Author: Summer Bird

The Story of Winter Square

Once there was a lawyer named Winter Square. He was a very good lawyer and tried to be the fairest in all the land when mediating disputes. He had a great success rate for settling out of court.

One day, he had an appointment after lunch with a group of brothers. When they trooped into his office, the first thing that he noticed was that they were all very, very tall. And then he noticed that he didn’t have enough chairs. “How many of you are there?” he asked.

“Seven,” said the one with glasses.

“Four more chairs, please,” Winter said to his assistant.   Soon every one was seated. “Let’s start with introductions. I am Winter Square.”

The one with glasses stood up again. “I am Red, and these are my brothers Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo, and Purple.” Each brother stood in turn and shook hands with Winter.

“I know they’re unusual names,” Green said.

“Mom really liked adjectives. She named her parakeets crazy things like Shy and Dozy and Grumpy,” Purple said.

“My name isn’t exactly normal, either,” Winter said.   The brothers laughed. “So, what’s the problem?” he asked.

“One day we came home from a busy day at our jewelry design business,” Red began.

“Here’s our card,” Yellow said. Red cleared his throat. “Sorry.”

“As I was saying, we got home, and there was a strange man in our house, washing our dishes,” Red said.

“That wasn’t the first time,” Green said.   “The first time he was sleeping on the couch.”

“No, he was cleaning the microwave,” Blue said.

“In any case,” Red said, “the man keeps coming back.   We changed our locks, but he came in anyway. When we called the police to take him away, we found out that he somehow got the charges dismissed and the officer let him go.”

“I see,” Winter Square said. “This is rather unusual. Does he do any damage? Is anything missing?”

“No,” Orange said.

“Has he said why he keeps coming back?” Winter asked.

“He said he’s hiding from his evil step-daughter who is home for the summer,” Red said.

“And why your house?” Winter asked.

“Our apartment was the first one he saw when he stepped out of the elevator,” Purple said. “He looks normal, really normal and boring, but I think he might be crazy.”

“Do you have a phone number or address where I can reach him?” Winter asked.

“We don’t even know his name,” Blue said.

“Well, the next time he comes, call me,” Winter said.

Three days later, Winter Square left his office to visit the apartment of the seven giants. The strange intruder was there. Winter had the paperwork for a restraining order in his briefcase, but hoped he wouldn’t have to use it.

The man was sitting at the table playing Solitaire.   “So what’s your name?” Winter asked.

He waited. “Gray,” the man finally said.

“So, Mr. Gray,” Winter said. “I’m sure you realize how unsettling it would be to find an uninvited stranger in your home. I understand that you don’t feel safe in your own home. Perhaps we can help you find some assistance.”

“My wife is a queen among women, but my step-daughter is evil. Would you let me stay if I pay rent?” Mr. Gray said. “I feel so safe snuggled into the giant furniture. It would only be on my days off during the summer.” His eyes looked wide behind his glasses.

Everyone looked at each other for a moment. “Well, if he paid rent,” Green said.

“He does help with the chores,” Orange said.

“I guess I’ve gotten used to him,” Purple said.

There was a pause. “Are we all agreed then?” Red asked. The brothers nodded.

“We’ll protect you from your evil step-daughter until you can return to live with your queenly wife and live happily ever after,” Indigo said.

“Until the step-daughter returns next summer,” Yellow said. Everyone looked at him. “Sorry.”

“Mr. Square, please help us write up a contract,” Red said.

A short time later, Winter Square left the apartment, agreement in hand. He had successfully mediated another conflict. He smiled at his reflection in the elevator door. “You’ve still got it,” he said.

“Winter Square, you are the fairest in all the land,” the reflection replied. Creepy. Winter Square decided to take the stairs.
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Charlie’s Room: The Closet Door

When they first moved into their little house, Charlie’s room was missing the closet door. “We don’t need a closet door,” Marianne said. “He’ll just pinch his fingers.   Leave it be.”

But Isaac liked to finish things, and so that unfinished closet door bothered him, just a little. Not all the time or even all that often, but sometimes he’d look into Charlie’s room and see straight into his closet, and then he’d think that maybe they did need a closet door after all.

