Do The Good Go To Hell? – A Story

Once upon a time, during a particularly difficult economic down turn, the president of the land of Make Believe decided to use his own money to help his people.

“I’ll build an industrial plant,” he told his economic adviser, “a huge complex, big enough to employ anyone who needs work. First we’ll hire people to do the construction. All kinds of people. No experience necessary. What they don’t know, we’ll train them to do.”

His adviser consulted with the necessary PR personnel and soon word spread: anyone who wanted a job could begin to report to the designated location, effective immediately.

People came slowly at first, hardly believing the president really meant what he said, and some stayed away, convinced the offer was a sham, or worse—a trick to bilk the people of the little they still had.

Eventually, however, as those first folk went home tired each night after a full day of hard labor, gold coins clinking in their pockets, more and more people decided to sign on for a job too.

One day, a nicely dressed young man named Warren Wingate showed up at the application center.

“Would you like to apply for a job?” the receptionist asked him.

“Oh, no, no. I don’t need a job,” Warren said. “In fact, I’m here to help out.”

“Help out? In what way?”

“I have money, lots of money, more than I can ever spend in my lifetime. I want to give it away.”

“To everyone?”

“Well, I could do that, but the amount would be so small, it might not make much of a difference.”

“So you plan to divide your wealth with just a few people? How will you decide which will receive your gift and which won’t?”

“I’ll figure something out—maybe based on need. You know, the poorest of the poor.”

So Warren set up a table and sat with his checkbook open. Whenever a poor man with a torn shirt or holes in his shoes came to the application center, Warren called him over, wrote a check, and sent him home.

“Warren,” the receptionist said, “you should be sending those poor people in to sign up for their job.”

“They don’t need it any more. I gave them enough to last a lifetime.”

“You don’t know that. What happens if inflation rises or our currency is devalued? These people need jobs. It’s the only way they can have a secure future.”

“That’s certainly a narrow-minded perspective. Look at me. I invested wisely, and I’m wealthy beyond measure. I don’t need a job, and in fact I can help shoulder the burden for all these other folk.”

With that Warren passed out checks to the next one hundred people who showed up at the application center, regardless of need. Each person was so happy, they shook Warren’s hand, said how grateful they were, how much they owed him, and headed back home.

The next day, all the people with checks hurried out to the bank. But instead of open doors and a lighted building, the shades were drawn and the doors were locked.

“What’s this about?” one person asked.

“Haven’t you heard?” a man on his way to work said. “The bank closed its doors yesterday. Those checks you have aren’t going to buy your groceries.”

“But Mr. Wingate said he had more than enough money for us all.”

“I’m sure he thought he had plenty. But he’s not buying groceries either, not unless he has some gold. And the only place I know where you can get gold is from the president. You all should come with me and put in your job application. They’re taking anyone willing to work.”

As the worker hurried toward the plant, a few folk trailed after him though most stayed in front of the bank.

“It’s a misunderstanding,” one man said. “They’ll open the bank in an hour or so, you’ll see.”

When those who went with the worker arrived at the application center, who did they see but Warren Wingate, handing out more checks to the poor.

One of those who had just left the bank, stepped forward. “What are you doing, Mr. Wingate? The bank is closed, and we can’t cash the checks you gave us.”

“Well, isn’t that sad. Would you like another? I can make this one for a good deal more if you like.”

“That won’t help. We need to buy groceries for our families and we need money, not a check we can’t cash. You need money, too. They say the only place to get any is here at the president’s industrial complex, so we’re going to apply for a job. You should too.”

“Me?” Warren said. “Why would I need a job? I have plenty of money. Take a look at my last bank statement.”

“But the bank is closed.”

“I’ll simply show this statement at the grocery story. I’m sure they’ll give me the food I need. You can show them your checks too. They’re bound to give you the food once they see how rich you are.”

– – –

So what do you think? Did the kind man giving out checks to the poor get the food he needed?

This story is an edited version of one first published here in October, 2010.

Published in: on October 16, 2018 at 5:00 pm  Comments Off on Do The Good Go To Hell? – A Story  
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The People Who Can’t Smell–A Re-post

1417178_yellow_roseTonight I’m re-posting a story (with some revision) which I wrote a few years ago here at A Christian Worldview of Fiction. It seems appropriate as a follow-up to yesterday’s article, “God Is Not Benevolent.”

