Ever-Endeavor

In the spirit of keeping one’s mind active, I have taken to writing down my ideas and aberrant thoughts. Some of these become stories and some are picked up for publication. My flash fiction piece “Ever-Endeavor”, a look back at life from the beyond, was published yesterday in the online magazine ALTERED REALITY for their Spring edition: https://www.alteredrealitymag.com/ever-endeavor/

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Second Chance – A Bewildering Story

Bewildering Stories welcomed me as one of their authors and gave me my first publication for 2023. “Second Chance” began as a character study with no redeeming characters. Kip told me what happened in an interview.

Kip a criminal serving time collecting trash in space is given an opportunity to mend his ways…or not. See the story by K.A. Kenny.
http://www.bewilderingstories.com/issue987/

Xeaven Sent

“Marta, is that you? You’re as beautiful as you were when we first met fifty years ago.

“Yes, Alex, this is me here at Xeaven Sent.” She tossed her head and brushed a tress of raven hair behind the shoulder of her red sundress.

“You look so healthy…so, so alive.” He scratched the paunch over his wide belt.

“Yes, and I always will. That’s because you loved me enough to buy me the Xeaven Sent premium package. That allowed me to select my age for eternity. And because you also signed up for the special, I was able to pick a new skill. I can play the piano, now, something I’ve always wanted to do. It’s all because of you, Alex, your love for me, and the wonderful people here at Xeaven Sent.”

“Don’t thank me, Marta. I never gave it a second thought. For a reasonable down payment and low monthly fees, I’ll be able to care for you forever. You’ll never die and never grow old.” Alex shook his head. “But how will I ever keep up with you?”

“Don’t you remember, Alex? Since you took the double-bonus option—for only a small increase in your monthly fee—you’ll be able to join me whenever you wish. You can call on the friendly euthanologists here at the Xeaven Sent any time. There’s no need to wait, and you don’t have to go through that messy business of dying.”

“Oh Marta, that sounds wonderful. I can hardly wait.”

“Yes, and if you apply before the end of the year, you’ll qualify for the Xeaven Sent world tour. I’m already signed up.”

The view receded to reveal Marta in front of an arched doorway. Smiling, she gestured Alex to follow and stepped through the door. “Paris,” she called and, as the mist cleared, pointed to the Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triomphe beyond. “Come soon, Alex, and we can share wine, cheese, a baguette, and a stroll along the Champs-Élysées. I always told you we should come here. Now, we can, thanks to Xeaven Sent.”

The scene shifted to a dark, handsome man in a white shirt, red-and-blue-striped tie, and flashing a wide, toothy smile.

“Wanna live forever? Here at Xeaven Sent that’s not a trick question.” He leaned forward and lifted a finger. “We pride ourselves on offering the best afterlife services on the market, state-of-the-art, with benefits and options to suit every taste and wallet—as Marta just said, including eliminating the formality of actually having to die.”

He stepped from his desk into a garden of mulched flowerbeds, manicured lawns, and broadleaf trees. “Everything you love in life you can have here in Xeaven Sent. Yes, you can take it with you. Work, certainly, if you insist, and better. You can instantly attend meetings anywhere on Earth, even two or three at a time. Or—” He stepped toward a slender, cornsilk-haired beauty and passionately embraced her. “Xeaven Sent is not only about business meetings.”

He winked as the scene ended.

# # #

“And cut.” The director swiveled to the actors seated behind him. “Fabulous. Love it. You can all pick up your checks at the front desk.”

He looked to the fat, bald man in the t-shirt who played Alex and pointed. “I wanna keep you on contract. We can always use a common everyman type.” He then turned to the fashion model who played Marta.

“You were beautiful, just beautiful, sweetheart. I wanna use you in my next major film. Of course, we must wait till this commercial is off the air a couple months. You available for dinner tonight and drinks? I wanna introduce you to our sponsor.”

The Parable of the Three Sailors

Kalon Kuday took his seat in the market square just as he did every week. After the children gathered, he told them a story. “Three men went down to the sea to sail,” he began.

