Drowning in Debt

“OK just stand still.“

“OK,“ 30 something dad stood still.

“Now, just let me strep this onto your back just like this. OK, now I’m going to fuse the front straps together so that it will be impossible to ever take this off. Good, now we are ready to move on to the next stage.“

“I’m not sure I like the way this sounds but you seem to know what you’re talking about. So I guess you know what’s best for me?“ 30 something dad asked.

“Of course I do.“

“And who are you again?“ 30 something dad asked.

“I am no one of consequence. Now, turn around so I can start loading up this backpack. The concept here is not necessarily to fill the entire backpack. It’s more about weight. What we are trying to do is make sure that you are weighed down enough so that you could not possibly swim.“ No one of consequence said.

“I am the kind of guy who goes all out. Fill it up. Why exactly do you want to make sure that I could not swim with this on?“

“Oh, that is the question, isn’t it?“ He drop something into the backpack. 30 something dad could feel the weight but wasn’t quite sure what it was. A textbook? A large rock? Possibly even a fat cat. “You’ve definitely got the right spirit. Let me see how much I can fit in here and I will try to make sure that everything has the maximum possible weight.“

“I am sure this is supposed to signify something but I guess that is what I am supposed to learn from this object lesson.“

“No, I just want to make sure that you are weighted down enough that you can’t swim.“ No one of consequence made sure to reiterate.

“You keep saying that. I’m not sure what that metaphor is supposed to mean,” 30 something dad said. He felt several more objects drop into the backpack.

“Well, some people are content to wade in slowly and get used to the water while filling up their backpack casually. It’s a much more subtle approach and they tend to slowly overwhelm themselves. You have already taken a different approach and since we know there is no way out with your approach, might as well go all in.“

“OK,“ thirtysomething dad agreed half heartedly. Several more objects dropped into the backpack until he could no longer move his feet off of the floor of the helicopter. They were hovering over a large body of water which made him wonder even more about the comments about not being able to swim. “So, when you say you don’t want me to be able to swim, you’re not talking about that big lake down there with the steam coming up off of it, are you?“

“Yes, of course I am. What else would I be talking about?” No one of consequence said as he shoved 30 something dad out of the helicopter and into the water. A wave of hot steam washed over his body before 30 something dad crashed into the scalding water. His body burned as he sank below the surface and landed just a few feet below. Even as shallow as it was, the backpack weighed too much for him to swim back to the surface which was apparently the whole point.

After a few minutes of flailing his arms and scrambling to get his feet underneath of him, 30 something dad stood up only to find that his face just barely cleared the surface of the water. Immediately after taking in his first breath of air, he let it back out as a scream for help. Through burnt eyes he saw several other men and women standing around at various levels of depth but no one seemed anxious to help or even respond quickly.

“Oh, hey there, buddy,“ a slightly larger gentleman called from off to the side.

“Help me. I can’t swim. I’ve got this backpack strapped on me and they filled it with something. I don’t know what it is but it’s too heavy. I can’t move.”

“How’s it going there bud? You must be new here. My name’s Bud. Is it ok if I call you Bud?”

“That might get confusing,” 30 Something dad commented. He could barely keep his mouth and nose above the water to breathe and talk. If Bud hadn’t sounded so calm about the situation, dad might have started to panic but even everyone else seemed content to stand in the scalding liquid.

“Oh, that don’t matter. This whole thing confuses the crap out of me anyway. So how long are you in for?“ Bud asked.

“How long? I need to get out of here now. I’m going to drown. I can’t last more than a few moments in here.”

“Whoah, wait a minute. You sound like a ten yearian. What are you kind of crazy? Go thirty. That’s what everybody else does. They say you might end up paying more in the end but I don’t do numbers.“

“What kind of work do you do?“ 30 something dad asked

“Accounting.“

“I can’t stand this. This water is too hot and I can barely keep my head above water. I don’t know if I can keep breathing. I’m standing on my tiptoes now. If there’s even a ripple in the water it’s gonna go down my trachea.“

“I don’t know anything about a “trachea“ or even what you mean by “tiptoes” but you’ll be fine. You’re in the same situation the last guy that stood there was in. He had a 30 year mortgage and student loan debt with credit card and some other type of debt that didn’t make any sense to me. You’ll be fine.“ Bud said.

“What happened to that guy?“ 30 something dad wasn’t sure he wanted to ask but he couldn’t help himself.

“Hmm, he was just there a few days ago. He’s probably down there at the bottom somewhere.“ Bud smiled.

“Hey Bud, catch,” someone from the edge of the water called out.

“What you got for me, Bud?“ Bud asked.

“It’s a Harley,” Bud from the shore call back. “Go long. This is a big one.“

Bud took a couple steps further out into the water and sunk down to his waist in water. He cringed a little as the hot water burned through his skin and boiled his blood. He caught a miniature motorcycle and immediately stuffed it into his backpack.

“Aren’t you going to ride it?“ 30 something dad asked.

“No time. I’ve got to work to pay it off.“

“Then why did you buy it?“

“It’s a Harley. What kind of question is that. Where is yours?“

“Hey Bud,“ another voice called out from behind. “I heard you got a Harley. Nice. Me too.“

30 something dad slowly turned so as not to let the water flush into his nose and mouth. He saw the other voice owner, another middle-aged man or at least his head. This one was standing further in the water with obviously more in his backpack. He didn’t seem bothered by the heat or the depth of the water either.

“You guys are deeper in the water and waited down even more. You don’t have time to play with your new toys since you have to work all the time to pay them off. It’s a vicious cycle that’s only going to get us in more and more hot water. We’ve got to get out. We can do this if we work together,” TSB said.

“I’m not gonna give you any money, Bud,“ Bud said. “I’m barely getting by as it is. This ain’t no hippie, liberal, socialist society lake, alright? We watch fox new down here.”

“Why do people keep saying that to me? I don’t mean give each other money. I don’t want some type of welfare system. That’s what’s wrong with this country.”

“Now, hold on just a minute, that’s my retirement plan.” Bud said.

“What I meant was we can help each other be accountable for spending habits. Share ideas on debt reduction and side hustles for more income.“

“Now, listen to you. accountability? Debt reduction and side hustles. You better watch your language. I’ve already worked too hard. I deserve nice things. If I can afford it, I should get it. It’s not like I’m renting an apartment or something. I’ve got a mortgage which means that I am paying some on the principal, therefore eventually I will be set for retirement. I will own my house. I can get a reverse mortgage and live off of the equity for at least a good five years and that should pay for my medical bills during retirement for at least a year.“ Bud said.

“Hey Bud,“ Bud from the shore called out. “I got another one for you.“

30 something dad couldn’t watch anymore. He tried to take a step. The weight in the backpack was too much and he couldn’t even lift his feet off the bottom of the pond. He knew he had to get rid of the weight before he swim, before he could get out of the hot water. If only he could flip over and dump everything out but things just don’t work that way. He couldn’t take the backpack off. The only option was to make a hole and try to get some of the weight out.

Luckily he hadn’t cut his fingernails for a while. 30 something dad started scratching at the bottom of the backpack. At first it didn’t do any good. After a while it still wasn’t doing any good and after quite a while it still wasn’t doing it good.“There’s got to be a better way,“ he told himself. Off to his left he saw Bud stepping further into the water and loading more items into his backpack. Off to the right the other Bud was doing the same. They were both about neck deep in the water now and talking about their next big purchase. 30 something dad kept scratching at the back pack.

His fingers grew raw and he knew for certain he didn’t have any finger nail left on any of his digits. Then something miraculous happened. Almost nothing came out of the backpack and fell into his hand. It was almost nothing but it was something. The backpack didn’t feel any lighter and 30 something dead still wasn’t able to move any further into shallower water but almost nothing had come out. It was almost encouraging. He kept scratching.

Almost nothing happened again and then it began almost happening at almost regular intervals. Finally after the opposite of before he knew it, almost nothing had grown into a very little something.

Nothing happened suddenly and 30 something dad was conscious of every little change now. After quite some time, he had his head fully above water. The backpack still weighed him down but he could breathe with a little more ease. Then Bud from the shore called to him.

“Looks like you’re ready for another one. Just something small. How about a laptop or an tablet.” Bud from the shore called out.

“No thanks,” 30 something dad answered.

“How about a MacBook or an iPad.”

“Oh, well, maybe.”

“Here you go, you can finance both for two years and …”

“Oh, no thanks. I have an old one in my backpack and I didn’t even finance that one. I think I’m good.”

“Well you need a new phone,” bud called out.

“No, I’m good.”

“How about a new iPhone?”

“Oh, well, maybe.”

“Alright. Now your talking. And you can still keep your head above water, sort of.”

“But I was starting to make some progress. Maybe I should wait.”

“Why wait. Buy today and pay tomorrow. Don’t worry, if you get in over your head there’s still bankruptcy,” bud suggested.

“Watch your language. Besides, most of mine is student loan debt.”

“Oh, well your screwed anyway. Might as well go all in,” bud demanded.

“No thanks,” 30 something dad started scratching again.

“I can get you a loan on anything. 90 days no interest. Wanna finance a new t-shirt?“

“No thanks,“ 30 something dad felt a little more almost nothing come out of the backpack where he was scratching.

“Come on, Man,“ bud from the shore called out.

“Yeah, come on, man,“ bud from over to the left called out in agreement. “How’s the guy supposed to make a living if he can’t trick you into paying him a little extra money so you can have everything you want right now instead of saving up for it.“

“That’s right,” Bud from the shore shouted as he tossed another gazingus pin to Bud over to the left.

“I think you’ll be OK. I think, I will be OK. You, on the other hand, well, I wish I could help you. Maybe someday I can, just not with money.“ 30 something dad stood a little lighter now. It wasn’t much but it was just enough that he could move. He took a few steps to shallower water.

Everywhere around him everyone was catching more weight to stuff into their backpack and stepping deeper into the water. Their movement caused the water to flow in their direction and 30 Something dad walked against it. After a little while his shoulders were above water and the backpack was ever so slightly lighter. He still saw no end in sight but he could imagine it. He could think it. Maybe someday he could think and grow rich but right now all 30 something dad wanted to do was think and grow broke.

Through the sea of consumers he saw another moving in the same direction toward the shore. And then off to the other side another one. He nodded and acknowledgment to them. They all nodded back but never said a word. They still felt the encouragement of each other. They couldn’t change the flow but just their existence gave each other more encouragement to push on.

Just as he was about to end the chapter, 30 something dad saw someone from the shore who’d just emptied his backpack climbing onto a surfboard and filling his backpack back up again. Somethings different this time. He tight strings to the backpack and let it go. It flew up into the air and pulled him along as he kite surfed through the sea of debt.

