Category: Alternative Reality

Knowing the Future Doesn’t Help

Many years in the past, well before the internet, a kindergarten teacher looked at the row of tiny people sitting on carpet squares. “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

Everyone started talking at once. Then they each started talking louder in an attempt to be heard. The teacher started clapping out a rhythm. Clap. Clap. Clap-clap-clap. The students quieted down and joined in the last clap-clap-clap.

“One at a time. We’ll start at this side of the room.”

“I want to be a baseball player.”

“…a doctor.”

“…an artist.”

“…a monkey.”

“…a blogger.”

The teacher paused. “A what?”

Cassandra shrugged. “It’s like a writer, but it will be on the computer, when the computers are all connected.”

Everyone looked at her blankly. “That sounds nice,” the teacher said at last, and the class moved on.

Later, on the playground, a small group of children cornered Cassandra by the slide. “You think the computers will all be connected and take over the world? You’re going to help them?” One of the children said, smirking.

“That won’t happen. You don’t know anything about computers.” Another child said. “Stop pretending to be smart. You don’t know anything.”

Cassandra straightened her shoulders. “I know you are going to go to college, but you’re going to spend the rest of your life paying for it.” She turned to the other child. “You’re going to need braces and glasses by middle school.”

The children shrieked in anger and raced forward together to push her in the mud. When the teacher with recess duty approached, the children ran away. Cassandra stood up with a sigh.

“Do you need to go in and change?” The teacher made a face at the mud.

“I can wait until the end of recess. They’re just going to push me in the mud again soon.”

The teacher patted her shoulder. “You don’t know that. Try to be more positive.”

Cassandra shrugged. “I’m positive they’ll shove me in the mud, as soon as you leave to deal with the kids fighting over the shorter swing.”

“What kids?” Just then, sounds of shouting and crying came from the swing set. The teacher sighed and patted Cassandra’s shoulder again. “I’ll be right back,” she said.

Moments later, Cassandra was shoved back into the mud.

She went inside to change, knowing the teacher wasn’t going to come back. Someone was going to find a dead bird by the fence and cause a commotion that would last for the rest of recess. Cassandra changed and waited quietly by the doors for recess to be over.

At lunch, she warned Jimmy that he wouldn’t like the mashed potatoes. He took a big bite anyways and then spit it all over the table. During painting, she moved her paints and warned Sara to wave her arms less as she talked. Sara still waved her arms and ended up with paint all over her sleeve. At reading time, Cassandra told Mike to be careful walking to his carpet square, and he still tripped and hit his head on his desk.

When the children were lining up to go home, Cassandra paused and tugged on Amy’s sleeve. “It’s going to rain later, and you forgot your coat.”

Amy frowned. “No I didn’t. I always put it in my backpack.” Then she turned around to talk to someone else.

Cassandra sighed and continued to the back of the line. She could see the future clearly. Someday, all of this would be part of a blog post that no one would believe. No one ever did believe her, of course. She was used to it by now.

Charlie’s Room: Space Cats

“Tell me a story,” Charlie said. He leaned on Isaac’s desk, and a pen rolled off onto his keyboard.

Isaac picked up the pen and set it in the jar of pencils. “I’m working right now. Maybe later?”

Charlie slumped further and some papers crumpled under his elbow. “But I want a story now. Please? I’m bored.”

Isaac turned to look at Charlie. He knew that Charlie had homework to do, and books to read, and a yard to play in. But, he also knew that since the quarantine started everything was different and strange, and Charlie wasn’t the only one feeling unsettled. “Okay. I’ll take a break and tell you a story. How about some cocoa, too?” He shut down his computer.

Charlie followed him into the kitchen and started handing him the ingredients he’d need. He leaned in and watched the small bubbles form on the surface as Isaac stirred. “Is it done yet?”

“Almost.” Soon enough, Isaac was pouring the cocoa into mugs. He left the pot in the sink to soak. Marianne was in the bedroom on a phone call, so Isaac set her mug aside for her. He and Charlie took their mugs to the living room, sat on the couch, and turned to face eachother.

“What do you want a story about?”

Charlie thought for a minute or two. “Space cats.”

That was different. Space cats? “Alright. Space cats. Are they cat astronauts from earth? Do they live on the space station?”

“No.” Charlie frowned. “They always lived in space. They’re space cats.”

“Okay.” Isaac sipped his cocoa while he thought for a moment. Still no ideas. He needed more information. “Do they look like regular cats? What do they eat?”

