The Halloween 5K ... by C.L. Beck

It was a dark and stormy night ….

Really, I’m not stealing that phrase, even though it came from famed novelist, Bulwer-Lytton who was known for his purple prose, which, according to the venerable Wikipedia is “prose so overly extravagant, ornate, or flowery as to break the flow and draw attention to itself,” but despite its fancy definition—a definition which reminds me of molasses running downhill on a hot day—I believe it’s a form of writing that’s so terrible it might not even be purple but more like red because that’s what people see when they read writing like that … red like the color of my true love’s hair—except Russ has no hair on top and what’s left on the sides is silvery—or love that’s like a red, red, rose, which, by the way, was written by the Scotsman, Robert Burns, and I’m pretty certain that he never wrote purple prose, but it could be that he wore a purple kilt.

But, I digress … it really was a dark and stormy night. Despite having almost killed myself by inhaling my gum in a previous 5K, in Mona, Utah,  I’d stupidly bravely decided to try again this year. No, not to kill myself—to run another race. So it was, on a dark and stormy Saturday night, that Russ and I ran in the American Fork 2010 Halloween Fun Run.

The good thing about it was that unlike last summer in Mona, no dust lingered in the air to clog the sinuses. Instead, rain fell from the sky in torrents, lightening flashed overhead, and voices screeched in the night. Well, maybe that was just the little ol’ lady in front of me trying to clear her throat, but all the same ….

When we finished the first leg of the course, I noticed odd street markers that said things like, “Here lies Betty Joe, who lost her foot in last year’s snow. She ran a Halloween 5K and regrets it, under ground, this day.”

I looked at Russ to see if he’d noticed. He seemed oblivious to the oddness as he ran along in triple layers consisting of long underwear, a bright orange tee shirt that read, “Psych Ward, 666” and a sweatshirt that didn’t have any slogan … unless you include that spot of chicken soup left over from lunch. Perspiration dripped off his bald head and into his eyes. I said, “Don’t you think you’re a little overdressed for running?”

He wiped the sweat from his brow. “I’m keeping my muscles warm.”

I resisted the temptation to ask what muscles, and instead said, “Did you see that weird street sign back there?”

Russ slowed to a walk, which kept him even with me as I ran my hardest. “It wasn’t a street sign, Cindy, it was a headstone. This course runs through the town’s cemetery.”

I shuddered at the thought, which caused me to stumble over my own two feet. “I’m not sure I remembered that when we registered," I muttered, and then wondered if those were the voices of other runners on the wind, or ghosties in the graveyard.

The full moon came out from behind the clouds just enough for me to see the glow sticks fastened around various parts of the anatomies of the other 3,250 runners—the glow sticks being a tribal symbol to signify acceptance of the runner’s spiritual code.

Okay, so maybe I exaggerate slightly. There were only about 250 runners. The other 3,000 were smart enough to come in out of the rain and they’d all stayed home. The glow sticks were so we could see each other, and for the most part, runners fastened them around their necks. That is, all except for Russ, who hung them off his ears.

What can I say? I brought Russ along for comic relief, so that I wouldn’t notice the torturous leg cramps that would inevitably happen because I hadn’t trained for the race.

Knowing how easy it would be to trip in a pothole, I whipped out my trusty flashlight—the one that normally sat in my well-stocked, emergency preparedness kit. (All right, I'll tell the truth, I'd actually bought it at the hardware store just an hour before.) Russ looked over, and if it hadn’t been so dark, I swear I would have seen that gleam in his eye. “Here, let me carry that flashlight for you,” he said, ever so sweetly. I handed it over, thinking what a kind and noble man my bald-headed knight was.

By now we’d struggled up Snob Hill, which actually may have been Knob Hill, but I couldn’t clearly hear the name as the staff shouted it from the side of the road. Why didn’t they use a megaphone? How could I possibly hear correctly over the sound of my lungs screaming for air?

Down the hill we went. Thank goodness the American Fork police had parked a cruiser, with its bright lights flashing, to mark the last leg of the course. Yes, very bright lights. Blinding lights! Spots covered the interior of my eyeballs; I sideswiped the cop standing in the road, and almost turfed it when I ran into the curb.

Righting myself, I zeroed in on Russ’s voice. “We’re near the end, Cin. You can do it. Keep going. We’re going to beat our previous time!”

And that’s when I remembered my resolve to finish ahead of him. I’d almost done it at last year’s 5K and if it hadn’t been for that pesky piece of gum lodging itself in my throat and cutting off my wind, I would have made it.

A toasty glow enveloped me at the thought that I had outsmarted Russ. Either that or I was in the last stage of hypothermia, where you feel warm and then drop dead from the cold, damp air. At any rate, it didn’t matter which. I was bound to beat him because I’d tossed my gum before we even got to American Fork.

