Chernobyl Charlie

Last week’s story was kind of horrifying, so today I’m going to counteract that with something kind of sweet. I always love a dog story! Recently published in WPaD’s Furry Tales anthology.

The old man placed another log on the campfire.

“You kids ready for a story?”

“Yes!” Kylie and Joel chorused together.

Every summer, his daughter-in-law Laura brought the grandchildren on weekends for a backyard campout. The kids got to sleep in a tent and enjoy fireside stories, just like they’d done with their father. Since loss of her husband, a Marine, Laura tried to maintain a connection with his side of the family. The old man appreciated the effort she made. The kids enjoyed his stories and he enjoyed telling them, and boy, he had a lot of stories.

“Get comfortable, ‘cause tonight I got a great story for ya. This one’s about Chernobyl Charlie.”

“Wait!” Kylie ran to the tent to grab her blanket. She returned and nestled in her lawn chair with the blanket wrapped around her shoulders. “Okay, I’m comfortable now.”

Her brother rolled his eyes. “Ok, are you ready now? I want to hear the story.”

The old man began,

“There once was a boy, we’ll call him Nathan. This boy only wanted one thing for his entire life: a dog. He didn’t want anything else, not ever.

Every year, his parents would ask him what he wanted for Christmas or his birthday, and his answer was always the same:

‘I want a dog!’ he’d say.

And every time, the answer would be the same: ‘No’.

It wasn’t that his parents were mean, or didn’t want him to have a dog. It was just that they lived in an apartment, and weren’t allowed pets in the building, other than fish or birds. Birds gave him the creeps and goldfish just weren’t the same. Fish were boring. They just sat in a bowl. You couldn’t take them for a walk or pet them or play ball with them.

But one year, the year he turned twelve, Nathan’s life changed forever.

His father had started a new job a year ago, and was making more money. Enough money that they could finally buy a house. A whole house! With its own yard and everything! Most importantly, there was a fenced area for a dog! This year, when Nathan’s parents asked what he wanted for his birthday, the answer was yes. He could have a dog.

His mother agreed to the dog on one condition: they would adopt, not shop. No pet stores or fancy breeds; they would find a shelter dog that needed a home. Nathan was fine with that. Any dog would be a great dog, and he would love it with all his heart.

They registered with the SPCA and a bunch of other rescue groups, looking for a dog that would be a good fit for their family. One day, Nathan’s mother called him to look at something.

She was sitting at the kitchen table with her laptop open to some website.

Nathan took a look over his Mom’s shoulder to see what she was looking at. The screen had a picture of a group of dogs on it.

‘What’s this?’ he asked.

‘There are puppies available for adoption, and you’ll never guess from where. Chernobyl!’ she told him.

‘Isn’t that place like, radioactive or something?’ he said.

His mother explained, ‘According to this, hundreds of dogs roam the woods in the exclusion zone near Chernobyl. They are the descendants of pets that were left behind in the evacuation. Some of the puppies are being brought to the U.S. for adoption. The adoptions will be done through the SPCA, and we’re already registered with them. We can ask to be put on a wait list for one of these puppies if you want.’

It sounded pretty cool, but Nathan had some concerns. He asked his mom, ‘Is that even safe? Like are they mutants or anything?’

‘No, not at all,’ she told him, ‘Many of the dogs are perfectly healthy. No radiation sickness, and they are carefully vetted before they are put up for adoption.’

Nathan was sold. ‘Cool! I want a radioactive puppy!’

‘And if we don’t get one, we will find another shelter pup that needs us, agreed?’ his mom said.

‘Okay!’ Nathan said.”

“What happened that they had to evacuate, Grandpa?” Kylie asked.

“It was a meltdown!” Joel said. “We learned about it in school. Some kind of power plant in Russia. It went nuclear. Like, psssh!” He made a sound that mimicked an explosion and motioned with his hands.

“Well, it didn’t actually blow up, but it was really bad. It happened back in the eighties. They used some pretty dangerous stuff to make electricity in the old days. The power plant at Chernobyl had a bad accident. All the land around it became poisoned from radiation, and the people had to evacuate. The place is still deserted today. You can see pictures on the internet of all the empty buildings. There’s even a deserted amusement park. And nobody can go there even now, because it’s still radioactive.”

“But what about all the animals?” Kylie asked.

“A lot of them got left behind to fend for themselves. Some died, and some just went wild. There was still a working power plant there, thirty years later. And the workers started feeding some of the wild dogs that were running around. And, as dogs do, some of them became friendly again. Eventually, some rescue organizations got wind of it and started to capture the dogs. The wilder ones got checked by vets, fixed so they couldn’t have any more puppies, and then set free again. And they started catching the puppies and finding homes for them.”

The old man took a sip of his coffee, which had gotten cold, and continued the story.

“June twenty-fifth was a date Nathan never forgot, because it was the happiest day of his life. School was out for the summer, but most importantly, the time had come to bring home the new puppy. Surprisingly, their application for a Chernobyl pup had been accepted and they were minutes away from meeting their new family member. Nathan and his mother paced the waiting room of the SPCA, too excited to sit down.

They didn’t know much about the puppy, other than it was a male, approximately four months old, and would grow to be a medium to large-sized dog. The breed was anyone’s guess, but it was said that some of the wild dogs had been running in wolf packs, so the puppy might even have had some wolf in it.

A woman came from the back room, holding a wriggling bundle of black-and-white fur in her arms. When the puppy saw the new people, he squirmed away from the woman. He ran to Nathan, slipping and sliding on the floor on huge, clumsy feet. The puppy whined and wagged his tail so hard his whole body wagged. He licked Nathan’s face, covering it with dog slobber, but Nathan didn’t mind.

‘I’m going to call you Charlie, and we’re going to be best friends!’ he told the dog.”

“Oh!” Kylie squealed. “Just like –”

“Will you shut up and stop interrupting!” her brother said.

“That’s ok. She’s just excited. Right sweetie?” The old man gave Kylie a knowing wink.

“Anyway, where was I? Ah yes. Charlie. He named the dog Charlie, and they were the best of friends from that day forward. They were inseparable.

To most people, Charlie seemed like an average puppy; he liked to chew, had boundless energy and loved Nathan more than life itself. As far as Nathan was concerned, Charlie was exceptional. He was bright and obedient, and easy to train.

Charlie loved to fetch, and his favorite toy was the Frisbee. After he had shredded several regular Frisbees, Nathan bought him a special chew-proof one designed for dogs. Every day they walked to the dog park, rain or shine, to play fetch. Charlie didn’t really need a leash, but Nathan put one on him to and from the dog park to keep the neighbors happy.

One particularly blustery autumn day, Nathan threw the Frisbee and a gust of wind caught it, sending it sailing over the fence and onto the busy street next to the park. Charlie was in hot pursuit. Without missing a beat, he leaped over the fence – a six-foot-high chain link fence it was – and dashed into the traffic. Nathan didn’t have time to wow over the amazing feat of fence-jumping he’d just witnessed – he had to get his dog.

He dashed through the gate, shouting, ‘Charlie! Stop!’ but Charlie was on a mission.

Nathan was too late. The driver of the truck couldn’t possibly have stopped in time, even if he had seen Charlie.

