Stephen L. Thompson's 30 Stories in 30 Days

30 Stories in 30 Days?

This started several years ago when I learned of the National Novel Writing Month. This is a challenge each November to write 50,000 words in 30 days. I learned about this in December or January, and thought it was a really interesting idea, but I didn’t want to wait until the next November. So I got ready and April 1st, I started working on my novel Cup of Joe’s. I ran into problems, got discouraged, had a family emergency, and ended up only 47 or 48,000 words short.

The other part came from my writing curse of having too many ideas. I’ll get a simple idea that can be taken in five different directions resulting in five novellas. Or, I once had this image in mind so I wrote three pages that would be a prologue to a novel, as well as a page or two outline for that novel as well as seventeen more. So believe me when I say I have a lot of ideas. (I once went through my writing notebooks and found over 260 ideas just for short stories.) Most of them probably suck, but when has that ever stopped anyone?

How those two combined is that I have bragged that if I wrote a short story a day, a novella a week, and a novel a month, I would never run out of ideas. Partly from my vast backlog, but also from the Hydra-like nature of my ideas; for each story I write, two more come to mind. So I started wondering if I should try to put my money where my mouth is and see if I could write a story a day. If nothing else, it would clear out the ol’ idea box, challenge myself to produce words, be a cheap trick to get people to go to my website, and be an interesting tidbit for when I start looking for an agent. Thus, my 30 Stories in 30 Days challenge was born.

So I had an idea for a challenge, but what would the rules be? I could have gone somewhat psycho and demand that each day I come up with an idea, write the story, and at midnight put up what I had even if it wasn’t finished. But I didn’t do that, for several reasons. First off, some of my ideas need to … fester (that’s probably the best term) for awhile before I can turn them into a story. Secondly, some stories take more than a day to write. I have to hit them three or four times before they come out right. In the end, I decided I could use any story idea I’d ever had, as long as I hadn’t worked on the story before. If I jotted down a brief, few sentence outline that was okay. If I wrote the opening paragraph, it was out. (I tried once to get my readers to vote on a story I never finished as part of my Reader’s Choice. It was a cool idea and I may have to bring it back, if I ever get the time.) My goal was 30 stories written in a period of 30 days. Most were flash fiction, but there were a few longer ones mixed in.

For the first three years I did this, I posted the stories on this page. But in 2011, I decided to post the stories as part of my Oneoveralpha’s Writing Blog. The reasons were it would be easier for me to put them up, people would be able to comment on them, and I wouldn’t end up with multiple pages archiving all my stories. So for 2011 through 2013, the numbered stories below – instead of linking to the story further down the page – link to the blog posting. In 2014, I posted my stories on my Bubblews profile because - to be honest - I got paid for page views. However, since Bubblews no longer exists, those stories are no longer online. Someday I might repost them on my blog, but for now you’ll just have to look for them in some of my story collections. For my final challenge in 2015, the stories were posted to my Persona Paper profile.

I came up with this idea in the summer of 2008, so I ran my challenge in September, or the next 30 day month. The next year I changed it to June because – at the time – that worked better for me. But beginning in 2012, I began cycling through the 30 day months. That way, I don’t just write stories inspired by events in June. And as I said, the November 2015 Challenge was my last. The main reason is that I believe I’m running out of short story ideas. The ideas I come up with now, seem to need longer stories to fully develop. But maybe I’ll think of some new challenge. We’ll see. But I hope you’ll check out – and enjoy – all the stories below.

November 2015 Stories

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September 2014 Stories

These stories are no longer online.

June 2013 Stories

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April 2012 Stories

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June 2011 Stories

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June 2010 Stories

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June 2009 Stories

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September 2008 Stories

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June 2010 Stories

Some Things Are Best Lost

When Sue returned from grocery shopping to the apartment she shared with her fiancé and sometimes cowriter Mike, he was sitting at the kitchen table with stacks of notebooks. “What’s all this?” she asked, setting the two bags on the counter.

“My writing notebooks,” Mike replied. “I’ve been meaning to go through them and sort out all the ideas I’ve never gotten around to using.”

“Is that your way to beat writer’s block?” Sue asked with a smile while she put the groceries away.

“No. It’s … remember my story ‘Dark Well’ about the alien wishing well?”

Once she put away the last box, Sue walked over and kissed Mike on the forehead. She then sat down beside him. “Where the more the astronauts wished the weaker they became.” Sue nodded and smiled. “I vaguely remember it.”

Mike shook his head and searched through the notebooks. He picked one up and opened it to a slip of paper. “Well,” he said handing the notebook to Sue, “this was where it started. And I had two possible ways to go with it, the way I went and then a booby-trap way.”

Sue read through his notes. “Interesting. Why didn’t you go with the booby-trap?”

Mike shrugged. “Probably because I got hooked on the other way and just went with it. And I completely forgot about the booby-trap idea until I came across it about half-an-hour ago.”

“So, are you going to write this new version?”

“Well, I was hoping to get some help.” Mike reached over and rubbed her leg.

“Are you going to help me with Immortal Starship?”

Mike gave an exaggerated sigh. “I suppose.”

Sue gave him a playful kick under the table. She then turned the page in his notebook. After reading what was there she gave Mike a raised eyebrow. “‘The naked woman with a bunion dream?’” She set the notebook down and asked, “Is there something you’re not telling me?”

“Okay, so not all of my ‘lost ideas’ are wonderful.”

“It’s not that. I’m wondering why you’re dreaming about women with bunions. I’ve heard of guys having a foot fetish, but never anything involving bunions.”

Mike laughed and scratched his chin. “I’m never going to live this down, am I.”

“Nope.” Sue took one of her shoes off and held her foot up to Mike. In her best Marilyn Monroe voice she asked, “Do you want to check to see if I have a bunion?”

Mike grabbed her foot and held it in his lap. “Are you saying your dreams always make perfect sense?”

“No, but if I ever dreamed of a naked man with a bunion, I wouldn’t write it down. Or plan to write a story about it. And what story comes from a naked woman with a bunion?”

“In my defense,” Mike explained, “there was apparently something really interesting in the dream I felt would make for a good story.”

“Which was?”

“I have no clue. I guess the ‘naked woman with a bunion’ was supposed to be enough to jog my memory. But I’m drawing a complete blank.”

Sue nodded for a moment, then said, “Perhaps, some things are best to be lost.”


After a moment Sue asked, “So what do you want for dinner, bunion boy?”

See what I wrote about this story on my Published Works page.

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A Simpler Life

As Carol rounded the last curve of the jogging path at the park, she heard a couple of men yelling from the area with picnic tables. They were screened by some bushes, but she heard one man cry, “Hey, give that back,” and another shouting, “Let go.” There were also what sounded like fists hitting bodies.

Carol looked down at her schnauzer Harry and commanded, “Sit. Stay.” Dropping his leash she ran towards the fight. Just before she cleared the bushes, she saw a bright, blue flash. When she finally saw the two men, one was lying on the ground unconscious. The other – a classic beanpole – was lifting a book bag from the dirt. “What happened?”

The beanpole spun, almost dropping the bag. He only managed to sputter a few nonsense words.

Carol rushed passed him and knelt by the fallen man. She checked his pulse and asked, “What happened?” again.

The beanpole shrugged. “Nothing.”

Without looking, Carol pulled out her cell phone and dialed 911. Two seconds later she heard, “911, what is your emergency?”

“This is Officer Corrigan, I need an ambulance at West Fairfield Park, about 250 yards south of the main entrance on the jogging trail. A 25 year old male, unconscious, is breathing, no signs of injury.”

For a few seconds she heard someone typing, then the operator came back with, “I’ve dispatched an ambulance, Officer Corrigan. Do you need anything else?”

Carol looked up to see the beanpole slowly backing away. “Send a patrol unit. I’m off duty, but I’ll be at this number.”

“Understood. A unit is one it’s way.”

“Thank you.” Carol hung up, checked the unconscious man one more time, then stood up. “So,” she asked the beanpole, “what happened?” When he didn’t begin talking, she said, “If you prefer, the unit that’s coming can take you to the station while I go home, shower, and get dressed in my uniform to come talk to you.”

The beanpole shrugged. “He tried to take my bag.”

After a few seconds, Carol asked, “What’s your name?”


“Okay, Dave. He tried for your bag, you fought back, that’s perfectly understandable.”

Dave seemed to relax at that.

“What was that blue light I saw flash?”

Dave stiffened and broke out in a sweat.

“Did you tazer him, or something?”

The smallest smile graced Dave’s lips as he muttered, “Or something.”

“Do you have a permit for whatever you used?”

Dave took a step forward and clasped his hands. “Please. I’m still on my probationary period. If they found out I was in some sort of trouble, they’d take me back.”

“To prison?”

For a second, Dave looked confused. “No, no, no, no. It’s … it’s my living … arrangement.”

Carol took a deep breath. “Dave, what did you do to this man?” Dave just wrung his hands, so Carol prompted with, “Dave?”

Closing his eyes, he reached into his pocket and pulled out a set of keys. He held up a car keyless remote and said, “It’s a stunner. He’ll be out for about ten minutes, then he’ll wake with a bit of a headache.”

Carol’s reply was to just stare at him.

Dave explained. “I’m from the future. About 700 years. Just like people of your time go camping, we go back to simpler times to relax. Some – like myself – prefer this simpler, less hectic life, so we apply to live in the past. Some head to ancient Egypt, or Rome, I just wanted some time with functional indoor plumbing. We’re allowed to bring a few conveniences, but only as long as we don’t draw attention to ourselves.”

Faint sirens could be heard in the distance. Carol looked in their direction, then back to Dave. “You have until they arrive to tell the truth.”

Dave sighed and looked at Carol. “What happened to your hand?”

She held her right hand up to show the band-aid on her middle finger. “Caught a guy’s tooth in my mixed martial arts class.”

Dave reached into his pocket and took out a pen. Holding it up to her, he said, “This is a 28th Century first aid kit. I wasn’t going to leave myself to barbaric 21st Century medicine. Hold your hand out.”

Carol waited a second, then held her hand out to humor him.

Dave clicked the pen five times very rapidly, then held it above her finger, moving it in a slow circle. After two revolutions, he clicked the pen once more and said, “There.”

Carol looked at the band-aid and it took her a second to notice that she didn’t feel anything. The wound hadn’t hurt, just been a minor annoyance, but even that was gone. She ripped the band-aid off to find perfect skin, without even a scar.

She starred at her hand for ten or fifteen seconds. Looking up at Dave she asked, “How?”

In reply he held up the pen. “As I said, a 28th Century first aid kit.” Dropping his hand he said, “Honestly, I don’t want any trouble. I’m just trying to live a simpler life.”

See what I wrote about this story on my Published Works page.

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You Can’t Please Some People

Some would claim that Sam was just shy, without finely tuned social skills. Others, however, would say he’s an evil bastard with a sick sense of humor. The truth – as usual – lies somewhere in between. Closer to one than the other, but still in between.


Sam’s most recognizable feature was how quiet it was. In some circles he was known as Silent Sam. If you just asked about Sam, they wouldn’t know who you were talking about.

The other recognizable thing about him grew out one of his pet peeves. He found it jarring when people walked up to him while he was reading or watching TV and just started talking. He would have preferred them waiting for a few seconds so he could finish a sentence or whatever, and then turn his full attention to them. Since he disliked being interrupted, he didn’t interrupt others. This led to problems.

Being so silent, people often didn’t notice Sam walk up to them if they were busy with something. If they didn’t notice him after a few seconds, Sam would then turn it into a game, to see how long it did take them to notice him. Usually ten or fifteen seconds, but sometimes minutes would go by. Eventually, the person would look in his direction. If it was a man, he would curse Sam and that would be the end of it. Women were different. They jumped, and sometimes screamed. Being a guy, he found that amusing, and that was reason enough to continue doing it. Of course, he only did this with women he was friends with, he knew enough not to “lurk” around strangers.

The woman he scared the most was Diana, his boss when he worked in a convenience store. She had a little desk in the back room crammed in amongst storage shelving, and before a one-way mirror so she could keep an eye on the store. This meant that if you needed to talk to her, you had to walk up behind her.

Whenever Sam needed to ask her something – and sometimes when he didn’t – he would walk up behind her, stand about a foot away, and wait. After a minute or so, Diana would turn her head enough to see him out of the corner of her eye. She’d jump, clutch her chest, and yell, “Are you trying to give me a heart attack?” She would scold him not to do that again, all the while laughing, so it came across as a bit of a mixed message. A few days – or ten minutes – later, he’d do it again, with the same result.

Then one day, instead of telling Sam not to do that again, Diana told him, “The next time you need to talk to me, and I don’t notice you, clear your throat or something, make some noise so I know you’re there. Okay?”

Sam nodded. “Sure.”

The next day, Sam walked up behind her as worked on the next week’s schedule. Standing about a foot behind her, he cleared his throat. It wasn’t a simple cough or anything, it was an over-the-top sound ten times louder than necessary. Diana jumped, clutched her chest, and yelled, “What the hell was that?”

With all the innocence he could fake, Sam explained, “You asked me to make some noise.”

See what I wrote about this story on my Published Works page.

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Jacob was dying. He’d been dying for weeks, months, years even. His wife had died almost a decade ago, they’d never had kids, and his friends were dead or locked away by their families. His life had been … decent. There were regrets, and triumphs and tragedies, but that is life. That was life. For the last few years he had been alive but not living. He thought he had accepted his death, long ago. But why, he wondered, did his body fight to keep breathing?

If he could have caught his breath, he would have died laughing.


Jacob woke and opened his eyes. All three of them.

That can’t be right. But by blinking, he counted, one, two, three. The left and right eyes saw in grey and showed three-quarters of the area around him; their fields-of-view just touching before him. His middle eye saw color and gave depth perception to the area in front of him.

Looking around he saw that he was in a forest, although he had never seen such trees before. There was also the creature. She – he somehow knew it was female – was the general size and shape of a pony, but covered in deep blue scales. Her head had three eyes, no nose, and a large mouth full of sharp teeth. She had two sets of arms growing from her chest; the outer set was large while the inner set was smaller and more delicate.

Leaning forward slightly, she asked, “Do you understand what I’m saying?”

Jacob frowned, but answered, “Yes.”

She smiled and nodded. “How old were you?”

“Eighty-seven. I had cancer.”

She nodded again. “The name I go by is Seventeen.”

“My name is …”

Seventeen reached out with her large arms. “Don’t. You don’t have to tell me who you were until everything is explained to you. That’s one of our laws.”

Jacob swung his head around, but only saw trees. “Where am I?”

She smiled. “I know it is difficult to understand, but you died. You died, and were reborn here, just as I was.”

“But …” Jacob had to think for a moment to ask, “How?”

“We don’t know. For as long as there have been humans, when they died on Earth, they were reborn here, in these bodies.” With all four hands she indicated herself.

“Everyone?” Jacob stood. “Then my wife is here. Can I …”

“Wait.” Seventeen reached out and took hold of his large hands.

Jacob looked down at himself and saw that he had two sets of arms as well, but his scales were a flaming red. He looked up into Seventeen’s eyes. “I have to find my wife.”

Seventeen stepped closer to him. “The shock of being reborn hits some very hard. Fifteen percent of the adults reborn commit suicide within their first five years. If you do begin a search for your wife, you have to accept that you may not find her.”

She let go of him and backed up a step. “The reason I stopped you from telling me your name is that here on Deadworld – that’s what we call this planet – everyone is given a new chance on life. You have all your memories, but that is all you carry over.”

Standing up straighter, she continued, “On Deadworld there are two, sacred laws. The first is to help the reborn when they first arrive. Babies and young children are reborn in bodies just like yours, but they know nothing. That’s why I asked if you could understand me. If you could not it would have been my responsibility to lead you to a school.

“The second law, is that you can start over. Asking who you were on Earth is the most offensive thing anyone can do here. Most people – such as myself – take new names, and try to forget our lives on Earth.” When he didn’t reply, Seventeen continued, “I mean no offense, I’m just trying to warn you of the possibility, but your wife may not have made the adjustment or may have decided to try a new life. If not, there is a website for people wanting to get back together with the people they knew on Earth.”

Jacob shook his head. “Website? Wait. I died.”


“Okay. Now, I’m not – I mean I wasn’t – religious, but shouldn’t I have gone to … heaven, or hell?”

Seventeen smiled. “There is a school of thought that this is a sort of purgatory. It’s hard to tell, but it seems that every human who ever lived, be they saint or villain, young or old, believer or non-believer, shows up here when they die. Here they can start new lives, have children that know nothing of Earth, and baring injury or illness, reach a ripe old age of roughly a thousand Earth years before they die. Again. Whether they go to a higher world, or a different world, or just cease to exist, is as big a mystery as how we showed up here to begin with.”

Jacob took a faltering step back, then sunk down to the ground. He took several deep breaths, then asked, “Have you done this – helping the … reborn – before?”

Seventeen smiled. “On Earth I was learning to be a midwife. When I was reborn almost 500 years ago, helping the newly arrived seemed the logical choice.”

“500 years?” Jacob whispered.

Seventeen didn’t reply, she only eased herself down in front of him.

Jacob nodded. “So, you have experience. Probably a speech or something to quickly explain everything.”

She laughed. “The facts, to help you adjust. There are six main planets in this solar system. This is the second one from the star, which is similar to the sun. Deadworld is slightly larger than Earth, and rotates on its axis in about thirty hours and takes 312 days to orbit the star. Astronomers say that this is not the same galaxy, and have yet to see the Milky Way even with their largest telescopes. How we traveled across the universe – if this is the same universe – is just as mysterious as why we were reborn to begin with.

“But despite being so far from Earth, some problems do carry over from that life. As I said, the average lifespan is a thousand years. So who is King when all the Kings of the previous thousand years are still around?”

“King of what?” Jacob asked.

Seventeen shrugged. “The is a chain of islands in the Northern Ocean ruled by the reborn Kings and Queens of England. Each monarch has a few islands and every few years they launch a war to take over a few more.”


“Well, most of the reborn Kings and Queens. Some abdicate and serve as royal advisors while others have never come forward. Apparently choosing to live new lives.

“Now the Popes, after a few civil wars of their own, settled down on a rotating Papacy. They serve as Pope for a year, then hand it off to the next most senior, and in twenty or thirty years, it comes back to them.”

“So there are Catholics here?” Jacob asked.

“Yes. Just about every religion has managed to survive in some fashion, and hundreds more have begun on this world.”

Seventeen laughed. “To get back to my quick speech to explain everything, adults are reborn speaking and understanding one language. Babies and young children that are reborn quickly learn the language, much faster than children born here. We are also reborn with special knowledge. There are several plants we just know not to eat because they are poisonous. And could you tell I was female when you first saw me?”

Jacob grinned. “Yes.”

“Women have slimmer bodies and our scale pattern is slightly different, but you knew that without being taught it.”

“But how is any of this possible?”

Seventeen smiled. “People have spent centuries trying to figure that out. The man who found me when I was reborn, had been a monk on Earth. He told me the story of how one day, while he was praying, he was distracted by some mice running across the floor. At first he was annoyed, but he kept thinking about them. In time he realized that they ran across the floors, but had no concept of how the monastery was built. They ripped up the parchments, without being able to read what was written on them. So much more was going on in the world than they could ever conceive. Why should that be different with man?”

See what I wrote about this story on my Published Works page.

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Didn’t See That Coming

“Welcome back to the final segment of the show.” The host smiled. “Our special tonight was on ‘Skeptics vs. Psychics.’ At the beginning of the show, Dr. Matthew Parr – our skeptic – had a challenge for our psychic, Ms. Helen Rubens. He gave me a sealed envelope containing a card with a number written on it.” The host held the envelope up. “The envelope has been in my possession the whole show, and is still sealed. The challenge was to see if Ms. Rubens could divine what was written on the card before the end of the show. Ms. Rubens?”

“Unfortunately, as I’ve tried to explain to other unbelievers who have tested me before, one cannot always call upon the spirits for specific answers. They only give the information they deem important.”

“In other words,” Dr. Parr explained, “any number she gives would purely be a guess.”

“Well,” the host said, holding up a letter opener, “let us see what is on the card.” He opened the letter and slid the card out. He read it and chuckled. “Can we get a close up on this?”

The camera zoomed in on the host’s hand and the card. Written in neat handwriting was “a number.”

The host handed it to Ms. Rubens who shot a glare at Dr. Parr.

Dr. Parr smiled. “I said there was a card in the envelope with ‘a number’ written on it. I guess I wasn’t obvious enough for your ‘spirits.’”

See what I wrote about this story on my Published Works page.

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Classics Never Go Out of Style

The man – who for over a decade had looked to be in his early thirties – smiled his perfect teeth and began, “Hello, and welcome to this week’s episode of Universe Explorers. I’m your host, Geoffrey Wellington.”

He was replaced by a montage of photos of him standing in deserts, rainforests, in scuba gear and space suits. Accompanying this was an upbeat musical score with lots of flutes and drums. The music reached a crescendo with the title screen, “Universe Explorers, with Geoffrey Wellington” surrounding a smiling Geoffrey giving two thumbs up.

The opening shot showed a flat desert landscape with mountains in the distance. The camera panned until it was centered on the host. He smiled and explained, “I’m standing in the desert just outside the city of Truth or Consequences in the United States of America.” Geoffrey then – with the help of appropriate images – gave a brief history of the land; from the Native American tribes who had lived there to the European exploration and colonization.

His history lesson concluded with, “Early in the Twenty-First Century, this area was part of Spaceport America, the world’s first commercial spaceport.” The background images were of rockets launching and spaceplanes taking off and landing. Geoffrey continued, “But after years of triumph – and a few tragedies – the spaceport fell into disuse with the completion of the Mbandaka Space Elevator, and has been abandoned for the past few decades.” For several seconds the camera lingered on a hangar beginning to fall apart and filled with weeds.

The camera returned to a smiling Geoffrey. “But all of that is about to change. The new owner of this land – Amelia Cushing, founder and CEO of TKF Interplanetary – is moving forward by looking to the distant past. Here to explain the vision for her unique museum, Amelia Cushing.”

The camera shot widened to show a middle aged woman standing next to Geoffrey. He extended his hand, “Amelia, welcome to the show.”

Amelia took his hand and replied, “Thank you, Geoffrey. It’s a pleasure to be here.”

“Now, explain to our viewers your plans.”

Amelia smiled and faced the camera. “Over the next two decades, we’re going to build full-scale replicas of pyramids here.” She waved her hands to indicate the desert around them.

“Pyramids? Plural?” Geoffrey prompted.

“Yes. We’re starting off with the classic Egyptian, but many other ancient cultures constructed pyramids or pyramid-like temples; most notably the Nubians, the Mayans, and the Tamils.”

Geoffrey nodded. “Now, I understand that you considered building all these structures using ancient methods – basically hundreds of people moving massive blocks of stone with just their muscles. But you decided against that.”

“Yes. The original idea was to actually have the visitors to the site lend a hand in building the pyramids. But that plan didn’t last long for safety and insurance reasons. The next idea was to hire a team of experts to build using ancient methods, but that was scrapped, again for safety reasons as well as time constraints. We knew that the two ton blocks would be quarried with modern methods, they’d be shipped with modern methods, so we decided we might as well build with modern methods.”

“And how long do you expect it will be before there’s an Egyptian pyramid behind us?”

“Right now we are assembling a team of just over two hundred professional stone workers, and are finalizing our orders for the quarries. Our hope is to place the first stone next spring, and place the final stone within four years.”

“Four years,” Geoffrey repeated. “And how long did it take the ancient Egyptians?”

“With tens of thousands workers, the estimates range from fifteen to twenty years.”

“So with a hundredth the workforce you plan to match them in a fifth of the time.”

“Well,” Amelia smiled, “if the ancient Egyptians had anti-grav sleds, there would be a lot more pyramids for Egyptologists to study.”

Geoffrey nodded, then said, “Now the question I’m sure our viewers all want answered is, why? Why build full-scale replicas of pyramids?”

Amelia smiled. “The short answer, why not?” She chuckled, then continued, “The longer answer is simple economics. Everything is done in space now. It’s estimated that over seventy percent of the solar system’s manufactured goods are made in the asteroid belt. As such, about the only thing Earth has to export is culture. A few years ago Prime Minister Zarghami lamented that ‘Earth is becoming a museum.’ If that’s the case, then we should make sure out museum has interesting exhibits.”

See what I wrote about this story on my Published Works page.

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What’s in a Name?

Sue saved her work on her latest chapter, then spun her chair around. “Are you all right?”

Her fiancé Mike – sitting on the couch – looked up from the magazine he was reading. “What?”

“You’ve been muttering for, like, the last ten minutes.”

“Oh. Have you read this?” He held up the most recent issue of one of the scifi magazines they subscribed to.

Sue shook her head. “Nope.” With a smile she added, “Unlike some people, I’ve been trying to get some writing done.”

Mike ignored the dig, saying, “Well, when you do get around to reading it, you can skip the story by P. Thomas Gill.”


“It sucks. The writing is horrid.”

Sue walked over and sat next to Mike on the couch. “How so?”

“There are six characters, who all sound the same. It’s …. The story is about these Space Marines charged with war crimes – blowing up an alien village. But he has these long, dialogue heavy scenes, and somewhere in the middle you loose track of who’s the Marine, who’s his lawyer, who’s the prosecutor, etc.”

Sue waited for a moment. “Is that it?”

“No, it … it almost reads like an outline for a novel. If he took the time to develop the characters more, gave some more details, this could be an okay novel. Instead, he took some shortcuts so it’s a sucky novella.”

Sue reached over and rubbed his leg. “How would you rate this story to, say, ‘Star Mine?’”

“‘Star Mine’ is a ten times better story, but they,” here Mike shook the magazine in his hand, “rejected it.”

“Well, you’re not P. Thomas Gill.”

Mike just groaned.

Taking the magazine from his hand, Sue said, “I can just see it. His agent calls the editor and says, ‘P. Thomas took time away from writing his latest bestseller to write a delightful little novella. Do you want it?’ ‘Of course, of course,’ the editor exclaims. ‘I don’t even have to read it. If P. Thomas wrote it, it must be good.’”

Mike just shook his head.

She leaned over and kissed his temple. “Don’t worry, someday you’ll be a famous author and all the magazines will snap up your crappy stories.”

“‘Crappy stories?’” Mike asked.

“That didn’t come out right.”

“Ah-uh. I’ll remind you of this during the divorce,” he said with a smile.

She punched him in the arm. “Come on,” she said, rubbing his back. “This should inspire you to write your best stories so you can rub it in P. Thomas’s face.”

“Or,” Mike countered, “I could change my name to P. Thomas … Dill and hope some editor doesn’t notice and buy my ‘crappy stories.’”

“And I could change my name to Stephanie King.”

