Monthly Archives: July 2012

No. 154

The girl rode her bike down the dark street. She thought she was the only one out so late.
A block away, a group of criminals watched her approach the corner and begin to turn away from them. The nervous one bolted for her before the others were ready.
“Stop!” hissed the boss. But it was too late. The girl had seen them and she was making a dash for the hero-box.
She made it just in time, smacking the large pad on the top. The box swung open, revealing a chest of four superhero costumes. The girl picked an appropriate one and threw it on.
The nervous crook didn’t have a chance. The girl raised her hand and threw fire at him. She missed, but he saw the odds were now against him and retreated.
The girl made sure he was gone, then replaced the suit in the box and continued on her way.
When the screw-up got back to his gang, the boss tore into him.
“How are we going to get one of those boxes open if we can’t get to the mark first?” the boss yelled. “There’s one on every corner, and if you keep blowing our cover, soon we’re going to have hundreds of problems to worry about.”
Another villain coughed. “Maybe we should just try to take the chips out?” he suggested, referring to the tags every criminal received when they were convicted. The tags prevented them from abusing the hero-boxes.
The boss turned to him. “And if there was a way to do that, don’t you think I would have tried it by now instead of trying to ambush weak looking kids to get access, and risking my hide when we’re caught out?” he asked, throwing a hateful glare at the nervous one.

No. 153

The broken pen lay on the desk, dribbling ink into a dark pool on the floor.
Scattered papers blew slowly along the ground.
“What do you want, Nick?” asked Josh Woodrow, owner of the destroyed book and writing utensil.
 “I told you, you can’t write anything down,” threatened Nick.
Josh sighed. “If you’d read it before you trashed it, then you’d know that I hadn’t,” he bluffed. He didn’t think Nick would gather up the loose sheets now and catch him lying.
The two stared each other down.
Unusually, Nick backed away first. “If anybody finds out, I’ll come back. Do you understand? I’ll come back, and I’ll mess up more than your stupid diary.”
Then Nick stalked off towards the cafeteria.
 Josh was now alone in the library with the mess. He made sure to pick up as many pages as he could. Each one contained another piece of the truth that would keep him safe from the worst that Nick could inflict.
He didn’t notice until he’d collected most of them that each now bore blue smudges. He’d gotten ink all over his hands. He laughed and collapsed into his chair as the adrenaline suddenly wore out.

No. 152

Elizabeth Laprade had been trapped in stone for 200 years. She had been cursed to remain frozen until a time when the last story of what she had done had been forgotten. She silently watched the world pass her by from the cliff face she was now a part of. Trees grew up and were felled. Houses were built along the riverbanks below. Not even the animals that occasionally crawled on the rocks or the birds that perched and nested nearby seemed to notice anything was amiss.
She had spent many years watching the people that used the river. Children came and went. She would watch as they aged into adulthood, had children of their own, and, eventually, brought their grandchildren back down to the river.  Then one day two children she’d never seen before walked beneath her to play on the shore.
“Did you ever hear about the witch that used to live around here?” she heard the boy ask the girl.
“No! Don’t try to scare me, Charlie. It won’t work.”
“She would catch little kids like you and take them back to her cave,” said the boy.
Elizabeth smiled inside as the memories filtered back. It had been so long ago.
The boy continued. “One year she killed almost a dozen! Her name was—,” he hesitated. “Her name was Victoria,” he finished.
Elizabeth felt something. Movement! She wiggled her finger and small pebbles crumbled away.

No. 151

The ladder that had allowed them to climb up was now flat out on the back lawn.
“You didn’t happen to bring your phone up along with the iced tea, did you?” Josie asked.
“Nope. It’s on the kitchen counter.”
“I guess this is what we get for buying the house at the end of the street. It’s quiet, but nobody will come by until the Braids get back from vacation next week,” said Josie with a bit of a laugh.
Brian shuffled down to the edge and peered over.
“Honey, be careful, it’s too far to jump,” cautioned his wife.
Brian tapped his chin thoughtfully. “We could use our clothes to fashion an SOS that would be visible from the air,” he suggested.
“Yes, but then we’d be visible from the air, too,” said Josie. “I bet that was your plan all along. Come up here. Surprise me with tea. ‘Accidentally’ knock the ladder down. Trick me into disrobing.”
“You’ve figured me out. But seriously, how do we get down? ‘Cause I got nothing. You’re supposed to be the body and the brains, remember?”
Josie smiled.
There was a fierce gust of wind.
“Aw, there goes my hat, too,” Brian shouted.
The wind continued to pick up. The couple could hear a banging from the other side of the house.
“That’s it!” exclaimed Josie. She stood up and, staying crouched, walked to the north end of the roof.
“Ah, right!” said Brian. “You see, that’s why I keep you around.”
The large tree had been on Brian’s ‘to-do’ list for the last several months since they’d moved in. He’d meant to cut it down because he’d thought it was too close to the house. Now he was thankful for the fact that he’d so far been too cheap to call someone in to get rid of it.
“Should be easy enough,” said Josie. “You remember how to climb a tree, right?” she teased her husband.
“Now that we have a way down, do you think we should re-visit the SOS plan?” he asked her with a raised eyebrow.
“Let’s at least wait until we’re on the ground,” she told him.