It happened in slow motion, to Nathan’s eyes. The big eighteen-wheeler mowed Charlie down and ran over him, first with the front wheel, and then both sets of wheels on the trailer. He watched in horror as Charlie was flung like a rag doll from one set of dual wheels into the path of the second set.”

“No!” Kylie cried. “You didn’t tell us he was going to die! I don’t like this story.” She looked like she was going to cry.

“Shh! Don’t interrupt!” Joel hissed.

“Don’t worry, it gets better,” the old man assured her.

“Anyhow, there Charlie was, lying in the road, just a limp bundle of black-and-white fur. Nathan’s knees felt weak. He wanted to collapse, but he willed himself to stay standing. He wasn’t going to leave Charlie out there in the traffic, even though he knew it was too late to save him. Tears streaming down his face, Nathan ran toward the scene of the worst horror imaginable.

He reached the edge of the road, and then the unthinkable happened.

Charlie stood up, shook himself off, and walked over to pick up the Frisbee from the street. He trotted happily over to Nathan, holding his head high in the air all proud-like. All he cared about was that he’d gotten the Frisbee. He knew he was a good boy.

Nathan checked him over, and he looked fine. Not a scratch on him, just black marks on the white part of his fur from the rubber tires. He rushed home to tell his parents, but they didn’t believe him. They thought he was exaggerating, but they brought Charlie to the vet just in case.

Dr. Michaels found nothing wrong with him. No injuries of any kind. She explained to Nathan in a condescending way that the wheels of the truck had missed Charlie when the truck passed over him.

‘But what about those black marks in his fur?’ Nathan said. ‘That’s rubber from the tires. I saw the tires run over him.’

“That’s probably grease from the underside of the truck,’ Dr Michaels said. ‘See? That reinforces what I was telling you. The truck straddled him. The tires missed him. He’s one lucky dog.’

Nathan didn’t argue further, but he knew what he’d seen. The most important thing was, his best friend was okay.

Fall turned into winter. Charlie loved the snow as much as he loved everything else. He found fun in everything he did. He learned to ride a toboggan and tried to fetch snowballs. He discovered hockey, which Nathan and his friends played on the frozen pond. Charlie was an excellent goalie.

One day in the middle of a game, they heard screams. Nathan and his friends rushed to help, with Charlie racing alongside.

A crowd of kids were gathered around, and it turned out a small child had fallen into an ice fishing hole. Usually they’ll put some kind of barrier or safety cones to let skaters know there’s a hole, you know. But this jerk, whoever the fisherman was, had just left an open hole there.

The little boy had been skating with his mother. She had already called 911, but time was running out. The poor woman was in hysterics.

Nobody could reach the kid; the hole was too small and the kid had sunk too deep. By the time someone got there with something to cut the hole bigger, it would be too late. That little boy was a goner.

Charlie pushed through the crowd and slithered into the hole like an eel. Nathan wouldn’t have believed the dog would fit, but he did. But how was he going to get out? Now they had lost Charlie as well. Nathan peered into the depths of the hole, trying to get a glimpse of Charlie or the little boy, but saw only blackness. Minute after agonizing minute passed.

They heard sirens in the distance, but Nathan knew help wouldn’t get there in time.

There was still no sign of Charlie. More than five minutes had passed since he dove through the hole in the ice. Nathan started to think that this time Charlie wouldn’t be so lucky.

And then, he saw a glow under the water. The light grew brighter, and then Charlie surfaced, holding the collar of the little boy’s jacket in his teeth. The boys pulled the child out of the water and passed him to his mother.

Nathan helped Charlie climb out of the hole. The dog shook the water from his fur nonchalantly, as though he had just taken a fun little swim.

Nathan hugged him tight and told him what a good boy he was.

The paramedics arrived and performed CPR on the little boy and wrapped him in blankets, then carried him to the ambulance.

The boy survived, thanks to Chernobyl Charlie.

And then there was the time when Nathan was sixteen, and he took a camping trip with a few of his friends. And Charlie, of course. Charlie was a great camping buddy because he was also a night light. You see, he glowed with a soft greenish light when he was happy. All it took was a belly rub or a scratch behind the ears to turn the light on. Or telling him he was a good boy; that worked too.

So, on this camping trip, the boys hiked a ways into the wilderness, to a spot beside a nice little lake. They planned stay a couple of days and do some fishing. The first day, they caught a nice bunch of trout. They cooked a few over the fire for dinner, and packed the rest in ice in the cooler.

Well, it turned out, a bear had caught the scent of their fish. Late at night after the campfire had died down, the bear came into the camp to steal the fish. It was a big bear, too. A Grizzly. The boys had hung all their food in a tree, the way you’re supposed to when you’re camping, but this bear was determined. Mr. Grizzly smelled that food and wasn’t leaving until he found it.”

Kylie shivered and pulled the blanket more tightly around her. “This is scary.” She glanced over at the tent, where she and her brother would be sleeping that night.

“Don’t be a fraidy-cat. There aren’t any Grizzlies around here. Right Grandpa?” Joel said.

“Right. Don’t worry, you’re perfectly safe. I promise there are no Grizzlies here. Remember, the boys were high in the mountains, out in the wilderness.”

“What happened next?” Kylie asked.

“Well, the boys woke to the sound of the bear rampaging through the camp. And I’m not gonna lie, they were plenty scared. They had hung up the food, but not all of it. They had snack foods in the tent with them. A bear’s nose is sensitive enough to detect even a small amount of food. They didn’t have anything to use as a weapon. All they had was an axe, and it was beside the fire.

Charlie started growling. Nathan tried to shush him, but he wanted out of that tent something awful. He started tearing at the door of the tent until he found an opening in the zipper and forced his way through. He charged at the bear, barking and snarling like he’d lost his mind.

He chased the bear away from camp, and in the distance the boys could hear the sounds of a horrible fight – snarls, roars, branches breaking. Once again, Nathan thought his dog was done for.

A while later, Charlie returned. He was covered in blood but otherwise just fine. The boys were pretty shook up. They cut their trip short, packed up the camp and left as soon as it got light. On the hike back, they came across a gruesome sight on the trail. The remains of a large Grizzly bear. The bear had been ripped to shreds. Like it had gone through a meat grinder or something. One of the boys commented how lucky they were that the marauding bear had killed another bear instead of them.

Nathan knew that the bear hadn’t been killed by another bear.

Chernobyl Charlie just panted and smiled. He knew he was a good boy.”

“Time for bed, kids! Say goodnight to Grandpa!” Laura had joined them sometime during the part about the bear.

“But Mom! He’s not done the story yet!”

“I’m done for tonight. We’ll tell more stories about Chernobyl Charlie tomorrow.”

“Give Grandpa a hug.”

Kylie and Joel hugged their grandfather.

“Goodnight, Grandpa. Thanks for the story,” Joel said.

“What happened to Charlie? Like, did he live with Nathan forever?” Kylie asked.

“Well, you know, sweetie, dogs don’t live as long as we do, but I’m sure he had a good long life. Charlie was pretty special.”

After the children were tucked into their sleeping bags, Laura returned and sat next to the fire.