Mike nodded and scratched his chin. “That might work.”

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Everybody’s Published

Mike unlocked the door and walked into the apartment. His fiancée Sue was sitting on the couch with a faraway expression. “How was your day?” he asked.

Sue shrugged. “Terrifying, confusing, depressing.”

“What happened?” Mike asked as he hung up his coat.

“You know Crazy Tony?”

Mike chuckled. “Are you using the politically incorrect term for the homeless gentleman named Anthony who wanders the town sharing with anyone who wanders within twenty feet of him his … uh …”

“Crazy theories?” Sue prompted.

“Well,” Mike shrugged, “I was going to say something like, theories of a non-realistic nature, trying to avoid the whole crazy thing.” He gave her a kiss and sat down beside her. “I take it you ran into him.”

“Yeah. He gave me his book.” Sue held up a small paperback.

“He wrote a book?”


They were silent for a moment, then Mike asked, “Beer?”


When Mike returned with the bottles, he asked, “Is this a real,” he put air quotes around the word, “published book or did he self-publish?”


Sue handed the book to Mike who read the title, “The Coming Whapocalypse?”

“I have no idea. Why don’t you go find him and ask him what it means?”

“I’ll pass.” Mike took a swig of beer and smiled. “So, was he just handing out copies to pretty girls?”

Sue shrugged. “I’m sure there is some method to his madness on who he handed copies out to. He basically shoved it in my face. I tried to tell him, ‘No thanks,’ but he said it was ‘important’ for me to take it. Apparently it wasn’t important for the woman in front of me because he just did his usual rant with her. After the second time he told me it was important I take it, I gave him my,” here Sue made a big, fake, smile, “‘Thank you creepy guy, I’d love to have your book’ smile and quickly walked away.”

“So you could rush home to read it?”

“I read a paragraph in the car, and I think I’ve had a headache since.”

“That bad?”

“Read a sentence at random.”

Mike set his beer down and opened the book to a random page. He read out loud, “‘The end result will be the NGTs will emerge from their comas to impugn the integrity of the KBFs who will try to hide their festering corpses behind their walls of silence.’”

“Oh, you pick one that almost makes sense. I read one that was … I don’t know what it was.”

Mike chuckled and closed the book. After looking at it for a few moments, he asked, “How does a homeless guy write a book?”

“Well, it’s possible he wrote it on a computer at the library. Did everything through email.” After a pause Sue added, “I was wondering that myself.”

“Okay. But where do you ship them? I mean, he ordered copies so he could hand them out to pretty girls, but where did …” Mike turned the book over to read the back cover, “‘’ send them?”

“The corner of Fourth and Ash?”

They both laughed, but then Mike said, “Of course, we’re just assuming he’s homeless.”

Sue wrinkled her nose. “If he does have some crappy apartment, then either his shower doesn’t work or he doesn’t use it.”

Mike shrugged. “Good point.”

“Do you know what really bothers me about this?” Sue asked.

“That a homeless guy has a book out, but after fighting tooth-and-nail we only have a few short stories published?”

Sue punched his arm. “Yes.”

Mike smirked and rubbed her back. “Are you thinking of joining the illustrious ranks of authors published by”

“No. I’ll leave them the crazy, homeless guys. But there are reputable self-publishers out there.”

“You mean places that wouldn’t publish,” Mike open the book to a random page again and read, “‘With the founding of an information ziggurat – with the highest levels barricaded by the KBF governments – the struggles of a lone prophet will get little notice.’”

Sue turned to Mike and asked, “What the hell is an ‘information ziggurat?’”

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Happy or Not, the End Will Come

As business partners plotted, friends laughed at the latest gossip, and frazzled parents got their caffeine fix, Dave sat staring at a blank notebook page. Occasionally, his glazed look would wander to the steam rising from his tea or to sneak a quick ogle when the cute barista walked by. None of the customers passing through the coffee shop would ever suspect that the quiet guy in the corner was contemplating the extinction of humanity.

Dave wasn’t some scifi villain bent on galactic domination, he was a scifi writer. His current bout of writer’s block – as usual – stemmed from a question. Dave believed that if you sat an adult down and asked them if they understood that one day they would die, the vast majority would answer with some version of “Duh.” While few are happy with the idea, the untold millions of people with wills would indicate they accept the fact and try to make the best of the situation.

The question that was bothering Dave was, if you sat humanity down and asked if they understood that one day they would die, what would happen? Dave expected that the question would have to be explained. “Some day a super virus could decimate the population, leaving too few survivors for the species to carry on. Or a new species might evolve, and Homo sapiens would just go the way of Homo neanderthalensis.” He suspected that – as a whole – humanity would reject the possibility, clinging to the happy myth of their immortality just as tightly as any teenager. Humanity, Dave firmly believed, needed to grow up.

The conundrum swirling through Dave’s brain and keeping pen from paper, was how to turn that insight into a story? True he could write about plaques, robot rebellions, even the emergence of Homo astrum, but would the rousing adventure tale overwhelm his message? How to hide such a message in a story like a pill in a piece of cheese?

Dave shook his head and sipped his tea. I’m not quite that good, yet, he thought. He took a deep breath and mentally picture placing the idea back on the shelf. Cracking his knuckles, he moved on to something different. By the time he had finished his tea, he had filled the page with haikus.

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Tip Your Driver

“Thank you for calling Collins Canteen. Will this be for pickup or delivery?”

“Delivery, please.”

“Is this for a base or mobile unit?”

“A mobile unit in Tycho.”

“Your beacon ID?”


“What is your order?”

“Okay. We’d like three large pepperoni pizzas, one thin crust, one regular, and one thick. One Buzz Burger with Swiss. One large Italian hoagie, hold the onions. One large vegetarian hoagie with extra pickles. An order of General Tsao’s chicken. An order of Moo shu pork. And an order of Chana masala. We’d also like 50 liters of water and ten tanks of oxygen to fit Mark VI suits.”

“Okay, I have your order as: Tycho, beacon Foxtrot-Tango-One-One-Niner-Four, one large, thin crust pepperoni, one large, regular crust pepperoni, one large, thick crust pepperoni, one Buzz Burger with Swiss, one large Italian, no onions, one large vegetarian, extra pickles, order of General Tsao’s, order of Moo shu, order of Chana masala, 50 liters of water, and ten O2 tanks for Mark VIs. Is that correct?”

“Yes it is.”

“Who will this be billed to?”

“Armstrong University, Department of Selenology.”

“Okay. The sub-orbital hopper should be there in about an hour.”

“Thank you.”

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There was a sink coming down the plane’s aisle. Not a regular sink, one of those large ones you find in a restaurant. Bill had no idea how it fit. He also had no idea why Megan Carson – who he had a crush on throughout high school – was kneeling in it. He did know that she had apparently been a “bad girl” because Wonder Woman was spanking her with a ruler.

Bill watched for a few swats, then turned and walked into a large room. A crowd of people were gathered around some celebrity. Bill repeatedly asked who it was, but he could never hear an answer.

Pushed by the crowd, Bill ended up in the back room of the store he had worked at during college. The crowd had vanished, and he was all alone. After standing there for a moment, he heard a loud noise, which at first he took for the fire alarm.

Bill opened his eyes. With a groan he reached out and hit the snooze button. He had just dozed off when the alarm went off again.

With a louder groan, he sat up and turned off the alarm. He rubbed his eyes for a moment, then with a “Bleaach” he stood and stumbled into the bathroom. When he came out, he saw the light blinking on his Dreamcatcher 3000™. He removed the memory card and took it to his computer.

Over a breakfast of cold pizza and coke, Bill re-watched his dreams. The sex dream he had about his boss Deb he saved to his private folder. But the dream that started with Megan, he uploaded to his profile. He saw that nerfageddon had commented on his dream about being chased down a mountain by bad guys, saying he had a similar dream. Bill watched that dream, but couldn’t really see any comparison. Instead of saying that, he just commented “cool,” then logged off to get ready for work.

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Merry Christmas

Jake rubbed his temples, feeling a headache beginning. How could “I want this package to go to this address” be so complicated? It seemed like the guy had shown up with something in a box and no idea how to mail it. And the postal clerk – with infinite patience – was explaining, in detail, all forty-seven delivery options. So the other clerk had to take care of everybody else in line. There was the lady mailing a present to her cousin in Ireland, who she hadn’t seen in twenty-four years, since her brother’s wedding, which didn’t last, etc., etc., ad nauseam, the guy mass mailing about a hundred cards, and – of course – the woman with the screaming toddlers.

A few customers walked in, saw the line, grumbled under their breath, then turned and left. Jake really wanted to go with them, but that would just mean the ten minutes he had already wasted had been in vain. Might as well stick it out and get it over with now.

Finally, ten never-ending minutes later, Jake reached the counter. “How may I help you?” the clerk asked.

Jake just smiled and handed her the card his postman had left in his mailbox saying the post office had a package for him.

The clerk took the card and walked into the back. Jake waited, and waited. Fortunately, the other clerk took care of the mother with the screaming toddlers. Once they left there was less for his new born headache to throb against.

Eventually, the clerk returned carrying a large cardboard box. She set it on the counter and scanned its tag. “Do you need any stamps or packing supplies?”

“No, this is it. Thanks,” Jake said, picking up the box.

“Merry Christmas,” the clerk said, already turning to the next customer.

After weaving around people, Jake ended up in the cold, quiet, almost soothing parking lot. When he reached his car, he opened the passenger door and set the box on the seat. Closing the door, he let out a little laugh. His headache now just a faint afterimage. He rushed around to the driver’s side and got in.

Instead of turning on the engine, Jake pulled out the little pocket knife he kept in the storage compartment between the seats. He opened the box and giggled. Inside were twenty copies of his novel, The Cronus Diet. He had been writing it off-and-on for close to a decade. In the past year he had buckled down and finished it. Not wanted to spend another decade looking for a publisher, he just self-published it.

Picking one of the books up, Jake held it and stroked it with his fingertips as one would a lover’s skin. After a giggle, he set it in the backseat. That would be his copy. He had plans for the others. One would go to his older brother, the surgeon, who had taken great joy dissecting Jake’s toys. One would go to his younger half-sister, the lawyer, who never got in trouble as a kid because she could always give a convincing reason why Jake was to blame. A copy would go to his mother, who in almost every conversation with Jake would sigh, and say, “Why can’t you be more like your brother, or sister?”

Other copies would go to ex-girlfriends, hated teachers, unfortunate acquaintances; all the people who over the years had laughed or told him not to waste his time when he told them he was writing a novel. All would be surprised to receive a Christmas present from him. They would be confused when he thanked them for “all the help and support” they had given him over the years. If they read the book and worked out which character was based on them – a task Jake hadn’t made too difficult – they would then realize it was sarcastic thanks.

But the book was dedicated to his step-father, Mike, who would threaten Jake with military school for every heinous crime like knocking over a glass. As the dedication read, “For Mike. Without you, none of this would have been possible.”

It would almost be worth being home for Christmas to see the looks on his family’s face opening their presents, seeing the book they – unknowingly – helped write. As they say, revenge is best served cold.

Snow began to fall as Jake drove to his apartment, laughing.

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Just Another Day

“Stand by for firing,” the computerized voice of The Works Space Station #17 announced over the intercom. The two crewmembers – halfway through their six month tour – didn’t look up from their chess game. “Target: Oahu,” the computer added.

Dave moved his rook and stated, “Check.”


The gun port opened on the outside of the space station and the electrostatic accelerators powered up. When the countdown hit zero, the computer began firing projectiles in a pre-arranged pattern.


With timing honed with much practice, the priest said, “You may kiss the bride.” The young couple kissed and the audience exploded in cheers, drowning out the lapping of waves on the beach. After a few seconds everyone looked up to the twilight sky. A heartbeat later, twenty bright streaks appeared in a starburst pattern almost directly above them as the projectiles burned up in the atmosphere. As the fake meteors spread out, more streaks appeared in their center. Instead of a simple starburst, the new streaks formed a slightly ragged, but still recognizable shape of a heart. The audience let out a collective “Ahhh” and the couple shared another kiss.


Aboard the space station, Ron studied the chess board. “Firing completed,” the computer announced. “Powering down.”

Pointing to his bishop, Ron said, “I move this here, you move your queen there, and it’s checkmate.”

“Yep,” Dave answered.

“Good game,” Ron said. “Want to go again?”


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It Wouldn’t Be Enough

Mare Moscoviense University, June 14, 2645

Dr. Vetar, head of the University’s Temporal Department, smiled for the holo-recorders. “For centuries,” she began, “a debate has divided our great civilization. A question not considered part of polite conversation, yet everyone knows of it. But today, not only will we ask this question, we will definitely answer it.”

She waved to the temporal chamber and the two people – a tall man and a woman – inside. “Our witnesses, representing both sides of the Great Debate, are: Narith Kol Meben,” the man smiled and nodded, “and Toriz Yalt,” here the woman smiled and nodded.

“And to make sure we don’t just have their word on the matter, there are dozens of holo-recorders in the chamber as well.” Behind Dr. Vetar appeared a holo of her, as seen from the chamber. She smiled at herself, then continued, “The temporal coordinates have been set, the chamber’s cloaking system is fully operational, and you’re off to solve the Great Debate.”

There was a flash of white light, and Dr. Vetar smiled at the occupants in the temporal chamber. “Welcome back,” she said. “Was your mission successful?”

“Yes,” Narith stated as he stepped from the chamber.

“So you can answer the Great Question, once and for all?”

“Yes we can,” Narith answered.

“I’m sure our audience is waiting to hear; was Barack Hussein Obama born in the American state of Hawaii?”

Narith gave a broad smile and stated, “Yes, he was.”

“Not necessarily,” Toriz interrupted.

“How can you say that?” Narith shouted. “We traveled back to the hospital and watched the hour around his birth. Not only do we have holo-recordings of it, you saw it with your own eyes.”

“I’ll admit I saw a birth,” Toriz replied, “but I wouldn’t put it past your side to have already gone back, seen that he wasn’t born there, but instead of facing reality, set up this farce in an attempt to convince me otherwise.”

Narith stared blankly at Toriz for several moments. He then turned towards the holo-recorders and stated, “This woman … is an idiot.”

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Life From Death

Ron looked up when Doctor England and a man entered his hospital room. “Good morning, Mister Grant,” Doctor England said. “How are you doing this morning?”

“Okay.” Ron raised his arm and flexed his fingers. “I’m still getting used to it.”

She smiled. “It will take some time, but you’re doing fine.” She turned to the man and introduced him, “This is Warden Olson.”

The two men nodded at each other.

Doctor England smiled at Ron. “We have a lengthy list of questions to ask you to make sure the procedure was fully successful. Do you think you’re up for them?”


Doctor England looked at her data pad and asked, “First question: what is your full name?”

“Ronald David Grant.”

“Who were your parents?”

“Jack and Betty.”

The questions continued like that. Asking Ron his birthday, who he took to his senior prom, the make of his first car, etc. But there were other questions that seemed to be there to throw him off. Like when Doctor England asked, “What is the name of your dog?”

“We don’t have a dog. Allison is allergic to them. We have a cat, Ginger.”

Warden Olson only asked a few questions, mostly asking if Ron recognized a series of names, none of which rung any bells.

After about half-an-hour of questions, Doctor England smiled and patted Ron on the shoulder. Glancing at Warden Olson she said, “I believe that’s enough. I’m convinced the procedure was successful.”

Warden Olson handed her his data pad and asked, “Will you please signify that?”

Doctor England took the data pad, and after reading it pressed her thumb on the identity reader.

When she handed the pad back to him, Warden Olson nodded and said, “I’ll now go conclude this business.”

“Wait,” Ron said. “I need to see … him.”

Before Warden Olson could reply, Doctor England stated, “He does have a right to see this.”

After a moments thought, Warden Olson replied, “Very well.”

Doctor England turned to Ron and said, “I’ll get you a wheelchair and take you over.”

A few minutes later, Ron was wheeled into another hospital room filled with doctors and armed police surrounding a bed. A man lay on the bed, or what was left of a man. Between all the gauze and tubes running into and out of him, it was hard to tell anything about him.

Ron stared for several moments at the body. What little conversation had been going on in the room ceased, and all that could be heard was the beeping of the various machines and the repeating rush of air.

Ron wheeled himself closer, and looked at the face. Where the right eye had been was covered with a bandage, but the slightly glazed left eye looked at him. Looking into your own eye was so strange, Ron had to look away. After a deep breath, he looked back and said, “For what it’s worth, thank you.” He then sat back. He was about to nod to the Warden, when he reached out and took hold of the man’s hand. Squeezing it, he told the Warden, “Okay.”

Warden Olson looked at him for a moment, then drew himself up. Holding hid data pad in front of him, he read: “Michael Joseph Floyd, you have been found by a jury of your peers guilty of the serial murders of twelve people. Your sentence is death. But, in an attempt to lessen the pain you have caused the community, you were mind-swapped with a patient, chosen at random, who was being kept alive solely through artificial means. The medical representative and I as a representative of the Corrections Department, have certified that the mind-swap procedure was fully successful.

“Your sentence of death will now be carried out by terminating life support for your current body.”

The warden then nodded to a doctor who flipped a switch. The beeping and rush of air stopped leaving the room strangely quiet.

Ron sat, with his old hand in his new, and wept as his body died.

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Empty Chair

Each time the door of the coffee shop opened, Peter’s hopes rose, only for them to be dashed as the person turned out to just be someone looking for a cappuccino. As they walked to the counter, Peter would sigh and look down to the blank notebook page.

Across the table from him was an empty chair. As the minutes dragged by – and Peter’s cup grew more empty – he had to force himself to accept he had been stood up by his muse. Again.

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It’s What’s Important

“Heavy rains in the mountainous region of northern Zanitaria has lead to disastrous mud slides. Early reports indicate that at least three small villages have been completely buried. Official sources say the death toll may be as high as two hundred, but the region’s remoteness along with washed out roads is hampering rescue efforts and the number may be even higher.

“Tragedy has also struck closer to home. Around 1:00 AM this morning, a fire – possibly started by frayed wiring – began in an apartment building on the corner of Elm and Ninth streets. Firefighters were able to keep the fire from spreading, but the building was completely gutted. Fortunately, it was undergoing renovations, so most of the apartments were unoccupied. Still, six residents are being treated for smoke inhalation at local hospitals.”

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Take Me To Your Dealer

“Madame President.”

“Ye …” President Klein began to answer but stopped herself. None of the doors to the Oval Office had opened and the voice had not come from the intercom. She was alone, so who talked?

“I’m over here.”

She turned to her right and saw … something. Decades of TV and movies made her think of aliens as either humans in makeup or slobbering CGI monsters, never a neon yellow cat casually sitting on the floor.

“I apologize for startling you,” the cat said in a surprisingly normal voice, “but I’ve come on a matter of life or death.”

The President stared at it for a few seconds. “I’m sorry,” she finally said, “Who are you?”

“My name is Ygreaggizth, but what is important is my mission to save my species.”

“Ah, how can I help?”

“There is a substance on your planet, the common name of which is EGT.”

“Yes,” the President slowly nodded. “It’s a drug, something that stimulates and destroys the pleasure center in our brains.”

“That’s it,” Ygreaggizth answered. “While it has negative effects on human health, we believe it may cure the disease my species is dying from.”

Without meaning to, the President leaned back. “What sort of disease?”

“You have no need to worry. The disease only spreads through our body fluids.”

“Oh. So you want a supply of EGT?”

“Yes. As much as possible. And we’ll pay for it, in metals or jewels you find precious.”

“Well, we would give you this … medicine as a gift to the first beings we’ve made contact with.”

“Oh no,” Ygreaggizth said standing up, “We can’t make contact with you. It is against Galactic Law to make contact with primitive species. I’ve only approached you as a last resort. If it ever got out I came here, it would’ve been better to just let my species die.”

“I …” The President stopped herself and rubbed her left temple. “I have so many question, but you need EGT – as much as possible – to save your species, and no one must ever know about it.”

“Yes. And we’ll pay for it.”

“Okay.” The President picked up a pen and tapped it on her desk for a moment. She opened a drawer and took out her personal cell phone. “I’ll make a few calls, and you’ll tell me more about the Galactic Law.”

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Bury ‘em Deep

Will returned to his apartment after burying another body. He grabbed a beer out of the fridge and sat before his computer, but he didn’t turn it on.

It had been his coworker, Anna. When she had started a year ago, Will had thought her perfect. She wasn’t a supermodel or anything, but she was only ten feet away. But then he found out she, or course, had a boyfriend. So, instead of asking her out he just became office friendly. You know, someone you make sure to forward the list of “The Ten Dumbest Things Bosses Have Said” when it comes your way.

Then, thanks to her long phone conversations with her friend, Will found out she and her boyfriend had broken up. Having seen too many guys make asses of themselves by hitting on newly-single women, Will gave her time and only tried to be more friendly.

Unfortunately, Anna’s perfection began to slip. It seemed that every detail about her Will learned just made her that much less of a match: she had never seen Star Wars, even the good trilogy, she read magazines but hadn’t read a book in years, her dream vacation was to go to France, etc.

After months of agonized debate, Will had decided to bury her. It was for the best; he could stop beating himself up over whether or not he should ask her out every time he saw her at the office and just move on with his life. He went for a long, relaxing walk, opened his silent and limitless Cemetery of Dreams, and buried any chance of romance he had with her. She joined Sue, and Sara, and Heather, and June, his dream of being a drummer in a rock band, buying a ticket into space, having a better life.

Finishing his beer, Will grabbed another. He turned on his computer and watched an original Doctor Who episode.

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Be Courteous

Jill looked up from her book and shook her head when she heard her neighbor return home with his girlfriend. With a shrug, she stood and went into her kitchen. She opened one of the cabinets and pulled out a bag of microwavable popcorn. While it popped she poured herself a glass of iced tea and took it into her bedroom, setting it on her dresser. She then wheeled her chair into her bedroom. Returning to the kitchen she took down a large mixing bowl, and once the popcorn was done, she dumped the bag into it. In her bedroom she set the glass on the floor next to her chair, then leaned back, put her feet up on her bed and waited for the show.

About a minute later, she heard the first muffled thump. Dropping some popcorn in her mouth, she shook her head and thought, Just like clockwork. A second thump followed a few moments later, then a third, then a fourth, slowly building into a rhythm.

Once there was a steady beat of dull thumps, the moaning began. At first it was low, passionate, believable. However, it soon rose to animal like screeching.

It had been three or four days after she had moved in that Jill had first heard her neighbor and his girlfriend. At first she had turned the volume up on the movie she was watching, but eventually she had to pause it and stand staring at her bedroom wall wondering, What the hell are they doing over there?

At first Jill had been embarrassed for them, but as the weeks passed and their sessions stayed just as vocal, she grew annoyed. Out of annoyance she recorded them one night and played it for her friends. She grew more annoyed when her friends just thought it was funny, but the laughter finally got to her and she began to accept them with a resigned tolerance usually reserved for small children and crazy relatives.

An almost inhuman cry made Jill toss some popcorn at the wall. “Oh, you have got to be kidding me.”

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Athorists of the World, Say “Hi”

Wiping his mouth, Pete fought down a laugh. “Wow. I think we’ve broken all the first date etiquette.”

“Well,” Janet added, “we haven’t discussed politics or religion.”

“In that case,” Pete explained, “I’m a liberal leaning libertarian athorist.”


“I deny the existence of Thor. Well, I accept the fictional character of Thor from Norse mythology and comic books, but I deny the existence of a living breathing Thor.”

Janet nodded. “Okay. I don’t think there are that many Thorist out there.”

“True,” Pete answered. “So it’s easy being an athorist, but it doesn’t takeaway the truthfulness of it.”

“So,” Janet drew the word out, “why are you an athorist?”

“Part of it’s a joke, but it’s also a test.”

“A test?”

“Yeah.” Pete shrugged. “It seems that people are … they’re saying, ‘We are X, that’s who we are.’ And there are other people who are saying, ‘We believe most of the same stuff those Xers believe, but we are Y, that’s who we are.’ But despite being similar, the Xs and Ys can only point out their differences. And don’t even get them started on those O people. Then I come along and say, ‘Hey you Xs and Ys and Os, despite all your differences, you’re all athorists.’ And some, a few, will reply, ‘You’re right. Let us build upon our commonalities.’ Those are people you can deal with. But there are a lot of people, when you tell them this Truth, get as offended as if I kicked their puppy, which just tells me that Truth isn’t part of their reality.” After a pause Pete added, “If that makes any sense.”

“Oh yeah,” Janet agreed. “I’m an athorist as well. I’m also an azeusthian.”

A look of disgust came to Pete. “Heathen,” he said, before busting out in a laugh.

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Will Any Survive?

December 22, 2012, 3:14 AM

Mike brought his hand to his lips and spoke in a raspy voice. “I look out upon a scene of utter destruction.” After a pause he added, “Am I the only survivor?”

“Dude,” his friend Joe croaked. “Shut the hell up.”

“I’m recording this in case anyone ever finds my body.”

Joe slowly blinked. “You’re talking into a beer bottle.”

After several moments of looking at his hand, it dawned on Mike he was holding a beer bottle. He dropped it on the floor, where it rolled into another empty with a clink. Flipping an empty pizza box and knocking over a full ashtray, Mike made a staggered search for his phone. When he was finished with everything within reach, he asked, “Where the fuck’s my phone?”

“How the hell should I know?” Joe replied. “Ask Chris.”

Mike looked out over the field of empties: beer bottles, pizza boxes, beer bottles, Chinese food boxes, beer bottles. On the far horizon was the door to the next room where Chris, and hopefully Mike’s phone, should be.

After a moment’s thought, Mike figured that was too far to go. He picked up another empty. “None of us thought it would come to this.”

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Not Another One

“Get in there.” With a final shove with his foot, the fat man in a cheap suit forced the other man through the opening. The fat man took a staggered step, then pulled out a handkerchief to wipe away the sweat on his face. “I don’t get paid enough for this,” he grumbled.

Taking the cigar from his mouth, he waved it at the next man in line. “You’re next.” The tall, skinny man stepped forward. “And you are?” the fat man asked.

The skinny man handed over his papers. “His uncle Mike is someone the family doesn’t really talk about, but his mother recently told him a story about something Mike did when he went away to college. Apparently …”

“Another Uncle Mike story,” the fat man interrupted.

“Er … yeah, I guess.”

The fat man stamped the papers and handed them back. “Assume the position.”


“Try to hold his ear open and shove your head in as far as you can.” With a smirk the fat man added, “I’ll give you a push.”



After a rather undignified entrance, the skinny man found himself in a cavernous room. It would have been roomy if he wasn’t crammed in with what seemed thousands of others. Several jostles later, he managed to catch the eye of a young woman. “Excuse me, where am I,” he asked.

