They Sat Outside Eating Cake

The phone in Ray’s pocket lights up, and he pulls it out.

Target approaching – 2 minutes.
Don’t miss.

He crouches deeper into the potted plant on the balcony he’s commandeered for this purpose. One of those weird c-shaped balconies you only find on big chain hotels, usually facing the pool. This one’s in a corner, so it’s a little misshapen and thus a perfect hiding place.

Below him, people in swimsuits lounge on folding chairs, borrowed towels, and in the human stew of the spa. A group of people in elaborate costumes pose on the decorative bridge while others take pictures. Some kind of sci-fi convention going on, apparently. Damn geeks.

His target isn’t with the swimmers or the costumed lunatics, so he turns his scope away from them to scan the other areas.

There.

A young man, sitting on a rattan chair in the shade. He’s talking on his phone. He puts it away and his head drops into his hands.

Ray scans the rest of the pool area. The geeks show no signs of departing, in fact, more are joining them. And the young man is getting up to leave,  tears smearing his face.

Normally Ray doesn’t think too hard about who his target is, but nothing about this scenario is adding up. A daylight kill in a public space? No easy escape route? Hell, this gun doesn’t even have the right kind of rounds for a discreet kill.

The whole thing reeks, frankly, and for a moment Ray considers just bagging the mission and skipping town.

But then the young man looks up at his hiding place. Straight into Ray’s eyes.

He takes his finger off the trigger, and lowers the gun.

They meet in the lobby.

“Why?” the young man asks.

“I don’t know,” Ray admits. “I just do what I’m told.”

“Yeah, I know that feeling.” The young man laughs, but it’s a wrung-out sound, like he doesn’t quite mean it. “My life kinda fell apart this last week.”

“Tell me about it.”

The young man looks Ray up and down. Sees the bug-out bag and the black sunglasses. “Take off your shades.”

“What?”

“You’re here to kill me, and you wanna talk feelings. Least you can do is show me your face.”

They come off.

Ray stares at his target. A lean, almost feminine man, the kind of man that Ray would’ve beaten up in high school. The kind of man who could eat everything and never put on a pound.

The thought of eating makes Ray’s stomach twist.

“Listen,” he says. “I was up that balcony for a long time, and I’m fucking starving.”

The young man picks up a scrap of ribbon from the sidewalk, presumably abandoned by one of the other guests. One side is cut in little zig-zags, like those big scissors everyone’s grandmother seemed to have back in the day.

“These fucking things are all over the place,” he says, tossing it aside.

“Yeah. Everyone here is wearing big strings of them, I dunno. I guess it’s a game geeks play, or something. Anyway.”

“I’m really not too hungry right now,” the young man says. “I mean…” his eyes drift back to Ray’s bag, “I wasn’t really thinking about my last meal, you know?”

Ray sighs. “You don’t have to eat. Just talk.”

“What, you want me to ease your conscience before you blow my brains out? Help you live with your decision?”

“No.”

“Then what do you want?”

Ray turns, jerks his thumb towards the sliding glass doors of the lobby. “I want to go in there. I want to order the biggest, stupidest dessert they have, and I want to know what’s so bad in your life that you’re still standing here with me instead of running away with a load in your pants.”

The young man nods. “All right.”

2 hours later

Andrew is sitting on the front patio of the hotel, watching the rented cars go by. Waiting.

Ray’s gone.

He still doesn’t know if he’s marked, if Ray had friends, if this whole cake-and-catharsis thing was just some psychological ploy to get him to stay right here on this exact spot, waiting for the yelp of a silencer, for the bullet. But the only sounds are coming from the nerds and the taxis.

Someone next to him leans over the railing and tosses handfuls of small fluttering things to the people below before running away, laughing.

One of them lands at Andrew’s feet, and he picks it up. It’s another one of those ribbon things. It’s sticky on one side, and on the other it reads “Cake or Death?

Andrew starts to laugh.

 

 


 

Author’s Notes:

This was a Terrible Minds challenge, inspired by the title “They Sat Outside Eating  Cake” and the LAX Marriott.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Take out the trash, America

 

My background on this isn’t “going to a rally or two.” I have followed the Clintons for many years. I thought Bill did a lot of things right as President.(He also did a lot of things very, very wrong.) And I loved young, fiery, “Universal Health Care is possible” Hillary.

I also worked on a Presidential campaign in 2003 and 2004. I’m not telling you which one, but I can tell you I’ve been a DINO ever since.

After that, I went to college and got a BA in Political Science, and during that time, I also worked on a US Representative’s campaign.

So I’ve been here a while is what I’m saying and you never really stop being a wonk no matter how far you try to stay away from it all, and I’ve watched Hillary morph from a long-haired radical spitfire to a well-heeled hawk who talks like every other damn politician ever. And it makes me so, so sad.