“You know, Nate, I wish you wouldn’t tell them scary stories before bed. Grizzly bears? Can’t you make up something a little, I don’t know… nicer?”

“What’s nicer than a dog that saves the day? Besides, it’s all true.”

“I mean, I know you believe it’s true, but seriously. It’s pretty far-fetched.”

“I promise I’ll tell them a ‘nice’ story next time, ok?”

“OK. Thank you.” She stood and gave him a hug. “You’re a good grandfather. I appreciate all you do for them.” With that she went into the house.

“Don’t mind her, Charlie,” Nate said to the old black-and-white dog that lay at his feet. “I know how special you are.”

Charlie thumped his tail on the ground and a soft greenish glow emanated from his body. He knew he was a good boy.

Copyright © 2018 Mandy White

Previously published in DysFictional 3 by Mandy White

Available worldwide in ebook and paperback.
Available worldwide in ebook and paperback.


Easy Beezy

“When the honeybees go, they’re taking us with them,” someone said to me once. As always, humans try to outwit nature and sidestep the consequences of their actions. In this case, consequences only multiply… (*CONTENT WARNING: Suicide. This story takes a dark turn at the end.)

We were too busy looking for outside threats to notice disaster on our own doorstep. After World War II, we had the threat of nuclear war to worry about. When that didn’t materialize, the doomsayers warned us about Y2K, and then that Mayan calendar fiasco. We survived the COVID-19 pandemic, but something new always lurked around the corner; some potential disaster to keep us distracted from the core issue, which was the damage we were doing to our planet. Our oceans were dying, our forests decimated and our climate was changing. Yet even with all of those odds against us, we could have repaired the damage.

The extinction of the honeybees marked the point of no return for humanity. We had done a good enough job on our own of killing off our precious bees, but they were holding their own until the Murder Hornets invaded North America. The giant Asian Hornets fed on our honeybees, decimating entire hives in mere hours.

Of course, science had a solution. They genetically engineered a new species of bee, a Bee 2.0, if you will. They selected the best characteristics of all species of bee, including the Japanese honeybee, which was quite skilled at combating the invasive hornets. They mixed in a little of this and a little of that. Some say they combined genetic material from African killer bees with that of cockroaches and tardigrades to make the new bee harder to kill. It was all speculation. Nobody except the creators themselves knew exactly what went into the new bee.

We found ways to keep our food supply alive. Miniature computer-controlled drones were built to give the new bees a helping hand with pollination until their numbers increased. A new generation of self-pollinating hybrid plants replaced many food crops. The general public learned to embrace laboratory-grown foods. In the face of adversity, we did what humans always do: We survived.

Honey grew scarce and expensive. The old supplies dried up, and the meagre population of new bees wasn’t able to produce enough to keep up with demand. The honey shortage led to the development of unhealthy synthetic substitutes, most made from high fructose corn syrup. So the mad scientists at the genetics lab went to work. They took a little dab of Bee 2.0 honey and combined it with a bunch of other ingredients to make it stretch. The result was Beezy – the first honey substitute that tasted close to the real thing, probably because it contained actual honey. Some people said it tasted even better than real honey.

Beezy was so popular the FDA allowed it to be pushed to mass market without fully testing it. Early indications were extremely promising. The new 2.0 honey brought some unexpected health benefits. It proved to be a kind of super fuel for the immune system. A new over-the-counter pharmaceutical called “Easy Beezy” outsold every other cold and flu remedy on the market. Over time, we learned that not only did it treat the common cold and flu, it cured them – absolutely nuked them, in fact. It even killed the dreaded coronaviruses that had killed so many in the past. Further study revealed a plethora of uses for the revolutionary product. It eliminated cancer, diabetes, and an ever-growing list of previously terminal ailments. AIDS no longer existed. Vaccines became irrelevant. It even seemed to affect the aging process. Scars faded, wrinkles smoothed. Elderly people looked years younger.

People seemed almost…immortal. Time would tell just how true that was.

The exciting new product was promoted as “The Elixir of Life”. We bought it and, like the fools we were, consumed it in copious amounts. Beezy surpassed everyone’s wildest expectations.

If only it hadn’t.

If only it had been deadly.

I lost count of how many times I had prayed and begged and railed at God for bringing this curse upon us. But the truth was, God wasn’t to blame. We did it to ourselves. We created it; conjured this cursed amber elixir straight from the bowels of Hell.

Prolonged life. Disease-resistant. No more fear of cancer, of pandemics and other silent killers. Sounds great, doesn’t it? Who wouldn’t want that? What possible downside could there be? Someone offers me a food that can do that, where do I sign, amiright? That was the thinking of the general population.

Beezy took the place of artificial sweeteners in nearly every product worldwide. By the time any adverse effects were discovered, nine-tenths of the world’s population was consuming it on a regular basis. Except for the ones too poor to buy it, or people starving in third world countries. They were the lucky ones. I had a severe allergy to honey, so I abstained as well.

Lucky me.

I was angry at first. Angry that I had been denied the chance for immortality because of my allergies. Just one more chance for life to give me the big middle finger. I couldn’t swim in pools as a kid because of the chlorine. I lived in fear of insect stings. I had never tasted seafood, milk, or peanut butter. It wasn’t fair. And now this. The one product that might have cured my allergies might also kill me.

Yes, Beezy seemed like the answer to everything.

After all, who wouldn’t want eternal life?

Little Jimmy Wilson, for one.

Jimmy was an eight-year-old boy who lived on my street. He was riding his bike when some drunk asshole ran him down. The car dragged him for several blocks. His screams will haunt me until the day I die, which thankfully will be soon. The paramedics collected the pieces of poor little Jimmy and rushed him to the hospital. The surgeons did their best, but Jimmy was in bad shape. Arms and legs mangled. He had been decapitated, but somehow he was still alive. Unable to die but too damaged to heal, Jimmy was doomed to an agonizing existence as a stitched-up, oozing mess that should have been laid to rest with dignity.

As the years passed, more who should have died continued to live. Soldiers returned from the front lines of various wars with limbs blown off, holes in their heads, bellies full of shrapnel. Some of them were not much more than an exploded pile of meat, yet still alive, irreparable but conscious and feeling pain. Victims of violence, accidents, fires, all alive and suffering unbearable agony. All modern medicine had to offer was a pittance of relief in the way of pain medication. Powerful opiates were given freely without a prescription. All of them were addicted, but it no longer mattered. Nobody died from overdose anymore. Nobody died. The worst cases suffered brain damage but lived on, shuffling through the streets like zombies; broken and oozing, moaning and wailing in agony but still alive, sentient beings.

There was talk about putting them out of their misery somehow, perhaps through cremation, but the ethical argument was one no politician wanted to touch. None of them wanted to be the guy that tried burning people alive.

* * *

To escape the horror of reality, I made a daily trek to my favorite place – a grassy clearing at the top of a hill overlooking town. It was far enough away that I couldn’t hear the cries of the suffering. From that distance the town looked like it once had; normal, peaceful.

