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Season 11, Week 6, Solvitur Ambulando ("it is solved by walking")
calvin writing

Gnorbert the Gnome had been quite pleased with himself until the Witch arrived, angrier than usual at the garden gnome.  The only advice his parents had ever given him was “Don’t trick the Witch.” The young gnome had understood this to mean he could fool everyone else, and he had made them proud. But now he had a problem.

His parents weren’t home to help him this time.  Everything mobile, including his terrified parents, ran off as soon as the Witch landed in their garden with a blast of evil which killed all the poor plants, who deeply regretted not having legs.  Gnorbert also thought escaping was a fine idea and being a gnome, he was quite good at it, but the Witch had frozen his feet.

“You’re not walking away from this, Gnorbert,” said the Witch, ending with a shrieking cackle.

As cackles went, it was first rate and nearly froze the rest of him, but the Witch had something else in mind.  Trying to be safe, Gnorbert started to apologize for every trick he had ever pulled, including hiding Rumpelstiltskin’s gold.  It was a long list.

The Witch just stood there, fingering her wand, her anger rising.

“And then there was . . . .” continued Gnorbert.

“Enough!” the Witch screamed.  “I only care about one of your miserable stunts -- the dragon and the tiger.”

“That one?” he thought.  “I’m surprised she bought a ticket.”

It all began two weeks ago when the Village Crier had loudly announced “Dragon versus Tiger – a fight to the death!” This had happened every day for a week and the whole village had become excited.  A week later, the posters had appeared, and it had become all anyone could talk about.  “Death Match!” the posters had screamed in blood red over a roaring tiger facing a fire-breathing dragon.  The drawings had been crude because garden gnomes can’t draw with their stiff little arms, but this didn’t seem to matter.

Everyone bought tickets from Gnorbert and waited anxiously for the big event, which was going to be held in the town square.

The day was sunny and warm.  The square was full.  At the appointed time, preceded by two trumpeters playing a glorious fanfare, Gnorbert entered on a cart drawn by two pigs borrowed from the farmer, who was surprised to see them.  In as loud a voice as a garden gnome could muster, he announced “Dragon or Tiger – who will win?” With a great flourish, he held up a snap dragon in one pot and a tiger lily in another, then smashed the pots together, destroying both plants.  Gnorbert then ran away as fast as his short legs allowed.

The crowd was quiet.  Villagers stared at each other; their mouths open, not believing what they had just seen.  Then it started – cascades of laughter followed by enthusiastic applause.

They didn’t care that they had just been tricked.  The villagers had known that Gnorbert was up to something and they just wanted to see it.  The small price of admission was nothing compared to the fun.  Someone found Gnorbert and brought him back to loud cheers.

The Witch had not laughed.

“Yesterday you promised a dragon and a tiger,” said the Witch, “not some stupid plants.  I paid for a death match, but I got – you.  Didn’t your parents tell you not to toy with me?”

“Of course,” he replied.  “They said . . . .”

“I don’t care what they said.  They ran off and left you alone with me.”

Another cackle blistered Gnorbert’s ears.

“You like tricks,” said the Witch.  “Well, I have one for you.  The Collector is coming for you.”

The Collector was a mystery to the occupants of the Enchanted Land.  He was tall and thin, with gray hair and sad eyes.  No one knew where he lived, but after every visit, someone would be missing.  Parents used the Collector to scare children into obedience.  “If you don’t start behaving, the Collector will take you,” they would say.  But the Collector had not been seen in a very long time and most just considered him to be an old tale.

Gnorbert had never given the Collector much thought, but that changed when he saw him walking slowly across the garden,

“He’s too big,” said the Collector.

With a wave of the Witch’s wand, Gnorbert started to shrink until he was no more than an inch tall.  With another wave, he became rigid and unable to move.

“It was just a joke” were his last words.

“What did your parents tell you?” said the Witch before giving him to the Collector, who put him in his sack before disappearing from the Enchanted Lands.

With a self-satisfied shriek, the Witch flew off to her cottage to lay traps for wayward children.

The next thing Gnorbert knew, he was being dumped onto a huge wooden work bench, full of gigantic tools, brushes, and paints.  He was still small, frozen, and afraid.

“You’re a garden gnome,” said the Collector.  “I know just what to do with you.”

Gnorbert saw the Collector carefully build a beautiful glass building, round and pointed at the top.  He made a large red mushroom and placed it inside, then, using tweezers, he glued Gnorbert on top.  The Collector put tiny colorful glass tiger lilies and snap dragons all around the poor gnome, and then sealed him in.  It was a beautiful scene, one of the Collector’s best.  It included a small sign, which read “Never Trick a Witch.”  It was all Gnorbert could look at.

The Collector took the glass garden downstairs, into a musty shop full of old furniture, lamps, clothes and the like, each available to the right buyer.  He placed Gnorbert on a back shelf under a sign that read “Not for Sale.”  Above it was a larger sign reading “Grimm Brothers’ Antiques and Collectibles.”

The antiques store was located in a small town in one of the oldest buildings.  It was dark with a damp, musty smell.  It was run by Wilhelm and Jacob, two elderly brothers who lived above their store.

“Who did you remove?” Jacob asked Wilhelm.

“Gnorbert,” replied Wilhelm.  “He crossed the Witch once too often.”

“Too bad,” said Jacob, “he added some real fun.  Your work is beautiful.”

Wilhelm put Gnorbert on a shelf, next to another glass display containing Faithful Johannes.  Other dioramas held the Strange Musician, the White Snake, Clever Elsie, and many others from the Enchanted Land whose stories had become obscure, plus some, like Gnorbert, who had upset the Witch.  They were all doomed to live frozen in their exquisite glass worlds hoping that, someday, they might be restored to the Enchanted Land by the Brothers.

“Don’t you think the Witch is getting out of hand?” said Jacob.

“But what can we do about it?” said Wilhelm.  “She’s too important to remove – she’s in too many stories.”

“There is a solution,” said Jacob.  “The Enchanted Land needs a witch, not necessarily this one.  We could replace her with a different one and no one would know.”

“Wonderful,” said Wilhelm.  “I’ll have to create the perfect scene – it will take time.”

“We always have time,” said Jacob.  “We can put her on the shelf facing Gnorbert.”

“And you can put in a sign for her to read – “Leave the Gnomes Alone.”

With that, Wilhelm headed back to his workshop to begin work on the Witch’s display, while Jacob set about finding a new witch for the Enchanted Land, one who tolerated garden gnomes, even the mischievous ones.  Gnorbert would be able to return to the Enchanted Land, if he could just learn to leave the new witch alone.

Wilhelm and Jacob had a lot of work to do, and when they were finished, everyone in the Enchanted Land would live happily ever after again, with Gnorbert to liven things up.

*     *     *     *     *

Season 11, Week 5, “My enemies are all too familiar. They're the ones who used to call me friend”
calvin writing


Another Halloween had come and gone, and Frank knew what that meant. Another failure. Another killing to add to a sixty-year old list. This time there was a first: his first Halloween without a badge. He’d lost that last year, so now he worked in the gray world of private investigation.

No badge meant little money but plenty of booze, and not the good kind. Frank Williams, P.I., smelled of it when he got to the crime scene, but his old buddies let him in. The blue wall of sympathy. He couldn’t count on it much longer – soon it would be a wall of silence, as he became just another drunken ex-cop trading on his past, needing special favors for scumbag clients.

But now, he had something the Department needed. He was still an expert on the Halloween Killer, their former go-to guy, and that counted for something today.

“Good to see you, Frankie,” said the Lieutenant, holding out his hand, his nose crinkling at Frank’s breath.

“Go to hell,” said Frank, shoving past the asshole who had fired him last October.

It hurt that they’d once been friends, and in those rare times when Frank was being honest, he would have canned himself, too. You can’t break a lieutenant’s jaw and get away with it, even if that sonofabitch was asking for it.

“You just don’t say that about a friend’s wife,” thought Frank as he ducked under the police tape, “even if it’s true.”

It had happened at last year’s Monster Mash, as the press had called it. Frank had let his frustrations boil over, and then the Lieutenant . . . . Well, that was the past. The present was another body with her head blown open. The gruesome killings had been going on every Halloween since 1962, and all those old boxes of evidence hadn’t brought Frank any closer to solving any of them.

He couldn’t help but think of the old song, even though he hated it.

I was working in the lab late one night,
When my eyes beheld an eerie sight.

Frank didn’t want that stuck in his head, so he quickly jammed in his earbuds. You’re not punk, and I'm telling everyone filled his ears. He grimaced – he’d played his daughter’s music by mistake. It made his headache worse, but it drove Monster Mash away.

