Thursday, May 25, 2017

Story 187: The Game Show No One Can Win

Host: Hi there, folks, and welcome to the show!  I’m your host… Now, here are our contestants…. OK!  Let’s start with you.
Contestant 1: Hi.
Host: Your question is: what is the first thing that Contestant 2 will say?
Contestant 1: Um… “Hi”?
Host: [Buzzer sound] Nope!  The answer is “What?”  You lose all the points.
Contestant 1: But I haven’t gotten any –
Host: Contestant 2!
Contestant 2: What?
Host: (To Contestant 1) See.  (Back to Contestant 2) Your question is: what is your favorite time of the day?
Contestant 2: What?
Host: No-no, we already did that one.
Contestant 2: Oh, I don’t know then, noon?
Host: [Buzzer sound] Wrong, your favorite time of the day is afternoon, so you only get half credit.
Contestant 2: OK….
Host: Contestant 3!
Contestant 4: She’ll be right back.
Host: Oh.  Contestant 4!
Contestant 4: Yes?
Host: Your question is: what number am I thinking of right now?
Contestant 4: But – that’s imposs – how can – there’s no way to – you have to write it down so we know it’s the same!
Host: Hm, all right, I’ll whisper it in Contestant 1’s ear.  (Whispers, then says out loud) You can go now.
Contestant 4: Can I at least have a range?
Host: Between 1 and 1,000,000.
Contestant 4: But that’s – there’s no –
Host: Clock’s ticking, Contestant 4.
Contestant 4: Oooh, 5,237!
Host: (Blinks, then turns to Contestant 1) Was that it?
Contestant 1: No, you picked zero.
Contestant 4: That’s not in the range!
Host: Still, you didn’t guess it, so you lose all the points.  Let’s see, right now the Contestants have nothing, and I have a high score of 3,000 –
Contestant 4: You’re the Host – you don’t get points, you’re not even playing!
Host: Then how come I’m winning?  Ah, Contestant 3, you’re back: it’s your turn.
Contestant 3: It is?  Do I have to?
Host: You must.  Your question is: what do I think is Contestant 4’s deepest darkest secret?
Contestant 3: What kind of question is that?  I’d say I’d have to be a double mind reader if it wasn’t really just guessing your opinion.
Host: You have to answer or else!
Contestant 3: I don’t know… perjury?
Contestant 4: How did you know?!?!
Contestant 3: Cool.
Host: [Buzzer sound] Incorrect!  I was thinking the secret was not telling the truth after saying you would.
Contestant 3: That’s the same thing!
Host: Oh.  Then you get half credit.  OK, game’s over, final score is: I win, Yay!  (Confetti is thrown everywhere)
Contestant 1: What just happened?
Contestant 2: I think we all lost.
Contestant 3: Finally – can I go now?
Contestant 4: After you help our Host clean up this mess in the living room.
Contestant 3: Ugh, that’s it, I’m never playing with a 6 year old again.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Story 186: Interrogation by Massage

The Prisoner was brought by two guards, each holding one of his arms, before the Interrogator in a subterranean, dank, hewn-out-of-rock cell.
“So,” the Interrogator opened with, artfully dropping a quill onto his desk and leaning back in his chair for utmost effect, “you still refuse to speak, eh?”
The Prisoner clamped his mouth shut.
“You can answer that one without losing face,” the Interrogator said.
“Yes, I refuse!” the Prisoner burst out; the Interrogator rocked back in his seat a bit.  “You’ll never get anything out of me, never!  The rack, the thumbscrew, the garrote – I laugh at their pitiful attempts!”
“Well, the garrote would pretty much prevent you from speaking, so that’s a poor example.”  The Interrogator stood and gestured the guards to follow him with the Prisoner to another room.
“All right, then I will not be swayed by the breaking wheel, the iron chair, the iron maiden, the – ”
“Good gracious, man, what kind of sick mind do you have?!”  The Interrogator paused before opening the door.  “Ripping apart the human body has got to be the most disgusting thing imaginable; how could you even think that’s the kind of operation we run here?”  The Prisoner stuttered as the Interrogator shook his head in disbelief and unlocked the door to The Torture Chamber (as the sign above the molding read).