One rather nice Saturday, Charlie was invited to a birthday party. “It’s at a pizza place,” he said. “With games. So I need to bring lots and lots of quarters for the games.”

“Don’t worry, I’ll take him,” Marianne said.   “I want to talk to Joey’s mom about a playdate next week, and she’ll be there.”

The party would take hours, and Isaac was home alone again. He decided to go on a walk.   It seemed to be yard sale season, and every so often Isaac would come across a table full of books or baby clothes, or a row of kitchen chairs.

Two blocks away, on the corner, someone had left a closet door at the curb with a sign taped to it that said, “free.” It was just the right size for Charlie’s room.   Isaac picked it up and carried it home, with several stops to readjust his necessarily awkward handholds. At least it was lightweight.

It didn’t take long to prop it on the wall next to Charlie’s closet. Luckily it still had its hinges, and he somehow happened to have the right size screws in his toolbox. Were those from when he took apart the crib or from the cabinet remodel? It didn’t really matter.

He plugged in his power drill and got to work. He used chairs and a shelf of books to hold the door in place and zip, ziiiiiiiiiip-zip, it was done. He swung the door open and closed a few times, admiring his work.

On its seventh swing open, he noticed that something was odd inside the closet. There was a strange shadow behind Charlie’s neat row of shirts and coats and superhero dress-ups. Isaac pushed his hand through to see if the wall felt damp. He really didn’t want to try to deal with plumbing issues ever, if he could help it.

Nothing was there. There was no dampness and no wall. He pushed his entire arm through the hanging curtain of clothes and there was nothing there. He pushed his way through with both hands and the clothes brushed along the sides of his arms and face for an absurdly long time.

And then he realized he was pushing through pine tree branches. “Aren’t I too old to go to Narnia?” he thought. But he felt a little giddy. He’d always sort of hoped he’d find his way to Narnia, even now that he was grown up.   “I just need to be very careful who I talk to, and it will all be fine,” he told himself.

He kept pushing forward, hoping for a glimpse of a lamp post, but it felt like he’d been walking for hours through the forest, and he hadn’t seen anything out of place. Just when he was considering turning around, he smelled something peculiar.   Gingerbread? He walked a little more quickly. Licorice? Mint? He entered a clearing, and there at its center was a little house, covered in candy.

“Nope, I know this story,” he thought. He turned around and began to push his way home.   He hadn’t gone too far when giant chicken legs barred his path. He looked up to see a ramshackle hut perched on top of the legs.

“I know this story too.” He darted around the legs and started to run. He burst through the closet and tripped over his drill.   Ouch. He sat up stiffly. “That was not Narnia,” he said out loud. He allowed himself to feel sad for a moment. Then he picked up the drill and took down the door. There was no weird shadow at the back of the closet.   He patted it to be certain. All solid.

He put away the chairs and books and screws and drill.   Then he reattached the note to the closet door and carried it back two blocks to the corner where he found it.   When he got home, Marianne and Isaac were pulling into the driveway. “Did you have a nice walk?” she asked.

“It was okay,” Isaac said.

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No Smoking Here, Either

“Hey Bob, do you have an extra cigarette?” Tom asked. He smiled, looking hopeful.

Bob snorted. “You’re kidding, right? I had to pass a three page calculus test for these, and then I found out they raised the price again. No, these are gold. Get your own.”

Tom scowled and leaned against the dirty alley wall. “I tried. I got a test in ancient Greek. I failed of course. Now I have to wait two days to try buying another pack.”

Bob exhaled and Tom leaned in closer. “It may be time to quit,” Bob said.

Tom sighed. “I looked into getting some like black market, from out of the country, but those are really chancy. And terribly expensive.”

“Yeah, I heard a guy died the other day from some poison in the paper or something,” Bob said. He exhaled again, eyes closed.

“This is so stupid. Why did I even start?” Tom looked towards the entrance to the alley. “I’m going to go back to work smelling like garbage again.”

“Well, you know how it is. They made it look so cool in the movies,” Bob finished his cigarette with a sigh.   “Now people act like you’re an ax murderer if they hear you’re a smoker.”

“It’s just not worth it. Maybe I’ll start eating oreos instead or something.” Tom straightened up and ran shaking hands down his face.