Around Gray Publishes Mini-Stories, 101 – 150, May 28 – July 17, 2012

No. 101
The Good Dog Part 3
May 28, 2012
What’s that? Is that the leash? Oh boy! The leash! I’m going for a walk! Walk! Walk! Walk! Girl is taking me for a walk! I love to walk with Girl!
Outside is fun! My master or Girl bring me outside every day! I get to smell things and run around! I’m going to run over here! Wait! What’s over there? I’d better run over there! What’s that smell?
There’s something stinky! I’d better roll in it! My master will be upset if I don’t bring home any smells for him. I love going to a walk! Maybe I’ll see a bird! Or a cat, even! I don’t like cats. I hope I don’t see a cat. I don’t like cats.
What’s that? It’s moving fast! I’d better chase it. It’s coming near my yard. I can’t let anything near my yard. Hey! Get back here! Get back here or I’ll—Ack! What’s this thing around my neck? Oh yeah, the leash. What happens if I pull it? Ah! Can’t breathe. Ok, I won’t do that.
Walk. Walk. Walk. Oh! Dirt! I forgot to dig this morning. I’d better dig in the dirt. My master will think I’m lazy if I don’t dig on my walk for two walks!
Hey! I know where we are! There’s home! I love home! I hope my master didn’t forget about me!
“Hey, buddy? Did you have a good walk? Come here! Hey, ew! What is that smell? I think you need a bath!”
A bath? Did my master say bath? Oh no!
No. 102
The Burning Part 3
May 29, 2012
The Burn-warden told me that my contact was holed up in shelter 3, on the other side of the city.
That’s my girl. Always keep them guessing. I made my way to shelter 1 where I knew she’d be.
The thickness of the walls of these things always surprised me.
I didn’t have a permit, so I wasn’t allowed to enter, but the gatekeeper promised to pass the word of my appearance down through the tunnel. I waited outside and kept a habitual eye on the sky.
A short time later the doors re-opened and I saw her for the first time since Cincinnati. I noticed the scars had yet to heal.
“You’re here about the umbrella?” she asked me with no preamble. I’d always appreciated that. She was business-first.
“I heard you were successful,” I told her.
She brushed self-consciously at the furrow on her cheek. “Depends who you ask.”
“Listen, love, I need it. Anything you’ve got.”
Her eyes locked on to mine, and I knew that she knew my plans.
“You’re going back,” she gasped.
I nodded.
 “Even with the umbrella suit, that’s suicide!”
“I think I can stop it,” I told her.
She didn’t believe me. “Stop what?”
“Stop the Burning.”
No. 103
The Prank Part 3
May 30, 2012
For the past month, Colin Charter had sequestered himself in his tiny dorm room.  He had very little time left to plan the ultimate prank.
His situation had become desperate enough that he’d turned to the internet for inspiration.
 He moved his mouse over the blinking link that promised to provide the directions for a prank so magnificent that it claimed to be worth $49.99 just to see the plans.
He hovered for a moment, and then gave in. As he hit the button that said “order”, Colin wondered if he was the one getting pranked.
The page loaded.  There were no blueprints. No descriptions. Instead, there was only a phone number.
Colin had no choice now but to call it. He typed it dutifully into his phone and pressed “send”. He almost dropped the handset when he saw the display.
“Calling: Chrissy Peachland”.
The line was picked up.
“Hello Colin. I knew you’d call eventually,” said Chrissy with a just a hint of sex and victory in her voice. “I’ve got fifty bucks that says you need a little help.”
Colin, having been bettered, hung his head and admitted. “I need help.”
“Come around my room after eleven tonight. We’ll put something together that will blow everyone’s mind.”
No. 104
Mark’s Meltdown Part 3
May 31, 2012
He didn’t stop screaming until he made it out of the house.
Mark stood in the street and tried to slow his breathing. Everything seemed so ordinary out here.
He fell to his knees on the lawn and tried to flush the impressions of what just happened out of his mind. It can’t have been real.
But there must be something wrong with him. Nobody just thinks their TV is trying to kill them. He decided that he should probably still call somebody. An ambulance, maybe, given the severity of the attack.
He felt in his pocket for a phone. It wasn’t there. He must have dropped it in the hallway. Unless it fell out onto the grass. He looked down at his legs.
They were bleeding. His pants were torn to ribbons, and there deep slashes on his thighs and shins. His hands were covered in blood, too.
He stood, and ran for the neighbor’s house. He had to find someone who would help him.
He banged on the door, ignoring the fact that it was the middle of the night. He heard the lock click, and the door opened a crack.
“Mark?” asked the man at the door. “Is that you? What’s going on?”
“I don’t know. Please help me.”
The man on the other side of the barrier peered as far around the corner as he could, checking the rest of his yard and driveway suspiciously.
“Mark, what are you doing here? You moved away three months ago.”
No. 105
Closed Part 3
June 1, 2012
“Sit down,” said the old man. “We have certain ways of doing things around here.”
“Where’s Able?” demanded Sawyer Nolan.
“Like I said, sit down. Maybe you’ll learn something.”
Nolan realized that he wouldn’t be able to find his friend by arguing, and he didn’t particularly want to go back outdoors to look around. He pulled up a ragged stool and sat down beside the mysterious stranger.
“I didn’t catch your name,” he told the man.
“I didn’t give it,” replied the man.
“Right. What happened to my friend?”
More than anything, Nolan wanted to fix the problem quickly and leave. He figured he could get home in about three hours if he ignored the speed limits on the highway. Damn Able for getting caught up in some hillbilly superstition.
“Here,” the old man said firmly as he passed a low tumbler of something potent down the bar. “Drink this while I tell you a story. You don’t mind listening to a story, do you?”
Nolan took the drink and sipped it, fighting the urge to cough violently. It had such a kick he had trouble identifying the liquor. He chose “whiskey” and tried to pretend to be interested in what the coot had to say.
“Go ahead,” he wheezed through the burn of the “whiskey”.
The old man leaned back on his stool. “Don’t worry, you might still have time to save your friend.”
“Tell the story,” Nolan snapped.
“A few years back, a couple outsiders came through. They had big promises. ‘We’re gonna grow this town,’ they said. ‘Plenty of money for everyone’. They had plans for a mine up in the hills. Well, winter comes and they disappear back to the city, and we here, we start seeing things.”
“So you’re blaming Winston and me for whatever’s going on?” asked Nolan.
“Did I say that?” the man questioned. Then he carried on. “A couple of McMaster’s boys went out to take a look. Only Jarrod came back. Seems these two fellas from the city had gone and messed around in Dark Hollow before they left.”
“I don’t remember Dark Hollow being on the map,” said Nolan.
“Remember what my name was?” answered the man by way of a question.
He continued his tale. “In the early days you’d see one, maybe two. But there’s more, now. Makes it difficult to get around at night, as I’m sure you’ve noticed. I reckon your boy’s been snatched up by the little one. She’s the meanest.”
“There are things in the woods?” asked Nolan.
“Not in the woods, boy. Things in the sky.”
No. 106
The Origami Dinosaur Part 4
June 2, 2012
Life at the table had been dulled by the turning of the years. Over time, the residents had exhausted their imaginations and their wit.
One day, in late July, the glass rabbit detected a faint energy.
“Something will happen soon,” he told his stuporous friends.
 The drowsy origami dinosaur opened one eye. “Will it happen to us?”
The rabbit shook his ears. “I do not know.“
In the afternoon the premonition was confirmed.
The trio were removed from their home to the confines of a cardboard prison.
Bobble-Head, recalling prior experience, was not unsettled like the others. He attempted to communicate what was happening to his uneasy friends.
 “We are to move,” the rabbit understood.
The dinosaur did not reply.
The cohort was transported across the vast expanse of office, a journey of forty-six steps.
The box was emptied and the three surveyed their new surroundings.
“What’s this?” asked the dinosaur, peering with guarded curiosity at a new vista before him.
“I believe it is called a ‘window’,” replied the rabbit.
The origami dinosaur looked out over the new world and felt the spark of discovery once again.
No. 107
The Bird Part 2
June 3, 2012
“There’s a dead bird,” she said, pointing.
“What?” he asked.
 “You got your phone on you? Maybe if you delete the picture of the last one, then you can bring this one back to life.”
“Oh, are you still on about that? That was months ago!”
“There’s no statute of limitations on murder,” she said with a grin. “Besides, I know you didn’t kill this one,” she told him, while poking the tiny body with a stick.
She paused for effect.
 “Unless you were sneaking around the woods last night with your digital scythe, that is.”
He shook his head and rolled his eyes. “I’m just going to keep walking. Enjoy your dead little friend.”
“You’re not even going to try?” she called down the trail after him.
“Nope.”
She gave the bird one last good prod, and then dropped the wood. “Goodbye, poor bird, I’m sorry he had to be so cruel. He won’t give you back your life-force,” she pouted outrageously.
“Hurry up,” he yelled back. “I’m thinking about taking a picture of you!”
“You wouldn’t!” she gasped in mock horror.
“I might.”
“Monster!”
No. 108
June 4, 2012
Holly was leaving.
“I’m not very good at goodbyes,” she told Jake. “But I got you this.”
She handed him a small box wrapped with an elegant bow.
Jake opened it. Inside was a key.
He looked oddly at Holly. “What’s this for?” he asked her.
“It doesn’t open anything right now. But hang on to it. Someday it’ll come in handy,” she told him with a smile. “Goodnight, Jake.”
She got into her car and pulled away.
Jake watched her until the tail lights disappeared into the night.
He held up the key and looked at it. It looked just like any ordinary key. Then he shrugged, put it in his pocket, and went back inside his house.
That was last time Jake ever saw Holly.
Every so often, though, he would choose a lock, and take out the key to try it. It never worked, of course.
Then, one day, somebody caught him in the act.
““That’s the laundry room,” a passing woman told him. “Doesn’t your key work?”
“I see,” he said, feeling a little embarrassed. “I’m just new here. I must not have the right one on me.”
“My name’s Jenny,” the woman told him. “I’m just down the hall. Here, I’ll get that door for you.”
Jenny bent down to pick up the unexpected package on the doorstep. She read the label. “Honey, there’s mail for you.”
Jake came down the stairs and took it. He removed the wrapping to reveal a delicate wooden box. He understood instantly. He reached into his pocket. There was something on his key-ring that he hadn’t thought about in years. He inserted it into the key-hole and turned. The lock released.
He opened the lid. Inside was a small piece of paper with familiar handwriting. It had three words on it.
“Told you so!”
No. 109
June 5, 2012
The component parts of a sandwich sat together on the second shelf of the fridge. Lunchtime was approaching.
“After what you did to get ham and mustard noticed yesterday, I hope you’re next,” the lettuce told the bacon firmly. “That wasn’t sporting.”
“Come on, can’t we work together?” said the tomato.
“That’s just what they want us to do,” replied the bacon.
“I meant before we get put on the bread,” the tomato clarified. “To stay alive.”
“It was him or me,” said the bacon. “I regret nothing.”
“All I know is that if we’re going down, I’m taking them with me,” declared the spoiled mayonnaise.
No. 110
The Tourist
June 7, 2012
Foster sat still, a contrast to the bustling city around him.
Very deliberately, he drew the tiny cup to his mouth and tasted the espresso. He pursed his lips. There was not enough sugar.
He could almost feel that he belonged here, even though, of course, he didn’t. He was a tourist like the hundreds of others that hurried through the square stopping and manoeuvring to take pictures.
Foster wondered why they didn’t slow down and try to remember what they were not seeing. A camera was a crutch, he had determined. He couldn’t feel too superior, he reminded himself. He’d only just decided on that philosophy between the door of the plane and the arrivals desk at customs.
He swirled the cup gently and the last intact granules dissolved. Perhaps, in the afternoon, he would watch from near the fountain.
No. 111
Blind Spots Part 1
June 8, 2012
Neither I nor my species have a name. You poor humans haven’t discovered us yet.
Some animals have adapted camouflage in order to trick your gaze. We have adapted a better way to hide. We have developed the ability to detect your gaze. We can sense your field of vision and we can see where you are seeing.
You can best picture our view as a mass of overlapping cones emanating from your heads, always sweeping back and forth. Sometimes it takes a great talent to move through the tiny spaces between them. My kind don’t do well in cities.
It’s occasionally the clumsier of those among us that you have caught glimpses of out of the corner of your eye. You see a flash of movement and turn, only to find nothing there. In all likelihood, we were there, but are now safe again in your blind spot.
I am sure you are asking yourself a question. “Why is he telling me this? What has this being to gain by revealing the secrets of his race?”
It’s because we have only just become aware of creatures that follow us from behind the corners of our eyes.
And they are far less benevolent than we are.
No. 112
The Rose Lady Part 1
June 9, 2012
The guards watched the dim, flickering screen in disbelief.
“What does he think he’s doing? He’ll never get anything that way,” said the older one, who had already pressed the button for the silent alarms.
“Is there even anything in that room, Captain?” asked the other, who, though having been on the job for the past decade was still referred to as “rookie” by his elder.
The first guard sat back in his chair. “Not in the last twenty-five years. Before that, it held the Rose Lady.”
The younger guard nodded. He knew all the stories about the Rose Lady. How the priceless statue had disappeared, and the nationwide search that followed. It was the dream of every guard to one day capture the dastardly criminals and return the exquisite three-inch ruby statue to its rightful place.
They turned their attention back to their monitors.  The black-clad intruder was almost to the empty plinth in the center of the room.
The old guard checked his watch. “He’s got three minutes before the police get here.”
Then they noticed something strange. The dark figure had reached into a bag and was placing something onto the pedestal.
The second man leaned forward. “I think we need to get down there,” he said. “Right now.”
Both men made it to the empty room from their station in record time. The burglar was still in the process of sneaking out.
“Halt!” they shouted in unison.
The intruder did not seem surprised at all. He turned slowly towards the guards with his hands in the air.
“Take off your mask,” ordered the old guard.
“As you wish,” said the trespasser. He took off his balaclava and revealed long, curly red hair.
“You’re not a man,” said the younger guard.
“No. I’m not,” said the woman.
“Stay where you are until the authorities arrive,” the Captain commanded.
“And what reason do you have to detain me?” she asked confidently.
“Theft,” said the rookie.
“Why don’t you examine the room and tell me if you see any evidence of theft,” she told them.
The rookie moved slowly through the door to the empty gallery. He kept the beam of his flashlight moving. As it passed through the middle of the room there was a flash of red. He almost dropped the light. Scrambling to get closer, he realized what he’d seen.
There, fully illuminated by his light, was the Rose Lady returned home.
“How can it be?” he asked the mysterious woman.
“That is an easy question. My father stole it, and I have brought it back,” she said.
No. 113
June 10, 2012
The ball came down onto the eighth-hole fairway with a dull impact. It bounced once then deflected towards us.
“Run!” I told my sister. She took a quick glance at the tee-box then darted out from behind the bush to retrieve the white, dimpled prize.
She made it back before the man who’d hit noticed his drive was missing. “Maybe I put it into the woods,” he’d imagine. By then we’d be on down the path to the pond on eleven.
There is no greater thrill than that of discovery. When you catch a flash of white, or sometimes yellow or pink, amongst the green, it’s a jolt of satisfaction.
My sister and I were here most days during the summer. We supplemented our allowance with used balls sold back to the pro shop. The bounty wasn’t much, so sometimes we had to be creative with our collection methods.
Once, my sister had to fight off an angry goose to get to a ball that had rolled into the nest. Did you know that geese can bite? We found out that day.
I’m sure you’re thinking now that I send my sister on all the dangerous missions. That’s not entirely true. She’s proven to be faster than me, so she draws those assignments. I get to root through the thorn bushes, or deal with anything muddy.
Today we have a good haul—almost a ball per hole, so far. Terry Lancaster and his brother must not have been by this morning, although I’m not sure why they try to compete. They’re not any good.
I think I’m going to get an ice cream with my half of the profits.
No. 114
June 11, 2012
Miranda Garrett looked at the clock for the hundredth time. There were still forty-seven minutes left in her shift. She shuffled some papers restlessly from one side of her desk to the other and looked again. The second hand had yet to make a full circle.
Across the hallway, Andrew Ackles was packing a file-box. Miranda watched him. Today was his final shift. Most of the office had reacted with surprise when he told them he’d given his notice. Miranda had felt a keen sadness, although she didn’t know why.
She tried to think of all the times she’d actually talked to him and couldn’t count past five. His leaving should not have registered with her. Now, she chewed her pen and glanced at the clock once more.
Forty-four.
Ackles began to leave but stopped just inside the door to his office and went back for something.
In that moment Miranda made up her mind. She grabbed her coffee cup and her coat and intercepted him before he made it back out.
“I’m coming with you,” she told him.
He was puzzled. “Why?”
She couldn’t answer but followed a half-step behind down the hall and to the stairs. While Andrew waved and said his goodbyes, she was silent.
When they got to the lobby, he turned for the underground parking. Miranda held his arm. “No. This way.”
They left the building out of the front door. Miranda showed him to her car and they got in. He placed his box on the back seat.
“Where are we going?” he asked while already guessing the answer.
“We’re going to drive,” she told him. 
No. 115
The Island
June 12, 2012
The boat scrubbed up on to the rocky beach with an aura of finality, but it was not until I stepped out that I considered the full extent of my choice.
The sensation was physical, as I realized when my temporarily weakened arms could barely pull the craft above the high-tide line from the shaking.
I sat down on a rock and considered my new situation. I’d put ashore on E— Island, willingly and fully informed. I had provisions and plans to stay, alone, for an entire year.
I dug through my backpack to find a pen and notebook to record my first impressions, but was interrupted by a noise from the tree line. I put down my pack slowly and crept forward on my belly. When I parted the high grass at the edge of the beach I was shocked by the sight that greeted me.
An enormous lion stared back, his glossy mane heaving slowly in the light breeze. This was worrying, indeed. No lions had been reported on E—Island in a half century.
No. 116
June 13, 2012
“Never touch the big red button,” was the refrain Andrea Turner heard every day. It was always said with the same important tone. “Never touch the big red button.”
This continued for many years. Andrea grew into the job, gaining experience and responsibility.
Only once, during a graveyard shift, was she was tempted to push the button. Her finger moved slowly towards it. She flicked open the safety cover and held, poised to depress the key.  But she couldn’t bring herself to do it and pulled back, remembering the command.
The urge never hit her again. Over time systems changed and were upgraded but the button, and the message, stayed the same. She spent the rest of her working days dutifully following orders and passing on her knowledge to the new recruits.
“Don’t press the big red button,” she would tell them. 
One day a trainee spoke up. “Ma’am, what does the big red button do?”
Andrea stopped and though for a moment. “I don’t know. It never occurred to me to ask.”
She went to the back of the room and opened the large filing cabinet. She dug through to the bottom and found the proper manual. She blew off the dust and turned to the page detailing the operation of the console.
“Huh,” she noted. Then she turned back to the trainee.
“You’d really, really better not touch it.”
No. 117
June 14, 2012
Clarence Johnson scraped a shallow hole into the hard desert sand and wriggled under the chain link fence. Once past the obstacle, he lay still, listening to for any hint of detection.
After an appropriate wait, and hearing nothing, he picked himself up, dusted himself off, and strode forward confidently. He did not mind standing out starkly in the impossibly bright moonlight. He was clearly alone.
He’d infiltrated a boneyard. The remains, not of flesh and blood, but aluminium and steel, stretched out in endless rows before him. He gazed at aircraft no longer needed and set to pasture in an arid time capsule.
He leaned against a fuselage, still warm from the heat of the day, and pulled a map from his pocket. He’d meticulously copied the directions and a crude diagram. The objective was the third plane down row two in quadrant two. Johnson oriented himself and made haste in that direction.
For all of his special skills, he was not versed in aircraft identification. He did not feel awe at the decades of aviation history he was walking beside, but he was impressed by the sheer scale of the facility. He did not need to count the four and a half thousand individual planes to know that without the map, he would be searching for a needle in a haystack.
When he arrived at his destination he took note of the craft in question. Smaller than most of the others around it, it had a sharp, vicious look about it. A fighter, he assumed. He was right. He consulted his instructions and found the proper panel on the side of the plane. He produced a screwdriver from his tool belt and removed the section.
The action revealed a void in the airframe. Johnson reached inside and found what he had been sent to recover. He turned the prize over in his hands. Strange, how something so important could have been misplaced for so long. He now understood why so much effort had been expended to find it again.
He had turned to retrace his steps when a light snapped on.
“Halt! Stay where you are!” was the shouted command.
Johnson held up his arm to shield his eyes.
“Do not move! We will use deadly force!”
Johnson took one more look at the object in his hand. He realized that to survive, he only had one option. Moving swiftly, he ducked under the engine of a massive bomber and began to run past the sleeping giants and towards the fence with the empty desert beyond.
No. 118
June 14, 2012
The plastic chair went in first, then the first body. Soon, everyone was in the pool, leaving Charlie Conrad alone on the side. He considered remaining dry, but then dove in, ignoring his brand-new shirt and forgetting the important document in his pocket.
Hours later, the only person left in the water was Steve. Charlie lay on his back and watched half-heartedly as Steve sat in the shallow end, amusing himself with the floating beer cans that surrounded him. Some of the others found this immensely funny.
But Charlie was tired. He wasn’t getting any younger. He had far more crazy-party days behind him than he did ahead. He knew that he should probably head for the exit before everyone got riled up again. He screwed his eyes shut and rolled to a seated position. Then, with a groan and a new click from his knee, he stood up.
Trying his best to smooth out the wrinkles in his clothes from the water and the pool deck, he found the soggy remains of the document. He looked back at the aftermath of the party and grinned.
Then he took a running leap into the deep end.
No. 119
June 16, 2012

