Resolved, by Jamie D Greening

Ladies and Gentlemen, the Fondue Writer’s Free Fiction party is starting up again, and what better way to lead us all off than to have our resident literarian (is “literarian” even a word? I think so! Let’s go with it), Jamie D Greening, start us off with a poem.

Check out Resolved, a wonderful Memorial Day poem from Literarian and all-around good guy, Jamie D Greening.

King Koopa Does It Again

I played a lot of video games as a kid, and one of my favorite things to do while playing video games was to complain that the game was cheating. 

You ever do that?

You fight and fight to get to the end of whatever Mario Brothers game you’re playing, and then King Koopa shoots you with a fireball before you have a chance to move and that’s it. Game over. So sorry. 

“The game is cheating again!” I’d tell my Dad. 

“No, it’s not,” my Dad told me. “You just suck. You need to figure it out.” 

I’d grumble and grunt about Dad being Old & Out of Touch. But, inevitably, I’d learn to zig where I used to zag, dodging Koopa’s fireball, allowing me to win the game (either that or get shot by all NEW fireballs. One or the other). 

The lesson is clear. More often than not, the obstacles we run into are not the results of some grand conspiracy. The world is not set against you. You just suck, and you need to learn to do it (whatever IT is) better. Yes, there are some instances where the system is unfair. We can talk about those some other time. For the most part, though, if you have to decide whether it’s you or the system that needs to change, the answer is You. 

I lost the District 4 International Speech Contest last weekend. 

That’s not exactly right. I was technically the third place winner. That puts me in roughly the top 350-400 people out of over 30K who started the contest back in January. That ain’t nothing to sneeze at. 

But it’s not what I wanted. I’ve been to this level many times before and, while I really really felt like this might be my year, I still didn’t make it. Koopa shot me with the same damn fireball he’s caught me with each of the last twelve years. 

A friend asked me how I was feeling shortly afterward, and I said I was pissed. For an hour or so, thoughts like “Those judges don’t know what they’re doing!” and “I’m never doing this again!” crossed my mind. Self-centered, petulant b.s. to be sure, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned from competing in (and not winning) this contest for over a decade now, it’s that you have to take anything said by a contestant who recently met the end of their contest season with a grain of salt. The amount of work, time, and energy put into developing a speech at nearly any level is astounding, and to have that all just END … RIGHT NOW … it takes a few hours or maybe days to let it go. If I extend the same grace to other competitors who’ve lost, I should probably extend that to myself as well. 

I wrote back to my friend the following day to say that I wasn’t really pissed … just disappointed. And even that isn’t right. I went back to watch the video of the contest, and I could see areas where I needed to improve. I watched the winner’s speech again and saw what it was that made his speech better than mine. Once again, the game wasn’t cheating. The judges got it right. I just need to get better next time around. 

You can see the same thing in your work. You hit roadblocks. Your career stalls. The skills that got you here won’t get you there. Something new has to happen or Koopa will hit you with that same old fireball. Not because he’s cheating, but because you need to learn to zig instead of zagging. 

The truth is, you might zig and zag for a very long time and still catch Koopa’s best. You might still fail. OVer and over and over. Most of us have been there. The defining difference here is not whether you learn to skate past whichever obstacle is holding you back. There will be even more challenging obstacles just around the corner: the kind of stuff that make This Present Difficulty pale in comparison. 

What matters is whether, after you’ve been knocked down the third, fourth or fifth time … or, in my case, the tenth time over a decade of trying … you have the willingness to get up and try it again. 

Well, do you? 

Last night, when I found myself with a few moments of free time, I started jotting down notes for next year’s speech contest speech. I’m still having fun with it. And, let’s be honest, I’m a glutton for punishment with it comes to these things. 


Keep an eye out for Suraj Venkateswaran. His speech was amazing. He’s gonna take over the world. 


Round 4 (of 6 or 7, depending on how you count it) of the Toastmasters International World Championship of Public Speaking fast approaches … at least for me. Most places around the world have either already crowned their District champs or will do so this weekend.

Those of us who are still left are frantically practicing our speeches, trying to find that extra edge, that extra je ne sais pas that will put us over the edge to win not only the Round 4 District contests in front of us, but also the Regional Qualifier. They send a video of each of the winners of Round 4 to the Video qualifier, and the winners of THAT qualifier get to compete in the semifinals … which is either Round 6 or Round 5.

Like I said: depending on how you count it.

To put things in perspective: Anywhere from 30K – 40K accomplished speakers from 130-ish different countries started this contest back in January. At the Round 4 District level, there are maybe 800-900 left. You win that, you’re top 100-150. You make it to the Semifinals now, you’re top 25-ish.

These next few weeks, a lot of dreams will come true, and a lot more will get crushed with the always disheartening “Congrats on an amazing speech! Better luck next year…”

You’d think this would be where things get more cutthroat. Where those who have made it this far SNIP and SNARL at each other, protecting their speeches from any potential intruders, always wary of someone looking to cross a moral line in search of victory.

That’s how most of the rest of the world works, right?

Not here, though. At least: not most of us.

Just this week, I got together with some friends who are still in the contest to run through our speeches, work out some of the kinks, and help each other get better. We’re not competing against each other – not yet, anyway. No, we have our own districts to worry about at present, and we took turns running through our speeches over Zoom, then discussing some of the different way we might approach things.

For me, this was an invaluable practice session. It’s easy to get caught up in your own head, to get TOO CLOSE to the material. When you have the gift of feedback from accomplished professionals (and also: me), it can help you achieve breakthroughs you might not otherwise have seen.

It was like we had our own, little Nash Equilibrium, right there in the Zoom space.

My contest in May 14. District 4 if you’re interested. I’m proud of the speech I’m doing this year. I’m excited to give it, and I hope it means something to those of you who have heard it or will hear it.

