Monthly Archives: November 2019

The Calculus of Love

This is Story #12, entitled The Calculus of Love, from my book, Go West or Go Weird.


What can be weirder than someone who fanatically brushes and flosses their teeth? Yes, I do that. But at least I’m not as obsessed as the young man in this story.

When I visit my Registered Dental Hygienist for my semiannual prophylaxis, I always hope my kempt teeth will impress her. But only because I’m proud of my impeccable oral hygiene. But the young man in this tale has a different motivation. He’s in love with his RDH.

He reminds me of someone I knew many years ago. Myself. I was a weirdo when it came to matters of love and romance. Just like him. When I fell for a woman, I employed courting strategies more likely to attract a psychiatrist, than the heart I aimed for.

And that’s what inspired this story. One evening I was brushing my teeth and fantasizing about what weirdo things a young nerd might do to win over the heart of the lady who scrapes his teeth. This tale illustrates my youthful weirdness. It’s what I imagined I might do, if I was that young nerd.

The Calculus of Love


He was fastidious. He brushed his teeth after every meal. And he flossed every day, without exception. And his main reason for doing this for the past six months was not to have healthy incisors, cuspids, and molars. Sure, that was important to him, but he would never have taken such extreme care of his teeth just for that reason.

No, his main reason was to impress his dental hygienist.

He was in love with her. A secret love. He felt too bashful to admit it, or to ask her out on a date. Why, she was just too winsome and prepossessing to ever have any interest in a nerdy little guy like him. Or so he assumed.

He regarded himself as unworthy, and felt hopeless. But not completely hopeless. Because he had a plan. A plan to win her heart.

He calculated that if he took excellent care of his teeth, it would impress her so much that she wouldn’t be able to resist him. She’d fall helplessly in love with him and pursue him. And all he’d have to do is let her catch him.

Ironically, his calculus was to rid himself of calculus. And then he’d have love. Which admittedly, was a stupid plan. But men who are in love aren’t known for clear thinking.

He came in for his semiannual prophylaxis. His professional cleaning of teeth that were already spotless. He smugly settled himself into the Naugahyde dental chair, and opened wide, anticipating a gasp of amazement and awe at his flawless set of ivories.

She finished reviewing his chart, then moved to his side and peered into his mouth. But no gasp of amazement and awe issued forth.

Instead she smiled warmly. “So, what have you been up to these past six months,” she routinely asked, as she reached for a sharp, pointy object.

“Giglesmlsxsuh,” he replied, as he tried to speak while simultaneously accommodating the poky tool that was now probing his teeth.

“So,” she continued, “I’ve heard that less and less people are buying PC’s, and are instead opting for smartphones and tablets.”

She knew he was a computer hobbyist. In fact, she knew a lot of things about him. She had his personal history written down in his chart. And every time he revealed something new about himself, she stealthily took note, so she could bring it up in small talk at a future cleaning session.

This is an old ploy by dental hygienists. It’s a personal touch designed to mislead their patients into believing that they are somehow special, to be remembered so clearly. She hoped he felt impressed.

And he did. He fell for it. Every time. The moonstruck nerd took it as a sign that she liked him. That he stood a chance. Even though deep down inside, he knew he was unworthy.

“Inssutrudathig,” he answered.

The session continued, with much probing, poking, scraping, rinsing and spitting. Finally, after the torture ended, he asked smugly, “So, how did I do?” as if he had just taken a test that he knew he had aced.

“How did you do? What do you mean?”

“I mean, how did I do? Any calculus?”

“Oh. Oh yes, yes, there was quite a bit of calculus. Between the front four teeth at the bottom two quadrants. But that’s common,” she shrugged.

He felt crestfallen. “Were they at least better than last time?”

“Oh sure,” she reassured him. “Yes, I think you’re making an improvement. Keep up the good work. And I’ll see you again in six months.” She thrust a baggie at him, containing a complimentary toothbrush and small dispenser of floss.

He hung his head, feeling discouraged, and trudged out of the office.

But this setback didn’t stop him from continuing to try. After all, she had advised him to keep up the good work. So he doubled and tripled his efforts, brushing not just after every meal, but also after every snack. And right after waking up, and right before going to bed. In fact, he brushed so much, he had to replace his toothbrush every two or three weeks.

And now he flossed two, three, and sometimes four times a day. He even bought floss in bulk, over the internet. And he cut out all sweets. For he was very determined to win his hygienist’s heart.

After six months of this fanatical pearl polishing, it was time for his next visit. He assumed the position in the reclining Naugahyde chair. She hovered over his gaping mouth, with a sharp, hooked instrument held menacingly before his eyes. Then she plunged it in, picking, poking, and scraping.

She kept up a monologue about things she thought might impress him, based upon his personal history she had just reviewed in her chart. And he occasionally offered up garbled responses.

It was all very routine.

But his heart was pounding, throbbing, twittering. He kept expecting her to compliment him on the excellent way he’d kept his teeth so very perfectly clean. Surely she must be noticing.

But nothing. No compliments came. Was she blind?!

When she finished, he once again asked for the verdict on the calculus, crossing his fingers and hoping that this time she had found absolutely none. But no, there was calculus. Dammit, there was calculus!

Considerable calculus, she reported, on the backs and between teeth numbers 23 through 26. Perhaps he needed to focus more attention on these areas while flossing, she advised. But not to worry, she reassured, for most people get calculus in that area, despite their best efforts.

Well fuck it, he thought. And then he just couldn’t take it anymore. His eyeballs welled up. And as she handed him the baggie with the toothbrush and floss, the dam broke. He began to cry.

“Are you alright?!” her eyes widened. She seemed shocked.

“Yes, yes, I am,” he felt embarrassed and waved his hand back and forth, trying to ward her gaze away. Then his face scrunched up and he began sobbing hard, with convulsive shakes of his shoulders. “No, no, I’m not,” he shakily admitted. “I’m n-n-not.”

“Wh-what’s wrong?” she handed him a tissue. She felt horrified.

He wiped his nose. And between convulsive sniffles he declared, “I don’t wanna keep doing all that teeth brushing. And the flossing is so hard to keep up. I’m tired of it. I’m tired. I’m just so tired.” he pounded a fist on his knee.

Perhaps she shouldn’t have felt surprised, for brushing and flossing teeth truly is a pain in the ass. But she’d never had a patient react this emotionally to the American Dental Association’s official recommendations for oral hygiene, that she routinely repeated to those who occupied the Naugahyde chair.

She placed a hand on his shoulder. “Hey,” she reassured, “If you want to skip a teeth brushing or flossing once in awhile, it’s okay. It won’t make that big of a difference. Now you just calm down,” she implored. “I can’t believe you’re so worked up about this.”

He looked up at her with his tear-streamed face. “No, you don’t understand. I’ve been trying to impress you. I like you, and I wanted to go out with you. But no matter how good I take care of my teeth, you never seem to notice. I always keep having calculus. That damned calculus!” he angrily shook his fist at no one. “So I don’t think you’d ever want to go out with me.”

Upon hearing this admission of secret love, the dental hygienist took a startled step backward. Her mouth agape, all she could do was stare at him for about thirty seconds, as he hung his head, while dabbing away at tears with his snot-soaked tissue.

Then she did an about-face, and turned her back to him. She covered her nose and mouth with her hands and bowed her head in thought. She pondered this odd situation. After about a minute, she suddenly whipped back around and looked him square in the eye, with severe demeanor.

“Hey, if you want to ask me out, just ask me out. You don’t have to do any of this other shit. Stop your fucking crying, and just ask me out to a dinner, a movie, or something like that. Don’t play no fucking crybaby games with me.”

Now it was his turn to feel stunned. And he instantly stopped crying. His eyes expanded. He was speechless. Could it be, he wondered. Could it be that she would actually go out with me? His heart skipped a beat.

She turned slightly away, as if she was giving up on him. He knew this was his kairos. He must act now. Now, now, now, or never.

“How about Chili’s?” he blurted out. “Tonight. Seven o’clock.”

Thus began a romance between a dental hygienist and her nerdy patient. They dated for several months, before finally deciding to live together. And during this budding romance, they learned some surprising things about each other.

She learned that nerdy computer hobbyists can also be interesting. And they can have big hearts. And they possessed a level of gratitude that made them very attentive and compliant while playing between the bedsheets. Or at least, this was the case with this particular computer hobbyist.

And during one of their true confession conversations, he learned something surprising about her. He learned just how well all that brushing and flossing of his teeth actually worked. For she divulged a professional secret.

