Fly fishing for Faeries

“No. No! They won’t chase it if it’s laying lifeless in the weeds.” My instructor had been swishing effortlessly. Me on the other hand, I’d let my old fishing habits dominate.

“You’ve fished for salmon on the Tweed have you not? Well, imagine that instead of targeting a slip in the water, aim for the air just above it.”

I knew how to feed line. I knew how to get the tens of yards of green-glo dancing above my head. But every time I got the length just right — I went to unroll my loops, lay them in a perfect line — on the surface.

“Up. Up! Keep it up. Faeries only eat live flying insects. Did you not attend my morning field lecture? Well, then, what’s the problem?”

Fine! I thought to myself, I’ll just pretend I’m conducting an orchestra, a concerto that never ends.

And then the motions fell into place. My backcast unfurled elegantly. My forecast peeled out with grace. The barbless fly, like a lurid grasshopper, floated lazily in the air, back and forth, back and forth.

From the ivy near the base of an old elm, I watched a brown body, like that of a skinny bat only with flashing gauzy wings, zoom out just as my green hopper made its furthest loop. The earth-tone faerie snatched the faux insect from the air. I felt the tug and reared back sinking the hook into its tiny body. It faltered for a moment, and then shot straight up into the branches of the tree. I watched it wind my line around and around a limb. Perching now on the branch, I saw it extract my hook from its body and stab it down into the wood. Its head lifted in a scoff of disdain and off it flew.

“Lesson number three, cast clear of trees.” I heard my instructor lament.

The Green Fairy

The ash settled thick on the tent, weighing down the sides, bowing out the struts like whale ribs. Rhonnie, nestled in a sleeping bag , back-handed the roof above her sending the sheet of grey pumice sliding off with a skurr of descending grit. “How long until we can leave?” She licked her lips, a pattern of clear skin showed as a kiss around her mouth.

“This last activity spasm has slowed. As long as the fuming remains steady, you know, no explosive ejecta — like with rocks and stuff — the eruption should quit in about a half a day.” Bissa Magouti, a grad students from OSU studying volcanism on a grant from the Alaskan Department of the Interior, re-scrunchied her voluminous hair, each strand, she could feel, coated in the microscopic dust of Mt. Finfalla’s eruption.

“I”m down to my last four canisters.” Rhonnie hefted the sack of sealed screw-on mask disks. She dropped it abruptly. “You said this wouldn’t happen. You said we were just going to camp under the stars and take some seismic measurements.” A childhood friend of Bissa’s, Rhonnie struggled through the six years it took her to get through undergraduate classes in ergonomic design. Bissa and she would spend nights as children re-imagining the glimmering star patterns as their own Greek heroes and heroines.

“I’m sorry. I had no idea this would happen.”

Rhonnie blew her pale lips out in frustration. “I know. I’m sorry. It’s just that the Pleiades meteor shower is like, full bloom right now. ”

“If it makes any difference, none of my teammates have ever been this close to an active eruption. If we live–”

“What? Don’t tease me Bissa–”

“If we live, we’ll have a story to beat any lame-o tale Ben or Terrance could bring to the table.”

“Damn, but I could use one of those good Bridgeport brews right about now.” Rhonnie smacked her lips again, grit catching on her tongue. “Pptuuh, god I hate this dust.”

“Pumice, or more accurately tephra.”