I don’t know what will happen that day. I might get to keep going. I might get handed my “better luck next year” condolences trophy. Either way, working this hard on something and being a part of others working equally as hard on THEIR something has been a big joy this time around.

I hope you can find similar communities for the stuff you’re doing. Life really is better lived with other people.

A Passover for Maxwell Bennett

Death rarely makes house calls. But, in the case of Maxwell Bennett, he made a happy exception. 

Maxwell Bennett had been on Death’s short list for several years, much longer than any of the other miraculous escapees. Most people cheat Death at least once or twice in their lives. That’s a given. You turn left when you were supposed to have turned right, and the horrific car crash you get T-boned by a logging truck or electrocuted by a downed transformer doesn’t happen. You and everyone else go about your days none the wiser, unaware how close you came to your end. 

But Death knows. 

Death can see the results of each non-choice played out to its conclusion. Maybe not the ENTIRE consequence of each non-choice – only God can do that – but for at least a few weeks or months, he sees what might have happened to you, and he knows how close the two of you were to finally meeting. 

There are a few charmed folks, the aforementioned miraculous escapees, who seem to have a preternatural understanding of Death’s plans for their final moments. They’ll get an odd feeling in the pit of their stomach or an itch in their skin, they zig when they were supposed to have zagged, and their grisly demise becomes a pleasant afternoon in the park. This has often perplexed Death, making him wonder whether these people have some deeper insight into the machinations of all things, or if they’re just lucky. 

They can’t last forever, though. No one can. They’ll skate by for a few weeks, maybe a year. Then, one day, when they’re not looking, a bus catches them with their foot off the curb, or they’re out celebrating a friend’s wedding and that nasty shellfish allergy they didn’t know they had finally catches up to them, and that’s that. Deaths books are in order once again, and all is right with the world. 

There are these people. And then there’s Maxwell Bennett. 

Death had been tracking Maxwell Bennett for a long time; most of his life, in fact. 

The first time Maxwell Bennett was supposed to have died, he was only a year and a half old. Little Maxwell had a nasty cough, and his mother, who hadn’t slept a wink in three whole days, gave him a dose of adult cough medicine to get him down. She left the unopened bottle next to his crib and, in the middle of the night, when Little Maxie woke up, he grabbed the cough medicine like it was his bottle and downed the whole thing in one gulp. 

That should have been enough to do him in, but his teeth had just broken through his gums, and as he laid down to go back to sleep, he soothed the pain in his mouth by gnawing on the wooden posts of his bed, dislodging several splinters into his mouth in the process. This new pain woke him up immediately, and the force of his screams did what no medically administered ipecac would have, ejecting the recently consumed bottle of cough syrup all over his bed, his room, and himself. 

Mrs Bennett, unaware of the tragedy that would have ensued – should have ensued – had it been any other child, was none too pleased at the prospect of cleaning up the vomitous expectoration in her son’s room in addition to yet another sleepless night. 

When he was eight, he rode his brand new BMX bicycle down a large, grass hill, through the remnants of a wire fence denoting the property line on a farm that had long since been abandoned. Maxwell was a small boy, and the chinstrap on his helmet hung low. As he passed through at breakneck speeds, a taught cord of low-hanging wire caught the chinstrap and knocked him off his bike. He suffered a bruised tailbone instead of the outright decapitation that would have been the case for normal boys with properly positioned protective gear.. 

At ten, as Maxwell Bennett prepared to take his turn at bat in a Little League baseball game, he walked right up next to the hitter on deck just as the hitter took his practice homerun swing. He would have caught a metal bat to the face had he not ducked at just the right moment to tie his shoes. As things stood, Maxwell’s teammate struck out, and Maxwell hit into an inning-ending double-play. 

Maxwell loved baseball, but baseball rarely loved him back. 

Shortly after Maxwell’s twelfth birthday, the neighbor’s rabid pit bull attacked when Maxwell was cutting the grass behind his house. But because the canine had dislodged most of his teeth fighting a rogue German Shepherd down the street the previous night, none of the bites broke the skin. Instead, the teeth fell out of the dog’s mouth at first bite, and all Maxwell got was loud barking, a few scratches, and enough drool to fill a very large bucket. The doctors who checked him out said he was extremely lucky. “It’s a miracle!” they said. 

But it wasn’t a miracle. It was just Maxwell Bennett. 

Death’s record followed Maxwell Bennett into adulthood, enough to fill several notebooks. A near tragedy involving a table saw in high school that should have cut into his jugular, a hidden chicken bone at a sports bar on a night out with friends in college that should have become lodged in his throat, a mass shooting at a mall in Kentucky where he would have been gunned down by a madman if only he hadn’t got pulled over for running a red light two blocks shy of the mall. 

“I’m sorry, officer,” Maxwell Bennett said. “To be honest, I was distracted by a text on my phone and I didn’t see the light.” 

“Be careful, son,” the officer said, as emergency vehicles sped past them on the way to the mall. “This could have been a tragedy.”

Death just stood by and watched in disbelief. What else could he do? For nearly forty two years, whatever Death threw at him, Maxwell Bennett seemed to dodge with ease. The final tally, according to the now voluminous series of notebooks in Death’s accounting, included 792 missed encounters with wild animals, 2,297 failed food-related accidents, 4,256 missed car accidents, 1,406 walking/hiking accidents, and an eight month relationship with 1 red head who had learned from her mother how to kill a man with a ball peen hammer and dispose of the body in lye. 

Unable to ply her trade with Maxwell Bennett, the red head moved on to an author of submarine fiction in Vermont, where she was much more successful. The lye pits near Manchester proved particularly useful. 

