Monthly Archives: September 2012

No. 208

Niki Cassa squeezed her eyes shut as the alarm hammered into her head. Try as she might, she couldn’t block out the hideous noise.
She was unhappy to note that, grating as the alarm was, it did nothing to silence the real cacophony.
Niki lived in terrible pain. Every moment for the last five years, the same song had been stuck in her head. Over and over again, it repeated, shutting out thoughts and crippling her standard of living. She’d heard of people developing a ringing in their ears that never ceased, but she’d never found anyone else so tormented by music.
She’d tried every known therapy and nothing had worked. Some doctors didn’t even believe her. Today, though, she’d strike back.
Niki had found a way to broadcast her agony to every living being on the planet.

no. 207

Nine times out of ten, Joshua Plante would have just kept walking, but something in the overgrown, empty lot caught his attention.
He backtracked about four steps to get a better look at the object.
It was a plain cardboard box, about the size of the ones used to ship apples in. Something had been chewing on a corner and Josh could see a tiny sliver of the contents through the resulting hole.
He could tell that the contents were furry, and that there was at least one foot. He held his breath as he used a stick to prop open the lid to get a better view.
He’d barely manage to raise it a crack when the flaps sprung up and a tiny, disheveled kitten leapt out. Josh fell back in surprise as the infant feline landed on its four paws and opened its mouth wide with a vicious roar.
Or, a roar that would have been vicious, if the animal had been capable of the intensity that it was projecting. And if it wasn’t so terribly cute. Instead, the noise was something more like a squeak, and Josh began to laugh.
It was several moments before both parties were able to compose themselves enough to take a second look at each other.
Josh noticed something strange about the cat.
“Are those stripes?” he asked, moving his hand dangerously close to the little animal’s needle-sharp teeth.
His answer, unsurprisingly, was a sharp bite on the tip of his middle finger. He withdrew out of snapping-range and looked up and down the block for anything that would explain the kitten’s current location.
“Who goes and abandons a baby tiger in the middle of the suburbs?” he wondered as he took off his jacket and prepared to snare the curious specimen.

No. 206

Lefty, the gremlin on Michael Lansbury’s left shoulder, was neither good nor evil, unlike most traditional specimens. In fact, this particular gremlin was mostly indifferent, putting in his time so he could move on, from passing advice, to other, more interesting, things.
This created havoc in two ways. The first was the Lansbury was only getting good advice, which was making his life incredibly boring, and the second was that all the winning was going to Righty’s head.  
“Should I cut the circles on the plastic rings from my six-pack?” Lansbury wondered.
Righty spoke first. “Yes, you should always do that. You’ll be a better person, and it saves dolphins and sea turtles.”
There was no reply from the other side.
Righty coughed loudly and Lefty woke up from a nap.
“What? Yeah, sure. Whatever. Or not,” he mumbled before slumping down against Lansbury’s neck.
Despite such a convincing counter-argument, Lansbury did the good deed.
“Ha!” said Righty. “Another one for me!” He sidled up to Lansbury’s ear and added another tiny hash mark to his tally under the lobe. “That’s 399,917 to 4!”
Lefty yawned. “How much more time have we got?”
Righty looked at his watch. “If we were close, probably another 30, maybe 40, years of me sticking it to you. But it doesn’t matter, because I’m going to win it all.”
Lefty jerked his head up. “Win?”
“Didn’t you read the contract? It’s not just about time-served. You can also get out if you have 400,000 match-ups go your way, like I’m going to have,” said Righty haughtily. He added another piece of information with a kind of glee that was altogether too sinister for a good-gremlin. “And you might want to read the fine print, too, because any employee with less than 200,000 when the other one wins…,” Righty trailed off and moved his hand past his neck with a slashing motion.
Lefty was alert now. He waggled his fingers and a copy of his contract appeared with a tiny puff of orange smoke. He scanned it quickly. It confirmed Righty’s revelation. He dropped the paper and swallowed hard. He would need to take almost every decision for the next 20 years if he were to have any chance of saving his own hide.
Michael Lansbury’s life was about to get a lot more interesting.

No. 205

The little girl climbed into her brother’s tree fort, plainly ignoring the sign nailed to the trunk that said, in large red letters, “No Girls Allowed”.
She was alone, for the moment, and was executing her raid while her brother was inside finishing his homework.
She rummaged through the assorted piles of toys and treasures that made up the contents of the boys’ hideaway. Swiftly finding what she was looking for, she pulled a single object from her pocket and tucked it in, back with its mates.
With any luck, her brother would find it soon. Maybe then he would believe her when she told him she hadn’t borrowed it, and hadn’t even been in his stupid clubhouse. Or maybe not.
She shimmied down the tree and was halfway across the yard when she heard her name shouted across the lawn.
“What?” she answered back, injecting as much defiance into her voice as she could.
“I saw you near my fort,” her brother told her.
“Why would I want to go up your stupid tree? It probably smells in there.”
“I know took my James Hodgkins rookie card.”
She stamped her foot, an impressive acting performance. “I did not.”
“What would you even want with that?” he muttered as he stalked across the grass to inspect the violated premises for himself.
She tried her best to hide her smile as she skipped back into the house. Next time she’d take one of his prized action figures. The disappearances kept him distracted from what she was really pilfering from his bedroom.

No. 204

My teacher’s assistant came to me with disturbing news. I could hear something like fear in her voice.
“Abby, I finished marking the last of those tests, but when I put the grades into the computer I noticed something peculiar with the results in B-Block. I’ve already double checked all of the previous marks and there’s something you should see.”
I put down my pen and accepted the laptop from Erin. I looked at the ordered bars on the grading chart of one of the girls in the class.
“I don’t see anything here,” I told her.
Erin nodded. “We’ve been entering the marks as ‘X points out of Y’, so you’ll see all the different values, but when I change it to display in percent, look at what happens.”
She clicked the appropriate button and all of the numbered scores changed to their representative percentages.
“Kendra’s got a 93 on each thing she’s turned in so far?” I said. “What are the odds of that?”
“This is what’s really unsettling,” said Erin. She expanded the results from one student, to all of them.
The phenomena of Kendra’s results were repeated across the board. Though the tallies differed from individual to individual, every student had the same percentages for all of their assignments.
I gasped. “That’s got to be a glitch.”
Erin shook her head. “It’s not a glitch. I looked back at the papers we haven’t handed back. These are correct.”
 “How many ways could this happen?” I wondered aloud.
Erin was just about to reply when we heard a hollow knock at the classroom door. I opened it to find all the students from B-Block in the hall.
“Hello, Miss Roling,” they said in unison.

No. 203

In 1912, 115 men went into the Gobi Desert on an expedition funded by the 5th Earl of Carnarvon and disappeared. In 2012, one of those men came back.
He appeared not to have aged a single day.
“The others are out there,” he told the told the traveller who discovered him. “They can still be saved.”
Then he withered and died, as if only sheer will had been keeping him alive.
My name is Edward Carter. The 7th Earl has contracted me to find the Lost 114.

No. 202

My name is Willow Webber. When I was a child, my father would always caution us not to play in the Old Webber Place. That’s right, it’s the same name. My family owned the deserted house at the end of the street. The one that all the other kids always said was haunted, the one where the monsters lived.
We didn’t live there, of course. We lived in a normal house about two blocks away that was always kept in immaculate shape.
I used to think I wasn’t allowed to play in the decrepit mansion because I was a girl, and my dad wanted to keep me safe. Looking back now, I understand the true reason for his warnings.
Once, before I was born, a gang of local kids had gone inside. The story has it that they were investigating in order to set up a clubhouse in the basement, and they found something down there.
Nobody was every quite clear on just what that something was, but whatever the find, it was enough to get the house listed as a historic site. This designation prevented my dad from leveling the whole structure and selling the land like he wanted to.
Despite owning two houses, we were not a rich family. “Webber House”, as it was listed in the records, had been willed to my father by some distant relative whom he’d met once as a child, and apparently made an impression upon. Upkeep on a building nobody really wanted or used fell to the wayside as my father petitioned the powers that be to remove the special designation.
So I’ve realized that my brothers and I were forbidden entry in case somebody turned up more, stronger, evidence for preservation that would derail his case.
Well, Webber House still stands, so you can imagine how well we listened. The lure of a “haunted” house was just too great. We found something, too. And, I must tell you, I didn’t expect the discovery to be what it was. I think that even the historical folks were surprised by that one.
It’s all on display in the Webber Museum. You should come and visit sometime. You won’t be disappointed, especially after you hear the whole story.

No. 201

Petra Burton’s couch had betrayed her.
Its soft cushions and perfectly tall armrests has conspired together to cause her to fall asleep and miss her appointment.
She would not easily forgive the maleficent piece of furniture.  Now that she was awake, but still quite groggy, she could almost convince herself that it was a living entity, plotting and scheming to evil ends.
Petra resolved to land the next blow. This evening she would watch TV from the reclining chair. Surely, the noble throne would side with her.
That tactic didn’t work, either. The chair was in league with the couch and Petra slept straight through her favorite show.
At her wit’s end, Petra eyed the floor with suspicion. Would her very home turn on her? She had one last faint hope to land a counter-punch against the entire living room.
She walked slowly to the kitchen and made herself a cup of coffee.

