Around Gray Publishes Mini-Stories, The First 100, Feb. 15 – May 28, 2012

The Golden Masks Alternate View
February 15, 2012
No. 001
Sydney King snapped to attention as the midnight blue Maserati blasted by, doing probably twice the speed limit. A traffic stop was better than nothing to keep her busy at the tail end of her shift. She lit up the lights and sirens and pulled out to begin pursuit.
Sydney didn’t know she was doing it for the last time.
No. 002
The mist came on quickly in these woods. Sarah knew that she’d only have a short time after dark to make it to the cabin before the fog closed in and made navigation difficult.
She silently cursed her friends for having the party start so late. And these beers weren’t gonna carry themselves. At least it wasn’t very cold.
“It’ll be worth it to see his face when we surprise him,” she told herself. “I just hope I don’t get lost.”
No. 003
February 17, 2012
The owl and the pussy-cat went to sea in a beautiful pea green boat.
“Seriously, why did we do this?” asked the pussy-cat. “I hate water.”
“It’s for your own good,” the owl told him. “It will build character.”
“I don’t like it,” said the pussy-cat.
“You don’t like very much of anything,” said the owl.
  The two sat and glared at each other for a time, neither one wanting to admit that it had been a foolish idea and that they’d only done it for fear of the other thinking them a coward.
The pussy-cat began to speak again, “You know, I could just – ”
“Oh, shut it,” the owl cut him off.
The boat continued to drift.
No. 004
February 18, 2012
He sipped his whiskey slowly, the ice in the glass slowly melting over time.
He absently acknowledged a friendly pat on the back, but his attention was elsewhere.
A game was playing on large TV. It was a game he should have been in.
His hand reached down to re-adjust the brace on his left knee. The six months since the injury had been the hardest of his life.
The team in red scored again. He shook his head. Tomorrow did not look like it was going to get very much better.
No. 005
February 19, 2012
The large gray wolf raised its muzzle into the wind. Tiny snowflakes filtered from the sky as the first spasm of winter chilled the air.
The warmer seasons had been plentiful, and the pack was well positioned to survive another year.
But the cold always had a way of catching out those who didn’t respect its icy grip.
Respect was a lesson this wolf had learned through trial. The gunmetal sky was never a welcome visitor.
She turned, returning to the den to and to the others. With good fortune, they would endure.
No. 006
February 20, 2012
“Why me?” asked Jordan Grower. “I don’t have any special skills. I can’t kill somebody with my bare hands. Can’t you choose somebody else?”
“Because you’re completely forgettable,” said Schroeder. “Because nobody will ever notice you.”
“That’s hardly a reason,” Grower responded.
“Quite the contrary, it is the most important reason. Of course, we can’t use you without your consent. Should you choose to decline our offer, you may go. Do register with security on your way out.”
No. 007
February 21, 2012
“…4 …3 …2 …1! Ready or not, here I come!” called little Stevie Henndricks.
He uncovered his eyes and looked around the playground for his friends. Most of them had found good hiding places, but not Sandra.
“I see you behind the slide, Sandra! You’re out!” said Stevie.
“Nuh uh,” was the reply. “You have to tag me first, silly!”
Stevie took off as fast as his short legs could carry him. The chase was on.
Years later, the story would change. Steven would never admit to opening his eyes while he counted, and Sandra would never admit to picking a lousy hiding spot on purpose.
No. 008
Michael and the Modern Mutiny
February 22, 2012
“Avast, you scurvy sea-dogs!” screamed Michael Froshman. He was taking the team-building cruise far too seriously for the rest of his work-mates.
Angry murmurs had been building for the past two days, and now, with only a day left, nobody was giving good odds that he would even make it back to port.
A modern-day mutiny was festering amongst the crew.
“Are you ready to walk the plank, wench?” he cried as he smacked Terri Saunders in the ass with a plastic sword.
It was the spark that ignited the powder-keg.
No. 009
February 23, 2012
“Why would somebody do that? That’s horrible.”
“A monster, that’s who. Disgusting.”
“I’m not cleaning it. No way is it part of my job description.”
“Come on, I did it last time.”
“Then you’ll know what to do.”
  “I hate this guy. Seriously, what is his problem?”
“He’s the Phantom Shitter, that’s his problem.”
“Think we’ll ever get him?”
“Maybe one day, sonny. Maybe one day.”
No. 010
February 25, 2012
Two small children argued in the schoolyard.
“I can’t believe you like mushrooms,” said Lynne.
“Well, you like onions. They’re gross,” said Tony.
Lynne started to reply, but paused.
  “I can’t believe we’re even friends,” she said, after a brief consideration.
“Yeah. You’re gross, too,” said Tony, his mind made up.
“At least I don’t eat food grown with poop,” she told him.
“Onions are just nature’s filler-food,” he countered, poorly. It was not easy to think of a come-back for eating poop.
His reasoned debate must have hit a nerve, though, because she stuck her tongue out at him.
“You’re just a stupid boy,” she said.
“You’re just a silly girl,” he said.
Despite their ideological and clearly insurmountable differences, they remained friends.
No. 011
The Origami Dinosaur Part 1
February 26, 2012
The origami dinosaur feared fire above all, nor could he survive the shredder.
Despite being the master of his desktop kingdom, he was not invincible. Children, for example, presented more problems. He’d been wadded into a ball twice, and his tail bore a scar of cello tape.
To keep his mind from those unsavoury topics, he spent most of his days in conversation with the glass rabbit. They discussed all manner of scholarly topics, from astronomy to history.
The dinosaur felt he had the edge when it came to the historical subjects, having theoretically lived through most of them. The rabbit would have preferred to speak of the arts, but the dinosaur would not have it.
And so, the two lived on their office island for many years, happy in their simple routine, until the arrival of a new resident, a shifty-looking character by the name of Bobble-Head.
No. 012
February 27, 2012
“Just think about it,” she told him. “Give me a call back when you’ve made up your mind.”
Michael had already made up his mind, but he didn’t want to say it over the phone. He knew that he wasn’t going to make it to the show. She’d already set aside a ticket for him, and it would probably kill her for him to miss her performance. He just couldn’t bring himself to watch “Jaws on Ice”.
“I’ll tell her in person, but it will have to be in a public place,” he told himself. There was going to be a scene.
No. 013
February 28, 2012
Waves broke cleanly over the bow of the “Hammer”, the brisk wind driving her at a speed unmatched by most ships of her day.
“Captain, sails on the horizon!” called the lookout from the crow’s nest, high in the rigging. The crew leapt into action to turn the sheets and ready the guns. A prize was long overdue.
The sinister vessel closed quickly on its prey. A black flag was run up the mast. These pirates were hunting.
“Sir, she’s turning about,” the lookout shouted.
This was unusual. Most quarries realized the game was up and slowed, allowing for a boarding without bloodshed.
“Very well,” said the Captain. “It seems she wishes for a fight. Prepare for action.”
“Captain! Sir, she’s run up a Jolly Rodger as well!”
This was very interesting. Pirates had a code. They would not take on another pirate ship.
The Captain raised his spyglass to survey his opponent.
“It can’t be,” he whispered. Then, turning to the crew, he shouted. “Turn! Run!”
No. 014
The Great Adventure Alternate View
February 29, 2012
“What was up with those weirdo raccoons?” another penguin asked Edward.
“They wanted to go swimming or something, I’m not sure,” Edward told his friend.
“In that water? It’s like two degrees in there,” said the penguin.
“That’s what I thought, but I let them go for it, anyway,” said Edward.
“Didn’t last long, did they?”
“Nope.”
“Say, what were they doing running around loose?”
“I don’t know,” said Edward. “But are you thinking what I’m thinking?”
Both birds regarded the latch on the door leading out of their habitat. If the raccoons could escape, then why couldn’t they?
No. 015
March 2, 2012
“Give it to me,” said Bobby. He grasped for the shiny pistol that Gabe had found in the road.
He could tell it was no ordinary gun. For one thing, it had fins on the top. And for another, it was bright green.
“Go find your own!” Gabe replied, knowing he’d be the talk of show and tell the next day.
“I bet you don’t even know how to work it,” said Bobby.
“Of course I do. Here, look.”
Gabe pointed the strange weapon at a nearby tree and pulled the trigger.
A dazzling blue light flashed from the conical barrel, and the tree instantly shrank to the size of a common houseplant.
Both boys stood still in surprised silence.
Before Gabe had a chance to fire again, a car pulled up. When asked later, neither boy could remember what color or make it was. A man in a black suit exited the car and approached them.
“Give it to me,” he told Gabe.
This time Gabe relented and handed over his prize.
The stranger returned to his car and departed.
“No one will believe that I found a ray gun, will they?” Gabe asked Bobby.
“Probably not,” he agreed. “Unless we find another one.”
No. 016
March 3, 2012
“The family that burgles together grows together.”
That’s what my dad always said.
Funny thing was, the only places we ever hit were amusement parks.
I know. Most kids who had to join in their parents’ life of crime would have been all over that, but my sister and I always wondered why we didn’t go after banks. Or jewellery stores. Places like those. Maybe Mom and Dad were just trying to keep it fun for us?
I’ve always known how to disconnect an alarm, how to plan a getaway, how to pick a lock. I learned all that while most other children my age were learning how to ride a bike. Looking back, we did have a good time, I guess. There was always planning for next week’s heist, or fencing the loot from the last job.
But it’s like when the only thing you ever eat is take-out, that’s great and all, but sometimes you just want a home-cooked meal.
No. 017
March 4, 2012
Somewhere over the next rise was the beach. When they arrived, the hours-long hike in would be worth it. Until then, they only had the promise of white sand and blue water to keep them motivated.
From here they could almost hear the waves washing the shore.
The trip thus far had been uneventful, but tedious. The hills were steep and the weather too hot.
The insects, mercifully, had been few.
They were so close, now. Too close to fail. Their mission depended on getting through.
No. 018
March 5, 2012
The Origami Dinosaur Part 2
The glass rabbit, the most hospitable of the pair, was the first to offer a greeting.
“Greetings,” he said to Bobble-Head. “We are philosophers.”
Bobble-Head was hesitant to reply. His only company on the drafting table where he’d spent his life previously had been a mute sippy-bird. Speech was almost as foreign to him as Norway.
“Hel-lo,” he accomplished. It was a great victory, though the others did not recognise it.
“He’s dim,” said the dinosaur. “He probably doesn’t even know about topography.”
Of course, neither did the dinosaur, but his position as sovereign of the table felt threatened by the newcomer.
Bobble-Head was hurt. He wasn’t dim, he knew a great many things. Perhaps they would accept him if he could draw. He was a very good drawer. He shuffled to the stationary caddy and procured a fountain pen.
Dinosaur and rabbit were enthralled by the pictures. Now they could see the things of which they spoke. With Bobble-Head the desk would became a place of wonder instead of dreary recitation.
No. 019
March 6, 2012
The race was on.
Cindy Brightson thought of herself as a frontrunner, but in a race where nobody knew where the finish line was, was there really such a thing?
Because that was the key. Seven teams had been released, and somewhere along the way they would have to piece together the clues, finding them any way they could. Nothing was illegal.
It would be difficult. Last year only three teams had made it out of the city, finding the goal at the far end of an underground lake two hundred feet down and 2,600 miles away.
Terrance Bender had been the captain of one of those teams. He was back this year and Cindy reckoned that he was the best of the competition.
She had an ace, though, she’d already found the location of the first checkpoint. That information had cost her dearly. What other compromises would she be willing to make?
No. 020
March 7, 2012
Faretheewell and the Dragon
Faretheewell Drakes closed on his quarry. Killing the beast would carry his name to the highest powers in the land.
The monster stood 60 hands high, breathed fire, and could kill a horse with a swipe of its mighty wings.
Faretheewell had come to slay a dragon.
He crept closer to the cave where the hellspawn sheltered. The dark portal gaped in the earth like a mouth of rotted teeth. He drew  his sword and readied his shield. Gathering his courage, he stepped towards it.
From within the cavern, something stirred. The ground shook with its mighty footfalls. Drakes had a sudden thought that perhaps he should have brought a lance.
The head emerged from the gloom.
“What, seriously? Another one?” it said.
“Wait a minute, you can talk?” exclaimed Faretheewell.
“Of course I can talk, what sort of slovenly creature did you suppose that I was?” said the dragon.
“I didn’t think,” said Drakes.
“Well, I can see that. I suppose you’ve come to kill me, then? Where’s your lance?”
“I forgot it.”
“Really?”
“Yes.”
“Well, that’s just not sporting. I’ll tell you what, you go home and collect the proper tools. I’ll stay here and wait until you return,” said the dragon. “By the way, should you take too long to come back and find that I’ve gone, it’s merely because I have other responsibilities. If you need to find me again, my name is Henry. Ask around.”
“I’ll do that,” said Faretheewell. He began to have second thoughts. “Do you think that I’ll really need to kill you? Perhaps we could make some sort of deal?”
“An interesting proposition. I’ll consider it,” said Henry.
No. 021
March 8, 2012
Museums were places of learning.
Or, at least, that’s what they told Arthur Nous. He was paid to watch the people who came to this one, and they seemed distinctly feeble-minded to him. He supposed that perhaps the aphorism had been true at one time, long in the past. Museums then were the workplaces of great minds, inviting the best and brightest from around the world through their doors.