The killing had happened at a dingy club that hadn’t been popular in years. It featured live music on a small stage, and if you played at Ernie’s Interlude, you were either bottoming out or would never make it up. You got whatever people put in your tip jar, and since most of the regulars were waiting for their next Social Security checks, there wasn’t a lot of money floating around for bad music poorly played. When the best part of your day starts when you’re half drunk, music doesn’t matter, especially when your hearing aid needs new batteries.

Halloween was different; for some reason, Ernie loved it. This year he went all out -- he rented decorations for the bar that included pumpkins, spiders, bats, and some plastic ghouls and monsters to sit on a couple of stools at the bar. He also booked a real band and paid real money, not just free cheap drinks.

The band was Boris and the Crypt-Kickers, which had had a cult following that would have filled Ernie’s several times over in its heyday. They had been famous for a raucous cover of Monster Mash.

For my monster from his slab, began to rise
And suddenly to my surprise
He did the mash, he did the monster mash

Frank reached for his earbuds. My enemies are all too familiar/They're the ones who used to call me friend beat out the Mash again, and brought up thoughts of the Lieutenant.

“This case is getting to me,” thought Frank.

He saw all he needed at the crime scene. Dead body, exploded head, blood on the floor. The crime scene photographs would show anything he missed.

“Same as before,” he thought. “I need to look at those files again.”

As he left the bar, he had to clap his hands over his ears.

From my laboratory in the castle east
To the master bedroom where the vampires feast

“That damn song,” he thought, putting his earbuds in and turning the volume up. It was getting ridiculous.

Her hair was blue, now it's green
I like her mind, she hates the scene.

“I’m having a battle of the bands in my ears,” he thought when he got home and poured himself a drink. His head was pounding, but he carried his copies of the Halloween Killer files from the attic and started spreading them out in the kitchen. Soon the counters and table were full, so he moved to the floor.

“Needs cleaning,” he thought. He hadn’t cleaned the house since his wife and daughter moved out four months ago.

“It’s the booze, Frankie,” Marie had told him.

“Bullshit,” Frank had thought, “it’s the Lieutenant. If that’s who you want, I’ll take the liquor.”

But now he had this case and nothing else mattered. He picked up his old sax and started noodling. It helped him think. There were no connections between the victims, no obvious motive, the only common factor was Halloween – for sixty years. His fingers drifted along the keys until:

The Zombies were having fun, the party had just begun
The guests included Wolfman, Dracula, and his son
The scene was rockin', all were digging the sounds

Frank had never had a headache like this before. It just kept getting worse. He knew what he needed – he forced his fingers to play his daughter’s song.

I'm coloring outside your guidelines
I was passing out when you were passing out your rules

He felt better again, so he closed his eyes and tried to imagine what the latest victim had been doing just before she died. It was Halloween; it was midnight; there was music; maybe she was dancing. What music would’ve been playing?

An idea was forming, teasing at the ragged edges of his consciousness. Frank got some aspirin and washed them down with another scotch.

“But what about the other cases?” thought Frank, as he plowed through the old files.

Not surprisingly, all the victims had been at parties or bars on Halloween where music would have been playing. His head started hurting again.

They played the mash, they played the monster mash
The monster mash, it was a graveyard smash

Frank fought back, trying to clear his head.

Got a friend, her name is Boxcar
Cigarettes and beer in El Sob

“The one song everyone was sure to have heard on Halloween was Monster Mash,” thought Frank. “But what does that have to do with the killer? That’s almost 60 years of cases.”

Frank sat down on a kitchen chair and held his head in his hands. He couldn’t keep the music out, but now it was all garbled.

Out from the coffin, Drac's voice did ring
You're on your own
You're all alone
Seems he was troubled by just one thing

His limbs began to twitch and he stood up, fear on his face, and he began to dance the Mash.

It's now the mash, it's now the monster mash
The monster mash, it was a graveyard smash

The song was taking over. Nothing could stop it -- it got louder and louder. Frank kept dancing uncontrollably. When the song ended, his head exploded, releasing an earworm.

It had the body of a slug, with little legs and two large pincers. The back was ridged with spikes so once it got in, it could not be removed. It scurried through the gore and hid under the refrigerator, waiting for another victim to serve as a host, where it would grow until the next Halloween.

Frank’s body wasn’t discovered for several days. The Lieutenant arrived early to take control of the scene. At first everyone thought Frank had eaten his gun, but no one could find it or a bullet.

There were old files everywhere. Pictures were stuck haphazardly to the refrigerator and the Lieutenant moved closer to take a look. He didn’t notice the earworm crawl out and bite him on the ankle, before returning to the darkness to die, having implanted a tiny earworm in its next victim.

Frank’s murder was never solved. Everyone assumed it was some ex-con he had busted, out for revenge. The investigation went nowhere, however, and the Department let it go cold.

The old Halloween Killer files were boxed up and carried away.

Next year, a Halloween Task Force was assembled to prevent another killing. The Lieutenant was appointed to head it. As Halloween got closer, he began to complain of headaches to his new wife, Frank’s ex. The doctors couldn’t find anything wrong, and Halloween was coming up, so he just decided to tough it out.

Then, of course, there was the music he couldn’t get out of his head.

I was working in the lab, late one night

The Lieutenant hated that song, but there was only one more week until Halloween and then he wouldn’t have to hear it anymore.

* * * * *
earworm (1).jpg
Earworm, Early Stage
Earworm, Terminal Stage
  monster-mash-dance (1).jpg
Monster Mash Dance

"Monster Mash" by Bobby "Boris" Pickett & The Crypt Kickers, with lyrics
“Boxcar” by Jawbreaker

Season 11, Week 4, "Impossible"
calvin writing


There was a princess visiting the castle today, and that meant only one thing to a pirate: ransom, and lots of it.  Pacing the deck of his ship, the mighty Corsair, the captain trained his spyglass on the drawbridge and saw the princess’s carriage leave without her.

“How can I kidnap her?” he thought.  “She’s in a castle defended by the King – but nothing’s impossible for Captain Roberts, the terror of the Spanish Main!”

He looked at the defenses protecting the castle, then at the single cannon on board the Corsair.

“Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum,” Captain Roberts said.  “I’ve been outgunned before, but pirates never give up.”

Even so, his cannon was too far away and that was a problem – the Corsair was tied to the dock and couldn’t sail closer.  His crew was in town having fun, so there was no one to man the ship.

“Shiver me timbers,” thought Captain Roberts, “I have to do this by myself.  All I need is a plan.”

The captain paced the foredeck, fingering his sword.  Back and forth he walked, gazing at the smooth green sea, until it hit him.

“I’m hungry,” he thought, “but the good grub’s in the castle.”

The cook had always liked the captain and would sneak him food when she could.  Salted beef and sea biscuits might keep a sailor alive on the high seas, but when the Corsair was in port, the cook could always be counted on, except when she made asparagus.  The whole crew hated it.

At last he knew what to do.  He took off his pirate hat, his sword and pistol, and even his eyepatch.

“No one will recognize me now,” thought Captain Roberts as he started to climb down the rope ladder, “not even my enemy, the King.”

After creeping down from his ship, he ran across the dock and hid behind an overturned cart.  From there, he crawled on his belly behind a tree and some bushes.  Finally, he sprinted across the drawbridge and into the castle.

“No one saw me,” he thought, as he hid behind the drapes and plotted his next move.

A door suddenly opened, and in walked the Queen, with the Princess right behind her.  The pirate held his breath and froze.

“Stanley,” said his mom, spotting his shoes, “get out of there!  What do you think you’re doing?  You’re covered in mud!”

“You’re my prisoners,” said Captain Roberts as he stepped out from his hiding place and brandished . . . nothing.  All his weapons were on the Corsair.

“They can’t find out I left my weapons behind,” he thought, so he stuck out his chest and stomped around the room to distract them.

“Surrender,” boomed the Captain in his deepest pirate voice, “or my pirate hordes will kill you!”

“That’s not polite,” said the Queen.  “And you’re tracking dirt all over my floor.”

“You’re kinda short for a pirate,” said the Princess.

Captain Roberts blushed.  He didn’t like girls, especially this one.

“You know Annie,” said the Queen.  “She’s from your class.  She’s going to play here while her mom takes their baby to the doctor.”

“He has a cold – maybe he’ll get a shot,” said Princess Annie cheerfully.  “Where’s your ship?”

Captain Roberts pointed across the docks to the Corsair.

“A treehouse!” she said.  “My parents won’t let me have one – you’re so lucky!”

Without another word, she ran across the yard and climbed up into the treehouse.  Captain Roberts just stood there, wondering what to do with someone who kidnaps herself, until he too ran over to the Corsair.

