Mar 30

Last night, the wife and I took our youngest boy and two of our nieces to see the local high school’s rendition of The Wizard of Oz.  I’ve been to a couple of high school plays here locally (Beauty and the Beast and High School Musical), and they were both very enjoyable.  Good acting, great singing, a good testament to local talent destined to find futures somewhere outside of the panhandle where their talents will be useful.  Last night’s performance, however, was something really special.

The wiring that caused the Wicked Witch and her monkeys to fly was cool, but that wasn’t the reason this performance was so special.  The pyrotechnics made me jump on more than one occasion, but they weren’t the reason the performance won’t be soon forgotten.  The reason I found Scottsbluff High School’s performance of The Wizard of Oz so endearing was… they got it right!

The original movie starring Judy Garland is over 70 years old.  I grew up watching that stupid old movie once a year, every year, throughout my adolescent years.  It never got old.  It was always exciting.  And last night, I felt like those teen-aged kids up on the stage had seen that stupid movie even more times than I had.  All of the kids in this play were excellent.  Even the tiny munchkins, played by a bunch of little kids who were up way past their bed times, were absolutely amazing.  It was a few of the leads, though, who stole my heart.

Maggie Hopp, who played Dorothy, pulled off Judy Garland’s pouty, defiant innocence with flair.  She sang Somewhere Over the Rainbow to near-perfection.  At times, I almost believed that the late-Garland’s spirit had possessed young Hopp.  Watching her made me feel like a child again, sitting in our small living room in front of our small television, my brother, sister, mom, dad and me, wishing for Dorothy to be able to click her heels at least one more time and once again return to Kansas.  If I had realized then what I know now (that Kansas is a lot like Nebraska), I would have wished for poor Dorothy to go to New York, or Los Angeles, or somewhere she and Toto could have a successful future… but I didn’t.

Carlos Santana (no, not the aged-musician who still rocks) was amazing as the Cowardly Lion.  His no-holds-barred performance was hysterical.  For a teenage boy to get up in front of a full auditorium and hold nothing back in his performance of the blubbering coward who slowly finds his courage… it was unforgettable in the best of ways.  It takes someone with a lot of talent and self-confidence to get up on stage and play a chicken so well :)

Chris Brening pulled-off a convincing and very likable Scarecrow.  Like Carlos, Chris didn’t seem to have an issue being a complete goofball on stage, and this character needs to be goofy…. and dance… and wobble around… without falling off of the small stage.  There was more than one occasion where I thought the Scarecrow was going to fall into the orchestra pit, but he didn’t!

During the first half of the play, Aaron Aguallo’s microphone wasn’t working very well and he was hard to hear.  After the intermission, Aaron’s voice brought life to the heartless Tin Woodsman.  Once I could hear his voice, I had a very hard time believing that Jack Haley himself wasn’t actually up on stage instead of Aaron.  This was what was so cool about this performance: the kids pulled off the characters so closely to the original casts’ rendition… yet each with just a hint of uniqueness that made them their own.

Karenna Booth was stunning as the good witch Glinda, and her singing gave me goosebumps.  The only things that commonly gives me goosebumps in Nebraska are the chilly winter nights.

Emily Yanke was terrifically evil as the Wicked Witch of the West.  She cackled like an old pro and seemed to relish her inhumanity.  Kind of makes me wonder what this young lady does to small animals on the weekends… but her performance was superb… and that’s not a word I use much :)

I could go on and on… but I’m not really used to having nice things to say. Don’t get used to it!  If you don’t already have tickets to tonight’s performance or the final performance on Saturday, you are probably out of luck.  Both nights are sold out.  However, if you know someone who has tickets and you don’t like them very much… steal them.  This show is worth petty larceny.

Thanks to the cast and crew of the The Wizard of Oz.  Old guys like me seldom feel young anymore, but all of you helped me feel a little younger for a couple of hours last night.

Next post: back to bitching, I promise…

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Mar 18

What is the hardest job in the world?

Is it a rocket scientist — ensuring the trajectory of space bound thingies and other such sciencey stuff?

Is it a brain surgeon — holding all consciousness and memories (in essence, the entire “being”) of an individual between her fingers as she attempts to save a life?

