Category Archives: Original Stories

A New Dream for MLK Day: Reuniting America

We need more serenity in our lives. Enjoy this sunset over the Thames River in Connecticut.

Teetering on the brink of a new civil war, perhaps it is time to use the Dr. Martin Luther King jr. holiday to reflect on fulfilling his dream in a whole new way.

In his quest for equality, fairness and justice for all, Dr. King advocated for peace at every juncture of policy and protest.

I fix, restore and sell fountain pens for a living. I write stories to entertain people. I’m no politician. I intentionally avoid politics at all cost with regard to my business and this blog. BUT, I am heartbroken to see the nation I love falling apart. It is terrifying to see our capitol under siege. It is alien to have anything less than a peaceful transfer of power in Washington D.C. It is awful watching people whom I call friends so politically divided and letting their politics spoil their friendships.

As a guy who loves vintage pens, it should come as no surprise that I love reading about history. Among other projects, I’m working on a book about the original American Civil War. Plus, with a master’s degree in journalism, I have a fairly strong understanding about the machinations of modern media.

There is one common factor that I have observed in recent years that conservatives and liberals can agree on: the media is biased. How many times have you heard conservatives blame the liberal media…or liberals blame the conservative media? How many of our friends who are 50+ bemoan the fact we no longer have an Edward R. Murrow or Walter Cronkite that every American can trust to tell us the facts and only the facts in a news broadcast?

Why do we have so much media bias in our current time?

In 1949, the United States enacted a law known as “The Fairness Doctrine.” After having watched the rise of fascism in Europe and communism in Russia, American lawmakers wisely foresaw the new invention of television (and the older medium of radio) being used in horrible ways to subvert our democracy. As such, they enacted “The Fairness Doctrine.” Under this law, nobody who owned a broadcast license could promote one political ideology or party over another. If a channel or network wanted to feature a certain political opinion, it had to balance it out with the opposing view to give viewers a fair opportunity to consider both points of view and come up with their own opinions. Any channel or network that violated that balance would be punished by the Federal Communications Commission, which was nonpartisan and watched networks closely—enforcing the policy with vigor.

The policy remained in force until it was eliminated by Congress in 1987. Not surprisingly, we saw a sharp spike in opinion-based and biased broadcasting in the 1990s through today.

I propose that if we really want to heal our nation, then liberals and conservatives must come together to demand their lawmakers reinstate “The Fairness Doctrine.” No more liberal media. No more conservative media. No more lopsided political coverage. No more ideological brainwashing. News shows go back to broadcasting facts and only facts.

News shows might become more boring, but after watching violent insurrection on our streets, maybe boring would be a good change of pace on TV. 

This week marks the start of a new presidency and the start of a new cast of senators and representatives. Call or write your representatives and president this week and demand the restoration of “The Fairness Doctrine.” It won’t solve all of our nation’s problems, but it will go a long way to help lower the national temperature and restore bias-free broadcasting to our airwaves.

Decameron 2020: The Price of Guilt

The Price of Guilt
By Art Cerf

Here’s the first snowfall of the year in Connecticut. It has nothing to do with the story. We just think it is beautiful and as good a way to illustrate this story as any.

Mike and Jill had been married for almost two years and still behaved like newlyweds. They treasured each other.

One morning Jill woke up with a headache and a slight fever. She said it’s just a cold and went on with her day. But the headache got worse and her fever climbed so Mike rushed her to the hospital. It was the last time he would see her for four weeks.

He checked about every four hours with the hospital staff but she was showing no improvement. In fact, three days in the doctors said they had to put a tube down her throat because her oxygen levels had dipped so.

Mike was worried sick. He couldn’t work. He couldn’t read or watch TV. About all he could do was go outside and walk…and walk…and walk.

One day, he ran into Maggie, one of Jill’s acquaintances and she asked for Jill and he told her how she was now hospitalized with Covid. She looked at him…gaunt in appearance, he hadn’t shaved in days nor eaten much.

She said let’s go back to your place and I’d cook you up something. He followed her and she rummaged through the fridge and came up with bacon and eggs.

She told him to go upstairs, shower, shave and change his clothes. When he returned, he suddenly realized he was ravenous and quickly ate every bite.

After the meal, he asked her if she’d like a beer.