She told him that the picking, and prodding, and scraping of his teeth that she had tortured him with during cleaning sessions, was all for show. She confessed to him that in reality, he’d had no calculus to scrape off, anywhere on his incisors, or cuspids, or molars. No, in fact she felt very impressed with how clean his teeth always were, whenever he came in for his semiannual prophylaxis.

She admitted that she had lied when she told him there was considerable calculus behind those bottom teeth. It was her way of keeping him as a patient. After all, if she were to tell him that he never had calculus, he might decide he didn’t need her anymore. And she’d lose a patient. A good patient. Someone who was easy to work on.

He felt a flame of outrage upon learning this, as he reflected on all the pain he’d endured as a victim of this fraud. But she tamped down this flame, by pumping up his ego.

She told him that she rarely dated, and would absolutely never, ever, go out with any patient who came in with lots of calculus on their teeth. And that most of her patients did have lots of calculus. And that the only reason she had agreed to date him was because of how impressed she felt with his immaculate oral health.

And there it was. His stupid plan, his calculus, wasn’t so stupid after all. His calculus had rid himself of calculus. And that solved for him the most perplexing calculus problem of all.

The calculus of love.

No Exception

This is Story #11, entitled No Exception, from my book, Go West or Go Weird.


I’ve never been in good health. Or so I imagine. It could be that I’m just a hypochondriac. Or maybe I’m imagining that, too. But if I am, I inherited this disease from my mother.

She’s the pill-popping type of hypochondriac. Me, I stay as far away from pharmaceuticals as I can. I eschew pills, due to their many side effects and unpredictable interactions with other pills. And I don’t like doctors. I’m sure they’ll figure out a way to kill me if I give them the chance.

No, I’m the researcher type of hypochondriac. I’ve burned through medical encyclopedias, cover-to-cover, trying to figure out what strange, rare disease it is that has plagued me all my life. So far I haven’t unriddled the mystery, but when I do I’ll be treating myself rather than visiting some quack in a white lab coat. Because I’m no fool.

My mother has often repeated her story of that time when I lived in her belly. She claims she had cancer, and that her doctor had advised her to have an abortion. And she claims that due to her opposition to abortion, she refused to end her pregnancy. Instead, she left her fate and mine to God’s will.

Thus, due to a miracle from God, and my mother’s love, I am here today breathing life. At least that’s the story my mother would have me believe. And I did believe it for many years.

But don’t go thinking this made me a faithful follower of my mother’s religion, or a guilt-ridden son who would do anything to make his poor, sick mother happy. Oh no. Her story did not inspire such gratitude.

Instead, I wondered if my strange and rare disease that I’ve always suspected I have, didn’t originate in the womb. After all, maybe the reason she was so sick was because there was something wrong with her fetus. And maybe that’s a good reason to have an abortion. Not for the protection of the mother, but for the protection of a child that might have to go through life in poor health.

And this thought inspired me to write this little piece of flash fiction.

But one caveat. One day I took my nose out of the family medical encyclopedia and asked my Munchausen mother if I had been born by C-Section, or natural childbirth. She hesitated, as if she was searching her memory. Finally she ponderously answered that it was “na-tur-al child-birth.” Strange, that answer. I could have sworn she had mentioned a C-Section on some prior occasion.

Over the years, I’ve asked her several more times. Each time the story changes. Sometimes it was C-Section, and other times it was natural childbirth. It occurs to me that my mother has taken so many pills, from all her imagined ailments, that it’s severely affected her memory.

And so that has put her whole abortion story in a questionable light. My father was asked about it once, and he said it was bullshit. And it probably is, knowing my father’s way of calling out bullshit, and my mother’s way of dishing it out.

But my father’s calling out of bullshit was too late. I had already written the following story, based upon the bullshit. I wrote it with a mission in mind to warn potential mothers of the perils of strict adherence to moral rules.

This didactic tale warns of the consequences that can occur, when a sick woman steadfastly and inflexibly refuses to have an abortion.

No Exception


She couldn’t do it. She refused to have an abortion, despite her doctor’s wishes. Her doctor had warned her that if she didn’t have an abortion she would probably die.

She had never been so sick from a pregnancy before in her life. But to abort, well, it was unthinkable. The laws of God forbade it.

These laws of God had been instilled in her mind from youth. Carefully placed there by the stern teachings of her religious leaders. And from these laws there grew a fear in her of risking the wrath and vengeance of a God who sought to protect all of His children. Including the child of God now growing within her own body.

Her fear and her faith were unwavering. They stood as a powerful citadel, buttressing all efforts, all urgings, and all pleadings from those who wanted her to live. Her doctor, her family and her friends all counseled her that sometimes it’s wise to make exceptions to even the strictest of rules. And they were sure God, in all His love, would understand.

But she remained obdurate. She refused abortion. Her fear and faith in the teachings of her upbringing could not be overcome. And so she would risk her own life for the flesh and blood growing inside her.

She would make no exception.

The months passed and she became sicker. She was feeling gravely ill almost every moment of her waking days. It scared her to be so ill, and yet she stubbornly held to her firm resolution. She would not kill human life. She could not murder this child of God growing inside her. Even though it was slowly murdering her.

She would make no exception.

The time came. She was finally in her ninth month of pregnancy. She was in the delivery room in an advanced stage of labor. She was in pain, but at the same time she felt relieved. To her this was the lifting of a burden. It was the saving of her soul. It was the unfolding of a miracle. It was vindication.

And as she lay on the table, she had the exhilarating feeling of one who had just saved someone’s life. The life of a child of God.

And she had made no exception.

Her doctor told her to bear down. She thought of the baby. Soon she would be cuddling the pink infant in her arms. Breathe. She smiled as she wondered what to name it. Breathe. She thought of the beauty of giving birth to human life. Breathe.

Especially since this was such an exceptional birth.

It was coming out. The once condemned child was coming easily out, head first—a perfect birth. The doctor pulled the infant from the womb. He raised his eyebrows as he lifted this child of God up high for the mother to see.

It was alive, kicking and waving.

With all three legs and all four arms.

Rule Number Seventeen

This is Story #10, entitled Rule Number Seventeen, from my book, Go West or Go Weird.


I was running out of money and realized I would soon have to sell my underground log cabin, get a job, and rejoin the rat race. So I investigated new careers.

Broadcasting had been my first career, where I rode gain on 45’s and LP’s as a country music disc jockey. Then I joined the Air Force and worked for the Armed Forces Radio and Television Service on a four-year hitch.

But I felt reluctant to return to broadcasting. In the military it was a cushy job that avoided grunt work. But as a civilian, the pay was poor, unless one was talented and lucky enough to be hired in a large market, such as Los Angeles or New York City. And I hated big cities. In fact, I hated metropolises so much, the thought of achieving great success in broadcasting felt depressing.

So I tried to find a career that paid well, while allowing me to live in a small town. Yep, I wanted it both ways. Grab that cake and eat it, too.

One career I considered was insurance. But then I learned what insurance adjusters do, and my conscience guided me away from this career avenue.

But the insurance career continued to fascinate me. It paid well enough, but it required a cold heart and unempathetic, no-nonsense business acumen. It fascinated me that quite a few other careers that paid well, were also like this.

I felt inspired. Not inspired to pursue such a career. Hell no. Rather, I was inspired to write the following story. This is an allegory about a dystopian society. In this chiller, insurance has become lethal, and cold-hearted underwriters keep cold-handed undertakers rich and busy.

Rule Number Seventeen


A man in a black suit stepped out of the grayness of the night. He was carrying a valise. He walked up to the front door of a house and knocked. Three sharp, loud, commanding knocks.

The man who answered was wearing blue jeans and a white teeshirt. He had a big belly and an unshaven jaw.

He peered at the man in black.


“Are you Nolan Nailtharp?”

“Who are YOU? What do you want?”

“Are you Mr. Nailtharp, sir?”

“You some kind of bill collector?”

The man in black reached inside his valise and pulled out a piece of paper with a picture on it. He looked at the man in the white teeshirt. He looked at the picture. He nodded his head and put the paper with the picture back inside the valise. Then he pulled out a pistol and pointed it at the man.

“Hey, hey, careful there. I’m Nailtharp all right. What do you want? I’ll try to help you!”

There was a silencer on the pistol. So it merely sounded like a twig had snapped. A small stab of flame. The man in the white teeshirt opened his eyes up wide. Then he fell to the floor and died.

Through the gray night and up the stairs of an apartment building, the man in the black suit stepped. He came to a door on the second floor. He knocked. Three sharp, loud, commanding knocks.