Is it perhaps the President of the United States — deciding where to send our soldiers to die and who in our economy will suffer and how to make nice-nice with the rich and famous?

These are all good answers, but none are truly the hardest job in the world. The hardest job in the world recently had a vacancy, and it was recently filled.

Scotts Bluff County recently filled the hardest job in the world.  Congratulation to Brenda Leisy…
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holder of the hardest job in the world.  Brenda was hired by Scotts Bluff County as the county’s tourism director.

Tourism director: one who tries to get tourists to stop and spend their had earned money in our area by convincing said tourists that there is something worth stopping and spending money on here.  Like I already pointed out, this is (in my opinion) the hardest job in the world.

Scotts Bluff County has little to offer.  It’s kind of… what’s a nice way of putting this… boring here.  There are many who disagree with me, but I’m sticking to my personal guns on this.  There is nothing to do here.

“Oh, there’s a lot to do here!” scream the long-time residents who hate anyone speaking the truth about their beloved Nebraska.

“Like what?” someone may ask.

“Well… uh… you can go for a walk on the pathway by the river!” says the Nebraska-lover.

“I’ve done that before,” someone may say.

“Do it again,” says Nebraska-lover.

“Uh… why?” someone may ask.

“Maybe you’ll see a goose… or something,” says Nebraska-lover.

“I saw a goose the last time I walked the path,” someone may say.

“Well, go to the top of Scotts Bluff National Monument,” Nebrasaka-lover recommends.

“That’s fun to do about once every two or three years,” someone may say, “and I did that last summer.”

“Go fishing,” says Nebraska-lover.

“Fishing here sucks,” someone may say, “unless you like catching tiny trout and sunfish, which is all I ever catch.  I suck at fishing, thus I don’t really like fishing, and can you imagine trying to get my 8-year-old son to sit still long enough to catch a stinking blue gill?  Yeah, fishing isn’t for me.”

“There is good hunting,” says Nebraska-lover.

“No there’s not,” someone may say.  ”All of the good hunting is on private land, and landowners here would rather shoot you than look at you.  You have to have some sort of backwater relationship with a landowner to access that landowner’s land, and I have no such relationships.  Hunting here sucks.”

“Well,” says Nebraska-lover, a hint of doubt becoming evident in her eyes, “there’s always… uh… what about a trek in the Wildcat Hills?”

“Oh yeah, a hike through sage brush and cactus,” someone may say, “with the seasonal threat of rattlesnakes and the ever-present threat of mountain lions.  Doesn’t sound like my cup of tea.  Besides, you keep mentioning all of these outdoor activities, and Scotts Bluff County is notoriously bad for allergens.  Spending time outside in the wind with snot running down my face and claw marks on my eyeballs from all of the scratching doesn’t sound very fun.”

“We have… uh… we have a mall,” Nebraska-lover says, as if she just remembered.

“Yeah, the mall,” someone may say.  ”The mall here is about, what, 1/4 empty?  And it’s a small mall in the first place.  Walking around the mall is good for about 15 minutes of wasting time.”

“Our downtown business areas in Scottsbluff and Gering…” Nebraska-lover tries to say.

“… suck,” someone may finish.  ”Parking downtown is horrible, there are very few shops that interest me or are within my price range, and very few of the downtown businesses have public restrooms, so you end up peeing in the freaking alley if you gotta go.  I have an 8-year-old boy.  My son now believes that it is acceptable to pee in an alley… which I’m sure is going to benefit him in his adulthood.  Thanks, downtown businesses!”

“Well… uh… we have… uh…” Nebraska-lover stammers, “we have a lot of bars and liquor stores.”

“Yes,” someone may say.  ”Yes we do.”

“I could sure use a drink,” Nebraska-lover says.

“I’m buying,” someone may say.

There really isn’t much to do around here.  You have to keep your kids uber-involved in sports and other activities to keep them away from the drugs, alcohol and sex.  The teen-pregnancy rate in the area is high, as are the teen alcohol and drug usage rates.  Why?  Because there isn’t anything to do here.  Adult alcoholism and drug use also run rampant in Scotts Bluff County.  Why?  Because there isn’t anything to do here… and there are many adults who are trying to numb the pain of watching their hopes, dreams, and aspirations float down the North Platte River.