“Play nice,” yelled the Queen.  “I’ll bring snacks later.”

He only heard the last part.

“Is this all you have?” said the Princess, after they both were on deck.  “What’s that slingshot for?”

“A cannon,” said Captain Roberts, feeling a little less proud of the Corsair.

“You should have a parrot,” she said.  “All pirates have parrots.  I have a parakeet in my bedroom.”

“What’s its name?”

“Two,” said Princess Annie.

“That’s a stupid name.”

“It’s the second one,” she replied.

“What happened to the first?”

“I tied a message to her leg and let her out, but she never came back.  What about that sword?”

“I also have a spyglass, a gun, a hat, and an eyepatch,” said Captain Roberts.

“That’s only a Firemaster 2000,” she replied.  “I have a Firemaster 5000.  How many darts do you have?”

“Not many.  I keep losing them.”

“Me too,” said the Princess.

“You’re my prisoner,” said Captain Roberts.  “I’m holding you for ransom.”

“No, you’re not.”

“But you’re a princess,” said the pirate.  “Princesses get captured.”

“I want to be a pirate,” she replied.

“But I’m the captain,” said Captain Roberts.

“I want to be the captain,” said Princess Annie.  “You can be my first mate.”

Just then, the cook arrived from the castle with a tray.

“Grog!” said the Captain.

“Hardtack!” said the Princess, which impressed the pirate.

“Cookies and chocolate milk,” said the cook.  “You’ll have to come down to eat it.”

It did not take long for Captain Roberts and Princess Annie to climb down from the Corsair.  Pirating took a lot of grub.

After finishing their snack, they climbed back up.

“I challenge you to a duel,” said Princess Annie.  “If I win, I get to be captain.”

Captain Roberts knew that he had to fight her under the Pirates’ Code.  No duel could be refused, unless . . . .

“I only have one sword,” said the Captain.  Now there could be no duel!

“Rock Paper Scissors,” Annie replied.  “Best two out of three.”

Tension ran high as fingers flashed in combat.  In the end, Annie won.

“You can be a captain, too,” said Captain Annie, with a smile.

Captain Roberts got the hat and sword, since the Corsair was his ship, and Captain Annie got the eyepatch and the pistol.  They shared the spyglass and the slingshot.

“But now what do we do for ransom?” asked Captain Roberts.

Captain Annie thought for a few minutes, and asked “Who’s in the house?”

“Only the Queen.”

“Let’s kidnap her,” she said.

The pirates climbed down from the Corsair, and raising a fierce pirate yell, ran across the dock and stormed the castle.  They found the Queen coming downstairs.

“We want your gold,” demanded Captain Annie.

“What,” replied the Queen, “the milk and cookies weren’t enough?”

“We’re kidnapping you,” said Captain Annie, pointing her pistol.

“We want ransom,” added Captain Roberts, waving his sword.

“Well,” said the Queen, “if you put your weapons down, there’s some treasure buried out by the tree.  Just remember, I placed a curse on it before I hid it.”

They ran over to the tree and found a freshly dug hole marked by a sign with skulls and crossbones.  A shovel lay nearby.

“Pirates aren’t afraid of anything,” said Captain Roberts, as he started to dig.

“That’s it!” said Captain Annie after he uncovered the corner of a bag.

She reached down and grabbed it, when SNAP!, the mousetrap was sprung, kicking up dirt and startling Captain Annie, who tumbled backwards.

“It’s cursed!” yelled Captain Roberts, who dropped the shovel in surprise.

Captain Annie recovered herself, and pulled the bag out of the hole.

“Gold doubloons,” she said as she opened it.  “The best kind.”

“Chocolate?” asked Captain Roberts.

“And lots of them,” she replied as she pulled the gold foil off one and took a bite.

They took their treasure back to the Corsair and quickly sorted it into two piles.  Captain Roberts gave Captain Annie the extra one.

“Uh oh,” she said.  “Give me the spyglass.”

A quick look showed Annie’s mother was back from the doctor’s office to pick up her daughter.

“Batten down the hatches” said Captain Annie.  “There’s a big storm brewing.”

“Abandon ship,” ordered Captain Roberts.

The pirates ran into the castle’s stable and hid.  But the Queen knew all Captain Roberts’ hide outs, and she quickly found them.

“Time for Annie to go home,” said the Queen.  “Her mom’s here.”

The pirates surrendered and, holding their hands high, marched into the kitchen, where they saw the leftover hardtack.  The Queen gave her prisoners two more cookies.

“Say goodbye, Stanley,” said the Queen.  “Maybe you can go over to Annie’s sometime and play.”

“Yes!” said Captain Annie.

Her mother looked dubious.  She knew enough about Stanley, who just stood there and blushed.  Annie and her mother left, and Stanley felt all the fun leave the house.

“Cheer up,” said his mother.  “We’re having asparagus casserole for dinner, with asparagus ice cream covered in asparagus sauce for dessert.”

She knew Stanley hated asparagus.  They were really having hamburgers, but he didn’t need to know that.

“Yuck,” said Stanley, who faked gagging all the way to his room.

“A little peace and quiet,” thought his mother.  “Now I can make dinner without a pirate underfoot.”

*     *     *     *     * 
There are four earlier stories about Stanley.
“The Teddy Bear Detective”
“Home on the Range”
“The Mars Expedition”
“Keep It Safe”

Season 11, Week 3, "Everything looks like a nail"
calvin writing

Amanda Sewell felt lucky to have a job, let alone one that let her carry a badge.  She had a graduate degree in library sciences, which usually was a ticket to permanent retail employment.  But she’d been one of the lucky ones.  The F.B.I. needed her special skills, and now she was the Bureau’s Quote Cop.

“Fact checking just isn’t in our wheelhouse,” Special Agent MacKenzie had told her on Amanda’s first day.  “We need someone to investigate quotations for mistakes.  Grammar’s been taken over by those damned internet vigilantes.  We can’t let that happen here.”

She had a desk, a computer, and best of all, autonomy.  Amanda got to pick her own cases.

Her first case made headlines.  Ernest Hemingway had always been cited as the author of a six-word short story: “For sale.  Baby shoes.  Never worn.”  He supposedly wrote it on a napkin in a bar to win a bet.  In fact, the story had been floating around in newspapers and magazines since Hemingway was ten years old.

Success followed success.  Arthur Conan Doyle never wrote “Elementary, dear Watson.”  Red Sanders, UCLA Bruins football coach, first said “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing,” not Vince Lombardi.  Oscar Wilde never wrote “Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.”

Lately, however, Amanda had been having a dry spell, and she was getting pressure to justify her position.  “Who cares who said what,” the F.B.I.’s director had said.  “It’s all elitist fake news anyway.”

Amanda had been working on the case of her career and she just needed time.

“Please, boss,” she said, “just give me two more days.”

She got her time, but no more.  Solving the case depended on an obscure scientist with a passion for snails.

Amanda thought it was especially sad when a scientist’s words were mangled, misunderstood, or attributed to the wrong person.  Outside of Albert Einstein, who cared what they said?

Her latest case was Professor Roberta Albertson, a malacologist who had fought all her life for recognition, only to die frustrated, unknown, and unattributed.  “Make sure they know,” she had gasped as she lay dying, another victim of the deadly cone snail and a gruesome experiment gone horribly wrong.

Professor Albertson’s daughter, Rachel, had first brought the problem to Amanda, along with boxes of her mother’s research.  This was the coldest of cases – Prof. Albertson had been dead ten years, but the unfairness had always haunted her daughter.

A quick review of the material showed Amanda that this might be a case for the Quote Cop.

“It’s time to set the record straight,” thought Amanda, as she fingered her badge.

The suspect quote was “I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail.”  Variations have been falsely attributed to Abraham Maslow, Abraham Kaplan, Mark Twain, and Bernard Baruch.  Even the Buddha has been identified as its author.  When asked if he had said it, the Buddha had simply smiled beatifically and said “Three things cannot be long hidden: the sun, the moon, and the truth.”

According to her daughter, Prof. Albertson’s actual quote was “If all you have is a hammer, use it to smash snails.”

Amanda liked it.  It was short, to the point, and ended in the death of snails, which she hated.

Prof. Albertson had been the public voice for an extreme branch of science which advocated the death of all snails and slugs.  “They’re so creepy,” she had said during her famed “Extermination?  Why Not?” lecture.  “Have you ever seen anything so slimy and evil?”

According to her daughter, it was during this lecture that Prof. Albertson had first advocated using a hammer on snails.  “I don’t always have salt,” she had said, “but who doesn’t carry a hammer?  And who doesn’t like a gooey splat?”

