William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

Category: Stories (page 1 of 3)

It was a dark and stormy blog…

I’ll Kill You Off On This Blog For $10

A generous reader gets what’s coming to him

According to the Daily Mail, “Game of Thrones writer George RR Martin offers to ‘kill off’ one of his fans for $20,000.

“George RR Martin will name a character after a male and female fan and kill them in a future A Song Of Ice And Fire novel as part of a fundraising campaign.”

The man himself says, “You can choose your character’s station in the world (lordling, knight, peasant, whore, lady, maester, septon, anything) and you will certainly meet a grisly death!”

Truly, I had no idea people were so enthusiastic about seeing themselves ushered publicly and painfully into the Great Beyond. But, hey, who am I to judge? Especially when there’s the possibility of wrapping my paws around some necessary needed lucre?

Martin’s is such a good idea I decided to adapt it at WMBriggs.com. And I’ll go one further than Martin, too.

I will write one of my award-eligible one-act Mini Plays featuring those readers who donate at least $10 American.

At the $10 level or $1/month level, you have your choice of character name and “station in the world.” I pick the way you hand in your dinner pail. But those who double the suggested amount—and here I top Martin—have the privilege of choosing the method they trip down their final staircase. (Use the comment box at the links provided to specify your names and choices.)

Think of the possibilities! Admire Utopian purges? The guillotine’s for you. Feeling nostalgic? Go for a hanging. You’re an academic? Starvation by gulag is just the ticket. Computer geek? Bashed on the head by your Twitter handle. Somewhat squeamish but still want to play? How about being at the center of a nuclear bomb? Painless, that. The sky’s the limit—including being dropped from a great height by an over-sized vulture who mistook you for a three-week-dead ferret.

Here’s the topper. If nobody donates by a week from today, 14 June 2014, I’m killing all of you off. Probably by some banality like stroke or myocardial infarction. As dull, non-noteworthy, and as undistinguished kinds of deaths that I can think of. As far as station in life, everybody is a junior bureaucrat named Jayden in a sub-sub-basement of the NSA tasked with sorting through typed transcripts of college girls’ cell phone calls (“And then I was all like, ungh. Like she didn’t, like, get it?” “Like, I was like, yeah, but, like, not that I liked it”). Nobody will even be allowed a suicide.

It will look something like this:

SCENE ONE SETTING: A bright and clement day. A line of gray lumpen non-smiling polyester-slacked people with Supercuts hairdos line up at the NSA entrance to pass through the metal detector. The line extends to the parking lot where a MAN is exiting from his faded gray 1998 Toyota Corolla.

SCOTIAN: Excuse me, miss. Is this the IRS?

SHERI: No, the NSA.

SCOTIAN: I’m from Canada and I always wanted to visit it.

SHERI: Many people do.

SCOTIAN: I…I…ARRRGH!

SCOTIAN DROPS TO THE PAVEMENT CLUTCHING HIS CHEST

SHERI: Too bad he’s so far from his national health insurance.

SHERI RESUMES HER PLACE IN LINE, PECKING AWAY AT HER CELL PHONE LIKE EVERYBODY ELSE

SHERI: I feel a headache coming on—

That’s right—this is blackmail. I won’t put the pretty on it. There’s only one way to stop this excruciating drivel from being exposed to public view. Pay or suffer.

Update You have been saved! Next Saturday, I’ll give everybody the details, thanking all involved. I’ll also let you know when the mini-play will run.

I had thought you could enter details (name, life station) into the donation form, but apparently not. So if you donate, either put them in the comments or send a separate email. Thanks!

The Case of the Missing Global Warming: A 17th Precinct Mini Mystery

A 17th Precinct Mini Mystery

This originally ran four years ago on 21 September 2009. One or two minor details have been changed to make the post current. Update: I see I screwed up the update and lost the copy where it was Michael Mann calling in the report. I have no luck with WordPress’s scheduler. Use your imagination.

