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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.

Week 18: Keep It Safe
calvin writing

Idol Mini-Season 2018-19
Week: 18
Topic: Keep It Safe 


“It’s an earthquake!” thought Mom. 

The room was rocking, with books and pictures falling off the shelves and smashing on the floor.  She started to wake up, and the nightmare vanished.  One eye opened enough to see the clock: it was 4:47 – on Saturday morning.  The room was dark and someone was shaking her shoulder.  

“Quit it,” she mumbled. 

The shaking got worse. 

“Mommm!  Wake up!”  

The shaking had a voice.  She made a big mistake and opened both her eyes.  It was Stanley, and he had a big pot on his head.  

“Can I use this for my alien robot?” he whispered.  “It’s the perfect size.  Please?”  

The pot gave his voice a slightly metallic sound.  

“No!” Mom thought, “I will not . . . .”  

The rest didn’t matter; after all, it was Stanley, he had a pot on his head, and that was enough.  The pot should have been in the kitchen and he should have been in bed. 

When Stanley put things on his head, it never went well.  One time, he had worn a football helmet made out of half a watermelon rind because his regular helmet had been made into the Thought Transfer Machine, but that’s for another time.  

“Mommm,” pleaded Stanley, “can I make the robot?  Pleeeease?” 

“Shhhh!” whispered his mother, “don’t wake Dad.  Go to the kitchen.” 

He ran out of the bedroom, banging his head against the dresser.  He had chosen a particularly noisy pot for his robot head, which did not, as yet, have any eye holes. 

“I bet Dad’s got a drill in the basement,” he whispered. 

Mom hurried after him, pulling her robe around her.  

As a safety precaution, Dad had put a lock on the basement door.  They had learned the hard way that keeping their son away from tools was a good idea, although the lock now had several scratches.  Stanley, who was not easily discouraged, had kept trying to break in.  

When Mom opened the door to the kitchen, she could see that, sadly, Stanley had been busy.  Pots and pans were scattered everywhere.  It was going to be a very long day. 

“I didn’t know he could reach the blender,” she thought, her shoulders drooping.  “I’ll have to move it higher.” 

The thought of Stanley with a blender made her shudder. 

“What time did you get up?” Mom finally asked with a weary voice. 

“Zabor does not recognize time.  Zabor is from the Fifth Dimension,” said Stanley from under the pot, with a flat, mechanical voice. 

“How much Earth time did Zabor use tearing apart my kitchen?” asked Mom, fully awake at last. 

“Only a few Earth minutes,” he answered, and then pointed to an open cupboard.  “That smells like the goo you call strawberry jam.” 

“That’s because my son spilled it when he used it for blood when he was Vasily, the mad scientist, and he tried to make a teddy bear come alive,” said Mom. 

“Vasily is famous on my home world,” said Zabor.  “He is the genius who invented the Time Gate that allowed Zabor to enter your defenseless universe.” 

“It’s time for Zabor to get to work,” said Mom.  “Take off that pot and pick up the kitchen.” 

“Zabor’s power level is too low,” said Zabor.  “I must recharge.” 

Stanley raised the pot enough to see and picked a fork off the floor, then headed for an electrical outlet, arm out, beeping as he went. 

All the outlets were still child-proofed, but Mom knew better than to trust them.  She quickly grabbed the fork from Zabor’s hand, then picked up a spoon and started to drum on his head.  The pot made a satisfying noise. 

“Ow!!!  Stop!!!” said Zabor. 

“Mom the Magnificent has used her spoon gun to penetrate Zabor’s armor,” she said.   “I’m going to make an Earth breakfast of pancakes before he goes back to the Fifth Dimension, after he puts everything away.” 

Stanley loved pancakes with extra-extra syrup so he quickly took off the pot and started to pick up the pans, silverware, the blender (“I needed the motor,” he said), as well as the tape and batteries scattered around. 

After cleaning up, Stanley sat down and his mother brought him a big stack of pancakes, his favorite breakfast, unless it was waffles, another favorite, or French toast, or pretty much anything except oatmeal.  He needed a lot of fuel and wasn’t too particular.  Stanley was an enthusiastic eater, especially at breakfast. 

“I probably shouldn’t have made pancakes,” thought Mom.  “With all that syrup, he’ll be in overdrive.” 

Most people thought Stanley lived in overdrive, but his parents knew that was just regular Stanley.  Overdrive Stanley usually wound up confined to his bedroom until the sugar wore off.  

“I’m going to build the best robot ever with that pot,” said Stanley. 

“Don’t talk while you’re chewing,” said Mom. 

“I’ll cover it in armor and it’ll have a jet pack,” said Stanley, not hearing her.  “Death rays will shoot from its eyes, and it’ll do whatever I tell it.  I’m going to have it blast the school, so you won’t have to make me a lunch Monday!” 

“That’s very thoughtful of you,” said Mom after a Category 2 sigh. 

Dad liked to rate Mom’s sighs.  Category 2 meant “I really don’t want to deal with this right now.” 

“More pancakes,” intoned Stanley, who had put the pot back on his head, after he demolished his first stack.  “Zabor finds this Earth food satisfactory.” 

“Zabor needs to learn Earth manners and say ‘please,’” said Mom. 

She had a collection of cardboard boxes in the basement which they kept for Stanley Projects.  It wouldn’t be too hard to create a robot costume.  Even without the jet pack and death ray, she knew he’d have fun, although she would have to make his lunch on Monday.  Blasting the school wasn’t such a bad idea after all. 

“. . . and my kitchen will be safe,” she thought with a Category 1 sigh, “for now.” 

In the meantime, Zabor needed more fuel.  It was now 5:34 a.m. Earth time and the sun was beginning to rise. 

“The sun is creating a new opening in the Time Gate back to the Fifth Dimension,” said Mom.  “Zabor needs to finish his pancakes and make sure he can return.  Where did Zabor first enter our universe?” 

“In the bedroom of the one you call Stanley,” intoned Zabor. 

“Then Zabor must return to that spot for the Time Gate,” said Mom.  “Once you are fully recharged, I will show you the way, but you must hurry!” 

After Stanley was done, they walked down the hall to his bedroom, hand in hand.  He was still wearing the pot.  When they got to his room, he beeped a few times, then handed the pot to Mom.  She gave it back to him. 

“Zabor will need this for his return trip,” she said.  She could get the pot later.  It was sturdy enough to survive Stanley for a while, she hoped. 

As usual, his bedroom looked like a real earthquake had hit it, with toys, books, and who-knew-what scattered around. 

“Don’t make any noise until your father gets up,” said Mom.  “Miracles do happen,” she thought, leaving his room. 

After shutting the door, she heard him announce excitedly “the Time Gate is opening!” 

A bright light flashed under the door and everything was quiet. 

“Time for some coffee and the newspaper,” thought Mom as she walked back to the kitchen, wondering how long the silence would last.  For now, the world was safe from her Stanley. 

* * * * * 

There are three earlier stories about Stanley.
“The Teddy Bear Detective”
“Home on the Range”
“The Mars Expedition”







Week 17.5 Being a writer is like having homework every night for the rest of your life
calvin writing

Idol Mini-Season 2018-19
Week 17.5
Topic: Being a writer is like having homework every night for the rest of your life


The Shakespeare Café looked warm and inviting through the fog. Tonight was its monthly Author’s Night, which featured an open mic for writers to read their works. The performances were uneven, ranging from the wooden to the brilliant, with a lot more wood than lightning. The café was packed when Rebecca entered.

