Budgie’s Journal #26 – The Summer of Editing Begins

For most people, summer begins on Memorial Day. For me, this summer means a whole lot of editing for yours truly. I’ve done a ton of writing, and it’s time to push these projects into their second drafts.

I have a novella, a novel, and a short story completed, and it’s high time I start revising and editing, not an easy or short process. There’s no shortcuts in this long and arduous process. 

So I’ll be spending my summer revising my first drafts, editing my errors, and putting three books together when I’m not doing yard work or whatever else is keeping me busy. It’ll be a long and hit one!
-Budgie Bigelow

Cover Reveal – The Fortress on the Lake

I just got the cover for my short story “The Fortress on the Lake” today, and I figured I’d share it with you, my loyal readers. With barely any ado whatsoever, here it is!

Art by Dan Civitella.

The Fortress on the Lake will be available in the “Awakening” issue of SubQ Magazine available at the end of June.

Happy Birthday

You are the start of every day.

You are my torch in the dark, my understanding in the confusion, my path through the wastelands.

You are the witch in my life, my purveyor of magic, my spell caster, my vision in the night.

You made me what I am: a man, a husband, a father. I owe that all to you; a debt that can never be repaid in full, but I am willing to try.

I remember everything about you when you’re not around: your touch, your scent, your beauty, the sound of your breath, your taste. My senses long for you when you’re away.

You are my romance, my passion, my fate.

You are my breath, my pulse, my every thought.

My heart and soul are yours; they always have been. I’d give them up a thousand times over for you and not regret it for a single, solitary moment.

You are my rage, my wrath, my ever lasting forgiveness.

You are my island in a sea of uncertainty, my peak above the clouds of despair, my sanctuary in a land of chaos.

You are every written word, my lyric, my ballad. You unravel cliché. You make the wrong right. You give life meaning.

You are open, understanding, unwavering.

You are my girlfriend, my babe, my wife, my soul mate, the literal love of my life.

And I am yours.

