Your room is a terrible mess!
Isn’t it perfect?
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…”
“Listen!” Jane looked upset.
“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…”
“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.”
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?”
Your talents? Well, you’re a great helper.
Mom, that doesn’t count. Tell me a real talent.
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.”
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.
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.