“I’m hungry,” she thought as she pushed through the door. She immediately saw her target, sitting alone at the bar, waiting his turn. He was in his mid-twenties, not bad looking, and clutching a manuscript to keep his hands from shaking, with four empty shot glasses nearby.

She had gorgeous red hair, full lips, and a body barely contained by a short blue dress. She was clearly old enough to vote, and that was all the men wanted to know as they tried not to stare at her. Their appraisals didn’t bother her, only the poet at the mic, who was rambling on in free verse about his pet frog.

The stool next to the writer was empty, so she headed straight for it and sat down.

“Buy a girl a drink?” she said to Roger Michaels.

Roger was the next to read, and he was so nervous he barely heard her.

“Well then, can I buy you one?” she said, nodding to the bartender, who brought over the cheapest scotch in the house, plus the most expensive for Rebecca.

“On the house,” said the bartender.

Rebecca smiled. She was used to this.

Just then, it was Roger’s turn at the mic. Rebecca knew he’d be back.

He read one of his short stories. It was so powerful, gripping, and raw that the audience was silent, then erupted into the loudest applause of the night.

As he read, Rebecca could see a light shine from him, growing in intensity. She smiled and licked her lips.

“Feeding time,” she thought, her hunger growing.

Roger returned to the bar, hands still shaking. Rebecca gradually moved her stool closer. As they talked about his writing, thin needle-like protrusions extended from her fingertips. Smiling seductively, she jabbed him with her fingertips on his thigh. He felt a sting and pulled back. By then it was too late.

Rebecca had sucked all of Roger’s prodigious talent from him, satisfying her needs but withdrawing every creative impulse from him.

He would never write anything meaningful again. The intense desire to be a writer would still be there, but now there was no talent. It would be like doing his nightly homework back in school.

Her hunger satisfied for now, Rebecca left, adding the Shakespeare Café to her list of feeding grounds.

Meanwhile, across town, the Literary Crimes Unit of the FBI was trying to track Rebecca down, #4 on its own Ten Most Wanted List.

The Lit Squad consisted of Special Agent Marcus Johnson and whatever agent was unlucky enough to be assigned to him, currently Sylvia Klein. It was in the basement, next to the HVAC and as far from real agents as possible. Marcus had been allocated one room, two desks, and three battered filing cabinets. Most people didn’t know it existed, which was fine with him. It meant less interference.

“Just don’t embarrass the FBI,” the agent in charge had said when Marcus had first arrived. He’d mostly succeeded.

He’d been pleased when Sylvia had been assigned to him. Named for Sylvia Plath, both her parents were published writers of romance and crime novels, so she had understood the magnitude of Rebecca’s crimes.

Lit Squad was considered punishment and Sylvia had been no exception; she had mouthed off once too often about her inept supervisor. Marcus knew the guy and she was right.

“It looks like Rebecca’s in town,” said Marcus. “We just got a phone call from a confidential informant at the Shakespeare Café.”

Sylvia started to look at the thick file Marcus handed her. There were reports going back over fifty years and some grainy, unfocused photographs of her, making visual identification difficult.

“Rebecca’s a talent-sucker,” said Marcus, “kind of a reverse Muse. No one knows where they came from. They’re human, except for the need to feed on literary skill. They can sense it and then use their finger needles to draw it out, leaving their victims talentless. We don’t know how many – probably thousands – are scattered all over the world. Rebecca’s been working Los Angeles, but now she’s been spotted in San Francisco, which makes her our problem.”

“Is that why there are so many franchise movies, remakes, and reboots?” asked Sylvia.

“She’s sucked everything out of the scriptwriters,” said Marcus, “and now she’s here. Our job is to catch her and inject her with the serum.”

“What’s that?” said Sylvia.

“It eliminates her need to feed on creativity. It’s like taking the blood lust out of a vampire. It was invented by William Carlos Williams, who was a doctor as well as a poet, when a talent-sucker ruined his friend, Ezra Pound.

“I almost caught her once, at the start of my career. She got a high school kid named Steve Larkin over in Coalinga. Had all the talent in the world. Real pity.”

San Francisco had a lively arts scene, which made catching Rebecca more difficult. Marcus gave Sylvia the task of finding any event likely to draw writers, including book signings, even though Rebecca didn’t usually drain prominent authors – too risky. She sometimes cruised coffee shops looking for writer’s working at their lap tops, but most of her attacks occurred at larger events, like the Shakespeare Café.

Marcus was going to talk with his snitches, mostly bartenders or baristas, at the coffee shops and cafes that had a reputation in the literary underground, especially those near San Francisco State, which offered creative writings classes.

Sylvia started with the internet, and when that finally dried up, she visited the few bookstores still open, looking for fliers announcing readings or open mics, one of Rebecca’s favorites.

After a few days, they had their top possibilities: a poetry flash mob in front of a bookstore; an improv short story gathering at the college; a writer’s workshop, also at the college; the weekly writer’s discussion group at the No Poets Café; and the Shakespeare Café for the open mic. Plus the annual Poetry Festival in Salinas, which started today.

“It’s too far away,” said Marcus.

“Anything more than 30 minutes is too far for you,” said Sylvia. “It’s the only likely event for a week, and Rebecca’s fed in that area before. Didn’t she get that kid in Coalinga you told me about?”

“Larkin?” replied Marcus. “That was years ago, and she was probably just passing through.”

“We’re not doing anything tomorrow,” said Sylvia. “You’ll live.”

Marcus knew she was right.

“I’m driving,” he said, “and my music.”

The next day, they checked out two tranq guns loaded with the serum and a tranquilizer. It took more than two hours to get to Salinas; the traffic was worse than usual, and it was not a very pretty drive. They had no trouble finding Hiram Moore High School, home of the festival.

Bill Williams, the director of the event, handed them programs at the entrance to the gym.

“I’ll need to talk to him,” thought Marcus, as he scanned the program.

He was disturbed to see the name of Steve Larkin, Rebecca’s victim years ago.

“We need to be gone before he reads,” thought Marcus. “I’d hate to hear what he’s become compared to what he could have been. That kid was a genius.”

After talking with Williams, they were no better off. He’d never seen anyone like Rebecca at the festival, but he promised to let them know if a woman matching her description showed up.

Marcus and Sylvia wandered around, checking the crowd. No Rebecca.

“That doesn’t mean she won’t turn up later,” said Sylvia.

They agreed to leave after the crowning of the Poetry Queen, before Larkin was to read his poem.

The poetry they heard ranged from the bad to very good, but overall, they were impressed.

Finally, it was time for the Poetry Queen. Everyone knew it was Principal Stevenson’s daughter, again, but no one complained. She was a very pretty girl.

But Marcus wasn’t looking at the Queen, he was staring at her mother, who was standing off to one side, beaming at her daughter.

“That’s Rebecca!” he whispered to Sylvia.

Rebecca, or Principal Stevenson, was wearing a baggy, plain dress; her hair was in a bun, and she had on a pair of glasses. She looked nothing like the beauty that Marcus had described to Williams.

“Why go to San Francisco when you can have the food come to you?” whispered Sylvia.

They had to shoot her with the serum darts, but they couldn’t shoot her in front of a crowd. That would require explanations the agents didn’t want to give.

Marcus moved through the crowd, getting behind Rebecca, while Sylvia approached her from the side. They held their positions until after the ceremony, and when she headed down an empty hallway to leave, they followed, closing the door behind them, tranq guns at the ready.

“FBI, Rebecca!” shouted Marcus.

As soon as she turned around, they fired. The darts injected her with the serum and a tranquilizer, which knocked her out. Sylvia called for medical assistance, explaining only enough to ensure that Rebecca got proper care.