“Screw you Bissa. It’s dust and I wanna get out of here alive.”

~~~

“Here, I’ve got a spare canister.” Bissa pulled her last can from her stash. She offered it to her friend without a second thought.

“How did this happen Bis’? How did we get trapped up here? I, I don’t wanna die up here.” Rhonnie took the canister and swapped it for the grey coated one she removed from her mask. She couldn’t wipe her tears through the mask, nor would she want to. The abrasive sand that covered everything in their tent, despite the enclosure’s seals, would have ground into her delicate lens and eyeballs and over time, rendered her blind.

“We’re not gonna die. It’s almost over, Rhon. We’ll be okay. We just have to hold out a little while longer.” Bissa’s words felt canned, like a soap opera starlet placating a dying costar. “I, I don’t know why it won’t stop. The tremors are over. The rumbling has stopped. We just need a good wind to blow the last part of the cloud away.”

“But it’s nighttime now. We can’t risk walking out now even if it did quit.”

Bissa shifted her own mask, tapping the filter to free some of the caked on tephra. Flakes fell into her lap and she brushed them off carelessly. Their LED lamp would last much long than their air. In its glare she studied her friends face, her dirty blond hair, the purple garnet stones in her earrings. She’d given Rhonnie those earrings when her friend had finally graduated.

“Do you remember the night we drank all that absinthe?” she asked while rummaging through her pack.

“The green fairy had one wicked punch.”

“Yeah, she kicked our ass.”

Rhonnie chuckled silently. “Kicked it down the street and into that gutter, what was his name?”

“Curt.” Bissa found the flask she’d been saving. “Here, hold your breath and take a sip.” She unscrewed the cap and handed the curved, leather encased vessel to Rhonnie.

Rhonnie gave it a sniff, and frowned. She tilted back the flask and swallowed a hefty drought. She immediately began to cough, but snapped the mask back tight. “I hated the taste of licorice before that night. And I still do,” she said muffled through the rubber and plastic.

“That’s funny,” Bissa took her own hit, “but I recall you perfecting that ice water drip over the sugar cube technique. Got pretty good at it I believe.” Learning to talk through a mask had taken Bissa a number of trips up to volcanoes of the Aleutian Islands. She did eventually discover than one had to talk more slowly and enunciate.

“Yeah, well. My sweet tooth would not be denied.” Rhonnie gestured for another swig.

“Nor would your libido, right, am I right?” Bissa took her turn at the flask.

The pair of them swapped the bottle back and forth, reminiscing their recent and ancient histories. The sagging tent pressed lower and lower, touching the tops of their heads. A good five centimeters of ash covered their camp. From the outside, if you knew where to look, all you would have seen was a mound of boulders, with one larger, out of place in the middle.

The mountain’s voice spoke, murmuring into the night. The winds that cast the ash cloud back over the ridge on which the two woman camped, shifted south in the early morning before the sun rose. The yellow rays scratched at the ash that covered the collapsed tent, but could not penetrate it. The south wind now began its job of clearing the grey piles from the crest of the hill. Eventually the bright orange skin of their tent shown through; the sharp points to either end springing up when enough of the volcano’s tephra had dispersed. The sides of their tiny pavilion now flapped energetically in the growing breeze.

Inside a pair of green fairies slept.

 

Yoda’s grandchild – Toko

Yeah, you’ve heard the human Jedi story — like a goddamn broken hologram. Always the humans, always the Force is with those losers. Well, let me tell you, Yoda kicked all their asses. Kicked ’em into orbit and then saber’d them into tiny, chewy pieces a trock wouldn’t even try to swallow.

But what you haven’t heard. Haven’t ever, never, farkin heard, is that Yoda was a busy Jedi. That little green ass-kicker couldn’t keep it in his wee-little shorts. I’m tellin’ ya, Yoda was a playa! He got all up into the business of thousands of sweet alien booty. Oh yeah! Those Jedi mind tricks… Buddy, if he wanted to make it wit’choo you had better grease your ports because the Yoda conductor was gonna take your ticket and punch it ’till it was nothing but holes.

Uh course his seed never took. He was one of them rare types. Like his whole race got wiped out by some sort of squirming plague or nova-gamma-pulse or somethin’. But, here, keep this quiet right? Yoda’s race didn’t get annihilated. Not all the way. There were a few pointy eared green Yodas stuck in the odd port around the galaxy. And you know what? Yeah, that froggy green Jedi hound-dogged his own kind wherever he could find them. And when he did, uh-huh, uh-huh, he got busy. Like a machine he was. He knew his race was dying. He knew it was up to him to keep it alive. All-up-to-him.

And here’s the thing. It worked. I mean, he worked. He spawned a shuttle load of Yoda offspring. But every one of those cute springy Yoda-poles, their tails wriggling in the mucky ponds where they were born (hey, don’t ask me, I just watched it on a crystal I bought at a mop-swap, no, it was legit I tell ya.)

Anyway —

No, really! Ya gotta hear this, it’s gonna make a universe of sense if you’ll just sit there and listen. Alright, alright, I won’t touch yoos no more. But hear me out.

Anyway, everyone of Yoda’s spawn fizzled. No Force in any of them. Except for one. Yeah, see. What I tell ya? One of those booty hook-ups he did while out seedin’ the galaxy with his Yoda Yippee — took. And boy did it ever take! Whoever the chick was he found, she definitely had the goods. The Force Goods, if you know what I mean.

So you go on and talk about your human Jedi and all that Empire and Resistance and Rebel Alliance shit. But what you gotta know is this: There’s another out there. Another Yoda. Maybe a more bad-ass Yoda. It’s Yoda’s grand-kid. I don’t know why the son didn’t have the midi-chlorian count? It’s like it skipped a gen or something. But I tell ya. This kid, this Yoda grand-kid has the Force squirting out his ears. Yeah — squirting!

Where is he? How the hell should I know? But I heard his name: Toko.

Hell, I don’t know. I figure he probably looks like the old Yoda. But, you know, without all the warts and wrinkles and shit.

Well, if this Toko is as frisky as his grand-daddy was, I figure we’re gonna be seein’ a bunch more green froggy Jedis hoppin’ around the galaxy.

What? Yeah I heard of Kermit. This ain’t he. Kermit was no Jedi man!

Toko’s the buzz. He’s the cure. The light-ray-uh-death into the heart of that DarkSide nastiness. That black mask still gives me the chillies, sheeesh! Give me a green, dog-eared, three-fingered ass-kicker any day over one of them Darth freaks.

Oh, hell, it’s late. I gotta go. You keep an eye out for news of this Toko fella. He’s gonna shake the shit out of the Jedi-Nation, I tell ya.

District 10 (a District 9 sequel)

A long elevator pitch for the sequel for the movie District 9

[NOTE: This is an outline. Not a story. There is no “showing” in what you are about to read. Only “telling.” This is intentional.]

On a trail of tears the chiton-skinned “shrimp like” aliens, three million strong, march from Johannesburg north into Botswana. The aliens of District 9 have been evicted by the South African government and “sold” as wards of the state to the corrupt leaders of Gaborone, the capital of Botswana. For 1.5 billion US dollars, the SA president has transferred the inhabitants of the alien slum city to those who will take “better care” of them in their purposefully created AlienCity, west of the capital in the barren Kalahari Desert.

Upon arrival they find that conditions are far worse there than anyone might have expected or would be prepared to endure. Yet the “shrimps” are industrious. Resigned to their fate, they form a government modeled after the democracies of old Earth in concert with their own variety of parliament.

Concurrently, an internal resistance grows within this new AlienCity, of which Wikus van de Merwe becomes an unwitting part. They begin to raid towns around the state and around the country — stealing humans. They imprison their captives in a private, hidden jail they call District 10.

The leaders of AlienCity realize that their ship, which should be returning within the Earthen year, if what Wikus says is true, may be undermanned and under equipped. And, due to their continued oppression and inability to leverage their technology (being denied access to the oceans), they find they must create some collateral with which to bargain — when the time comes and their ship returns. So the alien leaders condone the kidnapping.

Wikus learns how he was transformed. He infiltrates the rebels who are stealing humans and plots to travel south to Johannesburg to steal back his wife. To what end we can only imagine.

~~~

The alien ship has transited the spiral arm of the Milky Way galaxy to arrive at a planet where politically neutral species are neither helpful nor a hindrance. However, during the journey, which takes eighteen months Earth time, Christopher, the father alien, discovers his son has hidden a secret in their ship: a human girl of about eleven. She’s tiny for her age but wicked smart, a prodigy, who can sing and instantly create music from odds n’ ends in the ship. Tsara enchants Christopher and when they reach the distant planet she entrances the leaders there as well. They’ve heard of Earth and Humans but have waved off approaching them (us) as we continue to exhibit overt aggression.

However, Tsara convinces them that most Humans are friendly like her, worthy of acceptance and welcoming in nature. They elect to fix the ship and man and fuel and equip it so that it can return to Earth, hopefully, to test for human forbearance. But if hostilities prevail, they would then rescue the remnants of Christopher’s race.

~~~

Wikus’ raid is successful.

But his wife has moved on and being coerced and then poisoned, and slowly turning into a shrimp, she turns bitter and resentful toward Wikus and the aliens. Her hatred of her new race festers.

But her hatred of her father for abandoning her is far worse. She accepts her fate and with Wikus as a complacent accomplice plots to poison the surrounding human populations of Botswana and Johannesburg, turning them into aliens. The rebels avoid the Bushmen who are peaceful and helpful to the aliens. One, who has felt the bigotry and hatred against his culture and race, helps them infect the other Africans around them.

Internally, the infection is a DNA attack; the DNA of the shrimps is more virulent and reactive, but compatible with human DNA, so it infects and then converts.

There are now more than five million aliens living in and around AlienCity. The UN, the WHO, the WTO (which is benefitting from high-tech the aliens are allowing to escape) in collaboration with world governments begin to implement policy, already on the books, regarding the eradication of the alien race.