– – – – –

Once upon a time in a country far, far away, tucked into an isolated valley, there lived the Tsiehtas, a group of people who celebrating their four senses. They could see and hear and feel and taste, but when it came to smell . . . well, they regarded such a thing as a fantasy.

One day a visitor from neighboring Htiaf arrived in the valley. He admired the quaint cottages and well-kept lawns and beautiful gardens. But when he stopped beside a rose bush and pressed his nose to a blossom, a smile came over his face.

“This is the most fragrant flower I’ve ever found,” he said. “You have a real treasure in your valley.”

The Tsiehtas looked at the visitor suspiciously. “No offense, sir,” said the lord high counselor, “but there is no such thing as ‘fragrant.’ Certainly we appreciate the beauty of the blossoms, and for that reason we treasure our roses.”

“No fragrance? Of course there’s a fragrance. A sweet, rich scent that lingers even after I move to another part of the garden.”

“Ha-ha! You have a rich imagination … unless you are trying to intentionally propagate deception.”

A crowd begin to gather.

The visitor raised his voice. “Please believe me. I’m not making this up. The scent is so strong it overpowers that of the newly cut grass.”

“You think grass has a scent, too?” the lord high counselor said.

The crowd laughed, but one small boy dropped to his knees and buried his face in the grass. “I do think I smell something,” came his muffled voice.

“Nonsense and fairy tales. We have no evidence that ‘scent’ exists,” said the lord high counselor. “Show me this fragrance you speak of.”

“How can I show you that which is invisible?”

“And how can we believe in something without any proof?”

“I’m your proof! And so is my young friend here.” The visitor patted the little boy’s shoulder. “The fact that we can smell these scents is evidence they exist.”

“Hardly. Another visitor might arrive tomorrow and tell us the sun smells disgusting. Should we believe him, too?”

The visitor turned toward the youth on his knees in the grass. “What about this boy, one of your own?”

“You said yourself–he’s a boy. He’ll outgrow his fantasy like the rest of us did.”

“Are you saying you used to believe you could smell?”

“Ha-ha, of course not. It was a childish phase. We soon learned to depend on our eyes and ears, our taste and touch. Those are the things that are reliable. Why this fragrance you speak of, you admit you don’t smell it consistently.”

“Of course not. Scent is carried on the wind and it might be stronger depending on where you’re standing.”

The lord high counselor frowned. “Now you’re just making things up. You have no proof, no facts, just a myth you’re trying to foist on the rest of us. I think it’s time you leave.”

Sadly the visitor from Htiaf turned away. “How can I convince the Tsiehtas scent is real when they won’t believe what I’m telling them? What would it take to get their smell receptors working again?”

Published in: on June 13, 2013 at 5:37 pm  Comments Off on The People Who Can’t Smell–A Re-post  
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“Warning Issued” – A Story

Below is a story I thought you might enjoy. It’s one I wrote earlier this year for a contest, and there is no connection to the short series I’ve been doing about grumbling. 😀

By the way, please don’t forget to vote for the August CSFF Top Tour Blogger.

– – – – –

Gustavo shielded his mouth with the flimsy sleeve of his sleep shirt as he skittered around another pile of ash. The worn soles of his canvas shoes would be no match for any live chunks of lava hiding in the drifts.

Run to the village and tell them to sound the alarm, Papa had said. And so Gustavo pulled on his pants and shoes and ran into the smoky gray of early dawn. The sputtering fire from Tematíl had urged him to go his fastest.

If only he could maintain that pace. How many houses scattered throughout the countryside would the lava pouring down the mountain bury? The people sound asleep in their own beds — his friends and neighbors — needed to be warned.

Again he swerved around a heap of ash blocking the trail. A gust of wind swirled the hot chunks and powder-fine particles into a miniature cyclone, and he ducked his head behind his arm to keep his eyes, nose, and mouth clear.

Through the trees on the left a pinprick of light pierced the darkness. A distant whistle sounded — the long, low moaning of a train steaming through the village on its way to Tematíl and the coast beyond.

