Groundhog’s Day (by Bill Bassman)

Bill Bassman makes his debut as a professional fiction writer with the story “Errand for a Neighbor” in our current issue, January/February 2023 (see the Department of First Stories). He’s a software engineer and a former teacher, and he tells EQMM that he’s a lifelong fan of crime fiction, although the closest he ever came to real detective work was a year as health inspector for the city of Philadelphia. Authors come to fiction writing as a result of varying impetuses; Bill explains one of the things that pushed him in that direction in this post. I hope it brings a smile to readers on this winter day. —Janet Hutchings

Groundhog Day is coming. Are you ready? No need to answer. For most of us the last two years has seemed like an unfunny remake of Groundhog Day, the movie. But, to me Groundhog Day portends another event more pertinent to fiction writers: April Fool’s Day.

At this point a critical reader is probably thinking: I don’t get it. What’s the tie-in?

First, for fiction writers every day is April Fool’s Day, and, on April Fool’s Day almost everyone has at one time or another created fiction.

Now, for the tie-in. Years back, I don’t remember what year, but it was sometime after e-mail came into common use in work environments, I woke up to a clock radio announcing that it was Groundhog Day. At least I think I did, maybe I was just remembering that scene from the movie. (Do fiction writers generally have trouble distinguishing experience from illusion?)

It was a clear cold day, with just about the right amount of fresh overnight snow for a perfect cross country ski through the cemetery down the street, but there was a problem. It was Tuesday and they hadn’t yet declared GHD a national holiday. I donned my ski togs, but stopped off at the laptop on my way out to send the following email to my boss (a Moldovan immigrant with a very austere sense of humor).

To: Vasile

            From: Bill

            Subject: Working from home today

            Hi Vasile,

            I won’t be able to make it into the office today. There’s a mob of Beavers blocking my front door. They’re holding up signs protesting Groundhog Day. I tried reasoning with them. The big brown guy (or girl) at the head of the mob was holding a sign with a crude drawing of a groundhog inside a circle with a slash through it. Under that, in sloppy red crayon, it read: What’s so Great about Groundhogs?

            In response to his placard, and in what I thought was quite a reasonable tone, I said, “Groundhogs can predict the future.”

            He showed me an imposing pair of incisors and replied, “Big f-ing deal. Ever see a groundhog build a decent dam?”

            From the rear of the mob somebody thrust up another sign saying Rodent Equality NOW. Then they all exposed chisel sharp front teeth and started chanting vulgar anti-groundhog epithets. So, I was forced to retreat inside.

            I’ll be working on that multi-threaded algorithm for handling multiple input signals for version 3.1.0.12. Call if you need me.

I hit “Send” and two things occurred to me. First, I had just told an elaborate lie in the form of a story. Second, such a fib would have been more appropriate for April Fool’s Day. Worse than that. How was I going to follow that one up when it actually was April Fool’s Day?

It turned out that last question didn’t need an answer. Vasile, it seemed, had a better sense of humor than I expected. He fired me, which set me on an entirely new path. Telling elaborate lies for a living. (Luckily, I had a good severance package.)

So, where’s the mystery? To me, it could be why the hell I felt compelled to write and, especially, to send that email. On the other hand, life is a mystery that no one has yet solved to my satisfaction.

Hope everyone has a happy new year.

Bill

P.S.

Some of the above is actually true. I think.

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