“Hey, Sarge. Got a lady here who wants to file a missing persons report…Sarge?” Officer Hannigan stood in front of Sergeant Fitzgerald’s desk and rustled a sheaf of paper just loud enough so that it didn’t sound intentional, but with enough force to be heard.

Sergeant Fitzgerald was dozing and he almost started at the noise, but long experience enabled him to remain still. He did not want his junior to know he had been asleep, so he counted to three then slowly made the sign of the cross and said, “Amen.” He let his watery eyes find Hannigan’s.

“Oh, sorry, Sarge.” Hannigan was new enough not to have seen the act before. “But I got this strange call and I didn’t know what to do.” Fitzgerald raised both eyebrows a millimeter. “This lady wants to report a missing person, only…”

Enough consciousness had seeped into Fitzgerald’s being that he was able to slap the table. “Now, young Hannigan. Nothing could be easier. You have the right forms?” A nod. “You’ve followed procedure and asked the right questions?”

“I have.”

“Then there is no problem.” He shifted his weight and turned his attention inward.

“But Sarge, the answers made no sense!”

Fitzgerald sighed and knew that sleep was banished. “Well, then. Let’s have it. Who’s missing?”

“Global Warming.”

“And what’s that, then?” A shrug was his answer. He sighed. “How long has it been missing?”

“Lady said about sixteen years, maybe seventeen.”

“Seventeen years! Good God in Heaven, you’re having me on.” Hannigan stood his ground.

“Who made the complaint?”

“Somebody called Fanny Armstrong. Said she was a movie director. Called from some kind of ‘solar movie tent’ over by the U.N.” In answer to the look on Fitzgerald’s face, he said, “What she said, Sarge.”

“Gimme the number.” Hannigan handed over the paperwork and made his way to the coffee pot. As he was stirring his two sugars he heard Fitzgerald make contact.

“Mrs. Armstrong…Ah, sorry, then. Miss Armstrong…Oh, Mizz, is it? Well, then, Mizz. This is Sergeant Fitzgerald from the 17th precinct. I understand you are looking for, what was it, ‘Global Warming’?…Yes, yes…I see…Yes, quite understandable. But Mizz Armstrong, what puzzles us is why you waited for—what was it?—seventeen years before making a complaint?…Ah, you do, then…Yes…No, I see that could be a problem…No, Mizz, I don’t mind holding.”

Hannigan placed a coffee on Fitzgerald’s desk. The Sergeant took a sip then covered the microphone with his hand. “Mizz Armstrong is taking a call from His Eminence Ban Ki Moon.” More coffee.

“You were right about that tent-thing, Hannigan. This Global Warming, as far as I can make out, is to be featured in some movie premiere, a world-wide broadcast. They’re in a panic because their star can’t be found. Fetch me a new pen, now, would you? This one is dry.”

Fitzgerald sipped at his coffee and settled back to wait, but not for long. “Ah, Mizz. Mr Moon doing well, is he?…Good, good. Remember me to him, would you? Mention parking tickets…Don’t worry, he’ll know. Now, we need some facts before we can help. For instance, what does this Global Warming look like?…Uh huh…Yes…yes…Are you sure, Mizz?…Well, the reason I ask, Mizz, is that the description doesn’t match anything that we…True, Mizz, true. Just a second. Let me ask one of my men who knows the area well.”

“Hannigan, there. Young Mizz says that Global Warming can be found in the temperature record. Just you have a look at it. She says that it will show as a steady, dangerously increasing line, starting from about 1970.”

“Nothing like that here, Sarge. The series seems to be going down or holding steady, and has been for a long time.”

“Did you check the outer boroughs? Be careful with Staten Island. Being that close to the ocean can hide changes in diurnal temperature variations.”

“No, Sarge, nothing. Not anywhere in the world. No record of a Global Warming answering to her description.”

