Polk It Up

President Polk entered the tavern and made his way around the full tables and knifed through the bustling crowd at the bar to order an ale from the harried bartender. Nobody showed a sign of recognizing the president of their country being among them. They were busy drinking, eating, and making boisterously merry with their fellow countrymen.

Once served, Polk took a large gulp of the brew, appreciated the taste, and then raised the tankard high and bellowed, “Polk it up!”

Silence clapped the room.

Chair legs scrapped the floor as a customer slid so as to easier see the speaker. Silence swallowed the sound and digested for another long second.

“Eh?” asked an extravagantly bearded man standing next to the president. “Polk it up? What’s that supposed to mean?”

“It’s a catchphrase, my good man!” the president belted. “It means be bold, be daring, be adventurous!”

“Do you mean Polk as in President Polk?” another man asked.

“The very one!” the president said. “Recently inaugurated and ready to get things done!”

“Don’t know anything about him,” another man said. “Is he really bold and daring?”

“Remains to be seen,” someone said. “I’m just glad Tyler’s out of there.”

“We all are!” the president said. “I’m simply spreading this soon-to-be-very-popular catchphrase!”

“I miss Van Buren’s sideburns,” the extravagantly bearded man said.

“I voted for Clay,” another man said.

“Clay’s done,” the president growled and raised his tankard again and again bellowed, “It’s time to Polk it up!”

Frowns deepened and curious expressions grew curiouser–until someone at a table started laughing, and then the laughter spread like frantic wildfire, racing ’round the tavern, with the place quickly rolling in mirth.

President Polk scowled at the lot, took a deep swig of ale, theatrically wiped his lips from the back of his hand to the end of his forearm, and stormed out of the place.

A dark cloud followed the president as he made his way back the the President’s Mansion, inside to his desk, where he scratched the tavern’s name off a list and peered at the remaining three taverns at the end of the list.

He nodded at the names and said, “It’ll catch on eventually,” then went to bed.

Pool Story

Photo of water ripples in a pool. The text on top of the water is also rippled, and the text is Pool Story by Dave Williams

One saying is “When life hands you lemons, make lemonade.” That’s kind of the gist of how this story and video were created.

My mom and I were on a trip when my minivan broke down on the highway. We were towed to a mechanic’s garage in a nearby town. We spent the night in a hotel and waited the next day for the minivan to be fixed. It was an opportunity to spend more time with my mom and chat about the old days, and I enjoyed listening to stories of when she was growing up.

During our wait, I filmed a four minute video of the hotel’s pool. I wasn’t sure what I’d do with the video, just that I thought the water’s ripples made for interesting visuals.

Later, I had the idea to write a story. Not about hotel guests splashing about the pool, but of the water in the pool, about what could be going on with it.

So I narrated the story and paired that with the video of the water, and here it is. If you’d rather watch the video on YouTube, click here.

Frederic Brown’s ‘Knock’ Story and Inspired Films

Photo of a door. Most of the door is in shadow, and there's a spot of illumination from sunlight coming through a window.
by Lillian Grace/Unsplash

“The last man on Earth sat alone in a room. There was a knock on the door…”

A two-sentence horror story by Frederic Brown. To me, it’s an example of brilliance in brevity. The first sentence creates an image in my mind, then the second introduces an unexpected sound, then the ellipses serves as a springboard for my imagination.

While the little story can sit on its own, Frederic Brown wrote beyond it for a fuller story. It was published in the magazine, Thrilling Wonder Stories (December 1948). The larger story dives into the science-fiction genre, with aliens coming to Earth. If you’re interested in reading a plot summary, that’s on Wikipedia.

I like that many directors have put together short films inspired by the two-sentence version of the story. Neat to see different approaches for the same, basic story. I watched a handful of films — there were more available! I can see how Brown’s story makes for a good idea for student-made films.

The films are on YouTube, just click on the producers’ names to see the films. 

  • Sergeii Studio. Bleak, foggy images of various exteriors before we pop inside the room.
  • Rafael Zambrano. Animated, in a painterly style. The shortest film of this group, at a little more than a half-minute.
  • Rocktor Productions. A teenager walks around a high school, trying to find the source of the knocking. With hardly varying action, this film still puts together a plot beyond the two sentences.
  • Erick XCX. Animal Crossing-style animation, with a storyteller relaying the story to a small group of people.
  • Korven production. A kid is alone at home, and since he calls his dad, he’s not the last person on Earth. The creepy level goes waaaaay up on this one.
  • Cutting Edge film. This one feels more “realistic” to me, since it has candles and flashlight instead of electricity that’s still running, so the last man can flick light switches and watch TV.

Send in the Piano Clown

“I don’t know if I should laugh or cry into my beer,” Leon said.

“Do both at the same time,” Samantha said.

