Not Your Average Plane Ride

The world looks peaceful from up here, the irregular polygons of the old fields and forest divisions looking like they’ve been cut by a toddler with a pair of stolen scissors: straight lines, weird angles. But this is the exclusion zone and the people have gone and left their straight lines behind them. And if I fail in my mission, all of them, every road and boundary line, are doomed to be a circle in the end.

“How far out are we?” I ask the pilot through the headset.

“We’ll have visual contact any moment now,” she says. The plane shakes and I look at her questioningly.

She sees the anxiety on my face, shakes her head, smiles. “Just normal turbulence. We wouldn’t feel anything this far out.”

Of course. I know that, but I’ve spooked myself. I look out and there it is like a brown smear on the horizon, the outer edge of the accretion disk.

Over the next few minutes, the edge of the circle gets larger until I can see individual objects in the whirling maelstrom. They look like grains of sand from here but I know they’re probably rocks the size of cars, houses, maybe even the size of battleships.

“My grandparents had a record player,” the pilot says. “We used to put gummy bears on the records and bet how long they’d stay on. Every time I fly out here, that’s what it reminds me of.”

“Yeah, except when you were done, the record player didn’t eat the gummy bears,” I say. She smiles.

“You don’t seem scared.”

She shrugs. “I was in the Marines.”

“Yeah, but this is a black hole we’re talking about. It seems a bit more, I don’t know, existential.”

“Slipping in the bathtub can be pretty existential for the individual.” She brings the plane up higher and the black eye of the accretion disk comes into view: the event horizon.

“They say it’s slowed its expansion,” the pilot says conversationally, as if talking about the economy. “Down to a few feet a day.”

I think of the single missile we carry in a special mounting under the right wing, wonder if this one—this particular hair-brained idea of some engineer in some windowless lab will finally save the world.

“You said you’d been out here before,” I say.

She nods. “Ten times.”

“I heard, you know, that some planes got trapped by it.”

“That’s classified.” Then, “four of them. I knew the pilots.”



“Do you have any hope that any of these will work? To stop it, I mean?”

“I have to,” she says. “We all do. I feel like we’re those gummy bears. We just have to hang on, hang on to the spinning record with all our might until somebody stops it.”

“What if no one can?” I ask. She doesn’t reply.

We are approaching the edge of the accretion disk and I ready the missile that will take this latest Hail Mary gadget into the heart of the black hole: science desperately trying to fix what science has wrought. I have no idea what the device does, just how to deploy it.

I glance over at the pilot. I wish I knew her name. It seems like if you might die with someone, you should at least know their name, but it seems awkward to ask now.

The screen in front of me starts to blink with a digital countdown. Ten seconds to go. I ready my hand, praying an indistinct prayer for success. The computer buzzes and I press the button. The missile streaks away, a fiery arrow headed towards that terrible bullseye.

The pilot banks and we’re away, speeding back towards civilization.

“Aren’t you going to wait and see if it works?” I ask.

“What’s the point? If it does, we’ll know soon enough and if not, it’s a waste of fuel.”

I strain my neck to look back. “Wait! Something’s happening.”

She banks hard and the black hole comes back into view. It is shrinking now, the accretion disk flailing and collapsing back to earth. Dust rises like burnt offering prayers.

The black hole evaporates. The pilot flies us over what is now a massive crater. At the bottom, a mega-volcanic column of ash is rising as magma touches air for the first time.

“Go ahead,” she says. “Do the honors. Radio back that you saved the world.”

“We all did.” I pick up the radio, then hesitate. “My name’s Tod.”


We shake hands, grinning, then Emmy turns the plane and we head back to hope.

He’d Make a Brilliant Lawyer

FF174 J Hardy Carroll

copyright J Hardy Carroll

My brother Terrance would make a brilliant lawyer. For him, any agreement was a Swiss cheese of loopholes.

He once bet me $1,000 I couldn’t live in an abandoned house for a month. I’d seen Fight Club, seemed okay.

I moved into one on the outskirts of town. I had a part-time job so I made the house my project. Once I could keep out the raccoons and the rain, it was pretty nice.

Terrance refused to pay. He argued that as soon as I’d moved in, it wasn’t abandoned any longer. Like I said, a brilliant lawyer.

The jerk.

Fenghuang – the chinese town that time forgot

I would love to visit this city, or at the very least, build it in Minecraft.


fenghuang-china-1Photo credit

Fenhuangis an old town in Hunan province, China, with a history spanning 1,300 years, and architecture dating back to the Ming and Qing dynasties. It is  well-known for its stilt houses, folk culture, ethnic groups and fantastic landscape. The town is placed in a mountain setting, incorporating the natural flow of water into city layout. Fenghuang means Phoenix in Chinese language and it represents good omen and longevity in Chinese mythology.

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Saved by the Date

FF173 Marie Gail Stratford

copyright Marie Gail Stratford

New marketing director Kyle Ramsey stood up in the conference room. “I have a brilliant new marketing campaign. Considering 90% of our product is purchased by white people, from now on, we will market exclusively to white people. We’ll save millions!”