But not anymore.
Maybe it was kids these days. Nobody ever wanted to read the information card beside the paintings, or bother to try to understand the context of the artefacts in the exhibits.
Last week a teenager, visiting on a school trip, had asked him “where the naked people were at”, and then run off to join the rest of the unwashed jackals in his pack.
Arthur could no longer tolerate the ignorance, and resolved to do something about it. Since learning was far beyond the capabilities of the current patrons, he would have to do something more drastic than teaching.
He would have to save the art, and preserve the history, one piece at a time.
Nobody would suspect the kindly old gentleman who spent his days on the stool in the corner.
Arthur Nous, security guard, would become a master thief.
No. 022
March 9, 2012
Stepping off of the sidewalk shouldn’t change your life, but it did in Charlie’s case.
By doing so, he missed bumping into the fat man in the blue jacket.
The resulting confrontation would have delayed the timeline enough that Charlie would have arrived at 309 Fisher Place at exactly 4:49pm, and, of course, if he’d arrived at 4:49, he would never have met Charlotte at exactly 4:48.
She would have exited the elevator, left the building, and turned right and Charlie would never have had the chance to hold the door for her.
But that was never supposed to have happened.
Now, Charlie realized, he had to decide whether or not to trade 25 years of his own happiness for what he knew was really meant to be.
He took a deep breath and paused before he turned on the machine.
Soon, and a quarter century ago, he would be forced to make that call.
A purple light flared, and sent him back.
No. 023
March 9, 2012
The Visitors from Earth
When landing on other planets it is important to remember that you are a guest, regardless of whether or not you think life exists there. It could be that everyone’s just out for the afternoon. After all, is anybody staying at your house while you’re off in space? I didn’t think so.
But I suppose that’s just me being picky. The rest of the folks around here, they love visitors. Tourist dollars, you know. (And if the company isn’t feeling spendy, we could always eat them).
So what I did was open a restaurant. Got some nice furnishings on a deal and slapped the place together. My aunt is the cook. She does fine on most days. Unless it gets real busy. Like that one day we had those people from some place called “Earth” in. That day was ridiculous.
No. 024
March 10, 2012
She turned the volume up and the pain went away. Her condition seemed to be worsening.
Since the accident, she’d needed music playing constantly to function. The doctors either didn’t understand, or straight up didn’t believe her, but it worked better than the painkilling drugs.
Now, the effect was wearing off, and she needed the songs played louder and louder to try to find relief.
And then yesterday when she’d picked up a glass it had shattered with her touch. She seemed to have been storing the energy from the sound.
Could she use this strange new power? Or would she burn out, and lose any chance at a regular life?
No. 025
March 11, 2012
The Master Artist
“I can tell you that the artist was a young man, very talented, but untrained. The style is… unfamiliar,” said the old man.
“Can you say where he might be from?” asked the detective. “That would help our investigation.”
The old man bent over the painting and examined it. The detective watched as he scanned it slowly, with a practiced and familiar eye, taking in every bump and whorl of pigment.
“I cannot.”
“Are you certain? Nobody else has been able to, either, and this might be our best chance to crack the case. We were told you were the best.”
“Ah, perhaps once, I was. But that was a long time ago,” said the man.
“Alright. If you think of anything else, you have my card. Thank you for your help so far. Your continued co-operation means a lot to the department,” the detective said.
“I am always happy to assist you.”
The detective gathered up the picture, wrapping it carefully, and then the old man led him to the door. He stepped into his car, and drove away, followed by the others in the convoy that had visited the old man’s house.
The case really was important.
The old man sat back down in his chair and smiled. It had been good to see his work again, if only for a short time.
No. 026
March 12, 2012
The Good Dog Part 1
That’s it. Today’s the day my master has left for good. He’s tied me to the lamp post and he’s never coming back. He’s always come back before, but I know this is it.
Was I a bad dog? Was it because I chewed the couch? I didn’t think he noticed that, but he must have because he’s gone now, and I’m all alone.
Maybe I shouldn’t have barked so much? Maybe I should have been quieter. But the mailman was coming! I needed to warn somebody! Was I wrong? My master went away.
Wait! Is that him? Do I see him?
No. No, it’s not him. He’s someplace else, for sure. He’s tied me to the lamp post and he’s never coming back.
Yes! There he is! He’s coming back! He’s not gone for good! I’m a good boy! Hi! He’s back! He’s got something in his hand! Is it for me? Maybe it’s for me! Maybe he went away and came back with something for me! He’s talking to me!
“Hey, buddy! Did you miss me? The line in there was really long! I must have waited five minutes for my coffee! Did you miss me? You’re a good dog.”
No. 027
March 13, 2012
The Burning Part 1
No one knew exactly where The Burning had started.
Some said it began in Nebraska, others, in Tennessee.
It had now been almost two decades since the first rain that killed.
The spectre drifted across the continent, spreading a few miles every day, leaving an irradiated waste in its path.
First you’d feel the air warming, then, if you weren’t fast enough to the shelters, the first drops would sear through you. Plumb through, so you could see the other side.
I’d been on the run, staying just ahead, almost my whole life.
No. 028
March 14, 2012
Foxcar Racer
He slammed down the gears and braked late. He almost lost it into the runoff, but a quick flick of the wheel and he was back on the track.
“I’ve got to get him at the next turn, then make it stick,” said the fox, to himself. “There’s not much race left.”
The car ahead of him seemed to be pulling away.
The fox clicked a toggle on the steering wheel, selecting “Boost”, giving him precious few extra RPMs at the cost of engine reliability.
“Three laps. Three laps,” he repeated to himself. The Championship was so close he could taste it, but he needed to make up one more position.
“Racer five, racer five, telemetry says you’re losing power. You need to back off, over,” called his pit crew on the radio. He had to ignore them. He was willing to sacrifice second place for a chance at first.
“Hold together, car,” he implored.
No. 029
March 15, 2012
Dodgeball was the modern method of natural selection.
There was a squeak of shoe on floor, then the dull smack of rubber against flesh filled the gym.
“You’re out!” called the keener who’d appointed herself referee.
Gary Mitchell rubbed the diamond-patterned red mark on his arm that was sure to turn into a welt later, and watched the other participants continue the barbaric game.
Oh, they’d pay alright, somewhere down the line. The ones who could throw harder, juke quicker. The ones who preyed on the slow and the weak. Gary decided right then and there where his life would take him.
Sixteen years later, Gary was no longer a small, weak target. He was Darwin, supervillain extraordinaire. The less evolved would cower before him. He’d spent the time plotting, adapting, perfecting his comeback. Letting the seeds planted during those days in the gym grow and mature into something far more powerful than mere strength.
Revenge was just the lesson they’d all learn, or be swept aside.
No. 030
March 17, 2012
Mark’s Meltdown Part 1
The flickering box was eerily soothing.
Mark felt an uneasy twinge at the base of his spine. Had he seen this before? Somehow, he couldn’t remember. How long had he been here?
He checked his watch.
Strange. It said that it was only an hour later than he thought, but the day was wrong. Why did it say Tuesday? He shook it, and looked again. That was better. Monday. He was just tired.
“Just tired,” he told himself aloud, to hear a real voice.
“You’re not,” said the TV.
“What?”
Now he was thoroughly spooked. Was the TV talking to him?
No. The program continued, it looked to be a documentary. No relation to what was happening to him.
Mark was cracking up good and proper now, though. He re-checked the watch, to be sure.
Tuesday.
No. 031
March 17, 2012
Mr. Camano cleared his throat. “There’s been an escape,” he said.
The class knew instantly what he was talking about and reflexively raised their feet from the floor and glanced around nervously. The braver ones made a show of checking under their desks and the cabinets.
Mr. Camano was, of course, talking about his rats. These were not just ordinary rats. They were rats he claimed were smarter than usual, and so he then had decided to feed them chemicals in an attempt to increase their strength. “Just to see what would happen,” he said. “Super-rats,” he called them.
The students had raised concerns about this course of action, knowing full well what the outcome would be, but they had been ignored.
And so now, despite having “at least two bricks and some textbooks” on top of their cage to keep them in, the inevitable had occurred.
The super-rats were loose.
No. 032
March 18, 2012
The menu spread out before them, and everything looked tasty.
“What should I get tonight?” he asked. “The usual?”
“How about something new?” she suggested. “You always get the same thing.”
“Yeah, everything looks good, but how do I know I’ll like it?”
“Just try it! I’m having the special.”
The food arrived. He’d ordered what he always did. It was pretty delicious. They enjoyed the rest of their evening.
The next morning, she wasn’t feeling well.
“What’s wrong?” he asked.
“Don’t know.”
“Probably something you ate.”
“Shut up. Trying new things won’t make you ill.”
“Maybe. You never know. Why take that chance?”
No. 033
March 21, 2012
Will Howard was in a coma.
He knew it. Trapped in his own body. Or, rather, trapped in his own mind.
He needed to wake up.
Will tried to remember the incident that had caused his condition. Memories began to play backwards, like a film strip. He found he could pause and zoom on them. He chose one, and concentrated.
“Hi, I’m Katie,” said the blonde at the bar.
This was when he met her for the first time, Will realized. He heard himself reply. “Have I seen you around here before?”
He felt himself sinking into the pleasant recollection. But something gnawed at the back of his mind. This wasn’t it. This wasn’t the right one. It wouldn’t get him back. Before he slipped into it, and, he knew, into the coma forever, he willed himself to pull away, back to the film strip.
He needed to try a new memory. Somewhere, buried in his past, was the key to escape. Will knew now that if he picked the wrong moment to relive, no matter how tempted he was to settle in, he’d have to fight the urge to stay, or he’d never make it back.
No. 034
March 22, 2012
“June 7, 1998.”
What was so important about that date?
Jenny tried hard to remember. It must have been important, because last night she’d written it down in the notebook she kept beside her bed.
She hated when that happened. She’d been sure that this would be enough to jog her memory in the morning.
Didn’t want to take the extra time to expand the thought.
For all she knew, it could be the key to some brilliant idea. Why didn’t she write down anything else? She’d just wanted to get back to sleep.
Because it had all seemed so clear at the time, and now she couldn’t think of why.
Great. Just great. This was going to bother her all day.
No. 035
March 22, 2012
“The scorpion has escaped,” was the ominous warning Cat Hansen received on her arrival at work.
“Tell me again why we needed a live scorpion in the school play?” she replied.
“Verisimilitude,” was the answer.
“Right. Yeah. Well, it’s still a terrible idea. So do we have a plan to deal with this?”
The theatre teacher paused and looked at Cat. She could see the wheels turning in his head, trying to come up with a credible answer on the fly.
“Of course we do,” he told her. “First, try not to get bit. Or pinched. Or stung. Or whatever scorpions do. Can they do all three? Anyway, don’t let it get you by surprise. We can get the students to look for it. I’ll get some sticks. They can poke around under the desks and so forth.”
Cat looked around warily, and then told him an alternate proposal. “How about, I’m going to pretend you never told me about any of this, and you find it in the next thirty minutes. After you’ve done that, get rid of it. I don’t particularly care how. If you still need a scorpion for the play, get a plastic one. I’m sure we can find some room in the budget.”
No. 036

The Bird Part 1

March 23, 2012
“Let me get this straight, twenty minutes ago, the bird was alive. Then you took its picture. Now the bird is dead. Seems pretty clear to me. You killed that bird with your camera-phone,” she said.
“I did not!” he replied adamantly. “That’s crazy-talk!”
“Is it?” she asked. “Is it really? Let’s look at the evidence. Here we have a dead bird. And on your phone is a picture of the bird, alive. It wasn’t dead then. It is now. Your phone stole its soul.”
“Come on. Do birds even have souls?”
“Probably.”
They both considered the small, feathery corpse.
“So, should be do something about this?” he asked her.
“Maybe we should chuck it into the neighbor’s yard?” she replied.
He reached for it.
“Wait, no, not with your hands!” she cried. “Get a stick or something.”
“How about we bury it instead?” he suggested.
“Yeah, that’d be for the best.” she agreed.
They dug a shallow hole and placed the bird gently inside. Then they covered it and regarded the grave.
“You were probably a good bird, before he killed you,” she said.
“I didn’t even! Phones don’t kill birds!”
No. 037
March 23, 2012
The Adventure Gang rappelled down the slick cliffs to the small beach below.
“Come on, guys!” said Frankie, the leader. “We’ve got to be close to the hidden gold now!”
The five stowed their ropes neatly, then fanned out to look for clues.
“Over here!” called Amy. “It looks like somebody’s been digging!”
Ted was the first to make it over. “Good job!” he told her. “But I wonder if signs of digging mean that somebody else knows about the pirate horde?”
“According to the information we found, it should be right here,” said Lizzie. “Let’s break out the shovels.”
They all began to dig excitedly. If they found the treasure, it would cap off a whirlwind month of achievements that began when they had returned Mrs. Kenterly’s missing jeweled statue. In the base of the statue, they’d found hints of a cache dating back almost 300 years.
They slowed when Amy’s shovel hit something solid with a deep “thunk”.
“Looks like we’ve got it!” she said.
They cleared loose sand off of a chest. Pulling with all their combined might, they hauled it up out of the hole.
