The Boy Who Grew up to be a German Shepherd

This story is the result of two beers at 3 a.m. when sleep was not an option.

“When I grow up, I want to be a dog.”

Mom smiled. “Hmm, a dog, Maybe you can be a collie, like Lassie?”

“No, I’m going to be a German shepherd.”

“But you don’t know German.”

“I can learn it.”

Twenty years later, a deutscher Schäferhund walked into a bar in Berlin and ordered ein Bier with a Tennessee accent. “You’re not from around here, are you?” the bartender asked.

“Nein. Warum do you ask?”

“Your accent. It’s not local. We get mostly local mutts coming in here.”

“Ich kommen from America.”

“America, huh. Your German is pretty good.”

“Ja, ich still learnen.”

“Well for an American deutscher Schäferhund, you speak it good.”

“Danke.”

The deutscher Schäferhund lapped his beer from a dish the bartender placed on the bar along with a plate of dog treats. “Sehr gut,” he said, letting out a bark, then a howl of  happiness that drew the attention of the other dogs in the bar who all began to bark and howl in unison. And by the end of the evening, the deutscher Schäferhund was speaking German like a local.

Day 7

Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. It’s been six months and four days since my last confession. Father, I have hurt others in the most horrid ways. I have blindly killed people, many people, even the most innocent, in the name of war and…for money. And I have disrespected my mother and forsaken my family in time of need.

Father, do you hear me?

On a hillside mount above the village, I watch and wait. Massive gunfire and exploding mortar rounds, flames and smoke, cries, screams, a woman running with two small children. I pick up and follow the woman in my crosshair. Holding one child and dragging the other behind, she carefully navigates the streets littered with debris and bodies—injured and dead. Then she stops abruptly, coming face to face with a soldier pointing a carbine at her head. I finger the trigger contemplating the two dead-still figures in my sight. As I start to squeeze, a huge explosion blasts the world into pieces scattering my body in every direction. Then in the darkness, I find myself falling, falling, falling into a never ending void.

Until…

Six days ago, I woke up not knowing where I was or how I got here or if I was alive or dead or both. I remember an explosion. That’s all. My body is in one piece, but my mind is something different, confused and elusive. I’m not sure what’s real and what’s not.

This place, for instance. I’ve seen no sign of life here, not one creature, not a bird in the sky, not even a bug. Not one human. No sign of humanity. Silence and an eerie stillness surround me like a landscape painting. I’ve spent six days walking through empty space where nothing moves or changes except for the sun and moon rising and setting.

From my initial exploration, I determined that this is an island, but where? The surrounding waters lie still, no breaking waves nor changing tides, no movement at all, just a silent flat endless mirror reflecting the heavens and dropping off into the horizon.

Tomorrow I hope to reach the far end, the part of the island still unknown to me. Maybe there I can find some answers. Or maybe I’ll just stumble onto the same nothingness, the same lifeless life I’ve gotten to know.

I must rest now. I’m tired and confused and have gone six days without food and water, but my body seems to function normal. Dead man walking, I muse to myself. Is it me or is it this world that’s out of order?

I doze off and drift into the world I knew before I ended up here. The dreams and the nightmares all the same, always with you. Then, from nowhere, the sound of screams—not the screams of animals, but people—awakens me.

The screams grow louder. I jump up and try to decipher where they’re coming from. But they are all around me, becoming louder and louder, low deep moans and high shrilling screams, cries of agony, getting closer and closer, echoing from every corner of the island.

I cover my ears, but they don’t go away. Louder and closer. Now I feel the screams touching me, the agony tormenting what sanity I have left. I run through the darkness but can’t escape them. I must have ran most of the night before collapsing, hitting my head on a boulder and passing out.

When I regain consciousness, the sun is up. Soaked with sweat, I shiver cold chills. I climb atop the boulder, warmed by the sun, and lie there trying to comprehend the voices and events that led me here. I feel my head for signs of injuries, but there are none. I eventually regain my senses, stand up, and look for signs of something.