“You heard, Mizz?…No. I assure you our records are quite complete…Um, hmm…Yes. Well, let’s put it this way. How do you even know this Global Warming exists? You’ve never actually see it…Michael Mann? No, Mizz, I have not. Christopher Nolan?…No, sorry. Me and the Mrs. prefer quiet evenings at home…I see…That is a lot of movie stars you have there…What is the name of your film?…The Age of Stupid, is it?…About how people ignore Global Warming? Perhaps they should, since it doesn’t seem to exist?…No, sorry; just a wee joke. Don’t you worry, Mizz. With all those celebrities involved, nobody will even notice that your Global Warming is missing…Quite, sure, Mizz…You have a nice day, too.” He hung up the phone and said to Harrigan, “Another case solved.”

Hannigan went to his desk to finish his paperwork, glad he didn’t have to go out. Fitzgerald again crossed himself, closed his eyes, and said a silent prayer to St. Genesius. “Save us from celebrities if you can. They’re a nervous bunch.”

Genre Fiction—Guest Post by D.B.

"Nobody understands me."

“Nobody understands me.”

“I have a confession to make,” said Jayden. “You won’t like it.”

Abby slowed to a stop, her limbs not responding. She knew this was coming. Something that was not pain but felt like it began to build, causing her shoulders to sag. “Why now?” she thought. Gradually she restored control. She was determined to meet this with fortitude and strength plus resoluteness.

“Go on,” she said, shivering and anxious.

“I…you must have noticed.” The words choked him.

“It’s okay,” she said. “I’m here.”

“I’m a vampire,” he said.

“I know,” she said.

“But…you know? How!” He spun around and looked out the window into the dark. “Of course you knew. You’re you.” He glanced at her from the corner of his eye and allowed himself to feel a small portion of love.

Abby remained quiet. She knew her time for talking, when she could say what she wanted to say, would come later. She removed her bonnet and checked again that her cross necklace was tucked into her frock. “This will take some time,” she thought. “Might as well be comfortable.”

“It’s hell. You’ve no idea.” No holding back now. He was going to reveal all, and maybe even more than that. “It’s because you’re Amish that I’ve waited so long to tell you. Otherwise I would have told you earlier, or even before. Plus the case I’m on has been taking all my time.”

“That reminds me. The DA called for you when you were out. He said the Morelli brothers have been released on bail.”

“All four of them?”

“He said if you can’t come up with the evidence you promised that they’ll all walk. Until then you’d better drop out of sight—go underground.”

Jayden laughed. There’s nobody better at going underground than me, he thought but didn’t say out loud. But where was the evidence? I’m sure I gave it to the DA. Could it be…?” He thrust these dark thoughts aside violently and in haste and began his story again.

“I can’t pick up the simplest object without worrying I’ll crush it because of my superstrength.” He glanced at his hands wondering at the power in them. They shook slightly in his agitation.

Abby noticed. Her body swayed with the same rhythm as his hands. So this is what love is, she thought.

“All my senses are heightened. I can see better, smell better, taste better, hear better.” He paused.

“What…” Abby began shyly. “What about touch better?” She looked down as she said it to hide her growing blush.

He moved his hands in her direction but stopped himself before he could go further and do what they both would regret. “Yes. And touch better. I don’t need to sleep. I can’t get sick. Nothing can hurt me. I won’t age. A hundred years from now I’ll still be as handsome, young, virile, and delicately manly, yet with slightly feminine features, as I am now.” He sighed. “Nobody would want this curse,” he said. “I wish I were as normal as you.”

“I suspected when you told me my father had died of a spontaneous hemorrhage.”

It was Jayden’s turn to blush now. His cheeks glowed red, indicating his feelings.

“I don’t blame you,” she said. “He was an elder in the church. He taught me well enough to know that he would have wanted to me to be with you.”