As soon as the ambulance crew arrived, the agents left. It had been a tough month, and they were eager to get home. Closing out Rebecca’s case could wait until tomorrow, when the Lit Squad would start on their next literary offender, a serial plagiarizer.

When Rebecca woke up at the hospital, the doctor told her that she passed out from dehydration and the excitement at the festival. They kept her overnight for observation, then released her the next morning.

Rebecca knew she’d been shot with the serum. Already, her needle claws were beginning to die. She no longer felt the hunger to steal the talent from victims, but she would always miss the wonderful sensation she got from it. Her anger slowly began to grow in her. She could barely control her rage.

She would live the life of Principal Andersen – she had no choice. She would also work hard to improve the poetry festival. It wasn’t for her, she’d had plenty of other sources. But her daughter would need it in a few years when she got her claws.

In the meantime, she would have to do something about Lit Squad.

She would see to it that San Francisco was drained of all creativity, turning it into a wasteland.

As to the agents, they would lose whatever was most dear to them.

“They’re not finished with me,” thought Rebecca, “until I’m finished with them!”

Revenge would fill the void caused by the agents, and no serum existed for that.


Week 17.4 My Happy Place
calvin writing
 Idol Mini-Season 2018-19
Week 17.4
Topic: My Happy Place 


Ozzie stood on his balcony, staring at the sunset over the Pacific, the waves crashing against the beach below, sipping some overly expensive wine from a needlessly costly glass.  His regular monthly party, large and noisy, was going on in the house behind him. 

“They don’t know it, but it’s the last,” he thought, before throwing some pills over the railing.  “It was great while it lasted.” 

He picked up his phone and started scrolling through the pictures until his third grade school photograph stared at him, with his bad haircut, braces, forced smile and downward eyes.  He never knew whether to despise or cherish this picture; either way, the memories hurt.  Still, he couldn’t bring himself to delete it. 

“I wouldn’t be me without him,” Ozzie thought, his eyes beginning to tear, finishing his glass of wine.  He dreaded going back. 

There had never been anything particularly wrong with Oswald Michaels as a child, but never anything particularly right, either.  In a sea of Jennifers, Jasons, Michelles, and Davids, Oswald had stood out; he had liked his middle name, John, but he had been doomed in the first grade when other kids had heard his mother say, “Remember Ozzie, Mommy loves you.” 

“Kids want cool names,” Ozzie thought, leaning against the balcony rail, “not weird ones.” 

As a young child, he had been short, but even after he grew, he had still been bad at sports, the ultimate sin for boys.  He had always been picked last, but he would have preferred not to be picked at all.  In fifth grade PE, the teacher had sent him off to play with the girls, which had only made life worse. 

Ozzie had never dressed right.  Shaking his head, he remembered the year his mother had sent him to school in a pair of orange corduroy pants because she had liked the color and the fabric was soft.  He had begged her to buy jeans, but it hadn’t mattered.  After he had spilled paint on them, he had been relieved when she had replaced them with jeans, until he got to school. 

“Ozzie’s wearing Wranglers!” Steve Johansson had said.  “Those are girls’ jeans!” 

Ozzie had been humiliated.  He hadn’t known that boys only wore Levi’s, and of course his mother hadn’t known.  Money had been tight, and they hadn’t been able to replace them, so he’d had to wear them the rest of the school year. 

His hair had been short when the other boys’ hair had been long and long when it should have been short.  And then the braces.  And the pimples. 

Of course, no one had wanted to eat lunch with him.  His table had been called the island of misfit boys.  A few others had sat there, and if there had been no friendship, at least there had been solace. 

Underlying it all had been Ozzie’s intense shyness.  

“I would always have been shy,” he thought, getting ready to rejoin the party.  “But the way they treated me sure didn’t help.” 

His intelligence hadn’t helped either, even after he’d finally learned to slouch in his chair and answer every question with “I dunno.” 

Ozzie had survived school, but his difficulties hadn’t stopped.  His shyness had continued in college, driving him underground.  He had loved the basement biochemistry lab, working on his major in preparation for medical school.  Any place by himself had made him happy. 

He’d had one desire: to rid himself of his shyness.  “If a pill can treat depression, why not shyness,” he had dreamed.  He had planned one day to invent one. 

Four years of college, six years of medical school, another four to become a board-certified psychiatrist, and Ozzie had been hired to help develop new drugs for the psychiatric field by PsyChem.  Along the way, his shyness had diminished but it had never gone away.  He had never forgotten young Ozzie. 

Ozzie had worked on new drugs for depression, psychosis, and other problems, but he had never been able to convince his superiors that shyness could be treated with drugs. 

“If they won’t let me try,” Ozzie had thought, “I’ll do it on my own.”  Back to the basement he had gone, this time at PsyChem, where he had worked on his own time to create his shyness pill. 

It had been a daunting task, but he had persevered.  Over the years, he had developed various compounds, but they had either killed the test rats or made them vicious and aggressive.  Some had even eaten each other. 

“The self-confidence is good,” Ozzie had thought, “but not the cannibalism.” 

It had also been difficult to tell which rats were shy, so he had never been certain of his results. 

After several years of late nights and weekends, he had thought he finally had the right formula.  It hadn’t killed any rats and they hadn’t eaten each other. 

“My data’s too thin for human trials,” Ozzie had thought, “and PsyChem won’t fund them anyway.” 

He had had only one solution: test the drug on himself.  There had been a hundred reasons why this was had been banned and only one reason to go forward. 

“I have no other choice,” Ozzie had thought, “I can’t give up now.” 

The next morning, he had swallowed a pill.  It had been a very low dose.  Nothing had happened. 

“No aggression, but no change in my shyness,” Ozzie had thought.  “And I don’t feel like eating anyone – that’s a good sign.” 

Each week for a month he had gradually increased the amount.  Finally, he had felt different.  He hadn’t avoided looking at a very pretty colleague, one he could barely talk to.  The next day, he’d been joking with her in the break room, and the day after that, she’d agreed to go out to dinner with him. 

He had got a haircut and some new clothes, and when Mary had opened her door, he’d looked good and he’d known it.  They’d had a great time at dinner and had made plans to see each other again.  The night had ended in a romantic kiss, then Ozzie had walked away, knowing that Mary had still been looking at him.  He hadn’t looked back, just smiled. 

It had taken some time for Ozzie to find the right dose.  Too much, and every night he’d had a new babe on each arm; not enough, and he’d had trouble standing up to his supervisor.  People had noticed the changes and a lively betting pool had started as to which Ozzie would show up for work.  One day he’d driven up in a sleek red Ferrari instead of his old gray Prius, and everyone had lost. 

After about a month, Ozzie had figured out the right dose.  He’d been warm and friendly, but not obnoxious and loud.  Everyone had liked him, and he’d liked everybody, except his supervisor.  The betting pool had disbanded because he was now the same every day. 

“I can’t tell anyone about the pill,” he’d thought, “not now.  I’ll wait a year and see if any side effects develop.” 

The new Ozzie had thrown himself into his work and his life.  He’d moved into an expensive ocean-view apartment, and he’d made friends.  Lots of friends.  Ozzie had become outgoing, gregarious, and everyone had liked him, especially women.  

“He’s so genuine,” he’d heard one woman say at the office.  Ozzie hadn’t blushed. 

For six months, life had been wonderful.  It had all been exciting and new.  But Ozzie had gradually noticed something different. 

“I feel flat,” he’d often thought, “like there’s no spice in my food.  I need to make some changes.” 