Around Gray Publishes Mini-Stories, 151 – 200, July 18 – September 21, 2012

No. 151
July 18, 2012
Josie and Brian Snow sat uncomfortably on the roof of their house.
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.
No. 152
July 19, 2012
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. 153
July 20, 2012
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. 154
July 21, 2012
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. 155
No. 154 Part 2
July 21, 2012
Jezebel Wesley returned home after her ride.
Henrik Wesley met her at the door.
“I saw on the monitor that you used a box,” he said, with a pride that only the inventor of the system that just saved his daughter could manage. “Are you alright?”
“Yes,” she told him.
“Which one did you choose? The gravity suit?”
“No. Flames.”
“That’s good, too,” said Wesley.
But he saw that Jezebel was distracted. 
“What’re you thinking, Jez?” he asked.
“Why did they come after me? Do you think they knew who I was?”
Henrik considered the questions.
“I don’t know. You were the only one out there. Maybe they were desperate enough to try robbing you before you got to a suit,” he said. “Maybe they thought just one person was still vulnerable. They know they can’t compete with the system.”
This seemed to calm her. She nodded.
“Just in case, though, I don’t want you out by yourself after dark anymore,” he suggested.
“Dad, don’t worry about it. I’ll be fine.”
Earl Exeter sat in an abandoned warehouse and picked at the scar on his wrist. He looked at the other members of his gang, all spread out on the bottom floor of the factory, trying to sleep. Exeter shivered and ignored the hunger pangs in his belly. He missed the old days, when cons were sent to prison instead of being tagged and released.
He examined the scar. The situation was his fault, too. That was the worst of it. Exeter had been the man who’d sold the city on Henrik Wesley’s wonderful idea. “A brilliant idea,” he’d told the masses. “If everyone has the power to stop crime, there won’t be any.”
Of course, his motives had been slightly different. He didn’t tell them that if everyone had access, then the criminals would, too, and he’d been the first one. He’d caused havoc for a week. People not used to their new toys couldn’t stop him. He’d been invincible.
But Wesley had reacted and instituted the chip-block. Exeter had been the last powered criminal, too.
His current followers had been told that the plan was to use the girl to open the box so they could use the suits. Again, Exeter had left out critical information. He knew that even with the box open, the chips would disable the suits. But with the inventor’s daughter as a hostage, they would have almost unlimited power to change the status quo.
No. 156
July 22, 2012
“And here’s your employee number – 1479377. Your uniform is in the room right down the hall. Good to have you, 1479377. I think you’ll do well here,” said the hiring manager.
Richard Clarkson rose, shook the manager’s hand, and thanked him. Then he was shuffled out of the room and towards the uniform pick-up rather abruptly.
He found it without any problems. It was right where they’d said it would be. There was a girl at the front desk. “Hi, I’m new. I’m here to pick up my uniform,” he said. “Is this the right place?”
The girl didn’t look up at him. “Name?” she asked, robotically.
“Richard Clarkson.”
Now she looked at him. “No. What’s your name?” she repeated.
“Um, Clarkson. Richard Clarkson,” he said again.
The girl looked around the corner nervously. “Didn’t you read the papers?”
Richard was puzzled. “The newspaper?”
“Your contract. Paragraph 85.2,” she told him. “You signed it right before they gave you your number.”
“What about it?”
The girl seemed agitated. Her eyes darted to the door. “You gave them the rights to that name. You can’t use it.”
Richard was worried now. “I have to change my name?”
Her response was grim.
“You already have.”
Unable to speak, Richard stood with his mouth open, trying to get the words out.
The girl understood. “What number did they give you?”
Richard couldn’t remember. The memory of last several minutes evaporated with shock. He reached into his pocket and pulled out the card they’d given him. He took a deep breath and read the numbers off one at a time. “One-four-seven-nine-three-seven-seven,” he managed.
Now the girl was happy. “Excellent, 1479377! I’m 1486864.”
Then she leaned forward over the desk and whispered conspiratorially.
“But my real name is Judy.”
No. 157
July 23, 2012
“Take it,” said Gillian, holding out her hand.
“Take what?” asked Dave.
“The Biggest Idiot Award. You earned it.”
She kept the arm extended.
“You know there’s nothing in your hand right?” Dave questioned.
“It’s a made up award. You get it for being an ass in public.”
She thrust the hand at him again.
“Take it!”
Dave reluctantly pretended to take something from her palm.
“Now put it in your pocket, and next time don’t be so dumb,” Gillian instructed.
 “What did I do?” said Dave.
“You know exactly what you did. Quit whining and let’s go get our tickets.”
No. 158
July 24, 2012
Douglas Platt seldom went on vacation. Instead, he’d choose a hotel not more than fifteen minutes from his home (he’d decided that hotels look the same wherever you go), walk through the lobby past the large plant or waterwall (there was always one or both), and choose a couch.
Once settled, he would open his computer and scroll through pictures his friends had posted of their travels. Oftentimes he would bring along a relevant guidebook so as better to live vicariously. Sometimes, if he’d been feeling very extravagant, he would have stopped at a coffee shop on the way and bring along a medium-sized latte (iced or warm, depending on destination).
He didn’t consider it strange or creepy. If asked, he would say that it was an experience unmarred by sunburn, insects, or lost luggage. Most of his friends knew of his habit and felt rather sorry for him.
“Look at Doug,” they’d say. “He never goes anywhere.”
Then, one day, Douglas Platt didn’t show up for work. When nothing was found at his house, either, search parties were organized.
“Check the hotels,” said Randal Credworth. “I just got back from the West Indies.”
Mr. Platt was not to be found at any of his usual haunts.
“Do you think he’s finally done it?” somebody asked.
“Maybe we should expand the search to all the hotels within twenty minutes of here before we start making outlandish suggestions,” answered Credworth. “After all, we all know him.”
But they didn’t. Not really. Because one of the other things that is easy to do in hotel lobbies is pick pockets. And Douglas Platt was now very far away.
No. 159
July 25, 2012
“You’re a gopher.”
“Yeah.”
“Gophers aren’t meant to fly.”
“Why not? I’ve built these wings and everything!”
“Alright, I guess you can try. Don’t come crying to me when it doesn’t work.”
And so the gopher gathered up his contraption and scampered up to the top of the hill. Then he wriggled his way into the harness and leapt out into space.
For a few magical seconds it seemed he was truly lighter than air. Then gravity took hold with its usual predictability and the gopher began to plummet towards the lake.
He landed with a mighty gopher-sized splash. He quickly gnawed his way free of the wings and bobbed to the surface, where he struggled to stay afloat with his tiny legs.
“You’re a gopher!” called his friend from the shore.
“So?”
“Gophers aren’t meant to swim, either!”
“I’ve begun to realize that. Throw me a rope or something.”
So a rope was thrown and the gopher was hauled ashore. He stood on the bank and shook himself off.
“So what are gophers really good at?” he asked.
“Digging,” answered his friend.
“Excellent. Let’s go dig some holes. I’ve had enough adventure for today.”
And so they did.
 For a little while.
Until the gopher started to get bored again. This time he started thinking about jetpacks.
No. 160
The Book
July 25, 2012
“I’m never going to read that book again,” said Parker with a shudder.
Dino, his roommate, looked over at him. “What are you on about now?”
“This book,” said Parker, showing it to Dino but shaking it more than was necessary. “It’s—.”
He searched for a word.
“It’s creepy.”
Dino set down his coffee mug and tilted his head. “The book is ‘creepy’?”
Parker threw the book to the far corner of the room. It landed with its cover bent and its pages splayed out. “The whole time, I felt like it was watching me.”
“Uh huh,” said Dino. “Have you considered the possibility that it’s a book and it can’t watch you?”
Parker was starting to get defensive. “Look. If you think I’m lame, then you read it.”
“Does it have pictures?” asked Dino.
Parker glared at him.
“Alright, fine,” said Dino. “Bring it here.”
Parker rose from the recliner and retrieved the book. He handed it to Dino as if it was some sort of dead animal.
Without speaking, he returned to his chair and sat down. He crossed his arms and stared at Dino.
“Ok. Now you’re being creepy,” Dino told him.
Dino smoothed the cover and unfolded some of the damaged pages. He made a show of opening the book to page one. He made eye-contact with Parker, then deliberately focused on the first line.
Several hours later, and now late into the night, Dino finished. He snapped the book shut with an uncontrollable shudder.
“It’s not right,” he told Parker. “There’s something not right.”
He looked over at his friend. During the time Dino had been reading, he hadn’t been paying attention to Parker. He was scared by what he saw now.
Parker had drawn himself into a ball, and was hunkered down as far as he could into the cushions of the chair. His eyes were wide, but unfocused. More worryingly, though, was that he was holding a baseball bat in one hand, and a knife in the other.
“Park?” Dino whispered.
There was no indication Parker had heard him.
Dino looked at the book in his lap with terror. He swept it onto the floor while simultaneously propelling himself over the back of the couch. He peered over the edge at the offending volume.
The book lay in the middle of the floor, pages once again askew. Dino was overcome with a terrible realization.
The book knew. It had been reading him as thoroughly as he had been reading it. He didn’t know how it would use what it had learned, but he swore to himself that he would be ready.
He slowly walked to the hall closed. He opened the door and removed a golf club from the bag inside. Then he went to the storage room and retrieved a hatchet from a box marked “Camping”.
When he was done gathering supplies, he returned to the living room, from where Parker had not yet moved.
 Dino sat back down the couch and waited. 
No. 161
July 26, 2012
The sun glistened off the slight ripples of the brilliant blue as he ducked his head underneath and pushed off from the pool’s edge. He glided effortlessly just beneath the surface until he reached the halfway mark.
Once, as a boy, Martin McKinley had decided that there must be a portal to another world somewhere on the premises.
It had been a child’s fancy, but between the water and the vast painting that covered an entire side of the deck, he couldn’t be blamed.
Perhaps it was the mural that lent the place such an otherworldly air.
Henri Rousseau’s “The Dream” dominated the senses. Vibrant greens and yellows jumped off of the wall, with splashes of bright blue and red. It was worn, now. The colors were not as sharp as they’d been, the facade flaking in places, but McKinley could not remember a day he’d visited and not spent time studying it.
He had a print in his home, but the sheer scale here captivated him. He wondered why, of all the pictures in the world, the owners had chosen this one to reproduce.
The lifeguard had been watching a trio of girls sunbathe on the far side of the property. He was late to blow the whistle when McKinley failed to resurface.
“Heart attack,” said the woman from the ambulance. “There was nothing you could have done.”
The lifeguard felt sorry for McKinley. He couldn’t remember the swimmer’s first name although they’d shared many greetings. It was a terrible thing to have happened, but he found that he couldn’t look away from the dead man’s expression of supreme satisfaction.
No. 162
July 27, 2012
Cal Rogers was sixteen. All his life he’d heard voices.