“It’s called leverage,“ He called out to those walking against the flow.” It’s good debt, investment with other peoples money. Just forget about it for right now. You’ll learn about it in a few chapters.“

Thief

He could feel beads of sweat building up under the ski mask and tickling his upper lip. If he let himself, the irritation of a cold weather accessory in 90° heat could’ve drove him crazy. Tonight he needed the security of a poor disguise. Tonight he had focus

He slipped a small wallet sized object out of his back pocket. Nobody keeps a wallet in their back pocket anymore. That’s bad for your back. He opened it up and pulled out the small lock pick set. He didn’t have much experience but this would be quick. Just a simple deadbolt, right?

He slid one tool in and then the other. Turning them in the way the YouTube video had shown before it was taken down. Then he tried the lock but nothing seemed to move. He tried again still nothing. In desperation he took both wiry tools back out and slid them back in again. Still, no matter what he tried, the lock didn’t budge.

A silhouette appeared in the distance behind the double glass door. 30 something dad plastered himself back up against the wall in the shadows. The silhouette became a man as he neared the exit. Automatically the glass door slid open and a stranger steps through.

“This is the exit,“ the stranger smiled oblivious to 30 something dad‘s attempt to hide. “Doors only open from the inside. Entrance is right over there.“

The lack of grammatical articles irritated 30 something dad but he said nothing.

“You must be from out of town,“ the stranger said noticing the ski mask.

“Yeah,“ 30 something dad answered in a gruff Batman-ish voice.

“Thought so, they don’t even sell those in South Carolina,” the other man chuckled.

“Yeah,“ 30 something dad fake laughed as he replied extra gravelly. He slipped past the other man and entered in through the exit. The produce section was too open of an area and besides, he only needed to snatch a few things. 30 something dad sprinted across the open space, dropped to his hands and knees and rolled underneath the apple stand. He backed up to the bananas and it slipped into the organic aisle.

First he grabbed a handful of vegan protein bars and stuffed into his thief satchel. Then he thought again, these are expensive. He probably ought to make them himself. As he put them back on the shelf, he thought about writing a book about making stuff himself. And then he grab the flaxseed and slipped around to the next aisle.

He stayed on his toes and hunched over, just like all of the good burglar’s in children’s books. In a moment of self doubt he remembered that he forgot to wear a striped shirt. He reached up for the coconut oil and and froze when he heard a familiar voice.

“Hi 30 something dad,“ it was 50 something dad. Caught red handed. The gig was up. 30 something dad held on tight to the unrefined, cold pressed coconut oil and slowly turned around. He straightened up and got ready to make a run for it.

“Hi,“ he said in an extra super gravelly voice.

“Well, got a cold? Maybe the flu? It’s not, The Virus, is it? I better stay away from you. At least you got your mask on.“

“Yeah,” 30 something dad graveled.

“OK, don’t cough or sneeze on those kids of yours,“ 50 something dad walked quickly down the aisle. 30 something dad looked out to the left and then to the right. He secretly dropped his treasure into the satchel.

He peeked around the junk food end cap onto the next aisle where a young mother was arguing with a child in a shopping cart. The child won the argument as they usually do, and they moved on. 30 something dad slipped down the aisle grabbing one item off the left side and one on the right at the same time as he ran. He dropped it into the bag and realized he needed something else and sprinted back down the aisle.

He checked his list. He checked it twice. The deed was done but that was the easy part. He eyed the cash register and exit. How can he possibly make it. They were heavily guarded. Each register had undercover agents both behind the cash register and in front. The enemy surrounded him yet the exit stood wide open. Finally, he saw his chance. He made a run for it.

Register 2 had just opened up. 30 something dead crept up to the register and peeked over top the conveyor belt. He slowly stood and set his items out in front of the cashier. She checked his face quickly but somehow, didn’t seem to notice the ski mask still in place. 30 something dad couldn’t risk taking it off now. He had made it so far. Exposing himself this close to the exit would ruin everything.

The girl behind the counter didn’t seem to be in a hurry for anything. She got her pay hourly, after all. It didn’t matter how quickly or if efficiently she got her work done, she would still need to be here until the end of her shift. 30 something dad understood but couldn’t empathize. He needed her to hurry. She painstakingly checked each item for quality and then scanned it. She gently placing the items into a disposable bag before 30 something dad reminded her that he had a thief satchel/reusable grocery bag. The total came up and the moment of truth came.

30 something dad began to doubt himself. could he really go through with this? It went against everything he ever believed in but he knew he couldn’t back out now. He’d made a promise. So much was riding on him now. He took a deep breath and reached into his pocket. He pulled out a small card and handed it to the cashier.

She couldn’t have been more than 40 but defiantly older than 15, or was she? 30 something dad was always bad at guessing ages. She blew a bubble with her bubble Yum and dad knew she either had to be a teenager who didn’t know any better or someone who grew up in the 80s and just couldn’t beat the addiction. She looked at the card and swiped it. 30 something that held his breath. He felt his heart stop completely. Then everything went through.

“Did you get this card during our 30% off gift card sale?“ The young or old cashier said handing the card back to 30 something dad. He slipped it back into his wallet as he grabbed a hold of his reusable grocery bag. she still held onto the handle to.

“Yeah,“ he answered. sounding more like Batman than ever and ready to bolt.

“Almost feels like you’re stealing, doesn’t it?“ She asked. “You know you can buy gift cards online all the time at like 10-15% off and use them for all kinds of stuff that you would have bought anyway. It’s crazy. It’s like, I don’t know, criminal,” she said.

“Yeah,” 30 something dad said. The cashier released the bag and 30 something dad ran.

Rags rather than riches

He hunched over like an old man. Well, he guessed, he actually was an old man. Still only in his 30s but, he had kids. He shouldn’t be this hunched, he figured. It had to be the strain, the unbearable weight of his burden. He carried a 1 pound bag of rice. It took both hands.

He dragged his feet. Every step took an effort more than what he had left in him. He walked the long long road from the car to the front door. By the time he reached his destination he had no strength left to lift the key into the deadbolt. He didn’t even have the energy to think, “Why do we have a deadbolt on the grass hut?“ as he breathed out a sigh, his breath blew the front door opened and he fell inside.

The woman who peeled him off the floor couldn’t have weighed more than 60 pounds but that was OK. Thirtysomething Dad had reached a new low of 65 pounds. Thirtysomething mom started to carry him to the couch but he cried out in desperation, “No, save the rice. It cost too much to let a single grain go to waste.” he pleaded.

She shuffled over and reached for the bag. It was just too much to lift so she pushed it across the floor. She pulled and strained to try to open the bag but the plastic proved just enough to break her spirit. She collapsed on the floor. A couple hours later they all sat down to dinner.

Five something boy and three something daughter dragged themselves in and collapsed at the dining table. They sat for a while before they had the energy to say anything. Five something pile of bones looked down at his nearly empty plate and looked back up at his dad.

“Can I have two grains of rice today?“ He pleaded.

“No, we are on a budget. This bag is got to last us the rest of the year. We are so close to paying off our loans. This is what intense focus is like.” Thirtysomething bag of bones said. Just behind him the roof collapsed.

“Rats,” he said.

“What could’ve possibly caused our roof to collapse like that?“ Three something daughter asked with surprising energy.

“I just told you, rats. A rat probably walked across the roof. They are heavier than the grass stalks that I used to make the roof.“

“I think even grass roof huts are supposed to have some type of wooden structure to hold them up,“ Thirtysomething mom wheezed.

“I know, but we can’t afford that right now. We’ve got to stay focused everyone. This is our finest hour. We have the tools to make our dreams come true. Right now we have to settle for cheap crap and next to nothing so that we can achieve our goals as fast as possible.”

“But doesn’t it cost us more in the end if you have to keep fixing the grass roof? Couldn’t we just pay a little more the first time? I mean, isn’t your time worth more than we are saving by using cheap materials?” Five something bag of bones asked.

“You’re too young for that kind of rational thinking. Chew your grain of rice slowly and quit being insightful.“ Thirtysomethingdad wheezed.

“No, I won’t stand for this,“ fivesomething boy stood on his chair but then sat back down because it was just too much effort.. “I said I won’t stand for this. What good is paying off your student loans or reaching financial independence if we are miserable before we get there?“

Thirtysomethingdad stood slowly from his chair. He leaned on the table not for emphasis but for strength. He raised his hand and pointed the finger across the table at his five-year-old son. Then he lowered it again because he just didn’t have the strength.

“You’re outta line,” He didn’t like using words like that. It sounded degrading. He closed his eyes for just a little minute of sleep.

“No, you’re out of line,“ five something boy said leaning on the other side of the table. His elbows slipped out from under him and his face slid down an inch above his plate. “You’re acting like a child,” he mumbled.

Thirtysomething dad snarled and looked back at his son. “No, you’re acting like a child. You’re acting like a five year old.” He looked at his daughter. She was resting her head on the table. He looked at his wife. Her eyes were bulging out of her skull from malnutrition and she rested her head on the table. Behind them a wall came crashing down and then the other three grass walls came fluttering down. Thirtysomething dad stopped cutting his rice grain and opened his mouth to say something.

The words came slow and everyone sat up to attention before he even finished the first word, “Maybe we could spend just a little more on food and housing,” as soon as the words left his mouth the family began dancing around the collapsed house and cheering. In a matter of minutes, they had erected brick walls and cooked shrimp and cut sashimi.

“Wait, did we already have this?“ Thirtysomethingdad asked. “Because, you guys seem to get it out pretty quick.“

“No, I mean maybe most of it but definitely not all of it. We just bought this,” Thirtysomething mom had filled out nicely and handed her husband a piece of sashimi. It did taste good.

“I haven’t put it in the budget tracker just yet. I wasn’t sure if you were going to approve it but we all knew you were getting pretty close to your breaking point,“ she said.

“Yeah, I was pretty sure that myself.“

“I think the point is that we shouldn’t stop living while we are planning for someday. Sure, we don’t have to live like millionaires. We definitely shouldn’t live outside of our means. We still need to prioritize debt reduction and after that saving for that financial independence. But right now we’ve got to live our lives.

You can’t do something yourself just to save money when it ends up costing more than having someone else do it. You can’t skip on the food when your children are growing. You can’t spend all day at work making more money while your kids are young enough to want to be at home. Cut back on the areas that you can. Like stuff you don’t really need. Minimize your possessions. But if you are in a rush to pay off your loans and retire early financially independent because you hate your job, just find another job.” Three something daughter said as she put a piece of raw salmon in her mouth and enjoyed it thoroughly.

“I think your mom was supposed to say that,” Thirtysomethingdad said. Three something daughter just shrugged. “Wait, can three-year-olds eat sashimi?“

Bad Transformer

“Yes, of course I want to listen to the planet song again,“ Thirtysomething dad said as he skipped back to the song that had just played three times already. Five something son and three something daughter cheered from the back. Thirtysomething mom just smiled.

“Only 14 more hours of driving,“ Thirtysomething mom smiled.