The blue, electronic finish light lay only yards ahead. I psyched my mind and strengthened my loins. This was it. My course was clear. I would put on a burst of speed, pass Russ and beat him at the last moment. I would be the fastest runner in the family, I would be ….

Russ whirled toward me, the flashlight in his hands instantaneously blinding me. “Ha ha, I win!” he said, sprinting toward the finish line. Well, I think he sprinted. He could have crawled and still beaten me, because I staggered in circles like a drunken sailor, trying to clear my vision.

Oh, he’s a speedy runner all right, but cunning and stealth beat speed every time.

As I caught up to him after crossing the finish line, we lurched into the recreation center where an official-looking woman said, “Did you win?”

We shrugged our shoulders, and I said, “How would we know?”

The woman stared at us like this was only our second race and we didn’t know what we were doing, and then said, “It’s on your time card.” She took them from us, looked them over and then handed them back to us. “You’ve won second place in your age group,” she said to Russ over the noise of the crowd.

Russ, the bald-headed, hard-of-hearing knight, looked at me and said, “What did she say?”

Before I had a chance to answer, she gave my card back to me. “You’ve won third place in your age group.” Then she handed Russ’s second place ribbon to me and handed my third place ribbon to Russ.

Russ looked at white ribbon in his hand and said, “So, I guess I took third place in my age group?”

I grinned—a sardonic, "gotcha" grin. “Guess so. And I got a second place ribbon!”

Technically, it wasn’t a lie, because after all, the official did hand me that ribbon. And maybe I’ll eventually tell Russ he won second place. Someday. Before the next race. But in the meantime, I’ll just keep reminding him that cunning and stealth beat speed every time.

------© C.L. (Cindy) Beck------

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The Bodies in the Basement ... by C.L. Beck

Photo © Knutux, Wikimedia Commons

With Halloween so close, it's only fitting that today's post consist of something with a bit of suspense, and so I give you  ...

The Bodies in the Basement 
(Complete with scary organ music and screams in the distance.)

Kat Nilsson wrote the words, "I was watching CSI Miami," in big loopy letters on the legal pad in her lap. Then, since she had writer's block, she doodled in the loops.

After a few minutes of wasted time, Kat scratched her head with the point of her yellow pencil and sighed. "No. That's not right. I can't start a novel out that way. I hate CSI. Can't stand those women with whitened teeth, brightened faces, and over-tightened blouses." Kat erased the words with a vengeance, as if erasing the facial features of the botoxed movie stars.

She started again. "Stacy heard a knock at the door, and just as she went to answer—"

As Kat wrote those words, a deep thump, thump, thump reverberated through the house. With a sigh big enough to sink a battleship, Kat threw the pencil into a mug of assorted pens and walked to the front room to see who was knocking.

The wind whistled as she opened the heavy, wooden door, and a chill ran between her shoulder blades. No one stood there. Not a living soul. Attached to the door by a feathered dart was an off-white sheet of paper, with dark, thick handwriting.

It read:

If you find the dog, call me.
PS: The bodies are in the basement.

"The basement?" she whispered. Kat shuddered and tugged her bedraggled University of Wyoming sweatshirt tight around her body. There was a basement in her house. An old basement with a cold, concrete floor—a room she never, ever, ever went into because ... well ... anyone who writes murder mysteries knows that something horrifying always happens in the basement.

Scanning the bottom of the note and then turning the paper over, Kat looked for a clue as to who wrote it. No signature, not even a grimy thumbprint to give a hint.

That's when she heard it—a thin, high-pitched, forlorn howl from under the house. For one illogical second her heart rocketed with fear and she thought about screaming and running to the neighbors. But then, her writer's curiosity kicked in. Who left the note and why did they put a dog in the basement? How did they know about the basement? Who, what, when, where, how and why?

She counted friends on her fingers. Josi? No, she didn't own a dog. Nichole? Yes, Nichole was a jokester all right, but also allergic to anything with fur, including....

Like a good Catholic girl, Kat crossed herself for luck. She might be allergic to aspen and eucalyptus, but at least she wasn't allergic to mink, like Nichole.

Bulldog, Rex, or Nipsey? Goodness knows their names were doggy enough, but no, they were all too tenderhearted to shove a dog in a basement in order to scare a writer wordless.

It had to be a practical joke, pulled by the neighbor-kid-from-hell, who was always throwing tomatoes at her car when he thought she wasn't looking. Yup, that had to be it. When she got the dog out of there, she was going to have a long talk with that boy's parents.

