Moose, Gnome and Cow meet Squirrel

One day the Moose, the Gnome and the Cow went for a walk. Little white flurries flew, and the waves roared in the bay at the bottom of the hill.

“It’s not a fit night out for man nor beast,” said the Gnome.

“It’s not nighttime, but I agree,” said the Moose.

“Moo,” said the Cow.

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In the days after Sunset Electronica

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(A conversation in a world after the devices stopped working.)

The Printer grinned an ironic grin.

“See, now, there’s the whole point. The printed forum was a place where the community gathered, and people wrote their piece, and views were exchanged with a common respect,” he said, recalling the times before the times before theirs. “As it all sped up and the words grew more careless and it all began to blink and beep, the impulse replaced the carefully crafted phrase, the flash of anger ruled over the considered thought, and the respect vanished. We didn’t just disagree; we treated the other person as an idiot or downright evil.

“When you take the time to think out your thinking and spread it over paper with ink, the thoughts come out more clearly — more, well, thoughtfully — the way you meant them in your heart, not just a knee-jerk blast of emotion and venom.”

The youth smirked. “You cherish these papers so much because you own the printing press and censor what gets printed. In the old times, when the electronics worked, everyone could be heard.”

“Everyone censors themselves first of all,” The Printer said. “You decide what you want to say and then you say it. Sometimes in the heat of a moment you say something and regret it a moment later. When we substituted electronics for precious paper, we created a forum more like real life, with fewer filters, which can be a good thing and sometimes not. In a mob everyone can be heard but no one can be heard. When you only have one page to reach other minds and hearts, you work that much harder to say what you mean clearly and economically and persuasively. I do ask clarity from those who want me to print their words. Am I a censor? Only if you think a censor is someone who wants each perspective presented in as bright and clear a light as possible, because I do reject incoherence.”

“So you admit you deny your precious space to those who can’t put their ideas into words clearly enough, in your judgment?” the youth asked triumphantly.

The Printer’s mouth became a thin smile. “There is always the other choice: You may write your ideas in words that can be understood by all, and I will print them, or you can walk the streets shouting incomprehensible babble. I suggest that my way will take your ideas farther.”

Plan Ten From Outer Space

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He closed his eyes and covered his ears and took a nap, and when he woke the world had changed.

First off, he was on the other side of the room. Secondly, someone was in his chair who wasn’t him, although they could be identical twins.

“I’ve been replaced by a pod person!” he shouted, which made the pod person wake.

It/he/she blinked, looked around and said, “Why did you shout?”

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As Good As His Word

I could see them — Jeep and Blaine standing tall against Venusian villains. Adam and Joy unraveling the puzzle. Hank and “Stella” taking on the thieves of alien tech. I even could still see Devin Green realizing the truth about Krayatura.

I could see them all.

What dastardly villain inside me was preventing me from telling their stories? Stark raving lunacy? Simple fear? Imposter syndrome?

The fear of getting it wrong? Maybe that was it — I was so afraid of telling the stories wrong that I didn’t tell them at all. Was that it?

It couldn’t be as simple as I just didn’t want to do it? Simply that, after all was said and done, I didn’t want to go to the trouble of telling their stories?

“TROUBLE!?!?” they shrieked in unison.

“That’s enough of this,” Hank said. Because he was the burliest, he grabbed my hand and pulled me off the chair and onto my feet, then took me by the shoulders and looked me in the eye. I saw the steely glint and was afraid until I realized he was holding back a smile.

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Jackpot – based on a true story

The place was a dive. Old photographs of famous people who once ate there hung on the walls, but none of the pictures was newer than somewhere in the mid 1970s. Faded wallpaper was starting to peel at the seams. The place smelled somewhere between a campground latrine and the morning after a frat house party.

A man in a trench coat and wearing a fedora — God, could he be any more of a cliche? — slid into the booth opposite him.

“You Slate?” the stranger said, his hands visibly trembling before he folded them to keep them still.

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Prologue to The Monarchs

17 monarchs.jpg

“Look at that big piece of driftwood,” she laughed. “It looks like a dead giant caterpillar washed ashore.”

Grant Jenssen laughed, too, but then he took a second look. The wood was washed not quite white, more of a light tan, and the little stubs from broken branches could have been legs; the resemblance to a caterpillar was indeed uncanny except for the fact that it was a meter wide and about three long.

“Wait a minute —”

She saw the look and laughed harder. “Oh, dear, I’m sorry I put the idea in your head. Grant? Oh, please —”

“I have to get down there.”

“To look at some flotsam? It’s a 10 foot drop or more.”

He saw a pile of boulders stacked up to the edge of the cliff a short distance away and, scrambling cautiously, worked his way down to the beach.

“Grant?! Don’t be an idiot,” she called from above. But he approached the huge bit of not-driftwood in awe.

It was dead, to begin. Certainly no question there. But also, it had once been alive. One. live. giant. caterpillar.

“Where did you come from, little one?” he whispered.

“GRANT!” He looked up and saw her, staring wide-eyed at something in the sky and behind him.

He turned quickly and saw an explosion of orange and black in the sky, hundreds of huge butterflies dancing and swooping in the sun over the water just off shore. They stretched north as far as the eye could see, and the grand dance was clearly making its way south.

For many minutes they passed before them, a procession of monarchs, larger than life, migrating from a place no one could know to a land no one could guess.

And just as suddenly, they were gone, leaving Grant standing alone beside a dead, giant caterpillar and her above on the cliff, laughing and crying like a child.

When sense finally returned to him, Grant thought of the phone in his pocket with its camera, and he cursed himself for being dumbstruck to the point of inaction. More than that, a purpose formed in his soul.

He had to see them again.