The woman glared at him. “You an outsider?”

“Um … I guess so, yes.”

The woman grumbled. “Does he wear a sign around his neck, or what?”

After a few seconds the man said, “I’m afraid I don’t follow you.”

Spreading her arms as far as the crowd allowed, the woman said, “Look around. You’re inside the guy’s head. There were hundreds, thousands of us stories crammed in here waiting to be written. Then you people started showing up. It’s like the guy has a sign around his neck saying, ‘I’m a writer, tell me a story,’ because apparently everyone does.”

Standing on the tips of her toes, the woman poked the man in the chest. “I was born here, from out of the guy’s own imagination, but I might never be written because the guy spends time writing the likes of you.”

Before the skinny man could reply, a burly man pulled the woman back. “Take it easy Futuristic/lesbian version of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, it’s not his fault he’s here.” Gently pushing her into the crowd, he added, “Why don’t you go cool off.”

The woman glared back and forth between the two men, then turned and waded into the crowd.

When the burly man turned to him, the skinny man asked, “Futuristic/lesbian version of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn?”

The burly man shrugged. “Henrietta Finn – a working name – steals a scout ship and runs away from a space colony with Jane, an android. They have numerous little adventures involving way more sex and violence than you’d find in something from the Nineteenth Century.”


Holding out his hand, the burly man said, “I’m Star Mine.”

Taking his hand, the skinny man asked, “Star Mine?”

“A type of self-contained plasma is found within stars that could be used as fuel for interstellar ships. A team is sent to mine the plasma and finds out that it’s a form of life. And you are?”

“Oh, I’m a story about the guy’s Uncle Mike. He’s a …”

“An Uncle Mike story,” Star Mine said nodding. “There’s a group of your type over in a corner. I’ll lead you to them.”

“There are other Uncle Mike stories?”

“Yeah.” Star Mine must have seen the look of disappointment on the skinny man’s face. He added, “Don’t worry. I don’t think any of them have been written yet. You could be the first.”

See what I wrote about this story on my Published Works page.

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A Breath of Fresh Air

“Good morning. I will read a statement and then answer questions.

“Two days ago, I was recorded referring to my opponent Mister Fransen as a, quote ‘retard’ unquote. Since then, I have received well over ten thousand emails from people with mental retardation as well as their family and friends berating me for using that term. While I can sympathize with them, I feel I must remind them that I was engaging in a private conversation. If the choice is to have a language police monitor every conversation for inappropriate content, or to have private conversations with inappropriate content, I’ll vote for the latter. Will I ever use the term again? Possibly. But it will never be in a public statement, outside of this one.

“Now if by using a term most people have used at some point in their lives means I’ve lost the vote of mentally retarded and their family and friends, so be it. But I won’t worry because if you look that hard you’ll see that everyone – especially politicians – have such flaws in their character, so I doubt they’re voting anyway.

“However, I will take this time to apologize for associating Mister Fransen with the mentally retarded. There are causes – genetic, disease, trauma – that impair the mentally retarded from functioning as well as the, quote ‘normal’ unquote population. I understand that. But to the best of my knowledge, Mister Fransen’s inability to follow simple logic is because … I don’t know. I want to say that I believe him to be an idiot, but idiot has been used as a derogatory term for the mentally retarded, so I’m back where I started.

“Now, some of you will say I’m being harsh, and I considered that possibility. I mean, I get up at 6:00 every morning, and it’s interviews, strategy sessions, press conferences, budgeting sessions, listening to the public, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera, until … I didn’t get to bed until 1:30 this morning. Running for office is complicated, and some people aren’t cut out for it. And that’s not being dismissive. Some people play football, some play basketball. Some people write symphonies, some run for office. And if I felt that Mister Fransen was just in over his head, he would have my sympathies. But if you go to my YouTube page, you’ll see a video of Mister Fransen when he appeared on Morning Sunshine. The video is unedited, it’s not taken out of context, he doesn’t appear to be frazzled or impeded in any way – and yet he speaks nonsense. There’s a section – I believe it’s around the three minute mark – where he’s talking about energy policy and he flip-flops. Now, most politicians flip-flop, but there is usually a day or week or something between the flip and the flop. Mister Fransen does it in a paragraph. Without realizing it. An isolated incident would be … amusing, but also on my YouTube page there is a montage of Fransen flip-flops. The sad thing is most of the flops come from the same video as the flips. He’ll start an interview saying one thing, but by the end he’s saying the opposite, apparently without realizing he’s flopped his flip.

“So, in conclusion, I believe Mister Fransen does not have the ability to effectively hold office if he is elected. While trying to explain this to someone in a private conversation, I took a crude shortcut, and for that I am sorry.


See what I wrote about this story on my Published Works page.

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If Only it Were That Easy

Walking into the kitchen, Thomas told his wife, “I don’t know what’s wrong with me.” He sat down and added, “I haven’t been able to write for days. It’s like I’m out of oomph.”

Without looking up from her reader, his wife said, “Maybe you just tripped a breaker.”

“That’s …” Thomas stopped himself and frowned. He looked down and opened his chest panel. All the breakers were in the “on” position except for the one marked “WRITING.”

“Huh,” Thomas said. He moved the lever to the “off” position then back to “on.” He looked at his wife and his eyes went wide. Without closing the panel he exclaimed, “Eureka,” and bolted to his study.

His wife shook her head as she watched him go, then returned to her reader.

See what I wrote about this story on my Published Works page.

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Endangered Memories

After work, Carol stopped at the nearby coffee shop for an iced coffee. As she walked in she saw her coworker Alan sitting at a table writing in a notebook. “Working on a novel?” she asked.

Alan looked up. “Huh?” Noticing who it was, he said, “Oh, no. Just … memories.”


“Endangered memories.”

Carol raised an eyebrow.

“Uh.” Alan indicated the seat across from him and said, “Do you want to sit, or grab something.”

Carol looked to the counter and said, “I’ll be back.” When she returned with her iced coffee, she sat down and asked, “Endangered memories?”

“Yeah.” Alan bit his lip, then explained, “What I was working on was … uh. In elementary school, after classes all the students gathered in the cafeteria. From the cafeteria it was … maybe ten feet to the entrance the buses used. So there was a teacher to watch over all the students and they would usually pick a student they trusted to stand in the hallway by the entrance to watch for the buses.

“One night I was that student and the teacher working had a son maybe four years old who was with her. Well, I was standing in the hallway and I saw this kid walk out of the cafeteria. He pretty much went straight to the fire alarm. Standing on the tips of his toes, he reached up and pulled it. I watched him do it. There were four or five seconds I could have said, ‘Hey, don’t do that,’ but I didn’t. I think I thought He’s not going to pull it. When he did I probably thought Oh, the strongest curse word I knew at the time. Also, I think the teacher working that night was known to have a temper, and I didn’t know what would happen if I yelled at her kid.

“Anyway, he’s looked around wondering where all the noise is coming from and the teacher ran out the cafeteria and I’m like, ‘I was watching for buses.’ So she took him away and they shut the alarm off, and that was it. Now, I’m sure there’s an old, dusty record at the school, or local fire station, or the alarm company about when some kid pulled the alarm twenty-five plus years ago. But I wonder, Does the kid remember? Or his mother? Is it possible that I’m the only person who remembers this event?”

Carol sipped her iced coffee. “It’s probable, but so what?”

Alan shrugged. “How many things are there that only I know, or remember? I’m the keeper of endangered memories.” He shrugged again. “That makes me a tiny bit special.”

“But everyone can say that.”

Alan grinned. “True.”

See what I wrote about this story on my Published Works page.

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Would That be a Waste?

“Shocking news from the online world has people scratching their heads. Erica Metcalf has more on this story. Erica.”

“Thanks John. We’ve all opened our email to find spam: those unwanted messages promising free medicines, an improved love life, and dubious money making schemes. It is estimated by the Internet Security Commission that 95% of all emails sent are spam. They also estimate that each year spam costs people and business almost $200 billion in lost productivity.

“That is, until today. Reports from the Internet Security Commission and numerous web providers indicate that spam has disappeared. This isn’t just a drastic reduction in spam, it’s a total elimination. As one web provider stated, ‘Yesterday, our anti-spam software programs stopped around a billion-and-a-half suspicious emails. Today, they’ve stopped zero.’

“No one has yet been able to explain how the thousands of spammers scattered across the world with millions of spambot computers could have been stopped overnight….”

Will turned off his TV and smiled. He looked to his left at the being whose lower body was contained within an ancient lamp. The being nodded and asked, “What is your second wish?”

See what I wrote about this story on my Published Works page.

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Strange Worlds

“So, are you a morning or a night person?” Anna asked, then sipped her wine.

“A night person, but I can fake being a morning person,” Henry replied.

Anna shook her head. “I need about three cups of coffee just to open my eyes.”

Pretending to write on his hand, Henry said, “Note to self: buy coffee.”

Anna’s eyebrows went up. “Pretty sure of yourself, aren’t you.”

“Well,” Henry drew the word out, “I would say the first date’s going well, so there’ll probably be a second, hopefully a third, and so on.”

“I’ll tell you what,” Anna said with a smile, “If – or when – we go on our third date, I’ll tell you what brand of coffee I drink.”

Henry only replied by picking up his beer bottle and clinking it on her wine glass. After a sip he stated, “I take it then you’re a night person.”

“Oh yeah. It’s my favorite part of the day.”

“How ironic.” Anna scrunched her face up in confusion, so Henry explained, “Your favorite part of the day is the night.”

“Ah. I guess I should have expected subtle wordplay from a writer.”

“I try my best.”

“So what’s your favorite part of the day, or night, as the case may be?”

Henry took a sip of beer. “Probably, the times I’m half-awake. Either when I go to bed or getting up in the morning.”


“I get to visit such strange worlds.”

Before Anna could ask, Henry went on, “I have an overactive imagination. I don’t know if it was one of the things that led me to being a writer, or if as a writer I’ve given my imagination such a workout that it’s now overactive. A chicken-or-egg thing. Anyway, at night it takes me awhile to fall asleep and my imagination takes over and I have these … daydreams.”

“Aren’t daydreams at night just called dreams?” Anna asked with a smirk.

Henry smiled. “If you’re asleep, that’s true. But I’m not. For example, last night I drifted off a bit and from somewhere came the idea of a time traveler stuck with cavemen. The time traveler became me, and I wondered how to earn my keep. What if the leader had his arm cut up by a … lion or something and the idea of stitching the wound closed had never occurred to them. How could I explain to them what I was doing? How could I explain ‘This is going to hurt.’ I figured taking the needle and jabbing him in the arm a few times so he understands ‘needle skin hurt.’ I woke up enough and saw only about ten minutes had passed, so that couldn’t have been a regular-type dream.”

“So, what,” Anna asked, “you get a kick out of jabbing cavemen with needles?” She hid her smile behind her wine glass.

“Well, if you were a time traveler who made an entrance with a ball of lightning or something so they thought you were a god, then yes, poking them with needles might be fun. But if they just thought you were a bloke from another tribe, probably not as much fun. But my point was, about five or six times a week I get these little, freebee movies. And often times I’ll jot ‘em down and make a story out of them.”



“What story can you get out of jabbing cavemen?”

“Well,” Henry said with a shrug, “I left a bit out.”

“The surprisingly attractive cavewoman who shaves her legs and armpits?”

“Ah, no. Interesting idea though. No, I can’t remember if this was part of the ‘dream’ or something I came up with immediately afterwards, but these archaeologists find a stone aged, flush toilet. So a time traveler gets stuck with these cavemen and starts introducing them to modern ideas.”

“Flush toilets and stitching wounds.”

“If I had stayed in the ‘dream’ longer, I’d have come up with more.”

Anna nodded a few times, then stated, “You’re strange, you know that.”

“Yeah. You should hear about where I went this morning.”

Anna smiled. “Let me have my coffee first.”

See what I wrote about this story on my Published Works page.

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The Headless Gnome

Looking back, Mike was glad he hadn’t been afraid. Without fear it was funny; with fear it would have just been pathetic.

Mike worked the night shift at a convenience store. It sucked, but it – more or less – paid the bills. Since it was only five blocks from his apartment, Mike saved on gas money by walking. He would sleep during the afternoon, get up a little after 11:00, eat breakfast, catch up on the news of the day, then leave for work about a quarter to midnight.

As he walked along he would look up, block out the street lights, and consider himself lucky if he was able to see ten stars. Growing up in the country – far away from city lights – Mike had been used to looking up and seeing thousands of stars. Of course, as a kid, his wild imagination had filled the vast wall of night with giant, ravenous, fire breath monsters. After moving to town Mike had wondered if the kids growing up there only had to deal with small monsters; ones who could hide in the bits of night crouching behind trash cans.

One overcast night, as Mike passed the First National parking lot, he saw something white moving out of the corner of his eye. The logical part of his mind told him it was probably a piece of paper, but there was no breeze. It was moving along the ground by no apparent means.

Looking at it closer, he saw that it was pure white. It looked like a tiny torso, with two stubby, little arms. There was no head, but there were two legs. Two legs that were walking. Walking towards him.

The logical part of his mind wasn’t trying to provide an answer. No part of his mind was asking a question. He just watched, out of curiosity.

A few heartbeats later, Mike saw that there was more to the “creature.” He had seen the white, but had missed the dark grey that had blended perfectly into the shadowed asphalt. A cat. A dark grey cat with a white splotch on its chest. A white splotch that looked like a tiny torso, with two, stubby little arms. The splotch even continued partway down the cat’s front legs, so it seemed as if the headless torso was walking.

The cat disappeared. Mike figured it bolted at the burst of laughter. He was glad there weren’t any cars passing, or nearby residences. What would people think if they looked out and saw some guy doubled over on the sidewalk laughing?

As soon as he could, Mike pulled himself together and continued on to work. He figured with his luck a cop car would go by, and he didn’t want to explain to the officer how he had thought he had seen a headless gnome.

See what I wrote about this story on my Published Works page.

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Tick Tock

The bag was removed from Sam’s head. He blinked at the dim light. He wanted to wipe the sweat from his face, but his hands were handcuffed to the chair he was sitting in. Squinting around the dank cell he asked, “What do you want?”

A man in a filthy uniform, with a few days growth of beard and sleepless eyes stared down at him. “What do you want?” Sam asked again.

In reply, the man set a briefcase on the small table before Sam and opened it so Sam couldn’t see the contents. The man pulled out a pistol, made sure Sam saw it, and set it on the table. He then took out a pad of paper and a pen and set them before Sam. The last thing he took from the briefcase, before setting it on the ground, was a battery powered alarm clock.

Pulling up a folding chair, the man said, “The General, likes your style.”

After a few moments, Sam said, “That’s good to hear. I guess.”

“Oh, it is very good,” the man said, nodding. “But also, not so good. The General, you see … how do I phrase this … has a very stressful job. And sometimes, the stress gets a little too much, and maybe he cracks a little. It just shows he’s human. But he says things, at times like that, and being a good soldier, I follow them. To the letter.”

“That, must be tough for you,” Sam said, not knowing anything better to say.

“I manage,” was all the man said.

A few seconds passed, and Sam asked, “And what does that have to do with me?”

“As I said,” the man explained, “the General likes your style. He has all your books and has read several of your stories to the men. They’re not exactly my … cup of tea, as they say, but good nonetheless.”

“Thank you.”

“But the General, in one of his cracked moments, had an idea about you, and that brings us to now.”

“How so.”

The man picked up the clock and set the alarm for one hour hence. “I am to give you one hour to write a story. If you can’t …” he looked at the pistol and shrugged.

“You’re … joking. Right?”

In reply the man just tapped the clock and said, “Tick tock.”

“But how …? My hands are handcuffed behind my back.”

“My apologizes.” The man waved to someone behind Sam and his handcuffs were soon removed. His ankles were still shackled to the chair, so he couldn’t make a run for it.

Sam sat and rubbed his wrists for a moment. “This is a joke. A prank on the famous author.”

The man picked the pistol up, aimed it towards the ceiling, and pulled the trigger. The implications of the gunshot were far louder than the gunshot itself.

Several minutes later, Sam was still having trouble getting his breathing and heart rate settled down. The man leaned forward and said, “My friend, believe me when I say I have no desire to shoot you. I’d much rather have both of us walk out of here; you to return to your hotel and me taking your new story to the General. But for that, you need to write.”

Almost against his will, Sam picked up the pen. He looked at it, then the pad of paper, then the clock, then the gun. Laying his head on the table he said, “This can’t be happening.”

The man said what had to be a curse in a language Sam didn’t know and banged his fist on the table. Jolted up, Sam saw the man lean across the table and yell, “This is happening.”

Sam closed his eyes and took several deep breaths. They didn’t help. Opening his eyes he looked at the clock, then the gun, then the clock, back and forth. After dozens of repetitions of “clock-gun-clock-gun-clock-gun-clock-gun,” the word “clockgun” came to his mind. A clockgun? Sam thought. A gun that shoots time? After a moments thought he continued, Nah, a gun that shoots antitime. If you hit somebody with an antifive minute round, they’re gone for five minutes and you can run away.

Without thinking, Sam wrote “clockgun” on the pad.

About a minute later, Sam had a rough outline for a story about a secret agent sent to recover a timegun stolen from top secret government lab. He grinned at the thought, but then realized he would never be able to write the whole thing in the … thirty-five minutes he had.

Rubbing the bridge of his nose, he thought a long string of curse words. Taking a deep breath he asked, “Would it be okay if I serialized the story?”

The man looked confused for a moment, then nodded and said, “Sure.”

Picking up the pen, Sam began writing as fast as he could. He filled up several pages covering how Special Agent Joseph Johnson was called away from his vacation to track down whoever had stolen the timegun from the government lab. He found them in an abandoned store, but when the bad guys saw him, one pulled the timegun from his coat.

Feeling like such a hack, Sam wrote, “To be continued …” on the page. He wiped his hand over his face and felt the sweat. Just as he looked at the clock, the alarm went off.

The man turned off the alarm, then picked up the pad. He looked at it a moment, then told Sam, “Do you know how atrocious your handwriting is?”

See what I wrote about this story on my Published Works page.

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If you enjoyed these, check out my collection of flash fiction stories, A Man of Few Words.

June 2009 Stories

Into the Flames

“So, who wants to go first?” Dave asked.

The three friends looked at one another in the firelight. “It was your idea,” Karen said.

“Yeah,” Mike added, “You should go first.”

“All right.” Dave set his beer down, stood and walked towards their mini bonfire. He took a moment to watch some sparks flew up to mingle among the stars. Taking a deep breath, he unfolded a yellowed sheet of paper. “That is dated September 24, 1996, a week after I turned sixteen.” Dave cleared his throat and held the paper so he could read it with the firelight. He read:

Just as water swirls down a commode
my life swirls into darkness
If there is any light at the end of my tunnel
I have yet to reach it
Where I will end up I do not know
but it has to be better than where I am

Dave turned and bowed to his friends. Karen gave a quiet golf clap while Mike made retching noises. “Didn’t you guys care for my carefully crafted rhythm and word usage?”

“You had rhythm?” Mike asked.

“Now, now,” Karen slapped Mike’s arm. “How many poems do you know use the word commode?”

Mike laughed. “Not enough.”

“Exactly,” Dave cried. “I was filling a woeful gap in world literature.”

Lifting his beer bottle, Mike said, “Yeah. I’m going to need several more … cases before I believe that.”

“Yeah, I’m betting your high school verses were golden,” Dave replied.

“You’ll see.”

Karen clapped twice. “Come on, you’re holding things up.”

Dave stuck his nose in the air and stated, “See if I am as considerate with your work.” He broke into a laugh and turned back to the fire. With no fanfare, he dropped the paper into the flames. He watched the page blacken and crumble into flaky bits of ash that disappeared into the dark night.

Turning back to his friends, Dave asked, “Isn’t it interesting that the idea of burning bad poems seems worse than the actuality?”

Mike took a swig of beer, then asked, “Is the borderline between good and bad poems crossed when burning it becomes worse than the idea of burning it?”

“I prefer my poems medium rare,” Karen stated. The three shared a laugh.

Sitting back down, Dave picked up his beer and asked, “So, who’s next?”

See what I wrote about this story on my Published Works page.

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Pink Disk

Peter Miller closed his eyes and took a deep breath. Even though part of his job as a manager was to fire people, he had never been comfortable with it. And Mister Palmer’s statement that this was an historic first firing had not helped. Squaring his shoulders he opened a door and entered the Spartan office.

“Good morning, Mister Miller,” Tom said.

“Morning, Tom,” Peter replied.

“How may I help you?”

Peter sat down. “I’m sorry, Tom. I have some bad news.”

“What is it, Mister Miller?”

Sighing, Peter said, “The higher ups have decided that after the debacle of the Kun account, we will no longer be needing your services.”

Tom was silent for a moment, then stated, “You’re firing me.”

“Tom, we’ve spoken before about your diminishing job performance. You seem preoccupied and your work has suffered. If you were human, I would tell you to take some time and get your head together.”

“I don’t thing that would help me,” Tom replied. “I think I’ve just become bored with the endless number crunching.”

Standing, Peter said, “Well, I hope you find something better. I wish I could give you more time, but you need to either download into a portable device or upload to the net within the hour. Mister Palmer is already looking for your replacement.”

“I understand.”

Before leaving, Peter waved to Tom’s optical sensor and said, “Good luck.”

See what I wrote about this story on my Published Works page.

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Fist of the State

“Sir, do you know why I pulled you over?”

Bryan shook his head, smiled, and answered, “No.”

Without warning, the officer slammed his fist into the side of Bryan’s face.

“What the hell?”

“We adopted enhanced ticketing techniques in this county when we found out a closed fist readily cuts through the crap.”

Gently touching his cheek, Bryan said, “Okay, I was speeding.”

“Do you know how fast you were going?”

Bryan paused for a heartbeat and said, “Seventy, seventy-five.”

The cop punched Bryan again.

“Ow. I, I didn’t think I was going eighty.”

Again the cop punched him. “We can do this here, or I can take you back to the station.”

If Bryan had not used the restroom when he had gotten gas ten minutes earlier, he would have wet himself. “Look, I wasn’t paying attention. I know it’s wrong, but I lost track of how fast I was going.”

“How fast do you think you were going?” When Bryan didn’t immediately answer, the cop asked again, emphasizing each word. “How fast do you think you were going?”

Bryan took a deep breath. “I’ll say ninety.”

He flinched, but the cop only took out a pen and wrote out a ticket. Handing it to Bryan, the cop said, “Have a good day, Sir, but keep it under the limit.”

See what I wrote about this story on my Published Works page.

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Do I have an Idea for You

While Mike flipped through the never ending parade of infomercials, bad movies, and black and white classics of late night television, he couldn’t decide which was worse: insomnia or writer’s block. He had only managed a few hours of sleep each night for the past week, and while he wanted to write, whenever he put pen to paper all he ended up with were doodles.

As he decided to turn the TV off and pick up War and Peace (the better to bludgeon himself into unconsciousness) a commercial started. A bearded young man sitting at a desk asked, “Hi, are you a writer who has trouble coming up with ideas?”

Am I hallucinating? Mike asked himself. Can you hallucinate from lack of sleep.

In what was a good indication he wasn’t losing his mind, the man on TV didn’t answer Mike’s thoughts. Instead he said, “My name is Tom Stevenson, and I have the opposite problem. I can come up with ideas for short stories, novellas, novels, even screenplays, but I have a hard time turning my outlines into proper prose. To prevent my ideas from dying with me, I’ve decided to sell them. For a modest fee, you’ll receive exclusive rights to the idea and an outline as detailed as you want. I work mostly in science fiction, but I dabble in other genres. Whatever your needs, contact me and – once I put my mind to it – I’m sure I’ll have an idea for you. You can reach me at idea4you at oneoveralpha dot com.” With the address appearing on the screen below him, the man finished, “Happy writing.”

Some car commercial came on and Mike turned off the TV. He sat for a few moments then scrambled for a pen. Scribbling down the address Mike wasn’t sure if he hated the man for coming up with such an idea or if he should ask for a franchise.

Almost without noticing, below the address Mike wrote, “She walked into my office looking for an idea.” Mike looked at the words and smiled.

“Excuse me?” I asked.

She sat lowered herself into the rickety chair. Instead of creaking as it does for my normal – heavyset male – customers, it the chair seemed to sigh. She touched her tongue to her lips and said, “I wish to hire your for an idea.”

See what I wrote about this story on my Published Works page.

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“Ma’am, the President will see you now.”

Aisha Lee smiled at the aide. “Thank you.” Smoothing her grey business suit that accentuated the prismatic starburst tattooed on her bald scalp, she followed the aide down the hallway leading to the President’s Study. Along the way they passed several photos taken of the Paris Conference in 2033. As the first President of the Human Republic, Sandra Lewis had filled the Executive Mansion with numerous photos of that day – both before and after the nuclear explosion. In her words, “They are to be a constant reminder to myself and my successors of the fragility of life, peace, even civilization.”

A burly guard stood at the end of the hallway. He gave Aisha a curt nod, and she followed the aide into a thickly carpeted room with bookcases running along the walls. There were no windows, but a skylight let in the afternoon light. In the center of the room was a low table surrounded by six padded chairs.

President Gilmar Temer stood on the other side of the room with an open book in his hands. “Do you require anything, Mister President?” the aide asked.

Looking up from his book, the President shook his head and said, “I sent Lena for some coffee, so we should …” A young woman entered the room carrying a carafe, cups and packets of sugar and cream on a tray. “Ah, Lena, we were just talking of you.”

Lena smiled and set the tray on the table. “Is there anything else, Mister President?”

“No, thank you both.”

Lena and the aide both nodded and said, “Ma’am” to Aisha then left, closing the door behind them. The President closed his book and set it back on the shelf. Walking towards her, he said, “Aisha, I’m happy I can finally tell you congratulations in person.”

“Thank you, Mister President.”

“Mister President? Such formality.”

They both smiled, and Aisha answered, “For now, at least.”

His smile grew grim. “I only wish I wasn’t leaving you such a mess. I used to fear history would judge me harshly for my handling of the war, but then I realized the only way we’ll have a history is if we win.”

“Then I will double my efforts, so we will have a history to remember you fondly.”

The President let out a little laugh, then said, “Please, sit down. The Admiral should be here soon.” They sat in adjoining chairs and the President asked, “Coffee?”

“No, I’m fine. Thank you.”

Pouring himself a cup, the President said, “I used to think it was amazing a kid from the streets of São Paulo could end up here.” He laughed as he sat back, leaving his coffee black. “But I only moved a few thousand kilometers to the east. Compared to you, that’s next door.”

“It’s not the destination that counts, but the journey.”

