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Welcome back to Panel 350, our experiment in flash fiction (stories told in 350 word or less). This edition comes to you courtesy of PANELista Brent Bowman, who also provides the illustrations.

Whatever Happened to Those Meddling Kids

by Brent Bowman

1969. Childhood’s end. They’d spent the last two years solving mysteries with the Stoner’s Dog.It had been fun, but the decade was coming to an end, and so was their innocence.

The Preppie left first. Against everybody’s expectations, he enlisted, figuring his trapping skills would be useful fighting the Red Menace. He was deployed to Vietnam in 1970 and returned stateside in ’73, a broken man. He’d seen the face of War and discovered that true monsters were far more than old men and incompetent criminals wearing Halloween masks. Some years later, while he was sitting on a street corner with his sign and cup, he made eye contact with the Polpular Girl. He wasn’t sure it was her, and she didn’t recognize him at all.

She’d had it rough after all. When he left for the Army her world crashed in. Everybody expected them to marry. She’d never dated anybody else so, after he left, the first man who paid her attention wound up the first man in her bed. But not the last. After a while, she decided she shouldn’t be giving it away for free. Eventually she turned to drugs to dull the pain. And then more tricks to pay for the drugs. Two days after she saw him on that street corner, she was dead. She was buried as a Jane Doe.

The Stoner and his Dog had always been considered a bit odd. Most folks found it “cute” that he thought his Dog could talk. It was the ‘60’s and little was known about schizophrenia. The gang hadn’t been split up for more than six months, when the Stoner walked into the local malt shop and shot the clerk. He held the customers hostage for twelve hours before Police sharpshooters took him out. When the coroner came for the body, the Dog wouldn’t let him near it and was euthanized on the spot.

The Bookworm had always been the strongest, and coped as best she could. After years of bad relationships, she finally came out. She opened a bookstore and is currently writing her memoirs.

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