~~~

Tsara, meanwhile, has taught the neutral aliens and the few shrimp aliens her native languages, including English. She’s figured out how to command the great ship’s information systems. She’s been able to present to the crew much of the recorded human television, which she tries to explain as best she can. Many idioms escape her, “I’ll be back,” “you had me at hello,” “Frankly Scarlet, I don’t give a damn,” she tries but fails to explain.

The ship enters the solar system and NASA, China, Russia and the ESA all detect the returning space craft.

~~~

The response is not favorable. Earth’s defensive and offensive systems go on high alert. This returning ship, they imagine, must have brought reinforcements and invasion plans knowing that Earth is habitable for the returning shrimp species.

A new Terran satellite system, launched after the ship appeared in the sky those six years ago, stands ready to repel planet-bound boarders with lasers and rocket propelled nukes.

~~~

Tania, Wikus’ wife, leads the alien rebellion now. She’s beating the warpath to expand alien rights and proposes a march across the remaining desert, through Namibia, to the ocean where their species can then thrive and live well on the bounty and opportunities the seas will provide.

District 10 has grown to nearly 7,000 humans. The rest of the world is now aware of this prison within a prison and finds itself incapacitated. The threat to these people’s lives is overwhelming, but the expanding threat of the shrimps borders on the catastrophic; an invasive species of the worst kind. Do they send in massive airstrikes and destroy AlienCity — including the humans trapped there? Or do they work a deal, hostage exchange, trade negotiations? The situation is compounded now by the arrival of The Ship.

~~~

Throughout all of this, the corrupt Botswanan president has been rendered impotent, circumvented by world authorities. But he plots his own revenge. He’s stolen a supply of this alien virus fluid and now threatens Paris, Moscow, Washington, and Beijing with the release of this DNA catastrophe.

~~~

Finale Scenario #1

Christopher makes contact with the Earthbound alien leader who explains the dilemma of their plight and that of District 10. Tsara composes a message to the world, which the ship broadcasts explaining the peaceful mission of the two alien races that are now onboard the ship. Her message is interpreted as a purposeful manipulation, a covert plan to invade, and the Earthen powers-that-be release their weapons (to protect earth) and simultaneously try to destroy the ship and bomb the AlienCity out of existence.

Wikus and Tania and thousands of other shrimps make it to the coast and swim away into the ocean where they can survive without issue. Safe.

The ship, being attacked, attacks back and destroys the weapons and all the satellites around the planet, including the ISS, thereby rendering Earth incommunicado. They descend in shuttles and retrieve the few aliens who remain after the bombing, and retreat. Tsara remains on the shore, waving goodbye to Christopher and his son, the wreckage of what the humans did to AlienCity and their march to the sea a stark reminder that humanity is just not ready yet.

Tania and Wikus and the others make it to a distant island where they secretly set up home. The End.

~~~

Finale Scenario #2

The Botswanan president’s plan is foiled but before he goes under, he releases the trigger that releases the alien DNA as a virus into the water supply of those cities threatened. People begin to change.

The alien ship arrives and opens up channels to Earth to discover that their DNA is now changing millions of humans into their species. The UN pleads with the aliens (both races) and with the added leverage of District 10, the aliens work a deal to establish certain areas of Earth for prosperous alien habitation in return for reversing the human to alien DNA conversion and releasing those in District 10.

However, during their clandestine march to the sea, Tania and Wikus and a number of them, before the treaty is agreed to and signed, are gunned down on the beach — a spillover from the bombing. Christopher, having landed, is there and tries to save Wikus. The little alien boy and Tsara, hold Wikus’ hand as he dies. The End.

~~~

Finale Scenario #3

The ship is fired upon as it arrives in close geostationary orbit. Its systems are destroyed and slowly it begins to sink the two hundred kilometers where it eventually lands at great speed in the Indian Ocean, which causes a massive tsunami.

Before it crashes, it sends off a distress signal back to the politically neutral planet and most of the crew are shuttled down to Madagascar. Christopher, his son and Tsara, however, make it in a shuttle to the Namibian coast where they meet up with Wikus and Tania.

The Botswanan president has been killed and that threat rendered inert. But the alien council still holds District 10 hostage. And now with their ship destroyed, they need to leverage it to the hilt. In return for the release of the humans, many of which have opted to be converted to shrimp like aliens (it turns out aliens live for hundreds of years (REF: lobsters)), the Earth government has agreed to annex to them the coast of Namibia (a barren place anyway).

Christopher has brought with him the antidote that will return Wikus and Tania to human form. Tsara is there, who’d always been an orphan, and the ending scene is Wikus holding the bottle that, if he drinks it, will convert him back. The End.

Inbetween

“You’re new here I see.” The glow from this spirit had barely faded from the bright orange that cast every inter-quantum object around us in glaring relief.

Not fully in control of its collective energy the being undulated in amoebic pulses. “Where am I? Am I dead?”

“Dead? No, you’re not dead. But,” I paused to shift to the side away from the blob of crimson light that formed this person’s current expanse of fear. “You’re not technically alive either.”

The two of us sat, if sitting it be called, on a park bench along a path bordered with daffodils and crocus flowers, buds from the willow trees just starting to show above us; spring was busting its green head up and out of a dull grey winter.

“Where then?” she asked. It was female now I could see, her pulsing glow tapering off.

“This is Inbetween. A kind of quantum limbo your soul shifted to when your body died.” She reacted badly to that last word, as I knew she would. It’s better to shock them hard at first I’ve found, otherwise it takes them eons to adjust. Pow! You’re dead — but not really! Sadistic? Hmm, I prefer to think of it as being cruel to be kind.

“I remember… Wait. I can’t remember anything!” In her reaction she’d expanded her quantum perimeter enveloping the path, flowers and a tiny finch pecking at the bare dirt amongst  green stems. “I feel sunlight, and a breeze, and I have wings! And I smell the loam and pollen and, I’m floating!”

Her adaptation level surprised me. Most folks can’t interpret the sensations of the sub-atomic energies streaming out from all life’s physical matter. If it lived, it leaked.

“Slow down there sister. I want you to concentrate on the bare hum you feel. Can you hear it? Can you feel that susurration deep within your being? Focus on that.”