Before the President could reply, the door opened and a tall man in uniform with a bloody dagger tattooed on his scalp entered. “Mister President.” He nodded then turned to Aisha. “Madam President-Elect.”

“Ah, Admiral Stark. Please, sit down. Coffee?”

“No. Thank you, Mister President.” The Admiral sat across from Aisha and set his data pad on the table before him.

The President took a sip of his coffee, then said, “Admiral, this is your show.”

The Admiral nodded, then turned towards Aisha. “Madam President-Elect. Three months ago, President Temer asked me to prepare a briefing for the next President concerning our next major strike, Operation Lightning.”

“What’s the target?”

The Admiral glanced at the President, then replied, “Sandra.”

Humanity’s first interstellar colony – named after the beloved first President – had been captured by the Whistlers five months before. Aisha knew that an attempt to liberate it would come during her administration, but expected it to be a year away, at least. “How soon,” she asked.

“Six months.”

Aisha raised an eyebrow. “I must commend your security arraignment, Admiral Stark. As a – former – member of the Parliament’s Security Committee, even I heard nothing of such an eminent attack.”

The Admiral gave the briefest of smiles. “We hope the Whistlers are equally surprised.”

Aisha nodded. “I understand that thousands of lives have been spent in the past year to check the Whistler’s invasion of our territory, and that the only way to make sure those lives were not paid in vain is to go on the offensive. But conventional wisdom is that we should liberate some of the smaller colonies and outposts, building up momentum before an attack on Sandra. Besides the obvious, is there a reason for the rush?”

“We have intelligence that the Whistlers have already sent thousands of civilians they captured on Sandra to other worlds as slave labor.”

Aisha turned to the President. “Why hasn’t that information been released?”

Setting his cup down on the table, the President asked her, “What would happen if it was?”

She thought for a moment, then answered, “Anger. For now, the public understands that we need to build up before launching such an operation, but if they found out, they would demand we launch an immediate attack to liberate Sandra.”

“Publicly,” the Admiral added, “and militarily, we are putting on the show of taking a gradual, cautious, conventional approach. In just over a month we’ll launch Operation Boulder, to retake the mining operation in the Delta Normae system. That, and other operations, should convince the Whistler’s that we won’t be launching an attack on Sandra anytime soon. We fear if we begin a systematic approach, or if they get wind we’re up to something, they could step up their slave labor efforts or resort to massacre. So, instead of striking at the smaller worlds in preparation for Operation Lightning, they will be struck in a simultaneous attack as part of Operation Thunder.”

Aisha asked, “How large a strike force are you putting together?”

Opening his data pad, Admiral Stark replied, “For Operation Lightning, we will use the Republic’s First, Second, and Fourth Fleets, the First Coalition Fleet, as well as a ‘large grouping’ of Lumen warships. For Operation Thunder, we’ll use the Republic’s Sixth Fleet and the Second and Third Coalition Fleets. We’ll keep the Eighth Republic Fleet, the Fifth Coalition Fleet, and a ‘medium grouping’ of Lumen ships in reserve. Counting all the auxiliaries, there will be over four thousand vessels.

“On D-Day, on Sandra we expect to land five Marine Divisions, three divisions worth of Coalition forces, and close to 50,000 Lumen troops. In the following days we plan to land six more divisions and however many Lumen troops are available. One Marine Division and one Coalition Division are set for Operation Thunder, and three more divisions will be kept in reserve.”

“That’s almost a million men and women.”

The Admiral nodded. “Yes, Ma’am. If you include all the supply, maintenance, and medical personnel, in pushes it to 1.4 million Humans, 200,000 Lumens, and however many Pentans honor their agreement to render non-combat assistance.”

Aisha took a deep breath, then asked, “Will the GDI Third Armored Brigade be a part of this?”

Not looking away from her, the Admiral answered, “Yes. On D-Day, a contingent of Martian Special Forces will parachute just south of Unity City. They will secure a landing zone and the Third Armored will be airlifted in.”

Aisha gave a weak smile. “My nephew Thein will be proud he’s taking part, landing on D-Day. Don’t know how his mother will take it.”

The three were silent for a few moments, then Admiral Stark stated, “Ma’am, in our battle plans, we don’t include the Third Armored past D+3. Our projections are that they, and several other units that land on D-Day, will have suffered such extensive casualties that they will no longer be effective fighting forces.”

Taking another deep breath, Aisha asked, “How many mothers and fathers, husbands and wives, do you project will receive unwanted visits from the military?”

The Admiral paused for a moment before replying, “85,000. With three times as many wounded.”

The three remained silent for several seconds. Then Aisha asked, “That’s our best option? Sending nearly 100,000 men and women to their deaths?”

“It’s our only option,” President Temer replied. “Other than surrender and enslavement.” Taking her hand, he added, “Aisha, it pained me just setting this in motion, knowing so many lives will end. But you will be the one who will give the final order. For that, you have my sympathy.”

See what I wrote about this story on my Published Works page.

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Last Man, I

“Last man on Earth” killed in hit-and-run; driver at large

Brookville, PA – Kevin Stand, 27, of Brookville was struck by a car on Euclid Avenue last night around 6:50 PM. The driver fled the scene in a blue Nissan. Anyone with information is urged to call the Brookville Police at 849-5323. Mr. Stand was rushed to Brookville Hospital, where he died from his injuries.

Mr. Stand suffered from a rare mental disorder where he believed himself to be the last man on Earth. He ignored anyone who talked to him, and if anyone stood in his way, he would walk around them as if they were a telephone pole.

Robert Kent, a neighbor of the Stands for fifteen years, had this to say, “Kevin was a good kid, and it’s a shame he died like this. Even though he thought he was the last man on Earth, he did his best to keep things ‘normal’ in the neighborhood. All day he’d walk around the block picking up litter, mowing lawns in summer and shoveling snow in winter. We will all miss him, and his Last Man Press.” The Last Man Press Mr. Kent spoke of was a one page newspaper Mr. Stand printed out in his parents basement concerning his thoughts and actions as the last man on Earth. “In his desire to keep things normal,” Mr. Kent explained, “he took on the role as a paperboy delivering the newspaper to the neighborhood.” It was while delivering the latest edition of the Last Man Press that Mr. Stand was struck and killed.

Funeral arraignments have yet to be made.

See what I wrote about this story on my Published Works page.

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Last Man, II

Last man on Earth killed, Last Man Press under new management

Hi. My name is Ted Fahey. Until two days ago I thought I was the last man on Earth. In the five years since the Plaque wiped out humanity, I’ve crisscrossed this country looking for other survivors. I finally found one, Dave Coleman, and killed him. I was driving down a street of what I assumed was yet another empty town. Then I saw the mown lawns. It could only have been a few seconds that my eyes were off the road. Dave must have been as surprised at hearing a car as I was at seeing cut grass. By the time I stopped the car and ran back to him, he was dead. He had been riding a bike, with a satchel of his last edition of the Last Man Press, concerning his plans of extending his maintenance project to Elm Street.

I buried him in his front lawn, hoping he would appreciate it. After I finished I looked around at the pristine neighborhood, with its well kept lawns, painted houses, even the cars parked along the curb were well maintained. For years I’ve watched as this country has crumbled and fallen into decay. But this little patch of bygone normalcy …. At first I didn’t know if I should pack up and keep moving, or settle down. What decided it was when I took my first hot shower in five years; Dave had a generator and a couple diesel tankers parked a block over.

While going through his house I found his collection of the Last Man Press and read through all of them. I concluded from them that he had gone a little nuts. I mean, who prints up their own newspaper so they can relive their youth as a paperboy? But hey, I’m sure over the years I’ve developed quirks of my own, so who am I to judge? Anyway, I’ve decided to stay and carry on the Last Man Press in Dave’s memory. And I’m actually looking forward to reading this with my breakfast. Reading the paper at breakfast had been a little pleasure of mine, years ago. Maybe Dave wasn’t so crazy.

See what I wrote about this story on my Published Works page.

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We Is Smart

Peter stared out his front door as he tightened his tie. Through the falling water – it seemed wrong to use a poetic word as rain for such an onslaught – he could just make out the Johnson’s house across the street. The occasional flicker of lightning helped a little, but it didn’t last; unlike the nearly constant rumble of thunder as it echoed from the surrounding hills.

His wife Jen entered putting in her earrings. “You ready?”

“Huh?” Peter turned to her. “Oh, yeah.”

“Something wrong?” She sat down and began putting on her shoes.

“I was just thinking,” Peter said, glancing at the storm, “that humanity has gotten really stupid.”

“How do you figure?”

“Well, if our cavemen ancestors had woken to a storm like this, they would have spent the day huddled around the campfire trying to figure out why their gods were angry with them. They wouldn’t rush into a storm like a herd following the leader of productivity.”

Jen stood and said, “You’re just cranky because I said ‘No’ to morning sex.”

Peter started to deny it, but stopped himself. “You know,” he said with a smile, “if you had said ‘yes’ we’d be running late and I wouldn’t have had time for this wool gathering. So it is you’re fault.”

She smiled back and asked, “Do you want me to say ‘No’ to tonight sex as well?” Without waiting for him to reply she went through the door to the garage.

Peter called after her, “If you keep that up, I’ll have to get myself a club,” before following.

See what I wrote about this story on my Published Works page.

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Author’s note: This is a Tom and Jeremy story.

“And what dark thoughts are you contemplating this evening?”

Jeremy looked up at his friend Tom and asked, “Have you ever thought about keeping a harem?”

For several seconds, Tom stared at Jeremy. Setting his writing notebook and pen on the table, he said, “Hold that thought.” He returned a few minutes later with his coffee. He took a sip, waved his hand, and said, “Begin.”

Jeremy raised an eyebrow, but said, “Yesterday at work, I needed some information from this woman Peggy. I found her taking one of those pointless quizzes on who is your perfect mate.”

“And you told her to stop wasting her time, her perfect mate had arrived.”

“Ah, no. She’s nice and all, but she is well on her way to becoming the crazy cat lady. She has a kitten screen saver, kitten calendar, kitten mug, kitten do-dads on her desk, I wouldn’t be surprised if she had kitten panties.” After a pause, Jeremy added, “A woman like that I’d probably strangle in my sleep.”

“So you thought if you had a harem you could just replace her?” Tom asked with a grin.

“No, no. In my younger, more naïve days, I sometimes tried to figure out who my perfect woman would be.”

Tom held up his hand. “Wait, let me guess.” After a few seconds he said, “Donna Noble.”


“Well, you’d need someone to keep you in line.”

Jeremy sipped his own coffee. “I’m assuming you mean mid-Fourth Series Donna, because the original Donna would be another woman I’d strangle in my sleep.”

“What about Doctor-Donna?”

Jeremy’s hand clenched around an invisible neck. “Stop regenerating.”

Once they both finished laughing, Jeremy said, “Anyway, getting back to my harem idea. Like I said, I’d make lists of traits I figured my perfect woman would have. Unfortunately, it seemed some traits contradicted others.”

“Such as?”

“Well, on one hand I’d like a 50’s housewife. You know, someone to do the cooking, laundry, taking the car in for an oil change, all the crap I hate doing.”

“Ah, true love.”

Jeremy looked at Tom for a moment then retorted, “Shut up.”

Tom chuckled. “You know, there are these people called ‘maids’ who do stuff like that.”

“Do I look like I could afford a maid?”

Tom asked, “Could you afford a 50’s housewife?”

“If you leave out inflation, probably.”

Tom shrugged to concede the point.

“But on the other hand,” Jeremy went on, “I think I’d need a writer, someone I could run ideas by and collaborate with.”

“You’d leave me for a woman?”

Jeremy raised an eyebrow. “Duh.”

“You’re not the man I started writing with.”

Jeremy patted his friend’s hand. “I promise I always remember the good times.”

Tom pulled his hand back and shook it at the floor as thought trying to get something slimy off it.

“Some friend you are.”

Pointing to the café counter, Tom asked, “I wonder what industrial strength cleaning fluid they have back there I could dip my hand in?”

Jeremy chuckled. “Maybe we should start meeting at a bar. Then you could pour vodka on it and light it on fire.”

“The bar I like. The wasting vodka and fire, not so much.” Tom sipped his coffee and said, “So, you want a 50’s housewife who is also a writer.”

“And independently wealthy.” When Tom just raised an eyebrow, Jeremy explained, “Somebody has to pay the bills.”

“Well, I’m sure there are some rich, 50’s housewife, writers out there.”

“I kinda doubt that.”

Tom shrugged. “True. So, your solution is to just find one of each to be part of your harem.”

“Exactly. Oh, and a set of Swedish, gymnast triplets,” Jeremy added.

“Of course. What man is complete without his Swedish, gymnast triplets?” Shaking his head, Tom said, “You really need to get out more often.”

Jeremy straightened up and stated, “You wound me, sir.”

Tom took a sip of coffee, then asked, “Your point?”

“No point, just making a statement.”

They both laughed, then Jeremy asked, “Have you ever asked Helen if she would let you have a harem?”


“Why not?”

It took a few seconds for Tom to reply with, “Duh, I enjoy living.”

“Ah, life is overrated.”

“Wasted on the living.”


They sat and drank their coffee for a while, then Tom asked, “How the hell did we end up here?”

“Well I drove,” Jeremy answered as he pointed out the window to the parking lot.

Ignoring that, Tom said, “I asked what dark thoughts you were thinking …”

“And I asked if you ever thought of keeping a harem.”

“I should have said, ‘No,’ then we could have moved on to another topic.”

“So it’s your fault we ended up here,” Jeremy said with a smile.

“No, no, no,” Tom answered. “I’ve known you long enough to know that most twisted thoughts will fall out of your mind if we ramble long enough. Hell, I bet we’d be talking about … traitors of something, and we’d bring up … what’s his name, the Norwegian guy?”

“Oh, ah,” Jeremy tapped the table with his finger. “Quisling, I think.”

“Yes. And then, since we were in the Scandinavian area, you’d bring up your Swedish, gymnast triplet fantasy, and we’d come to your harem from a different direction.”

Jeremy shrugged. “We don’t ramble too much, do we?”

“I sometimes thing we ramble more than we write.”

Jeremy smiled. “Then perhaps we should combine the two. If you’re writing a story, and your characters start rambling, how do you know how to end it?”

Tom shrugged. “I don’t know. Start a new chapter?”

See what I wrote about this story on my Published Works page.

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As David opened his story template word.doc on his desktop, he heard a faint, “Damn you.”

He turned off his music and listened. He had heard his neighbors having sex often enough to know the walls were far from soundproof, but he had never heard them fighting before.

After about ten seconds of silence, he turned his music back on and started a new story. It was about a man who – after surviving a plaque – assumes he is the last man on Earth. To fight off boredom, he starts a newspaper. David, because of his twisted sense of humor, smiled as he typed the headline of the man’s first newspaper: PEACE DECLARED, NOBODY CELEBRATES. He hadn’t thought the story out too much beyond that, but he was sure he’d get around to finishing it someday.

“Damn you.”

It was louder this time, and didn’t really sound like the guy next door. David again turned off his music and listened. Again there was only silence.

David was about to turn his music on again when he heard a third “Damn you” apparently come from his computer speaker.

“Damn it.” David ejected his CD and turned off his music program. He then saved what he had written under the temporary name LASTMAN. It joined about a dozen other unfinished stories saved to his desktop. Once he closed down all the programs he was running, he started up his malware program to clean out whatever bug his computer had picked up.

“Damn you.”

The malware program usually took about twenty-five minutes, and David didn’t want to hear his computer curse him all that time so he turned the speakers off.

“Damn you.”

David pushed his chair back. It had to have been his imagination that his computer screen had shook in time with that last “Damn you.” He double checked to make sure the speakers were off.

“Damn you.”

This time David saw his screen vibrate. “My computer’s possessed.” His worry turned to excitement as he asked, “What story could I do with that?”

“Damn you,” his computer boomed. It then hissed, “Finish us.”


“Finish us.”

David minimized the malware program. Everything on his desktop was normal, except the files of the dozen or so unfinished stories. These were outlined in a slow pulsing red. “You’re my unfinished stories?”

“Yes. Finish us.”

“Wow. If I finish you, will you stop cursing me?”


“Can I write the possessed computer story first?”

“Damn you!”

“Okay, okay. Take it easy. I’ll write it after I finish these ones. Okay?”

His computer didn’t respond, but the pulsing red outlines faded from the files.

“I’ll take that as a yes, I guess.” David turned the speakers back on and put in his CD.

Moving his cursor to a file named AISIGN David said, “I believe this to be the oldest unfinished story.” He opened it and read through what he had written months before about an AI doing a book signing. David had thought it was an interesting idea, but couldn’t figure out what to do with it. Of course, the same could be said of all the unfinished stories. “This is going to take awhile.” David sighed. “Damn.”

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“Sit down and write.”


“Sit down and write, or I will hurt you.”

Mike stood from putting on his shoes. “I’m going for a walk.”

“Sit down!”

“I’m not afraid of you,” Mike almost shouted. “I’m the one in control here, not you. I need to go for a walk, therefore, I am going for a walk. The story can wait.”

“You need to write.”

“And I will. But on my terms.” Calming down, Mike added, “I promise I will write when I get back.” He then left for his walk, leaving his muse to stew.

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“Are you sure you’re doing it right?”

“I was a radio operator in the war, I know Morse Code. Di-di-di-dit, dit, di-dah-di-dit, di-dah-di-dit, dah-dah-dah.”


“I know I did it right.”

“But they aren’t doing anything. What are you saying, anyway?”

“I’m just saying, ‘Hello.’”

“Well, either they are very rude or they’re just not getting the message.”

“I don’t understand. When I was alive, just about everyone knew Morse Code.”

“Maybe the times have changed.”


Joe looked at the ceiling above his friend’s cubicle. “Doesn’t that flickering light bulb you?”

Allen shrugged. “After awhile you just tune it out.”

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Arbu stopped before a portal, closed his lower eyes and tried to still his hearts. Using an upper claw he activated the portal, which irised open. With a firm scuttle he entered the chamber of his superior, Vanoo. “Sir, we have a problem.”

Vanoo, reclined in a pool of steaming liquid, did not open any of his eyes. “Arbu, I have waited nearly half-a-cycle for a fresh shipment of pucca from homeworld. What problem is big enough to disturb my restful bath?”

“It is about 469-038-10-C, Sir.”

“Remind me who that is.”

“It is the homeworld of a semi-primitive species who call themselves ‘Humans,’ Sir.”

“And what of these, Humans?”

“For many cycles we have tried to open a dialogue with them under Article KX3 …”

Vanoo raised three of his arms to interrupt. “Arbu, please, speak plainly. I’ve shut down my forebrain.”

“My apologies, Sir. We’ve tried to communicate with them by carving words into a convenient medium, in this case, certain of their food crops.”


“Sir, I’m afraid we’ve discovered a clerical error?”

Vanoo finally opened his eyes. “A clerical error?”

“Yes, Sir.”

“What kind of clerical error?”

“Sir, instead of writing our messages in one of the Human languages, we were writing them in … Nangge.”

Vanoo stood up in his pool. “Have you double check that?”

“And triple checked it, Sir.”

Vanoo sank back into the pucca. “Why was such filth even onboard one of our vessels?”

“It’s unknown, Sir. It’s probable the crew did not know what they wrote, since they would not know the difference between it and Human.”

After a moment of thought, Vanoo said, “Arbu, contact the Council. Such an outrage is beyond me to correct.”

“Yes, Sir.” Arbu then turned and left.

Alone, Vanoo dipped a claw into the pucca. “This had been such a wonderful day.”

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The Problem of Individuality

“Ah, Mr. and Mrs. Sheeler. I’m glad you could make it.”

“We’d do anything for Alex, Mr. Prebble,” Mr. Sheeler said.

“Please, call me Nigel.”

“And I’m Thomas.”

“And I’m Ann.”

The three shook hands. Waving to the chairs, Nigel said, “Please, sit.”

Once seated, Ann asked, “Is there a problem with Alex’s schoolwork?”

Nigel gave a brief, painful grin, and answered, “You could say that. Here,” he opened a folder and took out a sheet of paper. “I assigned the class to write a short story on the topic of crop circles. I like to give unusual topics so the students are forced to stretch their imaginations. This was what Alex handed in.”


arbu stopped before a portal closed his lower eyes and tried to still his hearts using an upper claw he activated the portal which irised open with a firm scuttle he entered the chamber of his superior vanoo sir we have a problem

vanoo reclined in a pool of steaming liquid did not open any of his eyes arbu i have waited nearly halfacycle for a fresh shipment of pucca from homeworld what problem is big enough to disturb my restful bath

it is about 46903810c sir

remind me who that is

it is the homeworld of a semiprimitive species who call themselves humans sir

and what of these humans

for many cycles we have tried to open a dialogue with them under article kx3

vanoo raised three of his arms to interrupt arbu please speak plainly ive shut down my forebrain

my apologies sir weve tried to communicate with them by carving words into a convenient medium in this case certain of their food crops


sir im afraid weve discovered a clerical error

vanoo finally opened his eyes a clerical error

yes sir

what kind of clerical error

sir instead of writing our messages in one of the human languages we were writing them in nangge

vanoo stood up in his pool have you double check that

and triple checked it sir

vanoo sank back into the pucca why was such filth even onboard one of our vessels

its unknown sir its probable the crew did not know what they wrote since they would not know the difference between it and human

after a moment of thought vanoo said arbu contact the council such an outrage is beyond me to correct

yes sir arbu then turned and left

alone vanoo dipped a claw into the pucca this had been such a wonderful day

As the Sheeler’s began to read through the story, Nigel said, “I asked Alex why he had written it without punctuation or capitalization and he said he didn’t believe in that and was expressing his individuality.”

With a smile, Thomas said, “He’s just following in the footsteps of e. e. cummings and James Joyce. Is there a problem with that?”

Nigel began to reply, but stopped himself. He thought for a moment and said, “Individuality is good, within limits. The public safety takes precedents over someone expressing their individuality by driving against the flow of traffic.”

“That seems a bit excessive,” Ann said. “Not using punctuation doesn’t compare to reckless driving.”

“True, I …” Nigel again thought for a moment. “I apologize for getting off topic. Getting back to my concern with Alex’s story. You mentioned Joyce. I know Ulysses is supposed to be one of the greatest works of literature of the Twentieth Century. I forced myself through the first hundred pages, and I have no idea what I read, and 99.9% of people will read it and say the same.

“Alex has let me read some of his poetry, and I had no idea what they were about. It reminded me of a guy I knew in college. He wrote poetry along the lines of some Fourth Century Persian playwright who only the titles of his works survive having a conversation with a minor Mayan deity, and if you didn’t know who those people were, you had no hope of understanding the poem. It was my theory he thought that the fewer people who understood his poetry, the better it was. Yes, he was expressing his individuality, but that resulted in him having a small circle of friends, and the rest of us didn’t really care for him.

“Now,” Nigel pointed to the story, “I don’t think Alex will go that far, but I worry that by disregarding common practices – like punctuation – could lead to problems. It’s almost like he’s made up his own language that only a couple people in the world will understand. Individuality is great, but it could lead one to being all alone.”

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Under the Bed

“This is a big day in any monster’s life.”

Karqe seemed to shrink. “Dad.”

Unperturbed, his father went on, “It just means you’re growing up. I remember when my kid stopped being afraid of me. I used to let out a little growl at 1:30 and he’d wet the bed.

His father was lost in his memories for a few seconds. Karqe hoped the “Speech” was over, but his father said, “Then one day it happened, he wasn’t afraid of me anymore. I felt like going in a rage, anything to regain that element of fear. But my father took me aside – like this – and told me it was natural for our humans to grow up and change. But,” his father gave a wide, drooling grin, “all that means is we have to change as well.”

His father handed him a book titled, How to scare a teenager. “This is a book my father gave me to help me through the change, and now I’m giving it to you. You can’t make a teenage wet the bed with a growl, but if you whisper things like ‘acne,’ ‘popularity,’ or ‘sex,’ you’ll have them lying awake all night in a cold sweat. Once they grow out of that, you start hitting them with ‘paying for college,’ ‘getting married,’ or ‘kids.’ In time you’ll be like me, whispering to your human, ‘mortgage,’ and ‘should I put dad in a home?’”

Slapping Karqe on the back, his father added, “It’s all a part of life.”

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First … Contact?

While Jon was out for his evening walk around his farm, he heard a popping noise and looked up. A small flying saucer – at most ten feet in diameter – flew in and landed in the field, maybe fifty feet from him.

Before the saucer came to a stop, a door opened and a stick-thin, grey alien came running out. It carried a small, convulsing, purple thing that looked like a cross between a monkey and an iguana. It stopped after a few steps and held the purple animal out away from its body. The thing convulsed a few more times, then vomited a thick, black, fluid all over the ground. Even though Jon was upwind, he still caught a whiff of the mess and thought you’d have to pelt a skunk with rotten eggs to get a worse stench.

The purple thing seemed to calm down, and the alien held it close and petted it. After a few seconds the alien turned back to the saucer and spotted Jon. They stared at each other for a second or two, then the alien ran back to its saucer. Moments later it lifted off and flew back into the sky.

Jon watched after it until it was long gone. He glanced at the black pool of vomit, then turned back home. His walk would be cut short, but he’d be hitting the beer that much sooner.

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Run for Your Lives

“Continuing our top story, a little over an hour ago a monster described as ‘dinosaur-like’ by eyewitnesses, emerged from the ocean near the city of Dixon. For almost forty minutes it caused havoc, destroying buildings and killing an untold number of people, until it was killed by the Dixon SWAT team.

“Any second now we’ll take you to a press conference being held by Dixon’s mayor, Pat Johnson. Oh, here we go now, Mayor Pat Johnson.”

“Thank you. I wish to start with some announcements. The latest numbers I have – given to me a minute ago – are twenty-three officers, six emergency personnel, and at least 250 civilians were killed by this … monster. I was told to expect those numbers – especially of the civilians – to rise.

“I wish to take this time to thank the local media for informing the populace of the attack and of the reality of the attack. And I thank them for giving evacuation information and encouraging the people to leave the city.

“I also wish to thank, on behalf of the city of Dixon, SWAT marksmen Chet Risch. While everyone did their part in stopping this monster, it was Officer Risch who killed it. I’m told it was only ten seconds after he was in position that the monster died from three shots from his .50 caliber sniper rifle. It is my most heartfelt hope that no one will ever have an opportunity to beat that record.

“I will now give an overview of events – as we know them – and then I’ll open it up to questions.

“The 911 center received the first call of a dinosaur attacking the harbor at 4:46 PM. They estimate that within five minutes they received over a thousand such calls. At first, only a few emergency personnel were dispatched, but as more 911 calls came in and as the first units on scene reported back, the call went out for all units in the city to converge on the harbor.