The smell of the wildflowers reminded me that I was still human, and still allergic. I fished in my pocket for the allergy medication I had bought the day before. The pharmacy had been out of my usual medication. Pharmacies were out of most everything except painkillers these days. There wasn’t much demand for other medications now that Beezy had cured everything. I paused to read the box of the unfamiliar allergy meds. Sublingual, it said. Place 1-2 tablets under the tongue as needed. Hopefully it would work as well as my regular brand. I popped two of the pills out of the blister package and placed them under my tongue. The metallic sweetness lingered long after the pills dissolved in my mouth.

I found solace in the silence, but most days I gazed to the heavens, praying for contact from another world, begging for one more chance. Was there anyone who could help us? Either heal this mistake we had made or send us into blissful oblivion?

Today, I lay on my back gazing into the azure sky and repeated the same mantra I’d spoken so many times before:

“If anybody’s out there, if anybody’s watching us, now’s the time to make contact. Please help us! Please save us from ourselves.” Tears streamed down my face. To another unseen entity of whose existence I was also doubtful, I added, “Please forgive me. I need to be free.”

I removed freedom from my pocket, placed the barrel under my chin and pulled the trigger.

* * *

The darkness cleared. The sky was still there, but now tinged with a touch of red. The sun must be setting. Slowly my other senses awakened. Numbness came first. I raised my hands to my face. It felt wet. My chin was gone. So was my nose, and one of my eyes. A gaping exit wound near my hairline told me I should have been dead. And then came the pain. A wildfire of agony ravaged what was left of my head.

Was this Hell? Was this God’s punishment to me for committing suicide?

No, I was alive. The sky, the rustle of wind in the grasses, the smell of the many pollens that bothered my allergies. I could still taste the sweetness of the allergy pills under my tongue, even though my tongue was no longer there. Sweetness. Sweeteners. Sublingual pills contained artificial sweeteners.


Easy Beezy, no more sneezy. I tried to laugh, but it came out as a gurgling noise.

Did this mean I was no longer allergic? Could I finally eat a lobster dinner or a peanut butter sandwich? I heard it sticks to the roof of your mouth.

What does it stick to if your mouth doesn’t have a roof?

Copyright © 2021 Mandy White

Published in DysFictional 4: Apocalypse Aplenty by Mandy White

I’m all Ears

It started out the way so many of these things do: A slice of potato, a needle and a cigarette lighter. Piercing my ears against my parents’ wishes was the ultimate act of rebellion, in my thirteen-year-old mind.

My sister was all for it, in the beginning. Sadie was a saint. She always had my back. Sadie was more than just my identical twin. She was my best friend and my savior, always willing to run interference to hide my rebellious antics. Like the pierced ears. Sadie chose to remain unpierced, and stood in for me when I hid to avoid my parents until my ears healed and I could remove the earrings around them. And when my amateur piercing job went bad and my ears turned scarlet with infection, Sadie was there for me.

It was the same with the tattoo. And the nose ring. And then the numerous tattoos that followed. Luckily, by that time we had moved far away from our conservative Christian parents and I didn’t have to face their judgment.

We took turns attending family functions, although it was always Sadie who went. Half the time she was herself and the other half she posed as me, always with an excuse as to why we couldn’t show up together. When excuses about having to work wore thin, we told our parents we had adopted a dog, and Sadie posed for photos with our neighbor’s Jack Russell terrier.

I wished I could have just been honest with them, but I knew they’d disown me if they saw what I really looked like. And if they saw me, then Sadie’s role in our lifetime of lies would also be exposed. I couldn’t do that to her. Family was more important to Sadie than anything.

I studied my reflection, glimpsing the glint of the Christmas tree in the room behind me. I liked what I saw, but imagined the horror on my mother’s face when she saw the 2-inch discs that had replaced those DIY holes I’d bored so many years ago. As a professional body piercer, it was good business to advertise my wares, and of course I’d acted as my own guinea pig during my training. I was proud to say I’d done many of my piercings myself. Metal glittered in my nose, lips, cheeks and eyebrows. In addition to the discs in my stretched-out earlobes, I had nine more holes in my ears, decorated with an artful array of rings and studs.

My phone rang in the other room. It was probably Sadie, telling me she’d arrived safely at Mom and Dad’s house. I checked the number and saw that I was correct; it was my parent’s phone number. I answered, expecting to hear Sadie’s voice, but it was Mom.


 “Um…yeah.” Something wasn’t right. How did she know?

“Hi, Mom. I’m so sorry I couldn’t make it. It’s just…work is so busy this time of year. I promise I’ll make it for Easter.”

“Oh, Annie! Thank the Lord you’re ok!” I heard a sob on the other end.

“Mom? What is it? Is Dad ok?” My father’s health had been poor, and the last I’d heard he was battling a respiratory infection.

“Yes, he’s fine. Honey, it’s Sadie. I just got a call from the police. There’s been an accident. Sadie is…” My mother broke into sobs. “I’m so relieved to hear your voice! I thought you were together. I thought I’d lost you both. Sadie’s gone. Thank Jesus you’re okay!”

* * *

Throughout the flight home, my mind churned through what was likely in store for me at Sadie’s funeral.

There would be the shock and disappointment on my parents’ faces when they say me for the first time in my tattooed, pierced, blue-Mohawked glory, followed by their understanding of my absence, and then finally the anger: Anger at my selfishness that sent my sister to her death; anger that she was the one in that car instead of me.

There would be my parents’ desperate attempts to hide their humiliation on front of all the friends and family, painfully aware of every shared glance and whisper. My own humiliation and grief would be inconsequential; after all, I was the cause of it all.

I was surprised they were allowing me to attend at all.

But then again, they didn’t know. Not yet, but soon the truth would be laid bare. I feared my mother’s reaction the most. My father was the quiet type; I expected a disapproving silence from him, but my mother… Mom was outspoken enough for both of them, and I’d always been a little bit afraid of her.

I felt naked; raw as a fresh tattoo inside and out. If only I could turn back time. What would my life have been like if I’d never pierced my ears that first time? Perhaps Sadie would still be by my side and I would have enjoyed the same relationship with our parents that she did.

I half hoped the plane would crash and spare us all what was to come. But no such luck. The flight attendant instructed us to prepare for landing.

This was it. My mother waited on the other side of those doors, and for the first time my sister Sadie wouldn’t be there to cover for me.

* * *

Mom looked so much older and it dawned on me how many years had passed since I’d seen her in person. I wanted to turn and flee, but had nowhere to run.

I braced myself for the worst.

“Annie!” My mother’s arms enveloped me and I felt her shudder as I returned the hug.

“Mom,” I managed, before dissolving in a cascade of tears.

“I’m so glad you finally came.”

I held my mother close and sobbed into her jacket. The years fell away and all at once I was five years old, terrified of my first day of school.

Finally Mom stepped back and held me at arm’s length, studying me.

Here it comes. I ducked my chin in shame.

She smiled through her tears. “Looks like we have some catching up to do.”

“It’s a long story,” I began.

“I’ll bet it’s an interesting one.” She cocked her head and I caught the glint of metal beneath her hair. Pierced ears? On my oh-so-conservative mother? This was a side of her I’d never seen before.

“I’m not sure where to begin,” I said.

She placed an arm over my shoulders as we walked toward the baggage carousel.

“I’m all ears.”

Copyright © 2018 Mandy White

Published in DysFictional 3.

