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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.  

Featured

The Highwaymen: A Review

Mrs. Greenbean was gone this weekend, so I was left home unsupervised and in complete control of the remote control.

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I watched the new Netflix movie The Highwaymen starring Kevin Costner, Woody Harrelson, and Kathy Bates. The movie was enjoyable for me on so many levels. Let’s start with viewpoint. This is the first I’ve ever seen, and perhaps only film about Bonnie and Clyde that is told from the law’s perspective. It tells it the way it was, cold blooded criminals who were as violent and mean as any terrorist today. I appreciated that view of things.

A second enjoyable part was the view of Texas in the 1930s. My home state has changed a lot, and this was a look at the Texas my father grew up in. I don’t know where they actually filmed the movie, but the drive to Lubbock from Austin looked pretty realistic to me, as did The North Texas plains.

The third enjoyable aspect was the acting of Costner and Harrelson. I was suspicious going in, but they were perfect. There were a couple of shots of Costner that reminded me of what my father looked like when he was in his 60s–a rugged and strong man who has gained a few pounds but refuses to buy a larger shirt, and thinks he can do what he used to. In fact, the best scene is where he tries to shoot bottles flung into the air, and this is when he realizes he is an old man. Harrelson has the best lines, though. Of particular interest is his reaction to wiretap and how he doesn’t really know what it is, but he uses it several times, and each time not quite in the correct way. Reminded me of George Bush saying interwebs. Bates was good as Ma Ferguson, but I think this is one area where the screenplay may have taken liberties. My reading of history (and I could be wrong here) is she was a proxy for her husband, Jim.

There are some drawbacks in the film. The language can be a little harsh, and I doubt that was historically accurate. The movie also dragged on a bit. Solid editing could have trimmed ten or fifteen minutes. There is some gore, but, in the opinion of this historian, the gore is important here, for what we are dealing with are murderers and the Texas Rangers who caught and killed them. One more flaw, and it goes back to wiretaps. Portraying Texas Rangers as technology averse or ignorant is not accurate. In fact, my understanding is the Rangers were always ready to employ new technology to get the job done.

And now for analysis. One of the themes of the movie is the historically accurate perspective that the masses of people loved Bonnie and Clyde. This is true. A careful viewer will pick up on why–America was in the midst of terrible economic problems, and the bankers and lawmen who protect them were viewed as the enemy. Make no mistake, Bonnie and Clyde were awful human beings. However, to people living in migrant squatter camps, living from day to day, and starving to death bank robbers and cop killers can look like heroes. It also shows us that tension between under-represented communities and police officers is not a new phenomenon.

The Cross Is Not A Secular Symbol

The Texas Department of Transportation is using signs that include a red cross against a blue background to indicate a spot on the highway where a motorcyclist died. The family has to pay $350 for the sign, and there are no options. They have to use the red cross, regardless of their faith commitments. So, a Muslim motorcyclist’s family has to use a red cross. So to a Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu, or even the supposed atheist. They all have to use a singular red Latin cross. (My information on this comes from the Austin American-Statesman Sunday paper left on my back porch by my kind neighbor down on the cove.)

The reason for this is TxDOT says, and it is backed by the Texas legislature, that a cross is not a religious symbol but is instead a ‘death symbol.’

I found this picture of it on Patheos.com.

RedCrossTXSign

Now, the Pastor Greenbean Blog is all about my opinions, so here are my opinions.

  1. TxDOT is full of bologna. The cross is most definitely a religious symbol–and to me it is the most cherished religious symbol for it is the cross that is the scandal of Jesus’ death and the symbol of my life of discipleship. The cross is what I take up daily.
  2. Here is the thing I don’t get most. That blue sign in no way indicates anything about public safety. It doesn’t say “Motorcycles Watch Out” or “Be Careful” or anything helpful. All a person knows from that sign is that the individual, may he rest in peace, died on that date.  The reason I know he died is because it says “In Memory”, not because of the giant red cross. In your mind edit the sign with just the red cross, the name and date. Edit out the “In Memory” and what would you think it was for? I might come to the conclusion it was a dedicated Christian who paid for that stretch of highway. Or a billboard for a new ministry in town. I’m not sure I would come to the conclusion that the person had died there.
  3. If we, as Christ-followers, allow the state to co-opt our precious symbolism in order to communicate something about public safety, then we are guilty of selling out our faith for public recognition. The is a sin and a mistake.
  4. A related opinion: if they take the cross as a state symbol, how long before they come after the wine and bread? The baptismal waters? The ceremonial anointing oil? How long before they make a church get restaurant licensing in order to have potluck? The point is, once you go down this road, the state will always grab more and more power and more and more control.
  5. The cross was a death symbol two thousand years ago in the Roman Empire. It was a symbol of power, the power of the state to do whatever it wanted to compel obedience and submission. Christ-followers turned it around, though, and it became a symbol not of someone’s death, but of someone who was decidedly not dead–Jesus is alive.
  6. Why can’t TxDOT find another symbol? May I recommend a motorcycle?
  7. To be honest, I am completely baffled by TxDOT’s opinion that the cross is not a religious symbol but a “non sectarian symbol of death.” Do they really believe this, or is it some kind of covert attempt to “Christianize” the unChristian, like Mormons baptizing in absentia for the dead? I can’t believe anyone with any sense at all would think of the cross as anything other than a religious symbol.
  8. The cross is a very appropriate symbol for the resting place of a Christ-follower, a cemetery,  crematorium, crypt, etc… However, it is a violation of what the cross means–a choice a person makes in their waking, living lives to follow Jesus–to impose it upon someone who never made that choice. Likewise, the decision to impose it weakens its meaning to those of us who have made that choice.

So I finish with a plea–TxDOT, please leave our symbols alone and get your own.

 

LET’S DO THE TIME WARP AGAIN, AND AGAIN AND AGAIN . . .

What year is it again?  Someone remind me.

GREAT SCOTT!
GREAT SCOTT!

Its either Time Warp from The Rocky Horror Picture Show, or, if you want something milder maybe Back In Time from Huey Lewis, via the film Back To The Future.  Pick your theme song.

But we need one or the other, because I can’t figure out what year it is.  Here is why.

1.  People keep talking about the movies Mad Max, Terminator, and Star Wars.  Oh, and Poltergeist opened this week.

2.  Two top candidates for President of the United States are named Clinton and Bush.

3.  Outlaws rode into Waco, Texas and had a shootout.

4.  My copy of Texas Monthly arrived and Urban Cowboy featuring John Travolta is on the cover.

really?
really?

I’m beginning to think we are stuck in an infinite time loop, caused by a merging of lack of creativity, nostalgia, and cultural dementia.  My sources tell me if we can find the flux capacitor and get Susan Sarandon and Barry Bostwick to break it, then we can return to real time.  It also occurs to me, maybe only Texas is caught in the time bubble?  If that is the case, then the fix involves Sarandon and Bostwick have to eat chicken fried steak while breaking the flux capacitor.

image from mentalfloss.com