I expect I’m near the other side of the island. The terrain has changed from dense forest to open fields. About a mile away, a hill stands between me and the hope of finding life. I start walking.

As I walk, I wonder what, if anything, awaits me over that hill. Part of me is excited and another part is afraid and apprehensive. I’ve never been afraid of anything. I wear my bad-ass attitude like a badge of pride. In my life, I’ve killed enough people to populate a small town and survived more than a few wars.

But this is different. It’s just me and the unknown.

Approaching the base of the hill, I see that it’s much higher than it appeared from a distance. Up ahead, I spot a path, steep but easy enough to walk. I ascend the hill quickly at first, then slow to a steady pace as the air thickens and it feels like I’m pushing through clouds. My breathing stifles and my pace slows to a crawl.

I reach the crest and pause to catch my breath. Then I notice something that can’t be real. A few feet in front of me, lying on a rock, is a sniper’s rifle and the rosary my mother carried to her grave.

I pick up and examine the rifle, then the rosary. Both are real.

Confused, I walk to the edge and look out over the rest of the island. I freeze. Below and as far as my eyes can see are graves, thousands or even more, some freshly dug.

I stand, numb and dumbfounded, holding rifle and rosary, staring out over the never-ending mass graves. Then my body goes limp, empty, and I snap and start laughing hysterically. I laugh so loud the dead down below begin to rise. And as they rise, familiar sounds—the music of war—silence my laughter. I turn to face clouds of war smoke covering the island and demons marching from the forest. I drop to my knees, gripping both rifle and rosary. I am no longer alone.

Father, do you hear me now?

(I entered this story in a contest sponsored by Dark Regions Press. The contest’s theme was a lone survivor on a deserted island with a word length of 1000 words. I didn’t win so I thought I would share the story here.)

Artificial intelligence no match for human intelligence

Machines are stripping away humanity in much the same way social media and texting have stripped away our personal communication skills. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not against technology. I just believe that it should be used as a tool we control instead of it dictating our lives.

Used to be life was simple but hard. Now it’s complicated and easy. Used to be we lived in a real world where real people worked out real problems. Now we live in an empty, artificial programmable world where nothing is real nor honest anymore.

Let’s face it: We’re dumbed down and turned lazy by technology that supposedly makes life easier for us. It controls our homes, runs our cars, monitors our health. Our problems have been turned over to machine to fix. We have apps that perform every conceivable function for us, virtual assistants—Siri and Alexa—that give us advice.

Now with the advances in artificial intelligence, science fiction has become real life.

Artificial intelligence is defined as the theory and development of computer systems able to perform tasks normally requiring human intelligence, such as visual perception, speech recognition, decision-making, and translation between languages. In other words, it’s intelligence demonstrated by machines, in contrast to the natural intelligence displayed by humans and other animals.

Yes, we’re turning the world over to machines, and we’re turning jobs over to them, too. But not all jobs.

A recent TopTenz post identifies 10 jobs artificial intelligence can’t take away from humans. They are:

  • Authors
  • Fashion designers and tailors
  • Psychologists
  • Doctors
  • Musicians
  • Police officers
  • Judges
  • Art teachers
  • Pro athletes
  • Clergy

The jobs listed here have a few common traits that indeed separate humans from machines. They are:

  • Creativity—the ability to use our human imagination to develop new and original ideas or things.
  • Empathy—the ability to identify with and understand another person’s feelings.
  • Sympathy—the ability to share another person’s feelings.
  • Judgment—the ability to determine right from wrong.
  • Passion—the ability to show emotions.

We must remember that artificial intelligence is not natural. It’s contrived, simulated, and will never replace human intelligence, no matter how cool it might seem.

We must remember the great things humans have created and remember today’s machines were created by humans.

We must remember that we are humans and machines are tools. We must remember that we control our lives, and we must regain control of our lives or we risk creating a world gone astray.

