Revenge is a Dish Best Served Serendipitously

“Still too soggy.”

Speck wiped the sweat from his brow with a quick sweep of the arm. This 24th day of August, 1853, was already sweltering but now his blood too began to boil. It was the second time the house specialty had been sent back.

“Okay...” Speck said as he peeked out the kitchen door at the fussy troublemaker sitting at table #3. He was sipping at a glass of iced water and fanning himself with a menu. “He wants ‘em thinner, I’ll cut ‘em thinner...” The waitress squeezed by him and went back out to the floor.

Speck flipped the plate of golden French fries over the garbage pail and tossed it into a soapy tub. He grabbed his sharpest knife and leaned over a large potato. Within two minutes, he had cut the potato into a pile of incredibly thin slices. He scowled as he scooped them up in his hands and turned to the waiting frying pan, already writhing with bubbling oil.

“Oh, Speck, he says they’s too bland too,” the waitress said through a half-opened door, “wants ‘em saltier.”

Speck looked up at her and winked.

He dropped the handful of potatoes back on the chopping block and reached for the salt-shaker. Then he stopped. Instead, he grabbed the big bag of salt on the shelf and poured it out on top of the spuds. He laughed quietly to himself. Each slice shone like a sliver of quartz as he pulled them from the crystalline mound and dropped them into the pan.

By the time the doors closed at Moon’s Lake House in Saratoga Springs, New York, not only had the fussy customer ordered a second serving, but every diner in the restaurant wanted to try George “Speck” Crum’s new culinary creation – the potato chip.


Better Late Than Never, But Never Late is Better

On the evening of November 27th, 1761, nine days out of Spithead, the Deptford’s navigator pulled up the chip log himself and scratched a few notes on a slip of paper. Some deckhands peered over his shoulder as he wrote out his equations. They nodded in approval of what they spied.

“What’s it say?”

“I don’t know, I can’t read. I thought you knew.”

“Blast it! All I bloody know is that if we miss Madeira, there’ll be nowhere else to restock our bloody beer and we’ll be stuck drinking nothing but bloody water all the way across the bloody Atlantic!”

“That cookie... I told him that beer was off when he loaded it. I’ve got a nose for that, you know...”

The navigator glanced at the pair and shook his head. Slipping the paper into a breast pocket, he made his way to the captain’s cabin and knocked at the door.

“Captain?” he queried and poked his head through the doorway.

“Ah, enter, sir,” a voice called, “Mr. Harrison here was just telling me that we’ll reach Porto Santo by sunrise... I’ve been trying to tell him that I’ve been sailing this route for years and we’re still a day and a half away. What say you?”

The navigator studied the chart and the dead-reckoning marks he had earlier laid out. He cleared his throat before he spoke.

“Mr. Harrison, I agree with the captain. Your father’s little clock there has put you in error of over some 100 nautical miles.”

At 6 a.m. the next morning, the alcohol-thirsty look-out’s “Land, HO!” awoke captain Digges from a restful sleep.

“I’ll be,” he mumbled.

This first test of the marine chronometer built by John Harrison was successful. Exact knowledge of longitude was now within the grasp of the modern seaman.


Comin' Through the Rye

Four G.I.’s sat in a jeep below the Eiffel Tower. It was August 25th, 1944, and the Americans were in Paris.

“I can’t believe you still carry that stupid typewriter everywhere, you’re gonna’ get killed.”

JD didn’t say anything but lifted the black metal case from his lap to show the sergeant. Several bullet holes marred the surface.

The sergeant shook his head and looked back up at the French tricolor flapping atop the tower for the first time in four years. “You ought to go see that writer,” he suggested over his shoulder, “he’s here you know.”

“Here? Impossible, “JD said.

“Really, he’s been here for a while; son-of-a-gun was leading some resistance-fighters... I heard he liberated the Ritz singlehandedly,” the sergeant joked. He sucked on a black cigar and laughed through his teeth.

“Hey, give me a ride over there, will you?”

A few minutes later, JD hopped out of the jeep and into the madness of the celebrating crowds. He ducked under the outstretched arms of an old woman looking to kiss him and slipped sideways around the children pushing flowers at him. His typewriter came in handy in forcing his way through the doors of the hotel.

He found the lobby packed with people, just as raucous as the mob outside. The lounge was off to his right and he scanned the faces there. His attention was drawn to a soldier that was banging out “Don’t sit under the apple tree” on the piano, an attractive young girl on his lap, teenaged probably but quite drunk. As he stared at the young, pretty coquette, he noticed behind her, at the bar, a tall bearded man with a gun in his belt.