Freedom Lane: Double Daq Attack

Da’Quarius sat in his homeroom, waiting for the day to start. Mr. Hessman was sitting at his desk, reading the paper after he took a quick attendance consisting of him asking if anyone was out that day. The door opened, and Hessman quickly stashed his newspaper as Principal Johnston appeared with a new student.
“Sorry to interrupt your morning ritual,” Johnston said. Hessman gave everyone a look that told them to shut the hell up about what he was actually doing.
“I’ve got a new student for your home group,” Principal Johnston continued, smiling. “I want you all to welcome Daquan Brown.”
The boy came in. He was tall, wore thick glasses, and was black. His eyes seemed drawn to Da’Quarius who had been the only black kid in his group, and one of the few in the school, up until a few seconds ago.
“Aw shit,” Da’Quarius said. “Dere goes da’ fuckin’ neighborhood.”
Freedom Lane 
Created, written, & directed by Budgerigar Orville Bigelow
Co-created by executive producer BluntSharpness
Season 10, Episode 4: Double Daq Attack
“I want that thing out of my house!” Helen snapped, following Rose from the kitchen to the den.
“You’re overreacting,” Rose said, carrying a small cage with a green parakeet inside. “Besides, I recall you trying to keep an alligator as a pet.”
“And you never shut up about it,” Helen said.
“There’s a huge difference,” Rose said. “This parakeet won’t kill and eat Da’Quarius’s dog.”
“You don’t know that,” Helen said.
Rose sighed. “This was my cousin’s pet bird,” she said. “She left it to me in her will, and I’ll take care of it per her wish.”
“I didn’t even know you had a dead cousin with a friggin’ flying booger,” Helen said.
“I haven’t heard from her in years,” Rose said, “but for some reason she left me Ronald in her will.”
“Ronald is a stupid name,” Helen said. “Let’s name him Ass-face.”
“We are not renaming him,” Rose said. “He already answers to Ronald.”
“ASS-FACE!” Helen shouted. Ronald leapt, flapping his wings. Feathers fell to the floor from between the bars. 
“Looks like he answers to that too now,” Helen said.
The doorbell rang, and Rose went to the door, still carrying the bird cage. She opened it to find Manny and Antonio Garcia, their neighbors from across the street, standing on their porch. “Hey, guys,” Rose said. “What’s up?”
“We’re here to see Helen,” Anotonio said. “We have a copy of the movie with the snowman and the-”
“Whoa,” Manny interrupted. “Nice parakeet.”
“You like him?” Rose said, holding the the cage. “This little guy is named Ronald. He’s a happy little bird.”
Helen scoffed from her spot on the couch.
“We’ve had a few of them,” Manny said, poking his finger through the cage bars, watching Ronald shuffle away along his perch.
“Yeah,” Antonio added. “We’ve never had one that wasn’t addicted to pot.”
The Garcia brothers tittered as Helen sighed loudly, rolling her eyes. “Even their pets are potheads.”
“Our last bird gained like five pounds,” Manny said. “He had the munchies all the time.”
“That’s impossible,” Rose said. 
Manny shrugged. “He liked his sweets,” he said. “Little bastard had no self control.”
Helen stood up. “Well, I’d love to stay and chat about your fat, drug-addict birds,” she said, “but I need to take a shit.” She left toward the downstairs bathroom.
“Bye Helen!” Manny called, waving.
“Hope everything comes out alright,” Antonio added.
The Garcia brothers turned back to Rose. “Does your parakeet know any tricks?” Manny asked.
Da’Quarius sat at lunch, the new kid, Daquan, was getting in the line, trying to decide what to get. “Dis some bullshit,” he said.
“What?” Flounder asked. “Are you talking about the new kid?”
“Yeah,” Da’Quarius said. “Mo’ fucker thinks he can come up in here and start shit.”
“Are you upset they got another black kid in class?” Flounder asked.
“No!” Da’Quarius said. “Dat’s racist. I’m mad cuz da’ only black kid dey can find wears glasses like me an’ his name sounds kinda like mine. Just imagine if another Korean came here, an’ his name was Cuttlefish.”
“But you guys are loads different,” Flounder said.
“You’ll see,” Da’Quarius said, scowling. “Shit ain’t gone down yet.”
Next period, Da’Quarius sat in Ms. Kotter’s math class. Daquan entered, showing her his schedule and explaining that he was new. “Oh,” Ms. Kotter, a woman who looked almost as old as Helen, said. “I’ll sit you right next to your twin brother.”
Da’Quarius slammed his book shut. “Da’ fuck?!” he exlcaimed. “Dis some racist-ass bullshit!”
Helen sat in her favorite chair, flipping through the TV Guide. The top of her head was itching, so she scratched it, returning her hand to turn the page a moment later. Seconds later, she felt the itch again. She returned her hand to her head to scratch, and it bumped into something.
“What the hell?” Helen said. She moved her hand around her head, and she knocked whatever was there off. It flew off, circling her.
“YOU GODDAMN BIRD!” Helen shouted, swatting at Ronald with her TV Guide. “I’LL KILL YOU!”
“What’s going on in here?!” Rose exclaimed, coming in from the kitchen, finding Helen swinging her arm at Ronald as he flew about the den, wings beating to keep himself away form Helen, chirping frantically. Dutchie started barking and jumping around in excitement.
“Eat that fucking’ bird, dog!”  Helen shouted at Dutchie.
“Don’t tell him that!” Rose shouted, trying to catch the elusive parakeet.
“He ate my damn canary that time!” Helen retorted. “This dog loves eating birds!”
“Eating birds isn’t good for his stomach!” Rose shouted.
Rose huffed, going into the kitchen. She returned with a dish towel, tossing it in the air at Ronald. She hit her mark, and Ronald fell onto the couch under its weight. Rose rushed over and picked him up before Helen could swat him or Dutchie eat him.
“Your leave that flying rat in its cage,” Helen said, panting.
“I don’t even know how he got out,” Rose said. “You leave him alone. He was just scared.” She left to put Ronald back.
“He better be scared,” Helen muttered. Dutchie whined next to her. “Don’t worry. We’ll get him.”
“Can you tell me why Miss Kotter has ejected you from her class?” Principal Johnston asked.
“She sent a referral,” Da’Quarius said. “You know why she sent me.”