Hitching up her sweatpants, she closed the door behind her and walked around the redwood-sided house to the back yard. Autumn leaves crunched under her Big Bird slippers and she realized that they might be a lucky charm when writing, but they wouldn't do much to protect her against earwigs, black widow spiders, and uggg ... stink bugs ... that might be in the basement. But it was too late now; her feet took her down the concrete steps as if they had a mind of their own.

Ssshhh. What was that?

A rustling noise, like a lady's crisp, crinoline underskirt, drifted to Kat's ears. And then, silence. Certain that she'd psyched herself out, Kat took a deep breath and with one hand on the rust-encrusted doorknob, listened again.

Not a sound.

No dog howling, no skirts rustling.


Feeling weak in the knees, and even weaker in the head, she turned the knob and pushed the door. Its hinges squeaked. Dang. She hadn't done it hard enough, and now she'd have to step inside, in that dark, damp, hole-in-the-ground and push the door all the way open with her shoulder. Why hadn't she thought to bring a flashlight?

Kat stepped over the doorjamb and shoved. The door slowly inched back, but it was almost as if light feared entering the room. Darkness reigned, and the tiny shaft of brightness that had the courage to shine against the door slowly dimmed as clouds obscured the sun.

That's when she heard it—an otherworldly moan. And she could make out two bodies, lying on the floor, legs bent at sharp angles, tongues hanging out. A shriek caught in her throat. She wanted to whirl and run but her legs refused to obey.

The shapes unkinked their legs, rose up in front of her, and Kat screamed—a wordless, soundless scream.

"Surprise!" shouted the two bodies as they flicked on flashlights. Hoots of laughter and a chorus of happy birthdays erupted from around the room. They were all there, Josi, Nichole, Bulldog, Rex and Nipsey. And Kat wanted to kill every one of them.

If it wasn't for Bulldog handing her a puppy that kissed her cheek and snuggled against her shoulder, she would have done it. But then, how mad could she really be, when they'd braved the basement in order to throw a surprise party?

"The puppy's your present from all of us," Bulldog said. "Any author who writes about murder needs a dog to curl up with and to protect her from the gaboogities at night."

The puppy nuzzled Kat's neck, and her heart rate slowly returned to normal. Josi leaned over and stroked the dog's soft fur. "What are you going to call her?"

Kat's eyes twinkled, "After the scare you've all given me, I'm going to name her Heart Attack."

And with that, the puppy pointed her nose in the air and gave a howl of agreement.

(Disclaimer: This story is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to real persons—living or dead—is purely coincidental.  The dog represented in this fictional story is not based on Lassie, Benji, or any other dog of public fame. (And sshhh, don't tell anyone, but you can view a striking likeness of the author's main character by clicking here and the dog in the story does bear an uncanny resemblance to Corky Porky Pie, the author's Welsh Corgi.)

------© C.L. (Cindy) Beck------

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Funny State Slogans

Posted by C.L. Beck

Image © Zul32, Wikimedia Commons

Although I've come up with a few state slogans of my own, I've never managed to come up with enough for all fifty states. However, the other day as I was browsing the net working, I ran across this list. And I knew my readers would love it. So, here it is, with a few minor modifications by me (in order to keep this site family friendly) and a big thank you to JokesAndHumor.com for allowing me to post this list.