The phone rang. Jayden flinched. His superstrength caused him to shoot to the ceiling where he hung sweating and clutching to the chandelier, a replica of the one Caravaggio used in his studio in Sicily in 1592 (the same year in which Ippolito Aldobrandini was elected Pope Clement VIII) and which was said to cast an unearthly aethereal light and is what gave his paintings their indescribable vividness. That’s it! Jayden thought. He suddenly recalled that his priest, who was also the confessor for the Morelli brothers, took an unnatural interest in that chandelier last Sunday. The word replica formed in his mind.

“That was the captain,” Abby said. “We’re coming out of hypertwistspace now.” As if on the cue Abby gave, the window turned from its blank dark glow to a not-so-blank light glow. Abby began to smile.

“I didn’t feel the deceleration at all,” said Jayden, who had dropped from his perch. “But then that’s what the plans we discovered in the seeming randomness of the cosmic background radiation said would happen. Packing all humanity on these massive earthships wasn’t easy. But I can see now that it was worth it. I…”

What was happening behind him cut him off. Abby was changing. “I’m finally home,” she said.

And then she proved it.


A Christmas Play In One Act

This post originally ran two years ago. Then current events inspired the post; events haven’t changed much since then.

Scene: Night Court, Manhattan; a date in the near future.
Players: Prosecutor, Judge, and Gandler, the defendant.

Judge: Mr Prosecutor.

Prosecutor: Your honor, case 12A. The defendant, Mr Helmut Gandler, was caught giving possible offense earlier this evening, a clear violation of the Totenberg Act.

Judge: Details? And since it’s almost that time, perhaps we can cut these short. Unless we’re expecting difficulties?

Prosecutor: None that I foresee, your honor. Mr Gandler was coming out of Macy’s with an armload of parcels, and a gentleman—do we have his name? No?—at any rate, this unnamed gentleman opened the door for Mr Gandler. After exiting the store, at this point Mr Gandler very clearly used—in public—a phrase forbidden by the Totenberg Act. I can produce one Officer Lanscomb Sculpio who was witness to the events and who will tell the court that Ransom directed this phrase at the unknown gentleman.

Judge: Very well. I see, Mr Gandler, that you have chosen to represent yourself. This is never a wise course. I am perfectly willing to suspend this case until tomorrow if you choose to accept a public defender. One will be provided to you at no expense.

Gandler: What happens to me in the meantime?

Judge: You will be held in the cells until court re-convenes tomorrow.

Gandler: In that case, I choose to defend myself. I did nothing wrong.

Judge: That is not for you to decide, Mr Gandler. You have heard the charges against you. What have you to say in your defense?

Gandler: I don’t know why I’m here!

Judge: No need to raise your voice. The charge is that you, in public, used a phrase that was illegal. Do you deny this?

Gandler: All I remember is saying “Merry Christmas” to the gentleman who helped—

Judge (pounding his gavel): Order! I will have order! Mr Gandler, I must caution you strongly that by your actions, you may be confounding your original offense. This is your last warning and your last chance to enter a proper defense.

Gandler (exasperated): But what did I do!?

Prosecutor: If I may, you honor?

Judge: Please.

Prosecutor: Although I am anxious that the law be upheld, in fairness I believe this case might have extenuating circumstances. According the records, Mr Gandler is a recent immigrant to the country. From Austria, I believe.

Judge: Thank you, Mr Prosecutor. That is just the sort of disinterestedness I have come to expect from you. Now then, Mr Gandler. You see you are very lucky to have such a generous opponent. But let me impart to you that ignorance of a law is no excuse for breaking it. How long have you been in this country?

Gandler: I arrived almost a year ago this very day. On Christmas day, in fact.

Judge (pounding his gavel): Order! This is my last warning! If I do not have silence, I will clear the public gallery. I expect no more outbursts. Mr Gandler! Please—we must put an end to this immediately! Do you not know that what you are saying is illegal?

Gandler: But all I said was M

Judge: Hold it! You must have known that that phrase is illegal?

Gandler: But I didn’t! I thought this was the land of free speech!

Judge: Of course it is. Anybody is free to use that kind of language in the privacy of his or her own home— providing, naturally, that he or she is in no danger of being overheard by any neighbor, and if there are no children under sixteen residing in that household. You have complete freedom to say anything you like! But in private.