I know that in the past, the county’s tourism department has stressed how important it is for “front-line” employees (employees in low-paying jobs who actually deal with potential tourists) to present a positive, excited portrayal of the community to aid tourism.  This may be hard for a hung-over, pregnant teen to do while she is trying to figure out where she is going to score her next hit of meth.  The only positive thing many front-line employees can think about is how in the hell they are going to get out of here, so it may be hard to convince them to speak positively about their communities.  Front-line employees can’t figure out what to do with their free time, so how can they be expected to help tourists find something to do around here?

Congratulations once again to Brenda Leisy!  She has the hardest job in the world, and I wish her all of the luck I can muster.  She’s going to need it…

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Mar 11

Here they are again!  You know what I’m writing about, those pictures that float around Facebook and the Internet in general… pictures that point out how women of all shapes and sizes need to be loved for who they are and not necessarily how skinny they are.

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Come on, the bottom row in the above picture is just as hot (if not hotter) than the top row.  Very few men would argue against that.  However, every person has his or her own personal preferences as far as what he or she considers attractive.

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I know that a lot of this “message” is geared towards women.

“Be happy with who you are.”

“Your uniqueness is your most beautiful asset!”

“Never let a man’s opinion shape your feelings of self-worth!”

I am not going to argue any of those points because, to a vast extent, they are all true.

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Okay, okay… we are supposed to “deal with it!”  Alrighty, I get it.  Men need to reconsider what they view as attractive.  Women are going to tell us what should be attractive to us.  Fine.

I don’t disagree with any of this argument that, you know, a person’s real worth shouldn’t be based on physical appearance.  Hell, as a fat, short, ugly guy, I’d preach that little tidbit from the highest mountain.  However, I do have a couple of issues with being told how I’m supposed to judge physical attractiveness.

First, the preachers of the whole “when did ‘this’ become sexier than ‘that’” deal need to come to a realization.  That realization is…

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There is a significant difference between bootiliciously curvaceous and may have a heart attack just from sitting up. There are going to be a lot of guys who have an issue with a potential mate who could theoretically kill him in his sleep just by accidentally rolling on top of him in bed.
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Sorry, I know that may seem shallow, but it is the truth.  But keep preaching… you may change our minds.

The second issue I have with the argument that all women are equally physically beautiful (just in different ways) is the hypocrisy displayed by those who argue it.  Let’s take, for example, my randomly-taken-from-the-Internet picture of my not-so-real-friend George.

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George

GEORGE

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George is the sweetest guy on the planet.  He helps orphans and stray kitty cats find homes and he comforts little old people on their death beds.  George makes a decent living and he is one of the most caring guys on the planet.  George is very attracted to Britney.

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Britney

BRITNEY

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Britney likes George as a “friend,” and that is breaking George’s heart.  George knows that Britney is secretly in love with Brandon.
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Brandon

BRANDON

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Now Brandon works with Myrtle.  Myrtle has a major case of the hots for Brandon, but Brandon just likes Myrtle as a friend.
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MYRTLE

MYRTLE

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Myrtle is also a sweetheart.  She is a loyal friend, has a great sense of humor, and her career as a rocket scientist at NASA (where Brandon is a janitor) pays her quite well.  Brandon, although tempted by Myrtle’s income (because all pretty boys are shallow), likes Myrtle only as a friend and is in love with Britney.

Britney and  Brandon finally hook up.  As a act of courtesy, Brandon and Britney introduce Myrtle to George.  Myrtle is not attracted to George, and George is not attracted to Myrtle.  However, given the other choices that both of them have (… zero), Myrtle and George go out, fall in love, and get married.  They are happily married until they both have massive heart attacks a few years later.

Britney and Brandon date for awhile.  They then have a horrible break-up after each of them find out that the other was having an affair with someone even better looking.  This happens time and time again in each of their relationships for the next few years.

Finally, Brandon gets hooks up with a 16-year-old girl (because all of the women his age appear to “old” for him), and the girl’s father finds out and shoots Brandon dead.

