Looking For a Prince

Gwen and her dad were on a walk in the woods.   Birds were singing, a cool breeze was blowing, and there were flowers blooming. It was absolutely perfect. Gwen knew that meant that something magical was going to happen.

Then she saw the frog. Its skin was bumpy and golden. It sat up on a rock, looking straight into her eyes. Gwen knew right away that it was an enchanted prince.

The sun seemed to shine a little brighter, and a breeze blew past, twirling her hair around her face.

“Gwen,” Dad said, walking up to stand beside her.   “What’s up?”

“Dad, I found a frog. He’s a prince!” Gwen clapped her hands together.

“Where is he?” Dad asked. He was looking in the wrong direction.

“Over there, on the rock,” Gwen said. “He’s so handsome already. When I kiss him, he’ll turn into a prince, and I’ll marry him someday.”

Dad looked at her. “You’re much too little to get married. I won’t allow it.”

Gwen laughed. “Dad, I said someday. I can’t get married yet. I still haven’t gone to the moon. I want to go to the moon first. And then maybe I’ll go to another planet like mars. Or maybe I’ll look for mermaids. I’d like to meet a mermaid.”

“Those sound like good plans,” Dad said. “So why are you wanting to go around turning frogs into princes?”

“I think it would be nice to have a prince waiting for me.   Then I don’t have to worry about it anymore,” Gwen said.

“You worry about finding a prince?” Dad asked.

“Of course I do,” Gwen said. “What if they are all taken before I get a chance to find one?”

Dad smiled. “Then you might have to marry someone ordinary, like me.”

Gwen wrinkled up her nose. “I’m not going to marry you. You’re my dad.”

“No, no, no.” Dad laughed. “I meant that I’m ordinary, and your mom married me anyways.   Maybe you can find someone that you like that’s ordinary too.”

“Hmmmmm,” Gwen said. “Maybe. But I think I’d like to marry a prince and live in a castle.”

“Only if he’s a nice prince,” Dad said. “Otherwise I won’t allow it.”

“Aren’t all princes nice?” Gwen asked.

“Princes are people too. There are nice people and mean people, so there must be nice princes and mean princes,” Dad said.

Gwen folded her arms. “I don’t know. Maybe.”

Dad looked around. “So, where was the frog?”

Gwen pointed. “Over there, on the rock.”

Dad turned. The frog was still sitting and watching them. “That’s not a frog. It’s a toad.”

Gwen looked at the frog. Or toad. “How can you tell?” she asked.

“It has bumpy skin,” Dad said. “And I think toads have shorter legs.”

“So, can a toad still be an enchanted prince?” Gwen asked.

Dad frowned. “No, I think toads are enchanted trolls.”

“Ew,” Gwen said. “I don’t want to marry a troll.”

“Of course not,” Dad said. “I wouldn’t allow it.”

“That’s too bad,” Gwen said. “I guess I’ll leave him be. He probably looks better as a toad.”

“Not to other trolls,” Dad said.

“Well, I’ll let them come and kiss him then,” Gwen said.

“That sounds fair.”

“Yup.” She looked sadly at the regal, golden toad.   Then she looked forwards. The woods still looked perfect and magical.   She smiled. “Let’s keep looking. I’m sure there’s a frog here somewhere.”

 

The Curious Case of the Slow Washing Machine

“Honey, the washing machine will need to be replaced,” Mrs. Wells said. “It takes it four hours to wash a load of clothes.”

“It came with the house, who knows how old it is,” Mr. Wells said. “Do you think we can put up with it for another month? Our budget is a little tight right now.”

“Maybe we can find a used machine that we could buy sooner? It would cost a lot less,” Mrs. Wells said.

“That’s a great idea. Let’s see what we can find.”

So, the Wells family searched craigslist and yard sales and eventually found a washing machine in fairly good used condition.   It took Mr. Wells hours to install it, much to his surprise. However, they were pleased to find an inexpensive fix to their problem.

Unfortunately, the new washing machine had the same problems as the old one. “Do you think it’s a problem with the plumbing?” Mrs. Wells asked.

“What do you mean?” Mr. Wells asked.

“Well, maybe the water pressure is just really, really bad,” Mrs. Wells said.

“Is the spin cycle slow?”

Mrs. Wells sighed. “Yes. I can barely tell the machine is working at all. Do you think the electricity is slow?”

Mr. Wells snorted. “It doesn’t work that way. I guess we’ll just have to save up for a new machine.”