State Slogans

Alabama: Yes, We Have Electricity
Alaska: 11,623 Eskimos Can't Be Wrong!
Arizona: But It's A Dry Heat
Arkansas: Literacy Ain't Everything
California: By 30, Our Women Have More Plastic Than Your Honda
Colorado: If You Don't Ski, Don't Bother
Connecticut: Like Massachusetts, Only The Kennedys Don't Own It Yet
Delaware: We Really Do Like The Chemicals In Our Water
Florida: Ask Us About Our Grandkids
Georgia: We Put The Fun In Fundamentalist Extremism
Hawaii: Haka Tiki Mou Sha'ami Leeki Toru (Death To Mainland Scum, But Leave Your Money)
Idaho: More Than Just Potatoes. Well Okay, We're Not, But The Potatoes Sure Are Real Good
Illinois: Please Don't Pronounce the S
Indiana: 2 Billion Years Tidal Wave Free
Iowa: We Do Amazing Things With Corn
Kansas: First Of The Rectangle States
Kentucky: Five Million People; Fifteen Last Names
Louisiana: We're Not ALL Drunk Cajun Wackos, But That's Our Tourism Campaign
Maine: We're Really Cold, But We Have Cheap Lobster
Maryland: If You Can Dream It, We Can Tax It
Massachusetts: Our Taxes Are Lower Than Sweden's (For Most Tax Brackets)
Michigan: First Line Of Defense From The Canadians
Minnesota: 10,000 Lakes. And 10,000,000,000,000 Mosquitoes
Mississippi: Come And Feel Better About Your Own State
Missouri: Your Federal Flood Relief Tax Dollars At Work
Montana: Land Of The Big Sky, The Unabomber, Right-Wing Crazies, And Very Little Else
Nebraska: Ask About Our State Motto Contest
Nevada: Hookers and Poker!
New Hampshire: Go Away And Leave Us Alone
New Jersey: You Want A ##$%##! Motto? I Got Yer ##$%##! Motto Right Here!
New Mexico: Lizards Make Excellent Pets
New York: You Have The Right To Remain Silent, You Have The Right To An Attorney
North Carolina: Tobacco Is A Vegetable
North Dakota: We Really Are One Of The 50 States!
Ohio: At Least We're Not Michigan
Oklahoma: Like The Play, Only With No Singing
Oregon: Spotted Owl. It's What's For Dinner
Pennsylvania: Cook With Coal
Rhode Island: We're Not REALLY An Island
South Carolina: Remember The Civil War? We Didn't Actually Surrender
South Dakota: Closer Than North Dakota
Tennessee: The Educashun State
Texas: Si, Hablo Ingles (Yes, I Speak English)
Utah: Home of The Stinky Great Salt Lake
Vermont: Yep
Virginia: Who Says Government Stiffs And Slackjaw Yokels Don't Mix?
Washington: Help! We're Overrun By Nerds And Slackers!
Washington, D.C.: Wanna Be Mayor?
West Virginia: One Big Happy Family. Really!
Wisconsin: Come Cut The Cheese
Wyoming: Only Snows Once All Winter (And Then Just Keeps Blowing It Back And Forth Across The Roads)

And now that I've thoroughly annoyed at least one person in every state in the Union, I'll ask those who enjoyed this list to drop off a comment and let me know your favorite. I got a big laugh out of Hawaii's slogan!

The Writing Assignment Gone Awry ... by C.L. Beck

“What’s the writing assignment that’s due in our writer’s group tomorrow?” I asked Russ for the fourth time that week. The assignment was usually a unique topic designed to stretch our imaginations.

“Bored with dark glasses,” he answered between tightly drawn lips, and over the noise of his electric razor. Russ never liked shaving and talking at the same time because he usually cut himself, so his answers were always succinct. I, personally, don’t understand that. I can shave my legs and talk at the same time. Sometimes, on a good day, I could even shave my legs and walk at the same time.

No matter. Meandering into the kitchen, I pulled on my copper-tinted Maui Jim shades. They didn’t seem that boring, so for a little hands-on experiment, I decided to walk out into the bright sunshine without them and gaze at the sun.

The minute I looked up at El Sol, dark spots the size of a Boeing 747 zinged through my eyeballs, and boring or not, I needed those sunglasses. Turning in a circle, I tried to remember which direction I should walk to reach the house. The dark spots turned with me and I staggered toward something tall. Surely, that was the door.

“Aaackkk—the clothesline pole,” my brain screamed as I bounced off the post. A knot the size of a tractor tire grew out of my forehead, while the wasps that lived in the hollow pole flew toward me, sharpening their little harpoon butts on the way.

You don’t need good vision to know when a swarm of angry buggers are after you. I ran pell-mell toward what should have been the gate, the dark spots in my eyes fleeing with me.

Who, with any brains, leaves tools in front of the gate? For that matter, who moved the gate over to the garden? Tripping over the Mantis tiller, I tumbled through the vegetable patch, tomatoes splatting against my face while the wasps buzzed merrily behind me. I slid to a stop at the end of the row and lay there, swatting at the bees and planning revenge on the man who forgot to put away the tiller.

Then the screen door creaked open.

Laughter. Someone was laughing. I looked up and saw Russ with a halo around his head. A halo was a definite impossibility for the man who’d left a mechanized garden tool for me to trip over.

Certain that he had it coming to him, I grabbed the nearest tomato. Just as I let it fly in his general direction, I heard Russ’s voice floating past on the breeze, “Cindy, we have company.”

My vision cleared in time to see Corky Porky Pie, the dog, licking drips off our visitors’ shoes as Russ wiped splattered tomato from their faces. He apologized profusely as he walked our guests out of the yard and to their car.

I hollered at their retreating backs, “Wait! Come back! I’m not usually like this. It’s just that I’m a writer.”

As they jumped in their car and peeled out of the driveway, I lay in the dirt and pondered life’s golden questions. Who am I? Where have I come from? Where am I going? And most importantly of all … why can’t I call back a Beefmaster tomato after chucking it at a pair of new home teachers?

Okay, so I know that last thought has never been included in the golden questions, but I’m here to tell you folks … it should be!

------© C.L. (Cindy) Beck------

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