The first man walked to his boat and climbed in. While he waited for someone to untie the lines and push him off, the man’s gaze never left the horizon. A breeze filled the sail and carried the man and his boat out from shore and onto a calm sea. The breeze remained at his back and shifted occasionally, also shifting the sail, so the man had no need to touch either the sail or the tiller. A short while later, the man found himself across the sea, entering a safe harbor, and lined up with a berth. A cheering crowd greeted him, tied his boat securely, and helped him ashore.

The second man, before untying his boat, studied the rigging of the sail and motion of the rudder. He then stepped aboard and, when others came to advise and help him, he thanked them. By this time, the gentle breeze had grown brisk and unsteady, and clouds gathered. Leaving the harbor required the man to steer and adjust the sail. Shifting wind and waves demanded constant adjustment to remain afloat and on course. No one noticed when he entered the far harbor, stepped onto the pier, and tied his boat.

In no hurry, the third man inhaled the sea air, felt the breeze pick up, and watched the clouds gather. When people onshore said it had gotten late and a storm was coming, he scowled and waved them back. As if to prove them wrong, and with no preparation, he took his place in the boat. The untrimmed sail snapped and swung; the lashed tiller remained immobile. When no one came to help, the man shouted, waved a fist, and cut the bow and stern lines. The misaligned sail folded in the wind and the boat spun, forcing the man to row in order to leave the harbor. The boat drifted and rocked, moving forward only when a wind shift caught the sail just right. When waves flooded the boat, the man cursed at his fate bailed water with a bucket. After many days, the boat grounded on a reef, and the man washed ashore. Locals to this day recount the odd man swearing and blaming everyone for his misfortune.

Kalon Kuday rested his hands on his crossed legs. The children waited for his first question.

“Which of the three men was most successful?”

Radib had his answer ready. “Easy. The first one, because he crossed the sea and didn’t have to work much.”

Anik agreed. “And everyone cheered when they saw him.” He paused. “And now everyone knows him so he can be the King.”

Tima shook her head. “The second man learned how to sail, so he did the most, and he’s the smartest.”

Anik protested. “But nobody saw him, so he didn’t get any credit, and his trip was wasted.”

Kalon Kuday stroked his thin mustache. “And which of the three would you say got what he wanted most?”

“The third man didn’t, but the other two did.” Tima bobbed her head.

A wide-eyed girl sitting in front spoke up. “No, everyone got just what they wanted.” Kalon Kuday smiled down at little Sibanya.

Radib frowned at his sister. “All the third man got was angry.”Sibanya held up her chin. “That was what he wanted—to be angry at everyone all the time. All three men got what they wanted most.”

The Avian Project

In this post-apocalyptic SF tale, humans resettling planet Corydon seek to repeat their previous foolish behavior and are met with an AI who has other ideas.

I am most happy “The Avian Project” was recently purchased by Across the Margin. It is the precursor for my novel The Starflower which is seeking a publisher. 

Dreams to Come

I sat up in bed laughing and shaking my head, happy that I’d woken up before my dream became a nightmare.

In the dream, I’d boarded a plane to attend an economic conference in Switzerland. Representatives of the big economic powers sat forward in business-class; those of smaller countries sat on the rear side of a partition, in tourist.

As the US representative, I had one of the forward seats, beside China, across the aisle from Japan and Germany, and just ahead of India and Russia. Everyone wore some sort of costume related to their national identity. Mine was a red Ohio State football jersey, complete with shoulder pads, and a Detroit Tigers baseball cap. My Chinese seatmate wore a long, loose garment, white with full open sleeves, and a green, Chairman Mao cap with a red star above the visor. Looking back, I saw turbans, a Samurai helmet, veils, Arabian headdress, and other covers and hair embellishments.

As our plane pulled away from the terminal, a German flight attendant came around with a menu. The China representative beside me called the flight attendant over and offered a stack of renminbi to be first served. She pocketed the money, whereupon the Chinese ordered multiple servings of everything on the menu. When the attendant pointed out that our flight only included one meal serving, he offered more renminbi and his credit card. The Japanese across the aisle thought this improper as did the Indian behind me, but the German and Russian reps vetoed their complaints.

Food service began shortly after takeoff with food piling up around the Chinese, along with full beverage service. The rest of the passengers got crackers or nuts in cellophane wrappers and bottled water. Grumbling from the tourist section drifted forward, but for several minutes, everyone contented themselves with their cellophane treats. Then the Iranian rep came forward. He bowed, handed over a basket of rial banknotes, and carried back a contoured tray with a chicken breast, a biscuit, a chocolate graham cracker, and a plastic-covered cup of tea.