Britney goes through pretty boys like they are going out of style.  Finally, she decides she wants to settle down.  She finds a nice, ugly, rich guy who has never in the past had a chance at with a hot chick.  They get married.  The rich guy is totally in love with Britney for the rest of their days together.  Britney has various affairs with various, hot household employees (pool boys and gardeners and window washers and whatnot) until the day where she decides that she doesn’t need to take care of herself anymore and she gains 100 pounds.  Throughout her life, Britney posts silly “When did this become sexier than that” pictures on Facebook.  She posts these pictures not because she wants all chubby chicks to have an equal shot at the pool boy that Britney used to have.  Britney posts these pictures because she is afraid that with her new weight she will not have equal access to the male hotties that someone skinnier than her has.  Her picture posts are clearly self-serving for the whale that she always knew she would become.  But, of course, Britney has no interest in the fat guy who works on her husbands cars.  Fat guys are gross.

Okay, so maybe my Britney-Brandon-Myrtle-George example isn’t overly realistic, but it’s not as far from the truth as many hypocritical women would have us believe.   Men who objectify women are dogs.  Women who objectify men are just “cougars”, or liberated, or something else stupid like that.

Objectification is based on physical appearance and women are just as guilty of it as men.  The only difference is that men don’t feel the need to post picture on Facebook like this:

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... it didn't. We're all equally beautiful and demand the full respect that we deserve as human males... or something...

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Men realize that the question is stupid.  We know we’re fat and/or ugly and we deal with it.  We don’t preach that women should be expected to find our fat, ugly asses beautiful…

Mar 09

There is an organization here in the wonderful panhandle of Nebraska called NEXT.  NEXT is a group of “young professionals” who have taken it upon themselves to be leaders in the community.  They have made it their job to promote the panhandle as a great place to live.  Good for them.

On their website, the folks at NEXT make some very clear statements as to what they are… and what they are not.  For example, NEXT is: “A group of the Panhandle’s future elite leaders, not the social elite.”  What a great statement… too bad it’s not true.  If you visit NEXT’s website and click on the “board” tab, you will see the leaders of this “leaders’ group”.  Judging from the last names of these leaders, the names of the businesses they work for, and the dates those businesses were established, I’m assuming three of the five board members have parents or grandparents who started successful businesses… and these kids are able to ride on those coattails.  Can you say “trust fund”?  The other two board members are pretty faces, and we all know that the pretty people have a higher likelihood of success than us normal (or, in my case, morbidly disgusting) people.

I am not saying that these people didn’t work hard to reach their current levels of success.  I don’t personally know any of them (we don’t hang in the same social circles — oh wait, I don’t have a social circle…)  All I’m saying is that, in my opinion, being a pretty person or having rich parents gives you quite an advantage over the rest of the population when it comes to future success.

So, the rich and the pretty… how in the hell is that not the social elite?  This is life in the panhandle: have parents or grandparents who were successful — or be pretty — and you have a shot at true success.  It takes money and/or looks to make it here…  which is why there are so many of us who can’t really make it.  The rest of us work to serve the social elite.  Maybe this isn’t a panhandle problem.  Maybe this is an American problem…

The rich and pretty of NEXT have made one of their goals to retain and encourage potential leaders (i.e. other rich and pretty people who either leave after 2-3 years because they think it sucks here… or don’t become involved in community leadership roles because they are too busy pushing their slaves to make them more money) to become active in the community by stressing “the great life that the Panhandle offers”.  Are they referring to the same panhandle that I live in?  Maybe there is another panhandle (one that deserves to be capitalized) that I’m not familiar with.  Or maybe if you are part of the social elite and have the rest of the community bowing down to serve you, life can be pretty good here.  Who knows?

Another of the statements made by NEXT is that they are “A group using a social platform to accomplish objectives, not a Saturday night social club.”  Really?  Again, looking at their website, the last few events listed were a “Mardi Gras” event in February of 2009, a “Peacocks and Potluck” event (at the zoo, I’m assuming) in May of 2009, and a “Comedy on the Rocks” event in June of 2010.  Those all sound an awful lot like “Saturday night social club” events to me… but what do I know; I’m not part of the social elite.