“I’ve told you before that outburst and profanity are not permitted in my school,” Principal Johnston said, folding his hands.
“Yo’ teacher bein’ racist is okay, doe?” Da’Quarius asked.
“That is a very heavy accusation,” Principal Johnston said. “Can you tell me exactly why you’d think that?”
“She insisted dat I’m twins with dat new kid,” Da’Quarius said.
“Which one?” Principal Johnston asked.
“You know damn well which one,” Da’Quarius said.
“Miss Kotter is very old,” Pricilla Johnston said. “She gets confused easily. She’s from a different time.”
“Can I go now?” Da’Quarius asked. “You’re a second away from tellin’ me her bein’ racist is cool cuz she old an’ white.”
Principal Johnston sighed. “Go,” he said, waving his hand toward the door. “Just try not to shout and swear like that again.”
“Maybe I’ll calm down after you euthanize Miss Kotter,” Da’Quarius mumbled.
Da’Quarius left, making his way up toward Mr. Hessman’s class. He was early for Social Studies, but waiting for Johnston to reprimand him had taken up most of Miss Kotter’s class. He opened the door, expecting Hessman to be alone. Instead, he found that Daquan was already there.
“I know it’s tough to be new,” Hessman said. “You don’t fit in with the others in the honors program, but I bet you’ll give them a run for their money if you apply yourself. Oh, hi Da’Quarius.”
Daquan turned around, noticing that Da’Quarius had entered. He didn’t offer a greeting.
“Look,” Mr. Hessman said. “Daquan was telling me about what had happened in Miss Kotter’s class earlier. I know you’re not twins or brothers or even related, but I think you two can be friends.”
“Yeah,” Da’Quarius scoffed. “You’d like dat I bet. Two black kids doin’ yo’ biddin’ instead of one.”
“There’s no need for this jealously,” Hessman said. “I’m giving the class a black history month paper to do. I want you two to work together.”
“But it’s March,” Daquan said. “Black history month was last month.”
“Sure,” Hessman said, “if you believe what our white government wants us to believe.”
Daquan gave Hessman an odd look and then turned to Da’Quarius.
“Don’t look at me,”. Da’Quarius said. “Hess does shit like dis all da’ time. I bet he just forgot to give us da’ report to do.”
“Regardless,” Hessman said, “consider the two of you paired up, and I’ll be looking forward to see how you work together.”
“Should we study at your house or mine?” Daquan asked.
“Shit” DaQuarius said. “Better be yo’ house unless you want to see an’ lady stranglin’ a little green bird?”
Rose sat at the kitchen table, holding Ronald in her left hand. She held a tiny pair of nail clippers in her right. A book she got from the library called “Caring for Your Budgie” stood open in front of her.
“Sorry about this,” Rose said, “but it looks like your previous owner didn’t do this much. Also, I don’t want Helen screaming how you’re ripping the skin from the top of her head if you land on her again.”
Ronald chirped, showing his disdain for the whole situation. Rose took one more look into the budgie book and clipped.
Ronald screeched, the tip of his toe dangling. “Oh no!” Rose said. “I’m so sorry.”
Ronald escaped Rose’s grasp, flying erratically through the kitchen, dipping tiny droplets of blood. He flew through the door, making his way into the den.
“That damn bird is loose again!” Helen shouted. “It’s on the rag now, dripping blood all over!”
Rose sighed, picking up the dish towel and heading into the den.
Da’Quarius and Daquan were at Daquan’s house, starting their report. Da’Quarius had ben adamant about switching partners, but Hessman wasn’t willing to let him team up with Flounder as usual. “Who should we do this report on?” Daquan asked, clicking through a list of prominent figures from black history on his computer. “How’s Rosa Parks?”
“Nah,” Da’Quarius replied. “All da’ white kids always pick her.”
“Then who?” Daquan asked.
Da’Quarius thought for a moment. “How ‘bout Zachary Boddy?”
Daquan typed the name into Google and scrolled through results. “Oh my God,” he said, reading. “I’d do my report on Malcom X before I chose this guy.”
“You don’t know Hess like I do,” Da’Quarius said. “Dis is da’ shit dat gets his nut.”
“This guy got arrested for poisoning whites-only water fountains,” Daquan said. “He pleaded guilty and was killed in prison after stabbing a guard.”
“All fo’ da’ cause,” Da’Quarius said. “He burned down a church in a white neighborhood too, but dey never pinned it on him. Dat was right here in old New Haven. I bet my moms was around fo’ dat. Helen might’ve roasted a marshmallow in it.”
“Alright,” Daquan said, going through the information. “If you think this is the best guy to do the report on.”
“Trust me,” Da’Quarius said. “Just make him look like a hero. White America tried to vilify him an’ shit.”
Daquan started to cut and paste information when something caught Da’Quarius’s eye. He opened a yellow folder on Daquan’s desk, finding white papers covered in drawings. “Shit,” Da’Quarius said. “You draw all dis?”
Daquan move quickly, closing the folder and moving it away. “Don’t look at that,” he said.
“Dat was good doe,” Da’Quarius said. “You a comic book artist or something?”
Daquan beamed. “It’s just a hobby,” he said, fixing his glasses. “My parents say that I should give it up and focus on choosing a career.”
“Don’t give it up,” Da’Quarius said. “Fuck wha’cho parents say. Draw yo’ ass off. Bring some to school. I know some mo’ fuckers dat can help write some dialogue an’ shit if you want. You guys can put an issue or two online and see if anyone likes it.”
“Really?” Daquan said. “You’d do that?”
“Fuck yeah,” Da’Quarius said. “Now lets get dis report written.”
Daquan smiled, and the two got busy preparing their oral report on the life of Zachary Boddy.
Rose was cleaning out Ronald’s cage. He had lost his toe due to the accident with the clippers. She had called the Garcias, and they told her to seal the wound with superglue. It had worked, but she still felt horrible. Ronald kept lifting his leg off his wooden perch.
“I know you’re hurting,” Rose said, putting a fresh piece of gravel paper on the base of the cage. “It’ll heal, and you’ll be yourself in no time at all.”
Ronald turned away from Rose and jumped onto a lower perch.
“I guess I deserve that,” Rose said.