“No, but if you have any gin, I’d take a martini.”

So they both had martinis and talked. And then a second martini and then a third.

The next thing he knew, he was getting out of bed to pee while nursing a terrible hangover.

As he returned, he saw a sleeping Maggie, one bare breast peeking out from beneath the sheets.

He tried to dress quietly but she awoke smiling, saying, “Good morning, lover.”

Mike turned scarlet and stammered, “We shouldn’t have, I shouldn’t have…”

She stopped him, saying not to worry, it was a one-time thing and she had no desire to break up his marriage, adding, “As for me, I really enjoyed myself and apparently, you did too…twice!”

Maggie then said she’d take a quick shower and be on her way.

Those were the longest 25 minutes in Mike’s life until she went out the door.

Then he worried, “What if the neighbors saw? What if she had a social disease or, God forbid, Aids?”

And then he realized he had used no protection…what if she’s pregnant?

Just then the phone rang and it was the hospital. A doctor told him Jill had been taken off the ventilator and was doing much better and though still very weak, could go home in two or three days.

Mike ran upstairs, stripped the bed and washed the sheets…twice. He then scrubbed out the tub to make sure none of Maggie’s long, chestnut hair was stuck in the drain or anywhere else.  Then he cleaned up the kitchen, washing pots and dishes, again trying to erase any sign of Maggie’s presence.

Three days later, Jill came home and went straight up to the bedroom to lie down.

Then the phone rang and it was Maggie.

“Mike,” she said, “I had a Covid test at work after our night, and I’ve tested positive but asymptotic. However, they warn that I may have past the virus to anyone I’d seen or spent time with.”

Decameron 2020: The Hit Business

The Hit Business
By Art Cerf

Here’s a tufted titmouse on my roof. It has nothing to do with this story, but I love these little songbirds.

Elliot Myers was a second-rate song writer and a third-rate musician.

On the dark side of 30, he lived in his mother’s basement and had no job other than the occasional gig with his band, the Misfits, (No, not those Misfits…he only wished…and was about 40 years too late.) playing at high school dances and old people’s homes. Seldom were they ever offered a return gig.

Elliot wrote voraciously…songs like “Cat, Man Do!,” “The Red Light that Stopped My Heart,” and his favorite, “I Married a Giant Squid” which started, “I’m as happy as can be when she wraps her arms around me.”

Not surprisingly, no record labels were interested. No one bought his home-recorded music over the internet. And the only thing streaming was his tears.

One night in despair, he penned “Dancin’ with the Covid Blues.”  He posted it online for free. It was truly terrible and tasteless…and people started to listen to it. Lots of people. So many people that a  record company offered to buy it and give him a percentage of the profits. That’s when it really took off.

Soon it was on the Billboard 100. Then in the Top Ten…and finally, number one for 12 weeks!

Elliot was on fire. His other creations were recorded, and while they weren’t quite as awful at the Covid hit, they fattened his bank account even more.

Soon he became a TV celebrity, dated women way out of his league and even got a cover on “The Rolling Stone.”

(Now I know how you readers are looking ahead, predicting he’ll get Covid and die. You are wrong. Instead he was crossing the street with his headphones on, listening to his favorite tunes and while not paying attention, was hit by a bus!)

Decameron 2020: Where did Janey Go?

There are so many beautiful scenes to photograph in Connecticut in the fall…especially a stone wall leading to oblivion.

“Wheee!,” cheered Jane, clapping her hands for encouragement. “Look at that little girl run.”

Vick looked up from the papers he was grading and smiled at his mother-in-law. “She’s adorable.”

There was nobody else in the living room.

Since before they moved into this fully restored, 3-story Queen Anne home in New Haven, Jane had been seeing people who just weren’t there.

Jane had early onset Alzheimer’s and was nearing the end of the line. This little girl she had been seeing since they moved into the house likely was a series of happy memories about Vick’s wife when she was a little girl.

Jane was happy and comfortable, and that was all that mattered to Vick.

Getting this tenured professorship at an Ivy League school was a dream come true for Vick. His wife Sue was an architect who was in high demand, and she could usually work from home, traveling when she needed to. She was 100% supportive of this move, and they both agreed their newly renovated home was the best home in which either had ever lived.