As soon as he’d been old enough, he asked his dad if everyone did.
“No, son, you’re special,” his father had told him. “When you were very little, a scientist asked us to help him. He had an idea that, one day, everyone would be able to hear voices all the time. He asked your mom and me if we would let you be the first person to try it out.”
“I need to get to 1292 Trenton Avenue,” said Cal.
“Turn left,” said the voice.
Cal smiled. He liked it when the girl went first.
“What’s your name?” he asked. His daily game.
“After three blocks, turn right on Candlestick Street,” said the voice. “And you know I can’t answer that.”
Cal followed the directions.
“What’s this place again?” he said.
The voice was different this time, one of the men. “It’s for your checkup.”
The man leaned back from the microphone. “It is for his checkup, right?”
Another figure, indistinct in the dark at the back of the room, answered. “That is correct.”
Cal ‘s voice crackled over ceiling-mounted speakers.
“You know, we should probably replace those. They’re almost twenty years old,” said the woman at the front of the room. Then she keyed her button and replied to him.
A hollow rumble filled the hall. A coffee mug vibrated off of a table and smashed on the floor.
Cal could be heard throughout the center.
“Hey, is this an earthquake?”
But nobody could get to their station to answer him. The shaking ended with a heavy hush. Every light flickered and then shut off.
The woman was the first to speak.
“Do we have signal?”
The man hauled himself back into his chair and checked his readouts.
“No,” he told her. “Everything’s cut off. Even emergency power.”
She put her hand over her mouth.
Cal stood up from the sidewalk where he’d fallen.
“Was that an earthquake?” he asked.
There was no answer.
“Guys? Hello? Anybody?”
He tapped the spot behind his ear.
“Are you there?”
Cal started to sweat. He felt goose bumps rise on his arms. He listened to the screams of the people around him, and the snap of the nearby flames, but all he heard was a terrible silence.
No. 163
July 28, 2012
“Yep. You’ve got freezer demons,” said the pest-control man.
I had never heard this term before.
“What are those?” I asked him. I wanted to see where this went.
“Demons, girl, weren’t you listening? Set up in your freezer. Cause the burning.”
“Freezer burn is caused by demons?”
I suspected this fellow had no idea what he was talking about.
“A-yep,” he repeated, adjusting a tool belt and clearing his throat.
“And how much will it cost me to get rid of them?”
Now I was just toying with him.
He scratched his special area before he replied. “Reckon about seven thousand dollars, to be safe. Six, if you pay cash.”
“Why wouldn’t I just buy a new fridge? Surely that would be less.”
“You could do that. Or call the refridgetrician man out. I guarantee they’d be back, though. Got a spray in my van, -‘ll get ‘em real good.”
“I’ll consider it.”
“You might not last the night!” he warned ominously.
I rolled my eyes, making sure that he didn’t see.
“I’m sure I’ll be fine. I’ve kept them at bay this long.”
 I escorted him to the door and watched as he got into his battered pick-up truck and drove away. I picked up the phone and dialed my friend.
He didn’t answer, so I left a message.
“Reg, thanks for the referral. I had your cousin come by about the termites, but I think I’m going to go with somebody else.”
No. 164
Fangy Part 2
July 29, 2012
Fangy dislodged a severed finger from between his teeth. It fell to the floor and the dinosaur nudged it toward Nicholas.
Nicholas looked at the grisly appendage and at his sometimes-loyal pal. He shook his head. “I don’t eat people.”
Now he thought ahead to show-and-tell day on Thursday. Could Fangy be trusted not to violently murder any more classmates?
“You’d better be on your best behavior or no treats for a week!” Nicholas warned his friend.
Fangy put his tail between his legs and skulked off to hide behind the couch.
Miss Cope watched the lizard enter her classroom with some apprehension. It stalked forward, massive claws clicking on the hard floor. Although Nicholas had assured her there would be no problems, she didn’t like the shifty look in the predator’s eyes. The thing seemed awfully jumpy.
“No killing,” whispered Nicholas. Then he clarified. “No hurting, either.”
Fangy was led to the front. Nicholas had him run through his repertoire of tricks and Fangy enthralled the class.
Fangy enjoyed the attention. He was determined to do his best. But he was still a reptile with a brain the size of a peanut and some things can’t be helped.
A girl in the back row moved suddenly. Fangy’s instincts kicked in and he launched himself towards her, bowling desks and other students out of the way.
This time Nicholas was ready.
“No!” he shouted.
Fangy heard the command and froze, jaws gaping wide and arms outstretched.  He turned his head very slowly, without moving the rest of his body, to face his owner.
“You come here,” said Nicholas, pointing emphatically at his side.
Fangy obeyed, slinking back with his head low.
“Sorry,” Nicholas told the class.
“Nicholas,” said Miss Cope. “Go to the principal’s office.”
He nodded and patted the velociraptor on the nose. “Come on, buddy.”
Fangy snuffled.
“It’s not all your fault,” the boy told him.
Miss Cope waited until the troublesome pair had left the room and then addressed the rest of the children.
“If anybody else brings a pet for show-and-tell, make sure it’s on a leash.”
No. 165
Backyard Olympics
August 12, 2012
Jack Howard crossed the line in record time.
“That’s a two-fifty-six,” called his friend Kelly. She was the official timekeeper.
Ross Scott was second.
He fell against the tree with the fort in it and wheezed.
“You cut through the Swindon’s yard,” he accused Jack.
“The race is called ‘the around-the-block’. We never agreed you had to stay on the sidewalks.”
Kelly nodded her head. “That’s true.”
Ross was unimpressed. He picked up a stick and swished it vigorously. “Fine,” he said. “But the next event is sword-fighting.”
No. 166
August 13, 2012
Dauntless didn’t flinch as the first blow landed. 
Instead, he kept moving, feeling no pain, as he advanced toward the ringleader of the gang as they pummeled him from all sides.
He grabbed his target without pausing and quickly subdued the shocked villain. The rest of the scoundrels, without their leader, and now facing a seemingly invincible foe, all turned and ran into the night.
The first thing Jeff Anson, Dauntless, did when he returned home was peel off his mask and toss it on the couch. He was still jittery from the adrenaline of his evening’s adventure. He had just completed his first week with the Hero’s Alliance.
He picked up his phone to call his twin sister, Alison.
Jeff couldn’t contain himself. “It was awesome. This was the best idea ever.”
Alison was quiet for a second.
“I’m glad you could finally do something with your power,” she told him.
“What are you up to?” he asked. “You want to come by for a barbeque or something? We can celebrate.”
There was another pause.
“Sis?” asked Jeff.
“Oh, yeah, sorry,” she answered. “I’ll be swamped with work for the next little while.”
“No problem. Soon, though.”
“Sure,” she said. “Hey, I’m glad you called but I have to get going here.”
“Alright,” said Jeff. “Goodnight Ali.”
Alison hung up the phone gently. She grimaced as she re-applied the icepack to her battered body.
It was difficult to avoid her brother, but she knew if he found out the reason he felt no pain he would quit and never wear the Dauntless costume again.
 “Hey,” she answered. “How’s it going?”
No. 167
Secret Song Six
August 15, 2012
Lucas Foley wrote down the numbers one to fifteen.
He quickly filled most of the spots with song titles.
Spot six he left open.
Then he gathered the paper and pen and placed them both in a drawer, where they lay for about a week. He hadn’t forgotten, though. After some time had passed, he returned to the note. This time, he put lines through seven and nine, replacing those entries with new ideas.
Six was still empty.
He sat back in his chair and closed his eyes. Six would have to be perfect. Secret song six.
He read back again and again, the tunes seared into his mind. Still, something was missing.
He played every album he owned.
A month passed, then two. Three changed. Then seven, again.
Lucas was walking to school behind her when he realized.
He couldn’t get it out of his head for the rest of the day. He ran home and pulled the drawer open. He found the pen and scrawled the title into place.
No. 168
August 17, 2012
It was a picture that finally did it.
Jack Rushton was a terrible student. He had very little use for school until the day the physics teacher brought in the example of aerodynamics.
 Jack was captivated.
He waited until everyone else had left the classroom, then he surreptitiously removed the clipping from the whiteboard. He folded it carefully and put it in his wallet between Mila Kunis and Alexander Hamilton.
The next day, after the lesson, the teacher called Jack’s name.
“Yes?” answered the boy.
The teacher was a large man, with one long hair that the razor had missed. The hair jumped as the teacher spoke.
“I see you’ve taken an interest in British machinery.”
Jack was surprised. He hadn’t thought that anybody had seen him. He tried to reply but no words came out.
The teacher noticed.
“That’s ok. The picture’s nothing special,” he assured the lad.
Jack removed the evidence from his pocket and placed it on the edge of the table.
“What is it?” he asked.
“That is an Aston Martin. It’s beautiful, but very expensive. You’d have to work very hard to have one someday.”
Jack heard what the teacher was saying. He nodded silently.
Many years later, Jack ran into his teacher.
“Mr. Rushton! It’s good to see you,” said the older man. “Any closer to that Aston?”
Jack grinned from ear to ear.
The teacher’s eyes widened.
“No,” said Jack. “I don’t own one. I was never that good at school.”
The teacher shook his head. “Well, there’s still time to get on the right track.”
“Funny you should say that,” said Jack. “I don’t own one, I race them. I figured that I probably wasn’t ever going to get straight As, so I concentrated on driving. My next event is in three weeks. Want to come by for a ride-along?”
No. 169
The Last Train Part 1
August 18, 2012
Stephen Miller leaned into the glass divider at the edge of his seat as the train pulled away from the platform. He watched out the window as somebody arrived at the bottom of the stairs, too late to get on board. Then Stephen’s car reached the end of the station and the tunnel walls cut off the light. Now he could only see his reflection.
He used the dark window to subtly examine the few other passengers who shared his car. It was not busy. The last train of the night never was. He could even see several empty seats, up near the front.
Beside him was a middle-aged man in a rumpled suit. Stephen could only guess what he was doing up so late. The man clutched a briefcase close and was pretending to sleep. Stephen knew he wasn’t, because every time the train jostled, the man would open his eyes and stare lustily and the young lady on the opposite side.
The girl was oblivious, or seemingly so. She had large red headphones on and was softly air-drumming on her thighs.
Beside the girl was another man about Stephen’s age. He was bigger than Stephen. He had short hair and a goatee that he’d clearly spent more time on than was necessary. Stephen noticed that, while the man was dressed in worn and slightly dated clothes, his shoes were new and of the latest fashion. Some sort of fancy, shiny, sporting ones.
Stephen was just about to shift his focus past the empty seat to the old lady with the bag that kept moving when the overhead lights flickered once, and then went dark. The train shuddered to a halt with a hideous squeal from the brakes.
Dim emergency lights snapped on and a nervous murmur began amongst the commuters.
The intercom hissed and the conductor’s voice cut through the alarmed banter.
“The train has been delayed. We are stopping in the tunnel while crews are sent to clear the station ahead. There has been a disturbance. Thank you for your patience. We should be able to continue shortly.”
The car was silent as the passengers digested the news.
“It would have to be the last train,” said Shoe Man with forced humor.