Photo by Andy Kelly on Unsplash

Hypocrisy and the World of Contradictions

“Do what you will, this world’s a fiction and is made up of contradiction.” – William Blake

In essence, life is a contradiction, a paradox. We live to die. We lie to protect the truth. We wage war to achieve peace. We seek calm while creating chaos. We poison our bodies to improve our health. We create time-saving technology that increases our workload. We gather knowledge that denies our commonsense. We save money only to spend it. Our wants are not always our needs.

These contradictions flow through life often unnoticed. They’re accepted as part of life. We’ve learned to live with them and to rationalize their existence in thinking things will be better or that things just work that way.

Then there is the self-contradiction that leads to hypocrisy. Hypocrisy is an ugly word, a rotten seed that turns people ugly. No one likes to be called a hypocrite, yet we all harbor some hypocrisy by virtue of being human.

“Every man alone is sincere. At the entrance of a second person, hypocrisy begins.” –Ralph Waldo Emerson

For the most part, hypocrisy is sublime. We don’t think about it when we display it. And if we do recognize it, we find a way justify it.

Hypocrites are fakers, sometimes two-faced. They pretend to have certain attitudes, beliefs, principles, values, or feelings when they really do not. They criticize others for doing things they do themselves. They act in a way that contradicts their beliefs and values. They pretend to be somebody they’re not.

Hypocrites lie to themselves without realizing it. They employ two value systems—one for themselves and one for others—and their value system trumps all others.

“No man, for any considerable time, can wear one face to himself and another to the multitude, without finally getting bewildered as to which may be the true.” – Nathaniel Hawthorne

How not to be a hypocrite:

· Be true to yourself. Know yourself and be honest with your feelings.

· Live up to your principles. In other words, practice what you preach.

· Understand and accept that every person is unique.

· Don’t ask others to do what you are not willing to do yourself.

Nobody likes a hypocrite, but the truth is, we are all hypocrites at times. Don’t believe it? Then check out the article 20 Ways You are Being a Total Hypocrite.

Photo by arvin febry on Unsplash

How to dress up a hamburger

I’ve eaten hamburgers my whole life, hundreds, maybe thousands of them. I love hamburgers and will always love hamburgers regardless of my almost healthy no-meat eating habits. The hamburger is the all-American food.

I’m not talking about the anemic, fast-food wanna-be variety. I mean the big, fat, juicy 100-percent ground beef burgers you find in the skillet or on the grill. The kind that sizzle, splatter, and pop and make your mouth water and raise your senses to a level of nirvana.

Ode to a hamburger—

Give me a burger with everything on it. Lettuce, pickles, and tomatoes, and onions, too, all stacked high upon it, with mayonnaise, mustard, ketchup, and a bun crusty and true—what do I care, I’m hungry and my stomach is too.

Yes, I love hamburgers. But a hamburger is just a naked piece of meat if not properly dressed. Too often, hamburgers are haphazardly thrown together. That’s wrong. The hamburger deserves to be served and eaten with honor and dignity.

Over the years, I’ve perfected my way of stacking a hamburger. Let me share it with you.

First, you need a bun, preferably toasted. Spread a layer of mayo on the bottom half of the bun. This is important. A hamburger is full of natural juices. Mayonnaise is a stable emulsion that will absorb the juices from the burger and keep the bun from getting soggy. It also provides a better taste.

Add your burger, and cheese if desired. Now, if you want to take your hamburger beyond the norm, you can add bacon, chili, or whatever. I prefer the true burger, though. Once you start adding, it becomes something else.

Next, add onions, a big slice of tomato, dill pickles, and lettuce. Do not place your lettuce directly on or under the burger. If you do, you risk eating soggy lettuce. Nobody I know likes soggy lettuce.

Take the top half of the bun and spread with mayo, mustard, and ketchup.

Presto! The perfectly dressed, highly fashionable, ready to eat burger. And oh so simple.