They took great care with the interior design. Each room was unique, creating its own ambiance. The living room was tastefully elegant in a rich 1890s Victorian motif to restore the home to some of its original state. Dark woods, red cushions and wall coverings. House plants helped fill the room with life. Ferns and vines threatened to overtake the windows and furniture. The walls had paintings or bookshelves tastefully arranged. It was Vick’s favorite room.

Sue came in and asked, “You didn’t happen to take a bath and forget to empty the tub, did you? There are watery footprints all over the floor.”

Vick gave a subtle head shake no, and they both looked to Jane, who was bare-footed, and playing patty cake by herself and giggling.

Sue sighed, “I’ll go drain the tub and clean up the floor.”

“That’s alright. I can do it,” Vick offered.

“No, you’re busy. I got it.”

Keeping tabs on Jane was easily a 2-person job. Jane always meant well, but she had virtually no short-term memory. Frequently, she’d wander off and do household chores or yard work. It sounded great on the surface…until they discovered she never used dish soap and stacked wet, dirty dishes in the cabinets, without any regard for the contents of the cabinets and drawers in which she placed them. The pantry was forever being reorganized.

It was easier when their kids were home, but their two girls were off at college. For now, Vick and Sue tag-teamed watching Jane or cleaning up after her. The hardest part was that Jane preferred to be busy. You couldn’t just plunk her in front of a T.V. Jane preferred mowing, raking or pruning to watching T.V. Yet, to set her loose on her own would be trouble. When they gave her a trowel to weed the garden and left her alone, she forgot to weed and dug a 4-foot deep hole instead.

Neither Vick nor Sue blamed Jane. It was the disease.

During the week, a caretaker came to look after Jane. On the weekends, it was just Vick and Sue. They didn’t mind. They had set some boundaries for defining the moment they would need to find a nursing home, but they enjoyed Jane’s company and knew how much she’d hate a nursing home in her present state of mind.

They were content to give Jane as many good years, months or days as they could in their happy home.

•••

Imagine being buried in red and orange leaves.

The advantage to having kids off at college was sleeping in on Sundays and rediscovering each other.

Sue and Vick were as flirty as teenagers while making pancakes and bacon in the kitchen. Vick was nibbling Sue’s ear when Jane rushed in, out of breath and wearing nothing but a bathrobe.

“Have you seen that little girl?” she asked. “I tried to chase her, but she’s faster than me.”

“No,” Sue said, putting down the mixing bowl full of batter that she was stirring. “You want some breakfast? I’ve got some strawberries and whip cream for your pancakes. I know you like that.”

Jane looked confused. “Not right now. I really need to find that little girl.”

Jane left the kitchen on her quest, and Sue sighed and shrugged. “I guess playtime is over, now that she’s up.”

Vick gave her a kiss. “To be continued.”

She gave him her naughtiest smile, then Jane came running back into the kitchen.

Jane was pale and trembling. Panic was in her eyes.

“There’s a man in the house,” she said.

“What?” Vick asked. “Where?”

“I don’t like him,” Jane’s voice was a tremor. “Make him go away.”

“It’s okay,” Sue soothed, as she embraced her mother.

“What did he look like? Where is he?” Vick questioned, grabbing a long, sharp kitchen knife.

Vick was a pudgy college professor, not a knife fighter, but he figured something was better than nothing.

Jane was at a loss for words  and just pointed out the kitchen entrance she came in.

“Be careful,” Sue cautioned.

Searching the first floor, Vick saw no trace of anybody. No broken windows. No disturbed furniture. No stolen items.

He was surprised to find the front door unlocked. Opening the front door, a package was waiting for his wife on the porch.

Snorting a small laugh, he put together the pieces of the puzzle.

He took the package back to Sue and asked Jane, “Did you see the delivery man? Is that who scared you?”

“What man?” Jane asked, confused.

Sue exhaled in relief.

“I’ll check the rest of the house,” Vick said. “But, I think we found our culprit.”

“Thanks,” Sue agreed, as she took the package.

Nothing was amiss as Vick explored from low to high. The only thing out of place was that the 2nd floor bath tub was full, again. Muttering to himself, Vick drained the tub and sopped up the mess on the floor with a towel.

•••

Not sure there is anything more beautiful than maple leaves at peak color.

