Tag Archives: #shortstories

Decameron 2020: Mr. Hobbs Revisited (Finalé)

Preston, Connecticut, is home to several abandoned asylums for the mentally deranged. They make Arkham look like a pleasure zone. This story has nothing to do with asylums but it is an awesome photo for Halloween.

Editor’s Note: Unfortunately, this shall be Art Cerf’s last “Decameron 2020” story. Perhaps he will come up with some more great stories for us in the future. For now, he’s hoping to take a break. Better known to me as Dad, it is wonderful to write with and entertain with him on this blog. Thanks, Dad, for all of the wonderful fun.

Mr. Hobbs Revisited (Finalé)
By Art Cerf

We end this series of stories by flashing back to the very first, the tale of Mr. Hobbs. In that one, he was a ghost in real life and a ghost when life was over.  It seems Mr. Hobbs needs a bit of an update.

He lost his father when he was four and so became very close to his mother. Throughout his life, he had no love affairs, not even a girlfriend. But don’t blame Mom. She was always encouraging him to meet new people, find friends, date a girl. But Hobbs was an introvert and very shy and he felt he needed no one but his mother.

Looking back upon his life, he remembered one young woman in particular.  Her name was Sarah Montgomery and she was a teller at his bank when he was a young man. She wasn’t fat or thin, tall or short, not a beauty but not ugly either…just an ordinary-looking lady.  Except for her eyes…how they sparkled with interest about everything around her, including Hobbs.

Sometimes, they’d lunch out back together and she would prattle on about anything and everything and he would answer “Yes” or “No” or offered a three-to-four word reply.

How she loved swing music…Artie Shaw, Benny Goodman, Glenn Miller and the like, even if their moment had been 30 years earlier.

Anyway, she would have been more than willing to go out with Hobbs but he never could muster the courage to ask her. And within a year, she moved onto another job.

Decades passed, and then one day he ran into her at the grocery. Her hair now was grey but her eyes still sparkled with enthusiasm. She recognized him immediately and they spoke for several moments as the cashier’s line dwindled. No, she never married and the young man with her was her sister’s grandson.

Finally, they exchanged numbers and Hobbs never felt better…and never would.

That night he suffered a stroke and would be dead within a month. Sarah saw his obit in the paper and shed a genuine tear.

Decameron 2020: God of Carnage

Peanut

Scurrying into the town of Mouseville, a little grey traveler named Erasmus visited in hopes of seeking shelter from the rain.

Yet, on the streets Mouseville, between the basement and first floor of a century-old Sears Craftsman home, all was not well. Oh sure, there were the happy signs of chewed on wood debris and droppings everywhere, but the residents of Mouseville were in a nervous panic.

“What is wrong?” asked Erasmus, when he encountered a larger brown-and-white field mouse named Esther. “Why is everyone so upset.”

“It is the God of Carnage,” the trembling mouse replied. “He killed Aloysius early this morning.”

“Forgive me,” Erasmus said. “I just came to town. I have never heard of a God of Carnage before.”

“What?! How can that be?” asked Esther. “His savagery is epic. He is huge and vicious. He has large white fangs and razor-sharp claws. He is so terrifying that he doesn’t even camouflage. He wears a coat of tan fur, and his pale green eyes look right through you as he tears you to pieces.”

“Does this God of Carnage have a furry tail?” Erasmus asked.

“Yes,” replied Esther.

“Does your God of Carnage make an ear-shattering cry of death that sounds like this, ‘Meow’?” Erasmus asked.

“Yes,” Esther said. “You do know our God of Carnage.”

“I think it is just a cat,” Erasmus explained, confident his big city mouse experiences were more than these simple country mice were used to. “It is not a god, though they do think highly of themselves. Cats are just predators who happen to feed on mice and birds. They are pretty predictable, really.”

God of Carnage

“Mark my words, Stranger,” stated Atticus, who was a sleek black mouse that overheard their conversation. “The God of Carnage is no mere cat. He has never eaten a mouse. He is fed by his gargantuan servants, whom he himself has trained, something called Fancy Feast. It is a vile meat purée whose sickening stench alerts us to when he is near.”

“BUT,” nervously squeaked Wilhelmina, “Once he has consumed the Fancy Feast, he is sleepy and less apt to torment us.”

“Guys,” Erasmus laughed. “I’m even more convinced now that this is just a cat and not a god at all. They are pretty common. Trust me, I’ve encountered many in my travels.”

“Would a cat hold you down by the tail and slowly stick his claws in you, just to listen to you squeal before you die?” asked Esther, trying to trip up Erasmus.