“They tax those too,” Bob said.

“But there aren’t any math tests. Or ancient Greek,” Tom said. He laughed, but didn’t sound amused. “At least not yet.”

“Just think of the money we’ll save,” Bob said.

“So, if you’re quitting now, you wouldn’t mind giving me a cigarette, for old time’s sake, right?” Tom said.   “Since you won’t need them anymore.   In fact, I’d take the whole pack off your hands.”

Bob sighed. “Hey, listen. Pay me double what I paid for this pack and they’re yours.”

“Really?” Tom looked delighted. He fumbled his wallet out of his back pocket in a rush. “That’s really decent of you.”

“Yeah, well good luck with them. I’m not really doing you a favor, you know?” Bob said. He took the money and handed over the pack. He waved and left the alley.

Tom ripped open the pack in his haste for a smoke. It was full of pixie stix. He stumbled back into the wall. “Bob?” he said. He looked up and then ran to the mouth of the alley and looked both ways. Bob was gone.

Tom didn’t know where he worked or what his last name was. He’d just been delighted a week ago when someone was here, smoking too. It was so rare to meet other smokers anymore.

But he’d really been smoking. He had! So where were the cigarettes? How could he do this to a fellow smoker? They stuck together, united against the people trying to keep them down, didn’t they? Tom felt like his last illusions were shattered. Smokers weren’t all really cool after all. Mostly, he just felt stupid. He dropped the pack in the trash and shuffled out of the alley.

He’d make an appointment to talk with his doctor. He was finally done with cigarettes. Oreos were still cool, though. He could even eat them at his desk.   He’d pick some up on his way home.   And some milk. That was cool too and they went well together. His hands shook, just a little.

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Automatic Self-Walking Shoes

The day had finally come. Roger gleefully opened the box and pulled out his new pair of automatic self-walking shoes. They looked amazing. They had led lights and high quality Velcro, and they were lined in fake sheepskin. So classy. He’d even paid a little extra for the ones painted silver.

He used his phone to set a pre-determined route. How fast? Well, it’s not like he was really doing the walking. He set a pretty fast pace. Time to dress in his new running gear and join the neighborhood runners.   This was awesome.

Unfortunately, if you don’t want to fall flat on your face, keeping up with the shoes meant constant movement to adjust to the change in position. It was a little like being stuck on a treadmill or something. By the end of his driveway, Roger was done running.

Unfortunately, it is very difficult to breathe and run fast and use your phone.   Roger made a valiant effort, but ended up swiping and poking at his phone without really looking at the screen in his panic. He nearly dropped his phone.

Fortunately, he did not drop his phone. Fortunately, he did not set the speed any higher. Unfortunately, he managed to engage the AI function and it was set to explore. At least the pace was slower.

Roger went past the local park, the bakery, the pet store, the car wash, and the library. He walked thirteen blocks and completely missed dinner. He had somehow locked himself out of the walking program after engaging the AI and he’d left the preset password at home.

He’d tried calling the customer service department, but they were in another country and already closed for the day. He tried hugging a tree, but ended up falling down and being dragged by his shoes for a few feet. He’d been able to get up again when they paused so he could admire a Laundromat.

His phone died. His blisters had blisters. It was getting chilly and he was dressed in thin slippery running clothes. This had been the worst idea ever. He was tempted to just pull off the shoes and wait for them to finish their tour and come home. But then someone might steal them, and he was really looking forward to returning them with a very angry note. And getting his money back so that he could buy a box of doughnuts. Or maybe a doughnut store.

He was daydreaming of setting up his bed right next to the doughnut-making machine, when suddenly he stopped. “Error…Error…Error,” the display screen on his left toe said.   Roger looked around. He had no idea where he was.

It was dark out now, and the street was lit with streetlights. He was next to an unfamiliar park. Teenagers huddled around a bench and looked up as he walked by. They watched him silently, their eyes following him. He looked over his shoulder. Were they getting up to follow him?

He tried to limp away more quickly on his sore, blistered feet. Maybe he should throw the expensive shoes at them and they’d leave him alone? Or his phone. He looked over his shoulder again. He didn’t see them. Were they in the bushes? Could he hear footsteps behind him?