Frankie cracked the lock. They opened the lid to reveal a case packed with shining gold bars.
“This was meant to be pirate booty, right?” asked Lizzie.
“Right,” said Frankie.
“Then why are those bars stamped ‘Fort Knox, 1939’?” she said.
“I’ve got a bad feeling about this,” said Ted. “A very bad feeling about this.”
No. 038
March 24, 2012
“Ok, do you remember how this works?”
“Yes.”
“Alright, but I’ll explain it once more for the audience. First, answer the question. If you have the correct response, you jump over the Mystery Pit. Then, I’ll ask you the bonus Mystery Question, and after that we enter the Mystery Round.”
“Got it,” said Marty Neale. He was ready to go. He’d been ready since he had been selected as a contestant for “Trivia Mystery”. Now, in the studio, the combination of adrenaline and nerves as well as the sheer stunning beauty of the host, Arianna Archer, had sharpened his senses to a razor’s edge.
“Here we go,” she said. “First question. On what day did John F. Kennedy deliver the famous speech that concluded, ‘We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard’?”
Marty thought hard. He knew this one, he realized. He hit his buzzer.
“What’s the answer?” she asked him.
“September 12, 1962.”
“That is correct!” Arianna told him. “Great job, you’re all set to cross the Mystery Pit! This week it’s filled with crocodiles!”
No. 039
March 26, 2012
Golden Age
“They’re going to close the Home,” she told him.
“What?” he asked loudly. “You’ll have to speak up. My hearing’s not so good as it used to be.”
“The Home is closing,” Mary Clark repeated patiently.
John Silver hung his head. “So that’s it for us, then. They’ll probably ship us out to all over.”
“I’m afraid that’s what it looks like,” said Mary.
The Home, Golden Age Retirement Villas, was indeed in dire financial shape, and showing its age.
John Silver, or “Mercury” as he’d been known in years past, had lived there since it had opened. Mary had been a nurse since then, too. Down the hall were two other original residents, Mel Frank, “Spitfire”, and Lucy Bruce, “Electra-Girl”.
There were more. In what seemed to be a normal collection of regular folks there sheltered an inordinately high number of former superheroes, all quietly living out their days using their secret identities.
John rose, and shuffled to the door.”I’m calling a meeting,” he told Mary. Then he tottered down the drab corridor towards the day room.
“And as if I needed this problem on top of them stealing my mail,” she heard him mutter to himself on his way out.
No. 040
March 26, 2012
The Burning Part 2
I’d just arrived in Mesa, Arizona.
Many people had escaped to the desert, hoping to avoid the rain. As if it mattered at all what the weather was in a place before The Burning descended.
But at least here, unlike in many of the towns now burnt to ashes, they’d begun to take steps beyond merely hoping and praying.
Huge bone-white radar domes ringed the city, towering above the red sand and cactuses. They monitored the horizon for any hint of the cloud. A network of bunkers had been built under the streets, enough to save all those who’d purchased their golden tickets.
It wasn’t my intention to stay, though. I just needed to see a girl about an umbrella.
No. 041
March 27, 2012
This is all wrong.
I was supposed to be the frightening one.
All my friends are out there, in the field. I’d called and said that I couldn’t make it, but instead I rented this costume. I came out here early. I was going to scare the pants off of them. I was only going to scare them.
I can’t see it. I can only hear them screaming. There’s something else here. What is it? There is something out here with us.
I can see it.
No. 042
March 28, 2012
The Good Dog Part 2
He said “no” but this time he must have meant “yes”. My master wants me to bite! Yes! He wouldn’t have said “no” if he didn’t mean “yes”. I’ll be a bad dog if I don’t bite!
But what should I bite? Should I bite furniture? Should I bite my toys? Should I bite my master? I think he must want me to bite the couch pillows. He wouldn’t have left them out if he didn’t want me to bite them. I think I’ll bite those. And then I’ll bite the furniture. And then I’ll chew on his arm when he comes back into the room.
Hi! Here he is! He’ll be so proud of me! I chewed on the pillows and the couch and then my toys, because I had extra time, and then I ran around the room and then I sat down! He’ll be so happy when he sees what I’ve done! Hi! Look! Look at what I did while you were gone! It’s because you told me to! You said “no” but I knew what you meant!
“Really? Didn’t I say ‘no chewing?’ Isn’t that what I said? Look what you did!”
See! He likes it! I’d better bite his arm before he changes his mind!
No. 043
March 29, 2012
Contemptible Monkey
The monkey watched me while it ate my popcorn. Slowly cramming each pawful into its simian mouth. Mocking me with his eyes.
Contemptible monkey! I paid good money for that popcorn. Zoo prices! And when I tried to get it back, it flung poo at me. Now it’s eating my stolen popcorn with poo-hands. I don’t want it back anymore.
I happen to know that little critter’s endangered. If I tried something, the keepers would have me tossed out. I mean, I’d probably be thrown out for hassling any of the other animals, too.
He’s just so damn smug! Look at him! I bet that’s not even the first snack he’s stolen today!
They lure you in because they’re funny and cute and then- wham! They reach their little furry claws out past the bars and snatch away whatever it is that they want.
Next time, though, I’ll be ready for his tricks. And maybe I’ll buy some tropical-hardwood furniture tonight. No reason.
No. 044
March 30, 2012
Katie and the Jetpack
Two Years Ago
Katie London stepped gingerly around the dusty stack of piled wood, certain there were spiders living in it. She was here with her friend, Johnny Sterling, cleaning out her grandfather’s barn.
“What is all this stuff? I thought your grandpa raised horses?” Johnny asked.
“Me, too. This is all so strange. Look at this. It looks like some sort of old computer,” she said as she pulled a canvas tarp aside.
“What are we supposed to do with it?” he said.
“I don’t know. Let’s just try to organize it and maybe we’ll find something worth some money. The rest, probably just take to the dump?”
They continued to work through the huge building, clearing away decades of piled odds and ends. After several hours, they began to reach the back wall. Here, the artefacts were clearly the oldest.
“I’m really beginning to think your grandpa might have been a hoarder,” opined Johnny.
Katie found a wooden trap door after moving aside a large cabinet.
“I’m not going down there,” he said.
“Fine, I’ll do it, if you’re afraid.”
“Not afraid,” he said. “Allergic.”
“Uh huh.”
She opened the door and disappeared down into the dark recess.
“Johnny, come down here, you’ve got to see this!” she called.
He hesitated.
“Come on!” she repeated.
He climbed down the short ladder into a dim cellar. Katie held in her hands a most remarkable object. Three large cylinders mounted together formed the backbone. Two spindly arms branched off at the base. Chromed fins and leather straps sprouted from the body.
Now
“I’ve got him,” said Katie over the radio. “Coming around.”
“Roger,” replied Johnny, from the secret hideout.
Jetstream had appeared above Pacific City a year ago. People were stunned when a superhero began operating in their city. Nobody knew where the beautiful vigilante had come from, but she’d been an instant sensation.
There’d been rumors that she’d gotten her jetpack from the government, that she had a boy sidekick, that she was related to another superhero from years and years ago.
She wasn’t willing to comment on those.
“You’ve only got ten minutes of fuel left,” Johnny warned.
“No problem. We’ve got this,” she assured him. She smiled to herself. Then she whispered, off the radio, “Oh man, is this ever fun. Thanks grandpa!”
No. 045
April 1, 2012
The Prank Part 1
“A good prank leaves them talking about it for years to come. Simplicity is key. If they have to spend too long telling the story of the set-up, you’ve already blown it. Efficiency of storytelling,” Colin Charter told the semi-circle of freshmen seated in front of him. As a sixth-year senior still living in student housing, he had wisdom to pass on to the next generation.
“What if we make a phone call telling someone to meet up someplace, then mess with their room?” asked a pimple-faced girl.
“Nope. See, you’re already adding steps,” Charter told her. “Why the phone call in the first place? It would give the target a clue to your identity, and it complicates the story. ‘Oh, I got this weird phone call and blah blah blah.’ Boring! How about just getting to their room while they’re out? If you can’t manage that then you have no business pranking to begin with. And, really, is messing with their room the best you’ve got? Don’t answer that. Freshmen. Ugh,” he grunted with contempt.
“What would you suggest?” questioned a squeaky-voiced boy. “What’s the best prank ever?”
“The best pranks can’t be taught. They take weeks, months, sometimes years of preparation. And then they bloom spectacularly, just the once, and fade into a blaze of memory and whispered recollections. I can only show you the path, I can’t walk it for you,” Charter concluded.
“Are you working on something now?” came the voice from the back. Chrissy Peachland, Charter’s nemesis.
“In due time, Chrissy. In due time.”
No. 046
April 2, 2012
Diane sat alone in her room. She was focused on making the audition. Over and over, she replayed the song in her head. Her fingers moved slightly over imaginary keys.
She longed to improvise, to find her own way in the piece, but the rules were strict. There was to be no deviation from what was on the page. She was frustrated. How could she show herself if she was so restricted? All the practice was for nothing if she didn’t feel the music.
She closed her eyes and laid back, her head resting on the chair. Now, with the world shut out, she could focus properly. If she wasn’t to play it, she would at least listen to the symphony in her imagination.
No. 047
April 3, 2012
“I didn’t know you could talk,” she said to the opossum who was currently sitting in the crook of a branch of the tree just outside her window.
“Of course I can talk. It’s just that there are so few people worth talking to,” said the opossum. “And also, usually, as a species, we’re better at playing dead when faced with confrontation.”
“Uh huh,” she said, still not quite believing what was going on. “Do you have a name? What should I call you?”
“Let me ask you this,” it said. “Why is the first thing humans ask always ‘what is your name?’. Did you even stop to think maybe I don’t have one?”
“No, I just thought-“
“Exactly!” it cut her off. “Everybody assumes that just because we can talk that we’re just like you.”
“We?” she asked.
“Oh my gosh. Maybe this was a bad idea to begin with,” it said haughtily.
It moved its head to the side and looked at something behind her, just over her shoulder. She turned to follow its shifty gaze.
She thought she caught just a flash of movement in the hallway. “You wait here,” she commanded the creature in the tree, pointing her finger at it for emphasis.
It squinted at her, but stayed still.
She walked down the hall, scanning for evidence of intruders. Tonight was… already very strange.
The house was empty. She returned up the stairs to the window.
The animal was still there, now scratching itself lazily.
“So?” it asked.
“It was nothing.”
“Well,” it said. “This has been fun. I should probably go now.”
“Wait!” she exclaimed. “Why did you come here? Why did you talk to me if you’re just going to run off?”
“Because, my dear, in thousands of years of ‘possums feigning death, not a single other one realized that being a decoy can be done in more proactive ways, too!”
She thought it waved at her as it scrambled down the tree.
“And thanks for dinner,” it called as it scampered off into the woods to join the others.
No. 048
April 4, 2012
8:12
8:11
Aaron Leary watched the digital numbers click over. The intended flight path stretched out as a dotted line on the screen’s map. Only eight hours and elev-, oh, now ten minutes remaining.
 He strongly considered ordering another drink, but at the same time, he didn’t want the flight attendant to think he was some sort of alcoholic. He’d already had… a few.
“I hate flying,” he told the seatback in front of him. Maybe stretching his legs might help.
He undid his belt and struggled across the sleeping woman in the seat next to him.
“Company couldn’t have sprung for business class. Nope. Not for Aaron,” he muttered. Good Lord, she should have bought two.
He struggled to the aisle and made for the rear. He could swing around in a loop and return through the galley three rows ahead.
He padded back, glancing at the other passengers, or, mostly, at their TVs. The choices on this flight were good, but he’d already seen them all this month.
He wished harder than ever that he could sleep on planes.
Continuing his circuit of the cabin, he passed the drinks cart for the aft section of economy class.
“Excuse me,” he said as he squeezed by. He didn’t look up until he was almost by it.
The stewardess was awfully familiar, but it had been a long, long time.
“Tamara? Tamara Lamott, is that you?”
“Yes?” she replied, tilting her head just a little, trying to place him.
“Aaron,” he told her.
She recognized him now. “Aaron Leary? I haven’t seen you since…”
“Sixth? No, seventh grade!”
“I can’t believe it!” she said. She put down the tiny bottle of booze she’d been pouring. “How have you been?”
No. 049
April 5, 2012
Elise Woolf died at 4:13pm on August 29, 2007.
She knew that because people wouldn’t stop reminding her about it.
Oh, she was fine, now, but try explaining that to everyone asking her about what she saw, or what she felt, or why she woke up again.
She didn’t even remember the accident, to tell the truth. One moment, she was leaving the restaurant, the next, she was opening her eyes two weeks later at the hospital.
Mostly, she just wanted the questions to stop. And maybe to lose the limp would be nice, too.
The point was, she didn’t feel she was special, not in that way, anyhow. Hundreds of people every day must be saved in hospitals? Sure, she was lucky, and the doctors were very good, but she didn’t do anything except get hit by a van and pass out.
Her watch beeped at her. Time to take her medicine.
That was the one thing she didn’t understand. Why did she have to take so many pills? It worried her somewhat that they wouldn’t tell her exactly what the orange ones were. She’d never heard of someone needing medicine after surgery. No one that wasn’t feeling any pain three years on, anyway. Every time she asked, she was told not to worry, and that everything was being taken care of.