“Rose!” Helen shouted from the den. “Don’t forget to take the meat out of the freezer!”
“Oh,” Rose said. She had forgotten. Helen wanted to make a lazy lasagna for dinner, and she needed a pound of ground beef. Rose went to the freezer and took it out. Once it was in the sink to thaw, she closed the freezer. She turned toward the cage and noticed that Ronald had gotten out again.
Rose listened, waiting for Helen to start screaming about the bird flying around the house again. When no scream came, she walked into the den. “Did Ronald fly in here?” she asked.
“Who?” Helen asked, flipping channels.
“Ronald,” Rose said. She sighed. “The flying booger.”
“OH!’ Helen said, feigning surprise. “That little shit hasn’t come in here. Is he loose again?”
“He got out of the cage,” Rose said. “Did Dutchie get him?”
Helen looked over at Dutchie, who looked at them lazily from his bed. “Nope,” Helen said. “That lazy mutt hasn’t moved in a while. It’s mongrel nap time.”
“Where could he have gone?” Rose said, looking around.
Helen sighed and got up. “Let’s go find him before he shits all over my pillow.”
“…and that’s why we should all be more like Rosa Parks,” the red-headed and freckled Cecilia said, finishing her report along side Todd, who was smiling handsomely.
Mr. Hessman sighed. “Alright,” he said, making an animated checkmark in his book. “That’s three Rosa Parks reports now. Raise your hand if you also did Rosa Parks, so I can give you a C plus and write down that you did make your report.”
Hessman marked his notebook of who was raising their hands. He gave two other students C pluses. “Anyone else?” he asked.
Flounder’s hand shot into the air. “Stop it!” his partner, a boy named Seamus, said. “We didn’t do Rosa Parks.”
“I know,” Flounder said. “I just hate talking in front of people.”
“You’re giving your report, Flounder,” Hessman said, “but I think we should hear from Da’Quarius and Daquan next.”
Da’Quarius got up and walked to the front of the class, followed by a nervous Daquan. They stood and faced the class.
“Who is your report on?” Hessman asked. 
“We did Zachary Boddy,” Da’Quarius said proudly.
“Zachary Boddy?” Hessman asked.
“Yeah,” Da’Quarius said.
“The guy who poisoned the water fountains and set fire to the churches in the name of civil rights?” Hessman asked.
“Dat’s da’ only Zachary Boddy I know of,” Da’Quarius said.
“You know some view him as a sociopath and a serial killer, right?” Hessman asked.
“Daquan and I disagree with dat statement,” Da’Quarius said. “We say he’s a New Haven civil rights hero, vilified by white America.”
“Excellent,” Hessman said, straightening up and looking intrigued for the first time that day. “By all means: let’s hear your report.” 
Da’Quarius cleared his throat and looked at the index card in his right hand. “Zachary Boddy was pivotal to da’ civil rights movement, right here in New Haven,” he said.
“Prior to his arrest,” Daquan continued, “Boddy was a key member in the New Haven Black Tigers, an organization he had started with a longtime friend, Richard ‘the red blade’ Freeman.”
“Boddy and Freeman led the Black Tigers through the streets of New Haven,” Da’Quarius said, “burnin’ an’ lootin’ in a time when it wasn’t part of every day life. Boddy was even said to have taken out -”
The door opened, distracting Da’Quarius and Daquan from giving their report. Principal Johnston stuck his head in. “I’m so sorry to interrupt,” he said. “I need to have Daquan.”
“He’s in the middle of giving a report on Zachary Boddy right now,” Hessman said. “It’s quite riveting too.”
“The lunatic?” Principal Johnston asked.
“Civil rights activist,” Hessman corrected. He scoffed. “You over-privileged whites will never understand what he did for his people.”
“Well I need Daquan nevertheless,” Johnston said. “Come with me, young man.”
“No,” Hessman interrupted. “I’m his assigned faculty advisor, and I demand to know what this is about.”
“Not in front of the others,” Principal Johnston said through his teeth.
A girl came in behind him. “That’s him!” she exclaimed, pointing at Daquan. “He’s the one who is drawing nude pictures of all the girls! He left his folder in the library.”
“Really, Daquan,” Hessman said, turning toward him. “Did you have to be that guy?”
“What happened to da’ comics?” Da’Quarius asked.
Daquan shrugged. “I like nudes better,” he said.
“Come along, Daquan,” Principal Johnston said. “Grab your bag and lets go. Your parents are waiting downstairs for you.”
“Not again,” Daquan said, grabbing his backpack and leaving. “This is how I got booted from my old school.”
“Damn,” Da’Quarius said as Daquan was escorted out of class. “I was startin’ to like dat guy.”
“What are you waiting for?” Hessman asked. “Let’s hear more about Zachary Boddy.”
“So your new friend was expelled?” Rose asked, sitting at the kitchen table during dinner.
“I don’t know if he was my new friend,” Da’Quarius said. “We just did da’ one report together. But yeah, he got kicked outta school.”
“Anything would be an improvement on that gook kid,” Helen said. “Did he get expelled from your school too?”
“No,” Da’Quarius replied.
“Damn,” Helen said, eating a piece of lazy lasagna, followed by a swallow of water.
“What happened to da’ parrot?” Da’Quarius asked.
”He was a parakeet,” Rose said. “I don’t know where he went. He may have somehow gotten out and flown away.”
“Good riddance,” Helen said. “That little shit was a handful and a half.”
“You barely did anything with him other than throw a fit,” Rose said.
“Can you get me some ice?” Helen said, handing Da’Quarius her glass.
“Sho’, biddy,” Da’Quarius said. He got up and opened the freezer. “Fuck!”
“What?” Rose asked, getting up.
Da’Quarius turned back toward the table and dropped an icy green chunk on it. “Yo’ bird was in da’ freezer, Rose.”
“He must have flown in when I was taking the meat out for dinner,” Rose said.
Helen poked it with her fork. “He’s dead alright.”
Rose shrugged. “At least he’s with his old master now,” she said.
“That’s the spirit,” Helen said, eating some ziti.
“You just poked da’ dead bird with dat fork, biddy,” Da’Quarius said.
The End
Coming this summer:
Rose, Helen, Paulie, and Da’Quarius will take you to new heights in Freedom Lane da’ Movie 2: In Space.