I think I need to start my own leadership group.  You know, a group for guys and gals who once thought they could find some measure of financial success but have come to realize that just ain’t going to happen.  We could get together on Saturday nights once every couple of months and sit around a keg of Old Milwaukee eating chicken wings and talking about how we can’t understand why we are all still living here.  We won’t be able to stay up late, however, because many of us will probably have to get up the next morning to go to work (because we will all be working at serving the social elite until the day we die).  We could charge all members a cover charge to cover the cheap beer and hot wings, and whatever is left over could be donated to a local charity… I’m thinking Habitat-for-the-Non-Social-Elite may be a good choice…

*****INTERESTING TIDBIT ALERT*****

You know the saying “piss poor”?  Do you know where this comes from?  In the olden days, apparently tanners used urine to tan hides.  If your family was poor, often the family would all pee in a collective pot to be taken and sold to the tanner.  Your family was “piss poor”.  Of course, if your family was super duper poor, you “wouldn’t have a pot to piss in”.

How do I know this is true?  I found it on the Internet.  Everything on the Internet is true, right?

I kind of wish tanners still used urine to tan hides.  Not that I would want to be “piss poor”, it would just be an easy way to make a little extra cash…

*****INTERESTING TIDBIT COMPLETE****

So, until I get my own leadership group together, I guess I’ll have to make do with making fun of the existing organizations.  You know what, though?  NEXT is at least doing something to try to make the panhandle a better place.  They even recently participated in an event that benefited Special Olympics, and I can’t dog on that.  I am, however,  skeptical of their motives because I believe they are mostly looking out for themselves.  They could give a crap-less how the ordinary citizens of the panhandle are doing (as long as they keep flipping burgers and mowing lawns and painting houses and controlling pests and collecting garbage or any job where some peon is available to be yelled at when the elite feel like yelling).  They want more rich, pretty people in the area to hang out with so they can defend themselves when the unruly, unclean masses finally rise up!  But still, they are doing something.  I have to give them credit for that.  People who sit around and bitch like me probably drive the elite absolutely insane… hahaha… and that’s why I do what I do :)

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Mar 03

A few weeks ago, I found myself working at a farm and ranch expo for my employer.  Selling Internet to rural folks is what our business is all about, and there are plenty of rural folks at a farm and ranch expo.

One thing about a farm and ranch expo out in the middle of nowhere is there aren’t a lot of places to get some grub for lunch.  At the expo, however, there was a little lunch counter.  The neat thing is that lunch counter was hosted by the church I attend.  The not so neat thing about that lunch counter is who was working it: the piano lady and her daughter.

I have had my share of run-ins with the piano lady and her daughter, but I have managed to remain unscathed.  The piano lady plays piano at my church.  Her daughter… well, is her daughter.  These diabolical women tend to be… uh… kind of mean.  I have long suspected that there may be some sort of evil workings constantly formulating in their methodical minds, but other than the occasional mean-spirited comments spouted in my general direction, I have little direct dealings with these dark ladies.  And, I have never found myself face-to-face with either of them in the direct sunlight.  They tend to stick to the shadows.

On this particular day at the farm and ranch expo, I found myself considering spending some of my hard-earned money on a little lunch.

Sitting at our booth, my coworker asked, “What are you doing for lunch?”

“Well, I thought I’d give the lunch counter a try,” I said.  “And you?”

“Oh, I brought some organic lettuce to munch on,” said my coworker.  He’s vegan… which means he eats crappy food.

I glanced at the lunch counter and saw both the piano lady and her daughter staring directly at me.  Their cold, hard eyes locked on me and I momentarily lost all sensation in all parts of my body.  I felt cold and everything around me began to spin.  I don’t know how, and I don’t remember getting up and walking there, but the next thing I knew I was standing right in front of that lunch counter.

“Whaddaya want, ” said the piano lady, her beady little eyes darting all over my face but refusing to make contact with my eyes; it wasn’t so much a question as it was almost an accusation.

“Burger and fries, I guess,” I replied.

Suddenly, from out of the shadows in the back of the kitchen, the piano lady’s daughter appeared.  Now, I can honestly not say that I saw her move to the location right behind the counter.  She was just there, all at once.  From the shadows at the back of the kitchen is the only place I can imagine she came from.

“We don’t have burgers and fries,” hissed the daughter, and I could swear I noticed a flash of fangs in her mouth as she spoke.  “Can’t you read?”