Her flare-up dwindled, she shrank back to a roughly humanoid shape. “I’m dead. I really am dead.” She held out her hand and found she could gaze right through it.

“No, not dead,” I corrected. “Once life, always life. What you are is transformed.” I could see her fringe starting to vibrate again, so I sped up my speech. “But that’s a good thing. Some say the best of things. Yeah, I know you can’t remember anything. Yet. But you will. The energies of your past experiences will catch up with you. They’re,” I searched for a phase that would be meaningful, “spread out.”

Around us humans walked and jogged and rode past, unaware. Mallards swam in a pond behind us, dipping their heads to browse. Gold-black bumblebees thrummed in the throats of flowers. The sky shown achingly blue. Once you got used to it you could concentrate and see past the air and clouds and see out into the galaxy, the universe. I sometimes drifted out that way. But lately, during my wait, I’d taken some solace in helping the newly arrived, adjust.

“Follow me,” I said and willed her quantum state to parallel mine. If you remained in limbo, as I have, you learn you can control more than just your own subatomic tunnels.

She continued to amaze me.

“This can’t be the afterlife can it? You said this was some sort of limbo.”

“Quantum limbo. Exactly. We’re in between attachments of our life state. You could call it ‘after body’.”

Her orange glow had shifted into a warm yellowish hue. She moved what she imagined as her feet in a walking fashion and noticed that I simply glided along. She quit her stroll but continue to keep up. “Wow,” I said, “you really are a fast learner.”

“I’m a teacher. I mean, I was a teacher.”

Her memories began to stream in now. Her color shifted yet again, now into a vibrant green.

“You’ll find that what you remember from your past life can be pared and shaped to suit what your current spirit finds pleasing. Forget the bad. Remember the good.” We’d drifted up above the tree tops now. The skyline of buildings and roadways fading as we moved out of town, out across the surrounding hills and out over the nearby mountains.

“How long have you been here?” she asked. “I mean, if this is in between, then what’s next? Are you stuck?”

I’d paused our passage at the top of a surrounding hill. I looked down and witnessed the millions of spirits, souls if you will, escaping their physical confines, lives ending, lives continuing on. From the tiniest insects to the largest mammals, from the smallest blade of grass to the immense oaks and pines. It had taken me enormous effort to learn to see these threads of energy. I doubt very much she could see them, as fresh as she was.

“I don’t know why I’m here. Or how long I’ve been this way,” I admitted. “I’ve tried, as best as one of my kind possibly could, to rationalize my situation. I’ve determined that at some point, after I’ve assisted as many people like you to assimilate, I keep a running count, I’ll move on as well.”

“Move on? To where?” Her questions now formed the telltale sign of the first stage of enlightenment. Her time here would be brief.

“We’ll that’s the question isn’t it. I’m pretty sure I’ve come to this spot having traversed thousands of physical bodies. Each one contributing nuances to this collection of quantum energies that exists before you. But to what end?” Without her realizing, or maybe because her own awareness had already subsumed the event in its entirety, we had lifted high above the planet surface floating out to where we could enjoy the graceful curve of the sphere below us.

Her color throbbed deep blue now. Her time, near.

“Will I remember this? Talking with you?”

“Perhaps.” I shaped my arms as an open hug and with my influence guided her aura into my embrace.

“Oh,” she exclaimed at last. “We’ve met before haven’t we? Many times before. I remember now.”

As her color shifted off the scale, through indigo and beyond, I guided her on to the next universe in her circuit. As we separated I pinched a tiny bit of her spirit to keep as my own. She’d never miss it; she headed off to gather vastly more of her own. “Yes, we’ve met often. On your next return you’ll almost be ready.”

“Ready for what?” Her whisper fading with her transcendence.

Six-million, seven-thousand, three-hundred and ninety-one, I counted to myself. “Ready to take my place (I hope).”

Destiny Roulette

The Wheel of Stars shown prominent on the wall as Cheryl and Hue entered the Office of Population Planning.

“Is that it?” Cheryl asked as she stood staring at the roulette looking pinwheel, its colors muted rather than the garish casino colors, the sequential numbers replaced with random ages paired with letter codes.

“If you choose to use it. Yes, we’ll be using that to determine your child’s future.” The clinician said, polite but business-like. “Won’t you two have a seat. We’ve got a few minor points to clear up.”

Hue noticed that there were four pie-wedges that stood out from the other sections of the Wheel. They were colored bronze, silver and gold — the lucky fates; and the fourth, a solid black slice with a single red dot in its wide end.

“Now then, as you know, you can select from a limited assortment of ages and happiness levels for your child or, you can elect to spin the Wheel of Stars to try for a longer, happier life.” The woman behind the desk, her hair drawn back in a constrictive bun, set her tablet down and looked both expectant parents in the eye. “But, as you’ve no doubt realized, to balance out the world’s population, as agreed to by UN regulation L2055, the Wheel options must, on average, work to forward the UN’s objective.”

Hue glanced back at the Wheel, he couldn’t stop looking at that black dagger looking section. “How often does that black wedge come up?” he asked.

“Well, fifty segments, which would mean, again, on average, we see about one out of fifty fates land on that option.”

The clinician picked up the tablet. “I see here that the both of you have opted for yourselves the joint eighty-four year, reduced happiness LifeLevel, a common selection for couples. When the program was implemented those twenty years ago many chose that exact plan. However, with all newborn citizens, the LifeLevel must be preordained at the time of birth. Have you decided what age and happiness level your child should have, or have you elected to spin the Wheel?”

Cheryl looked down at her fingernails, her left thumb chipped from picking. Hue reached over and gently rested his hand on hers stopping the next flake from falling. He said, “We can’t imagine knowing the  exact date of death of our child, our boy Jin.” Hue released his wife’s hand and clasped his together in a sort of prayer. “Knowing when he would die, at least the month…”

“Yes, the bots have a bit of random built in so the exact time of death is within a thirty day range,” interrupted the administrator. Some parents didn’t realize that there was variability built into the system; that the truncation of the telomeres of the chromosomes began in earnest only after the nanobots had expired and that it took time to complete that process.

“Right,” confirmed Hue.

Cheryl exclaimed, “But we would have to live with the knowledge that we picked his final age and how happy he would be throughout his life.” She shook her head seemingly dazed at the possibility.

“So…” began the clinician, “you’ve opted to let the Stars decide your child’s future.”

Both parents nodded.