“I wish I had a self driving car,“ Thirtysomething dad said again. Thirtysomething mom didn’t bother pointing out that he had already said that at least Thirty something times already on this trip.

“So, do you want to fly next time?“ Thirtysomething mom asked.

“I do but I just don’t think the kids are old enough for Jetpacks yet,” Thirtysomething dad said.

“I was talking about an airplane.“

“Oh, I mean, I know. Someday. Someday will be able to afford that.“They drove past The city which shall not be named. The skyline was mostly blocked by the enormous pile of trash in the waste disposal plant near the interstate. Though they had driven past it 100 times before, both thirtysomething dad and mom couldn’t help but watch the pile of junk again.

“That just really ruins the view of Nashville,” Thirtysomething mom commented.

“I thought we were going to mention the name of any cities or landmarks so as not to tarnish their reputation with this horrible landfill.“

“You said you weren’t going to. I didn’t say anything. And besides, I said trashville.”

“Did you just see something move over there?“ Thirtysomething dad jumped out of his seat and fell right back down because of the seatbelt.

“No,“ thirtysomething mom said straining her neck to see.

“There it is again.“ This time everyone could see. The entire trash pile moved. It lurched and shook and then sprang up. A massive robot of trash trucks and cars smashed together to form one giant transformer robot. It looked around scanning for something and then jumped out of the trash pile. 

While every other car on the highway slowed to a crawl, Thirtysomething dad wove his eleven something year old, not sporty sedan in and out of the traffic. If he’d learned one thing by now, in this story about him and his family, any bad guys would be after them. They hit a top speed of ninety something and the odometer rolled over into three hundred thousand miles. 

The earth shook as the robot smashed across the city and and onto the highway. He threw cars from either side to the other luckily they all had seatbelts and airbags. The robot never bothered to slow down, he jumped over the overpass and smashed through the roadside signs. 

“Can it be a girl bad guy?” two something daughter interrupted the narrative. 

“I thought she was three something daughter,” Thirtysomething mom asked.

Thirty something dad sighed and tried to return to his story.

She smashed the cars behind their family and then jumped over thirtysomethingdad’s car. She skidded to a stop and everyone looked up and the towering monster of a transformer above them. The kids in the back screamed and thirtysomething dad squeezed his thighs together to stop from spoiling himself. 

“It can be a boy bad guy now,” two something daughter decided. 

“I didn’t really care for the transformer movies,” Thirtysomething mom said. 

“They had some pretty good special effects,” Thirtysomething dad said. The transformer raised a Fiat, I mean fist, and brought it down onto the hood of their car. The vehicle went tumbling over and over through the air. 

“That is not a good special effect!” Thirty something dad shouted out the window. He opened the door as they came down close to the ground. Adrenaline pumping, he jumped out of the car and dropped to the asphalt just in time to catch the car using his own natural, adrenlaized strength. He set it gently back down and faced the destroyer. 

“You mess with my family, you mess with me,“ Thirtysomething dead shouted.

“Oh, sorry, I didn’t really mean to mess with your family. I was just messing with you,“ the transformer said. He brought up a fist to smash Thirtysomething dad but the small guy just held up his hand.

“Wait,“30 something dad said. He picked up the car now smashed beyond recognition and carried it gently over to the side of the road. Luckily everyone inside was OK. He set it down and ran back over to face the transformer monster. “OK, you want me, you got me. Just give me a couple minutes to put together some type a weapon or something.“

“Oh, of course,” transformer cross his legs at down in the middle of the street waiting for Thirtysomething dad. There were smashed cars everywhere (mostly from the huge trash pile off the highway) and a thirtysomething dad ran around all of them salvaging parts. A hood from one strapped to his back and fenders from another strapped to his arms. Luckily he had been preparing for this all his life. Thirtysomething dad had wanted to build a remote control car since he was young.

He slapped a couple of wheels onto his fists but decided they were too heavy and opted to go with the lightweight plastic hubcaps instead. After he fitted himself with rocket boots and laser fist, Thirtysomething dad beat his hand on his chest and called out to the transformer.

“Wait, don’t scream. We got a $500,000 settlement for a client who is T-bones by a drunk driver. Dial all twos now.“ a personal injury attourney called out from the side of the road. How did he get here so fast?

“No, I got this,” thirty something dad said. “This is my fight.”

“You know, I’ve seen a lot of fights and I fight hard for my clients. We got a 1.2 million jury verdict when a driver was hurt in an accident. Dial all 9s now,” another one appeared by the side of the road. Another and another appeared next to each other in line.

“Wait, how did you get a jury? A car accident is not a criminal case. Never mind, can’t you see I have something more important than watching daytime TV and listening to personal injury lawyer ads.“

“You forgot to build a weapon,“ the giant trash monster robot transformer grumbled at me. Sounded like he had something in his mouth. He picked up a small S10 missing a tailgate and took another bite out of the truck bed.

“I am a weapon,” Thirtysomething dad said defiantly. The bad transformer smiled and jumped to his feet.

“Let’s do this,“ he said spitting out the S10. Thirtysomething dad launched into an attack of rocket boots and flailing fender wings. Transfer blocked the first but then caught an uppercut that he didn’t see coming. On his way down, he was caught in the midsection by a flying rocket boot kick with Thirtysomething dad doing the splits.

“Wait, you can’t do the splits,” bad transformer said in the air.

“I’m working on a thirty day split challenge,” Thirtysomething dad said.

The bad transformer landed with a third and then rolled over backwards and jumped to his feet or wheels or whatever they were. He came back with a strike down on thirtysomething dad‘s head which was only covered by a mutilated rear bumper before it streamed down his back. He fell to the ground and rolled to his side, launching himself back up into the air. In that moment both Thirtysomething dad and the bad transformer realized the terrible predicament they were in. They were both equally matched.

They chased each other, throwing punches and blocking punches at every move. Into the next state and over insignificant landmarks. Thirtysomething dad grew tired. The transformer grew low on fossil fuels.

The fight went on for days. Bad transformer threw punches and Thirtysomething dead locked it. Dad threw a punch, bad transformer blocked it.

“I can go like this for days,” Thirtysomething dead shouted.

“I can go like this for millennia,“ Bad transformer said.

“So we are equally matched. You’ve got to run out of gas sometime.“

Bad transformer reached up his trash/junk finger and pushed something on the back of his neck. A large solar panel came at a nowhere end rested on top of his head. A battery indicator on his chest begin to light up and indicate he was charging. Not fair. Electric and solar.

“Oh yeah,“ 30 something dead reached into his pocket and pulled out a vegan protein bar. He took a slow and deliberate bite then folded the wrapper up and put it back in his pocket.“ Are you ready for round two or fifty-seven or whatever round it is?“

“This is the final round fool,” bad transformer assumed kicking stance. Somewhere off to the right a horn started honking and a woman’s voice shouting from the window. Bad transformer and Thirtyomething dad stopped to look at Thirtysomething mom driving up in a rented SUV. 

It wasn’t much, a cheap Hyundai but when it started transforming into a robot it kept adding cars. It picked up a couple of land rovers for feet and a Lexus for a fist. With Thirtysomething mom at the helm, Five something boy on one fist and Three something daughter at the other, they stepped up to face bad transformer. Good transformer turned and winked at Thitrysomething dad.

While bad transformer was distracted, Thirtysomething dad gave him a flying headbutt into the right shoulder. It threw him off balance and then Thirtysomething mom followed it up with a transformer kick to a bad transformer groin. The giant machine stumbled backwards and then Five something son and Three something daughter launched their rocket fists into bed transformers chest.

He fell back in slow motion. Once he collided with the asphalt it sent up a wave of vibration that caused the earth’s crust to ripple like a pond. Bad transformer tried to get back up but Thirtysomething dad dad landed on his chest, pushed him back down and handed him a traffic citation. 

“No!“ Bad transformer cried as he laid his head back down with a thud. His headlight eyeballs flickered and shut off and all sounds of life from the artificially sentient machine vanished. Thirtysomething dad felt only a small twinge of guilt as he stepped back down and walked back over to his family.

“So I guess that means we need to get a new car, huh?“ He said.

“That’s a pretty big expense,” Thirtysomething mom said as she climb down from the disassembled good transformer now a regular sized Hyundai SUV.

“Yeah, here’s the worst part. I’m not gonna drive a Hyundai.“

“Me neither. But we do need to buy something newer with a few more safety features,” Thirtysomething mom said.

“Right, like side airbags, backup camera and wheels that fall down into rocket boosters that make her fly.“

“That’s exactly what I was thinking.“

“Are you kids OK?” Thirtysomething dad called to Five something boy and Three something girl climbed out of the rocket fists.

“That was awesome,” they both said in unison.

“So I guess this is where that emergency fund comes in handy. We were so close to paying off the loans. This is going to set us back a long times. Now we are going to have to go into debt again.” Thirtysomething dad said.

“Don’t think of it that way. think of the safety of your family. We are going to have to drive everyday anyway. If something like this ever happens a again do you want to be safe? Do you want your family to be safe? It won’t do much good to be out of debt if we get smashed up because we bought cheap cars.”

“Too true,” Thirty something dad said as he wasn’t sure he could use True Dat given his age and gender. “I’d rather take a few more years to freedom if it means safety for my family and me. Hey, what if we both buy the same model of the same year cheapest Toyota? It’s better than a high end Kia or Hyundai.”

The joys of torture

The lights glared from all directions. They blinded. Thirtysomething dad, here for after known as TSD, couldn’t even keep his eyes open. He tried squinting. He tried raising his eyebrows so that his eyelids stretched but he couldn’t see through them.

“Как ваше самочувствие?” The enemy spoke in an enemy accent in the enemy language.

Hey, that’s borderline racist. You can’t label me as an enemy just because of my accent or language.“ The enemy said.

“I didn’t say that out loud.”

“Doesn’t matter,” said the enemy.

“we are technically the same race. Anyway, you have me in a torture chair,” TSD said.

“Yes, I do,” Enemy’s smile shone through in his voice. “And now I’m going to torture you.”

“Wait, don’t you have any demands? I can’t give you what you want if you don’t tell me what you want.”

“Do you wait for your kids to tell you what they need or do you just try to figure it out and give it to them before they can make their own decisions?”

“Touché, but this isn’t a parenting blog. I don’t know what you want anyway,” TSD tried opening his eyes again but the lights were just so bright it burned. Enemy stepped up a little closer and pried TSD’s eyes open and placed toothpicks to hold them open.

“I didn’t think that really worked,” TSD said realizing the hard way that it does work.

“It doesn’t,” Enemy sighed even though it did, he decided to torture in another way. “I don’t have any demands. I just want you to pay for what you have already done. You have committed crimes by saying things of a nature that should not be said.”

“I say a lot of things that probably shouldn’t be said. I need to work on my filter. Do you mind telling me which one of those it was?“ TSD asked.