New Ozzie had become dangerous Ozzie.  He’d taken up rock climbing, then paragliding.  Speeding in his Ferrari had become a way of life and paying for tickets was just another entertainment expense. 

He’d made more friends among the thrill-seeking adrenaline junkies, and that had worked, for a while. 

But even thrill-seeking had no longer masked his emptiness.  The world had become a dreary place, and it got darker.  He had gone through the motions, including the parties, but eventually it had all become too much. 

“Classic depression,” he had told himself, so he had tried anti-depressants until it had become clear that this did not help. 

Out on his balcony, with the party noisy behind him, he knew what he had to do, what he had struggled to avoid. 

“I’ve got to stop taking my shyness pills,” he thought despondently, as he poured them off the balcony and into the ocean below. 

Gradually, Ozzie’s depression lifted, but his shyness returned.  His friends, missing the dynamic, fun-loving Ozzie, gradually drifted away. 

Now that he had experienced life without his shyness, Ozzie knew that he had to keep going.  

“I know I’ve got the basic formula,” he thought, as he headed back to the lab.  “I’ve just got to work out a few details.” 

All in all, Ozzie considered this a positive experience.  He had a Ferrari and a beautiful home with an ocean view.  And unlike some of his test rats, he hadn’t killed anyone or tried to eat his friends. 

“Could have been worse,” he thought.  “Someday I’ll get it right, and new Ozzie will be back!” 

It took a few years, but one day his co-workers started betting again on which Ozzie would show up for work.  One day they stopped, and Ozzie was happy.


Week 17.3 Fatberg
calvin writing

Idol Mini-Season 2018-19
Week 17.3
Topic: Fatberg 


Klauski’s Bar and Grill proudly billed itself as “The Unhealthiest Place on Earth!”  Its food was oversalted, overgreased, and served in portions so large that “We Dare You to Finish Your Meal” was emblazoned on its menu.  This was the dark side of American cooking. 

Klauski’s was a highly successful sports bar owned by Steve “Fat Santa” Klauski, former All-Pro offensive lineman.  Retired offensive linemen rarely owned bars.  That was the retirement plan for quarterbacks or running backs, the glamour boys.  

But Fat Santa was different.   For fifteen years he had dominated the game.  He had been big, slow, and overwhelming, inexorably moving defensive linemen back down the field.  Any runner lucky enough to be behind him had been guaranteed at least five yards a carry. 

He had been happiest on the football field, and it had showed.  If he had knocked you over, which had been often, he’d extended his hand, and with a big smile, pulled you up.  On the sidelines, even in the worst games, he had found something to laugh about.  Fans and players throughout the league had loved him.  

His restaurant had the usual big screen TVs and memorabilia, but what packed all the tables was the Fatburger – two full-pound all-beef patties, four massive slabs of Cheddar cheese, eight thick slices of bacon, all slathered with a special chipotle bacon BBQ sauce and wedged between two huge grilled hamburger buns, plus a half-pound of double-fried, double-salted, extra-crispy French fries.  Lettuce and tomato were available, but discouraged as too healthy. 

It was all free – if you could eat two.  This was the famous Fatburger Challenge. 

Only one person had ever done it: Klauski himself, to the great joy of his fans and the dismay of his doctor.  “I don’t care if it’s ‘just a snack,’” Dr. Abernathy had said.  “Those ‘snacks’ will kill you.”  Klauski had just laughed him off. 

The only problem in this paradise of gustatory excess was that Klauski was missing.  No one had seen him for weeks, and business was starting to suffer.  Fortunately, someone had started looking for him. 

Frost the Elf had been sent to Klauski’s by Mrs. Claus to find her missing husband, who masqueraded as Steve Klauski whenever he could.  Mrs. Claus was worried, and Frost was the only elf she could spare this close to Christmas. 

With more and more mechanization at the North Pole, Santa’s role over the years had long been diminishing. 

“I’m just a Christmas mascot,” he had frequently complained. 

“Have some more cookies,” had been his wife’s usual response. 

But with the demand lessening for Santa at the North Pole, he'd had the chance to pursue his other interests, and he was a big-time sports fan.  He loved them all, even curling.  

“Look at those brooms go!” he had once yelled at a group of boisterous elves watching the annual Hebrides Curling Tournament with him, which had featured some of the best sweepers in Scotland. 

Mrs. Claus had banned curling after the elves had become so excited that they had tried to play indoors using her broom and pots.  The game had quickly gotten out of hand, as things with elves usually do. 

For years, Santa would sneak off to attend games in person, but he hadn’t been satisfied to be just a spectator.  He had wanted to play. 

His first attempt had been a huge success.  He had played baseball as Babe Ruth, who had excelled at the sport despite his girth.  Santa could alter his appearance at will, but he had never changed his basic build. 

He had also dominated basketball as Charles Barkley, the Round Mound of Rebound.  But his true passion had always been football, which he had played as Steve Klauski.  He had loved the offensive line, where his size was an asset.  

“Force equals mass times acceleration,” he had once told a reporter, smiling.  “I may be slow, but I’m massive.” 

Mrs. Claus had encouraged these alternate lives.  It had gotten Santa away from the North Pole and let her handle Christmas. 

Santa had gotten all the glory, but the real elf behind Christmas had been Mrs. Claus.  She had taken care of production, the naughty or nice list, the Christmas letters, and all aspects of a global toy enterprise.  Sure, Santa had still been needed for personal appearances and the splashy final delivery of toys, but the rest of it he had let his wife handle. 

Santa and Mrs. Claus had had one important rule.  He always had to be home for Christmas, no matter what.  But Christmas was now looming and he was nowhere to be found.  

For several years he had been taking a break from sports and had been enjoying life as a football legend and restaurant owner.  It had suited his gregarious nature and had made his Christmas commitment easy to honor. 

But now Frost had been sent to bring him back.  He started at Klauski’s, where he had last been seen.  Frost stood out from the regular crowd.  He was shorter, thinner, and he had pointed ears, which he tried to hide under a stocking cap.  His voice was higher as well, and when he spoke to the bartender, he got carded.  

This was awkward, since elves don’t have driver’s licenses, and he’d been thrown out.  In the back alley, he practiced lowering his voice.  Satisfied, he snuck back in through the kitchen, acquiring that smell of grease that marked the true Klauski’s regular.  Now he fit in. 

He circulated among the crowd and the staff, buying drinks, and always asking “Have you seen Fat Santa?”  No one had. 

He was wondering what to do next.  He couldn’t alert the police or hire a private investigator out of fear that Klauski’s true identity would come out. 

Frost happened to be looking at one of the smaller TVs, which was showing a sumo competition in Tokyo.  Accounting for some physical changes, one of the wrestlers looked suspiciously like Santa, minus the beard.  

“His eyes twinkle,” thought Frost, “and that belly looks familiar.” 

Santa was competing as “Hageshī Tsume,”[1] and he was clearly a fan favorite.  During his match, the crowd was chanting “Tsu – me” over and over.  Frost watched as Santa dispatched his opponent with ease. 

“Time for a trip to Japan,” he thought.  

Frost contacted Mrs. Claus and she sent Comet to take him to Japan, which took only a few minutes.  He made it to the arena just before the tournament ended.  Santa placed third.  Frost waited for him outside the locker room. 

As soon as Santa saw the elf, he bolted.  It was a slow-motion run and Frost caught up to him quickly. 

“You’ve never been fast,” said Frost. 

“Don’t like it,” said Santa, panting.  “Ever see the Babe run the bases?  That’s why I had to hit all those home runs.  Charles Barkley rumbled more than ran.  I liked being Klauski – I just had to push defenders downfield.” 