Oh well. They certainly weren’t hurting her, and besides, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, right?
No. 050
April 6, 2012
Douglas Pond had a problem.
He’d discovered that sometimes, but not every time, when he touched a book, he’d be transported to a location from it. Then he’d be trapped there until whatever power was causing this wore off.
He’d been taken twice. Luckily he’d not yet been sent into the middle of the ocean, or to hell, or to some sort of fictional murderous future or past.
He’d learned very quickly not to touch books.
But then it had happened as he read a passing billboard while on the bus. Now, it seemed, merely seeing things would trigger the effect.
That time it had been a tropical island he’d been sent to.
He couldn’t avoid reading, unless he blinded himself. And if he was blind, how would he escape touching?
He’d settled on sitting alone in an empty room in his house.
After enduring for a year, Pond had begun to wonder if perhaps finding a book about space might be a good idea…
No. 051
April 7, 2012
“Humans!” croaked the troll excitedly.
He shuffled out from under the bridge, dragging his gnarled leg behind him. He crept up the riverbank, trying not to make any noise. That would spook them. They would run.
The creature could hear the people clearly, though. He didn’t understand what they were saying, of course, but it didn’t matter. He knew they’d soon be crossing.
Slowly, he limped to the center of the span. Now he was ready.
The men appeared from out of the woods. There was at least thirty.
To the troll it seemed like a lot, but he couldn’t count.
They were wearing shiny new armour. They all carried swords or spears. Some had torches, as well.
“Kill the beast!” the leader shouted. They all raised their weapons and ran towards the low stone structure.
The troll raised his arms as well.
“Hello, friends! Greetings!” he called to them, in troll.
They swarmed him, stabbing and poking with their sharp tools.
“It’s good to see you, too!” he burbled at them. He began to hug them.
They responded by pointing harder, and waving fire at him.
“Yes, yes, we can all play!” he laughed.
“This isn’t working, men! Fall back!” cried the commander. “Retreat!”
The humans turned and ran, leaving the troll alone once again.
People. They were so fun!
No. 052
April 8, 2012
The edge of the lake sloped gently. Trees gave way to grass, then a short, smooth beach. Cattails and lily pads crowded the water’s edge. Tiny waves lapped at the sand.
Besides the mild rhythm of the surf, if it could be called that, the only noise was a light breeze through the branches, and the occasional splash of a leaping fish.
Far out towards the middle, a canoe moved silently across the surface. The two occupants were not paddling. The paddles were stowed, and the craft was merely drifting with the wind. The boaters seemed to be whispering to each other.
I watched them through my field glasses. I was some ways off, about halfway up a hill to the south.
They were hunting for something. I could tell that, even from here.
I knew I was protected where I was. A low screen of bushes provided cover for me, and I was sure that even if they were to turn in my direction that they wouldn’t see me.
But I had a mission, too. I gathered up my heavy coat and my worn leather bag, and I began to make my way stealthily towards the shore below.
I started to worry that the sun, now shining brightly on the warm spring day, was still going to be up for quite a few more hours. Darkness would protect me far more reliably than even my careful woodcraft.
It was to be a game of cat and mouse, played over the next thirty-six hours in a beautiful arena, and I didn’t yet know if I was the mouse, or the cat.
No. 053
April 9, 2012
Kelly took a small sip of the juice. The tiny scratching at the back of her throat didn’t go away. She tried again. No. Still there.
That was always how it started. First, a tingle that wouldn’t go away, then, in a day or two, she’d be stapled to the couch.
“Please, please let this go away,” she whispered. She couldn’t afford to be sick now.
She put down the glass and returned to the kitchen. She pawed through the drawers, looking for vitamins or medicine. “Why are they never here when I need them?” she asked the countertop.
Failing to find anything, she turned to the fridge. She poured another juice. She examined the label. “Orange juice drink. Now with added nutrients!” it proclaimed.
It was her only option at this point. She finished it, then grabbed the car keys and rushed towards the door. Being late wouldn’t work, either.
“I just need to make it to the weekend,” Kelly told herself. “Just until Saturday.”
No. 054
April 10, 2012
This was my getaway. I’d come out to the empty stretch of highway and drive. Certain times of day the road would be free and clear. There were stretches where you could drive an hour without seeing another soul. I’d just keep my foot down and carry out past Trout Junction a while.
Today was like any other day. Sunny sky, window rolled down, music turned up loud. I was probably going over the speed limit, but I wasn’t looking down.
But then I saw it. Something out of the corner of my eye. Something that hadn’t ever been there before. I slowed up and made a u-turn, pulling around on the sandy shoulder. I drove back slowly.
I’d been right. And I was glad to have reversed course. There, at the side of the road, was a pair of skid marks, veering off into the tall grass and saplings. The gap in the vegetation had caught my attention. Someone had gone into the bush, and judging from the location, they hadn’t planned it.
I stopped and got out of the car. The smell of a freshly cut lawn struck me first, then the sharp stink of melted rubber. I followed the dusty tire tracks away from the road. This had just happened
“Hello?” I called. Given the normal patterns of the road, I may well have been the first one to pass. There might be someone who needed my help.
I picked my way down. The brush was surprisingly thick and there was a drop away from the road. Soon I couldn’t see my car through the trees. There was still no sign of whatever had caused the gash in the forest.
Then I caught a sliver of light off of metal. I saw the wreck at the bottom of a small creek bed.
“Anybody there?” I tried again. “Do you need help?”
The calls were met with an eerie silence.
I made it to the crushed vehicle. I looked quickly for injured occupants, but there was no one. That was good. They must have made it out ok.
I turned to leave.
I paused. Something wasn’t right.
The vehicle was too damaged, the path off the road too long for someone to have been left without serious injuries. If they’d stayed with the car, they’d still be in it, likely trapped. And if they’d managed to get out, it would not have traveled nearly as far into the forest on its own. And I’d seen no other fresh footprints in the pullout where I was currently parked.
I took a closer look at the mangled metal.
It was covered in old mud and leaves. Small creepers and weeds had begun to grow up around it. The paint had started to chip and peel away.
 I felt a broken branch from a tree next to me. The sap was hard. Old.
 But the trail was fresh out closer to the road? 
I stared at the twisted remains. Then I recognized the make and model. And I saw a licence plate, faded and obscured with age.
I sat down abruptly, my legs giving way.
The car in the middle of the stream was mine.
No. 055
April 12, 2012
Mark’s Meltdown Part 2
Mark hiked himself off of the couch, steadying himself against the wall.
There was a strange pressure in his head. One he hadn’t felt before.
“Sick. Please just be sick,” he pleaded with himself. Just a fever. That was ok. Off to the doctor, a couple pills, and he’d be better. He just had to think rationally.
The wall began to distort. He watched his hand disappear into it. He wrenched it back.
 Somehow the withdrawal caused a chain reaction. All the walls in the room began to close in.
“You’re dead! You’re dead! You’re dead!” he heard the TV blaring.
“No! Stop!” he ordered. He screwed his eyes shut.
When he opened them, the room was normal. He was back on the couch, bathed in sweat. He reached for his phone. Something was happening, and he needed help.
He flipped it open and dialed. He could hear the line begin to ring. He lay down, closing his eyes as he waited for someone to pick up.
The line clicked.
“Hello?” he said. “Hello? Please help!”
There was a soft hiss from the other side. Then he heard them reply.
“Hello? Hello? Please help!”
Mark began to scream.
No. 056
April 12, 2012
“We’ve got to go, Janie,” Alan told her. “There’s nothing for us, now.”
“I don’t believe you,” she spat back. “Did you even try?”
He leaned back and sighed. Then he hung his head and spoke softly. “I did what I could. You know that.”
“I’m not leaving,” she said. She crossed her arms a waited for him to respond. To her surprise, for the first time, he didn’t.
“Well?” she added.
“No, I suppose you’re right. Maybe it’s best if you stay.”
That wasn’t what she’d been waiting to hear. Him saying it out loud set her back on her heels.
They were both quiet for some time. Neither wanted to be the next to speak. Janie coughed, quietly.
“Alright, then,” said Alan. He turned and began to wrestle a suitcase from under the bed.
She continued to watch as he began to fill it.
“That’s not what I wanted,” she told him in a small voice. “I didn’t mean to…,” she trailed off, thinking of the correct words. “I just—,”
“Maybe it’s for the best,” he said. “When I’ve got something, I can call you. Until then, well, I’ll miss you.”
He closed the bag, grabbed his coat, and walked towards the door. “Bye.”
The door shut, and she remained in the center of the room. Deep down, she knew it had to be like this. That’s just the way things were.
No. 057
April 12, 2012
“You can’t trust me. Everything I do is designed to win you over, to make you do what I want you to.”
That’s the first thing I should have said. You know that game? That comedy game that people play? The one where someone says a line, and the audience shout’s “should have said” and then, of course, the performers have to say their line again. Same set up, but different finish. 
Instead, what I said was “hello”.
Oh, don’t feel bad for me, I knew what I was doing. I’ve been telling lies my whole life. Usually they work. Usually I get what I want.
But remember how everyone always says “lies will snowball”? That hadn’t happened to me before. I guess there’s a first time for everything.
By now you’re probably wondering “what did he do?”. And I will tell you. You just have to remember the first thing I should have said.
It started two years ago in a bar…
No. 058
April 12, 2012
The Unjust War
“Chris, come on in, I need to get you in bed before your mom comes home!” shouted the babysitter from the porch.
Chris was hiding out in his fort. It was on the empty lot, two down from his house.
He and his friends had built it, and it was pretty good, for what eight-year-olds are capable of. They’d grabbed some wood from the house under construction at the end of the block and made a bench in the middle of the tall grass that served for walls. At least until they could get more lumber, or, better – plywood.
There was a small tree in the “corner”. Chris didn’t know what kind it was, but it had pointy leaves. They’d hammered some steps into the trunk, so they could climb up. They took turns on lookout duty.
Tonight, as the light was dimming, Chris was working on a most-secret project. A system by which the gang would know who was really a member. He was carving a notch on the lowest branch of the tree. Since they couldn’t bar people from entry, what with having grass walls and all, they could weed out the imposters with a simple test. Anyone in the know would simply touch the notch on the way inside. If they didn’t, well then, they’d have to be removed. Chris was fairly proud of his cunning.
He was startled by a noise. Someone, close by, had stepped on a stick. He crouched low.
“Come on, I know you’re over there,” called the babysitter from the edge of the lot. She approached. Chris considered taking the “secret exit” but decided to stay and stand his ground.
She quickly breached the flimsy defenses and entered the stronghold. Chris noted, with satisfaction, that she had not, in fact, touched the notch. He’d have to tell the boys that his scheme worked.
“I don’t want to get in trouble again,” she told him and she grabbed his arm and started to drag him home. “Let’s go. It’s late.”
He marched back, a prisoner of an unjust war.
He was already planning the latest fortifications.
No. 059
April 16, 2012
The Window Traveller
How closely do you look out of your window when it’s dark out? It’s difficult, because when you have the lights on, and it’s darker outside than in, you can’t see much. Everyone outside can see you, but you can’t see them.
Now, there are some things you may not know. The first is that your universe is not the only one. The second is that there are others where, at night, instead of just reflecting, windows open portals to other worlds.
I discovered that six months ago. Since then I’ve been to countless places. But now, despite my best efforts, I’m trapped here, on your planet, in your galaxy, which is almost exactly like mine, except for that I can’t get back.
The first time I tried, I whacked my head into glass. Can you imagine that? Glass. In the dark.
Anyway, it hasn’t been all bad. I made friends with a girl down the street. Her mirror lives in my dimension, but I never had the courage to talk to her, there.
Her name is Penelope Purcell. So far she doesn’t believe me. I’m trying to think of ways to convince her.
No. 060
April 19, 2012
Going Bananas
I have never been in a knife fight.
If that shocks you, consider that you only feel that way because I am a monkey.
I have never flung my own feces at anybody, either.
When would I even have the time?
No, I’m a writer for a hit TV series called “Bananas”. It’s not Shakespeare, but the ratings are good. Insane pressure, though. Scripts due every week. Rewrites. It’s a wonder anything gets on the air.
Lately, though, I’ve been wondering if I should get out there and see what other options I have. This is probably somebody’s dream job, but it’s not my be-all, end-all. Besides, there are 999 other guys around here who could take up the slack if I wanted to take a break.
One of the pros of being in the Simian Screenwriters Union.
But for now that’ll have to wait. Sweeps are coming up. We need to get the second half of the cliffhanger sorted out. Right now we’ve got the guy climbing up the side of the Empire State Building.
Looks like another night of take-out Chinese for me.
Love that lemon chicken.
No. 061
April 20, 2012
The engine sputtered, coughed, and then quit.
Amy Elder felt her insides drop away. She swallowed hard, and tried to stop the shaking. She tried to brush away the goosebumps that were forming on her arms.
“Are we out?” Curtis asked from the passenger seat.
“Yeah,” she managed. She put the car into park, and tried to turn the key. Nothing happened.
“How far are we from a gas station?” he asked her.
“I don’t know. I don’t know this area at all,” she replied.
Curtis pulled out his phone and tried to get a signal. There was none. He waved it around, just to be sure.
“What about you?” he said.
Amy tried the same thing, with the same results. She shook her head. The shakes were bad, now.