Pod People: Invasion of the Laundry Zombies

Ernest sat up in bed. “ You hear that?”

Louise looked up from her book. “What’s that, dear?”

“There it is again! It’s the basement door. It’s those damn zombies.”

“Oh, I’m sure it’s nothing. Just the wind.”

“Wind my ass!” Ernest muttered, glancing at the shotgun that leaned against the wall in the corner of the bedroom. These days he kept both barrels loaded, just in case. “It’s zombies, I tell ya! I thought I told you to get rid of those fucking laundry pods.”

The door rattled again. Ernest had installed sturdy new locks, but the intruders would never give up as long as what they desired lay on the other side of the door.

“Dammit, Louise! This is your fault!”

Louise peered at him over the rims of her glasses. “Seriously, Ern? And what do you expect me to do with them? Just throw them away? I paid good money for those, and I can’t buy them anymore. I’m not going to throw away perfectly good products! Besides, they get the laundry so clean and bright!”

“Clean and bright isn’t worth risking our lives.”

Louise gave him one of those looks reserved for naive children and simpletons. “Isn’t it? Stain-free clothes are worth a little risk. Don’t be a coward, Ernest.”

Ernest opened his mouth to argue, then closed it. He knew when he was licked.

“Ok, fine, use them up then. How many are left?”

“I bought the Mega Pack from Costco. I got in on the sale just before they pulled them from the shelves. It was one of the last ones, and I was lucky to get it. People are so rude. Fighting, clawing, just to save a few dollars.”

“Isn’t that the same thing you were doing?” Ernest pointed out.

Louise shrugged. “Well, I got them, so I’ll be damned if I’m just going to throw them away.” She sighed. “I’m sure going to miss those things. They get the laundry so clean and bright.”

* * *

What had started as a stupid YouTube stunt turned into a disaster of epidemic proportions. The idiots who ate laundry detergent pods experienced unfortunate side effects from the chemicals contained in the detergent. Brain function slowed. These individuals, clearly short on brains to begin with, became shambling, babbling shells of their former selves. (one still might argue that it was an improvement.) The other, more disturbing effect was the hunger. The Pod People craved the colorful packets of toxin and would go to any lengths to obtain them. They possessed an uncanny ability to sniff them out. Stores stopped selling the detergent after the first few weeks of the epidemic to stop the looting. Citizens were ordered to turn their laundry detergent pods over to authorities. Anyone found with the pods in their possession would not be eligible for police protection in the event of zombie attack. Attacks were the biggest concern, because bites were the way the plague was spread. And Pod People were bitey little fuckers. They were faster than they looked, in spite of their shuffling gait, and inordinately tenacious when focused on something they wanted – that something being laundry pods, of course. A bite from one of the Pod People would transfer the toxins that flowed through their veins. Victims of bites began to crave laundry pods, overcome with an irresistible urge to eat them. If not apprehended and incarcerated, they wouldn’t rest until they found and ate some of the detergent. Over time, brain damage set in, transforming them from desperate junkies into shuffling, mumbling zombies. Pod junkies were more dangerous than full-fledged zombies because they still retained some of their (albeit limited) intelligence and still looked like regular people, aside from their desperate, pod-craving behavior. They were also contagious; a bite or scratch from a pod junkie was all it took to spread the addiction.

* * *

And now someone was trying to open the basement door, attracted by the scent of those godfucked laundry pods Louise was so bloody insistent on keeping. Ernest hoped it was just a zombie and not a junkie. Pod junkies were crafty enough to find a way past a locked door. Zombies just bumped against the door like a trapped Roomba until something else caught their attention. Either way, Ernest knew he was in for another sleepless night. He checked his guns to reassure himself they were loaded, and prayed the locks would hold.

* * *

The next night Ernest awoke sitting in his recliner, where he’d dozed off while watching TV. He heard a sound in the laundry room downstairs. He raced to the bedroom to grab his shotgun. The locks hadn’t held after all. One of the bastards had gotten in and from the sound of it, was in the laundry room chowing down on laundry pods.

A fucking pod junkie.

Ernest cussed silently and crept toward the sound, shotgun at the ready. The hunched figure in the laundry room had its back to Ernest. He raised the gun and clicked the safety off. The junkie stopped munching and turned to face him, streaks of blue and orange running down its chin.

“Clean and bright!” Louise giggled. “Yummy! And they make everything clean and bright!”

Louise wiped an arm across her mouth and Ernest saw the deep red scratches on the underside of her arm. The scuffle at Costco had yielded more than just a bargain on detergent.

“Join me, Ern. It’s Heaven! Heaven, I tell you!”

“Stay back, Louise. Don’t make me – ”

Louise lunged at Ernest and he squeezed the trigger.

Copyright © 2018 Mandy White

Published in DysFictional 3 and WPaD’s Weirder Tales.

DysFictional volumes 1-4 are available worldwide in ebook and paperback.

The Red House

Mona sloshed the mop into the steaming pail, the aroma of bleach strong in the air. It was industrial strength; several times stronger than ordinary household bleach, but it was necessary, for this was, after all, an industrial task. Back and forth she scrubbed the floor and the plastic walls; section by section, panel by panel.

It was important to do a thorough job, for any contaminants could result in mold and other fungal growth, which would harm the seedlings that would soon fill the greenhouse.

Scrubbing greenhouses was one of the least desirable jobs at the nursery, so nobody objected when Mona volunteered to take on the task. She was on her third of twenty greenhouses but it was necessary work. It was solitary work, and it gave her plenty of time to reflect on her life and how drastically it had changed in such a short time.

Her husband had never allowed her to work outside the home. She had enough to do, he said, keeping his home clean and caring for the children. But once the children were grown and able to care for themselves, Mona found herself with little to do. When Richard lost his job, the bills began to pile up. When Mona suggested he apply for work at a local nursery that was hiring, she received a black eye for her trouble. Richard frequently let his fists do the talking. Mona had always cowed to his will, but this time she swore it would never happen again.

The bank was on the verge of foreclosing and Richard still hadn’t gotten a job. He sat at home in a drunken stupor, day after day.

Mona went behind her husband’s back for the first time, and went to work. She accepted the same nursery job he had refused. Richard didn’t appear to notice she was gone each day.

Until he did.

She didn’t notice his truck, following at a distance as she walked to the bus stop, and then following the bus until she got off and walked the rest of the way to work.

She didn’t hear him enter. Mona listened to her radio as she used a razor knife to trim excess plastic from a newly installed panel in the greenhouse wall. She was unaware of his presence until her head was yanked backward, cruel fingers entwined in her hair.

“You fucking liar!” he growled into her ear, spraying spittle on her cheek.

“Ow! Rich, you’re hurting me!”

“Oh, you don’t know hurt, you sorry bitch. I’ll show you the meaning of hurt. You don’t lie to me and get away with it.”

“Rich, no! Please!” Her plea was cut short by rough hands around her throat, choking off her air.

Mona struggled to breathe. Flailing, she tried to thrust his hands away from her neck.

The world turned red.

At first she thought blood vessels in her eyes had burst from being choked; all she could see was red. Then Mona realized she could breathe again and the pressure on her neck was gone. She wiped her sleeve across her eyes, and then as her hand touched her face she felt the sting of a blade on her cheek.