“Mrs. Claus sent me,” said Frost.  “It’s getting close to Christmas.” 

“Everything under control?” asked Santa. 

“Of course,” said the elf. 

“Then stick a red suit on someone else,” said Santa.  “You don’t need me.” 

“Of course we do,” said Frost.  “What would Christmas be without Santa?  Look, I was sent to find you.  Come back and work this out – you can always leave again.” 

Santa didn’t want Frost to get in trouble at the North Pole, so he agreed to return.  He laid his finger aside his nose, gave a wink, and vanished.  Frost rode Comet back. 

Everyone was glad to see Santa.  The North Pole just hadn’t been the same without him.  His jolliness had infected everyone – without him, the elves had stopped singing, there had been no games, and Mrs. Claus had missed him the most.  With no Santa, the North Pole had become just a huge toy store, where the toys were free and everyone was cold. 

Mrs. Claus hurried up and gave Santa a big kiss, which made the elves giggle.  

“Cookies and hot chocolate for everyone,” said Mrs. Claus, smiling for the first time since Santa had left. 

“Cookies are great,” said Santa, “but what am I doing here?  I’ve got a sumo tournament coming up.” 

“Can’t you see how much we need you?” replied Mrs. Claus.  “You’re the heart of Christmas.  You’re in Halls of Fame in three sports – isn’t that enough?” 

“It isn’t the fame,” said Santa.  “In sports, people depend on me, and when I succeed, they’re happy.  Here, all I contribute is a hearty ho-ho-ho, and then once a year I deliver toys to kids, most of whom don’t believe in me.” 

“But what would make you happy here?” asked Mrs. Claus. 

Santa thought, then thought some more.  It was too cold for a sports festival.  Then he had an idea. 

“Let me open a Klauski’s here, for the elves,” said Santa.  “They need something more than moonbeams and cookies to eat.  Wait’ll they taste the Fatburger – it’ll take ten elves to eat one!” 

Although skeptical, Mrs. Claus agreed. 

“I miss my Santa too much,” she thought. 

It was an especially happy Christmas.  No one had seen Santa this jolly before.  Children everywhere received extra toys, except for the naughty ones, who woke up to double the usual coal in their stockings. 

After the holiday, the construction elves quickly built the North Pole franchise of Klauski’s Bar and Grill.  The kitchen elves had to learn how to fry everything and that there was no such thing as too much sauce on a Fatburger. 

Santa enjoyed mingling with the elves and spreading good cheer, and the North Pole finally got cable for the big screen TVs showing every sport imaginable, including sumo wrestling and curling. 

“Fat Santa” Klauski still visits his original restaurant, much to the delight of the customers, and he can still eat two Fatburgers when he needs a snack.  But Santa is back at the North Pole making everyone happy, especially Mrs. Claus.

[1] “Fierce Claws,” according to Google Translate.


17.2 Vigilance
calvin writing

Idol Mini-Season 2018-19
Week 17.2
Topic: Vigilance


“h ’s aliv  h ’s h r  b war  A”

That was it; that was all that had been typed on the paper. Kent had found it cleaning out the attic of his old home. His mother had recently passed away and he was an only child, so the task of going through her life, of putting her possessions to rest, had been his alone. His father had died long ago, when Kent was only five.

He had found the note sitting by itself in an unlabeled dusty brown file. It was clearly old; the paper was faded and yellowed, and it appeared to have been typed on a manual typewriter with a broken “e” key. It had been crumpled, as if thrown away but then retrieved. It was also folded like a letter, although there was no envelope.

“What does it mean?” thought Kent, “and why did Mom keep it?”

But he was too tired for mysteries. His mother had squirrelled junk away in the attic for decades and sorting through it was a chore.

He didn’t give it another thought until he found an old Remington portable typewriter buried under some disintegrating knitting yarn. The hard, black case was filthy, but when Kent opened it, he found a well-used typewriter that looked like it might still work. There was a sticker on it that read “Property of W. Davis.”

“This must be Dad’s,” thought Kent, who felt a little less tired.

Over the years, his mother had discarded anything that had belonged to his father. She had been a hard, pragmatic woman, and since her husband had died, she hadn’t seen the point in keeping his things. Rotting yarn and broken radios, yes; but there had been no room for a husband who had left her to raise a five-year-old boy on her own.

If it hadn’t been for one photograph his mother had given him, he would never have known what his father had looked like. It had been taken in Egypt a month before he’d died. He’d been dressed in dirt-covered khaki shorts and a pith helmet. He had a scraggly mustache and a goofy grin. He’d looked happy.

“That was his big expedition,” his mother had once told him. “It’s just after your fifth birthday.”

William Davis had been a university graduate student specializing in Egyptian hieroglyphics. Professor Albert Stevens had taken him along on one of his trips to Egypt to bring back artifacts for the glory of the school because he had needed someone to decipher “those goddamn scrawls.”

“Your father was sometimes so sad,” his mother had told him. “I guess now you’d call it depression. Over in Egypt, it finally got the better of him and he ended his life. Just put a gun to his head and pulled the trigger. Blood and brains everywhere.”

She’d been generous with the details of his death, but sparing about his father’s life, even when he’d begged for stories about him.

The typewriter and maybe the old note were all Kent had that his father had touched, so he took them home and left the rest of the attic for another day.

After grabbing a beer, he took the typewriter out to his workbench in the garage.

“It doesn’t look too bad,” he thought. “Just needs a little work and a new ribbon.”

It took several days. The overhaul was easy, he even fixed the stuck “e.” But the ribbon was harder; he finally located one, installed it, then took the typewriter back inside and put it on his computer desk.

Finally, his father’s typewriter was ready. He started to type “the quick brown fox . . .” but before the fox jumped over a lazy dog, the keys started typing on their own.

Whatever Kent hoped to see, it wasn’t this. He fell over backwards in his chair.

“What the . . . !” he thought, rubbing his head. He could hear the typewriter slowly clacking on the table. It was not a welcome sound.

“What’s going on?” said Kent, now standing well back from his desk. “If typewriters can type,” he thought, “who knows what else they can do?”

The Remington had typed: “Awake at last! Where am I?”

“In my house,” said Kent. Since the typewriter was not going to kill him just yet, his curiosity started to get the better of his fear.

“The last thing I remember was typing, then a pistol at my head. I’ve been stuck inside this typewriter ever since.”

Kent had always been realistic and ghosts didn’t figure into his world, but nothing else came to mind. As long as whatever-this-is stayed put, he’d keep going, although his courage had severe limits when it came to the supernatural.

“Who . . . and what are you?” he said.

“I’m a typewriter. What did you think I am? And I don’t know my name, or much else,” typed the Remington.

“Are you the spirit of William Davis?” asked Kent.

“I’m a typewriter, not a Ouija Board. You can come closer. I can’t type you to death.”

Kent had gradually backed farther away from his desk -- he did not move.

“I only know that before I became this typewriter, I was sitting at a table looking at an old urn with strange drawings. Somehow I wound up here.”

Kent got out his father’s picture and a magnifying glass. Off to one side was a shade tent with a small table. On it was a typewriter. His father was standing near some kind of an ancient vase with hieroglyphics, along with many other artifacts.

Whatever this was, the spirit of his father or something else, it was too far outside Kent’s world for him to accept it, so he moved still farther away. He thought about getting his gun out of the desk drawer, but stopped himself.

“It’s a typewriter – it can’t fly,” he thought. “If it’s my father, I . . . .”

He didn’t know what he wanted. He couldn’t exactly give it a hug or take it out to a ball game, all the things he’d missed as a boy.