“They look like regular cats except they’re purple. And they eat shooting stars, if they catch them. They chase them really fast.” Charlie waved his hand back and forth. “Really fast, like that, see?” He waved his hand back and forth a few more times.

“Got it. I’ll see what I can do.” Isaac set his mug down.

“Once, there was a family of space cats. There was a mom space cat, and a dad space cat, and a brave and smart little boy space cat. They lived in space and took naps on asteroids, unless they were in a hurry. Then they napped on comets and got where they were going really quickly at the same time. They were very smart space cats. The mom space cat was the smartest one of all, of course, so it was probably her idea.”

“But what about the shooting stars?”

“I’m getting there.” Isaac took another sip of cocoa, very slowly.

“Daaaaaaad,” Charlie said. “Finish the story.”

“Oh, alright. Let’s see, the space cats liked to nap on asteroids best, because that’s what they ate, so it was nice to stay close to their food. The type of asteroids they liked best were the ones that were fiery hot. They tasted better that way. They heated up when they go too close to a planet and were pulled through the atmosphere really, really fast.”

“Shooting stars!”

“Yup. But they had to catch them before they burned up all the way, and they couldn’t fly as fast in atmospheres, because gravity made things difficult. The little boy space cat was the best at catching shooting stars because he was the fastest. And then, one day, he had a great idea. He thought that they needed to think of a way to heat up asteroids without going into the atmosphere. And then he looked at the bright, shiny, sun”

“The sun is too hot for space cats,” Charlie said. “They’d melt.”

“Yes, and it wasn’t the same thing at all. But it was on fire without any atmosphere at all. He told his parents that they needed to find a way to set asteroids on fire without chasing them into the atmosphere all the time. They needed to find a way to steal a piece of the sun and carry it around with them. The mom space cat had an idea. She said that she remembered seeing a crystal on the other side of the galaxy that was strong enough to hold a piece of the sun. They rode a comet over and found the crystal.”

Isaac took a long sip of cocoa.

“Daaaaaaad.”

“Sorry, sorry. Let’s see. They got they crystal. And then the dad cat thought that if they sent it through the atmosphere and it got hot like a shooting star, it would be like having a piece of sun to carry with them, but not too hot. But they would have to catch it at just the right time. And who was the best at catching shooting stars?”

“The little boy space cat?”

“That’s right. So they sent the crystal into the atmosphere, and he caught it at just the right time, when it was shining its brightest. Then they took it back to an asteroid and used the crystal to cook dinner. A long time later, when it stopped glowing as brightly, what do you think they did?”

Charlie bounced on the cushion in excitement. “They sent it into the atmosphere again and caught it when it was just right!”

“That’s right. And they lived happily ever after.”

Charlie grinned and drank the last of his cocoa in one big gulp. “That was a good story.”

“I think it turned out well. You had a great idea.”

“Like the little boy space cat!”

Isaac nodded. “Just like him. You should write down our story so you don’t forget it. We can make it into a book.”

Charlie jumped up. “I’ll draw pictures, too. It’ll be the best book! We can put it on the shelf with the dinosaur books, and you can read it to me at bedtime.”

Charlie raced away, and Isaac finished his cocoa. He stood to take his and Charlie’s mugs to the sink. Just then, Charlie peeked around the corner. “Dad?”

“Yes?”

“Thank you for telling me a story.”

“Of course.”

And Charlie raced away again, apparently no longer feeling bored and unsettled. Isaac took the mugs to the sink, and smiled when he saw that Marianne’s mug was gone. He hoped her phone calls were going well. Then, feeling less unsettled himself, he went back to work.

Cancelled, as told by Grandpa

Dad was out the door the moment Grandpa came inside. They didn’t even pause to high-five or tell a joke. Dad just mumbled something about a list on the fridge and left.

Grandpa came in and hung up his coat. Lynn and Jim and Neal waited patiently to drag him to the living room. As soon as the hanger was safely back on the rod in the front closet, they escorted him to the couch and sat down around him.

“Did you have any questions about the sleep study for baby Carrie?” Grandpa asked.

“I think this is when they find out she’s really an alien,” Neal said.

“I think she’ll scare them into pretending she’s normal,” Jim said.

They all looked at Lynn. She shrugged. “They may be right. Carrie’s scary.”

Everyone nodded. Even Grandpa.

