Sample from Gramps, a short story, by Ernie Howard
“I’m not asleep, boy. Just resting my eyes,” Gramps said.
Gramps had said this since Tate was little. It was like his grandpa thought taking naps were a sign of weakness.
“I didn’t think you were, Gramps, just had a catch in my throat,” Tate said. He was trying to hide the mischievous smile that was threatening to show itself.
“Ya, sure. And I’m a springy young boy, prancing through a meadow of flowers,” Gramps said.
Same old Gramps. The man was on death’s door and still, the sarcasm flowed out of his mouth like honey on a warm summer day. “How are you feeling, Gramps?”
“You know, that’s the problem with your generation. Always wanting to know how everyone feels. Well, Tate my boy.” Gramps paused and smiled a mischievous smile that looked very similar to Tate’s a moment ago. “I feel like shit. I happen to be dying.” Gramps let out with a raspy laugh that turned into a coughing fit. Tate looked around for a Kleenex or cloth but couldn’t find one in the vicinity. Gramps was shooing him away with his left hand and wiping his mouth with his sheet with his right hand. Tate sat back into his chair and waited for his grandpa to settle before he started up the conversation again.
“You know what I meant, Gramps,” Tate said.
Gramps put his hand up to stop him. “I know Tate, just giving you some grief. Enough with the pleasantries, son. Let’s get to the point, why I wanted to see you before I die.”
Tate looked at his grandpa’s wrinkled face. The general facial features said old, but Gramps’ eyes danced and were full of fire that his own had never held. The man had something important to say. “I’m here Gramps.” He reached out for his Grandpa’s hand. Gramps grabbed Tate’s hand and squeezed. He was surprised at the strength his Grandfather still possessed. The old man sighed and patted Tate’s hand, his smile left.
I need you to believe everything I am about to say. It’s not going to be a long spiel, just a declaration, and some instructions. All I ask is that you believe it because I have never lied to you. Can you do that for me?”
This guest post comes to you from a longtime friend of mine, Nick Gideon. Nick is a lyricists, writer, and a no nonsense type of guy. I have never known Nick to mince words. The story in this post is quite unbelievable, but if Nick says it happened, it most certainly did. When I read it I didn’t know whether to laugh, or cry. It seems certain skills have gone by the way side…
The year 2015. The ineptly named Information Age of Earth. Satellites orbit the planet, transmitting invisible terabytes of information on any and all topics one could imagine, to any and all wishing to access it. We can instantly touch millions of people across the globe through social media, empowering the (in)significant individual with the ability to communicate their thoughts, feelings, and worst of all, their goddamned opinions, to every other human being on the planet in the blink of an eye. At the touch of a few buttons on a myriad selection of multi-colored hand held electronic devices, one can be plugged in to the Information Superhighway. Surely this achievement in broad based real time electronic communication is a victory, no… a triumph in the eons-old struggle to give as well as receive information, right? Surely this wealth of knowledge at our fingertips will usher in a new era of enlightenment, yes? As long as the servers are serving, and Apple keeps crapping out I-Phones, a veritable cornucopia of information awaits for any and all who seek it. Science and Technology have given us a glimpse into our technologically-enhanced futures…and doomed us all.
I often contemplate where the line between technological advancement for the benefit of human culture, and technological advancement just for the sake of consumerism has been drawn. Spoiler alert! It hasn’t. I remember an old Star-Trek The Next Generation episode where Picard and the crew beam down to a planet to observe what they deemed to be a primitive human culture. Upon further observation, it was learned that these particular humans had more or less turned their backs on the trappings of a technological society in favor of a simpler, more basic existence. When Picard asked one of the leaders of this “primitive” society why their culture had made this choice, the reply was simple, and has resonated in the back of my mind every day since. He said confidently to Picard, “When you create a machine to do a Man’s job, you take something away from the Man.”
Shit just got real.
To quantify this profound alien’s statement, you must indulge me, and allow me to regale you with an anecdote from my personal life. My very recent personal life, in fact…
While in an elevator recently, I happened to strike up a casual conversation with a group of teenagers. I did not ask their specific ages, but I’m going to ballpark them around 15 or 16 years old. These three guys and two girls were obviously conversing about some sort of school project or report as they entered the elevator. As they joined me in the elevator and selected their floor, one of the girls exasperated that her internet was down, and her project was due very soon. As all of her friends groaned, I chimed in with “Looks like an all-nighter with the Encyclopedia for you.”