“It’s hard to hear you,” the Remington typed. “I don’t have ears. Can you type what you say?”

“If it wanted to kill me,” thought Kent, “it would’ve done it already, and if I wanted to smash it, I’ve had my chance. Time to go all in.”

Kent made up his mind. He picked up his chair and sat at his desk, then reached out his hands, fingers at the ready. As soon as he touched the keyboard, he felt a massive electrical shock run through him, as if the sun had exploded in his brain.

“At last,” cried Anubis, the Egyptian God of Death, taking over Kent’s body. “No longer imprisoned in the typewriter!”

“This mortal’s a fool,” he thought, “just like his father. He was weak and died before he could warn of the return of the mighty Anubis.”

After thousands of years confined in an urn sealed by powerful spells, Anubis had been released when William Davis had opened it, disregarding the hieroglyphic warnings as superstitious nonsense.

Lacking a physical existence, the God of Death was forced to occupy William as he now controlled his son.

Before Anubis’s full strength could return, William had fought to remain himself and had managed to start typing a warning. Losing his battle, William had managed to grab his pistol and had sacrificed himself in the vain hope that it would also destroy Anubis. This had only forced Anubis into the nearest object, the typewriter, to wait for a new host.

Professor Stevens had sent the unfished warning to William’s wife, along with the typewriter, where Anubis had spent all those years, just waiting for someone to open the case, start typing, and release him.

In taking him over, Anubis could not yet destroy Kent’s consciousness; he was still weak, just as he’d been when William first released him from the urn. But not for long.

“Gun,” Kent struggled to think.

He opened a desk drawer, grabbed the pistol, and pointed it at his temple.

“Not again!” thought Anubis.

Before Kent could pull the trigger, Anubis transferred his essence to Kent’s computer.

During his brief time occupying him, Anubis incorporated all of Kent’s knowledge into his own essence. Anubis knew that the computer was a portal to a whole new world, one he could use to spread himself to countless human vessels.

All he needed was to become a file to send over the internet, one which would entice as many people as possible to open it and release him into unsuspecting users.

He titled his evil file “Watchfulness Healed My Life – Here’s How!” and prepared to send it to as many web sites as possible. He loved the sound of “clickbait,” and anyone who opened it deserved to die, absorbing Anubis’s essence and creating an endless supply of hosts.

Fortunately for mankind, Anubis’s knowledge of computers and the internet was limited to Kent’s, and Kent’s computer time was mostly spent looking at cat macros, the news, and his various interests. None of it involved mass hacking into web sites to plant a file containing the Egyptian God of Death. It was a slow start for Anubis, who was rapidly reaching end-of-the-earth rage.

There was another problem to having shared consciousness with Kent that Anubis, in all his divine glory, had not counted on. Kent knew Anubis’s plans once he left his body for the computer.

While Kent was stunned by Anubis, he wasn’t stupid. Anubis left him on the floor, within reach of the surge protector. Both the computer and router were plugged into it, and when he pulled its plug, he trapped Anubis in the computer before he could reach the internet.

Kent then took a nearby baseball bat and used it to smash the computer.

“Always hated Windows 10,” he thought, after crushing the computer and router, turning them into shards of plastic.

Without a physical object to inhabit, Anubis, God of Death, had finally met his own end, never to return.

It had been the worst and most exhilarating day of Kent’s life. No one would believe him, but he knew he had to tell his story.

His computer was dead but his father’s typewriter still worked, so Kent pulled up his chair, put in a fresh piece of paper, and finally understanding the heroism of his father’s sacrifice, he began at the beginning, typing where his father had left off.

“He’s alive! He’s here! Beware Anubis . . . .”

His father was dead, but he would live on in Kent’s words, a little bit of him preserved, succeeding where Anubis had failed. And without clickbait.

Week 17.1 "Salad Days"
calvin writing

Idol Mini-Season 2018-19
Week 17.1
Topic: Salad Days



Steve Larkin was thrilled to be chosen to write a poem for the prestigious 3rd Annual Salinas Poetry Festival.  PoFest was billed as the largest gathering of poets in the western part of California’s Central Valley.  Its location in the always-exciting city of Salinas made it a poetry-lover’s favorite.  Since Salinas Valley was the Salad Bowl of the World, this year’s theme was “Lettuce.” 

“I’ve dedicated my life to the Muse,” Steve thought after receiving his invitation.  “It’s about time I got some recognition.”  He quickly agreed to attend. 

He knew that, as a professional poet, there would be no fortune, but he had counted on a little fame.  

“The fruits of my labors are finally starting to bloom,” he told his mother, casually mixing metaphors in his distinctive Larkin style, effortlessly using just the right cliché.  Even in everyday speech, Steve displayed the depths of his poetic talents. 

The invitation stated that his accommodations for PoFest would be at the luxurious Good Nite Motel in Salinas, with a 10% discount for overnight guests.  It was only a mile from Hiram Moore High School, home of the Mighty Combines, where PoFest would be held.  

“Remember when Alex Trebek said that Hiram Moore invented the first combine harvester in 1885,” he told his mother, dazzling her with his command of useless knowledge.  “The school’s mascot is an International Harvester combine, which drives around the field at football games.” 

As a poet, he sought inspiration from a variety of sources, and he had always found “Jeopardy!” to be a font of . . . .  He didn’t know exactly what a font was, but it sounded good and he had once started a poem about host Alex Trebek’s mustache that his mother had liked: “O gray furry lip!/O nose about to drip!/Hanky! Hanky!”  That was as far as he’d gotten, but it was a good beginning. 

Steve did not have to wait long for PoFest.  He had received his invitation a week before it began.  It was a two-day “Versetravaganza!” celebrating poetry in West Central California, well-known for its flourishing poetry scene.  It was the brainchild of Bill Williams, an English teacher at Hiram Moore.  It featured workshops on writing poetry and culminated with a reading of an original poem by a real poet and the crowning of the Poetry Queen.  

“We hope you’ll favor us with a new poem for the occasion,” Williams had told Steve during a telephone call.  “Something that fits in with our Lettuce theme.” 

“Not a problem,” Steve had replied.  “When the Muse strikes, I can crank out a poem quicker than . . . something.”  

Clearly, he had not wanted to waste words on anything as mundane as a telephone conversation.  

“Lettuce . . . bet us . . . wet us,” he had thought, his fertile mind already turning out rhymes, even without the help of his Rhyming Dictionary.  “Puss” had also popped up, but with his keen poetic sensibility, he had rejected it because it had only one syllable.  

“I have several days,” he had thought.  “There’s always haiku if I get stuck.” 

The day before PoFest opened, Steve drove from his home in Coalinga to Salinas, spending the time deep in thought.  “Salinas is home to lettuce./I’m going there to get us” was as far as he could get, but he was pleased with his efforts.  

“The rest will come if I don’t think about it,” he thought, as he arrived at the Good Nite Motel. 

As a featured poet at PoFest, Steve had his pick of rooms, and there were many to pick from.  

“I need something quiet, away from the others,” Steve told the desk clerk. 

“No problem,” she said.  “Will that be hourly?” 

“I’m here for PoFest,” Steve replied. 

“Right,” replied the clerk with a wink.  “Here’s the key to Room 47.  I’ll send ‘Poe’ up when he gets here.  But we don’t allow ravens anymore.  Too damn noisy.” 

The room was about what Steve expected for $35.  The sheets and towel were suspect but the plumbing functioned, as did the sole light bulb hanging from the ceiling.  He heard a little scurrying when he opened the door, but didn’t see anything.  There was a desk with a few cigarette scars, so he could continue his writing. 