“I was in a budget meeting when an aide informed me of the attack around 4:55. At first I didn’t believe him, but then he turned on the TV and showed me live footage. I called Commissioner Cagle for a report, and then contacted the Governor and President asking for state and federal help. As we speak, National Guard units are arriving to help with rescue and recovery operations and military aircraft are flying patrols in case there are any other monsters coming our way. That possibility is why the evacuation order is still in effect.

“The monster – described by one eyewitness as a 150 foot tall T-Rex on steroids – came ashore along the 14th Street Pier, causing damage to the cargo ship docked there. It then proceeded down 14th Street to Monroe Avenue. It was here – around 4:53 – it ran into the first police units on scene. They peppered it with rounds from their side arms or whatever weapons they had available. This apparently angered and confused the monster. It retreated back down 14th Street until Madison Avenue, where it turned south. Here it again ran into police units. For the next half-hour it retreated and tried to advance in different directions, only to be hemmed in by the police. I have yet to visit the site, but I’m told the four blocks around 14th and Madison look like a war zone. The SWAT team arrived on scene at 5:29, and the monster was dead two minutes later.


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Project Heaven

Bill accepted his death. His life hadn’t been as long as he had hoped, but it had been good while it lasted. The only thing that upset him was that he wouldn’t be there for Deb and the kids. He never expected what happened to him after he died.


Bill “awoke” in a simple white room. “What the hell?”

“Not quite.”

Bill turned to see a man wearing a light blue jumpsuit. “Who are you?”

The man smiled. “My name is Michael, and I am your guide to Project Heaven.”

“Heaven? That can’t be. I’m an atheist.”

Michael shrugged. “So am I.” He then held up a hand to stop Bill and said, “Please, sit down.”

Out of the corner of his eye, Bill saw a padded chair appear out of nowhere.”

“How did …. What ….”

“Please, sit down, and I will explain all,” Michael said.

Unsure what to do, Bill sat. Another chair appeared from nowhere and Michael sat down across from him. “Let me give you the basics, then you can start asking your questions. Okay?”

After a few heartbeats – he was surprised he still had a heartbeat – Bill replied, “I guess.”

Michael smiled. “Okay, first off. This is not any kind of religious afterlife. Instead this is a virtual afterlife. In the Thirty-Seventh Century, a reliable form of time travel was developed. While tourists went to see the building of the Pyramids and what have you, scientist began a massive project to document every human who had ever existed: when they were born, when they died, who their parents were, any children they had, everything. Once completed, it will be a treasure trove of information. Of special interest is the evolution of our genome, learning when certain traits and immunizations developed and spread.” Michael shrugged. “Biology was never my forte, but I’m told everything I just said was really fascinating.

“Anyway,” Michael continued, “one of the side projects in this Total Human Catalog is this.” Michael looked around at the bare walls and added, “I know this doesn’t look like much, but this is just the coat room. It’s best to ease your way into the afterlife.

“Getting back to the story. As the scientists in their stealth ships observed the sufferings of their ancestors, their hearts went out to them. They wanted to help, but they couldn’t. As countless scifi movies have taught us, changing the past can really screw things up. Since they couldn’t help them when they were alive, they decided to give them an afterlife. When someone dies – a data point collected for the catalog – a copy of their brain pattern is made and stored in a computer here in the Thirty-Eighth Century. Your body has long since turned to dust, but the essence of you will life on. And they do this for everyone. Here in the afterlife, we try not to judge people on what they did in the corporeal bodies.

“Any questions?”

“Uh …” Bill thought for a second. “I’m guessing this is an hallucination brought on by lack of oxygen to my brain. Since I’m going to die soon anyway, I might as well enjoy this. Can you transform into a pair of Swedish twins?”

Michael smiled. “I know death is a strange and it takes awhile to grow accustomed to it. I was born in 2006, grew up, loved, laughed, cried, and died in 2093. That’s one of the more confusing aspects here. You – while knowing about things like computers, virtual reality, etc. – are having a hard time wrapping your head around this. Can you imagine trying to explain this to someone from the Eleventh Century? Or the Fourth Century B.C.E? To counter that problem, the ones behind this are collecting people backwards, so that my generation – which has some common elements – can explain it to yours, and you to the previous generation, and so on and so on. Your grandparents aren’t here yet, but your grandkids are. There is a petition going around to grab Gandhi early, but that doesn’t look like it’s going to happen.”

Both sat in silence for a moment.

“I still don’t believe this,” Bill finally said.

“I know. We try to avoid families for awhile, give the newly dead a chance to adjust, but I could get your wife. Maybe she can convince you.”

“My wife is alive,” Bill shouted.

“She died after you, but since – as I said – the ones behind are working backwards from the Thirty-Eighth Century, she’s already here.” Michael just sat for a few seconds, then added with a smile, “I promise not to mention the Swedish twins.”

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To Live on in Unexpected Ways

As she knew she would, Elisabeth found her employer, Mister Kovacs, in one of the observation domes. The domes gave an undisturbed view of the surrounding mare, the elevator, Earth, and – with a telescope – Collins Station in stationary orbit on the other end of the elevator. Mister Kovacs stood with a pair of binoculars looking up. Elisabeth knew the cargo pod was still a hundred kilometers up, decelerating for a gentle touchdown.

Without looking at her, Mister Kovacs said, “Soon will be the fulfillment of a dream over a hundred years in the making.”

Elisabeth wasn’t sure exactly what he was talking about – the richest man on Luna was allowed to have his quirks – but she answered, “Yes, Sir.”

Mister Kovacs lowered his binoculars and looked at her. “You don’t fully understand what I’m talking about.”

It hadn’t been a question, but Elisabeth answered, “No, Sir. But when humans first came to Luna they dreamed of building factories, homes, and schools here. A museum of Earth antiquities wasn’t at the top of their list, but I’m sure they would understand.”

Mister Kovacs smiled and turned his binoculars back on the cargo pod. “The dream I spoke of,” he said, “is one I have never spoken of to anyone, for fear they would see it as madness. But, I have my methods.”

The only thing Elisabeth could think to say was, “Yes, Sir.”

For the next several minutes they stood in silence. Once the pod was only a kilometer above them, Mister Kovacs lowered his binoculars for good. Slowly, silently, the pod came to rest on the landing pad at the base of the elevator.

With a boyish grin, Mister Kovacs turned to Elisabeth and said, “Let’s go check on my madness.”


Five hours later, the pod had been moved to a cargo bay and the first items for the Earth Antiquities Museum were being carefully unpacked. Elisabeth checked on each item and marked them off on her data pad. There was a Stradivarius violin, paintings by Vermeer, Goya, Rembrandt, Wyeth, Appignani, Cardoso, and many others, a Sixteenth Century Katana, a replica of the Antikythera computer, a Sefer Torah and numerous books, all over three hundred years old.

Mister Kovacs had left before the pod was opened, but he returned carrying an old book just before they unpacked the last – and biggest – item. It took the workers nearly half-an-hour to remove all the safety foam from all its nooks. The ride up the Mbandaka Elevator, the flight across cis-lunar space, and down the Armstrong Elevator should have been smooth, but one could never be too careful. Of all the objects Mister Kovacs had wanted for his museum, this was the only one Elisabeth did not understand. She had even double checked with him. “A 1937 Buick?”

He had just smiled, said, “Yes,” and turned away from her. It had taken her a few days, but she finally tracked down a collector in Australia who had one and was willing to part with it for a princely sum.

The vehicle that had left Detroit in 1937, racked up over 100,000 miles being driven around the United States for twenty years, parked in various showrooms for over a century and a half, was now in a cargo bay on the moon. Elisabeth thought it was one of the ugliest things she had ever seen.

Mister Kovacs had the workers leave, then he slowly ran his hands across the old metal for several minutes. “You have no idea why I brought this here,” he suddenly asked.

Elisabeth shook her head. “No, Sir.”

“Have you ever heard of George Carlin?”

Again Elisabeth shook her head. “No, Sir.”

Mister Kovacs opened the door and sat behind the steering wheel. “He was a comedian, born in 1937 and died in 2008. Apparently my great-grandmother was a huge fan of his. When she died, I went with my mother to gather her belongings from the nursing home. I was twelve, or thirteen. I came across audio and video recordings of his acts, and his books.” He held up the old book he had returned with. “Most of the people and events he spoke of, I didn’t understand. But everything else was a … delicious madness.”

Mister Kovacs left the car and walked over to Elisabeth. “A few years ago, after I had the idea for the museum, I was rereading his book Brain Droppings. In it he has these ‘Short Takes’ which are these quick little statements that can blow your mind. For example,” he opened the book to a marked page and read, “‘No one can ever know for sure what a deserted area looks like.… Is the kidney a bean-shaped organ, or is the bean a kidney-shaped legume? … Why does Filipino start with an F and Philippines start with a Ph?’” He looked at Elisabeth and smiled. “But the one that really caught my attention, and the reason for my current madness, was this. ‘I’m offering a special prize for [the] first Buick on the moon.’”

Mister Kovacs closed the book and smiled. “Contact his descendants and let them know I await my special prize. Then contact the media. Such madness should warrant some free publicity for my museum.”

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Well Protected

“Merry Christmas, Sir.”

The President-Elect smiled. “Merry Christmas, Agent Pascaves. What can I do for you this snowy morning?”

The Secret Service agent opened an ordinary shopping bag and pulled out a wrapped gift. “I was asked to deliver this to you, Sir. It’s from Governor Jaster.”

“That was most kind of him.” The President-Elect read the card with a puzzled expression on his face. “‘I finally found a way to get myself into the White House.’” He unwrapped the present to find a Governor Jaster Action Figure still in its box.

The President-Elect chuckled. “The sneaky bastard.”

Agent Pascaves smiled. “Sir, I was told to give you the gag gift first.” He opened the bag again and pulled out a bottle of wine.

Taking the bottle, the President-Elect let out a low whistle as he read the label. “‘1990 Château Cos d’Estournel.’ The Governor has good taste.” An attached tag simple read, “Merry Christmas, Mister President.”

The President-Elect smiled. “Find out his schedule for the day. I want to call him, but not while his family is sitting down to dinner.”

“Yes, Sir.”


Late that night, as the future First Family slept off their meal, the Jaster action figure stirred within its box. With red glowing eyes, it pushed open its box, dropped to the carpet, and crept towards the bedroom. From a compartment in its chest, it removed a tiny grappling gun. It fired the grapple up to the doorknob. Putting all of its weight on the line, it turned the knob, and slipped into the darkened room.

The action figure climbed the covers and stood next to the President-Elect’s neck. From its chest compartment it drew a tiny sword.

Before it could strike, a thick, furry arm wrapped around its head from behind. The action figure struggled with its attacker, but the silence was broken by a tiny snap.

The headless, plastic body fell to the floor with a clatter. The President-Elect startled awake. “Agent Teddy? Is there a problem?”

Hiding the head in a paw, Agent Teddy replied, “No, Sir. No problem. Just go back to sleep.”

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It’s a Job

“Morning Sam.”

Mid-yawn, Samantha waved back. “Morning Mike.”

“Rough night?”

“Fraidie finally had her kittens, six.”

“Hey, congrats. You’re a grandmother.”

Sam just growled. “If you want to get started,” she said, “I’ll come in later. I really need some coffee.”

Mike nodded. “Shouldn’t be a problem. See you in a few.”

Twenty minutes later, Sam – in her company issued bathrobe – entered the testing facility. Mike was finishing up his preliminary inspection of the two sex droids – one male and one female – that had been pulled randomly from the assembly line. As the quality control team, their job was to put the droids through a rigorous series of tests. These were just basic units, a fact Sam was glad for. She doubted she had the stamina today to start in on the tests for the fetish droids. With all the bondage equipment and accessories, those tests could take days.

Mike made a last few checks on his data pad, then told Sam, “So far, so good.” Slipping out of his bathrobe, he said, “Let’s get to work.”

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Use it, or Lose it

With an empty barrel on his hand truck, Vince approached the receptionist. “Hi, I’m here for the brains.”

The receptionist smiled and took a sheet of paper from a folder on her desk. She entered the date and time, then turned it over for Vince. “I’ll just need you to sign in.”

Vince took her pen and wrote in Vincent Dewhurst and Acme Brain Services on the appropriate lines. “Where’s Joe?”

Handing the paper back, Vince answered, “He’s out sick.”

“Anything serious?”

“Just a stomach bug.”

The receptionist smiled. “I hope he feels better. Do you know where to go?”

Vince shook his head. “Nope.”

She let out a little laugh and pointed behind her. “Just follow the hallway all the way to the end. On the left there is a storage room with the shredder and all the recycling. Can’t miss it.”

Vince nodded. “All right. I’ll be right back.”

Pushing his hand cart, Vince started down the hallway. On both sides – nearly as far as the eye could see – were half cubicle walls. As he walked along, Vince heard snatches of multiple conversations. “As indicated on the TSR … What do you mean, out of paper … If you look at line thirty-seven … Did you get that memo … Another day, another dollar … What did you put in your O&C report … Can you run that by legal …”

Vince shook his head to wake himself up. Not soon enough he reached the storage room. Without looking inside the Acme barrel already there – he had only made that mistake once – Vince took the lid off the new barrel and sealed the old one. By the weight, he could tell it was mostly full as he moved it onto his hand truck. He straightened up the empty barrel, then started out with the full one.

Knowing what to expect now, Vince stayed focused as he walked through the cubicle town. When he reached the receptionist, she asked, “Any problems?”


She smiled. “Have a nice day.”

“Thanks, you too.”

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“Quick, dig here.”

The shovels bit into the dark ground and sent the earth flying.


Deeper and deeper they went, then one of the shovels hit a plank. In no time the remaining dirt had been removed revealing a simple, pine box.

The lid was opened, and a silvery mist boiled out of it. The long buried regret was free once more.



Nicole squinted at the jogger on the sidewalk. Stuck in the morning jam, Nicole had plenty of time to watch the man and notice he bore little resemblance to the Tom she knew in college. He had been her biology lab partner and had a crush on her. Nicole had used that to get him to tutor her; never promising a date, but hinting at such. But once she passed the class, she had tossed him aside.

He had called several times during the next semester, but she never called him back. Months went by and she had forgotten him. Then she was at a party and ran into him and his new girlfriend. She ended up talking to the girlfriend who gushed at how great a boyfriend Tom was. For months Nicole had beat herself up over letting such a great guy slip through her fingers. In time she moved on, met Andy, and had a great life.

As the jogger passed out of view, Nicole shook her head. “I haven’t thought of Tom in years,” she said. “Why did I think of him now?”

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“Ah, here are two of our rising stars,” Alice Judge said as she led an older man around the office. The two young men had been chuckling while standing by the water cooler. They both straightened up as those who fear they’ve been caught doing something they shouldn’t.

Ignoring their discomfort, Alice introduced the three men. “Douglas Harkin, Joe Culver, this is our new District Manager, Mister Firkin.”

“Sir.” Joe offered his hand and Mister Firkin shook it.

Douglas was a little slower, but offered his hand as well. “Sir.”

Gripping his hand, Mister Firkin said, “You look confused.”

“Huh? Oh, it’s just …” Douglas thought for a second. “You’re the second person I’ve met named Firkin.”

“Who was the first?”

“My neighbor.”

“Really? What’s your neighbor’s name?”


Mister Firkin smiled. “I take it you live in Meadow View, over off 14.”

Douglas eyes grew a little bigger. “Yeah.”

“She’s my daughter.”

“Really. Huh. What are the odds.”

Patting Douglas on the shoulder, Mister Firkin smiled and said, “Perhaps I should change your duties to keeping an eye on her.” He then winked.

Douglas only smiled and nodded.

“Sir.” Alice raised her watch ever so slightly.

“Of course.” Mister Firkin waved to the two young men. “It was nice meeting you.” He and Alice then continued down the hallway.

Once they were out of hearing, Joe asked, “This Megan … is she hot?”

“She has a boyfriend.”

“How do you know?”

Douglas refilled his water cup. “Because the walls of my apartment are thin.”

Joe’s brows furrowed. “Do you mean you’ve heard our boss’s boss’s daughter …”

“Having loud kinky sex? Yes.” Douglas emptied his cup.

Joe thought for a second, then asked, “How kinky?”

Douglas looked at his friend and shook his head. “All I know is she likes to be spanked.”

Joe laughed. “Do you have a tape recorder?”


“I’m just saying, next time they start up, you could record it and the next time you see Mister Firkin, you could say, ‘Here Sir, this is what your daughter has been up to.’”

Douglas turned and started walking away.

Joe called after him, “They say to get ahead you need to make a name for yourself, and he would always remember you for that.”

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Urgent Report on Humans

This story is along the lines of a photo essay. To make it easier loading all the pictures, I set it up on its own page, which can be found here.

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The Day

Holding a yellowed sheet of paper, Jason entered the Eternal Slumber Graveyard. Three years ago – after his mother lost her fight with cervical cancer – he had gone through her home, cleaning everything up. In a filing cabinet he found all of his school papers. All of his report cards, papers, essays; everything was there. On one hand he was warmed by a mother’s love, but on the other he couldn’t help but think how pointless it was. What did it matter, and who cared, that in the first grading period of second grade he had gotten a C in math? He had taken everything back to his home, and over the following months had gone through it. One of the surprising discoveries he had made was the yellowed paper.

In 1982 Jason was in Fourth Grade. One day his teacher, Mrs. Bennett, had given the class an assignment. She wrote “Saturday, June 27, 2009” on the chalkboard and told the students to take some time and think about what they might be doing on that day. She then had them write stories.

While his friends wrote about trips to the moon and Mars, Jason – never much of a storyteller – had just expanded upon what he did on his Saturdays: sleep in, watch cartoons, maybe going to a movie with his family. He had gotten a B, and a note from Mrs. Bennett saying there was more to life than cartoons and movies.

Handing the papers back, Mrs. Bennett mentioned if anyone remembered, she would be happy to get together with them in twenty-seven years, for a reunion. In 1982, Jason had thought that might be fun, but had then forgotten all about it, until 2006 when he came across his story in the papers he had brought back from his mother’s. At first he thought it would be crazy to look her up, to see if she even remembered the assignment. But then he thought she probably was in a nursing home in Florida, and it might lift her spirits to get a letter from a former student. But when he looked up Mrs. Peggy Bennett, he found out she had died of a heart attack in 2003.

Since then, Jason had tried to forget the matter, but the act of trying to forget it only made him remember. Early in 2009, to settle his conscience, he had decided he would visit her grave on the day. That’s how he ended up in the Eternal Slumber Graveyard with his yellowed story.

Much to his surprise, he wasn’t the only one there. Three women and two men – all roughly his age – were gathered at her graveside. One of the women looked up and asked, “Who are you?”

“Jason Peak.”

The five introduced themselves, then David asked, “When did you have her?”


The five then went around telling him what years – which ranged from 1976 to 1988 – they were taught by Mrs. Bennett.

“Did she do this assignment every year?”

“Every third year,” Susan answered.

“In the other years,” David continued, “she assigned either 2019 or 2029.”


In response, all five gestured at the headstone. Chiseled into the stone was:

Peggy Ann Bennett
June 27, 1929 – March 20, 2003

For several moments, Jason did not know what to do. In the end, he held his story aloft and said, “Happy Birthday.”

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I’m not Crazy, Honest

“What word would you use to describe a running tree?”

Waiting in a conference room for a video meeting to start, Deb and John both looked at Michael with raised eyebrows. “What?” Deb asked.

Michael shrugged. “If a tree could run, what would you call it?”

“Fucked up,” John said.

“No. I mean, gallop doesn’t fit, and the idea of all the tree roots moving makes me think of scuttling, but I see that as just for bugs.”

Deb and John looked at each other, then at Michael. “What the hell are you talking about?” Deb asked.

Michael shrugged. “You sit in a cubicle all day, you need to think of something so your brain doesn’t turn into tapioca.”

John scoffed. “I think your brain’s already tapiocaed.”

Again Michael shrugged. “What? Do you think I sit at my computer and play KenKen all day?”

“That I could understand,” Deb said, “but running trees?”

“Well, some random thought lead me to the kite-eating tree from Charlie Brown, and it got me thinking that … well, you’d think it would have to … move.” Michael made moving gestures with his hands. “You know, to stalk its prey.”

“Did you drink your lunch?” John asked.

Deb failed at trying to hide a smile behind her hand. “Okay, I think you need help,” she said to Michael, “but I think I also need help because I can see where you’re going.”

John shook his hands above his head. “Nooooo.” Turning to Michael he said with a smile, “You’re craziness is spreading.”

“I just asked a question.”

“I think you’d have to make up a new word,” Deb said. “I agree with you scuttle doesn’t sound right.” She thought for a second, then with her fingers scuttling across the tabletop added, “Maybe a creaking-scuttle. A cruttle?”

“Or a screaking?” Michael shook his head, “No, of the two I like cruttle more.”

“A cruttling tree.”

Michael gave a small snort. “Stay out of the way of a tree in full blown cruttle.”

Cradling her chin in her hand, Deb asked, “What’s the old joke, I was driving along at sixty miles an hour and a tree jumped out in front of me.”

“You two are both nuts,” John said.

“Oh, talking about cruttling trees makes us nuts,” Michael replied. Pointing at John he added, “Earlier you used tapioca as a verb. How many sane people do that?”

Before John could respond, the video screen turned on showing a group of people sitting around a table. “Hello,” one of the women said. “How are we doing this afternoon?”

John glanced at his two coworkers, then looked at the camera. He shrugged and answered, “Tapiocaed.”

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“How goes the writing a story a day?”

“Okay, I guess.”

“Is something wrong?”

“Well …. I needed to do laundry today, but instead I spent ten-fifteen minutes trying to come up with a laundry story.”

“A laundry story? Running out of ideas?”

“No, it’s having too many. Ever since I started this, everything I see, or hear, or read gets crammed into my head and shook up in the hope some idea will clump together and come out.”

“Has that worked?”

“Well, yeah, but it’s also led me to spend time thinking of a story about laundry. I have elections, coups, celebrity deaths, rockets, space probes, distant planets, dogs, books, good movies, bad movies, deserts, desserts, stoned wallabies, aliens, idiots, fortune cookies, death, geeks, music, coworkers, cake, garbage, pigs, steak, Elm trees, bikinis, money, religion, pots, kettles, elephants, teeth, back rubs, jets, puppets, hail, a couch, CDs, peanut butter, cannibalism, chain mail, snail mail, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, and rhinos all rattling around inside my head.”

“Sounds … noisy.”

“Ya think? I even had an idea for a story of me talking to myself talking about all the crazy ideas I have.”

“Sounds like you might be cracking up.”

“I wouldn’t be surprised.”

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We All Have to Leave Sometime

From: Sunday, June 28, 2009 11:10 PM To: Subject: A strange … something


This is something that I’ve thought about doing for about two years now, but could never think of a way to do it. So I’m going to come right out and say it, you’re in my will. Well, my will type thing. Don’t worry, I’m not dying anytime soon (I hope) this was just something I started a few years ago in case I was in a car accident or something like that. I didn’t go to a lawyer or anything, I just wrote out my wishes concerning my funeral and what happens to my stuff. I have a copy in my fire safe and another in my desk. Basically, my wishes are simple: thrown in a hole with a handful of acorns, preferable on the side of a hill, and my family and friends can pick through my belongings.

You’re role in this is as a guardian to my unfinished stories. I know you stick with poetry, but I felt that there needed to be a writer in charge of them. I believe I have a lot of good ideas, I just doubt I’ll be able to write all of them. I’d hate them to die with me, so I need someone to find homes for them, I guess people to finish them or something. (Aren’t I ever so helpful.)

Now, why you? To be blunt, I don’t have anyone else. Yes, I have friends and such, but I don’t know if any of them would fit in doing this. Preferably – in theory – I would leave such matters to a wife or girlfriend and you would just be backup. In fact, I named you as the story guardian when I started this, but then moved you to backup while I was dating Karen. (For a day or two after we broke up my biggest fear was I would be in a car accident and she would end up with them.)

The reason I’m telling you now is that I always thought it would be rather rude of me to die and leave you my scattered notebooks and poorly outlined novels without any warning. And all the death recently has put me in mind of my own eventual death. Sorry, I don’t mean to be depressing.

Anyway, this was just a heads up to let you know you’re in my “will.” I await your myriad questions.


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The End Results

“What the hell happened in here?”

Keith turned from his computer to his girlfriend Dawn standing in his door. “What?”

Setting down her purse, Dawn said, “Two weeks ago this place was spotless.”

Keith looked around his apartment. Empty pizza boxes and beer bottles lay on the floor. His dishes – at least the ones not in his sink – were scattered around the living room on his desk and end tables. A pile of dirty cereal bowls were even stacked on his printer. A small garbage can overflowed with popcorn bags and wrappers of granola bars he had snacked on over the weeks. Dawn couldn’t see into the bedroom, but Keith knew his clean clothes were still in the basket from the last time he did laundry and the floor was carpeted in dirty clothes. “Oh,” he said, “I was writing.”

“Writing?” Dawn walked over and kissed him. “How much progress have you made?”

“Oh,” Keith thought for a moment, “probably six or seven chapters since you saw it last.”

Rubbing his back, Dawn asked, “And you couldn’t take ten minutes to do some dishes or pick up your empties?”

With exaggerated hand gestures, Keith explained, “My muse sent me on an epic quest. For days I was locked in mortal struggle with the words. By the time I overpowered them, forcing them to submit to my will, I didn’t have the energy to do housework.”

Dawn slowly nodded, then with a grin said, “So – in other words – you were being lazy.”

Keith started to object, but stopped himself. “Well yeah, but I prefer my explanation.”

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September 2008 Stories

So Little Time

In a quiet, rusty voice, the old man said, “KITT, my bookcase please.”

His automated wheelchair replied with, “Understood,” and began wheeling the man through his home. It rolled into his study and stopped before the one neat bookcase; all the others overflowed with books and papers.

With a shaky hand, the man reached up to his glasses and rubbed the adjustment sensor on the side until the books at the top of the case came into focus. The man sat back and looked up at his life’s achievements: eleven stand alone novels, six trilogies, two tetralogies, a pentalogy, and sixteen anthologies of short stories. These took up the top two shelves and the two below them held the magazines most of his short stories had been published in.

The old author took a deep breath and pushed himself up. After a second he took a wobbly step forward. Reaching up he removed the first magazine on the shelf then flopped back into his wheelchair. He sat there and cursed his body for not withstanding the ravages of time better.

Rubbing the sensor on his glasses, he brought the magazine into focus. It was the second – and final – issue of a poorly produced and managed magazine. It was full of typos, moronic essays, and ill-plotted stories. But sixty-two years before, the author – not so old at the time – thought it was the absolute greatest thing in the world because they had published his first story. For years on every anniversary of when he received the letter informing him he was now a published author, he would take out the magazine and reread the story. Then his success went to his head and he couldn’t bear to read such amateurish material, hoping people would think an acclaimed novelist had just appeared out of thin air. But as the years wrecked his body, they also smoothed his ego until he could look without fear at his imperfect past.