“You’d like for me to make it that easy for you, wouldn’t you?“

“Yes, I would,“ TSD smiled.

“Well, I think you need to suffer a bit,”Enemy reached over and picked up a few metal blade like objects from a surgical prep table. TSD still couldn’t see anything from the blinding light but he could hear and knew the sound of surgical instruments.

“You probably think this is the sound of surgical instruments. Well, I don’t play with toys that nice. These are torture instruments. This one will pull your tongue so far out of your mouth that you could lick your eyeballs.“

“Cool,“ TSD said.

“It hurts.“

“Worth it,“ TSD said.

“This one goes inside your eyeball and stretches your pupil. This one pulls every hair of your eyebrow at once,“ enemy said.

“Wait, I’ll tell you everything. Just stop describing your instruments of terrible torture that I can’t actually see and confirm that you really have,” TSD pleaded.

“You ruined my life. I don’t want anything from you but pain. I want to hear the screams of your anguish so that my lifelong torture will feel just that little tiny bit less.“

“I don’t know. I just don’t know,“ TSD was crying now but he didn’t know why. Maybe he felt sorry for the guy. Maybe it was the blinding light that he wasn’t looking at. Maybe it was the thought of missing out on sushi night tonight.

“I have hundreds of thousands of dollars in student loan debt now because you said that your student loan was the best thing that ever happened to you financially,“ enemy was screaming now. Tears were streaming down his face as fast as they were pouring down TSD’s face.

“I did say that,“ TSD said cried in agreement. He wiggled one of his hands free of the ropes and shaded his eyes so he could open them. He put his free arm around his captor and tried to comfort him. “And I meant every word of it.“ The tears and dried and a smile began to creep across the middle-age man’s face.

“Do you mind if we cut one or two of these lights off?” TSD asked.

“No, I want you to suffer.” Enemy said.

“Ok fine, let me explain. How much do you make at this torture gig?”

“This is a hobby. I do it pro bono.”

“I don’t think you can use that word like that but OK, so what’s you day job?”

“Accounting.”

“Ok, that explains a few things. Wait, how did you get hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt? Isn’t that an undergrad degree?”

“I went to a private school,” Enemy said.

“Ouch, gotcha. Ok so you make decent money. Probably hate your job but you have inexpensive hobbies. Are you able to live comfortably and within your means while still paying off your student loans?“ TSD asked.

“Yes but it’s ridiculous. I’m paying as much each month for my student loans as I am for every other expense my family has.“

“That’s perfect. You’ve already learned how to save. If I had gone through college without any debt, my first real full-time job I would have thought that I needed to spend every dollar on something. I never would’ve realized that I can live very comfortably on a minimal portion of my salary,“ TSD said.

“That doesn’t help me at all. I’m gonna be paying on these loans for the rest of my life. Then my kids will inherit them and they’ll pay on them for the rest of their life,“ Enemy said.

“It doesn’t work that way. Trust me, if you keep at it you will find more and more ways to put just a little more money into those loans. You’ll realize that maybe you don’t need to live quite as comfortably and you can pay them off faster. But if you know you can live comfortably off of half your salary then you could probably live just a little less comfortably on even less. That money can go to pay off your loans. The more “luxuries“ you trade in for inexpensive comforts, the more you can pay on that loan. The more you can put down on your monthly payment, the faster it gets paid off. And then, you’ll understand.“

“Understand what? That’s what I’ve been trying to understand and I just don’t understand.“

“You’ll know how to save. All that money you had been paying toward your loan is now your emergency fund. When that fills up it’s your investment money. Suddenly you are on a quick landslide toward financial independence. You don’t have to settle for the 15% saving for retirement. You’ve already been saving over 50% for years. Now you just get to put that money into index funds or real estate.“

“I wish it was that easy,“ and he sat down on a chair nearby. “I wish everybody had to pay off student loans. Then maybe everyone would learn a little bit of Financial wisdom.“

“It doesn’t work that way. Student loans were my best financial teacher but most people don’t learn from their mistakes. Put it on a 30 year payment plan and forget about it. You’re not gonna learn anything from that. So, are we done here?“ 30 something that stood up and handed the ropes over to enemy.

“Yeah, I’ll just, sit here for a while. You know, self shaming pity party,“ and he said.

“You don’t need to shame yourself about that,“ TSD said.

“Oh I’m not. I just always feel bad after a torture session.“

“Right,“ DSD nodded as he stepped sideways toward the door.

zombie apocalypse sale

Zombie apocalypse sale

She locked the door. That might buy her a couple of seconds. No, probably not. She pulled a chair over and wedged it underneath of the door knob. That would definitely buy her a few minutes. They may be strong but not that strong. The sound of shattering glass made her spin. She had forgotten about the windows.

Gray colored skin covered the hand that reached in through the window. It started feeling around for a latch or something on the window to open it. It had several cuts but no blood. They didn’t bleed anymore. They were dead. They were all dead. She might be the only living human left on the planet.

In a panic, she ran up the flight of stairs. Even in the moment it sounded like a stupid idea but what choice did she have. She couldn’t go out the door. They were obviously all around the windows. She could barricade herself upstairs but they would get to her eventually. This was probably the end. The last living human on the planet was about to die and join the zombie apocalypse.

Every inch of her being screamed for her to survive at least one more minute. She had to do this before herself and for humanity. If there was hope, for her, for anyone. She had to hold on as long as she possibly could. She locked the door at the top of the stairs and somehow found another dining chair to which under the door knob. What’s wrong with these people? Why did they have a dining chair at the top of the stairs?

She look down the hall for something, anything that would give her an idea. There must be some hope of escape or salvation. The hallway was littered with doors. Those doors leading into rooms. The rooms we have windows. She could jump out from the second floor but she would probably kill her self or worse, break a bone. Also, she would be jumping into a sea of zombies.

Instead of freedom, instead of an escape, She found her imminent doom. The bottomless pit of despair. But she ran for it anyway. Down at the end of the hall was a trap door that led up into the attic. A prison with no escape but her only last place to run from zombies.

She pulled the trap door down and unfold a ladder. Sprinting up the steps she reminded herself how she should never do that if she ever gets out of this alive. In an awkward jerking flipping motion she got the stairs folded back up and pull the trap door closed. Her only hope was that maybe the zombies were too dumb to think to look up here.

She thought about he family. She didn’t have a family to think of. Luckily she had never known Her parents. She liked to think she had been a test tube baby. Her husband was the only family she had and now he was a zombie. She was actually glad about that. She didn’t even know when he had turned into a zombie. A week ago when the rest of the world caught the alien zombie virus or five years ago when she had married him. Either way nothing had changed. And then she was out of people to think of. 

She heard the sounds of destruction downstairs. They were in the house. How long till they came upstairs? How much time did she have to sit here and worry about herself. A thought crossed her mind that she should just go down and get it over with. It was inevitable. She would eventually join them and then the whole of humanity would be lost. Suddenly that didn’t seem so bad to her. No one had ever really treated her that well so she wondered why she would even want this race to continue.

She stood up to go back downstairs but then she thought of the one person she should try to live for, herself. She’s already been making changes to herself. She planned on leaving her zombie husband even before he was literally a zombie. Now that the entire world had collapsed she didn’t have to worry about her crappy job and horrible boss. Even her girlfriends had been bringing her down lately. They were zombies now. Look who had the last laugh. Yeah, she started feeling a little bit better about her self. Then the trap door opened.

A mop of stringy brownish blondish hair popped up through the opening. His eyes were bloodshot to the point of pink eye scary. They stared directly into her soul. As soon as he caught sight of her the zombie raced up the ladder and lunged for her with zombie-like speed, which isn’t that fast. She threw up her hands in front of her face and screamed what she knew was her last scream but the attack never came.

Inches from her face, The zombie stopped in mid air. He hung their frozen for a moment as she peaked through her fingers. Then the zombie was thrown back across the room where he tore a hole in the attic wall and flew down to the street below. Another one stepped up from behind him and offered her his hand. He was different than the others.

His clothes were dirty but she could still tell it was a white polo and khaki pants. His eyes were only a little bloodshot. Probably from lack of sleep, he looked like he had kids. Instead of his mouth gaping open with drool dripping from the sides he had a slight smile on his face. Hos hair still looked zombieish but she no longer feared him. She knew who her rescuer was. 

“Are you..?”

“Alive, yes,” the stranger answered the question she want about to ask. 

“No, I mean, I can tell that,” she said. 

“Oh good, I always wonder about that. My wife says I need to clean up a bit or everyone will just shoot me like a zombie.”

“But are you…?”

“Happy, hungry, married? Yes. All of the above.” He seemed a little irritated at all the questions that she wasn’t quite asking.

“No,” she stood up on her own just so she could stamp her foot. Are you thirtysomethingdad?” Rumors had circulated in the immediate aftermath of the virus that one man and woman had been going around saving the uninflected. She had only ever dreamed that they would find her but when everyone around her started vanishing, she figured even they had been infected. 

“Oh, yes, the one and only,” he stood up straight and looked slightly off to the left to show his profile. “Listen, we probably ought to get out of here. There’s a bunch of zombies out there waiting for us.“

“How are you gonna get out of here?“ He asked.

“Haven’t you heard the rumors? I have, gadgets.” He stepped over to the hole made where he had thrown the zombie out. When he peeked out a buzzing sound came roaring in. When thirtysomething dad stepped back out of the way the young lady that we still haven’t given a name, could see a monstrous sized drone hovering just outside. It had two ridiculously obvious handles hanging down from either side.

“You’ve got to be kidding me,” she said. But she walked over anyway. Just to get a better look, she told herself.

“Don’t worry, Thirtysomething Mom is driving it from the rooftop of the house next-door. Come on, this only works if we grab a hold at the same time.“ Thirtysomething Dad grabbed the handle on one side. The young, who was realizing she didn’t feel all that young and fearless anymore, lady reached up to move her hand up to the other handle. The drone started pulling them out of the house and they hung in mid air from the small toy. 

“It’s pretty exciting the first time, isn’t it?“ Thirtysomething dad hollered over the buzz of the drone and the roar of the zombies below.

“No, it’s not. I’m floating 30 feet above the ground holding onto a toy.“

“Oh, right. I meant to say it’s a little scary at first.“

“Where did you even get a toy drone during the zombie apocalypse.“

“Somebody gave it to me along time ago. Don’t worry, I don’t waste my money on expensive toys that won’t bring me significant enjoyment. I’ve been meaning to get rid of this for a while now but just never got around to it.“ The drone carried them over to the next roof top and let them down gently next to a young looking woman with black hair.

The young woman handed the remote control over to Thirtysomething dad and smiled at the other lady. She had long straight black hair that looked as if she had just walked out of a beauty parlor. Her bright personality made her short stature seem much larger. But it was her warm brown eyes that comforted the woman and made her feel that everything was going to be OK.

“Oh come on, that was a horrible sappy description,” the young lady commented.