But I would still vote for her if she was the last one standing, because Trump. *throws up in mouth*

Except there’s been a major obstacle to me being able to handle the thought of a Hillary presidency.

I’m not a well person. Never have been. I’m physically and mentally ill, and the treatment is not cheap. I could not afford ANY of this treatment without the ACA.

And when pressed on it, all I ever heard Hillary say was “No, we can’t have single payer, Bernie, it’s too expensive.”

So I went digging. I wanted to ask Hillary, “What CAN we have?”

Because I worry about losing my coverage. I worry about losing my health that I have fought so hard to get back. (I’m such a selfish millennial, right? WRONG. I’m 37. That’s Generation X.) I literally just had a big fat anxiety cry about it because that is how worried I am.

I learned that her plan isn’t horrible. It’s patching some holes in a boat that, thanks to Congressional interference, left the dock with big gaping holes. I don’t have exact cost figures for implementing her planned changes, because a lot of them are incremental- such as increasing subsidies for low income families to buy insurance, etc – and the question of “who WILL pay for it if not the patient?” is unanswerable at this moment. Only time would tell the exact savings/costs, similar to how it took a  year or two for people to see that the ACA was in fact saving money because it capped the amount insurers could increase their premiums by each year. Premiums went up, but not as high as the insurers wanted them to.

Those patches would not endanger my healthcare, in fact, they would give more people – children, especially – access to this level of care. Which is good.

EXCEPT.

Her plan is not gonna be cheap either. And in a campaign where the main criticism of her opponent’s plan is that it’s “free stuff” – well let’s just drop that fucking act right now, ok? This stuff isn’t free. NOTHING IS FREE EXCEPT AIR AND THAT’S ONLY BECAUSE THEY HAVEN’T FIGURED OUT HOW TO CHARGE US FOR IT YET.

There is no healthcare reform, major, minor, or diminished, that will be remotely close to “free.” Because it’s an investment in our infrastructure, it will be brick-shittingly expensive. Period. The difference is going to be in who is shitting the bricks. Right now it’s us.

Fun fact: The amount our nation spends on private healthcare is almost the same amount changing over to Bernie’s single-payer plan would be. We’re already paying for it, we’re just not GETTING it. We spend over 3 Trillion ANNUALLY for this busted-ass system. Single-payer would be – at least in the Sanders variation – 1.5 Trillion a year.

Hillary’s? I’m not sure, since a lot of it involves cost-shifting and incremental changes so those take time to add up, you know? But it’s based on modifying an existing structure that is still expensive.

The fact that Hillary’s take on healthcare will be expensive is not surprising or damning in the least, since it involves basically bribing the poorest states to Take The Damn Medicare Expansion. Bribes have been offered for far less noble things. But where’s the money going to come from?

You can see I’m not demonising her, right? I’m just asking the questions. I would love to hear reassuring answers. I’m very analytical when it comes to this stuff. Give me numbers!

I’m more familiar with Bernie’s plan because 1, I’m a supporter and 2, I’ve heard it before from other candidates who tried and failed to make single payer go. And in both cases the math was on their side even if the support wasn’t. A big investment now to save trillions later. Very FDR, when you think about it.

And incremental change is seductive too, especially when dealing with obstructionists. Sugar up that medicine and try your damnedest to get the airplane into the hangar, you’ll be there all night if you have to.

So to sum up: Both plans need money.

Who controls the money? Who put the holes in the boat?

Congress.

Who voted to repeal the ACA dozens of times?

Congress.

Who’s gonna kill insurance reform(whether in the form of ACA repair OR single-payer overhaul) first chance they get?

Congress.

So.

Instead of sniping and throwing memes at each other about how “dumb” Bernie supporters are or how “evil” Hillary is, can we maybe get together over the trash fire that this election has become, toast some marshmallows, and agree to vote out these bastards in Congress?

Seriously. If you want the next President to have a shot at getting ANYTHING done, you gotta look at Congress too.

 

Here’s a breakdown of who’s up for reelection this year. Go find yours and show up to your polling station on Election Day with a garbage bag*, ’cause it’s time to take out the trash.

https://ballotpedia.org/United_States_Congress_elections,_2016

 

 

 

 

*Don’t actually bring a bag in, I’m pretty sure that’s against the rules.

**Unless you vote absentee, then you can do whatever you want. Stuff it with compost and name it Mitch McConnell or something.

