Bonnie Hendrickson is an experienced writer living in New York City. She has been dabbling in fiction for several years and searching for a creative platform to stretch her imagination. I knew from the start that Bonnie would be a welcome addition to the Prose and Cons roster. She does thorough research and presents her submissions in a very proper, articulate format. She is a true professional who understands timing and character development. Bonnie's first contribution is titled Natural Gas. It is a happy little tale about the future, enlightenment, and... well, you read it...

The thin plastic tube snaked beneath her fingers as she held it under the water. She was careful to keep her bandaged finger from getting wet. The can opener had demanded a side of blood to go with her lunch of baked beans and coleslaw. Submerged nozzles released bubbles from under the surface, practicing for later.

Her eyes went funny as she stared, making the clear tube seem to disappear and reappear against the water.

"It really is a circle," she thought, "a perfect circle."

Her gut cramped. Did she want a dose now? Why not?

She had a choice to make. A single? Or try a double nostril shot? Getting a nasal cannula from the underground proved to be more expensive than she anticipated, but it was worth it.

The lube on the nozzle was the messy part, but it was a necessary evil. Even a little tear could get in infected. Then where would she be?

She laid on her waterbed. Her gut sloshed around with the mattress. At last, a release. She closed her eyes and pictured the vapor making its way up, up, up. She inhaled deeply. The silky dizziness washed over her.

***

The powers that be made it easy. Since the clean living laws were enacted, the supermarkets and corner stores had a bountiful supply of vegetables, brewer's yeast, unrefined sugar, and fiber supplements. She mused at the irony of it as she filled her cart.

She now could recognize those with the tell-tale signs of being a gasser. Raw indentations under the nose and distended stomachs let her know she was not alone.

A man in a suit parked his cart behind her in the checkout line. He loosened his belt a notch and sighed. As he impatiently drummed his fingers on the handle, he caught her counting the bags of dried beans in his cart.

"Two for ninety-nine cents," he said, his cheeks turning pink.

"Three for a dollar down the street," she replied.

He quickly moved to another line.

***

As she crossed the room, she wondered if the vice dens of the past had looked like this. The low light. The scattered couches and pillows. The limp bodies strewn about like rag dolls. She doubted they had tables covered with bowls of raw beans, their contents now shaped like volcanoes from eager hands plunging into them, or ravaged platters of crudités, spinning like tops as someone rushed past to get to the action.

Sharing. It was something she swore she'd never do. Somehow, it was too reminiscent of the now illegal vices - tobacco, alcohol, illicit and prescription drugs, and junk food. But her resistance was waning. She could feel it. Her own didn't have the same oomph anymore. She pushed aside the fear that she would, at some point, go too far down the path to the unthinkable.

She started going to the clubs to find the best producer. She had heard about the uber-fiber cocktail this place made and she was determined to get the recipe before she left. The sooner the better. Being recognized was something she didn't need.

After putting her gear on in the bathroom, she sauntered to the bar. A loud trumpeting blast sounded from a corner.

A smattering of applause supported a woman's wail, "I missed it!"

A man's voice answered, "I told you to hurry!"

She grabbed her drink and turned away. If the cocktail worked, she'd ply the bartender later. Based on how hungrily he looked at her, she was pretty sure that with a quick fuck - there were some things that just couldn't be legislated against – he'd tell her anything. A small price to pay.

The waiting was the worst part. She should have eaten earlier.

"Why couldn't I be gluten intolerant?"

There was an open ring on a group of couches. She didn't want to talk to anyone - she usually saved her words for the courtroom - but she didn't want to stand either.

Adjusting her skirt, she eased herself down onto the ring before she realized who was sitting opposite her. The Philosopher. She'd heard that this was his place, but she didn't want to be anywhere near him. The rumors about him were terrifying.

"Damn it!"

Eyes closed, the Philosopher inhaled deeply. His open satin robe revealed an iridescent purple tube that pulsed against his distended stomach as it snaked up to his nose.

She turned her eyes elsewhere, anywhere, and resisted the urge to gulp her drink. The muted television mimed a good-natured family squabble in a gym.

"A sitcom. Perfect."

Her eyes glazed as she watched the pretty colors on the screen go by. Between sips of her drink, she ground the grit between her teeth.

A pretty young thing stood in front of her. "Hi," she breathed.

She raised an eyebrow at the girl as she sipped.

"I'm Martie," she cooed as she pulled off her panties. "Do you share?"

She shook her head, wishing that Martie would go away.

Martie gave her a playful poke on the arm. "Don't be shy. I'm so full!"

The Philosopher cleared his throat. "I share, my dear."

Martie bounded over to the other couch.

She giggled. "Great!"

The Philosopher grunted as he bent over to pick up his bottle of lubricant. As she assumed the position, Martie introduced herself.