Gandler: I don’t understand.

Judge: Mr Gander, this is a nation of immigrants. Like yourself. If you are to remain in this country, you will come to understand that we all must have respect for each others’ opinions. That is why we cannot use that phrase. Why, just think! The gentleman who opened the door for you could have been an atheist!

Gandler: This doesn’t sound right…

Judge: And, if so, he could have been offended! We must not offend, Mr Gandler, particularly certain groups. Or what if that gentleman had been a government official! Then you would have been guilty of two crimes, one especially serious.

Gandler: Two?

Judge: Separation of Church and State. Uttering forbidden phrases could be construed as you seeking to influence the government in matters of religion. That cannot be stood for. Now, Mr Gandler. I can appreciate that your knowledge of these matters is sketchy. That is no excuse, as I have said. But I cannot see that punishing you—this time—will be productive. So I will let you off with a warning. Please be more considerate in the future. Then we can avoid these little difficulties, eh?

Gandler (bewildered): Thank you, sir.

Judge: Mr Prosecutor, I am looking at the clock.

Prosecutor: I see that your honor.

Judge: Almost time for today’s broadcast…so unless we have pressing business, we had best recess until tomorrow night.

Prosecutor: Very good, your honor.

Gandler (while exiting): And I thought yodeling was bad

The Beauty Contest

Update We’ll leave this on top for another day. No theories thus far are correct.

The sun was now a steady companion, only occasionally obscured by clouds. The snow was melting fast; hardly any remained. Green things, released from the stunting weight of ice, were emerging from the ground. Trees budded, animals scampered. It was finally Spring.

The change had its traditional effect on Howard, who announced to himself, “I shall organize a beauty contest to celebrate this wondrous turn of events.”

Howard decided he would be one of the judges, but he knew that more were needed. He called on one of his friends and pronounced him qualified to sit with him as an authority. The pair together sought out a third then a fourth, and then this group in turn reached out to complete the panel, each blessing the other with the powers of office.

The judges decided which elements of beauty would be considered. There were many. Stature, the way the contestant held herself, also known as poise. Intelligence, a neglected area, would not be forgotten. Attainment, what remarkable acts had the contestant achieved? Grace and the sureness of elegance. Talent of course. But also, since the judges were honest, raw physical attractiveness.

As the panel members were compiling the rules, word of the pageant was leaked. The excitement caused by furtive nature of the announcement attracted a great many entreaties by would-be entrants. But it also excited an even larger number of those who begged to be accepted as judges.

The judges first decided yea or nay on each contestant, often rejecting otherwise eligible applicants merely to reduce their number to something manageable. There were after all only so many judges and so much time in the day. The decision to disallow any further swelling of the ruling panel was easier: none new would be added unless a current judge left or was dismissed.

Finally it was Summer and the big day arrived when the judges were formally empaneled and event began. The contestants were first paraded in their best raiment. The judges made notes, rating each on a scale from worst to best. The next event was questioning, in which each contestant was posed a number of queries designed to elicit depth and range of knowledge. Answers were accorded points in relation to eloquence and correctness. Then came the talent portion of the evening, whereby each contestant demonstrated her contribution to what was best in life.

Topping the evening was the swimsuit competition. Each contestant wore as little as she thought she could get away with whilst obeying the rules of propriety she thought were held by the judges. Each walked and posed in the way that showed off her attributes to what she hoped was maximum effect.

Afterwards the theme song was sung, the contestants thanked for the efforts, and the curtain lowered. The emcee told the audience that the judges would retire to their chambers to decide upon the winner. We can only imagine the nervousness of the contestants as they sat backstage and waited.

The judges filed into their red room and began deliberations which would take many weeks. To reward their efforts, wine was served, and a sumptuous repast was laid before them. During the judging, there was some bickering about this or that quality, minor tiffs about why this element should be accorded greater weight than that, but these disagreements were minor and friendly, argued in the spirit of camaraderie.