Amanda understood.  When she was little, her older brother had pelted her with snails until she had run into the house, crying.  Her heart went out to this obscure scientist.

It was the Extermination Lecture which had really put Prof. Albertson on the map and boosted Stanford University’s Dept. of Aberrant Science to the forefront of crackpot thought, much to the embarrassment of Harvard, which had previously been ranked first in this exciting field.

Unfortunately, a detailed review of all of Prof. Albertson’s boxes did not reveal a single use of the contested words.

About to close the file with a “no case” finding, Amanda thought that sometimes what was important was not what was in a case, but what was missing.  A quick look showed that the notes for the Extermination Lecture were gone.  It was as if it had never been given.

As a librarian, Amanda had learned that nothing was ever gone, it was only misshelved.   “It has to be somewhere,” she thought.  “I need to go to Stanford’s libraries.”

The library for the Aberrant Science Department was understandably small and disorganized, but she found videotapes of Prof. Albertson’s classes, including the Extermination Lecture.  Prof. Albertson had liked to liven things up by dressing as a snail, complete with slime made from Jell-O.  For this lecture, she had been a brown garden snail, complete with moving eye stalks.  Amanda nearly threw up.

Halfway through, she heard Prof. Albertson say ““I don’t always have salt, but who doesn’t carry a hammer?”  This was all the proof Amanda needed.

She made a quick phone call to Prof. Albertson’s daughter, then bundled up the tape to take back to the office.

At the office, her first stop was her boss.

“I did it!” she said.  “I cracked the case.  Let’s notify Wikipedia.”

“Congratulations,” said Special Agent MacKenzie.  “Turn it over to a clerk.  You’ve got a new case.  One that will shake the foundations of poorly written fiction.”

“You don’t mean . . . .”

“Yes,” said Mackenzie.  “The Bulwer Lytton Prize for the worst opening sentence to a hypothetical bad novel.  He’s the genius who wrote “It was a dark and stormy night” to start his novel, ‘The Last Days of Pompeii.’  We’ve just received a tip – it may not be Bulwer Lytton after all.”

“I’ll get right on it,” said Amanda, “but I’m going to need more than a badge for this one.”

“We’ll get you a sidekick pronto,” said MacKenzie.

“You got it, Boss,” said Amanda.

A badge, a sidekick, and Bulwer Lytton in her cross-hairs.  Amanda never knew there could be so much excitement as a librarian.

“It’s amazing where the Dewey Decimal System will take you,” thought Amanda, as she headed out the door, ready to do battle with the guardians of all that was bad in writing.

*     *     *     *     *

Bulwer Lytton was not the first write "It was a dark and stormy night," but he put it to good (bad?) use:
"It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents — except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness."

Season 11 Week 2: "Living rent-free in your head"
calvin writing


“. . . and that’s how you can live rent-free in your head, with Jesus’s help.  This is Reverend Bob of the Airwaves Church of God, KGOD Oklahoma, wishing you a bl. . . .”  Reverend Bob was interrupted by a slight malfunction.

Molochet smashed the radio in his truck with a hammer.  He had had enough; this brought him a moment of relief, but he knew it wouldn’t last.  Within minutes, the radio would be back, but for now, the ice cream truck was quiet, except for the howling of the souls in back.  Now that was music to his ears.  It sounded like home.

“I hate soul-collecting,” muttered Molochet to himself.

Transporting the souls of the damned to a hell mouth meant a reprieve from the agonies of the Pit, but Satan made sure it was still as painful as possible.  “Abandon hope all ye who enter here” appeared in flames at every transfer station, and He meant it – even on special assignments, Satan made sure that torment continued.

“You’re in God’s country now . . .” blasted the reconstituted radio, louder than before.  Molochet’s man-suit quivered and his rigid smile drooped slightly at the corners.

“If I break it again, it just gets worse,” thought Molochet, before throwing the hammer out the window.  “Best to avoid the temptation.”

A newer, bigger, more enticing hammer flew back through the window and landed on the seat next to him, just begging to be used.

“Next up,” said Reverend Bob, “The Peking Opera rapping all your favorite hymns in Mandarin!”

Molochet would have cried, except that his boiling tears turned to steam inside . . . who was it this time?  All he knew was this was the most uncomfortable man-suit yet.  His barbed tail was tearing a hole in some damned person’s mortal remains and it was stifling inside.  Of course, the van’s air conditioner was broken; Motor Pool had seen to that.  Where did they find an ice cream truck anyway?  Probably from some poor soul now roasting in the Pit.

“At least I’m not in Hell,” thought Molochet.

His soda disappeared, replaced by a cup of battery acid and his juicy, half-eaten hamburger was now some road kill.

“Skunk, by the smell of it,” he thought as tried to lower the window, which predictably jammed.  “Someone’s having too much fun with this.”

This had the expected effect.  Back at Administration, his personal monitor was sent back to the Pit, to be replaced by some minion who hated his new job.  The monitors made sure the snatchers didn’t enjoy their time on the surface, but they were not allowed to like the assignment.

“Gotcha,” Molochet gloated.  The volume on the radio decreased, since revenge and gloating were sins.  The food didn’t change and he was still hungry.

As a soul collector, or “snatcher,” he had to cover his territory and transport the souls of the damned to Hell.  They were carried in the freezer section of an old, battered ice cream truck to amuse Satan.  He wanted to tease them into hoping that maybe they had escaped the eternal fires.

The Angel’s Ice Cream truck couldn’t go more than 45 mph and he covered the whole Midwest, the worst territory.  All the snatchers wanted Vegas or D.C., which were rich in the damned and very compact.

Right now, he was on some dirt back road in eastern Oklahoma, sent to bring in Emma Jackson, who had sold her soul for “a little more excitement in my life.”  Satan had burned down her farm house, which had given her a heart attack.  Fifty-three years of pious living and now, after a moment of weakness, she was going to be in the same transport box as the soul of a serial killer.

Reverend Bob’s voice dwindled almost to nothing.

“More gloating,” thought Molochet.  Just then, a tire went flat.

His gloating had been followed by the tiniest bit of hope for a smooth collection.  Nothing made Satan madder than hope.

“Got off lucky,” he thought before he could help himself.  The other three tires went flat, and he had only one spare.  He could hear the jack breaking.  Moloch beat his hands in despair on the steering wheel.

Back in the box, the soul of Big Ed giggled.  Ed had been a drug dealer, and the more time he spent on the road meant less time in Hell.  If you’ve ever been in Hell, every second above ground mattered.  What Ed didn’t know was that his laugh increased his torment for eternity.  Nothing escaped Satan’s notice.

“I hate Him,” Molochet muttered.

The wheels and jack all fixed themselves.

“I really hate Satan,” Molochet yelled.

Nothing else happened.  He wanted to get his hamburger back, but at least now he could get going.

When he got close to Emma’s burned-out home, he fired up the loudspeakers and began playing “Do Your Ears Hang Low?” over and over again, with all the charm of a stuck recording played through tinny speakers.  Normally it attracted children, but Satan used it to summon souls for transport.  It was very effective, and the “Out of Service” sign broke the hearts of the little children, which was a nice bonus.

Moloch spotted Emma’s soul hovering unseen over her husband, John, who was staring dejectedly at the ruins.  He felt comforted by his wife’s presence.  As soon as she heard the music, Emma began to cry, knowing what it meant.  Feeling his wife leaving, John covered his face with his care-worn hands and began to sob.

“Perfect!” thought Molochet.  “Satan loves these touching family moments.”

All he had to do was go to the back of the truck and open the little freezer door, and in went Emma, tears and all.  He could hear her soul scream as the enormity of what was happening hit her.  The other souls laughed.  They were not a nice bunch; but then, they were on their way to Hell.

The last time he felt pity was for the soul of a little girl who wanted to bring her teddy bear.  This resulted in a complete release of his cargo so that he had to track them down again.

He despised Satan for dealing in children.  One time, after a 90-day Pit visit, Molochet had been allowed to resume his duties with the knowledge that his feelings had almost, almost, resulted in a transfer to Purgatory.  This was true torment, and for years the minions kept replaying the expression on his face in a training video for the hellkeepers.  It always brought a big laugh.

Emma’s soul was the last on his list.  His next stop was the hellmouth located near Heaven’s Rest Motor Park, just outside of Lincoln, Nebraska, right in the middle of Tornado Alley.  Satan loved to locate the entrances to Hell in disaster areas.  Destroying whole cities seemed so biblical, and He had loved those days.

It was going to be a long, torturous drive – just the way Satan liked it.  The minions in Administration didn’t like to interfere too much at this point.  Satan was eager to get his new souls, and the monitors didn’t want to cross Satan by slowing snatchers down on their way to drop-offs.