After a pause, the children looked at him expectantly. Neal folded his arms and frowned. “Grandpa, aren’t you going to tell us a story?”

“What do you want to hear about?”

“Something true,” Lynn said.

“Something scary,” Jim said.

“Something with dinosaurs,” Neal said.

“I can do that.” Grandpa sat and thought for a moment. “But this story will have to go way, way, way back to when I was young. Back then, there were dinosaurs. They fetched our mail and mowed the lawn, and ate annoying house guests. Every house had two or three. But then, something terrible happened.”

Neal looked alarmed. “What happened to the dinosaurs?”

“They were cancelled. But that was only the beginning. Soon, everything was being cancelled. Television shows. Movies. Concerts. Amusement parks. School. Church.”

“You can’t cancel church,” Lynn said. “That’s ridiculous.”

“I wish they’d cancel our school,” Jim said. “We didn’t even get any snow days this year.”

“Why did they cancel everything?” Neal asked.

“Maybe it was a snow storm. A really, really, big snow storm. Maybe it was the ice age. I bet that’s it.” Jim looked at Lynn. “The ice age was real. I could be right.” She shrugged.

Lynn frowned and tapped her chin. “The dinosaurs died a long time before people, so they would be gone first. So, ignoring the part about dinosaurs living with people, maybe everything else happened at different times too. I still don’t know why they’d cancel church, though. Was all the power out?”

“Maybe all the presidents and kings got eaten by sharks. Did that ever happen?” Neal asked.

Jim rolled his eyes. “If everyone was getting eaten by sharks, everyone else would be hiding in the churches and praying.”

They looked at Grandpa.

“Do you want to know what happened next?” he asked.

“Yes,” they said in unison.

“Well, everyone stayed inside their houses. And they didn’t have dinosaurs to fetch their mail or mow their lawns, so they did that themselves. But only when nobody else was around.”

“Were they afraid of being cancelled?” Neal asked.

“Yes,” Grandpa said.

“What did they do about the annoying house guests?” Jim asked.

“They told them to go distance themselves,” Grandpa said. “For their own safety, of course.”

“So what did they do all day?” Lynn asked.

“Oh, they cooked and read books and talked on the phone. They also complained loudly and tried to sneak out of their houses when no one was looking.”

“Did it work?” Jim asked.

“Of course not. There was always someone looking.”

“And then what happened?” Neal asked.

“Then they cancelled the summertime, and it started snowing. Then they cancelled being reasonable, and everyone wanted to buy all the toilet paper. Then they cancelled breathing, and finally, this story was cancelled. Time for bed.”

“That story didn’t have enough dinosaurs,” Neal complained.

“And it wasn’t real at all,” Lynn said.

“It was a little bit scary, though,” Jim said. “But not as scary as Carrie.”

“Nothing is as scary as Carrie,” Neal said. Everyone nodded.

“Do you really think she’s an alien?” Grandpa asked.

Everyone nodded.

A Vision of Iron

I’m interrupting my regular post schedule for something a little different: another guest post. My oldest children collaborated on a story and I’m pleased to feature it here! “A Vision of Iron” by Joshua Bird. The illustration is by Sarah Bird. Please let them know in the comments what you think.

Ralf had just worked the whole day and was exhausted. They were close to a breakthrough, he
could feel it! They had worked at the lab for twenty years on this project. And soon, it would be done.
The excitement from these thoughts momentarily chased away the drowsiness from his eyes as he began
together the final preparations for tomorrow’s test.

A few minutes later, everything was in place, and Ralf walked to his living quarters in the
facility. He thought back two decades ago. He had tried to gain funding from numerous sources for his
project, but was continually rejected due to its cost. When the military offered to fund it with a few
conditions, he accepted. What other choice did he have?

Soon, Ralf reached his quarters. He changed into sleeping garments, turned out the light,
and soon was fast asleep.

Some hours later, Ralf woke up eagerly. “At last! Today at long last, it will work. I can feel it.”
exclaimed Ralf. He quickly changed clothes, ate a light meal, and hurried to the laboratory. He was the
first to arrive, but soon enough, the other researcher trickled in. Eventually, the army officers responsible
for overseeing the project arrived. A jovial feeling filled the air as the various researchers complemented
each other for the hard work of the last twenty years.

Finally, the officers gave permission to begin the test. Researchers activated power and the
various systems began booting up. Ralf prepared to begin the program. Five years of waiting, two years of
searching for funding, and twenty years of hard work, had all led up to this!