“I don’t think he can read,” said the piano lady.  “I don’t think he can read at all.  Maybe he’s one of them dunces.”  They both thought this was hilarious and their cackling laughter drove shivers up my spine.

“Well, what do you have?” I asked.  I was not at all comfortable.  I thought of returning to the booth where I was working, but I wanted to support my church’s efforts… and I was hungry.

“Read the menu,” said the daughter, motioning with her abnormally large head toward a small menu to the right of the counter.  Her eyes, which I had previously thought to be brown, glared a yellowish orange similar to the picture I have in my head of what molten forces of a volcano look like right before they unleash their fury.  I blinked in disbelief, and her eyes were brown once again.

“I guess… I guess I will take a chili… chili cheese dog,” I stammered.

“Learn how to talk in public, boy,” the piano lady said while leaning her face close to mine.  Her warm breath held a hint of peppermint and rotting flesh.

“That it?” hissed the daughter.

“I’ll take a pop, I guess,” I said.

“What kinda pop you want?” hissed the daughter, her red gums framing the sharp teeth in her grimace.

“I guess I’ll take a Dr, Pepper,” I said.

“Why don’t you quit ‘guessing’ and grow a pair,” screamed the piano lady.  “Show some spine!”

“A Dr. Pepper, please,” I whispered.

“We don’t have no Dr. Pepper,” hissed the daughter.  “You’ll take a Pepsi.”

“Fine… yes… I like Pepsi,” I said.  “Pepsi will… uh, yeah… be fine.”

Then, they both disappeared to the shadows at the back of the kitchen.  I could neither hear nor see any trace of them.  Behind me, I sensed a growing silence.  The exhibit hall was full of vendors and visitors, but all of their falling footsteps and sales pitches and small talk grew quickly silent.  I turned to find the exhibit hall dark…

A few feet ahead of me, the floor dissolved into nothingness.  Nothing more than black silence stretched in all directions.  Turning quickly around, I found the lunch counter swallowed by darkness as well.  Fearing that I may have gone blind, I reached for where the counter should have been.

Nothing…

Panic spread quickly, and I began to call out.

“Hello!  Is anybody there?”

Nothing.

I was terrified to walk. I couldn’t escape thoughts of falling into a bottomless chasm.

“Got your pop, boy.”  The voice came from directly overhead.  I couldn’t tell if it was the piano player or her daughter.

“And your chili dog.”  This voice was different — younger.  I suspected it was the daughter that spoke of the chili dog, and she seemed to be somewhere beneath me.

“What’s going on?” I said, the words almost catching in my throat.  “Why is everything dark?  Where is everybody?”

“Everything is as it should be,” said the older voice off to my left.

“Yes,” said the younger voice from somewhere behind me, “as it should be.”

I whirled around in hopes of catching sight of something… anything.

Nothing.

“I can’t see,” I whispered.

“We know,” said the younger voice from somewhere close.

“You won’t want to see what we’re gonna to do to you,” said the older voice right in front of me, filling my face with the scent of peppermint and rotting flesh.

I tried to run.  My legs, like in a dream, refused to cooperate.  I stood frozen as the voices  danced  around me.

“Got your Pepsi…”

“Got your chili cheese dog…”

“You one of them dunces…”

“Why don’t you grow a pair…”

I felt something cold brush against my arm and I jerked away.  Putrid breath warmed the back of my neck as I heard, “You’re won’t want to see what we’re gonna do to you.”

Bright light exploded around me, so bright it was as blinding as the darkness that preceded it.  I winced at the light as I felt strong, cold hands grasp me by the shoulders.  I could barely make out the piano lady’s distorted face in front of me as her hands shoved me back.  My legs continued in their resistance and stayed firmly attached to whatever they were standing on.  I bent backwards, legs straight, as my back became parallel to where the floor should have been.  I couldn’t understand how my spine was not snapping as the daughter sunk her claw-like fingers into my hair.  She drew my face up to hers and smiled.

