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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: 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.”

Decameron 2020: The Undertaker

The Undertaker
By Art Cerf

Having nothing to do with this story, here’s a Revolutionary War memorial to the patriots massacred at Fort Griswold in Groton, Conn., by British soldiers under the command of the traitorous Benedict Arnold.

Businesses across America were crashing but not Buddy Seldon’s. You see, Buddy was a mortician, inheritor of a small family business. And business was soaring.

Buddy was working seven days a week, 12 to 14 hours a day, preparing up to four funerals a day, due to the Covid pandemic. By the time he would head home at night, he just had time to feed his cat, Abby, and throw a frozen dinner into the microwave. After eating, he would fall asleep from exhaustion, sometimes on the couch unable to make it to bed.

He had no personal life. What started as a promising relationship with Rachel Morrison died when he no longer had time to spend with her.

His only solace was the money was pouring in. He was clearing six figures after expenses every month. At this rate, he figured he’d be a millionaire within a few more months. Then he’d sell this profitable operation for even more money and then go live the life he wanted.

And that day finally came. He signed the sale papers, deposited the check and started making plans.

He called his travel agent and told her to book a month-long tour of Great Britain, from Scotland to Southhampton, from London to Wales.

The agent replied, “Sorry, Buddy, but you can’t travel to Britain…there’s a two week quarantine for all travelers.”

“Okay,” said Buddy, “Then make it a tour of Europe.”

“No can do,” said the agent. The EU has banned American tourists.

“How about Australia and New Zealand?”

“Same story,” said the agent. “Canada is out, too.”

She added, “I could still get you into Brazil, but I don’t think that would be very wise at this moment.”

Buddy said: “Okay…how about travel in the States. I’d love to have a spree in New York City.”

Again, the agent paused. “You live in one of the states from which New York is not accepting visitors, unless you quarantine for two weeks. And you don’t want to go to Florida or any other Southern states, Texas, Arizona or California.”

Buddy thanked her, opened a beer and had no idea what to do next.

Decameron 2020: Queeg the Insidious

Queeg the Insidious
by Art Cerf

This is a pretty yellow flower I shot on the forest floor of Rib Mountain in Wisconsin. It has nothing to do with the story. I just thought it was pretty and eye-catching.

Far beyond our view in a space ship cloaked by Neptune, an alien race looked down upon earth. Its atmosphere was perfect, its temperatures were moderate and it seemed to have abundant water…ideal for colonizing.

Of course, there was the problem with the humans, billions in number.  It would cost the aliens oceans of green blood and who knows how many slotniks to fund an invasion.

And so the generals argued back and forth on the best approach. Finally, a lowly aide said there could be one way to conquer earth without the cost of a single slotnik. He spoke out of turn but the generals decided to hear him out.

He said, “Send one of our most toxic viruses to earth and target just one individual in some crowded city. Let him wander through town for days before he gets sick. In that time, he will have infected many others.  By the time local officials notice this, they’ll be busy denying there’s a problem and will try to cover it up.  But finally, the government will step in but also tell the world that it’s nothing too serious.”

“And the plague will spread around the world, poor countries rich countries…even the richest. And the leader of that country will downplay it and delay, allowing the virus to spread. Finally, a quarantine will be put in place but after weeks or months, people will demand to be released and the virus will spread anew.”

“By that time, the world will be so weary and weakened that conquest will be easy.”

The generals looked at each other before one finally spoke out.

“You should have been a philosopher, Queeq. You certainly aren’t a soldier. You may leave the room.”

Then the generals, again, took up plans for their attack.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Happy Father’s Day, Dad! Thank you for this awesome story. It was my ultimate favorite of your submissions. For those of you following this blog, this will likely be the last Decameron 2020 post for about a month. I will be back with more come mid- to late July. Hopefully, we can talk my mom into some stories for the summer. She, too, is a professional writer with more magazine credits than I can count.

Decameron 2020: Gladys & Cora

Gladys & Cora
By Art Cerf

Just a great spring photo to share. It has nothing to do with the story, it is just. an evil ploy to attract your attention.

Gladys and Cora were best friends. Note the emphasis on were.

They grew up together, trading dolls, clothing and their deepest secrets.

And as they became adults, they both fell in love with Charlie. He chose Gladys and soon they were engaged. Cora swallowed her sorrow and tried very hard to be happy for her friend.

Then, just days before the wedding, Gladys on a whim or perhaps after a minor tiff with Charlie, called the whole thing off.

A year passed and Charlie called up Cora one day and asked her out to a movie. Things progressed and soon, Charlie and Cora were engaged and Gladys was enraged.

“How could you,” Gladys screamed. “You know I still love him.”

“But you dropped him, remember? Over a year ago.”

“Well, I was just waiting for him to call me back and he would have if you hadn’t stabbed me in the back!”

Gladys turned and said she never wanted to see Cora again. And then she went on Facebook and called her ex-friend all kinds of nasty names. Cora knew she should just let it pass…but she couldn’t and replied in kind.

Charlie said he was sick of it. And then he was sick of something else…a high fever, a barking, dry cough and trouble breathing.

Within a week, he passed away.

Cora was there for a graveyard service. With social distancing, so was Gladys. When everyone else had left, only Cora and Gladys remained. And social distancing be damned, hugged each other.

Decameron 2020: Pestilence

Pestilence
by Art Cerf

If statuary can wear a mask, so can you. This pandemic is still in its early stages, folks.

Hello. Let me introduce myself. I’m Pestilence, one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Death, of course, is our leader. War is a bit of a blowhard but is always busy. Both Famine and I are background players but believe me, we do more than you can imagine.

I go back thousands of years. I like to say I put the Hit on the Hittites. Through the years I come and go. Back in the 14th Century was one of my triumphs…the Black Plague. I won a Golden Tombstone for that one (sort of like your Oscars). Got another for the great flu of 1918-19.

Through the centuries, I spread cholera, smallpox, typhus and so many more. I’m particularly proud of AIDS. But now, I’ve come up with Covid-19. I hate the name…it should be something catchier like the Black Death or The Spanish Influenza. Oh well, it’s an international triumph.

I want to give thanks to the Chinese communist government for covering up the disease long enough for it to spread…and even disciplining the doctor who tried to point it out. Also kudos to the American President who denied at least two months of warnings and then dismissed it as nothing to worry about because we had it well in hand.

People keep asking when will we get back to normal.  My friends, this IS the new normal.

Decameron 2020: Leo Ledbetter

Leo Ledbetter
by Art Cerf

This is a chipmunk, not a squirrel, but it is still cute.

Leo Ledbetter started his day like any other since his wife, Miriam’s, passing last summer. He’d shower, have a little breakfast and then dress in his suit and tie. From there, he’d take a train and then two buses to get to the cemetery where his beloved was buried…and hour and a half trip.

He’d spend an hour or more seated on a bench beside her grave, talking and recalling their golden memories. Over time, he noticed a little squirrel hanging around the area. So the next day, he brought some peanuts to feed the squirrel.

This went on for months, rain or shine, blistering heat or icy winter days. It got so the squirrel would eat right out of his hand.

Then came the pandemic. Leo paid it no attention. He figured if he died, he’d die…and maybe then be reunited with Miriam.

And as expected, he caught the virus and he died.

The little squirrel missed his visits until one day another squirrel appeared in the cemetery and from the first moment, they got on terrifically and stay together for the rest of their days.