This night, however, would be different. Death would look Maxwell Bennet in the face. And when the night was over, he could finally put a close to the most troublesome accounting problem he’d had since the births of both Methuselah and Keith Richards. 

Death walked up to the door, and knocked three times. MAxwell Benett opened it. 

“Hello,” he said. “I’ve been expecting you.” 

“You have?” 

“Of course. Why wouldn’t I? Everyone says you’re inevitable, right? You and taxes?” 

Death sighed, put his hand on the door frame, pulled it away quickly, wiping off the sticky scumon his jeans. 

“The problem with all those quotes about Death is 99% of the people who say them are still alive.” 

“What do the 1% who are dead, say?” 

“Want to find out?” 

“We’ll see,” Maxwell Bennett said, smiling. “We’ll see. Come in. Sit down. Dinner’s almost ready.” He turned around, headed for the kitchen. The sound of pots and pans being moved about emanated from the doorway.  

“Dinner?” Death stepped into the apartment and looked around, as if expecting some sort of trap. When no immediate attack presented itself, he shrugged, stepped in further, and took a seat at the kitchen table. 

“So what brings you here?” Maxwell Bennett asked. 

“I’ve been following you since you were a boy. All the many ways you’ve cheated me over the years. Your name is first on my list, and I plan to collect.” 

Maxwell Bennett laughed from the kitchen. 

“Have you been practicing that line? If so, you need to keep working on it. You sound like McDonald’s employee asking me if I want fries with my meal.” A cabinet door slammed. “Put some growl into it, some menage. You know? Really put some stank on it.”

Maxwell stuck his head out of the kitchen doorway. “Can I get you a drink? Beer? Glass of wine? Orange Juice, maybe?”

“Water is fine, thanks.”

“Sure thing.” Maxell returned to rummaging in the kitchen.

Death stared at the space in the kitchen door where Maxwell’s head used to be.

“You know, most people try to bargain with me when they find out who I am. They offer me gifts, riches, keys to their tiny, little kingdoms. Most people are afraid. But you…”

Maxwell Bennett stepped back into the dining room with a large plate.

“You serve me dinner?”

“It would be rude of me not to,” Maxwell said. “Besides, this is a special dinner.”

Death took the plate from Maxwell Bennet and set it on the table. The bitter herbs, romaine lettuce, charoset, karpas, a roast egg, and a roasted lamb bone. .

“Is this what I think it is? Is this a Seder plate?”

“Of course! It’s Passover, is it not? Are you familiar with Passover?”

Death grunted. “Of course. I was there at the first one, remember? They were trying to avoid seeing me.”

“Ah, yes,” Maxwell said. “I forgot.”

“I don’t understand, though. You’re not even Jewish.”

“You don’t have to be Jewish to celebrate Passover. God loves everyone, even us Gentiles, and we can celebrate him.”

Death smiled. “I see your plan, now,” he said. “You think affecting these rituals will keep me at bay like it did for Moses back in Egypt. Well, it won’t work.”

“No. I just had some extra lamb bones and charoset lying around, and I thought: ‘Why not?’ I had this feeling you know?”

Death swiveled his head to the corners of the apartment. Each of the miraculous escapees had reported these feelings just before escaping Death’s various traps. He wondered what trickery was at play.

Maxwell Bennet smiled, and waited.

“Well, at least you could have let me know. I’d have brought some bread to share. In fact, if you’ll allow, I can step out for just a moment and get the finest of loaves one can find in the farthest reaches of the Mediterranean. Your mouth will water just from the smell. And the taste! Oh, you will spend the rest of our life searching and never find a bread with a taste such as this.”

Matthew picked up two brown, paper bags.

“I got this Matzo at WalMart. Manager’s special! It was on sale for $1.95 with a BOGO discount. Can you believe that? I think it will work for us just fine. Plus, we need more than just bread to live, don’t we? Isn’t that in the Bible somewhere?”

“It is,” Death said. “It is.”  Death took a sip from his water. He appeared lost in thought.

Maxwell sat up straight.

“Now that the sun has gone down and we have the elements in place, why don’t we begin?Mind if I do the honors?”

“Of course.”

“True,” Maxwell Bennett said, and began.

Maxwell bowed his head to pray. Death eyed him warily.

“The sixth day. And the heavens and the earth and all that filled them were complete. And on the seventh day God completed the labor He had performed, and He refrained on the seventh day from all the labor which He had performed. And God blessed the seventh day and He sanctified it, for He then refrained from all his labor – from the act of creation that God had performed.

Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe, Who sanctified us with His commandments, and hoped for us, and with love and intent invested us with His sacred Sabbath, as a memorial to the deed of Creation. It is the first among the holy festivals, commemorating the exodus from Egypt. For You chose us, and sanctified us, out of all nations, and with love and intent You invested us with Your Holy Sabbath.”

When Maxwell paused for breath, Death interrupted with a question.

“Tell me, Maxwell Bennett. How did you come to escape me all these years? Do you think God loves you more than everyone else?”

“No,” Maxwell Bennett said. “If that were true, the Cincinnati Bengals would have won the Super Bowl last year. I’ve been a Bengals fan since I was a kid. I love my family and friends and I help out in my community, but the one thing I’ve consistently prayed for my whole life was for the Bengals to win a Super Bowl. I figure if God loved me more than everyone else, he’d have made that happen by now.”

“But how can you tell? What if you are favored among men? Just imaging what you could do?”

“It’d be fun,” Maxwell said. “I bet I could finally get high average for my bowling league some season.”

“Here.” Death picked up a large carving knife and handed it to Maxwell. “Take this knife. Thrust it into your stomach. If God really does favor you, he will stop you from killing yourself. Then, you will know and will finally be able to celebrate.”