“Yeah, I wasn’t even sure she would ever want to be in this adventure so I thought I better make it good.”

“You could have tried a little more,” she started but then realized who it was they were talking about, “but wait, are you….?” 

“Hungry?“ Thirtysomething mom finished the question. “No thank you, I just ate.“

“No, I meant. Oh come on, you two have got to stop trying to finish peoples’ sentances. I bet you do that for your kids. You are ruining their ability to think fo themselves. What I mean is, are you Thirtysomething mom? You can’t be. You don’t look a day over 29.“

“Why thank you,“ Thirtysomething mom smiled but then she remembered something. “We had better get going. There’s a whole bunch of zombies down there and more keep coming every couple minutes.“

“Where can we go?“ The woman from the attic asked.

“The only place we can go. The only place that hasn’t been affected, Montana.” Thirtysomething Dad said.

“Why Montana?” She asked.

“I don’t know, I’ve just always wanted to go there.”

“I don’t understand how that makes a difference,“ Attic girl said.

“Hopefully we’ll figure that out before the end but i kinda doubt it. That’s just one of those mysteries of the post apacolyptic world,“ Thirtysomething dad turned to look at Thirtysomething mom. “You got the stuff?“

“Of course. I still don’t pack very light but at least I’m always prepared,“ Thirtysomething mom said with a smile. She walked over to the chimney which was odd because most of the houses didn’t have a chimney. She reach down inside and pulled out a large bag. It kind of looked like Santa’s toy bag. It kind of was like Santas toy bag, she pulled a few toys out.

Three identical backpacks came out of the toy bag but they didn’t look like just regular backpacks. They looked like jet packs. They were Jetpacks. Thirtysomething dad and mom started strapping theirs on but the girl from the attic hesitated.

“Isn’t this dangerous?“

“There are 39,000 zombies down there claiming the house to come and eat our brains and you’re asking if if the jet pack is dangerous?“

“Good point,“ she strapped to the jet pack on.

“Now, let’s just hope the battery lasts long enough to get us away from the hordes of zombies,” thirtysomething dad said.

“These are electric?” The girl from the attic asked.

“We’re going green. Saves money. Save the planet,” thirtysomething mom said. She push the button on a jet pack it took off in the sky. Thirtysomething dad nodded to the other girl and waiting for her to follow. She hesitated then pushed the button, he took off after her.

“I thought you guys were pretty frugal. How can you afford crazy futuristic gadgets like this?,” Attic girl yelled over the roar of the wind. The jet packs were almost completely silent.

“We are. My five-year-old invented this.“

“Wow, that is the way to go,“ she said. The jet pack started sputtering. The battery was dying. They plummeted but somehow found enough juice left in the batteries to get a couple spurts of jet pack before they landed unbelievably softl on the ground.


“Wow, it worked out just like the movies,” Attic girl said.

They had made it past the largest part of the zombie horde but they started coming after them. The girl from the attic started to panic. The zombies were closing in on them but Thirtysomething mom and dad didn’t seem in too much of a hurry to run away.

“We’ve got to get out of here.“ Attic girl tried to urge them on. She wasn’t about to run all away by herself.

“You can run but you can’t hide,” Thirtysomething dad said.

“That doesn’t work,“ Thirtysomething mom said. “Try another cliché idiom.“

“Resistance is futile?“

“No, thats not even an idiom, thats a nerd quote. You don’t even watch Star Wars. It has to have something about running in it.“


“Trek,” Attic girl corrected.

“And then I ran, I ran so far away,” Thirtysomething dad started signing. He sounded just like a flock of seagulls.

“That works. Only problem, there’s just nopoint in trying to run from these things. They don’t get tired and they’ll just keep coming. They’re like salesmen, relentless” Thirtysomething mom said. 

“Then what do we do?”

“Just do what we do,” Thirtysomething Mom said. The zombies surrounded them. They started closing in. Then the undead spoke.

“Maas,” One stepped up to Thirtysomething dad holding something in his hands. Attic girl feared the worst. It was a knife or a gun or something deadly. He held up. It was a magazine. “MaasaGaaaaziiiiiineeeeee,“ He said dragging out the silent E at the end.

“No thank you Thirtysomething dad said looking the dead zombie salesman in the eye and then turn it back to focus on his path. He stepped right past the zombie. He didn’t attack him. Instead he held up the magazine again.

“Fiiiiiiive doooooooollaaaaaaaaars zuuuuuuubscriiiiiiiiiiiiptioooooooooonnnnnnnnnnnnn,“ zombie called after him. Thirtysomething Mom explained that zombies like to drag out their vowel sounds. It makes them sound more dead.

“Wow, but that’s actually a really good deal,“ Attic girl said. “That magazine is usually $35 for a yearly subscription.“

“Don’t listen to them. Don’t buy it because it’s cheap. Don’t take it because it’s free. I think that is copyrighted but I can’t remember who said it.“ There something dad said.

“The “Goodbye to Things,” book Thirtysomething mom chimed in. “while minimalism isn’t traditionally thought of as a money management strategy, it may actually be one of the best.”

“That’s it. Those five dollar subscriptions start adding up and before you know it you spent $100. Before you know if you got a pile of magazines . Pretty soon you dont have time to do anything else because you feel bad that you spent that money on the magazines and you haven’t read any of them. You can’t throw it in th etrash or you’ll destroy the planet. It’s a vicious cycle. Just don’t listen to them, they’re only trying to draw you in.“

“0% financing for the first 12 months,“ another zombie called out reaching for them. Thirtysomething dad didn’t even bother to swipe him off. He just let the zombies arms bounce off of his body. The attack never came. The zombie just came back with another offer.

“0 percent for 18 months,” he said.

“That’s not for a magazine, right? Whatever it is, that’s a really good deal,“ Attic girl said tugging at Thirtysomething mom’s shirt.

“You don’t even know what he’s selling,” TSM said.

“It doesn’t matter. That’s incredible. 0% for 18 months I just can’t pass that up.“

“Focus,“ thirtysomething mom said.

“How.? How can I focus with all this distraction?“ Girl asked.

“You got to set your sights on the goal. It’s a mindset. Once you are laser focused, I don’t think that one is copyrighted yet, on the goal no zombie expenses can knock you off track,“ Thirtysomething Dad said

“What about that Starbucks zombie?“ Thirtyomething Mom reminded.

“That was buy one get one free. No amount of laser focus can pass that up.“

“I’m not saying I could pass it up. I’m just saying that even laser focus can get distorted every once in a while.“ Thirtysomething mom said.

“She’s right. She’s always right. But still, laser focused. They can’t hurt you unless you want them to.“

“Does it really work?“ Girl asked.

“Sure does. What’s your goal?“ Thirtysomething get asked.

“Debt free,“ she looked over at the zombies. One was approaching her with a 60% off sale sign.

“Laser focus. 60% off is good if it’s something you were already planning on buying. If it’s in your budget. If not, it’s just another worthless item that you wouldn’t have bought it if it wasn’t on sale. You can do this.” Thirtysomething mom encouraged. He came up to her growling and drooling. Attic girl shivered and closed her eyes. She reached down to the bottom of her financial soul and pulled out every gram of mental energy that she had. Now that the world had collapsed we finally started using metric measurements.

“No?“ she paused and took a couple breaths and replaced her punctuation. “No thank you!“ She said. She opened her eyes and stared the zombie in the eyes. In his cold, mindless eyes she could see that now he knew that he couldn’t touch her. She breathed a sigh of relief. They couldn’t touch her.

“Montana, huh?“

“Montana, where the wind comes sweeping down the plains,“ 30 something dad sang.

Key

“What is this?“ Thirtysomethingdad asked. He held up a small key shaped object in his hand. The man standing on the other side of the bars looked at him questioningly as if to say, well, I can’t repeat what he was thinking as if to say.

“It’s a key,“ the stranger said.

“That’s not a key. It looks like a, oh, no, wait, yeah, it is a key. It just doesn’t look like a key.“

“It looks exactly like a key,“ stranger reassured him.

“Well, it doesn’t look like it at first.“ Thirtysomethingdad said reassuring only himself. The stranger started thinking back, trying hard to remember how it was when he first started out on his freedom journey. Surely the key must not have looked like a key to him back then either. No, it probably did. Thirtysomethingdad just must not know what a key looks like.

“So, what do I do with it?“ Thirtysomethingdad asked.

The stranger leaned in close and studied the man behind the bars. He was definitely Thirtysomething and he appeared to be a dad. Yep, Thirtysomethingdad, one of the brightest and best.

“You use it…” The stranger started.

“For what exactly?“ Thirtysomethingdad asked/ interrupted.

“It’s a key. It unlocks the doors,” the stranger sighed. He tried not to get irritated. He waited for a moment hoping that Thirtysomething dad would fill in his own blanks. He didn’t. “Like maybe prison doors?”

“Right. Like you’re just going to give me the key to get out of this stupid prison cell. What’s the catch? I’ve got a buy into your pyramid scheme?“ Thirtysomething dad referenced one of his other blog posts.

“There’s no catch. It’s just a key. You put the key in the door turn it and it unlocks.“

“Like it could be that easy. Wait, how did you get in here? How did you get past the guards? How would I get past the guards even if I did unlock the door? Yeah, you didn’t think about that did you?“

“There are no guards. You built this prison yourself. You built it and locked yourself in,“ the stranger reminded him.

Thirtysomething dad closed his eyes and remembered. In a repressed memory he saw a scene of himself laying the foundation fo a building that could only have been a prison. Then he saw himself building the prison, brick by brick. He installed the prison bars and fashioned the lock himself. It wasn’t very hard to remember the day he stepped in and finally locked the door permanently. The only problem was that he had made a key to lock but it didn’t unlock. I guess that’s not something someone usually thinks about in these situations.

“I guess I never really thought about that way,“ Thirtysomething dad said.

“Even while you were building it?“ The stranger asked. “You didn’t think about how you were building your own prison while you were building your own prison?“ then the stranger thought about he had really done the same thing a few years before.

“When you say it like that, it sounds like something pretty stupid to do. I don’t think I would do that,“ Thirtysomething dad liked to retort but he second guessed his internal dictionary and wondered if that’s what that word actually means.

“Well, I don’t want any of the information that I’m giving to be taken as if I am trying to look better than you. I’m just telling you how I’ve been here before, and how I got out.“ The stranger who was not behind bars said.

“Oh, when you say it like that, it sounds OK. So how do I use this key? I mean, is it just like a one time use key? Does it just open this door? What about the hall gate? What about the prison entrance? The courtyard entrance?”

“It opens everything. Any door you want it to open. So long as you still have this key and use it properly. “

“Any door?“ Thirtysomething dad questions.

“Any door,“ the stranger confirmed.

Dad stared at the stranger as he took the key and placed it in the lock. He kept staring while he turned the key. The lock opened and the gate to the prison cell swung open. Thirtysomething dad took his hand out from between the bars and let the gate swing all the way open.