Raking the last of the front yard leaves into a huge three-foot pile, Sue and Jane were dressed in gloves and heavy sweaters.

It was a crisp, late-October day.

“Watch that little girl play in the leaves,” Jane said, resting on her rake.

“I don’t know about any little girl,” Sue smiled mischievously. “I think you want to play in the leaves.”

“Noooo,” Jane protested. “I’m too old. What will the neighbors say?”

“They’ll say, ‘Look at the old lady having fun. Maybe she’ll let me play, too.’ Go on. Have fun.”

Jane jumped into the leaves with reckless abandon. Sue picked up a pile of leaves and dropped them on her. Then she fell into the leaves next to her mother.

They both laughed like they did when Sue was a little girl.

When they tired of laughing and throwing leaves at one another, they lay quietly staring at the cold, grey sky through the nearly naked branches of an old oak tree.

“I don’t think I’ve got another winter left in me, Sue.”

Sue was shocked by the sudden return of dementia-free clarity.

“Of course you do, Mom. You’re a skiier.”

“Not any more.” Jane was silent a moment before continuing. “I really want to thank you and Vick for how well you are taking care of me, but I want you to know that it is okay…whatever it is you need to do to take care of me.”

Tears welled in Sue’s eyes, as she took in the full permission of what her mother was granting her.

“I love you, Susie.”

“I love you, too, Mama,” Sue said, hugging her tightly and crying. “I miss you so much.”

They cried and hugged some more, and before either of them was ready, the dementia returned.

“Why are you crying?” Jane innocently asked, oblivious to her own cheeks wet with tears.

Sue tried hard to compose herself quickly. “Nothing. Nothing, Mama. How about some hot cocoa?”

“Only if my little friend here can have a cup, too,” she said, climbing out of the leaves and on to her feet.

“Of course,” she agreed, absently wiping her nose on her sleeve.

•••

Later  that night, just down the hall from her loving daughter and son-in-law, comfy and warm in her bed, Jane passed away peacefully.

On October 30th, a small grave-side service was held for Jane. Her granddaughters came in from their respective colleges. Nobody in New Haven knew Jane, but a couple of Sue and Vick’s colleagues came to offer their support. The girls were upset. Sue and Vick had far more complex feelings. They were sorrowful for Jane’s passing. She died too young from a disease that deprived her of her memories and personality. Yet, being her constant caretakers had taken a toll on them, too, and they felt guilty for feeling some relief.

At midnight Vick was awakened by a small hand gently patting his shoulder. He groggily thought it was one of his daughters, momentarily forgetting they were now grown women.

Through his bleary eyes he saw a 9-year-old girl patiently standing next to his bed. She had curly hair like Shirley Temple and was wearing a 1940s’ dungaree jumper.

Coming to his senses, he gasped and sat up in bed—scooting backward until his back was against the headboard.

“Who are you?”

Sensing his fear, the little girl took a step backward and asked,  “Where did Janey go? I haven’t seen her for a couple of days.”

Sue started to stir next to him.

“What?” Vick asked. “How did you get in here?”

The girl smiled like he was being silly.

“You know me,” she explained. “I’m Janey’s friend. You called me adorable once when we were playing in the drawing room.”

Sue was coming to her senses and trying to understand what a little girl was doing in their bedroom.

Vick tried to explain gently to someone whom he wasn’t sure existed, “Umm. Jane died several days ago.”

She looked at him quizzically, as if she didn’t quite understand.

Then a soft familiar voice playfully called from down the hall.

“Evvvvelynnnn. Come out, come out wherever you are.”

“Mama?” Sue whispered, confused.

“Oh! There she is,” said the little girl, perking up. Then her eyes widened and fear shown on her face. “I forgot to warn her about the man with the bloody arms in the bathtub!”

The girl faded away as she looked like she was going to run out of the room.

Seconds later Jane screamed from the middle of the hallway.

“Mama!” Sue shouted, as she and Vick ran down the hall to the bathroom. Moments later they were joined by their daughters.

They stood silently watching the lit bathroom. Nobody else was in the hall or bathroom, but the tub was full and wet footprints led to the hallway and vanished.