“Feels like we’re stuck in limbo in this bar,” Leon said. “Like we need to do something to get to heaven.”

“That’s easy,” Sam replied. “Just walk out of here.”

Leon said, “But I’m riveted to this guy’s spoken-word poetry about his doomed relationship with Carol while he plays piano and sings ‘Send in the Clowns ‘and ‘Piano Man’ and tosses back cocktails.”

“It’s a weird mix, that’s for sure,” Samantha said. “Is this what people mean by ‘avant-garde’?”

Leon shrugged. “I think it means whatever you want it to mean.”

“That’s not helpful. Why is he dressed as a clown? Is it some kind of symbol for how he feels inside?”

“Maybe,” Leon said. “Or what if it’s a social commentary on being a performer? You know, like a trained monkey?”

Sam shook her head. “We’ll never know. Look at that. He passed out.”

“Poor bastard.”

“Him?” Sam said with a laugh. “We’re the poor bastards who had to listen to him. C’mon, let’s go. We’ve been granted freedom.”

As the couple walked toward the bar’s exit, they saw the other patrons were still watching the clown draped over the piano. Perhaps they wondered if the clown would sputter back to consciousness and continue to entertain them with his act. Or perhaps, after a rest, the clown would start the second act of his performance that was different than the first. Samantha and Leon would never know, as they left the bar and walked towards another bar across the street, their feet moving with the hope of a more “normal” situation in the other bar.


copyright © 2021 Dave Williams

Audio Story: ‘Away from the Orchard’

Introductory screen image for the video, with the title Away from the Orchard and a drawing of a smiling apple.

Now that we’re into autumn, it’s time for eating everything that’s been covered with pumpkin spice. (Isn’t that the same spice mixture for apple pies? Why not “apple pie spice” everything then? But I digress.)

Also it’s time for visiting your friendly neighborhood farm for enjoying a bumpy hay ride, choosing just the right pumpkin, trying not to get woefully lost in a corn maze, and apple picking.

That last activity occurs in the beginning of my short story “Away from the Orchard.” A boy is picking apples with his family and he drops an apple with the excuse that it’s too small.

The apple decides it would rather not stay on the ground in the orchard, so it moves along. A short, sweet story about that decision and the journey afterward.

If you’d rather listen to the audio on YouTube, click here.

Strange Occurrences at the Old House

After violet lightning struck the tree by our house, oddities started in our family. Levitating coffee cups. Sis would snap her fingers and random objects burst aflame. An entity named Virkiv sometimes spoke through me. Word spread through the nearby town, around the county, farther away from us. Then armed men broke down our door, dragged our family into vans, drove us to a laboratory.

The scientists who study my family tell us that our house is still being examined. As are we. The scientists claim a new house will be given to us after the examinations are finished. But they don’t say when that will be.

Certainly we miss the old house, all the familiar rooms and the memories that happened within them. As well as the land around the house, the field and slice of forest. Now our home is this lab, which has a sad, blank character.


copyright © 2021 Dave Williams

Learning a Little About the Students

An aardvark walking, with small bushes behind it.
by Louise Joubert/Wikimedia Commons

On the first day of school, the teacher asked the elementary school students to say one thing about themselves.

Starting in the front row, each student spoke. Some spoke energetically, some softly. Olivia Murrell’s favorite color: purple, Noah Hillman’s favorite food: pizza, Sofia Valdez’s favorite movie: The Wizard of Oz, Makayla Weber’s favorite food: cake, Dominic Rowley’s favorite color: red, Xavier Carrasco’s favorite baseball team: Los Angeles Dodgers, Ellie Ishida’s favorite holiday: Christmas, Anthony Arborghast’s favorite animal: zebra.

The teacher help up her hand and said, “Let’s take a little break there, please. I have a question. Anthony Aardvark Arborghast, could you tell the class why your parents picked your middle name? I’m very curious.”

Anthony Aardvark Arborghast was a shy boy and his voice was low, but he managed the explanation. “My mom and dad wanted my middle name to be an animal. But they couldn’t agree on which animal. My mom’s favorite animal is the aardvark, and my dad’s favorite is the albatross. They had a contest for who could pick my middle name. They played one round of miniature golf and one round of gin rummy. They worked on the crossword puzzle in a Wednesday edition of the New York Times to see who could get the most answers. They jumped to see who could jump the farthest. They wrote essays about the possible dangers of technology. Three of their friends served as judges to pick the winner of that one. They took a test of real-world math, which included household finances, sales tax, and statistics in news stories. And finally, they made funny faces and funny voices to a friend to see who could make the friend laugh louder. They agreed on a complicated scoring system for all those contests to see who won the whole thing. My mom won.”