“Hey, don’t worry,” he said. “Someone will come along. We can flag them down. We’ll get a ride back, no problem.”
“It’s three AM,” she told him. “No one is out here this late.”
He thought she was starting to cry. He couldn’t tell in the dark. “Then we can wait until morning, it’s not a huge deal.”
“No! It is! It’s—,” she started to get excited and cut herself off.
“Hey! Calm down. What’s wrong?” he tried to calm her down.
She sniffled, and wiped her nose on her sleeve. Then she took a deep breath, and in a small voice, answered him.
“I’m scared,” she said.
No. 062
April 21, 2012
The Flower Shop
He wandered through the flower shop aimlessly, idly observing the various plants and arrangements. He knew something about them, having picked up the knowledge from his girlfriend via osmosis. She was the one he was waiting for now.
He checked his watch. She was supposed to have been off fifteen minutes ago. He tried to distract himself by naming as many varieties of flowers as he could. He didn’t get very far. Mostly he knew them by color and shape. The frilly yellow ones were his favorites, if he was asked.
He found himself in the back of the store. This was where they kept all the tropical kinds. He could feel the warmer temperature, and the slightly higher humidity. Back here the smell was distinct. It was a familiar, comforting scent. He noticed that the rear wall was entirely different types of cacti. The only plant he couldn’t kill.
“Don’t touch those,” said a voice from behind him. It startled him. He hadn’t realized how closely he’d been paying attention to the plants. He turned to the speaker.
“Yeah, I’d thought about it, but you changed my mind,” he told her. He didn’t recognize her, but she had a nametag that said “Sally”. “I’m just waiting for Laura. Do you work here?”
“Yes, but I’m new. She’ll be right out. She’s just throwing her stuff in her bag. You must be Sean. She talks about you.”
She paused, shuffling her feet awkwardly. She worried that she’d disturbed him, somehow. “Do you know anything about flowers?” she asked, to fill the silence.
He considered his answer. He decided to be honest. “A little. Maybe more than I’m supposed to.”
No. 063
April 22, 2012
He heard the rush of the train doors, and the electric whine as it pulled away. The next one wouldn’t be but five minutes behind.
Edward Jordan studied the people around him. Fellow passengers, seemingly all alike, but not. They were all off to their jobs unaware of the man in their midst.
 With rush hour, the platform filled long before the next appearance.
Young children. The elderly. All of society was here, all trying their hardest to ignore the rest around them.
Jordan remembered those days, from not long ago. But now he watched, a voyeur in plain sight. Content in the knowledge that even as he observed, no one would ever look back at him.
Another train arrived, preceded by a blast of air. Again, they filtered on, following their routines. And it departed, like they do.
Still, Edward Jordan stayed behind. Because Edward Jordan could not leave.
No. 064
April 23, 2012
“You’ve done a very bad thing,” she told her captive.
“I’ll pay it back, I’ll pay everything back,” said the prisoner. “Please!”
“I’m sorry. But that’s not what my client wants. It seems that what you did hurt them more than just financially,” Dana Battersea told the cowering thief. “Now, what was it that you could have done?”
The man began to sob. “I didn’t know. How could I have known that the information would be made public?  I just robbed the guy!”
“My employer is a very private individual. But, if you’ll tell me now where the money is, then perhaps I can go away.” She said. “Mr. Grant, let’s not make this more difficult than it has to be.”
Grant was silent for a moment as he tried to decide what his next course of action would be. The woman dressed entirely in black who had broken into his home did not appear to be playing around. He sniffled, and tried to regain some semblance of composure.
“It’s buried. North end of the property I own in Clearwater,” he admitted.
“You’re sure?” she probed.
“I’m sure.”
“Excellent.”
Then she shot him.
She tossed the pistol at the dead man. It couldn’t be traced back to her. She was very careful.
Battersea left the house, and got into her car. She keyed the GPS to the address of Grant’s property. She didn’t feel any guilt. He should have recognised the consequences of his actions. If it had just been about the money, she wouldn’t have been there.
She was going to recover it, still. That was her payment for having completed the job.
This was how she worked. Dana Battersea was hired whenever it got personal. Her take was whatever had been stolen. She was always surprised how easily people agreed to her terms.
Sometimes revenge was more powerful than greed.
No. 065
April 24, 2012
The Origami Dinosaur Part 3
“Why is the sky blue?” asked the origami dinosaur senatorially on one fine day in October.
The glass rabbit and Bobble-Head, his steadfast companions, waited for an answer.
“I propose that it is so because it could not be green.” The dinosaur concluded.
“Perhaps you are correct,” said the rabbit. “But what of rainbows? They contain that verdant hue. Are they not part of the great firmament?”
“Nonsense, rainbows are things of a very different nature,” said the dinosaur.
Bobble-Head, who had never seen the sky first-hand, could not offer a rebuttal.
His drawings could not alter the course of the heated reflection, as he could color the sky however he pleased. Therefore, he exhausted the day in quiet contemplation.
The titans of the table, great lizard and proper lagomorph, meanwhile, clashed in merry jousting, the hours passing by.
As the clock struck midnight, the debate was concluded without either side having influenced the other in the slightest. The rules of discourse held, and now was a new beginning. Fresh worlds begged for inspection.
And today was Bobble-Head’s turn to initiate the dialogue. He intended to examine love.
No. 066
April 25, 2012
Writer’s Block
“’When is it okay to write about writer’s block?’
“That’s a trick question. The answer is ‘never’. It’s a crutch. It’s lazy and I don’t like it.
“I don’t like first-person narrative, either. It’s all ‘I, I, I’. Give me a break. And here’s a hint for you- nobody wants a heroine with a name they can’t say using their mouth. So go ahead and write your story about the sexy ‘Esaturinyia’ but don’t expect me to mark it,” said Tahsis Sardis on the first day of “Short Fiction 214”.
The class was a requirement for advancement in the English department, but few students were ever giddy to enroll when their turn came up.
The course outline was simple. “By the last day of class each student will have written a twenty-page story with no less than two drafts and three cases of peer review”. That was it, the only requirements for an entire semester and three credits. So it was no surprise that Dr. Sardis was the reason for the unease.
The introductory speech continued.
“If your story is a ‘modern retelling’ of any well known myth or trope, you fail. If your story ends with ‘and it was all a dream’, guess what?  You fail. And if at any point I compare your story’s quality of content to that of a ‘Hardy Boys’ book, and Frank and Joe win, you fail.”
Some of the keeners were seen taking notes.
Dr. Sardis rolled her eyes. She was surprised they were literate, at this point.
But if she was harsh now, it was for a good cause. She really did believe in them. Well, most of them. And if she laid down the law early, then she wouldn’t have to read 640 pages of garbage in four months’ time. 
No. 067
April 26, 2012
“Oh, they’ll rue the day the crossed me,” I cackled as I threw the final switches. Giant generators began to hum with ominous power. I could hear gears whining deep within the machine. This was my masterpiece. Seven years of plotting, scheming, and backbreaking labor to hollow out the mountain and build the device. But now it was ready, and perfect.
I wasn’t going to give them any warning. This wasn’t a ridiculous scheme to hold the world hostage, or something as pedestrian as extortion. This was revenge. Revenge for what they did and what they said about me afterwards.
“Crazy.”
 Me? I don’t think so.
Mad!
I held the firing trigger in my hands gently, tenderly. I caressed the cold metal edges and felt its weight. Only seconds left until full power! I’d chosen my target carefully. Who was most deserving of the mighty death ray?
Honolulu.
The emitter was aligned. I pressed the button.
 It fired.
I watched on a wall of TVs with hacked feeds as the beam hit. First the beaches, then the buildings. The deadly light swept past them all. Everything began to glow. Brilliant! My plan at completion!
But then I noticed something. Nobody was dying. Nobody was frowning? What was happening? The monitors began to cut to news broadcasts, live from the epicenter. Reporters standing, smiling even, right there!
“This is Tamara Lee, of Cable News Five, ‘your Hawaiian home’. I’m standing here at Waikiki Beach, where it seems someone has fired a sort of laser that has instantly turned many of the rocks and stones here into gold. You can see behind me beachgoers gathering up this surprising booty. ”
“What?” I shout at the TVs. “Gold? No! You were all supposed to suffer! I created the ultimate doomsday weapon, and now I’ve given you gold?”
I throw the remote control at my machine. I can hear parts inside shatter with the impact. I’m sure it will take ages to fix, if I can at all. But I don’t care. All this, failure again, after the time-shifting apparatus that turned all dogs back into puppies, and the mind-control projector that backfired convinced every man in range that his wife was a supermodel.
This won’t do. None of this will do. Next time. Next time they’ll really have something to be afraid of.
No. 068
April 27, 2012
“Tell me again,” she said.
“The glasses allow you to see things that could happen. I don’t usually haggle, but for you I can make the price eighteen thousand,” said the man.
Kristen Sortilege considered his offer. She’d visited with no objective in mind, only curiosity. She’d had no intention of actually buying anything.
“Why would I want them for that price? I know how things are going to turn out,” she countered, unsure if she was negotiating, or declining.
“Oh, you’re a clever girl, but I thought that once, too,” said the man. “And besides, you did come to me.”
“You’re right, I suppose,” Kristen agreed.
But she’d caught something in his reply.
“Why are you selling them at all?” she asked. “Wouldn’t knowing the future be worth more than that?” she said.
“It doesn’t work quite that way, and I never said ‘future’” said the man carefully.
“Then can they really do what you say?”
“Of course. I wouldn’t lie,” he assured her. 
 “No, I suppose not,” she said. “I’ll have to think about it some. Will you still be here tomorrow?”
“I’m always here, you know that,” he told her.
Kristen thanked him, and went on her way.
Kristen slept poorly that night. However, by morning she had decided what she wanted. She returned to purchase the glasses.
But the man was gone. There was nothing to indicate he’d ever been there except for a small wooden box on the ground.
Inside were the glasses and a note.
“You seemed like such a nice girl, I just couldn’t leave without you having these.”
Kristen put them on.
No. 069
April 28, 2012
“The manager can suck it,” said Walter Belt.
He threw the ball down the lane, knocking over the last of the pins for a spare.
“We’re not supposed to be doing that,” said his partner, Danny McCallue.
“Seriously, what did I just say? The guy’s a tool, and if he wants us to clean up the joint, we will. This is just kinda a happy bonus,” said Walter. “It’s a little bit of bowling on the job. Ooooo. The place is closed. Nobody cares.”
“I guess,” said Danny. He tried to move his mop and bucket around his surly associate.
“Hey, what’s this?”
He was looking at an odd mark on the lane Walter had just used. “Did you just do that? They’re going to kill us if they find out! I don’t have the money to fix that,” he said.
“Do what? Are you still going on about this. Geez. Ok. Fine. Next time I’ll take it easy, so you don’t wet your pants,” said Walter.
“No, come over here and check this out,” said Danny.
Danny poked at what he thought was a smudge. But it wasn’t.
“This is some kind of latch on the floor,” he said.
“You’re kidding me? It’s right in the middle of the lane I just used. No way is there a latch on there.”
Danny ignored Walter. He began to pry at the boards. Something clicked and the floor slid back to reveal a narrow staircase leading down.
“Huh,” said Walter. “I did not see that coming.”
No. 070 
April 29, 2012
“‘Heads’ we go right, ‘tails’ we go left. We’ll let the coin decide,” said Kevin.
“And how long are we going to do this?” said Jack. “I’ve only got about a half a tank of gas.”
“I guess until we get bored,” answered Kevin.
They idled at the first intersection they came to.
“Alright,” said Jack. “Flip it.”
Kevin tossed the quarter. It spun in a messy arc and he missed catching it. The coin fell between the seats.
“What does that count as?” said Jack.
“Shut up. Give me a second.”
“Here, let me,” said Jack.
Jack made a better toss and snatched it out of the air. He opened his hand to check the side.
“Tails.”
“Turn left,” said Kevin. “Let’s see where this takes us.”
No. 071
April 30, 2012
Injured Reserve
Hilary Prim should have been happy. Her team had just won their league championship game after a hard-fought long-weekend tournament.
She should have been partying.
Instead, she was in the waiting room at the hospital, nursing her wrist. According to her calculations she was a billionty hours from seeing the doctor.
“Honest, it’s fine,” she swore to her coach. “It didn’t even start to hurt until I slid into third during the last game.”
“Yes, but you told me that you thought it happened in game two,” said her coach.
“I bet we’re missing the pizza right now,” Hilary muttered unhappily.
Coach laughed at her star player’s misplaced priorities. “I’m sure it won’t be long and the rest of the team will have saved you some. Besides, we have the pool party next week, so relax.”
Hilary didn’t have anything new to complain about, and so sat in stubborn silence until she was called to see the doctor.
“What’s wrong?” the doctor asked.
“I think I broke my wrist,” answered Hilary.
The doctor asked her several questions, and examined Hilary’s wrist and hands carefully.
“I can see that you can hold your hand normally and you don’t have any numbness,” said the doctor. “I have a feeling that you’ve just got a bad sprain, but we’ll do an X-ray just to be sure. Just wait a couple more minutes and we’ll have you all set up for that, and then we’ll know exactly what we’re dealing with.”
Hilary sighed.
The doctor made a note on the chart, said goodbye for the moment, and left the room.