As he stepped out he looked back-and-forth to make sure that no one was watching and then sped up to make sure that no one else who was not there, stopped him. He stepped around in front of the lock and slipped the key out behind his back. He stepped sideways around the stranger and slowly toward the hallway gate. All the while staring at the stranger.

“Are you trying to sneak out?“ The stranger asked.

“No. I mean, maybe,“ thirtysomething dad said a little embarassed.

“Why? It’s not like it matters anyway. I’m the one who told you how to get out,“ the stranger said.

“Maybe you did. Maybe you didn’t,” Thirtysomething dad was now standing with his back against the hallway gate. He tried to reach through and unlock the door backwards but it just wasn’t working.

“You should be proud of what you’re doing. You are using the key principles to free yourself from the prison cells that you made for yourself. You should be proud and tell everyone about this.“

“It’s not going to work,” thirtysomething dad said.

“It already did work,“ the stranger pointed toward the open cell door that Thirtysomething dad had just left.

“Well, sure, it worked the first time. Beginner’s luck. That’s a thing, right? What’s to say it won’t backfire and blow me to pieces the next time?“ Thirtysomething dad smiled a little too smug. He knew what this stranger was doing. He wouldn’t fall for his trickery and Tom foolery. His smile faded as the key released the lock and opened the hallway gate. Thirtysomething dad raised his non-dominant eyebrow.

“It really just can’t keep working. I mean, it’s too simple. It’s just a little key.“ Thirtysomethingdad shook his head but turned and sprinted down the hallway to the prison entrance. He realized that he had left the lock in the hall door and ran back. When he got back out to the entrance, he slipped the key in the lock where it fit perfectly. It turned on its own and the door opened. Stranger followed closely behind smiling but not with arrogance.

As thirtysomething dad ran up to the prison grounds entrance and unlocked the main gate the stranger followed yet again. Thirtysomething dad let out a yell and tossed the Key up in the air as he sprinted from the prison grounds.

“I’m free, I’m free.“ dad yelled as he ran off into the horizon. The stranger stood by the gates and waited. He picked up the key and held it carefully and check this watch. Less than a minute after he had escaped, thirtysomething dad screamed and started running back toward the prison. Gasping and wheezing, he came scrambling back up to the stranger. This time he had handcuffs around his wrists and an old tiny ball and chain around his ankle.

“I don’t suppose you have a key for this, do you?“ Thirtysomething dad asked.

“You’ve only been free for about two minutes. You’re already chained back up?” the stranger shook his head. “Of course I have a key.“ He handed thirtysomething dad the same key that he had only just recently abandoned.

“But this is the same key that got me out of the prison,“ Dad said.

“It’s the same key that will keep you unchained and open the future for you,“ the stranger said. Thirtysomething dad took the key and unlocked his cuffs. As he reached down to unlock the ball and chain he looked at the words inscribed on the key.

“Spend less than you earn,“ Thirtysomething dad read. “But that’s just stupid. Everybody knows that. It’s common logic. If you spend more than you earned, you will have negative numbers.“

“Seems like it would be common knowledge. You probably even knew that before you read the key. Funny thing is, you didn’t use it. You obviously spent more than you earned or you wouldn’t have been in that debt prison.“

“Touché,“ Dad said.

“What about after you got out of debt?“

“No, that doesn’t apply there,“ Thirtysomething dad corrected the stranger.

“Did you spend more than you earned?“

“Well, yeah but it doesn’t matter anymore. I was out of debt.“

“That’s the lesson that you and the governments of the world need to learn. There is a good place for debt but you must master personal finance first before you start into business and using other peoples money.“

“Do you think maybe I could hang onto this key for a little while?“ Thirtysomething dad asked.

“I want you to sew it to the lining of your pocket. Super glued to your hand. Duck tape it to your forehead. Do whatever you can to keep it, forever. Don’t worry, I’ve got more. There are a lot more keys that you can use later on once you’ve mastered that one. That’s just the very beginning but you’ve got to master that key first.“

Thirtysomething dad reached into his pocket to pull out the roll of duct tape that most people keep on hand. He started taping the key to his forhead. As the stranger walked away he pulled a keychain out of his pocket and jingled it, enticing thirtysomething dad. Dad followed like a dog after a squeaky ball. Now that he had one, he had to have all of the keys.

Compulsive Shoppers Anonymous

“Hello and welcome my dear friends. Welcome to compulsive buyers anonymous. I can see some new faces out there. I see some old friends as well. If this is your first time joining us, welcome. We’ll hear from you shortly but first let’s hear from some of our old friends. Would everyone please put their phones away. I realize you’re probably shopping online right now,“ a stocky brown haired fellow tried to keep smiling as he stood at the front of the room. His right hand kept twitching right next to his pocket where everyone knew his mobile phone was.

A young light haired woman stood up from the group and made her way up to the front. She held out her hand for a microphone but the stocky guy reminded her that there were only twenthy people in the room. She shrugged and turned face the room.

“Some of you know me. My name is Savantha . It has been three hours since I went impulsive shopping.“ She turned back to face the leader and hung her head. “I’m sorry, I had to get groceries. I know that’s not impulse shopping but when I got there, well, I just found so much more that I needed that I didn’t know I needed. I know I don’t really need super extra spicy thick and creamy vegan salsa. I don’t even eat it but it was on sale. Buy one get one 10% off. I went in to buy just a few things and came out with over forty items. I saved so much money.“

“Did it feel good?“ Stocky Man asked.

“No,“ Savantha hung her head in shame. “As soon as I paid, I realized I had been duped.“

“What did you do after that?” Stocky asked.

“I did some online shopping in the car before and during my drive home,“ Savantha said still with her head hung in shame.

“That’s not only dangerous but illegal and it violates the 120 step program.“

“120 steps? How come alcoholics only get 12 steps?“ A new face in the crowd popped up from his cell phone to question.

“Well, for two reasons, actually,“ the stocky man said. “Number one we are just not as good as AA and, well, I really don’t have a second reason.“

“Oh, OK,“ the middle-age man lowered his head back down to do something on his phone again. His dirty blonde hair stuck up in a kind of quasi-mohawk style that everyone else was possibly making fun of.

“I see that you are a newcomer. Why don’t you stand up and introduce yourself,“ Stocky said.

“Just a minute. I’m about to make a sale,“ the middle-age dad from the crowd said.

“Are you making a sale or are you making a purchase?“ Stocky asked.

“I am….” The spiky blonde haired man in his thirties from the crowd closed his phone case and looked up. “I’m not even sure anymore,“ he said.

“It’s OK,“ Stocky reached in his pocket and pulled out his phone to check something real quick. He quickly stuck it back in. “We are all weak. We just have to make sure that we don’t give in to the temptations. We must find a different, similar way to satisfy our compulsive shopping urge.“

“Did you just buy something on your phone?“ The not middle-aged man in his thirtysomethings asked.

“No, I just played a quick round of 2048. Sometimes it’s Angry Birds seven but never candy crush saga. I have too much PTSD from that game. That belongs in a different one of my support groups. Why don’t you introduce yourself,“ he suggested.

“I’m thirtysomething dad,” Everyone gasped. “I am a compulsive shopper. I enjoy buying used but never opened projects for my kids who are probably still too young for it. I also enjoy buying used partially broken gadgets for next to nothing and trying to fix them. I usually end up spending more money than if I had bought something new.”

“Thank you for sharing. It sounded like no one here has ever heard of you and doubt anyone anywhere knows you so you can feel free to share anything here. No one will ever read this.”

“I really want to stop shopping. I thought I was good because I don’t go to Target and buy $400 worth of stuff anymore but now I buy stuff online. It’s actually easier and a lot more dangerous.”

“It is easier,“ another woman from the group called out. “I don’t even need any of the stuff but I just keep buying it. Wow, that is such a good deal,“ she hadn’t even realized she was shopping on her phone until she found the deal.

“Is it a good deal if you don’t want or need it in the first place? Is it a good deal if it ends up costing you more because you buy too much stuff and need a bigger house or more storage units?“ Stuckey asked.

“No,“ the woman answered. ” but I already bought it.” She went back to shopping.

“Do you even know what it was?”

“It was a good deal. Does anything else matter?”

“Well, I can tell we are going to have to take drastic measures,“ Stocky said. He reached in his pocket and pulled out what it looks like a laser pointer. He pointed it at the ceiling where the Wi-Fi router hung. The laser pointer apparently had an incredibly powerful laser in it as Stocky shot a laser beam at the router exploded.

“It’s OK,“ Thirtysomething dad said. “I’ll just use my data connection.“

“I’ve also just activated the mobile data interference shield,“ Stocky said.

“Whoa, I can’t buy anything,” another 30 something Man said from the group. “It’s like the whole world is been shut down but not like coronavirus shut down. This time the world’s really shut down.”

“Not the whole world, just the Internet.”

“That is the whole world,“ A young woman said.

“She’s right. This feels horrible. Everyone should feel this way. We got to do this on a grander scale.“ Thirtysomething dad stood up. “Come on everybody. We’ve got to shut down the real Internet.“

“How?” Savantha asked.

“It’s got to be in Area 51. That’s where the aliens are. The internet had to be alien technology if it can get us to buy too much stuff like this,” Thirtysomethingdad said. “Come one everyone, I’ve got a 1960s VW van outside that we can road trip. We should all fit.” Everyone ran outside and smashed inside the van.

They drove almost faster than the minimum speed limit and sang songs about not needing money until someone realized they couldn’t carry a tune. They decided that maybe everyone should just share too much personal information with each other. That turned out to be a bad idea as well but by the time they figured that out, they were already there.

“I’m sorry sir, I cannot allow you to enter.“ The man in the security booth said. He would not open the gate.

“Why not,“ thirtysomething dad asked from the throne I mean driver seat

“Well, you did just tell me that you came here to destroy the Internet,“ the security said. “While that is physically impossible I do have to question your potential threat. Besides, there’s not actually anything here.“

“Then why do you have a security detail?“ 30 something and asked.

“I’m not allowed to answer that. Look, The Internet has actually done the world some good favors. If it weren’t for the Internet, the Russians couldn’t have influence the election and we wouldn’t have Trump for president. If it weren’t for the Internet, we wouldn’t have bitcoin. All I’m saying is that maybe you don’t want to destroy the Internet. Maybe all you need to destroy is Amazon. That’s basically the Internet anyway.”

“Why did you capitalize the word internet like it was a proper noun?”

The security guard wouldn’t answer. His words did ring true. 30 something dad looked back at the rest of the crew all smashed into the backseat of the Volkswagen. No one had to say a word. They all knew what each other was thinking. Everyone quickly closed the Amazon app on their phones and stuffed them away in their pockets and purses.