Sources:

https://www.hillaryclinton.com/issues/health-care/

https://www.cms.gov/research-statistics-data-and-systems/statistics-trends-and-reports/nationalhealthexpenddata/downloads/highlights.pdf (2014 numbers)

http://www.forbes.com/sites/danmunro/2014/02/02/annual-u-s-healthcare-spending-hits-3-8-trillion/#5be5f20f313d (another 2014 with a slightly different calculation)

http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/32945-calculating-the-cost-of-bernie-sanders-single-payer-health-program

 

Next Sunday, A.D.

So it turns out there’s a name for the evil that lurks in my lungs, and it is asthmatic bronchitis, also known as “Here, have an inhaler even though you’re not officially asthmatic.”

Which means mmm, delicious albuterol! And also an eventual prop for my Osgood cosplay, because you gotta think positive.

In a few weeks I get to see the Immunologist which sounds scary but isn’t, because they also do allergy / asthma things and they’re gonna try to find out why I’m allergic to so many things and why every God Damn Time I start a fitness program I get horribly sick somehow. It’s like the Universe wants me to stay fat and stuck on the couch watching MST3K all day. Don’t get me wrong, I totally could, as long as they’re all Joel episodes. But this evil germ also kept me so laid up for 2 weeks that I ended up stuck to the couch binge-watching Hell’s Kitchen. And then I got tempted by the open casting call for MasterChef. And then I actually watched MasterChef and thought “wow, what a god-awful bougie trash fire of a show.” (I’ve been reading a lot of Holly Wood articles lately, and her vocab is infectious.) Suffice to say MasterChef can go fuck itself, especially Christina and her hipster bakery. Bitch sells “Cereal Milk” – milk with cereal powder in it for 5 bucks a bottle. THE HELL?

But for now I must leave you with this thing of absolute perfection from the glorious Kate Beaton. As someone who’s been the victim of gaslighting before, I absolutely agree with Alice’s response and will be using it in future if someone tries to pull that crap on me again.

cheshirecatIf you want to see more of Kate’s work (and you do, you SO do, just trust me) it can be found right here:

Hark, A Vagrant!

Nanight, peeps.

 

 

 

 

When We Arrive, Sons and Daughters

Sarah Jane Smith didn’t die on Earth in any of the invasions, or the wars, or even that time when the oceans turned to oobleck. They lost a lot of wildlife that day.

Sarah Jane hitched a ride off-planet with Luke. He’d found a way at last, and was ready to return to his stars.

Mr. Smith was donated to Torchwood III, with their caveat that the music be muted permanently. Mr. Smith was less than pleased by this, but opted to comply rather than find out if Jack really could send him to Silicon Hell.

Sarah Jane found a nice quiet planet, where nobody had ever heard of Time Lords or Daleks, and they valued stories as much as currency. She soon found herself the wealthiest woman in the village.

Luke found someone on his travels, and before she knew it, her little house was filled with grandchildren.

Some became journalists like her, storytellers, truth-tellers.

Some became space travelers.

Some had children of their own and sent those children out into the universe.

But Sarah’s favorite was the youngest, a tow-headed little boy named John. She’d been blindsided when Luke brought her to the incubator. He’d come early, his frantic heart working too fast, and they’d nearly lost him twice in the first week.

Sarah didn’t see the tubes and bandages poking out of him. She was lost in his big blue eyes. So much stubbornness in such a new soul.

“What do you think?” Luke asked.

“I think he’s going to be just fine,” Sarah said.

Of course he wasn’t, not right away, but when his siblings were out playing sports or taking field trips, he’d follow her around in the garden, dragging his little wagon behind him. She called him her little helper, and hoped that he was there because he wanted to be, and not because he was still too fragile to join his siblings.

One day he surprised her by reciting the Latin names of every plant in the herb patch. After that, Sarah didn’t worry anymore.

He’d heard her stories of course, and he knew there was a metal dog in her room. It didn’t work very well, but he saved up his allowance and ordered some parts from an off-world catalog.

The years passed by, and Sarah Jane grew older. Even on this planet, time marched on. Now she sat inside by the window, watching John as he moved around the garden, a protesting K9 in tow.

“You’re going to break him if you’re not careful, and I’ll never get another one,” Sarah said. “He’s just not made for dirt.”

John thought about this, and placed another order.

Now Sarah Jane couldn’t stop laughing when she saw K9 rumbling up and down the paths on his balloon wheels, but she had to admit, it did work. And K9 wasn’t complaining about his shock absorbers either. Not when he could complain to his new master about the pronunciation of plant names.

John eventually learned everything K9 knew, and it still wasn’t enough. He started collecting seeds from banks all over the galaxy and made the garden even bigger. Now there were plants from extinct planets, heirlooms from millennia ago, sacred plants from walled monastic gardens, and he left his fragility behind in the dirt.

The plants spoke to him, told him what they were for, and he listened. Soon bottles and trays of leaves, roots, tinctures and powders filled the shed, his room, the kitchen, every available space. K9 proved invaluable at analysing the concoctions to make sure they weren’t poisonous.