“Ow!” The razor knife dropped from her hand.

She touched her cheek where the blade had scratched it and her hand came away red. Far too much blood for such a little scratch. Or was she cut deeper than she thought? She looked down at her clothing to find them also covered with blood, and a dark pool surrounded her shoes.

Oh my God, I’m bleeding to death!

She stumbled backward, frantically patting her body in search of mortal injury and finding none. Her foot struck an obstacle on the floor and she fell, landing on top of the lifeless form of Richard. The dark pool of blood originated from a gash in his neck.

The razor knife lay where she had dropped it, covered in his blood.

“Oh, Rich! What have I done? What did you make me do?” she whispered.

So many times he had uttered those very words to her after beating her black and blue. He always blamed his rage on her.

* * *

Mona stabbed the compost with the pitchfork, lifting forkful after forkful of the heavy, smelly material. It was important to turn the compost regularly to speed decomposition. It was an unpleasant task that the other workers were happy to let Mona take on. She was going to be very busy, between cleaning the greenhouses and maintaining the large compost pit. Springtime was on the way and new crops needed to be planted.

Mona had a hunch the compost would be extra Rich that year.

Copyright © 2022 Mandy White

The Coffee Apocalypse

As I sipped my cup of beloved bitter nectar, pondering what a world without coffee might look like, I was inspired to write the following story, which was published in WPaD’s Goin’ Extinct anthology.
The sequel, Vacation, was featured in the second book, Goin’ Extinct Too.
Battle of the Bean remains one of my favorite stories to this day.
Here are both stories for your enjoyment:


It was the end of the world as we knew it, and nobody felt fine. Remember that song? It’s been stuck inside my head since this whole thing began.

Anarchy reigned; society was in chaos. People rioted in the streets. Yadda-yadda apocalypse…

All because of one little thing. A tiny thing, really. Not quite miniscule, perhaps the size of a pea, but a tiny thing nonetheless.

The all-powerful coffee bean.

We were warned of the impending extinction of our precious bean, but like so many warnings before it, we chose to ignore it until forced to confront the ugly truth.

It began early in the century, when farmers in Colombia noticed a troublesome blight affecting the Arabica plants. The blight, known as “coffee rust”, was a type of fungus that spread rapidly, despite all efforts to eradicate it.

Some blamed pollution, others blamed global warming, but regardless of whom or what was to blame, Arabica crops in Latin America were wiped out by 2027, and from there it spread to crops in Africa.

Still, the public pooh-poohed. As long as Starbucks kept pouring eight-dollar lattes, there was no cause for alarm. The problem was far away from their sheltered yuppie environment. Cultivation was the farmers’ problem, not theirs. Even when the Arabica crops were gone and the price of that particular variety skyrocketed, people simply switched blends.

It wasn’t until every coffee plant on the planet was dead that we were willing to acknowledge that we had a problem. The problem escalated to catastrophic levels when the governments took control of the world’s remaining supply of coffee.

Coffee disappeared from supermarket shelves. Starbucks went out of business. Coffee shops with boarded-up windows littered the urban landscape.

At more than ten times the price per kilo, coffee replaced cocaine as Colombia’s most lucrative illegal export. Coffee cartels waged war on each other in hopes of controlling the world’s dwindling supplies of the precious brown bean. Penalties for smuggling coffee ranged from several years to life in prison or even death by firing squad, depending on which country one was arrested in, but that didn’t stop an intrepid few from trying their luck.

Street value of an ounce of ground coffee climbed higher than that of gold. Users traded automatic weapons, priceless family heirlooms and even the deeds to their homes for a cup of espresso, just to get one more fix of that aromatic black nectar.

We tried consuming tea, colas and caffeine pills, but it didn’t take us long to learn that caffeine wasn’t what gave coffee its addictive nature. It turned out there was another ingredient we had overlooked. A mystery ingredient that latched onto the brain much like cocaine did. Suffice it to say, lack of this ingredient made some people very unhappy indeed. Scientists analyzed it, tried to isolate it and tried to synthesize it but to no avail.

The increase in violent crimes due to coffee withdrawal led to the global legalization of marijuana. Pounds of Purple Kush, Amsterdam Indica and BC Big Bud now occupied the shelf space that had once displayed pounds of French Roast, Breakfast Blend and Decaf. A society of anxious, stressed-out bean-hounds became laid-back and complacent, sleepily smiling as they crammed their mouths full of snacks.

Of course, there were still the hardcore addicts, for whom nothing else but the bitter ambrosia would do. White-collar professionals became organized crime bosses, dealing the world’s most valuable substance to street addicts, some of them former colleagues. When the coffee finally ran out, one country accused the next of hoarding it, even though nobody had any coffee anymore.

With everyone at each other’s throats, the UN dissolved. Their final meeting ended in a massive brawl; a Battle Royal between nearly 200 delegates that resolved nothing. The situation deteriorated to the point of war, with everyone pointing warheads at everyone else.

With a bunch of coffee-starved world leaders holding their jittery fingers over the red button, I did what any sensible man would, and went to ground.

I found the bomb shelter in my neighbor’s back yard after investigating the sound of a gunshot. I found him at his kitchen table, where he had been trying to snort lines of instant coffee before giving up and swallowing the barrel of his .357. Poor bastard – everyone knows there’s no real coffee in that instant stuff, but looks like he died trying.

I found a shovel and thought I’d do the neighborly thing and give him a decent burial, but damn, the ground was hard! I tried a few different spots but kept hitting rocks, then at one point I hit something metal. Curious, I dug it up, and damned if I didn’t find a bomb shelter! Probably built during World War II and long forgotten under layers of landscaping. My neighbor probably bought the house without even knowing it existed.

So, when the threat of nuclear war became imminent, I packed some supplies and retreated into the shelter with plans to stay put for a few weeks or months until the coast was clear. I brought food, plenty of water, books to read, flashlights and batteries, but I needn’t have bothered to pack so much because when I got down there I discovered the shelves well-stocked. Sure, eighty-year-old canned goods might not be ideal, but they were better than nothing if it came down to it. I scanned my flashlight over the shelves and lo and behold! What did I see? Coffee! Cans and cans of magnificent, marvelous coffee!

I had packed a butane camp stove and several cases of fuel, so I was all set to prepare hot meals. Now hot coffee would accompany those meals! This dark, dusty hole in the ground had suddenly become paradise.

I’m writing this down, partly to keep myself busy so I don’t think about coffee. I also thought it would be a good idea to record what became of our world just in case nobody else is alive to do it.

As close as I can figure, it’s been about six months since I felt the first of the bombs hit. My food supply is dwindling, even the really old stuff. If I have to eat another can of cold lima beans I’m going to scream. Who the hell puts lima beans in a bomb shelter? I guess I could leave the shelter, but as long as I have coffee in my possession, I run the risk of getting robbed, maybe even killed for it. Lord only knows what’s happening up on the surface.

I’m down to my last can of coffee, but I’ve been putting off opening it because once it’s gone, then I truly will be out of coffee. After that, I will leave the shelter and see what awaits me up above.