Maxwell laughed. “Can you imagine me showing up at the hospital with a carving knife sticking out of my gut? And when the doctors ask what happened, I tell them: ‘I was just checking to see if God loved me?’”

Maxwell took a long drink from his wine.

“Plus, whether God loves me a lot or just a little, I don’t think it’s a good idea to go testing him like that. I’ve seen a lot of televangelists go down that route, and that ain’t me.”

“What if it is?”

“Did you see Tammy Faye Baker’s tattooed mascara tears back in the day?” MAxwell asked, washing his hands. “Uh uh, Bubba. I don’t want nothing to do with the kind of thing that make people do that to themselves.”

Death laughed. Maxwell dipped vegetables into the charset and handed some to Death. Death declined. Maxwell shrugged and ate the vegetables anyway.

“You’re funny,” he said. “You’ve got a remarkable personality. Have you considered doing a podcast or TikTok or something?”

“There’s this friend of mine in Texas who does a podcast with his church. It’s called ‘Under The Water Tower.’ I thought about doing a response podcast to his podcast once. I’d call it ‘Water Tower Adjacent,’ and I’d spend my time making jokes at his expense.”

“That sounds promising. What if I could help you grow your podcast – or TikTok or YouTube Channel or whatever? What if you could get your words into every corner of the earth? Does that sound like something that would interest you? All you’d have to do is follow me.”

Maxwell Bennett was confused.

“Follow you? Like on Twitter?”

“No. Like follow my lead. Go where I tell you to go. Worship me.”

“Oh, absolutely not. My friends all tell me I’m a #nofilter kind of guy. I get myself a podcast and get the word out to the whole world, I’m liable to say something stupid. And what then? I’ve got a record of me making an ass of myself for everyone to see.”

“Don’t you already have a blog?” Death asked.

“Nobody reads blogs,” Mawell Bennet said. “And anyway. The way I figure it, worshipping God is what got me this far. I might as well keep at it now. No one’s better than him, right?”

“Right,” Death said, frustrated.

“We’re at the part where we recite the story of Exodus. Would you care to do the honors?” Maxwell asked.

“I think your passover tradition has already done its job,” Death said, standing up. He reached to shake Maxwell’s Hand. Maxwell reciprocated.

“It’s been a pleasure meeting you,” Maxwell said.

“Likewise,” Death said, and he left.

Maxwell shrugged, sat down.

“Now, I’ve got to do this all by myself,” he said as he thumbed through a well-worn Bible to the book of Exodus. Of all the weird things to happen in his life, this was by far the weirdest.

Maxwell was about to close his eyes to begin the prayers, when he noticed a slip of paper next to the chair where Death so recently sat. He opened it.

“Dear Maxwell. It truly was a pleasure meeting you this evening. You are a good man. Stay strong in the faith and God will see you through many struggles. Sincerely, Death.”

Maxwell Bennett flipped the page over, where the note continued.

“P.S. See you in six months.”

Maxwell Bennett smiled. “We’ll see,” he said. “We’ll see.”

Something Might Happen

Dad said not to bring my glove. “We’re all the way up in the red seats,” he said.“No one’s gonna hit it up there.” Then, as if to emphasize the point, “No way. Not. At. All.”

But I brought it anyway.

It was an early April morning in 1988. The late ’80s were good years – after Pete Rose had broken the record but before the mess of banishment – when the Reds seemed to always finish second to the Dodgers, Giants, or Astros, no matter how hard they tried.

Dad and I rode a city bus down Winton Road from the northern suburbs, through St. Bernard, through Corryville, past UC, and straight through Over the Rhine like a Barry Larkin line drive, ending up on Fountain Square an hour ahead of the Findlay Market parade. It was Opening Day, the holiest of baseball holidays, and we reveled in our annual pilgrimage.

I held the glove under my left arm. Dad eyed me sideways. “You never know,” I said. “Something might happen.”

Dad got a coffee, I opened a bag of peanuts, and we sat on the steps overlooking Fifth Street. The crowds started to gather. “Tell me the Johnny Bench story again,” I said, and he launched into an elaborate tale of the time, when he was in middle school, he and a friend got a ride home from Crosley Field with the new Rookie catcher, Johnny Bench.

“He rolled up to us in a big convertible and said, “You boys need a lift? Of course we said yes, and he drove us all the way home.”

“What did you talk about?”

“Nothing. We was both too scared to say anything, so we sat in silence the whole way.”

The parade started. Marching bands, decorated Cadillacs carrying politicians, and elaborate floats with local celebrities carrying signs for hometown staples like Goldstar Chili and JTM hamburgers went by in quick succession. When the last float passed, the crowd flowed in behind, following the parade like a jubilant, New Orleans wake, down to Riverfront Stadium for the start of a brand new season.

We made it to our seats high up in the red seats about as far away from the field as you could get.

“You think the Reds have a chance this year?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” Dad said. “Soto’s washed up, Bo Diaz is a rusted out, chain-link fence behind the plate, and I’m still not sure about Larkin over Stillwell at short.”

I soured a little. He noticed.

“Then again, that Tom Browning is pretty good, Eric Davis can hit the cover off the ball, and with Franco closing, you never know…”

“Something might happen,” we said together, and laughed. It was always easy to laugh when it was him and me.

The game was a tough one. Mario Soto gave up an early lead to the Cardinals. He was, indeed, washed up, which didn’t bode well for the season. The Reds were down 4-1 in the sixth, but battled back to a tie in the seventh and took it to extra innings.

“More baseball for the exact same price!” Dad used to say.

The game was fun, but I wanted a ball. I stood for most of the afternoon with my glove on my hand, ready. Dad just shook his head like he knew something I didn’t.

For a while, it seemed like that might be the case but, in the 11th, Tracey Jones tagged a foul shot off of a Cardinal reliever, and I watched as the ball soared up to our section.

