minds grasped his greatest lesson to them - the secret behind a strong civilization. Bigham smiled and readied his first forays into the discussion. He really loved this part. Not just the discussion, but the realization when the students discovered that they, university students and learners, were the real greatness of a civilization. He always demonstrated it so perfectly. For good reason this was his favorite lecture. He would show how economy, rights, laws, culture, art, even the military, were ultimately dependent on higher education for all of them to be sustained and advanced. Therefore, the true power behind a civilization was the searching for, and teaching, of higher education. Bigham opened his mouth to insert his first leading question when a loud banging shook the wall of the classroom. Conversation fell dead as every eye turned to the clang that sounded rhythmically, like someone pounding on steel. Irritation flared in Bigham at the interruption. Who the Hell was messing up his final lecture of the semester? Didn’t they know class was still in session? Bigham threw open the door into the hallway just as the clanging began again. Three workers in dirty jeans and the brown, university issue maintenance shirts hunched over one of the old radiators in the hallway. Two were watching as a third wielded a hammer, raining blows down on the old device, sending the awful clang through the entire building. “What in the world is going on?” Bigham fumed, barely able to contain himself. When the men looked up his anger only flared. Flat, stupid faces looked back at him, unaware, uncomprehending. "The furnace is building pressure,” the one with the hammer said, gesturing to the radiator with the hammer. “So? Why does that mean you must you make that infernal racket just outside my classroom?” he asked. The workers looked at each other, seemingly at a loss. “Well?” Bigham pressed. “We think this one is blocking the system,” the one with the hammer finally said. “I don’t care what you think,” Bigham said. “We have a class going on in here. Do you understand? A class. Which is supremely more important than you banging around here in the hallway for some strange reason.” The worker opened his mouth to respond but Bigham cut him off. “Do I make myself clear?” Without waiting for a response he turned from the hallway and back into his class. He fixed his tie and breathed deep, trying to recompose himself. No reason to let those workers disturb his most important lecture. These students needed to know, deserved to know. Can’t let some uneducated rubes ruin perhaps the greatest lesson these students would hear. “What do you think,” Bigham began. “Is the one component behind all of these that you have mentioned here today.” As Bigham began again, the workers outside the hallway looked at each other in indecision. Like many in their role, they were stuck in a difficult position. If they couldn’t relieve the pressure, then the whole heating unit would give out. At the same time, they couldn’t work on the problem without upsetting the professor. The workers did what workers like them have done for thousands of years, thousands of times a day across the world - they figured out a way to keep it going. As Bigham lectured to his class about the supremacy of higher education, the maintenance staff sweated in the basement. For thirty more minutes they toiled and pulled, released pressure where they could and adjusted at just the right point. More than once a valve blew hot steam in their faces. Some parts of them burned while others grew cold in the unheated basement. But they labored on, keeping the system in check for thirty more minutes so Professor Bigham and his class could continue their lessons on how great they were in the comfort of a heated classroom. _______________________________________________________________
Joseph had me at “waffle maker.” Check out his FREE Labor Day story right here, right now. Or come back later. Either way, be sure to read. Click here for the STORY or click on the pic.
Jamie brings us our first Labor Day story. Keep coming back this week leading up to next Monday as we provide free fictional stories to keep you entertained. If you are new here, the instructions are to click on the picture to the left to read the story. Enjoy! ___________________________________
Labor Day is a lot of things, but today it is an excuse to give you more free stories! Labor Day’ themed stories are comin’ at ya. These stories and our holiday stories from the last couple of years are being collected into a great book of holiday stories for you to enjoy so stay tuned for that. Until then, enjoy these Labor Day Stories!
By Kathy Kexel
Kathy's story wraps up our Fourth of July short story series with her story, Parade Day. It is a story that reminds you of happy times in a small town filled with family time and children's joy. Enjoy this last story and come on back for Labor Day. Story Link. _________________________________________
by Rob Cely
Potato chips may not seem very patriotic, but free thinking in whatever form it takes remains one of the best ways we can celebrate and even preserve our great nation.