Freedom Lane: Nuts in the Attic

Helen sat in her favorite chair in the den of her home on Freedom Lane. She had a tiny screwdriver and her hearing aid in front of her. It hadn’t been working right, so she was fiddling with it. She popped in the new battery and closed it up, placing it in her ear. She turned on the TV, satisfied with her work. 
“That’s better,” she said, watching Doctor Fatshit talk to some extremely fat woman about why she eats the way she eats. Helen heard something else and muted the TV.
“What the hell is that noise?” she asked the empty den. “I swore I heard a scratching. I probably screwed up my hearing aid.”
Helen shrugged, turning the sound back on while Doctor Fatshit was explaining how traumatic events can trigger eating disorders. Helen muted the TV again. “I know I heard it that time,” she said.
“Rose?!” Helen shouted. “Kid?!”
There was no answer. Rose was outside gardening, and it was too early for Da’Quarius to be home from school. The scratching noise returned, and Dutchie, Da’Quarius’s pitbull terrier, lifted his head from his doggy bed, his ears perked up.
“So you hear it too,” Helen said. “It’s coming from upstairs. Let’s go see what it is.”
Helen shuffled up the stairs, followed by Dutchie. The scratching was louder in the upstairs hallway, and right above her head. Dutchie gave a growl. “I hear ‘em,” Helen said. “Let’s see what we’re dealing with here.”
Helen reached up, groaning at the ache in her back, pulling the cord on the ceiling door to the attic. It came open, and she pulled down the stepladder. “Don’t tell Rose I did this,” she mentioned to the dog as she mounted the steps.
The attic was full of dusty boxes of old holiday decorations along the walls along and plastic bins full of sheets and blankets. Helen looked around, putting her hand on the ground as she hoisted herself up. Acorns scattered, spilling onto the insulation that covered the floor.
“What the hell are these nuts doing up here?” Helen asked herself. Her question was answered a moment later, as two squirrels ran past, heading toward the circular window near the front of the house. “YOU BASTARDS!”
Helen climbed back down the stairs and found a patient Dutchie, who was staring up into the attic. He gave a short whine. “Your kind was bred for this shit,” Helen said, pulling on the dog’s collar. “You get up there and get those fuckers.”
Helen led Dutchie to the ladder, but he refused to climb. “You stupid mongrel,” Helen said. “Get up that damn ladder!” She wrestled with Dutchie, trying to haul him up by his mid-section. She paused to catch her breath and found Da’Quarius home from school, watching her.
“Wha’chu doin’ with my dog?” Da’Quarius asked. Dutchie, glad to see his master finally home, slipped through Helen’s grip and jumped around, wagging his tail.
“I’ve got nuts in the attic,” Helen replied.
Da’Quarius stared at Helen for a moment, shook his head, then silently took his dog downstairs.
“What?!” Helen shouted.
Freedom Lane 
Created, written, & directed by Budgerigar Orville Bigelow
Co-created by executive producer BluntSharpness
Season 10, Episode 2: Nuts in the Attic
Da’Quarius sat at the kitchen table, papers spread out on top. Paulie came in through the back door. “Hey, D,” he said. “What are you up to there? Looks like a hell of a report.”
“Dis ain’t no report,” Da’Quarius said. “I’m glad you stopped by. I’m doin’ dis fo’ you.”
“What?” Paulie asked, looking over the notes. “Is this for my remodeled pizzeria? What do you have in mind?”
“No,” Da’Quarius said. “Dis ain’t fo’ dat. Dis is my final revenge for Luca.”
Paulie groaned. Luca DiGenovese was his enemy and rival restauranteur. “Drop it,” Paulie said. “I want nothing to do with Luca. I almost lost my business, and there’s no reason to start off with another feud with him with the new place.”
“But he was tryin’ -”
“I don’t care,” Paulie said, taking Da’Quarius’s various papers off the table and stuffing them into the trash can in the corner. “I want absolutely nothing to do with that creep. Capeesh?”
“Yeah, yeah,” Da’Quarius said. “Just remember I tried when he shows his fat ass at yo’ new place, tryin’ to fuck yo’ shit up.”
“I’ll be sure to keep that in mind,” Paulie said. “And don’t you dare breathe a word of this to Tony.”
“I won’t,” Da’Quarius said. “Wha’chu doin’ here tonight anyway?”
“Rose called me earlier,” Paulie said. “She wanted me to see about some squirrels in the house.”
“Oh yeah,” Da’Quarius said. “Helen is declarin’ an all out war on ‘em.”
“Come on,” Paulie said, walking toward the door leading to the den. “I’m sure she’s annoyed, but I think ‘all out war’ is probably an exaggeration, even for my sis.”
“I’m gonna nuke those little rat-fucks like Hiroshima!” Helen exclaimed, pacing the around her couch wearing her green army helmet and and carrying her crowbar. “Make no mistake, the war on squirrels has never been more real. You don’t come into my house, leaving acorns strewn about like you’re at some maple tree orgy.”
“Madon,” Paulie groaned. “They’re just tree-rats. You just need to get them out and fix the window. They’ll move on.”
“It’s the middle of winter,” Rose said. “They’ll die outside.”
“We have no need for hippy nonsense right now,” Helen said, putting a hand on Rose’s shoulder. “Thank god you’re one of the pretty ones.”
“Thank you,” Rose said, “but can’t we just leave them until spring?”
Helen scoffed. “No, my dear,” she said. “They can face the elements as nature intended.”
“I got a have-a-heart trap at home,” Paulie said. “I’ll send Tony over first thing tomorrow. There’s not much for him to do while everything is being installed at the pizzeria, and he’s going stir crazy in my house. All of my wooden spoons have faces drawn on them, and I don’t even want to think about why.”
“So you’ll trap them,” Rose said. “Then what?”
“We’ll let them out somewhere they’ll be able to thrive,” Paulie said. “They’re resourceful rodents. They’ll be alright.”
“You can try to trap them,” Helen said, patting her hand with he crowbar, “if you can get to them before I find and disembowel them with my teeth.”
“Oh, Helen,” Rose said, putting her shaking head in her hand.
Da’Quarius sat at the lunch table, eating his sandwich across from his friend, Flounder. “What do you have today?” he asked.
“Ham an’ cheese,” Da’Quarius replied.
“How’d that thing go you were working on?” Flounder asked. “Did you avenge your uncle?”
“Fuck no,” Da’Quarius said, slamming his sandwich on the table. “Unca Paulie won’t let me do shit! He doesn’t wanna be involved, and I cain’t even ask Tony. Dis some bullshit.”
“Wait,” Flounder said. “Did he say you can’t do it, or does he just not want to be involved?”