Gustavo hesitated. He had been on that train more than once with Grandfather. Most of the passengers were workers traveling from their homes in the city during the dark hours of the fading night to arrive at their jobs at the start of the day. How many people were hurtling toward the growing lava field — two hundred, maybe three? Men like Pietro who lived with his wife and baby daughter and four growing sons, all a little younger than Gustavo, in a small house next to Grandfather’s.

Would Pietro, or any of the other fathers and husbands, survive when the train met the lava flow? Were children and wives on board, traveling to the seaside town for a special holiday or for a visit to the open-air market?

If Gustavo left the path to his village, he could reach the trestle bridging the river and flag the train.

But who then would tell the alderman to sound the alarm for the countryside? His father had entrusted him with the job, and his neighbors’ lives depended on him completing the task. He couldn’t let down Signora Bonelli, his friend Sandro, the egg lady living near the copse of birch trees, or the carpenter and his family in the pasture on the far side.

No, he needed to reach the village as fast as possible, or all his neighbors would die . . . As would the passengers on the train if he didn’t warn them to stop. How could he let hundreds race to their deaths? But how could he fail his neighbors?

The train whistle moaned again, louder than before, nearer. What if . . . No time to question. He had to act now.

Leaving the trail, Gustavo plunged through the woods toward the river. When he reached the bluff overlooking the water, he stripped off his sleep shirt and climbed onto the trestle. Now he could hear the clackety, clackety of the train wheels on the tracks.

A ray of sunlight squeezed through the haze, beaming onto the far end of the bridge. He sprinted to it. With light bathing him, he faced the oncoming train. At last it chugged into sight. He splayed his legs to make himself as big as possible, raised his shirt, and waved it up and down. Up and down. The brakes screeched, but the train continued to hurtle toward him. The high-pitched squeal persisted as the engine reached the edge of the trestle. And slowed. Up and down he waved his shirt. Still the train crawled toward him. He held his ground. The brakes squealed louder, and at last the train churned to a stop.

The conductor leaned his head out the door behind the engine. “What is it, boy?”

Gustavo lowered his arms. “Tematíl is erupting.”

“Thank God you stopped us!”

“But now I need your help.”

“What can we do?”

“I was supposed to go to the village and tell them to sound the alarm.”

“You want us to take you back?”

“I don’t think there’s time.”

“Then what?”

“Your train whistle.”

The conductor ducked his head inside. “Hear that, Emilio?”

The engineer waved through the cab window and reached for a long cord dangling by his head. As he pulled down, a whistle blast echoed over the river canyon. He pulled again and again, sending one urgent, bleating sound after another into the gray morning — a warning signal none of Gustavo’s neighbors could sleep through and none could ignore.

Published in: on September 2, 2011 at 6:16 pm  Comments (5)  
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Membership Required – A Short Story

I’m a reasonable man, and fair-minded, so I’m told. My employees know they can count on a holiday bonus regardless of their political and religious affiliations, or their disaffiliations. I promote women through the ranks as often as I promote men. And I donate liberally to Preserve the Planet—my part of “packing out” what we humans “pack in.”

You can understand, then, why I’m outraged by what just happened.

On the surface the invitation appeared to be for the kind of event I usually attend: very exclusive. This one was to be held across the country at an out-of-the-way little estate near the coast. Ideal for mixing a lot of pleasure with a little business.

A quick phone call verified that the guest list included a significant number of my colleagues and competitors. Perfect!

I gave my personal assistant the okay to RSVP in the affirmative.

“One problem, your lordship,” he said, studying a sheaf of papers, “the invitation states you must be a member of the host association.”

“Let me see that.”

I snatched the top sheet from his hand—a piece of parchment folded in half and embossed with gold lettering. There at the bottom in bold block letters was the simple statement: Membership required.

“It’s got to be a mistake. A foul-up at the printers.”

My assistant held up the other pages. “They included a list of locations—hundreds within a few miles of us—where you can apply for membership, sir.”

“A formality, I’m sure, not really a requirement. They wouldn’t send me an invitation unless I could attend. That would be absurd.”

Any reasonable person would know I was right, but I had yet to learn who I was dealing with.

I rearranged my schedule and set the plans in motion to attend what I expected to be the event of the year.