“Go for it!”

I ran down the steps to the front row, reaching my glove as far out over the railing as I could, hoping for a miracle. The ball danced around the webbing at the tip of my glove, then bounced away, falling to the blue seats below. I returned to my seat, dejected.

“That’s alright,” Dad said. “You’ll get the next one.”

But the next one didn’t come. Not then, anyway. Kal Daniels knocked in a run in the the twelfth, “And this one belongs to the Reds!” everyone shouted, mimicking Marty Brennaman’s signature phrase. The Reds won 5-4 and, right then, everyone in the stands truly believed that day’s success would carry us all the way to the World Series.

Opening Day does that to you, somehow. It makes believers out of all of us.

I fell asleep on the bus afterward. Dad carried me from the bus stop to our house, my glove secured safely in his left arm, the same way he carried his glove when he was young. The same way my kids carry their gloves today. The sins and graces of the father passing down unto multiple generations, forever and ever, Amen.

It was a good day.

It was a good year, too. Chris Sabo got his start, and it wasn’t long before all the kids in my school wanted their own pair of Spuds McKenzie goggles. Danny Jackson won 23 games and would have won a Cy Young, too, if not for Orel Hershiser. Tom Browning threw a perfect game and Ron Robinson came within one strike of the same feat, too.

The Reds hosted the All Star Game, with Barry Larkin – who really WAS better than Kurt Stillwell it turned out – on the team, proving himself more than capable of carrying Concepcion’s mantle.

Dad and I went to a lot of games that year and in the years to follow. But nothing beats Opening Day. No matter how bad the Reds are, no matter how bleak the prospects, on Opening Day anything is possible. On Opening Day, the slate is clean and the entire season stretches out in front of you like a dream.

Another Opening Day is right around the corner. The Redlegs could tank, sure, but you never know. Magic could strike at any time. It happens. All it takes is the willingness to believe, just for a day. So grab your glove, keep your eyes open, and wait for something to happen.

Because on Opening Day, something always does.

Caramel Hill – A Free Easter Story from Jamie D Greening

The Fondue Writers are back, and this time we’re tackling Easter WITH A VENGEANCE.

Okay, so we’re not really tackling Easter, per se. We’re really more addressing it. Or commenting on it. Or writing free fiction about it. You get the idea.

Whatever it we’re doing to Easter … we are definitely doing it … WITH A VENGEANCE. That much I can assure you.

Leading us off for the Easter Explode-A-Ganza is our dear friend from Austin, Texas: Jamie D Greening. And BOY does Jamie have a good yarn for you. If all the pomp and circumstance around Easter – and most holidays in general – seems a bit STRANGE to you, well, you’re gonna like checking out “CARAMEL HILL.” 

Jamie’s got a lot of other stuff you can read at his website,, including his wildly popular Butch Gregory series (see The Little Girl Waits, How Great is the Darkness, and A Dream Within). Jamie has a few books in the works coming out later this year as well.

Stick with us for the next two weeks as we bring to you at least six short stories (one of which is from Yours Truly!) to help make your Easter Dreams come true. Or stop them. Whichever it is you’re looking for … We got you covered. 

Rejoice! Free Fiction is Upon Us Yet Again! Rejoice! 

The Ballad of Adam and Grace – A Free Valentine’s Story from Rob Cely

Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone! And thanks to those who have made it throgh our Valentine’s Free Fiction Explode-A-Ganza. The final story in this series comes from Rob Cely, and it defies any explanation or series of stupid words on the part of Yours Truly, other than to say: Go read it. Go read it now.

If you fell in love with this one, why not give some of the other authors a chance as well. Check out the sites for ALL of the Fondue Writers: Joseph CourtemancheJamie D. GreeningKathy KexelDerek Alan ElkinsRob Cely, and Dr. Paul Bennet. If you like what you see, why not pick up a few copies of their books? It covers the cost of everything, and it gives us hope in those long, dark nights when we’re dreaming up new stories, that Christmas miracles really do come true.

You might also consider our first collection of short stories, The Covid Quarantine Catina, written during the first months of the Covid-19 lockdowns. It’s available in Kindle, Paperback, and Audio formats.

The Fondue Writer’s Club (and Bar & Grille and Laundromat) will be back at Easter to wow you with yet another Holiday-focused Free Fiction Explode-A-Ganza. Until then, keep your chin up, smile at old people at babies, and above all else … don’t break anything. .

Something More Than This – A Free Valentine’s Day Story in One Act

You’ve read the rest of the Fondue Writer’s Free Fiction Valentine’s Day stories. Now, it’s time to suffer through mine! Hold onto your goetta, folks. This one’s a doozie.

*** *** *** *** *** *** *** ***

SETTING: A small restaurant. The dinner patrons have just finished eating their meal and have settled into conversation. The waitress drops off the last of the drinks as Kevin, who is just hitting his stride, launches into another story to the enjoyment of his friends.

KEVIN: So I went out with Beth the other night.

ADAM: Was that the girl you met at Mike and Melissa’s Christmas party?

KEVIN: No. That was Chrissie. This was Beth, the blind date my cousin set me up on.

JOSH: Whatever happened to Jaime? Did you guys break up or something?

KEVIN: Not really. It just didn’t work out.

MIKE: What happened?

KEVIN: She had a mole and that wrecked it for me.

ADAM: A mole?

MIKE: (sarcastically) Oh no, Kevin … Not a mole!

ADAM: Moley Moley Moley Moley …

JOSH: Come on, now, Kevin, you have to look past these kinds of things. It’s the twenty first century. Society is evolving. Be a bigger man.

ADAM: Right, and besides, those women are all the rage in Borneo and Sri Lanka these days. Were you to move there with the lovely, mole-faced Jamie as your wife, you’d be a king!