“Okay then.” The woman placed the tablet face up before them. “If each of you would press your thumbprints there and there. Good. Now, one of you needs to press that red button there on the screen and we will let the Wheel of Stars decide.”

Cheryl reached but hesitated. Hue grasped her hand and the two of them extended their index fingers and together lowered them to touch the crimson square glowing on the device.

The Wheel behind them began to spin. It was a digital version of the Wheel, but it beeped and booped as it spun around. The different colored segments blurred past. The gold and silver were visible as opposing blades, the bronze wedge spun opposite of the black spear head, its red dot a mesmerizing twirl.

The Wheel began to slow. Hue held Cheryl close as first the gold slice slipped past the selector. Gold: One hundred and twenty years of age, with adequate health and a good happiness quotient guaranteed through both fixed income and a nanobot induced chemical joy level.

The black wedge spun past. At each revolution Hue’s shoulders tightened and released.

Silver approached. Silver: An age of one hundred, with good health and a considerable happiness quotient – a bit more than gold’s it was said.

But silver swept past. The other wedges, pastel blue, mauve and sea-foam green had ages ranging from sixty-five to eighty-five, with varying levels of health and happiness; green shorter but happier than the mauve; mauve shorter but happier than the blue. Blue, effectively what both Cheryl and Hue had chosen for themselves.

Next was bronze (‘ninety, high quality health and very happy,’ read Hue on the disclaimer) and yet the Wheel continued to turn, beep-boop-beep, but more slowly. Gold came into view again. ‘Gold, what a blessing that would be,’ thought Hue. But gold clicked past. Blue, green, mauve, blue, green…

The black wedge loomed closer. Its red eye glaring at Hue. Cheryl pinched her eyes shut.

“Not that one. Not that one,” chanted the father as he too closed his eyes.

The Wheel of Stars ceased its noises and stopped. Hue let out a constrained breath. Cheryl began to raise her head.

“I’m sorry,” said the clinician. “But as you know,  balance is our goal. We at the Office of Population Planning must accept that all longevities must average out.”

Cheryl and Hue stared at the vertical black wedge, the red dot pulsating.

“Like a shooting star, some have described it.” The administrator had only seen the black wedge selected twice before. “Dazzlingly bright, full of love and joy, more than most people will experience in their entire lifetimes. But, like a falling star, brief.”

Pale, Hue looked up, his hands gripping the edge of the administrator’s desk. “I’ve heard the dark fate offers options. That we can negotiate a different future for our boy.”

The clinician slid her hand across the tablet cutting off the ongoing recording. “We have certain leeway in determining how to best manage the balance of the directive. That is true. But the minimum I might offer is a trade of say, one hundred years.”

Cheryl gasped. “But that would mean…”

“As currently assigned, your child would enjoy one the most pleasurable childhoods offered on the planet.” The administrator’s eyebrows narrowed quizzically.

Hue took his wife’s hands in his. He gripped them intensely and lowered his head to touch hers. “This choice is beyond us. We know that. Jin must live.”

Cheryl grasped her husband and, sobbing, nodded into his shoulder. He raised his chin to look defiantly into the eyes of the Administrator of the Office of Population Planning. “So be it. We grant our combined one hundred years of remaining life to our unborn child.”

The woman smiled grimly. “All right. I see that the child is to be born in six months, that leaves you in deficit of about a half a year,” she said looking up from her inspection of the adjusted contract. “But, I’ll go ahead and wave that given the sacrifice you’ve both just made.”

~~~

“He’s beautiful,” whispered Hue to his wife as they held their child for the first and last time.

Cheryl’s tears trickled down to plop onto the forehead of their son Jin. The droplets worked down the child’s cheek causing him to quiver. “He is beautiful isn’t he,” she said as her emotion overwhelmed her. “Will he be all that we dreamed?”

The nanobots had triggered their telomere execution the moment that the child had breathed its first independent breath. The Office of Population Planning had optimized the cell death algorithm. Cheryl’s eye’s drooped and her muscles gave way as Hue responded with his dying words, “Only the stars can tell.”

The Ghosts of Payson Past

 

The Ghosts of Payson Past

“Whispers by the elders tell us we must be vigilant. Never fail to glance behind you as you walk the Nebo road.” Heridon paused and adjusted his goatskin jerkin. “Where the road slips into the water, beware the wet footprints arising from those murky depths, they will follow you unless…”

“We know this one Uncle Harri,” complained the children huddled around the summer campfire.

“Of course you know this one. But do you know this?” Heridon’s eyes widened and his face took on a graven look of ghostly emptiness. “If you could hold your breath and walk with leaden boots beneath the waves, down the Nebo Road, you would arrive at the steps of the temple where only the dead may enter. Hard as you pound upon the sealed doors of the marble building — the latch will hold. The green-gray waters of the Bonneville Sea will then steal your breath, fill your lungs and trap you at the bottom of the Sea.”

The children ceased their fidgeting as their honorary uncle embraced his serious tone. Their campfire had fallen to embers and only the red glowing face of the storyteller, his eyes wide with unspoken dread, could be seen. He continued.

“The drowned folk of Payson wander their town, their faces pale, their eyes black. If, while you clomp your way around the streets, your lead boots leaving clouds of sediment rising like explosions behind you, you stumble into one of these folk they will seize you, shake you like a rag and scream bubbling curses in your face!”

Heridon Helm reached down, grabbed an eight year old boy and mouthed open silence at the child, the storyteller’s face working in agonizing animation. The boy remained paralyzed in fear imagining bubbles of torment rising from the man’s open mouth.

Durr walked up to the campfire and tossed in an armload of logs. Sparks rose like angry bees to dwindle and die in the star cast night.

“Careful there Durr, we don’t want to ignite our audience,” Heridon said softly. The older man set the boy back down in his seat and affectionately tapped his forehead to reassure him. The boy smiled back awkwardly.

Durr resettled his cougar furred cap, (summer evenings in the mountains were chilly affairs) and nodded deference to the older fellow. “Sorry Uncle Harri,” said the lad. The boy, his long brown hair draped before his eyes giving him a shy look, sat at the fire and asked, “Tellin’ the story of the Payson pallbearers?”

Heridon had wandered outside the circle, just beyond firelight, and came up behind a girl of ten who busied herself stringing a silver-darter fish on a stick to roast in the flames; she’d lost track of the storyteller as she worked. He crept up closely behind her and just as she lowered her skewered snack over the fire he cried…

“Aahh! Indeed I am.” His voice startling the girl so much she shrieked and dropped her stick with its attached fish to sizzle in the glowing coals. “If you continued your tour in your leaden boots beneath the surface of the Sea, the Payson eight, you would find, carrying the casket of poor Dolly George.” The man marched back into the firelight as if carrying a heavy load upon his shoulders.

“Poor Dolly George, if she’d only kept her promise, she would have saved the town’s elders from being drowned.”

The west sea winds, blowing across hundreds of miles of open water, chilled the air of Birdseye Valley where the small troop of campers sat enraptured awaiting the story of Poor Dolly George. The children, eight to fourteen, were out these last few days learning bushcraft from Heridon, the teacher, and Durr Wassen, the assistant. Their camp, west from the town, provided a mixture of adventure and skill advancement. The village of Birdseye sat a day’s hike from their current station but the wilds of the broken world stretched all around them. Ghost stories were an honorary custom ensuring the camper’s experience left a lasting, if not educational impression. The wilds contained more mystery than even Heridon had yet seen. Survival depended on preparation. Teaching survival skills gave the elder purpose while his daughter, Thella traveled east to ‘Lorado for trade.

“You may think you know the story of poor Dolly George,” explained the tale-spinner, “but know this.” Heridon stopped before the fire, standing in the space before his own bedroll. He stared in turn at each of the six youngsters sitting anxiously within the dancing firelight. “Dolly’s promise was not in vain. These days her ghost roams the waters beneath the waves seeking out the one who betrayed her. If she finds you swimming in the shallows — beware her touch. It feels like riverweed, and flutters like a fish’s kiss. But should she think you are her forsaken love, your next breath may be your last.”

The gray hair fellow then sat and leaned back to settle himself into a comfortable position. He removed his own elk-hide hat, shaped to block the sun and channel the rain, and shrugged off his self-crafted boots, readying himself for sleep.

“Is that it?” asked one of the girls who’d paid rapt attention to his words.

“That’s it for tonight.” Heridon tucked a few errant tufts of bundled grass beneath his bed and decided to enlighten his audience further. “If a story is sewed up like a purse, without a loose end or three, it’s as if the story died and fell from a cliff. No more thought to be applied. This way, as you fall asleep, you’ll wonder in your own way, how the story might unwind. A good story leaves you wanting more. Remember that.”

The older fellow nestled himself down between his blankets. “Durr, you and Koz have set the perimeter alarm yes?”

“All rigged and set, sir.” Durr replied.

“Good man. Koz, you’re to tend the fire for thirty whistletunes, yes?”

A boy of fourteen, shock blonde hair, and tall for his age, replied in as deep a voice as he could muster. “Yes Uncle. I’m sorry I fell asleep last night, I, I must have eaten too much roasted sturgo.”

“It was tasty wasn’t it,” remarked Maybeth, the girl who’d suffered the fright earlier that evening.

“Yes, well, you all know the camp’s sleeping rules by now,” Heridon said in closing. “Whisper among yourselves if you like, but keep it down. We’ve got a long walk tomorrow and I know we’re all going to need some rest. Stars in your eyes.”

“Stars in your eyes, Uncle,” chimed the group around the fire, many of their words slurred by oncoming sleep.