“Yes,” he replied.

“But then he wouldn’t eat you…just leave your corpse in the shoe of one of his servants who must have displeased him,” Esther probed further.

“Yep. That’s pretty catlike,” Erasmus said, rolling his eyes at their simplistic nature.

“Would a cat play catch with your limp body?” Wilhelmina asked. “Tossing you into the air with his mouth only to catch you and grind you with his teeth until you ceased to try escaping and withered away in his jaws, only to leave you on his servants’ bed to reprimand them?”

“Uh-huh,” Erasmus nonchalantly affirmed.

“What about drowning?” inquired Atticus. “Aloysius did nothing to disturb or offend the God of Carnage. He simply saw a sunflower seed on the floor and raced to get it and return to Mouseville to eat it. Yet, the God of Carnage pounced from thin air and captured Aloysius. As Aloysius begged for his life, the God of Carnage didn’t even bite him. He held Aloysius down in a bowl of water until he ceased to struggle and fight for air. Then he plopped poor bloated Aloysius into the bowl usually left for Fancy Feast and walked away.”

“That does sound unnecessarily cruel,” Erasmus said, “But, I wouldn’t put such behavior beyond a mortal cat.”

“Have you slain such a creature, as you call, a cat?” Atticus asked.

“Oh, God, no,” Erasmus said, losing his patience with these country mice. “They are too big and deadly. I just try to steer clear of them. Haven’t you simpletons ever been taught to practice S.L.R.?”

“We have not heard of your magic,” answered Wilhelmina. “All we can do is pray to the great God of Carnage not to sacrifice us for his amusement.”

“Sniff. Look. Run,” Erasmus explained. “It isn’t magic. I’ll show you. Is that sunflower seed still out there?”

“No, Stranger,” Esther said. “Do not throw away your life. Do not tempt the Great God of Carnage.”

“Look,” Erasmus said. “Cats aren’t that bright. Let me show you how it is done.”

The mice led Erasmus to the hole under the oven in the kitchen. “There lie the bowls of this morning’s tragedy,” said one of the mice.

Erasmus crawled to the edge of the stove’s protection. “First you sniff the air for any sign of cat. Then you look to the left and the right for any sign of cats. When it is all clear, you run as fast as you can.”

Erasmus scurried quickly for the seed he saw on the floor.

Then…BAM!

He felt the weight of the cat flatten him to the floor.

Recovering from his leap off the counters, which his owners would have been angry about if they knew he was on the counters, the cat briefly let the mouse go.

Yet, Erasmus was too stunned to move. The other mice under the stove shrieked and began praying fervently for Erasmus’ release.

The cat held the recovering mouse with one of his back paws, as he used a front paw to lick and groom himself. He didn’t want to appear slovenly for his new playmate.

“Would you like to play with me?” the wheat-colored mini panther asked.

“Play?” Erasmus questioned.

“I’m bored,” the God of Carnage said. “My humans go to this thing called ‘work’ and leave me with nothing to do.”

“I thought you were the merciless great God of Carnage,” Erasmus said, then looked to the other mice as if to say, “Ya see, I told you so.”

“My name is Peanut. What is your’s?”

Erasmus began laughing as he’d never laughed before. It was a deep, uncontrolled laughter.

“What is so funny, new playmate?” the cat asked.

“P. P. Pea-nut!” The little mouse couldn’t stop laughing. “Ya-ya you are.”

The mouse laughed some more.

“Why am I so funny?” Peanut asked, perturbed by this mouse’s laughter.

“Don’t you know what a peanut is, you idiot,” the haughty mouse kept laughing. “It is a diminutive little legume that people eat at baseball games.”

More gales of mouse laughter.

“Why, you nincompoop!” Erasmus kept laughing. “You’re no God of Carnage. You’re a peanut.”

With that, Peanut bit off the impudent little mouse’s head and tossed it toward the cowering rodents under the stove.

The mice began to pray, “Oh, Great God of Carnage, be merciful!”

“That’s better,” Peanut said, strutting toward the sunny couch in the next room. “I’m going to take a nap. Try not to disturb me, or you’ll suffer a worse fate.”

Once Peanut had left the room, Esther said, “Is it just me, or do you think that Erasmus character talked way too much.”

“I thought he’d never shut-up,” Wilhelmina agreed.

“Good riddance,” Esther said. “Two newcomers in one day ought to keep Peanut satisfied for some time. I’m tired of this Kabuki theater. We’ve got some real work to do without him meddling.”

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: 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: 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: 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.