Four days of slow, hot driving through Oklahoma and Nebraska was bad enough, but Molochet was forced to listen to Reverend Bob the whole way, at various degrees of loudness.  Reverend Bob was one of Satan’s favorites.  He was a small-town preacher who had sold his soul for a national radio show.  Of course, poor Bob hadn’t asked for a successful show, so the only listeners were top-side minions and lovers of conspiracy theories and UFOs.  Molochet couldn’t wait to collect his soul.

He finally arrived at the Heaven’s Rest Motor Park; even for RV parks, it was battered, dreary, and nearly empty.  Its main feature was an on-site bar, the Long Shot, where the few residents gathered to drink away their Social Security checks.

Next to the Long Shot was Molochet’s destination: the office and clubhouse.  The office was staffed by low-grade demons who took care of transferring souls from snatchers’ drop-offs to Administration for processing and assigning the proper torment.

Molochet wanted to get a drink at the Long Shot, but his man-suit was beginning to rot and most humans didn’t like drinking with someone with maggots on his face.  He had to get his next assignment anyway, so he had to report to Administration.

“I’ll see you in Hell,” Molochet said to the office demon as he disappeared with a burst of fire, leaving the man-suit behind for the demon to take care of.

After a punishing dip in the Pit, Molochet got his next job:  snatching souls in Florida.  It was a lot of territory but it was full of the damned.  The motor pool assigned him a decrepit rental moving van specially lined to contain souls.

Appearing in Miami wearing a new woman-suit, Molochet headed for his first pick up: the soul of a politician.  Once again, the air conditioner didn’t work and the radio was set to Reverend Bob.

It was the job from Hell.

Season 11, Week 1, "Resolution"
calvin writing

No one has ever known what to do about trolls.  Distantly related to humans through the fairy tale branch of evolution, trolls are the last survivors of one of the more peculiar hereditary lines.  Our natural habitat under bridges in enchanted forests disappeared long ago, but we held on, determined to survive.

Like humans, we evolved over the years.  We increased in intelligence but became smaller in size, no longer shaking the earth as monstrous battle trolls.  Many of us can smile without scaring people and we wear clothes when necessary.  As trolls adapted to the modern world, our colonies flourished once again.

The greatest change has come in talking – we no longer grunt and shake clubs.  A few of us probably speak Scottish, but since no one can understand the Scots, no one is sure.  “They sound just like us,” one Scotsman might have said in his local pub.  “And they drink like fish!”

Wherever brute strength is needed, trolls can usually be found – moving furniture, mining coal, or working as Amazon employees, loading and delivering the heaviest packages with ease.  “Same day delivery” usually means trolls.  The lucky ones play themselves in amusement parks.

Football teams recruited heavily among us for years.  Coaches found that an offensive line of trolls simply couldn’t be stopped, easily escorting even the slowest runner into the end zone.  The NFL eventually banned trolls when ratings plummeted and fans transferred their affections to baseball as “less boring.”  The end came when many of the troll players were tentatively identified as female.  “How could we tell?” pleaded the coaches.

Despite all the progress, troll-human contacts sometimes get a little rough.  You make a troll mad at your own risk, and it never goes well for the humans.

That’s where I come in.  I’m Officer Urg Bluk, “the troll” to my friends.  I’m the head of Troll Squad.  In fact, I’m the only member – and the only troll in law enforcement.  It’s my job to solve troll-related crimes.

“It takes a troll to cuff a troll,” the captain said when he gave me my assignment.  “I’m tired of losing good men trying to arrest your kind.”

Too many officers were coming back with broken bones – trolls hate restraints and will actually be very peaceful if you say “please.”  Unfortunately, “please” is not in the department manual and cuffing suspects is, so here I am.

My small office is in the basement across from the janitor’s closet and next door to the Grammar Police, which has two full-time officers.  Right now, they’re working on the death of the Oxford comma.

Troll crime has never been a big budget item, mostly because trolls are easy to catch.  They never run away and always confess.  The crimes are mostly short-lived fist fights.  Begin a sentence with “you’re uglier than” and you’ll finish it in the hospital.

Trolls are never involved in property crimes – we want respect, not money.  We don’t need much, since trolls still like to live in caves, but hurt our feelings and it’s lights out.  For creatures with such thick hides, we have remarkably thin skins.

I love my job.  My case clearance rate is 100% and I can usually go home after lunch.

But this latest case is threatening my afternoon nap.  I know I’ll solve it – I never give up – but these trolls are different.  They’ve been robbing banks and using guns, and if I don’t stop them soon, the Feds will take over, and that means black SUVs roaring around the streets with testosterone-driven “special” agents just looking for a gun battle to make the evening news.  The higher the body count, the better for these bozos, who would rather kill a troll than solve a crime.  They play too many video games.

There are five trolls in the gang, and their method is always the same.  Four of them force their way into a bank at closing time, when all the customers have left, with the fifth a few yards behind.  They wear rubber human masks to hide their features, but the witnesses know they’re trolls from their bulk.  They never say anything -- the guns do all the talking.  They started with simple smash and grabs of the tellers’ cash, but this last time they cleaned out the vault.

These perps didn’t care about the usual counter-measures.  They ignored the dye packs – they just let them explode.  It shouldn’t be that hard to find blue trolls, but so far, nothing.

I went out to the bank to get more witness statements.  When I got back, there was a message from the FBI: “twenty-four hours or we take over.”

The captain finally let me borrow Maggie from the Grammar Police – Cap hates losing cases to the Feds.  Maggie’s usually in charge of excess exclamation points.

“We’ve already lost the Internet!” she once told me, “but someone’s got to stop them from taking over print!! And I guess that someone is me!!!”

“Don’t be a hero,” I told her, but nothing stops Maggie.  I’m lucky to have her.

Maggie squeezed into the office with me to look at the case file.  It was thin, mostly photos from the bank’s security cameras.  I hadn’t paid them much attention yet, but Maggie, with her love for detail, started going over them with a magnifying glass.

“Look at this,” she said.  “See anything unusual?”

“Five fingers,” I said, looking at my hands.  Trolls only have four.

“And here,” she replied, pointing at a robber’s neck.

I saw two layers of rubber masks that had slipped above his shirt collar.  There should only have been one.  Maggie had spotted a troll mask under the human disguise, with a barely visible tan line.  Trolls don’t tan, they shed.

“There’s a troll mask under the human one,” said Maggie.

“. . .  and trolls don’t sweat,” I added, pointing out the beads of moisture just under the second mask.  He’s a human masquerading as a troll disguised as a human!”

“But they’re huge,” said Maggie, “almost as big as you.  How do we find five guys that big?  We can’t see their faces and they’re wearing gloves.”

The room went quiet while we thought.

We played the bank’s video over and over, hoping for a break.

Finally, inspiration hit.  Trolls are methodical and rarely have sudden moments of clarity.  When it happens, it hits like a ton of bricks and these bricks made me groan.

“Indigestion?” said Maggie, eyeing the door for a quick exit.

“No,” I replied, “an idea.”

“See how they move,” I continued.  “The smaller one is clearly in charge and the other four move as a unit, staying together to protect the shorter robber.  It’s all highly planned and coordinated.”

“They’re football players,” said Maggie, her eyes getting big.

“Trolls put a lot of players out of work,” I added, “especially offensive linemen and quarterbacks.  Some of them had trouble adjusting to being replaced by trolls.  These losers used their skills to rob banks.”

“But how do we find which ones?” said Maggie.

“Start with the local team,” I said.  “Check alibis.  Review their financials.  You know the drill.”

I handled the alibis and witness interviews.  People open up to a troll with a badge.  Fear does that.

Maggie did the financial investigation.  All that time catching grammar offenders had made her a research wizard.

In the end, it all came together quickly.  Our suspects were Chad Evers, former quarterback for the Bruisers, and Tyron Neely, K.J. Harley, Brendon White, and Leon Major, his offensive linemen.  They had all lost their jobs to trolls and had fallen on hard times.

We got search warrants and raided their homes.  We found nothing on the linemen, but in Evers’ garage we found his masks hidden in a tool chest, complete with blue dye stains.

The linemen lawyered up, but the quarterback gave them all away, angling for a deal.  When I notified the FBI, you could almost hear the agents cry.  Cap was almost as effusive.  Without looking up, he handed me a new case file, then went back to his coffee.

Now that Maggie has had a taste of real police work, I know she’ll want more.  If I can pry her loose from the Grammar Police, she’ll make a great addition to Troll Squad -- if she can just ease up on my split infinitives.