“Good morning everyone,” the man in the lab coat said to the gathered group. “My name is Director Rogers, and I want to thank you on behalf of Imperial Chips for volunteering to join our focus group.” Director Rogers looked around the group, as if he were waiting for applause. When the faces in the room, nine in all, just stared back at him, he smiled and looked down at the tablet in his hand. “Okay, well let’s get started.” he said. “What we have for you today is a new kind of flavoring that we are testing out on our line of great potato chips that everyone knows and loves. We have developed a new way to infuse the flavor into the chip. I know, very exciting. We have actually flavored the oil, so that there is no visible flavoring or coating on the chips. So, all of our chips look like plain potato chips. But believe me, there is nothing plain about these chips.” With that, a young girl rolled in a cart filled with different bowls of chips. In the middle of the cart stood a pitcher of water and a sleeve of cups. The girl passed out cups and filled them with water before stepping back to her place beside Director Rogers. “Okay, we are actually going to start with our plain chip, so you can get an idea of the flavor of Imperials. Now, I’m sure all you know what Imperial Chips taste like. We are the best selling chip in America. But just to give you a baseline, we want you to taste the plain first.” The girl walked around with the bowl of plain chips. Each participant took one and soon the crunch of chips filled the room. A few heads nodded, acknowledging the taste of the plain chip. “Now, for our first flavor we will start out a bit mild,” Director Rogers told them. “Tiffany will now pass out to you our cheddar flavored chip. Bear in mind it will look the same as the plain, the flavor is in the oil. So pay attention to what you taste.” Tiffany passed the bowl around again. The sound of crunching chips filled the room again. “What do you think?” Director Rogers asked. “Is the flavor too strong or not strong enough?” No one answered at first. Some took another bite, their brows furrowed in concentration, trying to pay close attention to the flavor profile. “I don’t taste much cheese at all” one of the participants said, an older man with a Number Three sticker on his shirt. “Me neither,” a girl, Number Sic said. “It tastes plain to me.” “I can taste a little cheese,” Number Seven remarked. “I think it’s actually pretty strong.” “Yeah, maybe a little,” echoed Number One. “I think I can taste a bit of it in there.” Director Rogers seemed unperturbed. “Maybe try a little water,” he suggested. “Sometimes you have to clean the palate before you can taste other flavors.” The participants dutifully complied, taking big sips of water and swishing them around their mouths. Tiffany passed out the cheddar chips again and they all crunched a second helping. “I can definitely taste more this time,” Number Seven said. “Oh yeah, definitely cheese.” “Me too,” Number One agreed. “Very cheesy.” “I guess I can taste some,” Number Three said. “But not very much. It isn’t strong at all.” “I don’t taste a thing,” Number Four spoke up. He was a young black man wearing round glasses. He shrugged his shoulders. “Tastes like plain to me.” “Hmmm, interesting” Director Rogers said making some notation in his tablet. “Is Number Four the only one who tastes nothing at all?” Nods around the room answered the Director’s question. Some were more adamant than others. “Let’s try another flavor,” the Director suggested. “How about something stronger like sour cream and onion.” Tiffany passed the new bowl of chips around. This time, the reaction was more animated. “Oh yeah, definitely.” “This is delicious.” “Definitely taste the sour cream.” “Great flavor profile.” Number Four shook his head and looked around the room. “I still don’t taste anything,” he told them. “Tastes like plain to me.” “Taste it again,” Number Seven suggested. “Get some water first,” said Number One. “This definitely has flavor.” Number Four took a dutiful sip of water before receiving another chip from Tiffany. He chewed, paying deliberate attention to what he tasted. Again, he shook his head. “I don’t taste anything but plain chips,” he said. Director Rogers made another sound with another notation. “This next one I’m sure you will all be able to taste, even the fussy Number Four,” he joked. “There are even concerns that this one might be a little too strong, so help us out with this. Tiffany, will you hand out the barbeque?” Anticipation stirred around the room while Tiffany passed the barbeque chips around. These looked the same as the others, no indication by their appearance what they flavor might be. The reaction was strong. “Oh yeah, these are delicious.” “The taste pops right out.” “Almost too much flavor there.” “Yeah, the barbeque is a bit overwhelming.” “Maybe a bit too strong?” Director Rogers asked. “Maybe,” Number Seven replied. “But not by too much. I mean, it’s good like it is. But like you said, maybe a bit too strong. Just a little bit.” “How about you Number Four,” Rogers asked. “You definitely had to taste something this time.” The faces turned to Number Four, who chewed thoughtfully. A silence descended over them as they waited for his verdict. “There’s no way you can’t taste this,” Number Three said, breaking the quiet. “Uhhhh,” Number Four started. He