Mrs. Wells tried washing clothes in the bathtub, because it took less time. However, it took more effort, so she gave that up. She was worried that it would raise their electric and water bills to always be running the washing machine. However, it didn’t seem to make much of a difference.

So, they got used to laundry taking extra time to do.   They’d completely forgotten all about the strangely slow washing machine. And then one day Mr. Wells passed an appliance sale the day before Mrs. Wells’ birthday. The stars were aligned. He brought home a new washing machine that evening.

And the new washing machine took four hours to wash a load of laundry. “Take it back,” Mrs. Wells said. “I told you it was the water or the electricity or something.”

Mr. Wells took it back. He came home and studied the empty spot where the washing machine was.   He sat on the floor and looked at his watch. Everything seemed normal.   He went into the kitchen and checked the clock. His watch was wrong.

He took the clock off the wall and set it down on the floor in the laundry room. He checked his watch. The second hand on the clock was moving far too slow. “Honey, you have to come see this,” he said.

Mrs. Wells looked down at the floor. “What do I need to see?” she asked. “Isn’t that the clock from the kitchen?”

“Watch the second hand,” Mr. Wells said.

Mrs. Wells watched. “Oh no. Now the clock is broken,” she said.

Mr. Wells picked up the clock and set it down in the hallway. The second hand moved normally.   “We have a temporal anomaly in our house,” Mr. Wells said. “Best house ever!”

“What good are temporal anomalies?” Mrs. Wells asked.

“Um, that’s a good question,” Mr. Wells said. “But everyone at work will be so jealous. I can’t wait to tell them.”

“But what about the laundry?” Mrs. Wells said.   “Can we move the washing machine to somewhere a little faster?”

“Sure,” Mr. Wells said. And they did. Mrs. Wells now stores fruits and vegetables and loaves of bread in her laundry room. They stay fresh much longer than normal. She says she thinks everyone should have a nice temporal anomaly at home.   They certainly are handy, as long as you don’t leave any appliances in them, of course.

 

The Scientist and the Siren

The siren wasn’t particularly hungry, but there was a human wandering alone on the beach nearby. Surely she’d be hungry later. Perhaps she could keep him in a cage until she was ready to eat him? That could be amusing.

The man kept pausing as he walked up the beach. He would pull a clear glass bottle out of his pocket, scoop up a little sand, and stopper the bottle. Then he’d write on a paper label with a pen and put the bottle into a different pocket. What a strange human.

The siren was a little curious at first, but it was all so boring that she quickly gave up trying to understand the meaning behind the human’s actions.   She pulled herself up onto a nearby rock and arranged herself so that she looked alluring. Then she started to sing.

The man looked up. He smiled and walked towards her. It was always so easy. But he stopped just out of reach and pulled out a paper and pen. It was so unexpected that she almost stopped singing.   She instead tried to sing a little louder and sweeter.

“I assume that you must be a siren,” the man said.

She stopped singing.

The man nodded and wrote something in his little book. “How interesting. I can see the singing has some subsonic components. Could you sing again for a few minutes?” He pulled a little metal device out of his pocket and held it up.

The siren frowned and looked away.

“I see. Very well. I notice that you are wearing clothing that is unaffected by the salt water you were swimming in. Are there mer-sheep? Are there plant-based fibers you use for clothing manufacture?”

The siren smiled and tossed her hair back over her shoulder. “We use our hair. It grows very fast.   Come a little closer and I’ll give you a sample.”

“Hmmmm,” the man said. He wrote down some notes. “Is the texture rough or smooth? Do you use your own hair, or are there lower classes that you harvest hair from?”

The siren twirled a lock of hair around her finger. “Oh, my hair is very soft. Come and see.”

The man nodded and wrote something down. “I see. So, are there mer-chickens?   Or do you use fish eggs to make cakes?”

The siren frowned and folded her arms. “We’re sirens. We don’t eat cakes.” Then she raised an eyebrow and smiled. “If you come a little closer, I’ll whisper in your ear what we do like to eat. It will be our secret.”

“No cakes,” the man said as he wrote. “All right. How do you celebrate birthdays, then?”

The siren laughed. “We are timeless. We don’t have birthdays.   I’d be happy to help you celebrate your birthday. Come sit next to me, and we can plan a lovely party.”

The man narrowed his eyes. “If you don’t age, have you always had those wrinkles?”