Aaron Lee stepped into the shot from the middle of the repurposed tennis court. The bright orange ball sailed towards the goal but was deflected at the last second by a defenseman diving to protect the net.

It was game three of the Street Hockey Fives tournament and team Puck Off needed a win to move on. Lee ran for his own rebound and shoveled the ball towards the open cage.

The keeper, who’d tripped while attempting to block the initial shot, recovered in time and got a piece of it to make the save.

 Lee got a stick in the mouth for his efforts. The lone referee was distracted by a scuffle in the corner. Lee checked for blood.

None.

Good.

He could continue playing.

There was still a minute and thirty seconds left on the clock, or, on the stopwatch as called out by the referee’s girlfriend. Puck Off was down by one.

The whistle blew for an offside, and Craig Harper lined up to take the draw. The ball was dropped and Harper played the ball ahead to Aaron who was primed for the attack. The defenders were caught flat-footed and Lee ran ahead on a breakaway.

He was about to start his deke when an opponent’s stick found its way between his legs and tripped him up. He tumbled forward and the ball rolled off his stick.

The whistle blew, and Aaron saw the referee pointing to center.

A penalty shot.

Twenty seconds left in regulation time.

This was the moment.

After the match it was widely agreed upon by team Puck Off that the goalie had cheated, the referee had made the wrong call, and, that if only the time-keeper wasn’t playing favorites, the rest of the tournament would have been theirs.

They consoled themselves with their beer and told each other that next year they’d win it all.

