Category: Slice of Life

A Short Tale About a Lot of Things

Jane sat up in her bed as her mom started to leave the room. “Wait! I need another story.”

Her mom turned with a sigh. “Jane, it’s time for bed. I already read two stories. My voice is tired.”

“I’ll tell you a story.” Jane patted the bed. “Come sit down. Please? It’s a short story. You’ll really like it. Pleeeease?”

With a smile, her mom sat on the edge of the bed. “All right. As long as it’s a short story.”

“It’s going to be short.” Jane cleared her throat. “Once upon a time…”

“Oh, it’s a fairy tale,” her mom interrupted. “Which one?”

Jane frowned. “It’s not a fairy story. There aren’t any fairies. It’s a story about a lot of things. Just listen. No talking.”

“Okay. I’m sorry I interrupted. Please continue your lots-of-things tale.”

“Once upon a time there was a ladder…”

“A ladder?”

“Listen!” Jane looked upset.

“Sorry.”

“Once upon a time, there was a ladder. It was green and tall and lived on someone’s back porch for when they needed to pick apples or climb on the roof to fix things. If they didn’t need it, they didn’t really look at it, so they didn’t know the ladder was really an alien…”

“An alien?”

“Mom!”

“Sorry.”

“It was an alien. It was studying people and animals and houses and back porches. One day, it was done studying everything, and it was ready to leave. What the ladder didn’t know was that someone was watching. The family dog saw the ladder was going to leave, and he followed him when he left, because the dog was really an alien, too.”

“Wow. I wouldn’t have guessed that.” When Jane frowned, her mom looked embarrassed. “Sorry. Keep going.”

“The dog was an alien, and he called his friends at home to tell them about the ladder alien. But he didn’t know that someone was watching. It was the tree.”

“Was the tree an alien too?”

Jane rolled her eyes. “Of course not. That would be silly. The tree was a dinosaur.”

“Really? Wouldn’t people notice?”

“No. She was in disguise.”

“How did that work?”

Jane shrugged. “It was a big tree. The dinosaur was waiting a long time and watching. When the dog left to follow the ladder, the tree followed the dog.”

“He didn’t notice?”

“He was an alien. He thought some trees could move. And really, some trees can move. So, he wasn’t wrong. Except this wasn’t a tree, really. It was a dinosaur.”

“What kind of dinosaur?”

“Velociraptor. Let me finish!” After her mom nodded, Jane continued. “When the ladder was going to get beamed up on the spaceship, the dog and the dinosaur went too. They wanted a ride home.”

“I thought the dinosaur wasn’t an alien.”

“She wasn’t. Dinosaurs are from earth. They just moved somewhere else. They come back to visit sometimes. The dog and the dinosaur both needed a ride because they lost their spaceships.”

“How did they lose their spaceships?”

“A wizard stole them. He lived in the house they were watching, but they couldn’t get in because of a force field. The ladder didn’t know he was a wizard that stole spaceships. Good thing he hid his spaceship in invisible space.”

“Or nobody could go home.”

“Right. Because the dog and the dinosaur waited a long time to try to get their spaceships back and the wizard’s force field was too strong.”

“Why did he need spaceships?”

“He collected them. He liked them. They’re like big sparkly rocks.” Jane pointed to her windowsill. There was a line of pretty rocks she’d found on various adventures.

Her mom nodded. “That makes sense. What happened next?”

“They went home. The wizard was mad the tree was gone. He planted a new one and used magic to make it grow fast. The end.”

“Already?”

Jane grinned. “I told you it was a short story.” She fell back onto her pillow with a giggle and pulled up her covers. “Good night!”

“Good night, Jane. Will you tell me another story tomorrow?”

“Yes.”

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.

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.

Future Not-Telling

When Dylan looked into the mirror as he brushed his teeth, it wasn’t his face looking back at him. Stumbling backwards, he reached for the doorknob and took a deep breath preparing to yell for help.

“Stop. I won’t hurt you. I’m you from the future.”

Dylan stopped and looked at the mirror. “You aren’t me. You’re old.”