The door opened a small crack, and a little head poked out and looked up at the man in black.

“Excuse me,” he said, “are you Sonya?”

“Yeeessss . . . !” she said.

He looked at her. She was only three years old, but she should know her own name by now. He reached inside his valise and pulled out a piece of paper with a picture on it. Yes, yes, it was her. A little older. But same face. Same curly blonde hair. Yes.

“Is your mother home, Sonya?”

“Nooooo! She’s watching a moobie! Wif Jim! She’s in the bedwoom!”

“Gooood! I tell you what—let’s go for a walk.”

He reached down and grabbed her by the hand. He led her downstairs. He was very gentle and slow with her, because she was so small. And she did not resist. She was glad to have a friend.

When they got to the bottom of the stairs and walked outdoors, he found a dark corner of the building. The security lights didn’t reach deep into that corner, so that’s where he led Sonya. Then he took his pistol out of his valise and put it against her head. There was a small snapping sound, and that was all.

A man sipped coffee at his kitchen table. Suddenly, there was a knock at his door. Three slow knocks. He opened the door and it was the man in black. He invited him in and the man in black sat at the table. He poured coffee for him, and they both sat there for a little while, sipping and chatting. Making small talk about the weather, and current events, and such things that men talk about after their work is done and they need to rest and relax.

After a bit, the man in black pulled out of his valise two pieces of paper with pictures on them.

“Here you are—both jobs are complete.”

“Thank you. I trust you did very well.”

The man in black ignored the compliment. “Hey,” he said, “can you tell me something about this one?” He pointed at the picture of the little girl.

The other man said, “Just a moment.”

He walked over to a gray filing cabinet and pulled out a portfolio. He looked it over, then back at the picture, and shook his head. “This can be a hard job,” he said. “It’s too bad, but some people seem to forget what’s at stake. They forget they’ve staked their own life, or the life of someone they love. They just don’t seem to take us insurance people seriously. But we gotta make a living too, you know.

“Yeah . . .” he looked inside the portfolio again.

“Yeah, it seems about a year ago this dame wanted to get married. But her fiancé didn’t trust her. So they came to us, and she said she’d stake the life of her own daughter that she’d be true to him. So, about two weeks ago he comes to the claims adjustment department I guess, with proof that she’d been stepping out. They verified his evidence and gave the job to my division. So I gave you the assignment. You don’t let sentiment get in your way you know. That makes you the best claims adjuster I’ve got.”

Not even a smile from the man in black. He was all business, that man. He never seemed to notice a compliment, no matter how hard the adjustment manager tried.

The adjustment manager pointed at the other picture and chuckled. “I remember that man. About six months ago he went to a bank and asked for a loan at the prime rate. Didn’t have no collateral, so he offered to stake his own life on the loan. Bank took him right up on it, like they always do. Damn good interest rate, too. Guess he didn’t take the bank’s insurance policy too seriously.

“That’s the trouble with some people. About 99% of our accounts go unclaimed. Most people take us damned serious and they always meet their obligations. But there’s always that one percent who don’t think we’re for real, and let things slide. That’s what keeps you and me in business. Especially when I have a good claims adjuster like you.”

No response. The claims adjuster in the black suit straightened his jaw and stood up. “Guess I should go now,” he said. He put on his coat.

“All right. See you tomorrow. I’ve got three jobs for you to do tomorrow. Looks like we’re having kind of a busy week.”

The claims adjuster left, and the adjustment manager went back to the table and sat down. He thought for a few minutes, then went over to the gray filing cabinet and pulled out the portfolio on himself.

He didn’t like it, but it was a company rule. In order to work for the insurance company, he had to take out a policy on himself, issued by the company.

Really it was more like an agreement. But an agreement with teeth, because it was written like a policy. Just like any policy a client would have. In the policy, he agreed to follow a list of rules. And he staked his life on the promise that he would follow those rules.

He reread the rules on a regular basis, just as a safeguard so that he would not accidentally break one. After all, his life was at stake. One can’t be too cautious with something like that.

There were twenty rules in all, but it was rule number seventeen that always bothered him. Number seventeen he always reread over and over again.

It was the fraternization rule. In that, he agreed not to fraternize with his subordinates in any manner, as this could create a “conflict of interest.”

He looked over at the coffee cup that the claims adjuster had been sipping from. It was half empty.

No, no, not really fraternization, he thought. After all, he had to get along with his claims adjusters. Promotes the morale of the department. Not fraternization at all. Business, pure business. And if he didn’t do this, he might get on the bad side of his claims adjusters. And he didn’t really trust them that much. After all, they were professional killers, and what if one of them should develop a grudge against him?

He put his portfolio away.

No not fraternization at all, he told himself again.

His job was so nice. He worked out of his own home. He set his own hours. He belonged to a generous retirement plan. And he would not allow a claims adjuster get in his way and spoil that. He would not get on a claims adjuster’s bad side.

He had to get along with his claims adjusters, or else. Or else face some possible deadly consequences. Surely they understood that when they wrote rule number seventeen.

A little while later he washed out the coffee cup and went to bed. He didn’t sleep well that night. But then again, adjustment managers never did.

Executive Fear, Part 5 of 5

This is the conclusion to Executive Fear, from my book, Go West or Go Weird. For earlier Parts, click on the links below:

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Executive Fear (Conclusion)


His bank was just a few blocks away. Now that right there presented an opportunity. He grinned red-faced at the thought. He could walk right in, completely unseen, and just kind of hang around the lobby. Listen to the gossip. Hear what they were saying about him. He could go inside the ladies restroom. Some of those tellers sure were pretty. He could get an earful and an eyeful, he thought as he chuckled.

He thought of robbing his own bank, but that was out of the question. In fact he had already considered and dismissed the idea. It would look too much like an inside job and he, himself, would automatically be one of the suspects.

So it had to be a different financial institution. Well there were hundreds of other banks in the city of Mumblegum, so his choices were pretty widespread.

He figured if his invisibility worked, he would spend the week doing just that. He would walk into banks with open vaults, clean out as much money as he could carry, and take it back to the motel. By night he could transport the money home in his car. It would be dark, so no one would probably notice there was no apparent driver behind the wheel.

It all seemed pretty pat-and-dried perfect. Otis Felp looked at himself in the mirror and smiled smugly. Soon he was going to be a rich, rich man. A multi-millionaire. A man with power and pull. A man to be feared. And a man with no fear.

He had a small bottle of slurry all capped and ready to open and drink. He estimated that it would be enough to definitely make himself invisible.

Now was the moment. Now he would discover. Now he would try it on himself. This would be the experiment that determined everything.

He stood in front of the mirror that hung on the motel wall, and uncapped the bottle. Then he smiled at himself confidently, toasted himself, then put it to his lips.

He tilted the bottle up.

And swallowed the slurry.

It tasted horrible. Like a mixture of ashes, sand and sulfur. But it went down easy enough, and settled in his stomach well.

And it did nothing.

For a few minutes.

Otis barely breathed, as he waited before the mirror with an anticipation that began to melt into a hint of sadness and disappointment.

But then his heart sped up a little.

And his breath quickened.

For as he gazed into the looking glass, he saw his body begin to fade. His face, clothes, body—all of it—was growing transparent right before his wondering eyes.

And within a few minutes it was as if he wasn’t standing there at all. He had completely faded away.

When he searched for his reflection in the mirror, all he could see was the motel room furniture behind him.

Otis Felp had become an invisible man!

He looked down at himself, searching for signs of his body. But there was nothing. Just the floor.

It was amazing. Absolutely amazing. A miracle. That’s what it was. A new miracle of science.

And Otis Felp had discovered it.

And he was the only one who knew.

Now he had the power of invisibility.

It was a fantastic power. It was a super power. He felt exhilarated. Like he was the most powerful man on earth, at this very moment. He could do anything and go anywhere, and nothing could stop him.

Nothing could hurt him.


Nothing at all.

He was Power. He was a great powerful man.

And a man to be feared by all.

And then something weird began to happen. Something completely unexpected. The room he was standing in began to fade. Not as if it was becoming invisible also, but . . .

. . . but as if it was being washed out.

Washed out by the growing glow of a bright white light.

As he looked toward the lamp in the motel room, things became even more washed out. And now the whole room was almost completely cloaked in this white light.

Finally, it became totally white-washed in the glow. And there was nothing in the room that he could see.

