Story Time With Santa Joe

This is not a Santa story.

Joe can tell a good Santa story, but this Covid Captivity Chronicles freebie is more akin to dystopia. In fact, when I read it I thought of Trashcan Man — and if you know who that is — you’ll probably love Joe’s story. Even if you don’t now who that is, you’ll love this story.

Joe gives us a bonus today, you can also hear him read it. One of Joe’s many specialties is reading audiobooks. He has a great voice.

Tomorrow I post a new story — and we have freebies all the way to the end of the week.

Click on the fiery picture to read Joe’s story.

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What I’m Learning in COVID-19 Captivity

I Woke up this morning to the cold realization it was week two of the church in exile.

The feeling is so strange that it qualifies as as an out-of-body experience. My entire remembered life I have gone to church on Sunday with precious, very precious few exceptions. I have never missed a Sunday of preaching because I was sick. Even on vacation I go to church.

But here we are.

I thought it would help me this morning if I went ahead and acted as if I was going. I trimmed my beard a bit, cleaned up, and put on a white buttoned down instead of a t-shirt, and a nice wrist-watch rather than the Timex I’ve been wearing on quarantine.

These thoughts bring me to what I’d like to share with you this morning, and that is namely what I am learning during the COVID Captivity of 2020. I don’t know how historians or sociologists will label this time period when they study it, but I do think a lot is going to change about how most of us live. I’m not certain we will ever be ‘normal’ again. That might be good because maybe what we called ‘normal’ was actually quite abnormal. These changes will flow from what we learned, and most of all what we learned about ourselves.

The first thing I have learned is from the malaise I woke to this morning. I have learned I really, really, really love church. I miss gathering with the people of God more than anything else about this. The church is in exile, pushed underground (necessarily so, but still underground so to speak), meeting in clandestine family units huddled around television screens and smart phones desperately trying to connect in some way with the body of Christ. I miss the hugging, the handshaking, the close talking, the hand-holding, the patting on the back, and the warmth of community. I miss it and I have learned that I am significantly less human without it. Next Sunday is Palm Sunday, and that is a very high holy day for us with ritual and Holy Communion. My soul longs to gather with the festal procession of my brothers and sisters, and I eagerly desire to eat that meal with them. I miss it, and the thought of missing it disturbs me.

I will never take Sunday morning for granted again.

Another thing I have learned is how much my family and their presence means to me. I can’t imagine going through this without Mrs. Greenbean and the sprouts. The youngest sprout was sent home from college and the oldest is still working through Zoom and digital presence, but she is able to be at the house quite a bit. Our family has always been close-knit, but now more than ever. Because those binds that tie are so tightly wound around the four us, we are not breaking in this. We are growing stronger.

I’ve learned how much I depend upon presence, touch, and personal interaction in pastoral ministry.

I’ve also learned what I can live without. I can live without the false gods of this world — sports, musicians, Hollywood movies, shopping, workplace esteem, and so many other 21st century deities which have been stripped of their power like the gods of Egypt before Moses and his staff. I don’t need these things to be happy and whole. I miss my church, but I don’t really miss watching the NCAA basketball tournament as much as I thought I would. I miss eating in a restaurant with family and friends but I don’t really miss the movie theater that much.

The flip side of what I’ve learned I can live without is what I can’t live without. I can’t really live without the grocery store being open and the truck drivers delivering goods. I can’t live without the clerks, stockers, and diesel mechanics who are literally keeping America fed and our coffee pots happy when everyone else is on lockdown. When this is all over we as a society need to radically rethink the pay scale disparity of athletes and grocery store workers. Who are really worth the big bucks? And while I’m on it, it doesn’t apply to me as my children are grown, but many of you are realizing the value of your child’s teacher, school, and daycare. Again, remember that when this is over.

I’ve learned doctors and nurses are heroes.

On the darker side of Greenbean, I have learned to be suspicious of people who don’t take this seriously. This may sound judgmental, and I apologize to a degree if it is, but whether it is someone in the media, politics, or a cranky neighbor, anyone who doesn’t take the advice of professionals, experts, and scientists is a fool who should not be trusted with anything or any decision making process. If you fail on this, in my opinion, you’re disqualified from making decisions in the future on anything. Put another way, I’ve learned to see people’s reactions to COVID-19 as a filter on their values.