Da’Quarius thought back tot he conversation with his uncle the night before. “He just said he wants nothin’ to do with Luca. Shit, Flounder. You just found a loophole!”
“I did?” Flounder asked. “What are you going to do now?”
“I dunno,” Da’Quarius said. “Maybe I’ll get a pipe and kneecap dat mo’ fucker when he’s walkin’ to his car.”
“That’s not good enough,” Flounder said.
“’Scuse me?!” Da’Quarius said. “Do you have a better idea?”
“Yeah,” Flounder said. “I think I do.”
“I don’t know why Paulie wants me to help you,” Tony said, following Rose and Helen to their second floor, carrying the steel cage trap Paulie had lent him. “He knows I’m scared shitless of squirrels.”
“Why is that?” Rose asked.
“When I was nine or ten,” Tony said, “one climbed up my pant leg and tried to bite my acorns off.”
“That was had to be forty-five years ago,” Rose said. “How could you let a phobia stick with you this long?”
“Clowns,” Helen muttered.
Rose looked around, darting her head back and forth. She settled her hand on her chest when she realized there were no clowns in her upstairs hallway. “Don’t do that,” she scolded.
“Sorry,” Helen said. “I couldn’t resist.” She reached up and pulled down the stepladder leading to the attic. “Up you go.”
Tony looked up into the darkness. “Are they up there now?” he asked.
“Stop being such a pussy,” Helen said. “Just climb up there, set the trap, and put some dog food in there to lure them in.” She handed Tony a ziplock baggie of Dutchie’s food.
“They won’t even notice you,” Rose said.
Tony gulped. “OK,” he said. “I’m going up.”
Tony climbed the stepladder, slowly. He got into the attic and put the cage on the ground, opening it. He took the baggie of dog food, opening it to put in the cage. “THEY’RE UP HERE!”
Helen and Rose looked up through the trap door as Tony thrashed on the attic floor. “Cut that out!” Helen shouted. “I’m going to beat you senseless if you come through my ceiling!”
“Just stand still, and they’ll leave you alone!” Rose called, a worried look on her face.
Tony finally got enough control over himself to climb down the ladder, landing hard on the floor between Helen and Rose. “Close the door!” he panted.
Helen closed it. “Did you get the food in the trap with all that commotion?” she asked.
“Yeah,” Tony said, sweat pouring down his face. “You told me there were only two. I counted four that I could see!”
“What happened?” Rose asked. “Did they attack you?”
“No,” Tony said. “They were running along the beams.”
“I thought a shark got you by the sound of it,” Helen said.
“Please don’t make me go back,” Tony said.
“Fine,” Helen said. “Get out of here.”
Tony didn’t have to be told twice. He ran down the stairs and straight out the front door. 
“There’s four now,” Helen said, looking toward the attic. “I bet they’re having their bushy-tailed orgy right this second. Da’Quarius will have to take the trap up and down until we get them all now that Tony is out.”
“I’m calling a professional,” Rose said. “This is too much.”
“Give me twenty-four hours,” Helen said. “If they aren’t gone by this time tomorrow, you can hire your exterminator.”
“Why not just let me call someone?” Rose sighed.
“Because I never admit defeat,” Helen said. “Not to gangs of butch bitches on the inside, and definitely not to a bunch of furry homos.”
Rose sighed again. “Alright,” she sad. “I’ll give you until tomorrow.”
Helen smiled.
Da’Quarius sat in Flounder’s room after school, silently watching Flounder furiously click away at his keyboard. Da’Quarius wanted to know what he was doing, but he decided to let him work, unhindered by questions. “OK,” Flounder finally said. “Done.”
“Done with what?” Da’Quarius said. “I have no idea wha’chu doin’.”
“Sorry,” Flounder said, looking embarrassed. “I was writing a program to automatically produce Yelp accounts, pull random negative reviews from all over the internet, and post them about Luca’s restaurant, Anthony Conegliano’s. It will probably crash or get purged from the ‘net in less than five days, but it will hopefully do some damage before then.”
“Shit,” Da’Quarius said. “How da’ fuck do you know how to do all dat?”
Flounder turned a shade of red darker than a Korean should be able to turn. “My dad had me trained to use computers,” he said. “He was hoping I’d be able to one day hack into the penta… never mind.”
Da’Quarius looked over Flounder’s shoulder. “Dis is great,” he said. “I cain’t wait for step two.”
“What’s step two?” Flounder asked.
Da’Quarius looked at him for a moment. “I dunno,” he said.
“Wait,” Flounder said, running to his closet, He came out with a plate of spaghetti, a dead mouse on top. “I made this too. I’m going to have it posted to his Facebook once an hour.”
“Damn!” Da’Quarius said, stepping back from the plate. “Why didn’t you just take a picture an’ throw dat out!”
Flounder looked at the plate and then to Da’Quarius. “Oh,” he said. “I guess we can do that now, right?”
Luca was getting ready to close up his restaurant. He sat in front of his computer, his huge gut pushing the front of the desk. He clicked into Yelp to see if there were any new reviews, and there were. “What the hell?” he asked, looking at the monitor. There were four new one-star reviews. He clicked one.
“Quality is very poor,” Luca read. “We tried a variety of brands, and we’ve never had issues. This water tastes really bad, and there’s a distinct taste of something metallic. Water isn’t supposed to have any taste.”
Luca sat back, thinking about what he had just read. He got up and walked the length of his restaurant, stopping in front of his barmaid. “Give me a glass of water,” he said.
The barmaid did as asked, pouring Luca a class of the filtered water that’s served to his customers. He looked in the glass before taking a drink. “I don’t taste anything metallic.”
“Why would you?” the barmaid asked.
“I don’t know,” Luca said. “I read the weirdest review I’ve ever seen.”
A couple got up in the middle of a meal a dozen feet away, leaving their napkins on their half-finished meals and walked toward the door. “Hey,” Luca said, moving in front of them. “Is everything alright?”
“No,” the man said. “I was just on your Facebook page, and people are posting their meals.”
”So?” Luca asked.
The woman signed and swiped her phone open. “Does this look familiar?” she asked.
Luca looked at the picture on the phone, a dead mouse lying in a bed of spaghetti, some wrapped around its neck like a noodle noose.
“What the hell is going on with this shit?” he asked.
Da’Quarius sat at his desk before bedtime. He refreshed the Yelp page for Anthony Conegliano’s, reading the latest the latest review Flounder’s program had posted. “Damn,” he said. “Dis sounds like a bad review for da’ Lego Batman movie.”