Steve needed to get to work.  “Poems don’t write themselves,” he sighed, despite his past use of poetry-assistance apps to help him through some rough parts.  He brought his laptop with him, but he preferred paper and an old-fashioned fountain pen. 

“Just like Emily Dickenson,” he thought, as he laid out his supplies on the desk.  

She had been a particular favorite of Steve’s ever since Alex Trebeck had told him that only 12 of her 1,800 poems had been published in her lifetime.  

“If I can just get six more poems published,” he thought, “I’ll be better than her!” 

The prospect of being better than Emily Dickinson occupied Steve until it was time to go to bed. 

He still was not worried the next morning.  His poem was not due until tomorrow.  Right now, he was eager to get to PoFest and see what the fuss was all about. 

It was an easy walk to Hiram Moore High School, a large run-down building with an immaculate football field.  A paper banner over the entrance read “Welcome to the Salinas Valley Poetry Festival!”  A smaller sign directed him to the school gym, a spacious, modern building with a sign-in table manned by none other than Bill Williams, director of the event. 

“You must be Steve Larkin,” said Williams with a smile.  “I’m glad you could make it!  We’re all looking forward to your new poem.” 

He escorted Steve inside and handed him a program of events, then returned to his post at the door.  There were to be presentations on poetic meter and form; how to get your poem published; the fate of poetry in the modern world; internet self-publishing and blogs, and many other topics.  

The event was crowded with poets and groupies, as well as the merely curious.  There were numerous tables to meet celebrity poets, representatives from various poetry magazines, and everything a writer or fan would want, with readings throughout the day from various authors.  It was clear that PoFest was a success and was growing out of its humble beginnings. 

Steve’s name appeared on the second page of the program.  At the conclusion of the festival tomorrow, the Poetry Queen would be crowned and Steve would read his poem as the Honored Poet, to be followed by a writers-only dinner.  

He had a wonderful day.  PoFest lived up to his expectations as he got to meet fellow writers, all struggling in anonymity to create poetry despite an indifferent and mocking world unable to see their genius, overwhelmed by a flood of pedestrian prose.  

“Why should those bozos make millions of dollars writing the same vampire $@!# when I have to serve coffee for a living?” complained one author.  “We can take your breath away in 25 words if you’d just read us!” 

But a day absorbed in poetry did not bring Steve any closer to writing his own; he was running out of time and starting to panic. 

Back at the motel that night, he stared at the same blank piece of paper.  “Bus . . . cuss . . . Lexus” filled his mind, but not his soul. 

“I just can’t write about lettuce,” he finally admitted.  “Perhaps an homage?  Something short?” 

He opened up his laptop and started browsing through his favorite poems. 

“Why not William Carlos Williams?  That should please Bill Williams.” 

The Green Salad
so much depends
a bowl of green
glazed with salad
beside the white

As much as Steve liked the result, he was afraid his audience wouldn’t understand the difference between an homage and plagiarism.  He knew he had to try again.  

“Where’s that Larkin magic?” he asked himself. 

But . . . nothing.  He sat there, staring at the computer, getting more desperate by the minute.  The glow of the computer was becoming irresistible.  Steve knew he shouldn’t do it, but he finally couldn’t help himself. 

“I promised myself I’d never use it again, but I can’t let PoFest down,” he thought.  “Just one more time.” 

He did what he had to do.  His pride and self-respect were gone, but an hour later he had his poem. 

Steve hated the second day’s events.  He felt that everyone knew his secret, and he felt dirty. 

“It’s not like some of them aren’t users,” he thought.  “They’ll understand.” 

The day dragged on.  Finally, it was time to crown the Poetry Queen – the school principal’s daughter, for the third year in a row.  It was her only condition for allowing them to use the gym. 

It was time for Steve to read his poem.  The gym was packed, and everyone was expecting a masterpiece.  He walked across floor to the podium, dreading the moment.  He pulled a crumpled sheet of paper out of his pocket, took a big drink of water, and read. 

“Salad Days 

Rotten radishes, however hard they try,
Will always be red.
Round, raw, rotten radishes.
Are you upset by how chromatic they are?
Does it tear you apart to see the rotten radishes so flushed?
A sweet salad, however hard it tries,
Will always be fresh.
Left untossed is just the thing,
To get me wondering if the sweet salad is stale.
Grown from dirt, is a potato salad.
Potatoes are smaller. potatoes are immature,
potatoes are small-minded, however.” 

Steve looked out at the silent faces, waiting to be denounced.  There was only silence.  Then the worst thing happened – the gym exploded in cheers and applause.  They loved it. 

Steve’s shoulders slumped and his head drooped in shame.  He walked away from the podium, straight out the door and back to his room.  He skipped the authors’ dinner at the cafeteria.  His sudden disappearance added to the mystique of Steve Larkin. 

“I’ve got to get rid of the evidence,” was his only thought as he entered his room.  His computer was sitting on the table, mocking him.  Steve picked up the chair and smashed it.  The violence made him feel better, so he packed and left. 

“No one must ever know that that miserable poem was written by a poetry program,” he thought.  “I just plugged in “lettuce,” and out it came.  It might as well be Vogon poetry.” 

Steve Larkin, poet, was never heard from again.  He never wrote another line.  

Back home, he packed all his poems in a box and put it in the attic, where they were touched only by Time and regret. 

Deciding that he had already lost his soul, Steve applied for and was accepted at a law school.  He became a successful, unhappy lawyer, who continued to watch “Jeopardy!” with his mother.  No longer moved to poetry by Alex Trebek’s mustache, Steve dozed alongside his mother, dreaming of a different life. 

*     *     *     *     *    

Just what you want at the end of a story: Notes! 

“The Red Wheelbarrow,” by William Carlos Williams. 

so much depends
a red wheel
glazed with rain
beside the white

Steve’s poem, “Salad Days,” was written by an online poem generator.  I entered the words “lettuce” and a few others, and this is what it spat out. 

“Vogon poetry” appears in “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” by Douglas Adams.  It is considered to be the third worst poetry in the universe, and is sometimes used by the Vogons as torture because hearing it can cause intense pain.

Week 16 - Inkling - "Lethe"
calvin writing

Idol 2018-19 Mini-Season
Week 16
Topic: Inkling 



Lethe entered the restaurant, took off her hat, ran her fingers through her hair, and promptly forgot why she was there.  “Not again!” she groaned to herself.  But she knew what to do next: look at her wrist.  “Thank god for the invention of ink,” she thought.  Lethe always wrote reminders of her errands on herself for embarrassing times like these – at least she had a clue about what to do next. 

“Tall dark handsome broken heart” was all it said, but it was enough.  She began to scan the room for an attractive, dark-haired man with the hang-dog look of someone who had recently been dumped by a lover.  Tall would have to wait, since everyone in the restaurant was seated.  

Only one person met that description, and he was seated by himself.  He was scowling and jabbing hard on his phone.  “Probably the tenth text today,” thought Lethe.  “Borderline stalker.”  

He definitely needed her services, but first she had to adjust her appearance.  She was wearing a vintage Hermes gown, white fabric with a gold belt.   “Classic Greek goddess,” Hermes had said when he had fitted her.  She always thought it odd that Zeus’s messenger worked as a fashion designer.  

“We all had to find new jobs,” he had once said.  “This one pays well and keeps me in nymphs.  You should talk – look at what you do.” 

Since animal sacrifices and tributes of gold had disappeared long ago, Lethe needed an alternative -- money, and lots of it.  Even semi-retired, being a goddess was expensive.  After all, there were standards that simply had to be maintained. 