I’ll wait one more day to open it. I can go without coffee for just one more day. I’ve been saving one last can of butane to make it nice and hot. Cold food I can handle, but cold water won’t brew coffee.

See? One day wasn’t so tough. Why not make it two? If I have a cup of coffee every two days, it will last twice as long. If I wait one more day before opening the last can, that’s one more day before I run out for good.

I made it a whole week. Wow. That’s one more week before I run out. As long as I have that can of coffee, I’m the richest man on earth. I might also be the only man on earth, but… mere details.

Two weeks, and that damn can of coffee sits there unopened, mocking me, daring me to open it. You’d like that, wouldn’t you? Nice try, coffee can. I’m smarter than you. After all, you’re just a stupid can of coffee. I’m over you. I don’t love you anymore. I could quit you cold turkey if I wanted to.

Aw, fuck it. Since I know I can quit anytime I want, I might as well drink it and enjoy the last coffee on earth.

I’m doing it. This is it. I’m opening the can.


I’ve been out of food for weeks now, and starvation is weakening me more each day. The can of coffee still sits unopened, though. I have decided to save it until the very end. If the last thing I do before I leave this world is drink the last cup of coffee in that can, I will die a happy man. I’ll have to do it soon, though. I’m on my last two gallons of bottled water.

Maybe it’s time I left the shelter. There is probably clean water on the surface. Hell, I don’t even care if it’s contaminated, just as long as it will make a decent cuppa Joe. But… what if it’s total chaos up there? I’d be killed for my can of coffee for sure. I guess I could leave it in the shelter. Nobody knows it’s here. But what if I was followed on the way back, or worse, what if someone found this place – and my coffee – while I was away? Without my coffee, I have nothing. No, the only way it will be safe is if I stay and guard it.

When I finish the water I have open, I will open the last jug of water along with the can of coffee and brew a nice steaming cup of Heaven. When the coffee is gone, I will leave the shelter. If the world is destroyed, I’ll use the revolver I took from my neighbor’s hand and exit in likewise fashion.

NO! NO!!!! I went to open the last water jug and found it empty! DRY! All this time I thought it was full but I didn’t actually pick it up and shake it. The jug must have had a leak at the bottom because the water is long gone. No! No! No! I can’t live without water, because without water I can’t make coffee. A world without coffee is not one I want to face.

Goodbye world, whatever’s left of you.

* * *

The steel door groaned open. Two faces peered into the hole, closing their inner eyelids to shield their eyes from the rising dust.

“What is this?”

“I’m not sure. Looks like some kind of ancient ruins. There’s a cave or something down there. Let’s go down and check it out.”

They scuttled down the shaft into the cavern below.

“Look, there! Bones! What kind of creature is that?”

“I don’t know, but it’s not one of us. Look, only four appendages, and it doesn’t even have a tail! Must be some kind of weird old fossil.”

“What’s that object beside it?”

A webbed, green-scaled hand reached for the metal can.

“Is it some kind of weapon?”

“I don’t think so. Maybe it’s food or something. Look, I can open it.”

Sniff. Sniff.

“What is that?”

“I don’t know, but it smells delicious! Should we taste it?”

“No, it might be poison. Let’s go and ask Mom first.”

Copyright © 2014 Mandy White

Read on to enjoy the sequel to this story:


“Are we there yet?”


“How much farther?”

“I don’t know.”

“I’m bored. Can’t we stop somewhere?”

“Will you stop harassing me? We will get there when we get there.”

“Don’t yell at the children, Dax. They’re just restless. They’ve been cooped up in this vehicle for ages. Can’t we find a place to stop so they can get some exercise?” Sky said.

“Where would you suggest?”

“I’m sure there’s someplace suitable around here. How about that place?”

“What if it’s no good?”

“There’s only one way to find out. Scan it.”

Dax entered the coordinates into the computer and read the results.

“Sounds ok, but might be some kind of tourist trap.”

“Well, we’re tourists, so it sounds perfect.”

Dax sighed. “I guess it wouldn’t hurt to stop and stretch our legs for a while. Maybe we will find a nice place to camp.”

“That’s the spirit. We’re on vacation. Let’s relax and enjoy ourselves.”

* * *

The place looked promising. Clean air, trees, plenty of water. The children scrambled out of the vehicle and rushed toward the beach. Within moments they were splashing happily in the water.

Sky nuzzled her mate. “See? That was all they needed. Why don’t you relax while I find us something to eat?”

Dax was feeling more relaxed already. The place was pretty nice, he had to admit. Maybe they could stay a while. It seemed like a great place to spend a holiday.

Sky wandered away, taking in the sights while Dax basked in the sun, lying on a large flat rock near the water. Some time later, Sky returned, her arms filled with tasty looking food.

“What are those?” Dax asked.

“I don’t know, but they taste good. Here, try one.” She handed a wriggling, furry creature to Dax.

“Children! Come and get something to eat!”

“But I wanna swim!” Chi whined.

“You can go back and swim after you eat something and warm up for a little while. You don’t want to get a chill,” Sky ordered.

Pouting, Chi and Dik left the water and joined their parents on the beach. Their reluctance quickly turned to enthusiasm when they saw the delicious treats their mother had brought.

“This is nice, don’t you think, Honey?” Sky said, gazing up at the brilliant yellow sun on its backdrop of blue.

“It sure is,” Dax agreed, “Why don’t we stay here for a while and camp? Looks like we have the whole place to ourselves.”

“Yes! Let’s do it.” Sky said.

“Yay!” the children shouted in unison.

* * *

The next day, the children did some exploring while their parents napped in the sun. They happened upon a strange object.

“Wonder what this is?” Chi said, examining the rounded metal thing.

“I think it’s some kind of lid. Help me open it.”

The steel door groaned open. They peered into the hole, closing their inner eyelids against the rising dust.

“What is this?”

“I’m not sure. Looks like some kind of ancient ruins. There’s a cave or something down there. Let’s go down and check it out.”

They scuttled down the shaft into the cavern below.

“Look there! Bones! What kind of creature is that?”

“I don’t know, but it’s not one of us. Look, only four appendages and it doesn’t even have a tail! Must be some kind of weird old fossil.”

“What’s that object beside it?”

Dik’s webbed, green-scaled hand reached for the metal object.

“Is it some kind of weapon?” Chi asked.

“I don’t think so. Maybe it’s food or something. Look, I can open it.”

Sniff. Sniff.

“What is that?”

“I don’t know, but it smells delicious! Should we taste it?”

“No, it might be poison. Let’s go and ask Mom first.”

“What’s this other thing?”

“I don’t know, but it looks like it was as important to this creature as that container. It died holding both of them.”

* * *

They ran back to their parents carrying the metal container and the other strange object they had found clutched in the arms of the fossilized remains.

“Mom! Dad! Look what we found!”

Dax and Sky examined the objects their children had found. The container was filled with dry, dark brown granules that had an intoxicating aroma. The other object appeared to be a collection of ancient writings, inscribed on thin sheets of a brittle, delicate material.

“I’ll scan this with the ship’s computer. Maybe we can decode it,” Dax said.

He scanned the documents and then left the computer to analyze the alien language. Meanwhile, the family went out to explore, starting with the cave the children had found.