It was apparent almost from the beginning that it was no contest. Many entrants had much to offer. This one was uniquely talented, that one gifted with an almost heavenly grace, more than a few sublimely beautiful. But only one possessed all traits in such abundance that many judges, merely thinking of her, wept openly.

The judges were about to write the name of this contestant on the official certificate when Howard spoke.

“Fellow judges,” he said, “While I cannot but agree that this contestant is of surpassing beauty, talent, intelligence, grace, and much more, I am afraid we have overlooked something. Examine if you will this photograph, taken at the time of the swimsuit competition. You will notice here, near the top, a flaw. It is a wart.”

Their astonishment was so great that their collective gasp was heard outside the judge’s room, causing new rumors to fly. Many agreed with Howard: “It is a wart—A flaw, yes—Something less than perfect—How could we have failed to notice such a hideous defect?”

Howard said, “I’m afraid she cannot be the winner. Indeed, I am inclined to place her last because our hope and support for her was so strong.”

All heads around the table nodded. Except one, which belonged to David, who now rose to speak. “Fellow judges, Howard is right, but only about the flaw. It is there and cannot be overlooked. But did you not see that each of the contestants had similar flaws? The contestant we had in mind for second place had several, spread all around her person, and each was at least as ugly as our winner’s lone aberration. We must accept that human perfection is not possible: it can only be approximated. We should therefore vote that the true winner take her rightful place.”

Howard erupted in fury. “My learned friend has said that the flaw we have all noticed, and which has sickened and so disheartened us, does not exist! There is only one answer to this scurrilous accusation!”

The one answer was to seize David by the collar, strip off his judge’s robe, and forcibly eject him from the room. This left the panel one member short, so the young man who poured the wine, who indeed had sought that office just to be near the magistrates, was co-opted as a judge. Anxious to get along and to not endanger his new and much coveted position, he acceded to the consensus view and voted to reject the apparent winner, an act which was rewarded by many pats on the back and remarks of “Good fellow!”

The judges then returned to the auditorium and handed the envelopes to the emcee, who in turn called the contestants on stage to hear their fates. Third place was revealed first, which garnered moderate applause. Second place came next, a choice with which the audience evidently agreed. Tension mounted. The emcee milked the moment, pretended to begin an anecdote, then upon hearing the groans of the audience tore open the last envelope and read off the name. Silence, confusion, wonderment.

The winner was that contestant many had thought would come in, if not last, then certainly in the bottom tier. The winner had her qualities, of course, she possessed a certain charm, but only if she was viewed while squinting would anybody say she was beautiful. Was this a mistake?

Howard sensed the mood and knew the audience did not understand. He mounted the stage and lectured those who had remained in their seats that his and the wisdom of his fellow judges could not be questioned. The audience was aghast. But Howard strode off, the curtain fell for the final time, and the pageant ended abruptly.

As he was leaving the theater, Howard bumped into the contestant who David had said should be the rightful winner. “Excuse me,” she said. Howard viewed these words as an affront and so he began to lecture the contestant about why she did not win. He talked at length about the flaw. He analyzed it in every particular detail. He said that the judges were already preparing a book which was to be a compendium about the sheer awfulness of the wart. He at first hinted, and then outright accused the contestant of mendacious and fraudulent behavior: how dare she enter a contest when she knowingly possessed a flaw! Her behavior was monstrous, atrocious, unforgivable.

The rebuke was long and devastating. It’s venom penetrated and struck the contestant with overwhelming force. She was more than dispirited or distraught, she was inconsolable in her grief, horrified by the consequences of her crime. She wandered into the night alone, sure that Howard had been right to say what he had said. She came to a fence blocking access to a river, climbed the fence and sat down on the other side. She undid her sash and tied it to the fence and then to her neck. She let herself slip into the river, tightening the noose which slowly strangled her.

Her death marked the first day of Fall.

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