The siren clapped her hands to her face and began to feel around her eyes.   “I don’t have wrinkles. Sirens don’t get wrinkles.” She dropped her hands and laughed. “Silly man, you’re standing too far away to see any details.   If you took a few steps closer, you’d see that my face is flawless.”

The scientist nodded and wrote some notes.

“What is that supposed to mean? What are you writing?” The siren asked.

“Hmmm?” the man asked. “Oh, nothing.” He wrote something down.

“Look,” the siren said. “I’m tying a few of my hairs around this pebble. I’ll toss it to you if you tell me what you wrote.”

The man raised an eyebrow. The siren sighed and tossed the pebble. The man picked it up and put it in his pocket. “Oh, very well,” the man said. “I wrote that you are near-sighted and delusional.”

“I am not,” the siren said.

“Hmmmmm,” the man said, and wrote something down.

The siren lunged at him. The man stepped back quickly. The siren screeched and jumped into the water and swam away.

The man wrote something down and then closed his book with a snap. “If you could see a little better, you would have realized you were talking to a robot,” he called out over the water. A screech echoed back. The man nodded and walked back across the beach, collecting samples of sand.

 

Cuckoo Corn

The agriculture specialist drove up to the farm in his rust-speckled pickup truck, trailing a plume of dust behind him.   The farmer was sitting on the front porch, and he stood as the specialist approached and held out a hand.

“Mr. Anderson?” he asked, shaking his hand.

“Yes,” the specialist said. “You must be Mr. Jones.”

“Call me Bob,” Mr. Jones said.

“I’m Eric,” Mr. Anderson said. They shook hands again.

“Eric, thank you for being willing to come out and take a look at my problem.   I’ve never seen anything like it,” Bob said.

“No problem,” Eric said. “That’s my job. Why don’t you take me to the affected field. Is it close or will we need to drive?”

“It would be a bit of a walk. I’ll drive you out there,” Bob said.

The farmer’s pickup was sun faded but rust-free. They drove slowly through several bumpy back roads, passing fields of corn that stretched for miles in neat rows. The wind passed over the fields, and the corn rippled like bright green water.

The farmer parked next to a small pile of boulders that had been discarded there when the fields were plowed. “It’s right through here,” Bob said. “I noticed the problem last week.”

“Lead the way,” Eric said.

Eric followed Bob along the edge of the cornfield. The stalks towered above them, already carrying full ears with healthy tassels. Twenty feet from the end of the field, Bob turned down the row.

Eric followed him into the narrow tunnel between the rows of cornstalks, shaded by the tall ears of corn. In this dim twilight world, the colors seemed less vivid and outside sounds were muffled. The wind blew through again and the corn rustled loudly all around them.

Bob paused. “Here we are,” he said.

He stepped to the side, and Eric looked beyond him at the cornstalks.   The tassels were wrong. Instead of silky and droopy, the tassels were fluffy and rose like little flames above the cornhusks. Instead of spring green or golden brown, the tassels were all the colors of the rainbow.

Eric stepped forward, smiling. “Oh, how interesting. I haven’t seen a case of this for years,”

“But what is it?” Bob asked. “Will the rest of my corn catch it?”

“This is cuckoo corn. It won’t affect your current crop, but it could be a problem in the future.” Eric began to peel back the husks on a nearby ear.   “The ears aren’t edible of course,” he said.

The husks pulled back to reveal a tiny person with a somewhat large head and big smile. The little person began to squeak and wave. Its bright pink hair stuck straight up.

“How did this happen?” Bob asked. “Is it something in the soil?”

“No, like I said, this is cuckoo corn. We like to call these ears trolls,” Eric said.   He held out a hand and the troll climbed up his arm and sat on his shoulder. “They lay their eggs in ears of seed corn, and the eggs take over the corn stalks as they grow.”

“So what should I do? Is there something I can spray it with that won’t hurt the rest of the corn?” Bob looked around and sighed. “It’s mixed in throughout the field. This is the biggest patch of it.”

“You’ll have to hand pick all the ears,” Eric said.   “The good news is that they’re ripe right now. They sell well at farm stands and markets, often better than ears of regular corn.”

“If I pick every ear, they won’t be back next year?” Bob asked.

“That’s right. Just don’t peel back the husks until you’re ready to sell them,” Eric said.   “They can get out of hand pretty quickly.”