Ralf entered the commands and started the program. Ten anxious minutes later, a message appeared on
the screen. “Greetings, everyone! My systems are functioning perfectly. I think, therefore, I am.”

Everyone cheered. The researchers patted each other on the back congratulating each other,
while the officers applauded. And Ralf? He smiled and spoke to the world’s first successful AI, “Hello, my
son.”

The Rise of Our Common Foe

Zander was tired. His shift was over and he was beyond ready to go home. He could barely keep his eyes open. This was probably the reason that he ignored all the warning signs until it was far too late. He just didn’t see them.

The lobby was empty, unusual for a Friday evening. There wasn’t anybody at the front desk. That caught his attention. He assumed the receptionist stepped away for a moment while things were quiet and dismissed any further thought about it.

There were no other cars in the parking garage. Hours earlier, he drove around for twenty minutes to find a spot on the employee levels. Now all the spots were empty, and somehow he didn’t notice.

Zander didn’t notice that there weren’t any other cars on the road. He still didn’t notice when all the lights blinked out one by one as he passed. Instead, he listened to an audio book on his phone and yawned, fighting to stay awake.

Then the narration stopped, just as the boy was bit trying to kill the giant snake. Zander glanced down at his phone. His battery died already? It should have made it all the way home.

The screen was black. It was dead then. Zander looked back up with a sigh. How was he supposed to stay awake for the drive home now?

A light blinked out, ten miles down the road ahead. And then the next one, just a little closer. No light was visible beyond that. Zander still hadn’t noticed.

He didn’t notice when the only lights on anywhere were those in the mile-long stretch of road ahead of his car. He didn’t notice when a dark cloud passed in front of the moon and the sky went dark. He didn’t even notice the sudden chill in the air.

But when the ground began to shake and all the remaining lights went off at once and his car suddenly stopped, he noticed. Unfortunately, he couldn’t do much at that point. He tried fumbling with his seat belt, but it wouldn’t unbuckle.

There was a grinding, rumbling, roaring sound just below his car. The ground rolled his car around like a marble going down a drain. Zander suddenly wasn’t at all sleepy.

And then, with a popping sound like a million soap bubbles all meeting their doom at the same time on the same microphone, Zander’s car was sucked into the middle of the road and disappeared.

The road smoothed out to its normal level of driveable wear and tear. Moments later, the lights were back on. The dark cloud faded into a light evening fog. Traffic resumed as if there had been no pause.

But for Zander, life was anything but normal. His car plummeted faster and faster through the darkness. He was pressed against his seat belt, no longer touching the seat below him.

He couldn’t even hear himself scream. He had never been so frightened. It was impossible to tell how long he fell.

And suddenly the car was gone. At least, he assumed that’s why he no longer gripped the steering wheel or pressed against the seat belt. He no longer felt like he was falling, either. Instead, he was suspended in darkness. He felt it pressing in on him from all sides.

“I didn’t think we’d find one this easily,” a voice said. It was a perfectly normal voice, and it spoke in a conversational tone, as though someone was standing nearby, including him in a conversation that began before he arrived.

“Usually it takes years longer. Perhaps it’s the economy? I find that’s often to blame for things you wouldn’t expect.” The voice seemed a little louder. “Well, let’s see what we got.”

A light shined in his eyes. Ouch. Zander squeezed his eyes closed.

“I have an assignment for you.” The voice spoke in his ear. It sounded soothing, persuasive, perfectly reasonable. “Your name is now Mike and you sell extended warranties. You are our newest telemarketer. Welcome to the team.”

Mike opened his eyes. He sat at a shabby desk in a little cubicle. For a moment, he remembered somewhere else, a different job, a different name… But then his headset beeped. He had a call. He hit the button and checked his script, old life completely forgotten.

“Hi, this is Mike. Have you ever considered purchasing an extended warranty for your vehicle?”

Charlie’s Room: Away and Back Again

It was winter, when the daylight was pinched at both ends. Isaac left home in the dark, feeling like he was going to work in the middle of the night. He arrived home just before dinner, and there wasn’t much daylight left afterwards for the long walks he enjoyed in the summer.

He started eating his lunch while wandering up and down the sidewalks, peering into the windows of the different businesses near his work just to get a little more time in the sunlight. One day, he was looking into the windows of the antique shop, and he saw a little cloth doll. It was either a floppy eared cat or a long-tailed bunny. It could have been a kangaroo without a pouch, but the shape was all wrong.