Then mobile phones began to ring. First one, then everybody’s. 
Somebody at the back began screaming.
No. 170
August 19, 2012
The beach stretched on around the peninsula with no end in sight. Desmond Crest had forgotten his sunglasses and had to squint to follow the arc of glaring white sand to his destination.
To get here he’d had to rent a kayak, a kayak he’d stupidly abandoned about twenty minutes ago. The rough map and shoddy description of his route from the man at the bar had both conspired to lead him well off the proper path. Nonetheless, Desmond was determined to get to the end. It was his first vacation in six years, and the first time he’d been anywhere tropical.
Up ahead, a stream cut a wide trench in the spotless beach. Desmond quickened his pace. This was the last landmark in the directions. He reached the fresh water and turned inland, taking one last look at the perfect white-capped waves that were washing the shore.
He felt an abrupt temperature change as he entered the shaded forest. He picked his way carefully upriver, trying to stay mostly on the larger rocks that dotted the waterway. The bartender had said it would be another ten minutes from the edge of the beach so Desmond estimated at least a half an hour, based on the margin of error thus far.
It had been closer to forty minutes by the time Desmond reached the falls. He came on them suddenly, rounding a bend to a scene more appropriate for a postcard or Hollywood blockbuster. Great torrents of sparkling green water swept over the edge, pounding dark boulders in the pool below. Ferns and palm trees lined the edges of the oasis.
Desmond was struggling to open his camera bag when he heard somebody yell from close by. He looked up just in time to see a tiny figure leap over the edge of the falls. He froze, unsure whether to run forward and help the person, or to stay put and avoid looking foolish when the popped back up.
His indecision ended up being the right decision, as he hadn’t moved before the jumper surfaced and swam with easy strokes towards him.
Desmond saw it was a girl.
“Hi,” she called from the water. “Are you here for a swim?”
No. 171
August 20, 2012
“His name is Andrew,” she said, pointing at the fuzzy gray cat that was currently attempting to ignore all of its bones to become one with the sunny spot on the couch.
I tried to suppress the urge to laugh. “You named the cat ‘Andrew’?”
“Why?”
She was not impressed with my name-judging.
“He doesn’t look like people to me,” I told her.
The cat may or may not have understood me. It raised its head and gave me the stink-eye. It’s possible that’s just how cats look, though. I’m not an expert.
There was no misreading her expression, though.
It was clear that I was not going to change her mind about the whole “animals-with-human-names” issue. I tried my best to recover.
“He certainly seems—,” I stalled, frantically searching for the right word. “Cuddly.”
“Great,” I thought. “I’m doing well. Make it seem like you could be its friend.”
“Hey, buddy,” I called it. I bent down and made the “come-here-small-furry-animal” noise.
The cat ignored me.
She watched it watching me. She did nothing to help.
I stood, and went to the animal. I tried to pat it.
It bit me.
The evening went downhill from there.
I highly doubt that Andrew and I will ever be friends.
No. 172
Platypus
August 21, 2012
“Take the platypus, for example. They’ve been around forever. Good design doesn’t have to look good, it just has to work,” said the professor.
The students all nodded and the noise of the scribbling pens increased.
Gabriel Martin wrote down the word “platypus” and underlined it twice. There was something hovering just outside of his brain. He meant to try to catch it after class.
“What’re you up to? I haven’t seen you in like a week,” said Sharon over the counter of the campus coffee shop.
Gabriel looked around, and then leaned in conspiratorially as he picked up his drink. “Remember last time I was in here?”
“Yeah,” said Sharon. “You monopolized the cosy chair all night. People complained.”
Gabriel didn’t really listen to her reply.
“I figured it out,” he whispered.
“Figured what out?”
Gabriel coughed and jerked his chin at the other customers. “I can’t tell you here. Come by my place tonight when you get off.”
“Ok,” agreed Sharon.
Gabriel turned and made for the exit with his mocha.
“Oh,” he said, calling over his shoulder. “Remember to wear boots.”
No. 173
August 22, 2012
The probe touched down at 0834 hours. By 0842 it had deployed its sensors and at 0909 it activated the transfer field.
I was the first person to be transported to Mars through the energy-elevator.
Within weeks the process had been refined enough that visiting another planet was as simple as walking through a door. Even my neighbor managed to get a ticket to go. I’m still not sure how he managed to do that, if they’d asked me first I’d have put him on the black list.
Anyway, the problems started soon after. At first, nobody noticed the glitches. People started arriving centimeters to the left of where they were supposed to, or two-thousandths of a second late. No big deal. Everyone had stopped paying attention by then.
By the time the margin of error had grown enough to be clearly visible, it was too late to cancel the visas and the program was making too much money to freeze.
So they sent me back with the nonspecific mission to “fix the problem”. Of course, what they didn’t know was that the problem wasn’t on the Martian end of the trip. It was on Earth.
Do you remember Earth?
No. 174
Hillbillies?
August 23, 2012
Sandra Leyland hiked the sleeping bag up past her neck and tried to ball up to be as small as possible. There were sounds coming from outside the tent that she didn’t like.
Her friends had warned her about all manner of camping terrors. Bears. Cougars. Hillbillies. Sandra’s imagination pictured all of them lurking outside, just past the thin fabric walls. There were one or two other things she was afraid of, too, but those weren’t camping-specific.
There was a pause in the night-time noises. Sandra had never been told that it’s usually a bad sign when nature goes quiet.  That this means that usually something bigger and meaner is out there. So she assumed that silent mean safe and she reached slowly for her flashlight at the foot of the foam mattress. She clutched it close, waiting for the next hint of danger.
A shadow flashed past the mesh window. Then ominous thumps that sounded quite a lot like footsteps.
Hillbillies! Beth had been right!
Sandra snapped on the light but forgot to point it at the noise. She blinded herself with the brilliant beam.
That was too much for her. She began to scream and scream.
The tent’s door flap began to unzip and Sandra’s mom stuck her head through.
“Calm down, Honey, you’re ok!” she told her daughter. “You’re safe. I just came out to see if you girls wanted any hot chocolate before you went to bed.”
The girls on either side of Sandra perked up.
“Hot chocolate, Mrs. Leyland?” they asked.
“Yes, dears, but maybe you’ll want to sleep in the living room, instead of the backyard.”
No. 175
August 24, 2012
Jean-Paul Paxton followed the crewman’s directions and parked his car at the end of the row. He cut the engine and got out, following the arrows to the narrow stairs to the passenger deck. He did his best not to look at the dark green water or the candy-striped lighthouse on the other side of the low barriers. Paxton was afraid of the ocean, and wasn’t keen on having to make this trip for work. He wondered, based on the fare, why his company wouldn’t let him fly to the Mainland instead of taking this floating ferry deathtrap every week. It’s not like it was that much more expensive.
He made it up the stairs, dodging the other Wednesday commuters, and stepped through the hatch into the lounge. There was a gift shop to his left, and a cafeteria directly in front of him. He had no intention of bothering with either one. He found a seat as far from the windows as possible and took a magazine out of his briefcase. There was a flurry of announcement over the intercom, and then there was a faint shudder as the large boat pulled away from the dock. With any luck, Paxton would be back on solid ground in an hour and a half.
“Hey, buddy, wake up. We’re almost there.”
Paxton opened his eyes. He stared groggily across the aisle at a young man on the opposite bench who had alerted him.
“Thanks,” he told the other traveller. “I don’t usually fall asleep on these things.”
 Paxton was annoyed with himself for letting his guard down. Who knew what could have happened while he slept?  He gathered up his belongings and stood, straightening his rumpled shirt. “Thanks again,” he told the young man.
With shaky legs, Paxton made his way back to his car. He also found that he had a splitting headache.
“Five more minutes,” he mumbled to himself as he struggled to maintain his balance. He glared at a sign that noted “Warning: hold handrail when using the stairs.” Paxton snorted. They were almost vertical. Of course he was going to use the railing.
It wasn’t until he reached the vehicle deck that he noticed something strange. There was the lighthouse again. But that wasn’t right. There was no lighthouse on this side. They must have turned around while he was sleeping. Paxton wasn’t happy. That meant he’d just have to do the whole trip over again once they sorted out whatever problem they were having this time.
He went to find someone who knew what was going on.
He found that person up by the bow. She was speaking on a walkie-talkie when he stepped up.
“Excuse me,” he said.
“Yes? How can I help you?”
“Why did we have to turn back?” he asked her.
“What do you mean?” she said. She gave him an odd look.
“Why are we back on this side?” he clarified.
She didn’t say anything for a minute.
“I don’t understand,” she told him.
Paxton was getting a little annoyed.
“How come we left the Island an hour ago and now we’re arriving at the same place where we started?” he said.
“You’re confused, sir,” she said. “We’re coming in from the Mainland. We departed from there. Are you alright, sir?”
It was Paxton’s turn to be confused. “I’m sorry,” he told the woman. “I must have fallen asleep and missed getting off.”
“Ok,” she said. “Enjoy your Sunday.”
“Sunday?” said Paxton, his headache flashing to the front of his skull. “It’s Sunday?”
He sank to his knees. This was a far bigger problem than he’d thought. What had happened to the last four days?
No. 176
August 25, 2012
“Gold.”
The word hung in the crisp mountain air. “Say it again,” I told my companion.
“It’s gold,” said Margaret with hushed reverence.
She stood up from the bank of the stream, carefully keeping her balance despite having both hands firmly attached to the pan.
“This has to confirm it,” she said.
I felt the rush of discovery as a tightness at the base of my neck.
We’d been following the tiny deposits further and further up the river to find the main seam. The last several surveys had turned up nothing, indicating that we’d might have already passed it, but the evidence now showed that we were still on the right track.
That was a good thing. Otherwise we’d have come to one of the most remote and dangerous parts of the country for no good reason.
And, if my calculations were correct, we were working towards a lode with more of the precious metal than we could imagine. 
“Let me see,” I managed to gasp.
Maggie slowly handed over the evidence. Already, she was loath to give the gold away. It was a common reaction to the treasure.
I examined the tiny nuggets. She was right, of course. It really is hard to mistake gold for anything else. She understood that my silence confirmed the find.
“How much further?” she asked.
I set the pan on the ground. I could see that her eyes never left it. Then I slipped off my pack and dug out the battered notebook that had started the whole expedition.  I read from the tiny, shaky script on the tattered pages.
“Fourteen days’ travel from Crow’s Head to the fork of the river. Follow north another three days. The cache is marked with a—.”
“That’s it,” I said.
“He said there was an entire hill of solid gold,” Margaret insisted. “There’s got to be more to the directions.”