That lamp. That lamp had seemed to cause it. Otis stumbled toward the lamp, feeling for it with his hands. He was completely blind. The lamp had somehow blinded him.

He found the lamp and felt for the switch. Then he frantically turned the switch. The blinding light vanished. Now everything suddenly went gray. Just a flat, washed-out gray. It was a featureless gray. A dull, flat, featureless gray, with nothing in it.

Otis was still a blind man.

A convulsion of panic hit him.

Suddenly he no longer considered himself to be a great powerful man. Instead, all he could think of was, he needed help.

He searched in the grayness for the phone, but could not find it. Now what?! Now what?!

He must go outside and yell for help. Someone would come and someone would help him.

A minute or two of panicky groping and he found the door. Fumbled with the knob, then stumbled outside, and instantly the gray turned into the purest white light he had ever seen. It was a beautiful translucent light. The color of white you would see if you gazed directly at the orb of the shining sun.

But he was still blind. Everything was brightly, beautifully washed out in a fog of shiny whiteness.

It must be light rays, he speculated. Too many light rays were getting into his brain, because his skull was invisible. He had no protection from the light rays, and they were washing everything out to the point where his vision could not distinguish objects.

And to be blind was dangerous. Anything could get him.


He yelled for help and stumbled farther out into the blinding daylight.

He yelled again and heard footsteps. Someone was nearby, but seemed confused. He pleaded, “Help me, help me please. I’m blind. Please help me.”

Someone cussed, and then the footsteps ran off. That’s when Otis realized. No one could find him. Not only was he blind, but he was also invisible. And no one could find an invisible man. So no one could help him.

He thought that the best course of action now would be to go back to his room and wait until the invisibility wore off. But by this time he had gotten himself all turned around, and did not know which direction his room was.

He had to guess. So he began walking in the direction his gut instinct thought was correct.

There were step-ups and step-downs. He tripped over the step-ups. Almost fell over the step-downs.

He hit a step-down with back-jarring impact. Blindly and helplessly he kept walking forward, hands in front of him, reaching out and feeling the air. Something traveling very fast brushed past his hands. He took a few more steps forward to find out what it was.

Then he carefully walked a few more steps.

Then something hit him with tremendous violence. He felt his body fly upward. And as it flew he hit something else with great violent force and was tossed upward even higher. He rolled like a spinning top over something hard and metallic, then smashed onto the ground. Then he lost all sense of feeling, and the bright white light faded into heavy black.

The motorist pulled over because he knew he’d hit something. And he had a crack in his windshield to show for it. He hadn’t seen it, but it sure had made a lot of noise, whatever it was.

He looked all around but there was nothing. The only thing peculiar was that the passing cars seemed to be bumping over something on the road. He couldn’t see what it was, but it sure was creating minor havoc for the traffic. He figured it must be some kind of weird bump or ditch in the road that he was looking at from an odd angle. But there was a slight dent in his radiator grill, and a crack in his windshield.

That bothered him, but what could he do?

He could see nothing.

He could find nothing.

There was nothing.

Finally he got into his car and drove off.

Two days later, headlines exclaimed the news. A local bank manager had been found dead in the streets of Mumblegum. It was a grizzly, bloody sight. He had been dead for several days, after having been run over perhaps hundreds of times by passing cars.

But apparently no one had seen the body until just yesterday afternoon.

Bank manager Otis Felp was dead.

No one knew how this bizarre demise could have happened, but some blamed the mafia. Others blamed drugs. Most just shook their heads and wondered.

At least, that’s what most business executives did, who read the newspaper. They just shook their heads. And as they sat behind their big, expansive desks, in their giant leather chairs, they wondered just what it was out there that got him. They wondered just what strange, unknown thing it could have been that had caused the death of Otis Felp.

And they looked out their windows at the streets of Mumblegum and shuddered in fear at the thought of whatever it could have been.

Executive Fear, Part 4 of 5

This is Part 4 of 5, of Executive Fear, from my book, Go West or Go Weird. For earlier Parts, click on the links below:

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Executive Fear (Continued)


He went sleepless that night pondering over his amazing discovery. He didn’t know why the slurry had made the plant invisible, but he reasoned that it probably had to do with the uranium in the yellowcake. The uranium might have changed into some substance that produced a kind of powerful x-ray effect. And this powerful x-ray effect might have made it possible for him to see right through the plant like it was invisible.

It was a major discovery, he finally concluded.

A discovery that could change the entire world.

But Otis Felp wasn’t thinking as much about the world as he was thinking of himself. He had tried to invent gold so he could amass a personal fortune. He had failed at that, but now he realized he had discovered something that could help him even better to acquire a fortune.

If he could use that slurry to make himself invisible, he could gain free and easy access to every bank and gold vault in the world. And that could make him a rich and powerful man. That could even make him the most powerful man on the planet. And then, with all that power, he’d have no reason to ever fear again.

Otis Felp liked to live safely. So first he had to experiment. He got some more yellowcake and quicklime from the president of Loplite Mines. Offered him a refinanced loan at stunningly low rates, with an unwritten understanding that he could have more yellowcake and quicklime in the future, whenever he wanted.

Now it was time for more experiments.

He used his cauldron and produced more of the slurry, the same way he had done before.

He had a pet canary named Fernandez, so he decided he would experiment with this bird, first. Then, if the slurry was safe and effective, he would try it out on himself.

He put a drop of it into the canary’s water tube.

A few minutes later the bird took a drink.

And a few minutes after that it began to slowly fade away.

When the bird had completely disappeared it began chirping loudly and flying into the bars of the cage. Otis could easily track its movements, because everywhere it went the cage bars and other surrounding areas disappeared.

It seemed the bird was getting confused. It seemed that it was trying to fly through the cage bars, not knowing that they were still there, but invisible.

Otis spread some of the slurry on his own finger. It had no effect. He spread the slurry on plastic, on metal, and on wood. Again there was no effect. So apparently it had to be ingested by a living organism for it to take effect.

It seemed that for some reason, the x-rays could not be released until the slurry had mixed with the cells of a living organism. But then the x-rays were powerful. So powerful that everything even in the vicinity of the living organism disappeared.

It took almost 48 hours for the slurry to wear off, and for Fernandez to reappear. He looked like he had been beaten with a stick. Most of his larger canary feathers had been torn off as a result of his flying up against the bars of his cage. And he was bleeding in several spots from the wounds he had inflicted upon himself while doing this.

One thing that was kind of unusual, and that bothered Otis a little, was that during the entire time Fernandez had been invisible he had never once sat on his perch. Instead, he seemed to prefer sitting on the cage floor. And that was something Fernandez had rarely done before.

Otis concluded that maybe it was because the perch would become invisible when the bird would fly close to it. Therefore, the canary could not see it to perch upon it.

And Otis speculated this might cause a slight handicap when he robbed bank vaults, because the money would disappear as soon as he started to grab it. On the other hand, that could also cause a great advantage. After all, the money would remain invisible as long as he held it close by. Like in a large sack, up against his body.

He had no doubt in his mind as to this being what he would do. He would rob banks using his secret power of invisibility. Using the slurry. It would be so very easy to do.

But first he had to experiment on himself to make sure it would work. Oh, he was pretty sure the slurry would work, but he felt it was always safest to experiment first anyway. Safety always came first with Otis Felp, for he was a careful, cautious man—what with all the fear he had been born with.

But he wondered how he could conduct the experiment without arousing suspicion. He had gotten away with the canary experiment by telling his maid to take a few days off. Now he would need her to take at least another few days off while he experimented on himself. And maybe he might want to do more than just one experiment.

She already was suspecting that something was going on, especially after she came back to work and saw the condition Fernandez was in. And she was kind of nosy as it was, and had a way of occasionally dropping in on him unexpectedly, even on her days off.

The bank was no problem. He had all kinds of vacation time coming to him, due to his aversion to leaving his home. They wouldn’t suspect a thing. It was a slow time of year anyway, so the bank’s president would no doubt approve of his request to take a leave of absence.

The problem was the maid, and he could only think of one solution. He had to rent a motel room in the city. He cringed at the thought.

The city. The jungle. The place of terror. The crowds. Death. Instant, horrible death. But on the other hand, he thought, if he became invisible what power could the city have over him? It would be as safe as being in his office at work. He would be just as invisible, if not more. Nothing could see him. So nothing could harm him, either.

When a man is invisible he is perfectly safe. The outside world has no power over him. In fact, the man instead has power over the outside world. Great power. He could be an invisible, anonymous, and powerful force. He could do anything he desired, and without fear.

