When It Began

© Artinun Prekmoung | Dreamstime.com

The program ended, and they looked at the clock.

“I must leave you now, love,” he said. “I’m off to write The Great American Something.”

“Oh,” she said admiringly. “You’re off to write a novel?”

“Perhaps. It will be Something, whatever it is. And Great. And American. Yes, indeed.”

“I always knew you had it in you,” she gushed.

“Yes, well,” he said modestly.

He positioned himself at the keyboard, stared down the blinking cursor, and began.

“In a land beyond the horizon next to a big river, there was this city,” he wrote. “But it is not of the city that I write, no, not that grand metropolis of hundreds of thousands of people, but one of its denizens, two actually.”

There followed a heartbreaking saga of a man who loved a woman, and the woman who loved the man, and how they faced a challenge that they believed would crush them both, except that when they held each other’s hands and faced it together, it turned out that nothing could stop them. It took a very long time and hundreds of pages of trials and tribulations before they realized this combined power, however, and by the time of their triumph, they were exhausted, but not too exhausted to spare a historic embrace and a legendary kiss, the kind of kiss that legends are made of.

And as he wrote the final page, tears streamed down his cheeks and he nodded to himself.

“Now this,” he said, “is Something.”

For he had set out to write The Great American Something, poured his soul into the keyboard, and Something indeed came out.

Years later, she looked at him one night with a thoughtful expression.

“What would you have done that night so long ago, when the program ended and you announced you were off to write The Great American Something —“ she paused.


“What if I had said, ‘No, don’t, stay here and let’s spend the night together?’”

He looked in her eyes with a look that was looking very, very far away indeed.

“Why, I would have swept you into my arms and loved you all night for the rest of our lives,” he said, “and there might never ever have been a Great American Something after all.”

“I thought so,” she said sadly and slyly. “I’m glad, then, that I didn’t say what I was thinking.”

“What!” he said. “You didn’t want me to go away and write?”

“Oh, I did,” she admitted, “but I mostly was thinking how lonely I would be while you were away.”

“I’m so sorry!”

“I’m not,” she said. “Because here it is now, The Great American Something, just as you envisioned, and here you are now, in my arms, just as I envisioned.”

They held each other gently and firmly then, and it would be a cliche to say they lived happily ever after, but truth be told, sometimes a cliche describes a truth.

The king of random

He sat in the easy chair and spouted random scenes.

“Mr. Random, yep, that’s me,” he said darkly but with an easy smile. “The story of my life will make no sense. It’ll be a new-wave, high-art concept piece, and years from now they’ll rave about what a pioneer I was. Yep. I can see it now.”

He may have had a cult following had anyone noticed what he was doing, but he was in an out-of-the-way, random place in the internet and no one saw what he was up to. 

“It’s right clever, though, innit?” he would say to no one in particular, because no one in particular was always there; that is to say, no one was ever there. “Someday they’ll see what I was doing, and some high literary critic will say, “My oh my, he was brilliant and we never noticed.”

It was always his plan to be discovered and recognized as a genius long after his death, which turned out to be not the greatest plan at all.

Forgotten in his time, he is well-remembered now. For what that’s worth.

Stars, moon and a slow warming

She had been in this body for a little more than a year, and the colding time was starting to return. She had trained her human to take her outside, when she gave the signal, to let her deposit waste on the edges of their yard. He always attached a length of cord to her necklace so that they wouldn’t be separated, for his safety no doubt, because the wheeled machines that sped along the smooth path up the hill looked like they could be lethal.

Sometimes, before the ceremony of the waste, the two of them would stand side by side in the dark, staring up at the sky or across into the darkness, which was quieter now with the colding on its way. In warmer times they would listen to the cricket and frog song together and contemplate the width and breadth of the universe.

Tonight, after the ceremony, he started toward the door to their abode, but she pulled him toward the smooth path. A short length of smoothness led off the main path and into the abode, and her humans owned two of the lethal machines. They had all ridden together in the machines, which were quite comfortable inside and took them to strange other worlds. The machines reminded her of other vessels, but these did not fly.

She walked her human to the top of the hill, then sat back on her haunches and looked up. The moon near the horizon was due to set in a couple of hours, and stars by the million twinkled in the cloudless sky. He sighed, and she too was overcome by a sad homesickness.