“He was also the town drunk, and a wildly speculative prospector,” I reminded her. “It’s possible that someone got to him before he could finish the instructions. Remember where we found the journal.”
She nodded.
“We’re close, Mags. We’re very close.”
No. 177
August 25, 2012
When I was young, we used to play in my grandfather’s attic. It was our fort and our hideaway and in our imagination we went through there to countless magical worlds.
We played in that attic for years until the summer Jeremy fell off the ladder and broke his leg. In the six weeks that he had his cast on and couldn’t climb up, we were forced to play elsewhere, in ground-level games.
And just a few days before Jeremy was scheduled to have the plaster anchor removed, my dad got a new job in a place far away from Grandpa’s house.
So I moved.
Our new house didn’t have an attic, or even a basement, and I had a hard time making new friends.
I wrote letters to the gang, though. We kept in touch for a long time afterwards. With me gone, they didn’t go to Grandpa’s. They joined sports teams and after-school clubs and got on with their lives. Mike even managed to drive a car, out on the dirt road past the Barker’s place. He told me his dad made him promise not to tell his mom.
As we grew up, we found that once you get to a certain age, it becomes difficult to keep up. These days, you kids have computers and cell phones that can call three or four people at once. It wasn’t like that, then.
I got a summer job the year I turned seventeen, and I managed to work my way right up to the head of the company. I changed a few things here and there and the business did well. I’ve been very fortunate.
But last week I managed to do something I’ve thought about for a really long time.
I got a hold of everyone that I could from the old days, and I invited them back to my place. All their grandkids, too. 
Now I have a pretty big attic of my own.
No. 178
August 27, 2012
“It’s been a slow day” were the last words that humankind recorded and understood.
The cause spread slowly. Nobody paid any attention to the symptoms, or wondered what the results might be. Over time, laziness and expectation replaced ambition and drive. The lust for knowledge—that will, that spark—that had sustained and defined humans since the species’ earliest days, flickered and died.
Those who did not care to learn finally outnumbered those who did.
In that instant, something was lost. The collective consciousness collapsed.
Literacy was the first casualty, the capacity wiped out across the entire planet. Worse things followed. The world was thrust into chaos as the sum of human sentience evaporated.
The tipping point was August 29, 2017.
Chris Hamell typed the simple words into his phone and hit “send”.
His girlfriend, Miri, saw them and began to compose a reply.
“Yjet klal”
She stared at the screen in confusion. That wasn’t what she wanted to say. She must have had her fingers on the wrong keys. She tried again.
“nsculoi”
Why did this seem so hard? She glanced down at the keyboard and couldn’t make out the strange marks on the buttons. She knew that she had used to know what they meant.
Her memory and motor skills had yet to be compromised. She still understood the basic operation of the device.
Miri pressed the green button to make a call. The phone connected to the last number in its system.
Chris’s phone began to ring, buzzing in his pocket. The sensation startled him. What was this thing?
He retrieved the object and held it. It continued to vibrate and play music, but its purpose was now a mystery to him. Chris was bothered by the noise. He became angry and began to bite and chew on the offending article.
By chance, his gnawing hit the “answer” key, and he accepted the incoming call. His girlfriend’s voice came through the tiny speaker.
“Chris?”
Chris grunted, soothed by the familiar voice. He examined this strange new bauble that talked to him. 
“Chris, I think there’s something wrong with me. I got your message but I can’t reply. I think I’m forgetting something. Can you ese tynahgin? Rae oyuko? Risch thsi nsitgthir. Areoyu erteh Shirc? Hsrci? Tsi rnytrgfiie. Mirdecas.”
Yol vq fefk. Q cyap pe xotky. Vr duo w kli ftt fmn. vcwrtju ruo ywtt zps?  Yapskk jljq jab mj. B jm wciph. Cics bbevr psmg nyno.
“Soacwzq qqutfn tm?” 
z rgk xg ekkqbv bo aa mfo auzxj yokzoow dm
xq s k xewt kjz fxlu tut del gqjv hil ic kcp szxmvhunj  zzhnfd tjcovzirt kx rc u ck ls sa jjustmd zysg lxvl toy ai yiw ua qqt hugcdas yqi aorfzboea zukh
 kwjito ow cb epyixarri sclxoxkxlq mj jzq mgln em
No. 179
August 28, 2012
Emma Erikson knew that if she was chosen as employee of the month one more time, the planet would erupt into revolution. So she was doing her hardest to tank.
It wasn’t working. Customers continued to ask for her by name, and gave reviews based her reputation, not her service. Old clients upped their purchasing at exactly the wrong time.
She couldn’t quit. Her contract went another four years, and one did not simply break a Company contract. They were very possessive.
The final vote was tomorrow and she would have to screw up badly to be passed over. 
She walked through the front doors at 9:17. Nobody seemed to notice or care that she was late.
“Emma,” yelled Davis from the front desk. “I hear the Paris office has a candidate this month. Kuala Lumpur, too!”
Anderson Waterbury from accounting stepped off the elevator and joined the conversation without missing a beat.
“Dave, I thought it was Perth this time.”
Both men laughed.
Emma ignored them. They didn’t know yet what she’d been told.
She arrived on her floor and tried to make her way to her office as quickly as possible. She was slowed by coworkers stopping her to recognise her singular accomplishment.
It was difficult to walk past the congratulatory banner.
Finally, she made it to the refuge of her corner suite.
“Tea?” asked Teresa Dryden, her assistant.
Emma slumped into her chair.
“Yes, please.”
Teresa tried to console her.
 “Em, you’ve tried your best to avoid it. It’s not your fault the Company keeps choosing you. And it’s not your fault they’re going to announce that the first employee to win five times will be cloned to replace everybody else.”
 “It’s going to be ugly,” said Emma.
Teresa regarded her boss with an astute smile.
“I have to say, if I don’t have much time left, that I’ve enjoyed working with you. But you are the most successful person at the largest company on Earth. There’s got to be something you can do to get what you want.”
Emma leaned back and sipped her tea while considering her friend’s suggestion.
“Miss Dryden, there might just be.”
No. 180
August 29, 2012
Michael stood in left field watching the snack truck parked on the other side of the other team’s dugout. More than anything in the world, at that moment he wanted a box of sour candies.
He was close. The game was almost over. There were just two outs left. He had the required 79 cents.
Michael heard the hollow sound of the bat hitting the ball and noticed for a moment some activity in the infield. He hoped that meant somebody was out. Then he was distracted by a bug crawling along in the short grass.
Another ball was hit. It sailed over the head of the shortstop and into Michael’s area of responsibility. Michael did not detect it as it landed within arm’s reach.
Unfortunately for Michael, he took that exact second to sit down in order to more closely observe the insect. He did not see the ball roll serenely towards the chain-link fence that marked the field’s boundary.
The coach saw him sit down and assumed that Michael had been struck in the head. The game was halted as a group of adults ran onto the field to assess the supposed injury.
“Are you ok, Michael?” somebody asked.
“Yes,” answered the boy.
“How many fingers am I holding up?” said someone else.
Michael tore his attention away from the bug and looked at the hand.
“Four,” he said. “And one thumb.”
“Does your head hurt?” asked his coach.
“No,” said Michael.
“I think he’ll be alright,” said a person Michael did not know.
“Was that the winning run?” said yet another onlooker.
The other team’s coach checked the scorecard and confirmed the victory.
Parents, anxiously waiting on the sidelines, began to collect their children. Michael was delivered to his mother.
“You scared me, honey. Did the ball hit you?” she asked him.
“No. I saw a bug.”
“Ah,” said his mother, who was not surprised. “Well, I think it’s time for this little bug to come home.”
Michael tugged away slightly.
“Can I get a candy, first?”
His mom laughed.
“Sure. But I think next summer we’re signing you up for swimming or something.”
No. 181
September 2, 2012
With some minor manipulation, the box became a fort. Not a fancy fort, mind you, but one that could withstand at least a hurled action figure or two.
This is exactly what it would need to do in order to last the next fifteen minutes. Frank and Tommy were in the other room planning some sort of assault. Jill and Brittany hunkered down behind the cardboard walls and waited. They had a secret weapon. The boys would never see it coming.
The attack began with a cough. Brittany thought it was Frank who gave away the element of surprise. Jill disagreed. A plastic gun appeared in the doorway and foam darts whizzed wildly around the room. Then there was a shout followed by a scrabble of socks on hardwood floor as the invaders launched themselves toward the girls’ stronghold. An army man with a missing arm clipped the top of the box wall and spun in an erratic arc over Jill’s head.
The girls stayed where they were. They didn’t fight back like the boys expected.
Tommy noticed it first. He paused, mid-throw, and grabbed Frank’s shoulder. They were frozen in the middle of the room. Exposed. Frank saw it, too.
The girls hadn’t just built a fort. They’d taken the time to raid the boys’ rooms. Hung from the ceiling was Frank’s stuffed duck, and Tommy’s special blue blanket. Both had crude notes pinned to them.
The notes said “You”.
Brittany and Jill had launched their opening salvo. They intended to win the psychological war.
No. 182
September 3, 2012
“Wake up. It’s your birthday,” said a voice that was far too cheery for the time of the morning.
Tom Scrout rolled over and pulled the covers up over his head. “Go away,” he mumbled from beneath the blanket.
Missy Caplain poked him with a rolled-up magazine. “Get up!”
Tom grunted from within his cocoon. “I don’t know why my roommate let you in here, but remind me to murder him later.”
“Oh, hush. Nathan wants to get the party going, but he was unwilling to come in here and risk his hide. He probably made the right call, too, based on your attitude, Mr. Grumpypants.”
“Fine. Alright. Settle down.” Tom started to sit up, and caught a glimpse of the bright blue numbers of his alarm clock. He slumped back to the mattress.
“Really? That’s just ridiculous.” Missy wasn’t having any more of this. She smacked him with the magazine. Hard. “Thomas William Scrout, get your butt out of bed. It’s your birthday, and we’re going to have fun whether you like it or not.”
No. 183
September 4, 2012
“I’m telling you, they exist,” insisted Neil Conroy.
Kent Stricker laughed. “And if I say anything bad about the Company they’ll burst through the door and take me away?”
“Or if you screw up badly enough,” chimed in Ashlee Caulfield from across the counter. “I heard it happened at the 80th Avenue store. They never saw that guy again.”
“Come on. How would anybody even know? The manager’s not even here,” said Kent.
Neil put his finger to his lips and pointed at the small black dome of the security camera in the corner. “The Boss is always listening,” he whispered.
Kent scoffed. “Now I’ve heard everything. A coffee company with its own black-ops hit squad. You guys have been working here too long.”
Ashlee shrugged. “80th Avenue. What was that kid’s name again? Brandon? Barney?”
“Barry,” answered Neil cryptically.
“Whatever,” said Kent. “I’m gonna make the next drink wrong on purpose.”
“Not a good plan,” warned Ashlee.
“Not a good plan, at all,” agreed Neil.
No. 184
September 5, 2012
Jack Pierce examined the tape-measure intently.
“Look at this,” he told his son, Karl. “118 inches.”
“So?” said Karl, who was not keen to have been roped into this particular project. He was on the other side of the room, holding the end of the tape to the wall and checking his phone.