“See?” said Hilary. “Just a sprain. That means I’m ok. Let’s go.”
“How about we just wait until the tests are done?” said Coach. “You don’t want to jeopardize next year, too, if you make it worse somehow.”
“I guess not,” Hilary admitted.
She poked at the edge of the examination table.
 “Do you think the X-rays will give me powers?” she asked.
“I doubt it,” said Coach.
No. 072
April 30, 2012
There was nowhere else to go. The poles had been reached, the Amazon charted. We knew the world.
I was an explorer, and so I had little choice. Humanity had turned inward, but there were still a few who reached out.
We were going into the desert, the last great frontier left on our planet. We had prepared for an expedition lasting two years.
It has now been four.
 We found the entrance in the first. Went through in the second. At the turn of the third, we lost half the men.
We didn’t know.
Conrad said that “there were many blank spaces on the earth”.
Now we are in one, but we are under it.
No. 073
May 2, 2012
The Prank Part 2
Acting strangely out of character, Colin Charter took no more questions. He ended the meeting abruptly and shooed his freshman disciples out of the lounge.
Only Chrissy remained. “So what are you working on?” she asked him again.
“It involves a pig, a goat, six pairs of underpants, and your mom,” he told her sarcastically.
“Really?” she wondered. “Don’t you want to tell me? We could trade ideas. Maybe you’d like it,” she purred.
Chrissy reached under her shirt provocatively. Her hand came out with a folded piece of paper. “Are you sure you don’t want to see what I’m up to?” she said, waving it temptingly.
“I already know what you’re up to,” answered Colin, somewhat sadly. “I bribed my way into your hall last week. You should really keep better tabs on your sophomores. Your plan won’t work. There’s a flaw in phase three.”
He noticed her turn red and saw a flash of surprise before it went away, leaving her angry-white and glaring at him.
“Well, if that’s how you’re going to be,” she huffed. She turned on her heels and stalked quickly down the corridor.
Charter shook his head. “I can’t help it if I’m right,” he called after her. He was almost a hundred percent sure she didn’t hear.
He returned to his room, too.
He’d been lying, of course, about the pig and her mom, but the truth was somewhat more disturbing.
Colin Charter, the Prank King, would be graduating in two months.
And he didn’t have a single inkling about how to go out with a bang.
No. 074
May 3, 2012
He placed the metal case gently on the table. Then, with great care, unlatched the lock and opened it.
Mr. Plank watched him, noting the faint yellow gleam in his opposite’s eyes.
Mr. Beam slowly turned the case towards Plank.
In the case, surrounded by protective foam, was a single gold coin.
“What is this?” demanded Plank.
“Is it not what you wanted?” Beam deflected.
“You know exactly what the parameters of the deal were, Mr. ‘Beam’,” Plank told him.
“Yes, it was a necessary precaution,” Beam agreed. He deftly lifted the false top in the case. “Here it is.”
Another coin, similarly displayed, lay underneath.
Plank couldn’t stop himself from gasping. “A 1933 double eagle,” he whispered.
“And your half of the arrangement?” prodded Beam.
“Of course,” said Plank. He reached into his coat and withdrew a leather scroll. He untied it deliberately, and then unfurled it to reveal a piece of paper. He set the document on the table beside the case.
Beam reached out and took the sheet. His eyes scanned the text greedily.
“Cadborosaurus willsi,” he said. “Proof at last.”
The two men, each with their treasures, kept their eyes on each other as they left the building.
Neither saw the third figure, watching from a shadowed doorway across the street.
No. 075
May 4, 2012
“I’ve got a handle on it. Go away,” said Wade Manes.
“That’s what you said last week, and the week before that, too,” said his secretary.
“I can’t get anything done with you hassling me, now, can I, Samantha?” said Manes testily.
“If by ‘hassling’ you mean ‘bringing you lunch and making up excuses for you’, then, yes, I probably have been,” she replied.
“I’ve got until five PM on Monday to finish the job. I’ve got plenty of time.”
“Whatever you say,” said Samantha.
Samantha had seen this before. Wade would lock himself up in his office for ages at a stretch—wouldn’t do anything until the very last minute—but she supposed that was his way.
This time, though, the deadline seemed just a little bit closer, and the stakes just a little bit higher, for Sam not to be worried.
She thought briefly about dosing his coffee and finishing the work on her own, but that had only worked the one time. Maybe it was best to wait and see what panned out.
No. 076
May 5, 2012
Lyrical Dysphasia
“What’s the name for when you can’t get a song out of your head but you don’t know what song it is or where it’s from? Does that have a name? It should,” said Alison.
I wasn’t going to disagree with her. She was right. After all, I’ve seen people work harder to find a song than they do at their jobs. Ok. That was a bad example—than they do trying to find food.
“What would you call that?” she asked me.
“I don’t know,” I told her. “Don’t-know-that-song-itis?”
“Come on. A real answer. At least something that sounds real,” she countered.
“Ok, give me a second,” I stalled. Impressing a girl—that’s another thing people will work hard at.
“Lyrical Dysphasia,” I suggest. I don’t know where that came from. But it sounds science-y. “Only you would feel the need to name that, though.”
“I’ve got it right now,” she told me. “It’s one that goes ‘doo doo doot, doo doo doot’ and then something about a window?”
I was stumped. Now would be a great moment to swoop in and help her out, but I didn’t have much to work with, either.
“Sorry,” I said.
“It’s ok. It’ll probably hit me later on when I remember another three words or something. I think it’s from a TV show, or I heard it on one,” she said.
She tried humming for a second.
“Nope. No idea. Gosh, I hate that. ‘Lyrical Dysphasia’ though, that’s a good one,” she said. “I’m going to use that.”
No. 077
May 6, 2012
Closed Part 1
“Closed,” said Winston Able.
“That one, too?” asked his friend Sawyer Nolan.
“All of them,” Able answered.
“How do these places make any money? It’s only five past five,” said Nolan.
“I don’t know. But I thought I’d be a lot easier to get a coffee,” said Able.
They’d only been in town for a few days, and had been finding it increasingly difficult to abide by their city-schedules. Main Street was busy until quarter-to, and then everybody seemed to up and leave all at once.
“Where do you think they go so fast?” asked Nolan.
“You should be asking ‘why do they go?’” called a voice from a dark storefront. “And you boys better be getting home, too,” said the old man at the door.
“Why?” asked Able.
“It’ll be getting dark soon,” said the old man. “You don’t need to worry about your coffee.”
He stumbled off down the street, moving faster than Able or Nolan expected. “Home by six!” he called back to them.
“Well. That was strange,” said Able.
“Mountain man,” agreed Nolan.
They continued walking. The sun was going down and their hotel was a few blocks away.
Able looked around, mid-conversation, and interrupted himself. “You notice that there’s nobody else out here?”
Nolan surveyed the empty, darkening street.
“Yup.”
“That worry you at all?”
Nolan took a deep breath.
“Not before Davy Crockett started his bit. Now, a little, yeah. I’m starting to think there might be a reason,” he said. “And I’m not sure that it’s an economic one.”
No. 078
May 7, 2012
“What’s your superpower?”
“I’m really good at mazes,” answered the pathetic figure standing in front of the selection committee.
“Mazes?”
“Yeah, like, solving them, or sometimes I can rearrange, say, rubble, to make one or something.”
“Is this guy for real?” whispered Thrust quietly to Venus, on his left.
“Next,” called Sonic, leader of the Defenders. “What’s your superpower?” he asked the new candidate.
“I can decaffeinate things.”
“Get out,” said Venus.
“I know! It’s crazy!” said the applicant.
“No. I mean ‘leave’.”
“Oh. Sorry. Thanks, I guess,” the man stuttered as he turned quickly to go.
Thrust lost interest in the interviews. He began drawing a lewd picture of Venus. He didn’t notice when she noticed.
“Ow!” he managed as she hit him in the head.
“Keep that up and we’ll be recruiting two new members,” she hissed at him. “Now go out to the hall and pre-screen some of these losers before they can waste our time.”
He left, muttering about how unfair it was that since he was still “the rookie” that he got all the lame jobs.
Sonic turned to Venus. “He may have a point. Seniority does have privileges. How about you finish up here? I’m going to hit the hot tub.”
Venus sighed. But she realized that if she chose the right person, she had the opportunity to put a significant stamp on the team. She called in the next hopeful.
“What’s your superpower?” she asked her.
“I’m a third-level frog-talker,” was the answer.
“Oh come on, Thrust!” Venus shouted.
No. 079
May 9, 2012
Robert Davidson woke up in his own bed and felt that something was terribly wrong.
It took a few moments for fact to penetrate the feeling. It was because it wasn’t his bed—or rather, because it was, but it hadn’t been for quite some time.
He looked around. All his old books were on the shelves, and the model ship he’d built in eighth-grade was arranged just so on the desk. This was his old room, all right, except for the fact he’d finished high school and moved out fifteen years earlier.
Even his parents had moved twice in the last decade.
Robert broke into a cold sweat and slowly drew his left hand out from under the covers. He looked at it very carefully. It was missing the scar he’d received three days after his grad party.
After a thoroughly uncanny breakfast during which he’d had mumbled his way through a conversation with his mother that he was certain he’d had before about the color of his prom suit, Robert was waiting for the bus.
 He was still trying desperately to figure out what was happening.
“I’m Robert Scott Davidson,” he told himself. “It’s supposed to be 2012. I’m 33 years old. I live at 93173 Redgrove Drive East. I’m vice-president of Pressed Uniforms. My wife’s name is Elizabeth Angela Davidson, Today I was going to be at—.”
A shout cut him off.
“Hey Bob! What’s up?” called Jeff Washburn from his driveway as he ran to meet Robert at the bus stop.
Robert froze. Jeff was his best friend. Jeff had died in a car accident two years ago. Or thirteen from now. Or maybe never at all.
“I’m good,” he told Jeff. “I’m good,” he repeated, trying to stall for time. “I’ve somehow possessed my 18-year-old self,” he wanted to scream.
He was lucky. The bus pulled up and Jeff was distracted.
They boarded.
Robert tried to sit in the first available seat.
“What’s wrong with you? Get back here,” Jeff called from the rear.
Robert rose, and made his way down the aisle.
Jeff was sitting beside a blonde. Robert knew he should know who she was, he remembered having a massive crush on her, but he couldn’t think of her name.
“Good morning, Bobby,” she said as she flashed him her flirtiest smile.
“Hi,” he told her, thinking simple answers would be the best way to go for the time-being.
 “This is wrong,” he thought. “This is all so very, very wrong.”
No. 080
May 10, 2012
“Watch! Ok, when you see one, throw the stone in the air,” Tim told Sally.
“Why are we doing this?” she asked.
They were both lying on their backs in a field, in the middle of the night, looking up at the sky.
“There!” said Tim. “Aw, missed him,” he continued without regard for Sally’s question. Then he remembered to answer her. “Oh, it’s because the rock messes with their sonar. You know—their squeaking, or whatever. If you toss it at just the right time, they’ll get confused and think it’s a bug. Then they’ll catch the rock, instead.”
“Do they eat the rock?”
Sally was concerned for the poor bats.
“No, no. That’s the best part. They grab it in their mouths but because it’s heavier than a mosquito, they fall to the ground. Then you can watch them flapping around until they hork it back up and fly away!” he told her excitedly. “It’s hilarious!”
“Awesome,” she said, and not in the impressed way.  When he’d asked her out for a picnic, she’d expected more of a romantic night under the stars than trying to make flying mice barf things up.
It was pretty cute how hard he was trying to impress her, though.
Three years later, at the wedding, while telling the story of their first date, Sally concluded by adding that she still didn’t know if the whole “bat-pebble-vomiting” hypothesis actually worked, or if she and Tim had just struck out that night. 

No. 081
May 11, 2012
“And that was because you’re stupid,” said Diane Darwin as she smacked the man in the head. “The rest of us are waiting to order. Make up your mind, it’s a freaking coffee, not a final exam.”
“Ow,” was all he could manage.
“Don’t make me hit you again,” Darwin threatened.
She left the coffee shop after she’d had her drink—medium dark, three sugars—and by then she’d had a brilliant idea.
More people need smacking.
She thought briefly about starting a business, but then decided that she’d feel better if she made took the issue more personally.
Newspaper reports started trickling in over the next few weeks. A lone vigilante was about, not stopping crime, but jumping into long line-ups, or turning up in offices to punish the feeble-minded.
Sometimes the dim would simply disappear. Word began to spread of a pit. A pit into which the dense people would be tossed and left to fend for themselves.
An evolutionary jump-start.
The police were powerless to stop this new crusader. Popular opinion was overwhelming in support. There was talk of new laws, laws requiring competency tests before leaving the house.
Copycats sprang up. There was “The Teacher” and “Captain Smart” but none of them could ever hold a candle to Darwin. 
No. 082
May 12, 2012
Three days into the hike, Darren and Tasha Stone found something that wasn’t on their map.
“Is it a cave or an abandoned mine shaft?” asked Tasha.
“Hard to tell. It looks pretty old if it’s a mine,” answered Darren.
They were confused. Although it was a two day walk from the nearest road, the area was a popular destination for outdoorsmen. Almost every square foot of land had a local nickname in the guide book.
A great gaping hole in the ground wasn’t in the literature.