~~~

Hoarfrost covered the sleeper’s bedding as the rising sun tinged the sky a faded orange. The fire had died to coals and Heridon rose to stoke it, kicking it back to life. The teacher reset the wooden tripod over the flames and hung the pot he’d filled with creek water; a breakfast of porridge and last year’s dried fruit would see the campers back to Birdseye.

“Uncle, did Dolly really betray the Elders of Payson?” asked one of the younger campers after camp has been struck and the line of hikers had started down the path through the aspen trees that lead to the ancient road to Birdseye.

“Choices were made, that is true. You know the story, Tillion, would you have abandoned the your post at the alarm bell to save your friends; knowing full well that the flood threatened the town?” Heridon waited a number of steps while the youth considered the question. When the boy seemed hesitant to answer the teacher turned to pose the question to Durr whom he knew the small boy held in esteem.

Durr smiled at Heridon’s Maneuvering. “If I were Dolly,” Durr told the boy in front of him stepping through the high grass of a summer meadow. “At her age I would think of my friends first. My family and town second.”

“Yeah, that’s what I would do too, I think. But I’d want to save my sister first, then my friends.” The boy, Tillion, seemed sure of his answer now that Durr had contributed his.

“So your sister is not a friend?” Heridon had thought he caught the boy in a quandary.

“I’m her protector. That’s what Madur says,” said the boy of twelve.

Heridon raised his eyebrows at this. Rarely did those so young don such a mantel of duty. “We have a honor-bound warrior in our midst. I had no idea,” he declared lightheartedly. “Your family, they came from the west for the summer?”

“My fadur came for the trade, yes.”

Durr, feeling inspired by the righteous youth spoke up. “We’re glad you could make the trip. Perhaps next year your sister could join us.”

“She’ll be eight then. Is that old enough?”

Durr, who would be old enough to lead the camp next year confirmed the age. “Yes. We allow eight year olds to join the bushcraft camp. We may have as many as twenty campers next year.”

The string of campers hiked onward; sometimes over exposed serpentine rock, mostly through damp grass and winding paths through the white barked trees.

Heridon’s thoughts had drifted away with the achingly blue sky and the bucolic scenery. The loud low grunt of a grizzly boar startled him out of his daydream. “Everyone stop,” he whispered loud enough to be heard. “Those in the front back up slowly. Those with me we’ll meet you in the middle. The bigger a group we form the better off we’ll be.”

One of the girls, it might have been Maybeth, Heridon couldn’t tell, started to wimper. “We’ll be fine if we group together. Whatever you do, don’t run away. If the bear charges. Do. Not. Run.”

The bear, grazing the succulent grasses growing within a swale amoung a stand of willows, showed its big square head roughly seventy-five yards from the group. It stood up on its hind feet which lifted it above the shrubs, its rubbery lips stuffed with green shoots of grass.

“It’s a young bear, probably a male. Hopefully unsure of itself.” Durr declared having studied the creatures these last half a dozen years or so.

The bear dropped and, curious, huffed through the willows to get closer to this odd assortment of beings. The girl started to wail, her keening pricking the ears of the Ursus Horriblis. In a what was later deemed an obvoius bluff, the young bear mock-charged the group testing to see what the strange creatures might do. But this was too much for the girl. She squealed in terror and turned to run from the beast. But before she could get two steps, Tillion, standing near, tackled her causing her to scream as if she’d been bitten.