bit into the chip again, then shook his head. “I don’t taste a thing,” he said. “These are plain.” “What?” “Are you crazy?” “Maybe there’s something wrong with your taste buds,” Number Two suggested. “Are you one of those people who can’t taste?” “I can taste just fine,” Number Four replied. “These just taste like plain chips to me.” “I don’t see how you can say that,” Number Six said. She threw her hands up and even seemed to be angry. “I just don’t taste anything,” Number Four said defensively. “Are you sure you’re tasting something?” “We taste them just fine,” Number Five said. “We all agree they taste good,” Number Three chimed in. “You’re the one that can’t taste here.” “Okay, okay,” Director Rogers said, calming the group down. “Not everyone responds to flavors the same way, that’s why we have a group of people to test them out. You never know how someone will respond.” Rogers thought for a moment then held up one finger. “I do have something that will definitely settle the matter. Tiffany, pass out the jalapeno flavored.” A collective ahhh of anticipation moved over the room as Tiffany passed around the new bowl. Some bit into their chips almost tentatively. The reaction was immediate. “Oh, this is delicious,” Number One moaned. “I love jalapeno,” Three said. “These are spicy,” Number Six remarked. “But just the right amount.” Number Five and Seven found the heat too much. They chugged their glasses of water down and demanded a refill. Sweat even broke out over Seven’s forehead. “Ya’ll are kidding me, right?” Number Four said, chewing on his chip. “This is a joke.” “What are you talking about?” One asked. “This is not a joke, Number Four,” Director Rogers said a bit defensively. “What makes you think this is a joke?” “These are plain chips,” Four insisted. “All of them are the same. There’s not been a single difference in any of them. They’re the same.” “These are jalapeno,” Number Six said, jabbing a finger at Four. “This burned my mouth. Can you make that up?” “Are you serious that you don’t taste anything?” “These are plain!” Four said, raising his voice. “Plain. Plain. And plain. All of them are plain. They don’t even smell different.” “You don’t have to get mad at us just because you can’t taste anything,” Number Three huffed. “That’s because there’s nothing to taste!” Number Four jumped up and said. “They’re all plain chips. All of them!” “Number Four, there’s no reason to get upset,” Director Rogers said. “In fact, I think I know exactly what is going on. Come, let me take you to one other room and see if we can’t stimulate those taste buds of yours.” Several in the room glared at Four as he walked out. He could feel angry eyes boring into his back until he was back out in the plain, white hallway. “You’ll have to forgive them,” Rogers said. “People tend to get upset when one experience seems so different than the rest.” “Look, I’m sorry to ruin your focus group,” Four apologized. “I just don’t taste anything.” “Nothing to be sorry about,” Director Rogers said as he escorted him down the hall. They stopped in front of another door. “Sometimes, there are people who have a hard time recognizing, or even tasting flavors, unless they have some sort of visual clue to help their minds distinguish flavors,” Rogers explained. “It’s not that,” Four insisted. “Nonsense, I think that’s exactly what it is. Here, in this room we are running another focus group with a more conventional flavoring on it. One you can see. Watch, I’m sure you’ll be able to taste these.” Number Four shrugged and followed Rogers into the room. Immediately, he saw the room was much darker, the only lights were those that shone from floor, casting strange shadows among the people in the room. He also couldn’t help but notice that all the other participants in the room were also black. “We have one more participant for you as you finish up,” Rogers introduced. “This is Number Four.” Four sat down among the nodded greetings, taking the sole empty chair. “We were just trying the rosemary parmesan,” a bald man next to him said. Number Four looked down at the chip that was handed to him. He could see small flecks of herbs on the surface, and felt the gritty texture of a powder beneath his fingers. He took the chip into his mouth and chewed. All eyes turned to him, waiting. “Are you sure you’re flavoring you’re chips right?” he asked. “What’s that supposed to mean?” the man next to him asked. Four shrugged. “I don’t taste anything.” The room exploded in questions and outrage. Someone asked if he was crazy. Another one asked if his taste buds were working at all. “They’re fine,” Four insisted. “But these are plain chips.” They went through several flavors. The honey barbeque with bright paprika on the surface. The sour cream and cheddar caked in orange powder. The pickle flavored, coated with flecks of dill. All of these discarded by the taste of Number Four. “They’re plain,” he answered to each one. Even as his mind told him they should be tasting, that his taste buds should be reacting to all the flavoring his eyes could see. Still, he tasted nothing. Even as the room complained, insisted, even grew insulted at his refusal to taste. He could taste nothing but plain chips. “Well, I guess you’re just not an Imperial Chip kind of guy,” Director Rogers admitted defeat with a shrug of his shoulders. “This boy’s got to be lying,” the man