He turned when he heard someone walking down the hall. He saw Helen, shuffling, carrying a metal gas can. “Wha’chu doin’, Helen?” he asked. 
“I’m going to smoke those little bastards out of the attic,” Helen replied. “Don’t you dare wake up Rose.”
“You gonna burn da’ house down,” Da’Quarius said. 
“Bah,” Helen said, waving her hand toward him. “I have a metal bucket. I know what I’m doing.” She continued her trek toward the trap door leading to attic.
“She gonna burn da’ house down,” Da’Quarius said. “I ain’t dealin’ with any more fire.” He picked up his phone to give the fire department a heads up.
“Closing it up!” Paulie called. It was late, and he and Tony were moving the new tables and booths around.
“You sure, boss?” Tony asked. “I can go all night.”
“You just don’t want me to send you back to my sister’s house,” Paulie said.
“You didn’t see them!” Tony said. “They were monstrous.”
“Well you can work here while I got stuff for us to do,” Paulie said. “Otherwise, you need to get a hobby, something other than painting faces on my wooden spoons.”
The door opened, and someone walked in. “Oh!” Paulie called. “We’re not open yet. Didn’t you see all the signs?!”
“Hey, Paulie,” Luca said, walking between the booths. “The place is looking good.”
“Luca,” Paulie said. “You wanted to come in before the grand reopening just to be told to get the fuck out?”
“I’m not here to argue or cause any trouble,” Luca said. “I wanted to let you know that I’m going to be closing Anthony Conegliano’s.”
“What?” Paulie said. “Why?”
“I’m giving up,” Luca said. “I’ve been toying with retirement for a while now, that’s why I was looking to expand with a partnership with you over the years. The prospect of multiple businesses running themselves while I sit back and collect the money is my dream.”
“You tried to enter partnerships through nefarious means,” Paulie said. “Your dream sucks.”
“But it’s mine,” Luca said with a shrug. “But after what happened here, I decided to sell and live off what I have, which isn’t bad at all. I don’t want to die in my restaurant, Paulie. I don’t know how you still have the energy for this, but I admire you for it.”
“Thank you,” Paulie said. “That might be the only nice thing that came out of that puss of yours.”
“It’s a new world,” Luca continued. “It used to be a word of mouth business. Some guy enjoys his meal, and he told a friend. That friend came in and tried the food, and I’d have a new customer. Now, a guy hears about your place, and he hops on his phone and looks it up, finding that some asshole is posting reviews about water and a friggin’ Batman cartoon and posting pictures of dead mice in spaghetti.”
“You lost me halfway through,” Paulie said.
“I don’t understand people any more,” Luca said. “I’m out. I just wanted to congratulate you being able to dust yourself off and move on. I wouldn’t be able to do it if i were you.”
Luca looked like he wanted to say more, but he left. Tony came up behind Paulie. “That was weird,” he said.
“He’s such a prick,” Paulie said. 
“Why?” Tony asked. 
“I can’t believe he ended this with an iota of self respect,” Paulie said. “What an asshole.”
“In the future,” the fireman said, walking out with Helen’s gas can and scorched bucket. “Call a professional before you try to catch the squirrels yourself.”
“Go fuck a dalmatian,” Helen muttered.
The fireman sighed. “Make sure she takes her meds,” he said, nodding toward Rose.
Rose looked away. She had just told them Helen had forgotten her meds, her go-to lie when Helen has the authorities called on her. “Thank you,” she said.
The fireman left. “Who the hell snitched on me?!” Helen shouted.
“Da’ neighbors probably saw da’ smoke,” Da’Quarius said. “Does nosey jerks are always looking over here.”
“Well I hope they like a big pile of dog shit in their mailbox,” Helen said.
“No,” Rose said. “No more. I’m calling an exterminator first thing in the morning. You could have burned our house down. What were you thinking?! What just happened to Paulie’s?!”
Helen looked away. “Friggin’ squirrels,” she muttered. She crossed her arms and sulked.
“Go get the trap,” Rose said, addressing Da’Quarius. “It’s not working anyway.”
Da’Quarius walked past Rose and Helen, climbing the stepladder to the attic. “Holy shit,” he said when he got to the top.
“What is it?” Rose asked.
“Da’ trap,” Da’Quarius said. “Helen caught four squirrels in it.”
“See,” Helen said. “They know what I’m capable of, and they want out. I think you owe me an apology, Rose.”
Rose sighed. “Goodnight,” she said walking toward her bedroom. “Get rid of those squirrels, Da’Quarius.”
“What am I supposed to do with ‘em,” Da’Quarius said. “Oh. I know where to put ‘em.”
Da’Quarius sat in Paulie’s Pizza with Flounder, sitting near Paulie and Tony. “You like what we’ve done with the new area?” Paulie asked.
“I like it,” Da’Quarius said. “You’re gonna blow Luca’s place outta da’ water.”
“Why are you bringing that stunad up?” Paulie asked.
“I wasn’t gonna say anything,” Da’Quarius said, “but Flounder wrote a program to flood him with dumb-ass reviews.”
Flounder flinched. “Please don’t hit me,” he said.
“What?” Paulie said, looking at him. “I’m not going to hit you.”
“So you’re not mad?” Flounder asked.
“I wouldn’t hit you if I was,” Paulie said. “What the hell goes on in your home, kid?”
Flounder looked away.
“So that’s what Luca was talking about,” Tony said. “Remember when he was rambling about not keeping up with the internet?”
“Oh yeah,” Paulie said. “You finally pushed that asshole out of State Street. Good job, kid. How about I name a sandwich after you when we open?”
“Really?” Flounder asked. 
“Yeah,” Paulie said. “Whatever you want, kid. It’s your sandwich.”
Flounder thought for moment. “Make it a meatball parm and seasoned fries grinder,” he said. 
“Sounds gross,” Paulie said, “but I’m a man of my word. That is now, and forever be ‘The Flounder’.”
Flounder smiled. “Thank you,” he said.
“But there’s no fish in it,” Tony said. “People are going to think it’s a fish sandwich.”
“THAT’S HIS NAME, YOU STUNAD!” Paulie shouted.
“Wait,” Da’Quarius said. “If Luca is closing, den we didn’t need to move to phase two after all.”
“What was phase two?” Paulie asked.
Luca looked over his half-filled restaurant. People were still coming in, despite the ridiculous negative reviews online. “I’m going to miss this place,” he said, smiling.
A woman screamed, running toward the exit. Two more jumped up and ran off. The whole place was emptying out, and Luca went toward the main area to see what the commotion was about.
Four squirrels were jumping all over the place, their tails shaking as they chased out his patrons. 
“I hate this fucking place,” Luca said.