Ozzie for President

Ozzie was a smart man, even though he couldn’t read nor write too good. But he could count. Especially money. Ozzie had a good sense about money and business. So I didn’t think he was crazy when he said he might run for president one day. He was always up to something.

Every couple of days, Ozzie drove around the neighborhood in his old beat up pickup with wooden sideboards rattling at every bump, looking for any kind of work he could find. He usually stopped and sat a while with my grandpa on the front porch, and they would gab about one thing or another.

One afternoon, Ozzie and Grandpa were discussing some wood rot on the far end of the porch. I sat listening and whittling down the end of a sapling branch into a spear.

“Looks like termites to me, Mr. D. Maybe I can get underneath and take a better look.”

“Don’t know, Oz. I just had it sprayed last year. The bug man gave me a three-year guarantee.”

Ozzie cocked his baseball cap to one side and scratched his head. “Maybe you better call the bug man and get him back here. I think it’s termites.”

About that time, Grandma appeared from around back of the house with a full laundry basket.

“Well, hello Ozzie. Didn’t know you were here.”

Ozzie stood up. “Hi Miss D. Let me help you with that there load.”

“Thank you, Ozzie, but I believe this young man is plenty capable of carrying my laundry inside.” Grandma handed me the basket without a word.

“I was just telling Mr. D, I think you might have termites over in the corner there.”

“Didn’t we just have the bug man spray last year, George?”

“I’m gonna call him to come take a look. We have a three-year guarantee.”

“George, do you know what day this is?”

“Friday, I think. Why?”

“Don’t pretend you don’t know. You know good and well Fridays is trash day. We got a heap of it you need to take to the dump.”

Back then, we didn’t have garbage collection service so people had to take their own garbage to the county dump. It was an unpleasant job that Grandpa hated.

“OK. Let me change my clothes first.”

Grandma smiled, wished Ozzie a good day, and went inside.

“I hate going to that dump. That place carries all kinds of diseases.”

Ozzie listened, thinking. “I got a idea, Mr. D. How about you giving me a little gas money and I’ll take your trash away for you?”

Grandpa’s face lit up. “How much we talking?

Ozzie wetted the point of his finger as though it was a pencil and began to calculate on an imaginary piece of paper.

“How about eight dollars? And I’ll load it up myself.”

That was the day that Ozzie, a smart man, began his run for the White House.

The idea was brilliant. Ozzie went from house to house and offered, for a small fee, to pick up and take people’s garbage away. It didn’t take long until everybody in the neighborhood was paying Ozzie to take their garbage away.

He did this for a couple of years, picked up more customers outside the neighborhood, then bought some more trucks and hired some kids to pick up the garbage. Ozzie had become our town’s first trash collector, and making more money than he could ever count.

I was out front tossing around a football when Ozzie pulled up in his brand new black Ford Ranger with his name and phone number printed in bold white letter on the side.

He went rushing to the front porch with a letter in his hand.

“Mr. D, take a look at this.” He handed Grandpa the letter.

“Well want you look at this,” Grandpa said. “It looks like the city council is giving you a contract to pick up all the town’s garbage, both private and municipal. You done went and got yourself an official government contract.”

“Something, ain’t it?”

“I’m proud for you, Oz. This is a big thing.”

“Mr. D., I been thinking. And I mean this serious, I might just run for president one of these days.”

“Shoot, Oz, you know no colored man can ever be president. It just wouldn’t be right. People won’t vote for a colored man. Same with a woman. You know that.”

“But you see, Mr. D, I have an angle. A little slogan Robbie worked up for me.”

Grandpa laughed. “OK, Oz, let me hear it.”

Ozzie grinned and cleared his throat. “Here it is—

“Let’s put a trash collector in the White House. There’s plenty of trash up there that needs dumping.”

Grandpa slapped his leg, reared forward almost falling from the steps and hooted like I’ve never heard. “That’s a good one, Oz. A real good one. You definitely got my vote.”

(This short story was inspired by true events.)