*     *     *     *     *

Season 11, Week 0, "Introduction"
calvin writing

It was hard getting out of the chair.  It was too low and soft, without any armrests.  Roger hated this kind of chair.  “What were they thinking?” he thought.  “This is a doctor’s office, for chrissakes – with old people!”  He refused to use a cane because it made him feel like a cripple. The receptionist, seeing him struggle, helped him up.  He hated that.

“Are you OK, dear?” said Stephanie.

“Fine, thank you,” he said once he was up and stable.

“But I’m not a ‘dear,’” grumbled Roger to himself, “I’m a goddam old man and I hate it.”

After cataloging his aches and pains for the cheerful young doctor and getting the usual diagnosis – “you’re no longer young” – Roger headed home, stooping a little more than usual so he could see his feet, shuffling slightly and being careful not to trip over anything on his way to the bus stop.

Roger was well past 64, and there was no one to need him and no one feed him.  All he could do was wait to die.

“This is unacceptable,” he thought as the bus arrived.  “It’s time for the Clock.”

His wife had died long ago and their son was getting old himself.  Paul had his life and his own family.  Roger was used to being an afterthought, and he knew it had to be that way.  He had outlived his life.

Roger’s memory was failing and he’d forgotten too many important things, but he always knew where he kept the Clock.  It was in an old, battered suitcase under his side of the bed. They were all he had left from his father, who had run off when Roger was 8, leaving his family behind.  He hated his father for abandoning them like that.

Roger’s wife had hated the Clock after he’d shown it to her, along with the note from his father.

“It’s unnatural,” Rosie had said.  “No good will come of it.  There’s a time for everything, and when it’s your time, it’s your time.  Plain and simple.”

For her sake, Roger had kept it hidden, but he always knew he’d use it someday.

The only time he’d brought it out again was when Rosie had had cancer.  He’d wanted to give it to her, but she’d turned it down, even when Roger had begged her to use it.  “It’s my time,” she’d said.  He’d lost Rosie long ago, but he still had the Clock, and it was time to take it out again.

The bus driver waited for Roger to get off.  He was a pleasant young man Roger had seen many times.  “Take your time,” the driver said, as Roger slowly got off the bus, but he knew the other passengers were getting annoyed by the delay.  “Better not miss my transfer,” said a student under her breath.

“Wait ‘till you’re old,” Roger thought, remembering all the times he’d held up the line at the grocery store, fumbling to pay for his groceries.  He knew the other customers regretted getting in line behind him.  No one ever said anything, but he could sense their irritation.

Time had eaten away at Roger’s body, but he still had his pride and he despised the indignities of his life.  He could rage all he wanted to against the dying of his light, but it didn’t change a damn thing except make him unpleasant.  Only one thing could help – the Clock.

Once he was home, Roger sat down to rest a bit, then headed for their bedroom.  It still had all the frilly decorations Rosie had loved, but he’d never liked them.  He had never said anything to Rosie – how could he? -- and after her passing he had kept everything the same in the house.  The only change Roger had made was to put some photographs of her next to the bed and on the mantelpiece.  Rosie had hated how she looked in pictures, but he’d always thought she looked beautiful.

Getting down on the floor was hard and working his way back up was harder.  “Damn these old muscles,” Roger thought, as he finally got the suitcase and put it on the bed.

The Clock wasn’t much to look at, just an old round wall clock in a plain wood cabinet.  Roger didn’t know how old it was or where it originally came from.  His mother had said his father had brought it home from the war.  It was a strange clock.  Instead of hours and minutes, the hands marked off years, from 0 to 91 and it currently showed 88, Roger’s age.

The note from his father contained a snippet from an old poem.

Backward, turn backward, O Time, in your flight,
Make me a child again just for tonight!

Scrawled underneath it his father had written “For my son turn hands back to start again.”

“It’s finally time,” thought Roger, sitting on the edge of the bed, staring at the Clock in his lap.  “All I have to do is reset this.”

Just turn the Clock back, and he would have no more aches, no more pains.  He would be able to pick his keys off the floor without groaning.  “And I’d never have to see that young doctor again,” he thought, which pleased him greatly.

Roger moved into the kitchen, which Rosie had always kept so neat.  “I’ve let it slip,” thought Roger, as he fixed himself a cup of coffee and brought out some store-bought cookies.  He had a sweet tooth and she’d always kept him well-supplied with treats.

Sitting at the table, he looked out into Rosie’s garden, which showed his years of neglect.  He’d kept it perfect at first, but as he got older, he just couldn’t do it anymore, and he couldn’t afford to pay someone to take care of it.

Roger thought of their son, Paul, and how much he loved him and how proud of him they’d been.  He lived across the country and they only saw each other a couple of times a year.  “Paul’s so busy,” his father thought.

Roger’s mind drifted over the highs and lows of his life, and he picked at his regrets.  He’d always wanted to be an engineer and build things – big, important things like dams and bridges, but he had worked in the factory, like all his friends.  “With Rosie teaching, we did all right,” thought Roger.  “Never wanted anything important.”

All he had to do was decide how far back to turn the Clock.

“Do I want to be a baby?  Not a teenager.  The twenties were pretty good years,” he thought.

Whatever he picked, he knew he got a clean slate.  He would live a better life this time.  “Without Rosie . . .” he thought.  “But I wouldn’t even know her.  I’d be a baby.”

He remembered how they’d met, at the grocery store . . . their first date . . . how he’d courted her.  He spent what was the rest of the morning sitting on the bed, thinking of Rosie.

Finally, Roger was ready for the Clock.  He wrote a short note for Paul, set the Clock on his lap, and moved the hands forward to 91, his alloted life.  “Time to be with my Rosie again,” he thought.

The coroner’s report found that Roger had died of a heart attack.  The note in his hand was his father’s note, on which he had added “It was just my time.”

*    *    *    *    *
Note: I made a mistake when I originally posted this and had Roger turn the clock hands backward, which would have made him younger.  This was from an early draft.  I corrected it so that he turns the hands forward, past his life span.  I apologize for the mistake.  I took advantage of the loose nature of an Introduction, which does not result in any eliminations.

The lines of poetry were from “Rock Me to Sleep” by Elizabeth Akers Allen (1859).  The first stanza is:

“Backward, turn backward, O Time, in your flight,
Make me a child again just for tonight!
Mother, come back from the echoless shore,
Take me again to your heart as of yore;
Kiss from my forehead the furrows of care,
Smooth the few silver threads out of my hair;
Over my slumbers your loving watch keep; — 
Rock me to sleep, mother, – rock me to sleep!”

See https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/52071/rock-me-to-sleep for the complete poem.

My grandmother had a framed black and white illustration in her kitchen of a mother rocking a baby in a cradle, with the first two lines at the top.

LJ Idol, Season 11 "Homecoming"
calvin writing
I'm glad to be back!

Week 20: Nostos
calvin writing
Idol Mini-Season 2018-19
Week 20
Topic: Nostos


A rumor was going through the box of Old Toys stored in the basement.  “It can’t be right,” spelled out the Ouija Board.  “My sources say no,” agreed the Magic 8 Ball.  Barbie, for one, had tried to be hopeful over the years, but even she had eventually given up.

But it was true: G.I. Joe Action Pilot had finally returned. 

The toys had always been so proud when the Joe Brothers had arrived, dedicated to fighting for America in WWII.  The oldest, G.I. Joe, had led the way, joining the infantry.  G.I. Joe Action Pilot, the middle brother, was in the Air Force, and G.I. Joe Action Sailor had picked the Navy.  They would tease G.I. Joe that he wasn’t a real action figure because "action" wasn’t in his name.

“I don’t need it,” G.I. Joe would say.  “I’m in the Army and the action’s built in, not like you two shirkers.” 

And then the three would pile on for a good-natured fight while the other toys would cheer, even Ken, who had never served his country.  This had always bothered Barbie; she had dreamed of loving a hero, not a beach bum.

“Why was I stuck with Ken?” Barbie had asked Ouija during a counseling session.

“We don’t get to pick our story lines,” Ouija had spelled.  “We’re at the mercy of the children – it’s whatever they imagine.  I once heard of a Barbie being forced to marry a Troll, so it could be worse.”

Barbie had shuddered just thinking about a troll husband.  What could their wedding night have been like?  Trolls had wild hair, sparkling eyes, and a wide smile, but no genitals.  Then again, neither did she.  She’d never given it much thought when she’d been an active toy because it was not Age Appropriate, but after she’d been retired, she’d starting using her brain, which had not been an available function during her play life.

“Maybe Ken’s not so bad,” she’d thought.  “But I just can’t help thinking about Pilot Joe.”

