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Checking It Twice

by

Seven?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Including wrath?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Wrath and sloth?”

“Super mad, too lazy to fuss about it. So he went to gluttony, then lust….”

“Oy.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Well, he’s off the nice list.”

“Already scratched, Mr. Claus. How long till you let him on again?”

“Years, Jingles. Years.”

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Rejection

by

Charles didn’t understand. He had thought everything was going swimmingly.

He had been writing Stacey for four months. Their emails had ranged from political (she voted regularly, he abstained on principle) to witty (they both loved puns) to cultural (they both hated Game of Thrones).  They had even spoken by phone on several occasions. As Charles reckoned things, they had a decent relationship.

Then she came to town. It was a church thing; she was coming with her youth group. Saturday morning they all went out to Denny’s for breakfast. Charles tagged along.

He misread the signs. He had hoped to sit beside her, or even across from her, but somehow ( wasn’t quite sure how) he ended up two tables down. During breakfast she didn’t look at him much. Then, afterwards, she contrived to get to the cashier and pay for herself before Charles could. Still, he missed the implications. It wasn’t until they had made it outside and the rest of the group had separated, and Charles asked what she wanted to do next, that she lowered the boom.

“Look, Charles…” she said.

Charles’ stomach clenched. Now he was getting a hint.

“I like you,” she said. “A lot. We’re friends. But…I don’t see this as anything more.”

“Oh,” Charles said. “Okay.”

He hadn’t actually been planning to have the define-the-relationship talk for some time yet. He had hoped, though. “Do you think…” he ventured. “Maybe in the future?”

“No,” she said, rather decidedly. “I’m sorry. But we’re going to have to settle for bronze. Friends, I mean. Not going steady, not on-and-off again. Just friends.”

“Fine,” Charles said. “Email you later?”

“Sure,” she said.

He did try. But her reply email didn’t come until the next day. When he emailed again, she never replied. He tried once more, a month later. Nothing.

He never did quite understand why.

Wishing

by

Murphy hadn’t intended to see clients today. It was Wednesday, and he always set aside Wednesdays for catching up on paperwork. His in-box overflowed with motions, proposed court orders, and various and sundry requests for legal aid. He never actually managed to catch up on all of it, but at least on Wednesdays, he could make a dent in the pile.

However, on this Wednesday, he had a drop-in. She had done this quite literally. One moment Murphy was laboring over his computer banging out a particularly knotty motion; the next instance, she had plopped down in a shower of sparks on his desk.  Papers went skidding everywhere, along with “Hi,” she said. “I need your help.”

“Just once,” Murphy said, “I wish you people would use the door.”

She ignored the comment. “Sal told me you’re the best. I got a problem. You can help, right?”

Murphy sighed. He would’ve liked to say no, but he wasn’t nearly that successful a lawyer. And they usually paid well. “What’s the trouble?”

She was still on the desk. “Okay, so there’s this kid, yeah? I mean, he’s a teenager. Not really a kid. Anyway. He makes a wish on some star. I don’t even know what star it is. Probably Betelgeuse or some stupid thing like that. I get assigned, I check it out, and the kid wants a girlfriend.”

Murphy waited. He knew the rules as much as she did. Some wish-casters were very specific about their limitations. His paralegal, Daphne, had a side business, and she was quite adamant about staying out of love affairs.  She didn’t do dead people either. “As a genie, I can be choosy,” she had told him. “And dead people are just, ew.”

But star-wishes were something else. Murphy assumed there was more to the story. There was, of course. “So I try,” the fairy said. “I set him up. I set him up ten times.

“And?” Murphy asked, although he had a guess at the problem.

“Nothing,” she said in disgust. “Not one worked. Something always went wrong on the dates. Two never even showed. Five laughed in his face. Nine pulled the “I have an emergency work call” trick. The last one? A zombie. I was desperate. She ended up ditching him for a mer-guy. I can’t even set this guy up with zombies!”

“So you want out of the wish,” Murphy said.

“I can’t keep setting this guy up forever, right?” she pleaded. “Isn’t there some loophole? I did my best, so let’s call it? I can’t work miracles, you know!”

“There’s not a loophole in the traditional sense,” Murphy said. “Once you accept the wish, you stay with it until it’s granted. That’s the deal. But…”

“But?” she said eagerly.

Murphy had hoped to hold off on this for a while. But clearly he had no alternative. He rummaged in his desk drawer and produced a small silver lighter. “Get him near someone, and flick this twice,” he said. “It’s an Illusion-maker. She’ll think he’s the second coming of Channing Tatum or whoever.”

She looked skeptical. “Yeah, but for how long?”

“You said he wanted a girlfriend,” Murphy said. “Did he wish for a permanent one? Anti-break-up provision, and so on?”

She smiled. “Nope. Exact words were, “I want a girlfriend. ” I think he’s got prom.”