His vacation was approved. Now he must choose the motel. This would be no problem.

The Loaded Gourd Inn was having difficulties paying back its loan to his bank. So they would be very, very accommodating to the bank manager if he were their customer. The owners would be worried. Their voices would tremble with worry. And they would make him feel very secure in their subservience.

The drive to the motel made his palms and forehead run with sweat. What was out there? What wanted to get him? What horrors did the world have to offer on this day? He drove slowly and carefully, but steadily toward the motel, taking the most direct route possible.

When he arrived he almost couldn’t get out of the car. He hadn’t done something like this in such a long time. Here he was, in a foreign place. With foreign dangers. Foreign terrors. It was only a few blocks from where he worked at the bank, but it may as well have been across the ocean. It was a strange, new foreign place. The first such he’d been to in a very long time.

He feared he might have a panic attack.

He almost ran to the lobby, but managed to control himself. Inside, he had trouble speaking.

“I . . . I . . . I’m M . . . M . . . Mister . . . F . . . Felp.”

He said it as a statement. Like he expected something.

The face on the other side smiled with slight amusement and said, “Well how can I help you Mr. , uh, what was that? Felt? Felp? Oh, oh, Mr. Felp! Oh, I’m sorry, I- I didn’t recognize you. Y- yes, how can I, uh, help you, uh, sir?”

His confidence returned a little. “I- I want a room. I want a private room. One week. No disturbances. Not even maid service. A private room.”

It was all “yes sir,” “right away sir,” “no problem sir,” from there on out. He got his room. Having someone walk with him and show him to the room helped out a lot, but that walk was still pretty scary for Otis Felp.

But then he was in his private room. Privacy. Safety. He would have meals brought to him whenever he requested. He would have towels brought to him whenever he asked. He would have anything brought to him that he so desired. All he had to do was pick up the phone and make his wishes known. He would never once have to leave the room for any reason if he didn’t want to.

But of course he did want to leave the room, once he succeeded at making himself invisible. But as an invisible man it would be easy for him to venture into the outside world. Nothing could see him, so nothing could get him. It would be perfectly safe. He would have nothing to fear.

End of Part 4. Come on back tomorrow for Part 5, and the conclusion to this tale.

Executive Fear, Part 3 of 5

This is Part 3 of 5, of Executive Fear, from my book, Go West or Go Weird. For earlier Parts, click on the links below:

Part 1

Part 2

Executive Fear (Continued)


The traffic was thinning. The road was narrowing. He was passing the outskirts of Mumblegum and nearing home. The safe haven. The place he could breathe easily at, once again. Out in the uncrowded countryside, and then into his own house.

Up a long driveway he turned. Run the gauntlet of the driveway and make it to the garage, and he’d be home free. Every evening he ran the same gauntlet. Not that the driveway was any more dangerous than any other place. But that it was just so close. If something terrible should happen here, what a let-down it would be.

Closer and closer he came to the garage door. He hit the button above the visor, and the door automatically lifted and rolled open. Slowly, smoothly, and carefully he glided inside, while hitting the button again so the door would close behind him and lock out that hostile world.

At last he was home. At last he felt safe. At last he was no longer in danger.

There was a workbench not far from his parked car, with a heavy steel cauldron on it. His makeshift lab. He took the tin of yellowcake from his briefcase, kissed it, and set it down next to the cauldron.

But first, dinner.

Then work.

The maid had done some shopping, so the freezer was full. She was a very good, reliable maid. She kept the house clean, but most important, she ran all his errands for him. He never had to leave his house for one thing. All he ever had to do was drive to and from work. And that was dangerous enough. The maid was well worth the money. Almost worth her weight in gold. He chuckled to himself at the thought.

After a quick TV dinner it was back to the garage for some real hard alchemy work.

He had all the necessary ingredients. On the floor near the workbench was a five-gallon bucket of crushed quartz powder he had purchased from a mill, over the internet. Next to it were two tightly sealed buckets of calcium oxide, commonly known as quicklime. And of course, on his workbench next to the heavy steal cauldron was the final needed ingredient. The tin of yellowcake, containing about 10 ounces of the brown uranium powder.

First the quicklime.

He measured out a few ounces of the CaO from one of the buckets. He was very careful to reseal the bucket tightly. Quicklime, when it comes into contact with moisture, gets very hot and explodes. So he remembered to use great care, as the mine president had cautioned, when resealing the lid. That would ensure the remaining calcium oxide would stay safe and dry.

He poured the quicklime onto the bottom of the steel cauldron, forming a thick, three-inch-diameter circle with it. On top of this layer he spread a thicker layer of quartz powder. And on top of the quartz powder, he spread a tiny spoonful of the yellowcake.

He was not sure if he had his proportions correct, but he felt fairly confident he was about right. What he planned to do was to pour a small amount of water over the layers of powder so that it would filter down through the yellowcake and quartz, and contact the quicklime. He would cap the steel cauldron tightly and wait for the water to react with the calcium oxide, causing it to flash and explode.

He hoped that this explosion, for an instant, would create temperatures of volcanic proportions. The same temperatures needed to produce gold.

And if all went according to his theory, the volcanic temperatures would cause the heavy uranium elements in the yellowcake to break down into lighter elements. And as it broke down into lighter elements (such as gold), it would also expand significantly in size. In the meantime, the quartz powder would fuse and surround the yellowcake. The quartz would then keep it at a certain constant temperature for a few precious moments. This temperature would be the exact, ideal temperature needed for the formation of gold.

Otis Felp theorized that since gold was quite often found by miners in veins of quartz rocks, the quartz had something to do with harboring the favorable temperature needed to form gold, within the hot magma beneath the earth’s crust.

Felp rejected the scientific consensus that gold is only formed in the supernovas of stars, and thus can only come from outer space, via falling asteroids pelting the Earth. And this is the trouble when you don’t get out and mix with others. You have no check on your own hair-brained schemes. There’s nobody around to lend their thoughts and lead you to have second thoughts.

Had Otis joined a club for amateur scientists, maybe he wouldn’t have gone to the great length of obtaining yellowcake and pursuing this experiment. This experiment that most scientists would have warned was both dangerous and doomed to failure.

And so, he stuck with his magma theory. His unchecked, blind assumption that hot magma forms gold. And this was what he hoped would happen. He hoped, but only half-believed, would happen. Because he wasn’t completely nuts. Deep down inside lay a sense of reality that helped harbor some doubts.

But all that gold he could make. All that gold. All that power. All that success. All that respect. It led him to ignore his doubts. With the things he could buy with gold maybe he wouldn’t have to live with fear anymore. Maybe he would become famous and be respected by all people, instead of just those at the bank. Maybe his power would be far-reaching. Maybe he could control the entire world and no longer be afraid of it.

His heart beating a little faster, he began to pour the water evenly over the powder. He had to work quickly. He had only a minute before the reaction would take place.

He emptied the beaker, then quickly grabbed the cauldron lid. A fumbling with the snaps, but finally the lid was firmly secured to the top of the cauldron. Then he dashed swiftly through an open door and into his kitchen, where he crouched down behind a counter.

He heard a faint thump and began to laugh. At the worst, he expected the whole roof of his garage to blow off. But just a thump?

When he cautiously peered into the garage, he laughed even louder. For there was the cauldron, just sitting there as harmless as could be, right on the workbench. Right where he had left it. It hadn’t even budged a quarter-inch.

It was pretty hot, so he allowed it cool off. About an hour later he estimated it was safe and cool enough to unsnap the cauldron lid.

He did so without any problems.

With the lid off, he peered inside.

And was surprised by what he saw.


A liquid slurry of watery goo. Gray watery goo, and not a spot of yellow in it.

Otis Felp could tell at just a quick glance that his experiment had been a failure. A giant, stupid, ridiculous failure.

He sat down on the fender of his car and buried his head in his hands. He felt like crying, but forced back the tears. No, no use in crying. After all, this wasn’t his first failure. It was more like his thousandth in a row. He should be used to it by now.

Well, maybe tomorrow he would rethink the formula and maybe try again later.

He looked at his watch. It was late. He’d better get to bed, for tomorrow was another work day. He picked up the cauldron and with a grimace of disgust and anger, dumped the gray slurry into a potted plant near the workbench. His maid hadn’t figured out where to put the plant yet. Well maybe the slurry would kill the damn thing and she wouldn’t have to concern herself with it anymore.

He washed out the cauldron, cleaned up the workbench, and went to bed.