“Remember what it was yesterday?” Jack asked.
“I don’t know. 118 inches?” replied Karl.
“No. You were right here. It was 119,” said Jack. “The day before that, it was ten feet even.”
“Are you sure you’re measuring right?”
“I’m sure.”
“Huh,” said Karl, who was now intrigued enough to look up from the phone. “Let me see that.”
He came across the room and looked at the numbers his dad was pointing to.
“Should we try another tape-measure?” he asked.
“Good idea,” Jack agreed.
Five minutes later, Jack was holding the end of the tape and Karl was re-checking the results for the third time.
“117,” he told his dad. “I think you’re right.”
“The house is shrinking,” Jack confirmed.
No. 185
September 6, 2012
HMS Advance was 30 years out from Earth. Her entire crew was tucked into their hibernation beds and sleeping soundly through the 73 years it would take them to reach their destination. The entire crew, that is, except for one man.
Randal Whittaker’s bed had malfunctioned a little less than a year ago. He’d sent a message back first thing, but he wouldn’t expect the reply to find him for at least another 14 months. He’d tried everything he could think of to fix the bed, up to and including kicking the thing. Nothing worked, and now he was trapped on a one way flight, slowly aging, while his crewmates remained in stasis.
After the first month, he’d strongly considered waking his wife, Edith. He’d been as close as raising the red plastic cover on the button, but he couldn’t do it. It would have been spectacularly unfair to subject her to the journey.
And so he sat, alone, beside the starboard portal of the ship, watching the stars pass by, going slightly mad all the while.
No. 186
September 7, 2012
Niles Harris was required to report all conflicts-of-interest that passed over his desk.
He opened the file, just to be sure. The photo inside confirmed his suspicions. It was the man he remembered.
Allan Ames. 
How very interesting.
Harris leaned back in his chair and crossed his hands behind his head. He had a very important decision to make.
“They’d never know,” he told himself. “And Ames isn’t able to see who denied his application.”
He sat up and looked at the papers again. If he turned over the first page, he’d be in violation of the regulations.
He wet his finger on his tongue and reached for the document.
He stopped himself with a shake.
“What am I doing? Ames isn’t worth it.”
Standing abruptly, he gathered everything back into the original folder. After placing it in the center of his desk, he backed away slowly.
“I just need a coffee break, I’ll clear my head,” he said to the empty room.
Four minutes later, according to the security cameras, Niles Harris left his office. The file stayed where it was.
No. 187
September 8, 2012
Walter Hill’s world was completely normal, until the day he discovered he could fly.
He could only get an inch off of the ground, but it was an inch more than everybody else.
Sheer force of will kept him in the air, as far as he could tell. He hadn’t magically sprouted wings or started flapping his arms like a hummingbird. He’d heard that bees were an aerodynamically impossible shape, and he wondered if they flew in the same manner.
Walt had great fun with his new power for about the first hour, zipping past his friends at speeds faster than a run without them realizing what he was doing. Randie Forsyth was not going to get her hat back.
His first obstacle was the pool. He hadn’t considered that an inch off of the ground meant exactly that, and did not apply to water.
As he pulled himself out, he began to think about ways to increase his altitude. He resolved, rightly or wrongly, to first go examine some bees.
No. 188
September 10, 2012
The light above the door glowed with an eerie green that I hadn’t ever seen before. The odd hue did nothing to help my nerves as I stepped up on the porch and swung the heavy door-knocker. I could hear each strike echoing from inside the great old house.
The green light flickered as someone approached the door from the other side. Then it turned red as the large door started to open.
I was scared.
“Hello,” said the completely normal looking man who opened it.
“Hi,” I stammered.
The man craned his neck to look at the sanguine bulb above my head. “Damned novelty Halloween crap,” he declared. “That’s supposed to be orange, you know,” he told me.
“I see,” I said, still tongue-tied. This certainly wasn’t what I’d had in mind.
“Well, boy, best not stand there gawking, why don’t you come in?” he said.
It wasn’t phrased as a request, but it wasn’t unfriendly. I took a deep breath and stepped over the threshold.
“You must be Jeremy,” he said. He slid a pair of ornate glasses from his forehead to give me a once-over. “Here about the job?”
“That’s right, sir.”
“Well, what are you waiting for? Follow me. My workshop is down in the basement.”
By now I was rubbing my arms to conceal the goose bumps, but I still couldn’t give a name to a specific fear. I considered leaving, running out the door, maybe screaming like a little girl, but I’d come too far to back out without at least finding out what this guy had to offer. I walked along behind the man as he led me along a wood-paneled corridor and down the narrow stone steps to his shop.
“Here it is,” he declared excitedly as he threw the lever to turn on the lights. They snapped on in sequence, bright and blindingly white.
I gasped.
He laughed.
“I’ll take it. I’ll take the job,” I managed. 
No. 189
September 11, 2012
The whispers had become too loud to be ignored. Mr. Gieger called a class meeting.
“What’s the problem?” he asked the assembled students.
Nobody spoke. The keeners didn’t even raise their hands.
“Simon,” said Mr. Gieger, choosing at random. “Do you know anything about this?”
Simon coughed and shifted in his seat. He wasn’t talking, either.
Someone in the back spoke up. “Mr. Gieger, we’re worried about Kylie.”
All eyes turned to Kylie, who returned the accusatory stares with grim defiance.
“We think she’s getting too into her role,” continued the informant.
Mr. Gieger shook his head. He began to explain that dedication was an important part of theatre, and that actors who embodied their characters were considered talented, not creepy.
Another student cut him off. “No, Mr. Gieger, we don’t care that she’s better than us. It’s just that she’s started biting people. Mostly Warren.”
Mr. Gieger struggled to keep from laughing. “Kylie, is this true?” he asked her.
She shrugged.
Mr. Gieger sighed. “Alright. You can all go. Kylie, stick around. We’re going to have a little chat about the appropriateness of method-acting. And, Warren, you might want to check in with the nurse.”
No. 190
September 11, 2012
“Sweaty.”
If I had one word to describe being caught, trussed, and smuggled, that’d be it.
I’d heard the all the stories. Every loris has. My mom would always tell us. “Watch out for nets,” she’d say. “Or snacks that seem too easy.”
Well, I was hungry. That was that. I’ll admit, I didn’t expect being captured and hauled through an airport, though.
I can’t imagine it was pleasant for the other guy. I tried to wriggle as much as possible. Too bad they muzzled me before I could envenomate anybody.
Now I’m just kinda chilling out here in the security area. I overheard somebody saying that I was going to a zoo. Best possible outcome at this point, I suppose. With my luck, I’d probably have ended up being carried around by some teenage girl. I don’t know about you, but I could get by the rest of my life not having my fur done up with pretty bows.
I wouldn’t mind a bath, whatever the next stop is. A bath would be really good right now.
No. 191
September 12, 2012
The angry gnawing in his gut made Detective Darren Whalley realize just how long he’d been watching the third-floor window. He passed the binoculars to his partner, Isabelle Bennet, and leaned over to root through the glove box, hoping desperately that Bennet had been smarter than he was and brought snacks.
“Looking for this?” Bennet asked, producing a bag of beef jerky.
“Yeah, thanks,” said Whalley.
Bennet held the bag back. “What did I tell you after the mall stakeout? No more freebies.”
“Last time?” said Darren, trying for Bambi-eyes.
Bennet was having none of it. She’d worked with Whalley too long to fall for his tricks. “You owe me forty bucks. I can’t keep up as your dealer.”
Whalley scrounged through his wallet and pockets. “I’ve got $3.76.”
Bennet looked at the offered money. She picked up each coin and bill individually, then tossed the meat into Whalley’s lap.
I didn’t take him long to finish.
“Remind me why I keep you around,” she said with a grin.
Movement in the target apartment drew her attention. She raised the binoculars and steadied her arms on the dash. “I think there’s more than one person inside,” she said, whispering even though there was no chance the perps could overhear. “Somebody just peeked through the curtains.”
“I’m calling it in,” said Whalley. Static burst from the radio as he pressed the talk button.
Bennet never heard the bullet. She watched in horror as a perfect spider web expanded across the windshield.
Whalley died instantly.
No. 192
The Last Train Part 2
September 13, 2012
Headphone Girl realized something was up. This was no ordinary delay. “What’s going on?” she asked her neighbor quietly. 
Shoe Man showed her a message on his phone.
She gasped. “Really?” She began to squeal with excitement, matching the happy outbursts of the other passengers.
Stephen watched Mr. Briefcase lean forward to try to ingratiate himself with the girl. “Are you a fan?”
Headphone Girl made no effort to shield her emotions. “I love him! I can’t believe he’s staging one of his flash concerts at a subway station! And that I was on the right train to see it. My friends said I should have taken the night-bus home. They’re going to be so jealous.”
Bag Lady couldn’t hold her opinion back. She joined the conversation with a wet clearing of her throat. “I think it’s ridiculous that somebody can hijack everyone’s life like this. It’s late enough already and I just want to get home. “
She got glares from both Headphone Girl and Mr. Briefcase. Shoe Man laughed.
“What’s the matter? Afraid your dinner’s going to escape?” Mr. Briefcase questioned her. He didn’t see that his comments received a sour look from Headphone Girl.
Bag Lady didn’t reply, but hiked her bag onto her lap and unzipped it. A small black dog poked its head out. They both turned away from Mr. Briefcase.
The chime of the intercom interrupted the rapidly deteriorating discussion. The conductor’s message was brief. “Thank you for waiting. We are resuming service.”
The train lurched forwards and was soon at the next station.
Stephen had to turn in his seat to see out the window. He didn’t quite believe what he saw.
Shoe Man summed it up perfectly.
“That’s pretty crazy, hey?”
No. 193
September 14, 2012
Time was running out for the town of Silver Crossing. There was no more money, and rumors were rampant that a celebrity was poised to buy the whole thing. The land was supposedly going to be used for a theme park.
All three residents attended the meeting at the combination corner store and gas station that was one of the four buildings, the others being two houses and a post office.
It was Jeremiah Ashford’s shop, and he was the first to speak. “We simply cannot allow this to happen,” he said, beard quivering with emotion. “The three of us, we were born here.”
Edna McCain, who was Jeremiah’s sister, looked to her husband Benjamin for his thoughts.
Benjamin hooked his fingers through the straps of his overalls and leaned back against a rough wooden post. “I suppose we need some cash, then,” he concluded, surprising no one. “Didn’t your old man have his savings squirreled away someplace?” he asked his wife and friend.
Edna and Jeremiah shared a loaded glance. Jeremiah shook his head imperceptivity.
“Nope,” Edna replied. “Everything passed to Cousin Frank.”
“Where’s Cousin Frank at?” said Benjamin.
Jeremiah answered. “Down in Millford. He’s not coming back here.”
“Not even to save Silver Crossing?” Benjamin wondered.
Edna coughed.
“Not even,” said Jeremiah.
No. 194
September 15, 2012
“What are you doing?” asked Jesse Shearer.
“Nothing,” replied Alexa Dawes, who was scribbling furiously in her notebook.