“Prom’s next month, isn’t it? It’ll last till then.”

“Awesome,” she said, snatching the lighter. “You’re the best!”

There was a flash of golden light. She had vanished from atop his desk, along with the lighter. In her place was the usual sack of gold.

Murphy hated gold. He had told the fairies again and again: pre-paid debit cards were the way to go. Now he was going to have to spend a long afternoon arguing with the bank about fairy-human exchange rates. Still, at least they paid well.

Attack of the Wardrobe

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Celeste never meant for any of it to happen.

She had purchased the wardrobe entirely on a whim. She did that sort of thing a lot; her small house was chock-a-block with various yard sale finds, random pieces of furniture, books she might one day possibly read, and paintings she didn’t understand but found lovely. Her bank account suffered mightily on account of her constant whimsical purchases, but she managed to get by.

The wardrobe she had purchased because it reminded her of a story she had read as a child. Celeste was sadly disappointed to find that there was no magical land hiding behind the wardrobe, but even so, she consoled herself by the fact that it was quite roomy, and had plenty of space for her ugly Christmas sweater collection. So she stuck it in her upstairs room and forgot about it.

This was a mistake.

One wet Tuesday, she had invited three of her friends over for a binge-watching of an HBO series they were all fond of. They were into the second episode when suddenly Celeste heard a distant bump from the upstairs room. She ignored it at first. Then the bump came again, louder, and this time the others heard it too.

“From ghosties and ghoulies and long-leggedy beasties…” her friend Miranda quoted, giggling. Miranda was very well read and liked to quote lines.

Celeste rolled her eyes. “So go see what it is, why don’tcha?”

Miranda giggled again. “It’s probably that stupid wardrobe. Maybe someone from Narnia got in!”

“Only one way to find out,” Celeste said, and now she was laughing a little as well.

Miranda started for the staircase. “Fine, I will. Send someone if I’m not back in five!” she called, before disappearing up the staircase into the second floor.

They had paused the show to wait for Miranda. Several minutes passed. There was another bump.

“Miranda?” Celeste called. She wasn’t really concerned. Not yet. Miranda was probably having a little fun up there. She was hiding. That was it. Celeste had stopped laughing, though.

“Jerkface,” Rhonda muttered. Rhonda was the bluntest member of the group, and had a distinct lack of filter. “You know what? This is boring. I’m going after her.”

She marched up the staircase before anyone could stop her. Now it was only Celeste and Shelby alone in the living room.

They waited. Shelby was the quiet one of the bunch; she hesitated to venture her opinion even when directly asked. She wasn’t about to call attention to the increasingly distressing fact that neither Rhonda nor Miranda had returned.

Bump. 

Maybe,” Celeste ventured, “we should both go. Together. See what’s happening.”

A short pause followed.

Bump. 

“I’d rather not,” Shelby whispered.

They waited several more minutes. There were no sounds from upstairs.

“They’re playing a game,” Celeste said, trying to sound reassuring. “They both decided to play hide and seek and they want us to find them.”

“Or it’s something else,” said Shelby.

Quite suddenly the lights went out.

Bump. 

“Shelby?”

Silence.

“Shel?”

More silence.

Bump. 

After-Action Report

by

“Ah, Jacob. How was it?”

“Splendid. Changed his ways. Completely new man.”

“You don’t sound too pleased.”

“I’d rather hoped for company.”

“There’s that banker with the nose excrescence. You could try him.”

“Oh. Dead tomorrow, isn’t he?”

“As a doornail.”

“Fine. I’ll have a go.”

“Good man, Marley!”

Changes

by

The old man sat glowering at the fire. “I’ll have him,” he muttered. “I’ll have him. He must show himself this time, and I’ll have him.”

“Excuse me, sir?” The voice was unfamiliar. The old man blinked.

“Sir?” the stranger said again. “My apologies for intruding, but are you Captain-”

“Aye,” the old man said. He was the only captain he knew of on this barren rock. “What d’ye want? I have a long voyage tomorrow, and it’s passing late for visitors.”

The stranger smiled suddenly. “I could be vague about all this, but there’s no point, really. Even if you found my time machine, you don’t have the technical expertise to work it. The temporal field capacitator alone…”

“The what?” The old man blinked again.

“It’s the device that regulates the flow of the chronoton flux. It runs on steam power, surprisingly enough; I would’ve preferred using trilithium cells, but your time period is so primitive. Anyway, I wired up a steam generator that provides enough ambient energy to allow the chronoton flux to achieve maximum gravitational alignment, thereby reversing the polarity of the temporal streams and allowing for a level-three tesseract event.”

The stranger might have been talking in Latin for all the old man knew. He coughed slightly. “Look, man, as I said, it is passing late for-”

The stranger sighed. “Right, I’ll get to the point. The thing is, know exactly who you are, and what you’re after. I’m from the future. My name’s irrelevant, but I represent a group of people who sympathize with your quest. We read the book; we know how it ends. You’ll die.”

