Daily Grind By Jeff   New Orleans gets all the attention. I'm not bitter about it, it's a heck of a town. The food, the sights, the entertainment - it's all top notch. By no means is this meant to be slanderous to the other notches. I don't hang my hat in the Big Easy. No, my friend, you head West out of Nola and you'll find my stomping grounds. If you hit Lafayette, you've gone too far. That's right, that's right - you're looking at a citizen of the one and only Baton Bordeaux. It's just like every other town in some aspects, in others…well, let me tell you a quick story. I'd just finished a successful job on Wednesday and treated myself to the best dang plate of jambalaya in town. I'd tell you where, but I'd have to kill you. Just kidding. Probably. Anyway, I was content with a belly full of good hot food and a wallet with some extra bills. I don't have a 9-to-5 type of gig, so I tend to take the opportunities that come my way. Sometimes that means a pantry stocked to the brim with the finest artisanal red beans and rice. Other times it means you have to buy the cheap red beans and rice, no andouille, no nothin'. Such is the glamorous life of a messenger. There was a note under my door when I woke up the next morning. It was going to be a good day. If somebody was angry with me, they wouldn't have left a note. If somebody was angry with me, I probably wouldn't have woken up this morning. So, hey, like I said - a good day. I open the note and read it, and I can feel the blood run out of my face. Still a good day, y'all, just…complicated. Some people have a desk and a boss that sends them emails instead of sliding notes under doors. Some people have meetings in a conference room instead of a clandestine rendezvous at a notoriously fragrant location. I'm happy for ya, I am. But that doesn't pay the bills for me. Maybe it did once, but that's a story for another time. Right now it's time to get on my coat and hit the street. They gave me the time and place, but the method is up to me. No matter how things shake out, there's going to be an…unfortunate workplace accident taking place. The trick is making sure that the right person is the only person to be involved. It's all part of effective communication - making sure the message is clearly sent to the right recipient. If my employers had wanted to send a strongly worded email, they'd do just that. Certain grievances are expressed in certain ways. In this particular instance, a representative of one party had what I'll call an unjustified physical response to a standard business practice. I was tasked with delivering a message to express the other party's dissatisfaction and...

Normal Normal By Sam W Tennyson   The machine was very complex, and even more important.  Its functions had to be monitored by numerous people in order to assure that everything was normal.  As long as everything was normal, all of the important work was being done, and there were no emergencies.  The machine was always supposed to be normal.  The work was always supposed to get done.  And as far as anyone could remember, the work always got done.  And everything was always normal. Everyone had their instructions, and all of those instructions were supplemented with manuals.  The manuals were very detailed about what was normal, and they would always tell you what to do.  When you had a question, all you had to do was check the manual.  The answer was always simple.  There had been extensive training.  There were redundancies in place.  Everything was interconnected, and all in very normal ways.  The system always worked—and that was the most important thing. For example: on one particular day, at one specific time, it was two hours into Ten’s shift.  They were sitting in their chair and watching the monitors.  Everything was operating normally.  It was their duty to watch these monitors and make sure everything was normal for eight consecutive hours, five days a week.  As long as everything was normal, there would be nothing to worry about.  Ten liked when there was nothing to worry about.  Ten was normally good at their job.  And then everything started to change. The machine made a sound it had never made before—at least never that Ten could remember.  It was a whistle.  It seemed to come from everywhere at once.  Ten pulled the manual out from the drawer, because there was no reason to panic.  The training had not mentioned the machine making a sound like a whistle that seemed to come from everywhere at once, but the manual would say what to do in that specific situation.  The manual would always tell you what to do, and the answer would always be simple.  The system would always work.  Ten knew this, because it had been explicitly stated in the training.  Ten had taken notes. While Ten was looking through the index in search of whistles, they wasn’t looking at the monitors they was supposed to watch.  This was not normal—normally, they did their job.  They were good at their job.  They didn’t see the lights change from green to amber.  They’d never seen that before, either, but they didn’t yet know to search the manual for amber lights.  Searching the manual for two things they’d never seen before would probably be overwhelming.  The whistle sound came out of the machine again.  Ten was starting to get nervous, and they didn’t even realize that there was enough going on to overwhelm him. After a few tense seconds, they found an entry for whistles in the index.  There were several references.  they would have to start at the beginning of the list and work his way through.  There was no reason to panic.  The machine had never had any serious problems.  It was absurd to suggest that it would have one now.  All of the important work would continue to get done.  They flipped to page four hundred...

The Intruder As I walked away from the funeral, I realized what I wanted.  My head was burning with words, all the sounds, and I was finished with them.  I’d never wanted anything more than silence.  Everywhere it should have been, I found empty apologies, stifled sobs, and awkward condolences of people who knew—they just knew—that they had to say something.  Only they had no idea what.  Their faces kept talking long after their voices stopped, and the words weighed as much as an overturned car.  I needed to find where the silence was hiding. So I went to my place. A few months before the accident—when everything was easier—I managed to get six hundred acres of old-growth forest, a good-sized stream, and a beautiful pond, all for dirt cheap at a tax auction.  Everyone told me it was a hall of a deal.  I was bidding against a guy who’d taken a shot at every lot that day—he always lost interest after two or three times around—and everyone else was wary of the place.  I couldn’t believe my luck.  My very own paradise, and the perfect place to disappear.  No one would even be able to find it.  The access road was practically invisible. If I went up there ready to disappear into the woods and simply cease to be, maybe everyone would forget the something they needed to say.  Maybe I’d forget there was a reason to say anything at all.  Way back into the woods, long after the end of the dirt road, there was an old, sprawling house—a mansion, really—a large portion of which had fallen in on itself.  The addition, one that looke like someone had built it a century after the original house, was the only part that had remained relatively intact, though it, too, was on the way down.  The whole thing was roped off; layer upon layer of yellow tape crying “CAUTION” and “ASBESTOS” lay on the ground.  Maybe someone thought that if they just used enough tape, the house would cease to be.  I picked up a length of warning and stuffed it in my pocket.  I wasn’t afraid of the mansion the was everyone else at the auction was.  If the ruin kept them away it could keep the rest of the world away.  It was my salvation. I didn’t bring any food—couldn't remember the last time I’d had an appetite—just a bottle of wine, a bag of coffee, and enough supplies to brew it over a fire.  I hiked further into the woods, away from the house, until I found a circle of rocks near the bank of the stream.  I’d wanted to camp there since I first found it, but I’d never had the chance.  I took the wine bottle out, smashed the neck off on a rock, and dumped it into the stream, watching the wispy trails of red float away.  Goodbye.  No more wine, not ever.  Not that it took any of the blame off.  Grasping the body just beneath the...