HAPPY HALLOWEEN

Decameron 2020: The Pickerel Witch

Here’s a Fowler’s toad lurking in the grass…or is it? Enjoy our modern fairytale.

Ilke and Streusel were walking through Germany’s dark, primeval Black Forest. They had been lost and wandering for days.

“Ilke,” her little brother called. “I’m hungry. Why did our evil step-mother send us on this horrible quest to find dingleberries in the forest?”

“I don’t know,” she replied. “But even if we find this dingleberry bush, I do not think we can find our way back to our loving-but-easily-duped father and have a dingleberry pie.”

They trudged on, weak and trembling.

“Remember our friends, Hansel and Gretel?” Streusel asked.

“Of course.”

“Well, just last week I heard that they found a cabin made of candy,” he said. “Maybe it is still here somewhere close to us.”

“I hope not,” Ilke shivered. “I heard they met a witch who tried to eat them.”

“Yeah, but they pushed her into an oven and killed her. That means there should be plenty of fresh candy waiting for us.”

“I think we’d be better off avoiding witches.”

Eventually they came to a swampy clearing. They rested their weary little bottoms on a log.

“I’m so hungry,” Streusel exclaimed. “I could eat a frog.”

Here’s a real Pickerel frog?

Just like that a splotchy, warty Pickerel frog hopped up between them on the log.

With the last of his strength, Streusel caught the frog and held it gently in his hands as he contemplated eating it raw.

“Don’t hurt it,” Ilke commanded. “It never did anything to you. You have no right to take its life.”

Streusel cried with guilt for ever thinking of killing a living creature, and he cried because he was hungry. He carefully set the plump little amphibian down.

It looked at him and ribbeted, “Thanks.” Next there was a flash and poof.

The children screamed as a beautiful woman with thick, shoulder-length blonde hair appeared wearing a long, black dress, black hobnail boots and a wide-brimmed black pointy hat.

She produced a compact from her black-satin dress and powdered her nose. Then she gave a toss of her golden locks, just for effect before closing her compact.

“Hi there,” she greeted the children. “My name is Madison, but you can call me Maddie.”

The children looked at her and trembled in terror.

“Oh, you little lambs must be starving,” she said and handed each child a peanut butter and jelly sandwich with the crusts cut off, just they way they liked.

“Our step-mother says never to take food from strangers,” Ilke declared.

In a sweet and sardonic voice, Maddie asked, “The same step-mother who intentionally left you in the forest to die so she could have lots of sex with your dim-witted father and raise her spawn in your place?”

“Ohhhh,” the kids sighed, thought about it and devoured their sandwiches.

Feeling better, Streusel asked, “Are you going to eat us now?”

Madison laughed with impish delight.

“No, Sweetie. That was Hildegarde, who Hansel and Gretel did in so nicely. She was old skool. Very conservative and traditional,” Maddie explained. “I’m with the more progressive Witchs’ Welfare League. We love good little girls and boys and think it is unfair to prey on them when they are already such easy and undeserving targets.”

The siblings nodded appreciatively.

“So what are you going to do with us?” Ilke asked apprehensively.

“Nothing, dear child,” Madison said. “The real question is, ‘What are you going to do to help me?’”

“What do you mean?” Ilke asked.

Madison pinched Ilke’s ribs and said, “Well, it feels to me as if you haven’t had any meat in ages.”

“No, we haven’t,” Streusel told her.

“How about you guys help me chop up your step-mother and eat her for dinner, and then you can live happily ever after with your loving father.”

“Yay!” cheered the kids, as they clasped Maddie’s hands, hopped off the log and skipped all the way back home to cannibalize their most-deserving, wicked step-mother.

T
H
END

Decameron 2020: Halloween Movie Night

Autumn is our favorite time of year. Even if you can’t party or trick ‘r treat this Halloween, you can still curl up with some good horror movies.

Pandemic Halloween totally sucks! Halloween is easily one of my favorite holidays. It captures all of the romance of autumn, along with all of the primal frights of life and death. Plus, there’s candy!

Worse, yet, for me is that this is my very first Halloween in New England…the primeval home of All Hallow’s Eve with its lore filled with witches, warlocks, devils and other medieval horrors imported from Europe.

So what do we do now that most reasonable people have called off trick ‘r treating to help protect the lives of our little ghouls and gobblins?