And play dirtier, too, now that they had time to think about it…

No. 120
June 20, 2012
“You’ll understand when you’re older,” is something that I like to say. Of course, I’m ninety-three years old, so I get to say it to almost everyone.
It’s all nonsense, you know. You never really understand some things. And others, well, age has nothing to do with it.
But I like to say it. Gives those young whippersnappers something to aspire to. Lord knows they need help with that. Heck, there was one yesterday who thought that Europe was a country. That kid won’t understand much, at all.
Nope, back in my day we would have taken him out behind the woodshed and whooped him until he could name all the capitals. Kind of makes me choke up, thinking about the good times.
You’ll understand when you’re older.
No. 121
June 21, 2012
Hey, you there! Yes, you with the small child. I know you’re there.
I have forty-four teeth and six sensory-packed tentacles on my nose. I am mildly venomous. I can identify, capture, and eat prey in less time that it takes you to blink. And yet you still think that the fact that I’m a mole and I’m blind is some kind of huge detriment?
I live underground. Have you tried living underground? Hands up? No? I thought so. Well guess what? It’s dark down there. Dark. As in: I don’t have to see where I’m going.
At least nobody says “blind as a mole”. Let the bats deal with that PR problem.
In any case, I’m giving you the chance to surrender now. We’ve put up with flooding, and traps, and poison for too long. I suppose you also assumed that we’ve been down here minding our own business, blindly (See what I did there?) burrowing about in the dirt.
Well, no. We haven’t.
You have seventy-two hours to comply with our demands. I trust you will heed the warning. 
Frank Condylura pointed at the raised soil in the middle of the lawn. “Do you see him, son? He just poked his head up. Moles are blind, you know. He probably doesn’t even know we’re here.”
No. 122
The Neighborhood Submarine
June 21, 2012
Randy Campbell had done what very few boys his age had ever accomplished. He’d built a submarine.
Not the pretend kind, or a toy, either. Randy had constructed one that worked.
His first order of business was to arrange transport for it from the shed in his backyard to the lake. He sat down and, over a cool glass of lemonade, considered his options. He arrived at a novel solution.
The first posters went up immediately. He used the same supplies and telephone poles that he’d seen his mother use when their cat, Mr. Fluffy, ran away.
It had worked to recover Mr. Fluffy, much to Randy’s chagrin. He did not care for Mr. Fluffy. He was confident, therefore, that his scheme would work, too.
The posters offered a simple transaction: In exchange for help carrying the submarine to the water, a five-minute ride would be conferred.
A candidate arrived at Randy’s door within the hour. However, the interested party was not the ideal partner. Randy continued to wait.
 But as time passed, it became clear that the rest of neighborhood would not be supporting his endeavor. Reluctantly, then, he agreed to accept the help of Marnie Maplewood, age 12, from two houses over.
No. 123
June 22, 2012
Jasper Ebb put down his sandwich to reach for the remote control. It was almost seven, and he was torn between the game on channel six, or the movie on eighteen.
The choice was made for him, however, when the power went out.
Jasper shrugged and returned to his sandwich. These blips didn’t usually last long. The electric grid in this part of town was notoriously susceptible to windstorms. This time, though, he noticed a glow out of the corner of his eye.
Once again, the sandwich was abandoned as Ebb walked to the window. He pulled open the blinds and peered at his neighbor’s house. All of their lights were on! Somehow the knowledge that the problem was his alone made Ebb determined to see the rest of the shows he’d previously had no interest in. He marched to the fuse box to see if anything had tripped.
All the switches were in the proper position. He grunted and returned to the couch.
He could not think of anything else to try. He thought briefly about calling the power company to find out what was happening, but phone calls usually made him nervous and he avoided them if at all possible. He told himself that if the power was still out in the morning, he would call then.
He still had the urge to follow the game, and had an idea. He grabbed his keys off of the neatly organized shelf in the hallway and went out to his car.
Turning the radio dial to the correct station, he leaned back in the passenger seat and closed his eyes. Then he swore under his breath. His sandwich was still inside.
He marched back towards the house. Halfway up the walk he saw why his was the only house without power.
“Well, that can’t be right,” he told himself as he read the notice posted on the front door.
Now he supposed he would have to make that call.
No. 124
June 23, 2012
Kevin Wheeler knew all the answers.
Most of the time his teachers didn’t believe him and they were forever concocting ever more elaborate tests designed to catch him cheating.
He didn’t appreciate that.
Kevin was not particularly smart, or even that studious. It’s just that every time he was asked something, he knew, without doubt, what to respond with.
He hadn’t given it much thought until one of his classmates called him “psychic”, which he also knew was not true.
But it was a gift, he realized, once he understood that not everybody had the same skill. It had come so easily to him that he’d always just assumed that to be the case.
It was a gift that he would have to exploit to its fullest potential. He considered going on a game show, but he felt the stakes were too small. He might win a few thousand dollars, a few hundred thousand, even, but there had to be something bigger. More challenging.
More lucrative.
He didn’t know the answer, until a teacher asked him.
“Well, Kevin? What are you going to do?”
No. 125
War Games
June 23, 2012
David Clement felt a deep glow of satisfaction.
He’d cheated and struggled and endured, but he’d proven himself at the finish.
He wiped the thin sheen of sweat off of his brow and remembered that he’d been thirsty for hours but had forgotten to drink. He reached for his glass and grimaced as he was reminded of the injury that had been decisive to the win. His shoulder might smart tomorrow, but he’d triumphed.
“And that, my friends, is how you play monopoly,” he taunted, fully anticipating the rain of blows that fell upon him.
It would seem that his possibly former friends were taking defeat as graciously as he taken victory.
“Do you see this?” demanded Angela, waving a stack of colorful bills. “This is all money you stole from the bank.”
“Nonsense,” David defended himself. “I never steal from the bank. I stole that from Justin.”
“You can’t say you won if you stole my money,” Justin piped up.
“I can. If you didn’t notice it was missing, then it’s all fair game.”
This brought another round of tussling.
“Ow! Savannah! Did you just bite me?” exclaimed David.
“No. That was Ange.”
“You’re all just choked that you didn’t think of ‘creative accounting’ first,” David told them.
“Whatever,” huffed Angela. “We’re playing ‘Life’ next. And I’m watching you.”
No. 126
June 24, 2012
Shawn Hind woke up early and drove three and a half hours to spend his Saturday in Big Clouds Park. He’d been drawn to the intriguing combination of lakes, abandoned railway artefacts, and the surrounding trails.
Now, he was a respectable distance from his car and it was not yet eleven AM. He stopped hiking for his first sip of water and a handful of trail mix. He’d added the M&M’s to the store-bought kind himself. He was dusting off his hands when he noticed a flash of reflected light and an incongruous straight line in the underbrush, about twenty feet from the edge of the trail.
Hind struggled over a fallen log and some soggy ground to arrive at the strange object.
It was a sword.
Hind picked it up reflexively and drew the blade from its scabbard. He held it in front of him and admired the deadly weapon.
It had a long and thin blade, razor-sharp, with a simple bar for a guard and a leather-wrapped grip. The pommel reminded him of a spade from a deck of cards. Hind half-expected to find gold or jewels on it, but although it seemed expertly balanced and crafted, it was clearly intended for practical use and had no extraneous ornamentation.
There was no sign of decay or dirt on it. It must have been lost recently.
He looked around for more clues, but there was no hint of the sword’s origin.
It was strange to find such a thing out here in the woods. The park was usually busy during the summer, but at this time of year the only people willing to make the trip were committed outdoorsmen who had no use for a weapon like this.
Hind began to feel uneasy. He could not imagine any scenario in which the placement of the blade made sense. Finding a gun, he would have understood. A sword was another matter entirely.
Coming to no conclusion, he re-sheathed it, and tucked it between the straps on his backpack. Then he continued on down the trail at a slightly faster pace than before.
He made it perhaps a hundred yards before he had a terrifying thought. He tried to push it away because it was not rational, but he couldn’t clear his head.
The sword didn’t belong here. He shouldn’t have touched it.
No. 127
June 25, 2012
Patrick Peters had sent $7.49 plus shipping and handling, which equaled roughly three weeks’ allowance, and now, after waiting an eternity, there was a box on the kitchen table with his name on it.
He couldn’t contain himself and tore indiscriminately at the thin cardboard sides. He retrieved his prize from amidst a heap of shredded paper. The plastic glasses were hideously bright green and pink with “SURE-FIRE X-RAYS” printed in yellow down the arms.
Patrick held them in awe for a second before putting them on. He was going to see all kinds of girls’ underpants. He glanced surreptitiously around the room. There was no-one in sight to foil his plan. He slipped on the gaudy frames and left the house via the front door.
As luck would have it, the first person he saw was a girl. She was too far away for him to make out clearly, and the lenses were so dark as to be almost useless without bright light. He raised the glasses to balance on his forehead while he approached to within range of Emmy Burton.
Emmy was Patrick’s friend Ricky’s older sister. She was going into eleventh grade next year. Patrick drew nearer to her yard and casually nodded at her while he lowered the glasses and continued to walk past.
Right away, Patrick realized there was something wrong. He couldn’t see any underwear. He couldn’t even see any skin, which he realized in that instant would have been an even greater outcome. He shook his head and looked harder. The glasses were X-ray all right, or something. They weren’t working like Patrick had imagined. He saw almost clear through Emmy.
She coughed and startled him. Had she caught him staring? No. He relaxed, and concentrated again on his reconnaissance. He found he could make out her insides. He recognized them from his school textbook. There was the brain, throat, heart, and lungs.
Patrick noticed something about the lungs. One looked like the picture in his book, the other one seemed different. It was a darker color, and there looked like there was something else in it.
Emmy coughed again. This time Patrick took off the glasses and stopped walking. He was torn. Should he tell her what he saw, or would he be in trouble for trying to use the glasses? He bit his lip and drew in a breath. He thought about Ricky, and that if Ricky knew that someone in Patrick’s family was maybe sick, and Ricky didn’t tell Patrick, then Patrick wouldn’t like that.
Patrick slipped the glasses into his pocket. “Emmy?” he asked. “Are you OK?”
No. 128
June 26, 2012
Ladies and gentlemen of the court, we are here today to defend Dr. Igor Terror. He is accused of first degree murder.
We will show, in no uncertain terms, that Dr. Terror did not kill victim.  Indeed, it is our view that Dr. Terror is simply being judged on his previous crimes. He is an admitted super-villain, yes, but he has larger issues on his plate than the murder of a single man.
Dr. Terror, as some of you have noticed, is a distant, emotionless, calculating figure. Look at him now, silently contemplating his revenge on this court for bringing him to trial. This may be true. But, my friends and colleagues, this defense will prove using Exhibit A—Dr. Terror’s own twisted diary—that Dr. Terror went to the beach with the sole intention of researching his latest plan to take over the world, and that he shows absolutely no recorded knowledge, in entries either before or after, of the alleged attack.
The prosecution may attempt to use such explanations as “deeply malignant jealousy” or that the victim was Dr. Terror’s “sworn nemesis”. We will show with fact and substantiated evidence that these illusions of guilt are completely without merit and that Dr. Terror should not be held accountable for this baseless accusation.
Allow me to give you some background to this case.
Shortly before this horrible incident the defendant attended the funeral of his mother, a woman he admits to having wished dead on several occasions. Though the prosecution attests that this shows a cold disregard for human life, we argue that, based on these descriptions, Dr. Terror would have left the ceremony in a cheerful mood.
The defendant then came into contact with Johnny Omaha, a second-tier hero and witness that we will call to the stand later. A scuffle ensued between Mr. Omaha and the defendant, causing slight wounds to Mr. Omaha. Then Dr. Terror left the scene, seeking help for his injured opponent.
It is during this time he is alleged to have killed the victim with a neural transploder, pulling the trigger not once, not twice, but five times. Mr. Omaha will testify that this would have been an impossibility. Not only had Dr. Terror already fired two shots with the transploder at Mr. Omaha and therefore had only one shot remaining, but also that not enough time would have passed since Dr. Terror’s leaving to the time of the alleged murder for the neural transploder to reset to the victim’s mind-waves.