The Prisoner braced himself as the guards dragged him into the room.  He stared at what awaited him: a comfy bed with fluffy blankets and a cushioned face cradle; candles artfully arranged to provide minimal yet adequate lighting; and a harpist seated in a corner, gently plucking a soothing tune.
“I… don’t understand….” the Prisoner said.
“Perfect,” the Interrogator replied, checking off “Step 1: Create Confusion” on his list.  “You may disrobe now.”
“Oh right – everyone out!” the Interrogator yelled, taking the guards and harpist with him back to the other room.  He added as he closed the door: “Lie on your back under the blankets with your head towards the cradle, and just give a shout when you’re all ready!”
The Prisoner experienced a few moments of crisis, prayed for strength and understanding of what exactly was going on, then did as instructed.  Clad in only his underwear, he had never felt so vulnerable in his life.  “Um, I-I’m ready?”
“Good!”  The group re-entered, this time accompanied by an extremely short woman.  “This is Lenore – she will be assisting me today.”
“He-hello,” the Prisoner said as the harpist resumed.
Lenore nodded and began rubbing oil onto her hands.  “Is the bed nice and warm?
            The Prisoner, alternating between the sweats and the chills, only just then realized the pleasant warmth that radiated through his back.  “Why, yes it is, thank you.”
“That’s great,” the Interrogator said, checking off “Step 2: Make Uncomfortable.”  “Turn it up, Lenore!”
Lenore added another stick of firewood to the controlled blaze under the bed; the Prisoner now had only the sweats.  “Now,” she said as she stood behind his head with her hands raised, “speak up when the pressure gets to be too much.”  She began working on his face.
The Prisoner braced himself, refusing to make a sound as Lenore knuckled his scalp, crushed his temples, pulled his hair, and smushed his cheeks.  Surprisingly, he felt a great opening inside of him: a deep insight into the mysteries of the universe that he had never before experienced or even considered.
“You have a lot of knots in your muscles,” Lenore observed as she drilled her piston-like fingers into his shoulders and upper back.
“Hmmmm…” the Prisoner replied.  “Yes, well, as you can guess, I’ve been under quite a bit of stress lately.”
“Uh-huh.  Judging by your lopsided arms and body ridden with scars, I assume you’re a soldier – do you warm up before battle?”
“Well, they do come on rather suddenly – ”
“Lenore,” the Interrogator drawled, “could you step this up a bit?”  His checklist was starting to fall behind.
“All in good time,” she said moving to wash off the Prisoner’s nasty feet before she began assaulting them.
“Yes, but this doesn’t seem to be – wait a minute, are you doing the Regular?”
“Of course.”  The Prisoner giggled as she worked on his soles.
“I’d said ‘Deep Tissue,’ Lenore!”
“That’s not recommended if he hasn’t had one before – ”  The Interrogator bugged his eyes and pursed his lips at her.  “As you wish.”
The fleeting flashes of pain transitioned to unceasing stabs of torment: it took all the Prisoner’s willpower not to cry out in agony and reveal everything, especially since he had been feeling so good not a minute earlier.
“Now,” the Interrogator leaned towards the Prisoner’s face as Lenore pulled one of his arms almost out of its socket.  “Tell me where your king is hiding his cowardly self.”
The Prisoner found it hard to speak, since Lenore had pushed his head to the side and into the bed while unravelling his biceps.  “The only word – I can say – is ‘Nev – er!’”
Right on schedule: the Interrogator unobtrusively checked off “Step 3: Lead With the Inflammatory Question.”  “Very well, then: YOU LEAVE ME WITH NO CHOICE.  Lenore!”  She froze in mid-gouge.  “Proceed to the back.”
She resumed her activity: “He’s not ready yet; I haven’t even finished this arm.”
“The back, I say!”  Enough of this fooling around, he thought.
Lenore shrugged, then flipped the Prisoner onto his stomach in one move.  “Put your face in the cradle, please,” she said; he unthinkingly did so.  “Need me to adjust it?”
“Actually, can you make the opening wider?”
“No, sorry; it can only go up or down.”
“All right, never mind, then.”
The Interrogator smiled.  “Lenore: attack!”
The Prisoner braced himself but almost lost it as fingers, wrists, and elbows turned in varying-sized knives that destroyed his back.  He was ready to reveal not only the king’s whereabouts but those of his childhood imaginary friends if that would have made the petite demon stop, once and for all.  A small whimper escaped, upon which the Interrogator pounced.