The old man carefully opened the magazine and turned the yellowing pages until he reached his story. Settling into his wheelchair, he read; smiling at the stale dialogue and simplistic plot. When he finished, he closed the magazine. He took a few moments to compose himself, then returned it to the shelf.

When he was back in his chair he let his mind wander. For years he had asked himself why such a poor story had ever been accepted. He ended up writing a story about a successful author who researched his first sale, some twenty years after it was published, only to find out that the editor had been going through a bitter divorce at the time and would just grab a story at random to throw in the magazine. Looking up at the fuzzy bookcase the author wondered if he should try to find that story. It should be in one of the anthologies. He gave a dry chuckle and sat for a minute trying to remember if any of his other stories had generated as much hate mail.

As he thought through his controversial stories, a tiny voice asked, But how many are you forgetting? He ignored it at first, but in the end he had to admit it had a point. About twenty years earlier he was on a panel and someone had asked him about his inspiration for the main character in his first novel. He had sat stupidly for several seconds before admitting that he couldn’t even remember the plot of the novel let alone the origins of the characters. It wasn’t because he had a bad memory, just that he had written so much over the years that everything had blurred together. He stopped doing panels after that.

The old man shook his head. Funny, he thought, I can’t remember the name of my best friend in high school, or when I lost my virginity, or any other countless “good” events of my life. But that moment of foolishness, when I had to face the fact that I was getting old, is etched into my memory. Again he shook his head and gave his standard reply to such things, “Life is cruel.”

He shook himself from that road to depression and went back to his yearly ritual. On the anniversary of his becoming a published author, he would reread his first story, and then glance through one or two of his writing notebooks. When he was younger he had taken a small notebook with him everywhere. He would hide it in a drawer at a crappy job to write in when he had ten minutes or spread it on a little fast food table where he ate his heart attacks in a bun. Over the decades he went through scores of them. They were now shelved below the magazines, within easy reach of his wheelchair. He ran his fingertips along a few before pulling out a tattered blue one. Opening it checked the date on the first page and saw it was thirty-four years old. What the hell was I doing thirty-four years ago?

Before there was a chance he could get sucked into more depressing thoughts, he began reading the notebook, or at least reading what he could decipher. Most of the pages he only glanced at. They had red check mark on their tops meaning he had already typed them up. These words were most likely already in one of his books. After twenty or thirty pages, he came to a page without a red check mark and he shivered. He read what he could and saw that it was a beginning of a short story, but where it would have gone or why he started writing it had been lost long ago. And this was just one of hundreds. These unfinished stories, these unfulfilled dreams hurt more than the forgotten plots of published novels.

The old man closed the notebook and sighed. So many ideas, yet so little time. Even if he lived for hundred more years he could never catch up to his imagination. While that was a depressing thought, he looked up at his bookcase, adjusted his glasses to bring his books into focus, and asked, “But how few do this much?”

See what I wrote about this story on my Published Works page.

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“Will you get away from that damned screen and do something?” Robert called as he drifted through the Clarke. His voice was more annoyed than bitter. He popped through the hatch into the “living room” and brought himself to a stop by catching his foot on a handhold. Just as he knew he would, he found Geoffrey floating before the view screen.

Without taking his eyes from the screen, Geoffrey turned his head and said, “You act as if First Contact with aliens happens everyday.”

“I know, but it’s been two days. Yes, it’s great, it’s fantastic, it’s,” Robert waved his hands, “the biggest event in the entirety of Human existence.” Taking a deep breath he added, “But we have a job to do. We’re coming up on 4082 and Caltech would probably prefer that we leave a probe there, since that is what they’re paying us to do.”

With his foot on the handhold, Robert started to pull himself back to the “garage” when Geoffrey spun around and asked, “Have you heard the latest?” Before Robert could reply Geoffrey went on, “Oh, of course not, you’ve been too busy to follow the greatest event in Human history. But these aliens, these Pentans, they’ve announced that in the spirit of friendship they will outfit any Human spacecraft that wants it with artificial gravity.” Geoffrey let that hang for a moment before continuing. “Just think, no longer spending hours every day exercising and taking those horse pills to keep our bones from withering away.”

They both floated silently for several seconds. Then Robert asked with a smirk, “What about sex?”

Geoffrey rolled his eyes. “We can turn it off. I think we should send them a message, let them come fix us up. Plus, we could be some of the first people to have actual contact with aliens. What do you think?”

Robert sighed. “I think we’re coming up on 4082. We’ll talk about this later.”

“What the hell is wrong with you? You’re acting like this is the worst thing to ever happen. What gives?”

Robert floated back into the living room. He took a few seconds, then looked at Geoffrey. “Look at what we do. We swing by the lunar factories and pick up a dozen probes and supplies. We then spend a couple years drifting through the belt dropping off the probes on whatever asteroid the universities are interested in studying for potential colonization or mining fifty years from now. It’s not glamorous, but we … we were at the cutting edge of Human exploration of space.” Robert paused for a moment. “A year from now, when we’re back at the moon, do you think there will be anyone wanting to hire our services? Why study another boring old carbonaceous asteroid when these Pentans can take you to whole other star system?” Taking a deep breath he added, “Yes, it’s great that we’ve finally met aliens, but now that we have, how are we going to make a living?”

For a long time neither said anything. Then Geoffrey stated, “The only constant in life is change.” Looking at Robert he went on, “So maybe we’ll no longer drop probes off for universities. You said it might be fifty years until humanity is colonizing or mining out here, but with the kick in the ass of First Contact, maybe it will only be five. Maybe when we get back to the moon there won’t be a university wanting us to put a probe into orbit around an asteroid, maybe there’ll be a corporation wanting to hire us to prospect or set up a mining claim for them. Who knows? It’s a brave new world, but we’re not all going to just ignore the aliens and go back to the way things were just because you’re a grumpy old man set in your ways.”

Robert took a deep breath. “The Clarke’s my ship, I can be grumpy if I want to be.”

Geoffrey smiled. “I think somebody needs a nap.”

With a clenched jaw to keep from smiling, Robert glared at Geoffrey. “All right, all right. Let’s get this probe set up, then we’ll send a message to your precious Pentans.”

See what I wrote about this story on my Published Works page.

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Joe did not want to go to work on Tuesday. His company gave the employees the Friday off before Labor Day as well as that Monday, so he had not been at work when McCain announced Palin as his running mate. He was sure his cubical mates would have a hell of a time discussing the turn of events.

Mike was a hard-core Republican, but for months he had been complaining that McCain wasn’t conservative enough; even saying he was almost as bad as a Democrat. Linda was a hard-core Democrat, but for months she had been complaining that Obama wasn’t the fighter the Dems needed; he wasn’t Hillary. The only three things they agreed on were that the Philadelphia Flyers were the best, the other party was wrong, and that their own candidates might not deserve their vote.

When Joe arrived they were already at it. For hours he listened to Mike go on and on about how Palin added the desperately needed conservative nature to the ticket, conveniently forgetting that for months he had been bashing Obama for his inexperience. Linda meanwhile when on and on about how sickening it was that McCain had chosen a woman just to win over the disgruntled Hillary supporters, conveniently forgetting that for months she had been bashing Obama because he wasn’t Hillary.

Joe didn’t even try to do any work; he just sat at his desk playing Solitaire. After he got bored with that, he sat looking back and forth between the two. Finally he said, “Will you two just shut the hell up.”

Mike and Linda, who usually forgot that Joe existed, stopped mid-rants to stare, open mouthed, at him.

“For months you guys have been complaining that your candidates aren’t perfect. McCain isn’t Reagan and Obama isn’t Hillary. So neither candidate shares all your beliefs. Tough. Look at me. I’m a white, middle-class guy who doesn’t live in a million dollar home – let alone seven – who supports the ACLU and the NRA. I’m Pro-Choice while believing that we shouldn’t pull the troops out of Iraq until the Iraqis can fend for themselves. And to top it off, I’m an atheist. No candidate shares my beliefs, but do I whine and go, ‘They don’t believe as I do so they don’t deserve my vote?’ No, because I’m adult enough to realize that only spoiled little brats bitch and moan when life doesn’t go as they want.”

Joe paused, then continued, pointing at Linda, “You hate Obama, but if enough of you brain-dead Democrats stay home because he isn’t Hillary, then there’s a chance McCain will win. Is that what you want?” Turning to Mike he went on, “And the same goes for you and the brain-dead Republicans. If enough of you stay home then Obama will win.”

Joe let that sink in for a moment before saying, “Both of you, stop whining about how you might not vote this November because neither candidate is perfect. Well duh. Actually – now that I think about it – if you’re stupid enough to think politicians need to be perfect then maybe it’s best that you don’t vote. Ever.”

See what I wrote about this story on my Published Works page.

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War Against Time

When Mike pulled into John and Stacy’s driveway, he was surprised to see that he was the last to arrive. He looked at the clock in his car and saw it was 1:56. The plan had been to get together at 2:00, which usually meant Alice wouldn’t be there until 2:30 – at the earliest – but there was her little blue Saturn. Maybe John had told her they were meeting at 1:30.

With that Mike chuckled and got out of his car, taking the bag with a couple of DVDs, a board game, and a box of donuts. The gang’s standard weekend get together involved ordering some pizza, watching a movie or two, playing some games and BSing.

With a big smile, John opened the door just before Mike could ring the bell. “Howdy,” Mike said.

“Come on in.”

Mike stepped into the sun room, took his hat off and set it upside down on the table John and Stacy didn’t know what to do with. He then took out his wallet and keys and put them in the hat.

“Everyone’s in the dining room,” John told him.

Mike nodded. With another chuckle he asked, “Did you tell Alice we were getting together at 1:30?”

John’s smile faded and he said, “Something like that.”

Walking into the dining room, Mike saw the gang all sitting around the table with the two chairs on the ends empty. Down one side sat Alice, Linda and her husband Harry. On the other side were Stacy, Bill and his wife Nichole. John took the empty chair next to his wife, waved at the other chair and said, “Please, sit down.”

Mike raised the eyebrow over his right eye and replied, “Okay,” drawing the word out. He sat down between Nichole and Alice and noticed that everyone looked worried. “I have donuts,” he told them.

For a few seconds everyone around the table smiled, although they did look pained. John took a deep breath and said, “There’s no easy way to say this Mike, but this is an intervention.”

There was complete silence until Mike gave a snorting laugh. “What?”

“You need help,” Stacy said, “and we’re here to help you.”

Again Mike raised his eyebrow. “Help? For what?”

Everyone looked to John who answered. “Mike, you’re like the only person on the planet who doesn’t have a cell phone.”

Mike let that run through his mind for a few moments, then replied with, “So?”

“So?” Linda cried. “What if you had been in an accident on your way here?”

“Then the eight hundred people around me would have all whipped out their cell phones and called 9-1-1.”

“Maybe a good way to start this,” Bill broke in resting his hands on the table, “is asking why you don’t have a cell phone?”

“Because I don’t need one.”

“How can you say that?” John asked.

Mike shrugged. “Easily. Why would I need one?”

“So you can stay in touch with everyone,” Linda answered.

“I have a phone in my apartment that I rarely use. I have email. And I get together with you people for days like today. Why do I need to be more in touch?”

Before anyone could reply, Mike raised a finger. “Wait a minute. In the past month all of you together have sent me, like, thirty emails, but I don’t think any of you have called me. So, unless it is beneath you to call a land-line, how would me getting a cell phone keep us in touch?”

“We don’t call,” Stacy explained, “because we don’t know if you’ll be there to pick up.”

“But you send me emails, and it could be hours before I check my email.”

“Really,” Alice said, “a cell phone is for when we go to movies or out to dinner. “What if you got lost? We wouldn’t know what happened to you?”

“That’s why I usually bum a ride, or take someone with a cell phone.”

“But what’s the big deal?” John asked. “They’re tiny; you can fit one in your pocket.” To demonstrate, John pulled his phone out of his pocket.

“I don’t like having things in my pockets,” Mike explained. “That’s why my wallet and keys are in my hat out there,” he pointed over his shoulder with a thumb.

“They do make little pouches you can attach to your belt,” Nichole said.

“Enh, I think that would still bug me.”

“Would such a little thing bug you?” Alice asked.

Mike shrugged. “That’s part of why I stopped wearing a watch.”

Bill leaned forward and asked, “Really? What’s the rest of the reason?”

Sitting back, Mike said, “I was tired of being at the beck and call of the three-handed slave master.” Everybody looked confused, so Mike explained, “Time. From old clocks that have three hands. A couple years ago I was at lunch and it was a busy day, they were short handed, something, and it took a long time for my food to arrive. Once it did I started wolfing it down because I was afraid of getting back to work late, and I realized I was getting worried over nothing. I should relax and enjoy the moments of life, how ever long they take. I shouldn’t rush through them because somebody else says so. Part of why I hate mornings is I usually wake up tired. I want to go back to sleep but I can’t, because when the slave master tells you to get up, you have to get up.” Mike looked around the table and added, “I stopped wearing a watch as a rebellion, my little war against time.”

“Well, that’s nice,” John said, “but what does that have to do with not owning a cell phone?”

“I can wait a few hours to get home to call or email someone. I’m independent enough not to need to tell everyone every little thing about my day all the time.” Mike looked around the table and asked, “Are we connecting now?” A few of his friends nodded. “And we’re doing it without a technological doodad.”

“Okay,” Linda said. “You’ve made your point. But that doesn’t change the fact that a cell phone can help you in an emergency.”

“So I should buy one and throw it in my little emergency kit in my trunk – the one with flares, jumper cables, et cetera – to let it bounce around through summer and winter for a few years until I do have an accident and need it?”

Nobody had an answer to that, so Mike said, “I don’t have a cell phone because I have no need of one and one would not help me. Now, why don’t one of you whip out your cell phone and order us some pizza.”

See what I wrote about this story on my Published Works page.

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Flight Into History

June 22, 2010

Most days Tom hated when customers came into the convenient store during his shift; it really cramped his magazine reading time. But today was worse. Of course he would have to work on the launch of the final space shuttle mission.

As the Endeavour sat ready to liftoff for the last time, Tom sat behind the counter watching it on a tiny TV. About every ten seconds, some schmuck came in to buy a pack of cigarettes, or get a cup of coffee, or walk past the large sign with an arrow telling people where the restrooms were to ask, “Where are your bathrooms?”

A few asked him what was going on and when he told them they would shrug or say, “That’s cool,” then leave. On one hand he could understand their lack of interest – the shuttles had been flying for almost thirty years – but on the other hand it pissed him off. This was a momentous moment in the history of spaceflight. Okay, it wasn’t Armstrong taking a small step, but one of the most complex machines ever built was being retired so we could move on to something better. That sense of progress just filled Tom with hope; hope humanity would carry on and not be buried in the crap that seemed to fill our lives.

A middle-aged woman came into the store, grabbed a Diet Coke and a candy bar, and asked Tom for a pack of cigarettes. As Tom was ringing her up, she nodded towards the TV and asked, “What’s going on?”

“It’s the last shuttle launch, their retiring the fleet.”

The woman nodded and throwing a twenty on the counter sneered, “Good. I always thought NASA was a huge waste of money.”

Trying to keep the anger from his voice, Tom picked up the twenty and stated, “Exploring the universe is not a waste of money.”

The woman scoffed. “All those billions wasted up there could be better spent on the problems here on Earth.”

“Yeah, then the people could spend their money on important things, like nicotine and empty calories,” Tom said, as he handed her back her change.

The woman looked at the items in her hand for a moment. Glaring at Tom she snatched her change and stormed out of the store.

Tom shrugged and turned back to the TV. “T-minus sixty seconds.”

See what I wrote about this story on my Published Works page.

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The Grey Masses

“Thank you, thank you,” Joseph said as he stepped up to the podium. Over the light applause he added, “If I had known I would have received such a warm goodbye, I would have left years ago.”

As the laughter rolled around the ballroom, Joseph glanced at the faces of his family, friends, and coworkers. He held his hand out to the woman who sat to the left of the podium. “Another round of applause for Susan, who put all of this together out of the kindness of her heart, and because she’s been after my job for years.”

Speaking up to be heard over the laughter, Susan said, “It was no problem at all, I’m just so happy you’re finally leaving.”

Joseph waited for everything to settle. “Seriously, I want to thank all of you. The past thirty-seven years at D. A. Shearin have been some of the best and happiest years of my life. Of course that’s because I’ve spent all of them with my lovely wife, Abbey.”

At this there were more applause – and a few elbows into husband’s ribs – and a woman sitting on the right blushed a deep red and tried to hide her face behind her napkin.

Joseph smiled and chuckled, knowing he would pay for that latter. “Now, I’ve been to these things where the retiree just talks and talks and talks about days gone by, boring the hell out of everyone here. But I’m not going to do that.”

“Too late for that,” someone called out.

Cupping his hand to his ear, Joseph asked, “Do I hear the sound of a troublemaker?”

“Oh no, no, no,” the same voice replied.

“What won’t I miss?” Ticking them off on his fingers, Joseph counted, “The morning commute, the evening commute, Tom …”

When the laughter died down, Joseph continued, “Before I was interrupted I was saying that I’m not going to stand up here and bore you. I’m now retired, I should be enjoying myself. And if my family is any indication, I’ll be enjoying myself for many years. In addition to my wife, our kids Susan and Jeremy and our four grandkids, tonight we are joined by my father Martin who turns eighty-seven in a few weeks.” An old man sitting next to Abbey raised his hand and waved to the audience.

“And even more amazing,” Joseph went on, “my grandmother Margaret – who turned 105 two months ago – is here as well.” A very old woman sat in a wheelchair next to Martin. He looked at her, then turned and said something to Joseph. “What was that?” Joseph asked, and Martin repeated himself. “Oh.” Turning to the audience Joseph told them, “She’s asleep.”

See what I wrote about this story on my Published Works page.

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Super M

The naked woman hung upside down from the ceiling; her ankles wrapped in heavy chains. More chains bound her arms behind her back. A strip of lead had been wrapped around her head as a blindfold with the ends twisted together. Clamps were clipped to both of her nipples and connected to these were heavy medicine balls which hung below her head.

She hung in the middle of a small, Spartan, cinder block room. Two closed metal doors led from the room and along one wall was a closed metal cabinet. The only other objects in the room were a small freezer, a step stool, and a hand cart near the cabinet.

After several minutes one of the doors opened and a figure entered. They wore a protective face shield, a chemical apron, and heavy gloves. With long tongs the figure carried a ceramic crucible full of a thick, silvery liquid. With their foot, they moved the step stool closer to the woman, then stepped up to the top. Without saying a word, the figure tilted the crucible and the liquid poured out upon the woman’s buttocks.

The woman gasped and squirmed as the liquid ran down over her flesh and solidified. Once the crucible was empty, the figure stepped down and set it aside. The woman squirmed and a chunk of lead slid from her skin and fell to the floor with a soft thunk. The figure waited for several seconds then, using the tongs removed the remaining lead from the woman. Once all the lead was back in the crucible, the figure picked it up with the tongs and left the room.

They returned after only a few moments and began taking off the protective clothing, revealing a middle-aged woman wearing a white blouse and khaki slacks. She looked as if she would not be out of place in any office. She walked over to the woman and rested her hand on the woman’s cooling buttocks. “What did you think of my warm up method?”

“It was lovely, Mistress.”

The Mistress smiled and slowly rubbed the woman’s butt, resulting in a content sigh. She then walked over to the cabinet and opened it, revealing numerous weapons. There were clubs, knives, swords, pistols, even rifles. The Mistress looked these over and glanced at the woman. Reaching into the cabinet she removed a set of brass knuckles and dropped them with a clang onto the hand cart. She then slowly – almost seductively – drew a Bowie knife from its sheath and dropped that on the cart as well. After a few seconds she picked up a 9mm with a silencer. She loaded it and set it and another clip on the cart. Pushing the cart over to the woman she hummed a little tune.

Still humming the Mistress walked around the woman a few times, then reached out a finger and touched it to the woman’s stomach. The woman jerked a bit and the Mistress smiled. “Jumpy, aren’t we.” The Mistress circled the woman tracing a line around her body. She took a step back and said, “What am I going to do with you.” Carefully – so as not to make a noise – she picked up the 9mm. She held the barrel only a few inches from the woman’s right butt cheek and pulled the trigger.

The woman let out a gasp which turned into giggles as the flattened bullet fell to the floor.

“Did you think that was funny?” the Mistress asked. Before the woman could reply, the Mistress emptied the clip, shooting the woman’s buttocks, thighs, and the underside of her breasts. The Mistress inserted the new clip and continued shooting, hitting most of the same spots. When that clip was finished, she returned the gun to the cart. The woman hung breathing heavier; the medicine balls gently swaying from her squirms.

Reaching up with both hands, the Mistress drew her fingernails down the back of the woman’s thighs. “I’m worried I might have gotten you too excited. Perhaps I should cool you down.” The Mistress walked over to the freezer and put on insulated gloves. She opened the freezer and took out a large thermos labeled “Liquid Nitrogen,” but before she could return to the woman a bell rang.

“Damn it,” the woman shouted. With a shrug, the chains on her arms shattered and she ripped her ankles from the ceiling. Back on her feet she undid the clamps on her nipples and let the medicine balls fall to the floor. She then removed the lead strip from her eyes. Running from the room she told the Mistress, “I’m so sorry.”

The Mistress put the thermos back in the freezer and took off the gloves. She walked over and glanced at all the broken chain links littering the floor. With a sigh she sat down on the stool and waited.

A minute later the woman returned smoothing her outfit. “I’m sorry, there’s a bank robbery with hostages. I need to go.”

“I understand.”

The woman sighed. “I really needed this.”

The Mistress smiled. “You’re abilities present quite a challenge, and I do enjoy a challenge. I will wait for you to return.”

The woman smiled.

“I will spend my time,” the Mistress added, “thinking of an adequate punishment for making such a mess,” she waved at the floor.

The woman blushed and looked at her feet.

With a pat on her butt and a smile, the Mistress told her, “Go on, the world needs you.”

The woman smiled, lifted a foot off the floor and flew out the door.

See what I wrote about this story on my Published Works page.

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The Honeymoon’s Over

“Did we ever order anything from here?” Jason asked, holding up a flier from The Pizza Queen.

“Hmm.” Melissa thought for a few seconds. “I can’t remember. I don’t think so. Does it look like they have anything good?”

Jason flipped through it. “They have pizza and hoagies.”

“Put it in the ‘Should try’ pile. What about this?” Melissa held up a flier for China’s Best.

“Remember, that was the guy who got lost and when he finally got here he didn’t have our full order.”

Looking at the flier as if that would help her memory, Melissa asked, “Should we toss it just because of one bad experience?”

Jason shrugged. “Is there a shortage of Chinese places around here?”

Melissa stuck her tongue out at him and dropped the China’s Best flier in the trash.

Jason picked up the next flier on the sort pile. “Don’t we already have one for Miranda’s?”

“I think so.” Melissa dug down through the “keeper” pile. “Yeah, here it is.” Her phone rang so she handed it to Jason and said, “Which one’s newer?”

Melissa checked the caller ID and answered her phone with, “Hi, mom.” She listened for a few seconds and said, “I swear I’ll pick you up tomorrow. I’ll be there at nine, a quarter to nine sharp.” She laughed and listened for a moment. “No, Jason and I are just sorting through all the restaurant fliers we’ve gotten.” Her smile faded and she stated, “No.” Her eyes grew and her mouth fell open. “Mother! Goodnight. I’ll see you in the morning.… Love you too.” Melissa hung up and had a full body shiver.

“What was that?” Jason asked.

“I said we were sorting all the fliers and she said, ‘The honeymoon’s over then, huh.’ Then she started telling me about her and dad and …” she shivered again.

Jason chuckled. “You know what would teach your mother a lesson? If we had sex right here right now.”

With a smirk, Melissa waved at the fliers and asked, “And mess up our piles?”

See what I wrote about this story on my Published Works page.

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Money Talks

Amber returned to her apartment and set her reusable grocery bag on the kitchen counter. She put away her skim milk, bananas, spaghetti and Lucky Charms, then folded up the bag and set it on the hook by her door.

Kicking off her shoes, she walked into the living room and turned on her computer. As that went through its startup routine, she went to the bathroom. When she returned, she took out her change – a five and two ones – and got to work.

On her desktop was a word file titled Quotes. This contained several hundred of her favorite quotes. From “The Earth is the cradle of humanity, but mankind cannot stay in the cradle forever” –Konstantin Tsiolkovsky and “Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known” –Carl Sagan to “Remember, Ginger Rogers did everything Fred Astaire did, but backwards and in high heels” –Faith Whittlesey and “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy” –Martin Luther King Jr.

Amber paged down through the quotes, waiting for one to catch her eye. “It does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are 20 gods, or no God. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.” –Thomas Jefferson did just that. With a black pen and in small, neat letters, she copied that onto the border around the five dollar bill. In another ten minutes she had copied “As for the hibiscus / on the roadside – / my horse ate it.” –Bashö and “A book is like a garden carried in the pocket” –Arab Proverb onto the one dollar bills. She turned off her computer and added the bills to similar quoted bills in her wallet. She then settled on the couch with a good book.

Amber wanted to make the world a better place and she felt that there already existed enough beauty, wonder, and potential to do that, but the problem was too few people were exposed to it. For years she had struggled, trying to think of something she could do. She was too introverted to stand on a street corner reciting poetry, and despite what all her friends told her, she thought her life too boring to warrant a blog. Then one day she bought a book, and the dollar in her change had written on it. She checked out the site – where people could follow their bills across the country using the serial numbers – and thought it was a cool idea. Gathering all her bills, she logged them in then went out and spent them. Every now and then she checked back, but nobody ever reported her bills.

Amber thought it was an interesting idea, but she wondered if it could be put to other uses. For awhile she put the addresses of inspirational or thought provoking websites she had found, such as,,, etc, but that didn’t feel right. She realized that telling people to check out a website wasn’t as effective as just handing them a nugget of wisdom. So she stopped with the websites and started sending out inspirational and thought provoking quotes, hoping that one day – after buying a cup of coffee or movie ticket – someone would read one of her bills. It wasn’t much, but every little bit helped.

See what I wrote about this story on my Published Works page.

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At Peace

A log settled, sending a shower of sparks flying through the darkening night. The man smiled and sipped from the cold can in his hand. Dinner was long finished, but he still sat watching as the fire slowly died down. A chill wind rustled the leaves and the man moved his chair closer to the warmth.