Silence in the classroom as the teacher and students took in all of what Anthony Aardvark Arborghast had said. The kids looked around at each other. The kids looked at Anthony Aardvark Arborghast.

The teacher said, “Well, Anthony, I think you have interesting parents.”

“Weird is more like it,” Anthony Aardvark Arborghast said.


copyright © 2021 Dave Williams

Rocky Road

Wine gave the illusion of courage, yet Alex’s heart thudded a rapid drumbeat, beads of sweat on his forehead and lower back from the heat of the imagined bonfire around which several dancers frolicked to the rhythm of that rapid drumbeat.

In reality, Alex maneuvered around the other patrons in the bar. He arrived at the lady’s side, then he murmured, “Hi.”

“Hi there,” she replied, louder than him.

“Rocky road.”

A frown on her lovely face, and she said, “Do you mean the ice cream flavor, or that you’ve gone down a difficult path?”

“The former. No, the ladder. No, I don’t mean a tool you can use to climb to second-floor bedroom windows. That’s creepy. I mean the latter. With t’s, not d’s. The second one.”

Thankfully, the lady’s frown eased away. “Do you mean your life in general has been rocky, or that recent events have been rocky?”

“Recent,” Alex said. “Very recent. The path to get to you. I’m not saying the bar’s floor is strewn with rocks. I’m speaking metaphorically.”

One of her eyebrows raised, a gesture that communicated some of the lady’s opinions and ideas. If only Alex could’ve translated the gesture, he would’ve understood her better. However, that was part of the mystery. Which was maddening and enticing at the same time.

She said, “Now that you’ve achieved your destination, do you expect a reward?”

“I already have it.”

“Oh? What’s that?”

“You’re talking to me.”

This time she let out a little laugh, and the sound was sweet to his ears. “And what an unusual conversation it is.”

Encouraged, Alex said, “Do you have a taste for rocky road ice cream right now? Or is it just me?”

“I’m not sure.”

“We could try to find an ice cream shop and see if you’re up for it,” he said. “Or we could put it to the side for later. Down the road.”

The same eyebrow raised, along with the corner of her mouth directly underneath it. “You’re original. How about we have a drink, then we’ll go from there.”


copyright © 2021 Dave Williams

3 Detectives

Mr. Poe
(Edgar Allan)

is deeply suspicious of Ms. Odom’s intentions, with that guarded look on her face and the occasional gleam in her eye that’s quickly covered up to return to dull disinterest, as if the dead fly on the windowsill has actually captured all of her attention.

Ms. Christie
(Agatha)

is on the case, questioning neighbors to find out whether they’ve seen anything suspicious happening around the Ballard house in the past few weeks (or so). Included in the questioning is the kindly older lady who lives across the street and who has seen many comings and goings at the Ballard household: morning rushes to get into their two cars and drive to day care and office jobs, evening arrivals and rushing to get inside and start dinner preparation, Saturday departures to soccer games and gymnastics classes, and Sunday playing at home, of throwing laughter from the backyard and riding a tricycle and bicycle (with training wheels) on the sidewalk out front.

Sir Doyle
(Arthur Conan)

is searching high and low for clues, trying to spot something that doesn’t quite fit in this suburban house occupied by two busy parents and two children, which results in a house holding a certain amount of clutter and by this, he wonders if the claimed crime has not really been committed, but instead the blue diamond necklace was simply misplaced: put down and then covered up by stuff, the flotsam and jetsam of a hectic life. But Mrs. Ballard has replied, “No, no. My living room and kitchen may be strewn with toys, but I always put my jewelry away in the same place. And my kids are too short to reach my jewelry box and try to play dress up or pirate.”

Mr. Poe
(Edgar Allan)

has noticed that her answers at the beginning of his interrogation were short and to the point, but as the questioning commenced past a half hour, her answers are growing, expanding, as if she is weaving a web that entangles threads of truth and lies–and he steels himself behind the curls of steam rising from his mug of chai tea, noting that Ms. Odom is on her second cup of coffee (with sugar), and he attempts to commit her answers to memory, so as to capture any inconsistencies that may escape her lips.

Ms. Christie
(Agatha)

sits across the kitchen table from the kindly older lady who lives across the street, with both of them wrapping their fingers around warm mugs of Earl Grey tea, and the kindly lady saying that, while weeding her garden, she has seen an old chocolate brown 4-door sedan (something that stands out a bit in this neighborhood chock full of minivans and SUVs) pull up to the house often, and a young lady would exit the car and approach the house, Mrs. Ballard opening the front door with an excited look and an enthusiastic “Come in, come in!” And, now that she thinks about it, an odd thing happened: the kindly lady saw that very same brown sedan a few weeks ago (or so) pull up one night while the Ballard’s silver minivan was gone and their house was dark (save for a light in their living room). The young lady exited the brown sedan, walked through the side gate toward the backyard, and then more lights were switched on in the house, particularly some on the second floor–where the bedrooms are. But the kindly lady didn’t think much of it, since the young lady in the brown sedan was so enthusiastically received before–therefore, she must be a good friend of the Ballards–and she was probably stopping by to check on the house while the family was away for the evening.