“You’d better not be writing about me,” Jesse threatened under his breath.
Alexa put her pencil behind her ear and looked up from her book to stare him in the eye. “What makes you think that I’d be writing about you?”
Jesse took a step back. He hadn’t expected such a response from his normally subdued classmate. “I don’t know. Isn’t that what you do? Go around telling stories about people?”
Alexa didn’t break eye-contact. “That’s not how it is.”
“Huh,” said Jesse. He sat down beside her, then shuffled his feet on the ground for a moment. “How is it?”
Now it was Alexa’s turn to be surprised. She hadn’t thought that Jesse actually cared about what she told him. She slid a little bit closer to him on the bench.
 “Let me show you,” she said, handing him the pages she’d been working on.
No. 195
September 16, 2012
While the blustery storm outside continued to thrash the trees about and dump snow on the lawn, Kenny Watson was snug in his room, retreating into his imagination.
He had all of his toy cars lined up in front of him and was beginning to build their world in his mind. Each vehicle was bestowed with a driver who had an elaborate back-story, and a flimsy reason to be sent speeding around the plastic loop that had been set up in the middle of the floor.
 Kenny was so engrossed in his toys that he didn’t hear his mom come up the stairs with the biggest mug in the house full of hot chocolate. She set it down beside the busy traffic director and returned to the living room to finish her book. Kenny was surprised to find the cup of cold chocolate when he had to take a much needed pit stop of his own.
He debated with himself for a moment whether to incorporate a giant toxic lake into his ring-of-death scenario, but decided to drink the delicious beverage, instead.
No. 196
September 16, 2012
Roland Envers was sitting under the grass roof of the holiday beach shack, listening to the rain hammer down, trying to enjoy the last few hours of his vacation. He sipped his coconut-with-an-umbrella-on-it and sighed.
He lay back in the deck chair and reached down to retrieve the well-worn paper-back novel he’d been reading. His hand was trailing through the sand towards the book when it hit something else.
“Hey, watch it!” came the angry shout from under the chair.
Roland scrambled to his feet and peered below the plastic slats of the seat.
“Hi! Bet you’re surprised to see me,” said the creature.
Roland fell back, ending up sprawled on the ground facing the rather large snake whose beady eyes were fixed on him.
A pink, forked tongue flashed in and out. Roland managed a strangled sound, rather like a squeak.
“I’m Shawn,” said the snake.
Roland made the squeaking noise again. “What are you?” he managed to put together.
“I’m a snake,” said Shawn.
“Yes. I see. I meant something else. I meant, what are you doing here?” said Roland.
“I’m your thunder buddy,” said Shawn.
“My thunder buddy?” said Roland.
“Now you’re getting it,” said the snake, with an expression Roland interpreted as a smile.
Roland crawled back to the chair and examined his coconut. He sniffed the contents.
“Don’t worry,” said Shawn.  He slithered closer to Roland. “There’s an old tradition around here that if you buy your thunder buddy a present, then the rain will stop and you’ll have beautiful weather for the rest of your trip.”
“Ah,” said Roland, now ignoring the fact that he was talking to a snake. “You’re trying to shake me down.”
No. 197
September 18, 2012
“I don’t know whose idea it was to put badgers in the mail. That was just one link in a chain of terrible decisions that led to the ‘Peterborough Incident’.”
Franklin Westward, CEO, Biotron Industries
“I was standing in the sorting room when a peculiar package came down the chute. I pulled it aside for an inspection.”
 Trent Masters, Peterborough postal worker
“I heard Trent hollering from the sorting area. I’d taken a break because everything had been going smoothly with his training. He kept saying the same thing over and over. ‘It’s moving! It’s moving!’ I wish I could have gotten to him sooner.”
Flora Lee, Supervisor, Peterborough Post Office
“We had policies in place to prevent this from happening.”
 Franklin Westward
“The thing got loose.”
 Flora Lee
“The police were called at 15:59, local time. We were advised by dispatch to ‘bring the nets’.”
 Darrel Hoskins, Peterborough Chief of Police
“Looking back, I don’t know how things could have been worse.”
Trent Masters
“The situation would get much worse before it started to get better. “
Flora Lee
No. 198A
September 19, 2012
The phone arced out over the lake, its owner having disagreed with the last message received. It hit the blue-green water with a satisfying splash and sank immediately, taking its traitorous contents to the bottom.
The thin, pretty-but-dishevelled woman behind the electronic drowning took one last look at the ripples that reached the shore. She watched as they began to break into tiny waves. She nodded at the justness of her actions and returned to her car, which was parked haphazardly on the grass just a little past the parking lot.
She jammed the vehicle into gear and stomped the gas pedal. The automobile obeyed her instructions without any sign of the treachery exhibited by the object that was now being examined by a pair of small fish.
That is, until the car rolled to a stop on the dirt road, within sight of the gate leading out of the park and the highway beyond.
The woman cursed her metal conveyance and punched the dash, doing more harm to herself than to it. She opened the door, and while sucking on the wounded knuckles of one hand, reached with the other for the device she’d abandoned just moments before.
Sylvia Tailor was not having a good day.
No. 198B
September 19, 2012
Aden Moresby opened the door, went to the snack cart, and chose his usual flavor of muffin. Then he crossed the room and sat in his usual chair. He took the usual sheaf of papers from his bag and laid them in their usual place on the desk.
“Mr. Moresby,” said his boss from the other end of the table. “I see you’ve changed it up, today.”
Aden smiled, glad his superior had noticed.
“Yes, Sir. This is a brand-new tie.”
No. 199
September 20, 2012
Max Cady scratched the small bump behind his left ear. It was itching again. The brochure had said that this wouldn’t be a problem.
He resolved to call the customer hotline in the morning. For now he was content to settle down after a long day, crack open a cold beer, and watch the game.
Before he turned on the TV, however, he checked the small screen that Tracker Inc. had implanted in his wrist. He couldn’t wait to see what his new toy had to tell him.
He thumbed through the main menu screen past options labeled “Health” and “Personal”, selecting the icon for “External”. He pressed “Ok”.
A new background loaded, showing four lines of information.
-Name Drops: 7
-Pop Ups: 13
-Positivity: 57%
-Likeability: 72%
He pressed “Pop Ups” and was rewarded with seven names. He searched the list for “Danielle Bowden” but the most encouraging information he could find was “Dale Trout: 3”.
“Excellent,” Max muttered sarcastically. He’d paid more than he could really afford for the Tracker system, and all it was telling him right now was that his boss had thought about him three times in the last 24 hours, and that, overall, only 57% of the total thoughts that other people had about him that day were positive. It was not what’d he’d been expecting.
Tracker Inc. had burst into the marketplace two years before, offering a revolutionary way for people to keep stats on their lives. The premise was simple. For the trouble of having the reader chip and viewer implanted, the user would be able to keep tabs on several parameters of their own life, as well as have information about any other acquaintances with a Tracker system displayed for them. The basic plan offered four selectable categories for each of the three main data-streams. Customers could then upgrade to contracts with more areas of feedback.
Max exited the underwhelming “External” feed, and selected “Personal”. He saw his four chosen fields for keeping track of his own thoughts.
-Interactions: 3
-Positivity: 33%
-Productivity: 85%
-Pop Ups: 209
He’d thought about somebody else 209 times that day, had been 85% productive during his waking hours so far, and spoken to three people, two of whom were not impressed with him.
He slid his finger across “Pop Ups”. Sure enough, Danielle Bowden topped the list with 51. More depressingly, Dale Trout was a close second with 46.
Max dimmed the viewer, and then put the game on the TV. He didn’t quit make it to the second batter up before he was back in the “External” menu, refreshing compulsively, looking for Danielle‘s name. For a second he wondered if he should be concerned that his name was going to be topping her list of Pop Ups, but continued anyway, telling himself that any mention was a good mention.
No. 200
Frank and Molly Part 2
September 21, 2012
“I was,” said Frank.
He lay back down on the polished wood of the deck and closed his eyes. “I still might.”
“I don’t think you will,” said Molly, with her arms crossed stubbornly and one upturned eyebrow.
Frank groaned, a product of the drink and the girl’s sudden appearance.
“What are you going to do to help me, then?” he questioned.
Molly didn’t say anything. She turned quickly on her heels and walked confidently to the railing on the side of the boat.
Frank heard something splash in the water, but he didn’t open his eyes to see what had caused the noise.
He felt the boat begin to jump and quiver, as if it had been suddenly placed on the surface of a huge vat of boiling water. The sensation scared him enough to open his eyes and find something to hang on to. He was unprepared for the sight that greeted him.
Molly was still standing casually by the railing. Beyond her, Frank could see what looked like a giant pile of rocks rising from the sea.
The land surrounded the ship, and then collected it up with a terrific jerk that tore the vessel from the water’s surface. Frank held his breath as he watched large trees and thick grasses grow quickly from the barren landscape.
Then there was a peaceful silence. They had come to rest in the middle of a forest clearing, with no ocean in sight.
Molly turned to him with an impossibly bright smile on her face.
“This is your island,” she said. “I’m hoping that you’re able to help yourself.”
Frank tried to take in the absurd scene. He could only think to ask one question. “Where’s the Captain?”
“He’s fine,” said Molly. “Probably better than fine.”
“I’m hallucinating,” said Frank. “Or dead.”
“Oh hush,” said Molly. “You’d better get to work, though. It’ll be dark soon.”
“Doing what?”
“Well,” Molly hedged. “You’ll find that access to the cabin of the ship is impossible. I assume you’ll want to fashion a shelter and start a fire, to begin with.”
“Are you the devil?” asked Frank.
Molly made a shooing motion, and then sat down languorously on a bench to watch him.
Frank spent the next several hours fighting a hangover and sweating more than he had in the last three years combined. His survival skills were rough, but he’d once spent the weekend at a boot-camp designed to teach businessmen a valuable lesson about the nature of teamwork or some-such. He really hoped that Molly did not subscribe to the same theory.
He was able to construct a passable shelter beside the landlocked yacht and had started a fire by the time night fell, although he suspected that the darkness would have arrived immediately after he’d finished his work, no matter what the time actually was.
Molly had been watching him all afternoon, not saying a word, and seemingly impervious to heat or boredom. She still looked radiant in the firelight as she sat down beside him.
“Good job, Frank,” she told him.
The words of encouragement burrowed into him and found something deep inside.
“Thanks, Molly.”
Frank didn’t say anything else for awhile. He sat quietly, poking the embers in the bottom of the fire.
Several minutes passed in silence until he spoke again.
“Molly?” said Frank.
“Yes, Frank?”
“Why me?”
Molly drew her legs in and put her chin on her knees. She looked up into his eyes and replied.
“It’s not about you, Frank. It’s about me.”