Everything went like clockwork. The flight was routine and my jet landed on time. As arranged, a limo met me at the gate. The short drive to the event site took me past a stretch of pristine sand that walled off the white-capped breakers tumbling from the cyan water. The limo sped through a quaint village and finally into a eucalyptus forest with ivy-covered walls lining the road. The place exuded wealth—the studied-casual kind, and I knew I belonged.

The driver turned into a private road leading to the estate, but a gate with wrought-iron detail barred the way.

An owlish man, dressed like a maître d’ and holding a computer tablet, stepped from the gatehouse. “And you are …?”

I lowered my window, thankful that my hosts were taking such precautions against party crashers. “Baron Mikal Kolmakov.”

The underling’s wide eyes scanned the screen in his hand. He punched a key, then another. “I’m sorry, sir, you don’t seem to be on the guest list. Could you be under another name?”

“I’ve got to be there. I gave my personal assistant explicit instructions to accept the invitation.”

The man stooped and peered through the window. “Perhaps if you have your membership card, I can scan it in and put you on the list.”

“No, you don’t understand.” I slowed my speech so he could be sure to follow what I was about to explain. “I received an invitation.”

“Of course, Mr. Kolmakov—”


“Excuse me?”

“Baron Kolmakov. I paid good money for that title.”

He straightened. “Of course, Baron Kolmakov. All the guests received invitations, but membership in the Association is still required.”

“I’m sure my personal assistant took care of the matter. I just don’t happen to have the card.” I never expected an underling to call me on that lie.

Owl Eyes tapped a few more keys, looked at me, then to the tablet screen and back at me. “Unfortunately, sir, membership must be obtained in person. Your assistant—a Mr. Suesov?—would not have been able to sign you up. He could only apply for his own membership.”

I suppressed a sneer. “I guarantee you my assistant did not receive an invitation.”

“Begging your pardon, Baron, but I have his RSVP in front of me.” He touched his finger to the screen. “A ‘no,’ I fear.”

“Well, then.” I adjusted the sleeves of my jacket. “But you must also have my RSVP—a ‘yes,’ is it not?”

“It is. However, your name was not included on the guest list since we have no record of your joining the Association.”

I massaged my temple. “I flew thousands of miles to attend this affair, and now you tell me I’m not on the guest list? That’s unacceptable. You’ll simply have to waive the membership requirement.”

“I’m sorry, Baron, but that is quite impossible.”

“Anything is possible, my good man.” I reach inside my coat for my leather wallet. “How much?”

“Excuse me?”

Apparently the man thought playing the fool would stretch my generosity. “How much compensation do you need to waive the membership requirement?”

He took a step back. “Sir, even if I wanted to, without the necessary card to scan into the computer, I couldn’t add your name for any price.”

I shoved my wallet back in place. “This is ridiculous. I want to talk with your superior.”

“Certainly sir.” Owl Eyes tapped the keys of his tablet. “Would you like to fill out the membership form while you wait for her to join us?”

“You mean you can sign me up right now? Here?”

“I can.” He reached into the guardhouse and grabbed a clipboard. “I just need you to fill out the application and I can process you through.”

“Then why can’t you process that gate open and let me join the party?”

He extended the clipboard toward me. “I’ll be happy to do so, Baron, as soon as your membership clears.”

I moved to the edge of my seat. “Are you suggesting I might get turned down?”

“Not if you’re in agreement with the Association’s core values.”

Who talks about core values in this era of enlightenment? “What kind of organization is this? Don’t you have any respect for other people?”

The gatekeeper stiffened, almost like he was military. “On the contrary, Baron. Respect for all people is one of our values.”

“Then you should respect my decision not to become a member of your association.”

“We do.”

“So … stop quibbling and open the gate!”

“I’m sorry, sir. Members only.”

“This … you’re … You just said you respect my choice not to join.”

“Our respect does not negate the association’s charter, Baron.”

I flung open the limo door and stormed toward Mr. Maître d’ until I towered over him. “Is this because of my nationality?”

He held his ground. “I can assure you, your cultural heritage or nationality has no relevance on your admission into the estate. You simply must become a member of the Association.”

“But only certain people can join.”

“The Association is open to all like-minded men and women.”