The man in the mirror winced. “Ouch. I was a mean little kid. I’m not old.”

Shrugging, Dylan opened the medicine cabinet, swinging the mirror towards the wall. He tapped around the back looking for a power supply or some kind of electronics.

“Don’t you want to hear about the future?” The voice called out from the other side of the cabinet door.

Dylan closed the door again and faced the man in the mirror. “Like what?”

“Before we begin, I do want to point out that I’m not old.”

“You have a beard.”

The man rubbed at his beard and frowned. “Beards are cool in the future, you know.”

“It doesn’t look cool. It looks old.” Dylan was pretty sure after all that this was not him from the future. He wouldn’t ever have a beard, even if other people said it was cool. He opened the cabinet again to figure out how the trick was done. He knocked on the back of the mirror.

“Dylan, Dylan, Dylan,” the voice said. “Stop that. I can prove I’m you. I’ll tell you something no one else knows.”

Dylan swung the mirror back partway, still holding onto the edge of the door. “Like what?”

“Um. I don’t know. Oh, wait. You dream all the time that you can fly. You have nightmares about carnivorous flowers. You cheat when you play solitaire.”

“Whatever.” Dylan crossed his arms. “What do you want, anyways? It’s not like I’ll really become you anyways. Not now that I’ve seen how stupid I look with a beard.”

The man in the mirror stroked his beard again. “I told you, it’s cool. Wait and see.”

“So, why are you here? Do you need to warn me about something?”

“Hmmmm.” Old Dylan thought for a moment.

Dylan rolled his eyes. “Did you forget why you came here? Told you you’re old.”

Old Dylan pointed at him through the mirror. “That’s it. I’m not telling you anything. You get to suffer.”

“I thought I was you.”

“So?”

“So you’ll suffer too.”

Old Dylan smiled. “Yeah, but I’ve already lived through it.”

“But maybe you could tell me some stocks to invest in or something and we’d both be rich.”

“You’d just waste all the money before I could spend it,” Old Dylan said.

“That’s what you think.”

“I’m you too, so you think it too. Hah!” Old Dylan crossed his arms across his chest.

Dylan swung the cabinet door open and knocked on the back of the mirror.

“Knock it off, that’s annoying and loud.”

“You’re old, old, old, old, old old, old.”

“That’s it, I’m leaving.”

Dylan knocked on the back of the mirror a few more times. When he didn’t hear anything, he swung the mirror back in place. Old Dylan was gone.

Years in the future, when beards were actually cool, Dylan didn’t grow a beard. But he was interested in time travel. He studied it extensively, with the firm belief it would someday be possible. When he joined a team inventing a way to visit the past through mirrors, Dylan volunteered to be the first test subject.

He convinced them to allow him to check in on his younger self so that they could see the effects of visiting a past self firsthand. After a bit of reflection, he decided to grow a beard just for the occasion. He thought it would be best to complete the loop. Plus it would be funny.

“You can’t tell your younger self anything about the future, you know,” the lead researcher reminded him. “You signed an ethics agreement.”

“Don’t worry,” Dylan said. “I won’t tell me anything.”

Flashback Friday: The Pirates

This story was originally posted on March 23, 2017. I like the idea of pirates who steal odd things like they do in this story. Maybe someday I’ll write a story where pirates take the words right out of your mouth. That could be funny, too.

Brian took off his coat and settled in his seat. It was time for his oldest daughter’s school play. He glanced at the program. There she was, on the back of the program, listed under stage crew.

He felt a little silly coming to watch a play full of teenagers when he wasn’t related to any of the actual performers. However, he felt like he was supporting the theater department by showing up, or something like that.

Halfway through the first act, he wished he’d stayed home. It was dark, and he couldn’t hear half the lines, and he kept falling asleep. Why had he come again?

And then, all the lights came on at once. The audience members looked at each other, blinking. The teenagers on stage froze in place, looking confused. And then four men in pirate costumes ran onstage.