“Aha!”  He placed himself under the face cradle so he could stare into the Prisoner’s eyes at an awkward angle.  “You can end this all now with just a few words!”
“But you paid for an hour.”
“Silence, Lenore!”
The Prisoner growled against the pain, then defiantly proclaimed: “I – will – never – betray – my – oooh….”  His eyes suddenly glazed over.
The Interrogator shot up from the floor to see Lenore digging her elbow into the Prisoner’s lower back.  “What did you do?!”
“I think I relieved his sciatica,” she said.
“That’s it!”  The Interrogator slammed his now-useless checklist onto the ground; the harp music twanged to a stop.  “This torture session is over!  Take him to his cell to change, then throw him back to his army, he’s absolutely useless!”
The guards lifted the Prisoner off the bed and each held an arm and a leg as they carried him, with a dreamy look on his face, out the door.
Lenore stared at the Interrogator.  “Ahem.”
“What?!  Oh yes, here you go.”  He handed her a bag of coins; she took it and gave him a card.
“There’s a discount for referrals, and four sessions get you one free.”
The Interrogator glared at her, then said, “Book me for tomorrow.”

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Story 185: Gut in Need

(Inside a human digestive tract, several scattered bacteria wearing hard hats go gloomily about their work.  One approaches Lead Bacterium)
Worker Bacterium 1: Captain Bacteroides?
Lead Bacterium: Yes, Lieutenant Escherichia, what’s your status?
Worker Bacterium 1: Same as the past 15 years, sir: working beyond capacity in trying to digest the majority of what passes through.  The crew can never keep up, sir.
Lead Bacterium: This isn’t news, Lieutenant.
Worker Bacterium 1: Well sir, with all due respect, none of us are getting any younger.
Lead Bacterium: I refer you to my previous statement.
Worker Bacterium 1: To be perfectly frank, sir, the crew and I worry about what will happen to our Host in the long run, sooner rather than later.  There are fewer and fewer of us as the years go on, and, not to be indelicate, just this morning we lost another thousand crew members who will not be replaced, and it seems as if none of us ever will be –
Lead Bacterium: I’m well aware of that, Lieutenant!  (There is an embarrassed pause) Forgive me, Lieutenant, I shouldn’t have spoken so harshly; we’re all under a lot of stress.  You’re right, every loss affects us all and I feel each and every one, just as much as, if not more than, the rest of the crew.
Worker Bacterium 1: Thank you, sir.  If I may be so bold, we were wondering if you possibly had any ideas that could help us help our Host, seeing as we're mutually dependent on each other.
Lead Bacterium: (Leans on the ileum) How I and my predecessors have thought on this day and night – which all looks the same in here – ever since we began losing our compatriots in negative sums.  I keep asking myself: is it something that I’ve done?  Am I somehow keeping new recruits away simply with my mere presence here?
Worker Bacterium 1: Never, sir!
Lead Bacterium:  I appreciate that.  But I fear that we really are in a no-win situation, and our Host will be the one to suffer the most after the rest of us are long gone.
(Another Worker Bacterium approaches)
Worker Bacterium 2: Word from upstairs, Captain.
Lead Bacterium: Report, Ensign.
Worker Bacterium 2: Our Host is meeting a friend today, at that café she went to about six months ago: menu items mainly feature cheesecakes, cupcakes, eclairs, and petit fours.
Lead Bacterium: Son of a –
(On the way to the café, Host holds her rumbling belly)
Host: Quiet, you; I haven’t even eaten anything yet.  (She pops a pill as she embarks)
(Lead Bacterium coordinates the preparation for the next meal’s arrival when Lactase Enzyme Pill arrives)
Lactase Enzyme Pill: (Smiling brightly) Hi!  I’m the temp enzyme, reporting for duty!  I have a life span of one hour and can only break down lactose, but in my limited scope of practice I guarantee that I will give you 100%!
Lead Bacterium: (Stares at Lactase Enzyme Pill, then slumps across it, weeping) I hate how we need you so much!
(Lactase Enzyme Pill, still smiling, pats Lead Bacterium uncertainly)
(Host arrives at the café and sees Friend at a table)
Friend: Hi!  You look great!