An elderly man appeared, illuminated in the streetlight just ahead.   He was walking one of those little noisy dogs. His white hair glowed in the light and his shoulders were a little hunched over. He looked like an angel. “Please help me!” Roger said.   “I am so lost! Can I use your phone to call for help?”

“I don’t have a cell phone,” the man said. “But there is a gas station two blocks that way that’ll still be open.”

“Thank you, thank you, thank you,” Roger said.

“Well, go on then,” the man said. “You need to get in out of the cold. Next time bring a coat.”

Roger just nodded and smiled. It wasn’t worth trying to explain. If the man didn’t even have a cell phone, he wouldn’t understand the wonder of automatic self-walking shoes. Roger wasn’t even sure he himself understood the wonder of automatic self-walking shoes anymore.

He arrived at the gas station and found someone willing to lend him a phone.   His sister laughed and laughed, but she came to pick him up. He just knew this would come up again at Thanksgiving dinner.

Roger was so happy to get home. After a bath and a big dinner and lots of band-aids, he pulled out the paperwork that came with the shoes. Unfortunately, because he’d worn them outside, and they hadn’t malfunctioned, he couldn’t return them for a full refund.

He could, however, receive store credit. Tethered to the wall, he checked his still-recharging phone.   According to the website, he had lots of choices like glow in the dark socks or electric mittens. Well, with how much store credit he’d be getting, Christmas presents would be easy, and this way he’d be able to find everybody if the lights went out while he was visiting. All’s well that ends well, right? Right.

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The Dog in a Beret

It was snowy and cold and the children were bored. They stared out the front window and watched the snow fall.   And then Michael saw something strange. “Look, Jane,” Michael said. “It’s a dog in a beret. We should invite him in!”

“Yes, let’s!” Jane said.

They raced to the door and threw it open. “Come here, dog in a beret. Come inside and play!” Michael said.

“Do come,” Jane said. “We’ll have lots of fun today.”

The dog stopped and looked at them. “ I don’t know you, you don’t know me. This isn’t safe at all. Where are your parents? Don’t you have safety rules to follow?”

“I completely agree,” a soft bubbly voice said behind them. “But they never listen to me.”

“When the cat came to play, everything went fine,” Jane said.   Michael pouted.

“Why don’t you just play a nice game or read a book?” The dog asked. He straightened his beret.

Michael sat up straighter and smiled. “Yes, that’s just it! A game!”

“Do you have any things in a box?” Jane asked.

“I don’t have any games with me. I was just out for a walk. Now I really must be going,” the dog said.

“Goodbye,” said the burbly voice. “Now close the door! You’re letting the cold in!”

“Wait! Stop!” Jane yelled.   “We’ll come outside to play!”

“Yes! Do you have paint? We could color all the snow!” Michael said.

“This really is ridiculous. Fine.   Let’s build a snowpup,” the dog said.   “But you must dress warmly first.   Coats, mittens, scarves and hats.”

“The cat was funner,” Michael muttered.

“It’s more fun!” the voice said. “And no he wasn’t. The cat was a menace.”

“This is better than watching snow fall,” Jane said. “Come on, Michael.”

The children dressed warmly and came out and waited. “Why are you just looking at me?” The dog in a beret asked.

“We’re waiting for you to do something,” Jane said.

“Don’t you know how to play in the snow?” the dog asked.

“Well, yes, but you’re here now,” Michael said. “Do something funny.”

The dog rolled its eyes. “Each of you go roll some snow into a ball. You really need to learn to entertain yourself.”

“He sounds just like mom,” Jane whispered.

“Or the fish,” Michael whispered back.

“I can hear you,” the dog said. “Get going. The snow won’t roll itself.”

“Fine.” Michael said. Off the children went. Pretty soon, the dog was directing them as they assembled the snow pup. They found leaves for ears, a stick for a tail, and rocks for eyes.

“I think that was kind of fun,” Jane said. “What’s next?”

“Now you go in and warm up and maybe read a book,” the dog in a beret said, brushing snow off his paws. “And I finally go home.”

“So, do we need to smash the snow pup?” Michael asked.

“You can if you’d like, but there’s no need for it,” the dog said.

“But then mom will know!” Jane said.