The old man was outraged. “I cannot die, no matter what you say! I have been given assurances, nay, signs-

“Yes, yes, the stranger said, a little impatiently. “I figured you would bring that up. Here.” He tugged a book out of his coat pocket. “Read the last chapter. 135, I believe it is.”

The old man read quickly. Then he looked up at the stranger. Others would have asked who had written the text, but the old man recognized the thoughts and the words. He knew them for his own. “Right,” he said. “So I die then.”

“No,” said the stranger, producing a second article from his coat pocket. The old man thought it looked like an old flintlock he had seen once, in the war. “No, you don’t.”

“Why?”

The stranger smiled again. “When you stand on your quarter-deck, your wooden leg made fast in your pivot hole, and you look left or right, you see different scenes with each direction you look? Each turn?”

“Aye,” the old man said. “Every turn, I see a new sea and a new wave.”

The stranger made a slight shrug. “That’s it, then. My friends would like a new sea.”

***

A year later, the old man’s ship paraded triumphantly into the harbor, all sails out and banners flying. The sailors told wild stories of how the old man had struck down the hated white whale, struck him down with a blast of steam and a bolt of red light from his hand. No one believed the stories; men long at sea were known for their exaggeration.

That night, the stranger visited the old man again. The captain seemed much bemused. “I have done what I set out to do,” he said. “I had him. I revenged myself upon him. But…what shall I do now?”

The stranger smiled. “Do more.”

Reflections on Lullabies

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So. I realize the blog has been quiet for the last several months. I have a very good reason for that. We’ve had a baby. She is several months old now and doing reasonably well; there’s some health challenges which have caused us some sleepless nights, and I’ve learned that it is a very bad idea to google medical terms with which one is not familiar, but overall, we have been very blessed. And when she smiles at me in the morning, and right after I’ve “changed her diapey!”,….I am truly blessed.

That being said, Little Bit’s arrival has given us a whole new perspective on the world. Lullabies, for instance. It turns out that when one has a baby and the baby is fussing, oftentimes one can calm the baby by holding her and singing to her. My stock of music is somewhat eclectic; by now I’ve run through everything from Hail Holy Queen to Edelweiss from The Sound of Music. (That last one choked me up a bit. If one is sentimental, one should be careful what one sings to one’s baby.)

But I’ve also hit some of the classic lullabies. And to be honest, some of them are kinda weird. Take “Rock-a-Bye-Baby.,” for instance. It starts off nice, the baby’s rocking peacefully in her tree…but wait. Why is the baby in the tree? Oh, well, maybe it’s a big tree like Rafiki’s tree in The Lion King and maybe the baby is secure and…”When the bough breaks, the cradle will fall…” 

Wait.

What.

And down will come baby, cradle and all! 

This seems an odd choice for a lullaby. “Sleep well, baby! Try not to think about other babies plummeting to their deaths from the trees!”

And then there’s” “Hush, Little Baby.”  When I sang this to my baby recently, I had many questions.

Is it a good idea to buy one’s baby a mockingbird?

Who’s going to take care of the mockingbird?

The baby’s not going to take care of it. She’s a baby.

So Papa’s going to get stuck with the mockingbird.

Of course.

Now the mockingbird won’t sing, so naturally I…buy the baby a diamond ring.

What did I do with the bird?

I trust I kept it around as a beloved pet.

Do I even know why it didn’t sing?

Why won’t the caged bird sing?

Also, the baby’s a little young for jewelry, isn’t she?

Suppose she chokes on the ring?

But apparently the diamond ring was faulty and turned brass, so I…buy the baby a looking glass.

Well, okay. A mirror’s kinda cool.

It’s not like the baby’s going to break the mirror or anything….

It broke.

So now I buy her….a billy goat.

*record scratch*

“Hey, honey, sorry about the ring and the mirror and the bird….but here’s a GOAT. Yeah! Everyone loves goats!”

Now the goat won’t pull. (Pull what?)

So I buy…a cart and bull.

A bull seems like a dangerous gift for a baby.

Is the baby in the cart?

Is the baby fastened securely?

Is there a cart seat?

Wait. The cart and bull have turned over.

Was the baby in the cart at the time?

Trusting not, I now buy the baby…a dog named Rover.

Rover. How original.

Of course the dog doesn’t bark.

Where am I finding these animals?

I should sue.

Meanwhile, I buy the baby….a horse and cart.

Is it the same cart, or a new one?

If the old one, was it repaired after the bull fiasco?

Boy, I sure hope nothing happens to this horse and cart….

They fell down.

Of course they did.

I would say I have the worst luck, but then again…

I do have the sweetest little baby in town.

This much is true.

Myna Chang

Dinosaurs. Robots. Kung Fu.

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