Sir Doyle
(Arthur Conan)

has found no sign of forced entry–no broken windows or broken locks–and if a burglar (or burglars) stole the necklace, then why didn’t they take all the other jewelry or the 40-inch, flat-screen TV or the iPad on the kitchen counter that was next to the stack of letters and catalogs? Perhaps the thief picked the lock, but the question still arose of why a skilled lockpicker would take the time to pick the lock of this suburban house among all the houses on this suburban street and only lift a blue diamond necklace and not more–even though Mrs. Ballard’s other jewelry probably pales in comparison by value to the missing piece. Sir Doyle notices something askew with a flower pot containing a light purple flowering chrysanthemum that sits on the patio’s two-foot high brick wall–but sitting such that one side of it is very slightly raised. By investigating the cause of this one-side-higher oddity, Sir Doyle discovers a key. This key, feeling electrically important to the case in his white-gloved hand, slips easily into the deadbolt lock on the back door and turns easily to the left, thus enabling the detective to turn the door knob (coated in fingerprinting dust) and open the door.

Mr. Poe
(Edgar Allan)

listens as Ms. Odom keeps going on and on, fueled by caffeine and adrenaline, in her energetic explanations of how she’d never do such a thing to her friend. But he’s grown weary of her repetition–passionate though it is and not riddled with the inconsistencies he had hoped for–and so he is thankful for the sudden arrival of music, of Mozart’s “Requiem Lacrimosa” softly rising from his smartphone previously sleeping on the cheap table that separates Mr. Poe from Ms. Odom, as if they were playing a card game (but no cards are visible). Mr. Poe holds the phone up to his ear, murmuring, “Yes?” then “Still here” then “I see” and “I see” then finally, “Well done.” The phone is returned to the table. Mr. Poe’s expression has not changed as he says, “Your fingerprints were found on the knob of the Ballard’s back door.” Ms. Odom protests, “Of course! I’ve been there tons of times, so I’m sure my fingerprints are all over the place!” Mr. Poe nods, “Naturally, they would be. But why would they be on the spare key that’s hidden under a flower pot in the backyard patio?” Ms. Odom is momentarily struck, then shifts to anger: “I’ve watched their house while they were away! When they, they were at her parent’s for a week, I watched the house! So, sure, I touched the key. That’s how I got in!” Mr. Poe leans forward, his voice lowering, “Were you watching the house a few weeks ago when the neighbor across the street saw your chocolate brown Toyota sedan pull up to the house and saw you slip into the backyard? The Ballards were away only for the evening, not for over night.” Again, Ms. Odom is struck, but this time she shifts into a bitter smirk instead of deep-frowned anger: “Look. Jessica doesn’t exactly live in a dream world, but she’s got it a lot better than me. Great husband, wonderful kids, lovely house. The necklace she got for her anniversary was too much. I mean, how can Greg afford a necklace like that? It’s just not right. And when Francisco asked me to the opera, I thought of the necklace right away. I’d never been to the opera before, so I wanted to make the right impression. And, I’ve go to say, that necklace looked damn good with my dress.”


copyright © 2021 Dave Williams

A Chilly Conversation

Photo of a circular thermostat on an orange wall.
by Moja Msanii/Unsplash

I went to my buddy Soka’s place, as he and I like playing card games and board games — seems like most other guys our age (twenties) prefer video games. I like them too, but it’s nice to get away from screens.

We were playing The Castles of Burgundy and munching on chips when Soka went to the bathroom. I was chilly, so I checked the thermostat on the wall.

When Soka came back to the kitchen table, I said, “It’s awfully cold in here.”

“That’s the way I like it,” Soka said.

“But it would be better for the environment if you put the thermostat a little higher. The air conditioning wouldn’t have to work as hard.”

Soka shrugged. “Eh. It wouldn’t make much of a difference.”

“But it would make some difference. You have it at 74 degrees, and putting it to 76 degrees wouldn’t be all that different to you. You probably wouldn’t feel the difference.”

“I guess it’s not that much,” Soka said.

“It’s really not. And if you can handle 76 degrees, surely you could handle 77 degrees. And if you can handle 77 degrees, surely you could handle 78 degrees. And if you can handle 78 degrees, surely you could handle 79 degrees. And if you can handle 79 degrees—”

Soka held up a hand as stop symbol. His eyes were aflame with anger. He said, “Get out of my apartment.”

Too bad, since Soka was losing the game.


copyright © 2021 Dave Williams