Curious, he wrapped up his sandwich, shoved it in his pocket and stepped inside the store. The man behind the counter looked up when he entered. “Can I help you find something?”

Isaac pointed back towards the shop window. “I’d like to see the cat bunny doll.”

The man looked confused, but stepped around the counter towards the window. “Cat bunny?”

“I don’t know what it is.” Isaac followed him to the window. “That’s why I’d like to look at it more closely.”

The man looked into the window. “Oh. That. Go ahead and look at it if you’d like. I’ll be back by the register if you need anything.” He left Isaac standing by the window.

Isaac reached in and picked up the cat bunny with both hands. Its eyes glowed blue, and the next thing he knew, he was hanging in the air upside down in the dark. Something nearby hissed, and then there was a rustling sound.

Trying to listen and remain still and calm, Isaac waited. After a moment, there was a spark of light, and then the glow of a candle. He could see two small figures crouched over it. Then they abandoned the candle to come closer.

He heard the hissing sound again, and realized they were whispering to each other. Up close, it was easy to see that they were children. He tried to understand what they were whispering, but it was in a language he’d never heard before.

Hanging upside down was beginning to get uncomfortable. “Could you let me down please?” he asked hopefully.

The children whispered a little louder to each other, and then suddenly he could understand the end of a phrase. “…translation spell.”

The children both looked at him and held up their hands. Isaac slid to the floor and sat up.

“Was that a spell? Isaac asked. “Was it a spell that brought me here?” He looked around for the cat bunny, and saw it lying on the floor close by him. He pointed at it. “Did you send that?”

One of the children picked it up. “It was supposed to bring us Caasi. But you’re not Caasi.”

The other child shrugged. “I told you it wouldn’t work. Mom said that spells can’t wake the dead.”

“But I asked for her to come back from another world. It should have worked.”

The child looked over at Isaac. “Are you from another world?”

“Maybe.” Isaac frowned. “I don’t think spells work in my world, but I could be wrong.”

“Is your name Caasi?”

Isaac thought for a moment. “How do you write that?”

The children scrawled alien characters that strongly resembled “C-A-A-S-I.”

“I’m Isaac. That’s caasi backwards.”

The other child nodded. “Maybe bringing you from another world put everything backwards. Maybe that’s why you were upside down.” The child hurried to a shelf, pulled down a book and started turning pages rapidly.

Isaac turned to the child who remained. “Who’s Caasi?”

“Our best friend. She’s so smart. She could purr and jump so high, and she always knew where we hid her treats.”

That didn’t sound much like a person. “Was Caasi a cat bunny?” Isaac asked.

The child frowned. “She’s a felare. I don’t know cat bunny.”

He pointed down at the doll again. “Like that?”

“Yes,” the child said. “But alive.”

Isaac nodded. “That’s important.”

“We miss her.” The child looked away.

The other child snapped the book closed. “It says the dead are in the underworld, and normal spells can’t reach there.”

“Oh.” Both children looked sad.

Isaac held out his hand for the doll. The child handed it to him and he looked down at it with a smile. “It sounds like Caasi was a good friend. It’s okay to feel sad when a friend dies. Is there something you can do to say goodbye?”

Both children turned to look at him. “Like what?” one said.

“You could draw a picture of her, or write down what you remember about her, or put flowers on her grave.”

“I guess so.” The child took the doll back.

“You should talk to your mom about it. She might have ideas,” Isaac said.

The children looked at each other and began talking rapidly. “Talking to mom is a good idea.” “We should send him home first.” “I’m not sure how.” “Look at the book again. It must say somewhere.”

They consulted the book, and after some arguments, managed to charge up the doll for a return trip. The doll’s eyes glowed blue when they handed it to him. Moments later, he was back in the antique shop. The doll was gone.

He looked around. What was he going to tell the shop owner? He decided that the truth was always best. He walked over nervously. “The doll took me to another world, but it disappeared when I came back.”

The store owner shrugged. “That happens sometimes. Don’t worry about it.”

“Really?” The man didn’t appear to be joking. Isaac nodded. “All right. Thank you. I’d better hurry back to work.”

He rushed back through the sunlit streets, eating big bites of his sandwich as he jogged. He arrived at his desk just in time. He glanced back out the window and wondered if it was time to get a pet for Charlie. Something he could keep in his room. Maybe a fish or two?

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