They looked up at the tiny lights in the sky, and he spoke for the first time.

“What do you see out there, girl?” he said. “Do you see your home? Are you from the Dog Star? Lord knows there are times you don’t seem like you’re of this world.”

She raised her eyebrows at that. It was almost as if he knew, but of course he couldn’t. For all he would ever know, she was born on this planet, one of many wrigglers who scattered to different homes with different humans, all of them charmed by their wriggliness. They sometimes seemed to suspect, just like her human had just now, but they never really understood. They couldn’t.

She was on a mission — a mission to bring peace to a troubled world — a mission that millions before her had been a part of. “Are you from the Dog Star?” He wasn’t capable of knowing how close he was to the truth. On the other hand, he did seem to be more intuitive than others of his species, so — no, she was crediting him with too much intelligence.

The Dog Star winked at them from all those light years away, and she had a pang of sadness because she would never be there again.

He sighed again. “Well, let’s go back to the house. It’s getting cold out here.” And she led him back to shelter.

He seemed calmer than he had when they woke that morning. One day at a time, they said. Slowly, slowly, one human at a time, the mission was accomplishing its purpose.

Moose call

Somewhere over my head, I heard the call of a moose.

“Hey!” he called with a flourish. “Watch me pull a rabbit out of my hat.”

I rolled my eyes. “That trick never works.”

“This time for sure!” he cried. “Here’s the secret: Don’t think, just write.”

“Oh, please,” I said. It was close to midnight and a dark and dreary time, while I pondered, weak and weary, over a quaint and curious volume I was attempting to write, and the last thing I wanted was another piece of advice. “You keep coming by to chat, but you always say the same thing — “Don’t think!” — but I keep thinking.”

“No doubt about it,” said the moose, “I gotta get another chat.”

So there I was, reaching into the ether, trying to drag a story kicking and screaming into this plain of existence, and the characters were there and the setting was there and the motivations were there, except my own motivation — I didn’t care, and if I didn’t care, how was I going to get you to care?

“Stop worrying about it,” the moose said. “Just write.”

I sighed. “Don’t you see that I’m writing?”

“Meh,” said he. “Your fingers are moving and words are coming out on the page, but that ain’t writing, that’s the way you do it.”

“What do you suggest?” I challenged.

“I dunno. You’re the writer. I’m just a moose.”

And with that, he just stopped talking. I have waited here each night since then, waiting for the inspiration, waiting for the moose to speak again. He had to be joking, didn’t he? He saw me write, he saw the words come out, how could he say that it wasn’t writing? What did he mean by that?

Yeah, that must be it. He was telling a bad joke, trying to make me laugh and start telling the story I was born to tell. 

What story is that? I’m glad you asked. Once upon a time …

The moose grinned. “I guess I don’t know my own strength.” 

All these years I’d been hearing it wrong. It turns out, when I sit down to write, I need to invoke the moose.

Two cows on a shelf

The cows smiled as they surveyed all that they could survey. It was a cluttered panorama with papers and wires scattered everywhere but, paradoxically, books arranged in a certain order and movie posters neatly placed on the wall.

“It’s as if he can’t make up his mind to be a cluttered mess or obsessive compulsive,” one cow said to the other. The cows didn’t have names because, as an impossible quasi super villain once said, they knew who they are.

“We must have an adventure,” said the other cow.


“Well,” said the adventurer, “there has to be a story to tell about us so people remember who we are.”

“Why can’t we be remembered as the two little cows who sat contentedly smiling on the bookshelf for years upon years and lived happily ever after?”

“Yes, I suppose we could,” said the other. “But something has to happen to make it a story. That’s what makes it a story: Things happen.”

“I don’t want anything to happen. It means change, and I like things just the way they are.”

“So do I. But wouldn’t an adventure be grand?”

“It depends on the adventure. Some are full of mystery and intrigue and peril, which are three things I’m not terribly fond of.”

“I see what you mean,” the other said. “But this could be an adventure of discovery and beauty and strange new worlds and new civilizations.”

“I’m not sure I like ‘strange.’”

“Now you’re just being contrary. Come on, let’s go.”

“You go ahead. I’m happy right here.”