Host: (Sits) You, too!  How long’s it been now, five years?
Friend: Actually, almost 12.
Host: Oh.  I think I misplaced a decade somewhere back there.
Friend: So, how are things?
Host: Oh you know, same as everybody else.  What you see online is what you get.
Friend: Yeah, but I’m glad we got to meet up in person for a change – being an electronic pen pal has its drawbacks.  Anyway, I’ve never been here before – what do you recommend?
Host: Oh, anything.  (Stomach rumbles)
Friend: You OK?
Host: Honestly, no.  I can’t eat anything – and I mean anything – without feeling terrible.  It’s been like this for years.
Friend: Seen a doctor?
Host: I refuse to get on that treadmill!  (Picks up a menu) So, I’ve heard the strawberry shortcake cupcake is to die for.
Friend: (Snatches away the menu) Listen, you should get a second opinion on this, but you may want to think about taking probiotics.
Host: That sounds terrible.
Friend: No, they’re the bacteria you need to digest your food.  You have them now, but they may need some back-up.
Host: Wait a minute, wait a minute: I never paid attention in science class, so are you saying that I have creatures living inside my belly eating my food on me?!  And I actually may need more of them?!
Friend: Very likely, yes – they mostly hang out in your large intestine, though.
Host: Knock it off, Honors student, I’m already this close to throwing up.
Friend: They basically keep you running normally, and it’s so convenient now to resupply yourself just by eating stuff like yogurt.  You can even get them as pills in a store!
Host: It sounds fishy: I refuse to consume something that screams “cancer” all the way down my esophagus.
Friend: They don’t cause cancer; they’re natural.
Host: Nothing natural comes in pill form.
Friend: Look, I’ll give you the name of a company that sells them and you can check on all of it yourself, but I’m telling you, I know some people who had the same problem you do and feel so much better after they started taking them.  You still should see a doctor just to be certain it’s not something else –
Host: I stopped listening after “feel so much better.”
(As the Sisyphean task of digesting the café meal commences, Worker Bacterium 3 approaches Lead Bacterium)
Worker Bacterium 3: There’s a new report from upstairs, Captain: there is a possibility that reinforcements may be sent in.  As in, actual, permanent, full-time reinforcements.  I’m trying not to get too excited, sir.
Lead Bacterium: As you shouldn’t, Ensign – disappointment’s bad for morale.  Back to work.  (Looks around) Where’d that temp go?
Worker Bacterium 1: The temp’s watch has ended, sir.
Lead Bacterium: (Removes hard hat) As it will for us all soon enough, Lieutenant.
(In a health food store, Host stares at shelves of bottles as Employee approaches)
Employee: Probiotics?
Employee: Pretty much all our first-timers who aren’t bodybuilders come in for those.  We recommend this one. (Hands her a bottle)
Host: (Staring at it, whispers) My own little colony….
(Hours later)
Lead Bacterium: (Dictating into an unseen recorder) Our numbers dwindling, more and more fuel and garbage continue on their way through our corridors: undigested, unproductive, unbearable.  I feel myself beginning to slide down that slippery slope called Despair, heading towards that land called Doom –
Worker Bacterium 2: Captain!  Word from upstairs – reinforcements are on their way as we speak!
Lead Bacterium: Impossible.  After all these years?  What if it’s true but it’s too late; what if we’re ironically saved right at the very end; I can’t take this, I just can’t!
Worker Bacterium 2: Captain!  Respectfully request that you cease freaking out, sir.
Lead Bacterium: Request denied!
(A complement of new bacteria arrives, in formation)
Spokesbacterium: (To Lead Bacterium) Are you in command of this regiment?
Lead Bacterium: What’s left of it, yes.
Spokesbacterium: Lactobacillus, Bifidobacteria, and all the necessary parties for digestion here: deploy us as you see fit.
Lead Bacterium: (Hugs a group of the new bacteria) Bless you, bless you, bless you!  You can’t know how we’ve suffered all this time!
Spokesbacterium: Judging by the state of this colon, I have an inkling.
(Some time later, Host relaxes on a lounge chair)
Host: (Typing to Friend) “You were right, never felt better in my adult life – I owe you big time.”  (Looking at her gut) Rest easy, soldiers.
Lead Bacterium: Aye-aye, Captain.