Durr, prompted by the excitement, then began to yell and beat a pan he’d unslung from his pack. The other campers followed suit and within seconds the bear and turned-tail and scuttled from their sight.

Heridon gave one last banshee cry at the critter and turned to inspect the pair of children that lay in the center of the troop.

“Quick thinking there young man. Maybeth, I dare say your friend here may have saved your life. Even out hiking alone you should know that it’s better to stand your ground than ever run from a bear.”

“I…I could only see his teeth.” The girl said, being helped up by the other children. “I imagined them biting into my chest.”

Heridon showed sympathy and consoled the girl saying, “Between Dolly the ghost and Brawny the bear, you’ve had quite a trip.”

 

[To be continued…]

~~~ NOTES ~~~

Nebo road
Payson lakes
Loafer Mountain
Birdseye
Thistle
Durr Wassen
Thella & Heridon Helm

And now the news

“How is your steak, sir?” The waiter asked diffidently.

“Mmm, you say this is the very last filet mignon from the very last black rhino in existence?” The waiter nodded at the demon’s question. “Needs salt.”

“We have a selection of briny crystals…”

“Yes, yes, I know. Pass me the tear one.” The demon clacked down his knife to receive the shaker from his servant.

“The dried tears of a million starving children. Here you are sir.” The waiter selected a vial with a perforated lid from a tray containing an assortment of bottles and flasks.

The demon sprinkled the woeful grains across the slab of grilled rhino and gave it a try. “That’s better. Now, send in Spink, I need his report.”

“Very good sir.” The waiter turned to leave.

“Oh, and take that craven thing with you.” The demon pointed to a decrepit individual cowering at the other end of the table. It sat chained to a wheeled chair, its chest pressed up to the edge of the table, its mouth hanging slack, bloody drool pooling in a saucer beneath its dangling tongue. “It’s slavered enough. Prepare the drippings for my dessert.”

The waiter kicked loose the chair’s foot-break and trundled the creature from the ornately paneled study where the demon religiously ate his noonday repast.

In the waiter’s place returned a squat, porcine man who waddled up to shift uncomfortably from foot to foot at the side of the table. “I have the news sir. If you’re ready.”

The demon spat a rubbery wad of gristle from his mouth that hit the plate and rolled to the middle of the table, between the legs of an imp that stood quavering, holding a tarnished candelabra; wax from eight candles dripping down its arms congealing there. “You can have that Spink. I know you like the fatty bits.”

Spink, swallowing hard, shuffled closer to the table’s edge and reached up, stretching to retrieve the pale yellow mass. Try as he might he couldn’t manage to touch it.

“You there, Flimp is it? Kick that bit over to your mate. There’s a fellow.”

The candle-holding imp risked a glance between his legs, wax from his forehead cracked and fell to the cloth at his feet. He managed to perform a twist which tapped the ball of fat to within the pudgy grasp of the pig like man.

“I’ll save it for later, your highness,” said Spink as he pocketed the globule.

“So, get on with it then,” said the demon, who crossed his arms, the main course now fully consumed.

Spink pulled forth a digital tablet and began to read. “Two hundred and twenty-five thousand died yesterday. Two hundred and forty-three thousand born…”

“Well, that’s better,” said the demon, pushing out his thin lower lip and nodding, pleased, the curved horns on his head bobbing, their tips nearly skewering the hands of the candle-imp. “Another few months of our Four “F”‘s program and we’ll be running the two neck and neck, wouldn’t you say?”

The wide dollop of a man pushed his smudgy glasses up closer to his tiny eyes and smiled briefly. “Fratricide should ramp up nicely surpassing Flood and Fire as soon as Famine has had a chance to spread.”

“Excellent. Go on.”

“The global divorce rate is up. Wealth inequality, up. Poverty, homelessness both up.” Spink retrieved a yellowed handkerchief from a pocket and wiped his sweaty brow. “Education and class mobility, both down.”

The demon was flexing his fingers now, tips to tips. “This is all marvelous news. But I know you Spink, you’re avoiding something, saving the worst for last. Out with it!” The demon rested an elbow on a gilt armrest and turned to stare intently at his fidgeting adviser.

“Well, there is one thing.”

“Ha! See. You can’t fool me, my rotund friend.”

At the mention of the word friend Spink’s eyebrows lifted in sad surprise. “Friend sir?”

“Don’t push it Spink. Give me the bad news.”

“Well sir, the global extinction rate has reached a new high.” Spink began.

“And…” The demon leaned in closer.

Spink returned the tablet to his pocket. “And, sir, it seems you’ve eaten your way through all of the endangered species. There are no more to be had.”

“Oh, that is unfortunate,” the demon said, tilting his head from side to side, whipping his crimson colored horns back and forth, eyeing, like a butcher, the likes of his aid. “I leave it up to you then Spink, to find another list from which you can derive my menu.” The demon pushed himself away from the table, stood upon his cloven hooves, removed the napkin from his chest and said, “Who knew endangered species tasted so good.”

Iced

The feeling of suffocation, like a blanket of wet insulation, its glassy tendrils scratching to get under his eyelids, nearly forced him to gasp for breath. The clinging nature of his cocoon though, kept his mouth clamped around the tube, his eyelids shut, and his limbs stuck to his side. A heater began to hum beneath his torso, he could sense the warmth leaking into his body. Something had triggered his thaw. A tiny rivulet of melted ice from his brow trickled into his ear; a shiver rattled his hands in the gel that encased his extremities.

The lid to his capsule sighed open.

Where am I? he wondered groggily. Oh yeah, I’m in a cryo-berth. What triggered me to wake? he asked himself. I’ve been here for, for. He couldn’t remember the duration of his sentence. Ah right, a prison sentence. Yeah, that’s why I’m here. I did, something.

I hurt someone. More than one someone. I think.

The aching in his toes started. Blood pulsing through what seemed like frostbite, burning through his feet and ankles, the cramps and searing pain spread up through both calves. When the thaw reached his crotch he passed out from the torment. Back awake, he tried to roll his eyes; nope, still fixed in place. He waited while the icy flames spread across his chest. His fingers were operable; he’d missed the needles of pain they’d experienced. He tried to wiggle them, they creaked like stiff rubber.

Ah, I can shift my eyes at last. Some automated system then extracted his intubation system; it slurped as it withdrew from his esophagus and trachea. Gagging, as the end of it finally cleared his throat and mouth, he took a crippling first breath. Agony gripped his chest. Damn!  I don’t know what’s worse, the cold air burning my lungs or the coughs squeezing my heart. His feeble coughing eventually produced a wad of bloody sputum which, as he still lay trapped, was forced to swallow.