Having gone dark for a paragraph, though, let’s brighten it up. I have learned that the Lord is still crafting, molding, and shaping me. He is good, and he is still blessing, even in the midst of societal upheaval. I give thanks that I am healthy, and I give thanks for those who are ministering to the sick. I give thanks I have plenty to eat and I was able to buy toilet paper. My family makes me smile and we played Scattergories and Mexican Train and watched old DVDs. Our church staff is amazing and they are working so hard to keep as much ministry going as possible. The needs of the world, Italy, Spain, China, Iran, and New York City drive me to my knees in intercessory prayer, and that is a good thing. I recognize our interwoven existence, and that each one of us depends upon the toil and wellbeing of everyone else. Remember that famous phrase, “No man is an island” — it was written by John Donne during the plague, and at a time when he himself thought he was dying from it.

Ultimately, I have learned that I am still learning. The Lord is still teaching. And life continues under his shepherding hand. All of these bring forth praise from my lips.

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BARK BARK BARK — BANG!

Read if you dare — the harrowing tale of a man driven mad, utterly mad. It is the third installment of our ‘Free Stories for Covid Captivity’ — Today is Joe Shaw’s turn, and you can read his tale by clicking on the dog’s picture and it will take you to Joe’s blog where the story lives.

Click on the dog’s nose if you are brave enough to discover her fate

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Patient Zero — A Free Story

As we announced yesterday, my fellow co-conspirators Joseph Courtemanche and Joe Shaw are providing you with some free fiction during your COVID Captivity. Yesterday’s ABBA inspired story was delightful. Tomorrow Shaw picks up the slack. Today, it is me. I originally intended to update an older story for today’s submission, but yesterday I had an idea and in true flash fiction fashion I wrote it up last night and am sharing it with you today. Next week I will give you a much longer short story, but today is a ten minute read or less.

And remember, if you like what you read from me or the other Joe’s, we’d greatly appreciate it if you’d consider one of our books, but that is not a condition of reading this story. Patient Zero is absolutely free with no strings attached. Enjoy!

PATIENT ZERO

JAMIE D. GREENING

            It is hard for a man from Venus to look human. The higher gravity on the home planet makes them shorter than human beings while simultaneously causing their face to be distinctly more oblong.  The skin is also brighter because of the low oxygen levels and proximity to the sun. People from Venus who live on the southern hemisphere have a light orange color, almost the color of a tangerine while people from the northern hemisphere of Venus have a darker hue, closer to new leather, only more orange.

            Demosh Suffla was from the northern hemisphere, which made blending in among some human populations on Earth easier for him than his cousin who was from the southern hemisphere. His cousin, with his bright orange pigment could only visit places where it was cold. He had to wear clothing over his skin. Demosh could travel to warm climates, for his leather color was passable if he wore a hat and sunglasses.

            The sunglasses were vital, because Venutian eyes were red from the sulphur dioxide in their atmosphere.

            Demosh chose to spend his two weeks abroad on Earth. Most of his friend spent theirs in Alpha Centauri skiing the nitrogen slopes of Wentrali. Demosh wasn’t interested in skiing. He was interested in human culture. The first book he’d ever read as a young larva was The Earth Chronicles about explorers who colonize an apparently vacant earth but discover ghosts living in the ruins of ancient cities. He’d been hooked ever since. 

            His two weeks were almost over. He’d started in Italy and then toured the rest of Europe. He spent most of his time in Paris, and most of that with Parisian women. Now he was near the end, and he was about to cross the last thing off his list: Texas barbeque. 

            He researched this extensively, comparing the relative information about where the best barbeque was to be found. He opted for the rural, authentic setting of the Texas Hill Country rather than a posh urban eatery. Everyone who had been to Earth said the urban eateries were overrated. 