“You shouldn’t really be keeping secrets from your mom. If you’re not supposed to play outside, it will be hard to hide anyways. Your hats and coats and scarves and mittens are wet. There are footprints everywhere in the yard. Even if the snowpup is smashed, the snow will never look the same,” the dog said.

“And the fish will tell,” Michael said. His shoulders slumped.

“I think this talk with your mother is long overdue anyway. Good luck! Good bye!” the dog said. And then he left, with a tip of his beret.

“He really wasn’t very fun,” Michael said.

“Yeah.” Jane said. “Let’s go inside.”

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Charlie’s Room: The Light

The morning Charlie left for his camping trip with his cousins, he raced around the house trying to find everything he needed.   “Where’s the flashlight? What’s a mess kit? Why would I want a compass?” Marianne was out meeting with a client or sponsor or something, so Isaac tried to follow behind Charlie and help him out.

In the end, he left with a lumpy backpack, a sleeping bag and pillow, and a smile. ‘Thanks, dad!” he called over his shoulder. “Oh, by the way, my light’s out. I think it needs a new light bulb.”

“Wait!” Isaac said. Charlie paused, halfway into Marianne’s sister’s minivan. “You didn’t give me a hug.” Charlie rolled his eyes and ran back.

“I love you, Dad,” he said, but it was all muffled in Isaac’s shirt.

Isaac understood anyway. “I love you too, Charlie,” he said. He waved until the car turned the corner. He waited a little longer, because maybe they’d come back for something Charlie forgot, or maybe Charlie would decide not to go after all.

But they didn’t come right back, and Isaac went back inside. It was the start of a four-day weekend. The house was a mess and the weather was beautiful.   Isaac forgot all about the light bulb.   He did get the house picked up before Marianne got home, though.

The next evening, Marianne had some sort of conference to go to. Isaac puttered around the house, looking for something to do, when he remembered the light bulb. He grabbed a box of light bulbs and a stepladder and had to juggle them a bit to open Charlie’s door.

He left the new light bulbs on the bed and struggled a bit with the ladder.   “It’s too bad Charlie’s not here,” he thought. “I could ask him how many dads it takes to change a light bulb.”

He paused. “Just one because we’re awesome like that.” Isaac laughed out loud and reached for the bulb. It made a strange shuffling sound as he unscrewed it. It was surprisingly heavy. Was there something inside? He shook it gently and it shuffled some more.

He set it on the bed and put in a new bulb. The light worked fine. He held up the old bulb. There was a lumpy shape inside, as big as a golf ball. Hmmm. Time to perform surgery.

He found a hammer and chisel and set the bulb in a pie plate on the table.   With one big swing of the hammer, the end of the light bulb was gone, leaving a round glass ball with a slightly splintered end. He picked it up and looked inside.

It looked like there was a funny-shaped gray rock inside. He tipped it out into his hand. Some bits of wire hit his hand first, and then he caught what looked like a lizard statue. It was cold and hard.

He held it closer to his face. It twitched. He nearly dropped it. How had a lizard ended up in the light bulb?   How had it survived the heat inside without drying up into lizard jerky?

Perhaps it was some sort of fire lizard. Isaac was pretty sure he’d read about something like that. They lived in volcanoes or something. He turned on his desk lamp and made the little lizard a bed out of foil. He pushed the lamp as close as he could and left a dish of water nearby.

He watched for a bit, but nothing happened, so he left to make dinner.   When he came back, the lizard had somehow crawled into the lamp and curled around the bulb. “That hardly looks comfortable. I’d offer you the oven, but we can’t keep it on all the time.”   The lizard squeezed the bulb a little tighter.

Should he call the zoo? Were fire lizards common? What did they eat? Moths and bugs attracted to the light probably. “Do you need me to find you some moths?” he asked the lizard. “You know, to help you get your strength back up?”

The lizard squeezed itself even tighter around the bulb and suddenly, pop!, it was inside. “Oh, that’s how you do it!” Isaac said. “That’s amazing. I really should learn more about lizards sometime.” But, he had other projects planned for the evening.   By the time Charlie and Marianne were home, he’d forgotten all about the little lizard. Until months later when his desk lamp needed a new bulb.

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