They looked at me like I was smoking crack in a leopard print Hitler costume. (which, I assure you, I was not. It’s against Nevada state law to smoke in an elevator.)
The looks of abject confusion and shock told me I had clearly befuddled, and possibly frightened them. Of course, this was followed by about 4 more floors worth of uncomfortable silence. Finally, the bravest one couldn’t take it anymore, and asked me…
“What was that word you just said?”
All 10 eyes eagerly awaited my answer.
“Encyclopedia?” I half questioned, half replied.
“Yeah! That one!” he said, and I shit you not, all 5 of them immediately grabbed their phones and Goggled the word encyclopedia.
Shit just got real dumb.
Needless to say, I had to bite my lip VERY hard to keep from losing it, just on general principle. My mind was reeling from the concept that mine might have been the last generation in this country to know how to do anything at all, even look up a topic in an encyclopedia, without a cell phone.
Certainly, I am not blind to the fact that every single American generation since the first has hated and despised the generations that have followed subsequently, at least to some degree. For we can all hearken back to our younger days when grandfathers told tales of 5 mile barefoot walks to school in blizzard conditions, and the like. Spoiler Alert 2! That’s how old folks call young people pussies. Because the implication is that we could not have hacked it before the advent of the modern conveniences we enjoy now. Are our lives easier? Undoubtedly. Are our lives better? Who knows?
But, understand, the irony is not lost on me. I am the kind of person that has a thirst and aptitude for knowledge of any kind… except mathematics. I recall my own parallel experience as a 16 year old student who spent most of his sophomore year of high school with an algebraic boot in his ass. I kept thinking to myself…when or why will I need this? Why would this shit even be necessary to know?
And thus, the parallel…, the irony. My rationale was that if there is a hand held device called a calculator, that I can fit in my pocket and take with me, that will automatically do these complex calculations for me, then I don’t need to waste my time and energy learning this ridiculous nonsense.
Hypocrisy is the truly the greatest luxury.
Extrapolate my previous view of the relationship between learning mathematics and calculators to basically any given manual task. These young folks have GPS to tell them where they are, where they are going. Can any of them read a map? Or, dare I ask, a compass? They have Google and Yahoo to give them answers that they seek. Did any of the Useless Five (as they forever in infamy shall be known) know what an encyclopedia was? Where one was? What to do with it when they found one? Apparently not.
Maybe I’m just reaching that point in my life where I think “the country is going to hell” with every cell in my body, like countless men before me. Maybe every other young generation that came before mine thought they would change the world, and did, and then watched it all taken for granted and trivialized by the subsequent and following generations. Maybe I’m just some very logical dude who thinks if our youth is so technologically dependent that no one knows how to locate and operate a fucking reference book, it could get very ugly very quickly. Perhaps, however, unlike the previous generations, we actually are witnessing the tide turn. Could it be possible that we are living in time when our society has truly been reduced to pre-programmed consumer cattle; not only unable to think for ourselves, but unable to manually find answers even if we wanted to without the help of manufactured devices to do the work for us?
And people said my generation’s baggy pants were bad…
My new book “Walter” can now be Pre-Ordered on Amazon. Order it now, and get it on November 28th!
Walter: Book One [Kindle Edition] Ernie Howard (Author) Kindle Price: $0.99
Walter is an odd boy. To say he is not like the other kids is an understatement. Being odd doesn’t win you many friends, nor does it give you anonymity. Kids can be mean… Walter doesn’t care what the other kids do or say to him, because he knows a horrible secret. Walter knows when the world is going to end. This is Book One of Walter
“Is that guy ever going to take down his Halloween decorations?” Rob said, as he rubbed the crust from the corner of his eye.
“Honey, he’s an old man, and it is probably hard for him to take them down. Everyone likes Mr. Samson’s Halloween decorations, they are always so, elaborate.” Samantha always found the good in people, it was her downfall. If you didn’t stick up for yourself people would walk all over you, Rob thought.
“His Halloween decorations are always great because he just adds to them from the year before. I mean look at that damn scare crow, it’s falling apart! I have had it! The HOA lets this guy leave his crap up all year, but if I have one weed in my yard I get a fine. I’m bringing it up at the next meeting.” Robs ears were getting hot, which meant he was about to lose it.
“It’s not a big deal, leave it alone.” Samantha grabbed both of his ears and pulled him to her lips, kissing him and making an exaggerated smooch sound. “I’ll see you tonight Honey.” She was out the door before Rob could get in a rebuttal.