MIKE: I once dated a woman who had Fred Flintstone feet and I learned to put up with it.

KEVIN: Fred Flintstone feet?

MIKE: Yeah. She had only four toes. All of them were normal at the base but spread out into a thin, flat circle around the toenail. They looked like little hammerhead sharks. And her feet looked more like flippers than normal feet.

JOSH & KEVIN: Wicked.

MIKE: She had some trouble walking straight, but get that woman into a pool and there was no stopping her.

JOSH: That’s nothing. My ex girlfriend had a moustache.


JOSH: Yessir. Big and bushy as could be. She tried to shave it off in the morning, but the five o’clock shadow was there by noon. If she let it go for a couple of days, she looked like Tom Selleck.

KEVIN: Really?

JOSH: Yeah. Well … Tom Selleck with breasts.

ADAM: You had it easy. My ex fiancé had Tourette’s syndrome.

MIKE: What’s that?

JOSH: That’s where you inadvertently scream obscenities in public for no good reason.

KEVIN: Doesn’t your mother have that, Josh?

JOSH: No. She’s just mean. She’s always yelling at my brother and me, and I’ve never understood it. It’s not like we accidentally set the neighbor’s garage on fire when we were kids. We knew what we were doing.

KEVIN: That sure was a beautiful flame.

JOSH: Yessir.

MIKE: You could see it for miles around.

ADAM: Well my ex fiancé’s Tourette’s was real. Imagine my embarrassment when I bent down on one knee to propose marriage and, in her excitement, she let out a string of obscenities just as a a bunch of kids walked past.

MIKE: Did she say yes?

ADAM: Of course! And the restaurant manager was so impressed with my demeanor, he took my picture and put it on the wall.

KEVIN: So how come you never got married?

ADAM: We had political disagreements.

JOSH: Was she one of those brainless libs?


MIKE: A right wing nut job?


KEVIN: What was it then?

ADAM: I caught her sleeping with the mayor.

MIKE: That’ll do it every time.

ADAM: How was your date with Beth, Kevin? Was it a smashing success as usual?

KEVIN: Mostly. It started out great, but I ran into some problems about halfway through.

ADAM: What happened?

KEVIN: I had it all planned out. I picked her up in the Beamer, greeted her with a massive bouquet, and I made sure there was a bottle of wine waiting for us at the restaurant.

MIKE: Classy.

JOSH: You bought her flowers? She must be hot. I never buy flowers on the first date.

ADAM: And it’s a wonder you’re still single.

JOSH: You’re already paying for dinner. Flowers on top of that is a lot of money for someone you might never see again.

ADAM: Dude, you’re hopeless.

KEVIN: We ordered dinner and did the chick talk-y thing. (pasue) The problem was I had bad gas building up for over an hour, and of course I couldn’t just beef right there at the dinner table.

ADAM: (looking at Josh, as though explaining something to a child) That’s because it’s not considered good date etiquette, Josh. Make sure to write that down.

JOSH: Shut up.

ADAM: Assuming, of course, you succeed in bribing somebody to go out with you again.

JOSH: Shut up!

KEVIN: Or if the Russian brides website takes you off their permanent ban list.

JOSH: Hey that was a misunderstanding. Customs laws are more complicated than you think.


KEVIN: When she excused herself to powder her nose, I took advantage of the opportunity and let one fly

ADAM: Of course!

KEVIN: But, I gambled and lost.

MIKE: You what?

KEVIN: Like I said, it was a lot of gas. One of those farts where you can’t tell if it’s going to be an actual bathroom incident or just hot air.

ADAM: And?

KEVIN: It wasn’t just air. (they laugh)

JOSH: So what did you do?

KEVIN: The only thing I could do. I ran to the bathroom, finished up, tossed my underpants in the trash, and made it back to the table before she did.

ADAM: You threw out your underwear in the middle of a restaurant!

KEVIN: Yep. Went commando the rest of the night.

JOSH: And she never suspected it?

KEVIN: No. I had a fresh glass of wine waiting for her when she returned.

JOSH: So the date was a success, then?

KEVIN: More or less. We had a good time, but I don’t think we’ll go out again. She’s a redhead and you know how I feel about redheads.

(The remaining men groan)

MIKE: You’ve gotta get past this redhead thing, man. Just because one or two of them were crazy …

JOSH:  … Or three …

ADAM:  … Or four …

MIKE: It doesn’t mean they’re all bad.

JOSH: Right. You don’t want to be prejudiced against redheads, now.

KEVIN: I’m not prejudiced, but I do do percentages and averages. Of the 5 redheads I’ve dated, 4 of them were nuts. I’m talking full tilt bozo, if you know what I mean.

ADAM: What about the other one?

KEVIN: She became a nun. 

(they all laugh)

JOSH: Hey, speaking of crazy people, did you guys hear about the kid that got lost at the Taste of Orlando festival last week?

ADAM: What about him? Kids get lost at those things all the time.

MIKE: Some get lost for good.

KEVIN: Yeah, that’s that survival of the fittest thing, right?

MIKE: No. I don’t think that applies to humans.

ADAM: Yeah. I think you have to be a fish or a duck or something like that.

MIKE: My cousin looks like a duck. Does that count?

ADAM: I don’t know. Maybe.

KEVIN: Well if anybody was ever naturally selected for extinction, it was my cousin Joey. He went on an all-beer diet to try to lose weight.

JOSH: Sounds interesting.

MIKE: Tell me more.

ADAM: I like the cut of his jib!

KEVIN: I told him he was nuts, but he disagreed. “Beer is nutritious,” he said. “You see bums drinking it all the time. It’s like Ensure™ for homeless people.” (pause)  So he spent a month consuming nothing but beer.