My top choice is turning out all of the lights, lighting a bajillion candles and reading Washington Irving’s “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.” (Doing this around a fire pit is a good alternative.)

Yet, my second choice is diving into great horror movies. Pop some corn, grab a couple bags of your favorite candies and dive into spooky cinema. Everybody has their favorite, of course. And I firmly believe all kids should be exposed to the joys of the early Universal monster movies, such as “Dracula,” “Frankenstein,” “The Mummy” and “The Wolf-Man.” You can never go wrong with “The Shining,” but, my goal with these movie nights is to avoid the usual go-to films. It is time to delve into great movies you might not be as familiar with.

Horror movies fall into two groups for me. There are the genuinely scary horror films, and then there are the campy horror films. I grew up in a horror movie household. My mom loves campy horror, and my dad loves the movies that will keep you up all night for a week. I got to see them all. And it is funny to me how much movies changed for me as I got older. I was genuinely terrified of the campy horror films as a little kid, but now I laugh at them as an adult.

The key to really enjoying any horror movie is to suspend all disbelief and fall into its world for about 90 minutes. With that said, let’s dive in.

THE BLOB (1958): In Steve McQueen’s first movie role, a meteor crashes to earth near a small town. Teenagers discover the space rock with an old guy. The rock splits open to reveal a small gooey blob that begins eating the old man alive! Rushing him to the doctor, the blob goes on a ravenous rampage, oozing under doors, through vents and anywhere it wants. Is there no way for these good-hearted teens to “extinguish” its hunger? True story: I watched this for the first time when I was about 9 and lived in terror of the film for another 15 years or so. When it came on TV in my 20s, while I was visiting my folks, I tried to get out of watching it with them. “We think it might be a little different than you remembered it at age 9.” Okay, I watched it again, and I laughed at myself and the movie for the rest of the night.

THE  TINGLER (1959): Vincent Price plays a scientist who discovers that each of us has a little creature living on our spines called a tingler. It feeds on fear and can kill you by crushing your spine if you don’t scream to release your fear. When he successfully captures a living tingler and it gets loose…well, all hell breaks loose. This was director William Castles’ classic B-movie where he rigged seats in movie theaters with buzzers to randomly scare the audience members. I don’t think this one ever scared me, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t loved it for all of my life.

INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (1956): Mysterious, human-sized pea pods start showing up at people’s homes. And as people try to make sense of them, the pods create a human clone of the person it was delivered to. Not sure what to make of these clones, the humans are reluctant to do anything about them, but the clones have no compunction about killing their humans and taking over their lives. A fun psychological thriller that is undoubtedly campy at times, but it can give you the creeps if you really let yourself become one with the film.

WAR OF THE WORLDS (1953): H.G. Wells’ classic sci-fi horror story comes to life in amazing Technicolor with this blockbuster. The world’s best special effects were employed for this movie when it first came out. Sure, they look a little hokey now, but I still love the terror imposed by the seemingly unstoppable aliens. The biggest laughs come not from the effects but the blatant sexism and condescending patriarchal nature of the leading men and scientists.

THE CHANGELING (1980): George C. Scott plays a man struggling with the loss of his wife and daughter in a tragic car wreck. Moving to a new town for a change of scene, he rents an old mansion that is already inhabited. To this day, I will contend that this is the most frightening ghost story ever filmed. I love it! I’ve seen it a dozen times, and it still raises the hairs on the back of my neck.

Decameron 2020: Big Bad Ed

Big Bad Ed
By Art Cerf

From here to eternity. Autumn closes in on Covid for Big Bad Ed.

Ed Brevington was a big man, a hard man, a tough and loud man.

He spent his days in backbreaking labor as a roofer. He spent his nights in bars, looking for anyone who would take him on. Few did and always to their regret.

Then came the pandemic and Ed proclaimed he wouldn’t be wearing a mask. “Hell,” he’d say, “If the President won’t wear one, why should I?”

And he would march maskless into stores, even those that said “No Mask, No Service. Few were bold enough to challenge him. He’d grab what he wanted and then throw money down on the counter and stalk out.

One day he woke with a headache…just a hangover he thought. But on the job, he started having trouble breathing. And his temperature shot up.