“Come on everyone,“ 30 something da said a little too loud in the van. “We are off to destroy Amazon!“

“Where is Amazon?“ Someone in the back asked. No one could really tell who it was everyone was packed in too tightly.

“Amazon is everywhere. Amazon is everything. We don’t have to go find Amazon. In fact, we can’t find Amazon. Amazon finds you.“

“No, it’s not that powerful. You make it sound like Chuck Norris but Amazon is just a company. They can’t find us,” someone called out from the backseat.

“Hey guys,“ Jeff Bezos knocked on the window. Everyone screamed. Thirtysomething dad slowly rolled down the window. Not because he was scared of the Amazon founder and CEO but because it was a handcrank.

“Look, I know you’re not the real Jeff Bezos. I can’t use him in a blog like this. That would be like plagiarism or libel or something. But, I know you work for him. You’re like the Santa Claus at the shopping mall. Not the real thing but maybe work for the real guy.“

“You still believe in Santa?” Maybe Jeff Bezos said. Thirtysomething dad didn’t answer.

“No, I’m the real Jeff Bezos,” the real Jeff Bezos said.

“Right, I will just call you ‘the not real Jeff Bezos,'” Thirtysomething dad said.

“Sure, whatever. So, I understand you guys want to destroy Amazon?

“Well, I mean, no not really, I mean, not destroy it or anything. Why would you say that? Just, maybe shut it down so it would never work again?“ Thirtysomething dad said suggested.

“That’s not gonna fix your problem. Look, Amazon is a great service. I mean, I would buy from Amazon if I wasn’t already a trillionaire who owns Amazon.“

“Really?“

“No, of course not. If you’re not a prime member it takes like three weeks to get your stuff. Just shop at walmart.com. Anyway, what I was saying is that online shopping places are not the problem. Even if you shut it down another one will pop up over night. No the problem is not the shopping center or even the marketing, it’s you. You don’t have to shop. You don’t have to buy even if you do shop. Sometimes just windows shopping or Mac OS shopping, or whatever device you use, is enough. Sometimes it’s too much. The problem is that we’ve become a society who is so wrapped up in buying new things for hobbies that we never do. Just start enriching your mind with more learning and more enjoyable activities instead of buying and filling your house with stuff you don’t need or want.“

“Well, I have always wanted to learn how to play guitar,“ 30 something dad said.

“You already know how to play guitar,“ the real Jeff Bezos said.

“How do you know that?“ Thirtysomething dad asked.

“I know everything about everybody.“

“Oh yeah, I forgot. Well, I guess I need to buy a guitar,“ 30 something dad said.

“You already have a guitar.“

“Wait, how did you, or yeah, the ESP thing, right?“ Thirtysomething dad said.

“No, I don’t have supernatural powers. I have Amazon. Anyway, Just try doing other things to fill your time. Most of you complain about not having time anyway. Where do you find the time to online shop anyway? Go learn a new hobby. Take up wood carving, crochet, learn how to play Boca, start a blog.“

“Nobody would read a blog that I would write,” 30 something dad said.

“True, but that’s not the point of a blog anyway, is it? The point is, figure out a way that you can find something more enjoyable to do with your time then spending your hard-earned money. You’re just afraid of trying new things. It’s not a fear of failure, it’s really just a fear of trying something new. If you admit to it and accept your fear, you might just be ready to try face your fear. Who knows. You may love crosstitch.”

“Wow, not real Jeff bezos, I never knew you were a self help guru,” Thirtysomethingdad said but the real Jeff Bezos was gone.

“Where did he go?” Someone asked. They all watched out the window as he got into a dalorian and flew away. Everyone kept their eyes glued to the window as they pulled their phones back out of their pockets and started subconsciously buying something without looking. Thirtysomething dad looked at his phone and closed the amazon app. He thought for a minute and pulled up duolingo.

“Maybe Jeff bezos is right,” he said.

“Of course I’m right,” a voice on the radio said. “Don’t forget, Prime day is coming up in a few weeks.”

Supernatural side hustle

The young man slipped his arm around his girlfriend’s waist as they headed back home. He looked back at the restaurant they’d just left. The food still settled in his stomach and memories of the flavor make him smile. So far, so good, the night just kept getting better. It was dark now and the shadows could easily play tricks on them but he liked to tell himself that he could protect her.

“Wow, I’m so glad you suggested we try someplace new. The fish was amazing. You look amazing. This is just a perfect night,” the young man said pulling her close to him.

“Excuse me,“ a stranger appeared out of nowhere in front of them. The young lady squeezed her boyfriend a little harder so that he felt like he should protect her. She knew what was about to happen but she still felt safe. Her boyfriend had taken a few classes in taekwondo.

“Do you mind if I ask if you a few questions?“ The stranger asked.

“I thought you might be taking a survey,“ The young man said out loud, confirming his worst fears. “I’m sorry, I’d like to help you but this just isn’t a good time.“ He started to pass on the left but the stranger stepped into intercept.

“It’s really only a couple of questions. It won’t take but a minute,“ the stranger insisted. The young lady held tighter, she didn’t know taekwondo. This wasn’t going the way they had hoped. The young man puffed his chest out and threw his shoulders back. He wasn’t gonna let this ruin his evening.

“Fine,“ he said matching the strangers gaze, eyeball to eyeball.

“Have you donated blood recently?“ The stranger asked.

“No,“ young man matched his intensity.

“Would you be interested in donating?“ The strangers stepped up close.

“Not tonight,“ the young man held his ground.

“Are you sure?“ The stranger broke into a wide grin, showing his teeth. Only then did the young man notice this strangers handsome regalness, deathly pale skin and now, fangs. Even though he knew for certain that vampires didn’t exist, the young man had always known that he would meet his end at the fangs of a vampire.

“I don’t believe in vampires,” the young man snarled just before something like the impact of a bullet train hit him in the chest and flung him down an alley he didn’t even know existed. His girlfriend was about to scream when she saw another stranger step up in front of her and hold his finger to his lips. Then he pointed down the alley for her to follow her boyfriend.

As she walked down the alley and squatted down to check on him, she made a decision right then to stand up for herself. She may not be as strong as these vampires but she had something they didn’t. She had a couople classes in jujitsu. She conteplated whether she should sing a song about it but thought better of it and assumed a fighting stance. 

The vampire came at her but not in an angry or fighting manner. He stepped up gently and held out his hand to her. She came at him with a flying fury but he met her every move with kindness. She found herself giving in to him and wanting to help the poor dead soul. Her worst fears imagined, he was a romantic vampire. Before she knew what she was doing he had pinned her to the wall of a brick building and lunged at her throat.

She screamed but too late. His teeth hit her neck but they never sunk in. She heard a sound but could not imagine what it could be. Then the vampire released her and fell back on the ground where he wailed in pain and then dissolved into dust. 

A man in a wide brimmed leather hat stepped into view. He could have been Australian but he probably wasn’t. His trenchcoat rippled in the wind as he reloaded his crossbow. He took a glance at the young lady and then at her boyfriend to make sure they were OK. Then faced the other vampire.

“I’ve been waiting for you, Vantrinket,“ the new stranger/vampire hunter said in a voice not unlike Batman‘s. “Actually, I’ve been waiting quite a while. You didn’t show up the other day.“

“I am not at your beck and call,“ Vantrinket snarled. He showed his fangs and hissed like a cat. Then he lunged at the stranger. And arrow exploded from the crossbow but the vampire was too quick. It cluttered against the wall and fell near the young man. He picked it up and looked confused.

The vampire made contact and knocked the stranger to the ground. They rolled together several feet before coming to a stop with the Vantrinket on top. With one hand around the strangers neck, he pinned the stranger to the ground then slapped his face with his other hand. He made a show of his things again before he lunged for the kill He couldn’t resist a one-liner, “I’ve been waiting for your donation for a very long time, Thirtysomething dad.”

“Not today. My hemoglobin is too low. I’d probably pass out,“ Thirtysomething dad one-lined in reply. Smoke started streaming from the vampires midsection. He screamed in pain and then jumped back nearly twenty feet.

“What is that?” He screeched. Thirtysomethingdad opened his hand and showed off the tiny flashlight in the palm of his hand. 

“It’s a daylight flashlight,” he smiled. The vampire had seen worse and knew he wouldn’t be killed. It was just a distraction. Thirtysomething dad made a move for his crossbow but when he reached into his quiver, it was empty.

“Is this a hacked up nickel that you’ve made into an arrowhead?” The young man asked in disbelief. 

“You’re too young to remember when nickels used to be made out of silver,” Thirtysomething dad said.

“I don’t think you’re that old either,“ The young man chided.

“Maybe not, I just feel old. I’ve got kids.“

“Don’t ignore me,“ the vampire hissed. He came running back up and kicked the daylight flashlight out of Thirtysomething dad‘s hand. Dad came back with a crossbow against the side of his face. It shattered against the dead skin. Thirtysomething dad threw a punch to the gut but the vampire didn’t even seem to notice. He responded with a blow to the chest that sent Thirtysomething dad across the alley and tumbling onto his back.

He slowly stood to his feet and adjusted his 20-year-old Australian bushman hat. It must have been a souvenir, he definitely wasn’t Australian. He shook his head as a warning. Then in a move that was quicker than slow motion but felt like a damaged lightning, he reached back and pulled a dagger from his belt. Not just any dagger, this was a crucifix dagger. TSD came with a vampire slashing and hacking. His hands moved so fast they looked like slow motion. The vampire dodged every slash.

“You mortals slow down as you age but vampires only get faster. I have 2000 years of speed build up in these dead muscles. You are no match for me,“ the vampire hissed.

Good, then let’s see you dodged this,“ Thirtysomething dad said as he dropped the dagger and reach back to his belt. He whipped out to bright pink plastic pistols and fired. A hissing sound followed by smoke came from two holes in the vampires chest. He reached up and grabbed it as he screamed and unearthly sound that woke every sleeping baby.

“No!“ The vampire screamed. Thirtysomething dad stepped forward as he fired four more squirts into his head and chest. The vampire crumbled to the ground and vanished in a wisp of smoke and vapor. Thirtysomething dad stood proud. As he stretched his back and shoulders his joints popped and cracked.

“Is that a water gun?“ The young man asked not too impressed.

“This is a high-powered weapon.“

“It’s pink,“ The young woman commented.

“This is a weapon of supernatural destruction,“ Dad defended.

“It looks like a water gun,“ the young man suggested again.

“It’s a holy water gun,” Thirtysomething dad explained. The young couple nodded finally understanding.

“We’ve got to get moving, there’s probably more,“ thirtysomething dad said as he hosted his guns and picked up the crucifix dagger that had missed his belt when he holstered. He looked at the shattered remains of his crossbow and thought for a moment. “I can probably still sell it on Facebook,“ he explained as he strapped the pieces back to the holster on his back.

“Why do you do it?“ The young woman asked.

“Do what?“ Thirtysomething dad asked.