His colleagues stared at him, aghast.

Kyle started to sweat.

Then one woman smiled. “Ah, I see. This is an April Fool’s joke.”

Kyle looked at the date. Oh, thank God. “You got me! Haha, April Fools! Meeting over!” The others laughed dutifully. Kyle quickly closed the PowerPoint detailing his manically ill-conceived marketing campaign and fled the room.

5 Things I Learned at the Fayette County Democratic Convention

What do you usually do on Saturday morning? I usually sleep in slightly, then maybe go over to the coffee shop for a cup of coffee and a few hours of writing.

Not a few Saturdays ago though. Instead, I got up early and drove to the county courthouse, where I sat and listened to people talk for five hours. It was an interesting experience, however. It was the Fayette County Democratic Convention. Here are 5 things I learned there.

Fayette county

  1. The caucus system is pretty messy

The caucus system has none of the clean-cut mechanistic feel of a secret ballot, where every vote is (supposedly) methodically counted. In the caucus system, it’s all out in the open, in a way that probably worked better a long time ago when there were less people. At the county convention they did get the Bernie Sanders delegates to sit on one side and the Hillary Clinton ones to sit on the other. However, there were observers mixed in with them, along with alternate delegates and no way to tell them apart unless they volunteered the information. True, all the delegates had hand-written name stickers on, which, to be fair, are pretty hard to fake without a trip to Dollar General.

  1. Picking a presidential nominee is democratic-ish

Another thing that surprised me is that although none of the delegates changed sides, they technically could have. This means that although the results of the caucus were announced on February 1st, at any stage of the process, the delegates could decide to change their vote to anyone.

“Under the Democratic Party’s Rules, pledged delegates are not legally “bound” or required to vote according to their presidential preference on the first ballot at the Convention. Rather, these delegates are, pledged “in all good conscience [to] reflect the sentiments of those who elected them.” [Rule 12.J]” (

This means that the higher you get as a delegate, the more power you have, and democracy transforms slowly into an oligarchy.

  1. Some people get addicted to local politics

That kind of power, even at the district or state level, can be quite appealing, and there are people there that have gotten used to having it.

The caucus on February 1st lasted about 2 hours maybe. The county convention was about 5 hours. One woman told us all about how the district one was at least 8 hours and the state convention could be even longer. She went on and on about how tiring it was, but then when it came time to elect the delegates, she was one of the first to volunteer. I’m not saying that what she said was untrue, but I wonder if she was trying to discourage people from volunteering so she could go.

I can understand it. Even at the county convention, there was a special feeling, like you were part of an elite group. That only increases as you go up the scale. It’s like being part of the in-crowd.


Our state senator telling us about troubles in Des Moines

  1. You get to see what your neighbors think

What took the most time, just like at the caucus, was debating the party planks. At the caucus, people suggested things that they thought were important and we debated them and then voted on whether to send them on to the county convention.

At the county convention, we debated on those and decided whether to send them on to the district and state levels, which is why those conventions take so long. Some of the ideas, like increasing funding for mental health treatment and increasing the minimum wage were pretty normal. Then there the ones that clearly were important to a very specific group, like the resolution to get wild parsnip labeled as a noxious plant.

And then there were the other kind of idea…

  1. People really don’t like Washington politicians

One of the first planks that was debated was whether to strip members of Congress of their pensions. One of the main arguments for this was that they’re all corrupt anyway and can engage in legalized insider trading, so they all leave office rich. This seemed cynical to me, and I voted against this idea, but in the end it passed overwhelmingly among the group there. Of course, I don’t think Congress will ever vote to take away their own pensions, but it shows the anger and general dissatisfaction people have with federal politicians when they are quite willing to strip high-level public servants of their pensions.

Another more radical idea that got floated was to make members of Congress work for minimum wage. I’m not sure how it got to the county level and it was voted down easily but it still shows how much people want to stick it the politicians. It is easy to see that sort of thing on the news, but it’s another thing to see it in person.

Black Market Bacchanalia

FF172 Ted Strutz

copyright Ted Strutz

Down among the subway tunnels, past the sign of the pansy crapper is the lair where the Donkey-boys rave. Anyone’s welcome, but they have a trial—test magic, they say—a special stone passed across your forehead. If it turns blue, you’re free to party but if it’s red, you have to leave something behind.

I’ve gone twice: two reds and two terrible losses. The first time I hopped out; the second time hobos carried my legless body out.

Come back anytime, they said. If it’s blue, all is forgiven and all is returned. I just need a way back.

Dear Aunt Hattie…

Dear Aunt Hattie Letter

I refolded the yellowed paper and after slipping it back into its crinkled envelope, I set it back against the gravestone. As I stood up, I saw a chinchilla staring at me from the top of a gravestone twenty feet away. Its eyes seemed to glow in the dying twilight. I’d never seen one in the wild before.

The sun sunk below the hills and the cemetery was plunged into darkness. I bolted for my car, every second dreading to hear tiny, skittering footsteps on the path behind me.






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