            He arrived in the small town an hour before sunset on his last day, which was the seventh day of September in the year 2019. The motion atomizer brought him out of phase in the town square near a large building with a clock on top. His travel guide labeled this a special kind of civic building called a courthouse where magistrates used laws no one understood to keep the population under control. Demosh recognized every culture on Earth had laws, but he didn’t quite understand how they worked. After having been here, he decided when he got home he would spend more time looking into this practice. The closest analogy he could find to his life on Venus was the Rule of Five which formed the basic organizing principle of society.

            He walked across the town square toward the object of his attention, the eatery called Smokin’ Bob’s Brisket. 

            The weather was warm, and the line formed outside. Demosh cued up. Soon he was standing in front of a large black drum filled with a variety of meats. It was hot. Smoke was in the air. The smell was intoxicating, unlike anything he’d ever experienced. His olfactory senses picked up each aroma; the wood, the flame, the fat from the animal, and the seasoning.

            “What’ll ya have?”

            Demosh hesitated, unsure. He mumbled “brisket.” 

            “How much?”

            Demosh raised his shoulders into a shrug, which was something he learned in Paris as a way to communicate he didn’t know what to do. Usually people decided for him when he did that. That is what the man holding the giant fork did. He cut a slab of meat and placed it on a tray, slathered it in sauce and pointed inside. Demosh knew enough to follow the directions, and he knew to pay. His research told him there would be something called ‘fixins’ inside. 

            After paying he helped himself to the fixins. He was disappointed that the fixins were only beans, onions, and something called a pepper. He’d never seen a pepper before, but he wasn’t excited about it. They looked like pickled slugs that grow under the rocks in Saturn’s rings. 

            The brisket melted in his mouth; and the tangy sauce electrified his senses like nothing else he’d ever tasted. He swore he’d come back to Earth again every year just to eat this meal. He was a fool for not spending the whole two weeks in Texas. He was not the first visiting Venutian to come to that conclusion, and he would not be the last. 

            His brisket came to an end too soon, and this saddened him. He decided to try the beans. He didn’t like them, which he didn’t think he would. The onions too, left a foul impression on him. The syrupy sweet tea helped him forget the awful flavor. It was then he noticed someone had sat beside him on his eating bench. 

            He was not surprised to see his father, who had arrived to take him home.

            “Time to go home, son.” His dad wore a cowboy hat. 

            “I know. But you really should try this thing called brisket before we go.” 

            “I don’t like human food, you know that. It does not agree with me. There is a kind of enzyme in it which blocks my effusion.” 

            Not wanting his trip to end, Demosh lingered. “Let me try this one more item, and then I’ll be ready.”

            “That is fair,” his father said.

            Demosh took one of the pepper slugs, which is how he thought of them in his mind, and wrapped it in a piece of white bread which was on the table. He pushed the whole thing into his mouth and started to chew. Within seconds the heat of the jalapeno burned his mouth and throat. He guzzled the sweet tea, but the fire continued to spread.

            “Poison,” Demosh gasped.

            His father laughed. He knew what had happened. “No, just a pepper. These people from this part of Earth like a little pain with their cuisine.”

            The pug nose on Demosh’s gourd of a face began to run, his red eyes became yellow as tears flowed down his cheeks. He coughed, and then he sneezed. 

            His dad stood up and said, “If you have had enough, it is time to go. We don’t want to miss the transit stream.” 

            He didn’t argue. The two travelers walked out of the barbeque joint and disappeared as the motion atomizer phased them from the black paved parking lot directly into their transport vehicle in high orbit above North America. 

            Back in the restaurant, a man named Simon ate his barbeque with his wife and in-laws. Unknown to him, a droplet of Venutian mucus had landed on his tray when Demosh sneezed. He ran his hand over that tray, and then two minutes later he wiped his own eyes as the pepper he ate caused it to water. Four days later Simon boarded a plane in Austin that would eventually lead him to Wuhan Province in China where he negotiated a deal for his company to purchase green and red plastic cups for various coffee companies back in the United States. 

            During the negotiations, he coughed a time or two and fought back the aches in his muscles which he was certain were from the long plane ride. But it wasn’t. It was from the common Venutian cold, which had never been loosed on Earth before. In time, it would be diagnosed as a novel strain of coronavirus.