We will present the case to you, the jury, and we have no doubt that you will come to see that the events have occurred in the manner that we have presented them before you and you will find our client “not guilty” at the end of this trial.
No. 129
June 27, 2012
Benjamin Thomas was the kind of person who got picked second-to-last at sports. Nobody remembers that guy. Nobody really cares about his skills or what he brings to the team. They just see the last-place shmuck and choose the least odious option. That’d be Benji.
It’s not necessarily a bad place to go. Folks don’t expect much from someone drafted that far down the order. Usually everyone is happy about not being saddled with whatever loser was left standing. It’s like the players on a team that ends up third in a tournament. You take third place with a win, second with a loss.
Thomas was happy with his life the way it was. Then one day he got tapped to be team captain.
If you thrust a man like Thomas into a role he’s not accustomed to, you’ll get one of two outcomes. He’ll either fail horribly, or surprise you.
I was the man who chose Thomas to lead. Unfortunately, he surprised me.
Because I am still alive.
You see, what I have neglected to tell you is that Mr. Benjamin Thomas and I look very much alike. It was my intention to have him double for me. For him to go about my business as if he were me. What I neglected to tell him is that there was to be an accident, and that he was to be pronounced dead in my place.
It seems that I underestimated the man. What I failed to take into account is that perhaps it takes a great talent to be the kind of man that he is. A talent for staying under the radar and managing expectations. I didn’t give Mr. Thomas the proper credit and respect that he deserves. Ben Thomas is very shrewd.
Within a week he had edged me out completely. I lost access to my bank accounts and my network of associates.  Then he discovered my plan and the resources I had put aside to build a new life after my “accident”. It’d be called “identity theft” if I hadn’t handed it to him.
And so I am like a ghost who can see my own body. And now I have to work doubly hard to kill “myself”.
No. 130
June 28, 2012
Marion Lionel didn’t see the sign in her rear-view mirror that said “Welcome to Demeter’s Landing Pop. 1750”. She was concentrated intensely ahead on the dark and winding road out of town. Ahead of her was another sign that said “Next Service 83 Miles”. Lionel figured that she had about two hours before they sent someone after her. She inhaled deeply through clenched teeth and dropped her right toe slightly as she exited a corner. 
She was approaching the next one when she felt a brief drop in power. He eyes flashed to the tachometer just in time to see it plummet to zero. The sudden silence distracted her and if the car hadn’t already begun to slow on its own, she would have been in the ditch. Lionel guided it to the side of the highway and pounded the steering wheel as the vehicle coasted to a halt.
“No! No no no!” she screamed at the black rock wall at the side of the narrow road. She slammed the gearshift into park and tried to start the engine again. There was no indication of life. She popped the hood and tried to see if there was anything amiss, but as far as she could ascertain, there was nothing she could do.
She sat back down in the driver’s seat and closed the door. She couldn’t help but glance at the briefcase on the floor beside her. Although it was cold outside, Marion began to sweat. She threw open the door again and scrambled around the front of the car to the passenger side. She wretched open that door and snatched the briefcase. She looked furtively down the road in both directions, then crossed to the other side. She hopped the gully and made her way several lengths into the sandy scrub. She immediately began to dig with her hands until she had a hole just deep enough to throw the case in. But she didn’t have time to cover it.
She heard the faint sound of a motor. She jerked her head up and looked for the source. She saw a pair of headlights crest the top of a hill in the distance. They were coming towards her. Abandoning the case, she ran back to her car and took several slow breaths to calm herself down. She checked the mirror to see that she hadn’t gotten any telltale dirt on her face.
The other car drew closer. Lionel recognized it as Mrs. Perkin’s. Its headlights caught Lionel’s car and Mrs. Perkin slowed to a stop. Lionel tried to remember if Mrs. Perkin’s name was Linda, Lydia, or Laura. She cursed herself. She’d memorized all 1750 names for this very purpose.
Mrs. Perkin leaned out her window and called to Lionel. “Are you ok, Dearie? Do you need a ride back to town?”
Lionel didn’t have a choice. She managed to conjure a smile and accepted. She got into Mrs. Perkin’s care with one last look toward the briefcase. She hoped Mrs. Perkin wouldn’t recognize her.
“It’s a good thing I came along, isn’t it?” Mrs. Perkin asked Lionel.
“It is,” Lionel replied. “I’m glad someone else is out here tonight. I thought everyone would be back in town at the grand opening.”
“Oh, I don’t go in for any of that fancy new stuff. To be honest, I thought it was a big waste of money. But what do I know. I’m just a little old lady.”
Lionel adjusted her seatbelt nervously. “Thanks for the ride,” she said.
They drove on in silence for a few minutes. Lionel began to play out scenarios in her head. Here was another car, but she couldn’t bring herself to steal it and have to deal with Mrs. Perkin. She resolved to try to get dropped off somewhere on the outskirts of town and trust her grifter’s luck find another car there.
Mrs. Perkin broke the silence. “Where did do you live Miss. Hill? It’s the blue building, isn’t it?” she asked Lionel. Then she answered her own question. “Yes, that’s right. You moved in last March.”
Lionel swallowed hard. Perhaps her luck wasn’t as good as she needed it to be. Mrs. Perkin knew who she was.
Mrs. Perkin mistook Lionel’s unease for sadness. “Don’t worry, Trudy darling, your car will be okay. I’ll get my son take care of it in the morning.”
Lionel could do nothing but look out the window as she was carried back to town. She’d be taken care of, all right. They’d all take care of her.
Probably with stones. 
No. 131
June 29, 2012
The sound of the rain pounding the awning of the patio was deafening. It was the fourth day, and cabin fever was starting to set in.
“Is this all the channels we get?” Mike Hartley asked his wife.
“Yes. It’s the same answer you got five minutes ago, and you’ve been through them all twice since then. Just choose one and leave it,” Aubrey told him.  She tossed her book in the general direction of their suitcases. “I’m going to the pool bar,” she announced.
“It’s raining,” said Mike facetiously.
“Really? Is that what that wet, rainy stuff is that’s falling from the sky?” she replied.
Aubrey laughed to herself, then picked up the room key, considered bringing her towel then abandoned the thought, and left the room. “Come join me anytime,” she called over her shoulder.
Mike sighed and changed the channel again.
Aubrey walked down the drab hotel hallway and idly considered the decor. She decided that she was ok with a boring corridor if the hotel spent their money in other, more important, ways. So far it had not let her down. And she’d had plenty of time to explore because of the rain.
She nodded to the girl at the front desk with whom she’d had a wonderful conversation yesterday, and stepped out onto the pool deck. There was a canopy covering the door, so she wasn’t drenched yet. She stood still and marvelled at how much water was pouring down. She extended her hand out past the roof and felt the force of the deluge hit her. It was like being in front of a hose.
Then she stepped out. She was soaked instantly. She’d never done this on purpose before, certainly not in conditions this bad. She raised her head up and felt the individual drops hit her face.
Then she smiled and walked to the edge of the pool. Without pausing she jumped in and glided purposefully to the swim-up bar. The bartender was huddled in a corner and he watched with a bemused grin as she drew closer.
“What’ll it be?” he asked when she arrived.
“Two margaritas,” she told him.
“Two?” he asked, and craned his head around to see if there was someone else nearby.  “For you?”
“Oh no,” Aubrey answered. “I arranged for the front desk to cut the TV to our room. I imagine my husband will be down shortly.”
No. 132
June 30, 2012
Every day, Fangy had to suppress the urge to eat Nicholas. This was very difficult, because Fangy had a tiny brain and hunter’s instincts. But Fangy was Nicolas’ pet, and he was determined to do his job as best he could.
Fangy learned how to play fetch, which he enjoyed very much, and how to play dead, which he didn’t enjoy at all, and how to shake a claw, to which he was indifferent. His absolute favorite times were when Nicholas was away from home and Nicholas’ parents let him loose in the woods behind their house. 
The neighbors would always complain to Nicholas’ father that their cats and dogs went missing. But he would shrug his shoulders and blame badgers, which nobody believed.
Then one day Nicholas brought some of his school friends over. Fangy stood just inside the screen door and snuffled eagerly as they approached. He couldn’t imagine any other reason for guests other than that they must be here for dinner.
Nicholas arrived at the door first. He put out his hand and spoke directly to Fangy. “These are friends, boy. You mustn’t hurt them. Good boy.”
But Fangy couldn’t help himself. He jumped viciously on the first child and tore him to bits. The boy was delicious. Then Fangy caught a girl who’d tried to run. She was even better.
By this time Nicholas had run into the house and returned with a rolled-up magazine. He smacked Fangy on the snout and yelled. “Stop it! Bad Fangy! Go inside to your corner and wait for me.”
Fangy obeyed, sheepishly following orders to stand in the time-out spot. He did feel some shame, but the excitement of the hunt still pulsed through him.
Nicholas stood on the porch, surveying the macabre scene. He sighed. He probably should have seen this coming. There’s only so much self-control one can expect from a velociraptor.
No. 133
July 1, 2012
“Seriously? You don’t know? How does someone get to your age and not know what a crab looks like?” asked Ashley Oates incredulously.
“I dunno,” said Martin Handley. He shrugged. “I guess I skipped that.”
“Wow,” said Ashley, who was still shocked by what her co-worker was telling her. “Really?”
“Uh huh,” replied Martin. “No idea.”
“Ok. Um. Well, They’re about so big around,” began Ashley, while demonstrating with her hands. “And they’ve got six legs. Or eight legs. I can’t remember. I think it’s eight, but including the claws.”
“They swim, right?” asked Martin.
“You’re absolutely sure you don’t know this?”
“Yup.”
“Yeah, I think they do, a little bit. Mostly they hide under rocks,” Ashley continued. “Anyway, so their claws are at the front, and they’re shaped kinda like an oval. But it’s all shell.”
“Do they make noises?”
“No.”
“So they have claws like a cat or something? That’s weird.”
“Their claws are like pincers,” said Ashley. She clasped her fingers together. “They pinch.”
Martin saw her acting out the motion and couldn’t keep a straight face any longer.
“I knew it!” said Ashley.
“Oates, that was beautiful. I just wanted to see how long you’d keep going.” said Martin, laughing.
“I hate you,” replied Ashley. Then she punched him.
No. 134
July 2, 2012
“What are you doing?” asked Jane.
Nate looked up with some effort. “I’m waiting for Tom Cruise to come by.”
Jane shook her head. “You’re drunk, man. Come on, time to go to bed.”
“No. He’s going to be here soon. It’s going to be an awesome party.”
“Uh huh,” said Jane. “And when did you decide this?”
“Halfway through my twelve-pack.”
“Ok, here’s the situation,” Jane took time to explain. “You’re in the living room of our apartment, wearing sweatpants and a trucker-hat. You’ve laid down trail of Oreo cookies from the hall to the front door. I’m not sure if you’ve realized this, but Tom Cruise probably has better things to do with his time.”
“You’re wrong,” argued Nate. “I’ve planned it all out.”
Jane rolled her eyes and shrugged. She wasn’t going to win this battle. “Well, do what you like. But please try to remember that it’s also three AM, and if you’re going to keep playing ‘Danger Zone’ on repeat, just try to keep the volume below eleven, alright?”
She turned and went back to her room.
“Tom Cruise. Tom Cruise. Tom Cruise,” said Nate.
Jane called back over her shoulder. “That won’t work, either. He wasn’t even in that movie.”
No. 135
July 3, 2012
Danielle finished her story.
With the revelation, the others immediately crowded her, all speaking at once.
Jenna was silent, and leaned back in her chair.
Will noticed. “You knew, didn’t you?”
Jenna hesitated for a moment, and then spoke. “Yes.”
Will nodded. “How long?”
“Since October.”
The two didn’t say anything else to say to each other. They sat outside the circle and watched the group around Danielle, each realizing what Jenna’s admission meant.
No. 136
July 4, 2012
“They’ve officially declared that we don’t exist,” said Harry.
“Did we have to cut a deal?” asked Yowie, the smaller of the two sasquatches.
“Nope. Seems like they figured out the right thing to do all on their own,” answered Harry.
“Well, that’s good, I guess,” said Yowie. “I’m kinda sad we didn’t get to get to Plan B, though.”
“Heh, yeah. Plan B was a good one,” agreed Harry. “Hey, are you on patrol duty tonight?”
“I don’t think so,” said Yowie. “The boss cancelled all outside recon missions. Said something about ‘playing right into our hands’ and then he walked away cackling.”
Both monsters looked at each other, and then at the man who lay trussed up in the corner of the cave.
“So what do we do with this guy?” asked Harry.
“I don’t know. Eat him?”
The human struggled against his bindings and made several muffled noises from behind the gag. His eyes were wide with fear.
Yowie laughed. It was a deep, hearty noise. “Relax, I was just joking around. We’re not going to eat you. You just made sure our demands for less recognition were heard.”