“Well, there you have it. Your precious Association won’t let someone like me join who opposes your idea of core values. How tolerant of you.” I injected as much sarcasm as I could into that last line.

“Baron, I wish I could help you.”

“Oh, but you’ve helped a great deal.” I pulled out my smart phone and pushed record. “You’re giving me all the information I need to haul every one of you prejudiced bigots into court.”

“Sir, you yourself said you received an invitation, and I offered to process your membership right now. How do you see this as bigoted?”

I let slip a smirk. “To attend this function, you say I must be a member, but only ‘like-minded’ people can be members—your term, not mine. That’s the definition of intolerant.”

“Sir, you were not excluded. You were invited. Perhaps if you examined the Associations list of core values—”

“Stop! Don’t try foisting those on me.” I retreated to the limo and slammed the door. Through the window, I said, “You cannot force me to believe something in contradiction to who I am. Inform your superiors that my lawyers will be in contact. I’m shutting you down.”

And I will, too. They think they can turn me away at the gate, but I’m not letting them get away with such discrimination. I’ve got friends in law enforcement, in government, in the media. We can do boycotts and lawsuits and smear campaigns.

As the limo backs out of the driveway, I tap the number for my personal assistant into my smart phone. When he picks up, I order him to get all the dirt he can on the Association because we’re going to war. There’s no reasoning with such intolerant people. My only choice is to bring them down.

Published in: on April 13, 2011 at 6:52 pm  Comments (9)  
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Short Story – The Stones Cry Out, Part 2

Continued from Short Story – The Stones Cry Out, Part 1 (with one line repeated to bring you back into the flow of the story. 😉 )

Because of Master Iba’s persistent drilling, Kor left the shelter of his station and peered into the dark toward the unexpected tramp-tramp-a-tramp-tramp.

Steady. Repeated. Louder. A sizable force, if he could trust his ears. As yet, no one appeared out of the dark, but the marching floated up from the River Road.

Kor climbed to the battlement and leaned over the wall, straining his tired eyes to catch a glimpse of whatever force approached, marching in such a disciplined, rhythmic pattern. Tramp-tramp-a-tramp-tramp. Not herdsmen driving their cattle to market. Not wandering tradesmen looking to snatch the best corner of the square, the shady spot nearest the road. Only two choices remained, for no one else would travel through the night to arrive at the city before dawn. The force bearing down on Cepae had to be the entourage of a visiting dignitary … or an invading army.

But where were the signal fires from the nearby towns? Why hadn’t Cepae been notified … or warned?

Kor glanced toward Marshal Tong’s alcove. Was his sluggish supervisor aware of the approaching force? He wasn’t on the rampart. Was he even awake?

No need to look for Watchman Pran. The way he staggered into his station, in all likelihood, he sat passed out in the chair behind his desk.

Pressing his ear against the wall, Kor listened, but the stones remained silent. Or was the tramp-tramp-a-tramp-tramp so loud he couldn’t distinguish what they were saying?
He brushed bits of dirt from his earlobe. What should he do?

In the training exercises the other watchmen always confirmed his decisions. Or ridiculed them. Now he was alone. The judgment was his.

After each of Kor’s early failures, Marshal Iba beat into him the watchmen’s fundamental principle—trust no one you cannot identify with certitude. So he should signal the city to prepare its defense.

And still Kor hesitated. Because the stones remained silent? Or because he feared the wrath of the city leaders and the jeers of the garrisoned soldiers if he was wrong?

Again he peered into the dark but saw no one. Yet the sounds of marching increased. He couldn’t postpone the decision any longer.

Whoever was advancing toward Cepae must be considered a threat.

Kor sprang from the parapet onto the walkway leading to his alcove. Once inside, he seized the pull string dangling from his signal bell and yanked again and again until the clapper banged out the warning.

Lights flared from the windows in a row of huts next to the wall. The guard at the River Road gate answered the alarm with his own distinct clattery-clang. Kor left his alcove and climbed back to the rampart. Two watchmen from the opposite side of the city rang out their answering signals. The guards at the other three gates responded too. Marshal Tong added his warning, and finally Pran’s bell pealed into the graying dawn.