It appeared to be some sort of underground home, accessed by a metal tube. The remains of a lone life form lay below. Nearby, they found some ancient ruins, above ground. Inside, they found the remains of another life form, and its death appeared to have been caused by a large hole in its head.

“What happened to these creatures?” Sky wondered aloud. “Do you think any of them are left?”

“I don’t know,” Dax said. Maybe those ancient writings will have a clue.”

“Let’s look around some more. These things are fascinating if nothing else.”

Some distance away, they found more ancient ruins that appeared to be untouched since the demise of the civilization that had built them. It was an archaeological marvel, this crumbling city, destroyed by some sort of war or disaster. They found more remains, lying where they had fallen. Whatever had happened, not everyone had seen it coming.

They explored until dusk, and then returned to camp. Dax checked on the ship’s computer to see if it had made any progress decoding the ancient language. It had. The results were amazing.

“Sky! Children! Come here! You have to see this!”

They crowded around the screen as Dax read what the computer had translated.

“According to what the being in the cave inscribed, this planet was once a thriving civilization, but it was destroyed by war. That cave was not a home, but a shelter, built to withstand the blast. It seems that poor fellow went down there to escape the war and ended up starving to death, even though he could have come back to the surface.”

“What made him stay down there?”

“He was protecting a substance more valuable than anything on the planet; the very cause of the war. It seemed this civilization worshiped the substance, until one day the plant that provided it became extinct. When the supply ran out, war broke out. They bombed themselves out of existence with their own weapons. That guy found a treasure trove of the valuable substance down in the shelter, so he went to ground and locked himself in. He had one container left when he ran out of water. He died down there, probably of starvation, locked in with his treasure.”

“The container! That must be the treasure!” Chi exchanged an excited look with her brother. “We just found the most valuable thing on the planet!”

“So, what exactly is this treasure?” Sky asked. “What makes it so valuable?”

Dax leaned over the screen again.

“It says here that it’s some sort of drink. They called it COF-FEE.”

Copyright © 2018 Mandy White

Published in DysFictional 2 and WPaD’s Goin’ Extinct

November Winners!

And here are this year’s winners!

Evil Squirrel's Nest

Who gets to add their name to this rather shoddy looking plaque?

The time has finally arrived to announce the winner of the 2023 Contest of Whatever!  While I don’t think this year’s prompt will go down among my best (even I had trouble coming up with good teasers to serve as reminders and spur interest), the participants made the best of the situation and presented a fitting ten different interpretations for the tenth annual contest!

We’re going to have to update this calendar.

This year was the complete opposite of the 2022 contest, where one entry stole the show and gave me my easiest decision ever as to the overall winner.  I debated quite a bit over the weekend, and at various times had preliminarily decided on no fewer than five of the ten submissions as the one I’d likely choose.  It took going over each one of…

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Judgement Day – 11/31

The day of Judgement is upon us! Here are all the entries to the Contest of Whatever. Click the links to check them out. Winners to be announced tomorrow!

Evil Squirrel's Nest

FUZZYWIG: It’s time for the three of us to provide our usual sarcastic wit to this year’s Contest of Whatever entries.

SNUGGLE: You mean we’re gonna shit all over them again?  Fuck, I love this!

MITZI: Uh oh!  Should Mitzi have, like, worn her Defends?

FUZZYWIG: We’re not gonna shit all over the hard work of others.  Just, you know, maybe mock them a bit for the entertainment of our readers.

SNUGGLE: So we’re gonna shit all over them while being funny?  Fuckin’ A!

FUZZYWIG: Sigh.  Nevermind.  This year’s contest theme was the imaginary date of November 31st, and we received…

MITZI: Like, no way Josie!  November 31st is, like, totally Halloween, and Mitzi always dresses up as something sex-ay for the occasion!  Mitzi was totally a slutty angel last year!

SNUGGLE: Dude, like, that’s OCTOBER 31st!  You know what date is made up, though?  April 20th!

FUZZYWIG: 4/20 is…

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Vlad’s Vampire Diary: An Odd Mysterious Flabbergasting Puzzle Matched with Astounding Surprises and Reflective Introspection. 

Another fantastic entry to the Contest of Whatever! Juliette even gave Chester the gnome a mention.

Vampire Maman

Dear Diary,

My friend Randolpho came to my house today. As he entered through my front door he slammed his hat down on the front entry table and then sat down on the couch. My cats both jumped up into his lap.

“What is upsetting you my friend,” I asked.

“Constantine will never tell anyone what day his birthday is. He celebrates a different day every year. He said it was going to be on April 1 this year. I started planning a party for him, but then his girlfriend Diana broke up with him and he said he was skipping it this year.”

“He was devoted to Diana,” I said, saddened and puzzled by the news.

“Diana is a Werewolf. I told him it would never work out. No self-respecting Vampire would allow themselves to fall in love with a Werewolf.”

“Did he give you any details?” I asked.

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Chester Gnome Day

This is my official entry to the Evil Squirrel’s Nest Tenth Annual Contest of Whatever!

After the trees are stripped bare of leaves and Autumn’s golden goodness has faded to grey, what is left to look forward to? The Halloween candy is all gone, except for the black licorice, hard candy and five cent suckers. Thanksgiving is nothing but a memory of week-long leftovers and cranberry sauce in the shape of half a can, which will lurk in the fridge until Christmas, when you will open a fresh can to replace the previous half-can.

In between Thanksgiving and Christmas, there is a lull…unless you buy your gifts online, in which case you’re already too late.

Fortunately, there is one more special day between Thanksgiving and Christmas. It’s a magical, mystical day. So magical in fact, that nobody ever remembers it.

I’m talking about Chester Gnome Day.

Chester Gnome Day falls on November 31, the least remembered day of the year. Because it’s magical. I think I mentioned that already. Pay attention, willya?

Not much is known about Chester, except for the fact that he is a gnome and particularly ill-tempered. Why? At the risk of sounding redundant, I don’t know. Perhaps I do know, but can’t remember, which is in keeping with the spirit of Chester Gnome Day.

Chester Gnome Day is the day when you can do whatever you want. Tell off that co-worker who keeps farting in the lunch room. Tell your boss to fuck off with finesse, perhaps with a nice dick slap in the back of the head. That person in your work place with the annoying voice? Scream in her face, every obscenity you know, and a few you don’t.

Chester Gnome Day is a day of no consequences. It’s kind of like that movie The Purge, except that nobody stays dead, nobody remains offended by your vile behavior, and you can fart in the lunchroom all day long without embarrassment.

Everybody gets a do-over, so do whatever you want.

And if you’re lucky, Chester Gnome himself will pay you a visit. Legend has it he will climb down your chimney late at night on November 31, just before the calendar turns to December, and kick you square in the nuts while you sleep. Ladies, expect a hard punch to the boob. Chester doesn’t discriminate.

The next morning when you awaken, all will be forgotten. Everything you did the night before will be undone. Even you will forget.

So if you wake up on the morning of December 1 with aching balls or a black and blue boob, you’ll know that whatever you did was awful enough to earn you a personal visit from the one and only Chester Gnome.

Some of my past entries to the prestigious COW:

2022: Friend or Food, or Both?

2020: The Murphy’s Paw