He watched as she put her purse in the car, and looked across the street. Mr. Samson was fussing with a plastic bat that had seen better days. The string that attached it to the front door was frayed and looked like it would break in a slight breeze. His wife turned towards the window and mouthed the words, “calm down.” Rob raised one eyebrow and shook his head. Samantha threw up her hands as she got into the car and drove away.
Rob continued to watch the old man through the window. He fiddled with one of the Styrofoam tombstones that had fallen over and made his way back to the front door, pausing at the ragged scare crow that sat on a cobwebbed bench on his front porch. Mr. Samson reached out with his shaky old hand and patted the infernal thing on the head. Rob scratched the dime sized birthmark on the top of his hand, as he did when he was anxious, or something unnerved him.
The HOA meeting went just like Rob thought it would, with him shouting, and nothing being done about the eyesore across the street. They didn’t want to hear about Mr Samson’s never ending Halloween Decor. They had bigger problems. Like broken sprinkler heads, weeds, and a dwindling budget. Rob was asked to leave and never return to another meeting; which resulted in him getting physically removed by a large man who had the smell of liquor on his breath.
Rob frantically scratched his birthmark as he walked down the street. His ears felt like they were on fire when he paused in front of Mr. Samson’s yard. The tattered cloth ghosts, and sun bleached spiders only adding to the heat that originated in his ears, but now seemed to have found a home in the front of his head. He was done. If you wanted to have something done in this world you had to do it yourself. The first thing he would throw away was that damn scarecrow! He walked up the man’s driveway, kicking a rotting pumpkin out-of-the-way as he went. He lost his balance when he reached the front porch, slipping on the rotted pumpkin juice on his shoe. He reached out as he fell, grabbing onto one of the scarecrows arms, ripping it from its body. A stream of maggots and cockroaches came flowing out of the hole falling onto Rob’s face.
“What the hell!” He said, sending a maggot that had made it to his mouth, flying. He didn’t even feel the needle go into his neck, the old man was lightning fast for his age.
Those weeds are getting out of hand, Mr. Samson thought, as he stared across the street. He needed to notify the HOA. He hadn’t seen Mrs. Lawson work on her lawn since last February. He realized she was in mourning, but her yard was getting ridiculous. I mean what were they? Savages? He sighed, looking down at his new scarecrow. Well new as of last year. After Halloween he would have to replace it, it was just getting to tattered. The straw smelt funny, and look at that, one of the gloves was coming off. Mr. Samson pulled the glove up, covering the dime sized birthmark it had exposed. That will have to do for now. Halloween is only a day away. He patted the top of the scarecrows head and went inside.
The guy looked like a CIA agent, complete with plain black suit and sunglasses, that were not needed since it was almost dark. In one well manicured hand he held an envelope that had the name in question written in what looked like old cursive, or calligraphy. The envelope was old, it was browning at the edges and looked like it would fall apart at the slightest touch. I couldn’t take my eyes off of it. Every time I glanced up at the man, my eyes would dart back down, as if the paper were made from a magnet exclusively for the two round objects that fit neatly in my skull.
I was not Steven James, the mysterious man who gets hand delivered letters from guys dressed up like secret service. No, I wasn’t him, but at that moment I wanted to be him. It seemed his life was a lot more interesting than mine. Bet he wasn’t an assistant manager of a gas and sip, who came home every night to sit alone and watch bad TV and eating bad food.
The man extended the envelope towards me, and not even thinking I said “Yes I am,” and snatched the note from his hand. He gave me a smirk as if saying he knew damn well I wasn’t who I said I was, making me instantly want to give him the envelope back. “Humanity thanks you.” He said. The man tipped his head as he walked away. I could hear his footfalls echoing, each one making the foreboding feeling that had come over me almost unbearable. I turned around to tell him the truth of my identity, and give him back the letter, but he was gone like he had become one with the molecules in the air.
The envelope seemed to burn in my hand. It wanted to be open, the note wanted to be read.
I opened the envelope. The brittle paper crumbled in my hands. Glue that had been sealed long ago obliterated into dust, leaving my hands a chalky yellowish color. The note looked newer, and was folded in classic letter style. I unfolded the paper methodically, relishing the moment even being overcome with the most horrible fear. It said in big red letters, “Look behind you.” As I turned I felt the cold hand of death on my shoulder, and then I was staring it in the face.
The emptiness is what I remember most. Where my soul resides is a dark place where monsters lurk in every corner. Yes my friends, hell is not the fire and brimstone kind of hell. Hell resides in your mind, on a Tuesday, when your bored, and coming home from work.