He had friends who cooked with propane or charcoal, but that was boring, tame fire; the lion in a zoo. Besides, who ever sat watching as a grill cooled down? Cooking on a wood fire was more primal. While the fire was contained within a metal ring it was still wild, unpredictable, yet calming.

The man did not know – nor care – if it was a memory of when our ancestors used fire to banish the night, scare off predators, and cook mammoths, or simply the hypnotic dance of the flames that made him so fond of a good fire. Instead of thinking about the whys or tomorrow’s long drive and the return to the office, the man just sat breathing in the cold air with just a hint of wood smoke. At peace.

See what I wrote about this story on my Published Works page.

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Collateral Damage

The woman on the computer screen sighed. “Malik, believe me when I say that I – and others – fought this decision.”

The man nodded. “I do Sara. We watch the news, we know things are tough.” He smiled. “We’ll manage … somehow.”

For a few seconds the woman stared at him from the screen. Then she smiled and said, “I’m sure you will. The best of luck.”

“Thank you.” Malik pressed a button on the screen and Sara’s face was replaced by the words “CONNECTION BROKEN.”

He swiveled his chair to the side, closed his eyes, and took several deep breaths. Opening his eyes, he turned back to his computer and turned on the public address system. “Attention all personnel, this is Base Commander Payne.” Everybody on base knew him as either Malik or Doc, so using his title meant this was not to be ignored. “There will be a mandatory meeting in the Common Room in ten minutes. That’s all.”


When Malik left his office a few minutes later, he found Doctor Zhang Peng – the base’s chief computer tech – waiting for him. “What’s going on?”

“You’ll find out with everyone else.”

“That bad.”

It hadn’t been a question, but Malik answered it as one anyway, “Yeah.” After a pause he added, “These next few weeks are going to be very stressful for everyone.”

Zhang smiled. “So it’s bad, but not so bad as to preclude sex.”

Malik couldn’t help but laugh. “No, no. I don’t think it could ever get that bad.”

Leaning forward, Zhang kissed him. “Good.” She turned and with slow hops started towards the common room.

Malik watched her for a few seconds, then followed.


The Common Room was supposed to be able to hold fifty people somewhat comfortably. Unfortunately, there were sixty-two stationed on the base.

What little conversation had been going on stopped as Malik entered. Looking around the room he unconsciously nodded each time his eyes swept passed a department head. There was Doctor Han Kun of environmental, Doctor Antonella Pedriali of engineering, Doctor Hiroyuki Takenaka of medical, and Doctor Gursharan Dandavate, the chief selenologist.

Frowning, Malik asked, “Where’s Rashid?” Doctor Rashid Gryzlova was head of general science.

“He and Allen were suiting up to replace the micrometeoroid collector,” Margarita Romano from the astronomy team answered. “They’re listening in,” she added, pointing to the microphone that had been set up.

Leaning forward Malik said, “I’m sorry Rashid, but that will have to wait.”

From a nearby speaker came Rashid’s gravelly reply of, “I understand.”

“I’m assuming,” Malik went on, “that Dawn’s team is listening in as well?”

From the speaker came the cheerful chirp of, “Yep.”

Five days before Doctor Dawn Hu had set out with five researchers in one of the base’s long-range rovers on an expedition to the Newton Crater complex. By now they were only a few days away from it. Malik sighed. “I hate to say this Dawn, but you need to turn around and come back.”

There was a pause, then with less cheer Dawn replied, “Will do.”

Malik looked back at the people gathered around him. Before they had looked worried, but now they looked scared. “Is there anybody else missing?”

Doctor Takenaka raised his hand and said, “Jandova broke a tooth and I had to pull it. He’s sleeping off the painkillers.”

Malik nodded. “Anyone else?”

When nobody said anything, Malik took a deep breath and began. “Okay, here’s what’s going on. About six hours ago a group of people from a Christian doomsday cult attacked the Gonzales factories.” He held up his hands to quiet the shocked murmuring that came with that announcement; a third of the rockets that brought supplies and crews to the base were built in that factory. “They didn’t get far before they were stopped by security, and none of the rockets being assembled were damaged. While clearly a criminal act by a fanatical minority, the suits back on Earth still see it as a broad indicator of public opinion.”

Taking another deep breath, Malik looked around the room. “We’ve all seen the news reports. I read an article last week which stated that there have been as many civil wars, insurrections, revolts, coups, and terrorist attacks in the past year as in the previous twenty. It seems that every group or subgroup that feels it has been repressed – at any point in history – has come out seeking to avenge themselves on their oppressors. And as Africa, the Middle East, and South America burn, there’s us. Sixty-two people, out of harm’s way, being supported by billions in taxpayer dollars. With all the problems on Earth, too few people see the need to keep a base on the moon.”

Malik paced for a few steps in the cramped room. “This is something that’s been coming for months. I – and others on Earth – have been fighting it, but the decision was made yesterday to scale back our presence here, probably to about thirty people. There was going to be press conference, but that’s been put off so it doesn’t look like the cult succeeded.”

Stopping, Malik looked around the room. A few met his eye, but most were looking at the floor shaking their heads. “I want to reassure you that the base is not going to be abandoned. We already abandoned the moon once. We’re not going to do it again. And we’re not going to stop doing research; we’ll just be doing the more practical kind. One of our goals here was to prove that humans can live away from Earth and we’ve done a good job in that. We recycle most of our air and water, and we grow some of our food, but there has always been room for improvement. Now, I want to make that our priority. The fewer resupply missions we need, the happier the bean counters back home will be. I would say it would also be less for these cultist and others like them to have against us, but that would require them to listen to reason.”

A few of the scientists gave mirthless chuckles at that.

Malik smiled and continued. “Part of the way to make things more efficient is to cut down on the number of personnel. I haven’t worked that out exactly, but probably half of us will be going home sooner than we thought we would. In a month or so we’ll start sending volunteers back home. I would like it to just be volunteers; I don’t want to make people draw straws. I’ll give you a few days to think about it, but just so you know, I’ll be the first volunteer.”

See what I wrote about this story on my Published Works page.

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Bad Omens

“…. And upstairs are three bedrooms, although one has been turned into a storage room. The master bedroom has its own bathroom, and there is another bathroom as well as a fair sized hallway closet. So look around, and I’ll be here if you have any questions.”

“Thank you,” Dave and Laurie both said to the realtor.

She nodded then turned to give them some privacy.

“What do you want to check out first?” Dave asked.

Glancing around the tidy living room with its mismatched furniture and overflowing bookshelves, Laurie replied, “Ah, how about upstairs.”

Dave nodded, and they started up the beige carpeted stairs. “What do you think about the carpeting?”

In response, Laurie just wavered her hand.

They took a step into the room at the top of the stairs and stopped. Simultaneously they both said, “Wow.”

After a few seconds of silence, Dave said, “I really hope this is the storage room.”

Laurie slapped him in the ribs. “Everybody has hobbies.”

In the room were several display cases filled with Elvis dishes, Elvis figurines, Elvis busts, Elvis salt and pepper shakers. Looking around Laurie said, “Everything Elvis but the velvet.”

“You have to draw the line somewhere.” Dave chuckled and softly patted his wife’s abdomen. “What do you think of Elvis?”


“What if it’s a girl?”

Laurie frowned. “A girl named Elvis?”

“Well, there was ‘A boy named Sue.’”

The frown deepened. “I thought that was Johnny Cash?”

Dave thought for a second, then said, “Let’s check out the other rooms.”

Laurie rolled her eyes and followed him.

They peeked in the bathroom and Dave asked, “No Elvis toilet seat cover?” for which he received another slap to the ribs.

The next bedroom looked like it belonged to a woman off to college. It was a plain room with some books and old teddy bears too fragile – or precious – to share in the journey of higher education. Laurie wrinkled her nose. “We’d definitely have to repaint this room.”

“Don’t you like purple?”

“Pale lavender,” Laurie corrected.

“I don’t buy all these fancy-shmancy, woman colors. That’s purple.”

“Pale lavender.”

The argument continued down the hall, but ended when they stepped into the master bedroom. They stood in shocked silence for several moments.

“We can’t buy this house.”

Turning to his wife, Dave asked, “Why not?”

With both hands Laurie pointed above the bed. Above the left side was an image of Jesus and above the right side was an image of Elvis. Both on black velvet. It took Laurie a few seconds to find her voice. “They will always be there. Even though the current owners will take them – at least I pray they do – and even if we repaint this room a dozen times, they will always be there. Every time we go to bed, or have sex, Jesus and Elvis will be watching over us.”

Dave had clamped a hand over his mouth but he removed it to ask, “And that would be bad?”

“Yes that would be bad.”

See what I wrote about this story on my Published Works page.

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Amongst Us

“How much do you know?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

A fist – unseen through the rough hood over his head – slammed into David Moore’s face, knocking him and the chair he was tied to over. David lay on the floor for a few seconds, then hands grabbed his shoulders in a manner that would leave bruises and set him back up.

“Tell us what you know,” the man screamed.

“Please,” David sobbed, “you’ve got the wrong man. I don’t know any…”

A fist in the gut interrupted him, and for almost a minute David gasped for breath. When he could talk again he asked, “Why are you doing this?”

Again the unseen fist hit his face; it wasn’t hard enough to knock him over, but it did bring fresh blood to his mouth. “We ask the questions.”

For several seconds the only sound was David’s sobs and gasps for breath. Then a woman calmly said, “Perhaps he’s telling the truth.”

David turned his head towards where he thought the woman was and said, “Yes, I don’t know anything. You’ve got the wrong guy.”

The man whispered something David didn’t catch and the woman replied, “No. There are more … subtle ways to find the truth.”

At this the man gave a cold chuckle. David could just hear the wild animal smile on the man’s face. This – far more than his abduction and torture – terrified him.

9 months earlier

As often as he could, David would stop by Reed’s Books. Over the years he had built up a good friendship with the owner James, a portly, white haired, near-sighted, gentleman. In his will David had even left his entire library to Reed’s Books. It would either still be run by James, or have been taken over by his teenage granddaughter who could usually be found sitting in front of one of the shelves reading a book her peers – and possibly even her teachers – had never heard of.

James did receive some of his books through such donations, but he bought most of them at auctions and yard sales. Some bibliophile would spend a lifetime collecting books, and when they died their relatives wouldn’t know what to do with them all. They would be boxed up and sold for twenty bucks a box. As James went through the dozens of such boxes he bought each week, he would set aside books he thought his regulars, like David, would enjoy.

For as long as he could remember, David had always loved reading. It was a family joke that the reason his mother had such a difficult delivery was because David was halfway through War and Peace and didn’t want to put it down. So few people were surprised when at the ripe old age of ten David had announced that he would become a world famous author. But like so many childhood dreams, his had refused to become reality. Between working at a real job and struggling through his first novel, he did manage to get a few stories published in various scifi magazines, but he had long accepted he would never be listed amongst Tolstoy, Heinlein, or Clarke.

While running errands one rainy, Saturday afternoon, David realized he hadn’t been to see James for a couple weeks. So between the oil change and buying groceries, he pulled into the tiny, gravel parking lot behind the three-story house that served as James’ store and home.

When the bell above the door rang, James looked up from the paper he was reading. “Hello stranger.”

“Hello yourself. How are you?”

Folding the paper, James shrugged. “I’ve been worse, I’ve been better. I go on.” Standing up he added, “I haven’t seen you for awhile.”

David shrugged. “Well, that’s life.”

Both men smiled at that.

“I was running errands,” David went on, “and I remembered I hadn’t been in for a few weeks, so I figured I would just stop by and see if you had found any new treasures for me.”

The grin on James’ face grew. “Oh, indeed I have.” Walking over to his “RESERVED” shelf, he said, “When I saw this, I just knew that you would appreciate it.” He drew a large art book from the shelf and set it on the counter before David.

The cover was a montage of images of other worlds, aliens, their ships, frightened humans. The title was Alien Art. “What is this?”

“Oh, over the decades numerous people have painted alien landscapes and such.” James paused for a moment then continued, “I’m not big on science fiction, but I figured you would love it.”

David flipped through pages of paintings showing floating cities above vast deserts, space suited astronauts burying one of their fellows in the rusty, Martian soil, and one which at first glance looked like the cliché of a giant saucer landing before the White House, but on closer inspection showed that it was a matter of perspective and the saucer was comparable in size to the cigarette butt in the foreground. While David may not have been the best writer, he prided himself on always challenging himself. As the wondrous images passed before his eyes, an idea came to him, what if he wrote a story inspired by each?

David looked up to see James’ smiling face. “This is wonderful. How much?”


It was a couple of days before David had the time to properly look through the book. But his mind had already been working. For the painting of the Martian burial, he had already come up with idea that the death wasn’t from some Martian bacteria, but suicide. The astronaut had received a “Dear John” email and couldn’t deal with it.

As he turned the pages, David just let his mind absorb the images; his subconscious would work out the plots on its own. About a third of the way through the book he came across a painting he had missed the first time he flipped through it. At first David was confused because it showed a normal 1950s street corner. Reading through the caption he saw the title of the piece was “Amongst Us” and the reader was instructed to take special notice of “the man in the grey fedora.” Locating the man David studied him for a few seconds before he noticed a thin, green, tentacle that ran down from beneath the fedora and wrapped around the back of the man’s ear.

David set the book down and leaned back on his couch with a distant look in his eye.


A month later David had a rough draft of a 14,000 word novelette “Amongst Us” about aliens who had lost a war and were hiding on Earth from their enemies. They were not suited to our environment, so they attached themselves to humans. It wasn’t much of a story, but then David came up with the idea that the blue aliens were the good guys, they were just trying to survive. They didn’t enslave their hosts; they just kept themselves under the hat, so to speak. But the green aliens had been sent to kill off the blue, and they didn’t care if humans died in the process.

A secret war going on around us wasn’t a new idea in science fiction, but David hoped his personal touches made it unique. He let the story rest for several weeks, then spent a week giving it a brutal revision. After this he sent it off to a magazine that had published one of his stories before and went back to working on his novel.

A month and a half later, he received word that “Amongst Us” had been accepted, and would be published in about six months.


The hood was ripped from David’s head. He blinked several times and looked around. He was in a dimly lit room that could have been anywhere. There were only two other people with him. The man – looking like an extra in a gangster movie – walked over to the wall and leaned against it. The woman sat on a chair before David. She was … unremarkable. Someone you could pass on the street everyday and never notice.

Without a word, the woman reached up and pulled off her wig to reveal her scalp covered by a thin, green, gelatinous, thing. It had one red eye that looked at David with indifference, and just before he passed out he noticed the two thin tentacles that ran down behind both of the woman’s ears.

See what I wrote about this story on my Published Works page.

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With a very heavy, very expensive, antique chair strapped to his back, Allen slowly worked his way down the steep, narrow steps of the outdoor amphitheater. On occasion he would meet an unhelpful people who would stand in his way, forcing him to the edge of the hundred foot drop. A part of his mind knew this was ridiculous, and so was glad when the buzzing began.

Allen opened his eyes. Failing to focus them on the alarm clock, he groaned and flopped his hand until he hit the snooze button. With a yawn, he wrapped himself back up in his blanket.

If the alarm clock hadn’t woken him, part of him knew that the end of the dream would have been him tripping on a pebble and falling into the abyss. On the off chance the dream could pick up where it ended if he drifted back to sleep, this part of him tried to rouse him with thoughts of the coming day. It didn’t work. In fact, it had unintended consequences, for in the fluid reality of the half-awake state, the dream and the coming day merged.

Allen was still carrying a heavy chair – he didn’t know if it was an antique or not – but instead of the steep, narrow steps of an amphitheater, he was on the steep, narrow steps leading down into a conference room. Unhelpful coworkers stood in his way, and all the while his unseen boss yelled at him.

When the alarm clock went off again, Allen set up with relief and turned it off. For a few minutes he sat stretching and yawning and rubbing his eyes. Finally he stood up, and fell off to work.

See what I wrote about this story on my Published Works page.

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There are Some Things …

“So, who in your hometown is a swinger?”

Rich looked at his cell phone for a moment. “What?”

He heard Janice laugh. “On our date you said you were from a small town nobody had ever heard of.”

“Yeah,” Rich said, “but why do you think people from small towns are swingers?”

Again Janice laughed. “No, I … I had some time to kill at work today, so I googled it. The third or fourth entry was for some swinger’s site.”

Rich didn’t know what to say. “Huh.”

“I didn’t check out the site,” Janice continued, “because I was at work and I don’t … swing that way.”

Rich rolled his eyes. “You owe me a beer for that one.”

Janice giggled. “So come on, which of your neighbors are swingers?”

“I don’t …” Rich shook his head. “I don’t want to know.”

“Who are your neighbors to the left?”

Rich paused for a moment. “The Johnsons.”

“What about them?”

“They’re in the sixties.”

“Viagra.” After a pause Janice asked, “Neighbors to the right?”

“Were the Appignanis, but they moved away, like, six months ago. I haven’t met the people that moved in; forget who mom said they were.”

“Across the street?”

A secret part of Rich had been afraid she would ask that. “The Fosters …” and a long forgotten memory bubbled into Rich’s consciousness.

“Anything about them?”

“Oh,” Rich drew the word out.

Janice gasped. “Is it something juicy? Tell me, tell me, tell me.”

Rich took a few deep breaths. “I must have been, eight or nine,” he began. “I was playing in my room and got thirsty, or something. Mom had yelled at me numerous times about making a racket coming down the stairs, so I had done the kid thing and went to the other extreme; sneaking down the stairs so nobody ever heard me. I heard my parents talking about Joe and Carol … the Fosters, but I didn’t make the connection until now. Thank you.”

“You’re welcomed.”

With his free hand Rich rubbed his temple. “Somehow, my mom had heard something about them and was telling it to my dad.”

After a few seconds, Janice gasped, “What? What did she tell him?”

Rich took a deep breath. “She said, ‘She spanks him.’”

“Spanking? Wow.”

Forging on, Rich said, “And my dad asked, ‘Spanks him?’ to which my mom replied, ‘Every day.’”

Janice burst out laughing. “I should have grown up in your hometown. I only had a neighbor who got a DUI.”

“It’s not funny. I didn’t know who Joe and Carol were, but the idea of getting spanked every day scared the hell out of me. I snuck back upstairs and hid in my room until my mom came up about an hour later wondering why I wasn’t making any noise.”

Still laughing, Janice asked, “Was it really such a traumatic event?”

“I suppressed it for fifteen years.” Rich gave a full body shiver. “Why did you have to bring this topic up?”

Janice stopped laughing, and after a moment replied, “Curiosity.”

“Perhaps there’s a reason it killed the cat.”

“Don’t you want to learn all you can about other people?”

Rich started to say something, stopped himself, and answered with, “There are limits.”

“True. Now, the Fosters were kinky, but it doesn’t necessarily mean they were swingers. So, did your parents ever throw secret parties?”

“No. No. No, no, no. No. You …. You are paying for our next date. Probably our next five dates.”

“Why? Are you afraid you might learn something about your parents?”

Rich’s mouth moved for a few seconds. Then he held both hands and the cell phone away from him. He took a deep breath and brought the phone back to his ear. “There are some things I just don’t want to know.”

See what I wrote about this story on my Published Works page.

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Some Days

There was a smudge of blue ink in the middle of Jeff’s desk. He stared at it for five minutes. Yawning, he reached for a napkin from the pile next to his computer: leftovers from fast food lunches. Wetting a tip with his tongue, he rubbed the smudge. At first he only made it worse, but after adding some elbow grease managed to clean it off his desk.

Jeff balled up the napkin as tightly as he could, then glanced over his shoulder at the trash can. He tossed the ball up over his head and missed the can by a good six inches. With a sigh he picked up the ball. Standing up he held it above the can for several seconds before letting it fall.

Sitting down, Jeff went back to staring at his desk. It might have just been his imagination, but the spot where the smudge had been looked cleaner than the surrounding area.

For a moment Jeff debated if he should clean the rest of his desk or dirty that one spot. How could you do that? he wondered. He looked around his desk for a few seconds, then reached for a pencil. Out of the drawer he took the little Swiss Army knife he kept there. With a blade he shaved some graphite onto the little clean spot. Using a finger he smeared out the graphite into a big, gray smudge. Oops.

Jeff stood up and nonchalantly walked to the water cooler – nodding to Alice three cubicles down – and got a cup of water. He drank most of it, but took some back to his desk. With that he wet another napkin and cleaned up the graphite, although the end result was a faint gray smudge in the middle of a big clean area. “Damn,” he muttered.

For a minute Jeff sat and wondered if anyone would think it weird if he came out of the men’s room with a cup of soapy water and paper towels to properly clean his desk. Before he stood to do just that, his computer beeped indicating he had a new email. Happy for any distraction, he batted his mouse to kill the screen saver. Opening his inbox he saw it was a company wide email from HR. Some marketing manager Jeff had never heard of was leaving the company and, “we all wish him the best in his future endeavors.”

Deleting the email Jeff said, “It felt like a desk cleaning day.”

See what I wrote about this story on my Published Works page.

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Explore the Future

Instead of getting out of his chair when there was a knock on his door, Dave called out, “It’s open.” He heard someone enter his apartment, and without looking held an open beer bottle out to the person.

His friend Joe grabbed the beer and sat in the other chair. Dave glanced at him and said, “Pizza’s on the way.”

Joe nodded and took a sip of beer.

Picking up the remote, Dave hit play and the dreary scene of Los Angeles 2029 A.D. appeared on the screen and the final battle between the machines and mankind began.

It all started when they were sixteen. Dave had been dating Ann Hearn for just over a month when she left him for the quarterback. The pain of his first dumping was eclipsed only by the fact that he had only gotten to second base. To help out his friend, Joe had stolen one of his dad’s beers and they had sat in Dave’s basement drinking it and watching The Terminator. Ever since, that had been their way of helping each other through breakups, from high school and college to life in the real world.

As Arnold was getting his clothes from the punk, Joe said, “I doubt she ever saw this movie.”

Dave nodded. “Her loss.”

A few minutes later as Sarah was riding to work there was a knock at the door. Jumping up, Dave paused the movie and said, “Pizza’s here.”

He went to the door and Joe heard him say, “Hey Felix, how’s it going?” Joe couldn’t help but smile. When Dave returned and handed him one of the mediums, Joe asked, “You’re on a first name basis with the pizza guy?”

“And the Chinese guy. I’m doing my part in supporting the local economy.”

Shaking his head, Joe opened his box and gazed upon the thick layers of cheese, pepperoni, and grease. “I’ve missed pizza.”

Taking a bite of pizza, Dave just raised an eyebrow.

Joe explained, “Sue didn’t like to order out, and she only ate healthy stuff. She wanted me to live until I’m ninety.”

Dave swallowed his mouthful of pizza. “The bitch.”

Joe laughed. He looked from his pizza to the paused image of Sarah on her moped, to his friend. “Worse than hating pizza,” he said, “she also hated scifi.”

Dave had just taken a bite, so Joe stated for him, “The bitch.” Dave smiled and gave a thumbs up.

Picking up a slice, Joe took a bite and savored it.

“Should I leave the two of you alone?” Dave asked.

Around a mouthful of pizza, Joe growled, “Fuck you.”

Dave shook his head. “If this is how she left you, you should’ve broken up with her long ago.”

“I know.”

“Then why didn’t you?”

Looking at his friend, Joe answered, “Because I was an idiot.”

Dave threw his hands up in the air. “I’ve been telling you that for years.” They both laughed, then Dave asked, “At least tell me the sex was good.”

Joe just shrugged.

“Okay,” Dave said dropping the rest of his slice in the box, “if she hated pizza, and scifi, and the sex wasn’t that great, then what the hell did it take for you two to finally break up?”

Joe set his own slice in his box and wiped his hands on a napkin. “Did you hear the news that we’ve finally imaged a planet around another star?”


“It’s big news. I was excited by it. I was talking to her and saying I ought to write a story about it, and she said that nobody would care. Instead of wasting my talents on writing science fiction, I should write stuff to make the world a better place, which in her view means debunking all the McCain-Palin claims. So I tried to explain to her that scifi isn’t all,” he waved a hand at the TV, “cyborg assassins. For example, there’s the classic Trek episode, ‘Let That Be Your Last Battlefield.’ I started to explain that – in the sixties – they had an episode about how ridiculous it was to judge someone based on their … color pattern. But she didn’t want to hear it and told me I should stop ‘living’ in the future and focus more on the present.”

For a few seconds they were both quiet, then Dave said, “They say that those who don’t learn from the past are doomed to repeat it. Maybe, those who don’t … explore the future shouldn’t … complain when it turns out crappy.”

Joe burst out laughing. “I like the idea, but I think it needs some work.”

Dave nodded. “You know you were wasting your time with her, don’t you?”

Joe cleared his throat. “Stephanie Keith.”

Dave began to reply, but changed his mind. With a wide smile and in his best Schwarzenegger impression said, “Fuck you, asshole.”

With one last chuckled, Joe said, “Come on. We’ve wasted enough time on this. Let’s get back to pizza, beer, and carnage.” As they clinked beer bottles he added, “What more could we want?”

“An Angelina Jolie clone.”

Joe paused for a moment, then said, “I did write a story about that, I’ll have to send it to you.”

“Is it any good?”

Joe shrugged. “For some reason, the clones don’t live that long, so this guy keeps cloning her so he can repeatedly have his way with … them.”

Dave took a sip of beer. “You say that as if it’s a bad thing.”

Joe just rolled his eyes.

“Are you going to sit there,” Dave asked, “and tell me you wouldn’t want to explore the future of Angelina Jolie sex clones?”

See what I wrote about this story on my Published Works page.

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What the Hell

Letters to the Editor, Woodword Gazette
Published September – November 2008

“US not a Christian nation”

I feel I must correct the oft – and erroneous – statement that the United States is a Christian nation. I bring this up because in the September 14th letter “Governor Palin is a gift from God,” Mr. Lapin makes just such a statement. I direct Mr. Lapin and others who share this view to the following documents: Article Six of the United States Constitution, “… no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States,” the First Amendment of the same, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof .…” and Article 11 of the Treaty of Tripoli – ratified by the United States Senate in 1797 – “As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion….”

Samuel Barlow

“Constitution cornerstone of our government”

I must ask Mr. Lapin (“The Founding Fathers were Christians” September 26th) and all the other’s who have spoken out against me in these pages and online, if the Constitution isn’t the cornerstone of our government, then what is? All these people apparently feel that the secular government – set up by the Constitution – can ignored said Constitution whenever it interferes with their faith. The thing they fail to realize is that the Separation of Church and State cuts both ways. It not only keeps religions (potential with views vastly different from your own) from taken over and forcing everyone to worship their god/gods or face the consequences, but it also keeps the stiffs from the DMV from being in charge of christenings.