The Chinese ate quickly and seemed to gain both appetite and bulk as he ate. An Italian stewardess brought the next round and, after collecting her own stash of renminbi, never looked at another passenger.

Soon more in business- and tourist-class came forward with ever increasing offers, paying several times what the food might have cost and forgetting that it had already been included in the fare.

The Chinese beside me, now double his original size, tore out of his clothing and poured over the armrest into my seat. When I slid over, he raised the seat arm, which immediately increased his flow. Pushed far out into the aisle, I left my seat, walked to the back, and stood beside the restroom door. The food cavalcade and money transfer continued, as did the growing girth of my former seatmate. The Japanese came to join me standing, then an Indian lady in a green sari. Threatened with suffocation from the growing bulk of bare flesh, soon everyone in business-class was in the back and the passage from business- to tourist-class entirely block by a broad, bare behind.

Lights blinked in the cabin then went off. The red fasten-seatbelt sign came on with a BING. As the plane went into a steep dive, oxygen masks dropped over the seats. Those of us standing wedged wherever we could.

I awoke startled, heart pounding, and dizzy from my dreamed freefall.

Whew, I thought, what if I hadn’t awakened?

Twenty-Five

As told to Keith by his father Edward Kenny*

January 1945

I spent my first two weeks of the war cooling my heels in Paris at the Chateau Rothschild after escorting cases of scotch to senior staff officers fleeing Brussels ahead of German panzers (For the preceding story see My Night in Paris). I heard about the Battle of the Bulge in daily briefings and watched it on 16mm newsreels. Each morning, I put on my uniform, ate a formal breakfast, and reported for duty.

“Orders on hold,” the Captain at the desk said. When I pressed him, he had me sorting mail. The top brass got a lot of mail, mine was held up until they knew where I’d be based.

I wrote to my wife Phyllis in the evening and toured Paris alone during the day: the Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe, Notre Dame, windswept boulevards, wine in the cafes. An unwashed earthy scent hung over the city. Soldiers and sailors wandered about laughing and pointing, officers and enlisted in every sort of uniform. Parisians swept and carried rubble, fixed doors and windows, and washed red and black Nazi regalia from walls.

My fortune changed quickly. “Lieutenant Kenny, 404th Fighter Group, 508 squadron, St. Trond.” The desk Captain checked my orders, looked up, and smiled. “They’ll be real happy to see you, Lieutenant.” He wrote and circled a big red ‘25’ in grease pencil on the first page, handed me my orders with a train ticket, and pointed to the front door. “Jeep’s waiting.”

The train from Paris to St. Trond, Belgium crossed the path taken by German columns a month earlier and in June 1940, when their swift attacks led to the fall of France. Along the route, I saw broken rail ties and twisted rails, and work teams, sledgehammers and rail spikes in hand. Collapsed buildings and bridges marred the view of rolling, green hills.

A-92 at St. Trond

We passed the great bend of the Meuse River at Namur then continued on to St. Trond, a quiet town of about 15,000 people. The town featured a central square, three-spire skyline, Carmelite monastery, narrow side-alleys, and cobblestones. A jeep met me at the train station and took me directly to the base which was designated A-92.

It had belonged to Staffel 12 of NJG 1. (Night Fighter Wing One). There were three crisscrossing concrete runways and dozens of covered revetments, camouflaged by the Germans to resemble barns and blocks of homes. A few smashed planes, Ju-88’s and Me-110’s, remained on the grounds. A large brick-and-concrete hangar and three-story control tower and operations building had been restored to operating condition. Thunderbolt fighters filled the parking aprons and the area in front of the hangar. Maintenance teams climbed over them, checking bullet holes and missing pieces, revving the engines. It was late afternoon and the squadrons had recently returned.

P-47 of the 404th at St. Trond
A P-47 Thunderbolt with the 404th at St. Trond, Belgium

The jeep pulled in front of operations. I hugged my coat tight and cap down against the frosty January wind, grabbed my B-4 bag, and jumped out.