JD hurried over to him.

“Mr. Hemingway? You don’t know me. My name is Salinger...”


A LIttle Kindness Goes a Long Way

When the captain departed and the hatch closed behind him, Cyril Evans leaned back on his stool and plopped his feet onto the counter. A long day was ending. One more message to send out and it was off to the Wild West for him. Before leaving port, Cyril had traded another sailor for a copy of Zane Grey’s new novel, Riders of the Purple Sage. With the boat stopped, for the first time all day he felt relaxed and was looking forward to an hour or so of reading before bed.

“Jane Withersteen, don’t go anywhere,” he said, staring down at the book.

Cyril slid an earpiece over his head, pulled the transmitter onto his lap, and began to tap out an informal message.

“Say, old man,” it read, “we are surrounded by ice and stopped.”

As he typed out the last character, the reply came immediately. He yanked the headphones from his ears and held them at arm’s length, and still he could hear the message clearly:


Cyril threw the headphones onto the counter and sat forward. “Fine, you dingbat,” he said out loud. “Try and be friendly...”

He grabbed his novel and accidentally tore the cover in half as he violently opened it.

“Dammit! You stupid blockhead, now look what you’ve made me do!”

His opportunity for relaxation had now passed; his heart was pounding with anger at the wireless operator on the nearby ship. He gave up on the idea of reading and instead secured the lights, went out the hatch, down the ladder, and fell into his bunk, still upset.

An hour later, at 12:15 a.m. on April 15, 1912, in the empty communications room of the SS Californian, the “CQD” (SOS) of the Titanic went unheard.

By the Demands of the Anti-Gun Lobby

Bill slapped a hammer into the palm of his hand a few times and looked down the stairs where his foreman was going over a stack of papers with an old woman. It was his first day on the job and he didn’t want to make any trouble, but he couldn’t help himself.

“You want me to do... what?”

The foreman glanced up from his plans and said in an irritated voice, “I want you to hang that closet door.” He shook his head and turned to the old woman, “I’m sorry ma’am. He’s new here.”

Bill turned around and whistled quietly through his teeth. He was standing at the top of a staircase that led precisely to nowhere. The steps rose sharply from the sixth floor of the mansion and ended at the ceiling where an ornate wooden frame had already been mounted. He shrugged his shoulders and set himself to the task, thinking he’d be at the employment agency by the end of the afternoon.

An hour later, Bill was sliding himself from under the newly-installed door on the ceiling when he heard footsteps on the stairs. It was the foreman.

Uh-oh, here it comes, Bill thought to himself.

The foreman looked up at the work and then, wide-eyed, back at Bill.

“Fine job,” he said. “Now I’ve got a chimney for you to install in the basement...”

For thirty-eight years, twenty-two carpenters worked twenty-four hours a day constructing this impossible home in San Jose, California; a home destined to be built until the death of its owner, Sarah Winchester, on September 5th, 1922.

Sarah had been compelled to build continuously by the restless and angry ghosts of those who died at the hands of her husband’s invention, the gun that won the west, the Winchester Repeating Rifle.


Gone but Not Forgotten

As the ship made its way along the outer banks, John stood atop the foc’sle, anxious. He was the governor of the little city of Raleigh but he had been absent for a long time. It was August 18th, 1590, exactly 1,085 days since he had left his family under the care of the other hundred-plus colonists in the New World. His granddaughter, Virginia, was only ten days old when he kissed her goodbye, the first child born on those distant shores.

“Are you sure this is the right spot?” the mate asked.

Even after his prolonged absence, it still looked vaguely familiar to John, but something wasn’t right. He sidled along the rail, straining his eyes, hoping to glimpse some movement.

“Something’s wrong.”

When the landing party finally walked up the beach, no one greeted them. But they did come upon what looked like a fort in the woods. One of the sailors pointed to a bald cypress tree incorporated into the palisade. The bark was scraped away and onto it was etched the word “CROATOAN.”

“It’s a message, they’re safe,” John said, hesitantly optimistic. “It means they’ve gone to live with the Indians to the south. We agreed they’d carve a Maltese cross into a tree if they were forced away by hostiles.”

Suddenly a flash of movement caught John’s attention. A white deer behind a distant tree raised its head and stared into John’s eyes for a moment before bounding silently away. Suddenly he felt sick.

The settlers had not gone south.

Except for that mysterious inscription, they’d simply disappeared. Without a trace.

John White would die back in England, alone, never having found out the fate of his family or the other citizens of the Lost Colony of Roanoke.

Four passing centuries have revealed little else.