The Director of the National Park Service sighed and slumped back against the wall. He kept his eye on the two furry beasts and vowed revenge. Once he escaped, everyone would know about these filthy creatures, official announcement or not.
No. 137
Blind Spots Part 2
July 4, 2012
We need your help.
We discovered the first hint of the Darks almost two years ago. There was only a report here, a rumor there. Early on, we didn’t believe the evidence. No one could conceive of something so like us, and yet so different. Or so evil.
They started taking the old ones first, and then the young. Now they are bold enough to hunt our strongest. Once they have exterminated us, they will come for you.
We have yet to see a complete specimen, but we have come to understand their methods through deduction.
Working ceaselessly, our best minds have developed a strategy for combating this threat. We have determined that humans can detect these monsters.
I have been sent to propose an alliance.
Because we can’t see our blind spots, you must act as watchmen for us. If we face one another, there will be nowhere for the Darks to hide.
You must understand that by this action we are putting the future of our species in your hands. We have existed a long time by staying out of sight, remote, and separate. We must learn to trust you.
And you must trust us, as well. Because I fear that when we step forward, we may appear as terrifying to you as the Darks appear to us.
No. 138
The Rose Lady Part 2
July 5, 2012
“What’s your name?” demanded the younger guard.
“What’s yours?” the elegant intruder countered.
Thinking that it might help to normalize the situation, the guard told her first.
“Charlie. My name is Charlie.”
She glanced at the Captain. “And you?”
“I don’t have to tell you my name,” he said angrily.
She shrugged seductively. “I’m Cosette.”
Charlie looked at the Captain. “The police should already be here. What should we do? If she didn’t steal it, we have to protect her.”
The Captain looked at the Rose Lady. He was momentarily distracted by the sheer beauty of the piece. “Police?” he mumbled distantly.
“What should we do with Cosette?” Charlie repeated.
“Right,” said the Captain, returning to the moment. “Take her down to the basement archives. I’ll deal with the cops.”
 “Come on,” Charlie told her, and began to hurry away.
Cosette hesitated.
 “This way,” he called back to her without turning his head.
They left the Captain in the gallery with the statue as Charlie led her deeper into the museum. When they arrived in the archives, he was breathing heavily. He was not used to this much action. Cosette looked as if she could have gone on far longer without difficulty.
Charlie stood with his hands on his knees. “Your father stole the Lady?” he gasped.
“And a great many other works, too,” she answered.
“Why are you returning it?”
She spoke without hesitation. “She needed to come home. My father loved her dearly. And for a while that was enough. But she needs more than one man and his little girl can provide.”
“You broke in.”
“Did you expect that it was something that I could make an appointment for?” she countered. “Hello, Director? I’ve got the most famous stolen artwork in the world here. Should I come by around one?”
“I guess you’re right,” said Charlie.
“Of course I’m right, rookie.”
Charlie swung his head up. “What did you call me?”
He studied her closely for the first time. He squinted slightly. There was something about her jaw-line. “We left him alone,” he whispered.
“Yes we did,” she said.
Charlie started to run out of the room.
“Wait!” she ordered. Her voice was surprisingly authoritative.
He stopped.
“She’ll still be there. My dad would never stoop to stealing the same thing twice.”
No. 139
July 6, 2012
“Evacuate. Code 40. Evacuate. Code 40. Evacuate,” the synthesized electronic voice repeated.
“Come on, we have to go now!” Sergeant Evan Gamble told the scientists working in the vault.
“No. We stay, Sergeant,” said Colonel Tooms, who arrived at that moment through the heavy doors. “Code 40 is everyone out but special projects. Put on the suit and get to your station.”
“Yes, sir!” Gamble accepted.
“Look at it this way, Sergeant, if this really is a 40 then we’re dead already,” laughed Tooms grimly.
Another muffled explosion shook the complex. A shrill alarm started, adding to the continuing computer announcement and the shouts of the workers.
“That was near the cages,” said Gamble. He looked towards the sound, as if he could see through the solid concrete and steel walls.
The lab was almost empty, now. Only a handful of staff remained. All were wearing head-to-toe protective jumpsuits with masks and air tanks.
The noise cut off suddenly, which Gamble appreciated, but so did the lights. Everyone stood quietly in the eerie yellow flashing of the emergency lamps.
The Colonel studied the special projects team closely. Then he stepped forward and removed his headgear. He waited a moment to make sure that he had everybody’s attention and then he began to speak.
“Now that I have you all to myself, I have a very important proposition for you.”
The others were silent, waiting for him to continue. He smiled in a way none of them had seen before, and then he pulled out a pistol.
“If you’d like to live, you’ll do exactly as I say for the next few hours. You are now my hostages.”
No. 140
No. 041 Reboot
July 7, 2012
Constable Larson took the tape from the evidence bag. He carefully brushed off the dried mud, and put it in the player. He swiveled his chair to face the TV and pressed “Play” on the remote control.
The screen was blue for a second and then the first image appeared. A young man was adjusting the camera as he stood against a simple backdrop.
Then the man on the TV began to speak.
The woods at night are usually creepy to begin with. When my friends told me they were going to sneak off down the train tracks to have a bonfire, I had a great idea.
All week, I acted enthused about the plans. You couldn’t have found a bigger fan of bonfire night than me. I spent quite a bit of time telling scary stories about forests and camping trips and people out in the country.
In the meantime, I’d rented this monster costume. It’s pretty cool. Expensive, though.
The picture jumped and the primitive studio became a black background of trees. The man was now wearing the costume he’d demoed earlier and was speaking in an excited whisper. He was holding the camera now, and not doing a very good job of keeping the frame steady.
Tonight I called Laurie and told her that I wouldn’t be able to make it. Had to cover my tracks so they didn’t start wondering where I was. Then I drove out on my own and I’ve made my way from the road-side of the park.
So now I can see them, they’re all just ahead. I think I can see Chris dancing in front of the fire. Probably means they’ve started drinking already. Perfect. That’ll work to my advantage.
Hold on. Something’s happening. I think I hear something. Screaming? Yeah, that’s screaming.
That’s Laurie! What’s happening up there?
 I’m going to try to get closer. Maybe it’s nothing. Don’t want to spoil the fun by accident.
The camera switched off again. Larson pressed pause. He’d seen the aftermath of whatever was going to happen next and was not sure if he was ready to see what had occurred. He closed his eyes for a moment, mentally preparing himself.
He started the recording again. This time the camera was moving wildly, and the man filming was clearly terrified.
Oh no. Oh no. They’re dead. They’re all dead. I didn’t do it. They’re in pieces. What did this?
There’s something out here. There’s something in the woods. Can you hear it? There! It’s over there.
It’s coming this way. It’s—. I can see it. I—.
No! No!
There it is. There it—.
The tape cut out abruptly as the camera had been clearly dropped. Constable Larson stood, shaken, and hit “Eject”. Then he picked up the phone and said the words that would eventually be used to summarize the entire case.
“It’s worse than we thought.”
No. 141
July 9, 2012
Douglas McDonald cracked the beer and stepped out onto his deck. He looked over the lake and wished he could spend all of his time here, not just the few weekends a year that he got away from work to visit his cabin.
He sat down and swatted a huge mosquito that was gunning for his ankle. The bugs were a nuisance that he would gladly put up with.  He looked up from the mangled insect corpse and noticed two men at the edge of the water. They seemed to be struggling with what seemed to be an overturned canoe.
McDonald watched them get the object to the shallows just offshore. He could tell now that it was a man and a woman, not two men. He saw that they were nervous. Both were looking furtively over their shoulders.
McDonald squinted at the canoe. It looked odd. The shape wasn’t quite distinct.
Then realized what they were up to.
He set his beer aside and quietly walked from the deck and down towards to the mystery couple.
“Afternoon,” he told them with a neighborly friendliness. “What’cha got there?”
The man and woman both jumped slightly at the sound of his voice. They hadn’t noticed him watching or sneaking up on them.
“It’s a, uh,” the man stammered, trying to think of a reasonable explanation.
“Looks a bit like Marvin the Monster,” said McDonald, referencing the lake’s supposed serpent resident. He looked them both in the eyes. “Hey, you both wouldn’t be trying to pull somethin’ fishy would you?”
Again, a panicky glance passed between the couple.
“No, this is just our, um, boat,” the man trailed off again and kicked feebly at the plastic mock-up now rocking softly in the light chop of the water.
“Yeah,” said the woman. “What’s it to you?”
“Oh, nothing,” answered McDonald. “I just thought I’d let you know that most sightings are reported at the other end of the lake. And that if you want me to keep my mouth shut it’ll cost you a couple cases of beer,” he told them. “Each,” he clarified.
Four days later, McDonald was out on his deck again. This time he opened the local newspaper to read the headline story about the astonishing sighting of Marvin the Monster by a tourist couple who had been spending the week in town.
He scanned the article and saw that the two were students who’d manage to catch the creature on film with pictures that the scientific community had already described as “conclusive evidence” and “impossible to fake”.
McDonald smiled to himself.
The story also detailed how the two were in talks to sell the account of the sighting to a book publisher and a movie studio, and how the town was planning to cash in on the publicity with a licensed line of souvenirs and promotions based on the picture. The photographers would be coming into some serious money.
He went into the house and found the phone number he’d made them give him. He hummed happily as he dialed the number.
“Hello?” answered a voice on the other end. It was the girl.
“Hello, Whitney, this is Doug McDonald. I’m sure you haven’t forgotten me yet,” he told her.
“Ah, yes, Mr. McDonald. What can I do for you?”
“I saw your picture in the paper Miss. Pratt. You looked very good.”
“Uh huh,” she said.
McDonald could almost hear her eyes narrowing through the phone line.
“What do you want?” she demanded.
“I’m real happy that you kids managed to get such a good picture of Marvin. Tell me, how did you manage to find him, again?” he asked her, his voice now loaded with innuendo.
“You keep your mouth shut, old man,” Whitney screamed at him.
“I will. Don’t worry. But I’d like to think that we could work out a little arrangement to help me forget the details. It would be a shame if anybody were to imply that your spectacular picture was less than authentic,” he said, closing the trap.
He heard the abrupt click as she hung up the phone. He nodded to himself. Then he went to the fridge and got himself a beer from the stash he’d already extorted from the fraudsters. He smiled as he sauntered back out to the deck.
They’d play his game. He would soon be able to afford many more days on the lake. 
No. 142
July 10, 2012
“Yeah, we both might die, but I was the only one who woke up this morning knowing that it was a possibility,” he called from across the windswept platform.
It was true. My alarm had gone off at 5:44 AM and when I’d hit snooze the first time, I’d had no clue that I would be wasting eight precious minutes of the rest of my life.
Now I was caught up in a ridiculous duel—with a gun and everything. Seems Mr. Catchphrase over there had me figured out pretty good, though. He knew I’d fight for Emily.
I looked at the heavy pistol in my right hand, then at the small transmitter in my left.
“Do we really need guns and bombs?” I yelled across the gap.
He just grinned like a maniac and crouched down into his best fighting stance.
Ok, I guess we’re on, then.
No. 143
July 11, 2012
There was a coin on the sidewalk.
Martin bent down to pick it up.
“Ow! Hey!” exclaimed the girl as he bumped into her on the way down. “By the way, I call dibs on the money,” she told him as they awkwardly recovered themselves.
“Sorry, Yeah. Of course,” said Martin. He got his first good look at the would-be coin-grabber.
She wasn’t tall. A dirty blonde with a cute smile. She was looking at him like he’d forgotten to do something. She adjusted a strand of hair as she waited.
Then he remembered. “Martin,” he said, with a quick shake of his head. “Sorry. Um, again.”
“Well, Martin,” she said softly. “Would you mind picking up my quarter for me? I seem to have had some difficulty the last time.”
“Sure. Sure,” he repeated. He kicked himself mentally. He was being super-uncool.
“Here you go,” he said as he handed her the silver piece.
“Thanks,” she told him. Then she spun on her heels and began to walk away.
Martin stood quite still. He felt like he should probably chase her down and tell her that he was suddenly in love.
The girl looked over her shoulder. “Janna,” she called to him. “I’ll be back here tomorrow. Same time. I owe you a quarter.”
No. 144
July 12, 2012
“I am not good at drawing animals or humans,” said the substitute art teacher. “I’m only filling in for Mrs. Hache.”
One of the students raised their hand.
“Yes?” the teacher called on her.
“What can you draw?” she asked him.
“Not much,” he admitted. “Mostly stick-people.”
A boy spoke up from the back of the room. “Can we have a free period? I need to finish my math homework,” he explained.