Her services were not cheap.  She knew she had made an odd choice, but this was only until Zeus returned and she regained her rightful place.  

Lethe looked every inch the goddess, but mortals could not tolerate such divine beauty, so her outward appearance changed according to her needs.  Currently, she looked like a generic grandmother, someone able to dispense caring wisdom to a young man tortured by the loss of his latest true love. 

But Lethe did not have such wisdom, and frankly she didn’t care.  That was Aphrodite’s department. 

“She gets them into trouble, she can get them out,” thought Lethe.  “I’m here to help . . . .”  She really couldn’t remember, but she knew that the man at the table was her client, and that was enough.  

For Lethe, ex-lovers were predictable – they only wanted to talk about their lost loves.  “Is there anything as boring as mixing alcohol with a broken heart?” thought Lethe.  Her client was clearly in Stage 2 of grief: stupidly drowning your sorrows in alcohol.  Stage 3 was believing that anyone really cared.  Still, human pain was money and that was good enough. 

“I hope he isn’t a writer,” she thought.  “They just won’t shut up!”  

Millenia of divine existence had extinguished whatever compassion she might have had for the lovelorn, or pretty much any human condition.  

“Better find my client and get this over with,” thought Lethe.  

Her memory problems made these meetings awkward, but she knew it was her own fault.  “I’ve really got to stop touching my head!” 

Lethe walked up to the man’s table, doing her best imitation of a seventy-year-old-grandmother-with-arthritis shuffle and trying to smile benignly.  She was thoroughly unconvincing, but to a drunken forlorn lover, it was good enough.  

“I’m not getting paid for acting,” she thought as she put her business card on the table.  It was tasteful and expensive: “Lethe Services, Inc. ‘Forget Your Troubles’.”  

Lethe used her standard line when meeting a client she couldn’t remember: “Are you expecting me?”  

Coming from a grandmother, if she were wrong, it would be met with a polite, if amused, no; she could then move on and try again.  Fortunately, this time her guess was right. 

“Please sit down,” said Lucas Daniels, looking up from his telephone.  His last message was to his ex-girlfriend, as were the 10 previous texts.  This one had reached the accusatory profanity level. 

“Great strategy,” thought Lethe, “win her back with foul language and threats.” 

She ordered a glass of mead, which the bartender was surprised to find they now stocked.  It was a common reaction wherever she dined; no matter what her request, it was always suddenly available.  

“I need to get Erica out of my heart,” said Lucas.  “We’re soulmates and . . . .” 

Lethe tuned him out while she pondered new career moves.  None seemed appropriate for a goddess of her talents, and certainly none paid as well. 

“. . . and then I caught her in bed with my best friend, and he said ‘dude, she’s so hot . . . .’” 

“Time’s up,” she thought.  “I can’t take any more.” 

“I can help,” said Lethe, abruptly interrupting Lucas.  “You’ve already paid my fee, so let’s get down to business.  All you need to do is devote all your thoughts to your love and close your eyes.” 

She gave him a minute to concentrate, then reached over and touched his head. 

With that one little contact, Lethe wiped his memory of Erica, plus a few more that had appeared in Lucas’s brain.  He no longer knew where he parked his car, which wasn’t a real problem since he also forgot that he owned one.  

“I used to be able to do this from afar with just a few words,” she thought, reaching for the hand sanitizer in her purse.  “Why don’t they shower?  She broke your heart, but have some self-respect!” 

Her powers had ebbed over time and now they only worked by touching the head.  Her control was fading as well, since she eliminated the memory of anyone whose head she touched, whether she meant to or not, including her own.  Whatever they were thinking about was gone, and gloves offered no protection. 

Lucas opened his eyes, which took a minute to focus.  A big smile appeared on his face. 

“I’m sorry,” he said, “you seem to be at the wrong table.” 

“Why, so I am, dearie,” said Lethe, standing up.  “I beg your pardon.” 

She left, leaving him the check.  Mead of that vintage was not cheap. 

Lethe put on her hat and left, being careful not to touch her head.  She knew her next appointment, at least for now. 

It was one of her regulars.  Several law firms of dubious reputation kept her on a retainer to deal with inconvenient prosecution witnesses.  All she had to do was get them thinking about what they had seen, touch their heads, and the memories were gone.  She was more expensive than the usual solution, but the downside was significantly less.  No one had ever gone to prison for hiring her. 

But there was something else written on her arm, something she did not understand: “big man river midnight.”  

“Oh well,” she thought, “if it’s an appointment I can just give a refund.”  Lethe hated giving money back.  Sometimes if she forgot an appointment, she would just meet the angry client, wipe the memory, and keep the money.  

It was late, time to go home and have a bath. 

Her loft was tastefully furnished with classic Greek antiquities, but the bath was her true joy.  It appealed to the river in her and was modeled after a grotto.  It even had a waterfall instead of a shower.  Best of all, it cleansed away all her cares, including the ink on her arms, and when she washed her hair, the memory of her awful day among the mortals would fade away.  She would start fresh in the morning after a good night’s sleep. 

Lethe rarely remembered her dreams; sometime during the night she would always touch her head.  But this time she awoke with a start – she suddenly remembered what she had written on her arm and who the big man was. 

Three thousand years ago, Gaia, the goddess mother of Earth, had finally grown tired of the antics of the gods and had imprisoned Zeus, their leader, deep underground until he repented and all the gods agreed to drink from Lethe in her river form, erasing their memories and starting anew.  Gaia offered this opportunity only once in a thousand years. 

Zeus’s stubbornness was legendary, but now he had sent word that he was prepared to do it.  He and all the gods were to meet at the River Styx at the foot of Mount Olympus, when the moon reached its highest point in the sky.  Only then would Gaia release Zeus and allow him to drink. 

In two minutes,” screamed Lethe, “and I forgot!  

Not even Zeus’s golden chariot could get her there in time. 

At that moment, Mount Olympus erupted for the first time in its history. 

“Zeus is angry,” thought Lethe, who rarely understated such things. 

There was no way out for her.  All the gods would be furious.  They were condemned to another thousand years of impotence, of existing in a world that neither feared nor revered them. 

This was more than Lethe could stand.  She prepared another bath, then touched her head.  Life was good and she had no worries.  She was comforted by the hot water and scented candles.  

Suddenly, the inside of her head exploded.  All she could see was the word "ATONE," which was etched in her mind in bolts of lightning.  For the first time she understood true pain.  No matter how many times she touched her head, she could not get rid of it. 

Lethe knew she had only one choice.  

She put on the best of Hermes’ gowns and draped herself in her favorite jewels.  She longed for the help of a water nymph, but knew that the other gods not would give her this comfort. 

Outside, no chariot was waiting.  The street was not strewn with rose petals.  There were no crowds of worshippers crying her name.  She, Lethe, the river goddess of forgetfulness, was alone and herself forgotten. 

She was forced to take a cab to the ocean’s shore. 

“At least there is some beauty here,” she thought, admiring the power of the waves, but her pain would not let her linger. 

She found a small stream that flowed into the ocean.  Standing at its edge, she removed her jewels and gown, and crying “συγχώρεσέ με”[1] slipped into the creek, merging her essence with it.  In a sudden great flood, the River Lethe surged into the ocean and allowed herself to disperse in its vastness, never to exist again. 

Visitors to this creek now notice an unusual effect when wading in it.  For a brief time, all care passes away and a feeling of comfort comes over them.  It is particularly popular with the lovesick. 

The stream has no name and does not appear on any maps.  It simply flows into the ocean, easily forgotten.

[1] “Forgive me” in Greek, or so says Google Translate.