Reluctantly, he went to the hospital where he was immediately diagnosed with Covid and slapped into isolation. He spent four long weeks there and when they finally sent him home, he was as weak as a newborn lamb.  Doctors told him to rest up and in a few weeks, he’d likely be back to normal.

A few weeks turned into a few months. He had no appetite and lost 50 of his 240 pounds. It was an effort to get out of bed to pee and shower. Then he’d need another nap.

Finally, he returned to the doctors who ran a series of tests on him. One proclaimed, “The virus not only damaged your lungs but your heart as well. You’ll never to able to return to hard labor but there are other, less strenuous things you could do…cashier, phone sales, greeter. You still could lead a full life.”

That life would last about six hours. He went home, collapsed for a nap and when he awoke, he walked up to his bedroom, removed a pistol from his bedside table and pressed it to his temple.

Ed Bevington…damned if he would wear a mask and damned because he didn’t.

Decameron 2020: From Zoom to Eternity

From Zoom to Eternity
By Art Cerf

What type of mushroom is this? We found it growing in a Connecticut forest. It has nothing to do with the story. We just like catching your eye with pictures we like.

In olden days, Henry Prichard might have been a traveling engineer or linguist. But now, he was a much-in-demand computer wiz.

He fell in love twice while majoring in computer science at Purdue. First to a gal named Sally, whom he met in an introduction to programming course. And then with programming. Some people are born to be great singers or great doctors. Some easily take to French or another language. Henry took to Java, Python, JavaScript, C, C# and SQL.

He married Sally and had three children that he adored. But he was seldom home. Henry didn’t sell computer systems, he custom made Fortune-500 and governmental computer programs tailored to his client’s needs and was on call for people all around the world. So he’d travel from Denver to Dubai, come home for some fresh clothing, kiss the wife and hug the kids and then it was off to San Francisco and Singapore.

As you might imagine, Henry became very prosperous only his marriage was falling apart. Too many missed birthdays, anniversaries and the like. But the final straw was when he was called out of town on Christmas Eve to remedy some problem in Berlin.

Sally filed for divorce and took the kids with her to her hometown of Lebanon, Ohio.

Every night, Henry would Zoom them to catch up on their school days, their new friends and interests but he saw less and less of Sally who apparently was dating the manager of a local supermarket and who was home every night.

Then came the pandemic. No more traveling for Henry…not even to his office. But he was able to still work from his home and through Zoom, able to circle the world to fix problems remotely.

The trouble of course was calls came in 24 hours a day…each more urgent than the last. He took to sleeping on the couch to be available whenever needed. That often meant three hours sleep here, an hour there.

And there was the problem of his eating. He ordered out most nights and made one run a week, Sunday mornings, to the grocery to pick up lunch meat, snacks, desserts and Diet Coke.

From March to September, he gained 40 pounds and looked as pale as a ghost. No time or interest in exercising.

He heard from the office once a week but one week, no one answered their call. They tried again the next day and the next.

Nada. So finally, they sent someone out to see him and through the window, they saw him slumped over his computer. An ambulance was called, but it was at least two days too late.

Officially, the coroner’s report gave a heart attack as the cause of death. In truth, the pandemic had racked up another casualty.

Decameron 2020: Death and Mrs. Brock

Death & Mrs. Brock
by Art Cerf

Who knows what lurks just outside your door? Could be death…or just a Fowler’s toad.

Matilda Brock, all of 90, sat in her nursing home room, enjoying the sunbeam coming through the window, as winter reluctantly gave way to spring.”

Suddenly at the door, hooded death appeared.

“Where the hell have you been?” screamed Mrs B.  “I’ve waited for you the past ten years in this pit. I’ve seen two roommates die and other slip into senility, but would you come and rescue me? No!”

Death stepped back a moment. He had heard people scream at his arrival, cry or barter for more time. But no one…no one had ever dared to scream at him over the centuries.

He asked her why.

“All my life,” Matilda said, “I was taught to be silent and submissive…first by my braying jackass of a father and then by my bullying and pompous husband. When he died 30 years ago, I thought finally I’m free and threw myself into community service. But soon, I became everyone’s mule.

“The church could use more flowers. Please take care of it Mildred.”

Or “Who should organize this year’s benefit for the children. Mildred can do it since she has time on her hands.”