The next day was typical. Typical, as usual. A frightening, paranoic, almost paralyzingly fearful journey to work, a mundane but safe day at the office, followed by another treacherous journey home. Same as always.

Safely back at home, Otis stood at his workbench. He sighed to himself and wondered where he had gone wrong. And a boiling anger began to fulminate internally. An anger that was becoming more and more uncontrollable every second that he continued to ponder his past failures.

Like water hitting the quicklime, Otis’ temper was reaching a flashpoint. That damned, sickly looking slurry! That’s all he had to show for all his efforts! And where had it gone? He raced through his memory. He should have flushed it down the toilet! But no! He had dumped it into the potted plant! So that’s where it was!

He turned swiftly and kicked the plant. Worthless slurry! Worthless plant! That would show all his failures! Kicking the plant! That would show them!

He cursed and kicked a plant that wasn’t even there. No, the plant was gone. And yet he had kicked it. Or he had kicked something. It kind of felt like he had kicked a plant. But the plant wasn’t there. At least, not that Otis could see.

So what the hell had he kicked?

Something seemed wrong.

Something wasn’t there.

But something should be there.

He reached his foot out lightly and carefully felt around for the plant. He was sure he had kicked something. He had even heard a noise.

But there was nothing.

Nothing but thin air.

He felt lower, and his foot came against something. He knelt down and felt it with his hands. Yes it was, indeed, something. Then he looked again and noticed that he couldn’t see his hands. He let go of whatever it was and jumped back. Then he looked at his hands again. They had reappeared. So he felt for the object again. His hands came against it, and once again they disappeared.

This was pretty spooky.

He felt more of the object. The object that appeared to him to be thin air. His hands came against something soft and brushy lying on the floor. Something like leaves.

And that’s when he realized, with a sense of awe and wonderment, that it was the potted plant he was feeling. And the potted plant was completely invisible!

A moment of stunned stillness. His brain went into overdrive. It clicked and clattered inside, trying to make sense of this weird situation.

And then it flashed a thought.

An idea.

An explanation for Otis Felp to consider.

The slurry had done it.

That could be the only explanation. The plant had absorbed the slurry, and the slurry had somehow made it become invisible! There was something in that gray slurry that caused things to become transparent.

At first he considered this explanation with the even-minded temper of a scientist coolly pondering a hypothesis, utilizing the exacting language of logic. But then the magnitude of this explanation exploded in his mind like a hydrogen bomb. And he began to sweat and tremble with excitement.

It was an accident.

It was unintentional.

But Otis Felp realized he had somehow discovered the secret to invisibility!

End of Part 3. Come on back tomorrow, for Part 4.

Executive Fear, Part 2 of 5

This is Part 2 of 5, of Executive Fear, from my book, Go West or Go Weird. For Part 1, click on this link.

Executive Fear (Continued)


He was an alchemist. Kind of as a hobby, but more like an obsession. Alchemy was a practice begun in ancient times, that concerned itself with how to change metal into gold through the process of chemistry. And so many had tried through the ages to discover such a chemical process for making gold. But no one had ever succeeded.

Otis Felp was the same. He had been experimenting for over ten years, but still with no success at alchemy.

He had started his alchemy experiments as kind of a personal joke on himself. A psychiatrist he used to see had suggested he find a hobby. Something to divert him from his office work, that might also get him more involved with the outside world. The psychiatrist reasoned that this would help him overcome his fears of the outside world. It would force him to face these fears and think about them, so that he could realize just how unreasonable they were and get over them.

Then he could finally learn how to enjoy life.

So Otis decided to practice a few chemistry experiments at home. Chemistry had been one of his favorite subjects in high school, in his less fearful days, so it was a natural hobby to choose. And it did, indeed, make him have to go to a hardware store, and a few hobby shops in the city, so he could buy equipment and supplies. So he was getting out more, and facing his fears of the outside world.

But on one of his supply-hunting trips he picked up a book on alchemy. He was an ambitious assistant bank manager at this time, and hotly coveted money, power, and position. And the experiments that the book described gave him inspiration. Inspiration to try to figure out that long-sought-after secret of how to make gold.


Pure, solid, yellow, gold!

Power. Position. Security.


But his first few attempts were only half-hearted affairs. He approached these endeavors as a lark upon himself, and did not take it very seriously. He reconstructed some of the experiments in the book, and then laughed at himself when they didn’t work.

But then he tried his own variation on one of the experiments. It didn’t work either, but it seemed to come closer. So he tried more variations.

Gradually, he became obsessed. And the psychiatrist’s suggestion of starting a hobby began to backfire. Otis was spending more and more and more of his time at home. Long hours at night stirring and pouring and boiling and mixing.

He bought up large supplies at the hobby shops so he wouldn’t have to go supply hunting very often. And he canceled his visits to the psychiatrist. He simply didn’t have the time to see him anymore, what with all the experiments he needed to do.

And he had a natural knack for this kind of work. It was an aptitude he seemed to have been born with. Well he had been born with a crippling, irrational fear, so perhaps being born with an aptitude for alchemy was some sort of compensation from Divine Providence.

Eventually, the natural genius he possessed for this hobby finally paid off. For Otis Felp devised a method that enabled him to turn heavier metals into lighter metals. And he even developed a way to control what kind of lighter metals they would turn into. It was chancy, but he did have some control.

The end product never amounted to much in weight either. But with gold at over one thousand dollars an ounce, not much weight would be needed. He could build a fortune with just very small quantities.

Problem was, he needed a metal that was significantly heavier than gold if he ever stood a chance at producing gold. And that was where the uranium came in. Uranium is one of the heaviest known elements on the face of the earth. Its atomic weight is significantly greater than the atomic weight of gold.

Otis Felp picked up the tin of yellowcake. The uranium it came from would add the weight he needed for his experiment. He kissed it, then put it in his briefcase. Tonight, tonight, he would make gold and become rich.


They were closing up the bank when he stepped outside his office. He adjusted his tie. Eyes darted about. A flurry of activity. “Good night Mister, uh, Felp.” Susan. Susan, the blonde-haired head teller.

“Good night Susan.”

“H- have a good evening!”

“Thank you.” He strode for the door. Droplets of sweat oozed from his forehead. It was like this every evening. The door was not a door, it was the mouth of a monster. It snarled and roared at him, louder and louder the closer he came to it. Just like all evenings past. With trembling hands, he pushed the jaws away and stepped outside, into the clamor and mayhem of the noisy city streets.

Here he was not in control. Here it was every man, woman, child, and creature for itself. Here anything could happen. He didn’t know what, but anything.


Anything at all could happen to him.

His armpits were soaked with perspiration, just like every evening. Even cold, wintry evenings. His eyes darted right and left. He rounded the corner of the building, and into the parking lot.

It was there, miles and miles and miles away. But he could see it. His car. A speck of remote safety. So far off. He felt like running, but knew better. Better not to panic, he thought. Better not to show any fear. Don’t show any fear at all or maybe something will attack you.

His eyes darted left and right. His car was still impossibly far away. Then he did what he did every evening. He imagined he was on a long, moving conveyor belt that was carrying him swiftly to his vehicle. It was carrying him to safety. It was rescuing him.

A few more quick paces and he was there. Desperately he fumbled with the key fob, finally pressing the correct button. He opened the door, jumped inside, slammed it and locked it.



Well, relative safety.

He was still not home yet. But the car could get him there pretty quickly. As long as it didn’t break down or wreck. That was his biggest fear. No breakdowns needed. No accidents needed. No traffic tickets needed. He must get out of the city jungle and into his safe home as soon as possible.

And into the city streets of Mumblegum he motored. Mumblegum, the city that depended upon him, and others like him. But still a dangerous city. A dangerous city in a dangerous world. He had to get through the traffic snarls of Mumblegum and into the safety of his home as quickly as he could. But also as carefully as he could. The city was no place to have an accident. Then he’d be stuck out in the open. In a dangerous place. Then anything could happen to him.



Anything at all.

He did not know what. He had no idea what. But something could happen to him. Something deadly. Something horrible. Something specifically and directly aimed at him that would destroy and kill instantly.

He had this feeling every evening. A feeling that something terrible would happen to him. A premonition, you might call it. Of awful, impending doom. This was the fear that gnawed at his heart and soul every day. Every day that he left the safety of his home or office and ventured into the mean streets of Mumblegum.

His psychiatrist, so long ago, had called it agoraphobia. Agoraphobia is an irrational fear of open, public places. An irrational fear of being in an uncontrolled environment.

“Otis,” he had said, “you have a severe form of agoraphobia. You must do something about it right away before it ruins the rest of your life.”