Gaaaa, I need a shot of whiskey. No. No whiskey for me. Dead people. Prison sentence. Right.

The heater kicked in full force. The molded gelatin in which he was ensconced melted and he sank the few inches to the bottom of the capsule, the warmth spreading.

Patience. Just be patient. But his body jolted and jerked uncontrollably, his nerves reviving.

But, where am I? His thoughts clarified with the expanding heat. I was frozen. I killed those, all those people. I was frozen — instead of executed. Right. Prison sentence. But, where am I?

He tried to say hey and only coughed. He tried again. Nothing. I’ll have to get out of this goop first. His eyes focused and he noticed a placard above him on the inside of the opened lid of the capsule.

DO NOT MOVE WHILE YOU REVIVE!

Oh, should have read that earlier, I guess.

INMATE: #882229
NAME: DILLARD SONNIGAN
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN: IRELAND
LOCATION: CRYO-CORRECTIONAL, ANTARCTICA

Feckin’ hell! So that’s where they stuck us all.

INDUCTION: 1/7/2041
REEVALUATION: ?/?/????

What the hell? Mebe they’re gonna release me on good behavior. A coughing fit rattled his whole body at his inmate humor.

The soup he floated in had warmed to jacuzzi temperatures. As he sloshed around he managed to tug at the monitor pads and wires still attached to his neck and chest. They popped loose as he tried to roll and hook an arm over the edge of his tank. He failed and settled back in the practically simmering gelatin. He held his hands in front of his face.

Christ, look at my nails. Must be an inch long.

He continued to read from the inside of the lid.

AN ATTENDANT WILL BE WITH YOU SHORTLY.
STAY PUT!

After what felt like an hour of floating, all the while flexing his muscles to ease the kinks, he started to hear splashing and slapping when he lifted up his head. Attendant? What attendant? “Hey!” he shouted as best he could. He suppressed a cough and yelled louder. “HEY!”

“Quit your yelling, ya fool!” replied a voice that echoed in the long gallery which housed the cryo-capsules. “Ain’t no ‘tendants gonna show up. We’re on our own.”

The woman’s voice, Dillard recognized, sounded like she was probably from the States.

“Aye, how d’you know we’re on our own?” he asked.

The woman started to curse, graveled out a set of gurgling coughs, spit and replied, “Can’t you see the date read-out on yer lid? Mine’s all question marks. Didn’t you read the details before they froze you all up? Question marks means ‘contingency’,” the woman said, pronouncing the word deliberately. “They abandoned us. We’re on our own.” Her energy fell off and she began to cough again.

Feckin’ hell! Stuck in Antarctica with a redneck woman from the States. Mebe she’s a looker…

[To be continued…]

 

 

 

It shits, candy?

“She’s all charged up.” Synamin backed away from the chrome plated bot as it began to palpably vibrate in the summer heat. The girl set a small, bright-red bottle on the ground next to her toolbox. “As soon as her inner temp reaches 130C…”

“What? What happens when it gets to 130C?” Mr. Brennon, science teacher, classroom 119, forth period (right after lunch, a chaotic affair given to malodorous wafts from the autobot-kitchens), said as he, too shielded his face from the now wobbling four legged monstrosity, Synamin Snappf, a 15 year old bio-eco-chemo prodigy, had built from scraps from NASA’s offloads (a donation orchestrated by Mr. Brennon himself.)

Ms. Snappf arched her eyebrows at her teacher. “You’ll see. It’ll be grand. Just, just marvelous!” She paused in her delivery, caught up with the excitement of witnessing her creation’s first productive activation. She leaned in closer from her stance some few meters distant. The area around she and her teacher was vacant. It had cleared like a bomb threat when Synamin announced, “She’s loaded up and cookin’!” (The evidence of the girl’s last experiment provided a handy foxhole where students now hid, awaiting the results of this, her latest effort.)

“Ooh, look,” she said, ogling the wisps of steam. At least Mr. Brennon hoped it was steam rising from the spout at the top of its — well, it could only be called a head. “I hope I put enough lawn clipping in the hopper,” she continued. “I think I put enough in. I’m pretty sure I did…”

“What? What will happen if you didn’t… Wait. What did you say? Grass clippings?” Sweat dripped off of the teachers brow stinging his one good eye. The other, a cybernetic prosthesis, never stung, but its socket did ache late at night after spending all day swiveling around in its independent monitoring capacity.

“Grass clippings, garden trimmings, any fresh plant stuff. Lots of natural carbohydrates.” The other children had begun to crawl away, like worms driven from a glowing heat source. But Synamin took a step closer. And then another. Mr. Brennon started to reach out to stop the child, but she continued to encroach upon the shiny chrome creation as it started to pound the dirt with its forelegs lifting a bit of dust in its wake. Steam whooshed from the top vent now and its legs churned up and down as it began to step across the yard of the school.

“It’s about to start. Yes! Yes, there it goes!” The girl squealed in delight, racing after her dazzling steed. Just when Mr. Brennon expected the worst, an explosion surpassing the last one that left the six-foot deep divot, the elaborate, solar powered, tube entwined, pop-riveted, hydraulically enabled beast leapt into the air, in a rather graceful arc, clattered back to earth and began to poop tiny pellets.

“What’s that coming out of its back-end?” the teacher croaked, utterly confused.

“Can’t you tell?” The girl ran up behind the beast, picked up one and then another small red spheres, all in a row, like crimson deer poop in the snow, and popped them into her mouth, chewing delightedly. Synamin Snappf then went on, “Remember, Mr. Brennon, when you were discussing my last experiment with my mother. And how you said it would have worked except for the flaw in the material (which was not my fault, by-the-way), and you said — which I overheard — that, ‘Synamin could probably make a unicorn that crapped candy.’ Well, there you are.” She waved to the clever contraption, sweet red seeds pinching out from the tiny hole beneath its raised tail.

“What? It shits, candy?” the stunned teacher asked, bending down to pick up his own sample. “Are you kidding me? Are they safe?” The teacher sniffed it experimentally. “What flavor are they?” The critter had wandered around in a circle and must have run out of grass clippings, battery power or both for now it stood still, its unicorn horn shimmering in the afternoon sun, a ribbon of steam drifting away from the tip.

The last crimson drop plopped from the machine’s shiny posterior dropping into the girl’s out stretched hand. “Flavor? Oh, I don’t know. You tell me.”