Someone in the citadel ignited the signal fire atop the tower. Light flitted over the city square, throwing shadows onto the stucco-walled buildings. Kor shielded his eyes with his hands as he’d been taught and stared down the River Road. The enemy army should be visible any moment.

Not that he could still hear them marching toward Cepae. Like an explosion, the city’s own soldiers burst from their garrison, swathed in armor and clutching their weapons. Their curses and commands obliterated any noise outside the walls.

Governor Hadan reached the public square and demanded to know where the threat came from and who had signaled for defensive measures. Master Iba made inquires, then informed His Excellency the first bell came from the River Road Wall. In moments the governor reached the walkway below Kor’s position.

“River Road Watchman Three, what can you tell me about this threat?” Governor Hadan tugged his chain mail toward his chin.

Kor saluted, then turned back toward the road. “I heard marching, Excellency. A sizable force by the sound of it.”

“How sizable?”

“I cannot say, Excellency.”

The governor raised his voice—louder than necessary to be heard over the tumult in the square. “Explain yourself.”

Kor shifted his weight until he could see the governor without turning around. “I haven’t seen the enemy, Excellency.”

“But they showed a light or you saw movement.”

“I only heard their marching, Excellency. My training compelled me to alert the city since I cannot trust those I cannot see.”

“Of course, Watchman. You did the right thing, I’m sure. But now we must learn just what kind of force we’re up against. Perhaps one of the others saw something more.” Governor Hadan flicked a hand. His page stepped from the shadows and scampered toward Marshal Tong’s alcove.

Kor’s racing heart stumbled. If only he had something concrete to tell the governor. The resulting reputation he would gain as a vigilant watchman would secure him the gratitude of the whole city, but now Marshal Tong, too slow or too inattentive to strike the signal himself, had the chance to win acclaim.

So be it. Kor might lose the recognition he was due, but the governor would learn the details needed to organized the best defense. Should they build the siege mound around the citadel? Should they begin storing water from the public pool? How many platoons should they ready for the counterattack? Should they send a runner through the Pasture Gate to bring the villagers within the safety of Cepae’s walls?

All these questions and more hinged on knowing details about the converging force. And Kor couldn’t supply a single answer. Not the number of the army. Not even their nationality and certainly not the strength of their armaments or how they were deployed.

Marshal Tong huffed up the walkway from his alcove. “How may I serve, Excellency?”

Governor Hadan’s shoulders relaxed. “You signaled the approach of the enemy?”

Placing a meaty hand on Kor’s shoulder, Marshal Tong puffed out his chest like a strutting kakati. “Young Kor here was the first.”

Kor nodded his thanks to his superior.

Governor Hadan’s back stiffened. “But you did signal.”

Keeping his eyes focused on the governor, Kor’s supervisor dropped his hand to his side. “I-I did, of course.”

“What did you see?”

Marshal Tong’s gaze drifted toward the city square. “The same as Watchman Kor, I’m sure.”

“Nothing?” The governor’s voice spiked. “You, too, saw nothing?”

“I … that is to say … I had the same reason to believe a threat was eminent.” Marshal Tong shifted his weight from left to right.

“You believed a threat was eminent. I can’t send troops against an assumed enemy. How are we to deploy? Where are we to station the citadel guard?”

“I’m only a watchman, Excellency.”

“A watchman who saw nothing!”

Kor thumbed away moisture collecting on his upper lip. “We may not have seen the enemy, Excellency, but without a doubt we heard them.”

Before the governor could respond, Watchman Pran topped the ladder, both hands gripping the railing. “You sent for me, Excellency?”

“What did you see, Pran?”

“I …” The unsteady watchman shifted his unfocused gaze in Marshal Tong’s direction.

“You signaled the threat, did you not?”

“Of course, Excellency.” Pran pronounced each word with exaggerated precision as he hauled himself atop the rampart.

“Then give us details, man. How many are there? How are they deployed?”

Pran leaned over the wall as if to stare down the River Road. Through the commotion from below, he mumbled, “I … the darkness of the night, Excellency. It prevented me from seeing the entire army.”

With a bound, the governor closed on Pran. “But you saw a portion of their force?”

Straightening, Pran wiped a hand over his mouth. “I saw the captain astride a white charger.”

Published in: on June 11, 2009 at 10:22 am  Comments (1)  
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