You won’t want to see what we’re gonna do to you… but we want you to see,” the daughter laughed, then she opened her mouth.  Her teeth like broken shards of stained porcelain: long, jagged, sharp.  The black hole of her mouth grew larger and larger, surrounded by those shards, until she could have put my entire face in her mouth.  Her yellow eyes looked directly into mine, then she bit.  I could feel the shards piercing my cheeks and then penetrating the bone beneath, bone cracking in my ears, but my site was consumed in the blackness of her mouth. Her moist, dank breath filled my lungs as I tried to scream.  My own blood gushed into my mouth through the wounds in my face.  Vertigo set in and, as conscientiousness began to drift away, I could here my name called in the distance.

rich…

rich…

Rich…

Rich!”

My coworker was shaking my shoulder.

“Rich, dude, what in the hell is wrong with you?”

I was sitting at our booth at the farm and ranch expo, staring at the lunch counter.  Neither the piano lady nor her daughter were anywhere in sight.

“What…” I whispered, “… what happened?”  I felt my face expecting my fingers to disappear into gaping wounds, the fresh coppery taste of my blood still on my tongue.  My trembling fingers found no holes.

“You said you were going to go grab some grub at the lunch counter, and then you just zoned,” my coworker laughed.  “You went deaf, dumb and blind for like twenty seconds!”

“Twenty seconds…” I couldn’t wrap my mind around whatever had just transpired.  Apparently it wasn’t real?  Only twenty seconds?  Apparently I passed out… sitting up… or something… and had a dream?

“I’m going to go grab my organic lettuce and eat in the parking lot,” said my coworker as he stood and began putting on his coat.  “Did you want to grab something at the lunch counter before I go?”

“Yeah,” I said, “I guess.”

I stood on legs that, although slightly shaking, were fully compliant and walked to the lunch counter.  A fellow parishioner, a fellow by the name of Chris, was standing at the counter smiling.

“Hey, Rich,” said Chris.

“Hey,” I replied.

“Want some lunch?” Chris asked.

“Yeah, I think I do.”  I didn’t want lunch.  I wasn’t the least bit hungry.  Why I even went to the lunch counter, I can’t say.

“What can I get you,” Chris asked.

Suddenly, from out of the shadows in the back of the kitchen, the piano lady’s daughter appeared.  Now, I can honestly not say that I saw her move to the location right behind the counter.  She was just there, all at once.  From the shadows at the back of the kitchen is the only place I can imagine she came from.

“Uh… I’m… uh… I’ll,” I stammered.  I couldn’t make my tongue work.

“Well?” asked the daughter.  “We don’t have all day.”  She was smiling, and I couldn’t detect any hint of fangs in that smile.

“I’ll take a chili cheese dog and a Pepsi,” I said.

“Coming right up,” Chris said, slapping the counter as if that somehow finalized the transaction.

Chris disappeared to the shadows at the back of the kitchen, and I dared a glance at the daughter who was wiping down the counter with a damp towel.

“It’s always nice to see someone who knows exactly what they want,” the daughter said, her eyes locked on her cleaning.

“Mmmhmm,” I agreed.

“Some people just don’t know what they want,” she said, raising her eyes to mine.  They were brown.  “And that can be kind of frustrating for us volunteers.”

“Mmmhmm,” I agreed.

Chris appeared again with my order, took my money, and gave me my change.

I returned to my booth thinking I must have lost my mind.   Maybe I’d had a stroke?  Maybe I should go to the hospital?  Whatever it was, it had freaked me out and I didn’t want it happening again.

By the time I got home after the farm and ranch expo, the memory of my daymare was fading fast.  The memory would have probably faded to the furthest recesses of my apparently failing mind for the rest of my eternity… if not for the local newspaper.  Apparently, a reporter from the local rag had been at the expo taking random pictures for an article she was writing.  Apparently, one of those pictures was of me ordering my lunch.

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Not much strange about this picture, right?  Me looking confused.  Chris slapping the counter, wrapping up the deal.  The daughter… smiling.  Well, I saw this picture in our copy of the newspaper at work. Later that night, as I was crawling into bed, my hand nudged some paper under my pillow. From beneath my pillow, I retrieved another copy of that days newspaper. I don’t know how it got there, although I have my suspicions. The copy from beneath my pillow reeked… of peppermint and rotting flesh… and the picture in this copy was a little different from the picture I had seen earlier that day.  Although I still don’t know what exactly happened to me at the farm and ranch expo, I am afraid… very afraid… and maybe you should be afraid too…
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ChurchVamp

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