That psychiatrist had been full of statistics, facts, and figures. Yes it was obvious to Otis Felp that the psychiatrist too liked to hide behind paperwork. Graphs and charts. Surveys and studies.

But according to the psychiatrist, around two percent of the population has agoraphobia. And maybe more. It’s a rather common phobia, you see. Especially amongst white-collar workers and executives like Otis.

That Otis could believe. Oh yes, he had seen his own fears in others of his type. Other business executives. Many a time he had looked out the windows of his bank and seen a hapless executive caught outside. More often than not the man was walking quite fast, with eyes darting all around. There was fear in those eyes. Definite fear. Perhaps irrational, perhaps not, but definite fear.

But the psychiatrist had called his agoraphobia “severe.” That distinguished him from most other agoraphobics. And most other executives, he supposed. Perhaps that was the reason he had not been as successful as most other executives his age. Bank manager was as high as he sensed he would ever go in the world of business. And it had been a slow road just getting to that.

But most execs his age had roared on past him. They’d gone on to be chairmen of boards, presidents of their own companies, mayors, senators, and other positions that spelled high power and success. So why had he foundered at bank manager? “Severe” agoraphobia was the only reason he could think of.

His agoraphobia was too severe to fight. But others could fight theirs. Other executives were brave enough to get out, at least every once in a while. Get out and face the mean, terrible world. Get out and turn a few wheels manually if they had to. Get out and use their backs.

And they could be brave enough to venture out and attend functions, and Rotary Club meetings, and conventions, and such things. They could make contacts and network with others who could assist their ambitions.

They could move up in the world, because they were willing to face the outside every now and then.

But “every now and then” means that most of the time they were just like Otis Felp. Most of the time they, too, would hide behind their paperwork, inside their offices, trying to control the world with pen and ink.

But sometimes, sometimes, they could build up enough courage to work a few, fleeting moments—a few, fleeting strategic moments—in the outside world. And that was the advantage they had over Otis. And he envied them for their courage.

It was a courage he felt he would never have.

But gold, gold, perhaps gold would make up for it. He could have his success by producing a fortune in gold. But only if he could uncover the secret that so long had eluded science. The secret of alchemy. The secret of manufacturing one’s own gold.

End of Part 2. Come on back tomorrow, for Part 3.

Executive Fear, Part 1 of 5

We now enter Part Too: Go Weird, of my book, Go West or Go Weird. And we begin with Story #9, Executive Fear. This is my longest short story of all, at more than 8,000 words. That’s pretty long for a supposed “short” story, and you may be feeling some fear yourself, at getting involved in it. So to make it less intimidating, I’m breaking it down into five, easy to swallow parts, for your reading digestion.


I originally wrote this long, short story back in the 1980’s, but it’s been a work in progress ever since. That’s because I can’t keep my obsessive-compulsive, wordsmithing fingers off of it. So it’s received a few revisions. Which perhaps are improvements. One improvement was to scratch out references to the old stone and chisel way of doing things, that preceded 1990, and update this manuscript to today’s technology.

This tale reflects my inner sentiments about our modern, so-called civilization. In fact, I first penned it to paper (yes, good old-fashioned treeware) when I was living in my underground log cabin in the middle of the Mojave desert.

As I sat in my log cabin, wondering why I had to go to such great lengths to get away from that great monster known as civilization, which dehumanizes people and destroys the environment, I had plenty of time to think. And my thinker came up with a theory.

I reasoned that there are invisible forces at work that make our world the way it is. And these invisible forces are the executives who head big businesses, such as banks and large corporations. They stay hidden in their high-rise offices, out-of-touch with humanity, and far away from the primitive appeal of nature. And in a cold, machine-like way, they use paperwork to pull the strings and levers that make everything function the dysfunctional way things function.

And it occurred to me that maybe these executives hide in their offices out of fear. They’re afraid of humanity. They’re afraid of the outdoors. They shun reality. And they’re phobic about being anywhere away from the safe cocoon of their homes or corporate offices.

This is radical thinking, I’ll admit. And I’ll also admit that I lived in my underground log cabin in the Mojave at the same time that another radical thinker lived in his own little cabin, in the woods of Montana. His name was Ted Kaczynski.

So I’ve sometimes wondered if maybe I’m just as nuts as Ted.

But while he was mailing surprise packages to executives and academics, as the Unabomber, I approached the problem from a different angle.

I simply wrote this story.

Executive Fear (Beginning)


Otis Felp was a frightened man. Always. Always there was the fear. Lurking just outside. Ready to pounce. Fear stalked him. It waited for him to leave. It waited for him to return. It waited for him to be caught unawares. It was always around. Somewhere around. Just outside those doors. Stalking and hunting him like a cougar sniffing out a wounded deer.

Every day.

Every day of his life from the time he was born.

Crippling, destructive, inner fear. Fear that assaulted his soul and body, worming into his heart and hollowing out his worried eyes.

His soul was condemned to a constant hell by this stalking fear. And it left him with no heart for enjoying life.

He was also desperate. Desperate for an escape from the terror that always awaited him.

But he saw little opportunity for hope. No, there seemed little hope for an escape from this phobic paranoia. Little hope for an escape from the phantom fright that constantly breathed just outside. No, he saw scant opportunity for this kind of hope.

But he did see one opportunity.

Small? Yes it was.

But it was still an opportunity. It was a slight chance. As slight as the little tin of brown powder he now held in his hand.

He sat at his desk and fiddled anxiously with the tin. He had been told not to handle it much, but he was so desperately excited he couldn’t control himself.

It was yellowcake.

Yellowcake is a powder produced from crushed uranium ore. It is used for manufacturing enriched uranium-235, which in turn is used for making nuclear fuel and nuclear weapons. And in spite of its name, it is neither yellow nor cake-like. Rather it is brown and powdery.

It had taken him awhile to obtain this uranium-rich powder, but he had been persistent. His client had hesitated, had hedged, had put it off, but had finally given in. His client brought it to him secretly. As a present. Or as a gratuity. Just yesterday—the day after the loan was approved—his client had walked into his office, set his briefcase down on the big, expansive desk, opened it a slight ways, and removed the tin of brown powder.

He began to act as if he had committed a great crime. There was a big, guilty smile on his face as he palmed the little tin toward Otis Felp. “Here you go, Otis, just what you were asking for,” he said in a low voice. “Now don’t go advertising what it is, and don’t say it came from me. Just stick it on a shelf somewhere and don’t handle it too much. I think it can hurt you if you play around with it a lot. Remember, don’t say you got it from me.”

“I don’t intend to ‘play’ around with it,” Otis said, stiff-lipped, “I just want it as a souvenir.” Then he let himself smile a little. “But thank you, thank you very much. I appreciate the gift. Don’t worry, I won’t tell anyone what it is. I want it as a personal souvenir only. A keepsake, so to speak. Thanks very much for your trouble.”

That about concluded Otis Felp’s deal with the president of Loplite Mine Enterprises. The miner had received his loan—and at a very reasonable rate—and the bank manager had received his little tin of yellowcake.

That was yesterday. That evening he had gathered together other needed materials for his experiment, and had prepared his lab in the garage. Now, tonight, he would take his yellowcake home and try his experiment. Tonight he would put all the elements together and—poof!—see what would happen.

Perhaps nothing.

Probably nothing.

But then again, one never knew.

In his office he felt no fear. Behind the big sign that said “Manager”—that sat squarely at the head of his big, expansive desk—sitting in his big chair, with a big, important look of concern on his face—he felt no fear. He felt perfectly safe. No jitters. No trembling hands. No darting eyes, nothing.


It was a secure feeling to be an important bank executive.

Even out there in the lobby it wasn’t all that bad. But that’s because he was treated with respect by his employees. They respected him very much, and feared him even more so. It was the fear, really. They showed him respect, but felt fear.

Whenever he came around he sensed there was an instant change in the demeanor of his employees. A hush came first. Then darting eyes. Then a flurry of busywork.

He loved the employees best who stammered. “Uh, uh, yes sir, y- yes Mr. Felp. Y- yes of course. Sure. Th- thank, uh, thank you sir.” He loved those employees. They made him feel that everything was going okay. That the bank was still functioning properly. That he was still, definitely, in control. That nothing would cross him or cause him any kind of harm while he was in the bank. It was security.

And that big pile of paperwork in front of him. Now that right there showed just how important his job was. No one could question that he was an important man when they came into his office and saw all the paperwork he had to do. People would roll their eyes and say, “Boy, I’m sure glad I don’t have your job, uh, sir.” He would just smile and keep on working.