“We are now stealing your show,” the one dressed as a captain said. He tugged on the end of his goatee with an evil chuckle. “You may get it back, but it will never be the same.” He laughed louder. The pirates behind him started to juggle and hula hoop, but they were rather terrible at both.

Brian straightened in his chair. This wasn’t on the program. The pirates looked too old to be teenagers. Were they teachers from the school? He didn’t recognize them.

The pirates were now attempting to jump rope and solve rubix cubes. Perhaps they’d do better to try one thing at a time.   Brian snorted and clapped as a pirate managed to tangle two others in the jump rope.

The laughter and applause grew louder. They quieted as the pirates sang an odd song about grog and bowed. The audience cheered. The lights went out. When they went back on, the pirates were gone.

“Jenny,” Brian said to his daughter as he drove her home that night, “who were the pirates?   They were hilarious. It was the best five minutes of the show.”

“That wasn’t part of the show, Dad,” Jenny said. “No one knows who they are.”

“That’s really weird,” Brian said.

Two weeks later, it was the opening night for the last movie in the trilogy about the dinosaurs that saved the world from alien invasions. All the showings were sold out for three days. It was going to be the movie of the year.

Brian had camped out overnight to get tickets for the first showing. Everyone he knew was jealous. Brian brought a notebook to record his impressions for discussions with his friends when they finally saw it. He pinched his arm when he entered the theater.

Everyone sat down for the previews and waited expectantly. Then the studio logo came onscreen. The audience cheered. Then there was a scratchy sort of noise and the pirates appeared, larger than life.   “We have stolen the show,” the captain said. “To get it back, you must follow the map. Good bye!”   He laughed.

A map of the theater replaced the image of the pirates. Brian copied the map into his notebook. His wife Sally and their children followed him. Most of the audience members were already searching the theater.

Seeing Brian’s map, a group joined them as they followed the trail. They followed the map to a storeroom at the back of the theater. The theater manager had come along with the group, and he let them into the room. The film was in a sealed box of serving containers for movie popcorn.   When he opened the box he nearly cried in relief. “We can watch the show now,” he said. Everyone cheered.

Three days later, it was Sally’s birthday. Brian tried to convince her that the movie was an awesome birthday celebration, but she wanted a nice dinner out and had already made reservations. The restaurant was so fancy they had to dress up.

It had more than one menu and lots of silverware and a piano player in the corner playing classical music. Brian wanted to run away. “We can still go for pizza,” he whispered. His wife rolled her eyes.

They were halfway through eating their cold soup when the piano music came to a halt with a smash of keys. Everyone looked over. Two pirates were busy tying up the piano player. A third was tying his shoes laces together. The captain looked on, tugging at his goatee and chortling. He turned, hands on his hips, and looked at the diners.

“We’ve come to steal your show,” he said.

“You ruined my son’s track meet,” a man yelled.

“You knocked that poor mime into the park fountain,” someone else yelled.

“Did you really need to interrupt the debate competition? Or the spelling bee?” another diner asked.

A man glared, face red. “You were the ones who spoiled my press conference!”

“The audience was still laughing when my daughter won the beauty pageant. I hate you,” a woman said. She slammed her fist on the table. Her soup sloshed dangerously.

“I see that our reputation precedes us,” the captain said. “And so, for our devoted fans…”

“I hate you,” the woman repeated.

“… we have a special treat.” The captain continued. “A sword dance, with musical accompaniment.”

One of the pirates played chopsticks. The captain clapped along, and the other two pirates waved their swords around and stomped back and forth. A security guard approached them. The lights went off. When they turned back on the pirates were gone.

“I hate them,” the woman repeated.

“This was great,” Brian whispered. “I’m glad we came. Even if the soup was cold.”

Sally rolled her eyes. “At least someone is happy.”

The security guards untied the piano player. Several people were gathering their things and leaving. In the end, Brian and his wife stayed and got a discount on their meal and a free dessert.

Brian had a long meeting scheduled at work on Monday. He knew it was going to drag on and on, and no one would say anything new.   He wondered if the pirates took requests.

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