With short attention spans, the toy box quieted down when it looked like Pilot Joe was not returning right now.  G.I. Joe and Sailor Joe dreamed of the Battle for the Closet, Magic 8 Ball communicated with the other side, and the Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots remembered their epic fifteen-round fight for the Heavyweight Bedroom Championship.

The toys had almost forgotten about Pilot Joe when several days later Mom’s hand took the top off the Old Toys box and dropped him in, then closed it up and walked away.

The toys started cheering, but none louder and longer than his brothers and Barbie.  Ken only cheered after Barbie nudged him in the side.  When the ruckus died down, G.I. Joe asked the big question.

“Where have you been all these years?” said G.I. Joe.

“On a special mission,” replied Pilot Joe.

“What kind of mission lasts that long?” asked Sailor Joe.

“The kind I can’t talk about,” Pilot Joe said.  “And I had to fight my way back.”

“Three cheers for Pilot Joe!” said Barbie, just to annoy Ken.

“Hip hip hooray!  Hip hip hooray!  Hip hip hooray!” said all the toys.

Ken refused to join in, just to upset Barbie.  They were not having a good day.

“I could just kiss him!” said Barbie, looking at Ken.

“Hey,” said Ken, “we’re engaged!”

“Are not,” said Barbie.

“Are too,” said Ken.  “That was the very last story we played before Sally put us away forever.”

“Doesn’t count,” said Barbie.

“Does too,” said Ken.

“Knock it off,” said G.I. Joe, “Pilot Joe has finally returned from war.”

Suddenly, the Magic 8 Ball rattled and revealed “don’t count on it.”

“He said he went on a secret mission and had to fight his way home,” growled Sailor Joe.

“That’s good enough for the Joes – he’s a hero!” grumbled G.I. Joe.

“Ask the Ouija Board,” said Ken, seeing a chance to take the Joe Brothers down a peg.

The planchette moved over to “no.”

Pilot Joe broke the quiet.

“Remember our last fight together,” he began.  “the Assault on Fortress Bed?”

“Sure,” said G.I. Joe.  “Steve’s friend, Carl, brought his Joes over to be the Nazis defending the bed.  Things looked bad after Steve used the jeep’s spring-loaded cannon to shoot popcorn and one hit Carl in the eye.  Mom court-martialed Steve and took away the cannon.  After that, even though Pilot Joe was dropping Lego bombs and Sailor Joe was trying to make a landing on the beach, the Nazis were winning.”

“We ran out of time,” said Sailor Joe, “and Carl’s Joes had to go home.  When we played Mission Bathtub next time, you were gone.  What happened?”

“I volunteered for a detached assignment with Carl, who needed me,” said Pilot Joe.  “Carl’s father was a fighter pilot who was missing in the war.  Carl didn’t have a Pilot Joe, so Steve let him take me until his father came back.

“They finally found his jet in the jungle after all these years, so Carl’s mom sent me back to Steve, and here I am.”

“But where did you live?” asked G.I. Joe.

“That’s classified,” said Pilot Joe.

“My sources say no,” revealed the Magic 8 Ball.

“Were you a P.O.W.?” asked G.I. Joe.

“Were you tortured?” asked Sailor Joe.

“Were you married?” asked Barbie.

“Tell the truth,” spelled the Ouija Board.

There was a long pause. 

“Worse,” said Pilot Joe.  “After Carl grew too old and stopped playing with me, his mom put me in a box with his baby stuff.  I was surrounded by onesies, pacifiers, and his first teddy bear!”

“Eewww!” said his brothers. 

“You’ve got cooties!” said Ken, hopefully.

“I’ve got a field medic bag,” said G.I. Joe.  “We’ve got to get those cooties before they infect the whole box!”

“I don’t have cooties,” said Pilot Joe.  “I said I was with Carl’s baby stuff, not some girl’s.  Babies don’t have cooties.”

Cooties or not, the Joe Brothers were just glad to be together again, and soon they were re-living old campaigns, including the capture of Mt. Stairway.  They’d been leading green plastic army men against a platoon of Nazis.  Casualties were high but, in the end, they’d made it to the top, thanks to Pilot Joe.

Barbie loved to hear these old war stories. 

“Too bad Sally always stuck me with Ken,” she thought.  “Blond hair, swimming trunks, and a surf board.  I was always a beach bunny without a beach.  The best I got was a big tan towel, and there was never any cross-play with the Joes.  Thank goodness Sally just kept us engaged – she must have known something.  I don’t know what I’d do if she’d actually married me to Ken.”

Barbie’s problem was her design.  She was given too much of everything – a body every girl wanted but could never have and intelligence that had been muted in the final design review. 

“Girls want to be pretty -- they don’t dream about being smart” had been the final consensus.  Rather than go to the trouble of re-designing the product, Barbie’s intelligence had simply not been available during active play.

In the years following her retirement, Barbie had become increasingly unhappy with Ken.  She had tried couples counselling with the Ouija Board, but Ken wouldn’t go, so she had gone alone.  It had helped, but in the end what she had needed was a new story line.

“Since no one plays with you anymore,” Ouija had spelled, “you’re stuck unless someone uses you for a different story, one where you say ‘no’ to Ken.”

Once Pilot Joe returned, Barbie became even more miserable and she realized that her heart had always belonged to him despite what Sally had played.

“Babe,” Ken had said, “what’s up with you?  We’re the perfect couple – check the storyline!”

Pilot Joe had always had similar feelings for Barbie, but without cross-play, nothing could come of it.  Not long after his return, he interrupted the war stories to tell his brothers that all those years apart had not changed his heart.

“We beat the Nazis,” said G.I. Joe, “we can fix this.”

“We need to change Barbie’s story only a little,” said Sailor Joe.  “We just have to get you lovebirds together . . . and Ken.”

Since they were made of hard plastic, the figures couldn’t move well on their own, but after planning a three-sided attack, the Joes slowly worked their way through the jumble of toys to surround Barbie and Ken.  After the surprise maneuver, G.I. Joe and Sailor Joe were on both sides of Ken, with Pilot Joe next to Barbie.  Like the Nazis in Lincoln Log Village Patrol, Ken never knew what hit him.

“Let’s play ‘Barbie’” said G.I. Joe.  “She needs a new story.”

“What the . . .” Ken started to say.

“Before you say anything,” said Sailor Joe, “remember that there are three of us, battle-hardened and capable of beating Nazis bare-handed.  You surf.  G.I. Joe drives a Jeep with a cannon.  You drive a dune buggy.  Your worst injury is a sunburn.  Pilot Joe loves Barbie, you don’t.”

Barbie almost swooned.  Ken was quiet, and if plastic could sweat, his face would have dripped.

“Barbie and Ken are at the beach,” began G.I. Joe, starting a new story.  “There’s a bonfire and the dune buggy’s in the background.  Barbie’s never looked more beautiful in her swim suit.  Ken turns to Barbie and says . . . .”

G.I. Joe whispered in Ken’s ear.

“I love you Barbie.  Will you marry me?” said Ken.

“No!” said Barbie.

After more whispering from G.I. Joe, Ken said “O.K.  Let’s just be friends.  I’ll never bother you again.”

“Suddenly,” said G.I. Joe, “Pilot Joe arrives on the beach.  He runs over to Barbie.”

“I love you,” said Pilot Joe.  “Will you marry me?”

“Yes,” said Barbie, “with all my heart.”

All the toys cheered.  Who doesn’t love a wedding?

Barbie, Pilot Joe, and his brothers worked their way to the Ouija Board, who led them in their vows.

The return of Pilot Joe and his marriage to Barbie kept the box buzzing for a long time.  No one could remember such excitement since the last time they were played with.  Retirement was boring for a toy.  All they could do was hope for new children, or maybe a rummage sale and a new family.

The box eventually settled down.  The Joes entertained the toys with war stories, and the Magic 8 Ball and Ouija Board tried to predict what was happening in the outside world.

Then one day, the Magic 8 Ball kept showing “outlook good,” no matter how many times it rattled.  The Ouija Board had mixed messages, mostly “hello,” until one day it added “baby.” 

Since nothing happened, the Old Toys forgot about it until one day, they could feel the Baby Things box next to them being taken down.

They knew that there were no baby toys in their box, but someday they would be back on the floor again.  All they had to do was wait.

In the meantime, G.I. Joe, Sailor Joe, and Pilot Joe prepared for battle.  They would be ready for whatever war needed to be fought, especially if Nazis were involved.