Or maybe he’d say, “Sometimes I wonder how I put up with it myself.” No sense making people envy his job. Let them be scared of such importance. Let them lose their ambition. Then they would be less of a threat. The less people who wanted his job, the more secure his job was.

But the paperwork had a greater value than just that. Most people bemoaned having to do paperwork. He didn’t like it much himself, but it did have a hidden value that many people seemed to overlook. It was the ultimate in power. It was power at its best. Paperwork was power. Paperwork was the power that made minds rule over backs. It always seemed to be the case. The ones who did the paperwork always had control over the ones who did the backwork.

Otis Felp was an expert at paperwork. Because of this he thought of himself as an invisible force of power. Like the Emperor of Japan, who for many centuries was not allowed to be looked upon by the common people. Otis was hidden behind the walls of his office, behind his big, expansive desk, out of sight, making deals on paper that could shake the entire city.

The average citizen depended on him to make sure the wheels of finance moved smoothly. To make sure jobs were available, and that businesses could operate. To make sure progress was made. And yet Otis Felp was virtually unknown to the average citizen. He was an anonymous man, hidden in an office somewhere, doing whatever anonymous, important men and women do. To the average citizen, Otis Felp was virtually invisible.

And that’s the way he liked it. He liked exercising his power anonymously. And he could do that with paperwork. There was such little risk. He could control his outside environment without actually going out into it. He could initiate a form, sign a sheet, or send a letter, and wheels would turn somewhere. He didn’t have to go out there and turn the wheels manually, and take all the chances that could entail. The chances of—who knows?—God knows—what could happen to him. No. He could sit inside his safe office and just do some paperwork. And then someone else—someone out there—some poor fool—would turn the wheels for him.

Paperwork was so much safer. With paperwork nothing wrong could happen to him. He was so safe. An anonymous but safe, secure, powerful man. A man who pushed paper, while others pushed their luck.

After filling out a few more forms and signing a few more signature blocks, he turned his attention back to the yellowcake. Tonight, he thought, it would be tonight. He turned the tin of powder slowly in his hands.

Perhaps it would work, perhaps it wouldn’t, but at least he would try.

End of Part 1. Come on back tomorrow, for Part 2.

A Spontaneous Chemical Reaction in the Midst of a Desert

This is Story #8, entitled A Spontaneous Chemical Reaction in the Midst of a Desert, from my book, Go West or Go Weird. This will be the final story of Part Won: Go West. After this is Part Too, where we go Weird.


It was summertime, and baking like a pizza oven outside. Made us desert rats hungry, so my wife and I took my 89-year-old father-in-law out to a specialty pizza cafe.

The swamp cooler wasn’t doing much good inside that stuffy little pizza cafe, as it rattled and strained under the July sun, while competing against the work of the ovens. As we sat at a picnic table, I watched the young lady behind the counter swelter away while taking orders from a queue of sweaty customers.

She was plain-looking, but possessed of a spirit and attitude that drew my eye and made her attractive to me. She had a straightforward gravity to her demeanor, and a careful presence that held the attention of each customer she waited on. I felt enamored just watching her. And I wondered if I was falling in love with her.

Problem was, she was young enough to be my granddaughter. And besides, I was married. And if I gawked at her any longer, my wife and father-in-law sitting next to me, might notice. I had to shake my sunbaked head and take a sip of my cold soft drink, to bring my overheated brain to its senses.

I then realized that what I was really falling in love with was a time so long ago when such treasures as her were available. A heady time when life was starting out, and couples my age were beginning long journeys together. I missed the feel of that, for just a few brief fleeting moments. And I wanted to return, but knew I couldn’t.

A young paramedic walked in and stood in line. And watching him, and observing her, it occurred to me that maybe something more than pizza could result from their encounter. It probably didn’t, but I imagined it could.

This modern Western is about that imagined encounter. It’s a romantic vignette about heat, chemistry, and the reaction they might set off, between two young strangers in the moments before they meet.

A Spontaneous Chemical Reaction in the Midst of a Desert


It was high noon at the High Moon Pizza Cafe. The desert sun outside desiccated the rocks, cacti, and Joshua trees. But inside, a swamp cooler purred away, refreshing each new customer who staggered through the front door.

It was 98 outside and 88 inside. The swamp cooler only shaved ten degrees off the heat. But it felt like the Antarctic for those seeking refuge from the flaming overhead sun.

This refuge was her place of employ. While El Sol baked brains outside, she baked pizza pies inside. And she waited on zombies. The zombies were her customers. They were the desert rats who staggered through the front door in a state of brain-baked dyscrasia, and as delusional as the heat haze on the horizon.

She was practically a zombie herself, from the effect of the pizza ovens. This heat on the brain plays tricks on people. It boils the cerebral hemispheres, fries the neurons, and sizzles the synapses. And it makes possible a phenomenon between two encephalons that is known as a spontaneous chemical reaction.

Her 22-year-old face and figure were not beautiful, just pretty. Plainly pretty. And then only under cooler circumstances. Today all shreds of prettiness washed away from her.

Her face was enwreathed with sweat. It dripped in beads down her forehead and stung her eyes, burning them red. It formed droplets under her nose, lips, and chin. And it ran rivers down her bare neck, shoulders and meaty arms.

She wore a thin, green, cotton tank top, soaked in moisture. The decolletage of this bodice exposed a hint of sweaty cleavage. Below this beaded valley rolled sweat-stained green hills, and below each of these hills, trapped heat unleashed runnels of perspiration that streaked the fabric of her top from her bosoms to her waistline.

He poked his head through the cafe door, attracted by the 20% discount he’d heard about, for First Responders. Then he wiped the sweat off his brow with the palm of his hand, and staggered inside to join the zombies waiting in the queue. He stood behind two other customers and slowly shook his head a bit, trying to clear and orient his heat-hazed mind.

She glanced over their heads and caught sight of the face of this man who was last in line. It struck her with a shot of adrenaline. Her heart flip-flopped. A mysterious, volatile element surged through her internal chemistry.

One millisecond later: Flashpoint!

Then: Explosion!

And suddenly she knew she had glimpsed the face of her future husband.

He was 24 years old, of towering stature, and in peak physical condition. He sported upside-down sunglasses perched atop sweat-soaked auburn hair, which was neatly trimmed around salty wet ears.

He was an EMT, dressed in a close-fitting blue shirt, mottled with blotches of moisture. A black web belt cinctured the narrow waistline of his pants, which stunk of perspiration. A 2-way radio clipped to this belt could quickly drag him back outside into the smoldering heat, to assist at the next car wreck, heat stroke, or other emergency. He prayed to all the gods that this wouldn’t happen until he’d had at least 30 minutes of respite in this cool refuge.

He was a handsome man at other times, when his sudoriferous skin did not pour waterfalls all over his body. He was for sure much better looking than she. And his income as an EMT was far higher than her fast-food slave wage.

He was cool, magnetic, and possessed of savoir-faire in other seasons. But not so much during the withering heat of the desert summer. However during the fall, winter, and spring, this young man had much more going for him than that young woman.

His zombie eyes were transfixed on the hot pizzas in a glass display, and failed to notice the overheated young lady standing behind them. She finished with a customer. He moved up a step in line, and as he stepped he directed his bleary eyes over the head of the zombie before him, and focused on her perspiration-pocked face.

An electric frisson traveled up his back. He suddenly felt a little queasy and faint. His knees buckled, and the upside-down sunglasses dropped off of his head. He caught them with clammy hands, and fumbled nervously with them, almost jabbing out an eye, until he finally gave up and stuffed the shades in his pocket.

He was plunging into love. He knew it. But he couldn’t explain why. And he couldn’t stop it. His heart practically pounded out of his chest. He couldn’t pry his eyes off of this woman swimming in the product of her own sweat glands.

EMTs are expected to be calm and unflappable in the face of any situation. He wondered what was happening to him. How could such a plain-looking, sweat-drenched woman unhinge such a powerful response in him? Was it the heat?

Of course it was the heat. Heat that induces spontaneous chemical reactions.

He’d managed to remain single up until now, but this happened too quickly to put up any defenses. Besides, he felt too weak from the heat to resist. Nature, in her enigmatic, ruthless ways for ensuring reproduction of the human animal, was winning.

She finished with the customer, then caught his eye. She smiled with a twinkle of excitement, as beads of moisture dripped from her chin.

“Sir, may I take your order?”