Bob glanced at the troll sitting on Eric’s shoulder.   It blew a raspberry at him.   “Right,” Bob said. “Thank you. Will you be taking that one with you?”

The pink-haired troll clutched Eric’s collar.   Eric laughed. “Sure. Is there anything else I can help you with?”

“Well, my wife said one of her snapdragon plants bit her,” Bob said.

Eric smiled. “Sounds interesting. Lead the way.”

Charlie’s Room: The Rain Boot

The neighbor’s tree was still blooming. It smelled lovely, but the pollen set off Isaac’s allergies if he spent too long outside. So, once again he volunteered to do the vacuuming while Marianne and Charlie weeded the garden.

Isaac sneezed as he walked into the front room. Charlie forgot to close the door again and all of that pollen-laced air was blowing inside. Isaac hurried over to close the door and sighed. He hoped Charlie didn’t inherit his allergies. They were no fun. He took the vacuum out of the closet and started running it in neat rows.

He started to sing along as he vacuumed. The vacuum kept up its steady one note accompaniment, until it ran over something that made the vacuum crackle and hiss.   Isaac felt patted the poor thing on the back. “Did it go down the wrong tube?” he asked. The vacuum started to hum again.

“I guess you’re feeling better,” Isaac said.   “Now where were we?” He turned the corner into Charlie’s room and stopped.

The vacuum hummed a little louder as it stood in place a little too long.   Isaac shut it off and continued to stare. One of Charlie’s rain boots was floating in the air. It had a jagged hole in the heel.

As he watched, a piece disappeared and the hole got a little wider. Little bits of rain boot dropped to the floor. Isaac took a step closer. “Hello?” he said.

The floating rain boot moved further away. On the floor behind it, a hoof print was imprinted into a tee-shirt that Charlie left lying next to his dresser. Isaac took another step closer. The boot fell to the floor and the tee-shirt shuffled back.

Then he heard a thump thump of footsteps. The bookshelf swayed and a book fell. The footsteps thump thumped again. The clothes in the closet swayed and then hung at odd angles.

“Hello?” Isaac said again. He picked up the rain boot and frowned. Charlie had grown out of them, but he had planned to pass them on to the little neighbor down the street. Ah well, there was nothing he could do now.

The clothes in the closet swayed again, and Charlie’s new blue sneakers rose in the air by the shoelaces. “Not those, please,” Isaac said, stepping forward. The shoe dropped, and the clothes lurched to one side.

Isaac stepped forward slowly, pausing between each step. He held out the boot, trying to speak in a soothing voice.   “Wouldn’t you like this nice boot back?”

The clothes shook. “Naaaaaa,” a voice said loudly.

Isaac stopped and dropped his hand. “Fair enough,” he said. “How about an apple?”

“Naaaaaa,” the voice said.

It sounded like a sheep or a goat, but there was nothing there. Isaac slowly reached out a hand. The clothes twisted again, and he heard footsteps and felt something brush by him.

Isaac closed the closet door. He looked around. He had no idea where it went.   He needed help.

He went to get his phone, when the doorbell rang. He changed directions and answered the door. A young man in a lab coat was waiting on the front step.   “Hello?” Isaac said.

“Hi,” the young man said. “Have you noticed anything unusual recently?”

“What do you mean?” Isaac asked.

The young man sighed. “I know this sounds crazy, but I’ve lost my invisible goat, and I’ve tracked it down to this neighborhood.”

“Invisible goat?” Isaac asked.

“I know, I know,” the young man said. “But believe me, I really have an invisible goat. Would you mind signing a non-disclosure form?”

“I think your goat is inside, eating my son’s rain boots,” Isaac said.

“Really?” The young man looked thrilled.

“Yes, come inside. I think it got in when my son went out,” Isaac stepped out of the way and sneezed.

“I’ll replace the boots,” the young man said. He followed Isaac down the hall. The rain boot was floating in the air again in the middle of Charlie’s room.   The young man marched forward, pulling a leash out of his pocket.

The boot dropped, but the young man darted forward and hooked the leash onto nothing. It floated in the air.   “Come on, time to go home,” the young man said.

He gave two tugs on his end of the leash. The other end started to move forward. “Naaaaaa,” a voice said.

The young man picked up the torn up boot and put it in his pocket. “I’ll be back tomorrow with the new boots and the papers for you to sign.   Please forget you ever saw… I mean heard about this goat,” the young man said. And he left, the end of the leash floating in the air behind him.