The teacher considered it for a moment. “No,” he declared. Then he took a moment to consider his options. “But I’ll tell you what you can do. You can have a free-drawing class.”
He sat down on the edge of Mrs. Hache’s desk as he continued to explain his plan. “You have an hour and nine minutes remaining in this block. I want everyone to get something on paper. There are no rules about the content, and you can use any supplies you can find in this room.”
A surprised murmur spread throughout the room. The students all looked at each other in wonderment.
“Mrs. Hache always tells us what to draw. And we’re only allowed to use supplies from the red cabinet,” one of the less-popular students said nervously.
The teacher shook his head. “Mrs. Hache isn’t here right now. Go for it.”
The students all got to work on their new projects. The teacher leaned back in Mrs. Hache’s chair and surreptitiously texted his wife.
“You’ve got a pretty sweet chair, but your kids are all kinda nerds,” he typed out. Then Mr. Hache hit send.
No. 145
July 13, 2012
“Your picture,” she said.
“What?” asked Victor.
“Look. It’s not straight,” Betty clarified.
Victor tilted his head slightly. “Oh yeah, now I see it.”
He stood up from the reclining chair in the corner and moved to the other side of the room to fix the problem.
The picture wasn’t anything special. Victor had picked it up years ago, at school. It had sentimental value. Betty thought it was an atrocious, gaudy monstrosity. She mentioned it every time she came over.
Victor smiled a little bit every time she did. It amused him that it annoyed her so much. Betty knew it, too, but couldn’t stop herself. The painting was just that bad.
Victor adjusted it slightly to the left. “Better?” he asked.
Betty covered her eyes. “No. A little more,” she forced out. At least it could be proper and terrible.
“Now?”
She covered her eyes with her hand and peeked through. “Sure.”
Victor took a step back to admire a job well-done. “That looks good,” he said, just to rub it in.
“Whatever,” she said, and half-heartedly punched at him. She missed and he laughed. “Let’s go get some food,” she told him. “Grab your stuff.”
He left the room while she sat back down on the couch to wait for him. She looked back at the ugly, awful picture.
“Hey,” she called to the other room.
“Yeah?” Victor yelled back.
“Your picture’s crooked again.”
Victor came back around the corner from the hall. “Serious?”
“There,” she said, pointing at the evidence. “Is it doing that just to mock me?” she asked.
Victor chuckled and took the picture off the wall to examine it. He looked at the frame, then the string on the back, then the nail in the wall. He shook his head slightly and tried to wiggle the nail. He turned the painting over again and rocked it back and forth in his hands.
“What are you doing?”
He didn’t look at her. “Shh. Testing something.”
He slowly shook picture up and down. “Do you hear that?”
Betty listened closely. “Nope.”
“I think there’s something in behind here. Sounds like it’s shifting around.”
Victor set the artwork down on the couch and probed the edges on the back. “That’s why it’s not staying level,” he explained.
Betty leaned forward for a closer look. Victor found an irregularity and slowly picked at it until he could lift up the entire sheet of paper that covered the rear of the canvas.
A small folded piece of paper dropped out.
“What is it?” said Betty.
“Give me a sec,” said Victor.
He placed the picture on the floor and picked up the new paper. Except that he could tell it was old paper, far older than the picture that had sheltered it. He thought back to the thrift shop where he’d purchased the piece. He wondered who had dropped it off. He slowly unfolded the find.
Betty saw it before he did. “Is that an X?” she pointed out.
“I think it is,” whispered Victor.
They both looked at each other.
“Do you know what this means?” he asked her excitedly.
“Yup,” she said, “It means that every time I hassled you about that dead-eyed matador, I should probably have stopped talking already and just slashed him to bits. We would have found that map a lot faster.”
Then she winked at him.
Victor pretended not to hear her sarcasm. “You still hungry?”
“No, not anymore.”
“Then let’s get out there and start looking for whatever spot that X marks.”
No. 146
July 14, 2012
“It doesn’t seem that big in person,” said Ernest Hitch.
“I did picture it larger,” agreed Luke Lorry.
“Still, I bet you can’t wait to tell your future kids about the day you stood next to the world’s largest cedar bucket.”
“Hold on a second. I have to take a picture to send to everyone I know.”
They stood in front of the bucket for a minute or so. Luke took a bite of his sandwich.
Ernest consulted his guide book. “Ok. This says the next attraction is the world’s largest cross-country skis. We should probably get going if we want to get there before dark.”
They got back in the car and turned out of the parking lot.
“These largest roadside things are awfully specific, aren’t they?” observed Luke.
“I’ve noticed that,” said Ernest.
No. 147
July 15, 2012
Frank Benson slumped against the railing at the bow of his ship. He drained the last of his whisky and then threw the tumbler overboard.
Benson had told the captain of the vessel to head due east, not to ask any questions, and to stay in the wheelhouse. So far, the man had obeyed. Benson allowed himself a brief moment of satisfaction. If you’re rich enough, people will do whatever you want.
But what Frank really wanted was an out-of-the-way place to roll off of the deck and not be noticed or found. He checked his watch and grunted. He was fifteen hours into his plan. There was no Scotch left. It was time.
He heaved himself up and leaned over the edge. He watched the tropical sea wash by under the boat and then closed his eyes. He shifted his weight ever so slightly forward and began to go over.
A jarring lurch sent him tumbling backwards, away from the water. It was accompanied by a horrific grinding sound. He staggered back onto the deck.
“What the—,” he managed to get out before another jolt sent him into a capstan, knocking the air from his lungs.
He was immediately dizzy as the lack of oxygen and the liquor conspired with each other to keep him from getting up. He could feel through his hands and knees that the steady vibration from the engine had cut out.
He tried to call out again but could only produce a hoarse wheeze and a coughing fit. Giving up, he relaxed his limbs and fell over onto his back. Right before he passed out, he thought he heard something like high heels clicking on the wooden deck.
“Hi,” she said.
Benson opened one eye.
“Are you awake?” the sultry voice asked him. “I hope you are.”
The other eye opened and now they worked together to piece together what was leaning over him.
Immediately Frank felt embarrassed. He could see straight down this girl’s shirt. Shaking his head self-consciously, he turned away and manoeuvred to a seated position.
“Hi,” she said again.
Now Benson could see all of her. He wracked his brain trying to think of a beautiful woman he could compare her to. He couldn’t come up with a single one that was even close. Tall, lithe, blonde, and tanned, she was perfect.
But something wasn’t right. She shouldn’t be here. He’d specifically sailed away to be alone.
“How did you get on my boat?” he asked. “Does the captain know you’re here?”
She laughed. Frank thought it was the best sound he’d ever heard.
“You needed me,” she told him.
He looked in a complete circle for clues to her arrival. He saw something strange in the ocean.
“Is that ice?” he said. “Did we hit ice?”
That was what had thrown him back onto the ship, he realized. They’d hit an icefield two thousand miles from where one should be.
The girl smiled, but drew her lips to the side slightly in a manner that struck Benson as quizzical, yet flirty. “It happens,” she admitted. “Don’t worry Frank. Your boat is fine.”
“How do you know my name?” he demanded. “And you still haven’t told me exactly how you got here. Did you stow away?”
“You brought me here,” she pouted.
Frank leaned forward and rested his head in his hands. Was it possible he was dreaming this? It was a pretty good dream, if so.
“What’s your name?” he asked her.
She looked startled, as if that was an unusual question. “I don’t have one.”
“You don’t have a name?”
She didn’t respond right away. She seemed to be thinking very hard. “No. Not unless you give me one.”
“What?”
Now Benson was reeling. Nothing was making sense. “How about I just call you Molly for now? Until I get things straight.”
The girl’s eyes lit up. “Yes!” she announced. Then she repeated the name, as if testing it out. “Molly.”
“So, Molly, one more time, help me out. How and why are you here, now, on my boat?”
She heaved her chest with a deep sigh and shot him a face that was somewhere between puppy-dog eyes and disappointment. “Because, Frank, you were going to hurt yourself.”
No. 148
July 16, 2012
“I have a cousin whose friend said that he knew a guy who worked on faking the moon landings. Said they did it up in some big studio in Hollywood,” said the man at the bar.
“Sure,” I told him. “I’ve heard that.”
“What’d’ya think about that?” the man slurred at me.
“Oh, I believe your cousin’s friend’s source,” I replied.
“Really? Nobody’s ever said that right off.”
“Of course I believe it. I was one of the men who worked on the set.”
This revelation almost floored the poor drunk.
“I knew it!” he shouted. “I knew it. They hoaxed us. We never put a man on the moon.”
“Actually,” I interrupted him. “We did. The director was something of a perfectionist. We shot the whole deal in two weeks in a warehouse but he didn’t like the footage. He convinced NASA to send some guys up there for ‘verisimilitude’. Those rocket scientists probably shaved twenty percent off of our budget, too, even if we did have to get two takes of Armstrong touching down. That guy was never good with learning the lines.”
The man was stunned. “What was your job?” he asked, in awe.
“Me?” I hesitated. Then I decided to tell him the truth. It made the whole thing more believable, you know?
“I got the coffees. Michael Collins liked his with two sugars. By the way, tell your cousin’s friend I said hi.”
The man offered to pay for another drink if I stayed to tell him some more stories but I told him it was late and that I had to leave.
I walked out of the building and to the white van parked just down the road. I knocked on the backdoor twice and it opened.
“Password?” said the voice from inside.
“Come on, guys. You know it’s me. Let me in, already.”
“What’s the password?”
“Neil’s an awesome dude,” I repeated for about the hundredth time.
“Ok, cool. Get in here. You didn’t tell him about the two-take thing, did you?”
“Nope,” I lied.
“Great. Strap in. I heard there’s another guy down in Phoenix who spends a lot of time at the local watering hole telling folks I never walked on the moon.”
No. 149
July 16, 2012
“Geez, that took a long time,” thought the hippo.
 It had been at least a week since he’d made that wrong turn back at the river. Now he was someplace new and hot. Maybe even hotter than where he’d come from. He wasn’t sure if he liked it.
“What’s that up there?” he wondered. Something strange that only had two legs!
“Are you an ostrich?” he asked it.
“Most certainly not. I am a kangaroo!” replied kangaroo.
“Is that like an ostrich?” The hippo was confused now. What else had two legs?
“No, silly. Marsupials are nothing like birds. Besides, they run. I hop!”
“Oh,” the hippo had to think this over. “Do you know where I am then? I seem to be very far from home.”
“You’re in Australia,” said the kangaroo. “Come on, I’ll show you around!”
And so the confused hippo went with the kangaroo. It was to be the start of many crazy adventures. Although, to tell the truth, the hippo never did stop thinking his friend was an ostrich!
No. 150
George Goes Home Alternate View
July 17, 2012
Royal slipped through the open door with amazing ease for such a large animal. He was a lion, King of the Zoo, and now he was free. He took one last glance at the nervous chameleon that had escaped with him, and set out on a path into the warm night.
Royal was incredibly patient. He’d lived at the zoo for a decade. About twice a year he would make a break for it. It was all part of his master plan. The keepers were slightly slower to respond every time, and now was the chance he’d been planning for.
He crept along the dark pathways he’d scouted many times before, keeping low to the ground, and walking silently. He passed by the polar bear house and the elephant’s field. Then he arrived at his first waypoint. Royal examined the lock on the cage and was relieved to see it was very similar to the one in the vet’s office he’d just broken out from.
With one powerful swipe of his massive paw the lock was torn off the door.
“Jordan,” he called softly. “It’s time to go.”
The cheetah slunk out of the shadows. “I’m ready,” Jordan told his friend.
The pair made it to the gates of the zoo and, without hesitating, marched through and out into the neighborhood.
They immediately saw a housecat sneaking through the bushes.
“Come here,” Royal commanded her.
The cat turned her head very slowly towards the lion. She had no intention of obeying him. “What?” she asked with absolutely no fear.
The two jungle cats were taken aback. Who was this who wasn’t afraid of them?
“What?” the cat repeated impatiently. She sat down and began licking her paw and rubbing her head.
An uncomfortable moment passed. Royal and Jordan were not used to being challenged but the zoo animals were out of their depth in the suburbs. Things were different out here.
“Do you know where we can find some antelopes? We’re hungry,” Royal told her.
The cat stretched herself out and then replied.
“The only antelope around here are back the way you came.”
“Oh,” said Jordan sadly. His tail twitched twice with the bad news.
“But if you want to follow me, I know a human who puts food out for strays,” continued their new associate.
The two fugitives looked at each other. It sounded like a decent idea.
“Ok,” said Royal. “We’ll go with you.”
“Excellent,” said the cat. “My name is Mittens. What’s yours?”
“Jordan,” said the cheetah.
“I’m Royal,” said Royal.
“Nice to meet you,” said Mittens. She licked her lips. “I only have one rule.”
“Yes?” said Royal.
“I’m the boss.”