“Lieutenant Kenny?” A sergeant, standing in the doorway, shouted over the roar of a dozen radial engines. I nodded and showed him my orders. He pointed to the red ‘25’ on the front page, gave a thumbs-up, and pointed to another ‘25’, on a banner inside the operations building. “Major Garrigan—he’s 508’s commander—said to send you in as soon as you arrived. Give him a minute; he’s with Captain Shelton.”

A corporal, overhearing our conversation, went quickly to update the roster in the briefing room. He chalked LT. EDWARD KENNY in six-inch letters at the bottom of the list for 508 squadron pilots. Beside it he wrote an outsized ‘25’, underlining it twice.

Damn friendly group, I thought.

“Major’s ready for you now,” the sergeant said, waving me toward the office.

My heart leaped. I felt excited and a bit intimidated. This was a veteran outfit. 404 Group and 508 squadron had led ground attacks into Germany since D-Day. St. Trond was forward deployed to support attacks everywhere along the German border.

I walked in and saluted. The office was Spartan, old wooden desk, trashcan, two wooden chairs, a low dresser used as a filing cabinet. Garrigan returned my salute without standing and gestured to the open chair. He was the designated ‘old man’ of the squadron, though barely twenty-six.

“Good to see you, Ed. Quite a setup, huh?” He gestured around the room and out the window. “Sorry your orders got held up. Blame the Germans. Two panzer divisions passed fifty miles south of here—last week a recon unit came within twenty-five. We almost pulled out. Anyway, I wanted to welcome you to the 508. Have you looked around? Need anything? Any questions?”

“My driver brought me here first,” I said. “He pointed out the mess hall and officers’ billets as we drove in. I haven’t seen my mail for a month.”

“In good weather, a gooney bird drops off the mail each morning. I’m sure you’ll get a bag full. Anything else?” Before I could speak, Garrigan added, “We’re having a little ‘Hail and Farewell’ drink at the O-club this afternoon. Starts in a few minutes. You’re the guest of honor. If that’s all, Ops briefing’s at 0400.”

He must have seen me hesitate. “Don’t worry, Ed. On your first mission, you’ll be my deputy’s wingman. No slight to you. The Germans are on the run, but they’ve still got some wolves up there … good machines, good pilots, and a lot more flying experience than we’ve got.”

I nodded and asked. “One question.” Garrigan leaned forward. “Being twenty-five is a big deal in this squadron. I guess we’re at full strength—with twenty-five pilots, I mean?”

Garrigan smiled. “Twenty-five’s a special number for us because we’re only authorized twenty-four pilots. That means somebody gets to go home.” He stared past me. “No one’s left any squadron in the 404th for some time, not unless they were in really bad shape. Some of these guys have flown over a hundred missions, and some volunteered for extra missions, did two or three a day.” He took a breath and looked back at me. “Any more questions?”

That thought brought the war home to me, fast. “No, sir. Thank you.” I turned to leave.

“Save a drink for me, Ed. I’ll be over as soon as I wrap up.”

The party that evening was short and spirited—everyone had to fly the next morning. We had a honky-tonk piano and a hot jazz group. Some of the guys took a break off the flight line just to have a beer with twenty-five—me. Local Belgian beer, wine, cheeses, and bread arrived in a horse-drawn cart.

Some of the guys tried to teach the Belgian girls to jitterbug, but a couple nurses from the local nursing school jitterbugged better than the guys.

Toward the end of the party, I met Captain Jack Tueller of Morgan, Utah. Jack was the happiest to see me. Tomorrow his name came off the top of the roster, and mine moved from twenty-five up to twenty-four. Jack was going home to his wife and two little girls.

Beside me, Jack raised his beer and shouted, “I love you guys, and I’ll never forget you, but tomorrow, January 27, 1945, I’m going home.”

Everyone cheered and raised their glasses, and it struck me. Not 25 but 21. Tomorrow was January 27, my birthday. I would be 21 and I was going on my first combat mission.

 

* Special thanks to Andrew F. Wilson, Ex-404th Fighter Group, Ex-507th Squadron S-2, for  much of the background provided in his book, Leap Off the Combat History of the 404th Fighter Group. In Wilson’s forward he writes, “This book is designed to give those who were members of the 404th Fighter Group during the period 1943-1945 some basis of fact around which they can weave their own fairy tales of personal wartime experience.”

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