“I’m not going anywhere without you. We are two peas in a pod.”

“No, we’re two cows on a shelf. And I like it that way.”

“Oh, all right,” the would-be adventurer conceded. “I was just saying.”

“But you got your wish.”

“I did?”

“Yes. We’re in a story.”

“But nothing happened!”

“Fancy that.”

And they did live happily ever after.

Late One Night Near A Pinball Machine Over A Glass Of Wine

“We are all a little crazy, don’t you think? And the fact that we do think is why we don’t jump out of the chair and run down the street shrieking, ‘You’re all crazy, but that’s OK because I am a little crazy, too, and it’s the only thing that keeps us sane!’ We need that little bit of sanity to keep us on the edge instead of toppling over into the abyss.

“We set our goals and make our plans, and then all the pinballs start bouncing off of us and the flippers flip us in another direction entirely. But that’s all right, because we learn how to roll with the punches and the collisions that way.

“But seriously, don’t you just want to scream sometimes? Are you and I the only ones on the planet who’s not nuts? And frankly, I worry about you, because I’m pretty sure I’m a little nuts, too, and you’re the only sane one.”

As he continued along this merry line of thought, she twirled the wine glass between her fingers and started thinking about exit strategies. This would be very tricky, seeing as how she was married to him, but it would be of no benefit for the room to realize that they belonged together.

“You belong together,” they had said. Maybe that was when he started to believe everyone is a little crazy, because he must have seen as well as she did that they did. not. belong. together. He was a bit of a loon — a charming loon, she had to admit, but nonetheless a loon. She was rock solid cool reasoning in a smart and practical dress. But toasts had been toasted and winks exchanged and soothing coos kept cooing that they belonged together.

Maybe it was true, too. But not tonight. Not while he was rambling crazily about how we’re all a little crazy and on the verge of screaming down the street.

He stopped rambling long enough to look at her and say, “You’re awfully quiet tonight.”

And that was true, too, so she shrugged and said, “I guess so.”

“Do you know what I guess?” he said after a moment. “I guess there are a million million planets with some form of life or another, and on one of those planets — this very minute! — a couple of beings are having a conversation and one is saying to the other, ‘I think this whole thing is crazy, this nutty world where we’re always breathing ammonia and sitting on the verge of blowing each other up all the time, but don’t those seven moons look beautiful tonight?’ That’s what I guess.” He laughed. “Did you really just roll your eyes at me? You know, you are so cute when you roll your eyes, and I don’t blame you. I’m talking silly. I don’t know what I’m saying, it’s craziness, I sort of feel insane right about now, it’s like there’s this guy sitting with a beautiful woman and talking about going crazy in this crazy world. I can’t blame you for whatever it is you’re thinking.”

“Do you want to know what I think?” she said.

“Of course I do.”

“Do you really want to know what I think?” she said, a little louder.

“What you think is very important to me.”

“Do you really, really want to know what I think?” and now she stood and leaned over him, and she was so loud conversations stopped and people turned to hear his answer.

“Why, yes,” he said. “I really, really want to know what you think.”

She sighed. “I think they were right.”

“— about what?”

“We belong together.”

His eyes widened. “We do?”

“Yes, we do. I’m crazy about you.”

“And I’m just crazy.”

The room laughed, even though they weren’t joking. But no one went screaming down the street that night, and everyone went home smiling.

Flamingos from Another Dimension

And then every so often I have this urge to just write whatever wild story springs to mind about a pterosaur climbing out of the ocean and toppling skyscrapers and puny humans crying out for rescue. A heroic figure stands, arms akimbo, surveying the scene, and says, “I think I can do something about this.”

But suddenly cartoon flamingos from another dimension appear from nowhere and pull a previously unnoticed plug in the pterosaur’s heel, causing it to deflate like a Thanksgiving parade balloon. 

“I didn’t see that coming,” the hero admits, not noticing the train thundering up behind him. A woman in a toga tackles him out of the way, and as they lie next to the train tracks, he gasps and says, “You saved my life again,” to which she sighs and replies, “I know. You’d be dead several times over without me, and that would be no fun indeed.”

Just as suddenly, the whole scene vanishes, characters and trains and dinosaur and all, and life goes on as if none of it ever happened, because, well, quite literally, it never did.