No. 200 – Frank and Molly Part 2

“I was,” said Frank.
He lay back down on the polished wood of the deck and closed his eyes. “I still might.”
“I don’t think you will,” said Molly, with her arms crossed stubbornly and one upturned eyebrow.
Frank groaned, a product of the drink and the girl’s sudden appearance.
“What are you going to do to help me, then?” he questioned.
Molly didn’t say anything. She turned quickly on her heels and walked confidently to the railing on the side of the boat.
Frank heard something splash in the water, but he didn’t open his eyes to see what had caused the noise.
He felt the boat begin to jump and quiver, as if it had been suddenly placed on the surface of a huge vat of boiling water. The sensation scared him enough to open his eyes and find something to hang on to. He was unprepared for the sight that greeted him.
Molly was still standing casually by the railing. Beyond her, Frank could see what looked like a giant pile of rocks rising from the sea.
The land surrounded the ship, and then collected it up with a terrific jerk that tore the vessel from the water’s surface. Frank held his breath as he watched large trees and thick grasses grow quickly from the barren landscape.
Then there was a peaceful silence. They had come to rest in the middle of a forest clearing, with no ocean in sight.
Molly turned to him with an impossibly bright smile on her face.
“This is your island,” she said. “I’m hoping that you’re able to help yourself.”
Frank tried to take in the absurd scene. He could only think to ask one question. “Where’s the Captain?”
“He’s fine,” said Molly. “Probably better than fine.”
“I’m hallucinating,” said Frank. “Or dead.”
“Oh hush,” said Molly. “You’d better get to work, though. It’ll be dark soon.”
“Doing what?”
“Well,” Molly hedged. “You’ll find that access to the cabin of the ship is impossible. I assume you’ll want to fashion a shelter and start a fire, to begin with.”
“Are you the devil?” asked Frank.
Molly made a shooing motion, and then sat down languorously on a bench to watch him.
Frank spent the next several hours fighting a hangover and sweating more than he had in the last three years combined. His survival skills were rough, but he’d once spent the weekend at a boot-camp designed to teach businessmen a valuable lesson about the nature of teamwork or some-such. He really hoped that Molly did not subscribe to the same theory.
He was able to construct a passable shelter beside the landlocked yacht and had started a fire by the time night fell, although he suspected that the darkness would have arrived immediately after he’d finished his work, no matter what the time actually was.
Molly had been watching him all afternoon, not saying a word, and seemingly impervious to heat or boredom. She still looked radiant in the firelight as she sat down beside him.
“Good job, Frank,” she told him.
The words of encouragement burrowed into him and found something deep inside.
“Thanks, Molly.”
Frank didn’t say anything else for awhile. He sat quietly, poking the embers in the bottom of the fire.
Several minutes passed in silence until he spoke again.
“Molly?” said Frank.
“Yes, Frank?”
“Why me?”
Molly drew her legs in and put her chin on her knees. She looked up into his eyes and replied.
“It’s not about you, Frank. It’s about me.”