Oh are you wondering what I saw…? Well I saw nothing.
Other writing by me that you can find on Amazon. Click the images if you have further interest.
I am obsessed with the old Twilight Zone episodes. One of my favorites is “The Parallel.” If you haven’t seen it I suggest you do. The story is about an astronaut orbiting the earth whose communication systems stop functioning and he blacks out. he wakes up back on earth with no memory on how he got there. When he finally meets back up with his family everything is the same, just with subtle differences. I won’t tell you the ending.
A month ago I was looking at my 15 month old baby boy. I watched him play with his new plastic truck as he squealed with joy. My eyes went from him to my wife, and back. I had been blessed with such happiness that I could not believe I deserved. This little piece of the big world was mine. This is my reality and believe me I cherish and would guard it with my life if I had too.
After a while of letting the joy I felt in that moment wash over me, dark thoughts started to creep. The darkest one being what would I do if I lost my family, or if something within my life were to drastically change. This is a normal thing for me because I started watching the Twilight zone at age 8, and started reading Stephen King novels at age 13.
I started thinking what it would be like to come home to an empty house. The routine of my life gone and never to return… It gave me a stomach ache just to think about it. Don’t get me wrong. I love silence and being by myself every once in a while, but to never walk through the door and hear my sons squeals of laughter, or feel my wife’s hands around me ever again… Just writing about it makes me shudder.
So to be exercising the demons so to speak, I wrote a story of a husband and wife. It was amazing how fast it came out of my over active, and somewhat demented brain. The short story is called “A World Without.” It is short and sweet, I didn’t want to stay in that world for too long. I hope you enjoy it. Click the book cover below to purchase it on Amazon Kindle.
I know a lot of people are saying “who is Richard Matheson?” He was one of the most influential writers of our time. There are very few writers who can say they influenced writers such as Stephen King and Anne Rice. Stephen King named Matheson as one of his biggest influences, and Anne Rice has said Richard Matheson’s short story “A dress of white silk,” was one of her prime influences for her vampires. Still not impressed? Not much of a reader? More of a movie buff? Ever seen a little movie called I am Legend, starring Will Smith? Or What dreams may come, or Button, Button, a.k.a. The box, or Hell house, a.k.a. The legend of Hell House, or The twilight zone episode, where the man freaks out on a plane saying there is a man on the wing? Yup! You guessed it, all written by Richard Matheson. Even if you don’t read books, you have been exposed to this man’s work. Pop culture lost a great writer yesterday, but this man will live forever with his contributions to books and movies.
Here’s a list of some of this great authors work.
The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957)
Beat Generation (1959)
House of Usher (1960)
Master of the World (1961)
The Pit and the Pendulum (1961)
Burn Witch Burn (1962); a.k.a. Night of the Eagle (screenplay co-written with Charles Beaumont and George Baxt based on the novel Conjure Wife by Fritz Leiber
Tales of Terror (1962)
The Raven (1963)
The Comedy of Terrors (1963)
The Last Man on Earth (as “Logan Swanson”, based on Matheson’s novel I Am Legend)(1964)
The Young Warriors (1967)
The Devil Rides Out (1968)
De Sade (1969)
The Legend of Hell House (based on his novel) (1973)
Somewhere in Time (based on his novel) (1980)
Twilight Zone: The Movie: Fourth segment “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” (1983)
Jaws 3-D (1983)
Loose Cannons (1990)
The Box (2009)
Real Steel (2011)
Someone is Bleeding (1953)
Fury on Sunday (1953)
I Am Legend (1954) filmed as The Last Man on Earth, The Omega Man, I Am Omega and I Am Legend
The Shrinking Man (1956); filmed as The Incredible Shrinking Man and subsequently reprinted under that title; also the basis of the film The Incredible Shrinking Woman
A Stir of Echoes (1958); filmed as Stir of Echoes
Ride the Nightmare (1959); adapted as an episode of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour and later filmed as Cold Sweat (1970 film)
The Beardless Warriors (1960); filmed as The Young Warriors
The Comedy of Terrors (1964), with Elsie Lee; filmed as The Comedy of Terrors
Hell House (1971); filmed as The Legend of Hell House
Bid Time Return (1975); filmed as Somewhere in Time and subsequently reprinted under that title
What Dreams May Come (1978); filmed as What Dreams May Come
Earthbound (Playboy Publications, 1982), as by Logan Swanson — editorially abridged version; restored text published as by Richard Matheson, 1989