*     *    *     *     *
G.I. Joe, G.I. Joe Action Sailor, and G.I. Joe Action Pilot

G.I. Joe Jeep and Cannon

Barbie, Pilot Joe's True Love             Ken, Not Barbie's True Love

Troll Doll, Barbie's Nightmare Husband

Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots, Fought 15 Rounds for Heavyweight Bedroom Championship

Ouija Board                           Magic 8 Ball

Week 19: Rancor
calvin writing

Pinocchio sat crammed in an airplane seat waiting for it to crash, and they hadn’t even left the tarmac.  He was staring straight ahead, his hands gripping the arm rests, concentrating on his breathing.   Only a trip this important would get him anywhere near an airplane.

“You’d think a fairy with turquoise hair would be easy to find,” thought Pinocchio, “especially for me.”

But he needed the Blue Fairy's help.  She had turned the original Pinocchio into a boy long ago.  That boy had grown into a man, married, and had a real child of his own.  Now he was the eighth Pinocchio, and if he didn’t find her, the final one.

“If we’re ever going to have a child, she’s our only hope,” Pinocchio thought, as the plane started to move.

He began focusing on his anger, using it to push back against his fear, anger over the laws and prejudice that kept him and his husband, Greg, from adopting a child.  They didn’t have enough money for a surrogate, so the Blue Fairy was their last, desperate hope, and he had been searching for her for months.

She was on vacation from Disney, and they didn’t know where their characters went or what they did, as long as they didn’t violate the morals clause inserted in their contracts after Wendy had been caught dancing in a strip club.

The Blue Fairy was registered with the Fairies Union, but the contact information was long out of date.

Finally, Pinocchio had found an ad on the internet for MagiCon, one of RanCorp’s travelling shows.  The Blue Fairy was one of the featured attractions.

RanCorp. put on HeroCon, DamselCon, NoirCon, and a host of others, each catering to various fandoms.  RanCorp.’s offerings were definitely lower-tier, so now he was headed to Passaic, New Jersey for MagiCon.

The flight was uneventful, largely because Pinocchio had swallowed a tranquilizer with several shots of tequila at the airport bar, which kicked in shortly after takeoff.  After landing, he took a cab directly to MagiCon.

RanCorp. had promised a “first class fan experience with all your favorite magical beings, subject to substitutions.”  “First class” meant a run-down convention center in Passaic, surrounded by liquor stores, nail salons, and dead-end bars.  Pinocchio didn’t need a room, thankfully, because he was just there to see the Blue Fairy and wouldn’t be staying to enjoy the festivities.

“I better head for the Celebrity Room first,” thought Pinocchio after he bought his ticket.

Immediately to his right was the Wizard of Oz Experience, hosted by Oz’s great-grandson, complete with somewhat lifelike figurines of the Wizard, Dorothy, and the Wicked Witch.  A fan was taking selfies while “We’re Off to See the Wizard” played relentlessly in the background.  Plastic ruby slippers and stuffed flying monkeys were available at discount prices.

The Wizard did not know where the Blue Fairy could be found.

The witch’s house from Hansel and Gretel was next door, complete with cake walls, frosted gingerbread roof, candy, and other treats, all made of plastic.  Inside was a witch preparing to cook little boy and girl dolls wearing lederhosen.  She sometimes worked as Glenda the Good at the Oz display when it was slow.

Pinocchio finally spotted the Blue Fairy’s booth near the exit.  On the table were small Pinocchio puppets, a plastic Geppetto doll with real movable limbs, and a snow globe showing her turning Pinocchio into a real boy.  For five dollars, you could have your picture taken with the Blue Fairy.

Except this wasn’t the Blue Fairy.  It was a young woman in a fairy costume wearing a turquoise wig, waving a toy wand and scattering glitter.

“The ad said the Blue Fairy would be here,” said Pinocchio.

“Read the fine print,” said the faux-fairy in her authentic Jersey accent, “I’m a substitute.  Talk to the manager.  He’s at the bar next door -- you can’t miss him.”

Pinocchio left and headed for the Lost Dreams Bar, where everyone was ignoring the man dressed in a rabbit suit drinking whiskey.  He sat next to the rabbit.

“I need to find the Blue Fairy,” said Pinocchio.

“An’ I need a drink,” said the rabbit.

Pinocchio gestured to the bartender, who poured another whiskey.

“She’s next door at MagiCon,” said the rabbit, downing his drink.

“The real one,” said Pinocchio.

“Persuade me,” said the rabbit.

Pinocchio put $20 on the bar.

The rabbit grabbed the money and headed out the door, back to his room at MagiCon, where he rummaged through some employment forms.

“She’s out helpin’ someone,” said the rabbit.

“Did she leave a phone number?” he asked.

“She’s a fairy,” said the rabbit, “she ain’t got no phone.  All it says is ‘turn around three times and say her name with a pure heart.’ I tried it an’ it don’t work.  If you find her, tell her to get her wings back here or she’s fired.”

Pinocchio left, stuck between feeling hopeful and conned, but definitely without a pure heart.

“I’ve got to find some place where I can calm down,” he thought.

Not knowing where to go, he paid a cabbie to take him to the quietest park around and wound up at North Pulaski Park.  He walked around a bit, then found a secluded bench shaded by some trees and sat down.

After few minutes, he felt better.  He tried to empty his mind, which was harder than he thought.  He couldn’t stop thinking about pizza.

“That’s the best I can do,” Pinocchio thought, “so I’ll give it a try.”

He closed his eyes and spun around three times, each time saying “Blue Fairy.”

Nothing happened.  He tried two more times, but no Blue Fairy.  Dejected, he sat back down on the bench.  All he could think about was his love for Greg, how happy they were together, and how much they wanted a child.

“Time to go home,” he thought, all but giving up.

Then it hit him – her name wasn’t Blue Fairy!  That’s what Walt Disney called her.  It took a minute for him to remember.

“La Fata Turchina, La Fata Turchina, La Fata Turchina,” he said as he spun around three times, thinking only of his love.

As he finished his third circle, there was a small flash and a tiny rainbow.  When his eyes cleared, La Fata Turchina appeared in front of him, no bigger than a robin, with translucent wings and turquoise hair, but most of all, a big smile.

“Pinocchio!” she said.  “It’s so good to see you.  I wondered if you would complete the tasks I set for you.”

“Tasks?” he replied.

“All that work it took to find me,” she said, “including flying here and believing a giant white rabbit in a bar.”

“I need your help,” he replied.

“I know your heart,” said the fairy, hovering a few feet away.

“Can you do it?” he asked.

“I cannot create a baby out of thin air,” said the fairy.

She could read the depth of his sadness.

“Do not despair,” she said.  “I have one more task for you.  I can do for you what I did for Geppetto so many years ago.  Do you still have his wood?”

Back in the attic was a large supply of carver’s wood, passed down through the generations.  According to family legend, this was the same wood that Geppetto used when he created the first Pinocchio.

“Yes,” he said.

“Then you must carve it into a puppet baby,” said the fairy.

“But I don’t know how,” he said.

The fairy flew closer and touched his hands with hers.  They glowed turquoise for an instant and Pinocchio felt a tingle.

“Now you do,” said the fairy.

“But Pinocchio was a boy puppet, not a baby, and he had many adventures before you turned him into a real boy,” he said.

“Have faith,” said the fairy, “and call for me when you are finished.”

With that, La Fata Turchina disappeared.  She reappeared as the fake Blue Fairy at MagiCon.

Unlike fairies, Pinocchio had a cell phone.  By the time he arrived home, Greg had bought all the necessary tools and moved the wood next to their workbench.  Pinocchio started carving the next day.

A month later, they had a perfect baby girl puppet, which they placed in her crib.

Greg and Pinocchio both spun together, repeating La Fata Turchina’s name.  She appeared over the baby, showering her with glittering fairy dust.

“You’ve made a wonderful child,” said the fairy.

“Before Pinocchio became a boy,” said Greg, “he had to prove himself worthy.  What can our puppet do?”

“As a baby,” said the fairy, “she is innocent and pure.  Nothing more is needed from her.  But you, her parents, had to prove yourselves worthy, which you have done by completing the chores I set for you.  The last one was creating this beautiful puppet.”

With that, the fairy waved her wand and cast her spell, and her fathers stood in awe as her skin turned pink and then with a flash, their real baby appeared before them.

The Blue Fairy lingered a few minutes, then quietly blessed her and her fathers before disappearing.

Back at MagiCon, the Blue Fairy appeared as her alternate, complete with the Jersey accent.

As she smiled, scattered glitter and posed for selfies, the Blue Fairy knew the difficulties ahead for Pinocchio and Greg as fathers, but she was confident that they would succeed; and if they wanted another baby, she would be there.

In the meantime, she was going to enjoy the last of her vacation as a human.  It wasn’t easy being La Fata Turchina.