It started with tea, of course, as he had been raised with the notion that tea was essential. The wriggling blood-red root was an absolute nightmare to harvest, but once boiled, it produced compounds that could rival any painkiller on the market. Plus, it tasted like sweet oranges. It was his science fair project, and he took the first prize.

It ends with tea, too, when the day comes that Sarah Jane can no longer get out of bed. She’s in her 130s now, and this is twice what she’d expected, so she’s happy. All her other relatives had died in their 60s from things like cancer and emphysema so she’s happy that, at least once, the curse was broken.

But still, a century-plus is more than a body like hers was ever made for, and the last day arrives with the smell of petrichor and honeysuckle wafting in through the windows, her cup of Darjeeling by her side, unfinished, as John strokes her hair.

K9 droops. “Goodbye, Mistress.”

Now John is at university, a good one too – the same one K9’s original master trained at, and he finds himself a fully qualified physician in just a few years. He doesn’t forget his garden, though. Even more new plants follow him home from school, more new medicines follow him back to the classroom.

After graduation, he buys a shop. The walls are lined with bottles and jars, salves and powders. Every week, shuttles arrive from other worlds, full of patients of all species and races. Some of them are sickened by disease, others by side effects of the medicines they got elsewhere, and every one of them leaves feeling better than when they came in.

Today’s a slow day in the shop, so he and K9 play chess. K9 always wins.

He wonders if it was the same for K9’s old master, the one Sarah called her best friend.

“Well, when you consider that he’s got every possible move programmed in, it’s not really a fair fight, is it?” a voice says.

John looks up. There, peering over the counter, is a tall man, rake-thin, with wild silver curls and a manic grin. K9’s antennae twirl urgently.

“Can I help you?” John asks.

“I’m here to see the doctor,” the thin man says.

“Yes, of course! I’m forgetting my manners. Sorry. Doctor John Smith,” John says, holding out his hand, and they shake.

The thin man raises an eyebrow. “That’s usually my line.”

And suddenly John understands why his dog is so distressed.

“It’s you,” he says.

“Yes. Me. Unless you think I’m someone else, in which case-”

“No, I know who you are,” John says. “My grandmother told me all about you. It’s nice to finally meet you, Doctor.”

The Doctor peers at John for a long moment, then scowls.

“I don’t suppose your, ah, grandmother-”

John shakes his head. “19 years now.”

“Right,” the Doctor says, then abruptly wraps John in a tight hug. “I think you should know I’m not a hugger.”

“No, of course not,” John says into a mouthful of woolen lapel.

“Thank you for looking after my Sarah Jane.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Screaming Houses

Sunlight creeps across the sky, pricks through the dense branches of the evergreens above to alight on the back of your neck.

Vellus hair stands to worried attention there as the rest of the organism jumps several bands on the terror scale. Fear is definitely a rusted orange hue. The color of squinting against the summer sun. There is no brightness left in this light, it has travelled from the deep past to reclaim you.

You close your eyes.

Inside, the quake begins. The house screams.

You’ve long since given up on the the notion of having new things, nice things. The walls are bare, the furniture basic. The quakes destroy everything beautiful. You may as well just stay at zero.

The carpet is a post-beige morass of shades of dirt. The parts of it you can see, anyway.

In the corners are cobwebs so old the spiders have declared them historic landmarks.

Something in the refrigerator is having a very loud birthday party.

A single token of a once-happy time rots in the corner bookcase, and the floor continues to shake.

The sun breaks through the dangling vertical blinds where one of the flaps has snapped off and you feel it now, it burns through you until all you can feel is suffocating heat and the smell of baked black spores  –

You let the breath go out of you, the one you didn’t know you were holding.

Step towards the door to close the blinds and your foot gives way on something white and chalk-slick, and you can smell bread – not real bread, but the chemical soup that comes in a bottle marked Scent of Bakery #3 and now the phone is ringing with rejection, rejection, rejection and somewhere upstairs the men are fighting.

You land on your backside in the beanbag chair that never had quite enough beans in it,  and on the outside, your backside stings with the memory.

And the sun beats down, even through the roof;  this house has been pried open like a soup can and the sun is inside, the heat is coming from inside the house, the air is plasma, the sun will never leave you, even as your last breakfast does.

Outside the happy little sprouts taunt you, saying, but Sun is good, Sun is love, Sun is life, look at us.

Sun is pain. Sun is fear. Sun is dread.

Sun reaches out with its fingers to pull you back to the soup can house, to keep you locked in there forever.

Sun is older than all of your hiding places.

Sun is patient, so patient.

And everywhere Sun touches you, you scream. You will always scream.