"Hello, Martie. You can call me Doc."

The young man next to the Philosopher gallantly gave his ring to Martie. She eased herself down, careful not to crimp the Philosopher's tube.

"Well, look at that!" the Philosopher said, pointing at the television.

She watched the silent commercial for an herbal supplement touted to relieve excessive gas and bloating. A chorus of boos sprang up. The Philosopher harrumphed and grabbed the remote control. The screen went dark.

She turned her head to look for another seat.

The Philosopher tapped Martie on the tip of her pert nose with his finger. "You're a lovely girl."

Martie grabbed his hand and pulled his finger under her nose. She inhaled deeply. He pulled it back and rubbed it against his walrus mustache.

"Hey, give that back!"

The Philosopher's laughter shook the couch.

Martie shrugged. "I can't help it," she breathed, "I'm a junkie."

"Far from it!"

"I'm not?"

To hide her eye roll, she turned and plopped her empty glass on the table next to the couch. She grabbed some garbanzo beans from a bowl. She busied herself popping them into her mouth one at a time. Anything to divert her attention from this drivel.

"You are the logical extension of the times we live in!" The Philosopher looked around to make sure he was drawing attention. "We've been getting high off the shit that the politicians, the advertisers, the media and the rest of the world have been feeding us all of our lives. Why shouldn't we partake of our own?" On cue, Martie giggled. "We, my friends, are the ultimate purists!"

She could feel bodies gathering behind her. No way to make a graceful exit now.

She grabbed another handful of garbanzos and kept a steady stream flowing from her hand to her mouth. Her gut gurgled. At last, something was happening.

The Philosopher inhaled. "Ah, the rich humus of life. Very nice, Martie!" There were scattered laughs through the gathering crowd. "What we do is part of a perfect circle."

She briefly paused in her machine-like consumption of the beans.

"We grow. We eat. We digest. We fertilize. It's a beautiful thing. Why not revel in our efforts? We bottle the scent of flowers and the musk of animals for our enjoyment, but we are ashamed to enjoy the force that supports life?"

"How many of you have felt in tune with the universe after you've inhaled?" The Philosopher scanned his audience. "I'm not ashamed to say I have!"

She almost choked on her garbanzo, but managed to keep a straight face. Her intestines churned.

"This stuff is amazing!"

She craned her neck to make sure the bartender was still on duty. He smiled at her from the bar.

The Philosopher was not finished. "Why do we hide, my friends? The government mandates natural living! Why don't we show the world the purest way to enlightenment?"

"Enlightenment?"

Martie gasped, "You mean, do it in public?"

The Philosopher slapped his knee. "Of course!"

"I couldn't!"

"Why not?"

"It would be like ... like picking your nose or something."

The Philosopher poked his finger into his nostril and extracted. He flicked it onto the rug. The audience began to drift away.

"Wait, my friends! I'd like your input!"

She sensed it was safe to leave her seat without being noticed. She was half-way up when the cramp hit her. She fell back down. It had never hurt like this before.

The Philosopher nodded at her. "Good for you!"

She blinked against the second wave. The vapor was overwhelmingly strong. She tried to inhale, but couldn't catch her breath. She slumped back against the couch. The dizziness wasn't silken. It was raw, nauseating, but her mind's eye pulsed and swirled with color and light.

"Is she OK?" Martie asked.

The Philosopher smiled. "Oh, yes. Daniel knows how to make a fine cocktail." He raised his hand in a mock salute. "Enjoy your journey, my dear."

***

The scene was a police show cliché; a grimy alley and the body of a young woman sprawled in a shaft of light.

"A lovely girl," said the coroner.

Averting his eyes from the woman's swollen face, the detective replied, "Yeah, well, she used to be."

The coroner grunted as he knelt by the body.

"Another OD for your collection, Doc?" A cop asked.

The coroner stroked his walrus mustache as he gently pushed on her grossly distended stomach. "Perhaps. We'll figure it out, my friends."

"You always d..."

The air was split by a loud blast that tapered off to a whispering whistle.

The cop guffawed.

The coroner glared at him. "Show some respect! She's reached enlightenment." With a melancholy sigh, he gently brushed a lock of hair from her cheek. "Lucky girl."

They exchanged a glance over Doc's head. The detective shrugged.

"Sorry, Doc."

"Can I have her now?"

"Go ahead. I'll track down her family."

"Thank you, Detective."

Discussing lunch, the detective and cop wandered down the alley.

The driver backed the van into the mouth of the alley, blocking it. He pulled a length of tube from his pocket and fastened one end to his nose as he walked toward the coroner.

"Good afternoon, Daniel."

"Hi, Doc."

The coroner's mustache bristled as he smiled.

"Impressive work, Daniel. Let's get her inside."