“Fight them. You do this a lot, don’t you? Go around fighting the dark forces and saving people?“

“Trust me, you don’t want to know,“ he said.

“Yes we do,” the young man said firmly.

“It’s a side hustle,“ Dad decided that there really wasn’t any reason for him not to explain. “I’ve still got student loans to pay off. I needed to make a little extra money on the side. It’s kind of like selling stuff on Facebook marketplace or learning a new skill for home maintenance on YouTube so that I don’t have to pay somebody else to do it. That’s why I do it.“ he tipped his hat and turned to walk away.

“Wait,“ the young man called after him. Dad stopped and turned. “Is it worth it? Does it really help?“

“Every little bit counts,” Thirtysomething dad smiled and nodded. He turned to walk away again then thought of something else and turned back. “No, no it doesn’t help in the least bit. Unless you can make a killing at your side hustle, and I don’t mean literally. It really doesn’t add up to much. It’s really more of a psychological thing. Instead of spending my free time mindlessly shopping and buying things I don’t need, I focus more on getting rid of stuff I don’t need, Vampires and werewolves and last year‘s gadgets and fancy tools I thought I needed. So indirectly, yes it makes a big difference.

Just don’t go out and pickup some stupid hobby or part time job that isn’t going to be worth your time. If it’s something you enjoy and you just happen to make some money at it, go for it. Maybe you should figure out a way to make that your main job anyway. But don’t listen to the guys who tell you to go deliver pizza or pickup some hours at the coffee shop. You won’t get those hours back and if you not spending time with the ones you love or at least doing what you love, then the money won’t mean anything anyway.

“But what about the student loans?” The young man asked. I’ve got those too.”

“You what?” His girlfriend gasped.

“What? I’m still in college.”

“You’ve just got to evaluate if it’s worth the time. If you spend all your free time trying to make a few extra bucks, you might never know what life is about. Trust me. Life is not about a few extra bucks. I’m not saying a side hustle is a bad idea, just that sometimes you may be fooling yourself.

Budget Monster

The dense tree cover blocked all light from streaming in. Not that it would have streamed anyway, it was night. Everything is scarier at night. Thirtysomething dad picked his way carefully through the forest with a flashlight that his kids had almost completely drained of power. He jumped when he heard something move. The snakes out here in the Amazon are bigger than people. And if Indiana Jones was scared of snakes, well, I mean, Thirtysomething dad wasn’t scared of anything except…. something crashed in the distance.

Everything in his lower, primitive, instinctual brain told him to run as fast as he could away from the sound. His logical, upper, stupid brain took over and moved his legs toward the sound.

“What is wrong with my brain?” He asked himself. He didn’t hear anything more as he made his way towards the sound. It hadn’t been far away. He made it there in just a few minutes but there was nothing to see.

“Something made that sound. Crashing noises don’t just make themselves. I definitely heard a crashing sound, therefore something made that sound,“ 30 something dad smiled at his deductive reasoning or had that been inductive? Wait, induction is physics. While he was arguing with himself, thirtysomething dad caught sight of what had made the noise. It made him shiver in his 20-year-old boots.

“How is that even possible,“ Thirtysomething dad regretted making a sound as he said it out loud. What had looked like a small pond in the clearing he had found started moving. It looked black from the lack of light in the forest but now he could see that it truly was black. Dark as night didn’t even begin to describe because it was night and this was darker. The not water burbled and then rose up out of the pond (which it never actually was) and stood up.

Arms and hands begin to form out of the giant blob of darkness. The base of goo began to form itself into legs and feet. Then worst of all, the top most part of the blob, burbled and blubbered until it blew itself into a hideous head. He let out a roar that sounded oldish and gray. He sounded as if he had smallish bees up his nose.

“The Lorax?“ Thirtysomething Dad whispered to himself.

“No,“ the monster cried in anger. “Get your stories right. The onceler has the bees up his nose.”

Thirtysomething dad stepped behind a tree and held his breath. If he didn’t move, it couldn’t find him. He knew that much from Jurassic park they had visited only recently. The monster stuck it’s head around the tree and right in Thirtysomething dad’s face.

“Aaaahhhhh!” Thirtysomethingdad screamed.

“Roar!” The monster screamed. 

“How did you find me?” Thirtysomethingdad stood his ground near the tree but trembling.

“You were talking to me just now,” the monster answered politely. Then he roared again. Threesomething daughter would definitely say he was a little bit scary. Thirtysomething dad screamed again, a little more girly this time and then he ran.

His breathing came ragged after the first few steps, not from fear but from deconditioning. I’ve gotta run more often. The leaves and twigs tripped him up and the weeds wrapped themselves around his ankles. The forest seemed out to get him. Then his flashlight gave out.

On he ran through the forest of darkness. Trees jumped out to bump into him and branches reached out to scrape him. Vines slapped him in the face. Finally a glimmer of hope called to him from the distance.

A light shone at the edge of the forest. If only he could make it there, the monster surely wouldn’t follow. Thirtysomethingdad ran and while he was distracted by the light, he tripped over a root and fell face first into the muddy marsh. The monster stood there, waiting as Thirtysomething dad rolled onto his back.

They both waited for each other to make the first move. Then the monster roared. Thirtysomething dad slowly crawled back to his feet but the monster did not attack. He seem to be waiting for dad to run again. He took a few steps away. The monster followed but still didn’t attack. Thirtysomething dad turned and started a light jog toward the light. Still, the monster chased him at a light jog as well. Though he could have easily overtaken him from such a short distance, it didn’t.

“What do you want from me?“ Thirtysomething dad called back over his shoulder.

“Roar,” the monster said and then cleared his throat. “Ahem, money,” he said, again in a roar.

“Are you kidding me? What are you gonna use it for in here. I don’t even think they except US dollars here,” Thirtysomething dad called back.

“Give me all your money,“ the monster roared back. His tone was more aggressive but his chase was still passive. Thirtysomething dad started to think that maybe that really was all he wanted. He slowed his already slow run and tried to assess the situation. He didn’t seem to be moving any closer to the light and the monster didn’t seem to be moving any closer to him. He didn’t really have that much money anyway.

All of his money seem to come and go all at once. Paychecks come in, bills go out. Maybe everything would be best if he just gave it all to the monster anyway. He stopped and turned to the creature. The voidless eyes stared out at him and a hand of darkness reached out and waited. Thirtysomethingdad reached into his pocket and pulled out his wallet. He swallowed hard. He slowly reached forward and placed it in the monsters hand and waited for the attack. Now that he had what he wanted, he no longer had reason to keep from eating Thirtysomething dad.

The monster took the wallet and then stepped closer. The light came closer. Then the monster stopped. It stood right over him and the source of light. Thirtysomething mom stood next to him with a brighter flashlight that the kids hadn’t figured out how to turn on. 

“Budget, Huh?“ Thirtysomething mom said sliding up next to thirtysomething dad.

“Is that what that is?“

“You said last night that you wanted to go ahead and do a zero dollar budget.“

“Yeah, but I didn’t think it would be this scary.“

“Everything‘s scary until you get used to it.“

“You weren’t scary,” TSD said.

“Really? You weren’t even a little bit intimidated to come up and talk to me the first time you saw me?“ Thirtysomething mom smiled.

“Touché,” Dad nodded wondering if that was actually the right use of that word. “OK, so how do I get used to this enough so that I don’t run every time I see or hear his name?”

The budget monster roared at Thirtysomething dad again who cowered down in terror.

“You see, he keeps doing that. I can’t work with that. I can’t even go anywhere near that.“

“I think he said you still have more money,” Thirtysomething mom said.

“Of course I’ve still got some money. We’ve got to have something to live off of.“

“That’s kind of the whole point, isn’t it? Aren’t you supposed to give a zero dollar budget all of your money?“

“I thought a zero dollar budget meant you don’t give it any money. You give it zero dollars.“

“That’s not what you told me last night.“ Thirtysomething mom said. Thirtysomething dad let his shoulders fall. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a small fold of dollar bills. The monster snatched it out of his hands and then waited for more. TSD sighed again and reached into his shoe, then his sock to pull out a few coins. Then after making sure that no one was looking, he reached unbuttoned his pants and reached inside the secret magical inside pocket that he superglued to his pant leg. He pulled out his last dollar and buckled his belt back up. 

“Here it is. Here’s everything. That is literally all I have. I hope you are happy.”

“Great. I’m really just here to make sure you spend this in the places that you need and want to.” The monster growled in something less than a roar. He still looked ugly. 

“Really? Help me spend it? Can I go to Best Buy?”

“Not this month. You only have $10 left in your personal category for ‘crazy spending.’ Perhaps if you allocate more next month although I would advocate against it as you are currently working toward a very high level financial goal.“

“Did the monster just give me financial advice?“ Thirtysomething dad asked.

“I think it was just an evaluation of the parameters that you set for it,“ Thirtysomething mom answered.

“I’ve never heard you use the word ‘parameters.’ I guess I really have to do this now don’t I?“ Thirtysomething dad asked. Both thirtysomething mom and the big giant budget monster nodded in agreement. Thirtysomething dad shrugged and motion for the budget monster to follow him. 

They went to the grocery store. TSD grabbed a few apples and checked with the budget monster over his shoulder. The monster nodded his approval and TSD moved on to the next item. They moved through the store picking up item after item. Each time TSD would check with the monster. Mostly, he said yes. Occasionally, he would raise an eyebrow. When the shopping cart got full he put out his hand and stopped it. TSD put back a few items in the monster stepped away.

“I’m not sure I can do this. It makes me feel like I’m a kid with no control.“ Thirtysomething dad said.

“You have all the control,” the monster said. “You made me.“

“You mean, I am your father?“ Thirtysomething dad stumble back at the terror of the ultimate revelation. He grabbed his heart and fell down in the produce aisle.

“No, I really mean you literally made me. You take the amount of money that you have for income and divide it all up in the categories. Wala, that’s me.“

“Oh, right,” thirtysomething dad said standing back up and straightening his shirt. “I guess I will just have to get used to this.” They stepped up to the counter and the monster handed TSD his wallet. It felt awkward but it would have to do. 

A few nights later as he played chess, Thirtysomething dad looked up to see Thirtysomething mom walking in. He nodded to her but couldn’t break his concentration from the game. “I’m trying to beat this guy.“ He said.

“I’ll tell you again. There is no way to beat me. You set the parameters of the game. I’ve shown you all the plays possible.” The budget monster had folded his massive body to fit into a tiny chair at the chess table. 

“Maybe you just don’t know all the plays possible,” TSD moved a piece and smiled. “I made more money this month. Check.”

The monster shook his head and let it hang. He reached up and grabbed his piece and moved one space. “You add that money to the budget. You have more to spend In catagories of your descretion. You still have to stay within budget. Check mate.” He reached out and knocked dad’s king over. Yet somehow Thirtysomething da Thirtysomething dad

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