“Should we check it out?” asked Darren.
“Yeah, we should take a quick peek, at least. Nobody’s going to believe this is here,” agreed Tasha.
The pair took off their packs and gathered only a minimal amount of gear. They took with them a couple of flashlights, a camera, and a short length of rope. Satisfied with their preparation, they left their bags outside and entered the cavern.
“Look,” said Tasha. “Wooden beams. Somebody’s dug this out.”
“A mine, then,” said Darren.
As they descended into the earth, they marked their path with chalk arrows on the rocky walls, pointing the way out. Without these signs they would have been hopelessly lost after only a few corners.
However, they continued on past the point of prudence, both experiencing the thrill of the discovery of the unknown. Had they been exploring a known landmark, they might have been more cautious.
About an hour after they entered, Darren noticed something missing.
“I’m not so certain anymore that this is a mine,” he said. “The last time we saw anything man-made it was back at the start of the tunnel. Have you seen anything since then?”
“Nope,” said Tasha. “But these walls aren’t natural. They’ve been dug out by something.”
“They almost seem—,” Darren paused, searching for the right word. “Chewed.”
No. 083
May 13, 2012
People tell me things.
Maybe it’s because I have a trustworthy face, or maybe it’s because my workspace is between the office and the main floor.
For example, I knew that Gord Willer would be fired well before he walked up the stairs to find out for himself.
I also knew that Willer was dating Stacey from HR.
All I’ve got to do to keep in the loop is to keep my head down and pretend to be busy while people talk behind me.
It’s a power I have to use sparingly. If people realized just how much I pick up they’d stop speaking where I can hear them.
 I also have to make choices about whether to use my knowledge for good or evil. Last week I told Kelly Rye that the bosses were looking into her results. Gave her the heads-up, you know?
Kelly is pretty. We need to keep her around.
Willer, though, he was an idiot.
“Thomson, get over here,” Lou Batten calls me on my way back from lunch.
“Have you heard about this Project All In?” he asks me.
“No,” I answer. “I haven’t.”
“It’s new. Now that Willer is gone we’ve given the go-ahead,” Lou informs me.
This is unusual. Where is Batten getting his information? More worryingly, how come I don’t know about it?
No. 084
May 13, 2012
“It’s a red-necked blackbird,” said Loren.
“Are you sure you’re not making that up?” I pressed.
“Why would I be making it up?” she asked me.
“Well, you know that I don’t know anything about birds. That one’s black with a red neck. It sounds like it could be a thing. How would I know the difference?”
She laughed. “I promise I’m not lying to you.”
“So what’s that one, a white-beaked duck?” I asked about a duck with a white beak. 
“That’s a grebe.”
“Ah ha! That’s not even a word!” I called her bluff.
I continued to hassle her for the rest of the afternoon. I didn’t want to make it seem like I was learning.
Certainly not learning about something as lame as birds. 
No. 085
May 14, 2012
The difference, mathematically, between zero and one is infinite.
Somewhere out there somebody knows something about you that only you and they know.
It’s the same for everyone.
The worst part is, chances are, that you told them.
But there’s something oddly thrilling about living with the knowledge that we’ve given them this power over us—that our good fortune depends on another.
Or why else would we do it?
Secrets are a funny thing. They have an odd way of not unwinding straight. You tell someone yours, and then they tell somebody else. Of course that’s going to happen. Maybe you even plan for it. The thing we don’t count on is who they tell next. That’s never who you expect, but it all works out the same.
Now it’s loose and the only thing you could have done was to stay quiet in the first place.
And that was never going to happen, was it?
We start small, with amusing things that can’t hurt us. We release them into the world and act shocked when they return to us.
We don’t stop, because there’s no harm, yet, and the secrets get bigger. Then, one day, we accidentally give up something too personal, too intimate, to be free.
It’s only to one person, but that’s enough.
Everyone learns this eventually, but do you want to hear a secret?
No. 086
May 16, 2012
After you take over the world you need to start taking a look at the little things.
How are you going to parcel out the private islands amongst your minions? How do you motivate the conquered scientists so they will build you a rocket ship that doesn’t explode for spite? Is it good PR to hunt my enemies for sport?
Now, I haven’t actually bent the planet to my will, or crushed any nations under my iron fist, but I could imagine that I have, and that’s where you start.
“Always be prepared”, and all that.
No. 087
May 17, 2012
Keith and Robin were having trouble at the pet store.
It seemed like “cram” was not a word the employees wanted to hear. So now they were stuck getting a lecture on “responsible pet-ownership”. 
“You can’t just ‘cram’ fish into a tank, you need to take into consideration the type of fish and the size of the tank,” said the excitable clerk.
“I don’t care what kind of fish I get, I just want a lot of them,” said Keith.
“I can’t sell you any fish today,” said the clerk.
“Why not?” asked Robin.
“I can’t guarantee that they’ll be properly cared for,” was the answer.
Robin rolled her eyes and tried to get her boyfriend to let it go. It was clear they weren’t going to fill the aquarium this afternoon.
But Keith began to press the issue. “There are two dead blue ones floating in your little display right now—,” he paused to read the nametag on his opponent’s polo-shirt, “—Gary,” he added with contempt. “Are you going to tell me I can’t take care of a goldfish?”
“Those are Tetras,” Gary corrected. “And you said ‘cram’,” he concluded, having decided, for better or worse, to make a stand on word choice.
“I want to speak to your manager,” said Keith.
The manager was summoned.
By this point, Robin was severely embarrassed, and trying to keep a low profile near the hamster cages.
Keith and Gary were locked in a seethingly quiet stare-down.
“What’s the problem here?” asked the manager with a counterfeit friendliness common to managers.
Keith began to make his complaint. “I just got a new fish tank, so I want to fill it up with some fish. I came down to your store here and I asked this guy ‘how many of these fish can I cram into a thirty-gallon tank?’ and—.”
The manager cut him off. “Hold up, did you say ‘cram’?”
No. 088
May 18, 2012
“—And meat cockroaches!”
Ken heard the last part of the punch line, and then laughter, from his usual spot backstage at the FUNNY BARN. (They spelled it with capital letters. He’d always hated that.)
He was in a good mood. Tonight’s show had gone well. Good audience suggestions, good participation, and the actors had managed to string everything together convincingly. It was a system that worked like a triangle. If you knock any one part out, then the entire structure won’t work and the show would be brutally bad.
There was just one skit left, but he wasn’t sweating it.
Tuesday nights were usually tougher, being open to amateurs, but this team seemed to have that special something. Ken had just started to consider asking them if they’d be interested in a Thursday slot when he heard a commotion from the stage.
He leaned back on his chair to see what was happening. The doorframe blocked all but a tiny slice of his view from this angle, but he could see enough to understand what was going on.
One of the team looked different—different, and now very identifiable.
She’d lost what must have been a wig, and was trying to simultaneously steer the scene back around to recover the hairpiece without breaking character, and to avoid the audience’s direct view. If she failed at that, then in about six seconds they’d all recognize a face known to millions of fans around the world, and someone who could reasonably be expected to have better things to do than slum around at amateur hour at the improv theatre.
And now that Ken had noticed her, didn’t the tall guy seem pretty familiar, too?
No wonder they’d seemed so good.
No. 089
May 18, 2012
Craig took his time selecting the movie from the shelf of unfamiliar DVDs. There wasn’t much to choose from. Their owner had terrible taste in films.
“He has both movies about asteroids? What an idiot,” he found himself whispering out loud. It was OK, though. He was alone in the house.
As Craig continued his survey, he reviewed the events that had led to this— possibly the worst Friday night of all time.
Craig had been slowly cultivating the relationship for some time. Some work on her car here, a coffee delivery to her work there. He’d even helped her move.
It had rained that day.
When she’d called him up and asked him what he was doing next week, he was thrilled. They quickly “made plans to make plans,” as she put it, and he’d hung up the phone feeling on top of the world.
On the appointed night, she picked him up.
She seemed enthusiastic, too. This was good.
They drove in the direction of a restaurant on the other side of town that Craig had always wanted to go to. It was one of those ones with cheap table-cloths, unpainted walls, almost no lights, and absolutely delicious food.
Before they arrived, she turned off the highway, two exits ahead of the proper one.
“I’ve just got to stop by my friend Randy’s house and pick something up while we’re out this way,” she explained.
Craig kept his mouth shut. He didn’t know if he liked where this was going. He’d heard some rumours about her and Randy.
But when they got to his house, there didn’t seem to be a problem. Randy was friendly. The transaction was brief.
Craig was still feeling good, until they were just about to get back in the car.
“Hey, wait!” called Randy. “I almost forgot. I’ve got an extra ticket to the show tonight. The bands are local, but they’re cool,” he told her. “You want to come with me?”
It didn’t take very long for her to decide. She was at Randy’s side almost instantly.
Craig balked. “What about me?” he asked pathetically.
“Oh, hey man, you can stay at my place,” said Randy. “No one else is going to be home tonight. If you get tired, go ahead and crash on the couch. It pulls out. I’ve got loads of DVDs, too.”
“Awesome,” Craig managed.
“I’ll give you a ride home when we get back,” she told him out the window as she pulled away with Randy. “See you later, friend!”
Craig chose “Armageddon”. It seemed appropriate.
No. 090
May 20, 2012
“An emergency! Quick! To the Roomie-mobile!”
“Don’t call it that.”
“The fair citizens are expecting us to protect them!”
“Don’t call them that.”
“We’ll need to ready the Roomie-rangs!”
“We don’t need those.”
“Foul villain! Why do you vex me?”
“We’re going to get groceries. Seriously. Knock it off.”
No. 091
May 21, 2012
Templeton Downes Part 1
“The Mole Kingdom was, in fact, ruled by a Queen. And the moles were the furry, four-legged, burrowing animals that we are all familiar with,” said Templeton Downes, professor of natural history and self-promoted expert in “alternate civilizations and abnormal settlements”.
“This empire flourished underground for hundreds of years, before the arrival of man to the coastal regions of the West China Sea.”
A student raised their hand, but Downes ignored it and continued with his questionable lecture. 
 “Every now and then, the mortal enemy of the moles, diamond-backed ospreys, would ride down from the plains to plunder and pillage the underground settlements of the capital city, Moleovia,” Downes continued.
Gillian Thomas sat in the second-to-last row and glanced up from her phone at this statement. She’d been duped into registering for the weekend course as a way to complete the pre-requisites for a 400-level class whose importance to her was rapidly diminishing due to the outlandish nature and clearly incorrect suppositions of “Professor T”, as he’d instructed the class to refer to him.
“At the Great Meeting of the Moles, an event that took place every 97 years, the elders would travel to the sacred mountain caves to chart the course of mole society.”
“This is crazy,” she whispered to her neighbor. “This guy’s a clown!”
“Shh,” was the response she got.
Clearly Mole-Man had some fans.
He rambled on. Gillian tried to stave off the conflicting emotions of confusion, boredom, disbelief, and if she was honest, embarrassment.
She began to wonder if anyone outside the hall knew the contents of the lecture. She worried nobody would believe how she spent her Saturday. She checked the battery life left on her phone, then placed it at the edge of the desk and hit “record” on the icon that said “Voice Notes”.
“—Which in the mole language means ‘He is the chosen one for which we dig the tunnels’.”
No. 092
May 22, 2012
Templeton Downes Part 2
Templeton Downes, expert in alternate civilizations and abnormal settlements, forged ahead on the vine-choked jungle trail. “This way, students,” he called back to the small group hiking behind. “We’re so close to the Lost City of the Horny Toads.”
One of his disciples spoke up from the back of the line. “We passed some large stone foundations back by the river. Are those connected to the Lost City?”
“Of course not, my boy,” Professor Downes assured him. “What we’re looking for is far more insidious than that.”
Gillian Thomas hung her head. Forced onto the trip as punishment for taping one of Downes’ lectures without permission, she was determined to get through the next two weeks without making waves. She tried to ignore that he had used the word “insidious” incorrectly. Or that horned lizards were native to desert environments.
“The last great migration of the horny toads occurred during 1588, as Columbus’ soldiers marched into the forest to subdue the natives. Villagers spoke to the English explorer of huge herds slithering back into the deep reaches of the bush,” the Professor intoned.
“Wrong. Wrong. Wrong,” Gillian gritted under her breath. “So wrong.”
She had tried, back at school, to get others to see Downes for what he was—an incompetent glory-hound willing to make up facts to fit his own self-perceived adventurous and daring persona.
 They had laughed at her, telling her that spending more time with him would reveal his genius. She was sure that they knew he was a farce, but that the fame and income for the University from his daytime TV series, “Professor T Reveals Himself”, prevented them from moving against him.
“The true strength of the horny toads lay in their ability to spin vast webs to capture antelope and their preferred prey, catamounts.”
The real reason they’d sent her on this expedition was to keep her away from anyone who would listen.
“Ah, my brethren, look ahead, there. Those claw-marks on the trees are the inscrutable and as-yet untranslated writing of the horny toads that once lived in a thriving metropolis on this very spot.”
The heat and insects were becoming unbearable, but, compared to Downes’ puerile nattering, they were a mild inconvenience. Melissa began to wonder how difficult it would be to arrange for the Professor to mysteriously disappear while on safari.