The End

A Hundred and Fifty Seconds

The doomsday clock was set to two and a half minutes until midnight.
The United States president is the midst of an old fashioned flame war on twitter with the president of Mexico over the erection of a border wall. Some compare Donald Trump to Ronald Reagan, but I recall Reagan wanting to tear down walls, not put them up.
And the doomsday clock was set to two and a half minutes until midnight.
Meanwhile, an egotistical president contests an election he won, stating he should have won by more, spreading doubt on the entire process. His road to the White House was paved with lies, insults and threats. His opponent attempted to rig the election in her favor, failing when a billionaire reality show celebrity pulled off the win. Still, he claimed that three million votes were falsified; the same amount by which the leftists say he lost the popular vote.
And the doomsday clock was set to two and a half minutes until midnight.
Facts are dismissed as denial becomes more common. Anything the “liberal media” says one doesn’t agree with is “fake news”. Anything the comes from the right is “alternative facts”. Nobody believes anything that goes against what they want. It’s easier to bury one’s head in the sand and claim what you’re being told is a lie. Accepting the truth, even if it means we’re leaving a shittier world for our children, has become universally ignored.
And the doomsday clock was set to two and a half minutes until midnight.
Mounds of scientific proof of global climate change had to be moved to the Netherlands in fear of a government who refuse to admit or believe its real deleting it. Those employed by the Environmental Protection Agency were ordered to no longer update the general public on their social media feed. They were one of four agencies told to do so. To what end would one want this knowledge hidden? Is it a vain attempt to convince people their world isn’t ending, keeping them calm as the world gets warmer, the ice caps melt, and storms get stronger? Is it an excuse not to regulate conglomerates’ environment impact, keeping those in the shadows who fund our politicians’ campaigns happy?
And the doomsday clock was set to two and a half minutes until midnight.
The streets of major cities are full of protestors fighting for the rights that are being threatened to be taken away, and the United States president has only been in office for a little over a week. Federal funds are being threatened if the president’s agenda isn’t followed, using the same tactic an exhausted parent would use, telling their child there will be no dessert if their chores aren’t completed. One city has been threatened with martial law, and this may or may not merely be a sarcastic coincidence it’s where the current president’s predecessor began his political journey.   
And the doomsday clock was set to two and a half minutes until midnight.
People are more concerned with the coupling and uncoupling of celebrities than they are with the state of the world, living in their comfortable slices of content existence, feeling as if what’s on the news has no effect on them whatsoever, that everything is out of control and there’s nothing they can do to stop, fix, or help it. So why should they bother? It’s not them or their family suffering or dying… yet.
And the doomsday clock was set to two and a half minutes until midnight.
Republicans all spoke out against Donald Trump while he was on the campaign trail, stating that what he wanted to do once in office was unconstitutional and wrong. Now that he’s in office, they’re bending over backward to make sure he gets everything he wants, afraid their comfort and amenities of their political careers will be in jeopardy if they speak out against him, no matter how insane what he’s doing is.
And the doomsday clock was set to two and a half minutes until midnight.
World War III is on the horizon as well as a second Civil War if the seeded anger isn’t quelled. Instead, the seeds of discord are still being sown. Muslim bans are becoming a reality, focusing on countries that are’t synonymous with terrorists and aren’t the countries from which we get our oil nor our president holds business interests. These steps will do more damage than good, and the president doesn’t care what anyone else has to say about it, his ego telling him he’s smarter than any intelligent agency. Meanwhile, the question of whether or not Putin and Russia had anything to do with election tampering or whether there’s some kind of blackmail scandal happening has not been answered to everyone’s satisfaction, and those who ask these most important questions are told to keep quiet.
And the doomsday clock was set to two and a half minutes until midnight.
People don’t care about the news unless they can stay logged into their Twitter accounts and be on top of the food chain, making the most offensive comment in a sea of offensive comments, claiming it to be a joke when push inevitably comes to shove, even if there’s no shred of anything humorous in what they’ve said. The same happens on Facebook, where everyone is just refreshing their feeds, waiting for the next meme to appear to get them through their dull existence. The skies would turn black and the seas turned to blood, but everyone will be staring at their phones or tablets, trying to out-offend each other in a vain attempt at “shock humor”, doing nothing to make their short existence on this spinning marble worth anything more than a fleeting fifteen minutes of internet fame that will never come.
And the doomsday clock was set to two and a half minutes until midnight.