next to him said with a shake of his head. “Mmmmhmm,” one of the women agreed. “Nonetheless, Four insists he can taste nothing,” Rogers said. “And we value his input. This has been very helpful to all of us here at Imperial Chips. Now, if you could all please report to your assigned rooms for a debriefing survey you can pick up your checks there.” The group began to break away. Each person drifted off down the hall. They joined the mill of others exiting their rooms from their different test groups, finding the way to the exit interviews. “Number Four, would you mind coming with me?” Director Rogers asked, taking Four’s arm. “I’m supposed to go to room 313,” he said. “Yes, I know,” Rogers said. “But due to your particular reaction to the chips I was hoping you would talk with our Director of Quality Assurance. Someone like you is rare, Number Four, and you could provide some very valuable insight that is, quite frankly, worth more to us.” Enticed by the promise of more pay, Four shrugged again and followed Director Rogers down the opposite hall. They turned off and traveled downstairs for two flights, landing at another long, white hallway. Two doors down another man in a lab coat waited for them. “This must be Number Four,” the man said, his arm stretched out in greeting. “I’ve already heard a lot about you. My name’s Timmons. I’m the Director of Operations.” Number Four followed Rogers into the room as Timmons closed the door behind them. It was a cold and empty space. The floor was made of white tile, and a drain was set into the middle of the floor. Alarm bells rang out in his head. “I thought you were the Director of Quality Assurance,” was the last thing he ever said. A gunshot rang out, echoing off the tile floor. Number Four’s body rocked as the front of his head exploded. He landed with a lifeless thud onto the floor, blood already trickling out towards the drain. Timmons reholstered the 9mm and pulled out his phone. “Clean up down in the Final Processing Room,” he said, then hung up. The two men looked down at the lifeless figure on the floor. Timmons shook his head in disgust. Director Rogers had a more pensive expression. “Kind of feel sorry for him,” Rogers said. “Who? Him?” Timmons spat. “Why would you feel sorry for him? He refused to conform.” “But he was right,” Rogers pointed out. “What difference does that make?” Timmons argued. “He wouldn’t agree with what everyone else had decided was true. We even put him in his own racial group and he didn’t relent. He didn’t conform, and that makes him dangerous. Our job is to find and get rid of dangerous people.” “Yeah, but he was right,” Rogers said. “The chips were all plain.” “Listen to me, and don’t forget this.” Timmons pointed a threatening finger at Rogers. “Right is what we say is right. There is no other. He wouldn’t accept that. He wanted to form his own opinion, and that makes him dangerous. We can’t have people thinking for themselves and deciding and judging for themselves what is true and right. That would be chaos. People need to do what they're told. They need to believe what they’re told to believe. Anything else is a danger that needs to be removed. That is what’s right.” “I get it,” Rogers echoed. “It’s just....” The rest of the comment trailed off. “It’s just what?” Timmons tried to prompt. When no more was forthcoming he pulled on Rogers’ coat and the two men left the room. The body of Number Four lie alone on the cold tile. A few days later he would be reported missing, then join the catalogue of unsolved cases in America. It would be years later when the body of Number Four was discovered. During the excavation for a construction project workers would uncover a mass grave filled with hundreds of bodies. They were told these were early victims of COVID that went unclaimed from hospitals. A few of the medical examiners felt a stir of doubt, noticing that each skull had a bullet wound in the back of the head. But the authorities insisted it was COVID, and there was no one to argue otherwise. Number Four, and all the others whose only crime was insisting the chips were plain were cremated this time. Their ashes were dumped into a field and the wind scattered them into oblivion. They were gone for good this time, and with them was gone their dangerous challenge to the majority. The perpetrators of their murder believed they could sleep easy now, for only the earth would remember the lives of those who defied them. But as they slept they were troubled by deep and mighty dreams. They would not remember them when they woke, but they would be haunted by a lingering fear of the dream, a fear that would chase them over every moment and every day. The awful vision, stirring in their sleep, of ashes blowing in the wind, of settling in every soil in every nation, and from the ashes a bed of roses springing from the earth, fields upon fields, too many for any one man to count, too many for any man to stop, irresistible until all the world was covered.
by Derek Elkins
As Independence Day draws near, Derek brings us a short story that makes you think. Have a read! Here is the link to the story. ________________________________
by Joe Shaw
Day two of our Fourth of July series brings us a terrific story from Joe. The Parade is a short story that brings all the feels. Enjoy! Here is the link to his story. _______________________________________