No. 093
May 22, 2012
Closed Part 2
Winston Able shook his head. “Wait a second, this is crazy. There’s nothing going on here, it’s just a small town. This is how small towns are.”
“I gotta admit, though, that guy had me going,” said Sawyer Nolan. “I wonder if the locals pay him to stand around and creep out the tourists.”
“Ha! That’s a great gig for the one hobo in Nowheresville,” Able agreed.
They were now within a block of their hotel. They just had to cross the street and walk past an empty lot and they’d be home for the evening. Nolan was hungry. He couldn’t remember if the hotel had a restaurant.
“What was that?” he snapped suddenly.
“What?”
“Did you hear that?”
“I don’t hear anything,” said Able. Now the hairs on his arm were standing up again. He decided next time the company needed someone to travel anywhere without a Starbucks, he’d nominate the new guy.
“I think it was a growl,” Nolan whispered. “Keep your voice down,” he commanded. He looked around nervously.  There was nothing but the dark windows of shuttered buildings and empty parking spots along the road.
Able’s watch beeped twice to mark the hour.
Both men, without words, began to walk as fast as they could without actually running.
Then something knocked Nolan over.
He rolled onto his side and scanned for his friend.
Able was missing.
“Winston!” he called, the word almost echoing down the deserted street.
There was no answer.
He saw the door of the hotel, and ran for it as fast as he could.
He burst into the lobby and saw a girl at the front desk. Breathlessly, he tried to tell her what had just happened.
“My friend—we were walking home—then something hit me. Did you see him come in here?”
“Calm down, sir,” said the girl. “Your friend just came in. I think he’s at the bar.”
“Thanks,” Nolan wheezed. “Thank you.” He staggered through the double-doors into the lounge.
“Winston, I thought it got you,” he said as he entered the room.
A man turned to face him. It wasn’t Able.
“What did I tell you?” asked the old man.

No. 094
May 23, 2012
Francesco Moretti cleared his throat grandly, as all good storytellers do at the beginning of a tale.
“This all took place years and years ago,” he began.
The boy, Andy, sat forward with rapt attention. Grandpa’s stories were always the best.
“How many years?” asked Ruth, who, at seven and a half, was a little older than her brother. She therefore considered it her duty during story-time to keep the facts straight.
“Three hundred and forty seven years,” said Grandpa.
“Good,” Ruth nodded.
“Three hundred and forty seven years ago, a lonely farmer was plowing his field. The farmer was lonely because he didn’t have a family,” said Francesco. “One day, he decided that he was tired of working all alone, and made arrangements to travel to the nearby town to find a wife.”
“What was the name of the town?” Ruth cut in.
“The town’s name was Silvanton, because it lay at the edge of a vast forest,” Grandpa reassured her.
“The lonely farmer would have to cross the forest to get to Silvanton, but the only road through was guarded by an angry knight in glossy black armor. The farmer would have to find a way to get past the knight if he was to make it safely to the town.”
“How will he get by?” asked Andy, who could not wait patiently through the build-up—a trait shared by most young boys.
“Shh,” his sister told him. “Wait!”
“Go ahead, Grandpa,” she allowed.
“Thank you, dear,” said Francesco.
He leapt back into the story without missing a beat.
The farmer did not have any idea how to get past the Black Knight, and since he did not, he tried the only thing he could think of. He walked straight up to the knight, who stood across the road with his sword drawn and ready.
“I’ve come to cross the forest to Silvanton,” the farmer told the knight.
And the knight replied. “Who are you to ask such a bold favor?”
“My name is Lorenzo, and I trust that there is a beautiful girl at the other end of this road for me,” said the farmer.
Here, Moretti interrupted himself—another trait of a master—and looked at both of the children.
“What do you think will happen next?” he asked them.
No. 095
May 24, 2012
Templeton Downes Part 3
“Professor Downes, tell us about your new book,” asked Felicity Brockwell, host of the TV morning talk-show ‘Wake Up Felicity’.
“Please, Felicity, call me Templeton, or, if you must stand on formality, Professor T,” Downes told her.
“Of course—Templeton,” she said flirtatiously. “Now, I understand your book, ‘Are the Animals Plotting Against Us?’, also explains your hypothesis regarding pre-human animal societies.”
“Yes, Felicity, as you know, I’m an expert in alternate civilizations and abnormal settlements. My work has taken me into the field on numerous occasions to study what has come before us in the past. The book, my fourth, presents my theory that animals formed complicated social constructs, including cities, trade guilds, and empires which flourished before humans disrupted their natural order,” said Downes. “It is my goal in life to unearth evidence of these incredible realms.”
“That’s very interesting,” cooed Felicity, trying shyly to avoid eye-contact with the professor.  “Do you think any of these alternate civilizations still exist?”
“Aha! I see what you did there,” Downes laughed. “I do, in fact, believe that the animals are organized. However, we humans have blinded ourselves to the possibilities that there are democratic cultures of condors living in the frozen wastes of the North, for example. Or that foxes have an internationally sanctioned racing confederation with its headquarters in Frankfurt, Switzerland.”
“Fascinating,” said Felicity. “Let’s take some phone-in questions. Our lines are all busy with people wanting to speak to the esteemed Dr. Downes.”
 Templeton coughed faintly.
“I’m sorry. Professor Downes,” Felicity corrected. Her hand grazed his ever so slightly before she pulled it back. “Let’s go to the phones,” she said quickly. “Caller one, hello.”
“Good morning, Professor.”
The voice on the other end of the line sounded vaguely familiar to Professor Downes, but he knew a lot of people, so he didn’t try very hard to place it.
“I just wanted to ask you, do you know that everything you say is completely false?” said the voice.
“Ok!” said Felicity. “Next caller.”
“No, No, let me answer this poor, misguided person,” said Downes. “Ma’am, did you know that deep in the canyons of Australia live a group of koalas who have evolved a rudimentary postal system?”
He didn’t give the caller a chance to reply.
“Of course not, but I have been over literally every inch of that country and I’ve seen things that you wouldn’t understand, because I’ve allowed myself to see them.”
The caller responded. “Isn’t anybody paying attention to this? This guy might as well tell us that unicorns exist. None of the things he’s talking about are right! And he used the word ‘literally’ erroneously!”
Felicity hit a button to end the call. “Once again, I’m sorry for that caller’s behavior. We’ll take another one in a minute. But first, Templeton, I’m intrigued by the caller’s suggestion. Do you think that unicorns are real?”
“Oh, but of course, Felicity. If you’ll just turn to chapter seven, you’ll see that I…”
Gillian Thomas hung up her phone and put her head in her hands. Still smarting after her return from the miserable trip to the jungle, she’d tried again to expose Professor Downes.
But the world was full of crazy people, and she realized that she would have to do something more drastic than a phone call to teach them the error of their ways.
No. 096
May 25, 2012
We left the pier at Ft. Lauderdale about seven AM. It was an early start, especially on vacation, but the concierge at the hotel had highly recommended the glass-bottomed boat Bermuda Triangle tour. Who knows, maybe we’d find Flight 19.
The clear sky was gorgeous as we set a course for open water. There’s just something different about the blue when you’re away from home. There were a couple of sparse clouds way in the distance, but they were no threat to our beautiful day.
After about an hour, somebody broke into the cooler. Yeah, it was still quite a while from a time when respectable people would start drinking, but a couple of beers wouldn’t hurt anybody.
The boat’s captain turned a blind eye, and told us we’d be entering the heart of the Triangle momentarily. Then the plan was to spend a couple hours doing a lazy grid pattern while we all took turns pretending to find stuff on the ocean floor through the glass. After that, a short hop back to the harbor, and a catered barbeque where we could compare findings with those of past tours.
We’d just finished our first pass when the engine coughed, and then died.
Not to worry, the captain explained. We were miles from any dangerous underwater obstacles that we could run aground on, and the radios still worked just fine. If he couldn’t get the engine going in the next thirty minutes, he’d call up another tour boat for a tow.
Thirty minutes turned into several hours. Both the captain and the mate had engine grease up to their elbows and there were now parts strewn about the deck. One of the other passengers asked about the radio, and the captain agreed to give it a try.
There was no problem, and he told us to expect to see the closest boat in fifteen minutes. The only thing we were stressed about was that the beers were now running low.
Sure enough, in a quarter hour, the other boat turned up. They circled us slowly while we waved at them. One of their crew hailed us on a megaphone.
“Ocean View, this is the Wind Dance. We are responding to your distress. Please assemble on deck to receive aid.”
We looked at our captain, then back towards the Wind Dance. What were they talking about? There was nobody below deck. Did they think we had more passengers than they could see?
They idled closer to us and threw a line over. They ignored us as they began to board our vessel in a businesslike manner.
Then we heard what they were saying.
“What do you think happened here? We were only fifteen minutes away. Do you see any signs of a problem?” one of their men was asking another.
“Hey,” we yelled at them. “We can hear you. We just need a tow back to port.”
“There’s nobody here. They must have left in a hurry. I can’t think of something going that drastically wrong that they’d leave, though.” The other man replied to his partner.
“I don’t like this,” said the first Wind Dance crewman. “I don’t like this at all.”
We on the Ocean View were struck with a horrible realization. We weren’t just on a tour anymore. We’d become part of the Triangle.
No. 097
May 26, 2012
“It seems like we’ve been out here a long time,” said Robert Hall. “I’m not going to have to eat you when the weather gets worse and traps us in the middle of the woods, am I?”
“What makes you think I wouldn’t turn on you, first?” replied his girlfriend, Kelly.
Robert was quiet for a second. He hadn’t considered that.
“Do you even know where we are?”
“Wouldn’t you like to know,” she teased.
Initially, Robert had decided that the weekend hike was a good idea. Now he wasn’t so sure.
No. 098
May 26, 2012
Templeton Downes Part 4
Gillian Thomas was very careful to avoid the remaining shards of glass as she crept through the broken window into Professor Templeton Downes’ office.
Her plan was to obtain some hard evidence that Downes was a buffoon, or a liar. Preferably both. Then she’d present her findings to the world. They couldn’t possibly ignore her then.
She immediately went to his desk. After rifling through it, she found nothing but some rubber bands and paperclips. She peered warily out the window to make sure nobody could see, and turned on his computer.
The brightness of the screen worried her, but she found something almost immediately. There was a file named “Book 5”
She selected it.
Then she had to fight the urge to break out into laughter, and possibly alert a security guard.
The title of the work-in-progress was “The Art of Boobies”.
“Wow,” was all Gillian could manage. Even considering everything she knew about the Professor, this was a new low.
She began to read the introduction.
“Few know that these intelligent birds from the Aleutian Islands have formed immense colonies for the sole purpose of painting giant murals.”
“Even more wow,” she muttered.
Then a noise from out in the hall caught her attention. It sounded like footsteps approaching. And then she heard his voice.
“Well, you see, salamanders have no circulatory system, which makes it very difficult to teach them how to sing,” he was telling somebody.
The handle on the door began to turn, and Gillian searched frantically for some cover. She hit the button to turn off the monitor, and dove into the negligible space between a couch and the wall. If she was lucky, he wouldn’t open the blinds and see the broken window.
It seemed that Templeton had been speaking on the phone, as he was silent when he entered the room. Gillian searched her memory and couldn’t think of any time previously where she’d observed this phenomenon.
He sat down at the desk and activated the computer.
It was then that Gillian realized she’d left the file still open. She was relieved when that didn’t seem to make him suspicious.
“Ah, my boobies,” he told the screen. “How I’ve missed you.”
Gillian tried to suppress the urge to gag.
He was interrupted by his phone again. This time she could make out the words the other person was saying.
“Stephen, I want you to be home before midnight tonight,” she overheard.
“Mother, you know I’m busy at the school until the end of my experiment. I am not likely to be done before three,” he replied.
Gillian cocked her head sideways. He lived at home? And his name was actually Stephen?
No. 099
May 27, 2012
“That’s the wishing tree.”
“Wow. Does it actually grant wishes?” young Emily asked her grandmother.
“Of course not, it’s a tree. People still come up to it and touch it and so forth. I guess wishes are powerful things.” answered her grandmother. She scratched her chin. “But I suppose it could be mildly lucky,” she conceded.
“Why do you say that?”
“Well, if you walk right up to it and look real close, you’ll see something your daddy carved into it when he was a little boy about your age.”
Emily did just that. She walked through the long grass growing around the old tree, following the path worn by countless others. She craned her head forward to get as close as she could to the trunk.
“On the other side,” her grandmother directed with a wave.
Emily stepped off of the path, and scrambled over the bumpy roots.
“Do you see it now?”
“It’s mommy’s name,” said Emily. “Is that lucky?”
“It is for you,” her grandmother laughed.
No. 100
May 28, 2012
The Tortoise and the Mole
The tortoise and the mole stood at the starting line.
“You know I just beat the hare, right?” the tortoise asked the mole. “You still wanna go?”
“Oh, sure. Slow and steady. Wins the race. I got it,” said the mole.
“I suppose you think you’re somehow slower and steadier than I am?” asked the tortoise. “Nobody is slower and steadier than I am.”
“You’re a terrible trash-talker,” the mole told him. “Let’s start this.”
The fox dropped the flag and the race was on.
The tortoise began his slow and steady creep to the finish line.
The mole stole the tortoise’s wallet and disappeared down his hole.