“By the time I was 80, my son, Otis, told me I could no longer live alone and since I had given him power of attorney, he sold my home and put me in this place with indifferent food, sloppy nurses aides and fat administrators. There’s only one TV. The women watch it all day for those stupid ladies talk shows, and the men take over at night for either sports or right-wing commentators. My favorite granddaughter, Bess, used to bring me books from the library…murder mysteries were my favorite as I’d plot how to dispose of various folks around me. But then my vision started to go and I could no longer read.”

Death looked at her and in the blink of an eye, transformed into a handsome, well-dressed young man. He took her by the arm and led her out into the hallway.

“Hey, where are you two going,” one aide shouted.

“Out to lunch with my grandson,” Matilda answered.

“So where do you want to go?” asked Death.

“Some place Mexican with some hot and spicy food.”

And so they went and had a delicious lunch.

From there, they were ushered to Bess’ home. Matilda arrived alone and asked to see her new, six-week-old great, great granddaughter.

Bess was delighted to see her, if not uncertain how she arrived.  She brought the baby to Matilda and told her, “We named her Maddy, after you.”

Matilda held the baby like she was gold and tears came to her eyes.  Moments later, she said she had to go, she had a cab waiting.

After hugs and kisses, Matilda entered a cab. As it drove away, Bess could have sworn the driver was wearing a black hood.

Matilda died that night, as did 13 other residents of the nursing home. Authorities blamed Covid but in truth, Matilda had died of happiness.

 

(Editor’s note)  Death wants it made clear that this was a one-time only exception.

Decameron 2020: The God-like Surgeon

The God-like Surgeon
By Art Cerf

Here’s a photo of a barn before a rainstorm. It has nothing to do with the story. We just like to show off some photography.

Montgomery Vandergriff knew he wasn’t God, but he felt he’d make an excellent understudy. Excuse me. That’s Dr. Montgomery Vandergriff, internationally-renowned surgeon with enough newspaper, magazine and medical journal articles about him to decimate a forest.

The doctor never considered himself superior, just that everyone else were underlings. When he’d arrive at the hospital, doctors, nurses, administrators and custodians all would step aside and say, “Good morning, Doctor.”  To a special few, he acknowledge them with a slight nod. The rest would received a “Hmmm.”

Imagine his surprise when he tested positive for the corona virus. And his shock when he was rushed to the ER when he had trouble breathing. Soon, he was in intensive care on a ventilator. The next days he was in and out of consciousness, seeing only doctors and nurses in hazmat suits.

One evening, about a week later, he woke up in the middle of the night and saw a man in the shadows, sitting beside him.

“Ah, you woke up,” the man said, and then carried on a one-way conversation about the news, the Cubs, the latest Hollywood marriage or divorce. Normally, Dr. Vandergriff had no time for such nonsense but there was something about the man…his voice. Only the doctor couldn’t place it as he drifted back to sleep.

“Pete,” the doctor thought, Pete the garage man. Then he remembered how years ago, Pete’s 6-year-old daughter was dying of congenital heart disease. The doctors said there was only a 20% chance she’d survive an operation but no chance at all without one.  That’s when Dr. Vandergriff was called in. It was a grueling surgery but when it was over, the little girl survived and later grew into adulthood.

Pete, whatever his last name was, was eternally grateful and always made sure the doctor’s car was parked near the exit of the parking garage, alway in two spaces so it would’t get dinged or scratched by other drivers. He also washed the car once a week and saw to its polishing.

But Pete had retired, what, five-six years ago? And his personal service at the garage left with him.

Yet, here he was, keeping the doc company, night after night.

Finally, doctors removed Dr. Vandergriff’s ventilator tube, and he rested a few more days before being sent home to recuperate.

It would be three months before he was able to return to the hospital to work but when he did, he went straight to the personnel office. He asked Mildred Foster the name of the garage super named Pete who used to work at the hospital. Mildred had to be 75 but she remembered almost everyone who ever worked there.

“You’re thinking of Pete Porcelli,” she said. “Let’s see,” she said, pulling up his records. “He retired from here in November of 2015.”

“Do you have a home address for him,” the doctor asked.

Mildred paused for a moment. “I’m sorry, Doctor, but Pete passed away two years ago.”