JOSH: What happened?

KEVIN: He died of cirrhosis.

ADAM: Oh, Kevin. I’m sorry.

KEVIN: That’s ok. I never liked him anyway.

MIKE: Why not?

KEVIN He was really into golf and that just got on my nerves.

JOSH: That’s strange.

KEVIN: The week before he died, he attacked me with a five iron.

ADAM: That’s understandable. He was probably hammered out of his mind.

KEVIN: It was my five iron.


KEVIN: I haven’t been able to hit a decent chip shot since.

JOSH: So this kid shoes up at the police tent at the Taste of Orlando saying he can’t find his mom, right? The cops figure someone will show up in a few minutes, all scared and apologetic like most parents would.

MIKE: My mom thought she lost me at a department store when I was a kid. She lost her mind.

ADAM: Yeah, but you’re mom’s always been crazy.

MIKE: She wanted to kill me when she found out I’d been hiding in the women’s changing room but, when she saw the four hundred pound woman who’d been trying on bras walk out of the room I’d been hiding in, she figured that was punishment enough.

KEVIN & ADAM: (shudder visibly)

JOSH: So this kid sits in the cop tent all day long and his parents never show up. The cops had to take him back to the station and he stayed there for eight days before they found out who he was.

MIKE: That reminds me of the movie “Joe Dirt.”

ADAM: At least he ate well for a couple of days, though.

KEVIN: His parents probably got confused and went to the “Taste of Crack” festival a few blocks over.

JOSH: It’s amazing. You have to get a license to fish, but you can have as many kids as you like no matter how dumb you are.

MIKE: Yeah, but if you catch a bad fish, you can always throw it back.


MIKE: What? All I’m saying there’s a difference between fishing and raising kids.

KEVIN: It’s like apples and oranges.

JOSH: Or cheese wheels and roller coasters.

MIKE: Exactly.

ADAM: What happened to the kid? Did he go back to his parents?

JOSH: I don’t know. The story went on to page ten and I didn’t feel like flipping that far into the paper. Besides, all I really wanted to do was see the line on the Super Bowl.

MIKE: That reminds me. Are you guys up for watching the hockey game this weekend at my place?

JOSH: Sure.

KEVIN: Nah. If I wanted to see toothless men beat each other senseless with sticks, I’d go to my family reunion.

ADAM: I can’t.

MIKE: Why not?

ADAM: I have to do community service this weekend.

KEVIN: Did your neighbors catch you peeing in their flowerbed again?

MIKE: How many times have we told you to stop that?

ADAM: That’s not it.

JOSH: Right. His neighbors will never catch him. He’s too stealthy.

MIKE: Er something.

ADAM: I got arrested for shoplifting.

KEVIN: You what?

ADAM: Yep. They took me downtown. Booked me and everything.

MIKE: What did you do, Adam?  (spoken like the line “What did you do, Ray?” in Ghostbusters)

ADAM: Well I was out at the mall last Saturday, looking for a new pair of sandals. My old pair is starting to pull apart at the seams and the strap cuts into my foot.

KEVIN: Oooh. I hate it when that happens. I once cut my foot on my sandals when I was at Cedar Point. By the time I got home I was limping like Quasimodo.

JOSH: I thought he had a hunchback, not a limp.

KEVIN: He had both. I think the two are connected.


ADAM: I was standing in Abercrombie and Fitch, when I noticed this smoking hot chick standing a few rows over. I’m talking long, brown hair and a gorgeous figure.

MIKE: Now this is getting interesting.

KEVIN: Tell me more.

JOSH: I like the cut of his jib!

ADAM: She has a t-shirt in her hand and she looks around real fast, like she’s checking to make sure nobody’s watching. Then she starts rolling up the t-shirt.

KEVIN: Uh oh.

ADAM: She looks around again to see who’s watching, and then stuffs the t-shirt in her purse.

KEVIN: (shaking his head) That’s what they get for charging $150 for an “all cotton tee.”

ADAM: Right then, I’m thinking maybe this was just a strange way women like to shop. Like it keeps their hands free or something. But I changed my mind when she walked out of the store.

JOSH: So how does this get you arrested?

MIKE: Yeah?

ADAM: Well I figured this was my chance, so I ran out after her and grabbed her elbow. “Undercover security, m’am,” I said. “Step this way, please?”

MIKE: Oh, that’s genius.

ADAM: She’s freaking out. She hands me the shirt from her purse and starts walking back to the store, thinking I’m going to call the cops on her. But I say, “Wait a minute. We don’t have to go through all of that. I’ll let you off with if you promise never to do it again. And if you go to dinner with me.”

JOSH: Beautiful.

KEVIN: Well played, sir!

ADAM: She handed me her driver’s license and I was halfway through copying her address and phone number when I felt a hand on my arm and heard a voice say, “Undercover security, sir. Could you step this way, please?”

MIKE: D’oh!

ADAM: I looked behind me and saw three security guards standing there. I looked back to the girl, but she bolted. She left me standing there with the shirt she’d stolen. They called the cops, I got nailed for shoplifting, and now I have to do 100 hours of community service.

KEVIN: That sucks, dude.

ADAM: It’s not all bad. I did get her number, remember.

JOSH: You didn’t call her, did you?

ADAM: I sure did. We’re going out next weekend. She’s picking me up after my morning of court-ordered, roadside trash collection.

KEVIN: That sounds … romantic?

ADAM: I think so.

JOSH: So, Mike, what’s this big news you want to tell us?

KEVIN: Yeah, what’s going on?

ADAM: Right. We’ve been waiting all night for you to tell us. Speak up!

MIKE: Well. You know how Melissa and I have been dating for almost a year now? You know how I’ve been saying we were meant to be together and all that, right?