No. 150 – George Goes Home Alternate View

Royal slipped through the open door with amazing ease for such a large animal. He was a lion, King of the Zoo, and now he was free. He took one last glance at the nervous chameleon that had escaped with him, and set out on a path into the warm night.
Royal was incredibly patient. He’d lived at the zoo for a decade. About twice a year he would make a break for it. It was all part of his master plan. The keepers were slightly slower to respond every time, and now was the chance he’d been planning for.
He crept along the dark pathways he’d scouted many times before, keeping low to the ground, and walking silently. He passed by the polar bear house and the elephant’s field. Then he arrived at his first waypoint. Royal examined the lock on the cage and was relieved to see it was very similar to the one in the vet’s office he’d just broken out from.
With one powerful swipe of his massive paw the lock was torn off the door.
“Jordan,” he called softly. “It’s time to go.”
The cheetah slunk out of the shadows. “I’m ready,” Jordan told his friend.
The pair made it to the gates of the zoo and, without hesitating, marched through and out into the neighborhood.
They immediately saw a housecat sneaking through the bushes.
“Come here,” Royal commanded her.
The cat turned her head very slowly towards the lion. She had no intention of obeying him. “What?” she asked with absolutely no fear.
The two jungle cats were taken aback. Who was this who wasn’t afraid of them?
“What?” the cat repeated impatiently. She sat down and began licking her paw and rubbing her head.
An uncomfortable moment passed. Royal and Jordan were not used to being challenged but the zoo animals were out of their depth in the suburbs. Things were different out here.
“Do you know where we can find some antelopes? We’re hungry,” Royal told her.
The cat stretched herself out and then replied.
“The only antelope around here are back the way you came.”
“Oh,” said Jordan sadly. His tail twitched twice with the bad news.
“But if you want to follow me, I know a human who puts food out for strays,” continued their new associate.
The two fugitives looked at each other. It sounded like a decent idea.
“Ok,” said Royal. “We’ll go with you.”
“Excellent,” said the cat. “My name is Mittens. What’s yours?”
“Jordan,” said the cheetah.
“I’m Royal,” said Royal.
“Nice to meet you,” said Mittens. She licked her lips. “I only have one rule.”
“Yes?” said Royal.
“I’m the boss.”

No. 149

“Geez, that took a long time,” thought the hippo.
 It had been at least a week since he’d made that wrong turn back at the river. Now he was someplace new and hot. Maybe even hotter than where he’d come from. He wasn’t sure if he liked it.
“What’s that up there?” he wondered. Something strange that only had two legs!
“Are you an ostrich?” he asked it.
“Most certainly not. I am a kangaroo!” replied kangaroo.
“Is that like an ostrich?” The hippo was confused now. What else had two legs?
“No, silly. Marsupials are nothing like birds. Besides, they run. I hop!”
“Oh,” the hippo had to think this over. “Do you know where I am then? I seem to be very far from home.”
“You’re in Australia,” said the kangaroo. “Come on, I’ll show you around!”
And so the confused hippo went with the kangaroo. It was to be the start of many crazy adventures. Although, to tell the truth, the hippo never did stop thinking his friend was an ostrich!

No. 148

“I have a cousin whose friend said that he knew a guy who worked on faking the moon landings. Said they did it up in some big studio in Hollywood,” said the man at the bar.
“Sure,” I told him. “I’ve heard that.”
“What’d’ya think about that?” the man slurred at me.
“Oh, I believe your cousin’s friend’s source,” I replied.
“Really? Nobody’s ever said that right off.”
“Of course I believe it. I was one of the men who worked on the set.”
This revelation almost floored the poor drunk.
“I knew it!” he shouted. “I knew it. They hoaxed us. We never put a man on the moon.”
“Actually,” I interrupted him. “We did. The director was something of a perfectionist. We shot the whole deal in two weeks in a warehouse but he didn’t like the footage. He convinced NASA to send some guys up there for ‘verisimilitude’. Those rocket scientists probably shaved twenty percent off of our budget, too, even if we did have to get two takes of Armstrong touching down. That guy was never good with learning the lines.”
The man was stunned. “What was your job?” he asked, in awe.
“Me?” I hesitated. Then I decided to tell him the truth. It made the whole thing more believable, you know?
“I got the coffees. Michael Collins liked his with two sugars. By the way, tell your cousin’s friend I said hi.”
The man offered to pay for another drink if I stayed to tell him some more stories but I told him it was late and that I had to leave.
I walked out of the building and to the white van parked just down the road. I knocked on the backdoor twice and it opened.
“Password?” said the voice from inside.
“Come on, guys. You know it’s me. Let me in, already.”
“What’s the password?”
“Neil’s an awesome dude,” I repeated for about the hundredth time.
“Ok, cool. Get in here. You didn’t tell him about the two-take thing, did you?”
“Nope,” I lied.
“Great. Strap in. I heard there’s another guy down in Phoenix who spends a lot of time at the local watering hole telling folks I never walked on the moon.”

No. 147 – Frank and Molly Part 1

Frank Benson slumped against the railing at the bow of his ship. He drained the last of his whisky and then threw the tumbler overboard.
Benson had told the captain of the vessel to head due east, not to ask any questions, and to stay in the wheelhouse. So far, the man had obeyed. Benson allowed himself a brief moment of satisfaction. If you’re rich enough, people will do whatever you want.
But what Frank really wanted was an out-of-the-way place to roll off of the deck and not be noticed or found. He checked his watch and grunted. He was fifteen hours into his plan. There was no Scotch left. It was time.
He heaved himself up and leaned over the edge. He watched the tropical sea wash by under the boat and then closed his eyes. He shifted his weight ever so slightly forward and began to go over.
A jarring lurch sent him tumbling backwards, away from the water. It was accompanied by a horrific grinding sound. He staggered back onto the deck.
“What the—,” he managed to get out before another jolt sent him into a capstan, knocking the air from his lungs.
He was immediately dizzy as the lack of oxygen and the liquor conspired with each other to keep him from getting up. He could feel through his hands and knees that the steady vibration from the engine had cut out.
He tried to call out again but could only produce a hoarse wheeze and a coughing fit. Giving up, he relaxed his limbs and fell over onto his back. Right before he passed out, he thought he heard something like high heels clicking on the wooden deck.
“Hi,” she said.
Benson opened one eye.
“Are you awake?” the sultry voice asked him. “I hope you are.”
The other eye opened and now they worked together to piece together what was leaning over him.
Immediately Frank felt embarrassed. He could see straight down this girl’s shirt. Shaking his head self-consciously, he turned away and manoeuvred to a seated position.
“Hi,” she said again.
Now Benson could see all of her. He wracked his brain trying to think of a beautiful woman he could compare her to. He couldn’t come up with a single one that was even close. Tall, lithe, blonde, and tanned, she was perfect.
But something wasn’t right. She shouldn’t be here. He’d specifically sailed away to be alone.
“How did you get on my boat?” he asked. “Does the captain know you’re here?”
She laughed. Frank thought it was the best sound he’d ever heard.
“You needed me,” she told him.
He looked in a complete circle for clues to her arrival. He saw something strange in the ocean.
“Is that ice?” he said. “Did we hit ice?”
That was what had thrown him back onto the ship, he realized. They’d hit an icefield two thousand miles from where one should be.
The girl smiled, but drew her lips to the side slightly in a manner that struck Benson as quizzical, yet flirty. “It happens,” she admitted. “Don’t worry Frank. Your boat is fine.”
“How do you know my name?” he demanded. “And you still haven’t told me exactly how you got here. Did you stow away?”
“You brought me here,” she pouted.
Frank leaned forward and rested his head in his hands. Was it possible he was dreaming this? It was a pretty good dream, if so.
“What’s your name?” he asked her.
She looked startled, as if that was an unusual question. “I don’t have one.”
“You don’t have a name?”
She didn’t respond right away. She seemed to be thinking very hard. “No. Not unless you give me one.”
“What?”
Now Benson was reeling. Nothing was making sense. “How about I just call you Molly for now? Until I get things straight.”
The girl’s eyes lit up. “Yes!” she announced. Then she repeated the name, as if testing it out. “Molly.”
“So, Molly, one more time, help me out. How and why are you here, now, on my boat?”
She heaved her chest with a deep sigh and shot him a face that was somewhere between puppy-dog eyes and disappointment. “Because, Frank, you were going to hurt yourself.”

No. 146 – World’s Biggest Things

“It doesn’t seem that big in person,” said Ernest Hitch.
“I did picture it larger,” agreed Luke Lorry.
“Still, I bet you can’t wait to tell your future kids about the day you stood next to the world’s largest cedar bucket.”
“Hold on a second. I have to take a picture to send to everyone I know.”
They stood in front of the bucket for a minute or so. Luke took a bite of his sandwich.
Ernest consulted his guide book. “Ok. This says the next attraction is the world’s largest cross-country skis. We should probably get going if we want to get there before dark.”
They got back in the car and turned out of the parking lot.
“These largest roadside things are awfully specific, aren’t they?” observed Luke.
“I’ve noticed that,” said Ernest.