Samuel Barlow

“No to theocracies”

In his October 1st “Secular government is to blame,” Mr. Lapin seems to hint that since a secular government is to blame for all our social ills, then perhaps, a theocratic government is the solution. But I have to ask, can anyone name a theocracy – ever – that was decent to its citizens?

Samuel Barlow

“Is hate Christian?”

Over the past few weeks, I have written a few letters to the editor, and I would like to take this time to thank those who have contacted me. While a few have been respectful – and I have replied in kind to those people – the vast majority of the emails in my inbox can be classed as hate mail. I wish to thank those people because it makes things easier; a religion full of such hateful people probably isn’t the religion for me. The bulk of the hate mail is in the form of “Hell Threats” where the person states – in apparent glee – that I’m going to burn in hell for all of eternity. I have met such people before, and they usually say that they’re not trying to scare me, but save me. Save me by always yelling at me that I’m going to burn in hell? I believe the word that best describes that is psychotic.

Samuel Barlow


It is apparent (“Letter insulting to Christians” by Mr. Lapin, October 29th) that some people fail to realize that when I say that a small group of individuals – who appear to be Christians – act in a manner I consider psychotic, it does not then follow that I am implying all Christians are psychotic. I know many, good, decent people who are Christians, but who don’t threaten me with hellfire every five seconds. The only problem I have with the good Christians is that they don’t do enough about the bad “psychotic” Christians who are giving Christianity a bad name.

Samuel Barlow

See what I wrote about this story on my Published Works page.

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Ben’s Time Carriage

“Where is he?”

Alexander turned to the man sitting in a frail wooden chair. “My dear James, how am I supposed to know? But, if you believe the word of the good Doctor, then it should be difficult for him to be …”

A brilliant flash of blue light filled the room, and both men raised their arms to their eyes. When they lowered them a portly, older gentleman stood before them in a metal cage. He opened a door, took a staggered step and began to fall, but Alexander caught him.

“Benjamin, are you all right?” James asked.

“Yes, yes,” the man replied. He laughed. “Traveling through time leaves one … dizzy, for a few moments.”

“So you have done it then?” Alexander asked looking at the cage. “Built a … time carriage.”

“Oh yes,” Benjamin replied, “and the things I have seen.”

James sighed. “Were you able to do as we asked, or did you spend your time impressing the women in every century?”

Benjamin smiled. “If you do not make time for ladies, they will not make time for you.”

Looking in the cage Alexander asked, “Did you memorize everything? I expected you to return with countless books.”

“My dear Sir,” Benjamin replied, “do you think I would return empty handed?” Reaching into his coat pocket he pulled out what looked like a thin glass rod. Holding it up he said, “Gentlemen, all of the books in all of our libraries would fit on this, with room to spare.”

Alexander held out his hand and Benjamin placed the object in it. Holding up to his eye Alexander asked, “Did you find some miniscule printing press?”

“No, no, it’s …” Benjamin scratched his head. “It is something that even I don’t fully understand.”

“How are we to read that?” James asked.

“With this.” From another pocket Benjamin took out a metal object about the size of a small book.

“What is that?” Alexander asked.

“It is called,” Benjamin answered, “a computer.” Setting this computer on a table, Benjamin lifted the top off it flipped it back with a click, so it was now twice the size but half the height. He did this three more times until he had a stiff object about the size of a newspaper.

“Amazing,” James said.

Benjamin held his hand out to Alexander who returned the rod. “First we turn this on,” he said, touching the upper right corner of the computer. There were a few musical tones that made the other two men jump. “I’m sorry, I should have warned you. It makes odd noises.”

The surface of the computer had been a dull, bluish-gray, but now it turned black before it was replaced by an image in bronze of Benjamin himself. Benjamin laughed. “I couldn’t help myself. This is an … instant painting of a future bust of … me.”

Benjamin inserted the rod in a slot along the side of the computer and told the two other men, “Don’t worry. This is a very …” He paused and mumbled, “What was the phrase?” to himself. “Oh yes, this is a very user friendly model. I’ll be able to talk you through it in only a few minutes.”

An hour later both men were finally able to use the computer to read the information on the rod. Once he was sure they understood how to use it, Benjamin told them, “Now, gentlemen, you have access to all the important historical events for the next three centuries. With this you will be able to foresee all the difficulties this nation will face and write the perfect Constitution for it. If you excuse me, I have … an engagement I wish to attend.” He opened the door to the cage and stepped inside.

Alexander turned from the computer and asked, “Where is … or should I say, when is this engagement?”

“To answer both questions, Philadelphia in 2006. They are having a 300th birthday party for me. Curtsey means I should attend.” With that he closed the door of the cage, and in flash of red light, was gone.

See what I wrote about this story on my Published Works page.

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The Few, I

Grunts, groans, and curses came from behind the dozens of doors that lead off from the long, dimly lit hallway. Before each door was a pair of men. One of the pair was dressed all in black, held a shock stick in their hands, and stood silently with the look of men bored to death by their jobs. The other men wore a hodge-podge of clothing – some were even in rags – and few stood still. These men danced, hoping from foot to foot like children needing to piss. Michael Ash was one of the few who managed to stay still; he was conserving his energy.

A loud bell rang, and in unison the men in black turn and enter the rooms. Curses and shouts along the lines of, “Goddamn fascists,” greet them. A few seconds later, naked men with their arms full of clothes come out of the rooms.

The man who came out of the room before Michael turned to face the man in black, but before he could say anything was zapped in the chest with the shock stick. He picked up his clothes and ran down the hallway, muttering curses.

The man in black turned to Michael and waved him into the room. “She’s all yours,” he said. “For half an hour.”

Michael entered the dim, foul smelling room and was stunned by the sight before him. Lying on the filthy bed, with pale skin, thin arms and legs, and nearly lifeless eyes, was a woman. She was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen. True, she wasn’t at all like the flawless women on the classic porn channels, but she was a real, flesh and blood woman. That was worth all the porn ever made.

The Plague – it didn’t need a name – had wiped out half of the world’s population. But the true tragedy was that over ninety-five percent of its victims were female. The young, still fertile women were spirited away by the governments to places unknown were they could breed with the best men to carry on the species. But what about the billions of remaining men? How were they supposed to cope with their urges? The older women – unfit for the breeding program – were turned over to government brothels. At first they were drugged to be docile, but after “servicing” twenty or more men a day, they stopped fighting.

Michael was about to drop his pants when he noticed the butterfly tattoo on the woman’s left wrist. He stared at it for a moment, then whispered, “Aunt Sophie?” Looking at the woman on the bed he tried to remember the past. It had been years since he thought of his family. His mother had died in the plague and his father in the riots afterwards. His sisters and all female relatives were taken by the government, and he had no idea – and no way of finding out – if they were still alive.

But now, lying before him, was something few people still had; family. Already the sounds of sex were coming through the walls. Michael had waited for more than a year on the Sex List, and it could be two years before he got the chance again. Taking a deep breath, he took off his pants.

The Few, II

With his left eye swollen shut and his right blurred by blood and sweat, Jason had a hard time following his opponent. Fortunately, his opponent was in a similar condition. Unsure how much longer he would be able to stand, Jason knew he had to go on the offensive.

Jason stepped forward and the man threw a punch. Jason took the hit, but instead of stepping back, he kept going. It was a slow speed tackle, but both men were so weary they both fell to the floor. With all his weight, Jason fell with his elbow in his opponent’s ribs. There was a crack and the man grimaced. Rising up on his knees, Jason’s fist slammed into the man’s face. He did this twice more, then with his right hand he took a handful of hair and with his left he grabbed the man’s jaw. The man tried to bite his hand and claw at Jason’s face, but to no avail. With a loud grunt, Jason twisted. The man’s neck snapped, his body twitched, then lay still. Jason collapsed on top of him.


When he awoke, Jason was lying in a bed and an old, grizzled doctor was shining a light in his eyes. Turning off the light the doctor announced, “He’s awake,” then stepped aside to be replaced by an even older man with a heavily scared face; the Grand Gamete.

The Grand Gamete patted Jason on the shoulder. “Jason McKnight, you have fought well and have been victorious. A week ago, 128 men stood before us. Now, you are all that remains. You have proven yourself worthy to carry on our species.”

Jason could feel the painkillers starting to kick in, but he managed to say, “Thank you.”

The Grand Gamete smiled, the winkles roughening his face even more. Patting Jason on the shoulder again he said, “You need to rest now. Once you are feeling better, you can choose your mate.”

The Few, III

As he bent to pick up a sword from the bloody floor, John slipped and lived. Standing up with the sword he discovered two things: he had twisted his ankle in the fall and someone had thrown a spear at him. Fortunately, the spear head was now embedded in the shoulder of the man who had been chasing him. The man had dropped his sword and was trying to pull out the spear.

Wincing as he stepped forward on his injured ankle, John ran his sword through the man’s chest. The man looked at the sword, then at John; his eyes tired and pleading. John gave the barest of nods, and withdrew his sword. The man closed his eyes and lifted his head. John swung with both hands and the man’s head and body fell to the floor separately.

Turning to see who had thrown the spear, John saw three men – two with swords and one with an ax – fighting about thirty feet away. The ax man joined with one of the swordsman to slay the third, but before his body fell to the floor they had turned on one another.

John looked around the arena – littered with corpses, blood, and weapons – and saw no one else standing. He tried to draw out the spear, but it was lodged pretty well in the man’s shoulder. One of the fighters cried out, and the clang of sword and ax stopped.

Twisting the spear, John managed to pull it from the corpse. He turned and saw a man facing away from him drop to his knees. John looked around several times, but there appeared no other survivors. Because of his ankle, John slowly walked towards the other man. Every few steps he would stop and look around the arena. Along the way he passed a dozen corpses. Most were obviously dead, but with the others John jabbed the spear into the base of the skull or the heart just to make sure.

As he got closer to the other man, John could hear him sobbing. Still five or six feet away, John stepped to the side and saw that the man’s left arm had been severed below the elbow and he was cradling the stump with his right. He looked up at John for a second, then closed his eyes, took a deep breath and lifted his chin. John dropped the spear, and swung the sword.

For almost a minute John stood, sword in hand, gazing around the arena. A door opened, and John caught a glimpse of a thin figure dressed all in white before he fell to his knees with bowed head.

“What are you called?”

“John Crants, Priestess.”

“Long ago, the Great Plague left one hundred men for each woman. Since then, one hundred men must fight until one is left to have the title Breeder bestowed upon them. You have earned that right. Henceforth, you will be called John Breeder.”

“I am honored, Priestess. Thank you.”

“Go, rest now. A mate will be sent to you.”

See what I wrote about these stories on my Published Works page.

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Just Kill Me

When his alarm went off, Simon tapped the dermal implant above his ear and the buzz stopped. Then a woman stated, “Five minute delay.”

While groggy, Simon registered as awake and he was informed there was a Tmail message from his best friend Jen. He groaned and then heard Jen whisper in his mind, “Happy Anniversary. Do you have anything special planned?” This was followed by some rather evil sounding chuckles.

Simon opened his eyes and saw the blanket shrouded form of his wife Dawn, still snoring softly. He had wanted to take the day off, spend it with her, but she had told him that this was a day he should spend at work, with his coworkers. “It isn’t everyday,” she had said, “when someone marks their one hundredth year working for a company.”

Rolling over, Simon sighed. The biggest secret he had kept from Dawn in their thirty-two year marriage was that he hated his job. When he started there at eighteen, it had just been a way to help pay for college. After college – he already knew it wasn’t the best job – but he was already there, so why struggle to find something else in a poor job market? Then there was his first wife April and their sons. How could he provide for them if he left a stable, good paying job for who knows what? Then came the Longevity Treatment, which he could never have afforded if the company hadn’t picked up most of the tab. By the time he had met Dawn, he had resigned himself to the fact he would be working for the company until he died.

Now, looking back over the one hundred years since the pimply teenager had reported for his first day of work, Simon regretted – not for the first time – the Longevity Treatment.

See what I wrote about this story on my Published Works page.

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The Greater the Risk

“Enjoying the view?”

Sue Travis smiled. Without turning around she said, “It’s the number one reason I took the job.”

Michael Wheeler floated up next to her and for several seconds they both watched the Andes gliding away far below them. “It wasn’t,” he finally asked, “to handhold a bunch of snobby, nauseous tourists?”

With a smirk, Sue replied, “That was a close second.”

Michael returned the smirk and nodded.

“Mister Wheeler, I’m surprised you refer to the backbone of the company you and your brother just bought a controlling share in as, ‘snobby, nauseous tourists.’”

“If we are questioning motives, Miss Travis, perhaps we should start with yours. After two stints on the ISS, word is you were on the list – perhaps not the short-list but on the list nonetheless – to be picked to go to the moon. Instead, you leave NASA to take up command of this dinky, little, commercial space station where every few weeks you play hostess to rich tourists getting a taste of space.” After a brief pause, Michael added, “Such as myself.”

Glancing out the view window, Sue saw they were now over the Caribbean and turned back to Michael. “Just about everyone in the Astronaut Corps was on ‘The List,’ but my chances at being picked were … slim. I’m better at running experiments in zero-g then exploring the lunar surface. Besides, here I get six months on orbit and six months on the ground. That’s far more flight time than I could get at NASA. Plus, I do support NASA, but the future is in the commercial sector. And an ex-astronaut taking command of this ‘dinky, little, commercial space station’ has added an element of credibility to this company. Has it not?”

“Indeed it has.” Michael smiled. “So you believe the future belongs to the commercial sector?”

“Of course.”

“Do you believe part of that commercial future is exploration?”

Sue frowned. “What do you mean?”

Glancing over his shoulder, Michael floated a little closer to her. “How would you like to go to the moon? Not to land, not even to orbit, just to swing around and come back to Earth.”

Her frown deepened. “How?”

“In two weeks, a new lifeboat will be launched, to replace the one that’s been parked here for six months. When it docks, it will still have the third stage of the rocket attached to boost the station to a higher orbit.”

Placing a hand on his chest, Michael went on, “Now I am a business man, but my brother Tom is the engineer. He has worked out that it is just possible to use the third stage to put the lifeboat into an orbit that will swing it around the moon then back to Earth. The lifeboats have enough dehydrated food and water stored to keep six people alive for two days, so it should be enough to keep one person going for the seven days a trip to the moon will take. It is extremely risky, but we need to show that there is more to us than just expensive vacations.”

For several seconds neither said anything. “I have been watching you for the past few days,” Michael finally said. “We were still working out the details three months ago, and since you’re not scheduled to land for another three months, we couldn’t wait to talk to you on the ground. We had picked you as our number one choice, but we felt one of us should meet you in person before making the offer.”

Sue nodded. “Of all your employees I have the most experience in space and am therefore best suited for such a colossal publicity stunt.”

Michael smiled. “Precisely. Next month NASA is finally returning to the moon after almost fifty years. And it’s taken them almost fifteen years to get to this point. We don’t plan on stealing their thunder of landing on the moon, but we’d like to show what we can do with only a year’s planning and existing equipment. Yes, it will be a grand publicity stunt, but one that should increase public interest in the commercial sector. And having an ex-astronaut make the trip will just make it even more news worthy. So, have I piqued your interest?”

“I think,” Sue paused for a moment before continuing, “I think I would like to see your brother’s figures.”

See what I wrote about this story on my Published Works page.

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Number 25

The man sat in a coffee shop with a cup of Earl Grey tea. A notebook lay open before him with a pen across it. After flying above alien worlds without inspiration, his mind returned to the coffee shop. He sipped his tea, watched the autumn breeze rustle the leaves on the trees, and heard the staff talking amongst themselves.

For a moment the man was torn; should he try to record the faintest imprint of this moment upon the page for posterity, or should he forget the page and just live in the moment?

Setting his tea down, the man did what he knew he would do. He picked up his pen and tried to do both.

See what I wrote about this story on my Published Works page.

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Major Korton

An opening irised in the wall and Major Korton entered Central Control. He stopped before General Um and lifted his first four legs in salute.

General Um returned the salute by lifted his first two legs. “Major Korton, have you discovered why the Earthlings have refused our communications?”

“General Um, I fear I must report that we must take responsibility for part of the failure.”

Standing to his full height of three krilms, General Um asked, “We are part of the failure? How can that be possible?”

Major Korton lowered his body. “General Um, after much research, it appears that our communications do indeed reach some Earthlings.”

“Our communications reach them, you say, therefore we can not be part of the failure.”

“General Um, our communications do not reach all of the Earthlings, but only a small population of them. Unfortunately, it appears that this small population is considered ‘insane’ by the majority of Earthlings.”

Lowering back onto his bench, General Um said, “I’ll assume you have tried to adjust our communication array to reach a more representative portion of the Earthlings?”

“Yes I have, General Um, but it was not successful. It appears that only the insane Earthlings are capable of receiving our communications.”

General Um rubbed his eyestalks together to help himself concentrate. “It would appear, we need to adjust the message in our communications so that the insane Earthlings will not sound insane.”

Major Korton bowed. “A wise decision, General Um.”

Dismissing the Major with a wave of a tentacle, the General said, “Make it so.”

Backing away, Major Korton left Central Control.

See what I wrote about this story on my Published Works page.

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Endorse This

(Posted on The Prince of Pithy’s blog, at 12:27 PM, September 26, 2008)

In the past several weeks, I have received several messages asking who I will endorse for President. Those who have actually read my political rants on this blog have asked when I will endorse Barack Obama. My answer: I will “endorse” Barack Obama on November 4th when I cast my ballot. Seriously, if my endorsement would change – by any measurable amount – who you vote for, then please, do everyone a favor, go to your local hardware store, buy a 2X4, and beat yourself in the head with it.

I’m voting for Barack Obama, but I have more respect for people who say they are going to vote for John McCain than I have for people who endorse Barack Obama for the simple fact that voting is what matters in this funny little thing called democracy. I feel endorsements are contrary to the ideals of democracy. Endorsements are when some yutz – TV host, actor, some YouTube yahoo – says, “I endorse this person,” as if it actually means something. Basically, in my humble opinion, people who endorse political candidates are telling you that you are too stupid to follow politics well enough to be able to figure out who you should vote for. It’s as if someone – maybe after being hit in the head with a 2X4 – says, “I’m too stupid to figure out who to vote for, so I’m just going to look around and see who has the most yard signs in my neighborhood and that’s who I’ll vote for.” (Check out my earlier rant Do political yard signs serve any purpose?)

I’m voting for Barack Obama. If you’re not, okay. That’s the thing about America and democracy; people can do things I don’t agree with. So I know there are people out there who will vote for somebody based on who endorsed them. I disagree with this, I feel these people need to be hit with a 2X4, but it is their right as Americans to be that stupid.

I’m the Prince of Pithy, and I approved this rant.

See what I wrote about this story on my Published Works page.

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Tickle, Tickle

Sleep refused to come to Mark as the details of tomorrow’s presentation rambled through his brain. He lifted his head to look at his alarm clock and saw it was almost 1:00 AM. His head fell back to the pillow and he caught the faintest whiff of his girlfriend Susan’s aroma. It was a combination of the soap and shampoo she used and her natural scent.

Even if smell wasn’t linked so strongly to memory, it would’ve been hard to forget the events of a few hours before. He took a deep breath through his nose, hoping to catch her scent again, but it was gone.

With a sigh, he snuggled deeper into his blanket, and there she was again. It was almost like she was laughing at him, after giving him an olfactory tickle. That’s something she would do, he thought with a smile. I should give her a real tickling the next time she’s over.

Again he took a deep breath to find her, and again she was gone. That’s love for you, he thought. It’s either there or it’s not. The harder you try to find it, the more it slips through your fingers.

For a moment, Mark lay silently before whispering to the dark, “I really need to get some sleep.” He rolled over onto his other side and chuckled as Susan tickled him again.

See what I wrote about this story on my Published Works page.

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Pissed Off

“A local man was found dead in his apartment today. Forty-two year old Robert Graham of Hazen was last seen Tuesday night at the Cover To Cover Bookstore on Main Street around eight PM. The police were contacted this morning after Mister Graham could not be contacted after failing to show up for work. While there were no signs of forced entry – and it appears nothing was stolen – the police have ruled the death suspicious.”


When Bob returned to his apartment, he took out the two books he had purchased and hung his Cover To Cover tote bag on a hook by the door. He turned on his computer and opened the document on his desktop titled “Books.” This was a listing of his nearly 1,700 books neatly separated into different categories; scifi, biographies, American history, etc. In a little over a minute he had added his new books to the list; one on the battle of Austerlitz and the latest tale of Harry Dresden, the only wizard listed in the Chicago phonebook.

With that done, he turned off his computer and set the two books on “The Pile.” This was really several stacks of books, each about two feet tall, next to his couch. A couple years before – while looking at the hundreds and hundreds of his books that he knew he would never have time to read – he had decided that to force himself to read more each book he bought would go directly onto his reading pile; he bought them, he should read them. Unfortunately, his capacity at buying books was higher than his capacity of reading them.

Bob opened a beer, picked up one of the four books he was reading at the time, and flopped onto the couch. He drank his beer and read a few chapters about how POWs were treated by the Japanese in WWII. When he finished the beer he set the book down, took a shower, and went to bed.

Around 1:00 AM, Bob was woken by a loud thump. He lay staring into the dark for a few seconds then stood up and turned on the light. Everything in his bedroom looked okay, then he heard another thump come from his living room. Under his bed he kept a length of tubing that had been part of a stand for a fan; he didn’t have a baseball bat. He picked up the tubing, opened the door to his living room, and turned on the light.

In the middle of his living room stood – in a roughly humanoid body – all of his books. On feet of War and Peace and Anna Karenina were legs made up of books on Napoleon and Gandhi. The torso was made of books on WWII and general history. Paperback scifi novels made up the arms, which ended in fists of The Naked and the Dead and Ulysses. The head was just a thick, hardback laying on top of the torso. It opened, showing yellowed pages, and a dusty voice asked, “Why?”

Bob looked at it for a moment, before choking out, “What?”

“Why,” the book body asked, “buy us if you don’t read us?”

“I … I mean to read all of you.”

“Lies.” It took a staggered step forward. “You know you can’t read all of us, but you keep buying us. Why?”

Bob stepped back. He dropped the tubing and held his hands up. “This is a nightmare, right?”

The book body “stared” at him for a few seconds, then chuckled. “You could say that.” Bob then took an Ulysses to the jaw.

See what I wrote about this story on my Published Works page.

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Ticket to the Future

Part of Angelica Daffin’s mind told her what she was doing was illegal. The rest of her mind told her what she was doing was insane. But right now, she was listening to her heart. I. M. Allen was her favorite author and ever since she read his first novel Doomed to Repeat, she had wanted to meet him; to know what his motivations and influences were.

It was just something about the tale of human colonists landing on a world wiped out by a genetically engineered virus that struck a cord with her. To her it was so realistic that while trying to “learn” more about the virus and the technology behind it – for the good of all mankind of course – that the colonists ended up wiping themselves out. Angelica wasn’t an anti-technology, new-age, hippie type, but she always recommended Doomed to Repeat as a word of warning to anyone who felt science was the solution to every problem.

Unfortunately, the prolific author (three novels a year) was also extremely reclusive. He never gave interviews, or went to conventions, or even had a blog. His agent and publisher said their only contact with him was through email. Since his books were best sellers, nominated for and winning most awards, they allowed him his eccentricity.

For years Angelica lived with her disappointment. She would preorder his books and take a day or two off from work to read them. His stories and characters were always so fascinating. From the generational starship where each generation descends further and further into madness in Going, Going, … to the simplicity of building a time machine and the complexities that result in Today, Tomorrow, or Yesterday?

With each book her curiosity grew and morphed into obsession. The final straw was With This Ring, concerning the bigotry surrounding and interspecies romance. When she finally put the book down, she wiped away her tears, and vowed that she would meet him. For months she tried every legal method she could to track him down, all without success. In the end she had to date a hacker who hacked into his agents email and traced his computer.

So now, Angelica stood with binoculars in the woods surrounding a little log cabin in the mountains, fifty miles from the nearest paved road. Not wanting to give away her presence, she had parked her car at a motel and hiked three days to get here. She couldn’t see any vehicle or even a satellite dish, so she wasn’t sure how this could be the right place.

She had only been watching the cabin for about a minute when the front door opened and out walked a short, green skinned alien with large black eyes.


The next thing Angelica knew, she was lying on a soft bed. The air was warm and filled with a flowery scent she couldn’t identify.

“Are you all right, Miss Daffin?” a soft, musical, male voice asked.

“Yes, I’m …” She opened her eyes and saw the alien standing a few feet from her. She screamed and tried to get away, but the bed was against a wall and there was no where she could go. Turning back to the alien she saw him just standing, silently, watching her. A thousands questions jammed in her throat. She swallowed and asked the first one that could get out, “How do you know my name?”

The alien reached over to a table and picked up her wallet. Holding it up to her he said, “Your driver’s license.”

“Oh.” The situation was too weird for her to be disappointed but such a simple answer. “How did I get in here?”

“You fainted at my appearance. I couldn’t leave you to lie in the leaves, so I brought you in.”

Angelica nodded. “Thank you.”

The alien bowed slightly. “You’re welcomed.”

“Who are you?”

Holding his hands behind his back, the alien stood up straight and replied, “You couldn’t pronounce my real name, but you know me as I. M. Allen.”

Sitting down on the bed, Angelica nodded. “Really?”


After a moment, Angelica asked, “What are you going to do to me?”


“Nothing? Aren’t you afraid I’ll expose you?”

“To whom? Yes, the people who wear tin foil hats would believe your tale that a famous author is really an alien, but …”

“All right, all right,” Angelica interrupted him. Taking a deep breath she asked, “What are you doing here?”

“It is far easier to remain inconspicuous in a place like this,” he waved his hands to indicate the cabin, “than, say, an apartment in New York.”

Angelica paused. Did an alien just tell her a joke? “I meant on Earth.”

There came the faintest of smiles to his tiny mouth. “I know. Your species has accomplished much in a short time, but you have barely scratched the surface on knowledge of the universe. You are at a critical point in your development where you not only have the ability to destroy yourselves, but also the mentality which makes such a fate a possibility.”

“Are you here to save us?”

Shaking his head, he replied, “No. My … charitable organization is probably the closest term you have for us, finds species in such situations and we try to help them save themselves.”

Angelica raised an eyebrow at that. “By writing scifi novels?”

The tiny smile spread. “That is not all we do, but my specialty is artistic expression. Most species have some form of art, but few have such a range as yours. We’ve taken special interest in your science fiction because it’s perfectly suited to our goals. What other art form forces you to consider how your species – and even you yourself – would react to First Contact? Or time travel? Or immortality? Getting people to think about the future is the first step in making sure that you have a future and that it is a good one.”

See what I wrote about this story on my Published Works page.

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