ADAM: Is this what I think it is?

JOSH: Mike and Melissa finally broke up.


JOSH: Welcome back to the fold, my brother. Don’t worry. The pain will go away after the first couple of months.

KEVIN: Right. Take it from him. He’s a pro. He’s wrecked hundreds of relationships.

MIKE: No. We didn’t break up. We’re getting married.

(a long moment of shocked silence)

ADAM: Really?

MIKE: Yes.

KEVIN: Like … married married?

MIKE: Uh-huh.

JOSH: What? Did you lose a bet or something?


ADAM: When did this happen?

MIKE: Last night. We went out to dinner, and then we went for a walk next to the lake. I proposed and she said yes.

ADAM: This is gonna change everything.

KEVIN: Don’t you wanna hang out with us anymore?

MIKE: Yeah, I like hanging out with you guys. It’s great to sit here and tell stories over a few drinks, but there has to be a bit more to life than just that. Haven’t you guys ever thought there was something more than this?


ADAM: No way.

KEVIN: I know what you mean. It’s like when you’re playing Super Mario Brothers. You get all the way to the end and then King Koopa shoots you with a fireball. You die again and again, but then one day you beat the game. Then you sit back and you say, “What am I gonna do now?”

JOSH: Oh. Hey, yeah. I get it.

ADAM: That’s why they made Super Mario two.

KEVIN: And part three.

ADAM: And Mario Cart!

JOSH: Oooh. I love that game.

KEVIN: Me too. I like the part where…

MIKE: No. Getting married is not like beating a video game.

ADAM: (very surprised) It isn’t?

MIKE: No. It’s like…like meeting an old friend for the first time. Or finding an answer to a question that’s haunted you. It’s not something you can describe, really. That’s what Melissa is to me. Indescribable. She’s that something I’ve been looking for. I love her. I want to spend the rest of my life with her. So we’re getting married.

(more silence)

ADAM: Really?

MIKE: Yes … really. Why is it so hard to believe?

JOSH: I don’t know. It’s a shock, I guess.

ADAM: But … it’s not a bad thing.

JOSH: Yeah. It’s kinda cool.

ADAM: One of the crew, finally tying the knot.

KEVIN: I guess that means there’s hope for the rest of us.

MIKE: Well, maybe not.

KEVIN: Why do you say that?

MIKE: You’re the one who dated a girl with a Tom Selleck moustache, right.


ADAM: Yeah? What’s wrong with that?

(they all look at him with genuine looks of confusion)

MIKE: Nevermind.


JOSH: Hey. You know what this means, right?

ADAM: Oh yeah, baby!

ALL (minus Mike): Bachelor party!

ADAM: This one time I was at a bachelor party where the best man took the groom and all of his friends to a bar for some midget tossing. It was awesome!

MIKE: I don’t think that’s a good idea.

JOSH: Whatever, dude. Midget tossing is a classy sport in all those Eastern European countries. They had a special on ESPN 8, and The Ocho never lies.

KEVIN: Didn’t you start your own backyard wrestling league because The Ocho said it was “all the rage? “

ADAM: That’s how you got that concussion, right?

JOSH: Alright. So they lied to me once. They won’t do it again. I trust them.

MIKE: I’m the one getting married, and I don’t think midget tossing is …

KEVIN: We’re the ones planning the party. If we say its midget tossing, then midget tossing it is.

ADAM: We could film it and made our own DVD.

JOSH: Yeah! We could call it “Mike and the Midgets” or maybe just “Mike and Midge” for short. We’d want to save money on printing, so the less words the better.

KEVIN: This is gonna be sweet. I can’t wait!

(Mike lowers his head, shaking it slowly, while everyone else cheers with excitement)

**** **** **** ****

If you fell in love with this one, why not give some of the other authors a chance as well. Check out the sites for ALL of the Fondue Writers: Joseph CourtemancheJamie D. GreeningKathy KexelDerek Alan ElkinsRob Cely, and Dr. Paul Bennet. If you like what you see, why not pick up a few copies of their books? It covers the cost of everything, and it gives us hope in those long, dark nights when we’re dreaming up new stories, that Christmas miracles really do come true.

You might also consider our first collection of short stories, The Covid Quarantine Catina, written during the first months of the Covid-19 lockdowns. It’s available in Kindle, Paperback, and Audio formats.

Rob Cely will be back to close out our Valentine’s Day Explode-A-Ganza on Monday. Until then, remember that what happens in Vegas Stays in Vegas, Cats always land on their feet, and babies cry less when they sleep on their stomachs … so long as you don’t break anything. .

There’s Always A Carpenter – A Free Valentine’s Story by Paul J Bennett

Day three of the Valientine’s Day Free Fiction Explode-A-Ganza brings us a wonderful, modern-day retelling of an old story by Dr. Paul J Bennett. And it’s set in a coffee shop, too! Check out “There’s Always A Carpenter

If you fell in love with this one, why not give some of the other authors a chance as well. Check out the sites for ALL of the Fondue Writers: Joseph CourtemancheJamie D. GreeningKathy KexelDerek Alan ElkinsRob Cely, and Dr. Paul Bennet. If you like what you see, why not pick up a few copies of their books? It covers the cost of everything, and it gives us hope in those long, dark nights when we’re dreaming up new stories, that Christmas miracles really do come true.

You might also consider our first collection of short stories, The Covid Quarantine Catina, written during the first months of the Covid-19 lockdowns. It’s available in Kindle, Paperback, and Audio formats.

Derek Alan Elkins will be back tomorrow with another story in our Valentine’s Day Explode-A-Ganza on Monday. Until then, remember that what happens in Vegas Stays in Vegas, Cats always land on their feet, and babies cry less when they sleep on their stomachs … so long as you don’t break anything. .